Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Compliment Someone, by Bernie O'Hare

Check out Bill White's blog. Instead of insulting our Registrar even more, I'll quit while I'm behind.

It's Election Time

On my left sidebar, you'll see links to this year's municipal races in Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Northampton County and Lehigh County. As the races progress, I'll post links to articles about each of the candidates. The purpose is to provide you with everything you need to know about each of these races, and at a moment's notice.

If you have any suggestions for improving on this, please let me know.

Pen Argyl Council Member Running For Mini-Judge

Adrianne Masut's magisterial district consists of Wind Gap, Pen Argyl, Plainfield and Bushkill. It is unclear whether she is running for re-election this year, but Pen Argyl Borough Council member Andrew Medellin, has just registered his candidacy in the elections office. Although he's not listed on the borough's web site among the full-time officers, Medellin does have experience as a police officer.

Yetter Letter Claims Contributions Tax Deductible

Attorney Rich Yetter would like to succeed Michael Koury as Wilson Borough and West Easton's mini-judge. Like many lawyers running for that kind of job, Yetter considers his law degree an asset. So it's no surprise that Yetter would send a fundraising letter to his colleagues in the Northampton County Bar. But it would probably help him more if he had the law right.

In a letter to the "Esteemed Members of the Bar" dated January 26, Yetter campaign treasurer Lewis Gruppo incorrectly states, "Your donation is tax deductible and the committee will mail out receipts for your tax records." Most nonlawyers can tell you that you get no deduction for a campaign contribution.

Contacted yesterday, Yetter immediately acknowledged the error. A clarification will be sent to Northampton County lawyers today.

Republicans Offer Full Slate in Bethlehem City Council Race

Bethlehem City Council races are almost always decided in the primary, when Democrats decide on their nominees. Republicans offer either no or only token resistance from perennial challengers like Esther Lee, who's been defeated 8 times, or John Cornish, whose political career consists of 13 losses. In fact, Cornish once joked his only hope of winning would be if one of the Democrats died. But all that will change this year, when Republicans offer a full slate of candidates for the three Council seats up for grabs.

Al Bernotas, Tom Carroll and Tony Simao are already regulars at City Council meetings, and would like to see what the view looks like from the other side of the dais. Two of these candidates, Carroll and Simao, are also members of the LV Tea Party. All three are running on a platform that will demand fiscal responsibility and accountability from an administration that has run up deficits of $8 million over the past two years.

Al Bernotas, a retired marketer who still works as an emergency substitute teacher, is a vocal opponent of the Elias Farmers Market expansion, and has immersed himself in planning and zoning issues.

Tom Carroll, a former prosecutor in Montgomery and Northampton County, is nephew to Jean Belinski, a current member of Council. He has an active practice spanning eight counties, but has been attending meetings for years.

Tony Simao, a client advocate in the health insurance industry, already films and publishes every Council meeting on Youtube. He wants to end what he calls a "steady cycle" of "spend, tax and borrow."

Registration statements in the elections office list Bob Pfenning, another regular at City Council meetings, as their campaign treasurer.

City Council President Bob Donchez and Councilmember J. William Reynolds, both Democrats, are expected to seek re-election. They'll be joined by Mike Recchiuti, a local lawyer making his second run for Council.

Gordon B Mowrer, a Council veteran and former Mayor, has already announced he is retiring and will not seek re-election.

(Photo: Tony Simao in front of the South Mountain Lookout)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

If Egypt Falls

A radical takeover appear to be very possible in Egypt. If that happens, Israel loses its sole Arab ally in the Middle East, oil prices surge, Iran is strengthened, other Arab states will be destabilized, the US defense industry suffers, and President Obama appears weak.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa: As one of my astute readers observes, Israel does have a treaty with Jordan.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Call Me Kato

It's nice to see that finally, after all these years, our talent as crime-fighting superheros has finally been recognized. I don't know how the hell he figured it out, but Bill White has finally realized that Ron Angle and I are none other than the Green Hornet and Kato.

That's right. For many years, I've masqueraded as a fat white guy. In reality, I'm a skinny Asian dude who looks just like Bruce Lee. On any given weekend, Ron and I team up with the Batman and Spidey to rid Northampton County of all evil.

In the Seth Rogan movie based on our lives, we tool around in a ride called the Black Beauty. But we're looking for a more politically correct name.
Updated 6:30 PM: I had to go see the movie to make sure that the Green Hornet and Kato really are good guys. They are. Seth Rogen does look a bit like a young Ron Angle, and definitely talks like him. Cameron Diaz is a ringer for Sharon Angle, Ron's wife. Like Kato, I do make a wicked cup of coffee.

The Nazareth Sinkhole

So when the first real snowstorm we had this year started, I was at a meeting in Hanover Township. I made it home safely, but when I walked from my car to my estate, I slipped on a piece of ice, did a double flip and landed right on my ass. That, and my right elbow, were black and blue and sore for about two weeks.

Yesterday, on my way to my car, I decided to help some old lady dig out. After about a good thirty minutes, her car could pull out, but then she wanted me to shovel her walks so she wouldn't slip and fall on her ass.

I did it, too, and was paid a dollar.

Having done my good deed, I walked to my car, slipped on the damn piece of ice again, did a double flip, and landed on my ass and elbow.

When I got home tonight, Nazareth officials were looking at the spot where I did my gymnastics. They're certain it's a sinkhole.

Charlie Dent To Tour Northampton County War Zone

He's been to Islamabad. Iraq. Afghanistan. And now, LV Congressman Charlie Dent will visit the war zone right here in The People's Republic of Northampton County. Against the wise counsel of his security staff and mental health experts everywhere, Dent will be in the belly of the beast, Northampton County's very own Star Chamber, to meet with constituents. He'll be in Council's Chambers from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM this coming Wednesday, risking his life to meet with you. I just hope he sends minesweepers out ahead of him.

Congressman Dent will also conduct town halls next week at these locations:

Bethlehem: Tuesday, February 1 from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM, Saxton Gym at the Bethlehem YMCA, 430 East Broad Street, Bethlehem, PA. (Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan has already challenged Dent to a chugging contest.)

Northampton: Tuesday, February 1 from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM, Northampton Borough Hall, 1401 Laubach Avenue, Northampton, PA. (Best

Nazareth: Friday, February 4 from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM, Nazareth Borough Council Chambers, West Center and Church Streets, Nazareth, PA.

Gracedale Update: Bids To Be Opened Today, Public Welcome, The Otter Returns

Sarah Cassi and Jenna Portnoy have beaten me to the punch on most of this, so I'll just plagiarize them with the latest about Gracedale.

1) Public Welcome to Bid Opening Today. - The four firms who have submitted proposals must deliver their “best and final offers” to the Eckert-Seamans lawfirm by 4:00 PM tomorrow afternoon. The press and public is welcome.

A Committee of Council and Administration representatives will be review the detail of all aspects of the final offers, not just price, as outlined in the original Request for Qualifications/Proposals bid documents.

Next week, on Wednesday, they will recommend the best firm with which to begin final negotiations towards a sale of the business and facilities.

County Executive John Stoffa will discuss his decision with County Council at the February 3, 2011 County Council meeting. If you'd like to run out to Harrisburg on a Friday afternoon, here are the details. I won't be able to make it.

Time/Date: 4:00 PM Friday, January 28, 2011

Place: Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC
213 Market Street, 8th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101

2) Election Commission To Meet Monday, not Friday. - Election Comm'n Chair Ken Kraft was kind enough to send me an email, notifying me of the change. According to Director of Administration John Conklin, the County was unable to get a notice to the papers quickly enough to comply with the Sunshine Act.

3) Election Comm'n Has Returned Gracedale Initiative. - In compliance with Monday's ruling, Election Commission Solicitor Chris Spadoni has returned the Gracedale Initiative Petition by registered mail. Proponents have until Valentine's Day, February 14, to seek judicial review.

4) Signature Challenge continued. -Because there is no Initiative Petition left for us to challenge, the Court has continued the hearing on objections filed by Ron Angle and yours truly. The case remains open in the event of an appeal.

5) Return of the Otter. - Larry Otter, who once unsuccessfully tried to stick Exec John Stoffa with a $2,470 bill for one night's representation of erstwhile Voting Registrar Deb DePaul, is swimming up the Delaware to take on the cause of Initiative proponents.

6) Language of Violence. - Northampton County Sheriff Randall Miller has reportedly told Council member Ron Angle that menacing remarks directed his way yesterday (read them here) do not reach the level required for a criminal investigation, but are enough to make him concerned about things getting out of hand. The downward spiraling Gracedale Goons claim no Sheriff will protect Angle because he voted against beefing up that department. These tin-foil hats are apparently unaware that they have just attacked the Sheriff's integrity.

Hold onto your seats. It's gonna' be a wild ride here in The People's Republic of Northampton County for the next several weeks.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gracedale: The Threats Begin

At the anonymous hate blog sponsored by the Gracedale Goons, the menacing remarks have now begun.
Time To Take The Gloves Off
The Tyrant got tired of all the lefts so he took off his gloves, he's now begging for a right...and he will get it, along with some other combinations. Unfortunately for him, we will take our gloves off too, and we are more effective without the them.
Posted by Save Gracedale at 8:58 AM
You know, God is on their side. If this is what they're writing, what are they saying? Angle has been warned, and a link to their post has been forwarded to the Sheriff.
Updated 9:51 AM: I thought that all this "incivility" only comes from right-wing maniacs. Isn't that what Dem Party Bossman Walt Garvin and Gloria McVeigh were trying to tell Bethlehem City Council?

Hector Is Out at BPA

Late last month, I told you that Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan was trying to squeeze Hector Nemes out as Executive Director at the Bethlehem Parking Authority. According to today's Express Times, it's happened.

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.

What's leaking out with Nemes' departure are questions concerning the Bethlehem Parking Authority's 2009 decision to purchase the parking deck behind the Main Street Commons, a decision opposed by Nemes..

The property was purchased from cash-strapped Lou Pektor. 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 Michael D. Recchiuti is running for City Council and is reputedly a member of the "better than you" crowd after Council meetings.

At the time of the sale, Pektor was given a 20-year lease for an undisclosed number of parking spots, with an option to extend for another 20.

Pennoni Associates was hired to do the renovations, might be over budget.

I have filed a Right to Know Request to look at the records, and will be there Monday.

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.

Pennoni employees contributed $7,500 to Callahan in his failed Congressional bid.

More Gracedale Disinformation

According to the tinfoil hats, "Now that Messrs. Angle and O'Hare have gotten their way, guess what? Now they file suit against certain members of the people's group who are circulating the petition to, I am sure, to teach them a lesson."

We sound pretty evil. And we are. But we haven't sued anybody. We did challenge the Gracedale Petition Initiative on Tuesday, and a copy of that Complaint is attached to this blog. You'll notice no individuals were named as Defendants. It was filed to prevent government by mob rule, protect our rights under The Elections Code and find the truth. It was not filed against any individual person or to teach anyone a lesson.

Now that there is no Petition, there's really nothing left for us to challenge. Angle and I will keep the lawsuit open in the event of an appeal. We are ready to proceed, but suspect that, in light of the ruling from the Elections Commission, there will be no immediate hearing.

Priscilla DeLeon, the LV's Most Anal Retentive Official

I think I know why Lower Saucon has sent Supervisor Priscilla DeLeon as their rep to Northampton County's Gaming Authority. It gets her out of their hair, even if it's only for a few hours. What a tight ass! I'll bet she irons her underwear.

On Monday night, she and Hellertown's Stephanie Kovacs cooked up some kind of deal to depose Jay Finnigan as Authority Chair. But they forgot to talk to anybody else. So when Priscilla nominated Stephanie as Chair, and Stephanie nominated Priscilla as Vice Chair, both motions fell on their face for lack of a second.

One thing I've noticed, both in the one meeting I've attended and the others I've watched on the County's video page, is that Priscilla even turns approval of the minutes a major ordeal, with a litany of minor changes that should be included. She's apparently unaware there's a frickin' webcast.

But if you want to see a real anal retentive in action, check out the tail end of Monday night's webcast, when copies of the annual report were handed out. DeLeon wanted Solicitor's Opinions from Scott Allinson added, and explained that she meant his formal, written opinions.

"We did pay him for his services," she snarked.

Jay Finnigan said they could just be pulled from the minutes, and Priscilla gave Allinson another barb. "We don't need to pay you again."

A little confused, Allinson didn't know whether she wanted copies of the informal opinions he gives during meetings, in addition to his written opinions.

"I think you hear what you think you hear when I say things," responded DeLeon in her third shot. She then reversed herself and said if Allinson gives an informal opinion during a meeting, it should be excerpted out and added to the annual report.

A little confused, Allinson wondered whether he was being asked to excerpt his opinions from meetings and write up memos about them, which would obviously be time-consuming. "I'm sorry. I'm speaking English. I'm sorry you don't understand." Zinger #4. DeLeon then reversed herself again, saying only written opinions need be included.

A little confused, Allinson said he'd do whatever the Chair directs him to do, in writing. But Finnigan was confused, too.

Authority VP Deb Hunter assumed the role of translator and suggested that DeLeon wanted informal opinions rendered during meetings included in the annual report, too. DeLeon said that's what she wanted and asked Allinson, "Isn't that why you're here?" Shot #5.

Finnigan then polled the Board. The men (Mayor Yob, Commissioner Nolan and Finnigan) only wanted written opinions. But in a battle of the sexes, the women (Stephanie Kovacs, Deb Hunter and Priscilla) wanted everything. Then DeLeon reversed herself again and said she only wanted written opinions..

A little confused, Finnigan responded, "I think that's what we said."

At this point, Allinson said, "I'm crystal clear."

Finnigan mumbled, "We have no clue."

I know I don't.

'Taint a Fit Night Out For Man or Beast


One of my servants took this last night, close to my estate. I fired him and took his camera.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bethlehem's Loss Is Hanover's Weight Gain

Sticky buns. Whoopie pies. Chocolate peanut butter mousse bombs.

Believe it or not, that's what you'll find at Vegan Treats, currently located at 1444 Linden Street in Bethlehem. But sadly for Bethlehem sweet tooths, this popular vegan baker is moving to a larger, 16,557 sq. ft., shop at 310 Stoke Park Road in Hanover Township.

Representing owner Danielle Konya before Hanover Township supervisors on January 25 in a "conditional use" hearing, Bethlehem Attorney Joe Piperato gave the most compelling argument for giving Danielle whatever she wants.

"Has anyone here ever been to Danielle's location?" asked Piperato.

"No, we don't eat sticky buns," lied Township Manager Jay Finnigan.

"It's right by the, the ... "

"... the Cup," answered several Hanover Supervisors.

Konya, who expects to employ 10 bakers in the back of her store and 2 out front, told Supervisors her business is "bursting at the seams" in Bethlehem, and needs the larger location available in Hanover Township. In addition to her retail operation, she ships cakes to restaurants in New York City and Philadelphia.

Her vegan products avoid heavy cream, butter and eggs, containing about 30% less fat than in other products. "You wouldn't know the difference in the taste buds," she promised.

Hanover Supervisors will decide whether to grant Vegan Treats' conditional use application at their February 8 meeting.

In other business, Supervisors unanimously approved the purchase of two 1-ton Chevy trucks at a price of $31,699.56, from Penske Buick GMC. Both rucks will be upgraded with a snow plow, dump body and hydraulics at a cost of $26,200 for one truck and $22,98 for the other. These trucks are part of the budget approved last year.

At the end of the meeting, Township Manager Jay Finnigan announced he has been re-elected Chair of the Northampton County Gaming Authority. "Our condolences," wisecraked Solicitor James Broughal.

Butterfly House Flies Away

On Easton Patch yesterday, I told you that Northampton County Exec John Stoffa has put a hold on a $25,000 Council grant intended for Butterfly House Founder Anne Houston. Stoffa's action is a response to concerns raised by Ron Angle, after learning that Houston has no lease, no credentials, no nonprofit and no real connection to the UAM church that actually owns the properties on Easton's South Side. Angle had also questioned $100,000 in judgments against Houston, as well as her own recent eviction from a home in Forks Township.

Yesterday afternoon, Houston called to tell me that she was just presented with a wonderful opportunity and is giving up on The Butterfly House.

Before Council pays sugar daddy to someone else, it's time to abolish the contingency fund.

Gracedale Initiative: The Case Against Government by Mob Rule

I've been one busy beaver the past week or so, spending so much time in the Northampton County elections office that the ladies there have threatened to file PFAs against me. I've been reviewing 507 petitions filed to prevent the County from selling nursing home Gracedale, one of its own assets, and one that loses money. After noticing several disturbing patterns in the petitions, as well as a facial inconsistency between the Home Rule Charter and the Elections Code, I decided that a lawsuit had to be filed. What's more, it had to be filed yesterday.

I won't bore you with all the legal gobbledygook, but after discussing this matter with Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle, we formed an Unholy Alliance to stop government by mob rule.

Yesterday, shortly before the Elections Commission convened, we filed a suit challenging the validity of 23,391 unverified signatures filed by a group led by a fake preacher, who's probably cooking up a batch of Kool Aid for his group right now. I've attached the full Complaint below, but want to summarize the points made to the Elections Commission yesterday, which ultimately ruled against the Initiative, 3 to 2.

1) Ellen Weiss was a petition circulator, i.e a person who watches you sign the petition and later swears that she saw you sign it. She just happens to be the President of AFSCME. She's a VP of the LV Labor Council. Her husband is their Recording Secretary. She's one of the union cadets who used the Gracedale rally as an excuse to campaign for Charles Dertinger and John Callahan. She circulated 37 of the 507 petitions, getting 2,269 signatures. On Election Day alone, she obtained 1,229 signatures between 7 AM and 8 PM in at least 8 different municipalities, and in places as far apart as Hellertown and Pen Argyl. Assuming she spent just one hour driving to different polling places, eating and using the facilities, she would have to have obtained one signature every 35 seconds. That's a physical impossibility. We are asking the Court to strike all 2,269 signatures to preserve the integrity of the election process.

2) Dana Lorin Paisley is another petition circulator whose claims are simply unbelievable. He supposedly obtained 1,188 signatures, and 537 of them were on Election Day alone, from Walnutport to Wilson Borough. That's 41 per hour between 7 AM and 8 PM.

3) Mary Ann Schmoyer is a woman who disrupts nearly every meeting with catcalls ad curses at Angle. She even called him foul names in front of a group of around 40 boy scouts. Well, she was a petition circulator, too, collecting 47 of the 507 total, getting 1,439 signatures. At any given point in time, she had as many as 15 different petitions. She was obviously dropping them off at bars and clubs. Now she claims to have set up tables and laid 15 out at a time, but even then, she is not witnessing each signature.

4) Circulator Jack DAllesander, one of the blog trolls here who incessantly attacks Angle and anyone who supports Gracedale's sale, is physically disabled. He has breathing tubes coming out of his nose, ears and practically every orifice. He can't walk or speak without them, and has claimed that on this very blog. But there he is on Election Day, supposedly obtaining 301 signatures. He is saying his equally disabled wife helped him.

5) Circulator Clayton Creamer is a non-county resident who handed in two petitions, and one of them is all filled out with the same handwriting. That's 53 signatures.

6) Betty Fensetermaker obtained 99 signatures and is not herself a registered voter.

7) Wendy Haggerty obtained 583 signatures. Holly Guzaman got another 97. Their addresses do not match information at the elections office. (This is a curable defect).

8) Petitions were fraudulently circulated in Bethlehem Township and Easton. I have several witnesses, but Bethlehem Township Planning Chair Lee Snover saw it go on all day. Circulators were making the following false statements to voters: "Gracedale not only is closing; they are moving the patients two or three Counties away; their family is never going to see them again.” Approximately 700 signatures come from those 2 districts.

9) Jerry Green and Tim Rehrig are the President and Business Manager of the Steelworkers bargaining unit at Gracedale. They both make over $60,000 per year. Neither are residents of Northampton County, but they both circulated petitions in a matter in which they have a financial interest, getting 300 names.

10) Ladd Siftar notarized his own signature. That's 1.

11) In just half of the 507 petitions on file, there are 1,238 defective signatures (not registered, wrong County, etc.).

If you add it all up, that's 8,267 bad signatures. That means the 15,124 valid signatures are way below the 19,630 threshold need for ballot initiative. So if you forget the Home Rule Charter's express prohibition on initiatives or referenda that interfere with the budget or a capitol program, this effort still falls short.

Gracedale Complaint

Charlie Dent's Message to Obama: We Can Work Together

Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent actually made a statement in advance of the President's powerful State of the Union address this evening. Every now and then, Obama sounds like the person who earned my vote. It was also nice to see Dems and Republicans sitting side-by-side.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15) today issued the following statement in advance of President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address:

“During tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama will outline his approach to addressing the complex issues facing our nation in 2011 and beyond, including ways to grow the economy and control government spending. Much of the President’s rhetoric will garner bipartisan applause, but it’s important to remember actions often speak louder than words.

“This evening, I hope the President will chart a course for jumpstarting our economy by providing regulatory relief to job creators, improving the competiveness of domestic industry and preparing young Americans for careers in science and technology. I am also eager to hear the President renew his dedication to restoring fiscal responsibility in Washington. The American public rightfully expects the President and Congress to work together in 2011 to reverse excessive government spending and tackle the growing national debt.

“If the President is committed to these principles, I am confident several of his proposals to encourage growth and promote austerity will receive strong bipartisan support. Although undoubtedly there will be places of disagreement over policy, I believe there are several key areas in which common ground can be established and positive results achieved. These areas include:

- Restoring fiscal discipline in Washington to reduce the burgeoning federal deficit;
- Modernizing and simplifying the nation’s complex tax code to encourage investment;
- Determining the economic impact of proposed and existing regulations, and addressing policies found to hinder job creation;
- Improving access to rapidly developing markets for American manufacturers and farmers through the completion of long-pending bilateral trade agreements with our allies Colombia, Panama and South Korea;
- Nurturing a competitive domestic workforce by focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education.

“In 2011, I look forward to working with the President, as well as my colleagues in both parties and both chambers, to implement policies that will help achieve the American people’s goal of rejuvenating our economy and eliminating excessive spending.”


Right before the speech, Dent voted for a resolution that would set a limit on non-security discretionary spending at FY2008 funding levels. Those are deeper cuts than the President would like to make.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Easton Patch: Angle and Stoffa Return Butterfly House to Its Cocoon

Here's the latest update on The Butterfly House, filed at Easton Patch. You can let me have it there.

Norco Council Should Abolish its Slush Fund


Yesterday, I told you about the latest abuse of Northampton County Council's so-called contingency fund, which over the years has morphed from a fund for real emergencies into a slush fund in which Council members take care of their pals and the politically connected. Bruce Gilbert, the most promising Council member I've ever seen, is just the latest of many to raid that fund for a friend or someone with political connections. He still thinks he's doing a great thing.

Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle called a news conference yesterday afternoon to discuss the real Anne Houston, the supposed Founder of the Butterfly House, a transitional home for recently released female inmates on Easton's South Side.

She could probably move in there herself right now. After five months as an unwanted house guest in Forks Township, the owner got wise and changed the locks last Tuesday, especially after being stiffed with $500 in unpaid cell phone bills for Houston's kiddies.

But Houston would still have a problem. You see, she has no lease for the property. Despite her claims of being connected to the UAM Episcopal Church in Easton, the church confirmed with me yesterday that there's no lease and no connection.

She's got another problem, too. She misled Council on Thursday night, claiming to have a certificate of occupancy, but failing to mention that there's no zoning approval for transitional housing. She claimed she could accommodate up to 12 people, but Easton zoning says only six. She told the Prison Advisory Board that she'd be providing job counseling, addiction recovery and budget training. But she told zoning that all that will be done somewhere else.

Houston could use some budget training herself. She has $100,000 in unpaid judgments and no lease or connection with the UAM. She has no non-profit status yet, and no board of directors.

But she is politically connected. In addition to her friendship with the Gilbert family, she likes to remind everyone that she is Charlie Spaziani's daughter. And she learned about Angle's news conference yesterday almost as soon as he called it. In fact, she called a friend of mine to complain before I knew about it myself.

So yesterday, when Angle strolled into the County star chamber to deliver his homily, there was a young man sitting among the reporters. Angle asked him who he was, and he claimed to be with the Asbury Park Press, which is about a zillion miles from here.

He bolted the second Angle got nosy. Was he a Houston plant? D'ya think?

What all this reveals is that it is time for Council to abolish its slush fund, as Angle says above.

Moravian Academy Proposes New Maintenance Building

During a brief but well-attended meeting of the Bethlehem Township Planning Commission on January 24, its seven-member board reviewed plans for a 6,400 sq. ft. pole barn maintenance building on Moravian Academy's sprawling, 121-acre, campus. Located along the eastern edge of the campus, it will be accessed by an internal driveway instead of directly from Green Pond Road. According to Angelo M. Capuzzi of Chester Valley Engineers, it will be 300' away from the nearest road.

Asked about the habitual flooding along Green Pond Road, Capuzzi stated that an additional detention basin was recently added, but because of the sinkhole potential of the soil in that area, options are limited.

Director of Campus Facilities & Development Bill Stank told planners the building would store lawn care equipment, a pick-up truck and a van. Board members Kenn R. Edinger and James Daley suggested that the safety committee review the above-ground fuel tanks, as well as a proposal for an 18' wide driveway.

After their formal presentation, Stank and Capuzzi informally reviewed their plans with neighbors and, upon completion, nobody objected to the proposal.

Planners will consider approval during their February meeting.

In other business, Lee Snover reorganized by keeping the same team they had in place last year. Lee Snover, James Daley and Kenn R. Edinger were unanimously elected Chair, Vice-Chair and Secretary.

Quietly sitting in the back, watching the proceedings, was Commissioner Paul Weiss. He said it felt good to be a spectator for a change.

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.

Geoff Brace Running For Lehigh County Comm'r

Last year, Geoff Brace was one of the dirty dozen, twelve Democrats seeking appointment to Commissioner Bill Leiner's vacant seat. Dean Browning and Dan McCarthy voted for Geoff, but Dean switched to Bill Hansell the second time around, and Bill is now the Commissioner VP.

Geoff told me then that he's decided to run for the job this year. His campaign web page, located here, contains three simple messages: fiscal responsibility; more private sector jobs that pay real wages; and protecting our communities, not just from crime, but special interests.

A center-city Allentown resident, Geoff is a Lehigh County native who has devoted his career to community revitalization. During his days with Pennsylvania's Downtown Center, he crisscrossed the state, making mostly smaller communities aware of and assisting them with programs to improve their communities. Currently, Geoff is helping engineer the revitalization of Weird Kutztown as Executive Director of their Community Partnership.

Brace will formally announce his campaign for Lehigh County Commissioner later this month.

His campaign will be managed by Dean Browning's nemesis, Pip the Mouse.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Open Space Goes to the Dogs

When you think of open space, do you think of dog parks? Well, Northampton County Council does, and Lamont McClure wanted to be sure that everyone knows he's all about supporting dogs. Last night, they unanimously approved the following open space projects with money that was set aside in 2010:

Upper Nazareth Tuskes Community Park - landscaping, basketball courts, pathways, lighting, timber guiderails - $106,713.

Lower Nazareth Newburg Community Park - athletic fields for football, soccer and T-ball - $123,974.

Roseto Borough Park - fencing, security cameras, upgrades to basketball court, playground and kitchen - $49,253.

Wind Gap Borough Park - upgrades to basketball and tennis courts as well as making them handicapped accessible - $73,269.

Williams Township - upgrading playgrounds, adding bleachers and picnic tables at two parks - $107,625.

Allen Township Savage Road Trail - trail spur and two dog parks - $69,498.

Nazareth Pool - a new filter because the old one was clogged up with my manhair - $139,806.

John Cusick, Gavel Man

Since having himself anointed Northampton County Council Bossman in a back-room deal that overturned another back-room deal anointing Ron Angle, John Cusick decided he needs just one thing to be the Perfect President.

A gavel.

Now that's something that never's been used in The People's Republic of Northampton County. Cattle prods? Yes. Bullwhips? Of course. But except for member Lamont McClure, no one can remember ever having seen a gavel in a Council meeting.

Executive John Stoffa did bring in a piece of wood from one of his 6,938 birdhouse projects, hoping that Cusick could use that, but it's just not the same thing.

It just goes clop. In a test run, people just laughed.

Now Cusick may not know this, but he's going to find out sooner or later, most likely in the form of a contempt citation or arrest warrant. You see, nobody could find a real gavel, and the inside word is that somebody "borrowed" one from Judge Paula Roscioli, who's not exactly known for her sense of humor. But until he's dragged away by a Deputy, Cusick was having lots of fun with his new toy last night.

Bang!

"This meeting will come to order," Cusick officially announced.

Bang!

"I want silence. I'll have you removed," Cusick somberly warned the Gracedale goons during their usual catcalls.

Bang!

Sometimes he just let it rip for the hell of it.

For gavel-banging lessons, Cusick should really drop in on one or two meetings of Bethlehem City Council. President Bob Donchez has it down pretty good. He bangs a gavel at the start and end of public hearings, bangs a gavel when ordinances are voted on, and bangs a gavel when the audience gets frisky. He's got different volumes, too, depending on the importance of the matter being considered.

Unfortunately, Cusick's VP, Peg Ferraro, missed the gavel-banging. In fact she missed committee hearings today and yesterday, too. She's off on another vacation while the County considers Gracedale's sale and a referendum effort. She's the VP who is supposed to fill in for Cusick, whose teaching job interferes with many of the responsibilities of a Council President.

Absent or not, Ferraro was re-appointed to the General Purpose Authority last night. Now she can continue to miss their meetings, too.

At the start of the meting, right after banging the gavel, Cusick asked Council member to lead everyone in a brief prayer. For some reason, Cusick has also failed to continue a nice tradition started by Angle last year, in which clergymen from throughout the County deliver an Invocation, followed by a brief description of their church.

The Vic Mazziotti Ripple Effect

In a move that will have far-reaching consequences in both Northampton and Lehigh County, Vic Mazziotti is resigning as Northampton County's Fiscal Affairs Director, effective March 18. "Vic has saved this County millions of dollars. I hate to see him go," Executive John Stoffa reported at last night's Council meeting. His comments were echoed by the Bulldog, Ron Angle. "In all my years of being around government, Victor is one of the shining lights."

"You'll hear from him again," hinted Stoffa, with a wry smile on his face.

Yes, we shall. Mazziotti is by far the most effective Fiscal Affairs Director I've ever seen. On top of that, he's one of the most genuinely decent and interesting persons I've ever met. He can discuss complicated financial statements and quote Summa Theologica and Thomas More. But he's even happier when he talks about his grandchildren, whom he and his wife adore.

In a future post, I'll detail just some of Vic's many accomplishments. He really has saved the County millions during his tenure. But right now, I think it's more important to take note of the ripples left by his departure.

Although Mazziotti has been uncharacteristically coy with me about his future intentions, he's running for office. He has to resign because he's bound by the Hatch Act.

As an Allentown resident, he could run for City Controller and would certainly be the most qualified candidate. But Vic is a Republican, and they fare poorly in the Queen City. Even Charlie Dent has trouble winning there.

But being a Republican in a Lehigh County-wide race is a plus, and he cold run for Controller or Commissioner.

To me, the logical choice for someone with Vic's background is Controller. He has all the right skills. But I'm told he'll instead join an already crowded Commissioners' race. Incumbents Dean Browning, Gloria Hamm and Andy Roman are going to have plenty of company in four at-large seats up this year. Scott Ott, Dawn Berrigan, Bob Smith, Brent Labenberg and Norma Cusick are names I previously mentioned. I've since heard that attorney and fellow blogger Dave Najarian has decided to run.

Once Vic's name is added to the mix, some of these Republicans might change their minds.

Of course, there's that other party. They're called Democrats. I'll be telling you about their hottest prospect next week.

Vic's departure is sending ripples among possible Commissioner candidates in Lehigh County. But in Northampton County, a tsunami warning is in effect.

Who will replace Vic?

Think about that. Who in Northampton County has distinguished himself with his knowledge of finance? Who has an easy-going personality shared by Stoffa cabinet members?

That's Bruce Gilbert. I believe he's already being groomed as Mazziotti's successor. Now I've asked Stoffa all about this, batting my eyes and everything, and all the bastard does is smile at me. I've asked Gilbert, too, and he just asked me if something was stuck in my eye.

The ripples do not stop here. If Bruce Gilbert is tapped as Mazziotti's successor, the next question is who will succeed him on Council?

Gilbert has been an Angle ally, but will Peg Ferraro, John Cusick, Tom Dietrich and the Democrats team up and work out another deal?

Vic's departure is bad news for Stoffa and Northampton County residents. But it's also bad news for incumbent Lehigh County Commissioners, who have to be looking over the shoulder. Finally, it's bad news for Ron Angle, who will lose an important ally on Council.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Elections Comm'n To Meet Tuesday, Not Monday

Although Elections Comm'n Chair Kenneth M. Kraft originally scheduled a meeting to review the Gracedale initiative on Monday, it's been pushed back a day. At this evening's County Council meeting, John Conklin reported that the Commission will be meeting Tuesday, 3:30 PM. Presumably this will give the staff a little more time to verify signatures.

Bethlehem City Council Ponders Super Majority for Zoners

Bethlehem City Council recently expanded its Zoning Hearing Board from three to five members. It's now considering a new rule requiring any action taken by the board to have the approval of a majority of all members, not just those present. What this means is that if two zoners are absent, the remaining three must agree unanimously on any request for zoning relief.

Changes to the Zoning Ordinance require a review by the Planning Commission, and on January 13, they unanimously recommended against a Super Majority requirement. Their rationale was best expressed by D. Steve Thode. "Such a Super Majority requirement, essentially that if you're absent you're counted as a No vote, would force some otherwise well-meaning, public-spirited volunteers for public service, to think twice about whether they want to be placed in a position where their commitment to family or to their job, was read as some sort of denial of their civic obligations."

But City Council members, at their January 18 meeting, seemed skeptical. Karen Dolan, joined by Bob Donchez, indicated a zoning applicant who wanted a decision from all five members could simply request a continuance, and added that they are bound by a super majority requirement in their own decisions.

Bethlehem resident Al Bernotas, who supports the proposed change, told Council that there really is no excuse for an absence. "You're talking about twelve meetings a year, two or three hours a day. I don't see why that should be so difficult." He questioned whether absentees are really interested in doing something "good for the City", or just "want another line on their resume."

Council will vote on this proposed change at their February 1 meeting.

Elections Comm'n To Review Gracedale Initiative on Monday

Northampton County's Elections Commission Chair Kenneth M. Kraft has scheduled a meeting on Monday, 3:30 PM, to review a Gracedale initiative designed to prevent the sale or lease of the County's nursing facility for the next five years. According to the Home Rule Charter, they have twenty days, or until February 7, to determine whether the magic number, i.e. 19,630 legitimate signatures from Northampton County registered voters, has been achieved.

They will also have to determine whether an initiative prohibiting sale is in direct violation of an Charter provision stating, "The power of initiative and referendum shall not extend to the budget or capital program ... ."

Anticipating a sale this year, County Council only funded Gracedale for six months. Any initiative that prevents that sale will necessarily require a budget amendment and will force the County to dip into its rainy day fund. So it's pretty clear that, in this instance, the power of an initiative would very much extend to the budget or capital program.

Tuesday was the cutoff day for petitions. At the close of business, 507 petitions, totaling 23,391 raw signatures, were on file. Elections officials are currently in the process of performing the tedious job of verifying the names submitted.

In my own review, I've noticed signatures from Allentown, Coplay, Whitehall, Catasaqua, Phillipsburg, Saylorsburg, and the Lehigh County portion of Bethlehem. I saw one page that was obviously written by just one person. But I've also seen petitions signed by people like Mario Andretti, Lisa Boscola, Larry Holmes, Sal Panto and T.J. McHale. Former State Rep. Rich Grucela actually circulated a petition himself, getting 27 signatures.

If the Elections Commission determines that the petition is invalid, it will be retrned to the original petitioners, along with a statement of findings of fact. But if the threshold is met and the Commission is untroubled by the language in the Home Rule Charter, the petition will be certified to County Council. At that point, Council can adopt the Ordinance or return it to the Elections Commission for placement on the ballot.

As The Express Times observed yesterday, what happens to Gracedale is a $30 million question, "and the county has to stick to its game plan."

Will Forks Trade Youth Sports For Old Farts' "Passive Recreation"?

Forks Township's brand new Chairman, David Billings, is in for a wild ride tonight. On his blog, Everything Forks, he quotes himself as saying, "It is hard to imagine a greater trust between a local official and the public, than the promise of open and honest government." But this transparency advocate is going to face a public tonight that is convinced he kept them in the dark.

On the surface is a new ordinance that abolishes the all-volunteer Recreation Board in favor of a paid Parks Director. And if you dig just a little bit, you'll see a growing concern that youth sports will be sacrificed for the "passive recreation" and amphitheaters enjoyed by old farts. According to Palmer-Forks Patch, the fireworks will start at the township building, 6:30 PM.

Of course, Forks has never played these Bethlehem hot dogs, except in basketball, and things got ugly fast. The final score was something like 4,683 to 0. I thought I overheard one Supervisor claim at the time that he'd rather see those kids doing ballet in an amphitheater. Maybe that's for the best.

But I digress. At Forks Township Residents Page, resident Kelli Steele Wilson lays out the details, from her point of view. Here are some excerpts, slightly edited.

"The Board of Supervisors (BOS) are 5 elected officials that are voted in for a 6 year term. The BOS distributes township tax money to the Recreation Board to fund townshp recreation. The Recreation Board (Rec Board) is appointed by the Supervisor's and consists of 7 residents as members. The 7 members meet once a month to manage the funds and township recreation as needed. The Rec Board distibutes funds to the FTAA in order to fund the 9 youth sports currently offered in our township as well as any other recreational requirements other than youth sports.

"The current situation is that the Supervisor's want to 'eliminate' the Rec Board and manage the funds themselves. The Supervisors would like to implement an arduous process for the FTAA to acquire the funds required to run the current youth programs. They have also indicated that there is not enough money spent on passive recreation and seem to hold the Rec Board accountable for this. Passive Recreation can only be manged by those who want to manage it. The Rec Board is not responsible to manage passive recreation, those who want it should manage it much like the FTAA manages the youth sports.

"The Rec Board has been accused of not 'operating under an ordinance.' COMPLETELY FALSE. There is an existing ordinance, was written in 1960, and the Rec Board was in compliance. The Supervisors were still not happy and had a "New Ordinance" written, one to their liking. It appears that there is something more to this however the Supervisor's have not been 'up front' as to why they are carrying on with this 'witch hunt.' As a township resident I think the Supervisors have enough on there plate to concern themselves with other than this. The fear is that the Supervisor's will lower the budgets for youth sports and the required funds needed will have to be absorbed by the taxpayer and or the parent.

Here are a few facts that you need to be aware of:

"Approx $30 of your sign-up fee for youth sports is kept by the town. Approx 1200-1500 athletes play youth sports annually in Forks Township.

"The FTAA pays the town $15,000.00 annually for 'use of the facilities,' which includes field use and Community Center use.

"In one year the town can receive as much as $60,000.00 per year from the FTAA.

"The FTAA helps supplement each sports budget that may be short changed with budget cuts by hosting monthly youth dances, snack bar operations and registration fees.

"The Supervisors have used Recreation funds to purchase two homes on Zucksville Road and to refurbish one of them for an office for our new Recreation Director. The other home I have no idea what the plan is for that.

"The Supervisors have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on architectural drawings for an Amphitheater that may not even be built.

"Tot lots have been built without proper consent or budget approval.

"A census was taken on what the township residents wanted to see our town add and the number 1 item was a pool, the Supervisors said 'Never going happen.' Why? Why go thru the expense of putting out a survey to the township if you have no plans on listening to what the public wants?

"There are many things that are unorthodox that are currently going on in the township, this is not only about Youth Sports.

"Some thoughts to ponder: Why allow all the building of homes in the township? Four bedroom homes bring families, not retirees requiring 'passive recreation', families with children, children that grow and need organized outlets to help keep them busy and out of trouble..."

Dent Explains Vote to Repeal Health Care Overhaul

Although the promised repeal of Obamacare passed the House yesterday, 245 to 189, nobody expects that to happen. The Senate has promised to never let it see the light f Day, and President Obama would certainly veto the measure. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the real work starts now, as four separate committees study changes in the law. There is hope, however faint, for some bipartisan change.

LV Congressman Charlie Dent explains his vote:

“The most pressing issue facing our health care system is the crisis of cost. When visiting communities in our area, I hear frustration from local residents about rising premiums, the cost of medical services and prescription drugs, and their inability to choose between different insurance plans because the individual market is too expensive. When I meet with employers, particularly small businesses, I find they are struggling to keep up with the escalating cost of employee health care. When I speak with state legislators, they share serious concerns about the growing percentage of state resources dedicated to health care spending. When I analyze our federal budget, I see the dramatic impact of health care entitlement spending.

“Today, I voted to repeal the misguided health care law of 2010, which is seriously flawed in its structure and practical implementation. Tomorrow, I will support a House resolution that directs several committees to produce practical and effective reforms that will lower health care costs, expand access to affordable insurance coverage and foster job growth. I support health care reform and believe all Americans should have access to affordable health insurance. Unfortunately, the legislation enacted last year raises health care costs for most Americans, increases spending by state and federal governments, jeopardizes the coverage of those who are happy with their current plan, and stifles needed economic growth. The law enacted in 2010 is simply unwise and unsustainable.

“Most problematic, the new law will increase health care costs for American families and seniors, whose budgets have been stretched precariously thin by the economic downtown. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the premiums for millions of families will increase by as much as $2,100 by 2016. Under the law, seniors will pay as much as 20 percent more for their Medicare Part D prescription drug premium.

“Many of the law’s strongest supporters in Washington vow it will help reduce our nation’s growing deficit. However, these claims are based on misleading budget gimmicks and deceptive accounting practices. For example, the law imposes 10 years worth of taxes to fund only 6 years of programming. The Office of the Actuary for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) found that health costs will rise by an added $310.8 billion over the next 10 years as a result of the law. Moreover, the CBO’s long-term budget outlook acknowledges that most of the major savings provisions in the law are either “widely expected” to be scaled back or would “be difficult to sustain for a long period.” Rather than reductions, this will naturally lead to significant increases in the federal deficit.

“Under the law, access to care will be jeopardized and many Americans who are currently satisfied with their plans will not be able to keep them. The law includes more than $200 billion in cuts to payments for hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies. The CMS Actuary estimates those cuts could cause roughly 15 percent of Medicare Part A providers to become unprofitable and drop out of Medicare, 'possibly jeopardizing access to care for beneficiaries.' Over time, the Actuary estimates 40 percent of providers may withdraw from offering services to Medicare enrollees. While nearly 20 million Americans would gain coverage under the Medicaid program, the Actuary cautioned 'it is reasonable to expect that a significant portion of the increased demand for Medicaid would be difficult to meet, particularly over the first few years.' Furthermore, half of all Americans who have insurance through their employer and two-thirds of workers in small businesses will be at risk of losing their current coverage by 2013.

“Finally, the law impedes economic growth. There are more than half a trillion dollars in new taxes included in the statute, many of which will impact small business owners and middle-income households. Specifically, $210 billion in new payroll taxes will reduce investment and hamper growth. Additionally, the law includes a mandate that imposes a penalty on employers that cannot afford to purchase health insurance for their employees, which CBO found will 'cause some employers to respond by hiring fewer low-wage workers.'

“I believe we must replace the misguided policies of the current law with reforms that will address rising health care costs. Specifically, I support medical liability reforms to reduce the practice of defensive medicine. I believe Congress must provide Americans with more options for affordable health coverage, such as low-cost catastrophic plans for younger individuals, patient-driven Health Savings Accounts (HSA), cross state purchasing, and effective high risk pools or reinsurance models as a backstop. We must enact real payment reforms that focus on quality rather than quantity, and provide greater flexibility for employers to reward employees who adopt healthier lifestyles. I also support advancing medical innovation and enhancing health information technology to make care more effective and efficient. Finally, we must aggressively fight waste, fraud and abuse.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues during the 112th Congress to enact these sensible policies that will reduce costs, expand access and support economic growth.”

Dent to Co-Chair Moderate Tuesday Group For Third Term

In a news release, LV Congressman Charlie Dent announced that the Tuesday Group, on a Wednesday, has elected him to co-chair their Congressional caucus for a third term. The other co-chair? Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (MO-8), who is returning for a second term.

What the hell is the Tuesday Group?

The were at one time called the "lunch bunch," and meet weekly in the Capitol basement. Their purpose is to maintain the moderate wing of the Republican Party. According to Dent, “I often describe Tuesday Group as a center-right coalition,” explains Dent. “All of our members share the goal of developing and enacting commonsense policies that support economic growth, reduce the size of government and promote a strong national defense.”

Actually, it is this lunch bunch that served President Bush with his first wake-up call about Iraq, telling him that he'd lost his credibility with the American people. "The word about the war and its progress cannot come from the White House or even you, Mr. President. There is no longer any credibility. It has to come from Gen. Petraeus.”

Rep. Charlie Dent has served in the House from Pennsylvania’s Fifteenth District since 2004. He is a new member of the House Committee on Appropriations and chairs multiple Congressional caucuses, including the Cement Caucus, Delaware River Basin Task Force and Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Caucus.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What Did Bethlehem City Council Do in 2010?

Bethlehem City Council President Bob Donchez, during the January 18 meeting, reported on Council's work during 2010. It adopted 48 ordinances and adopted 201 resolutions.

By ordinance, it revised fees in its Uniform Construction Code; continued the Environmental Advisory Council; prohibited the use of hand-held cell phones while driving; increased membership on the Zoning Hearing Board from three to five members; continued the LERTA program through 2012; strengthened financial reporting requirements; and imposed a .75 mill tax increase dedicated to a new EMS facility and fire pumper.

By resolution, it expanded the DCED to consider landmarks and property of historical interest; renamed the ice rink to Earl E. Shaffer ice rink; supported construction of facilities at the Monocacy Complex; increased fees for skating, swimming, pavilions, summer camp, golf, and recycling; approved a new, 3-year, 911 plan; approved an inter-municipal liquor license transfer to new Woody's Pizza and Sports Bar on Easton Avenue; approved a working woodlands program; and approved changes to the Artsquest TIF agreement.

Right Wing Maniac Targeted at Bethlehem City Council


In reaction to Tucson's tragedy, Lower Saucon resident Gloria McVeigh (no relation to Timothy) decided last week to organize a peaceful protest outside State Rep. Joe Brennan's office. But instead of asking us all to be more civil and nice to each other, McVeigh took direct aim at "right wing maniacs" and "dangerous demagogues" like Fox News and Glenn Beck, attributing what had happened to their "toxic rhetoric." After her demonstration in front of Brennan's office, McVeigh decided to do an encore outside of Town Hall, right before Bethlehem City Council's January 18 meeting.

"Stand in support of Bethlehem City Council members and against right-wing disruptions of their meetings," stated a circular advertising the event.

Despite the snow and ice, McVeigh was joined by six fellow protesters before Town Hall, including Northampton County Democratic Chair Walt Garvin. He was obviously eager to trade on the deaths of six people, including a 9 year-old girl, to score a few political points.

As I skated my way along the ice to Town Hall, I noticed another person quietly watching McVeigh's Musketeers. It was Lee Schantz, the "right-wing" disruptor from whom City Council so desperately needs protection. In November, he had been ejected from a meeting after getting very loud, though he made no threats to anyone. He was packin', but his weapon was the Constitution.

Schantz quietly watched the demonstrators, but retired scientist Stephen Antalics attempted to engage McVeigh's crew in "civil discourse." Northampton County Democratic Boss Garvin smugly told the octogenarian to "tone it down, big fella'".

Once the meeting started, a very civil McVeigh told Council there's a "direct line" from hate messages on the airwaves to "increasingly vicious barbs" at public officials to violent fantasies by unbalanced public employees to the shots fired in Tucson. She encouraged Council to accept her five-step program for "civil" discourse.

First, any person who has been arrested or removed from a Council meeting for disruptive behavior should be barred. Second, any person who addresses Council members as "idiots, morons, thieves or any other pejorative term" will be gaveled down. Third, no one may challenge the legitimacy of our government. Fourth, stop the use of score cards rating Council members because it can be "cruel." Fifth, stop attacks against younger or female members of Council.

McVeigh might wish to consider a sixth step for her utopia - eliminating the First Amendment.

Asked for comment, here's what Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan had to say:

Patch: Mental Health, Not Politics, Should Be Real Issue in Tuscon Shooting

Later today, I'm going to introduce you to the right-wing maniac who disrupted a Bethlehem City Council meeting a few weeks ago. He is now being likened to the Tucson shooter. He looks pretty scary, huh? Not Karen Dolan's type, to be sure.

He's packin', but instead of a gun, it's something far more dangerous.

The Constitution.

Instead of playing cheap politics over this tragedy, why not deal with the real problem - a broken mental health system? That's the subject of my latest Patch column.

Think I'm wrong? Tell me at Patch.

Who's Running For McHale's Seat?

As we all know, Ann McHale has decided to call it a day on Northampton County Council when her term expires at the end of this year. Who will replace her?

McHale's District 1 includes Bethlehem, Hanover and Hellertown.

On the Democratic side I know former Council member Ladd Siftar is in the hunt, and have just heard that Controller Steve Barron is planning to run, too. That actually makes sense. Having been censured by Council for his threatening behavior towards non-union T-Mobile, he likely would lose in a county-wide race. But he stands a chance if he runs for Council in a heavily Democratic district.

I met a Republican candidate at last night's Bethlehem City Council meeting. His name is Seth Long, age 29. He's employed as a Paramedic and is an Iraqi war vet, having served in the Marines. He's also quiet and somewhat reserved, like most Bethlehem candidates.

On paper, Seth already looks better than what's on the Democrat's menu.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bethlehem Township Expenses Closely Examined

It's common to see local boards looking for nickels and dimes at budget time. But at their January 17 meeting, Bethlehem's Board of Commissioners continued their close examination of Township expenses.

Reviewing purchase orders, Commissioner Michael Hudak complained in detail about the $70,000 being spent for repairs to a relatively new HVAC system. He noted that one unit has been repaired 9 times since installation. "People are not looking as closely as they should," he complained.

Township Manager Howard Kutzler's request for a four-day training session in Boston, which will help him maintain his accreditation as a Planner, was approved at an expense of around $1,500. This money has already been set aside as part of the budget, and Kutler told Commissioners he'd pay for his own meals, mileage and parking. Thomas Nolan suggested that the Township pick up the tab for those expenses, but Jerry Batcha vetoed that notion, saying it's "quite admirable" that Kutler would offer to pay for some of the expenses. "I think we should take him up on it."

A $510 request to send two police officers to Pittsburgh for a four-day conference about organized crime, was tabled. Commissioners noted this has nothing to do with certification and are wary of paying for conferences while union negotiations are pending.

Sergeant Daryl LaPointe's request for state police training as a "drug recognition expert" was granted. The Commonwealth will pay for the training. "Aren't all our officers already trained in recognizing drunk drivers?" asked Commissioner Hudak. Sergeant Lapointe told Commissioners this training would teach him to recognize the effects of other substances, from marijuana to cocaine.

Currently, there are only eighty-one drug recognition experts throughout Pennsylvania.

Commissioners grudgingly approved Pamela Magnan's re-appointment to the Bethlehem Area Public Library Advisory Board, but also added Commissioner Thomas Nolan as an alternate. "We are not being represented well," complained Hudak. "They are there to pass on our opinions, our desires, our wants. Commissioners have repeatedly complained about their annual assessment, set at $375,000 this year.