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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hey Mayfair, It's the Damn Fence!

Blogger's Note: I first published this story in 2006 after visiting Mayfair. It's the last time I went. According to The Morning Call, attendance is down about 30% this year. Executive Director Terry Glennon is blaming everyone and everything, except that damn fence or his own unwillingness to be flexible and creative.

Driving through the heart of Allentown to attend Mayfair, I was impressed by its large and lively Latino population, who seemed to enjoy the warm Saturday evening. Families promenaded along Hamilton Street, and a "gang" of about 5 kids pelted each other with buckets of water.

Well, those kids had more fun than me. Like Team Bush, Mayfair officials seem intent on keeping out the very Latinos I saw in inner city Allentown. Team Bush wants to build a 7 million mile fence around the US, and Mayfair officials surrounded their fair with an ugly chain link fence. They also charged $5 admission. I can't tell you whether they made you speak a few English phrases or produce citizenship papers because I hopped the fence as well as Jim Gregory, not too shabby for an old fart. I'm used to evading metal detectors at Easton's courthouse, so this was a snap!

I walked from one end of the fair to the other, saw about 7 or 8 Latinos, and they were the ones picking up garbage. Way to go, Allentown! In the spirit of diversity, "English only" Allentown was serving tacos served by cute blue-eyed blondes and did have a Caribbean stand with fake palm trees. Now you're going to say, "Wait a tic! There was a Latino radio station on Friday night!" To this, I respond, "Yeah, and some of my best friends are black."

The National Guard was one of Mayfair's heralded "artisans," with a rock-climbing wall for the kiddies. I think they were setting up a machine gun firing range as I left. For some reason, no stands were set aside for the artisans from LEPOCO, our local peace group. They probably couldn't afford the entrance fee.

In its heavy coverage of this event, the normally progressive Morning Call failed even to hint this festival might discriminate against Allentown's large low-income population, much of which is Hispanic. Well, its reporters may not have noticed. But as The Morning Call itself acknowledged in an editorial promotion, it's also a corporate sponsor, which explains its heavy positive spin. And let's face it, Allentown's Hispanic population reads some Spanish paper anyway.

What really kills me is that, not only did The Morning Call sponsor an event that was fenced to keep out the peasants, but the state also kicked in $50,000, thanks to two state reps. anxious to keep their jobs.

If Mayfair officials want to make money next year, I have a suggestion. Charge people who want to leave; they'll pay anything.


Mateo Braccili, who owns the Lehigh Valley's only Hispanic radio station, WHOL 1600 AM, was kind enough to assure me that, at least on Friday night, Mayfair had a large Hispanic contingent.

"As the owner of the largest and only full-time Spanish media, WHOL "Hola 1600am," I wanted to respond to your comments. MayFair dedicated an entire day to Hispanic's on Friday. Our radio station was the host for several Latino acts beginning at 4:00 pm - 10:30pm. Even though the weather did not cooperate, we managed to attract nearly 1,000 local Hispanics to our main concert event. MayFair also reached out to us to coordinate other events for the weekend as well.

"MayFair was at risk of not happening at all this year. It has become too expensive for the city and festival coordinators to present. The difficult decision of charging admission was necessary in order to continue the event. This was the case last year as well. Our radio station was among only a few chosen to help MayFair with entertainment.

"My suggestion for you is to attend MayFair next year on the day they dedicate to Hispanics. You will feel much better!

"I appreciate your thoughts and concerns. You obviously share the same passion about the Hispanic culture as we do."

I thank Mr. Braccili for his comments.

Northampton County's Right Not to Know Law

When Pennsylvania adopted its new Right-to-Know Law in 2009, the whole point was to increase transparency in state and local government. Anything kept by the government would now be "presumed" a public record. Every local government, from West Easton Borough to Lehigh County, would designate someone to handle open records requests, which could be by letter, fax or even email. Requests would be answered within five days.

Sounds pretty impressive, doesn't it?

Reality and theory are two different things. In reality, some officials just don't want you to know what they're doing.

The first place they'll get you is with the Right-to-Know officer. Now, instead of asking for a copy of something, and getting it right away with no fuss, you have to fill out a form addressed to someone who has absolutely no interest in answering you. More often than not, nobody even knows who this person is.

How about looking at the municipal webpage? If there is one, Section 505 of the Right-to-Know Law specifically requires that the following information be posted:

(1) Contact information for the open-records officer.
(2) Contact information for the Office of Open Records or other applicable appeals officer.
(3) A form which may be used to file a request.
(4) Regulations, policies and procedures of the agency relating to this act.

Got that? Now go and take a gander at Northampton County's webpage. Do you see any of this information? I was unable to find it there. It's nonexistent on Bethlehem's webpage, too.

In Northampton County, there are separate Right-to-Know officers for Council, Administration and Court requests. The Home Rule Charter establishes the Controller's office as a independent elected official with the right to hire and fire his own staff, including his own solicitor. So he gets his own open record officer, too.

Not one of these officers is listed anywhere on the County webpage, in spite of a "How Do I ..." section.

Last year, when I filed a Right-to-Know request in Bethlehem, it took me longer to find out the appropriate officer (the Solicitor) than it did to fill out the form. Last week, when I submitted a Right-to-Know request to Controller Steve Barron, nobody knew if an officer has even been designated.

I ended up sending a copy to AFSCME, just to play it safe.

OK, so let's assume you've finally found the right person and have filled out the right form, you should get everything in five days. What's five days?

If you are following a fast-moving or complicated story, five days could make your information stale, or could lead to other information for which you must fill out another form and wait another five days.

Guess what? That five day requirement is really thirty days.

Under Section 902 of the Right-to-Know Law, the open records officer can take up to thirty days for "legal review" or other bullshit. Then, at the end of that thirty days, it can simply deny your request, citing one of 31 exceptions.

The state agency handling appeals is pretty good, but they can be ignored, too.

I went through this last year in Bethlehem, and waited several months for information that could have been handed to me the day I made my request.

Now, Controller Steve Barron is dragging his feet, too. On May 23, I filed a very specific request for Barron's correspondence with various union officials, Council members and the Gracedale crowd. Nobody knew the mysterious Right-to-Know officer. Turns out that it's Tim Brennan, Barron's Solicitor.

I've already received a thirty-day letter citing the need for legal review, redaction, giving Barron all the time he needs to scrub his computers and dance off in his kilt to the next union function.
Mea Culp, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa. County Webpage Does list RTKL officers! I screwed up. On the right sidebar of the County webpage, there is a link to the Right-to-Know Law, listing right-to-know officers for criminal and non-criminal cases. But it is inaccurate. Frank Flisser, the Right-to-Know officer for Council matters, is not listed. Nor is Tim Brennan, the Right-to-Know officer for the Controller.

MoveOn Spent $62,000 Against Dent in 2010

MoveOn, according to its own webpage, has a PAC "to fight for a more progressive America and elect progressive candidates." That has never included LV Congressman Charlie Dent.

On the 2010 election cycle, this non-local PAC spent $62,303 in an unsuccessful effort to replace Dent with Johnny Casino.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Day to Remember Our Military

LV Congressman Charlie Dent has always had a high regard for this nation's military, their families and their veterans. It's no surprise to read that Dent would join State Rep. Bob Freeman, another class act, in honoring an 89 year old Hellertown vet who has performed 2,650 renditions of taps.

Below is Congressman Dent's Memorial Day statement.

“Each year, on the final Monday in May, Americans gather to observe Memorial Day – a holiday in which we pay tribute to the many courageous members of our Armed Forces who gave their lives defending our freedom. Started in 1868 as a means for a still fragile nation to honor the countless troops lost during the Civil War, today we recognize all the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice serving our country.

“While only a single day on the calendar is devoted to commemorating these brave heroes, we must honor their sacrifices at all times by embracing the freedoms they died defending. In life, our soldiers, sailors and marines personify American patriotism – risking life and limb fighting for the country they love. In death, they remind us that the protection of our values and ideals often comes at a great cost.

“As we honor our fallen men and women this Memorial Day, we must also express our gratitude to the country’s many veterans, who fought to protect the American people, and active duty service members, who are currently fighting to ensure our security.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

God Punishes Nazareth Moravians

Last week, the Fake Rev tells us God killed 139 Joplin residents because He was pissed at Obama. Now He's venting His Divine Wrath on Nazareth's Moravian Church. Churchgoers were greeted this morning with five feet of water in the church basement after a water main burst.

I don't have a TV like the Fake Rev, so I called God on his iPhone. Sure enough, He's in a Holy Lather because this week's sugarcake wasn't sweet enough. "It was too bland," He said. "If I wanted a Hostess twinkie, "I could just go to a 7-11."

Asked whether He might be over-reacting, the Omnipotent One snarled, "Over-reacting? This is is My Day after six days of bailing your asses out every frickin' minute. You think I could have one good cup of Joe and one half-decent Moravian sugarcake. They're lucky I didn't send a lightning bolt up their ass."

"So I guess you did whip up those tornadoes in Joplin?" I asked.

"What do you think I am, cRaZy? Only wackadoodles would think something stupid like that. Are you going to be all day? I'm teeing off with Moses in 15."

I let Him go.

United Nations of Plants at 2184 Drury Lane

When Bassem Samaan was laid off by Agere, he could have wasted his time watching TV and collecting unemployment. Instead, he threw himself into his passion - fruit. He began growing different varieties of every fruit imaginable, from mulberries to persimmons. But as a native of Lebanon, the fruit that intrigued him the most was the fig. He visited every Greek, Italian and Syrian neighborhood he could find, in search of figs.

Ten years later, Samaan has another job, but he also has 230 varieties of fig trees growing in his backyard at 2184 Drury Lane in Bethlehem. He even has a small greenhouse for the Winter months.

Everything, from the Che tree (Chinese mulberry) on Drury lane, to the Brazilian passion fruit springing up among his grass, is edible. He grows zaatar, a pungent yet tasty herb used in Middle Eastern dishes. A banana tree decorates his back yard, and although it bears no fruit, its large leaf is great for grilling seafood. Budding Kiwi flowers promise good things to come. "My yard is a United Nations of plants," Samaan joked during a tour of his home, as he tried to suppress sneezes. Ironically, this master gardener has allergies.

How about local fruit? In his front yard, he has a pawpaw, a native North American tree that can withstand temperatures of -25 degrees. You've never seen this fruit at your local grocer because its shelf life is nonexistent. But chilled pawpaw was one of George Washington's favorite desserts, and Jefferson planted it at Monticello.

Unlike most fruits, the pawpaw attracts no pests, and its leaves and bark actually contain natural insecticides. Samaan uses no chemical sprays on his produce.

In addition to the fruit, Samaan also grows Cedar of Lebanon trees.

About two years ago, Samaan began offering fig, kiwi, pawpaw and Cedar of Lebanon plants for sale online from his webpage, Trees of Joy. On May 25, Bethlehem zoners agreed unanimously that on-line sale is a permitted use, even in a residential neighborhood, and requires no variance.

He's a member of Backyard Fruitgrowers, and has lectured on his passion from Lancaster to Penn State.

Cedar of Lebanon bonsai.

Kiwi Flowers

Fig Fruit growing

Banana tree leaf: great for grilling

Have a fig! (This photo courtesy of Bassem Samaan)

Or maybe a pawpaw or persimmon! (This photo courtesy of Bassem Samaan)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bethlehem's New Zoning Ordinance On Its Way to City Council

Bethlehem's new zoning ordinance, its first in over forty years, is on its way to City Council, but not without some controversy over one of its authors, Planning Director Darlene Heller.

Lauded as a "user friendly" ordinance, Heller has stated it provides for more appropriate, yet flexible, urban development. It maintains existing, healthy neighborhoods. Finally, it makes provisions for environmentally sensitive lands.

It's the culmination of over two years of work. Heller's Planning Department conducted public meetings in the Fall of 2009, Summer of 2010, as well as one final meeting in May. A copy of the proposed Zoning Ordinance was posted on the City website for comment, and Heller also met with different interest groups along the way.

Although Heller refuses to budge on what some City residents describe as the "Stefkoization" of a portion of Easton Avenue, her department did modify building heights along West Broad Street and dropped some planned zoning changes in some neighborhoods.

When she presented the proposed ordinance to Planners on May 26, she was still making changes to (1) ban commercial trucks (weighing over 10,000 lb.) in residential areas; (2) reduce billboard sizes along Route 378; (3) modify parking lot lighting; and (4) change nonconforming lots.

The public was still making suggestions, too. Activist Bill Shierer had ten concerns of his own, from residential zoning in a portion of Stratford Park to the 60' height limit of buildings along West Broad Street.

Before the vote, City Council candidate Al Bernotas voiced a complaint about Heller, who lives in Allentown. "We have people writing zoning ordinances who do not live here," he objected.

Planning Chair Jim Fiorentiono asked Bernotas to be more specific, but Bernotas declined, stating that naming Heller would be a violation of Robert's Rules against personal attacks. Fiorentino responded that, whether he was naming someone or not, Bernotas was still making a personal attack. "I don't think you should be attacking the hard-working people who work for the City of Bethlehem," he said.

Bernotas then suggested that the Planning Commission was about to "rubber stamp" the proposed ordinance, but Fiorentino described that as an "improper metaphor," pointing to the numerous meetings that have occurred.

Almost immediately after this exchange, Planner Steve Thode moved they recommend the Zoning Ordinance to City Council. His motion passed unanimously.

Next stop, City Council.

A PJ Whelihan By Any Other Name

Despite flashes of white light in an otherwise black sky, accompanied by a wind that rattled the windows, Hanover Township's Zoning Hearing Board heard three appeals on May 26. One of those was storm all by itself, involving three pontificating lawyers, a calculator-wielding engineer and what seemed like hundreds of exhibits. The subject of this major controversy? A 41 sq ft facade sign at PJ Whelihan's Pub and Restaurant, scheduled to open in July at the site of the defunct Bennigan's and Paddy's, located at 3395 High Point Blvd.

Under current zoning, only 16 sq ft signs are permitted, but PJ Whelihan's Ray McCausland testified not once, but about forty times, that it's nearly impossible to see it from Schoenersville Road, the main drag in that area. In addition, Whelihan lawyer Erich Schock produced photograph after photograph, from different seasons of the year, to prove his point. "A sign only has usefulness when it is visible," he claimed, as he buried Hanover Township lawyer Leo DeVito in a mountain of photographs and maps.

DeVito eventually dug his way out and politely cross-examined McCausland about a sign that states, "P.J. Whelihan's Pub and Restaurant Established 1983." Although McCausland insisted that's part of their branding and the name had to be that long, Schock eventually saw the PJ Whelihan on the wall, and dropped "Established 1983."

With that change, Zoners Joan Rosenthal and Vince Horvath approved a variance allowing a sign that will be nearly twice what is allowed by the zoning ordinance. Chairman Paul Balla dissented.

In another appeal, Bethlehem's Director of Water and Sewer Resources, David Brong, asked zoners to waive a zoning requirement that his home and other improvements be no more than 22% of his 24,315 sq ft lot at 1204 Alyssa Place. With the patios Brong would like to install, his footprint would be 26%.

Attorney Joe Piperato, representing Brong, produced evidence that 34% of Brng's lot will be woodland, even though only 20% is required. In addition, he established through Keystone Consulting Engineer David Martin that, whether the footprint is 22% or 26% will make no difference in destroying any trees.

Brong's appeal, characterized by Chairman Balla as "cut and dry," was unanimously granted.

In their final case, Metro PCS was granted a variance for a telecommunications facility atop a 78' PPL tower at 5325 Northgate Drive, which will be extended in height to 85'8". Attorney Nicholas A. Cucé, Jr., representing Metro PCS, agreed with DeVito's request that a steady red beacon be placed atop the tower.

Notice of this proposed tower was provided to Lehigh Valley International Airport, and there was no response.

Metro PCS is a no-contract wireless provider, and this tower is its first in the Lehigh Valley.

Bethlehem's Dirty Underwear

For nearly twenty years, Historic Bethlehem has offered a "a day of visits to distinctive homes in the Lehigh Valley area," complete with tea sipping, chocolate nibbling and even olive oil. Cost? $75. At their May 26 meeting, Bethlehem's Planning Commission took a virtual tour of a different sort, and were exposed to six of the Christmas City's biggest eyesores. Cost? $0. Leading this expedition was Chief Housing Inspector Mike Palos. He asked planners to designate these properties as blighted, the first step in the eminent domain process.

"The last thing we want to do is pick up properties by eminent domain," explained Palos, who expressed hope that this designation will spur remedial action by the owners. Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Tony Hanna, echoing Palos, called eminent domain "a very terrible power. We can take someone's property." But as Bethlehem activist Dana Grubb noted, "It takes only one property in any neighborhood to degrade the quality of life."

Palos presented planners with pictures and information about these six properties:

1) 1240 Penna. Ave. - The owner of this property, Edward Montesino, is deceased. An illegal addition was underway at the rear of the property, which is now exposed.

2) 945 Wyandotte Street. - Owner Steven Govero resides in Missouri. There have been numerous break-ins at the rear of the property, and housing inspectors have found drug paraphernalia.

3) 651 Ridge Street. - Owner Donald Dancho is deceased, and just three days ago, the City had to plywood the back door. There are also what Palos calls "police issues" at the site.

4) 542 Ontario Street. - This 1,224 sq ft single-family home is subject to a lot of break-ins and, according to Palos, "has become a dumping ground for the neighborhood." He claims the property has been vacant since 2005, when the owner was charged with criminal activity. The City is apparently unaware that the property was seized in forfeiture proceedings by Northampton County. Appeals to the Commonwealth and Supreme Court have been denied.

5) 234 E. Morton Street. - The local owner of this 1,801 sq. ft. building has failed to respond to numerous letter and citations going back to 2008

6) 18 W. Garrison Street. - The local owner of this 1285 sq ft single family home has failed to respond to complaints going back to 2006. It looks like the home is being swallowed by surrounding vegetation. According to Palos, it "sticks out" in a nice neighborhood.

After Palos' presentation, Bethlehem planners unanimously agreed to designate these properties as blighted. They also appointed Planning Director Darlene Heller to serve as their representative on the Vacant Property Review Board. Tony Hanna warns that, because of the "crisis in the mortgage market," there are more abandoned and vacant properties in Bethlehem.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fake Rev: Tornadoes Are God's Punishment For Obama's Israeli Policy

The Fake Rev, who alternates between calling himself "We, the People" and someone who talks to Jesus through the television set, claims Jesus just told him why we've been getting hit so hard by tornadoes. Jesus has killed over 500 people because he's pissed at Obama's latest Israel speech.

Apparently, it is time for a new President because Obama, like Angle and Stoffa, are cursed.

"We seen [sic] with Gracedale what can be achieved through the Lord when He blesses, and we are now witnessing the results of His curses."

I see. So I guess it's a good thing Northampton County voters decided to keep Gracedale or we'd probably all be infected with leprosy or something by now.

If I were a member of AFSCME, USW or the Coalition of Altzheimer Families, I'd be ashamed to let this person speak for me. Mario Martinez' comment that Obama is "cursed" and it's time for a "new President" is dangerously close to advocating violence against the President of the United States.

Yet not one of these people has said a word against this obvious hatred from a very sick man.
Updated Sunday 5 PM: The Fake Rev has taken his post down. Poof! Now, he's busy predicting the end of days ... .

Lawyers Gobble Up Fred Angle's Estate

Years before he died, Fred Angle set up a trust for his son and two of his three grandchildren. So his entire estate, including his home, is worth only $112,000, according to an accounting filed by lawyers earlier this week. And of that amount, lawyers have already gobbled up $45,500 in legal fees while refusing to pay for Angle's headstone. Ron Angle had to pay for that himself.

Can you say G-R-E-E-D-Y?

In his report of this latest development, Morning Call reporter Riley Yates dutifully states that another lawyer trying to get money out of that estate, Janet Jackson, has asked the state police to investigate Angle.

You may remember that Jackson, who loves to contribute to Democrats, asked the state police to look into this matter over a year ago. In all that time, nothing has happened. Angle has never even been approached by the state police, probably because they realize that there's no there ... there.

Interesting thing about that letter. Both newspapers have adjoining offices at the Northampton County Courthouse, just down the hall from the Recorder of Deeds. Not many people know they exist. Someone slipped a copy of Jackson's request under their door.

Knowing that this investigation would go nowhere, somebody with an agenda wanted to muddy up Angle, especially since he's running for re-election.

Here's my idea of a good investigation. First, how do lawyers get away with scarfing up $45,500 of a $112,000 estate? Second, who the hell made sure that Jackson's letter fell into the hands of the press?

Miracle on Carlton Avenue

Back in February, when Hyoung Joon Park first asked Bethlehem Zoners for permission to convert 454 Carlton Avenue from a single family detached dwelling into a 2-family home, he told them it's his "duty" to help people who need housing. He may be the President of the local Korean American Association, but he still had two big problems - no lawyer and an angry Bethlehem Housing Inspector.

Like a deer frozen in the headlights, Park was speechless as Housing Inspector Suzanne Borzak detailed a litany of problems.

On November 4, 2010, a "cease and desist" order was issued when it was discovered that Park was already using the home as a combination church and single family dwelling. An inspection at that time revealed that the place was also home to several families of rats, fleas and cockroaches.

On January 25, another "cease and desist" order was issued when it was discovered that Park was again using Carlton as a multi-family dwelling. In response to a no-heat complaint from a tenant, Borzak visited the property, and learned Park was using all three floors as a multi-family unit. Plug-in space heaters were the only source of heat. Borzak took 10 pictures revealing, among other things, rat feces, exposed wires, inoperable sinks and loose floorboards.

Zoners quickly rejected Park's application.

At their May 25 meeting, Park was back. This time, he brought Bethlehem Attorney Jim Holzinger, and let him do the talking. Instead of appealing the decision, Holzinger directed Park to vacate the building, clear up every possible problem, and make sure that Inspector Borzak was involved in every step of the process. Holzinger also slightly modified the zoning request to prevent the application of res judicata, a legal doctrine that prevents a board from deciding the same matter a second time. Then Holzinger patiently waited with Park through four other cases on the evening's agenda.

After three and a half hours, when Holzinger was finally at the plate, he actually called the very witness who had buried Park in February. Borzak told zoners that she was satisfied that Park now understands the safety requirements, and every problem had been corrected. She added that she will be conducting additional inspections. Holzinger also argued that very large homes like the one owned by Park are impractical for single families and he requested a special exception for a two-family dwelling.

A suspicious Ken Kraft grilled Borzak, pointing out the "unpleasant" pictures she submitted in February, but was eventually satisfied that Park had brought the property up to code. He and Chairman Gus Loupos voted to allow Park to convert the home to a two-family dwelling. Bill Fitzparick, who has previously opposed similar conversions, dissented.

Another Fake Rev Gets Green Light From Bethlehem Zoners

Despite having absolutely no credentials or training as a clergyman, "Reverend" Ricky Rosario was given the green light by Bethlehem zoners on May 25 to operate a nondenominational church at 1414 W. Broad Street in Bethlehem, the site of the vacated Lulu Boutique. "I have conquered with the help of God" is how Rosario described keeping his three children away from drugs, gangs and unsafe sex. He believes he can help others, too. "A little love goes a long way," he said through an interpreter.

Neighbor Dorothy Clauser, who wan't feeling the love, instead cited traffic and parking problems. She complained there are already four churches in her neighborhood, and ten churches in a 3 mile radius. She worried that, in the Summer, the music would be too loud.

In response to questioning by ZHB member Bill Fitpatrick, however, it was established that there are only 16 members, and that includes the Pastor and his wife. Moreover, at least ten members are brought to church by a van.

USW President Jerry Green, who owns the building, told zoners it has been used as church before, and he never had single complaint, even though there were 75 members. He denied that noise would be an issue in the Summer because there is central air. He pointed out that when he first owned the property, he operated a kennel. "Barking dogs are certainly louder than a church."

Fitzpatrick told Clauser that there are multiple permitted uses at that site - from drive-thru restaurant to kennel - that are far louder than a church.

After granting the Special Exception, Rosario told the Board they had done a good job. Chairman Gus Loupos said, "Gracias."

Ss Simon & Jude Convent to Become Shelter For Pregnant Women

Instead of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the convent at Saints Simon & Jude Catholic Church, located at 6th and Broad in Bethlehem, will soon be home to 6 or 7 pregnant women. Bethlehem's zoners, in a unanimous May 26 ruling, paved the way for Mary's Shelter to "bring hope to the hopeless," in the words of Bethlehem supporter David Muething.

Executive Director Christine Folk told the Zoning Hearing Board that, as ironic as it sounds, convents are actually an "ideal location" for pregnant women in need of housing because they are "designed for group living." In the eight bedrooms available, a "house mother" will occupy what was the Mother Superior's bedroom. The remaining seven bedrooms will be available for pregnant women with an average age between 17 and 25.

During their stay, pregnant guests will get an education, job training and learn to be self-sufficient. Folk testified that a professional social worker will be at the convent during the day, and there will be supervision by between two and four employees, 24 hours per day. Once the child is born, the new mother will be able remain at the convent for up to six months.

Mary's Shelter already operates at two different locations in Reading and, according to Folk, is licensed by the Department of Public Welfare. She added that seven different states are now using their program as a model.

Asked whether neighbors should be concerned about visits from the fathers, Folk told zoners that "[u]nfortunately, the fathers of the babies are not usually involved."

John McGeehan, a Public Safety Administrator with Northampton County and a parishioner at Saint Simon's, said that a "home for unwed mothers is highly laudable, but not right next to the Church." Although he acknowledged that he's pro-life, he was also troubled by a home for unwed mothers being located right next to Seton Hall Academy, a Catholic school. "Young children in the Church, in the school and in the neighborhood will ask: 'What is an unwed mother?'"

McGeehan noted that 48 churches have closed in the Allentown Diocese, and is dismayed by the "cavalier attitude" he sees from the Church.

But his strongest point is a provision in the Bethlehem Zoning Ordinance that prohibits any residential treatment facility within 800 feet of another. McGeehan produced an aerial map that clearly demonstrates that Valley Youth House, a residential treatment facility at 539 8th Avenue, is only 458 feet from the convent. "No means No," argued McGeehan.

Attorney John Miravich, representing Mary's Shelter, denied that this proposed home for pregnant women provides is a "treatment" facility.

West Bethlehem resident David Muething also took issue with McGeehan's claim that this home is inappropriate so close to a Catholic Church. "This is very much in keeping with the values of the Catholic Church," he argued.

In addition to this home, Catholic Charities has a program for the "adoption" of unwed mothers by "special friends" to give these women a safe place to stay.

Immediately after the hearing, McGeehan was excommunicated and struck by a lightning bolt as he tried to cross the street.

Public Meeting Etiquette and Laptops ... Again

Just a few days ago, in a post entitled Public Meeting Etiquette and Laptops, I pointed out that when municipal officials stare into their laptops while being addressed by members of the public, it's perceived as rude. This observation annoyed the hell out of a few anonymous members of local government, who feel they can multitask. In the meantime, they ban the use of cell phones while driving on the theory that others can't.

As I mentioned at the time, this is where iPads beat laptops. They are so small that nobody seems to even notice them.

At last night's Zoning Hearing Board meeting in Bethlehem, Ken Kraft used his to check out a web page mentioned by a property owner who wanted to run his business from his home. As you can see, it's barely noticeable.

Kraft pays $14 per month for access to the Internet because Bethlehem officials won't give him the password for the City's WiFi. That's funny. Mayor Callahan gave it to me right away. I haven't tried it yet, but it's FU.

Gaming Authority Divies up $700k From Casino

Below you can see how Northampton County's Gaming Authority, which met on Monday, divided over $700,000 in casino money in its second round of grants.

Only municipalities directly surrounding the casino were eligible for the first round of grants, and they had to show that the money was needed to deal with gambling's impact. But in this round, every County municipality was eligible, and there was no need to show an impact.
NorCo Gaming Authority Grants

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vote For Panto: He's a Doctor, Damn It!

Lehigh Valley Academy Needs Elbow Room in Hanover Township

There are no more than 25 students to a class. They must wear uniforms. Their school day is one hour longer, and school year is ten days longer, than most other schools. There are no athletic facilities on site, and students who want to play sports will have to do that in their own school district. Foreign language instruction starts in kindergarten.

This is Lehigh Valley Academy, a K-12 Charter school located on Valley Center Parkway in Hanover Township. When it first started in 2002, there were just 185 students. Student census now is 970, and there are actually several hundred students on a waiting list, according to Director of Operations Holly Parkinson. She projects the school will grow to 1,300 by 2017.

That's why Parkinson, along with Attorney Joseph Fitzpatrick, appeared before Hanover Township Supervisors on May 24. They are seeking the Board's blessing to a major, 28,000 sq ft expansion, that will add a gymnasium, new cafeteria, library and eight classrooms.

Supervisors had some questions about parking in a courtyard that is also used for recesses, and the Academy is willing to ban parking at that location.

Students from 17 different school districts currently attend Lehigh Valley Academy, which charges no tuition.

Supervisors will decide whether to grant the expansion at their June 14 meeting.

Hanover Township's Humor

You might think municipal meetings are the place to be if you suffer from insomnia, but Hanover Township's collegial Board of Supervisors is always good for a few laughs.

At their May 24 meeting, they forgot to color coordinate in advance. Every single one of them walked into the meeting room, donning a Navy blue jacket. Township Manager Jay Finnigan, and even the press, were also wearing blue blazers.

Ironically, this anomaly was first noted by Supervisor John Nagle, who happens to be color blind. At their next meeting, Finnigan vowed they'll all be wearing black and white checkered coats.

With wardrobes out of the way, Supervisors were considering two appointments to the Special Events Committee. Nominees Patricia Melite, wife of Public Works Director Vince Melite, and resident Edward Bruno, were in the audience.

When Patricia Melite's appointment was unanimously approved, she gave her husband a kiss as she was leaving.

That left Bruno.

"Don't worry, Mr. Bruno, you don't have to kiss the Public Works Director on the way out," wisecracked Manager Jay Finnigan.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Public Meeting Etiquette and Laptops

It's hard to justify using eminent domain to take away someone's home or business, even for the best of reasons. But when it's for a hockey rink, and City officials act arrogantly, as they did last week in Allentown, it's understandable that the public will be upset. But that's no justification for the nearly violent outburst that occurred.

You can see the video at Molovinsky's blog. After the 6-1 vote authorizing the use of eminent domain, one big-bearded fellow stood up and shouted, "Your physical expressions pretty much tell every one in this room to fuck off." He complained about a lack of "eye contact" from Council members. "You, black hair," he said, pointing to a Council member. Another fellow got up and called Pawlowski "a Chicago gangster."

Of course, two police officers were on hand to clear the room.

This type of thuggish behavior is unacceptable during a public meeting, no matter how justified the complaints. It's mob rule.

But just as the crowd behaved badly, so did City Council. As the room erupted, you could see several Council members laughing at the outburst. That certainly lends credence the impression that they just don't care.

But something else was bothering the public, too.


At Allentown City Council meetings, every single member has a laptop fired up, and spends more time looking at the screens than listening to the public, or so it seems. I've noticed that myself.

This is what Patrick McHenry says at Molovinsky's blog,
Regarding the laptops, I have this from someone who knows:

Some use the laptops to send each other e-mails during council meetings and make fun of those speaking.

They think they're so clever, but they're so far from it.
I decided to ask several Council members about it. They both deny using their laptops to email each other or make fun of people.

Mike Schlossberg tells me, "I use the laptop for one of three things – either to look at the legislation that we are debating, to review my own pre-meeting notes/jot down notes as I go or research claims that speakers/the administration/my colleagues are making."

I cover lots of meetings in different municipalities, and the use of laptops and even iPads is becoming increasingly common.

Ken Kraft, who sits on Bethlehem's ZHB and is glued to his iPad, has actually shown me how he uses it to pull up Google maps of properties being discussed. Nobody would even know he has it because he doesn't have to open it up and hide behind it.

I understand what Ken and Mike are saying, and think they are helped by these devices.

But just as public outbursts tend to be counterproductive, municipal officials might reconsider using their laptops when being addressed by the public. It creates the impression that they just don't care. And that leads to outbursts.

Barron Calling All Volunteers

Maybe our nonpolitical Contoller, Steve Barron, thinks collecting Express Times Turkeys is a good thing. He's sent out an email asking people to join him tonight at Starters, where he will sever (his word) up some light appetizers.

"Hope you can make it May 24th from 5:30 until 7:30 at Starters Riverport in Bethlehem, PA for a volunteer appreciation evening.

"There will be light appetizers severed [sic] and a cash bar.

"Come meet the candidates I hope you will be willing to volunteer for in November, and enjoy a celebration of our successful campaigns from this past Tuesday. Hope to see you there!


"Stephen J. Barron, Jr.
Northampton County Controller"

"P.S. Forward this along to your family and friends!"


The Asbestos workers will supply the refreshements.

Monday, May 23, 2011

You Don't See This Every Day

From the National Weather Service:


758 PM EDT MON MAY 23 2011











Because I have Tiger blood, I went outside. To my surprise, there were a few other cRaZies out there.

Will Redisticting Give LV New State House Member?

It's gerrymander time, baby.

For Congressional redistricting, the dirty deed will be done by the state statute, with the blessing of the Guv. But for state house and senate seats, a five member redistricting commission, led by former Superior Court President Judge Stephen McEwen, will redraw legislative district boundaries for the next 10 years.

According to the Pa. Constitution, state legislative seats “shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as practicable.” Moreover,“ unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.”

Of course, the danger is that the real work of this commission is incumbent protection. But in an effort to be more transparent, commission members are thinking about holding hearings throughout the state. That pleases the Pocono Record. Its subscription area includes Monroe County, which is divided among five state senators.

Interestingly, the census data reveal that population has declined in western Pennsylvania. You can see it by legislative district in the spreadsheet below. While population has dipped in the West, it has skyrocketed here in the east. So if redistricting is done in a way that insures "one man, one vote," it's likely that western Pa. will lose several legislative seats.

Three of the five redistricting commission members are from Western Pa., so this is by no means a sure thing. But the new census data reveals that here in the Lehigh Valley, we might gain an additional member of the state house. Every district has experienced an increase in population. Reichley's district is up over 25%.

No wonder he wants to be a judge.

Here's the breakdown.

131: Simmons, Justin J. (R)- up 9.57%
132: Mann, Jennifer L. (D) - up 13.78%
133: Brennan, Joseph F. (D) - up 0.70%
134: Reichley, Douglas G. (R)- up 25.85%
135: Samuelson, Steve (D)- up 4.50%
136: Freeman, Robert (D) - up 6.93%
137: Emrick, Joe (R) - up 23.14%
138: Hahn, Marcia M. (R) - up 6.93%
183: Harhart, Julie (R) - up 8.44%
187: Day, Gary (R) - up 11.63%

The 24th legislative district, represented by Joe Preston and located in Allegheny County, lost the most people. It dropped a whopping 17.42% over the last ten years.

People must really hate that drink tax.

Pennsylvania Legislative Districts - Population Change

LV History at Karen Samuels' Blog

It's a treasure.

I continue to be amazed by the LV's rich local history. And nobody chronicles it better than Karen Samuels. Whether it's the Great White Hurricane of 1888, or her most recent story about Broughal school, Samuels' Lehigh Valley History is a MUST READ for anyone interested in a good story.

She has great pictures, too.

Back to the '67 Borders?

I was a bit surprised when President Barack Obama publicly announced last week that he supports creation of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders. But I don't think I was as surprised as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyaho. "“We don’t have a lot of margin for error,” he told the President in what some called a lecture from within the Ocal Office. “[H]istory will not give the Jewish people another chance.”

Among other problems, the pre-67 lines are "indefensible."

Obama back-tracked a bit on Sunday, in a speech at, of all places, an AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) convention. He's now saying that Israel and Palestine should "negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967."

According to Think Progress, Obama's position is nothing new and mirrors policies during the Bush and Clinton era. I'm not so sure. Foreign Policy, for one, calls it a shift in American policy.

It bothered LV Congressman Charlie Demt, who released this statement: "I am concerned by the President’s unexpected remarks involving Israel and the Palestinian territories. Unlike previous periods of friction in the Middle East, today’s turmoil in Arab nations is not fueled by the Arab people’s opposition to the state of Israel, but is instead rooted in their determination to end years of authoritarian rule. By calling on Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, the President has chosen to pursue an abrupt shift in American Middle East policy at a time when he must instead focus on supporting potentially transformational democratic movements and eliminating the ever-present threat of terrorism.

“Though I share the President’s goal of developing peace between Israel and all of its neighbors, applying significant pressure on our closest ally in the Middle East to ultimately make territorial concessions to the Palestinian authority, which has yet to recognize Israel’s right to exist and eliminate terrorist elements within its existing borders, is deeply troubling.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Steve Barron Awarded ET Turkey ... Again

Back in September, Northampton County Controller Steve Barron was awarded an Express Times turkey for a "thinly veiled threat on behalf of union organizers" at T-Mobile, and a subsequent "non-apology" in which he refuses to admit "he misused his authority by hinting at official retribution against an employer."

He's been honored by the Express Times again, this time for his attempt to ingratiate himself with Gracedale's unions by complaining about asbestos infections. Here's the blast.

"He’s raising concerns about asbestos contamination at the courthouse, Gracedale and the Gov. Wolf Building, despite a lack of evidence of air-quality problems. Barron, who’s up for re-election this year, asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to intervene and called for yearly examinations for employees. County Executive John Stoffa replied that the county has conducted air tests as needed and handled any concerns through the safety committee. If the county were doing construction projects and disrupting sources of asbestos, this suspicion might have merit, but that’s not the case. Someone should investigate the regular blasts of hot air coming out of the controller’s office."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Molovinsky's Back

A few weeks ago, I removed my link to Michael Molovinsky's blog. I don't much care for him, nor he for me. But it was a mistake. His reporting about Allentown and its school district has been cutting edge, especially with the Queen City now intent on using eminent domain to brush minority-owned Hamilton Street businesses out of the way for a hockey rink.

It's Kelo v. New London all over again, except it's taking place here in the Lehigh Valley.

I have done you a disservice by delinking Molovinsky, and will learn to put up with the annoying little prick.

Northampton County Council Tries to Fulfill Gracedale Initiative

It must be really hard to spend a $111 million bond, even for a county government. Ten years after its adoption in 2001, there's still roughly $1.4 million or so left in the till, according to DCED's Alicia Karner. She explained some projects have changed, while others have fallen by the wayside.

Karner told Council that, instead of building a parking lot at Lehigh Riverport, Bethlehem now wants to reallocate some of that money for parking lots at 3rd & Taylor.

That drove Council Prez John Cusick nuts. He complained about spending anything for projects that have never gotten off the ground over the past ten years. He also found it "disgraceful" that County bond money would be spent on a parking lot in South Bethlehem when Gracedale's parking lot now looks like a lunar landscape.

It drove Council member Ron Angle nuts, too. South Bethlehem parking lots pale in contrast to the capital needs at Gracedale.

On Tuesday, voters adopted a Gracedale initiative mandating that the County keep Gracedale for the next five years. That presents a challenge to Council members and Executive John Stoffa, who whether they like it or not, have an obligation to fulfill the people's will.

At last night's Council meeting, Executive John Stoffa reported that he is already in the process of getting private managers for the facility. Ron Angle introduced a three-pronged resolution, which he called a "road map," to get the ball rolling. Under this resolution, the County will (1) strive to maintain a high quality of care at Gracedale; (2) try to divert remaining 2001 bond projects to Gracedale; and (3) establish an account for Gracedale, which may not be raided for other purposes.

Lamont McClure, Ann McHale and Peg Ferraro unsuccessfully tried to keep the bond projects where they are. In McClure's case, he is legitimately concerned that Council do this carefully to avoid liability. For McHale, it's a desire to keep the money flowing to Bethlehem, even if it's for Rhodadendron on Commerce Boulevard. Asked if she preferred that to sending the money to Gracedale, she replied, "Old people like to look at Rhodadendron, too." In Ferraro's case, it appears that her opposition was motivated primarily by disdain for Angle.

Council member Mike Dowd came to Angle's rescue, pointing out that there will be separate ordinances and hearings for each project eliminated, which would answer McClure's concern.

In the end, Council voted 8 to 1 to adopt Angle's resolution, which might free up to $1.4 million for Gracedale capital projects.

In addition, Council members intend to invite state representatives and senators and beg them to give County-owned nursing homes at least as much money in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements as they would get if they were privately owned.Gracedale would have received $4.3 million more in reimbursements last year if it were privately owned.

Despite all these efforts, John Stoffa told Council that he knows of no County in the Commonwealth that breaks even at its nursing home.

Rumor Mill: Callahan Nixes Congress For County Exec

Earlier this week, I told you that that Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan had filed a 24-hour report listing a $2,000 contribution from Abe Atiyeh. Obviously, old Abe is buying Hizzoner's good will in that crusade for an apartment complex at the corner of Center and Dewberry. But that's only part of the story.

For the past two years, Callahan has been depleting his local campaign treasury, which he's unable to use to any significant degree in any federal race. Callahan was actually returning checks to contributors, who then gave to his Congressional race.

The Atiyeh contribution, which is to Callahan's local fund, signals a sudden reversal. Here's what I've been told. John Callahan has scratched that whole Congressional thing. Two other names are being shopped around: LC Dem Party Chair Rick Daugherty and PSEA Union Boss Michael Crossey.

Rick will run, but only if nobody else steps up. He is the default candidate, as he was two years ago. Crossey wants to run in an effort to drive up union excitement for 2012.

So what about Callahan?

He plans to finish out his term and then run for Norco Executive. Barron wants to run, but is continually shooting himself in the foot and looks more and more like a joke candidate. Sure, unions will back him big time, pointing to Callahan's municipal layoffs this past year. But unions don't have enough money to make a go of it.

In the picture above, you can see Callahan stomping all over a Barron portrait, as shocked children look on.

Democrat Mann & Republican Dent Take Aim at Synthetic Drugs

LV Congressman Charlie Dent (PA-15) and State Rep. Jennifer L. Mann (D-132) during a press conference today at Allentown’s Sacred Heart Hospital discussed parallel legislation they've authored to ban various synthetic drug substitutes sold legally in most states, including Pennsylvania. Dent and Mann were joined by Dr. Colleen Wladyslawski, Head of Emergency Medicine at Sacred Heart, and local parents whose children have used synthetic drugs.

“Seemingly every week, Lehigh Valley residents are exposed to new accounts of synthetic drug users displaying erratic and often violent behavior,” Dent said in a news release. “Although these individuals pose a serious risk to public safety, the dangerous drugs they abuse remain legal and easily accessible in stores across our area. I commend Rep. Mann for her efforts to eliminate these substances in Pennsylvania and will continue to advocate for legislation to ban synthetic drugs on the federal level.”

“Right now a 17-year-old high school student couldn’t walk into a convenience store and buy cigarettes or walk into a bar and buy a six-pack of beer, but, under current law, that same 17-year-old could buy a drug that mimics the effects of cocaine and there’s nothing the police could do about it,” Mann said. “That’s absolutely wrong, and the bills Congressman Dent and I are fighting for would give law enforcement the tools they need to get this poison off the streets and out of the hands of our students.”

The Synthetic Drug Control Act (H.R. 1254), authored by Rep. Dent, identifies chemical compounds that affect the brain in a manner similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and adds them to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I bans drugs and controlled substances that have high potential for abuse and have no use in medical treatment in the United States.

The bill also bans chemical compounds used in synthetic drugs commonly sold as ‘Bath Salts’ or ‘Plant Food’, which have been identified as cocaine substitutes. Abuse of bath salts has recently garnered much public attention in Pennsylvania, where disturbing cases of violent, erratic and dangerous behavior have been linked to recreational use of the substance.

Additionally, H.R. 1224 enhances the authority of DEA to temporarily ban drugs in the interest of public safety and provides greater time for the agency to prove a chemical is harmful, lacks medicinal or industrial value, and should be banned permanently.

Mann’s companion legislation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, H.B. 365, is a comprehensive bill that bans bath salts on the state level, as well as synthetic marijuana – better known as “Spice” or “K2” – and the naturally occurring, yet legal, hallucinogen salvia dinorum. This bill passed the House unanimously and now awaits action in the state Senate.

Osborne Snatches Victory From Jaws of Defeat

Although the elections office still shows Brad Osborne finishing 5th in the Lehigh County Commissioner race with 6,024 votes, both Osborne and 4th place finisher David Najarian have agreed that Osborne came out on top. Najarian reputedly called Brad to congratulate him and wish him success in the General Election.

In a written statement, Osborne thanked everyone.

“I am pleased with the outcome of my campaign for County Commissioner. I chose to run as an individual and on my record of success as a South Whitehall Township Commissioner and business professional. I decry the negative tone that became dominant in this primary; this position is one of public service, not politics. I look forward to spending the next 5 ½ months sharing my positive message with the rest of the County.”

“If elected as Commissioner, I will immerse myself in the services the county provides and look for ways to increase efficiency. This is the best way to ensure our tax dollars are spent effectively and to avoid painful tax increases. I plan on being an active participant in budget talks and will make sure to watch how our tax dollars are being spent each and every day.”

“I would like to thank everyone who supported me throughout my campaign. I would also like to thank the volunteers who withstood 13 hours of rain on Election Day to share information about me. Finally, I would like to thank my wife Jan who has been incredibly supportive of me during this whole process.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Barron Now Claiming Gracedale Union Workers Infected By Asbestos

In September, Northampton County Controller Steve Barron was publicly censured after hinting at some kind of government retaliation against T-Mobile, a non-union company that refused to meet with him, Allentown City Council Prez Mike D'Amore and a union rep. He has never apologized for his remarks.

One thing Barron has done is ingratiate himself with every union in a 50-mile radius. He's injected himself headfirst into the Gracedale dispute, where he sat with unions at several judicial hearings, busily passing notes to their lawyers.

Although he thought nothing of devoting his time as Controller to AFSCME, he was outraged at the activities of a County law firm specifically authorized by a County Council resolution "to facilitate and expedite all issues that will result in the alternate ownership (sale/lease) of Gracedale." You see, they talked to me. They edited my Complaint before I filed it. They even forwarded a spreadsheet the County no longer needed.

Instead of talking to anyone in the Stoffa administration, Barron immediately went to the press and union lawyers. Next thing I know, Gracedale lawyer Larry Otter starts screaming about Bonusgate, tells Channel 69 that people might be going to jail and makes at least two requests for a criminal investigation. Last, but not least, he files multiple motions for attorney fees, surcharges, injunctions and the death penalty.

Ron Angle finally confronted Barron, who made the mistake of appearing at a Finance Committee hearing.

"You want to bad mouth Mr. Stoffa? I never seen him take a nickel from anybody he shouldn't take a nickel from. But you take that money and you want to make comments to the newspapers that there's something wrong because Eckert Seamans made four telephone calls to me, to update me on the sale? Are you saying that was wrong?"

Not only did Barron have no answer, but he eventually walked away from the podium.

Having ingratiated himself with the Gracedale unions, he's apparently decided to give up being Controller and is acting as their union agent. At yesterday's Personnel Committee, Angle accused Barron of "stirring up the pot" over there. "He's now over screaming Gracedale is full of asbestos and the employees there are getting sick," said Angle who claims Barron is now a "waterboy for the unions."

Public Works Director Steve DeSalva told Council that the County takes a very "proactive" approach to asbestos complaint and has conducted between 50-100 tests. He assured Council nobody has been exposed to asbestos.

Unsatisfied wannabe union agent Barron has reportedly complained to the EPA. In fact, this supposed Controller of finances wants the County to establish a fund for sick AFSCME workers.

"Is there any truth to the accusations being made?" asked Council member Tom Dietrich.

"I don't know because I don't know what the accusations are," answered DeSalva.

When Executive John Stoffa was asked about Barron's claims, he declined to discuss it publicly, and Council conducted an Executive session.

But Angle is furious, and has called Barron "the most dangerous person in public office in the Lehigh Valley."
Updated 10:25 AM: The Express Times Sarah Cassi has an objective report, in which she gets Barron's side of the story, such as it is.