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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Should NorCo Board Include Someone Just Fined by State Ethics Comm'n?

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure has proposed Judith Henckel, a former Upper Mount Bethel Tp Supervisor, for re-appointment to a two-year term on the county's Open Space Advisory Board. This is a problem.

Last year, Henckel was fined $1,000 by the state ethics commission for using her public office to steer public work her son, a landscape architect. She signed some of the checks paying him. She never disclosed this relationship. Though the state board believes she acted unintentionally, appointing her to a board that recommends public projects is a terrible idea. I have no doubt she would act ethically, but it would create a bad appearance.

NorCo Council is expected to vote on this Thursday night.

Below is the story I wrote about Henckel in 2016, when she was the county's open space chair.

NorCo's Open Space Chair Faces Conflict Allegations

Ron Angle unswayed by Judy Henckel
Judith Henckel is a well-known environmental activist who currently serves as the Chair of Northampton County's Open Space Advisory Board. Before that, she led a "save or pave" drive supporting a 2007 referendum in which Upper mt Bethel taxpayers agreed to a 0.25 tax hike dedicated to preserving open space. That year, she also won a six-year seat on the Board of Supervisors, where she pursued an environmental agenda that included the 2008 purchase of  a 300-acre quarry owned by Eastern Industries, financed with a $2 million bond. That purchase was criticized by Ron Angle, who charged that the Township was buying "barren land" that could never be developed. But Henckel countered that the move was essential to protect the "Mount Bethel Fens."

And bog turtles.

But is it really about the fens and bog turtles? Or is the green pursued by open space activists the kind they can take to the bank?

Based on a tip from Ron Angle, Upper Mount Bethel Supervisors have spent the past month looking at records of payments made to Urban Research and Development, a well-respected Bethlehem-based firm that employs prominent landscape architect Leonard Policelli. Supervisor Anthony DeFranco revealed at last night's meeting that Urban Research has been paid $360,000 in that time period for different projects, including the development of a community park spearheaded by Policelli.

According to the Pennsylvania Ethics Act, a conflict or conflict of interest exists when a public official uses the authority of her office or any confidential information received through that office for the private pecuniary benefit of herself, a member of her immediate family or a business with which she or a member of her immediate family is associated.

"If in fact her son was getting a pecuniary benefit, there could be a conflict," said Solicitor Ron Karasek. "In all due respect, I was not aware that Mr. Policelli was Judy's son."

This relationship was also a surprise to Angle until last month. "Nobody in this audience has attended more meetings than me over the past ten years," he said. "Never once was this ever brought up by her or by him [her son] that 'By the way, there could be a potential conflict and we just wanted to let you know.' They just kept doing the same-o same-o."

Angle told Supervisors that Henckel should be barred from participating in any boards that decide on grants for her projects. He added that, when she was a Supervisor, she steered the Board away from farmland preservation, in which conservation easements are purchased. "Now I figured out why she never wanted farmland preservation," said Angle. "There's no money to be paid to the guy who does the farmland preservation. You just write a check."

Chairman John Bermingham, himself an open space advocate who was elected with Henckel's help, attempted to minimize the problem. "We live in a small town," he said. "It's gonna' happen here and there." He did agree that there "could" be a conflict, but that he and DeFranco have only been on the Board since January.

"She lobbied for these things," countered Angle, "knowing that a close relative would benefit."

For her part, Henckel denied that she opposed farmland preservation, and noted that three Upper Mount Bethel farms are in the process of being preserved now. She also denied that the community park, in which her son and his firm were involved, is open space. She called it a "municipal facility" given to the Township by Reliant Energy, and before she was a Supervisor.

At that time, though, Henckel was nevertheless a public official because she served on the Township's Environmental Advisory Council. She stated that she disclosed the relationship. "A lot of people knew," she explained, though she conceded she "did not advertise it." She indicated her son had just been successful that day in getting a $20,000 grant for trees at the park.

Henckel also questioned the $360,000 figure, indicating that Urban Research had done other work for the Township aside from the community park.

In a conversation during the meeting, Henckel told me she may have voted a few times for projects that would benefit her son'e company, but just never thought about it. She also indicated that she spends untold hours working for the benefit of the Township, not expecting anything.

Where things go from here is unclear. Angle believes the District Attorney or Ethics Commission should investigate, but Supervisors took no action at this point.

The open space movement appears to have created its own industry in which "land preservation boards' or "environmental advisory councils" are formed in which members vote to preserve each other's properties at taxpayer expense.

Much more oversight is needed than currently exists. That's why watchdogs like Ron Angle in Upper Mount Bethel and Vince Foglia in Williams Township are essential.

NorCo Finally Wants a Grant Writer

This is long overdue. For years, NorCo has missed out on numerous grant opportunities because it has no grant writer. This may change soon. Executive Lamont McClure is proposing that the county hire one with an annual salary of $50,130. f Council agrees, this new position will be part of the Department of Community and Economic Development.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Forget Plastic Straws, Shit is Our Real Problem

Northampton County Council has adopted a meaningless and nonbinding plastic straw ban that does nothing to protect our environment. It is just another example of virtue-signalling. But if local officials really want to save the planet, the place to start is with our shit.

According to Governing, defective septic systems have become a nightmare. "Leaky septic tanks cause algae blooms that close beaches on New York’s Long Island. They threaten dolphins and other aquatic wildlife in Florida. One of the striking things, Flowers says, is how many of the people affected by wastewater problems are poor or belong to historically marginalized groups."

They also produce hookworms.

Now I suppose Tara Zrinski could propose a new nonbinding resolution that commands us to stop shitting, but this is an area where local and county government can make a difference. It could educate the public. It could get involved in a proposal to install swere lines along a portion of Route 611 in Upper Mount Bethel Tp. It could even start assisting residents in applying for grant funding for new septic systems. This would actually accomplish something.

Trump Spendthrift Budget

After a weekend of bizarre tweets, authoritarian Donald Trump has sent Congress a 2020 budget that hardly has the fingerprints of a conservative. He wants to add $4 trillion to the deficit. He has proposed draconian cuts (31%) in domestic spending on programs that assist the poor. At the same time, he wants to increase defense spending by five per cent. The only reason people have refrained from going nutz over this spending plan is because it will never be adopted.  It is more of a re-election gimmick than an attempt at good government.

Monday, March 18, 2019


On Friday, 50 Muslims were murdered It increasingly appears to have been a lone gunman, armed with two semi-automatics and a shotgun. He livestreamed his rampage for the world to see, including him shooting someone right after being greeted as "Brother." It was odd to watch him carefully use his turn signal as he drove to the first mosque. This atrocity occurred, not here in the US, but in faraway New Zealand. The town, ironically enough, is called Christchurch. Since this shooting, there have been attempts to blame the Internet, Donald Trump and a rise in white nationalism. What this really about is hatred, the face of evil. In this case, it was in the form of Islamaphobia. Not too long ago, here in the US, it was hatred of Jews. Eleven of them were killed in prayer at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

What makes us like this?

Instead of giving you the answers the right and left will provide nonstop over the next few weeks, I want to talk about something else. It's something I've seen on the evil Internet. It's a Turkish television series called Ertugrul, which I have been binge-watching on Netflix. It's the most popular program in Turkey, but is also appreciated by Muslims in the West. For once, they are portrayed as the good guys. What I like most about the show is the decency and yes, tolerance, displayed by many of the characters.

Called a Turkish Game of Thrones, the program is set in 13th century Turkey. It involves a small tribe of nomads who are squeezed on one side by the Knights Templar and on the other by Mongols. The lead character is Ertrugrul. He would father Osman, founder of the Ottoman Empire.

It's historical fiction, but several things about the program defy the stereotypical view of Muslims. In this admittedly idealized version of history, I have been struck by their basic decency and compassion.

It includes a spiritual mentor, Ibn Arabi, a mystic who actually existed. I have sought out some of his work. He has said intolerant things like this:
Beware of confining yourself to a particular belief and denying all else, for much good would elude you - indeed, the knowledge of reality would elude you. Be in yourself a matter for all forms of belief, for God is too vast and tremendous to be restricted to one belief rather than another.
And this:
Do not praise your own faith exclusively so that you disbelieve all the rest. If you do this you will miss much good. Nay, you will miss the whole truth of the matter. God, the Omniscient and the Omnipresent, cannot be confined to any one creed, for He says in the Quran, wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah.
What also strikes me about the show is the deep spirituality of many of these nomads. The phrase "Inshallah" (if God wills) is repeated more than any other.

This program is a stark contrast to the common Western images of Muslims as homicidal maniacs who slice off heads the way I peel an orange. This has become ingrained in our culture.

Obviously, there are evil Muslims just as there are evil persons in any religious group. To take the actions of a few misfits, however, and brand an entire religion, is illogical.

The real problem is not Donald Trump, the Internet or whatever side of the gun debate you endorse. The real problem is us. Intolerance, whether from the right or the left, makes people ugly. We must do better.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Who's Running in NorCo?

Nomination petitions of candidates seeking municipal office in Northampton County are in, and that means petition challenges are being pondered. But if things stay the way they are now, this is what you can expect. 

Judge (Common Pleas) - DA John Morganelli is cross-filed and running unopposed. 

District Attorney - First Deputy DA Terry Houck and Chief Public Defender Nuria DiLuzio seek the Democratic nomination, while Tom Carroll is running unopposed for the GOP nod.  There had been some speculation that Judge Leonard Zito might run, but he filed no nomination petition.  

Controller- Easton Controller Tony Bassil is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, while former County Council member Hayden Phillips has no opposition in his quest to be the Republican nominee.

County Council District One (Bethlehem) - Carpenter Kevin Lott, who was appointed to Council late last year, is running unopposed. He is a Democrat.

County Council District Two (Easton area) - Sandy O'Brien-Werner, a retired teacher and wife of incumbent Bob Werner, seeks the Democratic nomination. So does former Easton Area School Board Prez Kerry Myers. On the Republican side, 19 yo gun rights activist Andrew Oliveira is running unopposed. 

County Council District Three (Nazareth area) - Incumbent John Cusick is running unopposed for the GOP nomination. Gun control advocate Luke Verdes is running as a Democrat. 

County Council District Four (Slate Belt) - Boilermaker Dan Engle is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, while former Nazareth business owner Tom Giovanni has no opposition on the Republican side.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Mezzacappa Barred From Suing West Easton Without Court Approval

Following a hearing on Monday before Judge Stephen Baratta, Tricia Mezzacappa has been barred from suing West Easton without first getting approval from a judge. This ruling applies to employees and Borough Council as well. This rare remedy comes after she's dragged the tiny borough into court on numerous occasions.

Her most recent accusation is that West Easton violated a nondisparagement clause in a settlement of lawsuits she had filed. She filed this once before and was bounced out of court by Judge Craig Dally after a hearing in which she produced no evidence. This time, she claimed that the nondisparagemet clause was violated based on something that had happened several years before she and West Easton agreed to speak no ill of each other. That, on its face, is frivolous.

Mezzacappa has run for West Easton Borough Council, NorCo County Council and as a delegate to the GOP convention. She lost all those races, but managed to get herself elected recently as a Constable with 11 write-in votes. Now she stops at people's homes and leaves threatening notes of the music is too loud.

So far as I know, no judge will use her.

When John Morganelli announced he w running for judge, she posted this on Facebook on her West Easton Constable page:

Looks like she found no takers. Judge Baratta reminded her of her Facebook post on Monday. As if the post itself is unclear, she added these two comments:

West Easton Borough Constable I will spend every last nickel and breath of air making sure this ugly fucking faggot is defeated



West Easton Borough Constable Almost unlimited funding to anyone worthy of defeating this corrupted political machine dick eating asshole. PM me.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Can You Say Judge Morganelli?

It looks like Northampton County DA John Morganelli is going to be a judge. He has cross-filed on both Democratic (1,200 signatures) and Republican (850) sides of the ballot, and his petitions have been approved by the Department of State. Even more importantly, no one else has filed. So he is running unopposed to fill the vacancy created by Judge Emil Giordano's decision o step down from the bench.

As many of you know,I consider Morganelli a friend. He told me I will never have to call him judge.

"Your Honor will suffice," he said.

In  The D-Day Bank Massacre, this is what Morganelli had to say about judges:
"If anyone tries to tell you that judges are apolitical, tell them to call me. In my 26 years as a practicing lawyer, I have learned that judges are probably the most political animals in the political and legal jungle. Not all of them, of course. But many come to their positions with the same prejudices and bias that we all have from our life experience. The donning of the black robe allows them to hide behind the law while forming their own ideas of how things should be."
That's something he should remember when he ascends to the judicial heavens and sits on the clouds with eight other jurists.

Having said that, I believe John will be an excellent judge. The absence of an opponent tells me most people agree.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Gracedale Wins 2018 PACAH Innovation Award

From Northampton County: Lamont McClure and the Department of Human Services are pleased to report that the Pennsylvania Coalition of Affiliated Healthcare & Living Communities (PACAH) awarded Gracedale Nursing Home a 2018 Innovation Award for a pilot program in Mental Health and Aging. Northampton County launched the program last fall with Haven House, providing services for older individuals who reside at Gracedale and suffer with mental illness.

“We appreciate PACAH for recognizing the importance of this unique program,” says Lamont McClure. “It has the potential to deliver huge benefits to families struggling to keep their elderly relatives in safe and secure housing where they can access the care they need.”

The Mental Health/Aging Program (MH/AP) is not a twenty-four hour on-call service, but provides 1:1 counseling and support to address behavioral challenges. Seniors with mental illness can be difficult to place or can be at high risk of losing their placements. Haven House provides behavioral interventions for patients and technical assistance for care providers.

MH/AP is funded by mental health base funding and Gracedale dollars. It is not a treatment program and does not provide nursing, “severe” crisis intervention, emergency placement or transfer services. Its focus is on enhancing daily life, trouble-shooting behavioral challenges and providing support in order for targeted individuals to maintain their residency.

The program is currently being tested at Gracedale. If it is successful, it may be implemented at other facilities.

Blogger's Note: ​According to its webpage, PACAH was formed in 1951 to represent county nursing facilities. Now, PACAH represents over 143 diverse long-term living and supports providers and associated businesses, including both county, veterans, private, and non-profit nursing facilities.

Bethlehem Walkability: Dr. Wirt Answers Dr. Thode

Blogger's Note: Yesterday, I posted an essay submitted by Dr. Steve Thode, himself a former Bethlehem Planning Commissioner, about walkability in Bethlehem. It is critical of City Council member Dr. Paige Van Wirt, who has made walkability one of her campaign themes. I have received a response from her, and it is below:

Dr. Thode,

Since we have never met, it stands to reason that you are not aware of my positions about walkability and downtown development. I don’t know where you got incorrect facts.

“Since Councilperson Van Wirt is on record opposing high rise development of any kind in the urban cores of Bethlehem, good luck with that.

"I wonder how many miles Councilperson Van Wirt logs on her car each year. Where does she shop for groceries? Where does she go for medical services? Where does she shop for household items? Where does she go to see a movie, or hear a concert? Does she walk to these places? Does she take LANTA? Or, does she take private transportation?

"Stephen Thode”

I am not on the record opposing high rise development of any kind in urban cores of Bethlehem. Please, show me where I said that? I voted FOR the Benner/Parks project on West Broad Street, which went against HARB recommendations, precisely because I do believe we need increased amounts of downtown residential development. My remarks at the time of the vote reflect this belief. I am for the use of the Boyd for market rate housing. I voted FOR the vacation of 2nd avenue for the Armory project. I have never once said I oppose high rise development in Bethlehem. I have been on council for one year and my voting record is crystal clear for all to see. Please, be sure of your facts before having them published, in a blog or otherwise.

I am a physician for nursing home patients. I take care of patients at over 25 different nursing homes and ALFs in the Valley. You can bet that if they were in one walkable radius, I would be walking there. How inconvenient for my personal transportation beliefs that they are spread from Sellersville to Hometown.

I shop for groceries at the Wegmans. I would be more than happy to shop at a local food market, such as C Town, if there was one in North Bethlehem. But there is not, which is why my husband and I joined the Bethlehem Food Co-op, to help establish a market in a food desert.

I live in the heart of downtown Bethlehem, a choice my husband and I made so we could walk to as many activities as possible. The fact that you cast aspersions on how I live my life without even knowing me gives me great pause. I do not understand why you took your feelings on Bethlehem’s walkability to Bernie, without even bothering to have a conversation with me about this. You are substantively and factually incorrect in your assertions.

Dr. Thode, I am deeply surprised that an educator such as yourself would not do the research before making assertions. The sad thing is, we share the same beliefs about what would make Bethlehem better in terms of walkability. If you ever would like to sit down with me and hear my own beliefs and then come to a conclusion on their validity, I would be more than happy to make the time.

Paige Van Wirt