Friday, July 30, 2010

WDIY Loses Underwriter, Thanks to Me

I finally got to meet Lehigh Valley Independent's Jonathan Geeting yesterday. Believe it or not, we got along great in person. He's so young!

Geeting and I were Alan Jennings' guests on WDIY (FM 88.1)'s "Lehigh Valley Discourse" to discuss bottom-feeding bloggers. We were joined by State Rep. Joe Brennan, who has actually grown another three feet since the last time I saw him, and that was just a few weeks ago.

Both Jennings and the station manager (a very nice retired English physicist with a beard and everything) looked a little upset. Unbeknown to me, they had been peppered by emails and phone calls complaining about me. I apparently caused more controversy than anyone who had ever darkened their doorway, without even knowing it. The station actually lost an underwriter, simply for having me as a guest.

"Could have been worse, Bern, it could have been two," quipped Joe Brennan.

Jennings and I have different views on many issues. Once, I even portrayed him in a pimp outfit, a point he mentioned a few times. But he refused to be pressured. The same goes for WDIY, even though I had just called this struggling public radio station a foo foo haven.

Now I'm going to have to buy a beret. Or a monocle.

All this happened before the show even started. Who knows how many underwriters have jumped ship now that the show has aired.

Pawlowski & Permits: It's Good to Be King

Last Friday, I told you that when the Pawlowskis recently put a "mancave" in their basement, they never bothered to get a permit. As Allentown Mayor, King Edwin has shut down businesses for less than that, especially if they don't contribute to his campaign.

It's good to be King.

Now some of you thought I was just being as mean as catshit, or that King Edwin never needed a permit. But on Friday, in response to my post, King Edwin rushed out and finally got one. Sure, it's two months late, but it's the thought that counts.

So who ratted them out? They did it to themselves. First Lady Lisa was bragging all about the mancave on her Facebook page.

Last week, I completed one of the City's Right-to-Know forms, asking for Pawlowski's permits. Their answer was due yesterday. Although these are clearly public records that actually have to be posted, city attorneys have still dragged their feet until the last possible moment. A secretary told me they were waiting until the end of the day to send me their reply.

Nobody can ever accuse King Edwin of being an advocate of open government.

In the meantime, Lady Lisa began to scrub her Facebook page, "defriending" anyone who might have leaked this information. The list is long, but distinguished.

While Lisa is scrubbing away and the City's reply to my Right-to-Know request is in the mail, I thought I'd share a few pictures she posted in December.

The first two show the new cedar siding she had installed at the rear of her home in December. "I'm lovin it," she says. "Next will be a new fence. ... The new doors and windows are great, too. My kitchen is finally warm!"

It's good to be King.

She tells us that "Stellar Construction installed the Anderson Windows and doors." Does she mean the very same Stellar Construction that contributes heavily to King Edwin's campaigns and is rewarded with City contracts? Yep.

Alison Hansbury Fleck - political consultant, Dem committee member and wife of Easton City Councilperson Mike "take the money and run" Fleck - fawns, "Looks great!"

It's good to be King.

In Picture #3, you can see several Pawlowski servants working in Lady Lisa's back yard, preparing doors for installation in her kitchen. "Brrr, it's cold in my house," complains the First Lady.

Did I mention that Pawlowski never bothered getting a Building Alteration Permit for the work done in December? It appears nowhere in the computer screen dump of a City employee. Nobody inspected the work. Lehigh County assessors have no idea about this recent improvement to the King's castle, which should result in higher taxes to the County, school district, and City. But others can pay taxes.

It's good to be King.

Dent Explains His Support For Veterans

LV Congressman Charlie Dent this week voted to support Fiscal Year 2011 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. It provides $75.9 billion in funding for programs benefiting American veterans, as well as the construction and maintenance of military facilities. Here's why he supports it, in his own words:

"I was pleased to support this measure because it supplies the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with the robust funding it needs to continue providing valuable services to our nation’s many deserving veterans and their families. This bill included $51 billion for the Veterans Health Administration to ensure our vets receive the highest-quality medical services and to improve the accessibility of care.

"As greater numbers of soldiers return from missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is imperative we honor their service by continuing to develop programs for veterans. In addition to improved medical care, this must include enhanced educational opportunities that prepare our veterans for civilian careers. I supported H.R. 5822 because it also included strong funding for training and tuition assistance, and will provide VA the means to address the troubling educational benefit claims backlog.”

Blogger's Note: The accompanying photo shows mostly forgotten Merchant Marine veterans of WWII, who were recently recognized and honored by Charlie Dent.

Barron Helps DA Recover $83,000 For Former Bangor Widow

And no, the thief is not Ron Angle!

After his election as Northampton County's Controller in 2007, Steve Barron became certified as a fraud examiner. Since then, he has teamed up with DA John Morganelli on about five investigations.

This obviously saves Morganelli and taxpayers the expense of hiring a fraud examiner. But in the case of Theresa Owns, it enabled her to recover $82,990.08 from Bangor resident Ronald LaBar, to whom she had made the mistake of granting a Power of Attorney.

Labar dipped into Owns' money to pay taxes on his home, personal bills totaling $7,934.17. He also wrote 58 checks made out to cash, which he signed and endorsed, totaling $11,380.00. Then he told Owns she was broke and would have to move.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending for Owns. Morganelli and Barron were called in before everything, including Labar, was gone. Full restitution has been made.

Steve is justifiably proud of his role. "This is good government in action. Sharing resources and cooperating to provide good services to the citizens of Northampton County with no additional tax dollars needed.”

But its's not such a happy ending for Labar. He's been charged with theft and misapplication of entrusted property.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Group Home For Mentally Ill Proposed Near Moravian College

If you live on Fairview or Monocacy Street, you might have received a recent notice that Resources for Human Development (RHD) was seeking zoning relief at 943 Monocacy Street. Jennifer and John Parri, who do live in that neighborhood, thought it had something to do with Human Resources at nearby Moravian College. Curious, they attended Bethlehem's July 28 Zoning Hearing Board. They were shocked to learn this had nothing to do with Moravian at all. It was instead an application for a group home housing eight mentally ill people, along with another four day visitors.

Program Director Aaik Van Munster told zoners that RHD's sole goal is to reintegrate people into the community. He did admit that most neighborhoods are initially fearful of group homes housing the mentally ill. But "[a]fter we have some milk and cookies, they understand."

When Zoner Bill Fitzpatrick asked what would actually exclude someone, Van Munster replied recent violent acts. He then added that someone convicted of child molestation "would not have a chance." But a half sentence later, he claimed it would be "extremely unlikely."

A trembling Jennifer Parri, who lives directly across the street, told Van Munster, "I'm very concerned for my children." She added that by the time RHD realizes there's a problem, "someone may be hurt."

"We'll invite you over," Van Munster replied. "They are free Americans. Safety is Number One. For us, for you, for them. We'll keep an eye on them. If there is any doubt, we'll take them off the streets."

Zoner Ken Kraft lives only two doors away from another RHD facility. He feels that experience may have biased him, and recused himself at the onset of the hearing. But when he later asked to speak, as an ordinary citizen. Instead of offering him milk and cookies, RHD Attorney Keith Cacciatore objected, and wondered why Kraft was still in the room.

Cacciatore also called a former RHD "consumer" who told zoners he was provided with lots of support "when I was fragile." He added there the neighbors were no problem. "We even shared a neighborhood cat."

Before zoners made their final decision, Jennifer Parri asked for a continuance and to reopen the record so that other neighbors could testify.

"Everyone in this neighborhood thought this was something connected with Moravian College. We had no clue this kind of facility was coming in."

Without waiting for a ruling from Chairman Gus Loupos, Solicitor Mickey Thompson denied Parri's requests on his own, claiming that reopening the record would "prejudice the Applicant."

But Bill Fitzpatrick, noting that "we don't really have a grasp" and that there is a "disconnect" in Van Munster's testimony, moved to table the matter until the ZHB meets again on August 26. Fitzpatrick's motion passed unanimously, but Thompson stressed that the record is closed.

ZHB member Glenn Taggart was absent.

During nearly four hours of hearings, zoners quickly approved a carport at 2541 Covington Avenue and a church use and parking area at 533 16th Avenue. But they denied Tom Barker's request to approve twin homes on a vacant lot at 629 13th Avenue, where only single family dwellings are permitted.

Representing Barker, Attorney Jim Holzinger argued that a strict application of zonming laws in that neighborhood is confiscatory. But Attorney Joe Piperato, representing next door neighbor Carol Wolf Smith, countered that nothing prevents Barker from building a single family dwelling. He added that Barker just bought the property in May, and has made no real attempt to market a single family home.

Neighbors told the ZHB that this vacant lot was at one time a community garden. Joyce Dawley also presented a petition signed by neighbors opposed to twin homes on that lot, but Zoners declined to accept it because those signing were unavailable for cross-examination.

Callahan Stonewalls in Reply To Right-to-Know Request.

Bethlehem has "answered" my Right-to-Know Request for details concerning the three year-old Cantelmi accident, in which a Bethlehem police officer was injured. You can read it here.

Now Bethlehem denies having a police blotter in 2007, but claims this report would have been in some bin. Really? How about if no crime was charged? Where does it go then? Or was Captain Kravatz correct when he told me police keep these accident reports away from prying eyes?

No individual cell phone records? Give me a break. Do you know anyone with a cell phone who is unable to go online and check out his or her exact calls. The City's cell phone carrier undoubtedly has a record of all cell phone calls made on 2/4/07, and that obviously is a basis for its bill. If the City just gets an invoice and never checks the actual calls being made, there is no way it can prevent cell phone abuse. So I will research this to see if I can legally pursue it.

Why did the City wait nearly four months before getting its damaged cruiser repaired?

Why did the City wait for over a year before being paid for the injuries to Officer Kennedy? In the meantime, who footed his bills?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Express Times: Cantelmi Crash, Cover-Up or Callahan Smear?

Reporters have better access to public officials than bloggers. They reach more readers and tend to have more credibility. So while I wait for an answer to my Right to Know request (it's due today), Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan is pouring his heart out to ET reporter Lynn Olanoff, "Neither I nor my office had any involvement." Oh yeah, "(Dent) should be ashamed of himself for attacking my family."

While Callahan denies "any involvement" from him or his office, Solicitor Jack Spirk is telling the very same Lynn Olanoff that he instructed another City Solicitor to make sure copies of the police report were made available to the press on the day of the accident. That sure sounds like involvement to me.

What is impossible to believe is that both daily newspapers would miss an account of a crash involving the Mayor's brother-in-law, driving the wrong way on a one-way street, injuries to a Bethlehem police officer and alcohol use.

Incredibly, Express Times Assistant Managing Editor and BloggerTony Rhodin tries to downplay the whole thing. "[H]aving done this for more than 30 years, sometimes reporters miss stuff." True, Tony, true. But two reporters? Two different dailies? On what would be a dynamite story? Tony does acknowledge that "sometimes reports are available for 15 minutes, never to be seen again."

Tony goes on to guess that what's really involved here is a "smear." "If there were really something dirty here, someone would have pulled aside a reporter from one of the two papers and spilled."

There really is something dirty here. I was pulled aside well over a year ago and told about this accident. I was unaware of the exact date and some people were worried about little things like job security. It is only recently that I was able to get my hands on the actual incident report.

Reporter Olanoff did finally talk, last week, to one of the police officers who has been willing to discuss this case . She started her conversation by saying, "We don't really feel this is a story."

Now I'm no professional, Tony, but that does not sound like the way you start a conversation if you actually want to learn something. That sounds like the way you start a conversation when you've already made up your mind.

Here are links to my previous stories:

The Callahan Cover-up

Right-to-Know Request Filed Over Callahan Cover Up...

Callahan a Friend of Officer Investigating Cantelm...

ET: BPD Vehicle Involved in Crash

Callahan Cover Up: Cantelmi Incident Report (Redac...

Updated 11:53 AM to clarify Tony Rhodin's exact title at The Express Times which, as he points out, costs only 50 cents.

Updated again at 12:29 PM. Express Times sources report that Lynn Olanoff denies ever having told a police officer that "we don't really feel this is a story." They also note that editors, and not reporters, make those calls.

Hanover Township Says "No Thanks" To County-Wide Gov't

Berks County State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone wants a constitutional amendment to establish each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties as the basic level of government. The state's 2,562 Townships, cities, and boroughs would be eliminated. Counties would take over everything, from filling pot holes to police protection.

But is bigger better? According to Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors Executive Director David M. Sanko, the answer is No. "No one has ever proven that bigger government is better – or even more cost-effective – government."

On July 27, Hanover Township Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution opposing any forced local government mergers or consolidations, declaring that "townships are excellent fiscal stewards that have been doing more with less ever since the days of William Penn." It also notes that consolidated, county-based governments generally have higher tax burdens than smaller governments.

Township Manager John (Jay) Finningan derided Caltagirone's legislation as "Harrisburg's attempt to make government bigger. I'd hate to have anyone call Easton because their road is not plowed."

Later that evening, the Solicitor told Supervisors about a state legislative miscue concerning permit extensions, in which state legislators goofed and required every municipality to advertise in The Pennsylvania Bulletin. Supervisor Steve Salveson grimly noted, "This is brought to you by the same people who want all municipalities to merge."

The Resolution supports voluntary mergers started at the local level, provided it has the support of a majority of all affected municipalities.

None of the Lehigh Valley's state representatives have agreed to cosponsor Caltagrione's legislation, which appears to be dying a slow death in State Rep. Bob Freeman's Local Government Committee.

Hanover Township Approves New Group Home For Mentally Ill

When Allentown State Hospital closes its doors at year's end, about ten of forty-five Northampton County residents will be transferred to Wernersville's facility. The rest will go to group homes, including one proposed at 3925 Airport Road, in Hanover Township. But would Supervisors agree? This was the main event at Hanover Township Supervisors' meeting on July 27.

Group Homes Questioned at Township and County Levels
According to Mental Health Administrator Kathleen Kelly, Northampton County currently oversees thirty-nine group homes within the County for people suffering from some form of cognitive disability. There are only four group homes for the mentally ill. Plans are in the works to add another three, including the Airport Road home.

On June 22, Hanover Township Supervisors listened as resident after resident explained why a conditional use application should be denied. 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 said, "We see the cop lights behind our house almost every night."

None of this made any difference to Solicitor James Broughal, who told residents and supervisors alike 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.

After this Hanover Township meeting, the recent surge in group homes was discussed on a County level, too. The subject came up when Northampton County Exec John Stoffa proposed the appointment of Wendy Heatley as his group home czar.

Reviewing this appointment on July 14, Northampton County Council President Ron Angle was very dubious that thirty-five current Allentown State Hospital patients would suddenly be ready for life in the real world. "Eighty per cent [of the County's] patients are going back into the community with just one flick of the pen. ... I find that troublesome. And then you wonder why when you pick up a paper and read that somebody just blew three person's brains out."

Agreeing with Angle, Council member Ann McHale was skeptical, too. "People wander the streets, not knowing what they are doing," she complained.

Heatley, whose appointment was approved and is 100% state funded, was somehow able to impress and reassure both Angle and McHale, no easy feat. "I know every single one of those people personally," she stated. "I've known some of them for ten years. We are not bringing anyone out to the community that we do not feel we can safely serve."

Director of Human Services Ross Marcus added, "Sometimes, people have stayed in the hospital longer than they needed to stay."

Angle and McHale were willing to give Heatley a chance. Now, Hanover Township Supervisors are willing to give a green light to the proposed group home on Airport Road, which she will supervise. At their July 27 meeting, they unanimously approved the application. Bethlehem Attorney William Matz, representing owner Moravian Development Corporation, was on hand to defend the proposal, but no Hanover resident offered any new complaints.

Although the group home was approved, Supervisors did impose eight conditions: (1) No more than six residents; (2) Twenty-four hour on site supervision; (3) No medical or counseling services, except for the actual residents; (4) It must be a housing, and not treatment, program; (5) no criminally insane, violent, or drug or alcohol-addicted residents; (6) No resident may keep a car at the home; (7) Annual reports must be filed detailing the size, residents and supervising agency; and (8) The home's rules and regulations must be on file with Hanover Township.

Jake Brake Sting

With the main event out of the way, Township Manager John (Jay) Finnigan discussed the "Jake Brake Sting" recently run by two Hanover police officers along Route 512, between 4 and 6 AM. A Jake Brake is a compression braking mechanism on some diesel trucks. It slows a truck down, but sounds like a machine gun, and is prohibited in many municipalities. Officers counted 177 trucks. Three of them were illegally using jake brakes, and were cited. It's a $10 fine.

"That's less than the truckers spend at Turkey Hill," quipped Finnigan, so Supervisors have introduced an Ordinance increasing the fine to $100.

In other business, Supervisors tinkered with a "Solar Ordinance" proposed by the Planning Commission. They honored John Cody Broniec and Alexander Michael Joyce for becoming Eagle Scouts. And Finnigan hinted that "Trooper 1" might make a special appearance at Hanover Township's National Night Out on August 3.

"Trooper 1" is the Pennsylvania State Police Helicopter used to watch "packages" like VP Biden, when he recently visited the Lehigh Valley.

Prostitution Rate Doubles in Hellertown?

There previously was one, and now, there may be two.

Hey, that's what Stephanie Kovacs claims, and she should know. She lives there. She blames the Casino, and as Hellertown's voice on the gaming authority, is doing what she can to steer money there.

Hookers apparently scrawl their phone numbers on men's room walls at the casino. I tried to check that claim last night, but too many U.S. Senators were hitting on me.

LVR on Public Radio (WDIY) This Thursday

According to WDIY (FM 88.1)'s webpage, "Lehigh Valley Discourse" is a "highly acclaimed local affairs show" that examines "the diversity that is the Lehigh Valley." That's about to change.

For reasons that completely elude me, I'll be a guest on the show, which airs between 6 and 7 PM this Thursday. You can blame CACLV's Alan Jennings, who probably thinks that bottom-feeding bloggers like me need some lovin', too.

Now I was trained in the ways of talk radio by none other than the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, who used to have a talk show of his own before he was canned by Not-So-Jolly Joe Timmer. But that's AM. Aside from the dudes on Car Talk, I really don't fit in with the foo foos who grace that station, unless they like fart jokes.

LVI's Jonathan Geeting, however, should feel right at home. Although Geeting attends no meetings locally, he reads 500,000 posts a day, and is so good at preaching he should trade in his blogger's pen for a Roman collar. Jennings invited him, too. Bastard. Geeting spends a lot of his time claiming I'm full of shit. Regular readers of this blog already know that.

The subject of the show is bottom-feeding bloggers. I think we need them, if only to make reporters look more respectable. Jennings is scrambling to find two government officials willing to share the air waves with us.

Good luck with that, Alan. I'll bring a few Right-to-Know forms.

I'll wear a beret.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bethlehem 'Canes Win Berth at ECTB National Championship

On Saturday, it was so hot that even horse races were canceled. But 10 year-old boys from four different states were still playing baseball in Allentown's Fountain Park and Bicentennial Stadium. Parents were dropping like flies, but the kids had a blast, trying out big barrel bats they could not use in little league.

The Bethlehem Canes, a feeder team for Liberty High School made up of boys from several little leagues, played in soaring heat on Saturday and Sunday, only to be rained out on Sunday afternoon. They resumed play in Bally yesterday at 5 PM, and ended up winning their second tournament in a row. What's nice about this one is they now have a free entry to the national ECTB series in Orlando, later this year.

Justin Schmoyer the Destroyer, who had a new big barrel, hammered at least four moon shots in this tournament, including two in one game.

Here's their record over the weekend.

Defeated Brooklyn Park Bulldogs, 10-3. (This team is actually from Maryland and deserves a trophy just for their colorful uniforms).
Defeated Black Diamonds, 16-10. (This team is from Frackville, my mom's home town).
Defeated West Jersey Wildcats, 9-5. (Bordentown, NJ).
Defeated Triple Threat Bearcats 10-3. (Gilbertsville, PA).
Defeated Pro-Skills Baseball Academy, 10-8. (Cherry Hill, NJ. We though we had them and were up 10-2. Then they scored six runs in the top of the 6th.)

The short video above includes the Canes and Pro-Skills, hamming it up after the championship game.

Next week, football starts.

I have lots of stories to tell, but they can wait a day.

Callahan Condemns, Then Condones, Anti-Semitism

Just six weeks ago, John Callahan was condemning LV Congressman Charlie Dent for refusing to distance himself from American Action Network chair Fred Malek, who forty years ago was dispatched by Richard Nixon to determine how many Jews were working at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He did as he was told.

"If Charlie Dent doesn't take a clear, immediate and principled stance against Mr. Malek by calling for his group to stay out of this election, then his silence can only be interpreted as approval,” huffed Callahan.

Never mind that Charlie Dent has no connection, directly or indirectly, to either Malek or his group. Or that the founder of the American Action Network - the group Callahan wants ostracized from this election - is Minnesota Guv' Norm Coleman, himself a Jew. Or that Malek actually apologized for his actions. Or that ADL National Director Abe Foxman is proud to call Malek a friend. Or that Senator Diane Feinstein said that she has “great trust, respect and admiration for him.” In fact, Jewish Week's James Besser laments, "Am I the only person who's really, really tired of the Fred Malek story, which resurfaces every few years when Jewish Democrats think they need some new ammo to use against their Republican foes – as if they needed any, given the fact Jews continue to vote overwhelmingly Democratic?"

Six weeks later, John Callahan has done a complete 180.

Callahan has stressed his willingness to appear at debates with Jake Towne, a candidate for Congress who recently hand-picked the band Poker Face – a group labeled as anti-Semitic by the Anti-Defamation League – to perform at a campaign event. The ADL notes that the group’s leader has denied the Holocaust occurred, called the ADL “a terrorist organization,” and believes that a conspiracy of "Satanic Jews" runs the world.

Jake Towne, the Manchurian candidate, insists that Poker Face is not anti-Semitic. They just go "overboard."

“This is who John Callahan wants to share a stage with to debate public policy? Shame on him.” said Shawn Millan, Congressman Dent’s campaign manager, in a news release issued yesterday afternoon.

ADL Regional Director Barry Morrison told The Express Times that candidates should steer clear of hate groups because they risk inadvertently supporting them. "Anybody who is identified with a person or group that has a record of bigotry must put distance between themselves and that record. They must speak to the bigotry, call it for what it is and condemn it."

Instead of doing that, John Callahan will share a podium with Towne.

“Why won’t John Callahan agree to a one-on-one debate with Charlie Dent? Because Callahan is unable to defend the Washington agenda he supports and he wants to hide behind Jake Towne’s podium at a debate,” Millan said. “Mayor Callahan needs to stop listening to his Washington-oriented advisors who tell him to either condemn or condone anti-Semitism based on what’s politically convenient.”

“John Callahan can still do the right thing here,” Millan said. “He can admit that someone with Jake Towne’s extremist views is so far out of the mainstream he doesn’t have a place in what should be a serious discussion on the issues facing the American people.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Callahan Cover Up: Cantelmi Incident Report (Redacted)

Let's try again.

Callahan Coverup: The Cantelmi Police Report

Well over three years ago, at 1:03 AM, a Bethlehem police officer was injured after being struck by a speeding vehicle being going the wrong way on a one-way street. His police cruiser sustained serious damages as well. The driver of this car was Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan's brother-in-law, Dino Cantelmi. I call this the "Callahan Coverup" because someone in his administration obviously made sure this story never reached The Express Times or Morning Call.

Below is the actual incident report prepared by Bethlehem police. I have redacted it to protect the identity of Cantelmi's female passenger, but it's otherwise mostly intact. You might notice things I've missed.


Update (8:59 AM): I have used to load documents like this before, but something is wrong today. It could be that the site itself is screwed up, or more likely, there may be something wrong with the way I loaded the incident report. Because of complaints about difficulties loading and seeing this report, I've deleted it. I will try to see what went wrong. If all else fails, I will load jpegs of the ten individual pages so you can still check out the report.

Embarrassed Pawlowski Gets Permit For Mancave

On Thursday, I snapped this picture of Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski's front door. Had I finally flipped my lid and started stalking him? Was I encouraging others to do so?

That's what some of you thought.

"That is a mean thing to do Mr. Ohare. Are you trying to get some kind of senseless act of vandalism or hate generated[?]"

"Seriously, showing up at their house? That's kind of creepy."

I was even told I could "possibly even bring [the Pawlowskis] in danger by posting senseless pictures."

Well, just so you know, I would never want to see anyone hurt. I do respect the privacy of publicly elected officials, even King Edwin. It's a picture of a door. At least seventy per cent of Allentown's homes have a door.

So why'd I do it? The reason for this picture, which accompanies a blog that carefully avoids disclosing King Edwin's home address, is to show you he had no permit for a new "mancave" in his basement. That was the subject of considerable Facebook chirping by First Lady (she likes to be called that) Lisa Pawlowski.

Pawlowski has shut down businesses when they lack the proper permits, but applies different standards to himself. After all, he's the King.

Last week, when I tried to pull public permit records for the Mayor's home, City officials stonewalled. I was ordered to fill out a Right-to-Know request, which gives them five days to answer me, if they answer at all. Now, there's no question that permits, like Deeds or Wills, are public records that should be immediately produced. This insistence on Right-to-Know forms is an exaltation of form over substance. It's so Allentown can actually be less, rather than more, transparent.

But I had a secret. You see, someone had already tipped me that there was no permit. Although City Hall threw up a roadblock, a quick trip to the LC Assessor's office confirmed that there was no permit. In fact, when I showed an Assessor what Lady Lisa had posted on Facebook, he told me that not only was a permit required, but he would probably want to visit for possible re-assessment.

Pawlowski apologist Jeff Pooley, in an article entitled "O'Hare's Petty Mudslinging," derides my "flimsy evidence" and goes on to claim I should have waited until City officials were good and damn ready to answer me. Gee, Jeff, give King Edwin some time to scramble? That' rich. Jeff, whom I admire and respect, is amazingly unfazed by the City's stonewalling or the Mayor's unwillingness to apply laws to himself that he enforces against others. Time to lose those blinders, Jeff.

I'm glad I never waited.

This weekend, my grandson was in a baseball tournament in Allentown. So I swung by Hizzoner's home again, late on a very hot Saturday afternoon. Guess what I saw? That same door again, except this time, there was an ugly orange permit. So what happened? Did we all miss it the first time? Or did King Edwin, in reaction to Friday's blog, scramble and get the permit he should have obtained when he first had the work done?

Here's what happened. On Friday, in reaction to criticism from this blog, Pawlowski finally obtained the permit he should have had two months ago. I was treated to a City computer screen dump for all the permits on Pawlowski's property, showing that's exactly what happened. I was going to reproduce it here, but am concerned that vengeful City officials will try to track down the specific computer (and employee).

Had I listened to Jeff and remained quiet, writing nothing, meekly waiting for City Officials to answer my Right to Know request like a good little boy, it is very possible that permit would be dated 6/23 and not 7/23. My post made that game impossible.

What's laughable abut the computer record of this permit is that it only estimates $500 for the work. We're to believe contractors made three visits and charged only $500? When I do get my hands on the actual permit and identify the contractor, I'll be posting again. Who do you think it is - campaign contributor and city vendee Stellar, or campaign contributor and city vendee City Line?

Now, will Pawlowski be cited for having this work done with no permit?

Update (9:39 AM): Pooley admits he goofed.

Orloski: Marcellus Shale Could Be Boon Or Disaster

Allentown Attorney Rick Orloski is running for the state senate seat currently held by Pat Browne. He has submitted this informative primer on Marcellus Shale.

Marcellus Shale is potentially a $2 trillion (not billion, but trillion) economic boon to West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. It has the potential to make the Mid-Atlantic region second only to Texas in supplying customers with natural gas, a clean burning fossil fuel.

It is the most under-covered political story in the Lehigh Valley both regards to its economic impact, environmental consequences and its ability to fuel the engines of state government.

What is Marcellus Shale?

The Marcellus Shale is a formation of black shale. It is located in Ohio, West Virginia, western, central and northeastern Pennsylvania. It is located underground at various depths and at different thicknesses with a 790 feet dense area located in central Pennsylvania. Non-tradition drilling cannot economically access the natural gas. The existence of natural gas has been known for years. Changes in technology has made drilling for natural gas in Marcellus Shale viable.

New Technology: Horizontal Drilling & Fracturing

A "horizontal well" starts as a traditional vertical well. After reaching the desired depth, new tools are used to curve the well so that the well goes horizontally. The horizontal drilling can proceed thousands of feet. The purpose of horizontal drilling is to create maximum contact with the gas bearing rock formations to release the maximum amount of gas. Horizontal drilling is only part of the equation. It is accompanied by "hydraulic fracturing," meaning pumping water and other chemicals into the well under high pressure to break the gas bearing formations.

Problem With Fracturing

Fracturing requires tremendous volumes of water. Current estimates are that each well may require more than one million gallons of water. Environmentalists worry that "fracturing" exhausts clean water supplies and returns polluted water at the well site. Why pollution? According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, the fracturing process uses up to 80 different chemicals, including Acetic Acid, Boric Acid, Hydrochloric Acid, Titanium Oxide and Xylene to name just a few. The chemicals are added as a friction reducer and a bacteria inhibitor. The problem is that the chemicals have the potential for poisoning our underground water. The subsequent mechanism for disposing the retrieved fluids inserted into the wells creates additional environmental problems.

Severance Tax

Every state that permits natural gas extraction imposes a "severance tax' on the drillers. So far, the Pennsylvania Legislature has let the issue of an appropriate severance tax slide.

"Forced pooling"

The industry has been lobbying for a minimal severance tax. As a condition of paying a severance tax, the gas industry wants a mandate that adjacent owners who refuse to lease their land to drilling be forced to give up their gas to the drillers. "Forced pooling" creates a substantial interference in traditional notions of private property rights.

Utility Status

The drillers/producers are also lobbying to be declared utilities so they can have the right to eminent domain both for drilling purposes and for locating their pipe lines to transport the gas. Again, this concept of private companies clothed with the right of eminent domain clashes with tradition notions of private property rights.

The Jobs Benefits

The Christian Science Monitor reported that Marcellus Shale has the potential for creating 282,000 jobs between 2011 and 2020 in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York.. Potential tax fall for Mid-Atlantic area can reach $6 billion in local, state and federal taxes. The economic benefits are real. So are the prospect of an environmental catastrophe reminiscent of the Robber Barons of prior centuries. The next State Senator from the Lehigh Valley will be required to address these significant issues balancing economic benefits against environmental protection. As a State Senator, I will support extending the regulatory power of the Department of Environmental Protection to insure that our environment is not ravaged, that a "fair" severance tax be impose, that "forced pooling" be verboten and that the industry will not be clothed with the right of eminent domain.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jake Towne's Ties to Anti-Semitic Band Ruin Debate Chances With Dent

When I first heard that LV Congressman Charlie Dent was none too thrilled about including independent Jake Towne in Congressional debates, I was a little disappointed. Of course, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, aka Johnny Casino, is all for it, hoping it drains votes that might otherwise go to Dent. Still, if Towne gets on the ballot, aren't we entitled to hear from him?

I've changed my mind, thanks to an Express Times report. Towne has invited Poker Face, an Allentown-based rock band labeled xenophobic and anti-Semitic, to his July 30 "Freedom Concert," even though he agrees they tend to "go overboard."

D'you think??

Poker Face's lead singer, Paul Topete, happily tells an interviewer his band's music is used in "white Christian identity militia training videos." And he knows the source of all our troubles, too.

Satanic Jews.

"It is these satanic Jews, and the Rosicrucian Goyim henchmen that need to be erased from our planet. They are the cancer that is destroying humanity," Topete says in one of those "overboard" comments.

You might find this hard to believe, but the ADL doesn't much care for Poker Face, especially after Topete posted this "overboard" comment:

"Very interesting where facts about the White Brotherhood pop up. The elite of the elite satanists are the white brotherhood. Made up of Sabbatean Jews at the top and Rosicrucian goys at the bottom. Anywhere from a 60/40 split to a more realistic 80/20 split with the Sabbateans in the drivers seat."

Congressman Dent, in a news release, calls on John Callahan to "immediately join us in telling organizations interested in sponsoring debates that neither he nor I will agree to participate in any debate involving Jake Towne.”

Dent's also troubled by other Towne statements claiming America’s actions in foreign affairs precipitated the September 11th attacks and blog articles decrying America's imperialistic ambitions. One such post encourages readers to think about that viewpoint before saying they support the troops.

“Jake Towne is not a conservative and he is not in the mainstream of political beliefs either in our local communities or in American politics,” Dent stated. “I’m calling on John Callahan to put aside politics regarding Mr. Towne and do the decent thing – don’t give credence or a public platform to someone enmeshed in ideas of anger, violence, anarchy and bigotry,” concluded Congressman Dent.

Congressman Dent was joined by Lehigh County Republican Committee Chairman Wayne Woodman who said that “any group that offers a forum to Mr. Towne in light of his association with this group is offering legitimacy to Mr. Towne’s deplorable ideas. I applaud Congressman Dent’s decision not to share a stage with Mr. Towne.”

All this kinda' makes me wonder what really happened to Jake Towne when he fell off that bike in China two years ago. He went from having no interest in politics to suddenly leaving his job in Shanghai and returning here to run for Congress. What the hell happened in that Chinese hospital?

I think I'll rent The Manchurian Candidate.

Friday, July 23, 2010

ET: BPD Vehicle Involved in Crash

Hmm. A BPD vehicle involved in a crash makes the on-live breaking news section of the Express Times. The officer wasn’t injured. The driver wasn’t arrested, and yet it still goes up on their website and will likely be in their print edition tomorrow.

I guess no one involved was related to the Mayor.

I also wonder how the press even found out about this. After all, Captain Kravatz told me accident reports aren’t available to the public.

Pawlowski Builds "Mancave" With No Permit

She likes to call herself Allentown's First Lady, but I prefer to call her Lady MacBeth. Last Summer, she blamed "inner city" (black) volunteers every time something went wrong at her husband's campaign headquarters, like dirty bathrooms or overloaded trashcans. When somebody wrote "SKATE OR DIE" on a restroom wall, that was the final straw. Inner city campaign manager Jude Denis was dumped, although she was offered a job as a cleaning lady.

Lady MacBeth and her husband, King Edwin, were punished by God on June 1, when he inflicted a flood on them. Fortunately, it was restricted to their basement. No locusts.

Apparently, this was just the excuse Lady MacBeth needed for major renovations to the family's basement. On her Facebook page, she chirps that finally, she can build a real "mancave" for the King. But this is no ordinary mancave. It required several visits from contractors armed with hammers and drills, instead of spears and knives. Throughout June and July, she kept them busy.

Here are a few excerpts of her ordeal.

June 25: "Next week my basement is going to be full of contractors again. I dread it, but am looking forward to the work getting done and getting my basement back. Also, no air conditioning once the work starts on Tuesday."

July 8: "We had a very busy June, as you can see by all the posted pictures and video on my profile. The month began with my basement flooding on the 1st. Then travel to the shore ... and now construction on the basement. Whew, no wonder I'm glad July is slower for us."

July 9: "I thought my contractors were coming at 7:30 am... I hate when I get up earlier than I had to on a summer day."

Lady MacBeth and King Edwin forgot just one thing. Building permits. Even mancaves must have them.

Yesterday, I asked City Hall to produce the building permits, and was told I had to first complete a "Right to Know" request and take it to the Solicitor's office. Now this is kinda' like being asked to fill out a "Right to Know" request every time I look at a Will or Deed, other public records that are routinely examined by members of the public. But I did it, and took it up to the 5th Floor, where the Solicitor is protected from the unwashed masses by double locked doors. You have to ring a speaker phone and state your business.

Instead of allowing me into this inner sanctum, a scared secretary came out to accept my request.

"This is kinda' routine, can't you just get this approved now," I asked.

Nope. They have five business days and will use every one of them as she described a process consisting of emails, committees, reviews, etc. The secretary did say she was sorry.

As I left City Hall empty-handed, it suddenly dawned on me that Lehigh County assessors would know if there were any recent permits. After all, that's what triggers their visits for possible re-assessment.

At Lehigh County's Assessment office, the last thing they had for King Edwin's property was a re-roofing job in 1997. I then spoke to an assessor, who told me the types of improvements being done should trigger a visit, but "we have not seen any permits for that property." I was also told that for work that started in June, the County should have had the permits by now. The County also has access to a City database listing permits, and there are none for King Edwin's castle.

I then visited King Edwin's nice home, making sure to stay on the public right of way. I saw no permit signs anywhere, either at his front door or the rear of his property.

Apparently, Allentown's laws have no application to the King or Lady MacBeth.

Callahan a Friend of Officer Investigating Cantelmi

In response to The Callahan Cover-up and Right-to -Know Request Filed Over Callahan Cover Up, one of my many astute readers - Lighthouse - raises a very valid point. "I am a little surprised ... that the police would knowingly participate in something like this. That part of the story doesn't make sense and makes me suspicious that there is a part we don't know." A Bethlehem police officer (I'm keeping his name out of this for obvious reasons) has answered Lighthouse's concern. He believes the investigating officer, Derron Henning, may have been unknowingly influenced by his friendship with Mayor Callahan.

If you're a cop, I suppose no job is really safe. But being a DARE officer has to be one of the better gigs. You work steady hours. You're home at night. You're off the streets. Derron Henning was lucky to have that job for fourteen years, the last ten of which he spent at Liberty High School. It must have been very convenient for him, too, because he was an assistant wrestling coach being paid around $4543 per year.

Then Commissioner Randy Miller decided to move Henning out of Liberty High School and onto the streets. Perhaps Miller thought he should give someone else a chance, or maybe he felt an experienced officer like Henning would be more valuable on patrol. Whatever Miller may have thought, he was soon overruled by Derron's friend, another ex-wrestler who graduated from Liberty.

Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan.

Callahan personally intervened on behalf of Derron, who was able to stay at Liberty High School, working regular hours, until he decided he'd rather be a sergeant.

On February 4, 2007, when Officer Kennedy was struck by Callahan brother-in-law Cantelmi, there was actually another officer, in another cruiser, behind Kennedy. This officer actually witnessed the collision, and is the person who pulled Dino Cantelmi and his female companion from their Volvo, where they were hanging upside down.

"I asked if they were insured and both stated, 'No.' "

Fortunately, they did have insurance. But neither had any idea that they had just run into a police cruiser. Neither knew where the damaged police cruiser was, even though it was just a few feet away. This could be either the result of alcohol or the shock of the accident.

This officer was asking questions that must have made him suspicious. But while he remained "on scene to assist with the accident investigation," Acting Sergeant Derron Henning arrived and took over with Cantelmi.

Now according to the whistle-blowing officer I spoke with, everything about this accident cried out for a field sobriety test. The admission of alcohol use, speed, driving the wrong way and injury-causing accident, along with some confused statements, warranted this test. A breathalyzer would be administered only after a suspect fails a field sobriety test.

Believe it or not, that's more for medical than law enforcement reasons. Breathalyzer results are notoriously unreliable and inadmissible in Court, but if a suspect blows a life-threatening 0.30, his next stop will be the local hospital. Otherwise, it's the DUI processing center.

This procedure was ignored. Cantelmi was just administered a breathalyzer without any field sobriety tests. Instead of taking him to the DUI processing center, Dino was taken to police headquarters, where he was administered the breathalyzer again, with the same result.

Although I doubt Acting Sergeant Henning "fixed" anything, his friendship with Callahan may have colored his judgment. I believe an officer with no ties to the Mayor would have approached this differently.

Incidentally, Henning is no longer an "acting" sergeant. He was promoted to in December 2007, nine months after this accident.

Coming Up: On Monday, I'll publish a redacted version of the incident report. Every time I look at it, I see something different. Some of you may notice things I've missed.

Dent: Government Health Care Takeover Will Kill Jobs

When Congressional wannabe John Callahan finally took a position on Pelosi-care, a day after it passed, he somberly stated, "The legislation passed last night brings down health care costs for families and small businesses." Guess what? A hidden provision of the government health care takeover touted by Callahan’s blessing will swamp small businesses with paperwork, costing them time, money and resources that could be used to create new jobs.

That's according to a CNN report. "[J]ust a few lines buried in the 2,409-page document ... mandates that beginning in 2012 all companies will have to issue 1099 tax forms not just to contract workers but to any individual or corporation from which they buy more than $600 in goods or services in a tax year. The stealth change radically alters the nature of 1099s and means businesses will have to issue millions of new tax documents each year.”

According to the National Taxpayer Advocate, an independent office within the IRS, this new provision will affect about 40 million taxpayers, including 26 million sole proprietors and one million charities. The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) adds that new Form 1099 expansion is “another crippling paperwork mandate that unfairly targets small businesses," and estimates average costs associated with tax paperwork is about $74 per hour.

“John Callahan should take heed – this is what happens when you blindly support a bill you didn’t bother to read,” said Congressman Charlie Dent in a news release. “This is only one of dozens of mandates in the health care bill that will cost more American jobs.”

Dent is a cosponsor of HR 5141, the Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act, which would repeal this unnecessary and costly piece of red tape for American job creators.

The 1099 provision has been derided by Democrats and Republicans alike. Four Democratic Senators - Mark Begich (Alaska), Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire) and Evan Bayh (Indiana) – have publicly expressed concern about the regulation and asked the IRS to correct it administratively.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Right-to-Know Request Filed Over Callahan Cover Up

I've told you about my Tuesday visit to Bethlehem police for details concerning a three year-old accident in which the Mayor's brother in law, Dino Cantelmi, injured a police officer. Bethlehem slammed a lid on this, and neither The Morning Call nor The Express Times ever ran a story. That stonewall of silence continued at headquarters, where I was denied access to the incident report.

Yesterday, I hand-delivered this formal request under Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law, addressed to the City's lawyers:

Pursuant to Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law, I am requesting the following:

1) Police blotter for 2/4/07.

2) Bethlehem Incident Report 07006707, including copies of any and all pictures;

3) Cell Phone records of Mayor John Callahan on 2/4/07.

4) Cell Phone records of the Police Commissioner on 2/4/07.

5) All damage reports for the police cruiser involved in an accident with Dino Cantelmi on 2/4/07.

6) All claims made for damages by the City as a result of the Cantelmi accident on 2/4/07, including damages for injuries suffered by Police Officer Craig Kennedy.

If you are unable to comply with this request without redacting information like social security numbers or home addresses, feel free to do so. Thank you for your attention to this matter

Mayor Callahan has until next Wednesday to answer this request. If he refuses, my request is deemed denied. I can appeal that to the state's Office of Open Records (OOR), which then has thirty days to make a final determination.

In previous determinations, the OOR has ordered the production of Jim Thorpe police reports, redacted state police incident reports, as well as itemized cell phone records.

I expect Callahan to comply, but if he refuses, I'll simply go to the next level, where nobody is on Bethlehem's payroll.

Dr. Bob Romancheck, Stud Muffin

I was at last night's Allentown City Council meeting. I'd like to tell you what happened, but most of us were very distracted by another person in the room. Long dark hair. Tight, but not too tight, jeans. Sexy white pumps. And unfortunately, a wedding ring. Now you'd think a beautiful woman like that would work up the courage to sit next to me, obviously the most handsome person there. But instead, she parked right by Dr. Bob Romancheck.

"Hi, my name is Terry," I heard her whisper to him. Then she gave him her frickin' card.

Even Lou Hershman, The Allentown Watchdog, stopped thinking about solid waste funds for a minute as he watched this attractive woman warm up to Dr. Bob. His mouth dropped and he started sweating and taking pills as I was wondering why women always look so much more sexy in high heels. I have no idea what was going on in City Council at this point.

Council Prez Mike D'Amore, taking it all in, chirped out, "Careful, Mr. Hershman."

Why was this woman so drawn to Romancheck? It certainly isn't his looks. It had to be his damn Jeep.

Earlier that night, he complained to Council that he opened his door to see some kids running down the street laughing while they were carrying two jeep doors that had just been removed from a Jeep Wrangler parked on the street. His Jeep.

"If somebody stole $2,000 out of a store, it would be all over the newspapers. I lost $2,000 off my car, and nobody cares."

Well, she did, and that's probably worth $2,000 right there.

By the way, Terry, somebody just stole my doors, tires, radio and steering wheel. I feel terrible.

Allentown Denies Interest in Lumber Business

When Allentown Parks & Recreation hired Christopher Chronister of CC Forestry Services in Muncy, Lycoming County, for an inventory of the Queen City's South Mountain Reservoir Forest, his mission was to determine the market value of all ”merchantable timber” and to provide a ”detailed map…outlining areas with the most harvest potential.” Then, when the City refused to release a draft report to The Morning Call, local environmentalists became concerned. Did Pawlowski plan to denude the forest and install another destination playground? Last night, everyone finally got an answer.

Parks Director Greg A. Weitzel assured Council member Ray O'Connell at last night's Parks & Recreation Committee meeting that the City has no designs on harvesting the forest. For one thing, he explained it's "too small for that." He said the City might realize "some minimal dollars" down the road as it removes some trees, but stressed that his main goal is to "get more people to appreciate South Mountain and not abuse the mountain." He gave a report detailing trail erosion as the result of ATV use, and also indicated there are some illegal tree stands and dumps. But overall, the South Mountain Forest is an "incredible natural resource", a "treasure", and a "natural laboratory."

So what did CC Forestry Services do? According to Weitzell, an inventory of 91 acres located off S 10th Street and another 65 acres off S 28th Street. Four thousand trees were counted, and the most dominant species are 1,000 yellow poplars. But Weitzell also noted the existence of spicebush, which deer don't like, as well as some invasive plants like garlic mustard.

According to Weitzell, the City will now form a management committee, conduct a detailed survey and fence off forty acres to deter deer browsing.

"Where will the deer go?" asked Council member Jeanette Eichenwald. Weitzell doesn't really know, prompting city activist Dennis Pearson to speculate that many of them will probably take up residence at Allentown State Hospital.

They probably don't know it's closing.

Eichenwald also expressed her disappointment that the draft report was kept from the public eye, noting that this is what leads to wild speculation.

Dan Poresky, a member of Allentown's Environmental Advisory Council, complained that the "EAC has been looked to for opinions on what is going on, but for the most part, we have no idea what is going on. We're playing catch up."

"Can you categorically state timber production is off the table?" asked O'Connell.

"It never was on the table," answered managing Director Ken Bennington.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Callahan Cover-up

Superbowl Sunday 2007.

Indianapolis knocked off the Bears, 29-17. It's a game that meant little to most LV football fans. It did, however, provide an excuse for mid-Winter parties everywhere, including nearly every bar and tavern. As the moon follows the sun, Superbowl festivities lead to more than the usual number of accidents. Even though a police officer was hospitalized and his cruiser damaged, Bethlehem has kept a lid on this story for the past three years. You see, if word leaked out, it might embarrass the Mayor. Bethlehem brass want to "serve and protect," but I have to wonder whether they're protecting the public or Mayor John Callahan.

Craig Kennedy, a Bethlehem Police officer, has just been awarded a unit citation. But three years ago, he could easily have lost his life. He was on duty after the Superbowl, patrolling in South Bethlehem. Roads were dry. Suddenly, while driving along Hellertown Road at 1:03 AM, he noticed the headlights of a vehicle coming right at him from Shimersville Road. That car was not only driving the wrong way on a one-way road, but was moving at a high rate of speed. Before Officer Kennedy could react, that car ran into him on the passenger side of his cruiser. Kennedy must have been knocked unconscious because the next thing he remembers is another officer asking him if he was alright. He was treated at the hospital and missed some time before being cleared for duty.

The car that collided with Kennedy's cruiser, a white Volvo, was on its roof in the grass near Hellertown Road. Its driver and female passenger were fortunately uninjured, but the Volvo itself was totalled. The police cruiser also sustained heavy damage.

When a Bethlehem police officer is hospitalized in the line of duty, and by a car driving too fast and in the wrong direction on a one-way road, that's news. Especially when the driver just happens to be Dino Cantelmi, the Mayor's brother-in-law. Amazingly, there never was any account of this incident in either The Morning Call or Express Times. One former reporter tells me one newspaper might miss a story like this, but not both. He questioned whether this incident was ever included in the police blotter for that day.

I decided to check this out myself, and went to the Bethlehem Police Department yesterday after making sure I had no outstanding warrants for unpaid parking tickets. I wanted to see the police blotter for February 4, 2007, the date of this accident. Was this incident ever included?

I've been spoiled because Northampton and Lehigh County are both excellent at providing information. The practice transparency. Bethlehem's a different story. I got the bum's rush.

Records, my first stop, sent me to the desk sergeant. He actually tried to convince me there were no police blotters in 2007, and that this is some recent innovation started within the last two years. Obviously, there must have been some kind of system for reporters, even back in the dark ages of 2007. The desk sergeant decided to check with his captain, and that's when I told him one of his fellow police officers was injured in the line of duty three years ago, but there never had been any public report of the incident. I asked for the incident report, too, as well as pictures of the damaged cruiser.

I had come at a bad time. Shift change. So officers forgot about me as some left and others reported in. I spent a good 15 minutes listening to one officer professionally field calls from people with different problems. I was taking notes, too, figuring some of them might be pretty good stories. That's when they sent me down the hall to sit next to a coke machine and out of their way.

After a good thirty minutes, Captain Kravitz came back to me. He had been talking to city lawyers about my request for the blotter and Cantelmi report. He told me I'd have to request the blotter from the legal department. And under no circumstances would I get a copy of the incident report, which could be provided only to the parties directly involved in the accident.

Huh? Police blotters and incident reports are both very clearly public records, as a 2009 decision of the state's Office of Open Records makes clear. So why the roadbock? Why the lack of transparency?

While I was unsuccessfully arguing my case with Captain Kravitz, who incidentally is a gentleman, DCED Director Tony Hanna strolled by, and assured me "He [Kravitz] is so transparent I can see through him." I think I could see through him, too, and told him he was protecting Mayor Callahan at the expense of an officer injured in the line of duty.

"Wouldn't you want to protect one of your own?" I asked him, trying to shame him into doing the right thing.

Other police officers have done that. You see, I have the incident report, thanks to some cops who do not like the way one of their own was brushed under a rug to avoid a story that might embarrass Callahan. In addition to seeking the blotter for that day, I wanted to see if the brass would resist my attempt to find out what happened. They did.

So much for a transparent Callahan administration.

I spoke with Cantelmi's female companion and passenger, but will keep her name out of this out of respect for her privacy. According to her, Cantelmi was driving her home in her car because she had a bit too much to drink. She insisted Cantelmi had never touched a drop, and added that Officer Kennedy was really to blame because he must have been doing at least 80 mph.

Well, according to the incident report that Bethlehem police refuse to give me, she was putting on lip gloss and had no idea what had happened. And guess what? Cops smelled booze, and Cantelmi himself admitted he had been drinking. He blew a 0.06 on a notoriously inaccurate field breathalyzer.

This is where things get strange. No field sobriety tests were administered to someone who had just been speeding the wrong way on a one way road at 1:03 AM, crashing into and injuring a police officer, as well as damaging his cruiser.

Also, instead of taking him to the DUI processing center, where a blood sample could be drawn, Cantelmi and companion were taken back to Bethlehem police headquarters. If this had been you or me, it's a safe bet that we'd be carted to the DUI center and perhaps even to jail, especially after injuring an officer. But brother-in-law Cantelmi was slapped on the wrist, charged with the summary offenses of careless driving and driving the wrong way. He was cited by mail, and quickly paid his fine.

Officer Kennedy's cruiser was towed to a city garage, where it sat so long that officers began jokingly referring to it as the "Cantelmi cruiser." It was just fixed recently. Why so long and who paid for the damages? Was it Cantelmi or did it come out of the general fund?

Who paid for Officer Kennedy's workers comp? Was it Cantelmi or the City?

Most importantly, what did the Mayor know, and when did he know it? Was he called about his brother-in-law? Did the decision to avoid the DUI Center have anything to do with the Mayor?

These are the kinds of questions that arise when government officials, whether they are police brass or the Mayor or city lawyers, attempt to hide the truth. It's not the accident. Anybody could be involved in an accident. But why the need to cover it up? Why the penchant for secrecy, instead of transparency? This not only hurts police officers who risk their lives for us every day, but it hurts the public. Like it or not, we do have a right to know.

Before we get into the left v. right arguments, it's important to know whether a leader seeking office is both accountable and transparent. John Callahan lacks the transparency we should demand in a member of Congress.

Andy Roman: Support Your Local Sheriff!

Although state law sets the fee for concealed-carry permits at $25, Lehigh County Sheriff Ron Rossi was charging $38 until very recently. County lawyers ruled this higher fee was justified because those permits are encased in plastic and will last 1,000 years. Last week, Commissioner Andy Roman called Rossi the "stealth sheriff" when he failed to appear at his Inquisition on this very, very, very important matter. Like the Energizer Bunny, Roman keeps going and going and going. Yesterday, he fired off this strange mass email, addressed to other commissioners, the DA, and Colonel Sanders:

"With all due respect there seems to be a concerted effort here to cover the Sheriff's mis-deeds at all costs, even if it defies logic.

"The Sheriff, according to this Controller report, charged $38.00 for thousands of applicants, and did not give an option to pay $25.00, thus violating State Law according to Mr. Sorrentino's own legal opinion, and I quote; 'However, so long as the Sheriff has always offered a paper permit for the $25.00 fee, an additional charge for photographic and lamination services is compliant with the law'.

"So. if he DID NOT offer the $25.00 option then he is NOT compliant with the law. Period.

"Now if someone violates State law, do we as a County sweep it under the rug or does the Sheriff face consequences and refund those over-charged? Common Sense says yes!"

Hmm. Would you like coffee or tea, Andy? "Common Sense says yes!" Should the County raise or lower taxes, Andy? "Common Sense says yes!" Andy continues with his indictment:

"The evidence includes an instruction form that outlines a fee of $38.00 dollars with no other option, a Controller report outlining thousands who paid $38.00 and a Sheriff who has not explained or justified his actions but has hidden behind others who make excuses for him.

"I hope we are not being asked to ignore the obvious. I was born at night, but not last night."

Exasperated, Chairman Dean Browning lays the smack down on Andy

"Using 'With all due respect' at the start of your email doesn't excuse your claim that 'there seems to be a concerted effort here to cover the Sheriff's mis-deeds at all costs'. There have been numerous emails on this subject, most of which have been copied to the County Executive, to the District Attorney, to the Controller, to the County Solicitor, to the entire Board of Commissioners and to me as Chairman of the Board. The fact that no one else sees the issue in the same fashion as you do should be an indication that your view might not be correct rather than being used as the basis for making an irresponsible and inflammatory claim that we everyone that I listed above is engaged in a cover up. That accusation simply is not supported by the facts some of which are as follows:

"* The District Attorney, who is the chief law enforcement officer for the County, has responded to an email stating that there is no basis for criminal charges.

"* Subsequent to that and following a review by Legal, I asked our Solicitor to make a presentation of his findings to the Board of Commissioners. This presentation was made at a public meeting that was covered by reporters from two separate newspapers and was also filmed by a member of the audience.

"Exactly what part of the above process leads you to conclude that there 'is a concerted effort to cover the Sheriff's misdeeds'? Was it the fact that the issue was discussed in a public setting? Was it the fact that there were reporters present? Or was it the fact that a State Representative (who is intimately involved in this issue) was present?

"With all due respect, the claim that there is a cover up in this matter not only questions the integrity of everyone on this email it is also absolute rubbish."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lack of Hospital Support Kills LV Health Board

Despite over four hours of emergency medical treatment from the Lehigh Valley's best and brightest physicians and nurses, the Lehigh Valley Health Department died a slow and agonizing death last night in Northampton County's star chamber. Quoting FDR, JFK, Thomas Jefferson and even Ben Franklin proved to be of no use. Time of death? 10:38 PM. Cause? Lack of hospital support.

Before last night's vote by the combined legislatures of Lehigh and Northampton County, enough hot air was generated by public health and personal responsibility advocates to heat the County for the next five years. Twenty-nine people spoke to a standing-room only crowd, and twenty-two of them supported the measure.

Public Health Advocates v. Personal Responsibility Advocates

"It's time for a change," said dietitian Jane Ziegler, wearing her white lab coat for effect. Retired surgeon Michael Sinclair called the proposal "creative" and "brilliant." "Good bargains are hard to find," he said. Auto dealer Andy Daub tried to close the sale, calling a bi-county health department an "investment" that will somehow decrease the cost of health care. "We've got to compete with Bucks County or we're not going to get the jobs. ... They're gonna' walk right by us."

But the high local cost of Bucks County's health department, estimated at somewhere between $4 and $6 million, was used by personal responsibility advocates to argue against a bi-county health department. Former LV Congressional candidate Mat Benol told Lehigh and Northampton County legislators that "no amount of money is going to make people stop going to McDonalds."

Scrappleface, aka former LC Exec candidate Scott Ott, scoffed at the notion that a bi-County health department would be cost efficient. "You have to ask yourself, if two counties are good, why isn't four counties better? If four counties would be better, why not a twelve-county coalition? If a twelve-county coalition makes sense, how about a sixty-seven county coalition? Because certainly, the higher we roll this up and the more regional coordination we have, the better the care would get, or so you've been led to believe. So why not have Governor Rendell coordinate everything from Harrisburg, or President Obama coordinate it from Washington, D.C." He later said, "You don't have to rescue us. ... You cannot solve every problem."

We're Too Fat and Our Babies are Too Skinny

After hearing from the unwashed masses, the next people up were LV Health Board members.

Dr. Eric Gertner explained why we need public health. For one thing, we're too fat. In Northampton County, 30% of us are obese, and Lehigh County is only slightly skinnier, at 26%. If Northampton County were a state, the only ones that would be fatter than us would be Mississippi, Alabamy, West Virginy and Tennessee. It's like we're in Deliverance country. The truth is that Northampton County's obesity rate would go down ten points if I just moved.

While we're too fat, our babies are too skinny. 8.3% of Northampton's babies have a low birth rate, while Lehigh County is even worse, at 8.7%. Even Mongolia does better than us. But don't Mongols have anger issues?

John Reinhart, another Board of Health member, explained the nightmare he went through when he had to distribute H1N1 vaccines at the Bangor School District. "There seems to be a comfortable belief that we in the LV will be taken care of by some agency or some group, and that agency or group will not permit us to be vulnerable during a public health crisis. I personally believe that's clearly a misconception. ... We reached out last Fall during H1N1, and with the exception of Allentown and Bethlehem, there really wasn't another person on the end of the line for the rest of us."

Health Board member Ilene Prokup told legislators of plans for 5 clinics in Allentown, Slatington, Bethlehem, Easton and Bangor. She also said the staff would grow from 66 to 106 in the first year.

Lehigh and Northampton County legislators had several objections.

Bruce Gilbert (North.) was doubtful about the 3% projected annual growth, believing the figure will be much higher as a regional health board competes for grants with Philly and Pittsburgh. "I don't see that as a realistic figure as to what our cost increase will be. I'm not sure we're getting an accurate picture ... ."

Glenn Eckhart (Leh.) noted that 66 public health workers currently serve 175,000 people in Allentown and Bethlehem, and was very doubtful that an additional 50 workers could serve 600,000 residents in the LV. "Will this health department give equal coverage to the other 400,000? Until that happens, I can't support it."

The Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, was in a foul mood. Chairman Percy Dougherty had started the meeting by saying any attempts to table the LV Health Department would be out of order, and he reached that conclusion on the basis of discussions with attorneys from both Counties. Angle asked County Council Solicitor Phil Lauer whether that was true, and Phil responded, "This is the first I've heard of it." Dougherty got his signals crossed somewhere.

Angle's chief objection (he had a few) is that Allentown and Bethlehem are guaranteed they will receive the same services from a Bi-County Health department that residents there currently enjoy. "This is a two-tiered service. If we vote against increases, Allentown and Bethlehem will still get the same service and everyone else will suffer." He also ridiculed the numbers in the proposal, calling them "pitiful."

Lamont McClure (North.) delivered the most damaging assessment. He had previously boycotted all meetings concerning the establishment of a Bi-County Health Department, and noted that "we've been lectured about our responsibilities", "our failure to provide for public health." Then he delivered a lecture of his own, telling health board members that the County's source of revenue is real estate taxes. "There is a crisis in Pennsylvania, but it is of people trying to stay in their homes." He noted many good people are just "one pink slip away from foreclosure," and read minutes from previous presentations establishing that local hospitals want public health so they can get people out of their emergency rooms.

McClure wanted to know if hospitals were willing to fund the County share for the next five years. Board member David Beckwith conceded that, although hospitals were more than willing to provide in-kind services, they will make no cash contributions.

This seemed to set off the normally affable Dean Browning (Leh.), who agreed with McClure that "we have been somewhat lectured to tonight." Of the hospitals' refusal to commit any cash, he stated, "They damn well should support us because they are not paying any property taxes." Browning noted that, in Lehigh County, hospitals are exempt from $8.1 million in real estate taxes. "If they want a Bi-County Health Department, they should put their money where their mouth is and fund it."

Mike Dowd (North.) noted that satellite offices would be established "when deemed appropriate," and questioned why that was not already determined. He shared Angle's concern about funding for Allentown and Bethlehem leading to shortfalls elsewhere. Finally, he'd like to see proof of the "salubrious benefit" of public health to students in Allentown and Bethlehem. (Mike talks like that. He reads books).

In addition to all these objections, there were other legislators who argued in support of funding a Bi-County Health Board.

Andy Roman (Leh.) trotted out the "Be afraid, be very afraid" argument, pointing to 9/11, bio-terrorism and our drinking supply. He also noted "we are already paying for services that we're not receiving from a system that is fragmented and has no local control. Conservatives should support this."

Gloria Hamm (Leh.), who had oxygen going up her nose the entire meeting, must have had her supply cut off by Angle at points. She was hopelessly confused before every vote cast, but dismissed the personal responsibility argument as some kind of red herring. She also noted that if one grant is denied, the health board can simply apply for another one somewhere else. I see.

David Jones (Leh.), who actually showed up for once, claimed he was no politician, but was a preacher. He condemned the "rhetoric" and "grandstanding" that had gone on "from both sides" and then delivered a sermon of his own. Arguments against the health board were "strawmans" [sic]. Those opposed are guilty of "unreasoned fear." Then he quoted from FDR, Martin Luther King and Adam Sandler.

According to Bill Hansell (Leh.), funding is imperative. "Listening to the opposition, I'm wondering what country we're in." Then he started quoting Jefferson, who incidentally helped Hansell draft the Declaration of Independence. By the way, I hate to break this to you, but according to Hansell, the health board report claims "we have cancer." Better see your doctor. He also insisted public health should be our #1 priority, more important than open space, bridges or even jails.

Percy Dougherty (Leh.) promises, "we're not going to saddle the taxpayers" with the cost of a health board, and claims he could transfer funds from "other programs." But he never identifies those programs.

Ann McHale (North.) had the usual trite comments. "Now is the time to make the tough choice. ... It's the right thing to do. ... It takes courage to do the right thing ... blah, blah, blah." I'm sure her Overlords at the Lehigh Valley Partnership were very happy.

Despite Dougherty's admonition earlier that evening, Angle moved to table the resolution for two weeks, pending receipt of a report on the County's nursing home. He was seconded by Dowd, who expressed concern about Northampton County's $16 million hole. But that motion failed. An attempt to offer amendments to the Resolution also fell short. That left the Resolution itself, which authorized funding, approved a budget and authorized establishment of a Board of Health. In order to pass, this resolution needed the support of five members of both Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners as well as Northampton County Council.

When the dust had settled, it passed in Lehigh County, 6-3. Only Browning, Tom Creighton and Eckhart were opposed. But it failed in Northampton County, 2-6. Only McHale and Peg Ferraro voted yes, with Tom Dietrich being the only member MIA from both legislative bodies.

What killed this proposal, in addition to poor advocacy and a condescending attitude from public health advocates, was the unwillingness of local hospitals to provide any kind of financial support for a program that benefits them at least as much as the public.

Funeral arrangements will be handled by David Jones' Life Church.