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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, September 30, 2013

Seth Vaughn Has 0% Attendance at LVPC

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, formed in 1961, is our regional planning body.  It has studied light rail, passenger rail and widening Route 22. It reviews every plan proposed in the Lehigh Valley, mostly in an advisory capacity. For some smaller municipalities, it is the Planning Commission. So it's no surprise that NorCo Council candidate Seth Vaughn would tout his membership, calling himself  "an active member." But according to the minutes of the LVPC's monthly meetings, he has yet to attend a meeting.

That's a strange way to be active.

In addition to the online minutes for January through August, he also missed September's meeting.

In my questionnaire to County Council candidates, one question focuses on the important of attendance. I've always believed that showing up is half the battle. I thought Seth agreed. Here's what he said.
I feel that if someone chooses to seek public office and is successful at achieving that office, has an obligation to serve the public as best they can. It’s an embarrassment when a public official skips committee meetings and does not show up for work all the while collecting money from the public to work for them. What’s worse is the public which is primarily uninformed regarding local politics trusts these individuals to do the right thing and show up for work and assumes they are even if they aren't.
Vaughn pleads guilty. "I will be the first to admit my attendance has been abysmal for the planning commission," he admits candidly, acknowledging it is "an issue for voters to consider." According to Vaughn, a "perfect storm" of unusual circumstances has kept him away. "I read all communications and minutes sent to me from the commission," he tells me.

And he'll be there in October.

The storm must be over.

Dent, Cartwright on Looming Government Shutdown

Ever deal with a little boy who decides he's going to hold his breath until he gets what he wants? The tea party faction in the U.S. House reminds me of that, except they're threatening to suffocate us all unless they get their way.

Because Congress and the President have been unable to adopt real budgets for the past several years, they've been funding government operations through what is called a "Continuing Resolution." That alone should be a signal that something is wrong. Very wrong. The most recently adopted continuing resolution dies today.

The House voted yesterday to add two amendments to a continuing resolution that will keep the government going past the witching hour.

The first of these imposes a one-year delay on the implementation of Obamacare, and passed by a vote of 231-192. The second, a repeal of the medical device tax, passed 248-174. Finally, the House unanimously agreed that, in the event of a government shutdown, the military must still be paid.

The one-year delay on Obamacare and repeal of the medical device tax were supported by all Republicans in Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation, and opposed by all Democrats.

The Senate will pick up these amendments sometime today as the brinksmanship continues.

No hurry.

LV Congressman Charlie Dent expects the Senate to reject the language delaying Obamacare, and that seems to be fine with him because he is not among those Republicans who likes to hold his breath.

He explains:

"I oppose shutting down the government. I am also deeply concerned about the impending implementation of the Health Care Law – Obamacare – with exchange enrollment beginning on Tuesday. The House recently attempted to defund Obamacare. While I oppose the Health Care Law, I had concerns about the defunding tactic, but wanted to get a government funding bill (Continuing Resolution) to the Senate for action. The Senate then acted, as was expected, and voted to strike the defunding provision.

"While a more substantial delay of the Health Care Law is needed, and several major provisions have already been delayed administratively, I expect the Senate to reject the delay language in the House Bill. It is worth noting however, that Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia recently expressed some support for a delay.

"It will be much harder for the Senate to reject the repeal of the Medical Device Tax. In March, as part of a non-binding budget resolution, 45 Republicans, 33 Democrats and Independent Senator Angus King (ME) voted to repeal this job-killing, innovation stifling boondoggle. The bipartisan measure passed the Senate overwhelmingly 79 to 20. Repealing the medical device tax also received broad bipartisan support in the House which previously passed a repeal bill by 270-146 with 37 Democratic Representatives supporting the measure.

"On Thursday, Senator Harry Reid called the Medical Device Tax “stupid.” I agree. The Medical Device Tax is stupid – and destructive. The Senate should seize this opportunity for a win-win. They can vote to stop a government shutdown while also preventing the loss of tens of thousands of good-paying jobs for workers across the country.

"By voting for this new Continuing Resolution, which does not contain the defunding provision, the House has offered a reasonable path to a timely resolution to the current impasse. The Senate must now act to avert a government shutdown.

"Like most Americans, I wish to end the current stalemate so Congress can get on with other important work that the American People expect."

According to The Morning Call, Dent is pressuring House leadership to just pass a no-strings-attached spending bill. He claims the votes are there, too.

In an interview on MSNBC, the Lehigh Valley's other Congressman, Matt Cartwright, called the process "aggravating. We're here on a weekend. We're not learning anything new. We're here because a certain faction of the Republican conference are throwing a temper tantrum because they didn't get their way. ... At some point, you've got to stop arguing and realize it's time to move on."

Will NorCo Council Candidates Debate?

The Express Times and Northampton Community College have teamed up to host a County Executive debate, though I don't know when it will happen. But what Northampton County Council? College officials are working on a possible debate, but there are ten candidates. No more than three or four questions could be asked, assuming all ten could appear.

I do think it is important. It's not that five candidates will suddenly rise to the top. But a bad candidate will certainly be obvious.

Feinberg Leaving Lehigh County ... For Her Husband

Lehigh County's Director of Community and Economic Development, Cindy Feinberg, is leaving. Starting today, she and husband Gregg are opening up shop as Feinberg Real Estate Advisors, LLC. Their offices will be located at 1390 Ridgeview Drive, Suite 301, Allentown, PA 19104. They can be reached at 610-709-6233 or info@feinbergrea.com.

In a news release, the Feibnbergs describe their company as "a commercial real estate brokerage firm specializing in commercial and industrial brokerage, investment sales, development counseling, government relations, real estate law, real estate closings and real estate title insurance. Feinberg Real Estate Advisors, LLC (FREA) offers a unique value proposition in the commercial real estate (CRE) brokerage industry. They call it 'From Contact to Closing'."

“We have a passion for commercial real estate projects. So, now we’re asking Lehigh Valley investors, businesses and tenants to let our obsession translate into helping others be successful with their projects,” said Ms. Feinberg.

Cindy tells me she never planned on staying in government beyond eight years. "I’m very proud of my team and our accomplishments," she states.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Celtic Classic Infects Becahi Liberty Football Rivalry

This unidentified Bethlehem police officer, who insists he really was trying to smile, is technically out of uniform. But nobody challenged him at the Becahi-Liberty game.

Sean Barry, Aileen Meier, Matt McGrath, Danny McGrath, Erin McGrath and Tom Stapleton, of Ling Island's Róisín Dubh (Black Rose) pipe band, enjoy a playground at Sand Island. "We love it here," said Erin. Shane Stapleton, age 12, is out of uniform.

Theo's gyrons, Italian sausage and Pennsylvania Dutch funnel cakes are standard fare at the Celtic Classic

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Former Bank Prez Charged in $10 Million Ponzi Scheme

Richard A Freer is in Northampton County jail under $10 million bail 
At one time, he was President of Lafayette Bank. But Richard A. Freer, age 67, is now in jail. He's charged as the mastermind behind a $10 million Ponzi scheme that defrauded 81 local, and mostly older, Lehigh Valley residents of $10 million over the past four years. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli announced the charges on Friday morning after Freer was arrested at his Palmer Township home. Based on a Grand Jury Presentment, Freer has been charged with 90 counts of theft by deception and theft by failure to make the required disposition of funds; forgery (50 counts); deceptive or fraudulent business practices (42 counts); failure to register under the Pennsylvania Securities Act (1 count); and sales and purchases in violation of the Pennsylvania  Securities Act (1 count). "He deserves to die in prison," said Morganelli. "I hope he has a long life because it's going to be spent in jail."

ADA Bill Blake handles white collar crime
Ironically, Freer succeeded James P Greer as president of Lafayette Bank when Greer was convicted of tax evasion in 1987. According to the Presentment, Freer was forced to resign his position as President in 1991. Public records reveal that he was plagued by financial problems after he left Lafayette Bank, with numerous judgments filed against him. He sold his property, after which he and wife Beverly rented a home on Tatamy Road.

There is no evidence that Freer or his wife lived a lavish lifestyle, or had a drug or gambling dependency, according to Assistant DA Bill Blake, who is also handling this prosecution.

According to the Presentment, Freer bounced from job to jab after his departure from Lafayette Bank until 2002, when AVIVA Insurance hired him. From their Bethlehem offices, Freer began offering high yield investments to customers who agreed to invest their money with him privately. He promised to place their money in a real estate investment trust or with his employer. But he instead deposited the money into his personal checking and savings accounts.

In addition to his work with AVIVA, authorities claim that Freer carried on his Ponzi scheme through Financial Services Group, Richard A Freer and Associates and Limerick Properties, LLC. But he never registered these businesses with the Department of State, as required by law. Nor has he ever registered as a broker-dealer, agent or investment adviser. In fact, he failed the examination for mutual fund and variable annuity salesmen on four separate occasions.

Freer operated by referral, visiting people at their homes. Though he did sub-let office space at 65 E. Elizabeth Avenue in Bethlehem, he had no working phone or computer. His office consisted of a desk, television and filing cabinet.

Jane Morris Annuity Led to Investigation

Morganelli began this investigation based on concerns raised by Bethlehem Attorney Nicholas E. Englesson and William Koscinski, an Allentown Certified Public Accountant. Their client, Hanover Township resident Jane Morris, age 80, had signed over an annuity to Freer worth $48,000. She invested an additional $106,000 with Freer based on his assurances that she would double her income. But last November, Morris began receiving notifications from the IRS that she owed $15,000 in taxes for prematurely cashing out the annuity. Koscinski contacted Freer, and later received a telephone message that "all necessary information was sent to the IRS and you should not contact Mr. Freer or Mrs. Morris regarding this issue any further."

Koscinski then learned that Freer had provided nothing to the IRS and that the income tax issue remained unresolved. As he continued pressing the issue, Freer ultimately paid the $15,000 in income tax from his own account. But by this time, Morris had entrusted Freer with over $400,000.

Based on this information, Morganelli began a Grand Jury investigation.

Ted and Lois Walters

According to the Grand Jury Presentment, Easton residents Ted (age 64) and Lois (age 63) Walters invested over $600,000 with Freer, beginning in 2004. He deposited this money in his personal account. When they asked for monthly annuity payments, he provided them with $5,000 per month. They also invested $10,000 with Freer as a deposit on a vacation home in Delaware. He told them their mortgage was denied, but they subsequently learned from the owners of the vacation home that there had never even been an agreement of sale. The Walters asked Freer to transfer their money to another investment broker, but he provided nothing but excuses.

The Gencarelli Family

At least ten members of this family, located in Bethlehem and Easton, entrusted  $1,450,000 to Freer for trusts that would enable their children to attend college. Freer told them he ran a big business with 19 employees, an attorney and his accountant. He promised to set up annuities with AVIVA, but instead deposited their money into his personal account. He used the money for personal expenses and to make payments to other victims of his Ponzi scheme.

The Steads

Kenneth (age 83) and Shirley (age 77) invested over $630,000 with Freer, starting in 2006. He cashed out their life insurance policies and an IRA, which went into his own personal account. Their money is gone.

Freer Claims He Has Special Investors

Detective Gerald Walsh executed a search warrant at Freer's home on May 29. At that time, Freer told Walsh he finds "special investors" for his clients, with a guaranteed  5-11%  rate of return. He acknowledged that most of his clients are between 55-75 years old. He told Walsh that his files were at his Bethlehem office, but Walsh found 82 files in an upstairs bedroom. According to Walsh, they reveal a "significant fraud" against numerous people, totaling $10 million. There were no documents indicating Freer had invested the money with legitimate investment firms or "special investors."

Freer Continues Fraud After Accounts Frozen

During the course of the investigation, Freer's bank accounts were identified and frozen in July. Freer opened up a new checking account and took $189,000 from an elderly couple. He made out a cashier's check to himself for $20,000 and used other money to make payments to some of his victims.

Morganelli Outraged

Calling this "one of the most outrageous cases I've ever seen of theft," Morganelli condemned Freer's "despicable conduct". His office is looking for additional victims. "I gotta' believe there's more people out there," stated Assistant DA Bill Blake. "Hopefully, they'll reach out as time goes on."

"We're not done yet," added Morganelli.

Northampton County Politics or South Park?

My Friday report of the latest free-for-all among Northampton County Republicans has led to a lot of name-calling and the usual anonymous, personal attacks aimed at me. It's what I've grown to expect from the tea party extremists.

Here's what a Democratic friend told me in an email last night. "Back from a couple days in [redacted] to discover police were called to quell a disturbance at a Republican party meeting caused by a gay, right wing tea party activist. Is this Northampton politics, or an episode of South Park?

Friday, September 27, 2013

NorCo GOP Meeting Ends With Call to 9-1-1

"Don't spit on me."
Republicans met last night at the Chrin Center, apparently because Ronnie DelBacco wants committee members to undergo some sort of a litmus test to make sure they're conservative enough. But that nifty little idea was never discussed because the meeting ended in chaos as tea party members got ugly ... again.

Obviously, this was a private meeting, so this account is based on discussions with three people who were there.

At some point during the meeting, tea-party Tony Simao, began blowing oil. As he bubbled over, so did his boyfriend, Tom Carroll. And with those two in a tizzy, Andy (the Jesus Clown) Azan began bubbling over as well. They crossed from the tea-party side of the room and confronted Vice Chair Lee Snover. Simao grabbed her arm, was screaming and spitting all over her. Calling her a bigot, he claimed he was investigating her for posting homophobic comments on this blog. In a blatant lie, he yelled that he could determine the IPs and ISPs of comments posted here.

Someone called 9-1-1, and they all took off.

Party organizations exist to elect members of that party. But all too often, they deteriorate into little more than sewing circles that act against their own interests.

This is one such occasion.

Simao can't blame this on Ron Angle, either. He's still recovering from some serious surgery and skipped the meeting.

Tony is an openly gay guy who once posted pictures of his penis on the Internet. Kinda' like a Gay Anthony Wiener. Unfortunately, this all came to light during his City Council race.I defended him at the time because I thought that was his own business. Democrats said he used poor judgment. I agree, but think their real motive was to show he was gay.

Ever since this happened, he's become a bitter man.

Being gay does not excuse being an asshole. You don't grab women. You don't spit on them, either, especially when you're gay.

While the Simao crowd might think they are purifying the Republican Party, they are ruining it.

Lehigh County's Crumbling Bridges Blamed on GOP Comm'rs

Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky has derided bridge repairs, part of what a county government does, as "political patter." So earlier this year, he was quite pleased to report that the Reading Road bridge, an old stone arch bridge, had been "saved" by Commissioners. They balked at the cost of replacing a bridge that had some aesthetic value. PennDOT reacted by ordering the bridge closed. At a news conference yesterday, Republicans were tagged with failing to address the County's crumbling infrastructure.

This news conference was in the middle of the day, making it impossible for me to be there. But I have statements from Democratic candidates running for Lehigh County Commissioner, along with remarks by Executive candidate Tom Muller. I will reach out to get reactions from the GOP, but want you to know what the Democrats say.

Tom Muller:  “We cannot afford to have a County Executive who does nothing when faced with failing bridges. ...  When businesses refuse to make critical investments they fail. Failure is not an option when it comes to bridges. ... I wish we could be standing here right now doing a ribbon cutting. Instead, PennDot is preparing ‘Bridge Closed’ and detour signs.”

Bill Leiner:   “Tom Creighton has a terrible record when it comes to ensuring safe bridges in Lehigh County. ... During my previous term as County Commissioner, Lehigh County established a reputation for sound and effective investment to ensure that our bridges were safe. ... Not only did Tom Creighton fail Lehigh County by neglecting the Reading Road Bridge, he failed the residents of his district by neglecting to take action on the Bittner’s Bridge in Lowhill Township. ... Lehigh County cannot afford four more years of Tom Creighton.”  Leiner pointed to Creighton’s March 14, 2012 vote against funding and subsequent non action on June 27, 2012 as evidence of Creighton’s record of neglect.

Wesley Barrett:  "What we need is a commissioner who is able to balance the interest of the people with the need to make smart decisions. Not someone with a political agenda out to score a few votes. ... Lehigh County should not be in the business of closing bridges. Now, because of this mismanagement, Lehigh County residents face not only more congested roads but have compromised the safety of our residents and specifically the families of the elementary school one block down the street. The role of government is not to play politics to win votes - it's to protect the people you server - even when that decision is challenging and sometime unpopular."

Susan Wild:  "We cannot wait until a bridge has been closed by PennDot—or worse yet, collapse—to fix our bridges. ... Lehigh County residents and business owners count on the Commissioners to maintain our bridges. My opponent cannot seem to be convinced. ... Engineering reports, warnings from county lawyers, warnings from the Director of General Services and architects calling for structural evaluations could not get Percy Dougherty to act on the Reading Road Bridge. ... It is really unfortunate that PennDot had to step in and decide to close the bridge before Percy Dougherty could even be convinced of the need for funding.”

Geoff Brace:  “In local government, there should not be a Republican way or a Democratic way to maintain bridges. ... Unfortunately, since the last election, it appears that the Republicans way to maintain bridges in Lehigh County is simply to ignore the bridges while they deteriorate. We need to return to the Lehigh County way, which is smart, strategic and responsible. ... Do not be fooled by the claim that commissioners were trying to save the bridge from demolition in an attempt to preserve the historic landmark. ... Commissioners have had since March 2012 to craft a plan that would repair the bridge to ensure its adequate preservation. They sat silently and did not act.”

Blogger's Note: Excellent photos of the bridge are on Molovinsky's blog.

LV Building Trade Unions Pick Hunter Over O'Donnell

Last week, the LV Labor Council made their election picks in contested local races. Now the Greater LV Building and Construction Trades Council have chimed in with their own endorsements. The LV Labor Council went with Tom O'Donnell is the NorCo Council race. But the trade unions like Deb Hunter.

O'Donnell is, quite simply, a terrible candidate. Don't believe me? Check out this video, taped during the primary race. He irresponsibly accuses Gracedale's Administrator of a conflict of interest. After lobbing that grenade, he complains about open space and accuses Executive John Stoffa of "bias", citing no specifics.

As a state employee, O'Donnell was fired in 1988 when it was discovered he was doing Township business as an elected Supervisor while on the clock for the state. Of course, he used his public sector union to file a grievance, though it's unclear whether he ever got his job back.

He's a nut. But for reasons known only to the LV Labor Council, he was picked over numerous other candidates who still have brains. Some have suggested that Lamont McClure and Charles Dertinger are pushing O'Donnell because they can control this guy. I don't know.

But the trades unions, who are private sector unions, have a bit more on the ball. They went with a candidate, Deb Hunter, who just negotiated two union contracts and can think for herself.

Northampton County Exec:  John Callahan

Northampton County Council:

Peg Ferraro
Ron Heckman
Jerry Seyfried
Deb Hunter
Christen Borso

Bethlehem Mayor:  Bob Donchez

Bethlehem City Council:  Bryan Callahan

Allentown Mayor:  Ed Pawlowski

Allentown City Council:

Darryl Hendricks
Joe Davis

Easton City Council: James Eddinger

Lehigh County Exec: Tom Muller

Lehigh County Commissioners:

Susan Wild
Geoff Brace
David Jones
Wes Barrett

Donovan Won't Take King Edwin's BM

In a 700-page news release replete with the Royal "We," Allentown Mayoral Council candidate Michael Donovan says thanks, but no thanks, to a BM with incumbent Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Edwin Pawlowski. Donovan claims to have lots of respect for Business Matters, a local TV show hosted by Tony Iannelli. But he insists the debate must be more open to everyone.

I'm sure that can be arranged, Michael. But that's not the real problem. What's really wrong with this idea is that Tony Iannelli is in the tank for King Edwin. There's no frickin' way that Donovan would get a fair shot. TI regularly contributes to Pawlowski's campaign and even washes his car once a week. Tony would ask hard-hitting questions like, "Why can't you run for four or five offices simultaneously?" or "Have you ever considered Hollywood?"

The reality is that Hizzoner doesn't really want to debate Donovan. And why should he? The only people who count in Allentown are investors like J.B. Reilly, and he doesn't even live there.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


What can I say that the Batman has not?

Would You Buy a Used Car From This City Council Candidate?

Chris Morales smiles while zoners deliberate
Bethlehem City Council candidate Chris Morales, whose Easy Weenies stands have made him famous, is about more than just hot dogs. Just 26 year old, he's running for office. He also sells used BMWs. But on September 25, his sales pitch fell short with the  Zoning Hearing Board. By a 4-0 vote, with Jim Schantz abstaining, Morales' request for a used car lot in a residential district at 1029 E. Third Street, was denied. .

The City's Zoning Ordinance designates the 3rd St property as residential. But Morales told zoners that, until recently, the now vacant property was once part of a contracting business. County records still list and tax it that way. So Morales proposed a small office trailer at the site, where he would keep between 5-10 high-end used cars. It would be an improvement over current conditions, he explained, noting that "the weeds look like trees" and that "people tend to use it as a dumping site."

He told zoners he would store the cars openly. "I have faith in the neighborhood," he explained. "I've seen a lot of people coming into the neighborhood, driving out the riff raff." He indicated he has a used car license in Schuylkill County, which he would transfer here. "I'm trying to bring some sort of light in the neighborhood," he explained.

Asked about the Greenway behind the proposed car lot, Morales assured zoners that no one would notice his business.

Benjamin Bracero, who lives in an adjacent property, complained that the property has already been used to store vehicles. This attracted vermin, from feral cats to rats.

"I can assure you none of my vehicles will bring rats," responded Morales.

Bracero also said that Morales was evasive when asked about his plans. Morales acknowledged he was reluctant to disclose business plans.

Morales left right after the hearing, so it's unclear whether he plans to appeal. Three other appeals heard by zoners at their September 25 meeting were successful.

Applied Motion Technologies was unanimously granted dimensional variances for a parking lot at 629 Linden Street. This is for students at a school for industrial hydraulics training. They are currently being shuttled to the school, located adjacent to the proposed lot. Under questioning by Attorney Jim Preston, Engineer Jim Milot provided expert testimony concerning the safety of the proposed plan.

Dr. Timothy Lang, whose family dentistry practice at 928 Linden Street has been a Bethlehem institution since the '50s, was unanimously granted use and dimensional variances that will permit him to subdivide his property, with a dental office on one lot and a residence on the second. This property is a nonconforming lot, meaning that it was being used in this fashion before a zoning ordinance was ever adopted. But Attorney Jim Holziner, representing Dr.Lang, told zoners this subdivision would make it easier to market the property when Dr. Lang decides to retire.  Holzinger added that it would be beneficial to the City as well.  "If they change the use, they would have to come back," he argued.

Finally, zoners unanimously agreed to allow Brian and Melissa Lynn to build a single family home on a vacant lot in an approved subdivision at 421 N. Pine Top Place. Though Lynn's plans deviate slightly from the steep slope ordinance, the lot was in place before the ordinance and plans are consistent with other properties in the area.

During the hearings, one person left after realizing his matter haa been continued until next month. As he tried to exit the hearing room, zoner Bill Fitzpatrick wisecracked, "You've been thrown out of better places than this."

Glenn Geissinger on Northampton County Issues

Glenn and family
As night follows the day, so Glenn Geissinger follows Mat Benol. Or maybe it's the other way around. But no matter who is following whom, I see the two of them together at numerous events. This includes County Council meetings. It even includes committee meetings. I understand they are both attending the Citizens' Academy, too, as Christen Borso and Deb Hunter did last year.

Glenn, a Republican endorsed by both LV Congressman Charlie Dent and Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle, is one of ten candidates seeking five at-large seats on Northampton County Council. After twenty years in the business world, this is his first stab at public office.

Some readers worry that Glenn and Mat are extremists. But their answers to the questionnaire reveal that they are thinking, reasonable people, willing to listen to others. Aside from his gun answer, I find myself more or less in agreement with him.

Below are Glenn's answers. I thank him for taking the time to respond. Because some people have been hostile to candidates, I will not permit any commentary with these questionnaires.

By way of full disclosure, I have already decided tentatively that I am supporting Jerry Seyfried, Ron Heckman, Deb Hunter and Peg Ferraro.

1. Lehigh County Commissioners and Bethlehem City council have both toyed with the idea of rejecting pass through grants based on objections to the federal deficit, money owed to China and antipathy to charter schools. Would you reject pass through grants?

Pass through grants are by definition “passing through”. While moral objections can be raised, and rightfully so, for rejecting them, it does not seem feasible to me to currently remove that funding “en masse” from the county.

2. Most of Council's work is done at its busy Personnel and Finance Committees, at which every member of Council is encouraged to attend. How do you feel about participation at Council Committee meetings? Will you attend?

I feel that participation at the committee meetings is part of holding the office. I will definitely attend as often as possible. I recently attended this specific meeting and found that the open debate and searching inquiry into the issues by the council members present was essential to their being properly informed prior to their voting on those items the following night.

3. One candidate has rejected the concept of regionalism as one big mess that is harder to manage than a group of smaller messes. Do you support or oppose regionalism, and what regional projects would you endorse on Council?

I support regionalization where it makes for better services and less bureaucracy. It is a fiscal reality that certain functions are better done on a regional scale instead of independent municipalities and/or counties going it alone. Northampton County needs to ensure that its interests are protected in any kind of regional authority it may authorize and local municipalities must do the same. These regional bodies must always be able to be reined in by the taxpayers. The recent activities at the airport authority are an example of how safeguards need to be in place for the “local” governing body to maintain its interests in a “regional” project.

4. During the Executive primary, one candidate made a no-tax hike pledge. Do you think it is responsible to make no tax-hike pledges? If so, are you willing to make one?

“Read my lips, no new taxes” is a great sound bite for campaign commercials but not always realistic governance. Raising taxes or laying-off workers should always be the measure of last resort by those that govern. I believe that we should first exhaust ways to reduce government waste and inefficiencies before looking to burden the citizenry. The burden that federal, state, school, property, and other taxes place on many of our citizens are crushing. We can increase revenues, in certain places, like Gracedale, where expanded services, such as the physical rehab that is being opened, can improve revenues and services to our citizens, without increasing their tax burden. Let’s look for ways to improve what government does for the county not increase what the government takes from its people.

5. In a 2011 plebiscite, voters told Council not to sell Gracedale for 5 years. The annual County contribution is currently in the $5-7 million range, so voters effectively voted for that contribution. But what if it grows? Is there a red line at which you would agree it is necessary to sell Gracedale?

My various trips to Gracedale over the last few months have included meeting with the director, meeting residents, sitting in on the advisory council meeting, and speaking with individuals who have family and friends residing at Gracedale. It is the consensus of all parties involved that Gracedale can provide high quality care for its patients and residents and be fiscally viable. Now that there is professional management of the facility and specific plans are in place to increase revenues and hold expenses in check, I do not see that Gracedale will not eventually eliminate or at least greatly reduce its operating deficit. If elected, I would ask that an analysis of Gracedale’s financial health be done on an accrual accounting basis versus the cash accounting basis it operates under. I believe that by properly recognizing the accounts receivable and other items “washed out” when doing cash basis accounting, the citizens of Northampton County would have a much more realistic picture of Gracedale’s financial health.

6. In 2007, County Council voted to set aside 1/2 mill of real estate tax (about $3.5 million) for a pay-as-you go open space plan for preserving farmland, environmentally sensitive land and municipal parks. On Council, will you vote to continue funding open space? Do you consider this a core county function?

If elected, I would continue to support this program and its funding. While it is not a “core” function by definition, it is a successful program that has benefited all residents and, I believe, has overwhelming support amongst the electorate.

7. There are 11 unions county-wide. What efforts would you make, as a member of council, to encourage unions to consolidate and reduce the amount of time administrators and unions must spend in contract negotiations?

If such a discussion were initiated during my term on council, I would objectively listen to any discussions posed by the unions and administrators.

8. What is your position on laying off County workers? Would you support layoffs to balance the budget, or vote to increase taxes to provide the same level of services?

As I stated to the Labor Council, I believe that tax-hikes and layoffs are the “quick fix” of the political arena. I would ALWAYS examine the efficiencies of the specific operation before supporting any measure that would either raise taxes or lay-off workers. My service in government, as a military officer, gave me first-hand experience with government inefficiencies. This is why I applaud the efforts at Gracedale so much. It is the administration working to improve revenues and maintain expenses while labor and the administration are continually striving to improve operations and provide the highest level of patient care.

9. Northampton County, like Lehigh, has privatized the management of Gracedale. But there are those who would like to return administration to the County. Where do you stand on this issue?

As stated earlier, I believe the current system is functioning well and improving the quality of care, the physical facility, and the financial operations of Gracedale. I see no reason, at this time, to change that.

10. Some Council members would like to amend the Home Rule Charter to return to elected row officers. How do you feel about this proposal?

I do not see any reason to adjust the current system. If the people of Northampton County were overwhelmingly in support of some change, I would consider it at that time.

11. Would you support a ban on guns by people using any County facilities, even off the courthouse campus, like at the new centralized Human Services Building?

I would only support such a measure if the facility were properly secured and staffed by armed deputies, as is the case at the courthouse. History shows that law abiding citizens, properly trained and armed, are a far better crime prevention measure than gun-free zones.

12. Will you support or reject a County Property Tax Reassessment?

Given the costs of doing a reassessment and the possible negative effect it would have on our senior population, I am not currently in favor of doing a reassessment.

13. Would you support the proposition that the Prothonotary, Clerk of Criminal Court, Clerk of Orphans Court and Register of Wills should be transferred under the Administration of the Courts instead of the County Executive (through the Director of Court Services) much like the higher courts currently administer its own clerks?

I am no expert on the daily operations of these offices or the impact such a move would have on the efficiencies of these operations, having said that, I believe that this question has been raised by some to either eliminate employee benefits or simply shuffle costs away from the county. I would have to educate myself more fully on the total impact to the workings of these offices and the impact on the employees before taking a position on this issue.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How to Abuse a Good Law

Pennsylvania's relatively new Right-to-Know Law has opened the doors to what has too often been a closed government. Not only does the law create a presumption that all government records are public, but it establishes a statewide Office of Open Records for speedy appeals by those who think they've been unfairly denied access. This new law has undeniably been useful to reporters and bloggers interested in casting a public spotlight on what is happening. But at least one citizen is using it as a tool to harass smaller governments. The law provides no remedy for vindictive requests.

Local governments may feel annoyed, but there have been relatively few appeals in Northampton County (14), Lehigh County (23), Allentown (38), Bethlehem (34) and Easton (10).

But tiny West Easton Borough, whose 2010 census was just 1,257 people, has handled 40 open records appeals, more than Allentown.

Reason? Tricia Mezzacappa. The Gladys Kravitz of West Easton, she has filed 39 Right-to-Know appeals under her own name. She filed another as "Concerned Citizens of West Easton," using her mother's address.

You could say this must mean that West Easton is a closed government that likes to operate in secret. But if that were so, wouldn't there be other appeals by other people?

Mezzacappa has won just four of these appeals.

When a small government like that is tied up with so many appeals, it is hard to imagine it has time for anything else, including government.

According to Mezzacappa herself, she was ejected from Monday night's West Easton Borough Council meeting by Easton police. "And dragged she was...physically abused, and accused of drinking in public (laugh), and threatened with a disorderly conduct charge, [and] tossed out of the meeting by Officer Siegfried of EPD."

In a mass email to West Easton Borough Solicitor Christine Schlottman, Mezzacappa warns, "Congratulations, you have successfully added more fuel to the fire. I will now be returning to each and every meeting, camera ready, and will be recording, as you stand by and allow my government through you, to violate my constitutional rights. I have known many lawyers who will do anything for a buck, but you take the cake. What a disgrace."

In a letter to The Express Times, in which she basically defends the Ross Township massacre by a crazed gunman angry at Township officials, Mezzacappa hints at her own situation. "West Easton seems to mirror the exact predicament of Newell in Ross Township. I thank the Lord that I have had the patience to continue putting up with this tyranny."

It is nuts like Mezzacappa that give nuts like me a bad name. Her abuse of the Right-to-Know Law is just what state legislators need to close those doors shut.

Cedarbrook's Woes By No Means Unique

Unions and Mayor Callahan supported Gracedale
County-owned nursing homes like Gracedale are viewed with reverence by most locals. Few among us have not sent a loved one there. At one time, it was the home of last resort for those without means. At one time, fifty of Pennsylvania's sixty-seven counties owned and operated nursing homes. Originally "poor houses," they morphed into homes for seniors with little or no means, and who had no place else to go.

But times change. These days, public nursing homes get plenty of competition from the private sector, who can care for people without the high labor costs. Private home also get a higher medical assistance reimbursement rate. So they can flourish while public homes flounder.

This week, Gracedale re-opened a wing for its growing census, which is hovering around 650. Things are looking up. But it still burned through its $3.6 million annual subsidy in just six months, despite major concessions from the union. Whether that changes in the second half of the year should be known soon.

While Gracedale's financial picture is still murky, The Morning Call reports that Lehigh County nursing home Cedarbrook is falling on hard times. Its census has declined, and unions there have made no concessions. It will burn up $6.5 million in County tax dollars this year, about twice what was budgeted.

About 2/3 of the money coming into counties is in the form of reimbursements from the state or federal government. The remainder comes from real estate taxes imposed on residents. In Northampton County, that is hovering around $90 million per year. In Lehigh, it's slightly more. When there is a shortfall like the ones at Cedarbrook or Gracedale, that money is made up for with those tax dollars.

So counties are slowly getting out of the nursing home business. At the beginning of this year, only 33 counties still had their own nursing homes. After this year, that number may be down to 28.

Blair, Beaver and Franklin Counties have all sold their homes. Montgomery County is reviewing bids. Centre County made an interesting conversion to non-profit, which will allow for some public control.

In a plebiscite, the voters made clear they want to keep Gracedale. But they also have to pay for it. At what point will the cost be too high?

Liberty HS Grads Celebrate Fab 50s Reunion

Barb and Bob Gaugler are teeny boppers again
About 300 Liberty High School alums attended the fourth annual Fab 50s reunion on Sunday, September 22, 2013, at the Silver Creek Athletic Association, in Springtown. Classes from 1950-1959 enjoyed a picnic, dancing and each other.
Steve Hari ('51) and John St. Clair ('52) look over old football programs
Souvenir Program From Easton LHS Football Clash in '52

Hanover Tp Supervisor Remembers Long Meetings, Low Pay

Steve Salvesen
Hanover Township's Board of Supervisors breezed through a light agenda during their September 24 meeting, which ended after 13 minutes. The record is 11. But they used to be much longer. Steve Salvesen, a thirty-year veteran of the Board, reminisced about meetings that went past midnight.

Much of this was due to new developments like Pointe North or controversial issues like a gigantic oak tree on what is now Crawford Drive. As a result of a "Save the Tree" movement, the township had to design the road so that it wound around the massive trunk. They also built a retaining wall around it to keep it in place. The next year, the tree was stuck by lightning and promptly died.

In addition to lengthy meetings, the pay was low. $5 a meeting. In his first year as Supervisor, Salvesen voted for a pay hike, but his monthly check went even lower. That's because Township Solicitor Jim Broughal ruled that Supervisors could not give themselves a pay raise. These days, the pay is much higher. $2,500 a year, before taxes.

Salvesen states the most controversial issue Supervisors faced during his time on the Board was the decision to go with a single trash hauler. His car was keyed and someone also spray-painted, "You're a Nazi," on the side panel.

Dent Endorses Glenn Geissinger for NorCo Council

Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent has officially endorsed Glenn Geissinger for Northampton County Council.

“When it is time to decide who to vote for, there are aspects of a candidate’s qualifications and experience that are important and I believe that Glenn Geissinger embodies these qualifications…Glenn not only has the formal education, but the military service, accounting and business experience, and a strong history of community service that we need on Northampton County Council. His common sense, work ethic, and accountability are qualities that will be an asset to Northampton County.”

“For all these reasons, I am endorsing Glenn Geissinger for Northampton County Council. Please join me in supporting Glenn and working toward his election on November 5th.”

Glenn Geissinger is currently seeking one of the five at-large seats on Northampton County Council.

Dent Wants NCAA to Restore ALL PSU Scholarships

The NCAA plans to "gradually" restore football scholarships to Penn State as a result of "continued progress" made since they were cut as a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But if you ask Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent, all 40 scholarships should be restored now.

Though Dent is happy to see "NCAA revisit its arbitrary and capricious punishment of innocent student athletes," he wants all scholarships restored immediately to "allow more student athletes the opportunity to graduate from a top-rated university.” He has suggested the money should come from the $60 million fine the NCAA imposed on Penn State last year.

Dent, himself a PSU graduate, is joined in calling for the restoration of all scholarships by Congressman Glenn "GT" Thompson, whose Congressional District includes Penn State. Thompson condemned the NCAA's "punitive action against innocent students," noting it "only serves to harm past, present and future academic achievers."

In the wake of these sanctions, Dent last month introduced the NCAA Accountability Act. It is designed to standardize the enforcement process and gives students more priority. A four-year scholarships will no longer be revoked if a student is injured or loses his athletic prowess.

Thompson is a co-sponsor of this legislation, which has been referred to the House Higher Education and Workforce training Committee.

While they're at it, put the Joe Pa statue back.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Emma Tropiana Remembered

In a blog entitled "The People's Candidate," blogger Michael Molovinsky remembers Emma Tropiano as a person, as opposed to the caricature. It's a good piece about a colorful person who served Allentown when it was still a representative democracy.

Gregory Asks Judge Zito to Reconsider State Time

Jim Gregory, a former Northampton County Human Services worker and write-in candidate for Bethlehem Mayor, is currently a guest of Graterford State Prison. He's serving a 15-month sentence imposed by Judge Leonard Zito on September 6 for repeated violations of Protection From Abuse Act Orders. Calling Gregory "arrogant and manipulative," Judge Zito seemed particularly troubled by Gregory's use of county jail inmates to smuggle notes to his ex-girlfriend. Gregory even bought time on  radio station WGPA 1100 AM to read a note to his ex. This was a direct violation of the Abuse Order, which prohibits all contact by any means.

In an unrepentant motion filed last week, Attorney Michael Corcoran has asked Judge Leonard Zito to reconsider. Calling Zito's sentence "unduly harsh and excessive," Corcoran characterizes Gregory's no-contact violations as "benign and innocuous."

Corcoran also argues that Gregory's on-air message to his ex-girlfriend is harmless because she only became aware of it because of me. "Had it not been for the intervention of a third party with his own agenda [that would be me], [Gregory's ex] would not have been aware at all of the content of that call."

Actually, that's untrue. She did not listen to the actual program because she was away, but saw the livestream upon her return. My role was limited to providing a transcript of his commentary so that Judge Zito would have an accurate account.

Finally, Corcoran argues that he's been told that Gregory's home has been burglarized, and is needed to inventory the assets. There is no record of any burglary reported at The Bethlehem Police Blog, so Corcoran may have been misinformed on that point.

There is no indication, on the record, that a hearing has been scheduled.  

King Edwin Would Like to BM Donovan

King Edwin, who is running for Pennsylvania Governor and Allentown Mayor simultaneously, has no time for something so trifling as democracy. Used to buying his elections, it's understandable that he'd be reluctant to debate Independent Mayoral candidate Michael Donovan. According to The Morning Call, King Edwin has agreed to only one debate. It's one that would be moderated by one of his biggest supporters and a regular campaign contributor.

Tony Iannelli, who hosts WFMZ-TV69's Business Matters, puts on a great show. As a debate moderator, things can get wild in races in which Tony has no real interest. He actually encourages the crowd to boo and cheer. Not having a mean bone in his body, he pitches mostly softballs. He waits for his guests to go after each other. And they do. I've done it.  Ron Angle has done it. And so has Pawlowski campaign manager Mike Fleck, in a televised debate about the NIZ.   

But there's no way that Tony Iannelli can fairly moderate a Mayoral debate involving incumbent Ed Pawlowski. He even carries a laminated picture of Pawloski in his wallet.   

WFMZ-TV69 has an excellent news staff. Why not ask one of them to moderate?  

Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky has noted that Pawlowski's high-handed sale of water assets, along with a goofy trash to energy plant, might have energized some citizens to look for a Mayor who at least listens to them. But he questions whether the media will give Donovan a fair shot. 

A BM debate is not a fair shot. It's just a BM. 

Mat Benol on Northampton County Issues

Palmer Township resident Mat Benol, a Republican, is one of ten candidates seeking five at-large seats on Northampton County Council.  Some of you may remember him from his unsuccessful, but clean, primary challenge to LV Congressman Charlie Dent. Benol also served briefly as chair of the local tea party, but stepped down over its polarization. He manages a manufacturing plant in Jersey. He has two very cute daughters, coaches soccer and is the kind of guy you'd want to have as a next door neighbor.

Make no mistake, Mat's views are conservative. But what I like about him is that he is a consensus builder who actually listens to other view points.

Ron Angle has told me that Benol and Glenn Geissinger are his two favorite Republican candidates.

Below are Mat's answers to a questionnaire I prepared for all Council candidates. Because some people have been hostile to candidates, I will not permit any commentary with these questionnaires.

By way of full disclosure, I have already decided tentatively that I am supporting Jerry Seyfried, Ron Heckman, Deb Hunter and Peg Ferraro.

1. Lehigh County Commissioners and Bethlehem City council have both toyed with the idea of rejecting pass through grants based on objections to the federal deficit, money owed to China and antipathy to charter schools. Would you reject pass through grants?

ANSWER - I don’t like the concept of pass through grants therefore I would reject them. If there was enough support to reject them, I would contact our area Representatives and Senators to see if there was a better use for this money. I’d also make sure that Northampton County’s rejection wasn’t transferred to another County. If possible, Counties should unite in their efforts to reject pass through grants. If various organizations that utilize these grants truly need them, they should petition the State and/or Federal departments offering them directly.

2. Most of Council's work is done at its busy Personnel and Finance Committees, at which every member of Council is encouraged to attend. How do you feel about participation at Council Committee meetings? Will you attend?

ANSWER - Absolutely. These meetings are extremely important to the functioning of the County and its budget. Attendance at these meeting should mandatory, not optional. I do not understand how any Council person can vote on any personnel or financial matters without being an active participant in these meetings.

3. One candidate has rejected the concept of regionalism as one big mess that is harder to manage than a group of smaller messes. Do you support or oppose regionalism, and what regional projects would you endorse on Council?

ANSWER - My decision to approve or oppose regionalism would depend on the project. I do favor the concept of regionalism but I would not support any effort to have the County in charge until County can prove it is capable of handling its current affairs. Based on the County’s handling of Gracedale, HHS properties, roads and bridges, etc, the County is not ready.

If the County is going to regional a project, I would insist that the board responsible for that project be answerable to the townships involved. Ideally, the board should be made up of members from the affected municipalities. This way, the tax payers can address any issues at their municipality meetings or at the County Council meetings. The new board must not be autonomous. It must be answerable to the tax-payers.

4. During the Executive primary, one candidate made a no-tax hike pledge. Do you think it is responsible to make no tax-hike pledges? If so, are you willing to make one?

ANSWER - As much as I would like to promise not to raise taxes, it would be irresponsible to do so without knowing all of the issues facing the County for the upcoming 4 years. I can promise to do everything in my power not to raise taxes and to explore every option available instead of raising taxes. Anything more than that would be campaign rhetoric.

5. In a 2011 plebiscite, voters told Council not to sell Gracedale for 5 years. The annual County contribution is currently in the $5-7 million range, so voters effectively voted for that contribution. But what if it grows? Is there a red line at which you would agree it is necessary to sell Gracedale?

ANSWER - I do not see a scenario that would make me vote for the sale of Gracedale. I originally sided with the sale of Gracedale however when I learned more about the financial issues facing Gracedale, I realized it was not a ‘money pit’. Changes in financial contributions from the Federal and State Government hurt its revenue stream. Property neglect also caught up with the County. Drastic repairs were needed because the County has neglected to properly maintain Gracedale for decades. Gracedale was profitable for years but the Home Rule Charter does not permit separate funding for County business. Therefore the money that Gracedale made was not properly ‘reinvested’ into the property and spent on other items.

I am in favor of maintaining Gracedale as a County/tax payer owned property. As long as I know, Gracedale is being run as efficiently as possible, I am OK with paying for Gracedale. It is part of Northampton County.

6. In 2007, County Council voted to set aside 1/2 mill of real estate tax (about $3.5 million) for a pay-as-you go open space plan for preserving farmland, environmentally sensitive land and municipal parks. On Council, will you vote to continue funding open space? Do you consider this a core county function?

ANSWER - Yes to both questions. I do not believe that every square inch of property needs to be developed for the sake of development. I believe part of Northampton County’s beauty is due to its open space and vast farmland. However, I believe the land being preserved must be preserved for the good of the county, not to an individual's or municipality’s personal interests.

Maintaining the beauty and history of Northampton County serves each resident and therefore it is a function of Northampton County Government.

7. There are 11 unions county-wide. What efforts would you make, as a member of council, to encourage unions to consolidate and reduce the amount of time administrators and unions must spend in contract negotiations?

ANSWER - I am not against Unions. Being a student of history, I understand why Unions were/are necessary to protect the interests of the workers. That being stated, I am not sure why Northampton County needs to have 11 separate Unions instead of just 1 union for all the County employees. I admit that I will need to study the reasons. It also stands to reason that part of the time negotiating Union Contracts involves comparisons of 1 contract to the others. Therefore, each contract needs to be somewhat equal to the others or 1 Union will be happy while the others are not. I would push the time, money and energy devoted to each negotiation, as well as the ‘equality’ of each contract as my reasons for Union consolidation.

8. What is your position on laying off County workers? Would you support layoffs to balance the budget, or vote to increase taxes to provide the same level of services?

ANSWER - I am not in favor of laying off any workers. However, the employee base needs to be in line with the work available. I do not support laying off workers to balance the budget. Employees are essential to the County and cutting their positions does more harm than good. Increasing taxes is a lazy approach to solving the County’s debt issues. There are multiple areas of wasteful spending that have to be addressed before cuts and/or tax increases are discussed. I do not support tax increases for any reason.

9. Northampton County, like Lehigh, has privatized the management of Gracedale. But there are those who would like to return administration to the County. Where do you stand on this issue?

ANSWER - I support having Gracedale as a County/tax payer owned facility. It has been proven that Gracedale was not managed properly in the past under County Administration. No accountability means no responsibility. Who allowed Gracedale’s roof to leak for 10 years? Who allowed the facility to deteriorate for years? Who allowed the generator to remained untested until it failed during Super Storm Sandy? Unless the County Administration is going to be held as accountable as a private firm, I will support privatized management. A private firm will have records of faults and corrective actions. Private firms will also have qualified people and less of a chance of nepotism as County run facilities.

10. Some Council members would like to amend the Home Rule Charter to return to elected row officers. How do you feel about this proposal?

ANSWER - I like the concept of having an educated electorate being involved in Government decisions however, our voting history has shown the majority of eligible voters do not vote. The election of row officers could result in popularity vs. qualifications. I would also question if the best qualified would submit themselves and their families to the stress and personal attacks that go along with any campaign.

Although the HRC provides the possibility for political appointments, it still provides a better screening process than an open election. If the County Executive recommends an unfavorable candidate for a Row Office, County Council still has a chance to reject the appointment. I would recommend that a job description be made for each row office position along with minimum/preferred qualifications. Only candidates who meet those requirements could be considered.

11. Would you support a ban on guns by people using any County facilities, even off the courthouse campus, like at the new centralized Human Services Building?

ANSWER - I would only support a ban on guns at County facilities at facilities that maintain armed staffers or the use of metal detectors at the entrance ways. Gun free zones open the potential of mass shootings because the individual knows no one in the building can do anything to stop them.

12. Will you support or reject a County Property Tax Reassessment?

ANSWER - Absolutely reject it! Reassessment is just another way of saying tax increase. Council’s focus should be on government efficiency first. Proper budgeting along with an efficiently run government will prove the answer is not in increasing taxes.

13. Would you support the proposition that the Prothonotary, Clerk of Criminal Court, Clerk of Orphans Court and Register of Wills should be transferred under the Administration of the Courts instead of the County Executive (through the Director of Court Services) much like the higher courts currently administer its own clerks?

ANSWER - Yes. This also provides the opportunity to review the similarities and differences of the job descriptions for these positions. It seems logical that all Court related functions should be administered under one department. My support would also be contingent on all of the employee’s current salary, benefit and work agreements being transferred with the employees.


I would like to add another topic that I feel is important to Northampton County that was not included in your questions. Obviously it is your decision to print but it has been a topic at most of the County Council meetings for the past several months and its future may be something that the next Council gets to decide; Braden’s Airpark.

I am in support of the Council’s decision to find a way to prevent Braden’s Airpark from being sold. I do not understand how the Airport Authority which must have Braden Airport as one of its 3 core airports can sell Braden’s and remain a legitimate Authority. It would seem to violate their Charter rules. The sale would in essence, end the Airport Authority. I have and continue to coach soccer at the fields next to Braden's. There are and have been planes taking off all the time. This is an extremely active airpark which is being threatened with sale due to the Authority’s mismanagement. They are trying to sell Braden's to settle a debt that has nothing to do with Braden's. I am in support of Northampton County finding a way to either legally preventing the Authority from selling the Airpark. At the same time, I will support an effort for the County to find a way to take over the Airpark until a buyer is found who will maintain and improve Bradens.

Thank you for providing me the opportunity to answer your questions.

You Can't Keep a Good Bulldog Down

Although not widely known, Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle has been in pretty bad health for the past three years. He's visited LV Hospital so often that I was beginning to worry he'd have to change residency. They kept sending him home, telling him it was acute food poisoning (four times) or ulcers. I discounted the ulcer diagnosis. Ron gives ulcers, he doesn't get therm. Amazingly, it took a trip to a third world country to make Ron aware he really has a problem. While visiting some remote island off the coast of South America, Ron had another attack. He spent most of his vacation in a third world hospital. His problem has finally been fixed, believe it or not, at lowly Easton Hospital.

Angle had neither food poisoning nor ulcers. He had an infected gall bladder. It was actually full of gangrene. Had he waited two days longer, he'd be dead. In fact, he told me he could feel himself slipping away.

Angle went under the knife on Wednesday and was released yesterday. I was amazed by the quality of medical care at Easton Hospital. On late Friday afternoon, for example, he was visited by five different doctors in a thirty-minute time span. Of course, he began arguing with them. On Saturday, he was doing spins around the hallways. On Sunday, he was looking over the hospital's books.

So they released him. Minus his gall bladder. They wanted to check out his heart, too, but discovered he does not have one.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bethlehem GOP Celebrate Food Stamp Cuts With a Picnic

"I can feel him kicking."
Bethlehem's Republicans had a picnic over the weekend at Illick's Mill Park. Since there's only three of them, Republicans from other areas showed up to make things look good.  Conservative Republicans, mostly. They were celebrating the food stamp cuts with hot dogs and burgers.

Lehigh County Controller Glenn Eckhart finally revealed he is pregnant. Stan Bialecki swears he felt little Glenn kicking in there.

Peg Ferraro came. But once Republicans learned she's been endorsed by the LV Labor Council, they strung her up. They did let her pick the tree. Ronnie del Wacko provided the rope.

O'Donnell: Another Tin Foil Hat Candidate

Based on my criticism of Hayden "Agenda 21" Phillips, you might think I consider him the worst of the ten candidates seeking five seats on Northampton County. But that distinction belongs to Tom O'Donnell, who garnered the fifth slot among Dems in the primary by getting 21 votes more than Bill Wallace. True, he once chaired Lower Nazareth's Board of Supervisors, but that was a gazillion years ago.

In 1988, he was fired as an auditor with the state for doing township business on the state dime. O'Donnell justified it, saying that no tax dollars were lost and he always made up the time lost. He did appeal his termination through his union, but I have never been able to determine what happened.

What bothers me is his cantankerous, mean-spirited style, which he displayed to County Council right before the primary.

During courtesy of the floor, he got up and gave a campaign speech. In Mccarthy-esque style, he claimed some candidates are inadequate. "I will not name names, but you will know who I am taking about, but I will name names if I am chosen to represent the residents after the primary."

I'm waiting for him to name those names.

O'Donnell, like Controller Steve Barron, likes to claim he's a "certified fraud examiner." That's a fancy way of saying he's not an accountant.

He claims that "if you are not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." Since he has proposed no solutions to County government, other than attacks against people he does not name, I think it's safe to say he's part of the problem.

Notwithstanding the LV Labor Council endorsement, which frankly casts doubt on their own abilities, O'Donnell belongs with Phillips in the tin foil hat brigade.

Marcellus Shale Might Fund Trail Expansions

Thanks in part to the funding provided by John Stoffa's half mill tax hike in 2007, Northampton County open space program has taken off. In addition to park repairs and purchases of environmentally sensitive land, the County has preserved 12,713 acres on 130 protected farms. It is currently processing 26 applications. much more than the three or four that used to be the standard.  But Open Space Administrator Maria Bentzoni told Northampton County Council on Thursday night that it's time to tweak the County's 11 year-old plan. She still wants to preserve 25% of the County's farmland, but also wants to focus more on urban cores. She's also like to do something about expanding and linking trails. And guess what? We have those dirty gas drillers to thank. The money for these trail projects would come from Marcellus Shale impact fees paid in other counties.

Did you know that the environmental impact of the D&L trail, which extends along the Lehigh River from Allentown to Easton, is $834,093? Or that trails are responsible for 768,000 jobs nationwide? Those are points made by Bentzoni's staff. So part of the tweaked plan, could include filling gaps on these six trails:

* NorBath Trail to D&L Trail in Northampton - This is a 1.2 mile gap.

* D&L Trail in Northampton and N. Catty - This is a 200' obstruction caused by a bridge and sewer line.

* South Bethlehem Greenway to Saucon Rail Trail. - This is a 0.9 mile gap. This would enable someone to travel from South Bethlehem to DeSales University, without seeing a car.

* Karl Stirner Arts trail to Palmer Bike Path. - This is a 1.1 mil;e gap.

*Tatamy Rail Trail to Plainfield Bike Path - 3.7 mile gap. This could hook the Slate Belt to other paths throughout the Lehigh Valley.

* Bushkill Tp PPL Trail to Appalachian Trail. - 2.6 miles gap requiring land acquisitions.

Solicitor Phil Lauer is a bit put out that there are more trail jobs than lawyers, so he's probably gonna' sue someone this week.

Friday, September 20, 2013

NorCo Council to Stoffa: Sue The Bastards

Yesterday, I told you that Northampton County Council was mulling over a resolution calling on Executive John Stoffa to sue the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority over plans to sell Braden Airpark, located in Forks Township.

"Sue the bastards!" advises Council's legal scholar, Phil Lauer.

"Sue the bastards!" echoes County Solicitor Dan Spengler.

But Executive John Stoffa doesn't want to sue the bastards. He told Council he was on the phone with the bastards all afternoon, and they promised him not to sell Braden Airpark until next March. He thinks that call should be made by the next Executive.

"I don't want to sue the Airport," he told Council. "We can't afford it. We are in Court too much already."

Knowing how Stoffa feels, Council voted 8-0 to sue the bastards.

Gracedale's New Wing To Be Co-Ed

When Gracedale's new wing opens on Monday, it will be co-ed. Thirty-two beds. Administrator Dee Freeman told Northampton County Council that they've been turning people way. Former Human Services Director Ross Marcus claims the census is around 650.

Wait 'til they go co-ed!

But it's still unclear whether the nursing home has improved financially, despite making some positive strides. A 2% increase in reimbursements, which was supposed to occur in July, has not happened.

Maybe November. Maybe next year.

In the meantime, Lehigh County's Cedarbrook nursing home is $3.1 million in the red. And according to Council President John Cusick, Franklin County sold its nursing home yesterday.

GOP House Cuts Food Assistance to Children, Vets

The House yesterday approved legislation that will knock $39 billion off our food stamp program, known technically as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, up to 3.8 million people will lose food stamp benefits next year. Currently, one out of every seven Americans receive benefits.

Every Democrat in the House opposed this cut, but the measure passed by a 217-210 vote, though it appears unlikely that it has any likelihood of success in the Democratically-controlled Senate.

Congressman Matt Cartwright, who represents half of the Lehigh Valley, decried a bill "that will take the food out the mouths of nearly 4 million Americans next year." In a statement denouncing a "draconian" measure, the Scranton-based Congressman adds that this Bill will cut school lunches for over 200,000 children as well as food assistance to 170,000 veterans.

Congressman Charlie Dent, who represents the remainder of the Lehigh Valley, was undecided about this bill but voted with his party, mainly to get it to a conference committee so that a larger Farm bill can be adopted. He predicted that cuts in the final bill will be closer to $6 billion, as opposed to the $39 billion in thhe House version.

He supports a provision imposing work requirements on able-bodied adults without dependents. "I'm fine with that," he noted. He also pointed out that food assistance to children and veterans would come through other programs.

Alan Jennings, whose Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley operates the Second Harvest Food Bank, distributed a record seven million pounds of food last year. "Wwe need more support, not less," he observed. "The proposal by radicals in the House who have bullied the moderates into submission is an attack on working people whose only offense is that their skills are of little value in an increasingly complex, harsh and unforgiving marketplace."

Updated 9/25/13. 

Brother, Can You Spare a Christmas Tree?

From Bethlehem, the Christmas City:

The Citizens’ Christmas City Committee is seeking donations of tall trees for the Christmas holiday season. Although the request is made early, the committee found the time to be appropriate since it is a time of year when homeowners are addressing landscape issues and may be want to replace an oversized fir tree.

The trees need to be nicely shaped, 40-50 feet in height, must be accessible by the roadway, and within no more than 10 miles of the city center. City Electrician Greg Cryder, will come out to the location and inspect the tree for acceptability.

Donation of these trees will be recognized at the annual Christmas City Tree Lighting Ceremony, which will take place on Friday, November 29, 2013, at 4:30PM on Payrow Plaza.

Anyone wishing to donate a tree should call Greg Cryder or Chris Lenhart at 610-865-7108.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stoffa Waives CACLV Breach In "Best Interests" of County

Ross Marcus in the peanut gallery
When the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) hired Northampton County Director of Human Services Ross Marcus, it breached several County contracts that prohibit hiring County Administrators for a year after their resignation. But on Thursday, Executive John Stoffa and CACLV Executive Director Alana Jennings executed amendments to those contracts under which the County waives what is characterized as a "technical breach" as in the "best interests of the residents of the County."

Under this waiver, CACLV agrees that Marcus will have any role in the negotiation of any contracts over the next year. In addition, CACLV warrants that Marcus played no role in the negotiation of any of its current contracts with Northampton County.

This revolving door ordinance, codified in the Administrative Code, is designed to prevent County employees from negotiating big contracts with a major vendor, and then going to work for them. It has happened. Many years ago, a fiscal officer convinced the County to switch pension advisers, after which he went to work for them. Similarly, a former public works director resigned for a job with an engineering firm that he recommended repeatedly for County work. The danger here is that the public employee will subordinate the best interests of the County to his own pecuniary interest.

In the case of CACLV, the area's major poverty fighting organization, contracts for County services existed long before Marcus worked there. He has previously worked in community (not economic) development in Allentown and as Executive Director of AIDSNET, a HIV coalition.

His temporary replacement is John Mehler, who's doing double duty as the Director of the Area Agency on Aging. Marcus has continued working for the County, without salary, guiding several initiatives through County Council last night.

At last night's meeting of Northampton County Council, the Chair of the Gracedale Advisory Board thanked  Marcus for his service to the county-owned nursing home.

LV Labor Council Makes Its Enorsements

This is from a mass email sent by LV Labor Council President Gregg Potter:

Good morning,

I want to thank the Labor Council COPE Committee for participating in our candidate interviews and endorsements. I reached out to both parties to encourage candidates to attend and we did achieve some success. In Northampton County, six Republicans and nine Democrats interviewed and in Lehigh County, one Republican and nine Democrats attended.

As you know, about one third of our membership are registered Republican and it is important to hear from both parties and Independents when available.

It is my intention to continue to reach out to both parties and attempt to find more common ground and build relationships and rapport. This will not occur over one election cycle but we will make every attempt to build this over future elections. We had the pleasure of hearing some very talented individuals on both side of the aisle and I believe we all walked away with some new found knowledge. All candidates were treated with respect and that is how this will continue to be. Below are the endorsed candidates:

Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller
Lehigh County Comm D2 Susan Wild
Lehigh County Comm D3 David Jones
Lehigh County Comm D4 Geoff Brace
Lehigh County Comm D5 Wes Barret

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski
Allentown City Council Darryl Hendricks
Allentown City Council Joe Davis

Northampton County Executive John Callahan
Northampton County Council At Large Seats
Peg Ferraro
Tom O'Donnell
Jerry Seyfried
Ron Heckman
Christine Borso

Bethlehem City Council Bryan Callahan
Easton City Council James Eddinger