Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy Festivus!


Seinfeld character George Costanza used to avoid digging into his pocket at Christmas by claiming he was making donations in his coworkers' names to a fake charity called The Human Fund - Money for People.

To me, it's almost always the most stressful time of the year, as I scrounge to find money for gifts here and there and waste hour after hour trying (unsuccessfully) to wrap them.

This year, it's a lot easier for me because I'm broke. I don't know about you, but I'll be making lots of donations to The Human Fund.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tony Branco, Love Slave

Tony Branco is a former Northampton County Council member who actually lied about using campaign consultant campaign consultant Scissorhands Severson during his county council bid, both to Morning Call columnist Bill White and reporter Joe Nixon. "I didn't hire him to fire him," Branco claimed. While making these denials, Branco was busily writing out checks to Severson's Political Strategies, Inc. Branco's lie finally caught up with him when he filed his post-election campaign finance report.

OK, so we know he's a liar, but did you know why? Apparently, a bunch of women in Douglass Township were trying to have their way with him, and the poor bastard lost his day job as Douglass Township manager in Berks County and everything. At that time, he told me, "I won't compromise my ethics or beliefs for anybody." But I did not know the horrifying details.

Now, thanks to Northern Lehigh Valley Logic, we know what happened. The all-female Douglass Township board was trying to turn him into a sex slave or something. It must have been terrible. Fortunately, Attorney Richard Orloski has sued these dominatrices. Branco's complaint, already amended a few times, claims he's suffering mental anxiety, anguish, distress, humiliation and sleeplessness. I hope he's getting the help he needs.

Oh yeah, Tony is disabled, too. Apparently, he suffers from "anxiety," "heart disease," and even had his gall bladder plucked out. But these banshees didn't even care.

So at the time Tony was telling whoppers about using a sleaze consultant, he was valiantly defending himself from being turned into a love muffin. And I'm sure his anxiety, heart disease and gall bladder interfered with his judgment.

Perfectly understandable.

You know what really kills me? This maroon was actually appointed to Northampton County Council. Most of the rocket scientists who named him will be selecting Wayne Grube's replacement.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lehigh County Comm'rs Reject Johnny Appleseed

If you look at the left sidebar, you'll see at least over thirty local news blogs. In addition, both The Express Times and Morning Call cover the Lehigh Valley. Yet last night, no one was available to cover a meeting of its largest local government - the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. As a result, no one in the media, me included, has any first hand knowledge why they rejected a $200k state grant last night.

About a month ago, I told you that DCNR Secretary Michael DiBerardinis had presented Lehigh's Don Cunningham and Northampton's John Stoffa with a check for $200,000 for trees for their downtown areas and parks. Its called TreeVitalize, part of a plan to plant 1 million trees over the next five years. King Edwin I has called it a great program, especially for inner-city Allentown. It gives peasants a place to hide during drive by shootings.

Why would Lehigh County's legislators reject free money? If the state is giving them the money, why not spend it? It's really just a small amount in the big picture. The press wasn't there, so who will know? Don't they like trees?

This morning, Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning explains why they said no.

"The funding priorities of the State need to be readjusted. For example, Harrisburg is planning to make multimillion dollars reductions in the funding for Human Services and yet they are still intend to give out money to Counties to plant trees. Or as another example, Harrisburg has a statutory obligation to reimburse Counties for the salary (which is set by the State) of a full time District Attorney but they refuse to do that leaving Counties to cover that cost and yet they have money to plant trees.

"Included in those municipal that were to provide matching funds was Allentown in the amount of $25,000. This was presented as a quality of life issue for Allentown (and the other municipalities). My thoughts (and response) on that is that the number one quality of life issue in Allentown is crime and that the $25,000 the City was going to commit to plant trees would be better spent in adding police officers through the County's Safe Streets program where we each pay for 1/2 the salary of a community police office.

"On an overall basis the TreeVitalize program has benefits but given the current economic situation and the budget out look for the State, for Counties and for Municipalities it is time to focus on the basic responsibilities of government."

McClure: How County Gov't Can Help Financially Distressed Homeowners

Monday's meeting of the Legal and Judicial Committee is perhaps the finest local government meeting I've attended in several years. Lamont McClure invited people like CACLV's Alan Jennings, who understands the plight of a distressed homeowner. He asked for people like Prothonotary Holly Ruggiero, who sees firsthand the increasing number of Northampton County foreclosures. Judges sent their Administrator, Jim Onembo, to discuss the problem. Local Attorney Chris Reed explained what the local bar could do to help.

Rather than the usual partisan bickering, the tenor of the meeting was aimed at finding out what county government can do to help homeowners suffering from the foreclosure crisis. At the start of the meeting, McClure gave a well-researched opening statement, explaining both the problem and a possible answer.

He agreed to provide a copy of his remarks to me, and I want to share them with you. No matter how you feel about the notion of a conciliation conference between borrower and lender, McClure paints a startling, and factually based, picture of our home mortgage crisis.

The middle class is being crushed. Retirement savings are being battered by a tremendously volatile stock market. Nest eggs are being tapped to meet day-to-day obligations. As has been true for most of our modern history, the largest part of any particular middle-class family’s wealth has been the appreciation of the value of their homes over time. While we expect that economic phenomenon to continue in the future, right now, this very day the value of middle class homes are fighting a downward pressure. The mortgage foreclosure crisis is, and will continue to, if not abated, pressure all of us. And this is why all middle class folks should care about this crisis, when your neighbor’s home is foreclosed upon it can have a negative impact on the value of your home. We can find answers. And, we can find answers without imposing additional burdens on our real estate tax payers.

In June of this year, we learned that "a record 9 percent of American homeowners with a mortgage were either behind on their payments or in foreclosure . . . " A real estate analyst with the firm Weiss Research was quoted at that time saying, "The problem that policymakers and Wall Street once assured us was ‘contained’ to subprime mortgages has proven to be anything but." According to the Labor Department, "a drop in income" - whether through a lost job, divorce, death of a spouse, or health problems - is the No. 1 reason people fall behind on their mortgages and lose their homes. (Source Associated Press). Let me repeat that a "drop in income" is the number one reason people are falling behind on their mortgages. These are hardworking middle class folks that need our help. And, as we are all aware, the unemployment rate is rising.

It has recently been reported, that in the month of October alone 84,000 homeowners across the United States have moved into the foreclosure process. That is a 25% increase in one month. 279,500 U.S. homeowners received at least one foreclosure notice this year. Frankly, it is astonishing that one in every 452 homeowners nationwide is touched by foreclosure. (Associated Press 11/13/08).

We have also recently learned that Freddie and Fannie Mac are working on a national program to help distressed homeowners facing foreclosure, however, Freddie and Fannie only own 20% of the delinquent mortgages nationwide. Said Sheila Bailer, Chairperson of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: "the plan falls short of what is needed to achieve wide-scale modification of distressed mortgages." (Associated Press 11/11/08).

We also learned in July of this year that "the number of Pennsylvania homeowners who fell behind on their mortgage payments in June surged by nearly 80% over the June 2007 number." According to the Associated Press "a total of 4060 Pennsylvania homes received at least one foreclosure related filing" in June of this year. That was a 26% increase in filings over of the previous month." (Associated Press; Lancaster On-line 7/16/08.)

Lest we think this isn’t a problem for county governments; a National Association of Counties survey of large urban counties, 96 percent of them, "saw an increase in mortgage foreclosures during the past year." The survey also found that 52% of responding county officials said they’re experiencing revenue shortfalls, either as a result of foreclosures or declining housing values." (County News )

Here at home the news is not encouraging. Statistics provided to me by Sheriff Jeffery Hawbecker and Prothonotary Holly Ruggiero indicate that in 2003 there were 578 mortgage foreclosure filings. The number decreased to 535 the following year and came up slightly in 2005 to 567. In 2006, that number spiked to 711, and in 2007, that number jumped to 874 mortgage foreclosure filings. As of September 30 of this year, there have already been another 874 mortgage foreclosure actions filed. Let’s hope, that here at home these numbers begin to plateau and subside, but if they don’t what do we do?

My own review of the law indicates that in this matter County Council has no authority. The County Executive has little or no authority. Ultimately, the responsibility for addressing this matter falls to our County Court. And ladies and gentleman; this is a good thing. My professional experience is that we are fortunate to have a learned and compassionate judiciary in Northampton County. Our Court has a deep understanding of the law of foreclosure, and it has been my personal observation that it has a deep desire to see wrongs righted and justice done. That isn’t to say that I don’t have my own ideas about the various models and which of them may work best for us.

Before ascending to the bench our former Solicitor, the Hon. Leonard N. Zito, faxed me an article that he had read in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly. The article discusses several counties that are in various stages of dealing with this crisis using various court crafted measures. Some of the counties described in the article such as Philadelphia and Allegheny are very large. Others cited are similarly situated to us - they being Lackawanna and Blair counties. Although, I believe we are going to be presented with information regarding the Philadelphia program, it is my view that the Allegheny County model may be a better fit for us. In the Allegheny model, a separate mortgage foreclosure docket is being created for owner occupied mortgage foreclosure actions. President Judge James of Allegheny County was quoted as saying that, "he hopes the new program will intervene early in foreclosure actions-before judgments are entered and attorneys fees20and other costs are added - in order to make refinancing of loans more feasible." Under the Allegheny plan, "foreclosure defendants with already pending actions seeking continuances or the postponement of sheriff’s sales must have a face-to-face meeting with a housing counselor in order to get a continuance." Additionally, foreclosure defendants will receive counseling under the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. As Allegheny county has less mortgage foreclosure filings than Philadelphia, the President Judge expects to have a judge hear conciliation conferences two or three days a month instead of having to involve masters. The Bar Association is going to provide pro bono representation to defendants who need counsel. (Pennsylvania Law Weekly 8/18/08). It is my view that following the Allegheny County model, as opposed to the Philadelphia model, will not require us to burden our taxpayers with any additional public employees at a time when we are under severe fiscal restraints.

We are very fortunate to have several public officials with us here today as well as leaders from across the Lehigh Valley to lend their expertise to us with respect to this crisis. I look forward to hearing from them about their ideas to deal with this most pressing issue.

Tax Breaks For Residential Parking Lots?

According to Northampton County assessment records, this Bangor property (54 N1st St), owned by Ruggiero Corporation, is a residential parking lot. So are 50 N 1st St and 58 N 1st St. These are just three of fifteen parcels under consideration for KOZ classification. Any person who does business in a KOZ property pays practically no local or state taxes.

KOZ exists to provide relief to communities “characterized by high unemployment, low investment of new capital, inadequate dwelling conditions, blighted conditions, underutilized, obsolete or abandoned industrial, commercial and residential structures and deteriorating tax bases.”

Call me cRaZy, but I don't think KOZ exists for residential parking lots in downtown Bangor.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Halfway House in Easton?

At this evening's prison advisory board meeting, Northampton County Council Prez Ann McHale listened as people from Shiloh church talked about renovating a building to set up a halfway house for released inmates. McHale may ask council to dive into its slush fund, i.e. "contingency fund" to help with the $65,000 in construction costs.

The Penguins Are Marching to Lehigh Valley Zoo

They're smelly. Noisy. Do things that make no sense. Ridiculous-looking. No, I'm not talking about bloggers.

Penguins are coming to the Lehigh Valley Zoo, according to a news release just issued by Lehigh County. They must be pretty damn excited about these sushi-eaters because they forgot to say when.

Allentown's crime rate is going to shoot right back up.

McClure Considers Foreclosure Crisis Relief

As more discerning readers of this blog already know, I've been highly critical of Northampton County Council member Lamont McClure. Some council members, like Ron Angle, are workhorses. Other council members, like Ron Angle again, are show horses. McClure has usually been a "no show" horse, missing important budget hearings and only rarely attending committee meetings. But McClure impressed the hell out of me yesterday, when his Legal and Judicial committee met to review our mortgage foreclosure crisis and its impact on Northampton County residents. He was both well-prepared and invited knowledgeable and interesting speakers. It was local government at its finest.

McClure, in a meeting attended by Council members Ron Angle and Peg Ferraro, started things off with a well-researched statement detailing the home mortgage crisis and its impact on the Lehigh Valley. Nationwide, he notes that one in every 452 households are touched by foreclosures. There was a twenty-five per cent increase in October alone.

Locally, there has been a dramatic increase in foreclosures. In 2003, there were 578 foreclosures. Last year, there were 874. This year, Civil Division Clerk Holly Ruggiero and Sheriff Jeff Hawbecker told the committee that 960 actions had already been filed by the end of October. We will break 1,000 this year.

McClure told the committee that foreclosure conciliation programs are already underway in Philly, Allegheny, Blair and Lackawanna Counties. These programs are designed to divert owner-occupied properties into mediation, usually before a judgment has been entered. He noted an excellent article describing these programs in Pa. Law Weekly.

According to court administrator Jim Onembo, Northampton County's judges are considering a mediation program here. They have some concerns, and Onembo expressed them. "What about a father who gives his Son a mortgage? Or a lender from Nevada? Must they attend a conciliation conference?" Despite this problem, Attorney Chris Reed, who has been studying different programs, claims the court is "very receptive" to some form of foreclosure conciliation.

Alan Jennings, CACLV's Executive Director, told the committee this crisis extends beyond the parties directly affected. "This is everybody's problem. Every one of us who owns a home is going to see property devalued more than it already is."

Angle and Jennings, frequent sparring partners in the past, were on the same page. Angle will support some form of conciliation process so long as it does not interfere with the contractual relationship between borrower and lender. Like Jennings, Ron would prefer this mediation to occur early in the foreclosure process, before large sums of money are spent for attorney fees and to advertise sheriff sales.

Representing the Lehigh Valley Realtors Ass'n, Mark Molchany told McClure the Lehigh Valley has one of the lowest foreclosure rates in the country. "Our market is strong. Overall, nationally, we're ahead of the curve." But Jennings contradicted Molchany, noting that in 2004 and 2005, both Lehigh and Northampton Counties were among the top ten counties in the state for foreclosures on subprime mortgages.
Update: The Express Times has a thorough report here. 8:49 AM: The Morning Call's report is here.

Ron Angle Mulls Northampton County Council Resignation

Last week, The Express Times' Sarah "Sassy" Cassi told us that Northampton County Council member Ron Angle has resigned as chairman of the busy Finance Committee. Some politicos believe this is Ron's way of saying he intends to run for County Exec next year. Not so, says The Northampton County Bulldog. In a vintage performance at a news conference yesterday afternoon, Angle said he's so disgusted he may step down from County Council. "I'm tired of being a coal fireman on a diesel locomotive."

Angle's frustration with John Stoffa's no tax increase budget is only part of the reason. As a Channel 69 TV cameraman recorded Angle for posterity, he quickly ticked off seven other concerns.

First, he's still blowin' oil over the $650,000 for "renovations" to council's star chamber, which still looks very much like the old star chamber, except for cheaper chairs.

Second, he blasted council's decision to enter into a swaption that will likely end up costing the county $12 million. "I'm tired of being a NO vote when it is the right vote."

Third, he warned two years ago that the county's pension fund was heading into a major deficit, and claims the deficit is $63 million today. The county proposes contributing $6.5 million, but Angle claims that's a "drop in the bucket" and that, eventually, the county will have to start paying between $15 and $20 million into its retirement fund.

Fourth, Angle is bitterly opposed to the millions that the Weaversville Park will require, especially at a time when human services are drastically underfunded. "Is our core responsibility Human Services or parks? Why would we want to build another park in Northampton County? Wrong time."

Fifth, the Bulldog calls the proposed bi-county health department a "money pit" the county will never be able to afford. "Let's not build up people's hopes."

Sixth, he hammered away at the $111 million 2001 bond, which was supposed to produce "thousands and thousands of new jobs." That never happened.

Seventh, he condemned the county's recent purchase of the $1.4 million Milides building, located across the street from the courthouse. He claims an "incompetent" council purchased a building that's "full of mold, uninhabitable, hangs on a cliff and is now off the tax rolls."

Noting that homeless shelters have already run out of room before Winter has set in, Angle accused council and even John Stoffa of having mixed-up priorities. "I am not going to be one of the captains on the bridge of The Titanic when it hits the iceberg."

Angle will decide whether to quit completely by the end of the year. Remaining council members are planning a party.

Monday, November 24, 2008

2008's Worst Corporations of the Year

The Multinational Monitor, in alphabetical order, lists the ten worst corporations in 2008. Only one is in finance. Here's a brief summary.

American International Group. Money for Nothing. "Why did AIG - primarily an insurance company powerhouse, with more than 100,000 employees around the world and $1 trillion in assets - require more than $100 billion ($100 billion!) in government funds? The company's traditional insurance business continues to go strong, but its gigantic exposure to the world of 'credit default swaps' left it teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Government officials then intervened, because they feared that an AIG bankruptcy would crash the world's financial system."

Cargill: Food Profiteers. "For Cargill, spiking [food] prices was an opportunity to get rich. In the second quarter of 2008, the company reported profits of more than $1 billion, with profits from continuing operations soaring 18 percent from the previous year. Cargill's 2007 profits totaled more than $2.3 billion, up more than a third from 2006."

Chevron: "We can't let little countries screw around with big companies." Ask Ecuador. Ask Burma.

Constellation Energy: Nuclear Operators. Constellation plans to build a $9.6 billion nuclear plant in Maryland, but government guaranteed loans makes sure that the risk of failure is assumed entirely by the public.

Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC): Fueling Violence in Darfur. China receives three quarters of Sudan's exports, and has undermined United Nations efforts to protect Darfur. The oil must flow! In July, Sudan President Al Bashir was charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, aimed at removing the black population from Sudan. The ICC says 35,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million displaced.

Dole: The Sour Taste of Pineapple. Ordered to return plantations to rural Filipinos, "the workers received only nominal title. They were required to form labor cooperatives. Intended to give workers - now the new land owners - a means to collectively manage their land, the cooperatives were instead controlled by wealthy landlords."

GE: Creative Accounting. Internal GE documents appear to show the company has engaged in long-running effort to evade taxes in Brazil. That's a step up from 2007, when the charges were defense contractor fraud, labor rights abuses, toxic and radioactive pollution, manufacturing nuclear weaponry, workplace safety violations and media conflicts of interest (GE owns television network NBC).

Imperial Sugar: 13 Dead. A Georgia refinery explosion in February killed 13 people. "When [OSHA] inspectors examined the blast site after the fact, they found rampant violations of the agency's already inadequate standards. They proposed a more than $5 million fine, and issuance of citations for 61 egregious willful violations, eight willful violations and 51 serious violations. Under OSHA's rules, a 'serious' citation is issued when death or serious physical harm is likely to occur, a 'willful' violation is a violation committed with plain indifference to employee safety and health, and 'egregious' citations are issued for particularly flagrant violations."

Philip Morris International: Unshackled. "The Marlboro Man is finally free to roam the globe unfettered by the legal and marketing shackles of the U.S. domestic market."

Roche: Saving Lives is Not Our Business. This pharmaceutical company makes HIV-related drugs, but refuses to discount prices in developing countries. Roche Korea's top dog reportedly told Aids activists, "We are not in business to save lives, but to make money. Saving lives is not our business."

Would You Like to Be a Nazareth BürgerMeister?


Four of Nazareth's nine borough council seats are up next year, but it looks like there will probably be only one open seat. Democrats Charles Donello and Jack Herbst and Republican Cindy Werner are reportedly seeking reelection, but Rev. William Matz may be stepping down after seven hundred years of service. The job pays $2,500. In addition to two meetings every month, borough council members sit on nine active committees and fourteen different outfits like the solid waste users group. Their salary translates to about $0.01 per hour, almost as much as blogging.

Mayor Earl Keller's term will expire next year, too. So far, I hear that former borough council member Fred Daugherty and current council member Larry Stoudt will duke it out for a job that pays a whopping $5,000.

LOLV Has New Blog

Capri Roth, known to the Lehigh Valley Blogosphere as Look Out Lehigh Valley, has started a new blog. It's called "Capri. Nothing Like the Pants." As she herself states, "I used to blog elsewhere as lookoutlv until some creep came along and creeped me out. So… no creeps please."

Too late!

She stopped participating at Lehigh Valley Poliblog because "the site was overrun by conservative pundits and I decided to skip 'town' and only show up when I’m in a mood to argue." Now, she writes about Bibb lettuce, apples, pecans, goat cheese, wide fresh egg noodles, baby brussels sprouts and shiitake mushrooms. They don't argue as much and probably taste better.

Très chic, oui?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Morning Call: Patti Grube for Northampton County Council!

The Morning Call has joined The Express Times in endorsing Ron Angle's suggestion that Patti Grube be named to fill her husband's remaining year on Northampton County Council. "This strong woman says she would serve to further honor Mr. Grube and would not seek election to a full term. That solves the contentious matter of giving an appointee a leg-up in the next election. She also says she won't accept an appointment without the full support of both Republicans and Democrats on council, so this contentious group needs to come together on this fitting gesture by Dec. 11."

The Morning Call, Express Times and Ron Angle all agree.

Poor Patti Grube doesn't have a prayer.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wayne Grube's Name to Adorn Weaversville Park, Gracedale Lobby

Northampton County Council, perhaps the most dysfunctional local government on the planet, briefly demonstrated some bipartisanship at last night's quick meeting, its third in as many days for most council members.

Council member Charles Dertinger, noting Grube's passionate support for the Weaversville Park, proposed it be named the Weaversville Wayne A. Grube Memorial Park. McClure seconded the motion and Neiper quickly added a third. It passed unanimously.

Council member Ron Angle, noting Grube's passionate support for the county nursing home, proposed that its lobby be named the Wayne A. Grube lobby, complete with photo and plaque. Angle's motion also passed unanimously, a rarity for him.

While supporting both measures, Peg Ferraro cautioned council members they should be sure "we are doing what we need to do."

Asked what he would like when he was gone, Ron Angle mentioned a older slate belt farmer who was angry with him. On Ron's death, he threatened to stick a hambone up Ron's butt and laugh as the dogs pulled his carcass all over.

"So moved," said Charles Dertinger.

Northampton County Council Considers More Corporate Welfare

On Wednesday, Northampton County Council was told its pension fund is currently running a deficit of $60 million. The cost of developing just 50 acres at Weaversville Wayne Grube Memorial Park will be another $6.5 million. Real estate tax revenues are flat. Now is not a good time to be handing out tax breaks.

Yet that's precisely what's before Northampton County Council right now. Proposed Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) expansions in Northampton, Portland and Bangor will remove $13,000 in real estate tax revenue.

The Bangor proposal, which includes The Trust Building, drives Angle nuts. "We're giving a tax break to a guy from out of the county to buy The Trust Building, rent it out and not pay taxes for ten years. . . . The chance of me voting for this is zero."

Council member Mike Dowd disagrees, noting that KOZ classifications spur development.

Council will vote on this proposal in two weeks.

Over the last two years, Pennsylvanians have handed out more than $567 million in corporate welfare grants from the state general fund budget to politically connected businesses. Between 2003 and 2007, Pennsylvania ranked 38th in job growth, 40th in personal income growth, and 42d in population growth among the fifty states. Keystone Opportunity Zones have only helped the make the rich a little richer.

Is the Bi-County Health Department Going Anywhere?

Last night, Northampton County Council considered the membership of its newly established bi-county health department. Council members Lamont McClure and Ron Angle, concerned we'll never be able to fund an admittedly worthy idea, asked that the health board not meet until definite costs of operation are ascertained. But according to Council member Neiper, the only way that can be answered is by having the board get together and meet. Angle and McClure's rare bipartisan motion was rejected by the other six council members.

The chief problem here is that Allentown and Bethlehem both already have their own active health departments, which will merge in this bi-county venture. Neither city will tolerate a dilution of the services they currently offer their residents. But people in Lynn or Upper Mount Bethel Township will be upset if their county taxes pay for a health department that offers city residents services it is unable to offer them.

Angle asks some good questions. "Why create a health department when we can't afford the level of government we have now?" "Why lead people on such a trip if you don't have the ability to buy a car?"

Dowd: When Will Northampton County Council Webcast Meetings?

Lehigh County will soon be doing it. Bethlehem is studying the idea. But Northampton County Council has been trying its best to avoid webcasting its biweekly meetings. Despite spending nearly $650,000 for "renovations" to its star chamber, including the latest technological advances, Queen of Hearts Ann McHale has yet to plug in to the web.

Every council member has been supplied with a fancy laptop computer so necessary I've yet to see one at a council meeting. And despite McHale's claim that she really, really, really wants to webcast meetings, she's done nothing since the remodeling was finished in January.

At last night's meeting, Council member Mike Dowd finally asked McHale what the hell is going on, except he did it politely. He's an ordained minister, after all. Instead of answering Dowd, the Queen of Hearts said, "The first thing is we all have to learn to use the microphone." When Dowd gently pressed her, McHale said, "The camera would go in that corner over there and we would need someone to operate it."

Yeah, she'd need someone to push the on and off button. IT Director Al Jordan, who told me in September that no one on Council had even spoken to him, estimates webcast could cost the county as little as $1,500 total.

To his credit, Dowd continued to press, and Public Works Director Steve DeSalva offered to get something together.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stoffa is Back - Update

I'm not writing this from Blogger, but am actually pecking away from a phone at the courthouse, so please excuse the typos. Northampton County Executive John Stoffa has surprised everyone and is back in action much sooner than expected.

Council just went into executive session, i.e. behind closed doors to talk about buying something. 

John Maher, who hasn't attended a council meeting since losing his race against Angle, is mysteriously in the audience. Could it be that he is sniffing around for an appointment to a council vacancy? 

Stay tuned.  

Stnffa is back

Details will follow.

Is the MSM Suffering From Obamaphilia?

Noted conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck think the press is under Obama's spell. Right Pundits call it "media malpractice." Republicans previously have claimed there's no such thing as malpractice. I guess it's OK to sue reporters. They also think "competency tests" should be administered before allowing someone to vote, but there's need for that. We already have touchscreen voting machines.

Before you tee off on conservatives, I should note that some liberals have noticed this Obamamania, too. Left-leaning Washington Post, for example, concedes it tilted. "Obama deserved tougher scrutiny than he got, especially of his undergraduate years, his start in Chicago and his relationship with Antoin 'Tony' Rezko, who was convicted this year of influence-peddling in Chicago. The Post did nothing on Obama's acknowledged drug use as a teenager."

Inky columnist John Baer explains this happened because Obama is new, different, a "phenomenon." Huh? Apples the Clown is different, too, but I doubt any media outlet is rushing to cover his mini-judge campaign.

Let's be honest. Things are getting a little goofy. According to a report from the distinguished Allentown Commentator, Obama had a news conference yesterday to introduce his new dog. Obama ran through a series of canine commands . . . roll over, play dead, heal, beg, sit.

The press obediently complied.

They've become Zombies! Except for The Onion, the press is completely infected.

And those zombies are everywhere, too. Look, I voted for the guy and ever since, people with vacant looks on their faces have been following me, chanting "Obamaaaa, Obamaaaaaaa." Last night, after pulling into my Nazareth estate, I found myself saying, "Yes, we can!" I've also been fighting this strange urge to compare Obama with Lincoln because they're both from Illinois. There's a strange pod by my bed, too.

I'm putting on another pot of coffee.

Northampton County Council Gets Wake Up Call

Northampton County Council has been whacking the Stoffa administration like a piñata over next year's "no tax increase" budget. Let me give you an example.

A planned $5 million juvenile center expansion was never included because of uncertainty over the funding mechanism. For that reason, council members on both sides have been calling Stoffa's sparse budget "fraudulent." That's a tad harsh, especially since everyone knows about this project.

Council wants to spend, spend, spend. Prez McHale told the finance committee yesterday that she'd like to give Easton's State Theatre more money than the $25,000 already proposed. She'd also like to throw some dough at Bethlehem's Christkindlemarkt. Dertinger wants to spend millions for a park at Weaversville and Neiper lobbies for an archives building across the street from the courthouse, even though nobody will be able to park there.

Late yesterday afternoon, Fiscal Affairs Director Vic Mazziotti gave council members a wake up call. Like most governments, Northampton County has a defined-benefit pension plan for its workforce, something that has become increasingly rare in the private sector. This kind of retirement package typically guarantees a specific payment for the remainder of the employee’s life after retirement.

When the budget was originally proposed in October, the actuarially determined contribution to the retirement fund increased from $2.4 million to $5.1 million. At that time, the fund had lost $50 million. One month later, it's $60 million, and the administration will be required to contribute $6 million to that fund next year. It already needs to amend the budget.

If the pension fund continues to lose money, it's very possible that the county contribution will skyrocket while real estate tax revenues remain flat or go down.

Heeding council's concerns, the administration is also amending its budget to include an $8 million bond for the juvenile center expansion and repairs to a crumbling parking deck and three county bridges. It will postpone purchasing new county vehicles and power-washing the courthouse. "You don't wash your car when you're three months behind on the payments," notes finance chair Ron Angle.

Instead of spending money, county council has now scheduled two extra budget hearings in December to look for places where they can cut.

They can start with their $500,000 slush fund.

For more details concerning yesterday's finance committee meeting, check out Sarah Cassi's Express Times report.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ET: Appoint Patti Grube to Norco Council

There are those who scoff at the idea of appointing Wayne Grube's wife, Patti, to fill his unexpired term on Northampton County Council. Most who hate this idea do so for two reasons. First, it was proposed by The Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle. Second, they'd prefer someone they can control.

Instead of listening to Angle, they can listen to The Express Times, which offers three reasons why Council should appoint Patti Grube.
First, she, more than anyone else, understands her husband's philosophy of and approach to representing the residents of Northampton County. She has an obvious edge on continuing to serve with the same flavor those who elected her husband to his at-large seat.

Second, she represents a glimmer of hope that the four Democrats and four Republicans on council might come to an agreement on a suitable replacement for her husband.

Third, she has said that, if she is chosen, she's not interested in running for the seat. That gives all candidates equal footing in the next election.

Apples the Clown Running for Allentown Mini-Judge

I told you yesterday that double-parking junket lover Gail Hoover, who was tagged by the state ethics commission for ethical improprieties as a member of Allentown City Council, is considering a return appearance. I learned today that the office she's really considering is the downtown Allentown magisterial district (Allentown wards 3, 13, 17 & 18). That hot spot opened up when Michele Varricchio ascended to the stratosphere of Lehigh County Court, where she now floats in the clouds with all the other judges.

Hoover, clearly no relation to J. Edgar, must be gushing at the possibilities.

What is a mini-judge? I've talked about this before, but it's worth repeating. "District Justices have jurisdiction over minor criminal offenses, traffic offenses, landlord/tenant matters and other civil actions where the amount claimed does not exceed $8000.00. In misdemeanor and felony cases, District Justices have jurisdiction to issue arrest and search warrants, hold preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings and set bail. They also have authority to perform marriages, handle protection from abuse matters and issue subpoenas. They also may impose summary punishments for criminal contempt." Although the annual salary for this position is $78,722, most magistrates consider themselves part-time workers.

Alas, Hoover has company. There are a few other contenders for this open seat.

One of them is Nancy Wilt, who happens to work for state Senator Lisa Boscola. Just a few months ago, she was trying to wrangle an appointment to a vacancy on Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners. "My three small children are my biggest inspiration and my reason for being here." I guess now they're telling her to run for magistrate.

Another person interested in donning a black robe is Cindy Mest. All I know about her is that she is active in the Jackson Park area of Allentown.

Assistant Police Chief Ron Manescu is also considering how things might look from the other side of the bench. Can a former cop be fair? I didn't think so, but after interviewing three cops who were running for mini-judge last year, I quickly changed my mind.

I've saved the best candidate for last. Apples the Clown would like to dispense Allentown justice, handing out balloons after every hearing. Apples is actually "Allentown community leader" Everett Bickford, who now and then refers to himself as "Erika" for some reason. Bickford already has experience as a non-denominational independent wedding minister. (His "Sapphire" package is just $100).
Update: In a kinder, gentler post, blogger Pam Varkony has written about this race, too. She's on to Apples the Clown.

Sheriff Jeff Hawbecker: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges

State rep. Craig Dally has introduced legislation to give deputy sheriffs the same powers as municipal police officers to make arrests, without warrants, for all crimes and offenses. But at a Northampton County Council budget hearing yesterday, Sheriff Jeff Hawbecker said that bill is going nowhere.

"I don't have any high hopes for that. I think we will basically be doing the traditional duties of a sheriff's office."

Hawbecker noted many municipalities throughout the state have no police protection and "really do need the support of the sheriff's departments in performing the duties of a police officer."

Do Pa.'s Tough DUI Laws Work?

Are Pennsylvania's strict drunk driving laws working? They sure keep DAs busy. According to Northampton County DA John Morganelli, thirty-six per cent of his caseload last year consisted of alcohol-related arrests. This year, it's forty-four per cent.

"That's a huge increase in a short time," remarked Morganelli. It appears that, instead of deterring people, this lower 0.08 BAC is actually leading to more arrests.

But you can pick up a six-pack at Wegmans.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why Should Allentown Gay Rights Group Care About California?

According to PaPro, about 250 gay rights activists braved chilly weather in Allentown on Sunday to rally against California's Proposition 8. I spoke to one of them afterwards. When I first heard about this, I smirked to myself that California is nowhere near Renaissance Square, so why the hell should a gay rights group care what happens there?


I had a post ready to go, creating a story in which transgenders are convinced that California is located right by the Top Diner on Allentown's east side. It was my typical swipe, this time at a geographically-challenged gay community.

Then I listened to Rob Hopkins brief speech, and I understood.

"Fifteen years ago, I stood in this same spot in a rally just like this. A lot has changed in fifteen years. Hess' was still up the street, fifteen years ago. It's gone now. A lot of things have changed.

"One thing that hasn't changed is we still don't have rights. We still can't serve in the military. We still can't give blood. We still can't marry the person that we love. That's not right.

"So we need to go out there, we need to reach out to every elected official to make sure they know how important marriage is to us, how important equality is to us, because we need equality for everybody. Not just for straight people, not just for gay people, but for everybody."

Patti Grube for Northampton County Council?

On Sunday afternoon, Northampton County Council member Ron Angle was proposing Express Times Editor Joe Owens and former county execs Jerry Seyfried and Bill Brackbill as replacements for Wayne Grube.

By yesterday afternoon, Angle had another idea. He believes the person best suited to fill Wayne's unexpired term is Grube's widow, Patti. Sarah Cassi, in an Express Times blog, has details. "She's perfect," is what Ron tells me.

But does she want it?

Patti Grube started doing a lot of behind the scenes work when Wayne became ill, and is clearly familiar with county issues and her husband's views. If she wants the job, I can think of no better custodian.

Schlossberg, Hoover Weighing Allentown City Council Races

Affable Mike Schlossberg, a Borough Business Revitalization Coordinator with the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, is contemplating his first stab at elective office next year. Rob Hopkins mentioned Mike's possible candidacy at Sunday's Allentown gay rights rally, and Schlossberg confirmed his interest yesterday.

A 2005 Muhlenberg alum, Mike is actually a product of Livingston, New Jersey. Like six of Allentown's seven council members, he's a Democrat. His prior political experience includes managing Michele Varricchio's successful campaign for Lehigh County judge. He was also involved in Jennifer Mann's recent re-election as state rep. He is a member of the Lehigh County Executive Democratic Committee.

Just 25 year old, Mike is quite energetic. He helps Tony Iannelli produce Business Matters, the most provocative and entertaining local issues program in the Lehigh Valley. He also publishes Lehigh Valley Main Streets, a blog dedicated to revitalization of LV Main Streets. His stories there are regularly featured in The Morning Call's Valley Blogosphere. He has even helped his boss start a new blog for the Chamber of Commerce.

Allentown seven-person City Council will have four seats up in next year's election, when the terms of President Mike D’Amore, VP Tony Phillips, Julio A. Guridy and David M. Howells are set to expire. Council's sole Republican, Tony Phillips, plans on challenging Mayor Pawlowski, so I presume his seat will be open. The rest are expected to seek reelection.

I've already sent Mike a host of questions about different Allentown issues.

At the Sunday rally, Hopkins also mentioned Allentown realtor Gail Hoover as a possible contender, and told everyone to encourage her. But that's just cRaZy.

In her last stint on council, Hoover excelled at ethics violations. When cited for double-parking as the result of some new "get tough" policy, she made sure the practice ended that day. She was sanctioned a $1,000 fine by the state ethics commission after she traipsed off to San Francisco for a three-day real estate seminar, failed to file her 2001 statement of financial interest ("I forgot") and failed to include the cost of that seminar, which was waived, as a gift.

Are any Republicans running? Mike Welsh's impressive state house campaign was based on Allentown's rampant crime, so he may be considering a run, but I don't know that. There is another eminently qualified candidate, but that news will have to wait.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Joe Owens For Northampton County Council?

That's Ron Angle's first choice. He thinks Express Times editor Joe Owens, who constantly promotes open and accountable government, would be a perfect fit. When I told Ron most news dudes run from political office like Michael Jackson with his hair on fire, he was unmoved.

"Draft him!" he snarled.

Former county executives Jerry Seyfried and Bill Brackbill are the Bulldog's backups to finish Grube's term. He thinks those two should flip a coin. But Angle told me council would never support them. Brackbill is a Republican. Seyfried, a Democrat, is too damn independent.

In a well-written open letter to Northampton County Council, Forks Township blogger Dave Billings says it best. "This is your chance to appoint a person that is not tied to any political party dogma. Choose a person with an independent spirit who is willing to represent the people of Northampton County - period."

Morganelli Eyeing Judgeship

In his fascinating book, The D-Day Bank Massacre, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli presents a harsh assessment of judges.
"If anyone tries to tell you that judges are apolitical, tell them to call me. In my 26 years as a practicing lawyer, I have learned that judges are probably the most political animals in the political and legal jungle. Not all of them, of course. But many come to their positions with the same prejudices and bias that we all have from our life experience. The donning of the black robe allows them to hide behind the law while forming their own ideas of how things should be."
Ironically, Morganelli is now seriously considering donning that black robe himself.

Narrowly losing his third attempt to become the state's top cop, Morganelli is now eyeing one of three judicial seats that will be available next year. One spot will definitely go to Judge Zito, who was sworn in as judge last month. John will definitely win the second opening, should he choose to run.

And that's a good thing. Morganelli is in a unique position to remove politics from the bench and eliminate at least some of the cronyism, in which ClerkTechIII jobs are awarded to people who are unable to type.

Nazareth Goes to the Dogs

Nazareth's bark park, located in the borough park, is now officially open for business.

I missed all the speeches at Saturday's rainy grand opening, but would like to know just where that black dog has his nose. Bad doggie!

Funds for Nazareth's dog park come from impact fees assessed to developers, not taxes. This must be spent on recreation or returned to the developer. None of it may be spent to maintain existing recreation, even a sports league.

Without Borough Councilman Jack Herbst, who also sponsored the skate park, this would never have happened.

LV Ramblings Wins "Major Award"

Mr. Parker: It's a Major Award!
Swede: Shucks I wouldn't know that. It looks like a lamp.
Mr. Parker: What is a lamp, you nincompoop? It's a Major Award. I won it!
Swede: Damn, hell, you say won it?
Mr. Parker: Yeah, mind power, Swede; mind power.

Just like Mr. Parker in A Christmas Story, I've won a major award.

I've left the 10,000th comment at Kathy Frederick's Junk Drawer humor blog, and for that, I get a Junk Drawer magnet. True, it's no Red Rider Leg Lamp, but it's still pretty nifty.

Mind power, Swede; mind power!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Ever argue with an engineer? Forget lawyers, these are the real debatemeisters. What bothers me is that, not only are they usually right, but they're so damn smug about it.

I have a friend who happens to be an engineer. He also happens to be a conservative Republican. Whenever he and I argue politics, I lose. It really pisses me off.

After the most recent election, he sent me this poem, suggesting we make an effort to get along.

The election day is over,

The talking is done.

My party lost.

Your party won.

So let us be friends,

Let arguments pass.

I'll hug my elephant,

You kiss your ass.


See what I mean!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mike Fleck to the Rescue!

I told you yesterday about some possible candidates to fill the vacancy on Northampton County Council created by the loss of one of our best, Wayne Grube.

I missed one - Mike Fleck.

Earlier this year, Easton city council mysteriously refused to appoint him to one of their vacancies. I don't know how the hell that happened. After all, he's nearly a college graduate! He had previously assured Easton blogger and news maven Jim Deegan, "I really, honestly think it should almost be a no-brainer."

When I blogged about this injustice, Fleck popped on this blog to defend pay-to-play because "90% of the pols in the Valley do that." He also attacked Panto's brother with a baseless allegation, prompting an angry response from Hizzoner himself. "As for you Mike Fleck -- you come after me and leave my family alone."

Last night, as I dodged raindrops on the way home, an email came out of the sky and hit me on the Fleckin' head.

"I have applied for the vacancy on Northampton County Council. I was sorry to hear of the passing of Wayne Grube and I do not believe anyone can fill his shoes. He was a legend who gave tirelessly to the residents of Northampton County. He will be sorely missed.

"In addition to my experience in local government, as councilman in the City of Easton, I have no intention of seeking re-election if appointed to Northampton County Council. I believe, that although I am a democrat, that I am non-partisan and fair minded when it comes to running local government. I work well with others but am not afraid to say when I think something is having a negative effect on the residents. The bottom line is that I have the requisite government experience combined with the common sense and compassion to be a valuable steward of this seat on Council.

"Michael P. Fleck"


Fleck intends to run for Easton city council next year. A spot on Northampton County Council will mean name recognition and more money for his campaign coffers. At the same time, he will follow whatever orders he gets from Charles Dertinger and Lamont McClure.

This guy is the perfect addition to a dysfunctional county council. What better way to alienate Easton Mayor Sal Panto than by appointing someone who took cheap shots at his family!

In his failed mayoral run last year, Fleck plastered so many signs over Easton that Jim Deegan saw one on a shad reeled in near the free bridge. After his loss, Fleck was nailed by Palmer's finest for dumping campaign signs and unopened bundles of his newspaper outside Autozone, but beat the rap.

He's a Fleckin' male Sam Bennett. Local Dems are obviously grooming him for a stab at Congress.

Sam Bennett's Bodyguards

"The dodo bird has landed. I repeat, the dodo is in the nest."

That's Secret Service talk, folks. They use codenames for the people they protect.

According to Morning Call reporter extraordinaire Brian Calloway, former LV Congressional candidate Siobhan "Sam" Bennett, showed up at an election night party with two Secret Service-like dudes. One of them was wearing an earpiece and everything! Local banks must have been concerned she might claim they were folding again.

A Moment of Silence for Wayne Grube

This afternoon's Northampton County Council budget hearing was a bit hard to follow because most of the bureaucrats there only speak Governmentese. Amazingly, that language is spoken most frequently in Human Services, where you'd think things would be a little more clear. I had my trusty tape recorder and was prepared to translate what I heard. Like an idiot, I forgot to turn it on. But before everyone started speaking in tongues, something happened that even I understood. Council Prez Ann McHale offered a few words about her colleague, Wayne Grube.

The usually imperious Queen of Hearts, voice quivering, read a statement. It was a moving, yet brief, speech, followed by a moment of silence. I wish I could reproduce it. Summarizing it is an injustice. Peg Ferraro's head was buried in her hands. Ron Angle, believe it or not, wiped tears from his eyes.

Grube's nameplate stood proudly at the front of his vacant seat, draped in black ribbon. Someone will eventually be seated there, but that seat is forever empty.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One Vote to Watch

Is the Lehigh Valley Democratic delegation to the state legislature reform-minded? That question will be answered, at least in my view, when we see how they vote on whether to re-elect House majority leader Bill DeWeese. According to Capitol Ideas, who has a subscription to the too expensive Capitolwire, the DeWeese quest has "more twists and turns than a discarded chapter of a Tom Clancy spy novel." We'll find out November 18.

Who Will Fill Wayne Grube's Shoes?

Nobody. Wayne Grube's death is the end of an era in Northampton County. No one will mount his riderless horse. But talk of his replacement is already in overdrive. The county's constitution, its home rule charter, establishes the procedure for filling Grube's vacancy.
If a vacancy in the office of an elected official occurs during the last two (2) years of the term of office, the County Council within thirty (30) days after the occurrence shall appoint an individual to fill the vacancy by resolution. If the County Council fails to appoint an individual to fill the vacancy within thirty (30) days after the occurrence of the vacancy, the Court, upon the petition of any member of the County Council or any five (5) registered voters of the County, shall appoint an individual to fill the vacancy within fifteen (15) days after the filing of the petition. The individual appointed to fill the vacancy shall take office immediately upon appointment and shall serve the unexpired term of office of the elected official.
Unlike Lehigh County's Home Rule Charter, which requires that the vacancy be filled by a person who belongs to the same political party as the person who vacated the office, a Northampton County Council vacancy can be filled by a Democrat, Republican, Green Party member or Whig. The only requirement is that the person appointed must have been a county resident for at least a year.

That's a problem. Can an evenly-divided Northampton County Council put aside partisan differences to agree on a replacement? Don't hold your breath. Judges will likely make this appointment. Here's a few of the names I've heard.

John Maher - In his race against Ron Angle last November, Maher disingenuously claimed to be running a positive campaign while simultaneously bad-mouthing Angle in debates and at county council. His monstrous anonymous robo-calls and sleaze mailings infuriated most of the slate belt. Maher went down in flames, 5,583 to 4,495. I'd say the people have spoken.

Tony Branco - Unable to run a positive campaign on a nonexistent record, he instead rolled around in the mud in his race against popular Peg Ferraro, hiding behind the skirts of dirty dealer Tom Severson. This dude was so lazy he failed to answer a LWV questionnaire. Peg crushed him, 18,354 to 15,113.

Bill Wallace - A recent arrival in Northampton County, Wallace refrained from the divisive politics encouraged by Branco and Maher, instead running a clean campaign focused on bringing passenger rail to the Lehigh Valley. Mike Dowd, who defeated Bill 5027 to 4082, is ironically the council member who introduced the rail transportation study. Bill is certainly worth a second look.

Bill Hall - Bill briefly toyed with the idea of running for Congress, but backed off. He is an independent-minded Democrat who detests machine politics. "Right now, I believe, that the people who run local politics, or federal politics, they don't really represent the people. They go ahead and they pick the candidates they want and they take those candidates and they promote them. They funnel money to them. They get them publicity. And then they endorse them. And I don't think that's right. I think it should be up to the people." Looks like another Bill that fits the bill.

Tom Dietrich - Tom had the guts to wage a campaign against Northampton County's Queen of Hearts, Ann McHale. He was hammered, 4,733 to 2,293. In fact, I'm surprised he's still alive. Tom, who still maintains a web page, brings youth, a level head and a much needed breath of fresh air.

Ismael Arcelay - A former AT&T employee, Arcelay served as an appointed Bethlehem City Council member for three years and is now working for Ed Pawlowski in Allentown. According to the Center for Progressive Leadership, he's a party machine guy- a member of the Northampton County Democratic executive committee. He brings much needed diversity, but I I doubt any of the Republicans on Council will support a machine Democrat.

Mark Schwartz - Coming out of nowhere, Schwartz very nearly defeated Lamont McClure in November, losing by a scant 91 votes despite spending no money. Party boss Joe Long has demanded an investigation, so I doubt any Democrats will support his bid for appointment. He has a web page and claims he's running. "We need to keep spending as low as possible to provide quality services to taxpayers without an increase in taxes."

Louis Gallucci - A former Bethlehem Township Commissioner, Gallucci was very impressive when he applied for the vacancy filled by McClure. He clearly understands municipal government.

Do you know anyone who is interested? How about one of you?

Local Press Salutes Wayne Grube

I commend both papers, The Express Times in particular, for their coverage concerning Northampton County Council member Wayne Grube, who passed away on Tuesday.

We had a love-hate relationship. I loved him, and he hated me. Before council meetings, he would often walk back to insult me. Or he'd start shaking his head at me in the middle of a meeting. He even left notes on my Jeep, threatening to have it towed.


He could get really angry at me, but always got over it. He cared deeply about the county. He loved Gracedale, revered the judges and always tried to do the right thing for the county workforce. Until he got ill, he was at the courthouse regularly and knew what was going on from the inside.

Precious Petty wrote a terrific biography, including some great pictures of a young Coach Grube. Sarah Cassi, who covered Grube regularly, gives us touching accounts from those who who worked with and loved Wayne. The editorial board notes Grube led an "energetic, overloaded life." But the most revealing stories are from Michael Blouse, a sportswriter who spoke with former players and fellow coaches.

Over at The Morning Call, Bill White tells us he's shocked, just shocked, to learn that Grube could curse as well as Hickey. Bill will devote a column to Grube today.

Molovinsky: Allentown Pushing Hamilton Street Merchants Out

In Allentown, many small businesses have security gates that merchants roll down over their storefronts when they close shop at the end of the day. Blogger Michael Molovinsky, in a nice piece of investigative journalism, tells us Allentown is now giving Hamilton Street merchants ninety days to replace solid gates with mesh, which will cost between two and seven thousand dollars. Ostensibly, this makes it easier to spot fires, but it also makes it easier for potential thieves to break windows and pry open locks.

What's really interesting is that this code is being selectively enforced against Hamilton Street merchants while those on 7th Street get a pass. Why? Is this Allentown's way of pushing those businesses out?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How Can We Make Elections Better?

My posts about Tuesday's presidential election (Northampton County Elections Office Under Fire . . . Again, Northampton County's Election - "Screw Up of Epic Proportions"? and One Lehigh County Poll Watcher's Experience) resulted in a lot of interesting comments from judges of elections and poll watchers. In addition to that, I've been speaking over the past two days with Santa Bannon-Shiles. She's the President of Northampton County's League of Women Voters. She also happens to be a judge of elections, having served for the past eight years.

These judges of elections are a treasure trove of ideas. One small example. Santa tells me judges of elections should prepare signs for the voters in their precincts to minimize confusion. That may seem minor, but not to Bushkill Township voters who stood in the wrong line for over an hour. Another point she made is that voter lists should be given to inspectors, who can go through lines to make sure people are at the right precinct.

At last Thursday's Northampton County Council meeting, at least before member Dertinger's uninformed diatribe, Director of Administration John Conklin told council that he and the elections office would be conducting an "after action review" to identify areas of improvement.

Here's a suggestion.

How about an "after action review" for elections judges and poll workers? Santa tells me that never happens, yet they are uniquely situated to identify ways to improve our elections as well as educate each other.

Why Don't You Run For Local Office?

One of the questions I'm frequently asked, especially when ragging on some local pol, is why I don't run for office, especially since I already think I know everything.

Hey, the world needs gadflies, too!

Let's face it, I'm far more effective as a pain in the ass than I could ever be sitting behind some dais, wearing some suit and tie or a sexy dress, depending on my mood. During courtesy of the floor, I could never stand listening to wingnuts like me. Also, a practical matter, I'd never be elected. Even I would never vote for me. True, I'm quite handsome, but I'm also an impoverished and alcoholic ex-lawyer so irresponsible I still get parking tickets at least once every week.

Despite my own clear incompetence, people who read and contribute to this blog should seriously consider seeking local office next year. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of partisan backscratchers who may get no parking tickets, but seek office for all the wrong reasons. They hand out city money to restaurants that fail while ignoring a real crime problem. They engage in shouting matches during public meetings, or deliberately mislead the public.

So why don't you run? Next year, we will be voting for county hangmen, school directors, borough and city mayors and council members, township supervisors and commissioners, and mini-judges. For the last four years, the League of Women Voters has conducted a four-hour "Running for Local Office" workshop, specifically designed for Lehigh Valley candidates.

What's required in the way of paperwork? What's your strategy? How do you ask for donations without ending up in jail? Can a political party help? Will the press even notice you? During this seminar, experienced campaigners, party bosses and elections officials will answer those questions. A comprehensive notebook filled with pertinent information is given to every participant.

Here are the details.

When: Saturday, November 22, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (continental breakfast included).

Where: Northampton Community College, Kiva room (circular building), Green Pond Road, Bethlehem, Pa.

Cost: $45, to cover LWV costs. This is no fundraiser.

Download an application? Click here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Norco Council VP Wayne Grube Has Passed Away

Northampton County's Dutch Uncle is gone.

Council Vice President Wayne A. Grube, one of the few people I've ever met who could ever admit his own mistakes, passed away this morning. In his nineteen years on council, six of them as President, Grube was an independent voice who never failed to speak his mind. He will be missed, especially by the county workers he constantly teased.

An Easton boy, Wayne became a teacher and was Easton High School's head football coach between 1968 and 1979, leading his team to undefeated seasons in 1968 and 1978.

In recent years, Wayne worked as a legislative aide to state rep. Rich Grucela in Nazareth. His gruff exterior masked a tender heart, something he would not like to read here.

He will be sorely missed. Northampton County flags will be lowered for thirty days in his honor.

Update: Sarah Cassi has a touching tribute to Wayne at The Express Times.