Thursday, January 31, 2008

Must be One Hell of an Exam

A "written" bomb threat at Nazareth High School. Didn't work. The kids are back in class.
Update: Kaboom!!!

Statewide Poll Shows Morganelli in Dead Heat With Corbett in AG Race

According to The Element Agency, which represents clients extending from George Washington University to Amnesty International, incumbent AG Tom Corbett (37% ) and Northampton County DA John Morganelli (34%) are in a virtual dead heat in the upcoming AG race. That communications firm has just issued this release.

A statewide poll shows Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli and Attorney General Tom Corbett in a dead heat in the race for Attorney General. The poll of 600 likely voters was requested by The Element Agency, the media consultant for John Morganelli, and was conducted January 21-23, 2008. It has a margin of error of 4% +/-.



Voters were asked the following questions:

* Do you feel that Tom Corbett has handled his job as Pennsylvania Attorney General well enough to deserve re-election or is it time to give a new person a chance?

Re-Elect… 30%
New Person…12%
Undecided….. 58%

* In the race for Attorney General, if all you knew was that the Republican candidate is Tom Corbett, the current state Attorney General, and the Democratic candidate is John Morganelli, the current District attorney for Northampton County, who would you vote?

Corbett… 37%
Morganelli…34%
Undecided.. 29%

The poll shows that Morganelli is virtually unknown outside eastern Pennsylvania with only 4% favorable name identification statewide. Corbett, the incumbent, is better known with 15% favorable name identification statewide. Neither candidate has any significant negatives.

The following conclusions were arrived at from the poll:

* The race for Attorney General is fluid at this time.

* Despite the fact that Corbett as the incumbent has a significant advantage in name identification over Morganelli at this time, as Morganelli becomes more known to voters, his share of the vote will increase and continue to make him competitive.

Grant Draper of The Element Agency said that the poll is bad news for the incumbent attorney general. "Whenever an incumbent has less than 40% re-elect numbers, there is a problem", said Draper. Draper also noted that although Corbett has 4 times the favorable name identification of Morganelli, Morganelli is neck and neck with him. "I don’t see how John Morganelli could be better positioned at this time than he is now to be the first Democratic Attorney General in Pennsylvania," said Grant Draper.

Draper also noted that the poll confirms what he believed based on the history of these races in Pennsylvania. “This will be a close race and consistent with past Pennsylvania races for Attorney General,” said Draper. Draper noted that in years 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2004, although no Democrat was ever successful, each of the races was decided by about 1-2%.

“Even in 1984 when President Reagan was winning a landslide in Pennsylvania, then incumbent Republican Attorney General Leroy Zimmerman defeated Allen Ertel by a scant 25,000 votes garnering 2,283,940 votes to Ertel’s 2,258,884,” noted Draper.

“At this point, I think we are well positioned to compete," said Draper.

Contact: Grant Draper
The Element Agency
20 West 22nd Street 12th Floor
New York, New York 10010
212-242-1219


Update: Beardless Capitol Ideas has just hinted this poll is slanted in favor of Morganelli because The Element Agency has liberal clients like Nuclear Threat Initiative and Rainforest Alliance. Morganelli's a pinko? So is he just joshing when he harps about that death penalty thing and those illegal aliens? Morganelli has been on the O'Reilly show more often than Ann Coulter. Come to think of it, he's better looking, too. God, he nearly invaded New Jersey last week. He also eats red meat . . . raw.

Good point about that name recognition thing, though.

So What Are the Columnists Saying?

Philadelphia Will Do, as a few of you might have guessed, is a Philly blog. It's blogger, Dan McQuade, aka D-Mac, is so demented he made fun of a dead race horse on Christmas.

My kind of guy!

He also torments Philly columnists, who are also mostly dead, with abridged versions of their columns. Hey, I can do that, too! So here's a recap of what our LV columnists and mainstream bloggers are saying.

Bill White: Brian Monahan sucks, but you don't get to vote him out because he's a lawyer or something. Oh yeah, Williams Township sucks, too.

Joe Owens: I'm running for president, you know. Shhh! Don't tell anyone.

Paul Carpenter: Hey, guess what? I ride a motorcycle without a helmet! Bet you would have never guessed that!

Jim Deegan: The Giants can kick the Eagles' ass. And Jesus' divine derriere, too!

Margie Peterson: This is my last column for the sucky Morning Call. But they're letting me trash them to prove they're not really discriminating against me. (Wait 'till I sue their asses!) And something about journalism.

John Micek: I don't have a hormone deficiency. Ask my wife. If O'Hare keeps insisting I can't grow a beard, I'll kick his ass. I'm a lumberjack, damn it!

Williams Tp Residents Oppose Landfill Expansion, But Seagulls Love it!

Easton has been called the "greatest recycler in the Lehigh Valley" by Morning Call columnist Bill White. That's no compliment. Instead of soda cans, White's comment is aimed at city leadership, from Mitman to Panto to Mrs. Panto to Stu Gallaher to Larry Palmer.

If Easton is the greatest recycler in the Lehigh Valley, nearby Williams Township leaders are the Kings of solid waste. Williams is home to Chrin Landfill, whose fumes murder nearly every Jersey resident who dares enter Pennsylvania from Route 78. On summer days, the smells are so bad I've seen skunks hitchhike the hell out of there. Chrin should bottle that stuff and sell it to the Pentagon.

Iranian problem solved.

Like any filthy rich businessman, Charles Chrin would like to be richer. That's, after all, the American way. So he wants to expand his landfill, and has been meeting in the back rooms with William Township officials and seagulls since 2001, according to Bill White. He also decided to send residents a brochure, "Growing Greener in Williams Township," which makes the absurd argument that a landfill expansion will actually beautify the area. I'm sure most sewer rats would agree with that.

But where the Chrin family is making its real pitch is to the pols and judges. Since 2000, that family has donated $230,350 to candidates seeking state office. $11,450 of that has gone into state senator Lisa Boscola's pockets. Cha ching! But a lot more is going into the black robes of judges who will decide his zoning challenges. How much has he given to local candidates? Your guess is as good as mine - those records are unavailable online.

The Express Times reports that 1,700 Williams Township residents have signed a petition opposing this landfill, and township officials have received over six hundred comments. But forty-three river rats and 784 seagulls are all for it.

Christopher Greene, a Williams Township resident, explains why this expansion should be rejected in a very well-written and heartfelt essay.

"For 10 years, I have called Williams Township my home. Nestled in the hills south of I-78 in Easton, Williams Township offers beautiful views, enjoyable neighbors, and an outstanding athletic association for my children. Williams Township is also home to the Chrin Landfill, located right off of I-78 on Industrial Drive.

"Chrin has been in Williams since the 1960’s. We all produce garbage and it has to go somewhere, so the wonderful people of Williams Township have been living with the landfill in their backyard, doing their part of the garbage equation. Chrin seems to have an interesting relationship with the township and its residents. On one hand, Chrin gives away mulch every year and has donated funds to one of the playgrounds. But he has also levied several lawsuits against the township costing residents significant sums of dollars (over $160,000 in one case alone). In another of those lawsuits (still pending), supervisors are named directly.

"Chrin recently began negotiations with the township to allow for an expansion to the landfill. This expansion would come in the form of a zoning change - allowing 22 acres now zoned for Light Industrial to be zoned for landfill use - after which Chrin would have to gain DEP approval. On December 18, 2007, residents of Williams Township were invited to an informational meeting held at the Philip Lauer Middle School. During that meeting, Chrin and the township supervisors together were selling the idea of the landfill expansion with a 13 page PowerPoint presentation. Residents had an option of making comments and were told that they could post comments to the township website until January 14th. Residents also attended the regularly scheduled supervisors' meeting on January 7, 2008 to ask further questions. In total, residents have submitted more than 600 comments to the supervisors, most being against the landfill. An action committee (Committee to Save Williams Township) has also collected over 1,700 signatures on a petition against the landfill expansion. No doubt, more signatures are on their way.

"I am personally against allowing the expansion of the landfill. First off, the expansion makes no business sense. While the proposal increases the municipal host fee, it does so slowly over time and never reaches the current state average for host fees. So Williams gets an expanded landfill that yields little, if any, positive revenue. Not only that, there is no formal proposal for the expansion. Residents only have the PowerPoint presentation to go on – no formal proposal for residents to understand all the terms and conditions associated with the expansion. Secondly, the township supervisors have done no due diligence. No financial impact study has been done (property devaluation, effects of inflation on any increased host fees, etc.) nor has any environmental or health impact study been done. The supervisors appear to be flying blind.

"Chrin does offer a few 'incentives' in the PowerPoint such as open space, athletic playing fields, and a promise to drop litigation against the township. None of these incentives is worthy in my opinion. Last time I checked, land adjacent to a landfill is pretty much useless so any open space offered would remain as open space even if Chrin didn’t give it to the township. As the landfill exists today, portions have been labeled as a Superfund site. The proposed athletic fields sit adjacent to the landfill property. The last thing that I want is for my children (or anyone else’s children) to be breathing in toxins and carcinogens on a regular basis. As far as the promise to drop litigation – I truly question the ethics of such a negotiation tactic on Chrin’s behalf. Any supervisor with a lawsuit over his or her head, would be making decisions under duress.

"The last reason I oppose the landfill is that such a zoning change will set the precedent for more landfills in Williams Township. If the supervisors change the zoning for one landfill, all one needs is a 100-acre plot of land, zoning change, and you now have yourself a brand new landfill. A comprehensive plan was put in place in 2000 (which Chrin agreed to) limiting the expansion of the landfill back then. Why isn’t that plan enforced? What has changed?

"Regardless whether you agree with the landfill expansion, what bothers me more is the method and process the supervisors have engaged in during these negotiations. Such methods and processes make me wonder what else is going on in Williams Township.

"As stated, the supervisors were 'selling' the idea of the expansion to residents at the initial informational meeting to the point where residents were asking whose side the supervisors were on. Most of the negotiations with Chrin have gone on behind closed doors in 'executive session' – even so far as meeting at Chrin’s location. Meetings regarding the negotiations have been barely posted (I found one for a January 8th meeting conveniently posted behind a Christmas wreath at the municipal building). When asked for minutes of executive sessions, the township manager has maintained residents are not allowed to such information.

"This makes me wonder if the supervisors are looking to allow the landfill expansion so they can get ANY increase in the municipal host fee to help pay for their 'Taj Mahal' of a public works building ($3.2 million -14 bay ultimate garage). When the township is looking to spend $130,000 on kitchen furniture in this new building, I begin to wonder – where’s the money going? So when residents asked for access to the general ledger of the township and our solicitor maintains that residents are not allowed to such information, I again question the ethics in Williams Township.

"At the end of the day, Williams Township has been living with a landfill in their back yard for years. We have had the understanding since 2000 that no expansion would be allowed. Now, supervisors will go back on their original word. In the meantime, we have supervisors conducting closed-door executive sessions under legal duress and residents are allowed little if any access to pertinent information in the dealings of our township, including financial dealings of the township. Whether you are for the landfill or not – one must recognize that the governing methods of Williams Township are questionable at best."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

John Stoffa's Meatloaf Cabinet

For a guy who's saved Northampton County so much money, he's really modest, almost shy. Every time I see him, he just starts running away. On Monday, he literally dropped his lunch when he saw me and ran for an elevator. He must be one of those guys with an irrational fear of people.

I speak of Vic Mazziotti, Northampton County's Director of Fiscal Affairs, professional bean counter. He saved the county a half mil soon after he came on board over its IT contract. He advised the county to rebid a second IT contract, which saved another $1.8 million.

He's at it again. Yesterday, he told county council's operations committee about a phone study he recently had performed. The net result is a savings of $22 thousand per month for exactly the same service currently enjoyed by the county. In addition, the county is eligible for $47 thousand credit for over billed service. If his plan (which consists of three separate contracts) is approved by the full county council, it will save Northampton County $311 thousand over the course of one year.

Vic Mazziotti, all by himself, is worth about one mil in county taxes. That's about how much he has saved taxpayers since his arrival each year. But no trumpet has heralded that simple fact.

In fact, Morning Call columnist extraordinaire Bill White claims John Stoffa's cabinet is "as glitzy as meatloaf, and largely invisible." And get this? They actually loved that name. Really! That's pretty much how they view their jobs.

Instead of the Machiavellian interest you usually find in local politicos, Stoffa's cabinet is more interested in doing its job. Every cabinet member attends every council meeting, a sign of respect not often reciprocated by council members, especially Charles Dertinger. Fiscal Affairs Director Mazziotti saves money while actually increasing services. Director of Administration John Conklin, against all odds, was able to have a very thorough examination of voting machines conducted within a span of days. Bill Hillanbrand has quietly restored confidence in an office rocked by an embezzlement scandal. Steve DeSalva cut cost overruns in half and finally eliminated courthouse dust. Karl Longenbach, the county's solicitor, should really be on the bench. He has kept his client out of court as much as humanly possible, the best evidence of a good lawyer.

Right now, meatloaf is just what the county needs.

Meatloaf is always better the second day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Allentown or Deutschland?

According to The Allentown Commentator, a local yahoo group, community leaders are being asked to narc their neighbors. This message is being circulated by Oberführer David Paulus, Housing Rehabilitation Supervisor.

All residential properties in the City of Allentown , offered for sale on or after January 31, 2008, must have a buyer notification inspection performed. It is the primary responsibility of the seller to request the inspection from the City. Attached is a procedure memo for you and your group's information. If you see any properties being offered for sale by Owner, after that date, please notify us. The City relies on our neighborhood groups to be our eyes and ears in the community. Thank You.

Vee have vays of making you cooperate. Ask Zee Weikel vhat happened vhen she tried to have a yard sale. Loyalty oaths are next.
Update: Kay Pickel, President of Cmmunity Watch #7, 12th to 20th Streets, has already urged "everyone to boycott this."

Mayor Pawlowski's Latest Slam to Allentown's Struggling Citizens

Allentown is Nice sounds like another one of those frilly puff blogs that make me want to hurl. But its very first post - a picture of the ceiling at Cannon's bar - blows that theory like one of my jeep's balding tires. Author A-town liker has obviously spent a lot of his time at that fine establishment on his back, looking up.

My kind of guy! I'm surprised he's not King of the World.

What really intigues me is his latest post, A Tip for You, addressed to someone named Ed.

"Even though you've been comped for a meal, it's still customary to tip your server. Just thought you should know.
Regards,
Liker
"

So who the hell is Ed?

I've learned independently that the Ed referred to in this post is none other than Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. The restaurant in question is none other than the famous Johnny Mañana's (that's with a ñ, damn it!). Pawlowski stuffed his face there gratis on January 18. All the local elites were there for its grand opening. My invitation was probably lost in the mail.

Pawlowski must think his server's best reward was the honor of catering to his every whim. No tip. Waiters have contacted Zee Weikel about a yard sale to help make ends meet. When it comes to the little guy - suffering Hamilton Street merchants, seventy-five year old ladies conducting yard sales, or waiters - Pawlowski has very little respect or concern.

How do other elected officials feel about handouts? Northampton County Exec John Stoffa refused to accept a bag of pretzels during a meeting last year in which Morning Call columnist and Love Doctor Bill White acted as some sort of Doctor Phil. "I won't accept anything from anybody." Easton Mayor Sal Panto has the same attitude - "ask Josie at the deli, I won't even take a sandwich."

Not Pawlowski. He'll take a handout, but won't tip his server. He doesn't care much for Allentown's poor. So who does he like? You can get an answer to that question on the 31st. Mayor Ed is having a fuñdraiser that night at famous Johnny Mañana's (that's with a ñ, damn it!). For just $5,000, you can be a "gold" sponsor and get a gold taco or something. For $1,000, it's bronze. That's a pretty much tells me who Pawlowski thinks is important. It also sheds light on his views concerning local campaign finance reform.

Morning Call: We Know What Boys Want!

From time to time, The Morning Call Editorial Board will tell us it believes in diversity, equality, tolerance, yada, yada, yada. All the usual crap. It reminds me of people who make bigoted remarks and quickly add, "Some of my best friends are black!"

Actions speak louder than words, and the Morning Call gods have been busy boys. And boy oh boy are they boys!

Newspaper gods started its purge of women with a lightning bolt to Pam Varkony's Perspectives. Zap! But that wasn't enough. The gods are fickle, and decided to kill Margie Peterson's column, too. They've kept her on, as a copy girl, were she belongs. Remember Mary Youtz? She was an opinion writer on the editorial board. What the hell happened to her? Maybe she retired. I don't know.

Morning Call gods only want members of the penis club writing commentary on their team, whether on the editorial board or as a regular columnist. So much for diversity. All opinions will be the product of middle-aged white guys with facial hair. That should give us lots of room for differences, eh? It also explains why that bastard, Chris Casey, has started growing a beard. Micek had better start working on that hormone deficiency or his entertaining and informative blog will be toast.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pawlowski Clamps Down on Allentown Lawbreaker

Allentown resident Zee Weikel, age 75, may look harmless. She was even mugged outside her apartment on the 1100 block of Turner Street last year. But feel no pity. She's a desperate outlaw herself.

Her crime?

Yard sales.

As she confessed during Saturday's "Allentown Speak Out" forum, she occasionally has yard sales when the weather is nice. "I'm on a limited income, and this gives me something extra so I can go out with my girlfriends every now and then."

Thanks to Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, this criminal behavior has come to a screeching halt. While toolin' down Turner in his big ass municipal SUV, he spotted one of Zee's yard sales, and dispatched his minions to shut her down.

City officials surrounded her, demanding to see her papers, telling her she can only have a yard sale once every thirty years or something without a special dispensation that ensures the city gets a cut of the action.

Thank God for Mayor Pawlowski and his vigilant eye on street crime! Imagine if some of the beautiful people dining at Johnny Mañana's were forced to see some old lady - and a poor person no less - selling used underwear or something. One skidmark and they'd start hurling chunky salsa, quesadillas and margaritas all over the place. It might even make the gangs leave town.

By the way, that's Johnny Mañana's with a ñ, not an n, damn it!

Who Are The Tony Phillips Screwdrivers?

Last summer, we all had a good laugh at the expense of Allentown city council VP Tony Phillips. Remember? He was caught in the early morning hours at Bucky Boyle Park's playground, talking to a woman long after the park was closed. We had a hoot over that. Funny thing. This playground caper occurred on June 29, yet was never reported until July 11, and not by a newspaper.

Keystone Politics - a Democratic leaning news aggregator, did the honors. Of course, I quickly followed KP's lead. I suggested that Tony - a wrestling referee - was probably just showing this woman some new moves. Hee. Hee. KP described her as a "known prostitute." Chris Casey went a little further, claiming Phillips' companion "has a criminal record as a prostitute." Someone on Casey's site then huffed that women are "creeped out" by Phillips. You can see a picture of him above. He doesn't look that creepy to me, but he sure looks black. The Morning Call finally decided to report this escapade on July 13, two days after it hit the local blogosphere.

Well, as all know, no charges were ever filed against Tony or his female companion. None were needed. He had already been publicly crucified, and I drove in a few of the nails myself.

One thing always bothered me about this story. Do you honestly think, for even a second, that Keystone Politics sends staffers to check local police department blotters? If they do, they've missed some juicy stories involving political figures over the past year. I know a few myself, but don't like writing about DUIs, even when they involve local hotshots. So how did KP get this little ditty? Obviously, somebody leaked it. Someone wanted to smear Phillips.

Worked like a charm, too.

Over the weekend, I ran into Tony Phillips at the Allentown Speak Out Forum. It's the second time I've met him. Contrary to what I expected, he's actually very well-spoken and informed about his local community. He may not be on a first name basis with Lee Butz, but seems to know a lot of Allentown's less affluent citizens pretty well. They don't seem "creeped out" by him at all. Although it's yesterday's news, I asked if he would mind telling me his side of the story, and he did.

Phillips is a twenty-two year veteran of the Allentown police department and a life-long Allentown resident. He's a Moravian grad, and is teaching in Philly. He's also a victim of racial discrimination, and I'm playing no race card. This is documented extensively in a federal district court opinion. Phillips was forced to work for over ten years with an officer who wore a swastika pin on his uniform and made racist remarks. When he finally complained, he was subjected to retaliatory harassment. This included false accusations about smoking marijuana on duty, later admitted to have been fabricated. He'd come on duty to find a severed and blackened doll's head attached to his cruiser's steering wheel. Just a practical joke, they said. Despite this hostile work environment, Phillips was still cited for heroism.

Still creeped out?

Obviously, Tony was a thorn in the side of officers who think swastika pins are cute. And although he's a Democrat, he bluntly told me he's no "team player" for Mayor Ed Pawlowski, either. He's been called a "chowderhead" and "halfwit" for opposing Allentown's bond refinancing scheme. He has criticized the $73,000 salary paid to the city's information technology director. He opposed a 54% payhike for Allentown's next mayor. He stood up for suffering Hamilton Street merchants - most of them minorities - when they were thrown under the bus by LANTA. He dared complain when the city tried to get a special booze license for Johnny Mañana's - an upscale nonlocal eatery that will send all of its profits out of the city - while thumbing its nose at less trendy establishments. Worst of all, he was highly critical of Democratic operative Peter Wernsdorfer as Allentown Director of Public Works. Wernsdorfer is no engineer or city resident, but is politically well connected. Phillips dared speak against our political spoils system.

So when Tony was caught in a playground this summer, someone took advantage of the situation. Newspapers, for all their flaws, can usually tell when someone is trying to spin them. But we bloggers are more naive. In some cases, we ourselves are active participants in the spin cycle.

Here's what Tony, a married father of four, tells me. The woman in question is a friend, a person he's known since 1972, and she was having some personal problems. He actually attended classes with her. She's a local, too. Contrary to what we told you, Phillips claims this woman has no criminal record as a prostitute. I checked myself. Since 2000, this woman has had four parking tickets and six minor prosecutions involving her children. No prostitution charges. After the incident in question, police visited this woman at her home no less than three times in an attempt to have her implicate Phillips.

Tony Phillips was definitely screwed. It just wasn't by that woman. Who is the Phillips screwdriver? Could be Allentown cops who like swastika pins. Could be city administrators who hate being questioned. Could even be goofy bloggers like me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bethlehem's Schweder is First to Propose Campaign Finance Reform in Lehigh Valley

Earlier this month, I told you that the state supremes' have upheld Philly's new campaign finance ordinance, designed to combat the "pay to play" atmosphere so prevalent in local politics.

Don't think that happens here? Look no farther than Easton, where politician Mike Fleck brazenly defends a $1,500 campaign contribution from the city's own financial advisor, Concord Public Finance. "If you disagree with that reform the system because 90% of the pols. in the Valley do that."

Fleck also thinks it's perfectly OK that the city's financial advisor treat the entire city council (and their families) to baseball games (although he claims it's only the Reading Phillies), but refuses to name the council members involved. "I am not going to expose people to your anal probe for a family friendly Father's Day outing that they threw for most of their clients."


Fortunately for us, the supremes' edict applies to any municipality governed by a home rule charter. In the Lehigh Valley, that includes both Northampton and Lehigh Counties as well as the three cities - Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton. Instead of waiting for reform from the land of midnight payraises - hell will freeze over before that happens - we can simply adopt our own fleckin' campaign finance laws. Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy, a Philly watchdog group, explains why. "It's clearly changed the landscape already, in the sense that the big donors - the corporations or law firms or unions with big political action committees - are already finding themselves with less clout."

I am delighted to read that Bethlehem council member J. Michael Schweder has taken the initiative to propose contribution limits on candidates seeking office in Bethlehem. He even wants finance reports made available for public inspection at city hall. The Express Times summarizes his proposal here.

In September, I suggested that both counties post locally filed campaign finance reports online. How hard is that? If I could post reports filed by county council candidates here, couldn't the two largest governments in the Lehigh Valley make these reports available as well? I believe both counties are looking into this possibility.
Update: Bethlehem PA Politics (Young Republican), calling Schweder a "hypocit," perceives this as an attack against Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan and Bethlehem Controller Meg Holland. "Schweder needs to get a life and start doing GOOD things for the city rather than causing problems!" Isn't campaign finance reform a good thing? Isn't is overdue?
Update #2: A bill similar to Scwhweder's proposal is being considered in Pittsburgh.

"Allentown Speak Out" This Saturday

Two weeks ago, Allentown critic Scott Armstrong was kind enough to publish a powerful essay about Allentown's very real problems. A flood of seventy-two comments followed, proof that we need to pay more attention to what is really going on.

So Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky has scheduled a forum, Allentown Speak Out!

Where: Faith Baptist Church, 219 N. 12th St. (between Turner and Chew)

When: Saturday, Jan. 26, at Noon.

Here's how he puts it.

Speak out about issues in Allentown that affect our quality of life. Speak out about the new Home Inspection Law that most homeowners do not know about. Speak out about the Parking Authority and Lanta. Speak out about crime being under reported. Are you concerned about rising school taxes? Are you frustrated by zoning that negatively impacts our school system? Are you tired of City Hall and The Morning Call framing the issues. It's our house, it's our garden, it's our future.

There will be no hors d'oevres, no cash bar, no hired consultants. Just honest discussion. Real, as opposed to contrived, discourse.

Cunningham One of Only Thirty-Five Dems Recognized by DLC

Last year, only thirty-five Democrats were recognized nationwide by the Democratic Leadership Council for their commitment to finding "new policy solutions grounded in the core principles of progressive politics," whatever that means. Of these thirty-five, only two are from Pennsylvania. One, of course, is Governor Ed Rendell, singled out for his health care initiative, "Prescription for Pennsylvania."

Who's the other?

Lehigh County Exec Don Cunninghman has been singled out for a commitment to fiscal responsibility. If you ask me, the secret to Cunningham's success is a willingness top reach across the aisle and work with Republicans.

After all, we're all in this mess together.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hillary Clinton Thinks She Can Fly

I've jumped off many a tree in my day, cape and all, only to come crashing down. But Hillary Clinton thinks she has this flying thing down. She demonstrating her flapping technique yesterday, before Rendell popped by at 276 mph to endorse her.

And no, she's not using a broomstick.

Northampton County's Homeless: Just the Facts (Part Two)

Last week, I posted some interesting statistics about Northampton County's homeless. Eight percent of our population are living in poverty. But this problem exists everywhere. At LVPoliblog, for example, Addicted posted a series of sensitive interviews with Allentown's homeless. As our economy continues to tank, it is only logical to conclude that the ranks of the homeless will swell.

I was only able to post this data because of research kindly provided by Lori G. Sywensky, Norco's Community Development Grants Administrator. Lori is one of many people in government who really do care. She's just one of many names you'll rarely see in the paper. We see the embezzlers or folks who abuse their credit cards. But there are many more Loris. If you attended last Thursday's meeting of Northampton County Council, you'd see the appreciation its members expressed to her for her efforts with the homeless.

In last week's post, I noted in a comment that Northampton County Council had unanimously adopted a resolution seeking $233 thousand from the state for emergency shelters. "It will get it, too. The amount of money has gone up every year since I've been following it."

Although the amount being requested has increased, the actual money received is another story. As Lori explains it, "Last year, we applied for $175,560 on behalf of five area shelters. The state's DCED thought we would receive around $180,000, but due to drastic cuts in McKinney-Vento Act funding, the state only awarded us $61,988 for use in two of the shelters. PA DCED told us in November that they received a slight in increase in Emergency Shelter Grant funds this year, so we're hopeful we can get money for some more of our projects this year." For the first time in four years, Congress has increased funding for homeless children by $2 million.

Here's the rest of the homeless research provided by Lori.

Income as a Factor

* As in 2005, most adults residing in the LV's shelters (68.5%) had diplomas and some post-secondary education. Strikingly, the percentage of persons having attended college increased in 2006 from 7.7% in 2005 to 11.4% in 2006.

• About 25% of the adults staying in shelter in the LV last year were employed, an increase of almost 4% from the previous year. Thirty percent (30%) of adults in family shelters were working, with an even larger number (48%) of heads-of-household actively seeking employment.

Disability as a Factor

* Monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments for an individual are $603 in Northampton County. If SSI represents an individual's sole source of income, $181 in monthly rent is affordable. Fair Market Rent for a one-bedroom is $668.

* Over 25% of the people staying in one of the LV's shelters identified themselves as having physical or functional disabilities, with 15% of them receiving SSI or SSD.

Race/Ethnicity as a Factor

• County residents who are African American and Latino/Hispanic continue to be disproportionately effected by homelessness. However, the numbers vary greatly when comparing families and individuals who stayed in shelters.

Caucasian make up 87.6% of the county population, 30.9% of families in LV shelters and 57.2% of individual adults in LV shelters.

African American make up 3.8% of the county population, 25.4% of families in LV shelters and 23.5% of individual adults in LV shelters.

Hispanic or Latinos make up 8.3% of the county population, 41.6% of families in LV shelters and 15.4% of adult individuals in LV shelters.

Additional research:

U.S. Census Bureau, "2006 American Community Survey" (Northampton County)

Lehigh Valley Coalition on Affordable Housing. "2006 Lehigh Valley Shelter Census: A Survey of Nine Lehigh Valley Homeless Shelters"

National Low Income Housing Coalition, "Out of Reach, 2006."

Northampton County Pennsylvania Five-Year Consolidated Plan & Annual Action Plan: October 1,2007-September 30, 2012, as prepared by Triad Associates and approved by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, October 2007.

John Morganelli AG Campaign Announcement: Full Text

Below is the text of John Morganelli's announcement of his candidacy for state attorney general. I oppose his stance on illegal aliens, but it's only a very small part of his overall agenda. One small point. John, where the hell did you get that "let me make one thing clear" phrase? Seriously. And I saw the "secondly," but where's the firstly?

Dude, hire a speechwriter! And make sure it's not Angle.

Today, I am officially announcing my candidacy for the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General. The recent show of support and unanimous endorsement from the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee has convinced me that the time is right for me to make another try at becoming Pennsylvania Attorney General.

I believe that I am now, more than ever, prepared to lead Pennsylvania as the state’s chief law enforcement officer. I have been a state prosecutor for 16 years. During that time I have personally prosecuted numerous first degree murder cases to juries all resulting in convictions and the imposition of life without parole sentences. I have been a "tough on crime" DA, seeking long hard sentences for violent criminals and sex offenders.

I also have been a leader in Pennsylvania's criminal justice system. My service as President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Institute for 2 years, as well as my 5 years of service on the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency has given me firsthand knowledge about the problems and potential of our criminal justice system. And, I have been called upon often to give testimony before legislative committees of both the state house and senate on a wide range of issues including the death penalty, illegal immigration, gun violence, the insanity defense, judicial power as well as other issues.

The next Attorney General should develop an agenda for action and provide the leadership to execute it. This agenda must have specific initiatives that have four primary objectives:

1. Enhance Public Safety;

2. Promote a “Tough on Crime” Public Policy;

3. Advance the Rights of Individual Citizens; and

4. Implement Internal Initiatives to Improve the OAG and Better Assist State District Attorneys in the Conviction and Punishment of Criminals.

Where legislative action is necessary to promote the aforesaid goals, the AG must use his “bully pulpit” to advance the legislation, and use his power to promulgate regulations to implement policy.

Public safety is always paramount for the chief law enforcement officer of the state. Specifically, gun violence in our communities must be addressed in a serious way. This is not just a Philadelphia problem. Across Pennsylvania, from Erie and Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, through our rural communities, from Williamsport to Lancaster, York, Reading, Allentown, Norristown, Media and Chester, just to name a few, gun violence threatens our sense of security and weakens our communities. We need new approaches. These approaches must be punitive and preventive; progressive, yet practical. And, lastly, they must be effective, and constitutional.

Over the course of this campaign, I will outline specifically my plan to deal with the easy access and proliferation of hand guns into the hands of criminals, young children, and the mentally ill. Without question, gun violence is one of the most important public safety issues facing Pennsylvania communities.

At a minimum, we need to pass a gang statute in Pennsylvania. This is something I have advocated for years. Criminal gangs play a large role in the violence on our streets as they deal drugs, steal cars, commit robberies and use gun violence to engage in their turf wars. Pennsylvania is one of a number of states without a gang statute. But we need to be aggressive. We cannot pass a law that is weak and ineffective just to say we have one. We need to makes it a crime just being a member of a criminal gang and make it known that gang membership alone will result in stiff jail sentences. This will allow law enforcement to aggressively go after the young thugs who terrorize our communities, and breakup and put out of business a culture of gang worship and membership. We should not wait for the next homicide, robbery or drug deal. It is time to attack the nests of the gangs, and I believe that with leadership from the attorney general, we can carefully craft a statute that will pass constitutional muster to make gang membership itself a crime. Breaking up criminal street gangs in our cities will strike a major blow to gun violence.

Secondly, I will create a Gun Trafficking Unit in OAG. This unit will be dedicated to multi-county illegal gun trafficking that will work in conjunction with local police and district attorneys in targeted, high violence areas of Pennsylvania.

Third, the attorney general must lead the effort to convince the legislature to pass legislation that requires the reporting of stolen/lost firearms. Car owners are required to report a stolen vehicle. Why should we require anything less from a firearm owner? This would eliminate “cover” for those who illegally sell guns to criminals and then later claim their gun was stolen when it shows up in the commission of a crime.

Public safety does not involve only criminal matters. The attorney general also has a responsibility to protect the public from dangerous goods and services. The consumer protection division of the OAG should do exactly as its title suggests- protect consumers. Recently, we have seen a flood of dangerous, toxic products from China. The rush by American business to find cheap labor in China and other foreign countries to enhance corporate profits has been at the expense of the American consumer in terms of safety and quality. Cheap labor and lax to no public safety standards have resulted in dangerous products. Unsafe products from China, ranging from toys, to toothpaste, seafood to pet food, has accounted for more than 60% of the recalls in 2007. Lead and other dangerous materials in these products threaten the health and welfare of all of us, particularly our children.

For the most part, those responsible for the faulty products and bad food have denied the problems saying their products are safe. Chinese officials have, however, admitted that their current food and safety situation is not satisfactory. We need to send a loud clear message to China, other foreign countries and businesses that these unsafe, junk products are not welcome.

As Attorney General, I will initiate civil litigation directly against the businesses, and foreign countries themselves, if necessary, that deliver dangerous products to us, to recoup money damages and put an end to the importation of unsafe products.

As attorney general, I will also continue a “tough on crime” public policy that I have advanced as district attorney. I will lead the effort to abolish parole for violent criminals and sex offenders, and end pre-release programs at our state prisons to assure that criminals actually serve their entire sentence in jail as ordered by the judge. And, I will continue, as I have done as DA, to crack down on illegal aliens who have no respect for our laws, who use fraudulent identities and documents to maintain their illegal presence, who commit crime in our communities, and who illegally access public benefits at the expense of taxpayers.

Being tough on crime also means being tough on public corruption. The Republicans have controlled the office of attorney general for 28 straight years including 5 years by the present attorney general. In those 28 years we have seen one republican attorney general go to jail, and the others disengaged as public corruption flourished in Pennsylvania.

Now, we have the present republican attorney general mired in conflicts of interest as he tries to do a balancing act between investigating public corruption while at the same time not offending Republican political and financial supporters. The so-called “bonus-gate investigation” has witnessed search warrants issued for democratic offices, but not republican offices. Meetings held between the attorney general and his staff with republican leaders at the outset of the investigation, to hear how bonuses were awarded, but no such meetings with the democratic leadership. Let me make one thing clear: if any public official used tax dollars to award individuals for partisan, political work, they need to be held accountable regardless of party affiliation. But we must have an independent investigation. Former Republican legislative leaders, who presided over the awarding of huge bonuses, also gave thousands and thousands of dollars to the current attorney general’s campaign committee. It is well established that prosecutors are prohibited by ethical prohibitions from investigating their friends or their political opponents. I have called for the appointment of an independent prosecutor, one who is not tied politically or financially to any of the legislative present or past leadership. The attorney general has declined to do so.

My disagreement with the attorney general on this issue should not be construed as questioning his integrity. I do not. But I do question his judgment. The conflicts of interest on the part of the AG with respect to this investigation are so clear that the failure to so appoint an independent prosecutor threatens the investigation itself and potential prosecutions. I have also called for the reauthorization of the Independent Counsel Act which in the past provided the legal mechanism to assure that we have independent investigations of corrupt public officials particularly when the AG may be conflicted as is the case here. Originally passed in 1998, the law sunset in 2003 and needs to be law again to assure unbiased, apolitical investigations and prosecutions of public corruption.

As attorney general, I will appoint an independent counsel to evaluate both republicans and democrats role in “bonusgate”, restore confidence in the investigation, and fight to reauthorize the "Independent Counsel Act" to go after public corruption in the future.

The attorney general should also be a leader for individual rights, and protect our citizens from unlawful and unscrupulous practices. Over the course of this campaign, I will outline specifically my plans to deal with a number of issues that affect the individual rights of Pennsylvania citizens.

At a minimum, however, I will use all the powers at the disposal of the attorney general to do the following:

1. End Predatory Lending – a practice that preys upon those who can least afford it with devastating results.

2. Establish oversight of HMO and other health insurance organizations to stop abuses and fraudulent denials of health insurance coverage

3. Assure that Pennsylvania citizens are not the victims of price gouging at gas pumps while oil companies buy off politicians and amass unconscionable profits on the back of the middle class.

Lastly, internally, the office of attorney general needs a restructuring and a transfusion. One of my goals as Attorney General will be to establish the OAG as a "top notch" legal agency of state government. To accomplish this, a complete review of the presently constituted office is necessary to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to introduce new concepts to the OAG. Upon taking office, I will do the following:

A comprehensive financial and performance audit will be requested to identify and correct any problem areas and evaluate effectiveness.

A Resource Task Force will be commissioned consisting of volunteers of private attorneys and other professionals to act in an advisory role for a limited period of time to review management issues and the delivery of legal services in an efficient and cost effective manner.

A Formal Prosecutor Assistance Program will be established to assist state district attorneys who often turn to the OAG for help when they have limited resources, conflicts of interest or need specialized expertise. A formal prosecutor assistance program with additional lawyers and investigators would better service state DA's.

An Internet Crime Resource Center will be established to assist state prosecutors who are dealing more and more with crimes involving the Internet and who are often in need of assistance. The AG should be a training and information clearinghouse which directly assists prosecutors and police with prosecutions, strategic planning and identification of resources necessary to address such crimes.

I begin this campaign with a clear understanding of the task ahead. Pennsylvania has never elected a democrat to the office of attorney general. Republicans have controlled this office for 28 straight years. But I am confident that 2008 will be a history making year as Pennsylvanians seek change in Harrisburg. Change is needed. New strategies and approaches will provide an exciting agenda for action that will recognize the traditional role of the OAG, but will also expand the role of the AG making it more relevant and effective than in the past. With the support of friends and family, I begin with confidence, and look forward to bringing my message of change to Pennsylvania communities.
Update: John Micek's account of Morganelli's announcement, published by The Morning Call, is located here. The Express Times story, written by crime reporter Russ Flanagan, is located here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

DiGiacinto Demonstrates Wisdom of Bethlehem Voters' Controller Pick

When the dust had settled, Republican Meg Holland was elected controller by Bethlehem's heavily Democratic voters over Dave DiGiacinto, even though he outspent her about three to one. But from Bethlehem PA Politics, our latest local poliblog, we learn that her vanquished foe does not go gentle into that good night. A victim of sour grapes, he rages, rages against the dying of the light.

He's hoppin' mad that Meg Holland did not run as Margaret Mary Holland, and wants DA John Morganelli to arrest her or something. Good luck with that one, Dave! By the way, Dave, Bethlehem is in Lehigh County, too. So if you want her executed, the person to ask is the state AG. I'm sure Corbett will hop right on it. Bonusgate can wait.

So what's Meg, 'er Margaret May, doing? At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Bethlehem Controller Holland announced an ambitious and detailed first year agenda in a four-page news release. Instead of summarizing it, you should read it yourself. It reveals a consummate professional who takes her job seriously. Voters got this one right.

1. Hire a Deputy Controller - In December 2007 I instructed Jean Zweifel, Director the Human Resources, to put an advertisement for the Deputy Controller position in the newspaper and on Career Builder. I also informed Daryl Yothers (the former Deputy Controller) that I would consider him for the position if he submitted an updated resume to Human Resources. I received approximately 40 resumes from interested applicants for the position. The majority of the applicants were extremely qualified for the position. I narrowed down the 40 applicants to 10 and interviewed them with Ms. Zweifel. Several applicants were willing to take dramatic decreases in salary from their present employment. I hired Eugene Auman on Sunday, January 13, 2008 for the position. Mr. Auman was Vice President of Finance and Administration of Valley Youth House, has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Perm State University and is also certified in human resources. Mr. Auman brings with him over 20 years of financial, managerial and administrative experience with non-profits and governmental entities, particularly in budget preparation, fiscal reporting and contract monitoring.

2. Attend monthly pension board meetings and review reports - As required, I will personally attend the monthly pension board meetings. I attended my first meeting in November 2007 and reviewed all financial reports, actuarial reports, and investment and performance reports with respect to the city's pension funds. I will summarize my review of the aforementioned documents in the coming weeks.

3. Establish fraud deterrence and prevention practices - I will enact several fraud deterrence and prevention practices, including: an anonymous telephone"integrity and humility" tip line, personnel manuals, cash handling procedures, computer access and Internet controls, telephone controls, etc. I will also introduce IDEA software to enhance the current accounting systems and establish routine queries of the city's databases to detect any potential fraud for further investigation.

4. Establish purchase order procedures and authorization controls - My department will perform audits and procedures which will work towards resolving the management comment noted by Maher Dussell CPAs (the CPA firm hired to perform the city's financial audit). This management comment has appeared on the audited financial statements for over ten years. My department will instruct the Accounting Department to record purchase encumbrances, immediately. In addition, my department will institute purchase order reviews, as well as, perform an audit of blanket purchase orders for last twelve months. My department will work with the Continual Improvement (CI) team to review purchase order processing and approval in order to eliminate duplication (i.e. six copies of purchase orders are routed after approval process). Any other management comments noted in the auditors['] report will be resolved and procedures will be instituted to prevent future comments regarding internal control weaknesses.

5. Enact record retention policy for the Accounting and Controller's Department - The legal department recently completed a record retention policy(part of their CI projects) for their department and for city contracts, while researching with respect to governmental record retention. My department, particularly the part-time employee, will work with the CI team and the law department to inventory, categorize and shred unnecessary documents that are currently stored on the fifth floor of city hall. For example, through housecleaning of my department we found telephone books from the 1970s, tax books from the 1980s, four scrap books dating back 40 years with newspaper clippings about former Controller, Wally DeCrosta, and the city administration, a painting from Gloucester Massachusetts from 1966 and various other prints and pictures.

6. Enhance the existing database of municipal contracts with the law department - Until now, the details regarding all city contracts were kept manually on contract cards by the Controller's office, while the law department kept contract detail in a database. My department will enhance the contract database with various contract details to enable more efficient sorting to facilitate audits and reviews of the contacts (i.e. vendor information, dollar amounts, department, purpose, length of time, etc.)

7. Review and monitor the budget process - My department will complete a detailed review of the budget process, budget calculations and overhead allocation (by the Accounting Department) and budget monitoring procedures with a comparison of budgeted amounts to actual amounts by category. I will require an explanation of variances by the applicable department and city administration,which may result in adjustments and changes to future budget calculations. My department will obtain comparative municipalities to the City of Bethlehem from Maher Dussell and will perform ratio analysis to determine areas where the city outperforms its comparatives and areas for improvement and further investigation/review. The Deputy Controller will begin reviewing the actual to budgeted financials for year ended December 31, 2007, immediately.

- For 2006, the accrual basis financial statements indicated an approximate profit of $300,000 and the cash basis budgeted financial statements indicated an approximate loss of ($1,600,000).
- After my review of individual line items, I determined that there was $2,000,000 in interdepartmental revenue recorded on the accrual basis financial statements, which was not recorded on the cash basis financial statements because the revenue was not collected as of December 31, 2006. The difference was primarily due to the following interdepartmental revenue items:
- Ambulance fees (outstanding receivables are overdue and the city has a part-time employee/retiree at St. Luke's Hospital collecting the ambulance fees due to the insurance processing)
- Police roster fees
- 911 fees
8. Meet with all departments as to policies and procedures - I or the Deputy Controller will personally meet with all departments to review procedures, policies, any existing manuals, cash handling detail, etc., which will facilitate future audit plans.

9. Review of medical insurance and catastrophic insurance processing - My department will review the medical insurance claims processing procedures and reimbursement of catastrophic medical reimbursements. I have a meeting scheduled for February 11, 2008 with Mike Caruso and Joe Leonard to discuss my questions/concerns.
- The city is currently responsible for catastrophic medical expenses up to $100,000 and up-front expenses over $100,000 and is reimbursed for expenses incurred over the S100,000 threshold. The reimbursements in the past have not been made on a timely basis.

10. Operation and performance audits of departments and other entities (including the entities that are part of the Bethlehem Authority) - My department will perform announced and unannounced operational and performance audits of various departments and entities as determined through my analysis of financial information.

- i.e. the Municipal Golf Course did not make a profit, therefore, my department will review/audit the golf course to make it more efficient (cash collection procedures, increase revenue generation in other ways, etc.)
11. Review purchase policies and procedures as they relate to pricing negotiations - My department will review the purchase policies and procedures related to price negotiations for quantity discounts. This relates to office supplies, equipment, energy and utility usage, insurance, etc. For example, two departments will purchase photocopiers/printers at the same time and not consider grouping the purchase for additional discounts.

12. Meet with Sands-Beth Works representatives to review the host fee contract,revenue generation and computations - I will personally meet with the Sands-BethWorks representatives to review the host fee contract, revenue generation and computations.

- Determine the applicable reporting, collection, gaming requirements and remittance of revenue to the city.
- Determine city collection, reporting, budgeting, projection and spending of revenue with controls.
13. Meet with various other local government controllers to coordinate any efforts with respect to related areas -I will meet personally with other local government controllers (Allentown, Lehigh County, Northampton County, etc.) to coordinate any efforts (i.e. the casino host fees and revenue collection/calculation).
An Express Times account of Holland's busy agenda, including Mayor Callahan's reaction, is located here.
Update: The Morning Call's story is here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lehigh Valley DA Morganelli to Announce AG Bid on Wednesday

Northampton County District Attorney John M. Morganelli will officially announce his candidacy for Pennsylvania Attorney General on Wednesday January 23, 2008 at 1:30pm in the Pennsylvania state capitol rotunda. At that time, he will also outline tell reporters why he can make a difference.

I can give you one reason. John, unlike few others, has been on the front lines as a county prosecutor for four terms. I may have my differences with John's stance on a few issues, but he's still the best District Attorney that Northampton County has ever seen. He has the state party endorsement, but that's worth very little.

To defeat incumbent Tom Corbett, John needs money. His most recent finance report reveals a $389 thousand warchest, which is competitive with Corbett's half million dollars. But Morganelli will need ten times that amount if he hopes to become the state's first Democratic Attorney General.

If elected, Morganelli would also be the state's first state prosecutor from the Lehigh Valley.

LVR Suffers a Series of Unfortunate Events

I sustained a severe athletic injury over the weekend. Watching a kids' basketball game in West End Allentown, I popped my lower back badly while bending over for a Gatorade bottle. To add to this indignity, some little brat pushed me over. When I complained, Allen High School officials blamed me for cracking their gym floor, but they're not getting a dime out of me.

"Are you OK?"

"Of course, I'm OK. I'm a highly conditioned, well-trained athlete."

But it took me an hour to stand on MLK Day, so I decided to seek medical attention ftom my doctors in Bangor. I started out early enough, but it still took me another hour to get into my jeep. And have you ever tried driving stick shift with back spasms? No picnic. When I could do so safely, I blew off a few red lights, pissing off just about everyone in the slate belt, and they're all packin'.

When forced to stop, my jeep kept stalling as I'd try to put it back in gear. The last time, I was in the middle of a frickin' intersection, about a mile from the doctor's office. Not to worry. I have roadside insurance. But guess what? My damn insurance company was unable to find a tow truck. I dutifully called non emergency Bangor PD, explained the situation, and said I needed to get to the doctor. They told me not to worry my pretty little head. So I abandoned my trusty red jeep, and hobbled through 15 degree weather for the last mile, making it in about an hour.

After the usual three hour wait in the doctor's office, I was finally treated. Here's what I was told.

"You know why you pulled you back?"

"Because some little basard knocked me on my ass?"

"No! Because you're too damn fat!"

And so on. This Jenny Craig disciple let me have it because he's a stick. Fat or not, I could still knock him on his ass with just one good fart.

"You only come to see me when you have a problem."

Does he think I'm his boyfriend?

After getting lectured by a bunch of skinny people, the fat nurses came out and hooked up all these wires along my lower back and ass. Then they started electrocuting me. They twisted this goofy knob and then started asking questions.

Slight twist. "Do you feel that?"

"No."

Big twist of the knob. Smoke comes out my ass. How 'bout that?"

"Haaaachheeemama! Yes! Yes! Yes!"

"Yes, what??"

"Yes, mistress!"

Geez, what is this, Guantanamo Bay? I'm pretty sure there was also an 80' antenna coming out of my ass. Throughout this therapy, I continued having back spasms. But the nurses were having a hoot! While jolts of electricity were shooting up my ass, with smoke everywhere, some police dispatcher called on my cell to tell me I was in big trouble for not having moved my jeep yet. All she could hear on the other end were shrieks of agony.

The torture mercifully over, some dude in a white labcoat gave me prescriptions for anti-inflammatories, Valium, Placebo, blood tests and yelled at me some more. I hobbled back to my jeep (another hour) and was soon joined by one of Bangor's finest. He looked like the Terminator with his shades and closely cropped hair. But he refused to put me out of my misery.

"If you guys shot a pit bull this summer, you could shoot me! I'm a lot nastier! I don't even have rabies shots."

"You're not getting off that easy, O'Hare. Why is smoke coming out of your ass?" I think he was tempted.

So I stood by my jeep (my back hurt too much to try and get in) and waited another hour for the tow truck to come. In the meantime, Arnold sat in his cruiser with all his lights whirling around. If any of you are interested, frostbite's nothing compared to electrodes in your ass. Only a few fingertips have fallen off as I type this little epistle.

Jeepless, I conned a friend to take me to the drugstore to get my much needed medicine. (Getting in her car was another exercise in masochism - back spasms and a sore ass). After an hour wait, I was called to the counter and told my insurance company had changed all my numbers around the first of the year again - how thoughtful of them! - so that my drugs would now cost me $34,678.92. Fortunately, my health insurance company faxed the right numbers right away. Another hour. The new bill? $34,677.92.

Well, I just popped a few of those pills. Worth every penny! My back still hurts like hell, but now at least I don't give a shit. By Wednesday or Thursday, I'll be back with more about our homeless, those wacky kids in Easton, and my secret crush on Bossman Long.

Right now, Im trying to remember where my car was towed.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

Northampton County's Homeless: Just the Facts

Lori G. Sywensky, Norco's Community Development Grants Administrator, is one of those county workers whose name is not mentioned often. But it is people like Lori who put a human face on government. Last night, at her request, county council adopted a resolution seeking state funds for emergency shelter services. She has some startling and sad statistics about homelessness in Northampton County.

In 2006, 8% of the County's residents - over 23,000 people -were living in poverty!

According to the 2006 census on homelessness, 780 adults and children stayed in one of the County's five shelters. Single men continue to have the highest incidence of homelessness, but the number of women and children staying in shelter increased during 2006.

Families in Crisis

Children comprised over 36% of the Lehigh Valley's homeless population last year, compared to 33% in 2005. Children in family shelters were accompanied by a female head-of-household over 92% of the time; the majority of these households had mothers between the ages of 18-22.

* For the first time since 2000, the average length of stay in the LV's homeless shelters has increased over the previous year. Children had the longest stays, with an average of 39 nights spent in shelter.

In the LV's family shelters, the reasons cited most often for unemployment were domestic violence (24.5%), followed by care of young children (20.0%), unaffordable child care (11.7%), and relocation (9%).

The four primary concerns cited by shelter residents were lack of affordable housing, unable to afford housing, lack of accessible housing, and lack of adequate transportation. These concerns continue to be cited year after year.

Affordable Housing as a Factor

* In Northampton County, the average wage for a renter is $10.04 an hour. In order to afford the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment at this wage, a renter must work 61 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. A person making minimum wage would need to work 118 hours a week to afford this rent.

* The issue of persons at risk of homelessness in the County's Boroughs and Townships is very real. Over 860 renter households and 1250 owner-occupied households in these municipalities are considered to have "Very Low Incomes" (30% of the County's median income) and the cost burden of their housing is more than 50% of their income. This means that homelessness is a great concern for more than 6,000 of the county's suburban residents.

* Persons who end up in shelters usually have moved from the suburbs to urban areas to search for affordable housing.

Place of Residence Prior to Shelter

LV Suburban Municipality - 54.7%
Bethlehem - 34.1%
Easton - 28.2%
I'll present more of her findings next time.

Norco Council Approves Lever Look-a-Like For Future Elections

Ron Angle finally ended his boycott of the Northampton County Council dais last night, ascending into the stratosphere with seven other council members. But he was still the sole vote against a lever look-a-like endorsed by seven council members.

Sequoia Voting Systems, in the elections business for over 100 years, won over the elections commission, council and even me. Its product, technically called the Advantage D-10, already serves most of New Jersey, Louisiana and Montgomery County. A disabled elections commission member reports it is extremely user friendly, with buttons located within easy reach. The system does mimic the lever machine, presenting a full face ballot to the voter. Each machine is independently operated and is run on firmware.

Dr. Alan Brau, a leading voting rights activist, conceded that the Advantage has many "good points" and is a "strong system from a hardware standpoint." But he stressed there is no way you can really be sure your vote counts, and suggested that we run one election with paper ballots until we have time to pursue other options. Instead of giving a nonlocal vendor millions, he argued it made for sense to hire people locally to count the votes, and argued other jurisdictions have done so very quickly. He claimed we could conduct an election for $100 to $200 thousand, and our biggest expense would be the purchase of an automark for visually disabled voters.

Sequoia was asked to respond to Dr. Brau, and started by acknowledging that it actually sells the products used for elections with paper ballots. But its project manager, who started out as a county clerk in Montgomery County, said it would be "close to catastrophic for the voters in your county to use paper ballots." He noted most paper ballots break up the party and that questions of "voter intent" will invariably arise, just like they do with punch cards.

Councilman Charles Dertinger, himself a former elections commissioner, noted that Pennsylvania, with its many jurisdictions, would always have a much larger ballot than commonly found elsewhere. Because of this, he thought it would be impossible to get results using paper ballots until well into the next day. He noted that the county already has to "scour" the area for elections workers, and would have a very hard time finding the additional staff needed to count the votes. Finally, he noted that voters are already comfortable with full face ballots that appear on what he calls "the big green machine." Voters will be reassured by a lever look-a-like whose only major difference is that it is electronic.

Although I was leaning towards optical scanning or paper ballots, Dertinger made too compelling a case for Advantage D-10, which can easily be retrofitted to add a paper ballot backup if the state decides to impose that requirement. He very nearly persuaded Angle, too, but Angle was unable to support a system that has no paper trail. As he pointed out last night, his main problem is with the state, for not insisting on it.

The county will load up with 300 of these babies, which weigh 225 lb. per machine. Price? $1.8 million, but the state will reimburse us.

Angle and Dertinger, usually at each other's throats, were unusually cordial to each other last night, and reportedly left the courthouse together, holding hands.

Update: The Morning Calls' Joe Nixon has a detailed account, including a video demonstration, located here. Sarah Cassi's equally detailed report, published in The Express Times, is located here. Wayne Grube absence is noted in both stories, and I hope the lousy weather had more to do with that than his health.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Norco Elections Commission Recommenrds Sequoia 4 to 0

Dottie Niklos likes the Sequoia Advantage D-10. So does Northampton County's Election Commission, which just voted four to zero to recommend that system tonight. Although decertified in Colorado, most of New Jersey and Montgomery County are customers.
Update: The Express Times' Sarah Cassi has the details here. Commission chair Ken Kraft notes that the Sequoia system offers protections against hacking because the machines are not linked.
Update #2: The Express Times' story I mention in my first update was not actually written by Sarah Cassi. It was Mike Fleck.
Update #3: OK, OK. It's Kurt Bresswein who penned that tale.

We're ALL Responsible For Tonight's Voting Machine Selection

"Memo to County leadership: Don't screw it up this time!"

That's one anonymous comment to yesterday's post about five different voting systems being considered by Northampton County. You'll notice no vendor is recommended. This person just wants someone to blame if things go wrong.

"I'm not selecting the voting machine."

That's how one Northampton County Council member responded when I mentioned different voting machine possibilities yesterday. Like that anonymous commenter, this council member is more interested in ducking responsibility. "The elections commission will decide."

Council members view the elections commission as a convenient escape hatch. If the system chosen is a disaster, they can point their fingers. But under our home rule charter, that appointed body exists to "administer the system of elections and the registration of voters under applicable law." According to the courts, its function is purely ministerial. It sets no policy. That's council's job. Council exercises the county's residual powers.

On Tuesday, as the county's newly appointed elections commission reviewed different possibilities, I was encouraged by the many citizens - like Dottie Niklos and Walter Garvin - who were there. At least four members of county council sat in on the session. I was discouraged when elections commission member Joan Rosenthal dismissed, as inappropriate, concerns about different vendors voiced by Lilly Gioia, herself a former elections commission member.

What could be more appropriate than that?

But let's get something straight. The decision will be made tonight. An unelected elections commission, which is meeting as I write this blog, will merely be making a recommendation. Tonight, when county council makes a decision, it will be our decision. And we all have the right to address them with our own opinions and concerns. Some like the Sequoia selection because it is difficult to hack, can be retrofitted for a paper trail, and looks amazingly like our lever machines. I've opted for the sole optical scanner under consideration, which will give us a paper trail and a check on the count displayed by the scanner.

Whether we get it right or not, this is our collective responsibility.