Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Mike Fleck, Lounge Singer



Though reporters have had no success finding former Ed Pawlowski political consultant Mike Fleck, he appears to have landed on his feet as a lounge singer at Loupers. Men in black suits and sunglasses were with him last night. They told me they were there for the $4 margaritas. They seemed to enjoy Fleck's singing, but kept inserting microphones on different parts of his body, after which they'd order him to sing again.

Fed Ed No Longer On Airport Authority

Back in March, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was still on the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority, advocating for the sale of Braden Airpark much as he unsuccessfully pressured Board members to shed Queen City Airport in the past. He was looking to unload Queen City to developers.

LVIA Executive Director Charles Everett has confirmed that Fed Ed is no longer on the Board.

Pawlowski had been nominated for re-appointment, but Lehigh County Commissioners deadlocked in Committee and appeared to be ready to reject him, which would be a stinging rebuke to someone who thinks he can win an election to the U.S. Senate. Rather than see Fed Ed humiliated, Muller withdrew the nomination, and Pawlowski quietly resigned.

Is Jenn Mann Really "For the People"?

I've heard former State Representative Jenn Mann's name mentioned yesterday as a possible successor to Mayor Ed Pawlowski. As one of the NIZ architects, the urban growth regime that really is control would probably love to see her named. The mainstream media love her, too. But for those interested in helping Allentown's working poor, her appointment would be a disaster. She's never really been in their corner. But since leaving office, she started a PAC so she can continue to snag contributions and blow money, kinda' like Ed Pawlowski has done himself for years. She hypocritically calls it "For the People."

I first realized what she's all about when she ignored Allentown's minority kids, who really could use a few more basketball courts, in favor of a $10,000 state DCED grant for the Parkland Trojan Ice Hockey Club. As someone who believes in $54 million corporate welfare handouts to J.B. Reilly, this is a no-brainer.

In the state house, any lobbyist could tell you, off the record, that she always had her hand out. If you needed to talk to her, you could get her tickets to the latest baseball, basketball or football game, like the Superbowl. She though there was nothing improper with moonlighting as a consultant with a company doing all kinds of business with the state. No conflict there, she insisted.

It's always been about her, as evidenced by her dual campaigns for her own office as well as State Auditor in 2004 and State Treasurer in 2008. In the state house, any lobbyist could tell you, off the record, that she always had her hand out. If you needed to talk to her, you could get her tickets to the latest baseball, basketball or football game, like the Superbowl. She had an affair with one lobbyist, and thought there was nothing improper with moonlighting as a consultant with a company doing all kinds of business with the state. No conflict there, she insisted.

When her career as a State Representative ended in 2012, she became a business consultant, using all the contacts she had developed in the state house. What did she do with her own campaign funds? Did she donate it to the Democratic party,or better yet, to the people in her district? Nah. In January 2013, she quietly formed a PAC called "For the People." That way she can continue hitting people up for money and spending it.

I wonder why the state police never investigate this kind of prostitution.

Mann funded her PAC with the $57,768.60 left in her own campaign treasury, and added another $5,000 she got from Matthew McTish (McTish, Kunkel and Assoc.), who is one of her business clients. She has gone on to pick up $6,000 from Susan Biggica, who lives in Hershey. She got $2,000 from Ramzi Haddad, a former Abe Atiyeh partner. And Mike Schlossbuerg, who represents her old district, is giving her $250 a year. Maybe it's dues.

She has used some of her campaign cash to help candidates seeking office. especially people in Allentown who can return the favor down the road.

But some of her expenditures are just plain goofy. On one report, she claimed $400 in "event expenses," without bothering to identify the event in question or itemize the expenses. She spent $561 for a "dinner meeting" at the Lehigh Country Club on 7/16/14. A few months later, she spent $221.05 for a PAC dinner meeting, but does not bother to tell us where. The whopper is $8,127.00 for "PAC expenses" on 7/8/14, with no itemization of just what those expenses are. Given that the whole point of campaign finance reports is to enable the public to follow the money, it's safe to say she failed.

That's because Jenn Mann is not really "For the People." She's for Jenn Mann.

911 Dispatcher Misinforms Public About Stockertown Accident

About the only thing right in an Express Times story about a recent collision in Stockertown is that there was one. According to the article, an unidentified dispatch supervisor took it upon himself or herself to reveal there had been a six-car accident requiring two ambulances. In reality, it was a two-car accident, and five people were hospitalized after three ambulances responded.  

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

NIZ-Gate



(The sight of me on NBC-10 must have driven Pawlowski nutz.)

Last Tuesday night, a Bethlehem lawyer hosted a fundraiser for Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski's U.S. Senate campaign. His ever present campaign manager, Mike Fleck, could be heard complaining about the smallish contributions made by some donors. But at that time, he was already in the grip of the feds. He may have even been wearing a wire. On Thursday, Pawlowski's world came crashing down. Fleck let his entire staff go, hoping to avoid exchanging H Street Strategies for Cellblock H. His cell phone was disconnected. And King Edwin was visited by agents at City Hall while others were outside his house. A week ago, Pawlowski had aspirations to be a U.S. Senator. Now, with that campaign suspended, the question most people are asking is who will succeed him Will Magisterial District Judge Michael D'Amore be coaxed out of retirement? Will Sam Bennett replace Pawlowski? Despite his "Happy Monday. It's gonna be an awesome week!"announcement on Facebook, Pawlowski is fighting for his political life. His own hubris and lack of transparency appear to have done him in.

The sudden appearance at the FBI at City Hall and outside his home appears to have caught Pawlowski by surprise. But for weeks, there have been rumblings. I decided not to write about it because I had no idea whether it was state or federal. It might be both.

If Pawlowski is forced to resign, which increasingly seems likely, I fon't consider him the main culprit in this matter. That distinction belongs to the NIZ.

Allentown's inappropriately named Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), which I think should be re-named the Millionaire Improvement Zone, is about 127 noncontiguous acres in Allentown, and Allentown only, in which developers J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper can use state tax dollars to pay off construction loans for development. It's a TIF on steroids. Despite Reilly's hollow denials, it is also being used to poach businesses from other parts of the Lehigh Valley.

According to The Morning Call's Matt Assad, Reilly's City Center has raked in at least $54 million since 2012. Though it's our money that's being handed out, ANIZDA Board Chair Sy Traub refuses to allow the public to see how the money is really being spent. So there is virtually no public accountability for the large sum of corporate welfare that Reilly has spent.

They never even made him take a urine test.

With that kind of unaccountable money floating around, a Mayor who wants to be Governor and then U.S. Senator, is it any wonder that the feds are looking at all the no-bid contracts awarded? It's inevitable that, with that kind of money, someone is going to skirt the law.

Somewhere along the way, the ideal of open and honest government has disappeared in favor of exclusive parties for the "Miracle that is Allentown."

Most of the contractors doing no-bid work inside the NIZ just happen to be Pawlowski campaign contributors. Neither he nor Mike Fleck has ever been shy about asking for money. Both have been known to strong-arm contributors.

Somewhere along the line, it appears likely that someone crossed the line. If that is so, it is very possible that a few heads will be rolling. It's too soon to say whether it is Fleck, Pawlowski, contractors or some combination.

But with Fleck gone and Pawlowski on his way out, there still are two problems.

First, Reilly needs to show us the money! 

There needs to be much more accountability in how these public dollars are being spent than the paternalistic ANIZDA board and J.B.Reilly have been willing to provide. Without public scrutiny, this will just happen again with different players. There's simply too much money.

No additional tax revenue should be distributed unless the unelected ANIZDA Board insists that the public receives a very transparent accounting of just where the dollars are being spent, and why.

Second, Allentown could use a little more democracy.

For too long, with the notable exception of Jeanette Eichenwald, Allentown's City Council has been nothing more than Pawlowski's rubber stamp. It is his money that elected most of them, and they do his bidding. Unfortunately, if Pawlowski resigns, they pick his successor.

Democracy in Allentown has been replaced by an urban growth regime, in which politicians like Pawlowski and businessmen like Reilly make all the real decisions  It's become a one-party town in which there is very little incentive for Allentown's working poor to go to the polls. They are more concerned about feeding their families.

Dedicated people like Michael Donovan, Kim Velez, Rich Fegley and Lou Hershman have been vilified and shoved aside in favor of a person like Cynthia Mota, who has been bought and paid for by pawlowski. That dynamic has to change.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Pawlowski Federal Investigation No Witch Hunt (Updated)

Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski has had little to say about a federal grand jury investigation that appears to be targeting him. The feds also are reported to have raided his political consultant, Mike Fleck, a few weeks prior to visiting City Hall. According to some sources, they are looking at various professional services contracts and their connection to campaign contributions received by Pawlowski. They  also reportedly are very interested in Pawlowski's mancave at his residence, where the permitting process was more than a little fishy. He apparently never received a bill for the work done there by Stellar Construction, a city vendor. I've heard they are also looking at the numerous holidays he has taken at the homes of his rich friends

It's important to note at the onset that Pawlowski has been charged with nothing, and is innocent until proven guilty. Unethical behavior and criminal behavior are two different things. But this investigation is no witch hunt. The feds didn't just wake up one morning and decide to raid his home. It's pretty clear that they have sources inside City Hall. Just as obviously, they have sources among the numerous developers and vendors who have been strong-armed by Pawlowski over the years.

It's time to review some of the questions I've raised about him over the years. More than anyone, I consider him responsible for the death of democracy in what has become an urban growth regime. Instead of serving the people, his masters are those with money. His NIZ is nothing more than a publicly funded Potemkin Village in the City's downtown, surrounded by square miles of blight and poverty. That's no renaissance. It's a tale of two cities within one. One for the beautiful people, and one for everyone else.

I. Pawlowski's Discriminatory Gentrification

My animosity towards King Edwin started in 2007, when I learned of his discriminatory gentrification attempts in the downtown, where he was sweeping the poor out of the way to make room for the pretty people. At that time, his solution to Allentown's many problems was, of all things, fine dining. He thought a Johnny Mañana's (with an ñ, damn it!), propped up with all kinds of public dollars, would turn everything around. The hell with more cops.

In 2008, once Johnny Mañana's KOZ classification expired, it tried to sell and then closed. It lasted just ten months. At least $50,000 in public money went down the drain, along with a few avocados.

Pawlowski engineered the elimination of LANTA bus stops in 2007, then refused to even meet with the minority businesses who were impacted. They were later described by one of his sycophants as a "cancer." But what really frosted me was when he sicced his enforcement goons on a 75 year-old Zee Weikel, for daring to have an occasional yard sale so she could go out with her lady friends once in a blue moon.

Things got worse for downtown merchants in 2008, when he gave Hamilton Street merchants just 90 days to replace solid gates outside their storefronts with mesh. This would cost between two and seven thousand dollars, and expose merchants to vandalism and break-ins. Merchants on 7th Street were, for some reason, spared. Obviously, he was trying to make things harder for these small merchants.

For tenants, he increased the annual license fee for apartment units from $16 to a whopping $75 per unit in 2010, a 468% increase that would be passed on to people who were already struggling with climbing PPL bills. Pawlowski critic Scott Armstrong observed, "Ed Pawlowski's unit fee increase is a tax on Allentown's poor. When Ed rode into town as an advocate for low income housing, people took him at his word that he was sincere. Time and experience have proven he wasn't."

II. The NIZ

The reason for Pawlowski's dismissive attitude towards Allentown's working poor began to take shape in 2011, when he got rid of Karen Beck Pooley at the Redevelopment Authority. Her husband Jeff groused,
"Anyone who’s walked around center city lately has seen the orange tide of 'unfit for human habitation' stickers. Foreclosures are piling up—more than half of all “sales” in the city’s three historic districts last month were bank or Fannie Mae foreclosures. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, median income in the residential neighborhoods around Hamilton has taken a sharp dive over the last ten years.

"And yet the mayor is doubling-down on flashy, big-ticket economic development."
That big ticket economic development is the NIZ, which stands for Neighborhood Development Zone. ironically, nothing about it benefits Allentown's neighborhoods. There never has been a community benefit agreement, despite many promises. It should be called the MIZ, or Millionaire Development Zone.

It was announced in a breathless and swooning headline by The Morning Call screaming, "Arena could change face of Allentown." Dr. Steve Thode, the only voice of reason, likened the project - which will simply steal existing jobs in Bethlehem and Easton - to "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic." It was a gigantic TIF on steroids, in which over 130 non contiguous acres would be redeveloped using state tax monies as well as the EIT from any person who worked inside the NIZ, regardless where they happened to live. It is a Sherwood Forest in which Ed Pawlowski could steal from the poor and give to the rich, i.e. NIZ developers J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper. Those diverted tax monies would include cigarette taxes that would otherwise fund children's CHIP programs.

Eventually, the lawsuits began. Approximately 18 impacted municipalities sued, along with developer Abe Atiyeh.

It took state lawmakers to resolve the impasse. Since they created the flawed law to begin with, that was only right. On June 30, 2012, every single Lehigh Valley state legislator approved changes to the NIZ law, removing the provision that would authorize the diversion of municipal EIT and changing the definition.

Lehigh Valley House Republicans Reps. Julie Harhart (R-Lehigh/Northampton), Gary Day (R-Berks/Lehigh), Joe Emrick (R-Northampton), Marcia Hahn (R-Northampton), Ryan Mackenzie (R-Berks/Lehigh) and Justin Simmons (R-Lehigh/Northampton) issued a joint statement, calling their vote "a symbol of state government working with local municipal officials, who in this case expressed deep concerns about the impact of losing their local tax revenue."

As the arena went up, along with all the pretty buildings, Allentown did nothing about homeless people seeking shelter during the brutal winter of 2014.

But the NIZ enabled the urban growth regime to expand. NIZ developers J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper poured $50,000 into the campaign coffers of a little known Bangor Mayor running for Northampton County Executive. That Mayor, John Brown, defeated Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, who had been a mild critic of the NIZ.

Now J.B. Reilly is seeking a reduction in the one tax he actually does owe - property tax.

Given the immense amounts of money flowing into and out of the NIZ, it is virtually impossible to believe that no federal laws are being broken. The temptation is too great.

III. Code Enforcement as Both Carrot and Stick

In addition to the NIZ,  I would soon learn that Pawlowski used code enforcement as a way of punishing political enemies.He did it to a building owner who dared sport a digital billboard that featured an ad from Lou Hershman. Then Pawlowski came out with his own digital billboards. I would eventually learn from people inside that office that he sometimes would send his code goons to inspect people he disliked. Now nobody will say this on the record, but I heard it from several sources. But when it came to himself or people he liked, he winked at code requirements.

Consider the case of a hedge funds manager who needed the city's blessing for some in ground pool he wanted at his mansion. Managing Director Francis Dougherty fired off an email to one of his underlings, demanding quick action. "This is a favor for tim holt. Our action on tim's behalf means money from air products later."

If this is not clear enough, look at how Pawlowski handled his own home improvements in what I called Permitgate.

IV. Permitgate

In the Summer of 2010, Pawlowski decided to build a mancave at his downtown home. He never bothered to get a permit, something I was able to confirm with a visit to the Lehigh County Assessor's office. He had routinely shut down businesses that failed to get permits, but was himself above the law. In addition to visiting assessors, I also filed a Right-to-Know with the City.

A few days after I reported this failure, Pawlowski had a permit hanging on his front door. Turns out it was more than a mancave. A new kitchen and other improvements were also involved, and the work had actually started in December. "Stellar Construction installed the Anderson Windows and doors," chirped Lady Macbeth Pawlowski on Facebook. Is this the very same Stellar Construction that contributes heavily to King Edwin's campaigns and is rewarded with City contracts? Yep.

The City did respond to my Right-to-Know request a day after its answer was due and without all the permits I knew had been issued.

In the meantime, Lady MacBeth Pawlowski defriended about 60 people on Facebook, but dumped the wrong people. She eventually killed her page and started over. Pawlowski quickly snuck out and got two more permits.

Naturally, Pawlowski's hand-picked Ethics Commission, in a vote behind closed doors, cleared him of all wrongdoing even though he never obtained the required permits and underestimated the cost of the work.

It's good to be King.

V. Cronyism

Despite 39 union layoffs in City Hall, Pawlowski hired Dale Wiles in 2010 as an Assistant City Solicitor. He had absolutely no experience practicing law, but his wife was a partner of the City Solicitor and he was a Democratic committeeman who contributed regularly to Pawlowski. He also hired City Council President Ray O'Connell's son, who had been jobless for three years before Pawlowski put him to work.

VI. Pay-to-Play Campaign Finances

1. Who Gave $8,000 to Latinos for a New Lehigh Valley? - Right out of the gate, Pawlowski's campaign finances have been shady. In October 2005, when he was running for Mayor for the first time, he received checks for $5,000 and $3,000 from a PAC called Latinos for a New Lehigh Valley. So far, so good. That sure is a lot of Latino support. But just who in the Lehigh Valley's Latino community donated $8,000? Where did the PAC get its money? I asked to see its report.

There is none. Despite being registered in Lehigh County as a PAC for many years, Latinos for a New Lehigh Valley filed no campaign finance report at all in 2005. Or 2006. Or ever.

The absence of a report tells me that the real source of that money is NOT Lehigh Valley Latinos. I suspect Hizzoner used the Latino group to create the false impression that he is wildly popular among Latinos, and to prevent you from learning the identity of his real donor.

I called Ed DeGrace, who was supposed to be in charge of this group, and asked him to identify the source of the money he funneled to Pawlowski.

"I've got nothing to say to you," DeGrace said, and then hung up.

He won't be able to hang up on the feds.

2. 2008 report is full of pay-to-play.In 2008, Pawlowski would be late in filing a campaign finance report in which he reported receiving $108,000 in 2006 and 2007 from city vendors and contractors.

This included $13,500 from Zaworski and Sons, who was rewarded with a favorable KOZ classification that enabled it to offer $220,000 townhouses with an added incentive - the buyer would pay no local, real estate or state taxes. The Gross McGinley law firm contributed $5,600, and ended up with $138,000 in legal fees. Tom Williams at City Line Construction donated $12,000, and ended up with $62,376.74 in city work.Portnoff Law gave $1,000, and then raked in $89,848.86 for its tax collection services.

Can you say pay-to-play?

Over $18,000 of the money reported eventually went into King Edwin's pocket.

Pawlowski was eventually fined the maximum - $270 under our toothless election laws - for filing his report late. He then illegally tried to use campaign funds to pay it.

3. Pawlowski Files Finance Report Falsely Claiming No Contributions.Later that year, he would file a campaign finance report that falsely claimed to have no contributions and no expenses, something refuted by other reports showing he had received at least $18,550. When he finally filed a corrected report, it showed that he had raised a whopping $108,588, mostly from city workers, developers, contractors, consultants and lawyers who do business with the city.

In 2009, The Morning Call's Jarrett Renshaw entered the fray, with an article detailing Pawlowski's pay-to-play practices. Pawlowski, after incredibly admitting the use of business cards supplied by city vendors to solicit campaign contributions, went on to claim he's beyond suspicion because he graduated from bible college. As Scott Armstrong noted at the time, "Ed seems to use his Moody Bible degree and his "Christianity" as both a vote getter and a 'get out of jail free card.'"

4. Union shakedowns. A few months after claiming he was too holy to engage in pay-to-play, Pawlowski was actually shaking down unions for $2,000 donations, suggesting some sort of quid pro quo. His solicitation took credit for very specific pro-union activities that left me wondering whether he is a mayor or union agent.

He then filed a post primary report showing that he raked in $20,000 in just one month. This included $2,500 from Bennet Toyota, which also supplied two cars and a minivan on election day. They had been giver $4.5 million in grants and loans to move into the old Exide plant. He went on to defend his strong-arm tactics a few months later with a video claiming that "[i]t helps us attract more businesses to the community."

5. Pawlowski scours homeless shelters for campaign workers. - He finished 2009 with a campaign finance report that failed to list where $8,000 in cash went on election day, and was ordered to amend his report. He did so, but still refused to itemize the $8,000 in cash he spent on election day. He was ordered to do so, and when he finally did, we learned that he had combed homeless shelters and had sent petty thieves to Allentown neighborhoods to promote his candidacy and knock on doors.

6. The Marcel Groen connection. - In 2010, Allentown began calling itself the "City Without Limits," something that Pawlowski's campaign finance reports already made abundantly clear. In fact, Pawlowski's connections to political power broker Marcel Groen came under scrutiny in a riveting piece by Morning Call scribe Jarrett Renshaw. At that time, Groen and Pawlowski were both pushing for a $28 million waste-to-energy plant that ultimately never got off the ground. Groen called Pawlowski a "visionary," and for good reason. His firm had received $350,000 from Pawlowski between 2006 and 2010 for legal work that obviously could not be performed by the cronies in the Solicitor's office.

Don Cunningham bluntly stated that with Green, "it's about money and business." He does not stop there, but adds this. "So anyone that wants to run statewide must go through Montgomery County if they want to advance themselves. ... Clearly Pawlowski has developed that type of business and political relationship with Marcel."

What Cunningham is saying, if you read not so closely between the lines, is that Pawlowski is willing to sell out Allentown for a higher office.

7. NIZ Contributions. - In 2011, though he wasn't running for anything, Pawlowski raked in $238,265 in campaign contributions, including $40,900 from NIZ board members and beneficiaries. By themselves, NIZ developers J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper would dole out $88,725 in 2011 to politicos they wanted in their pocket.

12:30 pm Update: According to Allentown activist Richard Fegley, Pawlowski is supposed to release another statement at 1:45 pm.

3:45 pm Update: I looked at a Fegley Facebook post from Friday, and concluded erroneously that he was referring to a statement today.

Allentown Mayor's Shill Should Be Honest About Who He Is

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski's Communications Manager, Mike Moore, has an obligation to respond to press and public inquiries about the City. But it's pretty hard to do that honestly when you can't even say who you really are. Moore's real name is Michael Korp. He apparently adopted a stage name when he did radio in Easton, and has just continued using that fake name in his employment at the City. This is hardly the action of an honest and transparent administration. When he makes his usual panglossian remarks, it's hard to believe a word he says.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Pawlowski - Smoke, But No Fire

For weeks, I've been hearing that both Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski and his political consultant, Michael Fleck, are under scrutiny by federal authorities. Fleck's consulting business was supposedly raided a few weeks ago. I have heard this sort of thing before. Since nobody had any hard facts, I decided against writing about it. That changed with yesterday's disclosure, which first appeared in The Morning Call, that FBI agents were inside City Hall looking at contracts since 2005. That would be the entire time Pawlowski has been Mayor. So there's certainly smoke. But I don't know that there's fire.

An earlier version of the story, which mysteriously disappeared without comment, indicated that Pawlowski and his wife had actually been escorted to the federal courthouse. I have no idea whether that deleted statement is accurate.

Here's what I have heard. The feds have questions about professional services contracts with the city and the connection between them and political contributions made to Pawlowski. The reason his wife would be relevant is because she is his campaign treasurer.

For years, I have raised questions about his finance reports and he has sometimes been fined as a result. For years, I have made pay-to-play connections, which have also been suggested by The Morning Call.

I tried contacting Mike Fleck for his side of the story, but he has not responded. Although I was able to leave a message, others tell me that some of his numbers have been disconnected and that he is moving.

Readers of this blog know I am no fan of Pawlowski, his lack of transparency or his policies of shoving the poor under the rug. But I caution everyone that smoke is not fire. The fact that the feds have questions does not, by itself, suggest that the Mayor has done anything wrong.

Rumors have even made their way to Harrisburg, with reports that the Pawlowski situation is about to "implode." But how much of this is real and how much of it is politics from the Sestak camp? I don't know. If he is prosecuted, I shall shed no tears for Pawlowski. But everyone, including him, is entitled to a presumption of innocence. You're more than welcome to tell us what you know, but I caution readers to take everything with a grain of salt.

Updated 2 pm - Firm Cites Pawlowski Preessure: "We do work for a number of firms that are tightly tied to Pawlowski and the NIZ, such as Boyle, Jaindl, and Northstar. To say we’re getting pressure to contribute to his campaign would be a gross understatement. They are leaning on us like you would not believe, and if you don’t give to one, they want to know the $ amount of what you gave to someone else for Pawlowski’s campaign. It’s pay/play without a doubt, and I’m not sure it’s illegal because there’s no formal track. But the implied threat is we all made $$ on this and now it’s time to repay the favor. We’ll end up holding our noses and making a small contribution so as to not offend the people we work with, but this just sucks and is exactly the way Pawlowski conducts business."

Thursday, July 02, 2015

She Did Say Molon Labe


She said "Molon Labe" and that's what NorCo Deputy Sheriffs did. I have a judgment against Tricia Mezzacappa for $72,000, but she has thumbed her nose at it. She hid her car after levy and refused to produce it at the Sheriff's Sale, where I bought it. She even refused to produce it after being charged criminally with defrauding secured creditors, saying she'd rather go to jail.

Her wish may come true.

NorCo Deputy Sheriffs never stopped looking. They found the car Tuesday night, after spotting her sneak it out of a garage near her house. They claim they just got lucky, but the truth is they take their jobs seriously, and deserve a great deal of credit for this, as well as District Attorney John Morganelli, Assistant DA Travis Weber and Detective Frank Jordan.  The car has been turned over to me, and I am storing it in a safe location pending the transfer of title and instructions from Attorney Rick Orloski.  She still has a set of keys. Amazingly, she called the DA this morning and asked if she could borrow the car to get to work.

And that brings up another question. How is someone who works full time as a registered nurse entitled to a public defender? Papers I found in her car tell me she is working full time, yet taxpayers are paying for her lawyer. This seems like fraud, too.

The young man you see in one of these pictures is Maximilian Vladimir Angle, one of Ron's sons. He is a natural body builder, and bench-pressed the car, which has 75,000 miles and a few dings. But he was unable to get me up in the air.

We found all kinds of ratty old clothing, which I put in a bag for the sheriff to give back to her. She had called the Sheriffs to complain about jumper cables. I found them, too and turned them over although I have no idea what she's going to do with them.

Ron Angle found a clipboard showing that she still offers massages for $1 per minute. We found no guns.

Brown Wants to Reneg on 4.5% Raise For 17 Magisterial Workers


On April 16, Northampton County Council voted unanimously to approve across-the-board payhikes, averaging 4.5%, for 228 County workers in 14 different clerical job titles. Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen told Council it would cost about $307,000, and would be above and beyond whatever was being negotiated in union contracts. A human resources memo complained that "the county has struggled in recruiting and maintaining staff in many of the clerical positions throughout the county." A "more fair and equitable pay rate" was proposed for some of the "lower level clerical positions," which affect both union and non-union workers. When I read that, I assumed that all clerical positions were considered "lower level," as compared to other job classifications, which offer higher rates of pay. I assumed all of them were getting raises, including 17 clerks who work for magisterial district judges and are topped out at $19.20 per hour. After all, the living wage for a single mother with one child is $22.33 per hour in Northampton County. This increase would change the top salary to $20.64 per hour, which is still below the living wage, but would be "more fair and equitable" and would help to maintain more experienced people.These positions were all specifically listed in the memo voted on by Council. Now, the John Brown administration is calling it a "scrivener's error" and wants to roll back those raises. Solicitor Ryan Durkin called it a "payraise that was never intended to be made."

What surprised me is that some people actually agreed with this argument, which is nonsense, as a matter of law.

A scrivener's error is a typo, the kind of mistake that usually occurs in copying legal descriptions in deeds although it can occur in other matters like settlement offers. According to what is known as the doctrine of scrivener's error, it can only be corrected by evidence that is clear, convincing, and precise. There is nothing convincing, clear or precise about the evidence surrounding this payhike.

The proof of that is Hayden Phillips, Council's most conservative member. After listening to the dioscussion for about thirty minutes he admitted that "I'm totally confused." Had this really been a scrivener's error, the mistake would be obvious.

In fairness, some Council members like Scott Parsons did believe that the raise was intended only to apply to entry level clerks. But others like Lamont McClure believed that "lower level clerical positions" applied to all clerical positions, which are lower on the totem pole than other job classifications. He pointed out that there had been a record number of retirements the previous year, and thought this payraise was an attempt to keep more experienced workers in the fold.

Speaking on behalf of these 17 workers was Bethlehem Attorney Chris Spadoni. He's been an Assistant DA, Chief Public Defender, Assistant County Solicitor and served as Bethlehem's City Council Solicitor for 17 years. he knows a little bit about municipal law, and was unaware that the Brown administration would try to go back on this payraise until 6 am that morning. He pointed out simply that Council voted for a 4.5% payhike for these 17people, and they are entitled to it. He added these workers are the "front line" of our judicial system.

That meant nothing to Mat Benol, who had hung a plaque containing the Ten Commandments on the wall before the meeting and then took a picture of it with his cell phone. He and Seth Vaughn both spoke of being from the private sector. "When you're at the top of the payscale, you're at the top of the payscale," reasoned Vaughn. "No raise." Benol complained that these workers were engaged in an "opportunistic attempt" to capitalize on someone's error, and later added that this would just open the floodgates to everyone rushing in to demand more money.

This drew the ire of Ken Kraft, who pointed out that the total amount of money involved is $31,000. "We're not talking about 3,000 people like in some hypothetical crazy idea," he observed. "We're talking about people at $19.00," echoed McClure. "I have not heard much outrage about people getting $100,000... The fact of the matter is that these are people."

As the discussion continued, confusion increased. Council voted 5-4 to table the matter and refer it to Ken Kraft's Personnel Committee. McClure joined Benol, Vaughn and Glenn Geissinger in voting against the motion to table, but that's because he appeared to be ready to reject any resolution that withdrew the payhike.

After the meeting was over, some of these impacted magisterial district judge employees had a rare informal discussion with Executive John Brown and Council members Scott Parsons and Bob Werner. Brown could be heard telling these workers that they are appreciated, and they seemed to make some headway in resolving their differences. Brown was asked about better security measures for magisterial employees, and said he would look into any proposal he receives. Magisterial District Judge employee Linda Sweeney sounded hopeful.

Spadoni had earlier told Council, quoting former Executive Jerry Seyfried, that nobody wins when there are lawsuits involving different branches of government.

NorCo Council Takes Control Over Table Games Grants

By a 8-1 vote, Northampton County Council last night voted to require their approval of any grants that might come from the nearly $3 million in table games revenue that is currently sitting in county coffers. An additional $1.2 million in revenue is anticipated this year. Glenn Geissinger was the sole council member to vote against this proposal, which was sponsored by Lamont McClure and Ken Kraft. Even Executive John Brown stated he didn't "really have any concern" with giving Council a say in how that money is spent. "We're just looking to get that money into circulation and put it to good use," he explained.

Brown has established announced a $1 million grants and loan program designed to focus more on the aging boroughs than on Bethlehem and Easton. On the campaign trail, he had argued that "[w]e have to get away from Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, and focus on the rest of the community." His plan, called the Community Investment Partnership Program (CIPP), will actually give priority to applications from the smaller communities. At an economic development hearing, DCED Director Diane Donaher indicated that 80% of the grants and funds awarded will go to what she calls the "aging communities" in contrast to the urban core.

Stating he had no intention of throwing a "wet blanket" on the spending plan outlined by brown. McClure's argument was simply that there's too much money in table games revenue for it to be discretionary." Hayden Phillips likened McClure's ordinance to what goes on in open space, where money is allotted in the budget every year but specific projects are voted up or down. Calling it a "check" on large sums of money, Seth Vaughn also agreed it "sounds good to me."

NorCo Council Advances Commissar Ordinance

As I warned you yesterday, Northampton County Council was set to consider an ordinance authorizing a referendum to change their name from Council members to Commissioners, like the big boys. Though President Peg Ferraro nearly burst out laughing when she came to that item on the agenda, she was able to get it out there. This was introduced by Seth Vaughn and Ken Kraft, although even he couldn't stop smiling.

Yesterday, someone suggested that if Council really wants to be taken seriously, they should become Commissars. You gotta' admit, that has a nice ring. Maybe they can be provided uniforms and a Beaver hat, too. I think Scott Parsons is going to suggest that as a friendly amendment.

Another amendment they may want to consider is changing the title of Executive to something more dramatic, like Shogun. Especially if they give John Brown one of those battle helmets with horns. That's totally bad ass.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict this ordinance has zero chance of passing. If it does, I will commit seppuku at once.

Alexis Connolly Sings Preamble to US Constitution



When I was in 8th grade going into 9th, I was already a troublemaker. I spent my summer smoking cattails, trespassing at fancy yacht clubs, capsizing sailboats and getting into trouble with the beach cops just about every night at the Jersey shore. Alexis Connolly is on a much better path. An incoming freshman at Freedom High School, she spent her evening at Northampton County Council, singing the preamble to the United States Constitution. She was a big hit, too. Her proud father, Matt Connolly, shot the video you see here.


Another young man, 2015 Freedom High School graduate Walter Ogozaly, was commended by Council for his award-winning essay on patriotism, which was inspired by a visit to Independence hall."We are the strange ones," he observed, noting that "democracy without corruption is a reality for a lucky few, not a deserving many." He graduated in the top 5% of his class and is on his way to Tulane, noted Lamont McClure, who presented the proclamation on behalf of Council.

There was even a prayer by Rev. David Schaeffer, Pastor at Nazareth's St. John's Evangelical Lutheran church. Schaeffer reminded everyone that this day was the first day in the battle of Gettysburg, in which Brig. General John Buford was able to use his dismounted cavalry to hold off superior Confederate forces until the main Union forces would arrive, in possession of the high ground.

Established in 1859, there are actually two St. John's churches, located catacorner to each other, which confuses the hell out of everyone. Both churches also serve as polling places, with great bake sales.

Though this had little to do with county government, it had a lot to do with our independence.

President Peg Ferraro put together a nice little program for us all.

Williams Tp Land Preservation Board Pushes Glovas Handout

Two Williams Township Land Preservation Board members apparently never got the word that the Glovas handout is too hot to touch right now, and was taken off last night's agenda. They were at last night's NorCo Council meeting. Their Chair, Robert Schmidt, told Council he was willing to answer all their concerns and is providing his contact information. He was accompanied by Linda Heindel, who managed to get a few of her own properties preserved as a member of the board. I decided I'd like Schmidt's contact information, too, so I could call him with my concerns.

I met Schmidt and Heindel in the hallway, where he did give me his contact information. I told him that, according to their own appraisal, this property is undevelopable. He disputed that, but the facts are the facts. According to the appraiser, 56.9 acres are "very bouldery," making the potential for basements or basic septic systems "very limited." He's entitled to his own opinion, but the appraisal says what it says.

Schmidt and Heindel then told me that I needed to walk the property. My response to that was to ask then why bother with an appraisal if you're going to ignore it and go by your own field trip. It defeats the purpose of even having an appraisal. Schmidt wanted me to tell him how I got my hands on the Glovas appraisal, and I refused to tell him. He then turned away from me and walked off, unwilling to engage in further discussion.

Heindel remained and I confronted her about participating in a board whose members seem to be enriching themselves by selecting their own properties for preservation. She told me that's a sign that they really care, although it's unclear to me whether that is the environment or their own bottom line. I turned to leave, but she insisted I shake her hand first. It was pretty clear that she was visibly angry, but she was either trying to remain civil or trying to infect me with something. I'll let you know in 21 days.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Despite Table, Glovas Handout Back on NorCo Council Agenda

When Northampton County Council last met, they voted 6-3 to table a $319,970 handout to wealth management specialist and real estate flipper Michael Glovas in exchange for a "conservation easement" on the 72 acres surrounding his palatial estate at 590 Browns Drive in Williams Township. But it's is still on the agenda for tonight. Glovas obviously has some pals. But the fact remains that this is a bad project.

This property on Brown's Drive, which used to be a day camp called Camptown, is undevelopable. When Glovas bought it, he developed the only land he could to build his mansion. It would cost too much to develop the rest.

I doubt Council was provided with a copy of the appraisal. That was done contrary to the state's requirements for a valuation on a conservation easement. State law requires the County to select the appraiser, but Williams Township did instead. State law also requires the appraiser to "take into account any increase in the value of the subdivided acreage because of the placement of the easement on the remaining farmland." In the case of the Glovas mansion, for example, the appraiser was required to go back to the mansion and surrounding land that Glovas has carved out of the proposed conservation easement and determine how much that parcel would increase in value as a result of the easement preserving the land around him. This is something the appraiser failed to do, most likely because it would decrease the value of the appraisal. In fact, I've never seen it done.

But if the county ignores state law and reviews the appraisal, it should know from the appraisal that this is a bad deal.

* Part of it is in Flood Zone X. This is a minimal at-risk area, but is pretty strange for a project presented to NorCo Council as "steep slopes."
* Zoning is Low Density Residential, which requires a 2-acre minimum for building lots on his 68 acres.
* The potential for development is nonexistent. This is because most of the property is considered too full of granite and gneiss boulders. If you go down just 60 inches, you hit a lithic bedrock. Anyone who wanted to develop here would need lots of dynamite.
* According to the appraisal, the foundation of any home would need to be seven feet below the surface.because of the rocky terrain, that would be cost prohibitive.
* The potential for basements on 56.9 acres of this property is "very limited" with 8-55% slopes that are "very bouldery."
* The ability to construct sand mounds for septic on this "very bouldery" 56.9 acres is "very limited."
* The same 56.9 acres would be lousy for farming as well.

Glovas is a sophisticated real estate speculator who has bought and sold properties throughout the county for years. He purchased this property knowing full well that most of it can never be developed. He is no environmentalist, but is simply trying to get the government to hand him $319,970 for development he knows will never occur.

Even though it was done improperly, the appraisal makes clear that this is a waste of public money that is sorely needed elsewhere.

Noon Update: - This has thankfully been removed from tonight's agenda.

How Are All the Little Commissioners? (UPDATED)

Original on 5/30/15: Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau has just been interrupted in one of his duels with his little yellow friend Kato by the ringing of the telephone. It's the Police Commissioner.

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

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

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

Little commissioners with immense egos.

Updated 7/1/15, 12:00 am

Well, believe it or not, it's happening. With all the many problems facing Northampton County, some blunderhead is actually proposing that the Northampton County Home Rule Charter be amended so that Council members will henceforth be called Commissioners. That will require an expensive referendum. It also requires an expensive ordinance.

According to the proposed ordinance, Council members need to be called Commissioners because - get this - "confusion sets in when members of County Council encounter the public."  I agree completely. I know confusion sets in whenever i encounter them, but it has nothing to do with their titles.

The real reason why some County Council members want to piss away public money is because some of them feel like ugly step sisters when they go to conferences with real county commissioners who exercise both executive and legislative power.

If they want to improve their self esteem, I'm sure the courts have a list of psychiatrists they can consult. This is a complete waste of public resources and is being proposed without even being vetted by a Council Committee.

If two members of Council really do forward and introduce this nonsense, I suggest they resign, move to Lehigh County, and run for Commissioner there.

Nazareth Boro Council Member Gets No Special Treatment in Traffic Court

An angry Nazareth Borough Council member, Charles Donello, pleaded guilty yesterday to a no-point violation for failing to heed a stop sign in May, which resulted in him T-boning another driver. He complained loudly that the Nazareth Police Officer who dared cite him and who could have insisted on a points violation, had waited five days to charge him. Well, Donello could have argued that at trial if he wanted. Magisterial District Judge John Capobianco and Officer Eric Schwab were both very respectful to Donello. They let him go on at length. But the more he complained, the more petty he looked.

I covered this matter because of rumors that Donello had tried to strong-arm Schwab.

"Don't you know who I am?" Donello reportedly asked several times.

I know.

An asshole.

After the plea, Donello flew out of the courtroom and returned later, still looking pretty angry.

When I asked Officer Schwab to confirm whether Donello had really been throwing his weight around, he smiled but declined comment. So I'll never know for sure.

On Monday, charges were filed against a juvenile probation officer who used his official position for his own personal benefit. Donello did not go as far as that, even if the rumors I heard are true. Still, his behavior in the courtroom convinced me that he thinks he's very special.

And he is. Just as special as everyone else.

Fortunately, no one was injured in the accident.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Our Open Space Program Needs More Scrutiny - Part Two

I've started this series by telling you that our open space program in Northampton County needs more scrutiny. Locally, land preservation boards like the one in Williams Township consist of the very people who want handouts. That needs to change. Even the County's Environmental Advisory Board is so packed with environmentalists that it fails to look at open space applications more critically. They've ignored state regulations requiring that appraisers determine the increase in value of a property that has been carved out of a preserved tract. This has resulted in higher appraisals than are merited. But the biggest mistake of all is one that is costing everyone in this County money. And it's happening illegally.

The person who first noticed this problem is a Williams Township farmer named Halden Ballek. He is more comfortable on his tractor than with the suits in a meeting room. He went to Vince Foglia with his concerns, and together, they have forced some changes  But they have miles to go before they sleep.

Open Space advocates had argued that getting a handout from the government for development rights is not enough. Getting a preferential assessment under which 90% of your property taxes are eliminated is not enough either. They wanted more. And they got it in the form of an outright tax freeze from the land of midnight payraises. A Millage Freeze Law (Act 4) was adopted in 2006 under which there could never be a tax increase in preserved property. Not ever. But in order to be effective, it would have to be approved by every municipality and school district, as well as the County. Otherwise, Nazareth and Wilson taxpayers could see their own taxes go up while some gazillionare in Williams Township pays a pittance. In other words, and as required by the Pa. Constitution,* taxes must be uniform.  

Northampton County adopted a law that imposed a millage freeze on preserved parties, but the language of its own ordinance makes clear that, before taking effect, every other taxing district in the County had to approve it, too. Some did. Some have not done anything.  Despite this failure, the County imposed a millage freeze on what are now about 240 preserved properties. When taxes went up this year, their taxes remained frozen at the lower rate, and without the consent of the taxing districts. in effect, people of limited means in Glendon and West Easton are now funding the land barons.

Foglia has had several meetings with the County over this issue, and so far, has got nowhere. The matter is supposedly now in Phil Lauer's hands. He is the Council Solicitor and is also the very Williams Township lawyer who at the last Council meeting spoke highly of preserving land in Williams. While Lauer ponders the merits of Foglia's argument, the County has caved on a subissue.

When properties are preserved, there is usually a homestead and sometimes other tracts that are excepted out. Those properties were receiving the low taxes and the millage freeze. The County has agreed they must be taxed at their fair market value, and has designated X and F parcels of lands receiving favorable taxation and those that don't.

According to Foglia, even with these news assessments, the taxes are artificially low.

I'll continue this story on Wednesday.
______________________
* Pa. Const., Article VIII, Section 1

Former NorCo Probation Officer Charged With Official Oppression

A former Northampton County Juvenile Probation Officer is himself now a criminal Defendant after trying to get just a little too close to one of his clients. Ryan Christopher Wasser, age 32, has been accused of both official oppression and obstruction as a result of inappropriate contacts he had with a female client who had just turned 18.

The charges themselves are second degree misdemeanors, which carry a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment and $5,000 fine. Instead of being arrested, Wasser will be notified of the police complaint filed by Detective Paul Hulbert by summons. But because these charges concern a public official, District Attorney John Morganelli is taking this matter seriously. "In our view, this kind of conduct is unacceptable," he declared.

Wasser was assigned to supervise probation for a female client who was still a minor. He began to send her inappropriate text messages, but took it to another level when she turned 18. he began sending naked pictures of himself and demanded that she reciprocate. he called every evening at 8:30 pm and later, and wanted to know what she was wearing. Eventually, the conversations became sexual in nature. He expressed reservations about her boyfriend, and threatened to have her imprisoned for a parole violation unless she began sending naked pictures of herself as well. She complied out of fear of imprisonment. She also felt compelled to purchase coffee and gas for Wasser.

The victim reported what was happening in January, and Detective Hulbert began an immediate investigation. He was able to find text messages and pictures that were exchanged, corroborating what he had been told.

President Judge Stephen Baratta, who was made aware of the investigation at its inception, suspended Wasser from his $45,571 job. Not long after that, Wasser resigned from a position that he had held for eight years. He also stepped down as the wrestling coach at Notre Dame Green Pond High School. Just one month later, Wasser began work as a sales consultant with Automated Data Processing, where he was employed at the time charges were filed. He is a 2006 graduate of Kutztown University, where he earned a degree in psychology. He was also awarded a Master's Degree there in 2012 for School Counseling and Guidance Services.

Wasser resides in Bushkill Township, according to the criminal complaint filed. But real estate records reveal he also owns a home in Easton.

According to Court Administrator Jill Cicero, there are 10 male and 11 female juvenile probation officers. She and DA John Morganelli confirmed that there is no policy under which clients and probation officers are the same sex.

A South Carolinian on the Confederate Flag

One of my readers, who recently moved to South Carolina, came upon an interesting article giving the perspective of a the rednecks about the recent Charlestown Church shooting. I wish we had more thoughtful people like that up here.

"I am from South Carolina. A state that has been under relentless attack in the news and on social media since the Charleston Church Shooting. Apparently we are a state of evil, gun-toting rednecks who swaddle our newborn children in the Confederate flag. Do not misunderstand me, I believe that the crimes of Dylann Roof are reprehensible and when he's found guilty he should be executed for his crimes. Keep in mind, this is the SECOND shooting in the Low Country region of my state in recent months to garner national attention. However, my state has handled it right, from the governor to the average person on the street.

"South Carolina did not riot.

"South Carolina did not loot.

"South Carolina did not burn down neighborhoods and businesses.

"South Carolina citizens did not start targeting cops for execution.

"So before you get on your Facebook pulpit and condemn my state, think about what South Carolina DID do.

"South Carolina passed legislation to put body cameras on all cops.

"South Carolinians have come together by the thousands to stand together, united against tragedies such as this.

"South Carolina churches all over the state have joined together in prayer vigils and services for the slain.

"All the barriers that are supposed to be divisive and separate us as human beings; race, religion, political leanings, economic class, have been pulled down as my state has come together, peacefully, to try to heal in the wake of this horrible crime.

"Please keep this in mind as you rail from your pulpits about how awful my state and its people are.

"My state, SOUTH CAROLINA, is handling this tragedy as a family with sorrow, grace, and, and above all, class."