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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brown Blasts NorCo's Failed Leadership

After six weeks of ignoring emails and calls from the media, Northampton County Executive John Brown conducted his first news conference yesterday. He needed to "settle in" first, he explained. He pledged regular access and greater transparency. He called reporters in response to the public outcry over his proposal to spend $715,200 on outside business consultant Deana Zosky over the next four years. He defended the idea, insisting it would more than pay for itself. He also predicted that the measure would get the five votes he needs from Council. But he said the biggest problem facing the County is a lack of leadership.

"For the past 16 years, the County has been a drifting ship without direction," charged Brown, in a slight aimed at former Executives John Stoffa and Glenn Reibman. "The challenges we face today are a direct result of the failure of leadership over the last eight years - and certainly the eight before that."

"I will not dignify a comment like that with a response," retorted John Stoffa, who supplied Brown with an office and County resources immediately after Brown was elected, to aid in his transition.

Brown claimed poor leadership has led to problems like serial structural deficits, including a $13 million deficit in 2013, coupled with an attitude that "budgets do not matter." He pledged "to restore fiscal sanity" to County government. "I have grabbed the steering wheel and have begun laying the groundwork to redirect the County away from the past and into a new future."

After proclaiming his transparency and willingness to work with Council, Brown disputed the claims of some Council members. According to one reporter, some say they were "blindsided" by Brown's proposal to hire a $715,200 business consultant. He said he made his intentions known two weeks ago, but apologized to any members who were unaware.

Asked how he would pay for this business consultant contract with Deana Zosky, which he agreed does include unspecified IT costs, Brown said he has already saved $100,000 in the Solicitor's office.

Though critical of the $13 million deficit, Brown said he was "unsure" whether he would have agreed to a tax hike. "I would have preferred that they control costs," he said, adding that he "bit my tongue" as Council approved several new positions. Not all have been filled. Brown is requiring department heads to meet with him and justify the added cost.

He cited the new hires as an example of a habit, presumably a bad habit.

New hires in the Stoffa administration were actually something of a rarity. First, he imposed a two-year hiring freeze on vacant positions, under which slots were filled only if both he and Council agreed they were critical. Second, he instituted a voluntary furlough program, an unpaid vacation exercised by about 20 County employees annually. Third, he refused to appoint a Director of Community and Economic Development, or replace Vic Mazziotti after he resigned as Director of Fiscal Affairs.

In an effort to control costs, Brown agrees with Lamont McClure's proposed performance audit of the $5.5 million Community Education Center program at the jail, which is designed to treat inmates and keep them from re-offending. "We get a sound bite," he said of claims that the program reduces recidivism. "We don't get the whole story."

Brown stated he is addressing the $5.5 million deficit at County nursing home Gracedale by conducting weekly meetings with Administrator Dee Freeman. "We're handcuffed in some ways," he noted, referring to "labor issues."

In addition to the proposed business consultant contract, Brown has already approved a public works consultant and is considering a communications consultant. But he denied plans to engage in government by consultant. He conceded that he is having trouble finding people willing to work at the salaries paid by local government.

Though Brown himself shut out the press until yesterday, he nevertheless criticized prior administrations for their lack of transparency. "We don't communicate well with our own employees," he observed, adding that "they do such a good job."

After stressing the importance of communication and transparency, media consultant Kim Plyler brought the conference to an end after about 20 minutes.

"There's time for one more question," she announced.

You can read Brown's remarks here. 

45 comments:

Bernie O'Hare said...

Since John Stoffa is part of this story, I will allow attacks by his detractors, who mainly consist of Tricia Mezzacappa. But since he is retired, I will allow no anonymous personal attacks. You will have to ID yourself clearly or I will delete.

Brown discusses Stoffa's failed leadership and holds himself out as the man with a plan. So far, he has no cabinet to speak of, had to pull a ridiculous nomination for PD, and wants the county to spend $715k on a business consultant who has no knowledge of county government. He has not selected one person who actually understands how county government works, and on his first meeting with the press, he attacked his two predecessors. One of them, Stoffa, actually set him up in an office to assist his transition.

The comments he made smack of arrogance. This is never a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Brown is a disaster even calling 911 won`t help.

Anonymous said...

No one should personally attack any of these gentlemen. It's politics. While we may not all agree,there is no reason to "attack" anyone.While I may not have agreed on Stoffa's decisions all the time-he is,and always will be a great man! Glenn Reibman,once again-can't say I agreed with all his choices,but not a "bad" person-actually quite charming. And John Brown?,too soon to crow his merits-but I'm sure time will tell. We are all very quick to judge how we would "do it",but at least these 3 men stepped up to the plate and took a swing at it!

Bernie O'Hare said...

That's quite fair. I have no problem with someone anonymously saying that Stoffa was a failed Exec, but I will not tolerate the constant personal attacks against him by one or two people with what appears to be personal grudges. He is no longer an elected official. Nor is Glenn Reibman. He and I disagreed about everything, and I was one of his harshest critics, but he was always a gentleman to me. I am put off by what Brown said, to be honest. But to his credit, he did not make it personal.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have deleted several comments that engage in anonymous personal attacks and claim this never was my policy. I have always said i will delete personal attacks at my discretion. I am exercising that discretion. please post the hate somewhere else. Mmmk?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

How ironic the portrait of the man who extended every courtesy and offered much assistance but was assailed yesterday hangs over his left shoulder.

Anonymous said...

leadership?


didn't know leadership could be manifested by armies of consultants.

Anonymous said...

He has a media consultant? Good Grief Charlie Brown, I mean John Brown.

Anonymous said...

Brown sounds like Obama blaming Bush. Newsflash John, you are a Republican you can't get away with that. Stoffa did blunder the swaption, but provided some leadership. Had he been able to sell a failing nursing home as 10 other counties have just done, Norco finances would be in great shape. Brown has figured out he is between a rock and a hard place and is lashing out. The fund balance is gone and Gracedale continues to hemorrhage money. He needs to make big cuts or convince a Republican Council to raise taxes. Reality bites.

Anonymous said...

John Brown not accepting his responsibility and then blaming others, is a trademark of his. he did it in Bangor many times. This blame-game will go on for 4 years. Get used to it.

Brown was an awful mayor! Good luck Norco!!!

Anonymous said...

HOKIE JOE SAYS:
I find it interesting that Mr. Brown only went back 16 years in the County's mismanagement of finances. Had he gone back twenty years he would have come to Brackbill's Administration who happened to be a Republican. This is the guy who took a junket to the Fiesta Bowl and then returned to Northampton County and signed a 45 million dollar contract with the company that paid his way. Are we playing a little politics here?
Every taxpayer in the County knows that Northampton County didn't raise taxes for eight years. Every taxpayer in the County knows that taxes are a way of life. You can play all the games you want....taxes will go up. All we ask for is an administration that can show us they are doing everything they can to fulfill the goals that are stated in the Preamble of the Northampton County Home Rule Charter. The Preamble reads "We, the people of The County of Northampton, in order to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in county government and in order to assure each citizen the right to participate in county government hereby adopt this Home Rule Charter under the Constitution and laws of Pennsylvania." If Mr. Brown remembers those three key words, economy, efficiency and effectiveness, he has a shot at being a successful Executive. Hiring consultants at three quarters of a millon dollars just doesn't cut it.
The Charter gives him all the tools he nedds to be successful and the two most important positions in his administration aren't yet filled. A "Good" Director of Administration and a "Good" Finance Director. He is neither,he is the Executive, and sadly without these individuals he will fail.

Anonymous said...

Just because John Brown doesn't think Stoffa provided much leadership doesn't mean he is attacking him. Why can't he say what he feels? If that is his honest assessment then so be it. From here on Brown will have to make decisions based on much of what others did or did not do. It is not personal. I like Stoffa and Brown. I had reservations about Stoffa and I do now about Brown. Time will sort this out to some degree. There are enemies on both sides and they are the first ones who will make it personal, but they will blame others for it. Politics are ugly and people who take little of no responsibility are just as bad. We have to give Brown a chance. He will improve things for some and others will hate him. The worm always turns. I am sorry to hear he has 5 votes for a part time woman who did little for the Allentown school district.

Anonymous said...

What kind of a dickhead throws the guy you are replacing, who is in your OWN PARTY, under the bus like that? This guy is an ass and is going to be a disaster.

Anonymous said...

Yes, of course you can't get anyone to work at the low salaries. Now tell that to your Republican tea party cronies who think public sector workers are feeding from the trough.

Anonymous said...

JB is starting off doing all of the wrong things. I agree that his first responsibility is to seek qualified individuals to fill his cabinet and let them make their recommendations to him. Why not go to County Council and ask to raise some of the salaries he feels are too low then hire this young lady as Dir of Administration. If her resume and experience is that good they should have no problem raising the salary commensurate with the responsibilities. It is time to man up and getr done.

Anonymous said...

Council is being high balled as opposed to being low balled. The sticker shock is evident. Why pay retail all the time or above retail? Some sanity please. Council needs to do their jobs and not rubber stamp anything and everything that is suggested by JB. Checks and balances..please.

Anonymous said...

This is JB's MO. Shoot high and see what happens. He'll come down on the price if you push him to do so. Council needs to grow a set and do what's right for the people who pay the bills.

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:07, of course it was an attack. John Stoffa was elected to lead. Some may not like his subdued style, but that's not the same thing as calling it failed leadership. It was in poor form. An incumbent exec should have the class not to attack his predecessor, especially when that predecessor did all he could to ensure that Brown would hit the ground running.

Anonymous said...

I personally didn't like john stoffa forming committees for everything when he became exc.and found him to be a poor decision maker , jb doesn't from onset seem much better except he's paying his people big bucks...I also agree it is in poor taste to attack your predessor if they aren't there to defend themself..time will tell I suppose on the job he'll do ..he's sure off to a rocky start.

Anonymous said...

True but in his defense, how does he explain any changes without explaining that he does not agree with what has been done. If you want him to be transparent let him say what he feels and the deal with it. The next person and so on will do the same thing. Why change anything if the guy before you was perfect. They all have weaknesses and those weaknesses can cost us. Stoffa was too subdue at times. This style does leave room for improvement. Hopefully Browns enthusiasm and youth enables him to do some good for the county. I don't see that Brown attacked Stoffa. I feel he has to look like he sees where the failures were. Stoffa is attached to them. As Brown will be.

Anonymous said...

She made $98K a year as ASD. No way is this iniative worth $715K.

Anonymous said...

how is salary justified when there isn't anyone working in county government earning that much ? you've can't be serious..what a slap in the face to dorann Hammond and others who stepped up to the plate when they were needed...it's wrong and council should not vote for her!

Anonymous said...

I'm just leaning back and laughing at this whole mess. The county voted for this guy, and now it's gonna pay for it. Say what you will of Callahan, but he would've never gone the consultant route. These are gonna be a fun four years.

Anonymous said...

And Callahan would be spending plenty of money in other areas. Are u kidding me???? That's what the D's always do. He would outspend Brown.....we all know this.

Anonymous said...

There is no way to justify this amount of money. I hope my conservative colleagues say no......if they insist on spending this amount of money they will not see another r voted for I. The next cycle. Not that D's don't waste money. Just depends on what taxpayers think at election time. Council members need to wake up. If Brown has some proof that she will save us money, it is still too much to spend. This woman didn't do any good for the Allentown school from what I hear. So she isn't worth much at all.....

Anonymous said...

there isn't anyone worth that amount of money ...period!

Anonymous said...

Glad I don't live in Northampton County anymore.

Anonymous said...

Let us not forget that the biggest impediment to Mr. Brown's success is the fact that eight years ago his predecessor inherited a $70 million surplus and Mr. Brown inherited a $13 million deficit.

That is the biggest hurt along with the white elephant lease in Bethlehem Twp.

Anonymous said...

Brown's response, similar to " This position will pay for itself." is NOT adequate!

Based on some data, some inside knowledge, Brown obviously believes this to be true. But, how so? I trust all council members will be given a chance to analyze the very same evidence.

Fred Windish

Anonymous said...

That 100,000 he saved with the change to the solicitors office is up in the air.

http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/northampton-county/index.ssf/2014/02/former_northampton_county_assi.html#incart_river_default

Hank_Hill

Anonymous said...

Reibman and Stoffa were horrible. Mr.Brown does not have a high standard to beat.

Anonymous said...

The game is back off the $700K and come back with a scaled back plan that still covers this political favor.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Reibman and Stoffa were horrible. "

You make this argument anonymously bc you would not want your name associated with these kinds of attacks. You prove my point. Brown made the argument, and did so as County Exec, attacking his two predecessors.

To me, that is bush league. He should remember he is the County Exec. I think he will get it.

Anonymous said...

Brown doesn't need this consultant. He only needs to look to Dorann Hammond who was tutored by Pete Houck and dates back to the Gene Hartzell years. Dorann knows the finances of the county better than anyone. He is also a true gentleman and I bet if he were not he could criticize the county's fiscal policies through the years better than anyone.

Peter J.Cochran said...

AND PETE HOUCK! Great man, would be great to have back. If you look at the Brackbill Administration , Hemstreet was after him for his policies if you remember events! COMPROMISE ;Hire the lady at $ 125,000 and put her in the same office with Pete after his retirement and maybe we got a deal going ?-Mr. Brown, please get some track record folks to help you . Every leader may not want an opposition party member to advise them,but it is a good idea as a counter balance ! All new hires should be based on 'DOCUMENTED MERIT" during your administration and build a corps!-HAVE qualified new personnel in key positions, stagger your meeting days and ALWAYS tell the truth.,and you shall have success. SAY'S -OLD PETER that voted for you.Personal integrity IS the only real thing--that matters.

Anonymous said...

"He only needs to look to Dorann Hammond who was tutored by Pete Houck and dates back to the Gene Hartzell years."

Oh stop, Houck was just an angry old man and helped create the epidemic spending we have today. You guys are dreaming.

Anonymous said...

Peter, get real or at least try to make sense.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Get real or try to ... Go ahead, make my day! Wanna see how knows what on whom? Post your name if you are not ashamed of your skeleton and send a question , any question let see how WE digest it together.I don't live in the court house and I am not dependent on any political gains, take this to the bank!How about this ,you Anon 4;39 are in fact 90% a simple microbes, would you explain this to us all, as you are really only 10% human by relationship and intelligent. Make my day!

Anonymous said...

John Brown is a train wreck waiting to happen. Needs a whole new set of advisors. His corporate lingo won't work.

Anonymous said...

necessaryBernie lets wait four years and see what gets done and see what Browns legacy will turn out be it could also turn out to be failed leadership.

Anonymous said...
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Peter J.Cochran said...

Sorry Anon 4;40 I don't mean to be hard headed. Bernie cuts off anyone that posts derogatory remarks that will not say who they are.Now lets start over,shall we? My ideology is simple,-- Responsibility,personal integrity and respect. Everything revolves around this. Democrat or Republican, progressive or Communist.I like you, do not take shots well, and personally don't bend over! Most of us are here on Bernie's blog for a common good .In a new book by Joshua Greene,he points out MORAL TRIBES have the best interest of a home group.They put 'US' ahead of 'ME'and over competing groups of 'THEM'. Penguin press.Lets play nice.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Peter, don't bother engaging the anonymous trolls. Their comments here will be deleted.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Thank you Bernie, I just like fighting my own issues with whomever.Even though we don't have the same political mix, I would bail you out!