About Me

My photo
Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, October 10, 2014

NorCo: What We've Got Here is Failure to Communicate

Steve Barron (L) and Bob Werner (R)
Joe McDonald phoning in his story
A week ago, Northampton County Council President Peg Ferraro called on everyone to give a little, "Compromise is part of good government" she said to the warring factions in the battle over health plan cuts. But compromise does not appear to be part of Executive John Brown's lexicon, at least not yet. In a news conference punctuated by his adamant refusal to allow Council member Bob Werner and Controller Steve Barron to even just sit and watch, Brown made clear that he has no intention of blinking on health plans, staffing, or much of anything else.

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.

Morale Problem 

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.

State Reimbursements

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.


Anonymous said...

What is Brown going to do with the other $2.7 million+ collected from NorCo taxpayers in their property taxes for Open Space? Use it towards pension payments? Give it back?

Anonymous said...

It is obvious that Brown is a cold blooded snob with a "let them eat cake" attitude. His assertion that those involved with open space programs are "on board" with his cutting of funding for environmentally sensitive land preservation should be investigated.

Anonymous said...

Actually he is eliminating funding of ALL new open space projects next year. Cannot believe that the Farmland Preservation Board and Open Space Advisory Board are "on board" with gutting those programs. Please contact their chairs for comment Bernie. And Peg Ferraro, a long time supporter of those programs should hang her head in shame if she votes for these cuts.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Didn't have time to check, but will.

Anonymous said...

What are you all moaning about. He can do or not do what he wants with tax revenues. There is no dedicated "open space" funding stream. Get your collective libtard heads out of your asses and realize that fact.
He is the county executive and can deicide how to put together his budget. Period!

Bernie O'Hare said...

The above comment was brought to you by Tricia Mezzacappa. She was a GOP candidate for County Council.

Anonymous said...

I am completely discouraged with the entire process and have lost all faith in public officals . makes me very sad !

Anonymous said...

Brown's stock just improved dramatically. These two opportunists should have called their own presser. Everyone knows they're too stupid to figure out how. Way to go John Brown.

Anonymous said...

john brown the DICTATOR !!!!

Anonymous said...

The County workforce is united! This is not a union/non union or dept thing. His latest quotes and grandstanding are bulletin board material to the county work force team. Every council meeting will be packed and I will predict courtroom 1 will not be able to hold all the people anymore for meetings.

Maybe they can put up a a big circus tent because that is what this has turned into. Council needs to stand up and not pass this clown's budget. They need to direct him to fix the budget and line items such as the healthcare as well as the LOC.

We SHALL see if our elected officials are interested in managing good government or playing politics with the workers and citizens of NorCo.

This power trip needs to end sooner than later.

Anonymous said...

What is Brown going to do with the other $2.7 million+ collected from NorCo taxpayers in their property taxes for Open Space?

Once again there never was a dedicated tax for open space. Mr. Brown is not bound by a program set up by the previous administration. Where is that money going? Pensions $13.3 million and Gracedale $7.7 million.

Anonymous said...

Council needs to stand up and not pass this clown's budget.

OK so the Republican majority on Council should set up their Executive for failure. That's what happened to Corbett and he's a goner in 4 weeks. Government by mob rule works out well in the Middle East. Peg and the 4 Dems will have the opportunity to offer amendments to the budget. Let's see if any of them have the cojones to increase taxes and fund the current health plan and swamp land purchases.

Anonymous said...

No raises, strained workforce, and a ridiculous health plan. Yes, Mr. Brown the moral will be through the roof.

Anonymous said...

Since being disrespectful seems to be such a fundamental part of all Brown's personal interactions I would seriously consider asking for a refund from his PR consultants.

Anonymous said...

Your rose colored glasses will be handed out with your pay checks.

Anonymous said...

it's time for john brown to be investigated from where we are sitting he just doesn't seem qualified for the job and should not be collecting the paycheck WE pay him and his CROONIES!

Anonymous said...

why would anyone make an appointment with him when he shows nothing but disdain for them ?

Anonymous said...

john brown takes great pleasure in hurting people! that is very evident in his action towards the employees and council members of a different political party,nothing will be accomplished ,he is unwilling to work with them,sad for the people of Northampton county

Anonymous said...

in the next 3 years brown will of made HIS half a million dollars and walk out the door leaving all the damage he's doing behind! who is helping the employees ? who has their back?

Anonymous said...

Worst mayor. Worst executive. EvEr!

Anonymous said...

Investigate the C3 contract! Unethical if not illegal collision. Are kickbacks or other perks not far behind? Stop the madness!

Anonymous said...

"... both told me they were there to watch, not to turn the matter into a political side show."

And you believed the bloated flower bed stomper who threatens local companies? C'mon, Bernie

Anonymous said...

Chuckle head Barron looks like he is dressed for a hoe-down, not a professional job. Even Werner is in a suit and tie. Must have been dress down day in the controllers office.

Anonymous said...

Basically in Browns response in regards to the staffing levels particularly at the jail you can see he is completly clueless, or is just listening to his yes men administration over there. Although as he states the "census is down", you still have the same post assignments to fill, which leads to the same staffing of the facility. If in fact the census is down, then close portions or housing areas in the jail allowing for less officer minimums per shift, which in turn should reduce or eliminate mandatory overtime and reduce costs. In doing so might even do a little in regards to some portion of the morale also.

Anonymous said...

One more thing you may want to dig into Bernie, a bit of rumor has it that Matos is stepping down by the end of the year and Buskirk is leaving in March or April. Hopefully the county will look for the rigth people on the outside to fill these positions and set up some type of hiring panel of professionals not prison board members nor handpicked by the county executive. One requirement at a bare minimum should be Certified Correctional Professional.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, is he getting rid of future Farmland Preservation projects as well? I always assumed some of that funding comes from the state because the official "presentation" of the award comes at a hearing in Harrisburg. At least that's how the farmer next door explained it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Whatever the county gets from the state depends upon what the county puts in. Putting nothing in this year it will get nothing back.

Anonymous said...

Brown is ignorant and/or lying to the public about how human service programs are funded.

Most programs under human services are funded by The State. Some are paid from base funding and some paid by MA, DPW, or lotto revenue.

Let's look at an example. A consumer needs service for their disabled child. That consumer has MA funding. All casework billable duties are reimbursed by the State and all services receive by contracted providers are paid directly from the State and billed to MA.

The State gives the County a lump sum of money to pay for salary and benefits at a rate of 95%. The state is not paying for services and the county no longer even has the money as this was changed in 2007 so fiscal responsibly would remain with the State who is footing the bill for these services.

So hopefully that provides some true insight and not political propaganda.

The county worker is also billing MA and getting paid on top of that 95% for providing coordination services.

Proof is in the details. Ask the State, Admin staff, or some workers and they will explain.

Anonymous said...

The state does not "refund" the county for staff fringe benefits. Do some actual fact checking. this is how stupid the county emp0loyees are. The y actual;;y think their pay is an even payback by the state. The state has a formula for salary reimbursement up to a point. It has no regulation mandating the county offer any benefits and does not reimburse the county for them.

Stupid employees get what they deserve. Moist of you could not even get a job in the private sector.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The above comment was brought to you by Tricia Mezzacappa, a former County Council candidates. County workers would do well to remember this evil woman, who can't get a job in the private sector herself and recently sent me an email claiming that she is collecting unemployment.

Anonymous said...

For your information Mezzacappa not only do I employment with the county but also employment in the private sector. It is uneducated blow hards like you that run for office that give politicians a bad name. Stick up for your boy Brown as you did for Greggy. Maybe you can contribute money to his J-Pay account too when he has one.

Ask Greggy and he can educate you on the factual details before your sound like a bigger idiot.

Anonymous said...

You've ceased calling him Barron von Footinmouth? If he tried to pull this stunt on John Stoffa, you'd have fileted Jumbotron. Your affections are easily bought.

Anonymous said...

I voted for Callahan !!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

We find Mr. Callahan to be less than credible...

The Karen Dolan Grand Jury Report. You should be proud of your vote

Bernie O'Hare said...

6:43, I have remained highly critical of Barron on many points, especially the pandering. But he is an elected official, and Brown was wrong to exclude Werner and barron.

Peter J.Cochran said...

'Nobody subpoenaed you to work here'!OH- this is contempt toward the doers . This statement IF TRUE , is a slap in the face to you employees that move the dockets, watch the inmates and direct the unknowing to the right areas ,and put up with trashy not classy people at domestic or criminal .-- CONTEMPT !Have that guy see me ,Peter J.Cochran,I will take that person on my/ 'TOUR'.

Anonymous said...

John Brown Rocks. Makes decisions and takes care of business . If you union thugs studied harder maybe you
too could run for the County Executive seat but as it
stands now taxpayers like me
are your boss.I dont want my taxes raised so you could have primo benefits and a pension.
I work in the private sector and have been downsized just like the rest of the globe. No pensions, just a 401k that I fund and health care fucked over by Obama care. I applaud John Brown for his stance.FUCK YOU UNION ASSHOLES. Again....you can leave your jobs and can do something else if you dont like your benefits.

Anonymous said...

Your eliquent vocabulary shows your education. I can see why spew veniom. Do you even pay taxes or do my tax dollars take care of you?

Anonymous said...

"recently sent me an email claiming that she is collecting unemployment."

Really? Does libel, harassment and fraud constitute employment that pays unemployment benefits? Amazing. Only in America.

Anonymous said...

"If he tried to pull this stunt on John Stoffa, you'd have fileted Jumbotron. Your affections are easily bought."

No question from union thugs to victims. O'Hare's info link was shut down by Brown. Stoffa would force employees to give him "anything he wants". he even had county vendors help him. No question if this were Stoffa, O'Hare would have every excuse in the book.
It is so true O'Hare doesn't even want it written.

Anonymous said...

Hey 10:37

I must have struck a nerve calling you Union thugs out. Its funny how Union flunkies cant take the heat when the truth is spoken.Drop a few F bombs at them and they go on the attack. If I were John Brown I would find a way to disband unions forever from Northmapton government. Unions are no longer needed in this country. Competition creates jobs with better compensation across all industries. Unions in no way should be infiltrated in government. Your foolish union mentality is holding back engagaed employees from earning top dollar.Unions do not enhance compensation for motivated , skilled workers they only protect the bums.

Anonymous said...

What world do you live in? Without unions we would all be naking minimum wage. Doyou really think companies would pay workers well? Why do you think they move over seas? Dont believe the tax hype, they want to squeeze every dime they can for their own pockets! Why do you think CEOs make 350 times more than workers at their companies? Hey they need to make a profit, but they should take care of those who help make them rich.

Guin77 said...

@925PM Anonymous:

First of all, YOU are ignorant. This is clear in your inability to spell, type or make a rational comment.
Second, to assume that any of us are stupid and "get what we deserve" is ridiculous.
I, for one, have worked in the public and private sectors and have a Master's degree. The ONLY thing that's "stupid" about me, or some of my co-workers is that we took a job with the county, with minimal salaries, for decent benefits and some vacation time, which they're trying to take away from us now. I've made less and less the past 4 years and am expected to put out more and more.

People like you are irrevelant blow hards with nothing of substance to add to any intelligent conversation.

Guin77 said...

@0822 & 1436:
Clearly (1037 Anonymous said...
Your eliquent vocabulary shows your education. I can see why spew veniom. Do you even pay taxes or do my tax dollars take care of you?) this got to YOU. You are the one being disrespectful and uneducated dropping F bombs and being unable to add a rational thought to a pro-con conversation without being degrading or rude. Many of us aren't even in UNIONS. We ARE ALL being affected by JBs actions. AND... you seem to forget... WE (for the most part)LIVE IN NORTHAMPTON COUNTY and PAY TAXES as well... I am sick and tired of hearing the "I pay your taxes, so you work for me and have to put up with my disrespect nonsense." Get a new line and stop your foul dispension of irrevelant nonsense.
Many of us have worked 10-20+ years for the county and were promised things like a pension when we were hired, which they keep trying to cut down. I am sorry for those in the private sector struggling... I know it's hard all over. My own family and myself have had to take multiple jobs just to get by (which by the way are NOT in the public sector) and fairly close to minimum wage with no benefits. Part of working for a county, state or the government were little pluses that are all but gone. Acting like we're idiots who live in some fantasy world and have no idea about sacrifice is ignorant on your part. Many of us not only live paycheck to paycheck, like the rest of society (who work), but we are on budgets that aren't cutting it, buy generic, cut out trips and extras, barely have gas money, pick which bills to pay and fall behind and are in debt just like the rest of our current society, through no fault of our own, but rather pay freezes, raised taxes (in other areas... commuter taxes, school taxes, etc.), rising costs for everything, inflation, etc. I, for one have seen my check go down Jan. 1st of the past 4 years and my cost of living go up and this health care hike would bankrupt many families. It also doesn't cover life saving meds I personally need... akin to cutting insulin for a diabetic. So, before you go cutting us all down and spewing more of your venom, remember, I am a human being too, I work for a living, I pay taxes, I AM EDUCATED and I said all this without cursing at you or being disrespectful.