Thursday, October 30, 2014

Brown Blinks on Health Care Cuts

Look what you did to Mr. Bigglesworth!
This is good news for Northampton County workers. After a week of bizarre behavior that extended from posting armed guards at a news conference to blocking the Controller's emails. Executive John Brown has finally blinked. For three Council meetings in a row, worker after worker told him his health care cuts were too draconian. He ignored them. He also ignored a majority of County Council who adopted a resolution asking him to reconsider his health plan cuts. He rejected private advice from Council members, both Democrat and Republican, who told him he simply was asking for too much from the worker. But in a sign that perhaps his cranial rectosis is finally in remission, Brown has reversed course from an action that made him look more like Dr. Evil than a County Executive.

In start contrast to last week's antics, a subdued Brown announced his concession at the end of last night's Council budget hearing, almost as though it were an afterthought. He even called it an "FYI."
Deciding to change the drapes would be an FYI. This was a bombshell.

The County is purchasing gap insurance for next year. This means employees will only have a $2,500-5,000 deductible.

Below is the compete exchange, which you can see yourself.

Brown: "Next week, you'l be receiving from the Administration a contract. The contract is related to the health care program that we're offering our employees. Cathy Allen's been working on this since July. We've created a gap insurance policy that will allow us to fundamentally create the secondary insurance policy that will create an out-of-pocket cap that's been asked for by the employees. If you are single, it will be $2,500. For families, it will be $5,000. The cost of that - a little over $100,000. It's a single source, a special program that's been put together specifically for Northampton County. The Administration will fund that for 2015 on behalf of the employees. It should meet their needs. But that will be coming to Council for next week."

Peg Ferraro: "So the gap insurance will be paid by the County?

Brown: "For 2015, the County will pay for that insurance. That will give the employees the time, which they've asked for, to be able to plan and then decide after a year of use of that type ofpolicy if it's something they would like to take up, and we'll take that up in '16."

Glenn Geissinger: I just want to be clear. So the out-of-pocket expense for a single individual - $2,500.For a family - $5,000.

Brown: That's with the secondary -  

Geissinger:  "- secondary insurance, which the County will be paying for."

Brown: "That is correct. That's what we're proposing, however until, you know, it would have to come before council."

Ken Kraft:  "So, John, the gap insurance is covering from $2,500 to $6,600, that gap there -

Brown: -  "Yes, that's correct. $5,000 for the $13,200 differential for a family."

Kraft:  "So, it'll enact itself when the person has - let's say you're single - ... has $2,500 worth of healthcare costs. I'm paying 10% of it up front, so when I get to $2,500, then the gap insurance kicks in and I don't pay anymore for the rest of the year.

Brown: "That .. fundamentally ...

Kraft:  "- I'm trying to simplify it."

Brown: "That's how the mechanics would work. Yes."

He's finally doing the decent and the right thing. But he's done a lot of damage, both to himself and to the County he serves. He has destroyed the morale of what he considers the County's most important asset. He needlessly stressed a large number of them, and the Civil Division has lost all four of its deputies as a result of his hardball approach to the staff.

He has lost the County workers and won't be getting them back, in my opinion. The employees and their family account for about 7,000 registered voters, and I am sure they will be at the polls the next time his name comes up.

Blogger's Note: Originally posted 10/29, 6 pm.

Muller's Lehigh County Veto Is About More Than a Happy Meal

Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller not only comes from the private sector, but even can name the corporations with which he's been associated. He started out as a longshoreman on the Bayonne docks, but spent his nights putting himself himself through school, attaining both a bachelor's degree and M.B.A.

Before coming to Lehigh County, he was the General Manager at Binney and Smith (Crayola). He knows what he's doing.

What drew the headlines was his veto of a tax cut that will save about $8 per average taxpayer. He had called it a "Happy Meal tax cut", but in a subsequent email, stated it was actually a few slices shy of a Domino's pie.

His veto rationale can be seen here.

What interests me are how his vetoes compare to what John Brown is proposing in Northampton County.
Brown wants no wage hikes for non-union or union workers. Muller wants a 2% hike for non-union, and vetoed a budget amendment that would cap a 2% wage hike at $1,000. His rationale. "2% is a modest increase given increased healthcare costs, is in line with recently approved union contracts and lower than current private and public sector increases. Affected Cedarbrook employees had no increase in 2014."

Brown has made clear he wants to reduce or eliminate many benefits. Lehogh Commissioners eliminated longevity pay next year for non-union employees. Muller vetoed this elimination. His rationale. "The County’s Longevity Pay plan was eliminated for non-union employees in 2012. Those at the top step, who were getting smaller wage increases, had their longevity pay frozen and grandfathered. It is a significant piece of the pay package for our senior non-union employees."
I think it's safe to conclude that Muller considers the Lehigh County employee its most valuable asset.

Hanover Tp Now has Three Emergency Managers

Northampton County's Director of Emergency Management Services, Bob Mateff, visited the Hanover Township Board of Supervisors meeting on October 28th to present Vincent G. Milite his Professional Certification as an Emergency Manager. Mr. Mateff congratulated Vince for his commitment to emergency management both operationally and through continued education. Vince, who is the Township's Public Works Director and Animal Control officer, now holds the highest certification awarded by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Mateff, who was joined by Ryan Hay, Emergency Operations & Training Manager for Northampton County, also recognized Hanover Township for their emergency management leadership, both in Northampton County and the Commonwealth in emergency management.

Hanover now has three individuals with Professional Certification: Public Wroks Director Vince Milite; Emergency Management Coordinator Kristopher Mattson; and Township Manager Jay Finnigan. In addition, Director of Administration Ryan Kish recently earned his Basic Certification.

Trachta and Troxell: Keeping Nazareth Safe

How 'bout we order up some cupcakes, Chief?
For years, Nazareth's favorite restaurant has been Pizza Joe's, located on S. Main Street. In a tragedy for both the Bubba family and lovers of great Italian food, it was declared a total loss after a fire broke out there late yesterday morning. Fortunately, the restaurant and apartments were emptied so that no one was hurt. A firefighter, however, did suffer a burn.

Above, you see Chief Thomas Trachta, and his sidekick Danny Troxell, doingnothing. They're just watching the fire and looking for cupcakes.

Troxell, incidentally, was nearly tapped as police chief in Renovo Borough in June, based on a resume that incorrectly claimed he was a Supervisor. He's actually just a part-time police officer, with no loyalty to any municipality. I'm not trying to be mean, but his performance in Court this summer made it pretty clear that he is barely literate.

Nazareth deserves better, but Trachta keeps using him

Nazareth also sends its PT officers for training, and they use that training to get themselves full-time jobs elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Has Cranial Rectosis Hit John Brown?

Cranial rectosis is common among elected officials
I've been supplementing a story that first broke in Friday's Express Times. It concerns a bizarre week of unprecedented abuses of power by Northampton County Executive John Brown. He removed a link for online fraud reports that Controller Steve Barron wanted posted on the county webpage. Then when Barron sent out an email concerning that fraud tool and other matters, Brown actually blocked all group emails from an independently elected official, outside of his own office staff.  Brown also lashed out at Council in a statement he robotically read to the press, using goofy words like "craven".  Then, he strangely walked out of his own office without answering questions. He posted armed guards outside his office, to keep both the public and members of Council away during his news conference. Brown reportedly reversed course on Monday, but I happen to know he hasn't learned a thing.

Brown had a minor surgical procedure on Friday. According to some of my readers, he was suffering from cranial rectosis, a very common ailment among elected officials.

He needs to have the procedure repeated before his health plan reductions go into effect.

Though he reversed course, Brown is telling his supporters that Barron should thank his lucky stars. Brown claims that Barron's Friday mass email was illegal. What really is illegal is obstructing a governmental function. That is what Brown did. He interfered with an independently elected official. It's true that part of Barron's email was nutty, but Brown has no right to censor another elected official. Also, IT operator Al Jordan works for Brown, but he also works for Barron, the DA and the courts. He needs to listen to them all.

Brown reportedly is also considering attacking Barron because our full-time controller does some part-time work as a referee.

The Exec really must have a bad case of cranial rectosis. His head is so far up there that his voice echoes.

Let me tell you about Barron and Lamont McClure. I know them better than most.

Barron von Footinmouth
The transformation of Barron and McClure   

If you ever have a chance, ask Barron who has been his harshest critic over the years.

C'est moi.

I have nailed him repeatedly as a political Controller. Instead of acting as a fiscal watchdog, he's been more of a union agent.  I hammered his extortion at T-Mobile and his witch hunts. I happen to be the person who broke the story that he was spending a good 12 hours every week, during the work week, away from his office. I even won an investigative journalism award for that report.

I've also been somewhat mean. Though I did not invent the name "Barron von Footinmouth", I sure as hell ran with it. I even snapped and published a photo of him outside a yogurt shop this summer, which drove him nuts.

It's been fun.

But John Brown is ruining everything,

Same thing with Lamont McClure. I've been hammering him since I started blogging. But thanks to Brown, McClure has transformed from a lazy and mean-sprited partisan to an indefatigable advocate for both fiscal sanity (he spoke against these consultant contracts) and the downtrodden worker. An asbestos lawyer whose most noteworthy contribution to council has been his record absences, has changed from contrarian to a powerful voice for those who have none. He's even calling in at committee hearings. 

This really pisses me off.

Brown has been such a disaster as County Executive that he has made two of my usual targets look good by comparison. He may have guaranteed theur victory at the polls next year.

Was Barron's Mass Email Illegal?

Without question, Barron's Friday email was a bit over the top. That's because, in addition to discussing his fraud link, he went on to gossip about incoming employee Nancy L. Jones, disclosing what her job would be and how much she would be paid. This was an outrage to a secretive Executive. But is it illegal?

Of course not. While his Jones' comments certainly had nothing to do with the Controller function, Barron only revealed information that already was in the public domain.  Jones herself made her new job known when she notified Bangor's Mayor and council of her new job. Her salary and job classification are public information.

In fact, Brown should probably announce hires like these instead of trying to keep everything hushed up. The public does have a right to know who is working for us and how much they are paid.

He may not like that kind of exposure, but as one of his consultants says, "Nobody subpoenaed you to work here."

Barron von Footinmouth, Referee 

An angry Brown has reportedly told insiders that they're going to come after Barron because, though he's our full-time Controller, he also works as a referee. This is something I wrote about last year. It did not bother me then and does not bother me now.

Barron, who is paid $65,000 a year, is bound by the County's Home Rule Charter.  It clearly states that the Controller "shall devote full time to the office, and shall not actively engage in any other business or occupation."

I seriously doubt anyone but a rank partisan would consider a part-time job as a ref on weekends the active pursuit of another business or occupation.

Neither Barron Nor Council Work For Brown

The message Brown needs to learn is that the Council, Controller, DA and Judges are all separate branches of county government. None of them work for him. In fact, Brown's HR Director and IT Director work for them.

Republicans MIA at LWV Meet and Greet


Republican state house candidates were MIA at a Candidates' Night hosted by the League of Women Voters last night at Northampton Community College. So was the public. Aside from politicos associated with various campaigns, nobody was there. I did see one or two students drop by, but they just grabbed refreshments and quickly left.

A New Sign Bandit Strikes Nazareth


Nazareth is being besieged again. First it was tiny FT stickers, which stood for "Fire Trachta". They were best seen with a microscope,bit since they criticized Police Chief Thomas "Cupcake" Trachta, he conducted a major investigation. He actually chained, shackled and perp walked the Sticker gang when he though he had them at last.

All charges were dismissed.

Next, it was much larger Chicago Bulls stickers, plastered all over stop signs near the high school. Mayor Carl Strye was really mad. "I don't care what a judge says," he ranted, ready to lynch someone. That case has never been solved.

Now it's a new one. Fans. Leslie Altieri Fans have been tied to a few street signs in town. She's running for State Rep., but is doing so in another district so I don;t understand what evil motive this bandit has.

The pic you see is right by Council member Larry Stoudt's house. He probably should be given a lie detector test or be water boarded.

I have to admit this is outrageous.Once one person starts exercising free speech, everyone starts thinking they can do so, too..

O'Hare and Stoffa in 1899?


This is classic. This is the Shenandoah Herald, 1899. My grandfather (Bernard O'Hare) was about 17. Barbara Stoffa's grandmother (Ella Franey) was even younger, about 14. Both are recognized for making it through the first month of school without being late or absent.

Here's what Jeff Stoffa (John's son) tells me.

"I don't know what I love more, that Bernard O'Hare and Ella Franey are in the same article - or the idea that if you were punctual for just the first month of school, you got your name in the paper! I guess standards were low in Shenandoah in 1899!"

I think that if we had those standards today, more kids might actually graduate. If they made it through the year, they were honored with a parade.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Brown Reverses Course on Barron Blunder

John Brown
Last week, Northampton County Executive John Brown removed a fraud reporting link that Controller Steven Barron wanted posted on the County webpage. I can think of a veritable buffet of criminal charges just asking to be filed. For starters, it's an obvious obstruction of a governmental function. He then things even worse for himself with a denial of service attack. He decided to prevent an independently elected official from contacting County employees. We could argue criminality, but it was certainly a childish and petty move. It's what I'd expect from someone who posts armed guards at news conferences. But Brown has apparently reversed course. The web link will be restored. Email access has reportedly been reinstated.

Barron reportedly had a sitdown with Director of Administration Luis Campos this morning. Brown was in surgery on Friday - (he's apparently getting things done before his new health plan goes into effect) - so I think it is likely that Lehigh County resident Campos took it upon himself to deny email access to an independently elected official.

There is no question that a portion of Barron's Friday email was irrelevant to his job as Controller. But it is totally wrong for the Executive to censor the speech of other elected officials. It is completely unAmerican and antithetic to good government.

Beca Freshman Visit Allen



Yesterday, Becahi's Freshman Football faced Allen High School at J. Birney Crum, and basically repeated the performance put in by the varsity on Saturday. I was able to catch a few good video clips of Dat (#7) tearing it up.

This Saturday, the Freshman will play Central Catholic in what the T-shirts proclaim is a "Holy War." The Varsity squads play on Halloween.

Reminder: LWV to Host Meet 'n Greet Tonight


Tonight is the last chance you'll have to meet Northampton County candidates running in this year's election for various state races. ALL candidates have been invited, even the Guv' and Tom Wolf. I doubt they'll be there, but this is an opportunity for most of you to talk to the people seeking to represent you in Harrisburg.

In my first notice, I listed the wrong room. That's where the LWV and candidates would like me to go. For the rest of you, it's at Rm 114 at Northampton Community College's College Center.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Secrecy May Help Business, But It's Bad In Government

Northampton County Executive John Brown tells everyone that he's a product of the corporate world, and that he's bringing what he learned there to County government. It's the old "Let's run government like a business" mantra. That has a lot of popular appeal because, as we all know, government is very inefficient. But instead of bringing government efficiency to Northampton County, he's brought the very worst corporate practices to government. In a word, it's secrecy.

A Brown media event consists of reading a statement
and then walking out, with armed guards to protect him. 
Thanks to whatever Brown brought in from the business world, Northampton County is in the worst shape it has been since the inception of the Home Rule Charter. Morale is a real crisis. He refuses to listen to employees who are upset at reduced medical benefits. He instead pours salt into a gaping wound, adding that there will be no raises and that other benefits are being rolled back. Department heads have been instructed not to speak to the press, and may have been told to stay away from other elected officials as well. Some employees have been instructed to stay away from Council meetings. Consultant contracts have been piece-mealed to avoid Council scrutiny. Elected officials were barred from attending a routine news conference a few weeks ago. Then Brown posted armed guards at a subsequent media event last week, not to protect him from a credible threat, but from the people's own representatives on County Council. His latest move, according to The Express Times, is to block email blasts that Controller Steve Barron sent to County employees last week. He has even removed a link that enables employees to report suspected fraud. .

Control freaks may do quite well in corporate America. But in government, they are called totalitarians.

I have obtained copies of Barron's emails, and they are published below, in two separate posts.

The Online Fraud Link

The first email makes workers aware of a new online fraud reporting tool, Employees can remain anonymous. This protects them from repercussions against whistle blowers. These tools are common in local government, and exist in numerous Pennsylvania counties. This email and the online fraud link were entirely appropriate and well within Barron's role as Controller.

Aside from Barron's own time, no taxpayer resources were used.

Barron received this email from the County's IT person, Al Jordan, who actually works for Xerox and not the County.
Mr. Barron,

At the request of the administration the link has been removed from the web page. If you wish to discuss this matter please contact Cathy Allen or John Brown.

Thank you,

Al
To date, neither Brown nor Allen has responded to a telephone call from Barron, asking them to explain what authority they have to interfere with the business of an independently elected official.

Barron's Friday Mass Email

Barron's second email to the workforce appears to be the result of the link removal. He assures workers that the online reporting tool still works, though it was removed from his web page. Then he goes on to discuss a personnel matter. In fact, it's the same one I discussed here on Friday. That's fine on a blog, but likely has no place in a Controller's email.

Barron also repeats his argument that OT is less frequent when positions are fully staffed. This matter was the subject of an audit, and relates directly to his function as Controller.

Brown blocked this email. In fact, Barron apparently can no longer use the county email to contact anyone other than employees within his own office.
Mr. Barron,

At the request of the administration you access to send email to distribution groups outside of your office is being removed.

Sincerely,

Albert B. Jordan Jr.
Account Manager
Americas Local Government
Xerox State & Local Solutions, Inc.
Brown's actions were improper. There is no question that, in removing the fraud link, Brown interfered with the actions of an independently elected official. He actively interfered in the Controller's job duties. As for the second email , Barron did get involved in matters unrelated to his function, Nevertheless, Brown has no right to interfere with an independently elected office.

If this is countenanced, it is only a matter of time before he begins to interfere with the District Attorney and the Courts.

I won't speak for the business world, but government operates best when it's transparent. You don't have that when you block communications by independently elected officials, or post armed guards outside of what you call media events. Over the years, I have at times been highly critical of Barron. But he is the Controller, not me or Brown. He has the right to run his office as he sees fit.

Brown has abused his power. .

As our own legislature has stated, "[S]ecrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public's effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society."

I have posted the link to the online fraud reporting tool on my left sidebar.

The Emails John Brown Wants No One To See: Part Two

Last week, Northampton County Executive John Brown's Administration blocked two emails that Controller Steve Barron sent to county workers. This is the second.

-------- Original message --------
From: "Stephen J. Barron"
Date:10/24/2014 10:51 AM (GMT-05:00)
To: All Northampton County Employees
Subject: Controller Update

Dear Employees:

I wanted to update you all and let you know that the link to the fraud reporting form is still up and active. It is not on my web page anymore, but I hope to work that issue out soon. The link is as follows:

http://www.emailmeform.com/builder/form/flJtfSoW28y4cOd

I appreciate the interest to this point and will be sure to follow up on all information I received through this form in a timely manner.

I have been asked by several people about open positions and the audit that my office conducted that shows hiring additional employees is cheaper than being understaffed and paying overtime. This audit can be viewed here:

http://www.northamptoncounty.org/northampton/lib/northampton/depts/controller/OT12_31_08.pdf

Skip ahead to the final two pages to see the math and justification of this assertion I have made at the last two Northampton County Council meetings.

On a final note several people have asked me about new hires. Specifically Nancy L. Jones. Well I have discovered Ms. Jones will most likely be hired as the executive secretary to the Director of Fiscal Affairs. This position has been vacant about 2 years (possibly longer). The salary range for the position is $36,628.00-$52,114. If she is brought in at step 3 this would be $39,998.00 per year salary.

I will continue to update you as I get additional information and am asked questions. Thank you for allowing me the time to reach out and communicate with you via e-mail.

All the Best,

Stephen J. Barron, Jr.
Office: 610-559-3185
Report Fraud in Northampton County:
http://www.emailmeform.com/builder/form/flJtfSoW28y4cOd

The Emails John Brown Wants No One To See: Part One

Last week, Northampton County Executive John Brown's Administration blocked two emails that Controller Steve Barron sent to county workers. This is the first.

-------- Original message --------
From: "Stephen J. Barron"
Date:10/20/2014 12:20 PM (GMT-05:00)
To: All Northampton County Employees
Cc: "Shortell, Tom (tshortell@express-times.com)" , "'Marcus, Samantha'"
Subject: New Online Fraud Reporting Tool

Dear County Employees:

Recent events have prompted me to create an online fraud reporting tool that allows you to communicate directly with the Controller’s Office. This form requires very minimal information and the responses you provide do not go through county e-mail or any server monitored by Xerox or Northampton County. The submissions will be treated as investigatory material and our office will do the best we can to protect your identity. While we cannot guarantee anonymity we allow you to provide no personal identifying information on this form if you wish, but allow you to provide information that the Controller’s Office can follow up on with little risk of retaliation or your identity being revealed. You can even easily access this resource from your home computer if you feel that is safest.

The Fraud Hotline is still active, but if that number is called the information goes directly to the County Executive and his administrative staff. While that is a useful tool, I have been told additional information is required at the time of the report that does not allow the caller to remain anonymous if they wish. The Controller’s form is anonymous and you need not provide personal information. You also can upload documents to the form that can be reviewed. This is not required to submit a report, but it is a handy feature.

The more information you provide for follow up the better able my staff or I will be able to resolve your issue or report the situation to a higher authority. I understand that people hesitate to get involved and fear retaliation. As a friendly reminder there is a county Whistleblowers Policy that works to protect you. Also investigatory information is protected and in most cases does not need to be turned over in the event of a right to know request. However, I will always let you know if I am in a position to possibly release your name or potential identifying information (if provided) and would allow you to refuse to continue pursuing the matter if that was your wish.

The direct link to the form is:

http://www.emailmeform.com/builder/form/flJtfSoW28y4cOd

It is also available as a link from our web page at:

http://www.northamptoncounty.org/northampton/cwp/view.asp?a=1514&Q=619923&PM=1

We are currently working on ways to place a link on the intranet site as well. Consider this as another tool to help fight fraud and government waste. I appreciate you reviewing this resource and please use it as a way to safely communicate directly with the Northampton County Controller’s Office.

All the Best,

Stephen J. Barron, Jr.
Northampton County Controller
Office: 610-559-3185

High School Football: How to Stop Losing ... and Hazing


Becahi destroyed Allen on Saturday afternoon, 56-12. It was actually 56-6 at the end of the first half. The Golden Hawks benched their varsity and sent in the JV squad to play the second half. Many Beca fans -  and I was one of them - were hoping that Allen would score once again before the end of the game. They did, in the closing moments.

I feel for the kids on any losing team. But in Allen's case, you can see why the program is in such disarray. Look at their stands. Aside from their marching band, practically no one is there. No father to encourage his son. No mom to worry. No alumni to act as boosters for a once great school. If parents and family fail to get involved in their kids' lives, this is what happens.


During half-time, I noticed something a bit out of the ordinary - a high school football player (Charlie Falteich, a 5'4" Junior) playing in the band. I'm told this is also the case at Dieruff. I have no idea how someone goes through both football and band camp, but things like this have to be very positive for both football players and bandies. It also creates an atmosphere in which hazing is far less likely.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

It May Not Be a Crummy Stadium Much Longer

Bob Smith, who presides over the Allentown School Board, has announced a "special" meeting on Tuesday to untable the resolution that will name the Allentown Stadium field after Andre Reed. I am informed that the J. Birney Crum stadium will retain its name.

Reed, a NFL Hall of Famer, apparently said naughty words. Some people in Allentown thinks the notion of honoring a man who says naughty words is ridiculous because no one ever does anything wrong there.

Hey, if naughty words are good enough for the Pa. Supreme Court, they're good enough for Allentown.

Friday, October 24, 2014

NorCo Exec John Brown: Council Shirking Their Duty



This is an excerpt of the speech that Executive John Brown gave to the press on Wednesday, October 23, condmning Council for shirking their duty. Then he he skipped out on a Budget Hearing.

Blogger's Note: I have no idea why this video is in black and white. It is not being done for artistic reason or dramatic effect. I am just an idiot.

Brown Making Room For Another Bangor Employee

NorCo Exec John Brown appears to be bringing another Bangor employee on board. Borough Secretary Nancy L. Jones has notified the Council and Mayor that she is resigning, effective November 6. "I will be working for the County of Northampton and look forward to the new direction of my career," she states.

There are 17 vacancies at the jail that Brown has so far refuses to fill. In the Civil Division, it is now four of the Prothonotary's Deputies who've announced they are retiring. That office will soon be down eight.

Oh,yeah, there's also four vacancies in CYF, which only deals with abused and neglected children. Those vacancies are supposedly being filled. I'll have to see it to believe it.

Brown has stated he opposes just "throwing bodies" at the jail's manpower shortage.

Director of Administration Luis Campos, who is off somewhere in Never Never Land, seems to think that new software in the Civil Division can make up for eight people. What that new software will do is crash. It will take at least six months to work out the bugs, and end up costing the County about twice what they pay and they will end up filling all those vacancies anyway. If Campos actually spoke to the people who use these systems, and who have gone through software changes before, he'd know that. But he has a Master's Degree and comes from money, so he knows everything.

It's nice to know that while Brown is allowing staffing shortages to hamper the county's delivery of services, he is making room for another one of his cronies.

A Suggestion For a John Brown Consultant

NorCo Exec John Brown, as we know, can wave a magic wand and award a consultant contract to anyone he wants with no one being any the wiser, so long as he  keeps it under $25k. So here's a suggestion. Hire a listener. That's right. Hire someone to go to each office, pretending to be interested in something or another, and just listen.

If he does this, Brown will discover that what he considers the County's mist valuable asset considers him the least valuable. Morale is as low now as it has ever been. 

Did You Know?

Alexander Graham Bell, who always considered himself a teacher of the deaf, did more than invent the telephone. When President Garfield was shot in 1881, Bell devised a specialized metal detector to find the bullet. Though he was too late to save the President, Bell's invention would save thousands of lives in the Boer War.

While absorbed in his mission to save President Garfield's life, Bell was late for the birth of his own son. He died a few hours after birth because he was unable to breathe. Bell never forgave himself, but set to work again and developed the precursor to what later became known as the iron lung.

Source: Destiny of the Republic, Millard.

Bethlehem ZHB Recognizes Frequent Visitor

My two favorite gigs for The Bethlehem Press are Hanover Township and Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board. Whether it is Gus Loupos in Bethlehem or John Nagle in Hanover, they love to laugh, especially at themselves. Both boards are also very transparent. Most important of all, they care. You won't see a member of Hanover's Board reading something when a citizen is addressing him, as has happened in Bethlehem Township. Gus Loupos has been known to go until 1 am, so everyone who wants to be heard has that opportunity.

Last night, Bethlehem's Zoning hearing Board honored Bill Guth, who has faithfully attended meetings there for the past ten years. Despite being hampered by a disability that makes it difficult for him, he walks over a mile to get to the board, no matter what the weather is like.

He told me he likes these meetings because they provide an insight about what's really going on in Bethlehem.

He is a member of the highest ranking office of the United States - the office of citizen.

For Now, It's Still a Crummy Stadium

Fellow Hall of Famer Dennis Pearson, reports in from Allentown School District with this news:

"The Allentown School District has tabled a motion to rename Bernie Crum Stadium for Andre Reed ... The reason --- School Director Martinez says that Andre Reed got in an argument on Facebook and used vulgar language ... The motion will be tabled until the truth is found .... The Tabling means that there will be no renaming of the field on Nov.1 st the Allen-Dieruff game."

Not long after receiving Dennis' email, I saw this story in The Express Times.

Actually, it's the nicest stadium in the Lehigh Valley.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Three Civil Division Deputy Row Officers To Retire

In Northampton County's Civil Division, the Prothonotary is assisted by four Deputies, who oversee the workload. Three of them are retiring, which will leave that busy office with eight vacancies. Director of Administration Luis Campos never bothered telling Council last night about these retirements, likely because he never bothered to check. He instead claimed they will be creating all kinds of efficiencies next year with new software. Since they apparently are not discussing this with the people who actually use it, this has all the earmarks of a disaster in progress. 

The people who know how that office runs, and who have decades of institutional knowledge, are leaving. This means that the services this office delivers to the public are going to suffer even more. In the meantime, those who are left are actually running to the counters to keep up with filings and passports. This is unfair to them and is making their low-paying jobs more stressful. 

Matos Stepping Down As Corrections Director

Arnie Matos
Arnie Matos, who started his career with Northampton County as a corrections officer, was named Director of Corrections in 2012. But he confirmed at last night's Budget Hearing that he'll be stepping down at the end of the year. Warden Todd Buskirk confirmed anonymous reports on this blog that he intends to retire as well, though he's waiting until some time next year.

Matos and Buskirk, like former Executive John Stoffa, are both firm believer in rehabilitation. A prison population that was supposed to be over 1,200 in 2012, was just 725 yesterday.

Matos was repeatedly questioned by Glenn Geissinger yesterday, in an effort to get Matos to say there's no shortage of corrections officers. Corrections Officers' union President Tom Davis has complained, at two previous Council meetings, that Executive John Brown refuses to fill vacancies. This results in overtime, state Davis, who adds it forces tired officers to continue working. "Somebody is going to get hurt," he has warned.

"We're 17 officers short,' responded Matos, who added there should be 206 corrections officers. This corroborates what Davis has said.

Council members suggested closing off portions of the jail and doing what he can to eliminate the need for extra officers.

"I have closed off sections," answered Matos, who insists there should be 206 officers. "We're in conversations with [brown] about addressing staffing needs at the jail" Matos remarked.

"I'm not going to get the answer I want," complained Geissinger at one point.

I would hope that Geissinger would want to hear the truth.

Brown Blasts Council Over Hospital Bond

Brown calls Council craven and irresponsible
Yesterday afternoon, I received an apologetic call from Kim Sahl, Northampton County Executive John Brown's public relations consultant, to inform me he was conducting a news conference that very afternoon, at 4 pm, concerning his health cuts. Figuring that Brown had finally come to his senses and was beginning to listen to the workforce, I told Kim I'd be there. I was hoping I'd have some good news for you. But I don't. I attended a news conference behind a closed door guarded by three armed deputy sheriffs.  It had nothing to do with health cuts. He instead accused members of County Council, Lamont McClure in particular, of extortion over their rejection last week of a loan arrangement for St. Luke's Hospital. After he finished reading his prepared statement, he stormed out in dramatic fashion, apparently forgetting that he walked out of his own office. He refused to answer questions, and also refused to appear at the Budget Hearing that was being conducted right after his news conference.

Brown Posts Guards

When I reported to Brown's office for the news conference, I did notice three three deputies standing near his outer door. I thought they were looking for Eric Frein, but they were apparently there to prevent anyone from attending Brown's news conference that he didn't want there.

"Do you have a press pass?" asked one.

"Only forgeries," I answered.

That was good enough. I was in.

I thought maybe they were there to protect Brown from Morning Call columnist Bill White, who was rumored to be on his way. "Good idea!" I  thought. He does look a lot like Eric Frein.

But I learned that, in addition to the armed guards in front of his outer office, Brown posted Deputy Sheriffs (either one or two) outside the door that separates his office from Council chambers. That area is open only to members of Council. So he was actually posting guards to protect him from elected representatives of the people.

Brown Blasts Last Week's St. Luke's Vote

Last week, by a 6-2 vote (Seth Vaughn was absent), Northampton County Council rejected a pass thru bond issue for St. Luke's Hospital after Lamont McClure had argued that Council should stop doing all but absolutely essential business until Brown agrees to negotiate on his health care cuts. The two Yes votes were Peg Ferraro and Hayden Phillips. Peg was incredulous because Council was cutting off its nose to spite its face. In addition to depriving St. Luke's of needed revenue, the County would lose out on hefty administration fees.

Brown waited until today to call an "urgent" news conference, and it was about St. Luke's. He explained the obvious value of the project:
"St. Luke's is creating a uniform system for sharing accurate health information across a broad network of providers. This project will ensure that a person's vital health records are up-to-date and instantly available to every doctor nurse or first responder that has to provide care to the patient.

"Not only is this critical to managing its 194,000 emergency room visits every year, it will help first responders and primary care physicians better protect the public when facing a public health crisis. For example, the Enterovirus that's sickening our youth; or the potential of an Ebola outbreak. It means that anybody who needs accurate information can get it immediately."
Brown is right. In fact, later that day, Council reversed course at a budget Meeting and authorized the funding with Lamont McClure being the sole No vote. (Vaughn recused himself and Ken Kraft was stuck in an elevator).

Brown then went on to blast Council and McClure.
"[T]hey took this action to extort the Executive's office. After the meeting, Council members and their mouthpieces sent messages to me with an offer: If I were to acquiesce to their demands on an entirely unrelated matter [employee health care]; they would hold an emergency session in order to approve the bond. in other words, they are holding the County government, the county's healthcare providers, and our citizens hostage in order to win a political fight. That's not only craven and irresponsible ... it is wrong."
He went on to accuse McClure and other Council members of "political gamesmanship and pandering to further their own personal interests and open the door to a real health crisis."
"If my words seem angry, it's because I'm more than a little outraged with people who are willing to shirk their duty. I urge citizens to contact every member of council and tell them that this is wrong! Tell them to stop!"
He goes on to claim that he won't allow council members "to use our community's security as a bargaining chip in their effort to grab cheap political wins."

Who Wrote Brown's Speech?

Brown then got up and walked out of his own office, refusing to answer questions. Judging from the horrified look on Kim Pyler's face, I know it wasn't her. Because it was written in English as opposed to business babble, it wasn't Brown, either. Instead of saying, "Tell them to stop", he would have said, "Communicate parameters on future dialogue with the leadership core."

My guess is that Brown used his political consultant, Matt Deibert, to write that screed. He was reportedly seen slinking about the courthouse.

By the way, who the Hell uses the word "craven"?  The only time I hear it is when someone is being sentenced.

Ferraro Blasts Brown

Peg Ferraro, President of Northampton County Council, supported the St. Luke's vote from the onset. She was one of the two Yes votes last week. Last night, she managed to resurrect the matter during a Budget Meeting, thanks to a determination by Solicitor Phil Lauer that any County business could be conducted. She had representatives from St. Luke's present to explain the loan. She agreed with many of the observations in Brown's statement. But the Doyenne of Northampton County was visibly perturbed by Brown's heavy handed approach to a news conference.
"I have been around here for a long, long time. And everybody knows I've been around for a long, long time (laughing). This is the first time I have come to know the difference between a 'media event' and a 'press conference'. It's a little bit like Willie Shakespeare. 'What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.'

"Today I got a copy of the media event, and I have to say it is well written and I agree with much of it. But today, I experienced something that I have never experienced in my years here in Northampton County government. Two Sheriff Deputies were pulled from their duties to guard the doors. I can understand ... maybe ... the public entrance. But to have the Sheriff's Deputies stand - armed Sheriff's Deputies - standing guard at the door between a Council Chamber and the County Executive Chamber, to me, is absolutely appalling and sends completely the wrong message to the elected officials that sit up here on this dais with me. I just had to get this off my chest. I've never seen anything like it."