Monday, April 30, 2007
The Morning Call has announced its letters policy for the upcoming primary. "Letters about candidates and issues in the May 15 primary election must be received at the Allentown office of The Morning Call by 5 p.m. Thursday, May 10, to be considered for publication." The Express Times has a more liberal policy, but can only publish so many letters.
BETHLEHEM More than a dozen pre-kindergarten children got a rare treat Wednesday morning as District Attorney John Morganelli stopped by their classroom to read them a story.Morganelli is a member of Fight Crime:Invest in Kids PA, which consists of 225 police chiefs, sheriffs and DAs statewide.
The book "Officer Buckle and Gloria" by Peggy Rathman is a story of teamwork involving a police officer and his dog.
Invitations have been extended to Easton mayoral hopefuls, city council wannabes, NorCo council prospects, and mini-judge candidates in Easton's south side magisterial district, which also includes Williams Township and Glendon Borough.
Mike Fleck, one of Easton's mayoral candidates, should love to hear some of the questions you've been asking here over the past few days. Does attorney Brian Monahan, a district judge candidate, share Yvonne Falcone's attitude about nonlawyers as magistrates?
If you're interested in learning about a local race, these candidates' nights are invaluable. I've attended a few sponsored by the south side civic association in previous years, and theirs are among the best.
Friday, April 27, 2007
How's that for great county planning?
Update: The Morning Call has a detailed and well-written report on the prison "expansion," which was nothing more than a band aid.
On Tuesday, true to form, I laid out some pretty nasty questions for the five candidates who think they can be Nazareth's next district judge. I figured these written interrogatories would scare off at least three of them. Apparently, I wasn't nasty enough. Last night, I met all five judicial hopefuls during a candidates' forum at the Nazareth News Agency. Not only did they answer every question, but they were nice to me, too!
What I learned last night is that, in this cruel and cold world, some good people still care deeply about their community. Five would like to be Nazareth's next district judge. At least thirty more stopped by just to introduce themselves. Ross Nunamaker from News Over Coffee set up tables and very nice name cards for each jurist-in-waiting, while Heidi Wisner at Nazareth News Agency began making the cappuccino and espresso. And we each had nice one-on-one sessions in a relaxed setting. Let me tell you what I learned.
1) Yvonne Falcone. - Not only did I meet Yvonne, but I also had the privilege of meeting her husband, Dan, who has prepared all of her campaign fliers. She's very proud of him, and I liked the way she praised him. My reservations about Falcone are based on the following: most lawyers who are elected as district judge continue practicing law; her belief that only attorneys should be magistrates; her ties to Dem committeeman Rodney Applegate, a very big cog in the local Democratic machine; and her use of Attorney Dave Ceraul to solicit support from local lawyers. She answered every concern.
Falcone explained that, if elected magistrate, she would stop practicing law completely. She would be uncomfortable trying to maintain a law practice while serving as a judge. She told me the four week course of instruction for nonlawyers is inadequate because the law has changed dramatically in the last twenty years, and explained that 60-70% of the voters actually believe that magistrates are attorneys. She acknowledged that many nonlawyers like Elmo Frey have that elusive "common sense" quality, but believes people will see that in her, too.
She explained that Rodney Applegate has given her some support, but her campaign is largely self-funded. She played no part in Applegate's decision to challenge a nomination petition, although she said the "rules are the rules." She has not been funded by the Democratic machine, and has accepted no contribution from any attorney likely to appear before her.
Her chief desire is to create a forum "where people can feel open and comfortable. I think I can make a difference." I think she can, too.
Falcone has twelve years experience as an attorney, and clerked in Lehigh County for Judge Wallitsch.
2) Todd Buskirk. - Before I went to last night's shindig, there was a letter waiting for me from my friend, Larry Kisslinger. I opened it up and, lo and behold, Larry was asking me to consider Todd. "Currently, Todd is the Director of Corrections at Northampton County Prison, overseeing a 25 million dollar budget and nearly 240 employees. Todd has over 25 years of experience in the adult and juvenile justice systems and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Penn State University specializing in the Administration of Justice. His education and professional experience in the criminal justice field give him a very solid background to be a successful District Judge." Now he tells me!
When I sat down with Todd tonight, he was so relaxed and affable you'd never guess he oversees a pretty big prison operation with lots of daily problems. Here's my reservations about Todd: he'd be collecting a hefty public pension while being paid as a magistrate; he has close ties to Ray Orwig, Nazareth's biggest residential and commercial landlord; and he was plying on emotions by talking about a "tough stance on gang activity." Like Falcone, Buskirk had answers for every one of my concerns.
Buskirk explained that, if elected, he'd freeze his pension and won't be collecting anything until he turns 60. So there won't be any double-dipping, as I originally had suspected. He explained his tie to Orwig by telling me they've been friends for twenty-five years, having coached little league baseball together. He told me that none of Orwig's landlord-tenant cases are handled in Nazareth, so he wouldn't be able to do Orwig any favors. He'd have no problem relocating the magistrate's office, and has made no secret deal to continue renting from Orwig. He would like to see the office centrally located. Finally, he told me he'd like to educate schoolchildren and the public about gang activity, and this proactive approach is what he meant by his gang remarks.
Like Falcone, Buskirk has no intention of accepting any other employment if elected district judge.
3) Alan Siegfried. - Siegfried has been a police officer in Upper Nazareth for over thirty years. For eleven of those years, he's been the chief. After speaking to him for a few minutes, I realized this guy is a class act. He's an "old school" cop, one who is more interested in doing the right thing than in notching arrests on his belt.
Not only did I meet Chief Siegfried, but I also had a nice conversation with his wife, Sandra, and his daughter, Danielle. They are really nice and decent people, the kind you'd like to have as neighbors. My concern about Siegfried? He'd have a difficult time being impartial when deciding cases involving other police officers, especially those in his own department.
I laid it out, and Siegfried quietly but firmly told me he has a strong ethical belief in impartiality, and he developed this because he is a police officer. He told me he has to handle disputes all the time, and can't take sides. He evaluates everything in front of him before making a decision. "Just because someone tells you there's a crime doesn't mean a crime actually occurred." As I listened to him speak, I realized Siegfried already thinks like a fair-minded judge. And as chief, he doesn't have the daily interaction with officers that he may have had eleven years ago. He's a fair man, and I believe he could decide a case involving police officers impartially.
Siegfried will devote all his time and energy to the job if elected. He will seek no part-time position.
I asked him to rate Elmo Frey on a scale from 1 to 10. "12 1/2," he answered. "I know you like him." I asked if there was anything I could do after being so hard on him. "You have to vote for me." Everybody's a comedian.
4) Gary Hammer. - I've seen Gary in town and at the courthouse many times over the years, both as a Nazareth cop and in his current capacity as a detective in the Colonial Region police department. I've seen him in action. Like Chief Siegfried, he's a modest man. He's been a police officer since 1989 and has a degree in criminal justice, but has never been the pushy sort. I've seen him in Giant and at the local hardware store, quietly waiting in line like everyone else.
Gary had told JD Malone at The Express Times that he viewed the District Judge position as the "next step in my law enforcement career." Last night, he explained he should have stated that he views the magistrate's position as the next step and culmination of his career. He realizes a magistrate does not enforce, but upholds, the law.
Although Gary is the youngest person seeking this position, he's another "old school" cop. You won't see him wearing racing gloves or a goofy skinhead haircut. But I had raised the question - how can we expect him to be impartial in cases involving officers in his own department? "I believe I'm fair now and I'll be fair as a judge. I don't rush to judgment as a police officer and I won't rush to judgment as a judge."
Just like Chief Siegfried, Gary spoke quietly but confidently. His eyes tell me he's tired and puts in long hours. But he reamined affable and calm - like any good judge.
He told me how highly he thought of the other candidates. Even his campaign literature is brief and to the point. He's got a great deal of humility, a rare but valuable quality in any judge.
He has no intention of seeking any part-time position if elected.
5) John Capobianco. - I see Cap more than the other candidates because he works at the courthouse as a deputy sheriff. Cap is currently a Lieutenant in Northampton County's sheriff's department, and supervises the deputies in the criminal division. He's a Kutztown University grad, and has a degree in criminal justice. He's married to Andrea Capobianco, and has three children. If I could describe him in two words, they would be - quiet dignity.
Some of you question his relationship with popular state representative Craig Dally. Craig is his brother-in-law. He told me he's close to his brother-in-law, but "I'm running on my own merit."
On his own merit, Capobianco has risen through very competitive ranks in the sheriff's office. He's been a team leader in the Tactical Emergency Response Team, but that's not what he considers important. "Our community is important to me and my family. It is our home. I am committed to preserving the traditions of honesty and integrity that we all cherish. I will treat those who come before the court with great respect. I will serve our community fairly and impartially. You deserve a steward who will work hard, efficiently and responsibly to serve you."
John tells me he would like to work with Nazareth Borough officials to relocate the magisterial office to 30 Belvidere or the new municipal center. That will result in a public, instead of private, landlord that relieves the tax burden on all of us. He's also concerned about the proliferation of drugs and gangs in the community, and would like to visit classrooms on a regular basis to explain the problems caused by both. He'd also like to be a visible presence in the community.
Like everyone else, Cap tells me he will seek no other job if elected as magistrate. He won't try to supplement his income.
Who should you vote for? I'll be honest. John Capobianco is my first choice. He remains my first choice. But after listening to each candidate tonight, I'd applaud any choice. We're very lucky to have such a fine group interested in this very tough and important job. Each would be outstanding. Rarely have I been so impressed. Even more gratifying are the thirty people who cared enough to come out and meet the candidates. And Ross Nunamaker at News Over Coffee deserves special recognition for his commitment to the community.
Desert: Chad Cornell, a Nazareth Area School Board candidate, also dropped by tonight. That makes him the only school board candidate courteous enough to meet the community. Ross reports what Chad has to say.
It was also very nice to see Peg Ferraro, who's running for Tony Branco's at-large seat on Northampton County Council. Peg's escort was her husband, Dominic, who faced death regularly when he made the mistake of becoming one of my father's sailing companions.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Last week, I innocently posted a rumor about Jim Hickey, the miserable bastard who repeatedly threw me off the courthouse roof when he was Northampton County's Director of Administration. Hickey, I'm told, is now working Mike Fleck's Easton mayoral campaign. Being personally familiar with Hickey's prowess as a campaign consultant, I concluded Sal Panto can no longer view this race as a cake walk. My post was not really about Fleck, but Hickey.
But the comments that followed this post were about Fleck. His own work as a campaign consultant has given him a bad rep, at least in some local Dem circles. One reader tells me Fleck fleeced Archie Follweiler, an unsuccessful state house candidate in the Kutztown area. "Fleck took the money and ran. Literally." Hmmm. When Fleck ran for mayor four short years ago, he falsely claimed to be both a Moravian College grad and a business administrator at some used car dealer.
Follweiler's campaign finance reports confirm that about $21,000 was paid to Fleck in just eleven weeks. That's a very large sum of money in a very short time for a state house race. It led to my second post, "Will Mike Fleck Fleece Easton?" I have no beef with Fleck, but think it's a fair question. My second post has led to a trickle of constant accusations, mostly anonymous, about Fleck's character.
Fleck is accused of trying to fleece several campaigns simultaneously. I've seen nothing to back up that claim.
Fleck's Easton amusement tax, something he advocated when he was on city council, is ridiculed.
Fleck is called an idiot ". . . and I mean no disrespect to all the idiots out there, but this guy really IS your King." "Anyone who paid Fleck ANY amount of money to help them win a campaign is even MORE brain damaged than Fleck is . . . and, believe me, Fleck has no brain."
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Someone claims Fleck is being hypocritical. He publicly condemns Easton's controversial Riverwalk and pledges to refuse money from any special interests involved in that project. Yet he has accepted a large campaign donation from the engineering firm involved in that disaster. Is this true? Beats me.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Fleck's consulting work on Ed Pawlowski's 2005 Allentown mayoral race is disparaged. "I worked on Pawlowski's campaign and (to a lesser degree) with Follweiler's campaign, and Fleck was no upgrade for Ed's field team. He inherited a race that was already won, and did a decent job finishing someone else's hard work. Fleck was a useless cash pit for Archie, a good man who The Valley deserved."
Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.
PaProgressive, aka John Morgan, and a person whom I deeply respect, says this. "I noticed this in Archie's [Follweiler] campaign reports last summer. I took him aside and asked him why he was paying this guy so much money. As a political consultant myself I was concerned that this guy was robbing him blind. There's just no way you charge $20,000 for a state house race, for crying out loud."
Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Late this afternoon, a blogging plumber called Nun Yuzz stopped by. He's tried to repair my leaky blog with a mixture of profanity and even more inside info about the Follweiler and Pawlowski campaigns. I'm beginning to think the entire frickin' Democratic party worked both races at one time or another. Nun Yuzz tells us Fleck actually won Ed Pawlowski's mayoral race. This should be a surprise to Pawlowski. He claims Follweiler lost because he listened to his wife, and Archie also pissed off the "fat guy." Huh? Was this a campaign or The Maltese Falcon? He closes by calling us "bullshit and innuendo repeaters." And "Go fuck yourselves." Very clever.
Nun Yuzz has left the building, but guess what happened to my blog forty minutes later?
The comments continue. If the mere mention of Fleck's mayoral race causes a steady leak of comments on my blog, I think those same comments are being repeated elsewhere. Mike Fleck is a sinking ship.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Since that time, Stoffa has negotiated agreements with a myriad of county unions. But the residual unit's contract is still outstanding. Worse still, no salary study has started. In fact, no one has even been selected to conduct it. In the meantime, employees still eat at their desks or in halls. Once the workers' cafeteria is completed, there's no contract for anyone to run it.
Do you see how workers just might get the impression they're taken for granted?
Whether he realizes it or not, Stoffa has just given two thousand county workers a new reason to be disenchanted. Are you ready for this? It's a condescending three page dress code that treats grown adults like grade school kids.
No shorts, mini-skirts, exposed midriffs/tops, tight or revealing clothing, etc. Most of this is obviously directed at woman.
This goofy new policy was signed by Stoffa on March 19, over three months after it was supposed to be operational. And it has teeth. "Continued violation of the standards will result in disciplinary action up to and possibly including termination of employment."
"What they do is really insulting. You simply can't tell people what to wear. They don't understand that use of force only brings hatred toward them, not love." Those are not the words of a disgruntled county worker. They come from a woman in Iran. You see, they have a dress code, too. Once we invade Iran to set their women free, perhaps Stoffa can get a few pointers from one of the mullahs we don't kill. If nothing else, John can learn how to give council real scary looks.
No Nose studs, damn it!
"Dangling jewelry and visible facial jewelry (forward of the ears) is not permitted ... ." In other words, no nose studs. Now it just so happens that married Hindu women wear nose studs the way most Christians wear a wedding band. But a Hindu woman, unlike her Christian counterpart, must get special permission, on a "case-by-case" basis, to wear a nose stud. Forcing her to seek permission to practice her religious or cultural beliefs, while not imposing a similar requirement on others, is discriminatory.
Have you ever seen someone challenge a woman's professionalism because she wears a nose stud? Are they unsafe? That must be it. Women must die by the millions from nose studs. Overweight and unbalanced noses must crash through computer monitors all the time.
But wait a 'tic. I'm an expert when it comes to noses. Look at my profile picture. See the schnozz? It would take a pretty big nose stud to be more dangerous than that. My nose has never crashed through a computer monitor, although I do use it to hold the door open for courthouse customers.
And to crack walnuts.
No tongue piercings, damn it!
This troublesome dress code also bans tongue piercings. Now I happen to know two people with tongue piercings whom I consider quite professional. One of them is an Express Times reporter. The other is my daughter. Well, at least one of them is professional. My daughter sthill talkth like thisth when sthee wearsth that damn shtud.
No sthneakerth either, damn it!
The silliness continues, even on "dress down days." That's when workers pay for the privilege of wearing jeans to work. Now they can't wear sneakers, something they've always done. Seriously, have you ever heard a member of the public register outrage over someone who dares to don running shoes? Most pass out before they can do that. It's absurd.
I understand employee attire has a "direct impact on public perception," but I see no need for a formal policy. It's just common sense. And if it's so god-damned necessary, why not first show employees you respect them by putting that overdue salary study on a fast track?
In addition to public perception, there's such a thing as employee perception. Here's what I really am hearing from harried courthouse workers. "What's the sense of having dress down day if we can't wear sneakers?" Or this. "We all hated Glenn [Reibman], but he left us alone. Stoffa should have bigger fish to fry. He needs to leave us alone." They've found this new policy an unwanted invasion of their personal lives and a needless attempt to impose conformity. What a meddlesome county has really done is give employees yet another reason to sue.
Now excusthe me while I get Joe Long'sth picture branded on my assth.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Last month, I told you that Steven Baratta, a Northampton County judge, has ignored these questions. In fact, someone huffed this morning that judicial candidates just waste their time by responding to "irrelevant fringe organizations like Democracy Rising." I could readily understand someone viewing me as some goofy nitwit, but Democracy Rising is "one of the cornerstones of the statewide reform movement in Pennsylvania."
It might interest you to know that Lehigh County's sole judge seeking retention, Bob Steinberg, has also snubbed this questionnaire. So have all eight candidates seeking judicial vacancies.
Here's the tough questions they're ducking.
Is it right for judges to hire their relatives and friends for important positions in the court system?
Is it right for judges to have secret meetings with lawmakers and governors about matters such as the pay raise?
Is it right for courts to issue orders without opinions that explain their legal authority and reasoning?
Is it right for courts to conceal administrative documents that deal with how judges spend tax dollars?
Is the court properly interpreting the Constitution to protect citizens from abuses by the other branches of government?
Does our court system operate in a way that builds citizen confidence or destroys it?
The Bethlehem City Democratic Committee and Moravian College Democrats are sponsoring a Bethlehem City Council Debate tonight at 7:30 at Moravian College's Prosser Auditorium. This will be the second of three "debates" for city council hopefuls. In their first joint appearance, candidates agreed about everything. Tonight's setting, Moravian College, is an appropriate venue. Maybe they can all buy a Moravian lovefest candle.
Correction: I've just been informed that Ismael ("Izzy") Arcelay is not a south side resident, but lives in East Hills. I apologize for any confusion.
Unlike full blown judges, magistrates are just mini-judges. True, they do get to wear black dresses, but can't even sentence you to death. What fun is that? Worse, they must face the voters every six years. No ten year retentions for them! And on a rotating basis, they must be available 24/7.
I know these are tough questions and observations. I'm a miserable bastard who should probably be shot. But to the credit of each mini-judge candidate, I'll be getting answers Thursday night.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Overwhelmingly, scientific consensus is that, not only are we experiencing global warming, but we are the chief culprits. That's the opinion of 2,500 scientists at The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. International science academies, The American Meteorological Society, The American Association for the Advancement of Science and American Geophysical Union all express similar sentiments.
What the hell do they know?
Saturday, April 21, 2007
This Monday, twenty-nine local seniors will be honored at an 11:45 AM luncheon held at the Four Points Sheraton in Allentown. It's a privilege to list these scholars and their high schools. If you see anyone you recognize, be sure and congratulate them.
Kate Roylance Kiefer, Allen High School 4.967/4.0
Margaret Anne Lafferty, Allentown Central Catholic High School 4.0/4.0
Theodore Grandison Strong, Bangor Area High School 105.448/100
Melissa Keenhold, Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School 3.574/4.0
Mark A. Saylor, Bethlehem Catholic High School 3.96/4.0
Kyle Schaarschmidt, Career Institute of Technology 3.3/4.0
John Clark Holenda, Catasauqua High School 99.77/100
Emily Lauren Brown, Dieruff High School 4.933/4.0
Courtney Aileen Regan, Easton Area High School 101.314/100
XI (Henry) LU, Emmaus High School 4.184/4.0
Jessica Lynn Cortez, Freedom High School 4.43/4.6
Chlorissa L. Manescu, Lehigh Career & Technical Institute 4.48/4.0
Sean David McKeever, Lehigh Valley Christian High School 3.98/4.0
Caleb Huesz Schwarzbach, Liberty High School 4.33/4.00
Jillian Fedor, LV Charter High School for the Performing Arts 3.934/4.0
Eamon Patrick Murphy, Moravian Academy 4.3/4.3
Jennifer Michelle Cramer, Nazareth Area High School 4.02/4.0
Joshua Peter Mindler, Northampton Area High School 4.181/4.25
Jessie Marushak, Northern Lehigh High School 4.88/4.0
Lia Karin Snyder, Northwestern Lehigh High School 97.7/100
Rocco Anthony Panella, Notre Dame High School 4.05/4.0
Max Staplin, Parkland High School 4.722/4.0
Kyle Thomas Brown, Pen Argyl Area High School 4.0/4.0
Daniel Tranotti, Pius X High School 3.71/4.0
Heather Anne Comerci, Salisbury High School 102.448/100
Sarah L. Dodson, Saucon Valley Senior High School 4.453/4.0
Pierre C. Trepagnier, Southern Lehigh High School 4.297/4.0
Matthew L. Eisenhard, Whitehall High School 4.635/4.0
Aly Bourreza, Wilson Area High School 4.603/4.0
Later this month, Ron Angle will honor the 29 biggest high school bad asses with Cuban cigars at the Tic Toc Diner.
Correction:Not being a Donley Award winner. I posted a previous year's winners. But that's OK. They should be honored, too. Here's this year's winners.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Thursday, April 19, 2007
1) WATCH YOUR MAILBOX for the first nuclear strike by a county council candidate to arrive very, very soon. Lamont McClure, nice guy that he is, is going dark on Will Power. By the time the campaign is over, I expect even Power's kindergarten record will be an issue.
2) Sal Panto and Mike Fleck are duking it out for the democratic nomination in Easton's mayoral contest. This should be a cakewalk for Panto, a popular former mayor. But Jim Hickey, the miserable bastard who tried to murder me several times during his stint as Northampton County's Director of Administration, is rumored to be working for Fleck. If this rumor is true, Panto's in trouble, and so am I.
You've got to admit, the name sounds good. And the subheading is even better - "News and opinion from the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania." There's definitely room for something like that, staffed by citizen journalists. Maybe I could find an article about the Lehigh Valley's homeless problem or how recent LANTA rate increases will hurt the disabled. Most LEPOCO members are brilliant and well-spoken, so we could look forward to articles promoting light rail or condemning the way undocumented workers are scapegoated in this area.
But guess what? There's practically nothing about the Lehigh Valley in The Lehigh Valley Independent!
This goofy production is mainly a chronicle of neverending trips to El Salvador. Last time I checked, that was outside the Lehigh Valley. And the reporters who make up this strange online publication look for their Lehigh Valley news in places like FOR Colombia Program and Nicaragua Network. Articles are undated, and there's no way to publish a comment, something local newspapers and blogs allow.
Its "news gallery" is an essay about Catholic priests murdered in El Salvador in 1977 and 1980.
Earth to LEPOCO! That's not news! It's history, and it's not Lehigh Valley history. It's not even American history.
Although it asserts independence, it sure has a strange way of showing it. A section, "Letters That Should be Read," is an unsorted catalogue of letters already published in the mainstream media. I guess that gives these letters more credibility, but it doesn't do much for LEPOCO'S online journal.
Sadly, The Lehigh Valley Independent News is neither independent nor focused on the Lehigh Valley. It's just another vanity project without any real commitment or attempt at citizen journalism.
About the only thing local about this "news" source is an entire section dedicated to slamming local Congressman Charlie Dent. Anti-Dent articles, penned by Joe DeRaymond, contain this pious disclosure. "It should be noted that Charles Dent did have me arrested (with 8 others) for reading the names of the Iraqi and US dead in his office, after closing hours."
That's not exactly true. DeRaymond was arrested, but not by Dent. Nor did Dent have him arrested. Nor was DeRaymond arrested for reading the names of Iraqi war dead. He was arrested because he was a trespasser. And he was convicted, too, something he conveniently fails to mention. Maybe he forgot. Joe's group, which had already met twice with Dent, barged into the office one day when Dent was absent, and demanded to see him. Joe's arrest was the decision of the Bethlehem police department.
Other than its name, this latest attempt at relevance by LEPOCO is an abysmal failure. LEPOCO has so many brilliant members that it could easily maintain a daily blog that focuses on local, state, national, international and interplanetary matters. It's got the interplanetary aspect down. Now when the hell is LEPOCO going to start thinking and acting locally?. Until it does, it should call its online chronicle "Tilting at Windmills."
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
I'll be asking Ron what he thinks about Cunnigham's tax break for servicemen, and will want to know how Ron can support a huge payraise for lawclerks while many other courthouse workers are forced to survive on a pittance. Ron thinks I just have a "hot nut for the judges," and doesn't think council should interfere in judicial decisions about their own personnel.
But what we end up talking about is always decided by the people who call in.
Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham, younger and far more energetic, must see what is going on, too. Today, he'll present a visionary property tax relief initiative for members of the armed forces on active duty.
It's refreshing to see one local leader willing to stick his neck out for the grunt serving overseas. That's where Team Bush, Congress and the Army itself have failed. Men and woman are being hurled like mannequins into combat zones with inadequate training, never-ending deployments and disintegrating equipment. Cunningham speaks of his proposal as a "shared sacrifice" for troops in harm's way.
We should also sacrifice Bush.
ALLENTOWN: Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham is proposing a plan to give property tax relief to all county military personnel serving to support United States efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cunningham will outline the full proposal in a speech Wednesday (4/18) to the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council at noon at Saucon Valley Manor, 1050 Main St. , Hellertown.
Under the proposal, any member of the United States armed forces called to serve military operations for six months or more will receive a full rebate of the county property taxes on their home.
"Many of those serving to support our military efforts are reservists who have had to put their lives here on hold," Cunningham said. "The families left behind struggle to keep everything in order while their loved ones are making a very dangerous sacrifice to serve their county."
"I believe that the people of Lehigh County can make a shared sacrifice for these service members and their families and cover the cost of the property taxes on their homes while they serve our country in a larger capacity."
The proposal calls for a full rebate of property taxes paid on a service member's home if they are in active duty for six months or more. The proposal is for a two-year period covering both 2007 and 2008. If a service member meets the required six months of service, and if the service time spans into both years, they would be eligible for a full rebate of both year's taxes.
Lehigh County's tax rate is 10.25 mills. The average Lehigh County property tax bill is $479.
The tax rebate would cover all full time regular military personnel who own homes in the county as well as reservists deployed for active duty while serving in a guard or reserve unit.
It's unknown exactly how many families in Lehigh County this would affect. There are estimated to be about 300 reservists from Lehigh County. Service families would have to submit a rebate request which will be available soon on the county website at lehighcounty.org or by calling the Lehigh County Government Center at 610-782-3000.
"The issue here is not the total number, but our willingness as county residents -- regardless of our personal viewpoint on the war -- to sacrifice together to help those who are sacrificing for us," Cunningham said. "Many of our service personnel have given the ultimate sacrifice to these efforts. This is just a small effort on our part to say thanks."
Former United States Senator and Vietnam Veteran Max Cleland said, "Don Cunningham's tax relief idea is an example of forward-looking leadership. More than ever we need strong local, state and federal leaders stepping up to help military families. I hope this measure will be embraced and implemented."
Since the start of 2007, four Lehigh County residents have been killed while serving in Iraq: Ashley L. Moyer of Emmaus, Mark T. Resh of Lowhill Township, Brandon J. Van Parys of Lynn Township and Luis O. Rodriguez-Contreras of Allentown.
WHO: Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham
WHAT: News conference to announce tax relief plan for active duty military
WHERE: Saucon Valley Manor, 1050 Main Street, Hellertown, PA 18055
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Imus got what he deserved. It was overdue. But Wonkette's self-serving essay reveals her as a phony who herself has made many of the comments she now so piously condemns. Lisa DePasquale, though unfortunately a conservative, blasts Wonkette's hypocrisy in a column you should read in its entirety. Here's an excerpt.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Let me explain what's going on. The Guaranteed Energy Savings Act allows a municipal body like BHA to borrow money to hire an approved energy consultant to reduce energy costs. The debt is funded from the money saved on utility bills. If no savings are realized, nothing has to be paid.
In principle, this sounds very good. But in practice, Bethlehem is perverting a good idea for political purposes.
Eighteen firms are state-certified for energy savings contracts, including Allentown's DMJMHarris. But the only firms seriously considered for a $7 million BHA energy savings plan were North Carolina's Ameresco and Pittsburgh's CLT Efficient Technologies. Given the amount of money involved, I'd expect to see more than two companies interested. This lack of competition might be troubling, but BHA had already paid Enlightened Energy Consultants, to recommend the best outfit for this energy savings deal. Their recommendation? Ameresco. It currently has fourteen public housing clients. It's experienced.
But last Monday, BHA chair Dave "Lumpy" Sanders had no interest in this recommendation. He had already made up his mind. When the resolution to approve the contract came up on the agenda, Sanders immediately asked that the contract be awarded directly to CLT, the second highest scorer. Commissioner Joe Long, who chairs the local Democratic party and is notorious for back-room deals, seconded this motion. They had no interest in their own staff's recommendation!
An Ameresco rep, sitting in the peanut gallery, asked and was permitted to address the authority. He raised enough questions about the contract that the other BHA commissioners, Paul Reitmeier and George Samuelson, voted against awarding the contract to CLT.
The decision to award the contract to CLT was defeated by a 2 to 2 vote. Commissioner Iris Linares, a member of the Democratic state committee and the deciding third vote, was absent. Had she been present, the contract would have been awarded to CLT. And when she shows up for a second vote in May, that's what will happen.
Here's why. CLT's owner, Charles Zappala, is heavily connected to the state Democratic party and isn't afraid to throw his money around. Since 1997, he's contributed over $90,000 to Democrats seeking federal office. He's donated a whopping $208,000 since 2000 to mostly Democratic candidates seeking state office. Beneficiaries of his largess include indicted state senator Vince Fumo ($44,000) and the Guv, Ed Rendell ($25,000). Now gee, why would a dude from Pittsburgh be giving money to two boys from Philly?
Wait. It gets better.
On September 29, 2005, Zappala picked up the $652 catering bill for some event in honor of Lehigh County exec Don Cunningham. That same day, Zappala and his wife each kicked in another $2,500. Do you honestly think this Pittsburgh gazillionaire is just interested in good local government, far from his own home? Has Zappala also contributed to Bethlehem Mayor Callahan's campaigns? I don't know. I'll be checking.
Zappala does spread his money locally, and it seems to pay off. In Pittsburgh, his firm was one of just two companies considered for an energy savings deal. Guess who just got the deal? CLT. Zappala had contributed $10,000 in the Pittsburgh mayoral race, and another $500 to a city council campaign.
Funny thing. Zappala is neither a populist nor an environmentalist. His investment firm has interests in large waste treatment facilities in largely black and poor Chester, Pa. In 1997, a federal court concluded that the concentration of so many waste facilities in one area constitutes environmental racism.
I've been informed that board members have already received calls telling them to vote for CLT in May. "It's what the Mayor wants." Aside from an obvious Sunshine Act violation, it begs the question whether Mayor John Callahan is really looking out for Bethlehem or Democratic campaign coffers.
Isn't this just the latest example of "pay to play" under our archaic campaign finance laws? It occurs under the radar, largely unnoticed, especially on the local level. But it's destroying our democracy. A nonlocal moneybag like Zappala becomes far more influential than Bethlehem's own residents.
Friday, April 13, 2007
EASTON – Northampton County and AFSCME Gracedale Division, Department of Human Services workers have reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement in just three months since the December 31, 2006 expiration of the previous contract.
Correction: I'm an idiot. I just told you we'll be voting this spring with uncertified machines, but I'm wrong. AVS does want to change its software for larger municipal ballots, but it won't happen until after the primary. County officials won't allow uncertified machines to be used. I apologize for adding to the confusion.
July 4, 1776. America's Declaration of Independence.
April 12, 2007. Northampton County's Judicial Independence Day?
Update: The Morning Call has a well-written and informative account of last night's meeting.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Vonnegut met my dad when they were both "intelligence" scouts during WWII. They were both so intelligent, they ended up getting captured at the onset of the Battle of the Bulge. Their mutual inability to speak German probably saved their lives. My dad and Vonnegut, surrounded by Germans, thought they were saying, "Don't shoot." In fact, they were saying, "Don't shit."
For Vonnegut, that incident was probably an early lesson in the power of humor. My Dad learned to speak German fluently.
Here's what Vonnegut once said about my mom (Mary) and dad.