Monday, January 24, 2011

Norco Council Takes Another $25k From Cookie Jar

If you give legislators a pile of dough and don't watch them, they're gonna' spend it. That's exactly what has happened to Northampton County Council's contingency fund. Originally set up for unforeseen emergencies requiring quick action, like empty food banks or a sinkhole requiring immediate action, Council members have perverted it into a source for annual grants to their pals.

Late last year, Tom Dietrich, who happens to be a volunteer fireman and an EMT, wanted to spend $50,000 for five chest compression devices at Bethlehem Township's Volunteer Fire Company. Worthy cause or not, it's no sudden emergency. At the time, I questioned whether Dietrich was just trying to ingratiate himself with his EMT pals. His proposal failed 6-3, with only Lamont McClure and Ann McHale joining him.

This failure is the exception. More often than not, Council members use this fund to show off with your money. The most egregious abuse of this fund occurred in 2008, when Ann McHale proposed giving Easton's State Theatre more than the $25,000 requested for a marquee. Eyeing a bid for County Exec, McHale was trying to ingratiate herself with the high rollers and country-club types who fund this rich man's charity.

There's never any sudden push to give the money to the Salvation Army.

Last year, when Angle cobbled together a budget, he trimmed the contingency fund from its usual $250-500k to just $100,000. That should make Council members think twice about raiding this cookie jar, right? Also, the new Republicans on Council were going to end this foolishness, right?

Wrong. In December, it was Dietrich, the candidate who promised the League of Women Voters he'd end "corporate welfare with taxpayers’ dollars, and political paybacks, etc."

Now it's Bruce Gilbert's turn. In December, like Dietrich, Gilbert wanted $50,000 from the contingency fund for The Butterfly House, a new transitional living center in Easton for female jail inmates. "You give them their life back," argued Gilbert, noting this would reduce recidivism and save money.

He's right, too. But is this some sudden emergency?

This proposal might have passed anyway, but was tabled because Council members had concerns about founder Anne Houston's previous public statement that the center would run independent of taxpayer dollars. There were also some zoning concerns.

Last week, Houston was back, and this time, they gave her $25,000 in seed money, with another $25,000 to come down the road. It passed 7 to 1, with Ron Angle being the sole No vote and VP Peg Ferraro off on vacation somewhere. Asked about zoning, Houston assured everyone that she already had a certificate of occupancy.

Here's what was discovered the following day.

1) Houston does have a certificate of occupancy, but it's for two apartments. She does not have zoning approval for a treatment center, and some neighbors are understandably concerned.

2) Houston is using the money to pay her salary and other operating expenses, not for improvements to the property.

3) Houston is daughter to the late Charles Spaziani, a distinguished and politically connected attorney.

4) Houston is married to a tipstaff at the Courthouse.

5) The Houstons and Gilberts are apparently on very friendly terms, and those terms are probably more friendly now.

I bashed Dietrich before and am bashing Gilbert now. But I have to add myself to the mix. I was irritated with Wayne Grube when he opposed the use of contingency funds for Nazareth's skate park but he was right. A contingency fund, to the extent it exists at all, should be limited to real emergencies.
Correction: Houston is not married to the tipstaff, but to his son.Updated 11:10 AM, Angle Press Conference, 2 PM: Anne Houston's Butterfly House, located at 134-144 E. Nesquehoning Street in Easton, is owned by UAM Episcopal Church of Easton. According to Preston McMillian at that church, there is no lease. It's "in negotiation. we're discussing that right now."

Northampton County Council just gave $25,000 to a woman who has no real interest in the property, but who has the right connections.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hail to the new crowd, same as the old crowd!!!

Your welcome,

The who?

Bill Coker said...

Nice work if you can get it. Most of us can't get funded for great ideas that have no forseeable working ingrediants. How do I get into this scam?

Anonymous said...

Claim you are helping democracy thrive for the disadvantaged in the Tea Party Express. they will throw money at you.

Anonymous said...

yeah well, a bridge out is an emergency. they were all contacted, they all know aboutit., and not one dime for that. I guess the vote pool is not big enough No rec money, no infrastructure grant,no open space funding, no contigency money. the last thing that matters is getting ambulaces, fuel oil or trash collection to the families on the other side of thar bridge.

hang in there with your priorities
gang.

Anonymous said...

Didn't figure Gilbert for a sleazy politician. I give up. They're all crooks.

Anonymous said...

Disgraceful.

Thank you for keeping your loyal readers abreast of this sleaze.

Anonymous said...

R or D its not about the political party it's about them. We need more political leaders where the need is about us, not them.

Anonymous said...

My experience with Northampton County Council has been that Council members don't give a dam about their constituents or the areas that they are elected to represent.

As far as bridges go in Northampton County, my experiece is they are not a priority unless it is a major bridge like on I-78. One of the biggest problems in Northampton County is bridge super Tom Kohler. He been there too long and is not open to new ideas about approaching bridge issues. He hasa lot of experience dealing with bridges, especially Penn Dot regulation, but he is not up on the whole preservation movement. Many times rehabing an older bridge is less expensive than to build new. But maintencae is the key and what I have seen of the county's efforts they seem to do a poor job.

One interesting tibit reagrding the budget for bridges in Northampton County is that the county is responsible for paying for the lighting on the bridges like on 78 and 33. That is apparantly where the largest chucnk of the budget for brigdes pays for.

Anonymous said...

Water water everyhere but not a drop to drink
How much does "teachers pet" Abe get?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sanctifying Grace said...

Bernie,

Did you see this?

http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/northampton-county/index.ssf/2011/01/county_executive_halts_50k_gra.html

Peace, ~~~alex+

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Bill D."

You're going to have to identify yourself it you want to play the game of personal attacks. Please make your identity clear and accept responsibility for your venom.

Anonymous said...

Just watched a repeat of Business Matters I never watch TV as I normally work well into the evening.
Now I see I am not missing anything.
Is Ron always rude or just when he is in front of the camera.
Embarassing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:38, the simple answer is yes. Angle is always an embarrassment to the County. He is put on the show because he is the area clown. So Northampton County gets a bad rap.

This guy has a press conference about something Stoffa does. It doesn't make any sense. Why doesn't Stoffa man up for his own decisions and stop hiding behind Angle.

Angle only used the press conference to take a cheap shot at Cusick. It was wrong for Stoffa to work in collusion with Angle just for a cheap attack publicity stunt.

Anonymous said...

Who is the puppet and who is the puppeteer. I just read the MCall article and I can't tell who is the County Executive. Angle or Stoffa.

Bernie O'Hare said...

John Stoffa is the County Exec. Make no mistake about it. Just because he is quiet does not mean he can be pushed around.

Anonymous said...

Rocks are quite and can't be pushed around easily as well. Stoffa seems to govern like a rock, slow and unmoving.

I guess other than a tax increase and dumping Gracedale the County has gone backward.