Friday, April 29, 2011

The Otter Has No Malpractice Insurance

According to the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board, the attorney representing the Gracedale Inititatice Committee has no malpractice insurance. Larry Otter, who has filed three claims for attorney fees in connection with the Gracedale saga, makes this disclosure on the state website.

When he testified in his first claim aginst me for attorney fees, Otter admitted, in response to questions from Judge Baratta, that there was no retainer agreement or anything in writing concerning his representation of his pro-initiative clinets. Pennsylvania Disciplinary rules require attorneys to inform new clients, in writing, if they have no malpractice insurance.

Did he disclose he has no insurance to the Gracedale Inititative Committee? Did he disclose this to the union that hired him? Did he inform the Gracedale Initiative Committee that he was also representing a union's interests?

In 2008, Otter was sanctioned by the U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania with $33,928.05 in fees and $1,508.86 in costs "for relentlesslypursuing baseless litigation." He was later cited for contempt when he failed to pay.

In 2009, Otter was sanctioned by the Commonwealth Court with $80,000 in attorney fees and costs for vexatious, dilatory and obdurate conduct.

Otter's current claim for attorney fees from me is just another example in the career of a man who pursues baseless claims.

Bethlehem Mulls Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Sixty-five Lehigh Valley residents, nearly every one of them proudly wearing "Civil Rights Now" stickers, sacrificed a pleasant Spring evening on April 28 to appear in Bethlehem's Town Hall. They were there to support an Ordinance that banishes discrimination and establishes a Human Relations Commission. During a three hour long hearing before Gordon Mowrer's Human Resources Committee, nearly every one of these people had something to say, too, some of them several times. They said it to every single Council member, too. Although there are only three members on Mowrer's Committee, all seven Council members were present.

One of these speakers, ironically, was a former Bethlehem City Council member. Ismael Arcelay, who now serves on the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, talked about his life in Bethlehem as a Latino. He claimed that twenty years ago, if he walked down a Bethlehem street without a suit and tie, he would be treated much differently because he s a Latino. He lamented that even now, there is still "disparate treatment," and it extends to Bethlehem's educational institutions and even exists inside City Hall.

Discrimination is alive and well in the housing industry, too, according to former Bethlehem realtor Rob Hopkins, who now works as an assessor in Lehigh County. He claims to have personally experienced seeing tenants ejected from apartments because of who they are. He has seen homeowners refuse to sell to a person who is different.

Racism still rears its ugly head, even in the rarefied academic atmosphere of Lehigh University, according to Professor Addison Gross. After Obama's election as President, Gross told Council that several black students were taunted with epithets. Just last November, two of them wore blackfaces.

A lesbian who worked as a nurse in Bethlehem found that a special set of rules existed for her. She learned that she could be fired, and would be without recourse because Bethlehem has no law to protect her right to be different. She no longer works in Bethlehem. A Lehigh student added that, though she loves the Christmas City, she could never remain in a City that refuses to protect our diversity.

In addition those who came to tell their story, the aristocracy of the gay and lesbian community was on hand. Liz Bradbury, Executive Director of the Pa. Diversity Network, told Council that it's completely legal to fire someone in Bethlehem for being pregnant. Equality Pa. Executive Director Ted Martin noted that a recent poll shows that 69% of Pennsylvanians support anti-discrimination legislation.

"It's embarrassing," claimed J. Willie Reynolds, after listening to the public. "This is a no-brainer," remarked Dave DiGiacinto.

Mayor John Callahan brought a special guest to Council, Pa. Human Relations Commission Chairman Steve Glassman. Arriving a little late, Callahan explained that he and Glassman were working on some changes to the ordinance, designed to make it stronger. But Bethlehem resident Tim Chadwick questioned Callahan's sincerity. Chadwick reminded Callahan that in 2002, Callahan was much less enthusiastic about anti-discrimination legislation. "I don't want to anger that old lady up on the Main Street extension," is what Chadwick claims Callahan said then.

Although the legislation itself may be a "no-brainer" to most Council members, DiGiacinto had several amendments, from how members are appointed to a possible sunset provision in three years. Glassman had several suggestions as well, designed to bring the proposed Ordinance closer to state law. After some debate, Mowrer's Committee moved to advance the legislation to the full Council, where the sausage-making will continue.

Council President Bob Donchez stated that a full Council will consider the legislation at their May 18 meeting, with a final vote slated for June. If passed, Bethlehem will be the 21st municipality in Pennsylvania to pass a non-discrimination law at the local level.

If passed, this legislation will make it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, education, or public accommodation in the City of Bethlehem based on a series of protected classes.

But will it stop? That was the concern raised by Bethlehem resident Mary Pongracz. "Discrimination has no address," she reminded everyone. "If you look for discrimination, you will find it."

The Otter Strikes Again

In his never-ending search for money and fame, Larry the Otter has filed his third claim for attorney fees in the Gracedale saga. You can read about it here and here. So far, he has not done so well. I suspect his batting average on fees is going to remain .000. But that's OK with him, because his frivolous motion has been filed to distract attention away from the real issues surrounding Gracedale.

I've never really gone into detail on this subject. Now is the time.

Otter is seizing on information Lamont McClure obtained from the County, consisting of email exchanges between me and the law firm representing the County. If the County were crooked, they certainly could make those emails disappear. But they were produced.

I. The Emails

Examination of these emails reveals that County attorneys and I discussed and exchanged cases about nonresidents who circulate initiative petitions. On the basis of a Judge VanAntwerpen ruling, I was leery about challenging circulators simply because they are nonresidents because the act of circulating a petition is "core political speech." I eventually did decide to challenge nonresidents, but only those who were being paid by the union and had a financial interest in the matter.

After weeks of research, those emails reveal that I spent the better part of a weekend writing and re-writing the complaint. As I finished a draft, I'd forward it for comment. Basically, the emails corroborate what I've been saying all along. I did the work.

If County attorneys were doing the work and I was just a spear carrier, why was I sending all those drafts?

Most of my drafts went unnoticed until Monday evening, the day before I filed.

II. The "smoking gun"

That Monday night, I received an email from County attorneys that basically edited a 12-count, 16-page complaint. In it, they provide me with about ten edits, a minor edit to a massive complaint. They also supplied me with a spreadsheet containing a partial, line-by-line, signature review. County attorneys were doing that until the County found another way to check for duplicates.

This email is the supposed "smoking gun," at least according to Larry the Otter.

I made most of the edit changes. I also included the spreadsheet in my Complaint although, to be honest, I never really pursued that Count. My focus was on the circulators. I spent two weeks in the elections office pouring over the petitions. I'd review my findings daily with Angle, and he had suggestions as a co-Objector. We found some alarming patterns that did result in getting 2,700 signatures knocked out.

III. The litigation was my own work product.

I had no idea whether the County would really challenge the signatures, and decided to do so on my own. The Complaint that was ultimately filed was my own work product. Angle and I paid the filing fee out of our own pockets. Angle drove me in an ice storm to make sure that subpoenas were properly served as far in advance of the hearing as possible.

I prepared a pre-hearing memorandum. Following the testimony, I also prepared a letter brief for Judge Baratta. Those were both my own work.

Angle and I examined the witnesses. Eckert Seamans, the law firm representing the County, was present for only the first few witnesses.

All of the work on appeal was also my own work. I continued sending copies to County attorneys so they would know what was going on. They sent me copies of their filings in their companion case, so I would know what was going on.

We were all acting towards a common end. We shared information. We kept each other posted. But their case was theirs and mine was mine.

IV. Otter Falsely Claims I Perjured Myself.

In his motion, the Otter claims that I testified under oath that Eckert Seamans had no involvement in my case. I was never even asked about them. I have never varied in my explanation. I have consistently maintained that, while I had contacts with County attorneys and shared information, I was acting independently.

V. Northampton County Spent No Money For My Litigation

Otter contends that the County spent about $10,800 for the labor involved in the spreadsheet, and therefore financed my litigation. This is inaccurate. The County was undertaking its own independent review of signatures for the Registrar until its IT department cobbled together a program that would enable her to check for duplicates. Once that was set in motion, it suspended work on the spreadsheet. So that money was not spent for my litigation, but to enable the Registrar to review the petition until a better way was found.

This partially completed spreadsheet was made available to me when the County decided to devote its legal manpower to the Home Rule Charter question. Ironically, in my own litigation, it played virtually no role at all. My case focused on the circulators.

VI. Was I Surreptitiously Representing the County?

That's what Otter claims. In his motion, he notes that even though I'm a suspended lawyer, I was placed on Stoffa's legal team, under cover, and was just pretending to represent myself.

Well, it's certainly true I am a suspended attorney. But I engaged in no unauthorized practice of law. The person I represented was me. That was made clear to Judge Baratta at the beginning of our case.

VII. Nothing in Otter's Motion Entitles Him to Attorney Fees.

Otter is entitled to attorney fees if I bring a vexatious action, i.e., one brought just to annoy him. He's entitled to attorney fees if I'm dilatory, i.e. slow to act. He's even entitled to attorney fees if I'm obdurate, i.e. stubbornly doing something after being told I can't. But nothing in the Judicial Code entitles him to attorney fees if the County improperly paid for my litigation. Nothing in the Judicial Code entitles him to attorney fees if I've engaged in the illegal practice of law.

So basically, Otter's motion is legally insufficient, on its face.

If I was secretly representing the County, or was being illegally subsidized by the County, Otter would be the least of my worries. Northampton County's DA, John Morganelli, would prosecute me. Otter has already compared this matter to Bonusgate. He demanded a criminal investigation over a month ago.

Although he wants money, is demanding injunctions out the wazoo, I find it interesting that he never presented his motion to a judge and asked for a hearing. Why not? Could it be that Otter just wants to create a cloud of suspicion until May 17, when voters decide whether the County must continue to keep paying for Gracedale? His last motion for attorney fees was rejected without a hearing. I suspect Otter's sole desire is to attack the credibility of those who think Gracedale should be sold.

Although he never presented his latest filing to a judge, he made sure it was in the hands of reporters long before I saw it. I had to read a copy that The Morning Call reporter was provided.

Incidentally, he has NEVER served Angle with a damn thing. He sends copies of a pleading to an email account that Angle has never used. Ron could not turn on a computer to save his life. Otter has been told this repeatedly.

Under Pa. law, "A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree if he vexes others with unjust and vexatious suits." It's called barratry. This is Otter's third frivolous claim for attorney fees, and it is being done solely to yank my chain.

He's not the only person who can file complaints with the DA.

Anonymous Comments Still Possible

I've received several complaints from readers who are unable to post anonymously. It is a not my doing, but a technical issue affecting numerous blogs. Blogger is aware of the problem and is working on a fix. In the meantime, I've enabled embedded comments so that people can still post anonymously. But I caution that anonymity is no license to engage in personal attacks.

Bobby Gunther Walsh, Local Conservative Blowtorch

My favorite conservative, Scott Armstrong, is at it again. Agree or disagree, he's an excellent writer. But I agree with this one, which takes aim at WAEB-790's Bobby Gunther Walsh, and his Unholy Alliance with the Gang of Four.

"Valley conservatives have for years tuned into WAEB’s Bobby Gunther Walsh’s morning show for its entertaining mixture of news, sports, weather, and Bobby’s political commentary. Recently, however, the broadcast has taken an ugly turn by becoming an attack machine with a mission to destroy Republican County Commissioner Dean Browning. This effort was spawned by the slate of four candidates who remain outraged that Dean wouldn’t buckle to the pressure applied by the Chair of the Lehigh County Republican Committee to send back Democratic County Executive Don Cunningham’s 2011 budget calling for a 16% tax increase.

"Rather than lead to tax reduction, that effort was designed to embarrass the Democrat executive. After much consideration Commissioner Browning decided he wanted no part of it. In spite of his conservative record and credentials the slate of four and the leader of the Republican Committee have labeled Browning a heretic and have enlisted and lathered up the local conservative blowtorch to do their dirty work. What was once an enjoyable show, now resembles an inquisition with Gunther, Mazziotti, Ott, Najarian, Scheller and Ott acting as accusers, judges and jury, demanding the head of apostate Browning.

"Recently, the accusations have taken on a personal tone with questions such as “Where did he get all the money for the mailers?” “Why does he want the job so bad?” “What will he get out of it?” I think we all know that these questions are meant to imply that Dean Browning is corrupt. Nothing could be further from the truth. Republicans are used to this sort of slander coming from the left. Apparently, some from our side have chosen to adopt the same tactic. It is disgraceful."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Tyranny of the Mob

The Gracedale Goons and their hateful invective are posted here all the time. Usually, it's anonymous attacks aimed at me, Ron Angle or John Stoffa. But if someone agrees with me, this mob goes out of their way to shout that person down. It gets pretty ugly. Now, it's also becoming racist, too.

One of my commenters is a person named Brenda. She thinks Gracedale should be sold. Until now, Gracedale Goons been claiming that I am Brenda. But last night, they charged that Brenda is actually Tricia Mezzacappa, a Registered Nurse who spoke at a recent Council meeting. They have posted her name, her home address, her email address and her phone numbers on their hate blog. They note that Ms. Mezzacappa does massage therapy from her home for seniors and adults. They follow that up with a bigoted "ah so" comment, a swipe at people of Asian ancestry.

I guess it's OK to be bigoted against Asian people.

But it does not stop there. They go on and certainly imply that Ms. Mezzacappa is a prostitute, and that I am one of her clients. "I wonder if that beached whale is getting the discount? Happy Endings."

I certainly don't care what they say about me, but doesn't it bother anyone that these goons would so casually accuse another person of prostitution? Isn't anyone offended by the racist slur at Asians?

These are the people who call themselves "We the People." But what they really are is a lynch mob, and their latest target is a registered nurse whose sole offense is that she supports the sale of Gracedale.

I have passed along their hateful attempt to interfere with Ms. Mezzacappa' business.

Bethlehem Zoners Shoot Down DayCare Near Lincoln Elementary

Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board unanimously shot down a child day care across the street from Lincoln Elementary School at their April 27 meeting. Owner Armstrong Millien asked for a special exception that would allow him to convert the first floor of his 1909 Renwick Street home to care for up to 12 grade-school aged children between 6 AM and 8 PM on weekdays, but zoners were concerned about the small size of his Cape Cod, as well as traffic.

Millien had told zoners that his child care would exist only for students at Lincoln Elementary, across the Street from his home. He added that parents would drop children off in his driveway.

"What do you do when four parents show up at the same time?" asked neighbor Dean Kantz, who also argued that Millien's cape cod is "too compact" for 12 children.

Another neighbor, Christine D'Annibale,indicated that Renwick Street is used as a thruway between Easton Avenue and Stefko Boulevard and traffic on school mornings is "out of control."

In response to questions from Zoning Hearing Board member Bill Fitzpatrick, Millien stated he'd have garbage removed twice every week, but D'Annibale claimed that Millien burns his garbage. Millien denied that, claiming he only burns his mail, and only once every year.

In other matters, zoners unanimously approved a 9' wide driveway for property owned by Don and Heidi Caldwell at 416 Carlton Avenue. And they approved an addition to a 1936 home at 15 E. Wall Street, owned by Eric and Valerie Watts.

In all these matters, Bethlehem zoning activist and City Council candidate Al Bernotas claimed he was an "interested" party, and as such, was entitled to receive notices of every decision. While stating that Bernotas should be allowed to speak, Solicitor Mickey Thompson expressed concerns about the administrative burden of notifying every person who asks to be notified of decisions. Bernotas asked, "A 44 cent stamp coming out of Mickey Thompson's office is too much of an administrative burden?" Zoner Ken Kraft accused Bernotas of "grandstanding."

Chairman Gus Loupos told the audience, "We let people speak and speak and speak. I hope this is not interpreted as not allowing Mr. Bernotas to speak."

Bernotas explained, after the hearing, that he wishes to be notified of every decision so he can monitor them.

(Blogger's Note: The picture (from left to right) shows Gus Loupos, Bill Fitzpatrick, Ken Kraft and Ron Lutes deliberating.)

Gracedale - The Sequel

Ron Angle, stuck in court, was unable to make WFMZ-TV69's Business Matters yesterday. But I had a pretty good replacement tag team partner - Northampton County Exec John Stoffa.

The Fake Rev was there, recounting some of his daily conversations with Jesus. When he started saying how much he respects Stoffa, I nearly barfed. On his hate blog, the phony preacher has called Stoffa "dishonorable," suggested he'll soon be wearing an orange jump suit, and even claimed Stoffa is on the take.

"I'm not on the take," Stoffa clarified yesterday, with a wry little smile.

Union thug Justus James, sitting next to me, at one point stuck his hand in my face and shouted, "Quiet!" Of course, all that did was encourage me to talk even more about the giant inflatable rat he hauled in during his "good faith" negotiating session with the County.

According to The Express Times' Sarah Cassi, who wore a very nice dress to cover this show, the sequel was more like Hardball than Jerry Springer.

I don't watch TV.

NorCo GOP Takes Cusick to the Woodshed

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall. I've been waiting to tell you this story for over two months, when Norco's GOP decided to invite Council Prez John Cusick, Council VP Peg Ferraro, and Council member Tom Dietrich to explain why they consorted with Lamont McClure and Ann McHale to depose Ron Angle as Council President. Last night, 37 Republican Committee members finally got together.

At 9 PM, I called Angle to find out what had happened. He laughed and challenged me to find out for myself. So I called around and finally got someone willing to talk to me.

Invitations went out to John Cusick, Peg Ferraro and Tom Dietrich. But only Cusick had the guts to appear, although he sat in the back of the room and ran out the back door as soon as it was over. Ferraro was apparently at a sale for day old doughnuts, while Dietrich was studying for his Mahjong certification.

From what I understand, Cusick was asked to explain what the hell had happened. Cusick admitted conspiring to oust Angle, and blamed it on things like Angle's personality, his changing positions on GEO and even Gracedale. This drove some Committee members nuts. Some asked him to step down. Others pledged they will never support him again.

Cusick was asked to apologize, but refused. Cusick was then instructed that he had to meet with members of Council, one-on-one, and make an effort to restore good relations.

I spoke to only one committee member and did not have a pen and paper on hand to take notes, but believe this account is basically accurate.

I consider Cusick the least culpable of the trio who conspired to stab Angle in the back. But his word is not his bond. The one who tried the hardest to get rid of Angle was Dietrich, and he's already complaining nobody pays enough attention to him.

The person I find most culpable is Peg Ferraro. She threw Angle to the wolves so that she could be VP and sit on some boards and rub elbows with the rich and powerful. Besides, her masters in the Lehigh Valley Partnership don't much like Angle.

State Legislators to Talk Budget Cuts Today

I wish I had earlier notice, but just learned late yesterday that State Reps. Doug Reichley, Steve Samuelson, Joe Brennan and Bob Freeman will be conducting a community forum, TODAY, to discuss proposed budget cuts to critical state programs here in the Lehigh Valley.

This gathering will take place at Fowler Family Southside Center, 511 East Third Street, Bethlehem, at 11 AM. It's an opportunity for those affected by the cuts to speak directly with their representatives, have their questions answered, and express their hopes for changes.

According to a CACLV news release, "Governor Corbett’s proposed state budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year includes cuts to programs that help build strong communities." Most of us are aware of the drastic cuts in education spending, but there's more.

* The Homeowner Emergency Assistance Program, a foreclosure assistance program, is eliminated.

* The Human Service Development Fund, a flexible block grant that helps local government provide services for low-income people, is eliminated.

* DCED is cut by 31%.

* Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements to publicly owned nursing homes, continue to dwindle.

Because the Governor is being pressured to restore some of his educational cuts, there are concerns he might even go deeper into human services.

I'll be there.

Dent Town Halls in Upper Pottsgrove, Cetronia, This Friday

LV Congressman Charlie Dent (PA-15) will conduct town halls this Friday in Upper Pottsgrove and Cetronia. He takes all questions from all comers, and his staff is on hand if you have problems that might need his assistance.

Upper Pottsgrove Office Hours
Friday, April 29, 2011 from 10:00 to 11:00 AM
Upper Pottsgrove Township Building
1409 Farmington Avenue
Pottstown, PA 19464

Cetronia Office Hours
Friday, April 29, 2011 from 2:00 to 3:00 PM
Cetronia Social Hall
18 South Scenic Street
Allentown, PA 18104

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

1.7% Tax Hike Proposed For Bethlehem Schools

It's the worst of both worlds. Bethlehem School Directors on April 26 were presented with a preliminary $202 million budget containing draconian measures like the elimination of 178.5 people from its staff. It provides no funding for buses that would return kindergarten students home after school. It eliminates co-ed soccer in middle schools. It even removes police protection. Yet it still calls for a 1.7% tax hike, which is projected to cost the "average" homeowner an additional $56.

Before an audience of about 60 people at East Hills Middle School, Superintendent Joseph J. Roy called it a "reasonable budget" that avoids infringing on the "classroom circle." But Directors Rosario S. Amato, Irene Follweiler, Loretta M. Leeson and Benjamin M. Tenaglia III made clear, in an informal polling, that they would prefer to see no tax hike at all. Leeson was upset at just receiving the budget, but nevertheless went through a line-by-line review, looking for areas to cut. When warned that additional cuts could interfere in the classroom, she dismissed it as a "scare tactic."

The preliminary budget produced on April 26 is the result of six previous workshops. Final budget adoption is scheduled for June 13. Dr. Roy explained he would like to adopt a budget as soon as possible so that furloughed employees would have as much notice as possible.

Directors were particularly bothered by the elimination of mid-day bus runs for kindergarten students. "We can not take kids to school and then not take them home when they're four or five years old," complained Michael E. Faccinetto. "I don't know why the administration would put down a one-way ticket to school. Are they trying to insult us? demanded Rosario S. Amato, who claimed these children were being given a "one-way ticket to Hell." Eugene C. McKeon likened it to the Bataan death march.

Restoring this service would cost the school district $114,500, which translates to an additional 0.092% tax hike.

A majority of school directors propose restoring "high school resource officers," i.e. a police presence. But William J. Burkhardt complained that police are only present at schools 60% of the time, and were absent during a recent assault at Liberty High School. He prefers a 100% police presence.

They also oppose personnel cuts for high school guidance counselors and for seniors who arrive or leave early.

But despite pleas from students, co-ed soccer at the middle schools is still on the chopping block. Attorney Janet Jackson argued that students involved in sports tend to stay out of juvenile court, but not one director seemed interested in restoring that $24,000 in funding, which would increase the tax bite by 0.19%.

During her presentation, Business Manager Stacy Gober told directors that $1 million was being taken from $2.6 million in the budgetary reserve. Irene Follweiler questioned whether this would affect the school district's credit rating, and this concern was echoed by Leeson, Amato and Tenaglia.

Directors and administrators will tangle with the budget again on May 9, 6 PM, at East Hills Middle School.

Gang of Four Spokesman Plagued By Plagiarism Charges

Around this time last year, political operative Ryan O'Barto was writing campaign speeches for Idaho Congressional candidate Vaughn Ward. Now he's working for the "reform team" of Scott Ott, Dave Najarian, Vic Mazziotti and Lisa Scheller. I prefer to call them the Gang of Four, but that's me. Anyhoo, it turns out that last year, O'Barto was mixed up in accusations of plagiarism, and ended up resigning as Ward's campaign manager.

While campaigning for Congress, Ward delivered a kick-off speech that was eerily similar to one given by Pat Meehan here in Pa. And in another oration, Ward sounded just like Obama. His explanation? "[O’Barto] took a speech that I wrote – a draft of core policies and things I wanted to say in our announcement speech – and he took and made some additions to the speech ... .” [He] is no longer with the campaign.”

O'Barto denied he ever plagiarized anything, but even Ward's webpage was pretty much lifted, with minimal changes, from those of other Republican Congressional candidates.

Talking Points Memo suggested that Vaughn Ward may very well have been the "worst candidate ever," but adds that "many of the campaign's problems centered around a campaign manager [O'Barto] who was replaced less than two weeks ago."

In addition to everything else, O'Barto was also caught re-releasing months old endorsements.

I asked O'Barto for his side of the story, and he tells me "Vaughn Ward was a desperate candidate who was trying to blame every[one] he could for his mistakes." He declined to say more. "I have already addressed the issue a number of times and won't be doing so again."

The Gang of Four insists they exist "to advance the cause of accountability, transparency and reform in Lehigh County government." Yet they hire a guy dogged by plagiarism charges and who admits he was deceptively re-releasing endorsements.

Is this the kind of reform you want in Lehigh County? Sounds more like politics as usual.

Dent Town Halls in Pennsburg, Coopersburg This Thursday

LV Congressman Charlie Dent will host Office Hours events April 28 in Pennsburg and Coopersburg. Office Hours provide residents of a local area the opportunity to speak with Dent about the issues of the day within their community. Members of Dent’s staff will also be on hand to assist residents in personal matters involving federal agencies. I neglected to get the times and places, and when I have that, I'll update this post.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gracedale Goons Disrupt Bangor Town Hall

Ron Angle conducted a Town Hall in Bangor last night concerning the Gracedale initiative. There were were perhaps three people who were there to gain information. The rest of them consisted of the Gracedale Goons and unions, intent on disrupting both Angle and Executive John Stoffa. They shouted down any person with honest questions.

Duane Miller, a former Northampton County Council member and Bangor Mayor, screamed at Angle, claiming it is time to get rid of him. He was not there to learn anything, and actually left after his rant. The same is true of Donald Del Maso. "You're lucky that I'm willing to be in the same room as you," he condescended, when Angle tried to answer a question. He walked out after delivering his speech, too.

Council member Barb Thierry was called a "bobblehead" by LV Labor Council VP John Weiss, husband to Gracedale union prez Ellen. He also began talking about Obama for some reason.

Stoffa was called a "liar" by Gracedale Goon Jack D'Alessandro.

After the meeting was over, I hopped into my truck to drive off, and D'Alessandro began taunting me. He told a Bangor police officer, who was there to lock up, that I was drunk.

I think it's pointless to continue these town halls. The Gracedale initiative will pass overwhelmingly, and there is nothing we can do to stop it at this point.

So what happens?

I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Sparks Fly Between Gang of Four and Dean Browning

As a bottom-feeding blogger, I pick up a lot of pointers from dueling news releases. That's what happened yesterday. Miffed by a recent Dean Browning mailer, the Gang of Four took potshots at Browning yesterday. I'll give them both to you, in their entirety.

Gang of Four:

Allentown, PA – Republican Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning came under fire this week from a team of GOP candidates who say Browning's claims in four recent mass mailings stand in contrast with his behavior during the budget votes last October.

The team -- Scott Ott, Vic Mazziotti, Lisa Scheller and David Najarian -- noted that Browning's statements "contradict his actions" and "vary substantially" from actual budget figures. [Information to verify the team's statement is available from budgets and meeting minutes at the county website: www.LehighCounty.org ]

Browning's mailer, sent to likely primary-voting Republicans, said he believes "the only way to jump-start our economy" is through "lower taxes" and "less spending." Yet, as the reform team members point out, Browning was the sole Republican to vote with Democrats against a motion to eliminate the 16-percent tax hike. At that same meeting on October 27, 2010, Browning again voted with Democrats against cutting $350,000 from the spending plan. The cuts Browning voted down would have trimmed 3/10ths of one percent of the county-tax-funded portion of the budget, or about 30 cents from every $100 in spending.

As a result of Browning's votes, County Executive Don Cunningham's original budget, with its 16-percent tax hike, passed by default.

The reform team also challenged Browning's claim to have "cut spending."

Vic Mazziotti, a candidate who recently retired as Chief Financial Officer of Northampton County, said, "the spending in the part of the budget the commissioners could control actually grew by just over $11 million from 2008 to 2011, during the time Dean Browning says he was cutting spending."

Candidate David Najarian, a Lynn Township Supervisor with experience rolling back taxes, said, "when politicians say they're cutting spending, they usually mean they're reducing the projected rate of increase. But normal people know that, to actually cut spending, the budget has to be smaller when you're done cutting than it was when you started."

Lisa Scheller, president and CEO of a Tamaqua-based global manufacturing firm, said, "Browning should know better than to say such things to the primary voters; the most committed, knowledgeable Republicans. When we go to home gatherings and other campaign events, people ask us how Dean can say that stuff. I tell them that it is like the tax increase. Dean can say he voted against it, while in fact he guaranteed a 16% tax increase. Their reactions range from laughter to disgust.”

"Dean knew at least as early as 2009 that taxes would jump by double digits in 2011 unless real cuts were made," said candidate Scott Ott, who has praised Browning in public for his knowledge of the budget. "As smart as he is, his behavior on that budget vote makes no sense. I've come to understand that all of the brains in the world are no substitute for a spine. If a Republican can't fight a tax hike during the worst economic times in generations, when will he do it?"

Dean Browning:

Allentown, April 25, 2011 – The handpicked, party-boss-approved slate of Scott Ott, Lisa Scheller, Vic Mazziotti and Dave Najarian like to talk about cutting taxes and reducing spending, but when asked for specifics about what they would cut, all you get are blank stares and typical political pandering in return, charged conservative businessman and proven reformer Dean Browning today.

"The Ott, Scheller, Mazziotti and Najarian team like to talk about being conservatives and they like to talk about cutting taxes and spending in an attempt to win this election,” said Browning. “But the problem is when reporters or average voters ask them what they plan to cut from county government all you get in return are blank stares and typical political pandering.”

Browning said Lehigh County residents deserve specifics, not sound bites.

The fact of the matter is that Ott, Scheller, Mazziotti and Najarian have consistently refused to offer any specific cuts or release any detailed plan about what they would do if elected,” continued Browning. “Their entire campaign has been making vague references to ‘studying the budget’ and attacking me. Well, it’s put up or shut up time. They’ve allegedly been studying the budget since it was released last summer and have yet to make a single proposal. People are tired of politicians who are willing to say anything to get elected and refuse to be held accountable.”

Browning challenged the slate’s leader, Scott Ott, to be intellectually honest and state publicly what he’s been saying privately all along – that there was no way to avoid a property tax increase in the 2011 County Budget and that the last minute attempt to send the budget back was little more than a political gimmick meant to shift blame for the property tax increase to County Executive Don Cunningham.

"The truth voters need to hear is that Party Boss Wayne Woodman and his former employee, Scott Ott, cooked up this irresponsible scheme hoping to score political points and neither of them had – nor have – any real plan to reduce spending or lower property taxes”, charged Browning. “When I refused to play games with the county budget and give false hope to county taxpayers by going along with their last-minute gimmick, they decided to challenge me in the primary. In reality, this is all about naked political power – nothing more”.

Browning said he’s got a proven record as a fiscal conservative and is proud to run on it.

"I am a local businessman who has real world experience and a proven record of cutting $14 million in county spending, trimming the county workforce by 75 positions, and reducing the size of county government by taking on powerful public employee union bosses,” said Browning. “I haven't just talked the talk on fiscal conservatism, I’ve walked the walk.”

My Take:

1) Scott Ott claims that, unlike Browning, he has a spine. Really? It seems to me that Ott wants to get rid of Browning precisely because he voted his conscience instead of following the whims of a party boss who has bankrupted his own party.

2) By the way, since when does www.lehighcounty.org substantiate anything?

3) I'd like Ott to explain why he left the Lehigh County GOP high and dry, and whether he plans to bankrupt Lehigh County as well.

Getting the Cemetery Vote

I used to take my grandson's dog for walks in a cemetery located close to his house. It gave her a chance to romp and run after rabbits and squirrels in an urban community. None of the residents complained. I certainly meant no disrespect. I always cleaned up.

Regardless of my intentions, I was being disrespectful and ignorant, not to the dead, but the family members who would visit. I found that out when one of them yelled at me. He was in grief, and should not have had to deal with some dog darting between the tombstones.

People do strange things in graveyards. Jews like to pile small stones atop the marker for each visit made. At one gravestone, I once saw a six-pack, supposedly for the Great Beyond.

Instead of a six-pack, District Judge candidate Shana Restucci's brother posted one of her campaign signs on her dad's grave site. As Shana explains it, "Shad [that's her brother] did it out of no disrespect to anything or anybody. He did it because my dad would be proud of me, because my dad always wanted me to run for this position if the opportunity ever arose. He did it because my dad would be my biggest supporter."

Sign or not, I don't think she'll be getting her dad's vote.

Unfortunately for Shana, Rich Yetter campaign treasurer Lewis Gruppo saw the sign, snapped a picture, and posted it on Facebook. He complains about her lack of respect for the dead, and follows that with a definition of "temperament." He never bothers explaining why he found it necessary to post a picture that is so disrespectful.

Donna Yetter, who just happens to be married to District Judge candidate Richard Yetter, weighs in. "No words can even describe how wrong this is."

I have to admit, this is a new one for me. I believe that Shana's brother, Shad, was trying to give his Dad a message, and had no desire to be disrespectful. It's probably a lot less offensive than letting a dog run wild. On the other hand, political signs offend most people, no matter where they are.
Updated 10 AM: An Ex-candidate Speaks. - "I actually understand Shana Restucci's brother's actions no matter how different they might be. When I ran for xxxxxxx, I had my official campaign portrait done ... with an American Flag behind me, not because it makes me patriotic or because I served our country ( I was not in the military), but I did it to honor my father's memory as a tip of the hat to his military service in WW II and Korea and for his patriotism in doing so. Make no mistake about that, I'd have done it if he were still alive as well, just out of his son's respect for his service. So I understand the Restucci's desire to connect her candidacy to their father, and others should pause a moment before they try to use it as a political tool."

Dent, Toomey To Host Service Academy Day

If you're the parent of a high school student, especially a junior, you might want to visit Parkland High School (2700 North Cedar Crest Boulevard, Allentown, PA) on Saturday, April 30, at 10 AM. LV Congressman Charlie Dent and U.S. Senator Pat Toomey will host representatives from West Point, Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, Coast Guard Academy and Merchant Marine Academy. Competition for Congressional appointments to these fully funded schools is stiff.

An application for a Congressional appointment is located here.

US Service Academy Information Day Flyer (1)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lehigh County GOP Broke? - Thank Scott Ott, Wayne Woodman

"Approachable, warm, family, kid friendly, pro." That's how Lehigh County GOP Commissioner candidate Scott Ott describes himself at Voice123, where he promotes himself as a voice over artist for commercials, documentaries and even answering machine messages. You can listen to his riveting rendition if "The Land Before Time" here. But is Ott really all that approachable, warm and kid friendly, especially when nobody is looking?

I called him once with a question during his County Exec race against Don Cunningham, and he nearly took my head off. Then, last September, he nearly threw me into the lion's den at The Great Allentown Fair for not calling him about a story questioning the amount of money being paid to him as the GOP's brand new Executive Director. After he lost to Cunningham, this new position was created just for him. Grateful Lehigh Republicans were paying him a nice salary, but couldn't afford the $900 fee for a stand at the Allentown Fair, something that both Democrats and even the tea party managed.

I may be a Democrat and I read every day that I'm lower than whale shit, but I thought the decision to hire Ott was fiscally irresponsible. As I said at the time, "It's a total waste of money that should be used to promote candidates and drive up registration."

Now the Lehigh County GOP may be broke. It's unable to meet payroll and may be unable to pay taxes or rent. And the reason is because it wasted its money on Scott Ott.

During his brief tenure as Executive Director (he was paid from 12/22/09 to 12/29/10), Lehigh County Republicans paid Ott $37,635 for "professional services." Once he bled the party dry, Scrappleface was out the door.

Bossman Wayne Woodman, elected to chair Lehigh Republicans precisely because of his prodigious fundraising abilities, has suddenly decided that's not his job. He now thinks new Exec Director Steve Ramos, who comes from Chester County, can raise the money. But when Woodman announced Ramos' appointment, he claimed Ramos would recruit and "expand our outreach to demonstrate the Republican Party represents common-sense ideals for people in every community." Translated, what that means is that Ramos might draw some of Allentown's Hispanic vote.

Scott Ott's appeal was basically to the religious right, the hard line and intolerant Republicans. He and Woodman have actually managed to drive people away at a time when Republicans were on the rise everywhere else. They managed to drive Dr. Bob Romancheck out as Chair of the Allentown GOP. Another party stalwart, Scott Armstrong, has resigned as an area captain.

In addition to losing leaders, the party has lost numbers, too. In November 2009, there were 76,803 registered Republicans under former Chair Bill Platt. But in November 2010, that number has already dropped to 75,457 with Woodman and Ott at the helm.

Exactly what did Ott do as Executive Director? Nobody really knows. He did re-design the web page, a job that should cost $2 or 3 thousand. It appears that he spent the rest of his time building up contacts and networking for his own Commissioner race against Dean Browning.

Given this financial disarray, you'd think that Lehigh Republicans would be massing for their April 26 meeting. But guess what? That meeting has been canceled. It happens to be the same night as a $500 per person fundraiser being hosted for the Gang of Four by Buddy Lesavoy.

The Gang of Four - Scott Ott, Dave Najarian, Lisa Scheller (Woodman's wife) and Vic Mazziotti - are essentially running against Dean Browning. They've circulated an email, supposedly signed by Buddy Lesavoy, claiming that both Browning and Don Cunningham have lost touch with the people. I see. A lawyer hosting a $500 per person fundraiser knows all about the people.

It turns out Lesavoy never even sent that part of the email. He ended up calling Cunningham to "apologize to him for forwarding the propagandized portion of my email. ... . I also told Don that I respect his fiscal management and the hard work he has done especially under these most challenging economic circumstances."

Apparently, the transparent Gang of Four is not above distorting another person's words, even when that person is a supporter.

Scott Ott took a fiscally stable organization, ran it into the ground, then walked away. We also know that someone among the Gang of Four distorted what Buddy Lesavoy had written. Does this "advance the cause of accountability, transparency and reform in Lehigh County government?"

The Gang of Four complains that "spending has outstripped revenues for years" in Lehigh County, "leading to painful tax hikes." Looks like that's exactly what has happened to the Lehigh County GOP, thanks to Scott Ott and Wayne Woodman.

Woodman has the resources to write a check bailing the party out, and perhaps he should.

"Neutral" GOP Boss Has Gang of Four Sign In His Yard

When I had lunch with Lehigh County GOP Boss Wayne Woodman in early March, he insisted he would remain neutral in the LC Commissioners' race, even though one of those candidates happens to be his wife and another, Scott Ott, happens to be his "good friend" and protege. He denied he was out to punish Commissioner Dean Browning for following his conscience on the budget vote, instead of Woodman's orders.

But as I soon learned, what Woodman says and what he does are two different things. Right after a conversation claiming he was Switzerland, Woodman began circulating petitions on behalf of the Gang of Four. He obtained signatures for Vic Mazziotti, David Najarian, Scott Ott and Lisa Scheller. Since there are only four seats up for grabs, this was an implied endorsement, especially among the rank-and-file Republicans whose signatures were solicited.

Now he's got a sign endorsing the Gang of Four in the front yard of his home on Benner Street. This is yet another indication, and a very public one, that the party boss has made his choice in spite of all his protests to the contrary.

Easter Buffet at Hotel Bethlehem

Ron Angle invited me to join his family for the Easter buffet at Hotel Bethlehem yesterday. Great food. Great company.

While going up for my 23rd plate of mashed potatoes, a very attractive blond accosted me. As I've told you many times before, women do this to me all the time. Bottom-feeding bloggers are quite sexy, you know.

"Excuse me, but are you Bernie O'Hare?" she asked.

"Why yes, I am."

"Well, I'm Jonathan Geeting's mother. It's very nice to meet you."

Geeting tells his readers I have no credibility as an "information broker," whatever that is.

After scooping up seven plates of bacon, I looked around and sure enough, there were little Jonathans running all over the place, eating salad and brie. His brothers look just like him. Didn't see Jonathan.

Before leaving, Angle and I posed with the poor Easter Bunny. Then we rolled the poor bastard and dumped him off in all that goose shit at Sand Island. He's not so white now.

Maybe that was Jonathan.
Updated 8 AM: I've disabled commentary on this post because there were too many anonymous personal attacks. You can still comment under Disqus, but I can ban people who just deal in hate.

LV Vet Roundtable to Host Vietnam War Vet

What's it like to kill women and children?

That's one of the questions that Marine Corps Sgt. Clyde Hoch was regularly asked on his return from Vietnam. As a tank commander responsible for the lives of 8 to 12 people, Hoch was belittled when he tried to fit back in civilian life.

"You lost that war," he was repeatedly told.

Hoch has written a memoir, Tracks, about his Vietnam experience, and will be sharing his story on Thursday night, 7 PM, at the LV Vet History Project Roundtable, located at the Lehigh County Senior Center, 1633 Elm Street, Allentown, PA. The public is welcome.

I've attended a few of these oral history presentations, and recommend it to everyone.

Andras Molnar's Japanese Story Featured in ET

Earlier this month, I told you about Andras Molnar, a LV native who made it through Japan's devastating and tragic tsunami. Andras, a teacher, has refused to leave his students. He recently started a blog - Yamamoto Relief Fund - to help the people impacted, especially the children.

The Express Times' Sara Satullo has published a terrific and compelling story about Andras.

If you can help, great. If you can't, please pray.

Updated 7:25 AM: It's in The Morning Call, too!

Small Business Assistance Program Saves 82 Jobs, Creates 12

From the CACLV. - During the darkest days of the recession, the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) partnered with Lehigh Valley SCORE to create the Small Business Assistance Program. This joint effort was designed to provide free technical assistance and a range of professional services to local small businesses to help them survive the worst recession in decades. A recent survey of participating business owners found that the program resulted in 83 saved jobs and the creation of 12 others. Many assisted businesses anticipate the need to hire additional employees in the coming year. All have remained in business.

The program was funded by a one-time grant awarded to CACLV under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Out of 172 program applicants, 50 qualifying small businesses received vouchers for professional services in amounts up to $5,000. A total of $124,070 in professional service vouchers was distributed. The professional services were provided by other local small businesses, further stimulating the local economy. Every applicant, including those who did not receive vouchers, was offered technical assistance from trained staff and volunteers.

According to Kim Stout, Business Development Coordinator for CACLV, the business owners would have continued to struggle during the economic downturn without the assistance of the program. For example, Sam Radin of Lehigh Valley Auto Sales received $2,000 to help with the marketing of his business and get better results from his accounting system. In the follow-up survey, Radin states that his business has increased as a direct result of the services he received. His accounting system is a better management tool and he learned how to use the internet to grow his business. He has been able to stay open, his business continues to improve, and he is planning to build a garage and hire additional help in the upcoming year.

Pete Reinke, Vice President of Regional Development at the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, chaired the committee that established this program. Reinke says that he is proud to have been a part of the program and was encouraged to see that “such a small amount of assistance is what allowed these businesses to survive and move forward. They will now be able to help turn around our economy by expanding their businesses and creating more local jobs.”

Comments from other small businesses who received assistance included similar positive feedback. Many business owners indicated that they will be able to hire new employees in the near future. At least 13 additional jobs will be created as a result of the stimulus grant. Joanna Mancuso, owner of The Wonder Kids, says “[This opportunity] has encouraged me to move forward and expand my business.” The Wonder Kids opened a second location in the Borough of Northampton last October.

Blogger's Note: This all sounds great, but they refused to invest a dime in my candy business, Plopp Enterprises.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pa Senate Introduces Union Bustin' Bills?

According to PA Independent, Pennsylvania's GOP Senate has introduced legislation that will:
"* eliminate the automatic deduction of union dues and political contributions from public employee paychecks.

* Prevent the automatic deduction from public employee paychecks to unions’ political action committees, or PACs.

* Make Pennsylvania a 'right-to-work' state, which would prevent public- and private-sector workers from being forced to pay union dues if they choose not to join the union."
These bills are obviously aimed at weakening union clout. I do find it undemocratic myself that political contributions are automatically deducted, but most "right-to-work" legislation is aimed at destroying unions, as has happened in the South.

Finally, A Baseball Game!

After weeks of rainouts, little leaguers were finally able to squeeze in a game on April 21, when Norhwest Bethlehem Cardinals visited the Southside Bethlehem Braves. After falling behind in the early innings, the 11 and 12 year-old Braves roared back and briefly led the game. But back to back homeruns by the Cards, over the fence, were too much for the Braves to overcome.

Echua Gaban's smile says it all. This Southside Brave was just happy to be playing. That's a victory all by itself.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Instead of Cellphones, How About Banning Bath Salts?

I first saw them a few months ago at a gas station in Nazareth.

"What do you do with them?" I asked.

"You get high," a lady with no teeth answered.

I'm talking about "bath salts" and "incense," which contain chemicals that mimic cocaine and marijuana. While I was getting my drug (tastykakes), some kids came in and bought a few vials.

According to Lackawanna DA Robert Klein, these products produce an alternative high with very unpleasant results. One local attorney asked merchants to remove these products. "You’re playing with fire, and you’re playing with people’s lives."

Luzerne County DA Jackie Musto has taken things one step further. On Tuesday, she sought and obtained an injunction against eight local merchants after over 100 people were treated at Geisinger Medical Center, and is seeking a County-wide ban on Monday.

Sounds like a good idea here in the Lehigh Valley, don't you think?

Cunningham Privatizes Recycling Center

You can make all kinds of grandiose arguments about the evils of privatization, where corporate barons are solely concerned by their bottom line, and you'd be right. Or you can argue that privatization is the best way to ensure that efficient and low-cost service is delivered, and you'd be right.

Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham and Board of Commissioners' Chair Dean Browning have no time to engage in ideological niceties. It is either privatize the Recycling Center or close it. It was operating at a loss, draining the County budget. So yesterday, Cunningham and Brownng announced that they announced that Middle Smithfield Materials (Palmerton, Pa.) will continue operations at the Lehigh County Organic Recycling Facility in Orefield after the County ceases operations there in June.

The facility receives grass clippings, leaves, tree branches and other organic recyclable waste from many of Lehigh County’s municipalities, landscapers and private haulers.

No campaign flyers. That's toxic waste.

“With the full cooperation of Board of Commissioners Chairman Dean Browning and the Board, we worked behind the scenes with municipalities, listened to their concerns and found a way to keep this facility open under an alternative structure so that the services could continue to be provided at as low a cost as possible,” Cunningham said.

Lehigh County, however, has operated a regional facility since the late 1980s, paid for through administrative fees paid by waste haulers for trash deposited at landfills. A 2006 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling ended that arrangement, so Lehigh County was losing between $250,000 and $500,000 in annual operating costs.

Middle Smithfield Materials has a five year deal with guaranteed rate structures for municipal users. A municipal consortium will assume ownership to retain eligibility for state grants to purchase grinders, screeners, loaders and trucks.

Browning calls this arrangement a non-critical function best handled by the private sector. "We’ll continue to look for other areas where this could be done to benefit Lehigh County taxpayers,” he promised.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cusick at the Helm

At a political gathering last night, I spoke to a person who recently began attending Northampton County Council meetings. I won't mention his name because I neglected to ask him if I could use it. I had heard him state that he's unhappy with what he sees, and wanted to find out what bothers him.

What this newcomer tells me is that, of all Council members, the one person who makes the most sense and is most prepared is none other than the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle. He also criticized Council President John Cusick, who refused to entertain any discussion about how best to inform the public concerning the Gracedale initiative. Last Thursday night, Cusick talked over Angle when he attempted to arrive at a consensus. Eventually, Angle just let it go.

Now Angle has consistently maintained that Cusick is a lousy Council President because he's never there to attend meetings at the pension board, LVEDC and to perform the daytime duties expected of a Council president. Because Cusick has made arrangements for his VP to be at these functions, I think these criticisms are unfair. I also think it's a bit early to decide whether Cusick is a good or bad Council President. But there are some very bad signs.

* Cusick has abandoned the practice of inviting clerics from different areas of the County to offer the opening prayer. Angle started that last year, and it was amazing to see the diversity. My favorite was Orthodox rabbi Isaac Yagod, who actually blessed each Council member and asked them to find a way to be just.

* Cusick has re-instituted the five-minute limit on speakers during courtesy of the floor, and is clearly repulsed by the notion that he must endure comments from the unwashed masses. Angle regularly engaged these speakers. That may have led to longer meetings, but those people were heard.

* Cusick allowed the Northampton County District Attorney, John Morganelli, to cool his heels for hours at a recent meeting while going through mind-numbing appointments and ordinances. Thanks to an unusually large number of homicides, Morganelli is quite busy these days, and had a matter that would only take thirty seconds of Council's time. I actually passed a note to Cusick, asking him to recognize Morganelli out of order, but he refused. He later told me he was concerned it might irritate other people. What other people?

* Last Thursday night, when the widow of one of Northampton County's most respected jurists, attended to introduce the Easton Area Community Center, Cusick totally failed to recognize her. It was Ron Angle who had to make a point of recognizing and thanking Leonarda Grifo for the many things she still does to make Northampton County a better place.

* Instead of acting like a leader, Cusick has continued to be the same person he was as a regular Council member - evasive and unwilling to take stands. He became President as a result of back-room skullduggery, and has done nothing to enhance his image among his colleagues. Not exactly the kind of person I'd want next to me in a foxhole.

Panto Lights Up When He Talks About Teaching


He's worked as the right arm of powerful and demanding developers like Charlie Chrin and Gary Strausser. He's now the Lehigh Valley's most successful Mayor. But mention teaching, and Sal Panto lights up like a Christmas tree.

Q. Do you miss teaching?

Panto: "Oh, I miss teaching. I love it. I get back in the class room, both at the college level, the high sc- and the elementary and pre-school! I was at pre-school reading last week. I get the kids all excited because I say Dr. Zeus instead of Seuss and I get 'em all excited and -- I love teaching! I'd go back in a heart beat."

Not yet, Sal. Not yet.

Panto Reviewing Portnoff Collection Practices in Easton


In my weekly Patch column, I've criticized the privatized tax collection that's become all too common in so many local municipalities, including Easton. Portnoff Law Associates, the tax farmer of choice for most municipalities, has scheduled Sheriff's Sales when property owners fall behind on relatively low bills. To stop a sale, an owner must sometimes pay ten times the amount of the original lien. All that extra money goes into Portnoff's pocket. Easton uses Portnoff.

Q. A question about Portnoff. Portnoff is your private tax collector. It's a privatized tax collection firm. I've noticed at the courthouse that Portnoff - and Easton is by no means the only municipality that uses Portnoff, it's used by 26 municipalities throughout the Lehigh Valley. My question to you, sir, is don't you think that they're charging just a bit too much to the people who can least afford to pay it?

Panto: "Well, yeah, and that's a great point, the people who can least afford it. We're evaluating that. I know, in my own business, it's a public record, you know. We starved. We were behind. My dad's business. Great business. Great success. But when things catch up to you, its tough.

Q. It was a great business.

Panto: "It was. It was financially successful, but yet, it was week to week, like every other small business is, and I know that they're really difficult to deal with personally. I've dealt with them.

"I'm a little more compassionate than them. I'm consistently fair, I want everybody to pay their fair share. But certainly there's a way to accomplish that.

"I don't like the contract that the City has with them. It's being reviewed, where they get paid even if we don't get a dime. Their fees get paid first. Well, that doesn't seem like it's a quid pro quo at all. I mean, it's just for them.

"We are looking at it, we are evaluating. I think you're going to see some changes for the 2012 year."

Panto: Why Easton Has Approximately 50 Net New Businesses


Q. How many new businesses have there been in Easton since you've become Mayor?

Panto: "Whoo. You know, everybody can express a large number, but there's also ones that close. I would say we have a net increase of at least 50 businesses. We know that because our business privilege tax is up. I could give you the exact number if I code department or zoning department. But we know that our business privilege tax has gone up, especially over the last two years. Almost 25%. Which means businesses are doing better. The ones who are here are doing more, and new ones coming in are doing better.

Q. And what do you credit that to?

Panto: "Oh, I credit that to the Ambassadors, the Main Street program, the overall self-confidence, the additional police protection, the increase in police officers from 52 to 63, the Crayola Factory, the State Theatre, the new art openings, the Sigal Museum. There's a whole synergy of things that takes place for that to happen. You can't just open up one store ---

Q. --- The crime rate's gone down in Easton, whereas its gone up in Bethlehem. It's gone down in Easton.

Panto: "We are very fortunate. Our UCR reports level 1 is the lowest it's been since 1970."

Q. Congratulations, that's great.

Panto: "Yes, it's working, we have a great police department."

Q. Boots on the ground.

Panto: "It's feet on the street. They have to be there. Eye in the sky and feet an the street."

Easton Mayor Sal Panto's Mantra - Clean & Safe


This is a continuation of my interview with Easton Mayor Sal Panto.

Q. Your first term, your mantra was clean and safe.

Panto: "Clean and safe."

Q. I imagine that is something you're going to continue in --

Panto: "If you don't have a clean and safe city, people don't want to invest in your city. They don't want to come to your city. And more importantly, they don't want to live in your city.

"We've spent a lot of money in neighborhood development and in downtown development. Both are equally important. Residents view their city by their neighborhood. Visitors view their city by the downtown.

"Downtown Easton has always had a bad image. Therefore, the whole City has had a bad image, Valley wide. I think our financial management, our decrease in crime, our good attractions for tourists and our restaurants are bringing people back down to Easton because they feel clean and safe in the City.

"And that's what makes - the more business taxes we collect, the less real estate taxes we have to collect from residents."

Callahan Blasted For Private Trash Talks


At a 6 PM news conference outside Bethlehem City Hall last night, three Republican City Council candidates lambasted Mayor John Callahan for "private" meetings with Council members to discuss problems with its 19 private trash haulers. According to one city official, there have been 1,300 complaints. Callahan has told The Express Times, "We know we have a problem and we're going to try to sit down with city council on it."

Before the news conference ever started, there was already a reaction from City Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni. In addition to decorating his office's front lawn with a J. William Reynolds campaign sign, he yesterday fired an angry email to Republican candidates Al Bernotas, Tom Carroll, and Tony Simao. In it, he denies these private meetings are Sunshine Act violations.

Here's my question. If you know you have a problem with private trash haulers, wouldn't it make just a little more sense to sit down with them than with Council members? Callahan's explanation sounds like garbage. If there have been over a thousand complaints, why did Joe Kelly refuse to release any of them to Al Bernotas? Why did he instead tell Bernotas to file a Right-to-Know request, using that law as a shield to deny information, instead of providing it?

All three candidates spoke during yesterday's news conference, as about fifteen onlookers shivered in the cold evening air. Here's some of what Tom Carroll had to say.

"This is a City that this administration has brought to over $300 million in debt. This is a City that has over $12 million in running deficits over the last several years. This is a City that had an EMS building that was falling apart, and they borrowed an additional $6 million last Fall for the purpose of fixing that EMS building, didn't fix it, and then raised our taxes 6 percent. This is a City that couldn't even make its first payroll of the new year. And then, with all these other pressing problems, he wants to meet, one-on-one, with the individual members of Council to talk about contract hauling.

"Did he meet with the haulers individually? No. These are businessmen in our City, who make a living and pay their taxes, and he wants to take away our right as citizens to contract with our own individual haulers and he wants to put these people out of business while at the same time, grabbing whatever money he can in that process because he has so fiscally mismanaged this City.

"We give credit to the two Council members that [sic] currently serve on this Council, who refused to meet with the Mayor, David DiGiacinto and Jean Belinski. We do ask that all of the other Council members refuse to meet with him privately, one-on-one, about an issue that has been ongoing for many years. And instead, encourage the administration to talk with the contract haulers, the private haulers, about this issue."


Private hauler Andy Prickler (Andy's Hauling) was at yesterday's news conference, and stated he's asked repeatedly to see these thousands of complaints over the past two years. They are never furnished.

Q. Do you think that the Mayor is looking at this as a way if enhancing revenue for the City?

Pricker: "Absolutely. Absolutely. We make a profit now so why wouldn't he like to take it over and make a profit?

Q. So is that what you think the motive is?

Prickler: "I believe so, yes. I still haven't seen the complaints and I said before and I'll say it again. We've asked for ... to see these complaints for over two years now. Every year, it's a thousand complaints. Here's another question to answer. Why is it the City of Bethlehem that always has this trash issue? Why is that? You don't hear any problems from Lower Saucon. You don't hear any problems from Bethlehem Township. You don't hear any problems from Bushkill Township, Lower Nazareth. These municipalities are all independently contracted haulers that are serving these communities and we don't have no problems with them so why does the City, Bethlehem, seem to always have a problem with the independent system that we have?"

Q. What was your name, sir?

Prickler: "Andy Prickler."

Q. How do you spell it?

Prickler: "P-r-i-c-k-l-e-r."

Q. You're a little prickler.

Prickler: "Yeah. Andy's Hauling and Waste Disposal."
Updated 9 AM: Callahan's side of the story is reported at Bethlehem Patch.