Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Should Mentally Ill Give Up Firearms?

Accused Colorado killer James Holmes, charged with 24 counts of murder after a shooting spree inside a movie theater, was being treated for mental illness. In fact, his psychiatrist was part of a special team set up for students who might be suicidal or pose a threat to others. It's unclear at this point whether Holmes was being monitored by that team or whether he had sought help on his own. But what is clear is that a mentally unstable person was allowed to accumulate an arsenal.

Does the Second Amendment extend that far? Should the government allow a mentally ill person, one who is under a doctor's care, to possess firearms? Once a person is prescribed mood-altering medications, shouldn't that person be deprived of the opportunity to shoot and kill innocent people?

Failed West Easton Borough Council candidate Tricia Mezzacappa, by her own admission, is under medical care for "anxiety, fear and stress." In court documents, she claims to be under the influence of medication so potent that she's unfit to stand trial in my defamation suit against her. Yet at the same time, she managed to acquire a license to carry a concealed weapon.

As soon as she got her permit, she celebrated by publishing a very bizarre video depicting scantily clad women holding and shooting guns, NRA emblems, Marines, herself, her pig and a coffin. The video ends with a picture of West Easton Borough's webpage.

Interestingly, the audio that Mezzacappa loaded with this video, Pumped Up Kicks, concerns a troubled high school student who discovers his father's gun and is about to embark on a homicidal rampage.

Last week, according to a WFMZ-TV69 account, Mezzacappa "feared for her safety" after seeing me at a meeting of local Republicans. Of course, that fear, if it existed at all, was irrational.

But if just seeing me in public is cause enough for Mezzacappa to fear for her safety, what's to prevent her from pulling out her pea-shooter and blasting away? As if to make that point herself, she published a blog on Friday, entitled "I carried a gun and it was heavy."

According to Mental Health America President David Shern, people with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than the general population. But even he concedes that the "acutely ill" should be denied access. I would think that if a person is under the influence of medication so potent that she's unfit to stand trial, that person is acutely ill.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is a "shall issue" state, so the Sheriff has next to no discretion in issuing carry permits. But if someone is under medical care for anxiety and is actually being prescribed mood-altering drugs, shouldn't that person be forced to surrender his or her firearms?

LV Tea Party Organizes Chic-fil-A Melee

Chick-fil-A has two location in the Lehigh Valley. One's off of Rte 248 in Lower Nazareth, while the other is at the Lehigh Valley Mall. So far as I know, neither location has been threatened with any dastardly repercussions as a result of owner Dan Cathy's questionable judgment in injecting himself into the same-sex marriage debate. No permits have been pulled. No variances have been denied.

But for some reason, the Lehigh Valley Tea Party feels compelled to organize some kind of demonstration of support of the free speech rights at both Chic-fil-As this Wednesday at 6 PM.

Here's my question. Isn't this a solution in search of a problem? If nobody is threatening to harm these local franchises, why the need to circle the wagons, unless the intention of the local tea party is to draw attention to itself?

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supports marriage equality, has wisely stated, "You can’t have a test for what the owners’ personal views are before you decide to give a permit to do something in the city.”

Makes sense. But nobody is threatening the local Chic-Fil-As as a result of something their Chicago owner said.

By the way, what on earth does same-sex marriage have to do with limited government or tea party principles? I happen to know gay couples who are members of the local tea party, and can't imagine they support this.

In the meantime, Popeye's Chicken has denied PETA claims that it abuses its chickens. "Waterboarding is not torture," insists CEO Cheryl Bachelder.

Commonwealth Court Tosses Budget Attack By Disability Advocates

Judge Anne Covey
Governor Corbett's recently adopted budget has survived a legal challenge filed by a consortium of mental health advocates. A three-judge panel yesterday ruled it lacks the authority to intervene in functions that belong to other branches of government.

As originally proposed, Corbett's 2012-13 budget included a draconian 20% cut in mental health and intellectual disabilities funding. By the time his budget was adopted on June 30, some of this funding was restored.

In her Opinion, Judge Anne E Covey writes that "the budgeting process is beyond the power of the courts to direct. Courts cannot direct the Governor how to speak to the legislature any more than they can direct the legislature what amount to appropriate for specific departments within the DPW."

Judges Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter and Rochelle S. Friedman joined this Opinon.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Can You Say Executive Bill Hansell?

Bill Hansell
On December 21, 2011, when appointed Commissioner Bill Hansell was saying good-bye to everyone, he made it pretty clear that his public service was at an end. Back to sunny Florida. Yet his is one of the four names in contention for Don Cunningham's old job as Lehigh County Executive. And he just might get it, too. Here's why.

Whenever I post about Hansell, I mention that he's around 700 years old and that he's written Penn's Treaty, among other things. While I'm exaggerating, the truth is that Hansell has been around local government his entire career and was involved in the drafting of Northampton County's Home Rule Charter. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone more qualified than he.

Except perhaps, for Dan McCarthy, another name in the mix. In addition to an 11-year stint as Commissioner, Dan has served as an assistant County Solicitor, Assistant Public Defender, Solicitor to Allentown's Parking Authority and to South Whitehall Township Authority.

Between Hansell and McCarthy, it's probably a coin toss. Both would be excellent County Executives.

But the Board appointing the Executive is 7 to 1 Republican. (Dan is disqualified from voting for a position in which he has a direct financial interest.) Chairman Brad Osborne, Tom Creighton and Percy Dougherty are more than willing to work with Democrats. But Vic Mazziotti, Scott Ott, Lisa Scheller and Mike Schware are so far to the right that it becomes difficult to find common ground. Their recent grumbling about CDBG grant money is certainly an example. So is their campaign against Dean Browning, who refused to bow to the whims of party boss Wayne Woodman.

It's unlikely this Board would vote for McCarthy. If they did, that would create a vacancy on the Board of Commissioners. This would have to be filled by a Democrat who resides in McCarthy's District. In effect, they would be appointing McCarthy Executive and appointing Geoff Brace as McCarthy's successor as a Commissioner.

Geoff would certainly run for the job, and would have the incumbent's advantage as well as the experience of having waged a campaign.

They can't give the job to Attorney Matt ("I give discounts to union members") Croslis, either. Although he has pledged he would only hold the Executive position as a caretaker, it's no secret that his covetous eyes are fixed on the DA's office. Do you really think they'll give Croslis a high profile job like Executive and help him become DA?

What about John Ingram, the fourth name under consideration? If they were completely political, they'd give him the job and smile as he runs the County into the ground. But they're just not that cynical.

So my money's on Hansell. In fact, I'm told he was approached by Republicans.

A Rallying Cry to Save Bi-County Public Health Dep't Goes Out

At this time last year, it was Northampton County threatening to pull the plug on a Bi-County public health department. But times change, and so do boards. Now it's Lehigh County's turn to play Snidely Whiplash.

Commissioner Mike Schware points out that it will cost too much, but colleague Percy Dougherty counters its only $250,000-500,000 per County.

Former tea party blowhard Joe Hilliard instructs, “There is no pressing need, no outcries or demands for a massive bureaucracy governing two counties to save the roving bands of people keeling over from food poisoning all over the rural areas.”

Oh yeah, what about zombie attacks? Didn't think of that, did you, Joe?

Joe's about to get his wish. Not food poisoning or zombies. But there will be outcries at the August 8 meeting of Lehigh County Commissioners.

Former Commissioner Gloria Hamm, R.N., has sent out this email blast:
"Last evening, several Lehigh County Commissioners proposed Lehigh County stop further efforts to unite with Northampton County to create a bi-county health bureau. A Board of professionals and business people have been meeting for several years to create this partnership, unique in the state. It would cover over 600,000 people of all ages.

"These several commissioners feel they are voting to disband because the LC residents want this. They will vote on Wednesday, August 8 at the 7:30 PM meeting. We would like to show there is a significant segment of the population in support of a two county arrangement. In the interest of time, we should not all speak. Also, please send an email or call these commissioners asap to let them know of your feelings. Refer to the Lehigh County web site for their individual addresses or send an email to commissionersoffice@lehighcounty.org."
Also whipping up support is an unnamed Commissioner, probably Dr. Dougherty:
"Now is the time to give a last minute push. Brad [Osborne] is not totally in their camp and he will bend if there is a big public push to save the Health Department. Mike Schware is in a delicate position and may face an opponent because of his stand, plus lose one of his major financial backers. Get people to contact the commissioners individually.

"The best I hope to gain is a stalemate and have the death penalty tabled for the time being."

State GOP to Hold Local Hearing on Job Creation

On Tuesday, July 31, the House Republican Policy Committee will hold a public hearing on “Job Creation in the Lehigh Valley." The hearing will be held in Rooms 6 and 7 of the Kasych Pavilion in the Lehigh Valley Hospital Educational Conference Center, 1200 S. Cedar Crest Blvd., Allentown.

You can watch the hearing on State Rep. Marcia Hahn's webpage, beginning at 10 a.m.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Morning Call: Judge Simpson Profile

Last week, I told you that Judge Robert Simpson, the Commonwealth Court Judge deciding the voter ID challenge, is a former Northampton County Judge. I even bumped into him at Nazareth's Giant (not Wegmans) last Sunday.

The Morning Call's Peter Hall and Scott Kraus have an excellent profile. They point out it's possible (though unlikely) that Simpson's ruling will be the one that matters because the Court of Final Error is split 3-3 along party lines.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Commw Court Asks - Pig in the Parlor or the Barnyard?

Yesterday, a divided Commonwealth Court decided that localities, and not the state, have the right to decide whether the pig belongs in the parlor or the barnyard. Speaking for a four-judge majority, President Judge Dan Pellegrini invalidated most of a state law that trumps local zoning control over Marcellus shale gas drilling.

Pellegrini reasoned that if state lawmakers usurp local control over oil and gas mines, it's only a matter of time before they decide that industrial chicken farms and fireworks plants should be allowed in residential zones. "It would allow the proverbial 'pig in a parlor instead of the barnyard,'" writes the President Judge.

Just as colorfully, dissenting Judge P. Kevin Brobson quips that "this particular pig ... can only operate in parts of this Commonwealth where its slop can be found."

The Court's decision, incidentally, has some interesting language about standing and special legislation.

While making no references to pigs, Congressional candidate Matt Cartwright praised the decision for restoring "the autonomy of local municipalities in protecting the air and water of our local neighborhoods. Once again, citizens can expect look to local elected officials to stand up to forces that may pose environmental threats to local communities.”

Cartwright added that he hopes state lawmakers "will take this as a cue to enact responsible environmental regulations, charge a fair severance tax on drillers, and allow local communities to protect themselves from future environmental harm.”

Smile! An Orthodontist Is Coming to Hanover's Wegmans

Att'y Durso questions Christine Alvarez
Wegmans thinks of everything. Though customers love those oatmeal raisin cookies and Chuckles candy bars, they'll can all still have perfect smiles. That's because Dr. Luis J. Alvarez will be moving his orthodontist offices to Stoke Park Road and Wegmans Drive, right across the street from the upscale grocer. Following a July 26 hearing, Hanover zoners unanimously granted dimensional variances from setback requirements.

Representing Dr. Alvarez, Attorney Christine Durso argued that the irregular, flagpole-shaped lot, make those variances necessary.

Engineer Robert Caracciolo noted that the proposed, one-story, 5,824 sq ft building only takes up about 6% of the 1.99 acre lot. He added that there will be 42 parking spaces, one more than required under Hanover's Zoning Ordinance. In addition, the property will be heavily buffered with evergreens, to assure the privacy of residential neighbors.

Six residents attended the hearing, but had no problem with the requested variance. "I have no objection to what they want to do," stated Orvis Pike. "All I'm concerned about is what is going to happen to Fairview St."

Hanover residents take the oath
Pike, along with other residents like Gary Kepner, told zoners that Fairview Street borders their properties, but dead ends right before it reaches the Alvarez tract. Despite a warning sign, trucks and other vehicles continue along the unopened road anyway, driving over grass to reach the service road that will serve as access for the orthodontist's offices.

In the process, mailboxes have been obliterated, along with the occasional power line

Caracciolo told residents this problem will have to be addressed in the planning process. He agreed  it might be necessary to extend Fairview Street to the service road.

"We seek to be good neighbors and to follow the directions of the Township," the engineer assured everyone.

Solicitor Ted Lewis told residents that their concerns about Fairview Street are beyond the authority of a Zoning Hearing Board, but should be made known to the Planning Commission.

Dr. Alvarez' wife, Christine, told zoners that offices will be open Monday through Thursday, 8 to 5. In response to resident concerns about possible noise from air compressors associated with dental work, Alvarez stated that orthodontists have no need for them.

Dr. Alvarez has two offices. His primary location is in Center Valley. A second office at 190 Brodhead Road will be relocated to Hanover.

According to Dr. Alvarez, he hopes to be up and running by this time next year.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

ET: Another LC Exec Candidate With Legal Woes

Ann Marie Ganchoso is no longer a candidate for Lehigh County Exec. According to The Express Times, she's got an 11 year-old forgery and theft record.  Even worse, she works for LANTA.

It's amazing that criminal charges are in the backgrounds of 2 of 5 applicants for the highest position in Lehigh County. Maybe they think it's a requirement.

What about the others?

I like John Ingram, especially after Pawlowski refused to re-appoint him to the Planning Commission. But the dude never can shut his mouth. You could probably power the entire City with his jaw muscles.

Then there's Bill Hansell, age 347, who said he'd never be back after his brief stint as Commissioner. He wrote the Magna Carta, incidentally.

Dan McCarthy is the best of this bunch. But he's awful cozy with Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski. On top of that, someone would have to be appointed to fill his slot as a Commissioner. I'm sure this will be mentioned.  

Allentown Still Stonewalling

Perhaps the chief reason for the NIZ legal challenge was the perpetual stonewalling by Allentown officials. Instead of transparency, Allentown prefers to keep us all in the dark.

Perhaps its time to rethink that attitude. Allentown tried stonewalling an anti-abortion advocate's request for information because he's suing the City for violating his constitutional and statutory rights. A three-judge panel of Commonwealth Court has just ordered Allentown to fork over information that the State Office of Open Records and trial judge agreed are public records.

Hanover Approves J.B. Reilly's 55+ Community

Steve Salvesen questions the phased development
It was a good night for developer J.B. Reilly. When Hanover Supervisors met on July 24, they directed their Solicitor to terminate their legal challenge to Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ). That's where Reilly has plans for office buildings, a luxury hotel and housing. But that's night all. Supervisors also approved plans for Reilly's 55 plus active adult community on Bridle Path Road, located next to the former St. Frances Academy.

Reilly already has one active 55+ community on Jaindl Boulevard in Hanover Township, named by Where to Retire magazine as one of the top 100 best master planned communities in the United States.

His newest 55+ community, called Traditions of America at Bridle Path, will include 204 homes on a 68-acre lot. It will be built in phases.

In 2007, when this plan was first proposed, over 450 residents, most of them highly critical about traffic and the development's impact on Monocacy Creek, a highly regarded native brown trout stream. But nobody objected to the latest rendition of this development. It includes a substantial conservation easement along the Monocacy, along with improvements to Jacksonville and Bridle Path Roads.

Plans were presented by David Biddison, General Counsel to Traditions Capital.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Former NorCo Judge to Decide Voter ID Challenge

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson will decide the legal challenge to Pennsylvania's controversial Voter ID law. He's just started his second term as a Commonwealth Court judge. Prior to that, he sat on Northampton County's bench for 11 years.

Hanover Votes To End NIZ Challenge

"We had to bite our tongue," notes Supervisors' Chair Diacogiannis
Hanover Township got the ball rolling. It was the first municipality to support a legal challenge to Allentown's controversial Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ). A creature of a 2009 state law that could only ever apply to Allentown, it authorized the diversion of all EIT from workers inside a 130-acre NIZ, even those who reside outside the Queen City.

Sixteen townships and boroughs, along with a school district, eventually joined this litigation.

State legislators listened, and on June 30, amended the NIZ law to remove language that authorized an EIT tax grab. They also expanded the definition of a Neighborhood Improvement Zone so that it could conceivably apply to other municipalities.

Following an executive session before their July 24 meeting, Supervisors unanimously voted to authorize Solicitor Jim Broughal to terminate the challenge when he determines it is in the best interest of the Township and its residents.

After filing this suit, both Hanover and Bethlehem Townships were peppered with twenty-eight Right-to-Know requests filed by Allentown DCED Director Sara Hailstone. In addition, Morning Call columnist Bill White called township officials "smug" and "hypocrites."

"We had to bite our tongue and just take it," remarked Supervisors' Chair John Diacogiannis. But after the vote, he spoke out. Instead of lashing out, he wished Allentown well on the "difficult challenge" of revitalization. He explained that the litigation was never aimed at the Allentown arena or even the NIZ, but at "ill-conceived legislation that took away a revenue stream for local municipalities and school districts. This loss of revenue over a 30 year period would have had significant impact on many of these entities."

On July 16, Bethlehem Township authorized Solicitor Jim Broughal, who also represents Hanover, to withdraw the NIZ lawsuit at his discretion. Since that time, Palmer, Lower Nazareth, Upper Nazareth and Lower Saucon Townships have all voted to pull out

Chairman John  Diacogiannis' complete statement:

I am pleased that we have been able to withdraw this lawsuit. This has been a very difficult time for all of us. As we have been saying over these many months, the issue was not about the Allentown arena, it was not about the Neighborhood Improvement Zone. It was certainly not about the City of Allentown and their respected efforts at revitalization. We continue to wish them well on these most difficult challenges For us, it was clearly about ill-conceived legislation that took away a revenue stream for local municipalities and school districts. This loss of revenue over a 30 year period would have had significant impact on many of these entities.

I am grateful to the legislature for understanding our pleas, recognizing the problem and for taking corrective action in the appropriate place - in the legislation. I would like to extend particular thanks to the Commissioners of Bethlehem Township for helping us initiate this important effort and to the other townships, boroughs, school district as PSATS for joining in the effort. Most importantly, I would like to thank our good citizens, who gave us overwhelming and unwavering support.

Will NCAA Strip PSU's No. 1 Ranking in the Academic Bowl?

PSU has been hammered by the NCAA, and of course, the people who suffer the most will be those who count on that football program to make ends meet.

But while Paterno is being pummeled in the press, results of the Academic Bowl place it as #1 in the nation. Eighty per cent of its players graduate in six years or less, whether they are white or black.

Must be a coincidence.

Dent, British MP, To Engage in Roundtable

John Runyan towers over Dent and yours truly
LV Congressman Charlie Dent and a British MP, Welshman Guto Bebb will participate in a roundtable discussion this Friday, focused on the economy, European sovereign debt crisis, trade and investment and other international issues. 


Hosted by the Greater LV Chamber of Commerce, this discussion will take place at 561 Main Street, Bethlehem, starting at 11 AM.

Bebb, whose first language is lyrical Welsh, is a member of the Conservative Party. Looks like he's going to miss some of the Olympics, where a record number of 30 Welsh athletes have been selected as part of Team Great Britain. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Allentown Drops $50 Million SLAPP Suit Against Atiyeh

When Abe Atiyeh dared question his government about the constitutionality of the NIZ, he was hit almost immediately with a $50 million countersuit by Allentown. It was a SLAPP suit, obviously designed to keep him in his place and to deter others from exercising their constitutional right to question their own government.

Instead of defending the First Amendment, the Morning Call piled on. Atiyeh was caricatured by a picture with him in a wooden hat , and columnist Bill White lampooned him, too.

Allentown has just withdrawn a countersuit that should never have been filed in the first place.

King of the Ga Called Imposter, International Conman

He certainly has a Kingly name. Nii Guate Asuasa Ekasee Ako II. Sounds pretty damn official, if you ask me. But despite the claims of Easton Mayor Sal Panto, Jr., who was after all a history teacher back in the day, Ako II's Kingliness is being disputed again.

According to Sheikh Mustapha Watson-Quartey, Nii Ako II is only the High Priest, damn it, not the King.
Nii Guate Asuasa Ekasei Ako II is an imposter, a jester, a pathological liar and a conman who has abandoned his post as the Gua Wolomo (High Priest) for the past four years since his enstoolment. please stay tune for more information and revelations on this notorious International Conman called Nii Guate Asuasa Ekasei Ako II: “so-called King of the Ga People of Ghana”.
So who's the real King of the Ga?

You never know.

Zoners Nix Atiyeh Offices at Center Street Home

2110 Center Street to remain a residence ... for now
Bethlehem zoners have denied a use variance that would have permitted developer be Atiyeh to relocate his offices from Whitehall Manor to a residence at the northeast corner of Center Street and Dewberry Avenue. Following a three-hour hearing on July 23, attended by approximately 40 neighborhood opponents, Atiyeh's application was denied by a 4-0 vote.

Atiyeh's right-hand man, engineer David Harte, told zoners that there would be no changes to the residential appearance of the property, located on a 0.67 acre lot at 2110 Center Street. Instead of occupying it as a home, up to 9 Atiyeh employees would work there Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 5 PM. Eleven parking places, accessible from Dewberry Avenue, would be screened from nearby residences. No signage would advertise the business, and there would only be an occasional visitor. He assured everyone that a business use would not change the character of the neighborhood.

Harte added that the property, 4 times the size of lots across the street, is a "unique" property, a poor fit for a family with small children. In addition to being adjacent to a church with a large parking lot, Harte noted the heavy traffic in that area, as well as a traffic light at a "busy street corner" and the lack of a sidewalk on Center Street. He added there are already numerous nonresidential uses in the area, from Kirkland Village stores to a nearby cemetery.

Representing Atiyeh, Attorney Mark Malkames characterized the proposed business as Low impact, low intensity, nobody knows they're there" kind of use.

But neighbors argued that allowing this business use would open the door to other businesses wanting to move into a residential area.

Mike Polay argues against business use
Main Street resident Mike Polay likened the situation to a "camel getting his nose in the tent," arguing there are "plenty of other places where this use is proper." Vicki Ebert expressed concerns about accidents that would be caused by increased traffic at the site, adding that she personally witnessed three accidents of vehicles being rear-ended while trying to access the property. And Brian Taylor, who is raising three children across the street, disputed Harte's contention that traffic makes the neighborhood unsafe for children.

Frank Kovacs, a contractor who lives on nearby Main Street, called the proposal "unconscionable," and cast doubt on Atiyeh's intentions. "You give him an inch, he takes a mile," he argued.

Representing six of these neighbors, Attorney Steve Goudsouzian argued that Atiyeh had failed to meet any of the criteria for a variance. "If you find this is unique, you open the door to every single person in Bethlehem to come in and ask for a variance, willy nilly."

Although Atiyeh's request for a use variance has been denied, this might be a pyrrhic victory for neighborhood opponents. A new zoning ordinance, under consideration by City Council, will allow business uses on corner properties by special exception, providing there is evidence that the property was used as a business.

Harte produced aerial photographs and permits establishing that this Center Street corner property was used as a greenhouse until some point in 1972.

In other business, zoners voted 4-0 to allow Christopher Brumfield to erect an above ground swimming pool at 719 Hawthorne Road. Brumfield needed a variance to move the 12'-diameter pool away from power lines. Neighbor Kenton Sem complained about the noise that would be caused by a pump on a "postage stamp" lot, but Brumfield assured zoners that noise levels would only increase about 6 decibels.

Normal conversation, from a distance of 3', has a decibel level of 60.

Zoning Hearing Board member Michael Santanasto was absent.

Exec Applicant Croslis Explains DUI, Foreclosure Action

Lehigh County Executive applicant Matt Croslis responded yesterday to my June 2 email about the delay in a DUI prosecution. He also acknowledged that a foreclosure action has been filed against him concerning a rental property. I'll let him tell you about these things himself.

He explains his delay in responding:
I did not feel the need to answer anybody's questions about this position until I actually applied for the position. My initial statement regarding the vacancy was that I was considering applying if my family and those that I work with are on board.

The reason I filed on the last day is because I took the entire time to make sure everybody who works with me and my family all fully understood and supported my reasons for applying. I spent too much time establishing and growing these businesses to take such a decision lightly and I have a lot of people working with me that were concerned about how this would affect them.

In addition to the above my family was also confronted with some medical issues and I needed to ensure that it was resolved prior to applying as well.

I actually filed my application on Thursday July 19 and at that time the DUI and all your other questions became relevant.
Q. If appointed, what happens with the litigation against Glenn Eckhart, whom you represent?
If I get the position I can no longer represent Glenn in the litigation with the District Attorney. Glenn and I discussed this and we have a plan in place for that scenario.
Q. I am aware of pending DUI charges. Filed in December, there still has been no preliminary hearing, nearly 7 months later. That strikes me as a bit unusual. It appears as though a hearing has been continued three times. I do not think that this pending matter, by itself, has much relevance. But the delay makes me wonder whether the system is being gamed. I believe this is going to come out if you formally apply for appointment, so I would like to give you an opportunity to get your side of the story out there. I will probably note the charges, with no editorial comment. Is there anything you can tell me? Can you explain the delay?
I am not gaming the system with regard to the Preliminary Hearing for my DUI. The first hearing was continued because I was literally in bed with the flu for that entire week. (My doctor and attorney could verify). On the day before the second hearing the Judge continued it because of a conflict that arose in his schedule. The third hearing was scheduled and we attended. I will now be entering the ARD program just like any other first-time offender. As with most Judges you are at the mercy of their docket and calendar and we do not get to select the dates or timing of the hearings.

I am accepting responsibility for my actions and I hope that others will judge me based on the positive changes I have made as a result of my actions.
Q. Your office is known as a clearing house for Democrats seeking office in Lehigh County. It does most of the opposition research. It also appears to be heavily pro-union. It has done work for the state party. You are a tad on the left, even among Ds. How can you work with a Board of Commissioners dominated by members who are a tad on the right? Isn't this a recipe for gridlock?  
"I am not sure who thinks our office is a "clearing house" for Democrats, nor am I sure what that means. I represent people of all walks of life and you do not need to be a Democrat or have a union card for me or any body I work with to represent you. My businesses have grown almost entirely on referrals and word of mouth. My father retired from a union ("Insulators Local 23" aka "Asbestos Workers"), my cousin is a driver for UPS and I was the Democratic nominee for County Executive in 2001.

Based on my family background and my first foray into politics it was natural for my clients to be Democrats and union members because they were probably referred by a Democrat or union member.

I care less about party politics and more about representing clients that I can help. If a client has an issue that I can help them with I do not ask them what political party they are nor do I ask them if they are a union member.

I am not worried at all about working with the Commissioners. It is good to have all points of view on the table so that ideas can be vetted and the best choices can be made for the residents of the County."
Q. By phone, I asked Matt whether there was anything else I should know, like a civil judgment or foreclosure. He acknowledged there is a foreclosure against an investment property, and explains it as follows:
I own an investment property and fell behind on the mortgage when I had issues with the tenant. The loan is with Bank of America. Unfortunately, due to the state of the economy and the real estate market I am very familiar with loan modifications and short sales as a result of representing numerous clients facing these issues. Bank of America is one of the most difficult and time consuming bank to deal with due to the sheer size of the institution.

Dealing with the bank is a long tedious process that requires documents to be submitted numerous times and sometimes to different departments. Fortunately or unfortunately the process gets easier when a foreclosure is filed because you are dealing with an attorney for the bank that has direct contact with someone who can make a decision. With regard to my situation I was not able to reinstate the loan in one lump sum. If you do not have the lump sum to reinstate you are forced to go through the modification process. During the modification process the bank will not accept any payments until your modification is approved. As I have seen with just about every client I have, while I was working with the bank to modify the loan the foreclosure action was filed.

I am still working through the modification/reinstatement process and they tell me this should be resolved in the next month or so. By resolution I mean the loan will be reinstated and they will allow me to begin making monthly payments again.

These matters are public record, I knew they would be issues and I am not hiding from them. I believe my achievements and abilities outweigh any mistakes or errors I have made in the past. As I said before it is my hope that I will be judged on how I have acknowledged, accepted responsibility for and grown from any mistakes that I have made.

Sorry for the length but I wanted to make sure I addressed all of your concerns.
He has.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Panto: Prison Preacher Has Ducked Housing Inspectors

Northampton County Jail Chaplain Chris Santos has ducked housing inspectors concerned about the integrity of two Rock Church-owned buildings at the 500 block of Northampton Street. That's according to Easton Mayor Sal Panto, who commented here about delinquent taxes as well as the buildings themselves.
Their back taxes were turned over to our law firm that does our collection of tax arrears just like all other delinquesnt accounts. If they don't pay within two years the third year a property goes to Sheriff's sale which is held by the county. Secondly, over the last 9 months we have repeatedly tried to make appointments to inspect the integrity of the building by our independent engineer. Several times the appointment was scheduled and they were a no show. This is typical behavior of property owners that try circumvent codes. Our solicitors are now seeking a court order to do so.

The good news is that they have tied the wall as noted in the pictures but I am not sure that they were done under an engineer's review.

Lastly, we engaged their lawyer in a meeting where we expressed to him that the city could offer assistance in locating a developer that may be interested in purchasing. At the second meeting he brought "appraisals" comparing their buildings to the former Lenny's property on the circle that recently was sold. Yeah right. Their "appraisals" claim the buildings are worth about $500,000. Yeah right.

We have been spending and inordinate amount of time on these properties and in the meantime their church building itself has been sited for lack of gutters and downspounts, bare wood, and a host of other code deficiencies.

We will keep the pressure on with everything allowed under the laws of this Commonwealth
Previous Santos' Posts:

There's Money in Jesus at Northampton County Jail

A Santos Success Story

NorCo Suspends Payments to Jail's Chaplain

A Real Journalist's Take on Santos' Sinners Program

LC Exec Candidate Croslis and His DUI Delay

Don Cunningham has resigned as Lehigh County Executive to take over as top dog at Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., where the pay's much better better and there are even Summer Hours. According to Express Times reporter Colin McEvoy, five Democrats want Cunningham's old job. One of them is Allentown Attorney Matt Croslis. But would he be the right fit?

Though his firm has been a clearing house for local Democrats seeking office, Croslis is doing his best to impress a very conservative Board of Commissioners that he's a kindred soul. One of them. Who knows? Maybe he listens to Rush Limbaugh. Better yet, maybe he's read Comm'r Scott Ott's Laughing at Obama. (available for just 99 cents).

He's also defending Controller Glenn Eckhart, an affable but ardent conservative, against DA Jim Martin's claim that Eckhart is ineligible to hold the office. That's worth a few points with 7 of Lehigh County's 9 Commissioners.

But what bothers me about Matt's application is the inordinate delay in a DUI prosecution filed against him last year. According to Lehigh County records, he was charged on 12/12/11 with driving under the influence, along with an assortment of other minor charges. But even though it is a first offense, the kind of matter that should be disposed of quickly with an ARD application, Croslis has managed to delay and delay it at the Magistrate's level. It was finally sent to Court on June 26, over 6 months after charges were originally filed.

On June 2, I asked Croslis to explain this delay. "[T]he delay makes me wonder whether the system is being gamed. I believe this is going to come out if you formally apply for appointment, so I would like to give you an opportunity to get your side of the story out there. I will probably note the charges, with no editorial comment. Is there anything you can tell me? Can you explain the delay?"

Just as every dog is entitled to one bite, I think every person is entitled to one DUI. In the case of an Irishman, maybe two.

But this delay bothers me.

Croslis promised to get back to me, but never did. That's a mistake. In an office that should be transparent, Croslis is intent on keeping us in the dark.

His "kick the can down the road" approach to problems would be a disservice to Lehigh County's citizenry.

Updated 2:00 PM: I just spoke to Matt Croslis. He decided that he would wait to answer my June 2 email until he decided to seek the position of Executive, and he only made that decision late last week. He told me he will be answering my questions. But as far as the DUI is concerned, he tells me there was no gaming. He applied for one continuance because he had the flu. The second continuance was by the District Judge. Croslis told me he has no control over scheduling.

Was It Right to Remove JoePa's Statue?

Last weekend, while I babysat their dog, Dat and his mom visited PSU. Though an avid Ohio State fan, he still posed in front of JoePa's statue. He's always been impressed, and somewhat mystified, that the names of team members do not appear on their Jerseys. It certainly is unusual in today's atomosphere of sports hot dogs.

That was Paterno's influence.

As we all know by now, his statue was removed, early Sunday morning, in the wake of a damning indictment by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

Even President Obama has concluded this is the right thing to do. But I wonder. Had this been Jerry Sandusky, I could actually see hanging the statue. But Paterno seems to have been scapegoated by a frenzied media and cowardly college administrators. I thought we were a country in which people are presumed innocent.

In a statement, Paterno's family makes that clear:
"[I]t should matter that Joe Paterno has never had a hearing; that his legal counsel has never been able to interview key witnesses, all of whom are represented by lawyers and therefore unavailable; that there has never been an opportunity to review critical evidence which has not been made public; that selective evidence and the opinion of Mr Freeh is treated as the equivalent of a fair trial. Despite this obviously flawed and one-sided presentation, the University believes it must acquiesce and accept that Joe Paterno has been given a fair and complete hearing. We think the better course would have been for the University to take a strong stand in support of due process so that the complete truth can be uncovered."
So what do you think?

Saucon Rail Trail Beckons

Saucon Rail Trail, Hellertown
One of the Lehigh Valley's greatest features is its abundance of walking, cycling and running trails. Whether its the macadam surface of the suburban Palmer Bike Path or the shaded serenity of Nor-Bath Trail, it's always a treat to visit these former trolley and rail lines.

For my money (which is nothing, because they're all free), the Lehigh Canal tow path is the best of 'em all. From Allentown's Canal Park to the Bethlehem Boat Club, you can travel 10.4 miles in one direction. For endurance athletes or avid cyclists, you can even extend your trip into downtown Easton.

Yesterday, for the first time, I checked out the Saucon Rail Trail, a 5-mile stretch of former SEPTA line between Hellertown and Upper Saucon Community Park. I've heard lots of good things about this path, but wanted to see for myself.

Caleb Walsh, age 4, and younger brother Declan, prepare for speed record
First, it has to be the widest of all the bike paths I've traveled in the Lehigh Valley. That's a big plus for family rides. Second, the surface - crushed stone - is perfect for running, yet remains gentle enough for even a road bike. Third, no surprises. Portions of most trails have rocks or tree roots that have taken me out more than once. This surface seems to be much more carefully groomed. Fourth, except for a half mile or so in Hellertown, it is well-shaded. Fifth, it is certainly the most level course I've ever ridden. It's a very slight incline, nearly imperceptible, from Hellertown to Upper Saucon's Park. Finally, drivers at intersecting roads are remarkably courteous. They all slowed down and stopped when they saw me, even though they have no obligation to yield to a cyclist. (Maybe they were luring me in).

Any downsides to this path? One minor complaint. No mile markers. At least none that I noticed.

If you want to see some of the most posh homes in the Lehigh Valley, this is a nice trail to ride. God, some of the homes were downright obscene as I pedaled through J.B. Reilly country.

There's also an assortment of very attractive women, promenading up and down. One of them, I kid you not, was clad in a bikini as she pushed her two children along in a stroller Her back was decorated with tattoos of her two boys. Never saw that before. She told me they were real, too. (Hey, I had to find some reason to talk to her).

If you are cycling there, as I did, I'd recommend using the side streets to stay off Hellertown's very busy Main Street, which is clogged with NY and NJ transplants.

Although the temps were much cooler yesterday than they were in our most recent heat wave, I still had to ride by this:
On the way home, I jumped in for a swim.

Very refreshing.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Northampton County v. Wall Street?

At Wednesday's Finance Committee meeting, and at Council's full meeting last night, County officials discussed the recent rigged interest rate scandal and its impact on the swaption, which ended up costing $25 million.

"You were definitely damaged," Financial Adviser Bob Fuller told Council,. But he suggested that the County would be better off participating in a class action instead of going it alone.

Controller Steve Barron called the LIBOR scandal, as it's called the "crime of the century." Exercising 20-20 hindsight, he claimed he's "watching it very carefully" and "we have to stay vigilant."

Council Prez John Cusick, who initiated discussion on this topic, is dubious about the wisdom of a class action lawsuit. "To me a class action suit is when I get a coupon and some law firm gets millions of dollars," he joked.

But it is Cusick who noted yesterday that Baltimore has already filed what appears to be a class action suit.

Council also unanimously adopted an ordinance that swears it will never, never, never, never, never, not ever, ever, ever, ever enter into a swaption again. Not ever.

The Ordinance is completely illegal because a Council has no authority to bind future Councils. But they wanted to make a point, I guess.

Arnie Matos Confirmed as NorCo's new Director of Corrections

Arnie Matos
Arnie Matos was unanimously confirmed as Acting Director of Corrections during last night's Northampton County Council meeting. The vote was 7-0, with Council members Bruce Gilbert and Lamont McClure absent.

Matos, who had served as Volunteer Services Coordinator, was credited with helping keep the population at much lower records that were projected n a 5 year-old study. Although the prison population was projected to exceed 1200 this year, yesterday's census was 680.

Like County Executive John Stoffa and former Corrections Director Bob Meyers, Matos is a "firm believer that what these folks need is treatment."

This attitude transcends ideologies. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a staunch Republic and former United States Attorney, has just signed a law emphasizing treatment over incarceration for drug offenders.

Matos' appointment comes at a good time. Northampton County Jail has just received a glowing report from state inspectors, with no deficiencies noted. "I have never seen a report like that," remarked Executive John Stoffa.

Matos told Council last night that he hopes to expand the treatment options available to the jail's female population.

Like Bob Meyers, the person he's replaced, Matos started his career with Northampton County as a corrections officer.

KCB - NorCo's Only Covered Bridge

KCB, not to be confused with KGB, is the acronym by which people in the Northampton area refer to Kreidersville Covered Bridge.

Located in and owned by Allen Township, this 116' foot long wooden bridge was built in 1839, and is Northampton County's sole remaining covered bridge. It is also Northampton County's oldest bridge.

Northampton County uses some of its hotel tax money for maintenance by a dedicated group of volunteers, who made a brief presentation at last night's County Council meeting.

There are 211 covered bridges remaining in Pennsylvania, making it the covered bridge capiatla of the world.  Six are in Lehigh County. Its oldest, Bogert Bridge, was built in 1841.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Real Journalist's Take on Santos' Sinners Program

505 Northampton, crumbling brick
I'm a bottom-feeding blogger. According to the Fake Rev, I'm on my way to eternal damnation, too, so I've got that going for me. I'll meet all my old friends.

Unlike me, Christina Georgiou is an honest-to-goodness journalist. She's worked for the Express Times, was Editor at Easton News and a Patch contributor. Her blog, Easton Eccentric, is strangely bereft of opinion. Just the facts, ma'am. But Georgiou has weighed in here with a mix of facts and opinions concerning the conditions at the inmate program run by Northampton County Jail chaplain Chris Santos.

You see, she lives in that neighborhood.

Since Santos sympathizers have challenged my journalistic integrity, I'll share what a real journalist has to say about what she has seen with her own two eyes.

Walls pinned to floors to prevent collapse
First Comment:

The concept that this building has passed required city code inspections is completely bogus. I can't speak to whether or not it actually was inspected (though I tend to think not, as the city is currently pursuing a warrant for inspection purposes), but I know for a fact that it is in violation of the city's landlord licensing program.

The last time I witnessed a possible emergency at 505 Northampton St., I watched EFD hesitate before entering the building. Fire, it seems, is something they thankfully can deal with. The possibility of imminent collapse, and rightfully so, had them apparently a little more worried. (I assume this by the fact that they donned their helmets, but not other gear, along with their gesturing at the huge crack in the side of the building, and a visible team conference on the sidewalk, before entering. And, BTW, the EFD did enter the building, and they get even more of my admiration for their bravery. Fighting fires, and it's attendant dangers, though also with much educated knowledge and caution of the risks involved, it seems, has NOTHING on the concept of the unknowns involved with unassassed structural deficiencies. Seriously, brave folks. You couldn't PAY me, or most residents on this block, to enter that structure.)

missing bricks at top of crumbling western wall
Some months ago, I had an interesting conversation with a former resident of 505 Northampton St. The gentleman, who was well-spoken and educated, though by most people's standards perhaps a little "touched" had recently been released from NCP and been picked up by Chris Santos, he said. (Not sure what his offense was exactly, but it seemed like it might have been public drunkenness or disorderly conduct or both. Like I said, the guy seemed a gentle soul, but not quite on the same wavelength as most of us.)

This guy told me the reason he moved out was because a piece of a windowsill fell on his head one night while he was sleeping. Indoors.

He also informed me the reason no one lives on the fourth floor is because it is uninhabitable--the roof leaks that badly.

just a tad cracked

Between the fact that he feared for his physical safety, as well as took issue with the religious indoctrination he was obligated to undergo as part of the deal, he left, saying he would rather face homelessness and the possible parole violation than stay any longer. BTW, the guy had some serious religious convictions, which he also conveyed to me. He added that he was fine with attending bible study and church services, but that he felt he couldn't keep them or pray on his own (his words) under the "Chris Santos program," and this was a problem.

At the time I met him, earlier this spring, he was living at the Bartlett, which he said wasn't great, but was "The Ritz" compared to the conditions at 505 Northampton St. (If you know the Bartlett, that says something!)

gaping hole in base of western wall
Question Chris Santos' motives? I'll leave that to others who may have had actual contact with him, though I can't say I've ever heard anything that actually sounds good.

Question what's going on across the street (or lack thereof, like basic structural maintenance, for what is decades now), that is undoubtedly endangering the residents? YES! That building is a serious hazard that could and probably will kill people, if something isn't done in time.

Oh, and the one answer I got one day talking to a "volunteer" who was directing illegal, incompetent, after-hours work going on there, "Don't worry about it, God will take care of us"?

Yah, sure, but only if you're misguided enough to believe you're going to heaven after you let a once-beautiful, completely neglected-for-all-the-decades-you've-owned-it (except for collecting the rent) and structurally deficient (and now sadly probably beyond repair), 130-year-old apartment building kill your tenants when it collapses one day. I suppose it's one way to get them closer to God, but I suspect it's not exactly the way He was hoping for.

Second Comment:

Living on this block, I can attest that 505 Northampton St. is a serious detriment to the community.

Since the residents are rarely seen or heard from, I doubt most people knew the Rock Church or Chris Santos' is getting funds from the county for released prisoners' housing. While it's known that Santos does prison ministry work, the on-the-street story has been that he "allows" the residents to stay there, and the presumption has been little or no rent. To hear otherwise is interesting, to say the least.

More interesting is that especially for such a deplorable building, he's apparently getting better than market value for spaces that should officially be deemed inhabitable for human habitation.

As I said, I live on this block, and though I'm not a construction engineer, my father was. It's my personal contention that this building is in serious danger of imminent collapse, which I've been photographically documenting for about the last year or so.

The western wall is of particular concern--it is peeling away from the rest of the structure and bricks fall from it regularly. Other than the people that have the misfortune to live there, NO ONE on this block will even walk on the sidewalk on that side of the street--the building is that scary.

The Rock Church folks know that the building is in trouble, but instead of doing the right thing, they have engaged in several illegal, after-hours amateur attempts to pin the wall to the second, third and fourth floors to stabilize it. But these efforts are not only not working, they may very well have served to further undermine the building's structural integrity.

I've sent the evidence to the city's planning commission as I've seen changes, to aid with their quest to legally get this place shut down. But it seems the court process is very, very slow in cases like this, to everyone's frustration.

Wherever they've been or bad choices or mistakes they've made, the residents of this building aren't a problem in the immediate community--but this building and the lack of decades' worth of proper maintenance, along with the social issues now raised in the coverage of Chris Santos' operating procedures on Lehigh Valley Ramblings, most definitely are.

505 Northampton Street is one of the properties listed by Rock Church as part of its "Men's Community House." I've pulled a contract with an inmate released to Rock Church (you can see it here). You have to agree "to change your life through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." Rent is $400 per month, along with a $100 non-refundable entrance fee. No dating. No secular music. Disclosure of all income, including gifts.

Updated 2:07 AM, to include photos supplied by Christina Georgiou. Thanks, Christina.

NorCo Council Blasts ArtsQuest "Witch Hunt"

On November 14, 2011, ArtsQuest sued over the assessment of properties at 645 E. 1st Street and 101 Founders Way. This includes the ArtsQuest Center, Air Products Town Square and PNC Plaza. ArstQuest is seeking an exemption as a charity. That's $122,000 a year in property taxes. ArtsQuest ended 2011 with a $700,000 operating loss, so it's obviously trying to minimize expenses.

Last week, Express Times reporter extraordinaire Lynn Olanoff told us that Controller Steve Barron has determined that ArtsQuest is entitled to no exemption. Council member Lamont McClure added that hotel tax payments should be stopped.

Last night, Barron backtracked before Northampton County Council's Finance Committee, especially after hearing from members Ken Kraft and Peg Ferraro.

Initially, Barron said the matter was a "top priority." But he quickly acknowledged that he lacks the "level of expertise" needed to review ArtsQuest's records.

The Assessment Office did engage Barron for a supposedly "independent" review. But as I pointed out earlier this week, Barron simply lacks the qualifications. Moreover, there would be no "independent" review. It would instead be designed to help Lamont McClure in his County Executive Quest.

Barron told Council that a Philadelphia firm has now been retained by Assessment. He also denied having asked the IRS to revoke ArtsQuest's tax-exempt status, something I was told last week.

Two Council members made very clear that they are upset at how this has been handled by Barron, McClure and the Assessment Office.

Peg Ferraro stated that, instead of singling out ArtsQuest, "we should be very proud of what's been accomplished." She called the South Side Bethlehem improvements, like SteelStacks, a "blessing" and "asset to all of us."

Ken Kraft, whose Council District includes Bethlehem, was a bit more blunt. Calling ArtsQuest's Jeff Parks a "visionary," Kraft claimed Parks was being unfairly attacked by "jealous" people engaged in what seemed to him like a "witch hunt."

"You're trying to shoot the goose that laid the golden egg," Kraft argued, adding that South Side Bethlehem is the only place in the County that has dramatically increased tax revenue over the last eight years.

"Why is everyone so short-sighted on this?" asked Kraft.

He also noted the irony of denying ArtsQuest an exemption while giving one to tax delinquent Rock Church.

Barron conceded, "This could be a loser," and also distanced himself from McClure's argument that hotel tax revenue be denied to ArtsQuest.

NorCo Suspends Payments to Jail's Chaplain

Ken Kraft
One of Chris Santos' gravy trains has come to an end. Up until now, the Norco Jail's chaplain was getting $1,000 every month from the County. The money went to his church, the Rock Church of Easton. That way, Santos could evade avoid taxes and the County has no responsibility to pay benefits.

But as first reported on this blog, Santos' Rock Church is a real estate tax deadbeat. And since the contract for chaplain services is actually with Rock Church, it's in violation of a provision requiring it to stay current on taxes.

Controller Steve Barron told Council's Finance Committee yesterday that Rock Church owes about $12,000 in back taxes for two properties in Easton. His inquiry, believe it or not, was prompted as a result of what he read here.

As Barron mentioned that, President John Cusick did his best to keep from laughing.

After confirming that Rock Church is, in fact, delinquent, Barron went to the Disbursements Division. He stopped clerks just as they were folding the latest $1,000 check for Rock Church.

Executive John Stoffa then told Council that payments to Rock Church have been suspended, at least for now.

Barron told Council that every vendor doing business with the County needs to be checked to ensure it is current on taxes.

Council member Ken Kraft publicly thanked me. "Nobody found it until Mr. O'Hare found it in his research." Barron also commended me with "Good job!" before going into Council.

Well, that's a first. I'm much more comfortable being called what I am, a despicable bottom-feeding blogger.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rumor: S. Whitehall to Drop NIZ Challenge

According to an unconfirmed anonymous comment, South Whitehall Township has voted to discontinue the NIZ litigation as a result of legislative changes addressing the concerns that prompted its lawsuit. I will confirm this report on Thursday, and update this post accordingly.

Updated 8:20 AM: This report has been confirmed by Township Manager Job Hammer, who is in his office at 8 AM.

A Santos Success Story

Livin' the dream with Chris Santos
Yesterday, I filled you in on a conflict of interest at Northampton County Jail, where Chaplain Chris Santos is supplied a steady stream of paying tenants that he then crams into dilapidated buildings owned by the Rock Church or one of its spin offs. In addition to collecting $300-400 month for unlocked rooms in blighted properties, Santos has imposed an indoctrination program in which his new charges are required to worship at his, and only his, church.

How's that working out? On Sunday night, Santos devoted his bible studies to finding out who had reported him. While he was grilling everyone, one of his newer tenants - the son of a prominent local attorney - had to be rushed to the hospital after an overdose brought on by alcohol and who knows what else.

This newbie was supplied by two of Santos's saints, who are doing so well under his program.

Maybe they thought it was holy water.

Although relapses are the nature of addiction, Santos is in over his head. He is endangering his tenants. Instead of shoving them in a hovel with religious zealots, the County needs to find safe, alternative placement for the men living in his buildings.

Bangor Poised to Vote On Police Regionalization

Bangor Borough Council is poised to vote next Monday on a state-financed police regionalization plan for the 5 Slate Belt communities.

A regional department would result in 24% total savings in police costs. .

In Bangor, it is basically a wash in the first year. Plainfield Township would save $250,000 in its first year. Pen Argyl would save $100,000.

Bangor Borough Council member Dave Houser, who supports the plan, states, "I think we can pull this off and assure the public of no drop offs in service."

The plan was prepared by PA Governor's Center for Local Gov't Services, but does not appear to be available online.

Team Ireland Takes a Tumble

Yesterday was a running day. I stay off my bike those days. But with a threatened record temperature, damaging UV rays and unhealthy air index, I felt challenged.

Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, I always say. After all, I am an alkie.

Unfortunately, I was defeated. Not by the heat, but my own stupidity.

Here's what happened. After waiting for a red light at Bushkill Drive and 13th Street, I turned right to descend the 13th St hill. But I was having trouble getting my right foot back into the pedal straps. Before I knew it, I had hit the curb on 13th at a pretty good clip. My sternum smashed into the handlebars, which propelled me backwards. I slammed into a grassy knoll, back first.

As I lay there, trying to piece together what the hell had just happened, a large number of drivers actually pulled over, which is a little risky on that hill, just to ask if I was alright.

I was shocked at the kindness displayed by everyone. They obviously were unaware they were dealing with a bottom-feeding blogger.

One gentleman who actually saw me take this partial header stopped and got out of his car. He called 911 and would not leave me until he was satisfied that I was OK. He introduced himself as Jim Pokrivsak, whom I recognized as Easton School District's Athletic Director.

"I'm a big athletic supporter," I told him.

"I can see that," he answered.

Because my handlebar and saddle were twisted and my chain had popped, I decided to walk the bike to Broken Spoke, about a mile away.

As I trudged along, an Easton police officer also happened by and stopped to make sure I was alright.

"Are you OK?" he asked.

"Only my pride is hurt," I answered.

Broken Spoke had my bike fixed and rarin' to go in about 5 minutes. It will take me a little longer. I know my sternum and rear ribs are bruised.

Today is supposed to be another hot one. On top of that, there are supposed to be severe thunderstorms late this afternoon. And I'm a little raw. So naturally, I'll ride in today.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

This is What Gives Allentown a Bad Name

Forget the murders, robberies, drugs, theft, vandalism, poverty and self-interested politicians. But who the hell does something as sick as shooting a small dog in its owner's back yard?

Barron: Commuter Tax Could Cost NorCo Workers $300,000

Last night, Easton City Council allowed public comment on its controversial commuter tax. No member of Northampton County Council appeared. But Executive John Stoffa was there, and spoke on behalf of the County worker.

What impact will this have on them? Below are excerpts of a memo prepared by Controller Steve Barron, who took some time out from studying for the bar exam to actually do his job.

If Easton Council votes to pass this tax this evening [they were not scheduled to take a vote, Steve] county employees will begin paying an additional .75% in local income tax starting January 1, 2013. Employees who live in the City of Easton will not have to pay the additional .75% as well as any employee who works outside the City of Easton.

I obtained the list of all employees coded as working in the City of Easton from our employee database. That total number is 1,101 people. This includes full-time and part-time employees.

From this number there are 103 people that live and work in Easton so they would not be subject to the tax. This means that 998 employees are subject to the tax.

There are 77 people who are Allentown residents that [sic] work in Easton and 149 Bethlehem residents who work for the county in one of the Easton locations. I went through the Easton and Bethlehem address lists line by line to pull out people who have an Easton mailing address or Bethlehem mailing address and live in places like Bethlehem Township (some have an Easton mailing address), Forks Township, Hanover Township etc…;

It was interesting to find that 23% of the people subject to pay the tax do not live in the suburbs. They live in another city in the Lehigh Valley.

The average salary of those 998 people falls somewhere between $30,000 per year and $40,000 per year. This means that they will pay somewhere between $225 per year or $300 per year on average. This means that Northampton County employees will pay an additional $224,500 to $299,400 per year to the City of Easton.

There have been a lot of numbers floating around and rumors. Regardless of how you feel about the tax I felt it was my duty as the County Controller to do the research to provide you with accurate and correct information.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me at (610) 559-3185.

Updated 7:00 AM: Easton Eccentric - Stoffa asks for "summit" between local and state leaders over unsustainable pension costs. Easton City Council to Delay Commuter Tax Vote Until August 8 .

There's Money in Jesus at Northampton County Jail

Rock Church of Easton
The Bible warns us, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." I've seen that first hand with Gracedale's Fake Rev, Mario Martinez. The more often someone invokes the name of Jesus, the less like Him they turn out to be. But this story is about another false prophet. Unfortunately, this one is the chaplain at Northampton County Jail.

I'm referring to Chris Santos, appointed to the job in late 2010. Even the way he is paid should raise a few eyebrows. Instead of being paid directly, $1,000 per month goes to his church, the Rock Church of Easton. This way, he gets paid tax free and the County is spared those pesky little benefits.

Praise the Lord!

But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Santos is using his gig as prison padre to make some real dough. You see, he (and his church) own a string of run-down row homes on both Northampton and N. 6th Streets. He fills those buildings with tenants from among the prison's population. About 20 tenants, all supplied by the jail, pay Santos between $300 and $400 per month rent for an unlocked room in a dilapidated building. Inmates he attracts as tenants must worship at his, and only his, church. Every frickin' day. Three times on Sunday.

Praise Jesus!

Despite this steady stream of revenue from the jail, Santos is still behind on the bills. Church Redevelopment Corp., which owns 8 of these buildings on N. 6th Street, owes a whopping $51,461.50 in back taxes, going back to 2009. There's also $10,269.20 in municipal liens filed against Church Redevelopment and Rock Church itself.

My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?

501, 505 Northampton Street
Whatever God is doing, Easton officials appears to be ready to forsake Santos. Last Summer, they called Rock Church on the carpet over their dilapidated buildings at 501 and 505 Northampton Street, across the street from State Theatre.  They still look like hell, even though the good Reverend is using his jail tenants as a labor source on those structures. They're unpaid, too. They'll get their reward in heaven.

Rock Church has never fared well with Easton officialdom. In 1993, a proposed pregnancy crisis center was rejected. And in 1994, a "Christian Academy" was closed down for multiple code violations, including the use of a classroom as a means of egress.

Oh Ye of little faith!

However poorly it fares with Easton, it's doing just fine with inmates at Northampton County jail.  So David, a Vet and a three-time DUI offender, thought it might work for him. "I pretty much would have signed a deal with the Devil to get out of [jail] and get my life back together," he told me. After all, Chris Santos always had a "kind word and a good ear." But after being released on bench parole to Santos, David soon learned that Santos is "all business across the street."

For $300 a month, unemployed David was installed in an unlocked room in a hovel on Northampton Street. Trash is strewn all through the place. Common bathrooms are filthy. Calling the place "horrible," David tells me that even the health department would be afraid to step inside.

Most cities have rules about the number of unrelated people who can live together in what is essentially a boarding house, even when God is in charge.

Officials at the probation office tell me they will confirm that an address provided by an inmate actually exists, and that the owner is agreeable. But they do not spend much time determining whether the facility is habitable, considering themselves lucky to have a place when housing resources are very limited.

"It's tough out there," the probation office told me.

As bad as the physical conditions may be, David is even more upset at the indoctrination. "Until you suffer for Jesus, you got nothing to offer us," he is repeatedly told. After that, they hug him and say "We love you, man."

There's a bible study twice every day, morning and evening. On Sundays, it's three times. If you work, you get to tithe 10% of your income to Rock Church. This is in addition to your $300-400 monthly rent. "Every time you sit down in a church-related situation, you're getting your wallet out," complains David.

Calling the place an "emotional jail," David tells me he felt trapped. He's allowed to attend one AA meeting per week, even though alkies like me know that you need to go every day in the beginning. He's also been denied permission to attend services at another church. 

The hammer is a parole violation. Santos threatens his tenants by telling them he'll talk to their parole officers, who will "violate" them. "He can take the carpet out from under your feet any time he wants," warns David.

What does Chris Santos have to say about these allegations? I contacted him early last week. He asked me to wait six months before publishing anything, assuring me that his accusers would have a change of heart.  Later that night, his entire Bible Study was devoted to me and to discovering who had blown the whistle. He threatened that if the City begins looking at his operations, they could all end up on the street.

After a few nights of this brow beating, one worried inmate fessed up, and dimed out David. Fortunately, David has received permission from his probation officer to move into Bethlehem's Victory House and away from Santos.

Santos tells me he has a B.S. in Theology, having attended Christ for the Nations, located in Dallas, and Valley Forge Christian College, located in Phoenixville. Christ for the Nations is unaccredited, and at the time Santos went there, had no degree program. Valley Forge is accredited, and does offer a Bachelor's degree in Theological Studies.

Asked about his program, Santos told me there are a lot of religious organizations who help people "get on their feet with spiritually significant support." He acknowledged that he does require his tenants to attend his church, unless there's an understanding with another Pastor.

"There must be accountability," he tells me, denying that "it is a cultish issue." But inmate David, who wanted to attend another church, was flatly told No. He was never given the option of contacting their Pastor.

Are housing conditions that bad? "We don't have roaches. We don't have mice," brags Santos, who insists you can buy a lock for your door. This was disputed by David. I asked Santos to let me look at the properties myself, but he never answered me.

$300 to $400 a month for a room? According to Santos, those rentals "keep the bills paid," although he has no explanation for the unpaid taxes and municipal liens. He tells me, "We train those men to stand on their own two feet," adding that he helps them look for jobs.

This was flatly denied by David. "You're on your own," he tells me.

Santos tells me he has a Blue Book, called a Benevolence Book, to provide food, clothing and rental payments for inmates who are unable to pay. David, who is unemployed, told me he never heard of it. He added that state food assistance programs are available for those with limited or no income.

Last week, David was pulled out of a bible study to talk to Santos. "If the City of Easton comes down on the Rock Church, it will be you guys who suffer," warned the preacher.

I think he's already suffering, "Reverend," and it's gone on long enough.

According to another minister familiar with Northampton County's program, "The County needs to establish sound criteria for this position such as legitimate ordination, Master's degree, and clinical training. But that would cost them about $70,000/year. Many counties, like Monroe, have set up a coalition of churches that raise funds to support a jail chaplain."

He warns against hiring a low bidder through an agency like Good News Ministries or Yokefellow. "These are basically untrained fundamentalists who purge other opinions and theologies from the volunteer corps."

Personally, I think the jail should hire a rabbi. The most Christian people I know tend to be Jews.