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Monday, May 31, 2010

Would You Treat 10 Year Old Boys to Lunch at Hooters?

Maybe you can help me out here. My ten year-old grandson is in a baseball tournament near Wyomissing. After getting creamed in their first game on Saturday morning, they've won three straight. Coaches, pleased with the team's progress, decided everyone - boys, coaches, parents and fans - should treat themselves. But instead of Rita's ice cream or a slushy, they decided their reward was Sunday lunch at Hooters.

I consider this an inappropriate atmosphere for these young boys and refused to join in the fun. True, they're too young to get any prurient ideas, but are plenty old enough to learn how to objectify and degrade women. Just the name "Hooters", a euphemism for Tits, obviously does that, before these kids even walk in the door.

I am the only person who thought this was wrong.

What do you think? The picture of the scantily clad serving wench with an old geezer is from the Hooters these boys visited.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Allentown Ethics Board to Meet on Wednesday

According to a public notice published in The Morning Call today, the Allentown Ethics Board will meet 12:00 noon on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 in the 5th floor Conference Room, City Hall, 435 Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA. I suspect the Board will convene for the purpose of disposing of a patently frivolous complaint filed against City Council VP Michael Donovan.

An elected official actually willing to discuss his votes and issues openly, has been rewarded with an ethics complaint.

The Long-Awaited Kids-for-Cash Report

This is dynamite. Citizens Voice and Times Leader are complimented for "shining lights in dark corners and keeping readers, listeners and viewers informed of unfolding events."

Norco to Get Leaner, Meaner, But Not Greener

Like most unhappy couples, Northampton County Exec John Stoffa and County Council have been bickering about money lately. Stoffa has increased the workforce approximately nine per cent over the last four years, from 2037 to 2220 employees. A tax hike next year is all but inevitable. Still, it was quite a shock when County Council unexpectedly killed a routine budget amendment last week, the first time since Home Rule that a budget amendment ever failed.

Routine or not, that budget amendment accounted for $4.5 million in pass through grants from the state, providing for needy children, homelessness, seniors and people with addictions. Usually unflappable, Stoffa was furious. He eventually stormed out of Council chambers, but not before chiding them, "You'll be looking in the mirror tonight."

What a difference a week can make! At a Finance Committee hearing yesterday, attended by Stoffa and most Council members, Council President Ron Angle set a more conciliatory tone. "Whatever decision we make, we're going to make it together," he said. For his part, Stoffa told Council, "I want to cooperate."

Fiscal Woes

There's no denying that the County has mounting costs. In addition to the cost of a nine percent increase in staff, Budget Administrator Doran Hamann has previously laid out some other pressing fiscal concerns:

* In 2009, the County dipped into its fund balance, to the tune of $6.9 million, to balance the books.

* In the first four months of this year, the County has already had to spend $4 million of the $6 million set aside in its fund balance. Hamann is concerned that the County may have to spend between $16 and $20 million of its fund balance by the end of the year.

* Combining the swaption cost as well as some anticipated state cutbacks, Hamman warned that the County could end up spending an additional $49 million.

* Real estate tax revenue, which is pretty much the County's chief source of income, has only risen 0.223% this year.

* Health costs have increased 43%.

In a productive meeting on May 27, Council members and County Administrators discussed different areas in which the County could save money.


Called the County's crown jewel by its defenders, the County's nursing home also lost $6.29 million last year. In the first three months of 2010, it is down another $300,000. "It's a money pit," complained Angle. Council members agreed to hold off on deciding whether to sell until July, when an $18,000 study by consultant Complete Care is finished. "We're not going to wait between July and October. We're going to look at it in July," warned Angle.

Open Space

In 2006, John Stoffa proposed a half mill tax increase for a "pay as you go" open space plan to generate $84 million over twenty years, and provide a source for matching funds from the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. But the consensus of Council members is to stop using real estate tax dollars for the next few years. Director of Administration John Conklin recommended that the County could devote some of its repository properties, i.e. properties that can't be sold at a tax sale, to continue pursuing open space at no cost to taxpayers.

County Parks

Budget Administrator Doran Hamann told Council members that it costs $2 million annually, just to maintain the county's 1300-acre park system. "I don't think we can afford to be in the parks business," said Angle, suggesting that municipalities be asked to take some of them over or at least share in maintenance costs.

Director of Administration John Conklin told Council that Allen Township may be interested in annexing some park lands.

5% Workforce Reduction

Stoffa made clear that he opposes direct layoffs, but supports layoffs via attrition. Council member Mike Dowd noted, "There are some areas where we are not going to be able to reduce employment. As often as we can, we need to cross-train people." Council member Tom Dietrich worried about shortages in "critical services," but Stoffa answered, "We need to try it and see what happens."

Currently, the County has between 50 and 60 fully-funded positions that are vacant. Council and Administrators agreed to transfer the funding for those positions to the fund balance, giving the County a larger rainy day fund while simultaneously completing half of its 5% layoff.

Mandatory Furloughs

Last year, Northampton County's voluntary furlough was used by 20 county employees. Director of Administration John Conklin noted that some counties have instituted a mandatory furlough program, and suggested it might work here. "There are some contractual issues, so we'd have to do it across the board. The Court would have to get on board with that." Court Administrator James Onembo, who sat in on the meeting, offered no suggestions or response.

Revenue Raising Ideas

Fiscal Affairs Director Vic Mazziotti suggested one way in which the County could increase its revenue stream. People recording deeds and mortgages could be required to pay a $10 fee for a parcel identification search, something already done by Recorder's employees at no charge. That could easily generate over $220,000, enough money to pay for 4 county workers.

When all was said and done, Council member Bruce Gilbert stated he's "very pleased with what has occurred today." Asked whether he thinks a tax hike next year can be avoided, Council President Ron Angle stated, "That has yet to be seen, but I think it's possible."

He concluded, "We're a leaner, meaner machine." But not greener.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dent Robo-Call Aims at Callahan's $8 Million Blunder

I only hear from one of the two serious Congressional candidates. Charlie Dent, the incumbent, has always been willing to send news releases and speak to me, long before I had my mind made up about him. In contrast, John Callahan's campaign not only refuses to send me media missives, but won't even respond to legitimate inquiries. I've been shunned. So my opinion of him, which was pretty high, has naturally deteriorated. After what I heard today, it sunk a little lower.

Dent's latest gambit is an robo-call aimed at Callahan's $8 million mistake.

Dent's campaign bluntly summarizes how this happened: "In 2004, the City of Bethlehem was the defendant in a civil trial waged by attorney John Karoly over the 1998 shooting of suspected drug dealer John Hirko by Bethlehem police. The city had already been cleared of wrongdoing by the Pennsylvania Attorney General. After months, the jury deadlocked – meaning the city as defendant would win the case. But instead of accepting a hung jury – and forcing Karoly to settle or start his lawsuit over again – Callahan inexplicably allowed a split-verdict 'poll' vote of the jurors. The city lost the vote, 10-2. That’s right; John Callahan snatched defeat from the jaws of victory."

Callahan then negotiated a nearly $8 million settlement with Karoly, who currently is on his way to some Club Fed.

Callahan's campaign did speak to Pa2010, and manager Justin Schall tries to minimizes a serious misjudgment: “The city of Bethlehem elected [Callahan] twice after that. These misleading negative attacks by Dent aren’t helping create jobs for families in the Valley, sadly it’s just more Washington games from a career insider.”

I see. Mike Schweder, who was Bethlehem City Council President at the time, is certainly no "career insider." In fact, he's even a Democrat. He called Callahan's action “the most stupid decision anyone in my lifetime has made.”

Callahan 's blunder required a bond issue, with the largest payments coming AFTER his time as mayor would be long over, and adding $800,000 more in costs to the taxpayers.

Wait 'till he gets in Congress. You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Click here to listen to the robo-call.

MC's Renshaw Details Allentown's Mismanaged Grants Program

Earlier this month, Morning Call reporter Jarrett Renshaw told you that "one out of every three dollars spent under three downtown grants programs created by Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski has gone to businesses that have closed their doors, some within a few months of receiving the check."

Today, he posted the numerous documents generated by this $289,320 disaster at Valley610. They confirm that grants were awarded by email, and that hand-written invoices were just peachy.

Say Good-Bye to Bi-County Health Department

The death knell to a bi-county health department was sounded yesterday, in a letter from Dr. Lyon to Lehigh and Northampton Counties. Here's an excerpt:

"On May 19th, the Board was informed by Deputy Secretary of Health Michael Huff that neither hospital nor foundation contributions will qualify as local share for the purpose of defining Act 315 match funding. ....

"Needless to say, this decision was wholly unanticipated and requires an extensive reanalysis of all funding projections and a complete re-working of the initial five-year financial plan which had been prepared for delivery to the Health Commission this week and presentation to commission members on June 8th."

The LV Health Comm'n was scheduled to meet on June 8th and review the Board of Health's financial plan. That meeting has now been canceled.

Update (3:40 PM): Chairman Dougherty Reacts

In response to the bad news from Dr. Lyon, LV Health Comm'n Chair Percy Dougherty has officially canceled the June 8th meeting. In a statement, he expresses his disappointment.

It is with great regret that I am forced to cancel the June 8th meeting of the Lehigh Valley Health Commission based on the decision of Michael Huff, the Deputy Secretary of Health of Pennsylvania, to not allow hospital or foundation contributions to qualify for the purpose of Act 315 matching funds from the State. This means the budget of the Provisional Health Board is invalid and must be reworked to reflect the loss of this important source of income.

The importance of this money is paramount because it is needed to draw down funding from the State on a 1:l matching basis. Much of the support for the Lehigh Valley Health Departments rests on the ability to drawn down $6/person in matching funds from the State. The Act 315 fund supports the required services that the health department must provide.

This doesn't mean that the Lehigh Valley Health Department received a fatal blow, but it is definitely on life support until the budget analysis is reworked to make up for this critical piece of funding. It is apparenth at the State of Pennsylvania budgetc risis is being felt by the State Department of Health and they in turn are passing the funding shortage on to us in the form of decreased funding.

I will be asking Michael Huff for further clarification and for additional information from the Health Board in terms of how they will make up for this lack of funding from altemative sources. Depending on the answers another meeting will be scheduled in mid to late July to present the revised budget.

Some believe that this is the death knell for a joint bi-county [sic] health department; but although I believe it is a life threatening injury, I believe that further clarification of income sources must be analyzed before we jump to any hasty conclusions.

King Edwin Wants to Give Back... With Your Money

King Edwin has sent a Royal Proclamation to all His loyal subjects, telling them he'd like "to give back to a community that has given so much to me." But instead of digging into His own pocket, He wants you to dig into yours for His 4th Annual Charity Golf Tournament, to benefit the Lehigh Senior Center.

I'll agree this is a worthy charity for a politician. Seniors do vote. But how is Hizzoner giving something back? He's really just asking you to give something back.

He's not giving a dime. Even the large donation check for the senior center is paid with campaign funds that come from Pawlowski's contributors, not his own purse.

Bethlehem Tp Kangaroo Court Does it Again

I really blew it last night. I covered a Bethlehem City ZHB meeting, but the real fireworks were going on in Bethlehem Township.

Northampton County Exec John Stoffa and developer Abe Atiyeh have teamed up to present a combination treatment center and work release facility, but zoners have adopted a "not in my backyard" approach all along. It makes no difference that the proposed site is in the middle of an industrial park, nearly a mile from the nearest home, and in an area zoned for treatment centers.
Why does Stoffa want this so badly? He answered that himself. "We have four people in a cell, four bunk beds, a commode and a hopper, and it is disgraceful the way we treat our people in our jail."

There's another reason, too. Money.

Nearly seventy percent of the inmate population in Northampton County end up returning there, because for too long, they've been warehoused instead of receiving treatment. Stoffa would like to reduce that recidivism, not just because it makes him feel all warm and fuzzy, but because it will save the County money. 67 cents of every real estate tax dollar, whether it's Lehigh or Northampton County, pays for the cost of prosecuting and warehousing criminal offenders. If that number can be reduced, it will ease the burden on taxpayers everywhere, even in Bethlehem Township.

Stoffa would like to close the Civil War era portion of the County jail, which will save oodles of money in overhead for utilities and personnel. In fact, the cost of this new treatment center is expected to be roughly equivalent to the savings realized by that closure.

But Bethlehem Township's zoners have shown an arrogant disdain for the County. Their rejections of the proposed treatment center have been remanded by Judge Franciosa twice. The second time around, he reversed them and approved the treatment center. Their sole function now is the imposition of "reasonable conditions."

I doubt they know what that means.

I've seen this kangaroo court in action twice. What appalls me most is their treatment of Warden Todd Buskirk, who was asked to address security and public safety back in September. Zoner Gary Brienza, who was melodramatically tossing papers and slamming the table all night, decided to cross-examine Buskirk about his decision to step down as Director of Corrections. Brienza attempted to embarrass Todd, a class act, with needless and irrelevant questions about the real reason for that decision, which never was a part of the record.

Of course, they also silenced my flipcam.

"Where the hell are 'ya?" a voice message on my cell phone boomed when I stepped out into the muggy Bethlehem air after a relatively pleasant zoning hearing in Christmas City last night. I was driving through Bethlehem streets, ignoring the recently adopted cell phone ban that is supposed to save one life so it's worth it.

The person on the other end? You got it. It was the Northampton County Bulldog. Stoffa finally took the leash and collar off Ron Angle last night, and apparently, it wasn't pretty.

"I've been to over 5,000 public meetings, and I've never seen a bigger circus," Angle told me.

I only got bits and pieces because Angle's cell phones never work right. He drops too many of them in cow shit when he goes out to feed his animals. But between the static, he tells me zoners went into executive session right off the bat. They promised to come out at 7:30 PM, and at 7:40 PM, Angle started pounding on their door.

That angered ther kangaroos, who hopped out of the room with their boxing gloves. Chairman Steve Szy supposedly told Angle (now remember, my sole source is Ron and no one else) that he had thirty seconds to speak, and as soon as he approached the podium, Szy told him he was done. Did Atiyeh threaten to sue them, their wives and their unborn children? Probably. He got to speak, too.

Ron had a good time, and will probably be in a good mood for today's Finance Committee. But to get the real scoop about what happened last night, you're going to have to read The Express Times and Morning Call.

Then Solicitor Larry Fox told everyone that the public should stop coming to their meetings. Huh?

Apparently, some Township Commissioners were present, too, and even thy are embarrassed at the ZHB's arrogance.

I went flying over there, arriving close to 9 PM. But by the time I got there, all I could see was the back room where zoners were discussing their "reasonable conditions." I could glimpse one kangaroo's head. I tried opening the door, but it was locked.

My kind of meeting!
Update (9:30 AM): The Express Times account is here. I was unable to find anything from The Morning Call.

Bethlehem Zoners Approve Green Building by LU Students

A vacant Bethlehem city-owned lot at 532 Broadway. A LU architecture professor, joined by four undergrads. Plans to construct a green home on that vacant lot, and then transfer it to Habitat for Humanity for low-income housing. What's not to like?

Zoners unanimously approved plans for just such a green home, designed by LU students, at last night's monthly meeting. "We really want to build this," said undergrad Alex Morley, anxiously waiting for a green light.

Bethlehem purchased this vacant lot for $1,200 at a tax sale in 1996. Professor Christine Ussler assured zoners that after building a green home on this small lot, it will be made available for low-income housing through the Habitat for Humanity. You can see some of the architectural drawings here.

None of these architectural students is named George Costanza.

Zoners also unanimously approved wall and free-standing signs at Broughal Middle School, located on West Morton Street. Although Zoners Ken Kraft and Glenn Taggart were dubious about the need for the free-standing signs, Attorney Terry Faul noted that Broughal consumes nearly an entire city block. It is a four-story, 186,000 square foot building, and the proposed signage identifies the auditorium, gym and family center. School District Engineer Arif Fazil told zoners his signs are "more discrete than other signs in the area."

Jack Matys, who has operated Bethlehem Auto Sales on West Union Boulevard for the past 20 years, received a go-ahead to operate a combination auto sales and repair business at 541 Pembroke Road. Zoners restricted both hours of operation and the use of the repair shop for body work or painting.

Why Legal Notices Belong in Newspapers

Bethlehem's Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board each have monthly meetings. To promote transparency and accountability, the city's web page traditionally includes links to their agendas.

But for the last two months, the ZHB agenda has been unavailable online. And there was no online agenda for the Planning Commission May meeting. Ironically, that's when the Planning Bureau unveiled their new, "user friendly", zoning ordinance.

Last month, Zoning Officer John Lezoche was surprised to learn there was no online agenda for April, and told me someone must be sick. That omission was repeated again in May. Planning Bureau Director Darlene Heller explains that there is a protocol, and someone obviously failed to notify the IT department of the Planning Commission's May meeting .

These are understandable oversights, but illustrate why governments should never be trusted to inform the public.

Over the past four-and-a-half years, Pennsylvania legislators have introduced no less than 26 bills to take public notices out of newspapers' hands and into those of the government.

"It costs too much," say some government officials. And it does. "Trust us to post these notices on our municipal web pages," plead others. They pretty much had me sold.

But government, being government, inevitably fails, as demonstrated by Bethlehem's failure to post the meeting agendas of two separate boards.

That's why those legal notices really do belong in the newspapers.

If you'd like to check these notices periodically, I've created a link to Public Notices on my left sidebar.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dent Grabs US Chamber of Commerce Endorsement

LV Congressman Charlie Dent has just accepted the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to a news release just issued by his campaign. The Chamber, which represents three million job-creating businesses and organizations, states that Dent's re-election "will produce sustained economic growth and help create more jobs.”

Congressman Dent has also been recipient of the Chamber’s “Spirit of Enterprise Award” for his pro-job voting record in three consecutive sessions of Congress.

Congressman Dent is "honored" by this endorsement because "it reflects my long-standing efforts to foster an environment where employers create sustainable jobs.” He also pointedly noted that the Pelosi agenda, supported by his opponent, will stifle economic growth.

“[R]ight now, the Washington establishment is pushing an agenda that will stifle economic growth and job creation – an unsustainable health care entitlement that will impose mandates and new taxes on small businesses and innovators; an undemocratic ‘card-check’ bill to deny secret ballots to workers in union elections; and a national energy tax called ‘cap and trade’ that will cause business and family energy bills to skyrocket. This agenda of more taxes, more spending, more regulation, and more government comes at the expense of private-sector job growth. You cannot be for workers and jobs if you are against employers.

“This year I face an opponent who is on board with these failed, job-destroying policies, and who is supported by Nancy Pelosi and other Washington insiders who are pushing them. My opponent likes to take credit for jobs created by others, but jobs aren’t created by politicians. Jobs are created by the business members of the Chamber of Commerce and other pro-growth organizations. That’s why I appreciate their support. And I will continue to fight for common-sense polices that will support investment and innovation and put Americans back to work.”

Marcia Hahn Poised to Win Two Elections for Dally's Seat

If you see former State Rep. Craig Dally, be sure to call him "Your Honor." He's been elevated to the judicial heavens, and sometimes I can see him, floating by from atop a cloud. He always waves at me.

"Hi Bernie."

"Hi Craig, I mean, Your Honor." At that point a thunderbolt flies up my ass.

Meanwhile, back on earth, ordinary mortals were confused about filling his seat. They decided on two, completely different, elections for the same seat. At the same time.

First, there's the special election. What makes it special is that voters elect someone only to serve out Craig's unexpired term. That only lasts until the end of the year. Party bosses, instead of the unwashed masses, get to pick the candidates for the special.

Second, there's a completely separate election for the next two year term. We still get a say in that one. There's a primary and general election and independents can get on the ballot and everything.

Still with me?

In the special race for Craig's seat, Dem party bosses picked Cory Miller, an unknown college student as their sacrificial lamb in a Republican district. The GOP elite liked Marcia Hahn, a seasoned state house staffer who worked both for Craig Dally and Len Gruppo. Naturally, she trounced hapless Miller with 76.2% in the special.

But that's only 'till the end of the year. What about the election for the two year term beginning in January? Hahn easily defeated Nick Sabatine (2768 - 1094) in the Republican primary. Her margin of victory is something of a surprise to me for two reasons: (1) GOP rank-and-file were upset at how she was selected as the Republican choice for the special election, against the wishes of a majority of the committee people in her district; and (2) she was a no-show at a candidates' night with Nick Sabatine.

OK, so Marcia has won the Republican side of the ticket, but what about the Democrats? Believe it or not, Democrat Cory Miller failed to garner enough valid signatures to get on the Democratic ballot. But Democrats did cast 662 write-in votes, so I figured he just got on the ballot that way.

I figured wrong. They're doing the official count over at the elections office. I've been informed confidentially that, with two or three precincts to go, the official count shows that Hahn has already captured over 400 Democratic write-ins.

She has apparently already won both elections. Isn't that special?

Castille's Judicial Blackmail - The Black Pack Attack

Times are tough for everyone these days. My income is way down from its glorified heights in 2006, before I started blogging. People have decided to pay me what I'm worth.

But did you know that judges are suffering, too? Many are already forced to work part-time jobs teaching classes - sometimes in the middle of the workday - to supplement their meager, $161,850, annual salary. Northampton County's three senior judges only make $497 per day, on top of their pension, to do things like handling motions court so judges can "work" from their home offices or teach their classes or wait for the Cable guy.

How the hell can those poor guys afford a vacation home with a salary like that?

Two enterprizing Luzerne County judges did manage to augment their low wages with referral fees (called kickbacks) for sending kids to privately run juvenile detention facilities. Those little brats probably had it coming, but the feds have targeted these poor jurists in what is obviously a political persecution.

Enter Lord Chancellor Ronald Castille, the big mugmump running the state's supremes. He's really peeved that the state judiciary is only slated to receive a paltry $305 million next year. Why, that's the same sum they got last year. Doesn't anyone realize they're judges? Castille wants $30 million more. That's only a 10% increase.

Sure, many in the private sector are facing cuts. Some have even lost their jobs. But did they go to law school? Do they have to walk around in black dresses when it's hot? Do they have to pretend they're never angry? Worst of all, do they have to put up with lawyers?

Well, Governor Rendell is one of those bastard lawyers, and he's unwilling to give Castille a very modest 10% budget hike in the middle of a rescession. Go figure.

To put pressure on the Guv', Castille has come up with a judicial version of the blue flu, the black pack attack.

Citing the state judiciary's "precarious financial position," Castille has asked Rendell to hold off on appointments to judicial vacancies. Our Top Judge is also considering a case disposition slowdown, shutting down operations one day per week, consoldiating magisterial districts, and cutting staff, including a few judgeships here and there. I don't know whether he's considering asking the judges we do have to consider working 8-hour days. That might be asking too much.

Rendell has only been too happy to comply.

In the meantime, Castille blusters that legislators who refuse to give him what he wants are in violation of their sacred oaths to provide for the Courts. "They want to violate that oath, that's up to them. They may be paid back during the election process by the citizens."

"When they have a whole judgeship that's empty for a year and a half, they're going to realize the situation," huffs the High Man in Black.

If Lord Chancellor Castille thinks, for even a second, that his judicial blackmail will result in some sort of public clamor to lavish even more money on our jurists, he's been wearing that black robe in the sun just a little too often. Given the chance, voters are far more likely to kill a few judgeships.

In Northampton County, there are now nine judges, three senior judges and numerous masters to hear delinquency, dependency, custody, support, probation violations and committments. There's even a master to conduct settlement and status conferences on pending litigation. Do we really need that many?

So if His Excellency Castille is serious about making cuts in the judiciary, what directive has he provided to Northampton County jurists? That's a question Northampton County Council member John Cusick asked about two weeks ago. Thanks to a Right to Know request, I have a copy of Deputy Court Administrator Jill Cicero's answer:

"The Court's only knowlwdge if this initiative was gleaned from a newsletter sent by the Chief Justice. We have not received any formal notification from the Supreme Court or the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania to address this issue. Once we receive notification we will follow the direction of the Supreme Court and AOPC and will notify Council and the Executive."

In other words, Northampton County's Court has no intention of effecting any cost-savings measures, and if they ever decide to do so, it won't be at the request of Northampton County officials. In a meeting with Court officials last week, Council Prez Ron Angle was laughed out of their chambers when he asked them to make some cuts.

If Castille is really serious about this crisis, why has he failed to give Northampton County Courts any cost-saving directives?

Who is Hearing Cases in Judge Koury's Magisterial District?

What's going on with the magisterial vacancy created by Judge Michael Koury's recent election to County Court? In response to a Right-to-Know request, Deputy Court Administrator Jill Cicero has supplied me a copy of a statement she provided to Northampton County Council member John Cusick. "Judge Koury's former Magisterial District Judge position remains vacant. The job is being fulfilled by a compliment [sic] of the seven Senior Magisterial District Judges on a monthly rotational basis. This office ranks 5th out of the fifteen County Magisterial District Judicial Offices in the number of case filings."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hey, It's Time to Break Out the Oakleys

When my grandson and I visit Hitter's Edge in Whitehall, we always finish by window-shopping in the store. I usually just buy one $3 backyard hardball, but we always love to look at the different bats, gloves, jerseys, caps and other baseball equipment available. DeMarini Big Barrels, Easton Stealths - all the bats under lock and key in the chain stores - are just sitting there, begging to be swung. There are beautiful wooden bats on display, too, inviting you to try them out.

Over the weekend, we were checking out the merchandise like we always do, when it suddenly dawned on me that sunglasses might help my grandson on the diamond. I had a little extra money burning a hole in my pocket. Dat quickly found a pair he liked, $30 Easton eyewear that says it's "100% UV protective" with "shatterproof polycarbonate lenses." Cool. They weigh less than an ounce and my grandson was particularly impressed by the pouch, which contains a strap and little cleaning cloth.

He wore them to his game on Saturday, which was rained out after one inning.

When his mother saw them, she claimed I had just wasted $30, but I piously told her that sunglasses are essential to healthy eyes. After I got home, I quickly looked it up on the Internet's Library of Alexandria, Google. Sure enough, there is some study somewhere to back me up. Unless you wear sunglasses, you'll get cataracts, macular degeneration, then your eyes pop out and you die. Something like that.

Google taught me that May is actually UV awareness month, and Business Week reports children are "particularly vulnerable to the harmful ultraviolet A and B (UVA and UVB) damage that can accompany sun exposure."

So wearing shades has nothing to do with looking cool. It's for healthy eyes, damn it.

Tonight Dat wore them during his entire game in Lower Nazareth against the Athletics, except when he was batting. After the game was over, and it as beginning to get dark, he wore them home. His mom later emailed me to tell me he's walking around the block, still wearing his shades, hoping someone notices him.

I think I'll get a pair tomorrow. Aviator glasses. It's too late to help my eyes, but I can try to pretend I'm cool, too.

David & Goliath

Last night, Northwest Bethlehem's Braves were on the road to play Lower Nazareth's A's in a little league game. Kids can play at that level at ages 11 and 12, although the Braves are predominately 10 year-olds.

I saw a big fellow in an A's uniform and thought he was one of the coaches. I thought wrong. This 6'3" athlete is the A's first baseman. He could fall and land on second. This pleasant boy, whose name is Kevin, is just 12 years old. You can see he has a slight height advantage on our second baseman, who is standing. Unfortunately for us, he also has a vicious swing.

After the game was over, his mom said she was taking up a collection so she could keep feeding him.

They both seem to like shades.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pawlowski Strikes Back!

The Morning Call's Jarrett Renshaw has posted King Ed's response to Allentown City Council VP Michael Donovan's blistering attack.

Hizzoner attempts to defend the indefensible - he'd rather let a campaign contributor send him to an Iron Pigs game than do his job and be present at a City Council meeting. Sure, he was booed at the Iron Pigs, but Queen City legislators might have questions about that City's disastrous finances.

During his re-election campaign, King Edwin repeatedly stated that he attends as many city council meetings as he can. That was untrue. He obviously considers his campaign coffers more important than Allentown's fund balance.

The real Pawlowski appears in this Geza Frey youtube video, where he is confronted, face to face, over his absence from council meetings, among other things.

By the way, he throws like a girl.

Is Portland Borough Full of It?

You might think so if you lived there. In East Bangor Borough, the sewer bill runs $125/quarter. Bangor Borough does a little better, charging only $355/year. But if you're unfortunate enough to be one of the 579 people who lives in little Portland, located along the western side of the Delaware River, you get to pay $100 per month. Whether you're hooked up or not, that's the monthly bill. It's the highest sewer bill in the entire state.

How the hell did this happen? According to Express Times reporter Doug Brill, a $5.8 million project suddenly became a $9 million venture because someone screwed up estimating the cost to lay pipes. Believe it or not, civil engineer Derek Hughes actually lists the Portland sewer project as an accomplishment. It's actually a disaster that has hurt people on limited incomes, which is most of this tiny borough.

$6.46 million of this money is borrowed and, according to Brill, "even if everyone paid his or her sewer bill on time -- including the 30 property owners who wound up on the delinquent list -- the borough would not collect enough money per month to cover the upper end of its projected [loan] payments." So basically, borough residents are being squeezed.

Consider the case of one woman. A college secretary on a limited income, her water was going to be shut off because she was six days delinquent. Her savings were wiped out, literally flushed down the toilet.

Hook-up fees are $1,500. Construction of laterals can cost much more, as much as $7,000.

When this sewer project first started, Northampton County made some CDBG money available for people seeking grants for a hook-up. While borough officials told discouraged some residents from applying, they made sure to take care of themselves. Mayor Kay Bucci took a grant. Borough Council Prez. Sherma Godshalk, who just happens to be the meter reader, got 5 free hook-ups for herself and her family. Councilman Tom Fish, unemployed at the time, legitimately qualified for a grant. Then, before he received it, he got a job as a Bangor teacher. He took the money anyway. Councilman Steve Knott thought he turned down the money, but the grant was included in the closing costs of a home he bought or re-financed.

On Thursday night, Northampton County Council voted unanimously to apply $36,000 in CDBG money "to offset the cost of the construction of sewage laterals for all remaining income-qualified homeowner-occupants when connecting to the sewer system."

"Portland's out of control," commented Prez Ron Angle.

A 400' Plus Home Run in Lower Nazareth Tp

On Friday night, Northwest Bethlehem's aptly-named Braves, a team of mostly 10 year-olds, faced Lower Nazareth's much bigger Angels in what turned out to be an exciting game. Lower Nazareth's pitcher, a boy named Drew, sent one over the fence in center field, which had to be over 400' away. Bats in Little League may only be 2 1/4" in diameter, which makes that hit even more amazing. After the game, Drew's teammates signed the ball.

The Angels beat Northwest in their first matchup this season, but on Friday night, the baseball gods favored The Braves. They were down to nine kids and even had to recruit nine year-old Andrew McGraw, who ended up playing third. That must have pleased them.

Leadoff hitter Dat Lambert, pictured on the left, scampers toward first after hitting a ground ball down the third base line. Not quite 400', but he beat the throw to first. Barely. Then rounded the bases for home, thanks to a nice hit by Travis Skinner, one of the team's few 11 year-olds.

The picture you see was sent to me by professional photographer Jeff Kaboly, who was shooting for Lower Nazareth. I had ordered some pics from him during football season. He remembered me and sent me that picture gratis.

Being the proud grandfather, I thought I'd share it with you.

Concealed Carry Applications: Should Sheriff Only Contact Boss as Last Resort?

If you live in Northampton County and would like to carry a concealed weapon, you need a license from the County Sheriff. But before that happens, he conducts a background check. In the People's Republic of Northampton County, that includes contacting your employer.

A few weeks ago, Northampton County Council member Lamont McClure questioned that practice, stating it has a "chilling effect" on the right to bear arms. Although I agreed with the Sheriff, the rest of you agreed with McClure.

One of you argued, "If you want to make the argument that employers should be contacted when someone applies for a concealed carry permit, that's a pretty slippery slope. Should employers also be contacted by the government if they haven't paid their income taxes? After all, employees who aren't paying their tax bills might be more likely to embezzle. I'm guessing that most of us don't want our employers having access to our tax records."

I ended up conceding I was wrong.

Last Thursday. McClure introduced a non-binding resolution requesting the Sheriff only to contact an applicant's employer as a last resort. "It is felt that contacting an employer has the distinct potential to create an unjustifiable chill on the employer / employee relationship in this time of economic hardship and uncertainty." McClure also characterized the Sheriff's background check a form of "bureaucratic harassment."

Council Prez Ron Angle worried that McClure's resolution is "interfering with the Sheriff's office." Council member Ann McHale suggested tabling the resolution and inviting the Sheriff to appear before Council to explain his rationale.

The motion to table passed 6-2, with McClure and Tom Dietrich voting against it. Council member Bruce Gilbert had to leave the meeting early and missed the vote.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dent Camp Asks Callahan, Where's the Promised Tax Cut?

This news release comes from Charlie Dent's Congressional campaign:

This weekend, Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem celebrates its first year in business. Millions of Pennsylvania dollars have poured into the casino. Meanwhile, the taxpayers of Bethlehem are still waiting for the payout promised them by John Callahan.

In 2005, Mayor John Callahan said in defense of the pending casino at BethWorks that it “would be an enormous economic boost to the city . . . I would immediately be able to lower taxes and not have to raise them for a time."1

However when it came time to deliver, Callahan reneged. He opposed a Council vote that would have directly returned a portion of the Sands’ host fees to the taxpayers in the form of property tax relief. He called this effort “irresponsible” – proving yet again his firm belief that HE knows how to spend people’s money better than they do.

Instead, Callahan spent the $7 million host fee – even though that represented more than 10 percent of the city’s 2009 budget. Callahan managed to increase spending by a record 12 percent for 2010. He even had to take $300,000 in un-budgeted casino money in 2009 (without Council approval, against city ordinance) to cover basic city expenses during the year. Callahan now says it will be five years before property tax cuts are possible – one year after his mayoral term expires. In other words, keeping Callahan’s promises will be the problem of the next Administration.

“John Callahan says he’d represent us in Washington the same way he’s managed Bethlehem,” said Shawn Millan, campaign manager of Charlie Dent for Congress. “Apparently that means breaking his promises and spending the people’s money before he even gets it.”

While taxpayers wait for their property tax cut, John Callahan has already reaped a windfall in the form of thousands of dollars in contributions from casino gambling interests — including $5,000 from Sands Corporation’s PAC just one week before it became illegal for Callahan to accept it.

1. “Callahan says $10 million slots levy will allow him to lower taxes,” The Morning Call, Apr 21, 2005

Norco Council Gets Tough on County Spending

Several times a year, Northampton County Council is presented with a budget amendment, mainly to account for pass through grants and other routine matters. I've never seen one fail.

When one was presented last night for approval, I left the star chamber for a minute to get a drink of water. But in that short time span, the amendment failed, 5-3. Council members Ron Angle, Barb Thierry, Lamont McClure, John Cusick and Tom Dietrich all said No.

They were obviously repeating a message delivered in the Finance Committee the day before, when Angle surprised Stoffa by calling for a 5% workforce reduction. Then they began picking at several contracts submitted for approval, questioning what effort had been made to negotiate the best possible price.

They also questioned the wisdom of a proposed lease renewal for District Judge Masut at 31C West First Street in Wind Gap. Owner Joseph Depue wants to increase the monthly rent to $2,250 at what Angle describes as a "strip mall off the beaten path." Although County officials obtained two comparables, Angle scoffed they were from Bethlehem and Allentown.

Noting all the empty office spaces in the Wind Gap area, Angle suggested the landlord should be happy to accept the same rent from a tenant that always pays.

Council will vote on that lease in two weeks.

While this was going on, Stoffa sat quietly, but toward the end of the meeting, he let them have it.

"Tonight, you cut $4.5 million from the state," he chided Council, pointing to specific grants eliminated in children and youth, homelessness, drugs and alcohol. He reminded them they would be "looking in the mirror tonight."

As Stoffa stormed out of the room, Council Prez Ron Angle asked Budget Administrator Doran Hamman whether the money has to be returned to the state. The answer is Not Exactly. The County can still keep the money, but can't spend it until a budget amendment is approved. Because the state fiscal calendar ends in June, Council does need to act quickly.

Hamann then laid out some of the fiscal problems facing the County:

* In 2009, the County dipped into its fund balance to the tune of $6.9 million to balance the books.

* In the first four months of this year, the County has already had to spend $4 million of the $6 million set aside in its fund balance. Hamman is concerned that the County may have to spend between $16 and $20 million of its fund balance by the end of the year.

* Combining the swaption cost as well as some anticipated state cutbacks, Hamman warned that the County could end up spending an additional $49 million.

* Real estate tax revenue, which is pretty much the County's chief source of income, has only risen 0.223% this year.

* Health costs have increased 43%.

Angle, who has been exasperated by the County's finances, stated that "if we continue on this same path, we're headed for a major tax increase." He explained that, while he admires and respects Stoffa, "we've got a job here also." Noting that little can be done about national or state finances, Angle said "there is something we can do about this County. That's why we were elected."

Lamont McClure, agreeing with Angle, stated that "significant and stark action needs to be taken." He pointed to positions that are fully budgeted but never filled.

Stoffa, who feels that he was ambushed by Angle during Wednesday's Finance Committee meeting, is justifiably concerned about losing pass thru grants that help our young, infirm and old. But County Council is also justifiably concerned that there's been no sense of urgency from the Stoffa administration about County finances.

Next Thursday, Stoffa and his Finance mavens will meet with Council to see where money can be saved. Already, the following cost-savings measures are being considered:

* Reducing the workforce via attrition, and insisting that employees in slow departments cross-train to work where help is needed (layoffs damage morale and result in no short-term savings because the County must pay unemployment compensation);

* As many as 54 unfilled Gracedale positions are included in this year's budget, and Some Council members have suggested that the budget amendment should eliminate the funding for those vacancies;

* The possible savings realized by employee buy outs needs to be studied;

* The County needs a plan for Gracedale and County-owned buildings like Governor Wolf (Easton) and Bechtel (Bethlehem).

* Do we need nine judges and three senior judges?

Despite the acrimony, which included shouting in the halls that brought back memories of the good ol' days, I thought last night was this new Council's most productive meeting to date. They really do intend to cut spending. Unlike Allentown City Council, I think they have the administration's attention.

Ron Angle, Counterfeiter

During his County Executive report at last night's meeting of Northampton County Council, John Stoffa reported that the County has been presented with two counterfeit bills, a $50 and $100 bill.

"I'll get blamed," responded Council Prez Ron Angle.

"Well, we know it was you. It had your picture on it," snarked new Council member Tom Dietrich.

"And this was in the Criminal Division ..." continued Stoffa, refusing to smile.

"I was there doing estate work," added Angle.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pawlowski at Iron Pigs Trough During City Council Meeting

Allentown City Council VP Michael Donovan is steamed that Mayor Edwin Pawlowski is usually MIA for City Council meetings. Last night was no exception.

From his blog, Donovan takes Pawlowski to task with some pretty strong language.
"I am tired at seeing how cowardly you are not to come to Council meetings. I have great respect for Mr. Bennington. I feel sorry that he has to take the heat that is directed at you. The charter says the following:

K. Be present or represented at all regular City council meetings. The Mayor may participate in all regular City Council discussions but shall have no vote.

If I were Mayor, I would have the GUTS to occasionally come to council to answer questions and cooperatively discuss city strategy. Want to know why I am calling you out? Because you do not do this.

If I felt a recall was possible, I would pursue that. You do not impress me as a leader, and when you DO try to recruit people to run against me — yes I know you have — that makes me realize even more how paranoid you are."
Well, Michael, I can tell you where Hizzoner was last night. Instead of making a guest appearance at City Hall and answering a few questions, he and campaign manager Mike Fleck were feeding at the Iron Pigs trough, guests of some engineering outfit.

I've been critical of Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, who is running against Charlie Dent for Congress. He was invited to the very same shindig, but guess where he was? That's right. He attended his City Council meeting instead of networking with possible campaign contributors.

Bad Advice to a Preacher

Every meeting of Bethlehem City Council starts with a prayer. Last night, College Hill Moravian Church Pastor Cynthia Rader-Geyer was invited to do the honors.

As she somberly approached the podium, Bethlehem resident Stephen Antalics wisecracked, "Give 'em hell."

Driving Under Influence of Cell Phones Now Illegal in Bethlehem

Driving under the influence of hand held cell phones will soon be illegal in Bethlehem. In fact, you won't even be able to phone in a take-out order from your scooter or bicycle. By a 5-1 vote on May 19, Bethlehem City Council effectively ruled out any use of hand held cell phones while driving, whether it's for talking, texting, emailing or even playing tetrix. This Ordinance goes into effect on June 15, with a warning period that will extend until August 15. That coincides with the last day of Musikfest. After that, it's a $100 fine. Chronic offenders (six times) will be assessed $500.

David DiGiacinto, the sole Council member to vote against this ban, ironically helped draft an amendment to make it stronger. He proposed banning any "interactive wireless communications device," which could include laptop computers, PDAs or any electronic device that sends and receives messages, including cell phones.

Talking with a hands-free device is still permissible, and even hand-held cells may still be used for emergencies or if you pull over to the side of the road.

Before the vote, Bethlehem resident Don MacRae told Council that the real problem is distracted driving, which could even include noise. He pointed to a noise ordinance that bars car radios that can be heard 40' away, but complained it's never enforced. Other Bethlehemites, however, supported the measure. Al Bernatos called it "proactive", while Dana Grubb applauded it as sending "a message to state officials."

On City Council, DiGiacinto explained his opposition by simply stating he considers the Ordinance illegal. But Council member J. William Reynolds argued enactment might spur the state into finally adopting a statewide ban. "I do think there's something to be said for putting pressure on the state," he noted.

Philadelphia, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown and Wilkes-Barre are other cities that have imposed a prohibition on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, but currently, there is no statewide ban. The state House did adopt a comprehensive ban in January, but there has been no action in the state Senate. According to Council member Eric Evans, that might happen as soon as June 15, but Reynolds speculated that this legislation could also be used as a tool in state budget negotiations.

Local AAA spokesperson Theresa Podguski has told me that only seven states, including the District of Columbia, bar the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Twenty-four states make text-messaging while driving illegal, and twenty-seven states limit their restrictions on cell phone use to teens.

Podguski maintains that no studies show that the use of hands-free phones actually offers any safety advantage over hand held phones. "It's the conversation that's the distraction," she said. AAA only advocates a texting ban.

The Ordinance also provides for signs notifying the public to put their cell phones away while driving. But Council member Reynolds, noting that the cost of signs throughout the City could run anywhere between $2,000 to $15,000, asked Mayor Callahan to hold off on signs in the hope that a statewide ban is imposed sometime this Summer.

Council President Bob Donchez, who spoke last, provided the most compelling reason for a ban. "If we save just one life, it's well worth passing this Ordinance tonight." Donchez, a former teacher, told Council that 7 or 8 of his students were buried as a result of tragic automobile accidents.

"If there's a challenge, so be it," he concluded, referring to the very real possibility that this a city ban on hand-held cell phones is pre-empted by the state Vehicle Code.

That bothers our local District Attorneys, too.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli told me, "I believe that the ordinance is unenforceable due to preemption. There is at least one judicial decision, I believe in Bucks County, stating the state ONLY has authority to legislate in the area of motor vehicles." As a result, Morganelli refuses to use his prosecutorial resources to pursue violations. "I have advised the City Solicitor that I would authorize them to act on behalf of the Commonwealth in any summary appeals resulting from enforcement of the ordinance, and they have authority to prosecute summary matters in the District Court level," he stated.

In Lehigh County, District Attorney James Martin expresses reservations as well, but is willing to test the legality of the Ordinance in Court. "When Allentown recently passed its ordinance, I said I would let the court decide. I took that position because even though I think the ordinance is in conflict with the uniformity provisions of the Vehicle Code and will be found to be unenforceable, no court except the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas has so held. That decision has no precedential significance in Lehigh County. Further, the Vehicle Code is silent as to cell phones; so there is presently no conflict between the ordinance and state law (arguably)," he said. He cautioned that if a cell phone ban statute is adopted by the Pennsylvania Legislature, that will trump any local ordinance. "At such time I would not enforce the local ordinance. I think there are strong public policy reasons to have a uniform state law in both of these areas. Bethlehem did ask for my opinion and I told the clerk I would be consistent with what we are doing in Allentown. Obviously, if the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas declares the ordinance illegal, it will not continue to be enforced, and I will so direct the Police Department," he concluded.

In other business, City Council approved the sale if a 1.5 acre tract of land located along Silvex Road to Colleen T. Miller. She agreed to pay the appraised price of $13,500, although county assessment records place the value at $14,700.

Dent Recognized For Fight Against Melanoma

LV Congressman Charlie Dent yesterday received the Shade Foundation of America’s 2010 Rays of Hope Award. This award is presented by Shade Foundation creator Shonda Schilling, herself a survivor of malignant melanoma. Her husband Curt just happens to be the former Phillies' hurler whose 98 mph fastball resulted in 3,116 strikeouts during his lengthy career.

Rays of Hope recognizes Congressmen who have led the fight to eradicate melanoma and advance skin cancer prevention and detection capabilities.

“I’m extremely honored to receive this award from the Shade Foundation, and specifically Shonda and Curt Schilling, who have been incredible advocates for melanoma research and prevention,” Dent explained in a news release. “Melanoma impacts far too many families in the United States. Until this disease is cured, I’ll continue to work to improve its prevention and detection.”

Dent helped establish funding to study the connection between melanoma and military deployments. American troops serving in Middle East have a much greater risk of contracting the disease due to increased sun exposure and intensity in the region.

Dent has also sponsored bipartisan legislation, the Tanning Bed Cancer Control Act, which would require the FDA to examine the device classification and warning label requirements for tanning beds to ensure that consumers are clearly and effectively informed of the health risks associated with their use.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Each year more than 1 million people are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer, affecting more people than prostate, breast, colorectal and cervical cancers combined. Malignant melanoma is the most deadly of all skin cancers. More than 60,000 Americans develop melanoma annually and an estimated 8,000 Americans die each year from melanoma. Every eight minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed and melanoma claims the life of one American every hour. However, if caught early, melanoma can be removed and monitored. Early detection is the key. The median lifespan for patients with advanced melanoma is less than one year, whereas, the survival rate can exceed 90 to 95 percent in early stage melanoma.

Dertinger Loses Dem State Committee Bid

In addition to running for State Rep., Charles "Don't Call me Charlie" Dertinger ran for the Democratic State Committee. According to the unofficial tally, he lost that county-wide race, coming in behind Ladd Siftar, Joe "Bossman" Long and Mike "I don't give a" Fleck Bob Freeman.

Angle Calls for 5% Layoffs in Northampton County

During yesterday afternoon's Northampton County finance committee hearing, Council Prez noted that the size of County government has swollen since Exec John Stoffa took office. Between January 1, 2006 and today, the number of County employees has shot up from 2037 to 2220, an increase of somewhere around nine per cent.

In addition to the increase in staff, Angle complained that the County is dipping into the fund balance. It had set aside $6 million for spending this year, but according to Angle, has already spent $4 million in the first quarter.

"Is this how we should be running a business?" asked Angle.

"This is not a business, it is a government," answered Stoffa, noting that he can't lay off corrections officers and has no control over the Courts, DA or Controller.

"You need to cut employees by 5%, across the board," charged Angle, noting this would save the County $7 million. He warned that both major layoffs and massive tax hikes are only two to three years away unless the County acts proactively.

Council member Ann McHale noted that the county's core services - courts, human services and jail - are off limits, but left the door open to cuts elsewhere.

Stoffa told Council that new positions arise as a result of a new judge and the needs of both the jail and Sheriff, and asked why Council approves these positions if it intends to complain about them. At that point, McHale stated that administrations always turn the table on Council for approving new hires that they themselves recommend. "We're always the bad guys," she complained.

Council member Barb Thierry told Stoffa she respects him and what he's trying to do, but called County finances "a freight train getting ready to wreck. We need to find ways to think outside the box before we are so far out of the box we don't know where it is anymore."

Cutting 5% of the County workforce would mean a reduction of 100 employees. I doubt that would save the County $7 million. It's more likely that the savings wouldonly be $4 or $5 million. The bad will generated by a 5%, across the board, layoff, would be devastating and would undoubtedlyy affect the production of the workforce retained.

But how about this? Since workforce turnover is at least 5% per year, the layoffs can be accomplished by attrition. This would save money and finally force reluctant County administrators to start cross-training its workforce. Even John Stoffa has complained, "We always talk about that, we never do it." The possibility of real layoffs would provide a good incentive for teaching workers skills in other departments.

For example, the Recorder of Deeds has a staff of 13, but the real estate market is only 50% of what it was five years ago. Some of these workers could be "loaned" to departments that are overwhelmed, like the Civil Division.

Blogger's Note: After writing this piece, but before posting it at the witching hour, I noticed that Michael Duck has posted his own, very detailed, take on yesterday's testy Finance Committee meeting. He nails it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I Owe Morganelli a Morganelli

Let me tell you the two best-kept secrets at the Northampton County Courthouse. The first is its cozy law library, which is open to the public. But the best secret is its bright and cheerful cafeteria, managed by head chef Richard McInerney for Susan's Catering.

One of McInerney's creations is The Morganelli, a great Italian sandwich named after our District Attorney. Now that Joe Sestak has defeated Arlen Specter in the Senate primary, I owe John Morganelli a Morganelli.

I had a sinking feeling I'd lose my bet over the past few days. But I never would have guessed that Sestak's margin would be that big.

Dent Scores Stunning Upset Against Tea Party Favorite

Who'd have thunk it? With Joe Hilliard plotting campaign strategy, 5,000-page mailers, and LV Tea Party Queen Kim Schmidtner blabbing about "principled" Republicans, I thought this would be a lock for Mat Benol. But Charlie Dent won 85% of the vote in Lehigh County and 76% in Northampton.

Sic transit gloria Lehigh Valley Tea Party.

Congrats to Mike Horton!

I'd like to be among the first to congratulate West Point grad Mike Horton on his election as the next State Rep. for the 131st District. Hard-line conservative Justin Simmons may have managed to sweep moderate Karen Beyer out of the way in the primary, thanks mostly to dirty campaigning. Simmons' extremist views should play very well in the general election.

Dertinger Better Fire His Pollster

Charles "Don't call me Charlie" Dertinger was bragging that his private poll showed him a 10-point winner. With all precincts in, he's ahead by a scant 6 votes out of 3,838 ballots cast in his state house race against popular Frank Scagliotta.

Note to Don Albanese: Use Yard Signs

Don Albanese, who ran against Joe Emrick in the 137th legislative district, is anti-sign. There were no Albanese signs advertising his campaign.

With all precints in, Albanese garnered just 780 votes to Emrick's 2666.

A yard sign or two might have helped.

RenewLV To Host Brown Bag About Bicycling

RenewLV will host a brown-bag session this Friday, 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. in the Community Room of Allentown Center Square, 15 North 7th Street, Allentown (entrance faces corner of 7th St and Hamilton St). It's all about bicycling.

Steve Schmitt, who heads up the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (CAT), will be one of the panelists. He'll be joined by John Schubert, Pennsylvania Pedalcycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and John Sharpe, Bike Allentown.

I remember the last time Schmitt conducted a panel about "appropriate transportation" in Allentown. Local activist Joe DeRaymond decided to go, got into a shouting match with Schmitt, and Schmitt stole Joe's car keys. He ended up walking 7 miles home. At night. In the rain.

If you would like additional information, or have any questions about the event, feel free to contact Steve Bliss at sbliss@renewlv.org or 484-893-1060. Bring money for a cab or a bus. And check the weather forecast.

Janet Jackson Uses Press & State Police to Scare Angle

Over at The Express Times, Sarah Cassi has posted a story telling you that Ron Angle's sister-in-law has requested the Pennsylvania State Police to investigate Ron and his wife for playing games with his father's estate. You'll probably see something in today's Morning Call, too. Let me fill you in on what really happened.

Both newspapers have adjoining offices at the Northampton County Courthouse, just down the hall from the Recorder of Deeds. Not many people know they exist. But Late Monday or early Tuesday, someone dropped off a copy of a letter that Attorney Janet Jackson had just sent to the Pennsylvania State Police, demanding a criminal investigation of Angle and his wife over a civil will dispute.

Janet Jackson, by the way, represents Angle's sister-in-law, who's very much a part of that will controversy.

When this dispute first surfaced, the verbatim ruling made by Register of Wills Dorothy Cole was plastered all over a local hate blog before the matter had even been made public.

In addition to this leak, Jackson decided to try her case in The Express Times, after learning that Fred Angle's estate was actually much smaller than she had hoped. Now she's continuing to spin the local newspapers, making sure her goofy letter to the state police finds its way to their little-known courthouse offices.

Jackson's Bethlehem office address is listed as Suite 201, 60 W. Broad Street. It just so happens that Angle's biggest enemy on Northampton County Council, partisan Democrat Lamont McClure, is next door at Suite 202. Lamont certainly knows that the newspapers have offices at the courthouse. So does his wife, who works in the District Attorney's office. Interestingly, McClure had a signed copy of the Register of Wills' decision before it was made public. Gee, what a coincidence!

Obviously, some of this is political. Jackson denies that, telling Express Times reporter Sarah Cassi in February that her contributions to Democratic candidates are "in the past." That's interesting, because she's given John Callahan $1,750 for his congressional bid against Charlie Dent, with her most recent contribution on April 5. She and her husband hosted a fundraiser for failed congressional wannabe Siobhan Bennett, and were at that time listed as her campaign chairs. They dug into their pockets and found $1,750 for Bennett. In the past five years, they've spent $6,300 on Democratic state and federal candidates, from Charles Dertinger to Ed Rendell. (Their spending can be tracked here, here and here.)

Just as obviously, Jackson is motivated by greed. First she tried to use the press to humiliate Ron and his family into settling this dispute. Now she's using both the press and state police. But he seems to be laughing at her, almost as hard as the state police. "They'll never take me alive," is what he told Sarah Cassi.

Jackson's been so busy going after Angle in the press and with the state police, that she seems to have forgotten that someone could decide to go after her.

According to the Rules of Professional Responsibility concerning publicity, the last thing she should do is provide copies of her letter to the state police for dissemination to the newspapers. That's done solely to smear the other side. And the letter to the state police, especially as leaked to the media, is obviously intended to give her an edge in that will dispute, and is an abuse of the criminal justice system by someone motivated by personal gain.

Now you may wink at this and say, "It's only Angle. Who cares?" What will you do when some lawyer decides to try a case against you in the newspaper? How will you feel when some mouthpiece complains about you to the state police, and conveniently makes sure that the newspapers get a copy? How would you feel when reporters ask you about the complaint, but won't provide you with a copy of the letter?

I liked Janet Jackson much better when she just sang and had the occasional wardrobe malfunction.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Air Products to Invest $300,000 in Easton's West Ward


Easton Mayor Sal Panto, Jr., and Lafayette College President Dan Weiss joined Air Products Senior Vice President Alex Masetti today in announcing the company's investment of $300,000 over six years in Easton's West Ward. The company joins Lafayette Ambassador Bank and Easton Hospital in supporting the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership operated by the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. Air Products will receive tax credits from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for its contributions.

The company was particularly attracted to the Partnership's Urban Ecology Project because it complements the company's own commitment to responsible environmental stewardship. The West Ward Neighborhood Partnership recently declared its intention to make the West Ward "the greenest urban neighborhood in Pennsylvania" through a wide range of initiatives, including green building rehabilitation, weatherization, community and backyard gardens, tree planting, environmental education, water testing, and more.

Also attracting the company to the project was the active involvement of Lafayette College. Also attracting the company to the project was the active involvement of Lafayette College. Lafayette is a nationally ranked liberal arts school with strong programs in the humanitites, sciences and engineering . Lafayette College has played a prominent role in the Urban Ecology Project; students have participated in Tech Clinics, community service projects, and the study and design of green rehabilitation of West Ward buildings.

In announcing the company's investment, Masetti said, "Tomorrow's engineers will have to understand the relationship between economic growth and environmental stewardship. This project is cutting the edge in training students to strike the balance necessary to save the planet while creating economic opportunity and building strong neighborhoods. Air Products is proud to be a part of it."

The West Ward Neighborhood Partnership serves the area bounded by Sixth Street to the east, 15th Street to the west, Butler Street to the south, and Bushkill Creek to the north. To date, more than 300 new trees have been planted, over 50 residential facades have been improved, and nearly 70 sidewalks have been replaced. Funding was provided to the Boys and Girls Club to start and operate the teen center on Northampton Street. The 600 block of Northampton Street has been streetscaped. Additionally, commercial signs have been upgraded, porches painted and repaired, and murals and mosaics created.

Photo Credit: Ugly Easton

Where the Hell is Buddy Christ?

You just can't count on that Guy. After doing my elections analysis for the last few years, He got all caught up with the Flyers, who've had a - ahem - miraculous playoff season. Buddy denies He's playing games, but come on. Who the hell comes back from a 3-0 series deficit and a 3-0 hole in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals?

Unfortunatley, Buddy ran into a bit of trouble after the last game, where he was caught on camera making inappropriate contact with a fan.

"Don't judge me, dude," is all He'll say.

Blackwater CEO: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply To Barbarians

Demonize the enemy. Works every time.

Divided Bethlehem School Board Tentatively Approves 6.17% Tax Hike

Directors like Michele Cann loved sitting under the lights, just below the stage. "It's so cool in here," she said. Superintendent Thomas E. Persing seemed to agree. "If you're going to have a meeting, be good to yourself. This is a great place," he said.

Dr. Persing was referring to the spacious and mostly empty auditorium at Freedom High School, where Bethlehem School Directors met last night to discuss, of all things, energy savings as well as a tentative budget for next year.

Tentative Tax Hike Approved

Things heated up pretty quickly. A sharply divided Bethlehem School Board narrowly approved a tentative budget for next year, 5-3. If this budget becomes final in June, it means that Bethlehem homeowners will see a 6.17% property tax increase. Homeowners assessed at $60,000 would see a $154 tax increase. Directors Eugene C. McKeon, Irene Follweiler and President Loretta M. Leeson voted against the $207.2 million budget, but the five members voting yes argued they could continue to look for cuts. "It's just to move it along," said Director Rosario S. Amato. Director Judith A. Dexter was absent.

Jolene Vitalos, president of the Bethlehem Education Association, raised several concerns prior to the vote. She questioned why Directors would raise taxes to "stockpile" $2 million into the fund balance. District officials had previously argued that a larger fund balance means a better credit rating, but Vitalos countered that the real reason is to "allow the district to borrow more money to renovate its fourth middle school."

She also complained about the reduction in staff, noting that students returned to school last year with 46 less teachers and other professionals who could work directly with them. "Once again, a reduction of approximately 35 positions is proposed without any significant decrease in school enrollment," she noted, leading to class sizes "well above" the district's recommended guidelines.

Vitalos disputes that six administrators are being eliminated, noting she could only find two.

Board Selects Own Engineer to Develop Energy Savings Plan

Directors also agreed, 5-3, to select D'Huy Engineering to come up with an energy savings plan in the school district, nearly 5 months after rate caps were removed from PPL Solicitor Don Spry ruled that even though D'Huy is the District's engineer, there is no conflict in hiring that firm to come up with an energy savings plan. D'Huy, along with ten other companies

Lawrence Eighmy, an unsuccessful bidder with The Stone House Group, was highly critical of the Board's decision to hire D'Huy. "You will approve D'Huy to oversee their own work," he complained, adding that Directors should have addressed energy savings long ago. "It's a major part of your oversight. ... You had no one watching the shop."

President Loretta Leeson shook her head as Eighmy spoke, but said nothing.

Freedom Band Wonders if Liberty is Getting Preferential Treatment

Meg Selzer, VP of the Freedom HS Band Parent organization, told Directors that Freedom Band members who went to Disney World last year had to pay for the trip out of their own pockets. Their request for funding was rejected. Yet Liberty's band is slated to receive $7,450 for trips to Disney World and Waikiki in 2011. "In light of the budget problems that we are clearly going to have, I wonder why the Liberty band parent organization isn't being asked to pay for that," she said.

Leeson promised to get Selzer an answer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sestak, Simmons, Fail Transparency Test

Election Day is tomorrow. For two candidates, we lack some important records.

Senatorial candidate Joe Sestak, forced to retire from the Navy because of a "poor command climate," still refuses to release his service records. State house wannabe Justin Simmons still refuses to e-file his campaign expenses, or make them available on any one of his three different web pages, while simultaneously questioning his candidate's finance report.

It's a safe bet neither believe in transparency.

Bethlehem 'Canes Finish 2d in Homerun Sizzler

May 15 and 16th was a beautiful weekend for tournament baseball, but the Bethlehem Canes started off on the wrong foot with a 12-10 loss to the South Jersey Elite on Saturday morning. They missed their morning coffee. But then these ten-year old boys, who play for a Liberty High School feeder team, beagne fighting back until they made it to the "ECTB Homerun Sizzler championship" late Sunday afternoon in East Allen's Bicentennial Park. They came up three runs short, but had an exciting weekend with seven other teams from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.

Teams with intimidating names like the Scranton Miners and the Mason Dixon Ruffnecks rolled up in their RVs, ready to play ball. But they did more than that. They wiped out the concession stand. Innocent people riding their bikes were nearly beaned by foul balls several times. Eventually, the bikes stayed away. Even people walking their dogs were attacked by ballplayers and their sisters, asking to know each dog's name, apparently for future reference. The dogs loved it, and the owners were very proud!

Sunflower seeds, bubblegum, jerky and Gatorade were in abundance. But now there's something new. Silly Bandz. They'e just reshapable rubber bands, but nearly every kid has 100 on each wrist, at least between games.

Of course there were several very serious injuries. One of the Canes - his name is Ben - went after a fly ball that glanced from his glove right into his eye, which swelled up like a golf ball. Kids gawked at him, and later debated whether it was a black or a white eye. Eventually, he went to the doctor and was placed on injured reserve. But he returned later to cheer on his friends, who were really impressed by that gigantic bump right by his eye.

Then there's South Jersey Elite's first baseman. He went after a foul ball and ran right into a chain link fence, face first. He immediately went down and coaches and parents rushed to him. So did the ump, who looked at the ball, still sitting inside his glove because this kid had miraculously caught the ball. "The batter is out!" Blue cried, and the first baseman hopped to his feet, rejuvenated by that simple phrase.

The only damper to an otherwise pleasant weekend was pretty much my fault. In the championship game, I noticed that the base ump was setting up almost immediately in front of the third baseman, obstructing his view of the plate. I pointed this out, and rather loudly. The team manager must have heard me because he began to complain about it directly to the ump.

"I have the right to stand wherever I want," snorted the ump.

Actually, he doesn't. I'm not sure exactly what the manager said, but it involved a tricycle and a trailer park. He was promptly ejected from the game. In fact, they stopped play until he was gone and apparently have since complained to tournament officials about this unsportsmanlike conduct.

That's pretty strange, but the strangest thing for me was during one of my grandson's at-bats. When he walked up to the plate, two cute girls right around his age ran up to cheer him on. "I just love Dat," confessed one of them. I didn't notice that last year.

Girls are now watching the boys. They may not know why, but they're doing it. When I told Dat about his admirer after his games, he acted as though he did not care. But then he asked me to point her out.

Who won? Mount Joy Elite Baseball, located near Lancaster. They deserved it, too. They shook hands with the 'Canes twice, after the game and after getting their medal.

The kids set a very good example for us.

They include David Bertolotti, Zach Besz, Jared Burcin, Harrison Fandel, Sam Kraihanzel, Dat Lambert, Alex Laudenslager, Patrick Mayer, Jacob Morgan, Kyle Picht, Justin Schmoyer, Jacob "Uni" Unangst, Jacob "Wags" Wagner and One-Eyed Ben.