Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A "Progressive" Defense of Public Corruption

NYC Blogger Jonathan Geeting considers himself an expert on ... well ... everything. He particularly loves to see public money thrown at cities (he calls them urban cores) even if it's taken from other cities and old boroughs without any kind of prior notice. I'm not going to get into that debate, but instead want to point to his defense of public corruption, so long as it's "progressive."

It started the other day, when I criticized the nominees to Allentown's NIZ Board, suggesting that a few of them will use their positions to make themselves even richer. Geeting asked, "So what would be an example of something that a person on the ACIDA board could do to enrich themselves that would not also be good for Allentown?"

Incredibly, he actually argues that the use of public power for personal enrichment is justified so long as it also enriches the "urban core."

He follows that up with this question on his own blog, which he calls a "challenge" for NIZ critics. "Can you come up with an example of a development project that would make an individual Board member filthy rich but have no net benefit whatsoever for the city of Allentown?"

Public corruption is never justified even if it might incidentally benefit Allentown, too.

CACLV To Train Merchants Who Will Never Qualify For NIZ

Just the other day, CACLV's Alan Jennings defended his appointment to the NIZ Board. "There is a fine line between challenging the system and getting things done and challenging the system and getting ignored," he says. He's right, you know. He has good experience with the former while miserable bastards like me are used to being slapped around.

I kinda' like it.

To his credit, Alan has often been the sole advocate for those who would otherwise have no voice. Back in 2009, when a young family that included a 3-year old girl, were locked out of their apartment at the old Linden Bar Hotel in the dead of Winter, an infuriated Jennings went there with a sledge hammer, fully intending to break into the place and risk arrest. Fortunately, a passerby had a key.

After retrieving their belongings, he found them a place.

The world is a better place with Alan Jennings in it.

But I was still blown away today when CACLV announced its 28th “Start Your Business” program, which starts on Monday, February 6, 2012.

It's a comprehensive, 20-week program is held on Monday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. It's d for people of low- to moderate-income who are thinking about starting a business or expanding their current business in the neighborhoods of center city Allentown. The course begins with a three-week preparatory segment called ‘Getting Ready for Business’, in which participants will have the opportunity to assess their entrepreneurial skills, the soundness of their business idea, and their readiness to start a business within six months to one year after completing the program. There is a $99 enrollment fee, payable the third week.

Why would this blow me away?

It's at 702 Hamilton Street, where State Senator Pat Browne, his lobbyist wife, NIZ tenant Joe Topper are all located, a building owned by NIZ Overlord J. B. Reilly.

Blogger Michael Molovinsky picked up on this right away, noting that the entrepreneurs Allan will be training are the very people shoved out of the way for the NIZ project. "You have been appointed to serve on the new NIZ Authority, and you're conducting your class in J. B. Reilly's building; The biggest private beneficiary of the NIZ, who intends to apply for even more loans. Ain't that rich!"

This is where I think Alan is tone deaf.

Dennis Pearson: Always a Bridesmaid

Poor Dennis Pearson! Always the bridesmaid. Despite his rather unusual way of expressing himself, there are few people more knowledgeable about City and County government than he. But as expected, he was unsuccessful tonight in his bid for appointment to Allentown City Council.

A vacancy existed because Michael D'Amore, its former President and one-time possible Mayoral prospect, ascended to the judicial heavens. He was elected District Judge in November, and now gets to wear a black dress. He may be a mini-judge, but still wears XXXL.

The job goes to Cindy Mota. According to Dennis, "[S]he now has the opportunity to serve which I never had and perhaps never will ... I am qualified but I can't get off the bus ... I am mad as Rosa Parks was."

Dennis would have voted NO on both the NIZ Board and the new Authority.

He adds that East Side Allentown now has no representation on City Council.

LVR's Blog Traffic

Every time I write about someone, he or she will be peppered with emails, warning them to stay away from me. One of the reasons they're to stay away, among many, is that this blog has no readers and I supposedly post all the anonymous comments myself. "O'Hare's blog averages around 600 daily 'visits' from approximately 150 different daily readers. 95% or more of O'Hare's blog comments are from 'anonymous.'"

Actually, this blog averages around 1,600 weekday readers. Yesterday, for example, there were 1,789 unique visitors, a little higher than the 600 or so claimed. 690 came back for a second helping.

It's hardly the millions you'll see in a national blog. It's not even what you'll find in a humor blog. But for a local political blog, I feel pretty good about it.

Will Pawlowski Palace Spell Death of Regionalism?

After the revelation that the EIT owed to other "urban cores" like Bethlehem and Easton will now fund the Pawlowski Palace, a lot of suspicion and distrust has arisen. From this point forward, it just might be "every municipality for itself."

In a bizarre, but perhaps calculated way, some of those who facilitated the NIZ may have just had that very idea in the back of their minds.

With Governor Corbett likely to be sticking around for awhile, and the legislature not changing much in party composition, future state budgets may see a huge shift from the Rendell days. Then, the objective was to buy votes by spreading the money around with cardboard checks. Now, the money may simply not be there.

All the NIZ That Fits the Print!

By now, you've probably guessed I can't get enough of this NIZ story. Bethlehem and Northampton County officials are very grateful that I'm dredging in Allentown. Don't worry,  I'll be back soon, but not before I get my bottom-feeding fins on a copy of Mayor Edwin Pawlowski's year-end campaign finance report, which is due today.

Speaking of campaign finance reports, among NIZ legislator Pat Browne's 20 top contributors in his 2010 Senate race are the following:

1. Lee Butz - NIZ beneficiary.
2. Joe Topper - NIZ beneficiary.
3. Bill Grube - NIZ Board Member Elec.t
4. PPL - They will benefit in many ways from the NIZ.

There goes that "archaic" thinking again.

Easton Gets $300,000 For Northampton St. Buildings

Freeman, flanked by Marcia Hahn and Julie Harhart
FROM STATE REP. BOB FREEMAN: – State Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, announced that the Easton Redevelopment Authority has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the state's Local Share Assessment Account program.

The grant will be used to renovate the former WEST radio and A and D Tile buildings, as well as a vacant lot on Northampton Street. The buildings will house two commercial spaces on the first floor, 23 residential units and on-premise parking.

"This grant is welcome news for the project," Freeman said. "Anytime we can redevelop our downtown areas to take advantage of existing structures without tearing down and completely rebuilding, it is a positive outcome."

Combined, the two buildings represent a half acre of land along Easton's main street.

The Local Share Assessment Account was established by the Pennsylvania Horse Racing and Gaming Development Act, and is funded by the state's gaming facilities to support community and economic projects.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority administers and finances projects included in the Local Share Assessment Account Program. The CFA also oversees the state's Building PA program, Business in Our Sites program, PennWorks, New PA Venture Capital Investment, New Pennsylvania Venture Guarantee, Tax Increment Financing Guarantee and Second Stage Loan programs. Each of these programs is aimed at using targeted state investment to attract private capital for economic development in all regions of the state and for all types of industries.

Updated 2/1/12, 11:00 PM: The pic above was taken during an unrelated County Council meeting last year. I apologize to anyone who was misled.

Senator Pat Browne Denies Lobbyist Wife Is Conflict of Interest

In 2009, Governor Ed Rendell was up against a 101-day long budget stalemate, the longest in state history. The price for Senator Pat Browne's cooperation? Hockey. He inserted what he called a "funding mechanism" in the Fiscal Code, and the Guv' signed it.

That's how the NIZ was born.

Soon after brokering that deal, Browne's wife, Heather, became a registered lobbyist. She's affiliated with lobbying firm Pugliese Associates. In November, Pugliese welcomed J.B. Reilly's East Penn Realty and Joe Topper's Lehigh Gas as new clients.

Reilly, who is also landlord to both Pugliese and Browne's Senate Office, is the moving force behind Allentown's NIZ, which diverts state taxes and even EIT for other municipalities, including other "urban cores." Topper's Lehigh Gas was the NIZ's first tenant. Topper also just happens to be Senator Browne's 11th largest contributor in his 2010 re-election campaign.

After both J.B Reilly and Joe Topper hired Heather Browne to do their lobbying, Senator Browne - along with Mayor Ed Pawlowski and State Rep. Jennifer Mann - made nine recommendations for the new NIZ board. They're scheduled for confirmation by Allentown City Council on Wednesday night.

I believe the entire board is tainted by Browne's continued involvement in the NIZ because he has a conflict of interest, as defined in the state Ethics Act:

"No public official or public employee shall engage in conduct that constitutes a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest is defined as use by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding public office or employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family, or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated."

Isn't Browne clearly using the authority of his office for the private pecuniary gain of his wife or Pugliese Associates, a business with which she is associated?

According to Senator Browne, No. In an email he was kind enough to send late yesterday, he explains.

"Thanks for the inquiry pertaining to your recent blog posts about the relationship of NIZ participants JB Reilly and Joe Topper with my spouse’s lobbying firm. As I had stated in the past, I do not participant [sic] in any of my spouse’s professional practice in government affairs. In compliance with the ethics code, she performs her professional duties separate and independent from my role as a state elected official. Any details regarding their business relationship must be provided to you by the lobbying firm and/or their clients. Thank you."

Gee, if I know about J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper's involvement in the NIZ, it's a safe bet Heather Browne does, too. After both Reilly and Topper signed on with Heather's firm, Senator Browne used the authority of his office to make NIZ board nominations, which will be to the financial benefit of Reilly, Topper and Heather.

This is a conflict of interest.

Now the Morning Call has picked up on this story. In a troubling report, the newspaper adds that Heather Browne also happens to be the lobbyist for Vaughn Communications, which is doing all the propaganda for the NIZ.

I missed that one.

I suspect that a frequent commenter on this and other Internet sites, "Future Downtown Arena Attendee," is a Vaughn plant.

Of course, all the players deny any impropriety and claim I'm "archaic," whatever the Hell that means. But as Democracy Rising's Tim Potts tells The Morning Call, "It looks like one hand is washing the other. Legislators ought to have an arm's-length relationship with anyone receiving public money. Why should citizens have to worry about whether a line has been crossed or not?"

I believe that line has already been crossed.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Former Rep. Beyer's Web Page Now a Porn Site!!

Let's say you're a normal person who gets most of your political news by watching The Simpsons and South Park. If you vote at all, it's about once every 20 years or so. You probably know Obama is President, but that's about it. It's certainly unlikely that you know your State Rep.

Karen Beyer was, until being defeated by Justin Simmons, a State Representative for the 131st District, here in the Lehigh Valley. If you live in that district, you probably got a newsletter or two from her.

Let's say you're having problems with some state program and finally decide you need to contact your State Rep. Being Internet savvy, you decide to go on her webpage - repbeyer.com.

What you'll find instead are free adult dating personals. Desperate lonely women, interracial, virtual date girls, etc., etc. It's all there. I spent hours researching it this weekend.

I haven't had the heart to tell Karen that some Lithuanian dude named Arunas Petreikis has hijacked her webpape. I have to finish my research first.

Nix the NIZ Board

Heather Browne
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, State Senator Pat Browne and State Rep. Jennifer Mann - according to The Morning Call - have nominated nine people for their brand-spankin' new NIZ Board. They're all scheduled for confirmation on Wednesday night by Allentown's really, really independent City Council.

It's all or none, too. According to the news account, Council must accept all or reject all. I've scoured City Council ordinances adopted between 2009 and 2011, and am unable to find any that establishes a Board for the NIZ. Some kind of action was taken on December 14, according to The Express Times, but neither the minutes nor any Ordinance is available online. But the City's codified Ordinance on Authorities and Boards says this: "No appointee ... shall hold any other elected office or any compensated position for the City."

Wouldn't that rule out Mann?

The Codified Ordinance also states, "At the discretion of Council, persons not resident of the City, but who have a significant property or Business interest in the City may be selected to serve."

Most of these nominees live outside the City Without Limits.

They are all tainted. Senator Pat Browne had a hand in selecting them even though his wife, a registered lobbyist, has a direct financial interest in and represents two of the biggest participants - J.B. Reilly & Joe Topper - in this NIZ. He has been using the authority of his office for the private pecuniary benefit of his wife and her lobbying firm, which appears to be a violation of the state ethics act.

Who are these people? I thought I'd give you some details about each of them.

Gregory N. Dudkin - Senior VP of PPL operations since '09. He was a PECO executive, but found himself on the wrong side of a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2002. After that, he soon became a Comcast mcuckety muck.

Did I say Comcast?  The very outfit that will be managing the arena? I know, I know. That's just a coincidence.

So far as I can tell, Dudkin still lives in a swanky, Society Hill, condo that he bought in 2007 for $1.5 million.

I'm sure he cares a lot about Allentown.

PPL, incidentally, was Senator Pat Browne's 4th largest contributor in his 2010 campaign.

Alan Jennings
Alan Jennings - Now we know the real reason why Alan was so vocal in his support of a "suburban" Rite Aid development on 7th Street, even to the point of ignoring against his own Main Street Manager. Of course, Jennings will deny this, but all too often, he is the water boy for the bluebloods at the Lehigh Valley Partnership. Now and then, they throw him a few cookies for his CACLV. He will be the token "I really care about the poor guy." He'll do as he's told.

Pedro Torres - This hot shot is a mortgage banker for Premier Mortgage, located on Hamilton Boulevard in South Whitehall Township. Gee, I wonder where he'll be moving his offices any time soon? Is The Morning Call, which is attempting to lease some of its office building inside the NIZ, holding its breath? I don't know if he lives in the City.

Grube, Browne & Haydt
Bill Grube - The Morning Call account lists Grube as a trustee of the Allentown Art Museum, and that's certainly true. He also just happens to be the money behind the Cosmopolitan Restaurant and the inventor of night vision goggles, where he made his fortune. He lives in an obscenely large house in Salisbury Township, much larger than my Nazareth estate. Grube was among Senator Pat Browne's top contributors in his 2010  state senate race.

Seymour Traub - the former Chair of AEDC and retired General Counsel for St. Luke's Hospital. Sy lives in South Whitehall Township, although he originally hails from Brooklyn. From everything I've been able to find, he's a genuinely nice guy, but is playing with the wrong kids.

Donald W. Snyder -A former financial manager at Air Products, Snyder served twenty years in the State House, both as Majority and Minority Whip for the Republicans. Now, he's president at LCCC. Many years before that, he was President of South Whitehall Township's Board of Commissioners, and should know what  it feels like to see EIT diverted. According to Michael Donovan, Snyder's presence will ensure that NIZ funds are used for technology education. I would not hold my breath.

Schweyer and Mann
Jennifer Mann - Yep, she recommended herself. And guess what? Once of the persons who is supposed to vote on her nomination, Peter Schweyer, was her Chief of Staff as recently as two weeks ago. He may be working for her again, now that his own electoral plans have been spoiled by the state's Supreme Court. In addition to Schweyer, City Council member Mike Schlossberg worked for her, too. How the hell can either one of them vote at all?

Diane Scott - as Allentown's School Superintendent, Scott caught some flak after a junket to Puerto Rico - in the middle of Winter - to recruit Spanish-speaking teachers for the city's bilingual-education programs.

¡Hola!

Mayor William Heydt called the visit, which garnered no teachers, "frivolous." These days, she's a respected former educator and consultant to Symphony Hall's El Sistema Lehigh Valley. She believes in using music as a tool to help impoverished children.

Nelson Diaz -  This Lower Macungie resident is so connected he even has a Google profile. A PPL project manager between 1985 and 2003, Diaz now owns Mi Casa Properties (in Emmaus) and Exit Realty Advantage. A contributor to Allentown Art Museum's annual fund, he's a board member at Sacred Heart Hospital and the Hispanic American Organization.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

NIZ à Trois: Heather Browne, J.B. Reilly & Joe Topper

We all know that Senator Pat Browne drafted the NIZ legislation that was deceptively inserted the last minute in Governor Ed Rendell's 2009 Fiscal Code Update. In fact, State Rep. Julie Harhart, one of the few who actually knew what was going on, claims that's why she voted against it. House Democrats, anxious to see a budget adopted after a lengthy stalemate, either looked the other way or missed it completely.

Now Senator Browne, along with State Rep. Jennifer Mann and Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski, is one of the Unholy Trinity recommending nine NIZ Board nominees to the Queen City Council on Wednesday night. Amazingly, Mann has recommended herself, too.

Now, I could forgive Browne for sincerely believing, as some do, that the best way to revitalize our urban cores is by corporate welfare, whether it's an outright grant, a KOZ or a NIZ. Never mind that it's always failed. But what's more problematic is that it appears that Senator Browne might be a little more interest in revitalizing his own financial core than that of any city.

A few short months after this NIZ became law, Senator Browne's wife suddenly became a registered lobbyist. I complained about it, and so did Rick Orloski, who was running against Browne at the time.

Now this is completely legal. Senator Jeanette Reibman's husband, Nathan, was a lawyer and lobbyist. So was State Rep Karen Ritter's husband. But the practice of a husband and wife, teaming up as legislator and lobbyist, stinks to high heaven. As Orloski noted at the time,
"Pat and Heather Browne have injected something new into Lehigh Valley politics, namely, the husband and wife team working in the Capitol with Pat Browne receiving public monies and Heather Browne receiving private monies to advance private agendas. Senators are supposed to serve the public good, not private agendas. Maybe the ideal solution is for Pat Browne to relinquish his public position and join his wife's lobbyist firm."
Voters, if they even knew what the hell was going on, thought otherwise and returned Browne to office.

According to Heather Browne's registration statement, last updated through 12/31/10, she's with Pugliese Associates, where her "expertise" in "government relations" and "business development" is lauded.

Guess who Pugliese welcomed as new clients in November?

J.B. Reilly's East Penn Realty and Joe Topper's Lehigh Gas. Reilly just happens to be the main private resource behind the NIZ, and Topper's Lehigh Gas is one of its first tenants.

All very cozy, isn't it?

Now this fails every ethical test - the Red Faced Test, the Laugh Test and my "It's Not Only Unethical - even for lobbyists where the bar is very low - But Also Probably Illegal" Test.

Now she could deny, I suppose, that Reilly and Topper are her clients. But since she runs the Allentown office for Pugliese and they are Allentown clients, that's gonna' be a hard sell.

Incidentally, Pugliese is located at 702 Hamilton Street. Why does that matter? It's where State Senator Pat Browne and Joe Topper are both located, with J. B. Reilly as their landlord. Now all we need is NIZ Board nominee Nelson Diaz as property manager of the building. That would be so cool.

Updated 11:50 PM: In fairness to State Senator Browne, I have asked for his response to this blog. I felt the story needed to be told now.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Simmons: Allentown's Tax Grab Here to Stay

State Rep. Justin Simmons has contacted me to explain the NIZ, how it was enacted and what can be done about it. According to him, it's too late to repeal it. Here's what he has to say.

This was one of the many reasons why I decided to challenge my predecessor in the 2010 Republican primary. Since this is complicated, I'm going to send you bullet points of what each vote meant. There are several things to keep in mind here. First, the NIZ for Allentown was created in 2009 which included the borrowing of EIT funds from other municipalities. Second, because this was passed in 2009, we couldn't repeal it. The basic reason why the NIZ language was in the fiscal code of 2011 was that Allentown was and is still in the process of building the arena. Third, we have to pass a fiscal code in order to enact a budget. It's huge and it outlines every precise detail and tax zone in the Commonwealth.

I would ask former Representative Beyer why she thought this was good for the other municipalities she used to represent besides Allentown.

     • The Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) was first established in the 2009 Fiscal Code

       • o HB 1614 – the vehicle that was used to enact the 2009 Fiscal Code

            The legislation which eventually became Act 50 was originally voted in the House on September 17, 2009 was sent over to the Senate for consideration. When the legislation was sent to the Senate, the NIZ language was not present in the bill. The final passage vote to sent the bill to the Senate was: 192 – 4.

            The legislation was amended in the Senate. The amendment inserted by the Senate included the NIZ language.

            When the bill returned to the House for a concurrence vote on Senate amendments, the bill passed on an almost party line vote. The only two Republican “yes” votes were Rep. Beyer and Rep. Denny O’Brien.

       • SB 907 – the vehicle that was used to enact the 2011 Fiscal Code

            While this legislation made some changes to the NIZ program, it did not significantly change the language that was implemented in 2009

            Because the project was already under way in 2011 it would have been very difficult to change the language

           The changes we did make were to ensure that

           • (1) the governing body of the zone (in this case the City of Allentown) was not able to “sit on” taxpayer funds – a clause was added to the language stating that if there were excess monies in the NIZ fund, they will be distributed first to the State and then to the local municipalities if any monies remain

           • (2) to safeguard the interest rates of the bonds that are issued. The Commonwealth is on the hook for these bonds and in order to ensure the taxpayers received the best possible interest rates, we needed to clarify the Commonwealth pledge language.

           • (3) we limited the term of the bond financing to 30 years. It is our understanding that 30 years is the length of the bonds being issued. We wanted to ensure that whenever the bonds were refinanced, that they were not extended beyond the initial 30 years period.

     • It is important to note that without the changes in 2011, the taxpayers would be potentially be liable for increased expenditures based on interest rates and the length of the bonds being issued.

     • The language was not new in the 2011 Fiscal Code, it was already enacted.

I hope this helps to clear things up.

Sincerely,

Justin Simmons

Most LV Legislators Blindsided By Allentown Tax Grab

"Senator Pat Browne won't be getting any Christmas cards from us this year."

That's what one local state rep. told me concerning the NIZ legislation drafted in 2009 by Senator Pat Browne, which was tucked deep inside a Fiscal Code Update. Most of them had little or no idea it was even in there, and certainly were unaware of changes in how EIT is collected.

Browne is reportedly meeting with LV state representatives next week.

But one State Rep. who did know, at least about the NIZ, is Julie Harhart. She actually voted against this legislation in 2009, which is contrary to what I told you earlier this week.

"The vote on House Bill 1614 (Act 50 of 2009) which you are referring to was a procedural vote," ahe explains. "The vote that counts was the final passage vote on House Bill 1614 and on that vote I voted no." (Emphasis added).

According to Harhart, the NIZ was slipped into the bill, when it came back from the Senate to the House for concurrence.  "That is when the language was inserted," she explains.

The sole LV Republican who supported this Fiscal Code update was Karen Beyer. All LV Democrats supported it, not because they even knew about the NIZ, but because they supported the budget of a Democratic Governor.

In the Senate, Lisa Boscola was opposed, while Browne supported legislation he had a hand in crafting.

When this legislation came up again, in a 2011 Fiscal Code update it was now the budget of a Republican governor. So LV Democrats naturally voted No, while LV Republicans naturally voted Yes.

In the Senate, Boscola was a Yes in what was a unanimous vote.

Why would Harhart oppose the NIZ in 2009 and support it in 2011? Although I have not spoken to her directly about this, State Rep. Marcia Hahn explains that three important changes were made to the NIZ.

First. If there are excess monies in the NIZ fund, the governing body of the zone must distribute this taxpayer money remaining money back to the State and then to the local municipalities.

Second. To insure that taxpayers receive the best possible interest rates, the Commonwealth pledge language was clarified.

Third: The bill limits the term of the bond financing to 30 years, even if they are refinanced.

While these changes certainly improve the NIZ from what it was in 2009, it still diverts EIT money. It still takes money due to other municipalities. This was done with absolutely no input from the townships, cities and boroughs directly affected. Worse, there is no analysis of the financial impact this ill have on surrounding municipalities.

"Is it $500? Is it $50,000? I don't know," explained Hanover Township Manager Jay Finnigan on Tuesday night.

Commonwealth Court: Emails Subject to Right to Know

Are individual emails of Council members, school directors and Commissioners subject to Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law? According to a Commonwealth Court decision filed this week, you betcha.' But the Court carved out an exception for personal emails that have nothing to do with the public's business.

This opinion is the result of a Right-to-Know request filed by The Morning Call, seeking the emails of individual Easton School Board members.

Interestingly, the Court has ruled that not all emails sent from or received by a public computer constitute "public records" subject to the right to know. Personal emails can be excluded. But individual emails that address agency business must be produced.

Two Views on Lehigh County Reassessment

The Express Times tells us that, in a unanimous vote on Wednesday night, Lehigh County Commissioners ignored Executive Don Cunningham's advice and decided to forge ahead with its first County-wide reassessment since 1991. Cunningham favored waiting a year.

Was it the right call?

Vice Chairman Scott Ott thinks so, and so does every single Commissioner, both Republican and Democrat. In a news release, Ott points out that there were over 700 assessment appeals in 2010. And although he does not say this, municipal bodies almost always end up on the short end of a property tax challenge. What Ott does say is that, since 2007, Lehigh County municipalities may have lost as much as $50 million in revenue, forcing them to raise taxes.

"The reality is that reassessment is already happening," claims Ott, "but only for the few who have the knowledge and resources to challenge their assessments, mostly businesses."

So far, the County has spent $305,000 for the reassessment process.

But Executive Don Cunningham, like John Stoffa in Northampton County, thinks the County should wait a year or so until the market settles down. In a telephone conversation late yesterday, he told me he will veto the Ordinance. "I'm greatly concerned about it and its impact on a lot of regular folks," he worries, noting that assessments could change dramatically for older homes.

"We have entire streets in Allentown valued at $50,000-60,000, that are now selling for $10-15,000. What value do we assign? $50,000? $15,000? This is a nightmare time to affix a value."

I have long advocated the need for reassessment. So did Executive John Stoffa. But in 2009, as a result of the slumping economy, he changed his mind. At that time, his Fiscal Affairs Director, Vic Mazziotti, stated that the real estate market is so volatile that it would be difficult to find comparable home prices. But Vic was always bothered by those incessant assessment appeals, which do favor those with the means to mount a challenge. As a recently elected Commissioner, he believes the best time to reassess is now.

Despite the unanimous vote that includes members of his own party, Cunningham wonders whether there are political motives behind this sudden urgency.

"They want to show they're in charge. But this is not the right issue on which to stake out that ground," he noted.

Ironically, despite their differing views, both Cunningham and Ott are concerned most about homeowners with limited means.

That's a good thing.

Pete Schweyer's Race Ends Before It Can Start

Yesterday's per curiam Order of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which invalidates the state's legislative reapportionment plan for State House and State Senate districts, may very well have been the right call. Still, it has thrown a monkey wrenches into this year's races. Some who chose not to run in certain House districts are now being forced to  re-evaluate their chances, with practically no time to make a decision. Others have seen their races end before they could even be launched.

In the Slate Belt, for example, Joe "Cap" Capozzolo, a former Bangor Mayor and member of Northampton County Council, was seriously considering a run for the State Senate. His hopes are dashed by yesterday's ruling.

But the person I feel sorriest for is Allentown's Peter Schweyer, a member of Allentown City Council who was going to run in a newly created "Hispanic district." He works as State Rep. Jenn Mann's Chief of Staff, but would be required by law to resign once he announced his campaign.

My understanding is that he may have already resigned, and was working for Croslis and Brennan, even though he's no lawyer. That firm serves more as some sort of brokerage house for local Dems than as an actual law firm.

He should be able to get his job back, although I did pretty well in an interview earlier this week. Jenn Mann loves me.

One final point.

Yesterday's ruling has nothing to do with the Congressional redistricting of Charlie Dent's seat. I have spoken to several people who mistakenly believe that Tim Holden will no longer be representing Easton and other municipalities. That's another matter.

Updated 8:00 AM:  In a comment, Allentown's Dennis Pearson notes that the High Court decision also ends Tatiana Tooley's campaign against Mike Schlossberg. He adds that Schweyer can still run ... against Justin Simmons. Easton teacher Kevin Deely has already announced his candidacy as a Democrat in that race, but would be crushed by either Simmons or Schweder.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bethlehem's New, 5-member ZHB, Goes To Work

From left to right: Michael Santanasto, Gus Loupos(seated), Linda Shay Gardner, Bill Fitzpatrick(seated) and  James Schantz
Within days of their appointment, three new Zoning Hearing Board members - Linda Shay Gardner, Michael Santanasto and James Schantz - joined Chairman Gus Loupos and Bill Fitzpatrick for their first night of hearings on January 25. Their very first lesson? Hurry up and wait.

Before this new, five member Board could convene, Loupos and Fitzpatrick were still busy wrapping up the 6th and final night of testimony in Abe Atiyeh's controversial request for a residential treatment center next to Bethlehem Catholic High School. Instead of getting started at 7 PM, as scheduled on the agenda, the new zoners had to wait until 9 PM.

Their first zoning applicant?

None other than Abe Atiyeh.

Owner of Synthetic Thread Apartments at 825 12th Avenue, Atiyeh was denied a sign permit for a 189 sq ft combined static and LED sign, which would replace what's already painted on the building. Atyeh's lead engineer, David Harte, told zoners the sign would advertise the 67 loft apartments, which he explained are hard to find. Because these are "live work" apartments for people who work from their home, Harte suggested the LED sign would also let people know what services are offered by tenants. He added that the LED light, located in an industrial district, would have no impact on any residences.

Attorney James Preston, representing Atiyeh, told zoner James Schantz that the building and its original sign were there before nearby Route 378, and probably pre-dates Bethlehem's zoning ordinance. Although zoners unanimously granted a variance for the sign, they imposed conditions that would prevent Atiyeh from using it as a billboard to advertise products or services unrelated to the apartment building.

Former Phillies' Hurler Dicke Noles Is Atiyeh's Closer

Abe Atiyeh with his closer, Dickie Noles
After six hearings and 21 hours of testimony that first began last October, Bethlehem's zoners have finally wrapped up testimony on developer Abe Atiyeh's request for a 70-bed voluntary inpatient substance abuse center, more commonly known as a drug and alcohol rehab. What has made this project controversial is its location. It's proposed at the vacant Calvary Baptist Church, located at 111 Dewberry Avenue, and more importantly, right next to Bethlehem Catholic High School.

If approved, it would be operated by The Malvern Institute, a for-profit venture with a 80-bed inpatient facility in Chester County.

A Beca baseball diamond borders the rehab proposed at Dewberry Avenue. Ironically, testimony ended with former Phillies' pitcher Dickie Noles, who came out of the bullpen as Atiyeh's surprise closer.

During a three-hour hearing earlier this month, zoners heard from a trinity of educators concerned about the rehab's location. Bethlehem Catholic Principal John Petruzzelli worried that the treatment center would hurt the school. "Please do not impair or harm this neighborhood," he asked zoners. "Please do not threaten our ability to interest parents and attract students. Please don't threaten our viability." Dr. Bill Nelson, former Director of Student Services at Bethlehem Area School District, told zoners that student safety is "more important than anythng, more important than education itself." Greg Zeborowski, a retired behavioral analyst who worked with addicted students over a 37-year career, warned that addicted people are an "agitated, anxiety-ridden and edgy population."

When testimony resumed on January 25, Atiyeh Attorney Blake Marles first called called Donald Muenker, the principal of an elementary school located right next to a rehab in West Rockhill Township. Although he conceded that his young students are under much stricter supervision than you'll find in a high school, Muenker insisted he's never had a problem with the rehab center next door, and even uses it as an evacuation site.

After finishing with Muenker, Marles made the call to the bullpen, and out came tall, lanky North Carolinian Dickie Noles. During the 1980 World Series, Noles was the Phillies' relief pitcher who nearly started a riot with a brushback fastball that went right under George Brett's chin. But Noles told zoners and over sixty spectators last night that he's an alcoholic who has undergone rehab treatment himself.

"Treatment works," Noles assured everyone, who went through rehab in 1983. "If it works with me, it works with anybody."

For the past 18 years, Noles has been employed by the Phillies as their Employee Assistance Director, helping ball players who sometimes have drug, alcohol, money or relationship problems.

After a tough cross, Spadoni poses with Noles
As some members of the audience groaned, Noles stated that a rehab next to a high school - or anywhere else for that matter - would pose no safety concerns. "I see no problem. We're people." Noting the stigma associated with addiction, Noles pointed out that 1 out of every 4 persons in the hearing room has a loved one with an addiction. As the loud whispers and groaning continued, the former hurler added, "I see treatment differently than this whole room does. That's pretty obvious." Nevertheless, "I gave up a night with my grandbaby to be here. I'm kinda' glad I came."

After being cross-examined by attorneys with fastballs, Noles had to answer curves from some of the same people who were groaning at him. Kent Aitchison told the former pitcher, "I don't want it in my neighborhood." Sue Glenser complained the rehab would be full of "convicted felons." Clinical psychoanalyst William Henry suggested an association between addiction and "criminal violence."

As he attempted to answer concerns, the former hurler at one point complained, "Playin' baseball is way easier than this!"

"And a lot more money, too!" wisecracked Bethlehem City Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni.

"I wasn't there when they were makin' money," answered the right-hander.

When audience member Kerry Rogers asked about drug trafficking inside rehabs, Noles finally had enough. He threw no brushback, but did tell the audience, "I'm appalled. I don't think many people in here understand what treatment is about."

Whether Noles gets the save remains to be seen. On February 22, zoners Gous Loupos, Bill Fitzpatrick and Ron Lutes will listen to arguments from attorneys. After that, they will make a decision by March 30.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Township, Borough Officials Angry at Allentown's Tax Grab

Hanover's Jay Finnigan
Under a law passed in 2009 and amended in 2011, a 130-acre downtown Neighborhood Improvement Zone was established in Allentown, to defray construction costs for a hockey arena and other improvements. But what was largely unknown, until a recent Morning Call report, was that even earned income taxes owed to other municipalities like Bethlehem and Hanover Township, can now be diverted to help support projects in the Queen City. Many local township and borough officials had no idea this would happen, and are disturbed that this could lead to revenue shortfalls in heir own budgets.

At a Hanover Township Supervisors' meeting on January 23, Manager Jay Finnigan told the Board this tax grab "could have a serious effect on the surrounding municipalities. It looks like some of our current tax dollars are going to fund financing and maybe building of the arena in center city Allentown."

Finnigan stated that in 2009, when this legislation was first proposed, "We expressed our opposition." He adds Township officials did so again last year, when the law was amended. "What right do any of these intermediaries have to take our money and divert it to some other purpose?" asks Chairman John N. Diacogiannis. Finnigan also questions why no financial analysis was done before this legislation was enacted to see how it would impact surrounding communities.

Joined by Lower Macungie Manager Bruce Fosselman and South Whitehall Manager Jon Hammer, Finnigan has notified municipal managers throughout the Lehigh Valley that they have scheduled a meeting with State Senator Pat Browne, the author of this legislation, so they can register their concerns. Finnigan adds, "It is imperative that all Political Subdivisions have their elected and appointed officials contact the members of the Lehigh Valley Legislative delegation and demand that the legislature modify this portion of the enacting legislation."

This tax diversion would include employees who work at PPL Plaza, the new Butz Building, Holiday Inn, Sacred Heart Hospital, the new Arena and the new J.B. Reilly City One Building.

Whitehall Mayor Ed Hozza reports that 90 Whitehall residents are employed at Sacred Heart, but township and borough officials have no idea of the exact numbers affected. Hozza has laid out some options suggested by other Township managers: (1) withhold EIT due to Allentown; (2) demand that every municipality have membership on the arena board; (3) take coffee and dump it in the Lehigh, not tea; (4) boycott the arena; and (5) demand a luxury box at the arena for every resident whose tax dollars have been diverted.

Bangor Borough Council member David Houser has branded the tax grab nothing short of "taxation without representation."

Updated 10:20 AM: East Penn School Board Prez Chuck Ballard, in response to learning of the EIT theft, has suggested a new name for the Phantoms - the "Allentown Pirates."

How Did LV Legislators Vote On Allentown's Tax Grab?

Samuelson, Brennan & Freeman
Yesterday, I welcomed you to Allentown's Sherwood Forest, where the EIT for any people employed in the Queen City's 130-acre Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), regardless where they happen to live, will first go into a fund to pay for the arena and other improvements at the site. How sweet it NIZ! Hard-earned tax dollars from all over the Lehigh Valley will now be diverted for projects owned by millionaires.

How did LV legislators vote on this project? Before I tell you, let me remind you that this provision is buried in a NIZ that itself is tucked deep inside a Fiscal Code Update. That legislation deals with all kinds of things, including the definitions of cigarettes and "little cigars." Allentown's special tax zone gets no mention, not even in the header, to say nothing of its tax grab.

We're also talking about two pieces of legislation. First, there's Act 50 of 2009, which establishes the NIZ. That's followed, two years later, by Act 26 of 2011, which improves the original bill with a finite, 30-year sunset and eliminates KOZ benefits in the NIZ.  I have to wonder whether the LV delegation even had any idea that they were authorizing Allentown to "borrow" EIT money owed to other municipalities.

The original bill, Act 50 of 2009, was supported by Pat Browne, Karen Beyer, Joe Brennan, Craig Dally, Rich Grucela, Julie Harhart, Jennifer Mann and Doug Reichley. Opposed were Lisa Boscola, Gary Day, Bob Freeman and Steve Samuelson. (See Senate and House votes).

The new and improved bill, Act 26 of 2011, was supported by Lisa Boscola, Pat Browne, Bob Mensch, Gary Day, Joe Emrick, Marcia Hahn, Julie Harhart, Doug Reichley and Justin Simmons. Opposed were Bob Freeman, Jennifer Mann and Steve Samuelson. Joe Brennan was on excused leave and did not vote. (See Senate and House votes).

It appears that this was largely a partisan vote, with most Democrats opposed to what bluebloods have called a "progressive" idea.

Allentown's Tax Grab Will Yield at least $4.5 Million Annually

In response to the news of Allentown's tax grab, Macungie EIT Collector Rose Nonnemacher has done some financial analysis. Her startling results, which she shared with Morning Call reporters Scott Kraus and Matt Assad, reveal that Allentown will be able to divert $4.5 million in EIT every year.

Using only the 4 businesses you mentioned, with a total of 2700 employees, the following revenues will be placed in the NIZ account, assuming an average salary for these employees of $40,000.00 annually (given that Butz and PPL are both headquarters, I feel that figure is conservative):

Local Services Tax: at $52.00 per person annually: $140,400.00 into the fund
Earned Income Tax: at $400.00 per person annually: $1,080,000.00 into the fund
PA State Income Tax: at 3.07% x $40,000.00 x 2700 annually: $3,315,600.00 into the fund

This totals over $4.5 million dollars into the fund annually, and does not include business privilege or PA sales taxes collected, all of which I assume are affected. It also does not include any of the numerous smaller businesses in the zone.

Was any reason given why this zone is set to be there for 30 years, when, with the amount of revenue being set aside yearly, the $20 million dollar debt could be paid off in 5 years?

This legislation gives the City of Allentown the power to delay payment of Earned Income Tax to area municipalities by two years for the next 30 years. Is the City controlling this money? Are there checks and balances on them to be sure they don't "borrow" any to balance their budget? How will they disburse the excess taxes collected: will the individual taxpayers be named and the amount (full or prorated) be listed so the tax can be properly credited by the tax offices -or will the City submit a lump sum for each municipality - and if so, who would determine the correct municipality?

I guess the biggest question is...how did this legislation get past the entire community of municipalities and school districts?

Hanover Supervisors Award New, Cheaper, Garbage Hauling Contract

In a rare split vote, Hanover Township Supervisors on January 24 awarded a new, five-year contract for residential waste and recycling, to Raritan Valley Disposal. This new agreement will actually reduce annual garbage bills paid by most homeowners from $305 to $245, but garbage trucks will be in the Township four days every week, instead of the two days under current hauler JP Mascaro and Sons.

Jack Nagle, the sole Supervisor to vote against 4-day pickups at a lower cost, explained he is "aware of the economic climate," but noted that there will still be $27 in annual savings with a 2-day pickup. "Where is our best value?" he asked.

Glenn Walbert, who was unavailable when this was discussed on January 10, stated his personal reference is for 1-day per week garbage pickup, but the "vast majority" of residents who phoned him at home told him they were looking for the best bottom line. "I have to go with 4-day pickup," he said.

Although Steve Salvesen originally sided with Nagle, he changed his position after a "ton of telephone calls from residents," who recommended 4-day pickup because "it is such a low number."

Unchanged was Mark Tanczos, who reiterated his view that this low price is a "business decision." But Tanczos complimented Nagle for his views. "It's rare that we have conflicting views, but that's a good thing," he noted.

Before the 4-1 vote in favor of Raritan Valley, Supervisors heard from resident Raymond Berger. Reminding them that he chairs the Hanover Township GOP, Berger told them Mascaro has done "one heck of a job" and has the cheapest rate for 1-day per week pickup. But another resident, Blair Bates had just three words - "Cheaper is better."

In other business, Supervisors unanimously approved demolition requests for the buildings on two different properties: 4098 Bath Pike, owned by Joseph & Cindy Szapka; and 1350 Orchard Lane, owned by Roger Smith.

Solicitor James Broughal explained Supervisors must approve demolition requests for buildings over 100 years old.

Szapka explained her properties have no historical significance and are in bad repair. "I hate to knock it down but I can't afford to keep the maintenance on it," she explained.

"George Washington didn't sleep there, did he?" asked Chairman John Diacogiannis.

"No, but Nagle has," wisecracked Township Manager Jay Finnigan.

Supervisors' next meeting is on Tuesday, February 14, 7 PM, at the Municipal Building located at 3630 Jacksonville Rd. Finnigan reminded everyone that's Valentine's Day.

LC Comm'r Candidate Throws Support to Mike Schware

Mike Schware and his daughter, after beating me in a 5k.
Coopersburg resident Dan Paschke, who works for State Rep. Justin Simmons, is one of three candidates in contention for the seat recently vacated by Glenn Eckhart. The other two hopefuls are Norma Cusick and Mike Schware. But in an unusual and classy move, Paschke is now asking Commissioners to select Schware.

"I am asking that any Commissioners that were planning to vote for me, would instead, vote for Mike Schware," he writes in a prepared statement. "Mike’s background as an accountant and his past experience auditing the county budget would be a great asset to the board. His expertise would assist in bringing about the changes that need to be made in working toward the best interests of Lehigh County residents."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dent & Democrat Bruce Braley Are an Item?

Traditionally, members of Congress sit with other members of their own political party in a divided chamber. But in 2011, that changed as the need for bipartisanship has become more clear. Tonight, during President Obama's State of the Union address, LV Congressman Charlie Dent with Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley.

“On a night the President outlines his vision for 2012, it is important elected officials illustrate to the American people our determination to tackle the major issues facing our nation in a bipartisan manner,” said Dent in a news release. “Sitting with my colleague and friend Bruce Braley is a simple gesture to show our shared commitment to working together. This show of unity is particularly poignant this evening, as we celebrate the service of U.S. Rep Gabby Giffords (AZ-8), who will soon resign from Congress to focus on her rehabilitation.”

“It won’t fix everything that’s broken in Washington, but sitting together in a bipartisan way is a good reminder that at the end of the day, we’re all Americans – not just Republicans or Democrats,” said Rep. Braley. “Charlie and I don’t agree on everything, but we’re friends and we do agree that when it comes to facing our nation’s challenges, we face them as a united people, not as members of political parties.”

No word on whether they will hold hands. But they are members of the same fraternity, so they probably know some secret handshake or something.

Welcome to Allentown's Sherwood Forest

It seems like just yesterday that I likened The Morning Call's breathless swooning over Allentown's vaunted hockey arena and the accompanying NIZ to reporting straight out of Pravda or Izvestia. But this Sunday's story, penned by Comrades Scott Kraus and Matt Assad, might cost them their party memberships. We've now learned that EIT for any people employed in the Queen City's Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), regardless where they happen to live, will first go into a fund to pay for the arena and other improvements at the site.

Let me explain how EIT is supposed to work. You file an income tax form with your local municipality - just like you do with the state and the federal government. You pay your local income tax to your municipality regardless of where you earned it. Exceptions have been made by the legislature for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but they don't apply to the rest of the mere mortals in the Commonwealth.

The collection and remittance of EIT by the host municipality and then the remittance of EIT back to the municipality where the employee lives was done as a matter of convenience for employees. Act 32, passed a few years ago, establishes county by county collection committees who hire a single agent to collect EIT and distribute to all eligible municipalities based on where the employee lives.

Except now, it seems the NIZ is trumping Act 32 and all other acts that preceded it, including local municipal ordinances establishing the collection of EIT. No one told any municipality that their EIT was going to be "held hostage" by the NIZ to see if it is needed before it is remitted. It's safe to say this will create chaos for municipal budgets.

Senator Browne, who wrote this legislation, gave The Morning Call explanations that are imperious and dismissive at best and disingenuous at worst. The Senator, incidentally, has no intention of seeking re-election when his term expires in the next two years. That way, he can be paid directly by the blue bloods from both parties who support screwing other municipalities to support Allentown.

Increasingly, it's becoming clear that Allentown's NIZ is a bizzaro world Sherwood Forest. But Governor Wannabe Ed Pawlowsi is a Robin Hood in reverse. He robs from the poor and gives to the rich.

Let's review the NIZ "success story," shall we? Five "new" tenants, all poached from somewhere else in the Lehigh Valley. Now the City of Bethlehem finds out they are not only competing on an uneven playing field, but are also helping to subsidize Allentown's development with their EIT, too.

This manipulation of tax policy, government subsidy and regulation of free market forces would make any self-respecting Robin Hood, Socialist, Marxist, Bolshevik or Leninist blush with embarrassment. They justified sharing of the wealth as a way to help the working classes gain parity and equity versus the wealthy. Somehow Allentown and Pat Browne got it mixed up.

Instead of textbooks for Allentown's distressed schools, the "goodies" thrown into the pot will benefit developers like Reilly and Butz - and probably Jim Petrucci at some point in the not too distant future. After all, Petrucci's LV right hand man - Tom Shaughnessy - is on the ACIDA Board. All he has to do is recuse himself when the subject of generous financing for his boss comes to the Board for a vote.

In addition to those guys, look at some of Robin Pawlowski's Band of Merry Men.

Traffic Planning and Design Inc. They are represented by a Montgomery County attorney and Dem who has raised Ed about $100K.

Land Development Services. T and M Associates, represented by Pawlowski campaign manager Mike Fleck.

Of course, the supposed justification for what blogger Michael Molovinsky correctly calls a Shell Game is that this helps the urban core, and those benefits will trickle down to surrounding municipalities.

Where have we heard that before?

For years, we've been strengthening Allentown's urban core with state grans and KOZs. We put up canopies along Hamilton Street to strengthen the urban core. Just as suddenly, we ripped them down to help the urban core. Allentown is still a death star that is now even sucking tax revenues intended for other municipalities.

Lehigh County Gears Up For Its 200th Birthday

From Lehigh County: To help commemorate Lehigh County’s 200th anniversary, Bicentennial Celebration Committee members are planning a special community celebration for all ages on Saturday, March 10, 2012 from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Allentown Fairground’s Agri-Plex.

The committee will host historic, interactive and educational exhibits offered by various organizations, businesses, and non-profits that have enriched the county throughout the years. Applications for participation in the Community Celebration are being accepted through February 3, 2012,

The highlight of the celebration will be an Inaugural Hall of Fame Ceremony at 6:00 p.m. to honor nationally recognized people with connections to Lehigh County. The day-long event will culminate with a spectacular fireworks display at 8:00 p.m.

Special guests include Ferrous and FeFe as well as Pip the Mouse. Some of the scheduled festivities include performances by Balloons the Clown, area high school bands and the Lehigh County Historical Society. Interactive activities for children will be presented by DaVinci Science Center, the Lehigh Valley Zoo, the Liberty Bell Museum, the Museum of Indian Culture and the Wildlands Conservancy.

Warm up your pitching arm as the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs will test the speed and accuracy of your throw and many other fun activities for kids of all ages! Lehigh County’s Emergency Management Department will have displays and activities for children and tours of the Mobile Command Post. There will also be demonstrations by the Special Operations Team. Members of the Cetronia Ambulance Corps will bring Andy the Ambulance, a robot which teaches small children about safety and 9-1-1 education as well as other advanced life-saving equipment and demonstrations. The Lehigh Valley Health Network will be attending with various health awareness and safety programs.

Lehigh County’s Bicentennial events and projects would not be possible without the support of community partners such as Coca-Cola Bottling Company of the Lehigh Valley, Lehigh Valley Health Network, Air Products, PPL, Highmark Blue Shield, Boyle Construction, The Morning Call, WFMZ, Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Jaindl, DeSales University, Alvin H. Butz, Inc., Lutron, Penn State Lehigh Valley, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Via Media, Arcadia Properties, LLC, Franklin Development Corporation, Samuel Adams/Boston Brewing, TD Bank, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, Capital Blue Cross, Caruso Benefits, Wells Fargo, Franklin Realty Development Corporation, Computer Aid, Inc., Lehigh Valley International Airport and others.

All proceeds from Lehigh County’s Bicentennial activities will support enhancements to the George Taylor House in the Borough of Catasauqua. George Taylor was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence and helped shape the foundation of Lehigh County.

For more information or booth participation, please contact Gina Koinski, Lehigh County Event Planning Administrator, 610-782-3855 or ginakoinski@lehighcounty.org

Monday, January 23, 2012

6 Women, 1 Man Charged With Hooking at Sands Casino

Bethlehem Police Blog has the details.

Phil Mitman Resigns From LVEDC

LVEDC's top dog, Phil Mitman, has stepped down. Mitman came under fire last June for an official tweet announcing, "We start summer hours today. That means most of the staff leave at noon, many to hit the links. Do you observe summer hours? What do you do?" He fired the tweeter, which just got the twitterati all worked up.

He might be headed to Easton Area Industrial Land Development, whose board voted on Phil replacing retiring Executive Director Charles Roseberry last month.

Updated 1:45 PM: The Express Times and Morning Call now have stories confrming this report.

Matt Cartwright To Hit Holden From Left?

LV Congressman #2, Tim Holden, might be getting hit from the left. Gort42 has reported on the buzz, and I've just received an email that Lackawanna County resident and attorney Matt Cartwright will have a "major announcement" about the Congressional race tomorrow.

Incidentally, I've attempted reaching Holden's Congressional office via email for news releases, but when I enter my Nazareth zip code, I'm robotically told I'm outside his distict.

Should We Switch to Weekend Voting?

The skies opened up and the rains descended. There was even a tornado watch throughout the state for most of the day. But when the polls finally closed in South Carolina on Saturday, something strange had happened. Despite talking heads who sensed little enthusiasm for any of the Republican presidential candidates, over 600,000 Republicans chimed in, shattering a previous 2000 record.

It's still just 21%, but that includes Democrats and Independents, who are allowed to vote in Palmetto State GOP primaries. So what's the reason for this record?

Obviously, Newt Gingrich, Master Debater. Romney Robots hate it, but if nothing else, Gingrich's on-stage performances prove we all still like a good show.

Even more than those thirty-second negative ads.

But is another reason for this record turnout the fact that the election took place on a Saturday? According to one state GOP official, people are more likely to vote on a weekend.

Why the hell do we pick our presidents on a Tuesday, anyway? According to Why Tuesday, a non-partisan group, Congress picked that date for presidential races in 1845.
"We were an agrarian society. We traveled by horse and buggy. Farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship. So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day. So, Tuesday it was."
These days, Tuesday might actually be the worst day to vote. Would weekend voting, spread out over both days to accommodate religious concerns, be an answer?

I asked State Reps. Joe Brennan, Bob Freeman, Marcia Hahn and Steve Samuelson if they were aware of any legislation, at least on the state level, to change election day for local and state races. Nothing has been proposed.

Brennan told me that since there are more Democrats that Republicans in the state, but Republicans control all three branches of government, he doubts the GOP would propose any legislation that might bring more Democrats to the polls. But it could bring more Republicans and independents, too.

On a federal level, a GAO study is unable to predict whether switching federal race elections to weekends would make a difference in turnout. Gingrich, the beneficiary of a Saturday election, has previously claimed that election-day turnout is affected more by negative campaigning than the day of the week.

Joe Paterno, R.I.P.

courtesy of guyism.com
I've heard of kicking someone while he's down, as many in the mainstream media have done to Joe Paterno since the Sandusky scandal first broke. But the appropriately named Daily Beast is continuing to slam him, within hours of his death, for his "willful inaction."

What the hell is that?

The reality is that Paterno has been scapegoated by many who thought he should have retired, never thought much of Penn State,or are scared to death that it will lose some of its endowments. The reality is that Paterno received incredible allegations that were watered down from what was actually seen. The reality is that this football coach did what he was supposed to do, and forwarded the allegations for review by the appropriate authorities. No criminal charges were ever even contemplated for this supposed "willful inaction," but the Big Ten wasted no time in scratching his name off its bullshit trophy.

Now he's dead, killed as much by a vicious media as by the cancer eating away at his lungs.

I suspect he'll be getting a kinder reception wherever he is now than he did in his sad final months at Penn State.

Joe Owens has a terrific little homage to a great man.

Updated 10:24 AM: LV Congressman Charlie Dent has released this statement: "Today, the nation learned of the passing of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. While many Americans will remember Coach Paterno for his unparalleled success on the field, Penn State students, alumni and fans will never forget his love for the University and contributions to its development. With a heavy heart, I offer my deepest sympathy to the entire Paterno family, especially Joe's loving wife Sue. As a proud Nittany Lion and Pennsylvanian, I will miss Coach Paterno's extraordinary humility, unique spirit and contagious smile."

Jesus Walked on Water, But I Can Walk on Ice!

Years ago, I could run through all kinds of weather without slipping. And if I did, it was no biggie. But on Saturday, while just walking outside, I spent more time on my ass than my feet. And at age 60, those falls hurt a lot more than they did a few short years ago. So on Sunday, I broke down and spent $20 I don't have for Yaktrax Walkers at Sports Authority. I was able to walk 7.5 miles without as much as a slip, to say nothing of falling.

You slip them over your running shoes, the way we used to slip chains over tires before front wheel drive became popular.

Will they work in a run? I'll find out soon, although I doubt there'll be much ice today. But that's not the reason for this post. 

Many of us manage to hurt ourselves this time of year, just in the simple act of walking to our car during a snow or ice storm. Since these are pretty cheap and easy to use, I'd recommend these for old farts like me, not just athletes.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hanover Tp Announces Snow Emergency

Hanover Township - Northampton County announces a Snow Emergency effective at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, January 21, 2012 through 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 21, 2012.

Any motor vehicle parked on Township Streets will be ticketed or towed at owner's expense.

Updated 6:15 PM: Below your will see Lehigh Valley Weather Patrol's map, which places the Lehigh Valley in what it calls the "jackpot zone," i.e. 3-6" and in some areas, as much as 8".

Swaption Climbs to $25.5 Million

In exchange for a quick $1.9 million in 2004, Northampton County now owes the bank of America $25.5 million, with the bill coming due October 1. Executive John Stoffa delivered this bad news to Council at their January 19 meeting. It's the result of a swaption gone bad.

Over the past twelve months alone, the swaption pay-out has increased by over $11 million. Council member Lamont McClure complained that the County will be "paying ransom to Wall Street" during a Finance Committee hearing the day before, when the swaption was only $25.2 million.

The County's financial advisers have given two costly options. First, be proactive and pay it off now, by refunding the remaining bonds. This will cost the County around $7 million in addition to the $25 million breakage fee. Second, let the Bank of America exercise the swaption, and float a $17-18 million letter of credit.

"There must be other options," claimed McClure, who suggested that Council seek a second opinion from its own financial adviser.

Council president John Cusick agreed, and has requested McClure to come back with a proposal.

SteelStacks: The First Eight Months

In 2007, Northampton County Council pledged $1 million in hotel taxes for the Artsquest Center at Steelstacks, located by the blast furnace on Bethlehem's South Side. On January 19, Artsquest Executive Director Jeff Parks updated Council on what just what they've received for the $320,000 they've invested in a $32 million project that has only been in business for the past eight months. From its economic to cultural impact, Parks told Council that the Artsquest Center has exceeded expectations.

At the time it was designed, it was hoped the project would create 100 jobs, both direct and spin off. In eight months, there are now 142 jobs, and the Center is on target for an annual, $39 million economic impact.

But Parks is proudest of the cultural impact that ArtsQuest has on the Lehigh Valley, especially during hard economic times. He pointed to 219 live free concerts at the TD Bank Community Stage, 44 free concerts at the Levitt Pavilion, 36 Peas & Qs free children series shows, four sculptures, 44 nonprofits that can use the SteelStacks at no cost and family programming that reaches over 25,000 children annually.

Council President John Cusick asked Parks how he can afford to put on so many free shows. "Eighty per cent of the people we serve pay no fee," Parks proudly stated. He added that ArtsQuest's main source of operating revenue is not the public trough, but ticket sales, food and beverage sales and private sponsorships.

As a result of two weekends of rain during Musikfest last year, Parks told Council that ArtsQuest will report a $700,000 operating loss for 2011, which is 5% of its $14 million budget. As a result, it has entered into payment arrangements with Bethlehem and other creditors. But he added that the silver lining to the storm clouds that came with Musikfest was a record audience of 63,436 people at Chriskindlmarkt, as well as a 30% increase in holiday tours over 2010.

"We're not broke," he stated.

Council member Bob Werner told Parks that his many volunteers are "the backbone of AertsQuest." Parks agreed, adding that only the Lehigh Valley would have so many people who take an interest.

Parks is hopeful that the ArtsQuest Center will attract what he calls the "creative class."

What I call artsy-fartsies.

Gee, I wonder if bottom-feeding bloggers are part of the creative class.

I'll go get a beret.