For a long time, Mitman has been treated like a visiting celebrity here in the People's Republic of Northampton County. After all, he is a Bixler. I don't think his family came over on the Mayflower, but it was the proud owner of America's oldest jewelry store on Easton's centre square, which is round. I bought my engagement ring there in 1788. The Easton store closed its doors in 2009, after Mitman had sold it.
Mitman's colonial pedigree, and his engaging personality, likely meant a lot to the puppet masters at the Lehigh Valley Partnership, our unelected aristocracy, when they selected him to lead the Lehigh Valley's economic development nonprofit. Though funded in large part by hotel tax from both counties, as well as other public monies, LVEDC has historically been shrouded in secrecy. It started catching lots of heat after unsuccessfully attempting to gag a number of local luminaries, including Express Times publisher Martin Till.
It's never a good idea to aggravate someone who buys his ink by the drum.
Enter Phil Mitman. He was going to change all that with a "climate of collaboration." Then $100,000 went down the toilet for a passenger rail study that told us what we already knew - it costs too much. Then they all nearly fell for an ill-fated attempt by Mayor Ed Pawlowski to relocate to downtown Allentown. Despite 7 AM meetings, another attempt to muzzle public officials and cheer leading by Lee Butz, whose building was designated as LVEDC's new home, the public spotlight ruined everything. Word kept leaking out, despite an insistence on goofy secrecy pledges.
So much for collaboration.
Then came the tweet heard round the world. In an attempt to reach out to the Twitterati, LVEDC actually hired a social networker who one Friday posted this:
"We start summer hours today. That means most of the staff leave at noon, many to hit the links. Do you observe summer hours? What do you do?"Oh, I don't know. Some of us are standing in unemployment lines. Others are actually having trouble putting food on the table.
When I reposted that tweet here, LVEDC's initial reaction was to slam me. Their Propaganda Minister, Steve Althouse, delivered a missive to various news outlets and totally played goofy Jonathan Geeting, who holds himself out as an expert on ... well ... everything.
Althouse was careful to exclude me.
Unlike Geeting, The Morning Call's Scott Kraus painted an accurate picture of what had happened, which included the termination of the tweeter and some incredibly goofy explanations by Phil "Fore!" Mitman. Columnist Bill White followed that with a "Step Away From the Smartphone" parody.
Needless to say, LVEDC has pretty much stopped tweeting.
I'm concerned about the money. Their online financial statements fail to tell me how much their employees are getting paid. But according to Guidestar, which has LVEDC's 2009 and 2008 reports to the IRS, I know that Mitman was paid $134,366 in 2009. This is about 14% more than his $117,788 2008 salary. In the midst of a recession, total employee expenses amounted to $1,280,937 in 2009. In addition, $80,263 was spent for conferences and conventions, and another $15,993 for travel.
I asked LVEDC's CFO, Jean Mateff, to provide details about those travel expenses. She said she'd get back to me.
That was in June.
Summer hours, I guess.
With all this in the background, a dapper Phil Mitman stood before Northampton County Council on Thursday night, with VP Pete Reinke standing by his side. When he did this two years ago, only the Northampton County Bulldog - Ron Angle - questioned him. Last year, it was pretty much Angle again, all by his lonesome. But on Thursday night, everyone had questions. Mitman was unable to make lemonade out of lemons.
He attempted to state that the LVEDC created 1,743 new jobs in the Lehigh Valley during the first six months of 2011. But the usually quiet Mike Dowd wasn't buying the bullshit. After noting that many of the jobs created were really just retained jobs, Dowd pointed out that there were 809 new jobs in Lehigh County, but only 223 in Northampton County.
Why the disparity?
Mitman will get back to us on that.
Lamont McClure wanted to know whether the reason for this disparity is because, comparatively speaking, Northampton County delivers a smaller share (34%) of the hotel tax than Lehigh. Mitman denied that has anything to do with it, but was unable to really explain the disparity.
Mitman was asked what his outfit does to help mom-and-pop small businesses, the backbone of our economy. He sends them to CACLV's Rising Tide Loans.
Mitman's backup, Pete Reinke, explained there are four "prospects:" (1) "Project Gravity," a 5,000 sq ft warehouse that might hire 220 employees; (2) a controversial alternative fuel company coming to Plainfield Tp, which will convert 16' high grass called "miscanthus gigantus" to fuel, bringing 50 jobs; (3) a biofarm chemical producer in the Slate Belt, which will bring 55 to 250 jobs in 3 years; and (4) an electric connectors company bringing 54 to 125 jobs.
Then later, Phil Mitman stated there were 17 prospects.
Which is it?
Council Prez John Cusick asked about Euclidean University, a proposal in East Allen Township that you first heard about on this very blog. Reinke told Cusick that LVEDC is not working with Michael Parlamis, who's been called a "pillar of the community" by The New York Times. Then he went on to snark the whole idea and attack Parlamis' integrity, suggesting that he was trying to do the same thing with a tract owned by Chester, New York. Had Reinke really done his homework, as Mitman claimed, he would know that the New York municipality decided to sell the property to someone else.
If LVEDC's intention was to portray itself as a job creator, it failed. Badly. But whether LVEDC can be dismantled, as Angle would like, is a much more complicated question that would likely involve the state senate, which enacted the hotel tax legislation. The puppet masters at The Lehigh Valley Partnership have friends there.