Wednesday, April 23, 2014

LWV State Senate Debate on May 8

On May 8, 2014, the League of Women Voters of Northampton County and the Gracedale Nursing Home are partnering to present a Candidates’ Forum for the Democratic 40th Senatorial District Primary Race. It's scheduled for 7 pm at the Gracedale Chapel.

The three candidates in contention are Attorney Mark Aurand, Bangor Mayor Joe Capozzolo and Northampton County Council member Scott Parsons.

This is the only debate for this race this election season at this time. It is a new Senate seat based on the 2010 PA Census and includes most of Monroe County and the northern portion of Northampton County.

What bothers me is that the debate is scheduled to coincide with a meeting of Northampton County Council.

Brown Pick For Administrator Appears to be Unqualified

As I've already told you, Northampton County Executive John Brown has nominated Bangor Borough Council President Cathy Allen as the next Director of Administration. This is perhaps the most important cabinet official in the County, but Brown wants to fill it with a person who has no education beyond high school and no County experience whatsoever. He wants to pay her $88,000 per year, too. Her nomination will be considered by County Council's Personnel Committee today at 4 pm. On Thursday, 6:30 pm, the full Council will consider it again.

Education

According to the County's Human Resources Office, the Director of Administration should have the following education and training:
* Education equivalent to completion of a bachelor's degree program with major course work in public or business administration.
* Extensive public administration experience, which has included significant involvement with personnel, labor relations, or other administrative function, including two years in a supervisory position.
* Or any equivalent combination of acceptable training and experience which has provided the knowledges, skills and abilities cited above.
Allen has none of this. She has a high school education with no real involvement with personnel, labor relations or other administrative functions. She has only supervised herself in her two man office in the private sector because the other worker there, Marino Saveri, was her boss. She has served on a borough council for five years, and one that had a very capable manager.

Knowledge and Skills

According to Human Resources, a Director of Administration should possess the following knowledge and skills:
* Comprehensive knowledge of the public administration principles and practices commonly employed in the planning, direction and control of an organization providing Countywide administrative services.
* Comprehensive knowledge of goals, objectives, methods and techniques applicable to the management of personnel and labor relations programs.
* Comprehensive knowledge of functions, organization and operations commonly found in government at the local level.
* Thorough knowledge of supervisory principles and practices.
* Ability to organize, direct and coordinate the activities of several organizational subdivisions engaged in separate functions.
* Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with associates, elected officials, representatives of the Court, other County, State and Federal agencies, and the public.
* Ability to express ideas and communicate County policy on technical and/or administrative subjects, both orally and in writing.
Nothing in Allen's background shoes a comprehensive knowledge of public administration, personnel, labor issues or supervisory practices.

Under the County's own Human Resources policies, she's unqualified. But what disturbs me even more is her participation in unethical and nontransparent policy in Bangor Borough.

Allen's Saveri Connection

In 1984, Allen began working for Marino Saveri at Diversified Financial Planners, Inc. In addition to his work there, Saveri managed to get himself elected to Bangor Borough Council, then coaxed the Borough Authority into paying him monthly.. He eventually became Administrator there, while retaining his seat on Borough Council in an obvious ethical conflict.

Another Council member, Bonnie LaBar, began attending Borough Authority meetings, and was paid $200 per month to do so.So she became involved in the ethical conflict as well.

I should point out that the Borough Council stipend was $50 per month, though it recently has gone up to $100. LaBar, and presumably Saveri before her, waived the Borough Council salary. But they were making much more with what they received from the Bangor Borough Authority.

This went on for six years under LaBar.

Last year, around the time that Saveri left his seat on Borough Council, this practice was stopped. At the October 2013 meeting, after hearing from the Solicitor that the practice was illegal, Cathy Allen was a member of Borough Council herself.

Allen voted to continue sending LaBar to the Authority despite the legal problem. She was outvoted.

When Saveri resigned, Allen pushed to have Stephanie Merlo, Saveri's goddaughter, replace him. Merlo was a volunteer coach at Pius X who was soon thereafter charged with corrupting the morals of a minor. She was selected as a result of a tie-breaking vote cast by then Mayor John Brown.

Merlo resigned the day after she was charged. But Allen kept this information about a public official secret for nearly a month despite media inquiries and requests from other Council members.

It appears to me that Allen has picked up bad habits as Saveri's protege. She lacks transparency. Also, she seems more than willing to permit unethical behavior, even when it is pointed out by the Council Solicitor.

While the Executive's choice for Administrator is entitled to great weight, the argument can be made that Allen is unqualified. I would go along with this pick under these three conditions:

1) She must resign her seat on Bangor Borough Council because it presents too many opportunities for mischief, and Allen's own record reveals an amazing insensitivity to ethical concerns;

2) She must agree to a background check.

3) She should not start at $88,000. Her initial salary should be about half that amount.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bloodless Coup in Bethlehem Tp

Top row (L to R): Marty Zawarski, Tom Nolan
Bottom row (L to R): Phil Barnard, Mike Hudak

In a bloodless coup, Tom Nolan stepped down as President of Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners at their April 21 meeting. Almost immediately following that announcement, Martin Zawarski was elected to replace him as President in a 4-0 vote with no discussion. Michael Hudak retained his position as Vice President. Pat Bresslin was absent.

"My time is really being spread thin," Nolan complained in a brief statement before his resignation. "Sorry to hear that, Tom", responded Hudak, who praised Nolan's years of service. But the writing was on the wall. Resign or be voted out. Nolan admitted as much after the meeting. "I chose to take the high road," he explained. "I'll do the same thing regardless whether I'm President."

The decision to replace Nolan may have come after his recently appearance before the Parks and Recreation Board to pitch a garden project at Housenick Park. Commissioner Phil Barnard had just said, days before, that the Board has yet to decide how that park should be used. Nolan's plan, which appears to have been an end run around Commissioners, was rejected. It involved seven different organizations and included cutting down a 40' high oak tree. The project was also located in an area that the Township insurer wants roped off for now.

Hudak had scheduled an appointment an hour before the April 21 meeting to discuss things with Nolan. After that, Nolan could be seen in the lobby, speaking individually to Commissioners Zawarski and Barnard.

After those individual discussions, Nolan announced his resignation.

 Nolan has served the Township for 35 years as Commissioner, Planning Commissioner and most recently, as its representative on the Gaming Authority.

The garden project at Housenick came up again during the meeting. "We cannot have all these people in our park doing what they want," noted Hudak. "We're just not there yet" Hudak added. "I would prefer they are Township residents" pointing out that the Township's Autumn Club is waiting to start these kinds of projects. "It's just not safe," he reasoned.

President Zawarski agreed, claiming this garden project was "too soon, too fast."

Nolan noted that one of these seven groups was a boy scout troop, and that most involved are Township residents.

"It is up to this Board to send a message, positive or negative. They sent a very negative message. {The Scouts] will not be back."

In other Housenick Park news. Hudak announced he received two estimates for replacing the slate roof and associated items at the Archibald Johnston mansion. A new slate roof will cost $335,800, while a substitute will be only $209,000. But Hudak added that no rood replacement is necessary, and the Township's bi-annual maintenance is adequate to keep the building watertight.

Angels in the Outfield

Megan Brown and Dana Pollock - angels in the outfield
Juniors Megan Brown and Dana Pollock are outfielders on Freedom High School's winning softball team. But they're angels in the outfield. Thanks to their effort, they were able to collect enough food to replenish the empty food shelves at New Bethany Ministries' food bank, located on Bethlehem's South side.

Megan, whose mother Marie is a volunteer at the food bank, toured the facility with Dana. "The shelves were really empty," noted Dana. So the two of them, with the help of their teammates, recently organized a food drive and brought for the 500 families who depend on the food bank for three days worth of food every month.

The food collected filled two SUVs.

"They always need food, not just during the holidays," observed Megan.

FHS Softball Team during practice, coached by Nora Borger

Molovinsky to Run Against Harhart For State Rep

Molovinsky at Allentown City Council
If you ever want to run for public office, the last thing you should do is start a blog. Everything you say can and will be used against you. If you're anything like me, you'll give opponents plenty of ammo, too. Yet blogger Michael Molovinsky, who is both uglier and nastier than I, woke up yesterday morning and decided to run for State representative. He's running in the 183rd against Julie Harhart, who already has Republican opponent Marc Grammes and Democrat Terri Powell.

"We are victimized by ingrained partisan politics, always putting special interests ahead of that of the citizen. We keep adding new revenue streams; lottery, casino, fracking, but never providing the homeowner with the promised tax relief. I have established a facebook page, Molovinsky For State Representative, which will be dedicated to the campaign."

Personally, I could never be a politician. I view them as prey.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bill White Nails Karen Dolan

The Morning Call's Bill White, who is much nicer but uglier than I, also has problems with the way Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan abused the power of her office to get her way with her Illick's Mill nonprofit. In an email to the Mayor last week, despite knowing that her conduct was under scrutiny, she used these threatening words concerning a lease that asked Illick's Mill to pay something for rent and utilities.

"I will do everything I can to prevent this lease from going to Council."

Talk about conflict of interest.

Blaming me, she stepped off the Illick's Mill Board. She still needs to step down from Council, which she has used to stifle free and open discussion. 

Ethical Questions Over Brown's Proposed Director of Administration

In the wake of Tom Harp's resignation as Director of Administration, Northampton County Executive John Brown has proposed that Deputy Director Cathy Allen take his place. This is a mistake.

Cathy Allen, who happens to be a Republican, has been on Bangor Borough Council for five years and is currently its President. She is paid $600 per year. What's interesting to me is how she got there, and what she's learned in the business world. This is especially important because she has no education beyond a high school diploma.

Until she went to work for Brown as a Deputy Director of Administration, she was the "office manager" of a two-person office in Bangor called Diversified Financial Planners, Inc. The other person in that office is the boss. That corporation is owned - lock, stock and barrel - by Marino Saveri.

He knows all about diversification.

Until late last year, Saveri was a member of Bangor Borough Council. He was also one of their two paid representative to Bangor Borough Authority. For some reason, the Bangor Borough Authority pays two Council members to attend their meetings. This presents all kinds of ethical problems, especially when the Authority has a matter before Council..

In 1999, Saveri proposed and may have actually audited Bangor's books himself to save the borough the expense of an independent and professional audit.

It does not stop there. Saveri is also the paid Administrator of the Bangor Borough Authority. As a member of Bangor Borough Council, Saveri never shied away from advocating for the interests of the Borough Authority.

In a nutshell, Saveri is a walking conflict who makes Karen Dolan look like a Girl Scout by comparison.

This is the problem. The only real job Cathy Allen has had is as Saveri's protege.

Three years after graduating from high school in '81, she went to work with Saveri, and stayed with him until Brown recruited her.

While working for Saveri, she became a long term care insurance sales person. She sold policies to seniors. This makes her no expert on risk management.

Aside from Cub Scouts, she was never involved in anything. Then four years ago, out of the blue, she ran for and was elected to Bangor Borough Council.

Saveri needed an ally. Maybe Brown, newly elected Mayor, needed an ally, too.  

When the heat began to turn up on Saveri, he resigned his seat on Bangor Borough Council late last year.

The person he wanted to replace him was none other than Stephanie Merlo, the Pius X volunteer coach who had never even been registered to vote before her appointment. Allen voted for her, and when the matter ended up in a tie, then Mayor Brown broke the tie to vote for her.

Only a few weeks after this, Merlo was accused of corrupting the morals of a minor at Pius X. Allen, as President of Borough Council, refused all calls for information.

So she has no real academic education. From her work history, you can see that the only thing she has been schooled in is engaging in conflicts of interest, combined with a refusal to be transparent.

It would be irresponsible to set this person loose on 2,000 county workers and a $330 million budget, without an extensive background check. There is also no way that Northampton County Council should confirm a sitting Borough Council President to Director of Administration because it presents too many opportunities for the same kind of conflict that existed with Allen's mentor.

As things stand, most of the clerks in the row offices have more education and experience than Allen. But they don't get paid the $88,000 salary Brown is proposing for her.

Can Parsons Do It Again?

Northampton County Council member Scott Parsons is running for the state senate in a newly formed district that includes most of Monroe and the northern part of Northampton County. He's been called the "David who slayed Goliath" because he beat long-time Republican Council member Ron Angle in a fairly conservative district.  But can he beat Mario Scavello, a Republican State Representative in Monroe County who has had a two-year head start and a massive warchest?

Before he can beat Scavello, he has to come out on top of two other Democrats who have their eyes on the same seat.

One of them is Joe Capozzolo, who was trounced by Joe Emrick in the State Rep. race two years ago and who won the Bangor Mayoral contest by just one vote. Just sworn into office, he's running for something else. He likes to keep everyone in the dark, and even kept his state senate ambitions as secret as possible for reasons that elude me.

He stands for nothing, which his record as an appointed County Council member some years ago should make clear.

The only thing Capozzolo can do is draw votes that would otherwise go to Parsons.

The other candidate is Mark Aurand, an Allentown lawyer who has never run for anything, but whose interest in politics began when he became associated with and eventually spearheaded the Organizing For America movement in the Lehigh Valley.

Aurand is a class act, like Parsons.

He's working hard, raising money and is well-organized. I've already received a flyer and knock on my door. His strength and his weakness is his left wing agenda. That draws many volunteers and energizes what's left of the Obama supporters. The weakness is that it turns off everyone else. A unabashed liberal will sell in Bethlehem or Allentown, but not in the Slate Belt or Monroe County. Mario Scavello will be able to "define" him, as consultants like to say.

The candidate who has the best shot at beating Scavello in the Fall is the moderate, Scott Parsons, but only if he runs hard.

Best Seafood in LV? Wait a Year

Where's the best place to go for seafood in the Lehigh Valley? You won't find it at over-priced and under-portioned Youell's or the really over-priced Blue in Bethlehem Township. If you want a lobster that's really a lobster and tastes sweet, or tasty clams with no sand, you're gonna' have to wait until next year. That's because this place only cooks up these concoctions once every year, during their Lenten Friday dinners. I'm speaking of the Columbia Fire House in Roseto, believe it or not.

Good seafood at a firehouse?

Damn straight. Not just good, but probably the best you'll ever eat.

Unfortunately, you'll have to wait until next Lent to try it out. I asked Jesus Christ to delay his Resurrection a week or two, but He doesn't care much for seafood and said No.

No reservations. You go there and some surly fat gay takes your name and you have to wait a good hour or so.

No fancy tables either. You're not going for the atmosphere, but to eat.

Flounder, Clams. Calimari. Shrimp. Scallops. Lobster. And pasta, of course. It's Roseto.

Just about everybody from the Slate Belt goes. I went on Good Friday with Mark Cotturo, a former male model who had about eighty women swoon over him during the evening. I was hoping for some fallout, but no dice.

Also with me was The Bastard, Mark Thatcher, the very dude who grabbed Toni Lynch's cell phone a few months ago and chucked it into an unflushed hopper at the Mount Bethel Diner. Lynch kept playing "Ride of the Valkyries" on the phone, and Thatcher hates Wagner.

Toni was there, too. He actually handed The Bastard his new, snazzy iPhone, his third in the last two months, because a second iPhone was also smashed to pieces at the Mount Bethel Diner after he kept playing "Along Came Jones."

Bangor School Director Dennis Jones came along and chucked the phone against the wall.

Lynch's cellphone was safe Friday night, but he took no chances and bought The Bastard drinks.

Tangos.

There was a shitload of other Slate Belt people there, too. This place is so good that Northampton County Council member Scott Parsons, currently running for the state senate, ditched Detzi's Tavern for the night. Don't tell anyone, but John Detzi from Detzi's Tavern was there, too.

So were Judge Craig Dally and Executive John Brown.

They had to wait.

I'm unfamiliar with Slate Belt society, but one family was pointed out to me as "The Kennedys". They apparently dress very fashionably and still have all their teeth. They walked around with their noses in the air. Except instead of the husband screwing around, it's the wife. She's apparently done everyone in the Slate Belt at one time or another.

Except me.

And the Judge.

They had to wait, too.

Unfortunately for them, we had already eaten most of the food.

Where was Ron Angle, the Northampton County Bulldog? Well, he's really fixated on shit lately. He was working his ass off to clean cow shit out of his barn after the long, hard winter. Once Angle gets his hands on shit, he just doesn't want to let go.

Next Lent, be there if you like good seafood.

There's no parking lot, and on my way to go inside, some asshole decided to let his dogs out without bothering to go with them. Pit bulls.

One of them nailed me from behind, but let go as soon as I swung around and he recognized me.

Professional courtesy.

Then I bit the owner.

Roseto needs to change its symbol from a rose to a lobster. Or a bowl of pasta.

Wanna' Vote? Better Register Today

The Northampton County League of Women Voters asked me to remind you that TODAY IS THE LAST DAY to register to vote before the May 20 Primary Election. If you want to run as an Independent, today is the last day for switching to that status.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Is Allentown Abortion Clinic Dodging Health Inspectors?

That's the conclusion suggested by pro-life blogger Jill Stanek, who claims the clinic somehow was tipped about an unannounced inspection in late March, and responded by closing that day.

I can't vouch for this, but am passing it along.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why You Don't Elect Row Officers

Lamont McClure and Ken Kraft, who want elected row offices for the patronage jobs that will be created in those little fiefdoms, need to read about Schuylkill County.

State House: Beyer Wins Ballot Challenge

Michael Beyer, son of former State Representative Karen Beyer, will be on the Democratic ballot for the seat his mother held as a Republican four years ago. Beyer has survived a three-pronged nomination challenge attacking nomination petitions, residency and his claim to be a lawyer. In a ruling issued this morning, Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer rejected the challenge.

David and Linda Eisenhauer, two Democrats who live in the District, filed the challenge. Representing them is Attorney Matt Crosslis, who until recently was Lehigh County Executive, and has vowed to appeal.

Originally, Crosslis' petition argued that petitions were being signed by circulators who did not actually circulate them. He also argued that Beyer was a Pittsburgh resident. But he withdrew those two challenges, leaving him only with the claim that Beyer, a recent law school grad, had somehow misrepresented himself.

Give me a break.

Once Crosslis realized he was unable to mount a successful circulation challenge, this case was pretty much toast. An appeal is a waste of money.

Since no one else is running on the Democratic side, this assures Beyer's nomination.

In the Fall, he'll face incumbent Justin Simmons, the man who beat Beyer's mother four years ago, and the man who will very likely beat him.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dolan Does Some Damage Control

After resigning from her Executive Director position at the Illick's Mill, under a cloud of suspicion based upon her own mismanagement and conflicts of interest, Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan is doing a bit of damage control. She has told The Express Times' Lynn Olanoff that she's merely trying to save her poor little nonprofit from the vicious world of politics. Of course, I'm in the center of this dark world, as Dolan paints it in version #694 of what has happened.

Here's my response.

This has nothing to do with politics. This has everything to do with expecting elected officials to be loyal to the people instead of whoever pays their salary. The organization has been hurt, not by stories on my blog, but by Dolan's own unethical behavior and mismanagement of the nonprofit.

This is a woman who has told several stories now about what is going on. Let's deal with facts. 1) She failed to file nonprofit tax returns for three years in a row. 2) Her nonprofit status was revoked for at least a year. 3) Her vote on last year's budget was in violation of the Ethics Act because she voted on a matter in which she had a direct financial interest as a paid Executive Director. 4) She continued raising money after her nonprofit status was revoked and gave a misleading interview to The Express Times, falsely claiming to be a nonprofit. 5. She violated the Ethics Act again as recently as last Friday, when she threatened the Mayor concerning a new lease. "I will do everything I can to prevent this lease from going to Council."

Incidentally, her threat to the Mayor, in addition to being a conflict of interest under the Ethics Act, is also an example of exactly how she plays politics.

I find it totally incredible that City officials would send her a letter in 2010 about her unpaid $127,000 debt, threatening to suspend services, and then say nothing more about the situation. That is just unbelievable. She obviously had conversations. What were those conversations? Did the Mayor let her off the hook? If so, why? Who made the decision to write off the debt? Who made the decision to begin supplying her free heating oil? Why was that decision made? Why did she suddenly start advocating for wage hikes in Parks?

The best thing Dolan could do for the public now is to resign. She has abused her office. The people of Bethlehem deserve better than someone who plays petty games to advance causes in which she has an interest.

Updated 9:45 pm: In the Express Times story,  Dolan claims that it makes no difference whether booze is permitted in City parks, as she advocated at a recent meeting, because the Illick's Mill has a liquor license.
Reader Hank_Hill, however, has discovered the license is listed as "inactive" by the state liquor control board. Nonprofits can obtain a "special occasion permit", which is what Illick's Mill has, but it can only be used six times per year. According to the Illick's Mill webpage, it hosts 20 weddings and 100 other social events a year. It would seem that, even if the license were active, the number of weddings hosted are more than what the law allows.

Oopsie.

Harp Resigns as NorCo Director of Administration

I had predicted that Northampton County Director Tom Harp would be canned on March 15, right around the time that the Centralized Human Services building was dedicated.

"Beware the Ides of March!" I would warn him.

But he lasted a little longer. He is resigning, effective May 2. In a letter to Executive John Brown, Harp states, "I was pleased to be able to complete the very important Human Services Building project, and to see that facility become fully operational."

In a memo to Council, Brown praises Harp. "He has done an excellent job with the Human Services building and managing the closure of the Bechtel and Wolf facilities. His support and guidance will be missed."

Harp is an avid baseball fan and is resigning in time to watch his grandson play.

Three Bethlehem City Council Members Uninterested in Liberty Lockdown

Yesterday, there was quite a stir about the four-hour lockdown at Liberty High School, which was prompted by a 911 call that three armed men had been seen entering the building. Fortunately, the matter turned out to be an elaborate hoax, but was one that upset even the parents of students at nearby schools. Mayor Bob Donchez, whose father was a detective, asked Police Chief Mark DiLuzio and Fire Chief Robert Novotnack to brief Council at last night's scheduled meeting. And most of them were quite interested. Council member Adam Waldron, for example, is married to a Liberty High School teacher. But while the Chiefs explained exactly what happened, three Council members were more busy carrying on private conversations behind the dais than in listening to what was said, to the point where it was actually difficult to hear the persons who had the floor. 

Let me tell you what the Chiefs said. Forty police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel responded to the lockdown,  along with the FBI, in accordance with a national protocol established for these scares. While they searched the building, two additional hoax calls were received.

During the lockdown, three people required medical assistance. One was a diabetic. Another suffered heat exhaustion. The third was a local resident who just walked up and requested assistance.

"It ended the way it should have," noted Chief DiLuzio. Mayor Donchez was happy with the "level of cooperation between the City and school district."

While this was going on, Karen Dolan was carrying on a loud whispered conversation with fellow Council member Bryan Callahan, making it difficult to hear.  No sooner were Dolan and Callahan done than President J. Willie Reynolds was involved in another loud whispered exchange with a substitute City Clerk. Whatever they were discussing, it should have waited until the persons who had the floor were done. Their conduct was both insensitive and rude, and may have violated the Sunshine Act.

So much for a civil Council.

Antalics Wants Grand Jury To Probe Dolan Nonprofit



Citizen activist Steve Antalics is calling for a Grand Jury investigation into the mismanagement of the Fox Environmental Center (Illick's Mill) under the stewardship of City Council member Karen Dolan.

Antalics has uncovered a 2010 letter from Parks and Public Works Director Ralph Carp to Dolan, concerning the Mill's $127,000 debt. In this letter, Carp states the City would be providing no further services until that debt was settled.

What happened?

What changed between 2010, when the City wanted its money, and 2013, when the City was providing all utilities, even heating oil? Were promises made?

Antalics believes the only way that all the layers of this onion can be peeled is through the subpoena power of a Grand Jury, and intends to ask District Attorney John Morganelli to investigate. Whether he does so is another matter.

City Council members sat there, like deer caught in the headlights. Council member Karen Dolan, who was accompanied to Council by her husband, had nothing to say.

Morganelli to Convene New Grand Jury

DA John Morganelli
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli is convening a new Grand Jury, starting April 24, with a continued focus on unsolved homicides and official corruption. Morganelli said this new panel will work under the supervision of Judge Michael Koury. The chief prosecuting attorney will be Assistant DA Bill Blake.

The previous Grand Jury, first empaneled on March 29, 2012, worked on 30 different investigations during its two-year life span. "This, by far, was the most work done by grand juries that I have empaneled as District Attorney," he noted. He filed a termination report on April 16, at the same time he announced his intention to form a new Grand Jury.

Grand juries fell out of favor during the '60s, according to Morganelli, when rules were relaxed to allow prosecutors to file charges independently, without these charging bodies, through what is known as a criminal information.

But grand juries remain important, insists Morganelli.

"The Grand Jury represents one of the oldest tools utilized by prosecutors to investigate matters of public concern. As everyone knows, the Grand Jury has the power to compel testimony, offer immunity and obtain any and all records without probable cause."

The 1999-2000 Grand Jury

Morganelli was unable to convene a Grand Jury during his fist seven years in office, he explained, because he needed more full-time staff. Finally, in 1999, he had enough staff to justify a Grand Jury for unsolved homicides. That resulted in the successful prosecution of James McBride, who is serving a life sentence for the 1984 murder of his wife. It also resulted in a second-degree murder conviction of Joseph Strohl for the 1986 beating death of his North Catasauqua. The Grand Jury helped prosecutor Bob Eyer, now the Chief Public Defender, build a circumstantial case.

The 2010 Grand Jury

A second Grand Jury, convened in 2010, heard evidence in 14 different investigations, and solved three more old homicides. It focused a great deal of its work on the 1979 murder of Holly Branagan, a Freedom High School Senior who was found stabbed to death in her Bethlehem home. Thirty-one witnesses testified. Morganelli is hopeful that Bethlehem police may have sufficient evidence to file charges in the future, but the case is still open.

That Grand Jury also expanded its scope beyond homicide and into more complicated, white collar crimes. Its work resulted in the successful prosecution of the principals of Municipal Energy Managers, who bilked Bethlehem Township out of $832,000 in a streetlight scam.

The 2012 Grand Jury

This Grand Jury investigated the following matters:
  • Conspiracy to Commit Homicide charges against Franklin Barndt for the 2009 killing of Miguel Aponte at the Easton Cafe.
  • The successful prosecution of former Assistant Chief Public Defender Anthony Martino, who stole in excess of $200,000 from private clients.
  • The successful prosecution of Shawnta Carmon, who conned philanthropist Linnie Fowler out of more than $1 million.
  • Theft charges against investment advisor Richard Freer, who is accused of bilking clients out of more than $10 million. 
  • Nonprofit mismanagement at the National Museum of Industrial History, with finding forwarded to the state Attorney General.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

D'Isidore Out at Northampton County

Director of Court Services Archie D'Isidore is the latest Stoffa cabinet member to get the ax from Brown. As far as I'm concerned, this guy was Stoffa's weakest cabinet member. He's also responsible for the two Stoffa decisions I consider his worst in eight years as Executive

It is D'Isidore who conducting some goofy Internet investigation of two County workers who were exchanging naughty emails. They were both canned, but were thankfully re-instated when the County came to its senses.

It is also D'Isidore who advocated for a former Secretary in the Solicitor's Office to replace the Register of Wills. A person who knows nothing about estates was selected over a 12-year Deputy.

Bethlehem Has 90 Pages of Documents Detailing Dolan's Nonprofit Debt

Steve Antalics
I arrived early yesterday for Bethlehem City Council's Finance Committee. I went there because I thought that maybe the same Council members trying to save $5,000 here and $4,000 there, might have some questions about what the hell happened to the $127,000 that the City fronted fellow Council member Karen Dolan for Illick's Mill. But the meeting, and it was a long one, nearly ended without a peep from any of them about just what happened.

Maybe they thought it would be a violation of their so-called rules of civility to look out for the taxpayer.

They almost got away, but just as the meeting was about to end, an old bastard stood up and began asking questions.

That bastard is Steve Antalics, who has been on something of a quest to learn just ho Dolan was able to get $127,000 for her Mill from the City without so much as a Thank You note. Antalics has also raised questions about unpaid utilities and free heating oil.

"It looks like the money disappeared and no one seems to know," Antalics said. "This is our money. We want to know what happened to our money."

"Anyone care to answer that?"

Antalics was answered with uncomfortable silence, after which Bryan Callahan suggested that they just don't know what happened themselves.

That's why they're there. After pushing a meaningless hiring freeze to save money, six Council members (Dolan was absent) showed an amazing lack of will to look into what one of their own was doing.

Then Mayor Bob Donchez, who was at the meeting, answered Antalics, noting that the administration had just sent City Council 90 pages of documents detailing unpaid invoices accumulated by Dolan during her tenure at Fox Environmental Center.

In addition to failing to file tax returns, Dolan was also ignoring City bills.

That explains the $127,000

After the meeting, I learned that most of these invoices were for capital improvements that the City fronted for Dolan. She was supposed to pay from grants that were restricted for that purpose, but spent the money on other needs. The City decided to write off the balance due because the improvements increased the value of a building owned by Bethlehem Authority.

I don't accept that reason because most of the money fronted by the City came from borrowed money. This means the taxpayers could have spent as much as twice the amount of money spent on improvements. That is money that could have been used to help residents, pay cops or plow roads. Instead it was sunk into a building without a vote by Council.

Last week, in addition to sending a new lease for the Fox Environmental Center (Illick's Mill), Mayor Donchez asked to be paid for $8,000 in utilities fronted by the City.

Dolan, on Friday, sent Donchez an email vowing to close the Mill and "vacate the premises immediately." Later, she sent another missive. "I will do everything I can to prevent this lease from going to Council",she threatened.

Last night, right before the Finance Committee met, Dolan resigned as Executive Director at Fox Environmental. She still needs to resign from Council.

Corrected 8:16 am to indicate they are 90 pages of documents, not just invoices.

Bethlehem City Council Advances Meaningless Hiring Freeze

Last night, Bethlehem City Council's Finance Committee voted 2-1 to advance a meaningless hiring freeze to the full Council for a vote in May. It won't make a damn bit of difference to City finances, but that's not the point. In future campaigns, Mike Recchiuti and Bryan Callahan will be able to pretend they are fiscal conservatives who drew the line and crap like that. But other than the political gain, there's no point.

Earlier that night, Director of Community and Economic Development Director Alicia Karner wanted staffing in her department increased by one or two people to handle the workload that will come with the CRIZ. David Brong found a way to make it budget neutral. But Callahan and Recchiuti voted No because the City is in dire financial straights. Eric Evan countered the best way to change that is by increasing revenue with the CRIZ, but their minds were made up.

Amazingly, right after refusing to listen to some pretty powerful arguments for CRIZ staffing, which the City agreed to provide in its application to the state, Callahan claimed City Council would listen to administration pitches for hiring staff.

"I don't think we're going to be hard of hearing," he said, right after listening to the administration point out that these jobs are needed for what is expected to be $538 million in development.

He sounds deaf to me.

As for the hiring freeze, about half the City's workforce is exempt. It doesn't cover fire, police or EMS. They will also make sure it doesn't affect seasonal employees. When all the exemptions are considered, it might affect three positions for two months, a point noted by nonvoting member Adam Waldron.

"It's more like a chill," he observed.

So then what's the point?

Aside from the question whether Council has the right to stick its nose into day-to-day administrative affairs, Business Administrator David Brong told them it simply won't work. Other things will, he noted, like consolidations within departments, the increased use of technology and elimination of non-core functions.

"A Council-imposed hiring freeze takes the reins of leadership away from those who run the City," Brong argued. "Abandon this hiring freeze and let us do our jobs."

Brong called it an "irritant" and "token effort."

"How much mileage are we really going to get out of this?" he asked.

That depends on whether you are interested in government or politics.

Molovinsky Speaks to Sam Bennett

Newspapers generally shy away from coverage of political races especially when they're three years away. Besides, in urban growth regimes like Allentown, democracy is pretty much dead. But Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky, who prefers opinion pieces, did a fairly balanced interview with possible Allentown mayoral candidate Siobhan Sam Bennett yesterday. He even took notes.

It's very well done, and I recommend anyone from Allentown to give it a read.