Monday, March 31, 2008

Jones To Be Sworn in as Lehigh County Comm'r on Wednesday

According to a Lehigh County news release, Pastor David S. Jones, Sr., will be sworn in as County Commissioner at 7:00 pm, Wednesday, April 2, 2008, in the Public Hearing Room of the Lehigh County Government Center, 17 South Seventh Street, Allentown, PA.

Apparently, to make sure God is cool with this, two different clerics will be on hand, one to offer an invocation and another for the benediction.

IronPigs & Politics: It Doesn't Get Better Than This!

(Governor Rendell, #26, has a few pointers before the game.)

10,188.

That's the official attendance for Sunday's first game ever at Coca Cola Park, an exhibition match in which defending NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies beat the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, 5 to 3. Leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins gave us an exciting start, proving his skills as an aggressive base runner. He singled and then quickly stole second. Following a pop up to center field, Rollins rounded the bases and slid into home. In a clowd of dust, IronPigs catcher Jason Jaramillo emerged with the ball in his mit.

Out!

Things got even better in the second inning. Geoff Jenkins, a recent $13 million acquisition from Milwaukee Brewers, took one mighty swing and scored the first home run ever hit at Coca Cola Park, a deep two-run homer hit over the right center field wall. That ball landed somewhere in Easton.

The Lehigh Valley has AAA baseball.

When the IronPigs scored their first run, fireworks exploded out of a giant coke bottle on the scoreboard. Little pink piglets danced in the field with Ferrous between innings. T-shirts were tossed into the crowd. But what made this uniquely Lehigh Valley was the resounding rendition of the national anthem by the Bethlehem Bach Choir, perhaps the best I've ever heard.

I tried out different seats during the game, but spent the first five innings in the Dugout Suites, located right behind home plate, where you can feel the breeze from every pitch. My brother and I were sitting in great seats, but our lives were in danger. You see, at least half of the Lehigh Valley's elected officials were sitting there, which is probably a violation of some law. A blogger had to be there to keep an eye on them.

"Someone with a grenade could take us all out," warned Northampton County Exec. John Stoffa, who was there with his wife, Barbara. Damned if he wasn't right.

All these elected officials were jammed into one spot, the Dugout Suites, lured by free tickets and the aroma of fried chicken, hot dogs, ribs, baked beans, assorted cheeses and fancy little pastries. It was an interesting combination of Dems and Republicans, friends for a day. But where was Ron Angle? That had me a little worried because he occasionally talks about launching a coup and naming himself King of the Lehigh Valley.

But I was the only one worried. Everyone else was having a blast.

Funniest? That's a tossup between Joe Brennan and Percy Dougherty, both of whom should consider a second career in stand up.

Nicest? That would have to be Bill Leiner, who instinctively blocked foul balls from Pat Browne's mom, even though she's a Republican. True, the net protected her anyway, but he was taking no chances. That dude should be in the Secret Service.

Most interesting conversationalists? In a world of pols, it's hard to call that one. But Rich Grucela and his lovely wife, who teaches in Nazareth, are always good for some great stories.

Best dad? Doug Reichley. A quiet and unassuming man, I saw him gently put his hands on his daughter's shoulders a few times. He obviously loves her very much.

Most charismatic? Why, Governor Don Cunningham, of course. He mesmorized my brother with a story about his earlier years, when he once picked up author Kurt Vonnegut from a local airport and brought him to my mom's house.

Biggest baseball fan? Stoffa, hands down. He looked like he was glued to his seat, soaking in every swing and pitch, as intently as my 8 year old grandson. When the game was over, I realized John actually had been glued to his seat. Apparently, Charles Dertinger had dropped by earlier that day. John still looked ten years younger and he was going for autographs last time I saw him.

Best dressed? That would have to be Tony Phillips. Even his sunglasses matched his elegant suit, complete with an American flag pin. I don't know how he got a ticket, but I'll bet it didn't come from Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. Amazingly, Tony's dad, who must have ESP, called to tell him to quit talking to people and watch the game. "Too late," Tony said.

Most civil guy? Mike Donovan. He kept telling everyone to be "civil and constructive." Rendell eventually decked him, and then he and Ferrous began kicking poor Michael.

Biggest slob? That would be me. Not only did I spill baked beans all over my jacket, I also ate about six helpings. After five innings, the trumpets began. I walked back to find a bathroom but unfortunately, my trombone sounded off right as I was walking by Mayor Pawlowski, who was stuffing his pockets with hot dogs and pastries, instead of watching the damn game. I pointed at him and held my nose.

Most popular guy? Without a doubt, Lehigh County's Frank Kane. He found the beer. Unfortunately, everyone behaved except my brother.

Least popular guy? That would be Joe Long. He had no ticket, but apparently set up a tent out in the parking lot somewhere, trying to sell autographed pictures of Dan Onorato.

Fortunately, my worries about a Ron Angle coup were misplaced. As it happens, he was planning to skydive into the stadium during the Bach Choir's rendition of the national anthem, but he missed and landed in the Lehigh River.

Coplay Dems Host Spaghetti Dinner April 25

Like pasta? Then try Coplay Democratic Club's "Spaghetti Dinner" on April 25, a Friday night at the American Club of Coplay's Pavilion, Cherry Street from 4-7 PM. Ticket cost is $10. Email Bill Leiner (Leiner@aol.com) if you can make it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Eat Your Heart Out, Bill White


So Morning Call humorist Bill White was bragging the other day that he's an 18-game season ticket holder with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Big frickin' deal!

As you can see, I have a VIP pass for opening day at the Dugout Suites. My ticket is so damn special it's on a lanyard. I may even pitch a few innings, but Angelina Jolie gets so worried.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Allentown Pays $1.25 Million to Outside Lawyers in 2006 & 2007

Allentown's Administrative Code has an interesting little provision (Section 171.06) requiring that the city annually publish a list of everyone who does more than $500 worth of business with the city. But you sure as hell won't find that published on the city's web page.

Thanks to Allentown's new controller, Bill Hoffman, I have a copy of the city's vendor list over the past two years, which I hope to have on line next week. This list reveals that, over the past two years, Allentown has paid a ridiculously high $1.25 million to outside lawyers. What is even more amazing is that between 2006 and 2007, attorney costs rose a whopping 41%.

Many of the attorneys in these firms just happen to be campaign contributors. So much for fiscal responsibility.

Here are the gruesome details.


Thomas M Caffrey: $10,816.25 in '07; $5,711.25 in '06

Fonzone & Ashley: $5,200.00 in '07; 5,200.00 in '06

Creveling & Creveling: $14,931.32 in '07

Stevens & Lee: $201,632.00 in '07; $95,598.81 in '06

Daniel F. Brent: $1,500.00 in '07

Ballard, Spahr, Andrews: $30,941.78 in '07; $59,748.11 in '06

Gross, McGinley, Labarre & Eaton: $88,647.88 in '07; $50,178.80 in '06

Brown, Brown, Solt & Ferretti: $19,152.51 in '07; $10,737.00 in '06

John Paul Simpkins: $4,455.13 in '07

McCarthy & Anewalt, LLP: $60,397.73 in '07; $54,163.53 in '06

Portnoff Law Ass'ts, Ltd: $41,174.44 in '07; $48,674.42 in '06

Daniel K McCarthy: $$10,285.00 in '07; $2,035.00 in '06

William G Malkames: $1,165.59 in '07' $45.00 in '06

Ralph H Colflesh, Jr,: $1,240.73 in '07; $450.00 in '06

Tallman, Hudders & Sorrentino: $33,290.03 in '07; $3,707.87 in '06

Davison & McCarthy: $12,685.23 in '07; $130,411.04 in '06

Karess, Reich & Furst: $1,750.00 in '07; $74.95 in '06

Dennis V. Brennan: $32,284.00 in '07

American Catholic Lawyers: $114,027.96 in '07

Fox Rotschild LLP: $105,181.03 in '07

2007 - $790,758.31

2006 - $466,735.78

Total - $1,257,493.69

Between 2006 and 2007, attorney fees increase $324,022.53, or 41% in just one year.

Mayor Pawlowski's "Pay to Play" Pal of the Week: Portnoff Law Associates

Portnoff Law Associates is a law firm that specializes in sucking the blood out of taxpayers in 75 municipalities throughout Pennsylvania. Portnoff is "tax farmer" - privatized tax collector - for seventeen municipalities in Northampton and Lehigh County, including Allentown.

Condemning Portnoff's "cavalier attitude towards the Rule of Law," A Montgomery County judge has ordered this firm to pay $5.2 million in damages to more than 16,000 state residents being charged illegal fees.

If Portnoff has a cavalier attitude when it comes to overcharging taxpayers, that's only because it's in the "pay to play" game, too. During a nonelection year, on 1/6/06, Michelle Portnoff dumped $1,000 right into the coffers of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

And in the past two years, Allentown has paid Portnoff $89,848.86 for its tax collection services, according to Allentown's vendor list. Everyone wins but the taxpayer, whose home security is often threatened by a predatory collector motivated by a profit margin instead of the general welfare of a resident who may have fallen on hard times.

Despite Sixty-Six Requests, Morning Call Still Refuses to Meet Drunk Driving Victim

On Wednesday, I told you my daughter - a soldier - has been unexpectedly ordered Army to Iraq. I'll admit I've been in a daze and a little depressed since learning she's in Baghdad. But many of you have had some very nice things to say. I really appreciate that.

Fred Daugherty has little reason to say anything nice to me. I was highly critical of his appointment to Nazareth Borough Council. But Fred is also a dad. His two sons were sent to an airbase in western Iraq a year ago. "As fathers we always wish to shelter and protect our children. To take their place in a dangerous or harrowing situation."

If my daughter was seriously injured or killed, I can't begin to imagine how I'd feel. A friend has already suggested I really should have a passport ready, just in case. I don't want to even think about that.

Sadly, some of us know. Bill Villa is one such person. His daughter, a Lower Nazareth dance teacher, was the victim of a drunk driver, right here in the good old USA. Amazingly, Bill is one of those who offered his best wishes. Knowing his loss, I really appreciate his sentiments.

His daughter has been dead for two years.

The person who killed her just happens to be the spoiled son of a prominent Allentown attorney. This lawyer just happens to work in a law firm that periodically represents The Morning Call. Does this mean anything? Probably not, but The Morning Call has circled the wagons against one grieving father, as I explained a few weeks ago. Comments editor Glenn Kranzley did meet with Villa for forty-five minutes on July 18, 2007, but a condition of that meeting - which included a local blogger - was that there be no discussion at all about Bill's case. For reasons that elude me, this Allentown paper refuses to sit down and simply talk to Villa, one on one, despite sixty-six requests.

Why not? What is its point here?

The Morning Call's reader forum foments all kinds of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic remarks from the lowest common denominators in our society. Instead of community discussion, it is hate-mongering. But while allowing all kinds of hate speech to stand, Villa's comments are routinely deleted. Racism is OK, but one grieving father is simply too much to bear. Why is he muzzled?

That attitude is nonexistent at other papers. Express Times editor Joe Owens not only met with Villa, he even wrote a column about it.

So why won't this paper meet with a thirty-year subscriber? No one can bring Bill's daughter back to him, but meeting him just might give him some peace of mind.

Is that so hard?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Browning: Let Feds Pay to Jail Undocumented Immigrants

Lehigh County's Department of Corrections last year incarcerated 151 illegal aliens for a total of 1,718 days. Historically, the Federal government - through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) - has reimbursed counties seventy percent of the costs for housing these individuals in local correctional institutions.

But President Bush has repeatedly proposed to stop funding this program, and his latest budget will force counties like Lehigh and Northampton to bear these costs themselves. That's not going over too well with budget hawks like Commissioner Dean Browning.

"Our current budget is around $400 million. Three-quarters of that is pass through money. The rest is tax dollars. About sixty per cent of that goes to 'law and order' issues. That is one of the basic functions of Lehigh County government. ... If the Federal government is not going to live up to its responsibility and return these illegals to their country of origin, it is unfair to ask Lehigh County residents to pay to house them."

It might surprise Dean to learn that liberal Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says much the same thing. "It's not fair for local authorities to foot the bill for incarcerating undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes."

Browning persuaded all commissioners to adopt a resolution that "urges the Lehigh Valley Federal delegation to initiate efforts to reinstate the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) and to expand that program to reimburse local facilities 100 percent of the costs of incarcerating illegal aliens, and to also include reimbursement for the cost of prosecution by local governments."

Commissioner Bill Leiner, a Democrat, stated he was "humbled" by the bipartisan support for this initiative. Chairman Percy Dougherty was quick to agree, but cautioned that "no one should misconstrue this as coming down hard on illegal aliens. This is another example in which the federal and state governments are shirking their responsibilities."

The Senate has approved a budget amendment that reinstates this funding, but a conference committee of both House and Senate will make the final decision.

Sterling Raber's Latest Tidbit

In case you haven't noticed, I really admire Sterling Raber, a Lehigh County commissioner since 1981. His political party? Farmer. He never says much. He mostly listens. But at every meeting, with just a hint of a Pennsylvania Dutch accent, he'll make a brief statement. Last night, it was Meals on Wheels. He's been zipping all over the Lehigh County, dropping off home-cooked meals. "It's quite an impressive caliber of people," is all he said.

I wonder if he has any scrapple.

Lehigh County Appoints its First Black Commissioner

"We'll stay 'till midnight if we have to."

That's how Chairman Percy Dougherty started last night's meeting of Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners. It was appointing a vacancy on its own board last night, and had to choose one from five strong applicants. Daugherty only half-jokingly ordered a deputy sheriff to close the doors, locking twenty-five of us in the room, very much like the college of cardinals.


Under the procedure followed, any commissioner could make a nomination. No second was required. After that, the first round of voting would follow, continuing until one nominee had five votes. David S. Jones, was elected on the first round, surprising commissioners the most. Jones is the first person of color ever selected, by appointment or election, to serve on Lehigh County's legislative body. Don Cunningham and Frank Kane ecstatically sent white smoke billowing from the chimneys of Lehigh County's Government Center.

Jones will represent District Three, succeeding Kurt Derr, who suddenly resigned from a term that extends to January, 2010. District Three covers East Allentown, north to Hanover and Catasauqua.

Commissioner Glenn Eckhart, a Republican, nominated David S. Jones. Commissioner Dan McCarthy, a Democrat, nominated Kevin Easterling. Commissioner Sterling Raber, a farmer, nominated Freddy Lutz. Dean Browning, Gloria Hamm, Andy Roman and Chairman Dougherty joined Eckhart in voting for Jones. McCarthy was joined by Bill Leiner in supporting Kevin Easterling. Raber, of course, voted for Lutz.

Jones has been Executive Administrator at the 2,300-member Life Church (Allentown, PA) for the past four years, both managing a multi-million dollar budget and supervising a staff of forty. Prior to that, he worked for Averydennison Global Operations (Boston, MA), most recently as Talent Development Manager, Divisional Training Manager, and Regional Training Manager.

Jones, accompanied by his wife and cute son, remained for the rest of the meeting. The other applicants, excepting Kevin Easterling, also stayed for the duration. And at the end of the meeting, the commissioners thanked those who had expressed interest. Eckhart noted, "We had five excellent candidates," and asked that they "please stay involved." Chairman Dougherty agreed, adding, "I had no idea how many rounds this would take. I thought we'd be here three or four rounds. Usually, there's a swing one way or the other, but not this time."

I've seen vacancies filled in both Northampton and Lehigh Counties. How do they compare? Last time Northampton County appointed a vacancy, it resulted in litigation. I know because I'm the idiot who filed it. I withdrew my lawsuit only when council agreed to undergo Sunshine Act sensitivity training.

In vast contrast, Lehigh County's Republican-dominated commissioners selected a strong Democrat who will be hard to beat. They could have selected Lutz, who makes Lehigh County's Democratic chair, Rick Daugherty "very uncomfortable" and has no experience running for office. They could even have selected Pearson. He's had plenty of experience running, but has never won an election. Instead of following political expedience, they followed their conscience. Jones was actually my last choice, which is probably why he was selected on the first round.

Lehigh County is the Lehigh Valley's largest municipal government, and it is also very refreshing to see four Republicans and three Democrats support the two persons of color seeking appointment to its legislative body. As I learned last week, there is unity in diversity.

Freddy Lutz, ever the class act, publicly congratulated Jones. Nancy Wilt did so as well, and told commissioners that the idea of sitting on the dais is still "far out of my comfort zone." But Dennis Pearson was really steamed. After all, he is "a native of Lehigh County whose family had connections with the PA branch of the Sons of Liberty." In fact, he had nothing but sour grapes. "I had to turn my cheek. I was hit very hard. I was even called autistic on one of the blogs. I can't help but be disappointed. I was prepared to serve on this board and, for whatever reason, you chose someone else."

After the meeting was over, Jones was also congratulated by Allentown City Council Prez Mike D'Amore and party boss Daugherty. But Pearson was still pretty upset. He pointed at D'Amore and said to me, "Look at him! He dresses sloppier than me!" Mike smiled and shrugged.

I told Dennis the commissioners passed him over because the space program needs him more.

Then I ran like hell.
Update: Freelancer Sarah Fulton has a well-written account of last night's meeting, published by The Morning Call.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

LC Comm'rs Pick Jones

Details to follow

My Daughter is in Iraq

This is a picture of my daughter, Katie, when she first started high school. In my mind's eye, she's actaully just a little girl with a pixie hair cut and dress, sitting on a bench at the airport. After a lengthy absence in the Army, she was the first person I saw after getting off the plane. It happened centuries ago. It still seems like yesterday.

She gave me a big hug. I was home.

That little pixie is now in Iraq with the U.S. Army. I never had a chance to say good-bye. I won't see her for a year.

They never grow up. I'll miss her.

Lots of Empty Seats at Joe Long's Meet and Greet

Northampton Dem Bossman Joe Long hosted a "meet and greet" last night with Allegheny County Exec Dan Onorato. Long's entire committee - what's left of them - was ordered to pay homage to a Pittsburgh Dem whose eyes covet the governor's seat. It's no secret that the Lehigh Valley's favorite son, Don Cunningham, is casting his eyes in the same direction. So why would a local party boss oppose a popular homer?

Long has reached across the state to settle some old and mostly imagined scores against Cunningham. Perhaps Cunningham forgot to genuflect last time he saw Long. Only Joe's moustache waxier knows for sure why Long is so annoyed. Don has tried to be nice, and even got Joe some choice tickets to see Bill Clinton last week. I guess they weren't close enough.

Long's decision to work against Cunningham should be a real blow. Let's look at that last election, shall we? Thanks to Long's brilliant campaign strategy of sleaze mailers and anonymous robocalls, two Northampton County Council candidates went down in flames and a third won by only a handful of votes. He indebted the local party $9,000 to a sleazy campaign consultant who has just been charged with terroristic threats, among other things. The one candidate Long failed to help, Steve Barron, won in an upset. Oh yeah, Cunningham aide Levi Price helped Steve in that race.

At tonight's "meet and greet," Northampton County Exec John Stoffa played hooky. Newly elected controller Steve Barron and Attorney General hopeful John Morganelli were also MIA. I was able to reach two local area chairs, and they were unable to make it. One highly placed official confesses, "I honestly forgot about it." Another prominent Dem tells me, "I was out of town."

Clinton campaign coordinator Rob Hopkins was one of about fifteen people who did show up for this event, and he had to be there for those with questions about Hillary. Not counting all the different campaign people, about nine people were there to listen.

As Rob explains this disappointing attendance, it was "certainly not worth a drive across the state."

Such is the mighty power of Bossman Joe Long.

Northampton County Hires Recycling Expert

"We have a choice to either destroy our environment or take pride and help save it for all mankind. Let's all help save our environment together."

Those were Tom Dittmar's words back in 2003, in a letter to the editor stressing the importance of recycling grass clippings instead of sending them to municipal landfills.

He should know.

Dittmar has over fifteen years experience in organizing waste and recycling for Lucent Technologies, earning several awards for innovative programs that reduce waste, including the US Environmental Protection Agency's "Waste Wise Program Champion" award in 2000. Locally, Dittmar helped establish Palmer Township's recycling programs and has served on the Township's Environmental Steering Committee since 1994. "I want to leave the world a better place. Hopefully, I can make a major difference."

Dittmar will now have an opportunity to make a difference in Northampton County. He starts April 7, with a starting salary of $35,861, as the Environmental Conservation Coordinator in the County's Department of Community & Economic Development. He will be responsible for the implementation of solid waste, recycling and environmental risk reduction programs throughout the County. Mr. Dittmar's starting salary is $35,861.

Although all counties are required to adopt and implement plans for municipal waste management systems, Northampton County is the only county in the area that does not yet have a dedicated solid waste and recycling program. "Residents regularly contact us to answer questions and to seek help in disposing of hazardous and electronic waste," according to Community Development Grants Coordinator Lori Sywensky. The Council's authorization of funding and the matching funds provided by the PA Department of Environmental Protection now provide the opportunity to focus on these activities.

The County plans to begin hosting drop-off events later this year. For more information on recycling and solid waste information, Dittmar may be reached at the Northampton County Department of Community and Economic Development at 610-559-3200.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

China Cheats, Pa. Workers Lose 15,640 Jobs as Result

The following is a disturbing news release from The Alliance for American Manufacturing. NAFTA's failings are one thing, but illegal trade practices by China (dumping, subsidies, and currency manipulation) have had a deleterious impact on Pennsylvania manufacturers three times worse than anything caused by NAFTA.

WASHINGTON, DC, MARCH 25, 2008—A new analysis by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) found that the U.S. trade deficit with China has taken a surprising toll on Pennsylvania workers. Annual job losses in Pennsylvania due to trade with China average three times higher than losses discussed by some of the presidential candidates and attributed to NAFTA.

“In just a few short years, tens of thousands of Pennsylvania jobs have been shipped to China,” said AAM Director Scott Paul. “The presidential candidates are rightly concerned about the potentially damaging effects of unfair trade and they need to focus more attention on our record trade deficits with China, which have cost us more than 1.8 million jobs since 2001. Vigorous enforcement of our trade laws will ensure American workers and companies have the chance to compete in a fair global market. We call on the presidential candidates to make this commitment to the voters of Pennsylvania.”

AAM’s analysis of Economic Policy Institute data found that Pennsylvania lost 78,200 jobs from 2001-2006 (all sectors) as a result of the U.S. trade deficit with China [source: EPI, ‘Costly Trade with China’]. That works out to an average of 15,640 lost jobs per year. Using an identical analysis, AAM found that Pennsylvania lost 44,173 jobs from 1993-2004 (all sectors) as a result of NAFTA, for an average of 4,016 jobs lost per year [source: EPI, ‘Revisiting NAFTA’].

PENNSYLVANIA JOB LOSS

Due to CHINA 78,200 2001-2006

Due to NAFTA 44,173 1993-2004

“China cheats and Pennsylvania loses,” said Paul, noting that the U.S. racked up record annual trade deficits in 2007 with both China ($256 billion) and its NAFTA partners ($138 billion).
“If the presidential candidates want to save Pennsylvania jobs, they should commit to fighting China’s illegal trade practices such as dumping, subsidies, and currency manipulation.”

AAM advocates strong enforcement of existing U.S. trade law in order to address predatory foreign practices like China’s dumping, subsidies, and illegal currency manipulation. An AAM study in 2007 found that when U.S. trade laws are actually enforced, the net contribution to the U.S. economy is 50 times greater than any consumer benefits derived from dumped or subsidized imports [source: ‘Enforcing the Rules,’ www.americanmanufacturing.org].

Catholic Church Evicts Parishioners on Holy Saturday: "We're Closed!"

Sabbatum Sanctum, or Holy Saturday, is a dark day for practicing Roman Catholics. No Mass is celebrated. Holy Communion is limited to those getting ready to drop dead. Even the Sanctuary is stripped bare. It's a sad time. I know this kind of shit because I went to catholic schools for fourteen years and my brother nearly became a priest.

I used to be real holy when I was a kid. My friend Danny and I were going to go to Commie China and get martyred. It was quite the rage in those days. This was all pre-puberty.

Ellen and Chris are Catholics, too. I'm sure they were not as holy as me when I was a kid, but this husband-wife team was still moved spiritually for some reason last weekend. Parishioners at the Church of St. Philip and St. James in nearby Phillipsburg, NJ, they decided to seek solace on Holy Saturday in the warm embrace of Holy Mother Church. Around noon, they walked inside the church and sat at a pew in the back.

Why they were thinking about God instead of an Easter ham dinner is any one's guess.

Well, Rev Msgr Michael J Corona straightened them out. He was at the front of this large church with a group of people. He spun around and evicted Ellen and Chris with these very Christian remarks.

"We're closed! You have to leave. You have to get out."

Apparently, he had more important things to do than put up with a bunch of losers who wanted to waste a nice day praying. They should have been golfing or buying ham at Wegmans or something.

I decided to check things out, called the church, and got a recorded greeting that started right off with "God bless you!." That's nice. I then listened to about twenty different options, including one that told me to press "8" for Bingo information. I was waiting for the Powerball number when I finally spoke to the operator, Tracy, and asked if she would put me in touch with the Monsignor.

I was put on hold for about five minutes, but I didn't mind a bit. I was just blessed by God, and now a relaxing Franz Schubert piano sonata was playing in the background. I was nodding off when Deacon Bill, who is also business manager, popped on the line. He took my phone number and told me that the monsignor, a very busy man, would call the next day. I promised to wait for him before writing anything.

Amazingly, about an hour later, I received a telephone call from Deacon Bill. Instead of saying "God bless you," this time he told me he would be recording our conversation.

- "You mean, you're asking for my permission to record this conversation?"

"I don't need your permission."

God's representative on earth explained he was taping this call because he wanted to make sure that what I report is accurate. Whatever happened to the good old days? Back when I was a kid, I was convinced that a lightning bolt would zap me or I'd be automatically excommunicated me if I strayed from the Word of God. But the modern church has replaced the Spanish Inquisition with tape recorders.

Ain't progress grand?

Deacon Bill probably doesn't know this, but in Pennsylvania, where he called me, both parties must consent to recording a telephone conversation. In the process of covering his ass, he may have burned it.

Oopsie. Don't worry, I won't dime God's representative on earth.

Monsignor Corona was apparently too busy with Monsignors Budweiser and Michelob to speak with me directly. Deacon Bill served as Holy Mouthpiece. Apparently, the Monsignor and a bunch of other holy rollers were in the midst of cleaning and decorating the church for the Easter Vigil, another biggie, when they were rudely interrupted by a couple who wanted to pray. Parishoners Ellen and Chris were ordered to leave, but there's a chapel in the back of the church somewhere where people can pray anytime they want.

- "Did the monsignor tell these folks they could pray in a chapel?"

"I don't know. I wasn't there."

- "Well, do you see that this is why the Monsignor should be talking to me? Do you think Jesus would tell these folks to get out? Maybe you can clue me in. I'm not a monsignor or a deacon. I'm just a lousy Catholic. Maybe there's something I don't know, but I always thought Jesus wanted people in his church."

Deacon Bill may have had a tape recorder, but he had no answer. Jesus does. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in ... ." I'm pretty sure Monsignor Corona earned no brownie points at the front office with his Holy Saturday eviction.

As for Ellen and Chris, they'll be pulling their daughter out of CCD this week. My brother, who ditched the seminary for a wife, has one piece of advice for this couple. "They can pray anywhere they want. They don't need to be in a church."

Maybe he should have been a priest after all.

LC Comm'r Vacancy to be Filled Wednesday Night

Do you think Pearson is the best choice for that vacant spot with Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners? Maybe you'd prefer Pastor Jones? You can tell commissioners how you feel by going to this page and clicking on a commissioner. You can let them all know how you feel with an email to CommissionersOffice@lehighcounty.org.

Commissioners will fill that vacancy at Wednesday's 7:30 PM meeting. Before that happens, you can email commissioners or appear in person to lobby for your favorite candidate.

My rating: 1) Kevin Easterling; 2) Nancy Wilt ; 3) Dennis Pearson; 4) Freddy Lutz; and 5) David S. Jones.

Geoff's rating (he attended the interview): -1) Easterling (Bernie's point about the votes he received in the last election plus his showing ... the stories of his mentoring and involvement in the community are just as frequent as Dennis' stories on the East End); 2) Jones (I see him as having a tremendous understanding of his values, plus he cited his personal goal of developing people with purpose ... that's important to me); 3) Wilt (experience with clean water action is a huge plus ... seeing as Kurt works with Boscola, I find this concern as a non-factor ... why is it an issue for her and rarely raised for Kurt?); 4) Lutz (land use, engineering experience a huge plus, but his registration is an issue ... ). 5) Pearson (smart man on paper, but I honestly had a hard time following him when he spoke. Not sure if that plays a role in this. The claims of his past activism are lost on me ... I'm too young to have a direct connection, though I certainly appreciate his work)

Smart Blonde's rating (she was there, too!): 1) David Jones; 2) Dennis Pearson; 3) Kevin Easterling; 4) Nancy Wilt; and 5) Fred Lutz.

Some anonymous dude who has no dog in this hunt, just like me! None of them.

Mistletoe Molovinsky: 1) Dennis Pearson; 2) Dennis Pearson; 3) Dennis Pearson; 4) Dennis Pearson; and 5) Dennis Pearson.

Wegmans Hates Those Dirty Bus People, Too!

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski should really start hitting up Wegmans' execs for campaign contributions. He already soaks everyone else, but there's a more compelling reason. He and Wegmans are already kindred spirits - they both got that elitism thing going and both hate bus people.

Pawlowski will deny this, but he's done pretty much everything in his power to screw LANTA bus passengers as well as the mostly minority merchants who serve them along Hamilton Street. After all, it interferes with his "Renaissance Square" concept to see so many poor people.

Well, guess what? Wegmans hates those dirty bus people, too. According to Kevin Easterling's LVBN,

All Wegmans' stores have a corporate policy against allowing public transportation onto their property and none of the three Wegmans stores in the Lehigh Valley enjoy public transportation into their store parking lots. In addition, it is difficult for employees and shoppers to get from the bus to the Wegmans stores because of unsafe pedestrian access to and from the closest bus stop. In contrast, Giant has ten stores in the two county region and all enjoy excellent access by public transportation, so we know it can be done with a little consideration and thought.

Who you gonna' believe, some black blog or Wegmans and Mayor Ed? Besides, I'm sure they cleared this with Jesus.
Update: According to today's Morning Call, the state LCB has awarded "restaurant" licenses to two Wegman locations (Hanover and Lower Nazareth) within the Lehigh Valley.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Lehigh Valley's Biggest Litterbug

Trent Sear is a former LANTA board member who posts occasionally at The Allentown Commentator. He writes that The Morning Call is Allentown's biggest litterbug, reporting recently that "hundreds" of their weekly ads, rolled up in plastic bags, are "now lying all over the West End." Trent asks, "Does the First Amendment give me the right to throw a plastic bag of trash on private property?"

I don't believe, not even for a minute, that The Morning Call is Allentown's biggest litterbug. It's the Lehigh Valley's biggest litterbug. Every week, I get three plastic bags thrown at my estate. Every attempt to stop this has failed. I gave up several years ago.
How about you?

Hey Tony, Why'd You Give That Money to Mayor Pawlowski?

You gotta' feel sorry for Tony Iannelli. After being nice enough to invite me to appear on his television show, Business Matters, I thanked him by grilling him on his campaign contributions to Allentown Mayor Ed "Pay to Play" Pawlowski.

I don't even think it was that much money. What's more, I actually like Tony and have been a fan of his show for several years. But I am a miserable bastard, and put Tony on the hot seat to give him a taste of what really goes on here in the blogosphere, where there are no sacred cows.

The show will air tonight on Channel 69 at 7:30 PM.

Tony had plenty of people there to put me in my place. Express Times Editor Joe Owens was there, and he describes me with charitable terms like "shameful blogger" and "Northampton County extremist." That's when he's in a good mood.

Unfortunately, Owens was in a bad mood.

Also in the house was Morning Call's state house reporter, John Micek, possibly Pennsylvania's best poliblogger. Micek, incidentally, is pretty much convinced I'm nutz, and spent most of his time there staring at me with his mouth open. But he was still nice to me. Before the show, he even made me a cup of coffee. Former blogger Chris Casey was also a panelist.

We met a cast of colorful characters because several shows were being taped at the same time. Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham dropped by, and had something nice to say to each one of us. But PPL's CEO, James Miller, who was also there, looked like he'd be more comfortable inside a bubble. He clearly disliked being surrounded by such insignificant people, and would not even glance at anyone. He even had a handler (Smithers?) who looked down his nose at us so Miller wouldn't have to do it.

If you have a chance, tune in tonight. Dem bossman Joe Long will love it.

Molovinsky Hits BNN's Top Twenty

Molovinsky on Allentown is a pithy, hyper-local, blog that pretty much confines itself to Allentown and its city government. A critic of myopic government, author Michael Molovinsky has endured many slings and arrows from more established local bloggers. Some have reputedly encouraged, back channel, a boycott of his blog.

Try as they might, this effort to muzzle Molovinsky has failed. He joined BNN's ranks very recently, and is amazingly rated 13th most influential political blog in Pa. That's pretty good for a dude who only rarely strays from Allentown. Our ideologies are completely different. In fact, we completely disagree about a number of things, including the best choice for the vacancy on Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners. But Mike has taught me one thing, if nothing else. Conservatives do care about the less fortunate among us. He demonstrated that pretty clearly with his riveting LANTA posts.

Congrats, Mike!

Where Is This?


On a balmy Saturday afternoon, I stood at this riverside, watching a solitary scull silently slice through the waves. As quickly as I could reach for my camera, it was gone.

Here's my question. Where is this serene Lehigh Valley riverside?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Portnoff's Tax Collection Tactics Ruled Illegal

Today's Morning Call reports that Portnoff Law Accociates has been ordered to pay $5.2 million in damages to more than 16,000 state residents being charged illegal fees. In doing so, a Montgomery County judge has condemned Portnoff's "cavalier attitude towards the Rule of Law."

That ruling is no surprise to many of us. I first told you about Portnoff's tactics long ago - on November 2, 2006. hey actually make the dreaded IRS look reasonable.


This privatization of tax collection, called tax farming, has historically been quite unpopular. It led to civil war in ancient Egypt, and was a grievance before the French Revolution. In 17th century England, privatized "chimney men" were allowed to enter homes at will to collect a chimney tax. "There is not one old dame in ten,/And search the nation through,/But, if you talk of chimney men/Will spare them a curse or two."

Rather than taking a lesson from history, state and local officials have passed laws and signed contracts with profit-driven private tax collectors. Property owners now face the predatory practices of Pennsylvania's very own chimney men. The most prominent of these? Portnoff Law Associates, a law firm that specializes in sucking the blood out of taxpayers in 75 municipalities throughout Pennsylvania. Portnoff is the "tax farmer" for seventeen municipalities in Northampton and Lehigh County.

How did this happen?

The way our real estate tax laws are set up, a person behind on property taxes ordinarily has two years before he has to worry about his home being sold at tax sale. The county conducts annual tax sales for properties two or more years delinquent, giving a homeowner ample opportunity to set up payment plans with no attorney fees. And if a municipal lien is filed for an unpaid garbage or sewer bill, the lien must be paid before the property is sold. A municipality will always get its money. But that wasn't good enough for many local officials, who wanted their money right away.

This is where tax farmer Portnoff enters the picture. It lobbied state legislators to modify tax sale laws in 1996 so it could stick taxpayers with court costs and its "reasonable" attorney fees. And all was well for the chimney men, who made money hand over fist. But then something terrible happened. Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, in an uncharacteristic nod to the little guy, concluded in 2003 that the procedure was all wrong. So Portnoff went back to the boys in the land of midnight payraises. Five months later, a brand new law not only cured these procedural problems, but was even made retroactive all the way back to 1996. That way Portnoff wouldn't lose a dime. The vote was unanimous in the senate, and only three house members opposed this draconian law. No Lehigh Valley legislator spoke against it. It's amazing what you can do with a lobbyist like Malady and Wooten!

The net result is explained quite well by the Commonwealth Court's Judge Pellegrini.

"Imagine your credit card company has consistently charged you unlawful fees - tripling your bill. Upon realizing that illegality, you sue the credit card company to recover those fees. A month later, a law is enacted that says the credit card company cannot only charge those fees in the future, but can recover those fees it illegally imposed in the past. If that legislation is constitutional, what is the result? The credit card company receives a windfall, and you are left without a remedy to be reimbursed for illegally charged fees that tripled your monthly credit card payment."

And that's precisely what has happened. Portnoff's "reasonable" attorney fees tripled most tax bills. When it was discovered they were illegally imposed, the legislature not only made everything legal for private tax collectors, but also said that everything that had been illegal in the past is now wonderful.

Thanks to our pals in the state legislature, Portnoff can now soak us. Some tax reform.

Whoopee!

Lehigh Valley communities have quickly jumped on the Portnoff Express. Said Bethlehem's Tax administrator Timko: "Are we happy? Oh yes, deliriously happy." Lehigh and Northampton County municipalities on this bandwagon include Allentown Downtown Improvement Authority, Allentown School District, Catasauqua Area School District, Allentown, Northern Lehigh School District, Northwestern Lehigh School District, Parkland School District, Salisbury Township School District, Whitehall-Coplay Area School District, Whitehall Township, Bethlehem Township, Freemansburg, Bethlehem, Easton, Lower Mount Bethel Township, Northampton Area School District and Wilson Area School District. If you live in any of these places, expect no mercy. Don't get sick. Check your mailbox every day.

Under our privatized tax collection laws, chimney men like Portnoff can collect "reasonable" attorney fees. But what Portnoff thinks is reasonable is outrageous to the rest of us. To open a file and send a demand letter, the charge varies from $150 to $200. And every breath they take after that ends up costing homeowners even more money. A title company can't even get a Portnoff employee to talk to them without a check for $25. But where privateers make the really big money is when they list your property for sheriff's sale, sometimes for ten times as much as the original lien. In September alone, Portnoff listed twenty properties for sheriff's sale in Northampton County.

Liens are filed only if a homeowner fails to respond to a demand letter that includes both bill and a $150-200 attorney's fee. Obviously, most people pay up quickly. But a lien analysis in Northampton County for the first ten months of 2006 is staggering: Easton, 271 liens ($81,300 for Portnoff); Bethlehem, 201 liens, ($80,400 for Portnoff); Northampton Area School District, 273 liens ($81,900 for Portnoff); Wilson Area School District, 69 liens ($20,700 for Portnoff); Northern Lehigh School District, 17 liens ($5,100 for Portnoff); Freemansburg, 19 liens ($5,700 for Portnoff); Lower Mount Bethel, 19 liens ($5,700 for Portnoff); and Bethlehem Township, 27 liens ($8,700 for Portnoff). In the first ten months of 2006, Portnoff snapped liens against 896 Northampton County taxpayers and has charged fees totaling $288,900.00.

Is this reasonable?

Wait, it gets better. For those sorry bastards who don't pay up, Portnoff's next step is to sell your property. To collect a tax bill totaling $465.77, Portnoff will sell your property unless you pay them $3,626.57! This is totally unconscionable. Attorney fees like these are neither reasonable nor bear any relation to the original bill. Portnoff listed 40 properties for sale in 2005, and walked away with $144,000 in its pocket.

What's interersting about all of this is that Portnoff makes a great deal of money, delinquent taxpayers lose a lot of money and become very disenchanted by our government, but municipalities make no more money than they would if they simply permitted the counties to collect these late taxes. Municipalities do not benefit from this privatization in the long run. And the homeowner always suffers.

Larry Kistler, Lehigh County's Tax Claim Bureau Director in 2002, told The Morning Call, "I can't speak to the reasons why municipalities have gone to Portnoff, but I've always thought the county system worked well. We work to keep people in their homes, and we recover 99 percent of the money within three years."

We've privatized just about everything being done in Iraq, and look at how that has turned out. And now we're doing exactly what Benjamin Franklin sarcastically predicted would guarantee revolution - entrusting tax collection to a group "composed of the most indiscreet, ill-bred, and insolent [men] you can find. ... Let these have large salaries out of extorted revenue. . . . If any revenue officers are suspected of the least tenderness for the people, discard them."

Don Cunningham to Open Trexler Preserve for Fishing by Children and Disabled

Today is a bad day for fish - Good Friday. Next week, it's going to get even worse. Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham will release a symbolic trout into Jordan Creek in the Trexler Nature Preserve, as part of the first opening of the Creek to anglers in 74 years. Three hundred yards along the Creek will be reserved for fishing by children and the disabled. Trexler Nature Preserve is an 1108-acre public park in Lehigh County.

WHO: Don Cunningham, Lehigh County Executive; Lee Creyer, Waterways Conservation Officer, PA Fish and Boat Commission; Tom Gettings, Director of Special Projects, Wildlands Conservancy

WHAT: Trout stocking of Jordan Creek in the Trexler Nature Preserve

WHEN: Thursday, March 27, at 1:30 PM

WHERE: Trexler Nature Preserve

Schnecksville, PA

DIRECTIONS: From I-78 and Route 22 traveling west

Take route 309 north for approximately 5.7 miles. In the village of Schnecksville, make a left turn onto Game Preserve Road. Follow this for approximately 2.2 Miles to the entrance gate. Turn left into the Central Range of the Trexler Nature Preserve and go 1.3 miles to the ford of the Jordan Creek and the trailhead of both the Covered Bridge Trail and the Elk Watching Trail. To reach the North Range of the Trexler Nature Preserve, drive past the entrance gate to the Central range, and continue 0.2 miles to Mill Creek Rd. Turn right and go 1.1 miles to the entrance of the North Range on the right. Continue 0.2 miles to the parking area.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lehigh County Commissioner Applicants On the Hot Seat

On Tuesday night, the atmosphere in Lehigh County's meeting room of Lehigh County's was downright festive. Bright green O'Bama signs adorned the wall, and the tables were piled high with Starbucks coffee, soda, cookies of all kinds and buckets of chicken. The crowd hugged and kissed.

Last night, the atmosphere was more like root canal, especially if you were one of five applicants seeking that vacant spot with Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners. No Starbucks. Not even a cookie. Instead, a small table was set up in front of the commissioners' dais.

All eight members met as a "committee of the whole" to pose tough but fair questions to each applicant in alphabetical order. Before the interview, each candidate was actually kept outside the room, so that later candidates would have no unfair advantage. Kevin Easterling, a manager in Allentown's Bureau of Parks and Recreation, was the first to face this inquisition, as the others were led away by Commissioner Andy Roman. As he returned, Commissioner Roman announced, "They're safely secured in the underground bunker."

1. Kevin Easterling

Of all five applicants, Kevin was the only one who actually had an opening statement, pointing out he's the only person seeking the job who actually ran as a candidate. In fact, not only did he run, but he actually garnered more votes in District Three than three of the four candidates who ultimately were elected.

But that was ancient history last night.

Commissioner Dean Browning was particularly tough. "You were running for office and spending money to campaign, but you couldn't pay your taxes," Browning noted, referring to a Morning Call story that had conveniently been published that very day. "How will people who pay their taxes on time feel?" In addition to Easterling's failure to pay his own real estate taxes, Dean was disturbed that Easterling had failed to attend as single budget meeting, or any other meeting, as a candidate.

Easterling explained that his final tax bill, due at the end of the year, had slipped his mind over the holidays, and when he tried to pay it at city hall, he was told he would have to wait for a bill from Portnoff, the city's predatory outside tax collection agency.

Commissioner Bill Leiner, Jr. played good cop, noting that Easterling had made three of four payments on time. Unlike Browning, he placed little importance on Easterling's meeting attendance as a candidate. "When I was running, I think I attended one meeting," Leiner noted. "I know you and I don't have any questions about your qualifications." At that point, Easterling remembered he has meetings on Wednesday evenings with the A youth group and that it presents a conflict.

Chair Percy H. Dougherty, although not so tough as Dean, requested Easterling to explain why he was voting outside his district. Easterling explained that when he renewed his driver's license, his registration had somehow changed, and that he was forced to vote outside his district while that problem was being corrected.

Commissioner Glenn Eckhart questioned whether a city employee won't have a conflict on city issues. Easterling conceded he might be required to recuse himself on some issues involving his own department.

2. David S. Jones

Smart Blond, who also attended last night's inquisition, told me last night that she considers Jones the best of the bunch. She sees eloquence, and there's no question this dude is a smooth talker. So are snake oil salesmen. I suspect he bothers a lot of people. When he ran for Allentown city council last year, he never made it past the primary.

Asked whether he'd have time for the job, he responded, "It's one of the privileges of being an executive pastor, I guess."

He answered lots of questions "in a nutshell." "I'm a fiscal conservative in a nutshell." "I'll give it to you in a nutshell." "In a nutshell, I'm a detail-oriented person." With all these nutshells all over the place, I was waiting for a few squirrels to attend the meeting.

Jones spent the most time in front of the board, saying things like, "I'm a Renaissance man." "I'm going to do something that's very transparent."

He's one of those fellows with a gift for saying very little with a maximum amount of words. He consumed the most time, but when all the smoke and fog had blown away, he had said very little. Asked about a $5,000 unpaid tax bill, this "detail-oriented" person smiled and said he was waiting for an answer, too. He even tried to blame his wife. "She takes care of the household finances."

Chair Percy H. Dougherty asked what I consider the most pertinent question. "Do you think the religious nature of your position might affect your decisions?" Dougherty joked that it might make Jones a "bleeding heart liberal," but I'm concerned by any cleric who decides to try his hand at government. I'm particularly bothered when it's an evangelical cleric. One of five goals of Jones' church is "to fulfill the mission and vision of Lifechurch by proclaiming the Gospel and extending God's love to transform the lives of the unchurched."

3. Freddy Lutz

Like most of his fellow applicants, Lutz has attended only one commissioners' meeting. As he himself modestly stated, "I'm kinda' like a blank slate." Lutz is both sincere and intelligent, but it's pretty apparent that the commissioners will pass on him. Dan McCarthy hinted at that, telling Freddy "We can only pick one and it would be a shame if you don't see this through." Freddy agreed. "You're gonna' see me around."

Freddy's biggest problem is that, until he applied for the job, he was registered independent. Although he only need be a Democrat on the day of his appointment, even Republicans will be reluctant to select a commissioner that is not regarded as a real Democrat. That would invite partisan bickering in a relatively nonpartisan board.

Last night, Lehigh County's Democratic chair, Rick Daugherty, told me he would be "very uncomfortable" if commissioners selected Lutz, explaining that the party needs a little more time to get to know him. Unfortunately for Lutz, he hasn't even met with Daugherty. "I guess you must be too busy, what with all the initiation rites and tattoos and everything," joked Commissioner Browning.

4. Dennis Pearson

Without question, Pearson is easily the most knowledgeable of the five candidates seeking appointment. Unlike the others, he actually knew enough about the courthouse expansion to have an opinion. He's a regular at meetings. "Kurt Derr did his homework and that is what I offer you."

But Chairman Dougherty had a tough observation. "On paper you're the best of all the candidates. But many say you lack the credibility to be a commissioner." Dennis was having none of that. "They're wrong. I'm ready to tackle this mission despite what some naysayers say."

He made a valiant effort, but Dennis won't be selected. Need a reason? How about his opening statement."A pestimist [and that's how he pronounced it] criticizes the wind." It's many little things like that in his speech and mannerisms.

5. Nancy Wilt

The reason for her application? "My three small children are my biggest inspiration and my reason for being here." What, did they tell her to apply?

Her connection to state Senator Boscola was viewed in a positive light by Commissioners Leiner and McCarthy. McCarthy suggested her experience as a Boscola employee gives her a sense of the community. Leiner noted it was nice to "see you again," indicating previous experience with her. Hamm said she'd like to see another woman on the board. Chairman Dougherty feels her position with Boscola "may open some doors for us."

Browning was a little less thrilled, noting there are times when the board must take positions that differ from the state legislature. "I am my own person and my family's interests come first. She[Boscola] and I differ on as number of things."

Of course, that's bullshit. Boscola signs her check. In addition to failing to attend a single meeting, she clearly demonstrated that she has little understanding of current county issues. I'll also note that she never responded to some questions I sent her. Of course, she may never have received them, and I never followed up.

My ranking

This is purely my take, but this is how I rate the candidates: 1) Easterling; 2) Wilt; 3) Pearson; 4) Lutz; and 5) Jones. Easterling is bright, energetic, involved in the community, and had more votes than three of the commissioners who ran last November. His selection is the most Democratic choice. Some of the slams directed at him appear to be disguised attacks at Pawlowski. Let not the sins of the mayor be visited upon his employees. Lehigh County's selection of Easterling would also be a historic choice - the first black member of a county legislative body in the Lehigh Valley. The perspective he brings, growing up in Allentown and working with disadvantaged youth, is invaluable.

The Morning Call has another, more objective, account of last night's festivities.

Bethlehem's Salvation Army Needs to Beef Up Food Bank

Bethlehem's Salvation Army (921 Pembroke Road) has asked me to publish this news release.

BETHLEHEM, PA (Immediate Release) – The Bethlehem Salvation Army food pantry serves
an average of 60 families each month.

Recently, the cache of donations coming into the nonprofit has been primarily snack foods, according to Captain Alison Joy Labbe. She is appealing to the public, groups and businesses to help beef up the pantry with donations of nutritious non-perishables including canned meats, beans, soups, vegetables and fruits plus stables such as rice and pasta.

“People need complete nutritious meals,” says Labbe. She adds, "Our main concern right now is being able to provide Easter dinner to those who are in need." Organizations such as the Salvation Army need to help provide the needy with nutritious meals on a daily basis. The demand will continue to increase through the spring and summer. With the downturn of the economy, the need for wholesome food donations may climb higher.

“The Salvation Army receives food donations from an area food bank, but it hasn’t been enough in recent months,” says Captain Labbe. The Salvation Army is appealing to school and scout groups, volunteer groups, clubs, grocery stores and other food pantries in the area, to help with the shortage.

For information on how to donate non-perishable foods to the Salvation Army, call the Bethlehem Salvation Army at (610) 867-4681, or a Salvation Army office nearest you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Morganelli to Announce Charges in 30 Year Old Murder Case

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli will hold a news conference at the Northampton County Courthouse, 669 Washington Street, Easton, Pennsylvania on Thursday March 20, 2008 at 1:30pm to announce criminal homicide charges in a 30 year old murder. Unlike most crimes, there is no statute of limitations on a murder prosecution.

LV Minority Leaders Discuss Unity in Diversity

I couldn't believe my own eyes as I approached the Lehigh Valley Government Center last night under cloudy skies and a cold rain. In the brightly lit meeting room, plainly visible from the outside, I thought I saw O'Bama signs everywhere. I also saw more people of color than I've ever seen together in any Lehigh Valley government meeting room.

When I walked inside, my suspicions were confirmed. The Lehigh County meeting room, inner sanctum of Lehigh's top Republicans, was desecrated by twelve bright green O'Bama signs. Just outside, a table was set up with signs, bumper stickers and voter registration forms.

Without checking, I'm still pretty sure this group violated about thirty thousand different laws against campaigning inside a government building. In Northampton County, they'd all be shot on the spot. Fortunately, I saw no elected county officials. So I grabbed an O'Bama sign, a bumper sticker, and walked into the room.

I had read about this meeting of the Lehigh Valley Citizens for Unity in Diversity at Lehigh Valley Black News, and decided to check it out. There was also a last-minute blurb in QCD. This group exists to strengthen and unite people of color. I've long felt that the Asian, Latino and black communities can wield a mighty sword if they could ever unite. A high-powered panel of ministers, academics and businessmen were on hand.

When I finally walked inside, I was the only white person there for at least the first forty minutes. People pretty much ignored me. I figured I was being excluded from all the chatter because I was white, but forum coordinator Ngozi Bell proved me wrong. Ms. Bell is très belle, but is wasting her life as an engineer and making lots of money.

After shaking my hand, Ms. Belle politely informed me that my zipper was wide open. After taking care of that little detail, people were a lot more friendly. There was Starbucks coffee, soda, cookies, cake and chicken. I'm a fat old fart with a bad back. What's worse, I've forgotten to shave half of my moustache for two days in a row, so I'm actually starting to look a little like a fat Hitler. But I've got to tell you, I was doing quite well with the ladies. Three of them actually spoke to me.

Once the panel got under way, the first thing Ms. Bell did was explain her O'Bama support. After that, she stated her "most important role is as a follower of Jesus Christ." A few "Amens" followed that declaration. Then she redeemed herself, at least in my godless eyes, by saying that "We are just a group of people who care. There is beauty in the differences that we bring to the table."

The panel fielded questions posed by WFMZ-TV anchorman, Jaciel Cordoba and Success Consultants CEO, Sharmon Lomax.

Dr. Sharon Levy, an English professor at Northampton Community College, believes the problems start with our educational system. Distressed by the disproportionate number of African Americans she sees in special ed classes, she said "Young black males are turned off by the time they reach third grade. If we don't turn this around, we will be building more prisons than colleges." Yet according to her husband, Dr. Harold Levy, the faculty and staff at Easton Area School District is about 1% even though Easton schools have the highest number of black students in the LV.

Why is the Lehigh Valley, and Allentown especially, so bigoted? According to Union Baptist Church Benjamin T. Hailey, Sr., "The Latino population has tripled in the last twenty years. Allentown wasn't ready for that. Diversity came quicker than we were able to handle it."

The best question of the night, according to all assembled, came from a 12 year old child, who asked how Latinos and blacks could be more involved with each other. Panama native Tatiana Tooley (who likes Clinton) explained it actually starts with the children.

"A child sees another child as another child until a parent tells him something different."

Rev. Karen Holmes drove Tatiana's point home with a story about different choir and dance classes that she would bring together from different parts of town. These kids had different ethnic backgrounds, but they did not want to be kept apart. They actually asked to be together. I've noticed that myself when I watch kids play sports. They are pretty damn nice to each other, much nicer than bloggers.

The answer lies with our children. I think they can do pretty well if we don't muck things up for them. I left feeling hopeful about race relation in the LV, and hope this group meets again.

You can contact founder Ngozi Bell at TheUnityInDiversityGroup@gmail.com.

So What's Life Like in the Can?

For as long as I've known him, Lehigh Valley peace activist Joe DeRaymond has been trying to get his ass thrown in jail. He thinks he really can make a difference by getting his ass thrown in jail. But he's a lousy criminal.

Joe is one of the geriatrics who refused to leave Congressman Charlie Dent's office at quitting time after walking in unannounced and demanding to see him. Dent wasn't even at his office that day, but that made no difference. At quitting time, Joe was hauled away, but the cops refused to throw his ass in jail. They just gave him a ticket.

Another time, during the course of a shouting match with Northampton County Councilman Ron Angle over the Ten Commandments of all things, DeRaymond was waving his arms and knocked a cup of iced tea (unsweetened) all over His Eminence. When deputies came in to talk to DeRaymond, he freaked out. For that, he got a cavity search, but the deputies refused to throw Joe's ass in jail. They just gave him a ticket and kicked him out of the courthouse for the rest of the day.

Joe's wish finally did come true. He went to Fort Benning to protest the School of Americas, and hopped barbed wire fences and that sort of thing. He was one of forty people who got arrested. They take turns, and it was his turn that year. Finally, his wish came true. They threw his ass in jail. Three months.

According to the Pew Center, 1% of our adult population is sitting in a hoosegow. So maybe there's nothing really special about getting your ass thrown in jail. But Joe did it! Now he talks about being a POC, and that does not mean a pile of crap. It stands for prisoner of conscience. Joe has even written a gripping account of his three months in the slammer, called Three Months in Prison Nation.

Pretty cool title, huh?

He says things like, "Tear down the walls," even though he was in a minimum security facility with a "quarter mile track to walk, bocce, basketball, softball, bridge, chess, television, radio, work in the garden."

I guess bocce is for the mob guys.

So Joe finally got his ass thrown in jail, and I guess that means something in his little world. Good for him. But I can't help thinking how much valuable time has been wasted that could have been better spent on organizing real grass roots efforts to effect change in our government locally. We do have some bad public officials. We do have hungry and homeless right here in the Lehigh Valley. Joe doesn't have to go to South America.