Friday, April 30, 2010

Obama On Federal Response to Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico

Thanks to an explosion at an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico ten days ago, the Gulf Coast has been ravaged by 168,000 gallons of oil per day. But Obama waited until yesterday to respond. Below is a statement he just made from the Rose Garden:

I have dispatched the Secretaries of Interior and Homeland Security, as well as the Administrator of the EPA, my Assistant for Energy and Climate Change Policy, and the NOAA Administrator to the Gulf Coast to ensure that we continue to do everything necessary to respond to this event. And I expect their reports from the ground today.

As I said yesterday, BP is ultimately responsible under the law for paying the costs of response and cleanup operations, but we are fully prepared to meet our responsibilities to any and all affected communities. And that’s why we’ve been working closely with state and local authorities since the day of the explosion.

There are now five staging areas to protect sensitive shorelines; approximately 1,900federal response personnel are in the area; and more than 300 response vessels and aircraft on the scene 24/7. We've also laid approximately 217,000 feet of protective boom, and there are more on the way.

I've order Secretary Salazar to conduct a thorough review of this incident and report back to me in 30 days on what, if any, additional precautions and technologies should be required to prevent accidents like this from happening again. And we're going to make sure that any leases going forward have those safeguards. We've also dispatched teams to the Gulf to inspect all deepwater rigs and platforms to address safety concerns.

So, let me be clear. I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security, but I've always said it must be done responsibly, for the safety of our workers and our environment. The local economies and livelihoods of the people of the Gulf Coast as well as the ecology of the region are at stake. And we're going to continue to update the American people on the situation in the Gulf going forward.

Why Steve Barron Supports Arlen Specter

It's no secret that Northampton County Controller Steve Barron supports Arlen Specter over Joe Sestak for the U.S. Senate. He was actually Specter's surrogate in a recent endorsement meeting among Northampton County Democrats. I've asked him to tell you why. Bar Johnston, who is heading up the Sestak campaign in the Lehigh Valley, has agreed to provide a similar essay, which I will be happy to publish whn it arrives.

Below is Steve's essay. May the best man win!

As you know I support Arlen Specter for US Senate in the up coming primary. I have been on the stump for him all over the Lehigh Valley.

The first thing I tell those groups of voters is that Arlen has delivered for the Lehigh Valley countless times. He recently found key funding to update the safety equipment for the Lehigh Valley International Airport, and secured a major grant for a Workforce Training Center on the Southside of Bethlehem, run in conjunction with Northampton County Community College. The Bangor Outpatient VA Clinic has also had a huge impact on veterans from this area who need outpatient care. Arlen was instrumental in making sure that clinic was placed here to help the veterans of the Lehigh Valley.

Specter has also delivered for the country. The Obama Administration’s response to the worst economic downturn in 80 years might not have gotten off the ground if Arlen hadn’t supported the economic stimulus package. Now, Bernie, I know your readers can turn on Fox News and hear 24 hours of criticism of that bill. But as Northampton County’s Controller, I keep my eye on the financial markets every day, and the upturn we’ve experienced nationally in recent months is testimony to the decisive action the White House has taken on several fronts.

Specter has tons of endorsements from folks I work with and look up to—from the governor and legislators, mayors and county executives—but maybe the biggest reason I support Arlen is because he won my Dad’s support. When I was a teenager, my father hit a rough patch in his life. Compounding his problems was the fact that he faced a ton of red tape landing a VA home loan. Arlen Specter and his staff stepped in and delivered for us. I remember the day we got the call telling us the loan was now approved; and that the VA was sorry about the problems and misunderstanding. It was the break my Dad needed to get back on his feet. My Dad told me that Arlen always had his vote anytime he was up for election; and he’s got mine too.

This state needs Arlen to be there fighting for the Citizens of Pennsylvania. Especially when there is so much more work to be done in Washington. Pennsylvania needs his leadership, dedication, and ability to fight for us here in the Lehigh Valley and that is why I am working hard to make sure he is our candidate in November.

Why Stoffa Wants Bethlehem Tp Treatment Center

Northampton County DA John Morganelli told me earlier this week that 40% of his caseload consists of DUI cases. That fact alone should tell you why county jails get overcrowded. Judges are required by state law to imprison many offenders. That's why inmates sometimes have been packed three to a cell, and even end up sleeping in hallways.

This has really bothered County Exec John Stoffa since he was first elected. More than once, I've heard him say that "we treat animals better than we treat our prisoners." To those of you find it hard to be sympathetic, think about the cost. Sixty-six cents of every tax dollar pays for the back end of crime. That eventually leads to tax increases.

About a year into his first term, Stoffa began looking at treatment options that have been proven to reduce recidivism. His hopes have focused on a proposed 300-bed combination treatment center and work release facility in Bethlehem Township. It's located on Fritch Drive in an industrial park, isolated well away from any residential neighborhood.

Only rarely does Stoffa send out mass emails. But he did so concerning that treatment center, and I want to share it with you.

I am happy to report that we are making progress regarding the proposed Bethlehem Township treatment center. Many of you have attended meetings on this issue and I want you to know that I have been appreciative of your support.

It appears at this time, that Bethlehem Township will not appeal for the 3rd time, but will begin discussing proposed conditions that they will place on this center. It is important that you continue to show strong support by your attendance at upcoming meetings.

The next Zoning Hearing Board meeting is scheduled for Wed., May 19, at 6:30 PM, at the Bethlehem Township Municipal building located at 4225 Easton Ave., Bethlehem, PA 18020. We have been told that the Zoning Hearing Board will go into executive session at 6 PM, on May 19, so you may want to arrive at 6 PM.

What Dick Cowen Would Like to Know

In Ancient Greece, Diogenes uses a lantern in daylight to search for an honest man. Retired Morning Call reporter Dick Cowan's daylight lantern is the Internet, and he's using it to find out what happened to Allentown's broken clock at 6th & Linden:

To all:

Might any of you folks have any idea what will happen in the aftermath of the removal of the long not-working outdoor clock on the Linden Street side of the 6th and Linden Streets?

Workmen removed it this morning. Has it gone to some recycling heaven, never to return again. Or has it gone to Salomon Jewelers or some other repair service to be fixed and restored to it original location?

We downtowners would like to know.

Signed,
WONDERING IN THE 10TH WARD


Dick, are you sure those were workmen?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Becky Butz: Nazareth Needs Our Attention

Date: April 27, 2010
To: Nazareth Friends
From: Becky [bbutz@rcn.com]

I have never asked for help before, but this is the exception to the rule.

There are now some issues before Council that require your attention and I hope we can all stick together on this. These are issues that will affect all of us and I am making a plea for you to support me and to attend either the workshop on Thursday and/or the council meeting on Monday.

As you know, I have attended Boro meetings for a number of years and I’m not afraid to speak up for a worthy cause. Evelyn Huth inspired me, and before she passed away she made me promise to “carry on”. I have no personal agenda and I am not any kind of a lobbyist. I just like to see things done properly and I don’t like waste.

I will describe the issues with council as briefly as I can. I attended the law committee last night and it was brutal. Not only were the issues picked apart, I feel I was personally attacked. Never mind – it is for all the residents of Nazareth! Although many there agreed with me, and they have said action will be forthcoming, I’m not certain of that and I feel your support is warranted.

There is a resolution in the works to define who is to do what as far as the responsibilities of the various offices with regard to ordinances in the Boro. Since 2005, an officer in the police department has had the duty as responder, investigator and enforcer of these ordinances. That duty might now be assigned to the Engineer’s office and the costs for them to handle such nuisances (weeds, grass, parked cars, etc.) will be excessive – approximately $60 an hour for an average of 10 hours a week will be over $28,000 a year for the taxpayer. This is an unnecessary and wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money when a clerk at $8.50 an hour would cost only $5,000 a year. Therefore, the system should be kept the way it is with the police department.

In the past, all new ordinances have been advertised in the Bath Home News in accordance with state law that notices must be placed in a newspaper which has to be purchased. There are only 267 Bath Home News subscribers in the Boro of Nazareth. It would be more effective if notices were also published in The Key which is free and delivered to each Boro mail box. There is nothing to stop the Boro from advertising in The Key as a courtesy to the residents. The fee is minimal and would benefit more residents of Nazareth when a new ordinance is being presented. It is a way to educate and inform the taxpayers and give them a chance to respond, if they so wish.

A new street sweeper was purchased by the Boro. For years it has been suggested that signs should go up so that no cars park on the street that is to be cleaned. As has been the practice in the past, the sweeper goes down the middle of the street and around any parked cars. On March 17th it was decided at the special meeting held to purchase the sweeper, that the signs would go up and it would be done the proper and most effective way. The maiden voyage of the street sweeper was done the old way and last night at law, the solicitor told me it was too expensive to purchase the signs! This again is as wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money; it will take numerous trips to clean the streets and if the parked cars are never moved, the gutters will never be truly cleaned. I know, this is trivial, but the more trips the street sweeper makes, the more money it costs you! As recently as March 17, 2010, at a Special Council Meeting, the members unanimously decided to use no parking signs, but this is not being done and the streets are not being efficiently cleaned – a waste of time and money.

There appears to be a pattern in that many things are discussed (even decided) at
Council meetings and then never done. The general public is most often not aware of this because so few come to the meetings. I think it is about time that we all unite to urge Council to keep us all informed and to cut wasteful spending. Didn’t they just raise our taxes because there isn’t enough money to keep the Boro going?

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at 610-[redacted] or e-mail me at the above address. I beg of you to support me at this time. If you have any better ideas, please let me know – I’m open for suggestions.

Bethlehem Tp Zoners Accept Treatment Center

In a meeting conducted last night, with only one day's notice to Northampton County, Bethlehem Township's Zoning Hearing Board finally decided to accept Judge Franciosa's decision approving a 300-bed county treatment and work release center. It's located on Fritch Drive in an industrial park, nearly a mile from the nearest home.

In approving the use, Franciosa directed zoners to impose reasonable conditions. According to Northampton County Executive John Stoffa, they've already received a set of proposed conditions from Bethlehem Township, and the ZHB will discuss them on May 19th at 6PM. Instead of acting in the open, as is their practice with all their other deliberations, they plan to do this in executive session. Why the secrecy?

Stoffa seemed pleased and relieved. "After a long, long fight, it's moving forward," he said.

Cunningham Beats 2009 Budget by Nearly $6 Million

If you live in Lehigh County, it's time to breathe a sigh of relief. Executive Don Cunningham has managed to beat his 2009 budget by nearly $6 million, proving that he is, after all, a fiscal conservative.

“Our 2009 budget called for using $5.5 million from our Tax Relief Fund. As the final reports come in, it’s clear that we used none of it,” said Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham. “This comes from budgeting and managing in a conservative manner, expecting the worst and working your tail off to try to do better. This is consistent with every budget we have delivered the last four years.”

Established by the prior administration at $22 million, this Tax Relief Fund was supposed to be exhausted by 2008, but Cunningham actually added to it when times were good. It currently stands at $16.5 million, after a 2008 transfer of $12 million for open space, outdoor recreation and urban parks.

In spending that money, Cunningham was complying with a 2002 referendum authorizing up to $30 million in debt for Green Futures. By adding to this fund in his early years, Cunningham has been able to avoid that debt, which could easily cost taxpayers twice that sum in interest and debt service.

In addition to keeping the Tax Relief Fund intact, the County closed out 2009 with over $700,000 in its General Fund, almost $500,000 more than projected. A $20 million Tax Stabilization reserve fund has remain untouched. And, once again, the county's tax rate remains unchanged for the fifth consecutive year.

The 2010 county budget does call for using the Tax Relief Fund.

Can the County somehow miraculously avoid a tax increase next year?

“I am pleased that we have been conservative in our forecasts and beaten all projections,” Cunningham said. “The reality, however, is that we haven’t seen any net new revenues in more than two years and our budget will continue to be tight as we try to manage with no revenue growth despite increased costs.”

Dean Browning, who chairs Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners, has stated he is very pleased by the direction in which Lehigh County is headed. This is a credit both to Cunningham and his Director of Administration, Tom Muller. Below is a chart showing 2009's year-end fund balances, both budgeted and actual.

Donovan: People Who Live in the 'Burbs are Selfish

Allentown City Council VP Michael Donovan has condemned Northampton County Executive John Stoffa, the classiest person I've ever met, for expressing an opinion that "Allentown is not safe."

"Mr. Stoffa’s statement just might be the most unprofessional statement I have heard from an elected official, and I have heard a lot of them," keens Donovan.

Perhaps Donovan should listen to himself more often.

"I DO NOT run away to the suburbs and enjoy a selfish life."

That's a statement he made, on this very blog, just yesterday. In his world, it it very unprofessional to claim Allentown is unsafe, but perfectly appropriate to suggest people in the 'burbs are selfish and ran from urban life. One of my readers said it better than I ever could.

"The arrogance and elitism in that one sentence is startling.

"So everyone who moves to or lives in the suburbs is selfish? How asinine!

"How about recognizing that the individuals who have CHOSEN to move to or live in the suburbs have made a decision that they believe is best for themselves and/or their families? Choosing where one wants to live is still (at least for now) the right of every American in this country.

"I, like Mr. Donovan, have chosen to live in the city. Others have chosen differently, for a multitude of reasons that could only be known (and should only be known) to those individuals.

"I don't expect someone to assign motives to ANYONE's personal decision about where to live. That the statement comes from an elected official is even more appalling.

"Also revealing is the assumption in the statement that moving to the suburbs is selfish. This seems to be an admission that things outside the city are better than in the city. We can argue that all day, but isn't Donovan contradicting his own statements about the superiority of the conditions in Allentown?"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lee Butz Is Sincere About Allentown

Yesterday, I told you that a recent letter to the editor penned by Lee Butz was basically a free classified ad for his office building complex on Hamilton Street. In hindsight, I believe that snark was a bit unfair. Butz really does mean what he is saying.

Believe it or not, I actually know the guy and even consider him a man of integrity. He first reached out to me some time ago, to set me straight about what his company was doing at the Courthouse. We had several telephone conversations, leading to a lengthy meeting at his office. Why he was s concerned about what one crazy blogger might think, is beyond me. But he did. Kinda' like Jesus going after that one black sheep. The County's engineer later confirmed everything that Butz had told me, even to the point of admitting that he had some things wrong himself.

While I was in Butz' office, we also discussed Allentown. He told me in no uncertain terms how much he loves it there, explaining that he goes out on walks at lunchtime and is always impressed by the friendliness of the people he meets.

Actually, I think that says more about Butz than Allentown. He's a decent man who brings out the best in people. I do stand by what I wrote about Allentown, LVEDC's penchant for secrecy and the folly of a relocation to the Queen City. I do respect contrary views, and may the better argument win.

Speaking of Unprofessional Conduct

... there's this little tidbit from Pam Varkony.

Butz Lobbies LVEDC to Relocate to His A-town Bldg

"On Hamilton Street, trees are blooming, flags are waving, restaurants are busy, the weather is warm and so are the people you meet."

That's how Lee Butz describes Allentown in a recent letter to the editor. Sounds Norman Rockwell-ish, eh? What he fails to mention is that he sure could use a few more tenants at his office building complex on Hamilton Street, where all those trees are blooming. It's very nice of The Morning Call to help Lee out with what basically amounts to a free classified ad.

What Lee also fails to tell you is that, behind the scenes, he's been lobbying Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. (LVEDC) to relocate there, so they can enjoy those waving flags and warm people, too. This morning, at 7:30 AM, the entire board will have its quarterly meeting, and relocation is a topic on the agenda. They're down to about 4 or 5 finalists, and the Butz Building is one of them. No Easton site is under consideration. Of course, they'll go into executive session to make their selection.

You see, secrecy is paramount at LVEDC. They may invite press to the "open" portions of their meetings, but only four designated hitters may even speak to the news media. All others, especially elected officials, are required to sign confidentiality agreements. Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle ripped his in half.

Last time LVEDC met, Northampton County Exec John Stoffa caused quite a stir when he said that, as far as he's concerned, "Allentown is unsafe." That was enough to send Queen City Mayor Edwin Pawlowski right over the edge. He may still be on a bridge somewhere, ready to jump. Lee Butz, whom Stoffa removed as the County's Construction Manager a few years ago, has even less reason to like our Exec now.

Now Stoffa's opinion is just as valid as the opinions of those who consider Allentown the Lehigh Valley's Shangri-La. But he's been attacked on this blog as "unprofessional" and as a "racist". Allentown City Council VP Michael Donovan huffs, on his "Inclusion" blog, that "Stoffa’s statement just might be the most unprofessional statement I have heard from an elected official, and I have heard a lot of them." I defended Stoffa, and this supposed promoter of civility and tolerance published a comment, on his moderated blog, telling me to "keep the fuck out." Nothing very inclusive about that.

Let's be honest. Even if you think Allentown is a wonderful place, Stoffa's entitled to his opinion. If it is unprofessional to state that "Allentown is unsafe," isn't it equally unprofessional to state "Allentown is perfectly safe"?

As one of my readers commented, "That is a big problem. Not the unprofessional nature of the comment, but the fact that someone thinks the sentiment should not be voiced because it is, to some, unprofessional."

What's really unprofessional is a nonprofit that holds it hands out for huge sums of public money, in the form of hotel taxes from both Lehigh and Northampton Counties, thinking it can muzzle democratically elected officials from speaking out. I also have to wonder whether Donovan is doing a little damage control for LVEDC or better yet, Lee Butz. He just happens to be a major campaign contributor.

Should LVEDC thumb its nose at Northampton County and select a downtown Allentown site as its new location, it will soon have to change its name to Lehigh County Economic Development Corp. I suspect Northampton County will pull the plug on its hotel taxes going there and fend for itself.

So What's Going On With Gracedale?

At last Thursday's Northampton County Council meeting, Executive John Stoffa told Council members that a consultant has now been hired to evaluate Gracedale. It's low bidder Complete Care, which will cost the County $18,000. Other consultants asked for as much as $63,000.

What's being studied? Stoffa spelled it out.

"Whether to modify services, policies, procedures or management of the facility; whether we can partner with a neighboring County in providing back room functions at the facility; whether we should scale back the size of the facility; close the facility over a months or year period; lease the facility; sell the facility; any prudent combination of the above options; and any options that you believe worthy of consideration."

This consultant's report will be in by the end of July.

Lehigh County's Dean Browning Visits Northampton County

Dean Browning, Chairman of Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners, dropped in on Northampton County Council last week.

Q) It's very unusual for a sitting Commissioner to visit another County in action. Before visiting Northampton, did you take any precautions, like writing your will or wearing body armor?

A) No, but I did let my wife know where I was going to be and I let my fellow Commissioners know what I was doing today. If I'm not heard from by tomorrow morning, they know what to do.

Q) You already lead a very busy life as CFO at New World Aviation. What made you interested in local government?

A) I've lived in Lehigh County over 30 years. I love Lehigh County. It's a great place to live. I wanted to contribute what little I could and take the skills that I have and make sure that Lehigh County continues to be a great place to live and work.

Q) You caught some heat from fellow Republicans when you backed Democrat Dan McCarthy as Vice Chair for Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners and have even complimented Executive Don Cunningham for his approach to rebuilding bridges. Are you building bridges of your own?

A) If you take a look at President Obama, one of the things that contributed to his election is his appeal to voters looking for civility, cooperation and results. We are in such difficult times that we need to have a degree of cooperation. No one person, no one party, has all the answers. It's going to take some cooperation among the different parties and those folks who are elected.

Q) Speaking of cooperation and difficult times, is there any way Lehigh County can avoid a tax hike next year?

A) It is going to be difficult, but I know County Exec Cunningham is already working on the budget, looking at areas were we can do things better, do things for less money, where we can make cuts and still deliver the services. We are going to do our best to deliver a budget that keeps the tax rate the same. I'm not sure that can be done, but we're going to do our best.

Q) Northampton County has refused to team up with Lehigh for both a regional crime center and a new work release facility. It appears to be very likely their Council will also reject the proposed Lehigh Valley Health Department. Is there any area where both counties can work together?

A) I think there are areas. That's one of the reasons I'm over here tonight. We've built government structures where the cost is outpacing the revenue. We've got one of three options to solve that. One, we could raise taxes. Two, we can cut the structure, cut services, cut benefits. Or we can take a third approach, and that is look at areas where we can cooperate as governments that are the same in Northampton, Lehigh, Berks, Carbon and Monroe County. We can combine forces, do things more effectively and more efficiently, and save money. I prefer the third option, working together and becoming more efficient.

Q) Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about the direction of Lehigh County?

A) I think the direction of Lehigh County is great. I'm very pleased with what we are doing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Correction: DA Morganelli Does Support ARD, in District Court, For Marijuana

As usual, I've screwed up. When I spoke to DA John Morganelli yesterday, he told me he supported keeping marijuana possession charges out of county court. He has just sent me this email:

"I would support giving the minor judiciary jurisdiction over these cases of Possession of small amt of marijuana and paraphernalia. I do not support routinely replacing the charge with DC bc that basically makes marijuana legal which it is not presently. We dispose almost ALL these cases via ARD. Our biggest problem is DUI offenses which makes up over 40% of our court list. We will be meeting with Judges Rosciola and Baratta soon to discuss this issue. JM"

I concluded that the reference to "DC" was a reference to District Court, and that John was telling me he supports ARD, a special program for first offenders, in county court. I was wrong. I've just received this correction from Morganelli:

"[Y]our blog is incorrect as to what I said. My reference to DC was to Disorderly Conduct. I do not support routinely replacing the small amt of marijuana charge with DISORDERLY CONDUCT. I DO support allowing Minor Judiciary to hear cases and allow it to be graded a Misdemeanor 3 and allow ARD there. JM"

So there you have it. I apologize for getting it wrong.

I probably should stop smoking weed.

Grucela's Successor? Meet State Rep Candidate Don Albanese

Slate Belt resident Don Alabanese, a Republican, is running for the Pennsylvania state house seat being vacated by Rich Grucela. Alabanese is a Slate belt native who actually spent some years in the New Jersey Assembly. Rich tells me Don coached his kids in Little League baseball. When Don decided to run, Rich invited him to Harrisburg and gave him a tour.

Don has no web page, but his introductory video is located here. He proposes (1) a Constitutional amendment to limit state legislators to 8 years; (2) zero-based budgeting, "where each expenditure has to be justified"; and (3) an end to unfunded mandates, where the state imposes obligations on local government, but fails to provide the funding.

I will be interviewing Don in the next few days. I hope I can get you a picture Don's Republican opponent in the Primary, Joe Emrick, has unsurprisingly declined my request for an interview. Too bad. I have lots of questions for him.

Democrat Frank Scagliotta, a Bangor football coach, has also agreed to sit down with me. His Democratic opponent, Charles Dertinger, will do no such thing. He's ingored my request for an interview, but that's OK. I have lots of videos and audios.

A-town Commentator: City Council May Defund Green Team

About a year ago, I spent over an hour with Executive Director Gary Millspaugh at The Allentown Rescue Mission. It's basic purpose is to help people in crisis, whether because of drugs, alcohol or other poor choices. Gary gave me the grand tour through a deceptively big complex, and I dutifully took notes as he explained how someone makes his way through the facility, both physically and emotionally. At that time, he was very proud of his Green Team, a group of residents who clean up the Queen City's litter.

I was never able to write about Gary's work. I now think I know why. I'm an alcoholic, just like many of the people who live there. I could easily be one of them. One slip is all it would take. I'd be lucky to land there, but it's still a depressing thought. So I put off writing about Gary and his Green Team until I conveniently forgot about him.

Wasn't that Christian of me? I spared you from being forced to read about poor people.

Yesterday, at Allentown Commentator, Kay Pickel describes the Green Team. "[T]they clean our city neighborhoods, dumps and the jobs give the men a means to get themselves together again.

"Cannot think of a more worthy cause."


Then she reveals this little tidbit:

"FYI:::: Did you know that City Council is trying to take away the $40, 000 already budgeted for next year's GREEN Team. Come to City Council on May 5th and support this worthy operation of the Allentown Rescue Mission. You never know when you might be in those circumstances."

These people make no campaign contributions and have no powerful union to lobby for them. They only have us.

Pennsylvania's De Facto Decriminalization of Marijuana

Under Pennsylvania law, possession of even a small amount of marijuana (under 30 grams) is a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and up to 30 days in the hoosegow. But it appears that there is a movement afoot for a de facto decriminalization of possession of small amounts for personal use.

Five years ago, western Pennsylvania police chiefs told reporters that a person caught with a small amount of marijuana is usually let off the hook with disorderly conduct or some traffic citation, a summary offense that creates no criminal record. I've been told by people in law enforcement that the same thing happens here in the Lehigh Valley, too.

Earlier this month, Philly DA Seth Williams announced changes in "small marijuana-possession cases. No, this is not decriminalization of pot. Virtually everyone arrested and convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana will receive the same kind of sentence they would have in the past. We are simply expediting the processing of these cases (there are several thousand a year), so we can focus on more serious crimes."

In 2008, Philly prosecuted 4716 adults, 70% of whom were black, for the stand alone offense of possessing a small amount of marijuana. Williams' solution is de facto, if not de jure, decriminalization. Basically it's a $200 fine for disorderly conduct. Second offenders get hit with a $300 bill.

Now, Berks County DA John Adams is jumping on this bandwagon, too. He wants to prosecute cases involving small amounts of marijuana in district court instead of county courts. The charge? Disorderly conduct.

But don't break out your bong in Northampton County. I talked to DA John Morganelli yesterday, and he has a different view. "I do not support routinely replacing the charge with District Court because that basically makes marijuana legal, which it is not presently. We dispose almost ALL these cases via ARD [Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, a special program for first offenders]".
Update (10:00 AM): I have just learned that a conviction for possession of even a small amount of marijuana carries an automatic 6-month suspension of driving privileges, too.
Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa: I screwed up in stating Northampton Couny DA John Morganelli's position. He supports ARD in District Court. I have posted a separate blog to make it clear.

The Drug That Worries DA John Morganelli Most

When I spoke with DA John Morganelli yesterday about the de facto decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, he told me that another, completely legal, drug bothers him a lot more. Booze. According to the DA, "Our biggest problem is DUI offenses, which makes up over 40% of our court list. We will be meeting with Judges Rosciola and Baratta soon to discuss this issue."

He added that it creates problems at the jail, which simply lacks the capacity to handle convicted Defendants as fast as they can be processed. As a result, they actually have to wait until there's room.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kill Al-Awlaki, But Don't Revoke His U.S. Citizenship

LV Congressman Charlie Dent last week introduced a Resolution (you can read it here) asking that Anwar al-Awlaki's U.S. citizenship be terminated. It's been referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it will likely die of old age. Dent has 16 co-sponsors, but every one of them is a Republican.

Those of you who actually read that nonbinding Resolution can see that Dent never suggests that Congress act unilaterally. He never even hints that the due process rights afforded by our Constitution be ignored. He does suggest that al-Awlaki is "an operative for al Qaeda's conspiracy to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States." This citizen-terrorist did provide "spiritual" guidance to several of the 9/11 hijackers. He did give the orders for the failed Christmas-Day bombing. In March, he did state all Muslims have an obligation to take up arms against the United States.

Any one of these could provide a Constitutional basis for a denial of the benefits of U.S. citizenship.

Pennsylvania Avenue initially broke this story, but failed to include or link to the actual language of the Dent's Resolution. LV bloggers jumped to conclusions, condemning Dent instead of al-Awlaki.

LVIndependent shrieks, "Gulag: Charlie Dent Wants to Disappear an American Citizen." Another blogger, LVCI, calls Dent a "dummie" and huffs he would never "vote for anyone to power who, even for a second, entertained a thought of stripping ANY American of their citizenship no matter how vile." Finally, Rich Wilkins adds, "[T]his is all crazy talk to be honest."

I waited to read the actual Resolution, which is relatively innocuous.

I have to wonder where the hell these bloggers were when Barack Obama decided to kill this terrorist. I'm pretty sure that will bother Al-Awlaki a lot more than a mere loss of citizenship. The New York Times, German newspaper Junge Welt and National Security Policy Analyst Mohamed Elibiary have all spilled the beans on this authorized hit. Maybe they're next.

Can you advocate killing this guy and still be considered a progressive? Thankfully, Daily Kos says yes. Citizenship, schitizenship. One of their goofy bloggers actually argues it's "a bit repulsive whenever anyone suggests that US Citizens should be afforded more rights than anyone else. To me, it smacks of racism (or at the very least, nationalism)." If we can whack a non-citizen without due process, we should also be able to whack a citizen for the sake of consistency.

So there you have it. You can whack this guy, but whatever you do, don't take away his citizenship. That would be unconstitutional. Cuckoo.

Of course, what these folks really find objectionable is that Dent is a dirty, evil Republican. As a result, nothing he proposes can be right. President Obama is a Democrat, so nothing he proposes can be wrong, even a sanctioned hit on an American citizen.

Instead of playing "Hail to the Chief" when Obama enters a room, the Godfather theme might be more appropriate.

Unless You're a Trout, You'll Get Dirty Water

Clean Water Action has issued a news release complaining about the Pennsylvania State Senate's failure to act on legislation designed to protect our drinking supply by creating "critical zones" near rivers and wells. Under current law, a pristine trout stream gets better protection from pollution than our own drinking sources. Not only do we drink dirty water, but it's full of fish piss.

Despite the support of 10 Republican and 14 Democratic state senators, this proposal is as stagnant as a pond. Myron Arnowitt, who heads up Clean Water Action in Pa, claims "most of our drinking water rules are focused on how much treatment is required to take pollution out of our rivers and streams. It is much less expensive for the public if we ensure from the start that we are not putting too much pollution into our drinking water supply.”

Locally, Senators Lisa Boscola and Bob Mensch, a Democrat and a Republican, are co-sponsors. Senator Pat Browne is not among the co-sponsors ... yet.

Brennan, Samuelson to Host Senior Fair This Friday

Ironically, it's at a youth center. State Reps. Steve Samuelson and Joe Brennan, both D-Lehigh/Northampton, will host their annual Senior Fair this Friday from 9 AM to noon at Allentown's East Side Youth Center (1140 E. Clair St., Allentown, PA).

It's a free event and will feature more than 40 vendors, as well as free health screenings, representatives from local and state health agencies, complimentary refreshments and door prizes.

Last year, I got a case of Depends.

Want more information? Samuelson’s constituent service office is at 610-867-3890, and Brennan’s constituent service offices are at 610-882-1510 (Bethlehem) and 610-266-1470 (Catasauqua).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Is Pennsylvania's State Legislature Out of Control?

How Well Do You Know Pennsylvania?

Larry Kisslinger sent me this link.

More About Makaeya

The Express Times and Valley 610 have both featured touching stories about Makaeya Lynn Wheeler, the pretty little two-year old described on my left sidebar. She suffers from MLD, an incurable disorder that progressively attacks her nervous system, muscles and organs. Because this is genetic, there were concerns that her nine-month old sister might have the disorder as well. Thankfully, she's been spared.

Normally, I post blogs highly critical of government officials and public employees. But they have been very unselfish in their contributions for this brave little girl, who still tries to smile. I wish I could list some by name. A donation button is on my left sidebar. It will funnel any sum you can spare, however small, into an account set up for Makaeya.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pa. State Reps Sound Off on NJ Residency Requirement Legislation

New Jersey is considering legislation that will require all current public employees to live within the Garden State. Six thousand out-of-state workers would have 2 1/2 years to pack up and move back to the land of high taxes and sweet corn. But state representatives in what is known as Pennsylvania's Northeast Delegation are asking Jersey legislators to grandfather public workers who already live here.

"We represent many people who are public employees in New Jersey that live in Pennsylvania, and this legislation would have a devastating effect on them and their families," said state Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton. "Those New Jersey employees already living in Pennsylvania should be grandfathered, as this legislation would create an unfair burden."

"These bills would require people to be uprooted from their homes, children being pulled from schools and friends, and a whole host of other issues that would be detrimental to employees and their families when they are required to move," said state Rep. Rich Grucela, D-Northampton.

"This would affect a wide range of public employees like firefighters, police officers and teachers who live in Pennsylvania but work in New Jersey," said state Rep. Joe Brennan, D-Lehigh/Northampton.

In Pennsylvania, civil service employees must maintain in-state residency, but that requirement does not extend to as many employees at so many levels of government as the Jersey proposal.

Other members of the Northeast Delegation who signed the letter include state Reps. Phyllis Mundy, D-Luzerne; Tim Seip, D-Schuylkill/Berks; John Siptroth, D-Monroe/Pike; Ken Smith, D-Lackawanna; Ed Staback, D-Lackawanna/Wayne; Bob Belfanti, D- Northumberland/Montour/Columbia; Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne/Monroe; and delegation chairman state Rep. Neal Goodman, D-Schuylkill.

Ron Angle Has a Bad Night

When my son screwed up at something, he learned at a very age to just call me and tell me about it, instead of letting me find out about it from his mother or sister or a teacher. I can still remember those calls.

"Hi, Dad," he'd start, always very cheerful. Then he'd work his way into his problem. "I did not have a very good day today, Dad," he'd confess.

I admit I always liked that. He was telling me that he was basically a good person and trying, but goofed. It was impossible for me to get angry, even when he once cut off his sister's eyebrows and all of her hair.

"But I did a really good job!" was his defense.

Yesterday, Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle cut off his sister's eyebrows and all of her hair. He had a bad day. Up until now, he's been terrific as Council President. But he stumbled badly last night, and over what really amounts to a minor matter.

First, he tried tabling a new union contract with corrections officers because County Council's Solicitor had no time to review it. Never mind that it had already been reviewed by a battery of lawyers. Eventually, the County Council and County Solicitors met in some back room to discuss the pertinent provisions while the rest of the meeting continued. When they both returned, Council quickly approved this contract.

Had Council actually tabled this contract, corrections officers and their union could have demanded binding arbitration or might have even claimed this was an unfair labor practice. Angle was treading on very thin ice last night.

But the real problem arose with a request from District Attorney John Morganelli. He has a staffer he'd like to upgrade a notch. Human Resources agrees. This worker will get a $900 raise, and the DA has the money in his own budget to pay her.

This seems noncontroversial, but at Wednesday's Personnel Committee, Angle questioned the entire process. The County Exec proposes all raises at one time when he presents his budget. Why should a DA's worker be any different, he asked. That's certainly a fair question, but it's unfair to an employee who might have to wait 15 months for a raise that everyone agrees she deserves.

Angle did everything he could to stop this from happening. The worker involved, along with a union rep, came to last night's council meeting. McHale called on them to speak, but Angle refused to allow that, noting they had not signed in on the Courtesy of the Floor sheet. After the meeting, Angle stated that they had called before the meeting, and he was willing to place them on the agenda, but they did not want that. He felt they had forfeited the right to speak.

I think what troubled him more than anything is that Council member Ann McHale called on this worker to come forward. She stated Angle's Presidency is a mere formality, and that any Council member may call on someone to speak. When Angle refused to let that happen, McHale told the worker, "I hope you file a grievance."

Angle also told McClure, whose wife works for the DA, that he should abstain. McClure declined to do that, and rightfully so. This matter does not benefit him or his wife financially.

Eventually, Angle abstained from voting himself. Really, he should have abstained from the entire discussion. It's no secret he's both upset and hurt by the litigation DA John Morganelli has filed against him, testing his right to be both a school board and county council member. His abstention last night is a concession that his dispute with the DA has become personal.

Overall, he has been outstanding as Council Prez. He's been able to control them and be fair about it, too. Some of the audience still gave him an "A" because "he tells it like it is," But last night, he slipped. He knows it, too.

He had a bad day.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is Bruce Gilbert a Racist?

At Wednesday afternoon's meeting of Northampton County Council's Personnel Committee, the County Exec's choice for Human Services Director went through the wringer. Morning Call reporter Michael Duck, who has an excellent account about that meeting, likened it to a firing squad. Patricia Ann Siemiontkowski, a Kintersville attorney who once served as an Allentown Assistant Solicitor, survived this gauntlet, even managing to smile. When it was over, I'd say she had seen the worst of it, and expected to see her Thursday night confirmation by a full Council, go off without a hitch. But this is Northampton County, baby, where nothing is over until it's over.

Council member John Cusick played prosecuting attorney on Wednesday, peppering Siemiontkowski about her involvement in Mayor Afflerbach's idiotic police pension agreement that pretty much ruined Allentown financially. What did she know and when did she know it? As it developed, she had "counseled strongly" against it, believing it would cause the City to go bankrupt. It's "one of the reasons I decided to leave the City," she concluded.

Cusick bought it. "Roy Afflerbach not taking good legal advice would not be a surprise," he snarked.

Siemiontkowski was also queried about her lack of human resources accreditations, but her legal skills and public sector experience appeared to outweigh those concerns.

Council Prez Ron Angle told her she is a "notch above" what is required.

Things were looking good.

But at last night's County Council meeting, where Siemiontkowski was unanimously confirmed, things suddenly got a little dicey.

Penny Himel, Frances Ketchen and other members of Easton NAACP were there as part of an African American committee, who had their own candidate. They were kind enough to give me her resume, and it is very impressive. Unlike Siemiontkowski, this candidate does have direct Human Resources experience. But she also has no legal experience in the field and no public sector background.

Diminutive Frances Ketchens, addressing Council in a pink sweatsuit, was quite forceful. "The African American community is not satisfied with what's going on." She mentioned that when she walks through the halls of the Northampton County Courthouse, she sees few faces like her own. "We'd like some answers."

When Council Prez Angle suggested she make an appointment to see Stoffa, she declined, saying she had met with him enough. "It's time to act," she declared.

She also rejected the notion that Council just votes on the Executive's nominee. "You vote. We vote, too."

Them's fightin' words.

County Exec John Stoffa told Council, "I think you have the most qualified candidate." Of 38 applications, Stoffa acknowledged that the candidate selected by the African American committee was one of the top three, "but I don't think she was the top candidate. She did not have public experience at all. ... I think I have given you the best candidate that we have found in that group of people."

Bruce Gilbert, Northampton County's first black Council member, was the first name called tonight to vote on Siemiontkowski. He voted for her, and the rest of Council followed suit.

Charlie Dent: National Sales Tax Unfairly Targets Low and Middle Income Workers

What is a VAT? It's short for Value Added Tax, a type of sales tax. As explained in the WSJ, it's "an invisible excise tax added to each phase of a product's production, really a national sales tax, with the cost of the total VAT ultimately paid by the final purchaser, regardless of his income or wealth."

Although an Obama spokesman has denied it's being considered, that assertion is disputed by the Executive Director of a White House panel charged with finding ways to reduce the national debt. Annual federal spending is projected to go from 1990 levels of $21k per household to somewhere around $42k in 2019. Since doubling income tax would be political suicide, that VAT is beginning to look a lot more appealing to government officials who refuse to cut spending. As George Will explains, "A VAT is collected on value added at stages during the process of production, but most of its burden is borne by consumers. They file no VAT returns, so its stealthiness delights the political class, which can increase it in small, barely noticed increments, with every percentage point yielding another $100 billion."

Yesterday, LV Congressman Charlie Dent signed on to a resolution offered by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, which would express Congress’ belief that a VAT would be harmful to America’s economy.

“One of my major concerns with the recent Health Care bill is that it puts America on the path of becoming a European-style welfare state, and a value-added tax would be a dangerous next step,” Congressman Dent said in a news release. “A value-added tax disproportionately and unfairly targets low and middle-income workers, and would be devastating to Americans on fixed income. By raising the cost on almost everything that is made, purchased or consumed in America, a VAT would further move our country toward a government-centered economy rather than one fueled by American innovation.”

The resolution noted that the VAT has been widely adopted by European nations and is routinely cited as encouraging public spending at the cost of private job creation. For example, Denmark enacted a 9 percent VAT in 1962, but today Denmark's VAT has surged to 25 percent.

“If we are to enjoy a sustainable recovery, we must entrust more economic power with the American people and less with Washington bureaucrats,” Congressman Dent said.

How does Dent's Congressional opponent, John Callahan, feel about a national sales tax? As Bethlehem mayor, Callahan recently advocated a 17% sales tax increase. To be fair, I called his campaign HQs and asked whether Callahan supports this national sales tax, especially since he has already supported an optional increase on a more local level. His communication director told me she'd either call or email me with his position. At the time this story is being published, I have no answer. If I get it, I will update this post accordingly. If I don't, you can draw your own conclusions.

Lehigh County To Take Out The Trash This Saturday

Last time this happened, it took me nearly two weeks to find my Jeep. But I'll try to forget that and report that the fourth annual “Pick It Up Lehigh County!” will be held this Saturday in Alburtis, Bethlehem, Catasauqua, Coopersburg, Coplay, Emmaus, Upper Milford, Lower Milford, Lower Macungie and Macungie.

1. Emmaus and Upper Milford are expecting several hundred volunteers. They are meeting at 8:30 a.m. at Emmaus Community Park at Shimersville Road and S. 14th Street.

2. Lower Milford Township is expecting close to 100 volunteers. They are meeting even earlier, at 8 a.m., at the township building at 7607 Chestnut Hill Church Road.

3. Macungie is expecting 50 Boy Scouts to volunteer. Whatever you do, don't tell SEIU. They are meeting at 9 a.m. at the train station on Main Street in the borough as well as the Macungie Fire Co.

4. Catasauqua volunteers are meeting at 9 a.m. at Canal and Union streets.

Doesn't one of these places have a keg?

Sponsors include the U.S. Census, Capital Blue Cross, PP&L, TD Bank, Embassy Bank, UGI, Physical Graffiti Tees, Coca Cola, Nestle Waters, LV Convention and Visitors Bureau, KNBT Bank, Just Born, Wegmans and Home Depot. PennDOT is providing gloves, trash bags and vests.

Stoffa Breaks Pawlowski's Heart

You'll never read too much about LVEDC meetings because most of them are at ungodly hours like 7 AM. Yesterday, with their lease at a Hanover Township Bethlehem office complex ready to expire, they discussed moving to somewhere in center-city Allentown.

Northampton County Exec John Stoffa knows that this is just the excuse County Council needs to shut off LVEDC's hotel tax spigot. He opposed this proposed change, adding that "Allentown is unsafe."

Well, that was all Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski needed to hear. He immediately started blowin' oil, claiming that he raises two kids in center city Allentown, and that Stoffa was essentially calling him a lousy father.

Stoffa did his best to console Hizzoner. I think he even agreed that Allentown is a City Without Limits, even though crime-ridden Allentown stole that motto from Owasso, OK. But somebody still had to throw Pawlowski on a lift later that day, and break out the duct tape.

Luckily for Pawlowski, Angle was taking his daily bubble bath and missed the meeting.

Word is that the LVEDC will now be looking at sites in Reading, Philly and Newark.
Update (8:30 AM): Bethlehem is bigger than I thought! That office complex is in Bethlehem, not Hanover Tp. My apolgies for yet another inaccuracy.
Update II (10:00 AM): The Express Times has a more factual account here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Where are the Judges?

I just received a telephone call at 1:15 PM, telling me the parking spots reserved for Northampton County's nine judges, is empty. Maybe they're all at a party. They must be really busy. Perhaps the state legislature should approve a 10th judge and have more "senior" judges and "masters" appointed. Then our overworked judges wouldn't have to come in at all.

At 1:40 PM, one of the courthouse workers tells me he just saw Judge Koury. He must have hitch-hiked.

Callahan's Specter Endorsement Slammed as Payback for Biden Visit

I've disabled comments on this thread because this is the LVPoliblog's topic today, and your thoughts are best expressed there.

LV Rail Study Makes Busing Look Very Attractive

I was unable to attend Tuesday night's rail study symposium, hosted by RenewLV at the Hotel Bethlehem. Little League baseball is lots more fun, especially in Fountain Hill. The people who live there are just a little more relaxed than the rest of us.

As we know from the Morning Call and Express Times accounts, we just spent $250,000 to learn that it will cost about $1 billion for a rail line for 800 riders to the Big Apple. It sounds ridiculous, but the days of cheap gas are coming to an end. Thanks to the Express Times, you can view Systra Consulting's study here.

We're talking about $1 billion for a few miles of tracks that will take people from the LV cities to New York. Exec John Stoffa is quoted as saying, "If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that our love affair with the automobile must some day come to an end.'' OK, John, build the train. Now, how the hell do you travel from the courthouse to East Allen Township at the end of the day? How do I get back to Nazareth? How do big employers like hospitals and Air Products get their people home? The rail study only provides an answer, and an expensive one, for commuters to NYC.

Instead of focusing on rail, I think we need to pay more attention to buses as a way of getting around the LV. As cars become more expensive, the bus could become an appealing alternative. The report even hints that busing is the best answer to the daily commute to NYC.

In addition to cost, rail study excerpts reveal a devastating impact on our environment.

• Floodplains - Small areas of 100-year floodplain are present in several locations adjacent to the right-of-way and within the right-of-way in Easton, Glendon and Lower Saucon, Bethlehem, and Fountain Hill. The right-of-way (ROW) is located within the 100-year floodplain in Allentown.

• Wetlands - Rail ROW crosses wetlands and a creek on the approach to the proposed Allentown Station at Banana Joe’s site (former passenger station).

• Historic - Rail ROW is adjacent to the historic Lehigh Canal and is part of the Lehigh River Greenway.

• Parklands – The Hugh Moore Historical Park is located adjacent to the ROW on the north side.

• Ecology - The ROW is located within the Lehigh Slopes Natural Area in Williams and the Steel City Slopes Natural Area in Bethlehem. The locally-significant Steel City Slopes are located on a north-facing slope above the Lehigh River in Lower Saucon Township and supports a diverse herb and fern habitat. Proposed work would be contained within already disturbed areas.

• Easton Station - Small area of 100-year floodplain located within ROW on the north side of the alignment.

• Bethlehem Station - Located on former industrial property. Any hazardous materials impacts from the Bethlehem Steel operation would be mitigated by the BethWorks development.

• Allentown Station - Located entirely within 100-year floodplain.
Update (8:00 AM): Molovinsky has a related post.

Biden's LV Security Detail

When someone like VP Joe Biden visits the Lehigh Valley, it's obviously a challenge for law enforcement and emergency management personnel on every level. How did they keep VP Joe Biden safe and out of harm's way while he was here?

Yesterday, I spoke with some Northampton County emergency management officials. Although they were unable to tell me everything, they did share a few interesting details that provide a glimpse into exactly what is involved.

"We were really busy," explained one of these officials. He told me that the county was in charge of making sure that everyone - state police, feds and locals - could talk to each other. That went off without a hitch.

The state police took care of transportation logistics. When Biden was en route along Route 22, the entire highway was closed. Cruisers blocked traffic at exit ramps until the VP's vehicle had passed through the area. Overhead, a chopper monitored everything, from the VP's progress to the blocking of all exits. I was told the wait was very minimal.

Unfortunately, the staties missed a big one, one of the Route 33 exits pouring traffic onto Route 22. The chopper kept calling for help, but nobody would reach the exit in time. So the helicopter landed smack dab on the exit ramp itself, blocking traffic until the VP had gone by.

How cool is that!

I was also told that, for some reason, the FBI needed to borrow a few chemical suits from emergency management. Maybe the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, had gas.

Was there a command post? Yep, but I have no idea where it was located.

Because the VP's trip to the Blue was purely political, I understand John Callahan's congressional campaign will have to pay for most, if not all, the security coverage provided.

That's gonna' be one big bill.

But in the end, all this security coverage failed. They forgot the one thing the really needed to protect Joe Biden.

Duct tape.

Grucela Refuses to Anoint His Successor in 137th

State Rep. Rich Grucela has decided to take a break from public life at the end of this year. He's been at it since 1974, serving as a Lower Mount Bethel Township supervisor and chairman, as a Northampton County Council member and President and, most recently, as a member of the state house.

Over the last four years, he's been the subject of 83 posts on this blog. When I guest-hosted Ron Angle's talk radio show on WGPA 1100 AM, he was a regular guest. Rich voted against the midnight legislative payraise, refused to take it, and was rewarded for his troubles by losing his role on several key committees. That may have lost him the confidence of the House leadership in Harrisburg, but he won the hearts of the Lehigh Valley. He was unopposed in 2006 and 2008, when many others had stiff competition.

In 2007, he was rated by readers of this blog as one of the LV's top ten elected leaders. He's a real Democrat. For one thing, he opposes party endorsements in contested primaries. As my state rep., he never refused to duck a call or answer an email. I'll miss him.

Rich's 137th legislative district includes Forks, Lower Mount Bethel, Palmer, Upper Mount Bethel, Upper Nazareth, Washington, Bangor, East Bangor, Nazareth, Portland, Roseto, Stockertown and Tatamy. Unlike most seats, this one could go either Republican or Democrat.

Four candidates - Democrats Frank Scagliotta and Charles Dertinger, and Republicans Donald Albanese and Joe Emrick - are after Rich's seat. Ironically, most of the attacks so far have been inexplicably directed at the person who is stepping down, Rich Grucela.

Grucela has been attacked, anonymously, for his supposed ties to and endorsement of Frank Scagliotta, who is lovingly referred to elsewhere as "Skank." Grucela was apparently spotted in a Scagliotta classroom. "They sat in the back of the room with their heads together."

Today I received an email from Rich that is "for the record." He told me he received calls from 5 of 6 potential candidates for his job and spoke to them all. In fact, Republican Donald Albanese "and his wife came to Harrisburg and visited my office …… I had them introduced from the house gallery and told them where the Republican caucus met … I also introduced him to some very good R friends of mine who got a big kick out of it ….. They said they always knew I was 'nuts'……Don’s son coached our son in little league baseball."

Rich has also tried to be helpful to both Dertinger and Scagliotta. "I have given both Frank and Charles advice and told them events they should attend ….. I also have given them names of people who I believe would support their views."

Did he meet with Scagliotta at Bangor High School? Yes. "For the record I did visit BAHS and Frank’s class …. He called me with a question about how to fill out his ethics form b/c of his referee’s income …. It was a bad weather day…. The students came to school but b/c of the weather (a late storm brewing that day) there was to be an early dismissal…. Frank’s class had very low attendance and he chose to show a video already in progress when I arrived."

Who has Rich endorsed? "I have only endorsed Jack Wagner for Governor and no other candidates."

Grucela has avoided endorsing anyone and has tried to be helpful to everyone. He realizes the voters make this call, not him.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Teachers

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

Although that Shakesperean one-liner is loved by lawyer-bashers far and wide, it was actually made by an anarchist who thought pesky lawyers might get in the way.

I have at least one reader who sings a similar refrain about teachers. They do infest most levels of government. It's thanks to them that we're going to see a dramatic increase in pension costs. Although not exactly advocating that we kill them, he does think we should stop electing them.

But that's the problem. They win elections. Ron Angle and Rich Grucela both tell me that whenever they went anywhere with Wayne Grube, they'd be mobbed by people he coached or taught. He was always top vote getter in Northampton County. Now it's Peg Ferraro, who made her mark as a teacher in Nazareth schools.

Here's his argument:

""One of the most pressing issues - if not THE pressing issue - is the coming SERS/PSERS pension crisis. It is not an attack on teachers to state that you believe they will not be objective and prepared to make the hard decisions necessary and required by the public. Someone eligible for multiple public pensions should be fair game, as they are part of the problem, and the last thing we should want is a rooster in the henhouse.

"At best, they can abstain, but that seat is needed for someone who will undertake the mission of serious reform which can only originate in Harrisburg.

*****

"There is ample evidence that [teachers] have little empathy for anyone outside their world.

"I have seen non-public unions agree to concessions to save their company and their jobs. I have not seen that from the PSEA. Take a look at Saucon Valley. Their idea of concession is an annual raise in excess of three percent. Any attempt, ANY attempt to get a handle on the unsustainable expense of teacher compensation is met with the predictable "You don't care about your kids", "The best and brightest will leave" "If you don't pay, we'll go on strike" and other Chicken Little nonsense that would get your ass thrown out the door anywhere else.

"And how do they get away with it? Because their right to strike -to use children as economic human shields- is guaranteed by statute. While other unions have that same guarantee, in the end, private sector unions always face the possibility that the business will simply close up shop. Not so in the world of public education. Their right of entitlement has been purchased by the PSEA with their support of those in the state legislature. When they get their own in, they won't even have to buy the vote anymore."


What do you think? Is it fair to make this sweeping condemnation of teachers as a group? If we refuse to elect teachers, won't we just end up with more lawyers? Where will it end?

Browning Makes Dangerous Foray Into Northampton County

I think LC Exec Don Cunningham has finally figured out a way to get rid of Dean Browning, the damn Republican who chairs Lehigh County's Board of Comm'rs. He's sending him on a diplomatic mission this Thursday night to Northampton County Council.

When Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle found out that Dean is coming, he immediately started a kettle boiling in Council's star chamber, laughing manically as he sliced in a few carrots and potatoes.

I thought Northampton County stopped those human sacrifices when Jim Hickey left.

Lehigh Street Bridge Closed

The Lehigh Street Bridge, which connects Whitehall Township to North Catasauqua, is closed until further notice. According to a news release from Lehigh County, a truck collided with the underside of the bridge yesterday afternoon. I have no idea whether anyone was hurt. Lehigh County has contractors on site for repairs. It will reopen as soon as possible.

According to Nationalbridges, the Lehigh Street Bridge was first built in 1908 and then reconstructed in 1947. Before this accident, it was already rated "structurally deficient" because the foundations are scoured by flowing water.

A Morning Call news account is located here.

Did You Know the LV Has a High School For the Performing Arts?

The Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts (LVPA) is a small high school in downtown Bethlehem. It has slightly more than 400 students total, drawn from forty different school districts. Admission is based on a successful audition in dance, instrumental music, visual arts, vocal music, theatre or figure-skating.

Diane LaBelle has just been appointed to the newly created position of Executive Director, according to a news release from LVPA’s Board of Directors. She starts July 1, 2010.

LaBelle comes from GoggleWorks, an Arts Center in an old Reading lens factory. She was named Executive Director there in 2005, after successfully raising $15 million in a capital campaign to renovate the former safety goggle factory.

LaBelle also served a brief stint as LVPA’s principal in the school’s first year. Before that, she served as Director of the Banana Factory from 1998-2003. Her background includes extensive experience in leadership roles in arts and nonprofit organizations during the past 15 years.

“I am very excited about taking a leadership position at LVPA as the school takes its next steps toward infusing academics with the arts,” says LaBelle. “LVPA provides a wonderful opportunity for me to offer my experience and pursue my interests at a thrilling time in the school’s history. I am eager to redirect my energies to my home community [LaBelle resides in Bethlehem] now that I have achieved both a professional and personal goal of establishing a thriving, self-sustaining arts center.”

I'll be honest. Before today, I had no idea that the Lehigh Valley even had a performing arts high school. There's even a special school for bloggers. It's called the Juvenile Justice Center.

How Much Public $ Was Really Spent on That Rail Study?

When I was on my way to Fountain Hill last night to watch their sluggers take on Northwest Bethlehem's Little League hurlers, my cell phone rang, and the sultry female voice at the other end nearly ran me off the road.

"Is this Bernie?"

"Why yes, it is."

"Are you on your way to the ball game?"

"Why yes, I am."

That's as sexy as it got, but I'll take it. I'm practically 59, so a little bit goes a long way.

Turns out that the woman on the other end of the line was Cindy Feinberg, Lehigh County's DCED Director. She only knew where I was heading because she had read my blog. She was calling to correct me. This is my second error in two weeks on the amount of public funding that went into the regional transportation study disclosed last night. I'll try to make amends with a separate post.

When I wrote about this last Tuesday, I told you its total cost was $200,000, with half coming from LVEDC and the other half coming from Lehigh and Northampton Counties. That was wrong. $100,000 came from LVEDC. Northampton and Lehigh County kicked in another $150,000. So the actual cost was $250,000.

Yesterday, I had the correct figure, but was still wrong, and that's why Cindy called. No Lehigh County real estate tax dollars were used for that County's $75,000 share. Instead, Lehigh used administrative fees collected from helping private companies finance through its GPA.

Basically, I'm 0 for 2. I'm sorry for screwing up the facts.

Northampton County, unlike Lehigh, definitely used real estate tax dollars. It dipped into its council slush find, more politely called a contingency account, financed completely with real estate tax dollars.

LVEDC, which kicked in $100,000, is financed by private business as well as a hotel tax from both Counties.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Can You Help Makaeya?

Last week, I told you about a pretty little girl named Makaeya Lynn, who is nearly three years old. Her father, Lance Wheeler, works at the courthouse and her mom used to work in Domestic Relations.

Makaeya has MLD, a rare disorder that attacks the nervous system. muscles and organs. It worsens over time. Because it is genetic, there are concerns about her 8 month-old sister as well.

There is no cure, but there is hope. A bone marrow transplant can extend her life, giving doctors precious time to find an answer. This is where we come in. We can help in two ways.

First, on April 21, there will be a bone marrow donor drive at Moravian College's Johnston Hall, between 3:30 and 7:00 PM. It's usually just a swab of some cheek cells.

Second, on my left sidebar, you will see a Paypal donation button that will funnel donations directly into a Lafayette Bank checking account set up for Makaeya. Northampton County Controller Steve Barron helped Lance set up this account and forwarded the donation code to me. I know, better than most, that times are tough. But no amount is too small, and if you can help her in some small way, I'm sure it will be appreciated.

Dumb & Dumber: NorCo Dems Endorse Dertinger, But Not Callahan

In one of my favorite movies, Dumb & Dumber, Lloyd trades Harry's van in for a moped. They're in the middle of a road trip across the country, and still have to go up the Rockies and into Denver. In the Winter. When Harry finds out what has happened, he has this reaction. "Just when I thought you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this ... and totally redeem yourself!" Well, move over, Harry & Lloyd. After reading Rich Wilkins' report concerning the most recent back room dealings of Northampton County Dems, I can only conclude that they're auditioning for the lead in Dumb & Dumber III. Let me tell you the story.

In his eight long years at the helm of the local Dems, Joe "Bossman" Long has alienated Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham, Northampton County Executive John Stoffa and state party boss T. J. Rooney. His penchant for preselection of candidates in smoke-filled bars has resulted in disaster after disaster at the polls. These include Charles Dertinger (Congress); Sam Bennett (Congress); Glenn Reibman (County Exec); and Ann McHale (County Exec). Our fearless leader's most recent trick was to manage somehow to lose all five at-large seats in November's County Council race, giving Republicans a first-ever 7-2 edge. Even Northampton County's bench is now Republican. As if that were not enough, Long has made at least three appearances before a statewide grand jury investigating deceptive campaign practices.

So on Saturday, when Northampton County Dems met in a smoke-filled Nazareth bar again, it should come as no surprise that only 24 committee people bothered showing up. Of course, it's likely that only a few were even notified. County Exec John Stoffa, who happens to be the highest ranking Democrat in Northampton County, was snubbed. I live just a block away, and considered crashing the party myself. But these local apparatchiks have a history of ejecting contrarians, even their own committeemen. I stayed away.

Obviously, it was mostly a gaggle of Joe Long sycophants, not Democrats. But even among this crowd, a dim light had gone off. Maybe they should think twice about telling the rest of us how we're supposed to vote. So Ladd Siftar, a former County Council member who sits on the state committee, moved that the local party should refuse to endorse anyone, even in the uncontested primaries. It passed, 13 to 11.

Huh?

That's right, bippy. Congressional candidate John Callahan, derisively referred to as the "boy Mayor" by state house candidate Charles Dertinger just a few months ago, made the trip up Nazareth Pike for nothing. He got piked after giving a speech to a few barflies. Does this mean that Dems support Charlie Dent?

The same thing happened to State Rep. Bob Freeman. He came up from Easton, gave a speech that went on even longer than Callahan's, has no primary opponent, and left Nazareth with nothing. Does this mean Dems support wingnut Ron Shegda?

It gets better. After refusing to endorse anyone, even candidates with no primary opponents, Bill Wallace made a pitch for the local party to endorse Charles Dertinger in the only local primary that actually is contested. That motion passed nearly unanimously.

Huh?

That's right, bippy. Frank Scagliotta, a popular slate belt coach and NCAA basketball official making his political debut, has been rejected in favor of a divisive candidate who is batting just one out of five at the polls.

I spoke to a wise Democratic veteran today, who laughed and told me, "Bernie, we don't make Democrats take intelligence tests."

And this is the proof. Fortunately, Long's machine has shot itself so many times that it has pretty much made itself irrelevant.