|Brown displayed no emotion as people spoke.|
Thanks to an absent Republican Seth Vaughn, McCkure got away with it last night.
Earlier that night, before workers even spoke, Council approved some pathology services for Coroner Zach Lysek and some changes to the emergency generator project at Gracedale. Those were both noncontroversial and passed with with little discussion, though Glenn Geissinger strangely recused himself from the pathology services contract.
After listening to the concerns of workers from a crowd that numbered over 100, Council returned to its agenda.
The first real item of business was a Geissinger-inspired ordinance that would give all Council members a $1,000 paycut so they could all feel the pain already being inflicted on the workforce. Almost as soon as the ordinance was introduced, McClure moved to table it. Council President Peg Ferraro, no fan of pay cuts, quickly joined all Democrats to provide the fifth vote..
Then McClure explained what he was doing. Noting that Brown has refused to compromise or even discuss rolling back his health plan cuts, he suggested Council should just stop conducting business. "We ought to table anything that isn't essential to the government of Northampton County," he said.
And that's pretty much exactly what happened. What wasn't tabled, failed. The other three Democrats quickly followed McClure's lead. Republicans, and Council President Peg Ferraro in particular, seemed completely shocked by what had just happened.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm stunned," she said at one point.
What had her up on a lift, blowin' oil, was a noncontroversial $30 million loan arrangement with St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem Township, through the County's General Purpose Authority. These kinds of loans, involving hospitals and colleges, are common. It's a form of tax exempt financing in which the County is never on the hook, but is able to use the administration fees to fund other projects of its own in the County
"Motion to table," stated McClure. That failed in a 4-4 vote. As Council Clerk Fran Flisser called out the names, an exasperated Ferraro asked McClure, "Do you realize what you're doing to St. Luke's Hospital?"
Though the motion to table failed, so did the resolution. By a 6 to 2 vote, with only Ferraro and fellow Republican Hayden Phillips voting Yes, Northampton County Council dealt a setback to St. Luke's and any other hospital or college interested in arranging financing through the County.
"You have just rejected hundreds of thousands of dollars to Northampton County," Ferraro said to the No votes.
This is a first. At no time has Northampton Council ever voted to reject his kind of financing arrangement, which involves no risk to the County and results in administration fees.
But McClure had only just begun.
The next item on the agenda was a resolution to approve the reclassification of a position in Human Services. A Budget Analyst would now be called an Accountant, with no extra pay to show for it.
"Motion to table," said McClure again. This time, Glenn Geissinger mysteriously joined the Democrats, and in a 5-3 vote, the reclassification was halted.
After the meeting, Brown accused Democrats of "pandering to the employee base," while McClure told Express Times reporter Tom Shortell that he only wants Brown to sit down and negotiate these health plan cuts.
What Did People Say?
Though the 100-plus crowd was not as large as the previous two, there were more speeches, and they were impassioned.
Justus James - The AFSCME union agent, who speaks for most of the bargaining units in the County, noted that Brown is making financial mistakes. he's closed down an academy to train corrections officers, who will have to be trained at about a $20,000 County expense per worker in Elizabethtown. He pointed out corrections officers are retiring, and inmates could sue. All the unions that can do so are going to arbitration. "How much will all this cost the taxpayer?" he asked. "Maybe we need another consultant to figure it out," he said, in a biting reference to Brown's pencahnt for hiring consultants.
Paul Breaux - In addition to the 16-plus vacancies in Corrections, the Juvenile Detention Center is down ten people. They are being forced to work multiple 16-hour shifts, which could lead to "huge liability" for negligence. "With changes to the healthcare plan," we will lose employees," states the 911 dispatcher.
|CYF Caseworker (I missed her name and tried to get it|
after the meeting, but she sprayed me with mace)
Mike Romig. - Wearing a "Bite Me!" T-shirt, which is not as cool as a Stickergate T-shirt, Bridge Department worker Mike Romig noted that 1/4 of the County workforce makes under $31,000. "We have incompetent administrators who hire incompetent assistants who hire incompetent contractors." Noting the County's ability to botch repair jobs, he joked that they have a saying - "Maybe they'll get it right the third time."
Donna Joyko - This 37-year department head at Gracedale asked Brown to address the rumors concerning reductions in vacation, sick time, longevity, etc. "Are these facts, fiction?" she asked. She got no answer. (Blogger's Note - Today is her anniversary with the County. Congrats, Donna!!)
Steve Barron - The Controller is waiting for documents from the Executive concerning C3, the consultant who recommended the health plan cuts. (Blogger's Note: Like Barron, I have filed a Right-to-Know concerning these documents and emails, and expect a reply on or before November 16). Barron has also discovered yet another consultant contract, this one for $22,800, with an outfit called Concord Financial Services. An outfit with that name is the one that recommended the County enter into the swaption that cost it over $27 million. It is also the outfit that recommended the firm involved in Bethlehem Township's streetlight scam. But after the meeting, Barron told me he thinks this is a different Concord. I hope so.
"Any fiscal conservative who would look at your spending concerning consultants would find it galling," Barron told Brown.
Tom Davis. - The union president for corrections officers, Davis disputes Brown's statement at a recent news conference that Davis had told him he'd address staffing shortages during contract negotiations. "That never happened," stated Davis. He also resented brown's statement that he was not going to just "throw bodies" at the staffing shortage at the jail. "He called us his most valuable asset and then calls us 'bodies,'" complained Davis.
Wendy (last name missed - Gracedale). - "You won't take my pride and won't take these people's pride away from them. ... We're under-appreciated, understaffed, overworked and disgusted, and it's beginning to show at Gracedale."
Michael Stocker - a Lafayette College Junior, he noted the cost of education. "You need to realize there is a real world out there."
Updated 1:25 pm: Though I like to pretend I am just making things up, I am fairly serious about getting my facts right and quoting people accurately. Last night, I know Peg was exasperated by the St. Luke's vote, even to the point of criticizing Lamont McClure in the middle of the roll call. I also recall her saying, "Ladies and gentlemen ..." several times. In the course of writing my account, I saw Tom Shortell's excellent play-by-play for The Express Times. He writes, "Ladies and gentlemen, I am stunned."
I saw his words. Reading them, I believed that is what Peg said. I was sitting there. I believed he was quoting her. Tom was actually writing for himself in the first person.
His words may have confused me.
In a nice way, Shortell called me a plagiarist today. He told me he knows that doesn't mean so much to someone like me, who isn't bound by journalistic ethics.
Actually, it means quite a bit. For that reason, let me qualify the Peg Ferraro quote on my main story by stating I know she made a few "Ladies and gentlemen" remarks and I quoted her accurately to the best of my ability. I believed my quote was accurate when I reported it, but Shortell's play-by-play may have confused me.
I try just as hard as any mainstream reporter to get it right. Just as I don't post anonymously, I'm not going to steal someone's work. I don't think I need a course in ethics on that topic.