Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gracedale Post Inadverdantly Deleted

On Friday, I posted a blog about a Gracedale debate on Business Matters. Tonight, while working on a post about a state house debate between Dave Molony and Dan McNeil, I accidentally deleted my Gracedale post. I have attempted to resurrect it, but it's in cyber space. If I can find it, I will re-publish.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Hanover Zoners Approve Two Flex Buildings

Standing room only at Hanover Tp ZHB
Before a standing-room only crowd of over 70 residents, Hanover Township's Zoning Hearing Board has paved the way for two "flex" buildings on the north side of Jaindl Boulevard, Following a September 27 hearing, zoners unanimously decided to grant dimensional variances for this $25 million project. They did so despite complaints about truck traffic and noise from members of a Traditions of America (TOA) residential community for older, active adults, located directly across the street.

Located on a 49-acre tract owned by David Jaindl, the property is currently under agreement of sale with Griffin Land, a Connecticut-based land development company that has recently expanded into the Lehigh Valley. It has properties both in Upper Macungie and Bethlehem Townships. According to owner David Jaindl, Griffin is "the most neighbor sensitive developer I could find for the property."

In fact, that afternoon, Griffin President Michael Gamzon met with TOA residents, who asked him to reconfigure his plans so that truck access to the site is from Rte 512 or Township Line Road, instead of Jaindl Boulevard. Gamzon told zoners he's postponing a scheduled Planning Commission presentation, scheduled for October, to see if the plans can be revised. He also vowed to meet with residents again.

Last month, Gamzon told Supervisors that each building would produce approximately 200 jobs. That figure could go up or down, depending on the tenants attracted. At his juncture, no tenant has been identified.

"Flex" buildings, as Gamzon explained, are structures that can serve multiple commercial purposes, from warehouses to light industrial to even office space. These are permitted uses in Hanover's planned industrial business district, where they've been proposed. Gamzon testified that he hoped to attract up to four tenants for each of the buildings, but that Griffin would remain the owner and manager at the site.

"We got money and we got votes, and we're going to use both." 
Though these are all permitted uses, a variance was necessary because Griffin was proposing to place all the doors and truck bays along just one side, the rear, of each building, away from TOA. Under Hanover's zoning ordinance, these can only be placed along 30% of each of the four sides of a building. This would allow for 76 doors and truck bays along a proposed 1050' x 260' building, and for 74 doors along the 1000' x 260' building. Griffin will use less door space - 65 (front building) and 61 (rear building) - than allowed under the zoning ordinance. But concentrating them on the rear side, away from the residents, would exceed the 30% maximum for door space along each side.

Project Engineer Kevin Horvath explained that it made sense to place all the bays and doors along one side. First, it takes advantage of the topography of the area, which drops 60' from the front to the rear of the property. Second, it discourages use as a trucking terminal, where double-sided loading (front and rear) are the norm. Third, and most importantly, it provides a buffer for TOA residents across the street.

Because of the downward slope of the property, Horvath told zoners that the visual impact of the site will be minimal. From the TOA development, Horvath stated that only the tops of these 38-40' buildings will be visible. Standing on Jaindl Boulevard, you'll see the top 10-15'.

David Jaindl calls project smart growth

Some TOA neighbors are opposed to any commercial development in their neighborhood. Anthony Scaramuzzino complained that after he moved here from NYC, "You put a residential neighborhood in the middle of what you could call Times Square. He later added, "We got money and we got votes and we're going to use both."

He also sounded off on the truck traffic that already exists along Jaindl Boulevard, comparing it to Route 78. "We can't leave a window open at night," he grumbled.

Matthew Ford moved in from New Jersey, which he called the Concrete State. "I don't want to see a warehouse or a trucking facility," he flatly stated.

Mary Jane Landrieu echoed those concerns, denouncing the increased truck traffic. "You're asking for a disaster to happen," she warned.

Other TOA residents seemed satisfied by the presentation.

Nick Tibberts asked, "Why do you even need a variance for this cosmetic change? It seems to me to be a waste of time." Joyce Camm added, "I love where I live. The main concern is the entrance way." Like Camm, Rosemary Douglas stated, "I love it here. It is the best decision of my life."

While zoners deliberated, David Jaindl explained why he planned for a residential community next to a planned industrial business district. "It's smart growth," he explained. "Live here, work here, shop here."

Now that Griffin Land has the variances, the next step in this process will be the Planning Commission. Gamzon predicted that plans will probably be ready in time for a meeting in November.

Griffin is represented by Attorney Greg Davis of Saul Ewing.

Planner Vincent Horvath must have been proud to see his son, Kevin, testify as an expert witness. But he had to recuse himself and was replaced by alternate Joseph Bednarik.

Geeting: Bethlehem Zoners Holding Up Recovery

That's right, folks. According to NYC blogger Jonathan Geeting, that damned, infernal Bethlehem Zoning hearing Board is responsible for holding up the recovery. I knew it! Now I know why Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke started attending their meetings.

Of course, Geeting is nutz. I've seen these guys take it on the chin for lots of things, but this is a first.

I'm pretty sure they're responsible for climate change, too. Chairman Gus Loupos has been spotted in a wizard's robe, uttering the incantations for another Halloween snow storm.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Volunteer at Housenick Park This Sunday

Fall Celebration at Housenick Park

Bethlehem Zoners Nix 46-Unit South Side Development

HDC's Bruce Weinstger (L) and Ian Rawhauser (R)
Last October, a unanimous ruling by Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board paved the way to save St. Stanislaus Church, located at 419-429 Hayes Street. Instead of daily Mass, this historic church would become the hub for 36 affordable apartments, targeted at artists earning 60% of the Lehigh Valley's median income. But an attempt to expand that development by 10 units failed, just as unanimously, during a September 26 hearing

This project is the brainchild of MidAtlantic Housing Development Corporation (HDC), a Pennsylvania nonprofit that specializes in affordable housing, as well as the adaptive reuse of downtown properties. It also provides 24/7 onsite professional management and maintenance.

HDC asked zoners to sign off on an additional 10 units, located at 420-424 Atlantic Street as well as along East 5th Street. Forty-eight parking spaces would be available for the forty-six units proposed. Project manager Ian Rawhauser added that it would be aimed at people earning 60% of the Lehigh Valley's median income.

The one major drawback to this addition, however, is parking. "What makes you think that someone is going to park on Atlantic Street and walk up to Hayes Street?" asked Justina Keller, who has lived in that area for thirty-five years. She also had objections to low or moderate income tenants, calling them people who "throw garbage in the street and yell obscenities at us." She complained that her neighborhood is already in a "downward spiral," and that "camping that many people into that area will be a detriment."

Engineer Bruce Weinstager sees possible encroachment. 
HDC was proposing 1,200 sq. ft. dwelling units instead of the 2,500 sq. ft. required by the Zoning Ordinance.

While zoners were deliberating, Keller expounded. "I love the South Side. I don't like the disrespect that people show when they think they're entitled to something."

Keller's concerns were echoed by Jason Blake, another E. 5th Street resident. He complained that "parking is already beyond the saturation point," and that the proposed population density is simply too high.

According to both Keller and Blake, the area east of East 5th and Atlantic Street is saturated with drug activity, too. "You can see them standing on the corners," remarked Blake out of the earshot of zoners.

As if parking and population density were not enough, Manuel Pena added that sewers in that area are already at full capacity.

The final straw came from a soft-spoken Marcel Rodriguez, who quietly pointed out that the proposed parking lot appears to encroach on his property,

HDC had hoped to start construction on its proposed development next year. It is unclear whether it will still proceed with the 36-unit approval it obtained last year.

In other business, zoners gave Joseph D'Ambrosio a green light fr a three-story dwelling at 217 E 5th Street, where only 2 1/2 stories are allowed. Representing D'Ambrosio, Attorney Jeremy Clark argued that it was a "de mimimis variance" in which the public interest is served without rigid compliance. Architect John Lee testified that granting the application would make the property more "aesthetically appealing" and would only add 78 square feet.

Finally, zoners granted a dimensional variance to National Magnetics Group for an addition at 1210 Win Drive. SEO Paul Overbeck explained that the addition would be 12' away from an adjoining property instead of the 15' required under the newly enacted zoning ordinance. He told zoners that his proposed addition would follow the same line as two previous additions they had approved.

The Zoning hearing Board's next regularly scheduled meeting will take place on Wednesday, October 24, 7 PM, at Bethlehem's Town Hall.

There Go Our Parks

According to Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky, that little league field you like so much might soon be a condo. A center city playground could soon be a playground. Here's why.
House Bill 2224 would allow political leaders to get rid of certain types of public parks any time they felt it was for the best - and "best" could mean whatever they wanted it to mean.

So they could sell off a park if, say, their borough needed cash to pay for a new firehouse. Or if a favorite developer needed a lucrative site to build townhouses. Or if they thought a strip mall would make better use of the land than a baseball diamond would.
This bill has already been passed, unanimously, in the State House. The Senate is expected to vote on it imminently.

Whatever you do, don't tell Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, or he's be auctioning off Harry Trexler's statue quicker than you can drink a glass of Allentown water.

Blogger's Note: My thanks to Ron Beitler, for making me aware of this story. Beitler, incidentally, was just shot down as a member of Lower Macungie's Parks and Recreation Board. He apparently reads too much.

Poresky on Allentown's WaterWorld

Photo Stolen From Poresky's web site
When Dan Poresky retired from his business, "Dan's Camera City," he became more busy than ever. In addition to volunteering with Habitat for Humanity twice every week, he serves on Allentown's Environmental Advisory Council and is active with environmental issues at "One With the Earth."

He walks the walk.

Dan created a universal eco-symbol, which I've featured. You can see it's mostly blue, like the earth's water. At one time, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski stood behind that symbol, along with the Lehigh Valley's two other mayors when they signed a climate control agreement in 2006.

But that was then. Since that time, Pawlowski has demonstrated his commitment to our environment with a kooky, trash-to-cash scheme being promoted by Marcel Groen, who just happens to be a major King Edwin campaign donor AND a Democratic power broker. King Edwin's turds, along with the garbage created by the NIZ construction, will supposedly be turned into energy and everybody will get stinkin' rich.

Literally.

Damn the shit torpedos! Full speed ahead!

Now, Hizzoner wants to unload the Queen City's water and sewer operations to avoid one of those nasty tax hikes. They stink, too. People don't like them, but they'll just love watching their water and sewer rates skyrocket.

Pawlowski's rubber stamp council, with the notable exception of Jeanette Eichenwald, will almost certainly go along. They're beholden to him, not you. Two of its members were not even elected by you, but were instead appointed. Soon, three of its seven members will be appointees, as Mike Schlossberg has run away from Council for a cozy backbencher job in Harrisburg.

Because Allentown is no longer a democracy, I don't think it matters a bit whether you attend tonight's meeting. The decision's been made, and whatever outfit is associated with Marcel Groen will get the deal. All the posturing will be little more than window dressing.

This time next year, the frackers will be pouring Allentown water into those damn mines in coal cracker country.  Upstream from us, by the way.

Alan Jennings, who has so often spoken so eloquently for the little guy, has already rolled over for the suits that budget his operations. Allentown's two columnists are too busy writing about pie baking contests and how great it is to speed in Texas. This is not on their radar. They're too busy thinking about their own pensions to be worried about Allentown's.

I may be cynical, but don't lose heart. People like Dan Poresky are living proof that one person can make a difference. Whether conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, we all need water to survive. He'll be there, and I'm sure he'll make that point. He also has plenty of questions. I'll let him speak for himself.

The decision to lease Allentown’s water and sewer operations for 50 years must not be rushed. The need for large sums of money to satisfy the fire and police pension liabilities is at least two years away. Turning over the city’s most valuable asset, its water, to a for-profit company comes with enormous environmental risks to our water as well as inevitable large rate increases.  None of this has been fully explored by the administration or Council.  

Council has neither the expertise nor the information necessary to properly make such a long-lasting and monumental decision. The voters deserve a say on a matter of this extreme importance. The question should be put to the voters in a referendum in next year’s election. 

Questions for Allentown City Council for September 27, 2012 council meeting to discuss

The mayor rejected the formation of an Allentown water authority as a vehicle for issuing bonds to get the up-front money to satisfy the pension obligation. His reason is that it would raise water rates 90% recover that money. Doesn’t the same hold true for any leasing company? They too, will have to recover the up-front money they give the city.

Has Council received the lease agreement for its review? Will the lease agreement be made public before council votes on whether to allow the administration to let it out to bidders?

Has the city done a study of the likely and possible consequences of a long-term lease of the water/sewer operations? Those who have opposed privatization have presented Council with horror stories of what has happened in other cities that are contracted with some of the same companies that the administration has accepted as qualified bidders. Who among council has personally researched these claims to determine their validity? 

Council has gone to the PA Economy League to do a peer review. What is the scope of the work requested? Does the scope include looking into the likely and possible long-term consequences of leasing? When is the report due?

Will council hold another public meeting to present the results of the work being done by the PA Economy League? 

The administration will be coming to council within weeks for permission to present the RFP to bidders. Might council vote on the request before council receives the report from the PA Economy League?  

The MMO (Minimum Municipal Obligation: money needed to satisfy the demands of the pension liability) does not become excessively large until 2014. Given the magnitude and far reaching consequences of privatizing, whyshouldn’t the question be put to the entire voting public as a ballot question? 

Would Council agree to hold off any vote that would allow the administration to move forward until the public was given the option to get this on the 2013 ballot? Would Council support a ballot referendum? 

It has been reported in the press that the company that leases our water/sewer systems will be able to raise rates to recover the $150-$200 million up-front money they will be giving the city. Is Council familiar with this regulation? 

If Council votes to give permission to the administration to give the lease agreement to the bidders, when in the process is the administration absolutely required to come to council for another vote? 

Once the administration has chosen a concessionaire and comes to terms on the contract, it will come to council for council to approve or reject the contract.   Will Council, at that time, have the authority to modify the contract? History has shown that once any permission is granted to the administration to proceed on a plan, it invariably goes through unstopped. How often has Council rejected a contract of this magnitude and complexity at this late stage in the process? Council should consider the first vote their only opportunity to impact the outcome in any meaningful way. 

The PA PUC (Public Utility Commission) hasn’t made a definitive statement as to how or whether it would regulate rate requests from water companies that would lease Allentown’s water/sewer system.  Council president Guridyand at least one other Council member said that Council could assume that responsibility. Requests for rate increases will be accompanied by exhaustive reports and claims justifying their request for a rate increase. Does Council have the time and expertise to be able to go through each and every claim and know which ones are legitimate? Which ones are covered by the contract? Which ones are exaggerated? 

At least one Council member and a city official have stated that one factor that will reduce the size of rate increases is that the company will spread their rate increases to other cities where they have control. If that is true, isn’t it just as likely that they will raise rates for Allentown users to cover increased costs in other cities? 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hanover Township Returns $30,000 in NIZ Suit Money

Manager Jay Finnigan
It was a showdown between Allentown and many of its surrounding municipalities. In an effort to revitalize the Queen City with a hockey arena, office buildings and a luxury hotel, a special tax district was created. In a 130-acre Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), developers could pay for these projects, in part, by diverting the local taxes of out-of towners who worked there. This would deplete municipal coffers.

What's good for Allentown is good for the Lehigh Valley, argued Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, calling the NIZ a "rising tide" that would lift all boats. A host of townships and boroughs responded with lawsuits.

At the spearhead of this litigation were two Northampton County municipalities, Hanover and Bethlehem Townships, represented by the Bethlehem law firm of Broughal and DeVito. Eventually, eight other municipalities joined this suit and contributed to the legal expenses. Nine other municipalities paid their own way or filed separate suits.

In the end, City and state officials blinked. The NIZ law was amended on June 30 to prevent any diversion of local taxes.

How much money was collected from these townships for the litigation? How much was actually spent? Those questions were answered by Hanover Township Manager Jay Finnigan at the conclusion of a Supervisors' meeting on September 25.

Hanover Township collected $70,000 from intervening municipalities. Hanover, Bethlehem, Lower Saucon and Lehigh Townships each kicked in $10,000, as did the Whitehall Coplay School District. Plainfield Township, Hellertown and Bangor ponied up with $5,000 each. There were also $2,500 contributions from East Allen Township and Walnutport.

Between April and September, the Broughal law firm was paid $39,806.58. The remaining money, a little over $30,000 has been returned in proportion to the contributions made.

Hanover, Bethlehem, Lower Saucon and Lehigh Townships, as well as Whitehall Coplay School District, have each received checks for $4,313.35. Plainfield Township, Hellertown and Bangor have been paid $2,156.67. East Allen Township and Walnutport have received #1,078.34.

It is unclear how much Allentown, the NIZ Authority and state officials spent in this legal dispute.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jennings: Allentown Must Sell Its Water & Sewer Systems

At a Town Hall lecture last night, I asked CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings whether he supported Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski's privatization of the City's water and sewer. In his speech, he had mentioned a poll in which most Americans believe that government should work on behalf of those "who want to drink clean water."

But not in Allentown. Jennings is perfectly willing to privatize one of the Queen City's most precious assets - its water. Reason? "Allentown's solvency is the #1 priority," he explains, calling the privatization issue a "Faustian choice."

Jennings suggested that the rest of Lehigh County should ensure that the Lehigh County Authority has the means to make the purchase. He then went on to complain that the Lehigh Valley has 41 water and waste water systems in two counties, when only a handful are needed.

CACLV's Alan Jennings: We Are a Nation Divided

Alan Jennings
When his lecture was over, Alan Jennings expressed some surprise that nobody had tried to kill him. He needn't have worried. A few conservative thinkers like Hotel Bethlehem managing partner Bruce Haines and activist Al Bernotas delivered gentle jabs. But most of the seventy or so people who attended the first of the South Side Initiative 2012-12 Town Hall Lecture Series on September 24 were very supportive. Liberals trend to attract other liberals and conservatives tend to attract conservatives. But this increasing polarization was the whole point of Jennings' lecture - we are a nation divided.

Jennings is the Executive Director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV), an organization that combats poverty in local communities. His career has spanned 32 years. South Side Initiative's Seth Moglen, who introduced Jennings at Bethlehem's town hall, called him an "enormous force for good" and "untiring advocate for social justice." His critics, however, deride him as a "poverty pimp" and "Price of the Poor."

According to Jennings, who just became a grandfather this weekend, we've become a nation of confused, frustrated and cynical people.

"We are polarized along geographic lines, political lines, racial lines, class lines, cultural, ethnic, religious, generational and gender lines," he posited.
"I'm sure that if someone claimed the Sun rises in the East, his or her antagonist along any of those dividing lines would strenuously argue otherwise, and the argument would include a mean-spirited, personal attack."
The problem, as he sees it, is a "small but virulent and loud industry of radicals whose sense of how the world should work is mired in the nineteenth century's social Darwinism." He includes the tea party in this group, although he later conceded there are radicals on the other side of the spectrum, too.

To those who espouse less government, his retort is that "well-financed radicals" have been very effective at "depriving government of the necessary resources" that would make it work, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Using welfare as an example, Jennings calls it the "tried and true default wedge issue dug up by those who hate government." But he points out that, of the 647,232 people who live in the Lehigh Valley, only 7,000 of them (1%) receive any form of cash assistance. A family of three will get just $403 per month. There's been no increase in that amount since 1985. But there have been three recessions.

Jennings conceded that there are times when he feels like a failure, especially since the poverty rate has gone up in his 32-year battle against it. "But while I do let the bastards get me down, anger has been the fuel of my hell-bent, frenzied drive to fight back," he said.

"I just can't give up."

How would Jennings solve this increasing polarization? That, he admitted is where he falls short. He made a few suggestions like increased civic engagement, publicly funded campaigns, permitting people to own guns but not ammo.

"People call it a nanny state, but maybe we need to do a better job of being nannies," he said.

Roger Hudak and Alan Jennings
In response to questions about the gentrification occurring in South Bethlehem and predicted in downtown Allentown, Jennings states he's seen no evidence of displacement. He did suggest a change to the Municipal Planning Code that would require all municipalities, both cities and suburbs, to zone some areas for affordable housing.

When the lecture was over, South Side Task Force Manager Roger Hudak proudly showed Jennings his Democratic T-shirt, claiming that is the answer. As Jennings is a tireless advocate for the poor, Hudak is a tireless advocate for Bethlehem's South Side. But unwittingly, Hudak proved Jennings' point.

The next Town Hall lecture, on October 30 at 7 PM, will feature James Peterson, Lehigh University's Director of the Africana Studies Program.

OOR: Mezzacappa Has No Right To Immediate Access

When Wicked Witch of West Easton Tricia Mezzacappa barged into Borough Hall on August 22, cursing and threatening to drown the Borough Council President, Easton police finally had enough of her histrionics and charged her with disorderly conduct and harassment.

On this blog, she claims she was upset because West Easton officials prevented her from getting "public records that are granted RTK requests. I even had the RTK request in my hand ... ."

I'm not sure how that justifies a death threat or ripping information from a community bulletin board. And as it turns out, her claim is untrue, like many of her claims. On Friday, the state Office of Open Records ruled she had no right to the records sought.

You see, she owed money from a previous request. She paid that sum, and then expected West Easton to roll over and immediately comply with her new request. Not so, says the Office of Open Records. If she fails to pay timely for records, she has no right to expect an agency to grant her immediate access to other records.

On this blog, Mezzacappa complains that "[o]nly in government can people pick and choose what they are 'allowed' to do." But this latest Open Record ruling reveals that, if anyone has been picking and choosing, it's been her.

And now she's got a date with a District Judge.

Incidentally, since 2001, she has filed 23 OOR appeals.

State House Candidates To Debate in Wind Gap

On October 9, at the Wind Gap Fire Hall, 7 pm, the Slate Belt Chamber of Commerce will host a candidates' night for state house candidates. Incumbents Joe Emrick and Marcia Hahn will square off against their challengers, Joe Capozzolo and Leslie Altieri. I will provide more details as they emerge.

Jenny's Kuali - Allentown's Loss is Bethlehem's Gain

Jenny Lim and her sister, Nancy Chen
After 35 years, Allentown's House of Chen closed its doors in late July. After all, there's money to be made along Hamilton Street with office buildings, hotels and hockey arenas. So NIZ developer J.B. Reilly bought the place. Good for him.

Jenny (Chen) Lim and Roy, her husband, decided to do what they do best - keep on cooking. Except they're doing it in Christmas City. Instead of traditional Chinese fare, they're offering up more healthy Malaysian dishes at Jenny's Kuali, located at 102 E. 4th Street in Bethlehem.

I dropped in to see Jenny on Friday, and she loves her new location.

I tried the Singapore rice noodles, which are both lighter and have more zing than the usual lo mein.

Prices are great. It's only $6 for the lunch special, pretty cool for something you'll find nowhere else in the Lehigh Valley. It's open from 11 AM to 9 PM daily.

The real test will come when I take my grandson, who is a very finicky eater. But he loved the House of Chen.

Monday, September 24, 2012

West Easton DUI Center Has 60 Residents

When Arnie Matos was confirmed as Director of Corrections on Thursday night, he reported that the West Easton Treatment Center for DUI offenders and non-support fathers had just opened. There were 60 residents the next day. The jail census was at 706.

More Names in NorCo Council Race

A few weeks ago, I gave you a rundown of who might seek one of the five at-large Northampton County Council seats that are up in next year's race. Incumbents John Cusick, Tom Dietrich and Peg Ferraro - all of them Republicans - plan to run again. But Bruce Gilbert and Barb Thierry, two more Republicans, have reportedly had enough. This means that if Democrats win just one seat, they will have a majority.

Former Executive Jerry Seyfried and former Human Services Director Ron Heckman, both of whom also served on Council, are reportedly interested. So is the Northampton County Bulldog, former Council member Ron Angle. Even the current Exec, John Stoffa, is toying with the idea.

Jeff Warren, currently a member of Easton City Council, is mulling it over. So is Randy Galiotto, an architect who is very close to Easton Mayor Sal Panto.

But that's not all.

Dr. Chris Amato, a great chiropractor and former Lehigh Township Supervisor, is weighing his options, I'm told. Deb Hunter, a Northampton teacher whose bid for NorCo Council just missed four years ago, is being asked to run again. So is Easton area resident Bill Wallace (not to be confused with Scotland's William Wallace).

It's way too soon for any of these possibles to acknowledge their interest, so I have not pressed them.

But it's a large, and mostly good, field.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bethlehem Planners Ponder Sidewalks

Andrew Twiggar (L) and Olga Negron (R)
Habitat for Humanity, developer of 17-acre neighborhood called Minsi Ridge on the slopes of South Mountain, would like to be excused, at least for now, from installing sidewalks along the west side of James Street and the south side of Aaron Street. Citing the topography and remoteness of this site, located near the Sands Casino, it asked the City's Planning Commission for a deferral at their September 20 meeting. But a confused board tabled the matter, uncertain whether a deferral or outright waiver is the most appropriate solution.

"What has changed since you were last here that would justify a deferral?" asked Planning Chair Jim Fiorentino.

In 2007, plans for this development were originally rejected, although a re-submission narrowly passed.

"This is just three blocks from my house," stated Planning Commission member Olga Negron. "This is such a green area. I would like it kept green."

But Fiorentino countered that when this plan was first proposed, the objection was that the entire area should be kept green.

Another Planning Commissioner, Andrew Twiggar, noted that, unlike other subdivisions in which planners are reluctant to grant deferrals, James and Aaron Streets are not through streets and would have less pedestrian access.

But Fiorentino was still concerned that, if the City later decides it wants sidewalks, there will be confusion about who will bear the cost. Habitat for Humanity contended it would be the abutting owner. But one of those abutting owners, Wayne Yerger, disagreed. "I will be one of the people going after them," he said.

Then Fiorentino pondered whether, instead of a deferral, planners should grant an outright waiver, which would excuse everyone from installing a sidewalk.

"We're getting into things we did not anticipate at all," stated Planning Director Darlene Heller.

Bethlehem's Planning Commission decided to table the matter until their October 11 meeting and let city lawyers review the matter.

Bethlehem Blight Getting Harder to Find

Steve Kehs addresses planners
Every ten years, Bethlehem conducts a blight study to demonstrate a need for federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to redevelop crucial areas. According to Steve Kehs and Tammy Wetzel, strategic planners at Triad Associates, it's getting harder.

At the September 20 Planning Commission meeting, Kehs and Wetzel reported that Bethlehem has done "tremendous work" since their last Blight Study in 2002. But blight still exists, predominately at Bethlehem Steel properties on the South Side. After that, the Pembroke Road corridor, which includes a portion of Stefko Boulevard, has numerous vacant and deteriorated properties.

North side neighborhood and business districts are in much better shape. The most prevalent findings of blight there are cracked sidewalks as well as some underutilized properties like the Armory Building along Prospect Avenue. Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority recently voted to purchase that historic property.

Planning Commission Chairman Jim Fiorentino wondered whether CDBG grant money is really being used to address blight, or whether it pays for "fancy street lights on Broad Street."

"I don't know how you insure it," answered City Planner Darlene Heller. Fiorentino was told that most of the funds are being spent on the City's south side.

Allentown Inches Closer to Water Privatization

Michael Donovan
To avoid a tax hike, Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski wants to unload the City's water supply. After all, somebody's gotta' supply the frackin' water for the fracking industry up north, and it might as well be him. Environmental consequences be damned. And never mind that, instead of a tax hike, City and even suburban residents in Whitehall and South Whitehall will see their water and sewer bills skyrocket.

This is perhaps THE most important issue facing the Lehigh Valley. But instead of taking their time with it, Allentown City Council have their rubber stamps out, ready to approve whatever outfit is associated with Pawlowski Pal Marcel Groen. Earlier this week, they refused to appoint a committee that would look into the pitfalls more closely.

"Citizens for Common Sense" forced the matter on the agenda via petition. But Allentown City Council members want nothing to do with common sense. Only Jeanette Eichenwald would listen to them.

Former Council member Michael Donovan, a member of this group, made this statement to City Council. They ignored him, but you might be interested.

Thank you Mr. Guridy.  Council Members.  In responding to our petition, you have an opportunity to change the way government is often transacted in this city.  By adopting an often used technique to make critical civic decisions through collaboration and consensus building, you will earn the trust of your constituents and more likely produce a better solution than what we have now.  Many, many scholars in Public Policy agree on the practice we propose.  Many, many communities throughout the country embed this technique in their review processes.

The problem:

We believe that the administration has not adequately presented in a collaborative and consensus building manner to the public its proposal to privatize and lose control of our water and sewer system.  We also believe that city has not suitably examined how it can manage and restructure our fire and police pension obligations to obtain a better solution than what the administration has proposed.  

The solution:

Building on proven results occurring throughout the country at the local level to deal with challenging problems like Allentown's, we recommend that a study committee comprised of the administration’s consultant, PFM, the Council's consultant, Economy League of PA, a third professional, 2 people currently in favor of the administration proposal, and 2 people currently against this proposal.  Members of that committee would work with their constituencies to facilitate trusted communication.

To build (and some would say rebuild) trust, the committee must help us understand or know vital areas of study that we do not understand or know.  

For example, we do not understand (repeat)

     * Pension Financial Position
       *  Market Value of Assets
       *  Liability of Fund
       *  Annual Minimum Municipal Obligation
       *  Impact of optional funding solutions

     * Financial position and cash flow of the water and sewer department

     * Legal options to change pension obligations or to capture water/sewer rate surplus for use to satisfy obligations without losing control

     * Independently produced results of all privatization that have occurred in other cities and regions around the country

     * The impact of privatization on social criteria such as the environment and health

     * The impact of privatization on political criteria such as Allentown's ability to negotiate in the Lehigh Valley

     *
The impact of the proposal that potentially shifts the pension obligation costs to non-taxable properties and the suburbs, as well as achieving operational efficiency


The reason for a committee.

Council will soon be faced with a resolution authorizing a Request for Proposal to lease our water and sewer system. This is a critical decision that requires collaboration and consensus building.  In that resolution, we understand that there will be conditions that are expected in any proposal submitted by bidders.  We believe choosing the leasing option with incomplete and less than trusted information is not best for the city because we all know serious mistakes have occurred before, one of which causes the current crisis.  We believe that Council cannot and should not make a decision on that resolution or any of its specifics until it is knowledgeable of all the costs and benefits associated with this option to the pension situation. We believe that the best decisions occur when a collaborative effort is made to bring the community together with good information.  That can only occur with a bi-partisan review of the data that is then brought to the people in an objective analysis that examines the consequences of all options.    We believe the facts will bear out a better solution.   The need to have the public trust that our decisions are wise is imperative 

On a personal note, I will be saddened if we do not take this action continue to conduct business in this community with poor analysis rammed down the throats of the public. I often felt that way during my tenure here. It is not the way government is supposed to run.  It is not the way public policy should be determined, and most of all it is not the way for citizens to grant authority to its leaders.

Yes, politics and government are messy. Yes, officials are elected to make decisions. However, collaborative leadership is successful. Collaboration is supposed to include us, your constituents.

Our request is to do this as quickly as possible.  An ordinance would delay the process, and we hope that the Council President will authorize an ad hoc committee to perform these duties.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

NorCo Coughs Up $200,000 in Prison Assault

Atty Colin Monahan
As reported in The Express Times, Northampton County has just coughed up $200,000 as a result of a vicious jailhouse assault on a former DUI inmate. John Mucha, who was awarded the settlement, claims he stumbled upon a smuggling ring in which tobacco and even cellphones found their way inside the jail. Mucha's lawyers - Nicholas Sabatine, Brian Monahan, Colin Monahan and Joe Welsh - have released this statement.

A former inmate at Northampton County Prison has settled a year and a half long federal civil rights lawsuit for injuries he suffered after a brutal assault on January 31, 2009 by inmates who were part of a prison smuggling ring. John J. Mucha (“MOO-ka”) was serving a brief sentence for a DUI offense when he was assaulted in his cell by members of a contraband smuggling ring which included at least one prison guard and several inmates.

The suit, which settled for $200,000.00, alleged that Northampton County officials knew of serious problems at the prison relating to groups of inmates smuggling contraband items such as tobacco, cell phones, drugs and even homemade weapons into the prison.

Mr. Mucha was represented by Nicholas R. Sabatine, III, Esquire, of Wind Gap, Pennsylvania and Brian Monahan, Esquire, Colin Monahan, Esquire, and Joseph E. Welsh, Esquire, of Easton, Pennsylvania. Mr. Mucha’s counsel issued the following statement regarding the settlement: “We hope this settlement will focus the attention of all county officials and employees on what has been a long-standing stigma on the county and its penal system. The institutional culture of the prison has all too often rewarded those who abuse their positions, and punishes those who try to do the right thing. Justice requires that those who violate our laws are appropriately punished. Justice also requires that those who serve time in our prisons do so without having their civil rights violated.”

During the case, Mr. Mucha’s attorneys uncovered evidence of a widespread web of corruption involving numerous inmates, and even several guards, known as corrections officers. The evidence underscored the magnitude of the profit to be made in contraband. Pouches of tobacco which sell at convenience stores for several dollars were being sold inside for $50 each. Payments were usually arranged though a guard in conjunction with inmates’ relatives or friends.

Mr. Mucha’s Complaint averred that he suffered debilitating back injuries as a result of an assault in his cell when a guard electronically opened the cell door to allow inmates involved in tobacco trafficking to enter it. Mr. Mucha’s injuries required surgery and left him permanently disabled.

While entering into the settlement, Northampton County did not admit any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the settlement should send a message to all Northampton County elected officials that it is in everyone’s interest to eradicate corruption within the prison and install effective procedures to prevent this type of incident from reoccurring.

It's a good thing that West Easton's DUI Center is in business.

Pa. Business Group Endorses Justin Simmons

State Rep. Justin Simmons can add a pro-business group to his growing list of endorsements. PEG PAC, the political arm of the Pennsylvania Business Council (PBC), today announced its continued support for the freshman incumbent.

Simmons represents the 131st District, which includes portions of Lehigh and Northampton Counties. PEG PAC highlighted Simmons’ support of a free enterprise, job-creating agenda in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

“During his first term, Representative Justin Simmons has kept his promise to work for the improvement of Pennsylvania’s overall tax and businesses climate, which is crucial to allowing companies to compete on both a national and global scale, and create jobs for Pennsylvanians,” said David W. Patti, PBC president & CEO.

Patti cited Representative Simmons’s record of fighting efforts to increase the size, scope and cost of government; and his leadership in efforts to reduce onerous taxes like the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax. Patti also noted Simmons's support for initiatives that encourage private investment in businesses, as well as joint and several liability reform that is now law.

“Representative Simmons knows that competitive business taxes as well as fair and equitable regulatory and legal systems are the basis of a strong free market and an environment that enables job creators to grow and flourish," commented Patti. “That’s why we endorsed him in 2010 and are glad to be able to endorse him again this year.”

Simmons is facing Kevin Deely in November's election.

The Abe Atiyeh Show

Atiyeh (front) unhappy with Spadoni (rear) objections
Bethlehem Area Public Library was the venue for a September 19 hearing in the latest round of Abe Atiyeh zoning hearings. But instead of a librarian, Solicitor Erich Schock and Zoning Chairman Gus Loupos both had to ask the fifty or so people to be silent. For the most part, they were, as Attorney Mark Malkames made the case for drug and alcohol treatment centers at 2110 Center Street and 2349 Linden Street.

Both of these applications were originally filed last March, before Bethlehem's new zoning ordinance was adopted. Under that major overhaul, adopted in August, both Atiyeh sites would be too close to Bethlehem Catholic High and Spring Garden Elementary Schools. But the older zoning ordinance, under which Atiyeh's applications were filed, imposes no such restriction.

In July, zoners unanimously refused to allow Atiyeh to relocate his business offices from Whitehall Manor to a vacant home at 2110 Center Street, located on a 0.67-acre lot at the northeast corner of center Street and Dewberry Avenue. So now he's proposing to demolish the home and replace it with a 2 1/2 story residential treatment facility for up to 28 people suffering from drug and/or alcohol addiction.

David Harte, a Professional Engineer and Atiyeh's right-hand man for the past three years, acknowledged that patients could leave at will at what is, after all, a voluntary treatment center. But as he has testified in other hearings, he stressed that there is "a need" for treatment centers in the Lehigh Valley. Over thirty people have applied for the Executive Director position, claimed Harte.

"I've seen people with Center Street addresses arrested for DUI," he noted, insisting that the patients at this center would be "no different" than many of the people in that very neighborhood.

Zoner James Schantz, noting the numerous applications for Executive Director, asked Harte whether anyone has applied to be admitted as a patient. Harte answered that no patient solicitations can be made until the state grants a license.

Another zoner, Linda Shay Gardener, disputed Harte's claims that patients would undergo extensive counseling, noting that the plan shows only two counseling rooms and one office. Harte responded that most of this would occur in a group setting and in an open area.

The zoners' huddle: all they need is a football
Bethlehem City Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni was having a rough night. A former prosecutor, he was batting 0 for 4 in objections to testimony during Abe Atiyeh's quest for zoning approval of residential drug and alcohol treatment centers at 2110 Center Street and 2349 Linden Street. With no success, he argued that Harte lacks the qualifications to describe the management and operation of a drug and alcohol treatment center. He also objected unsuccessfully to Harte offering opinions on the criteria for this use, insisting that this was the ultimate question to be decided by the Zoning Hearing Board.

"Nice try," joked Atiyeh, after one of Spadoni's failed objections.

But on his fifth swing, Spadoni sent one over the fence, temporarily ending the presentation for the second application filed by Atiyeh.

Everyone wants to testify
In addition to a 28-bed residential treatment center at 2110 Center Street, he's planning a 47-bed residential treatment facility at 2349 Linden Street, site of what was once the Moose and Bug greenhouses. They'll be demolished, and a 2-story, 35,000 sq. ft., building will take their place.

Just as Attorney Malkames began to question Harte, Spadoni objected, noting inconsistencies between the actual application and the advertisement. "We tumbled off the road and into the weeds," said the Bethlehem barrister. "The advertisement does not match the application."

After reviewing the advertisement, Malkames agreed, and suggested that the matter be advertised again. Abe Atiyeh was a little reticent until he was assured his application will still be considered under the old zoning ordinance.

Testimony will continue on the 2110 Center Street application on October 16, 6 PM. Two days later, zoners will continue with the request for a drug and alcohl rehab at 2349 Linden Street.

Zoning Hearing Board member Bill Fitzpatrick disclosed that he is a teacher at the Arts Acadmey Charter School, which is a tenant in a building owned by Atiyeh. Fitzpatrick stated he saw no reason to recuse himself, but would step aside if others objected. Nobody did. Fitzpatrick has voted against nearly every Atiyeh application.

Spadoni Out as Elections Solicitor

Before Gina Gibbs was appointed Register of Wills, she spent roughly eleven months as deputy Director of Elections in Northampton County. Somewhere along the way, she butted heads with the office's long-time solicitor, Chris Spadoni, over some legal technicality. I'm uncertain what the dispute was about, but it was resolved by removing him as that department's legal adviser.

"I wonder who her angel is," remarks one courthouse insider

Now, with a Presidential Election just six weeks away, the elections office has no deputy.

Babes of Northampton County

Yesterday, there was a "surprise" good-bye party for Ann Achatz in the Recorder of Deeds Office. Searchers and staffers kicked in some dough and brought in goodies. Of course, I complained about having a party inside the courthouse, but was ignored.

Ann had quite a few visitors throughout the day. And I've got material for my "Babes of Northampton County Calendar," which I'll be releasing next year.

Here, husband John crowns Ann while two staffers from other row offices - Miss January and Miss February - drop in to wish Ann luck.

Ann poses with three of her boyfriends. Tom Castellano, Troy Castellano and moi. Troy was playing with my boob.

Miss March, April, May and June.

Council Clerk Frank Flisser, aka Miss July, is always tricking me. When he told me my fly was open, I refused to fall for it. When I later went to the bathroom, I realized he was right.

Elizabeth (August), Missy (September), Jackie (October), Linda (November), Ann and Attorney Bob Littner (December) provide a sneak peak..

Judge Craig Dally was kind enough to wish Ann luck. He looked like he was in a good mood so I asked him to lift the latest bench warrant against me. He refused, so he's not going in my calendar..

Executive John Stoffa even brought a gift. More importantly, he let Ann know how much he valued her and how much she'll be missed. I'll give him a two-page spread.

It is sad to see Ann go. It is nice to see that so many people care about her.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Northampton County Loses a Centurion

Ann Achatz
Widely considered considered one of the world's most brilliant military tacticians, Gaius Julius Caesar regularly screwed things up. When he landed in Britain, for example, nearly all the ships carrying him and his troops were destroyed, cutting off supplies and making quick evacuation impossible. He nevertheless always came out on top in any martial adventure. His legionnaires, often outnumbered and hungry, fought like hell, probably harder than any army. They adored him, and the feeling was mutual. He may not have been very familiar with the tribunes and legates at the top of his many legions, but knew every centurion by name. He understood that centurions, or middle managers, are the ones who make things happen. Every good officer knows that sergeants run an army. And on the County level, it's the row officers and division heads. Northampton County says good-bye to one of these centurions today.

Ann Achatz has spent the last 38 years working in the Recorder of Deeds Office. Since 1989, she's been the Recorder. She's worked under each of the County's six Executives, as well as three different Recorders. She's even put up with me, which is no easy feat.

Ann was instrumental in implementing a state-of-the-art electronic recording system called LANDEX. Over forty counties now use that system, widely regarded the best in the state.

She modernized the office, with an emphasis on making it as user friendly as possible. Many older record books have been scanned and are available on computer. In addition to making things easier for searchers and the public, this has conserved space.

She came up with the idea of charging $10 for a parcel check on every document recorded. This resulted in $400,000 pouring into County coffers last year. It will be more this year.

This reduces the need to generate revenue through real estate taxes.

"There have been many challenges, ups and downs," states Ann. "I have met many wonderful people who have supported me during my career and will miss each and every one of them."

The feeling is mutual, Ann.

Ann lives in Forks Township with her husband, John, and two very unusual cats.

Ann will be succeeded by her Chief Deputy, Andrea Suter. Although Director of Court Services Archie D'Isidore stated he might apply for the job, he never did. Suter will be sworn in on Thursday.

I'd say that Andrea has some big shoes to fill, but Ann's feet are only about four inches long.

If you have a chance, stop by and say good-bye to Ann today.

NorCo's New Register of Wills, Gina Gibbs

Her name is Gina Gibbs, and she is now officially Northampton County Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans Court. Although she's been on the job for over a week, courts only swore here in yesterday.

What is the Register of Wills and Orphans Court? It's where you go when you're madly in love and want a marriage license. A few years later, it's where your wife has you committed.  Finally, after you've gone tets up, it's where your kids will fight over your estate.

All $43.

Gibbs' appointment has been rather controversial. Judges believe they should control that office, as well as the criminal and civil divisions. In addition, county administrators passed over a 13-year veteran and Deputy Register who also had applied for the job and had the recommendation of the outgoing Register of Wills.

Unlike most row officers, Gibbs has only been employed  by the County for about four years. She started in the Solicitor's Office as an "exempt" employee. This means her employment would last only as long as Executive John Stoffa remained in office. About a year ago, she was appointed Deputy Director of Elections. This enabled her to transition from an "exempt" employee to a career service position, where she would have some job protection.

Like 90% of County employees, Gibbs is a hard worker. She immigrated to this country at age 19. She's managed to earn an Associate's Degree, Bachelor's Degree and reportedly is eyeing up a few law schools. She's managed to do this while working full-time and supporting her children. At her Linked In profile, Executive John Stoffa gives her this recommendation. "Gina is a talented bright easy- to- work- with professional who never fails to meet her deadlines. She is friendly and will go out of her way to help without complaint. She is a joy to work with.”

She clearly was a favorite on the Third Floor, where Administrators work. I believe this gave her an unfair advantage. I also believe it is a mistake to appoint a row officer who might stay with the County another year. But none of this is her fault, and she's certainly entitled to advance herself.

To my knowledge, she played no role in last week's termination of two Register of Wills employees.

Nazareth Loses Power

Late last night, a tree went over near the Nazareth Library. This in turn hit some power lines, taking them down. As that happened, transformers here and there crackled and popped, and Nazareth descended into darkness. In the absence of TV, people were forced to step outside and actually talk to each other.

According to what one volunteer firefighter tells me, Met Ed will have the lights back on sometime between Midnight and Noon.

I am blogging now from one of my secret bunkers.

Deely Plays Politics at Coopersburg Community Day

In its 21-year history, Coopersburg Community Day has been a day to come together, no play politics. Politicians are welcome, but are expressly prohibited from campaigning, wearing buttons, or passing out campaign literature.

At last Saturday's Coppersburg Community Day, State House candidate Kevin Deely decided to play politics anyway. He's running against incumbent Justin Simmons in the 131st. He and some of his union supporters showed up wearing "Elect Deely" buttons and started to hand out flyers. When told that is verboten, retired teacher and former Southern Lehigh union rep Jay Impink had a meltdown about his First Amendment rights. In short, Impink had a stink.

"It is a shame that Deely is so desperate to increase his name recognition that he needs to politicize a community event that is meant to bring people together," said a Justin Simmons campaign aide.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Supreme Court Vacates Judge Simpson's Voter ID Ruling

You can read the High Court's Opinion here.

More Evidence of Romney's Inept Campaign

I've been disappointed, to say the least, by Barack Obama's first term as President. But whenever I see the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, I feel as though he's just stepped off his yacht.

Now, in the wake of a revelation that Romney doesn't care about 47% of the country, it's hard to escape the   Thurston Howell Romney comparison made by David Brooks.

Updated 2:00 PM: "Why is John Kennedy a hero on his sailing yacht, while Mitt Romney is portrayed as the captain from Gillian's Island?" asks blogger Michael Molovinsky in his own post on this topic.

Was Courthouse Canning Retaliatory?

Yesterday, I told you that two Register of Wills employees have been fired on what certainly appear to be trumped up charges. They used courthouse computers to gossip with each other about other workers They also had some graphic exchanges with former boyfriends. If this is a basis for firing someone, 99% of the courthouse staff better start cleaning out their desks. Everything about this Thursday Termination, from the supposed two-year investigation to its timing, smells like a big, fat bullshit burger.

It now appears that the firing may very well have been retaliatory. Director of Court Services Archie D'Isidore had a secretary who left for another department. But he was bringing her back after hours to work overtime, while keeping that work from everyone else.

The Deleted Duo somehow discovered what was happening, complained, and the practice was stopped. And now, they're both out of a job.

In fairness to Archie, I need to point out that he is unable to discuss personnel matters. So I have not approached him. It's kinda' shitty to write about this without getting his side of the story. But I don't feel too bad because he still has a job, unlike the two people he fired.

It Takes a Village in Bethlehem Township

Two ponds, walking trails, 832 housing units and a supermarket
Pumps will soon be busy at a high-end gas station along William Penn Highway, right across the street from Farmersville Elementary School. Everything else, from apartments to a supermarket, will soon be available at a village along Freemansburg Avenue. That's because Bethlehem Township Commissioners, at their September 17 meeting unanimously approved both projects, located a stone's throw from the Route 33 corridor. No members of the public voiced any opposition to either project.

There's nothing common about William Penn Commons, presented to Commissioners by Attorney Dave Backenstoe on behalf of developers Lou Pektor and Ed Novak. In addition to a Sheetz gas station, there's room for a few more commercial tenants. Because of improvements to pedestrian access along William Penn Highway, Farmersville Elementary School supports the project.

There's no farming at Madison Farms. Instead of agriculture, the 103.9 acre site will be a self-contained traditional neighborhood on the north side of Freemansburg Avenue, replete with walking trails, two ponds, restaurants and a Shop-Rite supermarket.

Atty Ed Murphy queries Rocco Caracciolo
Attorney Ed Murphy, representing developer KRE, presented detailed testimony concerning different aspects of this neighborhood, which will contain 832 housing units on 83 acres, a 17-acre retail village close to Freemansburg Avenue, and 35 acres of open space.

In some instances, streets will be as narrow as 20 feet, instead of the 32' width required by Township ordinance. Project Manager Rocco Caracciolo, a professional engineer, explained this would reduce seeds and make the neighborhood more safe, as well as providing more room for open space. The same justification was given for a reduction in the radius of circles from a required 25' to 20'.

In addition to the retail village close to Freemasburg Avenue, four different kinds of housing units will be built. There will be sixteen "flats," 3-4 story buildings with one and two bedroom apartments. There will also be townhomes, carriage houses and two-story single homes along tree-lined streets, with walking trails to all points within the neighborhood.

Township Planner Thomas Comitta told Commissioners that the comprehensive plan they adopted in 2004 contemplates exactly this kind of development. He added that the supermarket was urged on the developer by township officials.

Despite success before Commissioners, both projects face challenges by developer Abe Atiyeh, a Township resident. He has funded a lawsuit challenging Madison Farms, and has a date with Township zoners on August 26 on the William Penn Commons project, which he insists is spot zoning.

Santa Has an Art Gallery in Bethlehem

When she was President of Northampton County's League of Women Voters, Santa Bannon-Shilea was nice to me, even after I poked fun at her group. She almost got me to join, too. After all, I am one hulluva' sexy women. But I lacked the $50.

Once all the other LWVers discovered that I like Santa, they immediately got rid of her. From time to time, she drops a line about something that interests her. But I had no idea until yesterday that Santa - no relation to St. Nick - is an artiste.

That's right. I'm actually on friendly terms with a foo foo.

Anyway, Santa has a Fine Art Gallery (Studio 243) at the Banana Factory, and will exhibit portraits between October 5 and the end of November

I think I'll drop in and say Merry Christmas or something.


Monday, September 17, 2012

NorCo's Leadership Vacuum

As most readers of this blog are aware, I have little use for Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski, whom I like to call King Ed. But despite his pay-to-play practices and a complete lack of transparency, he leads from the front. Whether it's the NIZ or trash-to-cash, there's little doubt where he stands.

Unlike King Edwin, Northampton County Executive John Stoffa is all about transparency. And rather than feel indebted to anyone, he refused to accept any campaign contributions in his bid for re-election. These rare qualities should be remembered long after he leaves office. But for whatever reason, the self-effacing Stoffa is unwilling to lead. That is always clear at budget time.

Two years ago, Stoffa presented Council with his now famous Budget of Choices. It was really no budget at all. His Finance Director at the time, Vic Mazziotti, refused to sign it. And Ron Angle had one of his meltdowns.

His latest no-tax hike budget is just as bad. Although nursing home manager Premier has been successful in cutting costs at Gracedale and the union has made concessions, we are still looking at a $5 million County contribution this year. Personnel costs elsewhere steadily rise while state and federal grants diminish. The only way to avoid a tax hike is by digging deep into the County's reserves, and that's what Stoffa has done.

Stoffa is doing this, not because it's right or in the best interests of the County, but because he claims Council members will never accept a tax hike.

That's not leadership. It's also bad government, making a major tax hike inevitable in the next year or two.

Reading This Blog Might Get You Fired in NorCo

Archie D'Isidore, Dir. of Court Services
If you're a Northampton County employee, reading this blog could get you fired. Big Brother is Watching. And if some County boss does not like what sites you visit or emails you send, you might find yourself without a job. That's what happened to two Register of Wills employees last Thursday, who were sacked with one hour's notice after a two-year investigation into their Internet use. Let me tell you the story.

In the swirling seas of confusion known as Northampton County, the Register of Wills office has always provided an island of serenity. But not long ago, Register of Wills Dot Cole retired. Third-floor administrators replaced her with one of their own, ignoring both Dot and the courts. And now, things just got worse. This vital row office is now both short-handed and inexperienced, thanks to what appears to be an arbitrary termination of two good workers.

As recently as a month ago, Director of Court Services Archie D'Isidore told one of these employees she was doing fine. He failed to mention that he was actually at the tail end of a supposed two-year investigation into her email habits.

She and a colleague were fired because of private emails they sent to each other, complaining about different people at the Courthouse called "Snake" and "Little Snake." Detective D'Isidore spent two years following the clues and identified these reptiles. He has printouts and everything. He also has hard evidence they engaged in email exchanges with boyfriends and ex-boyfriends, some of them vulgar and hostile.

Horrors!

Now these workers have likely violated some policy against using county computers for their personal business, but it's absolutely ridiculous to suggest that this amounts to "harassment" or "workplace violence." And this is a firing offense?

There is little doubt in my mind that both of these ladies will get their jobs back.

I also have to ask what kind of person spends two years snooping into the private emails of courthouse employees. Is Archie D'Isidore a Director of Court Services or Inspector Clouseau? And why does he spring this now, with a controversial new Register of Wills in place who has had no chance to learn her own job?

But D'Isidore, Director of Administration Tom Harp and other third floor muckety mucks sat there and piously canned these women for doing precisely what each and every one of them does himself.

Shock waves are still rippling through the row offices. One courthouse worker told me on Friday that she was afraid to speak to me on the phone for fear that her calls were being monitored. Another was actually afraid to talk to me in a hallway, fearful someone might rat her out.

In the meantime, six couples were waiting in the Register of Wills Office for their marriage licenses. One of them joked with me that there must be a special. I have never seen people jammed up like that in all my years at the courthouse.

This termination in the Register of Wills is a poor decision that follows another bad decision in naming the new Register without consulting the courts. Some think Director of Court Services Archie D'Isidore is trying to show everyone who's boss. He's going to find out, sooner or later, that it's not really him.

Right now, the County should be worried about its own liability. A recent New Jersey decision concludes that employees retain a legitimate expectation of privacy in personal emails. I think we're all entitled to a little privacy in our private emails, even if a public computer is used. In addition, the Office of Open Records has determined that personal emails, even on public computers, are not public records.

Hanover to Offer Free Electronic Recycling

Sr. Bonnie Marie, O.S.F.
Hanover Township will host a free electronics recycling day on September 29 from 9AM-Noon. Everything from a cell phone to a refrigerator will be accepted. There will be a small fee for batteries ($.75 per pound) and fluorescent lamps ($.25 each). This event will take place at the municipal complex, located at 3630 Jacksonville Road.

Supervisor Jack Nagle made this announcement during a brief meeting of Supervisors on September 11, following a flag retirement ceremony.

Supervisors also granted My Boys Baking permission to operate its biscotti biz at 310 Stoke Park Road. This unanimous decision follows an August 28 hearing in which Attorney Joe Piperato clearly established that no one is offended by cookies.

In other business, Hanover Supervisors approved plans for a Traditions of America residential development on Bridle Path Road, located next to the St. Francis Retreat Center. Sister Bonnie Marie, O.S.F., thanked supervisors for their work in creating a conservation easement along the Monocacy Creek. "This will preserve the integrity of our land for generations to come," she stated.

Traditions of America is planning to build 204 homes on 68-acres for adults 55 years of age and older.

Hanover Supervisors will meet again on September 25, 7 PM, at its Municipal Building at 3630 Jacksonville Road.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Weekend Along Monocacy Creek

I'll likely miss this because I'm cycling to Lower Mac for a football game on Saturday. But I'll make an effort to get there later in the afternoon. If you go, drop me a line.

Lafayette's Crew on the Lehigh

Every Autumn and Spring, Lafayette students descend from College Hill to Lehigh River, twice a day, to do some sculling. At one time, they ran there and back, but I think they drive to and from practice these days. They had a good afternoon yesterday.

Ott, Schlossberg to Debate Constitution

At High Noon this Monday, the Lehigh County Gang of Three will step off their train at Cedar Crest College campus for a showdown against an unwitting Democrat, State Rep.-to-be Mike "Poof!" Schlossberg. But instead of bringing six-shooters, they'll all be packin' Constitutions. You see, this is a Constitution Day debate.

Squaring off against Schlossberg will be none other than Lehigh County Comm'r Scott "Scrappleface" Ott, He might debate. Then again, he might break out his guitar and start singing. Or tell us Jesus is swell.

Rumor has it that Schlossberg will make a last-minute withdrawal to give his successor on City Council a chance to get ready.

If you'd like to go, please contact the Cedar Crest College Campus at 610-740-3791 by 4 pm today. Otherwise, you'll get no refreshments.