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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Constables Cost Counties Money

Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham has proposed that deputy sheriffs assume the role of constables in collecting unpaid parking tickets in Allentown. President Judge Bill Platt, no friend of Cunningham, can see the savings. ''This is not anti-constable. This is pro-taxpayer.''

Naturally, blogger Michael Molovinsky scoffs at the very notion, deriding Cunningham as "a little Eddie Rendell in training pant" and as "Don Bureaucrat Cunningham." Lehigh County Exec candidate Scott Ott also questions the idea, minus the vitriol. "[I]t seems like common sense to use contractors who charge only for results, rather than to bring that task in house and assume the ongoing care and feeding, nursing and retirement of full-time government employees."

Here are the facts. Constables cost counties money. When indigent Defendants are unable to pay the costs associated with serving a warrant, the county foots the bill. In 2007, for example, Northampton County taxpayers shelled out nearly a million dollars in constable fees that they will never get back. This is in addition to fees that constables collect from defendants who have the means to pay. Cunningham's proposal will spare taxpayers that expense while simultaneously making them the beneficiaries of fees that defendants can afford. It is innovative fiscal management, demonstrating precisely why he belongs at the helm.

In addition to these financial reasons, there's another concern. Constables, who are independent contractors with no oversight, sometimes lack the training demanded by the job. This point was driven home by a reader who had a bad experience on Monday night.

"I rent a townhouse at [redacted] in Bethlehem, PA. Last night while making dinner we received a knock at the door. My roommate and I secured the dogs by putting them downstairs and he answered the door, I hung back but was interested to see who it was. The gentleman at the door was a large black man with a shaved head wearing a large, visible pistol on the front of his belt. Apparently this man was a constable, we didn’t know because he failed to identify himself. He was looking for our landlord, who someone had filed a civil complaint against because he hadn’t paid a bill. The constable asked for our landlord by name, was told he didn’t live there and he sneered in disbelief. He then demanded to know who we were, sneering again in disbelief when we told him. He continued to stand in our doorway, never telling us who he was or why he was there until he produced a paper and said 'you better make sure he gets this.'

"This man clearly had the intent of trying to intimidate us. He never identified himself or had anything on him that would have led us to assume he was a lawman of any kind. He was confrontational and menacing all in the name of serving a warrant for an unpaid bill for someone that doesn’t live there.

"I don’t think this is the kind of thing a person should have to endure. When someone shows up at your front door wearing a weapon and trying to intimidate you he should immediately identify himself.

"Anyway, I wanted to file a complaint against this guy but everyone I call seems to have the perfect excuse for not doing anything about it because I couldn’t give them his name. I don’t know it and it was no where on the paperwork he gave us to pass on to our landlord. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction and maybe even give me this man’s name. "

"I greatly appreciate any help you can give, no one deserves to be treated like that in their own home."

I was able to get the name of this constable, but there's still a problem. My reader tells me this constable is black, but this person is white. When I sort things out, I'll let you know.

Hershman to Donovan: Allentown Needs Watchdogs, Not Lapdogs

Allentown city council candidate Lou Hershman is unwilling to sit on his hands and do nothing in response to The Morning Call's disturbing report about firefighters' sick-time abuse, which has inflated overtime and pensions. He refuses to shrug his shoulders and say, "We have no power," as most city council members do when confronted with the Pawlowski regime's abuse of the week.

Yesterday, Hershman noted the need to start an investigation now. "We definitely should not wait until budget time, as Council VP Michael Donovan mentions on his blog." Since Lou does have 32 years of experience providing oversight to the Queen City, I would listen to him. But not Donovan.

In a blog post entitled Comments on another blog, Donovan takes these jabs: "[H]e does not understand how the policy system actually works." ... " City Council and the Controller have no control over those contracts. They are negotiated and managed by the administration. We are not at all a part of that process." ... "Mr. Hershman asks many questions and claims that he has all the answers. Wrong. For all the times he has spoken, I have rarely, if ever, found that his issues have substance. He has this grand idea that if he yells enough, something will happen. No, we are constrained immensely by the Charter." ... "My observation of prior councils where Mr. Hershman sat was that committee effort was a rubber-stamp, quick and dirty affair."

Looks like Lou can forget about getting a Christmas card from Donovan this year. Donovan apparently believes city council should only provide oversight at budget time. Here's how Lou reacts. "I don't have all the answers, but know enough to look for them. That's why we're there. There's no point even being there if they're unwilling to provide oversight. When a newspaper reveals overtime abuse like what we see from the firefighters, I have to question where they've been. We sign on to be watchdogs, not lapdogs. The Morning Call is not a member of city council, but seems to know more about what is going on than our elected officials. Don't the people deserve better representation than that? "

Hershman also points to the city's home rule charter provision that expressly gives council the power to conduct investigations and even subpoena witnesses. "Why is that there if we only provide oversight during budgets?"

Hershman finally questions just how effective council members can be when an administration finances their campaigns. "I think Donovan took $100 from the mayor. It should not be a nickel, no matter who is in office."

On his own blog, Donovan admits he's still learning. That's why Hershman's experience should be viewed as an asset instead of as a hindrance.

Obama's New Government Guardian Angel Program

Scott Armstrong is one busy Allentown activist. In addition to his job and family responsibilities, he publishes The Allentown Commentator and blogs at the recently launched Lehigh Valley Conservative Voice. His services are always in high demand, mostly because he is one of very few Lehigh Valley conservatives who actually knows how to read and write. His well-chosen words, often dripping with sarcasm, have ignited more than a few fires on this blog.

Many of you consider him a rabid partisan, but I'll let you in on a little secret. His beautiful wife, like beautiful me, voted for beautiful Obama. She'd rather listen to "All Things Considered" than Rush Limbaugh. She even made Scott move his Glenn Beck statue to their back yard. Worst of all, she's French.

Scott's latest essay is an examination of Obama's new Government Guardian Angel Program. I told him last night that after I post this, I'm moving into the bunker.

The administration plans to move forward shortly with a bold new plan that will deal simultaneously with both the unemployment problem and the so called “Tea party” protesters. Anonymous White House insiders say the proposal will provide funding to employ Democrat activists who will provide mentoring and guidance to Americans who have demonstrated a misunderstanding of the president’s message of Hope and Change. These misguided people have been identified through various channels including surveillance photos and informants and clearly need to have their values and energies redirected. It will be the duty of their new “Government Guardian Angel” to see that they understand clearly and quickly that service, faith and obedience to the government are essential to their future well being. According to reports these “angels” will be granted sweeping powers and discretionary authority over their charges.

Based on the 2008 election results government economists believe this program could supply jobs for as many as fifty million people in time but warn the program could take months or even years to get fully operational. In addition, some of those targeted for “government angels” will come into compliance with acceptable thoughts and practices more quickly than others. This will add a variable to potential employment possibilities. Still the administration sees this program as a win-win for the nation. With one single effort we can end unemployment, dissent and discord. Hope will triumph when the nations sings in a single unified voice, it will be a happy day for America.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

LC Exec Race: Ott Takes a Shot at Cunningham

Lehigh County Exec candidate Scott Ott took a few shots at incumbent Don Cunningham yesterday, with a robocall claiming that spendthrift Cunningham has depleted the cash reserve. Only he can prevent a certain tax increase next year. But is he right?

Below is the text of Ott's message. If you'd prefer Scott's truly melodious radio voice, you should be able to listen to an audio of his robocall here. I've concluded that Scott is mostly mistaken. As a matter of full disclosure, you should know that I support Cunningham.

Your Lehigh County taxes will jump in 2011 but you have the power to stop the looming property tax hike. Go to votescott.org right now. Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham spent all of the county’s reserve funds and his new budget is nearly 20 million out of balance. Our property taxes will jump if you do nothing. Go to votescott.org. That’s votescott.org. My name is Scott Ott, candidate for Lehigh County executive. I wrote this message and my campaign paid for it. Thanks for listening.

1. Has Cunningham spent all of the county's reserve funds? No. If he did, he'd be in jail. A reserve fund, as explained by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, refers to monies that are legally restricted for a particular purpose, such as state grants that must be used for specified human services.

2. Has Cunningham spent all of the county's unreserved funds? No. Cunningham's predecessor, Jane Ervin, imposed a 70% tax hike that turned out to be totally out of whack with Lehigh County's needs. She established two accounts for this excess money - a $28 million tax relief fund and a $20 million tax stabilization fund. The tax relief fund was established specifically to avoid tax increases when spending exceeds revenue. Cunningham actually contributed to that balance when times were good. Now he is exhausting that fund when times are bad, exactly as contemplated when the tax relief fund was first established.

The $20 million tax stabilization fund, or rainy day account, remains untouched.

3. Is the new budget nearly $20 million out of balance? Yes. The 2010 budget shows estimated tax revenue of about $91 million, but spending is at $110 million. That's why the Tax Relief Fund was exhausted.

4. Will there be a tax hike next year? Although Ott is no fortune teller, that seems like a safe bet. It is highly unlikely that revenues will match spending, even with draconian cuts. Cunningham has already reduced personnel to its lowest level since 1990, at about 2200 employees. Before he became County Exec, Lehigh County was actually on track to have over 2500 employees this year.

5. Can Scott Ott prevent a tax hike? No. I called Scott about his robocall this evening. He told me his three-point plan, spelled out on his web page, consists of (1) zero-based budgeting, (2) accountable leaders and (3) independence from state funding.

So far as I know, both Lehigh and Northampton Counties start each year's budget from the ground up. Some departments may get less while others get more. It also appears that Cunningham's staff, which has kept employment at its lowest level since 1990, is already accountable. Finally, I understand Ott's personal disdain for state funding. I get it. But it's really dangerous when it comes to county government.

Ott correctly notes that "Lehigh County's dependency on state funding [has grown] by about $35 million to a total of more than $305 million." But what he seems to miss is that this funding is for mandatory human services. If Lehigh County turns its nose up and sends the money back, it still has to supply the services. That would mean a Scott Ott tax increase in the vicinity of 400%.

Scott Ott? Not.
Update: As a point of clarification, I should note that Cunningham considers the $28 million tax stabilization fund a true rainy day fund. It is off the table for purposes of balancing a budget, including next year's budget.

Hershman: Overtime Abuse Nothing New in Allentown

Outspoken Allentown City Council candidate Lou Hershman is one of few people unsurprised by The Morning Call's recent shocking revelation that firefighters' sick-time abuse has depleted Allentown's budgeted overtime while increasing the pensions of 11 recent retirees. He's seen it before.

As a member of Allentown City Council during the Afflerbach reign, Lou spearheaded an investigation into astronomical police pensions, learning they were caused by excessive overtime. Nobody in the Finance Department could even confirm that the hours claimed were actually worked. There was no independent audit. What did exist were various double entries of four and five hours by the same officer for a single day. Forty-three police pensions were under close scrutiny until now Mayor Edwin Pawlowski begged Council to drop its review. "We'll never know how much that cost the city," notes Hershman.

Allentown City Council member Michael Donovan has already stated "we have little power over this issue until we address the 2010 budget in November." Wrong answer, says Hershman. "If there are no checks and balances by the Controller or Mayor Pawlowski, this could easily happen in other departments. This is why City Council needs to get involved now, to find out what this administration is doing to control overtime. We definitely should not wait until budget time, as Council VP Michael Donovan mentions on his blog."

Sometimes, the voice of experience should be heeded. Hershman pointed to a 2006 email from a city administrator conceding that a council review of overtime "could be useful in determining the need for external auditors."

Is Northampton County Sheriff's Department Bloated?

Just how big is Northampton County Sheriff's Department?

Sheriff - 1

Chief Deputy Sheriff - 1

Executive Secretary - 1

Administrative Specialist - 1

Clerical Specialist -1

Clerical Technician - 1

Criminal Supervisor (Lt) - 1

Admin Supervisor (Lt) -1

Security Supervisor (Lt) - 1

Deputy Sheriff - Sergeant - 6

Deputy Sheriffs - 42

Part Time Deputy Sheriffs - 12

Part Time Court Security Officers - 2

Part Time Security Screening Officers - 5

That's 76 people. Northampton County poured $5.2 million into that department this year, which translates to $72 thousand per person. Of course, some of that money is spent on bullets and gas masks.

Will the Senate Ever Recognize WWII Merchant Mariners?

We've just finished "Cash for Clunkers," designed to aid our impoverished car salesmen. Before that, the Wall Street bailout saved countless stock traders and bankers from jumping off skyscrapers. But our Senate is unable top scrape two nickels together for the few remaining Merchant Mariners who served during WWII.

Last month, LV Congressman Charlie Dent presented fifty WWII Merchant Mariners with long-overdue honors for their service. In the meantime, the Senate drags their feet on legislation that would provide some compensation and finally recognize these sailors, who were never even classified as veterans until 1988. Both Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Casey have, to their credit, agreed to co-sponsor this legislation. Here's how Lisa Wilken, a veterans' rights advocate with Operation Firing For Effect, explains it.

"I am a Veteran and volunteer working to help WWII Merchant Mariners on Senate Bill 663. Here is a little information about this bill.

"This bill has been around for 10 years now and has passed the House 3 times, but the Senate never lets it come to the floor for a vote.

"This bill will give our WWII Merchant Mariners the recognition they deserve for their service during WWII and offer them a 1000.00 a month payment from the Department of Veterans Affairs for five years. This payment is not transferable to a surviving spouse. The benefit dies with the Veteran.

"This bill came about because Mariners were not considered Veterans at the end of WWII and were not eligible for benefits. These Mariners were not able to take advantage of the GI Bill, VA Home loans, unemployment assistance, post war job preference, and medical care for their disabilities. In 1988 these Merchant Mariners were finally granted their Veteran status but it was too late for these 'new' Veterans to take advantage of many of the benefits that they earned.
"Most people don't realize that the Merchant Marines had the highest casualty rate of all the services in WWII. The Mariners were under attack before the U.S. entered the war and over 50 ships were sunk after V-E and V-J days. Most people think that these men were compensated at a higher rate than their Navy counterparts, but that is not true. This bill will not elevate these Veterans to any higher status than any other Veteran group. This bill is capped at 485 million for the 5 years. That number is based on the CBO's estimate that there are about 15,000 Mariners still living. The US Merchant Marine Organization puts that number between 9-10,000, not the 15,000 that the CBO used. Also, that number is if every Mariner alive when the bill is signed lives for the next 5 years. We are losing them at an alarming rate as their average age is around 84. The WWII Merchant Marines were the ONLY integrated service of WWII.

"Veteran’s benefits were promised to these men, but Congress never acted. As he signed the GI Bill in June 1944, President Roosevelt said, 'I trust Congress will soon provide similar opportunities to the members of the Merchant Marine who have risked their lives time and time again during war for the welfare of their country.'

"This bill can be paid for by using the money that the VA already pays out via disability compensation and pensions to other WWII Veterans who pass away. These Mariners will replace them in their pay slots. The disability compensation and pensions that are currently being paid is much more than the 1000.00 a month being offered to the Mariners; therefore, this will have no impact on the VA's budget.

"In 2007, this bill had 61 cosponsors in the Senate, but died in committee because leadership on the committee from both sides of the aisle failed to support it. I don't know why that is, especially when you look at the WWII Filipino Veteran Equity Act that passed last year as part of the stimulus package. Why is it that Congress affords these Filipino Veterans more consideration than our American WWII Merchant Mariners?"

Cunningham Will Award Community Policing Grants This Thursday

"How can it be wrong to have ten additional policemen?"

That's the question Lehigh County Commissioner Gloria Hamm asked when Exec. Don Cunningham first proposed handing out $1 million, over three years, to fund community policing in Lehigh County. That was back in April of 2008.

All five Republican Commissioners, worried that Lehigh County was going beyond its core functions, had reservations. But Commissioner Dean Browning decided to support the project when he and Cunningham worked together to find a way to fund this grant without spending real estate tax revenue.

Lehigh County taxpayers currently spend $1.1 million per week to prosecute and incarcerate criminals. If that cost can be reduced by funding a few cops on bicycles, it is money very well spent.

Cunningham will hand out more than $300,000 in checks to six municipalities that qualified for a Safe Streets Grant to hire police officers during an 11:30 a.m. presentation on Thursday, Oct. 1 at the West Bethlehem Police Substation at 434 W. Broad St., Bethlehem. He'll also be introducing some of the new community police officers who will be serving in Allentown, Bethlehem , Catasauqua, Fountain Hill, Macungie and Salisbury.

Allentown will receive funding for four police officers, Bethlehem two and the boroughs of Catasauqua, Fountain Hill and Macungie, along with Salisbury Township, get one.

Cunningham, who initiated community policing as Bethlehem's Mayor, hopes that the visible presence of police officers will draw people back to downtown areas and reinvigorate the urban core. “It’s a win-win situation. Municipalities save money on police and the county becomes a more desirable place to live.”

This is the first year of a three-year county grant program, awarded to communities who put forth the best community policing programs.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Will New Sheriff Rein In Renegade Northampton County Deputies?

There are at least thirty-six detailed applications for the Northampton County Sheriff's slot being vacated by Jeff Hawbecker. Whoever gets this job will have his or her hands full. Sheriff Hawbecker has done a fine job - establishing efficient systems for concealed permit applications, transporting prisoners and PFA. But there will still be a major problem re-establishing control over some renegade deputies who think we work for them. Last Thursday, I briefly mentioned some of my past criticism of the Northampton County Sheriff's Department. It's time to open up.

They react poorly when anyone looks at them too closely. So as critical as I can get, even I hesitate when it comes to deputies. Let me give you some examples of this vindictiveness.

Last February
, I published a complaint from Exec John Stoffa about deputies who were propping open side doors and disabling alarms. They would leave and enter the government center through these side doors because it was convenient. They could grab a slice of pizza across the street. Depending on where they parked, they could get to their cars more quickly. But then members of the public started entering the courthouse through these side doors, too. Stoffa decided it was time to act, and complained to the judges. Amazingly, deputies entrusted with the lives of judges would risk that for a slice of pizza. When Stoffa's criticism was published here, deputies were furious. They did batten down the hatches. But as punishment for what really was their own haphazard approach to security, they decided to force everyone entering the building to undergo third degree searches. Searchers were specifically told they could thank me.

In years past, I've been pulled over by them, too. One deputy who worked part-time as a Palmer Township cop ticketed me for a burnt out tail light instead of providing the written warning he would give to anyone else. I fought that in court ... and lost.

When I arrive at the courthouse today, who knows what wonders will be in store? But it's time to tell you about these prima donnas.

For one thing, there's far too many of them. $5.2 million in county tax dollars was poured into that bloated department this year, well in excess the $3.6 million paid to operate the District Attorney's office. It has become a retirement home for state troopers and Allentown cops looking for a second public pension.

They milk taxpayers at every opportunity. Want some examples? Unfortunately, I have a few.

They love to don SWAT team uniforms, but one of their few real jobs is to transport prisoners. When they drive fifty or sixty miles, they can get lunch free on the county. So what these guys were doing is running up to Monroe or Carbon, making sure they have fifty miles, and then sticking the County for their lunch at some restaurant in Easton. Stoffa stopped that.

They hate Stoffa. When he became county executive, he also stopped the practice of allowing most deputies to drive county cruisers home every night. At one point, he even had to count cruisers in the lot every night to make sure they were listening to him. Deputies shrieked this would lead to all kinds of increased criminal activity and hamper their ability to respond quickly to emergencies. Time has taught us that these concerns, like their budget, is overblown.

They've tried to play County Council off on the Executive. On several occasions, they've marched en masse before the county's legislature to whine about Stoffa's refusal to pay them time and a half or whatever for providing security at Easton football games, something Stoffa had no idea they were even doing. Instead of getting their time and a half, they may have blown their gig. Stoffa may have stopped all this moonlighting.

Council member Ron Angle, who bluntly told this crew that the legislative branch has nothing to do with administrative matters, was rewarded with a letter from the deputies' union, telling him they don't consider the Northampton County Bulldog "law enforcement friendly."

I'm sure you've all seen and grumbled about cops who park cruisers in fire lanes while they rush into some restaurant for their caffeine fix. Imagine what it's like at the courthouse. In Northampton County, deputies regularly parked cruisers up and down the metered parking spots outside the courthouse. In fact, they'd even drive right up onto the sidewalk so they would only have to walk about ten feet to one of the side doors. This would force members of the public to walk for blocks while depriving Easton of the parking money that deputies never put in meters. Stoffa and Sheriff Hawbecker have tried to end that, too. To set an example, John Stoffa gave up his reserved parking spot even though his hip was replaced. Sheriff Hawbecker purposely parks at the lot located farthest from the courthouse. Now, I see deputies' personal cars parked along side streets with signs like "official business."

For whatever reason, too many deputies believe we exist to serve them. Perhaps they developed that attitude in their previous careers elsewhere, but it's a flop in Northampton County. Workers in other departments see what is going on.

My criticism of deputies on Thursday was much milder than what you're reading today. In fairness, I mentioned that I've seen them save lives when someone collapses at the courthouse and provide comfort to many of the distraught people who visit that building. I should also add that this criticism is only directed at a handful. Most take their work seriously, despite a corrupting atmosphere. But my criticism last week was still apparently too much. On Friday morning, courthouse bulletin boards were decorated with diatribes aimed at me. When I asked the Sheriff's office to investigate something they very well may have done themselves, I was repeatedly disconnected and misdirected to Human Relations.

For folks who like to brag they are really cops, they seem particularly uninterested in looking into criminal harassment that may come from one of their own.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Charlie Dent: Let the Sun Shine, 72 Hour Notice of Proposed Bills

LV Congressman Charlie Dent has joined the effort to require all proposed House actions be posted on the Internet at least 72 hours prior to consideration on the House floor. He's just signed a bipartisan discharge petition that would force a vote on the measure.

If a majority of House members join in this discharge petition, it will force the House to vote on a bipartisan resolution amending House rules to require that legislation and conference reports be posted on the Internet for at least 72 hours before they receive a vote on the House floor. So far, 115 House members support this requirement.

“Democracy only works when the public is informed, and too often Congress has rushed legislation that Members barely have time to review, let alone the American public,” Congressman Dent said. “This is not a partisan issue – this has occurred both under Republican and Democrat leadership. However, this ‘midnight legislation’ problem has accelerated this past year as we considered huge, transformational legislation without proper time to review the completed bill – and this process has completely left out the American public. A 72-hour public notice requirement will bring sunshine to the process, and perhaps help restore the public’s confidence in a Congress that too often works in the shadows.”

$6 Million in Stim Funds to Bethlehem Tech Center

Six million dollars in stim funds have been awarded to Bethlehem's Ben Franklin TechVentures. Below is a news release I've just received from the Department of Commerce.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra visited Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania at Lehigh University today to discuss job creation, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Obama Administration’s strategy to spur American innovation.

“America's creative thinkers and innovators will lead the way to economic recovery,” Locke said. “President Obama is taking historic steps to lay the foundation for the innovation economy of the future. Earlier this week he laid out a strategy for American innovation that builds on more than $100 billion of Recovery Act funds that support innovation. Today we move that strategy forward.”

Locke and Chopra also announced a significant new Recovery Act grant for Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania to expand Ben Franklin TechVentures, its incubator/post-incubator facility. The $6 million grant, from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), will increase Ben Franklin’s ability to deliver to early-stage technology companies hands-on support, guidance and connections to key resources during the economic recovery. The construction of the facility’s addition will also create jobs in the short term.

“Ben Franklin TechVentures is an award-winning facility that now stands as a leader in Pennsylvania's tech industry, providing space and expertise for the businesses of the future,” Locke said. “This project creates jobs and fosters a favorable business environment for high-growth companies.”

Under the Recovery Act, 4.8 million Pennsylvania families have benefited from $2.5 billion in tax relief under the Making Work Pay Tax Credit. An additional 10,868 Pennsylvanians have taken advantage of the First Time Homebuyers Credit, receiving $87 million in tax relief. All told, more than $9.5 billion has been obligated to Pennsylvania under the Recovery Act.

“I am pleased to see stimulus funds at work for Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Ben Franklin TechVentures,” U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said. “Support for this economic development initiative advances the role of market success through technology, ensures cutting-edge industry in the Lehigh Valley and helps hasten economic stability for Pennsylvania.”

Responding to aggressive goals set out by President Obama and Vice President Biden, Secretary Locke directed the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration to act expeditiously to deliver Recovery Act funds to communities where they were needed most. Across the country, the department has made vital investments in initiatives like workforce development and training centers, regional business incubators and transportation projects to connect communities to key markets.

With the delivery of today's grant, EDA has dispersed all $150 million of its Recovery Act funding one full year ahead of schedule.

“This grant should help promote economic development in the eastern part of the Commonwealth, and I am glad that the U.S. Department of Commerce is announcing this award today,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said. “This project is another example of how the Recovery and Reinvestment Act is delivering targeted investments that will help Pennsylvania’s economy turn the corner.”

President Obama’s strategy for American innovation seeks to harness the inherent ingenuity of the American people and the dynamic private sector to ensure that the next economic expansion is solid and broad-based. It focuses on critical areas where sensible, balanced government policies can lay the foundation for innovation that leads to quality jobs and shared prosperity.

The administration’s strategy has three parts:

1. Invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation. Ensure that our economy is given all the necessary tools for successful innovation, from investments in research and development to the human, physical, and technological capital needed to perform that research and transfer those innovations.

2. Promote Competitive Markets that Spur Productive Entrepreneurship. It is imperative to create a national environment ripe for entrepreneurship and risk taking that allows U.S. companies to be internationally competitive in a global exchange of ideas and innovation. Through competitive markets, innovations diffuse and scale appropriately across industries and globally.

3. Catalyze Breakthroughs for National Priorities. There are certain sectors of exceptional national importance where the market is unlikely to produce the desirable outcomes on its own. These include developing alternative energy sources, reducing costs and improving lives with health IT, and manufacturing advanced vehicles. In these industries where markets may fail on their own, government can be part of the solution.

“Ben Franklin TechVentures will bring together technology entrepreneurs, Ben Franklin staff and Lehigh University faculty and students to their mutual advantage,” R. Chadwick Paul, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, said. “This 47,000 square-foot building addition will accelerate growth and innovation in our technology economy as more space becomes available in our expanded incubator/post-incubator facility.”

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania is part of a four-center, state-funded economic development initiative that links companies with business and technical experts, universities, funding, and other resources to help them prosper through innovation. The organization’s strategy encompasses three key areas: developing early stage, technology-oriented companies; helping established manufacturers creatively apply new technologies and business practices; and promoting an innovative community-wide infrastructure that fosters a favorable business environment for high-growth companies. It also operates Ben Franklin TechVentures, an award-winning incubator/post-incubator facility, on Lehigh’s campus. Ben Franklin Technology Partners helps clients to achieve and sustain market success and competitive advantage through technology. For more information, visit: http://nep.benfranklin.org/.

LV Conservative Voice Gives Me a Fruit Basket

I was going to spend a quiet evening at home, throwing hatchets into the wall, until I remembered that Lehigh Valley Conservative Voice (LVCV) was having some sort of public meeting last night. Figuring this was my chance to load up on "cigars, cognac and fine wine," I bolted over to Allentown's Scottish Rite Center.

As everyone knows, the Scottish Rite is actually some sort of secret society bent on world domination. It includes the Gettys, Rotschilds, Vatican, Queen Elizabeth, George Foreman and Scott Armstrong. Shawn Millan is their evil henchman, and sure enough, he was the first person I saw when I entered the belly of the beast. He had local Republican Julian Stolz strapped to the rack, and was yelling as I slipped past him.

"Talk, Stolz! Did you ever vote for a Democrat, yes or no?"


"You lie!"

Shawn turned the crank a little and poor Julian broke down.

"Alright, alright, I admit it. I voted for Sam Bennett. She has nice hair."

Shawn laughed maniacally, and cranked the rack a little more.

It's nice to see someone who really loves his job.

I decided to disguise myself instead of telling this horde of nearly two hundred meat-eating, gun-toting conservatives that a pinko was in their midst. So when I got my name tag, I carefully scrawled "Barack Obama." That should fool those knuckledraggers.

Unfortunately, Joe Hilliard blew my cover almost immediately. "Hey Bernie, nice to see you. You and Barack Obama have the same initials and you both stink." Right after that, Scott Armstrong grabbed me and said, "You're paying for your food."

"Rightyo, Scott, rightyo."

That's why I was there. I was expecting a buffet of lobster and filet mignon and whatever else it is that Republicans eat. Maybe freedom fries. But all I saw were chicken mcnuggets and watermelon. What is up with that? Obviously, this was intended as some sort of racist slur.

Let me tell you, it was a veritable who's who of local conservatives. In addition to the players I've already mentioned, I saw Vic Mazziotti, John Hinkle, Lou Hershman, Dave Shoemaker, Glenn Eckhart, Dawn Berrigan, Bill Hall, Dave Balliet, Bill Platt, Dr. Bob Romancheck and Mike Schware. I also finally met affable Allentown City Council candidate Joe Brudnak.

Former Northampton County Council member Nick Sabatine told this collection of conservatives they need to work within the Republican pary. Third party efforts will fail. He should know. He organized the Patriot Party in Pennsylvania and ultimately became its national chair. Although his party included people as varied as Klansmen and Communists, it has evaporated. Nick explained why. "Ultimately, people will not vote for a third party candidate because they can't win. They can only make a point."

Last night's keynote speaker was Lehigh County Exec candidate Scott Ott, who delivered a lengthy but stirring speech. At his most eloquent, he derided real estate taxes as the "most pernicious form of taxation out there," noting their impact on seniors with fixed incomes. "We owe them an explanation of what we do with their money. You think we pay sheriffs to take care of you. But we pay them to take away your home. ... Is it too much to ask that our government show a little restraint and cut spending at this time?" Ott claims that incumbent Exec Don Cunningham has "backed himself into a corner," which means a tax increase or spending cuts next year.

"You lie!" I was ready to shout, but Millan was a little too close and had already turned poor Julian Stolz into an NBA player. So I ate some watermelon.

Ott received a standing ovation from an obviously friendly crowd. The closing ceremonies included a raffle drawing, followed by some waterboarding videos. The fruit basket was won by a person Scott Armstrong called the "biggest fruit in the room." Me.

Those damn Republicans can't win anything.

Now I completely disagree with most of what I heard last night. I believe government exists to help people who can't help themselves, while these folks tend to view government as our worst enemy. But I still left feeling really good inside. Despite occasional digs that were more humorous than insulting, we both want to help people. There was none of the partisan rancor that has made dialogue impossible. We just have different approaches.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Would You Retain Any Luzerne County Judge?

Two former Luzerne County judges currently face a 48-count federal indictment for bribery money laundering, racketeering as a result of the "kids for cash" scandal. They were paid $28 million, under the table, to steer kids convicted of minor offenses to for-profit detention centers.

While these defrocked judges file motions and try to claim judicial immunity from civil litigation, two other Luzerne County judges - Tom Burke and Peter Olszewski - seek retention. One of them actually spent some time in Florida at one of the disgraced judge's condos.

Based on the comments at Lu Lac, I'd say both of these judges should be in trouble. But my bet is they'll be retained. The deck is already stacked in their favor. They serve ten year terms, which should be enough to insulate them from unpopular decisions. Then, instead of facing an opponent, voters only decide whether to keep or reject them.

I do think we need to continue electing common pleas judges instead of going the appointment route, which simply takes the politics away from the people. But retention elections after ten year terms is a bit much. They should run for the seat.

The Downside to Pulling Over For a Cellphone Call

Pennsylvania's most recent attempt to impose a ban on hand-held cell phones went down in a very close vote in April, mostly along party lines. But it's coming. So I've been pulling over lately if I get or receive a call while driving.

I should just turn the damn phone off. Yesterday, on my way home from the courthouse, my cell phone started ringing, so I pulled off along the side of Tatamy Road to take the call along some freshly cut grass. I was just off the road. Honest.

Unbeknown to me, I drive right into a groundhog's living room. He must be a rich groundhog, too, because that was one deep hole and there was no way I would get out.

I inconvenienced police officers from both Tatamy and Palmer Township, who were mystified that a sober person could drive off the road and right into a hole. I'm unsure they bought my cell phone story. A tow truck eventually pulled me out.

Worst of all, this happened in my brother's truck. My Jeep recently died after 210,000 miles, and he has let me use his old truck until I find something. Don't tell him.

Fortunately, there's no law against being an idiot.

Northampton County Deputy Sheriff Gets Valor Award

I'm fairly unpopular among Northampton County Deputy Sheriffs. Most of them shake their heads or just look the other way when I'm coming down the hall, even when my fly is up.

Over the years, I've been pretty tough on them. I've claimed we have too man of them, for one thing. The Northampton County Sheriff's Department is little more than a retirement home for Allentown cops and state troopers already collecting a pension. I've criticized them for driving county cruisers home every night, a real waste of taxpayers' money ended by John Stoffa. Some of them have milked the system, demanding two deputies to guard a single hospitalized inmate. A gaggle of them recently insisted that Northampton County Council get them overtime for security at Easton football games. Many of them have forgotten they work for the taxpayers. They seem to think their uniform and gun somehow elevates them above the people who pay their salaries.

But that's only part of the story. I've also watched them save lives when people collapse in the courthouse. I've seen them provide comfort to abused women. Today, I'd like to focus on Deputy Sheriff Patrick J. Cubbage. He comes from Philly, where he started as a cop in 1970. He worked his way up to become a County Detective with the District Attorney’s Office, Chief Inspector in the Sheriff’s Office and Bail Commissioner with the Philadelphia Municipal Court.

When terror struck on September 11, 2001, Cubbage handled the emergency deployment of military aircraft and personnel from Philly into New York’s ground zero. He also signed on to a Faith Based team, which organized relief efforts and spiritual guidance to the law enforcement officers traumatized by the disaster. He is part of the Evangelistic Rapid Response Team and a Police Chaplin.

On Saturday, Cubbage was honored for his work with a Valor Award from Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. Over two hundred people witnessed the award ceremony in downtown Philly. Cubbage, like most deputies and law enforcement types, has spent a lifetime dedicated to community service while putting up with assholes like me.

This awards ceremony also honored two Philadelphia Police Explorer Cadets - Harvey J. Lewis (15 years old) and Dominique R. Smith (17 years old) - who were senselessly murdered in April when mistaken as gang rivals.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Should I Enable Comment Moderation?

View Beyond Bethlehem is the fearless product of Donald, an openly gay Bethlehemite who also shares his political views about local and national issues. He loves blogs himself, but only rarely reads the comments. Here's how he explains it:

"It's not that I don't care what people are thinking, I do, otherwise why would I spend so much time reading blogs? I don't read comments because so many commenters are rude, coarse, crude, insulting, petty, foul, nasty and often uninformed. This may come off sounding a tad snobbish or elitist but most commenters do not know what the hell they are talking about. If they did they would not resort to the petty insults and name calling. The ones that peeve me the most are the anonymous ones. If you are going to attempt to insult me or put me down at least have the guts to sign your name or at least your first name."

I've often claimed that the comments are the best feature on this blog. I learn from you and get many useful tips. I particularly enjoy the spontaneity of unkoderated comment. This interactivity is what distnguishes a blog from other websites. On the other hand, it is impossible to write about controversial subjects or express strong opinions without being attacked.

I expect that. But personal attacks in a post about my grandson's football team? Those are really disgusting and are almost always made whenever I write about him. This time, he saw some of them before I could delete them.

Several people want me to enable comment moderation. I've hesitated, thinking that the good outweighs the bad. Won't enabling comment moderation make me a censor? Doesn't that convert a two-way street into a one-way street? I've decided to beef up my comments policy. But what do you think? Should I screen incoming comments?

Cunningham Never Told About Debate

One person is totally baffled to learn that Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham ducked a Monday night debate with challenger Scott Ott. That person is Don Cunningham.

He knew nothing about it until his office received a telephone call late Monday afternoon. His office tried calling back, but there was no answer. Yesterday, he learned that Muhlenberg's Republicans had actually rented the space, not exactly an impartial group.

Ott has previously complained that Cunningham ignored three requests to participate in this debate. I tried calling Ott twice last night, but he was unable to immediately return my call. Obviously, there's been some sort of mix up. What I did get was a statement from Cunningham campaign manager Dan Kelly.

"I read inaccurate criticisms today of County Executive Cunningham for not attending last night’s Republican meeting.

"I understand that this is Scrappleface’s first run for office (if we don’t count his run for President of the United States last year) and I can see why he may be confused. But, if you are seeking an executive position you need to have a basic understanding of how to bring people together to discuss an issue – a necessary requirement of leadership.

"The County Executive received no letter of invitation, no request for a meeting date or phone call in advance from any group sponsoring a 'debate' last night. But, that’s because there was no debate – and Team Scrapple didn’t want Cunningham there.

"But, hey, we realize that debate challenges are an age old political stunt employed by challengers. And, last night was just a group of friends and supporters getting together for a night of scrapple and rhetoric.

"In regard to real forums and debates, County Executive Cunningham has received and accepted three invitations from legitimate organizations hosting forums or debates: the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Allentown Neighborhood 7CW Association and the Catasauqua Borough Business Association.

"Don believes that three forums are generous to discuss issues with someone who has yet to tell the voters what he does for a living, if he’s currently employed or why he’s qualified to manage the largest government in the Lehigh Valley.

"And, hey, it’s actually three more forums than Scrappleface got to participate in during his run for President of the United States last year."
Morning Update: Scott Ott, in a telephone call this morning, confirms that signals were indeed crossed. He is happy to learn that Cunningham has agreed to three debates and is looking forward to them. So is Cunningham. Should be fun.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary at 75: Great Place For A Date?

Back in my drinking days, an inebriated friend once assured me that Hawk Mountain is the perfect spot for a first date. Mind you, the closest he'd ever come to any bird, to say nothing of a raptor, was the Wild Turkey bourbon he guzzled with reckless abandon every weekend. But he really wanted to impress a lady friend with his knowledge and love of nature, gained mostly from watching the Discovery Channel. Unfortunately, it worked. He married her. Now they cart their kids there several times a year, where peregrine falcons and bald eagles can shit on them from 10,000 feet above sea level.

"Say hello to my little friend."

I tried his ploy myself. I took a date to dinner and Hawk Mountain, but it was a bust. She had trouble with Taco Bell's admittedly rich, international cuisine. That became all too evident during a short ride in my Jeep. She married someone else. He takes her to Hawk Mountain all the time.
Did you know Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is the world’s first refuge for birds of prey? That it was founded in 1934 by private conservationists? That it's been designated a Registered National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior in 1965?

Neither did I. Yesterday, Congressmen Charlie Dent and Tim Holden co-sponsored a House Resolution saluting and honoring Hawk Mountain Sanctuary on its 75th birthday. They salute Hawk Mountain, its full-time staff of sixteen employees and more than 200 volunteer members for their contributions to the preservation of wildlife, especially birds of prey, and the native ecology of the Appalachian Mountains and Eastern Pennsylvania.

Congressman Dent provides some background in remarks on the House floor on Tuesday, where the resolution was adopted:

“In 1934, noted wildlife conservationist Rosalie Edge was drawn to Hawk Mountain after learning large numbers of hawks were being killed as they migrated along the Appalachian Mountains’ Kittatinny Ridge. After this initial visit, Edge leased 1,400 acres of the ridge for a mere $500 and opened it to the public as place for local residents to view birds of prey in their natural habitat. Later, the property was deeded to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association, which oversaw the preservation of the land and protection of its wildlife.

“Since its modest beginnings in the 1930s, Hawk Mountain has remained a year-round wildlife sanctuary that introduces students and visitors to the natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountains and the many birds of prey that call the range home. Today, sixteen full-time employees and a volunteer workforce of over 200 dedicated members help educate thousands of visitors each year about the value of preserving the native ecology of eastern Pennsylvania. With the goal of providing a unique and engaging educational experience for its visitors, Hawk Mountain offers weekend programs for local residents, guided programs for students and groups, and fully-accredited college-level courses in cooperation with Cedar Crest College, located in my District.

“In addition to educating the public, the employees and volunteers at Hawk Mountain have contributed greatly to the development of effective conservation practices that help preserve vital ecosystems throughout the world. The sanctuary staff works with world-class raptor scientists, conservationists, graduate students and international interns to collect and analyze important information, as well as formulate and test new conservation strategies."

Unfortunately, the House Resolution fails to mention is that Hawk Mountain is a great place for a first date. Must have been an oversight.
Update: Is Hawk Mountain Haunted? Steve Barron thinks so. Hawk Mountain was apparently once sacred Indian land, and the Lenni Lenape murdered a few irreverent early settlers. This, of course, led to ... ghosts. Imagine that! In addition to impressing your first date with your love of nature, you can scare the hell out of her with a few ghost stories. She'll be in your arms in no time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grammes: Republicans Out of Touch

Marc Grammes is a former Republican Lehigh County Commissioner who has a bone to pick with his own party. He's agreed to share it with all of you.

Dear Folks,

Today I went to my mailbox, and there were several pieces of mail which really disturbed me:

1) An invitation to join Representative J. Harhart, D. Reichley, G. Day, Craig Dally and Sen. Pat Browne for an evening of "Cigars, cognac, and fine wine" at the Melt Restaurant at $200 a pop.

2) An invitation to the Grube household (which looks like a castle) for a Pat Browne for minimum $100 a pop, but up to $1000.

These people are out of touch. In this economy, no one should be puffing on cigars and drinking cognac to raise money for a taxpayer funded job. They are supposed to be public servants, not cigar smoking, cognac drinking politicos. So much for a citizen legislature. No wonder we have problems. And let's not forget...80 days late on the budget. While some of the most vulnerable went without services. The invites are posted prominently at a local business for the public to see.

And so it goes....

Scott Ott: Cunningham Refuses to Debate Me

If you know anything at all about Scott Ott, you most likely know him as "ScrappleFace," where he presents "News fairly unbalanced. We report. You decipher." He tells me he's part of the new media. He's also running against Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham. He's upset that Cunningham ignored three requests to meet him last night for a debate at Muhlenberg's Moyer Forum.

In a news release, the normally affable Ott fires away with zingers like this. "Don Cunningham traveled the state for a year and a half, drumming up support for a planned gubernatorial race. He has more than $700,000 in his campaign war chest, but apparently he now lacks the time to drive seven minutes from his office to Muhlenberg in order to defend his record for the people of Lehigh County. Perhaps if we held the debate at a $500 per plate dinner for Philadelphia attorneys we could get him to show up, since we know he likes those."

And this.

"The residents of Lehigh County face a major tax hike in 2011, and Don Cunningham won’t say what he plans to do about it. His self-generated reputation as a fiscal conservative masks the reality of a budget that’s $19.2 million out of balance, reserve funds that will be utterly depleted in 2010, and an abject failure by Cunningham to make significant spending cuts. He’s been living high off Jane Ervin’s 70 percent tax hike, but in 2011 the party’s over and local residents get stuck with the bill.”

Cunningham's refusal to debate is bad for democracy, but unfortunately, it's also smart politics. As Ken Petrini astutely observes, "You can understand why Cunningham is reluctant to debate—he gains nothing. He has a wide lead. A debate between a clear front runner and a challenger can only help the challenger."

Ott goes on to complain about state for pass through money, suggesting that Lehigh County reject it. In a recent op-ed, he said we should move charity "out of the arena of entitlement and back to the realm of love." I'm sure that's music to a conservative's ear, but it also reflects a basic misunderstanding of county government. The state mandates most of these human services and funds the lion's share - approximately 80% - of the cost. Rejecting this pass through money, as Ott suggests, means Lehigh County would just have to fund these required services itself. County tax bills would instantly quadruple under Executive ScrappleFace. That's one hell of a price to pay for making a point with Harrisburg.

Scrappleface might want to think that one through before he faces Cunningham.

Jake Towne: Charlie Dent Won't Answer My Open Letters

Jake Towne is an independent candidate for Congress. He calls this the "Fighting Fifteenth" Pa. Congressional District for some reason. That might be a good name for a military unit, but a Congressional district? Does he picture us mounted on steeds, preparing to invade New Jersey, with him leading the charge across the Delaware? That's a little bizarre.

Towne is upset with LV Congressman Charlie Dent. The incumbent has declined so far to answer eight of Towne's lengthy open letters.

"I handed my latest letter to him, and must confess that I am exasperated. I am a citizen in his district, I have written eight (8) open letters and many more unpublished letters - many from before my candidacy even began. He has not answered a single one, even though I have taken the care to hand him paper copies of each open letter in person."

Open letters, by their very nature, are usually intended to publicize the author's position on an issue, as opposed to that of the recipient. Towne may be a constituent, but he also wants Charlie's job. Does he really expect Dent to draw attention to an underfunded challenger?

"Call me an optimist," Towne tells me.

Towne's most recent open letter suggests ways that Dent can improve transparency with online public feedback, monthly reports detailing positions on bills as well as office finances, online bill submissions for constituents drafting legislation and on-demand town halls. Jake tells Dent, "I am available for consultation either privately or publicly as I have spent a lot of time refining the idea and I have great ideas on the specifics of how this system should look like."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bethlehem's Steel Curtain

Are you ready for some football? Steelers football? No, I'm not talking about those candy asses in Pittsburgh. I'm talking about real football from the nearly 300 spirited kids and cheerleaders known and feared as the Bethlehem Steelers. When they man the field in their dreaded black uniforms and begin chanting their war cries, ambulances and hospitals everywhere are put on red alert.

The Steelers are actually just one of seventeen, equally fierce, teams participating locally in the Suburban Youth Football League. It draws kids from Parkland to Saucon Valley and Emmaus. Despite my hype, the real powerhouse is traditionally North Parkland. It's packed with juvenile delinquents, convicted felons and ringers from Mongolia who guzzle Budweiser during water breaks. Some say Michael Vick played there last year.

But last year, North Parkland was crushed by the 90 lb. Steelers' team. It had a perfect record, winning most games by 20 or more points. Those boys, and their coaches, have all moved on to the next level, where they are once again terrorizing the league.

All but my grandson, Dat.

He's very proud that he now tips the scales at a hefty 72 lb. (with pads), and is joined this year by the kids who played in the 80 lb. division last year. They're scrappy, but lost every game. This year looked like a repeat performance. Upper Macungie's Mustangs broke them in the season opener, 13-7. In their second game, South Parkland's Trojans prevailed in overtime.

This weekend, these 80-turned-90 pounders finally shed their curse as a team that always snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. Power running back Justin Schmoyer, who always hovers near the upper weight limit, beefed up the line, and the Steelers' luck changed. In the first half, he opened up a gaping hole that Dat Lambert exploited for a sixty yard touchdown. Once he got through the line, Dat was able to elude defenders and ran like hell for the end zone, and fortunately in the right direction.

In the second half, Schmoyer opened another hole for Joshua Clark, who himself scampered another sixty yards down the sideline for a second touchdown. In addition, Lambert and Clark had some long gains that were called back because of holding.

Final score? 12-0. After the game, the two Bethlehem teams congratulated each other, were hugged by moms and ate cupcakes and an increasingly popular Puerto Rican meat pastry called patellias(sp?). My grandson may now weigh 72 1/2 lb.

But before trying on another championship jacket, there are plenty of tough teams standing in the way. Next weekend, the Steelers face the 3-0 North Parkland Powerhouse.

Blogger's Note: The photos used here come with the kind consent of Jeff Kaboly Photography, who told me my blog sucks while I worked the chain gang. I speared him.

Hershman: More Cops Without More Taxes

Allentown City Council candidate Lou Hershman had a news conference outside city hall on Friday morning. I was unable to attend, but he has supplied me with his statement explaining how the Queen City can add more police officers without raising taxes. Here it is.

Thank you everyone for coming out today. I'd like to discuss the issue of adding more police to the Allentown force. Al! the candidates in the race for city council declare they will put more police on the streets of our city, but they can't say how it will be funded. They can't say because they probably have no idea aside from raising your real estate taxes. Part of the problems in our city stem from the election of officials who do not know how to read or stay within a budget. Understanding finance is a very important, yet often ignored, qualification for holding public office. I am the candidate who understands economics and can tell you how I will add more officers to the force without raising your property taxes.

1. I will introduce legislation to bring all money collected from parking tickets issued by police and fire to the general fund after the operating funds have been deducted. Currently these dollars remain in the parking authority department.

2. I will Introduce legislation to collect 50% of ail money obtained from the sale of unclaimed vehicles by the [towing company] after the cost of towing, storage and transferring titles of these vehicles have been deducted. Currently the towing company keeps all the proceeds. I believe the city should have some of these funds.

3. I will move to transfer the solid waste fund back to the general fund, as it was prior to 1992. The cash balance of this fund will be included in the general fund, which could be several million dollars. This would not only help pay for additional police, but could also reduce the deficit.

4. As the solid waste fund would be joined to the general fund all fines collected from street sweeping violations by the parking authority, minus operating cost, will go to the general fund. Operating cost would be the salaries of enforcement officers and the cost involved in collecting fines.

5. Introduce legislation to hire a firm to study the benefits of having the Allentown police department assume responsibility for enforcing all parking violations. This has been done in the past, and currently the police department enforces parking violations on weekends and holidays. Parking enforcement officers, once transferred to the police department, could also enforce double parking, handicapped parking and littering codes along with any other duty assigned by the police chief. Additionally, during patrols, officers could spot any unlicensed business operations and make sure they are updated to the Allentown tax rolls.

6. The mayor's blue ribbon panel recommended a study to see if the parking authority was necessary. I will introduce legislation to do this study.

All candidates promise more police for the city of Allentown. The citizens want this, but it needs to be funded. I am the only candidate who has presented a plan to pay for these added officers.

Police protection is very important to all of us, and we can do it in a way that is fiscally responsible. These are not easy financial times, and any candidate asking for your votes has the responsibility of backing up his promises, especially when it concerns taxpayer dollars. I've just done that, and ask for your vote on election day.

Margarita Likes the Occasional Margarita

Susan B Anthony. Sacagawea. Eleanor Roosevelt. Now we can add another name to history's list of famous and fascinating women - Margarita Lopez. Selflessly disguising herself as Delores Rivera, she saved countless thousands of Allentown women from the clutches of Tony Phillips.

That's right. She disguised herself as an Internet hottie for you. And in case her online banter is insufficient evidence to ruin Tony Phillips' mayoral campaign, she told an obliging Morning Call that he very nearly assaulted her. Sure, she waited two months before bothering to report this supposed violence, and than waited another two frickin' years before complaining again. If she really wanted to warn Allentown women about evil Tony, why didn't she report this supposed fracas when it happened? Did Tony lock her up in a dungeon somewhere? Ir was she trying to squeeze some money out of the guy?

One thing that Margarita apparently forgot to tell the press is that she enjoys an occasional margarita. In 2001, she enrolled in Lehigh County's ARD program after being charged with drunk driving. She apparently plowed into a parked car and did some damage to Muhlenberg College property. In fact, she was even charged with criminal mischief, but prosecutors dropped that once she agreed to the first-time offenders' program. Tony must have stuck a funnel in her throat, poured down booze, and then forced her to damage property while he laughed maniacally. God, are you lucky that she dimed him.

She may have recently been here in the Lehigh Valley, by the way. On September 11, right around the time this story first broke, a car registered in her name was ticketed with a parking violation in Allentown. Was she pressuring Tony for money? I'm sure she was just checking out locations for her victory party. Now she's back in Margaritaville.

There's a New Blog in Town

Lehigh Valley Conservative is actually much more than a blog. It's a political action committee promoting limited government. It will start things off right this Thursday with a 6 PM meeting at Allentown's Scottish Rite Center, 1540 W Hamilton Street. Isn't that anti-American? Scott Armstrong is bringing the haggis, followed by a bagpipe duet featuring Glenn Eckhart and Dean Browning.

Blog authors so far include two well known local conservative voices - the Allentown Commentator's Scott Armstrong and former Morning Call columnist Don Hoffman. In his latest post, Scott worries that President Obama may soon be compared to former Allentown Mayor Roy Afflerbach.

Was Afflerbach born in Kenya, too?

These guys may claim they're trying to get money, but I think they're hoping to pick up babes.

Friday, September 18, 2009

More Outrageous Claims About Tony Phillips

"The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones."

As Tony Trashers continue to dance on his grave, another woman has anonymously come forward with wild allegations about Allentown Mayoral candidate Tony Phillips.
I was a homeless street kid with a world of hurt and pain on my shoulders alone and scared no one to turn to im sitting on a bench on hamilton st when officer phillips approached me like a concerned parent and asks me why i was 18 and a girl on top of it when i told him of the horrible abuse i was suffering from by the hands of my own father he became more than just a beat cop he became my best friend that is his true character honesty compassion and respect as an adult nearly twenty years later i will never forget the hero he became to a scared and lonley girl thank you tony
When "Delores" made her anonymous smears, they quickly became front page stories. But the Poet is right. This abused child's hero will be quickly forgotten. People who quickly swallowed Delores' salacious story, will question every syllable of this anonymous tale.

McClure: Stoffa Operates in "Shroud of Secrecy"

When Bethlehem Township zoners were slamming the table and tossing papers during the discussion of a proposed treatment and work release center on Wenesday night, Council member John Cusick was quietly sitting in the audience. Even County Council candidate Walt Garvin was there. Now Lamont McClure's District includes Bethlehem Township. In fact, he lives there. But he was nowhere to be found as zoning mavens squirmed to find some way, any way, to keep dastardly drunk drivers from serving their sentences at a facility located anywhere inside their municipal boundaries. Let Easton deal with it.

McClure made up for his absence at last night's meeting of Northampton County Council. He had no problem accusing the Stoffa administration of operating in a "shroud of secrecy."

"We're not being given the price tag because the price tag is going to far outstrip anything that we're currently doing in addition to the needs we have." Council Prez Ann McHale gravely and knowingly added, "Right concept, wrong location."

McClure apparently thinks County Executive John Stoffa should have a lease with Abe Atiyeh, who has an option but does not even own the property being considered. Ron Angle tried to explain things. "He wants to know, is this doable, before he enters into an agreement. ... He's not going to play his cards 'till he sees what's available."

But McClure remained adamant. "We need to start getting numbers. ... It's a huge undertaking."

McClure: "You will not come clean with the public as to what it is the cost will be."

Stoffa: "Mr. McClure, you want to get figures when the figures don't exist, when the site hasn't been acquired, when we don't know what zoning would approve. You want me to come in with figures and then you can criticize us for being low or high or not being accurate. I'm not a fool. Don't take me for one."

McClure: "So you're not giving us figures because you don't want to be criticized."

At this point, Stoffa walked back to his seat while an exasperated Angle told McClure "He can't give you what he doesn't have."

I could understand asking Stoffa to execute a memorandum of lease. But are terms like "shroud of secrecy" and "not coming clean with the public" really necessary? Those verbal grenades are intended to suggest Stoffa is doing something underhanded or possibly corrupt. McClure certainly has an obligation to act as a check and balance on the County Executive, but he also has an obligation to respect the office. Stoffa makes it a point to attend every council meeting, and usually has most of his cabinet on hand. That's a demonstration of respect to the legislative branch. Is it so hard to reciprocate?

Had McClure actually attended the zoning hearing in his own township on Wednesday night, he could have seen Stoffa explain that he has no intention of asking Council to commit to a project until he is certain that it can be done, and on terms favorable to the taxpayer. He would also know that this move may actually cost the county nothing at all. During a break, administration officials told me they expect to realize significant savings in personnel and utilities when they close the old, Civil War era, jail. That may completely offset the cost of operating a new treatment and work release center.

Maybe McClure should do his homework before making wild allegations.

Hanover Township Business Rated 5th Most Promising Young Company in USA

During last night's Northampton County Council meeting, Rev. Mike Dowd told fellow council members that Weather Trends, a Hanover Township business established in 2006, has been recognized by Forbes as the fifth most promising young company in America. "This is out of 12,000 companies that were reviewed. They were number five. It's remarkable, a remarkable story." If this company can really predict which way the wind is blowing, it should forget meteorology and get into political consulting.

Angle Predicts Northampton County Tax Hike

Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, waited until the end of last night's county council meeting before quietly predicting a tax hike next year. "My annual prediction is sliding between 11 1/2% and 13 1/2%. I'll let you know better in another week or two."
LV Congressman Charlie Dent gets a little nutty when it comes to ACORN. It describes itself as "the nation’s largest grassroots community organization of low- and moderate-income people with over 400,000 member families organized into more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in 110 cities across the country." It's Project Vote added 1.3 million voters to the rolls in 2008, including 153,000 here in Pennsylvania. These were mostly Democrats. So it's no surprise that Dent, as blogger Pam Varkony notes, wants to turn off the federal faucet that has poured $53 million into this organization since 1994.

This is nothing new. Last October, Dent was one of the Pennsylvania Republican Congressman who asked the state AG to investigate allegations of what really amounts to voter registration fraud, in which canvassers register dead people or supply false registrations. Now, he's cosponsored legislation to deny federal funding to ACORN, and the language of that bill was incorporated into another piece of legislation that passed the House.

Congressman Dent has also co-signed a Congressional letter to the President, asking for the disclosure and termination of all federal funding to ACORN. The Census Bureau has already cut off its association.

Dent believes ACORN has become too tainted by all these allegations of impropriety. In a statement released yesterday he acknowledges "[t]here may be some well-intended, honest volunteers who are not involved in illegal activity at ACORN. I suggest they contribute their time to one of the many legitimate housing and anti-poverty organizations that provide help for vulnerable citizens without becoming embroiled in the fraud and corruption that has continually surrounded ACORN.”

Wanna' Plant a Few Trees?

If you’re not afraid of getting your hands dirty, Lehigh County could use your help.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18, the Department of Parks and Recreation is holding a tree planting event at Trexler Nature Preserve in Schnecksville. Thanks to a $10,000 donation from Air Products, the county purchased 500 trees to restore a healthy ecosystem on the north range of the preserve.

The event will take place rain or shine. No tree planting experience is necessary but volunteers are asked to bring their own shovels, gloves and water to drink. I personally don't drink water. Fish piss in it. I'd suggest a flask or two of something else like gatorade. And a few buffalo burgers.

If you’d like to volunteer, call Robin Stemetzki in the Parks and Recreation at 610-871-0281 or email her at robinstemetzki@lehighcounty.org before Oct. 2.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bethlehem Township's Kangaroo Court

It's pretty hard to feel sorry for Abe Atiyeh, who is referred to by Bill White as Allentown's Rajah of Rezoning. Sure, he may carry bags of candy that he hands out to people everywhere. Yes, he did drop $5,000 on a homeless shelter about a year ago. But let's face it, most of us don't like rich guys unless they're professional athletes or bloggers. It's just the way it is. But I couldn't help feeling a twinge of sympathy for the guy at last night's meeting of the Bethlehem Township Zoning Hearing Board. Let me tell you what happened.

Northampton County would like to set up a new, 300-bed, treatment and work release center. It's already been shot down in Glendon and West Easton. Then Abe Atiyeh came up with a site in Bethlehem Township, located smack dab inside an industrial park, nearly a mile from the nearest home. Even better, this site is in an area zoned for treatment centers. But Bethlehem Township wants nothing to do with anything that houses prisoners. That's no surprise from a municipality that refused to contribute a dime towards homeless shelters.

Northampton County Council Prez Ann McHale, when she was running for county executive, sided with the NIMBYs, piously declaring that "[a] facility in an industrial park is not the answer." Incumbent Executive John Stoffa stuck to his guns. "We have four people in a cell, four bunk beds, a commode and a hopper, and it is disgraceful the way we treat our people in our jail." McHale ended up winning Bethlehem Township ... by one vote. She was trounced everywhere else.

Bethlehem Township zoners can impose reasonable restriction on this treatment and work release center, but they pretty much have no legal basis for denying an application. Of course, they did anyway. Judge Franciosa recently told them to think again.

That was supposed to happen last night, and the place was packed. ZHB Solicitor Larry Fox, who has an uncanny ability to spend hours saying absolutely nothing, wasted nearly a half hour just introducing all the lawyers and parties involved. When the hearing finally got underway, it quickly became apparent that the ZHB, stung by Franciosa's remand, will soon be reversed again.

Gary Brienza, himself an attorney, was the worst of these zoners. He repeatedly slammed the table and tossed papers. Jennifer Sletvold, another attorney, repeatedly interrupted witnesses and Attorney Jim Preston, who was presenting Atiyeh's case. Preston had a slew of witnesses on hand, prepared to address anything that still bothered the ZHB. But they insisted that Preston should just flail away and try to read their minds. "It's not appropriate for us to be asking you questions," huffed Sletvold, with fancy pink designer glasses perched atop her nose.

Brienza: "So we have a stalemate."

Preston: "I have another word."

Brienza: "We are not here to try your case."

Preston: "We are not here because this applicant failed."

When Preston called Warden Todd Buskirk to address security and public safety, board members suddenly thought it was appropriate to ask questions after all. Buskirk was peppered by Brienza, not about security, but about Buskirk's recent decision to step down as Director of Corrections. Brienza attempted to embarrass Todd, a class act, with needless and irrelevant questions about the real reason for that decision.

Todd did finally get to testify about the number of guards needed for security, but zoners argued with him. Todd invited them to tour the current work release center, where there is much less security, but they all turned up their noses. When Stoffa suggested bringing a few work release people in to testify, Sletvold's designer glasses cracked and she very nearly hurled.

If you'd like to see this kangaroo court in action, they'll be meeting again on September 30th to hear testimony about all the traffic nightmares that 300 inmates will cause. After that, they'll deny the application and get reversed again.