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Friday, October 31, 2008

A Glendon Ghost Story

"When we lived in Glendon in an old home (in the family for 6 generations), we had several strange instances....light on and off, footsteps, doors slamming, etc. Grandsons [X] and [Y] visited when they were around 3 and 4. I was watching them and had given them baths. We were watching Disney when all 4 of their eyes popped wide open and they asked "Who's that, Pops?" When I turned I saw or felt a man walk behind me and into the dining room. When I jumped up and went in, nothing anywhere. Going back in, I asked what we saw. They said "I don't know who he was, he came right out of the wall." Needless to say, they were scared stiff. As they were Wizard of Oz fans, I told them there were good ghosts and bad ghosts (like witches) and we had a good ghost that kept the bad ghosts away. That satisfied them but not me.

"Interestingly, after we sold and moved (saying nothing about ghosts), the lady of the house asked me if we ever had trouble with ghosts! When I asked why, she mentioned same types of things. Apparently ghost goes with the house and not the family.

"Boring story but true....Happy Halloween!

This story was contributed by a reader but it is by no means boring. Do YOU have any ghost stories????

The Albino Banshee

I'm going to tell you a scary story. It happens to be true, which makes it even scarier. In the early 60's, when I was in 8th grade at St. Theresa's, we lived in a 300 year-old, stone farmhouse in Hellertown. Its three foot thick walls kept the house cool in summer and warm in winter . . . except on the third floor. That's where my brother and I slept at night. During recesses at school, a group of us formed the Ghost Hunters' Club. We would periodically go to old abandoned houses that were supposed to be haunted. We never actually went inside any of them, but would take notes and make plans to go into them later . . . at night. It was around this time that we began hearing about the Albino Banshee, a terrifying witch who lived somewhere in Allentown. She had long white hair, pink eyes, sharpened teeth and very long fingernails. Her piercing shrieks could be heard at night in Allentown. Her wail, all by itself, could cause a heart attack. Word on the playground was that she had already killed several people. All she had to do was touch you with her long, thin fingernails. Not everyone believed this story, but one of the nuns admitted to me that it was true. One night, after we had all turned in, I awoke to hear the third floor attic door slowly creak open. Footsteps slowly came up the steps, accompanied by the sounds of rattling chains. Holy cannoli! It's the Albino Banshee! I tried to scream, but couldn't open my mouth. Or eyes. Once whatever I heard had reached the top of the steps, I could hear it walk towards my brother. I wanted to defend him, but was paralyzed by fear. My brother was a goner. But this thing did not stop with my brother. In a matter of moments, its steps came for me. It was suddenly very cold. I was unable to budge. Then I felt it. A banshee's fingernail traced itself right across one of my cheeks. But for some reason, I didn't die. Then the steps walked off and into the other room on the third floor. While still sweating with fear, I could hear that door open again. This time even more footsteps came up the steps. Although too terrified to open my eyes, I could tell that lights were on. Just as suddenly, the lights went off and the footsteps went back down the steps. The next morning, when I woke up, I was happy to see my brother was still alive but was a little ashamed by own cowardice in failing to defend him. I told him what had happened. He told me I was nutz. Then we went downstairs for breakfast. After sitting there for awhile, I told my mom, dad and sisters what had happened. I expected them to tell me I was nutz, too. Instead, they looked at each other, and then my mother told me they had heard someone going up the steps to the third floor themselves. In fact, they decided to investigate, which explains the second set of footsteps I heard that night. Whatever had come up the steps had just vanished. Now I know that whatever it was, it was no albino banshee. But to this day, I get chills when I think about that night. Happy Halloween.

Sea of Blue Rally in Allentown on Sunday

The Mike Welsh for State Rep. campaign will hold a "Sea of Blue" rally in Allentown on Sunday afternoon. It will focus on Allentown's need to add significantly more police officers. Mike Welsh supports legislation to add more cops as the best way to combat the Queen City's crime problem. In contrast, incumbent Jennifer Mann's public safety solution is . . . a hockey rink.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

When: Sunday, November 2nd from 12 PM to 3 PM

Where: Allentown Rose Garden Pavilion

Questions: 484-347-1833

The People's Advocate, Ralph Nader, Will Be in Allentown on Sunday

According to Ralph Nader's web page, this independent Presidential candidate will be in Allentown on Sunday.

Date: Sunday, November 2nd, 7:30 pm

Where: Scottish Rite Cathedral, 1533 Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA 18102

Questions: Call 484-350-3788.

"A vote for Nader/Gonzalez on November, rather than being wasted by piling onto an Obama landslide or McCain implosion, will produce a stronger hammer and watchdog for what millions of Americans want — including public Medicare for all with private delivery and a living wage for the one in three workers who don’t make one." - Ralph Nader

McCain Palin Campaign Snubs PSU Prez

Obama and McCain are supposed to be kicking and fighting and mudwrestling over every vote here in the Keystone state. After all, this is one of the "battlegrounds." But amazingly, at the very time that Palin was flailin' at PSU on Tuesday, some idiots in that campaign refused to allow Penn State Prez Graham Spanier to greet Palin or attend her event.

"He's a big Democrat. Why would he want to meet Palin?" is what a campaign aide allegedly asked.

There you have it. If you are a Democrat, the McCain-Palin camp wants nothing to do with you.

I'm heartbroken.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fellow Veteran Slams McCain

If you think Rolling Stone's "Make Believe Veteran" was tough on McCain, get a load of what this former vet has to say.
Mea culpa: My thanks to a reader, who points out that I have the wrong title for that Rolling Stone piece. It's "Make Believe Maverick."

Sam Bennett Campaign Chronology: A Comedy of Errors

Below, in chronological order, I've listed links to stories over the last two years about Sam Bennett's LV Congressional campaign. She's a nice lady with "good hair," but her campaign has been a joke, from beginning to end.

In a heavily Democratic district, how did this happen? When we allow party bosses to preselect candidates, we only have ourselves to blame.

Congressional Rumblings in the 15th District (2/22/07) - State senator Lisa Boscola's flamboyant chief of staff, Bernie "Gonzo" Kieklak, wants to get this message out about Sam Bennett. Never heard of her? Party boss Joe Long is "clearing the field" so she can run for congress.

Boscola's Congressional Hopes Fade, Thanks to Aide's Sexist Remarks (6/13/07) - If Lisa Boscola was ever really serious about running for congress, she isn't anymore. Her chief of staff, Bernie Kieklak, has single-handedly managed to "clear the field" for Sam Bennett.

Congressional Wannabe Sam Bennett: The Gift That Keeps on Giving (6/25/07) - Bennett screw up her first financial disclosure, claiming she has between $150 and $250 million set aside for retirement. "Take three zeros off all of it, and you've got the right answer," her campaign spokesman chuckles.

Sam Bennett's Nonprofit Helping Her Congressional Ambitions (7/11/07) - The Morning Call's Josh Drobnyk, told us a few days ago about congressional candidate Sam Bennett's outrageous $110,000 salary at Properties of Merit, a nonprofit whose annual budget is just $351,000. Most of us believe she simply conned Governor Rendell into a nice $100,000 grant so that she could run for Congress full-time without worrying about a job.

Congressional Wannabe Sam Bennett Takes a Stand ... and Bends Nonprofit Rules Again (8/28/07) - Bennett politicizes antiwar nonprofit.

FEC Thows Penalty Flag at Bennett's Former Employer (9/27/07) - Bennett's former employer, Americans Coming Together (ACT), hit with a massive fine by the Federal Election Commission for their activities during the 2003-2004 election cycle.

Sam Bennett in Congress? (4/24/08) - Bennett in Washington to speak with "special interests." What did she say?

Sam Bennett Interview: Iraq and Foreign Affairs (5/9/08) - Bennett unable to name President of China, France's Prime Minister, Germany's Chancellor, India's Prime Minister, Afghanistan's President, Syria's President or Sudan's President. "I've got to work on that. I'll research it today."

Justice Delayed & Denied to Allentown News Carrier (5/27/08) - Bennett refuses to call police after her own 78 year-old news carrier, is mugged and assaulted outside her home. She gives conflicting accounts about what happened.

The Sam Bennett Meltdown: You Want This in Congress? (7/19/08) - Bennett's bizarre 2001 concesssion speech. "Wuh, wuh, wuh, wuh, wub, wub, wuh nyuk, nyuk, nyuk."

Stop the Presses! Dent Attends Great Allentown Fair! Has Good Time! (8/27/08) - After Bennett falsely accuses Dent of skipping out on Musikfest, Congressman Dent issues preemptive press release to announce that he's attending the Great Allentown Fair.

Bennett Misses Yet Another Candidates' Night (9/5/08) - After continually claiming that Charlie Dent is ducking her, Bennett misses her second opportunity to mix it up.

Sam Bennett Needs Revolving Door for Campaign Managers (9/16/08) - Bennett picks up her fourth campaign manager.

Is Bennett's Nonprofit, POM, Playing Politics? (10/8/08) - The answer to that question is Yes. POM's Board President was forced to resign over that nonprofit's political activity.

BLEEP! Bennett's Fact Free Debate (10/14/08) - In a televised debate between LV Congressman Charlie Dent and challenger Sam Bennett on Business Matters, Channel 69 has to insert a disclaimer before the show ever airs. The station even has to blur her lips and blank her audio. BLEEP!

The Sam Bennett Primal Scream (10/29/08). It used to be "Wuh, wuh, wuh, wuh, wub, wub, wuh nyuk, nyuk, nyuk." Now it's "Ni, ni, ni, ni, ni, ni, ni, ni, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk."

The Baseball Gods Smile at Last

Game delayed by rain.

Losingest team in baseball.

World Series Champions.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

PBS's TEMPO Mires Itself in Congressional Politics

I just got a robocall from state Democrats telling me to tune in to Channel 39's Puff News Tempo tonight. Host Amy Burkett, aka Harriet Nelson, polls a married couple after LV Congressman Charlie Dent and contender Sam Bennett sits down separately for dinner with them - spaghetti and meatballs. Since Democrats are spending money telling folks to tune in, I can only conclude that Burkett, consummate news professional that she is, has already tipped the Bennett camp in advance, enabling them to promote their candidate and her show.

Last week, Properties of Merit Board President Jim Molchany fell on his sword and resigned after allowing Bennett's propaganda minister, Gary Ritterstein, help organize a news conference.
This time, the news arm of another nonprofit crosses the line to help Sam Bennett promote her campaign.

Isn't that nice?

The call came from 616-712-1796 and the automated caller states the call was paid for by the Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee.

The Sam Bennett Primal Scream

About thirty seconds into this video, LV Congressional candidate Sam Bennett treats us to her primal scream. Looks like another meltdown is in the works.

Shegda: This Ron is NOT For You!

Like most extremists, whether they're on the right or the left, state rep. wannabe Ron Shegda bristles at the slightest criticism. He instead surrounds himself with religious wingnuts who bring holy cards to debates. One of them damn near assaulted popular incumbent Bob Freeman over, of all things, diabetes.

I had no idea that was such a hot button issue.

Neither, apparently, do most voters. When Shegda waged a write-in campaign against Freeman two years ago, Freeman beat him 50 to 1.

This time around, Shegda's name is actually on the ballot, so Freeman's margin of victory will probably only be 40 to 1. You see, Shegda aligns himself with right wing kooks like Berks County-based state representative Sam Rohrer, a graduate of Bob Jones University. Rohrer actually sends letters instructing judges that Pennsylvania's Vehicle Code only applies to commercial vehicles. According to Rohrer, our use of an automobile is simple an extension of our liberty to move about as we wish. That's Posse Comitatus and sovereign citizen talk, baby.


Shegda also believes young people need no health insurance because they are "invincible."


As if his own extremist temperament were not enough, Shegda regularly lashes out at those who contradict him. For example, when The Express Times recently decided to endorse Freeman, Shegda slammed editor Tony Rhodin, who happens to live in that district. "Tony Rhodin, The Out of Touch Leftist, is the E-T spokesman. You would think working for Avis and Gimbels, he'd be more interested in being #1. Tony, I will debate You anytime!"

Two years ago, Shegda threatened me with libel. I'm still waiting for that suit.

But after my story about his sad performance against Bob Freeman in the Grave Cellar debate, Shegda was kind enough to copy me in a letter to one of his three or four supporters.

"You must realize
Bernie O'Hare
Is a crank short
In America's
Ongoing Revolution."

I like that. He's got that ad hominem down pretty well, but not much else.

Contrary to what he tells you, this Ron is NOT for you.

Some Northampton County Capital Ideas

While Northampton County Exec John Stoffa recuperates from surgery, Director of Administration John Conklin has been standing in for the boss. After yesterday's budget hearing, he may soon be checking into the hospital himself.

Northampton County Council member Diane Neiper and her colleagues had plenty of tough questions at yesterday's budget hearing. Instead of looking for ways to cut costs, they demanded to know why the county isn't spending more. The usually quiet Mike Dowd summed up the feeling of fellow council members. "We've sat here for three years and, quite frankly, the ball hasn't moved past the ten yard line. . . ."[W]e are constantly shifting objectives and priorities."

Ron Angle , of course, was a lot more blunt. He slammed the paucity of capital projects in its proposed budget.
I got to tell you people. This capital projects part of the budget stinks. There is no capital projects in here. You haven't addressed it. I'm going to go home before you give me the speech that you're working on the big, long-range plan. You've been working on the big, long-range plan for three years. It's budget time. If there was some kind of a plan, it belongs here in the budget. There is no plan.
Conklin quietly laid out some of the county's future projects.

Juvenile Justice Center. - The county is "definitely moving forward" with that $5 million project, and will be ready to start this Spring. It can be financed by loan, bond or budget amendment. Right now, the bond market is in the tank. We are in a "historically scary" period right now, explained Fiscal Director Vince Mazziotti. he's waiting for the credit market to improve.

Archives. - When Neiper voted to purchase the Milides building, across the street from the courthouse, she did so because she believed that's where the archives building would be located. "For whatever reason, Mr. [County exec] Stoffa doesn't think it should go there anymore. So my question is, why should I vote for this because, whatever he presents, it's not happening?"

Conklin agreed most members of council wanted archives located at the Milides building, and noted that Stoffa's recent idea of moving archives into downtown Easton has bombed with Mayor Sal Panto. But the county is hesitating about using the Milides property as a new home for archives. Easton has become "very tight on its zoning requirements, especially regarding parking." The location is great, but the county would be forced to dedicate parking there that will never be used.

Neiper, unhappy with Conklin's answer, told him "that archives building should be built now. It should be done. Every time you change your mind and you go down another avenue, there are just more obstacles in the way. I'm really not liking that we can't get anything done in Northampton County. Nothing. Name me one thing we've done."

Conklin explained that archives is really a "cost neutral operation." The money the county brings in from records improvements fees currently pays to house county records. Conklin, noting that construction of archives will cost us $3 million, urged caution and suggested the Milides building may turn out to be the right location.

Parking Deck. - Public Works Director Steve DeSalva told council that the parking deck depends on long-range plans. If the prison stays at the county campus, so will the parking deck. Major repairs, sufficient to extend the life of that parking deck for another ten years, will cost the county $1 million. Conklin added there is no "immediate need to jump into a new parking deck" that might cost $24 million. If the administration moves to Gracedale, a parking deck is unnecessary.

Relocation to Gracedale. - One idea being considered right now is to relocate county offices, including those at the Governor Wolf and Bechtel buildings, to Gracedale. According to council member Dertinger, "I don't know that there's two votes to even put an ordinance forward for a $139 million master plan at Gracedale. The idea simply being floated has caused a number of people to be calling my house."

Parking Lot at Union Street to Be Paved. - It will cost $400,000. Easton has not given final approval.

Weaversville Park. - Council members wanted to know why this $6.5 million project has not been started. Director of Administration John Conklin explained we're still looking for the money, and may have to use open space money for that in 2010.

These folks seem to have their roles reversed. Usually, the executive branch wants to spend a gazillion dollars, and the legislative branch keeps a tight grip on the purse strings. In The People's Republic of Northampton County, it seems to be the other way around.

Norco Personnel Comm'n to Review Salary Study on Friday

I've got good news and I've got bad news.

Northampton County's controversial Hay Group salary study, which applies to its 350 nonunion employees, will be presented to its three-member Personnel Commission this Friday. That's the good news because it will give the Hay Group an opportunity to explain what it did.

Now for the bad news. The Personnel Commission will meet at 3 PM, when most county workers are still on the job. What is up with that?

The three members of the Personnel Commission are Marna Hayden, Joyce Lang and Deborah Patterson.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Joe Biden at Muhlenberg on Thursday

VP Candidate Joe Biden will visit Muhlenberg College's Memorial Hall this Thursday at 6:30 PM. Doors open at 4:30 PM.

This event is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required; however, an RSVP is strongly encouraged. You can do that here.

Why Do Baseball Gods Hate the Phillies?

On the brink of victory, the baseball gods are conspiring to make sure the Phillies remain the losingest (is that a word?) team ever, in the whole wide world. It's enough to make me an atheist.

Yeah, yeah, I know. The umps did not suspend play until the game was tied. But they also made sure of that, forcing the Phillies to defend when it was simply impossible to control or field the ball. When play resumes on Wednesday, I'm pretty sure players and fans will have to wait until after the Obama infomercial. Since when is presidential politics more important than baseball? If Barack is smart, he better be talking change-ups, not"change."

Sure, the Phillies will have twelve outs to outscore a team that gets only nine. But now it loses Mr. October, Cole Hamels, who won't be returning.

The rain was supposed to stop, but the radar gun caught drops coming down at 99 mph. The baseball gods are laughing.

Only one thing to do.


While We Sink, the Russian Bear Rises

All of this has happened in the last week.

Item: Russia offers to share air defense savvy with Cuba.

Item: Russia signs landmark oil pipeline deal with China.

Item: Russia inks oil deal with Vietnam.

Item: Russia laughs at U.S. sanctions aimed at $30 billion in arms exports to China, India, Algeria, Venezuela, Iran, Malaysia and Serbia.

Coming to a Local Government Near You - The Perfect Storm

It's coming. Few realize it, but the perfect storm is well on its way. It's about to envelop local government, but our only early warning system consists of a few voices in different local governments.

Bethlehem Township Manager Jon Hammer joins Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning and Northampton County Council member Ron Angle in warning us that local governments face dark times. In an well-written op-ed recently published by The Inky, Jon lays down the Hammer. Here's a taste.

Local governments throughout the country are struggling to make ends meet, and millions of Americans will be affected by significant decreases in services, significant increases in taxes, or both.

If your local government is telling you something different, it's not true.
Hammer notes a combination of increased contributions to defined-benefit pension plans; rising gas and utility prices; stagnant revenue; and crumbling infrastructure. Angle and Browning add a government whose cost is rising faster than its revenue and reductions in the amount of money coming from the state. In Hammer's words, it's a "bona-fide calamity," one blissfully ignored by most local government officials.

Defined-Benefit Pension Plans

In a defined-benefit pension plan, the employer commits to paying its employee a specific benefit for life beginning at his or her retirement. This type of retirement package is rare in the private sector, but quite common for government workers. No matter how lousy the stock market, the retiree can count on his annual pension.

In 2008, Northampton County contributed $2.36 million to its retirement fund. This year, the budget calls for $5.14 million, a 117.4% increase. According to Ron Angle, that fund is actually $50 million below where it needs to be. As the stock market continues to underperform, that contribution will increase dramatically over the next few years.

Lehigh County has been hit, too. This year, it had to contribute $ million to its retirement fund. Browning, who is looking for ways to contain this rising cost, notes the unfairness. "It is the private sector that pays the taxes that benefit the public sector. These benefits cannot be sustained long-term."

Rising Gas and Utility Prices

In his budget message, Northampton County Executive notes that "[h]eating and gasoline costs, mileage reimbursement and postage have all significantly increased." Department by department, that reality has taken a toll.

Stagnant Revenue

In the very first sentence of his budget message, Stoffa notes that "[p]roperty tax revenue is stagnant due primarily to the decline in the housing market." In Lehigh County, where revenues are also stagnant, they've been deficit spending since 2006, burning the candle at both ends. Nobody predicts a quick recovery.

Crumbling Infrastructure

Expect to see fewer decent roads. Hammer notes asphalt prices have shot up seventy per cent in some areas. Northampton County's prison, built around the time of civil war, is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Its parking garage is ready to collapse. Northampton County has already reduced the budget to maintain and repair its 115 bridges and Dean Browning worries how Lehigh will continue to find money for the upkeep on its 47 bridges. "We need to refocus on county core services. That does not includes rail studies or Pip the Mouse or Shad Tournaments."

Rising Cost of Personnel

Lehigh's personnel costs increase around 4.5% every year, but revenues are increasing only 2.5%. Every year, that gap gets bigger. In Northampton County, the workforce makes up 41% of the county's operating budget expenditures. Last year, we paid $87 million in salaries and $40 million in fringe benefits. This year, it's $6 million more, a 4.7% increase during a time in which total revenues have actually gone down 3.8%. It makes little sense to pay more when revenue is actually declining.

Reductions in State and Federal Pass Through Money

In a slumping economy, states are cutting back. In Pennsylvania, Rendell has failed to get the cash he needs to repair our rotting infrastrcture. There's a hiring freeze and ban on out-of-state travel. His last budget included spending increases for social services (6.6%) and education (5.5%), but contains no tax increases.

In the first three months of this fiscal year, state revenues are $300 million short of projections. By next July, that figure could be between $1 and $2 billion.

This is bad news for county governments, which rely on the state for around 70% of their total revenue. In this climate, Pennsylvania will be slow to reimburse counties for human services. Because Pennsylvania's own financial house is in disorder, reductions are inevitable.

This looming storm has gone unnoticed by the County Commissioners Association of Pa., whose top priority this year is "tax fairness now." But Browning and Angle are acutely aware of the damage this can do to a county budget.

Worst Case Scenarios

Browning is predicting a hefty tax increase or reduced services by 2011. Angle claims that, unless drastic measures are taken, county taxes will double in the next five years.

This is why the budget review is so important to county government. It's also why Browning would cut frills like "Pip the Mouse." It's why Northampton County Council's $500,000 "contingency" fund should be eliminated. Both Angle and Browning feel the county should focus its resources on its core services - the courts, corrections facilities, human services and row offices. Easton's State Theatre should look to country clubs to fund its new marquee. Pip the Mouse can get his cheese elsewhere. Right now, local governments need every nickel they can get.
Update: The Morning Call today reports that several LV road projects have been delayed. In the last 5 years, the price of construction materials has skyrocketed - fabricated steel is up 156%, asphalt has jumped 88% and even concrete costs 53% more.

Monday, October 27, 2008

In-Car Video Camera Systems for Forty LV Police Departments

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15), along with Bethlehem Police Commissioner Randall Miller, representatives of more than 40 Lehigh Valley area police departments, and other regional officials, will today preside over the unveiling of new in-car video camera systems installed in police cars throughout the region. Purchased with a federal appropriation that Congressman Dent secured last year, this inter-municipal project is the first major rollout of next-generation equipment in the entire country.

Morganelli Picks Up Questionable Endorsement in AG Race

Northampton County DA John Morganelli picked up the Express Times' endorsement for AG yesterday. "His ability to find solutions to tough crime-related problems will re-energize the AG's office."

Today, he's picked up another endorsement, this time from Pennsylvanians for Immigration Control and Enforcement. I'm not sure he wants that one. That group proudly links to Pennsylvania Minutemen, a scary outfit. . According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, both of these are "'nativist extremist' organizations, meaning that they target individual immigrants rather than immigration policies."

How to Get Free Grant Money - Just Ask.

Northampton County's Community Development Administrator, Lori G. Sywensky, is part of a three person committee that recommends the "quality of life" grants funded by the county's 4% hotel tax. She's trying to instill some professionalism and objectivity in a process that usually has relied on telephone calls and letters.

This year, Lori's committee graded 24 applications, from 1 t0 5, based on answers to these questions: (1) Does it increase county tourism?; (2) Is there a clear budget that leverages other funding?; (3) Does it have an economic or cultural impact on the county?; and (4) Is there a need for the funding requested? All but three applications were approved. Although this committee is a laudable attempt to remove some blatant politics from the process, most of the grants should still be denied or reduced.

County Council Politicizes These Grants

Last week, I published a blog detailing exactly how Council prez Ann McHale is trying her best to squeeze a little more money for Easton's State Theatre. McHale would like to be the next county executive, and realizes that the high rollers and country club types on that nonprofit's board would certainly reward her appreciation of the arts.

McHale is by no means the sole council member who politicizes these grants.

Charles Dertinger angrily demanded to know why only $2,000 was being awarded to agricultural fairs. It made no difference to him that those requests were fully funded - more money should have have been awarded. Why was only $4,000 proposed for the Delaware Shad Tourney? Why not give them the full $8,000 sought? Why no money at all for the Atlas Cement Memorial Museum? Who cares that they found other funding sources? Even the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, echoed some of Dertinger's concerns.

These politicians are pandering for votes, just as McHale is after campaign contributions. I suppose they can't help it. They don't mind using your money to get what they want.

Why Most Grants Should Be Denied or Reduced

Northampton County currently owns Easton's 1753 Bachmann Publick House. Lafayette College is willing to commit $320,000 to that historic building in a joint venture under which the county would agree to spend $520,000 to revitalize that building over four years. While this idea is being batted back and forth, the county is paying for the upkeep of this building from its general fund.


According to the Hotel Tax Law, the only restriction placed on hotel tax money is that the county use the funds for the "further development of tourism facilities and for community development initiatives, within that county, that enhance regional tourism." Instead of paying $130,000 for the annual maintenance and upkeep of that building from real estate tax revenue, hotel tax should be used. The remaining county "quality of life" grants can be reduced pro rata.

This adds another $130,000 to the till.

Northampton County's 2009 Quality of Life Grants

Northampton County currently imposes a 4% hotel room rental tax. This revenue must be used to promote tourism and community development. For reasons that elude me, these are called "quality of life" grants in Northampton County's 2009 proposed budget. They are detailed below.

Hotel Room Rental Tax Grants




2009 Request

2009 Actual

Agricultural Fairs






ArtsQuest (Musikfest)






Atlas Cement Memorial Museum






Bach Choir of Bethlehem






Bachmann Publick House






Bath Borough Log Cabin






Bethlehem Marketing






Celtic Fest






Delaware Shad Tournament






Easton City (Ambassador Program)






Easton Farmers Market






Easton Marketing






Gov. Wolf Historical Society






Historic Bethlehem Partnership






Historical Society






Jacobsburg Historical Society






Kreidersville Covered bridge






Lehigh & Keystone RR Club






Lehigh Tp. Historical Society






LV Arts Council






LV Convention and Visitors Bureau






Lower Saucon Tp Historical Society






Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary






Miss Pennsylvania






Moravian Historical Society






Nat'l Canal Museum






North'mptn Area Historical Society






North'mptn Community College






Northern Lehigh Future Focus






Slate Belt Heritage Center






State Theatre






SteelStax performing Arts Center






SteelStax Public Broadcasting center






Sun Inn Preservation Ass'n






Walnutport Canal Ass'n






Zoellner Arts Center






Future Grants






Friday, October 24, 2008

Bob Freeman & Ron Shegda in Grave Cellar Debate

Last night's public tête-à-tête between Pennsylvania state representative Bob Freeman and challenger Ron Shegda had all the makings of a sleepfest. For one thing, it was conducted in a frickin' "grave cellar" at some Easton church. I half-expected to be sitting with a bunch of dead bodies. Aside from a few borough mayors, the grave cellar was filled with seventy very live bodies and decaffienated coffee, as we all waited for the showdown. By evening's end, Bob Freeman was very nearly assaulted, people were screaming and a church sexton was ready to knock someone out. My kind of debate!

That was a shocker in a debate run by the LV League of Women Voters and AAUW, which ask questions like "How about those energy rates?" They do allow the audience to submit questions on index cards, but we were told that "All card questions must be respectful and written with dignity." How the hell do I write with dignity? Do I put on a suit?

For years, I've submitted question after question to the LWV. They've always ended up in the trash. Maybe tonight would be my lucky night. In my best handwriting, I penned a question asking why county human services are being shortchanged by the state.

Once the debate started, Freeman exuded a quiet confidence about state issues. revealing himnself as a very careful and detail-oriented thinker. At times he was eloquent, quoting Humphrey and FDR. Yes, his thinking his liberal, but what impresses me about Freeman isd the same quality I find most impressive in Congressman Charlie Dent. Both of these public servants take their jobs seriously, work very hard, understand the issues and have thoughtful responses. They understand that they work for us, and not the other way around.

Shegda, who did appear to be more relaxed and friendly than I expected, was in way over his head. For a guy who has been running for this job for the last two years, he was pitifully unprepared. He seems to think elimination of property taxes is the answer to every question. His idea of alternative energy is digging for coal. At his low point, Shegda actually claimed young people are "invincible" and need no health insurance. That elicited a few boos. When asked whether county seats are entited to some kind of tax relief because of the large number of tax exempt properties, the challenger simply did not understand the question. In contrast, Freeman has introduced legislation to provide some relief to places like Easton, where 27% of the property is tax exempt.

When audience questions were posed at the end of the debate, one Shegda supporter got very upset and insisted on reading his own question. He wanted to know why Freeman never answered a letter written over six years ago. It was a question about diabetes.

"Gee, my office is pretty good about answering mail," is all Freeman got out before this dude got really upset and started screaming, getting closer and closer to Freeman, accusing him of medical fraud. People tried to quiet the guy down, but he got more upset, claiming that Freeman is a "smooth talker like Obama" and a "son of a bitch."

He was so loud that the church sexton came flying down from his apartment, where he was praying or reading the Bible or something. He walked the guy off the property and told me later he had been ready to drop him.

Praise the Lord!

My question was scheduled right after the one this idiot posed, but how can I top that? I told them all we should be watching the Phillies and ran out of the "grave cellar."

Go Phillies!

I had hoped to have a detailed post about Northampton County's "quality of life" grants today, but took a Phillies break. The Devil Rays made me do it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another Nail in Sam Bennett's Coffin

Ron Angle: County Taxes to Double in Next Five Years

Last night, Lehigh County adopted its 2009 budget. Here in The People's Republic of Northampton County, we're just getting started, and had our first budget hearing on Tuesday, two hours of numbers. The county's proposed budget is available online, and you can review it here.

"I don't see anything good" is how the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, started things off. As a result of state and federal cutbacks, the county's annual contribution to the Gracedale Nursing Home will skyrocket from $381,000 to $6.9 million. The county's contribution to the retirement fund will shoot up from $2.4 million to $5.1 million, and according to Angle, it actually needs a cash infusion of $50 million. Personnel costs have also increased a staggering $6 million.

While county expenses go up, revenues have, at best, remained flat.

After reviewing the cold reality, Angle goes on to predict that our taxes will double in five years unless "extreme measures" are taken. But where? The Stoffa budget proposes cuts in general government (-15.3%), public works (-14.6%) and human services (-2.9%). Only the courts and prisons show a modest increase (+4.6%).

Northampton County Executive John Stoffa told Angle he believes that other counties facing the same problem should unite and pressure Harrisburg to increase funding. Angle thinks that's unlikely. Just last week, state representative Craig Dally told the Pen Argyl Area Concerned Citizens that the state government has $300 million less in the till than it should have at this time of the year. Some believe next year's shortfall could be as high as $3 billion, which will certainly mean a reduction in pass trough money. Counties will be forced to decide whether to cut programs that residents have been using or come up with local tax dollars to cover for the state.

Neither choice is very appealing.

I have at least one idea, which I'll explain below. You may have some, too.

Eliminate Northampton County Council's Slush Fund


That's how much Northampton County Council spent for the laptops they lavished on themselves recently. Did they do this to make it easier to communicate with you? No, you won't find their email addresses listed on the county web page. That extra computer will make it easier for them to read this blog, but it will also make it easier for them to participate in back room shenanigans.

Don't think that happens? Look at the computer purchase. Not a single word was uttered about this transaction in any public meeting. Council instead buried the cost in recent "renovations" to their star chamber.

That's why council's proposed $500,000 slush fund, politely called a "contingency" fund, should be eliminated in its entirety. Council's surreptitious purchase of laptops is wasteful spending. Two members do not even use computers. Moreover, their secretive actions should be discouraged.

So what happens if an unforeseen expense arises? For that, we have the unrestricted cash reserve, the county's rainy day fund.

Eliminating this $500,000 in monopoly money will reduce budget expenditures by 0.2%. It's not much, but it's a start.

Why Was State Theatre at a Budget Hearing?

Tuesday's Northampton County budget hearing included a $25,000 proposed grant to Easton's State Theatre. This wonderful artsy farsty venture originally asked for $55,000, but Stoffa's administration slashed that request by more than half. Three people from that nonprofit, including Executive Director Shelley Brown, mysteriously appeared on Tuesday. Of 21 grant recipients, only the State bothered sending someone.

How did that happen?

I spoke yesterday with Lori G. Sywensky, the county's very capable Community Development Administrator. In previous years, the county would decide grants based on a phone call or letter to a council member. This year, the county tried to impose a little more objectivity on "quality of life" grants, funded with hotel taxes. A three-person committee was formed, and every group seeking money was required to submit a funding request, which is available online.

All but three requests were approved. The three rejected applicants were Sun Inn (they wanted to hire two people), Zellner Arts (wanted post show parties) and Musikfest (already getting $1 million over the next five years).

Approved applicants were notified by mail. No one was advised about Wednesday's budget hearing. So why did the State have three representatives there?

The answer to that question became apparent during the hearing. Council Prez Ann McHale just happened to notice them, and they just happened to have drawings of all the changes they are always making. Now, the administration has already approved $25,000 for improvements to the marquee, but the State is also installing plush new bathrooms for its members and high rollers, something that Council Prez McHale just loves.

McHale clearly wants those new poopers. "Why such a drastic reduction in their request?", she demanded after admiring the new rain closets.

It's pretty clear that McHale is the reason why State Theatre was present at Tuesday's budget hearing. It's pretty clear that's why they had drawings of their fancy new throne rooms. It's also pretty clear that if McHale wants fancy new bidets at the State, she should donate her money, not the county's.

Tomorrow, if still alive, I'll detail all of the quality of life grants.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Charles Dertinger: Norco Council Only Listens to Landed Gentry

Yesterday was probably a bad day for me to attend a Northampton County Council meeting. The Morning Call had just published my story about the council's extravagant $650 thousand in renovations to its star chamber, which failed to include a nickel to videotape or webcast council meetings. But I was among twenty-seven people, mostly county workers, who attended the first budget review. I'll tell you about that tomorrow. My story today is about what happened after that two-hour meeting.

No sooner had the meeting adjourned than Council Prez Ann McHale summoned me to the dais. She began telling me that council really, really, really wants to webcast its meetings, but there are technical problems of some sort. If this is true, why has no one on council bothered to contact IT Director Al Jordan, I asked.

McHale may have had an answer, but I never heard it because council member Charles Dertinger began unloading on me, telling McHale to ignore me and repeating his "pack of lies" claim. He got off the dais and was in my face. He also told me that since I own no real estate, council has no duty to answer my concerns.

I see.

Well, he's got me. I'm no member of the landed gentry. Maybe I should hunt foxes or something.

But last time I checked, I have the same rights as Charles Chrin, including the right to vote, and pointed it out, rather loudly. It might interest you that an elected official, and a Democrat to boot, would publicly sneer at a renter.

I don't mind the insults. I can give as good as I get. But Dertinger's blast at renters reveals a contempt for a large portion of the voting public.

Free Laptops For Every Northampton County Council Member!

After the shouting match with Charles Dertinger was over yesterday, Council member Diane Neiper told me she believes it's time to start webcasting meetings, and will make inquiries next time they meet.

That's nice.

Then the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, let me in on a little secret. Free laptops have been provided to every council member, even though neither he nor council member Wayne Grube care for them. The money for this comes from the $650 thousand set aside for renovations to the Northampton County Star Chamber. No word of this was ever uttered in a public meeting.

Angle told me and an astonished county executive that there is even a hook up for these laptops on the brand new dais, although no one has bothered to try it.

Amazing. We are now approaching 100 scheduled sheriff sales every month. And council is surreptitiously supplying members with laptops, masked as renovation costs. Angle, no computer genius, is unsure whether the county is also paying for Internet hook ups.

Bob Freeman and Ron Shegda Tangle on Thursday

LV Ramblings readers selected Pennsylvania state representative Bob Freeman last year as the Lehigh Valley's top elected official. That means nothing to Hellertown oddball Ron Shegda, who wants the job for himself . . . again.

Two years ago, Shegda waged a losing write-in campaign for Freeman's 136th state house seat, which extends from Easton to Hellertown. At that time, Shegda was also soliciting contributions for the U.S. Senate in 2010, and claimed to be as "wise as serpents and gentle as doves."

I see enough snakes on Northampton County Council, and I sure as hell would never send one of them to Harrisburg.

A few weeks ago, Shegda and his posse tried to evict AJ and me from our seats at a Bennett-Dent debate in Allentown. We refused to move. He also recently lambasted Express Times editor Tony Rhodin in a goofy email, which you can read here.

He reads like he needs a rest at Happydale.

On Thursday night, Shegda will cross swords with Freeman at a candidates' night sponsored by the LWV and AAUW.

When: Thursday, October 23, 2008, 7 to 9 PM

Where: St. John's Lutheran Church, 330 Ferry Street, Easton, PA 18042.

Johnny Appleseed Visits Lehigh Valley

Johnny Appleseed, in the form of DCNR Secretary Michael DiBerardinis, brought something better than seeds to the Lehigh Valley yesterday. He presented Lehigh's Don Cunningham and Northampton's John Stoffa with a check for $200,000 for trees for their downtown areas and parks. Its called TreeVitalize, part of a plan to plant 1 million trees over the next five years.

Cunningham notes that, in addition to the environmental advantages, "shade trees in downtown areas increase pedestrian traffic, reduce incidents of road rage, and create safer, more pleasant walking environments.”

The King of Renaissance Square gets $25,000 for 90 trees along Hamilton, Turner and Liberty streets, as well as other areas. “The TreeVitalize initiative is a great program, especially for areas like inner-city Allentown,” says Edwin I.

Yep. It gives people a place to hide during drive by shootings.

Northampton County Executive John Stoffa says trees are good, too. It's unanimous. Here's where they're going.

Allentown -- $25,000 –- 90 trees
Bethlehem -- $25,000 –- 88 trees
Catasauqua -- $3,500 –- 6 trees
Lynn Township -- $2,700 –- 10 trees
Lower Macungie -- $12,400 – 40 trees
Easton -- $25,000 – 100 trees
Tatamy - $3,000 – 10 trees

PBS & PSU Spotlight 80 Central & Western Pa. Candidates

In the Lehigh Valley, the last place to find a local news story is at PBS-affiliate Channel 39. Its light news program - Tempo - is very much like reading one of the puff blogs. Host Amy Burkett, who reminds me of Harriet Nelson, smiles as she quizzes us about how many women will die from ovarian cancer this year.

WPSU-TV, the PBS affiliate for Central Pennsylvania, takes its role a little more seriously. For the upcoming elections, it has developed a website featuring video, audio and interactive quizzes to help provide easy to use information about all the state and U.S. congressional candidates that fall within Central PA as well as parts of Western PA. It features over 80 candidate profiles from 27 counties. You can view it here.

It is comprehensive and impartial, an informational resource for voters, especially concerning local races that don't normally get much attention in the media. It features video and audio interviews, a questionnaire stating candidate positions on key issues and a blog. It even includes a "My Ballot" feature, in which users can enter their county and township to see which candidates are running within their area.

This is PBS at its best, a real service to the community and one that fills an information gap. Unfortunately, our local PBS affiliate has a long way to go.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sam Bennett for Congress: I Have Nicer Hair!

In last week's televised debate between LV Congressman Charlie Dent and challenger Sam Bennett on Business Matters, I saw something that has never happened in local politics before. Amazingly, Channel 69 had to insert a disclaimer before the show ever aired. The station even had to blur her lips and blank her audio. In a fact free debate, she falsely claimed two local banks, Wachovia and Sovereign, had folded. Needless to say, these banks were less than thrilled at this kind of advertising, which could have resulted in bank runs. As if that were not enough, moderator Tony Iannelli actually had to take a "shoe break" so that Bennett could find some missing footwear.

Last night, part two of that debate aired. Although there were no disclaimers or shoe breaks this time, it was still bizarre. This time, it was hair.

At the end of the debate, Bennett noted that Charlie Dent is a "nice guy" with "nice hair," but went on to claim that she's nice, too, and has even nicer hair. So I guess we should all vote for her.

All righty then.

Allentown's Landlord Hall of Shame Ignores Constitution

Edwin I, King of Renaissance Square, aka Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, is angry. Some greedy Allentown landlords allow their properties to fall into disrepair. A few ignore zoning laws, maintenance codes and even refuse to pay their taxes and water bills on time. So by Royal Decree, a "Landlord Hall of Shame" has been established to humiliate these hooligans. A huge placard, complete with slumlord's home address and phone number, is placed at each property. Allentown's Web page, which seems to be good for nothing else, proudly lists each offender. City officials will even buy advertisements in the home newspapers of these dirty dawgs.

You get to have some fun, too. You can make your own nominations.

Whoopee! Isn't that Democratic?

Or is it a lynch mob mentality?

No Notice or Opportunity to Be Heard

King Edwin has worked up a lather over slumlords who won't follow the law, but has no trouble trampling all over the Constitution. Specifically, he's ignoring the due process clause, which is interpreted to mean notice and an opportunity to be heard.

Does a landlord get any kind of notice before he's listed in the city's Hall of Shame? Nah. In fact, the city's first victim, and he is a victim, was taken by surprise. He was ambushed without no hearing.

Allentown's web page does list criteria considered before this modern equivalent of tarring and feathering someone. You can see them here. But they are nebulous, to say the least. Vague tenant and neighbor complaints are actually encouraged, which could lead to all sorts of phony baloney from a disgruntled former tenant or a jealous neighbor. "Police issues," "fire issues" and "health issues" but once again, there are no specifics. In fact, the city also uses "etc." to cover them. How the hell can a landlord be on notice of a health issue qualified like that? If someone catches a cold at a rented property, the landlord can be publicly excoriated. The city also looks at delinquent fees, but provides no guidance there, either. One year? Or is one month enough?

Joyce Marin, Allentown's Director of Community and Economic Development, in a puff blog designed to promote this domestic form of waterboarding as "good news" for Allentown, doesn't really answer how someone qualifies for this dishonor. It must be a secret.

Potential For Abuse

Aside from a total failure to provide basic due process, King Edwin's Hall of Shame can be perverted to punish political enemies. Don't think the King would do that? Think again.

Last year, King Edwin told a Morning Call reporter that a certain civic activist, who was giving HRH a rough time, was nothing more than a slumlord. Now this landlord has never even been cited for a code violation. But he is a political enemy. Imagine how easy it would be to trump up a few testimonials by some disgruntled former tenants or a "neighbor." Next thing you know, this person can find himself a member of the Hall of Shame.

I expressed these concerns to Ms. Marin. She refuses to publish any criticism of this modern form of torture, but allows comments suggesting that slumlords are mostly McCain supporters. She did email me that, after checking with her staff, she learned that HRH has no involvement in the selection of these properties.


The city's own web page makes clear the mayor is directly involved. All the King's men "choose a city landlord for recommendation to the mayor for selection as an esteemed member of the 'Landlord Hall of Shame.'" The mayor decides.

Reputation an Inherent Pennsylvania Right

In addition to the due process clause, King Ed's "Hall of Shame" violates the "inherent and indefeasible" right of every person to protect his reputation. That right is enumerated in the first sentence of Pennsylvania's Constitution.

The federal and state constitution must be followed, even in the Kingdom of Renaissance Square. King Ed is right to be upset over greedy landlords who thumb their noses at laws designed to protect all of us, but that gives him no excuse to ignore basic constitutional safeguards. They apply to all of us. Even slumlords.


Arsenic and Old Lace, is one of my favorite Halloween movies, but it surprises me that so many people never heard of this Frank Capra classic.

Uncle Teddy is a cRaZy old loon who has convinced himself he's TR. He screams "Charge!" every time he runs up the steps. Before long, everyone is doing it, even Cary Grant. Now, whenever someone screams "Charge!", I'm reminded of those likable serial killers.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Lynne Abraham to Endorse John Morganelli for AG

Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, the people's DA, will today endorse Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, Democratic candidate for Attorney General, at a 3 P.M. Philly press conference. Morganelli will also outline his plans to attack gun violence at this press conference.

Lehigh County Steps Forward While Northampton County Hides in Shadows

When Lehigh County Commissioners reviewed their 2009 budget, they added $15,000 for a camera system. Starting next year, there will be a webcast of each meeting, to be posted shortly after each meeting.

In the meantime, Northampton County recently dipped into its own contingency fund for "renovations" to council chambers. Council members spent close to $650,000 of your money for extravagances like a new dais and a fancy county seal, etched in glass, placed directly behind council prez Ann McHale.

It does add a certain je ne sais quoi to that star chamber look.

In the meantime, the amount of working space available for council's staff was actually reduced. Theatre seats for the public were replaced with cheap, plastic crap. The new PA system is just as ineffective as the one that was replaced.

Most amazing at all, council has set aside no funds at all to videotape and webcast its meetings. IT director Al Jordan tells me this could be done for as little as $1,500, but no one has even asked him. So iCarly has no reason to fear any competition.

Of course, if the public saw what goes on in that star chamber, it would get rid of most of them.

One More Reason Why Democrats Should Support Charlie Dent

Most Democrats agree that LV Congressional contender Siobhan "Sam" Bennett is a lightweight, at least when standing next to incumbent Charlie Dent. The Express Times, which endorsed Dent on Sunday, notes he "has become authoritative on several issues because he's invested time and effort, such as traveling overseas and investigating alternative energy technology." Some Dems will privately acknowledge this, but plan on voting for Bennett anyway. The argument? A heavily Democratic Congress will enable Barack Obama to push his agenda.

Here's my counterpoint. According to no less an authority than Speaker Pelosi, Dem will increase their majority this November to 250 members. So there's no real justification for pulling the straight party lever to back a candidate whose campaign has been riddled with, among other things, recklessly false statements about the financial stability of two local banks. It makes more sense to put a thinker in office.

Currently, Democrats account for 233 of the House's 435 voting members.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pennsylvania May Be Blue For Elections, But Its Budget is in the Red

Earlier this week, state representative Craig Dally told a Pen Argyl crowd that Pennsylvania has $300 million less in the till than it should at this time of the year. According to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Pennsylvania is one of twenty-one states facing midyear shortfalls.

Many of these states are already reducing services, including health insurance for children, daycare for seniors, eliminating funds for education and reducing its workforce.

According to The Philadelphia Business Journal, Pennsylvania has imposed a hiring freeze.

Will state governments be the next group to ask for a bailout?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Should $75k Fund Rail Study or Help Heat Homes?

Two weeks ago, rail activist Paul Marin asked Northampton County to contribute $75,000 of the $250,000 cost for a transportation study, a necessary prerequisite to federal funds for commuter rail. The Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, is dead set against the idea, which makes it more palatable to everyone else on council. This money is set aside in next year's budget, but council prez Ann McHale listed the matter again last night, figuring that fellow council members would quickly fund this project now.

She had one big problem last night. Only six council members were present. She needed five votes, but got only four. John Cusick joined Angle in voting No. So the transportation study has been derailed. Marin will probably still get his money, but commuter rail advocates will have to stand in line like everyone else.

That will give them time to consider this Ron Angle question.

"You know what, if you got $75 thousand to throw away, why don't you try putting it in a fund to supply money for heat so the people around this county, the senior citizens this winter, who aren't going to be able to heat their houses? Or why don't you put it in a fund to help the help the 100 people who already are on the January Sheriff Sale list maybe hang on to their house by giving them one payment so they get another month to get things together. . . . You're going to spend $75 thousand for a pipe dream while people freeze to death this winter. You're real managers."

In response to a plea for the cold and homeless, Reverend Dowd had this response.

"I don't mean to throw $75 thousand away, but it goes about six points behind a decimal point in the county budget."

How Christian of him.