Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Lehigh Valley's Most Powerful, and Most Secret, Special Interest

You won't find a website for this gang. It operates in the shadows. But it's undoubtedly the most powerful special interest group in the Lehigh Valley, a consortium of unelected aristocrats who think they call the shots.

They may even be right.

I refer, of course, to The Lehigh Valley Partnership (LVP). Formed as a nonprofit in 1985, this unelected group of millionaires has had a hand in nearly all of local government's major spending plans.

In a Form 990 on file with the IRS, the LVP claims its purpose is "to provide resources to the community, in partnership with the public sector, for initiatives which improve the quality of life and economic prospects of the Lehigh Valley area." Sounds pretty good, eh?

But most of the resources provided to the community come from their "partners" in the public sector. The more these resources are spent, the richer this group gets. That seems to be their real goal.

Money appears to be the chief qualification for membership in this elite band. Meetings are conducted secretly. Public officials like Northampton County Councilman Ron Angle have been denied permission to attend.

Don't Hate the pLayA, Hate the Game

Thanks to Guidestar, I can now identify LVP Officers and Directors, at least as of 2005. I've listed them all here. They are a Who's Who of the Lehigh Valley business world. PPL's William Hecht, whose six year average salary was $4.08 million before he recently retired, was the president of this oligarchy in 2005.

Many of its members are mistros of the art of "pay to play." Lee A. Butz, chief executive officer to Alvin H. Butz., Inc., is a perfect example. Campaign finance records, on state (from 2001) and federal (from 1998) levels, reveal that Butz family members have contributed nearly $105,000 to politicians (mostly incumbents) running for federal or state office.

And the Butz family gets some bang for its buck. Look around. Is there any large government project in the Lehigh Valley that Butz does not build? Builder of Bethlehem's $65 million Penn Forest Dam? Butz. Northampton County's overbudget judicial Taj Mahal? Butz again. And guess who's doing the additions and renovations at Lehigh County's courthouse? You got it, Butz has that deal, too.

Think I'm blowing smoke? OK. Take a gander at another member of the LVP board, Anthony Salvaggio. State campaign finance reports reveal that, in the last six and a half years, he's donated $98,500 to candidates seeking statewide office. Most of these are Republicans, although he will grease the palms of an incumbent Dem like Rendell. Over that same period, Salvaggio has also donated $97,850 to candidates seeking federal office, according to FEC reports.

These dudes are pLayAs. Richard Thulin, another LVP board member, amazingly conned Northampton County into selling its Governor Wolf Building parking lot a few years ago. That left the county with a huge downtown building that has next to no parking. Brilliant! Thulin's Arcadia Properties intends to develop luxury condos and businesses in that parking lot, which incidentally is located in the Delaware River flood plain. And of course, "The location also enjoys the tax exemption advantages of a KOZ designation (which can extend to resident’s personal income taxes)."

Isn't that nice? Maybe Thulin should throw in a few free swimming lessons, too!

And so it goes for most of this crew.

LVP Tries to Make The Rules

Individually, I'm told most of these aristocrats are really nice guys who really, really care about the Lehigh Valley. It's probably true, too, but we're supposed to elect the people deciding our future. The LVP, because of its powerful membership, is setting policy. That interferes with democracy.

Behind closed doors, the Lehigh Valley Partnership has been a driving force behind the following:

(1) The $29 million in economic development incentives, i.e. corporate welfare, in Northampton County's controversial $111 million megabond.

(2) The Hotel Tax, including the formula that provides for sending most of the money to The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.

(3) The Open Space Referenda in Northampton and Lehigh County, which create small islands of green amidst seas of sprawl, without any meaningful attempt at land use regulation.

(4) Troubles at Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp, where one faction (LVP) favors secrecy while elected officials and a few enlightened businessmen promote transparency.

(5) Widening Route 22. Wonder why the LVPC ignored all those concerns about peak oil and global warming? Simple, LVPC Chair Mike Kaiser is an ex officio member of the LVP, and they want that highway widened ... now.

(6) Attempts to Control MSM. Publishers at both local papers are members of the LVP board. They do disclose that connection, to their credit. But I'd be a lot happier if they severed all ties. The LVP defies the notions of open and accountable government. That's contrary to the editorial policy at both papers.

Nonprofit LVP Takes DCED Handouts

Despite the wealth of its membership, the LVP is quick to take handouts. Why not? If the state can throw money at The Parkland Trojan Ice Hockey Club and Properties of Merit, why not a little sugar for LVP? Since January 1, 2006, the state DCED has provided this needy group of millionaires with $65,000 to fund a "community revitalization study" as well as a "local municipal and development study." I'd love to know who sponsored those grants.

Since we paid for it, don't you think the LVP should share these studies with us?

What troubles me most about LVP is that it promotes the notions of secretive government and back room dealing. No matter how worthy some of its ideas may be, its ninja approach to government will always lead to suspicion. Besides, we already had a revolutionary war that establishes we're supposed to be a democracy.

I think.
Clarification: My contention that LVEDC gets the majority of the hotel tax revenue is innaccurate. As a matter of fact, the Convention and Visitors Bureau gets the largest chunk and LVEDC gets a lesser portion, as dictated in a contract between the agencies. Both counties take their portion of the tax off the top, before it is ever distributed to the CVB. That formula was recently changed to increase the counties' share.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

your best post

Anonymous said...

Well BO now you went and did it. Better keep your eyes open. Be afraid, be very afraid. Not since the Illuminatti, not since the Knights Templar have these secrets been revealed. Any trace of your existence is being erased. Farewell old friend, farewell.

Larry Kisslinger said...

Bernie, you're only scratching the surface with this post! I've been there and done that, fighting these nitwits and I lost, but I can sleep at night. They put me out of business, "almost" took my
home and stopped me from becoming
Mayor of Bethlehem but they could never take my spirit from me. They can all kiss my butt and ALL (many more than you mention here) will be mentioned in my book if I can ever find a ghost writer willing to create it for me. title could be "you can't win if you don't run and you can't lose if you do" or
"from housing project to public office and everything in between."
The more I know, the more I worry about these nitwits in control of
our public officials. go figure! larry@kisslinger.com

A.J. Cordi said...

Bernie!

One of your best posts yet! Kudos!

Chris Casey said...

Do you need a bullet proof vest?

BethlehemDem said...

Bernie, that is a great post.

The witness protection program will stop to pick you up at noon today. I hear Arizona is nice this time of year.

Anonymous said...

Now I know why google was down earlier today. THEY KNOW .....

council member said...

I would not let Ron Angle pump my gas!

He's a crook!

river said...

Bernie... a little birdie told me there is a cockroach with a whip in his hand is crawling up your front steps as we speak. DON'T PANIC!!! Just put on your old pointed cowboy boots and go out stomping singing "La cockaracha La cockaracha..."

river said...

council member said...
I would not let Ron Angle pump my gas!


:):):) Last time ol' Ron pumped my gas he charged me 86 cents a gallon. Looks like Council is the big looser here HaHaHa

river said...

" BethlehemDem said...
Bernie, that is a great post.

The witness protection program will stop to pick you up at noon today. I hear Arizona is nice this time of year. """"

BERBIE... You can go down to Arizona for a few days and come back up here as an illegal immigrant and have even more rights and protection than you have right now !!!! Isn't that a kick in the nutz

river said...

sorry I meant Bernie

Anonymous said...

Larry Kisslinger for President.

Jake said...

I am amazed that someone has the balls to look behind the curtain and see who really pulls the strings here. People get prosecuted in other parts of this nation for what is accepted as business as usual here.

The only Power they really have is the Power you give them.

anonymous said...

I'd like to post something, but I don't even know where to begin. I find the situation here pathetic. Because I am in no position to judge, I will not. However, I will say that a comment I made while people smoked cigars and slurped scotch at a 40th birthday party for a former LVEDC official, sums it up: "One day all of the old guard will be gone and hopefully we'll be able to make a difference." People responded to my comment with gasps of disbelief. The only disbelief I hold is that these guys are STILL around. It's time for change. Big change. ANONYMOUS because I don't want to keep looking behind my back. I've already been blackballed by these guys.

anonymous said...

I'd like to post something, but I don't even know where to begin. I find the situation here pathetic. Because I am in no position to judge, I will not. However, I will say that a comment I made while people smoked cigars and slurped scotch at a 40th birthday party for a former LVEDC official, sums it up: "One day all of the old guard will be gone and hopefully we'll be able to make a difference." People responded to my comment with gasps of disbelief. The only disbelief I hold is that these guys are STILL around. It's time for change. Big change. ANONYMOUS because I don't want to keep looking behind my back. I've already been blackballed by these guys.