Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dent, Gerlach and DAs Take Aim at Tax Fraud Scam

Synopsis: A multi-billion dollar tax return fraud scam is being run by identity thieves. The Lehigh County DA and the Berks County DA have been fighting this scam and they say it’s about time the IRS got into the game. Charlie Dent takes action. He’s introducing a straightforward bill that asks the IRS to double-check their data before issuing bogus tax refunds – thus saving billions of tax dollars and saving local law enforcement from expending resources they don’t have.

The Scam

- Perpetrators buy lists of personal identification information for Puerto Rican citizens who are not required to pay federal income tax
- Puerto Rican citizens only need to file a U.S. federal income tax return with the United States if they have earned income in the continental U.S. or if they are employees of the U.S. Government
- Fraudulent federal tax returns are prepared and filed using the stolen Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TIN)
- In some cases perpetrators solicit the help of U.S. mail carriers to intercept the fraudulently issued tax refund checks
The tax refund checks are cashed at one-stop check cashing establishment

The Impact (Facts and Figures):

- The tax returns are usually around $5,000 to $7,000
- A single Social Security number from Puerto Rico goes for about $8-$10 on the black market.
- This fraud scheme appears to be in the billions of dollars
- In 2011, the IRS reported 938,664 fraudulent returns related to identity theft totaling $6.5 billion, and 582,000 taxpayers who were the victims of identity theft

The Solution:

“Local law enforcement personnel are being forced to dedicate time and resources to combat a crime that is occurring because of data management issues at the IRS,” said Congressman Charlie Dent at a news conference yesterday, in which he as joined by Congressman Jim Gerlach and District Attorneys Jim Martin (Lehigh) and John Adams (Berks). “H.R. 353 requires the IRS to devise a system that will determine if a citizen has filed a U.S. federal income tax return in the United States and in another territory or possession under the same taxpayer identification number. This would stop the potential for fraud at the source.”

The Big Picture:

“We are dealing with big issues in Washington right now," states Dent. "Our debt stands at nearly $16.4 trillion and our federal deficit has exceeded $1 trillion for the past four years. To get our deficit under control, we are going to have to make tough but smart decisions about our spending priorities. We are going to have to take steps to protect and strengthen our entitlement programs. We are going to have to identify and address waste, fraud and abuse. We can save billions of dollars right here. This is a small but important step in righting our fiscal trajectory and protecting our citizens."

Single Hauler Debate Moves to Upper Nazareth

The house is packed in Upper Nazareth
Like Bethlehem, Upper Nazareth has surveyed its residents about switching from an independent to a single trash hauler. Like Bethlehem, those who responded would like a cheaper trash bill. But like Bethlehem, a very vocal group is opposed to a single hauler. That's what was apparent on Monday night, during a crowded meeting of the Township's Recycling Committee. I counted forty people, and heard nobody advocate for a single hauler.

This meeting was chaired by Supervisor Scott Sylvainus, whose mild manner and willingness to listen seemed to mollify an angry crowd.

Some residents would like to be able to vote on this as a ballot question, but Solicitor Gary Asteak told them that the law does not permit referenda on this kind of issue. "In other words, we're getting railroaded," said resident Frank Reichart.

Brenda Basenese stated, "I want to be able to choose who I want to come to my home and trust." She added, "I don't expect the senior citizens should have to pay for my garbage."

Yvonne Plakotaris, who is with independent hauler East Penn Sanitation, told Supervisors that smaller independents would be unable to bid on a single hauler system because of prohibitive bonding requirements. She argued that Supervisors should adopt ordinances similar to those in effect in Bethlehem and Lower Nazareth Townships.

In the survey done by the Township, 231 residents cited lower cost as what mattered most to them. Residents scoffed at the 700 responses as not representative. But that's much higher than the 561 people who voted in the 2011 municipal election.

In Hanover Township, where there is a single hauler in place, there has been a drastic decrease in garbage bills.

Trash collection fees have also gone down in Walnutport Borough. The bid price for residential pick up between 2008 and 2012 for 775 residential pickup was $887,650.00. The new price, for the period between 2013 and 2016, is just $625,873.00.

Single trash haulers are demonstrably cheaper, but people seem to be opposed to the idea.

Mezzacappa: The "God Hates Fags" Candidate

Angry at how things are going in the defamation case against her, Tricia Mezzacappa hijacked this blog on Monday evening, spamming it with 745 repetitive, defamatory and vulgar comments. I deleted them. She tried again on Tuesday morning with about 200 spam comments, but I deleted them as they were made. On Wednesday, she continued her blog terrorism. I did delete a few hundred comments, but had to leave for work, while she loaded this blog with 350 or more spam comments.

How do I know it is her? She uses an anonymizer, like Somebody else, so I am unable to track her IP and ISP. But I am certain beyond any doubt that it is her because she includes complaints about the defamation case that only she, I or my attorney would know. She also makes disparaging remarks about West Easton Borough Council President Kelly Gross, against whom she has some kind of irrational vendetta. In November, Mezzacappa was convicted of disorderly conduct after threatening to drag Gross to the Delaware River and drown her. On Monday, Mezzacappa stated that she should "have cracked [Kelly's] filthy mouth. ... [T]hen the court case would have been worth it."

Some of the people being victimized by her called Easton police to complain. Police did visit her home late yesterday afternoon, but ironically, it was in response to a trespassing complaint that Mezzacappa made.

As disgusting as he comments are, I am keeping them alive for two reasons: (1) If she manages to get one the ballot, Reublican voters should know that she is both dangerous and unbalanced; and (2) She is dishonest.

Jennifer Sletvold Running For Northampton County Judge

Prominent Easton Attorney Jennifer Sletvold has announced her candidacy for Northampton County judge this coming November. She'll be running to replace Judge Leonard Zito, who will soon reach Senior Judge status.

Jennifer is a bit modest in her news release. After clerking for now Chief Justice Ron Castille, she was employed in a high-powered Philly law firm, where she survived among the sharks in the City of Not-So-Brotherly Love. She's a very sharp lawyer and would be an excellent addition to the bench.

A few years ago, I made fun of her "designer glasses" at a zoning hearing, in what I must admit was a cheap shot. She later told me she purchased those glasses at a dollar store. Bethlehem City Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni is also eyeing a run. I've made fun of him, too. I've claimed he once ate a dentist, but that's true.

Either way, I'm in trouble.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Local Dems Gearing Up In Easton


This video was shot by Michael Laws and posted on Youtube, so I am assuming I have permission to post it here. I see Easton District Judge candidates, Northampton County Council candidates and more, getting together on Saturday. Antonia Grifo, Kelly Gross and Deb Hunter are all very attractive women. But the pretty one is Jerry, who looks just like his cousin Amanda Seyfried.

Executive hopeful John Callahan was there, while rivals Glenn Reibman and Lamont McClure passed. They were at the Bob Donchez announcement.

And so was Callahan.

Evil Genius Jim Hickey, who is on Team Callahan's campaign, has obviously created a Callahan Clone.

Nasty People

It's hard to believe that people would criticize Bob Donchez, Charlie Dent or John Stoffa for being nice guys, but that's the world we live in. As Ann McHale once said before Stoffa beat her, "Nice guys finish last. "

They perceive kindness as a weakness when it is also a strength. It's very hard to see the good in some other people, as the latest attempted blog hijacking by Tricia Mezzacappa makes clear to me. Even worse than that is the story of a poor roofer who last Friday lost $600 in cash at a local grocery store.

He earned that $600 after a week of roofing in frigid weather. When he was paid, he went to the local Bottom Dollar in Wilson Boro, where he accidentally dropped his wallet with $600, minus whatever groceries he had just purchased. When he realized his mistake, he went back to the store and found his wallet. All the money was gone. So were his credit cards.

That's bad enough, right there. But it gets worse. Inside the wallet was a note saying, "Thanks, asshole."

His credit card was used at nearby WaWa, and hiopefully, police will catch these nasty people.

Should Bethlehem 911 Merge With Northampton County?


As reported in The Express Times, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan supports a study on switching its 911 system to the County. Some of Bethlehem's Council members have toured the County facility at the Gracedale campus in Upper Nazareth. So far, the proposed switch has no real support. It is even opposed by Police Chief Jason Schiffer.

Incompatible radio frequencies are one problem, but the real difficulty to police is that a County 911 might make it harder for them to stop crime while it is happening.

Last year, Mayor Callahan gave me an example of a then recent robbery on Bethlehem' South Side. A 911 call was made, and the dispatcher immediately went to the cameras trained on that area, which are in Bethlehem's 911 center. The 911 operator was able to track the robber as he left the store, tore off a sweatshirt and started making his way across the Fahy Bridge. Police were able to nail the bad guy before he knew what had happened.

"Would you pay more for a system that could do this?" Mayor Callahan asked me. I would. I think most of us would.

I have not spoken to Bob Mateff, who runs Northampton County's 911 system. But I've been told that Bethlehem might lose the capacity to track crime in real time if it makes the switch. This appears to be the concern of Bethlehem police.

To those of who who always talk about bloated government and making cuts, here's an example why there should be no hard and fast rule. The primary function of government, especially local government, is to protect its citizens. That takes money.

Mayor John Callahan's Letter to Executive John Stoffa:


Executive John Stoffa's Reply:

I am writing in regard to your attached letter of January 24, 2013. I have given this subject considerable thought. I am not opposed to meeting with you, your staff, Bob Mateff and perhaps a member of County Council to see what immediate things we could do together to save money. In this regard, I have asked Bob Mateff to give me a report on this issue. I do believe, however, that a long range study should be put off until there is a new County Executive in Northampton County & and new Mayor in Bethlehem. The fact that you are a candidate for County Executive while being the Mayor of Bethlehem, places you in an awkward position. Furthermore, the Sunday, January 27, 2013 edition of the Express Times, noted that candidates for the mayor of Bethlehem favored keeping 911 with the City.

My recommendation would be for the group to begin by looking at a 911 system for the entire Lehigh Valley. I truly think this is possible. Lehigh County would have to be contacted. If the leaders next year are not interested in this, they could begin looking at a joint effort between Bethlehem & Northampton County. My personal belief is that there should be an independent group of representatives from the City of Bethlehem & Northampton County (separate from politics as much as possible) appointed to study this issue assisted by an independent outside consultant.

I am available anytime to discuss this in more detail.

/s/ John Stoffa

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Even More Democrats Running for NorCo Council

Kerry Myers
Yesterday, in NorCo Council Candidates Like Dandelions, I identified 13 Democrats and 6 Republicans who have expressed an interest in the five at-large County Council seats up for grabs this year. I have since learned of two more Democrats who have said they are definitely in the hunt.

Kerry Myers.- You might know him as a former President of Easton's School Board, and one who was honored by the Easton chapter of the NAACP in 2010. I know him as a softball ump.

Thomas O'Donnell - This former Chairman of the Lower Nazareth Supervisors was fired as a state auditor in 1988 for conducting Township business on the state's dime. He appealed that ruling, and it's unclear to me how that matter ended. O'Donnell was an unsuccessful County Council candidate in 2001.

Dent to NCAA: Restore 40 Scholarships to PSU

Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent has asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to restore forty athletic scholarships taken from Penn State as a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Commenting about the letter, Congressman Dent stated: “I want to make it clear to the NCAA who they are really hurting with this scholarship reduction. It’s not Jerry Sandusky and it’s not the University. They are hurting young people who are completely innocent of anything relating to the Sandusky situation and who through no fault of their own are being denied a chance to get a great education.”

Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson, who represents the State College area, co-signed the letter with Congressman Dent. The text of this letter is below.

Mezzacappa's Attempted Muzzling of Lehigh Valley Ramblings

Senator Pat Browne With Tricia Mezzacappa (if only he knew)
When I arrive at the Courthouse, my first stop is always the Prothonotary. My first question there is always, "Did anyone sue me today?"

I went through that routine yesterday, and learned that I had just missed GOP NorCo Council candidate Tricia Mezzacappa. She was apparently in a bad mood because she had to check her weapons (Yes, it's plural) before being allowed inside the building. Once she got inside, she filed a motion to dismiss my defamation case. Her reason is that I had failed to file an Amended Complaint. Had she bothered looking at the docket entries, she'd see that one was filed on January 14.

Right before filing this frivolous motion, Mezzacappa was whipping herself into a frenzy. She first slammed a 14 year-old Dieruff High School girl who was tasered by an Allentown police officer last year. "Too bad he didnt [sic] shoot this wildly obnoxious imbecile with a real weapon. One less problem student who will ultimately be a terrible leach [sic] on society, after being trained to think she is above the law. One shot, kersplat, perfect, problem solved."

This girl that Mezzacappa would like to see shot is represented by Rick Orloski, who also represents me. That bothers Mezzacappa. Suggesting that deadly force was warranted is outrageous. But not to Mezzacappa. She has demonstrated her disdain in the past for ethnic minorities, claiming they "should have stayed in the projects."

Later that day, on her blog, she directed this kind comment at West Easton Borough Council President Kelly Gross. "I paid a $315 fine for shouting, when I should have cracked your filthy mouth instead if you were brave enough to show ...then the court case would have been worth it."

Then, between 6:30 and 10:00 PM last night, she hijacked this blog with 745 spam comments. As one of my readers puts it, "It is like a spam bomb went off."

How do I know they came from her? She uses an anonymizer tocomment in Stealth Mode, a trick she learned from her Blog Mentor. But I know it was her because her first hundred or so comments were directed at my supposed failure to follow the rules of civil procedure and file an Amended Complaint. I can't think of anyone, other than her, who would even know these fine details about my defamation case.

From there she want on to comments that accuse me of numerous crimes. Apparently, I'm a rapist now, too. Kelly Gross is accused of illegally collecting social security. Mezzacappa also used a racial epithet to describe my grandson.

While she was hijacking this blog with hatred, no one was able to get a word in edgewise. Her obvious intent, like that of her Blog Mentor, is to shut down this blog and prevent you from learning the truth about her ... or anything else.

When this happened to me a few years ago, it took me most of a day to remove the offending comments. But thanks to technological advances in Blogger, I was able to delete the noxious comments in about 15 minutes. She still disrupted the blog and made it impossible for people to comment about the NorCo Council race or Dean Browning's decision to enter the hunt for Lehigh County Executive.

Her bizarre behavior needs to be denounced by the Northampton County GOP immediately. She is only going to get worse. She has every right to run, but Northampton County Republicans need to make it clear that they condemn her vile remarks and threatening behavior or it will be guilt by association.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Browning To Take on Ott: BiPartisanship Not a Dirty Word

That didn't take long. Conservative and tea party darling Scott Ott announced his bid for Lehigh County Executive on Thursday. But another Republican, Dean Browning, has just announced that he's running, too.

Citing over three decades as a private sector, business executive in Lehigh County and his legislative experience as former Chairman of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners, Browning states he is the candidate best prepared to manage and reform Lehigh County’s $360 million budget and 2,000 plus employees.

"I don’t believe compromise and bipartisanship are dirty words,” said Browning, a resident of South Whitehall Township for 26 years, a Lehigh County taxpayer and homeowner for over 30 years, and former Chairman of the Lehigh County Republican Committee.

Browning states that although the role of County Executive requires a candidate who is principled, he shouldn’t view every decision through the narrow lens of their own partisan political ideology.

“Lehigh County is home to 350,000 diverse citizens, who hold different political affiliations and beliefs. The one thing that unites us is that we’re all striving for a more prosperous life for our families and ourselves,” says Browning. “I’m running for Lehigh County Executive with a plan to reform county government so we can balance our budget, foster local job creation and reduce the tax burden, while still providing valuable services for our seniors and support for families that have children with special needs, keeping our neighborhoods and schools safe, and maintaining the local parks, ball fields, open space and bridges that enhance our quality of life and make Lehigh County a great place to live and work.”

In a statement, he outlines four goals.

1. Balance the Budget

Dean will enact spending reforms that balance the county budget, while pursuing responsible tax cuts that don’t add to the deficit, like was done this year.

Browning will link county spending and wages directly to the rate of economic growth in the county, and end the practice of letting spending exceed revenue.

2. Rein in Spending the Right Way

In contrast to taking a battle axe and hacking away $5 million set aside for personnel, Dean will instead implement the findings of a 2011 comprehensive review of county government 2011 that he co-directed, which identifies specific programs and services mandated by the state and those that can be improved, reduced, eliminated or privatized.

Browning will empower Lehigh County taxpayers and voters to approve or reject new county borrowing for large capital projects.

3. Make Lehigh County an Economic Leader

Dean will establish a roundtable of county business leaders and educators to develop and implement a sorely needed strategic vision and plan that develops a skilled workforce and makes Lehigh County a destination for job creators.

Browning will make science and technology and work force development an educational priority so county students are prepared to compete for the jobs of the 21st century, while actively engaging companies and entrepreneurs around the country looking for a place to settle and create jobs and sell them on the benefits of Lehigh County.

4. Enact Term Limits for all County Politicians

Dean is greatly disappointed that the current Board of Commissioners refuses to give county residents the right to enact term limits for all county politicians, despite widespread support for such measures nationally.

Browning will resurrect a plan to put a referendum on the ballot giving voters the ability to limit county politicians to just two, 4-year terms.

Browning also directly confronted the controversial budget showdown that led to his primary defeat two years ago, and said while he hopes for a debate about Lehigh County’s future in the campaign ahead, he expects his primary opponent to dredge up the same misleading attacks again.

“The facts are clear: I never voted for a budget that increased property taxes – and that statement is beyond dispute,” said Browning. “What I did do was vote to reject a Washington, DC-style budget gimmick that even its supporters admitted was all about partisan politics. Unlike them, I just don’t believe it’s ‘conservative’ to call for spending cuts without having the courage to identify what you would actually cut; and I don’t believe it’s ‘conservative’ to pay for tax cuts by driving up the deficit.”

Obama Organizer To Run Reynolds' Campaign

Laura Collins
Are there any idealists left? If there are, would you ever expect to see them running a political campaign? Those who put in long and hard hours on political campaigns are true believers. But only a few retain their ideals. One of them is Laura Collins, who is working for Willie Reynolds' Mayoral campaign in Bethlehem.

Even though I'm a bottom-feeding blogger whose idea of a good time is looking through Willie Reynolds' garbage cans, Laura met me last week at Panera Bread.

"You do know I'm a stalker, don't you?" I asked her.

She just laughed at me.

A little nervously.

Laura is a Bethlehem-area product. Freedom High School. Villanova. Taught English in Argentina and Uganda. But during last year's presidential race, she was a field organizer in the Bethlehem area for the Obama campaign.

Laura met Willie Reynolds during that campaign, and he spent a lot of his time volunteering, going door to door. She said Willie would show up, even when the office was empty.

With the campaign over, Laura was preparing for another trip overseas when the phone rang. Willie asked her to work his Mayoral race, and she agreed.

"I found her to be a tireless campaigner who understands the important issues facing Bethlehem," explained Willie. "In 2012, President Obama won 66 percent of the vote in Bethlehem and Laura’s work in our neighborhoods was a big part of that.”

Ironically, Laura used that same language to describe Willie. She stayed because he is committed and willing to work.

"He's everywhere," she told me.

I know. Maybe he should start a blog, too.

I told Laura that Willie's opponent, Bob Donchez, is admired and respected in Bethlehem. I think even the Pope is preparing to endorse him. She agreed. She thinks Willie works hard and has good ideas and is the best person to move Bethlehem forward. She told me the campaign will be based on his ideas, not slurs.

She's an idealist. You can even see it in her eyes. It's very refreshing for a bottom-feeder like me.

Obviously, Willie's commitment to Obama is what inspired her. I had to ask. Were there any other Bethlehem politicians out there, knocking on doors for Obama?

Two. One of them is State Rep. Steve Samuelson, who would stop by if he had time to kill. Another is Mayor John Callahan, who would come to an empty office and work the phones, sometimes bringing his daughter with him.

Rogue Deputy Suspended?

One-on-one, Northampton County Deputy Sheriff Tom Bachik is very personable. Just like me! But give him a podium and he becomes a Bezerker. With ridiculous rants about OT for Hurricane Sandy and Easton football games, he has done more to damage the image of Deputy Sheriffs than I could ever accomplish on this blog.

It is Bachik who managed to piss off the entire court - all nine judges - after accusing them of playing favorites. Even I could never do that, and I've really tried. They're still nice to me. But they actually issued an order banning Bachik from their courtrooms. When Sheriff Randy Miller refused to tell the judges to pound sand, Bachik started a movement to have him fired. In addition, he wants the Home Rule Charter changed to make the Sheriff an elected position. That way, he can install some of his public sector union buds. The hell with professionalism.

Other deputies are embarrassed by the guy. "He makes us all look bad," one deputy told me. "He's not representing the union," added another.

Well, apparently, Tom has been suspended. That's the word from some deputies who would prefer not to be named.

You just can't go around calling your boss a liar, Tom. That's a little more serious than naughty emails.

Another Naughty Email Update

Back in September, two NorCo Register of Wills employees were canned following a two-year investigation by Director of Court Services Archie (Inspector Gadget) D'Isidore. They were busted for violating the County's "electronic resource policy," which is a fancy way of saying they were sending naughty emails. Playing hardball, the County denied a union grievance and even refused to pay unemployment.

Both of the two fired workers, represented by Attorney Brian and Colin Monahan, were awarded unemployment because the County was in no position to claim there was any misconduct. 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 looking through their emails to boyfriends.

Thankfully, one of these workers will be back at the County today. I certainly hope that the second gets re-instated soon as well.

NorCo Council Candidates Like Dandelions

Kelly Gross and her pink gavel
I was a little disturbed to hear, Friday night, that a member of Northampton County Council took it upon himself to tell a potential candidate not to bother running for one of the five at-large Council seats up for grabs this year. I guess he has his own slate of preferred candidates and is trying to clear the field for them. I think he should let the voters sort it out.

Personally, I hope 100 people run. At the rate things are going, that just might happen. Below are some of the people I've heard about. Some have already announced, while others are keeping their powder dry.

Unlike Lehigh County, these are at-large seats, meaning that they are selected among voters throughout the entire County instead of in districts. The national mood tends to have an impact on these races. Just as 2009 was a bad year for Democrats, this appears to be a bad one to be a member of the GOP.

Democrats:

Yeah Jerry does look exactly like Amanda Seyfried
Ismael Arcelay - The only real question about this guy is whether he's in Pawlowski's pocket or Reibman's. My guess is both. His political consultant is Mike Fleck, who just happens to work for Pawlowski and Reibman, too. When a candidate starts talking about a "five point plan," Fleck is involved.

In addition to being a puppet, Arcelay seems to have problems being truthful about his political past. He was recently forced out at the Human Relations Comm'n when it was discovered he was using his position to get a job with the Reading School District.

Christen Borso - I went to grade school with her husband and sister-in-law, so I have to be nice to her or they'll beat me up. She recently graduated from the inaugural Citizens Academy, and has become a fixture at Northampton County Council meetings.

Deb Hunter - Deb ran in 2009, when the political winds were blowing the other way, and narrowly missed out. She's a schoolteacher in Northampton and was on the Nazareth School Board for ten years, so she must be into pain. She is another graduate of the Citizens Academy and periodically attends Council meetings.

Jerry Seyfried - People have been begging this former Executive and Council member to come back, and I'm one of them. No one knows as much about the Home Rule Charter as he. But the real reason I support him is because his second cousin is movie star Amanda Seyfried. Jerry claims she got her good looks from him.

Ron Heckman
Ron Heckman - Like Jerry, Ron is extremely knowledgeable about County government. He tried to tell me he's Gene Hackman's second cousin, but I think he was playin' with me.

Chris Amato - Chris is a chiropractor, former Lehigh Township Supervisor and ardent environmentalist. (Updated: Chris is not running, I'm sorry to say.)

Geoffrey M. Roche - Geoff is a government relations professional at Pocono Medical Center.

Bill Wallace - A soldier for the local Democratic party, Wallace has been defeated in bids for the state senate and in two County Council races.

Kelly Gross - Currently West Easton Borough Council President, Gross played a major role in negotiations that led to a modern work release and treatment center for drunk drivers. Gross has acted as an unpaid borough manager for the past several years. She's been involved in local government since she was seven. Her trademark? A pink gavel.

John Stoffa - A man of integrity and honor, Stoffa might feel compelled to run for Council, if only to counteract the character assassination being mounted by Lamont McClure and his henchmen.

Jeff Warren - A member of Easton City Council and legislative aide to State Senator Lisa Boscola, was accused of "political grandstanding" when he opposed Sal Panto's proposed commuter.

Randy Galiotto - Randy is an architect, something Northampton County Council could probably use. He also ran Easton Mayor Sal Panto's re-election campaign. He is, like Panto, a big believer in open and accountable government.

Jason Toedter - Remember Jason? He applied for appointment as Bethlehem's Controller, a job the Courts ultimately gave to Bob Pfenning. Jason did work for Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan when he ran for Congress.

Republicans:

Tom Dietrich looks confused
Incumbents John Cusick, Tom Dietrich and Peg Ferraro are three incumbents seeking re-election. Two years ago, they formed a cabal to oust Ron Angle as Council President, after promising him their support. So, regardless what you might think of Ron, not one of these incumbents can be trusted to keep his or her word.

This year, they did it again. Cusick and Ferraro were both illegally elected President and VP with just three votes. This occurred at a meeting in which Republican Ferraro was permitted to participate by phone, but Democrat Ken Kraft was excluded.

They have avoided two opportunities to correct this blunder by conducting their vote again. The right way.

Maybe they think we forgot. I'm sure Democrats will remind everyone.

Ferraro will likely survive the onslought, but Cusick and Dietrich are in big trouble.

Seth Vaughn. - Seth came very close in his race against Ken Kraft last year. He's a great guy. Good ideas. Iraq War vet. Goes to meetings. But the mood of the country is against him right now. And if that were not bad enough, there's this candidate.

Tricia Mezzacappa - As if things were not already in the shitter for NorCo Republicans, the Wicked Witch of West Easton comes along and declares her candidacy. She's been convicted of disorderly conduct for threatening to drag Kelly Gross to the Delaware River and drown her. She claims she's incompetent to stand trial in my defamation action against her as a result of some "drug cocktail" she consumes.

Ron Angle. - Hey, you never know. He wants a pink gavel, too.

Updated 1:30 PM to include reference to Jason Toedter and note that Chris Amato has decided against running.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

LVPoliblog: Percy Dougherty Being Primaried

I'm not sure "primaried" is actually a word. But I see it used all the time to describe an incumbent who faces a primary challenger. He's being primaried, they say. Well, veteran Lehigh Commissioner Percy Dougherty is being primaried for the third time in twelve years. He's just too damn moderate for the "reform" (extremist) team. Blogger Chris Casey has crawled out of his bunker and provided the details.

Donchez Packs Hotel Bethlehem For Mayoral Bid

Bob Donchez makes it official
Before a "Who's Who" of nearly two hundred political leaders at the Hotel Bethlehem, City Council member Bob Donchez has made it official. He's running for Mayor of the Christmas City, which he calls the "jewel of the Lehigh Valley."

Son of an admired police detective, Donchez grew up on the South Side and became best friends with someone a block away who, like him, always had an interest in local sports and ... politics. That best friend, District Attorney John Morganelli, introduced Donchez at his Saturday morning announcement.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," Morganelli joked, when addressing Donchez' supporters. "I'm so excited I feel like I'm running myself."

Another supporter, State Senator Lisa Boscola, told the crowd that she, Morganelli and Donchez were mentored and called the "three amigos" by former Mayor Paul Marcincin. She complimented Donchez' "gentleman approach" to issues. "Our City is going to thrive and be great under your leadership," she told Donchez.

Donchez, a retired American Government and Social Studies teacher, has been a member of City Council since 1996, including two 4-year stints as Council President. He credits his father for "setting an example of service I will always carry with me."

Calling Bethlehem a "special place," Donchez pledged to form a task force of knowledgeable community leaders to ensure transparency, especially with the City Budget. He promised to continue to be a strong advocate for public safety. He also wants to foster an atmosphere that encourages more mom-and-pop business development.

Donchez supporters Loretta and Jay Leeson
"What is required now is strong, experienced and mature leadership that puts a premium on service first," he said, in an oblique reference to his primary opponent, J. William Reynolds. Reynolds is in his second term on City Council and has already announced his candidacy.

City Council members Jean Belinski, Dave DiGiacinto, Eric Evans and Mike Recchiutti were all on hand for the announcement. So was Mayor John Callahan, who is expected to announce his own candidacy for Northampton County Executive this week. Although neutral in the Mayor's race, Callahan was unable to resist the charms of the Hotel Bethlehem and its very political crowd.

Two other potential Northampton County Executives, Glenn Reibman and Lamont McClure, were also there, along with a myriad of current and former elected officials, as well as police officers and Sheriff Randy Miller.

When former Northampton County Council member Ron Heckman spotted fellow old-timer Greg Zebrowski in the crowd, he joked that the next thing they'll do is "drag in the coffin of [former NorCo Executive] Gene Hartzell."

Bethlehem's Mayoral primary will be on May 21.

Mezzacappa Running For NorCo Council

Tricia Mezzacappa claims she's so full of drugs she's incompetent to stand trial in my defamation case against her. She was also recently convicted of disorderly conduct, after threatening to drag West Easton Borough Council President Kelly Gross to the Delaware River and drown her. Yet she's still sane enough to run for Northampton County Council.

I'm sure Republicans are thrilled.

-----Original Message-----
From: Tricia Mezzacappa [mailto:tricia817@ptd.net]
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2013 12:31 PM
To: John Cusick; Tom Dietrich; bgilbert@northamptoncounty.org; Barbara Thierry; Kenneth Kraft; Robert Werner; Lamont G. McClure Jr; Scott Parsons; John Stoffa; Stephen J. Barron
Subject: Human Services

Hello Council Members,

It is my pleasure to announce that I will seek a seat on county council in the upcoming election, and look forward to a safe, healthy and happy campaign season. I would like to offer my opinion on the Human Services new building project. Just don't do it. West Easton Borough is taxing me out of my home, and one more tax dollar raised is a very bad idea. I see an expensive lease as a very poor use of taxpayer money. If you would like to sell the Betchtel and Wolf Buildings, I encourage that. I would use the proceeds to build an extension onto Gracedale by competitive bid, and bond out the rest if you must. I realize that the county human services employees prefer a more posh environment to work in, however, they should all be grateful to have a decent job with a steady paycheck in this god awful economy. Tough it out, and do this the right way. NO Lease. Please forward to Peg, her email didn't send.

Regards,

Tricia Mezzacappa
[redacted] Ridge Street
West Easton, PA 18042
610-[redacted] (home)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Centralized Human Services Building Put on Hold

Peg Ferraro feels lease proposal is "rushed"
Plans for a new, centralized Human Services building in Bethlehem Township are on hold. At their January 24 meeting, County Council tabled Executive John Stoffa's proposal for a "one stop" human services shopping center that would replace two aging county-owned buildings in Easton and Bethlehem.

Stoffa is proposing a 15-year lease for a 3-story, 66,375 sq ft building on 5.36 acres, with 256 parking places. Located on Emrick Boulevard, between Freemansburg Avenue and William Penn Highway, the facility will cost the County about a million dollars a year in rent. It is a triple net lease, meaning that the County will also pick up the tab for taxes, utilities and insurance. Every five years, the County will have an option to purchase.

Polaris Properties, which owns the tract, will build the facility by the end of this year if the lease is approved. Polaris has agreed to pay prevailing wages for the construction, which means this would be a union job.

Stoffa has called the proposal a "golden opportunity to do something terrific" for the 18,000 people who use the County's human services at two different buildings

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 day before Council met, the building had to be closed because the heat failed. Employees who work there complained about caving ceilings and lead paint exposure

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.

Under Stoffa's proposal, these building will be sold, and the $2.8 million in expected proceeds will be used for improvements at the new Bethlehem Township facility.

County administrators, along with Council members Ken Kraft and Tom Dietrich, have been working on this proposal for a year. Twenty-six sites were considered, and four proposals were solicited. But the full Council was unfamiliar with the lease proposal until mid-December, and need more time to digest the details.

Council member Peg Ferraro complained that she felt as though she was being "rushed by a salesman." She questioned why the County did not give more consideration to building on the Gracedale campus in Upper Nazareth. Stoffa had earlier stated that building at Gracedale would take 3-5 years, and the County would also be forced to pay $4.3 million for improvements to the Wolf and Bechtel buildings. While that was going on, employees would have to be relocated.

Former Council members Ron Heckman and Ron Angle spoke against the lease proposal. Heckman questioned building a new human services building at a time when the federal and state governments are reducing grants for human services. Angle complained about the prevailing wage clause in the lease, noting that it is great for the unions but anti-taxpayer. "This could be done for a lot less money," he argued. He also questioned whether the County will get any money fro the sale of the Wolf and Bechtel buildings. "You've already brought out that you have a dump," he declared.

Scott Parsons, who defeated Angle in a recent Council race, smiled at his former opponent and said, "You did nothing but raise questions for me, and that's probably a good thing. I've hedged on this back and forth." Parsons moved to table the lease to give Council members more time. His motion passed 6-2, with Council member Ken Kraft and President John Cusick opposed.

Cusick was visibly annoyed with Council members, some of whom had failed to attend a lengthy discussion about the lease the previous day. He noted that when he had questions, he asked the administration and got answers.

"Make a decision!" exclaimed Cusick. "Ultimately, that is what you're here to do."

In his first year in office, a Stoffa proposal for a centralized human services building was shot down by Council.

Consultant Ken Mohr was unfazed. He explained that his proposal for Coca Cola Park was originally rejected, too.

Upper Nazareth to Consider Single Trash Hauler

Upper Nazareth Township Supervisors will consider a single trash hauler proposal at their Monday night meeting. As in Bethlehem, this plan faces stiff opposition by independent haulers.

Yvonne Plakotaris, from East Penn Sanitation Inc., raises many of the same objections presented in Bethlehem.

“What good does a controlled single hauler system do for the citizens?" asks Plakotaris. "Why do local municipalities think they can do a better job than private enterprise? Cheaper rates the council says. I say not. The council is not fully explaining the expenses of additional staffing, legal fees, etc. that these contracts incur.”

I have not had an opportunity to discuss this with Upper Nazareth Supervisors, but will try to do so on or before Monday. .

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Centralized Human Services Building Vote is Tonight

Ken Mohr and Polaris Properties rep
After yesterday's Finance Committee hearing of Northampton County Council, a centralized Human Services Building for 18,000 people is one step closer to reality. The full Council will vote on a 15-year lease for the property at tonight's meeting.

Located at 2801 Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township, it's a proposed 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.

The plan is to sell the Wolf and Bechtel buildings, and use the proceeds for a lease and option to purchase at Emrick Boulevard. The facility would be built by Polaris Properties by the end of 2013.

Executive John Stoffa calls it a "golden opportunity to do something terrific." He made a pitch for the 18,000 people who need to use Human Services for a host of reasons, although the Exec claimed that most of them have two problems. They;'re lonely and don't have enough money. "They don't have advocacy groups. They don't have PACs. They don't have people speaking for them," Stoffa stated in a rare speech lasting more than two sentences. "This is close to my heart," he explained.

In his first year in office, Stoffa proposed a centralized human services building, but the idea as quickly shot down by a more fractious Council more interrested in playing politics than governing.

Lamont McClure, who will undoubtedly oppose this project, was characteristically absent. But he sent his henchman, Controller Steve Barron, to warn that this is a bad idea. He passed out a memo arguing that we should follow the lead of the federal government, which has learned from experience that buying FBI buildings is better than leasing them.

Barron also claimed that the lease s "very ambiguous" and warned against going down "the road of the swap."

Ken Kraft, a Marine and former spook with some federal agency, dismissed Barron's report. "I worked for the federal government and I had to write 72 pages to get a band-aid," he joked. He chided Barron for attempting to compare FBI buildings with
human services buildings.

Kraft, along with Tom Dietrich, participated in the Committee that arrived at this proposal in a process that started last March. He and consultant Ken Mohr both explained the exhaustive process in reviewing other sites, including the Gracedale campus.

Mohr and Stoffa told Council that the Gracedale campus is not zoned properly for a centralized human services building, and that process would likely take years the County does not have because of the serious state of deterioration at the Wolf Building, where most of the Human Services are housed.

Stoffa noted that, just that day, he had to send everyone home from the Wolf building because the heating system had failed.

Patricia Himmelwright, a 28-year County employee, noted that a nurse had to stop a parent from changing diapers on a child because the building was simply too cold. She stressed that people need an environment in which they can work on their issues.

Her concerns were echoed by John Mahler, who directs the Agency on Aging. He described a ceiling that is collapsing on his staff, as well as a complete inability to use a conference room and stock room because of lead paint contamination. "It's less than an optimum place for us to work," he said.

Kathleen Kelly, who works in mental health at the Bechtel Building, claims conditions there are bad, too. "I do not feel it is a very welcoming place to our consumers," she explained.

Ross Marcus summed up the feeling of county staffers. "We can't keep kicking this can down the road," he said "We need to do something."

As strongly as Stoffa and his staff may feel, they do not make the call. That's Council's job. How do they feel?

In addition to Lamont McClure being MIA, so were lame ducks Barb Thierry and Bruce Gilbert. I know McClure opposes this, primarily because it is Stoffa's idea. I know that Ken Kraft and Tom Dietrich, who were members of the committee vetting this idea, support it.

Peg Ferraro initially had some concerns, calling the proposal "very worrisone." But she seemed genuinely moved by the staffers who talked about conditions at the Wolf and Bechtel Buildings. More importantly, she seemed to be relieved on hearing that the County appraisals for Wolf and Bechtel came in very high.

Like Ferraro, Werner was skeptical, at least at first. He complained about the triple net lease (consultant Ken Mohr says they are common), the lack of consideration of county-owned parcels (Mohr explained that they were considered) and a general "rush to judgment (Ken Kraft noted they stated to look at this last March). Like Ferraro, Werner seemed moved when Fiscal Affairs Director Doran Hammon, of all people, said this is needed.

I never would have suspected that a dry bean counter like Doran would care about the people the County serves, but he made that dark confession yesterday. He's been under Stoffa's bad influence for too long.

Scott Parsons made it clear that he supports the proposal, bt acknowledged that they are taking a risk on the sale of the Wolf and Bechtel Buildings. "We could walk out of this looking like heroes," he said. "We could look like goats. ... It all comes down to what we're going to get for those two buildings."

Apparently, a lot. Enough hints were tossed in that direction yesterday, but Council can't publicly discuss real estate negotiations without shooting themselves in the foot.

Tonight, John Stoffa will learn whether his seven year dream will come true.

Over the past few weeks, numerous "anonymous" comments have been posted here and elsewhere, with the usual personal attacks at supporters of this concept. Jim Gregory has signed his name to some of these comments. But not one of these persons crawleed out from under his rock to address Council.

Zoners Nix 5-Story Self-Storage Facility in West Bethlehem

Despite the absence of Chairman Gus Loupos, the remaining four members of Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board decided five separate zoning appeals at their January 23 meeting. Four applicants walked away happy. But not Vince Fantozzi. His request for a self-storage facility at the vacant Straub car dealership was shot down unanimously.

Fantozzi was up against City Hall. Literally. Assistant City Solicitor Jennifer Doran intervened, and Planning Director Darlene Heller testified that the five-story proposal at 11th and Broad was simply too large. She also objected to a 24-hour self-storage business operating in a mixed-use neighborhood that includes many home.

But West Bethlehem businessman Bob Young, who owns Bethlehem Gallery of Floors, told zoners that Fantozzi's proposal is just what the West Broad Street corridor needs. "That blight is continuing to grow like a cancer in that part of Bethlehem," he complained.

Realtor Dick Adams noted that attempts to market the vacant property over the past 2 1/2 years have been futile. But both Ambre Studio owner Evelyn Beckman and West Bethlehem activist Bill Scheirer argued that Bethlehem can do better. "We don't have to take whatever exists," said Beckman.

After being turned down, Fantozzi stated he has no plan to appeal. He owns seven other self-storage facilities in the Lehigh Valley.

In sharp contrast to the unanimous rejection of a five-story self-storage facility at 11th and Broad, zoners quickly agreed to a wine bar adjacent to The Wooden Match restaurant on West Lehigh Street, next to Sand Island.

Restaurateurs Steve DiDonato and Vince Randazzo also propose a high end deli at the location.

Realtor Shawn Donahue told zoners that, though the property is located in an institutionally-zoned district, the wine bar is "the most viable" project presented.

Zoner James Schantz recused himself from the Lehigh Street hearing.

In other business, all four zoners agreed to allow Jerry Horst to erect a 127 sq. ft Chevy sign at his car dealership at 1124 Hellertown Road. Horst explained that his business is dwarfed by large signs from nearby Wendys and Turkey Hill. He told zoners that a larger sign would customers see his business with enough time to turn safely into it instead of slamming on the brakes on busy Main Street.

In a hearing that lasted just seven minutes, zoners approved a dimensional variance that will allow Carmen Huertas to build a small deck at the rear of her home.

Finally, they gave Jose Rodriguez a green light for a first floor grocer and second floor rooming house at 300 Hobart Street. Rodriguez had this zoning approval years ago, but leased the property to a tenant who wanted to open up a daycare. That never happened, and zoners ruled that the property's previous use would therefore remain intact.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is Scrappleface the New Face of the Lehigh County GOP

Über conservative Scott Ott, who has called himself Scrappleface, will announce his bid for Lehigh County Exec on Thurday morning at the HamFam. That's what he told County Republicans during a party meeting last night. This is great new for the tea party Republicans. But it's even better news for Democrats.

You see, President Obama carried Lehigh County by 8 points in November. There are 36,000 more D's than R's (112,000 to 76,000). Now Republicans can and do win, but I think everyone is sick of the fire breathers on both sides of the aisle. I'd say odds are pretty good that Ott will lose the general and take down the Republican Commissioner candidates with him. He will be portrayed as an out of touch white male, which is pretty much what he is. Even if he plays the guitar.

It's even better for Democrats if Ott wins. He would then become the public face of the Republican party in Lehigh County in 2014. That will hurt both LV Congressman Charlie Dent and Governor Tom Corbett when they run for re-election.

Guilt by association.

But am I exaggerating? Below are some of Ott's very strange opinions on different topics.

The Liberal Conspiracy of Black Genocide by Abortion

1. “Conservatives also love people of all kinds, and we despise the intrauterine genocide now waged against our dark skinned brothers and sisters by liberals who demand civil rights but only for those who escape the abortionist who lives on the payroll of liberal politicians”. Townhall.com February 15, 2008

2. Ott questions why blacks were loyal to Democrats given the party’s promotion of “genocide” for black babies saying abortion does not, “just decimate the black population, for that means killing only 1-in-10. The Democrat party actively, passionately pushes policies that target the race for genocide, with white “physicians” slaughtering a full 50 percent of black infants before they ever draw breath”. Townhall.com May 4, 2008

3. “However, the ethnic cleansing continues to this day, with black and Hispanic babies aborted in numbers all out of proportion to their representation in the general population. They fall victim to knives wield by inevitably white abortionists”. Townhall.com July 9, 2009

4. Lehigh County Commissioner Scott Ott, a Republican, said in New York City, "something like six out of 10 black babies are aborted, four out of 10 Latino babies are aborted and two out of 10 white babies are aborted." Adding the majority of abortion doctors in the United States are white, Ott said: "If you looked at that with any kind of a dispassionate data analysis, you’d wonder whether there was some kind of a genocide campaign going on to eliminate black and Latino babies from the population." WFMZ.com September 17, 2012

5. Ott drew a few gasps from the audience when he called Planned Parenthood "the country's major abortion retailer," adding: “I’m not kidding, that's the business they're in." WFMZ.com September 17, 2012

There Goes Meals on Wheels

Ott on the use of Federal tax dollars returned to Lehigh County to be used to cover the cost of infrastructure improvements and to help fund Meals on Wheels:

a) “The federal government is sending us money to do things that are of no national importance,” said Commissioner Scott Ott. WFMZ.com June 28, 2012

b) "The Chinese communist government is fronting us money to feed 85 year-old elderly women in Lehigh County," he said. "It's not sustainable. It's not right. It's not morally acceptable to do that." The Morning Call July 12, 2012

Forget Social Security and Medicare

a) “Conservatives cut taxes and so-called entitlement programs” Townhall.com February 15, 2008

b) “My entitlement reform proposal is this: If you‘re an American citizen your entitlements are outlined in the Constitution. Nothing else is guaranteed”. “Cap program benefits at their current levels. Don’t even allow cost of living increases” Townhall.com October 8, 2008

c) “Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are actually elaborate Ponzi schemes”. Examiner March 30, 2009

d) “If only it (Social Security) were a Ponzi scheme, It's actually much worse”. Facebook September 13, 2012

"Hanover Eatery" to Replace Golden View Diner

Hanover Eatery Plans Pitched to Hanover Tp. Supervisors
Golden View Diner, located at the Hanoverville Road and Bath Pike intersection, is getting a makeover. Owner Peter Tsirigotis, represented by A E Drafting Solutions' Tarek Shehab, presented plans to Hanover Supervisors at their January 22 meeting. They took no action because no planning or zoning approvals are required.

In addition to the makeover, Tsirigotis will give his diner a new name - Hanoverville Eatery. Over the years, he's owned numerous local restaurants, from the Tic Toc to City View Diner.

In other business, Griffin Land Development pitched some minor changes to a proposal to build two "flex" buildings at a 49-acre site along the north side of Jaindl Boulevard. "Flex" buildings are buildings that can be used as warehouses, office buildings or even for light manufacturing. Griffin President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Gamzon has previously predicted that this project will create 200 jobs.

Engineer Kevin Horvath outlined the minor changes for Supervisors. The building will be 2' taller than originally planned. Access to the site will be reduced to accommodate concerns raised by residential neighbors at nearby Traditions of America. Parking lot striping will occur as tenants are added, instead of all at once. Landscaping will be deferred at some border areas that are already heavily wooded. "Otherwise, they'd literally be cutting down trees to plant trees," explained Township Engineer Jim Milot.

Griffin would also like a deferral of a sidewalk requirement along its business tract.

Supervisor Steve Salvesen told Horvath that there are a large number of walkers at nearby LVIP, which is a similar business district. But Supervisor Glenn Walbert noted that they still have the authority to require a land owner to install sidewalks.

Hanover Supervisors are next scheduled to meet on February 12, 7 PM, at 3630 Jacksonville Road.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hot Latina Dancing Her Way Thru College

Bethlehem Press Weekly to Spotlight Gun Violence

This week's issue of The Bethlehem Press, which will hit the news stands on Wednesday, will focus on gun violence. I only saw the teaser, but it look like a provocative issue.

Gun Control: Bits and Pieces

U.S. Constitution, Second Amendment: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Pa. Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 21: "The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned."

Lehigh University Constitutional Law Professor George A Nation: "Until the recent Heller case the Second Amendment was interpreted to protect the right to "keep and bear arms" only in the militia (National Guard today) context. In Heller, in 2009, five of the Justices found that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to keep and bear arms, including specifically a handgun for self-protection unrelated to any type of militia service. But even the five in the majority made clear that the right is limited-- that is, it is not a right to possess any type of weapon.

"The opinion specifically recognizes the common limitations we have today - a ban on fully automatic weapons, switch blades, bazookas - as well as common place limitations - no guns in court houses, schools, planes, etc. There also can be limitations on who may possess guns."

NorCo DA John Morganelli on balanced Gun Control: "Without a doubt, millions of law-abiding people possess guns for self protection, and enjoy them recreationally. But criminals and disturbed and confused people often use them to tragic and devastating effect. Liberals tend to want to ban all guns and portray gun owners as 'rednecks'; On the other extreme, the gun lobby asserts that virtually any gun regulation is a threat to their constitutional rights. There must be a sensible middle to these issues, and majority of people want a balanced approach."

Mike Topping, President of NorCo Federation of Sportsmen (7,000 members): "Although oust, if not all, sportsmen are against any possible government infringement on their ability to own and use firearms, many also agree that some reasonable controls are appropriate:
1. Fully automatic weapons should require a special law for ownership, as is currently the case.

2. Persons who are criminals or mentally challenged should not have access to firearms.

3. When not in use, firearms should be locked up or placed in a secure area, out of the reach of children.
Cabela's to Boycott State's Largest Gunshow: Organizer of the event, scheduled next month in Harrisburg, have banned the sale of assault rifles and high capacity magazines. Cabela's released this statement on Facebook:
Due to recent changes made by Reed Exhibitions regarding the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, Cabela’s will no longer sponsor this year’s event. After careful consideration regarding Cabela’s business practices, and the feelings of our customers, Cabela’s will, unfortunately, not have a presence at the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show.

DA's White Collar Prosecution Draws Thanks in Bethlehem Township

BT Manager Howard Kutzler Will Take No Per Diem
Following a nearly week long trial earlier this month, a Northampton County jury convicted two Scranton area businessmen of stealing nearly $832,000 from Bethlehem Township. Instead of buying street lights from PPL, as promised, this duo spent large sums of money on themselves. Instead of passing this complicated case off to one of his assistants, District Attorney John Morganelli tried the case himself. He may not know this, but his efforts were recognized at the January 21 meeting of the Township's Board of Commissioner.

President Paul Weiss publicly thanked the veteran prosecutor for his hard work. "We recognize that white collar cases are hard to prove," Weiss acknowledged.

This Scranton pair - Robert Kearns and Patrick "P.J." McLaine - will be sentenced on March 15, and Weiss intends to read a victim impact statement for the Township.

In other business, Commissioners unanimously approved dental offices on a 1.34 acre tract located along the southeast intersection of Freemansburg Avenue and Farmersville Road. With this green light, Dr. Charles Wolfe will relocate his Linden Street offices to a 2-story, 8,000 sq. ft. building with 33 parking spaces.He plans to start as soon as possible.

Commissioners also established a "fire relations committee" to pursue joint ventures with the township's two fire companies in the hope that it will save money. The Committee will be made up of nine members, including the Fire Marshall, two commissioners and three members from each fie company.

Finally, the Board unanimously agreed to send Township Manager Howard Kutzler to a four-day planning conference in Chicago. Instead of seeking a per diem, Kutzler told Commissioners he'd pay for his own meals and ground transportation. After the meeting, Kutzler explained that since taxpayers help fund his planning certification, he feels obliged to do his part as well.

This contrasts sharply with the Pennsylvania legislature. State lawmakers who live more than 50-miles away from the state capitol can seek complete reimbursement for food, lodging and other expenses, without even being required to produce receipts.

Commissioner will meet again on Monday, February 4, 7 PM, at the Municipal Building located at 4225 Easton Avenue.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dent Calls On Congress to Work Together

LV Congressman Charlie Dent: "Today as we celebrate the life and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as the President of our United States. Dr. King's Dream continues to be a great statement on the possibilities that are available to all our citizens.

"I wish President Obama and his family success and happiness as he begins his second term. I believe the entire country has a dream that its politicians will work together to solve the big problems facing us. The American people do not fear solutions; they fear their elected leaders do not have the capacity to find the answers. We must do better."

A Sportsman's View On Gun Control

Mike Topping should be either a sportsman or environmentalist. He lives at the far end of Saucon Park, surrounded by a sea of green, even at the height of Winter. As luck would have it, he is both. He is Chairman of Northampton County's Open Space Committee and the President of the County's "Federation of Sportsmen," which consists of 17 clubs and over 7,000 members. His opinions are his own. He warns 7,000 sportsmen will have 14,000 opinions. In a wide-ranging interview over good coffee at his Saucon Park home, he spoke about the Second Amendment and the need for gun control.

Second Amendment

According to Topping, the Second Amendment is the foundation of all of our individual freedoms. "They can all be set aside if we don't have the power to forcibly resist a government action we feel is wrong and illegal," he stated. As an example, he noted that the KKK would pass by the home of someone who possessed a shotgun.

Assault Rifles

Topping is also mystified by the clamor to ban assault rifles, i.e. semi-automatics. Those are rifles that will fire when the trigger is pulled. He points out that real assault rifles, i.e. fully automatic guns, are already illegal. He also noted that it is illegal to use a semi-automatic rifle for hunting in Pennsylvania. They may only be used for target practice and personal protection.

"There's a certain amount of Madison Avenue behind these assault rifles," Topping states. "But if you take the mechanics out and put them into a nice wooden stock, it will look more like a hunting rifle."

High Capacity Magazines

"That's a tough one," Topping notes. He notes that the seven-bullet limit imposed by a recent New York law is completely unworkable because most gun manufacturers sell ten-bullet magazines with every type of gun.

"Ten is the magic number," Topping noted. "What they did in New York was done by people who don't know anything about guns."

The Obama proposal limits magazines to ten rounds.

Gun Show Loophole and Background Checks

"We don't have that in Pennsylvania," says Topping, noting that a background check is still needed.

He supports increased scrutiny.

"Background checks should be as intrusive as possible," states Topping, noting that the "mental area" needs the most work. "Society has a right to be protected from persons who should not carry firearms."

We Have a Violence Problem

According to Topping, what people identify as a gun problem is really a "violence problem" that extend to video games and even toy guns. "Personally, I don't think toy guns that look real should be sold," he recommends.

Topping notes that women are joining sportsmen clubs more than any other group precisely because there is a violence problem.

He would support increased penalties for gun law violations and agrees that more protection most be offered at any large gathering of people, from schools to hospitals.

Hellertown Sportsmen May Offer Facilities to Teachers

Although numerous details must be worked out, Hellertown Sportsmen want to offer their facilities to provide free training to Saucon Valley teachers. "Any large institution should have people who have security training," notes Topping.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Armstrong: Republicans Must Speak Truth to Power

Allentown conservative Scott Armstrong is at again, with another pithy little essay about Republicans. Here's what he says:

Over the years, the term “speak truth to power” has been used by different groups, causes and movements to promote change and/or challenge oppressive authority. Although Liberals believe they have exclusive rights to this phrase it is time for the Republican Party to take it up and use it as a battle cry against the unethical union of the main stream media and the Democratic Party. This pernicious alliance presents opinion as news and propaganda as reporting to achieve and consolidate power. Together they have become a powerful, almost unstoppable force in the country. Left unchecked and unchallenged, there is little doubt they will sweep aside the remaining vestiges of the founders’ small government, personal responsibility vision of America. In its place they will finalize a European-style high tax, low growth, big government, caretaker bureaucracy.

Time is running out for the Republicans. They must find an effective means to communicate to the American people the value of their small government beliefs and the very real dangers posed by the alliance of the press and a political party. Republicans must once and for all understand that a media aligned against them cannot be accommodated and must be treated as adversaries. Average Americans must understand the partisan press is doing a disservice to the profession, the truth, and the public. To prevail, Republicans must confront the media Democratic Party axis; they must speak the truth to power now.

Personally, I think it's time for Republicans to do a little more listening and a little less speaking.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Anti-Westboro Baptist Church Group Tops 100

Westboro Baptist Church, designated by The Southern law Poverty Center as a hate group, supposedly intends to spread that message at four area churches tomorrow. This group is notorious for announcing "God Hates Fags" protests and then not showing up. So I'll believe this when I see it.

Kate Wilgruber, a patient advocate and security manager at the Allentown Women's Center, has organized a counter-protest at Facebook, and over 100 people have signed up.

But in the meantime, Westboro Baptist is now claiming it will be demonstrating in Kansas and Virginia instead of here. Helpful Allentown police have also informed Wilgruber that she needs a permit to exercise the First Amendment in the Queen City, which must be applied for ten days in advance of an event.

Prendergast: Loser Wants to Be Winner

Over the past two years, Easton Attorney Tim Prendergast has lost 200 pounds. He should be quite proud of that accomplishment. But now, instead of losing, he'd like to win the District Judge seat vacated by Gay Elwell.

Like Antonia Grifo, Prendergast is also the son of a prominent Easton luminary. His father is the late Jim Prendergast, who was both an attorney and a State Representative from Easton.

After graduating from Dickinson Law School (that's where I went), Tim has practiced law in Easton for the past 10 years. He is also a part-time Public Defender.

I missed Tim's announcement. But he claims in a news release that his grandparents and sister, in addition to his father, were involved in public service. I'm embarrassed to say I don't know who these people are, but will try to find out.

Eight generations of his family were baptized at the former St. Bernard's Church, which was named after me.

In addition to fellow Grifo, this judicial slot is also being sought by Easton Code Officer Sharbel Koorie and Constable Lance Wheeeler.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dent: An Argument For Bi-Partisanship

LV Congressman Charlie Dent (as quoted in The Morning Call): "When your house is on fire, you have to stop arguing about the escape routes," he said. "At some point you have to choose one and move forward."

Suicide by Hammer?

As ridiculous as it might sound, the conclusion was inescapable. Williams Township resident Michael C. Muretta was found in his basement, unconscious, on August 29. There was obvious evidence of blunt force trauma to his head, and he died later that day at St. Luke's Hospital. Obviously, foul play was suspected. But in a news conference yesterday, District Attorney John Morganelli reported that the death has been ruled a suicide. This is the result of a painstaking investigation by Pennsylvania State Police.

How did they reach this conclusion?

First, there was no sign of forced entry to the home, which was locked. There was an open window, but investigators found no evidence it had been used for access.

Second, a review of his cell phone, answering machine messages and neighbor interviews produced no evidence that anyone wanted to harm him.

Third, family members and his employer reported that he had been despondent in the days immediately before his death.

Fourth, had there been an assailant, DA Morganelli stated that there would be a "void" in the blood splatter evidence. Some of the blood would have splattered onto the assailant instead of the floor and wall.

Fifth, there were five or six hammer blows to the head, but they were all to the same exact spot. Had Muretta been murdered, there would likely be blows to different areas of the head and body, as the victim would have tried to evade the violence.

Sixth, Muretta had a history of emotional trouble. In 1986, he faced charges in New Jersey after entering someone's home and stabbing him in the abdomen. Muretta was acquitted as a result of insanity, and was committed for three years. He was seeing a psychologist over the last two years, but stopped taking medication prescribed for depression and schizophrenia. His family was growing increasingly concerned.

The records in this matter were reviewed by a crime assessment consultant in Montrose, who also concluded that this was a self-inflicted death.

Morganelli speculated that Muretta may have been experiencing delusions, which would include voices inside his head. People who experience that sometimes bang their head against a wall to rid themselves of the voices. Morganelli postulates that Muretta may have tried to remove the voices with a hammer.

If so, he succeeded.

"Mental illness is not rational," Morganelli concluded.

Mike Fleck Will Not Seek Re-Election to Easton City Council

Mike Fleck with his video guru, Mick Dee
For as long as I've been blogging, I've been picking on political and business consultant, Easton City Council member, Pawlowski campaign manager and occasional lounge singer Mike Fleck. So you can imagine my surprise when he invited me to visit him at his Allentown consulting biz yesterday. Ron Angle warned me it was a trap, and that once I walked in there, Pawlowski would jump out of a closet with a tomahawk. But aside from seeing my picture on a dartboard, the eleven people in that office were polite.

It was an expansive interview, and I'll share those details on Monday. But for now, I want you to know that Fleck told me he has decided against running for re-election to Easton City Council. "I have no desire to be an elected official ever again," he told me.

Part of the reason is his consulting business, which is taking up more and more of this time. Another big reason is his five-year old son, a basketball star in training. He wants to see his son play as he gets older, and I can understand that completely.

Every second we miss is a second we'll never get back.

Fleck added that he and his wife are seriously considering a move to Allentown, since that's where both of them work.

I'll have more on Monday.

I did check my car before leaving Allentown.