|Steve Barron (L) and Bob Werner (R)|
Joe McDonald phoning in his story
Brown Bans Two Elected Officials
Brown conducts news conferences every two weeks so that members of the press can ask him about what is going on. Because the dailies are busy covering a major homicide trial, Joe McDonald from WFMZ and I were the only ones there. And I'm not sure I even count. As Lehigh Executive Tom Muller likes to tell me, I'm just pseudo press.
But when I arrived on the oxygen-deprived third floor with three pages of questions posed by my readers, I saw two elected officials were there, too. Council member Bob Werner and Controller Steve Barron both told me they were there to watch, not to turn the matter into a political side show.
Brown sent one of his secretaries to the outer door to tell two elected officials this was for press only, and I objected. It's Brown's news conference, and he can certainly direct it as he sees fit, but it seems unnecessarily divisive and counterproductive to keep out the people's representatives. Besides, they promised to be good.
A few minutes later, a secretary returned to signal us to all go in, and I assumed that she meant all of us. Werner asked if I was sure, and I said, "Of course, do I stutter?"
They made it as far as the inner door to the inner door of the sanctum sanctorum, when Brown stopped them himself.
"This is my time with the press," Brown firmly but politely told Werner, suggesting that he make an appointment.
I never knew I was so special.
Brown explained to us that if he had an initiative or something else to announce, they would have been welcome.
But after the news conference, Werner explained he wanted to hear the executive. "He hasn't spoken for eight meetings," Werner complained, although Brown did address Council three weeks ago and again last week.
Werner and Barron are news conference junkies. I saw both when Brown announced his budget. They put on no sideshows.
This is a sign of unnecessary friction between the Executive, Council and Controller. It's hard to tell people you're listening to them when you slam the door in their faces.
Since the dailies were pretty busy at a big murder case, I thought this story would escape unnoticed. But Express Times Editor Jim Deegan has a story.
In response to questions about the growing morale problem in Northampton County, Brown is hopeful it will pass. "Any time you make change is difficult," he explained. "That's just human nature. ... Hopefully, they'll see the changes we made are in their interest and the interest of the taxpayer."
He also suggests, "Every employee needs to consider if it is in their best interests or not. He really needs to take a hard look at what is valuable to him,."
In other words, Brown seems to be suggesting, those who resent his changes can look for jobs elsewhere.
No Compromise on Health Plan
Peg Ferraro is on the same team as John Brown. She's a fellow Republican. She also has a keen sense of political winds, and is a veteran of many Councils. John Brown, who has been in office less than a year and seems to be engaged in government by consultant, is completely unwilling to listen to her and bend on the health care cuts. Two meetings in which workers begged and pleaded with him made no difference. He remained intransigent at the news conference.
"The health care plan I proposed is the one I intend to move forward with," stated Brown. "We spent months evaluating options before we ultimately selected the plan we moved forward with."
No Compromise on Vacancies
Brown stated he is unwilling to solve problems at the jail or in other county offices by "throwing bodies" at them. The Civil Division, operating with a skeleton crew, is now weeks behind in indexing, making it impossible to follow what is going on in specific cases. That's important to title searchers like myself. But far more important is the jail, where staffing shortages can result in dangerous situations. Tom Davis, President of the Corrections Officers' unions, claims they are 17 bodies short, with no end in sight.
Brown responded that the overall census is down at the jail, and that he approached Davis with "some proposals," but Davis wants to wait for contract negotiations.
In response to a question about shutting down a portion of the jail and sending inmates to another county, Brown said he has seen no proposal on that topic.
The state reimburses the County for human services. Some readers have suggested that the state is already paying for benefits that Brown wants to reduce. But Brown disputes that argument. He said the reimbursement runs from 70 to 100%, but it's a "block of money to support salaries, benefits and programs." He pointed out that the more that money is spent on salaries and benefits, the less it is spent on the actual programs.
Balancing Budget With $20 Million Line of Credit
"I believe it's legal," Brown stated of his plan to balance next year's budget with a $20 million line of credit. "No one has told me it isn't." He said he is waiting for a completed legal opinion, but seemed unconcerned. He also stressed that the line of credit would only be used if needed and would be presented to Council in a separate ordinance.
No Compromise on Open Space Cuts
Aside from $1 million for municipal parks and farmland preservation projects already in the pipeline, Brown indicated there will be no open space project this year. He stated that it is "absolutely appropriate" to consider the fiscal needs of the county, and that "those involved with the open space initiative are on board."
Employee Gag May Extend to Elected Officials
Yesterday, I told you that I and other reporters have to go through Director of Administration Louis Campos if we have any questions we want answered. The days of asking a Director or Department head a question are over. Brown gives two reasons for this. First, he claims he's trying to streamline things for us. Second, he wants to ensure that the information we're getting is accurate.
I appreciate his effort to make things easier, but he's making it harder Yesterday, for example, a simple informational request about a consultant went unanswered until a late-night text arrived from someone other than Campos. By that time, I already had the information from other sources.
According to Council member Bob Werner, there have been at least two instances in which employees have told him that even his questions must go through Campos. He declined to name the employees involved for fear that they might suffer repercussions.
"We'll deliver to Council whatever Council finds they need to do their job," Brown promised. He declined to address Werner's specific allegations, stating he'd have to speak to him.
The C3 Rep Insulting Workers
At least four readers, from different areas of the County, have claimed that C3 consultant has been extremely rude to them when they've asked questions about coverage,saying things like, "Nobody subpoenaed you to work here."
"We'll address that," promised Brown, who stated he would discuss this matter with the consultant directly. "That was not our intention."
A Second News Conference
Because Werner and Barron were snubbed by Brown, McDonald and I both had a news conference with them, right after the one with brown. We met in the cafeteria. I'll tell you about that on Monday.