Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Who's the Mad Dog?

Northampton County DA John Morganelli, a spin master of media manipulation who conducts about three times as many news conferences as Ron Angle, has already called Michael Ballard's quadruple homicide the slaughter of a "mad dog." When telling newsies about Ballard's car accident not far from the murder scene, Morganelli adds, "He'll be alright, unfortunately." Already, there are stories about Ballards KKK ties and child molestation claims that the DA says were too weak to prosecute, although he made sure they appeared in the newspaper.

All of this - from the statements to prejudicial information fed to reporters by Morganelli - is prosecutorial misconduct, and from a long-time DA who knows better. It's the kind of behavior that could be labeled "harmless error" in light of the overwhelming evidence against Ballard, but could also result in expensive sanctions like a change of venue.

Now don't get me wrong. I know how everyone feels about this guy, and I'm no quadruple murder fan. But in addition to being unfair to the accused, Morganelli's conduct has already cost taxpayers thousands. Any defense lawyer who fails to seek sanctions for this prosecutorial misconduct will himself be later accused of ineffective assistance. Disposing of that motion is going to waste judicial and prosecutorial resources, costing all of us money.

He was elected to prosecute, not persecute.

Norco GOP Loves Pork!

On Saturday, I was Ron Angle's guest at a Northampton County GOP picnic. He told me he'd pick me up. At noon, some Blackwater dudes broke into my apartment, threw a black bag over my head, and off we went. Though unable to see, I could still smell pretty well, so I was pretty sure we were in farm country. After about ten minutes, they threw me out of the flatbed, and sure enough, I was in Bushkill Township, where there still are a few of these exotic animals called cows. Yes, this is Angle country.

What goes on at a Republican picnic? Oh, the usual. Some were reading passages of the Constitution to each other. Others were reciting the Bible or just pledging allegiance. There's always some target shooting. But I never expected to see so much food.

"Eat up, Bernie, eat!"

They had actually roasted a pig for the occasion. They gave her a name, too, although I've been sworn to secrecy about that.

Now you may think Republicans are just a bunch of jerks, but they were really nice. After showing me the secret Republican handshake, they made sure my plate was always full. But I was wary. I know what happened to Nicholas Cage in Wicker Man, so I was ready to bolt.

Most of the candidates were there, including State Senator Bob Mensch. Having never heard him before, I expected a dud. I was wrong. In a matter-of-fact style, he explained that growing the size of government is no way to create jobs, and neatly ticked off these facts in support of his argument.

* Pennsylvania has the second highest number of unemployment claims in the nation.

* Pennsylvania is ranked #45 in job creation. Four years ago, we were ranked #44, so we're going in the wrong direction.

* Our 9.9% corporate net income tax puts us in a tie with Iowa for the highest corporate income tax in the nation.

* Rendell has increased the budget by 40% over his years in office.

* The feds will no longer fund about $800 million in Medicare and Medicaid claims, leaving that expense to the state.

"We can't keep going in that direction," he quietly said, noting that our bad business tax policies must change. Asked about the jobs created by the new casino industry, Mensch noted the gambling industry "does not pay much more than McDonald's or Burger King."

Mensch's message would resonate anywhere, which may explain why he is one of the rare Republicans able to garner union support.

Mensch was a tough act to follow, and none of the other candidates came close.

Ron Shegda (running against Bob Freeman) spoke about gas while his sister kept filling plates with cookies and cupcakes and taking them out to their car. I'll bet they had one hell of a bake sale. Shegda, in a blinding tie-die shirt, droned on while his sister scooped up the goodies. Eventually, someone from the exec committee signalled him to wrap it up.

Matt Connolly (running against Lisa Boscola) brought his cute daughter, who wowed everyone with her singing. He didn't need to speak after introducing her.

Dave Molony (running against Joe Brennan) asked how many people there were from South Bethlehem. Not one person raised a hand. "That's what I'm up against," he lamented, referring to Joe's heavily Democratic district. Dave brought his good-looking kids, too, who must take after their mother. Dave said he wants to get Harrisburg's "taxaholics" into a 12-step program.

Pat Browne (running against Rick Orloski). "If it takes 101 days to pass a budget, it takes 101 days." Huh?

Joe Emrick (running against Charles "don't call me Chuck" Dertinger) had just finished working out. "Just remember the 3 Bs. Be awesome. Be like me. Creatine." Emrick also bragged that in Upper Nazareth, were he is a Supervisor, taxes have actually gone down 7%, which does buck the trend. I think he called Dertinger a girlie boy.

Justin Simmons (running against Mike Horton). "I knocked on 10,000 doors." How many answered? Justin had to be home by 5 PM. They were having macaroni.

Ron Angle (running against everyone). "Did I tell you about my run-in with the judges?" No sooner had he said that than sirens began to wail from a distance. "Morganelli's coming for you!" someone shouted.

That's when I slipped away.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bethlehem's New Zoning Ordinance Favors Callahan's Brother-in-Law

It's the home formerly owned by legendary criminal defense lawyer and the last real Democratic party boss in Northampton County, Justin Jiralanio. Located on a large 2.74 acre tract at the southeast corner of Linden Street and Butztown Road, 2854 Linden St has been owned by Dino P. Cantelmi for the past nine years.

Twice, in 2000 and 2009, Cantelmi tried, and failed, to obtain a use variance for a funeral home in this residential area. His latest proposal is Cantelmi Condominiums, which would entail demolishing Jiralanio's home and replacing it with 21 townhouses, complete with individual driveways and 51 parking spaces.

If Bethlehem's proposed, "user friendly" zoning ordinance is adopted, Cantelmi will no longer need that condo or a use variance. He'll finally be able to operate that funeral home because Bethlehem's Planning Bureau has recommended changing the zoning in that area from residential to light commercial. I'm sure the funeral processions along Rte. 191 will be no inconvenience at all.

Incidentally, Cantelmi is Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan's brother-in-law. That proposed zoning ordinance sure is friendly to him.

That's just one objection voiced repeatedly at First Presbyterian Church on June 28, during one of three public meetings to solicit public input on proposed changes to Bethlehem's zoning. About twenty, mostly skeptical, residents attended.

"I can see this is a sticking point," conceded Planning Bureau Director Darlene Heller, who made the presentation. "I get it. We noted it."

Another sticking point is a change in zoning along Easton Avenue from residential to commercial. When Bethlehem's Planning Bureau first tried that in 2005, thirteen nearby residents complained to City Council that this rezoning would just make "the Stefko-ization" (a reference to the commercial development along Stefko Boulevard) inevitable along Easton Avenue. Every member of City Council echoed those reservations, and the rezoning idea died.

Until now.

Despite a clear indication from City Council, Heller was adamant. "Our office still believes CL [light commercial] is the appropriate zoning there," she declaimed.

"Unless you're a residential owner out there," grumbled Bethlehem resident Dana Grub. "What you need to do is put yourself in the shoes of the people who live in these neighborhoods."

"We're going to make a note of that and look at it," answered Heller.

Hotel Bethlehem owner Bruce Haines complained about plans to rezone a block at Market and New from residential to commercial. "About five years ago, thirty neighbors got together and spent $50 thousand to keep a bar out of a historic area," he noted, opposed to the idea of rezoning residential districts as commercial.

One unidentified resident complained that the new zoning ordinance is designed "to take care of our preferred property owners," adding that in a light commercial district, business owners can erect five-story buildings next to one-story residences. Heller downplayed that possibility, stating it would require a very large tract and ample provisions for parking.

Bethlehem resident Al Bernotas, currently involved in litigation against Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board, complained that the new ordinance eliminates restrictions on 2-ton commercial vehicles parked in residential neighborhoods. "I don't want any tractor trailer parked next to my property."

Although the proposed zoning ordinance was treated skeptically, many provisions were complimented, including parking lot lighting provisions and shared parking.

Believe it or not, Heller thanked everyone for coming and explained there is no specific timetable for enactment of the zoning ordinance. After receiving input and making changes, the ordinance will be reviewed by neighboring municipalities, school districts and the LV Planning Commission. After that review, the ordinance will go to City Council only if there is a recommendation by the Planning Commission.

Callahan: Dent Made Right Call To Vote Against Cap and Trade

When LV Congressman Charlie Dent voted against the controversial “cap and trade” bill that narrowly passed the House last year, his vote was based on the reality that this will kill Pennsylvania jobs while simultaneously increasing Pennsylvania utility bills.

At the time, three of Pennsylvania’s five Public Utilities Commissioners warned the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation of skyrocketing energy costs as well as the loss of 66,000 jobs. (Letter is below).

PUC Letter re Cap and Trade

Now this legislation is being considered by the Senate, and The New York Times reports that "cap and trade" could emerge when the Senate and House reconcile two different bills.

So how does Congressional candidate John Callahan feel about this subject? Well, it took him a year, but he has sided with Dent. According to Pennsylvania Avenue, Callahan would have voted against cap and trade just like Charlie Dent. Mouthpiece Justin Schall is quoted saying, "In this economy, we can’t do anything that would endanger jobs or derail the economy."

Gee, that sounds Republican.

A Republican Dr. Seuss

One of my conservative friends constantly sends me emails trying to convert me, kinda' like the Moonies. I enjoy them mostly because of their good humor, something in very short supply among the preachy Obamaphiles.

Let me share this Dr. Seuss poem, forwarded by my well-heeled blueblood friend (or one of his servants) while I was at home, trying to figure how to break into his house without setting off his alarms.

I do not like this Uncle Sam, I do not like his health care scam.

I do not like these dirty crooks, or how they lie and cook the books.

I do not like when Congress steals,

I do not like their secret deals.

I do not like this speaker Nan ,

I do not like this 'YES WE CAN'.

I do not like this spending spree,

I'm smart, I know that nothing's free,

I do not like your smug replies, when I complain about your lies.

I do not like this kind of hope.

I do not like it. nope, nope, nope!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Judges and Curious George

Courthouse insiders can see that judicial tipstaffs are paid full-time for part-time jobs. Some judges themselves rarely put in a full day, something you can easily determine for yourself by looking at their empty reserved parking spots.

But what about other judicial employees? Do they put in a full forty hours? Probably most of them do, but it's very hard to provide the oversight that is very common with other County workers. Once you ask too many questions, the phrase "judicial discretion" is uttered, which is kinda' like dipolmatic immunity on a local level. So when you ask whether law clerks really work forty hours a week, everyone gets all indignant and insulted.

But last year, Controller Steve Barron was given a glimpse into the inner workings of judicial employees when he looked at what was going on at the DUI Center. He refuses to discuss it with me, and I've only pieced this together as a result of what I've heard after I began writing about tipstaffs. It reveals that tipstaffs are not the only judicial employees getting paid for nothing. Let me tell you the story of Curious George.

Back in 1989, then DA Don Corriere created a DUI Center for the efficient processing of suspected drunk drivers. The courts ended up supervising the Center until 2007, when it dawned on them that if they are the bosses, they could hardly be called neutral and detached arbiters of the findings made at the DUI Center. Former Sheriff Jeff Hawbecker got stuck supervising the Center, but it was too much of a headache, and he shoved it off on DA John Morganelli in 2008.

When that happened, Controller Steve Barron could actually able to review the payments made to county workers who at one time worked under the supervision of the Courts. That's how he learned about Curious George Bruneio, who worked there.

How Bruneio got the job is anybody's guess. Some say he took a test. Others claim he's pals with Deputy Court Administrator Jill Cicero and her husband.

One thing is certain. He does pretty well for himself. Curious George was paid $46,804.76 in 2007. In addition to a base pay of $36,246.78, he received $1,376.46 in vacation, $1,452.93 in holidays, $841.17 in personal days, $1,000 in longevity pay and a whopping $5,887.42 for on-call time. Oh yeah, he also drove to and from the DUI Center in an County-owned car.

So what's the big deal? We have a full-time employee who makes a bit extra. So what?

Well, Curious George has another full-time job, too. You see, in addition to telling people to repeat the alphabet at the DUI Center, he's also Freemansburg's full-time police chief. The courts claimed George was an exempt salaried employee, kinda' like tipstaffs. But if that is so, how the hell did he get nearly $6,000 in oncall time in 2007?

Bruneio got on-call time pretty consistently over the years.

2004: 308 hours at $5,391.54.
2005: 406 hours at $7,427.73.
2006: 504 hours at $9,427.32.
2007: 308 hours at $5,887.42.

That totals $28,134.01 above and beyond the regular pay of a County worker, and one who just happens to be Freemansburg's full-time police chief. It is very questionable whether Curious George was always on-call in that way. I am sure there is a lack of documentation.

When DA Morganelli took over the DUI Center operations in 2008, he stopped the on-call pay to Bruneio.

Despite a directive from County Exec John Stoffa, Curious George continued to drive a County car back and forth from home to work. His home, incidentally, is in Springtown, Bucks County. That continued until a few months ago, when the DA grabbed the car for one of his detectives.

Now, if you haven't decided about Curious George yet, listen to the story told by phlebotomist Gidget Mock. She worked under Bruneio at the DUI Center between 2003 and 2005, and ultimately sued on claims that he and others sexually harassed her. When she told Bruneio, he twice directed her to report to his Freemansburg office. No part of the DUI Center is located there. Here's her version, as summed up by a federal judge.
"In February or March of 2004, Mock went to see Bruneio at his office in Freemansburg to complain about the inappropriate behavior of Marshall and McClymont. When Mock walked into his office, Bruneio got up from his seat, and acted like he was going to close the door behind her. Instead, he cornered Mock, and asked her if she was wearing a padded bra.

"Mock told Bruneio that she did not appreciate his comment. She also stated at that time that she wanted all the comments about her lingerie to stop. In a later incident, Bruneio attempted to touch her breasts when he walked past her in a corridor at the DUI Center.

"In August, 2004, Mock again met with Bruneio at his Freemansburg office, and during this meeting, Bruneio made contact with her breast. Like the previous encounter earlier in the year, Mock entered the office, and Bruneio got up to shut the door. After closing it, Bruneio escorted Mock to a chair, and touched her breast while doing so. Mock attested to the fact that Bruneio said after he touched her breast that he was happy to know that she was not wearing a padded bra that day. Further, when Mock then got up to leave, Bruneio acted like he was going to 'smack [her] ass' as she walked by him. Mock said that Bruneio frequently acted like he was going to 'smack [her] ass.'"
The County ultimately settled with Mock for close to $80,000. Curious George still works for the County.

Whether it is bogus hours or sexual harassment, this is what you can expect when one branch of government refuses to allow the kinds of oversight common everywhere else. It creates an atmosphere of corruption in which the kids-for-cash scheme conmcocted by two Luzerne County judges becomes all too possible.

Northampton County Coubncil President Ron Angle has called a special meeting of the County's Finance Committee on Wednesday at 1 PM to discuss this "judicial discretion" gone awry. Controller Barron has been invited.

Angle Explains Tipstaffs


Over the past two weeks, I've been focusing on Northampton County's tipstaffs, who are regularly paid for hours they never work as glorified butlers for our local judges. Northampton County Council Prez Ron Angle, in a news conference last week, describes their duties.

"The tipstaff is kind of a personal aide to judges. Each judge has two tipstaffs. The tipstaff basically bangs the gavel, says court is in session, bangs the gavel when they're gonna' adjourn, goes gets coffee, shows jurors to the jury room, if the judge is looking for water, he goes look for him. Frankly, they're political patronage jobs is actually what they are. They're not hired based on their ability, they're not hired based on a test. Each judge is allowed to pick two tipstaffs.

"Now, these tipstaffs make in the range of $20 to $28 thousand a year. They're indisputably part-time jobs. They're here when the judge they work for is in the courtroom and court is in session. If he's not here, they're not here. When court's adjourned, they go home. They work on average maybe a little over 20 hours per week.

"They're hourly employees but mysteriously, somehow they're now being called salaried employees. But in reality, they are hourly employees.

"Now in the times we're in - in the United States and in this state and in this County - where people are losing their health care benefits, people are losing many things - these part-time political patronage employees who make 20 some thousand a year for a minimal amount of hours a week, get full County benefits. Their benefits equal their pay. They get it all. They get health care, they get dental, they get a pension, they get everything imaginable. To hit a gavel and say court's in session, to hit a gavel and say we're going to lunch, to go get coffee, and to basically be an errand person.

"Now anybody who's been around the courthouse realizes, and I'm not looking to demean them, but that is the job. That is the honest reality of that is the job.

"Well yesterday, when I and Mr. Stoffa tried to explain to the President Judge that these are the kind of things we need to cut, it's not going to have any impact on the functions of the Court. Well, they were adamant. These guys are very important guys who they don't know how they could function without them.

"So I would ask the taxpayers of Northampton County, because most of these tipstaffs are retired people, wouldn't every retired person in Northampton County love to have a $25 thousand a year job for a few hours a week, get another pension some day and get full health benefits? We'd have people lined up for these jobs. But you don't get a chance to get that job because that's a political patronage job.

"Those jobs should absolutely be eliminated. If a judge says to me, or like Mr. Onembo tried to say to me, well who will bang the gavel, who will close the door? Well, most of the time, for those people who cover the court beat, there's two or three deputies in the courtroom. Let the deputy bang the gavel, let the deputy go for coffee, let the deputy fill the water jug.

"I don't expect the lady in Walnutport who's a widow on a fixed income to pay for it, or the young couple in Hellertown, who's trying to hang onto their house, to pay for it.

"Frankly, the courts are out of control ... . They live in their own world. They don't care about the taxpayers of Northampton County. They live to serve their little kingdom over in their ivory palace made of marble. Well frankly, as you can see by me, I serve the people, and it's time the courts got snapped into line. "


Now if the tipstaff positions are eliminated, as Angle suggests, judges will just complain that the legislature is interfering with a separate branch of government, and one we have an obligation to fund. They'll win. But we can lose a battle and win the war.

How? Re-classify tipstaff positions in next year's budget so that they are only paid when they actually work. Kill the benefits, too. Judges can then sue their heart out, but they lose. It is impossible to justify payments for hours not worked. That's called theft.

Lehigh and Northwest LL: On-field Rivals, Off-field Friends

Although yesterday's hot sun slowed everyone down, Northwest Little League's ten-year olds quickly came to life when some lifesaver offered them baseball cupcakes after yesterday's game.

It's that time of year. All Star Tournaments for District 20's fifteen teams have been underway since Thursday. Here's the way it works. You play until you've lost twice. At my grandson's 10 year-old level, it is possible to advance from the district all the way to the state championship. For older groups, it's the world. They might play teams from Latin America or Japan.

Locally, Lehigh Little League has dominated the 10 year-old division over the past ten years with two district, 5 regional and one state championship. But to do that this year, Lehigh's bombers - which include power hitters like Sammy "the slugger' Kraihanzel and golden gloves like Kyle Picht - are going to have to get past Northwest. Harry "the Heater" Faindl has been hurling sparrow missiles in his last few outings. Forget MLB, the Pentagon wants him. And slugger Tyler "T-Man" Anthony knocked a weather satellite out of the sky in his last at-bat.

Of course, these kids know all this. They go to school together, live near each other and even play with each other on the Bethlehem Canes, a travelling tournament team that just won ECTB's Memorial Day Invitational. They are friends who will likely be playing together at Liberty High School in a few short years.

So it's no surprise that in yesterday's sweltering heat, Lehigh's kids were among the fans rooting for their friends at Northwest. Sammy and Kyle were signing autographs, along with another Lehigh slugger, young David Bertolotti. Everyone calls him "The Mayor" because he's so damn friendly. Even the umps love him.

Northwest's hitting was too much for North Central, and after 5 1/2 very long innings, the final score was 14-5. A barrage of singles and doubles won the game. That was Northwest's second win. In their first outing on Thursday night, they pounded Southside Bethlehem, 12-6.

But Lehigh has two victories under its belt, too. Despite being behind Hellertown 9-3 on Thursday night, they came out on top of that game, 17-12. Then they just demolished a combined Northeast Bethlehem and Freemansburg team on Saturday, 22-0.

So this Wednesday night, at 6 PM, Northwest will face Lehigh. Next year's bragging rights are on the line. Losing team lives to fight again, so it's very possible these teams will face each other twice. Once all the dust has settled and only one team advances, I am certain that the other will root their friends on and mean it. Both organizations have produced some classy ballplayers.

Of course, Lehigh and Northwest need to keep an eye on Nazareth, which also has two wins.

Here's how things look so far.

Hellertown: lost to Lehigh
Nazareth: 2 wins. Mountainville and East Side
Lehigh: 2 wins. Hellertown and NE Fountain Hill
Northwest: 2 wins. Southside and North Central
North Central: lost to Northwest
Northeast and Fountain Hill: lost to Lehigh.
Southside Bethlehem: lost to Northwest.
City Line: beat Freemansburg, lost to Pennridge
Mountainville (South A-town): Lost to Nazareth
East side A-town: Lost to Nazareth
Pennridge: 1 win against Cityline
Freemansburg: 1 loss to Cityline
Southern Lehigh: no team
Richland Area: no team

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Biden: Only a "Smartass" Would Ask for Lower Taxes


Looks like Obama dumped the wrong guy. The McChrystal staffer who told Biden to "Bite Me" makes more sense. Biden, incidentally, is the guy who persuaded John Callahan to run for Congress.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Is Angle Senile, Too?

Two short weeks ago, Ron Angle was telling Express Times reporter Doug Brill that Senior Judge Franciosa, of all people, is senile. But I'm wondering whether the Northampton County Bulldog forgot to take his pills yesterday. Let me tell you what happened.

Angle called a 2 PM news conference to blast the Court. He and County Exec John Stoffa had just finished a two-hour conference with Court Administrator Jim Onembo and PJ Kim McFadden, in which they all pledged to work with each other. Almost immediately after that conference ended, Onembo fired off a letter that basically says, "We're judges and we'll do whatever the hell we want." McFadden even issued a Court Order demanding that two vacancies be filled ... now. But instead of sending the letter to Angle or Stoffa, it went to Council member Ann McHale, who just loves those black robes. That's just another snub to Angle and Stoffa. Stoffa noted the slight, but was more amused than upset. But Angle is furious and used the bully pulpit to cast a spotlight on the Court's disregard for County finances.

Now Ron did a pretty effective job of portraying Onembo as a backstabber who not only goes back on his word, but does it behind the backs of the very people to whom he pledged cooperation. (You can read Sarah Cassi's account here). But this story has nothing to do with any of that.

It's about poor Michael Duck.

Michael Duck must have drawn the short straw to cover this news conference for the Morning Call. Now Duck has that beard thing going just like Riley Yates, the Morning Call reporter whose "Dressed for Success" story made fun of an Angle Court appearance in stained T-shirt and baggy trousers with suspenders. That was below the belt (or suspenders).

Yates and Duck are physically similar. They both have some kind of beard (probably in honor of former Comments Editor Glenn Kranzley). They are also young and skinny, at least compared to most of us. But they are two different people. Really!

But Angle got them mixed up. Throughout the news conference, he repeatedly referred to Duck as Yates. "You wanna' make fun of the way I'm dressed today, Yates? Let me show you the inside of my shoes. See that? That's hay."

And so on.

Duck eventually told Angle, "I'm not Riley Yates."

I've seen the two of them together so I believe him.

Embarrassed, Angle said something about having a senior moment, and later apologized to Duck.

This is why old farts should never call older farts senile.

Should Middle Class Be Paying Higher Taxes?

Yesterday, I told you that Northampton County taxpayers, some of whom are unable to afford health insurance, are nevertheless footing the bill for health care coverage for County workers. And thanks to the federal health care overhaul, the price is going up, and could easily contribute to a tax increase next year.

We are in the middle of a recession that may be turning into a depression, especially if you look at the burgeoning number of sheriff sales and our 10% unemployment rate. So is this really a good time for a tax hike?

Democratic County Execs John Stoffa and Don Cunningham are doing their best to avoid that, and are actually working with their Republican legislative counterparts (Angle and Browning) in a refreshing display of bipartisanship. But at the much more partisan national level, House Democrat Majority leader Steny Hoyer is arguing that we need to raise taxes.

Of course, Republicans are furious. LV Congressman Charlie Dent lobbed a news release stating, “Raising taxes on American workers and small businesses – to pay for continued overspending in Washington-- is not only a mistake, it is doomed to failure as economic policy. The question is not whether government can ‘afford’ to let people keep their own money; it’s whether taxpayers can ‘afford’ the government’s reckless spending. And taxpayers deserve to know where John Callahan stands.”

Dent points out that his opponent, John Callahan, has already raked in $10,000 from Steny Hoyer. And it is fair to say that Callahan is very pro tax. In Bethlehem, he has signed off on four property tax increases plus a $52 municipal service tax, and his own budgets have increased spending by 54 percent in just six years. He reneged on a promise to cut taxes using casino host fees, and instead boosted spending by 12 percent just this year. Lest we forget, Callahan is also the leading proponent of increasing the local sales tax by 17 percent to pay for government overspending.

Of course, the notion of raising taxes smack dab in the middle of a recession is idiotic, so I'm with Dent on that point. But in a way, Hoyt and Dent are both right. We do need to cut spending. But we also need to raise taxes if we are serious about reducing the deficit.

Why do I say this?

For one thing, social security is now running at a deficit. According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that wasn't supposed to happen for another fifty years. But it did. That's what 2.7 million new claims and a deepening recession will do. So instead of borrowing from social security, as we've been doing for years, we now have to use general revenues just to keep it afloat.

That's a problem, but it pales in comparison to Medicare, where the deficit is a whopping $36.3 trillion, give or take a trillion.

When pols speak about our national debt, they conveniently ignore the cost of Medicare and social security, resulting in a an artificially low figure of somewhere around $13.5 trillion, although Obama's latest budget will add between $8.5 and $9.7 trillion to even that figure over the next ten years. When you add everything together, the real national debt, right now, is close to a $56.4 trillion sinkhole.

The only way we dig out of that is by a combination of cuts and tax hikes.

David Walker, who served as Comptroller General and headed the nonpartisan GAO under both Presidents Clinton and Bush, has a sobering assessment, along with some very specific suggestions. Here are some excerpts from one of his recent speeches.

Connolly Slams Boscola Mailers

Yesterday, I told you about Matt Connolly and his state senate campaign against Lisa Boscola. He's made an issue out of the mailers that all incumbents, including LV Congressman Charlie Dent, routinely send at taxpayer expense.

Legislators justify this as a way of communicating with and informing constituents. But they are often criticized, especially by challengers, as blatant self-promotion. During his news conference yesterday, Connolly released this statement:

"Pennsylvania right now is undergoing yet another budget shortfall. Our elected officials look high and low to find waste in programs and departments, but never seem to look at themselves. One such area of spending that serves no one other than the official in question is taxpayer funded newsletters and self-promotion pieces. My opponent, Sen. Lisa Boscola (D), has been printing and sending multi page, 4 color mailers since she entered the senate 11 years ago. Add to that the many birthday cards and other items sent on the taxpayer dime and it all adds up to a greater deficit. Our officials must use their own money for things that promote themselves and are of little or no value to their constituents. As your senator, I will introduce legislation that will limit the total budget for communication mailings within a district. Simple black ink on white newsprint will suffice. The glossy mailers may be printed on recycled paper, but are not recyclable, like magazines. They just add to the landfill. Many of them are quite extravagant – not done by some in house staffer but a real professional. What does that cost us? In her last 6-page mailer, there were 8 pictures of Mrs. Boscola yet less than one third of it had any real information that would help taxpayers. Our officials need to remember that they work for us and have to spend our money in a way that we approve, not that makes them look the best.

"I respectfully ask Sen. Boscola to refund to the taxpayers from her large re-election fund the cost of the entire amount of last term's mailing and other non-citizen communication to the general fund. The commonwealth needs it and with $177,000 in her campaign war chest she can certainly afford it. The taxpayers must come first."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bethlehem Zoners Make Everyone Happy

Makeshift tents made the courtyard between Bethlehem's public library and City Hall an obstacle course on Wednesday night. But for two business owners and one Center Street family, it was worth the trouble. Bethlehem's Zoners unanimously granted all three appeals.

Nick Bozakis, owner of the popular Nick's Pizza on Main Street, also owns a four-family dwelling at nearby 813 Main Street. Seven years ago, he decided to build a four-bay detached garage on the property, as well as an apartment on the second floor. He submitted a plan called "Bozakis Apartments", and was granted a building permit for the garage. Nobody realized that the second floor apartment was omitted. Then Bozakis obtained plumbing, electrical and mechanical permits for the second floor apartment. All the work was inspected and approved. It was only after all these improvements were completed that he discovered that he never actually had a green light for the apartment. As a result, he's had an empty apartment for the past seven years.

Allentown Attorney James Prescott, representing Bozakis, told zoners there had been "missteps" by both sides, and Zoning Officer John Lezoche conceded a "blunder on our part." "We should not issue permits for any other trades until a building permit is obtained," he admitted.

ZHB member Ken Kraft put it like this: "You're here for a variance to do something that's been done for seven years."

Solicitor Mickey Thompson noted this is a "lost in translation" scenario, and zoners quickly granted Bozakis the variance for that second floor apartment.

Zoner's second request came from Gregory Berger, represented by Bethlehem Attorney James Holzinger. Berger operates a three-bay auto repair business at 746 N. New Street, where he employs three mechanics and a secretary. He was before the ZHB ten years ago, when he first bought the business as a combination gas station and auto repair shop. Bucking the usual trend, Berger sought and obtained permission to discontinue gas sales. Now he wants to expand his business 49.7% so he can add an additional two bays and allow mechanics to work inside. One of his neighbors appeared to compliment Berger's quality work. Zoner William Fitzpatrick told Berger, "It's nice to hear that some of these people are good neighbors to you."

Berger left the meeting room knowing that his appeal had been granted.

The final application considered by zoners was Jan and Helena Hudsky's request to convert an existing three-season porch into a family room at 1755 Center Street. Before the hearing, Jan Hudsky told The Bethlehem Press that he is originally from Slovakia and his wife is native to the Czech Republic. As a boy, he could see the orange glow of Dresden burning during the fire-bombing of WWII. Asked how zoning here compares to Slovakia, he said, "If you need a garage, you just build it."

In the land of the free, he needed a dimensional variance, but he easily got it.

Ron Angle's Summer Uniform

Last Friday, when Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle appeared in Court sporting a stained T-shirt and baggy pants, Morning Call reporter and fashion consultant Riley Yates decided to make a big deal out of it, in an article entitled "Dressed for Success." Angle had been cutting hay when summoned to Court with only thirty minutes to get there. The judge understood, but Yates just had to get in a little dig. After all, Angle is from the disenfranchised Slate Belt.

Yesterday, Angle had a two-hour long meeting with County Exec John Stoffa, Court Administrator Jim Onembo and President Judge Kim McFadden. They are attempting to find common ground in the neverending quest to reduce the size of County government everywhere, even in the Courts. Tipstaffs might have been mentioned once or twice. I can recall no occasion when the PJ and Court Administrator sat down for that long with the Exec and Council Prez. It's safe to say Angle has the Court's attention, and that's a positive sign.

I know this because there are no secrets in Northampton County. Morning Call reporter Riley Yates found out, too, and called Angle for comment.

"I'm not going to speak to you until you learn to dress better," is how the Bulldog tells me he replied to Yates before hanging up.

Above, you can see Angle in his new County Council summer uniform. Notice the nice dress shirt, along with wading boots for all the bullshit so common in government.

Race Car Driver Matt Connolly Taking on Boscola

His name is Matt Connolly, and up 'till now, he's used to racing with GTOs and Porsches at Matt Connolly Motorsports.

Now he's in a completely different kind of race against the Porsche of Lehigh Valley politicians, state senator Lisa Boscola. Today, he's hosting a news conference at The Bethlehem Rose Garden to complain about Boscola's frequent constituent mailers, paid for at taxpayer expense. He'll be introducing legislation to ban them.


Connolly claims he was inspired to run while volunteering for Charlie Dent's 2008 re-election.

Matt might be surprised to learn that Congressman Dent sends out informational mailers, too. Here's what he said when I asked him about it in 2008:

"Well, if I could have the media publish this information, that would be great. but they don't. A lot of my press releases are ignored, so this is one of the few ways left that I can communicate. By the way, we keep limitations on how much franked mail we send out. I have returned $200,000 in federal funds from my MRA. I run a frugal office. We don't spend a lot of money on a lot of frills. But we do feel that, from time to time, it is necessary to send out an informational mailer."

Boscola could easily make the same argument. Unfortunately, I will miss his news conference and am unable to ask him whether he ever raised this issue with Dent.

Connolly's campaign is being managed by Lehigh County Comm'r Glenn Eckhart.

Pam Varkony Regular Op-Ed Columnist at Daily Caller

My black Irish sister, Pam Varkony, used to write a great column at The Morning Call. But she, like so many other talented writers, became the victims of a struggling newspaper industry. Now, we're all struggling. We are losing jobs and homes, but there are fewer journalists to tell us what really is happening.

Well, here's some good news. Pam Varkony has landed on her feet as an an op-ed columnist with The Daily Caller, a widely read national news site catering to Republicans. Her first piece, The Woman Effect, appeared yesterday.

Congrats, Pam!

Dent Respects Obama Decision to Replace MacChrystal

LV Congressman Charlie Dent has issued this statement responding to President Obama’s decision to dump General Stanley McChrystal:

“I am extremely grateful for General McChrystal’s leadership in Afghanistan. He has led our troops through an extremely difficult and complex conflict with a spirit of determination. However, I respect the President’s decision, as Commander-in-Chief, to make a personnel change he found necessary for ensuring our success abroad. I am confident in the abilities and resolve of General Petraeus, and agree he is the best leader to assume command of our mission in Afghanistan.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hanover Township Residents Protest Group Home For Mentally Ill

"I already live two doors away from one group home and they're going to put a second group home just two doors from that."

That's how Hanover Township resident Joe Janowski feels about a group home proposed by Moravian Development Corporation, partnering with Northampton County, at 3925 Airport Road. Janowski is just one of eighteen people, from concerned mothers to senior citizens, who crowded into a tiny meeting room to voice their concerns last night.

Northampton County Mental Health Administrator Kathleen Kelly told supervisors that the County is partnering with Moravian Development to establish a supported housing program for four county residents as well as two short-term guests. In response to questions from Bethlehem Attorney William Matz, Kelly stated that the group home is for people who suffer from mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorders, but have no drug or alcohol addictions and no criminal record. "These are individuals who are very capable of living in the community," she stated. She added that the home will be staffed by two "highly trained and skilled mental health professionals" during the day, and one at night. She indicated the home would be funded by the state, and is one of about thirty similar group homes throughout the County.

Stephanie Anthony, a mother of two who lives near the proposed group home, told supervisors that "we already have a group home behind us, and it gets awfully rowdy." She later told me, "We see the cop lights behind our house almost every night."

Neighbor George Werkheiser noted a nearby playground and worried that some residents might "roam" there. That concern was echoed by Supervisor Stephen R. Salvesen. In a booming baritone, he spoke of a person from another group home, "wandering neighborhoods at odd hours of night and peeping into the windows of residents."

But Kelly assured everyone there would be "no roaming" because that behavior only is exhibited by people suffering from "cognitive disabilities."

Supervisor Glenn R. Walbert, chairing in the absence of John N. Diacogiannis, wanted to know what would prevent the County from changing the kind of resident once approval is granted. "What prevents it from becoming a treatment center?" he asked. Attorney Matz assured Walbert that Hanover Township's Zoning Ordinance prevents that from happening.

Solicitor James Broughal told residents and supervisors that the Fair Housing Act requires that group homes be treated like any other residence. "You could have 100 group homes in your neighborhood and there's not a lot we could do," he warned.

An exasperated George Werkheiser retorted, "We give rights to one group of people, take them away from another and then we have to pay for it." But Broughal remained adamant that "we cannot treat this application any differently than any residential request."

Hanover Township Supervisors will vote on the conditional use application on July 14, and Moravian Development's David Roth told Supervisors he'll seek the necessary permits about three weeks after the application is granted. He also told residents that the property will remain on the tax rolls.

Blogger's Note: Despite the obvious public interest, I was surprised and saddened that there was no coverage from the two daily newspapers. Supervisors thought I was there for an Eagle Scout proclamation, but Solicitor Broughal blew my cover.

John Morganelli Only Interested in the Law

His laughable claim that Angle's appeal is moot demonstrates he has no interest in establishing precedent, and is justifiably concerned that a neutral judicial body will overturn Senior Judge Michael Franciosa's bizarre decision to disenfranchise the Slate Belt.

Who Is Claiming Full Time Pay for Part Time Tipstaffs?

Last week, I told you that virtually all of Northampton County's nineteen or twenty tipstaffs are paid for 80 hours every pay period, regardless whether they are here. They are paid as hourly, not salaried, employees. Most of them put in twenty or less hours per week. But somebody is filling out time cards giving each of them 80 hours per pay period.

Who?

Court Accountant Badaoui Boulous, who takes care of the payroll for judicial employees, referred all questions to his boss, Court Administrator Jim Onembo, who did admit tipstaffs are paid for hours not worked. But I neglected to ask him just who is signing off on those time cards.

Yesterday, I filed a "Right to Know" request with the Court's "Right to Know" officer, Jill Cicero. "I am requesting a copy of the time card submitted for tipstaffs, which I believe are classified as CS8 full-time hourly employees, over the most recent pay period." I told Cicero she could redact social security numbers and only asked for one pay period, but wanted to see those time cards.

After making my request, I bumped into Cicero, and she told me everything I need is at Payroll. I should just go there and get it, if I can.

Payroll, however, has no time cards. Boulous enters all the data, and forwards the payment requests for all judicial employees, including tipstaffs. Interestingly, Payroll tells me Boulous gets his information from Jill Cicero, and they think she has the time cards.

So basically, the very person who told me to go to Payroll may have the time cards herself.

I will renew my request with Cicero today. I think it is important to learn who is authorizing hours that are not worked by County employees.

Fed'l Health Care Overhaul Will Hurt Norco Government

When he voted against the federal health care overhaul, passed along partisan lines just a few short months ago, LV Congressman Charlie Dent warned it was going to cost all of us. According to an unnamed Northampton County bean-counter, it may soon be affecting your county tax bill. Here's how.

Northampton County is self-insured. Its medical plan is administered by Capital Blue Cross, but all employee claims are paid from the county till. That means your tax dollars pay the bills, and those bills are going up for two reasons.

First, thanks to the overhaul, the County must now pay the medical, dental and even some eyecare claims of all family members under age 26. There is no requirement that they continue to live with their parents or be dependents. The County must pay all of these expenses at no additional cost to County workers.

Second, there currently is a $12,500 annual limit on what the County will pay for retirees before insisting on other types of insurance. Thanks to Pelosicare, that cap has been lifted and the County must pay it all.

"Washington isn't sending us any money to pay the bills. They're just playing Santa Claus," remarked this County official, who estimates this will cost us several hundred thousand dollars. And as he concludes, "Every single dollar must be paid by the taxpayer, one way or the other."

Not Another Death Threat!

I haven't had one of these for awhile. Apparently, I've now been targeted by the The Posse Comitatus.

Three years ago, I tagged one-man fringe group and former gubernatorial candidate Sam Rohrer, a Bob Jones University grad who thankfully is a soon-to-be-former state representative. Rohrer has this bizarre notion that the state Vehicle Code has no application to individuals who exercise their God-given right to drive their gas guzzlers, drunk or sober. That's precisely the same argument used by the wingnuts in The Posse Comitatus and sovereign citizen movement. It must be somewhere in the Constitution or Bible or something.

It apparently took someone three years to read my blog and post this witty retort.
you know, when there is a revolution, these kind of forums will let us "wingnuts" know who are the best people to use as target practice and human shields. Stupid people like the author of this article deserve to be put out of their misery!

"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom — go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!" ~SAMUEL ADAMS
With support from true Amerikans like that, I just don't know how Rohrer lost his bid for the governor's mansion.

I might report this to DA John Morganelli, but he's awful busy right now pursuing a political lawsuit against Council Prez Ron Angle.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why General McChrystal is in Hot Water With the Prez

I like this guy.

Orloski Challenges Browne to Abolish Per Diems

Allentown attorney Rick Orloski, who has his eyes on the seat currently held by State Senator Pat Browne, has challenged the incumbent to join him in seeking to abolish per diem payments made to state legislators. Here's a copy of Orloski's open letter to Browne:

Dear Senator Browne:

On June 16, 2010, Senator Andy Dinniman (D, 19th) and Sen Richard Alloway (R, 33) have introduced legislation to eliminate per diems for State Senators. Per diems have been used as a mechanism for State Senators to increase their annual salary by asking for an unaccounted daily increase currently up to $169.00 for showing up to work.

Between December, 2007 and October, 2009, State Senators paid themselves $774,700.00 in per diems. Later figures are not currently available.. That amount involves 5,560 separate transactions.During that same time, you charged the taxpayers for 155 separate per diem transactions totaling $17,300.00. That is money you charged the Commonwealth on top of your legislator's salary.

The abolition of the per diem system is something that you and I should be able to agree upon so that it will not be an issue in the November election. I hereby request that you disclose to the taxpayers the total amount of per diems that you have received first as a member of the House of Representatives and thereafter as a State Senator. That information ought to be in the public domain. Please facilitate the disclosure.

In addition, I ask on behalf of the taxpayers of the 16th senatorial district that you join with Dinniman & Alloway in mandating the end of the per diem system in the State Senate. I have read reports that there is a handful of State Senators joining with them, but I could not find anything suggesting that you are one of them.

Finally, as a demonstration of your real commitment to saving taxpayers money, I request that you should refuse to participate in the per diem system and not take any further per diems.

If I missed your press release announcing your support for Dinniman-Alloway, my congratulations. As Senator Dinniman said: "I refused to take per diems because I thought they were wrong. I believe one way you can create change is by refusing to participate in what you feel is wrong." Stop the illegal de facto pay raises using per diems. You should not be paid extra for showing up to work.

Fighting for the taxpayers,
Richard J. Orloski
Democratic nominee, 16th senatorial district
Allentown, PA 18104

Northampton County Schedules Record 129 Sheriff Sales in July

"There's no question that today's housing market is in significantly better shape than anyone predicted 18 months ago."

Obama'a Housing Secretary, Shaun Donovan, must hope that repeatedly claiming things are great will make them so. But the cold numbers tell a different tale. More than a third of the 1.24 million borrowers enrolled in the President's $75 billion mortgage modification program, have already dropped out. And in Northampton County, a record new 129 Sheriff Sales is scheduled for this July. If you add in the sales continued from previous months, the list includes 218 properties.

The previous County record was set in August 2009, when 106 properties were listed for sale.

I don't know if the American people can take much more help from Obama.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Angle's Farmer Attire Draws Derision From Morning Call

I'm a slob. One reason for that is because I'm also a yoyo. My weight goes up dramatically when I don't exercise. Now I own two very nice suits, but they're thin man clothing. So until I drop a few tons, about the nicest clothing you'll see on me is a polo shirt. My usual attire is raggedy jeans and ancient T-shirts.

Ron Angle is pretty much a slob, too. He claims the only person in Northampton County who dresses worse than me, is him. He's probably right, too. But at least he has an excuse.

He works his ass off. You're just as likely to see the Northampton County Bulldog in bib overalls as in a fancy three-piece suit. He may be a savvy businessman who actually understands swaptions and derivatives as well as any financial advisor employed in the Lehigh Valley, but he starts every day feeding his cows. He's also always painting something. You're just as likely to find him atop some roof as in a board room.

So on Friday morning, while in the middle of cutting hay, he was told he had thirty minutes to get from his Upper Mount Bethel farm to the Courthouse on a matter being heard by, of all people, the very senior judge he had just called senile.

Senior Judge Franciosa is presiding over a real estate dispute between Angle and Dr. Palmer Cotturo, a Bangor dentist who wants to develop a golf course in the Sate Belt. Dr. Cotturo is actually Angle's campaign treasurer and they remain close friends, but he's been unable to put together the financing for three large tracts Angle previously agreed to sell to him, and wants more time. He's already been granted one six month extension.

Angle was under the misimpression this was a mtter for the lawyers, but zipped on down to the Courthouse as soon as he learned he was needed, apologizing to Senior Judge Franciosa for being dressed like a farmer. Franciosa understood, but Morning Call reporter Riley Yates decided to make a big deal out of Angle's drab attire. The headline smirks, "Dressed for Success."

I'd like to know how many successful farmers wear three piece suits to cut hay. I'd like to know how a farmer's clothing has become an object of derision.

Riley Yates' regular beat is the Courts. So is he saying that litigants who dress like farmers should expect to lose? What does that say about our system? Is he saying Angle should dress more respectfully? Then why is it that Yates himself wears no tie or jacket to cover the courts? Is that "dressed for success"?

Or is this just a way to give Angle another shot?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kim Beitler Steps Down as Lehigh County's GOP Vice Chair

It was nice while it lasted. Kim Beitler, elected Lehigh County's GOP chair on Tuesday night, has already stepped down. Here's her statement:

I have been serving this committee and the organization of the Lehigh County Republican Committee as Office Manager since January 2007 and I've been a volunteer for it since 2001. Last Tuesday; June 15th, unbeknownst to myself, I was nominated from the floor for the position of Vice-Chair. In my desire to serve the committee and defer to its wishes I accepted this nomination and was newly elected to the position of Vice-Chair. I wish to thank all of you for your belief in my abilities and in my leadership skills. This election was sincerely a humbling one for me.

Now, after much thought, deliberation and discussion, I have concluded I must step down from the position of Vice-Chair. My interest for this committee is to always do what is best for it; to not hinder it, to not create ill feelings, but to serve you. I realize there is a conflict of interest with my being a paid employee of this organization and an elected officer. I do not believe that this is a good situation for our organization. I will continue to serve you as office manager so nothing has changed. The many benefits of my work here is that I get to use my skill set while meeting and working with some wonderful and energetic (committee people) volunteers like yourself all while obtaining the flexibility needed to care for my mother during her illness.

So, in closing, I thank you for your support and your belief in me, I apologize for any confusion this has caused, I pray for no ill feelings from anyone and please know that I am still here to serve you as I always have. Please don't let this small issue overshadow the news of the promising new leadership of our new Chairman and all the other newly elected officers and the good work that all of us can achieve by working together for the good of this committee and our Republican Party.

The Northampton County Bulldog Barks

Get Ready For Parking Nightmare at Norco Courthouse

Much needed renovations to Northampton County's crumbling parking deck are imminent, perhaps only a week or two away. When it starts, and it's going to take four months, parking will be at a premium.

Exec John Stoffa had previously decided to close off 60 parking spots at a time. But he's learned the County can save $50,000 by closing off 120 spots. So guess what he's doing?

County officials have contacted nearby St. Anthony's and will be able to rent a lot from them for the four month duration. That will cost aroud $10,000, but the County will still save $40,000.

In the meantime, workers will be asked to carpool as much as possible.

By Two Votes, Walt Garvin Is New Norco Dem Boss

Thanks to three disallowed proxy votes, Walt Garvin is the new bossman for Northampton County Dems. This party insider eked out a narrow 42-40 victory over reformer Michael Laws in majestic Courtroom #1. Although I supported Laws, Garvin won in a fair fight. Even I understood why those three crucial proxy votes, which would have changed the results, were disallowed. Let me tell you the story.

This afternoon, I was tipped off that party bosses, who knew I was supporting Laws, would attempt to get rid of me and not allow me to vote. I do support Republicans like Charlie Dent and Ron Angle, and that may be a violation of some rules somewhere. I was ready to argue that since Joe Long himself was illegally elected four years ago, they were in no position to enforce rules against me at a reorganization meeting.

Instead of trying to eject me, these local honchos were much worse. They were actually polite to me, allowed me to sign in, and even gave me my official Dem committeeman certificate. At the beginning of the meeting, Bossman Joe Long announced their "only" purpose that night they were meeting was to pick a new party chair and vice chair. So I was in.

It met some people for the first time, like Sestak campaign director Bar Johnston. She could easily be a model. I used to bug Ladd Siftar all hours of the day and night when he served on County Council, and when I saw him last night, I couldn't help going over and talking to him and his friend, Olga. I also had a pleasant chat with Maria Dertinger, who I like to call the "nice" Dertinger.

Mike Fleck went out of his way to be nice, pointing out that Ron Angle and he are tight. And when 18' County Exec Stoffa dropped in, Fleck pointed to him and said, "Even John Stoffa likes me."

"Angle and Stoffa aren't always right about everything," was my snotty answer, but Fleck was still nice. He has to be. He's a pol.

Easton native Darcel Gibson, who works in the Civil Division and was just elected to the Dem committee for the first time, was sitting in one of the pews, soaking it all in.

"Comrade!" I said.

"Comrade!" she replied.

Almost as soon as the meeting started, somebody objected that Joe Long needed to step down as party chair and appoint a temporary chair to conduct the election, pursuant to the bylaws. Instead of throwing a hissy fit, he stepped down gracefully. He appointed Charles Dertinger interim chair.

Garvin and Laws were nominated and allowed to give brief speeches about themselves, and then elected committee persons were allowed to cast secret ballots.

I told you about three proxies. I had one of them, given to me by a committee person unable to attend last night's meeting, and allowing me to cast her vote. Michael Laws had two.

But we were prevented from casting them. Aware that the bylaws permit proxies, I objected. But Joe Long himself showed me the actual language, which provides that a committee person's proxy must be given to another person in that district. Laws had the same problem with the two proxies given to him. So though they would have changed the results, I agree they were illegal.

Mindful that this was no mandate, Garvin pledged to end the divisiveness and rancor within the local Democratic party, and was immediately asked what he intends to do about the BP oil leak. Actually, he might have an easier time with that.

Long pointed out that there are 137 elected committee persons, but there could be a maximum of 298.

Vice-Chair went by acclamation to the only person nominated, Kiki Schock.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tipstaffs Receiving Full Pay For PT Jobs

Yesterday, in the course of looking into the tipstaff issue, I learned that at least one tipstaff has been getting paid for eighty hours every pay period, even though he's only rarely here.

"That's called THEFT. The DA and/or Controller should investigate." That's how one of you responded, and it spurred me on to make more inquiries. What I've learned is that virtually all tipstaffs are paid for 80 hours every pay period, regardless whether they are here. I learned they are paid as hourly, and not salaried, employees.

That's an imprtant distinction. Hourly employees must be physically present.

What this means, therefore, is that someone is filling time cards that falsely report eighty hour pay periods. Even if you believe tipstaffs are justified and that judicial operations must be given great deference, how can you pay people for hours that have never been worked?

I called Court Accountant Badaoui Boulous, who takes care of the payroll for judicial employees. He referred all questions to his boss, Court Administrator Jim Onembo.

I then called Onembo, who told me that tipstaffs perform a "vital function" and that the courts "do a pretty effective job with the dollars we're allocated." I agree that the courts run efficiently, but why are the tipstaffs being paid for 40 hour weeks when they are not here 40 hours, as required by the Wage & Hour Act.?

Onembo stated tipstaffs are "considered full time," but was "not going to indicate they work forty hours." He added, "It is what it is." Whatever that is.

What's clear is that these workers are being paid for 80 hours every pay period, even though they work less. Onembo suggested that perhaps the hourly rate should be bumped up and employees only paid for the hours they actually work.

Clearly, something needs to change. You don't pay public employees for hours they have not worked. I have no wish to attack the integrity of these people, but in the eyes of many members of the publcic, this is stealing.

Longoons Planning Ambush in Courtroom One

I've been tipped off that tonight, before I have an opportunity to cast a vote for Michael Lawas as Northampton County's next Dem chair, the Longoons intend to knock me off.

Apparently, the first order of business is to bar me from voting because I support some Republicans like Charlie Dent and Ron Angle. But what the hell, Bossman Long himself was illegally elected and is in no position to expect committee members to follow by-laws that he himself has ignored.

Of course, they're taking the sneaky approach, too, trying to ambush me without prior notice,

The Longoons are using the same approach that has made them a disaster at the polls for the last eight years.

NPR Poll Good News For Charlie Dent

NPR, which just featured Lehigh Valley blog Junk Drawer, has commissioned polling firms (Democrat and Republican) to survey sixty Congressional battleground districts – including the Fifteenth. The result is good news for Charlie Dent.

Of voters in the districts with a Republican Congressman, 49 percent would definitely re-elect the incumbent while only 37 percent think it’s time for “someone else”. If the election were held today, voters in those same districts would re-elect their Congressman by a margin of 52-39. Even more impressively, in those same districts, Republican candidates generically hold a 16-point lead, 53-37.

Earlier this year, an internal poll by the Dent Campaign showed Charlie Dent with a commanding lead of 53-27 over Democrat John Callahan in a three-way race. A Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll later showed that Charlie Dent enjoys a 12-point lead over Callahan. The NPR poll is consistent with results showing Charlie Dent well ahead of John Callahan.

“This verifies that local voters still view Charlie Dent as the best candidate to represent them on the important issues of the day in Congress,” said Dent guru Shawn Millan in a news release. “And it’s bad news for John Callahan, whose campaign is run by a national party operative and has done nothing but recycle Washington talking points. His campaign is out of touch and sinking fast.”

There Ought to Be a Laws

Stoffa Formally Announces Hiring Freeze

Despite a goal of reducing its workforce by 5%, Northampton County's Personnel Committee unanimously approved two positions yesterday, a benefits administrator for Human Resources to replace recently retired Bob Lasko, and a much-needed grant coordinator for DCED.

"To me, it's an absolute must," stated Council member Ann McHale. I'm not sure whether she was referring to one or both positions, but the consensus is that both positions are vital and impossible to fill internally.

But before you conclude that nobody is really serious about cutting costs, I have to add that right after this, Ron Angle's Finance Committee went through a checklist of cost-savings measures, from Gracedale to charging more for filings. And yes, tipstaffs were discussed, too.

County Exec John Stoffa told the eight members of Council (McClure was absent) attending this Finance Committee meeting that his goal is to eliminate 100 positions by year's end, but by attrition. At the end of the meeting, he gave me a copy of the email below, which is being disseminated to department heads. Stoffa is calling it a hiring freeze, but it looks more like a hiring frost.

Northampton County, like most local governments, is facing difficult economic times. Our revenue, primarily from property taxes, is stagnant, yet our expenditures continue to grow. There is no apparent financial relief in sight. This is a direct result of the current economic climate country-aide. Local government is being asked to do more with less, and there appears to be no relief in sight from our partners at the Federal and State level(s).

In view of these circumstances, I am instituting an immediate hiring freeze, effective June 16, 2010, on all existing vacant positions. Only upon "special exception" will a position be filled. Special exceptions will not be "rubber stamped", and will need to be justified in light of our dire financial times.

• The "Special exception" proviso will involve the Department Head presenting justification to a special panel who will review the presenting justification. If the special panel agrees that the position should be filled, the recommendation will be forwarded to the County Council Personnel Committee. Only then, and with Council approval, will the position be filled

I understand that this process may sound onerous. Nevertheless, we all must work together and share the burden if we are to continue to provide services to Northampton County residents within the budget restraints we face.

I sincerely ask for your full cooperation and adherence to this policy.


John Stoffa
County Executive

Angle Attends Bangor High School Commencement, Gets GED

Can you keep a secret? Don't let Senior Judge Franciosa or DA John Morganelli or it's curtains for the Northampton County Bulldog. They'll lock him up faster than you can say tipstaff.

Now Ron Angle may have tendered his resignation from Bangor's School Board, but the y insisted that he still attend last night's commencement exercise. The even seated him in the front row with school board members, who have yet to formally accept his resignation.

But the biggest shock of all is that Angle was finally awarded an honorary GED.

"I want to thank yous for this. I don't know no better gift," said Ron, and treated everyone to McDonald's coolatas.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

State Dems Pushing Garvin For Norco Chair

Late last week, state Democrats emailed this youtube video to local Dems, entitled "Meet Walt." It's ostensibly about something called "Demfest 2010," but its real purpose is obviously to promote Walt Garvin (pictured on the left) as Norco's next Dem chair.

Garvin's opponent, Michael Laws, is running precisely against this kind of insider politics, where a certain chosen few run things and everyone else is silenced. Last year, the county party elite actually endorsed Ann McHale for county exec against incumbent Democrat John Stoffa.

Stoffa's sin? Bipartisanship. A willingness to work with everyone. A desire to do the right thing, as opposed to what is best for one party.

Garvin was part of the LongDem machine working against Stoffa, and this video demonstrates that neither he nor his supporters understand that we are tired of being told what's best for us. We prefer to make our own mistakes.

There oughta' be a Laws.

Lehigh County GOP has a New Chair

When DA Bill Platt would look into my eyes, I always felt like I must be a mass murderer or something. When I'd bring a client to him for a guilty plea, I'd often start pleading guilty myself. Now he's a judge, and if I ever have to appear before him for one of my unpaid parking tickets, I'm a goner.

Bill Platt's son, whose name is Bill Platt, looks just like his dad, although he claims he's nicer. Last night, he stepped down as Lehigh County's GOP chair after the party faithful sacrificed a few hapless Democrats. I was invited, but saw their wicker baskets just in the nick of time.

So who's the new boss? In what is certainly no surprise, Wayne Woodman was elected chair over Grant Carter by a vote of 92 to 58.

The big surprise last night is that Kim Beitler, who works as the GOP office manager, was nominated from the floor and beat Gael Coffin by a vote of 77 to 70 for the position of Vice Chair. Some argue that it's a "conflict" for Kim to work for the GOP and be its Vice Chair, but that sounds a little silly.

Kim is also a neighborhood watch leader in Allentown and is a fixture at City Council meetings.

Do We Really Need Tipstaffs?

They may be relics of a time long gone, but they're still here. I'm speaking of tipstaffs (also called tipstaves), who have evolved into something like glorified butlers for judges. Just a few years ago, they were still driving jurists to work every day. They are appointed individually, it's usually a political plum or someone related to the judge or his secretary.

Lehigh County and Northampton County have two tipstaffs for each judges, although Lehigh calls half of these "court criers." In Northampton County, salaries ranges between $19,425 and $28,245.

In both counties, full benefits are paid.

During Bloody Mary's reign, a tipstaff was shoved into the mouth of a religious dissident to prevent him from speaking before he was burned at the stake. Now I could see why Henry VIII needed them, but now that we've stopped throwing people in the Tower, aren't they a bit anachronistic?

True, a tipstaff can hunt down a lawyer while a judge is busy, but can't a deputy sheriff do that just as effectively or better? Frankly, I've long felt these are unnecessary appendages, and these court officers often detract from judicial decorum. I've seen them shove lawyers and, a few years ago, they regularly stole newspapers from the law library.

If Northampton County were to eliminate these patronage jobs, it is conservatively estimated that the savings would be $600,000 per year. Lehigh County could save slightly more.

Now it may very well be that these are indispensable court officers and the world as we know it might come to an end if we did away with them. But I also believe it is time to ask judges to justify what certainly seems like a perk. For too long, people have been afraid to question judges. That's how you end up with the cronyism and corruption recently discovered in Luzerne County.
Update (10:20 AM): Both The Morning Call and Express Times have stories about this, along with the claim by court officials that this is just revenge for Senior Judge Franciosa's decision against Angle. Perhaps this is why the Courts should have listened when Angle asked them, twice, to recuse themselves from consideration of Morganelli's politically motivated quo warranto action. And to be honest, I am the person responsible for this cost-saving idea. I first proposed doing away with tipstaffs in 2001 and renewed that argument last week. No one should be above scrutiny, not even judges, especially when it comes to patronage jobs.