Friday, February 02, 2007

NorCo Council Gives Bethlehem Knights of Ni . . . A SHRUBBERY!!!

"Every time it rains, it rains . . . pennies from heaven.
Don't you know each cloud contains . . . pennies from heaven.

That's not exactly how Gracedale residents feel. Every time it rains, they get soaked. Leaking windows have been a problem for years. And last night, a Cowan Associates engineer told Northampton County Council it will cost the county $2.7 million to fix that problem. This is in addition to the $2 0r $3 million in cost overruns for the judges' new palace. And the $482,000 that council wants to spend, just to renovate their own crib. And the millions that have to be spent, and soon, for another prison expansion because the prison expansion we're still building is already near capacity. And the millions the county intends to spend for yet another real estate acquisition. And let's not forget that new contract for county employees, which should cost another $3 0r $4 million.

Do you get the idea that Gracedale's windows aren't the only things leaking? The county is bleeding money, and there's no end in sight.

Last night, county council had an opportunity to get some of that money back. Get this. Five years ago, the county gave Bethlehem $13 million to build a frickin' road. The county didn't really have $13 million. It borrowed the money and has actually indebted itself to the tune of $26 million so that Bethlehem could build a road. But even Bethlehem was unable to blow $13 million on a 4,000 foot road. It spent under $11 million. And guess what? Bethlehem wanted to use the remaining money to build another road! It turns out the city can't do that legally, So now, the knights of Ni in Bethlehem insist on that dough for shrubbery and signs. They demand . . . a SHRUBBERY!

Knight of Ni: One that looks nice.
King Wayne: Of course!
Knight of Ni: And not too expensive.
King Wayne: Yes!
Knight of Ni: Noowwwww.... GO!

Sounds silly, doesn't it? Wait, this gets better.

Council members Ron Angle, John Cusick and Tony Branco sponsored an ordinance to get $2.2 million of that money back. The ordinance was drafted so that Bethlehem could keep $200,000 for . . . A SHRUBBERY! But the knights of Ni had their hearts set on something else.

King Wayne: Oh not another shrubbery!!

Knight of Ni: Then, when you have found the shrubbery, you must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest... Wiiiiiithh.... A HERRING!

That's right, bippy. Bethlehem wants about $700,000 so it can plant shrubs and stop signs along a road it previously claimed was done.

County Executive Stoffa wanted that money for the prison. He previously told Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan that the county must "identify all the funds it can find to address our Prison overcrowding issue." And last night, he told council, "I'm not King Midas." So what did King Wayne and his Knights of the Obtuse Table decide? They refused to take back a dime. In the end, only Cusick, Angle and Dowd voted for the ordinance. Even Tony Branco, who had sponsored the ordinance, ended up voting against it.

Councilperson Ann McHale called this shrubbery "the icing on the cake." I'm sure county workers who've seen no payraises for nearly four years will be thrilled at this waste of public money. So will cold and wet Gracedale residents. But council members know that Bethlehem has more votes than a bunch of senior citizens in Gracedale.

Getting elected is far more important than good government to most politicians, and last night was a perfect illustration.


Anonymous said...


You failed to tell your subscribers that the property agreed behind doors in "executive session" for a prison annex is located in a flood plain.

Flood plains and steep slopes are about the only available land left for development in urban centers like Easton and Bethlehem.

I don't know the location of the property council last night voted, in secret, to acquire.

But I suspect it's the Binney & Smith building, located in the Bushkill Creek flood plain, a few yards northwest of the Black Mill.

B&S sold the Black Mill to Strausser Construction for conversion to apartments.

Zoning approval and building permits for this conversion were sought and obtained by Strausser executive former Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. who is speculated to be the Democratic nominee to replace incumbent Mayor Phil Mitman.

Those approvals were obtained from four municipalities - the City of Easton, Wilson Borough, and two townships, Forks and Palmer - since B&S's Black Mill property extended over all four.

To achieve his goal, Sal will have to do it over my dead body, which could be the case, since Easton has so

Anonymous said...

In the past, you made excuses for me on your blog for my anonymous comments.

You explained, rightly so, that I was new to blogging beyond my website and that I had not yet learned how to post comments to a blog, including yours.

Yet many who comment on your blog, possibly many of them bloggers experience like yourself, do so anonymously.

That makes them hypocrites in my view and sends out a signal that could be interpreted by some as sinister, or at least dishonest, because they have something to hide.

Or maybe they're just cowards.

In any event, thanks to you, I've learned how to make non-anoymous comments and have not made one since.

I now always identify myself.

However, I still have much to learn, as you can see that the last paragraph of my previous comment to your latest blog posting is cut off mid-stream (no pun intended since my comments deals largely with streams like the Delaware and Lehigh rivers and tributaries like Bushkill Creek and Frye Run - and their flood plainsz).

I learned last night from talking with collective-bargaining employees and their representatives during the illegal "executive session" that County Executive John Stoffa is not bargaining with them in good faith, the basis for unfair labor practice charges to the National Labor Relations Board.

Also, Council President Wayne Grube, who sets the meetings' agenda, should have paired the Bethlehem City Commerce Center Boulevard and the Wind Gap-to-Plainfield Township project for the same meeting.

Both issues relate to roads and to the 2001 $111 million megabond that you and other county plaintiffs fought - unless council differentiates between the two because Commerce Center Boulevard is private - though it connects to State Route 412, which is public - and the Slate Belt thoroughfare because it is predominantly, if not exclusively, public.

County council last night approved the Bethlehem road project as precedent to adopting the Wind Gap-Plainfield Township (and Pen Argyl) road next month.

I concluded my public comments charging that the $111 million megabond issued in 2001 is illegal, as is the county's General Purpose Authority that floated it.

Anonymous said...

I won't allow John Stoffa to duck the $2.2 million that the City of Bethlehem, its Mayor John Callahan, J. Michael Schweder's Bethlehem City Council, and the Bethlehem Authority owe the taxpayers of Northampton County the way he ducked the Anna Mae Kessler abduction from her home at 574 Bangor Road, Plainfield Township, and incarcerated in a Bushkill Township "assisted-living facility" in Bushkill Township.

Northampton County has since auctioned off Anna Mae's home, which some say the county is now using as a home for the mentally impaired, including Anna Mae's van that the county also confiscated.

Northampton County Court of Common Pleas judges Jim Hogan, Ed Smith, and Bill Moran denied Anna Mae her Constitutional right to appeal her abduction and imprisonment and the visitation rights of family members and her friends.

Anna Mae's court-appointed attorney Henry Newman Jr. advised Anna Mae that she had the right of appeal "but could not win."

After my press conference today at noon, I am going to the Belvidere, New Jersey, Surrogate Court, for the hearing and disposition involving an octogenarian of that jurisdiction (and also Pennsylvania jurisdiction) having all the hallmarks of Anna Mae's tragedy.

Anonymous said...

As a part of my campaign for Easton Mayor and Northampton County Council District 2 representative, at my noon-time press conference today in Easton's Centre Square I will also be demanding the removal of John Stoffa as executive of Northampton County.

Like Easton Mayor Philip Mitman, Stoffa, though two years fewer in office than Mitman, has sufficiently demonstrated his unfitness for office.

When I returned home after last night's county council meeting, and downloaded The New York Times and read that states like Florida and Ohio are moving to abolish touch-screen voting, I decided then on Stoffa's removal - in addition to his support of casino gambling, failure to negotiate with the county's collective-bargaining units, and his failure to exercise his executive independence of the county's judicial branch in the abduction and imprisonment and denial of appeal rights of Anna Mae Kessler by the county's Agency on Aging and department of Children, Family, and Youth.

Bernie O'Hare said...


1) It was nice to see you back before council.

2) I enjoy your posts. I also enjoy your own account of last night's meeting, as you described it on your own blog.

3) Last night council did go into an exec session to discuss real estate acquisition but we don't really know for sure what was discussed bc it was an executive session.

4) I allow people to post anonymously on this blog.

5) I have no "subscribers."

6) Please stop monopolizing this blog.

Anonymous said...

As one-time Assistance U.S. Attorney for fully one-third of Pennsyllvania's 67 counties, lead successful litigant against Northampton County's $113 million megabond, fore-runner of the $111 million do-over, which you would have killed off also except for Pennsylvania's corrupt judicial system.

You have since added to your considerable accomplishments the "Lehigh Valley Ramblings" blog, and you are well on the way toward using it to bring county meetings more open to the public through "livestreaming."

But we cannot wait. We must act now: Northampton and Lehigh counties, and with the inclusion now of Warren and Hunterdon counbties, New Jersey, now included in the latest definition of the "Lehigh Valley," are ineffably corrupt.

Keep up the good work!

Bernie O'Hare said...

One point of clarification. The county is considering livestreaming, nit me. And if it does so, it will be on their own site.

RonManiac said...

Please name one accomplishment John Stoffa has done in his 13 months of service!!! All the Unions are in negotions or are near. Not one settlement yet!! This administration has been a lame duck since day 1.

Also I believe as the Sands takes over the South Side, they could easily buid a road, they might need. Remember the concrete benchs that were never used there & then mysteriously disappeared??

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ronmaniac, I don't know what you mnean about concrete benches that were never used. I sure would like to know about that.

I agree about the Sands and south side Bethlehem. Let developers pay for their own roads, especially when the county is in financial crisis.

Your statement about unions is inaccurate. I know Stoffa has negotiated several contracts and there are a few out there. This has to happen this year. Stoffa states it is his top priority.

Name one accomplishment in one year? How about the county's first ever open space plan? How about better benefits for the retirees, thanks to Jerry Seyfried? How about being the first exec to actually do something about leaking windows in Gracedale? How about standing up to judges who think they run the place? How about restoring some sanity to a council hellbent on handing out money to developers (campaign contributors)? How about taking a serious look at goofy projectys like Doe Hollow and killing it before it becomes a nightmare? How about being a county exec who actually listens when a LST woman worries about a historic bridge being ruined by developers? How about council minutes and agenda on a web page being studied?

I can't name one thing. I can name several. Ans Stoffa spent most of his first year putting out little fires started by his predecessor. This year I expect to see even more accvomplishments. And I agree that county workers deserve a contract.

Anonymous said...

you haven't really named anything major, and in some cases you are inacurrate.

by way of example, both Brackbill and Reibman addressed the windows, but they ended up still leasking. Last I heard they still leak, so let's not give Stoffa credit there till they stop shipping water.

Retiree benefits were increased by Gerry, Brackbill, and Reibman. no new ground there.

with respect to the union negotiations, how many have actually been finished and then ratified by council? this is not rhetorical, as i'm uncertain. i thought the number stood at one? if so, that's pathetic. can't blame that one on reibman any more.

the county's first open space plan was authored under Gerry's watch-dust off the "Park's 2000" program. it was a forward-thinking and progressive document. similarly, Reibman funded farmland preservation at a rate substantially higher than any other exec.

and I wasn't aware that Stoffa had actually unveiled his yet. did i miss it?

LVDem said...

sometimes, putting the breaks on teh train is a good thing. When it runs out of track, it becomes a problem. I honestly think that Stoffa has done more good in saying, "Time Out" to everybody and forced the county to carefully examine how it does business. Another 4 years of the same old same old would have been a sad situation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 3:42, I appreciate your insight. You obviously are very familiar w/ the county so I am glad to hear from you. I'm opinionated as hell, but like to get it right.

I was asked to name one thing that Stoffa has accomplished, so I did so. For the most part, these are minor accomplishments. I'll concede that. But it's only one year, and small things add up ionto big things. But let's go through some of your remarks.

1. Open Space. Jerry's 2000 Parks Program was truly visionary. And it did conserve open space. But it was a parks program. Stoffa's plan is the first concerted effort to set aaside money for open space in the form of parks, environmentally sensitive land and farmland preservation. Reibman did set aside money for open space in his 2001 bond but really did not want to do so. He was pushed into it. And he did nothing other than that. And yes, Stoffa does have a plan. A funding mechanism is in place, projects have been identified for the first year. And guess what? Stoffa is actually trying to some long range planning. After all, the countyy can't keep building on top of a postage stamp.

2. Retiree benefits. Jerry, who sits on the board, had a lot to do with the latest increase. But it is a good one, better than most.

3. Union Contracts. More than one has been negotiated. Like you, I don't know the exact number. But here's a question. What rocket scientist decided to shackel a sma ll county like Northampton with at least 10 different unions? That's absurd. There should not be so many different unions with differing contracts. The admionistrative cost of negotiating all those contracts is a duplicative waste of money that ends up hurting the employee and taxpayer. The only ones who make out in the long run are the lawyers. I support the unions 100% and think they are needed, but there should not be so many. Eventually, they should consolidate into smaller numbers. Having said all this, I agree that contracts should have been signed by now and this has to be the top priority.

You sound like you have a lot of knowledge about what is going on. Maybe you're right. I'll try to be broad minded enough to recognize it if you are, but I hope you can be broad minded enough to re-evaluate the no-win situation in which you put Stoffa and give him a chance to make things right.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 3:42, I neglected the leaking windows. Reibman and Brackbill failed to solve the problem. Stoffa has come up with an answer. It will take three years and $2.7 mill to solve the problem. But at least we now have an answer.

Anonymous said...

Twopointsevenmilliondollars to fix leaky windows? Holy shit! What's wrong with this picture?

Bernie O'Hare said...

$2.7 million to replace 160 leaky windows, seals around windows, fix the cracked caulking, make the windows flush against the brick, seal the entire structure because the bricks are porous, etc. It will take 3 yrs. Should have been done years ago.

Anonymous said...

hold the phone-i didn't put stoffa in any position.

and you're right-a dozen different unions is disaster. the county apparently didn't care to oppose unionization. that's fine. but they should have fought on the make-up of the bargaining unit.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Sure you have. A few weeks ago, I watched as Stoffa was criticized for being remote from the workforce, not caring what it thinks. When I pointed out that he actually had solicted employees for suggestions, he was criticized for not being a leader and leaning on others to do his job. That's a no-win situation.

Here the challenge is to name one thing Stoffa has done. I name several, and they are all minimized. Once again, a no-win situation. It's not fair. There is one group within the workforce so disenchanted by administrators that nothing anyone does will ever make them happy. It has been pushed down so hard for so long that it can't see something good. There's another group of hacks who are just trying to slice Stoffa up because he's not one of the good ole boys, who've sold out.

The county should have fought on the make up of the bargaining unit, but the man in charge was so beholden to unions for campaign dough that he didn't bother. As someone who is knowledgable about the county, you know this is true.

I don't think you're in either of the groups I describe above. You definitely know what is going on. I appreciate your comments and hope they continue, especially when it comes to the county.

Anonymous said...

thank you and i'll try.

but you're still a muckraking gadfly.

Bernie O'Hare said...

More like a horsefly.

Anonymous said...

I'm an old insomniac that reads stuff insted of sleeping. I happened across this. I remember some old county issues like the windows and open space. Someone told me former councilman Heckman wrote the countys first farmland preservation ordinance, Is that true? If it is he deserves some credit.