101-day long budget stalemate, the longest in state history. The price for Senator Pat Browne's cooperation? Hockey. He inserted what he called a "funding mechanism" in the Fiscal Code, and the Guv' signed it.
That's how the NIZ was born.
Soon after brokering that deal, Browne's wife, Heather, became a registered lobbyist. She's affiliated with lobbying firm Pugliese Associates. In November, Pugliese welcomed J.B. Reilly's East Penn Realty and Joe Topper's Lehigh Gas as new clients.
Reilly, who is also landlord to both Pugliese and Browne's Senate Office, is the moving force behind Allentown's NIZ, which diverts state taxes and even EIT for other municipalities, including other "urban cores." Topper's Lehigh Gas was the NIZ's first tenant. Topper also just happens to be Senator Browne's 11th largest contributor in his 2010 re-election campaign.
After both J.B Reilly and Joe Topper hired Heather Browne to do their lobbying, Senator Browne - along with Mayor Ed Pawlowski and State Rep. Jennifer Mann - made nine recommendations for the new NIZ board. They're scheduled for confirmation by Allentown City Council on Wednesday night.
I believe the entire board is tainted by Browne's continued involvement in the NIZ because he has a conflict of interest, as defined in the state Ethics Act:
"No public official or public employee shall engage in conduct that constitutes a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest is defined as use by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding public office or employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family, or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated."
Isn't Browne clearly using the authority of his office for the private pecuniary gain of his wife or Pugliese Associates, a business with which she is associated?
According to Senator Browne, No. In an email he was kind enough to send late yesterday, he explains.
"Thanks for the inquiry pertaining to your recent blog posts about the relationship of NIZ participants JB Reilly and Joe Topper with my spouse’s lobbying firm. As I had stated in the past, I do not participant [sic] in any of my spouse’s professional practice in government affairs. In compliance with the ethics code, she performs her professional duties separate and independent from my role as a state elected official. Any details regarding their business relationship must be provided to you by the lobbying firm and/or their clients. Thank you."
Gee, if I know about J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper's involvement in the NIZ, it's a safe bet Heather Browne does, too. After both Reilly and Topper signed on with Heather's firm, Senator Browne used the authority of his office to make NIZ board nominations, which will be to the financial benefit of Reilly, Topper and Heather.
This is a conflict of interest.
Now the Morning Call has picked up on this story. In a troubling report, the newspaper adds that Heather Browne also happens to be the lobbyist for Vaughn Communications, which is doing all the propaganda for the NIZ.
I missed that one.
I suspect that a frequent commenter on this and other Internet sites, "Future Downtown Arena Attendee," is a Vaughn plant.
Of course, all the players deny any impropriety and claim I'm "archaic," whatever the Hell that means. But as Democracy Rising's Tim Potts tells The Morning Call, "It looks like one hand is washing the other. Legislators ought to have an arm's-length relationship with anyone receiving public money. Why should citizens have to worry about whether a line has been crossed or not?"
I believe that line has already been crossed.