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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, June 17, 2016

NorCo Council Says No To DCED Raises, New Position.

John Brown
Nearly every news release coming from Northampton County describes it as a "$1 billion economic engine" that provides "opportunities for its residents to thrive and succeed in the community in which they live." But its Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) is under intense criticism. Its Director, Diane Donaher, was one of Executive John Brown's first cabinet picks, but abruptly resigned on May 5 after several miscues that included a botched attempt to seize control over $500,000 in tourism grants awarded every year with money from hotel taxes. She's been replaced by Acting Director Tim Herrlinger, but only for six months. Probably not the best time to seek raises and more manpower in that embattled department. Yet that is precisely what Executive John Brown did at Council's June 16 meeting. By a 5-3 vote, Council seed No.

One of Council member Bob Werner's biggest beefs with DCED has been its outright refusal to appear in front of Council to answer questions and explain exactly what they are doing. After numerous requests, the entire staff appeared at Council's economic development committee meeting on June 2. But the meeting ended with their presentation. There was no opportunity to ask questions.

At that hearing, Herrlinger told Council that a large part of what DCED does (80%) is community development. This supports economic development. "We provide the threads for new, small businesses that want to locate here and reinforce growth for businesses that are existing." He claimed that DCED focuses on small business, noting they create the lion's share of the jobs. DCED Administrator Mark Hartney added that, in the last year, his department worked with 35 small businesses and entrepreneurs. These projects resulted in 22 new jobs and retained 104 jobs. He claimed that DCED provides "small business concierge service."

A month prior to this report, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation's (LVEDC) Don Cunningham had updated Council with a nuts and bolts report of 1,700 jobs created in Northampton County within the last 12-18 months, along with 1,000 jobs retained. It provided a stark contrast to the meager statistics presented by Hartney.

Despite a less than reassuring report from the County's DCED, and the lack of a permanent Director, Executive Brown asked Council to vote on a reorganization of DCEC that would add a $31,838 secretary (Clerical Tech III) and provide $4,235 raises to salaries already in the $47,000 range. There is no indication that Human Resources had performed a desk audit for any of these positions to see if a pay raise was warranted.

Bob Werner said he was opposed to any reorganization in that department, arguing that the Department needs a more thorough review. "Watching these positions is like watching an abusive marriage," he complained. "They come and they go and they change." Hayden Phillips, John Cusick and Mat Benol all said they'd prefer to wait for the next budget cycle before deciding on any reorganization or raises. "I will probably support this in December if we see positive results from the Acting Director," he observed. "It's not particularly fair to give raises in middle of year and again at end of year."

Matt Dietz added that the County had not seen much return on their investment in a department that created only 22 jobs.

Brown countered that it took Cunningham over two years to get LVEDC focused, and that his "administration has demonstrated an ability to find improvements." His administration no longer has a Director of Administration, Director of Emergency management Services or Director of Community and Economic Development.

Glenn Geissinger, who usually can be counted on to support Brown, complained that Council has a "failed understanding of the accomplishments of this department" and accused his colleagues of making decisions about jobs they don't understand. He also criticized Council for rejecting a "minor change in pay."

Geissinger, Peg Ferraro and Seth Vaughn voted in support of the proposed reorganization. But Cusick, Werner, Phillips, Dietz and Benol said No.

In other business, Council enacted a fee schedule that enables the public to view Orphans Court records online for a fee. There are different plans, from a low of $5 per day to a high of $150 per year. Estate filings, including wills, are available for online review. Adoptions, incapacities and proceedings involving minors will remain unavailable.

Council also voted to approve three contracts: $1.5 million to Industrial Communications for radio service at the 911 Center; $240,000 to Slate Belt Plumbing, Heating and Electric for highway interchange lighting maintenance and repairs; and a $4million contract with Bi-State Construction for the replacement of a county bridge. Because the bridge is part of the PennDOT Transportation Improvement program, the County will only pay $202,550 for that contract, with the rest of the money coming from the federal ($3.24 million) and state ($607,650) government.

Council ended its meeting with an executive session to discuss personnel, which could have included questions about why Luis Campos suddenly resigned as Director of Administration.

Council member ken Kraft, who was recovering from a root canal, was absent.


Anonymous said...

Glad that council had enough common sense to shoot this outrageous request down. It would have been throwing bad money after good. The department is bloated and has underachieved. We still don't know why Donaher resigned. Council should have demanded an explanation from Brown. The department is a train wreck and should be "reorganized" by eliminating half the staff, and demanding results from the survivors.

Anonymous said...

Brown does not know the meaning of the word transparent! What really happened to Louis Campos? Why has he not replaced both the solicitor and a key board member from the personnel appeals board who resigned several months ago? What about Gracedale? The previous administrator resigned and moved on because Brown and council could not agree on how to proceed. Bad show!!

Anonymous said...

God Bless John Brown!

Anonymous said...

God Bless County Council!

Anonymous said...

Lets see out of the 1722 new jobs created by LVEDC & DCED, LVEDC is responsible for 98.7% of the new jobs. Out of 1,104 jobs retained by both entities, LVEDC is responsible for 90.5%. Shame on the three that voted for Brown's inane scheme. Apparently, they have no concept in cost-benefit analysis. Cut this redundant and useless department out and run with the obvious. This is transparent Mr. Brown, something you have no concept of!

Anonymous said...

You have to get the electorate to remember to vote those bums out next year when they are up for re election

Anonymous said...

Brown..the Tea Party Clown! What a waste of going on four years with him and his side kick Cathy Allen. Just pathetic and shame on the electorate for getting sucked in by this charlatan politician. He wrecked Bangor and has now basically wrecked the county. What a disgrace you are John. How in the world do you sleep at nite?

Anonymous said...

Brown is a clown, and the vote should have been 8-0 against these absurd and poorly timed proposed raises. To improve performance, Brown should resign. His reign is like a slow moving train wreck. It isn't time to vote him out yet?

Anonymous said...

Looks like Brown's "high-performance team" are just a bunch of scrubs. Bench-warmers at best. No county executive has been so generous with taxpayer money rewarding flunkie staff with raises for no good reason. These people are lucky to have a job at all. In the private sector, their lack of results would have earned them a pink slip. They are public trough-feeders at best. Compare the workload and results of the bloated DCED staff with Weights & Measures. W&M has two staff that are on the road all day from business to business assuring consumers, as well as businesses, that their measuring devices are accurate and fair. They are self-sustaining with their fees, and they earn their paychecks with dedication and hard work. Unlike the bozos at DCED who don't even have the time to review hotel grant applications. The department should be reorganized by cutting staff in half and having them report directly to the county administrator (if Brown can find another one). Don't bother hiring another DCED director. A complete waste of money.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I was so impressed by Mr. Keppel and what he does. He really does care, and it is very gratifying to see county workers like him. There are many just like him whose stories are untold. I should try harder. They will be here when Brown is gone. They will be here when the next Exec is gone, too.

To Brown's credit, he stood up for Keppel.

Anonymous said...

They should look into the Jail's faith based program. I have been told that inmates get special treatment above others ie: Popcorn and movies while the others don't. My nephew who did a short stint there was denied such perks while those on this faith based unit was treated far better than others. This unit is run by a Chaplin who's sole purpose is to fill his beds on the outside and be compensated. This should be a conflict of interest and the fact that the county doesn't care speaks for itself. Every inmate should be treated equally and shouldn't be based on one's religious preferences. Thanks Bernie

A Concerned citizen

Anonymous said...

Chris Santos is running amok. Chaplain in name only and paid for his services to the county. Disgusting situation and it smacks of discrimination. Holy rollers are welcome at the jail but others need not ask for entry. Holding the jail population hostage on religious grounds. Pure evil BS!

Anonymous said...

In suspended animation in anticipation of this creation that to my new eyes is just a faked factual fictitious facepaint of commerce?!($ Feet on the street does not a dollar make nor take, reveNUE round and round is like and similar to the coke works of designers designing oxicandyland?!($
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