Monday, October 31, 2011

Tom Harp Appointed Acting Director of Administration

From Northampton County Executive John Stoffa: "In view of John Conklin's departure, I am appointing Tom Harp as Acting Director of Administration effective Tuesday, November 1, 2011"

Who is Tom Harp? I wrote about Tom in 2009, and will repost an excerpt here.

He's a grandfather, a very proud one, too. When I walked into his office yesterday, the first thing he did was show me two pictures of his 8 year-old grandson, a heavy hitter in Catty, who is missing one of his front teeth. That makes him look even tougher. Tom throws little plastic golf balls at his grandson, which this slugger nails with a fierce-looking, orange-colored bat. He's playing Fall ball this year.

Tom grew up in Bethlehem, graduating from Liberty ('67) and Moravian ('71). After that, he started a long and distinguished career in human services. He began by working with the developmentally disabled in White Haven. During his 8 years there, he picked up a Master's degree in Counseling from the University of Scranton.

Tom returned to the Lehigh Valley as a counselor in Allentown's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, helping people with disabilities find work. He was promoted to Supervisor and eventually became the District Administrator, overseeing a staff of 35 people in four different counties. He ended his 35 years in human services as the state's bureau director.

Over this time, Tom got to know Stoffa, who then headed Human Services in both Northampton and Lehigh County. Stoffa recruited him to join the Allentown Kiwanas, which does a lot of work for downtown Allebntown kids with youth soccer, the Boys and Girls Club, Salvation Army and some arts groups. Once retired, Tom intensified his work with the Kiwanis and even joined the board at the LV Center for Independent Living.

Stoffa, who had avoided filling the Deputy Director of Administration position in an effort to save the county some money, soon found that he and his staff were overwhelmed. So he ended up recruiting Tom again, but this time to work for Northampton County. Tom accepted a rather low-paying job to help a friend, and this is how he describes Stoffa. "He has the qualities an elected official should have. He's honest. He's a straight shooter. He cares about people. He's very level-headed. He thinks things out. You are attracted to people you can respect."

So just what does Tom do at his do-nothing job?

* He's the county's risk loss coordinator. That eats up half of his time, and the county gets a $8000 annual reduction in its liability policy as a result. He also helps prepare the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for all fourteen insurance policies.

* He's the county's point man for safety, methodically attacking health and safety priorities. He is currently engineering a program to get county workers certified in CPR and the use of a defibrillator. He's also formulating an EMS emergency action plan.

* He writes the county newsletter, which is only distributed internally for now. He tells me a newsletter may soon be made available for the general public, published on the county's web page.

* He is the county's liaison with its thirty-eight municipalities and four Councils of Government (COG). He attends all the COG meetings, which are conducted after hours.

* He is the county's Act 32 coordinator, and is currently setting up the initial meeting for the appointment of a single tax collector.

* He is the county's conduit on the Bachmann Publick House, the county's oldest building. Currently, he is coordinating a transfer of this treasure to the Northampton County Historical Society and Lafayette College.

* Naturally, with his background, he's the county's disability specialist, and is working on a way to make it easier for the disabled to access the courthouse.

* He drafts and researches the issues for county proclamations.

* He initiated and administers the county's prescription drug program.

* He prepared and regularly updates a Directory of County Services.

* He fills in for Stoffa at meetings the Executive is unable to attend.

One thing Tom is not is political. "I don't want to be part of that," he tells me. Clearly, the County is getting its money worth from this guy, described by John Stoffa as a "joy" to be around. If this is an example of cronyism, we could use a few more just like him. He's somebody's grandfather. He's here to help. He works hard. The anonymous shots Tom gets here are totally out of line.

Lehigh County Locates Emergency Shelter at Troxell Middle School

This weekend’s storm has caused significant disruption to many services in Lehigh County including power outages. As a result, many residents, especially senior citizens, are without power and therefore without heat during this cold weather.

Lehigh County has begun moving residents from affected County housing units into the Troxell Middle School at 2219 North Cedar Crest Boulevard in Allentown. The middle school is available for shelter to anyone affected by power outages.

The Lehigh County Department of Aging and Adult Services urges residents to check on elderly neighbors and help them seek shelter if they have been affected by the lack of power or heating.

Residents who plan to seek shelter at the school are asked to bring a pillow, blankets and any medication that may be needed over the next few days.

Residents who need shelter should find their own transportation to the Trexler Middle School if possible. Residents who have difficulties in getting to the school should call (610) 633-4549.

Updated 10 AM: Originally, I had some data wrong. It is the TROXELL Middle School (Not Trexler), and the address is 2219 NORTH Cedar Crest Boulevard.

Beware the Wicked Witch of West Easton

It's Halloween, so stay away from West Easton tonight! You'd be much safer taking your chances on Hexenkopf Road in Williams Township, dancing in a coven with regular witches. They're good witches. But it's a different story in tiny West Easton (population 1,257). The Wicked Witch of West Easton will be soaring all day on her broomstick, scaring children as she's been doing for the past several weeks.

"She's pure evil," warns Borough Council member Tom Nodoline. "A complete trainwreck," adds Council member Tim Jones. They'll be hiding tonight. But the Wicked Witch of West Easton will get them later. Right now, she's a little busy, running for Borough Council. The Wicked Witch of the West may have been after Dorothy, but this one wants Borough Council Prez Kelly Gross.

And her little pink gavel, too.

The Wicked Witch of West Easton started out life as Tricia Mezzacappa, a New Jersey transplant, with a B.A. in Accounting, a Master's Degree in Education Administration and, strangely enough, a R.N. license.  She raised more than a few eyebrows when she brought a black domestic pig named Earl, instead of a black cat, as her familiar upon moving into her Ridge Street address. Neighbors still complain about that pig, but borough officials are more offended by her than her pet.

The Wicked Witch, when not casting spells and uttering incantations, decided to open up a massage parlor, right out of her home. Now don't get the wrong idea. On one Internet site, she's referred to as a "naturopathic doctor." I have no clue what the hell that is, but it sounds impressive. I'm sure real doctors don't mind.

But unfortunately, Mezzacappa never sought zoning approval, and when those meanies at Borough Hall found out, they made her file an application. Then the Zoning Hearing Board, rightly or wrongly, gave her a thumbs down. Twice. When that happened, something inside Mezzacappa snapped. Before their very eyes, she morphed from Jersey Girl to the Wicked Witch of West Easton. "I'm going to get you people," she cackled. "You haven't seen the last of me."

Now, as it turns out, tiny West Easton screwed up. Its Zoning Hearing Board Solicitor was unable to get an Opinion out in time. When that happens, a zoning application is automatically or "deemed" approved, no matter how the zoners actually ruled.

Did the Wicked Witch of West Easton transform back into Jersey Girl Tricia Mezzacappa? Nope. Ever since that fateful day, the Wicked Witch has became a major nuisance to borough staffers, who are harassed whenever she darkens their door. Borough clerks cringe when they hear the clanking sound of a metal can full of change, because they know she's on her way. She uses that jar, not just to pay for copies of her endless Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) requests, but also to bang on the plate glass window separating her from office staffers.

Between May and September of this year, she's besieged the tiny borough with 25 RTKL requests, 13 of which are under appeal at this time.  Almost every single one of them is dismissed summarily. I was able to find an additional 89 RTKL requests, as a result of filing my my own RTKL request about her RTKL requests.

Poor West Easton. Wicked Witch one day, bottom-feeding blogger the next.

In addition to these incessant RTKL requests, borough officials have to deal with a problem person. Last year, the Wicked Witch of West Easton suddenly appeared at borough hall, exactly one day after demanding minutes of a meeting. Kelly Gross, who was in the office, began looking for them, but was apparently taking too long. The Wicked Witch began banging her purse and slamming her metal can of change on the plate glass window. She screamed that she has a Master's Degree, and then stormed out of the municipal building. Seeing a borough employee in the parking lot, she yelled, "Enjoy your fucking job!"

A few months later, in a telephone call to a new borough employee named Jill Garcia, the Wicked Witch wanted the contact information for the stenographer in her zoning case. Because she was new, Garcia did not know where it was or what she could provide. According to an affidavit, the Wicked Witch freaked out. "You fucking people better not make me file a right to know! If you do, I'm going to call my lawyer. This office is the most fucking corrupt place around." Garcia eventually hung up, and the The Wicked Witch responded to that by filing a harassment complaint against Garcia, which she withdrew before being laughed out of Court.

On a third occasion, after demanding copies of a plan, borough officials went to Staples to make them for Mezzacappa. But when the Wicked Witch came in, she said, "I don't want them anymore."

She's abusive during meetings, too. During one Borough Council meeting a few years ago, she called the secretary taking minutes a "big, fat slob," and then stormed out. That secretary, who was subjected to nonstop verbal abuse by Mezzacappa, actually died of a heart attack a month later.

Borough officials had to install security cameras because of her threatening behavior.

They have reason to be concerned. Three disorderly conduct charges have been filed against the Wicked Witch of West Easton since 2000, all of them involving either fighting or vulgar language, although only one of them resulted in a guilty verdict.

After the Borough Secretary passed away, Kelly Gross decided on her own to keep the borough offices open to make sure employees were paid and bills were paid on time. She is unpaid herself, and has volunteered hundreds of hours of her own time.

Amazingly, in her very first campaign letter reveals the Wicked Witch makes very clear that her primary goal is to rid Borough Council of its President, Kelly Gross.

"I'll get you, my pretty, and your little pink gavel, too!"

It's personal.

Because I'm a bottom-feeding blogger, I was friendly with the Wicked Witch, and even went on some walks with her. Maybe she'd teach me how to fly. But whenever the topic of West Easton came up, I'd listen politely or tune her out. Then one night, she began her usual rant that Borough Council President Kelly Gross spends too much time at the municipal building, doing the job (for free) that should be done by a borough manager. I could take no more, and innocently asked "Doesn't that save the taxpayers money?" 

Well, I was kicked out of her coven faster than I could say, "If I only had a brain." Her familiar, the black pig, head-butted me, tooI learned later that I was part of the "Gross family cartel," even though to this day I've never even met the Mayor and had not at that time spoken to Kelly Gross for many years.

Now the Wicked Witch is flying up and down the streets of West Easton, telling anyone who will listen to her  the "Gross family cartel" is hopelessly corrupt, that Abe Atiyeh bought Mayor Gross a brand new Cadillac for agreeing to a 100-bed DUI facility in West Easton, that Council member Tom Nodoline was bought off with a pickup truck, that Kelly Gross is illegally collecting disability, is "brain-damaged," and other sweet little nothings.

Of course, these are all vicious lies by a person motivated by hatred, not a desire for good government. Kelly Gross has never even applied for, let alone collected, disability. Her father, the Mayor, paid for that Cadillac, as Mr. Nodoline paid for his truck.  But it's important to note that not all of Kelly's work is volunteer work. She is paid a salary as Borough Council President.

It's $650 a year.

When I confronted the Wicked Witch about this baseless disability smear, she hissed, "You really have no clue. I was fed this info by many who got this themselves from her own family."

Sure, they did.

Mezzacappa's pushy behavior is fortunately turning people off in West Easton. One fellow had to kick her off his porch after she came back three times, demanding his support. She's called people with unlisted phone numbers, and even politicized a Halloween parade for the kids, which annoyed a lot of people.

Well, Gross is up against someone with a Master's Degree. The Wicked Witch also claims to have "valuable knowledge from my experiences in municipal finance and non-profit accounting," but fails to point out that she herself filed for bankruptcy in 2004. (04-24451-ref)  Although the Wicked Witch vows to hold the line on taxes, the truth is that Kelly Gross, in her three years as Council President, has kept taxes steady.

And with a cute pink gavel, too.

There is one controversial issue. West Easton will soon be home to a 100-bed DUI treatment center. Nobody likes it, but West Easton is looking forward to a revenue stream of at least $50,000 from developer Abe Atiyeh, which will minimize or eliminate the need for future tax hikes. After numerous public meetings, West Easton approved the concept and imposed restrictions on developer Abe Atiyeh, addressing concerns raised by Borough residents.

Get this. The Wicked Witch hates West Easton so much that she flew to  last week's Northampton County budget hearing, telling Council to deny any money to West Easton. "I really don't think there should be any impact fee," she said. At first, she claimed there are studies showing that West Easton would be much safer with a treatment center. But then she slipped up and stated the real reason for her opposition. "[T]hey want to take money and flush it down the toilet to do whatever the heck they want with the money."

So basically, the Wicked Witch is fighting now to deny West Easton about $50,000 per year in revenue.

That makes sense.

What about Kelly Gross? She's taking the high road, preferring to run on her desire to help people, something she tells me she learned from her father as a little girl. She declined to respond to Mezzacappa's smears. "I love West Easton," she told me, adding that she will do her best to help people.

Borough Council member Tim Jones, who is related by marriage to the Gross family, tells me Kelly is indispensable. "Without her, we'd have to hire a six-figure borough manager," he claims. Of her father, Jones states, "There's never been a man more dedicated to the Borough than Gerry Gross." In a letter to voters, Council VP Lou Niko calls Kelly "one of the nicest, most honest people I know." He's outraged by the "half truths and outright lies" being spread by the Wicked Witch.

Fortunately, Halloween only lasts a day. But until it's over, Kelly is hiding her little pink gavel.

Blogger's Note: I did contact Mezzacappa about her numerous RTKL requests, the disorderly conduct charges, the bankruptcy, the false claims of disability, etc., etc. Aside from the remark about disability, I heard nothing. Comments will be permitted, but the IP and ISP of every person commenting on this post will be logged. The Wicked Witch comments under many different names as do her new familiars.     

Updated 11:30 AM: Bernie O'Hare, Pig Kicker - Although the Wicked Witch has refused to respond to me directly, she is now portraying me as a stalker who "needs to get over it." Mezzacappa, twenty years my junior, was a walking companion. Nothing more, nothing less.

She also claims that, after the last time I walked with her, I decided for some reason to kick her pig. "Bernie kicked my pig in the throat while at my house. He yelped, and then shoved his leg with his nose. That was the last time O'Hare was welcome in my home. He was in so much pain that he cried whenever I tried to pet him for a week straight."

Alrighty then.

This is so laughable it speaks for itself.

Express Times To Invade Lehigh County

This is a good thing.

Everyone, including me, likes to complain about the local newspaper. So when The Morning Call decided to put up a pay wall (and you can get around it several ways), I questioned whether it was worth it. In the only place where it has monopoly, Allentown, it seems to be an autopilot. Its coverage in Bethlehem and Easton, where there is competition from The Express Times and Patch, is much better.

It's coverage in Allentown might be getting better, too. The Express Times is invading Lehigh County with two reporters. One will be assigned specifically to Allentown, while the other will cover outlying communities.

The paper is taking applications now.

It's starting out small, and will be web-based for starters. But it will not be the Allentown Times, which stuck me as Morning Call Lite. Instead, the in-your-face style of Editor Joe Owens is going West.

Dean Browning - The Blog

Dean Browning may chair Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners, but has come to learn that the real action is here in the blogosphere. He's tired of seeing money fall out of my pockets while the babes of the Northampton County Courthouse hang on my arms. So he's sallying forth with a blog of his own on Patch, called "Awareness."

Since October 10, he's had two entries on Lehigh County's 2012 Budget and its redistricting plans.

Dean, you'll have to do better than that if you want to roll in the dough like me.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cops Grant: Only Way Pawloski Will Add New Cops in Allentown

LV Congressman Charlie Dent (PA-15) and Director Bernard Melekian, US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office), will have a news conference on Monday with Mayor Ed Pawlowski and District Attorney Jim Martin to announce federal grant awards to Allentown and other Pennsylvania cities.

The awards are being allocated through the COPS Hiring Program, a competitive grant program that provides funding directly to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to hire police officers dedicated to addressing specific crime and disorder challenges confronting communities. The grants provide 100 percent funding for the entry-level salaries and benefits of newly-hired, or rehired, full-time officer positions over a 3-year period.

The Allentown Police Department will be receiving the hiring grant to fund positions dedicated to reducing rape.

What happens at the end of three years, when the money well runs dry?

By then, King Edwin will be gone, playing hockey somewhere.

Norco Council (Northern Tier): Scott Parsons v. Ron Angle



"You know what you get if you vote for me. I'm not for big government, I'm for less government. I spend a lot of hours. I know the issues.

"Some people, my opponent, for instance, says he's going to bring civility. Well, I like to bring spirited debate. Many nights, Mr. McClure and I have spirited debates. Some bights, we agree on issues. Some nights, we don't. But civility is not what makes you a good Council person, and I think we all have civility that are on there right now, quite frankly.

"The last debate, my opponent four times said that I do a good job. I think that's a great testament to the job I've done. He twice said that I certainly have the time to do the job that he doesn't. I tank him for that compliment. At one point, when he was asked a question, he said he didn't know the answer, but if the moderator would ask me, I would. And of course, they did and I gave them the answer.

"I strive every day, and I do spend a lot of hours here, and yes I know the issues and I'll debate any of you anytime, anyplace, anywhere, on this County.

"The answer to this country, the answer to this state and the answer to this County, are one and the same - we've got to stop growing government. We have to shrink government, and we have to grow the private sector. If not, we are doomed.

"I work towards those goals every day of my life. I would question my opponent, could he walk over to Bethlehem and negotiate a $5 million giveback on a TIF that was already passed and was a law? I don't think so.

"Last year, when I didn't like the budget, I produced my own budget. It passed. When he [Parsons] was asked questions about the budget at the last debate, he had no idea. You can stay after here tonight, come up here, and ask me any question you want about the budget. I'll gladly answer for you.

"Yes, I'm tough to serve with. Yes, I'm demanding, but I'm the most demanding, quite frankly, on myself, because out there in Region 4 is a lot of little old senior citizens, a lot of young people trying to buy a house and may never realize that dream. And frankly, I do give a damn about those people. I give a big damn about those people because without those people, we'll never have an America like it used to be.

"If we keep destroying middle class America, and my opponent said here earlier he's for one big government. He made a statement earlier. I'm for one little government."



"I'd like to begin by saying, thanking the LWV for having us, giving me this opportunity to speak. I will also state, by starting, that I am not a professional politician. I'm just your every day one job, one house, one mortgage creature with a vision that can serve the people of Northampton County. I sit here with humility and respect for the system that affords me the opportunity to seek elected office.

"I continually get asked about my motives for running for political office. Is it the notoriety, the fame, the power, the opportunity to be in the spotlight? Honestly, I can say it's none of these reasons. I believe the people of Northampton County deserve representation on Council from someone who has compassion, civility, respect and common courtesy. This, my good friends, is the decisive reason for me running.

"The treatment of our citizens is at the forefront of my campaign. You should not be discouraged from expressing your opinions. The voice of the struggling are important.

"I would like to change and amend the system we are currently under. We, as citizens, deserve better treatment from our elected officials. But it is up to the electorate to bring about the change. It is your government, so let the people speak. We are tired of disrespect, nonsense and demand better.

"I also would like to say that Mr. Angle does have experience. He sat here for twelve years. If you give me twelve years, as a matter of fact, I do like these chairs. I can get comfortable. If you give me twelve years of looking at this budget, if you give me a year of looking at this budget, I'll decide and discuss it with anybody.

"When he [Angle] talks about the time he has to put into it, last I checked, the Council's job is not to be out every day. The Council's job is to oversee the job done by the executive and administrative branch of the government. It's not our position to be here every day. I will be here when needed. I'll put the time in. You go ask anybody in Wind Gap, they'll tell you I'm not afraid to do a little work. Thank you."

Norco Council (Easton Area): Mike Dowd v. Bob Werner



"I think one of the things people need to know is what do you bring to the table and what kind of things you've been able to get done in your time of service to the community. When I think about some of those things, part of they record they cross a myriad of activities. They cross the human services area, they cross the economic development area.

"When I think about economic development, I think about I was one of the people that Rich Gurin took to Kansas City to meet with the Hallmark people to bring the Crayola factory to downtown Easton. I was one of the folks who met with then Executive Gerry Seyfried to organize the sale of the then City Hall to Northampton County, to pave the way for a juvenile detention center and allow City Hall to move into downtown Easton. I was one of the founders and organizers of the Two Rivers Area COG [Council of Governments], which at that time was the first COG in Northampton County.

"I had the opportunity to participate in conservation because I was one of the founders of the Bushkill Stream Conservancy. The Easton Chamber of Commerce was the only Chamber that had a conservancy as part of its organization.

"I was one of the co-founders of Pro-Kids, which is an organization that knits together all the youth-based organizations in our community, to share programs and share ideas and share resources.

"In every respect, my record - I think - is one of getting the job done.

"As we move forward, economic development, job creation, are critically important to us, so we can set that stage.

"But I'd also tell you that, of all the members of Council, I'm the one who probably spent more time at Gracedale than anybody here, simply because my role as a clergyman for years. I saw Gracedale in its first generation. I see Gracedale as it is today. My commitment is we'll serve the people as well today if not better than we did in the early 1970s, when Gracedale was constructed.



"When I began this campaign, I was going to worry about how high the salary was, and how well I would get to be known in the County. Since then, I changed my mind about that.

"This isn't about personalities. This is about issues that impact, and I believe that as candidates on Council, we're charged with being effective, efficient, responsive representation to residents of this community. Not innuendo, not titles that we have, not going against things that referendums come up against, not putting things on the back burner and not making decisions about it, not denying and certainly not using individual agendas.

"I have grown tired, as many have in this community, of unresponsive government that no longer listens or represents the class of people in our organizations and communities that need the services that we discussed that this Council discussed and disposing of, due to the determination that they feel it won't be needed.

"Now is the time to use your vote to regain the strength of our county government to serve you.

"Future families and companies. We cannot afford not to reinvest in our health, recreation, historical and educational systems and our government. If we are to grow as our neighboring townships, suburbs and cities are, we will need to remove confusion, confliction, and work to find finances, creatively, that we need, that we can move forward with a community that people want to be in.

"If you want to change to bring parity between the counties, if you want to bring the change to bring the transparency to your government dealings, and if you want trust and professionalism in a Council that operates efficiently rather than just on a conciliatory level, I humbly ask for your votes on November 8."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Judge Moran, 5 City Council Members, Oppose Atiyeh Drug Rehab

Developer Abe Atiyeh has asked Bethlehem zoners for a "special exception" to convert the vacant Calvary Baptist Church, located at 111 Dewberry Avenue, into a 70-bed voluntary inpatient substance abuse center. The facility, which borders a baseball diamond at Bethlehem Catholic High School, would be operated by The Malvern Institute. During a hearing on October 19, Atiyeh attorney Blake Marles was only able to call four witnesses during a five-hour hearing as a result of numerous concerns raised by at least ninety people at Town Hall.

When testimony resumes on October 31, the City of Bethlehem might be raising some concerns itself. Six Bethlehem residents, calling themselves the North Bethlehem Action Committee, have asked Mayor John Callahan and City Council to intervene in what they consider a "ludicrous" proposal presenting an "extraordinary danger" to students at Becahi, who are vulnerable, as well as children at Bernie Fritz playground, located only a block away on Atwood Avenue. The proposed rehab center is also only a few hundred yards away from Kirkland Village, one of the City's largest assisted living communities.

Bill Moran, a Northampton County judge who recently stepped down after a long and distinguished career on the bench, is a member of the citizens' group asking the City to intervene. Judge Moran explained that his group actually strongly supports rehabilitation centers, but the location and size of the facility is troubling. He added that, under the City's proposed zoning ordinance, such a facility would likely be prohibited at that location.

A telephone call to the Mayor's office concerning the City's intervention was not returned in time for publication. But on October 28, five City Council members fired its first volley in this zoning appeal, in a letter to the Zoning Hearing Board, expressing their opposition. They state the "location is inappropriate with respect to its size, supervision, lack of control, and would negatively impact the character of the surrounding neighborhoods." The letter is signed by Council President Bob Donchez, who is joined by Eric Evans, J. Willie Reynolds, Jean Belinski, and David DiGiacinto.

DiGiacinto, Evans and Reynolds all sat in and listened to five hours of testimony during the first hearing.

In the meantime, Attorney Blake Marles has made a request of his own. He sought and obtained a subpoena from the Zoning Hearing Board to compel the presence of John P. Petruzzelli, principal at Becahi. He has previously told zoners he expects to call at least seven witnesses.

Blogger's Note: This is a revisions of a story that I published on Thursday, noting Judge Moran's objections. It is based on recent developments in a fast-moving story.

Norco Council (Bethlehem): Ken Kraft v. Seth Vaughn



"Seth and I are the only ones here for an open seat. I'd like to first say thank you to the LWV for having this tonight and everybody for coming out tonight in this horrible weather we have outside.

"I'd like to say that I got involved in government many, many years ago with the Monocacy Creek stabilization thing in Bethlehem. I was appointed by a Republican mayor to the Monocacy Creek Watershed Association. Since that time, I spoke in public numerous - I can't even count how many times - for, you know, they wanted to privatize garbage. That gt me involved. They wanted to do all kinds of things that I didn't like at the City level. So I started speaking there; I started getting involved.

"I started making myself available for boards, commissions, whatever government needed. Mr. Stoffa has appointed me to committees. I served on them proudly. I never missed a meeting. I think I've been to one, Joan [in the audience] can attest that I was there with the flu one time because I didn't ant to miss the meeting. So I'm one of those guys who never misses a meeting. I haven't had a sick day from work in twenty-five years.

"So I have the time to put in, I will be here, I'll be here all the time. I feel that at this age in life - 50 years old, my kids are grown up, I have the time that this job takes.

"This is an all-consuming job. It's not just two nights a month. There's committees, there's subcommittees, there's all kinds of things we have to make ourselves available for, and I'm available for that. I'm available to work for the voters and the taxpayers because I'm a taxpayer, too.

"I'm one of us. I'm not a career politician. I'm just somebody who likes to come out and help, and I've always been there for everyone, and I'll continue to be here for anyone who needs it. Thank you."



"I'd like to start off by saying that I've knocked on a lot of doors throughout this campaign. I worked very hard. I've listened to a lot of concerns of the citizens in District 1, and I do understand where they're coming from. My pledge to you tonight is that I will exceed your expectations if I'm elected.

"I will remain focused on the issues presented to me, and I will research the issues before I vote on them. I will also do my best to try to keep the voters involved in the decision-making process, and keep their suggestions at hand.

"I ask you to consider me, to vote for me, in District 1, as your representative. I hope you not just consider my political party, but actually me specific motivations, my intentions and my objectives.


"I think I made my objectives very clear. They're on my web site. I'm for preserving Gracedale, and I think that my health care background can help Council do that. I'm for keeping taxes stable, cut wasteful spending, and revitalizing our parks and preserving farmland. I'd also like to expand our veterans' benefits from $100 for funeral reimbursement to about $500. I think our wartime veterans deserve a little more money than $100.

"I'd also like to preserve the ideology that County government was established for the people to serve the people.

"As I stated before, I do not accept any special interest group money or political action committee money. I think that creates a bias within our politicians, and I'm completely against that.

"I will make sure that your tax dollars are well spent. I will not squander them on senseless programs like swaptions, and, if you would like, a new, fresh perspective on county government. I urge you to vote for me in November.

Norco Council (Nazareth): Matt Connolly v. Lamont McClure


"County government requires active representation by those elected to serve. My opponent has an indefensible attendance record. One Committee meeting in four years. Being Chairman of the Legal and Judicial Committee, but not ever holding a meeting. You have to be there to make a difference.

"I will be there, and with great enthusiasm. I may not know all of the inner workings of the County now, but I will learn and bring my best experience and objective judgment. I want to be a legislator, not a politician.

"Government has to be reeled in and limited. We spend the tax money taken from the residents. We must do it responsibly. Debacles like the swaption, which will end up throwing away $24 million of taxpayers' money, will never get my vote.

"If I was a Committee Chairman, I would hold meetings and I would attend those of others.

"I will always work to allow private citizens and businesses to thrive, making Northampton County an attractive place for residents and a sound place to start a business or as a place for business to relocate.

"There's a reason why the LV Association of Realtors did something they have never done before to an incumbent that they helped elect. For the first time ever, they have pulled their support from Lamont McClure and switched it to me, the challenger. They, like me, realize that home values are directly tied to the solvency of families and the County as a whole. I support keeping homes affordable, with low taxes and efficient government. Obviously, they don't believe that Mr. McClure feels the same way. Then again, maybe they just wanted to help elect someone who cares enough to show up."



"I'm glad Mr. Connolly spent so much time talking about me. I like hearing stuff about myself. With that being said, the fact of the matter is I have only ever wanted to be on County Council. It's the only thing I've ever run for. I actually started striving towards serving on County Council in 2001, and throughout the years, I'm very, very pleased to let you hear tonight about some of my accomplishments.

"I was the author of the Gaming Board Ordinance that created the Northampton County Gaming Authority. This Authority is allowed to contiguous municipalities for the casino in Bethlehem, to receive monies to ameliorate any of the negative effects that they've experienced from the casino.

"I was the author of the referendum language to make the Controller of Northampton County full time. I was pleased that that language passed, and starting in 2012, we will have a full time County Controller for the first time under home rule. I'm very pleased to have done that.

"Going forward, my primary mission will be to fight to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of Gracedale. It is of paramount importance that Gracedale stay in County hands, and that will be my overriding ambtion."

Friday, October 28, 2011

St. Stanislaus Artist Housing Development


This is an architect's rendering of the St. Stanislaus Artist Housing Development, to be built on Bethlehem's South Side.

Angle Supporters Under Attack

During the Debate at the Slate, I met a gentleman who told me he supports Scott Parsons for County Council because they were fellow coaches in Little League. Good for him. He knew I was there for Ron Angle, Scott's opponent, but we could still shake hands at the end of the night.

That's what Americans do. We might belong to different parties or support different candidates, but in the end, we're all on the same side.

At last night's County Council debate, each candidate shook hands with each other when it was all over, and even posed for pictures together. They may disagree, but in the end, they're all on the same side.

But there's another group that thinks it knows better than everyone else, and is bullying people with differing views. I call them the Gracedale Goons. That might strike some of you as harsh, but it's unfortunately the truth.

At last week's County Council meeting, I was attacked while filming a small group that heckles Ron Angle whenever he speaks. It makes it impossible for the rest of us in the peanut gallery to follow what is being said, but I guess that's their point.

Now, these same supporters of the man who claims he wants to restore civility, are urging people to boycott a business simply because its owner, an immigrant from Bulgaria, is a long-time Ron Angle supporter. Here's what they say.

"[I]f you ever want to take your family out for a good meal. Go anywhere except JR's Smokehouse in Wind Gap.
"There is a sign for former councilman Angle there as well as in front of the owners [sic] doublewide. I mean McMansion. He lives in a beautiful home. The owner is a immigrant success story which I applaud, however "no soup" for me after I saw the signs. I don't think he had enough oppression in his life when he lived in Europe, hence the support of the Nazi Party."

Gracedale, Tax Hike Dominate County Council Debate

Bob Werner, Mike Dowd
Despite cold rains and slippery roads, at least eighty people attended a County Council debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, at the Northampton County Courthouse on October 27. It was moderated by Lafayette College's David Kincaid, who peppered candidates with questions ranging from their views on Gracedale to reassessment. But it was the LWV's who explained the purpose of the forum in just two word. "Please vote," she pleaded.

Voters will decide four District seats on November 8.

In District 1, which includes Bethlehem, Hanover and Hellertown, trade unions business rep Ken Kraft is squaring off against physician's assistant Seth Vaughn, over the seat being vacated by Ann McHale at the end of this year.

In District 2, which includes the Easton area, three-term incumbent Mike Dowd, an Easton Pastor and VP at the Greater LV Chamber of Commerce, is facing political newcomer Bob Werner, a retired teacher.

In far-flung District 3, which extends from Bethlehem Township to Northampton, asbestos attorney Lamont McClure is being challenged by race car driver and real estate investor Matt Connolly.

District 4, known as the Northern Tier or Slate Belt, pits three-term incumbent Ron Angle, a real estate investor, against Wind Gap Borough Council President Scott Parsons, who works in a Pen Argyl quarry.

Kraft, Werner, McClure and Parsons are Democrats. Vaughn, Dowd, Connolly and Angle are Republicans.

Seth Vaughn, Ken Kraft
Special skills and priorities

Werner stated he has personality, will research issues and is a lifelong LV resident. His top two priorities are preserving Gracedale and establishing a Bi-County Health department. Dowd stated he is known as the "voice of reason" on Council, and believes that continued economic development and human services are what drive him.

Vaughn stressed his health care background, which he argued would be helpful to Council in dealing with Gracedale issues. He added that he has government contracting experience that he acquired when he served with the Marines in Iraq. Finally, he noted that he would refuse any contributions from "special interests." Kraft cited his 20 years of experience in government, which started with efforts to preserve Monacacy Creek. He serves on the County's workforce investment board, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board, and chaired the Elections Commission through stormy Gracedale waters. As a business agent, he has experience in mediating contracts and buying health care products.

Parsons pointed to his experience on Wind Gap Borough Council for 8 years. His top two priorities are restoring civility and respect for other people. Angle pointed to his 38 years of experience serving on school boards, township offices, a borough council as well as County Council. He pointed to a deal he negotiated a few weeks ago with landfill owner Charles Chrin, for $2 million in farmland preservation, as well as a re-negotiated TIF with Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, which will result in more money for County and school district coffers. Admitting he is tough, he noted that "[c]ivility means twenty minute meetings."

McClure stated he is "battle-tested" and has been "in the middle" of numerous Council issues. His top two priorities are Gracedale, "an issue that will continue to be debated going forward" and "open space," which is "more than farmland preservation."

"My name is Matt Connolly and I'm not a lawyer," said McClure's challenger, describing himself as a "fresh face" who could keep Council free from "intramural fighting."

Gracedale

Calling newly-hired private manager Premier Health Care a "welcome breath of fresh air," Dowd stated Council should oversee admissions, fiscal responsibility and quality of care. After that, "we should get out of the way." Werner complained about the legal fees spent by the County when it was attempting to sell Gracedale, and argued there should be a "legacy fund," something the Council has already unanimously approved by resolution.

Vaughn stressed that the County has an "obligation" to keep Gracedale, but also noted that "[o]ur revenues are not keeping up with our expenditures." He added that the census there continues to decline, and that union concessions are needed. Kraft stated new management needs to make a "concerted effort to let people know Gracedale is open" He noted that the Executive, and not Council, has the responsibility to negotiate union givebacks.

Although admitting that private management is "a good idea," Parsons complained that Council "should have listened and we would not need management." He added unions will make concessions because "[p]eople want to work." Angle, who promoted Gracedale's sale, pointed to declining reimbursements, which make Gracedale less profitable than private nursing homes. He also noted that 68 cents for every dollar in salary is paid to union workers, and doubted it can ever be profitable. "It won't happen," he predicted.

McClure argued that Gracedale could actually "add millions to our budget." and has only lost money in recent years. He added unions are already willing to make concessions. Calling Gracedale the "crown jewel," Connolly noted that there's been more competition and that privatized nursing care can be less expensive. He also noted that the workforce has remained the same, even though the census has declined.

Lamont McClure, Matt Connolly
Taxes.

Only Seth Vaughn is willing to support John Stoffa's proposed tax hike. "We have to accept a tax hike," stated Vaughn, adding that the County should reduce overtime and attempt to create jobs. Noting that "[p]eople are losing their homes," Kraft opposes a tax hike. He claimed "Gracedale will fix itself" if the census is increased.

"I'm not afraid of raise taxes," claimed Parsons, but since he has no vote on next year's budget, he declined to say what he would do. Noting he has never supported a tax hike, Angle explained there are other ways to produce a budget. He pointed to last year's budget, which originally called for an increase until he revised it. He challenged candidates to "think outside the box," and suggested that a tax on car rentals, instead of a real estate tax hike, could supply the needed revenue. He noted there is a 25% difference between revenue and expenses.

Instead of a tax hike, McClure claimed the County could opt against funding a West Easton treatment center next year, or defer a new archives building. "It's ridiculous to raise taxes," he claimed, pointing to the County's $60 million fund balance, which McClure called a "budget surplus." Connolly claimed the County has no revenue problem, but a spending problem. To cure Gracedale's deficit, he'd put the burden on the nursing home itself. Otherwise, "[i]t's going to bleed us forever."

Werner believes a tax hike can be avoided by improving PR at Gracedale. "It will be profitable," he insisted. But Dowd, while opposed to a tax increase, stated "[i]t is disingenuous to suggest we can wave a wand and turn a $6 million deficit into a surplus." He claimed Gracedale could be more efficient, but will still lose money. "We need to find six or seven million. That's not so easy to do," he noted.

Chrin's Route 33 TIF

Although all candidates applaud the Route 33 TIF recently approved by Council for an interchange providing access to an industrial park in Palmer Township, two candidates complained about the role Angle played in negotiating a $2 million giveback with Charlie Chrin for farmland preservation. According to Werner, the Angle deal lacked "transparency." And Parsons complained that there are nine members on Council, yet Angle was taking credit.

But Angle was defended by Dowd, who noted that Council asked Angle to negotiate the deal, and it was discussed during a public meeting two weeks before the agreement was executed. Angle added that the decision to send him to Chrin was unanimous and is another example of "thinking outside the box. If you would come to a meeting, you would know how we do business," he told Parsons.

Ron Angle, Scott Parsons
Open Space Funding

All candidates support open space funding. Angle particularly likes the pay-as-you go approach adopted by Executive Stoffa, instead of floating a bond for $37 million authorized by taxpayers in a 2004 referendum. "In seven years, we fulfilled 52% of our commitment, far ahead of what we would have done with a bond. And there's no interest." Dowd agreed, noting that Stoffa's "struck the right mark."

Kraft suggested that more money should be spent to preserve environmentally sensitive lands along the Monacacy Creek to "stop the development there."

Parsons added that "farms, county parks and Gracedale are two things people are going to use."

Bi-County Health Department

Two candidates - Werner and Parsons - support the formation of a Bi-County health department now. Parsons noted that at a recent Wind Gap Borough Council meeting, a mother brought a child who was covered from "head to toe" with bed bugs and there was nothing that could be done. Werner claimed that with a Bi-County health department, the County would no longer have spend $200,000 per year for vector control, and it would make the area look better to businesses.

One candidate - Ron Angle - is opposed. Although conceding that the idea is "wonderful," he derided another layer of government. "Somebody's got to pay for it," he argued. "We need people to work in real jobs, not government programs."

The rest of the candidates are more equivocal. McClure states he has gone from "unalterably opposed" to "skeptical," but is now re-evaluating his position after the most recent presentation, which impressed him.

Dowd struck the chord adopted my most candidates. Noting that he has advocated public health for many years, he is concerned about a half million dollar contribution for funding at the same time that the County is considering a 9.3% tax hike. "Let's keep it in place and come back in a year," he suggested. Connolly, Kraft and Vaughn agreed.

Re-assessment.

All candidates are opposed to re-assessment, projected to cost as much as $12 million. "If you could wave a wand, it could be a good thing," stated Angle, conceding "there is a lot of unfairness" in present assessments. But the cost bothers him.

McClure pointed out that right now, the "real estate market is all over the place," and needs to stabilize before re-assessment. Even then, he worries that it "will fall hardest on the folks in their homes the longest and who are no longer working."

Attendance

How much time is needed for a part-time County Council position? According to Kraft, it is an "all-consuming job," but he's ready. "I haven't had a sick day from work in 20 years," he boasted. "I have the time that this job takes," Kraft stated, noting the numerous committees.

Angle pointed out that Parsons, in a previous debate, acknowledged that Angle has the time for the position that he lacks. "I thank him for the compliment," chided Angle. But Parsons claimed Council's job is "to oversee the job done by the Executive. ... I will be here when needed."

Connolly blasted McClure over his attendance record. "My opponent has an indefensible attendance record, one committee meeting in four years," he noted. He added that, although McClure chairs the Legal and Judicial Committee, he has failed to convene a single meeting in the last three years. "You have to be there to make a difference," he argued.

McClure responded dismissively, "I'm glad Mr. Connolly spent so much time talking about me. I like to hear stuff about myself." 


(I will be posting transcribed and unedited videos of each closing statement over the weekend.)


Updated Friday, 7:15 PM: Morning Call Columnist Bill White Grades Debaters! - Here's how Bill rates the debaters.
District 1: Kraft (B+); Vaughn (B)
District 2: Dowd (A-); Werner (B)
District 3: McClure (B+); Connolly (C-)
District 4: Angle (A-); Parsons (C-)  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tom Carroll: The Movie



I gotta' tell you, when I watch any one of these videos being produced by Tony Simao, I feel like I'm at the Carmike. In this one, Bethlehem City Council candidate Tom Carroll is portrayed as a Deus ex Machina who suddenly swoops in and saves the Christmas City at its moment of greatest peril.

He's Garbage Man, grandson of a garbage man and son of an Air Force major. That gives him his super powers.

All he needs now is a cape and a garbage truck that launches sidewinders.

All this makes me wonder about the remaining five candidates, and which super heroes (or villians) they remind you of the most.

Mike Recchiuti: Tuesday night, with the glasses, he had a bit of that Clark Kent look.

Bob Donchez: If he let his hair grow another two feet, wore a rubber muscle suit, and lost the glasses, he could probably pass himself off as Thor, God of Thunder.

Al Bernotas: Mermaid Man, to be sure. When he sees a zoning hearing board, he shouts, "Evil!".

Willie Reynolds: With the shaved head and long hands, he's got a bit of that Nosferatu look. Come to think of it, I only see him at night.

Tony Simao: He likes cameras and looks like your average guy. Spidey.

Zoners Approve Affordable Housing For Artists at St. Stanislaus

Bethlehem's St. Stanislaus Church, located at 419-429 Hayes Street, was first established by Polish Catholics in 1905. But it is one of four ethnic South Side churches closed by the Allentown Diocese in 2008. Now, thanks to a unanimous ruling by the Zoning Hearing Board on October 26, this historic church will not only survive, but become the hub for 36 affordable apartments, targeted at artists earning 60% of the Lehigh Valley's median income.

Called the St. Stanislaus Artist Housing Development, this project is the brainchild of MidAtlantic Housing Development Corporation (HDC), a Pennsylvania nonprofit that has existed since 1971. It owns and manages 51 properties in 11 different counties, and specializes in adaptive reuse of downtown properties. It provides affordable housing for 4,100 people, and provides 24/7 onsite professional management and maintenance.

Of the 36 units, 17 will be 1-bedroom lofts, 12 will be 3-bedroom townhouses, and there will be 7 ADA-accessible flats, varying from 2 to 3 bedrooms. Average monthly rental is projected at $650.

HDC's Senior Development Officer, Andre Perry, argued that permitting this reuse would be beneficial to Bethlehem. It would eliminate blight and vacant space, put the property back on the tax rolls, provide affordable quality housing and preserve St. Stanislaus Church, identified as one of Bethlehem's Historic resources.

Believe it or not, a bar is in the church's large basement. "The Poles used to like to drink," joked South Side activist Roger Hudak. But from this point, there will be no sauce at Stanislaus. The bar will be replaced with a laundry and an administrative office, and the church nave will be used as a community meeting room and art gallery.

The one major drawback, however, is parking. The lot at St. Stanislaus only provides 11 parking places. HDC is negotiating with nearby parking lots for another 25 parking spots, which would result in a total of 36 parking spots for 36 units. That is well below the 62 parking places required by the Zoning Ordinance.

This shortcoming brought Faith Moore Perry, who lives directly across the street, to the hearing. As her young son explored Town Hall, she testified that parking is already a "disaster" in her neighborhood. When she goes away, she sometimes finds two or three cars parked in her driveway, and has to call the police to have them removed. She added that "the population there is crazy," and will only get worse with an affordable housing project across the street.

HDC President Michael Carper, however, told Perry that if tenants display inappropriate behavior, they's be evicted. "We closely manage our properties," he stated, adding that someone is on site at all times. "That is who we are and that is how we take care of our situation."

Representing the Eastern Pa. Arts Alliance, Kim Plyler told zoners her organization "absolutely" supports the project. "We have at least 75 artists who are more than happy to move in tomorrow if this project was here," she stated.

In granting the request, which Bill Fitzpatrick called a "great looking project," zoners insisted that leases be filed with the City of each of the 36 units, as well as for each employee on site. He also urged HDC to be a good neighbor.

In other business, zoners approved a request from James Baggest for a subdivision that would separate a single-family unit from a multiple family dwelling at 530-534 High Street. Both properties are located on the same lot, even though they have different uses.

Finally, they granted Pamela Rodweller's request to replace her 12' x 16' deck with a kitchen at 2178 Allwood Drive. In September, Rodweller's case was delayed when she failed to post her property as a result of an inadvertent error in the zoning office. After waiting a month, she presented her case in about a minute. "We thought you'd want to take a little longer to get back at us," joked zoner Bill Fitzpatrick.

Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board will convene again of October 31, to continue testimony in Abe Atiyeh's application for a drug and alcohol rehab center on Dewberry Avenue, abutting Bethlehem Catholic High School.

Former Judge Moran Opposes Atiyeh Rehab

Developer Abe Atiyeh has asked Bethlehem zoners for a "special exception" to convert the vacant Calvary Baptist Church, located at 111 Dewberry Avenue, into a 70-bed voluntary inpatient substance abuse center. The facility, which borders a baseball diamond at Bethlehem Catholic High School, would be operated by The Malvern Institute. During a hearing on October 19, Atiyeh attorney Blake Marles was only able to call four witnesses during a five-hour hearing as a result of numerous concerns raised by at least ninety people at Town Hall.

When testimony resumes on October 31, the City of Bethlehem might be raising some concerns itself. Six Bethlehem residents, calling themselves the North Bethlehem Action Committee, have asked Mayor John Callahan to intervene in what the consider a "ludicrous" proposal presenting an "extraordinary danger" to students at Becahi, who are vulnerable.

Members of this Committee include Bill Moran, a Northampton County judge who recently stepped down after a long and distinguished career on the bench.

In the meantime, Blake Marles has made a request of his own. He sought and obtained a subpoena from the Zoning Hearing Board to compel the presence of John P. Petruzzelli, principal at Becahi. He has previously told zoners he expects to call at least seven witnesses.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shouldn't Kids Learn How to Spell?

I am a product of Catholic schools, as are my children. Money in that system is very tight, and teacher salaries are very low. So when I see a public school board, I feel as though I'm on another planet. They deal with bigger sums than most municipalities, and the bureaucracy makes it next to impossible to pull the curtain back and find out what really is going on. So I can never really tell whether school boards are skimping on their obligation to provide a decent education to our most precious asset, our youth. I also can never tell for sure whether administrators are taking advantage of all that money to feather their beds.

I'll add here that I have no idea why any sane person would ever want to run for a school board. There's no pay. No matter what you do, one faction or the other will blast you. You can't really trust administrators, who flood you with paper after paper to hide their real agenda. You can't really trust the usual taxpayer and "concerned citizen" groups, either, because most of them want you to screw the kids now that theirs are out of school.

So I don't do school boards.

Ronnie DelBacco and Frank Pintabone are in a contentious race for an open seat on Easton's south side. The Express Times has an excellent article spelling out the philosophies of these candidates.

Ronnie has sent me an essay on the "lost art of good public speaking," in which he points out that elementary schools in Easton no longer grades spelling, at least after fourth grade. I don't care much for school board races, but who can argue with the importance of good spelling?

You can make the best argument in the world, but if it is full of spelling errors, it will just rurn most people off. At least those who can spell.

A program such as the PA Orators being held at Shiloh Chapel and reported on by Patch.com (see link below) would be a fantastic addition to the public school curriculum. As mentioned by one reader, Chauncey Howell, public schools did have such classes and/or lessons at one time. However, like most traditional teaching methods many have been abandoned or replaced with “feel good, as long as you try, psycho-babble” type lessons. Cursive handwriting is another example of a lost art scarcely taught in schools anymore. I’m not opposed to new, tested, and proven methods of teaching but traditional skills are still very much a part of our technologically advanced society and need to be reaffirmed as standard lessons for every child. Spell Check has replaced the dictionary. 411 has replaced the phone book. Bar Code scanning has replaced the card catalog. Texting has replaced personal conversation. This very dissertation being composed by me on a PC has replaced the outline, draft, and final copy method of writing. And not to be forgotten, posting has replaced public speaking. To state the ironically obvious, this will be posted, not spoken.

I am a candidate for the EASD School Board in Region 2 and have a child currently in fifth grade. I was surprised to learn from a teacher that they “no longer formatively grade spelling”. That's correct; spelling receives no grade in our fifth grade classrooms. I am in possession of a letter from Dr. Roberts pathetically trying to explain how our school district is following the recommendations of a national Middle School Association and that traditional lessons are all in effect bundled into each story. Still, spelling receives no grade. Teachers need the support of parents to reinforce their “educational mission” of teaching our children the necessary skills, such as spelling, that they’ll need as adults.

In the EASD we have a well paid PHD administrator explaining away the need to grade spelling based on an outside entity's idea of what our children here should be learning. One must then question what other traditional skills have been sacrificed at the behest of an unknown and unseen national association? This is madness. First, we should be deciding within our own school district what is taught. Second, why do we pay our administrators such lucrative salaries to simply accept the recommendations of national or federal associations? Any citizen tax payer with NO college education can do that. Still, we continue to fork over our hard earned dollars to fund the salaries of PHD administrators who simply rely on the research of others. This alone is reason enough to re-evaluate the size and pay scale of our district’s administration. Third, how can we expect students to succeed if we don’t require the most basic skills, like spelling, to be mastered at each grade level? I suppose the next time honored tradition to go will be the Spelling Bee.

The lost art of good public speaking is sadly just another symptom of the educational deficit plaguing the Easton Area School District and proven by our consistent failure to meet state standards. If elected I plan to call for a full review of the curriculum at every grade level to ensure our children are learning what we parents, teachers, and community leaders decide is important for their success and education, NOT what a national association says. I will call for a full review of the district’s administrative positions, salaries, and supporting staff. We tax payers deserve better for our money. I will strongly encourage my peers to join me in refusing unfunded mandates (No Child Left Behind for example) and any national or federal demands for teaching standards, lessons, or curricular programs which we in the EASD have not decided upon ourselves. I’ll direct you to our constitution’s 10th Amendment for proof that this action is both correct and necessary. I will petition our state legislature to take this battle to congress on our behalf whenever such situations arise and demand our states’ rights be recognized under said 10th amendment. These three agenda items cannot be paced into any order of importance but must be addressed simultaneously with fearless and steadfast commitment by the school board on behalf of the citizen tax payers funding this educational system.

Ronnie DelBacco

Gloves Are Off in Bethlehem's City Council Race

Rs sit on the left
Bethlehem City Council is known throughout the Lehigh Valley for its genteel attitude and unwillingness to roll around in the gutter. But one of my readers has warned that, under the surface, Bethlehem is really just "Bangor with lace curtains." Last night's City Council debate, involving three Republican (Al Bernotas, Tom Carroll and Tony Simao) and three Democratic (Bob Donchez, Mike Recchiuti and J. Willie Reynolds) candidates, proved him right. They're fighting over three seats, two of which are already held by Donchez and Reynolds. And the gloves are off!

Most Bethlehem City Council races, which usually involve clashes of the Callahan and Schweder factions of the Democratic party, are usually snoozefests. But as Al Bernotas himself pointed out, the injection of three Republicans has livened things up quite a bit. He noted that zero-based budgeting, which is being promoted by Bob Donchez, is actually a Republican idea that Democrats are now using in a bit of triangulation, a la Bill Clinton.

Whatever is going on, there definitely seems to be a lot of local public interest in this race. Northwest Block Watch had a candidates' night on Monday, and over 80 people showed up. Last night, there were a little less, but the 50 people there would be considered a good turn out in a County-wide race.

Last night's forum, conducted at Salem Lutheran Church, was hosted by Bill Fitzpatrick's Neighbors on Watch Block Watch. Rev. Walter Long, serving as moderator, told the six candidates that their time was being carefully regulated by a timekeeper, who would show colored cards to indicate how much time is left. "Red means we take you out and shoot you," he warned.

In their opening remarks, Tom Carroll wasted no time criticizing the "shameful behavior" of the Callahan administration, which has been beset by three straight years of deficits. Tony Simao agreed, and warned that Democratic candidates would offer a plethora of "rainbows," "lollipops" and "lies."

In addition to criticizing Mayor John Callahan for spending money borrowed for an EMS Center, which forced the City to borrow again, Simao and Carroll both lashed out at Reynolds. He chairs Council's Finance committee. They slammed him over the casino host fee. Instead of being used for tax relief, the money went to pay for the impact of gambling to the City, in the form of salaries for police officers and firefighters. "He stands up there and wags his finger when the truth is, he's not telling the truth," said Carroll.

Throughout the evening, Reynolds was doing a slow burn, but finally stood up and responded forcefully. He noted that the casino host fee paid to the City is supposed to be used for the impact caused by gambling, and waved page after page of costs directly related to the casino, which did include increased salaries.

I think he wagged his fingers, too.

He added that his Finance Committee was completely unaware that Callahan was illegally dipping into federal grant money until it was revealed by an independent audit. "Not one of us knew about the illegal spending that went on until afterwards," he explained. "We reacted."

That answer was unsatisfactory to Tony Simao, who noted that not one member of City Council did a thing about the misappropriation of federal grant money, and that it took a letter from citizen Dana Grubb to get the ball rolling. Carroll added that Reynold's Finance Committee was "asleep at the switch." According to Al Bernotas, the entire Council "sits on its hands."

"We're here to clean house," claimed Bernotas.

Ds sit on the right
Bob Donchez defended Council, noting that they passed a law last year that will prevent Hizzoner from spending borrowed money for any other purpose, as he did in the past. Donchez pointed to another ordinance, sponsored by former Council member Jay Leeson, which prevents the Mayor from spending the casino host fee without authorization. In addition, Donchez has been demanding monthly reports.

Here's how the hopefuls responded to some specific issues.

Cutting the Budget

Recchiuti, grandson of a former Fire Commissioner, would hire more firefighters. Although that sounds like a budget increase, Recchiuti explained it would decrease the cost of overtime, which is expected to hit $1 million before the end of the year.

Reynolds noted that he's already voted to cut 54 positions, and would not leave them open. He'd like to reduce OT, will vote against raises for City Hall employees and will pursue energy efficiency contracts.

Simao would eliminate "hallwalkers," condense departments, reduce salaries for department heads from $90k to $70k, and would eliminate the use of city-owned cars for commuting. He estimated that the elimination of take-home cars would save the City $150,000 per year.

Donchez agreed with the suggestions offered, but noted that 85% of the City's budget is salary, so there's little room to cut.

Carroll said all these suggestions have been urged for years. "Now there's $18 million in deficits and $30 million in loans this year alone."

Martin Tower TIF

Simao, Carroll and Bernotas all oppose a TIF. Both Carroll and Simao called it "corporate welfare," and Bernotas added taxpayers are "ultimately responsible" in the event of a default.

A TIF could arguably be called corporate welfare. But as a point of clarification, I should note that the persons ultimately responsible in the event of a default are the ones who buy the bonds. That's why they get 6% interest. They take the risk. TIF bonds are not general obligation, or taxpayer-backed bonds. I was whispering this to a reporter, perhaps a bit too loudly, and threw Al Bernotas off as he was speaking.

Sorry, Al. It was your night, not mine, and I should have more quiet.

Donchez, Reynolds and Recchiuti are more willing to consider a plan. Donchez pointed out that the Martin Tower tract consists of 53 acres, but only 70% of the building is usable because of design problems, along with an asbestos problem and the lack of a sprinkler. Donchez and the others would be receptive to a plan, so long as it does not include high-density housing.

On other matters, they all oppose Callahan's idea to implement a single hauler for garbage. They all oppose closing the fire station at Dewberry Avenue. They all, to varying degrees, like the idea of requiring residency from at least some City employees. They all oppose the idea of another casino. They all like a buffer zone for the historic district.

Only Al Bernotas favors term limits.

So who won and who lost?

Most Entertaining: Al Bernotas (he was folksy and personable, which means something to people like me)

Most Knowledgeable: Bob Donchez (detailed answers for everything)

Best One-liner: Tony Simao's crack about lollipops and lies.

Best Answer: Willie Reynolds' powerful defense of host fee money. (He was downright passionate).

Most Dignified: They all looked a hell of a lot better than I. Or is it me?

Hardest Line to Believe: Recchiuti's claim that he's not a politician. Mike, this is your second try at public office. That sure seems like a politician to me.

Strangest Candidate: West Easton Borough Council candidate Tricia Mezzacappa not only attended last night's debate, but came armed with two pages of questions. Who knows, maybe a West Easton voter was there.

Best Media Panelist: Lynn Olanoff (Express Times) and Nicole Radzievich (Morning Call) are tied. They took this seriously and even sent them to me in advance so we all wouldn't be asking the same thing. The decided to ask questions that could be answered by all the candidates, so no one person would feel singled out. I was going to ask each candidate for the airspeed velocity of an unladen African swallow, but Lynn and Nicole killed that question.

Damn mainstream.

Lynn Olanoff and Nicole Radzievich have their own reports. Look for one from Daryl Nerl, too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The "Civility" of Scott Parsons' Supporters



During the Debate at the Slate, Ron Angle opponent Scott Parsons stated several times that he'll restore civility to Northampton County Council, and immediately followed that up with a few personal attacks. It seems those are always OK if they are made against Angle. Now the outrageous behavior displayed by his supporters reveals that Scott Parsons may need a few lessons in civility before he can start preaching it.

At last week's County Council meeting, when a group I call the Gracedale Goons began heckling Ron Angle, I turned around to film them in action, as I've done once before. Jack Dalessandro responded by lunging at me, from two rows back, in an effort to prevent me from revealing the usual disruptive catcalls made at every Council meeting. He knocked one woman right out of her seat in the process.

Collateral damage, I guess.

Of course, I posted the video on Friday.

These are the people on Scott Parsons' side, and he considers himself "blessed."

After I posted that video, things got ugly. Since Friday, they have posted vicious comment after vicious comment on their own hate blog [I refuse to link to it], hoping to silence me by shouting me down. I have demanded removal of some real clear defamation, but they just poured it on even more.

So I find it necessary to make clear here that those disgusting comments (I will not describe them) are completely untrue, and are made maliciously. I do intend to take legal action, once I have the requisite funds. Mary Ann Schmoyer, Mario Martinez and Peg Dalessandro are three people with posting privileges, and I know at least two other people are involved in this sick not-so-anonymous venture.

Amazingly, the smears do not end there.

Yesterday, I visited LU to talk to one of Bill White's journalism classes, along with LV With Love blogger George Wacker. He's a blogger who does everything right. He's got money, babes, a cool beard and even a frickin' car, all as a result of blogging.

Me? I'm a case study in how to screw things up. I think Bill uses me to scare his students straight.

I like it.

After leaving class, I eventually checked out my iPad to learn that now, in addition to the vicious comments, there's a full-blown blog, just to say that "the nonsensical ignoramus [that would be me] has been spotted at Lehigh university just minutes ago, you think maybe he's going for and EDU or is he stalking a member of the Coalition?" In the comments that follow, I am accused of having been there to stalk someone, apparently one of them. Then another blog entry was posted, accusing me of writing those disgusting comments myself, presumably so I could play victim.

The disgusting comments still remain. In fact, more have since been added.

Bill White felt compelled to write a story himself, explaining that that I was at Lehigh to visit his class. "Sorry, guys, but he was not up to anything nefarious."

White's blog made no difference to them, even when one of his readers popped on their site to explain why I was at Lehigh. In fact, his journalistic integrity was attacked next. There's this - "The local media including Bill White would only write the press releases given them by John Stoffa." - followed by a hypocritical "God bless."

That sure sounds like the Fake Rev to me.

I'll be asking him.

Under oath.

Until then, I am reposting the Jack D'Alessandro Attack of the Gracedale Goon.

These are Scott Parsons' supporters.

How is Madame and All the Little Commissioners?

In the Pink Panther series, Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau was trying on his hunchback disguise when the Commissioner suddenly called. "Good evening, commissioner," said Clouseau. "How are you, how is madame and all the little commissioners?" I'd like to introduce you to some of the little commissioners.

On one side of the ballot we have the Gang of Three, a trio consisting of Vic Mazziotti, Scott Ott and Lisa Scheller. The refer to themselves as a Reform Team, but strangely think that they establish their independence by walking in lock step with each other.

Brad Osborne is also running for LC Commissioner, but prefers to think for himself.

On the other side of the ballot, four Democrats (including incumbent Gloria Hamm) are in the hunt as well. I have brief interviews with each of them below. I tormented each one of them, of course, but liked them all very much.

The biggest surprise to me was Tim Waitkus, whose philosophy of reaching across the aisle is very much like that of Geoff Brace and me.

Meet LC Commissioner Candidate Geoff Brace


Geoff Brace, downtown revitalization guru, LC Comm'r candidate, you are definitely a wonk. Am I right?

Geoff: "You can call me a geek, Bernie. That's OK."

You applied for the position. I think you came in pretty well when it was open for appointment.

Geoff: "Yeah."

You grabbed quite a few votes that time from Republicans, and now you're running for the position, an at-large seat. Why should the voters select you as opposed to a very strong Republican team in what appears to be a Republican year?

Geoff: "When I talk to voters, I talk about two parts of why I think I'm a good candidate.

"The first is my passion for communities, and I'm not just talking about Allentown or Bethlehem., but our small twns, the farmlands, the suburbs. I'm passionate about our communities.

"I also talk a lot about fiscal responsibility and the fact that I manage, very hands on, a small nonprofit organization, watching every penny, squeezing every nickel that we possibly can.

"So I'll bring my passion, I'll bring my fiscal responsibility with me to the job as Lehigh County Comm'r".

Will you be an independent voice or will you be another vote for Executive Cunningham?

Geoff: "Anybody who knows me knows that I'm an independent-minded person. While the three other [Democrat] candidates and I agree on the importance of keeping Cedarbrook in Lehigh County hands because it's so effectively managed and because of the resurces it provides for LC taxpayers, we disagree on other issues.

"At the end of the day, I've always said a good idea is a good idea. I don't care if it's a Democratic idea or a Republican idea. If it's a good idea, it merits attention and I'll look for the good ideas.

How do you enjoy married life and living in downtown Allentown?

Geoff [laughing]: "My wife is a true saint. I'm laughing because Sarah [I hope that's his wife] has tolerated my weekends knocking on doors evenings, going to candidate forums, taking care of the dog we just adopted ... We're enjoying married life."

What kind of dog?

Geoff: "He's a Bichon miniature poodle mix, a little cottonball."

One of those little designer dogs.

Geoff: "Certainly not a designer dog. He's usually dirty. He's got leaves all over him. But he's a good dog."