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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Testimony Continues on Rehab Proposed Near Becahi

Jay Leeson has questions
As locomotives bellowed their lonely greetings on a cold and rainy night, nearly fifty people crammed into Bethlehem Town Hall on November 29 for a third hearing on Abe Atiyeh's request for 70-bed voluntary inpatient substance abuse center at 111 Dewberry Avenue, the site of the recently vacated Calvary Baptist Church. The facility will be managed by the Malvern Institute, which wants to expand into the Lehigh Valley. After another four and a half hours of testimony, zoners called it a night.

Although this proposed rehab center is permitted as a "special exception" under Bethlehem's zoning ordinance, it borders a Bethlehem Catholic High School baseball diamond, is only a block away from the Bernie Fritz playground, and is only a few hundred yards away from Kirkland Village, a senior assisted living center.

To mollify security concerns, Atiyeh Attorney Blake Marles called Malvern's Chief of Security, Tim Hubbard. He testified that the precautions planned at 111 Dewberry, from 24/7 security to fencing, are "above and beyond" what already exists at Malvern.

Hubbard told zoners he'd be comfortable with his own children attending a high school this close to a residential treatment center. But in response to cross-examination by City Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni, Hubbard conceded that he played no role in creating security plans for the Dewberry facility, although he did review them.

Monique Sexton, Director of Marketing at Malvern, told zoners there is a "huge need" for this kind of facility n the Lehigh Valley, which has no similar kind of rehab facility. But Bethlehem Catholic Attorney Jay Leeson pointed out that the Lehigh Valley's need is irrelevant, and the only need that should be considered under Bethlehem's zoning ordinance is the need within Bethlehem itself. She also conceded, under questioning by Attorney Spadoni, that Malvern only serves paying customers, and would be unable to meet the need of those without means.

Malvern CEO Joe Curran described the typical patient as the same as everyone else. "Addicts come in all colors, sizes, ages, professions," he stated, adding that a stigma exists because "people are afraid." He pointed to movies like Reefer Madness, designed to scare people into thinking that addicts will "rape, pillage, murder and kill." In reality, Curran stated 1 in every 4 families has a loved one who suffers from addiction.

Under intense cross-examination by North Bethlehem Action Committee Attorney Steven N. Goudsouzian, Curran was forced to concede there were inconsistencies between his own descriptions of addicts and those which appear on Malvern's own web page. Curran also admitted that at least 50% of his clients suffer relapses and that he does no criminal records or Megan Law checks for prospective customers.

Curran was also grilled by Kristine Borges about a bed bug infestation at Malvern, resulting in three citations from the Department of Health. "I know more about them than I ever wanted to learn," Curran stated, noting that he had to purchase special equipment, change exterminators three times, bring in specially trained dogs and undergo special heat treatments. Noting that bed bugs can even be found in 5-star hotels, Curran testified that the issue was confined to Malvern Institute and presented no danger to the community.

"I am so happy that we are free of them," he stated, as audience members and zoners began scratching themselves.

Testimony will resume on December 19, 4 PM, at Town Hall.

Cusick Unveils Several Cuts to Stoffa's Budget

Northampton County Council President unveiled several cuts to Executive John Stoffa's budget at a hearing on Thursday, although many of them lack the support of five members of Council. It's unclear whether he was trying to cobble together a coalition, or simply announcing his run for County Executive two years from now.

Many of these adjustments actually come from the Administration itself. For example, health care costs are down this year and will be reduced, although the projected pension contribution is going up by $832,000 as a result of market fluctuations. In addition, Gracedale costs are being downsized $1.6 million as a result of savings that the nursing facility's new private manager hopes to realize.

The one big ticket item proposed by Cusick is the elimination of $1 million from John Stoffa's open space funding next year. Stoffa has set aside $3.75 million for open space, but Cusick objects to funding environmentally sensitive lands with $1.2 million when there are only $200,000 worth of projects.

Before making this proposal, open space advocates flexed their muscles. The Nature Conservancy's Ellen Lott, who claims to speak for the trees, came down from Monroe County. The Wildland's Ken Barrett came up from Emmaus. Both of them did their usual preaching.

As soon as Cusick made his proposal, Upper Mount Bethel Tp Supervisor Judy Hinkel, another open space advocate, sprang up from her seat and gave Council a third lecture, while Barrett spoke out from his seat and Lott's hand went up in the air.

It made no difference. Cusick flatly stated that he dislikes seeing pots of money with no projects attached to them, while Barrett stated there are no projects without those pots at the end of the rainbow.

Since voters have overwhelmingly endorsed open space, both in a referendum and in an election in which Stoffa promised to raise taxes for that express purpose, it seems that this decision is contrary to the will of the voters.

The Monocacy Creek, which swept away half of Musikfest this year, presents a regional problem, and the County is considering an acquisition near Housenick Park that could go a long way to solving that problem. But it can't even start if it has no money.

The Express Times and Morning Call both have accounts presenting additional minor cuts.

NorCo Corrections Wants Three Good Men ... or Women

Bob Meyers, Director of Corrections Northampton County jail, explained why he needs 3 part-time "central processing specialists" at yesterday's budget hearing. Six specialists work in the booking unit, a 24/7 operation that brings in $275,000, and "[t]hat's cutting it real thin." He's concerned about a "burn out factor."

Sheriff Randy Miller Wants Deputy at Wolf Building

Sheriff Randy Miller has proposed eliminating two vacant part-time security officer positions in favor of a full-time deputy at the Wolf Building.

During yesterday's budget hearing, Council Prez John Cusick grilled the Sheriff about the need for 2 deputies for hospital duty when a jail inmate is sent there. Miller responded that matter is in arbitration right now.

McClure Begins Attending Committee Meetings

It has taken six years of criticism, but better late than never, I guess. Lamont McClure, believe it or not, actually attended a Committee hearing concerning Gracedale on November 17. And although he was not physically present, he participated by conference call in last night's Budget Hearing.

Schlossberg, Guridy, Eyeing Mann Seat

In the wake of Jenn Mann's decision against seeking re-election to her State House next year, the rumor mill about her potential successor is in overdrive. One certain candidate is Julio Guridy, who claims he can speak three languages. Unfortunately, English is not among them. The other certain candidate is Guridy's colleague on Allentown City Council, Mike "Hola" Schlossberg.

I understand that, in an attempt to be more Hispanic, Schlossberg is taking Tango lessons and plans to run with the bulls next year. "Hey, I already run with Pawlowski," he tells me.

Mazziotti Wanted Swaption Resolved Last Year

When he was running for County Comm'r in Lehigh, Vic Mazziotti was subjected to a scurrilous, last-minute, robocall, blaming him for Northampton County's out-of-control swaption. Due in October of next year, the most recent price tag on that financial misadventure is $24.5 million.

The truth is that the swaption was adopted in 2004, long before Mazziotti was even a County employee. It was then Executive Glenn Reibman's folly, and was supported by both Republicans and Democrats on Council. A bi-partisan failure.

In response to an unrelated RTK request, I discovered that in January, 2011, when the swaption was only $12.7 million, Fiscal Affairs Director Vic Mazziotti was imploring Council to pull the trigger.

If you received one of these robocalls, you were mislead.

He's B-A-A-A-CK!

After a well-deserved hiatus, Allentown blogger has recharged his batteries and is back in action with S'NOT LEHIGH VALLEY NEWS! (Note, that's S'Not, not snot). He has a few more details about the recently-canned Heidelberg Township Administrator, as well as Ron Angle Musical, based on his life story, which was supposed too be a secret.

For Christmas, Why Not See the Maccabeats in Allentown?

Want to give someone an unusual Christmas present this year? Why not see the Maccabeats? Congregation Keneseth Israel is hosting this terrific a capella group, along with The Muhlenberg Chaimonics on December 10.

The Maccabeats's Candlelight, featured above, has over 6 million views on Youtube! It tells the tale of the Maccabees, i.e the Jewish Hammers, who managed to defeat the Greeks and gain independence after twenty years of war.

The Maccabeats seem a little nicer. You can get your tickets here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Tinkerbell Likes About Herman Cain

Tinkerbell, one of my readers, in defense of Herman Cain: "I will say this for Herman Cain: At least his victims were women and were adults."

There Go Their Scholarships

These guys used to be athletes. Years of practices and training down the tubes.

Will Mann Now Work Full Time for Vitetta?

What has happened to former State Rep. Karen Beyer, who was upset last year by Justin Simmons?

She's become a lobbyist, effective 2/20/11, with T.J. Rooney's Tri State Strategies, and is likely making more money and working less hours than she did as a State Rep.

I mention this because I wonder whether State Rep. Jenn Mann, who has announced her own retirement from politics, is thinking about something along those lines.

"I've never been known as a person who dodges a question, and never will be," Mann told me over a year ago. But when I asked her to tell us how much money she gets as a consultant for Vitetta, that's exactly what she did. She refused to answer, telling me she has no legal obligation to disclose exact amounts.

Vitetta is no mom-and-pop shop. It's a heavy hitter, both with the state and locally. It has offices in seven different states, and its own webpage reveals involvement in construction projects like the Pennsylvania Judicial Center, Pennsylvania Judicial Center Parking Garage, Pennsylvania Capitol, PennDOT Materials Testing Laboratory and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission-Service Plaza Reconstruction.

Many of these jobs are awarded by the state's Department of General Services. Until sometime last year, that office was run by Lehigh Valley native and friend James Creedon. He also served with Mann on the Stimulus Oversight Commission. There, they both get a head's up on where the state intends to spend federal stimulus dollars.

In addition to her Creedon ties, Mann actually dated Sean Pressman. He was Chief of Staff in General Services between 2/1/06 and 6/19/09.

Did Vitetta benefit as a result? I'm certain it's one of the reasons they wanted her.

Annual statements of financial interest for the past four years (20102009, 2008 , 2007) reveal that Vitetta has been paying Mann, although the amounts are unstated.

In her defense, Mann did get clearance from the state ethics commission. She was warned against using her official position to solicit business. My concern is that no matter what she says, her elected office in and of itself is a form of pressure.

Mann tells me that precisely because of that "very fair concern," she stays away from all the local governments. "It's just not worth it," she said. She concedes that she may "have reached out to some regional school boards," although she does not make the initial contact.

Gee, how would you like to be an Easton or Bangor school supervisor who gets a call from Vitetta telling you that State Rep. Jennifer Mann would like to talk to you about the engineering firm you hire for your next middle school?

Let's face it. The not-so-subtle pressure of her powerful public office, in and of itself, should rule out this kind of moonlighting job.

Will Mann be working full time for Vitetta now?

Updated 11/30/11, 10:35 AM: Although the state lists Karen Beyer as a lobbyist for T.J. Rooney, she is actually working for SEIU.

Cusick Will Try to Reduce Tax Hike

NorCo Council Prez John Cusick plans on introducing amendments that will "substantially reduce" the 9.3% tax hike in Executive John Stoffa's proposed 2012 budget. A spreadsheet listing these cuts will be available today.

At the time of his original proposal, Stoffa estimated the County would need $7.2 million to fund Gracedale next year. Since that time, the private management firm hired to manage the nursing facility has told Council it can trim $1.6 million from that figure.

Stoffa's budget also continues his commitment to open space, setting aside $3.6 million for farmland preservation ($2 million), environmentally sensitive land ($1 million) and County-owned parks ($750,000).

Another big ticket item is $1.8 million for a West Easton DUI facility and treatment center, to be leased from developer Abe Atiyeh. Most of that sum includes start-up costs. As explained by Stoffa, the goal is to reduce recidivism, and the County's bottom line in paying for the back end of crime. "The idea behind West Easton would be more treatment, more drug and alcohol involvement because 80% of the people in the County jail have that problem. The West Easton thing is a philosophical change in how we treat people, and it's an alternative to building very, very expensive jail cells."

Where will Cusick propose cuts? I'll find out today.

Allentown Keeps You in the Loop on That Hockey Arena ... Really!

Now that the horse has left the barn, Allentown will host three open houses tonight, tomorrow and Thursday on its hockey arena. Though there will be no formal presentation, all kinds of experts will be on hand to explain everything. Engineers, geologists, astrologers, shaolins, carnies - you name it, they'll all be there.

Tuesday, November 29 (6-8 p.m.)

Allentown Central Catholic High School - Auditorium
301 N. 4th Street
Free Parking at bottom of Chew Street (Be sure to wear a bulletproof vest)

Wednesday, November 30 (6-8 p.m.)

Scottish Rite Cathedral – Moulson Room
1533 Hamilton Street
Parking available on premises (Be on the lookout for Republicans)

Thursday, December 1 (6-8 p.m.)

Dieruff High School – Cafeteria
815 N. Irving Street
Parking lot in back of school - off of Jerome Street (They will also be accepting recruits for next year's football team).

According to Sara Hailstone, the "City of Allentown remains committed to keeping the dialogue open and updating you as the arena project moves forward." Just what I'd expect from a City Without Limits, Golly, gee!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Courts Waste No Time Replacing Lead Court Deputy Lance Wheeler

On Tuesday, the Express Times scooped us all with a report that lead court officer Lance Wheeler, a courthouse fixture, had been unceremoniously dumped by Court Administrator James Onembo. I've learned since that Wheeler was replaced, almost immediately, by Deputy Sheriff Chris Fegley. The position was never posted for applications by other courthouse workers, but I understand that this is no requirement for a judicial employee.

It's who you know.

Fegley is a former Allentown police officer who retired in late 2006. In his final month in Allentown, he packed in 51.5 hours of overtime. This final month is what determined his pension, which turned out to be $54,619 on a salary of $48,768.

Depending on when he was hired as a Northampton County Deputy Sheriff, he might be eligible for a second pension.

Over the months before his termination, there was increasing friction between Onembo and Wheeler. One of Wheeler's two daughters, Makaeya Lynn, has MLD, a rare and incurable disorder that attacks the nervous system. muscles and organs. Onembo was upset at the frequent absences and fundraising, while Wheeler was disturbed by Onembo's seeming insensitivity.

Wheeler served at the pleasure of the Court, as an at-will employee. Some say he was let go because of his work as an elected constable, but the judges themselves gave work to Wheeler as a constable. Something else is going on.

It appears that Onembo is the person who fired Wheeler, who was afforded no meeting with President Judge H.P. Kimberly McFadden. It would seem to me that a person who works for the courts, even as an at-will employee, is still a public employee and should be afforded a meeting with his real boss before being given the axe.

It's called due process.

I Hid Out in Pottstown This Weekend

On Friday, I posted a story about an Office of Open Record's Order, requiring Northampton County Council member Tom Dietrich to produce a note (or a reasonable facsimile) that he

exchanged with Council member Ann McHale during the course of a public meeting. Had it been an email, there's no question it would be produced. But Dietrich was unwilling to share its contents, both during the meeting and in response to a Right to Know Request filed the very next day.

Had this been a truly private exchange, I'd have no interest. But I have good reason to believe that Dietrich, an elected Council member, was accusing another member of that body with bribery during a public meeting. There's not much point to having an open records law or a Sunshine Act if a communication like that can be  hidden from public eyes.

In response to this Order, which comes from an independent state agency, I've been attacked non-stop with some really vicious comments by a mob purporting to speak for "the People." That job's already been taken by a state legislature, which was elected by "We, the people." They adopted the Right-to-Know law. They established the Office of Open Records, which enforces that law. I'll listen to what the OOR says, and let the mob bray.

While a mob debased themselves all weekend with childish taunts and looking for rope, I was in Pottstown with a much more mature group - 6th graders. My grandson's Bethlehem 'Canes basketball team was playing teams from Southeast Pennsylvania and Jersey in the ninth annual Hoop Group Turkey Tip-Off. My grandson had been looking forward to this tournament, and was actually ticking off the days before it started. But ironically, their championship game on Sunday was against a next door neighbor, Allentown's East Side Youth Center. These boys all know each other, and have played together on different Summer leagues and other teams over the years. Bethlehem 'Canes walked away with the trophy and a coveted Under Armor T-shirt, but they were all good to each other.

They fought like hell on the court, but if one of them was knocked over, he would often be helped back to his feet by the person who moments before was swinging his elbows to make sure he had the ball.

They were playing at the prestigious Hill School, which looks more like an armed fortress than an educational institution. Surrounded by fences, the only thing it needs is a moat. When I finally found the right building, I was confronted by something more terrifying than a pikeman. Guarding the door was a student, and the password was $12, about twice the price of most high school games.

When I finally got in, I thought I was at an old English boarding school. The walls are decorated with team pictures from 1912 and 1913, but there was a modern gym, weight room and even a pool.

The kids had a blast. On Saturday, they were all treated to lunch by one of the coaches. While parents and kids wolfed down pizzas, I took advantage of the break to do some exploring along the Schuylkill River Trail, which extends from Pottstown to Reading. About two miles into my run, the macadam gives way to crushed stones in Berks County, blanketed by golden leaves.

It's a pretty little town. As a bonus, I was able to access free WiFi just about everywhere, except at the prestigious Hill School.

Now, you may ask, did a weekend at exclusive Hill School make my grandson and his friends any smarter?  Let me answer that by telling you what he and his friends did on Sunday night. They all went bowling and met Snooki at the Pigpen. She even posed for a pic with my grandson.

Hey, it's better than a strip club.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dietrich Ordered to Produce Note Passed During Public Meeting

On October 6, during a Northampton County Council meeting, Ron Angle announced that landfill magnate Charles Chrin would make a $2 million contribution for farmland preservation, with the money coming from lot sales at Chrin's planned industrial park. Angle had been unleashed by Council two weeks earlier, during an executive session. His mission was to squeeze Chrin and see what he was willing to give in exchange for a favorable TIF at his development, which will gobble up 689 acres of farmland. Chrin's generosity, according to Executive John Stoffa, will enable the County to preserve 650 acres of farmland. That will go a long way to negate the loss of greenspace caused by Chrin's development.

It was a good deal that benefits us all. Like him or not, it was realized largely as a result of Angle's own efforts. But with the notable exceptions of Mike Dowd and Barb Thierry, the rest of Council were unwilling to acknowledge his achievement. That's understandable, I suppose. Democrats Ann McHale and Lamont McClure, two of Angle's biggest political opponents on Council, would have no reason to acknowledge his success, no matter how good it was for the County. The rest of them simply dislike the guy.

The person who really put me off? Council member Tom Dietrich. He is one of the Council members who agreed to send Angle on this mission. Maybe he was disappointed that Angle actually succeeded. Whatever his motive, in the middle of this meeting (1:06:00) and during Angle's announcement, he acted like a 5th grader. He scribbled and passed a handwritten note to Ann McHale, with which she could be heard agreeing.

"Anything you could share with us, Mr. Deitrich?" asked Angle.

"No. That was between he and I," answered McHale, as Dietrich hid behind her skirt. Just like the anonymous cowards who post vile attacks here, Dietrich lacked the courage to own his own words.

Amazingly, for doing exactly what he was directed to do, Dietrich accused Angle in that note of bribery, according to the account of someone who saw it.

The very next day, I filed a Right-to-Know request for the note or a reasonable facsimile. Dietrich knows what he wrote and shared in the middle of a public meeting, and should be required to produce it. If he accused a fellow Council member of bribery during the middle of a public meeting, that's something the public has a right to know, too.

Not surprisingly, Dietrich refused to produce the note. Dietrich the candidate was all about transparency, but Dietrich the elected official is all about secrecy. He dispatched Council Solicitor Phil Lauer to claim (1) the note does not exist; (2) if it does, it is not a public record; and (3) if it is a public record, it's exempt.

I appealed.

On Wednesday, the Office of Open Records (2011-1406_OHare-Northampton_County.pdf) ordered Dietrich to produce the note. He's got 30 days, and should not try complaining that his dog ate it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Turkey Day!

Can you name three things for which you are grateful this year? For me, it's these three things: (1) a rediscovery of how much I love being outside, whether it's on a bike, running or walking; (2) some very good friends, on whom I can count for anything; and (3) my grandson, who makes me proud every time I see him.

Updated 12:48 AM: Incredibly, I've already had to delete comments by the usual trolls. I will delete any comments that are mean-spirited or hateful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Zoners Decline to Pray, But Have Mercy on Atiyeh

"May God Have Mercy on Your Soul!"
Love him or hate him, there's no dispute that real estate maven Abe Atiyeh has had one devil of time developing a 5-acre parcel at Dewberry Avenue and Center Street. He had approval for a 126-unit assisted living center a the site, only to discover that the market was saturated. His next gambit was a 102-unit luxury apartment complex, but zoners refused to go along. He next proposed a 125-bed inpatient drug and alcohol detox center, along with a psychiatric hospital. Planners nixed that idea.

He's b-a-a-a-ck. This time, he's seeking a zoning stamp of approval on a slightly scaled down version of his original luxury apartment submission. He still wants to erect three 44' high apartment buildings, but has reduced the number of proposed apartments from 102 to 96.

Despite buckets of rain cascading throughout Bethlehem on November 22, twenty hearty souls still managed to find their way to the Bethlehem Public Library, where the Zoning Hearing Board would conduct a special meeting on Atiyeh's latest request. But Atiyeh himself failed to appear, and his attorney explained why.

But before any of that could happen, audience member Jane Lynn, of Bethlehem Township, suggested zoners should start their quasi-judicial hearing with a prayer. When they hesitated, she asked, "Don't you know how to pray?"

Chairman Gus Loupos told her some people might be offended. Lynn cried out to the audience, "Is there anyone hear who would be offended by a prayer?"

Atiyeh Attorney Jim Preston reluctantly raised his hand and objected.

"May God have mercy on your soul!" Lynn declared.

After being condemned to eternal damnation, Attorney Preston explained why he needed a continuance. When zoners ruled against Atiyeh's original request for a luxury apartment complex, the decision was appealed to Northampton County. Unknown to Attorney Preston until late last week, Judge Baratta has upheld the Zoning Hearing Board denial of a use variance. He needs time to study that decision.

He was unaware of that decision because, initially, Atiyeh was represented by Allentown Attorney Bill Malkames in this matter. As a result of an unfortunate and unexpected illness, Malkames is unable to continue at this time. Bethlehem Attorney Jim Preston, who represents Atiyeh on some other matters, has taken over the reins.

Several audience members demanded that the continuance be denied. David Donio, for example, suggested that the continuance should be denied so that Atiyeh is forced to pay another application fee. "We're not here to play games," answered Solicitor Erich Schock. "This is an appropriate motion for relief."

Despite the lack of Divine guidance, zoners unanimously granted the continuance request until December 20, at 6 PM, at Bethlehem Town Hall.

Audience members continued arguing the matter until the meeting was adjourned.

Dent "Deeply Disappointed" at Not-So-Super Committee's Failure

If I were Charlie Dent, I'd be worried. I think he's the best we have to offer, but Congress' approval rating is at just nine percent, an all-time low. And for good reason. The Super Committee's failure to produce a budget compromise is just the latest disappointment from a bunch of duds.

In his fourth term, and now serving on the powerful Appropriations Committee, Dent will be painted this election cycle as part of the problem, not the solution. He will be identified with the never-ending gridlock in Congress. But in each of these four terms, Dent has been willing to reach across the aisle and is one of Congress' few remaining centrists. The nonpartisan National Journal, for example, ranked him as the House's 13th most centrist member in 2010.

Dent has released the statement below, following the failure of the Not-So-Super Committee.

“Like many Americans, I am deeply disappointed in the failure of the Super Committee. However, the fact the panel failed to put forth a comprehensive plan to tame federal spending does not abdicate Congress's duty to get our nation’s fiscal house in order.

“I advocated for a larger agreement -- closer to $4 trillion -- to reassure the country that its leaders understand this basic fact: America's long term obligations far exceed our capacity to pay for them. No amount of spin or posturing will change this fundamental dynamic.

“Like Europe, and despite the failure of the Super Committee, the President and Congress must deal with this fiscal challenge if we want a brighter future for our children and grandchildren. Nevertheless, automatic spending cuts will begin in 2013 through the sequestration process. The deficit reduction goal must be met and it is now up to Congress to see that it's implemented in a manner that does not harm our nation's security.

“As for the President, he abdicated his leadership responsibilities by undermining the Super Committee when he insisted on $1 trillion of tax increases as a precondition and no changes to the health care law's new spending and higher taxes. And the President has not put forward any substantive reform proposals to address mandatory spending, after saying in 2010, "The major driver of our long-term liabilities, everybody here knows, is Medicare and Medicaid spending. Nothing comes close." That was then.

“As far as revenues are concerned, Senator Pat Toomey (PA) offered a serious revenue package -- consistent with the principles laid out in the Simpson-Bowles Commission -- that would have raised at least $300 billion by cutting breaks and deductions, largely for the wealthy, in exchange for lower marginal tax rates for all income taxpayers. The offer was summarily rejected.

“Despite this disappointing failure, I believe a renewed sense of urgency has helped cultivate greater bipartisan dedication to addressing our nation’s dire fiscal challenges. I remain committed to working with my colleagues to take the necessary steps to restore stability to our fiscal house.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why Was Lance Wheeler Fired?

That's the question everyone was asking at the Courthouse today, following an Express Times exclusive reporting that lead court officer Lance Wheeler has been sacked. Wheeler's daughter, Makaeya Lynn, has MLD, a rare and incurable disorder that attacks the nervous system. muscles and organs. It worsens over time.

I have no idea why Wheeler was let go. The person who does, Court Administrator James Onembo, would be violating Wheeler's rights to confidentiality if he were to discuss it. I do know that there has been friction between Onembo and Wheeler for months. I also know there are two or three sides to every story.

Wheeler serves at the pleasure of the Court. The Executive has no say in this matter, and those trying to blame this on John Stoffa are being irresponsible.

Heidelberg Township Fires its Administrator/Zoning Officer

Dan Stonehouse had been Administrator and Zoning Officer in Heidelberg Township since 2008, but Northwestern Press is reporting he's been axed. The firing comes amidst allegations that Stonehouse was using Township computers and cell phones for personal use, including pornography.  Stonehouse was terminated during a Monday morning special meeting, after a weekend of executive sessions.

Stonehouse knows the deal, having served in Skippack Township, Emmaus and Coopersburg, before moving on To Heidelberg Township.

Janice Bortz, the Township's Secretary-Treasurer, is now Acting Administrator.

CACLV's Alan Jennings Steps Down From State Planning Board

You can read his letter of resignation here.

It Ain't Just Joe Pa

As I get older, grayer, and balder, days and even the years are becoming a blur. In my mind's eye, I'm still a highly-conditioned, well-trained athlete. Reality is far different. But this post isn't about that. It's about child abuse, not just child sexual abuse.

Before I get into that, let me tell you about my last truly competitive race. The Philadelphia Marathon. 2005. Seems like yesterday. I can still taste the explosion of flavors from my favorite pre-race food, a Vietnamese beef broth soup called Pho. I can still see my grandson triumphantly walk into the place as though he owns it, basketball in hand. I can still see the pretty, seemingly carefree women, promenading on South Street and in Chinatown, looking for bargains and oranges. I can still remember those long lines to dirty port-a-potties. And a crowd so large that I spent most of the first mile walking. When I finally was able to run, nearly the first thing I did was step right into a pothole and break my ankle. I carried on for five miles until I could no longer bear the pain, and waited for the sag wagon, defeated. My traveling companion, who was way ahead of me after the starting gun fired, went on to win her age group. But this post isn't about that.

Unable to run, with a foot immersed in ice, I let the cacophony of Philly serenade me. It's my favorite big city. Always has been. I've run the Philly Marathon twice before the indignity of 2005, actually completing those races. No matter where you go, people urge you on. At one point, there's a fellow who rages on a drum, year after year. Farther along, you can hear the faint melody of bagpipes, growing stronger as you get closer. You don't really notice the miles dropping away until you hit the 20th. At that point, you're really on your own, no matter how many people are cheering.

It's a demanding, grueling event. Not really healthy at all, especially when you realize that its first runner, a Greek messenger named Pheidippides, dropped dead as a doornail as soon as he was finished. It takes between six months and a year of training, running long runs every other weekend, to be able to just complete a marathon, to say nothing of racing. It's for mutants, crazy people, bottom-feeding bloggers and Kenyans. I've run 13 of them in my lifetime, so that should give you some indication of what's wrong with me.

Before an injury, and then laziness, consumed me for six years, I was pretty much up on the dos and don'ts of distance running. And one of the biggest don'ts is high school students and long-distance running. A 26.2 mile distance is punishing enough for an adult. For a person who is still growing, running long distances can damage growth plates. I always figured that was why high school cross country teams stick to 5ks.

Last week, I was disturbed by a Newsworks report about a mentorship program called "Students Run Philly Style," in which radio hosts boast that 77 high school kids would be running in this year's Philly marathon. One of them, a 17-year old girl, would be running her third marathon. Why? She likes the hoodie.

This is just insane. Or more appropriately, child abuse.

On Sunday, two people (a 21 year old and a 40 year old) died in the Philadelphia Marathon, precisely because it is a physically demanding event. You don't encourage kids to do this as a "confidence booster." It's only a matter of time before one of them dies during the event, and it's very likely that many of them have injuries that will make it impossible for them to develop fully. How's that for boosting their confidence?

With all the recent discussion about child abuse at Penn State, I have to wonder what the hell these people are thinking. We scratch Joe Paterno's name off trophies while carting five year old kids to bash each other brains out boxing. City Councils are now considering anti-pedophile bills, while South Allentown parents urge their 12 year old sons to "hurt" their opponents in a meaningless football game.

So when everyone wants to condemn Joe Paterno, I have to wonder why they are so hesitant to condemn all the other forms of child abuse occurring right under their noses. These heroes of the day, who vocally condemn Paterno, are often the vampires of the night, engaging in the very child abuse they find so offensive in everyone else. It's not sexual, but it's still child abuse.

Comm'r Hudak Pulls Controversial Housenick Resolution

Vicky Bastidas and budding botanists
At their November 21 meeting, Commissioner Michael Hudak backed away from a controversial resolution that could pave the way to demolition of a three-story colonial style mansion at Housenick Park. At the request of Commissioner Tom Nolan, Hudak pulled it before the meeting started.

Once home to Archibald Johnston, Bethlehem's first Mayor and a Bethlehem Steel Company president, this unusual mansion is the cornerpiece of a 55-acre passive recreation park located along Monocacy Creek, off Christian Spring Road. This property, along with $2 million for its care, was devised to the Township by the late Janet Housnick, Johnston's granddaughter.

Hudak and the rest of Commissioners unanimously adopted a Master Plan for Housenick Park last month, which calls for the mansion's restoration. But as a result of ambiguous language in the resolution adopting the plan, Hudak proposed modifying it to give Commissioners authority to raze the building, "if found to be necessary." He also wanted to delay plans to list the property on the National Register.

After the meeting, Hudak explained himself "I've always been in favor of keeping the mansion, from Day One." His personal preference is to see the outside restored, rest rooms added, and the ground floor made available as a senior center. Hudak added that he actually wrote the Resolution that would ensure passive recreation at the park, and has been familiar with the grounds since he's been a child.

Commissioner Paul Weiss, sitting next to Hudak, agreed that Commissioners' priority is to restore the mansion, and the resolution was proposed only to give them the option if it is impossible to save the building.

Despite their intentions, Hudak's proposed resolution brought several Housenick Park defenders to the meeting. Because the resolution had been withdrawn, BOC President Arthur Murphy asked them to keep their comments under two minutes.

Township resident Andy Unger told Commissioners that Housenick Park has become a "polarizing issue. Things start and then they happen, and then they don't happen. Motions get made, then motions get recalled." Unger suggested that people need to "talk to each other in a noncritical manner."

Housenick Trustee Tim Brady, himself a former Commissioner, asked why the Housenick Master Plan, which cost the Trust over $40,000, has never been provided to the parks and recreation board. President Arthur Murphy assured Brady that copies would be distributed the very next day.

Conservationist Victoria Bastidas, who has spent weeks at Housenick Park with students, brought several with her to the podium. She told Commissioners that these budding botanists, along with members of the Monocacy Creek Watershed Association, Audubon Society, and Sierra Club, just spent the previous weekend fishing computer terminals, tires and bottles of oil out of nearby Monocacy Creek. She claimed their efforts ease the burden on Township and County workers, who have been beset by recent storms. She suggest that the creek needs to be monitored more carefully, although only a small portion of it is located within the park.
Updated 7:32 PM

Bethlehem Township Proposes No New Taxes Next Year

At their November 21 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners were presented with a $15.9 million budget that, if approved, will hold the line on taxes and sewer rates next year. The Township's finance maven, Andrew Freda, provided a line-by-line overview.

In the General Fund, the Township anticipates receiving nearly $15,897,458 next year, including nearly $10 million in real estate taxes and an opening balance of $1.6 million. It will spend over $7 million for public safety, $2 million for public works, $1.1 million for culture and recreation, $1.1 million in debt service and nearly $3 million in general government expenses. The budget also calls for a transfer of $275,000 to a capital reserve fund. Added up, expenditures next year are estimated at $14,777,109, leaving a projected fund balance of $1,120,349.

From its $808,000 capital reserve fund, the Township plans to spend $792,000 for unspecified capital purchases.

Freda told Commissioners he is recommending keeping the sewer rate and 5.99 millage rate steady next year. Under that rate, a home assessed at $75,000 would be taxed $449.25.

Although Commissioners had no questions, President Arthur Murphy - himself an accountant - praised Freda for doing a "great job" with the budget.

Township Commissioners will address the budget again at their next meeting on Monday, December 5, 7 PM, at the Township Municipal Building, located at 4225 Easton Avenue.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Walk in the Park? Not at Housenick Park, Sez Comm'r Hudak

A three-story colonial style mansion at Housenick Park is in danger of demolition, if a Resolution proposed by Commissioner Michael Hudak is adopted tonight. Although Commissioners just adopted a Master Plan in October that calls for the building's restoration, Hudak is now proposing demolition, "if found to be necessary." In addition, he wants to delay any plans to list the building with the National Register.

Once home to Archibald Johnston, Bethlehem's first Mayor and a Bethlehem Steel Company president, this unusual mansion is the cornerpiece of a 55-acre passive recreation park located along Monocacy Creek, off Christian Spring Road. This property, along with $2 million for its care, was devised to the Township by the late Janet Housnick, Johnston's granddaughter.

Before the Master Plan was presented to Commissioners, Hudak made clear that Housenick's largess meant little to him. "She knew what was going on," he complained during a meeting of the Housnick Committee. "She let it fall into decay. Why didn't she have somebody fix the ceiling? It was never kept up over the years."

Although initially voting to accept this Master Plan, Hudak successfully persuaded Commissioner Arthur Murphy and Paul Weiss to join him in dissolving the Housenick Committee. "We've developed many parks in the Township, without the help of an outside Committee," he reasoned.

Then, in early November, Hudak interrupted an organized weekend walk at Housenick Park. He claimed  fundraising was going on, which would require a municipal permit 60 days in advance. Insurance, too. Walk organizers deny there was any fund-raising, but canceled to avoid needless controversy. A Bethlehem attorney has stated such a requirement for a simple, pre-arranged walk in the park, runs afoul of the First Amendment's freedom of assembly.

Now Hudak is, bit-by-bit, dismantling the very plan he voted to approve, knowing that the Committee responsible for it has been disbanded.

Township Commissioners will consider Hudak's resolution tonight, 7 PM, at the Township Municipal Building,  located at 4225 Easton Avenue.

Frozen Pizza: Fruit or Vegetable?

When golden leaves blanket running and bike trails throughout the Lehigh Valley, so does the colder weather. Instead of being festooned with "fuel belts," "camelbaks," or just a simple bottle of water, runners and cyclists are now sporting hand-warmers and reflective beanies. Nobody thinks much about water.

But the European Food Standards Authority does, and in an incredible edict, has banned bottled water distributors from advertising that drinking water helps prevent dehydration. This is after a three-year study involving 21 scientists. Any business owner ignoring this command faces two years in a European hoosegow, where he will be water boarded with San Pellegrino and Perrier.

Can you say Nanny State?

Before you do, take a look at Congress. In a bow to $5.6 billion spent by food companies opposed to new regulations in the school cafeteria, our federal legislators have decided to classify frozen pizza as a vegetable. After all, there's tomato paste on it.

That's just nuts.

Everybody knows the tomato is a fruit.

Which is worse, a nanny state or one in which corporations rule?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Help Clean Monocacy Creek

From the Monocacy Creek Watershed Association:

The Monocacy Creek Needs Your Help!

Due to the massive flooding the Monocacy Creek is full of junk and our fish have no where to go!
Come and help our fish by "fishing junk" out of our creek!

Time and Place: Archibald Johnston Conservation Area- Northampton County Land. Saturday November 19, 2011 and Sunday November 20, 2011. 10-2pm

Directions: Park at Housenick Park- Rte 191 Turn on Christian Springs, Left at first driveway on left. Park in lot. Follow road on the right down by the pinestand. We will meet on the lower level County land

Problem: The Creek is in rough shape - it has at least 8 major blockages and has overflown its banks. The county cannot access the property with machinery because it is under water. Erosion is causing tree roots to become unearthed and healthy trees are continuing to fall into the creek resulting in further blockages and destruction of habitat.

Plan: We will do a quick walk of the site to assess the damage and discuss ecological impacts. We will then focus on getting flow restored primarily by fishing out bottles, cans, tires, branches, pallets, propane tanks and other debris. We will then be hauling the debris to recycle.

Safety First: We will not be using power tools for this event, and will be focusing on debris pick-up. Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. No children will be permitted in the creek All participants will be required to wear a life vest while working near the creek. (we have 12). All participants or their parents will be required to sign a release

Fun and Educational: This will be an exercise in simple machines and physics. We are going to be dragging out logs using pulley systems, block and tackle and come-alongs and may even use a bucket brigade or suspended litter! Fishermen and nature buffs will be helping out and can answer your questions about the creek and wildlife!

Food- For all those who stay the day we will have PIZZA! Yea!

Best idea
Best tool
Most trash bags filled!

Things to bring: Boots and waterproof clothing and gloves are a must- we will have some extra rubber gloves, but garden gloves work also extension poles, nets, rakes, garbage bags

Weather: looks clear and 40 at 10am going up to 50 by 12pm with even better weather Sunday in the 60's!

Should Voters Have a Say When Government Wants to Borrow?

By a five-four vote, Northampton County Council last night lent its support to a proposed state law that will allow home rule charter counties to allow the voters to weigh in by referendum when debt is proposed. I oppose these kinds of measures because most of us are, after all, pretty ignorant about government matters, and will be naturally inclined to vote against anything that might result in a tax hike.

That's why we elect others, so we can toss them out for making an uninformed decision to borrow on a matter about which we know nothing anyway.

Most of us simply don't know what the hell is going on.

My 12-year grandson, for example, can name every player at unranked Ohio State, but thinks the country located immediately south of the United States is New Jersey.

Maybe it is.

Executive John Stoffa pointed out that in the event of a sudden crisis like an earthquake, the County might have to borrow quickly, but would be unable to do that if it needed the approval of "We, the People."

Peg Ferraro agreed with Stoffa, but had a strange way of expressing herself.

"It's putting, it's tying our hands at a time when we might - it's putting us under some restrictions that maybe there might be some circumstances sometimes. I'm feeling like California a little bit with Proposition 13. And why just home rule counties? And I understand we're in a different group of people, but it just - hopefully we'll have people here who won't vote for huge bond issues."

Although I agree with her argument, her last sentence may have persuaded dubious Council members to support this Angle-sponsored measure. Northampton County has yet to spend all of the $111 million it borrowed in 2001.

Fake Rev Does Some Gloating

Although he denied he was at Council "to gloat or feel good about anyone leaving," the Fake Rev (he always calls himself Reverend Mario Martinez) made it a point to congratulate the winners twice during his usual speech. In addition to being a Fake Rev who speaks to Buddy Christ, he's also the voice of the people, and flexed his muscles.

"We, the People, are the ones that you signed on to serve. And if you serve us, genuinely, from your heart, there will never be an issue. The people will stand behind you. But if you fail us, then we will hold you accountable, and when the time comes, by the power of our vote, we will show you how dissatisfied we are."

Then he blessed them.

(In the picture above, the fake Rev celebrates with union boss Justus James, after casting out demon Ron Angle)

Updated 11:30 AM: We, the People, Speak! - On their "anonymous" blog, the God-fearing,self-proclaimed "Gracedale Guardians" (Jack and Peggy D'Alessandro, Mario Martinez, Mary Ann Schmoyer, John Mammana) have responded to my post with this civil comment. "Word on the street is Angles lap dog should have the opening below his nose sewn shut." The Wicked Witch of West Easton, aka Tricia Mezzacappa, is a little more graphic. "I hope he chokes on a Tic Tac and drops dead."

Nice people.

I'm sure God is on their side. But not any God I know.

More Variety Needed on Norco Election Comm'n

Bethlehem Township Democrat Donnell Bowie was appointed last night to Northampton County's Election Commission, making him the first African American in County history selected for this important role. A very distinguished man dressed in a suit and tie, Bowie actually came to the meeting, sensing the responsibility being placed on his shoulders. But there's still no diversity on this board.

As nice as it is to see a person of color finally get selected, the manner of selection of Election Commission members is fundamentally flawed, perhaps even unconstitutional.

According to the Home Rule Charter, the Election Commission is comprised of five members, three from the majority party (i.e. Democrat) and two from the minority (i.e. Republican). The party chairs actually send a list of names to the Executive. No provision is made for members of minor parties or independent voters, with their annoying concerns about voting machines and paper trails. So it is rigged to perpetuate the two-party system, at the expense of other voters.

After leaving it to party chairs to send names to the Executive, there's a general prohibition on naming "an officer in a political party." What the hell does that mean? Is a Committeeman, who must stand for election, an officer in a political party? How about an Area Chair? City Chair?

Then there's the question whether the Voting Registrar works for the Elections Commission or the Executive. Nobody seems to know the answer, although it's been debated now for six years.

It's obvious that this is an issue that needs to be addressed by Lamont McClure's Law & Order Committee. But he hasn't held a meeting for three years.


Plans For Drive-Thru Rite-Aid Delayed

I hope Blogger Michael Molovinsky won't mind me sharing a telephone conversation I had with him yesterday. If he does, it won't be the first time I pissed him off. But ne called it. He predicted exactly what would happen at last night's Allentown Zoning hearing on Rite-Aid's request for a drive-thru pharmacy on 7th Street. The matter was continued, exactly as he said.

Because I was at Northampton County Council, I was unable to attend. But WFMZ-TV's affable Will Lewis reports that the drug giant, seeing the opposition, sought a delay. Rite-Aid might very well change its designs to make their pharmacy more pedestrian friendly.

Updated 12:21 PM:  There are also accounts in The Morning Call and a new face in town, The Express Times.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NorCo Sheriff's Department Gets Accredited Where Credit is Due

Of approximately 1,600 law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, only 76 of them are accredited. The Northampton County Sheriff's Department joined those ranks on November 9, when the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police voted unanimously to certify Northampton County as an accredited agency. Aside from Montgomery County, Northampton is the only Sheriff's Department to get a state accreditation.

This recognition follows two years of hard work, meeting 134 standards. The process was started under former Sheriff Jeff Hawbecker, and was finished by Sheriff Randy Miller, who as Police Commissioner in Bethlehem guided his department through the accreditation process there.

Miller declined to take any credit, choosing instead to point to the hard work put in by his deputies. He also credited Excutive John Stoffa, former Director of Administration John Conklin and County Council, who had to budget the money. "I'm kind of like the orchestra leader, waving the baton," Miller stated.

But Stoffa set the record straight. "They worked hard for two years and really deserve this."

Bethlehem Zoners Bring Smile to Rabbi

No wonder he was smiling. After a quick twenty-minute hearing, Bethlehem zoners unanimously granted Rabbi Zalman Greenberg's Chabad at Lehigh a Special Exception so he could move operations from 727 Evans Street to the old Kulick Funderal Home, located at 306 Wyandotte Street. Greenberg, his wife Yehudit and his three children will live in the upper level, but the rest of the building will serve as a Jewish student center and synagogue, with weekly social events, Shabbat dinners, classes and guest speakers.

Withe purchase and renovations, the total project cost is $1.1 million, with the money coming from private sources. Rabbi Greenberg explained that he would reduce parking to 18 spots, primarily because the building is located within walking distance for most Lehigh students, being only 0.3 miles from Lehigh Square. But there will be few exterior changes to what the Rabbi calls a "gorgeous historic landmark from 1866."

According to the Rabbi, Chabad is an acronym for three Hebrew words meaning wisdom, knowledge and understanding. He explained that lofty and Godly ideals are brought down in ways they could be understood, as well as bringing the mundane up. But it's also a place for students to experience their Jewish heritage in a home-like setting.

Greenberg credited his student board of directors with the program's success, claiming that the ideas come mostly from them. "It's been unbelievable!" he exclaimed. "This is our third move in three years." At Evans Street, Chabad at Lehigh has had to rent tents and borrow neighbors' back yards for some events.

Worldwide, there are 3,500 Chabads. Locally, Chabad of Lehigh Valley, located in Allentown, is geared to the community. Greenberg's group is more student-oriented. His official status with Lehigh is as an "outside adviser to a student group."

Nobody appeared in opposition to the zoning application. In fact, the owners of Sayre Mansion were on hand to lend their support.

When will he move in? Greenberg is hopeful that everything will be ready in tme for the Jewish High Holiday next year.

(Updated 11:00 AM)

Judge Baratta: ZHB Made Right Call Against Atiyeh's Luxury Apartments

Despite a parade of five witnesses and 26 exhibits over two lengthy nights of testimony, Bethlehem zoners last October rejected Abe Atiyeh's request for a 102-unit "luxury" apartment complex on five acres located at the corner of Center Street & Dewberry Avenue. Immediately following a 2-1 vote in Bethlehem Library's Conference Room, an audience of about 25 opponents burst into applause. Atiyeh did have approval for an assisted living facility at the site, but argued that market has dried up, creating a hardship. According to Atiyeh himself, luxury apartments are "the only valid use on this site. We have a hardship here."

Representing Atiyeh, Allentown Attorney Bill Malkames appeal claiming a hardship.

But it appears there was another valid use after all. After being rejected by zoners, and despite filing an appeal, Atiyeh nevertheless filed plans for a 4-story, 125-bed, inpatient detox center and psychiatric center at the exact same site. A permitted use, Atiyeh needed no zoning approval. But Bethlehem Planners rejected Atiyeh's plan in August. At that time, Planner Steve Thode noted the inconsistency in Atiyeh's argument. "Now you're saying there is a permitted use which is viable. Which is it?" he asked.

Northampton County Judge Stephen Baratta has answered that question. In a ten-page Opinion released on November 16, there never was any unnecessary hardship to justify a luxury apartment complex. "The desire to maximize the value of its property, standing alone, with no other proof of hardship, does not establish the right to a use variance."

Judge Baratta's ruling affirms the Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board's decision last year. But Ayiyeh will be back before zoners again on November 22, with a scaled-down plan for luxury apartments at Center & Dewberry.

Dent Votes For Obama Jobs Bill to Help Vets

Well, one piece of President Obama's jobs package has finally made it out of Congress. It sailed through the Senate last week, and was passed unanimously in the Hose yesterday, 422 - 0. The Bill gives a tax credit of up to $5,600 to hire a vet who has been out of work for more than six months. It expands retraining programs for vets. Finally, it repeals a 3% withholding requirement on contractor pay.

“Providing tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans and expanding veterans retraining opportunities will help many of the nation’s 1 million unemployed vets get back to work or begin new careers as civilians,” said LV Congressman Charlie Dent. “I am confident repealing the 3 percent withholding rule will also encourage job growth throughout the nation by allowing job creators to better invest in their growth and development.”

“I am hopeful the overwhelming bipartisan support this legislation received serves as another indication that both parties in Congress can come together to advance policies that will accelerate our economic recovery,” said Congressman Dent.

Is a Drive-Thru Pharmacy a Good Idea at Allentown's 7th Street Gateway?

One of Allentown's bright spots is its 7th Street gateway, and that's mostly due to the efforts of Main Street Manager Peter Lewnes. Restaurants and little niche businesses line what Michael Molovinsky proudly calls Allentown's Business Barrio.

Well, Lewnes is asking for help at tonight's Zoning Hearing Board meeting, when Rite-Aid will seek permission to demolish what the Main Street Manager considers an "anchor building" in the Traditional Neighborhood Overlay, and one at which Rite-Aid at one time made money. The destroyed building will be replaced by a drive-thru pharmacy instead of a pedestrian-friendly business. Here's his letter.

I'm writing for your support against a corporate takeover of 7th and Allen Street at tomorrow night's zoning hearing board meeting. The meeting starts at 7 PM in city council chambers, first floor city hall (435 Hamilton Street). If you think that 7th Street is worth showing up and voicing your opinion...please come and join in the fight of our lives to keep this important Allentown corridor on track.

7th Street Allentown's development is facing a serious setback tomorrow night. The Rite Aid Corporation is seeking to demolish 602-618 N 7th Street, an anchor building that admittedly requires a ton of renovation but historically housed Rite Aid and served them well as a facility.

The threat lies with what they propose to replace it with. The Seventh Street Development Committee has worked to protect center city from suburban sprawl and becoming an extension of 145 in Whitehall. One recent example of SSDC's involvement was in the recent revision of the city of Allentown's Zoning Code, the results of which sought to ensure that infill development in historic sections of center city - covered now by a Traditional Neighborhood Development Overlay - is compatible with the scale and character of it's surrounding neighborhood. (That process was started after AutoZone's proposal to occupy a building along the 19th Street commercial corridor, as well as the suburban-style TD Bank building (built at the corner of 19th and Tilghman Streets) caused such a public outcry. Throughout this more thank 2 year process, SSDC continually advocated for restrictions on big-box, suburban-style development along the corridor - any type of development that would be detrimental to its street-oriented, pedestrian-friendly design.

What Rite Aid is proposing for the corner of 7th and Allen Street flies directly in the face of the results of this public, community-driven process. Rite Aid seeks variances from requirements that have been carefully put in place to protect the character and design of the Seventh Street Corridor. Approving such variances would set a dangerous precedent, making it that much easier for future developers to further decimate the heart of our neighborhood shopping district.

This is especially true since none of Rite Aid's variances relate to any actual hardship. Rite Aid is not new to the corner of 7th and Allen Streets. Prior to leaving the existing building on that corner (due to serious code violations in the property), the pharmacy there – with no setback from the street, no drive-thru, no oversized sign, and in a multi-story building – was one of the chain’s most successful.

We need your help - please forward this email to anyone that cares about Allentown and please show up to show that the community matters in center city.

If you can make it and plan on speaking - please drop me an email and I'll get in touch with you to go over more details.

thanks much - your friend

Peter Lewnes

Updated 12:25 AM: City Council member Michael Donovan Asks Zoners to Deny Application.

Residents of the 7th Street area have brought to my attention that Rite Aid Pharmacy, in its planned move from Hamilton Street to 7th Street, intends to construct a large, suburban style facility with extensive parking that includes space in front of the building. This is an inappropriate plan for that area. The result would be to detract from the atmosphere and design
of a steadily improving urban neighborhood that is based on smaller businesses who would not have the zoning advantages that would be given to Rite Aid.

Many corporations, when building new facilities in urban areas, agree to using designs that are more fitting than those found in suburban communities. I have seen many Rite Aid Pharmacies rely on these designs.

I urge the Zoning Board to deny the variance requests, and ask that they suggest to Rite Aid that they work with the neighborhood and the city to produce a design that works for everyone's benefit.

While I understand Michael's good intentions, this letter should not be considered. A Zoning Hearing Board, unlike most other bodies, is quasi-judicial. A letter from one of the persons who appoints these members creates an appearance of impropriety On top of that, the letter is hearsay. You can't cross-examine a letter. If Allentown City Council wants to be involved, they can formally intervene. But they should avoid ex parte contacts.

Noon Update: Blogger Michael Molovinsky has weighed in on this issue.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gracedale Will Cost $1.6 Million Less, Says New Manager

Northampton County's proposed 2012 budget calls on taxpayers to pay $7,192,000 to keep Gracedale, the County-owned nursing home, afloat next year. But at a November 15 Budget Hearing, Gracedale's new management firm, Premier Healthcare Resources, suggested it can trim $1.6 million from that figure.

How will it do this? Primarily, by increasing the census from 591 on November 15 to 638 residents next year, giving the nursing facility an additional $1.1 million in revenue. The rest of the savings will come from $500,000 in as yet unidentified cuts.

A dubious Council grilled Interim Administrator Dave Holland whether this would be possible. While conceding that the Lehigh Valley is an increasingly competitive market, Holland suggested that placing a nurse liaison at local hospitals would bring in new residents. He would attempt to attract Medicare, as opposed to Medicaid patients, which are more profitable. But Council members questioned whether that would defeat the whole point of keeping Gracedale in County hands.

"We are the court of last resort," noted Mike Dowd.

Council Prez. John Cusick questioned whether increasing census would automatically lead to additional revenue. "Filling beds is a slogan, not a solution," he scoffed.

But Holland suggested there were other revenue-enhancing possibilities to consider as well, from  a Dialysis Unit with a smaller provider to a Generational Unit.for younger people in need of nursing care as a result of  traumatic injuries.

Holland also proposed reducing workers compensation claims with a Wellness Employee Health Clinic, to educate workers on ways to avoid injury on the job.

Though the budget for Gracedale might be reduced next year, there won't be a reduction in John Stoffa's proposed 9.3% tax hike because Council must appropriate an additional $2.9 million for Gracedale in 2010. "The taxpayers have said we will spend money for Gracedale," Stoffa argued.

Although Holland never identified the $500,000 in cost savings proposed, he indicated that staffing is "under review."

When Ron Angle noted that Holland won't be able to do much about the benefits in the union contracts, Holland agreed. "We're playing the hand we're dealt. No question about that."

Human Services Director Ross Marcus stated there would be no new union contract this year. Peg Ferraro warned him, "I am not voting for that union contract unless it has some reasonable concessions."

While praising Holland for his cost saving proposals, Angle doubts "anybody can ever get this to break even unless you're in la la land and wave magic wands."

As Economy Sours, Demand For County Human Services Increases

According to the 2010 Census, there are 297,735 people in Northampton County. Last year, 23,742 of them, or 8% of the County's population, were Human Services consumers, and that's excluding Gracedale. At yesterday's Budget Hearing, Human Services Director Ross Marcus outlined a growing demand on Human Services, which accounts for $195 million, or 54%, of the County's total budget. In a faltering economy, appeals for help have surged. But it comes at a time when the state and federal governments are both reducing services.

With the exception of Veterans' Affairs, whose $278,000 budget is paid solely by the County, its current contribution is 7.1% ($13.5 million) of the cost of numerous human services. But noting the decline in reimbursements, Marcus asks, "At what point do we stop backfilling for the state and federal governments?"


Because of various cuts, the County is paying $600,000 for a program that encourages older adults to remain in the community with some degree of independence. In addition to home delivered meals and counseling, the County provides services at 12 different senior centers. 4,900 people participated in this program in 2010. This year, Marcus predicts that over 5,000 people will be getting assistance by year's end. Yet over $400,000 in programs have been cut.

In addition to Meals on Wheels and senior centers, the County provides "older adult protective services" to senior victims of predatory behavior. Marcus noted a disturbing trend in which "[p]eople are exploiting the frail elderly for their resources."

In 2008, there were 66 requests for older adult protective services. In 2010, that number had skyrocketed to 129, and this year's numbers are about the same.

Ron Angle noted that we spend $90,000 to house someone in a nursing home when many of them could get by in their own homes with just another $1500-1600 per month. "We have lost our way as a system," responded Marcus.

Children, Youth & Families

What could be more important than protecting our most precious asset, our children, from abuse and neglect? Marcus wants $4 million for this program next year, some of it to make up for state and federal cuts. "I'm just asking for one year," he pleaded, as he and other counties work with the state to increase reimbursements.

Currently, 212 Northampton County children are in placement. The high this year was 256.

In 2010, there CYF investigated 420 allegations of child abuse. This year, there will be a 10% increase. After the Penn State scandal, there were 12 reports of child sexual abuse, over the Veterans Day holiday.

Altogether, there were 2,043 requests for child protective services of one form or another in 2010. Marcus predicts a 50% increase this year.

Developmental Programs

This program assists between 900-1,000 families with children who experience significant delays in one or more areas of development. The County will kick in $906,300 this year, thanks in large part to declining reimbursements. Council Prez John Cusick told Marcus he "will not substitute local dollars to replace cuts made by the state," adding that Lehigh and other Counties are eliminating this program. But Marcus responded that the lower reimbursement rate is currently under appeal.

Mental Health

Allentown State Hospital closed its doors last years, except for a small acute care unit caring for 6 Northampton County residents. According to Marcus, these former state hospital patients "seem to enjoy their new setting" in group homes.

In 2009, 575 people were involuntarily committed, and that number is expected to remain about the same this year, unless they start reading blogs.