Friday, November 21, 2014

Angle Blasts Brown Over Budget, Employees

Angle with a member of the County's "most valuable asset"
Ron Angle is not just a Republican, but is a state committee member. But politics is one thing and government is another. The Northampton County Bulldog visited Northampton County council last night to deliver a scathing assessment of Executive John Brown's budget and his treatment of the employees. The fact that Brown is a Republican made no difference. He also called on Democrats and Republicans on Council to stop acting like the ones in Washington, D.C. It was a moving speech, perhaps the best I've ever heard him give. Excerpts are below. But you can see it here.

Budget: "I've never heard of anybody fielding a Budget with a Line of Credit. ... That was a little bit mind-boggling. I've seen some interesting trickery under the Reibman administration, but even they wouldn't have done that one.

"So now the Executive's answer is to deplete the budgetary reserve. ... You understand you can't do that. You wouldn't do that in your business and I don't believe Mr. Brown would do it in his business. You can't do it in the people's business.

"You are the Council. Your number one most important job in a year's time - probably your only job other than ribbon cuttings - is the Budget. The Budget is his (Brown's) to submit, but it's your baby to pick apart and approve.

"I'll gladly sit down with any of you and help you draw up a Budget to offset that [the Executive's] Budget, which is, frankly, insane. You can't carry $1 million in your budgetary reserve and you're a 300 and some million business.

A millionaire's hat
Employees: "Employees are retiring right and left. When I see people like Mr. Flisser and Doris Lombardo down in the Prothonotary's office retiring, I say to myself, 'Wow! What a loss! These people - I worked with these people are just outstanding individuals doing an outstanding job.'

"I've had a lot of employees call me. It's kind of comical because people still think I'm on County Council. ... Employees' morale is at an all-time low. Nobody stopped to think. OK, you want to chop into their health care. I understand. That's nationwide. People are paying more for their health care. But you also need to look into the big picture. Why did County employees work for the County all these years? Because the pay wasn't always all that great, but you did have good benefits and you had job security. ... Now all at once you're messing with that, and people are retiring because they can do better financially [by] retiring than they can do by continuing to stay here and work because of that proposal on the health care coverage.

"So is anybody starting to say when an employee retires, we can no longer get any work out of them ..., but we now have to pay them a pension for the rest of their life? Better to have those good employees still working here and happy versus the morale you got right now in this building. And it's not good. In all my years, I never had so many calls from employees about their morale.

A millionaire's hat right behind the Executive
Northampton County Gov't Like Washington, D.C. - "We got a man at the top who, frankly, doesn't seem to know what he's doing. And Mr. Brown, that's kinda' what I believe about you, to be honest.

"He's surrounded himself with people who weren't sharp. I was here through several administrations. Nobody was more critical of the Reibman administration than I. It was a passion. But I would give him credit. He was surrounded by good people who kept it running. ... He didn't make it run. Jim Hickey made it run. All of us who were here knew that.

"In the case of you, Mr. Brown, so far, in the one year you're in office, you hire a public relations person so you look good. I can tell you from many years in public service, if you're doing good work, you don't need a public relations firm. Voters will figure out you're doing a good job. You don't need a public relations firm.

"I don't know who you talked to about a $20 million line of credit to balance the budget, but it's insane.

"I looked at your cabinet. You needed to surround yourself, not with old friends from Bangor and people that you figure will help you politically. You need to surround yourself with people who add to your ability to make this a functioning county. And it's not happening.

"And for you Democrats on Council, Mr. McClure, you're number one. You don't need to spend your time making him look bad. He's doing a pretty good job of it on his own. You need to spend your time coming up with other ways to make things happen that are good here,  Not making him look bad. He'll make himself look bad. ... Most of you Democrats have become obstructionists and somehow you Republicans, who hold a majority, aren't united. It shouldn't be that way. I understand why the Democrats want him to look bad. It's the game in Washington and it's the game here. It's sad, though, because we are the people who suffer when that happens.

Tax Increases. "Nobody likes to see tax increases. We all know that. If you're a conservative Republican like I and several of you are, we're for less taxes and less government. In the case of the Democrats - I used to be one -  they're not going to vote for a tax increase because it looks bad to vote for a tax increase. That's not the real issue here, though.

"A leader is a person who makes the tough decisions that need to be made. Sometimes, it's a tax increase.

"You have to have a balanced budget that is doable, and right now, you don't have that. You do not have the budgetary reserve, and it requires a tax increase. Sure, it's going to be unpopular. If Mr. parsons, who replaced me, says we need a one mill tax increase, well, people are going to say he voted for the tax increase. That's not really what it's about. It's about the responsibility of the management of this County. If he [Brown] doesn't know how to do it, you are the checks and balances at budget time. It is your job, then, to do it. It is your job to pick his budget apart,"

NorCo Council's Hayden Phillips - "We Need a Tax Hike"

Hayden Phillips is NorCo Council's conservative conscience 
Is Northampton County poised to adopt a tax hike, even though none has been proposed by the Executive? Will it actually be proposed by the most conservative voices in the County? Will a desire for good government finally transcend party ideologies on the County level? As the days tick off toward December 16, when a Budget of some kind must be adopted, answers to these questions will be more clear. But after Council's November 21 meeting, it's safe to say that a tax hike is on the horizon.  

Brown's New Budget Reduces Fund balance to Just $1 Million

The storm clouds began gathering the day before, when Fiscal Director Jim Hunter told Council's Finance Committee that the County will end 2014 with a fund balance of just $21 million. This news comes at a time when Executive John Brown has submitted a new Amended Budget. It removes a $20 million line of credit that Council Solicitor Phil Lauer advised might be illegal. It makes up for that missing line of credit by spending down the reserve..

Since Executive John Brown is projecting to use $20 million of that fund to balance the 2015 Budget, that means the County will start off the new year with a reserve of just $1 million. That's risky business in a County that spends an average of $8-10 million per month.

It's also contrary to advice from the County's independent auditor. In June, she recommended that there should be at least six months of expenses in the till at all times, which is approximately $60 million. Other accounting firms are a little more lenient, suggesting that one or two months are sufficient. Even others suggest 10% of the total budget.

Council's Most Conservative Members Urge Tax Hike

This new budget, along with Hunter's recent disclosures, resulted in a sleepless night for Council member Hayden Phillips. Phillips, a member of the Lehigh Vally Tea Party, ran his entire campaign based on the principles of limited government, individual rights and fiscal responsibility. He is without question Council's most conservative member. Yet it is this conservative who called for a tax hike.

"I do my business and make decisions in my life based on how well I sleep," confessed Phillips. "yesterday, when we were told that we're going to eat into the reserves and go into a new budget with $1 million of reserve, I didn't sleep well. I didn't sleep well at all. I think if we do that, we are really fiscally irresponsible. And how can we cut $20 million? I don't see how we can ct $20 million. I'll go on record, I'm thinking we need a tax hike."

Phillips' remarks were echoed by Mat Benol, arguably Council's second most conservative member.

"We're in a mess," he admitted. "If a tax increase is needed, it's unfortunate, but we can't be dipping into our fund balances the way that it's proposed."

Ron Angle Challenges Council to be Leaders

Phillips and Benol may have been inspired by comments made by Ron Angle, a fellow conservative and former member of Council, earlier in the meeting.

"A leader is a person who makes the tough decisions that need to be made," he told Council. "Sometimes, it's a tax increase."

Angle was also highly critical of Brown's budget leaving just $1 million in the budgetary reserve, calling it "insane". He implored Lamont McClure and other Democrats to stop trying to make Brown look bad. "He's doing a pretty good job of it on his own," he observed. "You need to spend your time coming up with other ways to make things happen that are good here,"    

Brown declined to respond to Angle's scathing assessment or provide any report at all.

Open Space Funding Pitched

Aside from $1 million in funding that has been promised for municipal parks, Brown's budget contains no finding for farmland preservation or purchases of environmentally sensitive land. Brown has told Council that open space activists are willing to wait. But that's not the case for Bill Mineo, a member of the Open Space Advisory Board, and Don Moore, a member of Plainfield Township's Environmental Advisory Council. Angle also urged Council to restore funding for farmland preservation, noting it is the number one industry in Pennsylvania. "When that land is gone, it's gone forever."

Though Council has no power to make revenue estimates, it does have the power to adopt a higher millage rate than the one proposed by the Executive. That matter and Budget amendments will be considered again when Council meets on December 4. If Council fails to adopt or amend the executive's Amended Budget by December 16, his Budget will be deemed adopted.

NorCo Says Good-Bye to Three Valued Employees

Throughout the week, people have been saluting three Deputy Prothonataries, who are leaving Northampton County, and taking their vast institutional knowledge with them. Though not one of them wants to leave, they feel they have no choice. Roseann, Marie and Doris (I won't use their last names) are names you'll never see in a newspaper, except for the PFAs they occasionally have to file against me. But these are the people who have made Northampton County work over the decades. They show the same respect to everyone.

Yesterday, there was a small lunch party inside the Civil Division for these departing workers. Everyone was welcome. And a lot of people came. Judge Craig Dally, above, is posing with Roseann and Marie. President Judge Stephen Baratta, Judge Michael Koury and Judge Emil Giordano also paid their respects. So did District Attorney John Morganelli.

One person who did not show his face is Executive John Brown. So far as I know, he's never even been in the office.

So much for calling the employee the most valuable asset.

Save Green Pond Q & A

The Green Pond Marsh
Earlier this week, I told you that Green Pond Marsh has been designated a wetland by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Environmental Protection. Here are some questions and answers from Save Green Pond

Does this mean there is no further action needed at this time? If there is further action needed, what does that action need to be?

Not sure. The Army Corps of Engineers recognition of the actual wetland boundaries is the big one that we've been working towards for the past year and a half. If the developer continues his disregard for the Marsh, then we must be vigilant and watch his every move. Up to this point, since he hasn't shown any concern for the unique gem that is Green Pond Marsh, we believe his future plans could still adversely impact the Marsh.

One thing that should be done is to make the local legislators very aware of what is happening and let them know that their constituents don’t want to see Green Pond Marsh ruined. Green Pond Marsh should be showcased as the gem of Bethlehem Township.

So does that mean that the Marsh is safe?

Not necessarily, but it certainly is a positive step toward the preservation of the Marsh.

Does that mean the developer will stay out of the Marsh? And what about the holes they already dug in the Marsh?

Legally, they should stay out of the Marsh.

Hopefully the holes they dug didn't penetrate the impermeable layer of the Marsh which would allow the Marsh to rapidly drain after it is replenished from Green Pond overflow water. But we won't know that until Green Pond flows over the road and fills the Marsh again.

Do you know if PennDOT is planning on installing a culvert that will allow Green Pond to overflow into the marsh without flowing over the road?

As you know, the marsh has not been receiving as much water ever since PennDOT raised the road 3 years ago.

This is an important point to raise with local legislators.

Does that mean that the Army Corps of Engineers will now be the watchdog for the Marsh?

Although they were the agency that determined the location of the wetlands in the Marsh area, the Army Corps of Engineers has no jurisdiction over the Marsh area.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) has jurisdiction over the Marsh area. So we hope they will do their job by protecting the wetlands there.

Is it possible to see a copy of the wetlands report that was done on the Green Pond Marsh area?

Yes. The 66 page wetland report, that was done by ‘Schmid and Company’ is posted on the home page of the SaveGreenPond.org website in PFD format.

NorCo Mental Health Court to Start in 2015

From Left to Right: Northampton County President Judge Stephen Baratta, District Attorney John Morganelli, and Executive John Brown announce the formation of a Mental Health Court 

When Steve Baratta was a lowly District Attorney in John Morganelli's office, he used to tell his boss how helpful a Mental Health County could be in Northampton County, Now, as President Judge, he'll be in charge of it.  DA John Morganelli, along with Judge Baratta and County Executive John Brown, have announced the formation of a Mental Health Court. It goes into business next year. Judge Baratta called it a "real problem-solving court." It will be administered by him and Judge Craig Dally.

"For far too long, I witnessed individuals who are truly mentally ill enter the criminal justice system," explained Morganelli. "I am not talking about those who commit a horrendous crime such as a homicide and then feign mental illness in order to escape responsibility. I am talking about individuals who have a life long history of mental illness and also commit most often misdemeanor crimes and summary offenses over and over again, which brings them into the system.

Morganelli spoke in particular of veterans "who have placed their lives on the line" overseas,only to return home to face inner demons far more sinister than any other enemy. Certain kinds of crimes, particularly felony crimes of violence or felony drug offenses, would be excluded, he explained.

Currently, there are 17 mental health courts in Pennsylvania  The concept was formally proposed by Morganelli in February,  After that, President Judge Baratta conducted several meetings involving law clerks, assistant DAs and representatives of the Administration.

Morganelli will personally screen applications, which are available in his office. Judges Baratta and Dally will then administer the program, twice a week. They will provide classic mental health treatment, along with housing opportunities, for up to 25 people in the first year. "Our job will be to make sure people are complying with mental health needs, he explained.

No new resources are needed for this project, noted Morganelli, "The hope is that there will be some savings to the County." Baratta added.

Like Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), a special program for first offenders in which charges are dismissed after a successful period of probation, charges against mentally ill people who are successful in the program will avoid a record that often prevents them from getting a job

Pledging his support, Executive Brown called the Mental Health Court a "team effort right from the beginning."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

30-Unit Apartment Building Approved Behind Roosevelts 21st

ZO Suzanne Borzak and Solicitor Erich Schock 
Michael Perrucci is a co-founder of a prestigious law firm that includes former New Jersey Governor Jim Florio. But he's really made his mark as a developer. He owns Peron Construction, and recently received approval for Bethlehem's first CRIZ project, the conversion of a vacant bank building into a distillery. His soft-spoken approach and willingness to walk away from a project when legitimate concerns exists, sets him apart and disarms opposition. That style was very evident last night, when Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board unanimously granted dimensional variances for a 30-unit apartment building at 1325 Chelsea Avenue. Perrucci was not there. It was his son, Christian, and principal Rob Tebeer, who persuaded zoners and even some of about 20 opponents with serenity instead of swagger.

At the moment, 1325 Chelsea Avenue is a chained off parking lot, inaccessible to everyone, located behind Roosevelt's 21st along East Elizabeth Avenue. A Perrucci spin-off, PD Property Holdings, has an Agreement to purchase that property along with contiguous 57 East Greenwich Street, giving it a total of 75,000 sq ft. It could build 62 units by right at a building on both properties. Instead, it was proposing 30 units (18 - 2BR and 12- 1BR) at the Chelsea site in a building that will be 3 1/2 to 4 stories tall. It would agree not to develop the East Greenwich Street property. The apartment building would be 193' long instead of the 180' length permitted. Also, unit sizes would be much smaller, just 758 sq ft instead of the 1,200 sq ft required in a commercial zoning district.

Christian Perrucci, who like his father is a lawyer, presented the case. He relied solely on the testimony of PD Property principal Rob de Beer. For his part, de Beer explained that there would be on-site parking for 30 vehicles and room for another 23 on another lot being purchased. He described the project as upscale rental housing that would be aimed at Moravian College staff and recent grads. He assured neighbor Lynne Brolley that a church using that lot would still be able to do so.

James Lawrence asked whether a geological survey would be done, adding that there are rumors that the property was once a dump. De Beer responded that this would be part of their due diligence,and if they found something negative, they would have to decide whether to remediate or walk away.

Alex Chabot expressed concern over noise pollution, noting that intoxicated Roosevelt patrons already congregate at the end of his driveway. De Beer responded that the apartment building would actually buffer the noise.

Katie DeVine questioned the lighting at the rear of the property, which is near where she lives. "We would have to be soft," answered de Beer, adding that the rear would receive more attention than other buildings because it faces residential properties.

Jeff Marsh, who with his son owns Chelsea Court across the street, suggested that it might be time to consider metered parking in that area so that residents do not park in front of the businesses who are his tenants.De Beer stated he was amenable to that proposal. He also told Marsh that it's likely pets will be banned because there are so few green spots in that area. "There's going to be a lot of people running around with sandwich bags," joked Marsh.

Marsh also questioned whether children would be permitted. De Beer stated that, while there is no desire to discriminate, 'those units are not conducive to families with children."

Planning Director Darlene Heller was there on behalf of the City. "We support the project," she said,noting "it would be a very attractive neighborhood for people who want to live in the City." She indicated that concerns about lighting and traffic would be vetted during the planning process.

"We want to make it another great development for the City of Bethlehem," concluded Perrucci.

After the variances were granted, Chairman Gus Loupos thanked the audience, who was concerned but very civil. " I hope you are able to work with the neighbors," he advised Perrucci and de Beer.

Jerry & Julie Seyfried Recognized For 50 Years of Voting


Julie and Gerald E "Jerry" Seyfried were recognized yesterday by Dee Rumsey, Chief Voting Registrar of Northampton County, for fifty years of voting in every single election. Few people can claim this distinction.

They have a 50-year milestone coming up that is even more important than voting. In March, they will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Jerry is a former Executive, County Council member and cabinet member. He's seen it all. I could write page after page about his accomplishments, which include being the first Executive to do something serious about open space. But more than this, I know no person who is more knowledgeable about the Home Rule Charter than he.

Though Jerry ran and lost in a council race this year, that's just the politics. He has met with some of the people who beat him to help them be better servants of the people. He has also offered to help Executive John Brown in any way Brown wanted.

Instead of relying on political hacks who know nothing about county government, now might be a good time for Brown to seek Jerry's help. He doesn't even charge.

Blogger's Note: Though I begged her, Dee Rumsey refused to let me take her picture. She knows I'm a terrible photographer.

Remember John Callahan?

I saw John Callahan last night at a meeting of Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board. The bastard looked as relaxed as I've ever seen him. He was there with the Perrucci law firm, which successfully pitched an apartment building.

Had this man been elected County Executive, there would have been a Budget that actually makes sense, and it would have included the tax hike that should have been imposed two years ago. Instead of hiring consultants to tell him what to do, he would have relied on the people who actually work for the County to come up with ideas.

I saw him speaking, one on one, with some of the twenty or so people who came to complain about this project. And though they still complained, it was not as loud. Though they still had concerns, they were willing to listen.

That's what a leader can do.

During a break, I couldn't help but speak to him. I was ready to talk politics, but he talked about his son, who played outside linebacker and wide receiver this year for Freedom High School.  The Patriots were 11-0 until being bitten by Easton's Red Rovers.

Brown Will Start Next Year With An Empty Tank

The Express Times' Tom Shortell has already said it, but let me say it again. Based on the third quarter financial report, NorCo Fiscal Director Jim Hunter is projecting that the County will end the year with just a $21 million fund balance. Since John Brown is projecting to use $20 million of that fund to balance the 2015 Budget, that means the County will start off the new year with a reserve of just $1 million.

This is irresponsible.

In June, the County's independent auditor criticized the County for spending $14 million more than it took in during 2013. She recommended that there should be at least six months of expenses in the till at all times, which is approximately $60 million. Other accounting firms are a little more lenient, suggesting that one or two months are sufficient. Even others suggest 10% of the total budget. By any accounting standard, this is insane.,

In recent years, Northampton County's stabilization fund has hovered between  $18-25 million. But this is contrary to Northampton County Council's GASB 54 policy, under which it calls for a stabilization fund.

I have yet to hear any accountant recommend starting off a new year with just $1 million in a County that spends $10 million per month.

After the meeting was over, Shortell walked up to Brown with a question. Most of you don't know Shortell, but he's nothing like me. For one thing, he's nice. Brown answered the question, and then just walked off when a follow up question was posed. It was though he might get dirty by lowering himself to speak to an inferior.

This follows his abuse of taxpayer money to say everyone should thank him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

All Hail Our Dear Leader Brown

Northampton County News is supposed to be a bi-weekly update on Northampton County happenings, prepared for employees and delivered electronically. In reality, it is propaganda, designed to prop up Executive John Brown. A perfect example of this appears in the form of a "Reminder" in the latest newsletter.

All month long you can donate to the food bin at the Government Center inside the front entrance, which benefits the Hispanic Center of the LV Food Bank. John Brown allowed for this food drive where past administration has said "no" to the idea. We're thankful to John for allowing this Drive.

Maybe you have a different view, but most of us would agree it is highly inappropriate for the Executive to use his taxpayer-funded public relations consultants to take shots at previous administrations. This is especially so when the accusation is untrue.

I called the Hispanic Center of the LV and spoke to Courtney, who is coordinating this food drive. The claim that any past administration said "no" to a food drive was news to her.

It was also news to former Executive John Stoffa, who stated emphatically that  any food drive would have been welcome.

While we're on the topic, perhaps Executive Brown could coordinate a food drive or two for the employees who have told him, during meetings of County Council, that they are food bank regulars.

Instead of being thankful to John Brown, employees are now calling him "Dear Leader."

Updated  Thursday, 11:10 am: John Brown has updated his newsletter and has removed the offensive and narcissistic comment. Good for him. 

LV Jewish Federation Condemns Senseless Slaughter of Four Rabbis

Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley President Mark H. Scoblionko and Executive Director Mark L. Goldstein have issued a statement condemning the senseless slaughter of four rabbis who were in the middle of prayer. Eight others were wounded.

“The Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley sends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of those murdered in the terror attack that took place earlier today at a west Jerusalem synagogue. We pray for the recovery of those wounded in the attack.

Four rabbis, including Rabbi Moshe Twersky, grandson of renowned Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a dominant American Jewish leader for over 50 years, were senselessly murdered in today's attack.

The recent wave of Palestinian terror attacks in Israel is outrageous and completely unacceptable, but today's attack on innocent people praying in a synagogue is incomprehensible. We pray that the authorities will do everything they can to put an end to the incitement and will find a solution to curb escalating tension in Jerusalem and the rest of the country.

We thank President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro for their swift and strong condemnation of the attack. The support of the U.S. Administration in these harsh times serves as a reminder of the unbreakable bond that exists between our nations.

At the same time, we condemn in the strongest terms the statements by Hamas, which celebrated today's attack and called for further terrorist attacks against Jews. While Palestinian Authority President Abbas did condemn today's attack, it was offered in the context of his having already incited violence by his libelous statements that Jews were contaminating Muslim holy sites and his Fatah‐controlled broadcast media glorifying today's attackers as martyrs and heroes. We ask for the international community to unite and demand that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas put an immediate end to its campaign of libel and incitement. Responsible language and actions by Palestinian and Israeli leaders will help calm the tensions and bring about reasoned dialogue.

We encourage people of all faiths to voice their rejection to the violent attack that took place this morning in Jerusalem. May the families of the victims and may peace and tranquility be restored to the residents of Jerusalem.”

"One Lehigh Valley" Report Unveiled to Bethlehem's Southside

Southside Steely
A two-year study of the Lehigh Valley, funded with a $3 million Sustainable Communities HUD grant, was the focus of a November 18 public meeting at Northampton Community College's South Side campus. Eric McAfee, Director of Community Planning for the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, summarized the report to an audience of about 35 people, each of whom was supplied with a hard copy, along with a tote bag and water bottle. The report lists 35 goals, based on numerous public meetings that even included a LV Iron Pigs baseball game.

This public participation also included a survey of 800 Lehigh Valley residents, performed by Muhlenberg Colleges's Institute of Public Opinion, who were asked questions about challenges to the, economy, environment, transportation and livable communities. People would most like to see better-paying jobs; clean air and water; better roads; and more quality housing for working families.

Jobs. - Over the past five years, the biggest gains in employment have been in the healthcare and social services industry. There are also 4,567 new transportation and warehousing jobs. Many of these jobs, however, are in industrial parks away from the cities. Though agri-business is considered an emerging job market, the Lehigh Valley has lost 80% of its farms and 53% of its farmland since 1930.

City or Suburb? - According to former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, the move to the suburbs is “over.” Not in the Lehigh Valley. Between 1980 and 2010. Lehigh Valley townships and boroughs are responsible for 87% of the population increase. Most people - 57% - live in single family detached homes. Whether it is city or 'burb, 89% of Lehigh Valley residents are within bicycle distance of schools and stores (2 miles). Only 15% of the Lehigh Valley, however is within walking distance, calculated at 1/4 mile, of a school or grocer.

Public Health Rate. - Out of 67 counties, Lehigh County is ranked #19 and Northampton County #21. Northampton County has more morbidity (#53) than Lehigh (#35), but strangely is ranked higher in health behaviors.

Bethlehem's Eastern Gateway. - Darlene Heller, Bethlehem's Director of Planning, explained changes at Bethlehem's Eastern Gateway, which extends east from the Skateplaza and includes the greenway in South Side Bethlehem, between 3rd and 4th Streets.

Southside Steely was there, too, proving that even super heroes believe in good planning.

Why Has Poverty Rate Gone Up in Upper Milford?

This was just a very small part of the discussion last night at Envision LV's final presentation last night, at NCC's Fowler Center, concerning its One Lehigh Valley Report.

According to the data, the poverty rate in Upper Milford has gone up by more than 5% over the past ten years. No other suburb in the Lehigh Valley has experienced that change. What makes Upper Milford so special?

According to Eric McAfee, the Director of Community Planning for the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, it's because of the real estate crash. People unable to pay their mortgages moved out and people of more moderate means moved in. It is by no means a poverty community, just not as wealthy as it was before the real estate bubble collapsed.

Wouldn't this argument apply everywhere?

Any of you out there have any idea why Upper Milford is the sole LV suburb to experience this swing?

Why Has Hanover Tp (Lehigh County) Lost So Many People?

They've all moved to Hanover Township (Northampton County).

Last night, I was at the last presentation being made by Envision Lehigh Valley with the $3 million HUD grant received for "sustainable communities", which translated means they want everyone living in the cities. I'm glad I waited because they had tons of free food and I even got a tote bag. In honor of Nazareth, there were dozens of cupcakes, too.

I got caught up with demographics, as you can see in this story and the two below.

Hanover Township - Lehigh County is depicted on one of many graphs as the only community in the Lehigh Valley to have lost over 15% of its home ownership over the past ten years.

Why?  

According to Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Community Director Scott McAfee, it's lost 50% of its population. A large mobile home park which once straddled Airport Road is now the site of a shopping center with a Panera Bread.

Why Has Poverty Rate Decreased in Wind Gap?

The experts at the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission have an explanation for the increased poverty rate in Upper Milford, but have no clue why it has decreased by over 5% over the past ten years in Wind Gap. "That has us scratching our heads," says LVPC's Eric McAfee.

Is it because Detzi's Tavern has become more popular now that Scott Parsons is on Northampton County Council? Is it because Blue Mountain Consumer Discount is now finally reporting its income? Caesar's Diner? Fracking?

What's your explanation? The experts want to know.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bethlehem Catholic, Parkland Win State Volleyball Titles


Bethlehem Catholic's female volleyball team has left Johnstown as state championships. The news was announced Saturday night, as the Golden Hawks football team were playing, and defeating, Saucon Valley in their own bid for a PIAA state title.

Saturday's volleyball win is the first ever state championship by any female team at Becahi. The picture above comes from a title searcher whose sister happens to be an assistant coach.

Parkland's girls managed to pull off their third straight state title as well, in the larger AAA Division.

They stuck around after their victory, and cheered on Becahi.

Two Lehigh Valley teams. Two state titles.

NorCo Records Denial Appealed

On Friday, at 4:58 pm, Northampton County's Open Records Officer Daniel O'Donnell denied a request for emails between the County's cost control consultant and County employees I appealed that decision today.

The C3 Group, a Scranton-area based cost consulting company, is the company that made the recommendations to reduce health care coverage. Its employees sat in in several meetings with employees to discuss these changes. In response to questions at one meeting to explain the changes, C3 employee Colin Healey told a worker, "Nobody subpoenaed you to work here."

Because it stretches credulity to suggest that no emails are discoverable, I have also asked for an in camera review.

Among the county's more goofy arguments is the claim that these emails are part of labor negotiations. That's just silly. This request concerns a reduction in the health care coverage imposed unilaterally by the Executive. Labor relations necessarily require the participation of management and labor. This never occurred. There have been no negotiations, collective bargaining or arbitration concerning these health plan reductions. This is why the health plan changes have been so unpopular. It was a decision made in a communication vacuum, with no transparency or willingness to talk with the very people being adversely affected. The public has a right to know what Brown and his consultants were saying behind closed doors, and the invocation of the labor relations exception here is pure nonsense.. The RTKL is "designed to promote access to official government information in order to prohibit secrets, scrutinize the actions of public officials and make public officials accountable for their actions.” Bowling v. Office of Open Records, 990 A.2d 813, 824 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2010), aff’d 75 A.3d 453 (Pa. 2013).

Under the County's interpretation, the Right-to-Know Law might as well be called the Right-Not-to-Know Law.

I could go on, from point to point, and I did in my legal argument. But I will spare you.

Had the county denied half or even 3/4 of the emails, I probably would walk away. But denying them all is throwing the gauntlet at transparency.

I am informed that a similar RTK request filed by the Controller has received the same short shrift.

Bethlehem Tp Proposes No-Tax-Hike Budget For 2015

Andrew Freda
For the sixth straight year, Bethlehem Township Commissioners have proposed a no-tax hike budget. A taxpayer in a median market value home worth $177,618, can expect to see the same $521 tax bill he saw in 2014. It's his lowest tax bill, too.  County taxes last year were $940, while school taxes were $4,428. The millage rate is 5.99 mills.

Finance Director Andrew Freda went through the numbers, and also submitted a detailed report, outlining next year's budget. The most troubling aspect of the financial plan is that it spends $1.6 million more than it takes in. This shortfall will be made up by taking money from the fund balance On paper, the fund balance is projected to drop $2 million over the next year and end at just $1.46 million. Funds on reserve will only be 10% of the budget. Freda stated that the reserve should be between 12-18%.

Freda did explain that, in budgeting, revenues almost always come in higher than anticipated and expenses are less. So the Township's actual fund balance next year may be higher than is projected.

The Township's largest revenue source is Act 511 taxes, which consist of transfer taxes, earned income taxes and business mercantile taxes. These provide 31% of the Township's revenue. Real estate taxes, the second largest revenue source, brings in 27% of the Township's income.

The biggest drain on revenue is personnel. Ten years ago, the Township had 93 employees. Today, there are just 85 represented by three different unions.

Another major expense is health care. It is projected at $2.1 million next year, which is just two per cent higher than it was this year.

The Township will also pay $1 million into its pension, with the state kicking in another $500,000.

Unanimously, Commissioners authorized that the budget be advertised. A copy will be available online and at the Municipal Building.

Pektor Pitches Office Park Next to Route 33

Lou Pektor
At a time when Bethlehem Township residents have complained loudly to Commissioners about traffic and storm waters, developer Lou Pektor has pitched yet another building project. This one is called Mill Creek Corporate Center, though there's no creek by that name in the township. Instead of straddling a stream, this 72-acre development is located along Route 33, extending from the William Penn Highway north to Church Road. It includes ten of what Pektor calls "Class A" office buildings, to be built over ten years, and occupy 550,000 to 600,000 sq ft.

"Stormwater is an issue; traffic is a huge issue," Pektor conceded.  He indicated that he plans to set aside 15-20 acres for open space, though he acknowledged that land will be used to address stormwater.

Over 60% of the project will be impervious coverage. "In looking at this, I just see black top," lamented Martin Zawarski. He suggested that, instead of all those parking lots, the developer should construct a garage.

"I can't sit here and say we can afford to do it," responded Pektor. The "we" to who Pektor referred is PennCap Properties, which touts itself as "the leading owner and operator of class 'A' office and flex properties in the Lehigh Valley." Its portfolio includes 32 properties comprising approximately 1.4 million sq ft of office and office/flex space located in six corporate office parks within the Lehigh Valley.

Phil Barnard challenged Pektor to explain what benefits this development would bring to the township.

"125 million," was Pektor's reply. "We'll not create one child," he added, referring to the drain that residential dwellings place on school districts.

"We have an area problem," Tom Nolan told Pektor. Ticking off some planned and existing development, Nolan worries about how to address the William Penn Highway. He added there is no public sewer or water.  

Bethlehem Tp Monthly Report Highlights

Once every month, the Bethlehem Township Commissioners' Agenda contains an item entitled "Acceptance of Monthly Reports." These are reports by different department heads and are accepted without comment. I've been bugging Township Manager Melissa Shafer to start making these available, and she did. Each report is posted prominently on a bulletin board. I love these reports because they provide a perspective from the people who do the work. Here are some October highlights:.

Police
- Officer Pat Brehm has begun his Act 120 training at Montgomery County Police Academy.
- All officers have completed their semi-annual firearms training and qualification.
- Two officers have been re-certified as TASER instructors.
- There were 71 traffic accidents involving 137 vehicles and 13 injuries.
- 186 traffic citations and 202 warnings were issued.
- There were 33 misdemeanor/felony arrests, 19 summary arrests and 3 DUIs.

Public Works
- Old mulch at Comer Park has been replaced with certified playground mulch.
- New outdoor fitness stations are being installed at Municipal Park.

Community Center
- Breakfast with the Elves takes place on December 12 at 9:30 am.
- Gingerbread Houses will be built on December 12 at  5 pm.

Monday, November 17, 2014

NorCo Grand Jury Calls For Resignations of Three EASD Directors




Although Easton High School football team is undefeated and is marching its way towards a state championship, it's a failing high school when it comes to academics. Instead of focusing on either athletics or academics, the Easton Area School District has been painted by a Northampton County Grand Jury as a "negative culture" in which there exists "severe mistrust" between school board members and administrators that borders on "paronoia."  While finding that there is no criminal activity, the 64-page report (you can read it here) is calling for the resignations od school board directors Frank Pintabone, Robert Fehnel and Kerri Leonard Ellison. Jurors also admonish School District Solicitor John Freund to report possible crimes to law enforcement instead of handling things internally. Finally, they recommend that the school district revise its computer use policies to establish clear policies for remote access to employee computers.

This matter first surfaced when it was discovered that Easton Area School District IT Director Thomas Drago was remotely accessing the computers of various school administrators. He was  charged with wiretapping when it was discoverred that he had recorded a meeting among school officials. Drago was ultimately placed on ARD, a special prodram for first offenders in which charges are wiped clean after a successful period of probation. Drago cooperated in the Grand Jury investigation.

The Grand Jury investigated whether school board members had engaged in any attemt to intimidate and retaliate against school district employees. School administrators charged that Drago was leaking sensitive information to school board members, but there was no evidence of any criminal conduct. The Grand Jury believes that there may have been some retaliation under the guise of "restructuring", but that is a civil matter.

There was no evidence that District Solicitor John Freund attempted to thwart any criminal investigation, but once the District's own investigation revealed that Drago had unlawfully recorded a meeting, the matter should have been reported.

Why should school board directors resign after being exonerated?  "We are concerned that their continued service continues to put a strain on the relationship between school district administrators and the school board and that a newly reconstituted board without holdovers who were involvedin the Drago matter would be in the best interests of the school district."

NorCo Refuses to Produce Any Emails With Cost Control Consultant

According to the Commonwealth Court, our Right To Know Law is "designed to promote access to official government information in order to prohibit secrets, scrutinize the actions of public officials and make public officials accountable for their actions.” But in The People's Republic of Northampton County, it might as well be called the Right-Not-To-Know Law. Northampton County is refusing to supply any of the emails between its staff and an outside cost control consultant. It's the same outfit that advised Executive John Brown to help balance his budget by squeezing the worker. The County would prefer to keep the public in the dark

The C3 Group, a Scranton area-based company, is the cost control consultant that Northampton County Executive John Brown hired to come up with a new health care plan that digs deep into the pockets of county workers. Its employees sat in in several meetings with employees to discuss these reductions.. In response to questions at one meeting, C3 employee Colin Healey told a worker, "Nobody subpoenaed you to work here."

On October 9, I filed a RTK request with the County seeking the following:
1) All Contracts between Northampton County and C3 Group, LLC, from the time Executive John Brown was installed to the present.

2) All email correspondence between C3Group, LLC, representatives and andy [sic] employees of Northampton County during 2014.
RTK Officer, Daniel O'Donnell, Esq., invoked an automatic 30-day extension until November 15. He then responded timely, on November 14. He supplied the three contracts about which I've already written.  But he refuses to produce a single email.

Not one.

He raises seven different exemptions outlined in Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law. He claims disclosure will reveal medical histories; labor relations and negotiations; drafts of policies; internal, predecisional deliberations; insurance proposals; notes prepared by county employees for personal use; and risk management related documents.

That's bullshit.  There is simply no way that all emails are privileged, nor do I believe most of these exemptions are applicable. They are simply speed blocks thrown up by an administration that lacks transparency.

This denial will be appealed. I will demanding in camera review, which means the County is going to have to produce all emails for inspection by the Office of Open Records.

The one exemption I find particularly insulting is the claim that these emails are part of labor negotiations. Negotiations require more than one person. Brown's problem all along has been his refusal to negotiate. he just waved his sceptre and imposed draconian health plan reductions unilaterally.

Also, it's amazing that he could call these internal predecisional deliberations. The C3 Group is not part of the County government. The company is an external company, as are all the other consultants he's hired.

Save Green Pond: Green Pond Marsh Designated a Wetland

Traditions of America has plans to develop Bethlehem Township's Green Pond Marsh into a 265-home gated development for active seniors. In fact, in late September, Traditions unleashed backhoes on the marsh, digging up 4' x 6' holes so it could conduct infiltration tests. They insisted that only a small portion of the site, about 27,000 sq ft, is an actual wetland. Bethlehem Township Police dutifully guarded the backhoes against dangerous brigands like the Sierra Club's Don Miles. .

Local police can certainly stop environmentalists and birdwatchers. Hell, even I could roll Miles. But the constabulary has no authority over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the state DEP.

According to Save Green Pond, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and PA Department of Environmental Protection visited the site last week on Wednesday, November 15 to conduct a wetlands survey.

They found that almost the entire 8-acre identified by Save Green Pond and Jack Glagola as a wetland is, in fact, a wetland.  Pink flags and ribbons outline the site.

This poses a major obstacle to tradition's plans for development at that site. It had proposed using this 8-acres as a detention pond.

Washington Post Headline

"Uranus might be full of surprises"

Mine certainly is.

(This headline discovery was made by a distinguished academician who has miraculously retained a sense of humor).

Executive Proposes Budget Amendment Removing $20 MM LOC

On Friday, Northampton County Executive John Brown proposed a Budget Amendment that removes the $20 million line of credit included in his original budget. He intends to take the money from what is left of its reserves.

At its November 6 meeting, Council Solicitor Phil Lauer advised that it is illegal to borrow money to balance a budget. Council then voted, 7-1, to reject it, insisting that Brown would have to produce a brand new budget.

But after realizing that rejecting a budget without amendment might actually operate as its adoption, Council has scheduled a vote this week to rescind its November 6 vote.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Kathleen Kane Feeding Frenzy

Let's say you're on your way to work one bright and sunny morning, as a passenger, when the idiot driver slams into a parked car. You suffer a fairly serious concussion, along with neck and back injuries. You call off. Over the next few days, you suffer from nausea, fatigue and constant headaches. You're unable to look at a computer without your head spinning. Because you're a white collar worker, you're useless at the office. Besides, the doctor has told you not to drive. You do as much as you can from home.

Though you let everyone know what happened, someone who works in one of the other offices thinks he knows better than any doctor, and wants to ask you questions about your accident and about work. Though you're a woman, he comes to your house at night and rings the doorbell. Your son answers and tells the guy that you're in the can. He says he'll wait. When your son tells you what happened, you decide to turn the porch light off so this stalker can be on his merry way.

Such is the life of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

She is the victim of what I can only describe as a feeding frenzy by state reporters who would rather stand on her porch at night than delve into any of the real stories going on in the land of midnight payraises. Their coverage of the state legislature is pathetic, but they are giving each other high fives for their gang tackling of this outsider. Their recent treatment of the state's top prosecutor is both unfair and unprofessional. I also believe that if she were a he, it would not be happening.

Kathleen Kane is the first Democrat and woman to serve as Attorney General.

She started with a friendly press and high marks from fellow Democrats. She rejected a lottery privatization and correctly refused to defend the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act. But unaccustomed to such a high profile office, she began making some serious blunders.

The biggest of these centers around her decision to shut down a corruption probe that caught Philadelphia are state reps and one district judge accepting gifts. That probably would have gone unnoticed, but she accused career prosecutors, many of whom are black, of anti-black bias. She then got into a public passing match with Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, challenged him to take the case,and he did, recently filing charges against a former traffic court judge.. When the Inky began to ask hard questions, she hired Richard Sprague for a possible defamation suit.

Her second big error concerns the long awaited Sandusky report. She commissioned a law school professor who, in balanced, election-free language, basically exonerated Governor Corbett, who at the time was AG. Corbett played no politics, and using a Grand Jury was a reasonable way to proceed. But when she released the analysis, Kane still insisted there were "inexplicable delays" and claimed that Sandusky had added two more victims to his list as the investigation dragged on.

That would be terrible, except it's wrong. Kane was forced to admit her error, not in person, but through someone who would not identify himself.

A Kathleen Kane Grand Jury also issued a scathing presentment recommending charges against Luzerne County Attorney Shelley Centini, .She was called part of a "cabal of criminals" who engaged in witness intimidation and even paid witnesses. They made her sound like a Mafia Moll.

All charges were dismissed following a preliminary hearing. That almost never happens, and means that Kane failed to establish even a prima facie case.

Undeniably,she tarnished her credibility. But the press has behaved badly.She recently was injured in a car accident on her way to a Grand Jury appearance. A passenger, she suffered a concussion. The public was aware what had happened the day it happened. But the press is gang tacking her over every detail, and even sent someone to pound on her door at night.

One of her critics, amazingly, is her former press secretary, Chris Kelly.

"Our reporter was alone on Ms. Kane's doorstep," he whines,insisting that she "is the attorney general 24/7."

Let me get this straight. A woman has an obligation to answer her door at night to a stranger after experiencing a severe concussion? Are you out of your mind? I don't give a shit what you think is so damn important. It can wait.

No wonder he's her former press secretary.

Kelly also wants to know what Kane was doing in Dunmore at 6:55 am. Um, why don't you look at a map, Chris? You live out that way, don't you?. Dunmore is on the way from her Waverly home to the highway. Maybe the bagels there are good. This is the kind of question that requires posting a reporter at a door at night?

This intrepid :"journalist" also wants Kane to answer why Dunmore police took ten days to release an accident report . How the hell should she know? She's the Attorney General, not Queen of the World. Why don't you send a reporter to pound on the door of the Dunmore Police Chief in the middle of the night? See how far that gets you.

Kane did speak to a reporter who dropped by while the sun was out. "That you for coming during the day," she told him.

Kelly's account is just one of several negative columns that seem to suggest Kane has some obligation to work through a concussion. Steve Corbett, The Morning Call and The Patriot News have had equally goofy accounts.

If a concussion sidelines a NFL lineman, is it so hard to understand that it might sideline Kathleen, too?

NorCo Council Set To Reverse Budget Rejection

Last week, out of an abundance of caution, Northampton County Council voted 7-1 (Glenn Geissinger was absent) to reject a John Brown Budget that included a $20 million line of credit considered illegal. Their intention was to start all over with a clean slate. But they went too far, In the CraZy world of Northampton County, the Executive's proposed budget, even if rejected, will be considered adopted by December 16 unless Council amends it. Unlike the federal or state government, the Home Rule Charters in both Northampton and Lehigh County guarantee that there will be a budget.

When Council meets next week, I understand they plan to rescind their rejection.
 

What About That No-Bid Health Plan Consultant?

I told you in a previous story about the C3 Group, Cost Control Consultants. That's the firm that Executive John Brown hired to come up with a way to reduce health care costs. That was is by making County employees pay more out of their own pockets. Brown paid $58,000 of County money for that advice. This consultant essentially recommends that he balance the budget on the backs of the County worker. He has denied this, but that conclusion is inescapable.

On October 9, I filed a Right-to-Know request seeking the following:

1) All Contracts between Northampton County and C3 Group, LLC, from the time Executive John Brown was installed to the present.

2) All email correspondence between C3Group, LLC, representatives and andy [sic] employees of Northampton County during 2014.

The County held that request until October 15, at which time I was advised that it needed 30 additional days to respond, and that I'll get my answer by November 15, a Saturday.

This kind of delay is permitted under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law

When I know, you'll know.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

PennEast Pipeline Meeting Draws Hundreds

Traffic was so crowded going in and out of the Hanover Township Community Center that a road crew had to manage the traffic. They were not there for the latest Pilates class, but an "open house" concerning the 108-mile pipeline being proposed by PennEast Pipeline. Hundreds of people were greeted by at least 30 blue-shirted PennEast Associates. In addition, at least 10 members of Laborers Local 158 were on hand, dressed in orange. Given the support by these major corporations and unions, I think it's highly likely that this pipeline is coming.

Stations were set up along the walls, where people could enter their addresses and see how close the pipeline would be to them. In the center of the room, spread out along several tables, there was a gigantic map showing the pipeline through each county.

A 36" pipe carrying high pressure natural gas will be buried 36", except in farming communities. There, the depth will be 4-6'.

"What happens if I hit the pipe?" I used Ken Robinson (he really works for UGI) several times.

"You don't want to do that," he laughed. he claimed the fire and explosion would be limited because the gas depends on oxygen to be flammable or something like that.

I don't recall that being the case in Allentown.

My main concern is how close this pipeline will come to residential developments in Bethlehem Township. A spokesperson promised to get back to me with an answer, if she can read my lousy handwriting.

From the interactive map online, it appears this pipeline will be very close to Wagner Farms and Orchard Estates. It appears to be about 2000' east of Notre Dame at Green Pond High School, and is less than 800' to the west of St. Luke's Hospital, Anderson Campus. In Lower Saucon and Williams Townships, it appears to steer clear of developments. In Moore Township, it appears to be located within 2000' of Moore Township Elementary School.

Another question concerns compressors for this gas. Those are above ground and strike me, as a layperson, as a cause for concern. I am told there will be only one compressor in the entire state, and its location is undecided at this time.

That's another thing. This route is not etched in stone, and could and probably will change.

But it's coming. There were several groups opposed to the Pipeline outside the Community Center. Concerned Citizens Against the Pipeline and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network were on hand.

Some officials from local townships were on hand, too. Cynthia Miller and Sandra Hopkins, two Lehigh Township Supervisors, took the tour. Cynthia told me that Lehigh, like Bethlehem Township, is revising its local zoning ordinance so that it has some control in the event that a course change puts it through Lehigh Township.

Tom Nolan, a Bethlehem Township Commissioner, had lots of questions.

Northampton County Director of Administration Luis Campos was also there.

If you have questions, you can visit PennEast Pipeline, call 844-347-7119 or email answers@penneastpipeline.com .

Opponents of the pipeline can be found at Stop the PennEast Pipeline. Hopewell Township, in New Jersey, and Riegelsville Borough, in Pennsylvania, have adopted resolutions opposing the pipeline. Riegelsville's was adopted tonight, during the open house. .

Scomillio: Easton Commuter Tax Illegal

Phil Lauer (L) represents Council. Vic Scomillio (R)
represents the County.
Easton Mayor Sal Panto got a little greedy. He is the proud owner of a very unpopular commuter tax in Easton. He could force people, may of whom are paid so poorly that they require food assistance, to help pay for his Bacon Fest and the tax breaks he gives to rich developers like Mark Mulligan. Best of all, they could never vote him out of office because they don't live in Shadtown. But all good things come to an end. In Panto's case, it's because he got greedy and took the easy way out.

He wanted more money to balance his budget next year. Unlike Executive John Brown, he knows better than to try to borrow to balance his budget. Instead of knocking off the corporate welfare, he decided instead to increase the commuter tax.

DA John Morganelli, who works in Easton, dislikes the tax as much as everyone else. But I doubt very much if he would have done anything if it remained at current levels, other than grin and bear it. Then Panto decided to screw the County workers and raise that tax for the second time in two years. He arrogantly made his announcement the very day after Senior Judge Braxton concluded that a similar tax in Scranton is illegal,  After some preliminary research, Morganelli raised his concerns with County Solicitor Vic Scomillio. .

Northampton County Council, which disagrees with each other on everything else, unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the commuter tax hike. Executive Brown authorized Vic to research the matter, and we know now that he considers the tax illegal.

He warned Easton last night against adopting a new tax. Panto and his Council tabled the matter, but I suspect this thing will ultimately be settled in a courtroom.

For once, I am happy to see Council and the Executive on the same page, and on a matter that will help the worker.

Why Republicans Were Elected

We elected Democrat Tom Wolf for Governor here in Pa. But in Congressional races, it was a Republican landslide. But this was no endorsement of Republican thinking. Think about it. Nebraska and Arkansas, both of them GOP states, voted to raise the minimum wage. Washington State actually was able to adopt a gun control measure, in spite of the NRA. And weed was legalized in Alaska, Oregon and D.C.. So why did people vote Democrat on the issues but Republican on the person?  In a word, Obama. In three words, Obama and Putin.

Obama has been so weak and ineffectual on foreign policy that many people no longer take our national security for granted. Obama's impotence in the Middle East has encouraged both China and Russia to be more bellicose.

Just yesterday, Reuters reports that Russia intends to begin long range bomber flights that will take it right down to the Gulf of Mexico.  NATO has complained about Russian provocations, but Obama has reacted weakly, or not at all.

According to a London-based think tank, there have been 40 dangerous or sensitive incidents between Russia and the west. Here are the details on three of them:
"Near mid-air collision with passenger plane On 3 March this year, an SAS passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen with 132 passengers bound for Rome had a close encounter with a Russian reconnaissance plane which did not transmit its position. A collision was only avoided because of good visibility and the alertness of the SAS pilots, according to the report. The incident, which happened 50 miles south-east of Malmo, in Sweden, was before the shooting down of the MH17 passenger plane over Ukraine. Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists were blamed for the July missile attack.

"Simulated cruise missile attacks on North America In early September this year, Russian strategic bombers in the Labrador Sea near Canada practised cruise missile strikes. The Russian aircraft stayed out of Canada’s airspace but it was still a provocative move in light of the Nato summit at the time, according to the report. Cruise missiles launched from the Labrador Sea would have Ottawa, New York, Washington, Chicago and America’s Norfolk naval base in range.

"Black Sea encounter On 7 September, the Canadian frigate Toronto was buzzed by a Russian aircraft in the Black Sea with the plane coming within 300 metres. The Toronto locked its radar on the Russian plane but took no further action as the Russian plane was not armed. The incident coincided with larger Russian larger naval combat training activities near Sevastopol. “Such aggressive behaviour, if repeated by an armed aircraft, could have resulted in the ship commander targeting the aircraft in an act of self-defence,” the report says."