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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My First Ever Back Room Meeting

Northampton County's citizens' election committee met last night, and I'll be writing about that meeting in a separate post. After the meeting was over, elections commissioner Ralph Stampone invited me to join him at the Tic Toc diner for a slice of pie. "Thirty minutes, Bernie. Tops!"

I wanted to get home so I could write up the damn meeting, but I'm not one to turn down free food. I figured I could gobble the pie and stick Ralph with the bill pretty easily. He's a fat guy, too, and lacks my lightning speed.

I met my date Ralph at Tic Toc, and was waiting for my pie when these two white collar skinny guys came in and sat right next to us. One of them was Russ Shade, who looked like he hadn't eaten for several days. The other thin man was about 18 feet tall and wearing a ridiculous Sherlock Holmes hat. That was John Stoffa.

We fat guys ordered one small slice of blueberry pie. That was my frickin' dinner. The skinny guys ate like there was no tomorrow. Stoffa, who kept saying, "Elementary, my dear O'Hare," scarfed down a mega omelet. Shade gobbled at tuna melt, fries, onion rings and then started drinking all those half and half creamers that diner waitresses toss at you when you order coffee.

I figured I should stick around because I might get some inside info for a good blog post. But after about an hour, all these bastards were talking about was chocolate pie. So I said my goodbyes and was getting ready to leave when the bill came. I ended up spending $5 for one slice of blueberry pie and coffee, and I think Shade was licking my plate as I left.

So now I'm out $5, hungry, behind in my writing and all I have to show for my efforts is this lousy post.

That's OK. Ralph now has a flat tire.

Northampton County's C-Span?

Al Jordan, Northampton County's Director of Information Services, has a terrible weakness. He smokes. If he wants to light up, he has to step outside the courthouse. And when he does, I can nail him and find out what's going on.

He's working on a proposal to livestream county council meetings. He envisions a system in which we can see and hear what's going on in real time, and is even considering some interactive features that might make it possible for the public to make comments. He'd also like to be able to archive meetings. I'm telling you right now the Nielsens on this will go right through the cupola. If the county sells this as a series, it might avoid a tax increase for a few years.

You, too, might soon be able to watch the council circus. Of course, they must approve this plan. It certainly will put them in the public eye, where you can watch the most dysfunctional government in the Lehigh Valley.

Maybe I can get a job doing Angle's make up.

The Lehigh Valley Has a Mass Transit Crisis

Yesterday, in Easton's City Council Chambers, LANTA conducted the first of three public hearings before it raises fares and cuts our bus service. It's simply amazing. Just a few weeks ago, at least 170 of the Lehigh Valley's movers and shakers nibbled on brie and sipped chardonnay as the Brookings' Robert Puentes talked about rail. He made clear that no form of transportation, including buses, should be ignored.

Our local Congressman, Charlie Dent, is a co-founder of the House Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Caucus, and actually wants to convert Route 78 into a hydrogen highway. Even the prez wants us to reduce gasoline consumption, and is proposing, for the first time in twenty years, that we improve mileage standards for our cars, SUVs and trucks.

In addition to this increasing interest in alternative transportation, LANTA's bus ridership is up 60% since '97. Alternative transportation is finally in, bippy.

And this is where the land of midnight payraises enters this story. Incredibly, the state legislature has no solution for a transportation funding crisis. LANTA may have to raise fares and cut service while Harrisburg drones on about property tax reform for another year.

Public hearings on LANTA's proposal will be held again today at Noon at the Lehigh County Government Center in Allentown, and tomorrow at Noon in Bethlehem's City Hall. If you can't attend a noon meeting like most of us, you can let LANTA know how you feel on its website.

Steve Schmitt, the local director of our coalition for alternative transportation, claims he can't write. But he summed things up nicely in an email being circulated everywhere. "This is a crisis. If our region can find the money to rebuild a $12 million dollar bridge on Route 33 that falls into a sinkhole; if we can find the tens of millions of dollars it is going to take to redo the surface of Route 78 that needs unusual repair right now, if we can find $1.5 million to run a constant emergency service on Route 22 for people that run out of gas, if we can find the $750,000 to replace the lights on cemetery curve, then we can find the $1.6 million to prevent a deficit at LANTA."

And how about a bike rack at the judges' $46 (and climbing) million Taj Mahal in Easton!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Foreclosure Rates on Rise in Northampton County

What do Pennsylvania's Northampton County and California's Marin County have in common? They've both seen a sharp increase in foreclosures. In Northampton County, an average of 46 properties was listed monthly for sheriff sale in 2005. That figure remained steady last year. But this year, where sheriff sales are already scheduled through April, 57 properties per month are listed. That's a twenty-three per cent increase over the last two years.

Reason? Damned if I know. Obviously, people aren't making enough money to pay for increasingly expensive homes. I don't have access to monthly sheriff sales in Lehigh County. But folks are struggling there, too. RealtyTrac lists 675 properties in various forms of foreclosure in Lehigh County, compared to a mere 359 in Northampton County.

Never Be Afraid To Say What You Feel

Express Times Editor Joe Owens cautions that "This world of blogging, posting, chatting, etc., can ... be scary. Anonymity gives people encouragement to say anything, which is very easy if you don’t have to put your name behind it." The Morning Call's Bill White says much the same thing. "[Y]ou're getting one person's take on things, often posted anonymously. It can make for irresponsible, even destructive misstatements or invasion of privacy, with no accountability. There's no editor, no professional constraints."


OK, these are valid criticisms. But when any form of media restrains comment, there's a very real danger we'll only be exposed to their truths. Some blogs, especially those on the dark side, frequently moderate comments. And guess what? My comments are never published. These bloggers manipulate public opinion. They're deciding what you see and what you don't.

Others play comment cop and delete anything that might insult someone, including mild humor. They fret that a lively and sometimes irreverent exchange will lessen the value of their site. I disagree. I may be wrong. But in my view, deleting these comments is just another, if less offensive, way to manipulate public opinion.

My approach has evolved (or perhaps devolved) to mirror the practice of most other bloggers. I let it all in. Anonymous, pseudonym and blogger comments are all welcome. I won't even use word verification, because it sometimes makes it hard to post a remark. I hand delete the spam.

Most comments are intelligent, well-written and entertaining. But there is the occasional personal attack or some scurrilous allegation, so what do I do about that?

Here's the way I look at it. We bloggers may be idiots, but most of our readers are not knuckleheads. They tend to be very well-read, and are looking for additional information and differing perspectives. Sometimes, they'll find that in one of the local blogs. And just like me or anyone else, they can spot horseshit. They already have enough information spoonfed to them.

I already know what I think. I'm interested in what YOU think, and enjoy the commentary on this blog more than my own posts. And some folks need to preserve their anonymity because of their employment. So here's my comment policy: I will delete spam or any comment that advocates physical harm against any individual, even a government official. Other than that, most of you have pretty good bullshit detectors. You spot it in me every time.

It's half the fun.

Is Bethlehem Dreaming of a White Christmas?

Before the decision to award a gambling license to Bethworks, there was no real gentrification in south side Bethlehem. Its rentals were similar to rates elsewhere in the Lehigh Valley. But the "imminent slots-and-lofts redevelopment" will certainly change that picture, along with the demographic make up of Bethlehem's south side. It's the new apartheid, bippy. Bethlehem, the Christmas City, will certainly morph into Bethlehem, the White Christmas City. Jersey transplants will be insulated from the Lehigh Valley's riff raff by tinseltowns like The Promenade Shops at Upper Saucon.

Bethlehem is delighted at the inevitable increased tax revenues. But forgotten are the poor, mostly Hispanic, who have little political or economic clout. I don't see any effort to expand affordable housing for those who will be displaced. They'll be nudged aside for latte-sipping yuppies, a process that occurs regularly in several U.S. cities.

So just as the original Bethlehem had no room for Jesus, neither does its Pennsylvania namesake.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Is Bethlehem Getting a Little Too Uppity?

Riverport. Gambling. Musikfest. Is Bethlehem getting just a little too snooty? That's what Patty Metzgar says in a recent letter to The Morning Call.

But Patty's "evil twin" expresses another view in a hilarious online comment.

There is a new word in Bethlehem and it isn't "Grease." The word is "downscale," and I am sick of hearing it. We have "downscale" developments, malls, restaurants, shops, groceries and just about anything else. Subsidized housing, welfare, inner city slumlords and huge downscale immigration pressures from the more pricey areas to the east, namely Newark and NYC. Downscale too often equals "up crime".

I'm 51 and have lived here all my life. I worked a short time at an "downscale" shop before it was called that (Walmarts, The Dollar Store, etc.) Every day, customers would buy merchandise that was brought in from China and took away jobs from the very locals who were buying there in a twisted sort of Catch 22 in the marketplace. They were more than happy to pay a lot less because the store catered to a more downscale clientele who, by virtue of shopping there, vote everyday that they want China to keep manufacturing and selling us their cheaper goods while they buy the jobs right out from under themselves.

What really pushed this whole "downscale" mentality over the edge was an article I remember from a few months back about Walmart Greeters, which said it's downscale store is for the "welfare-educated," and "well-trodden in society's evil business world" shopper.

Will shoppers need to take an IQ exam at the door? Will mentally superior individuals be turned away? I guess you don't need an advanced education to select the lowest prices since your job to produce those very goods is no longer here on our shores.
Actually, I think Patty has a point. But it applies pretty much to the entire Lehigh Valley, which is increasingly becoming a bedroom community for Jersey and NYC commuters. Last night provided the latest example of our gentrification. I went to a new restaurant in downtown Nazareth, where I paid $16.65 for frickin' meatloaf. And I listened to a couple that moved here five years ago from Jersey decry the rapid loss of our open space.

I bet the meatloaf in Joisey is cheaper.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Norco Citizens' Elections Committee Minutes

I was feeling rather smug and proud of myself yesterday. I had a link set up to the minutes for the organizational meeting of Northampton County's citizens' advisory committee. That committee is studying our election problems. But an anonymous poster told me he couldn't get at it, nor could Miss Twinkie. I'm not so smug today. Until I've sorted out where I've gone wrong, the minutes are located below.

In conjunction with
Voter’s Registration Office
Organizational Meeting Minutes
January 23, 2007 – 3:00 PM

The organizational kickoff meeting of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee was facilitated by the Northampton County Director of Administration, John Conklin, and comprised of the following non-partisan members:
Margaret "Peg" Ferraro Russell Shade Greta Brown
Jack Bradt Richard Benner
Welcome – John Conklin
Mr. Conklin thanked everyone for attending and for providing their assistance.

Opening Comments:
County Executive, John Stoffa, noted that the cooperative efforts to be achieved by this committee is to have the ultimate goal of overcoming problems that exist in the County of Northampton. The purpose is "to do better"; Mr. Stoffa stated, and these are the recommendations he proposed:
Hold public meetings;
Interview/survey members of the Election Commission, County Council, members of the Staff and Chairpersons of the Political Parties;
Invite public comment;
Determine if a paper trail is needed;
Suggest a process for the format of the voting machine—who determines final approval;
Voting tabulation improvements;
Establish validity of ethics code, if necessary;
Complete a final report in four months;
Derive suggestions by the Committee on how to achieve its goals.

Mr. Stoffa also noted that the Administration office extends its support to Committee members with its staff in preparing documentation, copying, provide meeting space and whatever else is necessary to complete the tasks at hand. Mr. Conklin reiterated that he offers his complete support to the committee.
The next primary election will be held on May 15, 2007.
Mr. Conklin introduced Deborah DePaul, Chief Registrar, Voter’s Registration Office and;
NC Citizens’ Advisory Committee Page Two January 23, 2007
Kimberlee Shoup-Yeahl, Regional Sales Manager of AVS, the voting machine provider.

Introduction of Committee Members – Roll Call
Role call was taken and it was confirmed that all committee members were present.

Courtesy of the Floor
The public was offered an opportunity to present its comments.
There were none forthcoming.

Organizational Business
Mr. Conklin suggested that a Chairman and Co-Chairman be nominated to serve on the committee.

Mr. Bradt nominated Ms. Ferraro for Chairperson, seconded by Mr. Benner.
No further nominations were presented.
Nominations were closed.
Mr. Conklin cast a ballot to elect Ms. Ferraro as Chairperson. The committee unanimously approved.
Richard Benner nominated Russell Shade for Co-Chairperson, seconded by Ms. Ferraro.
No further nominations were presented.
Nominations were closed.
Mr. Conklin cast a ballot to elect Mr. Shade as Co-Chairperson. The committee unanimously approved.

Timeframe for recommendations/findings
Chairperson, Ms. Ferraro resumed the meeting and put forth her items for discussion, including the referenced subject.
Ms. Ferraro polled the committee for a suitable time to conduct meetings and also the frequency of them.
The members unanimously decided that a 7:00 p.m. timeframe on a weekly basis be held in the County Council Room 307 based upon its availability.
The next official meeting date and time will be held on January 31, 2007. Subsequently, the following meeting will be held on February 7, 2007. All meetings will follow the sunshine law by advertising in the local newspapers.

New Business

Ms. Ferraro asked Ms. DePaul to approach the committee to explain the latest information concerning laws and other governing issues by the state. Ms. DePaul provided a packet of information for the committee to review that would explain and provide the latest information.
In an effort to generate interest in the election process, Ms. DePaul noted that she opened her office to colleges in an effort to approach students and encourage them to participate in elections. The PTA’s have also been approached for their assistance in taking part in the election process. One of the problems facing elections is providing a suitable location. The state has mandated very strict rules in the requirements necessary for a location due to the security factor. To date, there are now fifteen (15) schools being used as polling places. One of the issues that seems to indicate the lack of importance on election day is the fact that it is not declared a holiday for schools which demeans the importance of going to the polls to vote. Ms. DePaul emphasized that the state mandates many of the issues that seem to present problems to the voters’ registration office who must carry out their duties and responsibilities accordingly.
Issues of Importance Outlined by the Committee
Voting machine problems (newly computerized)
Timeframe in counting absentee votes – last election it took six weeks
How to resolve issues confronting candidates wanting to run for office
Mr. Conklin noted that County administration is addressing some of the problem issues that are of concern in the coming primary election in May. He will share his information with the committee.
Ms. Ferraro reviewed her agenda for the next meeting and requested suggestions:
To Research the packet of information provided by the registration office;
To put questions together and include comments;
Address and provide solutions connected with the voting machine;
(privacy of the location of the machine within the room…past experience had the monitor in full view of public)
How to encourage more volunteer participation in polling locations and what issues, if any, concern the volunteers at these locations;
What are concerns of other counties on the use of computer voting machines, etc.;
What can be done about the timeframe in counting absentee ballots;
User friendly office….can we obtain information easily at the voter registration office;
Where will the voter registration office be located when Wolf Building is closed;
What are the issues concerning the candidates for election;
What are the Parties’ concerns;
How can we improve the website…..it is important to the public;
How can we improve voter registration and then to get them to come out to vote.

Ms. DePaul noted that the 2000 census report indicated that the population is 267,066 in Northampton County. There are presently 190,000 registered voters. However, the number of voters varies according to the type of election being held.
Ms. Brown respectfully requested that the Committee refer to its body as a non-partisan representation of the voters and not a segregated body. The Committee unanimously agreed. All reference to the members will be "non-partisan".

Courtesy of the Floor
Ms. Ferraro acknowledged a member of the public as follows:
Mary Barkett, 169 Spruce Street, Nazareth, PA 18064.
Ms. Barkett mentioned that she is a Republican Committee volunteer. She indicated that it would be advantageous to have comments from as many different people and many different variables as possible. She thanked the administration for forming the committee and for having this forum for the voters, "the voters are very important".
Ms. Ferraro mentioned that the public may forward questions, concerns, and suggestions to the Administration office where there concerns will be addressed, if possible.
Mr. Conklin noted that a separate email address is set up for this purpose. This address is: voter.info@northamptoncounty.org

Next Meeting Date – Wednesday, January 31, 2007, 7:00 PM, Council Rm #307

Ms. Ferraro adjourned the meeting at 4:00 PM.

January 23, 2007

Friday, January 26, 2007

Citizens' Elections Committee Minutes Available Online

On Wednesday, I told you about the inaugural meeting of Northampton County's Citizens' Advisory Committee. This group is responding to a call for help with problems in the elections office. I've posted a link to the minutes on the sidebar and will continue to post them when they become available.
Update: The link on my left sidebar finally works. Minutes will be posted there as they become available.

Norco Council Members Want a Second Opinion

I told you earlier today that Northampton County Council is lucky to have Lenny Zito, a former judge, as its solicitor. Even Ron Angle listens to him.

But council members Charles Dertinger and Tony Branco don't like Zito's legal opinions, and actually want to hire an accountant to review them. Maybe even a CPA!

I've got a newsflash for Dertinger and Branco. It might save taxpayers a few bucks. Accountants, even CPAs, do not give legal opinions. What are these dudes smoking?

Norco Council Solicitor Zito Won't Sanction Back Door Meeting

Everything a governmental body does can result in a lawsuit. So whenever a council member or township super wants a back room meeting, he can just claim he needs to talk about potential litigation. The solicitor will wave his magic wand, say the magic words (executive session) and Poof! They all disappear.

But this is a story about a rare county council solicitor who actually observes the Sunshine Act.
You'll love it because the Sunshine Act wins out and the evil villain is Ron Angle . He wanted an an executive session at the last Northampton County Council meeting to discuss "litigation" over the now defunct Wind Gap Walmart.

"Would you kindly provide me the docket number of the case you wish to discuss?" asked council solicitor Lenny Zito.

"It's potential litigation. You know, the Commonwealth Court has ruled I'm an expert on the Sunshine Act," chimed Ron.

But Zito remained unpersuaded. He calmly asked Angle for a written or oral statement identifying a specific complaint. Ron could not do so. So no executive session, bippy. Back room meetings to discuss "litigation" are permitted only for actual lawsuits or "identifiable complaints" that are expected to be filed.

Last Thursday will mark the first time I've ever seen a solicitor make inquiries and properly interpret the "litigation" exception in the Sunshine Act. Northampton County Council is fortunate to have Lenny Zito. Even Angle listens to him.

But not me. I'm a miserable bastard.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Radio Talk Show Bigot: And I Don't Mean Ron Angle

Media Matters reports the latest half-witted antics of Rush Limbaugh:
On the January 24 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, host Rush Limbaugh referred to Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and actress Halle Berry as "Halfrican American[s]," stating that "Barack Obama has picked up another endorsement: Halfrican American actress Halle Berry." Limbaugh then said: " 'As a Halfrican American, I am honored to have Ms. Berry's support, as well as the support of other Halfrican Americans,' Obama said." Limbaugh then conceded that Obama "didn't say it."

Want a Republican President? Nominate Hillary

A Hillary Clinton candidacy virtually guarantees that the next president will be republican. I don't know any high profile politician who evokes such negative emotions from both left and right.
Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak out on Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges.
"She would not be another President Clinton. She would be President Rodham." Horrors!

Investigator Lamont McClure - Bloodhound of the Law

People steal. Always have. Always will.

In even the most secure banks, there's always an embezzler. So it's no surprise that Northampton County had its own embezzler, a low-level deputy who may have pocketed $125 thousand over five years. Many county employees are now waiting over three years for a payraise. Some have been sickened by all the dust coming from the construction for the judges' new palace. But most of them really care about their jobs and take pride in their work. As in most workplaces, the embezzler is the exception, not the rule.

But none of this is stopping Lamont McClure, chair of council's law and order committee. He's conducting his own investigation. It doesn't matter a bit that we already know what happened. It makes no difference that Controller John Schimmel has already acknowledged he should have audited that office sooner. McClure's going to solve this mystery.

Did I mention that McClure is not just a Democrat, but a county committeeman as well? Or that Schimmel is a Republican who recently announced he's seeking a fourth term? I'm sure that has nothing to do with McClure's probe.

He told council last week he wants to hire a forensic accountant to review all the work papers. Schimmel's office already undergoes a "quality control review" every three years by The National Association of Local Government Auditors, and is always found in compliance with government auditing standards. Council agreed to hire a forensic accountant, although it won't spend more than $1,000 to recheck what has already been checked.

Lamont doesn't really need an accountant. Last Thursday, he lashed out at Schimmel's suggestion that this quest is nothing more than a witchhunt. "Quite frankly, Mr. Schimmel, you've admitted you dropped the ball. You're a day late and a dollar short." Seems to me, he wants to be able to make this point several times between now and November, and that's why the county is spending $1,000 for a forensic accountant. It's actually a campaign contribution for whoever opposes Schimmel. It's politics.

I could understand being worked up over a $120 thousand theft, and perhaps voters should choose someone over Schimmel in November. But earlier that night, Grube admitted that the Wind Gap road was a $440 thousand mistake. Who's going to investigate that? Not Lamont McClure. He'd be probing himself.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What Bush Really Said Last Night

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Stoffa's Citizen Committee Deals With NorCo Election Mess

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"Our elections have been like giving birth to an elephant."

That's how Northampton County Executive John Stoffa described our last two elections. And he's right. In the primary, Democrats and Republicans were reversed and there was no write-in tally for six weeks. In the general election, voters were confused by a ballot designed to encourage straight party voting. And it took hours to tabulate results that turned out to be off by over 3,000 votes.

A few weeks ago, Stoffa named a five person "blue ribbon citizens advisory committee" to untangle the Gordian knot in the elections office. Its members? Russ Shade (Stoffa's reform-minded former campaign manager); Richard Benner (former registrar who oversaw 45 elections); Peg Ferraro (former county councilperson); Jack Bradt (former CEO at SI Handling); and Greta Browne (former congressional candidate). Today, this unusual nonpartisan committee met for the first time. It chose Peg Ferraro to serve as chair and Russ Shade as co-chair. It will be meeting weekly, with its next two meetings scheduled for Wednesday evenings at 7 PM, when working voters can attend.

Not a single member of county council attended today's meeting. Although the five member elections commission was expressly invited to participate, only Joan Rosenthal was able to attend today's 3 PM meeting.

Problems in the Elections Office

Stoffa originally told this committee it had just four months to come up with solutions. But today, his charge was a little more open-ended. He stressed they were not on a "witch hunt," but he wanted to know "how we can do better." He wants the public's input, improvements in our voting tabulation, and wondered whether an ethics code might be necessary. From all the accounts I've received, I believe it's pretty apparent why there are problems. Some of these problems, like the lack of paper trails and possible hacking, can only be solved at the state or federal level. But the county must deal with the following:

a) A registrar who refers to herself like this: "You seem to have failed to notice and appreciate that the person in charge of the Election Office is intelligent, dedicated, fair and non-bias and holds her office to the same standards. With every positive effort to hold a good and fair election I seem to be fighting a very negative, nasty wave from a group that seem to wish bad upon the office or the election." She rambled on for at least a half hour during today's meeting, assuring everyone things are wonderful. They aren't.

b) Elections workers are improperly trained and don't even know enough to offer provisional ballots, something that Pennsylvania law requires.

c) Voting machines are not evenly distributed so that precincts that have heavy votes get more machines.

d) There is insufficient manpower on hand in the elections office during an actual election.

e) Advanced Voting Machines must solve the problem of vote tallies following the election.

f) One party chair is too close to the elections office.

g) The Home Rule Charter needs to be strengthened to remove politics from the elections commission.

h) The ballot must be altered so that it is at least neutral on the subject of straight party ballots.

i) The district boundaries are screwed up (just call Voter Reg and ask for updated district maps and listen to the runaround you get)

j) There are mis-registered voters - assigned to vote outside the precincts where they reside.

A Good Start

Dick Benner very quickly got to the heart of the problem, He told Voter Registrar Deborah DePaul that "people must be made to understand you're there to help them." He suggested asking local high schools to provide 17 year olds to help monitor elections. "That exposes them to civic life and also eases the burden on elections workers." DePaul mentioned several colleges she's contacted, and claimed they only want to help when they're something in it for them. She completely missed Benner's point about contacting high schools, not colleges.

This committee is advisory only, a paper tiger. But they mean business. Their next meeting will be in council chambers on January 31 at 7 PM. Their email address is voterinfo@northamptoncounty.org.
Correction: The correct email addy for the citizen advisory committee is voter.info@northamptoncounty.org.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Easton Mayor: Phil Mitman's Out and BillyBytes is In!

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingYou may have heard that Easton Mayor Phil Mitman has thankfully decided against another mayoral term. No surprise there.

But here's the shocker. The Lehigh Valley's original blogger, Billy Givens, today announced his mayoral aspirations. And he did so in a series of comments posted on my blog!

Billy, a Bill White Hall of Famer, has spent years taking "chunks out of those who hold themselves up as models of probity." His caustic essays have singed pols over the years, but he's better known for taking bolt cutters to free city streets and things like that. He was seriously ill last year, and I'm so happy he's back in the fray. Here's his announcement.

I consider it appropriate, and a privilege, to announce on your blog, and under the posting, "Lehigh Valley Rail Summit: Grassroots or Astroturf," my candidacy as the Republican Party nominee in this year's mayoral contest to succeed Easton Mayor Philip A. Mitman.

Indeed, I credit the publication of my comment on your rail transit blog, criticizing his arrogation of powers exercised legitimately only by Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth's Governor and legislature as one of the major issues leading to Mayor Mitman's not to seek re-election.

That and issues such as his catering to Easton's elitist young professionals, or yuppies and developers of luxury condominiums that are glutting Easton's real-estate market, at the expense of the city's older tax- and fee-strapped citizens who increasingly are being forced from their homes.

Easton, Pennsylvania, Mayor Philip A. Mitman has repeated his wise decision of 1983 when he decided not to seek re-election to his one term as the city's chief executive.

As his second term draws to a close, the finances of Easton, a "fiscally distressed city," are as bleak now, and are still into an indeterminate future, as when he first left office after one term as mayor.

As proof that I am not rabidly partisan, I credit myself with the wise decision by Easton City Council Chairwoman Sandy "Ms. Cabbage Patch Doll" Vulcano not to seek the Democratic Party nomination to succeed Phil Mitman as mayor.

Sandy is also co-chair of the Easton Democratic Party Committee, whose chairman is James Edinger.

Edinger is also chair of the Easton Zoning Hearing Board that "grants" waivers and special exceptions from the city's zoning ordinances as a political favor to developers like Abraham Atiyeh, Lou Pektor, Theordore Kheel, Peter Koehler, Richard Thulin, Lafayette College, and the college's alumni like Jonathan Davis, the developer and real estate partner of Greg Schuyler.

PBS 39's Souper Bowl This Saturday!

PBS 39 has sent me a press release to share with you about its second annual Super Bowl. I've looked over the entries and Touch of Thai is a sponsor. Nothing beats a Thai or Vietnamese soup. This looks like fun! I'd like to go, but I'm coaching an East Side Youth Center basketball team that has lost its first three games. Duty calls.

(Lehigh Valley, PA) PBS 39 invites you to attend its popular Souper Bowl event from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 27th – the week before the Super Bowl football game. The contest will be held at Starters Riverport in Bethlehem.

Mouth watering Snow Crab Bisque, rich tasting Butternut Squash Coconut Curry soup, creamy Tomato Basil or the mother of them all, Italian Wedding Soup, are just a few of the entries vying for the coveted title of “The Best Soup in the Lehigh Valley.”

More than twenty-five local restaurants are competing to win. The challenge is on and you’ll be the judge! BRING YOUR family, friends and your appetite! Over 500 people attended last year! The PBS 39 Souper Bowl. Saturday, January 27th from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM at Starters Riverport in Bethlehem, PA.

Poetic Justice for Larry Holmes

Have you ever seen Larry Holmes, the Easton Assassin? Doesn't seem the killer type. Every time I've seen the former heavyweight champ, he has a faint smile. I've met him a few times over many years, and he's always been generous to a fault. A gentle giant. But however docile he may appear, he still knocked out 44 people in his boxing career. He's a monster in sartorial splendor.

Before I continue, I have to warn you this tale might be a complete crock, a Lehigh Valley legend. I haven't checked it out. I'm nevertheless repeating it because that's what we bloggers do. Besides, even if this story has no foundation in fact, it should.

The way I hear it, Larry was in a line at one of our local convenience stores, waiting to play the lottery. Larry likes to gamble. When it was finally his turn, Larry insisted on playing his own numbers instead of using machine picks. Athletes are like that. They have a bizarre fascination with numbers. I'm surprised more aren't physicists.

Well, some cranky bastard behind Holmes (no, it wasn't me) lacked this numerical obsession, and was indignant that Larry was taking so long. He started complaining that Larry was slowing things down for the rest of them. Perhaps he was trying to commit suicide. I don't know, but there it is.

Instead of turning around and plastering this guy, Larry decided instead to play another ten games. This time he let the machine pick the numbers. And as luck would have it, Larry won big. Some say $1,000. Others say $20,000.

What's ironic about this is that if the curmudgeon behind Larry had patiently waited his turn, he would have been the big winner.

Morals of this tale? 1) Good things come to those who wait. 2) Don't mess with the Easton Assassin.

Stoffa Moving Northampton County Forward

The Express Times has a weekly feature awarding trophies and turkeys over recent events. This week, Northampton County managed to get both.

First, the good news. A trophy was awarded To Northampton County Executive John Stoffa, who had the good sense to the kill the Doe Hollow boat launch project in Upper Mount Bethel Township after supervisors called it "a total waste of money" that would be washed out by floods.

But a turkey went To Northampton County and Colonial HealthCare Inc., its health care provider, for wasting more than $100,000 in taxpayers' money in 2005 on health plan fees for ineligible employees and 47 employees who had died. Before paying administrative fees and claims, someone should have been routinely checking to make sure the costs incurred were for eligible health care plan participants. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli has launched a criminal investigation that could result in charges against anyone who knowingly took advantage of this slipshod practice. Stay tuned.

Both trophy and turkey indicate that Stoffa is moving in the right direction. The health care waste occurred before he was the county's top dog. And he has stopped an ill-conceived boat launch along the Delaware that would have become a costly environmental nightmare.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Lehigh Valley Has a Homeless Problem, too!

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWe're living large, bippy. Here in the Lehigh Valley, only about eight percent of us are below the poverty level. But as Jersey commuters continue to pour into the Lehigh Valley, housing costs are soaring. Affordable housing is getting harder to find. And what has Northampton County Council been doing? Bending over backwards for developers, who extort grants and tax breaks based on false promises about high quality jobs. Part of the county's $111 million megabond actually financed a parking lot for luxury condos at Bethlehem's Riverport.

In contrast, most homeless don't even vote. But council surprised me last Thursday, looking better than it has in a long time. It unanimously adopted a resolution to help fund emergency shelter grants. Grants administrator Lori G. Sywensky spoke of a "staggering" homeless problem in the Lehigh Valley. She characterized the county's contribution as a "drop in the bucket." Even Ron Angle, the county's fiscal watchdog, had no problem with this resolution. "We're supposed to be in the human services business."

On Friday, Sywensky emailed me reports from LVPC and Penn State Data Center with the most recent census on homelessness in the Lehigh Valley. Here's part of her email:

"[E]ach of the shelters in Northampton have seen an increase in the number of families using the shelter between 2002 and 2004, ranging from an increase of 4.8% to 19%. The average length of stay in a shelter was 36 nights per person.

Two things I found particularly disturbing in the report was that 79 women were pregnant during their shelter stay, with 7 women giving birth. Relatedly, the largest reason that families cited for needing shelter (21%) was the unavailability of childcare. Given that most adults residing in shelters (68.1%) had diplomas and some post-secondary education, the shelter programs certainly have a very large job to do in order to help people find stable living arrangements."

So how many people really are homeless in the Lehigh Valley? Hard to say. Some live in their cars or under bridges. Others double up with family and friends. But in 2004, there were about 2500 taken in by the area's nine shelters. Nine hundred were kids.

Around this time two years ago, Allentown was bulldozing self-made shelters in the woods around an old abandoned garbage plant, trying to exterminate its riff raff. I like this approach to a little better.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Onward Christian Soldiers!

Right around the same time that GW was telling us about the New Way Forward in Iraq, American warplanes were doing the nasty in Somalia. We murdered about seventy nomadic herdsmen who had no connection to any terrorist network.

Maybe it was their livestock.

Not to worry. Twenty American soldiers were killed in Iraq yesterday.

He did say forward, didn't he?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Express Times Editor Joe Owens: Don't Peg Me, You Bloghead!

I admit it. I have trouble getting through to most government officials and newspaper reporters. They just don't appreciate my sense of humor. Phone calls are never returned. Emails are jammed by spam filters. But there are a few exceptions like Bill White and John Stoffa. Maybe they feel sorry for me. Another is Joe Owens, the editor at The Express Times.

Like many successful people, Owens has remained incredibly accessible. It's still a little surprising, because the dude is really busy. In addition to his duties as chief editor, he writes an entertaining Sunday column, and has a periodic gig as a talk radio host. Just a few days ago, his "in your face" writing style invaded the blogosphere with daily commentary.

On Wednesday, he got in my face. He nailed me for listing him in my sidebar under mainstream media.

"He should know that I hate labels, and I especially don’t like that one."

Oopsie! Joe, I responded to your complaint immediately. Please don't cancel your subscription.

Friday, January 19, 2007

NorCo Council Prez Calls Wind Gap Road a $400 Thousand Mistake

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting1100 high quality jobs. That was the promise six years ago. The county would kick in $3 million for a road from its $111 million megabond. Developer Nolan Perin would do the rest. Heavy industrial hitters would soon be in the slate belt.

Today, there's still no road. Not even a sewage permit. No highway occupancy permit. The best Perin could do, was a temporary driveway permit, and that didn't happen until December.

Instead of those well paid industrial positions, Perin lured yet another Wal-Mart and Lowes to the Lehigh Valley. Industrial development suddenly morphed into mostly commercial development with low-paying jobs. Slate Belt residents erupted. County council nevertheless remained committed to its $3 million investment. It was happy to destroy environmentally sensitive lands in the 'burbs for jobs that pay less than a courthouse worker's shrinking salary.

This became an issue in the last county council campaign. Lamont McClure demanded that council show "leadership to preserve the quality of life in the Slate Belt and take back this bond money now." He was joined by Charles Dertinger and Diane Neiper, but they all mysteriously changed their minds once they were in office. The resisted repeated attempts to transfer that money to other capital projects with major cost overruns.

While county council nixed any attempt to kill this project, over $440,000 in bond money was wasted on engineering studies.

Last week, Wal-Mart nixed the project itself. It's not coming. Nothing is. The only business in six years at this site is a scrap metal business owned by developer Perin. It employs less than thirty workers. Perin remains convinced he can make a go of things.

Council chambers were packed last night with seventy people demanding that this insanity stop. And Council may finally see the light at the end of this road to nowhere. They appear ready to yank the remaining money. Council member Tony Branco reported that he took a little tour of the site last weekend, and noticed that nothing has happened since July.

But Council Prez Wayne Grube, previously a stubborn supporter of this project, has finally thrown in the towel. His own words.

"This was a mistake. We've had it with that project. We've heard it four or five times. Let's go do what has to be done to try and recoup our money. I've had it. I openly admit that I made a mistake, and that'll be on our boy's blog tomorrow."

Gee, thanks, Wayne! I didn't know you cared.

Grube openly admits making an error that cost taxpayers $440,000. And his backroom maneuver to replace Ann McHale as VP has alienated me and many others. But even I would agree he's being a little tough on himself. He honestly believed something good would come from this investment. He's been sold a bill of goods, and is now courageous enough to admit it. Who can't admire and respect that? Grube is the only member of any council I've watched who can admit when he screws up. And he screws up a lot. But it's still refreshingly honest. Having said that, I hope he makes every effort to get the remaining $2.6 million back in county coffers. We'd all agree that a $440,000 mistake is infinitely preferable to one that costs us $3 million.

Speaking of mistakes, Councilman Lamont McClure is hot on the trail over that $100,000 theft from the criminal division. Of course, someone has been charged and is being prosecuted. But that won't stop Lamont. Last night he was tongue-lashing Controller Paul Schimmel. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the elections this year. Just good government. More about his bullying next week.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

How to Get Hold of a Local Pol

I don't know about you, but most of the people I call aren't working these days. This is what usually happens.

"Good morning. Mr. McClure's office. May I help you?"

"Why sure, I'd like to speak to Lamont." (I always use the given name to imply I'm a bud).

"May I ask who's calling?"

"Why sure, it's Brrrnee Mfhair." (When I muffle the name I improve my odds).


"Bernie O'Hare. Like the airport. They named that after me, you know." (A little humor to gain the trust of the hired help).

"Hold please."

After about an hour, I have to hang up and try again. There must be something wrong with my phone because this happens with everyone I call except bill collectors, and they call me.

"Good afternoon. Mr. McClure's office. May I help you?"

"Mr. McClure, please." (After the buddy approach fails, I next try to sound like a busy professional).

"May I ask who's calling?"

"Mister McNair." (Try to be curt and sound a bit pompous here).

"Oh, hold on Mr. O'Hare, I'll see if he's here."

After about an hour, I have to hang up and try again.

"Good afternoon. Mr. McClure's office. May I help you?"

"Put that bastard on the phone." (At this point, try to sound as mean as cat shit).

"May I ask who's calling?"

"Yeah, it's Wayne Grube. Get him now. I haven't got all day. I'm the president of county council." (If all else fails, impersonate).

"Hold on, Mr. O'Hare. I'll see if he's here." (I always forget about caller ID).

After another hour, I have to hang up and try again. Give up? Never!!

"You have reached the law offices of Lamont McClure. Please leave a message. Your call is very important to us. And if this is Bernie O'Hare, Mr. McClure will return on February 30."

And so the battle rages.

Northampton County Website Becoming User Friendly

Northampton County certainly has its share of problems, but its website is finally becoming user friendly. This is something John Stoffa stressed when he ran for county executive.

From this website, you can quickly learn that the county is looking for prison guards and 911 operators. Over 150 reports are maintained, including the last three approved budgets, the Home Rule Charter and administrative code.

The most recent innovation is a listing of properties for the next Judicial Tax Sale on January 29. Those sales are free and clear of all liens, which make them desirable for someone with a few bucks in her pocket. A simple click on one of the listed properties, yields a wealth of information. This maximizes interest in each property, resulting in higher bids. Check it out if you dare, but caveat emptor! Tax sales can be a nightmare, especially if the owner has not been properly notified of an impending sale. (Lehigh County has a similar list for its judicial tax sale properties).

There is still one very glaring deficiency. County Council's agenda and minutes should be listed on the county website as well, as they are in Bethlehem, Easton and Allentown.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Lehigh Valley Rail Summit: Grassroots or Astroturf?

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"This is an unusual meeting. ... This is not business as usual."

That's how State Senator Rob Wonderling described last night's high profile passenger rail summit at Hotel Bethlehem. And it sure was a diverse combination of business interests, pols and transportation advocates.

This odd assortment of at least 170 foo-foos nibbled in anticipation at expensive cheeses and sipped different wines, "networking" away and passing out business cards while a piano played ever so quietly. All the hotshots were there. No wonder. This event was loudly trumpeted by both The Morning Call and Express Times. Reporters and cameras were in abundance. Senator Wonderling and facilitator Joyce Marin concluded the high turnout was indicative of some kind of "grass roots movement," but that's horseshit. This was manufactured news, bippy. There's obviously big money behind last night's astroturf event.

The event sponsor, RenewLV, describes itself as "a diverse coalition of business, agriculture, environmentalists, urban, suburban and rural government officials, education and other civic leaders." Its members include PPL's Bert Daday, Brown Daub's L. Anderson Daub and LVEDC's Raymond F. Suhocki. Many members are also part of the advisory committee behind the plan to widen Route 22.

The evening's featured speaker, The Brookings Institution's Robert Puentes, presented an excellent overview of potential benefits and pitfalls of some form of rail. It's worthy of a separate post. But he strangely had no recommendations for the Lehigh Valley. He cautioned "rail is not a silver bullet." And he warned that no rail program will stop congestion.

In a rambling presentation, Senator Wonderling told us a Quakertown rail line could be a reality by 2010 ... or 2011 ... or 2012.

I support light rail. I support alternative transportation. But I don't support contrived "grass roots" movements. I'd feel a lot more comfortable if I knew who picked up the tab for last night's slick extravaganza. Instead, I left feeling very suspicious about a hidden agenda.

Some of Those Attending Last Night's Ball:

Chris "Blue Collar" Casey, who left when the piano music stopped for some reason;
Greta "Queen of the Greens" Browne, looking very regal with a laptop;
Blogger Damien "I love Allentown" Brown;
Blogger Vanessa Williams, not to be confused with Vanessa Williams;
Route 22 cheerleader Bruce Davis, complete with pom poms;
Ron "Does anyone want to interview me?" Angle;
Julian "Mr. Republican" Stolz;
Rev. Mike "God loves business" Dowd;
Joe "I'm chaining myself to the piano and am not leaving until I read this list of the 20,000 war wounded" DeRaymond;
Roger "I love south side Bethlehem, casinos and butterflies" Hudak;
John "thank God this isn't county council" Stoffa;
Jason "anybody see my bike?" Slipp;
Mary "I'm there for you" Ensslin;
Peter "I send 1,000,000 emails per day containing articles from the local papers" Crownfield;
Pratima "couldn't anyone leave me one slice of cheese?" Agrawal;
Alan "prince of poverty" Jennings; and, last but least,
Bernie "can't we all just get along?" O'Hare.
Update: RenewLV Denies It Is Astroturf Group - Joyce Marin kindly posted a comment on this blog. She's "setting the record straight" concerning my RenewLV allegations. Her explanation is complete and I accept it. I was very concerned about who funds her group, and she has identified her sources.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Republican Dent Opposes Bush's Latest War Plan

During the last election cycle, Esquire summed up Congressman Charlie Dent like this: "[T]he majority of Republicans - both voters and politicians - are social and fiscal moderates. Freshman Charlie Dent is one of their best."

Dent's latest positions just may prove Esquire had it right.

Thanks to a Morning Call report, we know Dent wants to reduce interest rates on federal student loans and repeal some tax incentives for oil companies. He voted to raise the federal minimum wage, increase funding for embryonic stem cell research and adopt most of the 9/11 Commission recommendations.

Most importantly, he opposes Bush's plan to increase troop strength in and around Baghdad. LVDem last week called on Dent to take a stand, and I'm glad he's done so. If Bush can listen to anyone, it will most likely be people from his own party. Keystone Politics predicts "less radical types," like Dent, will "give Bush fits for the next two years."

Some of the Lehigh Valley's Unsung Heroes ... and Their Four-Legged Friends

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingEver take your young son to a grocery store, turn around for just a tic, and then realize he's gone? You get this sinking feeling in your stomach as you imagine all the terrible things that could have happened. And then, just like that, it's over. He'll pop up with a smile on his face. Or you'll hear a page over the intercom, "Will Peter Parker's father please report to the courtesy desk?"

All's well with the world again.

This is a story about some local folks who do everything they can to make sure all remains well. They look for missing loved ones, from children to the elderly. Digging deeply into their own pockets for funding, they train twice every week in search techniques. Rarely thanked for their troubles, they do have some incredibly affectionate four-legged friends. These are true heroes. They're the Lehigh Valley's Search and Rescue Team, and they consistently prove that dog really is man's best friend.

I met a few last week when they trained at Nazareth park. My brother, an excited seven year old grandson and I met them at 8 AM on a raw and wet Saturday. Team members Brenda Richards and Jim Roberts impressed me immediately with their organizational skills. They had piping hot coffee and doughnuts for one and all. But their canine companions stole the show. Cujo, a rookie German Shepherd, nervously waited for two hours until everything was in place. He had to endure my grandson's inquisitive puppy, who kept jumping in Cujo's face like a groupie. The headliners, yellow labs Blue and Okie, were waiting in their trailer. No autographs.

When the show started, my young grandson was hidden behind a tree, several hundred yards away. The only thing these dogs knew about him was what his tee-shirt smelled like. With just that one piece of information, they tracked him down almost immediately. Either my grandson stinks or they've got some powerful noses.

And I thought I had a big schnozz.

My brother was next. He was not hidden in park grounds. He actually was somewhere deep in the hilly adjoining forest, which was separated from the park by a stream raging from all the rain. So instead of "tracking," the trainers decided to use the "air scent" technique. Okie was suited up with some kind of orange vest, and she tore off, with bells jingling.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAn air scent search is an awesome sight. A dog races back and forth, occasionally returning to its trainer. It picks up human scents in air currents and look for its origin, circling closer and closer. Within about fifteen minutes, my brother was "rescued." Once Okie found my brother, he bounded back to trainer Brenda Richards, and tapped her with his paws to let her know he was successful. Then he led her to the "victim."

At this point, I wanted to be a victim, too. Why should my brother, grandson and those damn dogs have all the fun? But Nazareth Borough Councilman Larry Stoudt ruined everything. He showed up to offer his encouragement, and recognized me as I tried to hide behind my grandson. He told the team they should do a cadaver search for me. Then he drove off, laughing at his own joke. I took some shots at Count Stoudt earlier this summer, but cadaver? I shower every week, whether I need it or not. I think Stoudt smelled my brother.

These folks train as a team in different locations every other week. This is in addition to practice sessions at home. Is it worth it? A glance at their mission log answers that.

You can donate to this group. You might even volunteer to act as a victim. But there is one thing I should have done last Saturday, and that is thank them and their canine companions for what really amounts to selfless love.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Lynn Township Excesses Led to Reform

Morning Call columnist Bill Rutherford White reminds us, in a recent column, about the spending excesses inflicted on unsuspecting taxpayers by second class township officials. "Under state law, second-class townships like Lower and Upper Macungie can allow supervisors to hire and supervise themselves, blurring the lines between management and labor, in effect making them accountable to themselves."

Lynn Township has ended that practice, thanks to reform-minded township officials like David Najarian. Chris Casey tells us why in an excellent report at True Dems. Here's a brief excerpt.

The Township employed a full time Secretary Treasurer who worked out of their home. From all appearances, it seems that the person charged with the duties did the barest minimum of work possible, but at least made sure that they, and the other employees and/or Supervisors, got paid.

What few records that were kept show that Lynn Township has not invoiced any reimbursables for almost a decade, going back to 1998. After firing the Secretary treasurer and hiring a new one, an internal audit showed clear evidence of petty theft and missing equipment. It was also discovered that the Township was Delinquent in paying Federal Wage withholding taxes for a period in 2004, and had not filed several mandated pension reports.

Stoffa Administration Reacts Quickly to Employee Illness

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingYesterday, I told you Northampton County courthouse workers are getting sick. They're scared, too. Asbestos removal signs, warning of cancer, tend to do that. Contractor Alvin H. Butz is in a hurry to finish the judges' overbudget Taj Mahal, and is kicking up clouds of dust.

County workers' biggest concern is that the Stoffa administration just doesn't care what happens to them. I found that out last week, when I first started sticking my big nose into this matter. Let me tell you what I've learned over the past week.

1. First, the good news. No asbestos contamination.

Whatever it is, it's not asbestos.

Last Friday, after hearing asbestos concerns from several courthouse employees, I called the state DEP. Within an hour, my call was returned, and the courthouse was inspected that day by investigator Don Kehler. He assured me that the precautionary measures taken by Butz don't just meet, but exceed, what is required by law. Anyone with concerns or fears about asbestos should call Kehler directly. His phone is 610-861-2079. Unlike me, he knows what he's talking about.

2. Butz has been sloppy in its renovations, creating a dust problem.

The county's director of public works, Steve DeSalva, has only been on the job for three months. But in that time, he has repeatedly admonished Butz over its lax attitude towards dust and debris. Obviously, Butz is under pressure because it is both over budget and behind schedule. There's a temptation to cut corners.

Last week, DeSalvo gave Butz an ultimatum to get its dust under control. As he explained the situation in layman's terms to me, Butz "needs a boot in the ass." He's also asked the court administrator for help in getting this under control.

DeSalvo told me the contractor must make a better effort to block ventilators in a construction area. Their goal is to keep dust at a minimum and out of the hallways. "Once dust is in the hallways, it will be circulated through the building. You won't see it, but it will be there." Employees should not have to see a fog of particles. DeSalvo also made clear that safety is his primary concern.

If you see something that doesn't seem right to you, I'd suggest you give his office a call. His number is 610-559-3197.

3. County Administrators Will Listen to Complaints.

Last week, when I first hinted about this problem, I posted an employee's sincere criticism that the Stoffa administration has been distant and unresponsive. That prompted a response from Bill Hillanbrand, Stoffa's director of court offices. His office is not on the fourth floor with the other hotshots. He instead chose an office in the most contaminated office of all - register of wills. Here's what Bill said in the wee morning hours.

"It's 2:50 a.m., and I am awake. I am concerned that an employee feels that the administration does not care about their employees. I am also a county worker. ... If any county worker wishes to contact me, stop me in the hallway of the courthouse; phone me 610-559-3091; or email me at whillanb@northamptoncounty.org or come to my office. My office is located in the basement with Orphan's Court. I am not a miracle worker, but I will do the best I can to help. Thanks, Bill"

Bill's hearfelt comment demonstrates that the Stoffa administration, contrary to popular opinion, does care.

On Monday, I went down to the public defender's office, where employees have suffered for weeks. They were packing their stuff. Stoffa told them to clear out. One employee is working from home, and the office is being relocated during construction. This is yet another demonstration that the administration does care about courthouse workers.

And guess what? The Butz employee whose sole job was mopping hallways, has magically reappeared.

4. County Administrators and Workers Need to Open up Lines of Communication.

Although county administrators genuinely care about the people who work at the courthouse, morale is very bad. Now, more than ever, it's important to open up lines of communication with rank and file workers. Stoffa and his inner circle need to circulate much more around the courthouse. County administrators should be tell people about asbestos instead of letting them find out about it by seeing a sign or some guy who's wearing all kinds of protective clothing and a mask. Some have suggested a weekly newsletter, but nothing is better than personal contact.

Communication must improve. And that's a two-way street.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Diary of a Sick Worker at the Northampton County Dustbowl

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThere's "something in the air" at Northampton County's courthouse. And it's making people sick. This first happened over a year ago, when courthouse renovations were made in the Recorder of Deeds, Register of Wills, Civil Division and District Attorney's office. People became seriously ill from mold, dust and Fiberglas particles. One employee in the Register of Wills office, who couldn't stop breaking out in rashes, was forced to quit.

Eventually, thanks to county employee Mary Posko, the state stepped in and forced the county to take some steps to reduce whatever was floating in the air. Butz designated an employee whose sole job was to sweep floors to reduce dust.

After a few months, that employee disappeared.

Now the project has spread to the criminal division, law library and public defender's office. As Butz rushes to complete a contract that is $3 million over budget, there's a temptation to cut corners. And guess what? There's a lot more dust in the halls. Butz is also tearing out asbestos throughout three floors.

People are getting sick again.

In the Recorder's office, where I work, four title searchers simultaneously caught pneumonia. A physician told one of them that his pneumonia is a strain never seen before. One lady who works in the criminal divison tells me she throws up every evening when she gets home. Most have the same symptoms - itching, coughing, headaches and watery eyes.

One began keeping a diary in December, and I'll share some excerpts with you.

December 14, 2006: We experienced dry burning in our nasal passages and throats. Our eyes were burning and we had headaches. There was no strong smell but we had bittersweet tastes in our throats. I have asthma and had to start using my inhaler. We contacted a supervisor to find out what was happening, but he never got back to us. At the end of the day, as I was leaving, I noticed "asbestos warning " signs for the first time.

December 15, 2006: At 8:55 AM, my eyes are burning and my nasal passages are drying up. It is difficult to swallow so I have to continuously drink water. At 12:00 to 1:00 PM, I went to lunch and felt fine. At 1:55 PM, headaches are returning and my nasal passages are burning a bit now. I don't see particles in the air but something in the office seems to trigger these effects. I didn't feel this way at lunch or when I'm at home. Something in this office air is definitely making us sick.

December 20, 2006: I was off the past two days and felt fine. Now, my eyes and nasal passages are irritated again.

December 21, 2006: It's really bad here today. My nasal passage is itchy and I have a hard time breathing. My arms and chest itch. My face is flushed and I have a rash on my neck and chest. When I ran an errand to the criminal division, I saw a construction worker wearing a mask with two round filters. The doors to a courtroom were open and there was a fog on the floor. I don't know if that triggered my allergies but the itching inside my nose was horrible.

December 22, 2006: Last night, after leaving the courthouse, I had an asthma attack. I had to use my inhaler and take benadryl. At 10:20 AM, my entire body is beginning to itch. My face and arms are blotchy.

December 23, 2006: There was a very strong gas smell in the office and in the corridors. This smell lasted the entire work day, and everyone complained about the smell. I had a headache. It was as if some house gas pipe had broken.

December 26, 2006: I've been itchy all morning with a dry cough and burning eyes. I can't take it anymore. I'm getting nauseous. I have to go home.

December 28, 2006: I have a bittersweet taste in the back of my throat again. I'm coughing and my eyes are dry.

January 2, 2007: This morning I'm itchy all over and am getting a headache. My eyes are watery. After lunch, the headache got much worse. Demolition is going on directly above me. Side doors have been open most of the morning, letting dust come right into my working area. The hallway is cloudy. Whenever I closed one of the hall doors to avoid breathing dust, someone would prop the door open.
Last Friday, I asked the state DEP to inspect for asbestos. On Monday, I also spoke with the county's Director of Public Works, Steve DeSalva. I'll tell you about that in my next post.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The War President Could Learn From Sun Tzu

GW gave an uninspired, twenty minute, address to the nation tonight. He's pumping in 20,000 more troops into Iraq, as well as a job-creation plan expected to cost $10 billion. He refuses to involve two countries that border Iraq - Syria and Iran. He also failed to state how long these additional troops would be needed. So he's discarded the most important recommendations made by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

He's also ignored the advice of Sun Tzu.

When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.

Wal-Mart's Plans For Slate Belt Super Center Are Dead

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingSlate Belt Concerned Citizens are "very happy," according to a press release circulated today by John F. Maher. Their long battle with Wal-Mart is over.

Chalk one up for the good guys.

The suits have withdrawn plans to develop sixty acres in the slate belt with a Wal-Mart Supercenter, Lowes and twelve other retail shops.

Northampton County had set aside $3 million in bond money for an access road to this monstrosity. Until now, Northampton County Council has resisted repeated attempts by Ron Angle to revoke this public funding of private enterprise.

Now that the project is dead, Angle has already asked executive John Stoffa to direct officials to return the money to the county. It is badly needed for $3 million in cost overruns for the courthouse and a prison expansion that is already overcrowded.

But who knows? A casino would be nice up there.

The Compassionate Lehigh Valley Reacts With Glee at Word of Teacher's Death

Keith Lord Snyder, a teacher on trial for paying students to perform chores for him in skimpy clothing, is dead. Obviously, he committed suicide.

Thanks to an online feature at The Morning Call, we can see how some Lehigh Valley residents react to the death of this troubled teacher.

Hopefully one of the parents of the children decided to take matters into their own hands.

Thanks for saving the taxpayers some money.

Finally, a room mate for Father Forish.


Was he wearing a singlet or thong? (OK, That one was funny.)

I wish he would have died of different causes too. Such as in a burned alive or possibly burried alive.

I wish he could have hanged like Saddam.
What a bunch of sweethearts we are!

Why We're Not Leaving the Middle East

It has nothing to do with shoving "democracy" down the throats of unwilling Iraqis. It has nothing to do with our pals in Israel or those evil Islamic extremists. It's the oil, bippy. We can't get enough of it. We're hooked.

And a harsh reality indeed awaits us as the full scope of the permanent energy crisis unfolds. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, world oil production peaked in December 2005 at just over 85 million barrels a day. Since then, it has trended absolutely flat at around 84 million. Yet world oil consumption rose consistently from 77 million barrels a day in 2001 to above 85 million so far this year. A clear picture emerges: demand now exceeds world supply. Or, put another way, oil production has not increased despite the ardent wish that it would by all involved, and despite the overwhelming incentive of prices having nearly quadrupled since 2001.

Run, Jerry, Run!

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNorthampton County's District 3 is a hodgepodge of Allen, East Allen, Bethlehem, Lower Nazareth and Lower Saucon Townships. It also includes the Boroughs of Nazareth, North Catasauqua, Northampton, Bath and Freemansburg. Its council seat is currently occupied by asbestos lawyer Lamont McClure, a Wilkes-Barre native appointed to the post after losing in the election.

In his losing campaign, McClure raked in about $10,000 from big city lawyers. Unions kicked in another $3,440. DA Morganelli, who employs McClure's wife, donated $1,500, and one of his detectives provided an additional $500. Reibman sweetened the pot with $1000 in pool party dough, and Council Prez Grube dropped $500. Despite this money, McClure was rejected by the voters. So he owes nothing to us. His allegiance is to unions, lawyers, the DA and Grube.

Perhaps that's why he's done next to nothing on council. Council's standing committees conducted twenty-two meetings last year. He attended just four of them, less than anyone on council except Dertinger. He's ignored pledges to start a child exploitation unit and to yank a $3 million county grant for a road to Walmart. He's violated the Sunshine Act, and attempted to bully me for pointing it out.

He doesn't belong on council.

But someone in the third district does. His name? Jerry Seyfried. Jerry is no dragonslayer, but is an expert bowhunter. His years in county government made him an expert at slaying wild pigs like the one pictured above. He's been begged to return to county service by Democrats and Republicans alike. We sure could use him. Let me fill you in on his background.

Northampton County Council
(1978 through 1989)

* 1978 and 1979 at large member of council
* 1980-1989 District 3 member of council
* Chair of council's finance, human services, personnel and intergovernmental committees
* Chair of ad hoc committee that wrote personnel section of county administrative code and career service employees manual
* Vice President of council for four years
* President of council for four years

Northampton County Executive
(1990 through 1993)

* With tight fiscal control, Jerry left the county with nearly $20 million in surplus, and dedicated huge sums to develop county parks before "open space" became popular.

Northampton County Director of Civil Services
(1998 through 2006)

Boards and Commissions

* Northampton County Retirement Board (4 years as vice-chair, 4 years as chair)
* Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (8 years, including 8 years on the transportation committee)
* Northampton County Development Corp., ADC & IDC (4 yrs)
* Director and Chief Fund Raiser for Northampton County's 250th Anniversary Committee
* Solid Waste Authority (voting member)

Despite his achievements in government, Jerry is actually a blue collar guy. He was a machinist at Bethlehem Steel, and managed to juggle swing shifts with county service. He knows what it's like to come from nothing.

Believe it or not, Jerry was told his services weren't needed last year. Although there were two council vacancies, party boss Joe Long and Council Prez Grube told Seyfried not to bother applying because the position had already been filled. And these guys would have you believe they follow the Sunshine Act.

Let's hope that one of the nation's premier archers takes aim at District 3 on Northampton County Council.

Run, Jerry, Run!