Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Santee: Moravian Book Shop Weighing All Options

Rick Santee,who happens to be the President of the Board of Directors at The Moravian Book Shop, is an excellent lawyer, an experienced litigator who was trained by masters like Jackson Sigmon and Bill Ross. But he was still taken by surprise at all the calls he received yesterday concerning my story about the possible departure  of what is arguably the world's oldest bookstore, into the Wonderful Land of NIZ.  Between status conferences and a visit with Mayor Bob Donchez, he was kind enough to return my call and fill us all in.

Though the primary purpose of the book store is to help fund the pensions of retired Moravian ministers, it might surprise you to learn that it is actually a for-profit corporation. Rick and his fellow board members, all of whom are volunteers report to their stockholders. They happen to be the provincial elders of the Moravian Church.

Though the Book Shop is technically a for-profit corporation, Santee jokes that it the "most not-for-profit, for-profit corporation you'll ever want to see."

"We are committed to a lot of different things, not the least of which is the community of Bethlehem, which we founded," he observes. Speaking strictly for himself and not the Board, Santee stated that he "cannot envision the day when there is no more book shop in Bethlehem." He noted its presence, right next to the Moravian flagship church, is something he'd like to see remain.

At the same time, Santee stated that the book shop is a business and that it must be guided by business principles. He stated no decision will be made quickly, but the Board is considering several options. One includes expansion. Another includes relocation. He stated that Moravians do not operate in secrecy, but asked for a little privacy so the Board can do the right thing.

He hinted slightly at a possible reason. In 2008, Moravian Book Shop was one of several Main Street businesses to help fund a traffic study that resulted in a recommendation for a new parking deck. He noted that access problems still exist, as any weekend main Street shopper can attest.

Bethlehem's DCED Director, Alicia Karner, stated that Mayor Donchez is disappointed that Bethlehem could lose the anchor store for its Main Street shopping district. Calling the Moravian Book Shop synonymous with Bethlehem, she stated there's "very little the communities surrounding Allentown can do to compete with the NIZ." She is also concerned that this could have a ripple effect on other retail businesses in Bethlehem.  

So I will give the Moravian Church the privacy it seeks, but have to pass on a story that Santee told me yesterday. As you might have guessed, the Moravian Book Shop gets more than its fair share of tourists. According to employees at the store, they are often asked about where they can go to see "living Moravians."

Will the book shop continue selling Moravian Stars in Bethlehem or will it start selling hockeypucks in Allentown?

We'll see.

Carr: Lehigh County's Latest Gang of Four Smear Dean Browning

Everette Carr is nothing like me. For one thing, he's much nicer. I never even knew about his blog, Kiddycar, until yesterday. Instead of writing about his usual topics, choo-choo trains and the velodrome, he chose politics. And he rips out the four sanctimonious sombitch Commish candidates who smugly call themselves the results team. Four years ago, they were the reform team. They're really the Gang of Four.

Four years ago, part of the reform meant savaging Commissioner Dean Browning. Two years ago, it meant attacking Browning. And so it is again.

For that reason alone, Republicans should vote for Dean.

Here's how Carr, a Republican, puts it: "I abhor when candidates for office use nasty tactics to tear down the opponent, particularly when it's four against one!"

Personally, I love it.

But I'm Irish.

Shanty Irish, too.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Is the Moravian Book Store Being Poached by J.B. Reilly?

All of the redevelopment occurring in Allentown is the result of its Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ). That's a very special 130-acre tax zone created, the only one of its kind in the state, created by a 2009 state law penned by State Senator Pat Browne, which the help of his childhood friend J.B.Reilly, Essentially, it's a TIF on steroids. Development is funded by diverting state taxes for a private business venture. Public funds will transform NIZ developer and political benefactor J.B. Reilly from millionaire into billionaire. Those who dare complain about the inherent unfairness, like former Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, are cut off at the knees when Reilly spends obscene sums of money to fund their political foes. They are supposed to just sit there and smile as Reilly poaches Lehigh Valley businesses. His latest poaching effort might very well be one of Bethlehem's most iconic businesses.

The Moravian Book Shop, located on Main Street across from the Historic Hotel Bethlehem, may just be the oldest continuously running book shops in the world. It's owned by The Moravian Church, and its profits help fund the pensions for retired Moravian clergy.In addition to the actual book store, there's a deli, candy store and a gift shop that sells the Moravian stars that are so popular at Christmas time.

Just about everyone who shops on Main Street makes a stop at that shop.

For weeks, I have heard rumors that J.B. Reilly had poached a major business on Bethlehem's Main Street. Because I had no idea which business it was, I decided against writing about it. But an anonymous comment on my blog today reports that Reilly has lured the Moravian Book Shop into the Allentown NIZ.

I called Bethlehem DCED Director Alicia Karner, who cryptically declined to comment on the matter. I also called Attorney Rick Santee, who is President of the Book Shop's Board of Directors. If he returns my call, I'll let you know.

How Are All the Little Commissioners?

Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau has just been interrupted in one of his duels with his little yellow friend Kato, by the ringing of the telephone. It's the Police Commissioner.

"Good evening, Commissioner. How are you, how is madame and all the little Commissioners?"

I thought of that movie line from The Pink Panther Strikes Again when I heard on Friday that some NorCo Council members are interested in having themselves called Commissioners. I guess they're pissed because Lehigh County legislators still call themselves commissioners.

I believe they should start calling themselves Commissioners, but on one condition. They should always be referred to as little commissioners.

Little commissioners with immense egos.

Should I do a Right to Know and find out what blunder heads asked for this nonsense?

The Irony of NIZ Assessment Appeal and School Cuts

J.B. Reilly's assessment appeal of his property at Two City Center is pretty much a mirage. He has a vice grip on Allentown City government, and has enough friends in county government to make a settlement in this matter inevitable, as King Edwin has already hinted.

But what's ironic is the story that follows, in which parents and teachers join hands to ask Allentown School District to restore cut programs.

If Reilly would pay his fair share of the real estate taxes for his building, then perhaps these programs could be restored in the ASD budget.

Jaindl Should Be Voted Down on LVPC

One of my very first libel threats came from Donna Taggart, way back in 2007. Something the late Billy Givens had written, and on his own webpage, had written had her blowin' oil, So she went after me. I guess we bloggers all look alike. But when I read about David Jaindl's recent nomination as yet another fox in the henhouse known as the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, I am reminded of my own criticism of the game of musical chairs that these developers and consultants play on these boards, where they approve each other's projects.

I know and like David Jaindl. I like turkey. I even like his Northampton County developments. But no developer should be on a regional planning board.

Period.

I first raised this issue concerning the late Glenn Taggart and Andy Twiggar in Tigger, Twiggar and Taggart Bounce Thru Conflicts of Interest at LVPC. At that time, Ron Angle was the sole NorCo Council member to oppose Taggart's (Donna's late husband) re-appointment to the LVPC. Executive John Stoffa had assured Council that Taggart had "nothing going on," but was misled. Taggart actually had to abstain from four matters in which he had a personal interest.

In Bethlehem, Andy Twiggar was until recently a member of their Planning Commission. He is also a NIZ developer of the waterfront project in Allentown, and had every reason to find fault with every project proposed. Fortunately, this walking conflict of interest was replaced.

Here's what I wrote about Twiggar in 2007, who was pitching a project to the LVPC despite being a member, long before the Allentown NIZ was reality:
Guess what? Twiggar is a principal with Dunn Twiggar Company, LLC, an outfit pimping a new development along Allentown's Lehigh River called "The Waterfront." No longshoremen or ex-prize fighters here. Not in this Allentown Shangri-La. The plan is to replace 150 manufacturing jobs at the Lehigh Structural Steel property with 560 condos lying smack dab in the middle of the flood plain.

Jam 'em in there, bippy! Jersey commuters, come on down!

An island for whitey in an Allentown sea of black and brown. De facto segregation. Brilliant! And those manufacturing jobs? Poof! They'll be replaced with jobs for cocktail waitresses, chambermaids and busboys who can't cut it at Bethlehem's casino. They'll be servants as the rest of us whip around in our fancy Rollerblades and cool shades.

Now don't get me wrong. There are many positive positive aspects to this proposed redevelopment, and Our West End Neighborhood features some lovely pictures. But we'll never know whether the LVPC judged this project on its merits or because it was presented and promoted by one of its own - an insider.

Last night, Twiggar, with his Northampton County name tag boldly emblazoned on his jacket, wowed LVPC members as he bounced through a 45 minute slide show.

"Worraworraworraworraworra".

I doubt he showed any flood pics. According to Angle, no developer gets that royal treatment. And surprise, surprise! The LVPC just loves the idea. Concerns about jamming all those condos in a floodplain were summarily dismissed. "This is Allentown." I understand LVPC Boss Mike Kaiser rushed from the meeting to buy a little captain's hat for the proposed marina.

*      *      *

Tiggers, Twiggars and Taggarts have a good thing going. They'll grab a property lying in a floodplain, draw up a fancy plan with hockey rinks, theatres and other baloney, and jam every square inch with condos. Then they'll look for a developer with deep pockets and, of course, some public bucks. And they'll use their inside connections on this and that commission to ease those pesky zoning and planning requirements. They use exotic terms like "project manager," but they're just front men who bounce really well from public to private sectors.
Twiggar is no longer on the LVPC, but is now developing that flood plain with public dollars, thanks to his inside connections. It' part of Allentown's NIZ.

Ain't democracy grand?

Whether Lehigh County Commissioners actually vote Jaindl down remains to be seen. I tend to doubt it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why Not Tax Campaign Funds?

We all deride the corrupting influence of money on politics. We hate the idea of raising taxes on income or real estate. So here's an idea that might actually help our financially strapped schools and pension funds. It's a new tax, but one that everyone except politicians should love. t is time to start taxing campaign warchests.

The idea would be to tax political campaigns both a percentage of the money they raise each year, and a percentage of the money that sits unused in campaign warchests at the end of each year.

How would it work? Let's say there's a 5% tax on all political money raised every year, and a separate 5%  tax on all money unspent at the end of the year. Candidate A, running for Mayor of Allentown, raises $120,000. His campaign would be required to pay 5%, or $6,000, into Harrisburg.

Let's say that, at the end of the year, the warchest has $100,000 because only $20,000 was spent. A 5% tax on that would mean another $5,000.

Here's a good example. State Rep. Michael Schlossberg raised $47,135 last year even though he had no opponent. That gives him a nice little slush fund to spend. A 5% tax on the money he raised would raise $2,356.75 for his impoverished constituents. He ended 2014 with $39,191.15 in his warchest. A 5% tax on that would mean yet another $1,959.56 for the public weal.

This kind of tax will also deter incumbents from raising huge sums of money, year after year, so they can become more entrenched.

Should "Admiral" Sestak Be Pulling Rank?

Apparently, when "Admiral" Sestak refers to himself on the campaign trail, he's violating military ethics because he fails to make clear he is retired.

From TribLive:

At an event in Latrobe on Tuesday, titled “Admiral Sestak for Senior Citizens and People with Alzheimer's Disease,” Sestak refused to address questions about why his campaign literature doesn't prominently indicate he retired as a two-star rear admiral.

“I don't know what you are talking about,” said Sestak, who rose to the rank of three-star admiral but wasn't in that position long enough to retire as such. He said he could not answer the question and referred it to campaign spokeswoman Danielle Lynch, who refused comment.

Reminded of the Pentagon's military code of ethics regarding the use of titles, Sestak said: “Mmmm. Send us something on that, would you?”

Brown's Stealth Layoff - a 12.4% Job Vacancy Rate

Northampton County Executive John Brown has stated that he considers the County employee its most valuable asset, and now I know why. He is balancing the County's budget on their backs. According to a report supplied to Northampton County Council yesterday, there are 268 vacant positions throughout the County, which accounts for 12.4% of the entire 2,162-person, workforce.

This report was generated at the request of Hayden Phillips, who ran on a theme of limited government. I suspect he will attempt to eliminate the positions entirely. He has stated that if a position goes unfilled for a period of time, it should just be eliminated.

My problem with this is hat most of these are positions that should be filled, but are purposely being left vacant to give Brown more money to play with at budget time. He is sacrificing efficiency and delivery of services in the name of the Almighty Dollar.

Where are positions going unfilled?

Most of these vacant positions, 133.15 to be exact, are in Human Services. They include caseworkers for Children and Youth, Area Agency on Aging, Mental Health and at Gracedale. How much of this is due to federal and state budget reductions is unclear to me. But it's a pretty sad commentary for the 18,000 people who  receive Human Services of one kind or another. I am especially appalled at the 16 vacancies in Children and Youth, which does include caseworker positions. After being abused and neglected by their counties, children need attention. instead, it's more of the same. When I see something like this in a County that has a full complement in its Department of Community and Economic Development, I want to throw up.

Last year, Corrections Officer Tom Davis several times insisted that corrections officer vacancies are going unfilled at the jail. That is still the case. Corrections is down 29.5 positions, and 22.0 corrections officer jobs are still unfilled.

What are called row offices, because they used to be lined up in a row along the hallways outside the courtrooms, are suffering, too. Despite several complaints from the Court, there are still eight vacancies in the Civil Division. There are four unfilled jobs in the Criminal Division and four jobs in the Recorder of Deeds have been left open.

Custodial and maintenance staff have been decimated. The janitors are down 9.8 jobs, including four FT cleaners  I have always found the custodial staff to be one of the County's finest departments, but they are obviously being overworked. Things are bad in Maintenance, too, where 7 jobs remain unfilled. For someone like me, who is unable to change a light bulb. this is a disaster.

Eventually, what is going to happen is some child is going to get killed, or perhaps an overworked corrections officer on mandatory overtime will snap.  And then the County will pay millions. i would prefer to see it doing its job.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

DA Endorses Changes To Parking Enforcement in Easton

Northampton County DA John Morganelli met recently with Easton City representatives concerning their parking enforcement process, which currently is illegal. He has endorsed changes that will bring Easton into complaince with both the law and Constitution. He has explained thius in a statement I am attaching in its entirety below.

During the last few weeks, the Office of District Attorney has had an opportunity to review the City of Easton’s Parking Enforcement. As part of that review, the Office of District Attorney researched Pennsylvania law, the ordinances of the City of Easton, and the procedures adopted by the City of Easton. Based upon that review, the following conclusions were made;

1. Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Code regulates vehicle movements upon the highways including parking and prohibits the parking of a motor vehicle under certain prescribed conditions. 75 Pa. C.S.A. §3351 to §3354.

2. Notwithstanding the aforesaid, local authorities, including but not limited to municipalities, are permitted to exercise certain powers described in the Pennsylvania Motor vehicle code. 75 Pa. C.S.A. §6102(b); 75 Pa. C.S.A. §6109. A municipality’s authority to regulate parking on public highways is a power that the state delegates to the municipalities.
  
3. In order to carry out that delegation of authority from the state, local authorities may exercise the powers under the Motor Vehicle Code only by duly enacted ordinances of their governing bodies. 75 Pa. C.S.A. §6102(b) .

4. Under Pennsylvania law, parking violations usually constitute a summary offense. 75 Pa.C.S.A. §3353(e).

5. The City of Easton bypasses the customary procedure of filing a summary offense. The City states that it is no longer treating parking violations as “criminal matters” but rather as “civil” matters.

6. Under Pennsylvania law, a municipality may treat parking enforcement as a “civil matter” and utilize the “Local Agency Law” 2 Pa.C.S.A. §105 as a substitute for summary proceedings. However, the City of Easton’s procedure with respect to parking enforcement was contrary to law for the following reasons:

(a) Despite the City allegedly changing from a criminal based parking enforcement system to a civil based system, the City did not have an enabling ordinance on its books implementing the system and, therefore, was engaging in parking enforcement contrary to Pennsylvania law which requires an enabling ordinance with respect to parking enforcement.

(b) Parking tickets were being given to citizens informing them that failure to pay would result in a citation and a criminal proceeding when in fact the City had already abandoned the criminal process and replaced it with a civil process. Therefore the notice to the citizen was misleading and incorrect. The specific language was as follows:
“Failure to pay the amount shown on the reverse side within the time limits specified will result in a citation being issued against you in accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. ….”

(c) The “First Notice of Outstanding Parking Tickets” and the “Final Notice” had numerous deficiencies as follows:

(1) It failed to inform citizens of their right to appeal and how to effectuate their appeal rights therefore in violation of due process requirements.

(2) It erroneously informed citizens that their vehicle “may be towed/ immobilized for unpaid tickets.” The truth of the matter is that under the City of Easton’s ordinances, vehicles are not towed and/or immobilized unless there are five or more unpaid tickets. There is no towing or immobilization for one unpaid parking ticket.

(d) The appeal process was not in accordance with the Local Agency Law in that: * It did not afford reasonable examination and cross-examination as required at 2 Pa.C.S.A. §554 of the Local Agency Law nor did it require that all adjudications be in writing, contain findings and reasons for the adjudication as required by 2 Pa.C.S.A. §5555.

On March 24, 2015, District Attorney John Morganelli met with Easton City Solicitor William Murphy, Esq. and Chief Carl Scalzo and Lieutenant Matthew Lohenitz. The City of Easton acknowledged the deficiencies outlined above, and has taken steps to bring Easton’s parking process into compliance by the following:

1. A proper enabling ordinance setting forth the Easton parking procedures and policy has been submitted to City Council for final approval.

2. Notices and citations have been redrafted clearly informing citizens of their appeal rights.

3. The appeal process has been redesigned with the final administrative appeal to be heard by members of the Easton Parking Authority and the ability for a citizen to thereafter appeal to the Court of Common Pleas.

4. All administrative hearings will comply with the Local Agency Law allowing for reasonable cross-examination and written findings and adjudications as required by law.

5. Citizens will no longer be misled that their vehicle could be towed and/or immobilized for the failure to pay one ticket.

In light of the changes now in motion, the District Attorney’s Office of Northampton County is satisfied that the system may proceed accordingly.

Panto's Parking Police: Physician, Heal Thyself!

This is a shot of a Panto Parking Police car illegally parked outside the courthouse, while some old fart gleefully places tickets on other cars that are illegally parked.

My car was illegally parked right behind him. But he missed me because I was in a 20' deep pothole.

I met Satan.

What the Frick?

Yesterday, I told you about John Brown's latest attempt to change the "culture" in Northampton County. Currently, the County pays Frick Transfer about $40,000 every year to supply 149 polling places with at least two voting machines during the elections. In an effort to save money and operate county government in a cost effective way, Brown has decided to do it in-house.

Can it be done? Of course, Lehigh County has been doing it that way for years. But my chief concern is that a sudden change like this, with no dry runs and no experience, means there will be mistakes Some machines might end up at the wrong polling places. The seals on some machines might be broken.  While election judges call for replacements, voters will walk away from the polls disgusted. The possibility of election fraud, though remote, still exists.

I spoke to one of the six workers who has been told he''ll be pulled away from his regular job to make deliveries. Some bosses have told him its voluntary, while others have said he has no choice. "I have no idea where I'm going," he told me. "I just hope they give us a GPS."

They'll have three rental trucks.

I have another concern. John Brown is the County Executive and as such, wields incredible power. But he's not King. The administration of elections is under the jurisdiction of the Elections Commission, not him. His decision to make this change without their approval is in my view an abuse of his authority. When he speaks of the need for a "culture" change, perhaps it is he who needs to change his bean counter attitude and start following the law.

Hopefully, this matter will be addressed by Council when they meet next week.

48 Apartments Approved at 65 E. Elizabeth

Bethlehem's five-member Zoning Hearing Board unanimously approved the addition of 48 apartments at 65 E. Elizabeth Street. They did so at their March 25 meeting following testimony from two architects, owner Borko Milosev and star witness Darlene Heller, Bethlehem's Planning Director.  Milosev was represented by Bethlehem Attorney Jim Preston, who thanked Heller for giving his closing argument. There was no opposition to the conversion of the top six floors of the iconic ten-story building into multi-family dwellings.

Milosev, who purchased the property in December for $2.67 million, admitted to zoners that he is taking a risk. The property, which offers Class B office space, has had an increasing vacancy rate despite offering a 26% discount to interested businesses. Currently, the building is 65% vacant.

He hopes to change that dynamic by converting the top six floors into one and two-bedroom apartments. When the building was first constructed in 1967, it was only a four-story structure. But the demand for office space at that time was so great that six floors were added. According to Architect Lucienne Di Biase Dooley, a Principal at Artefacte, the building was considered avant garde because of its heavy use of metal panels, which was repeated at Martin Tower. She told zoners that the facade will be re-painted with a dark grey color, with screenings in the windows for privacy.

A second architect, John Lee, testified that there will be eight units on each floor, although that might change. He indicated there might be one or two three-bedroom luxury apartments on the top floor, where there are "wonderful views."

Milosev doubts that his building will attract Moravian students because 96% of the non-commuting students live in housing provided by the college. He plans to invest another $5 million into this project and estimates that will rent for $850-900 (1 BR) and $1,100-$1,200 (2BR),

Planning Director Darlene Heller advocated the project, referring to provisions in the new Zoning Ordinance that promote mixed use. She called it an "adaptive reuse" similar to the Dodson and Farr Buildings, adding that the City's own studies reveal there is an "unbelievable demand" for rental units like this from both young professionals and empty nesters.

Milosev stated that one of his commercial tenants, a dentist, is delighted at the proposal because she could live in one of the top floors and take an elevator to work.

Brown's State of the County - An Analysis

John Brown calls himself "lucky number seven" because he is Northampton County's seventh executive since the inception of home rule. But after listening to him describe the County's dire financial straights for an hour, he should cancel any plans he has of winning the lottery any time soon. He painted this grim picture at his annual "State of the County" address. It was delivered at Northampton Community College to a room full of elected officials, business leaders, members of his own administration, and consultants looking to make a few connections. Brown's Lehigh County counterpart, Tom Muller, was kind enough to attend. Several members of Council and Controller Steve Barron were there as well.

It was a dry and lengthy address, punctuated by an emphasis on dollars and complaints about a culture that resists what he calls progress. But after one year in office, one has to question the validity of his own culture, which is a condescending approach to the workforce and the public and a heavy reliance on consultants instead of the people who actually do the work. As one former Council member put it, he's like a Captain who has left port but is still dragging the anchor.    

There's no denying that the County's fiscal ship is definitely in danger of running aground. As Brown pointed out, benefits cost increases are three times the rate of tax revenue. But it was Brown who proposed a budget with no tax increase. That came thanks to the Republican majority on Council

Brown also pointed out that the County is facing $49.5 million in expenses and capital needs within the next five years. But this figure assumes an excise tax in 2018 under the Affordable Care Act, which is in trouble in the courts right now. Brown added that there are other capital needs, including bridge repairs, a new parking deck, a coroner's building and improvements at the jail.

These expenses exist at a time when the ever elusive fund balance has dipped to just $8.2 million in a county that spends about $10 million per month.

Brown also pointed to problems at Gracedale, the County's nursing home, which he called a "two-headed dragon." Though the census there has been maximized, the reimbursements from the state and federal government are insufficient to cover the cots of the facility. The County contribution this year is projected at $7.7 million. By 2018, he projects that the County will be spending $12.1 million at the facility.

He explained his approach most clearly when he discussed filling vacancies. Instead of just automatically filling them, he lets them sit. As they pile up, department heads ask to see him, and then he wants to see a justification for the position. He criticized a policy of "just hiring more people and throwing money at the problem."

"There are no sacred cows," stated Brown. "There's nothing sacred although a lot of departments believe they are."

But he failed to ask another question. What if the positions are needed, and he just lets vacancies pile up? Does that "ensure the efficient delivery of services," which he identified as one of his goals?

During his first year in office, Brown's refusal to fill obviously needed positions at the jail has been a nightmare for corrections officers, many of whom are required to work double shifts. It has been a nightmare in the Civil Division , which was down 11 people at one point and is still down eight. In that office, which handles passport application, people have been forced to wait lengthy periods for service, as harried clerks try to do their job. The Courts have complained about missing paperwork making their jobs more difficult. Is this efficient delivery of services?

While letting some departments suffer, others are bursting at the seams. This includes the Department of Community and Economic Development, where people are tripping over each other and have failed to snag even one business over the course of Brown's first year in office.

The biggest change imposed by Brown during his first year in office was his unilateral decision to reduce health care benefits.He almost joked about the backlash, which included three Council meeting attended by hundreds of angry County workers, some of whom would be paying $13,000 deductibles well beyond their salaries. "Welcome to the real world," was the refrain first heard from the private sector. But that changed, too, when it became apparent that Brown was offering no wage hikes and was proposing to reduce other benefits as well. In addition, many County workers have seen their paychecks go in reverse as Easton imposed a commuter tax hike that Brown only half-heartedly opposed. He ultimately purchased gap insurance, but not before alienating most of the workforce. The result was a record number of retirements, over twice the annual average.

Brown failed to address his reliance on consultants or his lack of transparency during his first year in office, in which he once posted armed Deputy Sheriffs outside his office to keep Council members from attending a news conference.

Perhaps the biggest weakness, in both his address and his tenure as Executive, is his presumption that he and his "team" have all the answers. The 2,200-person workforce has answers, too. But instead of listening to them, he's hired consultants.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Get Lucky at Brown's State of the County

Some people attended John Brown's State of the County address at Northampton Community College because they want to know what the hell he's doing. I was there for the babes. It was pretty much a snooze fest. Most of the audience was still asleep as I left. I'll have more about Brown's address later.

I lucked out. I got to speak with our very own Lady of Lebanon, Marta Gabriel. She even sat next to me. Unfortunately, she had to leave early. Something about getting a PFA.

My blogging intern, Glenn Geissinger, snapped this shot. He apologized that it's a little dark, but I fired him anyway. I have my standards, damn it!

As I left, Easton Mayor Sal Panto was in the parking lot, writing up tickets.

Is Brown Trying to Suppress the Vote?

A few days before every election, Northampton County begins rolling out its electronic voting machines for delivery to over 120 polling places. It's no time to mess around and take chances. Yet that is precisely what the John Brown administration is doing. Council has appropriated about $40,000 in this year's budget to Frick Transfer, a bonded moving company. This mover has always delivered the machines to their intended destinations. But in an effort to save a few bucks, Executive Brown is going to do it in-house. He has already lined up truck rentals from Penske, and intends to recruit county workers to move these machines. This penny-wise and pound-foolish decision has disaster written all over it.

Frick Transfer makes moves like this all the time, and has done it well for Northampton County. But using County employees is a terrible idea. It is entirely possible that several machines will be delivered to the wrong location, or with the seals broken, or both. In addition, the County lacks the personnel for this kind of specialized work. Several will undoubtedly get injured performing tasks for which they are unprepared. I'm told that Brown is having a hard time finding people willing to volunteer, and could resort to outside help. That brings in a new set of dangers. In addition to being a gazillion years old, these day workers are unbonded and I doubt very seriously that they will be taking any oath, unless it is to brown or Cathy Allen..

Brown is also stepping all over the Elections Commission. They are a nonpartisan body established under The Home Rule Charter and Elections Code. It is their job to administer elections, not his. Instead of a relatively neutral body setting the stage, a partisan elected official is doing so, and one who has every incentive to suppress the vote. So far as I know, he has not asked The Elections Commission for permission to make this change.

Brown has already ruined the morale of the County workforce. His latest trick might actually deprive you of your right to vote.

I spoke with Elections Registrar Dee Rumsey, who directed me to call Director of Administration Luis Campos. He has yet to return my call.

Brown should have nothing to do with the conduct of elections.

Adult Day Care Expected in Hanover Township

Steve Salvesen and Jack Nagle
An Adult Day Care is coming to Hanover Township. Supervisors conducted a conditional use hearing for Jim Gentile's proposal to convert a 25,000 sq ft, one story building into an Adult Day Care at their March 24 meeting. Like any day care, there will be a drop off and pick up, along with two lanes that will go around the building. Gentile told Supervisors that three levels of licensing are required for this kind of facility. He added it is similar to a nursing home.

Supervisors are expected to approve this proposal next month, though they are insisting on landscaping that will screen the day care center from a residential area. They then discussed likely applicants, and Manager Jay Finnigan offered to hook me up.

In other business, they approved a deferral of the parking at 157 N Commerce Way, where Follett Corporation has a Call Center with 40 employees. Headquartered in Forks Township, Follett specializes in ice machines and refrigeration.Bursting at the seams in Forks, they are expanding operations at their Hanover Tp facility. During the first shift, 94 employees will be on the site.

Follett has agreed to increase the number of parking spaces for its employees to 180. Supervisors have agreed to defer insisting on establishing more spots until the workforce expands.  

They also heard from Traditions of America at Bridle Path residents Steve McCarthy and Dale Traupman. They reported that 107 units have been built, 56 are under contract and 36 are left to be sold. But all the construction going on at the site has severely damaged Bridle Path Road, despite numerous cold patches by the road crew. One resident has been forced to buy new tires.

Manager Jay Finnigan told McCarthy and Traupman that Traditions principal David Biddison has agreed to repave the road once construction is complete. And as soon as weather is warm enough, Public Works Director Vince Milite will apply warm patches to damaged road surfaces.

One resident questioned the Township's policy concerning replacement of mailboxes knocked over by snow plows. Solicitor Jim Broughal told the resident the Township has no obligation to replace anything that is within the Township right of way. "If you put a mailbox on our property, and we hit it with our plow, we're not responsible." Steve Salvesen later stated he lost two mailboxes that way.

Milite told Supervisors that snow plow operators are identified by different numbers.

"I'm number two," said Milite.

"I've been saying that for years," wisecracked Jack Nagle.

Wildlands To Remove "Dam" in Monocacy Creek


The Wildlands Conservancy likes to say it has been "creating lasting connections to nature since 1973." It's been creating lasting connections to grant money, too. One of its latest dam removal projects concerns what some might call a dam near Bridle Path Road, near the St. Francis Retreat Center. Hanover Township Supervisors elected to take no position in response to an inquiry from the state DEP.

"I wouldn't call it a dam," noted Manager Jay Finnigan. "Beavers build bigger dams than that," he said of plans to remove what looks more like a speed bump.

Parks activist and blogger Michael Molovinsky recently played a major role in dissuading South Whitehall Commissioners from authorizing the removal of Wehr's Dam along the Jordan Creek. He might have a different attitude towards this proposal. The Monocacy, unlike the Jordan, is a high quality cold-water trout stream. So this proposal might make sense.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Traditions Plan at Green Pond Marsh Inches Forward

Democracy in action
You know you're in trouble when a little girl comes and speaks against what you would like to do. That's what happened last night, when Traditions of America presented its latest sketch plans for a 261-home gated community for rich old farts at Green Pond Marsh, despite its recent designation as a wetland by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Brooke Kuronya, with her mother Nicole standing right behind her, told Bethlehem Township planners about the beauty of thousands of snow geese who visit the marsh at this time every year. "It was so pretty," she said. Her mother spoke of seeing eight great blue herons at a time. Noting all the building going on, she had one question.

"Why there?"

"Because they can," was Planning Commissioner Kenn Edinger's blunt response.

Before the night was over, six of the seven planners approved two waivers (road width and speed limits) and two deferrals (sidewalks and curbing). Planning Commission Chair Lee Snover abstained because she knows Traditions principal Biddison and had previously voted to approve two more dense projects at this site.

"We count on you guys to be our guardian," complained Patti Barry. Melissa Davis echoed those concerns. "[T]heir [Traditions'] job is to make as much money as they can. Your job is to protect us."

Planner Les Walters responded that they are bound by the Subdivision and land Development Ordinance. He and other planners added that the Traditions proposal is not as dense as previous plans, is age restricted and would have less impact on traffic.

Kathy Glagola asked how Traditions will protect the wetlands when it is digging just ten feet away. She asked how Traditions planned on keeping geese our of the development. Her husband Jack noted that four detention ponds surrounding the wetlands would actually prevent the marsh from being replenished  "We have a 20' deep swimming pool around the wetland and no way for water to get in there," he complained.

Though planners voted to grant waivers and deferrals,they were still skeptical. Noting that Traditions stands to make $108 million from this project Edinger minced no words. ""You're trying to get away with building this as cheaply as possible," he charged.

Despite the Planning Commission's recommendation, this development has a long way to go. Planning Director Nathan Jones stated that the Township has yet to hire its own consultant to determine the environmental impact of a residential development immediately next to a 7-acre wetland with 182 different migratory bird species. There may need to be an archeological study to assess evidence of a Native American settlement at the site.  In the mean time, storm water and traffic concerns need to be addressed.

As the evening wore on, Planning Director Nathan Jones discussed an update to the parks plan, This brought Barry Roth, a member of the Rec Board, to the podium. He derided spending any money for toilets at the playing fields used by the athletic association, stating the money would be better spent on playground equipment.

I swear I have never seen anyone as opposed to a shitter as Barry, who went on to call Bethlehem Township's park system the "lousiest" he ever saw.

"I'll ask Traditions of America to do the bathroom,' joked Snover. "I'll bet they want their name on the toilets."

NorCo Gaming Board: $1.6 Million Expected, $1.6 Million Sought

Darlene Heller (L) and Alicia Karner (R)
Northampton County's nine-member Gaming Board doles out the slots revenue from the Sands Casino every year. This year, their work might be finished early. Applications for this year's grants stand at about $1.6 million, and that's about all that the Board expects to get.

Karen Collis out it succinctly when the Board met on March 23. "As of now, there's $88." she said, referring to the amount of money in the restricted fund used for the first and possibly only round off grants.

"Thanks for coming!" John Dally wisecracked to the applicants in the audience.

By law, the first round of grants must go to Bethlehem, Northampton County and the five municipalities surrounding Bethlehem. These are Hanover Township, Bethlehem Township, Lower Saucon Township and Freemansburg and Hellertown. To be awarded a grant, they must show they've been impacted by gambling. If any money is left over, it can be awarded to other municipalities.

This year's grant applications are as follows

Bethlehem. - The Christmas City is seeking nearly half of the $1.6 million expected this year. It also is impacted more heavily than any other municipality. It wants $400,000 for a $1.2 million 95' aerial bucket truck. This vehicle will be able to respond to the casino within four minutes if called into service. It is asking for $130,000 to rechassis an aging 2007 ambulance. EMT Tom Decker told the Board that 7.5% of the ambulance call volume is for the casino. Finally, Planning Director Darlene Heller and DCED Director Alicia Karner pitched a $250,000 proposal for improvements to the South Bethlehem greenway. Karner called this a positive impact of the casino because many casino employees are using the greenway,located between 3rd and 4th streets, to walk to work.

Tom Nolan was dubious, stating that it is "difficult" for him to see what connection the greenway has to the casino. "I find it difficult to connect the dots," he groused. Karner connected them,noting that people who live in South Bethlehem neighborhoods use the greenway to get to their job at the casino. "When the Bethlehem Steel was there, they all walked," added Jerry Yob,

Bethlehem Tp. - Three grants are being sought for the purchase of two police vehicles ($101,528), 15 new defibrillators ($23,514) and replacement of a 2007 ambulance ($120,200). Capt. Greg Gottschall explained that the new cruisers will replace the oldest vehicles, which are seven years old. He added that the defibrillators need to be replaced because of changes in the software.Finally, ambulance officials told the Board that they responded to 842 calls in Bethlehem last year, most of them on the South Side.

Freemansburg. - Chief Todd Pantuso did the talking, and is asking for $102,988 for an enhancement to operational technology. Freemansburg's Main Street is taken as a short cut to the casino, the Chief explained. He's seen the traffic triple since his arrival 1 1/2 years ago. DUI and drug arrests have increased as well. While dealing with increased crime and traffic, his computer system has frozen several times. No data has been lost.

Hanover Tp. - Director of Administration Ryan Kish wants $42,000 for a Chevy Tahoe to be driven by one of the Township's three emergency management professionals. He also is asking for $8,800 for crash and crime scene software.

Kish's proposal is just a fraction of the cost for a similar software program sought and obtained by Palmer Tp Police last year. Kish explained he was trying to find an inexpensive program. "The way it looks, you found it," noted John Dally.

Less complimentary was Tom Nolan. He questioned whether this software can legally be purchased for Colonial Regional Police when two of the municipalities that it serves are not impacted communities. He also questioned the need for an emergency management official to drive around in a Chevy Tahoe.

Hellertown.- Nobody needs a traffic study to know that traffic is congested in Hellertown, especially coming from South Bethlehem, where the casino is located. Chief Robert Shupp told the Board that there;'s now prostitution, daytime DUIs and he even seized an illegal poker machine from a local business. He's seeking funding for two police officers at $207,034.

Lower Saucon. - Chief Guy Lesser would like to fund a police officer ($101,897) and wants to replace a Ford Interceptor Van ($30,294) that is 2 1/2 years old and has more than 100,000 miles.

Northampton County. - Drug and Alcohol Administrator Tiffany Rossanese is seeking $143,765 this year for gambling addiction treatment and support services. She believes the county needs to do more to identify problem gamblers and provide more education to the community. In addition to transitional housing, the county supports three recovery centers, and assists addicts with job placement and even interviews.

These grants could be awarded in April. It will be up to Joe Kelly (Bethlehem), Tom Nolan (Bethlehem Tp), Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Jay Finnigan (Hanover), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown), Dave Willard (Lower Saucon), Tony Pristash (Northampton), John Dally (Pen Argyl) and James Pennington (Lower Nazareth).

Lower Mac Supervisor Explains Facebook Page Objection

Yesterday, I told you that Lower Macungie's Environmental Advisory Council, a group of volunteers has been asked to take down its Facebook page. This appears to be overkill, but Lower Macungie Commissioner Brian Higgins contacted me with his point of view. He has kindly agreed to allow me to publish his thoughts.

I read your post about the EAC [Environmental Advisory Council] Facebook page and I did want to give you some more information about this issue. I am the chair of the Gen Ad Committee and this subject was discussed as part of our agenda last Thursday. It was brought to our attention that the EAC had created a Facebook page without notifying the township or asking for permission to do so. That brought up the discussion about a need for a policy on communication by advisory committees and their use of social media. The Gen Ad Committee recommended to the full [Board of Commissioners] BOC that they authorize the Township Manager to instruct the EAC Chair to stop using this page until a policy could be adopted and someone from staff was assigned to oversee any social media page from any Advisory Committee. The full Board agreed with the recommendation and acted on it.

The oversight is not in what they say but on how it is communicated to the general public. When you have a Board that is appointed by the BOC their information and opinions can be misconstrued as being the official stance of the government. I know Scott [the EAC Chair] and I am confident that the information he has shared is not harmful to anyone. I rely on him and the EAC for information that help me make decisions that take environmental matters into account. That does not mean that the next chair will have the same trustworthiness.

Generally it is hard to imagine a problem with what the EAC posts, however, greater issues could occur with other Advisory Committees, such as the Public Safety Committee. What if they had a Facebook Page an expressed opinions about seat belt safety? It could be misconstrued as being the official stance of LMT and therefore put the township in a legal conundrum.

Transparency is a major issue in all government. I am certain that once the policy is enacted, (which should happen at the April 16 Meeting), the EAC will be back helping us spruce up our gardens for the rest of Spring.

Thank you for your time and I enjoy reading your ramblings.

Brian Higgins
Vice President
Lower Macungie Board Of Commissioners

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lower MAC EAC Ordered to Take Down Facebook Page

Lower Macungie has ordered its Environmental Advisory Council, a group of volunteers, to take down their Facebook Page. About the most offensive thing I see there are a few pictures of carrots. I hate carrots. Here's what happened, according to EAC Chair Scott Alderfer.
On March 19, 2015, the LMT Board of Commissioners' General Administration Committee had their monthly meeting immediately prior to the BOC's bimonthly meeting. One of the Gen Ad Committee's agenda topics was a township social media policy. However, the discussion apparently focused on this particular FB page. I was not present for the discussion. All I know for certain is that the township manager was instructed to call me to ask me to take down the page. Bruce Fosselman, the township manager, is a good guy and a true professional. Out of my respect for him, I have agreed to cease posting on this page until the next Gen Ad Committee meeting when a social media policy will be on the agenda. Obviously, the BOC must be concerned about rogue members of township organizations making politically charged posts or personal attacks on a FB page that appears to originate from the township administration.
On the About tab on this page, it said that, "This page is maintained by the members of the Lower Macungie Environmental Advisory Council (EAC)." I have added wording to make it more clear that this page was a personal effort by some EAC members and was not a township-managed or a township-sanctioned FB page. I have also changed the category of our page from Government Organization to Community Organization.
In the past five weeks since this page was created, I think we have shared a lot of information that has increased our readers' awareness of environmental matters in and around Lower Macungie. And I am proud that we have not had a negative comment on any of our posts from any our our visitors. I'm also grateful for the 280 likes that we have received over the past five weeks. It seems as though people are interested in our content.
Until the April 16 General Administration Committee meeting, if there is any environmental related information that we feel it is important to share with the local FB community, we will try to share it on either the official Lower Macungie Township FB page and/or on the Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie FB page to ensure that the info is distributed to those who might be interested. I will post again following the April 16 meeting to let our followers know of the outcome of that meeting and what may come next for this FB page.
This attempted muzzling and lack of transparency is precisely why people are unwilling to participate in government. I get having a social media polocy, but ordering this group to shut down is an unconstitutional deprivation of free speech.

The ISIS Hit List

Those cRaZy knuckleheads at ISIS have published a hit list of 100 members of the US military, including their personal identification information.

"Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe."

Alrighty then.

See, the difference between members of the U.S. military and the usual victims of ISIS atrocities is that the military tends to shoot back.Come to think of it, with 300 million guns in this country, so do everyone else.

But not the sheep.

CNN is calling this an "unknown group."

The Other Pa. Pipeline

Many of us in the Lehigh Valley fret over the PennEast pipeline, which will carry natural gas for 108 miles, from Wilkes-Barre to Trenton. But there's another proposed pipeline in Pa. It is called the Constitution Pipeline. It is longer, and will transport natural gas north, along a 30" pipeline, into New York. It received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December, and is waiting for an OK from the Army Corps of Engineers and New York DEP. Construction is tentatively scheduled for June.

Seven property owners had refused to agree to the pipeline going through their property, so approval was sought and just obtained from a U.S. District Judge in Scranton. Hizzoner's name is Malachy Mannion.


Over 40 Kids Participate in Via's 40th Annual All-Star Basketball Clinic

Via, a Lehigh Valley human services agency dedicated to children with special needs. conducted its own version of March Madness this month, under the roof of Northampton Community College's Spartan Center. Over forty kids participated in an All-Star Basketball Clinic that went through some fundamentals, but was mostly just fun.


The Clinic started with a dunking demonstration by Notre Dame (East Stroudsburg) Seniors (L to R) Ramon Nedd, Tyrell Mann and Jeremiah Pusey. They were wearing their game faces in preparation for Via's East-West Tournament, at the end of this month.


Pocono Mountain West Seniors Rana James (L) and Jackie Benitez, who were playing pick-up games with the kids, were more willing to smile.


No, this is not dodge ball. Kids in this clinic went through dribbling fundamentals.