Friday, April 24, 2015

Nazareth Pool Pipe Cracked, Has Leaked 70,000 Gallons

Nazareth's new $2.3 million pool, which is scheduled to open amid fireworks sometime in May, has a crack in an underground return pipe that has resulted in the loss of 70,000 gallons of water. Though it's under warranty and the repairs are supposed to cost nothing, the opening of the pool may be delayed.

Updated 1:08 pm: I have clarified this post to point out that it is actually a pipe underground, and not the pool itself, that has cracked.

Abe Kassis Appeals to Fringe Again

Assistant District Attorney Abe Kassis is a fine lawyer, but I now question his judgment. A few months ago, he himself circulated a nomination petition at a meeting of the local tea party. He got the endorsement of members who like to call themselves RATs. He was so busy there that it made him late for a meeting of local Democrats.Unfortunately, this was no fluke.

In February, Kassis appealed to tea party hard-liners like Chairman Ronnie Del Bacco and gun nut Tom Campione, who is currently threatening to sue municipalities who don't allow fellow gun nuts to prance through parks with a six-pack in one hand, and a six-shooter in the other. Bethlehem Tp Comm'r Pat Breslin, who voted against a no-tax hike budget because it included a slight increase in wages for non-union employees, signed Kassis' petition. So did Saucon Valley School Director Bryan Eichfeld, who recently advocated replacing what he calls propaganda about global warming with "true science." Kassis even allowed Tom Carroll, another RAT, to circulate for him.

You might write that off as inexperience or a simple mistake. But Wednesday, Kassis appeared as the guest of Bobby Gunther Walsh. He is so over-the-top on crime that he is being sued by Lehigh County DA Jim Martin for defamation. Just the day before, Walsh had gun nut lawyer Joshua Prince as his guest. A few fays before that, it was gun nut Larry Pratt. That guy has been linked to white supremacist, anti-Semitic and paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. He even called on the Protestant population there to arm themselves.

I believe it's a mistake for any judicial candidate to appear on that program. I can forgive Judges John Foradora or Cheryl Allen because they are not not local. But Abe is, and should know better.

He never listed his Bobby Gunther Walsh appearance on his Facebook page, which tells me he was trying to appeal to the frings.

Who's Ahead in Bethlehem Tp Magisterial District Judge Race?

I sometimes tease them as mini-judges, but Magisterial District Judges are the front lines of our judicial system. They are what former Chief Justice Ralph Cappy called "the bulwark between the police and the rights of citizens."  I first saw those words are contained on a plaque adorning the courtroom walls of Bethlehem Township's current Magisterial District Judge Joe Barner. Unfortunately, he's stepping down at the end of this year. Five candidates, three of them assistant DAs, have lined up to take over in a new district limited to Bethlehem Township.

Magisterial District judges are paid $88,290 a year, along with complete medical benefits, to hear "minor criminal offenses, traffic offenses, landlord and tenant matters and other civil actions where the amount claimed does not exceed $12,000.00."  They must be 21, residents of the state and must have lived in the magisterial district for at lest one year before assuming office. Terms last for six years, and nothing prevents other employment, though that is becoming less common. They must be attorneys or certified by the Administrative Office of Pa. Courts. Though there's a movement afoot to require that all mini-judges have law degrees, I hope it never passes. A law degree is a nice thing to have, but nothing can replace the common sense wisdom I often see displayed by Magisterial District Judges like Barner

In this case, the two nonlawyers running are poor candidates. Andrew Tupone, a 911 dispatcher as well as some sort of alcohol agent for the PSP, became a little too well known to lawyers around the courthouse when he served as part of the Panto Parking Police. Some tell me they felt they were targeted, which is hardly the kind of conduct you'd want from a judge.

The other weak candidate, Bryan Altieri, has two college degrees nut has never held a job. He and his wife Leslie, a perennial candidate for state house, live in a home worth over $500,000. Last time I checked, they had made no mortgage payments in over four years. This appears to be irresponsible.

To top everything off, neither Tupone nor Altieri is certified by the Administrative Office of Pa. Courts.

The other three candidates - Bill Blake, Pat Broscius and Sandy McClure - are all prosecutors in John Morganelli's office. They all have the right temperament for the job, though Bill Blake has some conflicts of interest to resolve.

Blake and Broscius are both full-time prosecutors, meaning they spend forty hours or more every week, doing the people's business.But Sandy McClure, who is part-time, has more time to go out and knock on doors, and is apparently doing just that. From what I hear, she is well-regarded in her neighborhood. As quiet as she can sometimes be in a courtroom, she is more extroverted in small groups.

Some super Republican voters tells me they have already received three well-done fliers from McClure

I have no idea who is going to win this race, but McClure is spending the most money. This race won't be decided until November. My guess is that McCure will capture the democratic nod and that the Republican nomination will go to Pat Broscius or Bill Blake.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cemetery Residents Have No Objection to Home at Holy Ghost

Bethlehem ZHB deliberates. 
His name is Bishop but he's a priest. Father Cliff Bishop, Pastor at both the Incarnation of Our Lord and Holy Ghost Parishes in South Bethlehem, stood before the City's Zoning Hearing Board on April 22. The cemetery there has a house that was once occupied by a caretaker, but is currently vacant. So Father Bishop wants to offer the home for sale. He needed what zoners call a variance for the residential use right next to the graveyard.

"I would assume there would be no objection from the residents right next to the home?" asked Chairman Gus Loupos.

"I would hope not," answered Father Bishop, who added they're "pretty quiet" and "don't make much noise."

The use variance was unanimously granted by four members of the Board. Linda Shay Gardner, detained by a business conflict, was absent.

The Diocese of Allentown was represented by Allentown Attorney Benjamin Traud.

The Board also gave Dylan Finelli permission for a carport at his home at 627 4th Avenue and approved a four lot subdivision at 802-804 Atlantic Street after an extensive presentation by Engineer Kevin Horvath and Bethlehem Attorney Joe Piperato. Owner Brett Lewis plans to build four single homes at the site. Attorney Michael Santanasto, who is acquainted with Lewis, recused himself.

Finally, zoners granted Colleen Miller permission to establish a new storage facility next to one she already owns at 815 Traveler Avenue. She testified that no chemicals and no residents are permitted at the site, which is located near the Greenway.

She caught a person there last year who was living in one of the storage sheds.

"I think it's wonderful that she didn't mention you by name, Bernie," wisecracked Santanasto.

Miller was represented by Easton Attorney Ted Lewis and Engineer Kevin Horvath. "We liked him so much we asked hom to stick around," joked Lewis.

U Mt Bethel Supervisor Relents on Evicting Waitress

Yesterday, I told you that Upper Mount Bethel Supervisor Dennis "Jonesie" Jones was attempting to evict a waitress who has a valid $600 a month lease with him because she refused to sign a new one increasing her rent to $1000. I'm happy to report that he's had a change of heart and will allow her to stay at the already agreed upon rent. Good on him.

The Perils of Running For Bethlehem City Council

Jeff Kocsis
I saw Jeff Kocsis, one of three candidates for a two-year seat on Bethlehem City Council, at my satellite office (Panera Bread) yesterday. He stopped there for a tall cup of coffee after work at the Lehigh County Register of Wills. He tried to dart away when he saw me, but I blocked the door. I finally let him go after he gave me his number. When I called later that night, Willie Reynolds answered.

He got me good.

Jeff's been knocking on doors all over Bethlehem. "I do enjoy it," he admitted, but had a close call last weekend.

Most people aren't home when candidates knocks on doors. So Jeff writes out a little "Sorry I missed you" note and sticks it in the door with a flier. He was doing that on Sunday when he saw a dog at someone's home, not too pleased to see him.

Maybe the dog was a Republican.

Because it was behind a closed window, Jeff was unconcerned.

"What kind of dog was it?"

"Couldn't tell you."

As Jeff walked away, out of nowhere, the dog jumps him from behind, like a ninja, and sinks his fangs into the back of his thigh.

"Holy shit! Where'd the dog come from?"

"Couldn't tell you."

Jeff finally got away.

"It got me good!"

Kocsis' mom and recently departed father both worked two jobs to make sure he got through Becahi and Moravian College. He told me he's proud to be from Bethlehem. "I love it here.".

"I'm a dog guy, you know."

He's running on a "clean and safe " platform. In my view, this is the foundation from which everything else flows.

"I've got a Shepherd."

Maybe that dog was a Liberty grad.

Last time I got bit by a dog, which was just last year during those Lenten feasts in Roseto, the dog got rabie and had to be put down.

I'm a carrier.

Bethlehem City Council Candidates Night This Monday

Did you know that seven people are running for four seats on Bethlehem City Council this year? You'll have an opportunity to lean more about them on Monday night April 27. The Northeast Blockwatch, located at the Church of the Manger (1401 Greenview Drive) is hosting a Candidates Night. The fun starts at 7 pm. All seven candidates will introduce themselves and answer questions.

I'll be there, but iIm taking my life into my hands. Last time I went, I got blasted by a bolt of lighting that I'm sure was intended for Gus Loupos.

Bethlehem's City Council consists of seven members who constitute the City's legislative body. They all serve at-large for four-year terms and are paid a salary of $7,100 (the president gets an extra $500). They are also entitled to health benefits.

This year, four Bethlehem City Council seats are up for grabs. But one of them is just a two-year seat because whomever is elected will serve out the remainder of Karen Dolan's term. She resigned earlier this year after an Investigating Grand Jury determined she had engaged in multiple conflicts of interest. Amazingly, three candidates - Olga Negron, Matt McKernan and Jeff Kocsis - are all after that one seat.

The remaining three seats are all for four-year terms. Incumbents Willie Reynolds and Mike Recchiuti are asking voters for another shot. Michael Colon and Shawn Martell are seeking an opportunity to serve as well. Cathy Reuscher, an appointee, decided against running for the job.

All seven candidates are Democrats, so this race will be decided in the Primary unless an Independent gets on the ballot or Republicans mount a write-in campaign.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bethlehem's Pothole and Graffiti Hotlines

From City of Bethlehem: - Mayor Bob Donchez encourages Bethlehem residents to take advantage of the City’s Pothole Hotline and Graffiti Hotline:

Pothole Hotline: 610-865-7053
Graffiti Hotline: 610-865-7060

“As spring arrives after another difficult winter, I encourage everyone to use our Pothole Hotline so we can repair our streets where potholes have occurred,” said Mayor Donchez. “Additionally, we want to make sure our city looks as good as it can, so if you see graffiti be sure to contact the Graffiti Hotline.”

Using these hotlines will promptly alert the necessary city departments to the work that needs to be completed, so that city crews can be dispatched in a timely matter to address both potholes and graffi

Minimum Wage Increase Would be Raise to 65,000 LV Workers

From CACLV: - The Keystone Research Center today announced the release of a new report showing the impact of increasing the Pennsylvania minimum wage from $7.25 to at least $10.10. They studied the impact on all 67 PA counties. A $10.10 minimum wage would give 65,382 workers a raise in the Lehigh Valley and boost the state's sluggish economy, according to the report. For Lehigh County, a boost in the wages of 35,582 workers would increase total wages by $52.1 million; in Northampton County, increased wages of 29,800 would increase total wages by $43.3 million.

In the region, which includes Carbon County, women working who would be affected by an increase to $10.10 per hour outnumber men. Consistent with state averages, the typical worker in Lehigh and Northampton counties who would get a raise is an adult, over the age of 20, working full-time.

"When workers can pay their bills, the whole economy thrives: the landlord hires contractors, the contractors go out to dinner, and the servers buy clothes. It's time we realized we really are all in this together," said Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.

While workers in several industries call for $15 an hour and the right to join a union, advocates say that the state should ensure that every worker in Pennsylvania makes at least $10.10 an hour.

The advocates called on state lawmakers to increase the minimum wage to at least $10.10 for all workers, including tipped workers, and tie the rate to inflation, as well as increase the fines for employers who commit wage theft against their employees and strengthen enforcement efforts.

Across the state, wages are so low that hundreds of thousands of workers are living in poverty. In the Lehigh Valley, more than 1 in 5 homeless heads of households are working. These low wages are not just so low they result in hunger and homelessness, but they are stalling our economy and hurting communities. It's time to update the wage floor so people can meet their basic needs, like food, medical care, and gas.

Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 would give over 1.2 million Pennsylvania workers a raise, according to the Keystone Research Center. It would put nearly $2 billion into the state's economy. The benefits would be felt throughout Pennsylvania, with nearly one in four workers in the state's 48 rural counties and more than 700,000 workers, or 18 percent, in the state's urban counties getting an increase in wages. In addition, more than 200,000 people in each of Philadelphia and Allegheny counties would get a boost.

"More than 80 percent of workers who would get a raise by increasing the minimum wage to at least $10.10 are adults age 20 and older, not affluent teens with after-school jobs" said Mark Price, an economist with the Keystone Research Center. "Raising the minimum wage would also help close the wage gap between women and men -- nearly six-in-ten workers who would get a boost in pay are women, including thousands of single moms."

The PA minimum wage has not been raised since 2007, which is stalling our economy and harming communities. Today, a person working full-time making the minimum wage has an annual income of only $15,080, which is below the poverty line for a family of two. To make matters worse, the wage floor has not kept up with the rise in consumer prices. As a result, the minimum wage is 23 percent lower today than it was in 1968.

Compared to other states, minimum wage workers in Pennsylvania are falling behind. Already 29 states have increased their minimum wage above the federal government wage floor of $7.25, including all of our neighboring states, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and Maryland.

"No one working full-time should have to live in poverty or rely on emergency food pantries to feed their family," said Janet Ney, of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania.

"Rigorous research over the past 20 years has proven that raising the minimum wage boosts workers' pay and their purchasing power without causing job losses," said Price. "Raising the minimum wage puts money in people's pockets which they then turn around and spend in the local economy."

The failure of employers to pay fair wages is creating stress on working families and forcing taxpayers to subsidize corporate profits through increased costs for social programs. Wages for low wage workers in Pennsylvania and nationally have stagnated in the past six years. Lower waged Pennsylvania workers have lost $.24 per hour or 3% relative to inflation since the last increase in the minimum wage in 2009.

"The hardworking people who serve our food, clean our hotels and care for our children deserve a raise," said John Dodds, of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. "Working families are the engine of our economy, but they haven't received a raise since before the Great Recession. It's time to do the right thing by raising the incomes of 1.2 million Pennsylvania workers, which will boost our economy and strengthen local communities."

Bobby Gunther Walsh Plays Defamation Game Again.

WAEB's Bobby Gunther Walsh is currently facing a defamation lawsuit as a result of a series of libelous radio shows in which he attempted to tarnish the good name and reputation of Lehigh County DA Jim Martin. Walsh was pursuing a personal vendetta against Martin, whose office once prosecuted him for assaulting his daughter. The charges were ultimately dropped, but Walsh became bitter.

In the face of such a lawsuit, you might think that Walsh would be more careful with his accusations. Instead, on his April 21 show, he lashed out at a new target, Ron Angle. Walsh appears to have a hot nut for Angle, too.

Angle is the Northampton County Republican Party's write-in candidate for Controller. But he's been somewhat reluctant, and won't mount a campaign unless 250 Republicans want him to run. There are several Republicans who don't, like tea party chair Ronnie del Bacco. They're known as the RATs. These folks are near and dear to Gunther's heart, and are his usual guests.

The moment that Republicans decided that Angle was their man, the RATs went to Anthony Catino, and duped him into running. Gunther hosted Catino as his guest, and in his very first question, made this defamatory defamatory statements, innuendo and implication about Angle.

"This is an interesting question - I have no idea what this means - do you have any civil judgments or have you been arrested for theft like the other Northampton County Republican write-in candidate has? I have no idea who he means or who he's talking about there."

Gunther knows exactly what the question means. He knows exactly who is being discussed. This is a smear on Angle, against whom there are no judgments and who has never been arrested or convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude.

The deceit and dishonesty come from Walsh and his fellow RATs. I plan to alert Angle about this defamation, and hope he sues. Part of that suit should require Walsh to divulge the identity of the question that Walsh posed, knowing it would damage Angle.

Judicial Candidate Sam Murray: "I Want to Make a Difference"

When I was younger, I used to visit The Moravian Sun Inn, located on Bethlehem's historic Main Street, to purchase Advent stars. I never got past the counter. I finally had an opportunity to do that yesterday. Most of the rooms are roped off, but I did sneak up into the attic, where there is supposed to be a ghost of a little girl. I thought I heard a faint voice whisper, "No more pepperoni for you, fattie." My real reason for being there was to attend a get together for Northampton County judicial candidate Sam Murray, hosted by Bethlehem Attorney Michael Santanasto. I simply took Easton Mayor Sal Panto's name tag, and nobody was any the wiser. I even ticketed a few cars before leavin the Christmas City.

Santanasto, who went to high school with my son, is a member of Sun Inn's board. He gave us all a history lesson. Many famous people have been there as guests of the Moravians. George Washington, John Adams, Ben Franklin. Those are hard acts to follow, but now it's Sam Murray's turn.

Santanasto stole Judge Emiil Giordano's line. "Give me ten," is what Judge Giordano likes to say. He's not referring to money or pushups, but votes. Michael asked each person present to get ten friends to vote for Sam and Judge Giordano.

Nearly 100 people were crowded into the second floor, to wish Sam luck. They included famous attorneys like Gary Asteak, Bill Murphy, Joe Piperato, Lenny Mellon, Stanly Vasiliadis, Herb Litvin and Dave Backenstoe. Judge Paula Roscioli, who is seeking a well-deserved retention, was there, and I was finally able to photograph her. Numerous elected officials came, too. Controller Steve Barron, Easton Controller Tony Bassil, former Magisterial District judge jimmy "the Judge" Stocklas, Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez and Easton City Council member Ken Brown, a childhood friend of Sam's.

Judge Emil Giordano, who is criss-crossing the state, was supposed to come, but was still on the road at the time I had to leave for a meeting. It turns out that I had no meeting to cover, and I could have stayed and finished all the pepperoni.

Former NorCo Executive Jerry Seyfried introduced Sam, who he appointed to the PD's staff in the 90s. Seyfried called Murray a "rising star" at that time. He should know. Several of the lawyers who worked for him have gone on to become judges, including President Judge Steve Baratta and Superior Court jurist Jack Panella.

His daughters helped sign everyone in, and his wife Marge is very much like her husband, unpretentious. Their dignity comes from the way they act, not the airs they assume.

In a brief speech, Sam gave his background as a lawyer. He has also been a Custody Master and Juvenile Court Hearing Officer, making him the only candidate among three fine people who has judicial experience. Sam also discussed, too briefly, his role in Little League baseball, where he accomplished the rare feat of taking a little-known Bethlehem team and marching it right into the World Series.

Why does he want to be a judge? "I want to make a difference," answered Sam.

If you'd like to meet Sam, he's having a spaghetti dinner this Sunday from 12:30 - 4 pm at the Safety First Volunteer Company, 307 6th Street West Easton, PA 18042. It costs $10.00 per person, and Pat Sportelli is doing the cooking. Please contact Margie at 610-392-9249 for tickets.

U Mt Bethel Supervisor Evicting Waitress With Valid Lease

Dennis Jones is in a bit of hot water with his fellow Upper Mount Bethel Supervisors right now. He directed a contractor to complete work on a Township building that was about $4,000 more (about 45%) than had been authorized by the Board. Since Jones had apparent authority to order this work done, I think the Township has to pay. But they also could and probably will surcharge him personally. He exceeded his authority. He exceeds his authority in other areas as well.

Jonesie is a regular at a local diner. He spends hours there, scrolling up and down on his iPhone, trying to be just a little too friendly with the waitresses, as is the habit with old farts. In January, he rented out an apartment to one of them for just $600 a month. There was supposed to be a $600 security deposit, but he waived it. I have a copy of the lease.

A few months later, he gave his tenant a new lease. Suddenly, he wants $1,000 a month and a security deposit. But she already has a valid lease for $400 less a month.

Because she refused to sign a new lease and pay nearly twice the rent agreed, Jones has had his attorney draw up and serve her with a "Notice to Quit," which is worthless. I doubt he bothered to tell his lawyer that she already has a valid lease.

This is a man who exceeds his authority. Amazingly, he is running for re-election.

Bethlehem Tp Comm'rs to Let the Public Speak

At their April 20 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners unanimously decided against enacting a public comment policy that would have limited the right to speak to a five-minute time limit. It would also have restricted the public soapbox, called courtesy of the floor, to the beginning of a meeting or during a public hearing.

The public right to speak during municipal meetings is guaranteed by Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act, which is designed to make local government more transparent. That law specifically provides that open meetings are "vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process." As stated by Judge Damon Keith, "Democracy dies behind closed doors."

Though the public has the right to speak, numerous boards throughout the Lehigh Valley impose time limits on speakers in order to keep meetings moving. Bethlehem Township Commissioners tabled a discussion on this limitation in September, but resurrected the issue recently after two meetings in which PennEast Pipeline opponents, most of them nonresidents, made lengthy and redundant presentations.

After a meeting in which ten residents spoke, Commissioners again decided to table the adoption of any public comment policy. It is a topic that was recently brought up at a debate.

"This is where we get our frustration out on you!" joked Martin Comer, himself a former Commissioner and a regular at every meeting. His thoughts were echoed by Bill Berry, another former Commissioner. "There's an issue of transparency in the Township," he warned. He added that, as a regular at meetings, he's seen no reason for a formal policy.

Micahel Hudak, a proponent of the policy, agreed with other Commissioners to table the matter, especially with an election less than a month away. But he defended the policy as a "fire extinguisher" that the President of the Board would invoke only when needed.

"Nobody's trying to stifle anybody," he assured everyone.

Tom Nolan, who previously spoke out against a formal public comment policy, stated it would "have more than a negative impact on our meetings."

Wanna' Make Some Money on Election Day?

Northampton County's election office is looking for a few good men (and women) on election day. It needs to man the polls for the primary election on May 19. It's a long, 14-hour day, but it's also rewarding to watch democracy in action and be a part of it.

The pay is $175, in cash.

I've participated as a poll worker in two elections so far, and am very impressed by the dedication of mny fellow poll workers. They try very hard to get it right.

If you'd like more information, contact the Northampton County Elections Office at 610-559-3055.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Divided Board Grants Waivers to Green Pond Developers

Brooke Kuronya passes out watercolors
of birds documented at Green Pond Marsh 
By a three to two vote, Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners have approved a series of waivers and deferrals for a controversial senior housing development proposed by developer Traditions of America. This senior housing specialist has submitted plans for a 261-home development located next to Green Pond Marsh. That's a habitat for over 280 species of migratory birds, and has been designated as wetlands by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This approval followed a lengthy presentation by Traditions that included powerpoints, partners, a lawyer an engineer and supportive statements from two township residents introduced by Traditions' partner David Biddison. Earlier that evening, during courtesy of the floor, Board President Marty Zawarski had assured opponent Kathy Glagola that there would be no presentation because everything had already been reviewed by the Planning Commission.

Traditions had sought waivers and deferrals on road widths and sidewalks. The Plan proposes road widths of 26' and 28' in a 33-38' wide right of way, while the township requires 32' wide roads as part of a 50' wide right of way. Traditions also sought a waiver of sidewalks on both sides of the street and a waiver of a sidewalk along Farmersville and Green Pond Roads. he developer sought a deferral of sidewalks along Church Road.

The main argument in favor of granting these waivers and deferrals is that this would decrease the amount of impervious coverage by 3.12 acres, making it easier to manage stormwaters and protect the wetlands. More narrow roads would also have a traffic calming effect, though Township Engineer Bryan Dillman observed that it would be slower traffic in more congested roads. "I wouldn't say it's safer," he remarked

Before the presentation, artist Gwendolyn Evans Caldwell, with the assistance of Brooke Kuronya, distributed watercolor paintings of the different bird species that will be impacted by this development. She called the plan "unconscionable." Don Morgan objected to the traffic from 500 cars on country roads that are already too busy. He also questions what effect it will have on his well. Kathy Glagola reminded Commissioners that waivers and deferrals are "discretionary. You don't have to grant it." Melissa Davis said it would be "smart to hold off," noting that Green Pond Marsh is "something we have that no one else has in the Lehigh Valley."

Tim McCarthy, Managing partner at Traditions, assured Commissioners, "We expect it to be the best community we ever had." Partner David Biddison added there were similar environmental fears when a senior living community was proposed at Bridle Path Road. "Usually, it's the fear rather than the execution," he remarked.

Michael Hudak complimented Biddison. "I think you've gone above and beyond on this project," he told him. "I applaud your tenacity. Hudak noted their role is very limited. They are simply granting waivers and deferrals. It will be up to PennDOT to decide on the traffic impact. Stormwater concerns are addressed by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, he argued.
"The birds, the wetlands, are not going to be affected. I see these birds all the time. they will continue to come here. If I'm wrong, that's egg on my face."
Hudak was joined by Marty Zaworski and Pat Breslin in granting the waivers. Breslin stated he is very impressed by the club house at other Traditions developments.

Tom Nolan and Phil Barnard voted against the waivers.

Calling the proposal a "poor plan" at a "terrible location," Nolan noted, like Glagola, that waivers are discretionary. He worried that granting waivers would be "basically giving you a green light to come in with a preliminary plan."

"We're the only voice for the migratory birds," Nolan concluded.

The Bob Birk Show

Robert Birk
Though he was a no-show at the candidates' night hosted by Republicans on Thursday night, Bethlehem Township Commissioner candidate Bob Birk made a guest appearance at a Township Board meeting on Monday night. He arrived fashionably late, while people were still weighing in on different topics during courtesy of the floor. He was perspiring, which is a tad unusual because he's unemployed. Birk wanted to address the Board, too, but they were already past him on his side of the room. So he popped over to the other side and positioned himself to drop his pearls of wisdom.

When it was his turn, he got and basically told the Board they are doing a lousy job.

Birk, a former Commissioner, has tried three times to get an appointment to Northampton County Council. He, along with Paul Weiss, are running for Marty Zawarski's seat.

Pat Broscius to Host Fundraiser Next Monday

Magisterial District Judge candidate Pat Broscius is hosting a fundraiser next week at the Palace Restaurant. An Assistant DA, she handles crimes against children.

TIME: 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Other candidates in this race include Assistant DAs Bill Blake and Sandra McClure, along with PSP employee Andrew Tupone and political consultant Bryan Altieri.

Giordano Gets ABC Endorsement

Superior Court candidate Emil Giordano, who currently sits on the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas, has earned the endorsement of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Eastern Pa. Chapter.

“Giordano has demonstrated his strong commitment to community and free enterprise values. It is evident that he understands the construction industry and the merit philosophy that ABC represents,” said Mary Tebeau, President and CEO of the ABC Eastern Pa. Chapter.

Judge Giordano, first elected in 2003, has already received the endorsement of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania. he has also been recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Judge Giordano has also served as an assistant district attorney, assistant public defender, civil litigator and as lead counsel in his private law practice. He resides in Bethlehem with his wife, Tina, and his two sons, Joseph and Caden.

If you were to ask him, he'd tell you his proudest accomplishment is his two sons, who are great kids. For years, son Joseph and niece Victoria Tesone collected used baseball and softball equipment to distribute to younger kids, making it possible for them to play.

His sons also have more common sense. Caden, for example, wants to be a doctor.

ABC Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter represents more than 14,000 merit construction employees who work for nearly 450 member companies. ABC was founded on the belief that construction projects should be awarded on merit to the most qualified and lowest responsible bidder. Nationally Associated Builders and Contractors is comprised of 70 chapters representing nearly 21,000 merit shop construction and construction-related firms with nearly two million employees.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Molovinsky: S Whitehall Clerical Staff Goes Union

You can read Michael Molovinsky's report here.He claims this affects 13 workers.

Half of BT's Comm'r Candidates are Debate No-Shows

Though there are eight Republican candidates for three seats on the Bethlehem Township Board of Commissioners, only four of them appeared for a recent candidates' night hosted by the Northampton County GOP at Northampton Community College. The candidates who did appear before an audience of about 50 people were incumbent Commissioners Phil Barnard, Tom Nolan and Marty Zawarski, along with former Commissioner Art Murphy.

1st Ward

Tom Nolan, whose mantra is "Experience courts!" has been involved in Township government, in one form or another, for 35 years. He also pointed to his service on other boards, including the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, Gaming Board and Library Board. He is an engineer at Lehigh Heavy Forge. "If it's not broke, don't fix it," Nolan argued.

But to opponent Art Murphy, who works for Selvaggio and Son, township government is broken. Revenues are flat, and he criticized the decision to allow St. Luke's Hospital to operate on Freemansburg Avenue because it "doesn't generate the income that the mall would have." He supports increasing the business privilege tax and earned income tax as a way of raising revenue for future needs.

A third candidate, Wayne Buller, failed to appear.

3rd Ward

Phil Barnard, Manager at Bay Insulation, stated he is in government to make his community a better place, in a fiscally responsible way. he prayed for "mild questions." His Republican opponent, Fran Blatz, was absent.

At Large

Marty Zawarski, whose family has developed much of the Lehigh Valley, argued that a  "new mindset is required" in township government. As he promised a "creative approach" and to bring his "entrepreneurial skills,"  Neither of his opponents, Paul Weiss or Bob Birk, appeared. Weiss was reportedly ill .

To his credit, Zawarski is running hard. That, or unopposed, is the only way to go. Birk, whose ethics statement lists his occupation as "unemployed," obviously has lots of time on his hands to knock on doors. So Zawarski is knocking on doors, too, and has sent out a flier.

Single hauler - With the exception of Marty Zawarski, all candidates oppose going to a single trash hauler. Zawarski conceded that most of the residents with whom he has spoken are opposed to the idea.

Rainy Day Fund. "I have no idea," was Barnard's response on whether the Township should maintain a rainy day fund. would leave that decision to staff and financial director. Nolan argued there was no need because the township spends less than it gets in revenue. Zawarski would like $2-4 million in reserves, but [w]e're kinda' hard pressed with the way things are" Murphy supports three months in expenditures in reserve, to be built up over time.

PennEast Pipeline. - Three of the four candidates are opposed to the pipeline, but state there is little a township can do to stop it. Zawarski, who calls Pennsylvania the "Saudi Arabia of the natural gas world," argued that the pipeline makes us less dependent on oil from the Middle East.

Housenick Park Mansion. - Murphy described this mansion as a "pain in the neck" for years. He derided the Housenick Park Committee as a group who "caused more problems than they solved." Nolan, who was a member of the Housenick Committee, called it a "very fine group of people."  He believes the mansion should be restore, bt not with public funds. Zawarski. called it one of the grandest mansions in the Lehigh Valley that could serve as a library or senior center. But he cautioned, "We have to take things one step at a time."

Bulldogs restroom. - This is expected to cost $250,000 in grant funds and $100,000 in township money. Barnard, who calls himself a "big proponent of youth sports," has met numerous families who are involved. "I think we spent more money on the Housenick walking trails than on the bathrooms. Murphy.agreed that it is important to have facilities, but believes the Bulldogs should help pay for it.  Nolan reminded everyone that , so far, all the Board has done is authorize the Manager to apply for a grant. "I think we need it, " stated Zawarski, who said that is what he hears from the majority of the residents he visits. He noted that the Bulldogs play against 20 different teams, each of which has a bathroom. "We need to find a way to fund this,"  he argued. We'll find a way."

Public comment limits - Zawarski is the sole candidate who spoke in support of limiting public comment for people who are "redundant."  But Nolan argued against any limitation. "These are the people who voted us in," he reasoned. "Hopefully, we want to listen to them." He called the proposal to limit public comment both "demeaning" and "disrespectful." Murphy echoed that every citizen has a right to speak. Barnard.called it "opportunity to listen. ... My job is to sit and listen."

Community Center. - All candidates support the facility. Zawarski called it "one of our greatest assets. This is one reason people love Bethlehem Township."

Firearms in Twp Parks.- If the state pre-emption of gun regulation in parks is eliminated, all candidates will support a ban on guns in parks. "There is a place for guns, but I don't think a place is in our parks," stated Zaworski.

U.S. Senate Candidate Ed Pawlowski Illegally Took Corporate Money

On Friday, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski declared that he's a candidate for the U.S. Senate. He 's hoping democrats flock to his banner and help him sink the USS Pat Toomey, arguing that he's much more adept at such a task than a retired Admiral or other candidates who may come forward. Pawlowski is actually a walking, talking ethical cesspool who has demonstrated, time and again, that lacks the integrity for any office. Now he's illegally accepting corporate money despite state laws that clearly make it illegal.

Pawlowski has actually run afoul of campaign finance reporting laws at least three times since he was elected mayor in 2005. In 2007, Hizzoner attempted to get away with using campaign funds to pay a $270 fine for a late report. He was ordered him to pay the money out of his own pocket. In 2008, he filed a bogus report, falsely claiming his coffers were empty, when he actually raised $101,599. He was ordered to amend that report, too. In 2009, he listed a $8,000 payment on election day for "miscellaneous canvassers," without bothering to list who they were or where they live. Ordered to do so, we learned that he trolled an Easton homeless shelter for his 26 campaign workers.

After three blatant violations of campaign finance laws, you might think he's learned his lesson. You'd be wrong. A cursory review of his 2014 filings reveals that he illegally accepted corporate money.

One law that still exists, notwithstanding the Citizens United decision, is the outright ban on corporate contributions in Pennsylvania to the committees of candidates seeking public office.

In plain defiance of that law, Pawlowski accepted the following corporate contributions:
  • Cityline Development Corporation, registered as a business corporation with the Department of State, donated $2,500 on 10/9/14. 
  • Supremo Foods, a NJ corporation, donated $2,500 on 10/6/14. 
  • Superior Tile, which is either a LLC or business corporation, donated $500 on 10/6/14. (A LLC may contribute, but only if treated as a partnership for federal tax purposes)
  • McGreggor Industries, which is not registered and therefore is an unincorporated association or a foreign corporation, donated $1,000 on 9/17/14.  
This will mark the fourth time that Pawlowski has violated state campaign finance laws since 2007.

NorCo Council GOP Candidates Share Views

Lorin Bradley
Last Thursday, while Northampton County Council member Mat Benol was insisting that he knows of no one who is advocating Gracedale's sale and the rest of council was adopting meaningless resolutions to save the nursing home, two Republican council candidates were suggesting the day to sell might have arrived. A third discussed placing the facility in the hands of a nonprofit. These views were made known during a debate for Republican Council candidates at Northampton Community College. (You can see the video here).

There are nine members of Northampton County Council. They are paid $9,500 per year and receive no medical benefits. Considered the "governing body," their primary role is to adopt the budget. They control the purse strings. Five members are at-large, while the remaining four are elected from four different geographical districts. There are currently five Republicans and four Democrats.

The four district seats are up this year. In District One, which includes Bethlehem and Hanover Township, Democrat Ken Kraft is running unopposed. In District Two, which includes the Easton area, Democrat Bib Werner is also running unopposed. But Districts Three and Four are another story. Democrat Lamont McClure announced earlier this year that he had decided against rel-election to District Three, which has become much more Republican since Williams Township was added to its roster.  And District Four, which includes the slate belt and northern tier, is considered a safe Republican stronghold.

Matt Dietz
In District Three, the winner of the primary race between Republicans Mickey Thompson and John Cusick, will go on to face Democrat Lori Vargo Heffner. In District Four Democrat Scott Parsons, the incumbent, will square off against the winner of the battle between Republicans Matt Dietz and Lorin Bradley.

Who are these candidates?   

Mickey Thompson is the CFO and in house counsel at Abe Atiyeh's Pennsylvania Venture Capital, Inc. he claimed his company specializes in taking "unloved, unwanted and unused properties" and turning them into "productive assets." He worked on the DUI center, which ultimately was located in West Easton in one of those "unloved, unwanted and unused properties"..Mickey also helped form three charter schools in the Lehigh Valley, boasting 1,000 students and 100 teachers. His job duties also include Saucon Valley Manor and Whitehall Manor, which are assisted living facilities for seniors. "I just want to help," is what he stated is his reason for running.

John Cusick
John Cusick is a LU grad who went into retail and sold building supplies, but did not like it. He decided on education and has been a high school teacher in New Jersey for the past 19 years. He is a former Williams Township Supervisor, and served for two terms on NorCo Council, including three years as its President. Noting that most Council members are in their first term, Cusick stated he would bring experience back to the Board. He pledged to work with a Republican County Exec.

Lorin Mr. Corporate America, and I mean that in a positive way. He has two Master's degrees and has been involved in human resources and labor relations for 25 years. "What I do as a professional is work with conflict and try to resolve conflict," he stated, His goal in the business world in to Develop solutions that are workable for all parties. He is involved in Boy Scouts, is himself and Eagle Scout, coached, and appears to be a deeply spiritual man.

Mickey Thompson
Matt Dietz. claimed to be the product of a broken home who bounced around in Jersey until moving to Wind Gap at age 14. Right away, he felt like he was at home. A pilot, he worked at it in high school and in community college. He also helped start a catering business, which grew into a coffee shop and deli on Main Street in Bethlehem. "I understand what small businesses go through," he assured everyone. He stated that he is pro-life and that he and his wife are Sunday school teachers.

How do they stand on the issues? 

Gracedale. - Dietz calls it an "emotional question" but states "there's a red line there." He stated the County can't afford to write a check every year. "Privatize as much as we can out of it," he recommends to give the County "better bargaining power to sell the property." Bradley echoed Dietz' remarks, but believes there should be a "top down analysis first."

John Cusick, who supported selling Gracedale while on Council, now favors converting it into a 501c3 non profit similar to what Centre County Commissioners did at their publicly owned nursing home.

Mickey Thompson opposes the sale of Gracedale. He believes the facility can transition to perform medical services for residents and become a profit center. .

Home Rule Charter and Admin Code Overhaul.- All candidates believe it;s time for an overhaul. "You can't have a county exec of any party playing by his own rules," states Mickey Thompson. .

PR consultant. - With the exception of Bradley, all candidates condemned the use of taxpayer money to fund PR consultants. "If  the Executive can't communicate in his own, you need different leaders," stated Thompson. Elected officials should "speak for themselves, not through a mouthpiece," added Cusick. Bradley's argument in favor of a PR consultant is that "[c]hange will fail unless you have an effective communications plan." But Dietz observed it's "not doing very well."

Open Space.- Thompson was highly critical of last year's decision to bail out a financially troubled golf course developer's "bad business decisions." Dietz agreed there should be no spending at a time when the county "is hurting for money." While refusing to condemn open space funding, Cusick stated that Council needs to say no to "bad deals."  Bradley supports open space funding.

One mill tax hike. All candidates save Thompson supported it. Thompson claimed it was based on projections that turned out to be false. But Cusick warned that "[o]perating with little or no reserves is extremely dangerous."

$10,000.Spending limit - With the exception of Cusick, all candidates supported a $10,000 or slightly higher limitation on executive spending. Cusick. called the measure "micromanagement," adding "Council should be involved in purchasing toilet paper." But Thompson.countered that government should be in no rush to make bad decisions. If you have to approve a case of toilet paper, you should be responsible enough to do that."

Residency requirement for county workers.All candidates oppose this proposal Cusick stated that new Jersey, which has imposed such a requirement, is having a hard time finding qualified people.

Today is LAST Day to Register for Municipal Primary

Voter turnout in municipal elections is historically low. In 2013, for example, the turnout was just 19% in Northampton County and 22% in Lehigh County. Four out of five Lehigh Valley voters had no role in deciding on the leaders who impact them more than anyone. In an effort to change that, AFSCME and local leaders recently rallied at Gracedale to encourage more people to vote.

Among those at this gathering were Council members Mat Benol, Peg Ferraro, Ken Kraft, Lamont McClure and Hayden Phillips. Controller Steve Barron was present. Abe Kassis, one of three judicial candidates, also attended.

Much of the talk was focused on keeping Gracedale, which McClure called "sacred ground," in county hands.

But AFSCME Business Agent Justus James said it best. "If you don't vote, you don't have a voice."

Today is the last day to register if you want to vote in the municipal primary election on May 20.

Ron Angle - The Reluctant Controller Candidate?

Like four Bethlehem Township Commissioner candidates, Controller write-in candidate Anthony Catino was MIA from the candidates' night hosted by Republicans on Thursday. Maybe his driving license is still under suspension. But write-in candidate Ron Angle was there. He decided against mounting a primary campaign because Pam Colton was interested. But she got cold feet and circulated no petitions. The end result is that the Republicans have no candidate, and the party has reached out to Angle.  He was asked to say a few words.

"We have no candidate for controller in Northampton County. No one came forward to put their name in, ... So the party has decided I'm their candidate. They've endorsed me. They want me to run. But the decision will have to be made by at least 250 people.That's what's required to get on the ballot.

"Here's what I will say about that. ... A couple of years ago, I told the people the truth in this County about Gracedale. I took an unpopular stand and told you the truth. I didn't tell you what you wanted to hear because it's not my style to tell you what you want to hear. I believe in telling you the truth.

"The last projection is that [Gracedale] will cost you $12 million in a couple of years instead of $5 million.

"I told you the truth, and people throwed me out of office. What a wonderful way for me to go because i wouldn't want to go any other way....

"Somebody needs to be the financial fiscal watchdog of the county. That;s what that office of Controller needs to be. Not somebody who goes down to the union hall every afternoon. ... I can give you a whole list of things that Steve Barron does. But one thing he does not do - he's not the financial fiscal watchdog of the county. I know Northampton County inside and out, and I can tell you what's right and I can tell you what's wrong. As controller, I can't make anything happen. I can merely point out to the Council, the Executive and the taxpayers what is wrong. And there's things that could be corrected. .

"The party seems to want me to be their candidate. They've endorsed me - I didn't request it by the way. I don't know if I've ever been endorsed. I've been thrown out of a lot of places, but never endorsed. If 250 people are bold enough to write my name in, I can assure you I will run one helluva' campaign in the fall against Steve Barron.

Vic Scomillio Appeals For Votes at Candidates' Night

Vic Scomillio
Two Democrats, Abe Kassis and Sam Murray, and one Republican, Vic Scomillio, are running for the judicial seat left open when Judge Edward Smith was appointed a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Pa. Because he's a Republican, Scomillio was given an opportunity to say something about himself and his campaign during the candidates' night hosted Thursday by Northampton County Republicans.

He told the audience he has been practicing law for 17 years. He spent his first two year clerking for Judge Robin Simpson, who now sits on the Commonwealth Court. After that, he became a litigator. He is certified to try death penalty cases and has spent 15 years providing legal advice to those who lack the means to pay for an attorney. He also spent a year as the County Solicitor and is a former president of the bar association. Nine former presidents of the bar association support his candidacy. He is a member of St. Jane's Parish,, and also belongs to the Knights of Columbus and UNICO. He volunteers in local youth sports and in boy scouts.

"I want to protect the values that we all share. I want to protect the communities that we all enjoy. ... A judge is not elected to legislate from the bench, but to apply the law to the facts."

Friday, April 17, 2015

It's Official! Penguin Running For U.S. Senate

Edwin Pawloski, who starred as The Penguin in Batman Returns and reportedly also performed in Mall Cop, is running for the U.S. Senate. He created a special tax zone for rich guys, just for Allentown, that is subsidized by taking state tax money from everyone else. If he had his way, he'd be sucking away the EIT of surrounding municipalities, too.

And he thinks people throughout the state will elect him.

Good luck with that!

NorCo Council Losing Patience With Cathy Allen

Cathy Allen clams up
It was a good night and a bad night for Northampton County Assistant Director of Administration Cathy Allen. She had to be pleased at hearing the applause when her payraise proposal was adopted. AFSCME union agent Justus James, who represents nearly 75% of the workforces, pured on the accolades as well. But the nine members of Council, both Democrat and Republican, are becoming increasingly frustrated by what Scott Parsons calls a "lack of transparency" from the Brown administration.

Allen's 19% Payhike. - Just two weeks ago, Lamont McClure had asked Executive John Brown to provide the legal authority under which he awarded Cathy Allen a 19% payraise in her first year. That included a three-step jump, which normally requires Council approval, as well as a "temporary" raise that is apparently still in effect. Her salary jumped from $57,460 to $65,603. Brown justified the increase because Allen had assumed "significant responsibilities" for insurance programs, workman's compensation and labor negotiations.He increased her wages again when she assumed HR duties.

Brown told McClure he'd provided his authority, but never did.At Council last night, Solicitor Ryan Durkin quoted from a policy manual, but ineffectually. Council has asked its own Solicitor, Phil Lauer, to look into the matter.

Was Allen Really Planning This Raise? - That's what she told Council's Personnel Committee yesterday, and what she told Council tonight. She indicated she had been planning this for sometime, and made sure the money for these raises was in the budget before it was adopted.

Council is skeptical. Hayden Phillips believes that, if this was being planned, Council would have known about it.

In fairness to Allen, I did hear about a month ago that Allen was planning something, and that I would be surprised. So I do not think she deliberately misled anyone. But this is yet another demonstration of the Brown Administration's lack of transparency.

Allen Refuses to Publicly Address Werner. - Close to the end of the meeting, Bob Werner complained that he had asked for a report concerning the state's bridge bundling program, but that no one was present. He went on to indicate that he had asked Allen to have Public Works present, and over a week ago. Allen answered from her seat, but refused to go to the podium, so the public could hear what she was saying, in violation of the Sunshine Act. Then she just refused to respond to Werner at all.

Ironically, this infuriated Republican Mat Benol, who has been a Brown ally. He pointed out that the Council has subpoena powers, and suggested Council exercise them if the Administration refuses to respond to requests for information.

Though government is unwieldy and inefficient, it works best when the people in it are open about what they do. That is Allen's chief drawback. It is also a major shortcoming of Luis Campos and Executive John Brown.

RATs Are No-Shows at GOP Debate

Northampton County Republicans should take a well-deserved bow for the debate they sponsored last night at Northampton Community College. Though only Republican candidates participated in the forum, it was open to the public and over 50 people attended. Unfortunately, I missed the debate myself because I was covering Northampton County. But NorCo Vice Chair Lee Snover has video, and I will upload it so you can see and hear the candidates. The only disappointment is that the RAT candidates, along with Paul Weiss, were no-shows despite phone calls and emails. These candidates missed an opportunity to share their views with voters.

Anthony Catino, one of two write-in candidates for controller, never appeared. The other controller write-in candidate, Ron Angle, addressed the audience, as did judicial candidate Vic Scomillio.

All County council candidates appeared and spoke.

Bethlehem Township Commissioner candidates Phil Barnard, Art Murphy, Tom Nolan and Marty Zawarski, also weighed in on Township issues.

NorCo Council Unanimously Adopts Payraise Proposal For Clerical Workers

NorCo Council President Peg Ferraro
Northampton County's 228 clerical workers will soon start seeing a slightly fatter paycheck. This is thanks to a proposal by Executive John Brown to give them an approximate 4.5% payraise. It  cuts across both union and nonunion lines, and is in addition to whatever union employees are awarded as a result of binding arbitration. AFSCME union agent Justus James, who was "stunned" by this development, gave his enthusiastic endorsement

With approximately 100 workers crowded into Council chambers behind him, James did something unusual. He complimented an Administration he has previously castigated at several meeting. Acknowledging that he and Brown had a "very rocky" start, he lauded the reclassification of clerical employees who have been "historically underpaid" as a "positive move forward."

"It took us several months to do this," stated Assistant Director of Administration Cathy Allen, who stood beside James. Brown himself was absent.

The vote to endorse the payhike was unanimous. But Lamont McClure asked, "What about the other 1800 [workers]? Who is their voice? Give other people a raise."

Where's the Money?

Council was also skeptical of Allen's claim that the $307,000 cost of this raise was in the budget proposed for this year. Hayden Phillips asked Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter to explain, saying he'd remember it had it been discussed as part of the budget process.

"It is in the budget under salaries," explained Hunter. He acknowledged that if the County filled all vacant slots, the money would not be there.

Calling the raise "long overdue," Scott Parsons stated the money was coming out of fund balance and isn't budgeted. "Where we get the money is irrelevant to me," he admitted.

Agreeing with Parsons, McClure stated that the reason for this raise is that people are "getting killed" by Easton's unpopular commuter tax and are paying more for health care. "I cannot sit here and pretend," he declared.

James Wants Equal Treatment For Public Nursing Homes

In addition to thanking the Brown Administration, James called on Council to approve several resolutions concerning Gracedale. The first of these called on Council and the executive to work together to make Gracedale as efficiently as possible. That resolution passed 8-1, with Hayden Phillips dissenting because, as his colleagues agreed, it's nothing more than an expression of good will. He also called on Council to support a bill being prepared by State Rep. Tom Killion to eliminate a state law that requires counties to pay ten percent of the cost for medicaid residents. No such requirement exists for privately owned homes.

If this legislation passes, James told council that $29.4 million in state funds will be available to the state's 23 county-owned nursing homes. He pointed out that this would ease the tax burden  on homeowners whose property taxes help contribute to sustain nursing homes.

Northampton County Council has already adopted a resolution calling on the state to repeal this law, but it adopted the resolution again. Peg Ferraro stated that State Rep Marcia Hahn will support this legislation. James read a letter if support from State Rep. Bob Freeman. Scott Parsons said that State Rep. Joe Emrick will support the measure, and intends to ask State Senator Mario Scavello for his help, too.

"This is catching fire," declared James."We are all in. Let's get it done."

Mat Benol also insisted last night that he knows of no one on Council who is interested in selling Gracedale. "I worry about the press, about how this could be written up in the media." This is something he also said during a registration rally a few days before.

Finally, James lauded Bob Werner for his work in establishing a nonprofit corporation for Gracedale that can accept money to help sustain the nursing home. He pledged to contribute the first $500, and Peg Ferraro said she'd match him.

Bethlehem Prepares For 275th Birthday Bash

Hizzoner Bob Donchez
Bethlehem kicked off its campaign for its 275th birthday party. Here's what Mayor Bob Donchez had to say.

Since its founding in 1741, the City of Bethlehem has been a leader in industry, patriotism, and has held a deep-rooted spirit of community that remains very much alive today. From the time of the founding Moravians until now, Bethlehem’s hallmarks include our dedication to education, our proud celebration of the arts, and our vibrant religious and cultural life. It is only fitting that as our great city progresses into the future, we take time to look back and honor our storied past, to celebrate the Pride and Progress in Bethlehem, PA.

Nuria DiLuzio
Today I will formally announce the City of Bethlehem’s campaign kick-off to raise funds for the City’s 275th anniversary. We are fortunate that seed monies have been provided from the City’s 250th Celebration to make community events such as this possible for years to come.

Funding will be utilized to build upon the spirit of our community and get all citizens involved in their rich heritage. Funding will specifically be put toward a community gala, a community legacy project, updating our history through a book project, as well as building a hall of fame honoring living individuals with City ties that have risen to national and international fame.

275th Anniversary Committee
Today we also launch the official 275th anniversary web site where individuals can find further information, make contributions to the anniversary campaign, and find a comprehensive schedule of events.

Lastly, I would like to call upon all of our residents to contribute to this milestone event; either with monetary contributions or with contributions of their time and talents to make this celebration a success.

Presently, the 275th steering committee, under the direction of Lynn Collins Cunningham, is working on all of the logistics and is building community support through all of the City’s organizations. The steering committee is comprised of:
Hank Barnette
Iris Cintron
Pastor Hopeton Clennon
Don Cunningham
Lynn Cunningham
Nuria DiLuzio
Bob Donchez
Charlene Donchez Mowers
Patrick Fligge
Laurie Gostley Hackett
Kassie Hilgert
Justin Porembo
Mary Pat Posko
Melissa Rudas
Bernard Story

Following Mayor Dinchez' remarks, Attorney Nuria DiLuzio discussed the upcoming Community Gala; Charlene Donchez Mowers addressed the book project; and Lynn Cunningham spoje about a Bethlehem hall of fame and legacy project.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How Can You Say No to a Raise?

Justus James and Cathy Allen
When Northampton County Council last met, both Ken Kraft and Mat Benol questioned whether low starting salaries might have something to do with attracting people to work in Human Services. That might be true, admitted Director Allison Frantz. It's apparently true for clerical workers, too, some of whom qualify for food stamps at a time when Deputy Director of Administration Cathy Allen received a 19% wage hike. Yesterday, Executive John Brown submitted a proposal for an across-the-board wage hike that will positively impact 228 County workers in 14 different clerical job titles, It's a 4.5% wage hike that will cost the County $307,000.

According to a memo from Human Resources, "the county has struggled in recruiting and maintaining staff in many of the clerical positions throughout the county." A "more fair and equitable pay rate" is proposed for some of the "lower level clerical positions," which affect both union and non-union workers.

AFSCME Business Agent Justus James endorsed this proposal at yesterday's meeting of the Personnel Committee. He was as happy as I've ever seen him,

"The clerical members that I represent - with honor, by the way - have come to us consistently, saying 'It's not fair' and 'We have the lowest payrate in the county. We have more and more work forced on us every day.' ... The secretaries of this County help keep lawsuits out of the County. They are saving the taxpayers money by doing their job correctly. So I believe it's long overdue that we turn around and make this adjustment for them."

James said he was "stunned" by the proposal. Cathy Allen, an Assistant Director of Administration, stated that this is something that she and Human Resources had been working on since last year and is "over and above" what will be awarded as a result of arbitrations.

Ken Kraft stated that he just happened to have a living wage calculator in his pocket. In Northampton County. it's $17.95 per hour for a single mother raising one child. He derided the raise as a "4% increase from nothing to nothing." With the wage hike, the lowest paid employees will go from $10 per hour to $12.05. "We're not breaking any records here," grumbled Kraft."But it's a move in the right direction because they haven't had a raise in five years."

"It is a start," noted James, who added that employees will be visiting Council tonight for a "long conversation."

After the meeting, he promised that you will see Council, employees and Executive working together, for a change.Council has sought to establish a Foundation for Gracedale, which could accept charitable contributions. James stated AFSCME will kick in the first $500. In addition, he wants to work with Council and the Executive to pressure the state legislature and Governor Wolf to increase the reimbursement rate for public nursing homes. He also wants Council to agree to keep Gracedale in County hands for at least the next three years.

"We are moving forward with the Brown administration," stated James. He stated he wanted to make the County a better place for everybody, including the taxpayers.

Jobs Impacted:

5 PT and 3 FT Clerical TechIs go from CR/CS/RU-9 TO CR/CS/RU-13.

4 Admin. Services Techs go from RU-10 to RU-13.

3 PT and 13 FT Clerical Tech IIs go from CN/CR/CS/RU-11 TO CN/CR/CS/RU-13.

3 Secretary IIs go from CS/RU-13 TO CS/RU-15.

5 PT and 63 FT Clerical Tech IIIs go from CN/CR/CS/RU-13 TO CN/CR/CS/RU-15.

10 Support Tech Is go from CN-13 to CN-15.

7 Intake Tech Is go from CN-13 to CN-15.

1 Elections Tech goes from RU-15 to RU-16.

7 Support Tech iIs go from CN-15 to CN-16.

2 Intake Tech IIs go from CN-15 to CN-16.

8 Nursing Home Fiscal Techs go from CS-15 to CD-16.

1 Purchasing Specialist goes from RU-16 to RU-17.

36 Clerical Specialists go from CN/CR/CS/RU-16 TO CN/CR/CS/RU-17.

3 PT and 52 FT Magisterial Techs go up one step in the CN-17 pay grade.

NorCo EMS Director Bob Mateff Going to PEMA

If you were to ask former Executive John Stoffa to name his MVP, it would be a toss up between Budget Administrator Doran J. Hamann and EMS Director Bob Mateff. Unfortunately, Northampton County is losing Mateff. He's been selected by Governor Wolf's office for a new role at the Pa. Emergency management Agency.

Amazingly, Director of Administration Luis Campos called Mateff's departure "a great opportunity for the County," as his nose grew yet another inch. Mateff will be sorely missed, not simply because of his knowledge of EMS, bit because of his knowledge of County government.

It is at this point unclear who will replace Mateff, but Executive John Brown is reportedly looking st someone from Venezuela.

NorCo Civil Division Swamped by Passport Applications

Over the past 15 months, Northampton County's understaffed Civil Division has processed 2,269 passport applications, for an average of 151 applications every month. Since it takes a little more than an hour to process just one application, this means that one employee in an office that is already short-handed has no time to do anything else.

What complicates things for Civil Division employees is that, on Mondays and Fridays, there is often a rush of people filling out applications.. Some post offices will process applications, but many of them insist on appointments.

In Lehigh County, which also processes passport applications, they are only accepted between 9 am and 3 pm.

What is happening in Northampton County is similar to what is going on in, of all places, Lamesa, Texas. The Clerk's office there is also experiencing a dramatic increase, largely because the post offices are booked through July.

NorCo Council Questions Barron's Credit Card Audit

Northampton County has issued credit cards to 129 employees who made over $900,000 in purchases during the twelve-month period ending June 30, 2014. There were nearly 4,400 transactions. Most have a $500 credit limit. But when Controller Steve Barron recently audited this program, he only looked at a random sampling of 35 transactions to determine if anything is amiss. "That's less than one per cent," remarked Glenn Geissinger. He and Bob Werner both question whether there should be more scrutiny.

Barron explained that the random sampling number of 35 is what is recommended for that number of transactions.

"To me, that number seems low," protested Geissinger. Barron stated that, in addition to looking at a sample of 35 transactions, auditors also look at accounts where credit limits have increased. He also indicated that procurement reviews purchases as they are made. But he did criticize supervisors for failing to review and approve purchases. His audit found that only 34% of all purchases were formally approved by a supervisor.

In the 35 transactions that Barron did review, he found minimal problems like missing receipts in one instance and a failure to make three phone calls to get quotes for one purchase that was over $1,000.

In Barron's audit, he also discovered that two recently terminated employees still had active credit cards, though there was no activity on the cards. "That was handled and fixed immediately," he advised Council.

Updated 11:30 am: Barron has explained that the number of transactions reviewed ins determined by government auditing standards (often referred to as the yellow book). "We are governed by them and we are reviewed every three years to assure we are following them and always get top ratings," he explains.

Who Prints Out an Election Ballot?

Since 2003, that task has been performed in Northampton County by Reliance Graphics, a West Chester based firm. If Council approves the latest five-year contract proposal, it will continue for at least the next five years. Reliance is the only company that actually bid on printing ballots, although 14 different companies were interested.

If a five-year contract is approved, Reliance will print ballots each election for $26,000. The contract also includes two one-year extensions.

Reliance also provides ballot printing services to Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Delaware and Lehigh Counties.

"The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting." - Charles Bukowski