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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

IT IS the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom in Bethlehem, it is the age of foolishness in Allentown. At least that's what I think, but I'm no Charles Dickens.

In Bethlehem, people really do promenade throughout the streets at night. In Allentown, they lie about it. In the Christmas City, an independent council listens respectfully to the mayor and everyone else. In the Queen City, a group of bobbleheads tells King Edwin what he wants to hear while denying citizens the basic right to speak. Bethlehem honestly admits its problems while Allentown massages the truth as well as a high class hooker and dismisses every piece of constructive criticism as the product of naysayers. The net result? Bethlehem gets better; Allentown gets worse.

If you want to see a contrast between these two cities, look at how each handled its own budget crisis. Allentown's Finance Director, Larry Hilliard, said it was "too late" to make changes in Allentown's 2009 budget. During that same time frame, Bethlehem was making adjustments - almost $1 million worth.

Bethlehem made changes after its budget was made public and during the budget review process, proactively reacting to the "impending Tsunami" of change in the economy. Somehow Bethlehem knew it was coming and Allentown didn't? Bethlehem knew there would be decreased revenues from real estate, deed transfers and employee income taxes. Allentown's bobbleheads blindly ignored the warning signs.

Bethlehem's Council independently reviewed the budget, with two voting against it despite rolling back 14 promotions, three new hires and other cuts. It passed and no exposes are being penned about Bethlehem by the Morning Call or local bloggers. Bethlehem is struggling with the current economy, like everyone else, and it's an election year there, too.

The Casino opening will help. Ironically, it will help Allentown, too. But without half decent leaders, you might as well flush that money down the toilet.

Tony Phillips Warned Council Bobbleheads About Revenue Shortfalls

It's hard to read Sunday's Jarrett Renshaw/Darryl Isherwood exposee of Allentown's troubled financial waters without feeling a deep sense of disappointment in the bobbleheads who sometimes refer to themselves as Allentown City Council. Despite being provided with monthly financial statements showing that revenue was way below projections, six out of seven council members rubber-stamped a bogus budget they knew was based on inflated revenue projections.
After all, it's an election year.

One council member voted against that budget - Tony Phillips. Now you might say his vote was politically motivated, too. But the reason Tony opposed this budget is precisely because he knew those revenue projections are fairy tales. Here's a copy of a memo that Tony circulated to fellow council members on November 18.

"As discussed last night, attached is an Excel spreadsheet* that analyzes selected budgeted revenues and expenses from the 2009 City of Allentown Proposed Budget.

"My analysis of budgeted revenues estimates the proposed budget is overstating revenues by $2,076,462 comprised of items where revenues is overstated by $3,143,129 and items where revenues are understated by $1,066,667 (Account #s 5215 and 7116).

"My analysis of budgeted expenses estimates the proposed budget is understating expenses by $2,151,888 comprised of items where total expenses are overstated by $1,126,433 by including theoretical net understatements of certain special expenses (Pension Expense, Capital Fund Contributions & Reserve for Encumbrances) by $3,278,321. I backed out the theoretical understatements at the end of the expense spreadsheet to arrive at the 'working number' of a net expense understatement of $2,151,888.

"The net result of the two separate analyses of revenues & expenses leads me to estimate that the 2009 Proposed Budget includes a net understatement of a deficit of $4,228,350. Combined with the 'published' deficit of $1,793,568 yields a total estimated 'real' deficit of $6,012,918."

* The spreadsheet can be examined here. He tells me it was prepared by a CPA, not him.

Tony, the person snarked on his own blog as in need of "elocution lessons" (Hint, Hint), is the one person on Council who had it right.

Lehigh County Republicans Fighting ... Themselves


That's what Bill Clinton did to stop Republicans from outright world conquest when they seized both houses of Congress. It worked, too. Now that the shoe's on the other foot, Republicans are having a devil of a time trying to figure out how to respond. Are they too conservative and driving people away? Or are people running from the GOP because it no longer stands for anything?

Beats the hell out of me!

I do know this. Lehigh County Republicans are embroiled right now in a bitter fight for the soul of the party. An email war has been raging for the past several days over an attempt by some local Republicans to censure Senator Arlen Specter. Nobody's been killed, but it's getting hot and heavy, a battle between purists and bluebloods. Some of the email exchanges have been leaked to me.

Charles Snelling: "This is madness!!! Some of us have certainly lost our way. I don't know how this particular episode of craziness will end, but I do know that if we don't find ways to work together as a party, we will cease to be a party."

Scott Armstrong: "Those who refuse to act are the ones engaging in the 'self destructive behavior'. It is 'madness' to do nothing."

Charles Snelling: "I don't know how we are going to make progress if Scott and others of like mind, continue to heap calumny on everyone that doesn't hold to their very exact line, and on our hard work, in our own way, for the value system in which you claim to believe."

Scott Armstrong: "This is a deeply offensive remark and totally undeserved. I have done no such thing; I have expressed my opinion and done so respectfully. Charles, the resort to this sort of rhetoric undermines both your argument and your reputation."

Charles Snelling: "I credit myself as being a very precise user of English-language. It is my considered opinion, after rereading the e-mails, that it is certainly true that they "heap calumny" on the Sen., on me and indeed on anybody who supports him. If you wish not to be accused of this than I can only recommend that you and your associates, since my subject was plural, be more careful and courteous in your originating e-mail's. Friendship is one thing, and I respect and enjoy it. But it is not a free pass to be rude and abusive. When that happens I will respond directly, now and in the future."

Joseph Lynn: "I have heard you say in a room full of people, 'Oh, knock it off. Nobody likes me!'"

Joseph Lynn: "It seems to me enough cooler heads at meeting may keep censure resolution from going anywhere substantive."

Joe Hilliard: "The letter has been submitted. The proposed censure has been submitted. Chairman Platt is correct that this would be 'uncharted waters'. However, more and more Republicans feel that our Country is plunging into 'uncharted waters' as well as the liberal/socialist agenda is ramrodded through – with too much Republican support. Extraordinary times require extraordinary leadership."


Joe Hilliard: "The tiny minority that advocated the 'move to the Left' strategy just to win elections have also proven quite 'self-destructive' to the GOP. Those who make 'political calculations' based on polls (framed by liberal groups) have also been quite 'self-destructive'. Those who think that the base will vote for any Republican 'no matter what' have been quite self-destructive. The last two national election cycles have CLEARLY proven that when ignored, the base will not turn out."

Charles Snelling: "Joe, I really really wish that you would run for office. Run with all your purity and extremism. I've got money to wager that you would lose at least two or 3 to 1. Maybe that experiment is what is absolutely necessary to teach you a little humility and acquaint you with the realities of the body politic."

Scott Armstrong: "Unless an apology is communicated to me by Charles I will feel no need to in any way further assist the local committee and/or its local candidates."

Charles Snelling: "Bill [Platt], I think that Armstrong's offer is too good to refuse. I have nothing what so ever to apologize for and I certainly do not intend to apologize. So, Scott, please be my guest."

Unfortunately, nodody started cursing or even threatened anyone. If these were Dems, someone would be floating down the Delaware River right now.

Monday, March 30, 2009

King Edwin's Sycophants Spam LVR

Unhappy at a post critical of their hero, the grant-seeking Villas are spamming this blog with extraneous OT comments. I deleted the same comments about forty times this morning. After being away from the computer for just a few hours, I returned to see that the Villas had flooded this blog with numerous comments patting themselves on the back, singing the praises of King Edwin and slamming other bloggers.

I have deleted all Villa commentary. I will take out their garbage as time permits. I refuse to enable comment moderation.

Morning Call Exposes Queen City Hiding Head in Sand

The best evidence that Spring is here is the fresh air coming from The Morning Call, which has exposed the financial shenanigans being pulled by Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and his docile collection of rubber stamps, sometimes called a city council. It reveals a government that has both withheld information and misled the public.

According to this detailed account, we now know the following:

1) Council members knew of revenue shortfalls in June, but said nothing.

2) The city has denied Morning Call Right to Know requests to review proposed department budgets as well correspondence between King Edwin and his Finance Director, Larry Hilliard.

3) King Edwin cooked the books in order to avoid a tax increase during an election year. Council member Michael Donovan now concedes that in a Morning Call interview, although he never mentioned it on his blog.

4) King Edwin will convene a committee that meets behind closed doors to solve Allentown's fiscal woes, something the editorial board flatly labels a violation of "both the spirit and letter" of Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act.

5) The news account refers several times to a "written statement" released by King Edwin on Friday. Written statements can't be questioned. It appears (although it's not stated) that King Edwin is avoiding reporters these days.

A government that thrives on secrecy, like the Queen City, eventually enables corruption to prosper. Worse, it appears we are also being misled. The budget is based on revenue forecasts the city itself knew were no good.

Council member Michael Donovan is the only council member who maintains a blog. But he voiced no warnings signals back in June, when revenue shortfalls first appeared. He instead published a post about saving $650,000 by borrowing money.

A Donovan Twitter on Saturday tells us he "is about to see the musical, 'A New Brain,' at Ithaca College." That's nice. Still upset over recent criticism I directed at him concerning his own penchant for secrecy, the "Councilor" petulantly asks, "Should I bring it back for anyone special?"

I'll be "civil," just like him, and decline to answer his question. But you know what I'm thinking.

Is Push Poll Being Used to Taint Scissorhands Severson's Potential Jurors?

Political consultant Tom Severson, aka Scissorhands Severson, is supposedly semi-retired, enjoying the good life somewhere in Arizona. But he still faces an assortment of criminal charges after disrupting a Wind Gap funeral mass with taunts and threats directed at Northampton County Council member.

According to former Northampton County council member Mary Ensslin, Severson kept putting a hand in one of his pockets during a funeral mass, saying "We're going to settle this. I'm going to stick this in you outside." Angle told a magistrate that Severson occasionally pulled two inches of what looked like a switchblade knife from his pocket. A Severson neighbor states that, after the incident was over, Severson walked up to him and bragged, "I'm a natural born killer."

Severson's trial, already delayed a few times, may have to be delayed again. Someone is trying to taint the jury pool. Amazingly, it's being done via push poll from an Easton telephone number.

Here's how it works. Voters are asked some general questions about Northampton County Executive John Stoffa and his primary opponent, Ann McHale. There's even a question about Republican challenger ** ********. So far, so good, right? But then the survey takes a strange turn and asks whether people are familiar with Ron Angle's reputation for veracity. Some claim to have been asked whether Angle had ever lied to them.

These questions, designed to portray Angle as a bum, come at a time when he seeks no countywide office. Why try to portray Angle as a liar now? If you're Scissorhands Severson and facing criminal charges, you certainly have a motive. And since his outfit is the only Easton group capable of running a poll, Severson certainly also has the opportunity.

Some say that Dem Bossman Joe Long has funded this poll. Others believe Severson has dug into his own ample pockets. Whoever is paying for it, its purpose is obvious - someone is trying to taint the jury panel. Prosecutors and judges tens to take a dim view of that kind of behavior. This may have to be investigated before Severson is tried.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bagpipe Band - Allentown's St. Paddy's Day Parade

They were probably looking for me.

Barack Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan Strategy

I have somehow ended up on the White House press office mailing list. Yesterday afternoon, the office circulated a verbatim transcript of President Barack Obama's new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Let me share it with you.

9:40 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Please be seated.

Before I begin today, let me acknowledge, first of all, Your Excellencies, all the ambassadors who are in attendance. I also want to acknowledge both the civilians and our military personnel that are about to be deployed to the region. And I am very grateful to all of you for your extraordinary work.

I want to acknowledge General David Petraeus, who's here, and has been doing an outstanding job at CENTCOM, and we appreciate him. I want to thank Bruce Reidel -- Bruce is down at the end here -- who has worked extensively on our strategic review. I want to acknowledge Karl Eikenberry, who's here, and is our Ambassador-designate to Afghanistan. And to my national security team, thanks for their outstanding work.

Today, I'm announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And this marks the conclusion of a careful policy review, led by Bruce, that I ordered as soon as I took office. My administration has heard from our military commanders, as well as our diplomats. We've consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments, with our partners and our NATO allies, and with other donors and international organizations. We've also worked closely with members of Congress here at home. And now I’d like to speak clearly and candidly to the American people.

The situation is increasingly perilous. It's been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Attacks against our troops, our NATO allies, and the Afghan government have risen steadily. And most painfully, 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American forces.

Many people in the United States -- and many in partner countries that have sacrificed so much -- have a simple question: What is our purpose in Afghanistan? After so many years, they ask, why do our men and women still fight and die there? And they deserve a straightforward answer.

So let me be clear: Al Qaeda and its allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks -- are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban -- or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.

The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan. In the nearly eight years since 9/11, al Qaeda and its extremist allies have moved across the border to the remote areas of the Pakistani frontier. This almost certainly includes al Qaeda's leadership: Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. They have used this mountainous terrain as a safe haven to hide, to train terrorists, to communicate with followers, to plot attacks, and to send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan. For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.

But this is not simply an American problem -- far from it. It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order. Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan, as were attacks in North Africa and the Middle East, in Islamabad and in Kabul. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan. The safety of people around the world is at stake.

For the Afghan people, a return to Taliban rule would condemn their country to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralyzed economy, and the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people -- especially women and girls. The return in force of al Qaeda terrorists who would accompany the core Taliban leadership would cast Afghanistan under the shadow of perpetual violence.

As President, my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people. We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future. We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends and our allies, and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan who have suffered the most at the hands of violent extremists.

So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you.

To achieve our goals, we need a stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy. To focus on the greatest threat to our people, America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq. To enhance the military, governance and economic capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan, we have to marshal international support. And to defeat an enemy that heeds no borders or laws of war, we must recognize the fundamental connection between the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan -- which is why I've appointed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is here, to serve as Special Representative for both countries, and to work closely with General Petraeus to integrate our civilian and military efforts.

Let me start by addressing the way forward in Pakistan.

The United States has great respect for the Pakistani people. They have a rich history and have struggled against long odds to sustain their democracy. The people of Pakistan want the same things that we want: an end to terror, access to basic services, the opportunity to live their dreams, and the security that can only come with the rule of law. The single greatest threat to that future comes from al Qaeda and their extremist allies, and that is why we must stand together.

The terrorists within Pakistan's borders are not simply enemies of America or Afghanistan -- they are a grave and urgent danger to the people of Pakistan. Al Qaeda and other violent extremists have killed several thousand Pakistanis since 9/11. They've killed many Pakistani soldiers and police. They assassinated Benazir Bhutto. They've blown up buildings, derailed foreign investment, and threatened the stability of the state. So make no mistake: al Qaeda and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within.

It's important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in going after al Qaeda. This is no simple task. The tribal regions are vast, they are rugged, and they are often ungoverned. And that's why we must focus our military assistance on the tools, training and support that Pakistan needs to root out the terrorists. And after years of mixed results, we will not, and cannot, provide a blank check.

Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken -- one way or another -- when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.

The government's ability to destroy these safe havens is tied to its own strength and security. To help Pakistan weather the economic crisis, we must continue to work with the IMF, the World Bank and other international partners. To lessen tensions between two nuclear-armed nations that too often teeter on the edge of escalation and confrontation, we must pursue constructive diplomacy with both India and Pakistan. To avoid the mistakes of the past, we must make clear that our relationship with Pakistan is grounded in support for Pakistan's democratic institutions and the Pakistani people. And to demonstrate through deeds as well as words a commitment that is enduring, we must stand for lasting opportunity.

A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone. Al Qaeda's offers the people of Pakistan nothing but destruction. We stand for something different. So today, I am calling upon Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by John Kerry and Richard Lugar that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years -- resources that will build schools and roads and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan's democracy. I'm also calling on Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Maria Cantwell, Chris Van Hollen and Peter Hoekstra that creates opportunity zones in the border regions to develop the economy and bring hope to places plagued with violence. And we will ask our friends and allies to do their part -- including at the donors conference in Tokyo next month.

I don't ask for this support lightly. These are challenging times. Resources are stretched. But the American people must understand that this is a down payment on our own future -- because the security of America and Pakistan is shared. Pakistan's government must be a stronger partner in destroying these safe havens, and we must isolate al Qaeda from the Pakistani people. And these steps in Pakistan are also indispensable to our efforts in Afghanistan, which will see no end to violence if insurgents move freely back and forth across the border.

Security demands a new sense of shared responsibility. And that's why we will launch a standing, trilateral dialogue among the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our nations will meet regularly, with Secretaries Clinton and Secretary Gates leading our effort. Together, we must enhance intelligence sharing and military cooperation along the border, while addressing issues of common concern like trade, energy, and economic development.

This is just one part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent Afghanistan from becoming the al Qaeda safe haven that it was before 9/11. To succeed, we and our friends and allies must reverse the Taliban's gains, and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government.

Our troops have fought bravely against a ruthless enemy. Our civilians have made great sacrifices. Our allies have borne a heavy burden. Afghans have suffered and sacrificed for their future. But for six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq. Now, we must make a commitment that can accomplish our goals.

I've already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months. These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan security forces and to go after insurgents along the border. This push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential elections in Afghanistan in August.

At the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan security forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That's how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our own troops home.

For three years, our commanders have been clear about the resources they need for training. And those resources have been denied because of the war in Iraq. Now, that will change. The additional troops that we deployed have already increased our training capacity. And later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan security forces. For the first time, this will truly resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police. Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner. We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 -- and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward.

This push must be joined by a dramatic increase in our civilian effort. Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency. The people of Afghanistan seek the promise of a better future. Yet once again, we've seen the hope of a new day darkened by violence and uncertainty.

So to advance security, opportunity and justice -- not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces -- we need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers. That's how we can help the Afghan government serve its people and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs. And that's why I'm ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. That's also why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies, from the United Nations and international aid organizations -- an effort that Secretary Clinton will carry forward next week in The Hague.

At a time of economic crisis, it's tempting to believe that we can shortchange this civilian effort. But make no mistake: Our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future. And that's why my budget includes indispensable investments in our State Department and foreign assistance programs. These investments relieve the burden on our troops. They contribute directly to security. They make the American people safer. And they save us an enormous amount of money in the long run -- because it's far cheaper to train a policeman to secure his or her own village than to help a farmer seed a crop -- or to help a farmer seed a crop than it is to send our troops to fight tour after tour of duty with no transition to Afghan responsibility.

As we provide these resources, the days of unaccountable spending, no-bid contracts, and wasteful reconstruction must end. So my budget will increase funding for a strong Inspector General at both the State Department and USAID, and include robust funding for the special inspector generals for Afghan Reconstruction.

And I want to be clear: We cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. Instead, we will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior, and sets clear benchmarks, clear metrics for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people.

In a country with extreme poverty that's been at war for decades, there will also be no peace without reconciliation among former enemies. Now, I have no illusion that this will be easy. In Iraq, we had success in reaching out to former adversaries to isolate and target al Qaeda in Iraq. We must pursue a similar process in Afghanistan, while understanding that it is a very different country.

There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who've taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. And that's why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province. As their ranks dwindle, an enemy that has nothing to offer the Afghan people but terror and repression must be further isolated. And we will continue to support the basic human rights of all Afghans -- including women and girls.

Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable. We’ll consistently assess our efforts to train Afghan security forces and our progress in combating insurgents. We will measure the growth of Afghanistan’s economy, and its illicit narcotics production. And we will review whether we are using the right tools and tactics to make progress towards accomplishing our goals.

None of the steps that I've outlined will be easy; none should be taken by America alone. The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al Qaeda operates unchecked. We have a shared responsibility to act -- not because we seek to project power for its own sake, but because our own peace and security depends on it. And what’s at stake at this time is not just our own security -- it's the very idea that free nations can come together on behalf of our common security. That was the founding cause of NATO six decades ago, and that must be our common purpose today.

My administration is committed to strengthening international organizations and collective action, and that will be my message next week in Europe. As America does more, we will ask others to join us in doing their part. From our partners and NATO allies, we will seek not simply troops, but rather clearly defined capabilities: supporting the Afghan elections, training Afghan security forces, a greater civilian commitment to the Afghan people. For the United Nations, we seek greater progress for its mandate to coordinate international action and assistance, and to strengthen Afghan institutions.

And finally, together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region -- our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China. None of these nations benefit from a base for al Qaeda terrorists, and a region that descends into chaos. All have a stake in the promise of lasting peace and security and development.

That is true, above all, for the coalition that has fought together in Afghanistan, side by side with Afghans. The sacrifices have been enormous. Nearly 700 Americans have lost their lives. Troops from over 20 countries have also paid the ultimate price. All Americans honor the service and cherish the friendship of those who have fought, and worked, and bled by our side. And all Americans are awed by the service of our own men and women in uniform, who've borne a burden as great as any other generation’s. They and their families embody the example of selfless sacrifice.

I remind everybody, the United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan. Nearly 3,000 of our people were killed on September 11, 2001, for doing nothing more than going about their daily lives. Al Qaeda and its allies have since killed thousands of people in many countries. Most of the blood on their hands is the blood of Muslims, who al Qaeda has killed and maimed in far greater number than any other people. That is the future that al Qaeda is offering to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan -- a future without hope or opportunity; a future without justice or peace.

So understand, the road ahead will be long and there will be difficult days ahead. But we will seek lasting partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan that promise a new day for their people. And we will use all elements of our national power to defeat al Qaeda, and to defend America, our allies, and all who seek a better future. Because the United States of America stands for peace and security, justice and opportunity. That is who we are, and that is what history calls on us to do once more.

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

END 10:02 A.M. EDT

William Allen's Band

From Sunday's St. Paddy's Day Parade. They're small but very impressive.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Allentown's Leading Citizen

Dapper Dan is expected to announce his candidacy for Allentown City Council this Wednesday. Try and muzzle him!

Hey Mickey, Easton Controller Tony Bassil Changes Teams

A few months ago, Judge Leonard Zito switched sides to become a Republican. Now Easton Controller Tony Bassil, formerly a Republican, is wearing blue. At a news conference yesterday afternoon, he announced he is now a Democrat.

It's a tie!

Bassil, a public servant who has declined health benefits and a pension, has previously told Easton voters he's here "to protect your investment." He denies any connection to 80's pop singer Toni Basil.

Grucela: Vietnam War Vets Deserve High School Diplomas

Earlier this week, I told you about legislation introduced by State Rep. Richard Grucela, D-Northampton, enabling unpaid surveyors to file mechanic's liens for unpaid bills. To a man, you all pretty much hate the idea and I appreciate your candor, especially since it's directed at Rich and not me.

OK, so how about this - a program known as Operation Recognition for Vietnam veterans. It's similar to what we did for WW II and Korean War vets. That bill was unanimously reported out of the House Education Committee this week, and grants high school diplomas to veterans of the Vietnam War who were unable to complete high school because of their military service.

"There are many men and women who were unable to finish their high school education because they left to serve their country," Grucela said. "They may be leading productive lives now, but I believe we should give to them what they gave up -- a high school diploma. It’s a small, but important show of appreciation to all those who sacrificed their education to ensure our freedoms."

A school board would also be able to award a diploma posthumously to an eligible veteran.

Grucela is a former teacher and a member of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

Is this better than the surveyor bill?

Sam Murray For Judge Fundraiser Draws Huge Crowd

Easton attorney Sam Murray is one of the good guys. I've known him since he first started practicing law. With his inquisitive mind and work ethic, he's built a very successful practice. But unlike many other lawyers, Sam Murray is the same person now as he was when he was a struggling young lawyer. He always has time to listen, really listen, to people.

Wednesday night, there was a crowd of over 200 people at a fundraiser in Sam race for one of three judicial vacancies. All of my friends were there - both of them. Sam had invited me as his guest, knowing I have no money, but I decided to stay away. Because I take some pretty controversial positions, I was afraid I might do Sam more harm than good just by being there.

I should have gone. I could have talked about ancient Rome with Easton Mayor Sal Panto, who is an expert. I could have picked up a few jokes from future Palmer magistrate Tony Sortino, who really should be doing stand up comedy at the Improv. And I could have talked to Sam and his wife. He actually called me later that night. "Bernie, we had spring rolls." He was not just making an idle gesture.

Sam gave me a copy of his speech, which contains a stirring salute to his working class mom and dad, who helped this Easton kid through college and law school. Unfortunately, they are no longer with us.

Thank you Councilman Brown and Mayor Panto for your very kind words. Before I give my very brief remarks, I want to acknowledge a number of officials and candidates for other offices.

I want to thank my treasurer, John Genova, for all of his work and for being such a good friend over the years. I also want to thank someone who is not only one of the best lawyers I have ever met, but also one of the most generous and giving persons I know, my mentor, benefactor and chairperson, George Baurkot.

I began to generally think about running for Judge four years ago. But, it wasn’t until two years ago that I began this particular quest. At that time, many of my friends and colleagues didn’t even know that there might be upcoming retirements and openings. However, I still wanted to be prepared and began making plans.

I began to reflect on what I could bring to this position. In making this palm card, my secretary Tammy can tell you how I scrutinized each word, theme and content for the truth.

So when I tell you that I believe I have the experience for the job, it’s not just a campaign tactic, it’s the truth.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was a young lawyer working with local attorneys such as Charlie Spaziani. During the last 25 years, I’ve been no stranger to the courtroom. My years as a public defender and private attorney have given me significant experience in jury trials and other litigation, both in criminal and civil court.

Although courtroom experience is important, there are other necessary qualities for a Judge: integrity, fairness, compassion, temperament and respect for the lawyers and individuals before the Court. During my last 6 years as Child Custody Master and sitting on the bench as Juvenile Hearing Master, I have had the opportunity to test those qualities in myself. I truly believe I can exhibit these same qualities as Judge.

There is one other quality I want to talk about and that is work ethic. While many of my friends and colleagues already know this, I need to get an important message out to the electorate. Whether at work or as a volunteer on boards or coaching baseball, I don’t do anything halfway and would give this job 100%.

Let me close by acknowledging my family: my wife Margie, my daughters Emily and Maria and my son Joe who is at Penn State in the College of Engineering.

I want to thank my colleagues and friends who are here as well as those colleagues who have given me their generous support, but could not be here. I want to thank my friends from the greater Easton and Bethlehem areas and throughout Northampton County as well as my friends here from Lehigh County. I must also thank my families on both sides. Thank you to my Italian American and Lebanese American families and friends who have given me so much support. In particular thank you to everyone here from Our Lady of Lebanon and the Holy Cross Society - El Letto Santo.

Here I am embarking on a campaign for Judge. Some might say that is a milestone in a career, but no where near the milestone for two working class parents, my mom and dad, Sam and Mary Murray, in putting a kid from 9th and Ferry Streets through college and law school. My faith tells me that they are seeing your support and help today.

I know they are happy to see that I am surrounded by all of you. When I was young I used to complain about being an only child, not realizing how lucky I would be in the future to have so many good friends and family like you.

Who is Maimonides?

Do any of you know? I'm reading a book about this person. I'll answer this question next week, but am curious how many readers may already know. Anyone who uses Google is cheating and will be forced to buy Ron Angle's latest book, "Am I Great or What?"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

David Billings: Why Open Government Matters

Everything Forks, published by Dave Billings, has a great little essay on the importance of open government. "It is hard to imagine a greater trust between a local official and the public, than the promise of open and honest government. This trust is a bond that enables the public to maintain faith in its public institutions."

Allentown: We're Broke, So Let's Borrow Money!

Lou Hershman, the Allentown City Council candidate muzzled at their last meeting, has continued to assert his rights as a citizen. City officials were just forced, in response to a right to know request from Hershman, to reveal its very unhealthy cash balance sheet. He's shared it with me, and I'll be sharing it with you below.

The cash balance sheet reveals just $758,615 in the city's general fund. I reviewed this with a financial expert, who tells me that is "not very much cash at this time of the year. How are they going to make it through the year with that kind of money? This raises more questions than it answers. You've got to have more cash in there somewhere or they're in deep trouble." In the 2009 budget, nearly $35 million is set aside for payroll. My anonymous finance maven wonders whether the city will be able to make payroll with so little cash in hand.

In the face of these dire financial straights, Allentown's Budget and Finance Committee met last night tro rearrange the deck chairs on the sinking ship known as Allentown. Guess who chairs it? That's right, none other than Michael "Muzzles" Donovan. He has his own report right here, in which he incidentally gives himself a B- for his performance as a "councilor."

So what does Muzzles propose? Cuts? Furloughs? Reducing the salaries of city councilors? Nah. Let's just borrow our way out of this jam! That's right, the city is going to borrow money, but it's for "fire trucks, firefighter radios, critical information technology infrastructure improvements, street repairs, and the possibility of moving and expanding police patrol headquarters."

Everyone loves firetrucks.

Muzzles promises this is no scam. No siree. The city would never borrow money for capital projects and then use it for operating expenses. Except when it did. It floated a bond a few years ago to end Allentown's financial nightmare. It was very controversial. Many people were killed. But that was then.

As Muzzles explains, "I'll stress that the funds do not sit in the General Fund. They sit in the Capital Fund until appropriated for use by the Council."

This is a promise from a "Councilor" who refuses to follow his own Home Rule Charter, so I don't think it will be long before some or most of that borrowed money finds its way into the general fund. Call it a hunch. After all, Councilors must be paid.

Allentown Cash Balance Sheet

Available Cash:

General Fund: $1,809,636 less $1,051,021 from Trexler Fund = $758,615
2006 Loan Fund: $5,184.995
Capital Fund: $1,623,110
Water Fund: $1,212,399
Sewer Fund: $4,754,898
Debt Service: 0 -
Equipment Fund: $214.570
EIT Escrow: $12,107,533
Solid Waste: $1,076,785
Golf Fund: $297,043

Total available: $28,280,969 less $1,051,021 = $27,229.948

Excluded Cash

Risk Management: $5,211,039
Workers Comp Trust: $972,001
Escrow Lancaster 0 -
E-911: $929,871
Trexler Park ($1,051,021)
PA Motor Holding Accounts: $597,426
LST: $52,942
OPT: $1,045
SRE : $75,378
SRE Interim: $3,534
Per Capita: $39,148
Water/Sewer Collection: $399,912
Deed: $37,320
PHFA $8,863
Payroll Withholding: $637,930

Total Excluded Cash: $ 7,915,388 less$ 1,051.021 = $8,966,409

Total Cash $ 36,196.357

Above Includes receipts to 3/17/09 and expenditures to 3/23/09

NOTE: Temporary borrowing is for this schedule only. Funds were not transferred- To cover negative cash the Trexlar Fund borrowed from the General Fund
The total of the 4th quarter 2008 distribution for the City is $1,982,850.84.

Michael Donovan: I Am Not a Monster

Over the past few days, I've been highly critical of Allentown City "Councilor" Michael Donovan. Queen City Daily started this mess when it reported that Allentown citizen Lou Hershman was barred from speaking at all during a recent Allentown City Council meeting. You see, Lou is a city council candidate. President Mike D'Amore invoked a gag rule obviously designed to protect incumbents, effectively gagging Hershman.

Now this incumbent protection policy is completely contrary to Allentown's Home Rule Charter, which plainly provides that "Council must provide reasonable opportunity for interested citizens and taxpayers to address the Council on matters of general or special concern." It's also a blatant violation of The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which specifically states that residents and taxpayers must be given a reasonable opportunity "to comment on matters of concern, official action or deliberation which are or may be before the board or council prior to taking official action."

After the meeting was over, the city solicitor who advised D'Amore prior to the meeting admitted she may have blown the call, at least according to Council member Tony Phillips. It happens. Only Coiuncil member Michael Donovan has tried to defend the indefensible, even going so far as to ramble on about ethical subjectivism v. ethical relativism v. consequentialism v. deontological ethics. The one thing he failed to do was to read the damn law.

Because Donovan has always maintained he stands for "inclusion" and transparent government, I've been highly critical. Last night, he labels my arguments "idiotic" and petulantly complains that now he's getting "a coronation by the great Mr. O'Hare." He also insists there's apparently nothing wrong with ignoring the plain terms of both Home Rule Charter and Sunshine Act. Here's his defense, which speaks for itself.

"I stand by my opinion. I really do not care whether Mr. O'Hare has lost respect for me, and quite frankly, something seems fishy when the state legislature will force a law on municipalities and not on itself. Doesn't that seem strange? Certainly, not in the tradition of the New England town meeting, is it?

"From what I understand, it is not the first time laws are forced on municipalities and not on the legislature.

"Also, I have good, consistent reasons for saying candidates, all candidates, should not speak on anything except what specifically is on the agenda. Some people may not agree, but so be it. My reasoning is my own. I can say that because when I was told that I could not speak during my candidacy, I thought that was a reasonable rule and accepted it. I did not change because of 'political pressure.'

"And, this evening at the Budget and Finance Committee, we had an agenda item on strategy for the committee to consider. Mr. Hershman spoke (I am chair). I had no qualms about him speaking because it was an agenda item. I would have allowed any candidate to speak. Mr. Hershman offered a very good idea that Mr. D'Amore, Mr. Phillips, and myself thought should be pursued.

"AND, I did not allow him speak because Mr. O'Hare lost respect for me. It was an agenda item on which to speak.

"FINALLY, I really don't care if people think that somehow I am a monster in disguise. I know who I am, what I stand for, and how I reason out difficult issues.

"If people do not want to vote for me next time, that is their choice. I still will do the best possible job for as many people as possible, while still in office. I especially focus on what is best for the people of Allentown, not those beyond the borders of Allentown, unless they own property here.

"Best regards, and shoot away, folks, especially you, Bernie. I enjoy it."

In that case, Mr. Inclusion is going to be having lots of fun.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tony Phillips & Marc Grammes: Let Lou Speak!

On Monday, I called Allentown Solicitor Frances Fruwirth. I wanted to ask her how she could reconcile Allentown's incumbent protection gag rule with it's Home Rule Charter as well as Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act. I left a message and tried my best to sound very nice.

Allentown City Council member Michael Donovan, who ostentatiously refers to himself as a "City Councilor," apparently has a law degree, too. He publicly defends the city's gag rule, under which candidates are muzzled at council meetings, as a matter of efficiency. He makes all kinds of ridiculous arguments. Here's one of them. "I don't see PA legislators or Congress having citizens, let alone candidates, speaking before their sessions. Do they? I may be wrong, but I don't think so."

Hey Councilor, that's because the Sunshine Act and Home Rule Charter have no application to those legislative bodies. Geez!

Instead of promoting "inclusion," Donovan has argued for the outright exclusion of candidates who might waste 21 minutes of his precious time during public meetings. Is he that afraid of what they might say?

Another member of Allentown City Council, Tony Phillips, believes we should allow ALL candidates to speak. After last week's city council meeting, Tony approached Ms. Fruwirth. Phillips' argument, which is actually quite clever, is that Lou's speech would actually be consistent with the gag rule. You see, under the gag rule, a candidate is only barred from discussing "new issues." Phillips argues that Hershman would be discussing matters that previously had been on the table. According to Phillips, Solicitor Fruwirth then admitted she had screwed up.

Now she might deny this or claim that Tony misunderstood her and that he needs elocution lessons, but she never returned my call. Looks like she's applying that gag rule to herself.

Marc Grammes, a class act former Lehigh County Commissioner who is on the sidelines for now, makes a very eloquent argument in favor of public dialogue.

"It has been my experience that if a candidate has the willingness to appear before a group of elected officials and express his or her opinion, it shows that they have an interest in the the office they seek. It is, after all, a public meeting. As a candidate, I was given the courtesy to speak before the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. I also spoke before several local municipal bodies while a candidate, if only to introduce myself. While a member of the Board of Commissioners, candidates came before us and they were given the courtesy of the floor just the same as any other citizen. It shows interest in the office. And it shows interest in the people who come before the Board. Elected officials are public servants. Part of public service is listening to the views of your constituents, whether or not you agree with them. Excluding individuals from participation in their government weakens the democratic process."

Marc, I think we might have to start calling you Councilor.

Grucela: Surveyors Should Be Able to File Liens For Unpaid Bills

State Rep. Richard Grucela, D-Northampton, introduced a bill yesterday to protect land surveyors from getting stiffed. It allows them to file a mechanical lien on property when they provide services, just like a contractor.

"Property surveyors typically spend several hours or more taking initial measurements at a site, and larger jobs may require several or more days," Grucela said. "I believe they should be entitled to the same compensation protections afforded to other contractors under Pennsylvania law."

What about title searchers?

Mechanical liens ensure that a contractor gets paid for work performed on a specific construction project. If his bill is unpaid, he can file a lien against the property where the work was done. The lien remains on the property until the contractor who filed the lien is paid.

In 2007, the Mechanic's Lien Law was revised to allow second-level subcontractors and suppliers to file liens, in addition to general contractors and first-level subcontractors.

Grucela notes many other states also allow surveyors to file mechanical liens, and that his bill would update Pennsylvania's Mechanic's Lien Law to reflect current national standards.

What about title searchers?

LV Veterans History Round Table This Thursday

Vonnegut, my dad and WWII.

That's the name I've given to some vivid letters penned by author Kurt Vonnegut, as well as a compelling diary my father briefly kept. My dad and Vonnegut, Army buddies, endured captivity together after being captured during the Bulge. They survived the Allied firebombing of Dresden, Easter Europe's most beautiful city. Their writing was done shortly after being liberated by the Russians. In a series of posts, I did next to no writing. I consider it my best work, perhaps for that reason.

Monday night, I met a man who is trying to keep those memories alive. His name is Paul Fiske. I was about 15 minutes late for our meeting, and had to drop and give him 20. We talked, and before I knew it, nearly two hours had gone by. Paul is a fascinating man with a wonderful memory of Allentown and the Lehigh Valley. I hope I'll be telling you his story soon. But for now, he's promoting a group that is collecting oral histories from veterans of all conflicts.

What: Lehigh Valley Veterans History Project Round Table.

When: Thursday night, 7 PM.

Where: Lehigh County Senior Center, 1633 Elm Street, Allentown, Pa.

Who: Colonel Harry Yoder, who flew 38 combat missions during WWII. I don't have time to list his numerous commendations.

After Yoder's speech, there will be refreshments. Will they be C-Rats or MREs? I'll let you know because I'm going.

Senator Specter Opposes Employee Free Choice ... For Now

The proposed Employee Free Choice Act has been criticized because it supposedly eliminates the secret ballot. When Congressman Charlie Dent first voted against this legislation in 2007, he said it "should be called the ‘Secret Ballot Elimination Act.’ Would we stand for this kind of system to elect members of Congress, the state legislature, or city council? Secret-ballot voting is a cornerstone of our democratic system, and the American people should not be denied this right in any aspect of their lives."

AFL-CIO blogger Chicago Carless disagrees, and I tended to side with him. "In reality, the Employee Free Choice Act puts the choice about how to authorize a union squarely in the hands of workers, where it belongs, and protects workers from the current, nonstop onslaught of illegal intimidation by anti-union companies."

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), under fire for his recent pro-stimulus vote, has finally decided to oppose the bill in its current form, at least for now. "The better way to expand labor’s clout in collective bargaining is through amendments to the NLRA rather than on eliminating the secret ballot and mandatory arbitration."

Specter concedes there are serious problems within the NLRB. "When Republicans controlled the Board, the decisions were for business. With Democrats in control, the decisions were for labor. Some cases took as long as eleven years to decide. The remedies were ineffective."

He has proposed changes to the NLRA. For example, it would be an unfair labor practice for a union to visit an employee at his home to pressure him in a representation campaign. It would also be an unfair labor practice for a company to hold employees in a "captive audience" speech unless the union is given equal time. If proposed changes to the NLRA turn out to be ineffective, Snarlin' Arlen is willing to support employee free choice when the economy rebounds. You can read his entire floor statement here.

I like his approach. He's willing to aim at the evils complained of by both union and management without elimination a secret ballot. His idea is worth a try, but I don't know if it stands a chance.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama News Conference: Opening Remarks

The White House press office has been kind enough to provide advance excerpts of President Barack Obama's opening remarks before tonight's news conference.

"[W]e’ve put in place a comprehensive strategy designed to attack this crisis on all fronts. It’s a strategy to create jobs, to help responsible homeowners, to re-start lending, and to grow our economy over the long-term. And we are beginning to see signs of progress.

"The budget I submitted to Congress will build our economic recovery on a stronger foundation, so that we do not face another crisis like this ten or twenty years from now. We invest in the renewable sources of energy that will lead to new jobs, new businesses, and less dependence on foreign oil. We invest in our schools and our teachers so that our children have the skills they need to compete with any workers in the world. We invest in reform that will bring down the cost of health care for families, businesses, and our government. And in this budget, we have made the tough choices necessary to cut our deficit in half by the end of my first term – even under the most pessimistic estimates.

"At the end of the day, the best way to bring our deficit down in the long run is not with a budget that continues the very same policies that have led to a narrow prosperity and massive debt. It’s with a budget that leads to broad economic growth by moving from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest.

"That’s what clean energy jobs and businesses will do. That’s what a highly-skilled workforce will do. That’s what an efficient health care system that controls costs and entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid will do. That’s why this budget is inseparable from this recovery – because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity.

"We will recover from this recession. But it will take time, it will take patience, and it will take an understanding that when we all work together; when each of us looks beyond our own short-term interests to the wider set of obligations we have to each other – that’s when we succeed. That’s when we prosper. And that’s what is needed right now. So let us look toward the future with a renewed sense of common purpose, a renewed determination, and most importantly, a renewed confidence that a better day will come."

APD: Beware of Suspicious Contractors

My thanks to Kim Beitler for sharing this recent Allentown Police Department advisory:

Over the last several weeks, the Allentown Police Department has been advised of several residential burglaries that have taken place where no force was used to enter the residence. A common theme has developed.

A door to door contractor arrives at a residence asking to inspect a chimney, water pipes, driveway or other location in or around the house.

The contractor offers a very reasonable price to provide an estimate and/or work. While the contractor is in the house, either the contractor or an accomplice distracts the homeowner, and opens a window or door that may be normally kept locked.

At a later time, it is believed either the contractor or the accomplice returns and removes items from the home.

The contractors may be operating vans and/or pick up trucks that have New York, New Jersey or Maryland License plates.

The Allentown Police Department is recommending that you do not allow anyone that you do not know, or whom you did not call; to enter your home for any type of inspection.

If anyone has any information about this type of activity, they are asked to call the Allentown Police Department Crime Tip Line at 610-439-5911, or the Criminal Investigations Division at 610-437-7721.
Update: QCD also has a report.

Allentown's Incumbent Protection Rule

Allentown's incumbent protection rule, also known as Rule 7F of the City Council Rules, is as follows:

"Candidate Participation: Persons running for office in a primary or general election will not be allowed to speak to "new issues" under Good and Welfare or Courtesy of the Floor. This prohibition will apply as soon as the candidate's nominating petition is filed and until after the General Election in that same year (unless a candidate is unsuccessful In the primary). The Presiding Officer will enforce this rule.

"1. Good and Welfare prohibition applies to members of City Council seeking election.

"2. Courtesy of the Floor prohibition applies to those, not on Council, seeking election. (26179 12/6/89)"

Sometimes, questions about the right of public participation can get a little murky. This is not one of those times. As mentioned yesterday, this incumbent protection rule is clearly inconsistent with both Allentown's Home Rule Charter as well as Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act.

This is where Carrie, aka Volvo Driving Soccer Mom, aka Pissed Off Naked Blogger, enters the fray. She's previously suggested that mayoral candidate Tony Phillips, an African American, should "have someone school him on elocution." Does Tony have a lisp? No. Stutter? No. But he does sound a little ... um ... black. Carrie denies her advice has anything to do with that.

At Queen City Daily, Carrie continues her line of personal attacks, but this time they're directed at me. First, no one should listen to a word I say because "[y]ou were disbarred. For you to give legal opinions on anything is a joke." Second, I'm doing this to get at Mayor Edwin because he "hurt your feelings."

It's certainly true I lost my ticket way back in 1985, but not for stupidity. To be perfectly honest, only a moron could conclude that the incumbent protection rule has any validity. It would never survive a challenge based either on the Home Rule Charter or Sunshine Act.

As far as bashing Hizzoner is concerned, King Edwin may even agree with me. Lord knows, he gets along with no one on City Council. My argument actually benefits all candidates for city office, from Lou Hershman to Mike Schlossberg to King Edwin himself. For all I know, he's designing a three minute power point presentation right now.

How does City Solicitor Frances Fruwirth feel about all this? She supposedly gave Prez D'Amore the green light, but was undoubtedly unaware at the time how this rule contradicts the plain language of both Home Rule Charter and state Sunshine Act. I tried speaking to her late yesterday but was told she is "unavailable." She may remain that way. If she is able to speak with me, I'll tell you what she has to say.

Judge Jack Panella Provides Update on Race For Supreme Court

Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, formerly a much-admired Northampton County common pleas judge, is running for the supreme court seat once held by retired Chief Justice Ralph A. Cappy. Every since launching his campaign an an inspirational speech at Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant, Jack has had no rest. That's the way he likes it. He's one of the most energetic people I've ever seen.

Judge Panella was kind enough to include me in an email yesterday, and I'll share it with you.

"The last few weeks on the campaign trail have been a whirlwind and I wanted to take a moment to update you on our progress and to thank you for the support I have already received.

"My campaign has been going great so far. I won the endorsement of the Democratic Party and have picked up support from across the commonwealth, including just about every Democratic and labor organization that has reviewed the qualifications of candidates. You can visit my website to see a full list of the groups supporting me: votejackpanella.com.

"I was also given the Bar Association’s highest rating. They said I posses “a rare combination of intellect, energy and skills that qualify him as highly recommended to ascend to the Supreme Court.” I am deeply honored.

"We worked hard on petitions, and filed an enormous amount - I am very grateful to all of you that helped. I am always a bit superstitious and I don’t want to jinx myself, but given that I am the only Democrat that has filed for Supreme Court, I am pretty hopeful t hat I will be the nominee!

"Thank you for your kind support and encouragement. I will keep you informed on the progress of my campaign from time to time."

Lehigh County's New 911 Center Up & Running

You probably haven't noticed, but that's a good thing. Lehigh County’s new, $9.3 million, 9-1-1 emergency management center is now up and running at its new location in the Hamilton Financial Center at 638-642 Hamilton Street. The former dispatch and emergency management facility had occupied inadequate space in the Lehigh County Courthouse. The state-of-the-art center, which now occupies three floors in the Hamilton Financial Center, successfully went online earlier this month. The media will be taken on a "behind the scenes" tour today.

Technologically advanced centers like Lehigh's can do reverse 9-1-1, in which case certain areas can be notified in the event of an emergency. It's not flashy, but it saves lives. That's why both Don Cunningham and John Stoffa will both tell you that county government is the best kept secret in the Lehigh Valley.

But I'm unsure how 9-1-1 dispatchers should react when a woman calls, three times, to complain that her local MacDonald's has run out of Chicken McNuggets. "This is an emergency, if I would have known they didn't have McNuggets, I wouldn't have given my money, and now she wants to give me a McDouble, but I don't want one, this is an emergency!"

Monday, March 23, 2009

Allentown City Council Muzzles Citizen Participation

"All we want from you is silence, and damn little of that!"

That seems to be Allentown City Council's mantra. Increasingly, it is shutting people down. Just a few weeks ago, Council Prez Mike D'Amore stopped a former golf course restaurant operator from criticizing the city's decision to replace him with a Mayor Pawlowski crony. But that's minor in comparison to what happened last week. According to Queen City Daily, Allentown citizen Lou Hershman was barred from speaking at all.

In silencing Hershman, City Council violated Allentown's Home Rule Charter as well as The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act. It deprived itself of the opportunity to learn from someone who has long served Allentown, as both Council member (8 years) and Controller (24 years). Worst of all, its muzzle undermines public confidence in the democratic process and sends a chilling message to anyone interested in getting involved. It's an insider's club.

Before last week's meeting ever started, D'Amore anticipated that Hershman might want to speak. So he and the city attorney huddled together until they found something they could use to silence him - an arcane rule passed by some city council sometime that ostensibly prevents candidates from addressing city council during courtesy of the floor. But the rule itself is a nullity.

Let's start with Allentown's Home Rule Charter, obviously drafted to bring government closer to the people. One of its twelve articles is devoted exclusively to "citizens' rights and participation." The rights granted are so broad that any collection of thirty-five citizens can actually place a matter on city council's agenda. Registered voters can even force a special meeting. The City's Constitution also specifically provides for a citizen's right to be heard in very clear language.

"The Council must provide reasonable opportunity for interested citizens and taxpayers to address the Council on matters of general or special concern. Citizens’ right to be heard shall be the first order of business at all public meetings and before a vote on any Council business. The public shall be granted the opportunity to comment at Council meetings without time limitations, except when the Council President, imposes a reasonable time limitation deemed necessary. Council members, by a vote of a majority plus one (1), may override the Council president’s time limitation."

Nothing in that sweeping language permits a city council to muzzle a person simply because he is a candidate for office. Clearly, their reason for creating this ban, out of thin air, is to protect themselves. It's nothing more than an incumbent protection rule. D'Amore, himself a candidate for reelection, is obviously scared to death that Hershman just might say something that resonates with the voters a little better than his own message. If this blog is any indication, people are disgusted by the Pawlowski'D'Amore super-secret committee of campaign contributors studying Allentown's fiscal woes.

Regardless of any incumbent's concern, City Council simply has no authority to silence someone. It has no power to adopt rules that restrict unilaterally the very inclusive language of the Home Rule Charter.

In addition to completely ignoring its own Home Rule Charter, Allentown City Council has also thumbed its nose at The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act. That law, which trumps everything, specifically provides that residents and taxpayers must be given a reasonable opportunity "to comment on matters of concern, official action or deliberation which are or may be before the board or council prior to taking official action." Nothing in the Act allows a Council to muzzle someone simply because he is running for office.

Despite the clear language in both Home Rule Charter and Sunshine Act, City Council member Michael Donovan lamely tries to justify the muzzle, and ironically does so in a post that demands a return of the "fairness doctrine." There's nothing fair about muzzling candidates. But Donovan argues that if all seven council candidates came and actually spoke at city council meetings, they'd consume twenty-one minutes.

Horrors! That's about as long as it takes me to put on my pants.

This twenty-one minute time period is called democracy. Even candidates have the right to speak. Under Donovan's Orwellian logic, commentary should eventually be limited to only those people who absolutely have no interest in government.

In addition to being anti-Democratic, Donovan's concerns are actually refuted by what I've seen in local government. As a student of Northampton County government, I've watched candidates at many election cycles. A few do use courtesy of the floor to promote their message. Most do not. Candidates have never made government unmanageable. But they've made some incumbents uncomfortable, and that's the real reason for this muzzle.

Hershman tells me he'll be back at the next city council meeting, demanding the right to be heard. I'll tag along. You see, the Sunshine Act allows "any person" to object publicly to any perceived violation. Even boonies from Northampton County.

Amazingly, this muzzle has actually been cheered by one Hershman hater, who chuckles that Lou should start a "toast" party. Isn't that nice? Home Rule Charter and Sunshine Act violations are OK because they get Lou, I guess. But when we chop down every tree in the forest to get at the devil, where do we hide when the devil turns on us?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Peter Koehler To Refuse ALL Campaign Contributions in Easton City Council Race

Peter Koehler, manager of Koehler Kheel Realty, is running against Reno Pesaresi for the Democratic nomination to Easton City Council, District 1. That district includes College Hill, the downtown, and a sliver of the west ward. The Den winner will face incumbent Republican Roger Ruggles, who is running unopposed in his primary.

Koehler, like John Stoffa, is yet another candidate who refuses to participate in the "pay to play" fundraising so prevalent in local politics. Here's a statement he made during a Thursday news conference.

"Thank you for coming. There are two reasons I’m holding this press conference today. The first, to discuss my own campaign finances for the upcoming election.

"We need a different kind of candidate running for city council. We all know how campaign contributions can sway an election. And too often campaign contributions during the election process become more important than the core issues facing our community. And that is simply not right, and it is not fair to our taxpayers. We need an electoral culture change.

"And I want the voters of the District 1 seat to know that I am the one candidate that will truly make this a reality. That is why I will not be accepting any campaign contributions during this election cycle. And if elected to City Council, I will not be indebted to anyone.

"I will be self-financing my campaign. But I will also tell you that the sky is not the limit. I am placing a cap of $10,000 on my campaign, and will not spend one penny more. This self-imposed cap is for the ENTIRE election cycle—primary and general included.

"It’s unfortunate that candidates need to spend money to propel them into public office, but I will tell you this – money isn’t everything. At least not to my campaign. Going door-to-door, meeting voters and talking with them on their front porches is what matters. And that’s what I’ll be doing in the months to come.

"Serving this community I have known and cherished for decades is my goal.

"And that leads me to my next reason for hold this press conference today.

"I will not be accepting any salary or benefits if elected to council. Once I receive a paycheck, I will be donating it to a local non-profit or charity.

"Integrity, honesty and trust are the cornerstones of my campaign. I will never be indebted to anyone when elected to council, and voters should know that I am not running for the pay.

I’m running to make a difference."