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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Opinions Online, 10/22/16

Blogger's Note: Opinions Online is a regular Saturday feature. If you'd like to express your opinion on any topic (excepting the Presidential election), click on the Opinions Online button on my left sidebar. I prefer local topics, especially concerning topics I miss, as opposed to talking points. You can also call 385-325-2564. In addition to these submissions, I sometimes highlight comments from throughout the week and re-publish them here. Please keep your comments brief, if possible. Anonymous personal attacks will be deleted, especially when aimed at other readers. I refuse to publish anything I consider possibly defamatory.


The best way to get reassessment done is to have a judge order it. Otherwise , it never gets done. Though it is proffered that 50% of assessments stay the same, 25 % go up and 25% go down in a reassessment nobody believes that. It is political suicide for anyone in office to recommend it. John Stoffa

Blogger's Note: After stepping down as NorCo Exec, John Stoffa has followed his lifelong dream and is currently a male model.


Just who and what official capacity were actor no1 and no2 that too have not been named, or is there no such a part in the writ?


Blogger's Reply: Are you referring to the FBI investigation in Allentown and Reading. Public Official No.1 is former Reading Mayor Vaughan Spencer. Public Official No.2 has never been identified, but is most likely former Reading City Council President Francisco Acosta.


You were asking for some local news and discussions.

Major League Baseball currently contracts with Majestic in Palmer County for its game uniforms, as well as uniforms sold as licensed products to the public. The Uniforms are made here as well.

Now, MLB has switched it's contract to Under Armour, meaning our area will lose another manufacturing plant. Under Armour manufactures in Asia, Central and South America and Mexico.


Why does The city of Allentown and the school district own so much vacant surplus land? They cry poverty but could reap a small fortune by selling it off for development. I'm not talking parkland, I mean vacant acreage and lots that aren't used by the public. Bethlehem and the BASD don't seem to have these large vacant land holdings.


Bernie there are whispers going around that Fed Ed's golden boy, Michael Walker did not leave Community Service for Children as he claims. I think there may be some truth here because why would someone "resign" from a position without having another one. Something for you to dig into, which you are very good at.

Blogger's Reply: We now know these are more than whispers.


It is good to see you are back covering our backs in local political venues. G. John Bryant, Jr.

Blogger's Reply: Thanks, John.


Would you recommend any opinions, yours or others, articles or possible implications etc on the following state (1) or local (2, 3) issues?

1) Constitutional Amendment 1 to set 75 as the Mandatory Judicial Retirement Age (PA)

2) Home Rule Charter Amendment for Advertising and Distribution of Public Documents and Meetings (Northampton Co.)

3) Home Rule Charter Amendment for Advertising Vacant County Positions (Northampton Co.)

Voting from Dublin... Ireland.

Blogger's Reply: Hope you are having a blast and tell us about it. I'm thinking of visiting. I published my absentee ballot earlier this week. I voted to extend the mandatory retirement age, but I do like Hayden Phillips' argument that there should be more turnover. The other two questions relax the Charter requirement that meetings and vacancies be advertised in the newspaper. A lot of the advertising is governed by state statute, and state law will be followed. But newspaper ads cost a lot of money,and the county wants to substitute the Internet for newspapers when it can do so without breaking state law. I voted Yes to Question No. 2 but completely missed No. 3 because I am an idiot. Enclosed are links to stories on the mandatory retirement age and advertising in the dailies. It particularly irks me that, in addition to paying for advertising that is not needed,we subsidize both daily papers by providing them with free office space. That needs to end, especially since The Express Times can't be bothered to cover Northampton County government.

Those are my views, so you now know the wrong way to vote.


As one who spent over a year at Gracedale recovering from a horrendous accident, I am sure that I can vouch as to the top notch care and attention delivered , from the housekeeping staff to the head of the facility. This place is the Crown Jewel of Northampton County...

Friday, October 21, 2016

About Those Timeclocks ... Again

Northampton County employees entering the courthouse have personalized ID cards that are swiped as they come in through a special gate. One County employee suggests that, instead of a biometric punch clock, why not set up a biometric entrance gate? It would be more efficient and would apply to everyone, even if the hours of salaried employees are not needed.  

Gracedale Administrator "I've Got Good News and Bad News

Gracedale's new Administrator, Raymond Soto, had good news and bad news for Northampton County Council at their October 20 meeting.

The good news is that the County's nursing home has finally been able to sell 37 excess bed licenses to Wyndmoore Care Center for $700,000, with payment to be received on or before October 30. In addition to the revenue, this sale paves the way to higher Medicaid reimbursement rates. Those payments are higher if 90%of the licensed beds are filled. As of yesterday, Gracedale had a census of 674 with the new maximum bed count at 688. That's 98%.

But those higher rates are in jeopardy, thanks to the bad news. On September 15, a resident told a nurse's aide that she was going to commit suicide. When the aide went to get help from a supervisor, the resident took a magnifying glass, broke it, and slit her wrists."We are totally responsible for that," said Soto. "We dropped the ball in that situation."  He explained that proper protocol would have been to remain with the resident and buzz for help.  

Gracedale reported itself, and the state Department of Health found there was a "G" level deficiency, meaning one that caused actual harm. It could have imposed a $3,000 fine and closed the facility to future admissions. But on October 18, the state accepted a plan of corrective action from the nursing home that includes education of the entire staff and actively identifying any resident with suicidal ideas. The "G" level deficiency, however, will remain in Gracedale's record for three years. Worse, its current 4-star rating from  the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)  could be reduced to a 3-star rating, leading to lower reimbursements.  

Bob Werner and Hayden Phillips were miffed that they were not immediately informed of the incident as well as the bed sale. Acting Administrator Cathy Allen apologized, and said these details are usually disclosed to the Advisory Board, but there was no meeting in September  Hayden Phillips agreed that the nurse's aide did what she thought was right and was under a lot of pressure.

NorCo Council v. The Gerrymander

Do you think that voters should select their legislators or that they should decide who gets to vote for or against them? Under the current system in Pennsylvania, state legislative leaders get together and slice up districts pretty much to protect incumbents. As a result, Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent has a district extending from Easton to Dauphin County. Instead of being the Congressman from the Lehigh Valley, he's the Congressman from I-78. In Allentown, one legislative district has been established primarily for people of Latino or Hispanic descent, which dilutes their influence in other districts. This is gerrymandering.

State Senator Lisa Boscola, a Democrat, and State Rep.Dave Parker, a Republican, have introduced legislation to slay the gerrymander. Instead of permitting state legislators to carve up districts to protect each other, this legislation will establish an independent commission to do the redistricting, made up of nonpoliticians. Though it's too late for this to pass in the current legislative session, numerous Lehigh Valley State legislators, both Democrat and Republican, are cosponsors  And at their October 20 meeting, Northampton County Council adopted a resolution urging the state legislature to end gerrymandering. The vote was 8-0,with Matt Dietz being absent.    

"At least we have added our voice for fair and equitable redistricting," said Peg Ferraro, a long-time proponent of redistricting reform. Glenn Geissinger, who has personal experience with a gerrymandered district as a former congressional candidate, said the way redistricting is done is "a system that makes absolutely no sense." Ken Kraft, who cosponsored Ferraro's resolution, noted that Northampton County Council has always done its redistricting fairly. "If we can do it, so can they" he said.

Despite Voter Fraud Accusation, No Rush For Poll Watchers

NorCo voting machine, minus
the privacy curtain
Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, has repeatedly raised the specter of voter fraud in the November 8 election, particularly in Pennsylvania, and has called on his supporters to “go around and watch other polling places.” But according to three different elections offices, there's been no cascade of requests for poll watcher certificates.

Poll watchers are individuals designated by a candidate or party to make sure that only registered voters cast ballots. They are to have no contact with voters, but can challenge someone's identity or residence with the elections judge.

According to Northampton County Voting Registrar Dee Rumsey, she's received no requests for poll watcher certificates from anyone. But she said she expects to be flooded with requests right before the election.

Lehigh County Voting Registrar Timothy Benyo has only received requests for poll watcher certificates from Congressman Charlie Dent. He said that requests for poll watcher certificates after October 25 will only be produced as time permits.

How about Philadelphia and its 700,000 voters? According to Deputy City Commissioner Donald Garecht, the City usually receives requests for poll watcher certificates for every person. But he said that even his office has seen no deluge of requests.

I am working on a more detailed story on the machines in use in each of these counties and the likelihood that they can be hacked. That story will appear in The Bethlehem Press next Wednesday, after which I will publish it here.

NorCo VA Announces Veterans Discount ID Program

Freddie Ramirez addresses NorCo Council
Northampton County's Director of Veterans Affairs, Freddie Ramirez, has teamed up with the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce to start a new discount ID program with various participating merchants. But, as he explained to County Council at their October 20 meeting, this is a benefit that will extend to all former members of the military, including those who served in the Reserves or National Guard.

Any County resident who was discharged honorably or under honorable conditions can ask for a veterans Affairs Photo Identification Card, and they will be able to take advantage of discounts or special offers.

Ramirez explained this is a way for the business community to express their gratitude to those who have served, and a way for smaller businesses to become better known.

If you would like an ID card or have a business interested in participating, contact the Veterans Affairs Office at 610-829-4875 to enroll. All participating businesses will be listed on the County's Veterans Affairs webpage.

Mat Benol complimented Ramirez, calling the idea "fantastic." Ramirez said similar programs are in place in Berks and Monroe County, but not Lehigh County.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Updated: Amy Trapp Claims HR an "Employee Advocate"

NorCo HR staffers
HR Director Amy Trapp updated Northampton County Council yesterday about what exactly she's been doing in the 369 days since she was first confirmed. The picture on the left tells you the story. She has relied heavily on her staff, and brought most of them to the meeting to introduce them and explain what they do.*  "Without them, nothing else happens," she said, noting these employees bring institutional knowledge and are trained in specialized areas. Most of her staff were at one time union workers, and she believes that perspective makes them invaluable.

Noting that there are 11 unions, all with their own contracts, she indicated her departments help managers to understand nuances in each contract to prevent disputes.

She indicated that the employee policy manual has been completely revised, but will be phased in gradually to make sure that employees and managers understand the policy.

Amy Trapp
"The big pieces for me are accessibility,credibility and ...engaging the employee population," she explained. She noted that employees are a "little nervous" at first, but it helps her understand what really goes on. Though she is part of management, she also views her role as being an "employee advocate."  She said employees may not like her answers, but she strives to ensure it is "good information." Grievances have been resolved more quickly, and no Unfair Labor Practice claims have been filed against the County since Trapp started what is now 370 days ago.

She also encourages training, and had five people get management certificates over the past year through Northampton Community College. There has been management training in Human Services, and it is scheduled to start at Public Works today.

She is changing personnel files from paper to electronic format  She wants to be able to maintain the information securely and wants some information in HR only, like social security numbers. .

She indicated managers must be aware of union contracts, career service regulations and constitutional rights that apply to public sector workers.

Trapp spoke about FMLA, jokingly calling it the "Friday Monday Leave Act." She said it is  the "single most abused benefit" among employees anywhere, in or out of government. She indicated that the answer is better training to assure compliance.

If an employee on worker's comp is released for limited duty, she finds something for the person, even if it is outside that worker's department.

Executive John Brown believes the training has made a difference,and has resulted in the quick resolution of employee grievances. He credited Trapp with having had a "significant impact" in curbing abuses that occur when policies are unclear. He also likes Trapp's responsiveness. "They are really here to be service vendors for our employees," which is a far cry from the way county employees have historically regarded  Human Relations.

One of the biggest changes Trapp made was to establish a Human Relations presence at Gracedale, which employs a third oft he County workforce. Trapp will explain what is going on there today.

Trapp also indicated that, as positions open up, she is attempting to address compression. But to do it all at once "would create confusion"  and be expensive.

* Pictured above are, from left to right, Courtney Kendzejeski, Gracedale Deputy Director; Brenda Gurst, Clerical Specialist; Lisa Getz, Recruitment Specialist; Stephanie Hann, Clerical Technician; Margaret "Peggy" Feely, Benefits Coordinator; Luke DeBoer, Labor Relations Officer; and Deputy Director Michael Twining (standing). The staff also includes HR Analyst Mark SchaefferHR Analyst Shawna Shriver; and Executive Secretary Nicole Beers.

(Orginally published at midnight and updated to identify HR Staff.)

About Those Timeclocks

Punch clocks are standard fare for Northampton County employees who work at the jail or Gracedale. Not at the courthouse. When he was Executive, Gene Hartzell used to stand at the door at 8:30 every morning, and tease employees who were late. Wayne Grube liked to do that, too. He'd look at his watch and  ask,"What time is it?" Amy Trapp has a different approach. She installed a punch clock on the third floor for her own staff. you can expect to see more of them in the near future. 

County workers view these with suspicion. Bob Werner, who'd like to be Executive himself, tried to make Trapp look like the heavy.  He conveniently forgot that the idea came from Council itself, a point that Acting Administrator Cathy Allen made. It followed an audit by the Controller of Public Works. She said it is actually an "unfunded mandate" from Council because she has to scrounge for the money to buy clocks. "I know the employees are not excited or happy about this, but we need to capture time," said Allen.    

But Trapp likes the idea. She wants every worker who is overtime eligible, union or nonunion, to punch a time clock. It is actually not a punch clock but a fingerprint clock which would prevent one person from signing in for another unless he chops off that person's finger. 

At the courthouse, the timeclock on the third floor is used by any member of her staff who is over-time eligible. It also includes over-time eligible employees in the mail room, administrative services, Solicitor's office and County Council. She explained this is far more efficient than having a manager waste time filling out time sheets daily and weekly. 

The next phase will be a timeclock for PublicWorks, then Deputy Sheriffs.An employee will be able to clock in on any floor.

"It's great to have an idea, but if you can't get it to the people the right way, to the masses and get them to understand it, it is just an idea and will never go any further," condescended Werner.

Each employee received individual raining,said Allen.but Werner complained it should be written. 

"It's great for theft of time," said Ken Kraft..         

No Financial Irregularities in Tidd's Courtroom

Though David Tidd has resigned as a  Magisterial District Judge, the state Judicial Conduct Board still wants to string him up, based mostly on the testimony of an ex-secretary whose own conduct has never received the attention it deserves. This is like digging someone up after he's dead and killing him again.

While that witchhunt continues, people began to whisper that there must be financial irregularities in the office. What other reason could there be for slamming a judge who simply took a nap in his robe or who once threw a nonworking pen?

Well, there are no irregularities. Controller Steve Barron told Northampton County Council yesterday that he has audited the office, and nothing is amiss.

My Absentee Ballot

As a matter of full disclosure, I am providing a copy of my absentee ballot.  If Hillary wins by one vote, you can blame me. I also voted for Pat Toomey (US Senate) Matt Cartwright (Congress), Eugene DePasquale (Auditor General), Joe Torsella (Treasurer), Joe Rafferty (Attorney General). For my State House District, I gave Ann-Marie Panellaa write-in. I voted to extend the mandatory retirement age for judges and to ease Home Rule Charter requirements for advertising. And yes, I did miss a question.

Please don't send any comments concerning the Presidential race.  

I completely disagree with Toomey on most issues, but he gets my vote because he's his own man while Katie McGinty is a partisan hack who is there to do what Papa Ed Rendell tells her. If Sestak were the nominee, I would have voted for him.

Controller Steve Barron and I have a bet on this race. If Toomey wins, he will have to prance around the courthouse in his kilt for a day, and I will bury him on this blog. But if McGinty wins, I have to wear a kilt.I have contacted a tentmaker, and he has sent away for lots of canvas.

The Cartwright-Connolly race is a no-brainer for me. Connolly is a likable guy with some pretty incredible views. He believes in shutting government down, etc. I prefer grow-ups.

In the AG race, a prefer Republican Rafferty,  the guy who actually knows what a courtroom looks like, as opposed to someone who has never tried a case, and who will use the office as a springboard to run for something else.

For Auditor General, I like Eugene DePasquale, who has been effective and tough.

For Treasurer, Ambassador Joe Torsella, who refused to let Rendell browbeat him into dropping his support of Bernie Sanders.

For state house, I am writing in Ann-Marie Panella Incumbent Joe Emrick is completely nontransparent, and Mattei is an occasional voter with financial problems who was not even registered as a Democrat when I last checked.

Thiel Running For Allentown Mayor

Charles Thiel, a Republican-turned-Democrat who was elected last year as an Allentown School Director,  is really running for Mayor. He has been quietly approaching people, asking them for support, and has told them he will announce after the election.

Rev. David Jones, a Lehigh County Commissioner, and former Congressional candidate Sam Bennett have already announced. Embattled Mayor Edwin Pawlowski is also threatening to run.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fed Ed's Defiance of City Council Might be Illegal

Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski has thumbed his nose at City Council. On Thursday, they rejected Michael Walker, his choice w Director of Community and Economic Development. But on Monday, Walker showed up anyway. Over the weekend, Fed Ed hired him as an $89,000 Operations Manager in that department. The solution to this problem is relatively simple. City Council controls the purse strings, and can simply refuse to fund this at-will position at budget time. While they are at it, they could and probably should refuse to fund most of the political hacks with at-will positions in the Mayor's Office, from dust magnets like Propaganda Minister Mike Moore to "Special Ass." Ismael Arcelay.

According to former Controller City Council member Lou Hershman, Pawlowski's action is simply illegal. This is because City Council never appropriated the money for this $89,000 position. Their permission is needed, which is certainly the way most local government works

At City Council's October 19 meeting, he questioned how Jeff Glazier, a Fed Ed ally who replaced Mary Ellen Koval as Controller after she pleaded guilty to political corruption, could approve any payments. . Glazier said he'd "take the matter under advisement." He declined to state whether he would make his findings public, stating that would depend on what he hears from the Solicitor.

Great minds think alike. Council member Daryl Henrdicks told Lou that he's already asked for an opinion from the Solicitor on this issue.

Several residents also suggested it is time to perform a home rule study.

State House candidate Ben Long, who is running against Mike Schlossberg for the 132nd State House District, slammed Fed Ed. “The Mayor’s move flies in the face of the Democratic process," he said. "Council represents the will of the people and the Mayor’s decision disregards them.”

Long was knocking at doors instead of spending his time at City Council. But he labeled Fed Ed as "Schlossberg's patron," and called on his opponent to renounce Pawlowski's action. "This is not a state government issue," he conceded. "It is, however, an issue of integrity."

Schlossberg's Facebook page is silent on the issue. State legislators tend to avoid local issues.

Bethlehem: Computer Upgrades Online Payments Must Wait

From Bethlehem City: Mayor Bob Donchez announced today that the City will undergo a computer software upgrade that will require the shutdown of certain software, Community Plus and Finance Plus, from 9:00 pm Thursday, October 20, 2016 through Monday October 24, 2016. The City anticipates the upgrade to be complete by regular business hours Tuesday, October 25, 2016.

Financial Services: During the upgrade, City employees will have limited access to account information. Additionally, the online payment service will be unavailable during the upgrade. Therefore, if you need to make a payment, please make arrangements to do so prior to Friday October 21, 2016 or again beginning Tuesday October 25, 2016. If you must make a payment during the period of the upgrade, only a check or exact change will be accepted and you must bring your bill with you. Also, requests for tax certifications for property settlements will not be processed during this time.

Water Utility/Customer Service:
The upgrade will also limit access to Utility Account information including billing and payment information, as well as usage information. In the event you experience a water emergency please contact Water Control at 610-865-7077. Full customer service access should be available by regular business hours Tuesday, October 25, 2016.

“It has been over 13 years since this part of the City’s computer software system has been fully upgraded” said Mayor Donchez. “I want to thank everyone in advance for their cooperation”.

Bethlehem Getting "Dirty Water" Calls

From Bethlehem Water and Sewer Resources Director Ed Boscola: The City of Bethlehem has been receiving dirty water calls over the past couple of weeks from several areas in our service territory but primarily in the northern areas of the City and Hanover Township. We are investigating the cause(s) but believe it may be due to a few recent water main breaks in the City which can stir up silt particles in the piping and can take several days to work its way through the system and settle down. The water remains safe to consume and there are no boil water advisories in effect.

Customers should cold water intermittently (not hot water if it can be avoided) to see if it eventually clears and to NOT run it continuously.

Running faucets continuously just brings in more sediment from the main into your home. Running hot water brings sediment into your hot water heater.

Customers should use their best judgment when using water for cooking and cleaning.

We'll keep you apprised of updates.


Edward J. Boscola, PE
Director - Water and Sewer Resources
City of Bethlehem

VitalChek a Pennsylvania Ripoff

A few months ago, I decided to get a passport. I could tell you that it's because of the election, but the simple truth is that I'd like to visit a few countries where nobody knows me, like Idaho. But they don't just hand those out. If you want a passport, you have to apply, and for that, you need a birth certificate. I lost mine.

My mother, who used to tell me that I was actually the spawn of Satan, might have burnt mine, actually. But that's no problem. I could just apply for a copy, and thanks to the Internets, I could do it online. Now the state is too damn busy doing important things to track down my birth certificate. But it has one of those public-private partnerships with an outfit called VitalChek, a Lexis Nexis company, VitalChek is only too happy to do it for $30. So I paid up and waited a few months . ... And waited some more.... and more.

I'll be making a road trip today to Pennsylvania's Division of Vital Records, wherever that is, to find my birth certificate. VitalChek is a complete waste of time and money.  If you need a birth certificate or if you die and need a death certificate, get the record yourself or ask your state legislator to get it for you.

After not having received my birth certificate in the 10-20 days that VitalChek estimated, I went online and inserted my order number. I received a message telling me nothing except that the bastards have my money. Then I checked "Pennsylvania processing times" to see if that might help. VitalCheck apparently thinks it's not so vital to update this reference. It was last updated on September 12, over a month ago  According to VitalCheck, the state is only now  getting around to applications for birth certificates that came in July. If you're dead, they're a little quicker. They probably get fewer complaints.

So Vitalcheck lies. It represents online that the birth certificate would be out in 10-20 days when it knows that the state is months behind. In fact, it takes longer to get a frickin' birth certificate than it does to get a passport.
I called to complain.

I was placed on hold and got a message saying, "Due to unusually high call volume, we suggest you again later."

In other words, fuck you!

Eventually, I was disconnected.

I tried again. Same message. Same disconnect.

But I kept trying, and eventually got through.

When I explained what was happening to the person on the other end, I got this: "I am so sorry this has happened to you."

In other words, fuck you!

I demanded my money back.

"I am so sorry but we can't do that. The state has your money."

In other words, fuck you!

I decided to call Vital Records and got this:

"Please pay attention because our options have changed."

In other words, you're a dumass!

"If you applied for a birth certificate online, press two.

I did and got this:

"Welcome to Vitalchek. Due to unusually heavy call volume, wee suggest you try again later."

You know, I really am a dumass.

It's treatment like this that makes people hate government and those public-private partnerships. So I'm going there today, and while I'm there, I'm going to pick up my death certificate, too. I just hope I wasn't born in Kenya.

NorCo Joins White House Data-Driven Justice Initiative

Northampton County has a jail problem, and it goes way beyond its aging walls. Many, if not most, inmates really belong somewhere else. Judges know this. In fact, that's one reason for the problem-solving courts being spearheaded by Judges Steve Baratta and Craig Dally. According to the White House, this problem is by no means exclusive to Northampton County:
"Every year, more than 11 million people move through America’s 3,100 local jails, many on low-level, non-violent misdemeanors, costing local governments approximately $22 billion a year. In local jails, 64 percent of people suffer from mental illness, 68 percent have a substance abuse disorder, and 44 percent suffer from chronic health problems."
It's a revolving door, too. People bounce from jail to emergency room to homeless shelter and back to jail again. To combat this problem, President Obama has established something called the Data Driven Justice Initiative. Northampton County has decided to join this effort.

Executive John Brown and Corrections Director Dan Keen are most concerned about two types of inmates.

First are those with serious mental illness, substance abuse or chronic health problems. They repeatedly cycle through multiple systems, including jails, hospital emergency rooms and other services. Second are pretrial defendants who pose no threat to the community and are no flight risk, but are unable to afford bail. They are essentially jailed for being poor.

How does a data driven justice initiative work? Well, just as the Lehigh Valley Regional Crime Center relies upon millions of reports from police departments and jails, this data driven initiative adds health systems and social service agencies into the mix to identify persons who need help. Objective, data-driven, validated risk-assessment tools will identify low-risk defendants held in jail. Front-line responders will get equipment and training to de-escalate crisis situations.

Basically, the approach is to use technology to treat human beings like human beings, making the community safer in the process and saving tax dollars as well.

When this program was announced in late June, there were 67 participating communities. That number grows daily and now stands at over 100. On Monday alone, more than a dozen communities in Middlesex County, New Jersey, joined the Initiative.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bethlehem Tp Ponders No-Tax-Hike Budget

Last year, following four contentious budget hearings, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted to raise taxes 1.01 mills (18.4%) to a 7.09 millage rate. A home assessed at $100,000 received a $709 tax bill. What about next year? A budget proposed by Manager Melissa Shafer proposes no tax hike. But $17.4 million in expected expenditures exceed $16.8 million in anticipated revenue, creating a structural deficit. The Township will balance the budget by dipping into its general fund, leaving the Township with a year-end balance of $1.8 million. This is about 10% of projected revenue.

Taxes account for 66% of the revenue in 2017. But 13% of the revenue comes from the general fund.

Shafer is concerned that the fund balance is continuing to drop. This, combined with capital projects like Brodhead Road reconstruction and renovations at the Community Center, has led Shafer to suggest quarter mill tax hikes in each of the next two years.

Good luck with that!

Last year, news of a proposed tax hike resulted in the defeat of two of three Commissioners seeking re-election. It's highly unlikely that Commissioners will take a no-tax hike budget and raise taxes.

There will be four budget hearings, and the first of these occurred last night. Last year, they were packed. This year, there were far fewer angry residents.

Bethlehem Tp Discusses Roof Warranty, Route 191 and Governor Christie

Bethlehem Tp Community Center
As reported yesterday, Bethlehem Township Solicitor Jim Broughal thinks it would be a waste of time and money to sue over $2 million in repairs needed at the ten-year old community center, which was built at a cost of $11 million. Most of the claims are time-barred, he explained at the October 17 Commissioners' meeting. But a possibly defective roof did include a 20-year warranty, he advised, and Commissioners unanimously have decided to make a claim with JohnsManville Roofing.  

In other business, Commissioners directed Township Engineer Brian Dillman to study the Route 191 corridor between its intersections with Route 22 and Brodhead Road. Tom Nolan said that over the past weekend, there were two accidents in this area. There have been 126 accidents just at the Route 191-22 intersection ince 2011, according to a report obtained by the township police.

Tom Nolan
Nolan believes that some of the problem occurs where Route 22 exits north onto Route 191, where there is only a yield sign. He added that 18-wheelers have trouble turning onto Route 22 from Route 191.

Route 191 is a PennDOT road, so the Township is limited in what it can do. It might be able to change the timing of the lights or replace the yield sign with a stop sign.

Resident Barry Roth, who operates a tow truck, said the problem extends south to Perkins."It's a disaster," he claimed. He noted traffic stacks along the entire corridor.

Commissioners also re-visited its termination of K-9 Officer Dan Barsnica, who was terminated in 2015. Barsnica filed a grievance, but proposed a settlement under the terms of which the Township withdrew its termination and allowed him to resign voluntarily. There would be no payout, and Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the settlement.

Jim Broughal
Finally, Manager Melissa Shafer told Commissioners that Governor Chris Christie's proposed termination of a Pa.-NJ tax deal could have an impact on the Township. Bethlehem Township includes many New Jersey transplants who still work in the Garden State.

Under the current system, a township resident who works in New Jersey pays his income taxes in Pennsylvania, which is set at a flat 3.07%. Those taxes, along with the earned income tax, are usually collected by the New Jersey employer and remitted to Pennsylvania and the municipality.

Christie, who is miffed that the New Jersey state legislature has failed to come up with $250 million in cuts to the healthcare costs of public workers, has proposed scrapping a nearly 40-year old reciprocity agreement, to bring in $180 million in taxes annually.

Unlike Pennsylvania's uniform 3.07% tax, New Jersey has a progressivetax rate,depending on income.It can be as low as 1.4% or as high as 8.97%.

One township resident who works in New Jersey stated that, if he is forced to pay his income taxes there, it will cost him $300 per month. He will paying more to commute to his job, too, thanks to a 23-cent per gallon hike in gas taxes.

"It's a double whammy," he said.

Nancy Run Fire Co. Finishes Addition

After five years, Nancy Run Fire Co. has completed a 3,000 sq ft addition to its 10,000 sq ft facility, located at the intersection of Easton Avenue and 7th Street. The cost was about $1 million, and the Fire Company celebrated its new digs over the weekend with an open house that included State Senator Lisa Boscola.

First established in 1931, Nancy Run has been at its current location since 1960. Last year, it responded to 863 incidents.

PennEast Pipeline Gives $5,000 to LV Pink Heals

On Thursday, PennEast Pipeline Company presented the Lehigh Valley Chapter of Pink Heals with a $5,000 grant to assist ongoing local fund raising for local women and their families who are affected by a range of health issues.

“Lehigh Valley Pink Heals helps local women facing not only cancer, but domestic violence, multiple sclerosis and more,” said Bill Andress, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Chapter. “We’re known throughout the area for our iconic pink fire truck and, thanks to PennEast’s support, we’ll be able to soon add a restored pink ambulance to help our efforts.”

The Chapter’s forthcoming pink ambulance will join the pink fire truck at community events. Both vehicles will not only raise awareness for women’s health, but they will also serve as rolling autograph tablets. Individuals will be encouraged to sign the vehicles in honor of loved ones who are battling illnesses or who have passed.

“We are proud to support the work of Pink Heals and excited to know that our Community Connector Grant will go a long way to support further fundraising for women and their families in the Lehigh Valley,” said Pam Witmer of PennEast Pipeline Company. “Lehigh Valley Pink Heals literally serves with distinction as their pink fire truck cannot be missed; we’re proud to help support their growth with the much anticipated addition of their pink ambulance.”

PennEast has contributed more than $400,000 through its Community Connector Grant Program to communities along the proposed PennEast Pipeline route. Through its grant program, sponsorships and volunteer efforts, PennEast is committed to supporting local organizations like Pink Heals.

For additional information on the Community Connector Grant Program and eligibility requirements, visit http://penneastpipeline.com/community-investment/. For more information on the Lehigh Valley Chapter of Pink Heals, visit http://www.facebook.com/pinkfiretruckslv/.

Northwest Bethlehem Blockwatch to Host Charlie Dent October 24

Bethlehem's Northwest Block Watch, which meets monthly at the Church of the Manger on Greenview Street, will host Congressman Charlie Dent on October 24 at 7 pm. Gus Loupos, who usually acts as facilitator of this group, tells me that there will be no debate. Dent will be there to discuss community safety.

Dent is now known as the I-78 Congressman, although his roots are in Allentown. His district was gerrymandered by the state legislature in 2010 to stretch along I-78 from Easton to Dauphin County.

The public is welcome at this community forum.

I already picked out my seat. I'll be in the Manger.

Monday, October 17, 2016

RIP Frank Fischl

Former Allentown Mayor Frank Fischl, who first brought tax breaks to the Queen City to lure business, has passed away. A decorated war hero, he served only one term. The Morning Call's Frank Warner tells you about this man of honor. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

King Allentown Makes Surprise Bid for State House

I was hoping to interview King Allentown at this year's Sportsfest, but he was pretty busy. Between playing hockey and signing autographs, he had little time for the pseudo press, as I am sometimes called. He did wave at me once, so I have that going for me. But I wish I had that interview now because the King has just announced he's taking on Peter Schweyer (he calls him Schwoyer) in the State House (the Kingster thinks it's the State Senate) race this November.

The former porn star, legend, icon, musician, food bank regular and athlete, made his announcement from a home that appears to be posted with eviction notices. He makes this compelling argument:
"My opponent, Peter Schwoyer, I never heard of you. If I haven't heard of you, you know what that means. What's your resume? What qualifications do you have, Peter Schmoyer?

"I've slept with 100 women, so I know the female demographic very intimately. I haven't lost a fight in five years of beer league hockey. ... I'm also undefeated on Judge Judy.

"How do you plan to protect Allentown? Do you even have guns, dude? Do you have guns like this, Peter Schmoyer [referring to the King's massive biceps]? I don't think so, Jack.

"I got one more question for ya', Pete Schmoyer. What you gonna' do on November 8, Pete Schmoyer, when King Allentown and all the Kingamaniacs run wild on you, Dude?"
King Allentown's announcement comes after it is too late for Schweyer, aka Schwoyer, aka Schmoyer, to withdraw. But I understand Schweyer has already conceded and plans to vote King Allentown.

Broughal to Tp: Don't Sue Over Community Center

Bethlehem Township Solicitor Jim Broughal is expected to advise Commissioners tonight against pursuing any claims related to the construction of the Community Center over ten years ago. The facility was built at a cost of $11 million, and just ten years later, needs $2 million in repairs.

"The chances of success are small and the cost to litigate could be substantial," he advised. He is, however, recommending that the Township pursue a 20-year warranty on the roof.

What is still unclear is whether any Township officials performed the required code inspections.

Fed Ed Bullies Mota Over No Vote on DCED Appointment

When you're an elected official, and the FBI gets curious about some of the donations you've received, that's a sure fire way to set you on the straight and narrow. That's pretty much what happened to Allentown City Council member Cynthia Mota. Seems like only yesterday that she was among the la-de-das sitting on their asses inside some tent outside Allentown Symphony Hall to celebrate "The Miracle that is Allentown." Then the shitstorm over pay-to-play broke and turned that miracle into Nightmare on Hamilton Street. Three current or former Allentown officials have already pleaded guilty. Mota, who received a generous campaign contribution after switching her vote in the trash-to-energy deal, suddenly got religion. She was among those who called on Pawlowski to resign, and last week, was among the five Council members who refused to confirm an unqualified bullshit artist to head the Department of Community and Economic Development.

After the meeting, Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawloski slipped out a side door and made his way to the garage where he was parked. So did Mota. As they made their way to their cars, Fed Ed began screaming at and berating Mota, the sole woman to stand against him. "I can't believe what you just did to me," he yelled loudly, as she was more or less cornered and unable to escape his abusive verbal tirade.

What a man!

During the meeting itself (I watched the video), Fed Ed's conduct was arrogant and demeaning. He repeatedly interrupted Council members, accused them of playing politics and used an Alan Jennings puppet, Dan Bosket, to play the race card.

Voter Intimidation and Poll Watchers

In the wake of allegations that there will be widespread voter fraud in November, I want to give everyone a primer on what is and is not permitted.

Voter intimidation and discriminatory conduct   - is illegal under federal and Pennsylvania law. Any activity that threatens, harasses or intimidates voters, including any activity that is intended to, or has the effect of, interfering with any voter’s right to vote, whether it occurs outside or inside the polling place is illegal.  Those who discriminate can be fined $5,000 and jailed up to five years. Intimidation has a maximum ten year sentence.

Examples of voter intimidation and discriminatory conduct include:
• Aggressive behavior inside or outside the polling place.
• Blocking the entrance to the polling place.
• Challenges to voters based on the voter’s lack of eligibility to register to vote.
• Direct confrontation or questioning of voters, or asking voters for documentation when none is required.
• Disrupting voting lines inside or outside of the polling place.
• Disseminating false or misleading election information.
• Election workers treating voters differently in any way based on race or other protected characteristics.
• Ostentatious showing of weapons.
• Photographing or videotaping voters to intimidate them.
• Poll watchers confronting, hovering or directly speaking to voters.
• Posting signs inside the polling place of penalties for “voter fraud” voting or support for a candidate.
• Routine and frivolous challenges to voters by election workers and private citizens that are made without a stated good faith basis.
• Using raised voices, insulting offensive or threatening language, or making taunting chants inside the polling place.
• Vandalism of polling places.
• Verbal or physical confrontation of voters by persons dressed in official-looking uniforms.
• Violence or using the threat of violence to interfere with a person’s right to vote.

Police Officers and the polling place - Unless they are voting or serving a warrant, police officers must keep their distance - at least 100' - even if they are in plain clothes. They are permitted inside the polling place only if their assistance is sought by elections officials.

Poll Watchers. - Each party can designate up to three watchers at each precinct. In addition, each candidate my name two watchers per precinct, but only one watcher per party and one watcher per candidate is allowed inside the room at any one time. The watchers are entitled to be present from the moment election workers arrive to set up until they leave. They act as watchdogs to ensure the process is fair, and also often help get voters to the polls.
* Poll watchers must keep their distance from the voting booth, and election tables. but must be able to hear the names of voters as they are called.
* A poll watcher may compare his list of voters against the "Numbered List of Voters," but only under the supervision of an election worker, and only when it can be done without slowing down those who are there to vote.
* A poll watcher, election worker or, for that matter, any other voter may only challenge a voter on only two grounds: that the voter does not live in the precinct; or the voter is not the person the voter says he or she is.
* A poll watcher must refrain from any interaction with the voter and instead lodge his challenge with the elections judge. If that voter fills out an affidavit and produces a witness vouching for him, he must be allowed to vote. If unable, he still must be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Opinions Online Now Restricted to Local Issues

I have a weekly feature called Opinions Online, in which readers are free to comment about any topic they wish. Unfortunately, for the past several weeks, it has been devoted almost entirely to the subject about which we know the least - the Presidential race. Invariably, the discussion has been very unhelpful, with all of us (myself included) talking at each other, instead of to each other.

This is primarily a blog about local news and politics. I feel that, at least at times, it has been a public service because it helps make you aware of things you never knew. I sometimes break stories here, but they are local stories.

When it comes to national stories, this blog is just a reaction to stories already reported elsewhere. You will see no out-of-context wikileaks here, nor will there be interviews with women claiming to have been groped by The Donald, Bill Clinton, Hillary or whomever. I really fail to provide any public service in hosting discussions about this race, except for the discussion. But most people have made up their minds.

This week, I received five pro-Trump, anti-Hillary comments for Opinions Online, all going back to the same IP. I received three pro-Clinton, anti-Trump comment, and those all go back to the same IP, too.

I am publishing none of them. From this moment, this blog is both a "No Trump" and a "No Hillary" zone. Because we are unable to speak civilly, the Presidential race is off-topic, unless there is a direct local connection. Pence in town or sign wars and comments about things like that are fine. But I am sick of reading the hate on both sides.

Opinions Online will pick up again next Saturday, and no comments about the Presidential race will be published.