Monday, November 28, 2022

Road Lining on Newburg Road


I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation for this road painting job on Newburg Road in Lower Nazareth.

Covid Screws NorCo's Hydropower Screw Project

On July 19, 2018, Northampton County Council voted 7-2 (Peg Ferraro and John Cusick dissented) to lend up to $1.5 million in matching funds for a small hydropower plant in Hugh Moore Park along the Delaware and Lehigh Canal. The private company benefiting from this government largesse, New England Hydropower Company, planned to use ancient technology - a modified Archimedes screw - to produce hydropower. Four years have passed since that time, so it's fair to ask whether we've been screwed by the Archimedes screw. New England's CEO,  Michael Kerr, updated Council on November 17. 

Kerr explained that jurisdiction over hydropower plants is governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). They need a license to operate, but Covid was a logjam for this canal project. "Stuff just didn't happen," said Kerr. It is only in March that things picked up. 

Kerr advises that hydropower is five time more efficient than solar and three times for efficient than wind. It will run for 60 years. The company will also build a dry dock for maintenance on the canal barge. It will be enough to power 500 homes, but there are plans to provide the energy to a local college. 

Kerr intends to file with FERC in December, and once approval is obtained, it will take another year to get the turbines manufactured. They should produce energy for 

Hydropower only accounts for about seven per cent of America's energy usage, said Kerr. Pennsylvania has the second highest number of rivers, but only one per cent of its energy comes from hydropower. 

It's a $10 million project, and New England is coming up with $7 million on its own. Of the $1.5 million from the county, there still is about $1.1 million available. Most of the money spent has gone to soft costs like engineering and design. 

Private investors will be encouraged with tax credits.  

Council member John Cusick noted that three different federal laws have been enacted and asked whether New England has sought funds under these laws. Kerr answered that the tax credits he mentioned are enabled by these laws. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Steve Lynch, NorCo GOP State Committeeman, Thinks Public Executions Will Solve Gun Violence

NorCo GOP State Committeeman Steve Lynch has a solution to mass shooting like the recent one in Virginia. "This has nothing to do with guns! Stop focusing on inanimate objects and focus on the killers and the punishment that needs to be enforced upon him. How you truly fix the problem is by raining down unbelievable penalties for murderers and rapists. Public executions will do the trick. No one wants to fix the problems because no one wants to talk about the real solutions necessary to scare away crime."

Alrighty then. 

The death penalty, whether public or private, never has reduced the crime rate in this country. But it sounds tough, doesn't it? I imagine it would really help out local economies, too. People could sell hot dogs and cool T-shirts. Cash-strapped governments might even consider charging admission. They could raffle off  throwing stones or sell of pieces of the hangman's noose. 

Yeah, it's time to join more enlightened nations like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

Hey if public execution was good enough for Jesus, it must be OK. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Seeing-Eye Dog Continues To Shed Pounds

Blogger's Note: I periodically suffer from blurred vision, caused by styes developed from walking and cycling in windy weather. So I'll offer this short story instead if the usual politics. 

In early August, I started to walk a very cool black lab named Mason. He's a seeing-eye dog. His owner has been unable to exercise him, and he gained weight. He was 140 pounds when I started. He should be about 90 pounds, I'm told.  In late September, he was down to 128 pounds. Yesterday, I walked him down to the local vet, where he weighed in at a sleek 118 pounds. 

When we first started, he was exhausted after about a half mile. He was also bothered a bit by the heat. As time went on, we gradually increased the distances. These days, he goes anywhere from 3 to 5 miles daily. He really looks forward to it, and has much more energy than he did in August. 

I've almost been fired a few times. Once, he tore after a fox and both of us ended up covered with burrs and nettle. Not long ago, we got nailed by a skunk during a night walk. I never even saw the stinker. 

This dog has managed to find trails that led us to a hidden baseball field as well as the Indian Tower. He's also discovered nearly every pond and stream within a five-mile radius of Nazareth.  

This fellow was trained for two years before being paired up with his owner. He's extremely intelligent. For one thing, he knows the difference between left and right. Most people have trouble with that. 

He also has an incredible sense of smell. He will stick his nose in the air and whimper to let me know that another animal is near, long before I see it. He loves a game in which I hide small pieces of hot dog and have him seek them. I think he could probably have been used as a drug detector if he washed out as a seeing-eye dog. 

This is as good for me as it is for him. Walking is a great exercise and a great alternative to cycling. 

NorCo's Elections Results Now Official

Northampton County's elections results are now official. There were no challenges or controversies during an election with a 58.38% turnout. There were 36,401 votes collected by mail or early voting, and 94,276 ballots cast at the voting precint. In addition, 708 provisional ballots were cast.

At last week's County Council meeting, Executive Lamont McClure was happy to report a drama-free election. He commended the 750 citizens who work the polls for the county on a very long election day. He thanked Deputy Sheriffs who collected ballots cast at the drop boxes as well as the maintenance department, who made sure that voting machines were in place. He lavished well-deserved praise was reserved for the elections office staff, now headed by Chris Commini. But the primary focus of his gratitude was "indispensable Amy" Hess, the Deputy Registrar. "Amy knows how to put on an election. ... We are so fortunate that we still have her."

"I appreciate every one of you and the effort you put in," echoed Council President Lori Vargo Heffner. "Don't believe a bad word anybody says about you because it's just not true." 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

UPDATED: NorCo Council Moves to Kill Health Center

At this time last year, Northampton County Council was considering a long-awaited pay study, Gracedale performance audit and a review of IT. Over the objections of the Executive, it set aside $450,000 for that purpose in December. Since that time, nearly a year has gone by without issuing a request for proposals (RFP). It was finally sent out on Thursday of last week. Council wasted a year with resolutions and ordinances, even a meeting in which it called a "Clerk" as an expert on pay studies, RFPs and Gracedale audits. In violation of its own ordinance, it last week watered down its much ballyhooed pay study so that it applies only to nonunion workers. It did so without even bothering to vote on it. At the rate it's going, the current workforce will be long retired before there's ever a pay study.  

Council works very hard to move as slowly as possible, and is doing so now with a proposed health center for county workers. Executive Lamont McClure has yet to make a formal proposal, but Council has actually introduced an ordinance designed to make sure it never happens. It's sponsored by Council members John Goffredo and Tom Giovanni. I respect legislative resistance to being rushed. But there has never been any urgency. This ordinance is little more than an attempt by legislators to ensure nothing happens. We've all seen gridlock on a federal and state level, and now it is beginning to rear its ugly head in county government. 

The proposed ordinance was introduced without discussion last week. On its face, it's dishonest. 

It falsely states  that "Northampton County Council has not been advised as to the start up costs for this Employee Health Center, liability issues, operational costs, return on investment, and detailed projected cost savings to Northampton County, if any ... ."

Integrity Health Center, a Princeton-based health center, has already presented twice to Northampton County Council, both here and here. Council has been provided at least one memorandum, responding to concerns raised. Doug Forrester, the founder and CEO at Integrity, has personally appeared at both presentations. He has also invited Council members to reach out to him with any questions. 

In contrast to misrepresentations made in the proposed ordinance, County Council has been advised that the health center will cost $800,000 a year to operate. It has been told there will be start-up costs for a facility ($2.2 million estimate) and equipment ($300,000) estimate. It has been informed that it could expect to see between 1.8 and 2.2 times its annual investment in saved medical costs. ($1.44 million to $1.76 million). Council has been told how many people will staff this center and what they will be paid. John Goffredo knows this because he questioned Integrity about the nurse salaries during the second presentation. They've also been told that there's money in the budget for this project, which is located under medical costs. 

In addition to its misrepresentations, Council also objects to a voluntary survey of the workforce because it was only completed by about 450 of 2000 workers. It wants another survey done. Frankly, I'm unsure whether a public employee can be forced to respond to a survey. The same folks who complain about mask mandates want to force county workers to participate in a survey. I doubt that can be compelled, especially among union workers. This objection is really little more than a red herring. 

In this ordinance banning a health center before it is even formally proposed, Council demands a Request For Proposals in accordance with the Administrative Code, Section 13.07. There's no need for an ordinance telling the county to follow another ordinance. That's what the law already requires. It even specifically permits noncompetitive negotiations with a sole source, so long as the Exec explains why this is necessary and Council agrees.  

Council has thus far failed to even seek proposals on the pay study promised a year ago. Now it wants to screw employees out of an exclusive and voluntary health center designed to give them same day medical service with no co-pay. It also wants to screw taxpayers out of $1.44-$1.77 million in savings a year. 

This is not good government. This is gridlock.

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner has told WFMZ-TV69 that Council has the right to take all the time it needs and get all the information it wants. It also has obligations to the employees and taxpayers. Based on the way it has mishandled the pay study and Gracedale audit over the course of a full year, I'd say Council needs to get off its ass.  

She complains that the Exec has failed to state where the center will be located. That's a bit disingenuous on her part. She knows very well that the County has a location in mind because she's been so advised during a public meeting. The County is unwilling to publicly identify the location only because it is unwilling to prejudice itself in lease negotiations. That's called looking out for the taxpayer. 

Vargo Heffner also states that "[m]ost of Council feel this is an inappropriate way to approach this." Really? Has she been conducting meetings privately? Behind closed doors?  How the hell does she know what most members of Council want? There's been no such expression at any public meeting. There have been concerns raised and answered.  

If Council were really interested in helping the employees and taxpayers, it could invite one of the five governmental entities already using Integrity to explain how it has worked. I understand that Integrity has even offered to set it up. Shouldn't that be part of Council's due diligence instead of just rejecting an idea out of hand? Why has it failed to do this? 

Let's review, shall we?  A New Jersey company that specializes in public health centers and already has five locations has offered its services to NorCo. It would be a voluntary health center, one that an employee could use if he wants for all or just some medical services. It would be exclusive to NorCo employees. There would be no co-pay. It would be open every day, with  hours that will be optimized for the workforce. It will offer same-day appointments to county workers for a wide variety of medical services, including mental health counseling. Start up costs are about $2.5 million, and operation costs are about $800,000. This will save the county between $1.44 and $1.77 per year in medical costs. It is popular with 450 employees who responded to a survey.   

Council, for no real good reason, wants to either kill it or erect so many obstacles that it will never get off the ground. 

UPDATED 11 am: In my original version of this story, I incorrectly reported that the RFPs for a pay study and Gracedale audit were still collecting dust. They went out on Thursday. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Left and Right Criticized For Expressing Sympathy After Colorado Springs Shooting

Over the weekend, we were all victimized by the latest mass shooting.  A lone gunman entered a gay bar in Colorado Springs and started shooting. Five people are dead and another 25 are wounded. A suspect is in custody. It's unclear to me whether this is a hate crime, mental illness or both. There is no dispute this is a mass shooting. Sadly, liberals who have offered condolences are being slammed by phony patriots, and conservatives who have sympathized are getting slammed from the left. We are as divided as ever, thanks to the extremes.

I did not vote for Senator-elect John Fetterman. But after the shooting, he tweeted he is "angry" and "devastated" "Our hearts are with Colorado Springs." 

Failed NorCo Exec candidate and drama queen Steve Lynch reacted to this sympathy tweet by accusing "Fetterwoman" of "hypocrisy." "You're going to wish you stayed in the shadows as you did as lieutenant governor. Better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove everybody right."

I believe that's what Lynch himself did. 

On a completely different planet than Fetterman, pistol-packin' Lauren Boebert tweeted, "This morning the victims & their families are in my prayers. This lawless violence needs to end and end quickly.”

Just as Fetterman was slammed by Lynch. Boebert was attacked by squad member AOC with this: "You don’t get to “thoughts and prayers” your way out of this. Look inward and change."

Fetterman and Boebert are both vilified for acting like decent human beings by extremists on the other side who clearly lack any empathy.  

Kerry Myers, NorCo Council President?

Those who know him tell me Kerry Myers is a great guy, so long as he holds no office. I'm no pal, but have spoken to him a few times before his election to Northampton County Council.  He was likable and down-to-earth. Something happened after his election.  He morphed from nice guy to pretentious asshole in a matter of months. He's his own biggest fan. He did a very good job of patting himself on the back at a meeting of Easton's School Board last week. He was speaking during courtesy of the floor about a concession stand, but wanted everyone to know how important he is. He finished off his remarks by hinting that he'll soon be County Council President. 

Here are some excerpts of his remarks, which came close to the end of the meeting. (1:24:00) 

"I don't need a microphone. You can turn that damn thing off. I am Kerry Myers. Most of you know me, some of you don't. I am the current President of the Varsity E. I'm also the Vice President of Northampton County Council. I'm a former school board member, past President and VP of this organization. I vowed I never come back in this building when I left in 2011. That didn't work." 

When he learned that the cost of a concession stand at the new Cottingham stadium might be $600,000, he "immediately went into 'What the Hell is going on' mode." He wants the school district to hand over the project to his club. He claimed, incidentally, that the Varsity Club owns the concession stand. 

"I am a 1972 alum. I was the Captain of the basketball team that only finished third in the state. I have my connections. ... ." 

After bragging about his prowess on the basketball court about 100 years ago, Myers takes a shot at Easton's current football program. "We ain't seen a playoff at Cottingham stadium in 10 years, so we ain't gotta' worry about that happening to the football team."

He also accuses school directors of Sunshine Act violations. "When you do things behind closed doors and don't actually talk to the people doing it, this is what happens. This money bites you in the ass."

During this meeting, a duo of educators spoke about homelessness among some students. That means a bit more to me than Myers' quest for control over a concessions stand. 

Myers did address them at the end of his peroration: "Please get ahold of me. I'm at the county level. I'll see what I can do for you. As the Vice President I'll do the best I can. Hopefully in the next few weeks, I might be the President, the first from Easton High School." 

If Myers does become the next Council President, the county should open its own concession stand for  future meetings. It will sell a lot of popcorn. I can form my own Varsity club and run it. 

During a meeting last year, Myers first betrayed his overbearing style when he went into full bully mode on Sheriff Rich Johnston. Myers actually stated that, if he were a Deputy Sheriff, he'd refuse to take orders from Johnston.  

Myers: "I may be the only one here, but - Whooo! - I have a hard time saying I wanna take orders from this guy because I think my life would be in danger. But you hired him. 

McClure: "That's an outrageous statement. No one's life is in danger. None of the management decisions that were questioned tonight put anyone's life in danger. That's an outrageous statement. 

Myers: "Stop. This is my meeting. You can walk away frustrated and mad as hell. I'm running this meeting."

Myers never apologized for his disgusting remarks about the Sheriff, who has more personal integrity than most people I know. He is precisely where he needs to be. 

Myers likes to brag that he was elected with 72% of the vote. He fails to realize that he was elected in a statewide blue wave, He seems to have forgotten that he failed to make it out of the primary in a previous try for County Council ... and in a previous school board race. He forgets that when he left Easton's School Board, it was running at a deficit and he was threatening layoffs unless unions made concessions. He is a polarizing figure who makes Lamont McClure look like Mr. Rogers. 

Friday, November 18, 2022

NorCo Pay Study Limited to NonUnion Workers

Yesterday, at a rare meeting of Northampton County Council's Governance Committee, Deputy Clerk Alene Shafnisky took center stage to discuss Council's pay study, which apparently has still gone nowhere. She pretty much established that she knowns next to nothing about personnel, or bidding. Nor should she. She's a Council Clerk, not a sage. She also said the pay study would be limited to nonunion (career service) workers, which is news to me. Elected officials will be ignored as well. The persons who could more properly advise County Council would be procurement, personnel and fiscal.  

Council member John Goffredo questioned why unions would be excluded. Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni thought it could violate a collective bargaining agreement, but that's pure  nonsense. A pay study would almost certainly find that most union positions are underpaid, and I doubt very much that an unfair labor practice can be filed over something that actually inures to the benefit of the employee. Moreover, a pay study makes no changes to any union contract. So what the hell is Chris talking about?

He does sound very dignified.  

Now I am biased against Chris Spadoni. I admit it. That bastard defeated me in my first ever criminal trial. I still cry over that defeat. He also convinced me decades ago to do a 22-mile run, but then he dropped out after four. All that is irrelevant to my searing logic. Spadoni needs a few refresher courses at Lycoming College, the Harvard of North Central Pennsylvania. 

Aside from all of that, Northampton County Council adopted an ordinance on September 15 calling for a pay study for all employees. If they now wish to limit this to nonunion workers, that requires an act of equal dignity, i.e. an amended ordinance. 

As things stand, County Council is ignoring their own ordinance. 

Bentzoni Talks Farmland Preservation in NorCo

Maria Bentzoni, Tsarina of farmland preservation in Northampton County, updated County Council on her program yesterday. She's been the thumb in the dike preventing a raging flood of warehouses (and truck traffic) in what was once a rural community. Since 1989, she's been the driving force behind the preservation of 18,820 acres on 244 farms, including 20 farms in 2022.  

This is accomplished by the purchase of a farmer's future development rights in what is known as an agricultural conservation easement. This is a very restrictive agreement that runs with the land, not the owner. It prevents the farmland from ever being developed. Statewide, 540,000 acres of farmland have been preserved this way. The money to purchase these easements comes from the state, county and 10 municipalities who contribute valuable earned income tax dollars through referenda approved by the voters. 

Northampton County pays about $4,300 for each acre preserved. This pales in comparison to what a developer is willing to spend, so the farmers who apply for this program are making a major sacrifice to preserve a way of life that is quickly being erased.  According to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, 79% of Northampton County was undeveloped  and farmland in 1972. Now, it's just 47%. 

In her presentation to County Council, Bentzoni laid out several benefits to farmland preservation, aside from slowing the pace of warehouse proliferation.

First, it preserves the industry of farming in a state where one in every seven jobs depends on agriculture. Bentzoni stated that the Lehigh Valley's soil quality is the best in the nation, although she conceded that some farming practices like failure to grow cover crops does tend to degrade things. 

Second, farmland preservation is a way to preserve our heritage and history. 

Third, it helps migratory birds along the largest northern flyway in the U.S. 

Council member John Goffredo lauded Bentzoni on her work, but asked about what efforts are being made to preserve the farmer. She answered that there are numerous other agencies involved in trying to stem the tide of people who have given up on farming as a way of life. She noted that earlier in the week, she participated in a summit of 31 farmers who were provided with tips and access to grants on  improving soil quality.

Council member John Cusick asked Bentzoni about the dwindling number of dairy farms. She said they are struggling because their operating costs are higher than market conditions permit.

Bentzoni's goal is to preserve another 31,000 acres. I hope she can stay on board for another 40 years. 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

NorCo Council Bothered By Lack of Bids For County Work

Yesterday, Northampton Copunty Council considered bids for a general contractor and electrician for improvements at Minsi Lake. They consist of walking paths alonng both east and west shore, parking lots, a restroom and a new pavilion. When this matter originally went out to bid, there were no takers. The project was bid again. In the second go around, 22 potential biiders reviewed theproposal, but only one bid was received for the electrical and general contracting work. This sole bidder is Wilmer R Schultz, which does have offices in Allentown.

Northampton County Council considered this problem last month as well. There were no bids at all for a bathroom replacement project at Louise Moore Park, which forced the county to shop for a plumber in Reading. 

Republican Council members feel that potential bidders are hamstrung by the county's responsible contractor ordinance. Member John Goffredo has suggested that the county consider nonunion bidders who are locally based, so long as they agree to pay a living wage. 

In this case, the sole bid received did come from a local contractor.

Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron previously told Council that this dearth of bids could be for many reasons, including supply chain issues, unavailability or an inability to meet timetables. But it's undeniable that the responsible contractor ordinance could also be one of those reasons. 

"This trend is not a good sign," remarked Council member John Cusick. 

One possible solution is to revise the responsible contractor ordinance to give preference to local contractors who have an apprentice program. If no bid is received, then the connty should be able to consider nonunion contractors who are local, bonded and agree to pay a living wage. 

NorCo Courts Seeks Council Approval For 20 PT JCC Workers

Northampton County's Juvenile Justice Center, the residence for some adjudicated juvenile delinquents, is in crisis mode as a result of a serious shortage of youth care workers. There were 33 vacancies in March. The county has made its highest offer ever to the bargaining unit representing staff, but it has been rejected. Until the facility has a full complement of full-time officers, Court Administrator Jermaine Greene would like to employ as many part-time staffers as he can. He is seeking Council approval of as many as 20 part-time employees to bridge the shortage.  Council will vote on this proposal tonight.