Thursday, December 30, 2010

Easton Patch: Wanna Save Gracedale? Sell It!

Some genius has just explained, over at Easton Patch, that the best way to save Gracedale is by selling it. Even if you disagree, that opinion piece is pure poetry. I'm disabling comments on this specific post, but recommend that you go to Patch and tell this wonderful writer what you think.

Incidentally, there are now 750 Patches nationwide, Locally, Salisbury launched Tuesday and Palmer-Forks went live yesterday.

What Will LV Pols Be Doing Next Year?

You may not know this, but many of our local pols and other luminaries teach or conduct local lecture series. The following is a rundown of some of the classes and seminars under consideration next year, as well as a few predictions.

By popular demand, Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle will start selling will form kits. "My dad had a bunch of them lying around, so I figured I might as well make a few bucks," the Bulldog explains. "You don't need witnesses or anything." Asked if that might present problems during probate, he replies, "Fuck them. Just appeal."

Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan will teach "Five-point Accounting for Everyone." "The plan is a simple one," he assured me. "It starts with Point 3, which is premised on Point 4, I mean 2, and Point 7 through 9 pay for Point 1.3, and then you ..." Business Administrator Dennis Reichard has already flunked out, but said, "It's not like anyone's going to jail."

LV Congressman Charlie Dent will resign to launch his new career as a professional paddle-ball player.

Julio "I speak three languages" Guridy will open Julio's Elocution School. "I'll be talking about many tings along the bitches of Cedar Creek," he explains. Lou Hershman is Dean Emeritus.

Norco Exec John Stoffa and Bethlehem City Council Prez Bob Donchez might conduct a seminar in Assertiveness Training, as long as it offends nobody. "I haven't made up my mind yet," Stoffa tells me. "Someone else might want to do it," chimes in Donchez. "Hey, how about birdhouses?" asks Stoffa.

Former Head Start kid John Callahan will offer a Five-Point Seminar on Clear Speaking. "It's a simple plan," he explains. "Point 3 comes immediately before Point 7, followed by Point 1.6, after which you ..."

State Rep. Joe Brennan will become a part-time driving instructor as soon as his car gets out of the body shop. "It's a few minor repairs. Hardly visible. Can't even see the damage from that bus I rear-ended yesterday, or the nun who is still getting peeled off my grille."

Jake Towne will finally answer, "Who is Jake Towne?"

He's the Batman.

Glenn "Commissioner No" Eckhart will offer the Pentagon the use of his head as a tactical nuclear missile. "I don't really use it," he quips.

Commissioner Percy Dougherty will shock the word by announcing his moustache is fake.

Charles "Don't call me Charlie" Dertinger will conduct a "How to Win Elections" lecture series. Walt Garvin, Lorraine Pasquale and Hillary Kwiatek have already registered.

State Rep. Jenn Mann, who moonlights as a consultant with state contractor Vitetta, will conduct a seminar with freshman representatives on the importance of ethics.

Bethlehem City Council member Wee Willie Reynolds will star in a remake of Nesferatu and is writing a book - "You Can Have a Hot Girlfriend, Too!"

Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski will offer a powerpoint home improvements presentation - "The Perfect Mancave - from Permit to Hot Tub."

Allentown City Council Prez Mike D'Amore and Norco Controller Steve Barron will team up again and visit all T-Mobile call centers on the Eastern Coast, demanding managers to speak to them ... or else.

I will write the foreword to the latest edition of "How to Make Friends and Influence People."

Did BPA Give Pektor Sweetheart Deal on Parking Deck?

Yesterday, I told you about Mayor John Callahan's botched attempt to remove Hector Nemes as the Executive Director at the Bethlehem Parking Authority. I also mentioned that Callahan pressured them in 2009 to purchase the parking deck behind the Main Street Commons, which was then owned Lou Pektor's Ashley Development. Northampton County Assessment records reveal that the property was purchased for $1.6 million. This has some City insiders scratching their heads. They say a pre-purchase appraisal valued the property for much less, possibly as low as $600,000.

Later that day, I checked the records at the Courthouse. They identify Lou Pektor's Rubel Street LP as the seller. The property was conveyed for $1.6 million, but an attorney's affidavit concerning realty transfer tax contains an acknowledgment that, at that time, assessment valuations placed the property at only $1.25 million.

It increasingly appears that Bethlehem Parking Authority paid more for this property than it was worth.

And that's not all. At the time the Deed was recorded, so was an agreement under which Pektor is entitled to an unspecified number of parking spaces for twenty years. He even has an option to extend that for another twenty years.

So basically, Bethlehem Parking Authority paid between $350,000 to $1,000,000 more than the parking deck was worth while simultaneously allowing Pektor to park an unspecified number of his own vehicles there without charge for the next 20 to 40 years.

This is beginning to look like a sweetheart deal.

Pektor has long contributed to Callahan's city campaign coffers, and has been the recipient of numerous grants and for the rehabilitation of various Bethlehem projects, including the conversion of the Orr's building into Main Street Commons.

Next week I'll be filing a Right to Know Law request to inspect the pre-purchase appraisals. If you have any suggestions on other things I should seek from the Parking Authority, let me know.

Interestingly, I was told the property was purchased with RCAP grant funds. But real estate records reveal that at the time of purchase, the parking deck was encumbered with two mortgages to KNBT, one for $1.7 million and the other for $1.55 million. I thought banks no longer lend more than a property is worth.

Bethlehem Tp ZHB: Pallet Pro Can Stay

Pallet Pro has been recycling pallets at 2121 Willow Park Road since 1992. Over that time, it has tried to be a good neighbor. It has provided scrap and kindling wood to local residents over the years, and they returned the favor on December 29 when this pallet company appeared before Bethlehem Township's Zoning Hearing Board, fighting to stay alive.

Owner John Saber was completely unaware that his business, which recycles pallets for businesses in three different states, was located in a Conservation Recreation Zoning District. Neither was Bethlehem Township. Officials discovered that Pallet Pro never sought permission for that specific use in the course of researching a traffic complaint in October, and told Saber he needed to get a use variance from the Zoning Hearing Board. That's something they've never given anyone during Pallet Pro's 18 years of operation.

Attorney Steve Goudsouzian, representing Pallet Pro, produced forty letters from residents asking to keep the business alive. And although located in a conservation district, Saber testified that he's surrounded by other commercial properties.

Township resident Ken Steffie, who told zoners that he can remember when Bethlehem Township was still rural and he could shoot pheasants in his back yard, testified he gets his kindling there. "I have never seen anything that should worry anybody there," Steffie testified. "The man has to make a living. He hires people to work there. Why try to take that away from him?" Neighbor Bobby Hicks echoed Steffie's sentiments, claiming he goes there for scrap wood, and the business has a neat appearance.

Solicitor Larry Fox told zoners that a use variance is "an extremely rare remedy," and Township Manager warned about the "precedent" of granting a use variance and opening the door to other businesses.

Zoners decided, unanimously, to grant a variance anyway. They called it a "variance by estoppel" because of "good faith reliance" of township inaction over the past 18 years. Chairman Steven Szy acknowledged that for all practical purposes, it amounts to the same thing as a use variance.

Blogger's Note: Bethlehem Patch has reported on this story, with some interesting details about the business.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Callahan Wants Nemes Out at Bethlehem Parking Authority

I've never met Bethlehem Parking Authority Executive Director Hector Nemes, but I've done business with him numerous times. You see, I collect parking tickets the way Hugh Hefner collects 24-year old blonde bombshells, even in the Christmas City. I learned late yesterday that Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan is trying to squeeze Nemes out and replace him with someone he can control. Let me share what I know.

Nemes, a LV native who worked at Bethlehem Steel with Don Cunningham's dad, was appointed Exec. Director back in 2002. At that time, the only nay vote came from Joe Hoffmeier, who now chairs the Board.

Callahan and Nemes have been butting heads over numerous issues that essentially boil down to control. Callahan thinks he should be calling the shots. For example, Callahan wants to double meter rates, but Nemes has resisted.

Nemes was offered early retirement, but decided against it. So on December 23, Callahan tried to fire him. But it turns out that's something for the board. As word has leaked out about what is going on, Hizzoner has apparently backed off, at least for now.

What's leaking out are questions concerning the Bethlehem Parking Authority's decision to purchase the parking deck behind the Main Street Commons. Using RCAP grant money the property was purchased from Lou Pektor's Ashley Development. According to Northampton County assessment records, the property was sold to Bethlehem Parking Authority in 2009 for $1.6 million. But what has some City insiders concerned is a pre-purchase appraisal, valuing the property for much less than what was ultimately paid. Some say it only appraised at $600,000.

Callahan was able to persuade board members to go along with what might be a sweetheart deal. Chairman Joe Hoffmeier is a Callahan acolyte who contributed $1,000 to the Mayor's congressional quest. Vice Chair Dino P. Cantelmi just happens to be the Mayor's brother-in-law, and is the very person who crashed into a Bethlehem police cruiser nearly four years ago. He sent an officer to the hospital with negligible legal consequences and no publicity. Board member Mary Beth Baran was hired by Callahan to work in the City's water department despite a freeze on new employees. Finally, board member Michael D. Recchiuti is running for City Council and is reputedly a member of the "better than you" crowd after Council meetings.

Callahan has the clout to remove Nemes and wants him gone, but word about that parking deck project has him spooked. In addition to questions about the purchase price, there's another problem. Pennoni Associates was hired to do the renovations, but they are apparently way over budget. I do not have the exact figure, but know that the City is currently unable to use the Authority as a cash cow.

Interestingly, Pennoni just happens to be the outfit doing Northampton County's parking deck. It bid $1.7 million, and currently is somewhere around $500,000 over budget. "Whenever there's a government project, we get waxed up," complained NorCo Council Prez Ron Angle. Looks like Bethlehem is getting waxed up, too.

Interestingly, several Pennoni employees were very generous to Callahan in his failed Congressional bid. It's impossible for me to identify all of them, but I can list some of the principals and employees who seem to think very highly of an elected official who doesn't mind their overruns:

CR Pennoni - $2,000.
Anthony S. Bartolomeo - $1,000.
David DeLizza - $1,000
Andrew Bennett - $1,750
Nelson Shaffer - $500
Eric Flicker -$1,200

That's $7,450.

I do not have a copy of the appraisal or Pennoni's cost overruns, so I can only say for sure that Callahan wants Nemes out, but backed off as some of these questions arose. I believe several City Council members may have similar concerns.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Obama Thanks Eagles For Giving Vick Second Chance

This story leaks out now that Vick is perceived as a success.

Who's Watching the Henhouse in Bethlehem?

Last week, Bethlehem City Council adopted a $65 million budget that raises taxes 5.3% and sheds 54 people from the workforce, including firefighters and a CPA. It also gave preliminary approval to a $16 million loan, which incredibly includes $2 million of a $6 million loan previously borrowed for items like a new EMS facility, but which the Callahan administration blew on something else. The City even had to borrow the money for its annual pension payment, something it swore up and down would be unnecessary.

As disturbing as it is to learn that Bethlehem firefighters may very well be down by 6 people next year, I am even more troubled by two other cuts.

An independent audit has tagged the Callahan administration for the following financial missteps: a missed pension payment; spending money without required Council approval; "borrowing" EIT money collected for other municipalities; commingling restricted and unrestricted funds; commingling 911 land line and wireless funds; running the internal service fund at a deficit; "unusual investments" in the pension fund; excess 911 personnel costs; and treasurer's escrow account irregularities. In the face of this devastating audit, Callahan's cronies basically thumbed their noses at everyone and blew $6 million borrowed for capital purchases and improvements.

Yet a part-time City Council decided to eliminate around $15,000 set aside for its own budget analyst, who would work on an "as needed" basis.

I think it's safe to say that now, more than ever, City Council needs an independent review of Bethlehem's finances. Controller Meg Holland did make six specific recommendations, and some were implemented. An independent budget analysis would likely give Holland's recommendations more credibility, and would send a signal to the Callahan administration that Council is finally watching the hen house.

The other cut that really bothers me is the elimination of CPA Celie Walton's position, in spite of her willingness to work part-time and for no benefits.

An accounts payable and receivable position is now held by Terry Reichard. She just happens to be the widow of Dennis Reichard's cousin. Dennis Reichard, the City's Business Administrator, reacted to the negative audit in August by saying, "This isn't stuff that anybody's going to jail on." The contract person listed under temporary help in Financial Services just happens to be his next door neighbor.

Celie Walton, the CPA who's job was eliminated, may have been the most unconnected person in that office. She monitored daily financial reports.

Dennis has certainly surrounded himself with people who are beholden to him, and who would be less likely to raise any questions about financial dealings of the city.

Instead of watching the henhouse, City Council may have given Mayor Callahan the key.
Updated 9:55 AM to reflect more accurately what Celie Walton did as a Bethlehem employee. I have also clarified that City Council only authorized the City to reborrow $2 million of the $6 million it had diverted.

Angle Files Post Trial Motions In Will Dispute

On December 17, Philadelphia Senior Judge John Braxton ruled against Northampton County Council President Ron Angle in a dispute concerning his father's estate. "[Angle] has failed to prove the formalities of execution of May 15, 2009 Will," concluded the jurist. He found that an earlier will, offered by Angle's sister-in-law, is the real deal.

Phil Lauer, representing Angle, filed post-trial motions on Monday that essentially argue that Braxton erred, as a matter of law, in concluding that the May 15 Will was improperly executed.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Call Me Reverend

Call me Reverend.

It may take years of arduous study to become a rabbi, priest or even a UCC minister, but the Universal Life Church Monastery ordained me online last night, no questions asked. All I had to do was give them my name, address and email. No charge.

I started rolling around on the floor, speaking in tongues immediately. I feel holier already.

Guess what? That's exactly what my fellow clergyman, the Right Reverend Mario Martinez has done. He's the dude who claims God is on his side in the Gracedale dispute and that Angle is the Devil.

Amen. As an ordained minister, I suggest an exorcism. Maybe the Spanish Inquisition.

Contrary to what you may think, Rev. Martinez did not get his ordination papers out of a cereal box. No, siree, he did exactly what I did. He was ordained online by The Love Church, which admits "[o]ur degrees are not regionally accredited by an agency accepted by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce."

And Lo and Behold, the Reverend is already fleecing his flock.

Martinez has an online Church called "The Spirit Without Limit." In addition to enlightening us about the difference between BC and AD, what the good Rev. really does is hit us up for dough. He calls it a tithe. Sounds holier. Hey, maintaining an online church costs money! Do you think religion is for the poor? The Rev. claims to be collecting money for two different charitable organizations. Kids. Donations are supposed to be sent to his Holy Post Office Box.

Funny thing about that. I was unable to find any registration information for Rev. Martinez' church, either as a nonprofit or charitable organization. But when Rev. Mario registered his Holy Domain, he lists "Eyesore Investments" as the administrative organization. That's some sort of real estate investment firm that claims to purchase and rent out properties here in the Lehigh Valley. I never heard of it.

It has the same Holy Post Office Box as the Rev's online church.

Martinez registered the domain and a fictitous name for his business.

Now why does this bother me? Because people like the fake Rev. denigrate the good work done by real clergy and use their status as a weapon, as the fake Rev. has done with Gracedale.

They're as bad as lawn gnomes.

By the way, I'm collecting money for The Human Fund. You can trust me. I'm an ordained minister.

Gracedale Petitions To Circulate in Lehigh County

As you know, there's a push to place Gracedale's sale on May's ballot. Referendum proponents have gathered and submitted 10,774 of the 19,630 signatures needed to have the nursing home's sale decided by voters. But they only have until January 17, 2011 to seal the deal.

Last time Northampton County Council met, phony preacher Mario Martinez waved petitions at them, ominously saying "In front of you today, I have another 81. You can do the math."

OK, I will. 81 petitions signed by 107 people translates to 8,667 signatures. If you add that to the 10,774 submitted, that's 19,441 signatures. But the fake Rev. was apparently just kidding. He's now claiming he really needs 8,000 to 10,000 signatures. Good thing he's an ordained minister because he needs a miracle. Now there's a last-minute push at five different locations.

One of them is at Gracedale. Although County Council Prez Ron Angle and Exec John Stoffa are repeatedly condemned and accused of playing games, they have repeatedly tolerated the nursing home's use as a forum for the referendum movement.

What's interesting to me is that two of these five locations are in Lehigh County. That's right. Signatures will be collected at an Allentown union hall and Westgate Mall. No problem there, right?

Even if they obtain the necessary John Hancocks, I believe a Gracedale referendum is contrary to the Home Rule Charter. Northampton County's 2011 budget only funds Gracedale for six months. A referendum banning a sale will force a budget amendment as County officials scramble to find cash. But the Home Rule Charter specifically bans referenda on any matter that extends to the budget.

They Killed Rudolph!


... in Richmond. His God-damn nose did him in.

Free vension for everyone!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Football or Dance of the Grass Fairies?

It's hard to believe that the Eagles-Vikings' game has been postponed until Tuesday, supposedly out of public safety concerns. If the NFL were really concerned about that, they'd ban the booze.

Is this Football or the Dance of the Grass Fairies?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Kurt Vonnegut's Christmas Present to My Mom

My father and author Kurt Vonnegut, who first met each other as "intelligence" scouts during WWII, remained close friends throughout my Dad's life. My Dad could speak fluent French and Vonnegut was supposedly fluent in German. For days before the Battle of the Bulge, they had been warning of a troop buildup, but no one took them seriously.

They were among the first soldiers captured when the Panzer divisions began rolling in. When they tried to surrender, my Dad discovered that Vonnegut didn't know a damn word in German. As the Supermen drew closer, they frantically fumbled through a phrase book to find the expression, "Don't shoot!"

"Nein scheisse!" they both shouted out, and the Germans began to laugh. The Americans had just asked their captors not to shit.

Vonnegut and my father went on to spend the next five months together as German POWs. They were corralled into a slaughterhouse when the Allies decided to firebomb Dresden, killing somewhere around 250,000 innocents in the span of just 24 hours. Up until that time, Dresden had been considered the Venice of Northern Europe.

As they huddled in the slaughterhouse, listening to the strange roar produced by raging flames, Vonnegut claims that one of them (and it sounds just like my dad) said, "I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight."

Many years later, Vonnegut sent my mom a copy of the letter he sent to his family after their release. It was his Christmas present to her. In many ways, it's a shortened version of Slaughterhouse Five, the novel that made him famous.

I've shared this before, but always think about it at this time of the year. So I'll share it again. If you'd like to see a pdf copy of the original, just click this link.

Merry Christmas! See 'ya on Monday.

Dear people:

I'm told that you were probably never informed that I was any­thing other than "missing in action." Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Germany. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do - in precis: I've been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler's last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium. Seven Fanatical Panzer Divisions hit us and cut us off from the rest of Hodges' First Army. The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren't much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight - so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Mont­gomery for it, I'm told, but I'll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren't wounded. For that much thank God.

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, un-heated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations - the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn't room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood. We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year's Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn't.

Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical atten­tion and clothing: We wore given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: - one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden - possibly the world's most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to [...] the Checkoslovakian border. There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39's) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way-through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy about Americans. The Russians picked us up in Dresden. We rode from there to the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We've since been flown to Le Havre.

I'm writing from a Red Cross Club in the Le Havre P.O.W. Repat­riation Camp. I'm being wonderfully well fed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I'll have to be patient. I hope to be home in a month. Once home I'll be given twenty-one days recuperation at Atterbury, about $600 back pay and - get this - sixty (60) days furlough!

I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait. I can't receive mail here so don't write. May 29, 1945

Essex County Site of New Federal Detention Center

After taking a lot of heat from Slate Belt NIMBYs opposed to a private detention center for illegal immigrants, Northampton County Council changed course in November, withdrawing even its limited support.

Federal officials have now decided to do business with Essex County, N.J.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bethlehem's Xmas Present to Taxpayers - a 5.3% Tax Hike

Bethlehem's origins may go back to the Moravians, but the $65 million budget adopted by City Council on December 21, could have been written by Puritans. During a two-hour meeting before sixty City workers and activists, in which the opening prayer lasted much longer than most of the votes, an austere spending plan with a 5.3% tax hike was approved by a 5 to 2 vote, with David DiGiacinto and J. William Reynolds voting No.

When it was all over, there was no applause and no wishes for a Happy Holiday from Christmas City Council Prez Bob Donchez. Instead of Christmas cheer, City Council's gift to residents was a 3/4 mill tax increase, its first in the last five years. Ironically, it comes despite the casino revenue generated by the Sands.

In enacting the tax hike, Council restricted the anticipated $1.1 million in revenue to the City's aging EMS facility and a fire pumper. Their approval is required before the money is spent, and it must be maintained in a separate account. These restrictions were imposed after approving a $6 million lie of credit for projects like the EMS facility, only to learn that the money was diverted to medical coverage for City workers.

It's a budget that shares the pain. 54 City jobs were eliminated, including 2 fire fighters and another four who are expected to retire next year with no replacement. Firefighters union president David Saltzer grumbled, "I feel safer already."

Step increases for non-union workers were eliminated, and a scheduled 1 1/2% pay hike was delayed until July.

A last-minute attempt by David DiGiacinto to restore them failed to garner enough support, even though the Public Works Director Michael Alkhal had found the money in some non-priority projects. "I think it's important for morale," he quietly stated.

Karen Dolan sided with DiGiacinto, calling it "the right thing to do," noting that a City department had come forward at the eleventh hour and said, "Here, have some extra money, we can live without it." DiGiacinto said he sat down with City officials on Friday afternoon. "It didn't take long to find the money. ... It just makes you wonder."

Eric Evans, who also proposed the tax hike, argued "it's not consistent with what we've done." J William Reynolds and Bob Donchez joined Evans in voting against DiGiacinto's proposal, effectively killing it. DiGiacinto had four votes, but needed five.

In addition to the tax hike, Council set the wheels in motion for a $16 million loan to pay for unpaid bills, including the City's annual pension contribution. In an August Finance Committee hearing, city officials had assured Council President Donchez that this year's payment would be timely, but the money must now be borrowed. Callahan had sought approval for a $20 million borrowing plan, which included the same projects for which Council had already borrowed $6 million. DiGiacinto voted No.

Although Mayor Callahan opposed a tax hike, he increased City fees wherever he could. Recycling fees will increase from $40 to $60. It will cost you more to golf, too.

Disgusted, Bethlehem resident Chuck Nyul asked Council, "Have you no regard for this City? I love this place, but i'm starting to hate some of the people that are governing it."

Video Highlights"

Firefighter Union President David Saltzer: "I feel safer already."


City Resident Chuck Nyul: "Have you no regard for this City?"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

ASD Hiring Outside Lobbyist, Barring Direct Talks With State Legislators

There's a minor, $24 million budget gap, in Allentown School District's financing plan. So you might think that the new Superintendent, Gerald L. Zahorchak, D.Ed., would focus on spending limited resources in the classroom, at least to the extent that it stops students from shooting each other.

You'd be wrong.

Dr.Zahorchak plans to spend $40,000 of your money to hire an outside lobbyist to grease the wheels in Harrisburg. Ronald Lench a former Democratic state legislator, has been tapped for the role. He should work out just great with Republican Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican Senate and a Republican House.

Allentown School District is represented by one state senator and three house members. Do they really need a lobbyist? Is this really an attempt to improve public education or help out a pal in Harrisburg? Isn't this something that should be done by a Superintendent?

Amazingly, that's not all. Apparently, the four state legislators who do wish to speak to administrators must now go through a PR person. No more direct talks.

School board member Bob Smith, contacted on Sunday night, was totally surprised by these changes. He tells me he has not yet been asked to approve any outside lobbyist, and was completely unaware that state legislators can no longer talk directly to school officials.

"Pat [Browne] can call me anytime he wants," says Smith. But what about a principal? If Senator Browne wants to speak to a school administrator, he has to be cleared.

Does this sound like a school district that is just digging a deeper hole for itself?
Updated Noon: School Board Prez tries to Save Bottom-Feeding Blogger! The affable President of Allentown's School District, Jeff Glazier, was kind enough to drop by and confirm that the Board has, in fact, hired outside lobbyist Ron Lench. He places the annual figure at $33,600, and not the $40,000 I mention. He also denies there is any gatekeeping going on, but I'm sticking to my guns on that claim. You can read Jeff's comments in the comments section of this post. (Note to self: Do not use the word "guns" around an Allentown school board member.)

How Bethlehem Township Holds Line on Taxes

Ever try to reach Bethlehem Township's Planning Department? A meeting scheduled earlier this month was unexpectedly canceled, most likely the result of poor planning. A telephone call to the Assistant Director on the following day went like this.

"You have reached Howard Kutzler's voicemail. Kindly leave a message."

In an attempt to reach a live person, the Planning Director was later called. It went like this.

"You have reached Howard Kutzler's voicemail. Kindly leave a message."

Unsuccessful with Planning, a call was placed to the Township Manager himself, this time to complain about his unresponsive lackeys, those two Howard Kutzlers. It went like this.

"You have reached Howard Kutzler's voicemail. Kindly leave a message."

Actually, this is no joke. Kutzler, who succeeded the very capable Jon Hammer as Township Manager in August, is still wearing his two Planning hats. He even has different sets of business cards for each position.

Only one salary.

Bethlehem Township has been in hiring freeze mode since 2008. During that time, its workforce has shrunk from 95 to 88 employees. Most recently, Captain George Boksan retired from the township police department, and his role has been assumed by two sergeants.

Kutzler is a "Konkrete Kid" who spent ten years on the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. He claims that, thanks to the Internet and cell phones, Township staffers are able to work smarter and still deliver the same services. There's also a wage freeze in effect, at least for the nonunion and AFSCME-affiliated employees.

Bethlehem Township has suffered as the housing market has evaporated. It has gone from seeing 250 new homes every year to about 5. But Township Commissioners began implementing cost-saving measures two years ago, preparing for the upcoming financial storm. At their December 20 meeting, their efforts paid off. They were able to adopt a $14.38 million budget that holds the line on taxes at 5.99 mills during a brief, fifty-minute meeting chaired by a businesslike Arthur Murphy. The vote was a unanimous 4-0. Commissioner Michael Hudak was absent.

As I left the meeting last night, Kutzler started cleaned my windshield and demanded 50 cents. I complained to a cop, who gave me a $50 ticket for illegal parking.

They must want a raise next year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Worry, I'm Still a Miserable Bastard

Over the years, I've owned a few cats and dogs. In my opinion, dogs taste better, but that's a matter of personal opinion. One man's meat is another poison.

My cats were, like me, miserable bastards. One of them actually gave me blood poisoning and nearly killed me. He was cool. Shortly before these nasty critters died, they suddenly would became very nice. They'd leap on my lap, start purring and then die, but not before pissing on me.

From the posts below, you might get the impression that I've suddenly turned nice and am gonna' jump on your lap. Don't worry. I'm not dying. But I might piss on you.

Sanctuary at Haafsville Gets $75,000 in Anonymous Donations

The donations come from a family and individual who wish to remain anonymous. Both support Executive Director Liz Jones' vision of a unique sanctuary that will serve the homeless animals and human residents of the Lehigh Valley.

It's called The Sanctuary at Haafsville, and has been given an eight-acre property, west of Fogelsville, by the Tercha/Haaf family. The first building on the site should be ready by Spring, according to Ken Petrini, chairman of The Sanctuary's board of directors.

Also helping in the construction of this first of its kind animal sanctuary in the Northeast will be sales of The Sanctuary's Inaugural Public Opportunity, or IPO, -- shares of non-redeemable stock that will be issued to the first 1,000 donations of $1,000.

The Sanctuary at Haafsville's mission is to promote programs that encourage interaction between people and animals, while providing a home and care for animals needing a temporary or permanent place to live. The Sanctuary also plans to use environmentally friendly methods in building and landscaping wherever possible.

The Sanctuary's website is here. There's also a Facebook page.

Have You Seen Katie?

Not long ago, I went through a "missing dog" crisis with my grandson. Fortunately, it only lasted two days. But Vica Shparber, whose BlackForest Deli & Catering is among the Lehigh Valley's best, has a dog that ran away over two weeks ago. What's worse, it's her brother's dog.

Her name is Katie. She's an Alaskan Malamute who ran off on Dec 4th in the Kempton area. She's a large dog, about 125 lbs, with white and gray colors.

If you have any information, you can call Vica at 973-715-3899.

The Lesson of Michael Vick, Giantkiller


It's hard to believe that a professional football team, down 28 points with just 7:28 left in the game, could erase that deficit. It's even harder to believe that they could actually win, in the final 14 seconds, on a punt return that was initially bobbled. But that's exactly what happened in what is now being called the Miracle at the New Meadowlands. Counted out, the Eagles snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. And in a game that matters. The Eagles are now perched alone atop the NFC East. You might credit show boater Desean Jackson, who has returned three other punts for touchdowns this season. But the real winner is Michael Vick, who knows what it's like to be counted out.

Last year, I refused to watch a single professional football game. It was just a one-man boycott, but I had a hard time forgiving Michael Vick, arguably the most hated man in America. He had just been released from 18 months in the can for his involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring, where sadistic animal abuse included hanging, electrocuting and drowning pit bulls who failed to perform. I was even more turned off when his teammates last year decided to give him some goofy courage award.

Vick was counted out by people who matter a little more than me. The Falcons, for one thing, refused to have anything to do with him. He lost everything, and was forced to file for bankruptcy, where he fought vigorously for a re-payment plan that would still provide for his mother and children. But on a construction worker's salary, it appeared unlikely that he'd have a chance.

One of the things I failed to consider is that Vick has always been counted out. He grew up hard, in a community where drive-by shootings and drug dealing were common. He tells stories of going fishing at age 11, knowing there was nothing to catch, just to get away for a few hours. Football was his way out, and he left college early to provide for his family.

The Eagles' Andy Reid gave Vick that little chance, and even then, it appeared unlikely that Vick would amount to much more than a second or third string quarterback.

This year, the Eagles' young team is rebuilding and were never expected to be playoff contenders. They were counted out, too.

But something amazing has happened. A man who was counted out has succeeded with a team that was counted out, and in a game where they were counted out. His fiery resolve was demonstrated by the way he spiked that football on his last touchdown run, almost as if it say, "Try and take that away!"

More than mere athletic ability was driving him. He had already been batted around for nearly an hour by Giants, who even delighted in slamming him when he was out of bounds. It was taking him longer and longer to get back to the huddle. But he refused to surrender.

His performance and this game transcends the actual score or playoff chances. It tells people who are struggling in this economy, whether they are laid off workers or students struggling for loans - Don't Give Up. It tells people who've made mistakes - Try Again. And it tells hardasses like me, - Don't Judge.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Christmas Flash Mob


Over the weekend, I received this video from several people. I thought you might like it.

Dauphin County Comm'r Jeff Haste an Eagles Fan


Dauphin County Commissioner Jeffrey T. Haste spoke at Northampton County town halls concerning Gracedale. He came up to explain how privatization worked at a public nursing home in Dauphin County. Patient care actually improved. The number of indigent patients increased. And although some of the union workers walked away, most of them are back, and getting more money (and less benefits) than they did as County workers.

But the one thing that struck me about Haste was the lid. He was wearing a suit, the usual uniform of an elected official. But he also sported an Eagles cap, and told me he supports Philadelphia teams.

And in Steeler Country? Democrat or Republican, he gets my vote.

I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more o those Eagles' caps now that they have become the Giantkillers.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dent Votes With House to Extend Tax Relief

From LV Congressman Charlie Dent:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15) last night voted for H.R. 4853, the Middle Class Tax Relief Act, which prevents a massive tax increase from taking effect on January 1, 2011. The bill extends many tax relief provisions established in 2001 and 2003 that are set to expire at the conclusion of 2010. Specifically, H.R. 4853 extends existing individual income tax rates for all Americans for two years, extends the child tax credit, preserves marriage penalty relief, protects middle-class families from the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), institutes sensible estate tax rates, and maintains the current rate of 15 percent on capital gains and dividends to encourage investment.

“I am pleased Congress has finally ensured American families and businesses will not face a significant tax increase in the New Year,” Dent said. “Preventing a massive tax hike will support needed economic growth by encouraging greater investment. In the midst of a recession, our failure to prevent looming increases would have been an incredible disservice to the American people.”

A major component of the legislation is the modification of estate tax rates, which would have risen to an astonishing 55 percent with only a $1 million exemption in 2011 without Congressional intervention. H.R. 4852 establishes a lower tax rate (35 percent) and higher exemption ($5 million) than previous years, ensuring the government does not claim over half the value of estates at the time of one’s death. During House consideration of the bill, Dent opposed an amendment offered by Rep. Earl Pomeroy (ND) that would have taxed estates at 45 percent.

“Providing the best possible estate tax relief is essential to preserving Pennsylvania’s family farms,” Dent explained. “Following the death of a loved one, local family farmers are too often forced to sell their property simply to afford the federal government’s hefty tax. I believe the estate tax levels agreed upon when this legislation was crafted are appropriate.”

The bill passed by the House is identical to legislation approved by the U.S. Senate earlier this week with overwhelming bipartisan support. It is the product of an agreement developed by the Obama Administration and Congressional Republicans.

“The passage of this bill proves to the American people that elected officials can deliver positive results when committed to constructive dialogue and a cooperative legislative process.”

Angle Vows To Appeal Braxton's Ruling in Will Dispute

It's a bad Friday for Ron Angle. According to The Morning Call and Express Times, a Philadelphia judge has ruled that ruled that a Will offered for probate by Angle in connection with his father's estate, is invalid.

The Will offered by Angle was prepared by Ron's wife, Sharon. She testified that she saw Fred Angle, Ron's father, sign it. But unlike most Wills, this one fails to include the signature of witnesses who saw it signed. I have been unable to review Judge John Braxton's ruling, but will do so.

Judge Braxton, pictured with this post, last year ran for Controller in Philly.

Angle actually contacted me about the ruling, and has vowed an appeal from the Court of First Guess, all the way to the court of Final Error.

Fred Angle's daughter-in-law had urged the Judge to accept a Will drafted a few weeks before, and used Angle's housekeeper, Debbie Vallone, as her star witness.

I'll have more to say about the star witness and the opinion next week, after I've read the ruling and track down some details.

NorCo Council: Workhorses, Showhorses & No-showhorses of 2010

Since I first started blogging in 2006, I've been keeping track of the attendance records of Northampton County Council members. This includes their participation in Committees, where most of the grunt work is done. That's how you can tell the showhorses from the workhorses. And it's easy to spot a no-show horse. He's usually someone who's great at pandering, but disappears when it's time to do the heavy-lifting.

Attendance is a good indication whether an elected official actually gives a damn. And what I like about this kind of rating is that it is objective. It makes no difference whether he's a Democrat or a Republican. He either cares enough to be there or he does not.

Northampton County Council met 26 times last year. Three members - Ron Angle, Tom Dietrich & Bruce Gilbert - had a perfect attendance record. Two members - John Cusick & Barb Thierry - had near prefect records, having missed only one meeting. Two members - Ann McHale & Lamont McClure - missed six meetings. McClure actually missed three consecutive meetings this summer and never explained his absence for any but the first missed meeting. Essentially, he was missing in action for six weeks straight. Peg Ferraro only attended 18 of Council's 26 meetings this year, but advised Council that she was recuperating from knee replacement surgery.

In addition to the Council meetings, there are seven standing committees. These are Economic Development (Mike Dowd - C); Finance (Ron Angle - C); Human Services (Tom Dietrich - C); Intergovernmental Affairs (Peg Ferraro - C); Legal, Judicial & Operations (Lamont McClure - C); Personnel (Ann McHale - C); and Open Space (John Cusick - C). Every Council member is encouraged to attend every Committee meeting, regardless whether he or she is a voting member. In addition to individual attendance, the committees that do meet are an indication of what issues concern Council members.

As might be expected, Finance heads that list. In addition to being chaired by the Council President, which itself is unusual, that committee met ten times during 2010, and some of those were lengthy meetings. Personnel was hot on Finance's heels, with 9 meetings. Other committees conducting meetings were Economic Development (7), Human Services (6) and Open Space (2).

McClure's Legal and Ferraro's Intergovernmental failed to meet at all. They also failed to meet in 2009. In fact, Intergovernmental has met just once in the last 5 years. For a County that claims regionalism is a top priority, that's a bit strange.

Standing Committees met a total of 21 times, and Council member attendance is as follows: Cusick (21); Dietrich (21); Dowd (20); Thierry (15); Angle (14); McHale (14); Bruce Gilbert (13); Ferraro (10); and McClure (0). McClure failed to attend a single committee meeting, something I have never seen in the five yers I've been maintaining these attendance records.

Combining both committee and council attendance, the ratings are as follows: (1) Tom Dietrich (47 - 100% attendance); (2) John Cusick (46 - 98% attendance); (3) Mike Dowd (40 - 94% attendance); (4) Ron Angle (40 - 85% attendance); (4) Barb Thierry (40 - 85% attendance); (6) Bruce Gilbert (39 - 83% attendance); (7) Ann McHale (34 - 72% attendance); (8) Peg Ferraro (28 - 60% attendance); and (9) Lamont McClure (20 - 43% attendance).

Just last week, I was highly critical of Dietrich's attempt to funnel $50,000 in taxpayer money to a volunteer fire company because his motivations were at least partially political. But facts are facts, and he is the County Council Workhorse of 2010. That's no surprise. It is Dietrich who took it upon himself to travel to three different former public nursing homes to see how residents and workers fared under new ownership. In fact, last week, Dietrich was spotted in Courtroom 1, sitting with drunk drivers and druggies during the Call of the List, just to see how things went. So he does deserve credit for caring about his job.

The same is true of Cusick, known for submitting numerous resolutions and ordinances whenever school is out. In addition, Cusick goes to all those CCAP conventions in luxurious settings like Camp Hill, and actually attends the meetings.

Reverend Dowd, starting last year, re-energized the Economic Development Committee in his quiet and unassuming style, and as a result, some business projects are moving forward.

Peg Ferraro's attendance record - 60% - is horrible. But she had both knees replaced early this year and even after being released from the hospital, had a difficult time walking to Council. She had a solid showing in 2009, so she obviously does care.

McClure's record is even more horrible, and he had no excuse. Not only did he fail to miss three consecutive Council meetings over a period of six weeks, he failed to participate in a single committee hearing during 2010. I am unaware of any member of Council who has refused participate in committee hearings since the inception of home rule in 1978.

Despite his refusal to inform himself about County business, he never fails to miss a chance to take a shot at the Stoffa administration or Ron Angle. As recently as yesterday, when the County opened bids for the sale of Gracedale in Harribsurg, the County Exec was publicly accused of "hiding."

That's exactly the kind of ignorant remark I'd expect from someone who doesn't bother to inform himself.

McClure faces re-election next year, and can explain to voters why he attends no committee meetings, if he dares to run. He's one no-show horse who belongs in the political glue factory.

Here are reports from the last four years: 2009; 2008; 2007; and 2006.

Can You Help a Military Family This Christmas?

If you have a loved one in the military, you must be aware of the fine work done by The Blue Star Mothers of America. Since WWII, this is the group of moms who send those care packages out to our soldiers. I know first hand the good they have done because one of those care packages went to my daughter in Iraq.

The Gilberts, sons and daughters of Northampton County Council member Bruce Gilbert, are performers who've raised $15,000 for the Blue Star Mothers. Dottie Niklos tells me that the money they raise at their performances - they sing and dance for whatever you can give - "has helped many military families and needy veterans with families."

They'll be doing two concerts in the next few days. If you can attend one of them, the money you give will help soldiers who put their lives on the line for you without complaint.
Christmas Concert 2010
Ice House Concert 2010 Flyer

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tax Hike Looms in Bethlehem


At Bethlehem City Council's final budget hearing on December 15, a CPA in Financial Services was among City employees begging for her job. She offered to work part-time and without benefits. Her plea fell on deaf ears. So did the concerns of firefighter Dave Saltzer, who bluntly stated that the proposed elimination of two positions in his department "is going to increase the potential for more disasters." In fact, City Council voted to freeze all step increases for all non-union workers, and deferred a 1.5% annual increase until July 1.

These are just some of the painful measures that appear likely in what Mayor John Callahan called the "most difficult budget" he's encountered in his 13 years in city government. And that pain will extend to taxpayers, too. Council member Eric Evans also proposed a 3/4 mill tax increase, which is expected to bring in a little over $1 million next year. That tax hike was approved 5-2, with Council members David DiGiacinto and J. William Reynolds voting No. In addition, Council intends to borrow another $16 million for unpaid bills, which includes $1.2 million for the City's annual pension payment.

Callahan had asked for $20 million, and had said he could live with $18.5 million. But he'll have to make do with $16 million.

An independent audit of Bethlehem's finances revealed that in 2009, Bethlehem was several months late in making its annual pension contribution. City administrators blamed the late payment on cash flow problems, and assured Council President Bob Donchez during an August Finance Committee hearing that this year's payment would be on time.

It now appears the money must be borrowed.

Callahan's administration also wants to borrow $6 million for capital projects, including a new EMS Center and upgrades to the City's 911 system. City Council authorized a loan in August, but Mayor Callahan told Council he spent the money on medical costs and now is asking to "replenish" the fund. At Donchez' direction, City Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni asked to review the loan documents, but they were still available before the hearing.

"This city budget has been a disaster and farce from the start," complained Dana Grubb, a former city worker. "No city administration has ever shown such little integrity or alienated the city workforce like this one has." Mayor Callahan poured himself a glass of water as Grubb spoke.

Karen Dolan, who dominated much of the discussion during a five-hour hearing, was irritated that money borrowed for capital projects was spent for something else. "It's distasteful and we don't like it. ... There's a mess and we gotta' clean it up and do better next time and every time in the future."

David DiGiacinto was all for letting City administrators solve it themselves. "There's no funding for it. There's no revenue source," he complained.

DiGiacinto, Dolan, Evans and Donchez all proposed $350,000 in reductions to Callahan's budget, some for as little as $500. DiGiacinto even suggested that the City should consider selling its golf course, which is losing money.

Although Reynolds chairs the Finance Committee, he offered no spending cuts. He instead focused on the golf course and the advantages of requiring patrons to pay for carts on weekends.

A CPA and fire fighters are being eliminated and step increases are being frozen, but funding for Bethlehem's mounted police unit was left intact. Donchez and Evans had proposed its elimination, but a firestorm of protest erupted, and several police officers and Bethlehem residents were among the seventy-five people at the hearing.

The horses stayed home.

City Council will vote on the final budget on December 21. If the 3/4 mill tax increase is adopted, a homeowner whose property is assessed at $100,000 will see taxes increase $75.
Updated 11:25 AM: The Morning Call, Express Times, Bethlehem Patch and WFMZ all have separate accounts.

Mr. Ed's Serenade to Bethlehem City Council Saves Mounted Police


Seventy-five people jammed into Town Hall on December 15 for Bethlehem City Council's final budget hearing on its most controversial budget in recent years. Fifty-four jobs are being cut. The City will be forced to borrow $16 million. To pour salt into the wound, a 3/4 mill property tax increase is still being proposed. But what really packed the house was a proposal to reduce the funding to Bethlehem's mounted police unit.

Council Prez Bob Donchez and Eric Evans, who first proposed this idea, quickly changed course after the Mounted Police Unit launched a campaign to save the horsies. But a few people still insisted on speaking, including Mr. Ed.

When he sang the "Empty Feed Bag Blues," Donchez broke down in tears.

So the horsies are safe, but pretty much everyone else is screwed. Even two firefighter positions are being eliminated.

Are You Expecting a Post?

Well, sorry, but I just got back from Bethlehem City Council. Five hours. Three cops were there at the beginning to maintain law and order, but they passed out sometime during the third hour. Janitors cut the heat to the City Council meeting room, but all the hot air from Council members and the Callahan crew provided just enough warmth to keep us all from freezing. Oh yeah, they're gonna' raise taxes 3/4 mill, still cut 54 positions, borrow somewhere around $16 million, and still have an unbalanced budget.

That's Bethlehem, folks. Bangor with lace curtains.

I'll have a full report in a few hours.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dent: Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Military Policy

LV Congressman Charlie Dent:

“In May 2010, I voted against an amendment to the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 5136, that would have repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT). Before legislating a personnel change of this magnitude, I felt Congress must provide the Department of Defense (DOD) ample time to conduct a thorough review of the policy and issue a report outlining its recommendations.

“On November 30, 2010, DOD issued its findings and recommendations following a nine-month study on the potential impacts of repealing the law. While this report includes some issues that will need to be addressed, I believe it provides clear guidance that long-term unit cohesion and retention will not be jeopardized by allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in our Armed Forces.

“Perhaps most influential in my decision to support this bill were the serious concerns Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates recently expressed involving the potential risks associated with a court-ordered repeal. Secretary Gates explained, ‘…there is the very real possibility that this change would be imposed by judicial fiat – by far the most disruptive and damaging scenario I can imagine, and the most hazardous to military morale, readiness and battlefield performance.’

“I share Secretary Gates’ assessment that an immediate repeal ordered by the courts would compromise the military’s ability to implement the new policy in a controlled and effective manner.

“I believe the defining characteristic of a young man or woman who volunteers to join the military is his or her dedication to defending the United States of America. I have confidence that regardless of sexual preference, service members will continue to develop unsurpassed camaraderie with those who share their commitment to protecting the nation.”

Is Bethlehem's Mounted Police Unit Going to Glue Factory?

Updated 5 PM: According to Valley 610, the three horses have been spared. But they're pissed now and are running for City Council next year.

D'Amore's Christmas Present to Unions

The Morning Call's Jarrett Renshaw has the skinny.

Earlier this year, Allentown City Council Prez Mike D'Amore and Northampton County Controller Steve Barron were moonlighting as union thugs at a T-Mobile call center. Barron was censured by Northampton County Council when they learned that our Controller actually threatened T-Mobile officials with official retaliation for refusing to drop everything and see him without an appointment. D'Amore's campaign warchest consists largely of union campaign contributions.

This is his way of saying, "Thanks, Merry Christmas!"


Will this end up costing taxpayers? Sure, but you don't contribute to him, do you?

How Bossman Walt Garvin Will End Dem Divisiveness

So last week, before Ron Angle banged the gavel to start the final Northampton County Council meeting of the year, I was arguing with The Express Times' Sarah Cassi. I've never defeated her in a war of words. Not even once. It really pisses me off, but she just loves it and pours it on even more. So I was relieved when Walter Garvin, aka WallyG, came up and asked if he could have a word with me ... in private.

Walter, as most of you probably know, is Joe Long, Jr. He's Long's hand-picked successor as Chairman of the Northampton County Democratic Party. His landslide election by a scant two votes in June, had to be repeated again in July because Bossman Long, as usual, screwed it up.

In his defense, Joe is simply not used to doing legal elections.

In the July meeting, Chairman Joe Il Long sought my immediate excommunication as a Democratic Committeeman. Yes, I won that seat in the Primary as a result of an overwhelming mandate from the people - one write-in vote. I was actually in a six-way tie, and somehow won a lottery.

Well, let me tell you, I was lucky to make it out of that meeting alive. After Long spoke, some Pakistani dude came up to the mike, called me a spy, and wanted me beheaded ... on video. I defended myself by admitting that I do support LV Congressman Charlie Dent and think they should, too.

Based on November's election results, it appears that many of them did.

Well, they never did kick me out, and last I heard, they were dumping my case in the state committee's lap, and Walt Garvin was going to end all the divisiveness and rancor within the local Dem party.

His way of doing that is by getting rid of people who disagree.

When we reached a quiet corner, Walt handed me one sheet of paper and told me it was the state committee by-laws. I sure thought they were a little longer than that. He then told me I was in clear violation of them, and must resign as I said I would. Then he handed me another sheet of paper all filled out and everything, which he was carrying in his little Bernie O'Hare dossier. It was my resignation. All I had to do was sign. No fuss.

I asked Walter why he failed to notify me of the upcoming Dem Committee meeting. I'm pretty sure that's a violation of the by-laws, too. Should he resign, too? Should Joe Long resign? He actively supported Arlen Specter when Snarlen' was still in the GOP.

And that's, more or less, the point. Bob Freeman said it best on that hot night in July. "I think we go down a dangerous path when we cherry pick who we go after for not supporting the party."

So I refused to sign Garvin's piece of paper. He's in no position to talk about by-laws that he himself ignores at his convenience. If he fails to notify me of the next meeting, I'll ask for his resignation.

Why Bethlehem's 911 Should Merge With Northampton County

Northampton County Council member John Cusick really took it on the chin a few weeks ago when he proposed a feasibility study to determine whether the County should assume 911 operational responsibilities in Bethlehem, Walnutport and North Catasauqua. Bethlehem has a stand alone system, while North Catty and Walnutport are administered in Lehigh County.

"My only question is Why? Really, Why are we getting involved in expanding government or making something bigger, taking on more responsibility?" demanded Peg Ferraro, who was feeling pretty frisky.

Cusick explained only two cities in the Commonwealth have their own 911s. He also noted that 911 has changed from wired to wireless. And he hinted at the real reason.

"I think some of the City's troubles, recently, have been documented. Maybe we should reach out to them."

Here's what's going on.

Bethlehem gets $1 per land line from phone companies for administration of its 911 services. It gets another $1 for each cell phone, but that money is supposed to go to the state, which then distributes grants, based on need. An independent audit revealed that Bethlehem just keeps the money from wireless accounts, and uses it to pay operating expenses. It owes the state at least $2,598.461.

In addition to commingling, Callahan's crew has exceeded the seventy per cent threshold it can use from the 911 fund for personnel costs, by $381,000 per year, for the last three years straight. The City is going to have to reimburse that fund.

And of course, "unallowable costs" were diverted from the 911 fund, to the tune of $288,000. Even God has no idea where that money went. The City has to pay that money back, too.

And it will. One of these days.

Bethlehem officials, of course, would love to continue playing games with 911 money. So Ann McHale, who represents Bethlehem, was dispatched to act all indignant.

"They're certainly not interested at this point," she huffed. "No one's talked to them about this. Not only that, they just spent a lot of money updating all of their equipment." She also indicated that Bethlehem will be funding 911 next year with $3.5 million. "I think you're treading in an area that we don't belong," she ruled.

And Cusick was left holding the bag on a Lamont McClure motion to table. Only Dietrich sided with Cusick, and that was probably only because he saw something in it for his EMT pals.

Dietrich mentioned that he rides in Bethlehem Township ambulances (and wanted $50,000 for them, too) and must respond to some Bethlehem calls, but there is a delay because the radios are different.

Cusick is absolutely right. Bethlehem is playing too many games with 911 money, and it's only a matter of time before there are bad consequences. As proof, you need look only to McHale's statement, which is complete garbage.

It's certainly true that Bethlehem borrowed $6 million just a few months ago, and part of that money was supposed to pay for a $1.8 million upgrade to its 911 center. But amazingly, it spent all the money for operating expenses. Business Manager Dennis Reichard swore up and down it would be used for those purposes at a Finance Committee hearing, but his fingers must have been crossed.

So contrary to McHale's declaration, the City has no upgraded 911. In fact, City officials now want to borrow not $6, but $20 million. But this time, they're really, really, really, really serious.

If past practice is any indication, Bethlehem can't be trusted to upgrade 911. Or administer the fund honestly. And it is going to lose money, as it has this year.

Do Bethlehem citizens want a system in which money for upgrades is diverted? In which Bethlehem can't talk to other municipalities for mutual aid because of different radios? That's what you have. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Gracedale Can't Be Decided By the Voters

When financially-strapped Allegheny County imposed a highly controversial ten per cent "Drink Tax," boozehounds everywhere united to kill it with a referendum. County Council responded with their own referendum, seeking to abolish the tax and replace it with an unpopular property tax increase. But Pennsylvania's Supremes told both Council and the voters to pound sand. You see, judicial nostrils turn up at initiative and referenda.

They say things like this:

"[W]e note that unlike states such as California, governance by referenda is a relatively rare occurrence in Pennsylvania, where we hold strong to the ideals of representative democracy and have no general constitutional provision for voter initiative or referenda."

Or this:

“Advisory, government-initiated referenda will crop up whenever a governing body wants to duck its duty to represent the people. Pennsylvania will become a ‘proposition state’ but with a twist: a host of provincial referendum questions will clog an already inefficient local government labyrinth.”

Judges tend to think people can express themselves at the ballot box, and are leery of anything approaching mob rule.

With that background, I have to ask whether Gracedale's fate should really be decided by the voters. In the unlikely event that 20,000 legitimate signatures are obtained, I believe a Court, if asked, will refuse to place the question on the ballot.

Here's why.

Northampton County's Home Rule Charter expressly states that "The power of initiative and referendum shall not extend to the budget."

County lawyers passed on the legitimacy of the Gracedale ballot question before the 2011 budget was adopted, and saw no problem. But there's a problem now. The 2011 budget only funds Gracedale for the first six months of 2011, assuming that it will be sold within that time. But the Gracedale question being posed to voters will ban a sale for the next five years, and that has a direct and immediate effect on the 2011 budget.

It would send County lawmakers scrambling to find the money for the last six months, and without the means to secure the revenue. It directly interferes with lawmakers' ability to decide how County revenue is best spent.

So even if the necessary signatures are somehow obtained, I believe the Court will decide against this exercise in mob rule.

"We, the People" tends too often to lead to lynch mobs.