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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Bethlehem Tp To Advertise Nine Percent Tax Hike

Finance Director Andrew  Freda
At their Nov 18 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted unanimously to advertise a budget for next year that imposes a nine per cent tax hike. This decision follows three budget hearings. The proposed spending plan can be reviewed on the township website and can be physically inspected at the municipal building for the next 30 days. A final vote is planned for December 17.

For the first time, the Township is considering a fire tax set at 0.15 mills. Under state law, money collected through a fire tax must be set aside in a separate account and may be used only for the township's two volunteer fire departments.

At the current real estate tax of 7.09 mills, the annual tax bill is $647 for the average taxpayer. With an increase in millage to 7.74 mills, taxes will increase to $705 for the average homeowner.

In addition to real estate taxes, the Township imposes an earned income tax (0.5%). The annual earned income tax payment per household will be $415.

Why a tax hike? Manager Doug Bruce's detailed budget message cites several reasons. Under negotiated union contracts, wages have increased between two and three per cent. Health insurance costs have risen 8.7%. Debt service next year on four loans over the past nine years will be over $2 million. The cost of the pension fund has increased. Workers compensation insurance has skyrocketed 27%. Bruce describes the Township a "mature, nearly built-out municipality where annual revenues have not quite been keeping up with annual expenses for the better part of a decade."

Resident Bill Spanogle complained, "You want to raise my taxes, and my fixed income neighbors are not very happy about that." He wanted to know where the extra money is going, and complained there should be an executive summary explaining the need in half a page. He also argued a tax hike should be voted on by the public.

In other business, Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a $15 rate hike for nonresidents at the community center. They alsoagreed to advertise an intermunicipal cooperation agreement with Hanover Tp and Bethlehem City to provide sewer service for a development proposed along township Line Road. They voted to approve a settlement agreement with Birchwood commons that will permit the development of an old trailer park along Freemansburg Avenue. They also voted unanimously to elect Malissa Davis as Vice president of the Board.

The five Commissioners now are President Mike Hudak, Vice President Malissa Davis, and Commissioners Kristine Blake, John Gallagher and John Merhotten.

Kristine Blake Sworn in as Bethlehem Tp's Newest Comm'r

Kristine Blake and son
Better late than never. Attorney Kristine Blake was a few minutes late for her first meeting as a Bethlehem Tp Commissioner. The audience still applauded when she took the oath of office, administered by Judge Jennifer Sletvold during the November 18 meeting.

She replaces the late Tom Nolan, who died in office after three decades of service.

Aside from Blake, former Commissioners Art Murphy and Tim Brady had applied for the post. Commissioners Mike Hudak and John Merhotten favored Murphy, while Commissioners Malissa Davis and John Gallagher wanted Blake.

It was up to Frank Pologruto, who chairs the Township's Vacancy Board, to break the tie at a meeting on November 5.

Blake, an attorney at Pro Unlimited in East Hanover, N.J., was a Northampton County Assistant District Attorney. Her husband Bill is the Assistant District Attorney in charge of the investigating grand jury.

A Democrat, Blake will serve the remainder of Nolan's term of office. It expires at the end of 2019.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Morganelli to Step Down as DA

John Morganelli has decided against an eighth term as NorCo’s District Attorney. I believe he has served in that position longer than anyone in county history. Rumor is that he plans to run for judge. Although I’m sure he’d be good, I just don’t see him as happy in that role. He would be one of nine judges and barred from taking an active role in politics.

Over the past three decades, Morganelli has been the most effective DA I have ever seen. He will be nearly impossible to replace.

Statement of Northampton County District Attorney

"Twenty eight years ago, I had the honor of being elected district attorney of Northampton County. My years have been rewarding and professionally satisfying. Today, however, I am announcing that I will not seek re-election for another term as DA in 2019.

"During my tenure as district attorney, I have implemented many initiatives that have transformed the office from a part time political office to a full time career, prosecutors office. I am proud of the many achievements I have had including but not limited to the following:

* Leading the fight to make the DA a full time job
* Eliminating part time political positions and replacing them with full time career prosecutors
* Hiring an equal number of male/female prosecutors including the appointment of the first woman to serve as First Deputy District Attorney
* Hiring the county's first and second African American Assistant District Attorneys, the first Hispanic ADA and the first African American County Detective
* Creating the Northampton County Chiefs Association
* Creating Specialized Prosecution Units - Violent Crime, Domestic Violence, Juvenile, Sexual Assault, Drugs, DUI, White Collar Crime, Appellate and Grand Jury Units.
* Leading the fight for a Mental Health Court
* Revamping the Northampton County District Attorneys County Wide Drug Task Force and confiscating over $3 million dollars from drug dealers
* Impaneling Northampton County's first grand jury in 30 years to investigate unsolved murders and other crime
* Personally and Successfully prosecuting 25 first degree murder cases to verdict
* Being the first Northampton County DA to serve as President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association

"I want to thank everyone who has worked with me in the office over the years. All of my present and former assistant district attorneys, county detectives, victims' advocates and clerical staff have always been my partners in helping keep our communities safe. Without their hard work and dedication, I could not have done this job. I also want to thank the men and women in our local, state and federal law enforcement agencies who day in and out do a tremendous job.

"I know that I will miss the challenges of this job. I feel that I have accomplished everything I set out to do and more. But there comes a time when we must move on to seek new challenges. For me that time is now. The first part of my legal career was in private practice serving my clients. The second part was my career as DA. Soon I will announce what I want to do for the remainder of my career. In the meantime, I will continue to lead this office and continue to be an outspoken advocate for victims of crime and for safe communities."

Basketball Weekend With DeSales, Lafayette

This is one kind of terrier. 
This was a basketball weekend for me. It started with an exciting weekend tournament at Salisbury University, where DeSales University dropped one and won one. It ended with Lafayette College's home opener against St. Francis Brooklyn before an enthusiastic crowd in Easton. Though Lafayette was down by as many as 25 in the second half, Leopard sophomores Alex Petrie and Justin Jaworski kept the game within reach. The 84-72 final score could just as easily have been the other way around.

My grandson plays for DeSales. He tells me college is a much quicker paced game than high school, but loves it. His smile as the team warms up makes the trip to watch him worth it.

His Central teammate, Jay Vaughan, is another one of my favorites. He is at Lafayette and loves that school so much he turned down opportunities elsewhere.

What I like best about both of these young men is they are team players.

On Sunday, I arrived a little early for the Lafayette game. I bought a ticket, assuming that I could sit anywhere. Naturally, I picked the best seats I could find at center court. When I saw the rest of the gang that came to watch Jay, I called them over to sit with me. So there were about six of us, sitting in perhaps the best seats in the house.

A woman sitting in front of us turned around and told me, very nicely, that we might have to move. She explained some of her friends join her at games. They sit exactly where we were seated.

Who the hell did this lady think she is? What made her think she could just tell my friends and I to move from seats we already had? Doesn't she know possession is 9/10 of the law? These were the thoughts going through my mind. But strangely, I agreed to move if her friends showed. She was so damn nice it disarmed me. Plus, I was with a group of very nice people.

At this point, I pulled out my ticket and looked at it. It was assigned seating. I was sitting in someone else's seat. My actual seat was somewhere in the library, second floor.

Then, on the Jumbotron, there was a video explaining how great Lafayette is. It started with remarks from college president Alison Byerly.

That was the lady who had just told me I was in the wrong seat.

Little did she know that she had just interacted with the Lehigh Valley's meanest and most ornery bottom-feeding blogger.

To make up for my uncharacteristic pleasant behavior, I let the air out the tires of the St. Francis team bus.

Now let me tell you about the game. Lafayette started off with seven unanswered points. The Leopards dominated 7-3 at the first break.

This is another kind of terrier
Then the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers, a basketball squad with 12 players over 6'3" and four players who are 6'8" and above, introduced someone into the game who is more like their team name than any of the giants on the court.

This terrier is sophomore Chauncey Hawkins. 5'8" tall and 155 pounds.

A terrier is hardly the kind of dog that instills fear, especially when its owner dresses it up like a little doll. As any terrier owner will tell you, this is a mistake. Despite its small size, this is one smart, fast and completely fearless canine.

Hawkins displayed all these qualities the moment he made his appearance. His jumper at 11:10 put his team in the lead, 11-10, and the team stayed there. What surprised me about his play was his ability to penetrate. Most shorter players rely on the three-point shot. but Hawkins also went inside, scoring 18 of his team-high 26 points by driving to the rim. He kept going even after being knocked down on one effort in which he took a nasty shot to the ear.

Hawkins also has a future career in Hollywood. On several occasions, he ran into a defender and would shout out and grimace, drawing a foul. This resulted in 10 free throws, and he sunk six.

On defense, he kept close without fouling, just making it harder for the bigger player to move.

Lafayette turned the ball over too much. Eighteen of St. John's 84 points came courtesy of Leopard turnovers.

My assessment is that Lafayette is a much better team than the one that played on Sunday. It will find its groove. They will be at home again on Wednesday, November 28, hosting Cornell.

As for DeSales, 2-2, there should be a very exciting game on Tuesday when they visit Moravian College, 2-2. Moravian lost to Johns Hopkins 81-75. DeSales lost to Johns Hopkins, 85-78.

Friday, November 16, 2018

NorCo Hit By 1.4 M Cyber Attacks on Election Day

Northampton County is hit by an average of 27,000 cyber attacks daily, according to Executive Lamont McClure. On Election Day, there were 1.4 million. None succeeded, McClure reported to County Council at their November 15 meeting. He said most of the attacks originated from Ukraine. He added that the County currently blocks 44 counties. 

In other business, County Council voted 7-2 to table a $20,000 grant of table game taxes for the restoration of the 187' tall steeple at Easton's First United Church of Christ. Voting Yes were John Cusick, Peg Ferraro, Bill McGee, Matt Dietz, Kevin Lott, Bob Werner and Lori Vargo Heffner. Voting No were Council President Ron Heckman and Tara Zrinski.

The previous day, Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni advised Council that the proposed grant appears to be consistent with the Establishment Clause. But Council members, particularly Heckman and Dietz, expressed concern that the county is buying a lawsuit.

Though the resolution has been tabled, the grant is still a part of the budget. A budget amendment is needed to remove the grant in its entirety.   

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NorCo Council Poised to Approve Steeple Grant in Easton

Based on an equivocal opinion from Solicitor Chris Spadoni, Northampton County Council is poised to gift $20,000 for the steeple restoration of Easton's United Church of Christ. During a hearing on this matter, one congregant called it a "beacon of hope and faith." That's more or less why no government funds should be spent. This grant promotes religion, and one specific kind of religion over others.

Lori Vargo Heffner, who was on the selection committee that made the original mistake, plans tpperpetuate her error and vote for it. She claimed that Council has in the past given gifts to churches. I defy her to cite one example in which Northampton County donated any money to a church so it could promote its religion. Even if it's true, that's no reason to continue violating the Establishment Clause.

Matt Dietz, participating by phone, gave an explanation that is borderline moronic. He claims it is "almost" discrimination NOT to promote this church and its religion. He should read the First Amendment.

Bob Werner is supporting it because he represents the Easton district and it's historic. The Constitution applies in Easton, too, Bob.

My guess is that Peg Ferraro, and John Cusick will go along, meaning there are at least five or more votes

Ron Heckman is a No. He dislikes the support of one specific church. He is also quite concerned that Northampton County is buying a lawsuit. I believe several groups could take the county to court, wasting far more money than the grant is worth.

What this is really about is taking care of a connected insider, Mike Dowd.

Lizzie Hyman's Struggling With Tree of Life Massacre

Nat Hyman's daughter Lizzie is a sophomore at Georgetown University. This Jesuit school experienced a 275% increase in hate crimes in 2017. Her thoughtful op-ed in The Hoya is worth sharing.

Just two weeks have passed since a shooter killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. While the rest of the world is moving on to the next big story, the Jewish community is still mourning. As a Jewish student at Georgetown University, I have spent these past two weeks attempting to wrap my head around what occurred — but I am still struggling.

While devastating for the entire Jewish community, this hate crime has been particularly difficult for me to cope with. My best friend from high school is the grandson of Alvin Berkun, the former rabbi at the Tree of Life synagogue and a current congregant.

Dressed and ready to walk out the door that morning, Berkun had to take his wife to the hospital after she had a bad fall. That was the first Saturday in 35 years that he missed synagogue.

Every Saturday, Berkun sits in the same seat.

The people in front of him, to his left and to his right were the ones killed.

When I chose to attend a Jesuit school, I knew I would face difficulties because of the small Jewish community on campus. But, to my surprise, the difficult part about being Jewish at Georgetown has not been the lack of representation but rather Georgetown’s failure to address issues that affect different religious communities.

Last year, as I began my four years at Georgetown, vandals drew swastikas in bathroom stalls and on hallway walls across campus. Students and faculty talked and wrote about it, but as soon as the story was told, the incidents became old news. Though it seems like everyone on campus continued with their lives normally, the Jewish community was neither able nor allowed to. We had to be more careful about our surroundings and cope with the fact that many of us did not feel safe at our own university.

In the days following the shooting, I received several text messages from my non-Jewish high school friends telling me that their thoughts were with me, even before they knew that Berkun was affiliated with the synagogue. Yet only one friend at Georgetown reached out to me to see if I was okay, and none came to stand with me at the brief mourning service in Dahlgren Quad.

I am not mad — I know my friends here care about me. However, they do not realize that caring for me extends to caring about issues that affect the Jewish community, even if the events do not directly involve me.

During the mourning service, Georgetown classes continued, practices were held and lives went on as normal. No one knew to care about the shooting because, despite the mourning service that was announced through one email by campus ministry, Georgetown did not do anything to highlight the importance of this tragic event.

A campus that cares more about the return of a famous alumnus like Bradley Cooper (COL ’98) than a tragic hate crime affecting many members of the community must re-evaluate its priorities. Not only did University President John J. DeGioia fail to attend the mourning service due to a business conflict, but he made no attempt to address the community himself.

When drawings of swastikas and synagogues under attack do not affect your safety, it is easy to push them out of your mind. But some students and faculty on this campus —perhaps your close friends and mentors — fear for their lives. Positive messages chalked in Red Square and Facebook posts are important, but they are not enough.

The Jewish community feels itself under attack yet again, and I now regret all the times I did not speak out for those who could not do so themselves. I urge you not to make the same mistake I did.

Even if Georgetown’s administration does not work to keep students informed, everyone must become more aware, stand by their friends and speak up. It is time for all of us to take initiative about the things that truly matter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Tale of Two Counties

Lehigh County is currently hiring 911 dispatchers at a starting salary of $42,016. That's $20.20 per hour. With shift differential and OT, it's more.

Northampton County is currently hiring 911 dispatchers at a starting annual salary of $36,355. That's $17.48 per hour.

If you can do the same job in either county, why on earth would you work at one that pays $6,000 less per year?

This is why NorCo is unable to keep 911 dispatchers ... and corrections officers ... and nurses ... and clerks.

This needs to change. Current pay is very unfair to NorCo workers.

FBI Reports That Hate Crimes Targeting Jews Rose 37% in 2017

Monday night, I had breakfast for supper at the local diner. I sat at the counter and ordered two poached eggs, dry rye toast, fruit and coffee. Sitting a few seats away from me was a man about my age (Old Fart #1). He was watching TV and slowly getting angry. He was dressed in working man's clothing, and was soon joined by another old fart (Old Fart #2), who ordered chocolate cake.

I was more interested in the very pretty waitress than those guys, but it was apparent that Old Fart #1 was very upset. I kept hearing the word "Trump" and figured that he must be a supporter upset about something the libs are doing. After all, he was an angry old white man like I read about on Facebook and various news stories. .

My Trump-profiling was off. Old Fart #1 actually detested Trump, and was angry about something

Maybe he reads my blog.

Old Fart #1 then began to complain about Israel, saying it can do whatever it wants because it has all the money on the world. Old Fart #2 disagreed

Old Fart #1 insisted he was right and then went on to say that Jews run this country, too. Old Fart #2 disagreed.

Old Fart #1 was loud enough at this point that both I and our pretty waitress could hear him. He had no idea whether she or I were Jews.

Instead of interrupting this conversation, I ate my eggs. Old Fart#2 was doing alright.

Maybe I should have said something. On Tuesday, I learned that the FBI is reporting a 17% rise in hate crimes in 2017. Hate crimes targeting Jews rose 37%.

What's scary about this data is that 91 cities with populations over 100,000 either failed to report any data to the FBI or actually said there was none.

According to Voice of America, this surge is the biggest since 9/11.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

In 2020, Will Trump Go Gentle into that Good Night?

Authoritarian Donald Trump, who has returned to the United States after an underwhelming trip to Europe, has given us all a preview of what could happen in the 2020 Presidential election. It started on Thursday. It continued on Monday. He is complaining about close races in Florida, Georgia and Arizona with tweets like these:
Law Enforcement is looking into another big corruption scandal having to do with Election Fraud in #Broward and Palm Beach.

As soon as Democrats sent their best Election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias, to Broward County they miraculously started finding Democrat votes. Don’t worry, Florida - I am sending much better lawyers to expose the FRAUD!

Rick Scott was up by 50,000+ votes on Election Day, now they “found” many votes and he is only up 15,000 votes. “The Broward Effect.” How come they never find Republican votes?

Mayor Gillum conceded on Election Day and now Broward County has put him “back into play.” Bill Nelson conceded Election - now he’s back in play!? This is an embarrassment to our Country and to Democracy!

In the 2016 Election I was winning by so much in Florida that Broward County, which was very late with vote tabulation and probably getting ready to do a “number,” couldn’t do it because not enough people live in Broward for them to falsify a victory!

Just out — in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON’T MATCH. Electoral corruption - Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!

Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!

The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!
I understand frustration with vote-counting, especially in Florida. Re-counts might take us past Thanksgiving. There is a strong public interest in certainty and speedy results. These concepts appear to be alien to Florida election officials. Their delay undermines public confidence in election results.

Trump is pouring gasoline on this fire. With no evidence, he has claimed "corruption" and adds ballots are "massively infected."

He's been doing this for some time. After losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential, he claimed that 3-5 million of her votes were fraudulent. He even formed a since disbanded commission to get to the bottom of things.

My concern is that, after losing the 2020 Presidential, he will claim election fraud and dismiss the results as illegitimate. He will also reject media accounts, which have become biased against him, as "fake news." A large minority of Americans will support him in the overthrow of democracy.

This is why I refer to Trump as authoritarian, and as often as I can. This is why Congress, more than ever, needs to be a check on Presidential power.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Veteran's Day Apology

Hard as may be for you to believe, I am a US Army vet. I was a field artillery reservist for eight years. This was before all but two Reserve combat units were abolished. And for good reason. We sucked. I was a terrible soldier. But my proudest moment is when I was killed during a mock war in one of the many evaluations we failed. We were being tested by the 82d Airborne, and our monitor told me he really liked the way I died. In a slow southern drawl, he told me he'd be "honored" to have me in his unit. So I've got that going for me.

Before the Persian Gulf War broke out, I volunteered to join the many reservists who had also signed up. Initially, I was accepted. There was a going away party for me at the courthouse. Others took me to lunch. I was very popular.

I made it as far as battalion headquarters in Burlington. There I was told that there was a very good chance my unit would soon be activated. They needed me there because I was a Chief of Smoke. But they'd be "honored" to have me.

When I returned to the courthouse the following day, I was pretty much the laughing stock. I still hear about it. At my Reserve unit, I soon realized it had been pretty much gutted. All the young guys were gone. Some went on to become helicopter pilots and tank commanders. Every now and then, one would call or even drop in.

Some say I was passed over because I was too old. I prefer to think I was too good-looking.

Quite obviously, my experience in the military pales in comparison to those who served in combat, as did my father and daughter. Those are heroes. Unfortunately, some go astray when they return. We need to do a much better job of recognizing post traumatic stress syndrome and caring for combat veterans.

I was delighted to read SNL's Pete Davidson apology to disabled vet and Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw, who lost an eye on his third combat tour in Afghanistan. Davidson had mocked Crenshaw's eyepatch.

"Americans can forgive one another—we can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other," said Crenshaw.

Hope he's right.

He went on to say that Davidson's father was a firefighter who lost his life on 9/11.

"Never Forget."