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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For Second Time, Bethlehem Zoners Approve Elias Market Expansion

After three hearings, a judicial remand, four lawyers, twelve hours of testimony before packed houses, Bethlehem zoners on November 29 arrived at the same conclusion they did the first time, well over a year ago. Elias Farmers Market, located at 3131 Linden Street, was unanimously given a green light to expand their warehouse and loading dock. But heeding neighborhood concerns about trash, truck traffic and possible use as a warehouse distribution center, a laundry list of conditions was imposed. Al Bernotas, informal spokesman for the "Bethlehem Homeowners Association" spearheading the opposition, vows an appeal will be filed.

Bethlehem's beleaguered Zoning Hearing Board, which has come under increased scrutiny during a year of litigation, was actually complimented by all attorneys. "You have allowed everybody who wanted to say something, to say something," noted Elias Attorney Joe Piperato. "Every moment that I've been here, this Board has been absolutely professional," added Attorney David Backenstoe, who represents three families opposed to the expansion. Bethlehem City Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni stressed that public participation "has been a culture and tradition in ths City that we hope leaves here tonight as well as it has in the past."

Niceties out of the way, attorneys then blasted away. Backenstoe claimed that the market was actually being expanded 338%, well in excess of the 150% permitted under the zoning ordinance. Not so fast, claimed Joe Piperato, who contended that the amount if the expansion had already been approved by a court, and the only real question was whether opponents could prove a detrimental impact on the neighborhood. It's "deleterious," says Chris Spadoni. "When City Council looked at this, they found that those effects ... were so deleterious that they intervened in this matter to protect the residents."

Two witnesses - Yong Hao and Wendy Arbushites - gave separate power point presentations containing videos and photographs showing that current conditions are already detrimental. Arbushites, who claimed "my entire back yard is their market," showed garbage and delivery trucks at early morning hours, litter strewn in the Elias parking lot, rusted metal along the side of the building, and as many as 8 trucks parked on the lot at one time. She showed school buses idling in the parking lot at 6:35 AM. She even had photos of Elias trucks making illegal turns onto Linden Street. "With the proposed increase in the building footprint, we feel there will be more traffic, more garbage. Why should the neighbors believe that conditions will improve when the property is not being maintained properly now?" she asked.

Yong Hao stated that a one-bay loading dock, located 240 feet from his property line, will be replaced by a three-bay loading dock, located just 40' from his property line.

Neighbor Carol Kuhns complained about a "big box" warehouse in a residential neighborhood. "They go home at night. We live there. This is our home."

Elias had supporters, too. South side resident Rolf Treisner, who shops there, simply stated, "They need an upgrade." Kathy Capuano, who has lived next door for forty-one years and whose family once owned the market, denied smelling any garbage. "The loading dock really isn't safe because I worked there. Things slide off the truck, it's not safe," she said.

One Elias supporter, Sudantha Vidanage, made the mistake of claiming that Elias opponents with names like Guishu Fang, Alfonso Bernotas and Yong Hao have something against "first generation immigrants." He was quickly stopped by Zoning Solicitor Mickey Thompson, who warned, "We're not going to go on any personal assassination attacks on peoples' character."

Elias had supporters, too. South side resident Rolf Treisner, who shops there, simply stated, "They need an upgrade." Kathy Capuano, an Elias next door neighbor for forty-one years and whose family once owned the market, denied smelling any garbage. "The loading dock really isn't safe because I worked there. Things slide off the truck, it's not safe," she said.

One Elias supporter, Sudantha Vidanage, made the mistake of claiming that Elias opponents with names like Guishu Fang, Alfonso Bernotas and Yong Hao have something against "first generation immigrants." He was quickly stopped by Zoning Solicitor Mickey Thompson, who warned, "We're not going to go on any personal assassination attacks on peoples' character."

In granting the expansion, zoners have imposed stiff conditions: use of the warehouse for wholesale distribution is banned; idling by any vehicles or storage of any buses or trucks not already owned by Elias is prohibited; no refrigerated trucks may run on the property; compressors must face Linden Street, away from residences; buffering and landscaping is required; no expansion in hours of operation; no additional retail space is permitted; no future expansions of the warehouse will be permitted; and no trash pick-up before 8 AM.

After announcing their decision, Board Chair Gus Loupos - like Planning Chair Larry Krauter and Judge Edward Smith - strongly urged all parties meet and try to resolve their differences. "If we can do that, then we're going to show the spirit of what Bethlehem is about. We've done this in the past. I think it can be done now."
More Stories? Come and get 'em at Bethlehem Patch, Express Times and Morning Call.

Christmas City Invaded By AOL Patch

After making inroads in Emmaus, Hellertown and Easton, online news source AOL Patch has now gone live in Bethlehem. It's edited by Morning Call alum and Iron Pigs maven Daryl Nerl. Unfortunately, he also likes the Mets.

The bastard has already skunked me. While I was distracted by this beautiful sight at City Hall, Nerl was telling you that Bethlehem's ZHB has granted a controversial expansion at Elias Farmers Market.

Show off.

Although newspapers are a little worried by Patch, this experiment might actually be good for them. After all, Patch creates interest in their product - the news. How can that do anything but help?

Monday, November 29, 2010

We're Clinging to those Guns Today!

Be wery, wery quiet!

Several people will shoot each other, to say nothing of those whose hearts explode at this special time of year.

Whose herd is being thinned again?

Happy Birthday, Easton Mayor Sal Panto!

I've been highly critical of Mayor John Callahan's financial fiasco in Christmas City. The "five point jobs plan" man is now going to balance his budget on the backs of City workers, laying off people in the health department. What a guy! In the meantime, Allentown's King Edwin has never met a campaign contributor he didn't like, and many of them just happen to be City vendors. Layoffs for him are now routine, unless you're a Dem Committeeman looking for a job in the Solicitor's office.

Then there's Easton Mayor Sal Panto, criticized as a "retread" before he ever took office. He ran on a simple campaign - clean and safe. He's pretty much kept his word. At a time when King Edwin holds news conferences to announce new City mottos, Panto has quietly increased the size of his police department. I believe the fire department is increasing or will be increased next year. Panto supports the "good will" Ambassadors, who cover Shadtown's business community, picking up trash and helping people with directions. Streetsweepers now make regular rounds on side streets, something I can't recall ever seeing before.

A few months ago, at a seminar concerning municipal finance, Sal Panto was in the peanut gallery, trying to learn what he could. Callahan, of course, was too busy running for Congress and Pawlowski must have been too busy with his mancave. It's interesting that, of the LV's three City mayors, the only one who could finish a year in the black is Panto.

It's Sal's birthday today. So Happy Birthday, Mr. Mayor. Now will you please screw something up?

Bethlehem 5th Graders Create Hurricane Over Thanksgiving

Did it seem windy to you this weekend? A hurricane hit the Lehigh Valley, and the eye of the storm was at Bath's In The Zone. Boys and girls from all grades descended on this Lehigh Valley Basketball Mecca for a tune-up tournament.

My grandson is with Liberty's 5th grade "Hurricane" travelling team this year. They won, and looked just a tad scary. They combined power, speed and deception. Kinda' like the real thing.

Because things happen so fast for me, I only have a few good shots. I made up a little montage comparing a real hurricane with the basketball team. My favorite part is when Jo-Jo pointed to something and then smacked the ball right out of the hands of a Saucon Valley Panther.

Completely fooled him.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy 107th to Alice Herz-Sommer, World's Oldest Holocaust Survivor

Gracedale: No New Petitions Filed, But Fake Rev's Wife is the Notary

So how is that Gracedale drive going?

Let me give you some background information. Northampton County's Home Rule Charter, in an effort to bring government closer to the people, establishes a procedure for initiative and referendum. It's no easy task. Ten per cent of the County's registered voters must ask for an exercise in direct democracy, and they only have 90 days to do it.

For those who want to keep the County shackled to Gracedale, the magic number is 19,630. And the clock is ticking. They only have until January 17, 2011.

At the last election, volunteers hit the polls, seeking and getting signatures.

According to what Easton resident and tea party member Ronnie DelBacco told Northampton County Council last week, there was some improper conduct, at least at his poll. She was inside the polling center, not staying ten feet away from the door. She misrepresented the petition as an effort to "save Gracedale." He indicated it was almost impossible to get past her without signing the petition. In fairness, I visited about twelve different polling locations on election day. I saw Gracedale volunteers at seven of them, but witnessed no improper behavior.

Improper or not, a lot of signatures were gathered on election day, and my own review of the signatures reveals that's when most were obtained.

Soon after election day, the phony preacher - he claims Buddy Christ is on his side - marched into the Voter Registration with 10,774 signatures, according to my count. Based on my own cursory review, I'd say that ten per cent will be rejected for some blatant errors. In one case, the circulator did not sign. Many are notarized by the fake Rev's wife, Kathy Martinez, who obviously is no impartial witness.

Since that time, no additional petition have been filed. Nada. Zippo. And as the weather gets colder and the nights grow longer, it appears increasingly unlikely that the fake Rev will meet his goal.

This might explain why he keeps clamoring for Council to put the issue on the ballot themselves.

Not gonna' happen.

Chauncey Howell, Tory & Mo Cuishle

This week, I finally had the good fortune to hear from iconoclast Chauncey Howell, an Eastonian who has also spent decades doing TV news in the Big Bagel. I've always wanted to meet him, and now it's going to happen. Ironically, he was referred to me by Claire Sheridan, an Upper Mount Bethel resident I had just insultingly referred to as "Miss Snob."

Maybe she wanted him to beat me up or something.

"Well, she did go to Miss Porter's, so I guess you pegged her," says Chauncey. He also tells me how he met that "awful Ron Angle." It was only once, and at the Easton Y.

"He popped out of the pool water like a naughty little nereid or a pudgy-PADutchy triton - I was astonished - at the gerontophile Y in Easton, and announced himself.

"'Well, you are certainly a cute little guy,' I said. I did not really know who Ron was. Do now.

"Then he launched into a panegyric about my late father and told some great stories about him. So I had to like him."

Chauncey is a "nominal Democrat but, true to our squirearchical background, a staunch rural Tory----but with strong populist leanings. I give speeches in Italian, as my father did. But I can do Yiddish too."

I hope to hook up with this American original sometime over the holidays.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Politicio Lists Charlie Dent Among Possible Casey Challengers

Easton Patch Now Live

Easton's Patch has just hit the Internet news stands. It's edited by Morning Call alum Tom Coombe, who told me last week that he's really excited to be writing again.

But I have to warn you about a snarky and shallow column about Northamton County government, entitled "Are They Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" I's just the kind of trite nonsense ... oh wait. I wrote that.

It's wonderful.

PJ Whelihan's Coming to Hanover Township

If you like buffalo wings with Shanghai sesame sauce, you're in luck. A new PJ Whelihan's is coming to 3395 Highpoint Blvd in Hanover Township, possibly as early as March. Accompanying the wings will be 45 jobs at the site of the old Bennigan's, a 7,200 sq. ft restaurant that can handle 210 hungry customers.

PJW Restaurant Group CEO Bob Platzer was at a Hanover Township Supervisors' meeting on November 23, to seek their approval of a liquor license transfer for what will be his 14th restaurant in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He describes it as a family restaurant serving burgers, salads, wings, dinners and the occasional alcoholic beverage. Asked if he could operate without a liquor license, he said "I could but I wouldn't."

Supervisor Glenn Walbert expressed some concern about music bothering nearby residents, but Platzer assured him it would be "laid back music." No bands.

He did acknowledge that, later in the evening, "It gets younger. Old people like us are at home."

After receiving unanimous approval, a Hanover Township resident in the peanut gallery was unable to resist blurting out, "Welcome to the neighborhood!"

In other business, Recreation Director Cathy Heimsoth was complimented by Supervisors for her $910,000 budget. Chairman John N. Diacogiannis was impressed that it was a zero-base budget. "I know it's very difficult to do," he said, but indicated it's really the best way to assess financial need.

Heimsoth stated that she hoped to see more programs at the pool in 2011. That prompted Supervisor Steve Salvesen to make this comment about colleague John Nagle: "I'd pay big money to see him in a pair of spandex."

Suervisors's next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, December 21, 7 PM, at the Municipal Building. No spandex.

Lehigh County Gives Title Searchers The Bum's Rush

As hard as you may find this to believe, my career as a bottom-feeding blogger is inadequate to support my jet-setting lifestyle. Sure, it's a rush to sift through elected officials' garbage cans, but aside from leftovers, there's not much money in it. So I'm a title searcher. I'm sure glad it's in Northampton, and not Lehigh County. Let me tell you why.

Lehigh and Northampton have always been different, especially for searchers. In Northampton, any member of the public who regularly uses the Recorder's office can actually rent a locker on a first-come, first-served basis. Searchers chipped in to buy a fax machine, and can send reports to banks and lawyers as soon as they are completed. The floor is carpeted, a Godsend to people who stand all day. But in Lehigh, there's no fax machine, no carpeting and certainly no lockers.

Big deal, you might say. They have no obligation to coddle you. That's certainly true, but Lehigh is actually making it impossible for most searchers to do their job.

Andrea Naugle runs the Recorder's Office. She also runs the Civil Division ... and the Criminal Division ... and the Register of Wills. She's Super Clerk, able to record deeds faster than a speeding bullet. She's Super Clerk, who can change the course of mighty politicians and bend gigantic record books with her bare hands. And in her latest fight in the never ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way, she's telling what's left of Lehigh County searchers that they shouldn't bother wearing Winter coats when they come to the Recorder's office. She wants them in and out. Deed books, Mortgage Books, and Map Books are all being shipped off to some secret location - she won't say where - and searchers will have 16 computers with which to conduct their searches. If they need to see a hard copy of something, it will take a week. No personal conversation will be tolerated, and if a searcher is called by one of his customers, he or she must step outside. Searchers will be banned from writing up their work in the office.

Searchers are being encouraged to stay home, where it costs 20 cents just to look at a page, to say nothing of the charges for time spent on their system.

In a meeting with searchers, Super Clerk claimed everything was coming from the Commissioners. When asked whether that was true, Commissioners' Chairman Dean Browning stated, "This is the first I heard of this." Cunningham Chief of Staff Frank Kane had no idea this was being planned, either. They both insist there must be some reasonable explanation for what certainly sounds like draconian changes, but I was unable to get in touch with Naugle.

One person I did get in touch with is Phil Janny, an Executive Officer with the Pennsylvania Land Title Association. He has met several times with SuperClerk, and corroborates what I've heard from several Lehigh County searchers. In fact, in a letter to the Lehigh County Bar Association, Janny makes things very clear.

"We are concerned about the availability of access to the public records and space to review those public records. We need full access to all court records. I am concerned that the Clerk of Judicial Records and the County of Lehigh do not understand the process that we do in order to complete a full title search. Maps, Wills, Court Files are important and must be reviewed carefully Not all of those records are available online and the allocation of time to use computers is just not acceptable."

This is what happens when bureaucrats make decisions without bothering to consult end users. If SuperClerk goes through with these moronic plans, the end result is going to be defective and incomplete title searches, and Lehigh County is going to lose a lot more money in lawsuits than it saves by giving searchers the bum's rush.

When Northampton County's Recorder wants to move record books into Archives, the first thing she does is bounce it off searchers and gauge the need. In fact, Recorder Ann Achatz involved searchers in a complete redesign of her office, and enlisted them to find ways to remove hundreds of record books. She also engaged searchers to evaluate which computer system works best, and the result is the best computer system in the Commonwealth. Lehigh ignored searchers, installed a defective system, and only recently decided to invest in the same system that was installed and tweaked in Northampton County.

But Lehigh and Northampton have always been different.

When I hear from Naugle, I'll provide her explanation, and you can decide whether it's reasonable.

LV Tea Party Asks LC Comm'rs To Balance Budget, Tie Wage Hikes to Revenue

As I've mentioned before, the Lehigh Valley Project 9-12/Tea Party Group is a growing presence in local government. Members have invaded Bethlehem, Hellertown, school boards and both County legislatures, countering the usually unrebutted claims of special interests always looking for a handout.

At last night's meeting of the LC Board of Commissioners, Commissioners were presented a missive from the local teasters, in which they actually side with Executive Don Cunningham on one point.

"County Executive Cunningham did raise a valid point during the budget debate. The Republican Commissioners offered no clear alternate budget with adequate changes and significant spending cuts to achieve a balanced budget without tax hikes.

"Therefore, we request to see your plan to 'balance the county budget… by 2012'. Our organization would like to review the plan in detail in order to educate the public about such alternatives and prevent any future tax hikes or continued budgets with operating deficits."

This is a very fair criticism, and one that was also made by Chairman Dean Browning when he voted for Cunningham's budget.

Their second point reminds GOP Commissioners of a pledge to tie union wage hikes to County revenue or Social Security COLA. Chairman Dean Browning may have sinned in tea party and other Republican eyes by supporting Cunningham's budget, but he has for years attempted to tie salary increases to the revenue generated by the County.

Is AFSCME Sacrificing Gracedale Union Members?

Evil Ron Angle has been vilified as the driving force behind a sale of Gracedale. But as recently as yesterday, he told me he's still willing to keep it in County hands if unions agree to $6 million in concessions. AFSCME Agent Justus James walked out of the last "negotiation" session. Instead of givebacks, County officials were greeted by a giant inflatable rat and a horde of union members, who carted terrified and wheelchair-bound residents into a Council meeting. Of course, they did it at County expense.

If this was an attempt to bully Council members, it backfired. They voted that night to hire someone to steer them through a sale.

Now, a referendum drive is underway. But it's increasingly apparent that it will fall well short of the required 20,000 signatures, especially as the nights grow longer and the weather turns colder.

Some Gracedale union members are beginning to have second thoughts about the tactics used by their leadership. Inside word is that Justus James has been pressured to call the John Stoffa administration, but he's refused.

James did recently promise a Council member I won't name to call one particular County official. But guess what? As of the end of the day yesterday, there's been no call.

If James thinks the County is bluffing, he better think again.

I suspect AFSCME has already decided that concessions might jeopardize other contract negotiations, so Gracedale's union workers are being sacrificed.

LV Chamber of Commerce Cutting Pay 20%?

I haven't had a chance to check this out for sure, but am reliably informed that all staff at the Greater LV Chamber of Commerce is taking a 20% wage cut. Nobody is immune, not even CEO Tony Iannelli.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Teamsters Now Represent Emmaus Borough Secretaries

Bethlehem's Trashgate?

Andy Prickler is a City Parks employee who moonlights as an independent trash hauler. One week ago today, he was prickling Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan at a City Council meeting. "The condition of this City and the direction it's going is disgraceful," he complained. "There is so much mismanagement in this City and, once again, who's gonna' pay the price? People are having their jobs eliminated. Why? Because this Administration can't balance its books. ... The City's mismanagement is unchallenged. I work there. I see it." And so on.

Both The Morning Call and Express Times have now reported that, on Friday morning, after the litle Prick[ler]'s City Council rant, a City recycling employee was for some reason assigned to investigate him. But because the "investigator" is an idiot, he ended up getting charged himself with disorderly conduct and defiant trespass.

This sure looks like retaliatory activity that blew up in Hizzoner's face. And to think that little prick[ler] wanted to be a Congressman and got gobs of votes from lever pullers.

Blogger's Note: The video you see was shot by Tony Simao.

LV Health Board: It's Alive!

Do you know what it's like when you're trying to get a date with some really hot babe? I do. She's exactly my type, but I'm not hers. But rather than just telling me to get lost, she'll usually let me down easy. She'll say she can't go out because she's getting root canal or something. Or she'll have her husband or a cop pay me a visit. After a few restraining orders, I usually get the message. I can take a hint.

Well, RenewLV's Steve Bliss is a lot like me, except the date he's hoping for is with Northampton County Council and a possible resurrection of the all-but-defunct bi-county health bureau. I thought it died on the operating table in July, when six Northampton County Council members (Angle, Cusick, Dowd, Gilbert, McClure, Thierry) and three Lehigh County Commissioners (Browning, Creighton, Eckhart) refused to approve a budget or authorize the establishment of a Board of Health.

But they forgot to cut off its head and drive a wooden stake through its heart.

It's alive!

That's why on November 4, when Northampton County Council adopted its 2011 no-tax-increase budget, an anxious Steve Bliss was there, wondering if he was going to get lucky. At the time, Council member Mike Dowd hinted around about the bi-county health Department., "[W]e indicated that we would at least be prepared to consider - and I'm not asking for a vote at this point - that we would be prepared to consider revisiting that. And so my sense is I do intend to bring that to the table for us as we move into the new year, once we've got a decision as to where Gracedale goes." At the time, Council member John Cusick stated that, "until the Gracedale issue is resolved, I don't think we can even consider that."

Fast forward two weeks, to Council's November 18 meeting. Once again, a hopeful Steve Bliss is in the peanut gallery, patiently listening to Upper Mount Bethel NIMBYs and the usual Gracedale goons claim that they are "We, the people." This time, he got lucky!

Council member Ann McHale started things off, stating they really should give some kind of signal of their direction so that Lehigh County could go it alone, if need be. "Do we have a mandate for them to continue? Are we going to continue to let them waste their time if we're not going to be participating? It's an issue that this body has got to address ... . [I]t's my understanding that Lehigh County will in fact continue to move forward with their own department."

Really? In the face of a 16.1% tax hike? In the middle of a recession? Comm'r Andy Roman, an ardent health board advocate, recently withdrew his support for precisely those reasons.

"It's interesting you had those conversations because they are kinda' opposite the same conversations I had," remarked Rev. Dowd. But he's all for keeping public health "on the table" until we know what is going on with Gracedale.

Council member Tom Dietrich stated that, in his conversations with LC Comm'rs, "[I]t sounds like we're the ones holding them back."

But Ron Angle scoffed at that, claiming LC Comm'rs are just scapegoating NC Council as the "dirty dogs" and "rats" who prevented them from initiating a health department. "That's a fraud, that's not true," barked Angle. "That's a great Percy play. ... I never seen any action on their part or money on the table from them. They're game playing."

When McHale repeated she had been told that LC will pursue it on its own, the Bulldog snarled, "They better pursue taking care of their taxpayers. They're not doing a very good job at that."

But then County Council voted 5-2, with only Angle and Thierry dissenting, to continue discussions leading to the creation of a bi-County health bureau.

So Steve Bliss is in bliss.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Livin' the Dream

On Friday, I bumped into a Deputy Sheriff in the men's room and asked how he was doing.

"Livin' the dream, Bernie. Livin' the dream."

I think he even meant it.

Last night, I attended my cousin's viewing. I'm sorry to say I had not seen him for years. He was livin' a nightmare, and ended up taking his own life last week.

My cousin Eddie was an alcoholic. He did it all, including sniffing glue as a kid, but his drug of choice was always booze. Just like his Dad. And my Dad. And his brother. And me.

It cost me my license to practice law, but it cost Eddie his education. He started earlier, and it ruined any chance he had of getting any kind of degree.

It cost him a half-decent income. He was smart, and had a gift for taking things apart and putting them back together again. He found work in the HVAC biz, but lost job after job because of booze or because his DUIs prevented him from driving vans. Who's going to take a chance on a 50 year-old guy with multiple DUIs? Those that did take him on took advantage of him.

It cost him meaningful relationships. He never married. To my knowledge, he never even dated much. He was a loner.

Finally, it cost him his life. At his viewing last night, the two pictures his mom selected were of his cat. It was a small crowd.

At one point, the Jehovah's Witnesses did help him. Say what you will about this group, he did stop drinking and drugging for extended periods when he was with them. But the demons were always there.

He was recently arrested and charged with DUI again, and was facing a five-year sentence. He did not want to disappoint his Mom again. So he hung himself on his porch. I think that might be a worse sentence than five years in jail. The world had become too painful for him.

His Mom blames herself for being too judgmental. His brother blames himself for failing to reach out to him. Neither is at fault.

Of course, the real culprit is alcohol. Our family is one of many ravaged by that disease.

If you have a chance to put in a good word for Eddie today, it would be appreciated.

Madness? This is Bethlehem.

Back in August, I told you that Bethlehem has a quaint little habit of dipping into different funds to pay operating expenses, especially when the till gets low. That's why a brand, spanking new firetruck sat unused in a City garage. Bethlehem borrowed the money to pay for that truck, but spent it for something else.

This is just one of the problems highlighted by an independent audit showing that the Christmas City finished 2009 in an $8.5 million sea of red ink. Instead of correcting this Rob-Peter-to-Pay-Paul disease, Bethlehem is continuing it.

At the very meeting in which Bethlehem's financial games were revealed, the City's Finance Committee discussed plans to borrow $6 million for capital projects. But guess what? Because Johnny Casino has already spent the money, the City has to borrow another $6 million.

To you math geniuses put there, that's twelve million for six million worth of work.

"This is madness," claims City resident Dana Grubb.

Madness? This is Bethlehem.

Blogger's Note: The above excerpt comes from video shot by Tony Simao, which appears on his YouTube Channel.

Is Elliot Sussman Being Groomed as New Medicare Czar?

I had a perfect opportunity and blew it. There he was, sitting right in front of me during a ZHB meeting in Bethlehem, and I just let him go. Dr. Elliot Sussman had just stepped down as top dog at Lehigh Valley Hospital, and I did not even know it. He certainly did not act like a big shot. For one thing, he quietly waited his turn. And when it was, he sounded like most fathers, hoping that converting the space atop his garage into a "guest home" would attract his adult children.

I let him get away.

OK, so we all know that Dr. Sussman stepped down at LVH? Suddenly. No mention is made of future plans. That's what happens when people are fired, but Dr Sussman was not acting like a man who had just been fired when I saw him last week. In fact, two physicians from different states tagged along with him.

I think he's going to Washington, and is keeping quiet about it until background checks are done and Senators are on board with him as a replacement to a beleagured Dr. Donald Berwick, who heads up the $700 billion per year Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Dr. Berwick's favorable comments about government-run health care in Britain, combined with claims about rationing health care services and disparaging remarks about the importance of the doctor-patient relationship, have him in hot water with Republicans. In fact, President Obama used his "recess appointment" tool to delay a contentious confirmation hearing. And now, Dr. Berwick runs from reporters.

Since he'll never be confirmed, why not replace him with someone Republicans actually like? That's where Dr. Elliot Sussman comes in.

The ex-LVH chief was at the White House, back in March, for a panel discussion with President Obama about health care reform. He was there when the Bill was signed into law. He's told the Greater LV Chamber of Commerce that he believes in a more gradual approach to health care reform. Although Dr. Sussman contributes primarily to Republicans, he contributed to both John Callahan and Charlie Dent in the most recent election cycle.

I have no evidence beyond what what is posted here. It makes sense to me, but for all I know, Dr. Sussman may be starting at St. Luke's next week.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Northampton County Council Backpedals on GEO

Last night, as I went into Northampton County's overbudget parking deck on my way to a County Council meeting, I noticed something strange. All kinds of Beemers, Mercedes and Big-Ass SUVs were there, many of them in spots reserved for the handicapped. I found out why when I got into the star chamber. It was the NIMBY crowd from Upper Mount Bethel Township. They came to make sure that the County pulled out of a possible agreement with Immigration officials that would pave the way for a privately-run, 2250-bed detention center for illegals.

This is not your typical slate belt crowd. For one thing, most of them still have their teeth. For another, some of them still have a New York accent. These are the folks who moved into $600,000 McMansions in two exclusive developments that happen to be pretty close to the site of this proposed detention center. "Not in my back yard," were the exact words used by one of them, John Altieri, who complained he didn't move here for this kind of nonsense.

This proposed detention center, which would be owned by prison giant GEO, would produce 500 permanent and 350 construction jobs in an area that was economically depressed before we went into recession. That might not matter much to people who hop into their luxury sedans for the daily commute into the Big Apple, but it means something to those looking for a job. A hoosegow might also consume too much water, or expose residents to unnecessary risks.

One thing is clear. It's too early in this process for someone to say Yes or No to this center.

But that's what happened. The Northampton County Bulldog, identified as the public face of the Privatize Gracedale movement, is unwilling to tangle with the Beemers and Mercedes from within his own Council District. Unlike Napoleon and the American Army, Ron Angle is unwilling to fight a war on two fronts, especially as Upper Mount Bethel Supervisors go into hiding and he ends up being identified as the face of Prison Town.

Although he'll deny this, he cut bait. He backed away from a project that I'm sure he supports because he fears it will cost him votes in an election year. He sponsored and even read a resolution in which the County goes into reverse gear on any agreement with Immigration.

I seriously doubt he helped himself.

Speakers railed against Prison Town for 1 1/2 hours. Angle addressed one of their leaders, a woman who insinuated that Angle had been paid or offered a consulting job with GEO.

"I tried to call you. Your number is not in the book."

"That's right," replied Miss Snob.

"Well my number is in the book. You can call me anytime."

"No thank you," replied Miss Snob.

Even though he reversed course and did exactly what they wanted, he's still a cunterman in her eyes. He's a multi-millionaire, but in her eyes, he's still poor white trash. He might have been the brightest person in that room last night, but in her eyes, he's an uneducated oaf. And while he's spent countless hours trying to bring jobs to the slate belt, she's been spending her money in New York City. In fact, next election day, most of these complainers will climb into their Big-Ass SUVs and head into Manhattan with little regard the locals.

The sole member of Council to refuse to reverse himself is Bruce Gilbert. He voted four weeks ago to enable Upper Mount Bethel Township to decide whether they wanted that detention center. It was a first step, requested by Supervisors who appeared at the meeting. Gilbert saw no reason to rescind some generic agreement that every other County already has with Immigration.

Now the McMansions are safe, but the slate belt will continue to have high unemployment and it's increasingly unlikely that GEO is willing to go through a buzzsaw when two other Counties are begging them to do business.

Both The Morning Call and Express Times have detailed, and far more objective, accounts.

Dent Supports Earmark Moratorium

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15) issued the following statement after voting to adopt a resolution prolonging the Republican-imposed moratorium on Congressionally-directed funding – popularly known as earmarks. With Republicans set to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January, the moratorium will apply to all Members of Congress serving in the House during the 112th Congress:

“For many Americans, the practice of earmarking exemplifies how Congress has strayed off course in its duty to responsibly allocate federal resources. I supported the moratorium adopted by the Republican Conference today because I believe it will help restore public confidence in the Congressional stewardship of tax dollars.

While the approval of this moratorium will effectively eliminate earmarks in legislation originating in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate has yet to fully embrace this necessary reform, as only Senate Republicans have adopted a moratorium for the 112th Congress. I urge Senate Democrats to follow the advice of their colleague Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and ‘get on board’. Establishing a bipartisan and bicameral moratorium would send a clear message to the American people that their Congressional representatives are committed to promoting greater fiscal responsibility.”

Grucela Bill For Vietnam War Vets Becomes Law in His Final Days as State Rep

Nearly two years ago, I told you about State Rep. Rich Grucela's effort to get high school diplomas for veterans of the Vietnam War who were unable to complete high school because of their military service. It is now law.

Grucela, who did not seek re-election this year, said it was one of the best retirement gifts he could ask for.

"I have worked for many years to see that these veterans receive their high school diplomas," said Grucela, who was first elected in 1998. "It's a high note for me personally to leave on. We talk a lot about the sacrifices members of the military make, and as a former teacher, I understand the significance of a high school diploma, even if a person doesn't need it for their career anymore."

Although the House and Senate passed Grucela's measure back in October s part of an omnibus school code bill. Governor Rendell vetoed the Bill on an unrelated matter, and the legislature voted to override Rendell's veto this week.

"It's been close to 60 years since the Vietnam War began, and the time to give those men and women a high school diploma was well overdue," Grucela said. "A high school diploma is a mile marker in life, and that sense of accomplishment should not be denied because a man or woman served their country."

Grucela explained that some veterans may have felt uncomfortable returning to school at a later age, were injured or ill, or simply needed to work full time to support themselves following the war.

"I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for supporting our Vietnam veterans and putting Pennsylvania among the ranks of the many other states that already have a similar program," he added.

Grucela's measure authorizes school boards to establish a program known as Operation Recognition for Vietnam veterans. The program has been used in the past for World War II and Korean War veterans.

Any honorably discharged veteran who served in the U.S. military in the Vietnam War between Feb. 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975, is eligible for a diploma. The veteran must have attended high school between 1958 and 1975 and have been a member of a graduation class between the years 1961 and 1975, but did not graduate because of entry into the military.

Additionally, a school board is able to award a diploma posthumously to an eligible veteran.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

LV Tea Party Commends Norco on No-Tax-Hike Budget, Gracedale Sale

The following statement is being made during tonight's Northampton County Council meeting by LV Tea Party Chairman Mat Benol. I honestly don't know how County officials will respond to kind words. I know they're not used to them.

"Dear County Executive Stoffa & the Northampton County Council:

"The Lehigh Valley Project 9-12/Tea Party Group commends you for developing a budget that includes some true cost cutting measures including the politically bold, but very necessary step, of privatizing Gracedale. The current hiring freeze has worked well to reduce the number of government workers, without resorting to many layoffs. These are wise management practices that will result in further cost reductions in the future. It is imperative during these challenging times that government limit the scope of its involvement, and reduce its stranglehold on the taxpayers and the economy. This 2011 budget is an excellent first step in reducing the cost of government in Northampton County.

"It is your task to continue to discover additional efficiencies and programs that can be either privatized or eliminated outright. One possibility is the millions of dollars that are spent on “Open Space” initiatives, which are clear violations of governmental jurisdiction, and should be eliminated. The free marketplace should determine the value of land, and it is not government’s role to subsidize some landowners with taxpayer money.

"We hope that the Council and the County Executive continue to adhere to fiscal responsible practices and further reduce the size of county government."

Fourth Street Bridge to Re-Open Monday

Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham announced today that the county’s Fourth Street Bridge, connecting Fourth Street in Allentown and Fifth Street in Whitehall, will reopen to traffic by rush hour on Monday November 22.

Like many others, Don himself commutes in daily from that area and has himself been inconvenienced. But improving the county’s aging infrastructure has been a priority in his Administration. The bridge has been closed since June 21 for major structural repairs.

The $865,000 project included the replacement of all bridge support bearings, expansion joints, drainage system and other incidental work.

Dr. Sussman: If He Builds It, They Will Come

Dr. Tho V. Tran, a prominent Linden Street dentist, and Dr. Elliott Sussman, who runs Lehigh Valley Hospital, both caught a break from Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board on November 17. It was a good night for the medical community.

Nurse practitioner Allen C. Smith III would like to purchase Dr. Tran's 1565 Linden Street home, which has a dental office on the first floor. But Smith wants to replace dental chairs and drills with examination tables, and needed a variance so he can conduct a medical practice at that location.

Dr. Tran has been trying to sell his property since 2004, and told zoners he's been unable to attract buyers because of the cost involved in converting a dental office to a home. "I'm 79 1/2 years old," he said. "Please do this so I can retire."

Dr. Sussman has no desire to sell his 452 N. New Street home, but needed permission to build a guest home on top of his garage. "It's principally a guest house for my children," he told zoners. He's hoping that if he builds it, they will come. He also admitted he'd sneak in there himself from time to time so he could enjoy a good book, and might even install a TV so he can "watch the Eagles win a few more football games."

Zoners quickly granted the relief requested by both Doctors. Chairman Gus Loupos told Dr. Tran, "Enjoy your retirement!"

Though neither a physician nor a dentist, zoners gave Jerry Fasnacht permission to expand the second floor at 421 E 5th Street to allow for a bathroom and two additional bedrooms. Cheryl Mittle, who came on behalf of her next door mother, was concerned about runoff from the roof and possible damage to her mother's home caused by the construction. But in response to questioning by Attorney Kevin Kelleher, Mittle withdrew her objections after learning that the roof is not being expanded and the construction work will be insured.
Updated 9:15 AM: One of my astute readers has just informed me that Dr. Sussman has stepped down from the helm of LVH. The news release making that announcement is here.

NorCo's $1.7 MM Parking Deck Repairs Are $500k Over Budget

When Northampton County's 290-space parking deck was first built in 1975, its estimated life was 35 to 40 years. Obviously, it had to be fixed. But at a Council Finance Committee yesterday, two engineering firms spent what seemed like 35 to 40 years, trying to justify a $513,767 cost overrun on a $1.7 million project.

"Unforeseen conditions" is the explanation. They apparently had no idea water could do so much damage.

"Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink."

Even the Ancient Mariner could have told them water was destroying that parking deck. Two engineering firms nevertheless put on lengthy power point presentations, claiming they were mystified by unforeseen damages.

Once completed, these improvements will extend the life of the garage by 15 to 20 years.

"In concrete restoration projects, you always run into surprises," explained Pennnoni Associates' engineer Matthew Stewart.

"Then you bid it accordingly," responded Council President Ron Angle. "We always get waxed up," he complained. "Whenever there's a government project, we get waxed up."

Exec John Stoffa pointed to the juvenile detention center project, which came in under budget. He proposed using that money to pay for the overruns. But even the normally cheerful Peg Ferraro was visibly angry at the extent of the overrun.

Council vented mostly on Public Works Director Steve DeSalva, who regularly works sixty hour weeks and took responsibility. But he also insisted, "It had to be done."

"Is this the end of the end of the end?" asked Angle. DeSalva promised to come back with a hard figure.

AOL Patch Invades Hellertown

Earlier this week, I told you that AOL Patch is underway here in the Lehigh Valley, making its debut in Emmaus. Now Hellertown has joined the party.

Editor Josh Popichak (read about him here) has sent out this greeting:

"Hellertown-Lower Saucon Patch is a 24/7, hyperlocal news and information website offering exclusive coverage of the Saucon Valley. We hope to become your most trusted source for information about news, events, sports, arts and business in Hellertown and Lower Saucon Township.

"Please feel free to email me feedback, questions, story ideas...and whatever else you're inspired to share.

"If you have announcements or upcoming events you'd like us to post, please email them to Hellertown Patch's wonderful calendar editor, Shelley Goldberg, at sgold1111@gmail.com."

"We're looking forward to serving you and providing you with the best in local coverage in the months and years ahead. Please check us out!"

I've been told Patch will hit the Internet news stands in Bethlehem and Easton next week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Northampton County's Health Care Costs Rise 25% in One Year

Budget Administrator Doran Hammon has just told Northampton County Council's Finance Committee that there's been a 25% increase in health care costs for County employees this year, That's $3.3 million.

"That's exactly why we need less employees," remarked Council President Ron Angle.

Gracedale Referendum Only Has 10.774 Signers

To have Graceale's future decided by the voters, 10% of the County's registered voters must demand that it be placed on the ballot. Those who wish to take this matter out of County Council's hands had a perfect opportunity on November 2, at the last general election. They tried, but they came up short. Way short.

According to record on file at the Voter Registration office, 10,774 have asked to let the voters decide Gracedale's future. But they need nearly 20,000. As the weather gets colder and night comes sooner, this seems like an insurmountable burden.

Of the 10,774 signatures on file, at least ten per cent are defective in one way or another. Addresses are missing, names are left blank. One of the petitions is duly notarixed, but was never signed by the person circulating it.

Is Bloomberg Eyeing White House Bid?

He might be just what this nation needs to end the partisan wrangling.

Patch: No Tax Hike Planned For Emmaus

Gracedale Sale Depicted as Best Answer for Residents and Taxpayers

Before last night's informational meeting concerning Gracedale at Bangor's Beehive, Ron Angle invited me over for a home-cooked meal. Aside from meals at my brother's house, I rarely have that opportunity, so I accepted. As I always do when I go to Chez Angle, I got lost and ended up in Stroudsburg, but still made it to Ron's house in time for roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and lima beans. It was great food and company, but a lousy night. In the slate belt, the rain is always colder and the fog is always thicker. But when we arrived at the Beehive, I was surprised to see that at least fifty people had turned out. And at the door, instead of being greeted by the usual petitions for a referendum, tea party member Chris Miller handed me a flyer stating, "Save Gracedale (Sell it!)" After last night's meeting, it's hard to escape that conclusion.

Sitting next to me was Birdman Paul, who brought his camera to capture politicians in their natural habitat. Before the night was over, he had banded Angle, State Rep. Rich Grucela and Dauphin County Commssioner Jeff Haste, who migrated from the land of midnight payraises for an evening in the slate belt. Council members Bruce Gilbert, Barb Thierry and Tom Dietrich were there, as well as County administrators John Conklin and Ross Marcus. But the star of the show was Eckert Seamans legal heavyweight Mike Miller, whose powerful presentation seemed to sway a dubious audience. I'll try to summarize the points made.

Deficits. - Three out of every four publicly owned nursing home is running at a deficit. In 2009, Gracedale's shortfall was $4.6 million, and this year's deficit is ecpected to run at about $5 million. Next year, if you include needed capital expenditures, Gracedale will run $11.7 million in the red. Over the next ten years, $70-80 million in taxpayer dollars will be needed to finance operations and capital expenditures. Since we only bring in around $80 million in real estate tax revenue, this is a money pit.

Reimbursement. - For reasons known only in the land of midnight payraises and the bowels of our nation's capitol, County-owned nursing homes get the shaft when it comes to reimbursement for Medicaid. In 2006, for example, Gracedale received $2.6 million less than it would have received as a private facility. In 2010, our nursing home is reimbursed $4.3 million less than it would receive if it were private.

Competing pressures. - The government has to decide between a new boiler at Gracedale or fixing a bridge. A private company can concentrate on the nursing home.

Trend against nursing homes. - Thirty-eight of Pennsylvania's sixty-seven Counties no longer provide a public nursing home, and an additional seven Counties are considering a sale.

Reducing the size will fail. - The smaller you get, the less money you get, and that begins to affect the quality of care offered to residents.

Benefits. - The benefits made available to the workforce in a County-owned facility are a whopping seventy per cent of their actual salary.

Quality of care. - That may actually increase under private management. Unless they provide a high quality of care, they will lose residents to other nursing homes that provide it. "Quality of care drives success in the long-term care industry," according to Miller. He added that quality of care can be provided for by "contractual commitment" with a new buyer. It could even be associated with the star-rating system at Gracedale. Dauphin County Comm'r Haste stated that the man reason for selling Dauphin's public nursing home was to improve that quality of care. Angle added, "We are very concerned about the patients in there." Council member Bruce Gilbert added, "That is our very deepest concern."

Access to the Indigent. - Miller explained that, when he negotiated with the private buyer at Dauphin County, the buyer contractually committed to "always keep the front door open" for the poor. This commitment, somewhere around 80%, was actually included in the deed and will bind successors. There are also quarterly reports to assure the County of compliance.

Employee retention. - "You just can't bring in 800 employees," remarked Attorney Miller. "The new owner wants them to stay because of their institutional knowledge." Comm'r Haste added that many employees left the nursing home, only to return a few months later. Angle noted that many of the Gracedale workers (300 plus) could retire from the County and start working on a second pension at a private facility. "It can be very lucrative, quite frankly, for the employees," reasoned Angle. Everyone agreed with Bonnie Labar's statement that "it takes a special kind of person" to want to work in a nursing home. Gilbert added that "the employees are the true jewel."

Will Sale Enable Tax reduction? - Angle noted that, thanks to a poorly considered $111 million bond, the County was shackled with a quarter-billion dollars in debt. In addition, the swaption price tag is somewhere around $18 million. Angle voted against it, but has to figure out a way to pay the piper. Gracedale itself has about $4 million in debt. "So if you think selling Gracedale is somehow a windfall, it's not a windfall at all." He presented a sale as something that would help both the patients and the taxpayers.

He acknowledged not everyone is gong to be happy. "My wife said this just yesterday, 'I'm not sure there's anybody happy with you anymore.' I said, 'Well, I'll go up in the field, fire up a cigar, and talk to the cows. As long as I keep feeding them, they'll still be my friends.'"

"Nobody is going to vote to sell Gracedale and deteriorate the level of care or eliminate the opportunity for people who need to go there because of their finances."

A fourth informational meeting about Gracedale is scheduled for tonight, 7 PM, at Chrin Community Center, 4100 Green Pond Road, Palmer, PA 18045.
Updated 12:15 PM: Both The Morning Call and Express Times covered this event.

Real Rev Thanks County For Considering Poor in Gracedale Sale

Nevin L Kershner, a retired minister with the United Church of Christ, is one of forty-four area clergymen who last week urged Northampton County to keep Gracedale Nursing Home accessible to the poor, even if it is sold. But after hearing the facts at an informational session last night, he withdrew his concerns.

"I refer to a letter which you received, dated November 11, from 35 of us ministers who have been meeting and talking about this whole situation at Gracedale. I must apologize in that we did not have the information that you presented tonight. You've, quite frankly, addressed very positively everything we were concerned about.

"We did not want to get involved in whether it's sold or it's not sold or anything of that sort. We bow to your wisdom. You people know much more about it than we do.

"All we were concerned about is that the residents, and in particular the indigent or the poor people of Northampton County, would be taken care of. I suggest you have done that. So I just make the comment and thank you for what you've done."

God Speaks to the Fake Rev.

Braying on his Save Gracedale blog, fake Rev. Mario Martinez claims Buddy Christ has sided with the Gracedale Goons. "With him on our side, who would dare be against us? ... Gracedale is destined by the Lord Jesus Christ to continue to serve the Northampton County widows and the orphans until He decides differently." He adds, "Take note that my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does not approve of the sale of Gracedale."

Alrighty then.

Of course, Ron Angle is in league with Satan or might be even be the Devil himself. According to the Save Gracedale blog, "It is inconceivable in this day and age to think that we could go to war with Iraq to take down the tyrant Saddam, and missed the one we have in NorCo. Well, your [sic] in our sights [sic] now."

At last night's informational meeting concerning Gracedale, conducted in Bangor, fake Rev. Martinez decided to deliver yet another sermon, something he does every time he gets within a 500' radius of a microphone. But a blastback from the speaker system kept silencing him. As I whispered at the time, "Maybe it's God."

How Ron Angle Got Elected to County Council

Ron Angle was first elected to Northampton County Council in 1999. Republicans and Democrats have both been moaning ever since. How could it happen? It almost didn't. Ron himself has told me the story. Believe it or not, he got his big break from a nursing home.

Like most gazillionaires, Angle hates to spend money, especially for political races. But he does like to work. And when he was running against Nick Sabatine in the '99 Republican Primary, he went through several pairs of shoes pounding on doors. He even went to tiny Walnutport, the western boundary of the County so detached from everything else that it might as well be in Carbon or Lehigh County. It was there that he struck gold.

Going through his street list, he saw a house with 14 Republican occupants. Now he thought that only happened to Democrats, but he decided to investigate. When he got there, he realized it was a tiny nursing home that State Rep. Julie Harhart had visited some years before. She convinced them all to register, and they did so as Republicans.

Ron must have made a good impression because several of them told him they would vote for him, but were unable to get to the polls. Angle told them they could cast absentee ballots, explained the procedure, and left.

Around 3:00 PM one afternoon, the woman running this small nursing home called Angle in a panic. She told him that eight residents had decided to vote by absentee ballot, had filled everything out and had voted for him, but they all had forgotten to send the ballots into the courthouse. That very day was the final day in which absentee ballots would be accepted.

Angle hopped into his truck, drove from Upper Mount Bethel to Walnutport to pick up the ballots, and then from there drove them to the voters' registration office, making it just five minutes before closing time.

On election day, Angle won his race against Sabatine by just three votes. Had he not made that trip, or had he been five minutes later, Nick Sabatine would have won that race by five votes. He went on to defeat Charlie Dertinger in the general that year, and that is how we got the Northampton County Bulldog.

Northampton County Solicits Gracedale Proposals

Northampton County's webpage now includes a "Request for Qualifications & Proposals" for the sale of the Gracedale nursing home. You can follow the bidding yourself by registering here.

Open Letter to Allentown Business Community from PaCAN

PaCAN is a conservative, non-partisan, non-profit that represents small-and medium-sized businesses. Its goal is job creation, and believes that is best achieved by a pro-growth business climate in Pennsylvania. Below is an open letter to the Allentown business community.

"The fight against the increased Earned Income Tax in Allentown continues Wednesday the 17th at 5:30PM in City Hall. Your attendance at this meeting is crucial to convince city government of their reckless decision.

"On November 10th, the City Council paraded department after department in front of the public, but failed to cover the most controversial aspect of the meeting: the forty percent Earned Income Tax (EIT) increase on all workers in the city of Allentown. This oppressive tax is slated to cover the massive costs of Allentown’s generous public employee pensions. Obviously this issue is controversial and last Wednesday’s casual conversation and jovial manner conveyed an intentional stalling by the Council to evade any tax sound-bite on the Channel 69 News in attendance.

"The Mayor and City Council are circling the wagons and opposition to their tax scheme is met with special treatment or arm twisting. Even PPL, which initially opposed the tax, has back-peddled to a neutral position to avoid possible reprisal from the Mayor’s office.

"Both the Mayor and City Council must ask themselves how raising the EIT represents the hundreds of businesses and their employees in Allentown. Don’t these people deserve to be represented as much as the public sector employees who in many instances make more money and have better benefits than private sector ones?

"Allentown’s businesses are also without an advocate as the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce (GLVCC) and their Allentown counterpart have been silent on the looting of Allentown’s businesses to cover the city’s “retire at 40 with 153% pay” pension program. It is necessary for them to represent their members and speak out against this state-sponsored theft. If you are a member, please call 610-841-4582 to ask them to oppose the tax increase.

"Allentown’s businesses will have tough decisions to make in the next few months. You have within you the power to stop the looting of your life’s work: the business that feeds and shelters your family. We need your help to make Mayor Pawlowski and Allentown City Council reconsider this misguided course.


Matt Balazik & Skip Salvesen
Managing Directors
PaCAN – Pennsylvania Commercial Action Network"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bethlehem Tp: Stray Cats, Atiyeh, Libraries ... and a No-Tax-Increase Budget

In what almost seemed like an afterthought in a night dominated by discussions about stray cats, library fees and developer Abe Atiyeh, Bethlehem Township Commissioners on November 15 formally introduced next year's $14.38 million, no-tax-increase budget. Like many surrounding communities, the Township is leaving vacancies unfilled. There will be no wage hikes for the nonunion workforce, although three unions are still their negotiating contracts. There are also deep cuts in monies to volunteer organizations. But not one person rose to demand more money. And Commissioners, who discussed the budget extensively in prior meetings, were all talked out.

But they had plenty to say about stray cats. In a new agreement with the Center for Animal Health & Welfare, a successor to the SPCA, Bethlehem Township will be charged $100 for every stray cat and dog from the Township, whether brought in by the police or a private citizen. In 2009, that fee was just $50, according to Township Manager Howard Kutzler. This year, the Township has already been billed $7,000. "That's a lot of money," complained Commissioner Thomas Hudak, who added that many of the strays being brought in are cats. "How menacing is a cat?" he asked. President Arthur Murphy, however, could see no way around it. "We really have no choice," he argued, and Commissioners voted to execute a new agreement, with only Hudak dissenting.

With feral cats out of the way, Attorney Stan Margle briefed Commissioners on the confusing status of two lawsuits involving developer Abe Atiyeh. One arises out of a controversial treatment center proposed along Fritch Drive, recently approved by Judge Michael Franciosa, on condition that it be a County-run facility. Because Northampton County has now prefers West Easton over Fritch Drive, Atiyeh has appealed a settlement agreement in which he himself participated.

A second lawsuit, which involves Atiyeh's contention that zoning fails to provide for a prison, has led Margle to suggest amending the Township Zoning Ordinance to give Commissioners, and not the Zoning Hearing Board, the final say in these matters. Although they decided to wait for a decision from Judge Franciosa, Commissioner Paul Weiss stated that they, and not the Zoning Hearing Board, should make the call on the policy matters that arose with the proposed treatment center.

Having dealt with strays and Abe Atiyeh, the final problem tackled by Commissioners was the Bethlehem Public Library. President Murphy, unhappy with the increasing annual contribution, set for next year at $375,000.

Commissioner Thomas Nolan said that a library "is very useful. They afford opportunities for a lot of people on a lot of different levels, so you just don't say 'Let's go.'" He added that Bethlehem Township had opted out of the library many years before but has been a member since 1987. "We're not in 1987 anymore," answered President Murphy. "There's a thing called the Internet. ... Kids are no longer using the library for their research."

Commissioners will next meet on Monday, December 1, at 7:00 P.M. in the Main Meeting Room at the Bethlehem Township Municipal Building.

This Kid Can Play That Violin!

When I was a kid, two of my sisters took piano lessons for a few years. They'd play a song or two whenever my parents threw a party, and all the guests would applaud politely. I was to suffer a much crueler fate. The violin.

For seven years, and against my will, I took violin lessons. When the kids at school found out, I took a lot of teasing from just about everyone except my friend Danny. He played the accordion.

In addition to hating the instrument, I was terrible. A violin is no easy instrument to play. One mistake and it sounds like nails being dragged across a chalkboard. My parents knew. I was rarely asked to play for my father's guests, unless he was really loaded.

The funny thing is that, once my parents stopped forcing me to take lessons, I began to love it. As a high school student, I even played in a Moravian College orchestra. I still was lousy, but I was a "second" violinist, and we're supposed to be bad. I eventually drifted off into other things, but to this day, I remain very fond of the violin and its very few masters.

One of them is VCU Senior Eric Stanley. He posted a Youtube video of what he calls a "violin cover" in January, and it has taken off. He has since posted more of them, and is getting invitations to perform. Instead of hitting notes precisely and mechanically, he plays with a passion and an obvious love for his music, and his violin rewards both him and the rest of us.

I wanted to share his interpretation of an Eminem tune with you, and hope you are as moved as I was.

Viagra Giant Giving 12 Acres (Not Inches) to Lehigh County

Although a Kalamazoo study links Pfizer to the pollution of our watershed, the drug giant insists it's on a "green journey," and is all about protecting our environment. To prove it, the blue pill maker has decided to donate 12 acres along the scenic Lehigh River in to Lehigh County for use as a public recreation area.

Because it's on what was once a pigment manufacturing plant in Slatington, all kinds of regulatory approvals are needed. But Pfizer claims the land has been returned to its natural state following demolition and environmental cleanup.

All the trees at this site sure are standing tall. Next door is another tract donated by Pfizer for Lehigh County's newly christened Lehigh River boat ramp. The fish there are all blue, but there sure are a lot of them, and they're all very stiff.

"The residents of Lehigh County are very grateful to Pfizer for this generous donation of land and for its help in cleaning up the environmental issues at this site to be preserved as a recreation area," said Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham. "We appreciate Pfizer's actions as a good corporate citizen of the Lehigh Valley."

“Our goal from the beginning was to make this property available for a use that benefits the community,” said Michael Wolf, Government Relations Director for Pfizer in Pennsylvania. “We’re pleased that Lehigh County will use the land to expand the community’s excellent recreational assets.”

The company that gave us Viagra just keeps on giving. Some thank it for 12 inches. Lehigh County can thank it for 12 acres.