Monday, April 19, 2021

Preparing For Next Pandemic

Shanin Specter, son of the former US Senator and himself a trial lawyer, has published an essay at Smerconish on beating the next (inevitable) pandemic. Here are his suggestions, with one or two of my own:

1) Pandemic preparedness should be our top national security priority. (Viruses kill more people than war and violence combined). 

2) FDA must be more flexible. (I personally think the FDA showed flexibility).

3) Political decisions must be made by elected officials. I believe that decisions made by Rachel Levine, who was elected by no one and is no epidemiologist, had a very negative impact on our economy, educational system and, in the end, our overall health. Her Orders should have first been approved by a bipartisan group of elected officials. 

4) Governors must share their power with legislatures. We are a nation that was formed precisely because we oppose one-man rule. While extreme emergency makes this necessary, this concentration of power in the hands of one man should be diluted as quickly as possible. Failure to do this resulted in abuse and favoritism in Pa. 

5) Politics must stop at the pandemic's edge. Trump, worried about his re-election, constantly downplayed the virus. Democrats overreacted, no doubt in a desire to see Trump defeated. Both sides lost and people still died. Now commonsense precautions like masks are derided as affronts to freedom.

6) Honest Communication is vitally important. This was completely botched by CDC and public health experts. Trump actually admits he downplayed what he knew was a serious crisis. This discovery undermined public confidence in his response. 

7) Complete transparency is vitally important. Both Wolf and Cuomo played games with the data concerning infections and deaths, especially at nursing homes. Wolf arbitrarily granted exemptions to businesses in which he or other highly placed officials once had an interest. He made decisions behind closed doors with a group that failed to include a single public health expert.  

We can do better next time, and make no mistake, there will be a next time. 

Covid-19 Vaccine: Inform Yourself, and Make Your Choice

According to Reuters, about half of the US population (including me) have received at least one of the three vaccines approved for emergency use. This is a personal choice, and I fully respect those who are concerned about side effects. Moreover, no vaccine is 100% effective. You can still contract Covid-19, and it's still unclear just how long immunity lasts  Both the Mayo Clinic and CDC have FAQs concerning the vaccine. It also dispels misinformation being spread by the uninformed. This unfortunately includes misinformation being spewed by NorCo GOP Exec candidate Steve Lynch. Four years ago, he'd be dismissed as someone from the fringe. Now he's poised to be the Republican standard bearer. 

He has referred to this vaccine, which is voluntary, as "medical tyranny." He has falsely claimed it alters your DNA. He vilifies Dr. Anthony Fauci, who he calls Fraudi, as "corrupt to the core."

Bethlehem Mayor Donchez Hits Pause Button on 8.4% Water Rate Hike

Last year, and in the middle of a pandemic, Bethlehem imposed a five per cent tax increase.  Without flinching, the so-called Christmas City also shackled citizens with a new stormwater fee that could have waited a year or two. In addition to making the city more expensive, Bethlehem's elected representatives also voted to make it less safe. Five firefighter positions were cut from the budget. The only person who had the sense to say No to this nonsense was Council member Bryan Callahan. The rest of them, including Mayoral candidate Willie Reynolds, were quick to stick it to the ordinary Joes. No consideration was given to the very real likelihood that cities would be getting recovery money.  When that happened, schoolteacher-turned business Administrator Eric Evans gave Callahan a song-and-dance when the latter suggested that officials use that money to hire firefighters and return the tax hike. While the City drags its feet on what to do with its $33.1 million windfall from the feds, it was quick to announce on Friday that a 8.4% water hike is coming. This will be imposed on all customers using Bethlehem water. But finally, Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez has hit the pause button. 

This rate hike can be paid, at least temporarily, through the monies the city receives from The American Rescue Plan. Hopefully, he recognizes that there are no money trees in the back yards of Bethlehem residents. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Is the Lehigh Valley Just a Wrestling Powerhouse?

Northampton County Exec Lamont McClure last night lauded Northampton Area High School senior Jagger Condomitti. Om March 13, Jagger won the Class 3A PIAA state wrestling championship in the 165-lbs. weight class. It is his first state championship, and Northampton's 24th. 

Jagger's mom and grandfather were county employees, which undoubtedly explains how he learned to wrestle. 

"We're all very proud of him," said McClure. 

"Congratulations to a fellow Konkrete Kid," echoed Council member Ron Heckman. 

McClure added that some areas of the state have star basketball players. Others have elite football teams. But the Lehigh Valley is a "wrestling powerhouse." 

I'd say the Lehigh Valley produces outstanding athletes in pretty much all sports. You'll find them at numerous D1 schools. Allentown Central Catholic just won a state basketball championship. It did that before, when it was Michael Koury, Sr., father of our current President Judge. At that time, the PJ-in-training was the team mascot.  

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Early Voting Now Available at NorCo Courthouse

One of the biggest changes to Pennsylvania's election l;aw is early voting. Many people, including Executive Lamont McClure, voted that way in last year's Presidential election. This year's municipal primary, is set for May 18. But starting yesterday, you can vote early by appearing at the courthouse elections office and requesting a ballot. 

Early voting will continue, Monday thru Friday, between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm, until May 11. 

Let's say you'd like to vote but never registered. You can kill two birds with one stone and do both. 

If you wish to register or vote early, you must have ID and fill out a request for a ballot. 

If you've applied to vote by mail, as I have, you are ineligible for early voting. 

If you'd prefer to vote at your precinct, and hope there's a bake sale, that option will be available on May 18. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Zanelli Embellished Her Social Work in Jersey

Amy Zanelli is running for Magisterial District Judge in West Bethlehem and Fountain Hill.  I told you yesterday that she was employed in Somerset County, NJ, as an intake workers on complaints of child abuse and neglect. But she was fired in 2012 for taking off too much and lost an appeal. She later got a job in Northampton County's Children and Youth Department, but failed to last through her probationary period. 

She never bothered mentioning these terminations when she spoke with a fawning Josh Popichak in February. What she did do is embellish her role as a social worker. 

"My ability to see things others didn't led me to go into investigative work on a state level for the State of New Jersey," she told him. "I specialized in sex crimes and homicides and abuse and neglect for children ... ." 

She made herself sound like she some sort of super detective. In reality, she was a caseworker

She also claimed she was forced to move here because she was a target in New Jersey. 

Alrighty then. 

Could LV's Vacant Churches Help Provide Affordable Housing?

Allentown Council person Daryl Hendricks has indicated several times that he's concerned about the large number of vacant churches in the Queen City. They often fall into disrepair and become fire hazards. Allentown's problem is by no means unique. Churches are being shuttered, not just in the Lehigh Valley, but across the country. According to ICMA, approximately 100,000 of the nation's 384,000 houses of worship will be closed within the next few years. Why not use them for low and moderate-income housing? 

Churches are closing because less than half of us consider ourselves church members. 

These have often served as sanctuaries for those who've fallen on hard times, with food banks and soup kitchens. Church basements have often been used as community centers. 

While each situation is different, I believe many churches can be repurposed to provide community centers, senior centers, gyms for urban youth and apartments for low and middle-income renters. Ideally, the repurpose would continue some of the functions previously provided by a church. 

Some Allentown activists have suggested tiny homes. I have often advocated their use, and not just fior the homeless. But that should be just one solution. Repurposing vacant churches could get them on tax rolls and provide decent homes.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Judicial Candidate Amy Zanelli Supports Looting, Lies About Being Fired

Amy Zanelli has said she could remain a Lehigh County Commissioner for the next 30 years if she wanted. But after a May 1 Facebook post in which she supported looting as an appropriate response to slavery, she's decided to bring her special brand of justice to the people of West Bethlehem and Fountain Hill. She's running for magisterial district judge, and with the blessing of LV4All. If you own a business there, now might be a good time to invest in security upgrades. If you decide to get the hell out of there, you can use her as your realtor. You see, even if she gets elected to this $93,338 a year job, she can still carry on side gigs like her realtor job. Of course, you can throw the antiquated notion of a detached and neutral jurist out the window. So long as she pretends to care about social issues, you can overlook little things like Zanelli's inability to hold a job. And we can all wink when she denies she was fired. After all, and as she'll tell you herself, she's beautiful. 

A beautiful liar.     

Zanelli likes to hold herself out as some sort of super child abuse investigator from Jersey.  She has even told people this past will give her some sort of edge as a magisterial district judge. It's certainly true she had been employed as an intake worker in Somerset County. But she was terminated in 2012 because she refused to return to work after receiving a number of leaves of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Though she refused to work, she dropped in on her office one day to deliver Avon products to co-workers. 

Zanelli appealed her termination and lost.

She told me she was a victim of discrimination.

Zanelli also worked in Northampton County Children and Youth as a caseworker between March and October 2015. She was terminated there as well, and during her probationary period.

She told me this was because her hours had been expanded beyond the time she had agreed to give. 

I reported these terminations when Zanelli was running for Commissioner. She responded that my story was "false accusations and fake news. With that said, this would not be the first time in history that an intelligent, well-spoken, beautiful woman has intimidated a man who then feels the need to spread rumors and lies in an attempt to tear her down."  

I'm glad Zanelli has such a lofty opinion of herself. But guess what? Zanelli's own lawyer has admitted to these terminations, and in a setting where lying is a crime. 

Zanelli is currently involved in a rather protracted custody dispute with her ex-husband. She's already gone through several lawyers, and is currently is represented by David Harrington. He just happens to be both a fellow Lehigh County Commissioner and a member of LV4All's Exec Committee. 

I have no intention of discussing the custody action itself. Those are sad situations. What I do intend to discuss is her past employment. 

In her Pretrial Memorandum (filed 9/22/16 at 2014-3733), Zanelli's attorney makes the following admission: "Mother was employed long term in New Jersey as a social worker. The Mother was a union member. The Mother was terminated from her employment in 2012 and as a result of the termination the Mother filed a grievance. The Mother recently received an Order with supporting Opinion denying her claim."

In another Opinion and Order of the Court signed by President Judge Michael Koury, Jr. on 8/23/17,  he notes that Zanelli was employed after she separated from her husband, but was "terminated from the position." This refers to her job at Northampton County.  

So contrary to Zanelli's "fake news" assertions (where have I heard that before?), she was terminated twice as a social worker for children, both in Jersey and NorCo. 

She's dishonest, has a very inflated opinion of herself, and has actually defended looting. A person like her should never be allowed near the front lines of our justice system. 

Fortunately, retired Bethlehem police officer and criminal justice professor Van Scott is also running. He has something Amy Zanelli lacks - integrity.   

"Four things belong to a judge: To hear courteously; to answer wisely; to consider soberly; and to decide impartially." - Socrates 

Osborne: Time For Trust in South Whitehall II

As a former commissioner pointed out in the BOC meeting last Wednesday, there is a lack of trust among the board members. I think actually the question of trust may be present in the community as well. Here are just some of the topics to consider:

  1. The Covid Caper . . . the $326,000 of Covid relief money that came to the township last fall was spent without any input, knowledge or vote of the board. $138,000 of that was spent for rent of the ROMA building, an expense already in the 2020 budget. After this became public, three members of the board authorized taking $115,000 from the underfunded Fiscal Stability Fund to give to qualified businesses. Why not give these businesses $138,000 from the Relief Fund instead of padding the township coffers?

  2. AWOL on Audits . . .although annual financial audits are required by Pennsylvania law, South Whitehall has not completed an audit in the last 10 years. Two commissioners asked in open session why the audits were not completed and got no answers. What is going on here?

  3. When for Wehr’s Dam? . . . a 2016 referendum approved borrowing up to $600,000 for the repair of Wehr’s Dam, but an engineering study is as far as the initiative has gone in 5 years. Last year, a recently-resigned commissioner wondered aloud how the township “can get out from under this obligation.” In other words, how can the township thwart the will of the people? Is this sentiment the reason little progress has been made?

  4. Comp Plan Canceled . . . the 2009 Comprehensive Plan called for the township to “assess the public’s view on farmland preservation and the use of taxpayer money to preserve more farms.” The vision in the plan also asked the township to “consider a municipal farmland preservation program through purchase of development rights.” Twelve years later, nothing . . . yes, absolutely nothing. Instead, the BOC reversed the tractor gears and adopted the Innovation Overlay District in 2014, a zoning revision that created the concentrated and controversial developments in the township today.

  5. Labor Negotiations Loused Up . . . Some members of the board were denied the right to provide input and guidance before contract negotiations started, as well as the right to attend negotiations for monitoring purposes. Long-term and loyal Public Works employees rejected the administration’s demands and the first labor strike in over 30 years resulted.

  6. Midnight Madness . . . And perhaps the most egregious of all offenses, South Whitehall has a now-sitting commissioner appointed without advertisement, without it being an agenda item, without public comment, occurring, at 11:45 pm, and as The Morning Call headline read on December 5, 2019 “Catcalling, lack of transparency, mistrust’: South Whitehall residents lash out at commissioners over appointment.” Hard to imagine anything worse?

Based on the above information, do you trust the current leadership of South Whitehall?

Monday, April 12, 2021

Grubb Joins Callahan Call to Roll Back Tax Hike, Reinstate Firefighters

 From Dana Grubb's Campaign: Mayoral candidate Dana Grubb supports Councilperson Bryan Callahan’s proposal to use part of the $33.7 million federal COVID relief funds to  reverse the impact of the 5% real estate tax increase imposed by the City of Bethlehem's 2021 budget. Grubb also feels that some of the COVID funding should be used to restore the four firefighter positions that were eliminated in that budget.

“I disagreed with the combination of tax increase, firefighter cuts, and the introduction of a stormwater tax during the pandemic, at a time when many residents are hurting financially,” says Grubb. "Some on City Council, like their constituents, were probably severely impacted by the pandemic, so I would think they would support their colleague's proposal, which is an avenue for healing."

Grubb feels that public meetings to solicit input from residents should be incorporated into the decision making process for the allocation of the COVID relief funding. 

"The pandemic compels us to be our best selves, to come together to help each other and listen to each other," Grubb notes. "The residents come first. City officials should be looking out for them: not adding to their burden, but easing it." He adds that the COVID funding provides city government an avenue to help alleviate some of the hardship that came to everyone as a result of the pandemic. 

Blogger's Note: Though municipalities await specific guidelines, the express language of the American Rescue Plan Act  provides that money being sent directly to municipalities can be used to replace lost revenue. That obviates the need for the 5% tax hike so callously imposed in Bethlehem last year. It also should enable restoration of the firefighters. 

Callahan was the sole member of Council who said No to a tax hike and elimination of four firefighters in the middle of a pandemic. When he suggested that it's now possible to roll back that tax hike and reinstate firefighters, his fellow Council members responded with stony silence.  If they actually cared about the citizens they pretend to represent, that might have been a good time for them to open their mouths. 

Osborne: Time for Trust in South Whitehall Tp

While an WFMZ headline read “South Whitehall Commissioners Start Hitting Gridlock” in describing the BOC meeting last Wednesday, many others saw it as the first time in the last 15 months that progress was made towards meaningful and consequential discussion in their township without a pre-determined outcome. You see, Matthew Mobilio, a reliable ally and vote for board president Tori Morgan and appointed Commissioner Joe Setton, resigned abruptly last week, setting up a 2-2 dynamic between the previously unrelenting majority and the opposing two highest vote-getters in the last election.

It all came to a head when the nomination of a Planning Commission candidate (who I cast no judgement on) was up for a vote. Without any significant background information, president Tori Morgan, who also serves on the Interview Committee along with the now absent Commissioner Matthew Mobilio, tried to push the nominee through as though she had her reliable allies on her side. But wait . . . good questions and discussion came up concerning the process involved in selecting this candidate, resulting in Morgan complaining at one point that this was the same, or similar, process used for years.

So why was her nomination for the Planning Commission questioned? Well, surprisingly, the answer came just a couple minutes later when a former commissioner colleague said “you don’t trust each other!” Bingo! This process, and others, that worked for a long time in the past for the board, the administration and the public is now questioned because of a lack of trust! This process historically was based on involvement of all board members from beginning to end, wide-ranging (but the same), questions posed to each of the applicants, and full disclosure of the candidates’ responses before a recommendation was made to the full board. Apparently, the process has been skewed to the point where it is unrecognizable to what was successful in the past, but for the unwary, easily passed off as the “same or similar”. But is even this point important? Should the vestiges of the past become “rule of law” and take precedence over the direction of the future? Is the status quo what the residents want, or did they express their wishes in the past election by voting in two commissioners who are pushing for transparency and change?

I think the former commissioner is right - that pesky little thing called “trust” has been lost over the last several years. I’ve written about the quite obvious lack of transparency and communication, but he actually voiced the natural consequence of conducting local government business this way. Credit to him.

How and why has trust been lost? I will address this tomorrow. But in the meantime, do you have any thoughts on this? Have you’ve seen things happen, or not happen, that make you question your own trust level in South Whitehall today?

Blogger's Note: Blogger Michael Molovinsky asserts that the way South Whitehall's BOC has handled Wehr's Dam has made him question his trust level.  

Bethlehem: Bob Donchez Donates $2,500 to Willie Reynolds' Mayoral Campaign

Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez appears to have made his choice regarding his successor. There's been no official endorsement, at least. But in Hizzoner's latest campaign finance disclosure, filed last week,  Donchez  reports a $2,500 contribution to Willie on January 14. 

Donchez started off the year with a $107,000 warchest, but donated $6,650 to candidates in this year's races. His other contributions are as follows:

$2,500 to Lamont McClure on January 14. (NorCo Exec race)

$1,000 to Phil Armstrong on January 23 (LC Exec race).

$500 to Bill McGee on January 31 (NorCo Council)

$150 to Amy Zanelli on January 31 (MDJ race in West Bethlehem)

Heckman Formally Announces Candidacy for Re-Election to NorCo Council

From Ron Heckman: I am seeking re-election to Northampton County Council in the spring primary election on the Democratic ticket.

County government is a predominately service-based level of government. Council must do their job with professionalism and in an efficient and cost-effective manner while also doing their homework and asking tough questions.

My record has been one of providing the most effective county government possible for the least amount of taxpayer dollars. During my three terms as councilman, I never voted for a tax increase. I voted to eliminate the personal property tax and reduce the county’s real estate tax burden. I also wrote the county’s first Farmland Preservation Resolution as well as the Local Labor Ordinance.

As your County Councilman, I am determined to focus much of my energy on the needs of the Department of Human Services. We must ensure that the county’s nursing home, Gracedale, is properly maintained and supported. We also must ensure that services vital to our most vulnerable citizens are protected and delivered efficiently. During this Covid-19 pandemic, the county faced numerous challenges and council responded vigorously.

My background as the past president of county council and as a former Director of Northampton County’s largest Department (Human Services) has given me a strong understanding of the need to monitor public tax dollars in an effective manner. If re-elected, I will again put my experience to work for all the citizens of Northampton County.

Blogger's Note: I've already told you Ron Heckman has filed his nomination petition, so his announcement is a formality. You might have the impression I dislike Heckman because I often am critical of his musings, but I intend to vote for him. He and Republican John Cusick are the two members of Council most knowledgeable about the inside workings of the county. Heckman actually has an edge over Cusick because Ron also worked for eight years as the Director of Human Services. 

In addition to his knowledge, Heckman is one of the few Council members who understands that it is Council, and not the Executive, who is the governing body. Unfortunately, and this is with all levels of government, legislative bodies have been all-too-willing to abdicate their powers to an Executive. This is completely contrary to what the founding fathers wanted. 

Finally, I think Heckman comes closest of all Council members to demonstrating the qualities of "mercy" and "justice" inscribed on the county seal. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

The Ugly Mob Wants to Rule in Allentown

On January 6, seven busloads of phony patriots traveled from the Lehigh Valley to the nation's capitol to disrupt the Congress of the United States as they counted the electoral votes to declare Joe Biden the President of the United States. Spurred on by Donald Trump, a violent mob stormed Congress. Among those who accompanied this mob was NorCo's GOP Exec candidate Steve Lynch. "It's goin' down!" he shouted, festooned in a bulletproof vest.  These thugs did patriotic things like erecting a gallows to hang the Vice President, looted offices and smeared shit along the walls. Most of us would agree this was an attempted coup or insurrection.  I'm sure that a progressive organization like LV4All would agree with this assessment. Yet this organization endorsed a slate of candidates who were part of an ugly mob doing very much the same thing in Allentown last summer. 

Based on a misinterpretation of a brief video clip of an Allentown police officer who was actually trying to help a staggering and puking drug addict, an angry mob erupted. For months, Allentown City Council had to conduct meetings while these goons banged on the doors and windows. Convicted felons like Hasshan Batts led them in chants of "Fuck the Police." Ce-Ce Gerlach, now a candidate for Mayor, marched with a mobs shouting this and other epithets. Justan Parker Fields, who has finally started using his real name, stirred the flames with his bullhorn.  As tensions grew, Batts began to suggest the mob would start breaking the law and wanted lawyers and bail funds set up. Ashley Swift was one of the ringleaders attempting to disrupt Allentown City Council.

Amazingly, L4All has endorsed these demagogues in Allentown. Ce-Ce Gerlach, Justan Parker Fields and Patrick Palmer are very much part of Allentown's problem, not a solution. 

Why Breena Holland Supports Dana Grubb for Bethlehem Mayor

Breena Holland is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative at Lehigh University. She earned her doctorate and master's degree at the University of Chicago. She and I have been on the opposite sides of many issues. She supports a plastic straw ban. I think it would be more meaningful to pay people who need work $15 an hour, funded from the county's open space fund, to sweep the stream banks for garbage. She opposed a parking deck on Bethlehem's south side. I thought it was needed. But she's also prescient. Back in 2012, it was Holland who gave a Town Hall lecture on the need for better public health. 

While we have our differences, we agree that Dana Grubb is the obvious choice for Bethlehem Mayor. 

Grubb's opponent in this race for the Democratic nomination is City Council person J. Willie Reynolds. I've already told you that at their LV4All presentations, Reynolds called Grubb a liar when he denied seeking endorsements from local elected officials. I've known Grubb for decades. He's never misled me on anything. Moreover, he told me earlier this year that he had decided against seeking endorsements from current local elected officials. But Willie's fellow Council person, Paige Van Wirt, had a breakfast meeting with Dana after which she may have told Willie that her endorsement was sought or Willie may have misunderstood her. I suspect it was the latter. 

One of Willie's supporters posted an anonymous comment on my blog stating Dana was "begging for endorsements from Van Wirt and Olga last year already, and he had Breena Holland and Barbara Diamond pushing Van Wirt to endorse him. Maybe he changed his tune about endorsements after they refused, but he did ask." This person added, "Breena and Diamond also tried to hijack the LV4ALL meeting and pushed the group to endorse Dana."

This led Breena Holland herself to respond, and here's what she says. 

"This is Breena Holland and you need to get your facts right. Feel free to ask PVW if I ever pushed her to endorse Dana. Additionally, Barbara Diamond was not at the LV4ALL meeting. That was me setting the record straight on WR, because people deserve to know the who they are voting for. A lot of LV4All people don't follow Bethlehem politics closely. Willie has consistently made bad decisions and endeavored to exercise absolute control over council, somewhat successfully for a long time. His newly proclaimed mature and kinder self is awfully convenient and I don't personally think he has earned the support of progressives. But putting that aside, he has no experience inside city hall or running anything but a classroom. We've had a school teacher running the city for 8 years, and if you want more of that kind of leadership, then you should vote for Willie. I want someone to run the city who has a demonstrated commitment to principle and integrity, who I believe is capable of figuring out how to make government function better, and who will do what is best for Bethlehem's South Side, which I think of as the area of our city that currently needs the most attention from city government. That person is not Willie Reynolds. Dana has more experience, more integrity, more ideas about how to actually get something done. He is honest, fair, and actually listens to people who disagree with him. Willie does not do these things unless he needs something from you. Willie speaks in feelgood generalizations and his explanation of how to get things done seems to involve a lot of convening others to do it. They are just not the answers I'm personally looking for. He may be well-intentioned, although I've personally suffered plenty of his vitriol, so I don't think he's well-intentioned about me. Freaking out because people are presenting facts about his own record demonstrates his incapacity. Calling Dana a liar over something that he couldn't actually know to be factually correct demonstrates his tendency to mischaracterize others and protect himself when challenged. He's done this for years. It's not new behavior, just wrapped up in a box that is all about vision and positivity--so long as you agree with him, of course."

Breena identifies herself. The Willie supporter chose to remain anonymous. 

Unfortunately, since both Breena and I agree about Dana, he's bound to lose.