Friday, March 30, 2012

Blogging Elite Honored By Morning Call

To appreciate fully what I mean by elite, check put this pic (or should I say pick?), taken by Johnny Gee at last night's Morning Call blogging award ceremony.

All the losers were killed.

I'll write a more detailed report tomorrow. Of all the awards, I was most pleased to see Michael Molovinsky recognized as the most opinionated bastard of all.

If you want to know why George Wacker's blog is called Lehigh Valley With Love, this picture should answer that question.

Updated 9:40 AM: All the contest winners, as per The Morning Call, include yours truly in the "Politics" category. I had a 60 minute acceptance speech, which made the event last a little longer. To those of you who voted for me, thanks. To those who want me to rot in hell, thanks for helping generate interest in this blog.

By the way, Blogger is not allowing comments from anyone, even me, at the moment. This sometimes happens and this, too,shall pass.

Allentown Hides NIZ Local Tax Reports From Palmer Tp

Chris Christman
When you ask someone for a copy of a report, and he denies it even exists, that should pretty much end the matter. But what if you later discover that there really is a report? In fact, what if there are 96 of them? Wouldn't that make you think twice about the honesty of the person who answered your initial question?

Well, that's what happened to Palmer Township, when it requested some information from Allentown about the NIZ. Let me break it down for you.

Back on February 2, Township Manager Chris Christman asked Allentown, in a Right-to-Know request,  to produce its NIZ local tax reports. They would include a schedule listing the amounts of EIT collected for employees who work within the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, but live in Palmer Township.

Christman even attached a sample copy of Allentown's own schedule.

After hitting Christman with a thirty day extension, Allentown finally answered, on March 12, that it had no such  records.

But that's baloney.

The very next day, Christman filed a Right-to-Know Request with the State Department of Revenue. He attached a letter from the Secretary of Revenue reporting that a whopping $1,124,223.76 in local taxes was collected from businesses within Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone during 2011.

The Secretary of Revenue, incidentally, was relying on 96 NIZ local tax reports supplied by Allentown. The very NIZ reports that Allentown denied it possessed. Apparently, there are 316 "qualified" businesses within the NIZ, more than three times the number that Allentown Finance Director Garrett Strathearn reported to the combined Tax Collection Committees of Northampton and Lehigh Counties.

Obviously, someone in Allentown is hiding something, denying it has records that were in fact provided to the Department of Revenue.

As you might have guessed, Christman's request is under "legal review."

Maybe Senator Browne has them. ... or his wife.

Under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know law, a Court may impose a $1500 penalty when an agency denes access to a record in bad faith.

Palmer Township's Board of Supervisors held an executive session at their Tuesday meeting this week. Unfortunately, Chairman Dave Colver was absent, or I suspect they would have voted to join Hanover, Bethlehem and Lower Saucon Township's legal challenge to Allentown's tax grab.  I say this because Palmer Township has been getting the stonewall.

Or lies.

Geeting Kicks a Dead Conservative

Arch-conservative Charles Darwin Snelling took his own life Wednesday night, shortly after the apparent mercy killing of his wife. She suffered from Alzheimer's disease. They had been married for 61 years. According to his family, "we know he acted out of deep devotion and profound love."

Snelling and I never got along. But I take no joy in the death of a person I never really knew, even if his politics differ radically from mine.

Not blogger Jonathan Geeting. Just one day after bashing the new Executive Director of RenewLV (he wanted the job himself, he admits), Geeting bashes a man who obviously was in great anguish. Why? Because his politics were "seriously malign."

If anything is malign, it is Geeting himself.

Lehigh Professor Steve Thode asks Geeting, "Have you no shame?"

The answer is obvious.

Updated 4:40 PM: Geeting Doubles Down! - Instead of a simple apology, Geeting doubles down in a comment on this blog. "I'm very glad that he [Snelling] will not be around to influence politics anymore."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Volunteer Fire Company Ordered to Fork Over Records

Last week, I told you that the Second Ward Fire Company, a volunteer fire company in Bangor, was refusing to produce records requested by Bangor Borough Council member Dave Houser. In a bizarre letter to the State Office of Open Records, Fire Co. Prez Bill Schrack claimed the Right to Know Law has no application to volunteer fire companies. In addition, he argued that it was somehow a "conflict of interest" for a Borough Council member to examine the finances of an organization that the Borough helps fund.

As if the letter was not strange enough, 92 comments were posted calling Houser every name in the book, including a few that have not been invented yet.

Obviously, it's a sensitive subject.

Today, the State Office of Open Records granted Houser's request. It holds, as a matter of law, that volunteer fire companies are subject to the Right-to-Know Law. They perform governmental functions.

Hanover, Bethlehem Township Sue Over Allentown's Tax Grab

The Commonwealth Court has been asked to set aside "special" legislation designed to benefit Allentown at the expense of other municipalities. As expected, Hanover and Bethlehem Townships today filed suit attacking the legislative framework establishing Allentown's 130-acre Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), which funds a hockey arena and other improvements with the earned income taxes of other municipalities.

In a news release accompanying the Complaint, Township Managers Jay Finnigan and Howard Kutzler state that other municipalities in Northampton and Lehigh Counties will join this litigation "in the coming days and weeks."

Filed by James Preston, an attorney in the Bethlehem firm of Broughal and DeVito, the lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the NIZ legislation for two reasons.

First, it violates a constitutional prohibition of "special" legislation, laws that give favorable treatment to one municipality at the expense of everyone else. A NIZ can only be establish is a city of the third class with "a population of at least î06,000 and not more than 107,000, based upon the 2000 Federal decennial census.” Only Allentown that description.

Second, the NIZ legislation violates the Uniformity Clause. It fails to identify who is being taxed and at what rate. It instead systematically and deliberately diverts EIT revenues due to other municipalities, even though those funds are "critical to performing their legislative functions."

In addition to seeking a declaratory judgment that the NIZ legislation is unconstitutional, Hanover and Bethlehem Townships are asking for injunctive relief against a project that "could have disastrous consequences on local municipalities.

The suit names the Commonwealth, Governor, Department of Revenue, Attorney General, Auditor General and State Treasurer as Defendants.

A copy is below.

Updated 9:40 AM: There were some vicious OT comments posted last night by "FDAA." I finally started deleting them, and the comments became incessant. FDAA has since posted a comment denying that she is the author. I believe her. Last night, before hitting the sack, I saw a new blog post by Tricia Mezzacappa, the Wicked Witch of West Easton. Her blog contains a picture of me with this caption: "This man has no dick." What a lady! Amazingly, she's running for delegate to the GOP convention.

AFSCME's Latest Scare Tactic

Fake Rev Mario Martinez and union boss Justus James
In a recent letter to his Gracedale "Brothers and Sisters," Union Boss Justus James does his best to scare the hell out of them so they'll kick in an extra $2 per pay period. If they do, they get a jacket!

"It took many people to save Gracedale," Justus observes. But he warns that "[t]here are a few people still trying to sell Gracedale even as I write this letter. There is only one way to prevent the few from selling Gracedale: Politics, period."

He claims he'll use the money for the upcoming Council and Exec races next year.

One of Gracedale's most ardent supporters, Bob Werner, declined to accept a nickel from any public sector unions in his successful Council race. Instead of money, he asked them to work polls and go door-to-door.

Justus never names the people who are supposedly trying to sell Gracedale.

That's because they don't exist.

His misleading letter is below.



Updated 9:30 AM: Another of the names mentioned in James' letter, Ken Kraft, received no support at all from AFSCME, finan cial or otherwise. And he's a private sector union business agent!

Lehigh's Basketball Team at Zoning Hearing Board?

That's what Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board Chairman, Gus Loupos, claimed during a break in a long night of five zoning appeals on March 28. Pointing to the young students, Loupos insisted that "[a]ll four of them played on the Lehigh team that beat Duke last week."

Loupos later boasted that he was point guard, and demonstrated his patented Louops layup.

These four Mountain Hawks (left to right: Will Addis, Carolyn Trespasz, Dan Jones and Mario Calvache) are actually students in a "Urban Sprawl and Politics of Development" class.  Their professors,  State Rep. Bob Freeman and CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings, suggested they attend a zoning hearing board meeting.

The professors, however, stayed home.

The Loupos Layup

From Coal Cracker to Code Cracker

As a Bethlehem housing inspector, the mere mention of Suzanne Borzak's name was enough to strike fear in the hearts of many a landlord. She had a reputation for being tough, but fair. Now she's Bethlehem's new Zoning Officer, and attended her first meeting on March 28.

A proud coal cracker from Schuylkill County, Borzak has 17 years of experience in planning, zoning and code enforcement. She credits her coal region roots with giving her a strong work ethic.

"I'm still a coal cracker," she said during a break in the testimony, as her piercing blue eyes looked right through lawyers and engineers.

She's also a grandmother.

Why Geeting Trashed RenewLV's New Exec Director

Blogger and George Soros employee Jonathan Geeting recently posted a little ditty about RenewLV, a faux grass roots groups that's really just another creature of the Lehigh Valley Partnership, a group of unelected aristocrats who think they call the shots. He was particularly critical of its new Executive Director, Pam Colton.

In a comment, he explains why. I applied for that job, and I’m still interested in it."

Amazingly cheeky.

Ott: Repeal Term Limits & Appointed Row Office Ballot Questions

Scott Ott

In a news release yesterday, Lehigh County Commissioner Scott Ott stated the Board would consider repealing referendum questions approved by the Board last year. One wold place term limits on Commissioners while increasing the term limit currently in place for the Executive. The second would have the Courts appoint row officers instead of having them stand for election.

County Executive Don Cunningham refused to sign that legislation, mostly because he felt he should stay out of a matter that directly affects him.

According to Ott, "Appointed row officers would reduce accountability for our public servants at a time when people rightfully demand greater accountability."

Ott, who's sponsoring the repeal bills along with at least four other commissioners, pointed to another problem. Each referendum would really deal with two questions, but voters would only have opportunity to provide one answer on each.

"Poorly-formed legislation leads to ballot confusing questions, and to bad policy," Ott said. "In this case, it's even worse, because these flawed questions would alter the Home Rule Charter, an error that is quite difficult to correct."

Last night was the first reading of this repeal measures. I should point out I was at a Bethlehem Zonng Hearing Board meeting, and am relying on news releases and a few phone calls.

Wanna' Buy a Home Cheap?

(Courtesy of CACLV) – Lehigh Valley Community Land Trust (LVCLT) will announce the sale of its first homes and introduce its first homebuyer during a press conference at noon on March 30 at 512 Cherokee St. in Bethlehem. The very first homebuyer, Jessica McGinley, recently purchased a home with help from LVCLT. Tours of the completed Cherokee Street home as well as a home slated for renovation next door will be available.

LVCLT purchases properties, renovates the homes, and sells them to income-qualified applicants. A qualified homebuyer purchases a home with as little as $1,800 down and monthly mortgage payments comparable to local fair market rents.

“I never thought I would own a home this early in life,” McGinley said. “I love my house.  We can’t allow this to be a secret anymore!”

Unlike conventional models of homeownership, LVCLT ensures that homes remain affordable to future generations of homebuyers.  LVCLT also provides support to existing homebuyers before and after the home purchase.

Founded in 2009, LVCLT has renovated six homes and sold three.  Over the next year, LVCLT will be selling at least six additional homes in the Lehigh Valley.  


Blogger's Note: You can see a listing of homes for sale in Wilson Borough and Easton 

Jackson Eaton Gets Nods From LGBT Community

Democratic candidate Jackson Eaton, who's running for Congress in the Lehigh Valley, on Tuesday received the endorsement of two LGBT organizations - Equality Pennsylvania and the Capitol Region Stonewall Democrats Tuesday.

Steve Dorko of the Capitol Region Stonewall Democrats noted his group endorsed Eaton "because of his support for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, his support for eliminating LGBT discrimination in U.S. immigration laws, and his commitment to oppose any efforts to remove existing LGBT rights”.

Adrian Shanker, President of Equality Pennsylvania, stated Eaton will be a "strong advocate for full equality for all Pennsylvanians”.

“We must continue to fight for full equality for all Pennsylvanians," said Eaton in a news release. "In Congress I pledge to be a champion for the rights of all people in our district."

Eaton is facing Rick Dougherty for the Democratic nomination against Republican incumbent Charlie Dent.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dent: JOBS Bill a Legislative Victory

As the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Bill makes it way from Congress to the White House, Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent has released this statement:

“Completion of the JOBS Act is a legislative victory for American job creators. This bipartisan bill will help small businesses expand by increasing access to much-needed capital and easing onerous regulations that stifle growth and development. Completion of the JOBS Act is also a legislative victory for bipartisanship. The strong bipartisan support H.R. 3606 received during consideration in the House and Senate is a promising sign Congress can put aside partisan differences to deliver policies that help Americans get back to work. I am confident the President will sign H.R. 3606 into law without hesitation.”

Trade Unions To Hanover Township: Nix NIZ Suit

Mike fleck (far right) organizes union invasion
Fed up by Allentown's plans to build a hockey arena, hotel and office space with Hanover Township's Earned Income Tax (EIT), Supervisors unanimously authorized Solicitor Jim Broughal to sue during their March 13 meeting. Two other municipalities - Bethlehem and Lower Saucon Townships - have since decided to join this legal challenge, aimed at Allentown's tax grab. But with litigation looming, Allentown has launched its own preemptive strike at Hanover Township.

An invasion.  

About thirty Lehigh Valley trade union members invaded Hanover Township on March 27 to ask Supervisors to reconsider that lawsuit. Their general? Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski's campaign manager, Mike Fleck. In addition to his campaign gigs, he also does public relations work for the trade unions.

Before the meeting, Fleck pointed out that Hanover Township had no problem taking about $170,000 in casino money last year. But he admitted that most townships, boroughs and even legislators had no idea that the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) legislation, first enacted in 2009, authorized this tax grab.

Fleck stated that, as a courtesy, he had called Hanover Township to inform them that union members would be at the Supervisors' Meeting. But Township Manager Jay Finnigan stated that his first warning, about an hour before the meeting, was a telephone call from Channel 69.

As thirty plus union members crammed into the Township's small meeting room, one very large Colonial Region police officer stood quietly, in the rear of the room. There was no need. The crowd was courteous.

"We're desperate out there." Francis Loughny
Lehigh Valley Building Trades President Brett Helfrich, who lives in Schnecksville, told Supervisors that their EIT is a "small price to pay." Union organizer and carpenter Francis Loughney, who lives in New Tripoli, was a little more blunt. "We need those jobs," he said. "We're desperate out there." Hellertown resident Kevin Lott, who represents 800 carpenters reminded Supervisors that "Hanover Township does not stand alone. You are part of the Lehigh Valley's community."

"This is something that's going to help a weak part of our community, which is Allentown. They need the help," Lott concluded.

Three union members who live in the Township - Joe Farrell, Greg Horne and Paul Anthony - also addressed Supervisors about the need for jobs.

When they had all finished speaking, the invasion had failed. Chairman John Diacogiannis thanked everyone for coming and stated he appreciates their support for Allentown, where he happens to work himself. But he pointed out that Allentown has been reluctant to provide information about the tax revenue that would be lost. "The litigation will speak for itself," Diacogiannis stated, declining any further comment.

Solicitor Jim Broughal was even briefer. "I have no report," he stated at the end of the meeting.

When Supervisors meet again on Tuesday, April 10, at the Township's Municipal Building on Jacksonville Road, Broughal will likely have a more lengthy report.

Blogger's Note: I have two video interviews with Mike Fleck and LV Bldg Trades Prez Brett Helfrich:





Updated 9:04 AM to correct two minor factual errors. There were three, not two Hanover residents. Jay Finnigan was told the union was coming by Channel 69, not a newspaper.

What I Like About Lower Saucon Township's Council

Manager Jack Cahalan (left) and Council Prez Glenn Kern (right)
Over the years, I've attended lots of municipal meetings. Sometimes, especially when a land development or park project is being discussed, it is nearly impossible for the public to follow what is going on. But I have to give Lower Saucon Township Council credit for going out of their way to make sure the public is informed.

As a plan is being discussed, a member of Council actually gets out of his seat and shows the public exactly what is under discussion on an easel located in the front of the room.

In addition to this effort, the agenda item under discussion appears on a screen behind the dais.

This might seem like a minor matter to you, but it makes a major difference during a meeting, keeping one and all on the same page. It's also very transparent.

Bert Daday, Rabble Rouser

Last Thursday, when I visited Lower Saucon Township Council, I was astonished to see the biggest rabble rouser there was none other than the Lehigh Valley Partnership's very own Bert Daday. In several trips to the podium, he simultaneously complimented and chided Council..

Ron Angle would have been very impressed.

Daday, and a room full of Colesville Road residents, were there to object to a new development called "Old Saucon." Everything in that gated community, except for a driveway to a proposed bank and restaurant, is located in Upper Saucon Township. So the Township waived the usual subdivision process.

That drove Daday nUtZ.

"Do we really need another restaurant?" he asked, prompting several Council members to remind him that the proposed restaurant is in another frickin' townshiip.

"You're advocating irresponsibility!" he thundered, arguing that a driveway from Colesville Road would increase traffic along Colesville Road and end the world as we know it.

Then, in his deepest baritone, he basically called council a bunch of crooks. "There must be some reason why this Council is so willing to accommodate this development."

Yeah, Bert. It's in another frickin' Township. Go call them a bunch of crooks.

Council was very nice to Daday, by the way.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Holden Endorsed By Lackawanna Dems

Ten-term incumbent Congressman Tim Holden today announced his endorsement by Lackawanna County's Democratic Committee for the 17th Congressional District. This is the third Democratic County committee to endorse Congressman Holden. Earlier this year, Schuylkill and Luzerne committees also voted to endorse Congressman Holden, as did various local committees, including Archbald, Olyphant, and Jessup.

“I am honored to receive the endorsement the Lackawanna County Democratic Committee. They are a tremendous organization and I have enjoyed getting to know them over the last few months,” Holden said. “I would like to thank County Chairman Harry McGrath and the members of the committee for voting to endorse my candidacy. I look forward to working with them throughout the rest of this primary." “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to represent a Democratic district for the first time in my career. As Democrats, we must work hard to win back the US House of Representatives and give a strong voice to middle class Americans. My priorities will continue to be creating jobs, strengthening the economy, protecting seniors, and advocating for our veterans and men and women in uniform,” concluded Holden. 

Holden’s Campaign Manager, Eric Nagy took a jab at Holden's Democratic opponent, Matt Cartwright. “Our opponent, trial lawyer Matt Cartwright, has charged that he is from the ‘Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,’ insinuating that Congressman Holden is not. If these endorsements are any indication, especially those from Cartwright’s backyard – Archbald, Olyphant, Jessup, and Lackawanna – I’d say that real Democrats from this district disagree with Matt Cartwright’s claims."

 Nagy closed saying, “Tim Holden has spent his career on the front lines fighting against the Washington Republican agenda and is the right Democrat for the job in this new district.” 

Holden has been a member of the United States House of Representatives since he first won election in 1992 in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District. Prior to that, he served as the Sheriff of Schuylkill County.

“Tim Holden is busy gathering up endorsements from political insiders," responded Matt Cartwright. "I am more concerned about the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania. My campaign is about bringing jobs to Northeastern Pennsylvania, strengthening the health care reform law, which Holden voted against, and ending the Halliburton loophole that Holden supported.”

Trayvon's Mom Seeking Trademarks For Her Son.

... according to The Smoking Gun. I hope I don't get sued.

NIZ Developers Reilly & Topper Lined Politician Pockets With $88,725 in 2011

I've told you before that Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski has 40,900 reasons to like the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ). He received $40,900 last year, a nonelection year, from NIZ beneficiaries. A more detailed report by Morning Call reporter Scott Kraus reveals that, when you add in a few NIZ-related law firms and PACs, the figure is actually closer to $72,240 of the obscene sum of $238,265 reported during 2011.

That's a lot of hockey pucks!

Let's face it. This has nothing to do with Allentown's transformation. It has everything to do with Pawlowski's transformation from Mayor to Governor. It has everything to do with making J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper, the two NIZ developers, even richer than they already are.

A lawsuit is looming, challenging the tax grab provisions of Allentown's NIZ, which will enable Reilly and Topper to use Lower Saucon Township voter-approved open space money to fund their own idea of open space - luxury hotels and office buildings.

Not to worry.

These guys have insurance. In addition to buying Pawlowski, the NIZ twins lined the pockets of local and state pols with a whopping $88,725 last year. Here's where their premiums were paid.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski - $20,000. A small price to pay.

Governor Tom Corbett - $25,000. We don't want him to cut out this tax break so he can balance his budget. Cut education instead.

State Senator Joe Scarnati - $20,000. As President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Scarnati is an ex-offcio member of every Senate Committee, wields a lot power and could kill the NIZ

Senate Republican Committee - $4,000. Let's keep them from doing something goofy like eliminating this tax break so we can fund the homeless.

State Senator Pat Browne - $5,000. A royalty for the author of the 2009 NIZ legislation, which was buried in a budget.

State Rep. Mike Turzai. - $1,000. Let's keep the state House majority leader from attempting to balance a budget.

State Rep. Justin Simmons - $2,000. The last thing Reilly and Topper need is a revolt from some freshman State Rep.

State Rep. Joe Emrick. - $1,000.

Allentown City Council member Peter Schweyer - $1,250. 

Judge Doug Reichley - $500. We don't want a judge to rule against us. Unfortunately for Reilly and Topper, this case will be decided in Commonwealth Court.

Ex Judicial candidates Melissa Pavlack and Dan McCarthy- $375. A consolation prize.

DA Jim Martin - $2,000. Maybe we can get him to talk about blight or something.

Charlie Dent - $2,500. - Let's keep Charlie focused n the sorry state of Bethlehem's finances.

Citizens for Prosperity in America Today PAC - $5,000. Yeah, Reilly's prosperity. It all trickles down, or so Alan Jennings hopes.

Repeal the Bedpan Tax

Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent, along with other Republican lawmakers, yesterday advocated a repeal of a 2.3% medical device excise tax. They made their pitch at Philly's University City Science Center, an incubator for medical technology businesses.

According to a report just released by the Advanced Medical Technology Association, this new tax, which is part of the healthcare overhaul under consideration by the Supreme Court, will cost the medical device industry $3 billion, costing Pennsylvania 1,700 jobs and $346 million over seven years.

Locally, the tax will have a detrimental impact on companies like Aesculap, Boas Surgical, Biomed, B Braun, Olympus, Orasure and Precision Medical Instruments. Dent, during recent meetings with leaders at Orasure and Precision Medical Instruments, learned that productivity will be affected.

“Beyond our region, the implementation of the law’s medical device tax will stifle innovation across the country by forcing producers to divert already limited resources away from research and development," predicted Dent. "This tax will also increase the cost consumers pay for a variety of medical devices – from prosthetics to bedpans. Its repeal is incredibly important to our economy and the countless Americans who depend on medical devices.”

Dent and Congressman Jim Gerlach introduced legislation last year to repeal this excise tax. As explained by Gerlach, "It's a tax right off the top, right off the initial gross revenues of a company."

Is Justice Joan Orie Melvin Next?

Now that State Senator Jane Orie has been convicted of 14 public corruption charges over the use of taxpayer resources to for her sister's Supreme Court race, is Justice Joan Orie Melvin next?  Melvin has been targeted by a Pittsburgh Grand Jury that recommended charges against Senator Orie and a third sister, Janine.

Back in 2007, when Melvin was seeking retention on the Superior Court, I spoke out against her. Below is an excerpt.

Joan Orie Melvin is a Politically Ambitious Woman

A Pittsburgh native, Melvin first managed to get herself appointed as a judge in 1990, filling a vacancy. At that time, she had only been practicing law nine years. The following year, as an incumbent, she was elected to a full term as a common pleas judge. But she never served that term. A mere seven years later, she was on the campaign warpath again, this time winning her current seat on the superior court.

During the time she spent traipsing across the state, picking up votes, she pretty much ignored her responsibilities as a common pleas judge. An investigative report by a team of eleven reporters at the Post-Gazette, cast a very public spotlight on a very unresponsive Melvin, a person who obviously considers her personal ambition more important than her work as a judge.

Melvin thumbed her nose at a six-week trial term because a pesky little jury trial might interfere with her quest to become an appellate judge. Her courtroom was "virtually shut down . . . for several weeks" while she "spent numerous weekdays out of town campaigning."

After stewing for a few years on this intermediate court, she decided to take a stab for a seat with the supremes in 2003. She and Democrat Max Baer engaged in a money war, spending an obscene $3.34 million over one seat on the state high court. This exceeds the total amount spent in all judicial races during the previous two years. Forty-three per cent of this money came from lawyers, a drastic increase from the ten percent total in the 2001 race.

Although the Code of Judicial Conduct clearly permits judicial candidates to speak out on issues, Melvin still refused to do so. Max Baer, who eventually beat her, said this during a televised debate. "I think you have a right to know what I feel, what I believe in, who I am." And he chastised Melvin for hiding her personal views during a televised debate with him, but expressing her views on tort reform and abortion in comments to Melvin-friendly audiences.

As you've probably guessed, Melvin is politically connected. Her sister, Jane Orie, just happens to be a state senator. Incidentally, she's a member of the judiciary committee, too. According to The Insider, these two sisters have a "well-known long-standing political feud" with fellow Republican Melissa Hart. "If Hart came out for light, the Ories would back dark."

Judges like Melvin prove Norco DA John Morganelli's point - "judges are probably the most political animals in the political and legal jungle." But the Pennsylvania Bar Association still recommends her retention. That's no shocker, considering that these sycophants recommended the retention of insurance fraud Defendant Michael (call me Judge) Joyce, too.

Thin-Skinned Melvin Tries Some Legal Intimidation Against Cyber-Critics


In addition to being a political animal, Melvin is also a thin-skinned bully. She proved that through five years of quixotic litigation in two separate states over anonymous comments posted on a Pittsburgh-based political gossip site. A group of John Does had criticized her "misconduct" in asking Governor Ridge to appoint someone she knew to a judgeship. I'm not sure how that even constitutes defamation, but I guess it must be per se defamation to criticize a superior court judge.

First, she sued in Virginia, trying to learn the identity of the anonymous cretins who had sullied her sparkling reputation. She got nowhere.

She had a little more success on her home field when she filed a second lawsuit in Allegheny County. But America Online branded Melvin's attempt at intimidation "an illegitimate use of the courts to silence and retaliate against speakers." And Witold Walczak, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh ACLU, noted the important role of anonymous speech in a democracy. "Not only did The Federalist Papers and Thomas Paine's Common Sense, both printed pseudonymously, change the course of American history, but evidence today suggests that anonymous Internet speech played a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union."

The state supreme court eventually agreed, and ruled Melvin had to prove financial loss before demanding the identity of her critics. "[G]enerally, the constitutional right to anonymous free speech is deeply rooted in public policy that goes beyond this particular litigation, and ... it falls within the class of rights that are too important to be denied review."

Thankfully, Melvin abandoned her legal bullying. Never admitting she had been wrong, her attorney claimed it would have taken too many years.

Melvin Sues Again, Over That Payraise

Now with her defamation suit out of the way, Melvin took politics by litigation to a new level by suing to demand that the state pay her less money. She lost that suit, too. Here's what one of those dastardly anonymous cyber-critics said. "[F]or a sitting judge to seek a court order barring the payment to her of a pay raise--a raise the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had already ruled could not constitutionally be repealed--is an abuse of the very judicial system she purportedly represents. I will certainly vote 'no' on her retention."

Gee, I wonder if she's going to sue him.

Her Mean-Spirited Record From the Bench

Melvin has 139 written opinions online, and 31 of these are concurring or dissenting opinions. These opinions, quite frankly, reveal a mean-spirited person who should not be sitting in judgement of anyone. In her little world, juvenile adjudications would count as criminal convictions under the "three strikes" act. The fourth amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure would be meaningless. An insurance company contractually required to pay for a building in disrepair would not be required to do so unless that building collapsed. A father who disciplines his daughter would be subjected to a PFA order. On appeal, she would make her own credibility determinations on witnesses she never saw or heard, forbidden territory for an appellate judge.

Conclusion

Melvin might be a gifted politician, but she's not a gifted judge. Her attempt at legal intimidation could be expected from a major corporation, but a slapsuit from a sitting judge is bizarre. And her second suit over the payraise is pure grandstanding. Her money gathering, especially from lawyers, is obscene. And her contrarian opinions reveal an utter lack of compassion.

Ten Grammar Tips

Back in the '50s, when I attended St. Theresa's grade school in Hellertown, I was a bad ass. One of my readers can confirm this because he and I both spent many afternoons, after school, writing out punishments for our disruptive behavior. In fact, he invented a device that combined three pencils and triplicated whatever punishment we had to write 100 times.

Very cool.

When I finally escaped the clutches of the nuns at St. Theresa's for a different Order of nuns and brothers at Becahi, I discovered I had learned absolutely no grammar. We were all given some kind of diagnostic test, and my score was a 26.

One of the sisters sadly suggested that I needed tutoring.

Unfortunately for me, my Aunt Mamie was an ex-nun, and she made it her life's ambition to drill it into me every Saturday morning. On top of that, I learned grammar when I studied French. So although I still make errors, and have no real understanding, my grammar is at least average.

Another of my readers has sent me some grammar tips, which I'm posting here. It's short and sweet.

The Barron von Footinmouth Rumor

Although the next Northampton County Exec race is still a long way off, it's pretty clear that Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan is already in training, like a good distance runner. His Saturday appearance at a Slate Belt Council of Governments is telling. But how far is he willing to go? Would he sell his soul? Would he actually offer a cabinet position to Barron von Footinmouth?

That's what union organizer and Controller Steve Barron has been telling everyone. It's his payoff. After all, Barron could run himself, and easily knock off Callahan or Easton Mayor Sal Panto.

But is this true?

Despite what he's telling people, Barron will have no place in a John Callahan cabinet, according to two people deep inside Team Callahan. They point out, correctly, that Callahan has yet to announced his own decision to run, and has made no commitments to anyone.

What they did tell me is that Callahan is trying very hard to recruit former Council member and Human Services Director Ron Heckman to return to his seat on County Council. Heckman has been an outspoken Gracedale supporter, which should allay the concerns of the pro-Gracedale camp.

Heckman - along with veterans Jerry Seyfried and Rich Grucela - are the three wise men when it comes to Northampton County government. If Ron Angle were to join them, they'd become the Four Horsemen in a dream team for any County Exec willing to listen to them.

Monday, March 26, 2012

DFA Endorses Cartwright Over Holden

Democracy For America, a grassroots political organization founded by Howard Dean, claims to have a million members nationwide. It calls itself a "grassroots powerhouse working to change our country and the Democratic Party from the bottom-up" Today, it endorsed Matt Cartwright for Congress.

DFA Chair Jim Dean (no relation to the sausage dude) credits Cartwrght's stand against fracking. “He is leading the charge against the fracking to protect clean air and clean water for working people in Pennsylvania communities. Matt represents Pennsylvania’s middle class.”

Cartwright, of course is delighted at the endorsement, and issued a statement with some fightin' words. "I am running for Congress because I believe corporate America has taken advantage of working families and the middle class, and it needs to stop,” he declares. "I have spent my professional career protecting people and small business owners from uncaring insurance companies and the predatory lending practices of big banks and financial institutions. In Congress, my top priorities will be bringing jobs to northeast Pennsylvania, and making corporations and wealthy Americans pay their fair share of taxes.”

Cartwright is a trial lawyer. In addition to uncaring corporations, he's fighting an uphill battle against an entrenched incumbent, ten-termer Tim Holden. Holden is a blue dog Democrat, and one of the few in his party to vote against Obamacare. I have contacted his campaign for a reaction, and will update this post when it is received.

Pennsylvania's 17th Congressional District now includes a hodgepodge of Northampton County municipalities: Easton City; Bethlehem, Forks, Lower Mount Bethel, Palmer, Upper Mount Bethel and Washington Tps; Bangor, East Bangor, Freemansburg, Glendon, Nazareth, Pen Argyl, Portland, Roseto, Stockertown, Tatamy, West Easton, Wilson and Wind Gap Boroughs; and parts of Bethlehem City, Plainfield Township and Upper Nazareth Township.

Updated 6:40 PM: I've been attacked by my blog impersonator, an obvious Walt Garvin Dem who has already decided that Congressman Holden should be re-elected. Apparently, I've committed some kind of infraction by posting this DFA endorsement without noting all the endorsements Holden has received.

Here's the deal. When a Congressional candidate sends me a news release, I either post it or prepare a story, as I did here, about the topic discussed. I send the news release to the other side and ask for comment.

As it happens, I am closer to Holden ideologically than I am to Cartwright, but am trying to be fair to both and don't share the animosity some have expressed about one or the other. They both seem like decent and sincere guys. That means something to me.

I am amused that some coward, who is afraid to identify himself, would take me to task for trying to be fair. These are two men who aren't afraid to say who they are. They are willing to subject themselves to public scrutiny. Come to think of it, so am I. Others crawl out from under rocks.

Callahan a Special Guest at Slate Belt Summit

On Saturday morning, as reported in The Express Times, the Slate Belt Council of Governments (COG) hosted a "Slate Belt Summit" to discuss issues related to our collective vision for the region. What the article fails to tell you is that there was a special guest - none other than Johnny Casino himself. Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan spent the entire four hours with Slate Belt community leaders, in an area where he is not so well known.

Can there be any doubt that he is running for Exec?

Last Day To Register ... or Switch

If you want to vote in the April 24 primary, TODAY is the last day for you to register to vote. If you're 18, a U.S. citizen and have lived here for 30 days or more, you can vote.

If you'd like to register by mail, don't. Download and print a Pennsylvania Voter Registration Mail Application Form (PDF), and make sure it is in your county office TODAY. It must be received 30 days prior to the election. Postmarks don't count.

Correction, Postmarks DO Count!: Contrary to what I've read n a national webpage concerning registration, an elections official has just told me that a registration postmarked today will be good enough to get you registered.

Don't Piss Off the Firemen

It happened twice last week. On Monday night, it was at a Bethlehem Township Commissioners' meeting. On Friday, it was in a blog posting here, about a Bangor Borough Councilman's request to view the financial records of a volunteer fire company.

In both instances, I managed to infuriate volunteer firemen.

Monday night, I dealt with five Bethlehem Township Volunteer Fire Company firefighters, from its Chief to its President. Now those guys are all about transparency. They actually want people to see their records. But they were giving me dagger eyes because I had pointed out, in an earlier story, that a rash of embezzlement has led many municipalities to keep a closer eye on them.

These guys were being stopped in the street and asked about embezzlement, so I was not their favorite person.

But I think they've forgiven me.

They've invited me for a ride to the Lehigh River.

Upon learning of my predicament with Bethlehem Township's volunteers, a local sage (whose identity I'll keep super secret) warned me, "Do not piss off the firemen." Unfortunately, I got that advice on Saturday, and by then it was already too late.

My Friday post is about Bangor's courageous and dedicated heroes. Unlike the courageous and dedicated heroes in Bethlehem Township, these life savers feel their records are nobody's business. Even when they are publicly funded. Even when the person who seeks those records is one of the public funders.

By the time I was warned not to piss off the firemen, there were already 69 mostly angry comments on what I thought was a fairly innocuous posting. It's continued to go up, most of them being negative.

It makes no difference to these guys that the Office of Open Records FAQ specifically states that volunteer fire companies and their records are subject to the Right-to-Know Law. It makes no difference that their own President has acknowledged, in his response to the state Office of Open Records, that his department has never been audited in its over 100-year history.

Bangor Borough Council member Dave Houser, who made this request, has been eviscerated and shouted into silence. Here's one of the comments, which sums up the attitude. "I don't care anymore about the RTK bull anymore. He [Houser] has an obvious issue with the fire dept. This goof has nothing better to do than to cut down an organization that that trains every week for 52 weeks per year to do the things he'll never have the balls to do. What's next...will he go to church on Sunday and stop the congregation from putting money in the offering? Film at 11....." As for me, I've been told I hate all volunteer firemen.

Actually, I hate everybody.

Anyway, I've been in touch with one of the Bangor firefighters. I've been invited for a ride to see their rescue operations on the Delaware River.

Happy 60th Birthday, Tony Iannellii

Business Matters host Tony Iannelli was surprised over the weekend, at some swanky country club, for his 60th birthday. His fiancee, whom I've never met, somehow pulled it off. Ron Angle, who attended with his wife Sharon, called to tell me that most of the LV's movers and shakers, Republican and Democrat, were there. What's more, everyone had a blast.

Besides Ron Angle, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was there. So was WAEB's radio host Bobby Gunther Walsh, soon-to-be former State Rep. Jenn Mann, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham, etc., etc.

I can also tell you, from my own experience, that they were there because Tony is a genuinely likable person. Over the years, I have seen a number of anonymous shots taken at him, both here and elsewhere. But I can honestly say I don't think the guy has a mean bone in his body.

He's even nice to me!

So if you see Tony in the next few days, wish him a happy 6oth.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

AT&T Blames FCC For T-Mobile's Call Center Closings

Barron von Footinmouth will no longer be able to prance outside T-Mobile's Call Center. It's closing. Six hundred jobs at the Hanover Township facility will be gone in June. Jim Cicconi, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs, interestingly blames the FCC:

“Yesterday, T-Mobile made the sad announcement that it would be closing seven call centers, laying off thousands of workers, and that more layoff announcements may follow. Normally, we’d not comment on something like this. But I feel this is an exception for one big reason– only a few months ago AT&T promised to preserve these very same call centers and jobs if our merger was approved. We also predicted that if the merger failed, T-Mobile would be forced into major layoffs.

“At that time, the current FCC not only rejected our pledges and predictions, they also questioned our credibility. The FCC argued that the merger would cost jobs, not preserve them, and that rejecting it would save jobs. In short, the FCC said they were right, we were wrong, and did so in an aggressive and adamant way.

“Rarely are a regulatory agency’s predictive judgments proven so wrong so fast. But for the government’s decision, centers now being closed would be staying open, workers now facing layoffs would have job guarantees, and communities facing turmoil would have security. Only a few months later, the truth of who was right is sadly obvious.

“So what’s the lesson here? For one thing, it’s a reminder of why “regulatory humility” should be more than a slogan. The FCC may consider itself an expert agency on telecom, but it is not omniscient. And when it ventures far afield from technical issues, and into judgments about employment or predictions about business decisions, it has often been wildly wrong. The other lesson is even more important, and should be sobering. It is a reminder that in government, as in life, decisions have consequences. One must approach them not as an exercise of power but instead of responsibility, because, as I learned in my years of public service, the price of a bad decision is too often paid by someone else.”

Friday, March 23, 2012

Volunteer Fire Co. Refuses Records Request From Boro Councilman

Earlier this week, I told you that Bethlehem Township's Volunteer Fire Company is willing to open their financial records to anyone. But that's is stark contrast to another volunteer volunteer fire company in Bangor. It's refusing to comply with a request from Borough Council member Dave Houser, even though the borough helps fund it.

In a letter to Pennsylvania's Open Records office, Fire Co. President Bill Schrack makes some incredible arguments:

This letter is in response to the above mentioned docket originated by Mr. David Houser's request for information from our fire company. As the newly appointed president of this organization I have been tasked with handling this matter. There are several reasons why our organization chose not to disclose the requested infromation to Mr. Houser which resulted in the current appeal and they are listed below.

1- We are a non-profit volunteer organization whose sole purpose is to provide fire protection to our community along with two other fire companies comprising our department for greater than 100 years. We feel, with the definitions provided under the Right To Know Law (RTKL) section 102, that we are not considered an agency required to provide such information to the general public.

2- Being that we are a volunteer organization the time frame imposed by a legal formal request such as presented created an undue hardship on the members of our organization. We do not have the personnel or resources available at times to handle these types of requests, nor was there an offer of a reasonable time frame to process this request. As stated earlier, our sole purpose is to provide fire protection to our community.

3- Noting again that we are a volunteer organization with limited available manhours and funds, there was also no offer of any reimbursement of costs associated with processing this request by Mr. Houser.

4- We also strongly believe that there is a conflict of interest in Mr. Houser's request, as we believe he is requesting this information as a Borough Council member and not as a general citizen. We believe that the information requested would be detrimental to our survivability as an organization.

5- Lastly, the information that Mr. Houser requested does not exist in the forms that he is requesting. We have seperate logs for the financial secretary and the treasurer. No official fiscal year reports are generated. Monthly reports are made, vouchers drawn, and the results are spread among the minutes recorded by the secretary. Also there has never been an audit performed by an "independent" agency as there has been no need for such. Once yearly, a committee is formed of current members by the President to perform this task ensuring the books are in order.

With the aforementioned reasons we request that this docket be closed in favor of Second Ward Fire Company. If this matter is not closed we request ample time to seek legal council of our own in review of this case. I am sorry for the delay in this response, but as I stated we are a volunteer organization and are not always readily available for coorespondance via mail. I had been fortunate to receive this letter within the time frame alloted a response. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail for a faster response for any further information that I may provide to assist in your decision in this matter.

NYC Wildlife: Pigeons, Rats & Coyotes?

Coyotes? Hey, that's what The Village Voice claims. It recommends that you travel in packs.

Happy 2d Birthday to Obamacare!

Two years ago today, Obamacare was shoved down the throats of an unwilling public, leading to a Republican majority in the U.S. House. But aside from all the emotional pros and cons, has it worked? According to an analysis by Politico, No. It presents these four hard truths.

1) Some people won’t get to keep the coverage they like. - This contrary to President Obama "if you like it, you can keep it" argument.

2) Costs are not going down.

3) It's just a guess that the law will pay for itself.

4) People don't like the law any more now than they did when it passed.

Updated Friday, 8:45 AM: As a birthday present, Politico is now reporting five mistakes Democrats made when enacting a supposed health care reform. (1) It was a partisan victory instead of consensus; (2) They've been unable to sell it to the public; (3) Obama never really led the "great  campaign" promised to inform the public, and now he's too busy with an even greater campaign; (4) Democrats have been unable to campaign on this bill's enactment; and (5) The individual mandate is by no means a slam dunk in the courts.

Holden, Dent Split on ObamaCare Rollback

In a 223-181 vote, the U.S. House voted yesterday to roll back a portion of a controversial health care overhaul  passed by Congress almost exactly two years ago. LV Congressman Charlie Dent supported the measure, which abolishes a 15-member Medicare advisory panel and caps medical malpractice pain and suffering awards at $250,000. Schuylkill County Democrat Tim Holden, whose Congressional District now includes half of Northampton County, voted No.

Called the PATH (Protecting Access to Healthcare) Act, it includes a Dent-offered amendment that protects ER physicians from medical liability. "The House passed my amendment to address the growing shortage of physicians and specialists willing to work in emergency rooms by extending liability coverage to trauma professionals," claimed Dent in a statement. "These professionals are required to make quick and sometimes risky decisions based on minimal information, exposing them to an increased likelihood of litigation. The enhanced liability coverage provided by my amendment to on-call and emergency physicians will ensure critical, timely and life-saving emergency and trauma care is available to Americans when and where it is needed most."

Dent also explained that he voted to abolish a 15-member Medicare advisory panel because its "very purpose is to save money by restricting access to healthcare for Medicare beneficiaries."

I saw no statement from Congressman Tim Holden, explaining his vote, but it's academic.It will go nowhere in the Senate.

Justice McCaffrey Speaks Up For Veterans Courts

How could I not like Irish-born Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery? Our families are  both from Armagh County. I met this ex-cop and Vietnam War vet back in 2007, when he was campaigning in Bethlehem. Joe Brennan, Don Cunningham, John Callahan were all there. I felt like a member of the Molly Maguires, waiting for some bastard Carbon County judge to order us all hung.

According to the Administrative Office of Pa. Courts, Justice McCaffrey was in D.C. yesterday to testify in support of establishing more Veterans Treatment Courts, to help vets whose real problem is addiction, mentl illness or some other disorder.  Like Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), treatment courts provide an option for military veterans charged with nonviolent crimes to be diverted into treatment programs offering mental health, drug and alcohol abuse treatment in connection with their diagnosis of post-traumatic stress. This diversion, which is in lieu of incarceration, involves intense community supervision.

Pennsylvania already has 12 Veterans Courts in operation, with 10 more being planned.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Brennan, Freeman, Samuelson, Boscola: Perfect on Marcellus Shale Scorecard

State Senator Lisa Boscola and State Reps. Joe Brennan, Bob Freeman and Steve Samuelson have each received 100 percent ratings for their votes on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

The Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Scorecard was created by four of Pennsylvania’s largest citizen-based environmental organizations: the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, Clean Water Action, PennEnvironment and the Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania.

“Receiving a perfect rating on the scorecard is an honor for me,” Freeman said. “It shows that all of the hard work on the issue has not gone unnoticed. Still, we have a long way to go if we want to protect the environment and ensure that protection for years to come.”

The scores are based on a series of votes on H.B. 1950 (Act 13 of 2012) held by the legislature between November 2011 and February 2012. Freeman said the law pre-empts local ordinances on gas drilling, establishes one of the nation’s lowest gas extraction fees, and makes only minimal improvements to environmental and public health protections from oil and gas drilling.

“I voted against that legislation because I believed it was woefully inadequate on many levels, and I could not support it,” Freeman said. "Overall, this law does very little to protect our environment. It raises insufficient revenue to mitigate the impact of drilling, and robs local governments of their ability to protect the health, safety and welfare of their communities. The big winners from this legislation are the big oil and gas companies; the losers are the people of Pennsylvania.

"The Marcellus Shale gas reserves offer tremendous potential to Pennsylvania – if managed correctly. This law does not do that," he said.

Jenn Mann got a 92%.

Lehigh Valley Republicans did not fare too well with the environmental groups. Here are the scores for LV GOP House members and their scores: Justin Simmons (23%); Gary Day (31%); Joe Emrick (31%); Marcia Hahn (23%); and Julie Harhart (23%); Jenn Mann (92%).

State Senators Pat Browne and Bob Mensch got perfect 0s. That's something to be proud of, too, i suppose, depending on your POV.

House To Consider Dent's ER Relief Legislation Today

Today, the U.S. House will consider an Charlie Dent amendment to a medical liability reform bill, extending liability coverage to trauma professionals in the emergency room.

“Emergency physicians and on-call specialists save the lives of countless Americans each day,” said Rep. Dent in a statement. “These professionals are required to make quick and sometimes risky decisions based on minimal information, exposing them to an increased likelihood of litigation. Extending liability coverage to on-call and emergency physicians will help specialists return to the E.R. and ensure trauma patients receive the highest level of care possible.”

A 2003 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed medical liability premiums have a dramatic effect on the availability of emergency and trauma specialists in American medical facilities. The GAO study indicated access to emergency care - particularly trauma and obstetrical services – is significantly lower in medical liability crisis states like Pennsylvania. Additionally, patients in these states are also more likely to experience delays in care and transfers from the emergency room due to a lack of on-call specialists.

Over the past several years, hospitals have found it increasingly difficult to secure specialists for their emergency patients. According to a 2005 survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 73 percent of emergency departments reported difficulties in providing on-call coverage.

“Thanks to the leadership of Reps Charlie Dent and Pete Sessions, the House will consider H.R. 157, which ACEP strongly supports, as an amendment to the more comprehensive liability reform legislation of H.R. 5,” said David Seaberg, MD, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “This amendment not only would provide reasonable liability protections to emergency physicians, but it would apply to on-call specialists, helping make sure they are available to patients when needed. It recognizes that emergency departments are under stress, facing soaring demands, as well as the value of emergency medicine to the nation’s health care system. This is a critical step forward, and emergency physicians are urging Congress to add the amendment and pass the legislation.”

Election Law Expert Otter Goes to the Supremes ... Late

Gracedale Initiative windbag Larry Otter has been demanding attorney fees from Ron Angle and yours truly for some time. Before we ever even filed our legal challenge to a referendum on the sale of Gracedale, he wanted us to fork over $14,000. Never mind that he had only been paid a grand total of $500 by the Initiative Committee.

After all, he's an election law expert.

We passed on the Otter's kind offer. We're not experts. In fact, as people like to remind me every day, I'm a disbarred lawyer. But even I know that, under the Election Code, courts have no authority to award attorney fees. On top of that, there's this little thing called the First Amendment. That gives us a right to petition our government for the redress of grievances. Without that right, access to the courts could be limited to only those who can afford it, as it is in England.

The plain language of the law and the Constitution mean nothing to hungry otters, I've discovered. He's filed at least four separate motions for attorney fees. He's been bounced every time. He's even had to pull one of them himself. He's attempted to collect from Executive John Stoffa, too, even though he's not a party to our challenge.

Things got real ugly last Summer, when I learned that the Otter likes trying his cases in the press. Before I had even seen his latest motion, I was reading about it on WFMZ-TV69. The Otter was demanding a criminal investigation, and was comparing us to Bonusgate, a connection that nobody but the Otter himself has ever understood.

In television land, he was claiming we could be going to jail.

People love to believe the worst about their fellow man, so I took quite a few hits here. At the courthouse, searchers spoke about me in hushed tones, as if I were already dead. I'm sure that these unfounded and completely baseless allegations were no help to Ron Angle in his bid for re-election.

The Otter's motions became increasingly nasty. He began accusing all of us of lying to the Court. I was accused of perjury even though he never specified exactly how anyone lied or committed perjury.

After what seemed like an eternity to me, Judge Baratta finally tossed Otter's claim, telling him he had utterly failed to connect the dots. Assuming that everything he said was true (and it's most definitely untrue), the Otter could never establish that Angle or I did a damn thing wrong. In fact, as Judge Baratta himself noted, we came damn close to winning.

"I'll be back, your Honor," said the Otter, although he sounded nothing like Arnold.

"I'm duly warned," replied a bemused judge.  

Naturally, the Otter and Initiative Committee appealed Baratta's rejection to the Commonwealth Court. I filed a three sentence brief, and on March 8, President Judge Dan Pellegrini quashed Otter's appeal.

Right after that, the Gracedale crowd he represents began demanding Council and criminal investigations. Again.

And again, I learned from WFMZ-TV69 on Tuesday (3/20) that the Otter is now asking the State Supremes to give this matter a once over. Neither Angle nor I had even been served with this latest appeal, which is another one of the Otter tricks. Although I see no evidence of an appeal at the state website, the TV station knows all about it because the Otter made sure it knows all about it.

Of course, nobody from the TV station called either Angle or me for our side of the story, even though we've won at every level.

Yesterday, in an envelope postmarked 3/20, the same day that the Otter spoke to the press, I received Otter's petition for allowance of appeal with the Supreme Court. He includes a March 19 letter addressed to the Clerk for filing.

It appears that the Otter may have screwed up again. You see, appeals in election cases have to be filed within ten days. You'd think an election law expert would know that much.

Looks like he's at least a day late.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lower Saucon to Join NIZ Litigation

Following an executive session, Lower Saucon Township Council has decided to join in a legal challenge to Allentown's EIT tax grab for the purpose of financing a downtown hockey arena and 7-story hotel.

The vote was unanimous, at the end of a lengthy meeting involving numerous land planning issues. Ironically, one on the requests considered, and denied, was to relieve Lehigh Gas of its 18-month maintenance period at a Lower Saucon Township site it left for the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ).

Lehigh Gas was the first tenant at the NIZ.

Lower Saucon voters, last November, passed a referendum devoting a portion of EIT to open space. Allentown's EIT tax grab has effectively abrogated the will of the Township's electorate.

Last week, Hanover Township Supervisors authorized its Solicitor to pursue litigation aimed at top Allentown's "misappropriation" of Hanover Township EIT within a downtown Allentown 130-acre Neighborhood Improvement Zone. On Monday night, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted to join in Hanover's legal action.

Now, three Northampton County municipalities are joined together in a regional effort to stop what advocates of the NIZ insist is good for regionalism. I guess it is, but not in the way hoped.

Next week, both Palmer and Lehigh Townships will be discussing potential litigation.

And so the dominoes begin to fall, one by one.

Pa. Presidential Primary Actually Matters ... Or Does it?

For the first time since 1980 (Reagan v. Bush I), Pennsylvania's GOP Presidential Primary actually means something, according to the Inky. No less an authority than the New York Times itself, is claiming that Pa. is once again a playa'.

But look at the choices? Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are effectively out, leaving Pa. Republicans with a choice between bedroom cop Rick Santorum and ascot-wearin' Mitt Romney.

Do either of these guys represent Pennsylvania values? With this kind of choice, this race is over.

LV Nursing Homes Facing $5.9 Million in State Budget Cuts

The Gracedale Gang is very busy these days. They did once call themselves the "Gracedale Guardians," but now refer to themselves as the "Watchmen."  Well, they need new glasses. They've been very busy in recent weeks, calling Executive John Stoffa a crook. They're still stomping all over former Council member Ron Angle, who lost his seat in November's election. They've also been trashing Easton Mayor and Gracedale supporter Sal Panto. Why? I have no degrees in psychology so it's hard to understand that one.

As much as they hate these elected officials, they hate me even more. I'm "vermin," "demented," "deranged," etc., with a "twisted pen."

While these supposed watchmen have been hurling hate grenades at all their imagined enemies, Governor Tom Corbett and the feds have been using meat cleavers to hack away at nursing home budgets.

According to some real watchmen at the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, the impact of Corbett's budget cuts on Northampton County nursing homes will be $2,121,441. Lehigh County, will suffer even more, losing $3,809,190. That's $5.9 million in cuts to LV nursing homes. By the way, Corbett's $102 million statewide cut for nursing homes is in addition to reductions in Medicare payments.

This financial strain is too much for the County. It's one of the reasons the County wanted to sell. Here are the sorry facts, according to a PHCA news release:

 Over the last four years, the state has paid nursing homes $1 billion less than the actual cost of care for Medicaid residents. Last year, the gap between the cost of care and what nursing homes are reimbursed for that care widened by 27 percent, from a loss of $15.13 per resident per day to $19.23 per resident per day. Nursing homes lose an average of $7,000 per Medicaid resident per year.

 Where other health-care providers, including hospitals and doctors, can make up lost Medicaid dollars through a variety of other funding sources, including private pay and health insurance, nursing homes can’t. Two-thirds of all nursing home residents are on Medicaid. That makes nursing homes far different than any other health-care provider.

 Nursing homes historically countered Medicaid shortfalls with Medicare revenue. That’s no longer the case, and it’s not even possible anymore. Here’s why:

o In October, a new federal rule took effect that cuts Medicare payments to nursing homes by 18 percent, or nearly $300 million. The cuts reset the base payments to nursing homes, meaning they continue year after year.

o The payroll tax cut extension enacted in February forces nursing homes to absorb $46.4 million in uncompensated care over the next three years. Pennsylvania’s cut is the fourth highest nationally, ranking only behind Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

o These cuts come on the heels of $14.6 billion being stripped nationally from nursing homes ($1 billion in Pennsylvania) under Medicare to pay for federal health-care reform.

o The cuts are compounded by an additional $500 million reduction Pennsylvania nursing homes face because of the federal super committee failed to reach a debt agreement.

These supposed watchmen, who actually want a seat on the Gracedale Advisory Panel, are happily casting stones at their perceived enemies. At the same time, these "guardians" - people like Mary Ann Schmoyer and Fake Rev Mario Martinez  - embrace a documented racist, GOP delegate candidate Tricia Mezzacappa. An  Easton police officer concluded Mezzacappa's vocabulary is "tinged with hints of racial bias." They consort with her while the Guv' is happily chopping away.