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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is Bruce Gilbert a Racist?

At Wednesday afternoon's meeting of Northampton County Council's Personnel Committee, the County Exec's choice for Human Services Director went through the wringer. Morning Call reporter Michael Duck, who has an excellent account about that meeting, likened it to a firing squad. Patricia Ann Siemiontkowski, a Kintersville attorney who once served as an Allentown Assistant Solicitor, survived this gauntlet, even managing to smile. When it was over, I'd say she had seen the worst of it, and expected to see her Thursday night confirmation by a full Council, go off without a hitch. But this is Northampton County, baby, where nothing is over until it's over.

Council member John Cusick played prosecuting attorney on Wednesday, peppering Siemiontkowski about her involvement in Mayor Afflerbach's idiotic police pension agreement that pretty much ruined Allentown financially. What did she know and when did she know it? As it developed, she had "counseled strongly" against it, believing it would cause the City to go bankrupt. It's "one of the reasons I decided to leave the City," she concluded.

Cusick bought it. "Roy Afflerbach not taking good legal advice would not be a surprise," he snarked.

Siemiontkowski was also queried about her lack of human resources accreditations, but her legal skills and public sector experience appeared to outweigh those concerns.

Council Prez Ron Angle told her she is a "notch above" what is required.

Things were looking good.

But at last night's County Council meeting, where Siemiontkowski was unanimously confirmed, things suddenly got a little dicey.

Penny Himel, Frances Ketchen and other members of Easton NAACP were there as part of an African American committee, who had their own candidate. They were kind enough to give me her resume, and it is very impressive. Unlike Siemiontkowski, this candidate does have direct Human Resources experience. But she also has no legal experience in the field and no public sector background.

Diminutive Frances Ketchens, addressing Council in a pink sweatsuit, was quite forceful. "The African American community is not satisfied with what's going on." She mentioned that when she walks through the halls of the Northampton County Courthouse, she sees few faces like her own. "We'd like some answers."

When Council Prez Angle suggested she make an appointment to see Stoffa, she declined, saying she had met with him enough. "It's time to act," she declared.

She also rejected the notion that Council just votes on the Executive's nominee. "You vote. We vote, too."

Them's fightin' words.

County Exec John Stoffa told Council, "I think you have the most qualified candidate." Of 38 applications, Stoffa acknowledged that the candidate selected by the African American committee was one of the top three, "but I don't think she was the top candidate. She did not have public experience at all. ... I think I have given you the best candidate that we have found in that group of people."

Bruce Gilbert, Northampton County's first black Council member, was the first name called tonight to vote on Siemiontkowski. He voted for her, and the rest of Council followed suit.


Anonymous said...

Bruce Gilbert is a class act !

Bernie O'Hare said...

I agree completely. He is also working at his job, asks very intelligent questions and is very respectful of opposing views.

Anonymous said...

So a person with no Human Resource experience is named to head the Human Resources Department of one of the County's largest employers. With around 2000 employees all on the public's dime it would have been nice to hire someone who actually had some Human Resource experience.

Anonymous said...


"ringer" = "Wringer"

jes' sayin'

Bernie O'Hare said...

1:44, You are correct and i am wrong. I corrected my error and thank you for noting it.

Anonymous said...

Angle slammed Dan Polansky, a lawyer with no HR experience but Stoffa's choice is a "notch" above.


Anonymous said...

It's deliciously ironic that Frances and her group consistently vote for Ds, who have run the county for years, until now. And she still has complaints for a council whose only black member is an R who's been called an Uncle Tom by many in Frances's party. Perhaps if sho showed a little more diversity in her political party choice, she'd have less to complain about. It's counter-intuitive, given the reinforcement of D lies to the African-American community over generations. But Rs delivered Bruce to council on the basis of his philosophy. For those like Frances who love to keep score, Ds are yet to get their first hit for your team. And they laugh lustily as they take their endless chances from your group for granted. You'll be there for them on election day. You always are.

Anonymous said...

I think she sees few faces like her own because the County only has 2.77% African American population. You don't see many faces like her own anywhere in the County, much less in the Courthouse. That doesn't mean there is racism in hiring. I don't see many Eskimos either.

Anonymous said...

6:49 AM... D's delivered the first african american commissioner in Lehigh County at the same time (Jones was elected in 2009 too). how about cutting the crap about D's and R's and recognize that it's voters that deliver candidates, not political parties.

Anonymous said...

Bruce is a man who has a mind of his own. People who elected him were color blind. They liked him and what he stood for. Didn't matter if he was a racial minority. The same principle should be applied to cabinet appointments.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Angle slammed Dan Polansky, a lawyer with no HR experience but Stoffa's choice is a 'notch' above."

Polansky was slammed bc he was not doing a good job and eventually stepped down himself, taking a career service position, bc he knew he'd be eaten alive on the outside.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"D's delivered the first african american commissioner in Lehigh County at the same time (Jones was elected in 2009 too)."

This is true, and it's a good thing to see diversity on both bodies. But Jones is as different from Gilbert as night is from day. Jones shows an arrogant disregard for his constituency, while Gilbert goes out of his way to talk to people and actually listens to what they have to say.

Bernie O'Hare said...

" I don't see many Eskimos either."

You're right, but Frances comes from a different time, when people definitely did hold the color of her skin against her. It's not really all that long ago.

I was very impressed by the way this elderly woman talked to Council last nght. She's tough and is using her own life experience to form her opinions.

Glenn Reibman made a concerted effort to increase diversification in NC, and Stoffa has continued along that path.

In reality, we do need more Hispanic faces in the county workforce.

Anonymous said...

I think, all things being equal, the Exec's choice should be honored.

But I am not sure all things are equal. If the minority candidate had the specific qualifications as outlined in the description and specifications, and they are shoe-horning in the lawyer who is lacking in some of those areas, the "Better fit" and "Better interview" elements may not be enough to hide behind if the minority candidate decides to make an issue of it. If a law degree, and specifically a specialization in labor law, is not required, we could very well end up with a problem.

Anonymous said...

What is the percentage of African-American employees in Northampton County relative to their 2.77% of the county's population?

Anonymous said...

Angle always attacked Dan Polansky. Dan was a good guy and a great HR Director. Angle let his hate of Reibman get in the way when dealing with Department heads. Angle would scream and defame everyone. He is a classless hypocritical jackass.

Now that Stoffa is in office, of course an unqualified Democratic machine lawyer from the Afflerbach Administration is great. Gee, maybe she will be as good as Falk, the last Stoffa disaster.


Anonymous said...

We elected a black president. Time to stop playing the race card.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"What is the percentage of African-American employees in Northampton County relative to their 2.77% of the county's population?"

I am unable to answer that.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Angle always attacked Dan Polansky. Dan was a good guy and a great HR Director. Angle let his hate of Reibman get in the way when dealing with Department heads. Angle would scream and defame everyone."

Angle smells bullshit a mile awayand that's why people like Polansky got nailed time and again. He had his problems in HR, which is why he got out. But he was good for a check evetry six months.

Angle can be rough on people he thinks are playing games with him. I'll agree that sometimes he goes too far.

Bernie O'Hare said...

One other point about David Jones. He was appointed by a Republican-controlled Commission.

Anonymous said...

If Angle smells bullshit so well, it is only because he smells himself. He is one of the biggest bullshitters to ever get elected to local office. That is quite an achievement around here.

Polansky was a decent guy and certainly a damn sight better than that Republican campaign payoff hire of CS Falk. Check or no check every six months. At least that was done in clear sight unlike the behind the door deals done with jobs in this Administration.

Anonymous said...

If a black candidate is not selected for a position, why is it a race issue? Could it be they just were not the best candidate? I am tired of the race card, and the people that play it.

There is a difference between racism and someone being better qualified.

Anonymous said...

I want Frances to fight for racial justice in the NBA. The return of a few white guys and the two-hand set shot would interesting - and fair.

Somewhat OT. Hey Bernie, I've spoken with a number of people who made interesting choices when selecting their race on the recent census form. After two days of yard work, this white guy is a shade or two darker than President Obama. I declared myself black (also Native American because I was born here). I get the feeling there have been a lot of creative responses like this. An Internet campaign I saw directs respondents to choose "Other," then write "American." What race did you declare? The Brits long referred to Irish as the n-word, which is another reason I'm comfortable with my selection.