This is the Lehigh Valley's largest municipal legislature. But in some ways, they are a victim of their own success. Northampton County Council can count on both dailies, a weekly, Channel 69, and one or more bloggers at every meeting. WWE's Vince McMahon drops in from time to time, too, looking for new talent. I've seen it all, from gigantic inflatable rats to Council members physically threatening each other. At last night's congenial LC Comm'r meeting, there was just one Morning Call stringer.
Not enough mayhem.
That may change. The LV Tea Party has begun attending and participating at Comm'r meetings. I've been very critical of this nonprofit for its political activity and unelected leadership. But the recent excommunication of Ron Shegda does demonstrate that this grass roots group is making a sincere effort to remain above the partisan fray. It has also scheduled elections for next month. It's also very encouraging to me when anyone, conservative or liberal, takes an active interest in local government.
One tea party member, Stan Bialecki (pictured above), has actually become a LC regular. Another, Janice Bowman, films meetings with a pretty good camera sitting atop a tripod. She plans to load them on Youtube, but is still learning.
What most folks don't understand about County government is that, when a Exec like Don Cunningham or John Stoffa proposes a budget, there really is very little wiggle room. Although they sound easy, you can't really do across-the-board cuts without jeopardizing essential services. Yet on a radio show yesterday, the very first question for LC Comm'r Glenn Eckhart was whether he's proposing any across-the-board cuts to avoid a tax hike. Now Glenn is an evil arch-conservative, but even he acknowledged that's impossible.
Last night, for example, Comm'rs approved a $377,000 contract for autopsies. Another $50,000 was allocated for the transport of bodies, including increasingly expensive body bags. If you're an across-the-board cuts advocate, what do you do? Do you tell a coroner that, even though a death looks suspicious to him, you're trying to save money? Do you tell some family to throw a body on ice for a few weeks until the budget permits you to cart granny off to the morgue?
How about the workforce? Will across-the board cuts work there? Last night, Chairman Dean Browning told me that, to avoid a tax hike next year, Lehigh County would have to reduce the annual salaries of each employee by 24%. And this is after Exec Don Cunningham has reduced the workforce to its lowest level since 1990. That's not gonna' happen.
So do you let some people go? Of course, that's impossible at a jail or nursing home, which are 24/7 operations that need staff at all times.
So there really is little wiggle room, although tea party members may come up with some good ideas. They are making a difference. Last night, Stan did ask Comm'rs to spend a little more time explaining some of these contracts, and they were only too happy to oblige.