Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pediatric Treatment Center Coming to Linden Street

Pepper in Pink, with Carey Anne Tanis
Advent Speech and Feeding Therapy is a pediatric agency devoted to treating infants, children and their families with developmental challenges. For the past two years, it's been looking for a new home. And home is the operative word. Principal Carey Anne Tanis told Bethlehem'sZoning Hearing Board, at their August 27 hearing, that many of the persons she sees are infants just released from a NICU or toddlers who've spent their young lives in a hospital. She wants "no doctory look" at her offices. So when she saw that a spacious home at 3376 Linden Street was for sale, she thought it was perfect.

It would be perfect for the owners, too. Sylvia Hunsinger, whose parents lived there before they passed away, saw the rest of the block gobbled up by commercial uses. Over the course of a year, she was unable to find one person willing to buy the property until Tanis came along. "My parents would be very pleased," she said of plans to convert the home into a center that treats and provides therapy to children.

But Hunsinger and Tanis had a problem. The property was zoned residential.

Enter Bethlehem lawyer Richard Huntington Pepper. He argued that the property could no longer be marketed for its original purpose, established that there are no other residences along that block, and introduced evidence to establish that Advent is a very exclusive agency that is only open 4 1/2 days per week.

"That whole area is deteriorating;" grumbled resident Al Bernotas. "It started with Elias Market."

Bernotas is part of a group that unsuccessfully challenged the expansion of Elias Market, also located on Linden Street.

He asked Tanis to recite the hardship provisions of the zoning ordinance. Bernotas declaimed, "You're cute, and they all smile at you, but do you know what is required for a variance?"

She may not, but Attorney Pepper does, and the application for a variance was unanimously granted.

It was a good night for zoning attorney Jim Preston, too. He persuaded all five zoners to grant dimensional variances for Campus Hill Apartments, located on 521 E 5th Street. After acquiring the property, they repaved the parking lot, keeping all the same dimensions that previously existed. But property manager Shawna Green, on the very day she went to work at this location, was greeted by a Notice of Violation from Bethlehem because the paver never informed anyone that variances were needed.

"Some cities send you roses, you got a violation notice," joked Zoning hearing Board member Bill Fitzpatrick.

Preston also convinced zoners to allow Kala Shanmugam to open a mini-mart at 405 E 5th Street, despite a complete absence of off-street parking. Her husband, who will operate the convenience store, told zoners that his customer base will be Lehigh University students.

"You don't think people are going to be driving from Allentown to visit your mini-mart?" asked Preston. He told zoners this is no "traffic destination", but "lends itself to pedestrians best."

Shanmugam also owns a South Indian restaurant, Brindhaavan, two doors away. It is currently only open on weekends.

Zoners also gave Marcos B Cantillo a dimensional variance to enclose a screened second floor deck at 2136 Allwood Drive. They also permitted John Yerk, Jr., son of the former police commissioner, to construct a roof over his rear patio at 1746 Center Street.

Blogger's Note: Although Richard Huntington Pepper is a distinguished barrister who once represented Princess Hope, he is reputedly the worst sailor in the Lehigh Valley, and the only living person I know who has been banned by Court Order from setting foot inside a sailboat. He learned how to sail from my father, who was banned, too. My Dad, who makes me look nice, used to position Dominic Ferraro, Peg's late husband, at the bow to look for shallow water. Then he would purposely run aground, catapulting poor Dominic into the drink, head first.  My father once ran aground on the Governor's private beach in New Jersey, and was greeted by Coast Guard cutters and helicopters. And this was before 9/11. My father learned how to sail from my brother, who once capsized in a Long Beach Island squall and began laughing, until I pointed out he had knocked his front teeth out. . 

Do You Like New Mcall.COM Layout?

I have to give it a few days, but right now, I'm thinking No.

NorCo HR Explains One Pension Change

From the desk of HR Director Pat Siemiontkowski:

To Northampton County Employees:

Effective January 1, 2015 the Hay Group, as actuary of the county retirement plan, is updating the mortality table used for actuarial equivalence from the 1983 Group Annuity Mortality Table to the RP 2013 Annuitant Mortality Table owing to longer life expectancies.

This change does not affect the amount of the benefit that a member earns (your contributions paid into the fund together with regular interest plus the county portion). It does affect the expected time period / number of years that your pension is expected to be paid over. The magnitude of the change depends on various factors including age at retirement, the amount of accumulated deductions and the present value of the benefit. In most cases the present value of the benefit is higher and therefore the monthly benefit amount is actually increasing.

The NO OPTION selection is typically where a decrease in the monthly benefit occurs. The decreased amount varies due to the factors noted above, but in most cases the monthly benefit fully recovers within a six month period (i.e., by June 30, 2015). Information explaining the various pension selection options, including the NO OPTION selection, is contained in Northampton County’s Pension and Retirement Policy at Code 3.31 which can be found on the Northampton County Intranet.

As you may know, the Department of Human Resources now has the capability of preparing retirement estimates for employees. If you are seriously considering retirement in 2014 or in early 2015, you may request an estimate for both years. The “Retirement Estimate Request” form is available on the Intranet. You will need to complete this form and return it to Human Resources in order to obtain retirement estimates for 2014 and 2015. Please keep in mind that it may take two weeks or more to process your request. Your patience will be appreciated.

If you are a supervisor or manager, please share this notice with those employees whom you supervise and who may not have computer access. Thank you.

This answers the concerns about one change to the retirement plan, which Siemiontkowski claims might actually work to the benefit of a county worker.

But there;'s another change being considered. That's the change in the actuarial rate from 1/50 to 1/60. I explained how this could work on Monday, but there have been so many questions, I'll repeat it.

Pension liability = Accrual rate × Final salary × Years of service

So, for a person whose salary is $70,000 and who has 30 years of service, the difference between a 1//50 and 1/60 accrual rate is $7,000 per year.

1 ÷ 60 × $70,000 × 30 = $35,000

1 ÷ 50 × $70,000 × 30 = $42,000

Let me also repeat that the Retirement Board has not implemented any change in the actuarial rate. I've heard from someone close to the Retirement Boar that this is being concerned. At the end of the last Council meeting., Glenn Geissinger stated he wants to discuss some changes. But at this point, I don't know if this change is on the table, or if it is, whether it can legally apply to existing employees. Executive John Brown has stated he will look into this, and get back to me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shiloh Pastor Plays Race Card

Shiloh Baptist Church Pastor Phillip Davis, whose Express Times moniker incredibly (and dishonestly) appears to be "truth1", has played the race card at an Easton School Board meeting. Let me tell you what's really going on. He's getting revenge.

You see, late last month, the Easton School Board rejected a charter school championed by Davis. He wanted taxpayers to subsidize a South Side school that would be largely made up of black students. It was a brazen attempt at de facto segregation, which would help Davis and his church fill their coffers at the expense of whitie.

Because school directors refused to be bullied, Truth1 is now assailing them for their lack of diversity, etc.

There'd be even less if you got your Charter School, "Truth1."

There's a reason the NAACP opposes Charter schools.

Residency Rule Does Apply To NorCo Boards

Northampton County's enabling document, or Constitution, is the Home Rule Charter. That document imposes no residency requirement for cabinet level officials or row officers. But it does mandate that appointees to authorities, boards and commissions, must be county residents. This provision presented a problem for Northampton County Executive John Stoffa, but County Executive John Brown should have no dilemma.

The problem for Stoffa arose with the seven-person Retirement Board. That's established under the Administrative Code to administer the retirement system, including pensions.

As originally drafted, the Administrative Code provided that the Retirement Board include the Directors of Administration and Finance. These two members of John Stoffa's cabinet, both of whom lived in Lehigh County, sat on that Board until somebody realized it conflicted with the Home Rule Charter requirement that all Board appointees must be County residents.

The fix was not to force them to move here. It was to replace these cabinet officials with three members of Council. The Exec gets two picks, including himself. Finally, there is an employee representative and a retiree.

International Wackadoodle Love Awareness Day on Aug 31

Some of you might think this is Labor Day weekend. But to NYC's Matthew Silver, August 31 is International Wackadoodle Love Awareness Day, which apparently will be celebrated in Union Square at 4 pm, underwear only.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Brown Vetoes Residency Requirement: Updated 2:51 pm

Late yesterday afternoon, Northampton County Exec. John Brown vetoed the residency rule ordinance adopted by a bare majority of Council last week. Since six votes are needed to override the veto, and the ordinance only had the support of five council members, this may have killed any residency rule. "The requirements in the residency rule ordinance are restrictive," said Brown. "The ordinance limits our talent pool and is not conducive to effective and smart government."

Blogger's Note: Originally published 8/25/14, 5:30 pm

NorCo Exec Brown Addresses Courthouse Rumors

Exec John Brown and supporters
On Monday, I told you about some of the circulating courthouse rumors, which usually grow during contract negotiations or at budget time. I'm hearing a large number this year because we have a new Executive, it's budget time and there are seven expired union contracts. Late last week, I approached someone who could respond to some of the rumors, but was told all press inquiries must be addressed to Director of Administration Luis Campos. I tried explaining that restriction has no application to bottom-feeding bloggers, but no dice. I sent Campos an email. Instead of hearing from him, County Executive John Brown replied.

1) Does the Executive plan 800 lay-offs, or any lay-offs at all? Response to part 1: "NO" Response to part 2: "We are currently working on our first phase of the budget process. In 2012 Northampton County ran 18M over revenue, in 2013 it was 14M over revenue, the 2014 budget is at 18M over revenue. We need to break the habitual spending habit and examine all possibilities and create a balanced budget without the use of reserve funds. Since we are only in the first phase of the 2015 budget process it is too soon to highlight any specific changes."

2) Have 90 workers put in for retirement this year? "NO. In 2011 we had 81 in 2012 we had 67 in 2013 we had 76 and year to date amount for 2014 is 52."

3) What can you share about union negotiations? "I can not discuss current union negotiations, as we are still in the process."

4) Won't a change in the accrula [I meant accrual] rate have a detrimental impact on pensions? "We are currently fact checking the information you provided and will get back to you on this question."

A Microcosm of Northampton County at a Gaming Board Hearing?

Palmer Police Chief Larry Palmer
Last night, Northampton County's nine-member Gaming Board met for the latest round of grant applications for casino slots revenue. A few months ago, they approved grants limited to the municipalities that surround the Sands Casino in Bethlehem. This latest round is for everyone; all 38 boroughs, townships and cities within the County. The maximum grant is $50,000, and only one application per municipality is accepted. Thirty-five applications were reviewed, so it was a long meeting. Board members are going to rate them individually before they meet again on September 22. So in a way, nothing happened. But in another way, everything happened. That meeting was in many ways a microcosm of the entire County. It told me what's working, and where improvement is needed. It also provided small tidbits about our local communities. Let's start.

1. West Easton and Upper Mount Bethel Failed To Seek Grants. - These two municipalities passed up an opportunity to apply for free money. Neither one of them is rolling in the dough. Both could use new road equipment, or might have other, more pressing, needs. Their failure to take the time to apply is an indication that both of them are in trouble.

2. Many Smaller Municipalities Failed to Send Grant Advocates. - Thirteen municipalities, most of them boroughs and smaller townships, failed to send advocates to pitch their projects. I was particularly shocked that Chapman Borough's delegation was missing.

"If you need the money, come here and talk to us about it," advised Board Chair Jay Finnigan.

These smaller communities need more active involvement from the County.

Roseto Boro Council member Jenn Newland
3. News reporters are becoming extinct. - Neither daily newspaper sent a reporter to cover a meeting concerning $1.5 million in grant money. When the fourth estate is absent from these kinds of decisions, mischief becomes possible. You're stuck with me.

4. Northampton County has a dedicated corps of volunteers.  - A nine-member board meeting in the middle of the Summer to review 35 grant applications for $1.5 million, and none of them gets a dime? Not only did they meet, but they paid attention and asked pertinent questions.

5. Both Council and The Exec Are Paying Attention. - I have to compliment both the Exec and Council for their approach to the Gaming Board. They both send liaisons, in the form of Bob Mateff (Exec) and Ken Kraft (Council). Both provide a lot of background information.  Last night, Council members Scott Parsons and Bob Werner were in the peanut gallery as well. I told Parsons he could not speak  unless he could prove his residency.

6. Municipalities See Wisdom in Regional Police Forces. - Plainfield Township, along with Wind Gap and Pen Argyl Boroughs, have come together with a joint application to help with the start-up costs of a regional police department. Scott Parsons, a former Wind Gap Council member who said the process started 15 years ago, said it's "finally moving forward."  Based at the Plainfield Township station, the new department is slated to start in January.

Tatamy Police Sgt Keith Snyder
7. Bangor's New Police Chief Wants to Get His Force Accredited. - Scott Felchock, Bangor's new police chief,  is trying to get his force accredited. He told Commissioners that they provide 24-hour coverage.

8. Lehigh U Does Work With Bethlehem to Protect Students. - Thanks to Lehigh University, Bethlehem already has 28 surveillance cameras along the Third and Fourth Street corridors.  Bethlehem wants three more along Fourth, and Lehigh will help with the cost. .

9. East Bangor Wants to Convert Municipal Building Into Emergency Shelter. - Because you never know. 

10. Freemansburg Officials Go Extra Mile. - Freemansburg has only 2,700 residents, and those are largely seniors or people of very modest means. But yesterday, Borough manager Judy Danko and two Borough Council members made sure they were present to advocate for their grant, even though Mayor Gerald Yob is on the Board. That's exceptional. Of course, it helps that Council member Jim Smith is originally a cracker from Shenandoah, where there's a bar and church at every corner so you can get drunk, but go to confession so you can get drunk again.

Upper Nazareth Police Chief Alan Siegfried
11. Radar Speed Signs Are Popular. - Admit it, you love them. That's what Hanover Township's Ryan Kish claims, and I admit I do love to drive at exactly one mph below whatever limit is on the sign. Board member Tony Pristash admitted he kind of likes them, too. "I understand you have the top score on one," Finnigan wisecracked.

12. Lehigh Township Owns Three Bridges. - Lehigh Township owns three bridges on its own, including the Ash Road Bridge.

13. Lehigh Tp. Police Cant's Talk to Lehigh County, Carbon County Cops. - Sure, they all speak English or Pennsylvania Dutch, but they are all on a different radio frequencies. That's a problem because Lehigh Township borders both of these counties. Bob Mateff had an answer, but lost me about three seconds after he said "multiband."

14. Lower Mount Bethel Still Using a 1986 GMAC Truck. - I think last Winter did it in, but maybe they should try to get two or three more years out of it. See, the sludge must improve its lifespan!

Washington Tp Officer Scott Miller
15. Crime and Accident Scene Software a Must. - Chief Larry Palmer, whose police department has just been accredited, would like that software and gave a pretty good reason. Not long ago, a well-liked woman was unfortunately struck by a vehicle and killed while crossing 25th Street to go to her job at Giant. Five lanes on 25th Street were closed for an entire evening while officers did their accident reconstruction with tape measures and camera. If they had software, their job would be done in two hours. That saves them time and makes road safe.

16. Six Tatamy Police officers share one computer work station. - With the Chrin Interchange coming closer to reality, Sgt. Keith Snyder thinks it's time for an upgrade. D'you think? I wonder who sets the screen saver.

Freemansburg's Judy Danko
17. A Thermal Imaging Device Could Save Lives. - Upper Nazareth Police Chief Alan Siegfried is no cupcake. He'd like a thermal imaging device, and let me explain why. Numerous Nazareth Schools, as well as Gracedale and the 911 Center are located in Upper Nazareth. In addition, there are one helluva' lot of cornfields. What if a mentally unstable person walks out of Gracedale and into a cornfield, or some child runs away and gets lost in those fields? That person can be found easily with a thermal imaging device. What's more, Upper Nazareth is centrally located, and Chief Siegfried will make the device available to other departments.

18. Washington Tp Police Used Zoning Vehicle Last Winter. - Scott Miller, Officer-in-Charge in Washington Township was asked why he wants a Ford Expedition for his police department instead of some less expensive model. He told everyone that there are thirty miles of roadways, some of them dirt, and the Expedition has a lock-in four-wheel drive. Things were so bad last Winter they were using a zoning vehicle to patrol. Washington Township has a mutual aid agreement with seven municipalities, and 11% of its calls are mutual aid requests.

19. Charlie Chrin Still Donating to Williams Township? - This township is in the process of acquiring property across the street from its park, which it wants to turn into additional park space and temporary parking. The township hopes to put GeoGrow under the grass, and Chrin is the name mentioned as a possible source of matching funds.

Adam Waldron, Willie Reynolds at Veggie Fest

Bethlehem City Council members Adam Waldron and Willie Reynolds were at Bethlehem's veggie fest on Saturday. They were judging pumpkins, and pinned a ribbon on me.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Despite $76,500 PR Person, Courthouse Rumors Abound

In order to improve communications, Northampton County Executive John Brown has hired a $76,500 PR consultant who's recommended town halls in Bethlehem that attract two Bethlehem residents. He's attended union meetings and has even had a brown bag lunch with Gracedale nurses, but the rumor mill is working overtime. Part of the reason for this is that seven unions are working without a contract, and Brown has sent an inexperienced union negotiator to make proposals that have unions shaking their head. I've heard that Brown intends to lay off 800 people, that sick time must be used or lost, contributions to medical benefits are being increased drastically, and salaries will remain flat. How much of this is true? Probably none of it, but I decided to check into some of them myself, along with some changes to the pension plan.

One of these changes is an adjustment of the life expectancy, and that's no rumor. Most courthouse employees have already been told about this, leading to the rumor that 90 workers have applied for early retirement.

Another proposal under review is a change in the accrual rate from its current calculation of 1/50 to 1/60. If this applies to existing pensions, it appears to me that it will have a detrimental impact. That decision must come from the Retirement Board.

Here's how it works.

Pension liability = Accrual rate × Final salary × Years of service

So, for a person whose salary is $70,000 and who has 30 years of service, the difference between a 1//50 and 1/60 accrual rate is $7,000 per year.

1 ÷ 60 × $70,000 × 30 = $35,000

1 ÷ 50 × $70,000 × 30 = $42,000

Is this rumor true? I tried checking it out on Friday with one of the County's fiscal experts, and was told all questions must be directed to Director of Administration Luis Campos. So I'm asking him

1) Does the Executive plan 800 lay-offs, or any lay-offs at all?
2) Have 90 workers put in for retirement this year?
3) What can you share about union negotiations?
4) Won't a change in the accrual rate have a detrimental impact on pensions?

First Annual Nazareth Jazz Festival on 9/13

When: Saturday 13, 2014

Where: Borough Park

(courtesy of Alfonso Todd)

1:00: CYNTHIA RODRIGUEZ is excited to make her professional jazz debut at "Naz Jazz" 2014. Rodriguez is a very well known performer and writer in the Lehigh Valley. Cynthia has been a singer for years and has performed a wide range of musical styles which include: chorus, rock, and anthem. Rodriguez is overjoyed to now perform music she has loved for most of her life, and believes that Jazz truly captures the range of human emotion in its' lyrics and music.

2:00: JAZZ N MORE has played Boscov's Auditorium in Reading, PA; the Mayors' Inaugural Ceremony; The GAPS {Art Gallery} at the historical Wyndham Hotel in Reading, PA; Embassy Suites in Ashburn VA; the Cheste,r PA Community Center' the French Creek Country Club and Berks Jazz Fest... To name a few...

3:00: NEKBONE - Your funk bone is connected to your…Nekbone, is a funk powerhouse hailing from parts near and remote of the tri-state area. John Birch's singing style splits the difference between the smoothness of George Benson and the grit of Wilson Pickett, and his impeccable guitar playing gives a nod to BB King and Larry Carlton. This formidable line-up also includes Jeff Bichaylo (Keyboards), Adam Guth (Drums) and Victor McLaurin (Bass). Each are tremendous players in their own right having worked with none other than Jef Lee Johnson, Edgardo Cintron, East Wind Jazz Ensemble, Jamaaladeen Tacumah, Doc Gibbs, and Dexter Wansel to name a few.

4:00: MONKEY CAT What might sound like a genetic lab experiment gone horribly wrong, is actually a group of three of the funkiest musicians to ever call Southeastern PA home. Monkey Cat brings intrepid improvisation and exploration together with smooth, funky backbeats. Jeff Bichaylo (Keyboards), Mark Walsh (Guitar), JJ Zeller (Drums) have shared the stage with the likes of Bernie Worrell, Jay Procter, Sister Sledge, Boney James, Al Jarreau, Dave Koz, James Ingram, Brian Culbertson, and Jonathan Butler.

5:00: DRIVE TIME PHILADELPHIA has given us some brilliant music over the decades and this tight, contemporary jazz ensemble holds up to Philly’s solid reputation with their highly anticipated new release, IGNITION! Drive Time Philadelphia will rev you up with what the group calls Urban Organic Jazz… that is funky grooves and jazz-soaked, melodic originals, and delivers exciting new music, ranging from smooth to Latin to fusion to Tower of Power-like grooves, and even a splash of chillout! IGNITION sparks from cool collaborations including special guest appearances by saxophonist Andrew Neu vocalists Phyllis Chapell, Justin Guarini & guitarist Vinnie Zummo. Drivetime has been honing their craft and evolving into an important new voice in the Global Smooth Jazz community with three previous recordings and two top-selling singles featuring Bob Baldwin and Justin Guarini. Leader Bernie Capodici and band shift into high gear for live performances where they marry old school cool with modern, musical ideas…

6:00: The Sticker Gang.  They can't play shit, but will do the perp walk.

Parsons to Kraft and McClure - "Let's Move On"

Scott Parsons
Ken Kraft was very indignant. In the wake of evidence that Executive John Brown and public relations consultant Kim Plyler had at least some email exchanges that certainly appear to be political, Kraft sought a more inclusive set of emails. But as of the Northampton County Council meeting on August 21, he still had no reply, except for one that irritated him even more. He got a letter telling him that his request was being considered under the Right-to-Know law, and invoked an automatic 30-day extension. Instead of making his concerns known to the District Attorney, Council Solicitor or perhaps even his own lawyer, he decided to grandstand at a Council meeting. He did so at a time when the County is staring down the barrel of a likely tax hike.  It's similar to what Controller Steve Barron did at the previous Council meeting. In the meantime, Council has yet to look at the unbridled power of the Exec to dole out millions in casino table tax revenue. 

Rather than actually govern, it's far easier  to join in a witch hunt. 

Lamont McClure had fun, too.  He actually argued that individual Council members are not subject to the Right-to-Know Law.  They apparently have some Divine Right to Executive information. He  accused the Brown administration of "stonewalling" and demanded an answer from Brown and solicitor Victor Scomillio right then and there.

They sat in their comfy chairs, refusing to answer. 

Council Solicitor Phil Lauer now has been tasked with researching whether an individual Council member has some special right to seek information that is above and beyond the rights of an ordinary citizen because they're so important they sit on a raised dais.

There is no such right.

Of course, it's beyond dispute that Council, as the governing body, has all kinds of rights to information, conferred by the Home Rule Charter. But the power of an individual Council member is limited to casting a vote on behalf of the people he represents. He's no Super Citizen, and I am somewhat disturbed that Council members like Ken Kraft and Lamont McClure seem to think they are.

"The silence doesn't bode very well," complained Kraft. McClure brays on about the power Council members admittedly have, without bothering to point out that it's a power that requires five votes.

"We need an explanation," demanded McClure. "They can't just sit here silently ... ."

Just as McClure tried to conduct witch hunts against Executive John Stoffa, he's now doing the same thing to Brown.

After Council had wasted about ten minutes, Scott Parsons called the whole thing a "debacle" that goes back to Brown's controversial decision to hire Sahl Communications as his PR firm.

"Let's move on and get to governing of this County and get the things done that have to be done," stated the Slate Belt Democrat. "If the Executive's done something illegal here, that's for the courts to decide. ... We have to move on."

I agree. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

NorCo Jail Treatment Plans Reviewed

Late last year, Lamont McClure was the sole vote against a $3.8 million plan to reduce recidivism at the Northampton County jail by treating inmates instead of just warehousing them. He opposed a five-year contract with Community Education Centers (CEC) to provide substance abuse programs called the Future Foundation program for men, Sister to Sister program for women and the West Easton Treatment Facility program. CEC had argued that its graduates have a recidivism rate of just 36%, well below the national average of 69%. McClure questioned the data, and a recent audit by Controller Steve Barron proves that recidivism may very well be higher than projected. The audit also reveals that the County needs to consider treatment programs that continue after release from jail.

Barron's audit, which was authorized by an unanimous Council in February, reviewed the Future and Sister programs, but not the West Easton Treatment facility. He shared the following findings with County Council last night:

* 51% of the people who have completed these programs were arrested again, meaning that the recidivism rate is higher than the 36% projected to the County.

* Two individuals who were reported as completely rehabilitated were actually residing in the jail at the time of the audit.

* People who participate in these programs tend to have fewer incidents in jail than the rest of the population.

* Only 11% of the money paid to CEC is spent on overhead.

* CEC is accredited and meets the standards for programs like the ones provided in Northampton County.

* Northampton County's lack of an aftercare program for recently released inmates is thought to have led some to re-offend.

Barron is recommending that state grants be used to help fund drug and mental health courts as well as an after care program.

CEC's Dr. Ralph Fretz, who reviewed and responded to Barron's audit, agreed that aftercare needs to be part of the "continuum of care" that starts in jail. "That's where the rubber hits the road," he said.

Director of Corrections Arnie Matos directed Council to another number - the jail census. That hovered over 900 before these programs started, but has dropped to 629. "I can't say it's CEC," he conceded, but "[s]omething that's going on in Northampton County is working."

Executive John Brown told Council that he needs to discuss the audit with the "stakeholders", referring to the courts and jail officials. Noting the audit's recommendation concerning aftercare, Brown said he will study how that should be incorporated, either with or without CEC.

Mat Benol suggested there should be parameters inserted into the contract, and Brown agreed.

Glenn Geissinger said he would have preferred that this contract be considered by the new Council. But he added, "When you're dealing with human beings, we need to create the programs."

Scott Parsons stated he was happy that all seem to acknowledge that some kind of treatment program is needed.  "We're putting a dollar out on somebody's life to help them get better," he reasoned.

Return of the Gracedale Goon!

Though most of the Gracedale Goons are now in padded rooms somewhere, Jack D'Allessandro is still a regular at NorCo Council meetings. Two weeks ago, he warned them that the Steel Stacks at ArtsQuest are radioactive, which explains those different colors at night.

Last night, he took a gratuitous shot at the Unholy Trinity.

"In spite of Mr. Stoffa, Ron Angle and Bernie O'Hare, and Bernie O'Hare's constant lying still to date, Gracedale is doing extremely well, and I'll let Mr. Werner tell you the rest of it."

So there you have it.

Bob Werner later reported that Gracedale's census is at its highest point to date - 677.

D'Allesandro had an unpleasant night. After the Council meeting, an 80' satellite dish suddenly popped out of his ass, and the next thing you know, he was gone.

Divided NorCo Council Requires Future Cabinet, Row Officers To Be Residents

Scott Parsons sponsored residency ordinance
Updated 11:15 am, to include a reaction from the Exec.

By a 5-4 vote, Northampton County Council voted last night to require all cabinet level officials, as well as row officers, to reside within the County. This ordinance is prospective, meaning it has no application to current appointees. It also gives future out-of-county hires a year to find a home in the County.

Leading the charge for the residency requirement was Lamont McClure, who spoke three times in support of the ordinance. "The people who govern you ought to be your neighbors," he reasoned. Scott Parsons believes its omission from the Home Rule Charter was an "oversight" on the part of framers.

But Seth Vaughn countered that it is "overbureaucratic [sic] nonsense" that creates "more of a headache for the Executive." Hayden Phillips added that it "needlessly limits the pool of talent." and points to recently hired Sheriff David Dalrymple, a New Jersey resident, as an example.

Peg Ferraro pointed to the political reality that most cabinet level officials come and go with the Executive, and few will want to move into a job that might only last four years. I strongly believe we have an excellent system in place," she reasoned.

Republican Mat Benol claimed to have always supported a residency requirement. Ironically, it is Benol who argued in July that Council should confirm David Dalrymple as Sheriff despite his New Jersey residency. At that time, he had noted that Dalrymple only lived five miles from the courthouse.

Benol provided the swing vote that all four Democrats needed to pass the ordinance. The remaining four Republicans were opposed.

Will Executive Brown will veto the ordinance?. He appears to be thinking about it. "We are currently evaluating the impact this change will have on the county," Brown states in a prepared statement. "We are also evaluating all of our options to determine what is the best course of action for the county moving forward."

If he does veto, six votes will be needed to override it.

Meet Kim, The Newest LANTA Board Member

I told you yesterday that Kim Schaffer, Northampton County's former Block Grant Coordinator, has been tapped by Executive John Brown to serve on the LANTA Board. She was confirmed unanimously last night.

What I love about this appointment is that Kim actually used mass transit when she worked for the County, and as Executive Director of Community Bike Works, will be certain to work for routes and fares that make sense to the people who actually use buses.

She has a Master's degree in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Prez George W Bush Takes ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

A Brief Green Pond Golf Course History

Some of my readers want to know who actually owns Green Pond Country Club. While I do not know who the actual stockholders are, I've nailed down some of the more recent corporate officers.

The Green Pond Country Club, located near Notre Dame at green Pond High School in Bethlehem Township, has been around for some time. According to the webpage, the course was designed by Alexander Findlay, a Scottish immigrant known as the Father of American Golf..  He designed the greens in 1931 to catch the late fall sun, guaranteeing more playing time than at other courses.

In 1932, Green Pond Golf Course was first listed as a fictitious name with the state. At that time, the property was owned by Henry S Snyder. In 1953, Green Pond Golf Course, Inc., was incorporated, with Orville Smith as its first President. The golf course was conveyed to this corporation in 1955.

From litigation files, I know that W. John Daub was the President in 2007. Rodger Zellner, and Charles Churchman were other corporate officers.

The litigation arises from a $7.5 million Agreement of Sale, in 2002, under which McMansion builder Toll Brothers was going to buy the course and build a golf course community. It never happened.

Over five years, Toll Brothers paid $585,000 for extensions on the agreement of sale. It had conditional approval from Township Commissioners, but still was overwhelmed with stormwater and traffic issues.It spent another $300,000 for some other deal for the golf course, as well as $135,000 in engineering studies. All told, it sunk for than $1 million into the project when Green Pond decided to pull the plug and refused to grant another extenstion. A lawsuit was filed in 2007, and ultimately settled.

Brown Makes Good Call For LANTA Board

One of Northampton County Executive John Brown's first appointments was that of Richard McAteer to LANTA, the Lehigh Valley's mass transit provider. McAteer is the same guy who helped run Easton into the ground as Shadow Mayor under Phil Mitman. He has continued to exert influence under Mayor Sal Panto as the Chair of Easton's Redevelopment Authority. Glued at the hip to Jersey developer Mark Mulligan, he helped orchestrate a reduction in the property assessment of the Wolf Building, which Mulligan was buying from the County, and then voted by proxy for the reduction because he just happens to be a member of the Revenue Appeals Board.  Mulligan was also a board member at RenewLV, and took then Mayor John Brown by the hand to introduce him to Lehigh Valley Partnership types like J.B. Reilly. At the end of last year, he was sitting on nine different boards.  

McAteer is a part of the urban growth regime in which developers like Mark Mulligan or J.B. Reilly, and politicians like Sal Panto or Ed Pawlowski, scratch each others' backs.

The last place someone like McAteer belongs is on a board that tries to provide effective bus service for people unable to afford a car or who choose, as a matter of principle, not to drive.

I opposed this nomination, not on my blog, but in person. I figured I might as well make an ass out of myself there, too. and spoke against it at the February 19 Personnel Committee. I am very leery of people who manage to sit on several "nonprofit" boards and end up somehow enriching themselves, as we saw at the Steel Museum and, to a lesser extent, at Illick's Mill.

"It has to stop being a musical chair arrangement," I brayed. "I don't think you'll see Mr. McAteer hopping on a LANTA bus anytime soon. ... Here's an idea. Put somebody on who actually uses mass transit."

Brown defended the appointment and McAteer's "strategic outlook," whatever that means.

McAteer was confirmed unanimously the next night, which shows how influential I am.

But guess what? McAteer is ill, which is unfortunate for him and his family. I oppose his involvement in government, but do wish him a speedy recovery. He has apparently stepped down from LANTA to concentrate on his health. Brown has proposed replacing him with Kim Schaffer, a former County employee who actually did take the bus every day and is now Executive Director of Community Bike Works.

Brown has put someone on a mass transit board who actually uses it.

Maybe I should become a consultant.

DA to Drug Dealers: We Will Take Your House, Car & Money

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli's Drug Forfeiture Program has seized $120,544.00 in money and property from drug dealers over the twelve months ending in June 30, 2014. At a news conference on Wednesday, Morganelli explained that this includes $120,544 in cash and $11,009 in proceeds from the sale of ten forfeited vehicles and other property.

Since 1992, when Morganelli started this program, more than $1.9 million has been seized. The money is then poured into local police departments, block watch groups, training and even helps pay the salary of a prosecutor.

Under state law, the District Attorney is authorized to seize money, cars and even real estate used to facilitate the drug trade. It is done by a civil action against the property itself (in rem) instead of its owner.

"The message that we want to send to those who deal in drugs is a simple and clear one," said Morganelli. "Be assured that you are doing it at your own risk. When we catch you we will seize your money, your house, your vehicle and any other ill gotten gains from your drug dealings."

Morganelli only uses his forfeiture powers against actual drug dealers. "We don't take a house if, unbeknown to you, your son is dealing drugs," he explained.

This is in stark contrast to Philadelphia. Its aggressive program, which requires innocent owners to assert that defense, seizes $6 million per year in money and property. A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed earlier this month against what lawyers call the "civil forfeiture machine" in the City of Brotherly Love. (See a video about Philadelphia's forfeiture program here.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dent: ISIL Has Sown Seeds Of Own Destruction

ISIL, the terrorists who beheaded one American journalist and who have threatened to repeat their brutality, spoeak for no God I know. Here's how LV Congressman Charlie Dent has reacted to this savagery.

“Our thoughts and prayers are for American reporter James Wright Foley and with his family and friends.

"We must continue providing arms and support as needed to the Kurds as they combat ISIS in Iraq. This savage group must be halted before gaining further traction in this fragile region.

"The cowards who make up terrorist groups, like ISIS, actually believe by committing these affronts against humanity they’ll spark fear and a lack of resolve in Americans.

"They’re wrong.

"They’ve sown the seeds of their own destruction with this horrific action and the atrocities they continue to commit.”

Should NorCo Conservation District Report to Development Director?

Diane Donahaer, a voice over artist who's been Northampton County's Director of Community and Economic Development since late January, has never been a part of county government. But she's still proposing a massive overhaul that will put many county department under her supervision. These include regulatory departments like Conservation and Weights and Measures, whose employees should play no rile in either economic or community development.

Council is skeptical. Scott Parsons called Conservation a watchdog agency, and he and Peg Ferraro both worried that a department head interested in promoting an economic development project would be tempted to urge Conservation employees to cut corners. Undaunted by this argument, Donaher went on to claim that she would help Conservation streamline its processes.

Conservation Director Bruce Pysher has expressed concerns, too. He claimed his department is like Switzerland, and issues permits based on compliance with the law. "We always maintained that neutrality," he asserted,  "and there's a little concern that there's a semblance of impropriety when we're part of a department that promotes development."

Donaher claimed that staff in Weights and Measures could be her eyes and ears, but that department does not exist to make sure more gas stations are built.It's there to ensure that when you pump a gallon of gas, you're actually getting a gallon.

This idea needs more work.

Pipeline Coming Soon? Or Is It?

The Morning Call's Scott Kraus has the lowdown on a 100-mile, Marcellus Shale natural gas pipeline that might be coming through Northampton County. According to a corporate news release, the goal is to reduce the price of natural gas in Jersey, the armpit state. And it's perfectly safe, too! I mean, who's ever heard of a natural gas explosion?

Though the route map is far from clear, it's definitely going through Bethlehem Township. At their Moinday night meeting, Township Manager Melissa Shafer reported that she set up a meeting with Penn East, the name being used by a consortium of gas companies.

This is no done deal, although it seems likely.