|The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Jim Gentile, John Stoffa, Tom Harp and Ken Mohr|
That's an old samurai saying about the virtue of perseverance.
Northampton County Exec John Stoffa looks nothing like a samurai, but he still persevered after County Council rejected his request for a centralized human services facility in 2006. He persevered after Council tabled his proposal on January 24. And last night, by a 8-1 vote, Council approved a lease for a centralized human services facility at 2801 Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township. Only Council member Bob Werner, voted against it. The building should be open for business by the end of the year.
In order to get this approval, Stoffa had to overcome union blackmail, political opposition by three Council members who put themselves ahead of the best interests of the County and a meddling Controller. Three things turned defeat into victory for 18,000 neglected and abused children, single mothers, senior citizens and 23,000 forgotten disabled veterans.
1. Our Forgotten Veterans
First, Stoffa made certain that the plight of our forgotten veterans, forced to chug up a hill in wheelchairs and on oxygen, was driven home to members of Council. While neglected children and single mothers may not vote, veterans do. VA Director Freddie Ramirez backed Stoffa 100% last night.
Ramirez explained that, by the time veterans reach his office, they are often "frustrated and angry." He sees about 5 every day, and added that veterans are also served by other divisions, like Aging.
"Veterans have made many sacrifices for us. It seems to me that the least we can do is give them a decent building to come to when they're in need."
|C&Y Caseworker Kristin Kayal|
Just an hour before, Bob Werner had dismissed health and safety concerns at the Governor Wolf building, located in his Easton district. "Is it falling down around your ankles?" he mockingly asked someone. The answer is Yes.
Children and Youth caseworkers Kristin Kayal and Paula Kenderski are two of the 173 caseworkers at the Governor Wolf Building. On their own, with no help from their union, they prepared a jaw-dropping power point presentation depicting grisly conditions that endanger not only the people who work there, but innocent children who are already the victims of abuse and neglect.
A typical day consists of a gauntlet through asbestos, mold, chipping lead paint, bats, guano and an excessive number of large bugs. As bad as that is, even worse are conditions for supervised child visitation. They take place in rooms where lead paint is chipping along the floor and windowsills. Mold is all over ceilings and vents are collapsing.
How can they educate parents about neglect when they expose children to these horrific conditions themselves?
3. The Governor Wolf Building Has a Buyer
Consultant Ken Mohr had told skeptical Council members that he could market and sell the Wolf Building, and he has done so, with the help of Easton Mayor Sal Panto. So instead of an empty, blighted building, it will now be developed by the private sector. Although financial details are still private, they appear to have exceeded the hopes of County administrators.
In light of this recent news of a sale, unions suddenly changed course. Union hacks like Jim Gregory and Neil Brown had previously assailed the project. Union steward Neil Brown, with no regard for the single mothers, senior citizens and disabled veterans he supposedly serves, openly blackmailed Executive John Stoffa during a January 24 Council meeting.
"We want to make sure the people providing the services are still County employees."
In addition to Stoffa, he wanted County Council to agree that it would never eliminate jobs in human services, no matter what cuts are made by the state as a condition of his support. In private meetings, he and Gregory, were even more insistent.
Last night, Gregory tried to deny the blackmail charge, which I made here.
"That's ridiculous on so many fronts that it is not even worthy of comment."
He just did.
The County Council record reveals pretty clearly that an attempt was made to blackmail Stoffa and Council for union support. During a Council meeting. Instead of considering what is best for the County and its residents, Brown's own words indicate that his main concern is his paycheck.
|Political Controller Steve Barron|
Our political Controller, Steve Barron, is currently helping run Lamont McClure's Executive race. Since he injects himself into every policy matter, a centralized Human Services building is no exception. He figured that the safe political call would be to oppose it. After all, neglected and abused children don't vote. "God willing, you'll do the right thing," he somberly told Council on January 24 after advising that this is a bad idea because it is too costly.
But since he's never worn a uniform, he forgot to consider those veterans, and they do vote.
Last night, he was quite indignant and wanted to set the record straight. While admitting his own lack of service, we should cut him some slack because his grandfather, father and cousin ere in the military.
"The administration used the citizens who would be served by this building as pawns, to sell you a lease that you are paying a premium for. That's deplorable."
He thinks it's "disgusting" to point out that he, McClure, Ferraro and Werner - none of whom spent a day in the military - were flat out opposed to a facility designed to help our veterans, among others in need. I should have stuck to crazy people and neglected children.
Writing about our forgotten vets is cheating.
Barron is now on record as being opposed to a project that will help our forgotten soldiers and sailors. He can explain that when he runs again.
Council's Frosty Reception
Last month, Council's reception of a centralized human services facility was frosty. Peg Ferraro wanted it at the Gracedale campus in Upper Nazareth, not because it will help people in need, but it's where her voting base lives. But Ferraro must have done some vote counting in her head, and probably began to worry that veterans might come out against her. So she changed course, doing what she thought was best for her politically.
So did Executive candidate Lamont McClure, who's been against this idea from the very beginning. He voted it down in 2006 and was unwilling to even entertain the idea when it was first proposed last year. He voted against it then, with no questions and no explanation.
Last month, McClure argued against an executive session to discuss the possible sale of the
But this time, Council was unwilling to play his game. So when the vote came, he meekly voted for the lease, so he can say he voted with the veterans.
He did not mention whether his father, grandfather or cousin had ever served in the military.
Last month and again last night, Bob Werner argued for a fragmented human services approach because 173 human services employees are at the Wolf Building, located in his District. None of his other arguments make any sense.
He continued to insist that this matter is being "rushed" even though it's been under consideration for 13 months and was tabled last month to give him all the time he needs to do his homework.
In addition to trying to deny the obvious health and safety concerns at Governor Wolf, Werner insisted that any new building should have all kinds of environmental components, like geothermal, solar panels and even LEED certification. Engineer Jim Gentile and Ken Mohr tried telling him that a costs benefit analysis will be performed to determine what could be installed to give the county the biggest bang for its buck, but Werner did not want to hear it.
He began talking about school buildings with all kinds of energy efficiencies built into them and demanded to know why there are no solar panels at this site. Gentile gently told him they'd need about 5 acres of land to make a dent with solar panels. But Werner brayed on until Ken Kraft finally had had enough.
"You're comparing us to school districts that have unlimited budgets and just build whatever they build," Kraft said. "You're looking for utopia that doesn't exist."
In other words, he was allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
Last night, good prevailed. Neglected and abused children and single mothers and people with mental challenges have no one to speak for them. But veterans do. And their voice is loud enough to protect these other forgotten souls, just as they protected all of us when they were in active service.
Updated 4:50 PM: I have substituted a better picture of McClure than the one originally posted.