Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mr. Baseball Tries to Buy His Very Own Northampton County Judge

Ever hear of Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos? Known as Mr. Baseball, Angelos has pretty much destroyed the Orioles. But his control over Maryland's legislature is so legendary that his measures are simply called "Angelos bills." He's a heavy campaign contributor in Maryland, but gives to candidates throughout the country. He's Joe Biden's number one contributor ($156,250) and is rated #4 for Pat Leahy. ($38,700).

Here in the Keystone state, Angelos has dropped a whopping $210,000 on Governor Ed Rendell since 2000. Right here in Northampton County, AG hopeful has picked up another $150,200.

Lamont McClure, the asbestos lawyer who won a county council victory against unknown Mark Schwartz by a scant 91 votes, just happens to work for Angelos. If you look over his finance reports, you'll see lots of dough from Angelos' attorneys.

I think it's safe to say Angelos is trying to buy what he wants, whether it's baseball teams, legislation or politicians. It's pay to play, baby.

According to a highly placed source, I learned that Mr. Baseball has been whispering sweet nothin's in Mr. Eagles' ear. Seems that Pete wants something in return for his $210,000 investment. That something is a Northampton County judge.

Angelos must know a lot about Northampton County because he's asking Rendell to appoint one of his cronies to the vacancy created when Judge Freedberg ascended to the heavens of superior court. Guess who?

Lamont McClure? You're half right. The person that Mr. Baseball would like to see seated on Northampton County's bench is actually Sandy McClure, Lamont's wife. Although she's an Assistant District Attorney, I don't know that she's ever even tried a case. You'll have a rough time ever finding her in a courtroom. About the only time you'll ever see her is when she wonders the halls at the government center, pressuring county workers on county time to sign her husband's nomination petitions.

If I were her, I'd hold off on ordering that judicial robe. It's gonna' take a much bigger bribe than $210,000 before Ed Rendell appoints her to the bench. If he does, she'll run into a buzzsaw in the senate.

Zell Hell Makes Bloggers All A-Quiver

I'm a miserable bastard. I spend most nights at home, swilling coffee and assailing poor newspapers editors, reporters, and local politicians with snotty emails. Unfortunately, most of my instructive missives are intercepted by the devil, the Mailer-Daemon.

That's why I blog.

Naturally, I would be ecstatic to see one of my epistles shared in the print media. In fact, I often send blog entries to both local papers. I modestly call them "pearls of wisdom." I've even included a few publicity photos and a brief adult video.

Unfortunately, that bastard, The Mailer-Daemon, blocks almost all of them.

Until now.

The Mourning Call has fallen on hard times. Sure, the paper still makes money for the Zellions, but a twelve per cent profit is not enough. No siree! The Zellions want more. Money, money, money!

It now costs more money to buy a frickin' obit than to pay for a funeral limo. If it's a Sunday obit, make that two limos. A classified ad for an apartment costs more than you'll see in rent.

So does the paper reduce advertise rates? Nah. Instead, it shoots itself in the head. First, it raises newsstand prices. Then it rids itself of the very writers who prompt us to read the paper in the first place. This is why places like the Bethlehem Steel closed down. Poor management and decision making from the top.

Management at the paper is so cowardly they just let their fingers do the walking, phone-firing on a Sunday night. One reporter spent the entire day sweating it out at Eagles Training camp, filed his work for the following day, and was promptly fired at 7:30 p.m.

To make it impossible to congratulate those who survived the Sunday Night Slaughter, editors have even removed their "contact us" feature on the mcall webpage. All that remains is a contact for "internships."

Amazingly, the editorial board still insists the "welcome mat" is out there. "Our contact information is on these pages every day, and it also is in the Opinion section of mcall.com on the Internet."

Ummm, bullshit.

In an effort to make do with less, the paper has watered down its opinion page, now called "Lehigh Valley Town Square." I'll refrain from passing judgment, but early signs are bad.

Every Tuesday, the paper will now be saluting two local blogs. Michael Molovinsky and Michael Donovan are the first local bloggers to see their posts in print. That shocked the hell out of Donavan. You see, no one had cleared it with him in advance. He woke up to see an entire blog post on The Morning Call opinion page. Edited, too! Donovan complains, "I found it strange that I was not given the courtesy of notification for its potential use, nor was I given the right to review edits that they made from the original."

Picky, picky.

Obviously, the paper screwed up. Shocker, eh? I don't think that will happen again.

Kinky Paprika is a Lehigh Valley blogger who does not want The Mourning Call publishing his blogs. Kinky is afraid it could hurt his credibility. So he decided to "start lacing every single post with liberal lashings of the F-word, just to dissuade the powers that be from considering me for the "honour" of a Valley Blogosphere appearance."

Sounds like a plan.

Bill Villa tells me, back channel, that Blogger Tuesday is really just another diabolical plot to quash all blog dissent. "The Morning Call has Molovinsky, Donovan, you, and who knows which other local bloggers just absolutely a-quiver at the prospect of being selected (such an honor) for blog linkage at The Morning Call Forum, formerly known as a cesspool of racism and hate. Ironic, isn't it? Why is everyone a-quiver? More readers, baby. And a chance at being a celebrity like Bill White."

I resent that. ... Wait, do you really think I could be a celebrity like Bill White?

Actually, I think Blogger Tuesday has great potential, although Villa's concerns are legitimate. The MSM is giving us a weekly forum to vent views that they've normally suppressed. Are we playing right into their fiendishly evil plans? Will we be less likely to crticize? I don't know, but I am all a-quiver.

Here's what I did. First, I told Michael and Michael what a frickin' great honor it was to see their blogs in print. Then I immediately called the paper to complain. I couldn't email because the contact list is gone. After rotating through several people from Sri Lanka and the Phillipines, I eventually got someone who works at the paper.

"Listen, my stuff is way better than some year-old post about a graveyard or some dinky essay about being lucky. I even know how to do graphs. Do you know how hard that is in HTML? I went to college, damn it!"

I'm told they're going in alphabetical order. I think I'm next.

I'm all a-quiver.

Keystone Progress Unveiled

Way back when he was a Greenie, back in '02, community activist Mike Morrill ran for governor. I eventually became disenchanted with the greens, especially after learning they were funding congressional races with money from the founders of Blackwater USA, a company that regularly supplies the CIA with mercenaries. But Morrill is one person who represents what was right about the green party.

He's just unveiled Keystone Progress, "a multi-issue progressive advocacy organization that combines cutting edge online organizing and communications with rapid and hard-hitting earned media strategies. Year round, Keystone Progress will work to engage citizens from across the state around issues of immediate state or local concern."

Morrill plans to blend new and old media, but even more ambitiously, he wants to unite progressive groups that really talk to each other. He told PolitckerPA, "The goal is stop fighting so much so we can utilize all our resources, especially in the communications realm."

Well, good luck with that, Mike.

He's identified four current campaigns: (1) PA’s Bush War Tax; (2) Don’t Privatize the PA Turnpike; (3) Support the Paper Ballot Based Voting System Reimbursement Bill; and (4) Support Comprehensive Healthcare Reform.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What is SBN and Why Should I Care?

What is SBN? Sports Business Network? Sidney Bisexual Network? Seamount Biogeosciences Network? Yes, yes and yes! Here in the Lehigh Valley, SBN is the Sustainable Business Network, a group of independently owned local businesses that all agree to work from a triple bottom line 1) profits, 2) planet, 3) people. Nationally and internationally produced items are replaced by local products. Its diverse member roster extends from Clothesline Organics, a Bethlehem clothing store, to Allentown Breworks. Wal-Mart? Try again.

Want to learn more about SBN? Here's how.

When: Tuesday, August 5th, from 5:30 - 7:30 pm,

Where: Starfish Brasserie (51 W. Broad Street, Bethlehem)

What: A happy hour mixer for SBN-LV. Complimentary appetizers will be served. Cash bar. This will be a nice opportunity to meet SBN members and friends in a friendly, Musikfest atmosphere.

Parking: North Street Parking Garage (North Street Between Main and Guetter). Tell them you're eating at Starfish and you won't get nailed for parking, which is what usually happens during Musikfest.

RSVPs appreciated but not required, to clothesline@clotheslineorganics.com

Calling All Citizen Journalists!

In the wake of tragic layoffs at The Morning Call, it's time to consider citizen journalism. Blogs are inexpensive and powerful publishing tools - the poor man's press. I've set up an experimental blog, Northampton County Spotlight, to cover the eastern end of the Lehigh Valley. It includes links to every municipal and school district web page. In addition, every news-oriented Northampton County blog is linked.

Now all I need are people willing to post brief reports.

In Williams Township, citizens are battling the Chrin landfill expansion. Hellertown pedestrians worry about getting killed while crossing the street. Pen Argyl cops hand out tickets to old homeless ladies who are talking to benches. Upper Mount Bethel residents are always fighting over something - that's their entertainment.

People are interested in these hot, local stories. They want to know what's going on, even if they don't read a paper.

Who is going to tell these stories? Many of you could inform us about your community. If you'd like to try, please drop me a line at BOHare5948@aol.com. I'll send you an invitation so you can start blogging at Northampton County Spotlight. Your politics are irrelevant to me.

Here's a link to a few online journalism tips. One of these days, I'm going to read them, too.

Chief Sinclair Making a Difference in Nazareth PD

Below you will find Nazareth crime data between 2000 and 2007. It's a joke. In 2002, Nazareth reported no crime at all. In 2003, it never bothered to forward any data. Clearance rates flutter between 15% and 72%.

























































Year

Crimes Reported

Crimes Cleared

Clearance Rate

2000

429

64

15%

2001

29

10

34%

2002

0

0

?

2003

no data

no data

no data

2004

51

13

25%

2005

564

167

30%

2006

590

179

30%

2007

430

310

72%

Source: Pennsylvania State Police
Fortunately, the silliness has stopped. Nazareth reached outside for its new police chief, Michael Sinclair, a 29-year veteran from Philly. He wants "accurate statistics" and "good intelligence." In contrast to the previous practice of keeping things hushed up, Sinclair has started "crime bulletins" to alert the community if there is a rash of crime. "When you have 1,000 robberies, it is not 1,000 different people. It's usually the same handful." Sinclair brings much needed professionalism to Nazareth. When you have 1,000 parking tickets, that's usually a small handful of miscreants, too. I know. I'm one of them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Mourning Call's Dear Departed

For those of you interested in an unofficial list of 24 Morning Call staffers who were either sacked or volunteered to be fired, check out the Tell Zell blog. I know a few names not included on that list, but am reluctant to mention them because I'm concerned it might embarrass them.

Butz Construction: "Give Them Credit Where Credit is Due"

"They're just like Hess's."

That's what one smiling lady said as I stepped into the talking elevator, bringing back memories of strawberry pie, fashion models, strawberry pie, back-to school shopping, strawberry pie, the ride down the swirling parking parking deck and ... strawberry pie.

I was just across the street from that once proud department store, but was in the bowels of big business. Corporate America. I was in the belly of the beast known as Alvin H. Butz, Inc. This company has bragging rights as the oldest and largest construction company of its kind in the Lehigh Valley. Is there any large government project in the Lehigh Valley that Butz does not build? Builder of Bethlehem's $65 million Penn Forest Dam? Butz. Northampton County's over budget courthouse? Butz again. Additions and renovations at Lehigh County's courthouse? You got it, Butz has that deal, too.

Last week, I posted a blog criticizing Butz' Northampton County courthouse expansion. I claimed it was $2 million over budget because Butz and Architect RicciGreene "were milking the job and the county never had someone looking over their shoulders ... ." I relied on reports from County Controller Steve Barron and county engineer Steve DeSalva. You can read them here.

Not long after that blog, Lee Butz called and invited me to come see him. I confidently told him I had a report pointing out all the problems. This included Butz' failure to use CPM (Critical Path Method), a tool that enables a construction manager to identify untimely completion of one work activity and its effect on everything else.

"You couldn't be more wrong," Butz said, and asked me to hear him out.

On my way up in the talking elevator, I began getting cold feet. After all, these guys have real money. They probably know a lot of cement contractors. Someone might find me next to Jimmy Hoffa in a thousand years. As I pondered my demise, the talking elevator told me I was on the sixth floor. I thanked her, stepped out, and was ready to do a volte-face when a voice said, "Are you here to see Mr. Butz?" I thought it was the talking elevator, but this time it was a live human being - the receptionist. Almost immediately, a diminutive but smiling Lee Butz came out of nowhere to see me.

"Would you like a coke?," he asked. I was thirsty as hell, but said no, trying to prove I'm incorruptible, just like county exec John Stoffa.

Butz ushered me into a gigantic conference room, where we were soon joined by John Baer and Larry Rutt. These are two of the engineers who had worked on the project. After a lengthy meeting, I was convinced of one thing - I could not have been more wrong.

Butz did use the Critical Path Method (CPM) construction tool.

In Steve DeSalva's memo, he insists that part of the reason for delay was Butz' failure to use CPM, a complex depiction of the interrelating work activities, usually in the form of a large drawing or complex software program. Yesterday, Steve repeated that criticism. "Butz started it but it fell by the wayside."

Before Butz started anything, it had a CPM prepared by Wagner-Hohns-Inglis, Inc., detailing at least 450 individual activities and how each related to another. Monthly, that CPM was updated and an executive summary was prepared for the county. DeSalva was not the county engineer at that time.

When the focus of construction changed to renovation of an existing facility, the CPM was used less frequently because the work could be done more quickly than the time it would take to update the CPM. By this time, the project was already 2/3 complete. That's when Steve DeSalva came on board. As Butz explained, Steve was simply not there to see the extensive use of CPM throughout most of the contract.

The construction manager, as the owner's representative, is the clerk of the works.

DeSalva believes another reason for delay was the county's failure to have a Clerk of the Works, a person who would "ride herd over the A/E and Construction Manager." In a conversation yesterday, Steve conceded he was effectively the clerk of the works, and spent 15 hour days overseeing both the construction and all the other duties that must be performed by a director of public works.

Butz, however, believes a construction manager is the owner's agent and has a duty to minimize costs. It was Butz' job, as construction manager, to ride herd on all the contractors to ensure the work was done in a timely and cost effective manner.

John Baer inadvertently gave me an example of just how seriously Butz perceives its role. During the course of renovations to the criminal division, directly below Courtroom #1, he discovered a design defect that could have sent that historic courtroom tumbling into the basement. After determining how to overcome that design defect, his next job was to minimize the cost.

"Why would you do that?," I asked. "As long as you find a fix, what do you care what it costs?"

Baer told me he was the owner's agent and had a responsibility to find the cheapest fix possible that would work.

"What's your financial interest in minimizing cost?," I asked. "To get the next job" was Lee Butz' quick answer. Butz also noted that, had the county used a general contractor instead of a construction manager, the project would cost 8% more.

Roofing Contract Overrun

DeSalva identifies $657 thousand added to the $1.48 million roofing contract and calls it a cost overrun. Butz explains this actually saved the county money.

How?

Originally, the window contractor was supposed to do some screen walls, but felt uncomfortable doing that. So the roofing contractor agreed to do it, picking up an extra $657 thousand. The window contractor, however, lowered its price by $900,000. Instead of being an overrun, this actually saved the county $200,000.

What's the real reason for the delay?

According to Butz, the project was finished in 13 months (August '07) instead of the 11 months (June '07) originally planned. If it were not making effective use of the CPM, the project would have lasted 26 months. Here's why.

1. There was a four month delay in getting steel. As John Baer explains, "You can't do anything without a building." And you have no building without steel.

2. There was a delay in getting all the necessary approvals from fabricators, architect and county on the shop drawings. "There were over 1,000 drawings for the steel alone," said Baer.

3. There was another four month delay after the millwork contractor went bankrupt and the next highest bidder had to be begged into doing the job for the original bid.

4. There was a 2 month delay between the bids received and bids awarded. Butz would have to value engineer and try to get bids to come in at the right price. It took two months, but saved the county $2.1 million.

5. There were three months of delay in the renovation phase of the project, primarily the result of unforeseen conditions and having to adjust to the schedule of the court and other county functions. This includes the design issues in the criminal division.

Despite all these delays, Butz finished the project just two months behind schedule.

Did Butz do a good job?

Butz certainly thinks so, and "is frustrated and disappointed that people have the wrong idea about the project. It was superbly done. Glenn Reibman and John Stoffa should be extremely proud of the building they have."

What does Steve DeSalva say? Despite his criticism, DeSalva was complimentary. "Butz did a good job. They handled a messy job with a lot of changes that had to be made. Give them credit where credit is due."

Why was Butz taken off the job early? According to Steve, there were issues between Butz and the A/E. "I need the A/E."

Mourning the Morning Call

Have you noticed?

The Morning Call just got a little smaller. Today's slim edition is a far cry from what we saw this time last week. Editorial page editor Glenn Kranzley tries his best to explain changes to his section of the paper, but some readers are upset.
Cut local news. Cut the editorial board's workload in half. Solicit free content from any jerk who can wield a keyboard, and act as though you're doing the community a big favor. Chop out half the comics. Reduce the size of the paper itself. Reduce the "news hole." Fire 25% of the employees (but keep all of top management). Do away with syndicated columnists. Turn global news coverage into a half-page wrap-up.

Then sit and wonder why readership continues to drop.
Nineteen Morning Call employees voluntarily left the paper, preferring to be bought off than laid off. The rest had to sit by their phone on Sunday night, waiting to learn whether they still had a job.

Easton-based reporters evaded the axe. Some will now be writing in Allentown, but they're still employed. Others were less lucky.

Pam Varkony mentions a friend who thought he/she had escaped, only to hear that phone ring on Sunday at 7:30 PM.

Classless!

Bill White mentions going out and whooping it up with several colleagues on Friday night. On Sunday night, the bell tolled for two of them as well.

Classless!

Can blogs replace them? Above Average Jane, a Philly blogger, has her doubts. "A robust press is necessary in a democracy and hobbyist blogs just can't fill the gaps."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lehigh Valley's Urban Police - No Success Story

Politicians are always quick to take credit for a falling crime rate, no matter how brief or minor. Nobody, however, is paying much attention to another important measure - the success rate, technically called the "clearance rate." How good are local cops at identifying and catching the bad guys? According to data collected Pennsylvania State Police, it's an abysmal record. On Friday, I told you Allentown's clearance rate has fallen, from an astonishing 77% in 2002, to a depressing 33% in 2007. How do these figures compare with the Lehigh Valley's two other cities - Bethlehem and Easton?

Bethlehem

2000: 3,016 of 6,536 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (46% success rate)

2001: 3,506 of 6,729 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (52% success rate)

2002: 3,468 of 6,763 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (51% success rate)

2003: 3,241 of 6,301 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (51% success rate)

2004: 3,569 of 6,916 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (52% success rate)

2005: 3,741 of 7,296 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (51% success rate)

2006: 3,643 of 7,370 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (49% success rate)

2007: 2.852 of 6,947 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (41% success rate)

Easton

2000: 600 of 3,757 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (18% success rate)

2001: 881 of 4,271 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (19% success rate)

2002: 945 of 4,567 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (21% success rate)

2003: 1,030 of 5,386 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (19% success rate)

2004: 955 of 5,376 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (18% success rate)

2005: 894 of 5,424 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (16% success rate)

2006: 1,621 of 5,822 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (28% success rate)

2007: 1,521 of 5,531 reported crimes are cleared, i.e. solved (28% success rate)

Analysis

They're all pretty pathetic. Of the Lehigh Valley's three cities, Allentown has historically had the most effective police department. But something has happened. It's success rate suddenly dropped from 77% to 39% in 2004, and it now hovers at arounbd 33%. Allentown obviously lacks the public safety resources it once possessed. Bethlehem, while the most consistent of the three cities, only solves about half of the offenses reported. Easton's police department has had a poor reputation, and its poor performane explains why. Fortunately, Easton is improving. Unfortunately, Easton is the only one on its way up.

Lehigh Valley's Urban Police - The Raw Numbers




















































































































































City

Allentown

Bethlehem

Easton

2000: Crimes Reported

17,445

6,516

3,757

2000: Crimes Cleared

13,205

3,016

664

2000: Clearance rate

76%

46%

18%

2001: Crimes Reported

17,277

6,729

4,271

2001: Crimes Cleared

13,035

3,506

801

2001: Clearance rate

75%

52%

19%

2002: Crimes Reported

17,297

6,763

4,567

2002: Crimes Cleared

13,385

3,468

945

2002: Clearance rate

77%

51%

19%

2003: Crimes Reported

18,025

6,301

5,386

2003: Crimes Cleared

12,587

3,241

1,030

2003: Clearance rate

70%

51%

19%

2004: Crimes Reported

18,304

6,916

5,376

2004: Crimes Cleared

7,194

3,569

955

2004: Clearance rate

39%

52%

18%

2005: Crimes Reported

18,366

7,296

5,424

2005: Crimes Cleared

6,487

3,741

894

2005: Clearance rate

35%

51%

16%

2006: Crimes Reported

19,072

7,370

5,822

2006: Crimes Cleared

6,123

3,643

1,621

2006: Clearance rate

32%

49%

28%

2007: Crimes Reported

17,383

6,947

5,531

2007: Crimes Cleared

5,822

2,852

1,521

2007: Clearance rate

33%

41%

28%

Source: Pennsylania State Police.

You Can Get Away With Murder in Easton!




























City

Allentown

Bethlehem

Easton

Murders & Nonnegligent Manslaughter

107

25

18

Cases Solved

72

18

4

Clearance rate

67.3%

72.0%

22.2%


Source: Pennsylvania State Police(between 2000 and 2007).

J Spike Rogan: Easton Strongman?


If you read this blog often enough, you're bound to read some of the Budweiser-inspired philosophy of J. Spike Rogan, former candidate for appointment to Easton City Council. Who the hell names their kid Spike? Seriously. That name, combined with his commentary, makes me wonder whether he's had his rabies and distemper shots. In his blogging days, he once posted posted Saddam's execution in "full clear," whatever that means. Basically, he's my kind of guy, if only because he makes me look normal.

Spike, not surprisingly, is a strongman. He recently finished second in the tractor pull at Plainfield Farmers' Fair. He just sent me the video.

Spike has a lot of experience pulling dead weight. Last year, he pulled Easton mayoral candidate Mike Fleck all over the place. Fleck finished second, too.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Morning Call's Black Friday: 25 to 30 Newsroom Workers Dumped

Morning Call reporter Ann Wlazelek won her share of "Excellence in Journalism" awards this year. The Pa. Women's Press Association honored her for stories in Business (1st place), Health/Science (1st place), Outdoors (3rd place) and Features (2d place). Debbie Garlicki, another Morning Call veteran, also walked away with a plaque.

Those awards mean nothing to Morning Call beancounters.

Wlazelak and Garlicki are two of between 25 and 30 reporters unceremoniously dumped on Friday after a week of tension. Most dismissed newsroom employees are seasoned veterans, some in their 50s. They include stalwarts like editorial board member Eric Chiles and reporter Sam Kennedy. I have few details because the smoke is still clearing.

Regular op-ed features are a thing of the past. Columnists Bill White and Paul Carpenter have survived, but their roles have changed. They will now engage in a "Head to Head" format on the editorial page. Who knows? If it sells papers, beancounters might insist they wear tights and start mudwrestling.

The paper will focus more attention on the young turks leading the charge in its interactive department. You know them, they're the ones responsible for the readers' forum I like so much. On a bright note, the paper is supposed to start linking to ... horrors ... fifteen regional indie blogs on a weekly rotation. That's flattering, but blogs can never replace real journalism. We can complement and criticize, but never usurp, their important role.

In Sam Zell's media empire, the slashes have been as deep and brutal as any Roman conqueror could inflict. According to Follow the Media, the Los Angeles Times has no publisher, no advertising director, no foreign editor, no editorial pages editor, no UN bureau chief, and has cut 150 newsroom workers. At The Chicago Tribune, the publisher and editor are both gone.

And so it goes.

We've all lost. We'll all suffer. Many important stories will remain untold. Many small voices will be stifled. That's dangerous to any form of democratic government. And is it really good business? Won't people refuse to pay more for less?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Allentown: Falling Crime Rate is Misleading

In January, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski boasted a 9% crime drop from 2006 to 2007. Coincidentally, he made this claim right after two separate shootings, which left three people wounded and one person dead. Now he's touting another 5% crime decrease, comparing the first six months of 2007 with 2008. His sunny announcement comes just a few days after a disquieting home invasion, which resulted in a murder. The Morning Call has dutifully reported these figures. Yet for some reason, center city mothers are still afraid to let their children play outside.

How can there be a declining crime rate in a city with so much murder? Who's right, Mayor Ed or moms? Believe it or not, both.

Pawlowski critics knowingly whisper that crime figures are being manipulated, but that's ridiculous. That would require a massive conspiracy between police and mayor, which could never remain secret for long. Mayors and cops hate each other too much.

Pawlowski's right. Allentown's crime rate has fallen over the last 18 months. But sadly, that's no reason for good cheer. Using the same Pennsylvania State Police data relied on by Allentown leaders, the crime rate is just 0.02% below its average over the past eight years. That's no basis for concluding there's light at the end of the tunnel.

At least it's going in the right direction, you might say, and that's true. But those center city moms are still right to trust their own eyes and ears over what Pawlowski tells them from his portable podium.

Here's why. Nobody, from mayor's office to The Morning Call, has bothered to look at the "clearance rate," i.e. the success rate, or rate at which police actually investigate and identify a bad guy. That's gone down, too, and that's very bad news. A falling clearance rate means more criminals are on the street. It means law enforcement is increasingly unable to investigate or prosecute criminal activity.

Allentown's clearance rate this year is 7.5% lower than it was at this time last year. Only 11 of 67 firearms robberies have been solved. Burglaries? Just 2 of 60 reported burglaries are resolved. And so it goes. Police have "cleared," i.e. solved, only 33% of the crime reported so far this year. With a 33% success rate, can anyone claim Allentown cops have taken a bite out of crime? Let's look at the facts since 2000, when state police started collecting data.

2000: 13,205 of 17,445 reported crimes are solved (76% success rate)

2001: 13,035 of 17,277 reported crimes are solved (75% success rate)

2002: 13,385 of 17,297 reported crimes are solved (77% success rate)

2003: 12,587 of 18.025 reported crimes are solved (70% success rate)

2004: 7,194 of 18,304 reported crimes are solved (39% success rate)

2005: 6,487 of 18,366 reported crimes are solved (35% success rate)

2006: 6,123 of 19,072 reported crimes are solved (32% success rate)

2007: 5,822 of 17,383 reported crimes are solved (33% success rate)

From these figures, it's apparent that Allentown's finest had a remarkable record between 2000 and 2003. That suddenly changed in 2004, when its success rate dropped to 39%. Is that when a manpower drain started? I don't know. But when police somehow lose the ability to investigate, criminal presence necessarily increases, especially in "high crime" neighborhoods. This, of course, leads to more violence and undoubtedly explains why Allentown has such a high homicide rate. That's how you can get an increased homicide rate in the face of a falling crime rate.

Mayor Pawlowski has yet to release the details of his new policing program. Preliminary indications, however, are that police will stop sending patrol cars to investigate minor crimes like auto vandalism and theft. That's a mistake, if true. This disastrous policy will result in more unsolved crime, more criminals on the street, more violence and a higher murder rate. No matter how far the crime rate falls, people will feel insecure, and for good reason.

Police need to be doing what they were doing between 2000 and 2003 - solving crime. The best way to ensure that is to hire more of them.

Wanted: Morning Call Reporter

After this weekend, some Morning Call reporters are going to be looking for a job. I know where they can get one, too.

According to a news release from the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, Communications Officer Joe McDermott is leaving after little more than a year to take a job in the private sector. McDermott and CEO Phil Mitman both have prepared statements expressing their undying devotion to each other and other little lies.

The spot's open! I'm sure it pays oodles more that you'll ever get in Zell Hell. People who go into public relations must first sell their soul, but Morning Call employees seem already to be working for the devil.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Allentown Mayor Pawlowski & Friends: Dancin' in the Streets!

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Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski , City Council VP Tony Phillips and blogger Michael Molovinsky share the love. I never knew they could dance so well!

Northampton County Workers: Crooks, Perverts & Class Acts

You ever notice how we all remember the bad things that happen, but get hazy when it comes to something nice? Sleaze sells. Nice stories put us to sleep.

We all remember that Northampton County worker who was jailed after stealing at least $120,000 in bail money over a number of years. Investigations into that incident have been performed now by about a gazillion different state and federal agencies, with no end in sight. The UN is supposed to be here next week, and is already circling in those quiet black helicopters.

Lesson? County workers are all crooks.

We also have the recent arrest of a Children & Youth caseworker, on child molestation charges no less. That's ignited a firestorm, and to make matters worse, the office can't publicly comment.

Lesson? County workers are all perverts.

My favorite Northampton County bad guy has to be Vince Dominach, our erstwhile DCED Director. He ran up $1,300 in county cell phone charges while arranging wife-swapping trysts with dentists, of all people.

Lesson? County workers are crooks and perverts.

Now that I've piqued your interest, I want to tell you about Lori G. Sywensky, Norco's Community Development Grants Administrator. What you think she just did?

Lori is one of the county's many unheralded workers who just quietly does her job. For the first time in four years, Congress increased funding for homeless children by $2 million. So Lori asked Council to adopt a resolution requesting money for the county's seven homeless shelters. Amazingly, council unanimously agreed. In fact, they even commended her for her tireless efforts. Yesterday, Lori received word that the county's homeless shelters will be getting $154,338. Most of it will be for items badly needed, like windows and electrical work. Without Lori, those shelters would be getting no help at all.

This is not a big story. It's not as juicy as stealing $120,000. But it will help a lot of needy people.

Lesson? Some county workers are class acts, who are dedicated to improving other people's lives. They have an infectious quality that brings out the best in others, too.

Thanks, Lori.

HCCLV to Offer Lowest Costing Health Insurance in Lehigh Valley

Over the last five years in Pennsylvania, health insurance costs have skyrocketed 75% while our average wage has only gone up 13%. Northampton County has been hit hard; 15.4% of all adults are uninsured. That's almost twice as high as neighboring Lehigh County. Throughout the state, 767,000 adults have no insurance, even though 77% of them have jobs.

The pols all point fingers at each other and do mass mailings and robo calls. But things just get worse. Fortunately, Lehigh Valley's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (HCCLV) is actually doing something for its members. Tomorrow, HCCLV and Aetna Insurance will announce the area’s most comprehensive healthcare plan at the lowest cost for businesses in the Lehigh Valley. Broker of record for this new healthcare alliance is The Equinox Agency, a longtime HCCLV member.

HCCLV, now chaired by Lina Garcia , is the largest Hispanic organization in the state, serving 334 businesses with 3,000 employees. My thanks to board member Lázaro Fuentes for making me aware of this attempt to provide health care coverage.

Is Johnny Mañana's For Sale?

Johnny Mañana's (that's with a ñ, damn it!) has to be the most famous restaurant in Allentown, if not the whole damñ world. For one thing, the kiddies at QCD just love it! So do Allentown Good News and Our West End Neighborhood. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski's big tipping was first noticed at that restaurant. It's also where he held his Fiesta fuñdraiser. As Hizzoñer posed for pics with his croñies, four people were shot just a few blocks away. One of them died.

Ay carumba!

Only one gringo was dubious - Michael Molovinsky. "This joke is located in a KOZ and already pays no taxes. It was given a special low cost city sponsored liquor license. It appears [that a] $50,000 [grant] was virtually blackmail to open up, so our agency leaders could crow about how wonderful are their accomplishments."

Well, now that Mañana's KOZ classification is set to expire, a little birdie just told me it's for sale. Asking price? $1.2 million.

Update: According to an ad with Frankin Acquisition Advisors, a Lehigh Valley Tex Mex restaurant is for sale. "Great location in Lehigh Valley with liqour license. Every attention to detail has been made in this state-of-the-art restaurant and sports bar. All equipment and build-out is brand new. There is approximately 7,000 square feet of resaurant space with additional storage. A great 15 year lease is transferable. Build-out, furniture, fixtures and equipment total almost $3,000,000!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Poll Results: Northampton County's Next Exec

I'll have more about this later, but here's the results from my Northampton County exec poll.

State Rep. Richard Grucela 37% (41 votes)

Council President Ann McHale 13% (14 votes)

Lehigh County Administrator Ron Heckman 50% (55 votes)

Total Votes: 110

Bennett's Local Support Nonexistent

More astute readers of this blog may recall that when Charlie Dent was first elected by the people of the 15th District to serve in Congress, he ran against Joe Driscoll. Driscoll sure didn't live here. He lived somewhere near Philly or on the French Riviera or something. As you may have guessed, few people from these parts were throwing money at Driscoll.

Looks like Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, Representative Dent’s current opponent, is also miserably failing at raising financial support from people in our community. Here's the latest from the Dent camp.

In her most recent campaign finance report covering the time between April 3rd and June 30th, Bennett raised $154,000 in contributions above the FEC-mandated $200 itemization threshold. Of this amount, only $19,820 came from contributors living within the 15th Congressional District.

A disturbing 87% of Bennett’s itemized (Non-PAC) contributions came from outside the communities that make up the 15th District.

In fact, Bennett raised more money from out of state ($34,409) than she did from people living in the 15th District ($19,820).

“It’s ridiculous,” said Dent Campaign Manager Shawn Millan. “You go through her reports and you see street addresses for California but nothing from Catasauqua. Even worse, Bennett has once again failed to disclose required information about her donors on the FEC Report.”

Bennett received 40 itemized contributions from people living in the 15th District and 202 from people outside of the District with 51 contributions of that total coming from out of state.

Millan, who managed Representative Dent’s 2004 campaign against Driscoll, sees patterns being repeated between Driscoll’s carpet-bagging candidacy and Bennett’s. “It’s the exact same. I used to page through Driscoll’s reports and the addresses would all be New York, Philadelphia, California, Massachusetts. Bennett’s are exactly the same.”
The people who know Sam Bennett best are the ones least likely to support her campaign. Not a good sign.

Why Norco's Courthouse is $2 Million Over Budget

"Give us $43 million, and we'll come in at that or under."

That was what then President Judge Freederg piously promised, in transcribed testimony, when he sought Northampton County Council's approval for his courthouse expansion, back in 2001. Court Administrator James Onembo made the same pledge, too. He told a skeptical council, no less than three times, that there would be no cost overruns.

They must have had their fingers crossed.

County controller Steve Barron, in a report to county council, reveals that the actual cost of this project, as of May, is $45,083,563, roughly $2 million more than was originally budgeted. Construction manager Alvin H. Butz has been paid $4.6 million for its oversight, $1.2 million more than expected. Architect RicciGreene has also been paid about $1 million more than originally projected.

How did this happen? Yo yo yo, what's the dillyo?

According to Barron, the project was "not adequately monitored by the County." Most of you probably figured that, but how did that happen? The county's engineer, Steve DeSalva, has a pretty good explanation, and Barron attaches it to his report.

DeSalva claims the "protracted length of the contract" caused construction management and engineering fees to balloon dramatically. This could have been minimized had Butz used a standard construction tool, CPM (Critical Path Method), which enables a construction manager to identify untimely completion of one work activity and its effect on everything else. Butz also failed to set completion dates on contracts, which "provided a disincentive for contractors to complete their work in a timely fashion." There was no Clerk of the Works to ride herd over the architect and Butz. That's a role that Onembo and DeSalva, by default, eventually assumed.

DeSalvo also notes something he calls "design oversight," which sounds like a polite way of saying the architect screwed up. This occurred both in the roofing contract and the rotunda. It ended up costing the county about $700,000. Amazingly, the architect still wants $79,000 from the county.

So basically, the reason this courthouse expansion is $2 million over budget is because Butz and the Architect were milking the job and the county never had someone looking over their shoulders until Stoffa was able to steal DeSalva from Bethlehem.

You can read Steve Barron's report, which includes DeSalva's memo, here. The Morning Call's Joe Nixon also has a detailed account.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Northampton County Children & Youth Update

Northampton County's Children & Youth workers are devastated by the recent arrest of one of their own caseworkers. Jose Huertas-Aponte had been working for the county for about six months. He had been wanted for about five years after skipping bail in Puerto Rico on charges of molesting a 14 year-old boy.


County officials, concerned about the confidentiality owed to to both children as well as a former worker, won't answer questions. CYF workers are understandably upset - they can't defend themselves or fellow workers. They also feel betrayed that one of their colleagues may be engaged in the very behavior they try to prevent. One of them, on condition of anonymity, has already told us (1) Huertas did get the usual background check; (2) Most of his time with the county, he was a probationary employee in the adolescent unit with a maximum caseload of seven cases; and (3) he did, unfortunately, have access to children.

I've recently discovered the following additional information.

1) Background check. - The US Marshal Service in Puerto Rico does not routinely enter information into NCIC. If the information was never entered, it would not come up on any criminal background check.

2) Prior Employment. - Huertas- Aponte had been living solely in the US for two years and had actually been working for another Children and Youth Agency in New Jersey before coming to Northampton County.

3) Family Notification. - The families that Huertas- Aponte worked with have not been directly informed of the charges against him, but each of the children on his caseload have been interviewed by a supervisor with the Child Protective Service Unit.

Dick Cowen: Zell's Morning Call Ignores Legacy of Earlier Leaders

Yesterday, I told you a little about Mike Welsh, one of Allentown's three remaining Republicans. Mike, who's running for the state house in Allentown's heavily Democratic 132nd district, has been mentioned by The Morning Call just once since January.

That's their Call, so to speak. But retired and well-respected Morning Call reporter, Dick Cowen, has a much different perspective. He'd like to unveil a "news story the paper just never wrote."

Richard "Dick" Hummel, longtime executive at The Morning Call, died some months ago. He received a lengthy obituary in the paper that he served for decades. He was someone admired by a large cross-section of Call employees.

One position Dick held in his later years was being a board member of the Century Fund, the charitable fund established by Call Publisher Don Miller to distribute some of his millions. He was one of the five board members of the Century Fund.

Well, the remaining four several months ago chose Lee Butz, the Lehigh Valley construction mogul, to fill Hummel's seat on the board. The report from a colleague is that Butz is fitting in well.

No mention in the paper.

Back before he moved over to federal court, then Lehigh County President Judge James Knoll Gardner called upon the
Century Fund to submit a report of its first ten years of operation.

The report went on for pages, listing local organizations alphabetically and grants distributed by the fund across its first decade. It was impressive. Try to find it in checking out the back years of the paper.

The Baum School of Art has a scholarship gala scheduled for Oct. 18. It is to honor the vision of Donald P. Miller, the Century Fund and the Miller family. The printed notice of the event includes the list of the board of the Century Fund, including new member Lee A. Butz.

Editorial comment: If the hierarchy of the now Tribune-owned Call isn't hailing the legacy of its earlier leaders, what chance do the rest of us have for our achievements to be heralded?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Axe Falls at The Morning Call: 35-40 Newsroom Jobs Cut, Bureaus Closing

The Morning Call is eliminating 35 - 40 newsroom jobs and closing down several bureaus, according to a report just released by Editor & Publisher. What's more, that axe may continue to fall. Here's an excerpt of a memo from Publisher Tim Kennedy to newspaper employees today. Amazingly, corporate assholes are letting reporters sweat it out until the weekend before dropping the axe.

How nice!

The planned reductions in newsroom labor and newsprint are a required response to the punishing economics that we face. Also on display around the building are our financial results through June. Cash flow was down 27% on an 11% decrease in revenues. Our outlook for the second half of 2008 is not much better. More than ever our financial results reflect the broken business model of the past.

While our plans are not final, I want to share with you some major decisions that we have made.

First, we plan to reassess and evaluate all newsroom bureau assignments. We will close our Quakertown and Lehighton bureaus and consolidate our Northampton County offices. While some of these positions will be eliminated, a significant portion will be reassigned. We have no intention of abandoning coverage of these areas. Major news will be covered through assignments from the Northampton bureau or the main office in Allentown.

Second, our editorial zoning strategy will change in order to streamline news production in the Local section. Two zones – one for Lehigh County and one for Northampton County - will replace the current five-zone approach. For the vast majority of our readers (current 3rd, 4th and 5th editions) there will be little change to their daily Morning Call. Zoning for advertisers will remain unchanged.

Third, 35 to 40 positions in the newsroom will be eliminated. Some of these reductions will be achieved through the elimination of open positions but the majority will be achieved through involuntary terminations. If anyone is interested or would like more information, please contact a senior editor before Wednesday.

We expect to finalize this over the next 2-3 days. Supervisors will contact affected employees this weekend. These employees will receive an enhanced pension benefit similar to the package that was offered in the first quarter of this year. The enhanced pension benefit is equivalent to one week of pay for every six months of completed service. Indications are that this package may not be available in the future.
Update: In a midnight report, The Morning Call acknowledges "involuntary job cuts" of nearly a quarter of its newsroom staff.

Breakfast With Mike Welsh

Who the hell is Mike Welsh? It's unlikely many of you have heard his name. He's only mentioned in the Morning Call once this year, and that's in an article boasting about all the choices available to voters.

Mike Welsh is running for the state house in Allentown's heavily Democratic 132nd district. His opponent, incumbent Jennifer Mann, is mentioned in at least forty Morning Call reports over the same period. Until voters set her straight, this ambitious politician was running for both state house and state treasurer simultaneously. That certainly accounts for some of the coverage.

But not all.

Morning Call columnist Bill White acknowledges the power of the incumbent. "They have much more money for TV advertising and mailers. They tend to turn up on TV or in the papers in the course of handing out giant checks or other official activities." Challengers like Mike, on the other hand, get scant coverage. "[I]t has to be frustrating to keep trying and trying to get your message out -- in the back rooms of diners, in quiet hotel meeting rooms, on busy street corners -- knowing that in many cases, almost no one will show up, and no one will hear about it."

It wouldn't be so frustrating if, now and then, the MSM would cover a frickin' news conference. Forty to one is an appalling comparison.

And so there was Mike Welsh at The Bethlehem Diner on Saturday morning, looking a little flustered, hoping I'd show up. I had already stiffed him once. I was originally supposed to meet him on Friday, but overslept. I'm lousy, too.

Mike has learned the MSM will just ignore him. When he called a news conference over Mann's penchant for using her state rep seat to launch campaigns for every other office on the planet, nobody bothered to show up. I guess that's not news.

I really had only one question for Mike. Are you out of your mind?? What on earth makes you think you have a snowball's chance in a heavily Democratic district against a seemingly popular Democratic incumbent, especially at a time when voter registration offices report that this area is becoming increasingly blue?

Welsh's answer was simple and to the point - Allentown is in big trouble. Its police force is too small. FBI records indicate that, even at full strength, its force will still be inadequate. Welsh notes a legislative measure to add 10,000 police officers, and asks why Mann is not listed as one of the sponsors. This has been hailed as a "landmark" proposal that would signal a new approach to public safety. Does Mann care? Does it bother her that one Allentown mother won't let her three toddlers play outside, even in broad daylight, out of fear they might be killed?

I'll be meeting Mike again for a full blown interview. I'd also really like to know what the hell Jenn Mann is doing for Allentown's poor. I know she excels at raising money, got that $10,000 grant for Parkland ice hockey and wants to bring an ice hockey rink downtown, but how does that help Allentown's mostly minority communities? Imagine what Allen High School's band could do with that money.

Seriously. Ice hockey? That sounds about as brilliant as Allentown's boxing program for 5 year olds.

If you have any questions for Mike, please leave them in the comments.

Pam Varkony is Back in the Blogosphere

... and she's mad as hell at the appearance of yet another 'ISM. For Barack Obama, its RacISM. For Hillary, it's SexISM. For John McCain, it's AgeISM.

OK. She's not really mad as hell. But she's still arguing forcefully that McCain's age (he's older than dirt) is being used against him. And she's right, too. MyDD, in a blog entitled "Too Old and Brain-Dead," declares McCain unfit because ... horrors ... he does not use the Internet.

The Constitution does allow ageism, but only against presidential aspirants who are less than thirty-five years old. After just finishing a biography about Alexander the Great - who died in his thirties - I know why. Alexander's empire, such as it was, died with him. Perhaps a million people died or were enslaved for ... nothing.

Not so great.

I was once young and stupid myself. Now I'm old and stupid. At age 57, my mind is still a steel trap, but it's become awful rusty. I spend hours looking for my glasses, and they're on my head! We're all aware of our own mortality. We do slow down as we get older. That's life. No law can change that. That's why, eight years ago, McCain himself expressed doubt about running for the presidency now. "If I were 43 or 53, it might be different. But I'm 63, a pretty old geezer."

The real question is whether McCain, at age 72, or Obama, at age 46, can handle this most demanding job in the world. Do they possess the wisdom of a 57 year-old sage like me?

If the answer in both cases is yes, then age is irrelevant.

(Photo credit: Youngstown Funnies)

Final Reminder: Who Would You Like as Northampton County's Next Exec

Is John Stoffa running for reelection? Your bet's as good as mine. But let's say he decides he's had enough. Which Democrat is his best successor? Is it McHale and her appeal to the women's vote? What about Rich Grucela's formidable political skills? Does affable Ron Heckman want return us to the good ol' days of Glenn Reibman? I started a poll on the left sidebar. I'll close it sometime Tuesday. Who do you think is winning? Vote and find out.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Sam Bennett Meltdown: You Want This in Congress?


A few days ago, I posted three nice things about Lehigh Valley congressional candidate Sam Bennett.

Now all I can say is "wow, wuh, wuh, wuh, wuh, wuh, buh, buh, buh. buh. buh."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hot Air Forces Lehigh County Domestic Relations to Close For Second Time

The following is a judicially authorized press release concerning the second time that Lehigh County's Domestic Relations has closed this summer.

The Domestic Relations Section of Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas closed at noon today when the temperature in the office located at 10 North Eleventh Street exceeded 89 degrees. President Judge William E. Platt authorized the closing. This was the second time in less than four weeks the court office closed when the building’s air conditioning system failed.

"The health and safety of our employees and of the public using the court’s services is of utmost importance," said Judge Platt. "We are aware the closing may cause serious inconvenience to the public, but we have no alternative."

The Domestic Relations Section provides establishment and enforcement services for child and spousal support. There are 80 employees and more than 15,000 active cases. The building is owned by ……………… Domestic Relations occupies about 15,000 square feet in the building.

The staff noticed the problem on Monday and immediately reported to the building manager. The County brought in fans to try to control the temperature. The offices closed on June 10th, after the air conditioner was out of service for five days.
If this were Northampton County, Stoffa would have been executed by now.

Michelle Rhee: All Kids Deserve Equal Shot at Education

Retired ASD Teacher, Mrs. Dottie and AJ are the local blogosphere's education experts. I wish they were with me earlier this week when Charlie Rose interviewed Michelle Rhee, the innovative chancellor of D.C. schools. To some, she's a union assassin. To others, she represents educational reform. To me, Rhee is a complex combination of different ideas. All week, that interview has been churning in my mind, and I thought I'd share a few snippets with you. Would her ideas work in the Lehigh Valley?

How do we fix our educational system?

"[W]hen you have a great teacher, all of those barriers can be overcome. And they literally are sort of, you know, put on the sideline if you have a wonderful teacher. And it can make up for any achievement gap. Wonderful things, if you have the right educators. That's where our focus has to be 100 percent."

Standardized tests?

"I would say it`s unfair to children to do anything but, because when you are basing, you know, the effectiveness of teachers on lots of softer things, whether the kids feel good, whether the classroom is happy, whether we're creative -- don't get me wrong, those things are important. But if the kids can't read and if only nine percent of them are at grade level or above, that's not acceptable. You might have a happy classroom. It's not the classroom we're going to have in this district."

School boards?

"I never would have taken this job if it was a school board structure. This is a strong statement. I don't believe that really significant education reform is possible with the school board structure. I don't think it's possible."

How about equality in schools?

"That's the biggest social injustice imaginable, because it basically says that we're allowing the color of a child's skin, and the zip code that they live in to dictate their educational attainment levels and their life chances and their life outcome. That is counter to what this country is supposed to be, the land of equal opportunity. We're not making our good our promise to the children of this nation. That should be the number one priority. In my mind, that should be the only thing that we're talking about in these presidential debates. How are we going to ensure we're giving every single kid an equal shot in life.The fact that it's almost absent from all of these political debates -- and we get into this jargon about whether NCLB is good or not --"

(A complete transcript of the Charlie Rose interview is here.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wanted: Three Northampton County Judges

"Here come de judge, here come de judge!"

"Do I look fat in this black robe?"

As many as three people may be asking that question next year. There might be three judicial vacancies. One vacancy exists right now, caused by Judge Freedberg's ascension to the heavens of superior court. A second vacancy will occur next year, when Judge Moran steps down and becomes a mortal again. And the state legislature may actually create a ninth judgeship in Northampton County. That's so we can keep up with Lehigh. County council adopted a resolution asking for a ninth judge on April 3.

So who will be appointed to Freedberg's vacancy? I'm told the fix is in. Leonard Zito, currently doing an outstanding job as Northampton County Council Solicitor, is going to be appointed. He will also be permitted to run for the job. Lenny impressed a lot of people during his previous brief tenure as an appointed judge, including me. Zito will have no problem being elected to the position.

But who will fill the other two slots? Here are the names I've heard so far.

Karl Longenbach - he currently serves as Northampton County's Solicitor and before that, he represented Northampton County Council. He and I actually graduated from law school together and he has always demonstrated himself as perhaps the most even-keeled person I've ever met. When he ran for judge a few years ago, I took it upon myself to campaign for him. I strapped "Longenbach for Judge" signs to my back and began riding my bicycle all over the county, annoying driver after driver. Karl narrowly lost. Exit polls indicate voters were all set to vote for him until confronted by a lunatic on a bike.

Sam Murray - a Master in custody cases, he also has a big private practice. Sam is a product of Easton's south side and is certainly is one of the hardest-working attorneys I've ever seen. He really cares about the people he represents, returning every call. In addition to that, he's extremely bright. If I had to describe him with only one word, it would be "personable." He really cares about what you think and remembers it forever. Sam also shocked the Lehigh Valley when he marched a Lehigh Little League Team to the doors of the World Series.

Mike Koury - another Easton class act. At one time a bond counsel, Mike returned to the Lehigh Valley to fill his dad's shoes as a magistrate in Wilson Borough. He's run and narrowly lost this race twice. Is the third time the charm?

Chris Spadoni - Solicitor to Bethlehem City Council and a county lawyer to boot, Chris spent years honing his trial skills as an Assistant DA. Unfortunately, I was his guinea pig much of the time. We tried lots of cases against each other and became good friends, although Spadoni denies it. He is by far the funniest member of this entire bunch, remembers his Martin's Creek roots and is the person who encouraged and ran with me during my first ever 23 mile run, many years ago.

Jim Narlesky - a Bethlehem magistrate who also has ample experience as a former prosecutor. He's another class act. In the rough and tumble world of criminal trials, I never once saw him lose his cool. But he's run for judge many times now.

Brian Monahan - a former county council solicitor and unsuccessful candidate for state house and magistrate, Monahan is as qualified as any other person here. But he's always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Right now, Williams Township residents are up in arms against their local supervisors, including its solicitor, over the proposed Chrin landfill expansion. That solicitor happens to be Monahan. I can't imagine that getting him too many votes.

Jim Pfeiffer - Originally a Jersey lawyer and judge, he's now in Pennsylvania and some claim he wants to don that black robe again. Why'd he give up his judgeship in Jersey? Has he really been here long enough to understand the very real differences between Pa. and Jersey practice?

Holly Calantoni - a very nice lady, but simply not in the same league with the others mentioned. But she knows how to fill campaign coffers. Between Holly and her father, she's kicked in $9,300 to judicial and DA candidates over the past eight years.

Am I missing anyone? Let me know.

Lewistown Sentinel Attempts to Muzzle Blogger

Pennsylvania Media Guide bills itself, quite accurately, as a one-stop Pa. news resource. Owner Harry Knopp links every daily and weekly he can find, including The Lewistown Sentinel. But managing editor Heather Goodwin Henline is demanding Knopp to "immediately remove the link" and "cease and desist any further action regarding our site, writers or online content."

Is she out of her mind? When Knopp links to her publication, all he is doing is making it possible for that many more people to see the site. It's actually good business.

But what's really amazing is that the fourth estate is actually trying to stifle what amounts to a First Amendment right. I always thought newspapers were guardians of free speech. Silly me.

Here's what Knopp himself has to say.
"[T]here are media entities out there that would like to shut down blogging. Of course, courts have repeatedly found that, short of using a link while defaming someone or linking to password-protected pages within a site, it is perfectly legal and a First Amendment-protected right to link to any public site on the Internet."
To be on the safe side, I'll be careful and refrain from linking to The Lewistown Sentinel. You know me; I'm a scaredy cat. You won't find a single reference to The Lewistown Sentinel here. No siree. Uberfuhrer Heather Goodwin Henline I has warned that "[f]ailure to honor our request will result in further action from our corporate counsel." So I'll play it safe and refrain from linking to The Lewistown Sentinel. You won't find it on my left side bar, either.
This just in!: According to Capitol Ideas blogger John Micek, who spends his off hours as a male model, we can link to whatever the hell we want. But can we? I smell a trap. He wants us all to start linking to everything so we overload the Intenet and cause it to crash, forcing us all to return to newspapers. And then, newspapers will sue us all, claiming, "It's your fault!" and we'll all be hauled away and Micek will be laughing his GQ ass off. Well, I'm too smart for you, bippy. I went to college. You won't catch me linking to The Lewistown Sentinel.