Monday, July 31, 2006

Lehigh Valley Bloggers - "Nitwits Ranting in Their Underwear!"

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In his Monday column, Bill White has some nice words to say about local bloggers. He tells us some have unkindly described us as "nitwits ranting in their underwear." Actually, this is pretty much the truth. Lehigh County Redneck admits this morning that she blogs "naked with curlers in my hair." (I want pictures.)

Of course, blogs can be dangerous. As Bill correctly observes, "There's no editor, no professional constraints. In some cases, no moral restraints, either." So in the interest of total accuracy, I've posted a pic of what I really look like when I'm bloggin.' I'd post a pic of my editor, too, but Hustler has the copyright.

Pa.'s Pols Are Still Finding Ways to Give Themselves More Money

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingMorning Call columnist Bill White has warned us one of the main reasons second class townships like Lower and Upper Macungie are such messes is because supervisors can hire each other as township employees. That leads to trouble, especially when a township starts handing out credit cards. In Lower Macungie, a former supervisor is under investigation over a few township bucks ($1.45 million) she deposited in her personal account. And Upper Macungie supervisors are being investigated for misuse of township credit cards and the strange use of an inflatable doll.

One Upper Macungie Supervisor has flown the coop, and we bloggers have been having a good laugh. Lehigh County Redneck, Musings From Mudville, and I were still laughing when we saw Dave Ralis' post concerning a secret municipal pay raise that was slipped in right under our noses. This latest midnight payraise was maneuvered by House Democratic leader DeWeese to take care of his township supervisor pals. No hearings. The bill was camouflaged as an amendment to the state budget. It passed unanimously. We've stopped laughing.

It's amazing. When it is so glaringly apparent that the second class township code needs some serious reform, our state legislators decide to give supervisors even more money and kick things up a notch. (DeWeese watches Emeril). Maybe the boys in the land of midnight raises are hopeful we'll be so busy looking at financial messes in our own townships that we won't have time to pay attention to what is going on in Harrisburg. Sounds like a plan.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Northampton County's Finance Committee last Thursday decided to recommend payraises for the county exec ($85,000), the part-time controller ($50,000), and themselves ($9,500). Although this is long overdue, it is simply obscene for Council even to consider payraises for its bigshots when its rank and file employees have gone without raises for three years. That matter should be tabled until the employees get their raises, which they deserve. In the Army, officers eat after their soldiers. An enlisted man receives better treatment than a Northampton County employee. And soldiers don't get exposed to nearly as much asbestos and fiberglass fibers, either. But the judges' new palace sure looks good.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Northampton County Government Center Over Budget Despite Pledge to Contrary by President Judge

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWhen they first asked Northampton County Council to approve their planned $43 million courthouse expansion in 2001, court officials repeatedly assured the project would not go over budget. On no less than three occasions, Court Administrator James Onembo promised a skeptical council there would be no cost overruns. And President Judge Freedberg, in transcribed testimony, essentially guaranteed he would not be back for more: "Give us $43 million, and we'll come in at that or under."

Well, they're baaaaack! The courthouse expansion project has just $84,000 left in the till, but is expected to cost at least $3 million more. And heavens, they haven't even started those wind-sensitive fountains! At yesterday's Finance Committee meeting, a cocky court administrator was pointing fingers everywhere except at himself or the judges.
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When Committee Chair Ron Angle, joined by three other members of Council, reminded Onembo about his earlier promises, Onembo did a nice little jig. First, he tried to deny what he said on three separate occasions, although he's no St. Peter. Then Onembo tried being indignant. "Get with reality!" "To point a finger at anybody is unfair." Finally, he blamed Council, telling them that they could have checked progress anytime they wanted. Yeah, right!

County Exec John Stoffa (who was elected after this mess started) wearily told Council that, although he's going to try to renegotiate contracts with the architect and contractor, there are going to be overruns. And it's too late to cancel some of the goofy items like the fountain because the county would only get 30 cents on the dollar in return. (They should have bought at Walmart.)

While the County Exec and the Finance Committee struggled for a way to come up with $3 million, Court Administrator Onembo slinked away, like a rat from a sinking ship.

Here's something to ponder. When a person like you or me makes a false statement to a judge he can go to jail for unsworn falsification to authorities. But shouldn't the same rules apply to a court official and a president judge, who broke repeated promises to come in at or under budget? Freedberg had such disdain for the public that he didn't even bother to show up for the hearing. I thought he had a little more respect for the public than that. I guess I should "get with reality."

I have plenty to say about the judges' $43 million mismanaged Taj Mahal, a monument to judicial arrogance. That disaster might be the best argument Cunningham has for resisting similar plans in Lehigh County. But I'll spare you this anatomy of government failure until next week.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Express Times Picks Up on Nazareth Hall Deed Restriction

Yesterday, I told you Nazareth's proposed municipal building violates a restrictive covenant prohibiting buildings within seventy-five feet of West Center Street. In fact, its current Council chambers, a small building at Nazareth Hall Park, was built in violation of that restriction. The Express Times today published its own report concerning the deed restriction by a real reporter.

Nazareth Borough Solicitor Al Pierce is actually reported as saying the current building is located at least seventy-five feet away from the curb. Did he measure it? What the hell is he smoking? Al, do yourself and the rest of us a favor and measure the distance from the south curb line of West Center Street to the current building. It's no seventy-five feet. You don't even need a measuring tape to realize that. And by the way, Al, why are you advocating this relocation? I always thought borough solicitors were there to give legal advice, not engage in municipal planning. Silly me!

When I first discovered the deed restriction, I talked to Borough Council members Jack Herbst and Cindy Werner. Neither was aware of the restriction. Now, thanks to the Express Times report, we know that Councilmen Mike Kopach and Larry Stoudt were also in the dark. Councilman Davis knew about the restriction, but was also under the mistaken impression that the current building is at least seventy-five feet from the curbline. Thus, at least five out of nine Council members either did not know about the restriction at all, or had been misinformed that the current building was within that restriction.

Councilman Mike Kopach, when told about the problem, said it best: "Everybody else has to abide by deed restrictions. Why wouldn't the borough have to?"

Lehigh Valley's Entertaining Blogosphere: Where Worse is Better!

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBefore I started bloggin', I spent most evenings hunkered over a keyboard, drinking gallons of strong black coffee, sending astonishingly brilliant emails to the President, Northampton County Council, every newspaper in America, the Pope, and Santa Claus. My shrink tells me this is much better than my previous hobby, which was throwing tomahawks into my wall.

Most of my emails were ignored. But every now and then, I'd get through to one of them. Widening Route 22 to eight lanes? Invasion of Iraq? Midnight payraise in Harrisburg? Deporting 12 million illegal immigrants? Those were all my ideas. I was kidding. Doesn't anyone understand sarcasm anymore? Do they have to take everything so literally? Imagine the shock and awe I felt when I got this note, "Deer Burne, I took ur advice. - The Prez."

A few months ago, I discovered blogging. I've been trying to atone for my many sins, and undo some of the damage I've caused. I've learned two things. First, I get a lot of interesting and entertaining comments, from all sides of the spectrum. I really enjoy them. I'd suggest you start your own blogs, but most of you probably have lives. Second, there are many very entertaining bloggers in this area, with all kinds of opinions. Let me tell you a little about them.

The first blog I want to recommend is I've Made a Huge Tiny Mistake, a must for those unfortunates among us who happen to be Philly sports fans. The latest post is an analysis of the Curt Schilling trade, six years later. The conclusion, not surprisingly, is that the Phillies blew it. In addition to Philly sports, this blog features Reading politics from time to time.

Along the western fringes of the Lehigh Valley, two blogs cast a glaring spotlight on the delicious dish of Macungie politics. Lehigh County Redneck and Musings From Mudville, a husband and wife tag team, are having just too much fun knocking supervisors in Upper Macungie Township. Those guys are under investigation for personal use of township credit cards, and Lehigh County Redneck gives us details with relish. Now that one of them has been driven from office, Lehigh County Redneck has gone into overdrive. Personally, she scares the hell out of me.

Moving east of the Macungies, we run into two Allentown bloggers who insist that, despite popular opinion, Allentown is a great place to live. At a time when real estate prices in the Lehigh Valley are skyrocketing, Old Fairgrounds assures us affordable housing is available in the cities, and tells us of a symposium on that topic today at Allentown's Art Museum. Our West End Neighborhood exudes pride in Allentown's west end, its neighborhoods, and its "whary" good hot dogs.

Going east into Bethlehem, we run into Joan Campion's thoughtful Bethlehem Blog Times, with weekly essays on topics ranging from Charlie Dent's illegal immigration mailer to a disappointing defense of Hazleton's Lou (English only) Barletta. Joan's a good writer, fearless thinker and former reporter for the Bethlehem Globe Times.

Traveling a little further east and north, you'll find one of my favorites, a must read for anyone who lives in the Nazareth area. Russ Nunnemacher's News Over Coffee is a detailed report of nearly everything that goes on in Nazareth. He covers borough council meetings and their little workshops, and he's the fellow who realized that the Nazareth officials who came up with the brilliant idea of building a new government center in a park, had done so in meetings that were never even listed on the borough's website. "We don't need no stinkin' Sunshine Act."

Leaving Nazareth and going to Easton, we run into BillyBytes, published by Bill White Hall of Famer Billy Givens. With his characteristic penchant for understatement, Billy tells us his blog "unfurls heroic sails to the powerful world-wide winds of the Internet. Those mainsails will catch readers’ comments and the reflections of guest writers from the four corners of the globe." Billy is also a candidate for Governor. Easton Undressed, as you might guess, is an irreverent look at a dysfunctional city government. It broadcasts every city council meeting and even has regular podcasts. But when I asked its bloggers to come on WGPA AM talk radio with me, they got cold feet. Even Billy, who showed up on the wrong day, was uncharacteristically quiet.

I couldn't complete a synopsis of our local blogs without mentioning Politics: Lehigh Valley Style, which has been publishing incisive commentary on our local political scene longer than anyone I know. And its publisher, who calls himself LVDem, is only 25. God, that makes me miserable. Right now, he's doing a very interesting series on the battle for the bucks in the state representative races. For example, incumbent Reichley, who just managed to get himself published with his rants about the terrible problem that illegal immigration isn't, is funded by a veritable who's who of local developers, from Atiyeh to Pektor. Gee, I wonder how he feels about impact fees for developers.

I wish there were a few more right wing bloggers so we could have sword fights or something. But as things stand, the Lehigh Valley has a wide variety of local blogs that concentrate on the issues in your back yard. They certainly could never replace our local media. We're blessed to have two newspapers owned by two different companies at a time when many big cities are lucky to have one paper. But blogs certainly can complement the media. And strange as it may sound, sometimes worse is better. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to send a few emails to Israel. I was just kidding.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Nazareth's Proposed Government Center Violates Restrictive Covenant

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"Everyone else has one. Why can't we?"

No, this is not the argument of some little kid asking his mom and dad for another Rottweiler. They are instead the very words I actually heard a Nazareth Borough official use to justify a new government center inside a residential park. In previous posts here and in News Over Coffee, you've heard this proposed expansion will (1) destroy more of Nazareth's shrinking parkland; (2) make the park useless as a park for neighborhood kids and their Rotweilers; (3) simply cost too much; and (4) remove borough offices and police station from the business district, where they are most needed. I've also told you the proposed expansion was planned behind closed doors in violation of the Sunshine Act by a borough council that operates best in shadows and darkness. Well, I can keep secrets, too!

No, I can't. I've got to tell you what I found out. The proposed expansion at Nazareth Hall Park can't be done legally. That's right, bippy. You see, the Deed for the Nazareth Hall Park tract contains something called a "restrictive covenant." That's a fancy way of saying that an owner's use of the land is restricted in some way. This kind of covenant runs with the land forever and is independent of zoning laws.

In the Deed for Nazareth Hall Park, Nazareth is restricted from building anything within seventy-five feet from the south curb of Center Street. Uh oh. Guess what? The Council chambers that already sit at Nazareth Hall Park violate that Building Restriction Line. Uh oh. Can you say wrecking ball? Now I don't think anyone wants to make an issue out of that little illegality, but we've got a whole new ballgame if borough officials seriously intend to attach a police station and borough offices to a building that already violates a restrictive covenant.

If you decide you want to buy property or borrow money secured by a home you already own, the very first thing a bank will do is have the property searched. They look for other liens, but also like to know whether the property is itself encumbered by a restriction that might make it difficult to build or make other improvements. Apparently, Nazareth officials have not done their homework. They didn't do it six years ago when they first proposed this ridiculous expansion, and they haven't done it now. Why am I not surprised?

Loan denied!

History of Nazareth Hall Park: For those of you who may be interested, I thought I'd include a brief history Of Nazareth Hall Park. The tract is part of a larger tract sold by the Moravians to Nazareth Hall Boarding School in 1898. In 1929, when the Boarding School conveyed the tract to the Children's Home, the park tract was referred to as an "athletic field." In 1946, the property was conveyed to its present owner, the Borough of Nazareth. Since 1898, this property has been devoted to children.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Developer Toll Bros.Takes its Toll on a Historical Lower Saucon Bridge

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWe don't see them too often. I doubt they have time to read this blog or any of the local papers. They're up long before the rest of us, and don't return home until well after most of us have settled in for the night. They practically live in their cars. These are the Lehigh Valley's newest immigrants, and they're not illegal. They are refugees from New York and New Jersey, who have fled high taxes and skyrocketing car insurance for the good life. Not much of a life, in my opinion, but it's not my life.


And this is where Toll Brothers, the nation's largest McMansion builder, steps in. Right now they're offering homes at about a half mil a pop in six different developments in the Lehigh Valley, clearing woodland and farms for the people who live in their cars.

One of these developments is called Saucon Valley Meadows. You can build a house here for between $560,000 and $650,000. Here's how it's described:

"Located within majestic Northampton County, Saucon Valley Meadows is a community of 49 luxurious single-family homes in the desirable Saucon Valley School District. Nestled in a picturesque country setting with distant mountain views, Saucon Valley Meadows remains convenient to all of your needs. The community will offer homeowners spacious half-acre home sites, award-winning home designs, and quality craftsmanship. You will live and entertain with pride at Saucon Valley Meadows."
Pretty cool, huh? And best of all, it's real close to Route 78, the path to the bucks for the people who live in their cars. Only six lots are left.

Because Saucon Valley Meadows is nestled in a "picturesque country setting," it presents some construction problems. The quickest way to get to the site is over Meadows Road. There's a county bridge on that road. It's a pretty stone-arched bridge and has been sitting there since 1858. But it wasn't designed for heavy construction trucks. It has a ten ton weight limit. But that's the quickest way to get to the construction site, so that's the way Toll Brothers goes, over and over, as it builds 49 luxurious McMansions for the people who live in their cars.

Now believe it or not, the Pa. Code has regulations that permit a developer to drive overweight trucks over a bridge like the one on Meadows Road. Toll Brothers could have obtained a permit to use the bridge for as long as three months, but would also have to assume liability for any damage done to the bridge. Sounds fair, right? Toll Brothers never bothered.

"Permits, we don't need no stinking permits!"

A woman who has lived along Meadows Road for most of her life complained to the township about the constant truck traffic over that bridge in clear excess of the weight limit. She was eventually ignored. In fact, police asked her to stop calling.

When surface waters from the luxurious Saucon Valley Meadows began to accumulate on her property, she complained again. The township told her it had no intention of doing anything. And Toll Brothers told her that if she didn't like the way things were, she should get a lawyer.

This woman finally complained to Northampton County Council last Thursday, and they quickly shuffled her off to Public Works, which monitors the county's bridges. Hopefully, they'll examine the bridge, assess Toll Brothers for any damages, and insist that a permit be obtained before any more trips are made. But I'm not holding my breath.

I don't know if the people who live in their cars ever get to see the historic stone-arched bridge they drive over as they travel in the darkness to and from their McMansions. But thanks to Toll Brothers, one of these commuters may soon become a person who swims in his car.

You see, Toll Brothers doesn't give a damn about "majestic Northampton County" or the "picturesque country setting" at Saucon Valley Meadows. It nearly put one development in the middle of Valley Forge National Historic Park, and another on the Chancellorsville battlefield. And it is not above whisking township officials to meetings on private jets. Its motivation is profit - not perpetuating what beauty is left in the Lehigh Valley. And in its rush to accelerate our continuing sprawl, it might actually be destroying a beautiful and historic bridge, something that really is majestic.

Developers like Toll Brothers demonstrate why regional land use planning is so necessary. The people who live in their cars should be welcome, but at the current rate of mismanaged development, the Lehigh Valley will soon be no different than the areas from which the commuters fled, and we'll all be moving again.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Congressman Dent Uses Franking Privilege to Plug Leaks in Santorum's Sinking Ship

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThis weekend, a friend showed me a nice multi-colored mailing she received last week from the Lehigh Valley's man in Congress - Charlie Dent. It's in full color, has a nice picture of Charlie and the statue of liberty, and it gives us the "facts" on illegal immigration. Charlie uses neat colors like this or that to grab our attention. And he doesn't call himself Congressman Charlie Dent. Nope, he's Congressman Charlie Dent. Pretty cool, huh?

O.K. Here's the "facts" on illegal immigration. First, the House wants to get rid of all illegals , and Charlie's all for that. Second, those wimps in the Senate want to keep some. That's it.

Charlie's latest mailer just happens to be the same message that a desperate Santorum has been driving home through radio ads in his quixotic quest for re-election to the U.S. Senate. In fact, Republicans intend to use illegal immigration as THE issue to retain control of Congress. After all, they can no longer paint a pretty picture in Iraq or Afghanistan. So now, illegal immigrants are identified as the cause of all of our problems. They're the new Jews, especially those who look Hispanic.

As I looked more closely at my friend's mailer, I noticed something else that looked like this:

This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense.

There were no colorful highlights here. And for those of you who may have missed it, let me amplify just like the ad execs who prepared Charlie's mailer.

This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense.


Now just as Charlie mailed my friend "the facts" about illegal immigration,
let me tell you this about Charlie and his mailer. Right after telling us the mailing was done at taxpayer expense, he tells us , "It is provided as a service to my Congressional District constituents." Let me translate that, too. "It is provided as a service to my Congressional District constituents."

Isn't that nice? Charlie wants to keep us in the loop. But is this really true? Here's my problem. Charlie never sent a mailer to me. I called my friend Tom, and asked if he got one. He gets everything, and saves it in all these little boxes, like a frickin' pack rat. He didn't get one either. Neither did Sue or my brother. More than half of those I called never got Charlie's mailer. And they just happen to be Democrats. Charlie's message was obviously sent to a targeted audience - one his ad execs identified as most likely to be swayed by the politics of fear.

And the mailer is hardly informational. It instead advocates the new Republican party line that vilifies the illegal immigrant, the Lehigh Valley's new Jew. Charlie is making the same arguments advanced by Rick Santorum. The only difference is that Santorum is paying for his ads, and we're paying for Charlie's.

You see, Congressmen have a franking privilege that enables them to send out informational mailers to their constituents. When incumbents started flooding post offices with "informational" mailers during congressional contests, other candidates began to complain. So now they can't send them for 90 days before an election. Charlie sent out his illegal immigration mailer just a few days before the 90 day cutoff on what the Republicans have identified as their hot button issue. His ad had to get approval from a Congressional committee. Gee, it must be tough for a Republican congressman to get a mailer approved by a Republican controlled committee.

Now Dent already has $840,000 in his campaign warchest against Dertinger's $8,000. When he uses our money to send out campaign mailers, isn't he piling on? Forget the law for a minute. Does it strike you as fair? If he wanted to send out an informational mailer, here's something I'd like to know. I'd like Dent to explain why he took $60,000 from Big Oil ($51,500 in 2004 and $8,600 in 2006), and then recently voted to block an investigation into price-gouging by Big Oil. Just who are his constituents anyway, us or BIG OIL?

If he had a conscience, maybe Charlie would take some money from his $840,000 warchest, money that should have been used for what was really a campaign flier, and use that money to buy some body armor for American soldiers in Iraq. But I forgot. The enemy this election cycle is illegal immigration.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Rendell Acts Like a Leader and Speaks Against Pols Who Feed off Hatred

Rendell says Hazleton ordinance feeds off hatred : The Morning Call Online - Most pols are careful to avoid controversial issues. I wasn't proud of the way Rendell handled the midnight legislative payraise.

But today he took a hard stand on a very divisive issue, illegal immigration. "The only ones I want to hear speaking up and complaining about immigration are the Native Americans who we screwed." Now there's a leader, someone who doesn't back away from the Santorums or Barletta who are being heralded by our 21st Century nativists. That's the Rendell I remember. That's the Rendell I voted for.

Way to go, Eddie! Your next cheesesteak's on me.

Lamont McClure Votes to Increase DA's Budget - Why Not? His Wife Works There

In his losing campaign for Northampton County Council, Lamont McClure relied heavily on campaign contributions from within the District Attorney's Office, where his wife is employed as an Assistant District Attorney. DA John Morganelli alone gave him $1,500, to say nothing of $500 that allegedly was provided by one of the DA's detectives and other money from staffers in the office. After McClure was roundly rejected by the voters, DA John Morganelli was among those who lobbied hard to make sure that Lamont was appointed. And that happened in a back-room deal that violated the Sunshine Act.

Now it's payback time. Last night, McClure voted to transfer the county's DUI Central Processing Operation from the Sheriff's budget to the DA's budget, effectively voting to increase the budget.

Now this is a minor matter and relatively noncontroversial. The resolution passed unanimously. McClure's vote was not needed. But it disturbs me McClure did not recognize the glaring conflict of interest that exists when he votes to increase the budget in the very office where his wife is employed. The state ethics act tells us it's an illegal conflict of interest when a public official uses his official office to benefit either himself or a member of his immediate family. When he votes to increase the size of the DA's budget, doesn't that necessarily benefit his wife?

I think it's a very close question, don't you? I don't believe this was an intentional violation, but McClure really should abstain from any matter involving the DA's office.

Lehigh Valley's Mayors To Sign Climate Protection Agreement Today!

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Joining 266 other mayors throughout the U.S., the mayors of the Lehigh Valley's three cities will today face the challenge of global warming by signing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Mayors Ed Pawlowski of Allentown, John Callahan of Bethlehem and Phil Mitman of Easton will make a formal statement endorsing the Agreement 1:30 P.M. today at the 19th Street Theatre in Allentown.

The Climate Protection Agreement attempts to reduce global warming on a municipal level with twelve specific steps, such as purchasing only Energy Star equipment and giving incentives for car pooling or public transit. The entire Agreement is in the scroll box below, if you'd like to read it.

The U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement

A. We urge the federal government and state governments to enact
policies and programs to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol target of
reducing global warming pollution levels to 7% below 1990 levels by
2012, including efforts to: reduce the United States' dependence on
fossil fuels and accelerate the development of clean, economical
energy resources and fuel-efficient technologies such as
conservation,methane recovery for energy generation, wind and solar
energy, fuel cells, efficient motor vehicles, and biofuels;

B. We urge the U.S. Congress to pass the bipartisan Climate
Stewardship Act sponsored by Senators McCain and Lieberman and
Representatives Gilchrist and Olver, which would create a flexible,
market-based system of tradable allowances among emitting industries;
and

C. We will strive to meet or exceed Kyoto Protocol targets for
reducing global warming pollution by taking actions in our own
operations and communities such as:

1. Inventory global warming emissions in City operations and in the
community, set reduction targets and create an action plan.

2. Adopt and enforce land-use policies that reduce sprawl, preserve
open space, and create compact, walkable urban communities;

3. Promote transportation options such as bicycle trails, commute
trip reduction programs, incentives for car pooling and public transit;

4. Increase the use of clean, alternative energy by, or example,
investing in "green tags", advocating for the development of
renewable energy resources, and recovering landfill methane for
energy production;

5. Make energy efficiency a priority through building code
improvements, retrofitting city facilities with energy efficient
lighting and urging employees to conserve energy and save money;

6. Purchase only Energy Star equipment and appliances for City use;

7. Practice and promote sustainable building practices using the U.S.
Green Building Council's LEED program or a similar system;

8. Increase the average fuel efficiency of municipal fleet vehicles;
reduce the number of vehicles; launch an employee education program
including anti-idling messages; convert diesel vehicles to bio-diesel;

9. Evaluate opportunities to increase pump efficiency in water and
wastewater systems; recover wastewater treatment methane for energy
production;

10. Increase recycling rates in City operations and in the community;

11. Maintain healthy urban forests; promote tree planting to increase
shading and to absorb CO2; and

12. Help educate the public, schools, other jurisdictions,
professional associations, business and industry about reducing
global warming pollution.


After the Mayors' news conference, the public is invited to a FREE showing of "An Inconvenient Truth." (Now they tell me!). I had to pay to see this movie, but it was worth it. I reviewed it and even conned a friend who works at The Morning Call to slip it in as an op-ed while most of the editors were on vacation. A commenter named Brown Dog wrote his own fascinating assessment from a different perspective. If you do see the movie, I have one request. Please stay for the closing credits, where there are useful tips on what we all can do, individually, to reverse global warming.

Saturday Update: "It's a no-brainer, right?" Those were Easton Mayor Phil Mitman's words as he joined the Mayors of Bethlehem and Allentown in signing the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement. Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan: "Air doesn't stop in Allentown, air doesn't stop in Bethlehem. It blows across municipal boundaries." (Too bad the LVPC wasn't thinking like that when it adopted its latest long-range transportation plan.)

You can watch a two-minute video of the Lehigh Valley Mayors signing the Climate Control Agreement by clicking here.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Illegal Immigrants - The New Jews of the Lehigh Valley

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI used to tell my son we were direct descendants of one of the five Royal Kings of Ireland. "There's blue blood in them veins, boy!" The truth? My family was kicked out of Ireland for making bad whiskey. We tried to make a go of things with a dynamite factory, but the damn thing blew up in New Ringold. We're Irish trailer park trash - shanty Irish.

I know we didn't come here direct from Ireland, but had to slip in through Canada. And this was during a time when they let nearly everyone in.

That's not so today. We limit visas for unskilled workers to about 5,000 per year. So much for "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." Those days are gone, bippy. Now it's next to impossible to get into this country legally unless an employer is willing to sponsor you. I knew a Chinese doctor in Philly with several Ph.D.s, and the feds tried to deport even her. They only let her stay if she agreed to work at a local university for slave wages.

Illegal immigrants are the new Jews, the new scapegoats. But as with the sons of David, there is a vast difference between perception and reality.

Myth


Everyone is railing about "illegal immigrants." They're responsible for all of America's problems. Violent crime? Lousy wages? Poor medical care? Gangs? Overcrowded prisons? It's those damn illegals. I expect I'll soon read their hot sauce causes global warming.

The pols, of course, have played on this myth. Santorum, who's getting killed in the polls, has started running radio ads attacking "liberals" over a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Senate that would enable some illegal aliens to become citizens. That's the silver bullet that's going to save him, baby. In fact, Santorum staffers helped Mayor Lou Barletta set up a website promoting Hazleton's illegal immigration and "English only" ordinances. And the people love it.

Not to be outdone, Dems are trying to prove they hate illegal immigrants, too. Dertinger,the Lehigh Valley's Democratic candidate for Congress, is all for enforcing our immigration laws and opposing amnesty. Northampton County DA John Morganelli, a very astute politician, has been clamoring about it for years. He told the U.S. House that illegals come here "to evade the law, commit crime and impact negatively on our country." And on Tuesday, he told a state House committee that the Lehigh Valley is becoming a "flophouse and haven" for "foreign criminals." These statements play very well with the public. Here's a sampling from the comments to the story about John's latest performance: "Good for Morganelli! He is assertive with ... [blah, blah, blah.]" Get the picture? Blame Latinos for everything, and the rest of America will applaud.

Last Friday, I listened to John Morganelli and "liberal" Don Russo blast illegal immigrants on the radio. Like Santorum and everyone else, they were quick to conclude that illegal immigrants are the cause of all our problems. But then they went to another level and started talking favorably about "English only" laws that actually require all business to be conducted in English. And these are the Democrats, singing the lurid tune of xenophobia, or should I say Hispanophobia? I'm sure these same chords were struck by nativists who resented those Pennsylvania Germans and their constant use of that language. Just as there are Spanish newspapers in Allentown today, the entire Lehigh Valley was covered by Der Friedens Bote und Lecha, Anzeiger, Der Lecha Patriot, and Der Unabhaengische Republikaner. You can still find German Deeds in the recorders' offices of both Lehigh and Northampton Counties.

And here's the sad reality. Hitler made hay and became very popular by demonizing the Jew. They were the scapegoats for everything wrong with Deutschland. And they were eventually murdered. It's called genocide. I prefer to call it murder.

Now we've got 10 million illegal immigrants within our borders. It will be financially impossible to round 'em all up and ship 'em out after deportation hearings. John Morganelli jumps up and down when the feds won't come to pick up some guys a union reported at a construction site, but what are they supposed to do? I imagine they have priorities. So as our 21st century "nativists" grow more angry and pols run around blaming everything on illegals, how long do you think it will be before someone comes up with The Final Solution, just like Adolph? Is it so ridiculous? We have an Attorney General who called the Geneva Conventions "quaint." We have a Defense Secretary who issued memos that essentially authorized torture.

As Hitler was wrong to scapegoat the Jews, so are we when we scapegoat the "illegal alien." I see and hear evidence of it daily, from casual remarks to blatant hatred. All of this hatred has little basis in reality, but it is very dangerous and debases our common humanity.


Reality

1) We need them. - Immigrants supply us with 14% of our workforce. Removing the third of this number that is here illegally, assuming that could be done, would rip the heart out of our national economy.

2) Illegal immigrants pay more in taxes than they consume in services. - On average, they contribute $1,800 each year in taxes in excess of what they consume in services. So contrary to popular belief, they aren't a drain on social services.

3) They don't cause crime. - I hear all kinds of anecdotal evidence blaming Hispanics for all kinds of horrific crimes. Morganelli's very good at it. ("The last five rapes in Northampton County were committed by illegal aliens.") Here's my question. If they're so terrible, and if illegal immigration is so out of control, why is our crime rate decreasing? It dropped in 2004. And in Florida, of all states, crime in 2005 was at its lowest level since 1971.

4) Walls don't work. - The House authorized a 700 mile wall to keep out the horde. That should solve the problem. Right? Well, let's see. We have eight times as many border patrol agents as we had in 1986, when the illegal population was only about 3 million. And we've built walls and raised the budget ten times, all to no avail.


So I'm back where I started. My family would not be admitted under today's draconian immigration laws. Your family might be rejected as well. And we would be quite a different country today, a country full of "know nothings" and "nativists" who speak English only while gobbling freedom fries.

So what'll it be? Are we going to turn Hispanics and other illegal immigrants into the new Jews, or are we better than that? Time will tell.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Congressional Fundraising in 15th District - David v. Goliath

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOpen Secrets has listed Congressional fundraising through June 30,2006, for incumbent Charlie Dent(R) and challenger Charles Dertinger(D) in the Pa. 15th District race. In the battle for the bucks, Dent has a 10 to 1 margin. He's raised $840,000 to Dertinger's $8,000. But only 57% of Dent's money is PAC money while Dertinger's campaign is funded almost exclusively (91%) by PACs. That figure, however, is a bit misleading because Dent easily has 10 times as much PAC money as Dertinger.

Nazareth resident Rodney Applegate gave Dertinger $400. Dertinger's biggest contributors were the IBEW ($5,000) (electrical workers' union) and IUPAT ($2,500) (painters' union).

Dent pulled in a lot of money from mostly local businessmen and professionals, ranging from $250 from Jeff Parks, the Executive Director of Musikfest, to $6,300 from Charles Snelling, who's pushing for a wider Route 22. The PAC contributions came from all the usual suspects, including $3,000 from Pfizer (drug industry) and $2000 from American Gas (oil and gas).

Dertinger, you may recall, pledged he would not take a dime from the oil and gas industry. Dent, however, refused even to acknowledge three email requests for a similar pledge. And we now know that he continues to take money from the fossil fuel industry and venture capitalists like Snelling, who want wider roads so we can drive even more.

Republicans are reeling over Bush miscues on both domestic and foreign fronts, so Dent should be vulnerable. Wouldn't you'd think the big boys would be pumping money into this contest? This race is far from over, but Dertinger is going to need both a strong grass roots effort and some money to be competitive.

I don't like Dertinger's reliance on PAC money from a single special interest, his willingness to run for Congress so soon after being elected to Northampton County Council, and some of the things he's done on Council. But his pledge against Big Oil impressed me, as well as his appearance at a oil independence rally in south side Bethlehem. And he was impressive when interviewed by Above Average Jane.

Dent's proposed inclined cable car is interesting, and he gets most of his money from within the district. On the other hand, his willingness to take money from Big Oil speaks volumes. And his unwillingness to even acknowledge three emails from a constituent concerning a pledge against Big Oil is very disheartening.

Correction: I was a little off when I said that Dent had 10 times more money than Dertinger. It's actually 100 to 1.

Nazareth's Top Secret Plan

I've been catching some flack over yesterday's post, in which I speculated that some Lehigh Valley pols might be vampires, particularly those in Nazareth. First, I started getting all kinds of hang up calls from people playing kazoos, Nazareth's official musical instrument. Then I got a strange call from some guy who wanted to know what I was wearing. Finally, when I left for work, all the tires on my jeep were punctured (I think they were fang marks). I tried reporting this vandalism, but the police just laughed. So I called the papers, but they've blocked calls from my phone again.

OK, I'll admit it. Maybe I was a bit rough. As I've said before, I'm sure that even those pols who support a new government center at Nazareth Hall Park are only interested in what's best for Nazareth. In that spirit, I decided to take a look at the plans for Nazareth Hall Park while my tires were getting fixed. But when the secretary left to use the ladies' room, I pulled open a file drawer and found the real plan, which you can see for yourself. Holy cannoli! They really are vampires!
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That does it. Angle just offered me an apartment in southern Lebanon real cheap. I'm outa' here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Are the Lehigh Valley's Government Officials Vampires?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAre the Lehigh Valley's government officials vampires? I ask this because they shrink from the Sunshine Act. Let's look at some very recent examples. In Northampton County, Lamont McClure (a lawyer who I only see at night) chaired a Law & Order committee hearing that violated the Sunshine Act. When I dared point it out, I was besieged by a litany of threats until Lamont's own Solicitor and Morning Call columnist Bill White told him to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. While I was doing the Tango with Lamont, a Fountain Hill Council Committee was also meeting behind closed doors with a hospital (were they looking for plasma?) until The Express Times found out and showed its wooden stake.

But these violations pale in the face of what goes on in the land of Nazareth. This is the land where Count, I mean Councilman, Stoudt once canceled a police committee meeting rather than let two reporters inside. Way to go, Stoudt! Most recently, he arrogantly asserted one evening that nothing would ever get done if Council involved the public. As a result, decisions about controversial issues are always made behind closed doors. They have the wisdom of most decisions made in the dark.

Want some examples? There's a civil war cannon in Nazareth circle that probably doesn't mean much to you, but matters a lot to some Nazareth residents. Borough officials wanted to move it out of the circle for reasons that defy logic. Maybe it fires silver bullets. When the public found out, it went ballistic, and exploded as loudly as that cannon ever roared. Council shrunk into the mist.

Same thing with the new government center. Once before, about six years ago, they wanted to build a new government center. Guess where? Yep, the same spot that's under consideration now - a neighborhood park where children play baseball and other games. The cannon roared again and borough officials backed off. But now they're at it again, operating in darkness as usual.

In most municipalities, the Solicitor is usually the voice of reason and will always err on the side of including the public, especially on matters of public interest. But not in the land of Nazareth. Solicitor Al "Renfield" Pierce concludes every thing that committees do is "administrative action," and thus exempt from the Sunshine Act.

I got news for you, Al. You're wrong! "Administrative action" is limited to execution of policies previously decided at an open meeting. That's not what happened when committees got together behind closed doors to decide again to foist a new government center on unsuspecting citizens, and smack dab in the middle of a park. No siree. At least three members of Council were totally in the dark, so those committees could not have been executing policies previously agreed in an open meeting. And these committees actually hired an architect to draw plans for this one and only option. A minority of Council can order architectural drawings? And no other choices? Take it or leave it, baby. That's not "administrative action." That's official action behind closed doors. And the option under consideration will cost around $3 million, enough to suck the blood from every Nazareth resident who operates in the open.

So that's why I hand-delivered the letter below to borough officials Monday. I did it during the hot noonday sun, while they slept. And in the evening, I've got cloves of garlic around my neck and a few crucifixes in my pockets. But now my windows are rattling. Gotta' go. Where's Buffy?

To: All members of Nazareth Borough Council; Hon. Earl Keller, Mayor; and Alfred Pierce, Esq.

Re: Sunshine Act Violations

Date: July 17, 2006

I am a Nazareth resident. At Borough Council's meeting on July 10, 2006, it became quite clear that you have participated in repeated violations of the Sunshine Act for years. This is because you mistakenly believe the Act only applies to meetings at which a quorum of Council is present. As a result, council Committees have been meeting behind closed doors, without public advertising or notice.

As long ago as March 2000, you conducted private committee hearings to decide what to do about a civil war cannon at Nazareth's circle. Most recently, two committees met behind closed doors to decide on a municipal building expansion. Those committees ultimately merged into a single committee that authorized an architect to prepare plans for a new government center at Nazareth Hall Park

As you will all acknowledge, Nazareth Borough Council is an "agency" as that term is defined in the Sunshine Act. But an "agency" is also defined to include committees "authorized by the [Council] to take official action or render advice on matters of agency business ... ." Thus, the committees that met to consider options for a municipal building expansion are subject to the Sunshine Act. Their recommendations and the decision to hire an architect all constitute "official action" as that term is defined by the Sunshine Act.

These committees and their combined single committee violated the Sunshine Act. The Court, in its discretion, could enjoin any further consideration of a borough center at Nazareth Hall Park. The Court could also invalidate the decision to hire an architect to draw plans for a new government center at Nazareth Hall Park.

Your basic misunderstanding is you think you only need to follow the Sunshine Act at your regularly scheduled meetings. But it applies to committees as well, and it certainly applies to a committee considering something as controversial and important as a new government center. Meeting in private to discuss this matter of public interest betrays both distrust and disrespect to the citizens you serve. In fact, Councilman Stoudt had the arrogance to tell one newspaper, "if officials had to alert the public every time a couple of them got together, no business would ever get accomplished." This statement reveals an antipathy both to the letter and spirit of the Sunshine Act. It is a matter of public policy that citizens have the right to attend and be heard at meetings in which official action is considered. The Sunshine Act itself states that "secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public's effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society." In short, democracy dies behind closed doors.

As your Solicitor can inform you, I have 30 days from the date of discovery of a Sunshine Act violation within which to seek a legal remedy. I have no wish to do so, but am extremely disturbed by your systemic exclusion of the people you serve from matters that affect them directly.

To avoid litigation, I am asking that you make the following commitments before August 9:

1. You must agree that ALL future meetings of Council and its committees will be conducted in compliance with the Sunshine Act, i.e. committee hearings will be publicly advertised and open to the public;

2. You must reschedule every Committee hearing at which any official action was taken concerning the new government center, including the decision to hire an architect to prepare plans for a municipal expansion at Nazareth Hall Park, and conduct new hearings with public notice and public participation;

3. You must table any further consideration of a municipal building expansion until the committee has conducted one or more meetings that comply with the Sunshine Act, and that gives the public an opportunity to discuss options in addition to the sacrifice of Nazareth Hall Park.

Thanking you, I am

Bernie O'Hare

Monday, July 17, 2006

Northampton County's Solicitors Serve Two Masters

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNorthampton County's Home Rule Charter is very clear -- it explicitly bars its solicitor from performing legal services for any other municipality. That prohibition had always been interpreted to apply to assistant county solicitors as well. After all, what's bad for the goose should be bad for the gander. And then Glenn Reibman was elected County Executive.

He expanded the solicitor's office with numerous assistants (who paid for their jobs with regular campaign contributions) and it didn't matter whether these lawyers were also municipal solicitors so long as the campaign checks kept coming. Suddenly, the Home Rule Charter was turned on its head. Since it didn't specifically exclude assistant solicitors from working for other municipalities, it must be permitted. Right? I guess it doesn't matter that, when the Home Rule Charter was first adopted, there were no assistant solicitors at all.

Now here's a neat trick. When Northampton County Solicitor Jack Spirk was appointed Bethlehem's Solicitor, all he did was resign his position in Northampton County, only to be immediately reappointed as Assistant County Solicitor. Pretty nifty, huh?

The practice continues today. First Assistant County Solicitor Dave Backenstoe (a real class act, by the way) is also solicitor in Lehigh, Moore, and Plainfield Townships, as well as Hellertown and Walnutport Boroughs. Assistant County Solicitor Chris Spadoni (a good lawyer with a terrific sense of humor)is also Solicitor to Bethlehem's City Council. Although I have no wish to penalize these fine attorneys, Northampton County Council should enact legislation that gradually eliminates this practice.

That's the obvious intent of the Home Rule Charter. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” An attorney who represents both a county and one or more of its municipalities has divided loyalties. And there will be plenty of opportunity for actual conflicts of interest on matters like road improvements, the sale of real estate, the construction and operation of public buildings, litigation, or recreational facilities, to name a few.

I asked the last County Council to adopt legislation to abolish this practice over time. So that no appointee would feel singled out, I suggested the legislation be effective only after the next county executive election. But no action was taken.

So I'll make the same proposal to our new County Council. Are you interested in reform or the old patronage system? Don't you want to prevent the inherent conflict of interest that exists when one lawyer serves two masters? Do you want to eliminate all the expenses incurred when county lawyers have to recuse themselves from a problem that involves a municipality they serve? An ordinance that bars assistant county solicitors from serving other municipalities is simply good government that guarantees honest and independent advice.

Is our Democratically controlled Council any more interested in good government than was the case when Republicans ran the show? What do 'ya say, Lamont McClure? How 'bout you, Charles Dertinger? You both read this blog nearly every day, and I'm forwarding a copy of my request to the Council Clerk.

And what do the rest of you think? I suppose the argument could be made that it's in the county's interest to have an able solicitor who knows municipal law, but we have a lot of lawyers who are well-versed in municipal law and would have no conflicts.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Great Nazareth Tire Slashing Caper

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They'll never take me alive!

Nazareth cops and borough officials think there's a connection between a proposed municipal center and three borough officials whose tires were recently damaged. I think they're nuts.

Most of the new municipal center opponents I know are moms and dads, uncles and aunts, and grandparents. They worry about their kids, and wonder what will happen to them if Nazareth does decide to build a new government center in Nazareth Hall Park. They're not exactly what I think of when I think of tire slashers.


Hundreds rallied en masse before Monday night's council meeting and managed to change one vote. They did it the democratic way, by letting their voices be heard. The Express Times noted, "When the public speaks this loudly, public officials have an obligation to listen and learn." During this meeting, it was also discovered that the new municipal plan was arrived at in violation of the Sunshine Act, thanks to bad advice from a borough solicitor who incorrectly thinks committees can meet behind closed doors. So citizens who oppose this expansion now have some ammo if council ignores popular sentiment.

With all the momentum on the side of those who want to preserve a park, why on earth would they want to resort to tire slashing? Yet this morning I was greeted by the following headline: "Nazareth Police Probe Tire Slashings: They Say Incidents May Have Been Spurred by Borough Politics." Uh oh. As a vocal opponent who has conducted radio shows and blogged against this expansion, I better have an alibi. The article makes clear that the Mayor (who used to be the police chief), the police chief, and one borough councilman whose tires were slashed, think this all too much to be a coincidence.

Well, I hate to break it to you boys, but that's exactly what it is. First, let's look at the only borough councilman whose tires actually were slashed - Councilman Davis. His tires were slashed in March, when most of us knew little or nothing about the proposed expansion. That's because his committee was meeting secretly. News did not leak out until sometime in May, and most Nazareth citizens were unaware of any municipal relocation until June.

The second and third incidents aren't even tire slashing incidents. One tire on Mayor Keller's wife's car was punctured, not slashed. And a puncture can come from anything, including driving over nails. Two tires on Paul Kokolus' vehicle were punctured, but that happened in Lower Nazareth, and Paul thinks the culprits are some kids who have been giving him trouble. (They probably don't live near a park.) And here's the kicker -- neither Kokolus nor Keller have a say in the expansion. Only Councilmen decide.

Yet the police think these incidents are obviously related. One detective said, "[W]however did the one did the other." What is he smoking?

By talking about the "dark side," some borough officials are attempting to demonize citizens who are just concerned about their kids. And they should know about the "dark side" because they've been meeting behind closed doors. I'm particularly disturbed at police who make ridiculously illogical statements in the hope they get new digs.

This has to stop. Proponents and opponents both want what is best for Nazareth, and it's time we all recognize that. It's a good thing Nazareth Days are here.

Now excuse me while I answer the door. The cops are here with their lie detector.

Why the LVPC Wants Wider Highways

By now I'm sure you've read accounts in either The Morning Call or Express Times telling you that the LVPC has endorsed plans for a wider Route 22. LVPC Exec Director Mike Kaiser dismissed public concerns that our oil production has peaked, which would make a wider Route 22 a waste of money. But if you want to know the real reason why the LVPC wants wider roads, just take a look at their parking lot.

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Bloggin' on WGPA AM - A Special Thanks to My Guests

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOver the past two weeks, I've been bloggin' at WGPA 1100 AM with many interesting guests from in and around the Lehigh Valley. Ron Angle, the regular host of "At Issue," was tipped off that I had too many Democrats, and is steaming back from his vacation paradise with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. I'm done. Kaput! But I'd be remiss if I failed to thank my guests for making the shows both informative and fun:


Joe Brennan - Democratic candidate for the 133rd legislative district, told us about the need for campaign finance reform, lobbyist disclosure, and sweeping change in Harrisburg. As a county councilman, Joe always had an independent streak. But he also worked as a legislative aide. Joe is the best of both worlds - a maverick who knows how the system works.

Gerry Seyfried - Northampton County's former Executive and Councilman, explained County finances and stressed the importance of "pay as you go" as opposed to incurring huge debt. He also talked about the county's Liberty Bell, which he described as a national treasure.

Nazareth Borough Councilpersons Jack Herbst and Cindy Werner spoke with quiet passion and force against a current proposal to build a new government center inside of a park.

BillyBytes (Billy Givens), noted Bill White Hall of Famer, indefatigable blogger, essayist, independent candidate for Governor, and frequent commenter to this blog, displayed his irrepressible southern charm. (He was unusually sedate).

Jason Slipp, cofounder of Lehigh Valley Beyond Oil, talked about peak oil, the absurdity of widening more roads, and the need for light rail in the Lehigh Valley.

Russ Shade, who managed John Stoffa's astonishingly successful county executive campaign without a dime of special interest money and against party bosses, told us about his own campaign for state representative in the 183rd legislative district. He thinks campaign money should come from residents that actually live in the legislative district, and not PACs located in Toodeloo.

Chris Casey, Democratic candidate for the 134th legislative district, is tired of incumbents and believes Harrisburg needs a breath of fresh air.

State Rep. Rich Grucela took time out on his way to a committee meeting to describe the tax relief package cobbled together in Harrisburg. He explained it's only a start, and would like to see a lot more done to provide relief for people on fixed incomes. He also described his plan to impose impact fees on developers, which should help preserve green space, but is running into heavy flack from builders and developers. Rich voted against the pay raise, refused to take the money, and is running unopposed. Wonder why?

Allentown blogger Damien Brown of Our West End Neighborhood gave us a virtual tour of downtown Allentown. Close your eyes and think about Allentown. Pretty ugly, huh? Now open them and take a gander at Damien's blog. You'll see a different city.

Louis Belletieri, Allentown businessman, lost his bid to become Mayor. But the victor, Ed Pawlowski, liked Louis' vision, and drafted him to serve the city in attracting and keeping business. After listening to Louis speak, I'm ready to move there myself. Come to think of it, my rent is due soon.

Politics: Lehigh Valley Style, Lehigh County Redneck, and Musings From Mudville could not appear without blowing their cover, but gave me plenty of support behind the scenes.

I want to thank everyone involved for the wonderful conversations over the past two weeks. And I'd like to thank Ron Angle, Mark Thomas, and Jolly Joe Timmer, who gave me free reign over guests and format. I'll probably be doing this again around Christmas. If you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

"Time To Level Afghanistan Again" - Anonymous Guest Blogger

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBernie O'Hare is an insufferable little bastard. Don't ever give him money. I lent him $50 a few weeks ago so he could fill up his gas tank, and he spent it on booze. His ugly red jeep hasn't moved for weeks, and every day and night I can hear that frickin' moron singing the same Neil Young songs over and over. O'Hare only does that when he's drunk. When he's really drunk, he thinks he's Jolly Joe Timmer.

"Open that door, you little shit!" I shout as I pound on O'Hare's door. "I know you're in there! Cough up my dough!" I can hear him moving but he's not answering. I push the damn door open just in time to see him jump right out the window. Now he's running in the buff down a dark street, in the middle of the night, singing, "Keep on rockin' in the free world." I hope he gets struck by lightning or run over by a cop or something. What a waste. As I suspected, he's drunk again. There's empty booze bottles all over the place. That and old pennies, for some reason. And lots of old newspapers. Seriously, the guy's a wing nut. I'm going to send a little note to Lamont McClure. That'll fix his ass.

I'm on his PC right now. He was writing about "open government" again. Give me a break! I'm sick of all that crap about this pol and that pol. Bernie, nobody cares! Since O'Hare's not coming back anytime soon, I'm going to write this post for him. Maybe then he'll learn to pay his debts. And he better learn now. What the hell do you think they'll do when he runs up a tab at the casinos? That's right. He'll be singin' soprano, baby. I watch Mafia movies so I know about that stuff.

Instead of talking about stupid boring local government, I'm going to open things up a bit and lay it out on an international scale, baby. I want to talk about Afghanistan. Remember Afghanistan? We beat their asses faster than you can say Taliban. And we did it for their own good.

Now you'd think that after killing over 250,000 people in Iraq and Afghanistan, they'd get the message - we're going to set them free no matter how many we have to kill in the process. Freedom ain't cheap, bippy. Let's face it, Saddam was nothing but a two bit dictator who tortured his own people and refused to provide basic necessities like running water or electricity. He had to go. Now, the people of Iraq are secure in the knowledge that if any torturing is to be done, we'll do it. And we'll get those water pipes but have to secure oil pipelines first. The oil must flow.

Things were rough for those Iraqis when Saddam was throwing people out of helicopters, but the women of Afghanistan were living a nightmare. Those wacky Talibans draped their women in 20,000 layers of clothing called a burka, and regularly beat them silly if they stepped out of line. So we bombed the hell out of them so they could bask in the glow of Lady Liberty. I remember the flowers they had for American soldiers or the graves or something. Or were they poppy blossoms?

Well it looks like we're going to have to level Afghanistan again. No it's not about their poppy fields or their increasing opium sales. Let the free market resolve that matter. What has me riled is now they're marrying off their 11 year old daughters to very old men so that they have enough to eat. Give me a break! You know we already killed enough of them so that hunger is not the problem. Besides, look at them. They're skinny. They just don't eat much. No, those demonic Islamic fundamentalists are using hunger and hardships as an excuse to turn their kids into sex objects. Haven't they learned anything? Don't they know that a free nation doesn't turn its females into sex objects until they're 18?

So "Bring it On" baby. Let's rack up a few more dead bodies so that the song of freedom can be heard. It's our Christian duty. And God is on our side.

Now if you don't agree with me, I don't really care. O'Hare can deal with the nasty comments when he sobers up. I'm taking his porn mags and leaving. Bye.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Can Allentown Make a Comeback? Tune in Thursday on WGPA 1100 AM


You've heard Billy Joel tell it like it is:

"Well we're living here in Allentown
And they're closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line ..."


Allentown is commonly regarded as the Lehigh Valley's armpit. Its homicide rate last year, 2 1/2 times the national average for cities of comparable size, is enough to make one hesitate about a little day trip. Much of its industry and downtown business is gone. And in his four years as Mayor, Mayor Roy Afflerbach seemed hopelessly unable to cope with city finances, which have turned into a nightmare.

But there are rays of hope and a new Mayor in town. Blogs like Our West End Neighborhood and Old Fairgrounds think Allentown's making a comeback, and point to things like 7th Street cleanups, the Allentown Preservation League, the Arts park, and refreshed awnings on 8th Street.

Tomorrow, my guests on WGPA 1100 AM will be Damien Brown, who operates Our West End Neighborhood. He'll be joined by none other than Allentown restaurantuer Louis T. Belletieri,whose family restaurant has been at 12th and Chew since 1958. He ran for Mayor himself and said then that the city could benefit from his business knowledge. Although Lou lost, Mayor Pawlowski drafted him to help revitalize the Lehigh Valley's largest city.

The show will run from 8 to 10 AM. Feel free to call in with comments or questions at 610-866-8074. You can livestream the show. If you can't call in, post your comments or questions here, and I'll try to get answers.

Ain't No Sunshine in Nazareth

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBy now you've read excellent summaries in both The Express Times and Morning Call about Monday's rally in Nazareth to save a park slated for development as a new municipal center. Onlookers battled the still air with handfans containing slogans like "Save Our Open Space". They listened to impassioned pleas from local residents who condemned the sacrifice of open space, cost, and lack of options. After the rally, a large portion of this fired up crowd entered Council chambers to make the same pleas to Council. Borough council still favors a government center expansion at Nazareth Hall Park, but the vote is now 5 to 4 instead of 6 to 3.

I spied Reverend Matz, a borough councilman who incidentally supports the expansion, as he tentatively made his way across the field to Council chambers, and buttonholed the poor guy with question after question. I had tried the same thing earlier with Express Times Editor Joe Owens, but he got away.

Now Rev. Matz is not some intransigent person unswayed by reason, but a kind-hearted thinker who holds quiet but well-considered opinions on topics ranging from the Civil War to our current conflagration in Iraq. And as I listened and learned, I realized his fellow council members are no doubt good people, too, even those who support the expansion.

So why do they seem so intent to head in the wrong direction? The answer, quite simply, lies with the Sunshine Act. It's ignored in Nazareth, by a "group of four" councilmen who discussed the expansion privately with the blessings of Solicitor Al Pierce.

"[T]he right of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decisionmaking of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process ... [S]ecrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public's effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society."

And this "secrecy" is exactly what happened in Nazareth. When I finally released Rev. Matz and parked it in Council chambers, I learned that Council committees considering the municipal building expansion had routinely met behind closed doors, in complete violation of the Sunshine Act. No notices were posted, no advertising, no nothing. Council Solicitor Al Pierce, in a complete misinterpretation of the Sunshine Act, actually believes that committees can meet privately for "administrative" purposes. This, of course, is nonsense. These committees took the official action of submitting one and only one proposal to Council for consideration.

Anyone who reads this blog knows by now that the Sunshine Act applies both to borough councils and their respective committees. Don't take my word for it. Ask media lawyer Terri Henning or Northampton County Council Solicitor Lenny Zito. A committee that meets privately will do nothing but instill distrust in the public no matter how well-intentioned. Moreover, it deprives public bodies of beneficial public input. Had Nazareth's committees met publicly, the council might now be considering several options for a municipal center instead of one that destroys a park. And I'm curious how these committees could have authorized an architect to prepare plans for a proposal that had not been approved by Council. Who is going to pay that bill? It won't be Al Pierce or the "group of four."

Had Council followed the law, it would have permitted the kind of quiet and reasonable discussion I enjoyed Monday night with Reverend Matz. Instead of drawing battle lines, Council and the people they are supposed to represent might actually be on the same page. The secrecy must end. Council can do it themselves or wait for a judge to tell them. But they must change their policy of permitting committees to meet privately.

Evening Update: The Express Times today published an editorial opposing any government building expansion that requires the sacrifice of what little open space is left. "When the public speaks this loudly, public officials have an obligation to listen and learn." But the editorial also cautions,"Council members shouldn't be vilified for recognizing that the borough government deserves a more modern, efficient home." Fair enough.

The Morning Call also published a letter to the editor from Nazareth resident Bill Coker, "We shouldn't try to be like the big-town 'Joneses.' Let them try to be like us." Well said, Bill.

Bethlehem's Email Block - We Hear From a Whistleblower!

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBethlehem was tagged last week for blocking email access to at least one resident - former employee Dana Grubb. Bethlehem's Economic Director, Tony Hanna, told us Grubb's epistles were "invective laden, and at times profanity laden, and for some just irritating." Tony, sounds like Free Speech to me, but I'm no government official.

Today, I heard from Mr. Grubb , at least one of the victims of this email block. I now know why he was muzzled. He's a whistleblower. He's quite critical of Tony Hanna. What disturbs me most are the allegations (and these are just allegations) that Hanna, a Callahan ally, was provided two cell phones, a pager, used a city vehicle for personal purposes, and used economic development funds to pay a Philly parking ticket on his personal car and during a day off. Some of Grubb's complaints are detailed in his letter, which he allowed me to post below:

Dear Bernie O'Hare:

My name is Dana Grubb and I was the subject of the e-mail blocking at City Hall. Dennis Reichard, the City's Business Administrator is my brother-in-law, and now it appears, according to [Economic Development Director Tony] Hanna he was aware of this block, as were other key city administrators. This is extremely disappointing and disturbing, especially at a time when government's motivation and action always seem to be under question.

First and foremost, although I will not take legal action against the City of Bethlehem government, and am satisfied that the city has resolved a wrong, I have not ruled out taking legal action against individuals responsible for this, due to their abuses of power.

I owe the resolution of that matter to City Council, and in particular Attorney Chris Spadoni who is the Council Solicitor. And, by the way, I do have a great deal of respect for Bethlehem City Council, because I firmly believe Council tries to do what they feel is in the best interests of the city, not themselves as individual elected officials.

Second, the e-mail blocking that took place, happened in December 2004, and at the same time, someone in Bethlehem city government also decided to refuse to accept my photography for use on the city's website. This was after having provided my photography free of charge, and while a city employee, much of which the city web site uses to this day. That is part of why I called this action "childish and immature." It was apparent that this was in response to my dressing down of Mr. Hanna at a City Council budget session earlier that month, and after Harvey Joseph and I had been forced to retire due to a confrontation in the City's Health Bureau offices.
* * *
At that budget hearing, which covered Hanna's department's FY2005 operating budget review, Hanna intentionally misled City Council on a number of budget issues (all of which I was keenly aware of in that I done most of that budget preparation prior to my forced retirement). Hanna's typical modus operandi when he doesn't have an answer is to make one up and hope you believe him, rather than to just say 'I don't know.' I also took Hanna to task for his blatant abuses involving his use of the city vehicle which was assigned to him (which included among other things his use of the vehicle to attend social events that were not city government events such as a wedding and retirement party, and transporting his wife regularly in the vehicle as if it was his personal vehicle); his obvious waste of $1,800.00 of taxpayers' money to advertise a job opening that was filled from within (the city's Human Resources Director had been critical of that waste in an earlier conversation with me while I was still employed by the city); that Hanna had 2 cellphone accounts and one pager account being paid for as a city official, in addition to the telephone on the desk in his office. The city's business administrator called my revelation of these facts "despicable", and Hanna stated that he didn't realize he was doing something wrong. The business administrator was already aware of some of these issues, and a number of others concerning Hanna, because I had brought a number of them to his attention over Hanna's time with the city. Employees regularly visited my office and stopped me in City Hall to complain about Hanna's absences, abuses, and treatment of others in City Hall. They often did the same for Hanna's cousin, Harvey Joseph, who was reputed to have raised contributions for Callahan's campaign for Mayor. It's ironic in some ways that one of those same employees probably gave Hanna a copy of my critical e-mail which he constantly refers to, and which didn't happen for months until after the e-mail block on the City's server. And by the way, I hold no enmity toward the Information services staff who enacted the block. They did what they were apparently told to do.

As far as these alleged annoying e-mails, had any employee inside of city hall asked me to no longer include them on my personal mailing list, I would have ceased, which I did for one employee in our Housing Rehab office who requested that I do so. Again, that was an e-mail sent several months after the block was enacted, and it was sent only to non-city hall e-mail accounts.

It was obvious that Hanna was embarrassed and had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. All this in addition to the well-known fact within his department that his whereabouts when he was working was almost never known, except for his extended coffee sessions at Jasmine's in University Square and other locales throughout and outside the City of Bethlehem; and the well-known fact that he would leave work early to travel over to Lehigh University to instruct some sort of class at the University. I would think the taxpayers of Bethlehem have every right to expect Hanna to be working for the City of Bethlehem government from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM., which are normal hours of operation

As I stated above, the e-mail that Hanna constantly references was NOT sent to city hall.. I personally thought it was a very good characterization of Hanna given his record with the city. The fact that someone chose to give a copy to Hanna is out of my control, and quite frankly it was a rather condemnatory e-mail because Hanna had finally found a way to get a new bright and shiny city vehicle for himself, without City Council's budgetary approval and after several years of bemoaning his status as a high ranking city official with a less than spiffy car to commute back and forth to city hall in, from his west Allentown home (I know a lot of city taxpayers and other city employees who would like that perk). While inspectors from his department continued to drive vehicles with mechanical defects, high mileage, and on some days used their personal vehicles because their city vehicles were in repair, Hanna schemed to get a new vehicle.

I could go on about his interrogations of city employees who had lunch with me after my retirement; or his intimidation of employees to get them to leave; or his protection of his cousin a city employee who had been accused of bribe-taking and who violated employee policies regularly-many which Hanna himself violated; or his use of economic development monies to pay for a parking ticket on his personal car in Philadelphia, on a day that he had taken as a personal/vacation day and was probably visiting the U of P veterinary Clinic.

I could tell you about the half-truths and non-factual statements he gave to a member of the press in his attempts to discredit me in the community which I call home for my entire life.

I could tell you about department staff meetings in which he would make promises to follow-up on various matters, sometimes a dozen or more, and never take one note. Of course, at the next meeting two weeks later, few if any of the answers had been obtained, but many of the same promises were made again.

I might tell you about his department secretary, whom he berated and intimidated in full view of department staff, because he wanted her to retire. Only after I went to the Human Resources Director and the business administrator to explain that this employee was prepared to file a union grievance and press charges for harassment did this behavior top. And, this same department secretary was not permitted in his office, nor was she permitted to know his schedule-she was the secretary to Hanna. What was he trying to hide? But, it's reared its ugly head since I left, and a different employee sought my counsel on how to handle Hanna's intimidating and berating behavior.

This is the same man who called his staff's attendance at neighborhood blockwatch meetings, " a waste of time." The same person who when criticized by a co-worker for not being in touch and connected with what's going on in Bethlehem because he doesn't live in the city, responds, "I'm glad I don't live in the city." Now there's some real empathy for the folks who pay your salary and benefits!

I'll stack my 27 years in Bethlehem city government against Hanna's 6 or so years any day. I and most Bethlehem residents will take my reputation for honesty, integrity, openness and hard work over his demonstrated behavior as a city official, all of the time, no matter how much he tries to discredit me.

This guy is the epitome of a government official taking advantage of his position, yet "Dandy" Mayor Callahan defends his actions and nothing is ever done about it.

Thanks for your blog coverage-gotta go to a meeting.
Dana Grubb

These allegations are a little "irritating". But are they true? When city officials muzzle the person making these charges, they unknowingly lend him credibility. When the Mayor improbably suggests, with a smirk, that he has "no idea" what Mr. Grubb is talking about, it sure seems like an attempt to alienate a whistleblower. There are laws against that sort of thing, especially when it involves a public employee.

Update:

Tony Hanna, Bethelehem's Director of Community and Economic Development, is a nice guy. There's just no getting around it. During the bond hearings, when I sued the county over its $111 million megabond, he was one of the few local government officials who actually spoke to me. Today he assures me "the Director of IT has the authority to block or screen e-mail he believes to be objectionable or threatening. He is more than just a 'techie.' " I believe Tony. But shouldn't decisions about public access to government officials be made at a different level, or in accord with a policy approved by the Solicitor? The First Amendment, after all, is intended to annoy.