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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Muller Reacts to Croslis Endorsement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     October 31, 2013

Current Lehigh County Executive Matt Croslis turned his back on fellow Democrats today by endorsing Scott Ott as the next County Executive.  “We would expect this endorsement from somebody who was appointed by the Republican Majority of Commissioners,” said Democratic candidate Tom Muller.  “This is pay to pay politics at its worst.  He obviously owes somebody for getting him his job as County Executive, and who knows what he’s been promised in the future.  What we DO know, is that the Tom Muller Administration will NOT be for sale, at any price.  I stand for good, moderate government, and pay to play will have no place in the Muller Administration.”

Reaction was similar among Democrats.   “As the Mayor of Allentown for the past eight years, I understand the challenges and responsibilities inherent in successfully running a municipal government,” said Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.  “I am perplexed by Mr. Croslis' decision to support a candidate so egregiously unqualified as Scott Ott for County Executive.  Scott Ott is the standard-bearer for the kind of radical, obstructionist politics that have plagued Washington for years.” 

Pennsylvania Democratic Chairman Jim Burn offered his support for Tom Muller and was critical of Ott.  “Tom Muller is fighting to make Lehigh County a better place to live, work, and raise a family.  His opponent, Scott Ott would fight for his extremist Tea Party buddies, not the majority of Lehigh County.  Lehigh County deserves a strong leader and Tom Muller is that leader,” Burn said.
“Let me be clear: Matt Croslis speaks only for himself,” said Lehigh County Democratic Party Chairman Rick Daugherty.  “Tom Muller is the Lehigh County Democrats choice for County Executive.  Matt's endorsement is interesting, but not significant.  Personally, I've had several Republican Elected Officials approach me discreetly to share with me their support of Tom Muller.  Mr. Croslis holds the appointment to County Executive because he is a Democrat. To see Matt Croslis only a few months after getting this position publicly support Mr. Ott, whose position and views could not be further from ours as Democrats, is disappointing.” 

Matt Croslis’s endorsement may make headlines today, but it will not undermine the will of the people on Tuesday.  Tom Muller has broad support from both Democrats and Republicans and looks forward to a hard fought final weekend, victory on Tuesday and four years of dedicated service to the residents of Lehigh County.
Contact:       Mick Dee
                    Media Coordinator
                    Muller For Lehigh County           

Beware of the Ott!

Republican Dollars Say Ott Otter Quit

I meant to get to this a few days ago, but suggest you take a look at Tom Muller's campaign finance reports. Sure, you're going to find a lot of money coming in from the usual cast of lawyers, engineers and businesses who obviously want something. But you're going to find something else, too. A lot of Republican support.

Scott Ott's pre-election report includes 59 individual donors, every man jack of them a Republican, too. Muller's report is much different. There are nearly twice as many individual contributors. And Muller's supporters are much more bipartisan than those in the Cult of Ott. Form conservative Elmer Gates to liberal Dan McCarthy, they choose Muller over the politics of division.

According to The Morning Call, 60 of Muller's individual contributors are Republicans, a sign that many are disgusted by the governing they've seen from Team Ott, which seems very much like the very brinksmanship we condemn in Washington.  

Numbers Cruncher O'Donnell Files No Pre-Election Report

Tom O'Donnell
On the campaign trail, Northampton County Council candidate Tom O'Donnell has been touting his auditing prowess for the state, though he always seems to forget to mention that he was fired. He also tells audiences that he's a certified fraud investigator, just like Controller Steve Barron, so watch out!  At Monday night's debate, he even disparaged all Council candidates for lacking his knowledge of nursing home form numbers. "I don't think anybody here is a number cruncher like I am," he bragged. But this is one number cruncher who's failed to crunch his own. He has neglected to file a campaign finance report itemizing his contributions and expenditures, as required by state law. He hasn't even formed a committee. What he did file was a false affidavit, claiming that his expenses and contributions would not exceed $250.

Elections officials have no record that O'Donnell ever filed a campaign finance report. He instead filed an affidavit, indicating he would not spend or receive more than $250. These affidavits are accepted at face value unless there is a complaint and evidence to rebut the claim.

That evidence is strewn around the County, in the form of campaign signs that are planted next to Christen Borso's. Those two got an early start.

O'Donnell's signs come from SignRocket. If he ordered 500 of them, with stands, it would cost him $1,000. For 500 more, he'd pay $1,750. Clearly, he spent more than $250, just for his plastic.

In addition, O'Donnell made a contribution to the County Democratic party for a joint mailer, just like the other Democrats stuck with him.  Borso gave $2,300; Ron Heckman gave $1,500; and Jerry Seyfried and Deb Hunter gave $2,500 each. I do not know how much O'Donnell gave because the County report is unavailable online. But I'm sure he's over $250.

According to Borso's Facebook page, there was also a September 21 Meet 'n Greet with O'Donnell on September 21. He could have raised money there.

He is also campaigning under a fictitious campaign committee.

His campaign signs indicate they were paid for by the "Citizens to Elect Tom O'Donnell." But no such committee exists, not in Northampton County, and not in Harrisburg. So his campaign signs contain a false disclaimer, yet another violation of state campaign finance laws.

I called O'Donnell about these problems yesterday. He did not return my call, but spoke to some others. O'Donnell told them he filed his finance reports with the state.

But that's untrue, too.  The state office would reject O'Donnell's filing because he is a local, not a state, candidate. He is required by law to file in the elections office of the County where he is running. Moreover, there is no state record of any committee registered under O'Donnell's name.There is no state record that O'Donnell has ever filed a report there.

Our state campaign finance laws exist so the public can follow the money. The public has a right to know who is backing candidates for public office and how much they are giving to buy influence. The public also has a right to know what the candidate is doing with the money given to him. Even if it it is a candidate's own personal treasure, we have a right to know how it is spent.

O'Donnell has breached the public trust and broken state law in three ways:

1) He filed an affidavit pledging he would raise and spend no more than $250, and never corrected this after he must have realized he would go over.

2) His campaign signs falsely state that they were paid for by a candidate's committee, when no such committee ever existed.

3) He never, as a committee or individually, reported his contributions or expenses, even though they obviously exceed $250.

Though O'Donnell could be prosecuted for these offenses by the District Attorney, those are rare and I just think he's confused. But he should be assessed a late fee until he files, and asked to correct his signs to include the proper disclaimer.

State Republicans Pouring Money Into Brown Campaign

In his pre-election campaign finance report, Northampton County Exec candidate John Brown reported he only had $6,800 left in his cash register. But since that time, he's managed to send out four glossy mailers, each of way has to have cost $12,000, even with the reduced postage rate. Is he able to make money out of the thin air?

If he could do that, I'd vote for him myself. But he's got a not-so-secret donor, the state Republican party. Each of the mailers contain disclaimers indicating they're footing the bill. Brown has filed no 24-hour report to list these contributions, but the state party probably has not formally notified him of the in-kind yet. But the fact that the state party is pouring $48,000 into the Brown campaign leads to two conclusions.

First, Brown is one of the boys. Throughout this campaign, he's distanced himself from the Republican brand, but it turns out that he's bought and paid for by the state party.

Second, Callahan scares statewide Republicans.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Allentown Ranks #7 in Least Cash on Hand

If Allentown owes you money, you might have to wait for it. According to The Wall Street Journal, it ranks #7 among U.S. cities with the least amount of cash on hand. It has enough to keep the lights on for 7.3 days, compared to the median of 81.1 days.

Is Ott Muller Race in Dead Heat?

One of my many spies, and they're everywhere, sent me this report from the Lehigh County campaign trail.

The last few weeks I am feeling a swing happening in Lehigh county. The feel is that Wes Barrett is really strong and has the resources, Muller came into his own and is actually a good campaigner and Creighton is wounded. The Rs got lazy this summer and didn't expect the Ds to try too hard. We do have a history of poor fundraising and field efforts. Aside from Woodman, the Rs did a terrible job fundraising. They have knocked on doors but their pool of resources is not deep enough to run a campaign where the Ds have raised money.

I am told that Fleck has this really non scientific polling methodology that is actually decent in predicting outcomes. He has a credible volunteer call likely voters (voted in last two municipal elections) and simply asks how they will vote. Last week, it was a 49-49 tie. Fleck did the same thing for NorCo in the Exec primary and it was spot on.

From what I understand, about 1,800 people were called, including 15% more Republicans than Democrats. This is because Democrats have a poor turn out in these off year elections. So if Fleck can increase turnout just one or two points, Muller wins.

Party boss Wayne Woodman figured this out months ago. It's why no Republican is running for Allentown City Council or Mayor. It's why nobody challenged Geoff Brace or Dave Jones in Allentown. He is willing to sacrifice Allentown on the altar of Ott.

But then Michael Donovan decided to run for Mayor as an Independent. And Pawlowski decided to run for Governor. In order to be a viable candidate for Governor, he needs a convincing victory in Allentown, and has to work hard to get out the vote against Donovan.

And, of course, most people are disgusted by extremist Republicans in the U.S. House and have a habit of taking that out on Republicans in local races. Ott happens to be one of those extremists himself.

Ott Betrays Judge McGinley For 30 Pieces of Silver

Ott with NC right-winger Hayden Phillips
Just as Judas betrayed Jesus, Commissioner Scott Ott betrayed President Judge Carol McGinley earlier this month for 30 pieces of silver. At least he didn't kiss her first. This betrayal not only hurt Judge McGinley, but could end up costing Lehigh County quite a bit of money. It might even get someone hurt. Or worse. But Ott is willing to risk someone else getting hurt to keep his campaign war chest filled. Let me fill you in.

Lehigh County Comm'r Lisa Scheller proposed slashing the judicial budget by about $146,000. "It's not directed at employees," she disingenuously explained, but it certainly was. It eliminated the funding for four tipstaffs.

Let me start by telling you about tipstaffs. Charlie Dent's mom was one, incidentally. Juries loved her. As one judge recently explained to me, it takes a special person. So the best tipstaffs are full-timers who are paid low wages but have to be there when the judge is there. Part-timers don't work because most jury trials are settled at the last minute, leading a person to schedule himself at the courthouse for nothing.

Why are they needed? According to what President Judge Carol McGinley told Commissioners, they make judges more productive. "My attention needs to be focused entirely on the litigants and the case in front of me," she explained. "Every time I'm interrupted by a crying baby, somebody who looks lost, somebody who can't speak English and needs interpretation services, these things all slow my productivity and actually interrupt the rights of the litigants in front of me to give them my full attention."

The persons who prevent mistrials, which can cost a County between $100,000 and $500,000, are the tipstaffs. Judge McGinley noted that if a Protection from Abuse (PFA) case is dismissed because some battered woman is unknowingly sitting in the wrong courtroom and there's no tipstaff to direct her where to go, that woman is at risk and could be hurt.

Several years ago, the judges made a commitment to work with less, but Judge McGinley told Commissioners that experiment is failing. Thy are needed most urgently during jury trials and when there are long lists.

By their nature, jury trials are terribly inefficient. Ask any juror. You can't get around it. But that inefficient process, which consists of long periods of time in which judges, litigants and tipstaffs sit on their hands, is the cornerstone to our American system of justice. It's embedded in the Constitution that tea partiers claim to embrace. And these older men and women, just like the older men and woman at polling precincts, preserve our democracy.

Before there's a jury trial, there are long lists in which 50 to 100 people can be jammed into a courtroom and adjoining hallways at the same time. A battered woman and the man who beat her. Witnesses and the gang members who would like them to shut up. Most of the courtrooms are simply too small to hold everyone. Tipstaffs identify parties and lawyers in a case. They separate people. They prioritize cases and get them before a judge. They smell out trouble and alert deputies. This requires two people at a minimum. One deals with the public while the other manages the actual courtroom proceedings for the judge.

As society has changed, things have become worse for the courts. Where do you think the dregs of society end up? Did you know most of them have no lawyers? They are also the first recourse for many people who really need help from our judicial system.

Judge McGinley explained all this, and more, to Commissioners. DA Jim Martin, who has practiced law for 40 years, had her back.

Commissioner Scott Ott seemed to not only buy into the argument, but suggested that it might be necessary to increase staffing.

"That scenario you just painted is a frightful one. People could get hurt. The County could get hit with hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional expenses. Perfectly good cases could get thrown out. ... If that's the situation and that's a legitimate and clear and present danger, wouldn't it be irresponsible to not fully staff those other courtrooms?

He told Judge McGinley,  "What you said was pretty scary stuff. Yet we don't seem to be taking the action. I know we're pinching every penny twice and there's no more money available everywhere. But it would seem to me that the costs by what you said would be far outweighed by the benefits of staffing these other courtrooms, so I guess I'm wondering how is it tolerable for us to allow that low staffing level, but it's intolerable for us to do it in another courtroom?

McGinley: "Comm'r Ott, if you're suggesting that because we haven't asked for those three back, that my objections to removing four more are not legitimate, I disagree with the proposition.

Ott: "No, that's not what I'm suggesting. I'm seriously concerned. What you just described sounds like another penny wise, pound foolish thing where we're going to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, have court cases thrown out, and have people potentially be injured because we don't staff appropriately. If that's legitimate, and you say it is, then we've got a different situation on our hands here than I was previously aware. By the way, not until tonight had I heard that this experiment is failing.

But when it was time to vote on Scheller's motion to cut funding, Ott went along with his so-called reform team and against his own arguments.


30 pieces of silver. His most recent campaign finance report reveals that GOP party boss Wayne Woodman and his wife Lisa Scheller, just contributed $30,000 to Ott's campaign. This is the same Lisa Scheller who proposed eliminating this funding for the judges. Though Ott claimed that it was "irresponsible" not to have those tipstaffs, he had to listen to his paymaster instead of doing what was right.

Ott actually got more than 30 pieces of silver. He reports $46,480 from the My Lehigh County PAC that GOP party boss Wayne Woodman and Lisa Scheller control. That's her money.

That night, Comm'r Brad Osborne said, "I'd hate to make a decision that is not based out of knowledge, and have something bad come out of it."

But Ott is willing to take that risk for the right amount of money.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ott's Lapdogs

Yesterday, I hit Lehigh County Executive candidate Scott Ott pretty hard over his broken promises. He simply has not done what he is taking credit for in his campaign literature, even now. When called on it by a friendly right wing radio talk show host, he suddenly became forgetful about whether he really has cut spending. This was the morning after he voted for a budget that increases spending to its highest point ever. He simply is not a man of his word.

After my pieces published, I received a few emails from one of Ott's Commissioners. He wanted to remain "off the record," which tells me he's gutless. But he wanted me to know how wrong I am. Later in the day, I got a call from another one of Ott's Commissioners, telling me he is disappointed in me, too, and he does not want to talk to me anymore.

"OK, I'll call you after the election."

That wasn't good enough. I was accused of colluding with Tom Muller campaign Manager Michael Fleck, told to go to Hell, and then the Commissioner hung up.

Never mind that I've spoken to Fleck a grand total of three times during this race, with each call lasting about 30 seconds.

This afternoon Commissioner, along with the morning Commissioner, are two of the people who are supposed to act as a check and balance on the County Executive. But when it comes to Ott, they will be lapdogs, not watchdogs.

This is what happens when a party boss and his wife buy candidates.

Ten NorCo Council Candidates Exchange Views at NCC

Top Row (Democrats): Christen Borso, Ron Heckman, Deb Hunter, Tom O'Donnell, Gerald E. Seyfried
Bottom Row (Republicans): Mat Benol, Peg Ferraro, Glenn Geissinger, Hayden Phillips, Seth Vaughn

Though Game 5 of the World Series was about to start, over 100 people, many young faces among them, crowded into a Northampton Community College classroom last night. They were there for the first and only encounter among ten candidates seeking five open seats on Northampton County Council. The audience was a diverse crowd that extended from a bottom-feeding blogger to the entire Express Times editorial board. It included numerous students, some of whom must be preparing to cast their first vote, as well as super voters from both major parties. It even included Noah Geissinger, age 9, who told me his Dad is going to win.

Like the audience, the contestants were an interesting mix of idealistic newcomers and seasoned veterans. Peg Ferraro was the sole incumbent, and the only other candidates with County experience were Jerry Seyfried (Council, Executive) and Ron Heckman (Council). The rest of the cast included Christen Borso, Deb Hunter, Tom O'Donnell, Mat Benol, Glenn Geissinger, Hayden Phillips and Seth Vaughn.

This debate was made possible through the efforts of Northampton Community College's Helene Whitaker, its Political Science department and the Northampton County League of Women Voters. But for these people, voters would never have had an opportunity to see the candidates together.

In a congenial atmosphere, candidates were only able to field a few questions. Though they largely agreed with other, some differences emerged as the night went on.

Gracedale. - All ten candidates point out that the voters have already spoken. Most support the work being done at the County-owned nursing home by Premier Healthcare Administrator Dee Freeman. "The County's just not good at running things," explained Ferraro.

Christen Borso and Tom O'Donnell both want even the administration done in house. O'Donnell compared a privatized administrator to the privatization of liquor stores. "It's all about the big bucks," he complained. "Get rid of Premier. They haven't done nothing."

Hayden Phillips argued there should be more privatization, stating that housekeeping, food service and laundry should be outsourced.

The Depleting Reserve (Rainy Day) Fund. - Candidates were asked how they would increase it. Phillips repeated his observations about privatizing some Gracedale functions, and added he would also look at the millions spent for open space. Heckman stressed the importance of planning. Hunter added Continuous Improvement, a method of improving efficiencies through feedback from employees. Seyfried pointed out there are $60 million owed to the County in uncollected fines and costs. "There's no reason for that," he observed, adding that several judges are receptive to increasing efforts at collection. "The prior administration created this problem," claimed O'Donnell.

Crumbling Infrastructure. - All candidates agree that better planning is needed. Seyfried pointed out that when he was executive, "We planned. It was called a five-year plan." Though agreeing that better planning is needed, Peg Ferraro credited Executive John Stoffa for solving a decades-old leaking window problem at Gracedale. "We call him the Window Wizard," she said, adding that Stoffa repaired and repainted the old courthouse, which won a national historic award.

Recidivism - With the exception of Mat Benol, all candidates agreed on the importance of reducing recidivism through counseling and education. Benol argued that we are "coddling" prisoners, and advocated making prison an unpleasant experience. "I don't believe treatment is 'coddling' prisoners," retorted Hunter.

Council's Positives and Negatives. - "I want to see them do their job," noted Seyfried, claiming that Council is a check on the power of the Executive. Heckman echoed Seyfried, noting that Executives tend to hire consultants who tell them what they want to hear. Vaughn criticized the current Council for not listening to the recommendations made by Premier and for a failure in long term planning.

O'Donnell said the best thing about Council "is it's going out.They really laid the groundwork for trouble in the next administration, and I think they wanted to," he said. Geissinger reminded O'Donnell that four members of the current Council will still be there in January.

Communication. - Seyfried would bring back municipal conferences to learn from other communities. Hunter stated that the Senior Expo and Citizens Academy are a good start at communication, but the County website needs work Heckman joked it was made with an Atari computer. Borso said people could talk to her at the grocery store.

Geissinger questioned the Senior fair idea, noting that is already conducted by State reps.

Closing Speeches

In their closing speeches, Phillips suggested that the experienced candidates have "the experience of running the status quo" while he stands for limited government, individual rights and fiscal responsibility."God bless you, and God bless the U.S.A."

Mat Benol said his strong suit is his ability to get along with everyone. Peg Ferraro stressed her common sense. Geissinger spoke of his considerable business acumen. Seyfried read off a litany of accomplishments, from preserving the first farm in Northampton County to laying the groundwork for 911. Borso pointed to her Breaking Glass Ceilings award, adding she is a co-founder of women empowering women. O'Donnell pointed to his experience doing audits. "I don't think anybody here is a number cruncher like I am." Hunter held up a handbook from Northampton High School,where she teaches, noting the numerous county services offered. "If it wasn't for some of these services, my kids wouldn't be in school," she said. That concern for human services is what motivates her.

Ron Heckman thanked the audience for being there on a World Series night. He added he is the product of a mixed marriage. His father was a Republican and his mother a Democrat. He pointed out that he is experienced, and part of that experience includes making mistakes. He said he hopes he has the wisdom to have learned from his mistakes and help others from repeating them.

My Rating

Heckman, Seyfried and Ferraro were head and shoulders the best in this crowd. Deb Hunter was not far behind. O'Donnell was terrible, coming off as a cranky old man, kinda' like me. The other candidates were all very close to each other. Phillips' views are way too extreme for me, but he presented well. Geissinger really is an accomplished businessman. Benol is a consensus builder. Borso spent too much time looking down at her talking points, and I question how many of her ideas are her own.

Seated (L to R): Deb Hunter, Thomas O'Donnell, Gerald E.Seyfried
Standing (L to R): Christen Borso, Ron Heckman, Mat Benol, Peg Ferraro, Glenn Geissinger, Seth Vaughn, Hayden Phillips

Monday, October 28, 2013

Following Scott Ott's Money Train

One advantage Lehigh County has over Northampton is that campaign finance reports appear online almost immediately, making it easy to follow the money. This attempt at transparency was Dean Browning's idea. Republican voters rewarded his good government by booting him from office. But thanks to that transparency, we can all see the finance report just filed by the person primarily responsible for Browning's ouster - Scott Ott. It's not a pretty picture.

Ott wants voters to give him control over Lehigh County's $360 million budget. But a review of Ott's finances reveals four disturbing things about the $177,238 total he's raised.

1) Lack of Transparency. - Ott reports $46,480 from the My Lehigh County PAC that he and GOP party boss Wayne Woodman control. This PAC, located in Harrisburg, has only one 2013 report on file. That report shows less than $18,000 in donations available to flip to Ott. So clearly, there have been donations to the PAC since the last report. But they aren't online. The reason for this is that, in spite of all of Ott's preaching about transparency, he does not use the online feature to file the reports for this PAC. Instead, he sends in a paper version knowing that the election will be over before it is processed and posted.

2) Is it Scott Ott or Wayne Woodman? - $30,000 of Ott's money comes from party boss Wayne Woodman and his wife, Commissioner Lisa Scheller. Another $15,000 comes from Bob Asher's PA Future Fund. This is the quid pro quo to get Woodman to grit his teeth and support Corbett next year. Scheller's money is funneled to Ott through the PAC to make it difficult to follow. Basically, just two people are responsible for Ott's warchest, making me question who really will be calling the shots in Lehigh County.

3) Ott violates state campaign finance laws. -  The Lehigh Valley Association of Realtors have reported two in-kind donations for Ott. One is for a $3,050 poll conducted on October 16. The other is a October 24 mailer for $4,225.

Ott failed to include the October 16 contribution in his report, even though it is supposed to include all contributions through October 21. He also failed to make a 24-hour report for the $4,225 contribution made on October 24.

If Ott is unable to account properly for campaign finance, how can he account for a $360 million budget?

4) The Abe Atiyeh Connection. - Controversial developer Abe Atiyeh is backing Ott, and gave him $1,000 on October 22. Atiyeh has alienated people in West Bethlehem, located in Lehigh County, over his propensity to build rehabs like 7-11s.  I doubt West Bethlehem voters will be pleased to learn that Ott has Atiyeh's support.

Ott Becomes Forgetful in Radio Interview

Ott on the campaign trail
When Lehigh County Comm'r Scott Ott and his so-called Reform Team ran Dean Browning out of town on a rail, two years ago, Ott promised that he and his minions would (1) eliminate an "unnecessary" 16% tax increase; (2) cut spending, not just slow the growth; (3) balance the budget; and (4) stop drawing down the county's reserves. Local tea party members, who were swarming over Commissioners at the time, just loved the message. After all, who likes anyone who says he must raise taxes? But do voters like liars? It is now apparent that Ott not only misled the electorate, but continues to do so.

Though in control of a five-person majority of like-minded people on a Board with seven Republicans, Ott has broken every one of the promises he made when he ran for office two years ago. But this is one Sunday School teacher who still thinks you're stupid enough to believe him, and is campaigning on the very promises he already has broken.

In robo-calls and campaign ads, he still perpetuates the myth that he's a fiscal conservative who really has reduced spending and cut taxes

His record is quite the opposite. He knows this. I've been telling you this from my perch atop the Indian Tower in Nazareth for the past two weeks. He's failed to roll back the 16% tax hike he condemned. The Budget he voted for is a $2.1 spending increase over last year, for a whopping $111 million. That's the most money that Lehigh County has ever spent in a single year. He increased the deficit from $7.3 million to $7.7 million, leaving the County's reserves at a bare $17 million. Finally, he supported a 3.4% tax hike over what Lehigh County residents paid last year.

Amazingly, this guy is the favorite.

His campaign literature and robocalls falsely claim he has cut taxes and reduced spending. But he screwed up last week. Not only did he do horribly in a debate at Allentown's NAAC. He also botched an interview with tea party friendly radio host Bobby Gunther Walsh. He suddenly grew forgetful when asked about whether he has really cut spending.

Gunther: "Now here's the problem according to this report. You pass the Budget, you cut some spending? Is that what it does? You said it cut spending.

Ott: "It cuts - I gotta' look at the final numbers because we were still batting around various amendments - but my understanding is I think the newspaper report is somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a half million was cut from the proposal.

Gunther: "Wait, is that two and half million from the proposal or two and a half million reduction in spending?

Ott: "Um, I'll have to look at that because I'm -

Guther: "Wait, wait, wait, woah, woah, woah. Wait, woah. So you are Nancy Pelosi? You voted on it but you don't know what's in it?

Ott: "Gunther. I will openly acknowledge that I think it's probably the case that it's a cut from the proposal, not a cut from the actual year to year. Last year, we did a year-to-year spending cut. This year they came to us with a catastrophe and basically said., 'Look, we've got a major problem that cost us an extra $3.8 million.' They tried to dip $10 million out of the stabilization fund.We reduced that dip down to $7.5 million. The County is still deficit spending and we haven't dealt with the fundamentals that drive that yet. The new Executive is really going to have to deal with it, or we're gonna' face a 2015 tax hike, which is not a possibility with me.

Gunther: "So you passed a budget.I gotta' tell you, that's kinda' a disappointing answer. You voted and passed something but you're not sure what you voted for, so that's a bit -

Ott: "- No. Guther, it's not that I'm not sure what i voted for. We had 13 amendments on an 800-page budget, and i know that was in the ballpark of $2.5 million. But not all the amendments in the initial amendments that were proposed got passed, so if you like, I can detail the ones that did, but I assume you probably don't have enough time for that.

Gunther: "No, it's not that. You don't know whether it's a cut in spending or a cut in the proposal. You think it's a cut in the proposal so we have not cut spending with this budget.

Ott: "I don't know the answer to that offhand -

Gunther: "-That's what I'm saying. That's the part that's the disappointing answer.

If I know that Ott's budget increases spending to Lehigh County's highest level ever, so does he. It seems that even Bobby Gunther Walsh considers Ott's answers "disappointing."

Michael Schware: The Best Comm'r that Ott and Woodman Can Buy

Compared to Northampton County, I've only scratched the surface in Lehigh, where appointed Commissioner Mike Schware is running against Emmaus' Wes Barrett in District Five.

Schware reports raising $12,335 over the most recent period, giving him a total of $22,935. Of that $10,000 came from GOP Party boss Wayne Woodman, and Woodman's wife, Lisa (Woodman) Scheller. Another $2,500 came from the My Lehigh County PAC, which is controlled by Ott and Woodman.

Schware also reports $13,050 in in-kind contributions from Vote Scott Ott so far this year. This is to allocate costs for Kial Vidic, who is Ott campaign manager.

The Board of Commissioners is supposed to be a check and balance on the County Executive. But between Ott and Woodman, they control roughly 70% of the campaign money and in-kinds going to Schware. There is absolutely no way he can claim independence. He is there to do as he's told.

Is King of Sleazeball Politics Making a Comeback?

Political consultant Tom "Scissorhands" Severson is well known in Lehigh Valley politics. For decades, he was the undisputed King of Sleazeball Politics. Close friends with Northampton County John Morganelli, he eluded prosecution for years, thumbing his nose at campaign finance laws. His reign of terror suddenly came to an end when then Attorney General Tom Corbett stepped in and prosecuted the increasingly erratic politico. In a jury trial, Severson was convicted of disrupting a funeral mass with misdemeanor harassment and disorderly conduct aimed at one of his political foes, Ron Angle. He later pleaded guilty to filing bogus invoices and deceptive campaign practices.

Is he making a comeback?

Though supposedly retired, this convicted felon's name appeared among the beneficiaries of Bethlehem Mayoral candidate Bob Donchez' campaign expenses. And last week, he was in the audience at the Executive debate between John Callahan and John Brown. Is he making a comeback?

I think so, and I'll tell you why.

Brown's campaign mailers are littered with the same kind of negative slurs that regularly came from Severson's firm, Precision Marketing. In his finance report, Brown reports that his political consultant is Communications Concepts LLC.  But guess what? Tim Butler is identified as President, but he worked under Severson when Scissorhand's Precision Marketing, ruled the roost of mud slinging.And corporation records reveal that Communications Concepts and Precision Marketing just happen to share the same address.

Council candidate Peg Ferraro is also using Communications Concepts. .

Both Peg and the Brown camp adamantly deny any involvement with Severson. Brown apparently has never even heard of him. Severson is reported to have spent his time criticizing the job Tim Butler is doing. But it would be no surprise to me to learn that Communications Concepts is using him.

NorCo Council Republicans On Their Own

As of 2 pm Friday, campaign finance reports were available for three of the five Republicans seeking seats on Northampton County Council. Like the Democrats, none has raised very much money. But unlike Democrats, these candidates are running on their own.

Incumbent Peg Ferraro raised the most money of any candidates, Democrat or Republican, with $8,662.47. Like Executive candidate John Brown, she's using Communication Concepts as her political consultant.

Of course, she drew financial support from many of the usual big money Republicans. But a sign of her bipartisan appeal is a $100 contribution from Northampton County Council member Ken Kraft, a Democrat. That small donation speaks volumes about Peg's appeal across the aisle.

Hayden Phillips, who has a great deal of support among tea party Republicans, raised $4,577.50. This includes a $500 contribution from conservative State Rep. Mario Scavello, who wants to eliminate the Prevailing Wage Act.

Seth Vaughn reports raising $2,605, which includes $500 from industry captain Elmer Gates.

Reports filed by Glenn Geissinger and Mat Benol were unavailable when I left the elections office at 2 pm. I will tell you about them tomorrow.

NorCo Council Dems Pooling Resources

At a news conference announcing the return of Senior Job Fairs earlier this month, Northampton County Executive candidate was accompanied by all five Democratic Council candidates, and said at one point that they are "running as a team." Campaign finance reports filed by four of the five Democrats seeking Council seats by 2 PM on Friday corroborate what Callahan said. They are each making major contributions to the County party, apparently to support a joint mailer.

Of all the candidates, Jerry Seyfried would be the one most likely to raise lots of money. As a former Executive and Council member, he knows many people. Moreover, he is an active member of Northampton County's very large sportsmen community. But he refused to accept a dime from anyone, even though several people have sent him checks. He put $5,000 of his own money into his campaign, and sent half of that to County Democrats.

He told me that after it is all over, he might have a picnic to recoup some of his costs, but will accept no more than $25 from anyone.

None of the Democratic hopefuls  raised very much money.

Ron Heckman raised just $2,450 and sent $1,500 to County Democrats. He did accept $500 from former Executive Glenn Reibman, who ran in the primary against Callahan. Heckman and Reibman are long-time friends.

Deb Hunter raised $6,750, including $3,500 from unions. This is ironic, considering that the LV Labor Council failed to endorse her. Most of that union money comes from the trade unions, which did endorse her. She contributed $2,500 to County Democrats.

Christen Borso raised $5,085, of which $4,000 comes in the form of union support. Her primary campaign was heavily funded by unions as well. She contributed $2,300 to County Democrats.

Tom O'Donnell's report was not filed by 2 PM, so I will tell you about his report tomorrow.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Donovan to Discuss Allentown Public Safety

On Tuesday, October 29, at 3pm, on the second floor of Allentown Brewworks, Independent Allentown Mayoral candidate Michael Donovan will present his expectations for the future of the Allentown Police Department and the neighborhoods they protect. "You will hear the qualities of the person I would like to see as the new Police Chief, and you will hear my vision of revitalized neighborhoods throughout the city," he says.

The public is welcome.

Donchez Raises $67,000 to Counter Write-Ins

Bob Donchez has raised $67,680.80 in his Bethlehem Mayoral bid, leaving him with a $77,740.69 warchest for the waning days of the campaign. His contribution list is a Who's Who of potential City vendors. But it also packed with page after page of small contributions by City residents.

Though Donchez has no opponent who actually is on the ballot, he is still facing two write-in candidates.

One is Jim "Graterford" Gregory, a woman beater who is mounting a campaign from state prison. He's got the ex-con vote tied up.

The other write-in candidate is Todd Dietrich. The twitterati and insufferably smug Jonathan Geeting have rallied to Dietrich.

I don't know about Todd, but I'd rather have the ex-cons.

Morning Call Reports Suburban Gardener's Plight

Earlier this month, I told you about Karl Hirsch, the interesting Lehigh Township gardener who grows much of his own food in his front yard. Cited by Lehigh Township officials for being in violation of a weed ordinance, he was convicted at a summary trial before District Judge Robert Hawke. Hirsch's story has now been reported in The Morning Call.

When I published my story, Lehigh Township officials ignored me. Hirsch's next door neighbor, Jennifer Ryan, would only meet with me if I agreed to certain conditions, including a joint meeting with the Hirsch family. I refused to bargain with her.

Upon reading about Hirsch's plight, prominent Easton attorney Gary Asteak volunteered to represent Hirsch pro bono. Gary's daughter is involved in urban gardening projects in New York City.

Hirsch's story has also been covered by The Northampton Press, a weekly.

ET: It's Callahan!

Since The Express Times actually participated in and prepared most of the questions for last week's debate between Northampton County Executive hopefuls John Callahan and John Brown, I was looking forward to their assessment. It came today, with a Callahan endorsement. Editors did have high praise for Brown. That makes sense because both candidates have almost identical views on every issue. The difference is that Callahan has played a large part in turning Bethlehem around.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Callahan Raises $500,000 in NorCo Exec Race

In what appears to be a fundraising record for County Executive races in Northampton and Lehigh County, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan has raised over a half million dollars in his bid to become Northampton County's Executive. In a campaign finance report filed late Friday afternoon, Callahan disclosed contributions of $161,983 between the primary and October 21. This brings his total to $513,456 from nearly 600 individual contributors.

Callahan's Republican opponent, Bangor Mayor John Brown, raised $11,000 over the same time period.

Going into the final days of the campaign, Callahan has a 17 to 1 cash advantage over Brown. Callahan has $118,540 cash on hand compared to Brown’s $6,817.

Callahan campaign manager Eric Nagy, however, is concentrating on grassroots appeal, claiming 25,000 voter contacts since July. "John has been knocking doors and feels very encouraged by the positive response from voters," noted Nagy.

The Brown campaign is also relying on grassroots appeal, with Brown focused on direct voter contact.

Brown has also received a little help from the state republican party, which spent $10,882.49 for campaign literature and postage on his behalf.

Winning the money race is no guarantee of victory. Just four years ago, when Northampton County Executive John Stoffa sought re-election, he refused to take money from anyone.

I'll have more to say about these reports next week.

Ott Goes For the Bigot Vote at NAACP Debate

Remember those photos of a stunned Will Smith family as Miley Cyrus began twerking during the VMA awards? Well, that was how a forty-person audience reacted last night to Scott Ott's performance at Allentown NAACP County Exec debate. All he needed to make the night complete was a Confederate Flag. He may have even had one in his truck at the St. James AME Zion Church, buried under his guitar. After watching Ott and opponent Tom Muller answer questions, I think I can safely say that these are forty votes that Scott Ott won't get.  What he did get, after it was over, was a tongue lashing from one angry woman, as two others had her back.

I was a little late getting there because I was visiting my brother in the hospital. He had grown suddenly ill after reading this blog, and doctors are flipping coins over whether he'll last the week. So I missed Ott's initial remarks. But several audience members made sure that I heard about it. Ott reportedly told this crowd of Allentonians, in Allentown, that the only time he gets to see one of them is when they're coming up through the court system.

Not terribly bright.

Tom Muller
What I did hear him say, at one point, is that he's been advised that Latinos all quit school at age 15 to look for jobs. ... And that it makes no sense to teach prison inmates how to cook or perform low-paying jobs because they make too much money selling drugs. ... And that Republicans had advised him not to come to Allentown. ... And that Obamacare is no good.

Not terribly bright.

That might play well on WAEB or at your local KKK, but did not go over well before the NAACP. Ott's one gift is his ability to communicate, so he must have had an off night.

The largely African American audience, to their credit, remained polite.

But after it was over, I got an earful myself. Fran Eddings, CEO of the PA STEAM project at Cedar Crest College, told me she wanted to remain positive, but was clearly upset by Ott. "That was an affront to me as an African American person," she said. "The people of Allentown are not as inept as some may think they are."

Ott was also asked to explain abstaining from voting for a Meals on Wheels grant for needy Lehigh County seniors. At the time he abstained, he said that Lehigh Commissioners are "the last line of defense for the taxpayer." He complained that the "Chinese communist government is fronting us money to feed 85 year old women in Lehigh County." So it's up to patriots like him to "exercise some restraint that the federal government seems incapable of exercising."

Scott Ott
When I questioned Ott about his remarks, he never responded to me. But he had no choice last night.  He explained that he has "concerns that we couldn't feed seniors in our own community" and doesn't want to be dependent on the federal government because that well may some day go dry.

Tom Muller, who was driven to run for executive after being subjected to this kind of tea party pandering, objected that Ott's so-called reform team has a nasty habit of "talking about national problems and the national debt," calling it a "bunch of nonsense" on the local level.

What would he do?

"Yes, we definitely will feed that 85 year old woman in Allentown.

"I would do it every time."

When asked about the Veterans Mentoring Program in Lehigh County, Ott knew little about it. Muller had to explain that it was founded in 2011 to address issues faced by a growing number of veterans who get involved in the criminal justice system. It's a program championed by DA Jim Martin, one of Ott's favorite targets at budget time.

Though he had no idea what the program was, Ott made sure the audience knew that his grandfather stormed the beach at Normandy, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was ready to go to Japan.

He apparently thinks that veteran status is inherited.

Asked about their ability to play nice with others, Muller pointed out that, under former Executive Don Cunningham, he worked well with seven members of the Republican party. He credited Commissioners who actually read the material prepared for each meeting, and who took the time to call and discuss things. That stopped when the Ott block assumed power.

Ott told the audience not to "mistake the due process and deliberative part of our meetings for divisiveness." He then claimed that David Jones is his favorite Commissioner, in an effort to establish at least some connection with people he had already lost.

Ott's favorite Commissioner was not at the debate. But Brad Osborne, whom Ott voted to dump as Chairman, was there. So were three Ott supporters, planted strategically in the audience with iPads. These political operatives, paid or unpaid, filmed Muller every time he spoke, hoping to catch him in a goof.

When the candidates closed, Ott said he represents a different approach to government. It's one we've seen recently in Washington. He did not mention his work as a Wal Mart greeter or the jobs he quit along the way. Muller reminded the crowd that he actually has a background and some heavy duty experience, including managing Lehigh County for the past 8 years under three different Executives.

He told the crowd that if they support him, the election is November 5. If they support Ott, it's on November 12.

I think everyone in that room, save for Ott and his political operatives, will be voting on November 5.

McClure Shows Up For Budget Hearing

Northampton County Council member Lamont McClure has been absent from nearly every Committee meeting this year.But he showed up at yesterday's Budget hearing. Why? The answer is simple. His mentor, DA John Morganelli, was having his budget reviewed. McClure got his start in Northampton County thanks to John. McClure's wife works for Morganelli, too.

Funny how McClure thinks it's terrible for County employees to be involved in a nonprofit that feeds the needy but has no ethical dilemma in passing on the budgetary requests in the office where his wife works.

McClure is Council's liaison to the Northampton County Housing Authority, where Lori Sywensky will be banned under his goofy law. McClure has never attended any of their meetings.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Paul Weiss: Bethlehem Township is Not For Sale

Paul Weiss is running against not one, but two Abe Atiyeh-backed opponents.

Shhh! Ott Votes For 3.4% Tax Hike

"The roughly $360 million budget doesn't raise the tax rate, but taxpayers will see a higher tax bill next year. That's because the past two county budgets included tax rebates, and the 2014 budget does not."

I told you this earlier this week, and now The Morning Call is telling you. The candidate who ran Dean Browning out of office over a 16% tax hike, who promised to roll that back, who promised to give you tax cuts and cut spending, last night voted with his so-called reform team to raise taxes in Lehigh County. This budget also spends more than at any period in the County's history.

The net result of this is that every taxpayer in Lehigh County will see their tax bill go up next year by 3.4%.

Ironically, at the same time he was voting for this stealth tax hike, Scott Ott was sending out mailers citing the endorsement of "Citizens Against Higher Taxes".

Brown's Brownfield Looks Dirty

Bethlehem Steel stockhouse now a visitor center
When Bethlehem stopped making steel in '93, it spiraled downhill. Things began to fall apart. Just as Mayor Don Cunningham took office, the company closed. In addition to the loss of 20,000 jobs, the Christmas City lost a big chunk of its tax base. South side Bethlehem became a ghost town. But Cunningham, who is often derided for his smile, kept hope alive and slowly began the arduous task of putting Bethlehem back on its feet. When he left office, he had managed to attract $1 billion in investment and the jobs were slowly coming back. Under John Callahan, the nation's largest brownfield - 1800 acres - had over $2 billion invested in it, and 5,500 jobs were created. Pennsylvania's most successful casino is located on a portion, while the rest of the south side seems just a little better, every time I visit. It's a remarkable achievement. Part of the reason for this is Tony Hanna, a visionary in his own right, who should be recognized and stand side by side with Artsquest's Jeff Parks and CACLV's Alan Jennings. But Cunningham and Callahan, who at one time were referred to as the Young Turks, deserve a large share of the credit, too. They are and should be rightfully proud of what they've done for their City.

 Bangor's brownfield, an old incinerator site and quarry dump, is much smaller. Just 79 acres. But it has been a complete flop. That point was driven home on Tuesday night's Executive debate between the two mayors, John Callahan from Bethlehem and John Brown from Bangor.

Callahan took Brown to task over his failure to develop the site, which is controlled by Bangor Borough and Bangor Authority. To be more specific, he blasted Brown for participating in a scheme to sell the site to a Jersey developer who spent a stint in prison for dumping toxic waste.

Brown responded that his economic development focus has been on storefronts. He assured the debate audience he was “very outspoken against” the sale to that “type of individual”.

But according to information supplied both by the Callahan camp and in my own research, Brown appears to have misspoken.

This site is no dream. For years, the Borough Authority had tried to redevelop it without success. Then came fast-talkin' Art Fletcher from Jersey, who said he'd buy it, fill it up with dirt and install solar panels. He even talked the Authority into fronting $75,000 for all kinds of tests.

People were suspicious, but Mayor Brown was not among them.

You see, Fletcher suddenly started dumping at the site, and residents were concerned it might even be radioactive waste.

And Bangor has this
At a Borough Council meeting in February 2011, environmental activist Anna Marie Caldara specifically raised Fletcher's reputation and concerns about just what was being dumped. Resident Len Mooney worried that dirt deemed unacceptable in Jersey was being dumped here. Truck traffic concerns were raised by Duane Miller, a former Northampton County Council member.

Brown was absent from that meeting.

As details about Fletcher began to emerge and he failed to make a down payment, the deal eventually died. There was no toxic waste, though Bangor Mayoral candidate Joe Capozzollo does glow in the dark.

There is no record that Brown ever took any position supporting or opposing this developer. In fact, according to The Express Times, he defended the Borough when citizens expressed their displeasur. He suggested they go to meetings that he himself missed. The Morning Call has a similar account.

Although Brown never supported this project, there's no evidence that he opposed it, as he insisted during the debate.

But that's a minor point. It's easy to get mixed up in front of a large crowd. The major point is that one mayor had the vision to see the potential of a gigantic 1400-acre brownfield.  But in Bangor, a much smaller one remains undeveloped under a mayor who missed meetings and spent his time chastising the public.

All Ten NorCo Council Candidates have Committed to Debate

NC LWV Prez Bev Hernandez
All ten Northampton County Council candidates have committed to Monday night's forum at Northampton Community College. It at the College Center, Room 146, between 7 and 8:30 pm.

I love these debates at the community college because they attract a younger crowd. Students will be active participants in Monday night's forum.

This event would have been completely impossible but for the tireless efforts of the Community College's Helene Whitaker and the Northampton County League of Women Voters.

If you have a question for the candidates, you can post as a comment or forward it the LWV email address, lwvnorthco@yahoo.com. Time constraints will not allow for audience questions during the debate.

Don't let them catch you videotaping portions of it either, or they'll sic their goons on you. That happened to me once in Easton and I was in the hospital for several weeks with voter guide inserted in an unwanted place.

Because I'm a miserable bastard, I used to love poking fun at the League of Women Voters. But without this group of dedicated volunteers, there would have been no opportunity to see the candidates for County offices. So I am making an election pledge to be super nice to them.

Until the day after the debate.

Actually, they once invited me to join. I refused because I've alrwady been kicked out of the Democratic and tea Party, and don't think I can take another rejection.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hayden Phillips Says No to Open Space

Birds of a feather ...
I've been told that Northampton County Council candidate Hayden Phillips has no intention of answering my questionnaire. Since I've been highly critical of his candidacy, I can't say I blame him. He was at last night's Executive debate, sitting at the end  of tea party row. It was full of the far, far, far right side of the GOP.

Unfortunately for Phillips, I have a radio interview he did with WAEB's Bobby Gunther Walsh.

In this interview, he tells Walsh he opposes funding for open space. He thinks County workers should pay more for their health care.  He is unwilling to take a "No Tax Hike" pledge.

Ott's Stealth Tax Hike

Lehigh County Exec candidate Scott Ott has started the robocalls. He's got one that starts with this doozy.

"Lower taxes, less spending. That's isn't a slogan, it's my record!"

Quite the opposite. Ott's so-called reform team has amended the 2014 budget submitted by County Executive Croslis and will vote on that tonight. It is now their budget. It is expected to pass with at least five votes (Ott and his block). So let's see how the budget for 2014 (that Ott will vote for) stacks up against his campaign promises.:

Does it reduce spending? 

No. The amount of County spending covered by property taxes that Ott will approve for 2014 is $110.9 million. This is up from $108.8 million for this year (2013) and is also up from $109.3 million for 2012, which he used as an excuse to ride Dean Browning out of office. At that time, Ott promised to "not just slow the growth in spending but to actually reduce spending."

Funny thing. For two years straight, then Commissioner Dean Browning and then Exec Don Cunningham Cunningham really did reduce spending. All of that will be undone tonight with Ott's 2014 budget.

It will be an all time high for County spending.

So Ott's robocall is deceptive. It is certainly not telling voters the truth.

Does it reduce taxes?

Once again, No. Every single taxpayer will pay more next year than they do now. It's a stealth tax hike.

You see, this year's budget includes a credit of $3,500,000 ($21.82 per taxpayer). Next year's does not. Lehigh County taxpayers will have to dig into their pockets for $3,500,000 more to pay their tax bill in 2014.
So not only has Ott not kept his promise from 2011 to eliminate the 16% tax increase, he has actually increased taxes.

NorCo Exec Debate Draws "New Generation" of Leaders and Followers

The New Generation: John Callahan v. John Brown
Northampton County Executive candidates John Callahan, Bethlehem's Democratic Mayor, and John Brown, Bangor's Republican Mayor, squared off in a well-attended debate at Northampton Community College on October 22. The Express Times and League of Women Voters grilled the hopefuls before an audience of over 120 people. In addition to the usual camp followers, there were many newer and fresher faces in the crowd. College students, some of whom will be casting their first vote in November, were in the house. This seemed to thrill LWV spokesperson Beverly Hernandez. In addition to thanking the candidates and the media for their interest, she thanked the audience. "This election is about you," she stated. "Please vote."

In addition to new voters, Callahan and Brown are themselves new to County government, unlike most previous Executives. Callahan stated that it's time for a "new generation of leadership" in Northampton County.

Both candidates seem to be on the same page on most County issues. There were no serious differences until the end of the debate, when they were able to question each other's records.

ET Editor Jim Deegan
Is it Time For a Tax Hike?

Callahan noted that Northampton County's fund balance was at one time $60 million, but could be as low as $14 million in next year's budget. "We can't keep kicking that can down the road," he said. But a tax hike is a last resort. He would first focus on creating efficiencies through a program called Continuous Improvement, in which employees find ways to provide the same service at a lower cost. Callahan claims this saved $14 million in Bethlehem's $75 million budget. "Imagine what it could do with a $340 million budget?" he asked.

Brown echoed many of Callahan's remarks, saying he'd manage more efficiently, line item by line item. He has identified some departments where cuts can be made. Like Callahan, he would partner with the County workforce to find cuts.

Selling Braden Airpark

Brown believes it's important to "keep airports vibrant," and would "support a subsidy on a short-term basis" to keep Braden Airpark afloat. He is opposed to selling the Airpark to help pay off a judgment incurred by the Airport Authority, but believes the Authority board needs to be reviewed.

Callahan said the Airport Authority's financial malaise is a "complicated issue" with many moving parts, from a decrease in air traffic after 9/11 to airline consolidation, and added that Northampton County only appoints six of the 13 board members. Although he doesn't believe a decision on Braden should be made "in a vacuum," he noted that the Airpark was able to work before Moyer Aviation was forced out. He said he would want to partner with local pilots an community leaders on the best course of action.

LWV Beverly Henrandez
The County's Crumbling Infrastructure, From Bridges to Its Own Buildings

"I think it's terrible what's going on with County facilities," noted Callahan, who claimed to have invested millions into Bethlehem's City buildings. He criticized a lack of political will, as well as poor planning. Brown agreed, noting that the County's infrastructure "just has not been a priority." He said the County needs a five year and 10-year plan. "The challenge is how do we pay for it," he asked.

The County's Cadillac Health Plan Could Prove Costly to Taxpayers 

Brown would reach out to the employees and "come up with a solution that is a win win." Callahan stated that the notion of sticking County workers with increased health care costs was both "ill advised" and "jumping the gun." Noting that experts are still divided on the impact of Obamacare, he said it is "too early" to make big changes. He criticized executive John Stoffa's decision to increase healthcare costs to County workers, stating that "you just don't drop a bomb like that on the employees.

Stoffa did reverse himself, so this will be next Executive's problem.

Gracedale Privatization

Neither candidate favors selling Gracedale, the County-owned nursing home. Noting that he signed a pledge to keep Gracedale in County hands on the day he announced his campaign, Callahan suggested that County Council needs to listen more to the recommendations made by Premier, the nursing home's administrator. "We may never break even," he conceded, but said Gracedale is "an obligation we have to the seniors of the County."  Calling the nursing home a "vibrant facility," Brown noted that the home has changed markedly from what it was like many years ago, but the County needs to do a better job of "getting the message out".

Reassessment Not Done Since '95

"Now is not the time," stated Brown, noting the cost would be $8-10 million. Callahan stated it's overdue, but "more stability" is needed in the housing market before taking on a process that will create winners and losers.

NCC President Mark Erickson
Economic Development

"We have not pursued it," complained Brown. "We have to get away from Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, and focus on the rest of the community," argued the Bangor Mayor.

Unlike many County officials, Callahan believes that the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation "is headed in the right direction under Don Cunningham." But the County is not. Noting that the economic development office is located "in the bowels of Northampton County," next to the jail's bullpen, he wondered how that is supposed to attract investment.

He pointed to his own record of economic development in Bethlehem, stating there has been $2 billion invested, resulting in 5,500 jobs.

Do We Need a $6 Million Morgue?

Callahan complained that, no sooner was the ink dry on the bond documents for bridges, that the Coroner announced he needed a $6 million morgue. "It's a case of not having a five year plan," he complained. But he cautioned that a "Taj Mahal of a morgue" may not be needed. Brown called the current morgue "abysmal" and "completely inadequate." He agreed with Callahan that the County needs to have more vision, but stated that it's important to have an appropriate setting for what is "one of the most painful and critical times" for surviving family members.


Callahan supports regionalism, from bi-county health to work release. He called the possibility of sharing work release facilities with Lehigh County a "missed opportunity." Concerning regional public health, Callahan stated that "disease doesn't know municipal boundaries."  Brown supports looking at a bi-county health department, but notes that the health industry has changed and there are clinics everywhere.

Candidates Grill Each Other

After fielding questions from the panel, the leashes were removed and candidates could go after each other.

And they did.

Brown tagged Callahan for ignoring Bethlehem's 12,000 seniors and raising taxes in Bethlehem while giving himself a payraise. Callahan retorted that he made Bethlehem the safest City in the state, produced a surplus for two years in a row and erased the deficit while reducing the City's debt by $100 million.

Brown claimed that Callahan borrowed $17.8 million from the Sewer Authority, forcing people outside Bethlehem to pay for the City's poor fiscal leadership. But Callahan answered that  under his fiscal leadership, the City's credit rating has gone from "neutral" to "positive."

Finally, Brown slammed Callahan over his decision to settle a civil rights case for $7.89 million, but Callahan said it was necessary because the case had become a "huge distraction to our police department" during a "very dark period of time in our history." Noting that Bethlehem is the safest City in the state and one of the top 100 places to live, he argued that "time has shown the wisdom of that decision."

Then Callahan fired back.

Brown was taken to task for allowing a 79-acre brownfield, to be sold to an out-of-state developer, who did a stint in jail for illegal dumping. Brown claimed he opposed the developer.

The Bangor Mayor was also taken to task for accepting $7,650, seven times his annual salary, for a "junket" to Notre Dame "to become a better mayor at a job you never intended to keep." Brown responded that he learned ethics and leadership at the training seminar, and was grateful to Bangor Borough Council for sending him there.

Finally, Callahan hit Brown for public safety failures. Brown fired the police chief in Bangor, never replaced him, and Bangor was excluded from a regional force in the slate belt, according to Callahan. Brown responded that the police department needed a makeover, and the officers there are much happier now and have every other weekend off.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stoffa Vetoes McClure Madness

Northampton County Exec John Stoffa has vetoed a Lamont McClure-inspired law that would have prevented County workers from serving on public service boards like CACLV. It would have prevented Sheriff Randy Miller and Emergency Management Director Bob Mateff from participating in regional efforts to enhance our security and readiness for natural disasters. 

I will have more later.

Kutzler: It's a Walk Down The Hall

Thomas Grebs claims he is one of the strongest in Pa.
Bethlehem Township manager Howard Kutzler served at his last Commissioners'meeting in Bethlehem Township on October 21. His resignation on November 1 was never mentioned, but Commissioners did name Kutzler's Assistant, Doug Bruce, as Acting Township Manager "until decided otherwise." They also voted to hire Lafayette College's Meyner Center to recruit a new manager.

"It's a walk down the hall," Kuztler said of his new job as Director of Administration in South Whitehall Township. He'll be working under Jon Hammer, his predecessor in Bethlehem Township.

Commissioners, with little discussion, gave conditional approval to two major projects.

They approved a 64-bed Alzheimer wing at ManorCare's Arden Courts, located off of Freemansburg Avenue. They also finally approved a six story, 120-room hotel located off of Freemansburg Avenue, located near St. Luke's Hospital, and owned by Dr. Atul Amin.

Commissioners also took a baby step forward on repairs to the Archibald Johnston mansion at Housenick Park.

Mark J. Sobeck Roofing Consulting, located in Wilkes-Barre, submitted a $16,000 bid package for repairs to the 5,320 sq ft roof. He's asked to come in at a lower cost, and to include repairs to the chimney and removal of an elevator tower.

Commissioners also heard again from increasingly irate Chetwin Terrace resident Roy Roth, who complained that storm water runoff has been unaddressed for three decades. As in previous meetings, Roth was told that repairs are being scheduled in next year's budget. "You're going to have to do something," stated Roth, threatening legal action against the Township.

Finally, Thomas Grebs, of 12th Avenue, complained of unsafe conditions at the Community Center, noting he has been injured there twice. he also objected to the removal of equipment from the weight room. Pointing out that he is one of the strongest people in Pennsylvania for his age, Grebs asked that the equipment be returned.

Another County Sells Its Nursing Home

In their latest attempt to persuade us that all is well at Northampton County nursing home Gracedale, a new culprit is being blamed for the fiscal woes - accounting. If they only stopped using a cash basis and went into an accrual form of accounting, in which predicted revenue could be claimed, all would be well. While County officials slapped each other on the back for finally solving the problem, Montgomery County voted to sell their home.

Montgomery County, incidentally, is a Commissioner Board with a 2-1 Democratic majority. Josh Shapiro, the chair, is a former State Rep touted as a potential statewide candidate among liberal Democrats. The vote was unanimous.

While Northampton County discusses keeping two sets of books despite the advice of those nasty independent auditors, Lebanon County has begun exploring privatization of its nursing home.

At the beginning of 2013, 28 counties still operated 33 nursing homes (some counties have more than one home). So far this year, five counties have now sold their homes, while another two weigh their options.

Perhaps someone should tell them it's just an accounting problem.

Lamont McClure Shows His Mean Streak

Lamont McClure and Ken Kraft have been telling everyone that their amendment to Northampton County's revolving door ordinance (see my story here) really has no application to county employees who serve on the boards of nonprofits like CACLV, which receive county funds. They deny it is an attempt to punish CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings or the two County employees who serve on his board. They claim this ordinance only applies to entities that do business or provide paid services with the County.

But let me clue them in. CACLV does business with the County. It does provide paid services. Their attempt to pretend it has no application to nonprofits is completely contrary to the plain language of the ordinance as well as the Council discussion on Thursday night. Moreover, it is completely contrary to what McClure himself said to Jennings in an email exchange on Friday.

I filed a RTK request with Jennings, figuring he would ask McClure what was going on. Sure enough, he did.

Below is Jennings' email to McClure, followed by McClure's insincere reply, in which he demonstrates pretty clearly that he is punishing Jennings over the Marcus hire and is kicking around two County workers who look out for our money on his board while the Controller does union organizing.

Jennings to McClure:

Hi, Lamont –

I had no idea that Council was considering the ordinance it adopted last night regarding County employees’ service on boards of directors. I was away on vacation when the first reading occurred and never learned of the proposal until someone told me about the post on Bernie's blog this morning.

I didn't realize how much our hiring of Ross Marcus disturbed Council members. I sent President Cusick an apology but got no response.

The federal law that authorizes the existence of Community Action Agencies like ours requires us to include elected officials or their appointed representatives on our boards. In fact, at least one-third of our board must represent that public sector.

For more than 40 years, we have had designated seats for representatives of the two counties and the three cities. For 30 years we have also included representatives of the communities with the next highest poverty rates; that means the Slatington area, Fountain Hill, and the Slate Belt, particularly Bangor.

The concept behind the federal law is that anti-poverty work should grow out of collaborative discussion involving all sectors of the community, which means the public sector, the private sector and low-income people themselves. I believe that process has served this region very well. You know from your own experience, for example, that it was CACLV that stepped up to take on the foreclosure crisis. I hope you know that we have many, many other examples of CACLV agility in taking on new community challenges.

It would be very unfortunate if Northampton County removed itself from that process. For that reason I will be encouraging the County executive to veto the ordinance.

As an aside, I had no idea that you had such disdain for this agency or me. If there is anything I can do to heal that relationship I hope you will give me that opportunity.

Best –


McClure's Reply to Jennings:

Frank Flisser [Council Clerk] forwarded your email to me. It’s always unfortunate, when people personalize an issue. Indeed, while the genesis for this Ordinance was the Ross Marcus hiring, this issue has little, to nothing to do with CACLV, in my mind. I don’t have any personal disdain for you or your organization. As you correctly noted, I’ve worked successfully with your CACLV in the past to help folks threatened by foreclosure. As you may remember, I was the author of the Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program in Northampton County and I fought to get it passed. I will work with CACLV again when it is in the best interests of the people of Northampton County.

With respect to the substance of the issues you raise in your email, Northampton County law was violated when you hired Ross Marcus. That violation of the law will not be addressed in the short term as CACLV is essentially a sole source provider for certain of the human services that it provides to the County. I understood you to have said that you had no fear of the contracts being put out to bid as you would mostly likely be the only bidder or the lowest bidder. That tells me you understood what the law in Northampton County was, but due to your leverage, you chose to hire Mr. Marcus anyway.

As for the provision that was passed last night, it is your right to advocate for a veto. In many ways, after the issues Mr. Stoffa raised last night, and that you reiterated today in your email, I look forward to the opportunity to attempt to override the veto as I don’t believe the manner in which Mr. Marcus came to be employed at CACLV in violation of Northampton County law, has been adequately vetted. Heretofore, the role, in the hiring of Mr. Marcus, of the board members who are also employees of Northampton County, has not been thoroughly explored.

We have also recently just passed through a situation where the County Controller was forced to resign a teaching position at the Community College. I certainly think teaching the leaders of tomorrow at a community college is a public good. However, the classes were during the regular work day, and while the Controller did not violate any law, he wisely chose to give up the post. In the override fight, it would probably also be important to review how much time Northampton County employees spend on CACLV business during regular county working hours.

While this Ordinance, was not meant to be personalized, you and Mr. Stoffa have done so, which is very unfortunate. This Ordinance was inspired by your actions in breach of your contracts with the county, but what it is meant to do is prevent county employees from serving two competing interests. The intent of the law is to ensure that county employees have the taxpayers best interests in mind at all times. I also believe you are technically mistaken regarding one point. Elected officials are not impacted by this Ordinance. Therefore, the County Executive, any of the 9 members of County Council, the Controller or even the DA could sit on CACLV’s board. Therefore, Northampton County will not disengage from the process.

Should you wish to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to call.