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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, December 29, 2006

Norco Dem Chair Joe Long's Inside Link to Elections Office - His Daughter

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingJoe Long, Northampton County Democratic party chair, likes to call himself Boss Long. No wonder. He was miraculously "reelected" to his post before committeemen were even certified. And on the Bethlehem Housing Authority, he trampled all over the Sunshine Act until Larry Kisslinger blew the whistle.

But what's really bothers me is Long's seeming inside connection to the embattled Northampton County voter registration office. On May 24, I wondered how Joe Long knew, on election night, that congressional write-in candidate Dertinger had over 3,000 votes. Eight days after the election, the voter registration office informed me that "unofficial" results would not be available for another week. I was told Long could learn this from his own poll workers, but I started getting suspicious.

Then Long began a strident, and ultimately unsuccessful, defense of the Elections Commission Chair, Walter Garvin. Garvin, aka Wally G, was conducting a weekly radio show during the last campaign aimed at getting Democrats elected. He regularly slammed Congressman Charlie Dent, suggesting he was part of a "culture of corruption." I believed it presented an appearance of impropriety. And lo and behold, Garvin was an area chair in the local democratic party. His dual role as party officer and elections chair was a clear Home Rule Charter violation. Long laughed off these problems until Garvin, an honorable man, voluntarily resigned his position in the Democratic party.

Last week, during a WGPA 1100 AM radio show, I began criticizing problems in the elections office. These extend from a ballot designed to promote straight party tickets, to unanswered phones and refusals to make provisional ballots available. They hurt candidates in both major parties. Joe Long called in to defend the elections office again. And while I was trying to point out that the problems affect both parties, he called me an asshole on the air. He then tried to clear things up on my blog. This prompted a question from me. "If you have nothing to do with the control of that office, then why are you so hell bent on defending it?"

Now I finally know why Long doesn't want me sticking my big nose into what goes on in that office. His daughter worked there. According to a report from the county's human resources, I know she was hired by former county exec Reibman as a part-time employee in April 2002, and stayed on board until July 26, 2006.

Boss Long's daughter helped run the elections office.

How convenient! Talk about "appearance of impropriety."

Illegal? No. Sleazy? You bet.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rob Wonderling: It's "hard work" being a state senator

When GW debated Kerry, he made eleven references to the "hard work" he's doing in the oval office. He's not alone. State Senator Rob Wonderling today released his own report on the state Republican website detailing all the "hard work" accomplished last year. Gee, they must be tired! He's happy about a law making it more difficult for injured persons to collect damages, but is disappointed the measure was vetoed. He claims we now have property tax reform while promising that we're going to have even more property tax reform. He also takes credit for legislation that never passed. Not a word about reforming his own house. Republican leader Sam Smith has already said he doesn't "want reform simply for reform's sake." Meanwhile, House Speaker John Perzel refuses to answer questions about legislators' expense accounts.

Curmudgeon Declared Winner in Blog Parody Contest

On Tuesday, I listed a poll so readers could decide a winner in the highly controversial Christmas Parody challenge issued by Madbatter. My entry was disqualified because it is seven months old. Madbatter's entry was not natural, but was alcoholically induced.

Last night, however, the King of the Blogosphere declared a winner, spurning popular sentiment. The winning entry wasn't even submitted until after Christmas. It's not among the six essays listed in my poll. But Madbatter is absolutely right. LVCurmudgeon's "O' Little Town of Bethlehem" is a hilarious, yet chilling, prophesy for post-casino Bethlehem.

Congrats to LVCurmudgeon for an outstanding Christmas parody. And Madbatter, your challenge was great fun over the holidays. Next year, you're both going down.

Bloggin' on WGPA 1100 AM With Rich Grucela & Joe Brennan

State representatives Rich Grucela and Joe Brennan will be today's guests on WGPA 1100 AM between 8 and 10 AM. Rich is a seasoned veteran while Joe is a freshman. Both of these affable Democrats certainly heard the message delivered by voters in November. Voters want open and responsive government. It's a message they themselves have preached.

The house leadership? That's another story. For the first time since 1994, the state house is democratic. Yet the first piece of legislation drafted by Dem leader DeWeese is an expansion of slots into other forms of gaming. Is this what voters wanted?

I'll be asking Joe and Rich to talk about what they, and not DeWeese, hope to accomplish in the state house next year. Reforms aimed at ghost voting? Meaningful lobbyist regulation? Per diems? Campaign finance reform? Property tax reform? Expansion of the Sunshine Act?

Feel free to call in between 8 and 10AM. You can livestream, and your calls are welcome at 610-866-8074. You can even post comments or questions here and I'll read them to Rich and Joe while we're on the air.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Norco Official's Solution to Election Woes - "Let's Go to Florida"

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAs you know, we've got mega problems at Northampton County's polls. Voting screens promote straight party voting. Machines jam. Voters not listed on poll books are sent packing without being offered provisional ballots. And Registrar Deborah DePaul insists her office must perform a time-consuming manual tabulation of votes. New technology designed to increase public confidence has incredibly had the opposite effect.

Our new high-priced Director of Administration, John R. Conklin, has a suggestion. He wants elections workers to tour Broward County in Florida, the land of hanging chads. He claims elections there go off "pretty much without a hitch."

Excuse me?

What the hell is he smoking? Broward County is the source of all the controversy concerning the Bush/Gore presidential contest. Those hanging chads ended up hanging Gore. They eventually led to the federal requirement that we use touch screen voting machines. Yet Conklin wants elections officials to tour the very county that screwed up a presidential contest. Seriously, is this dude nuts? Northampton County officials have a penchant for idiotic statements, but Conklin's remark has to qualify him as nitwit of the year.

It's getting cold. Conklin must miss Florida. Maybe he has a job interview. But if he wants to visit, he should do so on his own dime.

And contrary to Conklin's assertion, Broward County elections have remained a source of controversy. In November, there was no process for poll workers to report problems and no central database for machine problems. Problems with touchscreen machines kept at least one precinct from opening on time, and litigation is threatened.

This is by no means unusual in Broward County. In 2002, a software error resulted in the loss of over 100,000 votes. Oopsie! In 2004, 134 ballots simply failed to register in a special election for a state house seat with a 12 vote margin of victory. Between 2002 and 2005, there have been at least eight such screw-ups.

On top of everything else, Broward and Northampton County are in two different states with completely different election laws. And Broward County uses ES&S Votronic touch-screen voting machines while Northampton County uses Advanced Voting Solutions.

The Express Times has its own suggestion. Either Advanced Voting Solutions is failing to remedy system flaws, or Registrar DePaul "is ill-equipped to handle the task." This problem must be identified and corrected immediately.

And it doesn't require a trip to sunny Florida.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The "Humorous Christmas Parody" Poll

MadBatter, in the depths of some alcoholic stupor, has somehow concluded that he is a master of parody. He's challenged fellow bloggers to take him on. As we've submit our own entries, all we get are barely coherent responses. So why don't you decide which essay is the best parody? I don't care whether I win. I just want to take that bastard, Madbatter, down with me.

Here are the entries.

Click on this poll and vote! I'll keep it up for a week.

Update: My humblest apologies to Gort, whose "Holiday Greetings From the Mean One" was terrific. I certainly meant to include his entry, but don't want to change the poll now. I cling to a razor thin lead. Gort, you can safely conclude this poll is a battle for second place.

Bloggin' on WGPA 1100 AM With Young Republican Julian Stolz

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI'll be bloggin' on WGPA 1100 AM today between 8 and 10 AM. During the first hour, I'll be joined by a fellow blogger. LVDem? MadBatter? GreendogDem? NakedLehighCountyBlogger? Nah. They give some song and dance about how "important" it is they preserve their anonymity. The truth? They fear my searing logic.

Chris "Blue Collar" Casey, founder of TrueDems, is an exception. He's no creampuff. He wants to come on the air, dressed like a leprechaun in spandex, and do some goofy step dancing. I'm sorry but Riverdance is the best proof yet that we Irish are idiots. It might interfere with all the chickendancers at WGPA. Also, I just can't seem to get through to Chris that no one will actually see his step dancing on the radio. They'll just hear some clicking noise and the sound of splitting pants.

So my guest is Republican Julian Stolz, a fellow blogger who publishes Right from Lehigh County. Julian represents the future of Lehigh Valley politics. He's a co-founder of the last remaining Young Republicans chapter in Lehigh County. He interned for State Senator Rob Wonderling in 2005 and was Desales University's Campus Chair for Santorum's failed reelection bid.

Now he's in the running for the East Penn School Board. But most important, today is his birthday!

I'd like to ask him how local Republicans have managed to keep a stranglehold in western Lehigh Valley while losing everywhere else. Maybe we can pick up a pointer or two.

Feel free to call in with your insults on Thursday between 8 and 10AM. You can livestream, and your calls are welcome at 610-866-8074. You can even post your comments here and I'll read them on the air.
Update: Many thanks to Julian Stolz, a very well-spoken and intelligent guest with interesting views. We obviously disagree on a number of important issues, but I really admire any young person who takes an interest in open and accountable government. I certainly would vote for him as a member of the East Penn School Board.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Latest Victim of Global Warming - Santa Claus

(I originally posted this story in early May, but it seems more appropriate now).
NORTH POLE - Global warming claimed its latest victims this weekend when Santa Claus and his entire team of reindeer fell through thinning ice at the North Pole, plunging to watery deaths. President Bush did send condolences to Mrs. Claus, but disputed claims that global warming caused St. Nick's demise. "Let's face it, Santa was fat. I loved the guy, but he was no Lance Armstrong. Maybe he should have spent a little less time eating Christmas cookies, and a little more time riding a mountain bike. Besides, the science is not in on whether the globe is warming."

Homeland Security officials actually breathed a sigh of relief. Secretary Chertoff explained, "This guy in a goofy red suit was dropping stuff off at millions of homes every year without so much as a 'how do you do' to customs. How do we know he wasn't dropping chickens infected with Avian flu? Ever think about that? Ho. Ho. Ho. What's so funny about that? And what's up with all that peeping through bedroom windows at little kids?"

ExxonMobil reacted to the news by immediately dispatching oil exploration teams. Drilling is expected in the next month, and oil industry officials predict big savings at the pump, possibly as much as a penny per gallon. One energy expert noted, "We don't have to worry about preserving reindeer habitat with Santa out of the way. Now they're as useless as an appendix." When asked about the dwindling polar bear population, an oil industry official said, "That's why we have zoos. And if people really need to see white bears, we can just grab a few grizzlies and spray paint 'em. Conservationists must learn to think outside the box."

Most world leaders did express grief, but this sentiment was by no means universal. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for example, released the following remarks: "I dance on his grave - Santa Claus is a silly myth - we will wipe the North Pole off the map - right after we're done with Israel - arrrghh." Tehran officials privately acknowledged that Ahmadinejad was miffed after being placed on Santa's "naughty" list last year.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Glenn Reibman & the Falun Gong

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingMad Batter, self-proclaimed King of the Blogosphere, has had the gall to challenge fellow bloggers to "write humorous parodies and try to make the rest of us laugh for Christmas." His own pathetic entry about Jesus running for President, is obviously the result of drugs. A grade school essay could beat that. But not Chris Casey. He dropped a turd about Santa Claus not coming to Republicans' homes this Christmas. Naked Lehigh County Blogger, with her report about an ATF Raid on the North Pole, beats them both. She's definitely in the lead.

Until now.

I actually have two entries. I'm posting the first now, and will post another tomorrow.

I get two shots because my first entry is not technically a parody. It concerns former Northampton County Exec Glenn Reibman, and it's actually true!

Last year, employees were going on their third year without a contract. Taxes had increased seventy percent in just two years. One top aide spent time in federal prison for bribery, and another resigned in disgrace when it was learned he was arranging wife-swapping adventures on county time. Employees were becoming ill from all the dust and fiberglass particles coming from the construction of a new courthouse, and project management was delegated to the judges.

So what the hell was Glenn Reibman doing?

Are you sure you want to know?

Whereas, Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) is an advanced exercise and meditation practice system of mind and body based on ancient wisdom; and

Whereas, Falun Dafa was introduced to the public in 1992. Falun Dafa is taught free of charge and is practiced in over sixty countries by about 100 million people in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, North America and South America; and

Whereas, Falun Dafa has helped people around the world improve their health, calm their minds, uplift their spirits, and deepen their understanding of life and humanity. It has also inspired people from all walk of life to turn away from drugs, alcohol, violence, and other harmful habits toward a more harmonious life; and

Whereas, people are learning the practice and purifying their heats, energizing their bodies, and breaking old addictions and bad habits. Their families are living more in peace, and communities are embracing virtue; and

Whereas, since its introduction in Northampton County in 2002, practitioners have continued sharing Falun Dafa's gentle exercises and teachings of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved, that I, Glenn F. Reibman, County Executive of the County of Northampton, on behalf of the residents of Northampton County, do hereby proclaim the week of

June 6, 2005 - June 12, 2005

Northampton County Falun Dafa Week

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the County of Northampton to be affixed this 6th day of June, 2005.

Glenn F. Reibman
County Executive
Northampton County

Truth is always stranger than fiction.

Doesn't the Right to Speak Include a Duty to Listen?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI've ranted for years about open public meetings. I pester pols and local papers with letters and emails, have filed about five or six lawsuits, and repeatedly blog about our Sunshine Act. That Act gives us a right to speak at every public meeting on any matter of concern.

But every right includes a corollary obligation. The right to speak, therefore, should include a duty to listen. And that's what bothers me. There's always a group of people who want council to hear what they have to say, but they can't stick around to listen to anyone else. A perfect illustration of that principle came at a meeting of Northampton County Council several weeks ago, when a horde of open space advocates arrived to make their support clear.

The evening's first speaker, Plainfield Township Supervisor Matt Glennon, droned on for his allotted five minutes about how "politically brave" it is to raise taxes a half mill for universally popular open space. The evening's second speaker, the Sierra Club's David Maguire, would certainly add something a little more significant. But I never got to hear him.

This is because Glennon, as soon as he was done with his spiel, couldn't be bothered to listen to anyone else. He's too important. And as he left council chambers, he carried on a loud conversation with a passerby that made it impossible for most of us in the peanut gallery to hear Maguire or anyone else.

Glennon was by no means the sole offendor. Prince of Poverty Alan Jennings is a nonresident who didn't let that little fact stop him from telling us what to do with our money. Forks resident Ken Nagy, an open space opponent, addresses every council meeting he attends. Neither could stick around to hear what anyone else had to say.

In fact, I pointed this out to Ken Nagy today when he called WGPA 1100 AM to tell listeners what he thinks about something. When I started talking to him, the bastard hung up on me, proving my point.

Why should a governmental body listen to these folks when they can't listen to each other?

Bloggin' on WGPA 1100 AM without Ron Angle

For the second time this week, I'm guest hosting Ron Angle's WGPA 1100 AM's talk show. Northampton County's open space initiative and Bethlehem's casino license are hot topics right now, but I suspect listeners will be surprised Thursday to learn that Angle has been given his walking papers by Grinchy Timmer. And I intend to talk about it.

You, too, can call in with your insults on Thursday between 8 and 10AM. Who knows? Grouchy Joe Timmer might want to hire you as Angle's replacement! You can livestream, and your calls are welcome at 610-866-8074. You can also post your comments here and I'll read them on the air. I'm told I'll have a mystery caller, and it's not Ron Angle.

Update: The comments from Tuesday's show are on this post. Somehow, I deleted Tuesday's post when preparing this one, but was able to save your comments. Feel free to add as you wish.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Did Angle Just do his Last Radio Talk Show on WGPA 1100 AM?

Northampton County Councilman and radio shock jock Ron Angle called me after his show on WGPA 1100 AM today. He sounded a little despondent, and told me station owner Jolly Joe Timmer gave him his ten day notice today. Since Angle is taking time off for the holidays, this could mean his last show was today.

"Ho! Ho! Ho! His name is Jolly Joe.

Ho! Ho! Ho! It's off the show you go."

It might surprise you to know this, but I don't think Angle likes anything more than hosting a radio talk show, even on a small AM radio station with a Cinderella license. If he had a choice between a position on council or talk radio, he'd choose talk radio. If he had a choice between his millions and talk radio, he'd pick talk radio.

And Angle's show made Timmer around eighty thousand dollars last year. But Timmer and Angle have been tangling for months, and Ron loves to instigate. And Jolly Joe just ain't all that jolly. He's still grousing at Bill White, and on the air, after a fairly innocuous column that gave his station some free advertising.

The irony of all this is that Democrats may have the last word on Angle's show. I'm guest-hosting the next few days. Next Thursday's show will tentative include state representatives Joe Brennan and Rich Grucela, and they're both Democrats.

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board: It's Bethlehem!

After a suspiciously late start, Pennsylvania's Gaming Control Board quickly got down to business. It's Bethlehem!! Damn! I just lost $20. Allentown is going to be pissed, especially since Rendell just dropped off $18.5 million in Bethlehem on Monday.

Northampton County Councilmen & Their Broken Promises

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWhen John Stoffa ran for county exec, he promised voters to raise taxes a half mill (a nickel per $100 in assessment) for open space. On a shoestring budget, he was elected. And last Thursday, he kept his word. That's in stark contrast to most pols, who manage to sit on the fence while keeping both ears to the ground.

Tony Branco and Lamont McClure are perfect examples of pols who say one thing but do something else. Both were appointed to fill vacancies on Northampton County Council early this year. In addition to their appointment, they have something else in common. Neither pays much attention to his promises.

Where, oh where, is Lamont McClure's Child Exploitation Unit?

When he auditioned for council on January 19, McClure claimed he "would like to address the issue of online sexual predators and perhaps create a county child exploitation unit." He explained that the county could hire an investigator and set up the software to nab pedophiles.

Council not only appointed McClure, but gave him the chair of council's law and order committee. In its three meetings, McClure never mentioned a child exploitation unit. He instead initiated an idiotic code of civility designed to muzzle councilmen and even citizens who get too critical. McClure explained "the public has not been getting the message about the good work" being accomplished. And his solution to that problem is to silence dissenters. It's an obvious First Amendment violation.

What's really sad about McClure's broken promise is that the Lehigh Valley has recently seen its fair share of child exploitation. Just a few days ago, an online predator pleaded guilty to having sex behind a church with two underage girls in Upper Nazareth. We read about this every day. But McClure forgot about this problem once he was appointed.

Why Can't Tony Branco Sit Down with Local Municipalities?

In his audience before council, Tony Branco's top priority was having council "sit down with local municipalities to discuss a lot of the problems they are facing. A lot of local zoning plans did not foresee the large influx of growth actually taking place."

Council appointed Branco and gave him the chair of council's intergovernmental committee. But Branco has failed to conduct a single meeting. For three times over the past two years, communities along the Delaware River have been devastated by floods. But Branco's committee is MIA.

Branco and McClure were both rejected by the voters last November and are only on council because they were appointed. They both failed to keep simple promises. They proved the voters right.

Blogger's Note: Italicized quotes are not verbatim but are drawn from approved county council and committee minutes.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Stoffa's Open Space Advocates

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOn Thursday, Northampton County Council finally adopted John Stoffa's open space program. It's a modest yet realistic proposal that raises taxes a half mill to provide a steady revenue stream for farmland preservation, county and municipal parks and environmentally sensitive land.

Forty open space proponents packed council chambers. Twenty spoke. Nature Boy, a regular commenter, has asked me to identify these people. They've actually been disparaged by another blogger, who is incredibly a Democratic committeeman. "Meetings are filled with people with their own agenda, speaking their talking points, and spreading their 'facts.' " He even states that "open space advocates are an interest group."

So let me introduce you to the "special interest" group spreading these biased "facts." My spelling is phonetic so some names may not be right. I apologize for any misspelled names.

Susan Lear of Bushkill argued that Stoffa's open space plan is a "critical part" of a local effort in which she is involved. Her sentiments were echoed by Mike Toping and Bill Mineo.

Bill Sweeney from the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources indicated the state was prepared to match county contributions in a big way. Sherri Yasavedo, also with the state's DCNR, claimed the state has already committed to a $1.5 million match this year and has agreed to more contributions over the next three years.

Sandra Yerger and Tom Maxfield are Lower Saucon Township Supervisors who spoke of their own referendum for open space, which passed with 66% of the vote. "The land is either going to go away or become more expensive. " Jason Smith, a Bushkill Township supervisor, echoed those sentiments.

Robert Doerr, a Williams Township supervisor, pointed out that Williams Township, through its tax increase, has already raised $3 million for open space. He declared Stoffa's plan the best one proposed. He was joined by Jerry Steele, the chair of Williams Township preservation board, who warned we are "being circled by corporate developers."

On behalf of both the Lehigh Valley League of Women Voters and Green Valley Coalition, Joyce Mosey characterized Stoffa's plan as "excellent." That's how Roger Hudak feels, too. He chairs Bethlehem's South Side Task Force.

Landowner John Horth was there to talk about the historical value of his proprty. Sherri Darr from Washington Township was also on hand to voice her support. Her special interest is that of concerned citizen. Dixie White, a county employee, supports Stoffa's plan, too. And Ann Gerin of our local wildlands conservancy was the final special interest council heard.

These special interests, if you want to call them that, consist mostly of municipal officials elected by the people to represent their views. In my view that's a pretty powerful special interest, and I'm glad they were on hand to enlighten council.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Northampton County Council: The Workers & Slackers in 2006

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIf you want to see who works and who doesn't on Northampton County Council, look no further than their committees. That's where the grunt work gets done.

Although Council has eight standing committees, only two were active last year. These are the personnel and finance committees, chaired by Ann McHale and Ron Angle.

Two committees have not bothered to meet at all. Tony Branco's intergovernmental committee is inactive even though a top county priority should be regionalization of services with other counties and communities. Rev. Dowd's Operations and Administration committee has also failed to conduct a single meeting, even though the courthouse project is $3 million over budget and courthouse workers were still getting ill as recently as Friday.

Council's standing committees conducted twenty-two meetings last year. Every member of council is encouraged to participate in every committee. So it's a pretty accurate gauge of the time and effort each councilperson devotes to government service.

Council Prez Wayne Grube attended 19 committee meetings last year, making him the hardest working and most dedicated council member. Running close behind, and in a tie for number two, are Ann McHale and Ron Angle, who attended 16 committee meetings. Nipping at their heels with 15 meetings is newcomer John Cusick, who has been brilliant in his first year on council. Another rookie, Diane Neiper, gets an honorable mention for squeezing 13 committee meetings into her schedule. Rev. J. Michael Dowd attended only nine meetings last year, barely acceptable and very disappointing from a former council president who may have needed a year to get his juices flowing again.

But the real slackers are Tony Branco, Lamont McClure and Charles Dertinger.

Branco has attended just seven committee meetings since his appointment. It's no wonder. He has a daily two hour commute to his township manager job in Douglass Township. Although he quit his position on Hellertown's borough council, where he served for years, he has remained on a county council where he clearly is in way over his head. It's painful to watch him.

McClure, like Branco, is an appointed councilman. He's lost every time he's run for the job. Based on my own experience with the dude, that's no surprise. He once pretended he was an anonymous Express Times reader to make senseless personal attacks against me on this blog. He's also bullied me with libel threats, for correctly reporting he ignored the Sunshine Act. Lamont attended a grand total of four committee meetings. I'd better get ready for the libel threats again.

Joining McClure in the basement is Charles "Don't Call me Charlie" Dertinger, who is still bristling that John Stoffa didn't let him kill the open space initiative. On Sunday, the Express Times reported that Dertinger now compares Stoffa with the Bush administration. That's a stretch, Charlie, I mean Charles. Dertinger must be whiffing too much exhaust in his daily commute to the Big Apple. Like McClure, Dertinger only attended four committee meetings last year. He was too busy running for Congress to engage in mundane tasks like reading the county's Home Rule Charter.

Dertinger, McClure and Branco are furious that Stoffa's open space plan succeeded and their plan to cook the books failed. Dertinger is now calling the Home Rule Charter "yellowcake uranium." McClure is probably drafting an amendment to his code of civility prohibiting references to that nasty Home Rule Charter. Branco is skipping council's reorganization in January so he can attend one in Berks County.

If these three councilmembers made a point of attending a few more committee meetings, they might actually become a little more familiar with the Home Rule Charter. But when they seek reelection, and they will, they'll flood you with mailers telling you what you want to hear. For the truth, look at their committee record. It shows them for what they really are - political hacks who will try to buy your vote.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stoffa Delivers on Open Space Pledge in Northampton County

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHe wasn't bashful about it. When he ran for exec, John Stoffa told voters he'd raise their taxes. They elected him anyway and last night he kept that promise. Despite an attempt by a Democratic majority to torpedo Stoffa, they were the ones who ended up being blindsided and looking foolish in the process. And for the first time, Northampton County has a "pay as you go" open space plan. It will cost homeowners a nickel for every hundred dollars assessed.

What is Stoffa's open space plan? Earlier this week, he circulated his own explanation.

"My proposal calls for a half mil of tax, along with utilizing a $10 million line of credit. In the Proposed 2007 Budget, $5 million of the line of credit would be utilized with $3 million State matching Farmland Preservation funds along with $2 million for Environmentally Sensitive Areas. In addition, the half mil of tax ($3.5 million) will allow $1 million for County Parks, an additional $1 million for Farmland, $800,000 for Environmentally Sensitive Areas, $500,000 for Municipal Parks and $200,000 for Debt Service. In total, for 2007, it is roughly $8.3 million. Never in our County's history, have we had such an opportunity to move forward. My fear is that we won't. There will be substitute plans, but there's none as strong as the one that I have proposed."

It's a modest and realistic plan that will generate $84 million over twenty years. And council chambers were packed last night with over forty open space advocates to endorse that proposal. Twenty of them spoke. They included municipal reps from Plainfield, Lower Saucon, Williams, Bushkill, Nazareth and Bethlehem. Most of these municipalities have started their own programs and have kicked in their own dough. And Stoffa himself addressed council in his quiet and casual style. "I'm trying to do what the people want."

But the most compelling speaker, by far, was an 85 year-old William Township farmer, who told us the "sands are running through the hourglass" of his life. He owns a historic 217 acre tract of mostly woodland. It was used during the revolutionary war for ironpit mines and was once inhabited by those powwow doctor responsible for many of the Hexenkopf myths. He'd like that property preserved.

But when it came time for a vote on the half mill tax increase, Charles Dertinger had a torpedo ready for Stoffa. Sure, Dertinger is Council's supposed open space chair, but he doesn't want a tax increase on his record next time he runs for Congress or President or Governor. Neither does Lamont McClure. And Wayne Grube wants to remain council president. So Grube backtracked on a promise to support Stoffa's budget. And these three stooges pulled Diane Neiper and Tony Branco along with them to destroy Stoffa's half mill initiative.

What they decided to do instead was invade the county's two month cash reserve balance, a rainy day fund set aside for large unexpected expenditures like a big union contract or hiring more employees than anticipated. It's irresponsible Afflerbach accounting, the very practice that put Allentown in financial distress. They cooked the books. And in the process, they denied the county an opportunity to establish a regular funding mechanism for open space.

Dertinger and McClure clearly cobbled their majority behind closed doors in violation of the Sunshine Act. Once you start breaking these little laws, you start breaking others. And guess what? Their vote also violated the Home Rule Charter, which prohibits council from playing games with the executive's estimated cash reserve. Duran Hamann, the county's budget director, told council as much and also mentioned that Dertinger's proposal was contrary to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Fiscal Affairs Director Vic Mazziotti told them the same thing. He even provided examples of the kind of trouble they could face by playing games with the cash reserve.

None of this persuaded asbestos lawyer Lamont McClure, who insisted on arguing accounting practices with Mazziotti. Once he had finished making a fool out of himself, Branco and Neiper were both ready to change their votes.

Grube whined he had been blindsided. And erstwhile congressional candidate Charles Dertinger demanded that Stoffa explain why he hadn't warned about the Home Rule Charter.

Stoffa's laconic response - "You're supposed to know that." And he is.

Hooray for our team!

Dertinger, McClure and Grube seriously underestimated Stoffa. They looked like a bunch of phonies out for themselves. Dertinger is complaining he's been "tricked" by a county executive who never deviated from a simple request for a half mill tax increase to fund an honest open space proposal. If Dertinger wants to know who tricked him, he should look in a mirror. The phrase "faithless politician" comes to mind. I think I've heard that somewhere. But I've got a better one for Dertinger, McClure and Grube. The three stooges. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. What's sad is these are the Democrats. And they're idiotic enough to cry foul after attempting to derail the budget proposed by the Democratic county executive.

Update: The Morning Call has characterized Stoffa's half mill "pay as you go" open space plan as a "farsighted approach" that will save us money in the long run.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

John Stoffa Listens to Northampton County Workers on Radio Talk Show

It's something Glenn Reibman would never do. Today, Northampton County Exec John Stoffa was kind enough to come on Ron Angle's controversial WGPA 1100 AM talk show. And he did so only one day after I stated he's had long enough to negotiate contracts with his underpaid workforce.

What he made clear, at least to me, is that he does care and is doing his best to rectify a situation that has been ten years in the making. He listened patiently to calls from frustrated courthouse workers and taxpayers, and made clear that he wants county workers to get a living wage. Next year, the county's antiquated salary structure will get a much-needed overhaul. Stoffa agreed the county's workforce is his top priority.

I expect Northampton county workers will finally get a living wage. It may not happen as quickly as I would like, but it will happen.

Northampton County Continues to Ignore its Workers

A week ago, over one hundred county workers stuffed into cramped council chambers to demand a fair wage. Some are on food stamps. Others need home heating assistance. The combined average salary for the row office, maintenance and 911 workers is nearly $12,000 below the $38,622 average earnings paid to people who worked in Northampton County over two years ago. Many feel Northampton County Executive John Stoffa has broken promises made before his election.

Although I don't believe that Stoffa intentionally misled anyone, he has clearly failed to give county workers the priority they so clearly deserve. He's not alone. They've been ignored by everyone, and for too long. It's simply inexcusable that, for nearly four years, their wages have been stagnant. And the problem actually started ten years ago, when the county stopped increasing its payscale.

Evidence of this neglect continues to mount. Last Thursday, as courthouse workers paraded the street outside Stoffa's office, he reputedly promised to contact union negotiators the very next day. But that hasn't happened. Once again, Northampton County is dissing its most valuable possession - its workforce. Here's a letter union negotiators mailed to Stoffa yesterday.

Dear Mr. Stoffa,

On the evening of Thursday, December 7th you and [Fiscal Affairs Director] Maziotti promised that you would respond to our request for continued negotiations on the Residual Unit "Final Offer" the following day, Friday, December 8th.

I received no communication from either of you as of Friday afternoon. I left a voice mail for Mr. Maziotti Friday morning requesting a response to our request and also requesting the County's cost analysis ... .

I received a voice mail reply from Mr. Maziotti the afternoon of December 11th stating that my inquiries and request for information should be directed to either you or [the Director of Human Resources].

I left a voice mail for you around noon on Tuesday, December 12th requesting the cost analysis and continued negotiations. As of 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, December 13th I have not heard back from you.

I am requesting continuation of negotiations and copies of the County's cost analysis.

Is this how you treat an unhappy workforce that already feels betrayed?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Norco Exec John Stoffa Taking Angle to Talk Radio Woodshed

Northampton County Exec John Stoffa claims Ron Angle has been spreading cowshit on his radio show instead of on his farm. Tomorrow, Stoffa will confront Angle on his WGPA 1100 AM talk show between 8 and 10 AM. I've been asked to referee the dispute, but I honestly need a break after two rather intense days. I get enough people mad at me just from blogging. You can livestream, and your calls are welcome at 610-866-8074.

I sure hope the concerns of underpaid and long-neglected courthouse workers are addressed.

Once again, for all bloggers out there, I'll be guest-hosting a week of shows on December 21, 26, 27 & 29. If any of you who want to come on right wing airwaves, just drop me a line - BOHare5948@aol.com.

Correction: I've just been informed that Stoffa has no intention of spanking Angle. He's after me instead. He wants to clarify the situation regarding Northampton County workers, and has told Angle I had better be there. I'll come, but I'm wearing rubber underwear.

Bloggin' on WGPA 1100 AM With the Anti-Blogger, Ron Angle

On Wednesday, Ron Angle will continue his frontal assault against bloggers on his WGPA 1100 AM talk show from 8 to 10 AM. You can livestream, and your calls are welcome at 610-866-8074. Yesterday's show prompted lots of comments like this: "Attempting to have an intelligent conversation with Ron Angle is like trying to convince a pig it is beautiful while laying in pigcrap and mud." But MadBatter actually likes Ron, "because HE IS A MISERABLE BASTARD! I hope he is on the board until he dies, because we need good government types, regardless of political party."

Angle intends to announce legislation decriminalizing any assaults or acts of violence against bloggers. In fact, he's toying with the idea of an annual hunting season to thin out the herd. Incidentally, I got a close look at the back of his neck yesterday, and I swear I saw the numbers 666.

In addition to the silliness, I'm hoping we can deal with some real issues. Yesterday's conversation with Congressman Charlie Dent about Northampton County election irregularities, for example, prompted a lively discussion with local party boss Joe Long about the need for reform. And Joe Long actually continued that discussion on this blog.

Feel free to call in, or post your comments here, and I'll try to get them on the air. And for all bloggers out there, I'll be guest-hosting a week of shows starting December 26. If any of you who want to come on right wing airwaves, just drop me a line - BOHare5948@aol.com.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

NorCo Dem Chair Joe Long: "Bernie, You're an Asshole!"

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingToday, I was up at the crack of dawn to guest host Ron Angle's WGPA 1100 AM radio talk show. I usually spend the evening and early morning hours scouring the papers so that I don't sound like a complete idiot. And my guest was a person who requires more than the usual amount of research - Ron Angle. I should have stayed in bed.

Now I don't know why, but for some reason, Congressman Charlie Dent decided to call in. All my preparation about local issues with Ron Angle went right out the window, and I had to pretend I knew what I was talking about on national issues. Then I had the bright idea of steering the conversation towards something I actually know about - Northampton County elections. Although the unofficial tallies showed Dent as a 127 vote loser in Northampton County, he actually won with over 3,000 votes.

Needless to say, Congressman Dent believes that Northampton County needs to look at how it conducts elections. Something is seriously amiss. He is not the only one who feels that way. GreenDog and I have both posted this topic. And the problem hurts candidates in both parties.

At this point, Democratic party chair Joe Long called in to tell us everything was wonderful and that the system had been cleared by all members of the elections commission. As I told him that people were being sent away from the polls without being offered provisional ballots, party chair Joe Long made this brilliant point, "Bernie, you're an asshole." I think he was about to call me a poopey head, too, when station engineer Mark Thomas pulled the plug.

The next hour, Ralph Stampone called in, and he just happens to be a member of the elections commission. Guess what? He didn't clear the system at all, and the first time he saw it was when he voted. So I many be an asshole but Joe Long was caught in a falsehood.

Later in the show, Angle started to agree with Long and concluded that I really am an asshole and that bloggers need to do some creative things with K-Y jelly. A caller tried to defend me. He said I wasn't really an asshole - just a horse's ass. Thanks a lot.

The final indignity occurred when I left the show. My jeep was parked on an incline in the Walnut Street parking garage, and I apparently neglected to put the damn thing in gear. My jeep had rolled through the garage during the show, smashing into a wall. The police came, moved my jeep, and it took me about an hour to find it.

Joe Long is right. I am an asshole.

Nazareth Councilman Opens Committee Meetings, But Only if You Keep Your Mouth Shut

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingJust eight days ago, Nazareth ended its practice of conducting committee hearings privately. I had filed suit over this bad habit, contending it was a Sunshine Act violation. But I withdraw that suit immediately after learning that Nazareth had finally seen the light - the sunlight.

Only one member of Nazareth's borough council had voted against involving the public in government - ComradeConrad Bowers. He previously told a reporter that giving the people a say in their own government made it "too unwieldy." Gee, I think Stalin must have felt that way, too.

Although borough council has spoken loud and clear, Comrade Conrad is dragging his feet. Becky Butz, one of Nazareth's many concerned citizens, attended yesterday's transition committee hearing, conducted at 4 PM when most of us are at work. Although she was allowed to attend the meeting, she was denied the opportunity to speak.

Evelyn: "May I ask a question?"

Comrade Conrad: "No, this is a committee meeting."

Evelyn later explained, "I thought 'open' meant open door, open to the public, open discussion, open minds, etc." And she's right. This is not complicated. Under the Sunshine Act, the public must be afforded a "reasonable opportunity" to address even a committee on any matter of concern. Technically, she does not have the right to ask questions, but has every right to make her views known.

Comrade Conrad does not get this because he does not want to get it. He's going to have to explain to voters next year why he thinks they don't matter. And if he insists on refusing to follow council's own resolution, he should be censored.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bloggin' on WGPA 1100 AM on Tuesday

On Tuesday, I'll be bloggin' on WGPA 1100 AM with Ron Angle on his radio talk show from 8 to 10 AM. You can livestream it on the net, and your calls are welcome at 610-866-8074. Have an opinion on courthouse workers on food stamps? Are our judges out of control? Does our Sunshine Act need to be strengthened? Those are some of my beefs.

But this show is designed for you to talk about what bothers you, not me or Ron. I've started getting anonymous letters, one complaining about Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority and another about East Allen Township, which recently hired a township supervisor as its township manager. Why not call in and let us know what you think, or post a comment here?

Ron Angle Seeks Third Term on Northampton Council Council

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWhen he was first elected to Northampton County Council in 1999, I didn't care for the guy. He blustered that county officials had better stock up on body bags because he was taking no prisoners. His grammar was horrible. And worse of all, he's a Republican.

But Ron Angle quickly established himself as the county's pitbull. Heads rolled. Is he a bastard? You bet. Just listen to his radio show if you need any proof. But over the past eight years, at least on county issues, he has often been the sole voice of reason. While the rest of council rubber stamps tax breaks for a developer who is already wealthy, Angle will vote no.

Last Thursday, he offended other council members by "grandstanding" after a host of county workers made clear they're not being treated fairly. He's the only one who bothered to speak to them. "We actually run because of you. ... It's the core services of this county that we're in business for, not the craziness." This is nothing he hasn't said before, both on his radio show and during council meetings. And his words certainly cheered people up in the peanut gallery. But his council colleagues thought he was playing to the crowd. At one point, the usually exasperated Council Prez Wayne Grube told Angle, "You got your audience out there. Go back to your radio station."

As might be expected, Angle has powerful enemies in both major parties, from Elmer Gates to Glenn Reibman. They won't be happy to hear Angle is seeking a third term. Here's what Ron says.

In November 2006, the voices of the voters at the polls came through loud and clear. They told public officials to respect the needs and concerns of the people, and not to bow to special interests or use their elected positions to line their own pockets. Voters said they want open, responsive government. They want the least expensive government that can provide good, essential services. And they want to hear the truth from their elected officials, not political hogwash.

Unlike some members of Northampton County Council, who see their job as simply a stepping stone to some future position or as a way to promote a special agenda, I know and understand the importance of county government. Throughout my years on Council, I have always fought for the "little guy" and the taxpayer of Northampton County. I continue to be an outspoken advocate for those who have to foot the bills. I have never, ever voted for a tax increase.

Almost every day I hear from residents who tell me they appreciate my efforts and my willingness to fight for them. My goals are the same as they have been since I was first elected in 1999: to represent the best interests of the taxpaying residents of our county and to work toward more open, accountable, streamlined government.

Many important decisions lie ahead. Our tax dollars must be spent on essential county services first. We must constrain spending so we don't tax citizens out of their homes. Our challenges for the future are many. The prison expansion has already been declared inadequate. Our debt payments on the 2001 mega-bond are coming due. Open space must continue to be a county priority. You can count on me, as a member of Council, to continue to find and promote solutions to these challenges that are in the best interests of the taxpayers of this county.

There are those who wish I'd just shut up or go away. They'd like nothing better than to silence my voice because I'm the one who asks tough questions and shines the light on how our county government works. The anti-Angle contingent is fighting harder than ever this year to see that I'm not re-elected to County Council. They've started early and they're going to throw everything they have at me.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Norco Workers to Their Bosses: You Should All be Ashamed

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"I think you all ought to be ashamed."

Those words, spoken by long-time courthouse worker Pauline Taylor, best reflect the public sentiment at last night's packed county council meeting. It was the culmination of a week of worker unrest.

On Monday, employees began circulating an open letter to county exec John Stoffa, demanding a fair contract. Late yesterday afternoon, a gigantic rat mysteriously appeared on the street alongside the new courthouse. It was strangely reminiscent of Northampton County's ratpack, first described by essayist Billy Givens. Those river rats have gnawed and pawed for years at the county's wheel of cheese, breaking off pieces to fund a road for a Wal-Mart developer and a parking lot for luxury apartments at Riverport. While chewing away, the ratpack has ignored the little mice, the county's long suffering workforce.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingLast night the mice roared.

As workers left their jobs, they began parading around that rat, in a swelling sea of green AFSCME shirts. And as the clock struck 6:00 PM, a tidal wave in green struck John Stoffa's office. Disgruntled county employees stormed the fourth floor, demanding that Stoffa listen to them.

"I'm working," was Stoffa's reply as he attempted an escape to his inner offices. Courthouse workers followed, knocking on his door, until Stoffa finally agreed to hear them out. As he listened to a litany of complaints, the little mice could see two big river rats near Stoffa's office, trying to listen to what was happening. They looked a little confused.

Many mice were still roaring at poor John Stoffa when the ratpack started its council meeting at 6:30 PM. Over a hundred employees crowded into chambers and stood in the halls, straining to listen as the little mice bellowed eloquently at the river rats.

Barb Martucci, an 8 year county vet, chided council: "You take care of your own at the expense of the rest of us." Another county employee with 22 years of experience, John Szabo, reminded council that "we are the bricks and mortar that make up Northampton County." And Dan Sell, a county carpenter for the past 11 years, shamed council when he confessed he makes no more money than a part time Taco Bell employee on work release from the prison.

Several courthouse employees clearly accused Stoffa of going back on a promise to allow binding arbitration. But Rose Macaluso delivered the hardest punch of the night. Several employees had emailed Stoffa to complain about council's decision to give its staff a 20% payraise while ignoring other employees. In an attempt at humor, Stoffa responded he had given council an "experimental drug and it worked." Council was not amused.

When they heard that, the river rats exploded. What outrage! Last night was not a good night for John Stoffa.

As the evening continued, and the river rats began to gnaw at each other with their usual petty squabbles, an experimental drug actually sounds like a good idea to me. A 911 employee sitting behind me in the peanut gallery, stared in disbelief as council members tossed childish insults at each other.

"And this group is representing the county? A God-damned bunch of monkeys up there!"

And it's true. Council tends to embarrass itself all the time. But the real loser last night was John Stoffa. I admire the man. He has been honest with me. But last night he looked like a liar who brushes off employees and speaks publicly of council in disparaging terms that only insane bloggers like me should use.

The real winners last night were the little mice. They finally roared. And as Pauline Taylor noted, county council and administration should all be ashamed.

And after hearing from the little mice, the ratpack responded by giving a tax break in Palmer Township to yet another developer.

And so the battle rages.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why Are Northampton County Employees so Damn Mad?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingTonight, Northampton County employees will rally outside the courthouse after work, and then march into to county council chambers to demand fair treatment. Why are they so damn mad? You'd be mad, too. Here's just some things that have happened in the past four years.

1. Over 100 positions were eliminated, and 40 workers were pink-slipped on Northampton County's Black Friday, February 6, 2004.

2. Those that remained have seen no payraises for nearly four years, and the layoffs mean they do more work for less money.

3. Although county employees have seen no pay increases, inflation has sky-rocketed in the Lehigh Valley. The consumer price index in the Lehigh Valley rose a whopping seven per cent in 2005, the largest annual increase ever measured in the 22-year history of The Morning Call/Kamran Afshar Consumer Price Index.

4. New employees like Director of Administration John Conklin have been hired at astronomical salaries, but the rank and file are ignored.

5. County council just gave its staff 18-20% pay increases, while doing nothing for the county's remaining employees.

6. In August, county council very nearly gave itself a $2,500 payraise, a 35% increase, and would have succeeded had it not been vetoed by county exec Stoffa.

7. Judges have been provided plush new quarters on a "private" floor in a public courthouse while many rank and file employees have seen their working space shrink from the supposed "expansion."

8. It is nearly impossible to park anywhere near the courthouse, and until recently, the county actually was considering charging its underpaid employees for the privilege of parking.

9. Many row office workers became ill from mold, dust and Fiberglas particles accompanying the new construction, and no one cared until state health inspectors were involved.

10. Employees with frozen wages watched incredible waste as perfectly good furniture and equipment were "thrown away."

11. Employees with frozen wages see another, and often mentioned, example of government waste in the form of the court's garish wind-sensitive fountain and accompanying landscaping, complete with inlaid irrigation pipes.

12. When county council timidly suggested that extravagances like that fountain or the marble floors be eliminated, judges paraded en masse before county council to demand every penny allocated, and then some. But they made no similar pitch for the lifeblood of this county - its workforce. (I wonder if they're busy tonight).

13. While judges enjoy their catered lunches in a private dining room, the cafeteria for the masses has been taken away and employees must eat in hallways or at their desks.

14. Some rank and file employees, even those with 12 or 13 years of seniority, seek some form of assistance with home heating and for food.

15. Courthouse workers with serious safety concerns, like prison guards, have previously been denied the right to address council because some of what they discuss might be part of labor negotiations. This is a blatant violation of the Sunshine Act, which gives any resident the right to address council on any matter of concern. I expect council to try to shoo workers away tonight, too. But they have a right to speak. And council has an obligation to listen.

After three years, it's time somebody listens. This mess was inherited by both John Stoffa and our current county council. But they've had nearly a year now to resolve what should be the county's top priority. It's becoming their mess. And by the way, the rumored 3.3% offer is a joke that actually amounts to a pay cut. If the county can raise taxes to buy some swamp land or build roads in Bethlehem and Wind Gap for fat cat developers, it can pay its employees a living wage.

In all my dealings with county executive John Stoffa, he has been fair and honorable. He wants to do what's right. And our new county council is union friendly. Charles Dertinger is a third generation union electrician. Lamont McClure positioned AFL-CIO union members to hand out pamphlets during the last congressional campaign. Diane Neiper and John Cusick both belong to teachers' unions.

Just do it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Norco Judges Vacate Offices and Stick Taxpayers With $192,000 Bill

"Who can you believe here anyway?"

That's the question an incredulous Ron Angle asked after council was informed it may have to pay $192,000 over the next four years on leases for offices rented by Judges Moran and Freedberg. Those offices are empty now because the jurists moved into their new digs back in April. Court officials had promised council that the leases would be structured around the new courthouse's schedule.

But that's not what happened.

Back in October, when the landlord dared to ask for payment, he was told he was not being very "civic minded." I just tried that one on my landlord and the bastard threw me out the window.

These judges may not be very good architects or county executives, but all are good lawyers. They should have reviewed their leases for term and cancellation provisions. Their failure to plan their move in a cost-efficient manner is another slap across the face of county taxpayers - more judicial arrogance.

Northampton County Signs Climate Protection agreement But Stops Recycling

On October 16, 2006, the county execs for Lehigh and Northampton County, Don Cunningham and John Stoffa, signed a climate protection control agreement to reduce global warming. Pretty impressive stuff, huh? But will they follow through?

Almost immediately after signing this agreement, Lehigh County purchased its first hybrid vehicle. And Northampton County? It has stopped recycling.

That's right, bippy. Although the ink is barely dry on a climate protection agreement that calls for increasing the recycling rates in county operations as well as the community, Northampton County officials have recently instructed row officers to just mix recyclables with other trash.

Adult probation was sending people on community service or work release to county offices for recyclables, but unilaterally stopped when some suspected these trustees were removing more than white paper and empty cans. I'm not sure whether adult probation, which reports to the judges, bothered even to tell the executive branch.

This latest incident is just the most recent example of a judicial branch that simply has too many executive responsibilities. And now it is simply defying an executive branch that is trying, in a small way, to curb global warming.

It's only our planet.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Sun Shines in Nazareth

Today's Express Times and Morning Call report that Nazareth Borough Council has overwhelmingly agreed that all of its meetings, including committee meetings, will now be conducted publicly. That's exactly what I asked Nazareth to do back in July. Its pattern of using committees to decide important questions like the relocation of its municipal center led to public resentment and distrust all summer. Its refusal to apply the Sunshine Act to committee hearings is what prompted my lawsuit in August.

Now, thanks to reform-minded council members like Jack Herbst and Mike Kopach, the doors of local government are finally open. There's little point in suing a governmental body that has agreed voluntarily to do the right thing. That's much preferable to doing something because a judge says so. So I withdrew my litigation today. We're all on the same side.

Will Northampton County Council Members Cross Picket Line?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWhat do Wal-Mart and residual Northampton County employees have in common? They're both paid meager wages yet are expected to serve the public with a smile. Many of them qualify for some form of public assistance.

Northampton County employees are mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. Former executive Glenn Reibman eliminated over 100 jobs and sent over forty of them home. They've seen no payraises in nearly four years. While judges have a nice new private dining room for their little luncheons, the rank and file eat in hallways.

Many workers have no appetite, anyway. They're sickened by all the mold, leaks and terrible smells that accompanied the courthouse expansion. In the meantime, a disinterested county council very nearly gave itself a nice little payraise even though some county employees in the residual unit now rely on food stamps.

On Monday, I told you the county's residual unit of about 250 employees has begun circulating a letter to County Exec John Stoffa demanding voluntary binding arbitration of its contractual negotiations. Some blame Stoffa for the delay while others blame union leaders.

Courthouse workers also plan to rally outside the courthouse on Thursday at 4:30 P.M. to demand a fair contract. Council members on their way to their bi-weekly meeting will have to pass through a gauntlet of unhappy workers, who intend to address council.

But will there be a meeting? Some council members privately state they will not pass through a union picket line in a gesture of solidarity. Gee, that's nice, but they would do far more good by being honest. Some tell administrators to pay less, yet encourage union leaders to hold out for more. It's little wonder there's no contract.

Voluntary binding arbitration? How long will that take? Another county union for deputy sheriffs has asked for arbitration and they won't get one until April.

If council stops sending mixed signals and permits the union and adminstrators to take an honest stab at round-the-clock negotiations, they just might avoid arbitration and resolve this contractual dispute in time for some to have a Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Norco Exec Stoffa Orders Blog Block Lifted

Northampton County Exec. John Stoffa called tonight to tell me he has ordered the blog block lifted. He doesn't like freedom of speech stifled in any way, and thinks it inappropriate to censor what county workers see on the net without first establishing some sort of policy, which is currently nonexistent. About an hour after I spoke with Stoffa, I received a second call from Vic Mazziotti, Northampton County's amiable Director of Fiscal Affairs. He explained how the block occurred in the first place. I pretended to understand as he used computer terminology I've already forgotten.

One thing Vic did acknowledge, and on behalf of the county, is that my blog does not fall into any of the "73 categories of unacceptable material, including adult, gambling, violence and hate topics." That I understood.

Hooray for our team!

I was worried county officials had discovered my upcoming photo essay, Alluring Ladies of the Northampton County Courthouse, which is being separately sold later this month as a calendar to benefit impoverished title searchers. A sneak peek at Miss January is attached.

I want to thank the Express Times, Morning Call, VoicePA and GrassrootsPA for casting a public spotlight on this issue.

Northampton County Employees Speak Out For Living Wage

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNorthampton County's biggest mistake in recent years has been to exalt buildings over the people who work in them. Its new courthouse and prison expansions provide no services. Those come from the people who work there. Yet to pay for these projects, erstwhile county Exec Reibman sent forty courthouse workers home in February 2004. When the dust had settled, over 100 positions had been eliminated. Employees responded by unionizing.

Northampton County's "residual unit" is a collection of around 250 or so employees who mostly consist of the row office, 911 and maintenance workers. In the three years since they've organized as an AFSCME union, there has been no contract. And these people are all suffering as a result.

You see, these folks are already at the bottom of the Northampton County payscale. A few years ago, four long-term employees qualified for home heating assistance. A few even qualified for food stamps. That situation has only grown worse because there have been no wage increases for nearly four years. Wal-mart is routinely criticized because its wages are so bad that employees must turn to public assistance, but that same criticism applies to Northampton County, a public employer.

Starting today, county employees will make their voices heard. An open letter to county Executive John Stoffa, in poster form, will be exhibited near the rotunda. Employees will be encouraged to sign that letter. Here's their letter.

We are writing to set the record straight on the commitments you made during your election campaign and to express our views on your handling of our contract negotiations.

In your open letter to County employees of August 1, 2006 you claimed that you never promised voluntary interest arbitration for the Residual Unit. We beg to differ. On September 7, 2005 you and your opponent met with leaders from four AFSCME Local Unions and four of the newly organized AFSCME units. At that meeting you agreed to extend voluntary binding arbitration to the Residual Unit. At a meeting on October 5, 2005 you were invited and appeared at a mass meeting of employees in the five newly organized units. This time, over one hundred and fifty employees heard you say firsthand that you were in favor of voluntary interest arbitration for the Residual Unit.

Based on your assurances, AFSCME contacted over 2,000 of its members in Northampton County and recommended they and their family members vote for you in the November General Election. You won that election by 2,070 votes out of 40,506 votes cast.

This summer, the County's 2006 unreserved fund balance stood at around 35 million dollars. New managers in your administration are being hired near the top of the management pay scale while senior rank and file employees remain on the lower rungs of their pay scale! The entire cost of AFSCME's first year wage proposal, including the cost of correcting these inequities, is approximately 1.5 million dollars. Yet despite your campaign rhetoric, you propose as two year freeze on our wages.

We demand fairness, we demand equity, and we demand them NOW.
In fairness to County Executive Stoffa, he's always been honest with me. He denies making these promises. "I never promised this group I would go to arbitration. Why would I give up this right?" I can think of one reason. It's the right thing to do. In fact, why is binding arbitration even necessary? It appears that the union is only asking for what is fair - a living wage.