Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fabulous Freddie!

Bethlehem Catholic Senior WR Freddie Simmons is arguably the Lehigh Valley's most likely Division I prospect. His Friday night four-touchdown performance (one was called back on a hold) against cross-town rival Liberty High School was poetry in motion. Both speed and deception had defenders running into each other as he would make his way down the field, virtually untouched. He's the best I've ever seen at Beca.

During last year's games, I certainly heard his name called out often enough for tremendous plays that he seemed to just will to happen at times. But what really turned me into a Freddie Simmons fan is his performance on the basketball court. I watched him in several games last Winter, and there were times when I just couldn't stop laughing. He would really enjoy himself, and loved to joke around with the refs and his opponents.

This Summer, I saw Freddie in action again during the games that were held at Cedar Beach. Instead of being cocky with the younger players like my grandson, he would actually help them out and encourage them.If they made a mistake, he would be quick to give them a re-assuring pat on the back.

He is also something of a track star, as you might imagine. last Spring, he led off a relay race for Beca, but dropped the baton, which put the school behind. The anchor runner gave it everything he had, and Beca won the race. Freddie, who was upset with himself over dropping the baton, was so happy and appreciative of his teammate that he repaid him in a strange and very selfless way.

There was a hurdles event, and Freddie was way ahead, with the anchor band the closet hurdler in sight. Right before the end, Freddie pulled up and let the anchor pass him and win the race.

I'm told that he sometimes asks his football coach to take him out and give other players a chance.
Yes, he is emotional. High strung. But he is a great teammate and a great person.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Nazareth's Broad Street to Reopen Today

That's according to Nazareth Highway Supervisor Robert Reimer. We'll see.

The Nazareth Cupcakes

I warned Nazareth Borough Council in July that their police department is out-of-control. They politely listened, and ignored me. Once I was out of earshot, the Mayor told the press that most of my accusations were unfounded and he would "pick and choose" which ones to investigate.

Then the shoes began to drop. Not only was the Stickergate prosecution rejected for constitutional reasons, but it was clear that Nazareth police were so inept they were unable even to establish any real evidence that any of the three accused Defendants had ever placed any stickers anywhere.  All the evidence did reveal was a thin-skinned police chief who violated the civil rights of three people when they dared to criticize him. Judge Taschner remarked, "He needs to suck it up, Cupcake!"

Nazareth will have to suck it up. Because Borough Council allowed this situation to fester, it will now face three civil rights lawsuits from the Sticker Gang. It will also undoubtedly face another civil rights lawsuit over its ridiculous decision to fire a crossing guard that the Chief singled out because her husband had dared criticize him, too. The biggest show - it's actually more live an anvil - is the lengthy federal civil rights complaint filed by recently reinstated police officer Fred Lahovski, who received shabby treatment for daring to be critical of both Trachta and Borough Council.

See a pattern here?

It's not nice to criticize Trachta or Borough Council, so that's exactly what I did. I attended last night's workshop meeting of Borough Council, armed with cupcakes, and told them Nazareth is run by a bunch of cupcakes unwilling to take control of a runaway police chief. I pointed out that because they failed to listen to me in July, they are now facing four civil rights law suits, with at least three or four more to go. All the result of police mismanagement.

I divided the cupcakes evenly between Council and the audience. The audience accepted my offering, but Council was very indignant.

How dare I criticize them, cried out Carl Fischl and Lance Colondo. Don't I know these things take time? Don't I realize they have to be very, very, very, very careful?

Fischl assured me that I could see what kind of strong action he's taking when he makes his police committee report.

His grand solution is a study.

Rather than get rid of the bad apples, Fischl wants the state DCED to perform a police management study.

That should only take about three years..

Instead of facing this matter and dealing with it, as they were elected to do, Council is going to punt, which I understand Fischl did a great deal when he was a football coach.

These are not leaders. These are cupcakes.

Lahovski Complaint Unmasks Ugly Borough Government

Fred Lahovski, giving thumbs up. 
An Arbitrator has described Nazazreth Police Officer Fred Lahovski as a "highly motivated police officer". In a 2009 story, I called him Nazareth's very own Robocop. He once stepped in front of a speeding vehicle to protect a child from getting run over by a drunk driver during a block party. He's the officer who once rushed at and tackled a 32-year-old man who sat with a gun pointed to his head for five hours. This ill man still shot himself, but it was nonfatal. Lahovski is one of two officers who whisked a 9 year-old Nazareth boy to safety as that boy's distraught father fired on state troopers, killing one of them. The Express Times correctly called him a local hero, but in the People's Republic of Nazareth, he's a troublemaker who upset the good ol' boys. They got rid of him. That decision was reversed by an Arbitrator. Now it's Lahovksi's turn. This "highly motivated police officer" has fired back with a 410-paragraph complaint aimed at Nazareth, its mayor, its police chief and the entire borough council. In the course of trying to bring him under control, they violated his civil rights repeatedly. Unfortunately, we the people will pay for this arrogance.

That arrogance continues today. Though he's been reinstated, the borough has still refused to pay the back-pay awarded. His problem? He's "outwardly ambitious and opinionated." His work ethic reveals the pattern of someone who refuses to go along to get along. Just as he stood up for the boy being threatened by a speeding drunk driver, he has stood up for a Puerto Rican Nazareth police officer, a woman no less, when she was called a "wetback" and told to refrain from advertising her national origin. He stood up for an openly gay officer subjected to homophobic slurs and who was ultimately taken off the work schedule. He defended another Hispanic officer who was forced to undergo all kinds of background checks not required of others. And he championed another female officer whom another officer refused to certify at the firing range, under orders from Chief Thomas Trachta.  

Instead of keeping his head down, Lahovski filed grievances, something he had the right to do as a member of the police association.

"Your grievance is a false claim and should be viewed as harassment," claimed the then Mayor once in response to a grievance. It was ultimately upheld. In fact, Lahovski won nearly all of them.

He continued standing up for what's right, even after he was demoted from his position as Detective in what appears to be a retaliatory move. He continued to drive on even when borough officials refused to schedule a sergeant's exam because they knew he'd ace it.

Lahovski may have been too motivated. As a result of investigation of drug activity in some Nazareth nuisance bars, Lahovski learned that a Nazareth officer might be involved in drug deals himself. He had information from a confidential informant he considered reliable, but Chief Trachta did not want to hear it, calling it "loose street information". Another officer heard similar allegations, but refused to note it in his report. Lahovski obtained a taped statement from the informant, who stated that she actually observed this officer dealing drugs. He even had her call the Chief herself. Lahovski prepared a full report, but Trachta refused it, and disciplined Lahovski when he tossed it.

That discipline was overturned.

In 2011, Nazareth arbitrarily decided to stop paying shift differentials, in violation of a collective bargaining agreement. Lahovski filed a grievance, which the then Mayor called "frivolous". Lahovski sought arbitration, and eventually won. The borough retaliated by letting the people of Nazareth suffer. It refused for a period to schedule police coverage.

Lahovski was also cited for reporting to work out of uniform. That was overturned, too. Trachta warned him he is going to get hurt if he does not stop filing grievances.

The complaint details instances of what clearly appears to be misconduct by borough council. Council members interfered in several police investigations, usually involving the arrests of friends, and threatened Lahovksi and others for enforcing the law equally.  "Lahovski won't have his job for long," one Council member is reported to have said after a friend was cited.

When Borough Council finally decided to fire him, they publicly disseminated false information to stigmatize him. They even accused him of stealing his own vacuum cleaner. According to the complaint, it was a "sham proceeding with a predetermined outcome."

Mayor Carl Strye defamed Lahovski, claiming that negotiating with him was akin to a "fireman negotiating with an arsonist."

I attempted to contact Officer Lahovski, but he declined comment, stating that he'll save it for court. But I did see him skateboarding with kids at the park, instead of making them feel like animals.

You can read the complaint here.

This is Lahovski's side of the story. I imagine there are several others. But if 10% of that complaint is true, Nazareth residents should be very concerned.

Brown Denies Change in Accrual Rate Planned, But Watch Those Medical Benefits

County Executive John Brown confirmed late yesterday that he will propose no changes in the accrual rates on county pensions. That's great news for workers very concerned that their pension benefit would decrease. But at the same time,

But this comment from a Human Services worker tells us that medical benefits are going to become more costly, possibly as a result of Obamacare.
John Brown informed the Human Services Departments today that he intends to change their medical benefits as of January 2015. He plans to increase their deductibles, co-pays, prescriptions, and add a costly co-insurance. All of this could potentially cost the employee $6,500-$14,500 additional a year depending on if they have an individual or family policy. He stated that the employees needed to "give back" to the county. Truthfully, these employees "give back" to the county on a daily basis in all that they do to serve the people of the county whether it is for CYF, Aging, Mental Health, D and A, or Early Intervention. He also planned to make these changes outside of the contracts and without any negotiations. This is in addition to any changes he will likely make to the employees [sic] contribution to their medical benefits. He has also indicate he has no intention of giving any raises so this will cause employees to see a drastic cut in their pay, which is not a whole lot for the work that they do.

John Brown also fails to comprehend and neglects to inform the public that the county receives a reimbursement for each Human Services employee's salary and medical benefits. This reimbursement is between 80%-100% of the salary and benefits plan for EACH employee. He has indicated that the Human Services are the reason the county is in financial distress but in actuality, the county pays very little to nothing for county caseworkers. Maybe the financial stress has more to do with all the different companies he has hired to look at effecieny [sic] and financial issues. Maybe he should take that money and actually pay some county bills with it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Another Nazareth Bombshell - Reinstated Officer Alleges Civil Rights Violation

Nazareth Borough Council tried to fire Police Officer Fred Lahovski, but he was re-instated as a result of an Arbitrator's Award. He has now turned around and fired back, with an exhaustive civil rights lawsuit that raises all kinds of questions about what the hell is going on in Nazareth government. I will report back when I have finished reading the complaint (it's the longest one I've ever seen). For those of you who want to read it yourselves, here's a link.

Pediatric Treatment Center Coming to Linden Street

Pepper in Pink, with Carey Anne Tanis
Advent Speech and Feeding Therapy is a pediatric agency devoted to treating infants, children and their families with developmental challenges. For the past two years, it's been looking for a new home. And home is the operative word. Principal Carey Anne Tanis told Bethlehem'sZoning Hearing Board, at their August 27 hearing, that many of the persons she sees are infants just released from a NICU or toddlers who've spent their young lives in a hospital. She wants "no doctory look" at her offices. So when she saw that a spacious home at 3376 Linden Street was for sale, she thought it was perfect.

It would be perfect for the owners, too. Sylvia Hunsinger, whose parents lived there before they passed away, saw the rest of the block gobbled up by commercial uses. Over the course of a year, she was unable to find one person willing to buy the property until Tanis came along. "My parents would be very pleased," she said of plans to convert the home into a center that treats and provides therapy to children.

But Hunsinger and Tanis had a problem. The property was zoned residential.

Enter Bethlehem lawyer Richard Huntington Pepper. He argued that the property could no longer be marketed for its original purpose, established that there are no other residences along that block, and introduced evidence to establish that Advent is a very exclusive agency that is only open 4 1/2 days per week.

"That whole area is deteriorating;" grumbled resident Al Bernotas. "It started with Elias Market."

Bernotas is part of a group that unsuccessfully challenged the expansion of Elias Market, also located on Linden Street.

He asked Tanis to recite the hardship provisions of the zoning ordinance. Bernotas declaimed, "You're cute, and they all smile at you, but do you know what is required for a variance?"

She may not, but Attorney Pepper does, and the application for a variance was unanimously granted.

It was a good night for zoning attorney Jim Preston, too. He persuaded all five zoners to grant dimensional variances for Campus Hill Apartments, located on 521 E 5th Street. After acquiring the property, they repaved the parking lot, keeping all the same dimensions that previously existed. But property manager Shawna Green, on the very day she went to work at this location, was greeted by a Notice of Violation from Bethlehem because the paver never informed anyone that variances were needed.

"Some cities send you roses, you got a violation notice," joked Zoning hearing Board member Bill Fitzpatrick.

Preston also convinced zoners to allow Kala Shanmugam to open a mini-mart at 405 E 5th Street, despite a complete absence of off-street parking. Her husband, who will operate the convenience store, told zoners that his customer base will be Lehigh University students.

"You don't think people are going to be driving from Allentown to visit your mini-mart?" asked Preston. He told zoners this is no "traffic destination", but "lends itself to pedestrians best."

Shanmugam also owns a South Indian restaurant, Brindhaavan, two doors away. It is currently only open on weekends.

Zoners also gave Marcos B Cantillo a dimensional variance to enclose a screened second floor deck at 2136 Allwood Drive. They also permitted John Yerk, Jr., son of the former police commissioner, to construct a roof over his rear patio at 1746 Center Street.

Blogger's Note: Although Richard Huntington Pepper is a distinguished barrister who once represented Princess Hope, he is reputedly the worst sailor in the Lehigh Valley, and the only living person I know who has been banned by Court Order from setting foot inside a sailboat. He learned how to sail from my father, who was banned, too. My Dad, who makes me look nice, used to position Dominic Ferraro, Peg's late husband, at the bow to look for shallow water. Then he would purposely run aground, catapulting poor Dominic into the drink, head first.  My father once ran aground on the Governor's private beach in New Jersey, and was greeted by Coast Guard cutters and helicopters. And this was before 9/11. My father learned how to sail from my brother, who once capsized in a Long Beach Island squall and began laughing, until I pointed out he had knocked his front teeth out. . 

Do You Like New Mcall.COM Layout?

I have to give it a few days, but right now, I'm thinking No.

NorCo HR Explains One Pension Change

From the desk of HR Director Pat Siemiontkowski:

To Northampton County Employees:

Effective January 1, 2015 the Hay Group, as actuary of the county retirement plan, is updating the mortality table used for actuarial equivalence from the 1983 Group Annuity Mortality Table to the RP 2013 Annuitant Mortality Table owing to longer life expectancies.

This change does not affect the amount of the benefit that a member earns (your contributions paid into the fund together with regular interest plus the county portion). It does affect the expected time period / number of years that your pension is expected to be paid over. The magnitude of the change depends on various factors including age at retirement, the amount of accumulated deductions and the present value of the benefit. In most cases the present value of the benefit is higher and therefore the monthly benefit amount is actually increasing.

The NO OPTION selection is typically where a decrease in the monthly benefit occurs. The decreased amount varies due to the factors noted above, but in most cases the monthly benefit fully recovers within a six month period (i.e., by June 30, 2015). Information explaining the various pension selection options, including the NO OPTION selection, is contained in Northampton County’s Pension and Retirement Policy at Code 3.31 which can be found on the Northampton County Intranet.

As you may know, the Department of Human Resources now has the capability of preparing retirement estimates for employees. If you are seriously considering retirement in 2014 or in early 2015, you may request an estimate for both years. The “Retirement Estimate Request” form is available on the Intranet. You will need to complete this form and return it to Human Resources in order to obtain retirement estimates for 2014 and 2015. Please keep in mind that it may take two weeks or more to process your request. Your patience will be appreciated.

If you are a supervisor or manager, please share this notice with those employees whom you supervise and who may not have computer access. Thank you.

This answers the concerns about one change to the retirement plan, which Siemiontkowski claims might actually work to the benefit of a county worker.

But there;'s another change being considered. That's the change in the actuarial rate from 1/50 to 1/60. I explained how this could work on Monday, but there have been so many questions, I'll repeat it.

Pension liability = Accrual rate × Final salary × Years of service

So, for a person whose salary is $70,000 and who has 30 years of service, the difference between a 1//50 and 1/60 accrual rate is $7,000 per year.

1 ÷ 60 × $70,000 × 30 = $35,000

1 ÷ 50 × $70,000 × 30 = $42,000

Let me also repeat that the Retirement Board has not implemented any change in the actuarial rate. I've heard from someone close to the Retirement Boar that this is being concerned. At the end of the last Council meeting., Glenn Geissinger stated he wants to discuss some changes. But at this point, I don't know if this change is on the table, or if it is, whether it can legally apply to existing employees. Executive John Brown has stated he will look into this, and get back to me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shiloh Pastor Plays Race Card

Shiloh Baptist Church Pastor Phillip Davis, whose Express Times moniker incredibly (and dishonestly) appears to be "truth1", has played the race card at an Easton School Board meeting. Let me tell you what's really going on. He's getting revenge.

You see, late last month, the Easton School Board rejected a charter school championed by Davis. He wanted taxpayers to subsidize a South Side school that would be largely made up of black students. It was a brazen attempt at de facto segregation, which would help Davis and his church fill their coffers at the expense of whitie.

Because school directors refused to be bullied, Truth1 is now assailing them for their lack of diversity, etc.

There'd be even less if you got your Charter School, "Truth1."

There's a reason the NAACP opposes Charter schools.

Residency Rule Does Apply To NorCo Boards

Northampton County's enabling document, or Constitution, is the Home Rule Charter. That document imposes no residency requirement for cabinet level officials or row officers. But it does mandate that appointees to authorities, boards and commissions, must be county residents. This provision presented a problem for Northampton County Executive John Stoffa, but County Executive John Brown should have no dilemma.

The problem for Stoffa arose with the seven-person Retirement Board. That's established under the Administrative Code to administer the retirement system, including pensions.

As originally drafted, the Administrative Code provided that the Retirement Board include the Directors of Administration and Finance. These two members of John Stoffa's cabinet, both of whom lived in Lehigh County, sat on that Board until somebody realized it conflicted with the Home Rule Charter requirement that all Board appointees must be County residents.

The fix was not to force them to move here. It was to replace these cabinet officials with three members of Council. The Exec gets two picks, including himself. Finally, there is an employee representative and a retiree.

International Wackadoodle Love Awareness Day on Aug 31

Some of you might think this is Labor Day weekend. But to NYC's Matthew Silver, August 31 is International Wackadoodle Love Awareness Day, which apparently will be celebrated in Union Square at 4 pm, underwear only.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Brown Vetoes Residency Requirement: Updated 2:51 pm

Late yesterday afternoon, Northampton County Exec. John Brown vetoed the residency rule ordinance adopted by a bare majority of Council last week. Since six votes are needed to override the veto, and the ordinance only had the support of five council members, this may have killed any residency rule. "The requirements in the residency rule ordinance are restrictive," said Brown. "The ordinance limits our talent pool and is not conducive to effective and smart government."

Blogger's Note: Originally published 8/25/14, 5:30 pm

NorCo Exec Brown Addresses Courthouse Rumors

Exec John Brown and supporters
On Monday, I told you about some of the circulating courthouse rumors, which usually grow during contract negotiations or at budget time. I'm hearing a large number this year because we have a new Executive, it's budget time and there are seven expired union contracts. Late last week, I approached someone who could respond to some of the rumors, but was told all press inquiries must be addressed to Director of Administration Luis Campos. I tried explaining that restriction has no application to bottom-feeding bloggers, but no dice. I sent Campos an email. Instead of hearing from him, County Executive John Brown replied.

1) Does the Executive plan 800 lay-offs, or any lay-offs at all? Response to part 1: "NO" Response to part 2: "We are currently working on our first phase of the budget process. In 2012 Northampton County ran 18M over revenue, in 2013 it was 14M over revenue, the 2014 budget is at 18M over revenue. We need to break the habitual spending habit and examine all possibilities and create a balanced budget without the use of reserve funds. Since we are only in the first phase of the 2015 budget process it is too soon to highlight any specific changes."

2) Have 90 workers put in for retirement this year? "NO. In 2011 we had 81 in 2012 we had 67 in 2013 we had 76 and year to date amount for 2014 is 52."

3) What can you share about union negotiations? "I can not discuss current union negotiations, as we are still in the process."

4) Won't a change in the accrula [I meant accrual] rate have a detrimental impact on pensions? "We are currently fact checking the information you provided and will get back to you on this question."

A Microcosm of Northampton County at a Gaming Board Hearing?

Palmer Police Chief Larry Palmer
Last night, Northampton County's nine-member Gaming Board met for the latest round of grant applications for casino slots revenue. A few months ago, they approved grants limited to the municipalities that surround the Sands Casino in Bethlehem. This latest round is for everyone; all 38 boroughs, townships and cities within the County. The maximum grant is $50,000, and only one application per municipality is accepted. Thirty-five applications were reviewed, so it was a long meeting. Board members are going to rate them individually before they meet again on September 22. So in a way, nothing happened. But in another way, everything happened. That meeting was in many ways a microcosm of the entire County. It told me what's working, and where improvement is needed. It also provided small tidbits about our local communities. Let's start.

1. West Easton and Upper Mount Bethel Failed To Seek Grants. - These two municipalities passed up an opportunity to apply for free money. Neither one of them is rolling in the dough. Both could use new road equipment, or might have other, more pressing, needs. Their failure to take the time to apply is an indication that both of them are in trouble.

2. Many Smaller Municipalities Failed to Send Grant Advocates. - Thirteen municipalities, most of them boroughs and smaller townships, failed to send advocates to pitch their projects. I was particularly shocked that Chapman Borough's delegation was missing.

"If you need the money, come here and talk to us about it," advised Board Chair Jay Finnigan.

These smaller communities need more active involvement from the County.

Roseto Boro Council member Jenn Newland
3. News reporters are becoming extinct. - Neither daily newspaper sent a reporter to cover a meeting concerning $1.5 million in grant money. When the fourth estate is absent from these kinds of decisions, mischief becomes possible. You're stuck with me.

4. Northampton County has a dedicated corps of volunteers.  - A nine-member board meeting in the middle of the Summer to review 35 grant applications for $1.5 million, and none of them gets a dime? Not only did they meet, but they paid attention and asked pertinent questions.

5. Both Council and The Exec Are Paying Attention. - I have to compliment both the Exec and Council for their approach to the Gaming Board. They both send liaisons, in the form of Bob Mateff (Exec) and Ken Kraft (Council). Both provide a lot of background information.  Last night, Council members Scott Parsons and Bob Werner were in the peanut gallery as well. I told Parsons he could not speak  unless he could prove his residency.

6. Municipalities See Wisdom in Regional Police Forces. - Plainfield Township, along with Wind Gap and Pen Argyl Boroughs, have come together with a joint application to help with the start-up costs of a regional police department. Scott Parsons, a former Wind Gap Council member who said the process started 15 years ago, said it's "finally moving forward."  Based at the Plainfield Township station, the new department is slated to start in January.

Tatamy Police Sgt Keith Snyder
7. Bangor's New Police Chief Wants to Get His Force Accredited. - Scott Felchock, Bangor's new police chief,  is trying to get his force accredited. He told Commissioners that they provide 24-hour coverage.

8. Lehigh U Does Work With Bethlehem to Protect Students. - Thanks to Lehigh University, Bethlehem already has 28 surveillance cameras along the Third and Fourth Street corridors.  Bethlehem wants three more along Fourth, and Lehigh will help with the cost. .

9. East Bangor Wants to Convert Municipal Building Into Emergency Shelter. - Because you never know. 

10. Freemansburg Officials Go Extra Mile. - Freemansburg has only 2,700 residents, and those are largely seniors or people of very modest means. But yesterday, Borough manager Judy Danko and two Borough Council members made sure they were present to advocate for their grant, even though Mayor Gerald Yob is on the Board. That's exceptional. Of course, it helps that Council member Jim Smith is originally a cracker from Shenandoah, where there's a bar and church at every corner so you can get drunk, but go to confession so you can get drunk again.

Upper Nazareth Police Chief Alan Siegfried
11. Radar Speed Signs Are Popular. - Admit it, you love them. That's what Hanover Township's Ryan Kish claims, and I admit I do love to drive at exactly one mph below whatever limit is on the sign. Board member Tony Pristash admitted he kind of likes them, too. "I understand you have the top score on one," Finnigan wisecracked.

12. Lehigh Township Owns Three Bridges. - Lehigh Township owns three bridges on its own, including the Ash Road Bridge.

13. Lehigh Tp. Police Cant's Talk to Lehigh County, Carbon County Cops. - Sure, they all speak English or Pennsylvania Dutch, but they are all on a different radio frequencies. That's a problem because Lehigh Township borders both of these counties. Bob Mateff had an answer, but lost me about three seconds after he said "multiband."

14. Lower Mount Bethel Still Using a 1986 GMAC Truck. - I think last Winter did it in, but maybe they should try to get two or three more years out of it. See, the sludge must improve its lifespan!

Washington Tp Officer Scott Miller
15. Crime and Accident Scene Software a Must. - Chief Larry Palmer, whose police department has just been accredited, would like that software and gave a pretty good reason. Not long ago, a well-liked woman was unfortunately struck by a vehicle and killed while crossing 25th Street to go to her job at Giant. Five lanes on 25th Street were closed for an entire evening while officers did their accident reconstruction with tape measures and camera. If they had software, their job would be done in two hours. That saves them time and makes road safe.

16. Six Tatamy Police officers share one computer work station. - With the Chrin Interchange coming closer to reality, Sgt. Keith Snyder thinks it's time for an upgrade. D'you think? I wonder who sets the screen saver.

Freemansburg's Judy Danko
17. A Thermal Imaging Device Could Save Lives. - Upper Nazareth Police Chief Alan Siegfried is no cupcake. He'd like a thermal imaging device, and let me explain why. Numerous Nazareth Schools, as well as Gracedale and the 911 Center are located in Upper Nazareth. In addition, there are one helluva' lot of cornfields. What if a mentally unstable person walks out of Gracedale and into a cornfield, or some child runs away and gets lost in those fields? That person can be found easily with a thermal imaging device. What's more, Upper Nazareth is centrally located, and Chief Siegfried will make the device available to other departments.

18. Washington Tp Police Used Zoning Vehicle Last Winter. - Scott Miller, Officer-in-Charge in Washington Township was asked why he wants a Ford Expedition for his police department instead of some less expensive model. He told everyone that there are thirty miles of roadways, some of them dirt, and the Expedition has a lock-in four-wheel drive. Things were so bad last Winter they were using a zoning vehicle to patrol. Washington Township has a mutual aid agreement with seven municipalities, and 11% of its calls are mutual aid requests.

19. Charlie Chrin Still Donating to Williams Township? - This township is in the process of acquiring property across the street from its park, which it wants to turn into additional park space and temporary parking. The township hopes to put GeoGrow under the grass, and Chrin is the name mentioned as a possible source of matching funds.

Adam Waldron, Willie Reynolds at Veggie Fest

Bethlehem City Council members Adam Waldron and Willie Reynolds were at Bethlehem's veggie fest on Saturday. They were judging pumpkins, and pinned a ribbon on me.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Despite $76,500 PR Person, Courthouse Rumors Abound

In order to improve communications, Northampton County Executive John Brown has hired a $76,500 PR consultant who's recommended town halls in Bethlehem that attract two Bethlehem residents. He's attended union meetings and has even had a brown bag lunch with Gracedale nurses, but the rumor mill is working overtime. Part of the reason for this is that seven unions are working without a contract, and Brown has sent an inexperienced union negotiator to make proposals that have unions shaking their head. I've heard that Brown intends to lay off 800 people, that sick time must be used or lost, contributions to medical benefits are being increased drastically, and salaries will remain flat. How much of this is true? Probably none of it, but I decided to check into some of them myself, along with some changes to the pension plan.

One of these changes is an adjustment of the life expectancy, and that's no rumor. Most courthouse employees have already been told about this, leading to the rumor that 90 workers have applied for early retirement.

Another proposal under review is a change in the accrual rate from its current calculation of 1/50 to 1/60. If this applies to existing pensions, it appears to me that it will have a detrimental impact. That decision must come from the Retirement Board.

Here's how it works.

Pension liability = Accrual rate × Final salary × Years of service

So, for a person whose salary is $70,000 and who has 30 years of service, the difference between a 1//50 and 1/60 accrual rate is $7,000 per year.

1 ÷ 60 × $70,000 × 30 = $35,000

1 ÷ 50 × $70,000 × 30 = $42,000

Is this rumor true? I tried checking it out on Friday with one of the County's fiscal experts, and was told all questions must be directed to Director of Administration Luis Campos. So I'm asking him

1) Does the Executive plan 800 lay-offs, or any lay-offs at all?
2) Have 90 workers put in for retirement this year?
3) What can you share about union negotiations?
4) Won't a change in the accrual rate have a detrimental impact on pensions?

First Annual Nazareth Jazz Festival on 9/13

When: Saturday 13, 2014

Where: Borough Park

(courtesy of Alfonso Todd)

1:00: CYNTHIA RODRIGUEZ is excited to make her professional jazz debut at "Naz Jazz" 2014. Rodriguez is a very well known performer and writer in the Lehigh Valley. Cynthia has been a singer for years and has performed a wide range of musical styles which include: chorus, rock, and anthem. Rodriguez is overjoyed to now perform music she has loved for most of her life, and believes that Jazz truly captures the range of human emotion in its' lyrics and music.

2:00: JAZZ N MORE has played Boscov's Auditorium in Reading, PA; the Mayors' Inaugural Ceremony; The GAPS {Art Gallery} at the historical Wyndham Hotel in Reading, PA; Embassy Suites in Ashburn VA; the Cheste,r PA Community Center' the French Creek Country Club and Berks Jazz Fest... To name a few...

3:00: NEKBONE - Your funk bone is connected to your…Nekbone, is a funk powerhouse hailing from parts near and remote of the tri-state area. John Birch's singing style splits the difference between the smoothness of George Benson and the grit of Wilson Pickett, and his impeccable guitar playing gives a nod to BB King and Larry Carlton. This formidable line-up also includes Jeff Bichaylo (Keyboards), Adam Guth (Drums) and Victor McLaurin (Bass). Each are tremendous players in their own right having worked with none other than Jef Lee Johnson, Edgardo Cintron, East Wind Jazz Ensemble, Jamaaladeen Tacumah, Doc Gibbs, and Dexter Wansel to name a few.

4:00: MONKEY CAT What might sound like a genetic lab experiment gone horribly wrong, is actually a group of three of the funkiest musicians to ever call Southeastern PA home. Monkey Cat brings intrepid improvisation and exploration together with smooth, funky backbeats. Jeff Bichaylo (Keyboards), Mark Walsh (Guitar), JJ Zeller (Drums) have shared the stage with the likes of Bernie Worrell, Jay Procter, Sister Sledge, Boney James, Al Jarreau, Dave Koz, James Ingram, Brian Culbertson, and Jonathan Butler.

5:00: DRIVE TIME PHILADELPHIA has given us some brilliant music over the decades and this tight, contemporary jazz ensemble holds up to Philly’s solid reputation with their highly anticipated new release, IGNITION! Drive Time Philadelphia will rev you up with what the group calls Urban Organic Jazz… that is funky grooves and jazz-soaked, melodic originals, and delivers exciting new music, ranging from smooth to Latin to fusion to Tower of Power-like grooves, and even a splash of chillout! IGNITION sparks from cool collaborations including special guest appearances by saxophonist Andrew Neu vocalists Phyllis Chapell, Justin Guarini & guitarist Vinnie Zummo. Drivetime has been honing their craft and evolving into an important new voice in the Global Smooth Jazz community with three previous recordings and two top-selling singles featuring Bob Baldwin and Justin Guarini. Leader Bernie Capodici and band shift into high gear for live performances where they marry old school cool with modern, musical ideas…

6:00: The Sticker Gang.  They can't play shit, but will do the perp walk.

Parsons to Kraft and McClure - "Let's Move On"

Scott Parsons
Ken Kraft was very indignant. In the wake of evidence that Executive John Brown and public relations consultant Kim Plyler had at least some email exchanges that certainly appear to be political, Kraft sought a more inclusive set of emails. But as of the Northampton County Council meeting on August 21, he still had no reply, except for one that irritated him even more. He got a letter telling him that his request was being considered under the Right-to-Know law, and invoked an automatic 30-day extension. Instead of making his concerns known to the District Attorney, Council Solicitor or perhaps even his own lawyer, he decided to grandstand at a Council meeting. He did so at a time when the County is staring down the barrel of a likely tax hike.  It's similar to what Controller Steve Barron did at the previous Council meeting. In the meantime, Council has yet to look at the unbridled power of the Exec to dole out millions in casino table tax revenue. 

Rather than actually govern, it's far easier  to join in a witch hunt. 

Lamont McClure had fun, too.  He actually argued that individual Council members are not subject to the Right-to-Know Law.  They apparently have some Divine Right to Executive information. He  accused the Brown administration of "stonewalling" and demanded an answer from Brown and solicitor Victor Scomillio right then and there.

They sat in their comfy chairs, refusing to answer. 

Council Solicitor Phil Lauer now has been tasked with researching whether an individual Council member has some special right to seek information that is above and beyond the rights of an ordinary citizen because they're so important they sit on a raised dais.

There is no such right.

Of course, it's beyond dispute that Council, as the governing body, has all kinds of rights to information, conferred by the Home Rule Charter. But the power of an individual Council member is limited to casting a vote on behalf of the people he represents. He's no Super Citizen, and I am somewhat disturbed that Council members like Ken Kraft and Lamont McClure seem to think they are.

"The silence doesn't bode very well," complained Kraft. McClure brays on about the power Council members admittedly have, without bothering to point out that it's a power that requires five votes.

"We need an explanation," demanded McClure. "They can't just sit here silently ... ."

Just as McClure tried to conduct witch hunts against Executive John Stoffa, he's now doing the same thing to Brown.

After Council had wasted about ten minutes, Scott Parsons called the whole thing a "debacle" that goes back to Brown's controversial decision to hire Sahl Communications as his PR firm.

"Let's move on and get to governing of this County and get the things done that have to be done," stated the Slate Belt Democrat. "If the Executive's done something illegal here, that's for the courts to decide. ... We have to move on."

I agree. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

NorCo Jail Treatment Plans Reviewed

Late last year, Lamont McClure was the sole vote against a $3.8 million plan to reduce recidivism at the Northampton County jail by treating inmates instead of just warehousing them. He opposed a five-year contract with Community Education Centers (CEC) to provide substance abuse programs called the Future Foundation program for men, Sister to Sister program for women and the West Easton Treatment Facility program. CEC had argued that its graduates have a recidivism rate of just 36%, well below the national average of 69%. McClure questioned the data, and a recent audit by Controller Steve Barron proves that recidivism may very well be higher than projected. The audit also reveals that the County needs to consider treatment programs that continue after release from jail.

Barron's audit, which was authorized by an unanimous Council in February, reviewed the Future and Sister programs, but not the West Easton Treatment facility. He shared the following findings with County Council last night:

* 51% of the people who have completed these programs were arrested again, meaning that the recidivism rate is higher than the 36% projected to the County.

* Two individuals who were reported as completely rehabilitated were actually residing in the jail at the time of the audit.

* People who participate in these programs tend to have fewer incidents in jail than the rest of the population.

* Only 11% of the money paid to CEC is spent on overhead.

* CEC is accredited and meets the standards for programs like the ones provided in Northampton County.

* Northampton County's lack of an aftercare program for recently released inmates is thought to have led some to re-offend.

Barron is recommending that state grants be used to help fund drug and mental health courts as well as an after care program.

CEC's Dr. Ralph Fretz, who reviewed and responded to Barron's audit, agreed that aftercare needs to be part of the "continuum of care" that starts in jail. "That's where the rubber hits the road," he said.

Director of Corrections Arnie Matos directed Council to another number - the jail census. That hovered over 900 before these programs started, but has dropped to 629. "I can't say it's CEC," he conceded, but "[s]omething that's going on in Northampton County is working."

Executive John Brown told Council that he needs to discuss the audit with the "stakeholders", referring to the courts and jail officials. Noting the audit's recommendation concerning aftercare, Brown said he will study how that should be incorporated, either with or without CEC.

Mat Benol suggested there should be parameters inserted into the contract, and Brown agreed.

Glenn Geissinger said he would have preferred that this contract be considered by the new Council. But he added, "When you're dealing with human beings, we need to create the programs."

Scott Parsons stated he was happy that all seem to acknowledge that some kind of treatment program is needed.  "We're putting a dollar out on somebody's life to help them get better," he reasoned.

Return of the Gracedale Goon!

Though most of the Gracedale Goons are now in padded rooms somewhere, Jack D'Allessandro is still a regular at NorCo Council meetings. Two weeks ago, he warned them that the Steel Stacks at ArtsQuest are radioactive, which explains those different colors at night.

Last night, he took a gratuitous shot at the Unholy Trinity.

"In spite of Mr. Stoffa, Ron Angle and Bernie O'Hare, and Bernie O'Hare's constant lying still to date, Gracedale is doing extremely well, and I'll let Mr. Werner tell you the rest of it."

So there you have it.

Bob Werner later reported that Gracedale's census is at its highest point to date - 677.

D'Allesandro had an unpleasant night. After the Council meeting, an 80' satellite dish suddenly popped out of his ass, and the next thing you know, he was gone.

Divided NorCo Council Requires Future Cabinet, Row Officers To Be Residents

Scott Parsons sponsored residency ordinance
Updated 11:15 am, to include a reaction from the Exec.

By a 5-4 vote, Northampton County Council voted last night to require all cabinet level officials, as well as row officers, to reside within the County. This ordinance is prospective, meaning it has no application to current appointees. It also gives future out-of-county hires a year to find a home in the County.

Leading the charge for the residency requirement was Lamont McClure, who spoke three times in support of the ordinance. "The people who govern you ought to be your neighbors," he reasoned. Scott Parsons believes its omission from the Home Rule Charter was an "oversight" on the part of framers.

But Seth Vaughn countered that it is "overbureaucratic [sic] nonsense" that creates "more of a headache for the Executive." Hayden Phillips added that it "needlessly limits the pool of talent." and points to recently hired Sheriff David Dalrymple, a New Jersey resident, as an example.

Peg Ferraro pointed to the political reality that most cabinet level officials come and go with the Executive, and few will want to move into a job that might only last four years. I strongly believe we have an excellent system in place," she reasoned.

Republican Mat Benol claimed to have always supported a residency requirement. Ironically, it is Benol who argued in July that Council should confirm David Dalrymple as Sheriff despite his New Jersey residency. At that time, he had noted that Dalrymple only lived five miles from the courthouse.

Benol provided the swing vote that all four Democrats needed to pass the ordinance. The remaining four Republicans were opposed.

Will Executive Brown will veto the ordinance?. He appears to be thinking about it. "We are currently evaluating the impact this change will have on the county," Brown states in a prepared statement. "We are also evaluating all of our options to determine what is the best course of action for the county moving forward."

If he does veto, six votes will be needed to override it.

Meet Kim, The Newest LANTA Board Member

I told you yesterday that Kim Schaffer, Northampton County's former Block Grant Coordinator, has been tapped by Executive John Brown to serve on the LANTA Board. She was confirmed unanimously last night.

What I love about this appointment is that Kim actually used mass transit when she worked for the County, and as Executive Director of Community Bike Works, will be certain to work for routes and fares that make sense to the people who actually use buses.

She has a Master's degree in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.