Monday, December 31, 2012

Resigned LC Comm'r Wants Job Back

Last time Bill Leiner sat on Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners, he quit. He stepped down in early 2010 for a job 1800 miles away, in Texas. For whatever reason, he's back and running for the Board of Commissioners again.

Bill would certainly offset some of the strange - cut off my nose to spite my face - conservative politics on display, where Comm'rs seriously considered rejecting grant money for road improvements.

"There is much work to be done," he claims in a mass email. But it's easier to get that work done when the people who are elected actually stay and do the jobs they were elected to do.

Butterfly House Applicant Bounces $16k Check

Remember the Butterfly House?

Two years ago, Northampton County Council nearly gave $50,000 from its slush fund (they call it a contingency fund) for the "Butterfly House." Anne Houston dreamed up this idea of a halfway house for single women just released from prison. I guess they're still caterpillars then, but as a result of living with Anne Houston, they turn into beautiful butterflies, spreading happiness and joy all over the Lehigh Valley.

But not everybody likes butterflies. Ron Angle, miserable bastard that he is, was still on Council at the time. He voted No, and got out his butterfly net. Turns out that, contrary to what Houston had been telling everyone, she had no lease, no non-profit and no board of directors. What she did have was $100,000 in judgments. And if anyone needed a halfway house, it was Houston. She had just been evicted from a friend's home in Forks Township.

Houston was relying on her connections to get the dough. Her family socialized with Council member Bruce Gilbert, who vouched for the Butterfly House, rating it "squeaky clean." More importantly, she's a daughter of former District Attorney Charlie Spaziani, and has relatives and friends all over the courthouse and at the jail.

Executive John Stoffa, not one of those friends or relatives, held up payment until Council could reverse itself at its next meeting. The day after my story broke, Houston called to tell me she had a new "wonderful opportunity" out of the area, and was giving up on the Butterfly House.

She did not go very far.

At that time, she owed $16,000 to Mary Lou Lordi. Her friend began pressing her for the money, especially after both she and her husband were laid off. So Houston gave her a check, which promptly bounced. After one and a half years of getting a song and dance, Lordi filed a private criminal complaint, with the approval of DA John Morganelli. At a preliminary hearing on the day after Christmas, District Judge Jacqueline M. Taschner found there was enough evidence to send the case to Northampton County Court. "This is not how you treat a friend," Judge Taschner told Houston. The judge also set bail at $20,000.

According to Lordi, Anne's "a good person. She can be a very warm and very kind person. But I feel I don't have any other recourse."

According to some sources, Houston still does some kind of work at the jail, although it's unclear whether she is a volunteer or is being paid directly or through some grant. I'll confirm that sometime in the next week.

Like Anne, I am also the son of a former DA. I ran into problems of my own. Perhaps she and I should form a club or something. I'll ask County Council for a grant.

If there's one thing County Council does not need, it's a contingency fund.

Alfonso Todd To Run For Allentown City Council


I've only met Alfonso once or twice, but he's all over the Lehigh Valley. Although you're most likely to find him marching up and down Hamilton Street, I've bumped into him at Pizza Joe's in Nazareth.

On Christmas Eve, he announced that he's running for Allentown City Council under the banner, "We CAN Do Better."

Allentown, PA — City Council Candidate Alfonso Todd is pleased to announce that he has launched his "We CAN Do Better" Campaign. Earlier in the month, he conducted a meeting with Allentown residents.

“[T]here are people in Allentown, PA that can actually think for themselves, do for themselves, and intend to show others how to do the same and empower themselves," Todd stated. "It would not be a bad thing to have a City full of progressive and self-sufficient individuals (no matter what their socio-economic status may be) who only have Allentown's best interests at heart. This will be needed so that we can truly represent and make our home a place that both "Natives" and "Transplants" can be proud of because the reality is that it is going to take all of us to bring Allentown back to where it should be and to take it to the greatness that it can be.”

H'll be running in May's primary. You can learn more at his webpage.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Upper Mount Bethel: The Wild West of Northampton County

It might be located at the eastern edge of Northampton County, right by the Delaware River, but Upper Mount Bethel Township is clearly the Wild West. Not all that long ago, there were knock down drag out fights during marathon sessions. And at the school district, board member Ivan Nusic once threatened to bite off someone's nose.

With advances in technology, cable service into the Slate Belt has improved. So more people are watching TV or playing scrabble on their iPhones these days. But meetings are still pretty heated, if only because Upper Mount Bethel is where the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, is kenneled.

He called me late yesterday to tell me there'd be a barn burner at last night's meeting. So I decided to go.

What Angle failed to tell me is that Route 512, the road I use to get there, is closed. And naturally, I got lost along Upper Mount Bethel's dark country roads. When I finally made it to the meeting, it was nearly over. Supervisors were in Executive session after having adopted a budget next year that includes an 8.5% tax hike.

That alone is pretty unusual in a township.

Anyhoo, as I was walking in, I could see Supervisor Jerry Geake, who also happens to be the Township's roadmaster, sitting by his lonesome. He was excluded from the executive session, too.

When Supervisors reconvened, Solicitor Ron Karasek at first stated they had met in private to discuss a grievance filed by Township employees about poor treatment. Apparently, there is friction between township employees and Manager Maureen Sterner. Angle stated that morale is at an all-time low, and Chairman Judy Henckel, though red-faced, agreed.

But there was more to the executive session than that grievance. They also discussed a sexual discrimination complaint filed by an employee against a Township Supervisor. Since Geake was sitting alone during that session, it's apparent that he is the target.

In 2011, Geake was sentenced to a week in the can after pleading guilty to drunk driving as a second offense. So the Township's roadmaster lost his license to drive. Having a sense of humor, voters re-elected him.

Supervisors apparently agreed to pay Geake's legal fees over a dispute with Ed Nelson, who opposed him in last year's race and lost by 18 votes. I question whether the Township has the right to pay legal fees incurred by someone defending his personal right to hold a public office.

Geake then went on to hire a female employee who has no CDL and no license to operate any Township equipment. It is believed she is the one who filed the complaint.

In addition to the tax hike and sexual harassment complaint, Supervisors were prodded by Angle about a state investigation. They denied that the Attorney General is involved, but Supervisor Larry Hallett acknowledged that the Auditor General is up to something.

I noticed some good reporters from The Express Times and WFMZ at the meeting. They know where to find the red meat.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Blog Defamation Suit To Move Forward, Sez Judge

Judge Smith at his other job
Breaking new legal ground, Northampton County Judge Edward Smith has applied the law of defamation to the Wild West of the Internet, the blogosphere. In a careful, 39-page, opinion issued Thursday afternoon, he has upheld a libel action that I've filed against West Easton blogger Tricia Mezzacappa.

In various Internet outlets, Mezzacappa has made specific claims of assault, animal abuse, stalking, pedophilia and even tax fraud. I filed suit in April, and Mezzacappa  asked the Court to toss the complaint. Judge Smith refused.

She tried to claim that her defamation was just her opinion. Judge Smith disagreed. "Contrary to Mezzacappa's contention, these statements do not merely appear to be expressions of non-actionable opinion. Instead, these statements not only appear to be defamatory, they appear to be defamatory per se."

Judge Smith also rejected Mezzacappa's claim that she was merely exercising a First Amendment right to raise matters of public concern. "[W]e cannot agree with Mezzacappa that all of the contested statements in this case raise matters of public concern as the overwhelming majority of the statements involve O'Hare's interaction with Mezzacappa, her property, and her pig."

Attorney Richard Orloski represents me in this matter.

Here is a scanned copy of Judge Smith's Opinion, which presents a great guide to the balance between First Amendment protected speech and online defamation.

smith1

Updated Friday, 9 PM.

New NorCo Council Excels in 2012 Attendance

John Cusick - 92%
Since 2006, I've been tracking attendance records for Northampton County Council members. This includes their Committee participation, where most of the real work is done. It's also where the showhorses become no-show horses. Last year, Council was introduced to three new members. They're engaged and interested in good government. As a result, they've produced the best attendance record I've seen to date. With three exceptions, they are all workhorses. Newbie Scott Parsons, a blue collar worker, was worried that he'd miss afternoon meetings. Outside of John Cusick's phenomenal 92% attendance, nobody can match him. He knows that half the battle is showing up.

What I like about this kind of rating is that it is objective. Political party makes no difference. A Council member either shows up, or not.

Northampton County Council met 32 times last year, including its 6 budget hearings.

In addition, its committees met 30 times. Each Council member is encouraged to attend those meetings, regardless whether he or she is a voting member. In addition to individual attendance, the committees that do meet are an indication of what issues concern Council members.

As might be expected, Finance and Personnel head that list. They each met twelve times last year. With smooth sailing far from over at Gracedale, Human Services became a hot Committee, too, meeting ten times. Other committees conducting meetings were Economic Development (7) and Open Space (1).

Despite numerous questions about the Home Rule Charter Lamont McClure's Legal Committee has conducted no meetings since 2009. Peg Ferraro's Intergovernmental failed to meet, too. Its had just one meeting in the past 7 years, missing an opportunity to discuss regionalism for certain services like coroner or regional police
.
Below is a table showing attendance at Committee meetings, regular meetings and budget hearings. Once again, John Cusick is the Northampton County Council workhorse. He increased his own attendance over last year by 15%, putting a little more time into the job.

Scott Parsons gives me hairy eyeball
There are three reasons for this - Scott Parsons, Ken Kraft and Bob Werner. New to Council, they are taking the time to familiarize themselves with county government. It's ironic that Scott Parsons, who was worried that he''d miss afternoon meetings, has the second highest attendance record, at 89%.

Veteran Peg Ferraro has picked up her game, too. Her 85% attendance is 18% over 2011

There are, however, three Council members who are letting things slide. Barb Thierry only attended 58% of the meetings in 2012, although she has a perfect record at budget hearings. Bruce Gilbert, who wanted to be Director of Fiscal Affairs, attended no budget hearings at all. His 48% attendance overall is less than in 2011. He's the only Council member whose attendance percentage dropped.

This poor showing by Gilbert and Thierry is an indication they have no plan to seek re-election.

Last, and certainly least, is Lamont McClure. He attended just 2 budget hearings and only went to 4 of the 30 committee hearings held in 2012.  His attendance has been abysmal since he's been on Council. It became a campaign issue in 2010, and even drew the wrath of Morning Call columnist Bill White. McClure is thumbing his nose at the people who elected him, figuring he can just buy his elections. Amazingly, he's being touted as an Executive candidate.

council member ec. dev
7 mtgs
human
services
10 mtgs
open
space
1 mtg
personnel
and finance
12 mtgs
council
26 mtgs   
budget
hearings
6 mtgs
2012    2011
john cusick 6 9 1 12 23 6 92% 77%
tom dietrich 3 10 10 25 3 84% 75%
peg ferraro 7 8 1 11 23 4 85% 67%
bruce gilbert 8 22 48% 53%
ken kraft 7 6 12 25 2 84% n/a
lamont mcclure 1 1 2 23 2 47% 41%
scott parsons 5 9 1 10 25 6 89% n/a
barb thierry 1 1 7 21 6 58% 55%
bob werner 6 7 9 25 4 82% n/a

Here are reports from the last six years: 2011, 20102009; 2008; 2007; and 2006.

Judge Koury ... and Judge Koorie, the Rappin' Judge



Is it Judge Koury or Koorie?

Doesn't matter, as long as you throw out a "Yes, Your Highness" here and there. Northampton County already has Judge Michael Koury. If you don't know him, you might know his mom, who runs Josie's New York Deli in the Easton circle.

She makes the best soup and sandwiches in the Lehigh Valley.

But there's another Koorie who'd like to be a judge, too. His name, spelled a little differently, is Sharbel Koorie. He'll be announcing his candidacy this morning for the District Judge seat that became vacant as a result of Gay Elwell's unexpected death. Like the other Koury, he is related in some way to Betty of Betty's Luncheonette, located on Northampton Street.

She makes the best soup and sandwiches in the Lehigh Valley.

Now Sharbell is already a DJ. He calls himself DJ FlyGuy. But he'd like to be Distict Judge FlyGuy, too. The rappin' Judge. Litigants who can rhyme will have a great time.

"Tell it to me straight, and best to make it rhyme,
"Tell me who's the place and then what's the crime."

In real life, Koorie is a Code Officer/Inspector for Easton and owns several homes near his own South Ninth Street property. I recently met him at Betty's Luncheonette.

In a news release, Korrie states, “I’ve lived it here. Our neighborhoods have had murders, shootings, accidents involving loss of life, thefts, fires, vandalism, graffiti, domestic violence, carjacking, and the list goes on. Growing up in this type of neighborhood, you really learn to understand how things work and why.”

I'll try to make his announcement and find out more about him. It might be a crowded field. Others interested include:

* Easton Attorney Antonio Grifo, daughter of Judge Richard Grifo.

* Easton Attorney Theresa Hogan, daughter of Judge James Hogan.

* Easton Attorney Tim Prendergast, son of former State Representative Jim Prendergast.

* Constable Lance Wheeler, Northampton County's former lead court officer.

* Easton City Controller Tony Bassil.

* Easton Attorney Kevin Santos, the brother of the controversial Chaplain at Northampton County jail.

Koury and Koorie, incidentally, are distantly related.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Alan Jennings, Cheerleader of the Rich

Buddy Christ, unwashed and unkempt bastard that He was, hated rich people. I now, I know, he loves everybody. But He did say that it would be easier to thread a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to go to heaven.

No wonder they crucified Him.

Jesus was nailed as King of the Jews. Alan Jennings, King of the Lehigh Valley's Poor, is much nicer than Christ. For a small pittance to his CACLV, he'll wave those pom poms. Business titan J.B. Reilly, who thinks nothing of stepping all over Allentown's working poor if he can make a few bucks, is obviously a donor. He's willing to risk money .... your money ... on the success of a hockey arena and other improvements in Allentown. Along the way, he's displaced a number of minority businesses, but who cares about them?

Jennings actually praises this obscenity, as well as rich dudes, in an Express Times Op-Ed. According to him, you can thread a camel through the eye of that needle. Michael Molovinsky has another view, and for that, the establishment media rate him as "dour" and "misguided."

Merry Frickin' Christmas

I'm a miserable bastard. So Christmas means nothing to me. It's actually a pain in the ass.

But I love Facebook, especially at this time of year. It's nice to see all those pictures of people enjoying their holiday celebrations. Most are caught up with delicious food, gifts, kids, pets and spending time with their family. I learned two things.

First, Jews really do go to Chinese restaurants. A few of my Jewish Facebook friends posted pictures of them eating out. Two were kissing under an egg roll. The Chinese must be one of the lost tribes.

Second, instead of eating Chinese, Vietnamese go to frickin' Miami. That's where my grandson is right now, in shorts. I think he's going to a Jewish Deli while he's down there, followed by tix to Miami Heat.

Bastard!

Me? I'm broke, like every Christmas. But I did see Wreck-It Ralph, where I learned that being a bad guy can be good. I'm unsure whether that applies to bottom-feeding bloggers.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Is it Time For a Gun Seizure Law?

Believe it or not, this law comes from Connecticut, home of the Sandy Hook Slaughter. It's designed to prevent mentally disturbed people from killing. If someone tells police they believe a gun owner poses an imminent danger to themselves or to others, authorities can get a warrant and seize the guns for up to a year, even if there is no crime. It also provides for a mental health evaluation.

Although this law failed to stop Adam Lanza, it might have helped others. According to NPR, in its first 10 years, this law resulted in the seizure of 2,000 guns, with most complaints coming from spouses.

What do you think? It's no ban on assault weapons, but allows police to err on the side of caution instead of waiting until someone goes on a rampage.

Below is a video from former NFL star on the importance of gun safety.

Friday, December 21, 2012

More Gun Violence, This Time Near Harrisburg

Three men and one woman shot dead along a rural road in Blair County. Three troopers injured. One was shot, but was wearing a bulletproof vest. Another was injured by broken glass when he took fire. A third was involved in a crash with the shooter. In the meantime, the NRA has called for armed guards at every school. In other words, give even more people guns. Makes sense to me.

NorCo GOP in Disarray

Yesterday, I told you that there's a potential bloodbath in the upcoming Democratic primary for County Exec. Former Exec Glenn Reibman and Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan both want the job, and neither is backing away. Now this is bad news for them. They'll dirty each other up and spend money that should be saved for the general election. But it's great for bottom feeding bloggers like me. The only thing that would make it better would be if Lamont McClure jumped in the pool, too.

This should be great for NorCo Republicans, too. But it's not. As it happens, they're at war with each other. Last month, a faction got up to complain about their Chairman, Bob Kerr. They claim he is a political consultant, which creates a conflict of interest in which Kerr will favor candidates who use his services. In addition, because they're uncertain they have enough rent money, they removed an allocation for next year's County Council and Exec races. Tony Simao, who is treasurer, may have resigned after someone challenged his integrity. I tried calling Tony late yesterday, but have not heard back from him at this point.

Even if they resolve their differences, I think it's going to be a tough year for Republicans.

Bethlehem Tax Bill to Go Up 7% Next Year

The Fahy bridge, as seen from Payrow Plaza
Skyrocketing pension costs, which have risen from $1.5 million in 2004 to $11.1 million next year, has forced Bethlehem City Council to impose a 7% tax hike next year. In a 6-1 vote at their December 20 meeting, with only David DiGiacinto opposed, it is the conclusion of a six-week budget process.

Mayor John Callahan proposed raising revenue by imposing an event tax, seeking voluntary contributions from nonprofits like Lehigh University and switching to a single trash hauler. But Bethlehem's 19 independent trash haulers, along with many of their customers, persuaded Council to postpone that decision.

There was little debate before a litany of votes in the numerous budgets adopted, from general fund to community development. Council members J. Willie Reynolds and Bob Donchez, who might be running against each other in the Mayoral race next year, agreed it was the "most difficult budget" each had ever faced. Donchez supported it because there were no layoffs in public safety. Reynolds warned, "It's only going to get more difficult."

Then followed what seemed like perfunctory votes, in which the word "aye" was repeated 147 times. That prompted city watchdog Mary Pongracz to joke, "I feel like we're on the H.M.S. Pinafore. I never heard so many 'ayes' in my life."

The tax hike approved by Council was whittled down from the 8.5% initially proposed by Mayor Callahan.

Council also unanimously authorized the administration to borrow up to $1.5 million from the escrow account to meet payroll in January.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bill White on Reibman's Executive Race

The Morning Call's Bill White, like me, is no fan of Glenn Reibman as a County Exec candidate. If anything, his criticism is even more harsh than mine.
When you weigh Reibman's responsibility for county corruption during his tenure, the best case scenario is that he took the area's most controversial and arrogant political operative in Solomon and handed him the power to draw up and award county contracts, hire and fire county employees, reshape county departments and authorities, and plan the county's economic future. And then didn't pay attention to what he was doing.

Under this scenario, Reibman could be ethically indifferent rather than dishonest. He also would be a monumental dolt.
In his 8 years as Exec, two Reibman cronies went to jail for what amounts to bribery. He imposed a 70% tax hike over two years, conceived a ridiculous $111 million bond that was used as a re-election gimmick, proposed a swaption that ended up costing the County $25 million, and drove county workers into the smiling arms of 11 different unions. Now he's collecting a public salary at Political Hacksville, the Joint Toll Bridge Comm'n. His return to politics has nothing to do with a desire for good government. Corbett is getting rid of him to make room for one of his own, so Reibman wants to pad his numerous pensions.

Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski has already dispatched his campaign manager, Mike Fleck, to help. This has nothing to do with good government, either. It's revenge.  Pawlowski, who is rather thin-skinned and part Klingon, is still having a hard time getting over Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan's rather muted criticisms of a very controversial NIZ. It's no secret that Callahan is running for Exec, too, and Pawlwoski wants to ruin his chances.

Ordinarily, I'd say that Republicans are salivating over what promises to be a primary fight. Their candidate - Council Prez John John Cusick or Bangor Mayor John Brown - should deliver the finishing blow to a wounded Democrat. But Republicans have problems of their own. I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Northampton County's Right Not to Know Law

In a story about Monday's auction at The King George Inn, The Morning Call reports that "Archie Isadore" was there, looking for a lamp or painting for his Martins Creek home. There is nobody named Archie Isadore living in Martins Creek, but there is somebody named Archie D'Isidore. He happens to be Northampton County's Director of Court Services. Was D'Isidore on vacation? Sick leave? Why was he there and not at work, looking at personal emails and firing employees in the Register of Wills Office?

I decided to file a Right-to-Know request, asking for any and all records that would establish whether Director of Court Services Archie D'Isidore was working on Monday, December 17, 2012, or whether he was on vacation, personal time, sick time or had any other excused absence for all or part of that day. It's a fairly straightforward request. An attendance record for one frickin' day.

I received this rather bizarre reply from Northampton County's Right-to-Know Officer, Jill Mancini:
"Your below request has been forwarded the appropriate departments with the additional notation that since every record that might reflect Mr. Isadore’s attendance status on Monday from any source was requested, that all final records with the supporting documents, should there be any are forwarded.

"Pursuant to Section 902(a) of the Law, we are invoking our right to an additional thirty (30) days pursuant to the following subsections:

(3) timely response to the request for access cannot be accomplished due to bona fide and specified staffing limitations;

(4) legal review is necessary;

(7) the extent or nature of the request precludes a response within the 5 day period.

"Records which reflect the requested information do exist currently but the final formalized records will not be produced for about 2 weeks pursuant to protocol.

"For your information it is my understanding that the responsibilities under the RTK law will be transferred imminently. While the law has imposed substantial burdens on county staff, the benefit of readily accessible information, hence transparency, redounds to us all. It is unfortunate for requestors that we do not have someone assigned exclusively to this task. Other counties, such as Luzerne have created a position for this purpose with successful results. I thought you might be interested to know that this law has spawned about 6,100 appeals to the Office of Open Records and about 350 to the Courts since its adoption at the beginning of 2009.

"It is expected that a response will be produced before the 30 day period has passed but it will be produced at the latest on or before January 19, 2013."
Translated, what Mancini is telling me is she is going to make me wait thirty days for information the County has now, although it might not be reduced to a "record" at this point. She also wants me to know how overworked she is, and makes a pitch for a full-time right-to-know officer.

By my count, Mancini has been overwhelmed by a grand total of ten Right to Know appeals this year. Several resulted from her own failure to even acknowledge the requests within five business days, as required by the law.

Noon Update: Luzerne County's Solicitor, Vito DeLuca, informs me that Luzerne's Right-to-Know Officer is an Administrative Assistant who handles other duties as well. Mancini's assertion is inaccurate, although DeLuca a did say his assistant spends a large portion of her day responding to RTKs.

1:45 PM Update: I have been informed that the "Archie Isadore" at the auction was, in fact, the father of Director of Court Services Archie D'Isidore. I am pointing that out to be fair to him, although the point of this post is the odd reply by Mancini. I would be unable to share that with you unless I alaso pointed out why I had filed the RTK request.

Brew Takes Biz Out of Historic District

Juan Hernandez is flanked on left and right by Attorneys Frank Trovato and Jim Preston
After a contentious hearing in August, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board gave John Brew a green light to move his financial planning operations to The Bethlehem Inn, a historic district bed and breakfast located at 476 North New St. This decision was appealed by eight residents led by Attorney Tim Stevens, who lives in the historic district. Rather than fight his neighbors, Brew has chosen to move.

Solicitor Mickey Thompson, in a report to zoners during their December 19 meeting, advised them that Brew has decided to move into West Bethlehem, which will likely end the litigation.

Thompson also updated zoners on the status of the Elias Farmer's Market expansion, which was first approved in 2009. It's currently under appeal in Commonwealth Court with a tentative argument date set in March. "We got out of Iraq during all this time. We had the leak in the Gulf and it was capped," lamented zoner Bill Fitzpatrick.

In other business, zoners granted three appeals.

Brad Stine, represented by Jim Preston, was granted a use variance for a single-family home at 1456 Philip Street despite being located in a "steep slope" area. Stine, who purchased the property in 2007, told zoners that the home he plans to build is no different than other homes built in that area by Habitat for Humanity. "We're not doing anything out of the ordinary," he testified.

But Juan Hernandez, represented by Attorney Frank Trovato, disagreed. The retired steelworker told zoners he has lived in that area for 55 years, and is affected by the storm water runoff. "South Mountain is getting savaged lately," he complained.

Preston told zoners that, without some minimal zoning relief, there would be an "absolute impossibility" to develop the small, 4,008 sq ft, tract.

Zoners unanimously approved Stine's appeal, and repeated that approval in a second "steep slope" case at East 9th and Shields Street.

Patrict J. Ruggiero, an architecture student, described plans for a 1,700 sq ft home on a 11,900 sq ft tract next to Shields Street, with a commanding view of the Southside. He intends to live there. Attorney Jim Holzinger, representing Ruggiero, pointed out that the Southside is full of undersized lots. "If you don't grant variances, they end up being sterilized," he argued.

After granted the appeal unanimously, ZHB member Linda Shay Gardner asked, "Can we come to the July 4 party to look at the fireworks?"

In their final matter, zoners unanimously granted a parking variance for a hair salon at 1461 Stefko Boulevard, allowing five instead of six off-street parking places. Budd Kristofik, who has a business next door, complained that customers would park on his property. But Realtor Lucy Lennon, representing the owner, offered to put up signs. "I wouldn't do anything to hurt any neighborhood ever, especially in a merchant community," she testified.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Will Allentown City Council Protect Right to Water and Sanitation?

Blogger Michael Molovinsky reports that water privatization foes will ask Allentown City Council tonight to let the voters decide on Mayor Edwin Pawlowski's controversial plans to leaser its water and sewer systems.   This initiative is being spearheaded by Don Ringer, Glenn L. Hunsicker, Glenn S. Hunsicker, William Hoffman, Rich Fegley and Dan Poresky.

One hundred years ago, Bethlehem Mayor Archibald Johnston eloquently stated the case:
"Every municipality is morally bound to furnish to its inhabitants an abundant supply of pure water, the purest air possible, and a well-drained soil (which means proper sewerage), street cleaning, garbage and refuse collection and disposal. Any other than these sanitary standards in a city will be considered, some day in America, as criminal negligence and sufficient cause for just punishment; since public health is a public duty."

Freshpet, 100 Jobs Coming to Hanover Township

Freshpet President Richard Thompson (L) presents Fido to Tp Manager Jay Finnigan (R)
Your pooch or kittie will be livin' the dream, come next July. Freshpet, which cooks high-quality, non-processed, real food for dogs and cats, is coming to Hanover Township. Best of all, it's bringing 100 jobs.

Freshpet President Richard Thompson, standing alongside cardboard cutouts of a dog and cat, presented plans for a new facility at 176 N. Commerce Way, located in Lehigh Valley Industrial Park. An existing 60,000 sq ft  building will be expanded to 80,000 sq ft with a $25 million investment and will be fully operational by next July.

Thompson's company is the originator of Meow Mix, which he calls "McDonald's for cats." But he sold that brand to invest in better, healthier products that use no preservatives and must be refrigerated. His business currently has $60 million in annual sales to 9,000 stores nationwide, including Giant, WalMart and Weiss. Wegman's will start selling his beef, bison, lamb and chicken products in January. With his expansion, Thompson estimates annual sales of $250 million.

"We're thrilled to be here," Thompson stated, even though his company was offered no KOZ, NIZ, TIF or LERTA incentives.

Before leaving, Thompson made a gift of his dog and cat cardboard cutouts.

"You are a savior!" exclaimed Township Manager Jay Finnigan. "My wife wanted a dog for Christmas!"  

O'Hare's WWII Diary: Still No Word About Dresden Firebombing

This is the second in a series of entries from my father's recently-discovered dairy. He kept it about a week after his release from a German POW camp. This second post, like the first, is strictly present tense. Yet just three months before, my dad and writer Kurt Vonnegut had ringside seats, as POWs, to the American and RAF firebombing of Dresden - Florence of the Elbe.

POWs hid in meat lockers underneath a slaughterhouse during this incineration. One POW blurted out, "I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight." I can't help but think that was my dad. That was his humor.

In a public radio interview, Vonnegut speaks of a conversation he had with my father, some twenty years later.

"What did you learn?" Vonnegut asks.

"I will never believe my government again."

Churchill, who had advocated the firebombing, was knighted.

5/18/45

We moved over to the other compound today. That seems to be the chief benefit accruing to those who have been deloused. The rooms here are much cleaner and better equipped. We eat three times per day restaurant style and the shilly (chile?) is both good and thick - a happy set of circumstances not found readily in Germany. We spent most of the day getting our loot in order and this afternoon learned to our gratification that we were scheduled to move out. About an hour later a sergeant from the 1st Rangers division put in an appearance and announced that trucks were on their way to bring us either to Riesa or Leipzig where there are concentrations of former P.O.W.'s. I had no idea the sight of a G.I. would be so sensational. Needless to say, the limeys hogged him before any of his own countrymen had a chance to learn much from him concerning the good old U.S.A. Well, the trucks finally arrived and after the normal red tape we piled into them and took off. Approximately two hours later we found ourselves in Riesa. Temporary quarters were provided for us in some Jerry barracks. We are supposed to move in the morning to some other place in town where there are more G.I.'s. Our present barracks aren't at all bad except for the lack of anything soft upon which to lay our weary bones. There are some limeys here who have been waiting to get out for almost a month. It seems that Stalag W-B was liberated by the Russians on April 23.


Blogger's Note: This was originally published on 12/12/07.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Christmas Present From Kurt Vonnegut

Back in 2007, biographer Charles Shields asked me for information concerning the friendship between my father and author Kurt Vonnegut.
He has since published  "And So it Goes," located on my left sidebar.

My brother, a pack rat, produced a letter that Vonnegut wrote to his own family, not long after he and my dad were released from a POW camp at the end of WWII. In many ways, this three-page letter is his first draft of Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut sent my family a copy of that letter, apparently as a Christmas present, in 1996.

Bewildered that he has somehow survived, the young Vonnegut tells his folks, "I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait." Fortunately for us, he got around to it.

This letter is too important to sit in a dusty attic, so I'm sharing it with you. If you'd like to see a pdf copy, just click this link.

Dear people:

I'm told that you were probably never informed that I was any­thing other than "missing in action." Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Germany. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do - in precis: I've been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler's last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium. Seven Fanatical Panzer Divisions hit us and cut us off from the rest of Hodges' First Army. The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren't much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight - so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Mont­gomery for it, I'm told, but I'll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren't wounded. For that much thank God.

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, un-heated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations - the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn't room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood. We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year's Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn't.

Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical atten­tion and clothing: We wore given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: - one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden - possibly the world's most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to [...] the Checkoslovakian border. There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39's) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way-through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy about Americans. The Russians picked us up in Dresden. We rode from there to the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We've since been flown to Le Havre.

I'm writing from a Red Cross Club in the Le Havre P.O.W. Repat­riation Camp. I'm being wonderfully well fed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I'll have to be patient. I hope to be home in a month. Once home I'll be given twenty-one days recuperation at Atterbury, about $600 back pay and - get this - sixty (60) days furlough!

I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait. I can't receive mail here so don't write. May 29, 1945


Blogger's Note: First published 12/10/07.

O'Hare's WWII Diary: "We are Being Looked After Like Pet Children by the Russians"

Writer Kurt Vonnegut's letter home, written soon after his release from a POW camp, was published here yesterday. Believe it or not, my dad was the real writer back then - he even kept a diary for an entire week.

Unlike Vonnegut, he sheds no light on what had actually happened to him as a POW. He provides no explanation about his weight going from 150 lbs. before the war to 80 lbs. as Adolph's guest. Mum's the word. He'd stay like that the rest of his life. Vonnegut's three-page letter tells me more about my dad's POW experience than he himself ever shared.

He just drank. A lot. Especially at Christmas time. That didn't kill him. Neither did the Germans. The cigarettes did.

But for one week, my father chronicled his post-release experiences in amazing detail. Just twenty-two at the time, he was a pretty good writer himself. Occasionally, he mentions Vonnegut, who was just a "minor being" at the time. For the next few days, I'll share my dad's thoughts with you, day by day.

5/17/45

Our mangy but well-fed crew left DiHille's at noon today. We proceeded over the Elbe to Russian headquarters in the city and after much confusion - due to our ignorance of the Russian language and vice versa - we were directed to the Hitler Caserne on Konigsbage Strasse. Here we find ourselves confronted with the perpetual situation of no one knowing anything about anything. However, we are being looked after like pet children by the Russians. We have been here only four hours at the most and have already been fed twice, showered, de-loused and billeted. As near as we can gather from speaking to the limeys and G.I.'s here, we are to stay put until our troops come seeking us. Except for the anxiety that we all have concerning our parents and families, we don't give a damn how long it takes them to root us out.

I heard my first radio program since I was captured. Dannine and I went across the compound and fell in with a few Tommies who have a wireless set in their flat. We heard an A.M.G. broadcast from Hamburg. That American music certainly sounded good. The Tommies surprised us before the evening was over with a meal of spuds, meat and beans. We rejoined our crew with a full stomach and a highly satisfied mien. I don't believe I'll ever get up out of bed again. Goot nacht.


Blogger's Note: First published 12/11/07.

The Faces of Gun Violence

In the wake of the carnage in Connecticut, and the senseless slaughter of innocents, a petition drive has been started to stop the gun violence, which kills 30,000 every year. Today alone, 252 people will be shot. 57 of them will be children. I understand and respect those of you who say this won't solve the problem. But if increased background checks save just one child, isn't it worth it?

You can log onto the petition drive here. I am the second person to sign, and am frequently referred to as #2 for some reason.

Bethlehem Township's Christmas Present - No Tax Hike!

Andrew Freda
Bethlehem Township residents will see no tax hike next year, thanks to a 2013 Budget approved by Commissioners at their December 17 meeting. At $16.2 million, the budget retains a 5.99 millage rate, which means a home assessed at $75,000 will be taxed $449.25.

Michael Hudak is the sole Commissioner who voted No. He declined to explain his opposition. The budget includes two new patrolman and a Captain in the police department, and Hudak has historically opposed increased spending there.

In other business, Commissioners approved what amounts to a 2.5% fee increase its engineering firm, the Pidcock Company.

Martin Zawarski is the sole Commissioner who opposed the increase. Two weeks before, he had complained about a fee increase in a bad economy, but Commissioner Tom Nolan argued that Pidcock's fee requests are in line with those charge by other engineering firms.

Judy Todaro
Commissioners also said good-bye to Judy Todaro, who has been employed by the Township over the past twenty-five years. "No two days are the same," she said, explaining why she liked working for the Township. As Executive Assistant to the Township Manager, she took the minutes to every meeting. She's looking forward to being a full-time grandmother, but tears were in her eyes as she left her final meeting.

Judy is camera-shy and begged me not to take her picture. So I searched the Internet for a look-alike.

Township Commissioners will meet again on Monday, January 7, at 7 PM, at the Municipal Building located at 4225 Easton Avenue.

Monday, December 17, 2012

DA: NFL Coach's Son Possessed 19 Vials of Anabolic Steroids

At a news conference this afternoon, Northampton County DA John Morganelli announced that he has closed the investigation into the death of Garett Reid, son of Philadelphia Eagles' head coach Andy Reid.  Garett, age 29, died of a heroin overdose at Lehigh University's campus on August 5, but inestigators were curious about 19 unmarked vials found in his possession. Thiose vials contained anabolic steroids, according to Morganelli. He stated there was no evidence that Reid was distributing them to Eagles players.

Police alkso investigated calls and texts to and from Reid's cell phone. There was no evidence of any calls placed to or from drug dealers. The one Lehigh Valley contact made by Reid was with a female acquaintance, who had no involvement in any drug activity.

Is It Time For Pa. to Tighten LTC Requirements?

Two mentally disturbed men. Two different countries. Two different kinds of weapon. Completely different outcomes.

Here in America, Adam Lanza used three different semi-automatic weapons to brutally murder 20 children and 6 adults before turning a gun on himself. In China, another monster burst into an elementary school and went after 22 children. But nobody was killed. Unlike Lanza, he was using a knife.

I get the Second Amendment. I respect and admire sportsmen, who are true conservationists. But isn't it time to make it more difficult for people who are mentally disturbed to have access to firearms?

What happened in Connecticut could easily happen here, in a "shall issue" state, where a person who makes death threats and death wishes can still be issued a license to carry.

Apology For Long-Form Journalism(?)

I envy Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky. He has a way of saying a lot in a few sentences. Even newspaper reporters, who are trained to write short pieces, must be jealous. I'm too verbose. Long-form journalism, if a bottom-feeding blogger can call it that, is disappearing in favor of 200-word stories. If something takes longer than 30 seconds to read, most people won't bother. Especially on an iPhone.

The story below concerns a Northampton County Court Administrator, who is enriching himself as a result of his public position. I spent most of the weekend trying to keep it as brief as possible.

I failed.

If you don't have time for the whole story, here's a synopsis: NorCo Court Administrator James Onembo  has a 50% interest in a cab company that has soaked the County for $15,000 to drive DUI offenders home. His business partner is a convicted felon who has concealed, intentionally or unintentionally, Onembo's involvement. Onembo tells me this is none of our business, but he has made a career of lining his pockets via insider knowledge, cronyism and nepotism. A state employee, he is not subject to the County's Home Rule Charter. A judicial employee, he is not subject to the state Ethics Act. He is, however, subject to a Code of Conduct for judicial employees.

The long version is below.

(You can comment there).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown Nightmare: Local Reaction

If you have words that can comfort us during this tragedy, please submit in the comments. I will update this post periodically with those comments. It will help if you can identify yourself.

Northampton County Executive John Stoffa: "So many lives have been changed in an instant; so many broken hearts that will never mend; how can not everyone feel this pain?"

Hanover Township Manager Jay Finnigan: "The tragic events in Newtown, CT are impossible to comprehend. My sympathies go out to the families of the deceased, the community, the responders and those dealing with the investigation. An event like Newtown is why it is imperative to plan and train should something as tragic occur in one of our communities. May the deceased rest in peace."

President, Bethlehem Tp Board of Comm'rs Paul Weiss: "It is devastating. Words cannot express it. As a guy whose wife teaches third grade, we talked about it. She asked, 'What do I say to the kids on Monday when they ask me about it?'"

NorCo Council, Ken Kraft: "It is hard to put in words the loss those people are feeling. I would only hope that we can avoid this kind of senseless behavior in the future."

Congressman Charlie Dent: "The horrific violence perpetrated today in Newtown, CT leaves us all shocked and devastated. To the children, parents, first-responders and and people of Newtown -- please know that you are in our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers."

NorCo Council President John Cusick: "I cannot begin to imagine the horror and suffering taking place in that school community, my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families in this senseless tragedy."

Bethlehem City Council, J. William Reynolds: "We all have broken hearts following the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown. These children and teachers will be in our hearts and prayers as we all try to recover from this terrible loss to the American community."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Senseless Deaths at Conn. Elementary School

We're all political junkies and I'm sure we all have opinions about gun control. I don't want to get into that now. I just want to say how sad and pointless it is to see young lives cut short. This even hit me, a miserable bastard, hard. If any of you have words that will help us make sense of this or feel better, please feel free to comment. I've got nothing.

Centralized Human Services Bldg Proposed in Bethlehem Tp

With only Lamont McClure opposed, Northampton County Council last night gave Executive John Stoffa a green light to pursue a centralized human services facility at 2801 Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township. Noting that the County currently serves 18,379 people, Stoffa argued that a centralized facility is sorely needed. "If we don't do this, I don't know what we will do," he told Council.

Consultant Ken Mohr laid out plans for a 3-story, 66,375 sq ft building on 5.36 acres, with 256 parking places. Located between Freemansburg Avenue and William Penn Highway, this "one stop" human services shopping center would replace two aging county-owned buildings in Easton and Bethlehem.

The Governor Wolf Building, located at 45 N 2d St in Easton, is a 52,171 sq ft schoolhouse, built in 1893. Purchased by the County in 1986 for $912,000, it is home to 173 human services workers. It needs $3.3 million in capital repairs and improvements over the next 5-10 years.

The Martin J. Bechtel Building, located at 520 E Broad Street in Bethlehem, is a 28,000 sq ft facility, built in 1962. Purchased by the County in 1993 for $763,000, it houses 70 human services workers. It needs $1 million in capital improvements and repairs over the next 5-10 years.

According to Mohr, the County can sell the Wolf and Bechtel buildings for $2.8 million. That money can be used for a lease and option to purchase at Emrick Boulevard. The facility would be built by Polaris Properties by the end of 2013.

Council member Scott Parsons told Mohr that he would need to know more details about the sale of the Wolf and Bechtel buildings, and Mohr told him he could answer those questions in an executive session. President John Cusick had similar concerns.

Ken Mohr
Mohr added that financially, this would be a wash for the County. Although it would not lose any money, it would not save any money, either. It would reduce operational costs. More importantly, it would provide easy access and a centralized location for the people being served. All consumers, as human services recipients are called, would be served on the first floor.

Because of uncertainties at the state level, Stoffa would prefer a lease with an option to purchase to an outright purchase.

The County will pay between $11.15 and $18.15 per sq ft per year, depending on what it wants. This translates to a maximum of $1.19 million per year, with annual rental increases of 2.5%. The lease would run 15 years, with renewals extending the lease to thirty years. Along the way, the County would keep an option to purchase. At the end of the lease, the County will be able to purchase the facility for $1, if I understood Mohr correctly.

In addition being a centralized location for human services, County officials are considering the relocation of District Judge Jospeh Barner to that site when his current lease expires. It can also function as a satellite government center for tax payments and some other limited county purposes.

Council member Bruce Gilbert was impressed by the 256 parking spaces. Lack of parking is currently a drawback in Bethlehem and Easton. Another Council member, peg Ferraro, agreed and stated that this has been "needed a long, long time."

Stoffa tried for a centralized facility in his first year as Executive, but was rebuffed by Council.

Who Dat? A Fighter

He looks airborne in this shot
Watch out! I'm about to start bragging about my grandson again. If this kind of thing drives you nuts, I understand because I am a miserable bastard myself. I'd suggest skipping this post altogether or kicking some nun. If you do read this, just remember, I warned you.

I am no biological relation to Dat. My haters like to point that out and they are right. But unfortunately for him, I have always considered him my grandson. I was with him when he was born, and have remained a part of his life. He was born quite sick, with a large hole in his stomach, and it very nearly killed him. Doctors told us to prepare for his death, but they hung in there with him. One physician at St. Luke's - Dr. Unger - actually spent an entire day and night at Dat's side.

You see, Dat is a fighter.

For the first six months of his life, his home was a hospital. Much of that time was in intensive care, where he was in excruciating pain. Some weeks after his birth, I asked a nurse once why a tube was still in his mouth. She told me that if it was removed, we'd hear nothing but screams.

Eventually, one of his eyes opened. Then it was both. Piercing, sentient eyes that take in everything.

And then, despite everything that had happened, a smile.

After being released from the hospital, he was back again in two weeks, suffering from a heart problem compounded by pneumonia. After that, it was epilepsy. Time and again, he's been airlifted to a hospital. He's got more airmiles in a chopper than most paratroopers

Not exactly what you think of when you hear about a jock, is it? But it's true. Despite some bad bounce passes from life, he's a baller. Even in his dreams, his hands move as he makes free throws.

When he was just four, he played pick up baseball for the first time with some much bigger boys in Nazareth, two of whom are Bill Coker's grandsons. Dat loved it and them so much he made his mother bring him back the next day. "My team needs me," he told her.

It's been that way ever since. Football, baseball and the game he loves more than all others - basketball. He's played on more teams than I can remember. But Monday was a biggie - his debut as point guard at Nitschmann Middle School's "varsity" team. A 7th grader, he won a spot on the 8th grade team.

He grows an inch every week, but is still shorter than any of the players on his own team. He was also shorter than the ballers from Nitschmann's dreaded opponent, Parkland. So I figured coaches might play him a minute or two to give the starters a break. He started. Coaches played him the entire game. He finished with 16 points, 12 assists, 2 3-pointers and 3 steals.

He's still a fighter.

And he still smiles.

Updated: Why Dat? Dat is a Vietnamese name.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stoffa Names Spengler as NorCo Solicitor

John Stoffa welcomes Danny Spengler to his cabinet
Northampton County Executive John Stoffa has tapped a veteran, Bath Attorney Daniel Spengler, to replace Karl Longenbach as Solicitor next year. Council will be asked to confirm his appointment at their meeting tonight.

Spengler, a 1977 graduate of Villanova Law School, is no newcomer to county government. He served as an Assistant Solicitor under then Exec Glenn Reibman, and succeeded Jack Spirk as Solicitor.

Stoffa has set Spengler's salary at $56,782. It is a part-time position.

Updated 11:02 PM: Spengler was unanimously confirmed by Council tonight. Both Spengler and retiring Solicitor Karl Longenbach, who announced he had attended is 528th meeting, received a round of applause.

Proposal to Elect Row Officers Gets Frosty Reception

Peg Ferraro, lookin' lean and mean
Rogue Deputy Sheriff Tom Bachik would love to see an elected Sheriff. That way, unions can install a puppet who will give him triple and quadruple time whenever he farts. So it's no surprise, although a little disappointing, to see Ken Kraft sponsor a giant step backwards for anyone interested in good government. Instead of professionals running offices like the Sheriff or Recorder of Deeds, Kraft wants political hacks installed by the unions. After all, Kraft himself is a business agent. Instead of representing his district, he's representing AFSCME District 88.

Another Council member, Tom Dietrich, also supports making row officers elective positions. At yesterday's Personnel Committee meeting, he claimed this is because of John Stoffa's recent, and very controversial, appointment of Gina Gibbs as Register of Wills. That's funny because, when he spoke to The Morning Call, he denied the proposal had anything to do with the Gibbs' appointment. He's managed to contradict himself in the span of 24 hours, like a good little pol.

Bob Werner chides Kraft and Dietrich
As Kraft makes a play for the unions, Dietrich is trying to portray himself as a populist, hoping that it gets him a few votes in his bid for re-election. As a Republican who supported the sale of Gracedale, he knows he's in hot water.

This appeal to direct democracy has a big flaw, and that was driven home by former County Exec Jerry Seyfried at a hearing on Wednesday. You see, the voters, in an exercise of direct democracy, have already shot down the idea of elected row officers.
In 1978, the row offices were abolished, not by politicians, but by the voters of Northampton County. The voters, through the process known as voter referendum, have told you they don't want row offices. The change that was implemented provided a system of checks and balances like no other in the history of the County. The efficiencies that came with the elimination of the row offices and the adoption of the Northampton County Home Rule Charter resulted in cutting property taxes almost in half.
I spoke, too, but should have kept my trap shut. Council members Bob Werner, Peg Ferraro and Scott Parsons each stated that this is pretty much a terrible idea.

Scott Parsons, as Coroner, can declare me dead
Bob Werner, reacting to concerns that the current appointments are a product of nepotism, chided, "And you think the election process is any better?" He suggested fixing problems with the appointment process instead of "throwing out the baby with the bath water."

Peg Ferraro, who remembers what it was like when row officers were elected, claimed there were "separate little fiefdoms" that were accountable to no one. "You're taking us back forty years," she warned Kraft and Dietrich. She said people get elected for two reasons - popularity and money. Not competence or professionalism. "Be careful what you ask for," she added.

Scott Parsons said bluntly, "This is probably the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen. I can't support this at all."

Who Controls the Controller?

Barron at Bethlehem ZHB earlier this week
When Steve Barron was elected Controller, it was to protect the best financial interests of the County. Not to march on T-Mobile and threaten them for not having a union. Not to appoint himself chief asbestos investigator. Not to inject himself as a "fraud examiner" for the DA. Not to advise public sector unions during contract negotiations with the County. Certainly not to use his office to make sure that a "close personal friend" is paid for services to the County. Yet that's what we've got. Instead of acting as a fiscal watchdog, he's on a jihad against the Executive.

He's had great results. T-Mobile has left the Lehigh Valley, taking 600 jobs with them. State officials are satisfied with Stoffa administration asbestos remediation efforts, despite all the problems that Barron attempted to create. The DA has stopped using Barron after a judge refused to accept him as an expert. His latest is to complain that the County is a slow pay on human services contracts. He makes this claim because a "close personal friend" from some drug store had to wait a few months to get paid. It turns out the County was waiting for payments from the state.

In his complaint to Council's Finance Committee yesterday, Barron ranted that four human services providers wait too long to get paid. He declines to identify them out of concern the County will stop using them.

Director of Human Services Ross Marcus agreed that there are a few instances in which providers wait too long to get paid, pointing out that this is what happens when positions are cut. He added that sometimes, payment is delayed because the provider fails to provide proof of liability insurance. But he denied that there is any retaliation against providers who complain. "That's just not true," Marcus said. "If anything, it's the opposite. To accuse us of that is really unnecessary."

The County enters into nearly 300 human services contracts every year. Executive John Stoffa pointed out that, over the past seven years, "There hasn't been one provider who's come in here and bitched and moaned about a contract." Marcus added that he "doesn't appreciate the exaggeration" from Barron.

For his part, Barron told everyone he'll be making no more of his riveting reports for the time being. He said he needs physical therapy for a concussion he received last week in a car accident.

I think he's gonna' need a lot of therapy.

Remains Removal With A Touch of Class

Whenever I'd complain to my Drill Sergeant about anything, his constant refrain was "Life's a bitch and then you die." Every now and then, he'd add, "Then things get easier. People carry you wherever you have to go." Damn if that bastard wan't right!

Yesterday, Council approved Coroner Zach Lysek's request to hire two companies for remains removal. They'll get between $200 and $230 a pop. They'll charge extra for the plus sizes among us.

According to the Coroner, who assured me I am still alive, "Most people don't die on the first floor by the front door." From now on, that's where I'll be sleeping. I figure that way I'll be immortal.

Believe it or not, one of these gigs was awarded to an auto detailing biz on S. 27th Street called a Touch of Class. They'll move your mass, but with a touch of class. Might even throw in a shine.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NorCo Loses Second "Naughty Email" Unemployment Case

Back in September, two NorCo Register of Wills employees were canned. Director of Court Services Archie (Inspector Gadget) D'Isidore conducted a two-year investigation and charged two single mothers with a violation of the County's "electronic resource policy." That's a fancy way of saying they got caught sending naughty emails. Playing hardball, the County denied a union grievance and even refused to pay unemployment. No suspensions. No warnings. Just out the door.

The same County officials who urged County Executive John Stoffa to impose the ultimate sanction on these women, assured him it would hold up, both before the Unemployment Board and in arbitration. The same idiots who got their jollies by snooping through employee emails insisted this was a "slam dunk."

It was. For the fired workers.

Fortunately, both of these single moms hired a lawyer. In fact, they got two for the price of one - the father-and-son team of Colin and Brian Monahan. After a hearing in November, the first of these employees was awarded benefits. And now, after a hearing last week, the second fired employee has been awarded benefits, too.

In both cases, the Attorneys Monahan argued the County is in no position to claim there was any misconduct because it allowed these employees to exchange emails for two years without taking any remedial action. In fact, D'Isidore gave them positive performance evaluations while secretly investigating them.

Jill Mancini tried the case for the County. Resigning Solicitor Karl Longenbach, you might recall, told Council she should be paid $102,900 per year and put in charge of other lawyers. Embarrassed by her first defeat, she came loaded for bear this time. She should have brought toilet paper. Hers was a shitty case. As my father used to tell me whenever he looked at me, you can't shine shit.

Referee Gary Wardecki, who issued both rulings, reasons that "the employer's failure to act shows a willingness to accept the behavior."

So now, because some bureaucrat likes to look through the private emails of two women, County taxpayers will pay them to sit on their asses while they go through union arbitration, where they will certainly win.

Does this make any sense?

John Stoffa has made a career working for the disadvantaged in Northampton and Lehigh County. But this arbitrary and uncharacteristic termination, which follows quickly on the heels of a questionable appointment of a third floor pet to the Register of Wills, is exactly what happens when he loses good cabinet officials like John Conklin and Vic Mazziotti. It's no way for him to end his stewardship of Northampton County.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Atiyeh Swings and Misses A Third Time For Bethlehem Rehab

David Harte describes site
For the third time, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board has shot down a drug and alcohol residential rehab center located near a school. At their December 10 meeting, following a five-hour hearing, zoners unanimously denied a "special exception" for a 47-bed facility located at 2349 Linden Street. That's the site of the former Moose and Bug Florist, and is located approximately 400' from Spring Garden Elementary School.

Nearly forty neighbors attended this hearing. Many expressed concerns about a diminished quality of life, increased traffic and a potentially dangerous situation.

In addition to neighbors, Bethlehem Area School District administrator Dean Donaher opposed the proposal on behalf of the school district. Spring Garden Elementary has an enrollment of 563 students, according to Donaher, making it one of the largest schools in the district. Between 60-65% of these children walk to school.

In two previous appeals, developer Abe Atiyeh was unsuccessful in pitching drug and alcohol rehabs near Bethlehem Catholic High School. In all three appeals, Attorneys Mark Malkames and Blake Marles, representing Atiyeh, insisted that there was no factual basis for these concerns. Marles called it speculation, while Malkames spoke of "inappropriate fears of the unknown." But Diane Mason, at the December 10 hearing, offered several examples in which residents and employees at voluntary rehabs have stolen cars, broken into nearby homes, and used drugs.

After hearing this testimony, neighbor German Berrio told zoners he has twelve grandchildren who will no longer be able to play in the back yard next to the proposed facility. "That's going to be the end of my children visiting my home," he protested.

Representing several of the concerned neighbors, Bethlehem Attorney Jeremy Clark argued Atiyeh failed to submit a specific plan of operation. He added that the developer has no track record with drug and alcohol rehabs, and failed to reach out to school officials or neighbors.

"That's a two-way street," answered Malkames, who countered that nobody from the schools or neighborhood had reached out to Atiyeh. He also argued that since a rehab is already a permitted use, opponents would need to show consequences beyond what could be seen at a typical rehab. He has vowed to appeal this decision.

Who Will Succeed Gay Elwell?

Last night, I received a list of six people who may be interested in succeeding District Judge Gay Elwell.

* Easton Code Inspector Sharbel Koorie, aka DJ FlyGuy.

* Easton Attorney Antonio Grifo, daughter of Judge Richard Grifo.

* Easton Attorney Theresa Hogan, daughter of Judge James Hogan.

* Easton Attorney Tim Prendergast, son of former State Representative Jim Prendergast.

* Constable Lance Wheeler, Northampton County's former lead court officer.

* Easton City Controller Tony Bassil.

They might succeed her, but they'll never replace her.

Malkemes v. Malkames

Attorney Mark Malkames has been spending lots of late nights before Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board. Representing developer Abe Atiyeh, he has fought an uphill battle to get zoning approval for voluntary alcohol rehab enters that always seem to be located near a school. At this point, he's cross-examined half the City, but met someone new at the December 10 hearing - Bob Malkemes. Malkemes told Malkames that their names are spelled differently, but the two families are distantly related.

"I think we spell it right," said the barrister.

"We're more handsome," replied the witness.

LU's First Ever Outdoor Menorah Lighting Ceremony

LU celebrates its first outdoor menorah lighting ceremony, thanks to Chabad
On December 10, for the first time in Lehigh University's history, an outdoor menorah lighting ceremony was conducted at Asa Packer Campus in recognition of Hanukkah. Over one hundred people, most of them students with Chabad at Lehigh, celebrated what is also called the "Festival of Lights."

Before three candles were lit atop a 12' high menorah strategically located next to the flagpole at the center of the campus, Rabbi Zalman Greenberg explained why he loves Hanukkah. "No speeches, no synagogue, no sermons, no fasting. All in all, its just a beautiful holiday," he explained.

As his son Menny, age 5, danced by the flagpole, Rabbi Greenberg also related the miracle of this holiday. Some say it is a temple lamp that shined brightly for eight nights though it only had enough oil for one. But to the Rabbi, the real miracle is that a "band of a few Jews" was somehow able to defeat the world power of that time.

Instead of celebrating that victory with a symbol of war or military glory, Greenberg notes that Jews celebrate with a menorah, a "sign of light, a sign of goodness. That is the greatness of the holiday."

Rabbi Yaakov Halperin, who established Lehigh Valley Chabad, was also on hand for the brief lighting ceremony. It was followed by music, doughnuts, latkes and kosher Dunkin' Donuts coffee!
Mandy Freedman (L) who came from Brooklyn, poses with Chabad LV Rabbi Yaakov Halperin

Alex Lass, President of Lehigh Chabad, with Rabbi Zalman Greenberg

Mussie, age 4 1/2, dances with Emily Gallin

Menny, age 5, dances during ceremony

You can see more pictures here.