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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, July 10, 2020

Inconsistent Covid-19 Messaging Has Contributed to Spread

I've been highly critical of the leadership displayed by Governor Tom Wolf and President Donald Trump during the Covid-19 crisis. But I'll say this much about Wolf. He's at least been consistent. The federal government, however, has been notoriously inconsistent. Even though Covid-19 has taken 130,000 American lives, President Donald Trump is attacking his own CDC over how to open schools safely. Inconsistent messaging from Trump and other federal officials about face masks has created a groundswell of Trump worshipers who equate this minor inconvenience with a deprivation of basic personal freedom. This, unfortunately, has contributed to the spread of a disease that is already far too virulent. Countries that have been successful dealing with Covid-19 have employed different tactics. Some rely on heavy testing. Others on isolation. But the one thing they have all had in common is consistency. America's Covid-19 messaging has been a failure.

Here's how public health expert Thespina (Nina) Yamanis puts it:

Studies show that when officials are transparent and accountable to the public – explaining who is vulnerable in an outbreak, what is known and unknown about the disease and the steps necessary to control its spread – it enhances public trust.

Trust, in turn, aids compliance.

But when health messaging is vague, inconsistent or unrealistic, it engenders the kind of confusion, misinformation and non-cooperation now seen in some of the world’s hardest-hit countries.

If You Want to Keep or Boot Trump, Better Register to Vote.

If you want your voice heard in the upcoming November 3 Presidential election, you need to be a registered voter. The last day for registration is October 19.

Eligibility:

Be a citizen of the United States for at least one month before the next primary, special, municipal, or general election.
Be a resident of Pennsylvania and the election district in which you want to register and vote for at least 30 days before the next primary, special, municipal, or general election.
Be at least 18 years of age on or before the day of the next primary, special, municipal, or general election.

How to Register:

You can register at PennDot, your county voter registration office, by mail or online.

Who Is This Guy?


This mugshot appeared in the pages of The Bethlehem Globe Times many years ago. Do you know who it is?

Wolf Extends Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Until August 31

Governor Tom Wolf yesterday extended his moratorium on foreclosures and eviction proceedings until August 31. His Order (you can read it here) will give struggling homeowners and tenants a little time to familiarize themselves with rent  and mortgage relief programs being administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). It also mirrors extensions on foreclosure proceedings on most federally backed mortgages.

The PHFA has $150 million for rent assistance and $25 million to help pay mortgages. Applications are available here.

Wolf's order notes that homeowners and renters are still responsible for their debt, and tenants may still be evicted for issues unrelated to nonpayment or remaining in possession after a lease has expired.

Northampton County tenants in need of rent assistance can do the following:

If you live in Bethlehem, Bethlehem Township, Hellertown, Lower Saucon Township :
Contact: New Bethany Ministries at 610-691-5602 x213

If you live in Easton there are 2 agencies you may contact:
- Easton Area Neighborhood Center at 610-253-4253 or email Ross Marcus at rmarcus@eastonanc.org
- ProJeCt of Easton at 610-258-1100 ext. 13 or email Michael Banas at mbanas@projecteaston.org

All other municipalities of Northampton County, contact Third Street Alliance at 610-438-1763 or email Ziana Keith at keith@thirdstreetalliance.org

Tenants who are 14 days or less away from losing their residence and have either a Notice to Quit or a Lockout Order/Notice:
Call 211 to be connected to Northampton County Tenant Eviction Assistance program seeking rental assistance

Thursday, July 09, 2020

NorCo Gets Green Light to Replace Glendon Hotel with Affordable Housing


At their July 7 meeting, Northampton County's General Purpose Authority (GPA) approved a resolution to seek a $300,000 blight remediation grant from the state for the demolition of Glendon Hotel. The previous evening, Glendon's Zoning Hearing Board granted relief to redevelop the current hotel site with five town homes, reported Deputy Director of Community and Economic Development Mark Hartney.

The County plans to use the $300,000 to raze the hotel, do site preparation and perform some engineering. The grant will require a 10% match from the GPA.

"The big unknown is how much rock is there," said Hartney.

Located on and actually falling onto Glendon's Main Street, the hotel was first built in 1740 as a place where people could seek protection in the event of an attack from Native ASmericans. It's original doors were six inches thick and the walls were perforated with loopholes from which occupants could fire. 

Instead of being a refuge, it is now a safety hazard.

Are We Still a Shining City on a Hill?



Republican Voters Against Trump have released a devastating ad using Ronald Reagan's words to drive home Trumps's disastrous term as President. I hope my Republican friends are paying attention.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Have You Tried Pickleball?

On July 4, I was at an undisclosed location in western Lehigh County for the latest hearts tournament. Naturally, I prevailed yet again, dashing the hopes of my opponents. One of them was so upset that he spilled his Sangria all over himself and another player. I was humble in victory, and consoled another player who broke down in tears. "It's only a game," I said. "I'm sure there's something you're good at. Ever try pickleball?"

Earlier that day, I noticed the grandson of one of my opponents had two smallish paddles and what looked like a large wiffle ball.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Pickleball."

"What's that?" I asked.

This young man, about 18' tall, explained that it's a game like tennis, badminton or even ping pong.

"Wanna play?" I asked.

"No way, you're a highly conditioned, well-trained athlete."

He's a very observant young man.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find an opponent. But that might soon change. Yesterday, I received a news release from the City of Allentown. Amazingly, it was about pickleball.

The City's Department of Parks and Recreation has repurposed seven tennis courts at Irving and Roosevelt Park so you can play either tennis or pickleball on them. According to the news release, Allentown has seen an increase in the sport of pickleball with several indoor locations interspersed throughout the community. Allentown offers the only outdoor pickleball courts in the Lehigh Valley and possibly the world, along with the largest city ID sign. The City intends to offer classes and possible pickleball tournaments in the future.

I hope Glenn Klein of summer hoops fame runs them.

I have already contacted Mayor Ray O'Connell to offer my services as an instructor. I was unfortunately disconnected, although it sounded like someone was laughing.

King Lear, Starring Ron Heckman

Northampton County Council President Ron Heckman is certainly one of the most informed persons I know when it comes to county government. He's also correct when he says, as he sometimes does, that County Council needs to assert itself more. This is an issue on a municipal, state and federal level. The executive branch has assumed near dictatorial powers, but that's only because the legislative branch allowed it to happen. So I was proud of Heckman at the June 18 Council meeting, when he finally said No to an Executive who was going to assume complete control over $4 million in small business grants. Council controls the purse strings. On the other hand, I am increasingly concerned that Heckman thinks he is the Executive, and a rather nasty one.

This actually started at the June 18 meeting in which County Council made clear that the governing body, and not Executive Lamont McClure, would be awarding the grants. During that meeting, Heckman raised a lot of concerns about the Greater LV Chamber of Commerce, which was pegged to market these grants. When McClure got up to explain the Chamber's fee, Heckman told him to sit down. Yes, it is Council's show, but if the Exec wants to explain something they are all asking about, it's kinda' dumb to tell the one person who can answer that he has not been recognized. It's really dumb when that one person happens to be the Executive.

Heckman has a mean streak. In November, he smeared then Acting Registrar Amy Hess because she was not at a Council meeting in which they were discussing the disastrous November election. It did not matter that she was actually working across the hall on that very election. Heckman would later apologize (privately, not publicly) to Hess, but she decided she preferred being a Deputy. Fortunately, her successor, Amy Cozze, has treated her as an equal, and the county pulled off its best election ever in June.

Heckman lashed out again at a county employee on July 2. Heckman was miffed that McClure was not speaking to him. McClure is likely waiting to be recognized. So Heckman tried to unload on Mark Hartney, another very hard-working county employee who had just finished explaining the difference between two different grant programs to Council member Lori Vargo-Heffner. Heckman was actually cross-examining Hartney, and McClure stood up to defend a county employee.

"This isn't a trial, I didn't know you were his lawyer," snarked Heckman.

"I'm not his lawyer, I'm his boss," retorted McClure, who was unwilling to submit an employee to abuse. "If you want to question the motives of the administration, I'm the one you should question."

Heckman should know he has no supervisory authority.

Heckman spent most of the meeting bloviating in what is increasingly becoming a very bad adaptation of King Lear. Very rarely have I ever heard a man use so many words to say so little. This is totally unfair to other Council members, who actually might have some ideas or suggestions themselves.

"Speak less than thou knowest," the Fool told Lear to no avail. And so it is with Heckman.

I have previously taken Council member Tara Zrinski to task for her failure to use her mike and constant interruptions. Over the past two meetings, Zrinski appears to have finally taken this criticism to heart. She has stopped interrupting others, raising her hand instead. And when she does speak, she has been using her mike. I'm still no fan, and think her idea of having the Executive appoint Council members to an oversight committee totally defeats the purpose of having one in the first place. I was nevertheless appalled at the treatment Heckman gave her.

Heckman had gone on ad nauseum to explain why he wanted all kinds of information. Zrinski waited to be recognized and was. While she was in the middle of making her own speech, Heckman interrupted her and went on for about a minute (it seemed longer) when Zrinski sought to reclaim the right to speak after having been cut off.

"No, you're not recognized, you're out of order," said Heckman, banging the gavel as well. He then repeated himself a few times.

"You're not going to monopolize the meeting, Tara," said the very person who himself was monopolizing the meeting.

Heckman would later announce that he would be appointing the Council members to sit on a committee to evaluate grant applications. "I'm the President of Council, and we're a separate branch of government, and I'm empowered to do something like that," he said. Except he isn't. Council has never adopted rules of order to spell out the precise powers of the President.

While he may object to a power grab by the Exec. It appears he's more than willing to make some power grabs of his own. He's not King, just King Lear.

The Fool also told Lear, "Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise."

It's advice Heckman should consider.

I Nominate NorCo's COs For Suicide Prevention Awards

Director of Human Services Susan Wandalowski and the Northampton County Suicide Prevention Task Force are seeking nominations to honor community members who work in or have participated in suicide prevention. Nominees may include those who have made suicide prevention their life’s work, are actively contributing to the cause, or have assisted in preventing loss by suicide.

Nominations should be made in an essay of 250 words or fewer with a description of why the nominee deserves to be recognized. Nominations can be sent to Susan Wandalowski via email at swandalowski@northamptoncounty.org or by mail to the following address:

Susan Wandalowski
2801 Emrick Blvd
Bethlehem, PA 18020

Nominations must be received or postmarked by August 14, 2020. Awards will be distributed at a press conference in September 2020.

I am nominating Northampton County's often overlooked corrections officers.

Here's what I am sending Sue Wandalowski:

During the height of the Covid-19 crisis, there is one group of Northampton County employees who really excelled. Though some of them got ill themselves, they somehow managed to keep the 24/7 jail fully staffed. In the process, they saved the lives of at least three inmates who tried to commit suicide. They are called corrections officers, and should be recognized as a group.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

What Unites Democrats and Republicans? Greed

A few breadcrumbs are going to be distributed to small businesses in Northampton County, once local lawmakers get their act together. It will be an opportunity for those who've been hit hard. It will also be an opportunity for those who are connected. It's hard to avoid being a cynic when you see who benefited from the PPP (paycheck protection program). It shows the one thing that unites Democrats and Republicans - greed.

A lost of beneficiaries was released by the Small Business Administration yesterday. Recipients include the family business of Transportation Sec'y Elaine Chou and Agriculture Sec'y Sonny Perdue, Nancy Pelosi's husband, private equity chains and members of Congress. In the meantime, citizens who've been thrown out of work by the pandemic deal with unresponsive state agencies and wait for weeks to collect, if at all.

I am attempting to review the list to determine who benefited locally. If you can do so, please share in the comments.

Two Grant Programs Available For NorCo Small Businesses

On Thursday night (July 2), Northampton County Council approved a mechanism for $4 million in grants to small businesses (less than 100 employees), capped at $15,000. But there's actually a second grant program as well, administered by Rising Tide for the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Rising Tide Grant Program. - These grants, ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, are for businesses which impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, but missed out on the funding offered through previous programs. To be eligible, a business must be physically located, certified to do business and generate at least 51% of its income in Pennsylvania. It must have an annual revenue of up to $1 million prior to and twenty-five or fewer full-time employees prior to February 15, 2020. Businesses owned and operated by low and moderate income people and re located in areas of need or are the types of businesses most impacted by the economic shutdown will be prioritized. Additional consideration will be given to businesses which are owned by women or located in communities targeted for business investment by the state government. Fifty percent of the grants will be awarded to Historically Disadvantaged businesses (i.e. at least 51% owned and operated by Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American or Pacific Islander).

Applications are being accepted through July 14.

NorCo Grant Program. - These grants, as noted above, are for businesses with 100 or less employees and are capped at $15,000. The application will be available within the next two weeks on the websites for Northampton County’s Department of Community and Economic Development (https://www.northamptoncounty.org/CMTYECDV/Pages/Apply-for-Funding.aspx) and the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce (https://www.lehighvalleychamber.org/)

Membership in the Chamber is not required to apply for a grant.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Wolf's Covid-19 Approval Rating Drops

According to the latest polling data from Fox43 and Susquehanna Polling and Research, there is much less public support for Governor Tom Wolf's management of the Covid-19 crisis. In April, he enjoyed a 69% approval rating. That number has dropped to 49%.

That same poll, conducted among 715 voters, gives Joe Biden a five-point edge over Donald Trump.

Nearly a quarter of those polled identified themselves as independent.

McClure Seeks Funding For Universal Covid Testing at Jail

For the most part, Northampton County's workforce has responded to the pandemic with stoic resolve. Several examples can be cited, from an elections office that worked long hours to ensure that the county delivered its most flawless election in my memory to Gracedale workers who themselves were crippled by the virus. But the most heroic example has been the county's corrections officers. They were unhappy with the contract awarded to them as a result of binding arbitration, and at least in my opinion, deserve more money. But instead of complaining when the pandemic broke, they stepped it up. In fact, they managed to save lives in the process. Despite being hit by the virus themselves, they stopped three inmates who tried to commit suicide.

In his report to NorCo Council on July 2, Executive Lamont McClure advised that he is seeking funding so that universal testing for Covid-19 can take place at the jail. The latest CDC guidance does recommend universal testing at all congregate care facilities, including jails.

NorCo Council - Racism a Public Health Crisis

At the request of member Kerry Myers, Northampton County Council on July 2 unanimously resolved that racism is a public health crisis and called on state and national leaders to do the same. Myers, as Council's sole black member, has several times shared details of the not-so-subtle racism he and his father before him has experienced. He mentioned an incident from his youth, when he was visiting in the South, used a public bathroom, and was told that if he did it again, he'd get a bullet in his head. When he joined the military, he said no one much cared what color you were if you covered the back of your brother-in-arms. But when he returned from service, he was once again a black man.

Of systemic racism, Myers said, "The only way to address it is to hit it over the head with a hammer." He called systemic racism "a disease of the mind."

Myers noted, however, that he is at a loss to understand "the amount of hate directed at our men in blue." He said they do not deserve to be "painted with a broad brush," and ironically observed "they now feel some of what we feel as African Americans."

"We need to respect each other, and that's the only way we're going to heal the hearts of this county."

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Independence Day and MLK

Today, a bunch of tea party members and Northampton County Republicans will drape themselves in the flag to read the Declaration of Independence. This is their proof that they're patriots. Here are the words that Dr. Martin Luther King added in an independence day speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1962.
In a sense we've come to our nation's Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds.”
It's time to honor that bad check

Friday, July 03, 2020

$4 Million in Small Business Grants to NorCo Small Biz

Last night, after a lengthy meeting in which Council President Ron Heckman did most of the talking, Northampton County Council unanimously approved two resolutions for the distribution of $27.6 million in CARES Act funding from the state and federal government.

The least controversial measure was an award of grants to several bi-county ventures as well as the State Theatre. Council approved $500,000 to Discover Lehigh Valley; $500,000 to ArtsQuest; $250,000 to the Lehigh and Northampton County Airport Authority; and $100,000 to the State Theatre. Lehigh County either has or will contribute similar sums to DiscoverLV, Artsquest and the Airport. The State Theatre was added at the request of Council member John Cusick, who said this Easton anchor has been hit hard by the pandemic.

Executive Lamont McClure told Council that he and Lehigh County Exec Phil Armstrong had a meeting with State Senators Lisa Boscola and Pat Browne, who strongly suggested steering grant money to bi-county ventures.

Another A $175,000 grant will go to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) for costs related to assisting businesses during the COVID-19 disaster emergency.

The more controversial measure was the approval of a mechanism under which $4 million will be awarded to small businesses in Northampton County. Executive Lamont McClure had one proposal, under which the Greater LV Chamber of Commerce would actively market the grants, after which applications would be reviewed by a five-person committee consisting of two Council members and two members of the McClure administration. It would be up to the full Council to decide on awards.

Earlier in the week, Council President Heckman had submitted two resolutions of his own. But he agreed to the McClure option so long as three Council members were on the Committee and more documentation was provided to Council.

Under the approved resolution the grant program will be administered by the Chamber in exchange for $175,000. As explained by VP Jessica O'Donnell, the Chamber has a large data base of both member and non-member businesses, is familiar with all the municipalities, and will actively reach out to businesses.

Council member Tara Zrinski noted that the Chamber already administered one grant program with its own cash reserves and one-third of the awards went to non-members. In addition, O'Donnell told Council that the Chamber asked to reduce its original fee of $200,000 so that more money would be available to small business.

Moreover, DCED is a seven-person staff tasked with multiole obligations, from the GPA to gaming grants.

Before the actual Council meeting, this matter was also reviewed by Kevin Lott's Economic Development Committee.

Things got ugly, thanks to Heckman.

Heckman has a tendency to lash out at county employees. He did it to Amy Hess when she was the Elections Registrar, after which she decided she'd rather be a Deputy. He did it again last night to Deputy DCED Director Mark Hartney.

Hartney had just finished explaining that the state has yet to provide guidance concerning these small business grants, when Heckman started cross-examining him.

McClure got up to defend Hartney.

"This isn't a trial, I didn't know you were his lawyer," snarked Heckman.

"I'm not his lawyer, I'm his boss," retorted McClure, who was unwilling to submit an employee to abuse. "If you want to question the motives of the administration, I'm the one you should question."

Then Heckman began complaining to other Council members that McClure won't speak to him.

I'll have more to say next week.

APD "Use of Force" Policy, Available Online, Bans Choke Holds

You can read the use of force policy here. Interestingly, the "[u]se of neck restraints or similar weaponless control techniques (choke holds) is prohibited. Preventing imminent death or serious bodily injury to a member or citizen is the only possible exception to the prohibition."

Universal Covid-19 Testing at Gracedale Reveals Six Asymptomatic Employees

Gracedale Administrator Jennifer Stewart King reported to Northampton County last night concerning the universal testing at the county nursing home. This went on between June 26-28, and included the testing of 568 employees and 296 residents.

Of the 296 residents tested, three were positive.

Of the 568 employees tested, six asymptomatic employees were discovered and are in isolation. These are sometimes called "silent spreaders" because they can infect others without even knowing they have the virus.

Twelve test results are still pending.

King also told Council last night that the census is currently 526. Thus far, 146 residents and 57 employees have tested positive for Covid-19.

Unfortunately, 74 residents have died as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

King added that testing will continue on a regular basis.

Wolf Taps Cozze to Election Law Advisory Board

Governor Tom Wolf has nominated Northampton County Registrar of Elections Amy Cozze to the Pennsylvania Election Law Advisory Board. This board collaborates with agencies and political subdivisions to study election-related issues and identify best practices to ensure voting integrity. Membership includes one representative from each of Pennsylvania’s eighteen congressional districts.

Amy Cozze will represent the 7th Congressional District.

Ms. Cozze’s appointment must be confirmed by the Pennsylvania State Senate.

Her appointment is a recognition of her stellar performance during the Presidential Primary.