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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Canes Win Little Canaries 2011 Holiday Tournament

While most of us were sitting on our fat asses over the Holidays, eating bon bons, seventeen teams of 6th grade boys from all over the Lehigh Valley were running up and down basketball courts at William Allen High School. In games played between December 26 and 31st, the Bethlehem 'Canes came out on top, winning each of their five contests.

On Friday night, the 'Canes were down 10 points to Allentown's Downtown Youth Center when the buzzer sounded at the half. But this Liberty High School feeder team dug down and exploded in the second half, winning by ten.

On New Year's Eve, as parents nursed hangovers, the Canes squared off against Allentown's East Side Youth Center in the Championship game. East Side was exhausted, having played three games earlier that day as a result of being in a loser's bracket. So the Canes came out on top, but every one of them would tell you the game could have gone the other way if East Side had more rest.

They will meet again.

Friday, December 30, 2011

LVR's Most Influential Stories of 2011

I've scoured my blog to find last year's most influential stories, and thought I'd share them. These are the ditties that readers really liked, investigative pieces that newspapers and TV stations cited with awe, or pure literary genius.

1. ....

2. ....

3. ....

I'll get back to you. I'm sure there's one somewhere.

GOP's Woodman: Ethnicity Plays No Role in Reichley Successor Quest

I took LC GOP Bossman Wayne Woodman to task on Wednesday for discouraging Wanda Mercado Arroyo from seeking Doug Reichley's state house seat in the special election. She, along with eight to ten other people, have met with Woodman. According to Arroyo, Woodman was abusive and questioned whether voters in Reichley's district would even know her. In addition, Woodman reportedly added that the people there just aren't ready for a Latina.

I never contacted Woodman for his side of the story because, a few months before, I believe he was dishonest with me about remaining neutral in last May's Republican primary. I don't trust him. But as a result, you only had one side of the story.

To his credit, Woodman contacted me. To be fair, I really should provide his explanation.

Woodman provided me a copy of his response to Arroyo, in which tells her the questions he asked, including the question about name recognition, are identical to the interrogatories posed to other hopefuls. He denies having a favorite, and claims to have set up a conference process to make the process as open as possible. He also disputes asking her to resign her position as state committee chair. He explains that he would resign himself, but she is free to do whatever she wants.

To me, he insists that Arroyo's ethnicity is irrelevant. "I never said that and I do not believe it. I do not see that statement in her letter either so I am not sure where you drew that from."

I drew that inference because that is what I was told he said. Since she was angry enough to fire off an email to several prominent Republicans, something obviously bothered her. But is is possible that there was some sort of misunderstanding.

Although you all know I'm a bottom feeder, I owe it to you to share what Woodman told me. You can decide for yourself whom to believe.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rumor Mill: Pete "El Gringo" Schweyer is Dem Pick for New Hispanic District

Although the Lehigh Valley will soon be split between two Congressman, Allentown is getting a new state house seat, District 22, one that reflects its growing Hispanic population. But ironically, its first representative in Harrisburg will be a Gringo.

Forming a group called Securing a Better Future for Allentown, Latino and African-American leaders have strongly hinted to Capitol Ideas' John Micek they'd like to see Hispanic candidates in the special election for the seat. But Micek does not pick the candidates. That's why we have party bosses.

Who will Republicans pick? Who cares? Just as Reichley's seat is a sure thing for Republicans, this one will go to the Dems.

So who will Democrats pick? Informed sources tell me it's none other Allentown City Council member Pete "El Gringo"  Schweyer, who works in Harrisburg as Jennifer Mann's Chef of Staff. His selection will virtually guarantee his victory in a special election.

This is weird. Republicans don't think Reichley's district is ready for a person of color. But it looks like Democrats think Hispanics are ready for a Gringo.

Changing of the Guard in Northampton County

Ron Angle. Mike Dowd. Ann McHale. These are all familiar names to those who follow Northampton County Council, with a combined 37 years of experience.  Next week, all three will be gone, to be replaced by newcomers Ken Kraft, Scott Parsons and Bob Werner.

Will the Earth stop moving? Will life as we know it suddenly come to an end?

Although I was and remain an avid fan of both Ron Angle and Mike Dowd, relations between Council and Executive John Stoffa might actually improve. Unlike McHale, Ken Kraft has no reason to engage in petty sniping. Unlike Angle, who himself admits he can be a difficult person, Parsons promises civility. With three Democrats at his side, incumbent Lamont McClure might feel less defensive, too.

Although I doubt these three newcomers have any interest in a leadership role on Council at this time, whether John Cusick is re-elected as Council President is anybody's guess. Whether he even wants the job is unknown.

Cusick came under criticism last year for the role he played in Angle's ouster as Council President, but his ineffectiveness is what seems to really bother most Council members. A math teacher by training, Cusick is more inclined to treat County issues as long division exercises than a complicated mix of facts and personalities. Practically none of his initiatives succeeded last year. He was at his weakest when Council stalemated over a budget, coming under fire from both Republican Angle and Democrat McClure.

My suspicion is that Peg Ferraro, who desperately wanted to be Council President when Angle was elected two years ago, will finally get her wish. I also expect to see Phil Lauer replaced as Council Solicitor.

Bethlehem Loses Second Zoning Officer This Year

In March, Bethlehem Zoning Officer John Lezoche retired after 36 years with the City. After just a few months on the job, Lezoche's replacement, Christine Bartleson, has decided she's had enough, too.

What would make her want to leave so soon?


Bartleson graduated from the University of North Carolina and spent four years there as the planning director in Bessemer City. A certified planner, she began working for Bethlehem Township in 2002. In 2006, she was recruited by the City's Planning Bureau, and early this year, began work as the City's zoning officer. But she misses the milder weather in North Carolina,and has decided to return.

She claims she'll have her Southern accent back about five minutes after she gets there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

GOP Boss Woodman: Reichley District Not Ready For Latina

Last week, I told you that LC GOP boss Wayne Woodman is pulling out all the stops to have his protege, Scott Ott, installed as the next Chair of Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners. Never mind that Ott has absolutely no experience in serving in any elective office. Now comes word that he is stacking the deck for the race in the 134th State House seat that will soon be vacated by newly elected Judge Doug Reichley.

Once Reichley steps down, a "special election" will be scheduled, probably one that coincides with next year's primary. Instead of electing party nominees who will square off in the General election, voters will choose between candidates who have already been pre-selected by their parties.

Who will Democrats nominate? That doesn't matter because whoever is chosen is going to lose. In this heavily Republican district, the GOP will essentially be choosing Reichley's successor.

This is where GOP Bossman Wayne Woodman flexes his muscle. You see, he's already picked Reichley's successor. He's a Harvard man, too, having just graduated from its Business School with an MBA. His name is Ryan MacKenzie, and he's currently employed as "Policy Director" at Pennsylvania's Department of Labor and Industry.

According to MacKenzie's LinkedIn, he's a "self starter" who is able to handle "multiple, high priority tasks." That must explain how he's able to maintain two residences simultaneously. He works in Harrisburg and has an apartment there, but uses his parents' address so he can pretend he still lives in Reichley-land .

Those Harvard dudes are pretty smart!

Woodman, himself a Californian, is unfazed by petty little things like residency. In fact, he was downright abusive to a woman who has expressed interest in the party's nomination.

Her name is Wanda Mercado Arroyo. She's President and CEO at AM International Consultants, Inc. But she has a problem. Instead of graduating from Harvard, she attended the University of Puerto Rico.  Woodman told Arroyo that Reichley country just isn't ready for a Latina.

Kinda' like the country was not ready for Obama.

In fact, in a meeting that Arroyo describes as "abusive," Woodman instructed her to resign her position as a Republican State Committee person. Maybe they're unready for a Latina, too.

Woodman also told Arroyo she has no name recognition. I see. A person who has served on the Board of Casa Guadalue for 8 years and has operated a business in this area for the past 6, has no name recognition. And a recent college grad who lives in Harrisburg does?

"[Y]our methods and approach are counterproductive to the vital goal of expanding the Republican Party and conservative ideals here in the Lehigh Valley," Arroyo claims in a letter to Woodman. She also complains that the Rolex-wearin' party boss impugned her character and integrity.

Actually, he impugned every person who votes in Reichley's district.

Who Will Take The Helm at Bethlehem City Council?

Donchez, Reynolds & Rechiutti
As a matter of tradition, City Council Presidents only serve for two years in Bethlehem, and then step down. Bob Donchez, its current President, has just completed his stint, opening the door to other Council members. Who will take the helm?

According to inside sources, Karen Dolan has already told fellow Council members she has no interest in the top  slot, but would like to be VP. Jean Belinski apparently has no interest, either, and is more worried about finishing the two years she has left in her term. Newly elected Mike Rechiutti might have the ambition, but is an unknown quantity and would receive no serious consideration.

That leaves Dave DiGiacinto, Eric Evans and J. Willie Reynolds. DiGiacinto is known for asking the tough questions. Evans is reflective and serious-minded. Reynolds has been Mayor John Callahan's biggest supporter on Council. All three are dedicated and willing to put in the hours. I often see one or more of them at zoning or planning meetings, sitting quietly in the audience.

Some of you might trash Willie because he is so close to the Mayor. Others might disdain DiGiacinto, who has sometimes put Callahan on the spot. But each of these three contenders would make excellent presidents, provided that the Finance Committee has a strong chair.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Barron Takes Credit For Sick Leave Audit He Never Ordered

Last week, The Morning Call told you about a 7-year audit of sick leave abuses in Northampton County. Controller Steve Barron claims he and his office decided to do this after reading about sick time abuse by Allentown firefighters. His story is complete bullshit. The audit run by his office, was done at the request of Executive John Stoffa.

According to Barron, there's nothing to see here. Don't worry about that finding that 2.3% of the County's workforce are "sick" on the first day of every deer-hunting reason. Sure, it's stealing, but as long as the thieves  wear that union label, they're OK in Barron's book. He's pandering again.

According to our recently re-elected Controller, "The Monday after Thanksgiving is a popular day and I'm sure there's a lot of sick days all over the commonwealth that particular day."

He's very generous with our money, isn't he? With that attitude, I expect the sick time abuse will rise even more next year. Thanks, Steve.

"A popular day" to take off sick? This is not the Friday after Thanksgiving, but the Monday. Once again, Barron demonstrates why he is called von Footinmouth. He and public sector unions are completely detached from the reality of the private sector, where jobs are anything but certain. Obviously, lots of people want off the first day of hunting season. Either you get approved vacation or you go to work. If you risk calling in sick, you also risk being investigated.

Stoffa, unlike Barron, thinks it's wrong for public sector employees to steal from the taxpayer.

What's your experience like in the private sector? Do you think your boss would pay you for claiming you were "sick" so you could take a five-day weekend and go hunting?

Teachers' Union Advocate To Oppose Justin Simmons For State House

Imagine you're a security guard walking down the hallway of a Gettysburg College dorm room. While making your rounds, the pungent aroma of marijuana, coming from one of the rooms, attracts your attention. You knock on the door, but instead of an answer, you hear the toilet flush again and again. When the door finally is opened, a cloud of marijuana smoke virtually knocks you over.

Sounds like a typical college dorm scene, right?

But what I've just described are the antics of three Easton teachers who were shacked up at Gettysburg for a ... ahem ... conference in 2009. Though never charged, these three stooges were asked to leave, and they did.

In fact, one of these three educators, Kevin Deely, was President of the teachers' union at the time, a role he continued to hold until sometime this year. As a union boss, he's known for rejecting federal funding when tied to teacher performance.  Last Spring, he organized a rally when school administrators balked at an average 12.57% average raise for teachers.  Between 2009 and this year, Easton teachers saw average raises of $20,000-25,000, which is more than many of us make.

Not too shabby in the worst economy we've seen since the Great Depression. But so far, it's only been Easton taxpayer money.

Well, Deely wants to bring his "vision" to Harrisburg. I have minutes from Southern Lehigh Educational Assn's October meeting, where Deely was a featured speaker and stated he'll be opposing Justin Simmons in the state house race next year.

Apparently, Deely's an expert when it comes to Weed 'n Seed.

If you'd like to volunteer, he lives in an apartment above a Korean restaurant on 309 in Center Valley. So you can knock on Kevin's door, and while you're waiting for him to stop flushing the toilet, you can order some kimchi.

Dean Browning Leaves LC Comm'rs the Way He Came, With Class

Christmas interrupted me from giving you the parting remarks of all five Lehigh County Commissioners who said goodbye Wednesday night. I saved Dean Browning, the Board's chair for the last two years, for last. Dean, as must of you know, was defeated in the primary after supporting a Don Cunningham budget that included a 16% tax hike.

First, Dean commended the "excellent set of employees at the top," which according to the outgoing Chair, filters down to all levels of County government. He specifically mentioned Assistant County Solicitors like Catherine Roseberry and Eman Jarrah, who provide advice at every meeting, as well as Clerk Dave Barilla. "Without them, we could not do the jobs we do as Commissioners."

Second, he complimented fellow Commissioners who, divided by party, have nevertheless tried to work together and govern effectively, with minimal cost to the taxpayer.

Third, Dean thanked the public for giving him an opportunity to serve, especially those who have taken time out of their evenings to provide input, both good or bad.

I think Dean's thank you meant something to Catherine Roseberry, pictured below. Sitting next to her is Lehigh County's backbone, Dave Barilla.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wolf Christmas

Daniel Pinkwater's delightful Wolf Christmas, which originally aired on NPR last year, was broadcast again tonight. It's a great short story for all of us, and Pinkwater's narration makes it even better. You can here it here. If you'd prefer to just read it, or better yet, read it to your family, you'll see the narration there, too.

Friday, December 23, 2011

ET Has the Skinny on Cedar Creek Parkway West

The Express Times has invaded Lehigh County and its coverage of Wednesday night's County Commissioner meeting was excellent. In addition to the term limit story, reporter Precious Petty has the details on a Master Plan for Cedar Creek Parkway West in South Whitehall Township, including a link to the actual plan.

Glenn Eckhart: Where's My Tea Leaves, Damn It?

I love to torment Glenn Eckhart, with whom I rarely agree. But fortunately for me, he's leaving the Board of Commissioners to become Lehigh County's new Controller, so I'll still be able to pick on him, especially if he is as political as his counterpart in Northampton County.

But nobody can deny that Glenn is a genuinely good person who cares about other people and tries to help them. He gets it. When kids were tossed out of a gym in Salisbury because there was no security at basketball games, Glenn dug into his own pocket to pay for it. This is all the more amazing because Glenn is a blue collar guy who looks uncomfortable in a suit and tie.

In his final words as a Commissioner, Glenn remarked that when he left Salisbury Township, "they gave me a bag of leaves because I complained about the leaves all the time. ... Maybe somebody should have brought me some tea leaves because it seemed like I was always on the wrong side of the vote."

Can you provide a caption to the picture above? One that avoids reference to male organs?

Hansell: Local Gov't Where Democracy Works Most Effectively

I ran out of space on my flipcam in taping the final remarks of Lehigh County Commissioner Bill Hansell on Wednesday night. If you've attended just one Commissioner meeting in his two years as an appointee, I'm certain you heard him mention at least once that he helped write the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, Penn's Treaty, Northampton County Home Rule Charter and the script to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And this loquacious Irishman may very well be right. He had a three "quick" points, which were excellent:

"First of all, local government and local democracy is where citizen interaction with our government happens most directly. Whether you agree with the people, whether we agree with them, when you vote, you from 'em. If you disagree, you hear from them. And it's in your face. It's not a letter to Washington. It's not a letter to Harrisburg. It's not a phone call. It's direct and personal, and that's how democracy is meant to work and where it works most effectively.

"Secondly, ... we are about very important things for the quality of life. ... "

"[Third] ..., ninety to ninety-five percent of what we do here has nothing to do with partisan politics. Some would like to make it have something to do with partisan politics, but there is no real Democrat or Republican way to administer and manage a court system. There is no Democrat or Republican way to administer and manage a nursing home or to build a park."

Andy Roman Helped Bring "Systemic Reform" to Lehigh County

Instead of running for a third term as a Lehigh County Commissioner, Andy Roman instead opposed popular Sheriff Ron Rossi and ran into a brick wall. Roman will now rejoin the vox populi, where he has always excelled as an orator.

I've disagreed with Andy more than I've agreed. We've butted heads here and on at least one other blog. But I like that about him. He is open, accountable and always willing to listen.

In his 8 years as a Lehigh County Commissioner, Andy Roman claims he helped bring "systemic reform" to County government. In his final address, he was happy with these accomplishments: (1) consolidation of four row offices under a Clerk of Judicial Records; (2) privatizing the Nature Preserve into what is now known as the Lehigh Valley Zoological Society; (3) a major courthouse expansion that "saved us a considerable amount of money;" (4) Coca Cola Park; and (5) luring Olympus into the area.

Dave Jones, pictured with Roman above, joke about stealing Andy's plaque. They are political opposites, but are still good friends.

Steve Thode Steps Down From Bethlehem Planning Comm'n

I love living in Nazareth, just as I'm sure most of you love where you live, too. But square inch by square inch, the prettiest municipality in the Lehigh Valley, at least in my opinion, is Bethlehem. Whether it's Main Street or South Side, golf course or tow path, it's a wonderful place to live. And if I had to pick one and only one reason for it, I'd say it's because of good planning.

It has a great planning department. led by Director Darlene Heller. You'll often see her sitting in on evening zoning meetings, quietly taking notes. She cares.

In addition to Heller's department, Bethlehem is lucky to have a very thorough and transparent Planning Commission, one of the finest governmental bodies in the Lehigh Valley.

Its backbone, over the past five years, has been Dr. Steve Thode, who directs Lehigh's Real Estate studies. As you might have guessed, he knows a little bit abut planning. Unfortunately, the out-of-town travel required by Lehigh has forced him to step down, effective at the end of this year.

In a letter announcing his resignation, sent to Mayor John Callahan and Planning Chair Jim Fiorentino, Thode thanked everyone, from his colleagues to planning staffers, for their "exceptional dedication in their service to the people of Bethlehem." And he remains confident that "the city we all love is in good hands."

Thode states he'll miss everyone, but he should know that he'll be missed, too.

With Thode's departure, the Planning Commission will drop to a bare quorum of three members - James Fiorentino, Katie Lynch and Andrew Twiggar. In March, Lawrence Krauter resigned from the Planning Commission to become Executive Director at Spokane International Airport.

Gloria Hamm: Don't Forget About Human Services

A R.N. by training and education, Gloria Hamm served in her last meeting as Lehigh County Commissioner on Wednesday night. She was defeated in a Republican sweep of Comissioner seats in November. Instead of speaking about herself, she made a plea for human services. "I just hope that the next person in charge of Human Services is as passionate and concerned about the topics in Human Service, and makes an effort to see that that part of the population - which is currently underserved - will at least be keeping their heads above water."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

GOP Party Boss Wants Scrappleface to Chair Lehigh's Commissioners

After running Dean Browning out of office for voting his conscience, Lehigh County GOP party boss Wayne Woodman is now pulling out all the stops to insert protege Scott Ott, aka Scrappleface, as Chair of Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners.

Of course, Ott has never served in any elective office, to say nothing of County government. His idea of "limited government," at least during his Executive race was to advocate refusing all state grants. That would have resulted in a 400% tax hike because most of that money is for mandated services. But Ott will do whatever Woodman wants. Never mind that neither one of them has a clue about County government. Never mind that Woodman himself was never authorized by his own party to play Kingmaker. Never mind that no party chair, from either party, has ever inserted himself in deciding leadership on a County board.

Ott calls himself a member of the "new media," but he's really an old-time huckster. On his Facebook page, he's trying to sell his Laughing at Obama tome for 99 cents.

Must be a real page turner.

Woodman will be unable to count on Glenn Eckart's support. Glenn has resigned, effective December 30, to give himself time to buy a calculator for his new role as Controller. I'm sure Glenn will be just as nonpolitical as Steve Barron is in Northampton County.

California Wayne, the Rolex-wearin' party boss who lays off a secretary, is also unable to count on Percy Dougherty's support. Unlike Woodman or Ott, Dr. Dougherty does know a thing or two about County government. He's chaired Lehigh County's Board before.  He enjoys going to CCAP meetings, which are rated by most county officials up there with a root canal or colonoscopy. He even has a moustache. Most important of all, Dougherty has already been promised five votes.

Someone will have to betray him and go back on his word, a la Northampton County.

Woodman and Scrappleface could never hope to snag a vote from the Board's two remaining Democrats, Dan McCarthy and David Jones. But he can rely on the Unholy Trinity, which consists of Scrappleface himself, Vic Mazziotti and Woodman wife Lisa Scheller. They ran on a "We'll forget being independent and vote like lever pullers" platform.

They called it "reform."

Woodman is hoping to pick up the remaining two votes by pressuring newly elected Brad Osborne and incumbent Tom Creighton. Woodmont has been bugging local committee people and state reps to pressure Creighton with the hard sell.

Will they crack? If they don't, will Woodman run somebody against them, as he did to Browning?

Stay tuned.

Voters to Decide on Term Limits For Commissioners, Executive

Next November, Lehigh County voters will decide whether term limits should be imposed on the Executive and Commissioners. Under the Home Rule Charter, the Executive has a two-term limitation, but Commissioners are term-limited only at the ballot box. Under the referendum proposed by Commr's Dean Browning and Andy Roman, they will now all be limited to three, four-year, terms.

The proposal passed 6-3, with Percy Dougherty, Tom Creighton and Glenn Eckhart opposed.

Updated 3:06 AM, to correct a factual error.

Voters To Decide Whether Lehigh County Row Officers Should Be Appointed

Bill Hansell
In a bi-partisan measure that Lehigh County Comm'rs unanimously endorsed on December 21, voters will decide in a referendum next November whether the Sheriff, Clerk of Judicial Records and Coroner should be appointed by the Court instead of standing for election, as is currently the case. Although the four new Commissioners coming on board in January might try to reverse this, there are still five remaining who believe that voters should decide whether row officers should be appointed.

Commissioner Bill Hansell, a Democrat, argued that "the concept of appointing row offices, offices that are essentially administrative offices, has been part of the reform movement of local government for well over half a century."

Over 1,000 counties throughout the country appoint, instead of electing their row officers, says Hansell. The reason, he claims, is "to continue ongoing competence." He cautioned that the current row officers are "extremely competent and extremely dedicated," and it would be "extremely foolish" of the courts to overlook any of them.

Commissioner Percy Dougherty, a Republican, told his colleagues that this is the third time he has pushed for the appointment of row officers. "These are positions that should not be political," Dougherty stressed.

Commissioner Dan McCarthy stated he liked the idea of having this referendum decided during a Presidential election, because that is when voter turnout is historically at its highest.

Northampton County has appointed its row officers since the inception of home rule in 1978.

Lehigh County Comm'rs Go to the Dogs

Deputy Sherry Hanley and Eli, partners who like each other.

On December 21, their final night of business of the year, Lehigh County Commissioners took a moment to recognize Deputy Sheriff Sherry Hanley and Eli, her 12 year old Belgian sheepdog.

Eli is one of the few surviving therapy dogs who helped first responders at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks. He and Deputy Hanley have since assisted in "Angel on a Leash," providing therapy at children's hospitals, and the "Wounded Warrior Project," helping wounded vets make the transition back to civilian life. Eli was named Therapy Dog Ambassador at the 2011 Purina National Dog Show and is the sole canine recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the American Kennel Club. He's even been on NBC's Today Show. But last night's resolution, recognizing Eli, is Eli's biggest honor to date, at least according to Lehigh County Commissioners.

Eli declined comment.
Eli comforts Dean Browning

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bethlehem Zoners Give Abe Atiyeh Lump of Coal

Abe Atiyeh
He came to Christmas City's Town Hall dressed, appropriately enough, in red. He even carried a sack of goodies, from which he handed out pieces of candy throughout the evening. Though his eyes sometimes twinkled and his dimples were quite merry, Bethlehem zoners were still in no mood to give him a cherry. After listening to 3 1/2 hours of testimony during a special hearing on December 20, they decided, 2-1, to deny his request for a use variance that would have enabled Abe Atiyeh to build luxury apartments on a vacant, 5-acre tract at Center and Dewberry Streets. With Bill Fitzpatrick dissenting, Chairman Gus Loupos and Ron Lutes turned Abe down.

This is Atiyeh's fourth attempt to develop this site, which is located in an institutional zone that bars apartments.

Appraiser Joe Genay
Originally, after purchasing the property in 2007 for $1.4 million, Atiyeh planned an assisted living facility, which he considered an "excellent project." But then Alexandria Manor, at Johnston and Linden Streets, and a Moravian Village expansion, along Stefko Boulevard, were both approved. As a result, he was unable to get financing. "We're stuck on this property," he said. "I'd sell it for $1 million right now."

That's when Atiyeh decided on luxury apartments, but zoners shot down his request for a hardship variance last year, and their decision was affirmed in November by Judge Stephen Baratta. Atiyeh has appealed that ruling, claiming that "we have a significant hardship in developing the property."

Then Atiyeh proposed a 4-story, 125-bed, inpatient detox center and psychiatric center, which needs no zoning approval. But planners nixed that idea in August in a room packed with at least 80 vocal opponents, who objected to such a facility located so close to a high school, playground and little league.

Atiyeh has appealed that denial, but also presented zoners with a scaled-down version of the apartment complex design, his fourth attempt to develop the site. Instead of 4 3-story buildings, he's proposing 3 4-story buildings. Instead of 102 apartments, there would be only 96. The buildings would be closer to the streets than in the original plan, and the principal access point would be along Dewberry instead of Center Street.

But before the hearing even started, Attorney Steve Goudsouzian, representing a collection of neighbors called the North Bethlehem Action Committee, filed a motion to dismiss the appeal on the basis that the matter is res judicata, i.e. has already been decided by zoners.

Attorney Jim Preston, representing Atiyeh, denied the matter is res judicata or that the uses are the same. He exlained that Target and Dollar Stores might both be retail uses but are really different uses, and asked zoners to permit him to make his case.

Zoners allowed Preston to make a record for three hours when Goudsouzian renewed his res judicata objection, pointing out that all Atiyeh was doing was just repeating his financial hardship argument. Preston countered that he was establishing that the property has no value at all for any use other than the apartment complex under consideration, and called the assisted living center "economic suicide."

But zoners had heard enough. Instead of a variance, Atiyeh got a lump of coal.

This proposed apartment site is directly across the street from Calvary Baptist Church, where Atiyeh is seeking zoning approval for a controversial 70-bed voluntary inpatient substance abuse center.

Dent: Extend Payroll Tax Cut Already

As Democrats and Republicans needlessly bicker again over the latest issue of the day, a payroll tax extension, centrist Charlie Dent asks everyone to stop playing political hot potato.

“Before the end of the year, the House and Senate must reconcile the differences between our approaches to extending payroll tax relief. Otherwise, an entirely avoidable tax increase will affect countless hardworking Americans on January 1, 2011.

“While I prefer a yearlong extension, I am certain bicameral cooperation and negotiation can result in a better product than the two month extension approved by the Senate. Additionally, Congress must no longer engage in political hot potato every time a provision of critical importance to the American people needs to be addressed. Bipartisan and bicameral agreements can be achieved when political brinkmanship is abandoned.”

Dent Pledges to Continue Advocacy for ALL of Northampton County

Although he's had nothing to do with the latest gerrymandering scheme foisted on us by the state GOP, and there's even some speculation that the latest district maps actually hurt him, Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent is still catching a lot of heat over the plan that made it through the state House today, 136-61.

Lisa Boscola blasted him from the Pa. Senate floor in a rambling, ten-minute speech that reminded me of a Sam Bennett rant. Republican-turned-Democrat Jackson Eaton, the latest pretender to Dent's seat, called the scheme "Charlie-mandering."

Locally, all Democrats voted against this plan, which does divide the Lehigh Valley. But so did Republicans Joe Emrick, Marcia Hahn and Justin Simmons. Dent has issued this statement:

“I intend to represent the people of Pennsylvania’s reconfigured 15th Congressional District with energy and enthusiasm. While I am saddened to lose portions of Montgomery and Northampton Counties and the many friends I have made in these areas as a result of the redistricting process, I am eager to earn the trust and confidence of new constituents in Berks, Dauphin and Lebanon Counties.

“Despite the reconfiguration of the 15th Congressional District, I will remain a strong advocate for the interests of all Northampton County residents throughout the remainder of the 112th Congress and well into the future. The Lehigh Valley is a dynamic and distinctive area, and I will work closely with my friend and colleague Tim Holden to further strengthen our region’s economy and influence.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Atiyeh Expert Points to Two Other Rehabs Near Schools

Erik Hetzel under cross
At the rate things are going in Bethlehem, developer Abe Atiyeh will soon be able to market his own reality show. In fact, he's video-taped each of four hearings on his request for a zoning stamp of approval of an alcohol and drug rehab center located next to Bethlehem Catholic High School. The most recent taping occurred on December 19 at Town Hall, at which time Atiyeh Attorney Blake Marles called planner Erik Hetzel as an expert witness.

Hetzel told zoners that, under Bethlehem's zoning ordinance, a 70-bed voluntary inpatient substance abuse center like the one proposed by Atiyeh would be permitted as a special exception in any residential district. He added that the vacant Calvary Baptist Church site, located at 111 Dewberry Avenue, is bordered by institutional and residential uses and would serve as an "effective transitional use" as a "hybrid" of both uses.

Asked whether he was aware of similar facilities located near schools, Hetzel stated that a cursory examination revealed a dozen such uses, although he only described two in detail. One such facility is the Livengrin Foundation, located only 1/4 mile from Ben Salem High School, and surrounded by residential properties. The other rehab center, Penn Foundation, is bordered by West Rockhill Elementary School recreational fields. Unlike Atiyeh's proposed rehab at Calvary Baptist church, there is no fence or landscaping buffer at Penn Foundation.

Hetzel spoke to the principals at both schools about security concerns, but hearsay objections prevented him from sharing what he was told.

After discussing these two similar facilities, Hetzel went on to cite the reasons why this rehab would be beneficial.

First, it would generate less traffic than it did as a church, which often had overflow parking along Dewberry and in Becahi's parking lot. Hetzel noted there would be no more than 29 employees on site at any given time, with a 147-space parking lot.

Second, the proposed rehab is a good adaptive reuse of a church. He added that empty churches often sit vacant for long periods in Eastern cities and become blighted.

Spadoni gets critiqued
Third, he noted that, in accordance with Bethlehem's comprehensive plan, this is an adaptive reuse that will result in good paying jobs and put the property back on the tax rolls. It would be beneficial to the school district in particular because there would be additional revenue that is not offset by the cost of educating children.

Fourth, the proposed rehab is a "socially valuable service" that Bethlehem needs. He pointed to previous testimony about the lack of rehabs in the entire Lehigh Valley. he added this rehab would provide a convenience to residents in need of treatment, who would no longer have to leave the area.

Finally, Hetzel testified that the rehab would maintain the same "physical integrity of the neighborhood" that currently exists because it would still look like a church, although he conceded it would be a church surrounded by a fence, gate, guard and security cameras.

Under stiff cross-examination by City Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni, Hetzel conceded that he never contacted the Diocese of Allentown, Bethlehem Catholic administrators, Kirkland Village managers, a nearby day care operator or any of the neighbors who surround the proposed rehab. In fact, Hetzel was unaware there even was a nearby day care center. Spadoni grilled Hetzel how he could be so sure the proposed rehab would be "in harmony" with the existing neighborhood when he never spoke to any of the neighbors in it.

When Hetzel finished testifying, Attorney Marles rested his case in chief, and his 26 exhibits were admitted into evidence without objection.

Bethlehem zoners will convene again on January 4 at Town Hall, to listen to the testimony of Objectors. Attorney Steven N. Goudsouzian represents the North Bethlehem Action Committee, which includes Judge William Moran among its members. Bethlehem Catholic is opposed to the request, too, and is represented by Attorney Jay Leeson. Finally, City Council has intervened.

Bethlehem Township Manager Howard Kutzler: Let There Be Light

When driving through Bethlehem Township, do you see any street lights that are flickering, dim or completely out? If you do, Township Manager Howard Kutzler wants to know about it. Calling it one of his "pet peeves," he's prepared a link at the Township's web page for reporting outages.

Kutzler explains that the Township pays $10-11 per light pole every month, regardless whether the lights are working. So it's a pet peeve that costs the Township money. So far, he and his staff have found 50 nonoperational lights. "We're asking the public to help," Kutzler asked.

No Tax Hike Budget Approved in Bethlehem Township

At their December 19 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners unanimously approved a $15.9 million budget for next year that holds the line on taxes and sewer rates. next year. The Township's finance maven, Andrew Freda, provided a line-by-line overview. Under the 5.99 millage rate approved, a home assessed at $75,000 would be taxed $449.25.

The only item to come under scrutiny was the increasing cost for library service, which has risen from $360,000 to $410,000 over the past year. Commissioner Thomas Nolan noted that 42% of Township residents are library card holders, but Commissioner Paul Weiss questioned how many of those card holders use the library on a regular basis. "I'll bet it's a lot lower," he surmised.

Township Commissioners will meet again on Monday, January 5, at 7 PM, at the Municipal Building located at 4225 Easton Avenue.

Salute to a Person Who Makes Local Government Work

Trish Murphy, Dana Potts, mom Carol and Dad Ron Moser
Stories about local government usually focus on elected officials. But they would be the first to tell you that it is the staff which makes a government work or fail. At their December 19 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners recognized recently retired Administrative Assistant Carol Moser for her 26 years of "outstanding" service to the Township. Accompanied by her husband Ron and daughters Trish Murphy and Dana Potts, Moser was awarded a plaque during a brief ceremony. Among those applauding her was Public Works Director Richard Grube, who took a night off from baking kiffles. He's just started his 45th year.
Manager Howard Kutzler wants one of those plaques, too!

Comm'rs Batcha and Murphy To Soon Be Citizens Batcha and Murphy

Jerry Batch (L) and Art Murphy (R) bid adieu
Jerry Batcha and Art Murphy served their last meeting as Bethlehem Township Commissioners on December 19. Both Republicans, Batcha has twelve years of experience while Murphy has eight.

Saying it was time for somebody new, Batcha decided against seeking re-election. A teacher at Northampton Area High School with two master's degrees, he was a major proponent of the Bethlehem Township Community Center. He will be succeeded by Republican Felix "Phil" Barnard, a plant manager at Bay Insulation. He wished current and new board members luck.

Murphy, a Notre Dame University grad and accountant at Selvaggio Enterprises, was defeated in November's election by developer Martin Zawarski. Murphy credited Township staff as "hard-working" and "outstanding people."

Both Murphy and Batcha will soon re-join the ranks of the highest office in America - the office of citizen.

Callahan Will Amend Flawed Post Election Campaign Finance Report

In his latest campaign finance report, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan lists "expense reimbursements" of $404.93 and $94.80, without any further explanation. Without more detail than that, it's impossible to know whether Callahan even used the money legitimately. And even if he did, it's impossible to know whether he used the money to hire poll workers or door knockers for someone else seeking office. Basically, it defeats the whole point of requiring these reports.

In response to a complaint I filed with Northampton County Elections Registrar Dee Rumsey, she contacted Callahan about my concerns.

To his credit, he has agreed to amend his latest report.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jackson Eaton to Meet the Press Today About Congressional Redistricting

Republican-turned-Democrat Jackson Eaton, who intends to run against LV Congressman Charlie Dent, will conduct a news conference today about "the break-up of Pennsylvania communities among multiple congressional districts that will occur with the new redistricting law expected to pass the state legislature in the next week." I'm going to take a wild guess here and predict he'll condemn the plan, as Dent has already done.

Dent Hosts Eagles Tailgate Featuring John Runyan

As you all know, I'm a miserable bottom-feeding blogger. So yesterday, when LV Congressman Charlie Dent hosted a Tailgate Party at Coca Cola Park for the Eagles Jets clash, I decided to crash it, hoping for some tidbits of political gossip.

Making it inside the stadium is no problem this time of the year. Nobody notices a grappling hook.

If caught, I would simply tell stadium officials I had an appointment with Ferrous, but nobody noticed me as I slowly made my way to the party.

At least that's what I thought. I had almost made it to the door, where the aroma of burgers beckoned, when I felt this sharp jolt in the ass. I was tased.

"Hey, I'm white and I'm not a little girl," I complained as I went down like a ton of bricks, thinking that Allentown Police Officer Jason Ammary had finally caught up with me. But it was no rogue cop. It was much worse.

I had fallen into the clutches of Evil Shawn Millan, who was lying in wait for Democrats

"Bernie, is that you? Shit man, I thought it was Lisa Boscola. Why didn't you tell me you were coming? I would have given you a ticket."

Millan escorted me to a locker room where some dude with a Sandusky name tag carefully pulled out the barbs and invited me to take a shower. Then I joined the party, rubbing my ass, looking for paydirt.

But nobody was talking politics. Not Tom Carroll. Not Tony Simao. Not Dean Browning They were actually watching the Eagles and getting pictures with former Eagles' great Jon Runyan. Like most good offensive linemen, he looks like an altar boy (a very big one), but is supposed to have been one of the dirtiest players on the field.  

Now he's a Congressman.

When Charlie saw me, he introduced me to 6'7" (he started in the NFL at 6'9") Runyan, who probably broke my hand when he shook it. Although Runyan technically was elected, he was actually drafted to Congress by both party leaders in their never-ending quest to defeat capitol police in that annual congressional football game.

As an Eagle, Runyan started in 190 consecutive regular season games until he took an inadvertent knee to the back of the head by fellow teammate and TE Brent Celek. That topic came up yesterday, when Celek hauled in five catches for a career-high 156 yards as well as a touchdown in Eagles' mauling of the Jets.

Like Dent, Runyan is both affable and down-to-earth, seemingly unaware of his intimidating presence. Fortunately, he's a gentle giant, at least off the field.

Though a Republican, he raises donkeys, and tells me they're much smarter than horses. I told him that, as a blogger, I've become something of an expert on jackasses myself, and we exchanged a few pointers.

In addition to Charlie and Runyan, an army of kids was running throughout the stadium, and chasing after them was none other than Pam Dent, Charlie's very pretty wife. I got to meet her, too.

Then she tased me.

Taser Youtube Video Has Over 516,000 Views

I know this will come as a great shock to most of you, but there are people out there who really hate my guts. In addition to all the hate posted in anonymous comments here, the people I cover are usually besieged with emails warning them about my evil ways.

I can't understand it. I'm such a nice guy.

I'll give you an example. Wicked Witch of West Easton Tricia Mezzacappa - no doubt encouraged by her curiously unnamed blog mentor - recently emailed both State Rep. Bob Freeman and Easton Mayor Sal Panto, to warn them both about my dark side. She's very upset because Mayor Sal Panto, in particular, often responds to my posts about him, and did so over the weekend.

In addition to these direct communications, anonymous comments like this pop up here and there. "The People, through email, phone calls and cancelled subrictions [sic] if necessary, need to let O'Hare's enablers on the media and politics that it is unacceptable to continue to support his vitriolic blog."

I particularly like this one. "You're either with The People or with O'Hare."

Of course, what really outrages these people is that I tell the truth. In Mezzacappa's case, I posted police reports from her numerous calls to them this year alone. I thought you should know that this borough council wannabe and political opportunist calls her neighbors "niggers," drug dealers and chop shop operators. She accuses West Easton Borough officials of theft, and me of burglary. Incidentally, I'm also a stalking "pig kicker." Despite numerous calls to police about everything else, she never reported me for assaulting porky. She meant to, but slipped in pig piss.

Well, Mezzacappa and her goofy allies better put their keyboards into overdrive. My Tuesday Youtube video, Allentown Police Tase 14 YO Dieruff High School Student in Her Groin, is now up to 507,303 views. It has resulted in a small spike in a few of my other videos. Some of the more popular ones are below.

6th Grade Canes @ Allen Canaries, Dec 4, 2011 - 1005 views

Bethlehem Steelers v. Mountainville, 10/9/10 - 800 views

Bethlehem Steelers v. South Parkland Trojans 10/16/10, a game of inches - 663 views

Bulldogs @ Bethlehem Steelers - 599 views

Who Is This Guy? - 588 views

Sam Bennett Practices Her War Cry - 572 views

Attack of the Gracedale Goon! - 552 views

Controller, City Council Prez, Warn T-Mobile to Unionize - 550 views

Tony Nauroth Talks to Gov. Chris Christie - 441 views

Dent Smeared While Debating - 425 views

Allentown Fair Fave - the Dunk Tank - 412 views

Rick Orloski & Jobs - 411 views

Boscola Dreams About Medical Marijuana - 374 views

I still can't get anyone to watch John Stoffa, even though I've suggested he deliver his speeches drunk and in leotards. Maybe I'll get Angle to tase him.

What is Memorial Day? - 1 view

Callahan's Principal Beneficiary - Himself

The whole point of campaign finance reporting is to enable us, the public, to follow the money. If you're going to sell out, we at least have the right to know who bought you. We also have the right to know exactly how you've spent that money.

In his post election campaign finance report, which covers the brief period between October 25 and November 28, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan tells us he received no contributions. He spent $1,708.86, of which $500 went to Controller Barron von Footinmouth who, like Hizzoner, likes deficit budgets. Callahan blew most of the rest of the money on himself.

He did make contributions totaling $175 for Freedom High School wrestling and the Rotary, but he must love gabbing on the phone. His Verizon phone bill is $534.13.

Then there's "expense reimbursements" of $404.93 and $94.80. What the hell are these? Eagles tickets? Was this money that paid poll workers for school board or City Council candidates?

We have a right to know. I have emailed the Northampton County Register of voters, asking her to request Mayor Callahan to amend his report and provide the detail that should have been there in the first place.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A'town Taser Assault: Was Minor Illegally On the Road?

You and a quarter-million other people have by now seen the video of Allentown police officer Jason Ammary using his taser against an unarmed 14 year old grl on September 29, even though she had her arms up in surrender. She had it coming, some of you say. After all, she was committing a horrendous crime - walking in the street.

But I now wonder whether she and her two female companions were really in violation of a City ordinance banning pedestrians on the street. It looks like the road is actually closed, precisely so that students can walk there when school lets out.

If you look at the taser assault scene, where Ammary is intimidating one of this girl's companions, you'll see the rear of a movable sign in the roadway. It's the kind of sign that might be placed there if traffic is temporarily blocked when school lets out. I wonder what's on the other side of the this sign.

Anybody know?

Panto: Barron Budget "Criminal"

On Wednesday night, when Easton City Council passed yet another budget with no tax increase, they also adopted policies to prevent playing games with the fund balance. According to The Morning Call, Easton Mayor Sal Panto contrasted his own budget with the one adopted by Northampton County Council, after mindlessly listening to a Controller that they themselves censured last year.

"Panto casually contrasted his budget with Northampton County's, which is balanced on the back of its own reserves, a move he called criminal."

Barron assured Council, before its vote, that it could just dip into its fund balance and everything would be right as rain. That's exactly what former Exec. Glenn Reibman did, and the end result was double digit tax increases in 2003 and 2004, layoffs, destroyed morale and 11 unions. Why they listened to a political opportunist with no accounting or executive experience, and who they themselves have censured, is mind-boggling.

Monday Update (12:30 AM) - Mayor Sal Panto has chimed in, explaining his remarks in the comments.

Dent Supports $662 Billion National Defense Spending Bill

Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent (PA-15) on Wednesday night was among the 283 House members to vote for a $662 Defense spending bill, slightly less than the amount sought by President Obama.

Lawmakers softened language in the legislation, providing that foreign terrorists are subject to military custody. The bill explicitly exempts U.S. citizens, and gives the President the option of prosecuting terrorism suspects in the civilian justice system, too.

According to the AP, it's a "rare instance of bipartisanship in a bitterly divided Congress." In fact, it sailed through the Senate on Thursday.

“I am pleased the current spell of political wrangling in Washington has not impacted Congress’s ability to pass critical national security legislation like H.R. 1450,” said Rep. Dent in a statement after his vote. “This bill ensures members of our armed forces, especially those stationed in Afghanistan and remaining in Iraq, possess the training, resources, and equipment they need to win the global war on terror. It also guarantees our military remains the most powerful and modern force in the world, fully capable of defending the American people from potential foreign aggressors and international terrorist networks.”

The bill authorizes $554 billion for DOD, including $115.5 billion for overseas military operations and $10 billion for the continued development of a missile defense system to protect the American homeland. H.R. 1450 also requires the President to sanction entities, including central banks, who engage in financial transactions with the Central Bank or Iran. Additionally, the measure freezes aid to Pakistan until the DOD develops a new strategy to improve the effectiveness of American assistance and confirms Pakistan is taking steps to eliminate domestic-based threats to American forces operating in Afghanistan.

No Transparency in Pa.'s Congressional Redistricting

Congressional redistricting is done every ten years, after the census. Pennsylvania lost a seat, dropping from 19 to 18 districts. The dirty deed is done by the General Assembly, subject to Governor Corbett's veto power.

Senate majority leader Dominic Pileggi, back in January, promised to "make the redistricting process as transparent as possible."

He must have forgotten. In early December, State Rep. Steve Samuelson handed me the Congressional Redistricting bill his committee would be voting on in two days. For each of Pennsylvania's 18 Congressional districts, all it said was this: "The [take your pick] District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth."

Bill Patton, press secretary to the House Democratic Caucus, explains just how transparent the process has been.

· There were three joint public hearings of the House and Senate State Government committees.

· The hearings took place on May 12 (Philadelphia), June 9 (Butler County), and June 14 (Harrisburg).

· These events occurred more than six months before any member of the public (including most legislators) got to see the actual Republican redistricting plan when it was finally disclosed this week.

· None of the testimony at the hearings addressed the Republican plan.

· A total of 22 people (combined) spoke at the three public hearings.

· Only three speakers appeared at the final hearing in Harrisburg, which lasted 32 minutes.

· The duration of all three hearings (combined) was 3 hours and 18 minutes.

· At the Butler County hearing, both chairmen McIlhinney and Metcalfe confirmed that no actual plan was yet proposed or under consideration. They referred to any maps reported in the media as “purely hypothetical.”

· At the Butler County hearing, Rep. Metcalfe said “Our goal is to produce a final product … that (we) intend on reviewing at another public hearing …” Sen. McIlhinney added: “We’re going to hold a series of hearings, or as many as are needed, to finally do this in an open and clearly visible way in Pennsylvania. … We’re really making a true, honest effort to be very public and forthcoming with this process. … we’re trying to do this in a process that you can clearly see …”

· At the end of the Harrisburg hearing – which was the last public discussion before a map was unveiled this week – Sen. McIlhinney committed to call for “further hearings as needed” and to come back “in the early fall” for additional public discussions on what a map should look like. Rep. Metcalfe chimed in that he looked forward to scheduling an “additional hearing or hearings as needed as we move through the process.”

Patton continues.

After six months of public silence, zero public hearings, and a few hurried weeks of clandestine negotiations, on Wednesday morning, Dec. 14 the people of Pennsylvania were finally given access to the genuine article – a Republican congressional redistricting scheme created by Republican Party insiders for the benefit of Republican Party insiders. The claim that public input had any influence on the final Republican plan is pure fiction.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bethlehem Zoners Nix Apartment Building on W. North Street

Dennis Connell
He sat there stunned. But in a split decision last night, Bethlehem zoners denied George Andreadis' request to convert a single family residence at 14 West North Street into two apartments. Zoners Ken Kraft and Bill Fitzpatrick voted to deny a special exception in what is a commercial business district. Chairman Gus Loupos dissented.

Andreadis' problems started at the beginning of the hearing, when he claimed the property had been posted for seven days as required by law. "I didn't see a notice until today," observed Kraft, who explained he drives that way every day. Andreadis told Kraft the notice had fallen, so he taped it to a window..

Then Bill Fitzpatrick, who is philosophically opposed to converting homes into apartments, wanted to know why Andreadis couldn't rent the property as a single family unit. "I could," answered Andreadis, but added he had "paid too much" for the property.

Iris Linares, a neighbor, complained about the parking issues that would be caused by another apartment building in the block, explaining she already has to pay $55 per month to the Parking Authority to park in the garage because there is no room on the block. She added that she thought Bethlehem was trying to discourage more conversions. "That's what happened in Allentown, converting all those properties that should have been single units," she noted.

Businessman Dennis Connell, who owns apartment buildings on nearby New Street, complained that tenants would park in his own 10-space parking lot, which is reserved for his own tenants. Andreadis suggested that Connell could chain the lot to prevent unwanted guests, but Connell was unmoved. "You're asking me to solve a problem that you have," he answered.

While Andreadis sat in disbelief, zoners next considered Spenser Smith's application for a possible medical office at 808 Eaton Avenue in a commercial mixed use district.

Bethlehem architect John Lee explained the property is in a commercial mixed use district and is part of a triangular lot bounded by Eaton Avenue, Eighth Avenue and Schoenserville Road. He told zoners that Smith has tried to find a tenant for the past 1 1/2 years, but "hasn't even had a nibble." In response to questions from Attorney Kevin Kelleher, Lee testified that a hardship has been created by enactment of a commercial mixed use district, and that medical offices would be more in character with the existing neighborhood.

Taser Story Goes Viral

At the end of the day yesterday, I was contacted by Allentown Attorney Rick Orloski. He's the ambulance chaser (according to some of my readers) who filed a federal lawsuit against Allentown police officer Jason Ammary late last week. Ammary used his taser on a 14 year-old girl on September 29, when she and two of her female companions were on their way home from Dieruff High School. She was committing a very serious crime - walking in the street.

"What the hell are you doing to me?" Orloski demanded. Apparently, he had been besieged all day by reporters and TV cameras from four different news stations. Even Fox.

I think he's suing me next.

The story and the video I posted yesterday have done viral. The video had 8,148 hits at midnight, with 69 likes, 52 dislikes and 302 comments.

My video appeared on Drudge Report, Philly Daily News, The Blaze, Express Times, U.K.'s Daily Mail, The Root, MSNBCNewsOne, GlobalGrind, HuffPo, Opposing Views, and NBCPhiladelphia.

I'll avoid driving in Allentown for the next few weeks years. Orloski should be picked up for DUI sometime this weekend.

Updated 10:35 AM: Holy shit! The video now has 244,209 views! It has also been age-restricted by Youtube because it depicts violence. So 14 year-old girls can be shot by police with tasers, but can't watch the video. This is one strange country!

The Lehigh Valley Divided

One of my readers took me task yesterday for not spouting off on the ridiculous state GOP gerrymandering scheme, which stretches Charlie Dent's district throughout 5 counties, lopping off Easton and part of South Bethlehem in the process.

I will no longer be able to call him LV Congressman Charlie Dent. In fact, according to an informative account by blogger Jonathan Geeting, much of the Slate Belt will be carved away. Dent will no longer be Nazareth's Congressman, either. He'll still have all of Lehigh County.

The Express Times' Jim Deegan has a pretty good story, claiming that Democrats Steve Samuelson, Bob Freeman and Joe Brennan are still working on a plan that will keep Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton under the umbrella of one Congressman. But they're in the minority.

Bill White has a hand-wringing column, but it's basically a re-hash of a column he wrote several years ago about another gerrymander.

Now this pretty much makes Dent invulnerable. But it's really unfair to the Lehigh Valley, which has its own identity. I also think it's unfair to Dent, who knows many people in the municipalities he's losing. Every July 4, you could count on seeing him in Nazareth, where he seems to know everyone. I doubt he knows many peple in Hummelstown.

CACLV's board chair, Alicia Karner, has issued a statement condemning the current redistricting plan.

After months of speculation and weeks of rumors, the public finally got to see the latest Congressional redistricting maps done every ten years, as required by law. Because of the change in Pennsylvania's population, it was assumed that the districts of today would like very different than those of tomorrow. But in the Lehigh Valley's wildest dreams, I'm not sure anyone expected the 15th Congressional District to morph from a condensed geographic region that wisely linked common people and problems together into a districts that covers portions of five counties. That is right: FIVE counties. The common political and socio-economic threads that bind the residents of the Lehigh Valley have been not only ignored but trampled on by the maps created by the Reapportionment Commission. Clearly, someone's poltical gain trumped good and common sense.

The Commission, comprised of five representatives (the Pennsylvania House majority caucus, the House minority caucus, the Senate majority caucus and the Senate minority caucus as well as the governor's office), clearly relied too much on the statistical machinations of the nameless, faceless computer programs that look at nothing but voter registration and the desire to balance the re-election hopes of those in office. Municipal boundary lines were ignored...transportations systems were ignored...regional social service networks were ignored...regional identity was ignored. Counter-productive to decades of effort to brand the region as the Lehigh Valley, as wisely advised and incentivized by the Commonwealth itself, we have now been reduced to a separation that will take another two decades to over come.

In addition to the stretching and dicing of the 15th Congressional District, the residents of Easton and the Slate Belt are presumed to have similar political concerns of the residents of Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties. Ask most Lehigh Valley residents to find either of those counties on a map, or to identify the top concerns of residents in those counties and I'm sure the response will be blank stares. And so now not only are the Easton area and Slate Belt forced to be split in their State Senate representation in Harrisburg, but now their political voice in Washington has been weakened, too. What does this say to the already politically apathetic? This disintegration of the region's identity only further encourages their disenfranchisement.

Hopefully, it will not only by the Community Action Committee of the LEHIGH VALLEY, but the LEHIGH VALLEY International Airport, and the LEHIGH VALLEY Economic Development Corporation, the Greater LEHIGH VALLEY Chamber of Commerce and all the other valleywide organizations that take a stand against the political division of this region most of us embrace as the Lehigh Valley, and seek unified representation of this place we call home.

Noon Update: The Morning Call's Bill White must have joined the mafia. State Senator Pat Browne, says White, is "dead to me." White is upset with Browne, Bob Mensch and Dave Argall for their decision to put party loyalty ahead of the best interests of the Lehigh Valley.