Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Troll Attack

Some pretty disgusting comments were posted on this blog yesterday, while I was at a meeting. It's one thing to attack me, but the racist smears directed at my 11 year-old grandson were very hurtful. I like anonymous comments because I often get good tips from them. But because of the trolls, I have no choice but to enable my Disqus comment feature, at least for now. This will reduce the lively exchanges I enjoy, but it will eliminate the trolls. It will give me the IP and ISP of every comment posted, and enables me to block trolls.

As Democrats Demonstrate, Dent Tries to Create Jobs

It was a familiar sight. Democrats, Moveon and SEIU demonstrated outside LV Congressman Charlie Dent's office. According to Lynn Olanoff at The Express Times, they were there to demand that Dent conduct town halls and met with constituents about job creation. According to Democrats, "Rep. Dent sides with CEOs and Wall Street bankers over middle class families. Demand Rep. Dent that Rep. Fight for JOBS!"

So where was Dent?

He just happened to be at two local forums focusing on job creation in the 15th District’s manufacturing sector. In the morning, he met with local members of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) at an event hosted by Volvo Group North America at the Mack Customer Center in Allentown. Later, he participated in a manufacturing roundtable hosted by the Manufacturing Resource Center at the organization’s Bethlehem facility.

So who is doing something and who is not?

“When Congress returns to Washington next week, we will intensify our efforts to help get Americans back to work,” said Rep. Dent in a news release. “In today’s difficult economy, American manufacturers continue to face complex challenges, but there are clearly many opportunities to foster growth that must be pursued. The input I received today from local manufacturers reinforces my commitment to encouraging job creation by modernizing the nation’s onerous tax code, reducing excessive and impractical regulation and improving access to foreign markets for domestically produced goods. I appreciate the candor of all the manufacturers who participated in today’s events.”

Att'y Dick Haber - As Good as They Get

Flamboyant. Urbane. Extremely intelligent. Most important of all, extremely funny.

These are just a few of the many adjectives I could use to describe Dick Haber, the closest thing I've ever seen to a Renaissance man. He's been a distinguished lawyer for the past 46 years, but that just scratches the surface. He's also known for his orchids, which he often hands out at real estate closings. Most amazing of all, this is a man who entered the Julliard in Manhattan at age 65, and 4 1/2 years later, was a conductor.

Dick would probably be content to continue conducting and composing, but as Blackstone once said, the law is a jealous mistress. So now, instead of a conductor's baton, he's wielding the sword of lawyers everywhere - the mighty pen.

And he's doing it six days a week!

Haber and I hooked up yesterday at Sharswood, at his wonderful home at 150 West Macada Road. While driving up the long and winding driveway, the first thing you see is a sign warning you, "Psychotic resident. Enter at your own peril." From his home, we took a short trip to Panera's on Center Street to discuss his practice.

Everyone knows me at Panera, so I expected a good reception there. But when they saw Dick, everyone lit up. One young blond positively gushed when she saw him, and came around the counter to give him a nice hug.

Bruno hugged me.

It just wasn't the same.

As we were leaving, I asked Bruno how the business was doing.

"It gets real busy, and then it suddenly stops," Bruno complained.

"That's like my heart," wisecracked Haber. "It gets real busy and then it suddenly stops. The Northampton County Bar is praying for my heart to stop."

Despite his humor, this is a man who really cares about people. I asked him why he would ever want to leave his beautiful home. In a rare serious moment, Haber told me he owed it to his clients.

Haber had a long partnership with Don Corriere, but can now be reached at his home office. His office number is 610.691.5417, and I suggest you call him for a consultation. The drive up his driveway alone is worth the trip.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Patch: Where to Find Our Real Public Servants

If you think you find public town hall, think again. But they exist. Yes, there really are selfless people out there who put you ahead of your own agenda. My Patch column today tells you where they can be found. Your comments there are welcome.

Blue Star Mothers' Golf Tournament on September 17


Cunningham to Deliver 2012 Budget On Wednesday

Cunningham last year
According to The Morning Call, it's a no-tax increase budget. Cunningham cobbled it together with NO help from ANY of the Commissioner candidates, even though each of them received a letter asking for suggestions.

Who: Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham

What: Lehigh County 2012 Budget Address

When: 12:00 PM on Wednesday, August 31

Where: Coca-Cola Park
Club Level
1050 IronPigs Way
Allentown, PA 18109

Bethlehem City Council to Review New Zoning Ordinance Tonight

At 7 PM tonight, Bethlehem City Council will meet in Town Hall to discuss Bethlehem's new zoning ordinance and map, its first major revision in over forty years. The proposed local land law will be discussed again on September 27. Members of the public will be allowed to address Council for up to five minutes per person.

Darlene Heller's Planning Department conducted public meetings in the Fall of 2009, Summer of 2010, as well as one final meeting in May. A copy of the proposed Zoning Ordinance was posted on the City website for comment, and Heller met with different interest groups along the way.

This Ordinance was recommended by the Planning Commission in May.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane or Not, the Bethlehem Steelers Played

Can you say you ever played football or were a cheerleader in a hurricane? Young men and women from Northampton and Bethlehem can make now that claim. Despite ominous skies, rain and a hurricane warning, the Bethlehem Steelers played the Konkrete Kids on Saturday. Since most of the Steelers expect to end up with the Liberty Hurricanes, they probably liked the forecast.

Fortunately, the weather held, although a ref warned everyone that if he saw one just one flash of lightning, he was ending it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Who The Hell Goes Camping in the Middle of a Hurricane?

One man who did is now dead.

Check Out LV Weather Patrol

Lehigh Valley Weather Patrol provided great, man-on-the-street, reactions to Hurricane Irene, along with outstanding meteorological insight. I love the photos and videos posted by citizen-weathermen throughout the area.

They even started listing tomorrow's school closings, although you can get a more detailed list at WFMZ-TV69's Stormcenter.

Widespread Power Outages, But Nobody Hurt

As of 8 AM, Northampton County Emergency Services reports widespread power outages, is predicting major flooding along the Delaware River at Easton, and minor flooding along the Lehigh River at Walnutport. The best news is that there were no reports of any casualties at that time.

Stoffa Signs Declaration of Disaster

You can track Hurricane Irene locally at the Northampton County EMS. The latest situation report, published at midnight, indicates there will be moderate to major flooding along the Delaware River in Easton. In the event it becomes necessary, Red Cross has activated a shelter in Bethlehem with a capacity of 800. A 100-person shelter in Easton, with generator power, has been identified. Electric utilities have pre-positioned restoration equipment. There are no casulaties, but County Executive John Stoffa has signed a Declaration of Disaster.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Don't Drown, Turn Around

Although Hurricane Irene has weakened, it's clear we're in for heavy rains, starting around noon on Saturday. Northampton County Emergency Management Services has issued an alert, warning about flash floods:

Be advised heavy rainfall caused by Hurricane Irene will likely cause flooding. – including flash flooding. Those living in areas prone to flooding should be prepared to take action. All residents should stay tuned to local media outlets for current conditions and follow instructions given by local emergency officials.

Flash floods are the #1 weather-related killer in the U.S. (Check out this link from NOAA - “Turn Around Don’t Drown

"A mere six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes only two feet of rushing water to carry away most vehicles. This includes pickups and SUVs."

George of the Sinkhole Back Home

On Monday afternoon and evening, rescue workers from all over the Lehigh Valley converged on a small Bethlehem Township property to save the life of a 16-year old Chocolate Lab named George. When he was finally pulled out at 10 PM, George was on a stretcher, but I could see his head looking around, as if to ask, "What the hell is going on?"

I finally caught up with George on Thursday afternoon. He's back home.

"He looked like a dirty, old furry bear when they pulled him out," laughed owner Dan Kerry.

Kenny noted that Dr. Cummings, who spent hours waiting for George beside the sinkhole, refused to charge for his house call. "For that I am very grateful, and so is George."

He also called George a "reluctant hero." You see, the Kerrys' grandchildren, ages 2-16, will be visiting next week, and it could have been one of them who slipped into a sinkhole.

"George unknowingly made everything safe for everyone."

But he will likely be treading lightly in the back yard for the next few days.

Zoners Give Green, Orange & Blue Light to LED Sign on Rte 412

Bethlehem will soon be home to its second LED sign. Its first, located on the Hill to Hill bridge, has drawn protests at City Council meetings and has even sparked a "Remove Ugly LED Billboard" Facebook page. But the two-sided LED, unanimously approved by Bethlehem zoners on August 24, appears to be less controversial.

Located at Dreamers Self Storage at 1022 Hellertown Road, the proposed LED has already been home to a one-sided billboard, which was first installed in 1929. Adams Outdoor Advertising's Lois Archzewski, in very detailed and articulate testimony, actually produced the original lease. More importantly, she told zoners that this sign is 555' away from the nearest residentially zoned district.

Archzewski told zoners that LED signs have existed since 2001, and were introduced to the Lehigh Valley in 2007. She explained that for the 1,000 signs under her control, only 14 are LEDs, which only go into "strategic locations."

She called the 1022 Hellertown Road site, located along Rte 412 and near Interstate 78, a "gateway to Bethlehem," surrounded by 1,000 acres of industrial land leading to an emerging entertainment district.

She also explained that LED signs have many advantages over static displays. For one thing, Adams Outdoor makes community advertising available to the City on a space available basis. More importantly, the LED can be used for emergency messages. Located close to an Interstate, this sign will be able to warn drivers if there is an accident. Noting the snowstorm several years ago in which some people were stranded on highways for thirty-six hours, she indicated that a sign could have warned people where to get off the highway. "If we only had digital then," she lamented.

Messages will display for six seconds, to be replaced by another. PennDOT requires the changes to take place within a second, and prohibits fading. The changes are imperceptible to the human eye.

According to Archzewski, streetlights and the headlights of oncoming traffic have more lumens than an LED sign. There is also an automatic dimmer for the evening and even stormy weather

Coopersburg resident John Domingas, who owns a rental property at 1028 Hellertown Road, complained that his tenants will move out because of the glare. But in response to questioning from Allentown Attorney Vic Cavacini, Domingas admitted that his rental is in an industrial area. Colleen Miller, who owns the site being leased by Adams Outdoor, added that 30' arborvitaes planted at the LED site will block at least 2/3 of the view from the Domingas property.

City activist Bill Scheirer, armed with maps under his arms, asked to address the Zoning Hearing Board. But Attorney Cavacini objected noting that Scheirer lacked standing because he has no direct interest and resides more than 300' away from the proposed LED.

A similar objection was was sustained to 1503 Creek Road.resident Larry Eighmy, who was actually there to present his own appeal. He lives 0.9 miles away from the proposed LED, according to Google maps.

When 1032 Main Street resident Martha Popichak (3.9 miles away) was denied standing as well, she argued that any resident should be able to speak about something placed near a "gateway of the City." "I would like to know what the avenues are to make our voices heard," she complained.

Solicitor Mickey Thompson explained that listening to people who have no standing might "taint" a quasi-judicial proceeding, which could be reversible error.

Holzinger Hits Home Run at Bethlehem ZHB

Whether it's Bethlehem, Allentown or Easton, zoning hearing boards frown on converting single-family homes into apartments. This practice often result in absentee landlords unwilling to maintain their properties, as well as tenants with no pride of ownership. Students of Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board claim that member Bill Fitzpatrick has never voted for a conversion. Against these odds, it certainly seemed unlikely that owner Hyoungjoon Park would ever get permission to convert 450 Montclair Avenue into three separate apartments. But Bethlehem Attorney Jim Holzinger put on such a strong case that zoners unanimously agreed.

Holzinger produced testimony establishing that it is a very large house, making it too expensive for most families. That leaves students, but according to owner Park, they quickly get into trouble in a 9-room house.

Park's testimony was corroborated by Craig Evans, who has lived on Montclair Avenue since 1980. Evans also serves on the Historic Conservation Commission, as well as the Alliance for Building Communities.

Evans testified that, like Bill Fitzpatrick, he is "philosophically opposed to converting." But he believes it will be a "real benefit" to the community in this instance. He noted that Park, unlike other landlords, is accessible. "There isn't a week that goes by that I don't see him. Some weeks, its tow or three times." He added that a conversion would attract professors and grad students, as opposed to a large collection of undergrads living in the same house.

After Evans, Montclair Avenue residents Pam and Bill Gontram pleaded for approval. "In a perfect world, these college students would be respectful of their neighbors at 4 AM," stated Ms. Gontram. "From Thursday on, it's crazy." Her husband, who just happens to be a licensed real estate appraiser, agreed, testifying that a conversion would have no detrimental effect.

Holzinger stated, "I don't know what more I can show than the people who have lived there for many years."

It was enough.

In other business, zoners gave Monica Cruz a special exception for a family day care at her residence at 2133 W. Broad Street. They also allowed Maria Gaspar to replace a commercial unit with a residential one at 619 Linden Street.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kemerer Museum Gets Green Light For Expansion

After listening to architect Dan Kayser and Board Chair Barbara Hollenbach on August 24, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board unanimously approved a two-story expansion at the Kemerer Museum for Decorative Arts. Located at 425-429 N. New St, the expansion will take place in a paved courtyard.                          

Hollenbach, who is also an attorney, explained that the addition will provide a "temperature and humidity controlled environment" for the storage of over 40,000 museum artifacts consisting of artwork, glassware and textiles. "I'm excited about this project, and am looking forward to the opportunity to preserve more of Bethlehem's history," stated Hollenbach, who added that the facility would also store artifacts from other members of the Historic Bethlehem Partnership.

According to architect Dan Kayser, the addition will not really be noticeable from New Street. "It is in keeping with the character and scale of the residential zone," he stated.

Priscilla Wolle, who lives near the museum, was concerned that her own parking space might be taken. Zoners and Hollenbach both assured Wolle that this expansion is for storage only, and not to attract more visitors.

Is This the Way To Spend Your 53rd Wedding Anniversary?

It was a long night. On August 24, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board heard five appeals. Their night began at 7 PM, and they heard cases for three and a half hours with no recess. Not even a bathroom break. But between cases, zoner Bill Fitzpatrick did announce that it was Chairman Gus Loupos' 53rd wedding anniversary, and the room erupted in applause.

"Everyone else is appreciative, but my wife is not too happy," responded the Chair. Somebody blurted out, "At least there are witnesses to prove you're here."

Reibman's Folly Now Up to $22.3 Million

Back in 2004, County Executive Reibman proposed a deal under which, in exchange for a quick $1.9 million, County Council would gamble that interest rates on fixed bonds would remain more attractive than those with variable rates. It's called a swaption. Financial experts in fancy suits from Concord Public Financial Advisors recommended rolling the dice, and kept the campaign coffers for for Reibman.

Peg Farraro, Ann McHale and Ron Angle all voted against this idea, but five Council members decided to gamble with your money.

We've lost.

In 2009 alone, the swaption payoff grew from $10 to $14 million. From 2010 until Monday, it has risen to $22.3 million, due next year.

Thanks to Glenn Reibman, Northampton County taxpayers now owe some bank $22.3 million for $1.9 million in 2004. What's worse, County Exec John Stoffa and the rest of Council are in the unenviable position of being forced to continue gambling. If they do nothing, the swaption might go up even more. If they pay it off and the swaption goes down, they'll look like idiots, too. No matter what they do, they lose.

Did I mention that Concord just happens to be Bethlehem's financial advisor?

Accused Sexual Predator Was Behind Anti-Hershman Robo Call

Election Eve, 2009.

Thousands of anonymous robo-calls warned Allentown voters against voting for Lou Hershman, who promised to bring independence and over thirty years of experience to City Council. Voters were told everything is Lou's fault, from pension woes to the Billy Joel song.

This ploy worked, too. This Queen City watchdog went down in flames.

Who was behind this anonymous smear? One of the persons was Rob Hopkins, who at that time was a major operative for Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski.

The other person, James Spang,  was a person who served for two decades as the sergeant-at-arms and head of security for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. He is still a member of the state committee.

Now he can add accused sexual predator to his list of titles. According to The Morning Call, Spang is accused of sexually assaulting a male bar patron at the Sands Casino, grabbing his crotch four or five times and offering him oral sex.

Spang's gaydar must have malfunctioned.

Hopkins, incidentally, is an openly gay board member at the GLVPride. He's a gentle soul, and is one of the last persons I would suspect of any kind of harassment.  But he and Spang teamed up to go after Lou, like a gay hit squad.

Apparently, Lou was targeted because he is not gay enough. That's unfortunate because his stance against equal benefits for transgenders is just one issue, which is outweighed by decades of fiscal responsibility as Controller and member of City Council.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Angle Caused the Great East Coast Earthquake of 2011?

Eckville Press has an exclusive on the real cause of yesterday's earthquake.

"Tremors throughout the East Coast resulted when Councilman Ron Angle dropped his wallet at a local convenience store.

John Stoffa states Northamptons Emergency Management Teams will be assessing county owned buildings during the next few day for structural damage.

Mr Stoffa also states that at this time, the only damage reported was to the Gracedale Nursing Home, and crews have already been dispatched to demolish the building.

Larry the Otter and the silly guy in the dress reported, 'O'Hare will pay for this.'


Will the Lehigh Valley See a New University?

Parlamis explaining Euclidian University
The New York Times has called New Jersey property and restaurant developer Michael Parlamis a "pillar of the community." He's the son of a Greek immigrant, who entered the United States one weak after the stock market crash of 1929. His father started a construction company, and Parlamis now has three of them, along with three restaurants. A Professional Engineer, he's a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, is a major contributor to the Greek Orthodox Church and has even endowed a fellowship at his old alma mater, M.I.T. When his son attended Lehigh University, Parlamis became acquainted with the Lehigh Valley, and now he'd like to build a university here.

It's called Euclidean University, in honor of the father of geometry. It will be located on 391 acres along the west side of Rte. 512 in East Allen Township. Because the campus will be right at the Hanover and East Allen borders, there will be a need to work with Hanover for infrastructure. So at their August 23 meeting, Parlamis provided Hanover Supervisors with an overview.

Potential enrollment is estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 students, with principal access via Rte. 512. The Hellenic  architecture of Ancient Greece will govern campus construction, with the central building based on the Library of Hadrian in Athens.

Parlamis stated that a large statue of Thomas Jefferson will be the cornerpiece, with smaller statues of individual signers of the Declaration of Independence. He noted that Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, which was built with Classic Roman architecture.

"America's long term security is in education," Parlamis argued, explaining that here is a real shortage of engineers who actually know how things work. "This is one step in the right direction."

Noting that Benjamin Franklin started the University of Pennsylvania with nothing, Parlamis believes this concept will succeed, but over a period of thirty to forty years. At age 71, Parlamis will be long gone before that happens. But he quickly added that his favorite person, Thomas Jefferson, started the University of Virginia in the last seven years of his life.

Parlamis noted that Thomas Jefferson's epitaph notes that he is the author of the Declaration of Independence and Father of the University of Virginia, but makes no mention that he was President of the United States. Jefferson explained that he would rather be remembered by what he had given the people instead of by what the people had given him.

This son of a Greek immigrant would like to give the Lehigh Valley a university.
Sketch of Euclidian University

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Did the Earth Move For You, Too?

Damn. Now I need a cigarette.

Regional Effort Rescues Chocolate Lab From Bethlehem Tp Sinkhole

We've all read countless stories about the selfless love dogs show for us, whether it is digging through a mound of snow to rescue a trapped child, swimming through perilous waters to rescue a drowning person, or even dialing a pre-programmed number when its owner suffers a seizure. But those roles were reversed on August 22 in Bethlehem Township, where fire departments and emergency squads converged from all over the Lehigh Valley. In an impressive display of regionalism, they worked together to save the life of George, a 16-year old Chocolate Lab who was trapped in a sinkhole. A dog may be man's greatest friend, but man is a dog's greatest friend, too.

This story started around 2 PM, when Caroline Kenny, of 4590 William Penn Highway, let George out into the back yard to take care of business. She turned her head away for a moment, and when she looked again, George was gone. He had been swallowed up by a sinkhole that suddenly opened up in her back yard. She could still hear him barking, but he was unable to get out.

When Kenny called 911, it soon became apparent that George was in serious trouble. Not only had he fallen into a sinkhole, but was actually wedged into a crevice, with his front paws dangling into an even deeper hole. He was stuck, head first, and was unable to use his front paws to dig his way out.

What made things very challenging to rescue officials was that there was an old cistern inside the sink hole, and the ground was unsteady. Anyone who went in there was exposing himself to the danger of a sudden collapse.

Despite this obvious danger, fire departments and emergency officials, from Catasauqua to Emmaus, arrived to help. John Kalynych, coordinator of Lehigh County Special Operations, assumed command. His group specializes in technical rescues, whether it is trenches, high angle, confined spaces, hazardous materials or animal rescue. His group is made up of volunteers who are paid a nominal fee when placed on call. "It ain't putting food on the table," he told a group of reporters after it was all over.

A backhoe, on loan from the sewer authority, dug a deep hole next to the sinkhole. After that, emergency responders were connected to lifelines and descended into the depths to dig and get closer to George, whose barks were growing fainter over the eight hours he spent trapped.

Lumber was needed to shore up the cavern, and a Bethlehem Township firefighter went to nearby Lowe's to pick up a supply. Although he told the store it was an emergency, he was forced to pay $220 for the wood, out of his own pocket.

Aside from that one negative display by a supposed corporate neighbor, firefighters and emergency personnel worked together with no parochialism. EMS officials from Allentown, who have special training in treating victims of cave-ins, were on hand in the event that the dirt caved in around rescuers. Palmer Township's ladder truck was used to run safety lines. All departments brought spotlights.

Dr. Clifford Cummings
Dr. Clifford Cummings, a veterinarian with an animal hospital on nearby Church Road, was there as well, and even tried entering the sinkhole himself until he was stopped by emergency officials.

Who was the man on point, the one taking the biggest risk? The smallest? "The craziest," responded a Palmer Township firefighter.

That man was Special Ops Team member Shawn Lubenetski, age 35, who is well over 6' tall. He finally got to George after six hours. A Lehigh Township resident, Lubenetski owns three dogs himself, and was able to lift George and pull his front paws from the ledge. After that, the lab did a lot of the digging himself, and things finished quickly.

Shawn Lubenetski
After it was all over, Special Ops coordinator dubbed Lubenetski "Dr. Doolittle." Over slices of cold pizza, he explained that Lubenetski once went 80' to rescue a cat, and has even rescued ducks.

Bethlehem Township Manager Howard Kutzler, who was on hand with emergency personnel, stated sinkholes are a common problem in Bethlehem Township, especially after a heavy rain, because it erodes the limestone under the surface.

As for George, he's resting comfortably at Dr. Cummings animal hospital, and is probably wondering what he did wrong.
George being carried away

Slideshow of George's Rescue:

Noon Update: George Doing Well, Says Vet! - Dr. Cliff Cummings reports that George is doing well, is eating, and went for a nice walk this morning. "He is one lucky dog!" remarked the vet, who marveled at the dedication shown by LV emergency responders from Bethlehem Township and beyond.   

Monday, August 22, 2011

Want a $10,000 Home?

According to the Baltimore Sun, ten per cent of in-city homes are selling for $10,000 and under. According to LV Realtors, the median price for existing homes in July was $175,000, from a low of $94,000 in Allentown to a high of $362,000 in Northwestern Lehigh.

Bethlehem Planners Don't Like Applebutter ...

Historic Farmhouse Saved
Village, that is.

Bethlehem planners unanimously rejected Applebutter Village, a proposed manufactured home park, at their August 18 meeting. Developer Chris Zajacek sought approval for a 58-unit complex. Because a PPL power line traverses the 11.8-acre tract, 58 pre-manufactured units would be have to be crammed into the western portion of the site, located along the 1100 block of Easton Road. A 5-window wide stone farmhouse at the front of the tract, built in the 1830s, would be demolished or moved.

Bethlehem's Planning Department had recommended rejecting the plan in June, but Bethlehem Attorney Jim Preston persuaded Commissioners to grant an extension because he had just been retained that day. He was to submit new plans, a point-by-point response to the Planning Department's many concerns, from fire safety to traffic. Planner Steve Thode had recommended that Preston meet with neighbors and "get everyone talking."

But that never happened. Attorney Preston confessed, "I would if I could. I'm not going to lie to you. It's not my preferred outcome."

The Planning Department still had concerns over a line-of-sight problem for traffic entering and exiting the development, located along a winding road. In addition, planners were unhappy with Zajacek's failure to address concerns over stormwater infiltration and a new pump station. Preston responded he was only seeking preliminary approval, but was told that the Bethlehem Planning Commission only approves final plans.

"I'm very uncomfortable with the various and sundry leaps of faith we are being asked to take," complained Planner Steve Thode. Echoing those concerns, and referring specifically to stormwater concerns raised by Bethlehem engineers, Planner Andy Twiggar cautioned, "You shouldn't play with guns."

Retired Bethlehem firefighter Eugene Novak, who had been employed by the City for 42 years, spoke on behalf of several neighbors. He worried that this development, which he claimed is located in a flood plain, would be a high crime area. He noted that right now, without the traffic that would be precipitated by 58 new homes, he has already experienced 14 crashes at his home at 1102 Applebutter Road. Most of all, he worried about fire. "If any home catches fire, it will go down in five minutes," he warned.

According to U.S. Fire Administration, fires in manufactured homes claim 345 lives every year, and are 32-50% more likely than in other dwellings.

In other business, Planners unanimously approved an 811-apace parking lot for Sands employees on a 10.8 acre lot, located at Founders Way and East Second Street. "We're going to need every bit of this," commented Sands President Robert DeSalvio, who predicted that a 200,000 sq. ft. retail complex will be ready by November and an event center by Spring.

Planners also unanimously approved a 122' cell tower for Metro PCS, a new wireless provider. Located at 2005 Chester Road, the tower is close to East Hills Middle School and Freedom High School, prompting Chairman Jim Fiorentino to ask, "Is this going to block East Hills and Freedom students from using their cell pones during school hours?".

"I don't think there's any way to do that," joked Metro Attorney Nicholas A. Cucé, Jr.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Gay or Straight, Love is Sufficient of Itself


"Love is sufficient of itself, it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love, I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it." - St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Father Alex reminds me today is his feat day.)

ET Awards Turkey to The Ottter

In its weekly roundup of turkeys and trophies, The Express Times has awarded a turkey to the windbag representing the Gracedale initiative - Larry Otter.

Attorney Lawrence Otter was in Northampton County Court this week, trying to sell the idea that county officials and local blogger Bernie O’Hare had perpetrated a “bonusgate”-type scandal in connection with petitions to keep the county from selling the Gracedale nursing home. Thankfully, Judge Stephen Baratta wasn’t buying. He rejected a request that O’Hare and Councilman Ron Angle pay Otter’s legal fees. Nor did Baratta buy Otter’s contention that county officials, including executive John Stoffa, illegally used taxpayer money — paid to a law firm the county retained to help with the proposed sale of Gracedale — to challenge the petitions. Otter, who represents the Coalition for Alzheimer’s Families, vowed to return to court with proof that Angle and O’Hare must reimburse the county for $10,800 paid to the law firm. Good grief, imagine the claims Otter would be filing if his side had lost the referendum.

ArtsQuest founder Jeff Parks, who wants us to pay for his failure to maintain a rainy day fund, got one, too.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bethlehem Planners Reject Atiyeh's Proposed Detox Center

Att'y Blake Marles
At least 80 people crammed into Bethlehem's Town Hall on August 18 for a review of Abe Atiyeh's controversial plan for 4-story, 125-bed, inpatient detox center and psychiatric center at the southeast corner of Dewberry and Center Streets. It was standing room only, and even City Council member Eric Evans had to stand in a hallway with angry mothers and seniors to wait for a seat.

Town Hall may have been as crowded as Volksplatz before it flooded, but the headliner was missing. Developer Abe Atiyeh was absent, leaving engineer David Harte and Bethlehem Attorney Blake Marles to run the gauntlet between the slings and arrows of an emotional crowd and dubious planners.

Atiyeh's proposal is actually his third at this site, located a stone's throw from Bethlehem Catholic High School, North Central Little League and a playground.

Originally, he planned a 180-bed assisted-living facility called Bethlehem Manor. But he soon discovered the market is already saturated, and was unable to market the property. Last year, he proposed four three-story apartment buildings, but the Zoning Hearing Board refused a use variance in an area zoned for institutions.

At the time, Atiyeh testified, "This use is the only valid use on this site. We have a hardship here." Despite an appeal in which he continues to make that argument, Atiyeh has found another valid use for the property that requires no variance at all - an inpatient psychiatric hospital that specializes in treating people with drug and alcohol addictions.

Planner Steve Thode took engineer David Harte to task for this apparent contradiction. "Now you're saying there is a permitted use which is viable. Which is it?"

When Thode asked Harte whether the facility will house violent patients, the audience groaned when Harte answered, "I don't know what your definition of violent is." Although Attorney Marles denied it would be a holding facility, he told Thode that the state license, which can only be granted after a plan is approved, determines the type of patient that will be permitted.

Thode asked whether Marles would be willing to delay the plan's approval for two months to meet with the community and to provide details on similar facilities. He declined. "What you're asking for is a review of the use," he argued. "[Atiyeh] is entitled to do this as a matter of right."

Planning Chair Jim Fiorentino, noting the locked nature of at least a portion of the facility, likened it to a jail located next to a high school, playground and little league. And board member Andrew Twiggar expressed a "big reservation for the safety and welfare of the neighborhood."

In addition to the concerns raised by planners, a procession of sixteen speakers raised even more. Former Northampton County Council member Greg Zebrowski, who opposed Atiyeh's apartment complex as well, stated this was "like a replay of a bad movie." Calling Atiyeh a "scorned developer," he called the psychiatric hospital plan a "bait and switch" to get approval for the apartment complex. "Anybody with an ounce of common sense could see this is not an appropriate setting," he reasoned, as the public applauded.

Eventually, every speaker who opposed Atiyeh's plan received a round of applause. That brought City Council candidate Al Bernotas to his feet. After calling Atiyeh a "vindictive developer trying to stuff everything down the throats of the citizens of Bethlehem," he chided Chairman Jim Fiorentino for allowing this applause.

"No applause, please, for Al," Fiorentino wisecracked as Bernotas made his way back to his seat.

Although Atiyeh's plan had no defenders other than Harte and Marles, some members of the public supported the concept. Mike Grasso, Dean of Students at Becahi, noted that he must deal with students who suffer from depression and alcohol abuse. "There's not a person here who in their heart does not feel this is needed," he stated, but suggested it is needed somewhere away from a large population.

Detecting a sentiment against people who suffer from addictions, Planner Katie Lynch cautioned the crowd. "I take exception to people stating 'these people'."

After a unanimous vote rejecting the plan, Marles asked Planners to state a reason. "I haven't heard a basis for a denial. Not a single one."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Baratta Tosses Otter's Fourth Motion For Attorney Fees in Gracedale Saga

Larry Otter, Esq.
"BO are you ready for court I hope so. Truth will be told today. Not your version of the truth."

That's a comment from the Gracedale Gang, before today's hearing on their fourth request for attorney fees as a result of my decision to challenge the Gracedale Initiative Petition. Before things ever got started, things became tense as Larry Otter got into a shouting match with Chris Spadoni, the attorney representing the Elections Commission.

Otter wanted the Voter Registrar to testify, but she has been on leave and is unavailable. Otter failed to return three of Spadoni's calls, and when they finally did connect, Otter hung up on Spadoni. Today, Otter berated Spadoni for failing to bring in another employee, even though he had never asked for anyone.

Back in March, Otter told Channel 69 that we might be going to jail, was demanding a criminal investigation, and people being people, they were ready to believe the worst. Angle and I were tried, convicted and sentenced, without having a word of defense on our behalf. In the Recorder of Deeds, where I search titles, a number of the other searchers spoke in hushed tones about my problem. Many of them hoped for the worst.

The truth was told today. Otter's motion was frivolous on its face, and was chucked by Judge Baratta without a word of testimony. When Larry Otter was forced to try his case in Court, instead of in the newspapers and WFMZ-TV69, he did not fare so well. Baratta made it very clear that there was no evidence of any improper conduct by me, Ron Angle, John Stoffa or John Conklin.

From the bench, he stated he would refuse to reconsider Otter's request for attorney fees.

During the course of their exchange, when Otter tried to claim this case is just like Bonusgate, Barratta stated, "Except it's not." The Court also took issue with Otter's claim that this is a "partisan" issue. Instead, he called Otter's motion a "hybrid surcharge," concluding that Otter wants Angle and I to pay for the County's supposed misconduct. "There's a disconnect there," he said.

When Otter told the Court that he'll be back, Baratta replied, "I'm appropriately warned."

I said a total of five words. "Good Morning" when the Court came in, and "No, your Honor," when the Court asked, "Mr. O'Hare, you don't have anything to add, do you?"

All the taunting, the Gracedale Gang in the courtroom, and even the presence of Barron von Footinmouth, was to no avail. Despite all the braying they do anonymously, not one of them ghad the courage to say a word in Court or to me.

Recession? PA Casinos Enjoy Best Month Ever

You can read about it in The Patriot News.

Otter's Slapsuit Finally Will Be Heard Today

The Gracedale Gang started their drumbeat at the end of July, and have continued the taunting through last night. Below are just some of the remarks.
7/30: "What is August 18?"
8/4: "14 days to the 18th."
8/7: "Four days to the 18th of Aug." [A little problem with math, there.]
8/9: "Who is BO going to delete on AUG 18? BO you wamt to play with the BULL you have to expect the horns."


8/11: "Hello People, hey BO six days and a wake up. Are you ready? Come to the court house and see for your self, see you on the 18th."                 



8/14: "Angle,Stoffa, BO, got caught with their arm in the cookie jar. Tuesday we will give you the line up for Thursday, stay tuned."  [No line up provided]                                  


8/14: "One good thing about having the prison next to the courthouse. The arrested councilmen won't have to walk far to attend the council meeting."                                                                           


8/15: "Hi folks, well 2 days and a wake up. Do not forget Thursday 9:A.M."                  


8/17: "ATTENTION:
"THURSDAY AUGUST 18, 2011 AT 9 AM AT THE NORTHAMPTON COUNTY COURT HOUSE THE HONORABLE JUDGE BARATTA WILL HEAR A CASE INVOLVING THE POSSIBLE MIS-USE OF TAXPAYER FUNDS TO ILLEGALLY TRY AND STOP THE THE SALE OF GRACEDALE.
"Bernard O'Hare and Ron Angle will be represented by themselves.
"John Conklin will be represented by Christopher Spadoni.
"Election Board will be represented by Christopher Spadoni.
"John Stoffa will be represented by criminal defense Attorney George A Heitzman.
"Motion filed by Attorney Larry Otter.
"Everyone who is interested can see first- hand how their tax dollars have been spent and what extreme efforts were taken to try to prevent the voters from weighing in on the future of Gracedale----BE THERE THURSDAY!
"You just may find out some surprising facts about the character of our 'leaders.'"
8/17: "For a budinski, no-good-nik, Mr. know it all,with a mouth big enough that Condors build nests in it. The silence is deafening over on the hateblog, regarding tomorrows [sic] court date.
While his clients were mindlessly taunting me, their mouthpiece - Larry the Otter - was begging the judge for yet another continuance on his fourth . I opposed it, and here's what I told the Court.

On April 28, 2011, Mr. Otter filed a motion that essentially accuses me of perjury during previous testimony in this matter. He repeated that accusation in subsequent amended motion on 5/5/11 and in a second amended motion on 6/13/11. From Spring to late Summer, he at no time has bothered to get a copy of the transcript. It took me one day, and it proves Otter wrong.
In addition to this serious charge, County Executive John Stoffa and his Director of Administration, John Conklin, have been accused of deceptive behavior. He forced Stoffa to go out and hire private counsel to defend himself on a spurious claim that would take all of two minutes of legal research.
For months, a dark cloud has hung over all of us, over charges that Ron Angle and I were secretly represented by Eckert Seamans. And while Eckert Seamans was secretly representing me, we were apparently secretly representing the County. Mr. Otter even mentions “unnamed co-conspirators.”
Mr. Otter has not been content to file four separate motions seeking attorney fees. He has also given WFMZ-TV69 two television interviews, comparing us all to Bonusgate defendants, and suggesting some of us might go to jail. He has told both The Morning Call and Express Times that he is demanding a criminal investigation, and this has all been dutifully reported. Several times.
Now he wants a continuance. Again.
How long is this nonsense going to continue?
In his letter, emailed sometime late today, he claims that Dee Rumsey, the Voter Registrar is a “key witness.” She's so vital she's never even mentioned in any of the numerous paragraphs in his sundry motionas for attorney fees. Her presence is just a waste of taxpayer money.
The real reason for this continuance request is simple – politics. He does not need the Registrar, but Mr. Otter would rather have a hearing date closer to Election Day, when he can do the most damage to Ron Angle with smear after smear, even though he will ultimately lose.
Otter's client, the Gracedale Initiative Petition Committee, has publicly advocated Angle's defeat at the polls this November and hosted a meet 'n greet for his opponent.
Mr. Angle, as I have told Mr. Otter many times, does not use email. So he was unaware of Otter's latest until I called him and informed him of this request last night. He asked me to inform you that he believes this latest request for a continuance is politically motivated - nothing more than an attempt to get a hearing closer to Election day.
I'd also like to point out that Mr. Angle and I jointly filed Preliminary Objections in this matter on May 25. Now Mr. Otter did file another amended motion for attorney fees after that, but he withdrew that motion. So I believe, and respectfully suggest, that our Preliminary Objections are outstanding and have not been rendered moot.
Mr. Otter has filed no reply brief. He has made outrageous statements concerning perjury and deceptive behavior, has repeated those allegations, but has made no effort to determine the truth. Between 4/28/11 and now, Mr. Otter could have easily obtained a transcript of my testimony, which disproves one of his oft-repeated allegations. His reckless allegations provide ample basis for our own motion for sanctions, pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1023.2.
Although sorely tempted, Mr. Angle and I have chosen not to seek sanctions ourselves because this Court already has enough real work to do.
But we have been accused of serious misconduct, and those charges have been allowed to linger. People who are not even parties to this matter – John Stoffa and John Conklin – have had their reputations impugned. It has seriously affected Mr. Conklin, whose background is emergency management, not the political world.
My own 1985 suspension from the practice of law is once again a hot topic.So yes, I oppose Mr. Otter's latest politically motivated request for a continuance. Moreover, I believe we have all waited long enough for Mr. Otter to act professionally, instead of repeating allegations he knows are untrue. I also request this Court to sustain my Preliminary Objections and dismiss Mr. Otter's motion because it is obviously frivolous on its face. He should not be rewarded for making baseless accusations of perjury, or for calling the County Executive a liar.
If this Court would rather hear the evidence, that's fine, too. But let's do it now, not at election time.
Mr. Otter's request for a continuance was DENIED by Judge Baratta yesterday. The show must go on. And it goes on today. A little newsflash for the Gracedale Gang. No matter how many people you corral, the law is still the law. No matter how much you taunt, the law is still the law. Otter will now have to prove his case to a Judge instead of WFMZ-TV69 or Gracedale unions. And guess what? We'll have an opportunity to present our case, too, and to cross-examine the witnesses who testify against us.  There can be no anonymous accusers in a Courtroom. I'm looking forward to it.

To prevent the usual anonymous trolls, I have disabled anonymous commentary on this post. Commentary is still enabled, but it's under DISCUSS, where I will have the IP and ISP for every comment. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Abe Atiyeh's DetoxPlatz Getting Closer

I told you last week that Abe Atiyeh's proposed four-story, 125-bed Detox Center, located at the southeast corner of Dewberry and Center Streets in Bethlehem, is on the agenda for Bethlehem's Planning Commission this Thursday. Atiyeh had tried marketing the property as an assisted living facility, but there was little interest. He then proposed a four three-story apartment buildings at the site, and that was nixed by zoners. But a detox center is a permitted use.

Now comes word that Abe has a contract to purchase the former Calvary Baptist Church on the north side of Dewberry, right across the street from his other property. Apparently, he's going to apply to the ZHB for a special exception to convert it into a residential drug and alcohol rehab center.

When I read the words "Abe Atiyeh," "Detox Center," and "Bethlehem," I somehow think a firestorm is in the making. All we need now is for Jeff Parks to come in and ask for some money so he can turn it into DetoxPlatz.

8-Bed Adult Mental Health Treatment Center Proposed in Bethlehem Tp

An 8-bed adult mental health residential treatment center might be coming to Bethlehem Township. Located at the northeast corner of Brodhead Road and Fritch Drive, it's just a stone's throw from a 300-bed work release and treatment center proposed by developer be Atiyeh.
NHS Human Services' Regional Director George Dermody and Attorney Jack Gross informed Bethlehem Township Commissioners on August 15 of their intentions to move to Bethlehem Township from Allentown State Hospital, where they are currently housed. They will need zoning approval for a special exception, but decided to acquaint Commissioners with the project first.

According to Dermody, the facility will employ 17 people and the facility will be locked. Residents will stay there for extended acute care for up to six months, and will included people recently released by hospitals or who are court-ordered to undergo this treatment. After that, residents will be discharged into a "supported apartment setting."

The ultimate goal, says Dermody, is to stop the revolving door at hospitals.

Solicitor Jim Broughal told Commissioners, "This one caught everyone's attention," and added that he had encouraged NHS to appear and provide a "first hand perspective of exactly what they're proposing."

NHS's track record in Bethlehehem Township is spotty, according to Commissioner Jerry Batcha. They operate a group home on Coleman Street for adolescent girls. "I've heard over the years a number of complaints that police continue to be called to that site." But Dermody insisted that NHS intends to "build good community relations" and that there are differences in the kinds of treatment needed for adults, as opposed to teenagers.

According to NHS, they operate a similar facility in York.

Bethlehem Township Comm'rs Debate Value of Police Training

According to the Pennsylvania State Police, there are only 92 drug recognition experts in Pa., i.e., officers trained to recognize drivers impaired by illegal drugs. One of them is Bethlehem Township Police Sergeant Daryl LaPointe.
Although Sergeant LaPointe's training was authorized by Commissioners in January, they were divided at their August 15 meeting on whether to send him to a three-day "Prosecuting the Drugged Driver" training session at State College this September at a cost of $200 for training, a two-night stay and meals.

Commissioner Michael Hudak noted that the actual cost to the township will be closer to $1,486, if you include the salary paid to him over that time. "I'd rather see that money spent on some type of re-certification," he argued. He noted that while LaPointe is at State College, "his service will be missed in the Township."

But Commissioner Jerry Batcha disagreed, noting that salaries are aid to officers when they are certified, too. "I think that's a little unfair," he reasoned, noting that this seminar would make Sergeant LaPointe's initial training "all the more valuable. Commissioner Thomas Nolan agreed with Batcha, noting that the Township has traditionally supported training so officers can better do their job. "The more training they have, the better off we as a Township are," he concluded.

Batcha, Nolan and President Arthur Murphy agreed to pay for the training. But Hudak, joined by Commissioner Paul Weiss, voted No.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bethlehem Press Slideshow: Aug. 17, 2011

From the joy of Musikfest to the sadness of Freemansburg Police Officer Robert Lasso's death, it's all there.

Donate to Musikfest ... or Lasso Family?

Because Musikfest is expected to lose $750,000 this year, ArtsQuest President Jeff Parks is already seeking donations. But there's another fundraising effort going on at the same time.

Freemansburg Police Officer Robert Lasso, killed on duty, is being buried today. Numerous local businesses, including WaWa and the Heights Community FCU, are collecting money for his wife and two small children.

During a recession, in which our funds are very limited, which cause sounds more worthy to you?

Jeff, right now, it makes more sense for you to seek donations for Lasso's family than a music festival.

I Really Am Full of Shit

Back in the day, when I was a highly-conditioned, well-trained, athlete, I still had a big problem. I could never digest milk or cheese. Although I love them both, especially ice cream, I was lactose intolerant. If I ate ice cream or cheese, or had milk in my cereal, I was condemning myself to several very unpleasant hours on the toilet.

When I stopped exercising, however, all that changed. I was finally able to drink a Vanilla milkshake with no sudden side effects. I could eat bon bons with reckless abandon. I could even spread all kinds of cheese over sandwiches.

I've been exercising again - mostly walking - since early this Summer. And I've had no problem with yogurt or cheese or milk ... until tonight. And it came at a bad time.

Around 6 PM, I stopped at Giant for dinner - a salad and 1/4 lb. of cheddar cheese. From there, it was off to Bethlehem Township for the bi-weekly Board of Commissioners' meeting. About ten minutes into the meeting, I had a sudden urge to use the toilet. No sooner had I done that and returned to my seat, than I had to go again.

And again.

And again.

After a quick ride home, my first stop was my bathroom. No sooner had I sat down at the computer than I had to go again.

And again.

And again.

On top of that, I broke out in hives.

I guess this is a sign I must be getting back in shape. To my many detractors, who claim I'm full of shit, you're so right.

I'm in no condition to write about what happened in Bethlehem Township tonight, so you'll have to wait until later today or tomorrow.

If you need me, knock on the can.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wells Fargo Excessive ATM Fees to GIs in Combat Zones

Most banks are now open on Sundays. At mine, I can even have a cup of free coffee from some fancy percolator. The teller gushes and calls me "Bernie" when she deposits my $6 every week, as though we're long lost buddies. The armed guard I regularly see is often smiling, too. Happy face or not, I'm pretty sure his bullet will pierce my skull just as effectively if I accidentally walk of with one of their lousy ball point pens. But that would be pretty hard to do because they're always chained down. If I screw up and write a bad check on funds that have not yet cleared, banks will hit me with all kinds of $30 service charges for every transaction on my account that day. But they'll still smile.
It's pretty clear that greedy banks, and not Democrats or Republicans, are one of the primary causes of the Great Recession. Sure, they're a necessary evil. Most of us would be unable to afford a home, or even a car, without them. But they're not your friends. They're paying attention to their bottom line, not you.

Greater Pennsylvania Abstract title agent Tom Castellano, like many other title agents, can tell you story after story if banks who don't even get around to sending lending documents, including the mortgage, until hours after a real estate settlement. The money is always wored late, too.

That's your friendly bank.

But that's not the story Tom Castellano shared with me last week. His nephew, a Marine, was recently deployed to Kuwait. From there, it's on to Afghanistan. Lucky him. Anyway, he was at a food concession in Kuwait, where there are some American restaurants like McDonalds, and I guess he must have wanted a happy meal but had no cash.

A friendly bank, Wells Fargo, just happened to have an ATM machine at the ready. Tom's nephew was charged $5, just to use the machine. In addition, a 3% surcharge was imposed on his withdrawal of his own money. When his wife called Wells Fargo to complain about charging a ridiculous fee to an American soldier in a designated combat zone, a smiling customer service rep told her, "Well, he shouldn’t be spending money in a combat zone.”

According to Wells Fargo's web page, they will charge $5 ATM fees for use outside the U.S., as well as 3% of the amount of the withdrawal. But at their "worldwide military bank," they claim that "It's an honor to serve those who serve our country."

And take their money.

Wells Fargo, the nation's fourth largest bank, is under investigation by the DOJ for preying upon unsophisticated borrowers during the housing bubble, most of them black, and steering them into high-cost sub-prime loans.

Smile.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

$7 Hamburgers at Norco Courthouse?

LV Caterer's $5 Special
That's the rumor among Northampton County workers. They're talking about about the new cafeteria operator, scheduled to start on September 26.

Is the rumor true?

According to Executive John Stoffa, no. "They'll be between $9 and $10," he joked.

"I don't know how that rumor got out," he said on Friday, when he announced that a contract has been awarded to Lehigh Valley Caterers, a full service catering company located at 2260 Corriere Road in Easton.

Procurement officer Kathy Anderson, who served on the committee recommending LV Catering, stated that cost to County employees was one of its biggest concerns.

"We asked them to keep it at a reasonable cost, hopefully $5 and below for a special every day, breakfast sandwiches between $1 and $3.50, so we felt that these people were the best fit for the County, and that was one of our criteria - the pricing."

Other persons who served on this selection committee include Deputy Director of Administration Tom Harp, Court Administrator Jim Onembo, Council member Peg Ferraro, Public Works worker Garry Haas, Personnel Analyst Chris Moakley and Procurement Manager Terry Beidelman.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Premier Healthcare Resources: A Culture Change For Gracedale

Premier Proposal
In a news conference this morning, Northampton County Executive John Stoffa announced that Premiere Healthcare Resources has been recommended as Gracedale's management firm. Stoffa's proposal will be reviewed by County Council at their August 17 Finance Committee meeting, and by the entire Council the following day.


Stoffa's decision is based on the unanimous recommendation of a selection committee consisting of himself, Director of Human Services Ross Marcus, Council members Peg Ferraro and Tom Dietrich, Deputy Director of Administration Tom Harp, Procurement Manager Kathryn Anderson, Area Agency on Aging Administrator John Mehler and Ann Terres, who told me she was there to present a citizen's perspective.

If the proposal is approved, it could cost Northampton County as much as $1.9 million over the next five years. It includes an annual cost of an administrator with 40% for fringe benefits ($182,000 in the first year), along with a bonus of $30,000 per year if the manager is successful in achieving certain benchmarks. One of the things that made Premier stand out among other applicants is that it also offered to accept penalties if it fails to deliver.

Calling Premier a "corporation with a heart," Peg Ferraro stated this manager is aware that "the care level at Gracedale has to stay exactly where it is." She liked Premier's inclusive attitude with its staff, something noted by several committee members at the facilities visited. She added Premier is willing to host a family or volunteer council. Marcus was also impressed that Premier administrators at other facilities would adopt the name tag and even the business card being used at that facility, as opposed to Premier.

Another plus for Ferraro is that Premier owns no nursing homes. She hopes this deflects a concern in the community that a manager "would be just looking to buy down the road."

According to Procurement Manager Kathryn Anderson, twenty-six firms requested copies of the Request for Proposals (RFP), after which four firms did submit detailed proposals. "Everyone was afforded the same opportunity." She indicated Premier was the second lowest bidder, but that cost was only one of several criterion used to make the selection. "They may not have been the lowest, but we think they're the best," added Stoffa.

Will There Be Layoffs?

Ross Marcus and Premier Proposal
When a reporter suggested that a new manager might make some employees worried about job security, Stoffa had a simple answer. "They are here to administrate, to make the place run. If there are things they recommend, in terms of layoffs or changes, we have to look at them seriously. We've got to get the costs down. They're not here to sugarcoat things. They're here to make the place run efficiently."

Premier has already told the County it's staff to patient ratio is too high, but Marcus stated that, instead of just moving into layoffs, "they would try to move people around" or eliminate vacancies. "Layoffs are held to an absolute minimum."

Admissions

According to citizen rep Ann Terres, Premier has some "very creative" ideas for increasing admissions at Gracedale. Marcus explained that most hospitals discharge patients late in the afternoon, so Gracedale should be ready to accept admissions at that time of the day as well as during the main shift. Premier wants new admissions to be possible in the evening as well. They also want the nursing staff "to take residents they never thought about taking."

Premier will encourage admissions staff to be flexible and think outside their comfort zone, according to Marcus.

The goal, according to Stoffa, is to get a new resident admitted in two hours. "And without a lot of committee meetings and that sort of thing," added Terres.

What Can Premier Do About an 11% Reduced Medicare Reimbursement That Will Cost the County $1 million?

According to Marcus, Premier already has ideas about that problem. He stated that his own knowledge and understanding in that area is limited, but Premier is familiar with the different "rungs" in the Medicare regulations, and might actually be able to increase reimbursement in some areas. "Sometimes it's just a matter of improving your documentation," stated Marcus.

When Will Premier Start?

Marcus would like the new manager to start next Friday, but stated a more realistic time table is 30-45 days, as details of the contract are negotiated. They will place an interim administrator, to be followed by a full administrator.

Will the New Manager Make a Tax Increase Next Year Unlikely?

No. In fact, according to Stoffa, the County will be forced to contribute more than the $3.5 million budgeted for Gracedale this year. He added that Gracedale is by no means the sole factor in determining a possible tax increase next year. "What's killing us is not Gracedale. What's killing us is the swaption. The swaption is up to $25.1 million."

In exchange for a quick $1.9 million in 2004, then County Exec Glenn Reibman recommended that Council roll the dice and gamble on the interest rate. Due next year, the swaption was at $17.1 million at this time last year. Since then, it has dropped and risen, and currently stands at $21.5 million. In the fund balance that Council member Lamont McClure has derided as a $60 million "slush fund," only $13.8 million has been set aside to pay for the swaption due next year.Right now, it is growing at $2 million every week.

What About the Unions?

Exec John Stoffa & Council Prez John Cusick
Council President John Cusick, who attended the news conference, stated unions are key to minimizing or eliminating the need for a tax hike. "Contracts have to be renegotiated, concessions have to be made by the unions, if we're going to make this work," he stated. Noting that the benefits paid to Gracedale unions (64%) are well above the industry average (40%), Cusick stated that Gracedale unions compare themselves to other unions in Northampton County when the should be comparing themselves to other nursing home unions.

"Bringing on a management firm is a first step in that direction. The second step must be getting the management firm involved in the renegotiation of the contracts and there should be some concessions on the part of the unions of the want to make this work."

Union benefits at other homes managed by Premier are in the 40-45% range.

Peg Ferraro added that unions "must make concessions."

A term used by nearly everyone at yesterday's news conference was "culture change." The way things have been done for years is no longer adequate or efficient.

"Change is always extremely difficult," stated Ferraro. "But if we don't have that change, what hope is there for us to keep Gracedale in our hands?"

Other Stories: Easton Patch, Morning Call,