Last week, financial adviser Gary Pulcini reviewed the $25.2 million swaption, which was $24.5 million at budget time, and is growing every day. The bill comes due on October 1, and it has to be paid. About the only thing he could come up with, at least that I could understand, is floating another bond that will cost the County $6.8 million in addition to what he calls the $25.2 million "breakage fee."
Although nobody on Council understood him either, they put on a brave face and tried their best to ask intelligent questions. But the bottom line, after you're done discussing LIBOR and basis points, is that we're screwed. In exchange for a quick $1.9 million in 2004, former Executive Glenn Reibman has sucked us into a growing, $25.2 million, hole.
While Pulcini tried to educate us (and I get an F), you'd think that Northampton County Controller Steve Barron would be glued to his seat. After all, he was making a rare appearance at a Council meeting. But instead of listening to the County's Financial adviser, Barron huddled in the hallway with a group of Gracedale maintenance workers who had come to complain about asbestos.
You see, Barron injected himself into this issue long ago. In response to a RTKL request, I've learned that this time a year ago, Barron was sending the EPA hazardous material books and internal County correspondence revealing "the problems we've had ongoing with asbestos and lead paint abatement." Barron was being fed information by a maintenance worker from Gracedale, whose name he redacted. When this person complained that somebody was going through his desk and looking at his emails, Barron offered to help. When Barron did not move fast enough to suit this Gracedale maintenance worker, he got this email. "We are no longer going to play a submissive part in this caper. It will be with your help or not." Barron even offered to intervene with the Personnel Director when this worker received a sub-par evaluation.
Last week, it was Gracedale maintenance worker Ted Harris who told Council they need to conduct an investigation about the the County's failure to address its asbestos problem. Barron has, of course, already filed complaints with the EPA and Attorney General, and fines are likely, so I guess this will be a third investigation. Harris added that people who've been exposed are not being examined.
"Most everyone knows about this, but no one is doing anything about it," complained Harris, who warned that he could fill Courtroom 1 with people who know about the County's asbestos and lead problems, but has advised them to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by Executive John Stoffa. He warned that once it gets into an air filter, asbestos "has no boundary. It affects everyone."
All Stoffa would say at the meeting is that there are two sides to every story. He is currently working on a report for Council, which will detail all the steps he's taken to deal with asbestos and lead paint since he's been in office.
I find it very difficult to believe that anyone would knowingly expose other people to a safety hazard. That's where Harris loses me. Also, the emails to Barron from his anonymous Gracedale maintenance worker reveal someone who deliberately leaves county administrators out of the loop when he has a safety concern. That's just childish. Finally, I know Harris' claim about the County doing nothing is simply untrue.
According to Director of Administration Tom Harp, who has been involved in this issue for several years, the County spent at least $300,000 to remediate asbestos and lead paint in 2011. That's in addition to all the money spent during courthouse renovations.