Friday, May 25, 2007

Tigger, Twiggar & Taggart Bounce Thru Conflicts of Interest at LVPC

"Bouncing is what Tiggers, Twiggers and Taggarts do best!"

On Wednesday, I ranted about Northampton County Council's decision to reappoint Glenn Taggart, VP of Taggart Associates, to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. County exec Stoffa assured council Taggart's "got nothing going on," and only councilman Ron Angle remained unconvinced. But last night's meeting of the LVPC, confirms Angle had it right all along.

Taggart had to abstain from four different matters in which he had a personal interest. Nothing going on?

What's even more amazing is the conduct of another Northampton County rep on the LVPC, Andrew Twiggar. Guess what? Twiggar is a principal with Dunn Twiggar Company, LLC, an outfit pimping a new development along Allentown's Lehigh River called "The Waterfront." No longshoremen or ex-prize fighters here. Not in this Allentown Shangri-La. The plan is to replace 150 manufacturing jobs at the Lehigh Structural Steel property with 560 condos lying smack dab in the middle of the flood plain.

Jam 'em in there, bippy! Jersey commuters, come on down!

An island for whitey in an Allentown sea of black and brown. De facto segregation. Brilliant! And those manufacturing jobs? Poof! They'll be replaced with jobs for cocktail waitresses, chambermaids and busboys who can't cut it at Bethlehem's casino. They'll be servants as the rest of us whip around in our fancy Rollerblades and cool shades.

Now don't get me wrong. There are many positive positive aspects to this proposed redevelopment, and Our West End Neighborhood features some lovely pictures. But we'll never know whether the LVPC judged this project on its merits or because it was presented and promoted by one of its own - an insider.

Last night, Twiggar, with his Northampton County name tag boldly emblazoned on his jacket, wowed LVPC members as he bounced through a 45 minute slide show.

"Worraworraworraworraworra".

I doubt he showed any flood pics. According to Angle, no developer gets that royal treatment. And surprise, surprise! The LVPC just loves the idea. Concerns about jamming all those condos in a floodplain were summarily dismissed. "This is Allentown." I understand LVPC Boss Mike Kaiser rushed from the meeting to buy a little captain's hat for the proposed marina.

Twiggar, like Taggart, piously abstained from the vote. But he failed to "publicly announce and disclose the nature of his interest as a public record in a written memorandum filed with the person responsible for recording the minutes of the meeting," which is required under our state ethics act. I've yet to see a local public official ever do that. Let's face it. As an insider, he had an undeniable advantage.

Tiggers, Twiggars and Taggarts have a good thing going. They'll grab a property lying in a floodplain, draw up a fancy plan with hockey rinks, theatres and other baloney, and jam every square inch with condos. Then they'll look for a developer with deep pockets and, of course, some public bucks. And they'll use their inside connections on this and that commission to ease those pesky zoning and planning requirements. They use exotic terms like "project manager," but they're just front men who bounce really well from public to private sectors.

Not long ago, a developer without a front man vainly tried to promote an affordable housing development in South Bethlehem. He only had Habitat for Humanity on his side, and the planning commission shot him down. They were concerned this developer might later sell to someone else. The chair of this planning commission? Why, it's Andrew Twiggar! He should know.

When I first wrote about this on Wednesday, one commenter had this reaction. "I get it now, attack productive businesses, politicians, candidates or people who actually have 'real' jobs and contribute to society on a daily basis. Good -- bad -- indifferent. " Actually, these insiders contribute to nothing but their own pockets. "Tiggers don't like honey." But Twiggars and Taggarts do. And if someone even drops a hint about their real motives, they hire a lawyer to intimidate you. Since Taggart has already threatened to sue me for remarks I never made, I might as well make it worth the effort.

John Stoffa should ask the Tiggers, Twiggars and Taggarts to bounce out of the LVPC. He loves to say, "There's nothing wrong with government, but sometimes, the wrong people are in government." This is a classic example.

24 comments:

Mr. Damien Brown said...

Who cares . . .

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission is largely, if not entirely, irrelevant in this matter. The people of Allentown and the city government support The Waterfront. That is all that matters ethically and legally.

"A sea of black and brown"? . . . yea right. I suggest taking a walk through the ward instead of just looking at it from overhead on a map and taking a guess. "A cornucopia of diversity" or "a twenty-first century spectrum of Americana" are phrases that describe the neighborhood much better.

You should at least be somewhat aware of this Bernie considering you have family living in the upper 6th Ward on Lincoln St.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Damien,

I care, and you should, too.

Your post about the Waterfront was terrific and sets forth many positive aspects. And you may be right on the money, so to speak. Funny how the only commenter with reservations is herself a member of a minority. That tells me something. There's always another side to be considered, and I pointed out some of those concerns.

But my post really has nothing to do with the relative merits of The Waterfront. Perhaps it's a very good thing. My post has everything to do with process and the influence of insiders.

A plan of subdivision can't be recorded unless LVPC blesses off on it. And I'm very disturbed that insiders are proposing plans they themselves then evaluate and approve. It's a practice that needs to stop.

That's why I care. They may be doing something very good, but do the ends justify the means?

Thanks for your views. I think you might be a bigger advocate of A-town than anyone in the city government.

Anonymous said...

Ohare, your a jerk but a very funny piece!

Anonymous said...

Ok, so who do you want to see seated on these boards? A bunch of tree-hugging NIMBYs who will fight every development all the while complaining that their home-owner property taxes keep going up? You make a good point by saying that conflicts exist, and as citizens we have to be aware of that. But to take a shotgun approach to blasting the people who are doing real things to make this Valley better is just Angle-esque grand-standing.

Despite all of the growth in recent years, we are still a very small valley and that means there will always be a limited pool of big fish. Want more input? Get involved by doing more than Monday-morning quarterbacking. Volunteer. Run for office. Come up with a better plan and find people to support it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 2:50!

Angle-esque? Love the word. Never hear it used before.

One of your arguments, as I understand them, is that we are a "limited pool of big fish," and are stuck with these folks. I simply don't buy that. I'm certain there are others in the LV who would be honored to serve on a planning commission. Not a "tree-hugging" NIMBY, but how about someone like Paratima Agrawal or Jason Slipp or Steve Schmitt? These are intelligent people. Two of them are quite young, and would bring a unique perspective to the suits at the LVPC. I can think of many who would do well over there.

The other argument, as I understand it, concerns input. You suggest that instead of writing about this, I should do something else. That argument betrays a basic misunderstanding of our system of government, which is dependent on free expression. Not just those who run for office or who "volunteer" have input. We all do. And we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I'd be lousy in public office, but think these essays are a way to be involved in a democracy, where speech is very important.

Your words are just as important as mine, and I appreciate them.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

The pool is unfortunately limited by the amount of fish who really want to swim in it. I know there are a lot of talented and intelligent people out there, but most of them are intelligent enough to stay away from politics and media coverage. That says something about politics and media coverage, doesn't it?

As for getting involved, by that I mean being informed, having your say -- and yes, that means blogging, too, if it is done in a fair and informative manner -- but most of all, just taking an interest in the community. More people know who won American Idol than who won their township supervisor spot.

I know I'm preaching to the choir here -- the people who read you are the ones who do care and are informed (well, except for Ron, who never lets facts interfere).

But good Lord, I do agree with you 100 percent on one thing, and that's the absolutely frightening idea of you holding public office. ;->)

The Curmudgeon (I should have signed my prior post)

Bernie O'Hare said...

Curmudgeon!

You bastard! Foisted on my own petard.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Mr. Brown. All it takes is one zoning hearing board member or planning commission member to take an LVPC letter and say Ha! The County doesn't like it, so I won't either.

Taggart should be kicked off the LVPC, not for his absolute lack of ethics and professional integrity, but he's not serving as a citizen.

The LVPC had considerable sway over how the casino projects would be looked upon by the State. The LVPC issued letters on both the Allentown and Bethlehem proposals.

Taggart voted on the Bethlehem project despite not disclosing working for the Sands at the time.

He sits on the transportation committee of the LVPC, which as MPO, has say over how dollars are spent. Taggart, as a former employee of the LVPC, has a seat at the table to guide policy that favors his clients.

I really don't think Stoffa put much thought into the reappointment. He said "hey, he's been here so long, why not?"

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:33!

Agreed 100%.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:33,

Whoa! When he voted for the Bethlehem Sands, was his wife employed or freelancing with them? If that's true, we've got a big NO NO. I have to check that out.

Mr. Damien Brown said...

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has no legally binding power. Granted, that does not mean it doesn't have any influence but in the case of The Waterfront any influence that may exist really doesn't come into play. The Waterfront is not seeking any state funding or publicly infrastructure improvements.

There is no reason why Allentown Zoning officials or city council would vote down a proposal that is so overwhelmingly balance positive for the city of Allentown and its citizens, regardless of what the opinions out in LVIP III are.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Damien,

Try recording a subdivision plan w/o the endorsement of the LVPC. I think Anon 9:33 said it best.
These insiders may have some great ideas, but don't belong on the LVPC. My point is not about The Waterfront, but the people who are approving the idea.

But on the merits of the Waterfront, I do think it's bad planning to build residences so close to a river. Those flood plain lines are there for a reason.

I share LOLV's concerns about the de facto impact this has on minorities.

Anonymous said...

It takes a certain type of person to post about other people's reputation and ethics when they are so wrong. Part of being "involved" in the community is being fair and accurate. Anonymous' comments are neither. While blogging is popular, it can do real damage to people who are good and honest. I fear that is what is happening here, as personal knowlege of these people is lacking, and I know that just based on the assumptions you are making. I am sad for people who are falsely accused of things that are not true and sad that people will assume the worst about everyone.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon,

I believe it's wrong for someone to sit on a planning commission whenb he's a local player. That's the point of this post. It's no personal attack, but is a legitimate criticism.

Larry Kisslinger said...

Anon 11:07 AM,
What am I missing here?... as you say: "Part of being "involved" in the community is being fair and accurate. Anonymous' comments are neither"...Huh? (Anon 11:07 AM)?

I agree with you but you're not even practicing what you're preaching! I don't like Anon's or stage names very much! What's the big deal identifying yourself if you have something to say, is my opinion? www.kisslinger.com

Cygnus said...

It's very premature to say the Waterfront project won't be looking for public dollars.

This is a project with a ten year buildout, at best, proposed by rookies who only have a couple office building conversions under their belts.

Further, in consideration that the LV will experience a few more massive storms that seem to like us over the next ten years, it will be interesting to see if future Allentown administrations will be as keen to build in floodplains.

Given that the Americus Parkway Bridge is now apparently going to cause Catty some flooding problems, shoving things into this part of the river is anything but a done deal.

Mr. Damien Brown said...

If you read a bit closer you will notice I stated The Waterfront is not seeking Public Dollars, I never said they won't be. But in reality it is only fair to assume they will not because there has been no indication yet they will do so in the future.

I'm not sure how the American Parkway bridge will cause flooding in Catty when the bridge is downstream so it is fair to say we can write that concern off.

The "flood plain" The Waterfront is slated for has never flooded ion any of our lifetimes. If the market can bear it, there are plenty of ways to safely build in a flood plain. Simple solution include parking garages and retail on the first floor with residences and other valuable building infrastructure on the upper floors.

Nearly all of Jersey City is in a flood plain and that has not stopped all the new skyscrapers there from making it Wall Street west.

. . . back to the topic.

It is inevitable in any region, large or small, that conflicts of interest will arrive from time to time. If your going to have the best, brightest, and most knowledgeable people in an industry serve the public it is unreasonable to assume they will not be in business for themselves while they are doing so. When conflicts arise, they should abstain and the public should take a closer look at the issue to make sure there isn't blatant back scratching happening on the part of the given board or commission.

In the case of The Waterfront the project speaks for itself, leaving little room the possibility of foul play to even exist.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 11:07,

Let me elaborate a bit about what I said earlier. Blogging can be a bad thing - it can be used to launch destructive personal attacks, often behind a shield of anonymity. And just like evereyone else, I can get it wrong. I'm by no means infallible.

But what's good about this media is that it enables a person to address items that the MSM may lack the resources or inclination to cover, or that they just may not have considered in depth.

Another positive feature is that, if a mistake is made, it can be corrected almost immediately. If it's factual, someone can note it in a comment, and the post can then be corrected.

If you disagree with my opinion, and many people disagree with my opinions, you are welcome to state why my opinion is bad and yours is good. It happens all the time.

In this case, my opinion is that front men like Twigget and Taggert, who have things going on, should not be involved in the LVPC. Yes, they can absatain on specific matters, but so many players stacking the LVPC lead to the suspicion that one hand is just washing the other.

In the case of the Waterfront, which Damien tells us is a fine project, a member of the LVPC was allowed to give a 45 minute slide presentation. Angle told me no developer gets that kind of treatment, and that sets off all kinds of alarms and whistles. The LV has many interested citizens who have the expertise to sit on the LVPC, but who don't have any business interests to bring before them. Those are the people we need to have on board, not business interests who stand to gain from a favorable decision here or negative decision there. I think we're already at the point where that "blatant back scratching already exists."

I'll acknowledge I've never met these fellows. But whether I'm personally acquainted with them or not, my objection remains the same. It's a bad practice, and it needs to end.

No one has been falsely accused. Twiggar is a member of the LVPC. He did make a presentation to LVPC on behalf of his own outfit. Taggart did have to abstain from four agenda items in the last meeting.

What may really be troubling is that you don't like to see a citizen sticking his nose into this. Thise meetings aren't even reported, and that's the way LVPC must like it. But that doesn't make it right.

I know Taggart was deeply offended by some innocuous comments made on my blog, so much so that Taggart hired a lawyer to threaten me w/ defamation. You see, these folks aren't used to having someone look at what they do. But they miss the point. It's actually healthy for democracy.

And I've seen no comment thus far that rebuts any of the factual statements I made. You can take the position that we have to have these people because they add exppertise. Or you can take the position that it's better to get that expertise from folks who don't stand to benefit. As a matter of good government, the latter approach is preferable. I'm surprised that Curmudgeon and Damien Brown would actually endorse the idea of stacking the LVPC with players, but that's their opinion. They may be right and I may be wrong.

Cygnus said...

You know, yes Taggart shouldn't be on the LVPC, but at the same time, the LVPC had to have invited Twiggar make the presentation.

What stops Lou Pektor from calling up and say Hey! I want some presentation time too! Or Abe Atiyeh, Toll Brothers, Pulte, etc.

And before you know it, every developer is marketing a project before the planning commission. And if you dare say no, they will cry foul of not being fair and ring up the county executives.

BTW: Once the City starts putting pylons into the river, Catty gets an extra three feet of water in their section of the river.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Cygnus,

Another BINGO. Like I said before, 50-year and 100-year flood plains exist for a reason. Ask the folks in Easton or Williams Tp. And Damien, who tells us he's never seen a floof along that portion of the Lehigh in his lifetime, is neither 50 nor 100 years old.

My observation about the flood plains is quite cursory, and maybe developers have come up with a plan that mitigates all problems without damaging anyone else.

But I'm dubious because NC leaders have placed insiders on the LVPC. I don't know either of these gentlemen but don't doubt their good intentions. And I'm sure their expertise is an asset. But their participation creates an appearance of impropriety, and I thought NC was trying to minimize that sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute, now you say you don't doubt these people's good intentions? And in an above post you say that you object not to the people themselves, but to the practice. That's a little too late for the people who read your front page only and see you question these people's integrity.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:47,

Actually, I don't. They're just being good businessmen. They are no different than businessmen who make big financial contributions to incumbents. In both cases, it creates an appearance of impropriety. I fault the practice. And I don't really question their integrity in the blog entry. I fault the process.

Billy Givens said...

Bernie,

Years ago, Oregon State had a lawyer-U.S. Senator, Wayne Morse, for many years an Independent like your namesake Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as I'm sure you will recall.

Morse, also a law professor, was fond of saying that "Whoever controls the process," or the procedure, "control the law."

To me, that's your argument, and I, for one, agree.

Taggart and Twigger occupy postions in which they're able to influence and control the process.

And that's the challenge: That's the deleterious process that we have to to put an end to, or at least minimize to the extent possible.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to read about Taggart's involvement with LVJPC and LVEDC. There is a Taggart involved in the Easton Version Greater Easton Development partnership. Are they related? Bernie if you attack Taggart expect a letter from their lawyer