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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Northampton County Saves World From Kids Splashing in Fountain

Power mogul PPL is held in fairly low regard these days because its rates will soon be deregulated. But even this evil corporate giant was happy, at least at first, when kids frolicked in its splash fountain at Allentown headquarters. "The open plaza has become a magnet for children," said PPL manager Pete Cleff. Unfortunately, the fountain became too popular - PPL can no longer run it on a regular basis because people confuse it with Dorney Wildwater Kingdom.

There's a splash fountain at the brand new Northampton County Courthouse, too. But unlike a private business, which sometimes allows inner city kids to enjoy themselves on muggy summer days, county government actually sends deputy sheriffs to intimidate children whose sole offense is trying to stay cool.

"I knew this would happen!," was the clarion cry of one loud female title searcher late yesterday afternoon. "Look at that! They even brought towels!" Sure enough, about seven or eight young kids, mostly of color, were running through the fountain. It's the first time that gaudy monstrosity has ever been put to good use.

At a courthouse, you see lots of sad things. I've seen mothers wail after losing custody of their children - one of the saddest sights in the world. I've even watched couples argue or duke it out after a custody or some other domestic dispute - one of the most ridiculous sights in the world.

But yesterday, I saw something new - kids having fun. The people's building was actually providing a benefit to the people.

"That's trespassing!," bellowed one title searcher, feigning outrage. Actually, it's a public property. Signs around the perimeter warn, "NO SKATEBOARDING, BICYCLE RIDING, ROLLER BLADING, ROLLER SKATING, SCOOTER RIDING." Nothing warns against cooling off in a splash fountain. Those geysers invite the very behavior that occurred.

Signs or no signs, nobody was going to be allowed to have one second of fun at the courthouse. No, siree! Who do those little brats think they are?

Less than five minutes after the splashing started, two armed deputy sheriffs were on the scene, stopping these hideous future criminals. Good thing these guys pack automatics, eh? One of them spoke into his radio, then shooed the kids away. The kids quickly dispersed, returning back to life on the streets. Gangbangers are probably very grateful and should send candy to the deputies. After all, the Crips can't recruit kids who waste time splashing in a courthouse fountain.

I called the sheriff's office to find out why they had ejected these kids. One deputy, who I won't name, tells me "court administrators" had complained. Perhaps they were worried that, with so many kids off the streets, Easton's drug economy might collapse. A supervisor, who I also won't name, asks me, "What if those kids get hurt?"

Let's see, how many kids do you know who are grievously injured and die after running through a splash fountain? Do you think that evil PPL hasn't considered and discounted that as a possibility? If we're so concerned about being sued, then why the hell was the fountain ever installed in the first place? The supervisor, who I still won't name, conceded he ran through many a splash fountain in his day and never once cracked his head.

I'm not so sure.

Here's another question - since when do "court administrators" decide whether or not kids may frolic in a splash fountain? Don't they have enough to do, what with firing chief probation officers and things like that?

The person who does administer the maintenance and operation of county buildings is Director of Public Works Steve DeSalva. He told me there actually is no policy prohibiting neighborhood kids from using the splash fountain. The water is not poisonous. He made no complaint.

When I was asked, "What if one of those kids get hurt?," the question I was really being asked is "What if one of those little monsters sue us?" The answer is simple, if that's really the concern instead of a general animosity against those people. Require kids who want to splash in the fountain to be accompanied by an adult guardian. Have that guardian sign a waiver with deputies at the building entrance. Perhaps when these kids get older, they'll look at the courthouse with fond memories instead of shooting out its windows.

Let's face it. The county seat is located in an urban neighborhood, and an impoverished one at that. It really should make more of an effort to get along with the residents.

I stopped by the court administrator's office on my way out of the building yesterday, but everyone had bolted, so I don't know who really complained. The deputy who spoke to me may be mistaken. Director of Administration John Conklin informs me county officials will determine a policy after consulting with the court.


Chris Miller said...

You and I both know that there certainly is the risk of a law suit. I agree with you that the fountain should not even be there if that is the concern. It is a shame that we live in a sue happy society. If a child were serioulsy hurt there would be a tremendous out cry on the facts that someone did not stop it and that now we faced a lawsuit.
Let me offer a suggestion. Maybe some of the churches, charitable organizations and neighbors could get together and buy pool passes for the kids. Maybe I am all wet on this idea (pun intended) but something like that might bring the city and its communities together.

Anonymous said...

Great thought, Mr. Miller. But here's what is more likely. The government will steal your idea and then levy a new tax to provide those passes on a "needs" basis. They'll have to make sure everyone pays their "Fair Share" for the passes. Rich people will pay more, of course They'll set up a Department of Pool Passes, hire a Director and staff. Next thing you know, they'll need more room at the Courthouse...

Chris Miller said...

And I always considered myself to be the world's biggest cynic. Unfortunatly you are probably correct

Bernie O'Hare said...

One reason why this soiciety is so sue happy is bc government is nutz. They build a fountain that invites kids to jump in and then sends armed deputies after kids who use it. If it bothers the county so much that it might get sued, then turn the damn thing off instead of taunting the kids.

The diusplay yesterday was very bad for community relations.

donmiles said...


Bethlehem, with some corporate and non-profit support, just opened a great splash park in Yosko Park on the Southside, in a neighborhood similar to the one around the courthouse. It was an immediate success with the kids. Whoever the heck actually is in charge of the courthouse splash fountain should contact Bethlehem's fine Recreation Director, Jane Persa, for some advice about how to use the courthouse splash fountain as a real benefit to the neighborhood, instead of just expensive eye candy.

Blah Society said...

When you go to large neighborhoods, such as those in Brooklyn and Philly, splash fountains are a common thing. They are no big deal. Parents bring their little ones to them all the time and converse while their children play in the water.

The last time I was at the Promonade (spelling?) I saw a bunch of kids playing in the water. Again, no big deal.

The day that beach tags are required for splash fountains is the day the fun dies all together.

Bernie O'Hare said...


Perhaps the county can do that. Good suggestion. That fountain does, after all, belong to the people of Northampton County, not the judges.

Anonymous said...

Lawyers and their lawsuit-happy clients looking for a big payday are ruining the very fabric of America...kids can't play in a fountain because of the "risk" and armed deputies to sent to remove them???

In my opinion, society is sue-happy because the one of the key bases of our country - self-reliance - has eroded almost entirely. Why work hard when you can score an easy payday?

I'm lucky I was a kid a few decades ago(although my wife says I never grew up anyway). I can't stomache stuff like this.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

What makes the fountains any more of a liability than the local pool or spray park.

The lawsuit argument is silly. Someone just doesn't like the look of these kids having fun.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Someone just doesn't like the look of these kids having fun.

I can't halp but reach that conclusion, too, especially as I hear more and more about this.

Anonymous said...

I agree, especially so given the comments you heard / reported in the posting:

"I knew this would happen!," was the clarion cry of one loud female title searcher late yesterday afternoon. "Look at that! They even brought towels!"

Let me also ask the obvious - kids were mostly of color. What color were the people who made these comments?

Ordinarily I'm the last person to raise racism, but comments like these sure makes this smell funny...

The Banker

Anonymous said...

I'm completely on the side of kids who want to cool off in my tax paid water. I also understand that Chris Miller is correct. I'm puzzled by the racial accusation toward those who either directed the kids to be shooed, or those who did the shooing. I get the feeling that if race could be solidly identified as the culprit, the story would be blown much larger. And rightfully so. I hate to see such a serious allegation simply tossed out in the middle of a post that didn't seem to center on it, but just had to throw it in there anyway.

If there is a racist component to this, I want a full investigation of what bigots should be fired. The guards and their supervisor have names. Let's name the names of these alleged racists.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The title searcher who made the snarky remarks, of course, is white. I included that language bc that's what happened.

There's not a helluva lot of color at the courthouse, unless you want to count criminal defendants. We're doing much better in the row offices and the DA's office. We're doing great in the sheriff's office. But the "court administrators" are still pretty much white.

I don't believe this is overt racism. The deputies seemed to be very nice to the kids. They were following what they considered lawful orders, and did it in a nice way. But would they have been asked to go out there had those kids been white?

I do know some white kids were in it a few weeks ago and nothing was said. Perhaps no one noticed.

There most certainly is a racist component to what happened, but it's subtle. I'm sure none of these people consider themselves racist in any way. There were no blatantly racist remarks that I heard. It's under the surface, pretty much the way I presented it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:06, I brought it up because it was in the post and I think it played a role. You're correct, it didn't center on it, but it was there nonetheless. And I know subtle racism is in the picture at PPL, I've heard it with my own ears.

Subtle racism is the worst of all....

Bottom line - let the kids play.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

The Great O'Hare has deemed it racist. Give it a rest. If Stoffa is such a great leader he can order the kids be allowed to play there. His word overrules the 'white Court Administrators'. You know that only a Couirt Order could stop him and that ain't gonna happen.
So ask the County Executive to reach out his Lincoln like arms and free the people to get wet at the Courthouse.
Unless he is still up Angles backside. Now there is a 'white' guy with lots of stories not even subtle.

Anonymous said...

Lehigh County utilized some of its its green future fund money to work with the City of Allentown for spray parks at Bucky Boyle Park and I believe another one was to be built in either Keck Park and or Cedar Beach. I know that $500,000 went to improvements at Bucky Boyle Park back in 2004, part of which was the spray park. Ideally Norco could work with Sal Panto and the City of Easton to build a suitable spray park or parks for the kids in Easton. So many kids aren't swimmers. The Delaware or the quarries in the Slate belt aren't the place for kids to cool off. Especially little kids who use these fountains. I understand the world of liabilites these days. But given the heat, maybe a they could open the fountains up a couple of hours a day after some safety inspections. They have such a grand courthouse over there. Our Lehigh County judges told us in testimony before we trimmed our courthouse project down that it was to be the people's building. So be it. Set some guidelines. Post some "risk" signs. Maybe someone from the local bar association could work through the legal morass to ease the liability concern pro bono. But have a place for kids to go for God's sake. As I heard Paul Sorvino say today, We only go through life once, there is no dress rehearsal. Try to do good. Every day. Find a way. Maybe Easton could could spare a lifeguard from one of the local pools or the Y. I like Chris's idea for pool passes from businesses, the chamber, and charitable organizations. Sounds like a real good idea. Mr. Miles idea is also good, and even provides some contacts. Sadly, only another few weeks of summer for the kids, but maybe something could be done in time for next year. Let's hope so.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:01

You are such a waste of air.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:01,

As it gets closer to election time, the anonymous personal attacks have been increasing.

Stoffa certainly has the authority to order that kids be allowed to play at the fountain, but can't issue such an order until he knows they are being stopped. Moreover, he would not act unilaterally. He would certainly consult with the judges, who themselves may be unaware what happened, and come up with a decision that is best for everyone.


Nice to hear from you. Chris Miller and Don Miles both hgave some great ideas, and so do you. They are very much appreciated.