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Friday, January 20, 2017

Brown and NorCo Council Continue Radio Silence Over Ex Adoption Supervisor

In July of last year, Grace Packer's life was brutally taken from her. She was given sleeping pills that failed to work, after which a man admits to have raped and sexually abused her, as his sexually aroused girlfriend watched. After that, she was forced to take a lethal dose of sleeping pills, but she threw up. The couple left her in a third floor attic, bound and gagged, assuming the heat would kill her. When that failed, the man put his arms around her from behind and "squeezed the life out of her." After this brutal act, the loving couple packed Grace in kitty litter and later sawed her desiccated remains and scattered them in Luzerne County, where they were discovered by hunters on Halloween.

Thankfully, that loving couple is now behind bars. What was not generally known until recently is that accused murderer Sara Packer, who was Grace's adopting mother, was an employee of NorCo's Children, Youth and Families (CYF) Division. In fact, she was the adoption supervisor, and was also a foster mother to about 30 children from Berks and Lehigh County. She was also a foster mother to a child from Northampton County.

While the print media yawned and prepared for Christmas, WFMZ-TV69 and NBC10 were tracking down the rumor that Packer had at onetime been Northampton County's adoption supervisor. Deanna Durante reported this on December 28, and WFMZ-TV69 made the connection even earlier, on December 23.

Durante had been making inquiries with the county since early December, and had run into a stone wall. Calls went unreturned. Then she was misled and told that the County has no employee named Sara Packer, without telling her that Packer had been fired in 2010. After hitting roadblocks everywhere she went, she called every member of Northampton County Council. Ken Kraft told her to speak to Controller Steve Barron, and he connected the dots and provided her with information that the public had every right to know.

"Basically, no one else would speak," Barron explained."I would."

After about a week of publicity on local television stations, it finally dawned on print media that this just might be a story. So they joined the chorus of voices with all kinds of questions for the John Brown administration.. Administrator Cathy Allen issued a two sentence news release that failed to do anything to reassure the public about CYF. This silence continued in the face of claims of ineptness in CYF by a recently retired supervisor. It continued as it became known that Sara Packer's termination was clearly related to allegations of abuse involving Grace, which included the prosecution of Sara's now ex-husband for sexually abusing Grace when she was about nine years old.

Every day another shoe would drop.

Yesterday, Bethlehem Attorney and NorCo Exec candidate Lamont McClure took Brown to task:

"The County administration has been very slow to explain how this alleged person involved in this horrible death was in charge of adoptions in this county. This Executive has yet to fully explain and put the people of Northampton County at ease with respect to what her role was, what she did, what cases she handled, and the people of Northampton County are entitled to an answer."

One month after Packer's NorCo connection established,
Brown releases a statement
Three hours later, as political reality began to set in, Brown finally released a statement, a day late and a dollar short. In it, he disingenuously defends CYF after having already thrown that department under the bus."They have been hung out to dry by this administration," said Barron."They are too good for that. The supervisors deserve much, much better than what this administration gave them, and quite honestly, he owes them an apology. He owes the taxpayers an apology. I'm sick of the radio silence when simple questions are asked."

It was thought that answers would come later, when the Human Services Committee was scheduled to meet.In fact, NBC10's Deanna Durante came to that meeting, looking for answers.

She was answered with more radio silence.

The agenda failed to include a single mention of CYF or the Sara Packer case. Human Services Director Allison Frantz was nowhere to be found, and CYF Director Kevin Dolan was MIA as well. Allison Frantz had sent a memo to CYF staff, telling them to seek a "healthy resolution to the shock of these events,"  but failed to speak up for them when they needed her.

A tenacious Durante went right up to the podium and began asking Council members what they are doing. The answer, quite clearly, is nothing.

"Does anybody like to answer her question?" said Chairman Seth Vaughn, with what certainly looked like a smirk on his face.

"If I may, I think that's more of a legal issue that we shouldn't touch," said an evasive Mat Benol, notwithstanding a plaque of the Ten Commandments behind him,instructing that he be truthful.

Durante: "Any concern from any of you on the fact that she handled the county's children and now we know today that one child from Northampton County was placed in her care as a foster mother?" continued Durante.

Benol said that's something the Solicitor should address. In other words, circle the wagons.

Durante: "This is the Committee that oversees health and human services, is it not?"  

Benol: "I would refer all questions to our Solicitor."

Durante: "How about as taxpayers, as parents, as community members, do you have anything you want to say?"

Benol: "Unfortunately, when I'm on this side of the dais, I'm going to refrain from any comment."

Durante: "So when you walk to this side, you'll give me an interview and give me a comment?"

He agreed, but I'm unclear whether that happened. Benol is usually busy after meetings, hiding his Ten Commandments plaque so Ken Kraft does not steal it.

Later that night, when the full County Council met, Durante was rebuffed a second time while The Morning Call's Tom Shortell huffed on Twitter, "Traditional media doesn't typically speak during public comment." Maybe that's because traditional media have had their heads up their asses while Durante ran circles around them. Traditional media should ask more questions, and if it has to be at courtesy of the floor, so what?

Durante also peppered Brown with questions, including why he ignored her for three weeks. He continued to ignore her.

Though Council members had no time or inclination to discuss the murder and rape of a 15 year-old child, they had all the time in the world for a group of anti-shit people from the Wind Gap area opposed to Synagro's proposed shit bakery at the Waste Management landfill. NorCo Council has absolutely no authority to interfere in these matters of local concern, but they apparently never shit themselves and wanted the entire world to know that they oppose shit. There will likely be a resolution at the next meeting in which a majority will declare that they hate shit.

But they were unwilling to explain to the public (1) how many CYF caseworkers are out there; (2) what their caseload is like; (3) how many hours they work daily; (4) whether interviews are being conducted with every family that Sara Packer touched; what the educational requirements are for a CYF worker; (5) what kind of certifications are needed; (6) how many hours of continuing education are received each year. Those questions and many others can be answered without violating the confidentiality owed to an employee or the children who are placed by Northampton County. But Brown and now Council prefer to circle the wagons than to provide answers for the public that just might make them more confident in CYF. This lack of transparency creates a culture that suits people like Sara Packer just fine.

By the by, The Express Times was missing in action as usual. That suits Northampton County government just fine,too. The less you know, the better.

Blogger's Note: You can see Durante's story on NBC10 here.

Updated: McClure Comes Out Swinging in NorCo Exec Race

Lamont McClure at his announcement, flanked by
Controller Steve Barron
Blogger's Note: This story originally was published yesterday at 4:26 pm, and has been updated with a few pictures.

Bethlehem Attorney Lamont McClure, a former NorCo Council member for 10 years, declared his candidacy for Northampton County Executive this afternoon. He announced from the people's building, the Northampton County Courthouse, accompanied by his wife Sandra and a bevy of supporters that included Controller Steve Barron, Council member Ken Kraft, Easton City Council member Pete Melan, Democratic activist Joanne Messenlehner, and NorCo Dem Chair Matt Munsey. DA John Morganelli, a friend of McClure's, was also present.

Making clear that he's only ever been interested in county government, he said that in his final two years on Council, "I stood as a bulwark against the corruption, the cronyism and the callousness of the Brown administration." He said he regretted leaving government at that time. What he failed to say is that his father, with whom he was very close, had unexpectedly passed away.

But he's back and as is his style, he pulled no punches in a withering critique of the John Brown administration.

"We're talking about how it used public resources to attempt to advance its political agenda," he said, an obvious reference to Brown's use of public funds to hire Sahl Communications to act as a propaganda machine for him.

McCluremakes a point, as Joanne Messenlehner,
Ken Kraft and wife Sandra listen.
"When we're talking about cronyism, we're talking about installing multiple, multiple employees throughout the county system that do not have the requisite qualifications to serve in the positions they're serving in." This is an obvious reference to Administrator Cathy Allen, who Brown appointed as his right hand despite having no education beyond high school and no experience in management of any kind. She is also a tax deainally was pubishedon 1/19/17 at 4:26pm,andhasbeen updated toincludepictures. dbeat at the wrong end of six tax liens and her home is in foreclosure.

"When we're talking about the callousness of the Brown administration, we're talking about the Brown administration and Council raising your taxes 10% while they were charging the taxpayer for meals and mileage reimbursements that they were not entitled to. That's what they thought of you. That's what they thought of the public. Ten percent tax increases for you, lunch and their mileage reimbursements to drive to work, not even between jobs." This is a reference to an attempt by Brown and Cathy Allen to force taxpayers to pay $1,500 for their meals and mileage, which was flagged by Controller Steve Barron.

Some of McClure's supporters
As another more recent example of what he called the callousness of the Brown administration, McClure cited the stonewalling that has gone on since the tragic death of 15 year-old Grace Packer. Her adopting mother, Sara Packer, was charged in a scheme that involved the rape, murder and dismemberment of this child. She had been a NorCo adoption supervisor. She was discharged in 2010, right before her then husband was charged with sexually abusing this child when she was only nine years old.

NorCo officials ignored multiple media requests for information, even after WFMZ-TV69 and NBC10 reported on the NorCo connection in late December. There was no attempt to reassure the public or defend employees in Children and Youth.

"The county administration has been very slow to explain how this alleged person involved in this horrible death was in charge of adoptions in this county. This Executive has yet to fully explain and put the people of Northampton County at ease with respect to what her role was, what she did, what cases she handled, and the people of Northampton County are entitled to an answer."

After pointing to what he called corruption, cronyism and callousness, McClure went on to say how he'd do things differently.

"We must protect our folks, we must preserve, and we must prosper."

Protection. - "Fundamentally, we're talking about our senior citizens," said McClure. He noted that seniors on fixed incomes must still pay property taxes as a result of the uniformity clause in the state constitution. Until that changes, McClure said that no one's property taxes will go up in the next four years. He also pledged that Gracedale would remain county-owned, and that the administration would be returned to the county. He will also create a task force to tackle the heroin and opioid crisis "and all the unnecessary deaths" this has caused.

Preservation. - McClure claimed that the Brown administration has "abandoned" the farmland preservation program. "Let me be clear, they have abandoned it," he said. "We will preserve farmland once again, and at the rate at which it has been previously preserved. He stressed that he also supports preservation of environmentally sensitive lands and other open space.

Prosper. - "No one knows what is going on in the Northampton County Office of Community and Economic Development," he said. "We don't see any jobs being created that are family sustaining."

He noted that the population is growing, but so is the average age. The result is a brain and labor drain.

"We must encourage our young people to stay home."

He will focus on high tech jobs and insist that 80% of all work be done by local labor.

This news conference was attended by all local media outlets except the Express Times. A reporter strolled by, but the announcement apparently interfered with lunch.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Brown Finally Addresses Packer Murder Case

Nearly a month after WFMZ-TV69 and NBC10 first reported that a former NorCo adoption supervisor was involved in the rape, murder and dismemberment of her adopted daughter, Executive John Brown is finally addressing the matter.

Two hours after Lamont McClure slammed him over his refusal to reassure the public or defend his own office, Brown has finally released a statement. It's a day late, a dollar short, and says nothing that has not already been discovered without his help. After throwing the Children Youth and Family Division under the bus and subjecting them to harsh criticism, he now says they do great work, but through an intermediary.

Below is his statement, which he claims is not even from him. The notion that he is unable to discuss employment or breach the confidentiality owed to children is no excuse for refusing to discuss what that office does, or whether the culture there has created a climate in which things like what happened to Grace can happen.  It's no excuse for refusing to tell the public that every case Packer worked on is being reviewed. This review should include an interview with every person she touched.

EASTON, PA - January 19, 2017 - The following is provided by the Northampton County Department of Human Services, Children Youth Families Division, in response to inquiries regarding Sara Packer:

Sara Packer was employed by the Northampton County Department of Human Services, Children, Youth and Families Division. She began as a caseworker in January 2003 and became an adoption supervisor in July 2007.

On January 20, 2010, Ms. Packer was suspended from her employment without pay. At or near that time, a criminal investigation was taking place in Lehigh County. Ms. Packer did not return to the Children, Youth & Families Division. Her employment was officially terminated on April 15, 2010.

At no time during the course of her employment with the Children, Youth & Families Division did Ms. Packer serve as a foster parent for any Northampton County dependent juveniles. Ms. Packer did serve as a foster parent for one Northampton County dependent juvenile from 2000-2001, which was prior to her employment with the County. That individual is now over the age of 21.

Northampton County's Children, Youth and Families Division was not the intermediary for the adoption involving Grace Packer.

After the horrific circumstances surrounding Grace Packer's death became known, questions were posed to Northampton County, as well as many other entities. Northampton County's Children, Youth and Families Division is bound by strict confidentiality statutes and regulations which preclude the release of detailed information concerning this matter. Moreover, the Agency cannot engage in conduct which could compromise criminal investigations or assessments being conducted by other entities.

Information can be provided as to the structure and process that are in place. At the time of Ms. Packer's employment with the County, at the time of her termination, and through to the present, Northampton County's Children, Youth & Families Division has been subject to oversight by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. The County Agency has and will continue to cooperate and comply with the Commonwealth Agency's direction in all matters. This includes any record reviews and/or production of information requested by the Commonwealth Agency.

Whenever a child dies in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has the authority to assess the circumstances that caused or contributed to the child's death. A particular process is in place for such an assessment. The County Agency is required to cooperate with such assessments. The results of the Commonwealth Agency's assessment are ultimately made public.

This particular tragedy has drawn public attention to the employees of our Children, Youth and Families Division. The alleged actions of Ms. Packer are contrary to the mission of our County Agency and its dedicated workers. Typically, these people do not receive enough positive attention - or appreciation - for the monumental work that they do. These individuals devote their lives to the safety and well-being of children. On a daily basis, they go willingly into situations that would make most people feel uncomfortable, repulsed, or even frightened. They do the job that very few people have the guts to do, in order to keep children safe. There is no greater contribution to our society and these workers deserve our gratitude.

NorCo Capital Projects Nuts-and-Bolts Review

Hayden Phillips' Capital Projects Committee met yesterday and reviewed the following capital projects:

Courthouse generators.- Two are here. Public Works Director Stan Rugis said the smaller of the two is for the Data Center, and will be brought online this Saturday. The second generator, which is for fire lights and safety, will be activated in March.

Gracedale generators. - should be active and in place by September or October.

Bridges - Bridges 103 and 187, both located on Steuben Road in Lower Nazareth Township, have been repaired. Bridge 102 is under construction. The bridge on Georgetown Road will be complete in May. Rugis noted that an underground stream has done a lot of damage. Rugis said the mild weather has enabled construction to continue.

Bridge 213, Turtle Bridge, will likely require a condemnation because a landowner with rights refuses to cooperate.

Bridge 125, located on Main Street in Northampton, is complete.

Bridge 160, located in the same area, will start on March 1.

Rugis will supply periodic updates on the bridge bundling project of 33 bridges being handled by GPA. Executive John Brown stated that the contract with Kriger Construction has been signed.

Milides Building.- An engineer has been engaged to give an assessment of the property. He was last seen going in the building.

Parking deck.- Completely finished. The County did the relamping itself, and Rugis pointed out that saved about $100,000. The lighting is LED, which provided a MetEd rebate and will result in energy savings down the road.

Seventh Street Steps - Repair.bids came in at $260,000. The County figured on $50,000. There was only one bidder.

Gracedale parking lot.-should be done this summer.

Jail improvements.- kitchen flooring, a "go path" and other improvements are planned.

NorCo Ponders Periodic Review of Tax Exempt Properties

At yesterday's Finance Committee, John Cusick told Council that, in Allegheny County, all properties granted tax-exempt status must be reviewed once every three years. "It keeps an eye on properties that are tax exempt," he said, and suggested an ordinance requiring a periodic review might be a good idea here.

"I don't see a downside to it, to be honest with you," said Hayden Phillips.

Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter noted that a review of every tax-exempt property has just been completed.

In response to qy=uestion from Bob Werner, Executive John Brown said there are about $2-3 million in delinquent taxes every year, but 98% of it is eventually collected.

NorCo Council Worries State Will Raid Gambling Fund

Northampton County Council President John Cusick has joined ranks with DA John Morganelli to condemn the Bethlehem Sands Casino over its refusal to pay its host and impact fees.

n September, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court declared that the host fee provision in the casino law violates what is known as the uniformity clause A casino must pay $10 million a year, but if its revenues top $500 million, it must pay two percent. Under Pennsylvania's Constitution, even income tax must be the same for one and all. An attempt.to make people who earn more pay more is unconstitutional. This same principle applies to the casino host fee tax.

The Court stayed its decision until January 26 to give legislators time to fix the situation. Casinos were supposed to make their next payment on January 15, but that date came and went without a legislative fix.

Unlike other casinos, Sands Bethlehem has refused to pledge making the annual $10 million payment of its host fee. Mayor Bob Donchez has said that is the equivalent of 100 police officers. DA John Morganelli has threatened to refuse to prosecute petty crimes like bad checks, but the Sands points to a $1 billion investment in Bethlehem, including the creation of 2,500 jobs, as well as millions of dollars in taxes paid.

This topic came up when the Personnel Committee considered the appointment of Donna Louder, a Lower Saucon Council member, to the county Gaming Board. She will replace David Willard.

Louder was thanked for her willingness to serve, and that's when Cusick took the casino to task. "I don't know why, but they seem to be the lone holdout," he complained. "They are a poor corporate neighbor," agreed Ken Kraft.

But Hayden Phillips, who said he was part of a roundtable discussion with Governor Wolf recently, provided an explanation.

"The sands is trying to protect themselves," he said, noting that the state legislature may divert this money away from local governments and into the state Commonwealth Financing Agency CFA, a nontransparent branch of the state Department of Community and Economic Development. It was established in 2004 to enable the state legislature and governor to hand out money based on connections, as opposed to what is needed.

Case in point. Bethlehem Township's Brodhead Road repaving project. A nearly four mile stretch of local road was chewed to pieces by tractor trailer traffic, but the state agency denied any funding to repave the project. Though Manager Melissa Shafer was successful in securing some funding for this badly needed repaving project from other sources, it is a pittance.

The Pittsburgh Tribune has taken this state agency to task for "the public-be-damned secrecy under which it steadfastly operates." This includes a refusal to publish all information from grant requests, including those that are ultimately denied. But lobbyists no doubt love this gigantic candy machine, as well as state legislators seeking money to hand out at election time.

Phillips warns that the legislative "fix" of the state law might include sending the money to the CFA. By refusing to pay the host fee, Sands is placing pressure on the state legislature to do its job.

"It would be a shame if this were to go into the black hole that is the Commonwealth Financing Authority." said Cusick.

NorCo's Gaming Authority is scheduled to meet on Monday. It could be one of their last meetings.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

McClure is Down With PPP

Bethlehem Attorney Lamont McClure is expected to announce his bid for Northampton County Executive on Thursday. He's apparently running on a Preserve, Protect and Prosper platform, and I expect to hear details when he announces. He's down with PPP.

Donald Trump, in contrast, is down with PP.

Incumbent John Brown is expected to seek re-election. He's probably waiting until after The Donald's inauguration on Friday.

Showers are expected.

MDJ Candidate Fails to Disclose He is a Public Defender

On Monday, I told you that Alicia Zito is running for mini-judge in the Slate Belt. I consider her a strong candidate and the front runner. But in fairness, there are others running. I'd be happy to publish their releases if they provided them to me.

According to anonymous comment on my blog, Constable Tyrone Comunale is running. He's the dude whose constable car was stolen by someone he had just arrested. Since no cars are provided to magisterial district judges, we should be ok.

A secretary for Magisterial District Judge Douglas Schlegel, Sr. is mulling a run as well. She should run for Schlegel's seat. He on extended leave for about the gazillionth time, and has basically been a mini-judge in absentia.

Another candidate who just announced is Jason Labar. He's got a very impressive resume, according to Express Times editor Jim Deegan. Instead of having one child like Alicia Zito, he has two. While she went to Pius X, he's a Bangor grad, where he was a three-sport athlete.

Like Alicia, he's a lawyer, too. In his release to Deegan, he claims to have tried dozens of cases and to have represented more than 1,000 people. Deegan, in yet another sign of The Express Times' growing journalistic indifference, never bothered asking him where.

I've never seen Jason in Northampton County. But many lawyers who live in the Slate Belt have active Monroe County practices. I was unable to find him there as a solo practitioner or as a member of a law firm. A little more research and I discovered that he's an assistant public defender. He represents people who are charged with criminal activity but who are unable to afford a lawyer. He failed to disclose this in his announcement.He wanted everyone to know he is a lawyer who has lots of experience, but wants no one to know where.

LaBar is obviously concerned that once people discover that his job forces him to represent the bad guy, people will shy away from him. While it's certainly true that this could cost him some votes, I know numerous judges sitting on the bench right now who at one time defended people charged with abominable behavior. Most people understand that everyone is entitled to a defense.

Although I understand LaBar's reluctance to disclose what he does, his failure to own it in his opening announcement is really deceptive behavior on his part. He should have disclosed it. He's running for a position that demands integrity, and is off to a very poor start.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bethlehem Tp Comm'rs Table Library Referendum, Hear V-7 Redevelopment Plan

Jim Broughal (L) and Mike Hudak (R)
I told you yesterday that Bethlehem Township's Commissioners want voters to decide whether to remain part of The Bethlehem Area Public Library. Earlier this month, they voted 4-0 (Tom Nolan was absent) to direct Solicitor Jim Broughal to prepare a question in time for the primary election. But last night, they voted unanimously to table the matter.

Initiatives and referenda are examples of direct democracy, but Pennsylvania law severely limits their use. Courts have directed county election boards to reject initiatives and referenda that seek advisory opinions from the public on controversial topics. In a memo to Commissioners before last night's meeting, Broughal explained that the Library Code limits referenda to these four matters: (1) levying a special tax for the establishment and maintenance of a local library; (2) remaining part of a county library when there is a pre-existing local library; (3) participation in a “district library center cooperative program;” and (4) a bond issue for the construction or purchase of a library building.

Only the first of these has any application to continued participation in Bethlehem Area Public Library, so Broughal came up with this question: "Do the voters of Bethlehem Township desire that the Board of Commissioners of Bethlehem Township levy a special tax on all taxable property within Bethlehem Township to be used exclusively for the establishment and maintenance of and aid to a local library?”

As pointed out here yesterday, what that question means is subject to numerous interpretations.

"I'll submit any question that the Commissioners vote on," said Broughal. But he warned that the Board of Elections could deny a referendum question outside of what is expressly authorized by the Library Code. "I'm stuck with the law.As bad as it is, that's what it is.

Hudak stated that the latest they can vote ion a question is at the first meeting in February because the cutoff with the Board of Elections is March 7.   He added that the intent of a referendum is "to let the voters decide" whether they wish to continue participating in Bethlehem Area Public Library, not how it should be funded. "There seems to be some confusion among our Board members here as to the intent of this referendum," he observed. He believes the question is misleading, and wanted to hear and said he'd abide by what voters think.

If Bethlehem Township does eventually opt out of Betlehem Area Public Library, all is not lost. A reader, Pippysqueek, commented yesterday that the Free Library of Philadelphia offers free membership to any Pennsylvania resident. It took me about three minutes to join.

A  sketch plan for the redevelopmentof the V-7
includes a movie theatre and a 24-hour gas station.
In other business, Commissioners reviewed a "sketch plan" for the redevelopment of the long-vacant V-7 golf range, a 17 -acre tract located along the southeast corner of William Penn Highway and Route 33.

Chrin is proposing a movie theatre, along with a 24-hour high end convenience store and gas station. He is also planning a bank, some office buildings and a restaurant. A tenant for the movie theatre have been found, but planners prefer to keep that confidential for now. He noted that there will be very high berms,some as high as 20', to shield residents to the east from the development.He added that the development would employ dark sky lighting to reduce light pollution.

Attorney Timothy Charlesworth, who represents Chrin in this endeavor, called it an adaptive re-use of a vacant commercial site. He noted that the Township's comprehensive plan emphasizes the rejuvenation of vacant commercial areas. He added that this development would be a benefit to the Township because it would realign Hope Road and include a traffic light. But a movie theatre is not a permitted use on the V-7 tract.

Tom Nolan noted that the comprehensive plan should be updated by April, and that's when he should seek a zoning change.

Malissa Davis suggested that the 24-hour gas station should be relocated to the western side of the tract, nearer to Route 33, to keep it away from residences along Hope Road.

Don Wright, a member of the Planning Commission, said he'd like to see the size of the parking lot reduced and more green space added.

Resident Roy Roth complained that the plan has no provisions for stormwater management, but Planning Director Nathan Jones responded that stormwater management would be an integral part of the planning process.

His son Barry was even more negative. "My personal feeling is we just rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic from the original plan," he groused.

No formal action is taken on sketch plans. They are informational only.

In a final item of business, president Mike Hudak announced that a public hearing on Tradition of America's tentative plan for Green Pond Marsh will be conducted on February 22 at 6 pm. This tentative plan has been recommended by the Planning Commission.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Alicia Zito "Perfect Fit" in Slate Belt

Bangor, PA – Magisterial District Judge Alicia R. Zito has announced her candidacy for the seat of District Court 03-3-03, aka The Slate Belt Districy, serving the residents of Lower Mount Bethel Township; Plainfield Township – Delabole Distrct; Upper Mount Bethel Township; Washintgton Township; Bangor Borough; East Bangor Borough; Pen Argyl Borough; Porland Borough; and Roseto Borough.

She's a perfect fit. For one thing, Judge Zito is a lifelong resident of the Slate Belt. She's a 1995 graduate of Pius X High School. She graduated, magna cum laude, from the University of Scranton in 1999 with a B.S. in Health Administration and minors in Business and Spanish. Judge Zito received her juris doctorate (J.D.) from the Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University in 2002. While in law school, she was a member of the Appellate Moot Court Board and conducted legal externships at the Pennsylvania Department of Health and with the law firm of Nauman, Smith, Shissler and Hall LLP. Judge Zito was admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2002.

In her young life, she's already had an extensive legal career in public service as a judicial law clerk to our best judges. She started with Judge Jack Panella,and when he was elevated to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in 2004, he took her with him.

Unlike Common Pleas judges, who typically only keep a law clerk for one or two years, federal and appellate judges like to have at least one clerk who is always there. She became is Chief Clerk and and Deputy Clerk of the entire Superior Court of Pennsylvania until 2014. While there, she helped Judge Panella write the nation’s first Sexual Violence Benchbook. That book is designed specifically to guide magisterial district judges in the handling of crimes of sexual violence.

In 2015, Judge Zito accepted a short-term position as a law clerk to President Judge Stephen G. Baratta, Northampton County Court of Common Pleas to assist the Court with backlog. She went from there to a federal clerkship on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with the Honorable Edward G. Smith.

Zito was nominated by Governor Tom Wolf and confirmed by bipartisan support of the full Senate on July 13, 2016, to finish the term of the late District Judge Todd Strohe.

Northampton County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Stephen G. Baratta  has described her as “intelligent, decisive, principled and calm, all attributes that…serve her well as a a district judge.” State Senator Lisa M. Boscola said that “her legal knowledge, experience and integrity make her an outsanding choice for this position.”

In addition to her judicial experience, Judge Zito has committed herself to the education of young men and women in the community, as an adjunct professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Northampton Community College from 2004 to 2006 teaching courses in Criminal Law, American Legal Systems and Constitutional Law. More notably, as Magisterial District Judge, she works with Administration, parents and students in the Bangor and Pen Argyl School Districts in an effort to reduce truancy rates, provide guidance and, foster the role of education in every child’s life. This truancy problem is bigger than you might think,andit is refreshing to see a judge work to reduce this problem.

Judge Zito lives in Upper Mount Bethel with her husband Matthew J. Goodrich, Esquire and nine-year-old son, Gianni. I met him at a field event at the Stockertown Rod and Gun Club with this old guy who claimed to be his grandfather. That old guy is Senior Judge Leonard Zito.  

Though her Dad is a judge, she's entitled to this position on her own merits. She is highly regarded in the community for her public service to youth organizations. She is a board member of the Slate Belt Little League, member of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at Five Points Elementary School and, serves as the Director of Rebels Elite Cheer and Gymnastics. In 2015, she was honored by Eastern Cheer and Dance Association as the “Coach of the Year” and featured in a national magazine for her work as a coach, mentor and role model to young athletes in the community. She is also a lifelong parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Bangor, PA.

Judge Zito is honored to serve her communities as Magisterial District Judge and she looks forward to continuing to serve the Slate Belt with dignity, fairness and respect.

Bethlehem Tp Poised to Opt Out of Library

At the suggestion of Mike Hudak, Commissioners will vote tonight on whether to advertise an ordinance to establish their own library. Hudak complained earlier this month that only a small percentage of residents use it, but the annual fee is $17.25 per capita.

Bethlehem Area Public Library is financed by Bethlehem, Bethlehem Tp, Hanover Tp and Fountain Hill Borough. Bethlehem Tp has 9,749 cardholders, including 528 new cardholders in 2015. That translates to 41% of the Township's population. In addition to the annual per capita assessment of municipalities, the library benefits from nearly $215,000 in donations and grants each year.

Commissioners are unable, under the current Library Law, to directly ask voters whether they want to remain at the Bethlehem Area Public Library. So the only question that can really be asked is whether residents are willing to pay a special tax for a library of their own.

Solicitor Jim Broughal has come up with the following referendum question: "Do the voters of Bethlehem Township desire that the Board of Commissioners of Bethlehem Township levy a special tax on all taxable property within Bethlehem Township to be used exclusively for the establishment and maintenance of and aid to a local library?”

But thanks to the Library Law, this is really confusing.

A "Yes" could be interpreted as acknowledging support for what the maintenance and aid of the Township's own library. But it could just as easily mean that residents support the already existing Bethlehem Area Public Library. A "No" could indicate that taxpayers want no library of their own. But it could also mean they want no library at all.

I understand that Commissioners want to give voters the final word on this question. But to give this matter more certainty, I think the question should be more clear. Here's a suggestion: ""Do the voters of Bethlehem Township desire that the Board of Commissioners of Bethlehem Township levy a special tax on all taxable property within Bethlehem Township to be used exclusively for the establishment and maintenance of and aid to Bethlehem Township's own library?”

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ex NorCo CYF Staffer on Packer - "She Fooled All of Us!"

Until late December, Mary Beth Jacavage was employed in Northampton County's Children Youth and Families Division (CYF). You can still see her name listed on the County web page as a General Protective Services Intake Supervisor. This Bloomsburg University graduate, with a degree in psychology, spent 22 years on the front lines of child abuse, as well as an additional year in Early Intervention. She believes that CYF is in need of an overhaul. She was also able to share what she knows about Sara Packer, the ex-adoption supervisor charged with murdering and dismembering her own adopted daughter.

Sara Packer: Jacavage was employed by NorCo CYF during the entire time that Packer was there, but never directly supervised her. "She fooled all of us!" is how she summed up Packer. "Nothing was saying to us that she was going too rape and murder a child." But she described her as liking to dress in Goth attire, or dyeing her hair numerous different colors. She indicated that ne fellow supervisor had expressed concerns about Packer. She also said that Packer had told her co-workers that she never wanted to adopt Grace. She only wanted a boy, bit Pennsylvania promotes sibling adoption, and Packer would be unable to adopt the boy unless she also took Grace.

CYF workers: Jacavage indicates that the staff is overworked and underpaid. I know from other sources that twelve hour days are not common, and the starting salary for a Caseworker I is only about $33,000. She indicated that the low salary is "no excuse for an uncaring and inhumane attitude." She indicated that most caseworker are conscientious and work hard, but there are a few "who are cold and power hungry and disrespectful."

CYF Administration: Most of her criticism is focused on Director Kevin Dolan and his Assistant, Patricia Himmelwright, as well as their managing attorney, Valerie Cammarene. In fairness, and this has been my big concern all along, they have been muzzled and are unable to respond. But after speaking with Jacavage, I believe her concerns about Valerie Cammarene. If true, they illustrate a person who is cold and disrespectful.
  • At a dependency hearing this summer, a mother was in court who had children with several different fathers. According to Jacavage, Cammarene started singing a song about it, set to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," ridiculing the mother. We all have opinions about women whose poor choices often lead to multiple fathers, but Cammarene publicly humiliated the mother, displaying a total lack of respect. Kevin Dolan was apprised of this situation, and refused to do anything.
  • In another dependency matter involving a father who was extremely nervous, Cammerene taunted him with "Let the games begin!"  
  • In a dependency or custody matter in which a judge had requested information from CYF, Cammerene took it upon herself to review the file, gave erroneous information to the court because she failed to read it properly, and the judge awarded custody to the wrong party. The child involved was so devastated by this turn of events that she tried to commit suicide. She was sent to a psychiatric facility, where another patient assaulted her and knocked out a tooth. 
I have focused on the Cammarene allegations because she just happens to be the attorney who is reviewing the cases on which Packer worked.  The state DHS has decided to conduct its own investigation.

I have hesitated to write about Jacavage for two reasons. First, what she tells me is inconsistent with my own interactions with Kevin Dolan. Second, he's unable to respond. But I am disclosing her more pertinent criticisms primarily because this kind of abuse has happened befo CYF.

In 2010, Jose Huertas Aponte, a NorCo CYF caseworker, pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a 12 year-old boy. Judge Michael Koury sentenced him to 12-24 years in state prison, the maximum he could impose under state law. “You of all people know it was your job to help and protect children,” Judge Koury said.

That's a job we all have.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Northampton County Has No CASA Program

Throughout the state, there are Court Appointed Special Advocates who seek the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse, abandonment, and/or neglect. I'm unaware whether such advocates exist in NorCo, but am about to find out. I know there is no local program, though one exists in Lehigh. If you'd like be become a CASA, you can apply here.

Memorial Service For Murdered Teen on MLK Day

A memorial service has been set for Grace Packer on MLK Day, 1:30 pm, at New Life Church, 467 N Easton Rd, Glenside, Pennsylvania 19038. Though no one would call me a religious person, I intend to go and see that she be given some of the dignity and respect that was denied to her in her short life. "Rise Up and Say, I am Somebody," preached the fallen civil rights leader. She was somebody, too.

NorCo Council Still Refuses To List Contact Info

Several weeks ago, I began ticking off numerous deficiencies in Northampton County's new website, which has had the effect of making government less transparent and accountable. Years of minutes of Council meetings just vanished. The $91,000 a year clerk refuses to include back-up documents on agendas. And though there are pretty pictures of the nine Council members, no contact information is listed.

Since my initial complaints, Council has managed to include minutes dating back to 2005, but the rest are still being kept away from the preying eyes of the public. Those old minutes were quite useful during the swaption discussion, as everyone tried to blame everyone else. Now our county government seems to think that what you don't know won't hurt you, even if it does.

Most amazing of all, no effort has been made to include the contact information of individual Council members. I would never expect to see home addresses and home phone numbers listed, but there should at least be a county email address listed.

This is basic transparency. Council's refusal to provide this basic information is something you should keep in mind when five of them seek re-election this year.