Monday, July 31, 2006
In his Monday column, Bill White has some nice words to say about local bloggers. He tells us some have unkindly described us as "nitwits ranting in their underwear." Actually, this is pretty much the truth. Lehigh County Redneck admits this morning that she blogs "naked with curlers in my hair." (I want pictures.)
Of course, blogs can be dangerous. As Bill correctly observes, "There's no editor, no professional constraints. In some cases, no moral restraints, either." So in the interest of total accuracy, I've posted a pic of what I really look like when I'm bloggin.' I'd post a pic of my editor, too, but Hustler has the copyright.
One Upper Macungie Supervisor has flown the coop, and we bloggers have been having a good laugh. Lehigh County Redneck, Musings From Mudville, and I were still laughing when we saw Dave Ralis' post concerning a secret municipal pay raise that was slipped in right under our noses. This latest midnight payraise was maneuvered by House Democratic leader DeWeese to take care of his township supervisor pals. No hearings. The bill was camouflaged as an amendment to the state budget. It passed unanimously. We've stopped laughing.
It's amazing. When it is so glaringly apparent that the second class township code needs some serious reform, our state legislators decide to give supervisors even more money and kick things up a notch. (DeWeese watches Emeril). Maybe the boys in the land of midnight raises are hopeful we'll be so busy looking at financial messes in our own townships that we won't have time to pay attention to what is going on in Harrisburg. Sounds like a plan.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Northampton County's Finance Committee last Thursday decided to recommend payraises for the county exec ($85,000), the part-time controller ($50,000), and themselves ($9,500). Although this is long overdue, it is simply obscene for Council even to consider payraises for its bigshots when its rank and file employees have gone without raises for three years. That matter should be tabled until the employees get their raises, which they deserve. In the Army, officers eat after their soldiers. An enlisted man receives better treatment than a Northampton County employee. And soldiers don't get exposed to nearly as much asbestos and fiberglass fibers, either. But the judges' new palace sure looks good.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Well, they're baaaaack! The courthouse expansion project has just $84,000 left in the till, but is expected to cost at least $3 million more. And heavens, they haven't even started those wind-sensitive fountains! At yesterday's Finance Committee meeting, a cocky court administrator was pointing fingers everywhere except at himself or the judges.
When Committee Chair Ron Angle, joined by three other members of Council, reminded Onembo about his earlier promises, Onembo did a nice little jig. First, he tried to deny what he said on three separate occasions, although he's no St. Peter. Then Onembo tried being indignant. "Get with reality!" "To point a finger at anybody is unfair." Finally, he blamed Council, telling them that they could have checked progress anytime they wanted. Yeah, right!
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Nazareth Borough Solicitor Al Pierce is actually reported as saying the current building is located at least seventy-five feet away from the curb. Did he measure it? What the hell is he smoking? Al, do yourself and the rest of us a favor and measure the distance from the south curb line of West Center Street to the current building. It's no seventy-five feet. You don't even need a measuring tape to realize that. And by the way, Al, why are you advocating this relocation? I always thought borough solicitors were there to give legal advice, not engage in municipal planning. Silly me!
When I first discovered the deed restriction, I talked to Borough Council members Jack Herbst and Cindy Werner. Neither was aware of the restriction. Now, thanks to the Express Times report, we know that Councilmen Mike Kopach and Larry Stoudt were also in the dark. Councilman Davis knew about the restriction, but was also under the mistaken impression that the current building is at least seventy-five feet from the curbline. Thus, at least five out of nine Council members either did not know about the restriction at all, or had been misinformed that the current building was within that restriction.
Councilman Mike Kopach, when told about the problem, said it best: "Everybody else has to abide by deed restrictions. Why wouldn't the borough have to?"
Most of my emails were ignored. But every now and then, I'd get through to one of them. Widening Route 22 to eight lanes? Invasion of Iraq? Midnight payraise in Harrisburg? Deporting 12 million illegal immigrants? Those were all my ideas. I was kidding. Doesn't anyone understand sarcasm anymore? Do they have to take everything so literally? Imagine the shock and awe I felt when I got this note, "Deer Burne, I took ur advice. - The Prez."
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
"Everyone else has one. Why can't we?"
No, this is not the argument of some little kid asking his mom and dad for another Rottweiler. They are instead the very words I actually heard a Nazareth Borough official use to justify a new government center inside a residential park. In previous posts here and in News Over Coffee, you've heard this proposed expansion will (1) destroy more of Nazareth's shrinking parkland; (2) make the park useless as a park for neighborhood kids and their Rotweilers; (3) simply cost too much; and (4) remove borough offices and police station from the business district, where they are most needed. I've also told you the proposed expansion was planned behind closed doors in violation of the Sunshine Act by a borough council that operates best in shadows and darkness. Well, I can keep secrets, too!
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Monday, July 24, 2006
O.K. Here's the "facts" on illegal immigration. First, the House wants to get rid of all illegals , and Charlie's all for that. Second, those wimps in the Senate want to keep some. That's it.
Friday, July 21, 2006
But today he took a hard stand on a very divisive issue, illegal immigration. "The only ones I want to hear speaking up and complaining about immigration are the Native Americans who we screwed." Now there's a leader, someone who doesn't back away from the Santorums or Barletta who are being heralded by our 21st Century nativists. That's the Rendell I remember. That's the Rendell I voted for.
Way to go, Eddie! Your next cheesesteak's on me.
Now it's payback time. Last night, McClure voted to transfer the county's DUI Central Processing Operation from the Sheriff's budget to the DA's budget, effectively voting to increase the budget.
Now this is a minor matter and relatively noncontroversial. The resolution passed unanimously. McClure's vote was not needed. But it disturbs me McClure did not recognize the glaring conflict of interest that exists when he votes to increase the budget in the very office where his wife is employed. The state ethics act tells us it's an illegal conflict of interest when a public official uses his official office to benefit either himself or a member of his immediate family. When he votes to increase the size of the DA's budget, doesn't that necessarily benefit his wife?
I think it's a very close question, don't you? I don't believe this was an intentional violation, but McClure really should abstain from any matter involving the DA's office.
Joining 266 other mayors throughout the U.S., the mayors of the Lehigh Valley's three cities will today face the challenge of global warming by signing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Mayors Ed Pawlowski of Allentown, John Callahan of Bethlehem and Phil Mitman of Easton will make a formal statement endorsing the Agreement 1:30 P.M. today at the 19th Street Theatre in Allentown.
The Climate Protection Agreement attempts to reduce global warming on a municipal level with twelve specific steps, such as purchasing only Energy Star equipment and giving incentives for car pooling or public transit. The entire Agreement is in the scroll box below, if you'd like to read it.
The U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement
A. We urge the federal government and state governments to enact
policies and programs to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol target of
reducing global warming pollution levels to 7% below 1990 levels by
2012, including efforts to: reduce the United States' dependence on
fossil fuels and accelerate the development of clean, economical
energy resources and fuel-efficient technologies such as
conservation,methane recovery for energy generation, wind and solar
energy, fuel cells, efficient motor vehicles, and biofuels;
B. We urge the U.S. Congress to pass the bipartisan Climate
Stewardship Act sponsored by Senators McCain and Lieberman and
Representatives Gilchrist and Olver, which would create a flexible,
market-based system of tradable allowances among emitting industries;
C. We will strive to meet or exceed Kyoto Protocol targets for
reducing global warming pollution by taking actions in our own
operations and communities such as:
1. Inventory global warming emissions in City operations and in the
community, set reduction targets and create an action plan.
2. Adopt and enforce land-use policies that reduce sprawl, preserve
open space, and create compact, walkable urban communities;
3. Promote transportation options such as bicycle trails, commute
trip reduction programs, incentives for car pooling and public transit;
4. Increase the use of clean, alternative energy by, or example,
investing in "green tags", advocating for the development of
renewable energy resources, and recovering landfill methane for
5. Make energy efficiency a priority through building code
improvements, retrofitting city facilities with energy efficient
lighting and urging employees to conserve energy and save money;
6. Purchase only Energy Star equipment and appliances for City use;
7. Practice and promote sustainable building practices using the U.S.
Green Building Council's LEED program or a similar system;
8. Increase the average fuel efficiency of municipal fleet vehicles;
reduce the number of vehicles; launch an employee education program
including anti-idling messages; convert diesel vehicles to bio-diesel;
9. Evaluate opportunities to increase pump efficiency in water and
wastewater systems; recover wastewater treatment methane for energy
10. Increase recycling rates in City operations and in the community;
11. Maintain healthy urban forests; promote tree planting to increase
shading and to absorb CO2; and
12. Help educate the public, schools, other jurisdictions,
professional associations, business and industry about reducing
global warming pollution.
After the Mayors' news conference, the public is invited to a FREE showing of "An Inconvenient Truth." (Now they tell me!). I had to pay to see this movie, but it was worth it. I reviewed it and even conned a friend who works at The Morning Call to slip it in as an op-ed while most of the editors were on vacation. A commenter named Brown Dog wrote his own fascinating assessment from a different perspective. If you do see the movie, I have one request. Please stay for the closing credits, where there are useful tips on what we all can do, individually, to reverse global warming.
Saturday Update: "It's a no-brainer, right?" Those were Easton Mayor Phil Mitman's words as he joined the Mayors of Bethlehem and Allentown in signing the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement. Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan: "Air doesn't stop in Allentown, air doesn't stop in Bethlehem. It blows across municipal boundaries." (Too bad the LVPC wasn't thinking like that when it adopted its latest long-range transportation plan.)
You can watch a two-minute video of the Lehigh Valley Mayors signing the Climate Control Agreement by clicking here.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
I know we didn't come here direct from Ireland, but had to slip in through Canada. And this was during a time when they let nearly everyone in.
That's not so today. We limit visas for unskilled workers to about 5,000 per year. So much for "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." Those days are gone, bippy. Now it's next to impossible to get into this country legally unless an employer is willing to sponsor you. I knew a Chinese doctor in Philly with several Ph.D.s, and the feds tried to deport even her. They only let her stay if she agreed to work at a local university for slave wages.
Illegal immigrants are the new Jews, the new scapegoats. But as with the sons of David, there is a vast difference between perception and reality.
So I'm back where I started. My family would not be admitted under today's draconian immigration laws. Your family might be rejected as well. And we would be quite a different country today, a country full of "know nothings" and "nativists" who speak English only while gobbling freedom fries.
So what'll it be? Are we going to turn Hispanics and other illegal immigrants into the new Jews, or are we better than that? Time will tell.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Nazareth resident Rodney Applegate gave Dertinger $400. Dertinger's biggest contributors were the IBEW ($5,000) (electrical workers' union) and IUPAT ($2,500) (painters' union).
Dent pulled in a lot of money from mostly local businessmen and professionals, ranging from $250 from Jeff Parks, the Executive Director of Musikfest, to $6,300 from Charles Snelling, who's pushing for a wider Route 22. The PAC contributions came from all the usual suspects, including $3,000 from Pfizer (drug industry) and $2000 from American Gas (oil and gas).
Dertinger, you may recall, pledged he would not take a dime from the oil and gas industry. Dent, however, refused even to acknowledge three email requests for a similar pledge. And we now know that he continues to take money from the fossil fuel industry and venture capitalists like Snelling, who want wider roads so we can drive even more.
Republicans are reeling over Bush miscues on both domestic and foreign fronts, so Dent should be vulnerable. Wouldn't you'd think the big boys would be pumping money into this contest? This race is far from over, but Dertinger is going to need both a strong grass roots effort and some money to be competitive.
I don't like Dertinger's reliance on PAC money from a single special interest, his willingness to run for Congress so soon after being elected to Northampton County Council, and some of the things he's done on Council. But his pledge against Big Oil impressed me, as well as his appearance at a oil independence rally in south side Bethlehem. And he was impressive when interviewed by Above Average Jane.
Dent's proposed inclined cable car is interesting, and he gets most of his money from within the district. On the other hand, his willingness to take money from Big Oil speaks volumes. And his unwillingness to even acknowledge three emails from a constituent concerning a pledge against Big Oil is very disheartening.
Correction: I was a little off when I said that Dent had 10 times more money than Dertinger. It's actually 100 to 1.
OK, I'll admit it. Maybe I was a bit rough. As I've said before, I'm sure that even those pols who support a new government center at Nazareth Hall Park are only interested in what's best for Nazareth. In that spirit, I decided to take a look at the plans for Nazareth Hall Park while my tires were getting fixed. But when the secretary left to use the ladies' room, I pulled open a file drawer and found the real plan, which you can see for yourself. Holy cannoli! They really are vampires!
That does it. Angle just offered me an apartment in southern Lebanon real cheap. I'm outa' here.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
But these violations pale in the face of what goes on in the land of Nazareth. This is the land where Count, I mean Councilman, Stoudt once canceled a police committee meeting rather than let two reporters inside. Way to go, Stoudt! Most recently, he arrogantly asserted one evening that nothing would ever get done if Council involved the public. As a result, decisions about controversial issues are always made behind closed doors. They have the wisdom of most decisions made in the dark.
Want some examples? There's a civil war cannon in Nazareth circle that probably doesn't mean much to you, but matters a lot to some Nazareth residents. Borough officials wanted to move it out of the circle for reasons that defy logic. Maybe it fires silver bullets. When the public found out, it went ballistic, and exploded as loudly as that cannon ever roared. Council shrunk into the mist.
Same thing with the new government center. Once before, about six years ago, they wanted to build a new government center. Guess where? Yep, the same spot that's under consideration now - a neighborhood park where children play baseball and other games. The cannon roared again and borough officials backed off. But now they're at it again, operating in darkness as usual.
In most municipalities, the Solicitor is usually the voice of reason and will always err on the side of including the public, especially on matters of public interest. But not in the land of Nazareth. Solicitor Al "Renfield" Pierce concludes every thing that committees do is "administrative action," and thus exempt from the Sunshine Act.
I got news for you, Al. You're wrong! "Administrative action" is limited to execution of policies previously decided at an open meeting. That's not what happened when committees got together behind closed doors to decide again to foist a new government center on unsuspecting citizens, and smack dab in the middle of a park. No siree. At least three members of Council were totally in the dark, so those committees could not have been executing policies previously agreed in an open meeting. And these committees actually hired an architect to draw plans for this one and only option. A minority of Council can order architectural drawings? And no other choices? Take it or leave it, baby. That's not "administrative action." That's official action behind closed doors. And the option under consideration will cost around $3 million, enough to suck the blood from every Nazareth resident who operates in the open.
So that's why I hand-delivered the letter below to borough officials Monday. I did it during the hot noonday sun, while they slept. And in the evening, I've got cloves of garlic around my neck and a few crucifixes in my pockets. But now my windows are rattling. Gotta' go. Where's Buffy?
To: All members of Nazareth Borough Council; Hon. Earl Keller, Mayor; and Alfred Pierce, Esq.
Re: Sunshine Act Violations
Date: July 17, 2006
I am a Nazareth resident. At Borough Council's meeting on July 10, 2006, it became quite clear that you have participated in repeated violations of the Sunshine Act for years. This is because you mistakenly believe the Act only applies to meetings at which a quorum of Council is present. As a result, council Committees have been meeting behind closed doors, without public advertising or notice.
As long ago as March 2000, you conducted private committee hearings to decide what to do about a civil war cannon at Nazareth's circle. Most recently, two committees met behind closed doors to decide on a municipal building expansion. Those committees ultimately merged into a single committee that authorized an architect to prepare plans for a new government center at Nazareth Hall Park
As you will all acknowledge, Nazareth Borough Council is an "agency" as that term is defined in the Sunshine Act. But an "agency" is also defined to include committees "authorized by the [Council] to take official action or render advice on matters of agency business ... ." Thus, the committees that met to consider options for a municipal building expansion are subject to the Sunshine Act. Their recommendations and the decision to hire an architect all constitute "official action" as that term is defined by the Sunshine Act.
These committees and their combined single committee violated the Sunshine Act. The Court, in its discretion, could enjoin any further consideration of a borough center at Nazareth Hall Park. The Court could also invalidate the decision to hire an architect to draw plans for a new government center at Nazareth Hall Park.
Your basic misunderstanding is you think you only need to follow the Sunshine Act at your regularly scheduled meetings. But it applies to committees as well, and it certainly applies to a committee considering something as controversial and important as a new government center. Meeting in private to discuss this matter of public interest betrays both distrust and disrespect to the citizens you serve. In fact, Councilman Stoudt had the arrogance to tell one newspaper, "if officials had to alert the public every time a couple of them got together, no business would ever get accomplished." This statement reveals an antipathy both to the letter and spirit of the Sunshine Act. It is a matter of public policy that citizens have the right to attend and be heard at meetings in which official action is considered. The Sunshine Act itself states that "secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public's effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society." In short, democracy dies behind closed doors.
As your Solicitor can inform you, I have 30 days from the date of discovery of a Sunshine Act violation within which to seek a legal remedy. I have no wish to do so, but am extremely disturbed by your systemic exclusion of the people you serve from matters that affect them directly.
To avoid litigation, I am asking that you make the following commitments before August 9:
1. You must agree that ALL future meetings of Council and its committees will be conducted in compliance with the Sunshine Act, i.e. committee hearings will be publicly advertised and open to the public;
2. You must reschedule every Committee hearing at which any official action was taken concerning the new government center, including the decision to hire an architect to prepare plans for a municipal expansion at Nazareth Hall Park, and conduct new hearings with public notice and public participation;
3. You must table any further consideration of a municipal building expansion until the committee has conducted one or more meetings that comply with the Sunshine Act, and that gives the public an opportunity to discuss options in addition to the sacrifice of Nazareth Hall Park.
Thanking you, I am
Monday, July 17, 2006
He expanded the solicitor's office with numerous assistants (who paid for their jobs with regular campaign contributions) and it didn't matter whether these lawyers were also municipal solicitors so long as the campaign checks kept coming. Suddenly, the Home Rule Charter was turned on its head. Since it didn't specifically exclude assistant solicitors from working for other municipalities, it must be permitted. Right? I guess it doesn't matter that, when the Home Rule Charter was first adopted, there were no assistant solicitors at all.
Now here's a neat trick. When Northampton County Solicitor Jack Spirk was appointed Bethlehem's Solicitor, all he did was resign his position in Northampton County, only to be immediately reappointed as Assistant County Solicitor. Pretty nifty, huh?
The practice continues today. First Assistant County Solicitor Dave Backenstoe (a real class act, by the way) is also solicitor in Lehigh, Moore, and Plainfield Townships, as well as Hellertown and Walnutport Boroughs. Assistant County Solicitor Chris Spadoni (a good lawyer with a terrific sense of humor)is also Solicitor to Bethlehem's City Council. Although I have no wish to penalize these fine attorneys, Northampton County Council should enact legislation that gradually eliminates this practice.
That's the obvious intent of the Home Rule Charter. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” An attorney who represents both a county and one or more of its municipalities has divided loyalties. And there will be plenty of opportunity for actual conflicts of interest on matters like road improvements, the sale of real estate, the construction and operation of public buildings, litigation, or recreational facilities, to name a few.
I asked the last County Council to adopt legislation to abolish this practice over time. So that no appointee would feel singled out, I suggested the legislation be effective only after the next county executive election. But no action was taken.
So I'll make the same proposal to our new County Council. Are you interested in reform or the old patronage system? Don't you want to prevent the inherent conflict of interest that exists when one lawyer serves two masters? Do you want to eliminate all the expenses incurred when county lawyers have to recuse themselves from a problem that involves a municipality they serve? An ordinance that bars assistant county solicitors from serving other municipalities is simply good government that guarantees honest and independent advice.
Is our Democratically controlled Council any more interested in good government than was the case when Republicans ran the show? What do 'ya say, Lamont McClure? How 'bout you, Charles Dertinger? You both read this blog nearly every day, and I'm forwarding a copy of my request to the Council Clerk.
And what do the rest of you think? I suppose the argument could be made that it's in the county's interest to have an able solicitor who knows municipal law, but we have a lot of lawyers who are well-versed in municipal law and would have no conflicts.
Friday, July 14, 2006
They'll never take me alive!
Nazareth cops and borough officials think there's a connection between a proposed municipal center and three borough officials whose tires were recently damaged. I think they're nuts.
Most of the new municipal center opponents I know are moms and dads, uncles and aunts, and grandparents. They worry about their kids, and wonder what will happen to them if Nazareth does decide to build a new government center in Nazareth Hall Park. They're not exactly what I think of when I think of tire slashers.
Hundreds rallied en masse before Monday night's council meeting and managed to change one vote. They did it the democratic way, by letting their voices be heard. The Express Times noted, "When the public speaks this loudly, public officials have an obligation to listen and learn." During this meeting, it was also discovered that the new municipal plan was arrived at in violation of the Sunshine Act, thanks to bad advice from a borough solicitor who incorrectly thinks committees can meet behind closed doors. So citizens who oppose this expansion now have some ammo if council ignores popular sentiment.
With all the momentum on the side of those who want to preserve a park, why on earth would they want to resort to tire slashing? Yet this morning I was greeted by the following headline: "Nazareth Police Probe Tire Slashings: They Say Incidents May Have Been Spurred by Borough Politics." Uh oh. As a vocal opponent who has conducted radio shows and blogged against this expansion, I better have an alibi. The article makes clear that the Mayor (who used to be the police chief), the police chief, and one borough councilman whose tires were slashed, think this all too much to be a coincidence.
Well, I hate to break it to you boys, but that's exactly what it is. First, let's look at the only borough councilman whose tires actually were slashed - Councilman Davis. His tires were slashed in March, when most of us knew little or nothing about the proposed expansion. That's because his committee was meeting secretly. News did not leak out until sometime in May, and most Nazareth citizens were unaware of any municipal relocation until June.
The second and third incidents aren't even tire slashing incidents. One tire on Mayor Keller's wife's car was punctured, not slashed. And a puncture can come from anything, including driving over nails. Two tires on Paul Kokolus' vehicle were punctured, but that happened in Lower Nazareth, and Paul thinks the culprits are some kids who have been giving him trouble. (They probably don't live near a park.) And here's the kicker -- neither Kokolus nor Keller have a say in the expansion. Only Councilmen decide.
Yet the police think these incidents are obviously related. One detective said, "[W]however did the one did the other." What is he smoking?
By talking about the "dark side," some borough officials are attempting to demonize citizens who are just concerned about their kids. And they should know about the "dark side" because they've been meeting behind closed doors. I'm particularly disturbed at police who make ridiculously illogical statements in the hope they get new digs.
This has to stop. Proponents and opponents both want what is best for Nazareth, and it's time we all recognize that. It's a good thing Nazareth Days are here.
Now excuse me while I answer the door. The cops are here with their lie detector.
Joe Brennan - Democratic candidate for the 133rd legislative district, told us about the need for campaign finance reform, lobbyist disclosure, and sweeping change in Harrisburg. As a county councilman, Joe always had an independent streak. But he also worked as a legislative aide. Joe is the best of both worlds - a maverick who knows how the system works.
Gerry Seyfried - Northampton County's former Executive and Councilman, explained County finances and stressed the importance of "pay as you go" as opposed to incurring huge debt. He also talked about the county's Liberty Bell, which he described as a national treasure.
Nazareth Borough Councilpersons Jack Herbst and Cindy Werner spoke with quiet passion and force against a current proposal to build a new government center inside of a park.
BillyBytes (Billy Givens), noted Bill White Hall of Famer, indefatigable blogger, essayist, independent candidate for Governor, and frequent commenter to this blog, displayed his irrepressible southern charm. (He was unusually sedate).
Jason Slipp, cofounder of Lehigh Valley Beyond Oil, talked about peak oil, the absurdity of widening more roads, and the need for light rail in the Lehigh Valley.
Russ Shade, who managed John Stoffa's astonishingly successful county executive campaign without a dime of special interest money and against party bosses, told us about his own campaign for state representative in the 183rd legislative district. He thinks campaign money should come from residents that actually live in the legislative district, and not PACs located in Toodeloo.
Chris Casey, Democratic candidate for the 134th legislative district, is tired of incumbents and believes Harrisburg needs a breath of fresh air.
State Rep. Rich Grucela took time out on his way to a committee meeting to describe the tax relief package cobbled together in Harrisburg. He explained it's only a start, and would like to see a lot more done to provide relief for people on fixed incomes. He also described his plan to impose impact fees on developers, which should help preserve green space, but is running into heavy flack from builders and developers. Rich voted against the pay raise, refused to take the money, and is running unopposed. Wonder why?
Allentown blogger Damien Brown of Our West End Neighborhood gave us a virtual tour of downtown Allentown. Close your eyes and think about Allentown. Pretty ugly, huh? Now open them and take a gander at Damien's blog. You'll see a different city.
Louis Belletieri, Allentown businessman, lost his bid to become Mayor. But the victor, Ed Pawlowski, liked Louis' vision, and drafted him to serve the city in attracting and keeping business. After listening to Louis speak, I'm ready to move there myself. Come to think of it, my rent is due soon.
Politics: Lehigh Valley Style, Lehigh County Redneck, and Musings From Mudville could not appear without blowing their cover, but gave me plenty of support behind the scenes.
I want to thank everyone involved for the wonderful conversations over the past two weeks. And I'd like to thank Ron Angle, Mark Thomas, and Jolly Joe Timmer, who gave me free reign over guests and format. I'll probably be doing this again around Christmas. If you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
"Open that door, you little shit!" I shout as I pound on O'Hare's door. "I know you're in there! Cough up my dough!" I can hear him moving but he's not answering. I push the damn door open just in time to see him jump right out the window. Now he's running in the buff down a dark street, in the middle of the night, singing, "Keep on rockin' in the free world." I hope he gets struck by lightning or run over by a cop or something. What a waste. As I suspected, he's drunk again. There's empty booze bottles all over the place. That and old pennies, for some reason. And lots of old newspapers. Seriously, the guy's a wing nut. I'm going to send a little note to Lamont McClure. That'll fix his ass.
I'm on his PC right now. He was writing about "open government" again. Give me a break! I'm sick of all that crap about this pol and that pol. Bernie, nobody cares! Since O'Hare's not coming back anytime soon, I'm going to write this post for him. Maybe then he'll learn to pay his debts. And he better learn now. What the hell do you think they'll do when he runs up a tab at the casinos? That's right. He'll be singin' soprano, baby. I watch Mafia movies so I know about that stuff.
Instead of talking about stupid boring local government, I'm going to open things up a bit and lay it out on an international scale, baby. I want to talk about Afghanistan. Remember Afghanistan? We beat their asses faster than you can say Taliban. And we did it for their own good.
Now you'd think that after killing over 250,000 people in Iraq and Afghanistan, they'd get the message - we're going to set them free no matter how many we have to kill in the process. Freedom ain't cheap, bippy. Let's face it, Saddam was nothing but a two bit dictator who tortured his own people and refused to provide basic necessities like running water or electricity. He had to go. Now, the people of Iraq are secure in the knowledge that if any torturing is to be done, we'll do it. And we'll get those water pipes but have to secure oil pipelines first. The oil must flow.
Things were rough for those Iraqis when Saddam was throwing people out of helicopters, but the women of Afghanistan were living a nightmare. Those wacky Talibans draped their women in 20,000 layers of clothing called a burka, and regularly beat them silly if they stepped out of line. So we bombed the hell out of them so they could bask in the glow of Lady Liberty. I remember the flowers they had for American soldiers or the graves or something. Or were they poppy blossoms?
Well it looks like we're going to have to level Afghanistan again. No it's not about their poppy fields or their increasing opium sales. Let the free market resolve that matter. What has me riled is now they're marrying off their 11 year old daughters to very old men so that they have enough to eat. Give me a break! You know we already killed enough of them so that hunger is not the problem. Besides, look at them. They're skinny. They just don't eat much. No, those demonic Islamic fundamentalists are using hunger and hardships as an excuse to turn their kids into sex objects. Haven't they learned anything? Don't they know that a free nation doesn't turn its females into sex objects until they're 18?
So "Bring it On" baby. Let's rack up a few more dead bodies so that the song of freedom can be heard. It's our Christian duty. And God is on our side.
Now if you don't agree with me, I don't really care. O'Hare can deal with the nasty comments when he sobers up. I'm taking his porn mags and leaving. Bye.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
You've heard Billy Joel tell it like it is:
"Well we're living here in Allentown
And they're closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line ..."
Allentown is commonly regarded as the Lehigh Valley's armpit. Its homicide rate last year, 2 1/2 times the national average for cities of comparable size, is enough to make one hesitate about a little day trip. Much of its industry and downtown business is gone. And in his four years as Mayor, Mayor Roy Afflerbach seemed hopelessly unable to cope with city finances, which have turned into a nightmare.
But there are rays of hope and a new Mayor in town. Blogs like Our West End Neighborhood and Old Fairgrounds think Allentown's making a comeback, and point to things like 7th Street cleanups, the Allentown Preservation League, the Arts park, and refreshed awnings on 8th Street.
Tomorrow, my guests on WGPA 1100 AM will be Damien Brown, who operates Our West End Neighborhood. He'll be joined by none other than Allentown restaurantuer Louis T. Belletieri,whose family restaurant has been at 12th and Chew since 1958. He ran for Mayor himself and said then that the city could benefit from his business knowledge. Although Lou lost, Mayor Pawlowski drafted him to help revitalize the Lehigh Valley's largest city.
The show will run from 8 to 10 AM. Feel free to call in with comments or questions at 610-866-8074. You can livestream the show. If you can't call in, post your comments or questions here, and I'll try to get answers.
I spied Reverend Matz, a borough councilman who incidentally supports the expansion, as he tentatively made his way across the field to Council chambers, and buttonholed the poor guy with question after question. I had tried the same thing earlier with Express Times Editor Joe Owens, but he got away.
Now Rev. Matz is not some intransigent person unswayed by reason, but a kind-hearted thinker who holds quiet but well-considered opinions on topics ranging from the Civil War to our current conflagration in Iraq. And as I listened and learned, I realized his fellow council members are no doubt good people, too, even those who support the expansion.
So why do they seem so intent to head in the wrong direction? The answer, quite simply, lies with the Sunshine Act. It's ignored in Nazareth, by a "group of four" councilmen who discussed the expansion privately with the blessings of Solicitor Al Pierce.
"[T]he right of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decisionmaking of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process ... [S]ecrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public's effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society."
And this "secrecy" is exactly what happened in Nazareth. When I finally released Rev. Matz and parked it in Council chambers, I learned that Council committees considering the municipal building expansion had routinely met behind closed doors, in complete violation of the Sunshine Act. No notices were posted, no advertising, no nothing. Council Solicitor Al Pierce, in a complete misinterpretation of the Sunshine Act, actually believes that committees can meet privately for "administrative" purposes. This, of course, is nonsense. These committees took the official action of submitting one and only one proposal to Council for consideration.
Anyone who reads this blog knows by now that the Sunshine Act applies both to borough councils and their respective committees. Don't take my word for it. Ask media lawyer Terri Henning or Northampton County Council Solicitor Lenny Zito. A committee that meets privately will do nothing but instill distrust in the public no matter how well-intentioned. Moreover, it deprives public bodies of beneficial public input. Had Nazareth's committees met publicly, the council might now be considering several options for a municipal center instead of one that destroys a park. And I'm curious how these committees could have authorized an architect to prepare plans for a proposal that had not been approved by Council. Who is going to pay that bill? It won't be Al Pierce or the "group of four."
Had Council followed the law, it would have permitted the kind of quiet and reasonable discussion I enjoyed Monday night with Reverend Matz. Instead of drawing battle lines, Council and the people they are supposed to represent might actually be on the same page. The secrecy must end. Council can do it themselves or wait for a judge to tell them. But they must change their policy of permitting committees to meet privately.
Evening Update: The Express Times today published an editorial opposing any government building expansion that requires the sacrifice of what little open space is left. "When the public speaks this loudly, public officials have an obligation to listen and learn." But the editorial also cautions,"Council members shouldn't be vilified for recognizing that the borough government deserves a more modern, efficient home." Fair enough.
The Morning Call also published a letter to the editor from Nazareth resident Bill Coker, "We shouldn't try to be like the big-town 'Joneses.' Let them try to be like us." Well said, Bill.
Today, I heard from Mr. Grubb , at least one of the victims of this email block. I now know why he was muzzled. He's a whistleblower. He's quite critical of Tony Hanna. What disturbs me most are the allegations (and these are just allegations) that Hanna, a Callahan ally, was provided two cell phones, a pager, used a city vehicle for personal purposes, and used economic development funds to pay a Philly parking ticket on his personal car and during a day off. Some of Grubb's complaints are detailed in his letter, which he allowed me to post below:
Dear Bernie O'Hare:
My name is Dana Grubb and I was the subject of the e-mail blocking at City Hall. Dennis Reichard, the City's Business Administrator is my brother-in-law, and now it appears, according to [Economic Development Director Tony] Hanna he was aware of this block, as were other key city administrators. This is extremely disappointing and disturbing, especially at a time when government's motivation and action always seem to be under question.
First and foremost, although I will not take legal action against the City of Bethlehem government, and am satisfied that the city has resolved a wrong, I have not ruled out taking legal action against individuals responsible for this, due to their abuses of power.
I owe the resolution of that matter to City Council, and in particular Attorney Chris Spadoni who is the Council Solicitor. And, by the way, I do have a great deal of respect for Bethlehem City Council, because I firmly believe Council tries to do what they feel is in the best interests of the city, not themselves as individual elected officials.
Second, the e-mail blocking that took place, happened in December 2004, and at the same time, someone in Bethlehem city government also decided to refuse to accept my photography for use on the city's website. This was after having provided my photography free of charge, and while a city employee, much of which the city web site uses to this day. That is part of why I called this action "childish and immature." It was apparent that this was in response to my dressing down of Mr. Hanna at a City Council budget session earlier that month, and after Harvey Joseph and I had been forced to retire due to a confrontation in the City's Health Bureau offices.
* * *
At that budget hearing, which covered Hanna's department's FY2005 operating budget review, Hanna intentionally misled City Council on a number of budget issues (all of which I was keenly aware of in that I done most of that budget preparation prior to my forced retirement). Hanna's typical modus operandi when he doesn't have an answer is to make one up and hope you believe him, rather than to just say 'I don't know.' I also took Hanna to task for his blatant abuses involving his use of the city vehicle which was assigned to him (which included among other things his use of the vehicle to attend social events that were not city government events such as a wedding and retirement party, and transporting his wife regularly in the vehicle as if it was his personal vehicle); his obvious waste of $1,800.00 of taxpayers' money to advertise a job opening that was filled from within (the city's Human Resources Director had been critical of that waste in an earlier conversation with me while I was still employed by the city); that Hanna had 2 cellphone accounts and one pager account being paid for as a city official, in addition to the telephone on the desk in his office. The city's business administrator called my revelation of these facts "despicable", and Hanna stated that he didn't realize he was doing something wrong. The business administrator was already aware of some of these issues, and a number of others concerning Hanna, because I had brought a number of them to his attention over Hanna's time with the city. Employees regularly visited my office and stopped me in City Hall to complain about Hanna's absences, abuses, and treatment of others in City Hall. They often did the same for Hanna's cousin, Harvey Joseph, who was reputed to have raised contributions for Callahan's campaign for Mayor. It's ironic in some ways that one of those same employees probably gave Hanna a copy of my critical e-mail which he constantly refers to, and which didn't happen for months until after the e-mail block on the City's server. And by the way, I hold no enmity toward the Information services staff who enacted the block. They did what they were apparently told to do.
As far as these alleged annoying e-mails, had any employee inside of city hall asked me to no longer include them on my personal mailing list, I would have ceased, which I did for one employee in our Housing Rehab office who requested that I do so. Again, that was an e-mail sent several months after the block was enacted, and it was sent only to non-city hall e-mail accounts.
It was obvious that Hanna was embarrassed and had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. All this in addition to the well-known fact within his department that his whereabouts when he was working was almost never known, except for his extended coffee sessions at Jasmine's in University Square and other locales throughout and outside the City of Bethlehem; and the well-known fact that he would leave work early to travel over to Lehigh University to instruct some sort of class at the University. I would think the taxpayers of Bethlehem have every right to expect Hanna to be working for the City of Bethlehem government from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM., which are normal hours of operation
As I stated above, the e-mail that Hanna constantly references was NOT sent to city hall.. I personally thought it was a very good characterization of Hanna given his record with the city. The fact that someone chose to give a copy to Hanna is out of my control, and quite frankly it was a rather condemnatory e-mail because Hanna had finally found a way to get a new bright and shiny city vehicle for himself, without City Council's budgetary approval and after several years of bemoaning his status as a high ranking city official with a less than spiffy car to commute back and forth to city hall in, from his west Allentown home (I know a lot of city taxpayers and other city employees who would like that perk). While inspectors from his department continued to drive vehicles with mechanical defects, high mileage, and on some days used their personal vehicles because their city vehicles were in repair, Hanna schemed to get a new vehicle.
I could go on about his interrogations of city employees who had lunch with me after my retirement; or his intimidation of employees to get them to leave; or his protection of his cousin a city employee who had been accused of bribe-taking and who violated employee policies regularly-many which Hanna himself violated; or his use of economic development monies to pay for a parking ticket on his personal car in Philadelphia, on a day that he had taken as a personal/vacation day and was probably visiting the U of P veterinary Clinic.
I could tell you about the half-truths and non-factual statements he gave to a member of the press in his attempts to discredit me in the community which I call home for my entire life.
I could tell you about department staff meetings in which he would make promises to follow-up on various matters, sometimes a dozen or more, and never take one note. Of course, at the next meeting two weeks later, few if any of the answers had been obtained, but many of the same promises were made again.
I might tell you about his department secretary, whom he berated and intimidated in full view of department staff, because he wanted her to retire. Only after I went to the Human Resources Director and the business administrator to explain that this employee was prepared to file a union grievance and press charges for harassment did this behavior top. And, this same department secretary was not permitted in his office, nor was she permitted to know his schedule-she was the secretary to Hanna. What was he trying to hide? But, it's reared its ugly head since I left, and a different employee sought my counsel on how to handle Hanna's intimidating and berating behavior.
This is the same man who called his staff's attendance at neighborhood blockwatch meetings, " a waste of time." The same person who when criticized by a co-worker for not being in touch and connected with what's going on in Bethlehem because he doesn't live in the city, responds, "I'm glad I don't live in the city." Now there's some real empathy for the folks who pay your salary and benefits!
I'll stack my 27 years in Bethlehem city government against Hanna's 6 or so years any day. I and most Bethlehem residents will take my reputation for honesty, integrity, openness and hard work over his demonstrated behavior as a city official, all of the time, no matter how much he tries to discredit me.
This guy is the epitome of a government official taking advantage of his position, yet "Dandy" Mayor Callahan defends his actions and nothing is ever done about it.
Thanks for your blog coverage-gotta go to a meeting.
Tony Hanna, Bethelehem's Director of Community and Economic Development, is a nice guy. There's just no getting around it. During the bond hearings, when I sued the county over its $111 million megabond, he was one of the few local government officials who actually spoke to me. Today he assures me "the Director of IT has the authority to block or screen e-mail he believes to be objectionable or threatening. He is more than just a 'techie.' " I believe Tony. But shouldn't decisions about public access to government officials be made at a different level, or in accord with a policy approved by the Solicitor? The First Amendment, after all, is intended to annoy.