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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Touch of China in South Bethlehem

Along South Bethlehem's Greenway, between Webster and Taylor Street, a Chinese Pavilion is under construction.

Sponsored primarily by Lehigh University, this project is an effort to build closer ties with the Bethlehem community. Pavilions are found in all cultures and are considered places of rest and reflection along the path, or South Bethlehem Greenway, of life.

Tingyun Cao, age 21, (right) and Jennifer Zhu, age 24, (left) are two of the Lehigh students working on this welcome respite for walkers and bicyclists.

Zoners Nix Digital Billboard in Bethlehem

Holzinger cross-examines Meg Kyle
Following an August 30 hearing, Lamar Advertising's Meg Kyle was unable to persuade Bethlehem zoners to allow a digital billboard near Route 22, at 2224 Industrial Drive. Despite her promises to run the FBI's Most Wanted list and other public announcements, a unanimous board refused to see the light.

Testimony during the hearing established that the proposed billboard is approximately 500' away from another digital display, in violation of a zoning ordinance that requires a separation of 1000.'

Attorney Jim Holzinger, representing competitor Tri-Outdoor, provided zoners with caselaw in which courts have strictly interpreted ordinances establishing distances between billboards. He argued that Lamar would have to establish a hardship, no matter how many public service announcements are displayed.

Holzinger also complained that there already are two freestanding and four wall signs at the site. ZHB member Linda Shay Gardner questioned the relevance of other signs, to which Holzinger retorted, "We don't want drivers distracted."

Currently, there are six digital billboard in Bethlehem, owned by Adams Outdoor and Tri-Outdoor.

Kyle vowed to return with an application for a static billboard.

In other business, zoners gave Lehigh Valley Community Mental Health Centers (LVCMHC) a green light for administrative offices and a training facility at the former St. John's Capistrano Church, located at 902-910 E. 4th Street. President Melissa Martinez assured zoners that "no client services" will be provided at the site.

Established in 1996, LVCMHC has five locations, with its biggest located directly across the street from the church. Martinez estimates that 10-15 new jobs will be added to the 40-person employment roster at her company.

Realtor Connie Ulans told zoners that Bethlehem refuses to allow church demolitions, but they are actually "albatrosses" that are difficult to sell. She noted that the church is too large to convert to a house economically.

Rachel Haddad thought she was buying a two-unit dwelling
After approving LVCMHC's application, zoners also provided some relief to Rachel Haddad.

She purchased 1210 Linden Street as an investment property. It was listed as a two-unit building in county and multi-list records. She met the tenant of the upstairs apartment. She saw the separate kitchens, bathrooms and doors. But at closing, she learned for the first time that City records consider it a single family dwelling

Her Realtor, Tom Demshock, testified that the entire block was built by a developer who put up multi-family units. He also produced a City Directory establishing that, since at least 1949, there were two units at the site.

Attorney Thomas Schlegel, representing Haddad, argued that the expense of deconversion justified a variance. Haddad added that she will decline to purchase the property unless there are two units. "I would not want to eject a tenant who's been there for thirty years," she stated.

She won't have to because zoners unanimously agreed to a variance for a two-unit dwelling.

Zoners gave David Burian a green light for an enclosed porch at the rear of his residence on 1930 Fenway Avenue. They will permit retired educator George "Skip" John to build a porch roof at the rear of his 5 E. Taurus residence.  Finally, they allowed Richard and Elizabeth Elterich to construct an addition to their home at 2705 Lafayette Avenue.

Elizabeth sat through a number of hearings on two different nights before her case was heard. Zoners apologized for making her wait, but she responded, "It was a great civics lesson."

DA John Morganelli Prefers Injured Criminals to Dead Police Officers

Northampton County DA John Morganelli would rather have an injured criminal than a dead police officer. At an August 30 news conference, the prosecutor announced that announced that no charges will be filed against an Easton police officer who recently shot a fleeing criminal suspect.

This shooting, which occurred on August 21, was during an evening in which police received several complaints about shots fired. Officer Eric Campbell, on patrol in Easton's south side, spotted a group of individuals that included the suspected shooter. But when Officer Campbell exited his patrol car, one of them, Nelson Mayers, fled.

While giving chase, Officer Campbell saw Mayers put his hand in the waist area of his pants. Campbell saw a black object in Mayers' hand when he turned to face him. Mayers even extended his arm, which led Campbell to believe it was a handgun.

Campbell fired twice, with one shot hitting Mayers in the leg. Police then discovered that the object Mayers was holding was a black cell phone, not a gun.

At St. Luke's Hospital, medical staff discovered that Mayers had secreted heroin in his buttocks.

Chief Carl Scalzo (left)
Morganelli ruled that the shooting was justified. Officer Campbell was responding to night calls about gunshots being fired and had seen some of the casings. He knew that people in that area were armed. Mayers not only fled from Campbell, but acted in a way that led the Officer to believe a gun was being pointed at him. And Easton has had a recent surge of shootings.

"In today's times, police officers have a right to protect themselves," stated Morganelli. "Just about every day, we read about a police officer who has been gunned down while on the course of duty when someone pulls a gun on them and shoots them without reason or cause."

He noted the Officer was in the unfortunate position of being forced to make a "split second judgment."

Morganelli added that Mayers, who was been charged by summons with possession of heroin, will recover from the gunshot wound to his right shin and has no life threatening injuries.

Police Chief Carl Scalzo, who sat with Morganelli during the news conference, noted that Officer Campbell is on paid administrative leave, and his department is still conducting its own investigation of the incident. He added that, before returning to duty, Campbell will receive a psychological evaluation.

Morganelli Clears Easton Police Officer in Shooting

Could You Make the Monroe Street Hill?

I've now been car-free for the past eleven days, and it's been great. Above is a photo of the most challenging hill I face, on Monroe Street Freemansburg. I climb that when I have to go to Hanover Township or Bethlehem from the courthouse.

I hate hills, but the stretch along the towpath in Freemansburg is full of rocks. My bike has Kevlar tires, but they can go flat, too.

I'll take a hill over a flat.

The picture is deceptive. It's much steeper and longer than it appears. Honest! Fortunately, the police station is on top of that hill. They won't have so far to travel when I keel over. I think they have a dumpster ready for me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Do You Have Gangnam Style?

A few weeks ago, I introduced you to Nigerian singer Fela Kuti. He was a real community activist.

Psy, a Korean singer, is no community activist. But he is funny as hell, and he sure can dance. I don't understand a word in this video, but do get the humor. With 73,000,000 hits on Youtube, it seems I am by no means alone.

Is Psy really Kim Jong Il? Don't see it myself.

By the way, I'm pretty sure I dated most of the women in this video.

(Female version with Hyuna here).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Abe Atiyeh and Att'y Mark Malkames
Although they've been up in arms about nearly every other Abe Atiyeh zoning proposal, Bethlehem citizens had few complaints about a proposed 150-bed residential treatment facility at 825 12th Avenue. It's an isolated location at the former Synthetic Thread property, where Atiyeh had originally planned apartments.

Even Stewart Early, a thorn in Atiyeh's side in previous zoning requests, told Atiyeh he was pleased.

Although zoners granted Atiyeh the necessary variance, it was conditioned on his agreement to withdraw a multitude of other appeals for residential treatment centers, including one to be located right by Bethlehem Catholic High School.

But then Atiyeh decided to appeal the decision, even though it gave him precisely what he wanted. That's because Atiyeh believes zoners have no legal authority to force him to withdraw one set of zoning appeals in order to get relief in an unrelated request.

Now Bethlehem has fired back.

On August 24, the City decided to appeal the Zoning Hearing Board's decision, too. Bethlehem's new zoning ordinance which the administration supported, provides for treatment centers like the one at 825 12th Avenue. So essentially, the City is challenging its own zoning ordinance.

So Atiyeh is appealing a decision giving him the relief he wanted while the City is challenging its own zoning ordinance.

Does any of this make any sense?

My Boys Baking Moves to Stoke Park Road

Levine (left) gives no half-baked answers to Piperato questions.
My Boys Baking, along with its 20 different favors of biscotti, has received a green light from Hanover Supervisors for its baked goods empire at 310 Stoke Park Road. Their unanimous endorsement followed a August 28 hearing in which Attorney Joe Piperato clearly established that no one is offended by cookies.

Owner Cindy Levine was busy baking, so she sent husband Robert to testify. "My wife Cindy is the boss of My Boys Baking. I work for her," he explained. He told Supervisors that their business started in 2004, when his wife brought some biscottis to a garment trade show in California. When they returned home, they had an order for 1,500 pounds.

"Did you bring any samples with you?" asked Supervisor Steve Salvesen.

"I did, but I ate them on the way," Levine answered. He explained that his wife's biscotti is softer than the traditional version. They also bake cookies, brownies, bundt cakes and rugelach.

The company employs five people, and at Christmas time, brings in another five. It is open weekdays and Saturdays. It was located along Nazareth Pike, but outgrew it.

Griffin Land Pitches Flex Buildings on Jaindl Boulevard

Griffin President Michael Gamzon
Griffin Land is a Connecticut-based land development company that has recently expanded into the Lehigh Valley, both in Upper Macungie and Bethlehem Townships. Its eyes are now fixed on a 49-acre site along the north side of Jaindl Boulevard in Hanover Township. On August 28, Griffin representatives unveiled plans for two flex buildings that will be located directly across the street from a Traditions of America residential community.

Michael Gamzon, Griffin's President and Chief Operating Officer, told Supervisors his company is seeking a larger presence in the Lehigh Valley. Keystone Engineering's Kevin Horvath reviewed details of plans for two flex buildings, a permitted use in planned industrial business district.

Horvath noted that the visual impact of these buildings will be minimal to residential neighbors. This is primarily because the land slopes downward from Jaindl Boulevard, which will make the buildings difficult to see. He added that truck bays and loading docks would be located along the rear of these buildings, which would reduce the noise from truck traffic.

Keystone Engineering's Kevin Horvath
But Griffin's plans will require relief, both from Supervisors and the Zoning Hearing Board. A developer's agreement with David Jaindl limits the size of these buildings to 150,000 square feet, with a maximum length of 700'. But the two buildings proposed are 273,000 and 260,000 square feet, with lengths of 1000'. In addition, plans to locate all doors at the rear of the building will violate the Township's zoning ordinance, which limits the number of door space to 30% of the width of a building.

Township Manager Jay Finnigan told Supervisors that the plans originally called for four, 150,000 square foot buildings. Though the two buildings proposed are larger than permitted, it will reduce the amount of impervious coverage to just 52%. That's well below the 70% permitted under the township's zoning ordinance.

Gamzon added that, if his company decided to put doors on the front and rear of the buildings, they would be allowed to install 89 doors instead of the 70 being planned along the rear of each building.

Because these are flex buildings, built to spec for a tenant, it is unlikely that every door will be installed.

Supervisors' Chairman John Diacogiannis wanted to know how many jobs will be produced. Gamzon responded that he would not be able to answer that until he finds tenants. He pointed to similar buildings on Fritch Drive in Bethlehem Township, which will employ about 200 people per building.

Supervisor Steve Salvesen was concerned about the noise generated by truck traffic, especially in a 24-hour operation. "I live a considerable distance from Route 22, and I can hear every truck that downgears," he noted. Developer Dave Jaindl, who accompanied Gamzon, told Salvesen that only 10% of Griffin's tenants are 24-hour operations.

Griffin's plans will move to the Zoning Hearing Board for consideration on Septemebr 27.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

NIZ Challenge Officially Discontinued

You can see the discontinuance, which ends the case, here. It came in like a lion and went out like a lamb.

West Easton Boro Hall Will Lock Its Door

If you have business at West Easton Borough Hall, you'll have to ring a bell to get inside. As a result of the Mezzacappa Meltdown last week, staffers are now terrified and the door will be locked.  

It's sad when these precautions are taken in response to one person's tirade. But it's understandable.

How Long Can You Stay Car Free?

My bike is the first at West Easton Treatment Center
This is the perfect and most beautiful time of year to try it. A few years ago, the longest span I put together was four days. Last year, I was too fat to go more than a day at a time, and I had to use a LANTA bus to help me complete my trips. This year, I've gone the last eight days without a car. Whether it is work, a meeting, a football game or the grocer, I've been using my bike or hoofing it, and it's been a blast.

Zealots like the Coalition for Appropriate (not Alternative) Transportation's Steve Schmitt will give you all kinds of reasons for staying out of a car, but they're all bullshit.

They'll tell you it's cheaper, that every mile traveled on bike or by foot translates to a dollar less for gas and oil changes. But every dollar I save is spent on gallons of water, watermelon, bananas, and for some reason, baked beans. I've been eating lots of baked beans lately.

They'll tell you it's good for the environment, but I'm not so sure. After eating all those baked beans, I sound like a motorcycle. It's a good thing my saddle has extra padding.

They'll swear it's good for you, and will extend your lifespan by a gazillion years, and you won't get cancer and die. But it's not so good when you're an idiot like me and ride into things. This Summer, from just one minor fall, I had bruised ribs, tinnitus, and finally, sciatica. That's in addition to all the cuts and scrapes. Plus, bugs fly right into my eyes, although that happens anyway.

I've had many consultations with Michael Molovinsky, who swears he's a doctor.

He has started his own walking regimen. Bethlehem activist Al Bernotas went out and bought a bike.

They say that all the endorphins will make you a nicer person. But I'm still a miserable bastard, as evidenced by this blog.

Others will tell you that cycling is dangerous and that you'll die if you get on the road. That's nonsense, too. Most roads are wide enough to accommodate a car and a bike with ease. Most drivers, believe it or not, are very courteous. I would recommend Steve Schmitt's road safety course. I took that a few years ago and learned a lot. Just keep your car keys away from him.

They tell you it will take too long to get somewhere. It takes me about 45 minutes to get to the courthouse from Nazareth, which is not much longer than driving. Plus, I don't have to worry about finding a parking spot. They're all over the place.

The main reason I ride is because I love it. That's it.

Unlike some real hardcore troopers, I'm am unable to ride once the temperature drops. I'll try to hold on as long as I can, but here are this year's highlights.

Longest trip. - 44 miles to a Justin Simmons pig roast, where my dairy allergy prevented me from eating anything but tomatoes, pickles and baked beans.

Fastest speed. - 32.2 mph, going down a hill on Bushkill Drive.

Average speed. - 10-12 mph. I'm slow.

Weirdest ride. - Coming home in the dark last week, after a meeting in Bethlehem Township. It had poured earlier that evening. A mist blanketed the country roads, curling around my lights. A serenade of crickets, along with my own breathing, was my music. Much better than talk radio or NPR.

Scariest trip. - Last week, I rode to West Easton for the dedication of the new treatment center. I was scared to death I'd be shot for some reason.

Toughest hill. - Turning from Main Street in Freemansburg and up along the police station.

Most embarrassing moment. - Riding into a curb and doing a header on 13th Street in Easton.

Most pleasant moment. - On a hot day, I had stopped at Redner's, located next to the Palmer Bike Path. Watermelon break. As I sat there eating, a father and his young son came up on their bikes, but had no change for a bottle of water. I was down to about 13 cents myself, but still had watermelon and shared it with them. The young boy loved it. "There's nothing like watermelon on a hot day!" he proclaimed. He was right, and at that moment, all three of us were young boys.

Simmons Endorsed By Three FOPs

(Blogger's Note: This is from the Justin Simmons campaign) COOPERSBURG - State Representative Justin Simmons (R-131) today announced that he has been endorsed by local law enforcement organizations for his support of our communities' police officers and commitment to providing for the safety of residents and neighborhoods.

The 131st District is represented by three police organizations: the Queen City FOP Lodge 10 of Allentown, the Haggerty Memorial Lodge #40 of Bethlehem, and the Le-Hampton Lodge 35 of Lehigh and Northampton Counties. All three have endorsed Simmons in his bid for re-election.

“It is an honor to gain the endorsement and support of the men and women who protect our families, our homes, and our community,” Simmons said. “At any hour of the day or night, these public servants stand ready to keep us safe from injury or harm. I am committed to doing what I can to protect them while they do their jobs protecting the rest of us.”

In notifying Simmons of their endorsement, Gene Hatcher, President of Le-Hampton Lodge 35 of Lehigh and Northampton Counties, cited Simmons' "continuing commitment to Law Enforcement" as part of the reason he received their support.

The Fraternal Order of Police lodges represent the men and women who work every day on our streets to help prevent crime and protect our families. After careful review of the record of both candidates, they decided Justin Simmons was the best choice to be their partner in the fight against crime. They know he’ll continue to be an advocate for police officers’ rights and promote policies that help police do their jobs - and make our neighborhoods safer.

“At a time when governments at every level must do more with less, I continue to focus on real priorities to help local families, seniors, and small businesses. Without a doubt, local police forces are a major priority and I’ll continue fighting for the tools and resources they need to keep both themselves and us safe,” Simmons said.

Simmons represents the 131st District which includes parts of Lehigh and Northampton Counties.

Blogger's Note: Simmons, a Republican, is opposed by Democrat Kevin Deely, a teacher.

Mezzacappa Meltdown Picked Up By Express Times

The Express Times has picked up on the Mezzacappa Meltdown at West Easton Borough Hall last week. According to Easton police, she threatened to take Council President Kelly Gross to the river and drown her. She also threatened to punch the Borough's solicitor, used the word "fuck" between 10 and 20 times and ripped information for the public from a bulletin board inside the building.

Mezzacappa was recently granted a license to carry firearms. Although he has very limited discretion, I have asked Sheriff Randy Miller to consider revoking that license because Mezzacappa's actions last week demonstrate she is a threat to public safety.

We don't need tougher gun control laws, but we need to start following the ones we have.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Schlener's Sorry

Schlener in dunk tank
Last year, I asked whether a policeman or firefighter with a PFA should be required to notify his superiors. Although I mentioned no name, Bethlehem Democratic Committee Chair Jim Schlener is the person who was on my my mind. He happens to be a Bethlehem firefighter.

In 2010, his wife was forced to file a PFA against him after a history of abuse that included being kicked and threatened. He never challenged it. She divorced him.

I mentioned no names in my post last year. But Schlener is one of several trolls who infest this blog, usually late at night. So naturally, the attacks began. Both I and Schlener's ex were targeted..

I should have outed the bastard.

I had no idea at the time that Schlener, who incidentally injected himself into the Gracedale debate with the Fake Rev, has a history of abusing women. Back in in 2004, according to The Express Times, Schlener was charged criminally after clubbing his girlfriend's noggin' with a glass candlestick and an aluminum sewing kit.

Last week, starting on Tuesday, Schlener began calling in sick. But he was well enough to drink. On Thursday night, after an accident to which his own shift responded, he blew a 0.256.

But he's sorry.

Here's what he put up on Facebook.

I would like to publickly apologize for my actions on thursday night DUI is serious and I made a terriable mistake driving and was also taken pain medications for a injury i received on tuesday. Stupid combo to be taken behind the wheel or anywhere else. I apologize to the Mayor , The City, Fire Chief , asst Fire Chief and the entire Fire Departmen and Police and EMS. FROM THE BOTTOW OF MY HEART. I AM SORRY. I AM IN THE HOSPITAL FOR ALEAST THE NEXT 72 hours to work on my problems and we will see where thst leads me too. In closing I am sorry for all the bad press our Moyor, City , Fire , Police have been receivivg from my inmature and dangerous actions. I will be back a better person. This is my promise to everyone.
Thank you james schlener

I'd like him to publicly apologize for beating woman and trolling anonymously.

I also think he should step down as Dem party boss.

Updated 8:38 AM:  I have deleted a line indicating that Schlener's then girlfriend dumped him after the 2004 assault. In fact, she married him.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

133rd Dist.Dems: Rosado or McNeil to Replace Brennan

Fountain Hill Mayor Jose Rosado or Lehigh County's Dan McNeill will succeed State Representative Joe Brennan as the Democratic nominee in the 133rd legislative district. These two were recommended to the state executive committee by over thirty committee members after a meeting earlier this evening.

The state executive committee is expected to act on this recommendation on Monday.

Rosado and McNeil were selected from a field of 8 persons who had expressed interest. At one point, there were nine. USW union boss Gerry Green briefly considered running for the position, but had second thoughts.

All candidates interested in being the nominee gave a brief speech, followed by the vote. Only state committee members and committee members from the 133rd were eligible to cast a ballot.

The nominee - Rosado or McNeil - will square off against Republican Dave Molony. He and his wife, Ming Ming, own and operate Qi Spa in Catasauqua.

Rosado ran for this office six years ago, but was defeated in the primary by Brennan. Molony was the GOP nominee two years ago, and has refused to politicize Joe's arrest.

Updated 10:05 PM: The Express Times reports that McNeil is the top vote getter, but Acting LC Democratc Chair Bar Johnston has told me that both Rosado and McNeil's names are being forwarded to the state committee. There were not many votes separating the two, she explained.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mezzacappa Charged After Threats to West Easton Officials

I've called her the Wicked Witch of West Easton. Tricia Mezzacappa is an unsuccessful West Easton Borough Council candidate. She also missed out as a GOP Convention delegate. But she keeps trying. She has told people she intends to run for Borough Council, County Council and even for State Rep. But she's got one big problem, summed up succinctly by West Easton Borough Council member Tom Nodoline - "She's pure evil." What happened last week proves Nodoline is right. It has also resulted in Mezzacappa's prosecution for disorderly conduct and harassment.

On the day that the West Easton Treatment Center was dedicated, the Wicked Witch was unhappy. She barged into West Easton Borough offices in an agitated state, using the word "fuck" between 10 and 20 times. She demanded the poor secretary to summon Council President Kelly Gross, stating that if she could get to her, she'd take her down to the river and drown her. She also stated she wanted to punch the Solicitor in the face.

Mezzacappa refused to leave until the secretary told her she'd call the police. After hopping on her broom and taking off, she landed at Borough Hall again, this time to pull various documents off the bulletin board, including the Borough's Right-to-Know policy.

In the Wicked Witch of West Easton files, I've chronicled Mezzacappa's numerous encounters with the local constabulary. But Easton police, who cover West Easton, have finally had enough from Tricia Mezzacappa. She's been charged with disorderly conduct and harassment.

It is my hope that the Northampton County Sheriff Randy Miller revokes her license to carry firearms. She obviously is a danger to public safety. Call me cRaZy, but I think a person forfeits a right to carry a concealed weapon once he or she begins making death threats.

Below is Officer McMonagle's well-written police report.
Tricia Mezzacappa Charged After Threatening West Easton Officials

NorCo Suspends 1st Ass't Public Defender

Last week, I told you that Northampton County's First Assistant Public Defender Anthony Martino is under an ethical cloud, involving the possible misuse of money in private practice.

Anonymous trolls, of course, had to dispute what I posted. "This would be BIG NEWS to most papers, WHY haven't they said it or do they wait for the truth?"

In other words, don't believe it unless you see it in a newspaper. Well, Martino has since been since been suspended by Executive John Stoffa, without pay. He's under criminal investigation by the DA. And, oh yeah, there's now an article in The Morning Call.

By the by, in recent years, Martino has been at the wrong end of numerous tax claims filed by the state and IRS.

Pa Dep't of Revenue:
2007-J-2724, filed 4/11/07 for $10,020.29
2008-J-5257, filed 5/30/08 for $3,866.64
2010-J-14166, filed 12/17/10, for $4,656.94
2011-J-1762, filed 2/24/11, for $6,026.65

2004-FT-6381, filed 8/23/04, for $189,065.70
2009-FT-6621, filed 6/29/09, for $50,763.87
2009-FT-8437, filed 8/7/09, for $39,064.92
2009-FT-9946, filed 9/11/09, for $107,187.60
2010-FT-2403, filed 3/12/10, for $21,427.33
2011-FT-8982, filed 9/16/11, for $45,476.98
2012-FT-2119, filed 3/2/12, for $44,185.73
2008-FT-12442, filed 11/24/08, for $26,782.48

It gives me no pleasure to write this story. I know and like Anthony, and consider him an excellent attorney. I feel this must be reported because of his position.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

State Rep. Joe Brennan Off the Ballot

State Rep. Joe Brennan has successfully petitioned Commonwealth Court to have his name removed from the ballot this November. Democrats have until next Wednesday, 4 PM, to decide on Joe's replacement.

Dave Molony is the Republican seeking Joe's seat.

NorCo's W Easton Treatment Center - Both Justice & Mercy

West Easton Treatment Center
Northampton County is famous for its cacophony and dissonance, but August 22 was an unusually harmonious day. It occurred, strangely enough, during the dedication of a new, 100-bed, treatment center for drunk drivers and domestic relations offenders in tiny West Easton Borough. The person who set the tone was its 73 year old Mayor - Gerry Gross.

Judges, Court Administrators, Council members, Executive John Stoffa, prison officials and corrections officers were among the 75 people who attended the long-awaited opening of the 24,500-square-foot facility. But it is Mayor Gross who quietly spoke about the lost "art of listening to each other." That, and a willingness to compromise when necessary, is what made the Center possible, according to Gross. "We're proud to have this here," stated the Mayor.

The facility is located at what was once the site of Chipman Mills. More recently, Reda Sports was headquartered there. Both of those businesses are gone, but the buildings remain. As the roof began to cave in, West Easton soon found that it had a blighted eyesore instead of thriving businesses.

Mayor Gerry Gross and Exec John Stoffa
Northampton County could give West Easton a thriving business, but it's the wrong kind. Even a treatment center for low-risk offenders was extremely unpopular in Bethlehem Township. That's where Executive John Stoffa had once hoped to expand, having no room left at the County's postage stamp-sized Easton campus.

But Stoffa eventually decided on a 10-year lease in West Easton. Developer Ade Atiyeh, who specializes in adaptive reuse of old buildings like Hellertown High School and Bethlehem's Silk Mill, managed to convert a factory into a cheerful home for people who need help more than punishment. In addition to two gyms (both indoor and outdoor), engineer David Harte has installed skylights to fill the living quarters with bright natural light, in what Stoffa called a "touch of genius."

Judge Robert Freedberg (left)
Former President Judge Robert Freedberg, recently retired from the Superior Court, was in the audience, sitting next to President Judge Kimberly McFadden. He learned that he provided the inspiration for the Treatment Center.

Stoffa pulled out a copy of a speech Judge Freedberg gave in 2006, when the County dedicated a 243-bed prison expansion at a cost of $23.8 million. Waving the speech, Stoffa quoted Judge Freedberg as saying, "A measure of society’s decency is how it treats its prisoners."

Calling Judge Freedberg his inspiration, Stoffa reminded everyone of the two words that appear on the County Seal - "justice" and "mercy."

"[T]hey capture what this place is all about – opportunity, justice and mercy," reasoned Stoffa. "It is a place where lives can be saved, behavior corrected, amends made, recidivism reduced, while saving millions of dollars through drug and alcohol counseling and effective re-entry programs."

Developer Abe Atiyeh

Both Stoffa and Gross thanked developer Abe Atiyeh for his work on this project. "Abe got a lot of bad press in Bethlehem Township, but that is not the Abe Atiyeh we know in West Easton," said the Mayor. Stoffa explained that the entire project was the result of a simple handshake.

"I have never had one second of doubt about his intention, his honesty and his commitment to this project," declared Stoffa. "Without him, this would not be."

"Amazing!" was the description Council President John Cusick had of the facility, which he had seen before Atiyeh went to work.

Cusick was joined by fellow Council members Ken Kraft, Peg Ferraro, Barb Thierry, Scott Parsons and Bob Werner. Judge Craig Dally joined Judges McFadden and Freedberg.

Stoffa's Director of Administration, Tom Harp, called the failure in Bethlehem Township a foul ball. "We hit a home run," he stated.

West Easton Borough Council President Kelly Gross was credited, along with Atiyeh COO Mickey Thompson, with negotiating a "win-win deal" for West Easton, the County and Atiyeh.

The ceremony also included a Department of Corrections Honor Guard, led by Lt. Mark Lambert, which presented the Colors. It also included a solo bagpiper, whose music could be heard throughout the tiny borough as he practiced before the ceremony.

Democrats mixed with Republicans. Judges and Council members traded jokes. Executive Jhn Stoffa talked to everyone. The "art of listening to each other" was alive and well.

Blogger's Note: Below are some pictures from yesterday's ceremony, along with a slideshow.

Atiyeh COO Mickey Thompson

GOP John Cusick flanked by Dems Scott Parsons and Bob Werner 

Ken Kraft enjoying Barb Thierry and Peg Ferraro

Kelly Gross without her pink gavel

Scott Parsons with Judge Craig Dally

PJ Kim McFadden always laughs when she sees me. 

Skylights make the facility downright cheerful

Now I know why Judge McFadden was laughing. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

State Rep. Joe Brennan Wants Off Ballot

State Rep. Joe Brennan, who was charged with assaulting his wife and drunk driving last week, has issued this statement:

"Those of us in recovery understand that there is no perfection. Recovery is a daily struggle and one cannot afford to let his or her guard down. I continue to work on my recovery day by day. It is the hardest thing I have had to do in my life. As I continue this process, it will be better for me and my family to not also have to deal with the challenges of a political campaign.

“I have been privileged to represent the 133rd District for the past six years, but today I am submitting a request to remove my name from the November ballot.

“I will remain in office until the conclusion of my term on Nov. 30 and my offices will remain open and staffed to help constituents deal with state government.

"I truly regret the entire situation. I understand the public’s interest in this because of the office I hold, but I hope that people will balance that with my family's need for privacy during a painful and difficult time."

AFSCME Fights For Sexual Harassment on the Job

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court yesterday reversed an arbitrator, who directed the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) to reinstate a sexual harasser. Among numerous other things, he asked a female employee if he could hide under her desk and "eat her pussy" while she worked.

When the PHA fired the cretin, AFSCME went to bat for him. He was wearing the union label.

Although the arbitrator agreed that the behavior was perverse, he ruled that the PHA lacked "just cause" to dump the bum.

AFSCME actually argued that no public policy would be served by sacking this predator.

Public sector unions. Gotta' love 'em.

Been to Cancun, Lately?

Mexican baby food
Did you know that one out of every four LV residents visits Cancun every year??

That's what The Morning Call claims, so it must be true.

Yep. 218,444 LV residents (not 218,445) travel to Cancun each year. That's one out of four of us.

164,402 LV residents (not 164,401) visit Punta Cana each year. That's one out of five of us. Another 157,672 LV residents (not 157,673) are at Montego Bay each year. That's nearly one in five. And 225,000 LV residents travel to either San Juan, Nassau, or Aruba. That's more than one in four LV residents.

Man, we must be loaded!

No wonder so many people speak Spanish.

I've been to Philly, by the way.

This bullshit is being smeared on the pages of a newspaper, not a blog, to get the LVIA board to spring for some $5 million international customs station, so people can be searched even more closely.

Never mind that $26 million judgment. Maybe it will go away.

And as blogger Michael Molovinsky has observed, Dumbo the Flying Elephant will now be headquartered at LVIA.

Barron and the Banks

Last week, Northampton County Controller Steve Barron did what he does best - spread manure. He does it from his mouth. In fact, he's so good at it that Upper Mount Bethel's new sludge facility should hire him. Let me give you the details.

Barron, who failed the bar exam, wants the County to sue a bank. Hey, who likes evil banks? So he's identified a target hated by one and all, except bankers. He claims that Mortgage Electronic Registry Systems (MERS), which tracks mortgages, has stiffed the County $6.81 million since 2004. In addition to firing off a memo to County Council, County Solicitor and Executive John Stoffa, he alerted the press to his very significant findings. Then he took it upon himself to appear at Council's Finance Committee hearing on Thursday and accuse MERS of fraud.

"The fraud exists," claims Barron, who should know that's a pretty serious accusation.

When you take out a mortgage with a bank, it is often sold (we call them assignments) to another bank. Not always. According to Barron, MERS refuses to record these assignments so it can avoid paying the recording fee, of which $30 goes to the County.

But looking at his own math, he's wrong.

Our numbers guy excels at self-promotion. Math, not so much.

In memos and news conferences, Barron claims that there have been 49,770 MERS mortgages since 2004. I'll agree because he got this information from the Recorder, instead of coming up with it himself. Now let's assume that every stinkin' one of these MERS mortgages was sold, but this holding company refuses to record the assignment. That would mean lost revenue to the County totaling $1.49 million over a period of 8 years. That's well below the $6.81 million figure Barron was using.

Let's assume that every one of these mortgages was sold twice. That's still only $2.98 million, not even close to Barron's figure.

For Barron's figure to be correct, every one of these mortgages would have to have been sold five times.

That's just nuts.

Barron claims he was turned on to this because his mortgage has been sold five times. But guess what? His holding company is not MERS. Moreover, Barron should know, after his T-Mobile experience, that using the power of his office to pursue a personal vendetta is, at the least, unprofessional. It makes one wonder about little things like extortion.

Barron points to Montgomery County, which is supposedly considering a class action lawsuit. But I've seen no action filed, just election year rhetoric.

Although MERS can be an annoyance, I've seen no groundswell of protest among title agents in Northampton or Lehigh County. They would know if there's a problem, not Barron. Mortgages are still being satisfied when they are paid off, at least in Northampton County. In fact, I'm unsure whether MERS even has a legal obligation to record an assignment every time a mortgage is sold. I mentioned all of this to Barron, right down to his bogus figures, right before he put on his little show last week. He agreed with me. Then went on to make the same claims, knowing he is fill of shit.

And he talks about fraud?

Do I think this should be investigated? Yes. Will it result in a $6.81 million windfall to the County? No. Has there been fraud, or anything remotely approaching fraud? No.

Does Barron know what he's talking about? I'll let you answer that one yourself.

One Final Point About That Gracedale Contract

Yesterday, I posed a fact sheet about the Gracedale contract, which was approved by Northampton County Council on Thursday night. An anonymous reader complained that, while there is no wage hike this year, there will be step increases. That is inaccurate.

I've reviewed the contract, which specifically rules out step increases throughout its four-year term. It freezes wages this year. It does provide 3% wage hikes in Years 2, 3 & 4. It also includes annual COLAs (cost of living adjustments).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gracedale AFSCME Contract Highlights

Yesterday, I told you that Gracedale union workers were being paid 2.5 times their regular pay for overtime. Several of you pointed out that I had it wrong, and I did. I've since learned that this rate was only being paid for overtime worked on holidays. So my report was misleading. I apologize to everyone I led astray.

Below you will Human Resources Director Pat Siemiontkowski's memo to Northampton County Council concerning this new contract. It details the union's concessions.

Highlights from Pat Siemiontkowski Regarding the Proposed AFSCME Contract

Attached please find the recently negotiated Collective Bargaining Agreement between Northampton County, Pennsylvania and Council 13, District Council 88, Local 1435 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME Gracedale).

The County and AFSCME Negotiating Teams worked cooperatively over the pst several months to reach an agreement designed to realize cost savings over the next four years and to provide Premier with new tools that it is hoped can be used to improve the operation of Gracedale Nursing Home.

Terms of particular note in this proposed four year contract which was recently ratified by the union membership include the following:

1) 30 minute unpaid lunch period (the prior contract provided for a paid lunch period);

2) the ability of management to offer shifts of varying duration (the prior contract provided only for 8 hour shifts);

3) the elimination of the Presidents’ Day holiday;

4) the payment of double time to employees working on a holiday rather than double time and a half;

5) the ability for full-time employees to cash out a limited amount of vacation time each calendar year (this will save the County the cost of replacing the absent employee with another worked at the rate of time and a half);

6) the reduction of sick leave accrual from 96 hours a year to 60 hours a year;

7) the elimination of sick leave incentives;

8) the ability of management to designate the work period for purposes of paying overtime as either a 40 hour system or an eight and eighty system (previously all employees were on the eight and eighty system);

9) overtime savings resulting from the new 7 ½ hour work day, the 37 ½ hour work week and the 75 hour work period;

10) the conversion, through attrition, of all NA II positions to NA I positions;

11) a wage freeze in 2012 and 3% wage increases (COLAS) in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

12) increases in employee healthcare contributions for 2013, 2014 and 2015 as follows:

Employee Employee plus 1 Family
2012 1.50% 1.60% 1.75%
2013 2.25% 2.50% 2.75%
2014 3.0% 3.25% 3.50%
2015 3.75% 4.0% 4.25%

13) healthcare cost containment effective January 1, 2013 to include spousal coordination f benefits and the County’s ability to make changes to the 2014 health plan design based upon its projection of an increase in health care costs because of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

14) the inclusion of a successor clause in the contract.

The County projects the savings achieved to be approximately 2 to 2.5 million dollars annually. The Union believes the savings will be greater and will exceed 3 million dollars annually.

Upon your receipt of the attached contract, I am requesting that it be placed on the agenda and presented to the Personnel Committee and to County Council for review and approval at the August 15 and August 16 meetings, respectively.

Please distribute this e-mail and the attached contract to all members of County Council.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

LANTA Increases Its Mass Transit Service

LANTA driver Rich Gubish blocked hit-and-run driver
Bethlehem Township's very own Tim Brady, LANTA's Board Chair, was at Northampton County Council on Thursday night with a status report for the region's mass transit provider. About a year ago, LANTA approved a new service restructure.

*  There's been an 8% increase in service.

*  A new Allentown bus maintenance garage is being built. It's funded by a $10.4 million federal grant and will be completed by the Summer of next year.

* The Easton Intermodal is moving forward. Plans are to break ground next Summer. Mayor Sal Panto, who was present, stated that the City will hire a "well known developer in the Lehigh Valley," but will not name this developer until the contract is signed. This complex will include a High School Hall of Fame.

*  Twenty new para-transit vans are in service.

*  An order has been placed for 10 heavy-duty hybrid buses, in addition to 5 of them currently in operation. in 2013, another 7-8 hybrids will be ordered. The average life span of a bus, incidentally, is 12 years. The money for this comes from a federal grant. LANTA will be looking to convert to natural gas, and is going to conduct a feasibility study.

*  On 9/10, there will be some new enhancements in evening service along Union Boulevard and from South Bethlehem to Lehigh Valley Mall. That will be another 3% increase in service.

*  Musikfest is always a challenge to LANTA, but Exec Director Armando Greco considers this year's experience a success. "We measure our success by how many windows are broken. This year, there were no windows broken, so we had a great year!"

*  LANTA locked into a fuel plan earlier this year that now is 30-40 cents below the market price for fuel. "We got lucky," Greco modestly stated.

What's Right and Wrong About Gracedale's New AFSCME Contract

On Thursday night, Northampton County Council approved, by an 8-1 vote, a new, four-year contract with AFSCME at Gracedale. That's the union representing the lion' share of employees who work at the County's nursing home. Barb Theirry is the sole Council member who voted No.

Most Council members and Executive John Stoffa sounded encouraged. Ken Kraft, a union rep, called it a "win win." He even stated that he would have recommended against the contract if he were the one negotiating on behalf of the union. Peg Ferraro added that the union contract "proves that they [AFSCME] put their money where their mouth is."

Former Council member Ron Angle, however, calls it "comical" and "all but valueless." He noted that, the County taxpayers are still spending $4.2 million to keep Gracedale afloat this year.

So is it a good deal or not?

Here's what's right with it.

1. Overtime is reduced from 2 1/2 times the regular pay to double time.

2. There is no pay increase this year.

3. No more paid lunch breaks.

4. Sick days have been reduced.

Here's what's wrong with it.

1. There will be 3% wage hikes in years 2, 3 and 4 of the contract.

2. Despite the recommendations of its privately retained manager, the County has agreed that it will make no attempt to privatize laundry, maintenance and the cafeteria.

3. There's a successor clause, which will force any buyer of the nursing home to honor the contract.

I've never seen givebacks of this magnitude in a union contract with the County. Although it by no means eliminates the County contribution, it does demonstrate a willingness to cut costs. For that reason, I believe Council made the right call.

Musikfest Heaven

Friday night, I had dinner with someone who attended Musikfest's Boston concert. I will spare him the slings and arrows that would undoubtedly follow if I named him, but I want to pass on his story.

He tells me that, while enjoying the show, he was nearly knocked over by the overwhelming odor of marijuana.

"I wonder where that smell is coming from?" he asked of no one in particular.

"Heaven!" was the answer from some unnamed sage in the crowd.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Nuts and Bolts From NorCo Exec John Stoffa

During County Council meetings, Executive John Stoffa almost always gives a brief, "nuts and bolts" report. Last night was no exception. Here's what he thought they, and the rest of us, should know.

1. The West Easton Treatment Center is on track to open next Wednesday at 3 PM. Council members have been invited for a tour.

2. The recently purchased archives building, located in Forks Township, is set to open by the end of the year.

3. Plans for a centralized human services building continue. Stoffa wants to sell off the Bechtel and Wolf buildings, and concentrate human services under one roof. He has declined to reveal the location.

4. A stray pet problem is plaguing Northampton County municipalities. Stoffa is seeking a $25,000 grant for a county-wide study.

Bethlehem Residents Suffer Atiyeh-Fatigue

Atiyeh with Att'y Mark Malkames last month
The southeast corner of Center Street and Dewberry Avenue, once part of a sleepy cemetery, is now the most hotly litigated piece of property in Bethlehem. Frustrated residents, normally very cordial, lashed out against owner Abe Atiyeh during an August 16 meeting of the Planning Commission. But neither he nor anyone from his sundry business concerns was present, despite having submitted plans for review.

Atiyeh, who has zoning approval for an assisted living facility at the 5-acre site, has abandoned that project as a result of market conditions. He'd rather build luxury apartments. But zoners shot that proposal down. So did a Northampton County judge. So did the Commonwealth Court. Rebuffed on that idea, he presented plans for a psychiatric hospital. Those were rejected, too, and that matter is now under review in court.

But while a judge ponders a medical facility for the mentally ill, Atiyeh has again submitted plans for four, 3-story apartment buildings at this controversial site. Across the street, he's proposed a voluntary, inpatient, rehab for addictions at the old Calvary Baptist Church. He's also proposed converting a residence at the northeast corner of Center and Dewberry into his own command center for himself and is staff. He's been rebuffed on those ideas as well.

Along the way, a small army of concerned Bethlehem residents has galvanized to fight the colorful developer along every step of the way. August 16 was no exception. A platoon of about 20 troops descended into Town Hall to protest Atiyeh's latest plans. It made no difference that the colorful developer was himself absent. A grassroots group calling itself the North Bethlehem Action Committee, made up of prominent citizens like retired Judge Bill Moran and retired educator Greg Zebrowskis, has retained Easton attorney Steve Goudsouzian to advise them and oppose Atiyeh.

After Goudsouzian voiced his objections to Atiyeh's latest plans, Bethlehem citizens like John Schadt and Sue Glemser challenged Atiyeh's integrity.

Glemser described Atiyeh as a "rich developer who does poor due diligence," and told planners that his plans have damaged "the peace and tranquility" of Bethlehem.

Claiming that Atiyeh's vision is "perverse and regressive," Schadt argued that Bethlehem "already has enough slumlords as it stands now." He labeled Atiyeh "an extremely callous, uncaring developer" who "has made a mockery of Bethlehem."

"He needs to be told to go away," said Schadt, after reading from a prepared statement that he has declined to provide to the media.

Planners did reject Atiyeh's plans, although not for the reasons stated by Schadt. They were instead concerned about an apartment complex that failed to include basic items like a fire hydrant. "It's a matter of public safety," explained Planner Andrew Twigger.

Contacted after yesterday's hearing, Atiyeh stated he expected his plans to be rejected because the apartment use has already been rejected by zoners.

In other business, planners did approve a 16-home townhouse subdivision at the northeast corner of East Boulevard and Chester Road. Called "The Meadows," 4 sets of townhouses, with four in each set, have been proposed on a 16-acre lot located next to an apartment complex.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Parsons: "We Let Our Bridges Go to Hell"

Meadows Bridge
That was the reaction of Northampton County Council member Scott Parsons, after listening to consultants describe the status of the County's 117 bridges at yesterday's Finance Committee. County Council is considering a $19.6 bridge repair plan proposed by Executive John Stoffa.

Just a year ago, Engineer Don Keller told a dubious Ron Angle that our bridges are "in excellent shape." But now, 53 bridges need to be replaced, removed or rehabbed within the next three years. Ten of them are structurally deficient. Eighteen of them are box beam bridges similar to one that collapsed in Washington County in 2005.

The County's Liquid Fuels Tax only generates about $750,000 per year, not enough to pay the tab, especially since a big chunk of that pays for highway lighting. Nor can the County rely on the state's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The state always finds a reason to remove county bridges, often without bothering to inform them.

This leaves just two choices - borrow the money or start closing bridges.

That's already happened in Hellertown, where a bridge crossing the Saucon Creek on High Street is closed.

In Hanover Township, a bridge crossing the Monocacy Creek along Bridle Path Road will be restricted from 25 tons to 5. No school buses. No firetrucks either, according to Keller.

Given this lack of emergency access, these restrictions could threaten a proposed Traditions of America Subdivision, with 204 homes for 55+ active adults. That plan was just approved by Hanover Township Supervisors last month.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This Can't Be Good

Details are very sketchy, but both local papers report that State Rep. Joe Brennan may have been arrested after a traffic stop this afternoon in Fountain Hill.

Joe is currently participating in the ARD program for first-time drunk drivers. If this arrest has anything to do with booze, and he is convicted of a crime, the charges from last year will come back to haunt him.  He will also likely lose his bid for re-election. Worst than that, there could be very serious personal consequences.

Obviously, I hope the charges, if there are any, are unrelated to alcohol.

Sources: Express Times. Morning Call. 

Updated 10:40: Joe has been charged with DUI and assaulting his wife. Tragic. For him. For his wife. For his two sons, who start school in a few days.

Chatter among Fountain Hill neighbors is that Joe beat his wife, in the presence of his two sons. Then he fled the scene when a neighbor called police.

Judge Simpson: Voter ID Law Upheld

That's the ruling, as reported in the Legal Intelligencer.

LV Sierra Club is Taking No Shit!

When a three-month old baby drops a load, we all giggle and clean it up. But when it's a 61 year-old man, it can kill people. In fact, Saddam Hussein once offered to buy my droppings, but I'm a patriot.

So when I read about farmers who spread human fecal matter all over their field, I want to hurl. Safe or not, environmentally friendly or not, it's just gross.

And it may less environmentally safe than the shit sellers claim. The Lehigh Valley Sierra Club, for that reason, is opposed to a sewage sludge treatment facility, near the Delaware River in Upper Mount Bethel Township. Supervisors are expected to vote on the issue on Monday, August 20, 7 PM, in a meeting at the Upper Mount Bethel Firehouse. The Sierra Club would like an environmental impact study first.

McGill Environmental Systems has proposed a 100,000 sq ft facility, located just 1200 feet from the Delaware River. So an impact study sounds reasonable. Although the company is promising an odor free and safe facility, it will be processing type 2 sewage sludge.

Apparently, like good wines, sludge is rated by age. Type 2 sludge is shit that's just three months old. It tends to have a high concentration of heavy metals. If it's my sludge, it's radioactive.

"The Sierra Club opposes the land application of municipal sewage sludges as a fertilizer and/or soil amendment because the current policies and regulations governing this practice are not adequately protective of human health and the environment."

In other words, they're taking no shit.

McGill, incidentally, had a facility in Harmony, New Jersey. But it was closed by the state under less than harmonious circumstances, after the shit began leaking into nearby wells.

At first, New Jersey-ites thought they were drinking coffee! But it obviously damaged their brains, because they all started moving here.

If you want to say no to shit, you can contact the Sierra Club's shit contact, Don Miles, at (610) 730-2514. He's also a lawyer, so he's used to shit.