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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, May 31, 2013

DUI Firefighter Loses Bid For Reinstatement

Last August, Bethlehem firefighter James Schlener was charged drunk driving after his Jeep struck a utility pole on Eighth Avenue. Police charged that his blood alcohol was 0.256, more than three times the legal limit. Schlener, a former union official, was at the time Chairman of the Bethlehem City Democratic Committee. He was supposed to be working at the time of his accident, but had called off and was out drinking at the time he was supposedly too ill to work. His own shift responded to his accident.

Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan fired Schlener, whose base salary was $63,072.

Schlener, who has a history of spousal abuse in 2004 and 2010, sought an arbitration on the termination. Unions rarely lose those. In addition, he worked against Callahan's bid for Northampton County Executive, even to the point of following him around.

Callahan won that election. And in a ruling that come down this afternoon, Schlener  lost his bid to get his job back. I will attempt to get a copy of the ruling next week.

Neither Schlener nor Jim Gregory appear to be good role models as Democrats or as public sector union members.

Disgruntled NorCo Caseworker Faces Contempt Charges on PFA

On May 16, outspoken SEIU union activist and Lehigh Valley Labor Council VP Jim Gregory was charged by Bethlehem police with harassment, a summary offense, for assaulting his girlfriend. The following week, Senior Judge Lawrence E Brenner entered a temporary Protection From Abuse Act Order against Gregory, pending a full hearing. As part of his Order, Judge Brenner prohibited Gregory from making any attempt to contact his ex-girlfriend in any way, even through third parties.

After being served with the PFA Order, Gregory retained prominent domestic relations attorney Melissa Rudas, who continued Gregory's hearing on the PFA Order until July 26. But he'll be back in Court sooner than that because he's been cited for contempt. According to a complaint filed by his ex on May 28, Gregory has continued to contact her. He has texted her, emailed her, and through a third party,told his ex that he is going to "ruin" and "destroy" her.

A contempt hearing has been scheduled for June 10.

Gregory, erstwhile President of Bethlehem City Council, is currently employed by Northampton County as a human services caseworker, assisting people with mental health issues. It is unclear whether he is on administrative leave, pending the PFA and allegations of abuse.

Gregory has formed a PAC and is threatening to run against incumbent NorCo Council member Ken Kraft in the next Council race.

Election Not Nice to Weiss

Paul Weiss took on Castro. Next, it's Abe
For the past two years, Paul Weiss has presided over Bethlehem Township's five-person Board of Commissioners. But barring a miracle, his days behind the dais are coming to an end.

In the May 21 municipal primary, Weiss was thrashed at the polls by fellow Republican Pat Breslin, 135-56. Though a newcomer to the Township, Breslin received heavy financial backing from Abe Atiyeh's business partner Ramzi Hadad. Haddad gave Breslin $1,000 of the $1850 he raised.

Breslin also relied on church connections at Cavalry Baptist, as well as hard work at the polls to garner votes.

On the Democratic side of the ballot, another Atiyeh-backed candidate, Raymond Russin, was successful in a write-in campaign. He snagged 41 votes to 10 for Weiss. Russin had been removed from the ballot because he failed to file the required Statement of Financial Interests. A commodities broker, Russin was the nominal plaintiff in an Abe Atiyeh land use appeal over a planned 837-unit housing development, including 570 apartments.

So Atiyeh has both a Democrat and a Republican running for Paul Weiss' seat. Abe can't lose. But what about the rest oif the Township?

Abe lives in Bethlehem Township. Contrary to the way he is often depicted, he has a big heart. He obviously cares about what goes on in his own back yard. But he is also a major developer. He is very interested in his own bottom line.

Is this it for Paul Weiss? One Commissioner is already dancing on Paul's grave, telling others he'll be taking over as president. But don't count Weiss out. He's unable to run as an Independent, but can wage a write-in campaign this November. In a small ward race with a low turnout, he could win.

"I've come too far to give up now," said Weiss, who is kicking himself for taking the primary too lightly.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting in more detail about Bethlehem Township, which this November could have 4 Atiyeh-sponsored  Commissioners.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

State Reps Can Be Trolls, Too

One online commenter, who incidentally supports the shale industry, recently discovered that state representatives can be trolls, too.

Two Additional NorCo Deputies In Hot Water Over LTCF Leak

Northampton County Deputy Sheriff Darin Steward, who is facing felony charges after disclosing that references are not being checked on concealed carry applications, waived his preliminary hearing yesterday, according to The Express Times. That's a sign that he's probably going to apply for ARD, a special program for first offenders in which charges are dismissed after a period of probation.

Two other deputies - Tom Bachik and Pat Crivellaro - are reportedly facing disciplinary action over this incident as well. Neither has been seen at the courthouse for weeks.

Northampton County Sells Governor Wolf Bldg

Real estate developer Mark Mulligan is a Julliard grad
The latest chapter in Easton's Governor Wolf Building, named after the only Northampton County resident to ever become the state's Governor, is about to begin. At a May 29 news conference at the steps of this 1893 schoolhouse, Executive John Stoffa announced that he's found a buyer. Mark Mulligan, along with partners David Dallas and Bill Vogt, have signed an agreement to purchase the 52,171 sq ft schoolhouse, which sits atop 3.4 acres with a commanding view of the Delaware.

In addition to paying $1,925,000 for this property, located at 45 North Second Street, Mulligan and his partners plan to invest another $3.5 million and completely gut the interior for a June 2015 grand opening for high end apartments, with the possibility of some commercial use.

Stoffa explained that, in 1986, when the County purchased the schoolhouse for $912,000, it was intended to be the "One stop" center for human services. But as the demand grew, the County purchased the Bechtel building, located in Bethlehem.

"It's a great day for Easton," claims Mayor Sal Panto
But both buildings require $4.3 million in capital repairs and improvements, according to County officials. So in February, Council voted, 8-1, to lease a new human services building on Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township. That decision came on the heels of a jaw-dropping power point presentation by caseworkers depicting grisly conditions at Governor Wolf that endanger not only the people who work there, but innocent children who are already the victims of abuse and neglect.

Governor Wolf is plagued by asbestos, mold, chipping lead paint, bats, guano and an excessive number of large bugs. Supervised child visitation takes place in rooms where lead paint is chipping along the floor and windowsills. Mold is all over ceilings and vents are collapsing.

The "Penny Arch" at Governor Wolf
This is where real estate magnate Mark Mulligan, who specializes in the adaptive reuse of historic buildings, comes to the rescue. His Master's degree was not earned at Harvard or Wharton, but at Julliard.

"He studied to be an opera singer, so I trust him," joked Stoffa.

Stoffa called the sale “a win - win situation. Northampton County will reinvest the revenue from this sale into the new Human Service facility that can better serve our 18,000 clients while at the same time we are able to contribute to the economic development and historic preservation of downtown Easton.”

Exec John Stoffa announces sale of Wolf Building
Buyers Mulligan, Vogt and Dallas have over 50 years experience working in real estate development, property management and commercial real estate. Their partnership is developing the Simon Silk Mill and recently renovated the Pomeroy Building, just a few blocks away from Governor Wolf.

According to Easton Mayor Sal Panto, who lauded the sale, Mulligan's group was also involved in the redevelopment of the now-full National Building as well as Maxim's 22, which employs between 70-80 people. The second-term Mayor pointed to the mix of development on Second Street, which includes a combination of modest homes with high-end law firms and other businesses and homes. Panto, who lives on the City's South Side, eschews the gentrification model practiced in many other cities. "I don't believe in it," he said, adding, "We still want to be a City - an urban center."

Panto also praise Stoffa, whose government service is ending this year. "He will be missed," Panto said.

Mulligan plans to make no changes to the building's exterior, which includes elaborate brickwork, stained glass windows, a bell tower and the ornate Governor Wolf Memorial Arch,. It's also known as the "Penny Arch.because it was funded by pennies donated by school children and their families. The arch is topped by a marble globe of the world.

The agreement of sale has provisions requiring the preservation of these historic features.

The agreement also includes the county leasing back the 5,883 square foot warehouse behind the Wolf Building to consolidate storage it has in other leased or owned facilities. This will actually save the County approximately $2,700 per year.

This agreement must be approved by County Council, which will review the matter in June.

Final closing is scheduled for the end of the year.
L to R: Mayor Sal Panto, State Rep Bob Freeman, Council member Peg Ferraro, Exec John Stoffa and developer Mark Mulligan

Health Bureau: Watch For Rabid Animals and .... Bottom-Feeding Bloggers

If your husband looks like this, he has rabies. Shoot him. 
It's that time of the year again. With the warmer weather, we are spending more and more time outside, coming into contact with pets, wild animals or worse ... bottom-feeding bloggers. In the wake of news about two dudes who were attacked by a sexy fox on Bethlehem's west side, the Health Bureau has issued some helpful hints. You see, this fox had rabies, and even condoms won't help.

1) No matter how sexy, never, ever, not ever attempt to handle a wild or domesticated animal or fox or blogger that is not your own.

2) All sick or injured animals should be reported to the police department or animal control officer by calling 610-997-7641. No matter how healthy a blogger might look, call the cops.

3) When interacting with a domesticated animal, such as a dog or cat, always ask the pet owner’s permission first and approach the animal cautiously. Watch out for this little trick.
Clouseau: Does your dog bite?
Hotel Clerk: No.
Clouseau: [bowing down to pet the dog] Nice doggie.
[Dog barks and bites Clouseau in the hand]
Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!
Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.
4) Infants and children should never be left unattended with an animal, unless you are married to it.

5) Pet owners should keep dogs and cats up to date on rabies vaccine. Per Pennsylvania law, all domesticated dogs and cats over three months of age must be vaccinated against rabies. Legislation is pending for bloggers, and is expected to pass unanimously.

6) Do not feed wildlife, stray or feral cats or stray dogs. But you should give bloggers money. No small bills, or we'll bite. Hard.

7) Anyone who is bitten, scratched or otherwise exposed to an animal should seek prompt medical care. By law, all medical care providers must report these cases to the local health department for investigation. If it's a blogger, just call an undertaker.

Last year, the Bethlehem Health Bureau investigated 161 reported cases of animal-to- human exposures in the City. The bureau provides animal safety presentations to schools and other community groups. To schedule a presentation, call 610-865-7087.

Next week, they'll be issuing their annual zombie warning.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bethlehem Planners Cancel Meeting Due to ... Poor Planning

Last time Bethlehem Planners considered an Abe Atiyeh plan for a psychiatric hospital at Center and Dewberry, they goofed. In Judge Edward Smith's words, they "improperly invaded the province of the City of Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board by making a determination of whether the use is a permitted use ... ."

Planners were set to consider a scaled-down version of Atiyeh's plan tomorrow, but that won't be happening. No meeting notice was advertised in the newspapers, as required under the Sunshine Act.

One-Third of Lehigh Valley Bridges Need Repairs

According to National Bridges, there are 449 bridges in Northampton County. One-hundred sixty (36%) of them are either "structurally deficient"(one or more structural defects that require attention) or "functionally obsolete" (no longer  functionally adequate for its task). Lehigh County has 586 bridges, of which one-hundred ninety-seven (34%) are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

Odds are better than one out of three that any bridge you cross in the Lehigh Valley has serious problems.

Lehigh County only owns 47 of these bridges. When he was Executive, Don Cunningham began an ambitious bridge repair program. He replaced four bridges and had major repairs completed or underway on 17 others by the end of 2010, with another four in design and engineering for imminent replacement.

But Northampton County was in denial. Though the County owns 117 bridges, something else always had priority.

Two years ago, Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle warned, "Our bridges are in horrible condition, but nobody pays attention to bridges." At that time, Angle was contradicted by the County's bridge inspector, who insisted that our bridges are in "excellent shape."

He's singing a different tune now, is worried that the state might close some of them down, and has recommended immediate action for 18 of them.

Executive John Stoffa wants to spend $7.1 million for repairs and replacements of 18 of the County's worst-rated bridges. Last month, Executive candidate John Callahan agreed that bridges need more priority and supports a bridge bond in principle. Council member Lamont McClure, who ran against Callahan, stated on the campaign trail that he'd prefer "to budget year over year for bridge repairs." After all, a bridge bond might get in the way of McClure's promise not to raise taxes.

That's a recipe for disaster.

With two recent highway bridge collapses in the past week, we can no longer afford to play politics with our aging infrastructure.

Who's Buying the Governor Wolf Building?

When Northampton County Exec John Stoffa proposed a centralized human services building in Bethlehem Township, replacing two buildings in downtown Easton and Bethlehem, one of the biggest criticisms was that the County was abandoning Easton. Although most feel that the County would find a good use for its Bethlehem site, concerns about a vacant Easton eyesore were raised. But Easton's biggest cheerleader, Mayor Sal Panto, publicly supported Stoffa's proposal. He'd do that only if he had a better use for the property.

Today, at 10:30 AM, we'll learn who bought the Governor Wolf Building. Located at 45 N 2d St in Easton, this 52,171 sq ft schoolhouse, built in 1893, was purchased by the County in 1986 for $912,000. It is home to 173 human services workers. According to County officials, it needs $3.3 million in capital repairs and improvements over the next 5-10 years. CYF workers have complained about conducting supervised visitation amid asbestos, lead paint and bat guano.

Area Agency on Aging Director John Mahler has told Council that the ceiling was caving in at three different areas in his offices. Two of the sites have been recently repaired. He also detailed mold and lead paint problems.

VA Director Freddie Ramirez is concerned about access by 25-35 veterans, some of them disabled, who visit every week, and have to chug up a steep hill. The County has 23,690 vets.

Controller Steve Barron, however, injected himself into this issue and told Council to forget it. He had no regard for abused or neglected children. No regard for our disabled veterans. He was instead carrying water for SEIU and Jim Gregory, who has since been disgraced with woman beating charges and a PFA.

Barron later said that his grandfather was a vet, so that made everything ok.

Council ignored Barron and Gregory, and voted for centralized human services, 8-1.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reibman's Borough Strategy

During the Northampton County Executive race, Glenn Reibman's strategy was to appeal to the County's borough officials, meeting them at numerous diners throughout the County. He joked that he had no idea there were so many diners.

Well, we know his strategy failed, but he did win in some of these boroughs. Reibman won in East Bangor (by 4 votes), Portland (by 4 votes), Stockertown (by 1 vote) and West Easton (by 3 votes).

Boy Scouts Honor the Fallen ... With Flowers

Shawn Higgins, age 12, honors a vet with a flower
Boy Scouts of Troop 317 in Bethlehem Township join with the families of St. Johns Church of Farmersville to honor fallen members of the armed forces in a simple flower ceremony on Sunday, May 26. Scouts led the church congregation across William Penn Highway to St. John’s Cemetery, where a flower was placed on each military gravesite.

Over sixty boys participate in Troop 317's program, under Scoutmaster Frank Olshefski IV.

Troop 317 on its way to cemetery

After honoring the fallen one of Troop 317's own was honored himself. Jake Sternberg, age 18, was promoted to Eagle Scout after a community service project that included the design and implementation of a large, landscaped garden at the Bethlehem Township Fire Company. Jake who has varsity letters in tennis, track and cross country at Freedom High School, will begin his pharmacy studies this August at the University of Pittsburgh.

Eagle Scout  Jake Sternberg with his proud parents, Dad Frank and Mom Pegeen.
Jake's older brother, Shane, is an Eagle Scout, too.

What Gracedale Controversy?

Gracedale gazebo
In a weekend Express Times story, Tom Shortell reports that "the controversy over the proposed sale has not died down ... ." Really? If anything, I think Tuesday's election results show pretty clearly that it has.

In a three-way race for County Executive, a majority of Democrats picked Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan over the nursing home's self-proclaimed Savior, Lamont McClure. Callahan won in all of the Gracedale communities (Nazareth, Upper Nazareth and Lower Nazareth). McClure, who finished third, won only in Bath Borough and Washington Tp. If Gracedale was still a front-burner issue, McClure should have done much better.

Once the voters made clear that they wanted the nursing home kept County-owned, Executive John Stoffa has done everything he can to turn things around. In addition to hiring a private management firm, Stoffa has even exposed himself to a lawsuit by a Council hell-bent on forcing him to negotiate a transport contract at the nursing home that is $240,000 more than the one desired by nursing home administrators.

I've heard no lingering talk about selling the nursing home from anyone. Frankly, I doubt it could be done now.

Fr. Alex' First Sermon

Father Alex, ordained on Saturday, has sent me the homily he delivered yesterday in his first celebration of Mass at Easton's Our Lady of Lebanon. Though his message is intended for Christians, members of other religious faiths, even you bastard Druids, will probably chuckle when Alex refers to the Apostles as boneheads.

Alex discuses "The Great Commission," under which Jesus exhorts his followers to spread his message. And they have, although I doubt that the Holy Crusades or any number of other atrocities are quite what Christ had in mind.

My Rector, Monsignor Beggiani can attest this. For the past two months, I have written 32 different homilies for today. I would write them, read them, rip them up, throw them away, and write a completely different homily. Late last night, I ripped up the homily that I was going to give today. And within 20 minutes I wrote this homily. I apologize if it rambles, because for the past week, I have not been sleeping properly; in fact I haven’t slept at all within the past week. So some time during this homily, I will get emotional; therefore please do not get scared or upset. And I will try my best to regain my composure. When that happens, just please be patient and give me some time to get back on track. Lastly, as you can see, I was ordained yesterday in a set of blue, white, and silver vestments. As I stand before you today, I would like to thank the members of the Holy Name Society and the St. Theresa Solidarity, because I am wearing a completely new set of vestments. These beautiful vestments that I am currently wearing were gifted to me by those organizations. Thank you!

If you have heard me preach before, I tend to have a certain style when it comes to anything regarding the Apostles. I like to refer to them as the “motley crew” that are dumb, do stupid things, and ask boneheaded questions. So when I became judgmental against someone, I like to view things from their perspective. Thus, I ask you to place yourself in their shoes. In today’s Gospel account we heard that there were 11 disciples and when it came time to pay homage to Jesus, some worshiped him, but some were hesitant and doubted.

After knowing what you do from the benefit of 2,000 years of history of Christ, I ask you again to put yourself in the shoes of the Apostles. Given their circumstances, what would you do in this Gospel situation? Would you do better or worse than the Apostles?

Jesus was with them and revealed the central point to all Mysteries/Sacraments/Salvation/Life: The Most Holy Trinity. Yet some Apostles were doubters/hesitant; they didn’t worship after seeing all the good He did, knowing that He died, and seeing Him alive again. They were BONEHEADS!!!

Now let us fast forward to present day time. If we truly believe in Christ, that He is the plan of the Most Holy Trinity, He is truly present in the life giving Mystery of the Eucharist (which is in repose in the Tabernacle, presently); then why do we do some of the things we do?

(Again I state, when I reflect on things of judgmental nature, I am placing myself in this experience. I am preaching to myself.) But we have an American idiom, “If the shoe fits, wear it!” So why do I do some of the stupid things I do – such as: treat people like objects, pass judgment, gossip, hold grudges, and not talk to people? And to make matters worse, sometimes I pass judgment onto myself by knowing I am in a state of sin but continue to receive Christ in Communion without going to confession prior to receiving the Mystery?

I believe it is for the same stupid, dumb, and boneheaded reasons that the Apostles did the same thing. They didn’t know Jesus especially in the plan of what is revealed to us in today’s Gospel: The Most Holy Trinity. In the Gospel, some Apostles didn’t worship Jesus because the “doubted.” In Greek, the original language of this Gospel, “doubt” can also translate to “hesitant.” And what do those words mean? 1-little faith, 2-lack of knowledge. --- They were spiritually poor. That kind of sounds like me (and if the shoe fits …)

In our Hoosoyo (the main part of the Catechesis of a text), actually the Hoosoyoi from today’s Divine Liturgy and the Divine Office (a ritual that the priests pray daily, several times a day) an emphasis is placed upon our limited ability to actually know and effectually describe the infinite and limitless Trinity with finite and limited terminology.

Our Divine Liturgy, Divine Office, and numerous prayers are replete with our devotion, adoration, and worship to the Most Holy Trinity. And our worship shows us our faith.

Even though such things are beyond our understanding, we do not rest in such ignorance. Our knowledge of the Trinity is gained in a completely different fashion, in one of a relationship. As Matthew writes earlier in the Gospel (Matthew 7:7), “… seek and you will find.”

To know something --- one must have a relational experience. As an example, I know that I like my friend. I may not know everything about him/her, but I enjoy spending time with him/her even if it is just sitting with him/her in silence. (JUST LIKE WE SIT WITH THE LORD IN EUCHARISTIC ADORATION.)

God knows us and He knows us better than we know ourselves. God provides for us and we need not worry because we are special to Him. He made the birds and you don’t see them falling out of the air for lack of want? In this Gospel Jesus gives us the assurance that, “I am with you always, even to the end of time.” Just like a true friend would.

We are given the tools and the order of how to go about living one’s life well as a Christian in this Gospel. This passage is the most exciting!!! This is graduation day for the 11 disciples. (Remember Judas, he was the 12th Disciple. He betrayed Jesus and committed suicide. Let us never lose one to disbelief like Judas was lost.) This is what is called The Great Commission. The Disciples were charged with their duties and sent out to do the work of the Most Holy Trinity. For you, this is an explanation to lead by example of your Christian values by being a witness, living as an example for others. And for me? Well, it is a reminder of my rebirth, as a priest in a Holy and Sacred Order. It is a reminder of my duties and the joy of my ordination – my graduation – my Great Commission.

We should take from this Gospel that we are given such tools and we must act upon them just as today’s Epistle reading from the Apostle Paul states, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” We have certain standards and expectations that we must live up to. And we should not waste our gifts or delay one moment putting them into use.

The Apostles had hesitations/doubts about Jesus even though they walked with him. Their doubts and psychological experiences speak volumes to what was going on then, as exactly as to what is going on today --- for me (and if the shoe fits …)

They were taught very well and had the best teacher, JESUS! They knew what to do, but they were scared to go out into unfamiliar territory. Are you too scared, doubtful, hesitant, dumb, stupid, or boneheaded? Are you spiritually poor? Do you struggle with life, praying, and doing the right thing? YES? Then that is good.

When you think you know it all, you really don’t. That is when you need to buckle down and pray the most to get your life back in order. God allows us to struggle, even the slightest bit, according to our needs, so we might get to know Him better. And at the very least, if you are aware of your struggles, that means you have a conscience and you are at least trying to do the right thing. With prayer, we hopefully will grow to holiness. The Beatitudes speak about the humble and the spiritually poor --- theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

If that motley crew of dumb, stupid, doubtful, hesitant, and boneheaded Apostles (which consisted of fishermen, tax collector, and everyday people) can do well, so can you and God willing/Inshallah, with much prayer and a lot of good works, so can I.

I thank you for bearing with me and ask you to continue to keep the Church and vocations in your prayers; not only for an increase in vocations but for guys (and gals) like me to become good and faithful servants.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. AMEN!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Father Alex Joseph Ordained in Easton

Before a standing room only crowd, Easton's "Our Lady of Mount Lebanon" parish saw one of its own, Alex Joseph, ordained as a Maronite Catholic priest today. This ordination marks the first time in the past 31 years that an Our Lady parishioner has become a priest.

Easton's tight-knight Lebanese community was there in force, from little brothers poking each other behind their mom's back, to just about every businessman in Shadtown. Even Mayor Sal Panto was among those who paid his respects.

The Most Reverend Gregory John Mansour, Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron, presided over the service, along with more priests than I've ever seen together at one time. He called Father Alex a "work in progress," which drew quite a few laughs. But that's exactly why Alex will be a great priest. He's one of us. He's been an accountant, a probation officer, even a barber. Now he's a priest.

He's already worked a miracle. I didn't have enough money for the meter, but amazingly, was able to escape from downtown Easton without a ticket. 

"Now, we're gonna' out him to work," said Bishop Gregory. Father Alex' first Mass is tomorrow.

Updated Sunday, 8:40 AM: I had to miss my favorite part, a reception with Lebanese food, after the service. Bad back. But Easton Eccentric stayed, and has the details. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Bill White's Extremely Cruel Hall of Shame

Every year or so, the Morning Call's terrorist columnist, Bill White, inducts another hapless and completely innocent soul into his so-called "Hall of Fame."  He likes to call it his collection of the area's "most colorful characters," but it's really the modern equivalent of our colonial era ducking stool, a rogues' gallery. It's no honor, but a public embarrassment and humiliation. It's extremely cruel and heartless.

I wish I had thought of it.

As happens nearly every year, I'm a  nominee. What kills me is that two of my so called friends,  John Stoffa and Ron Angle, are responsible. Stoffa told me he nominates himself every year, and added me this year, too. I responded that just because he's half out of his mind is no reason to drag me down with him. The nomination is bad enough. Last night I told him I feel like jumping off a bridge.

He said I should wait seven months or do it in Lehigh County.

No frickin' sympathy at all.  So much for the County Exec with a heart.

Then there's Angle. He's the bastard with the demented sense of humor, who suggested that I be lumped in with the Wicked Witch of West Easton, Tricia Mezzacappa. He even wants Mezzacappa's pig inducted.. Very, very funny. Ron should be on Saturday Night Live. I called him to complain, and all he did was laugh maniacally like Dr. Evil.

Just for that, I want you all to know that Angle has about fifty forged wills.

I complained to Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky, hoping for some tea and sympathy. Another mistake. He is now threatening to contact White, too, with the usual "mancrush" accusations. Unlike Michael, I do like one or two people. Molovinsky did not care much for my John "Abe Lincoln, Henry V" Callahan post.

As an award-winning broadcast journalist, I figured a word with White would end this unfortunate turn of events. We're both pricks, so I figured I'd at least  get some professional courtesy. I made things worse.

What do you expect from terrorist columnist who is also a Fabian Socialist?

(I sprained my back earlier this week,and was unable to do much on Thursday, except cry in my pillow. So this rant is it for today. I will have a great story about a friend on Monday, one who did not nominate me to Bill White's Hall of Fame. )

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Great Police Officer, Lousy Contractor

Former Police Comm'r John Yerk takes the oath
Former Bethlehem Police Commissioner John Yerk was before Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board on May 22, and under oath, swore that he and his son are lousy contractors. Years ago, they built a storage building at 1746 Center Street, but it's rotting away. So he asked zoners for a dimensional variance that would enable them to demolish the storage building and replace it with a 11' x 28' garage.

Neighbor Linda Carraghan, who also swore that the storage building is deteriorating, asked zoners to let him build a garage. Yerk promised he'd hire a contractor this time, and zoners granted the variance, 4-0.

Zoners also granted a dimensional variance to Richard and Idella Dickey, 1526 Easton Avenue, to construct a 10' x 20' addition to his garage. He explained he just has too much stuff, and is unable to even park his car inside his garage. "I have to move things out just to get the lawnmower," he complained. He added that he has so many things that he has to rent a storage facility a few miles away from his home. "The wife says, 'I need this, I need that'", he complained.

Looking at pictures, Zoner Gus Loupos joked, "Oh, I think you can still get a few things in there."

Dickey stated he has an architect and contractor, ready to build the addition. "It's not Commissioner Yerk is it?" joked Zoner Bill Fitzpatrick.

The Evolution of John Callahan

Callahan and Dent together at Pulaski Park
One of Lincoln's most endearing qualities would probably get him branded a flip-flopper today. He was one of those rare people who could learn from his mistakes; who was willing to listen and actually change his position if he was persuaded he was wrong. His thinking, both about slavery and religion, evolved for the better as time marched on. Very few people possess that quality. Believe it or not, Johnny Casino, sometimes referred to as the frat boy Mayor of Bethlehem, is one such person. He is the wild and rambunctious Prince Hal who evolved into Henry V. And this is thanks, in no small part, to his failed Congressional race against Charlie Dent. The lessons he took from that stinging defeat made John Callahan a better Mayor. It made him a better person. It transformed me from one of his harshest critics into one of his many fans.

Back in 2010, when Callahan first announced for Congress, he played it safe, ducking issues. He even refused to take a position on Obamacare until it was adopted by Congress. Now, he leads from the front. He pushed for a single hauler trash proposal in Bethlehem, knowing that it is unpopular in certain quarters and could hurt him in the Executive race. He owes the voters his best judgment, and gave it to them.

Washington handlers, three years ago, kept Callahan under wraps. He failed to respond to emails or phone calls from bottom-feeding bloggers because the DCCC had scripted his race in advance, with absolutely no regard for transparency. That made me suspicious and led to RTK requests and numerous other headaches for Bethlehem officials. Now, Callahan's office sends out news releases as a matter of routine, and the Mayor was even willing to sit down on several occasions and explain his stewardship of Bethlehem in great detail.

When Callahan ran against Dent, the City was still reeling from the Great Recession, and city finances suffered. His finance guys engaged in a decades-old practice of juggling funds between different city accounts, This was done to eliminate the need to borrow, but City Council often had no idea it was happening. Now, that practice has been eliminated, and City Council is fully apprised of interfund transfers.

At the worst possible time in the Congressional race, an independent audit revealed a serious deficit and numerous other internal control problems. Not only did the City address those internal controls, but it finished the last two years in the black.

While all this was going on, Callahan managed to eliminate $90 million in long-term debt, helped create 5,500 jobs and managed to get the City's S and P bond rating increased from "neutral" to "positive." He also implemented a Continuous Improvement  (CI) program, which encourages workers to find better and more efficient ways of doing thins. A restaurant permit that used to take 42 days now takes 14.

Callahan is a much better Mayor in 2013 than he was in 2010, primarily because he is one of those rare individuals who is capable of  implementing continuous improvement to himself, not just his City.

That's my assessment, but the real test of Callahan's success is what Bethlehem voters think. In 2010, when he ran for Congress, Congressman Charlie Dent took six Bethlehem wards from Mayor John Callahan on his way to a 56-38-6 victory in a three-person race that also included independent Jake Towne.

Three years later, in a three-way primary, Callahan won all but one Bethlehem precinct. He walked away with 1,886 votes, 53.4%.

Bethlehem voters have obviously noticed that Prince Hal has become Henry V.  Below is the Bethlehem tally.

precinct callahan mcclure reibman
1n 25 5 18
1s 19 9 12
2 25 5 8
3 18 11 13
4 29 13 26
5 48 19 33
6 92 26 24
7 92 26 24
8 84 21 34
9-1 35 16 20
9-2 48 17 20
9-3 96 45 51
14-1 125 41 49
14-2 156 61 77
14-3 125 58 67
14-4 70 36 42
14-5 93 52 71
14-6 95 64 59
14-7 144 39 35
14-8 105 48 42
15-1 101 32 37
15-2 139 62 73
15-3 76 55 46
16 28 6 12
17-2 3 0 8
17-4 18 5 7
total 1886 731 909

Updated 11:30 AM: Callahan won every Bethlehem precinct! - As explained in a comment, "Callahan won all the precincts in Bethlehem. The 17th Ward is counted in two parts, but is one precinct. Part of the 17th ward in in the 17th Congressional District, part in the 15th."

Let me add that Blogger Jonathan Geeting, who is an expert on ... everything, has called this a "remedial" political analysis because I am comparing a Democratic primary in a local race with a general election in a Congressional race. That's certainly true.

But unlike Geeting, I took the time yesterday to tally the Callahan vote in each Bethlehem precinct and share it with my readers, especially since I heard all kinds of claims that he is unpopular in Bethlehem. Also, I do think there are similarities. In both races, Callahan's character was the chief issue. It appears that Bethlehem voters, who know him best, have a higher opinion of him now than they did in 2010. Also, since there are so few Republicans, their primaries really are the general election.

Armstrong: Thanks For Nothing

My favorite conservative, Scott Armstrong, shares his insight into the death of democracy in Allentown.

Yesterday Republican Voters in Allentown faced a largely empty ballot: no candidate for mayor, not a single candidate for any of the four city council positions and, in my district, no candidate for county commissioner. The only Republicans on the ballot were to be found in the cross filed school board race. Only three of these candidates were truly Republicans, the rest were cross filed Democrats. These Republican candidates were left high and dry by the local Republican committee and its chair, Wayne Woodman. As they had arranged funding to do a mailer to super D’s the only assistance they requested of the Lehigh County Republican Committee was a letter to Republican super voters that would identify who the actual Republicans were. Earlier this year a facilitator arranged a meeting between Wayne Woodman and me to discuss this effort. At that meeting, he made a commitment to assist with exactly such a letter. In spite of reminders and outreach to the facilitator, that assistance never came. Without any guidance, most Allentown Republicans were left to guess who the real Republicans on the ballot were. The unfortunate result was that two Democrats won positions on the Republican ballot and a very capable conservative Latino lost.

One would think promoting conservative Latino candidates would be a priority in Allentown and Lehigh County. Apparently, it isn’t and the result is another missed opportunity to broaden the base into an important minority community.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

But What About Chapman Borough?

Anyone who wants to run for anything knows that you better get on the good side of powerful Chapman Borough. Three of the six Democrats who voted went to Callahan, ensuring his victory county-wide.

Mezzacappa Too Bigoted For Nazareth

Although I've never noticed it, Nazareth has a reputation of being a racist community. My black friends insist it's true whenever I ask them about it, and they would know better than I. Or would they? Maybe they're relying on stories and misinformation, which incidentally is the source of all bigotry.

If Nazareth is racist, it should have loved failed GOP candidate Tricia Mezzacappa, who used the "N" word and slurred minorities in a rant to Easton police. But she only got 36 of Nazareth's 652 votes in the GOP Council race, or 5.5%.

That's well below the 7.94% she received county-wide.

Mezzacappa is too bigoted for Nazareth.

Gracedale Vote Went to Callahan

Callahan announced candidacy at Gracedale
Nazareth, home to many Gracedale workers, was a Lamont McClure stronghold in the NorCo Exec race. I saw yard signs everywhere, and a McClure sign decorated the door at the Nazareth Jacksonian Club. Rodney Applegate, a former Council member, was pushing McClure everywhere in this sleepy borough.

But when the votes were tallied, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan beat the self-proclaimed Savior of Gracedale.

In Nazareth, Callahan had 146 votes to 109 for McClure and 87 for Glenn Reibman.

Lower Nazareth went for Callahan, too. He picked up 97 votes to McClure's 58 and Reibman's 57.

In Upper Nazareth, where Gracedale is physically located and many of the residents vote, Callahan had  101 votes to 56 for McClure and 53 for Reibman.

The people who know the County nursing home the best, both residents and staff, voted for Callahan.

Antonia Grifo Wins Anyway

"She let you take her picture and she won anyway."

That's what blogger Michael Molovinsky told me this morning.


Grifo won both the Republican and Democratic nomination for Easton mini-judge, despite my poor skills as a photographer.

Easton Finally Says No to a Vulcano

Pat Vulcano sits on Easton's school board, while his wife is on Easton City Council. Both are idiots. He gave about forty different stories to the state AG during an investigation of political consultant Tom Severson. He used his office to take care of his daughter. Easton voters nevertheless always voted for him.

They finally said No last night. Pat Vulcano was unable to win a spot on either the Dem or GOP ballot.

Due Gets His Due In Upper Mount Bethel

With all votes in, David Due has defeated incumbent Judy Henckel in Upper Mount Bethel Township's Democratic primary, 163-150. Henckel, an ardent environmentalist, was criticized for ignoring all other aspects of township government, and for a complete lack of transparency. As Chairperson of the Board of Supervisors, she was completely unable to control meetings. Morale among Township employees disintegrated, and one of them was recently charged with embezzling over $900 from the recreation fund. Henckel tried to keep this under wraps as well until this blog broke the story.

This race is significant for another reason. Henckel was one of Ron Angle's loudest critics. It appear that in his home town, the Northampton County Bulldog still has a bite.

Atiyeh-Backed Candidate Wins GOP Primary in Bethlehem Tp

Pat Breslin, an Abe Atiyeh candidate for Bethlehem Township Commissioner, has defeated incumbent Paul Weiss in the GOP primary, 120-43. But this race might not be over. Weiss was waging a write-in campaign on the Democratic side.

"We, The People" Say Callahan!

The Fake Rev likes to refer to himself as "We, the People." But last night, the real people spoke. Overwhelmingly, Democrats said they want John Callahan to be their next County Executive. According to the "unofficial" Northampton County tally, he has 50.45% of the vote (5,182) to Glenn Reibman's 28.5% (2,928) and Lamont McClure's even more distant 20.92% (2,149).

Callahan beat McClure 2.4 votes to 1.

Callahan overcame a campaign of smears from his opponents, who double-teamed him. Unable to find any really bad photos of Callahan, Reibman used a look-alike to try to present Callahan as a drunk. It even reached the point, last weekend, in which goofy paparazzi followed Callahan wherever he went, trying unsuccessfully to catch him in a compromising position.

McClure was even worse, with goofy and completely unsubstantiated accusations that he made through Fake Rev Mario Martinez on his barely legible hate blog. Martinez lurked around McClure's campaign HQs last night, trying his best to make sure the TV camera caught him.

While his opponents engaged in smears and pandering, Callahan conducted an impressive grassroots campaign in all corners of the County. He spent weekends knocking on doors in Easton, Wind Gap, Bangor, just about everywhere.

It paid off.

McClure's pathetic performance is an indication that Gracedale is no longer on the front burner with most voters. That issue was decided. It's time to move on into the many other aspects of County government, from protecting abused and neglected children, to making sure our bridges are safe.

This election is also a rejection of the demagoguery displayed by the Fake Rev and other Gracedale sympathizers who lost focus and became far too personal in their attacks.

Callahan's daughter cast her first vote today, accompanied by her Dad. I think she voted for Reibman.

Donchez Race Closer Than It Should Have Been

With 89% of the vote tallied, Bob Donchez is on his way to victory in the Bethlehem Mayoral race. He has 52% of the vote to Reynold's 48%. This is closer than it should be.

Some might say it's because of Donchez' negative campaign. I'd say it's because opponent Willie Reynolds worked his ass off, and all along had Mayor John Callahan's support. Although WFMZ has not projected Bob as a winner just yet, DA John Morganelli has told Donchez supporters that, with all but one precinct in, Donchez is in the lead.

Democracy Still Dead in Allentown

It appears that Julio Guridy, Cynthia Mota, Ray O'Connell and Daryl Hendricks have prevailed in Allentown's City Council race. With the exception of Hendricks, who is independently-minded, the rest are all rubber stamps to King Edwin as he transforms Allentown into Reillyville.

Jennifer: Don't Order That Black Robe Just Yet

Jennifer Sletvold, after an amazing campaign in which she managed to capture both Democratic and Republican nominations, managed to climb above three other excellent candidates. But despite her success at the polls, she should hold off on buying a black robe. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has yet to decide a challenge to the mandatory retirement that would require Judge Leonard Zito to step down. Since most of the justices are soon going to have to step down themselves, and don't want to, Jennifer might have to wait just a bit longer.

I've heard a rumor, incidentally, that Judge Zito is being offered the position of Court Administrator, one made available by Jim Onembo's "unexpected" retirement.

Republicans Say NO to Mezzacappa

Looks like "We, the People" got another one right. Northampton County Republicans have resoundingly rejected Tricia Mezzacappa and her message of hate in the County Council races.

With 100% of the vote tallied, Mezzacappa came in last place among seven Republicans seeking five nominations. She garnered just 2,200 votes, the lowest vote total of all Council candidates. Even in the West Easton Borough Council race, where she is running unopposed, she attracted only 19 votes. That's less than half of the 41 votes she got in a Republican primary there just two years ago.

It's safe to say that people are giving Mezzacappa a message of disapproval, but she'll try to explain it as something else.

It's just as well she lost because it appears she's going to be busy in Magistrate's Court for the next few months, facing two harassment charges as well as a payment determination hearing after she fell behind on her fines.

The GOP winners in the County Council races are Peg Ferraro (5,033); Hayden Phillips (4,707); Glenn Geissinger (4,508); Mat Benol (4,000) and Seth Vaughn (3,887).
Despite a poor ballot position, Ferraro was top vote getter.

On the Democratic side, the five successful candidates are Deb Hunter (6,893); Ron Heckman (6,468); Jerry Seyfried (5,879); Christen Borso (5,325) and Tom O'Donnell (4,690). Deb Hunter just missed four years ago, and obviously learned from her last campaign.

O'Donnell is half nuts, so I don't know how he got on the ballot.

Updated 1:40 AM: I was unaware of this, but Peg Ferraro yesterday announced, on her Facebook page, that Mezzacappa had mounted a robo call against her. "To my Republican friends in Northampton County...please vote tomorrow. There is a nasty robo call out there against me Tricia Mezzacappa is the culprit. Hate the nastiness to promote herself. Another good reason to know who you are voting for! Please, EVERY vote counts and I need you!!! Thanks from the bottom of my heart!" That smear probably helped Ferraro.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Who Are You Voting For ... and Why?

Instead of telling you for the 55th gazillionth time which candidates I like and why, I'll let you use this space to make your last minute picks in whatever race you want to discuss. Is democracy really dead in Allentown? Will John Callahan get more than 50% of the vote in the NorCo Executive race? Can Dean Browning beat the man who beat him a few sort years ago? Will Bob Donchez and Willie Reynolds be able to work together, once the politics ends at 8 PM? Will racist Tricia Mezzacappa become the standard bearer for NorCo Republicans?

Nancy Run Fire Co. Getting a Makeover

3 of Nancy Run's 5 bays are too small for modern fire equipment
From a fire company expansion to an ammo purchase, public safety issues dominated the May 20 meeting of Bethlehem Township Commissioners.

Nancy Run Fire Company will start a $1 million expansion this Summer, according to trustee Bill Andress. Bethlehem Township Commissioners, at their May 20 meeting, approved a building additions and renovations plan by a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Tom Nolan was absent. Although Commissioners have given a green light, the volunteer fire company still has a zoning hearing scheduled for May 29, at which dimensional variances will be sought.

This truck nearly touches ceiling
Nancy Run Fire Company, located on Easton Avenue, has existed since 1931. Manned by forty volunteers, and with no paid staff, this fire company responded to 850 calls last year. It has grown from a department that mostly put out agricultural fires, to one that responds to motor vehicle accidents, automatic alarms and even assists the City of Bethlehem. As its service expands, so has its need for space.

The biggest change, according to Andress, will be expanding the ceiling space in three of the fire company's five bays. At 12'4", these bays are too small for modern fire apparatus. The fire company will also add training rooms, and will retain 900 sq ft for future expansion.

This expansion is being funded, in part, by a $100,000 grant from the Pa. Department of Community and Economic Development. Andriss is also hopeful for some funding from the Gaming Authority. No Township resources have been expended.

In other business, Commissioners authorized Township officials to apply for an annual $20,000 grant for DUI enforcement. Township Manager Howard Kutzler explained that police use this funding for 24 "events" every year. Most are roving patrols, with only one sobriety checkpoint.

Finally, Commissioners set aside $14,799.20 for the purchase of ammo for police. Kutzler told Commissioners that what used to be a two to four week waiting period is now 14-18 months, if a state contract is pursued. With an outright purchase, it's still a four to six month wait.
Nancy Run Fire Co. first established in 1931, is getting a makeover

Ott, the God Candidate

Whether it is the Fake Rev or a devout Muslim, I'm very leery of people who claim God is on their side. But it happens all the time. During the Civil War, just about every general except Grant claimed God was on his side. Abraham Lincoln finally set one of them straight. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.” Too bad Lincoln never had a chat with Scott Ott, Lehigh County Exec candidate.

Four years ago, he very nearly propelled himself into office by leaning heavily on the evangelical Christians he got to know as a preacher. He made sure that the Epistle of Ott, also known as "Don Cunningham Attacks Lehigh County Churches," was delivered to churches throughout the Lehigh Valley. Never mind that Cunningham was only concerned about one church, the one that was violating its nonprofit status with Ott.

Dean Browning is a pretty religious guy, too. He actually goes to Church on Sundays, and I believe that he's an evangelical Christian himself. Last Sunday, volunteer Ben Long invited Dean to worship with him and his parents at Faith Church. Dean went. He was there to pray, to be on God's side. So he wore no campaign buttons and made no effort to play politics. He had no hand outs, and made no remarks. He was just going to church.

Later that day, Ben [he's also been a volunteer for Charlie Dent and Ryan Mackenzi] received an anonymous text message from 610-[redacted]. Ben was told to pray about who he's supporting. "I know who God is supporting," the text claims. As it turns out, 610-[redacted] also happens to be the number of Ann Marie Slavick. She's the Vice Chair of the Lehigh County Republican Committee.

Looks like Ott is trying to present himself as the Messiah again.

I called Tim Benyo. He told me God can't vote in Lehigh County because He lives in Northampton, and is registered independent.

Updated 5/22, 8:50 PM: At the request of Ms. Slavick, the reference to her cell phone number has been deleted.

Monday, May 20, 2013

PFA Order Filed Against Disgruntled Caseworker Jim Gregory

Senior Judge Lawrence E Brenner issued a Protection from Abuse Act Order this afternoon against disgruntled Northampton County Human Services caseworker Jim Gregory. Pending a full hearing on May 31, Gregory has been ordered to stay away from his girlfriend, surrender his firearms, and make no attempt to contact her in any way, even through third parties.

In a sworn affidavit, Gregory's girlfriend, whom I decline to name, recites a pattern of abuse that became life-threatening last week.

Before last Wednesday, he had punched her while driving, choked her and headbutted her.

On Wednesday, things got worse.

"He kicked me in the gut and knocked me backwards out of nowhere. I asked him why he did that. I threw the phone. I went to leave the room. He grabbed me by my neck  and threw me onto the bed and was strangling me. He got on top of me and was punching me in the head. I grabbed the pillow and stuck [it] in front of my face. I was pinching him to stop. He grabbed me again. He bit me by my wrist. He stuck his finger in my eye sockets and was pushing hard. I kept trying to scream for help. He was still trying to strangle me. I somehow got away from him. I went downstairs and grabbed my keys ... ."

On Thursday, she contacted police, who filed charges against Gregory. On Friday evening, police told Gregory not to contact her. But he has ignored that advice, attempting to contact her over 100 times since his conversation with police. He also told his girlfriend's mother to bring her to the magistrate's office to drop the charges.

He's grown increasingly more angry, and has begun sending text messages telling her he will destroy her and ruin her in any way he can.

He has also, according to the sworn affidavit, impersonated his girlfriend in blog comments here.

Gregory's girlfriend first tried to seek a PFA Order on Friday afternoon, but was told she'd have to wait until Monday to file, or seek an emergency order from a Magistrate through the Bethlehem police. She tried contacting Bethlehem police. An officer who is friendly with Gregory, himself a former police officer, tried to talk her out of it, according to the mother.

Gregory is former President of Bethlehem City Council and works with mentally ill people for Northampton County. In recent weeks, he has called for the removal of virtually every supervisor in his department, as well as Executive John Stoffa.

According to his girlfriend's sworn statement, "He is manic and is having a breakdown."

Donchez is the Better of Two Good Candidates For Bethlehem

Public safety is the core of Bob Donchez' campaign
As an outsider, the Bethlehem Mayoral race really surprised me. Willie Reynolds is an excellent candidate who has worked his ass off in this campaign, knocking on thousands of doors and energizing a group of enthusiastic volunteers. He is a leader. He deserves to be Mayor. Just not yet.

As much as I like Willie, I like Bob Donchez even more. You would not know it from his campaign, which was unnecessarily negative. But in every other way, he symbolizes everything that is right about the Christmas City. On Council, and while governing, he has been a consummate gentleman who looks for the good in other people. I like his strong emphasis on public safety, which in my opinion, should always be a Mayor's first priority. I also appreciate his realistic understanding of City finances. Even Mayor Callahan has stated that Bethlehem still faces a few tough years, thanks primarily to a massive pension payment and growing health costs. Bethlehem may be in the middle of an "economic renaissance," as Willie insists, but its financial situation is still precarious.

Willie has matured and has grown more and more independent during his time on City Council. But I question whether he has the same commitment to public safety as Bob. He also appears to pander, or put more kindly, is taking his case to certain special interest groups. He refused to vote for a much-needed tax hike. He reached out to the LGBT community in a news conference, not because it is a particularly burning City issue, but because the gay community votes and, more importantly, give lots of money to favored candidates. Part of Willie's Winning Our Neighborhood program is an appeal to the anti-fracking element. Though that issue is only remotely connected to Bethlehem, it will attract environmentalists, who also vote and make contributions.

Willie is certainly in better touch with the young urbanista and twitterati than Bob. But Bob has the rest of Bethlehem wrapped up. I do think Reynolds represents Bethlehem's future.

NorCo Centralized Human Service Construction Begins

Raymond Greene, former VA Director
On May 17, before a crowd of about seventy people, Northampton County officially broke ground on a new centralized human services building at 2801 Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township. This project was approved by a 8-1 County Council vote in February, as a 15-year lease for a 3-story, 66,375 sq ft building on 5.36 acres, with 256 parking places, at a cost of about a million dollars a year in rent. After five years, the County will have an option to buy the property.

Polaris Properties, which owns the tract, expects to have the steel by July, and to complete construction by next March. Polaris has agreed to pay prevailing wages for the construction, which means this would be a union job.

CYF caseworkers ready to build it themselves
Stoffa has previously called a centralized human services building a "golden opportunity to do something terrific" for the 18,000 people who use the County's human services at two different buildings

The Governor Wolf Building, located at 45 N 2d St in Easton, is a 52,171 sq ft schoolhouse, built in 1893. Purchased by the County in 1986 for $912,000, it is home to 173 human services workers. It needs $3.3 million in capital repairs and improvements over the next 5-10 years. Employees who work there complained about caving ceilings and lead paint exposure.

Ken Kraft looks for a union shovel
The Martin J. Bechtel Building, located at 520 E Broad Street in Bethlehem, is a 28,000 sq ft facility, built in 1962. Purchased by the County in 1993 for $763,000, it houses 70 human services workers. It needs $1 million in capital improvements and repairs over the next 5-10 years.

These building are now on the market, with an anticipated $2.8 million in proceeds, which will be used for improvements at the new Bethlehem Township facility.

Kathleen Dilts, a CYF caseworker who felt strongly about the project, picked Stoffa up when he despaired that it would ever happen. On her own, she and another CYF caseworker prepared a slide presentation that depicted the grisly conditions at the Governor Wolf Building, where one of the worries was making sure that children on supervised visitation were not exposed to lead paint chips. When they presented their findings to Council, most of the opposition vanished.

Sheriff's Honor Guard handles the colors
At Friday's groundbreaking, Dilts spoke for the caseworkers. (See video here). "We're so excited that we're finally going to get this new building where, not only the caseworkers can come and feel safe, but all of our clients can get all of the services they so desperately need, in location; which I think is key, for most of our clients have a number of difficulties."

Stoffa (see video here) called the building a commitment to 18,000 Northampton County residents "who did not choose to get a mental illness; citizens who did not plan on being born with an intellectual disability; persons who never expected to become addicted to drugs or alcohol; children who did not ask to be sexually abused or physically harmed by their caretakers; and all of us who are aging, one day at a time, to the point that someday we will need someone to help us dress or eat.

Despite a bad cold, Peg Ferraro grabbed a shovel
"It will be a new place for our veterans, without having to labor up a hill, to get into a building.

"To me, this building was always about clients and families. It should never be named after a person. It belongs to the people of Northampton County - a decent building where people are accepted, valued and helped in their path through life.

"So often in the past, the places in the country where the services are provided in this building, have been provided in places that are shabby, old and neglected. I'm so glad that today we dedicate a brand new building to these services where one phone call and one building will get you the services that you need."

Critics of the project predicted that Bethlehem Township officials would throw up all kinds of roadblocks. But Township Manager Howard Kutzler, along with Commissioners Paul Weiss and Marty Zawarski, attended the groundbreaking. Weiss (see video here) pledged to make the process "as smooth and seamless as possible. ... I think we're all looking forward to you'all being our neighbors. We look forward to that."
Peg Ferraro, Ken Kraft and Barb Theirry, who voted to sue Stoffa the night before, have suddenly disappeared. 

Sheriff Randy Miller and Corrections Director Arnie Matos have a friendly rivalry  about their respective color guards. Matos notes that Miller has no bagpipe or singer. "What we lack in quantity, we make up for in quality," insists the Sheriff.