Friday, February 26, 2010

Northampton County Solicitor Conflicts

Anti-Angle Democrats have had little to smile about lately. Northampton County Exec John Stoffa, a nonpartisan who believes in goofy things like transparency and accountability in government, was easily re-elected despite the Democrats' endorsement of Ann McHale. To make matters worse, a blue County elected five Republicans to Council, giving the GOP a 7-2 edge for the first time ever. They elected the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, as Council Prez. And what's really gotta' hurt is that, so far, he's been remarkably effective.

I guess it's only natural that they were besides themselves with joy last week. Word leaked out that, in a Ron Angle dispute concerning his father's estate, the Register of Wills had doubts about the validity of a Will Ron offered for probate. She preferred an earlier Will, signed through a car window, prepared by an attorney who incorrectly told Ron's father that he had to see him if he wanted to revoke it. (I've told you that story here).

When the Register of Wills, who is neither a lawyer nor a judge, made her decision, she had help. Assistant County Solicitor Chris Spadoni, a partisan Democrat who also serves as Solicitor to Bethlehem City Council, drafted her decision. And although the Register wanted to keep a lid on things until the families were notified, word spread like wildfire. At Thursday night's Council meeting, Democratic members had copies. And right after the meeting, a portion of the decision was anonymously placed on a local hate blog.

Now I understand that even though Angle is Council President, he should be subjected to the same scrutiny as everyone else. But he's also entitled to the same decency. This was a family matter, and all the stories and insinuations really hurt his wife, who has no interest in politics. He and his family were victimized.

Before the decision was ever made public or Angle was even provided with his own copy, stories appeared in both local papers. And CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings, for some strange reason, called papers to insist they need to ask the DA about filing fraud charges against Angle.

County Solicitor Karl Longenbach vehemently denies any impropriety in his office, and I'm informed that Assistant County Solicitor Chris Spadoni has said much the same thing. Neither has ever lied to me, but even they must admit circumstances are very suspicious. Longenbach will freely admit he has no regard for Angle, and just represented Jolly Joe Timmer in litigation involving Angle. Spadoni told a friend of the Angles she should have nothing to do with them. Spadoni is not listed as the Assistant Solicitor for the Register of Wills, yet somehow ended up with the case.

In the end, it's unlikely we'll ever know where that leak originated. But what happened to Angle is an indication of a growing problem within the Solicitor's office. That office will cost Northampton County $419,300 this year ($390,600 for personnel). It is manned by a seven attorneys, only one of whom is a full-time employee. Performance there is uneven.

Over the past several years, these lawyers are responsible for several miscues that have occasionally led the Stoffa administration in the wrong direction. They've sometimes neglected to send someone to cover Council meetings. Spadoni ignored one citizen's calls for a year, until he had to retain a lawyer to do a job that should have been performed by the Solicitor. They insisted on representing the Register of Wills in an estate contest involving our high profile Council President, but sent another high profile Will dispute directly to a judge. Lawyers in that office have expressed animosity towards Angle, but nevertheless advised the Register of Wills in a matter that directly involved him. In insisting on doing so, they compromised themselves because Angle has a direct say in their budget and staffing.

In posts next week, I plan to go into more detail in the problems of that troubled office. But for today, I'll limit my criticism to just one of its problems.

Northampton County's Home Rule Charter is very clear -- it explicitly bars its Solicitor from performing legal services for any other municipality. That prohibition had always been interpreted to apply to assistant county solicitors as well. After all, what's bad for the goose should be bad for the gander. And then Glenn Reibman was elected County Executive.

He expanded the solicitor's office with numerous assistants (who paid for their jobs with regular campaign contributions) and it didn't matter whether these lawyers were also municipal solicitors so long as the campaign checks kept coming. Suddenly, the Home Rule Charter was turned on its head. Since it didn't specifically exclude assistant solicitors from working for other municipalities, it must be permitted. Right? I guess it doesn't matter that, when the Home Rule Charter was first adopted, there were no assistant solicitors at all.

Now here's a neat trick. When Northampton County Solicitor Jack Spirk was appointed Bethlehem's Solicitor, all he did was resign his position in Northampton County, only to be immediately reappointed as Assistant County Solicitor. Pretty nifty, huh?

The practice continues today. First Assistant County Solicitor Dave Backenstoe has served as solicitor in Lehigh, Moore, and Plainfield Townships, as well as Hellertown and Walnutport Boroughs. Assistant County Solicitor Chris Spadoni represents Bethlehem's City Council.

Not long ago, Spadoni represented the County at a Council meeting during which a dispute with Bethlehem occupied much of the meeting. How could he give advice to the administration and still remain loyal to Bethlehem? Council adopted a resolution that night authorizing the County to sue Bethlehem, if necessary. So would Spadoni be preparing a lawsuit that he himself would later defend?

The obvious intent of the Home Rule Charter is that “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” An attorney who represents both a county and one or more of its municipalities has divided loyalties. And there will be plenty of other opportunities for actual conflicts of interest on matters like road improvements, the sale of real estate, the construction and operation of public buildings, litigation, or recreational facilities, to name a few.

Next week, I'll tell you about the property owner who received a notice that his property would be sold at tax sale for unpaid taxes accrued by a previous bankrupt estate. Over the course of a year, Assistant County Solicitor Spadoni failed to return a single call.

Armstrong Reacts to Health Care Summit

The William F. Buckley of the Lehigh Valley, Scott Armstrong, reacts strongly to President Obama's Health Care Summit:

To all of my fellow conservatives who hold the opinion that there is no difference between the politicians that make up our two major political parties today’s Health Care Summit meeting at Blair House demonstrated the opposite is true. One party’s elected officials stand ready to flout public opinion, senate rules and their own previous stands against reconciliation to force through an unpopular bill that could radically affect the health care of every citizen and one sixth of the nation’s economy. The other party’s health care solutions keep in mind the rights of private enterprise and personal liberty. One party’s elected officials arrogantly presume to know what is best for us. They believe that the state should be empowered to intrude, for the greater good (?), on the liberties of the individual. This party seeks a one size fits all solution to the very complex and very personal issue of health care and it wants it right now. The other party seeks a deliberate pace and process for any reform.

The Democratic Party, under the leadership of President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi is the real threat that we conservatives must unite to defeat. Their sins pale the wanton spending indiscretions and general fecklessness of the Republican Party. Failure to acknowledge this imperative will serve to enable the enemies of the constitution. I don’t think that is a course any conservative can choose in good conscience.

Dent: We Don't Need No Steenkin' Terrorist Trials

Now that New York is out as a venue for a 9/11 terrorist trials, Attorney General Eric Holder is considering western Pennsylvania. Not so fast, says LV Congressman Charlie Dent.

Dent, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, raised the issue with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday during a Homeland Security budget hearing, particularly in light of a request for $200 million to provide security for the trials.

According to a news release, Dent told her, “Madam Secretary, I cannot support, and in fact I will vehemently oppose any attempt by the Administration to relocate Guantanamo terror detainees to Pennsylvania, whether for detention or prosecution.”

His opposition to civilian terrorist trials on American soil is based on security risks and associated costs. He also believes it is insensitive to the families of victims killed on 9/11. Dent prefers that enemy combatants be tried in military tribunals, at the Guantanamo Bay facility where they are currently housed.

“The fact that the Attorney General didn’t even consult with Homeland Security before opting for a trial venue in New York is especially troubling,” Congressman Dent said. “Coordinating our security efforts here at home was a significant reason we created a Department of Homeland Security in the first place. If DHS isn’t being consulted in such a major security matter, I must wonder what other decisions are being made without careful consideration of homeland security impact.

“The plan to try KSM and the other terrorists in New York is not well considered, and the increasing opposition by lawmakers from both parties underscores that fact. I’m even more concerned that Plan B appears to be a trial in Western Pennsylvania, just miles away from the site of the Flight 93 crash on 9/11. Pennsylvanians have suffered enough and need not relive this terrible tragedy and play host to its mastermind.”

Dent has cosponsored several pieces of legislation to prevent terrorist trials within the United States. He also joined several members of the Pennsylvania delegation in a bipartisan letter to President Obama, opposing terrorist trials in Pennsylvania.

In the meantime, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan is practicing hard for a stint as a celebrity bartender next week at Louie's Restaurant.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

LV Traffic Congestion Up 35%

According to the INRIX National Traffic Scorecard, the Lehigh Valley has experienced a 35% rise in congestion over the past year. This follows two successive years of decreases.

Worst place and time to be on the road? Fridays westbound on Rte 22 near Rte 378, between 5 and 6PM.

Overall, the LV ranks #57 nationwide. Other rankings in the Keystone State are as follows: Philly - #10; Pittsburgh - #24; and Harrisburg - #60.

Mea Culpa: Thanks to my readers, who note I had Rte 222 instead of Rte 22.

Eight Health Care Lobbyists For Each Member of Congress

Maybe Obama should have invited them to his Summit today.

The John Stoffa Report

After being elected President of Northampton County Council, Ron Angle requested Exec John Stoffa provide periodic reports to Council. These "nuts and bolts" updates promote both transparency and accountability. It enables Stoffa to communicate publicly with Council and respond to concerns raised during the public comment period. It also allows Council members to question him about their own concerns.

Northampton County Jail. - Roof repairs are complete. Kitchen equipment is being installed and some work is being done on bathrooms.

Parking Deck. This Spring, much needed repairs to the parking deck adjoining the Courthouse will finally be started.

Handicapped Accessibility. - This Spring, an exterior lift for handicapped people will be constructed at the end of the walkway leading from parking deck to Courthouse. This will enable them to enter the building without walking 1,000 miles.

Courthouse Roof. - This Winter, like last Winter, a portion of the walkway outside the courthouse is cordoned off. The reason? To protect people from falling snow and ice from the slanted roof. "In my opinion, that building was not designed properly. With a flat area, we would have caught that snow and ice."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On Eve of Major Snowstorm, LV's NOAA Weather Radio Takes a Powder

Since there's a winter storm warning in effect for the Lehigh Valley, you might want to tune in to NOAA's Weather Radio. But guess what? On the eve of this major weather event, the station is off the air.
NOAA Weather Radio all hazards station khb-38, broadcasting fromAtlantic City, New Jersey on frequency 162.400 mega-hertz is off the air. Technicians have been notified, however, a return to service time is unknown at this time.
Doesn't that make you feel nice and secure? Our government would screw up a church picnic.

Pittsburgh Cops Involved in Shoot-Out Over Parking Spot

And you thought using chairs was nutty?

Orloski v. Browne Redux?

Allentown attorney Rick Orloski, known for his eight unsuccessful attempts at elected office, is circulating a petition to run against State Senator Pat Browne.

Bipartisan Harry Reid Tells GOP to "Stop Crying"

... as he considers using "reconciliation" to pass an unpopular health care reform package. Kinda' makes me wonder why they're even bothering with that big summit with Obama on Thursday. In the meantime, Canada Premier Danny Williams defends going to to the U.S. for heart surgery. "This was my heart, my choice and my health."

If Mr. Rooney Had a Web Cam, He Could Finally Bust Ferris Bueller

I could see it now. Mr. Rooney would call Ferris into his office and show him incrminating pictures from a secretly activated web cam on a school supplied laptop, conveniently stashed in Ferris' bedroom.

"Les jeux sont faits. Translation: the game is up. Your ass is mine."

Then a judge slaps Rooney with an injunction faster than Ferris can drive a Porsche, and the FBI seizes his computers for forensic analysis.

Bueller? Bueller?

Update: Thi post concerns a Lower Merion School District practice of spying on high school kids, even in their bedrooms, by remotely activating web cams on school-supplied laptops.

So How is the LV Airport Going to Pay That $26 MM Judgment?

$3,000. That's what is added daily, in fines and interest, to an 11 year-old judgment owed by the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority. You see, it condemned land in Catasauqua for an expansion that, ironically, never occurred. Right now, the tab is around $26 million, give or take a million.

Now you had nothing to do with this colossal error, compounded by the Authority's refusal to pay. You can thank Executive Director George Doughty for that. But we all may end up paying the tab.

The Airport Authority has been around since 1946, believe it or not. An unwieldy, 19-member Board of Governors, oversees operations. Ten are from Lehigh County and nine from Northampton. They administer Lehigh Valley International Airport, located on 2,629 acres in five different municipalities. They also manage Queen City Airport (Allentown) and Braden Airpark (Forks Tp).

At one time, Lehigh and Northampton County provided financial assistance to the Authority in the form of direct grants and guaranteeing bonds. Then, the Federal Aviation Administration stepped in to provide grants for capital programs, which has saved both counties hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But who's going to pay that $26 million judgment? Looks like it might be you. I'm told the Authority will be asking both Counties to guarantee a bond to pay for the land grab debacle. Apparently, there is no other way to pay this debt.

"Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue!"

What this does is put taxpayers on the hook in the event of default. It will also have a negative effect on the bond rating of both counties.

Here's my question. Why do anything? With much better airports in nearby Newark and Philly, is there really a need to have an airport here? I've seen lemonade stands that are managed better.

A year ago, both counties received an Airport Management Study, prepared by the Berger Group. Recommendations include a smaller and more interested Board. Both Execs have appointed people who are willing to stir the pot. But is it enough?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jake Towne: Don't Crash Private Planes Into IRS Buildings

Congressional candidate Jake Towne may wonder why I'm so reluctant to post his never ending news releases. Here's why.

In wake of news that a disgruntled taxpayer flew a private plane right into an IRS branch last week, Towne jumped right on the story, assuring us in seven thousand word posts, which he litters all over the Internet, that he'd never do anything like that.

Whew! That's a relief.

Now it's tacky enough that he would use this sad story as an excuse to shill for his campaign, but he tops that off by calling LV Congressman Charlie Dent an "unwitting sap."

Jack Wagner Sole Gubernatorial Candidate to DiscloseTax Returns

In addition to being reform-oriented and tight-fisted with taxpayer money, he's transparent.

Benol Will Accept No Corporate Dough

"I neither want nor will I accept campaign contributions from corporations."

That's what Republican Congressional wannabe Mat Benol proudly claims on his web page. That's good to know because they're already illegal.

He's hoping that his affiliation with the tea party movement propels him right into the Capitol.

I'm a member of the coffee party.

Brennan: Give Disabled Vets Minority Status

In a news release, State Rep. Joe Brennan, D-Lehigh/Northampton, last week announced plans to introduce legislation that would classify disabled veterans as minorities so they have the same status and benefits as racial and gender minorities in securing state contracts.

"The United States military defends us by combating actual and perceived threats," Brennan said. "Our brave soldiers are leaving the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan – many disabled – having protected us from the reality of terrorism. I believe this legislation will show appreciation to the courageous men and woman who risked their lives so that we can continue to live under the freedoms allowed by the United States Constitution."

Brennan said his bill would grant disabled veterans the benefits awarded to members of the Bureau of Women and Minority Business Opportunities when bidding for state contracts. Additionally, it allows for another minority status outside racial and gender disadvantaged groups. Best of all, he tells me it costs the taxpayers nothing.

Brennan to Gen'l Srvcs: Keep Pearson in the Loop

On Monday, I published East Allentown activist Dennis Pearson's remarks to DPW concerning the closure of Allentown State Hospital, which should occur by year's end. I doubt anyone at yesterday's hearing paid very much attention, but Dennis' remarks drew a lot of interest here.

State rep. Joe Brennan is paying attention, too. When Joe first ran for the state house, one of his primary opponents was Dennis. But a few weeks ago, in a letter to General Services Secretary James Creedon, Brennan specifically asked that Pearson be kept in the loop.

"I respectfully request that Dennis Pearson, President of the East Allentown Rittersville Neighborhood Association, be included in any and all correspondence pertaining to the use of this property."

Norco Gaming Authority Has Money to Burn

$832,000, to be exact. But don't expect to see any of it going anywhere until after June, when municipal grant applications are filed. That's when the fur should start flying.

Northampton County's nine-member Gaming Authority, ably chaired by Hanover Township's John Finnigan, met last night to approve their by-laws and grant procedures.

Bethlehem Township's Thomas Nolan thinks they, and not the County, should control the gaming revenue. But when Council liaison Ann McHale pointed out they would need to be bonded, Finnigan expressed some concerns about "re-inventing the wheel."

Lower Saucon's Priscilla deLeon suggested the public should be able to address every item on the agenda. But Hellertown's Stephanie A. Hoppes-Kovas noted that if you allow "too many, it becomes a town hall meeting." And Solicitor Scott Allison, who claimed to be suffering from jet lag, solemnly told board members he "would not recommend that you run your meetings that way unless you want to bring sleeping bags."

I found all of this highly ironic inasmuch as I was the only member of the public in attendance.

Economic Development Administrator Alicia Karner has set up a webpage for the Authority, containing minutes, a meeting schedule and links to the Gaming Law, Gaming Control Board and enabling Ordinance.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ron Angle v. Ghouls and Gold Diggers

On Friday, when I first told you about the Angle Will controversy, I predicted it would be used to try and bury him. A gold digger is trying to hold him up for a few bucks, but the ghouls who detest his no-bullshit approach to government, are trying to end his political career. Sure enough, he's been batted around all weekend. As recently as last night, one of my readers concludes "he may finally have gone to [sic] far and could end up in jail."

Really? How about that?

To review, Ron Angle's father, Fred, passed away in May. Ron presented one Will for probate. His sister-in-law, Joanie Place, presented another, earlier, Will. Register of Wills Dorothy Cole had to decide which one is valid.

Dorothy's decision, which went against Ron, was splattered all over a local hate blog before it was ever publicly released. The privacy afforded to John Karoly, an Allentown lawyer who actually did forge his brother's Will, was denied to Angle. Karoly's caveat proceedings remained confidential until the matter went to Court. To this day, I have no idea how the Register of Wills ruled on the matter, if at all. But in Ron's case, a decision made Monday was being shopped to the media as early as Wednesday night.

So who's responsible for this leak?

Certainly not the Register of Wills. She may have decided against Ron, but I suspect that had a lot to do with the advice she got. Dorothy herself is one of the County's finest Department heads and did everything in her power to keep this matter quiet. Those were her wishes, and they were based on her concerns for the family's privacy, as she told me herself last week. I'll add that Dorothy's very professional staff is both apolitical and very loyal to her.

So how about Angle's lawyer? Why would he release information that places his client in a poor light?

The other side? Angle's sister-in-law is in Florida, and the lawyer representing her is from Honesdale. It's unlikely he knows a thing about the local blogosphere, even if he were inclined to leak this decision.

That leaves the Northampton County Solicitor's office, which wrote this opinion. The attorney assigned to the matter - Chris Spadoni - recently told a Sharon Angle (Sharon is Ron's wife) friend to stay away from her. The Solicitor himself, Karl Longenbach, has a lengthy and unpleasant history with Ron. Both Spadoni and Longenbach are Reibman holdovers. While I have deep respect for them both, they must realize this sure looks bad for them. Unless they find the leak, they should resign. Their client is Northampton County, not the Northampton County Democratic party. Angle, who happens to preside over Northampton County Council, will never believe a word they say, and justifiably so.

I've already told you that Fred Angle had no use for Joanie Place. She refused to let him attend her wedding to his son, or the subsequent funeral when he mysteriously passed away. She never showed at Fred's funeral or viewing. Not exactly the loving daughter-in-law. In contrast, Ron was good to his father, visiting him nearly every day, if only to say hi. He's like that, you know. If he passes by Radiator Ralph Stampone's shop, he'll often stop in to say hi. He does that to me at the courthouse, too.

Joanie only came up here from Florida when she heard Fred was sick. Suddenly, she cared, at least enough to take him to her own lawyer and prepare a Will giving something to the one son who lives with her. Fred obviously was having second thoughts about that because he refused to get out of the car when she drove him to Stroudsburg to sign the Will. The lawyer actually had to come out to the car, and have Fred sign through the window. He also incorrectly told Fred that he had to see him if he wanted to revoke the Will.

The very next day, Fred acknowledged he had "messed up" and decided to do his own Will, much as he had done for other members of the Angle family in the past.

This weekend, I discovered a few additional details about the Angle Will controversy.

1) Fred Angle prepared a Will in 2007, naming Ron as his sole beneficiary. That Will was prepared by an attorney, witnessed and duly notarized. So the Will presented by Ron is actually consistent with the wishes that Fred Angle presented just two years earlier.

2) Ron Angle's sister-in-law, Joanie Place, never attended the hearings or testified in support of the Will prepared by her own attorney. Was she afraid what questions might be asked?

3) Ron's brother, Fred, Jr, mysteriously died in his sleep at age 41. To this day, nobody knows how that happened. Joanie not only barred Fred from the funeral, but refused to allow an autopsy. Fred, Sr., had pleaded for that, and always suspected something was amiss. When people talk about starting investigations, they might want to start by finding out how Fred, Jr., died. And why would the then Coroner refuse to do an autopsy?

4) Joanie Place and Fred (Jr.) had three children. But Fred (Sr.) always suspected their paternity and believed they were three children through three different guys. I do not like airing this dirty laundry about what should really be a family matter, but to those of you questioning why he would not provide for these grandchildren, this might be why.

5) The Will being urged by Joanie Place only makes provision for one of these three children. He just happens to be the only child living with her.

6) Fred, Sr, prepared several Wills for members of the Angle family, and often probated them himself before the Northampton County Register of Wills.

7) Several years ago, Fred, Sr., divested himself of most of his assets, funding trusts for his two grandchildren through Ron and Sharon. He would have no reason to bequeath anything to them because there's practically nothing left in his estate.

Fred Angle was no ordinary person. Ron's no ordinary person, so that should be no surprise. Here's what someone who obviously knew Fred, posted here on Saturday night.

"Just for the record, Fred W was not an atheist. I think he liked the wild discussions it provoked. I also believe Ron is probably in the right in this situation. Fred W was very ill in his final year and lonely. He liked when people would stop in and would love to be taken out for a ride. This Joan situation seems very odd. Almost as odd as Fred Jr's untimely death. Ron is right this time. I don't think it's about money, Ron has plenty. It's about how it all went down. I can totally see Fred W copying Rev Amanda's will. That would so totally be Fred. Wicked good. Fred W would love this! Go Ron!"

It's been a rough few days for Sharon and Ron, but they cracked up when I read this comment to them today. Ron agrees his father, who loved to torment him, is chuckling somewhere.

It's becoming more and more clear that, contrary to the fondest wishes of his detractors, Ron is on the right side of this Will controversy. Ghouls smeared not only Ron, but his wife and one of his sons, in favor of an obvious gold digger. They intruded into a private family matter and made sure the word got out, long before it was scheduled to hit the public domain. They suggest forgery and fraud, and want the DA to investigate.

I think DAs investigate mysterious deaths, too.

Dennis Pearson: Keep Allentown State Hospital Open

East Allentown - Rittersville Neighborhood Association Presentation before a hearing of a Department of Public Welfare Committee on the Closing of the Allentown State Hospital --- Monday, February 22, 2010 at 3:45 PM by EARN President Dennis L. Pearson

The East Allentown- Rittersville Neighborhood Association comprises the 14th and 15th wards of the City of Allentown --- that portion of the city located east and north of the Lehigh River, which includes the location of the Allentown State Hospital.

It remains the expressed wish and hope of the association that the Allentown State Hospital remains operational. Unfortunately, this closure seems like a slow death to us for it evolved incrementally since the 1980's. . Nevertheless, we cling to the slight hope that the Allentown State Hospital would be rescued from closure even in the face of the DPW's recent announcement of the same on or by December 31. 2010 which we are told caught all our Assembly and Senate representatives out of the link on our legislative divided neighborhood.... But if this hope is dashed, it is our firm belief that the future use of this site must balance the needs of the City of Allentown with the impact on the neighborhoods immediately adjacent.

We are not unmindful of the fact that the development of a tract of this size --- a huge piece of land that goes from Hanover Avenue all the way back to the Lehigh River --- is expected by some to provide a significant addition to the tax base of the city. The City of Allentown Financial Recovery Plan of 7/25/2009 speculated that in Fiscal Year 2009 the sale of an undefined acreage of Allentown State Hospital land would yield a projected sale price of $180,000 with a future projected property tax of $150,000 yearly. In spite of these rather optimistic projections which we note have not yet materialized we do have misgiving.

It is our belief that the increased infrastructure costs will eat up a significant portion of any increased tax revenue - perhaps all of it. Examples of these infrastructure costs may be construction for new roads, water and sewer lines - whether for sanitary runoff or sewage effluent discharges , pumping systems to ensure adequate water pressure for fire protection, water tower storage and delivery and other uses, as well as projects to remove asbestos and other Brownfield materials that may exist on the tract. Last of all, the important need to provide police, fire and medical emergency services.

We propose this challenge to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Lehigh County, the Allentown School District and the City of Allentown... And yes, even the Federal Government. Any future development must minimize any negative impacts on east Allentown, with particular reference to environmental impact, infrastructure costs, traffic congestion, increased criminal activity, and possible crowding in area public schools.

To aid in the closure process, the DWP said it would establish a strong community advisory team made up of Allentown residents, county representatives from the Allentown service area, as well as other interested stakeholders who will monitor and assist the department through the process.

EARN as a stakeholder, and the neighborhood most impacted by any present and future decision this advisory team may make to the DWP and to the State Assembly, fully understands that members of our association and our community ought to be represented on this advisory team when hearings, meetings and discussions are held related to closure and reuse of all the grounds related to the institution. The question may be raised: "Why is this so necessary?" It is necessary because our long-term residents have the personal knowledge of where the former swamp, dumping of road material, asphalt, sludge pitch material, field drainage systems, etc. can be found.

A little known fact that most people don't understand about the Allentown State Hospital is that it mainly sits on marsh land. We ask: Do we do right if we allow developers to destroy yet another wetlands area, especially one which clearly supplements the across the River Wildlands Conservancy property on South Mountain, throughout all of which are deer and other wildlife that roam on both sides of the river.

Oddly the abundance of wildlife in the vicinity of Allentown State Hospital and the adjacent Community of East Allentown residents living on the Hill has become more noticeable since the construction of the well traveled Route 78 just South of South Mountain. Since then this wildlife because of the loss of habitat has migrated to this area. And we do recommend that as part of the planning process, an impact study on wildlife existing there be made.

As indicated before, we know that City Administrators have considered both the State Hospital and Queen City Airport as the best "solutions" to increasing the Allentown tax base. And as a counter-point there are those who think that both tracts should remain undeveloped. Their belief is that our officials should raise the tide by improving the quality of life..

But for East Siders, the descending northern slope of Lehigh Mountain away from the river has been totally encroached upon by a combination of existing development and new City of Allentown approved high density development ... And this new development even has spilled over the crest of the Mountain toward the southern descending side which slopes toward both the Norfolk-Southern Railroad tracks and Lehigh River at the bottom. Quite literally, the open space as seen on Allentown State Hospital grounds can be described as an Oasis surrounded by an encroaching and windblown desert with the water tower looking very much as a golf ball on a tee serving as sentinel.

We understand that various state properties including other state hospitals have been turned into so-called mixed use developments which include both housing and other types of buildings.

But do we really need more apartments and high density homes? With tens of thousands of people here already, this part of town is congested enough! With only 2 main east/west arteries flowing through it all and the site sitting on Hanover Ave, which is already maxed daily in traffic volume, do we want to exacerbate the problem? ... We don't think so, and we hope regional planners agree ... We note, at present the Allentown State Hospital property can only be accessed from Hanover Avenue into a beautiful tree-lined cul-de-sac road leading up to main Hospital building. Other access roads from Sherman Street to River Road and from E. Hamilton Street have been closed years ago.

Although the City of Allentown did encourage the State to cede part of the land for development. We do not blame the City for the State's decision to pull the plug . This was Ed Rendell and our state government at work. But as one voicer in the Morning Call observed: "With that being said, consolidation wouldn't be such a bad idea, but the problem is... who loses? Norristown gets all of Philly's people, plus some from the suburbs. Allentown is the split between Norristown and Clark-Summit. Wernersville would be the logical one to go. Open up previously closed units in Norristown and Allentown, and move the staff (if they're willing to commute) over. "

In my lifetime, I have seen the decline of many industries in the Lehigh Valley area since the 60's. The most notable that impacted strongly on my neighborhood was the closure of Bethlehem Steel, Lehigh Structural Steel, Arbogast and Bastian Meat Packer, Neuweiler and Horlacher Breweries, the relocation of manufacturing facilities by Agere Technology one of many the successors to Western Electric, and Mack Trucks.

Equally so, as a neighborhood we have dealt with the downturn of operations at the Allentown State Hospital as well. In the 80's, all the buildings were in use. Then, in the 90's they transferred some of the more elderly patients out to facilities that were more equipped to take care of their needs and proceeded to close those units. Now most of the buildings are contracted out to other agencies not related to the state At one time, cars coming into and going out of the cul-de-sac road at Hanover Avenue at shift change presented a problem for the School Crossing Guard at Plymouth Street. Then it was not a matter of speeding cars or people ignoring School Crossing Guard attempts to get School Children from Ritter Elementary across the road safely, it was the matter of the volume of cars coming out of the cul-de-sac and finding the right opportunity to stop all traffic to allow the children to cross the street. Then with decline in operations and decline in vehicular traffic to and from the Hospital, the traffic pattern on Hanover Avenue changed but was not as safe. As stated above , periodically, the Hospital contracted out its closed building for other uses. But what shocked the neighborhood was the sale of Allentown State Hospital Land to build Transitional Housing on E. Gordon and N. Oswego Streets for former Allentown State Hospital residents deemed healthy enough to live out in the community but under supervision of professionals who visited the apartments on a regular defined basis. This was an early sign that things were changing at the Hospital.

Now we observe that an individual who had worked only four short years at the State Hospital , claims that he or she has seen many of the same people who were deemed well enough to go out to group homes come back for a second, third time. And moreover, there are patients there that doctors have acknowledged will never fare well in a community setting.

The neighborhood is saddened at what will happen to these patients and what will happen to those still employed at the Allentown State Hospital ....Knowing that the final word may have been said about Allentown State Hospital closure ... We turn our focus to its reuse. Not that we want to. But from the sense of reality.

In conclusion, we say that our neighbors are telling us the following about what development or lack of development should happen on the grounds of the former Allentown Homeopathic Hospital for the Insane which opened nearly a century ago on Oct. 3, 1912 in the village of Rittersville which actually extended from Pennsylvania Avenue in Bethlehem to Irving Street in Allentown.

1. We note -- traditionally East Allentown has been the most family oriented section of the City by statistics. Therefore we are very much interested in promoting families with kids to move here and promoting activities for the same ... Nevertheless - the neighborhood objects to the development of apartments and multi-family housing on the Allentown State Hospital property ... Such housing would exacerbate traffic conditions on Hanover Avenue and could put added pressure on the Allentown School System..

2. Most of this land should remain undeveloped or remain open space leaving open habitat for wildlife with reuse or new development occurring only within the footprint of the Allentown State Hospital's current buildings

3. The tree lined entrance to the Allentown State Hospital Campus , the historic main building and the water tower should be preserved.

4. It would be totally acceptable that the current buildings and campus to be used for a Veteran's Administration Hospital.

5. It would be totally acceptable that the current buildings and campus to be used for a developing a stand-alone Medical/Pharmacy school in the Lehigh Valley. The Lehigh Valley doesn't have a standalone Med or Pharmacy school in our area (St. Luke's Bethlehem Med School is in affiliation with a Temple med school). Even Erie, PA has both a Medical and Pharmacy school. The Scranton/W-B area is developing a medical school and already has a pharmacy school at Wilkes Univ. in W-B. We could also use a physical therapy program and PhD programs in the biomedical sciences. How about a Lehigh/Moravian/Muhlenberg College of Medicine, Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences? We all know we will need more doctors and healthcare workers in the coming years.

6. It would be totally acceptable that the current footprint of the Allentown State Hospital be utilized by the Allentown School District or some private school to meet its school building needs .

7. A certain portion of the footprint be used for Athletic fields for East Side A-Youth Youth Organizations..

8. We do not close our mind to the development of a business park with medical offices in the footprint of the State Hospital Campus .... But such a Business Park must aesthetically fit into the neighborhood and what surrounds it. We do not want the type of businesses and type of construction we term Business slums located North and South of Union Boulevard nearby the former Agere Technology plant. The Agere Technology Plant we add should be retooled for new manufacturing rather than introduce manufacturing that would not aesthetically fit into the neighborhood and what surrounds it and would in fact become an intrusive nuisance.

9. For security reasons, some developments are termed gated communities ... For the reason that we may not have access to the new residents of these communities and the fact that these developments may use up more of the open land than we desire we are not thrilled by such developments ... On a limited basis within the footprint over 55 communities are acceptable.

10. Finally, if new housing is built on the Allentown State Hospital Campus it should be single family detached housing ... Ideally the portion of the property allowed for such housing should allow one house per acre. However, as much as three houses could be built on a acre if on that tract three other acres are not built upon where building is allowed.

Clearly, the City of Allentown will play an important role in the future development of a comprehensive Land Use plan for the 217 acres that currently comprise the Allentown State Hospital Campus and will facilitate this plan with newly adopted Planning and Zoning Ordinances for the area... As predicted by Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham: " Coming up with a plan that everyone agrees on could be difficult ... Both because of competing interests among elected officials and developers, and the desire of people who live around the Hospital." ... So in the end, when things are finalized in time after give and take , all governmental units and the public should be on the same page if that is possible... And the State should not abandon its responsibility in the process by passing the torch too quickly before such same page agreement is achieved. It is a priority, indeed that we find a way to turn something negative into something positive.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Is Angle Being Set Up in Will Dispute?

They say you can judge a man's influence by the number of his enemies. If that's true, then Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle is certainly a powerful man. He has nearly as many detractors as admirers.

It's no secret he's being pressured to run to succeed Rich Grucela in the state house. Some say he'd be unhappy as a very small fish in a very big pond. But others are convinced the Bulldog's grenade-style approach to government might be just what is needed in the land of midnight payraises. He'd likely win.

So Ron's enemies are doing what they always do - playing dirty. This past week, the attacks against Angle have come with an intensity I haven't seen since he was last re-elected. He's been accused of everything from shoplifting cigars to forging his father's will. In fact, the Northampton County Solicitor's office appears to be doing its best to bury Ron.

Let me fill you in.

On Monday, Angle was accused (anonymously) of shoplifting three cigars during a publicly televised news conference announcing the grand opening of Cigar International's Call Center. That goofy charge was laughed off by store managers, who noted that every cigar on display was there for public consumption.

At the very time these cigar allegations were going up in smoke, new and much more serious charges were being made. This time, instead of being called a mere cigar thief, Ron had forged his father's Will. This blast comes in an anonymous comment posted here, and by someone who obviously has a legal background. The same anonymous claim also appears on Villa's hate blog.

Ron's father, Fred, was an interesting man. A minor league ball player, railroad man, stock enthusiast and atheist, he was an iconoclast who liked to do things himself. Ron loved his dad, visited him every day and would tease him nonstop about his attraction to "nightcrawlers." When Fred died in May, I came up for the viewing, and Ron proudly showed me all the pictures of his dad in different cars and baseball uniforms.

After the funeral, Ron offered a Will, dated May 15th, for probate. Ron is sole heir.

This is when Joanie Place enters the picture. She's Ron's sister-in-law and Fred's daughter-in-law, having been married to Ron's now deceased brother. Joanie never got along with Fred or Ron. She refused to let Fred attend her wedding to his son and even barred him from attending his own son's funeral.

She drove up from Florida and offered another will for probate. This one was executed on May 7th, prior to the one submitted by Ron. In this Will, 1/4th of Fred's estate goes to Ron, and the remaining 3/4 is divided among his grandsons. One of these grandsons, Frederick, just happens to be her son. This disposition, incidentally, makes no sense. Fred had already set up trusts for his two grandsons through Ron.

Joanie Place was nowhere to be found when Fred died. She skipped the funeral, too. But she was quite the busy beaver earlier that month. When word trickled out that Fred was sick, she drove up from Florida, and carted Fred and one of his "nightcrawlers" to her lawyer in Stroudsburg, Daniel M Corveleyn. Two days later, when the Will was ready, she shipped him up there again. This time, Fred wouldn't even get out of the car, so Att'y Corveleyn came outside and leaned into the car through a window to get the necessary signature. He refused to give Fred the original, and incorrectly told him he had to see him if he needed to revoke it.

The very next day, during Fred's 89th birthday party at Ron Angle's home, Fred quietly approached Ron's wife, Sharon, and told her he had "messed up." He explained what had just happened, and wanted to redo the Will so that everything just went to Ron.

Fred was something of a scrivener. I'm not sure whether he distrusted lawyers or was simply too cheap, but he was used to preparing all the wills for the Angle family. Of the numerous wills he had drawn himself, one was for Amanda (Mandy) Angle. Fred asked Sharon to get "Mandy's will" and type it up for him, and he'd sign it.

About a week later, Sharon took this will to Fred and he signed it. Sharon saw him sign it. So did her son, Ron, Jr. I find that interesting, because Ron, Jr. knows that the other Will gives him 25% of Fred's estate while this later Will gives him nothing.

Northampton County Register of Wills Dorothy Cole had to decide between two wills. What's a Register of Wills to do? Hold hearings, of course. Joanie Place went through four lawyers until she finally found one willing to accept her case, and he was from far away Honesdale. Naturally, they were asking for continuances all the time, and hearings did not conclude until December. Sitting in on all these hearings was Northampton County Assistant Solicitor Chris Spadoni, who would advise the Register.

While Joanie Place was going through lawyer after lawyer, Fred's funeral bill has gone unpaid. That really disturbs Sharon Angle, who feels some provision should have been made for payment by now.

When I visited the Register of Wills on Wednesday to obtain copies of these competing Wills, I was denied access. Register Dorothy Cole told me that, although she had decided which Will to probate, her decision would not be released to the public until some time next week. What she did not realize was that everything but her decision was already on the computer, and I had already gone through the file.

Later that day, I got a call from Angle. Against all odds, Cole had decided to allow the Will offered by Joanie Place. The decision had gone out to Angle's lawyer and the Honesdale attorney, but it was still considered a private matter. It had been prepared by Ass't County Solicitor Chris Spadoni.

Thursday night, while this decision was still supposedly private, it was anonymously plastered onto Villa's hate blog.

Now who could have done that? Angle's lawyer would have no reason to post it. The same goes for Joanie Place's Honesdale lawyer, who could hardly be expected to know a thing about the local blogosphere. That leaves the Northampton County Solicitor's Office. They obviously leaked it, and in an effort to damage Angle's state house bid. In fact, the decision itself, which will be quickly reversed, makes no sense. It basically accepts the word of a gold digger who couldn't be bothered to attend Fred's funeral, over the word of his own family.

This morning, I visited the Register to tell her I had seen this supposedly private decision on another blog. While I was there, a Morning Call reporter was already printing out documents, having been tipped off as well. This supposedly private decision was also leaked to WFMZ-TV69.
Are you beginning to get the idea someone is trying to burn Angle?

Sharon Angle told me she was having lunch with a girlfriend who his represented by Chris Spadoni. When he found out that she is close to Sharon Angle, Chris asked, "Why do want to hang with those people?" In addition to this personal animosity, Spadoni is a partisan Democrat.

It is clear to me that Angle is being set up as a Will forger, another John Karoly, solely to discourage him from running for the state house. This will hurt him, at least temporarily, until he gets the decision reversed in a de novo hearing before a judge. A decision that should still be private has been leaked to the press and the blogosphere. It's very obvious that the anonymous commenter who started this is a lawyer. He refers to the "Commonwealth" of Pennsylvania instead of the "state" and writes things like "notarized by a Notary authorized to witness signatures in the Commonwealth of Pa."

I thought the Northampton County Solicitor's office exists to give legal advice to the County, not the local Democratic party. Not only is the decision itself a trainwreck that should be obvious to everyone, but the manner in which it has been leaked reflects very badly on the County's supposed legal advisors.

This leak should be investigated.
Update: Here are links to accounts from The Morning Call, Express Times and WFMZ-TV69.

So What's Up With Gracedale?

About a week ago, I was sitting in Nazareth's Main Street Bistro for breakfast, swilling coffee and orange juice. Two pretty ladies, who had just come in from church, were seated near me, picking at one slice of toast. I couldn't help overhearing their conversation, but is soon became apparent that one of them works at Gracedale.

"So how are things at Gracedale?" asked one of the ladies, the way someone asks about a fatal illness.

"I don't really know," answered the other, in a sad voice. "They won't tell us anything. I just hope I don't lose my job."

Well, I don't think this lady has reason to fear. At Wednesday's Finance Committee meeting, I learned a few things about Gracedale. County Exec John Stoffa added a few salient details last night, during a meeting of County Council.

1) Consultant. - Four consultants will be asked to prepare requests for proposals to study Gracedale, and those should be reviewed sometime next month.

2) Deficit. - Although Gracedale was $6.29 million in the red last year, that's about $3 million less than was projected. Human Services Director Ross Marcus believes this is because the nursing home's staff have been aggressively pursuing Medicare reimbursements.

3) Marketing. - Marcus has suggested the County devote more energy to marketing Gracedale, and a private firm (I do not have the name) has volunteered its time to come up with a plan. Council Prez Ron Angle suggested renaming the facility to something like Happy Valley, and other Council members suggested adding babbling brooks.

4) Residency Requirement. - Council member Lamont McClure suggested the County abolish its residency requirement, but Stoffa has already done that.

5) Capacity. - According to Stoffa, "We have 725 beds. We're running about 650 patients, so there's another 75 patients we could take in. I have been told we can do that without hiring additional staff."

No decision to abolish Gracedale has been made, and the County's efforts appear to be directed at improving its efficiency. But even a supporter like Lamont McClure acknowledged that, if the nursing home sustains heavy losses year after year, it would be unfair to taxpayers to continue support.

The strongest arguments against Gracedale were made at last night's Council meeting by Forks Tp curmudgeon Ken Nagy. He notes that Gracedale is ranked by the Federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services as "below average," or two stars out of five. He's right, too. In contrast, Lehigh County's Cedarbrook has an "above average" rating, with four stars out of five. Of the thirty-eight nursing homes within a 25-mile radius of Nazareth, Gracedale is among one of eleven with "below average" or "much below average" ratings.

"Basically, what we're doing here is paying a Cadillac price for a Yugo."

Nagy notes that of the 50 counties who had nursing homes, only 34 remain. They are hampered by old buildings in constant need of repair, diminishing state and federal funds and increasing labor costs.

Classy People

Anybody who spends any time reading a blog is well aware that there are lots of nasty people out there. This week, even I was shocked by the number and intensity of venomous comments and false accusations directed at Northampton County Exec John Stoffa, former Exec Jerry Seyfried and Council Prez Ron Angle. But I saw something Wednesday night that really encouraged me, and want to share that story with you.

Marc Basist, Geoff Brace, Robert George and John Hofmann, were sitting in the Lehigh County Government Center's meeting room. These were four of the five applicants seeking appointment to the Board of Commissioners. But as you know, none of them was selected. The job instead went to William Hansell, who was in Florida.

Now Commissioners could only select one person, and they did make an outstanding choice, but even I - a mere spectator - was disappointed when it was over. I can only imagine how they felt. Each of them really did have something unique to offer.

I can also tell you one thing they all had in common - class. Rather than making a quick exit after the vote, they all stayed throughout the entire meeting. And when it was over, they each went up to the dais and began thanking Commissioners for their time and consideration.

Anybody can be magnanimous in victory, but handling a setback with grace and humility, is a rare quality. Especially in government.

I hope we see these people again.

Marcia Hahn Formally Annonuces State House Bid

Marcia Hahn formally announced her candidacy yesterday for State Representative in the 138th House District. Joined by family and friends, she made her announcement at the Bath Fire Company Social Hall. Hahn is already the Republican candidate for the special election to fill the vacancy created by Representative Craig Dally’s election as Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. She served as a legislative staffer to Dally and has dedicated over 25 years of her life to public service.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why King Edwin's Election to Dem State Committee Is Illegal

On Tuesday, I told you that Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski is running for the state Democratic Committee. Capitol Ideas one-uped me, posting a copy of Pawlowski's Royal Decree, asking people to circulate his nomination petition.

He may want to think twice before turning in those nomination petitions. You see, he can't legally serve on the Democratic State Committee if he wants to retain his Allentown throne.

You see, there's this little thing called the Home Rule Charter, and according to Section 3-306(B), "The Mayor shall not serve as an elected official in any other office in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or political subdivision thereof." That would rule out the Democratic State Committee, which is an elected office in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Uh oh.

Other Allentown officials, like department heads or city council members, may hold elected offices so long as there is no compensation. But in the case of Hizzoner, he is restricted from any elected office, regardless whether it is paid.

Julio Guridy Plays Race Card, Apologizes in Two Languages

Ever hear of Luis Ramos?

Unfortunately, he's no longer with us. His life was tragically cut short by a car accident in 2008. But what a life it was, full of volunteerism dedicated to our most precious asset - our children. Among his many accomplishments, he was part of the Empowerment Team formed to help Allentown's troubled school district make an academic recovery.

Last night, City Council member Jeanette Eichenwald introduced a last-minute resolution to name some building after him. Sounds pretty noncontroversial, right?

Well, last night, while I was watching LC Comm'rs appoint William Hansell to their august body, the real show was going on just a few blocks down the street, at Allentown City Hall. Fortunately, Queen City Watchdog Lou Hershman and one other person filled me in.

Council members wanted to table the resolution until they learn a little more about Ramos. That's when Julio "I speak two languages" Guridy played the race card, suggesting that that he knew what they were really thinking.

They all started blowing oil and yelling at Guridy. Ray O'Connell erupted. Michael Donovan tried counting to ten, but it was no use. Their Irish was up. (Did I just place the Irish card?)

Essentially, Julio had his head handed to him by council members who were justifiably upset by what really amounts to Guridy's own bigotry.

Then Julio began apologizing in two languages.

I speak several languages myself, including a smattering of Gaelic. Hey Julio, Póg mo Thóin!

LC Comm'rs Appoint Absent Bill Hansell to Replace Bill Leiner

Last night, Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners had the unenviable task of picking just one person among five remaining applicants for the seat recently vacated by Bill Leiner. After a grueling interview, the survivors of the first cut were Marc Basist, Geoff Brace, Robert George, William Hansell and John Hofmann, a formidable bunch. Although Hansell is the only candidate who was absent last night, he's the person they selected. His absence made their hearts grow fonder.

It took two ballots before the white smoke appeared. In the first round, Hansell got four votes (Jones, Dougherty, Eckhart & McCarthy) while the other four went to Geoff Brace (Hamm & Browing) and Robert George (Creighton & Roman). In the second round, Browning switched his vote to Hansell. He explained to The Morning Call that, although Brace was his first choice, he did not think Geoff could get the five votes needed.

Although it's hard to argue with Hansell's appointment, Comm'r David Jones was totally unqualified to vote at all. He was MIA on the night that twelve candidates subjected themselves to a lengthy interview. I have spoken to four applicants who reached out to Jones, but he never returned a single call or email. While ignoring those people, he nevertheless voted for Hansell twice. Hansell is Don Cunningham's preferred candidate, and it's apparent that Jones is playing politics instead of doing his job.

"He's forgotten where he comes from," is what one person who grew up with Jones tells me. "That's alright. We'll see him again, when he's back on the way down."

Hansell, incidentally, was in Florida.

LC Exec Don Cunningham: "We Will Get Through This Together"

I was really looking forward to listening to LC Exec Don Cunningham deliver his 2010 State of the County address yesterday at Coca Cola Park. He is one hell of a speaker. Unfortunately, I was detained by a family emergency and missed it.

As it turns out, Cunningham was able to avoid dipping into the Tax Relief Fund to balance the budget. That saved taxpayers $5.5 million. But don't get the idea everything is rosy. Tough times are ahead. In addition to pledging to review every department, he called for more regionalization, which could save money for both Northampton and Lehigh County. He even complimented LC Commr's Chairman Dean Browning and NC Council President Ron Angle, two Republicans, for their willingness to work together to try to identify areas where money can be saved.

Below is the text of Don's address, in which he retains his characteristic optimistic approach to adversity, telling us that "We will get through this together -- because that is what we do -- because we are unwilling to consider – for even a moment – that we will fail."

This is the time of the year when I’m supposed to give you some insight into our county; a window into our condition; a look ahead, a look behind.

I am honored that you all have come to listen to me. In these times, there is little faith in the words – or the actions – of those we elect. But, you have come – and even if it was just for the free lunch – I’m grateful that your interest in – or, at least, your exposure to -- civic affairs will extend beyond the opening of your tax bill.

For 15 years, I’ve served in elected or appointed office in our county, our state or my home city of Bethlehem. In college and graduate school I studied government and politics. I was a newspaper reporter early in my career covering local and county governments. This is my 11th state of the county or the city address. And, I’ve watched others as a city councilman and a cabinet secretary as part of those governments.

I have not seen a time when people were more frustrated with government – both the private citizen and those who are elected or selected to serve. And we all realize why.

The recession has been longer than is comfortable. There are fewer jobs available than we would like. Some of our institutions have let us down -- from the banks and brokerage firms to the credit card companies to the Congress. Simply put, everything is a lot tougher when you have less money.

In my view, an Age of Discontent appears to have emerged. Anger and frustration have to go somewhere – and government often does a good job of painting a big bull’s eye on itself. The root cause, however, of discontent is created by the decline of wealth for Americans. Wages have grown very little or been cut. Health care either costs more or is unattainable. Real estate values are less than what they were five years ago – and so are 401ks. College costs more and so does gasoline. Credit card interest runs in the double digits but a standard savings account earns less than one percent.

Simply put, most Americans have less money and net value than they did five years ago.As difficult as this is, we all need to understand that economies have cycles. We’ve had recessions before, even Depressions. The country has seen worse times and returned stronger.

But today’s economic pain is fueled by 24 hour, seven day a week news cycles flaming with television pundits and analysts on 300 channels. Gertrude Stein once wrote “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”

We tend to whip ourselves into a collective frenzy, whether it’s over an impending snowstorm or an economic downturn. There is little time anymore for perspective, for depth of thought, for contemplation. Each day provides new news, more instant reaction and opinion; more consumption and less digestion. We can only imagine how the outcomes of World War II or the Civil War may have differed if they happened in today’s all-news, all-the-time climate.

We have had it so good for so long that there is little tolerance for sacrifice anymore in our democracy -- little understanding that we can’t have everything when we want it, how we want it. I believe this is the context in which we meet today. There are real problems for all of us – individuals, families, companies and governments -- because we have less money. That means some leisure needs to be replaced with sacrifice, tough decisions. And, the reality is that we Americans look to government for the answers, for the solutions – whether we like to admit it or not. Whether we are conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats, by what we expect government to do - or not to do - we expect government to solve the problem, either by being active or inactive. We expect rapid response when something happens to us, to our neighborhood, to our company to our business sector, to our special interest. Most among us, however, are less concerned when it doesn’t affect us, when it’s someone else’s problem. Some among us are all too willing to solve someone else’s problems with someone else’s money.

The very tradition of these “state of the government” addresses reflects the premium we place upon our governments in our great multi-layered democracy, which Abraham Lincoln called “the last best hope of earth.” And, God knows, at least here in Pennsylvania, we have a lot of governments.

The state of Lehigh County is intertwined with the state of our nation, our region and each and every one of our lives. In most measures, Lehigh County is doing better than most other counties in our state. I’m sure there are some counties doing better. The reality, however, is that the challenges we face are more national in creation; the affects of this recession, for the most part, have been distributed equally.

I’ve been elected again to run the government of Lehigh County. This is a $412 million business with about 2,200 full-time employees. I have lots of great help – and we have three full branches of government under our Home Rule Charter – an executive, a legislative and a judicial, along with several elected row officers. I get to give this address on behalf of all – but as they usually disclaim in the forward of a book: any errors of opinion or fact are mine and mine alone.

We run nursing homes for the elderly among us that can’t afford private care. We run correctional institutions and jails to punish and to rehabilitate those among us who’ve broken with the conventions of our society. We oversee the delivery of a wide-range of primarily state and federal government funded welfare services to care for the elderly, treat the mentally ill and mentally debilitated, to save kids from the parents who are supposed to love and nurture them, to find families for adoption, to save people from their own addictions to alcohol and drugs. We run an extensive court and domestic relations operation to adjudicate, to prosecute and to protect people in both civil and criminal situations. Our judges and masters resolve disputes and administer justice to those who have broken the law and those who’ve been victimized by law-breakers. We provide parks and ball fields and nature trails for recreation and nature preserves and protected farmland to ensure that our children’s children will experience some of the same county as us. We have built a baseball stadium, a bicycle racing veledrome and a zoo for the entertainment and recreation or our residents and visitors. And, we help to develop our economy, work to create jobs, maintain our infrastructure and improve the safety and quality of our downtowns and neighborhoods to provide more opportunity and a better quality of life.

We have done good things in the management of these operations. And, as the farmer says, we have made hay while the sun was shining the last four years. We have also gone 2 ½ years without seeing an increase in new tax revenue in almost every category – earned income tax, real estate transfer tax, business privilege tax. No new money makes things a bit more challenging. Much was made during last year’s election of us needing to budget $14.2 million from out Tax Relief Fund to balance this year’s budget. But, today, let me tell you some new 2010 news that has yet to be reported.

Once again, Moodys Investors Services has given Lehigh County one of its highest bond ratings, calling the county financially stable and a good credit risk for investors. The rating agency wrote that the county’s “historically strong financial position is expected to remain sound despite (revenue) declines.” What this means for us is that several weeks ago we saved about $1 million when we went out to the market to refinance some old debt.

As we close out the books on our actual spending for 2009, once again, we’ve beaten our budget and spending forecasts. Our 2009 budget called for using $5.5 million of our Tax Relief Fund, which set off a hailstorm of political upheaval.

As the final reports come in, it’s clear that we will use none of it. We have beaten our budget by that much and, most likely, more when the final numbers come in. This is consistent with every budget we have delivered the last four years. That comes from budgeting and managing in a conservative manner, expecting the worst and working your tail off to try and do better. The credit goes to Tom Muller and Brian Kahler and all of our directors, managers, employees and unions. That comes from having the smallest county workforce in more than 20 years and holding average annual operating spending to a growth of less than 3 percent.

This year’s budget retains a $20 million Reserve Fund that is unbudgeted and will be untouched. And, once again, our tax rate remains unchanged for the fifth consecutive year.

And while it is imperative that our economic development team works to help foster growth and development and make job creation our primary focus, we also need to pour over every corner of our county operation to see where we can find more savings. This year, all is on the table for review. We will do whatever is necessary and prudent to maintain financial stability and accountability in county operations. That may mean ending some things we would like to do and can do in good times but fall victim to the sacrifices that tougher economic times entail. We can’t spend more than our residents can afford. As Peter Drucker put so ably, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” That’s why during my Oath of Office Address in January I solicited ideas from the community for saving money and growing the economy. We received several ideas including offering early retirement packages – I don’t think you’d be surprised if I told you a county employee submitted that one – to conducting energy audits of our buildings, which we’re in the process of doing. We will be advancing many ideas this year to our Board of Commissioners as we prepare for our 2011 budget, which we expect to be our toughest budget challenge in the last five years.

Appealing to the public for ideas is not just about sharing ownership of our county and future, but trying to shake things up a bit and find new ways of doing business and utilizing the best ideas, whether they from Republicans or Democrats, from within the government or the private sector. Not all of these ideas need to be big. As the Dalai Lama said, “If you think small things don’t matter, try spending the night in a room with a mosquito.”

Our story is no different than that of every county, city and municipality throughout the Commonwealth or nation. Government at every level must figure out how to operate more efficiently with less and provide core services to a larger populace with greater needs. And we must do it while respecting the interests and wallets of all.

These times call for cooperation, not competition; creativity, not status quo.
The Regional Crime Date Center is a perfect example of how we can reach across geographic borders with an eye on consolidating services to save taxpayers money. The Center would be the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. Any incident report or information of criminal activity will flow from various police departments into one central repository where crime analysts will help local police departments identify patterns, solve crime and take criminals off the streets. This would come on the heels of our Central Booking Facility, opened last year at the behest of Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin. The facility processes all bookings in Lehigh County at no cost to municipalities and allows police officers to get back on the street quickly instead of spending hours mired in paperwork.

Taking a regional approach to fighting crime makes sense because criminals don’t respect municipal or county boundaries. It is my core belief that the most important role of any government is to provide safety and security for its people -- whether it be national defense at the federal level, homeland security at the state level or the reduction of crime at the local level. I will continue to pursue that as a fundamental and core role of county government. As some of you may have read in the local newspaper, the crime rate is down in the Lehigh Valley. I’d like to think that our public safety initiatives have helped.

Our Safe Streets program has allocated $1 million over three years to Lehigh County municipalities to hire 10 additional police officers in six communities. We initiated the first county-wide Citizens’ Police Academy and today more than 300 residents have taken the eight-week course, strengthening ties between the community and police, and give residents a sense of control and peace of mind in protecting their families and neighbors. Our new 9-1-1 dispatch center and emergency training facilities have improved our response and emergency preparedness functions across the entire county.

I believe that now is the time for all of us in the Lehigh Valley to recommit to regional cooperation and improve our regional institutions. In tough financial times, it’s more imperative to find economies and share costs. We need a better and more productive Lehigh Valley Airport. We need a Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation that can market our region to help create jobs and get the wheels of growth churning quicker again. We need a Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce that can afford to stay committed to improving our cities and downtowns, along with our malls and suburban office parks. We need both of our counties looking for ways to do things together to save money and share resources. I applaud Dean Browning and Ron Angle, the chairman of our respective county legislative bodies, for forming an alliance and looking for ways to do things together. They will have my full support.
We have seen our Congress of Governments – the council of all 25 of our Lehigh County governments, suburban and rural townships, cities and boroughs – get even stronger and bond together as those local leaders look for regional solutions and the efficiencies of doing things across municipal borders. I hope the day can come that we have a Lehigh Valley-wide Congress of Local Governments.

We all want to see a better and stronger Lehigh Valley; a return to prosperity for the individuals, the companies and the governments: both counties, all 60 plus municipalities and 20 some school districts. In that pursuit, we are united. No matter our political ideology, religious beliefs, gender, race or culture, we all want peace of mind that our families are secure, our jobs are stable and we are safe in our homes. We want our savings protected and a fair wage for our hard work. We want peace in our neighborhoods, safe places for our children to play, vibrant downtown communities, bridges, roads and buildings that don’t crumble and a solvent government that upholds a democracy we love and cherish.

We want a future built on decency and strength not promises or political rhetoric.
It will not be easy. That’s one thing I can promise. I can also tell you that there is no simple solution and no one person has all the answers. As Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The interesting thing regarding that Dickens passage is what comes after that famous opening line. He goes on to write, “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us….”

We live in the greatest democracy in the history of the world. We have managed to advance free government of and by the people and free markets for longer and in a more prosperous way than any other country in the history of mankind. We’ve done this by shedding the idea of nobility and drawing from the sons and daughters of all to lead us. Our government is us. It reflects our attitudes, our desires, our culture, our strengths, our weaknesses; our ability to rise above and do great things and our ability to fail and flounder and fall to the ground. From a cynical perspective, we can turn to the great Walt Kelly line, “We have met the enemy and it is us.” Across our nation, at all levels of government, we want great services and low taxes. We want our issues addressed but we want government to be small. We tend to elect leaders who tell us what we want to hear. How good we are. That we can have it all and we won’t have to pay for it. Bertrand Russell wrote that, “to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

Generations before us understood the meaning of sacrifice, of differed gratification. Our forbearers were not afraid to do what was hard, and what was needed to sustain the dream of a better life for them and their children. My family has been in this county for five generations and I believe this region, this Valley, has always represented the best of the American spirit. We are a people unafraid to roll up our sleeves, to pour hot steel, swing an I-beam or quarry slate from rugged hills. A people willing to fight for family and home. After the fall of Fort Sumter during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln called on 16 regiments across the state of Pennsylvania to defend the National Capital in Washington, D.C. Members of the Allentown Militia in Lehigh County were among the first to arrive. That is our legacy. Today, we may be teachers, construction workers, small business owners, nurses, waiters, doctors, lawyers, accountants and salespeople but we are the same.

Times may be a little difficult but a new day will come. The hardships will pass. We will get through this together -- because that is what we do -- because we are unwilling to consider – for even a moment – that we will fail. Let us seize this moment and move forward. Together.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

FEC Complaint Filed Over Callahan's Deceptive Misuse of Campaign Funds

On the day he's set to launch his petition drive for Congress, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan finds himself in hot water with the Federal Elections Commission. According to a complaint filed today by Pennsylvania GOP boss Rob Gleason, Callahan has been funneling money from his mayoral committee to fund his congressional quest.

Gleason's complaint centers on approximately $10,000 in payments to Stanford Campaigns, a Democrat opposition research firm. According to Callahan’s own campaign manger Justin Schall, this firm was hired to, “find out what criminal background checks the name John Callahan would dig up.” The funds raised by his mayoral campaign committee were used to help Mr. Callahan “test the waters” for a possible federal campaign.

Not only did Callahan illegally use money from his mayoral campaign to fund his congressional bid, but he totally failed to report his expenditure in any federal report, depriving the public of its right to follow the money.

In a strongly worded statement, Gleason notes that “John Callahan’s decision to improperly use funds from his mayoral campaign to support his bid for congress is wrong. Not only did John Callahan and his campaign violate the law by using funds from his mayoral committee to support his congressional bid, they failed to even alert the FEC of the expenditures. By doing so, John Callahan and his congressional campaign have knowingly misled both the FEC and the people of the 15th Congressional District, all in a weak attempt to pad his congressional campaign coffers. I hope the FEC addresses these issues immediately and that John Callahan takes responsibility for his actions.”

Callahan has apparently learned a few tricks from Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who routinely thumbs his nose at campaign finance disclosure laws. But on a federal level, it's harder to get away with deceiving the public.

Gleason has asked for an immediate investigation. A copy of his complaint with the FEC will be loaded later today or tomorrow.

Should LC Comm'rs Be Replacing One Comm'r or Two?

Last Wednesday, Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners were scheduled to appoint a Democrat to Bill Leiner's recently vacated seat, but the meeting was postponed until tonight as a result of the snow. They have until February 25th to fill the vacancy, or the judges could step in and fill it themselves.

Out of the original dirty dozen who applied, Glenn Eckhart's Appointments Committee whittled the number down to five. It did so after a lengthy interview in which all eight commissioners, excepting David Jones, participated. Those who survived the first cut are Marc Basist, Geoff Brace, Robert George, William Hansell and John Hofmann.

Any one of these people would make excellent commissioners, but there are differences. Marc Basist is the only applicant who ran for the job in the most recent election. Geoff Brace brings a wealth of knowledge concerning downtown revitalization, and thinks commissioners should take a more active role in union negotiations. Robert George, a common sense businessman, is clearly the most conservative. William Hansell is the most knowledgable, but spends a lot of time in Florida. Hofmann is the best listener. All of them expressed reservations over the bi-county health department, but only Hofmann is flatly opposed to the concept because of its inevitable cost.

If Commissioners deadlock, and we see black smoke curling through the streets of Allentown, or if they refuse to accept the Appointments Committee's recommendations, the nomination process will be wide open.

As I've noted before, Commissioner David Jones has been MIA throughout the appointments process. He snubbed prospective applicants on the night of their interview, ignored my telephone call and has yet to respond to most applicants or even other commissioners. Anyone who is that unwilling to talk, return phone calls, emails or do his homework, doesn't deserve to vote on the matter. Sure, Jones is busy, but so is everybody else on that board, and they answer calls and email.

Instead of making one appointment, Commissioners should be naming Jones' replacement as well. Hopefully, he'll quit.