Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sandy McClure and her Wandering Ways

Sandra McClure, Lamont's wife, is a full-time Northampton County Assistant District Attorney. In fact, the DA's office is a big Lamont fan. DA John Morganelli kicked in $1,500 last time MCClure ran . . . and lost. A detective threw in another $500. Cha ching!

Sandra McClure is one of those over-worked DAs we read about, fighting gangs while stomping on undocumented immigrants reported to Morganelli by local unions. She probably has no time for politics. Right?

Wrong!

McClure has somehow found the time to visit every courthouse office for signatures to her husband's nomination petition. John Morganelli, Godfather of one of her children, doesn't mind. But county workers do. One told me she was approached and told, "sign this," with no explanation.

Another courthouse worker posted this comment.

Well, I just wanted to comment on McClure's wife wandering around the courthouse, having the nerve to ask the "severely" underpaid county workers (who have not seen a raise in 4 years) to sign the petition to get her husband voted in. (I do hope this was on her own time and not county's.) Yes, we were definitely "not" impressed, especially when she had the nerve to say that her barely present husband is concerned about the plight of the county workers'--and then further claimed that "everyone" had a cost of living raise (can I parade my measly, pathetic paycheck to prove her wrong??--me and my coworkers never know whether to laugh or cry over the entire mess). Maybe someone should tell them that if Lamont wants in on the council that he better start learning about the county and its' workers before even asking for votes--and perhaps showing his own face instead of sending the wife to do his dirty work. Talk about insert foot in mouth!!!--real intelligent.

Northampton County Democratic committeemen will meet this Saturday to endorse primary candidates. They will almost certainly endorse Lamont. To them, democracy is too important to be left to the voters.

Update and Clarification: About five minues after this post published, DA John Morganelli told me Sandy McClure is a part-time assistant DA, not full time, and has no set hours. I stand corrected. LVDem popped on this post just a few minutes later to say "someone" had told him much the same thing. So what's the big deal? She walked into every courthouse office to solicit signatures and interrupted public employees at work, taking them away from their jobs. That violates the Home Rule Charter, which forbids most employees from "political activity while performing the duties of [their] positions with the County ... ."

Bethlehem's Newest Magistrate: Buddy Christ!

Yesterday, I got a love note from Scott J. Hough, P.S.C. You probably recognize Ph. D., D.V.M. or even Q.C. But there's only a special few among us who know what P.S.C. means.

Give up?

I'll give you a hint. The love note, which was really a postcard, told me this: "NOTICE. A warrant for your arrest has been issued. Failure to respond to this notice will result in your arrest at home or at work." P.S.C. stands for Pennsylvania State Constable. Once again, I had neglected a Bethlehem parking ticket and was facing the big house. I donned my rubber underwear and headed immediately for District Judge Stocklas' office on Broad Street.

So why the hell am I confessing my criminal behavior? Because of what I saw when I arrived at Stocklas' office. Inside his office, there's a courtroom. You enter this courtroom through a glass door. And emblazoned on this door, for the entire world to see, are these words. "Jesus is Lord of Bethlehem."

Seriously, what is up with that? Ladies behind the counter told me the courtroom door "came that way." One of them said, "It's funny. Just last week, someone was asking why that was there." I wonder if this someone was a Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist litigant. I don't think they'd feel very confident in the court's impartiality.

A little more than a year has passed since our Supreme Court ordered a Kentucky court to remove a courthouse display of the Ten Commandments. Its purpose was to advance a religious, as opposed to secular, message. In some cases, a similar display can be considered secular or might have historical signifigance. But "[w]hen the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates the central Establishment clause value of official religious neutrality."

No secular purpose is advanced by "Jesus is Lord of Bethlehem." It clearly promotes Christianity over other religions. Northampton County President Judge Freedberg should order its immediate removal. It's great in a church, but has no place in a courtroom unless Jimmy Stocklas thinks he's Buddy Christ.

Update From Court Administrators:
I emailed Northampton County Court Administrators twice at their email contact address. Both emails were returned by that devil, the Mailer Daemon. This is what the Devil tells me. "500 POSSIBLE UNSOLICITED MAIL DETECTED / APPEARS TO BE SPAM." Why do governments even bother to set up email contact addresses if they reject everything you send them? That's one reason I have this blog.

I called and spoke directly to court administrator Jim Onembo. He explains the sign as a leftover from a prior tenant, and assures me it will be blocked until it can be removed. I appreciate his quick response to an obvious violation of the Establishment clause.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Nazareth Beware: The Eye of Mordor is Watching!

January 3: Second worst Lehigh Valley local government in 2006? Nazareth Borough council.

January 20: Nazareth school board is tagged for a Sunshine Act violation after an executive session.


January 22:Four different versions of that Nazareth school board exec session, are ridiculed

February 3: Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority Chair Tom Itterly is excoriated because he lives in Allentown instead of Nazareth, as required by the Municipal Authority Act. Solicitor Al Pierce, who also represents Nazareth borough council, presents this brilliant defense. ''Citizen means citizen. Resident doesn't mean citizen. The answer always goes to the dictionary. Look at my hands! How many fingers do you see? Pick a card. Any card."

February 26: Mark Franczak, erstwhile Nazareth District judge candidate, is taunted when it's learned he actually rented a room at the local Y to be considered a resident.

Beginning to see a pattern here? That's right, bippy. The Eye of Mordor , which is what Bill White calls himself these days, has fixed its fiery glare on little Nazareth. Frightening, huh? Officials are headed to the Macungies in droves. I suggested that nickname to Joe Owens, but he claims it's not scary enough. Right now, he's leaning towards Jedi Joe.

Norco Dem Bosses Try (and Fail) to Muzzle Bloggers

Not too long ago, LVDem told us about Norco Dem boss Long's attempt to "clear the field" for Sam Bennett's congressional race. I had my own report about DA John Morganelli's attempt to do the same in Lamont McClure's quest to be elected to Northampton County Council.

For some reason, these leaders are terrified of primaries. I asked then, and I repeat - Are these dudes actually afraid of a little democracy?

Apparently, the answer is yes.

Blogger Richard Wilkins reports "bullying and intimidation" yesterday by an unnamed local party honcho. What dastardly crime did Wilkins commit? Why, he had the temerity to suggest an open congressional primary. Someone called to say he doesn't want to see "this stuff in print." It's all "garbage." Funny thing. Nobody called me. I don't think LVDem got a jingle, either. Looks like it failed with Wilkins, too. He's writing away. Strong-arm tactics fail again.

I'd like to know what garbage is making party bosses so upset. That way, I can write even more. And what party boss could be so thin-skinned that he'd fly off the handle over something a mere blogger writes?

These Democrats just don't act like democrats.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm having Joe Long for dinner.

Stoffa's Argument for Reassessment

"Paying tax is the price you pay for living in this country. We have to keep it as fair as possible."

That was John Stoffa's brief, yet accurate, justification for reassessment Monday on Ron Angle's WGPA 1100 AM radio talk show. We've been demanding property tax reform for years, but no one wants it on a county level. Every caller opposed reassessment, encouraged by Ron. Every caller but me. I disguised myself as Jolly Joe Timmer, until Angle got wise and cut me off.

Are you a tenant or a homeowner?

Tenant.

Ah ha. Then what the hell do you know, you bleeding heart commie pinko piece of ....

Why are folks afraid of something intended to promote equal taxation? There has been no reassessment in twelve years. Stoffa knows his proposal is unpopular, but is determined. "I didn't take this job to be the most politically popular county executive ever. It's the right thing to do."

Rather than rejecting the idea outright, council could actually help Stoffa (and the rest of us) by making sure reassessment itself is done in the fairest way. The idea of using a computer program to do this job does not thrill me. But it does need to get done, and soon.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Northampton County's Branco Busters


Tony Branco, an at-large Northampton County councilman, is up for election this year. Notice I said "election," not re-election. He lost when he ran for the office, and was later appointed to fill a vacancy.

Although very likable and sincere, Branco's record is undistinguished. Before his appointment, he told council he'd "sit down with local municipalities to discuss a lot of the problems they are facing." But his intergovernmental committee failed to meet even once last year. He attended just seven of council's twenty-two committee hearings. He's not vey well known outside Hellertown. He's vulnerable.

It's no secret that popular Peg Ferraro intends to challenge Branco. Her impending candidacy prompted a Democratic committeeman to declare, "Peg Ferraro will lay waste to Tony Branco for the at-large seat, with even me voting for her. Peg's a good woman and smart." I think it's a safe bet she'd attract Democratic votes.

But Peg herself may be facing a primary, and that's got to be good news for Tony Branco. John Cusick is a Republican county councilman and committeeman to boot. Inside word is that he has recruited someone from Williams Township to face Ferraro.

When Ferraro confronted Cusick, he supposedly denied knowing she intended to run. "Gee, I wish I had known you intended to run."

Right. And the check is in the mail.

It's nice to see Northampton County Republicans are screwed up, too.

Pa.'s Ethics Commission Slops Upper Mac Pigs at Public Trough

Chris Casey has finally been vindicated. He's the dude who dimed Upper Macungie supervisors fattening themselves at the public trough. He's paid the price. Public ridicule and the occasional death threat have taken their toll on his physical health.

The arrogant little piggies who abused their public trust, Tom Gorr and Porter Krisher, admit nothing beyond their consent agreements. They've been fined a paltry $14,000 by a disinterested state ethics commission for thefts that included $56,000 in payments to a tree service company owned by Krisher's son. No criminal prosecution. No resignation.

The trough's open for business again!

In his own blog at True Dems, Casey tells us

my favorite credit card expense of all is not Tom Gorr's charging his college courses, hell, it's not even his charges to duenow.com. to write his term papers for him. No, my absolute favorite is that he spent $1500 of taxpayers money for his enrollment at L.A Weight loss centers!

At the same time he was charging "business meals" to the Township credit card!
Taxpayers were paying for it going in, and coming out!

Talk about taxing both ends!

I'll have more to say about our state ethics commission later. Why wasn't this referred to the DA for criminal prosecution? With evidence this damning, why didn't the state insist Krisher resign as part of this consent agreement? It has done a disservice to Lehigh Valley residents. It has allowed a thief to remain in public employment.

We need a few more Chris Caseys and a few less of those public piggies in Upper Macungie, as well as the state ethics commission. Why not put Casey there? I know he's ugly, but that would be real reform. It wouldn't take a new law or constitution, either.

Why Northampton County Does Not Elect its Sheriff

Northampton County has plenty of problems, to be sure. Our sheriff is not one of them. Sheriffs here are appointed by the county executive. Selection process could certainly be improved to ensure independence. But as things stand, our deputies are probably the finest law enforcement professionals in the county.

Jeff Hawbecker, Northampton County's sheriff, is a quietly effective guy. I once saw him in the parking lot farthest from the courthouse, parking his car at the very end, ensuring a lengthy uphill walk to the government center. He could insist on a spot right by the nearest entrance, and would be justified. But as he walked uphill, umbrella in hand, he told me he's trying to set an example for other county employees.

Another high-ranking county official does that, too. His name is John Stoffa. Me? I park in the judges' reserved spots. They love me. I'm sure they don't mind.

We certainly don't elect police chiefs. Professionalism in law enforcement suffers when exposed to electoral politics. Berks Democrats illustrates what happens in counties that elect sheriffs.

Allegheny County: "Allegheny County's former sheriff was sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine Friday for benefiting from strong-arm political fundraising tactics."

Berks County: "[Sheriff] Jozwiak caused a $25 million lawsuit to be filed against the County because he broke the law by using the confidential gun registration list to send a political fund raising letter for a previous campaign."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Express Times Weighs In on Northampton County Elections Mess

Managerial and technical problems are both identified as elections office problems in a powerful Express Times editorial published today. Unfortunately, the citizens' panel that has diligently worked on these problems is being resisted on three fronts: an overly defensive local registrar; a Department of State bureaucracy that ignores voters like PennDot ignores stranded motorists; and a voting machine vendor that has yet to answer serious questions about substituting cheap parts for those approved by the state. "This task force needs some backing from people with political clout -- the same officials who will scream the loudest if their election totals are delayed or botched." On the left sidebar, you can review committee minutes yourself.

Dent's Giuliani Endorsement

I have a press release from Congressman Charlie Dent, endorsing Rudy Giuliani for president. I first saw the endorsement yesterday in Keystone Politics, but now I have Dent's actual statement to share with you.
It is with deep conviction and tremendous pride that I announce my support for Mayor Rudy Giuliani to become the 44th President of the United States.

Rudy Giuliani successfully led New York City and became known as “America’s Mayor” because of his dynamic approach to tackling the challenges facing America’s largest city. Rudy Giuliani is a tax-cutter, a crime fighter and a great leader. During his time as Mayor, Rudy Giuliani moved hundreds of thousands of people away from the dependence of welfare checks to the dignity of paychecks. He exalts and exemplifies the spirit of free enterprise and knows that a limited government, a less burdensome government best serves the people of America.

Both during and in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, Rudy Giuliani was a pillar of strength and resolute in his actions. His leadership, compassion and resolve during this very painful moment in our nation’s history helped guide New York City and all of America through this supreme national emergency.

Rudy Giuliani is a leader. He offers exactly what America needs as we look forward to meeting the numerous challenges we will face in the future.

I am eager to begin his campaign in Pennsylvania today and I am excited to serve as one of his Pennsylvania Coordinators.
Dent, an alternative energy advocate, serves as co-chair of the House Hydrogen and Fuel Cell caucus.

Pennsylvania Legislators' Piercing PENDOT Probe

State Representative Rich Grucela has asked some of his constituents, including Nazareth's Bill Coker, for their take on the state's pitiful response to our Valentine's Day snow and ice storm, which stranded some motorists for nearly a day along Route 78. Bill shared his response with me, and I'm sharing it with you.
PennDOT is getting a bad rap. They only had four days notice of a storm, salt and crews were exhausted from previous heavy storms and they had to deal with inexperienced truckers coming from NY (10-12 FEET of snow).

Several of my friends were traveling to PA from points west, north, and south (same storm conditions) and roads in adjoining states were clear. PA was simply maintaining its image of worst roads in the country and should be commended
.
Nazareth humor! Not to be confused with Bill White humor, and his very enlightening live blogs about our state senate's self-serving inquiry into a government bureaucracy that seems to have forgotten that it does have a purpose.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Congressional Rumblings in the 15th District

State senator Lisa Boscola's flamboyant chief of staff, Bernie "Gonzo" Kieklak, wants to get this message out about Sam Bennett. Never heard of her? Party boss Joe Long is "clearing the field" so she can run for congress. She's bashing Congressman Charlie Dent over his vote on the troop surge resolution.

Dent should have voted for this non-binding resolution because it sends a message Bush needs to hear. But I hate to see it politicized by an opportunist hardly known as an anti-war advocate. It trivializes Iraq and cheapens Bennett. Shawn Millan, Dent's campaign mistro, defends Dent's vote, saying he's received several thank-you calls from families of soldiers serving in Iraq.

Here's what Bernie K., Boscola's campaign guru, has to say, in a letter first sent to Richard Wilkins.

Sammy is holding a press conference at HER HOUSE tomorrow to blast Dent for his vote against the non-binding resolution against the troop surge. It's unknown whether she will actually announce, but why else would the press cover an average citizen who is just voicing displeasure with her Congressman's vote? (And the ONLY reason I think she'd hold it at her house instead of at a better backdrop is that she can't convince 4 people to stand behind her and pretend to be a crowd!)

Josh from the Morning Call's D.C. Bureau interviewed Lisa today about Sammy's "announcement" and Lisa's plans for Congress. You don't want to miss this article! Lisa blasted Dent, laughed at Sam Bennett, and ridiculed Joe Long. She also criticized the DCCC for not coming into the Valley right after the '06 election to start recruiting someone against Charlie The Weak.

Norco Voter Registrar DePaul Discusses Her Kingdom

"The people who left under my reign are people I am still close with."

Those are the exact words Northampton County Voter Registrar Deborah DePaul used at last night's meeting of a citizens' advisory committee studying our elections problems. Her Highness revealed the source of our election troubles. It's her.

Retired Registrar Benner expressed dismay over DePaul's numerous letters to state and federal officials concerning HAVA. In one, she actually urged county executive Stoffa to ignore the new federal law. "While it might be criminal, criminals are pardoned." Benner flatly told DePaul those remarks are out of line.

Benner wondered why newspapers still call him with elections questions. The press has told him they can't get the information they need from DePaul's office. He's concerned the office may now be playing favorites, echoing some concerns he heard from Congressman Dent's office. And he noted that eight people have recently jumped ship. He questioned why the office no longer had a notary for affidavits brought in at the last minute. Greta Browne also wanted to know why DePaul couldn't send someone from her office to Nazareth's recent, and very successful, nonpartisan "resident to candidate" forum.

This is when H.R.H. DePaul launched one of her long, rambling defenses. Rarely have I seen someone use so many words to say so little. Maybe she should be a blogger. She blamed everyone but herself.

"Prior to coming here, that office was in major disruption. ... The atmosphere in my staff is wonderful. ... It's very professional and very pleasant."

As professional as her staff may be, she could not trust any of them to go to Nazareth. "That would be a bad situation. You're not going to send a tech to do a surgery." This is not brain surgery. As one of at least forty people attending that forum, I know her employees could easily have handled all questions. Blogger Ross Nunamaker was able to do so rather nicely. DePaul missed a major opportunity to recast her office in a favorable light. Her attitude betrays a distrust, both of her own staff and the public. She just doesn't understand something Benner said at the committee's first meeting. "People must be made to understand you're there to help them."

At last night's meeting, panel members Russ Shade, Peg Ferarro, Dick Benner, Greta Browne and Jack Bradt agreed to ask the Department of State for proof that the AVS WinVote machines are really certified. They also want assurances that the hardware shipped by Advanced Voting Solutions is, in fact, what was approved. Local state legislators will receive copies of this request. They are also working on a survey about problems in the elections office, which will be distributed to candidates, poll workers and voters.

As Benner expressed his displeasure with DePaul, committee members Russ Shade and Peg Ferraro are frustrated by state officials who ignore them. Russ Shade mentioned repeated requests for information concerning state certification. "I'm ready to go to the governor. ... We're not asking for a miracle." And Peg Ferraro complained, "They're not answering the public and they're supposed to be public servants."

Voter activist Alan Brau, a local physician, warned the committee this would happen. He has had to sue the state Department of State over its refusal, without explanation, to re-examine voting machines.

Elections commissioner Joan Rosenthal also recommended that the Home Rule Charter be amended to provide that the elections commission become nonpartisan.

The citizens' advisory panel will meet again on February 28 and March 14, at 7 PM, in council chambers on the 3rd floor of the Northampton County courthouse. You can contact them with your views at voter.info@northamptoncounty.org. Minutes for these meetings are on the left side bar of this blog.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Nonresident Franczak Ends Nazareth Judicial Quest

Bushkill Township resident Mark Franczak ended his judicial quest yesterday, according to a blurb in the print edition of The Express Times. He learned I'm right. He's no resident. His legal residence is his family home in Bushkill Township, not the room he rented at Nazareth's YMCA.

"I never intended to deceive anybody" is Franczak's claim. I believe him. Like I said yesterday, he just got some very bad advice from the good ol' boys. They're not used to following the law in Nazareth. Until a few months ago, they thumbed their noses at the Sunshine Act.

It's very hard to admit when you're wrong. But Franczak did. He was a poor magisterial candidate, but is a pretty good teacher. He just taught me a valuable lesson.

I wonder if I can get his room at the Y.

LaMont McClure Wants Child Expolitation Unit, and He's Serious This Time!

Two-time loser Lamont McClure is at it again. He's running for county council. He told the Morning Call that if we elect him, he'll start a child exploitation unit. And this time he means it! Really! He brags about his "perfect" attendance record as a selected member of council, plays the open space card, promises to shake down criminals who don't pay their fines, and takes a bow for his code of civility. Unfortunately for Lamont, he now has a record. And actions speak louder than words.

1. Child exploitation unit? First of all, why is Lamont calling it a child exploitation unit? Shouldn't it be a child exploitation prevention unit? No matter. He's just playing to the crowd. We've heard it before.

In his county council audition over a year ago, McClure promised "to address the issue of online sexual predators and perhaps create a county child exploitation unit." He explained that the county could hire an investigator and set up the software to nab pedophiles. Council not only appointed McClure, but gave him the chair of council's law and order committee. In its three meetings, McClure never mentioned a child exploitation unit. And this year, he has yet to schedule a hearing. Yeah, he must really care.

2. McClure's perfect attendance record? Council's eight standing committees conducted twenty-two meetings last year. Every member of council is encouraged to participate in every committee. It's an accurate gauge of the time and effort each councilperson devotes to government service. McClure attended just four meetings last year, and is tied for last place. He's a slacker.

3. Open Space? McClure is one of the councilmen who actually voted against Stoffa's open space plan, Northampton County's first concerted effort to curb rampant overdevelopment. Although The Morning Call labeled Stoffa's plan as a "farsighted approach" that will save us money in the long run, McClure didn't want a tax increase on his record. He actually wanted to invade the county's rainy day fund. Council changed course when it learned it had no authority to do so under our Home Rule Charter. But not Lamont.

4. Criminal Shakedown. Despite all his braying about improving our criminal collections, he has never even visited the office. He wouldn't know the employee who actually does collections if he fell over her. But why should Lamont bother to meet her? He just wants to get elected.

5. Code of Civility. This is a thinly veiled instrument to muzzle councilmen and citizens who speak truth to power. McClure claimed to be concerned "the public has not been getting the message about the good work" being accomplished. His solution? Silence dissenters. It's an obvious First Amendment violation.

In practice, McClure himself has been a regular violator of his own code. As recently as last Thursday, he repeatedly interrupted Council Prez Grube and called a county employee "disingenuous." He popped on this blog anonymously, lied about who he was, and called me a "goo goo." I don't know what the hell that means, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't intended as a compliment. So much for his code of civility. I outed him.

The Real Lamont McClure. The real Lamont McClure
* pockets a $1,000 check on November 16 from developer Abe Atiyeh, who's always getting tax breaks from local governments.
* ignores Lower Saucon Township residents in his own district, who are concerned about the possible destruction of the historic Meadows Road bridge.
* violates the Sunshine Act and tries to bully me for pointing it out.
* wants to spend $500,000 for lavish council chambers when courthouse employees have not seen raises for over three years.
* lavishes Bethlehem with $700,000 for shrubbery and signs along a road while Gracedale windows leak all over seniors.

Lamont McClure Antidote? Will Power.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Nazareth's Bill Coker: He's Got More Opinions Than Me!

His highlight, he tells me, is the week he was published in The Express Times, Morning Call, Sports Illustrated and USA Today. That's Nazareth's Bill Coker. Sometimes we talk at the Nazareth News Agency. We solve all of the world's problems in about five minutes. We don't have an answer yet for Nazareth or Northampton County.

It's a rarity, but Bill's actually more opinionated than me. Yesterday, his opinion about the new dollar coin was published in USA Today. Not bad, Bill. Here's Bill's letter.

It should have been obvious to the U.S. government from previous attempts at dollar coins that they never will be successful as long as there is a paper dollar option ("New dollar coins about to put a jingle in your pocket," Money, Feb. 7; "Try, try again," Editorial, Thursday).

All, or nearly all, countries with dollar coins have no paper options.

Until the paper option of a dollar is gone, the only value of a U.S. dollar coin will be as a collector's item or a good luck charm. Of course, it could be argued that this has been the government's intention all along, as it is bringing out a series similar to the commemorative quarters.

Perhaps this is the government's way of getting the population to "save."

For Nazareth Judge Wannabe Franczak, It's Fun to Stay at the Y-M-C-A

Mark Franczak wants to be Nazareth's next district judge. But he has a problem. He and his wife own a nice home in Bushkill Township, and that's outside of Nazareth's district. Franczak was also registered to vote in Bushkill, not Nazareth.

That's when the village people, the good ol' boys, stepped in.

"Young Mark, there's a place you can go. I said, young Mark, when you're short on your dough. It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A."

Elections office records reveal that on December 27, 2006, Franczak changed his registration from his marital residence in Bushkill Township to a room at Nazareth's YMCA . The Y charges a $60 weekly room rental rate. So our contributions and membership fees help subsidize a politician seeking election to a judgeship outside his district. In fact, they subsidize a pol who doesn't owe a dime for his Bushkill Township home.

"You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal, You can do whatever you feel ... ."

One of the village people popped on my blog to claim Franczak is "REALLY LIVING (eating, sleeping, etc.)" at the Y. Well, I have a copy of the standard Nazareth YMCA room rental contract. It prohibits cooking, even hotplates. You can't eat if you can't cook. The contract also prohibits female, as well as overnight, visitors. You're not really living if you can't enjoy your wife's company.

Franczak gets bad advice from the good ol' boys. First they have him drop off nomination petitions at a local business with no circulator in place to witness signatures. That's clearly illegal. Then they have him move into the Y to evade residency requirements in our Elections Code. But they apparently failed to read it. "The place where the family of a married man or woman resides shall be considered and held to be his or her place of residence, except where the husband and wife have actually separated and live apart, in which case the place where he or she has resided for two months or more shall be considered and held to be his or her place of residence." There is no record of any divorce action between Franczak and his wife.

Under our Elections Code, Franczak's residence is not the Y, but his family home in Bushkill Township. The obvious reason for this statutory requirement is to prevent the very kind of abuse that Franczak is trying to shove down our throats. Gazillionaires from Philly could rent rooms here and would control every office in this county. We'd no longer be a representative democracy. What Franczak is attempting is no different. If he moved his family into some apartment or home in Nazareth, I'd have no objection. I'd even help with the fridge. But Franczak doesn't want to do that because he might lose the election. He can't have it both ways. If he wants the job, he really must become a member of this community, and subject himself to the risk of losing.

Unlike many of our other laws, the Elections Code has some teeth. I don't believe Franczak has acted willfully, but has just followed some bad advice. After being put on notice that the Elections Code considers his residence his marital home, oaths or affidavits reciting the Y address could have serious consequences. He really needs to withdraw his candidacy.

"Young Mark, are you listening to me? I said, young Mark, what do you want to be?"

Regardless whether Mark rents from the Y or even sleeps there from time to time, our Elections Code considers his Bushkill Township home his true residence. And our constitution imposes yet another requirement. Anyone who wants to be a district judge must live in the district for an entire year preceding his election. Since Franczak didn't bother changing his registration until December 27, 2006, he's in no position to argue he's been in Nazareth for a year.

Yet he does. He claims to have moved into Nazareth in October. If so, and if Nazareth is truly his residence, where did he vote in last November's election? He's treading on very dangerous ground here. Once again, he can't have it both ways.

Monday, February 19, 2007

PBS 39 Has Some Nice Things to Say About Bethlehem

PBS 39 has some nice things to say about Bethlehem in a documentary narrated by Charles Osgood and premiering on Sunday, March 4, 2007 at 7:00pm and 8:30pm. From the press release, we can read this.

Nestled in the heart of the Lehigh Valley, you’ll find this charming historic town responsible for creating many American firsts. Bethlehem boasts the first Bach Choir, and the first pumped municipal water system. The oldest girls school in the American colonies and the first bookstore started here too. There’s a wealth of incredible things to know and experience in this extraordinary, ordinary town.

While things thrived during the industrial revolution in the 1900’s, the city took a downturn in the seventies. Diversification, industrial parks and high tech businesses helped turn things around. Musikfest, a ten-day music celebration generates business for the city too, and entertains about a million visitors each summer. As we look to the future, developers hope their plan to build a casino and reuse former steel land will spark an even larger economic engine.

Will the documentary address the problems presented by a casino? The gentrification of the city's south side? Real documentary or puff piece? Tempo host Amy Burkett seems to answer that question with this. "We're excited to celebrate this city’s rich heritage."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Nazareth Magisterial Candidate Thumbs Nose at Residency Requirement

See the home pictured on the right. Lovely, isn't it? Looks like there's a three car garage. It's Mark Franczak's Bushkill Township residence, where he's lived since 1986.

So what's the big deal, you might ask?

Well, Mark Franczak is running for magistrate in Nazareth, and Bushkill Township is not part of that district. Pennsylvania's Constitution requires magisterial judge candidates to live in the district for at least one year before the election.

Last week, Franczak violated election laws by leaving unattended copies of his nomination petition at a local business for people to sign when they buy coffee. Thanks to an anonymous tip, we know Franczak is also apparently violating the state constitution's residence requirement. Franczak supposedly "is renting a room at the YMCA in Nazareth in order to run in this district. Talk about judicial integrity and ethics! This is what gives politics a bad name and keeps people away from the polls." Assessment records, the 2006 phone directory and a google search clearly place Franczak in Bushkill Township.

What amazes me is that Franczak pulls this stunt when his opponents include a detective, police chief, deputy sheriff, corrections director and an attorney.

Hey Franczak! The good ol' boy network is finished in Nazareth. Time to drop out, bippy. Maybe you can get yourself appointed to Tom Itterly's Nazareth Municipal Authority, where officials wink at residency requirements.

Only in Nazareth.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sitting in the Peanut Gallery With John Morganelli


I was pretty nasty to Northampton County DA John Morganelli yesterday. I called him "Farmer John," made fun of his new book (I'm really just jealous), and even belittled his crusade against undocumented workers. I've done it before. A few months ago, I falsely reported that John was building a wall around the Lehigh Valley to insulate us from dreaded illegal immigrants. It would be funded by surcharges at Taco Bell.


After casting my stones, I was having great fun in the peanut gallery at last night's lengthy meeting of Northampton County Council. The suits were trying to save $2.6 million in public funding for a Wind Gap developer's road. This project was funded six years ago, but has gone nowhere. Council was finally ready to pull the plug. Ralph Stampone noticed that whenever the suits started talking, their noses grew longer. And from behind me, John Maher whispered that WWII was over in less time than has been allotted for that road. Some goofy old guy in a gigantic cowboy hat kept insisting they were really serious this time. Really! And his Green Knights had a gazillion dollars to back the project. Council finally flushed this project, no thanks to Lamont McClure or Charles Dertinger.

While we were laughing at these developments, somebody plopped right next to me in the peanut gallery.

It was John Morganelli! Holy cannoli!

He nailed me before I could run and hide. No wonder he's the DA! He laughed off yesterday's blog post, and even agreed it was funny. After this, I "introduced" John to Will Power and asked for John's support. I'm trying to "clear the field" for Will. Before long, John was laughing in the peanut gallery with the rest of us.

Morganelli is a very powerful Democrat, and I do pick on him at times. But I do respect and admire him. He's very accessible, personable and is probably Northampton County's best district attorney. Obviously, he has a great sense of humor. I just don't like his taste in county council candidates.

One final point. During last night's meeting, Nazareth councilman Jack Herbst made an eloquent pitch for county participation in a skate park. Council Prez Grube whispered, just a little too loudly, that he couldn't wait to see it built so he could watch me fall on my fat ass.

Since I'm always braying about open government, I can only blame myself. Now I'm going to cry myself to sleep on my little pillow.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Norco Democrats Afraid of Democracy

They call it "clearing the field." As the Lehigh Valley's farms are brushed aside for fancy new developments like Saucon Valley Meadows, farmers John and Joe don their overalls and grab their sickles.

Farmer Joe, aka Norco Dem boss Joe Long, is planting Sam Bennett seeds out in the congressional field, making sure no Boscola weeds spring up. Farmer John, aka DA John Morganelli, is out in the county council pasture, stepping carefully over council plops to cut down a virulent Will Power ivy. Farmer John has plenty of seed money for his Lamont McClure crop, but first he's got to yank Power by the roots.

These Dems are "clearing the field" for their inside picks, making calls here and there. For them, the selection of a Democratic nominee is too important a decision to be left to voters.

As chair of the Northampton County Dems, Farmer Joe should be promoting all Dems interested in office. And Farmer John, who is supposed to be a full-time DA, should really stop making so many political calls from his law enforcement office just to promote his little pawn. Gee, wasn't it Morganelli who insisted his office be full-time? Taxpayers aren't paying him to play politics in the DA's office. They're paying him to write the "D-Day Bank Massacre," to be followed soon by "Illegal Aliens Abducted Me."

What are these guys afraid of, a little democracy? Let the voters decide and stop playing kingmaker behind closed doors. Backroom tactics like these lead to public officials who thumb their noses at the Sunshine Act.

Many thanks to LVDem, for putting his finger on this problem.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Nazareth Magisterial Candidate Not Playing By The Rules

Today, as I do nearly every day after leaving my estate atop the Army Navy Store, I visited the Nazareth News Agency to buy a few newspapers. It was still snowing like hell, so I thought I'd read Bill White's love stories at home before trudging off to work. When I walked in the news agency, I wasn't in work clothes. I was wearing shorts, tee-shirt and flip flops.

Now, I thought I saw something odd in there, but it was hard to tell. Everyone inside was shrieking in laughter at an old fart in shorts and flip flops in the midst of a blizzard.

"Get a life," I growled, and walked off in my flip flops. I was going to give those laughing hyenas the bird on my way out, but slipped on my ass. More shrieking.

Well, tonight it hit me. I marched back to that store, fully clothed this time, and saw the problem. Mark Franczak, a district judge candidate, has two nominating petitions (one for each party) inside the store on a counter for customers to sign. In fact, he already has eight signatures.

But no one is acting as a circulator. The store owner told me he certainly isn't circulating on behalf of anyone, and doesn't even know who dropped these petitions off. This makes Franczak's nomination petition completely invalid. Anyone running for office should know this, especially a judicial candidate. All nomination petitions require a "circulator" affidavit from someone who physically circulated the document and has personal knowledge of the signatures.

Does Franczak think he can be elected magistrate when he doesn't play by the rules? And don't you think Nazareth residents have had enough from governmental officials who thumb their noses at the law?

Voting Activist Asks That Norco Voting Machines Be Tested

"Lever machines are unconstitutional. We cannot use them. A paper ballot we cannot use. There's only one choice left."

That's what Northampton County Exec John Stoffa said nearly a year ago, when the county decided upon electronic touchscreen voting machines manufactured by Advanced Voting Solutions. Pennsylvania voters are justifiably concerned by the lack of a paper trail. They also question the state's inadequate testing and subsequent certification. Some of them, including voters' rights activist Dr. Alan Brau, have sued.

Dr. Brau has just announced a press conference for Thursday, February 15, at 11 AM, in front of the Northampton County courthouse, to address his concerns with our voting machines. He charges AVS with "bait and switch" tactics. Here's what he says.

Officials from Northampton County and the Pennsylvania Department of State continue to defend AVS WINvote computerized voting machines, despite evidence that the new voting machines use hardware which is radically different from the original machines which were certified.

According to reports, Advanced Voting Solutions, of Frisco, Texas, has substituted internal components which are completely different from the hardware that was originally certified. Bradley Spencer, a former elections employee who is familiar with the hardware used for AVS WINvote, has posted photographic evidence of the company's “bait and switch” on BlackBoxVoting.org.

This includes testimony from two former AVS employees, who paint a picture of a failing company which is more concerned with sales and profits than certification or accuracy.

Furthermore, there is evidence that the software used in the November election, WINvote version 2.0.3, was uncertified at the time of the election. The last reported state certification was in February of 2006, when software version 2.0.2 was re-approved. No public documentation of certification of version 2.0.3 is available.

I am a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Secretary of State of Pennsylvania, requesting that the AVS WINvote machines be re-examined. The Secretary of State, Pedro Cortes, has ignored Pennsylvania statute by refusing the requests from nearly 100 Pennsylvania voters, who demand their legal rights to have the machines re-examined.

There has been some response at the county level. An advisory committee, appointed by County Supervisor John Stoffa, agrees that concerns raised are serious and valid, but committee members have chosen to work through the Pennsylvania Department of State, which continues to obstruct any re-examination of these machines.

Secretary of State Cortes filed a motion that our multi-county voters' lawsuit be dismissed, suggesting that the Secretary of State may be complicit with the fraud and should not be trusted to perform any inquiry into voting machine problems. The investigation must be transparent, public and immediate.

Mr. Walt Garvin, a county official, has offered to have the Northampton County's voting machines examined. I request that Mr. Garvin, Ms. Deborah DePaul and the board of elections conduct a thorough investigation of these allegations of a “bait and switch”, including opening the cases of all of the voting machines to see if the internal hardware matches the specifications of the AVS machine which were certified in 2002 and 2005.

In addition, I call for documentation from the County Board of Elections that version 2.0.3, the software used in the November election, was, in fact, certified.

If the voting machines are uncertified, then the past two election results for Northampton County, including results for the November 2006 election, are void.
Brau's Take on Yesterday's Election Committee Meeting - Dr. Brau offers his own perspective on yesterday's meeting.

I presented the information that Brad provided about the hardware. The hardware bait and switch seemed to resonate with members of the advisory board, particularly those who had seen Brad's post on BBV. I will make sure to have prints of the machines-on-the-half-shell (side-by-side) for the next meeting to distribute to all of the members.

There is a clear interest in finding a definitive answer to this allegation, if for no other reason than to dispel it.

"Open the cases!"

Unfortunately, the proposed plan is to first request that the Secretary of State authorize and perform the inspection. This is the same Secretary of State whom I am suing to re-examine these very same machines. I am guessing that he will say "no". The written request will sit on the attorney's desk for a few weeks before we receive his "that won't be necessary" response. After that, I predict that AVS will claim that all warranties are void if the clamshell is opened.

AVS is also being contacted about the internal hardware inspection. Their cooperation, or lack thereof, will be telling.

Mr. Conklin, the County Administrator, focused on maintaining the working operations of the elections department, but seemed to have little concern about certification issues.

Ms. DePaul, the Registrar, continued to personalize all general criticism about the department, the AVS machines, or computerized voting in general, which effectively kept her from discussing anything substantive. Much deflection. Job poorly done.

Mr. Bradt, out of his gentle nature, forgave the errors of the department and gave the Registrar an undeserved pat on the back.

With regards to the software- less promising.

I have yet to see a certification for the software update 2.0.3, although I am told that it exists.

More to come.

Norco Elections Committee Wants Answers From AVS

The coming storm, our first serious winter weather, posed no obstacle to Northampton County's citizens' election committee yesterday. Russ Shade, Jack Bradt and Greta Browne conducted their fourth meeting in as many weeks. This determined group appears to be coming to a consensus that our electronic touchscreen voting system is inferior. But embattled voter registrar Deborah DePaul has at least one defender - committee member Jack Bradt. During yesterday's meeting, Bradt told DePaul, "Your office should be commended, not condemned, for the work you did."

Problems with Advanced Voting Solutions

Did you know Northampton County is one of only three counties in Pennsylvania that use touchscreen machines supplied by Advanced Voting Solutions? Or that Pennsylvania is one of only three states that have contracts with AVS? Or that AVS' WINVote system was never certified by the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED)?

These are just a few of the things Dr. Alan Brau told the committee yesterday. Dr. Brau, a local physician, insists these touchscreen machines are unreliable and advocates a voter-verified paper trail. Nearly a year ago, he was spurned by the Department of State when he asked for re-examination of the WINVote system. He is part of a nonpartisan group that has challenged the state's certification in Commonwealth Court.

When asked about his motivation, Dr. Brau simply responded. "I'm a citizen. I'm a voter."

In addition to general concerns about the lack of a paper trail, Dr. Brau is concerned about the specific WINVote system. He reiterated BlackBox voting's allegation that AVS pulled a bait and switch. After getting its hardware certified, AVS is accused of shipping a cheaper internal hardware system, manufactured in China.

Amazingly, AVS has yet to answer these very serious charges. If these accusations are baseless, AVS should say so, and publicly. But it has sent no representative to answer these charges.

Committee co-chair Russ Shade believes these allegations "need to be explored. We need confidence that these machines are properly certified." Committee member Jack Bradt agreed, and went one step farther. He believes the entire system is inadequate, most significantly because there is no paper trail. An optical scanning system, which combines modern technology with a paper trail, might be our future. "If we have to go to another system because the state misled us, someone's going to have to pay for that."

Bradt Defends Embattled Elections Office


Director of Administration John Conklin explained the steps he's taking to make sure our next election goes off better than the previous two. His goal is to ensure that unofficial results are available by midnight. He plans to have a manual backup ready.

At this point, Jack Bradt came to the voting registrar's defense. He's run a successful business that underwent automation. And last night, he blamed that automation for elections office problems. "I do not see a need for changes in the office. They've done a very good job."

I respect Bradt. Perhaps he's right. But I don't believe the automation has a damn thing to do with the problems in that office. It's a mess. And its leadership is inadequate.

For example, look at an email that Dr. Brau sent to Elections Chair Walt Garvin on December 3.

"I have tried to go through official channels, but Deb DePaul has been an effective stone wall in her role as registrar. ... I could not notify Deb DePaul since she blocks emails from me."

Does this sound like a responsive registrar to you? I forwarded this email to DePaul for a response. Nada. (Oops. I'm speaking Spanish.)

Or how about this? Ross Nunamaker at NewsOverCoffee puts together a nonpartisan "resident to candidate" forum, asks the registrar to drop by, and gets this.

"You did not state a date and I have numerous business and personal commitment but if somehow I am available I would try to attend. Within my office I have a fairly new staff and do not have any one else here within the office that would be beneficial."

Ross provided the date but heard nothing. Nada. (Oops, there I go again). And when Ross stopped in to pick up materials, here's what he noticed.

"It was clear to me that the office is on pins and needles when the request for a petition to a non-candidate requires the head of the office to be excused from a meeting with a representative of the company with the voting machines in light of those issues."

And so the battle rages.
Update:The Morning Call has a more objective account of yesterday's meeting.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Do Dead Weight Public Pensioners Belong on School Boards?

The Express Times' Joe Owens has these mild remarks today.
There ought to be a law that dead-weight public pensioners and fat-cat, public trough feeders who work for school districts should not be allowed to "serve" on school boards. Take a look at the Easton and Nazareth boards and you'll find people who been sucking off the public dime their entire lives and don't think twice about abusing the public trust as overseers of our money.
Don't hold back, Joe. Tell us how your really feel.

Many public "servants" are collecting public pensions from one job while getting paid for work at another public entity. It's commonplace. And it has become a burden on taxpayers.

School board members are unpaid, but have no incentive to be true watchdogs of the public purse.

Government in the Land of Midnight Payraises Becoming More Accountable

Above Average Jane tells us daily votes for both the state house and senate are now available online. Thanks, Jane! I just looked at the daily session report, and better get ready for Lithuanian Independence Day this Friday! Celebrations better be in English, damn it.

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court: They Work Hard for the Money

They work hard for the money. That's right, bippy. But we're not suitably grateful. Thanks to us, there's only six justices on Pennsylvania's Supreme Court. There used to be seven, but voters tossed one of them over an illegal payraise for judges that will cost us $14 million.

Ralph Cappy, the Supremes' boss, is now the highest paid official in Pennsylvania, with an annual salary of $180,336. The little supremes aren't far behind, pulling down $175,236 each. This, of course, is in addition to an unlimited expense account for judicial bottles of beaujolais.

Cappy sees no reason to listen to public concern over his payjacking or outrageous perks claimed by the supremes. After all, the public is just a "special interest group." That money is needed to "attract and retain" quality judges.

Presumably, quality judges are judges willing to work.

Just how hard do Ralph and his pals really work? Work, for an appellate judge, consists of writing opinions. That's how law is made. Other judges and lawyers rely on these opinions to interpret statutes and ordinances.

Well, this month, our top judges have yet to publish a single opinion. Oh sure, they hand down lots of rulings. They go something like this - "AND NOW, this 13th day of February, 2007, appellant's petition for allowance of appeal is DENIED." Gee, I could do that. I just did.

I've looked at 2006 to see just how many real opinions were released, whether they were majority opinions or dissents. Over an entire year, there were only 258 opinions, or 43 per justice. That's under one opinion every week! And these guys have law clerks who do most of the writing.

These dudes would not survive in the blogosphere. Chris Casey, the Buddha of Blogging, has 258 opinions every day!

Monday, February 12, 2007

WinVote System Was Certified Before November's Election

In Northampton County's last election, the electronic touchscreen machines were programmed with WinVote Version 2.0.3. That concerned me, because the only certification I saw was for WinVote 2.0.2, an earlier version.

I have since been informed that Version 2.0.3 was, in fact, tested and certified before November's election. So that answers one question and I don't want to mislead you.

But as I noted last week, "Even if that version was certified, there remain allegations that what we see is not what we got. According to BlackBox Voting, machines with identical appearances have different components 'under the hood.' " There is an unresolved "bait and switch" allegation.

That's an entirely different question. More about that later.

Is Will Power Challenging McClure For Norco Council?

Northampton County's District 3 is a hodgepodge of Allen, East Allen, Bethlehem, Lower Nazareth and Lower Saucon Townships. It also includes the Boroughs of Nazareth, North Catasauqua, Northampton, Bath and Freemansburg. Its council seat is currently occupied by asbestos lawyer Lamont McClure, a Wilkes-Barre native. He was finally appointed to the post after losing an election . . . twice. In my opinion, the fix was in.

In his last losing campaign, McClure raked in about $10,000 from big city lawyers. Unions kicked in another $3,440. DA Morganelli, who employs McClure's wife, donated $1,500, and one of his detectives provided an additional $500. Reibman sweetened the pot with $1000 in pool party dough, and Council Prez Grube dropped $500. Despite this money, McClure was rejected by the voters. So he owes nothing to us. His allegiance is to unions, lawyers, the DA and Grube. In fact, DA Morganelli is Godfather to one of McClure's children.

McClure's work record in his year on council has been insulting. Council's standing committees conducted twenty-two meetings last year. McClure attended just four, less than anyone on council except Dertinger. He's also ignored pledges to start a child exploitation unit and to yank a $3 million county grant for a road to Walmart. He's violated the Sunshine Act, and attempted to bully me for pointing it out. He's pontificated about criminal fines collections and a theft in the criminal division, but has never even visited the office.

He's a political hack. He doesn't belong on council. His friendship with DA John Morganelli is the only reason he's there now.

Jerry Seyfried, a former county exec and walking encyclopedia of Northampton County knowledge, is the logical choice for District 3. Party boss Joe Long told Jerry the position was already taken when Long was "clearing the field" for Lamont last year. (He does that sort of thing). And Jerry has had enough. I can't persuade him to run for an office he'd easily win.

But there's a fellow from Freemansburg who's now interested. He's no stranger to political controversy. Northampton County's deathmatch politics should not phase him a bit. In another lifetime, he was Darin "Will" Stofko. You may know him as Will Power.

Unlike McClure, Power is a Lehigh Valley native, an 1984 Freedom High grad and honor roll to boot. At Moravian College, he was a Dean's list student who graduated with degrees in political science and business management. He even earned a professional certificate to teach secondary social studies. He's forty years old, married seven years, and has a two year-old son.

Although he's never held public office, he can win. He was elected to serve Pennsylvania's Democratic State Committee in 1988 and 1998, and served in 1992 as a Delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Yep, he's the same guy who simultaneously ran for Northampton County Executive and Bethlehem Controller. Everyone laughed at that. Ha. Ha. Will even made it into Bill White's Hall of Fame after that. But then Northampton County party bosses decided last year there was nothing wrong with one person holding two offices, and actually appointed Hellertown Borough Council Prez Tony Branco to Northampton County Council. When it involved one of the insiders, it was good government. I guess the joke's on us.

Will has matured over the years, and I hope he decides to run against McClure. With Will Power, we could at least be assured that he's his own man. He would not be taking orders from the DA or party bosses, but would be following his own conscience. We could do with a bit more of that. And let's face it, McClure has done the bare minimum on council.

Oh, I almost forgot. State Senator Lisa Boscola is his sister. But I think he deserves a shot at council on his own merit.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Voter Registrar a No Show at Crowded Nazareth Elections Forum

Cold weather didn't stop about forty people from stopping by the Nazareth News Agency last night. Blogger Ross Nunamaker from NewsOverCoffee delivered on his promise. He facilitated an excellent "nuts and bolts" presentation for residents interested in becoming a candidate for municipal office, from nominating petitions to campaign finance reports. Borough council members Jack Herbst and Cindy Werner were on hand with tips on running for public office. And local party chairs Joe Long and Roy Shuman explained how they can help.

Herbst and Werner's interest in borough council grew from participation in Nazareth's many grassroots movements. Jack's advice? "Don't forget. It's shake hands, kiss babies. Not kiss hands, shake babies." Cindy Werner biggest surprise? "They handed me a check. I didn't know we got paid."

Long and Shuman talked about going door to door, fundraisers and picnics. Shuman, a pretty thin guy, warned, "You're going to eat a lot."

Before tonight's discussion, Express Times Editor Joe Owens worried how many "average Joes" would bother to show up. He'll be happy, I'm sure, to learn that Lehigh Valley residents are finally waking up and getting involved. It's a nice thing to see.

The only disappointment last night was the absence of Northampton County's elections office. When Ross visited that office to pick up materials, office workers hesitated until Registrar Deb DePaul was available. And she declined Ross' invitation to come or send a representative. "I have a busy schedule."

Northampton County Executive John Stoffa is so frustrated by our unresponsive elections office that he named a five citizen advisory committee to answer "how we can do better." Last night was a missed opportunity for DePaul to help forty people understand she's there to help them.

Congratulations to Ross on a job well done and well received.
Update: Both the Express Times and NewsOverCoffee have their own well-written reports about last night's "resident to candidate" event.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Citizens' Election Panel Questions Voting Machine Certification


Northampton County's citizens elections committee met last night in Courtroom #1, surrounded by portraits of scowling jurists against whom final judgment has long since been rendered. Some say the place is haunted, and that those brooding and dark paintings move every night. Last night, I wondered whether these claims are true. When the elections office made its evening presentation concerning those controversial touchscreen machines, the sound system began making erratic noises. And when the panel finally adjourned, those judges looked much nastier than they had when I first walked in. Those dudes know a snow job when they see one. Neither they nor I was impressed.

Last night's star was Voting Registrar Debbie DePaul, who repeatedly told told us "we're doing very well," and she has a "wonderful staff." She'd even like to close the office for an hour or so to have coffee with her underlings. Her leading man was Deputy Howie Erney, who demonstrated what elections workers go through in setting up and shutting down the WinVote system. He optimistically told us things keep getting "better and better" and that electronic touchscreens are actually easier to operate than those pesky lever machines. His explanation for the problem in tabulating results was that the old geezers who work polls on election day don't know what the hell they're doing. They don't know how to use a USB storage device, a simple flash drive system, to transfer data from one computer to another. He didn't put it that indelicately, but that's certainly what he meant.

Everything was going great for the elections office . . . until Erney said he was willing to take questions. He was even willing to take questions from the peanut gallery.

1. Problems with Advanced Voting Solutions Voting System

According to documentation obtained from BlackBox Voting, the Pennsylvania Department of State reluctantly certified WinVote Version 2.0.2 in February, 2006, noting twelve specific problems. One problem is exactly what frustrated those old geezers. When an AVS rep tried to use a USB storage device to tabulate results, the system failed. Well, AVS made all kinds of promises to fix the problem. Two elections later, that remains our biggest obstacle to a vote tally.

Last night, when Howie Erney confidently booted up his system, I was shocked by something else. The system is not WinVote Version 2.0.2, but is instead WinVote Version 2.0.3. When I started questioning why we're using a system that has not been certified by the state, I was told to take it up with them. Suddenly, our wonderful elections office didn't want any more questions. Even if that version was certified, there remain allegations that what we see is not what we got. According to BlackBox Voting, machines with identical appearances have different components "under the hood."

Citizen panel co-chair Russ Shade has the same questions. And he wants answers from the state as well as Advanced Voting Solutions. "They have this nasty habit of not returning phone calls."

2. Problems in Elections Office

During last night's meeting, chair Peg Ferraro noted several emails from poll workers about phone calls that weren't answered on election day. Gordon Santee, a 78 year-young voter, decried WinVote's lack of privacy. A helpful poll worker looked over Santee's shoulder as he voted. "We need privacy when we vote. This is just like the Soviet Union." DePaul actually tried to defend this lack of privacy, but Santee told her any votech could make dividers. Not a bad idea considering that Santee is one of those old geezers.

Councilman Ron Angle mildly noted the unusually high turnover in the elections office. "I don't get the feeling that someone is in control. There hasn't been a lot of stability there." And that's all DePaul needed for yet another eruption.

DePaul: "Take away the fact that you don't like the fact that I'm a Democrat. ... I'm very competent. ... You aren't the majority. The majority is positive."

Angle: "Frankly, I believe you are a part of the problem."

Angle's right. DePaul is undeniably dedicated, but the stress of a new system and her own personality work against her. Her office is unfriendly and unhelpful. Committee member Dick Benner nailed this in the first meeting. "People must be made to understand you're there to help them." I don't think DePaul gets that.

Those who came: Advisory committee members Russ Shade, Jack Bradt, Peg Ferraro and Dick Benner attended last night's meeting. County Executive John Stoffa and Director of Administration John Conklin were present. And it was encouraging to see four members of council in the peanut gallery. In addition to Angle, Charles Dertinger, John Cusick and Tony Branco dropped by. Walt Garvin, Joan Rosenthal and Ralph Stampone, members the elections commission, braved the cold weather for an evening in the haunted courtroom.

Meeting Schedule: This advisory group will meet again at the courthouse on the following dates: February 13 (4 PM), February 21 (7 PM) and February 28 (7 PM). If you can't attend, you can contact this committee with your concerns at voter.info@northamptoncounty.org. When minutes are available, I'll post them on the left sidebar.

Bloggin' on WGPA 1100 AM with Ron Angle

I'll be bloggin' on WGPA Sunny 1000 AM between 8 and 10 AM this morning with the Emperor, Ron Angle. Any and all insults are welcome. I haven't been called an asshole for a few days. You can call in at 610-866-8074, livestream the show, or post comments here, and I'll try to read them on the air.

I'll be talking about Northampton County elections problems, and I have a little surprise to unveil about Advanced Voting Solutions.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Barron to Oppose Schimmel in Norco Controller Race

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingEvery now and then, I check out Above Average Jane. She describes her blog as "the mostly political ramblings of a small-time, big-mouth community activist." Sound familiar?

But even Jane pleads ignorance when it comes to most county offices. "Every four years those of us in the suburbs vote for county row offices and, by and large, we have no idea what these offices are or what the people in them do." In that respect, Jane and I are different. I have a passionate interest in county government, which increasingly is becoming more important as areas regionalize to deal with police protection, open space and disaster planning.

1. What is a county controller?

The Northampton County Controller's function is described on the county website.

Our purpose is to audit County departments and entities receiving County funds in accordance with the Home Rule Charter and to make recommendations to County management that will improve the economy and efficiency of County operations, ensure compliance with laws and regulations, and strengthen internal controls safeguarding County assets.

The County's Home Rule Charter established the Controller's office as the internal audit function of the county in 1978. The Controller is elected and is independent of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The Controllers Office conducts financial and performance audits of agencies receiving, disbursing or authorizing the disbursement of County funds, as well as the records of contracted service providers. Office activities and accomplishments are summarized in the Controller's Annual Report to County Council.

Audit projects are determined by state statute, internal risk assessment and requests. The County Executive, County Council members, department heads, employees and residents may request an audit.


2. Who is the county controller?

Northampton County's current controller, John T. Schimmel, has come under attack because a criminal division employee, whose office had miraculously escaped an controller's audit since 1992, embezzled around $120,000. But Schimmel can also take credit for recently discovering that the county had wasted nearly $200,000 on bogus health insurance claims and credit card abuse. He's seeking a fourth term to this part-time, $39,000 per year, position. Schimmel is also the accountant for Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority and maintains a private practice as a public accountant.

Although nominally a Republican, party leaders will tell you Schimmel's no politician. A few years ago, they got all worked up over Schimmel's decision to support family friend Mike Koury, a Democrat, for judge. Party boss Mark Hoffman huffed, "He's a great accountant, but not very politically astute."

Frankly, that's something I like about Schimmel. Party affiliation should be pretty much irrelevant to a controller.


3. Steve Barron Thinks He Can Do Better

Steve Barron, a lifelong Northampton County resident, thinks he can do better. Tuesday, he announced his candidacy, declaring he would be a "true fiscal watchdog." He has pledged to audit every office, no matter how small, at least once during his four-year term. "I am calling for open and accountable county government for each and every tax payer. ... During my tenure, the Controller will conduct fair and professional audits of every county office."

Steve's campaign kindly provided me with an announcement. Here's an excerpt.

The Bethlehem Democrat’s first bid for public office comes just months after the District Attorney launched an investigation into whether a deputy clerk embezzled nearly $100,000 in bail money. The county office was last audited in 1992.

Barron's strong academic record and professional experience make him an excellent choice for Controller. After completing his undergraduate work in government and politics at Widener University, Barron immediately entered the school’s law program and received his J.D. in May 2002.

Barron is currently the program director for Whitehall’s Impact Systems, Inc. The company runs assisted living homes for developmentally disabled adults. As director, Barron oversees the operation and staffing of four different homes, ensuring the residents an optimal quality of life.

Barron has been active in the Democratic Party as a volunteer since his late teens. Last year he earned high marks for his work when he was appointed Treasurer of the Northampton County Democratic Committee.

Barron, his wife Erin, daughter Emma, and dog Charles are lifelong residents of Northampton County, with strong ties across the community
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What doesn't come across in a press release, unfortunately, is the personality. For someone seeking public office and who has such credentials, Steve comes across as a very organized, level-headed and humble man. He's got a nifty website so the dude must be serious. I'd like to see how these guys campaign before I decide. But I'll support Barron immediately if he tells me his dog "Charles" is named after Charles Dertinger.