Monday, November 14, 2011
Longenbach In the Garden of Beasts
In Northampton County, the County Solicitor serves at the pleasure of the County Executive. Attorney Karl Longenbach was named by Executive John Stoffa as the County's lawyer six years ago, and has been at Stoffa's side ever since.
When Karl decided to run for Judge and was crushed in the Primary, Stoffa still kept him at his side. When Karl supported Scott Parsons for County Council, Stoffa said nothing, even though he had publicly endorsed Angle. After all, Parsons and Longenbach have been friends and golfing buddies for many years. That probably trumps politics. Stoffa even remained silent when Parsons lobbed a few broadsides his way.
But it's hard to ignore Longenbach's decision to attend a Scott Parsons' Election Night victory party. Part of that celebration was video-taped by the Wicked Witch of West Easton, presumably to show everyone a landmark victory. What I saw instead is a return to Reibman-era politics, the very thing that Stoffa has stood against.
On Election Day, Pennsylvania law requires that a County Solicitor be in the elections office between 7 AM and 10 PM, to handle the thorny legal issues that might arise during the day. Northampton County's regularly assigned lawyer was ill that day, so the duty fell on his boss, Karl, who claims he was "thrown in the breach."
My first problem is to wonder how a lawyer who is supposed to be in the elections office until 10 PM, can make it to Detzi's Tavern, a good 45-minutes away from the courthouse. But that's really minor compared to the others revealed in that video.
Celebrants at that party include people like Jack D'Allesandro, Mary Ann Schmoyer, John Mammana and Mario Martinez, who have at times called for Stoffa's recall as County Executive. Every one of them brought a surcharge action against Stoffa, attempting to wax him personally for funds the County spent on the law firm handling Gracedale's sale. A petition for attorney fees is still pending in Commonwealth Court.
Another party animal is none other than the Otter himself, who represents the people seeking surcharges and attorney fees. This cousin of the weasel, festooned in a "Gracedale Goon" pin, has vowed to go after Stoffa again, as soon as the County's 2011 budget has been audited. He has publicly suggested that Stoffa belongs in jail. He could be seen whispering sweet nothings to Assistant Solicitor Jill Mancini.
Mancini, an enthusiastic Parsons' supporter, was so delighted she was giving high fives to Justus James. He just happens to be the AFSCME business agent for a Gracedale bargaining unit, as well as other AFSCME units with County contracts. Mancini is apparently on one of the union negotiation teams.
No conflict of interest there.
In addition to James, Gracedale's AFSCME union prez, Ellen Weiss, was in the house. So was the tattooed dude who serves as a union officer.
Enjoying every moment, clapping his hands in approval, was none other than County Solicitor Karl Longenbach. Not only was he delighted to see a Stoffa critic elected, but was sharing the moment with a group that has both sued Stoffa and threatened his recall, along with their lawyer. He was also whooping it up with very union that funded the Gracedale referendum campaign.
The one that Karl supposedly opposed in Court.
A County Executive should be able to trust his own lawyer, but how can he when Karl and one of his assistants are yukking it up with the very people who are out to destroy Stoffa?
My concern is that this group, emboldened by this victory, will now become even more arrogant.
History provides an example. When Ambassador Dodd was sent to Germany in the early '30s, he saw the country transform into a Garden of Beasts, especially after a successful referendum on Germany's decision to leave the then League of Nations. There were certainly legitimate problems with Germany's reparations agreement, which was starving the country. But Hitler disingenuously asked Germans to "Vote Yes for Peace." They bought it. Sounded simple. What followed instead were beatings, Himmler, Gestapo, Stormtroopers, Goring, Goebbels, WWII, and the senseless massacre of millions of Jews.
I have no intention or desire to compare the horrors of Nazi Germany with what is slowly happening here, on a local level. But there are some chilling similarities. People of good will can have differing views about Gracedale. But telling people to vote Yes to "Save Gracedale" is just as disingenuous as Hitler's "Vote Yes for Peace." Just as a group of thugs took over in Nazi Germany, a small group that claims to be "We, the People" has an increasingly long enemies' list. John Stoffa, Barb Thierry, Mike Dowd, Ross Marcus, The Express Times, Wind Gap debate sponsors, Sarah Cassi, Bill White and Bruce Gilbert are all on it, to name a a few.
John Stoffa, a man of integrity, is now regularly called a liar and corrupt. Ron Angle has been literally called Satan. Several times. I have been vilified with some horrible and baseless accusations I decline to repeat here because I'll be dealing with them in another forum. Anybody who even partially agrees with any one of us is immediately castigated.
I am astonished and saddened that Karl Longenbach, one of the finest people I know, would embrace these seriously misguided people and abandon the County Executive. And I am fearful that Northampton County Government is slowly devolving into a Garden of Beasts.
Updated 12:16 PM: I agree that the analogy to The Garden of Beasts is a bit over the top, but am nevertheless deeply disappointed by Karl's behavior. He chose to remain in the company of people who have (1) actively called for Stoffa's ouster; (2) have repeatedly called him a liar and corrupt; and (3) commenced a surcharge action against Stoffa in his personal capacity. In attendance was a lawyer who has publicly stated that Stoffa belongs in jail. Longenbach's assistant was also actively cavorting with the union rep negotiating several county contracts.
While Longenbach may exercise his rights to do what he wants, he knows better than must that actions have consequences. He serves at the pleasure of the Executive, who can exercise his rights, too.