About Me

My photo
Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, March 31, 2014

Is Jim Gregory Harassing Woman In the Can?

If anyone belongs in Bill White's Mount Rushmore Hall of Fame, it's got to be ex-cop, ex-Councilman, ex-County worker, ex-shock jock and ex-con Jim Gregory. How someone can end up with a 15 month state prison sentence for non-violent violations of Protection From Abuse Act (PFA) Orders is nothing short of a miracle. He managed to do it, and may very well be earning himself some extra time.

According to Friday's Bethlehem police blotter, police are investigating an unidentified state prison inmate male, who is sending letters to someone at the Sands Casino after being told to stay away from her by Pennsylvania State Police. The matter is marked "open," indicating no charges have been filed ... yet.

Is this Jim Gregory? Here's what I know.

The Beauty Queen

Back in August, before Jim Gregory was sent to Graterford, Camp Hill and Pittsburgh State Correctional Institutes for multiple violations of a Protection From Abuse Act (PFA) Order, he had his eyes set on yet another beauty. 

But the newspapers never gave him a chance.

On WGPA-AM, he discussed a blossoming one-sided romance with a Sands waitress who was a Miss Pennsylvania contestant. "I just looked into her eyes, like I did when I met [my ex]. ... Not only was she beautiful inside, but she was beautiful outside."

There you go. Kinda' like me.

On his show, he named her, and even showed her picture on the live-stream. I'm sure she was delighted. 

He said he gave her a $600 gold and diamond chain and set up sponsors to help her in her beauty pageant. But for some reason, this attractive 20-something with a boyfriend wanted nothing to do with a guy in his 60s.

Go figure.

State police had to tell him to back off, according to what Gregory himself said

On his short-lived and libelous radio show, Gregory blames it all on bad publicity from The Express Times. 

He was hoping to have her on his show as a guest, but got popped right after one of his broadcasts. 

Docket sheets do not list any new charges against Gregory. But it's hard to believe there could be another person out there like him. I'll be watching this.

Mezzacappa Falling Out

In other Jim Gregory news, he's had a falling out with his moll, Tricia Mezzacappa. She described him in Court as her "significant other", but now she's speculating publicly that he's involved in smuggling contraband.

At least she hasn't accused him of rape.

This fight is over material things.

He asked her to return his iPod and other items that he either gave or loaned her, but she ignored his letter.

She has a habit of ignoring letters, like she did with the certified mail notice of her nonjury trail.

Gregory wrote again.

"I'd like to remain friends," he tells her. "Please don't make me involve the police. Just do as I ask." So she published his letter, even though it contains the phone numbers of innocent people, one of whom seems to be his wife. 

And she wonders why people get upset with her. 

Mezzacappa denies having anything that belongs to Gregory, except a birdcage, and she refuses to return it. 

He'll have to file a replevin action, I guess. 

Who's telling the truth? Mezzacappa or Gregory? How'd you like to have to make that call?

Bottom-Feeding Blogger Gets Keystone Press Award

In addition to the Mezzacappa verdict, I have more good news. The haters are gonna' love this!

Yes, I'm a bottom-feeding blogger. I'm more suited to diving head first into garbage cans, looking for dirt, than wearing a suit and acting all dignified. But the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association has just handed me a major award. Believe it or not, it's for journalism.

In this year's Keystone Press Awards, I've been awarded first place for investigative reporting. This is for my stories about Northampton County full-time Controller, Steve Barron. He was caught playing hooky at Northampton Community College three days a week in the middle of the work day. Twelve hours a week. Barron eventually quit his teaching gig.

Actually, there were 11 major awards for my newspaper, The Bethlehem Press.  It's a small weekly that was up against powerhouses like The Abington Journal and Dillsburg Banner. We won our division sweepstakes with 11 awards total.

Believe it or not, this is my second major award. I got one last year for my NIZ stories.

Other Bethlehem Press winners include the following:

Jason Rehm - First place - column writing
Mark Reccek - Second place column writing (for Whitehall-Coply Press)
Staff (Dana Grubb, Nate Jastrzemski, George Taylor) - Second place - JFK special project
Bud Cole - Honorable mention - sports columns (Focus)
Paul Willistein - Second place - news feature story
Paul Willistein - First place - headline writing
Nate Jastrzemski - First place - business story
Carol Smith - Second place - business writing
Karen Samuels - Honorable mention - feature beat reporting
Linda Anthony - First place - photo story
Ed Courrier - First place- graphics/illustrations

The Morning Call is in a much more competitive division. It's more like NCAA Division 1. The paper still grabbed six awards for sports coverage and design.

The Express Times picked up three major awards, too. Brad Wilson, whom I've never met but whose breezy sports stories are the best I've ever seen anywhere, picked up a second place in sports beat reporting that should have been a first. I hope the fame doesn't go to his head. 

All award winners get a real heavy plaque. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tricia Mezzacappa Must Pay Me $67,000 For Internet Defamation

In a verdict handed down this morning (read it here), Northampton County Judge Michael J. Koury has finally wielded the sword of justice at West Easton troublemaker Tricia Mezzacappa. She's been ordered to pay me $67,140 in damages, including nearly $45,000 in punitive damages, for defamation.

I was represented by Allentown Attorney Rick Orloski, who stuck by me despite all the abuse she heaped on him. In fact, she began to defame him, too. A lesser lawyer would have taken off.

Mezzacappa began her defamation on October 31, 2011 at a blog called “Saving Private Gracedale”. That defamation has continued to the present day. In fact, Mezzacappa started her own blog, called “West Easton Footprint,” to continue making lurid accusations. These include very specific and false accusations that I exposed myself to her, sexually assaulted her, intoxicated her in an attempt to rape her, threatened to rape her, poisoned and abused her pet pig, stalked her in various locations, placed nails under the tires of her car and even burglarized her home.

She also falsely claimed that Ron Angle and I were involved in some sort of tax evasion scheme that included flipping antiques at auctions. She referred to us as “tax frauds” and depicted us both behind prison bars.

What bothered me most were her false accusations of pedophilia.

As Judge Edward G Smith, recently confirmed to the federal bench, noted in response to Mezzacappa's objections to my complaint, "[T]hese statements do not merely appear to be expressions of non-actionable opinion. Instead, these statements not only appear to be defamatory; they appear to be defamatory per se.”

If defamation is per se, damages can be presumed. But I can tell you they were very real. At the courthouse, I was called into the recorder's office because the women who work there began to wonder whether they should worry about me. At sporting events, where I love to watch my grandson and the other kids play, I had to discuss the matter with several coaches. I also began to notice that some parents understandably stopped asking me to pick up their kids and take them to practice. After being dragged into court on seven separate occasions by Mezzacappa to face bogus stalking charges, it began interfering with my sleep and made it difficult for me to concentrate.

In addition to the Internet defamation, Mezzacappa actively sought to have me fired as a freelance writer for The Bethlehem Press on at least three different occasions, necessitating all kinds of detailed explanations and references before I could continue.

Her pattern of harassing me with seven baseless stalking actions, was a drain on judicial resources. She made a mockery of the Court with seven frivolous claims between April 10, 2012 and the March 11 date of the damages trial. On one occasion, she forced Easton's police chief and another officer to waste a day in court. Because criminal sanctions are inappropriate, the only remedy to deter her from continuing to waste judicial resources and step all over other people is punitive damages.

As if all this were not bad enough, Mezzacappa displayed her animus by posting this comment, on Thursday, 1/10/13, at The Express Times web page, about me:

Hi Jimp, I dont usually respond to anons, but here it goes.
Maybe I'M scared, but I dont think I'm paranoid, or a gun nut. See, law enforcement doesnt always work for insignificant nobody's like myself. They dont always serve and protect, either. When armagedon comes a runnin towards my house, I stand armed and ready. I picture armegedon about 5 ft 9 and balding, little eyeglasses on the tip of his nose, and enough fat flaps to insulate a bull. Deep breath, aim, shoot, and....one hollow point goes right through his skull, he's dead before he hit the ground, kersplat....PERFECT”

What makes this comment particularly menacing is that Mezzacappa possesses firearms, brags about them, and open carries. This comment was deleted at The Express Times, and she kept reposting it until The Express Times ultimately deleted her account.

Mrezzacappa is so difficult as a person that she continually taunted Attorney Orloski, referred to him in childish terms and refused to answer my complaint because she did not care for the way it was served on her. We ended up filing a default judgment. Then she refused to pick up certified mail notifying her of the damages trial. Yesterday, she was in Court, demanding sanctions against me for failing to give her notice, though that comes from the Court.

To her, this has been a game. To Attorney Orlosli and myself, it's been very real, and we really had no choice. Now we have a very real verdict, one that will withstand her attempts to have set aside. She is in a very bad position. She recently paid off the mortgage to her West Easton home. She will be unable to sell or mortgage it without satisfying us first. We can and will sell her home if the judgment remains unpaid. She won't be able to discharge a defamation tort in bankruptcy, especially when nearly $45,000 are in punitive damages.



You know things are bad when BBC does a radio story on their losing record. If they lose Saturday, they set the record for most losses in a row, not just by a pro basketball team, but any professional team in U.S. sports.

Wanna' Go to Jail?

You'll have that opportunity if you sign up for Northampton County's first Spring Academy.

It's a one-evening session that will focus on the Department of Corrections. The first 50 county citizens who register will be among the select few to hear about what goes on behind bars. It will focus on the programs and services that Corrections administers.

This session will take place on Wednesday, May 7, between 6 and 8:30 pm. You'll meet at the jail. If you'd like to register, call Camille Bartlett, Public Safety Administrator, at 610-923-4327. You can also email her at cbartlett@northamptoncounty.org.

The goal of the Citizens’ Academy is to foster a better relationship between County Government and its constituents while providing the foundation for greater citizen participation on the county’s Boards, Commissions and Authorities.

NorCo GOP Exec Committee Unanimously Endorses Angle

Who's the man you love to hate? The Sultan of Shit, the Northampton County Bulldog, the name that Democratic mommies use to strike fear into their children's hearts. "You better be good, or Ron Angle will get you!" Despite all the slurs and stones cast his way in recent years, he's stood tall, and has continued doing what he thinks is right. He's not one to stick his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.

He's running for State Committee, which has opened him up to the usual insults and name-calling. Last night, Northampton County's Executive Committee met to decide who they were endorsing. Each candidate, and there are a lot of them, was given a three-minute spiel. When all was said and done, only one candidate was endorsed unanimously. That candidate is none other than Ron Angle. He's a bastard, but he's their bastard.

The Executive Committee also voted to endorse Lee Snover, Peg Ferraro, Mary Barket, Glenn Geissinger and Bob Kilbanks.

“We just won the Republican Super Bowl in Northampton County," exclaimed an ecstatic Lee Snover. "Why would you change the coach and the team?” she asked, referring to the party's clean sweep in the Executive and County Council races.
I'm a Democrat, so what I think means little. But I don't know how Brian Monahan was overlooked. For years, he's been an invaluable asset to County Republicans, both inside and outside the courtroom. Last Fall, he was one of the persons who stood up to the tea party faction. In addition, he has been among their top vote getters. The people who voted showed little gratitude to a person who himself has always been loyal.

911 Needs 911

County budgets are imperiled throughout the state as a result of a 911 funding crisis. This emergency service is subsidized by a $1-1.50 monthly surcharge on land lines. Cell phone users pay $1 per month, but the enabling legislation for that is set to expire on June 30. Unless it is extended, it will be up to counties to make up the difference.

Brown Defends PR Contract in News Conference

Brown tours Beth. Steel Machine Shop No. 2
In his second news conference as County Executive, attended by Channel 69's Will Lewis and yours truly, John Brown defended his $84,000 contract with public relations firm Sahl Communications, operated by Kim Plyler. He brushed off hints of a looming lawsuit as well. "I'm not concerned about it," he shrugged. "I think it's been put to rest."

He explained that Kim Plyler will be "telling the story of the county," calling our local government a "$1 billion machine driving the local economy." He dismissed concerns that an outside firm would be less effective than an insider with a more detailed knowledge; the danger that it could be perverted into a publicly-financed propaganda machine for him; or worse, that Plyler ould use insider knowledge to open doors for other possible vendors like Donna Taggart.

Interestingly, Taggart just happens to be a County vendor, and one who shares office space with Plyler.

At one point, Plyler jumped into the conversation to state she no longer wants to read press comments, indicating that efforts to reach Brown or her were unsuccessful.

"I have five people in my office," she said, but was told that efforts to reach her and the five people in her office have been unsuccessful.

Brown insisted that he could not hire a press spokesperson because the "position does not exist internally", although Executives have used their Directors of Administration to handle press relations for at least the past sixteen years. In fact, yesterday, I received two news releases concerning the County, from county workers. One announces a new Citizen's Academy. The other highlights the official dedication of the new Human Services building.

Neither of these announcements came from Plyler or anyone in her 5-person office.

I asked Brown about a Sahl photographer in Bethlehem last week for the Governor's visit. I asked specifically whether we might see those pictures again in an election contest. Brown stated they were for a newsletter to County employees. He indicated that his intention is ultimately to have some sort of newsletter to the public, paid for by the public. "When we're ready to share more of the plan, we'll do it.At this point, we're not ready to share that part of the plan."

Though Brown's relations with the press appear to be strained, the Executive appears to be making inroads with County staff. He's already attended several union meetings, which is almost unheard of in a County Executive. He spoke hopefully about a brown-bag lunch he's palling with Gracedale nurses, and stated he has an "open door" policy.

"Any employee can stop by," he stated.

Centralized Human Services Building to Be Dedicated Next Week

One of several child visitation rooms
Northampton County will dedicate its new Human Services Building, 2801 Emrick Blvd., Bethlehem Township, Pa. on Friday, April 4, 2014. Executive John Brown, County Council President Peg Ferraro, and many others involved with this major building project, will offer remarks. The Northampton County Department of Corrections Honor Guard will also be participating.

Huge training room could host Council meetings

U.S. Service Academy Day This Saturday at Parkland HS

Congressman Charlie Dent and Senator Pat Toomey will host a meeting for high school juniors interested in attending one of the U.S. Service Academies at Parkland High School this Saturday, March 29th, from 10 AM until Noon.

Representatives from the following Service Academies will be present:

U.S. Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, CO)
U.S. Coast Guard Academy (New London, CT)
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point, NY)
U.S. Military Academy (West Point, NY)
U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD)
The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) will also be represented

This FREE and open to the public. If you are interested in attending, please contact Melanie Whiteleather in Congressman Dent’s office at 610-770-3490.

Brown: Scalding Water Problem at Gracedale Solved

It might sound minor, but scalding water at a nursing home can be deadly. People suffering from dementia can be badly burned without knowing it. So a few weeks ago, when 190 degree water began gushing out of the faucets at Gracedale, Administrator Millard "Dee" Freeman was understandably concerned. His temporary fix requires a vast reduction in temperatures and escorting residents from one side of the complex to another so they could bathe. That problem, which required replacing hard-to-find pneumatic steam valves, might finally be over. Executive John Brown, at his biweekly news conference, announced that things are back to normal as of 3 pm Wednesday.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Expansion of Allentown's Urban Growth Regime

Almost two years ago, I told you that democracy is dead in Allentown. Sure, there will always be a Don Quixote like Michael Donovan, who is willing to challenge the status quo. But Allentown's experiment in democracy is dead. Its people just don't know it. In the last Mayoral race, Edwin Pawlowski was re-elected by just 5,845 of the Queen City's population of 118,974. Less than five per cent of the people voted for him, and that's all he needed. Democracy has been replaced by an urban growth regime in which politicians and select members of the business community co-opt each other, not for the benefit of the community, but to advance their own interests. There is no Democratic or Republican party. Money is King, and everything else is illusion. This becomes abundantly clear when looking at campaign finance reports, especially the recently formed "Citizens for Urban Renewal."

Allentown is ruled, not by Ed Pawlowski or his rubber stamps on City Council. It's real Kings are developers J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper, the NIZ twins. Thanks to State Senator Pat Browne, they are using state tax money that should be funding better education for our children, to make themselves even more rich. They use this money to lure businesses from other parts of the Lehigh Valley into publicly subsidized office buildings. Once the public money runs out, they'll be gone.

The NIZ twins have gone out of their way to ensure their business interests are protected by public officials. The best way to do that is with legal bribes known as campaign donations. In addition to ensuring that the politicians who support their agenda are well-funded, Reilly and Topper have gone out of their way to fund anyone who stands in their way.

They did that last year to Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, who at the time was running for Northampton County Executive. He had been mildly critical of the NIZ size and poaching tactics being used. So Reilly and Topper poured $50,000 into the campaign coffers of John Brown, Callahan's opponent in that race.

Instead of funding Brown directly, which would give him the appearance of being bought and paid for, they laundered this sum to the state Republican party. On October 14, Reilly and Topper each kicked in $25,000. They were the only individuals contributing to the Republican party that election cycle.

And lo and behold, in the waning days of the campaign, the Brown campaign flooded Northampton County with TV ads and mailers. That's because the state Republican party had provided $41,217.12 in last-minute, in-kind contributions to Brown.

But the NIZ twins did not stop there.

According to Brown's year-end report, he received another $5,000 from a PAC calling itself "Citizens for Urban Renewal." He lists no address for this PAC in violation of state campaign finance laws. He claims to have received this sum on December 16.

Who are "Citizens for Urban Renewal"?

No such PAC is registered in Northampton or Lehigh County. That's because it's registered with the state, where it can file paper reports that won't be seen for months after the contribution is made, totally defeating the purpose of campaign disclosure laws. This is exactly what Wayne Woodman and Scott Ott did when they formed a state PAC to run local races. It hides the money, at least temporarily.

According to Department of State records, this Urban Renewal PAC was formed on 10/28/13, right before November's election. It was formed by Jeff Vaughan, one of Reilly's cronies. And Reilly and Topper each kicked in $20,000 for starters. They then contributed $5,000 to Brown's campaign on November 19.

Brown failed to report this contribution in his post-election report. This might be an innocent book-keeping error, although it's certainly possible that he wanted to keep this information from the public, and tried to slip it in with his year-end report. In his year-end report, he "forgets" to list the address, making it hard for the casual observer to realize this is actually a NIZ-twin PAC.

In any event, the NIZ twins have invested $55,000 into Brown. Because they are businessmen, they will expect a return on that investment.

Who else is part of the urban growth regime?

Allentown Future Fund, $15,000, on 11/12/13. (This is obviously Pawlowski).
Dan McCarthy, $4,000, on 10/30/13.
Ryan Mackenzie, $3,000, on 10/30/13.
Jim Martin, $5,000, on 11/18/13.
Justin Simmons, $2,000, on 11/18/13.
Joe Emrick, $1,000, on 11/18/13.
Pete Schweyer, $2,000, on 12/6/13.

Democracy is dead in Allentown. NIZ twins Reilly and Topper are doing their best to kill it in the rest of the Lehigh Valley.

Congrats to Judge Smith

Northampton County Judge Edward G. Smith, confirmed yesterday as a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, will be sorely missed. He was described yesterday in a Morning Call account as a gentleman, and that's certainly true. But don't get the idea that he's sitting in some country club, sipping on a martini. He's a gentleman who eats his lunch in the cafeteria, mixing it up with the clerks of various departments. He's a gentleman who will stop in the hall, to give some lost soul directions. In other words, a real gentleman.

Northampton County has always been lucky that way. The first judge I appeared in front of was Clinton "Budd" Palmer. His face was a thermometer. If it got too red in the courtroom, you'd know that you've gone too far. But Palmer, like Smith, was a judge who made sure he knew the county workforce. He'd be in the cafeteria every morning at 7:50 am, drinking coffee with custodians, clerks, probation officers, and from time to time, young lawyers.

Though Judge Smith is known for his military service and scholarship, I'll never forget one discussion I had with him several years ago. What he is most concerned about is his children. To him, being a good father trumps being a good judge.

When my daughter was in Iraq (Yes, my daughter was in the military), he often asked about her. He may be ascending to the judicial heavens, but his feet remain planted firmly in the ground.

Who will succeed Judge Smith? Some of you may want to discuss that, but for now, I just want to wish him the best.

Kane Approved ""Deal of the Century" For Sting Informant

When AG Kathleen Kane pulled the plug on a sting operation that had already netted four state representatives and one district judge accepting gifts or bribes, she blasted a plea agreement with the confidential informant as the "deal of the century." Now, the Pittsburgh Tribune reports that it is Kane herself who approved the dismissal of over 2,000 fraud charges against this operative. One legal expert states she had no choice.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Let's Raise Some Caine About Kane

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is on a roll. She's lost her third press secretary in a little over a year, as a media frenzy has erupted over her decision to kill on investigation into four state representatives and a district judge who have either been bribed or accepted gifts that never showed up on their statements of financial interest. As she put it herself, “I believe that we have evidence that certain legislators were taking money, and that’s a crime.”

Instead of going after corrupt politicians that she herself believes are criminals, she's attacking investigators with charges of racism (though the lead prosecutor is black) and hurls the sexist card at anyone challenging her decision. The state's highest lawyer has even hired hotshot Richard Sprague to threaten reporters with defamation lawsuits.

It's not working. Philadelphia DA Seth Williams, a fellow Democrat, has ripped into her over her handling of a sting investigation that netted five crooked pols. Tom Wolf, the leading Democratic contender in the Governor's race, has said she was "wrong" to just drop this inquiry.

If Kane is unwilling to prosecute for whatever reason, be it bad or good, the state legislature should. As Will Bunch observes, "The four lawmakers accused of taking money from the so-called lobbyist Tyron Ali need to be investigated by their House colleagues, and, if necessary, expelled. Then lawmakers need to pass the nation's toughest ban on all gifts to elected officials. if they can't do those things, they should ALL be voted out." So for, the good ol' boys in the land of midnight payraises seem unlikely to do anything at all, although the state senate is going through the motions.

In the meantime, Kane's investigation into Corbett's investigation of the Sandusky scandal, has dragged on for 15 months.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Aurand Announces State Senate Campaign From Nazareth

Mark Aurand
From tiny Nazareth, Mark Aurand kicked off his state senate campaign today in the newly formed 40th senatorial district. This seat includes nearly all of Monroe County, as well as much of the northern portion of Northampton County. (interactive map here). His kickoff was attended by a small group of supporters who braved the cold. Aurand is running against two other Democrats, Northampton County Council member Scott Parsons and Bangor Mayor Joe Capozzolo. Unlike his opponents, Aurand is the only one to announce officially that he's in the hunt. He's also the only one who's never held office.

Aurand, a soft-spoken attorney with Allentown law firm Davison and McCarthy, claims he's running because our state government is broken.

That's what Aurand told me when I met him last week. "Regular folks are not being listened to," he said, as I prevented him from eating breakfast at Nazareth Diner with incessant questions.

Mark Aurand
This son of a Lutheran preacher, himself a member of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Allentown, is unlike many other politicians in that he has spent years committed to service organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, and his Church's makeshift homeless shelter.

Working there last year, he met a New York bus driver who lost his job and ended on the streets with 4-5 mouths to feed. Through LCCC, he was able to get trained as a truck driver, but still was having trouble making ends meet.

"That tells you we're not paying people," said this advocate of a higher minimum wage, a position shared by opponent Scott Parsons.  

Aurand first became seriously interested in politics as a result of the Obama campaign, and got heavily involved in the Organizing for America movement. He believes that this experience will give him an edge in a state senate race, and that he will be able to attract progressive voices to his banner.

His primary emphasis, if elected, will be to invest more money in public education.

His kickoff was attended by State rep. candidate Leslie Altieri, her husband, Charles "don't call me Charlie" Dertinger and state committee candidate Rich Wilkins.

The victorious Democrat will face Republican Mario Scavello in the Fall. He's unopposed.

Facebook Follies

This story is an example of the trouble Facebook can cause when people post stupid comments. Interestingly, this one involves the challenge to Michael Beyer's nomination petition as State Rep. It includes extensive Facebook excerpts, which blew out my blog. So I posted it as a page.

Gaming Board to Brown: Exec Director Stays!

Karen Collis
Last Thursday, Northampton County Executive John Brown requested the Gaming Board to replace its current Executive Director with Diane Donaher, his Director of Community and Economic Development. He reasoned that Donaher, unlike current Executive Director Karen Collis, reports to him directly and thus would ensure the "highest visibility and support for the Authority." But at their March 24 meeting, the Gaming Board said thanks, but no thanks. Unanimously.

In their January meeting, one attended by Brown, the Gaming Board unanimously appointed Karen Collis, a County economic development analyst, to the role. Brown had no comment at the time, even though Chairman Jay Finnigan specifically asked him for his input.

"We all took a vote," noted Board member David Heintzelman. "I'd like to keep things the way they are." He went on to tell Donaher that Brown's letter sounded political. "I'm pleased with what we have. ... We voted once on this and now we're going to rescind her job?" Donaher argued that she was a "direct line to the county Executive" and went on to suggest that, like some other authorities, the Gaming Board should have named Collis as an "interim" executive director. She advised that Collis would remain as an analyst .

But Board member David Willard rejected Donaher's admonishment, noting that Executive Brown was in the audience when they voted on an Executive Director in January, "and did not interject at that point that this request would be coming to us. It only came late last week. It puts everybody in kind of a difficult position."

By voice vote, Board members unanimously rejected Brown's request to replace Collis with Donaher. Brown was not at the meeting.

According to Treasurer Tom Nolan, the Gaming Board is sitting on top of $870,036.44 in uncommitted funds, as well as $56.72 in restricted funds. In 2013, Sands Casino paid $1,730,272.78 to the Board. Of that sum, $1,287,000 was distributed.

The Gaming Board then went on to consider grant requests from municipalities impacted by gambling.

Hellertown: Police Chief Robert Shupp has requested $213,155.03 to fund the cost of two police officers, the same request it has made for the last three years. "We feel that the impact is best handled by officers on the street," advised the Chief.

Northampton County: Court Administrator Jill Cicero is requesting $10,000 for interpreter fees. Last year, the County paid $34,000 in interpreter fees.

Northampton County: Drug and Alcohol Administrator Tiffany Rossanese is seeking $184,000 for gambling addiction treatment. "We're seeing an increase in the need for transitional housing," she explained. In addition, over 1,000 inmates were treated in jail concerning gambling addiction. She indicates that many of the people treated also have drug and alcohol addictions.

Lower Saucon: Police Chief Guy Lesser is requesting $29,342 for a police vehicle and $90,482 for the cost of an officer.

Bethlehem: EMS Director Gordon Smith is seeking $128,883, to remount an ambulance onto a new chassis. He explained that Bethlehem has a fleet of seven ambulance, five of which are in use on a daily basis. In addition, Bethlehem is paid by Sands to provide standby services at the Event Center. Smith told Board members that Bethlehem charges $95 per hour for standby services, but it costs the City $131 per hour. He indicated that an ambulance is needed, even though it loses money. "We're losing money doing standby, but in the interest of public safety, we need to be there," he explained.

Bethlehem: Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Director Alicia Karner, along with Artsquest's Jeff Parks, is requesting $75,000 for a sign program directing tourists to different attractions. She noted that 8 million people visit South Bethlehem annually, and that is one of the positive impacts of gambling. Jeff Parks added that, on his daily walks, the most common question he is asked is, "Where is the Sands casino?"

Freemansburg Borough Manager agreed with Parks, stating one of her staff members has made up a little map to the sands for lost tourists. "Give 'em two free Musikfest tickets," Finnigan joked.

Parks added that, with the advent of a Bass Pro shop coming to Bethlehem, the Christmas City will soon surpass Lancaster County as the third largest tourist destination in the state. "As such, we have an obligation to provide a decent way-finding system," he observed.

Karner was the Gaming Board's Executive Director before her departure, and Board member David Heintzelman told her it was nice to see her back. "And asking for 75,000 bucks," wisecracked Finnigan.

Freemansburg: Police Chief Todd Pantuso is seeking $103,723 to replace two aging police cruisers with mechanical issues. Freemansburg has 12 police officers with a fleet of four cars.

Bethlehem Township: Police Captain Gregory J. Gottschall is seeking $99,181 for two police cruisers. In addition, they are seeking $7,049 for a polygraph. The Township has also requested $550,000 for a fire truck, but no one from the fire department was present.

Blogger's Note:

Brown Letter to Gaming Board Chair Jay Finnigan

Morning Call Now Publishing Business Consultant Opinions

Jennifer Mann has left her job as a state representative for a more lucrative career as a consultant. Not only is the money better, but doesn't have to explain Super Bowl tickets that end up in her lap every hear. She's a sell out who cares a lot more about money than she ever did for the people she represents. Amazingly, The Morning Call published an op-ed from her yesterday about how wonderful the new Fed Ex facility is going to be. Obviously, she's been paid to shill for Fed Ex. But a so-called guardian of truth, The Morning Call, has allowed its pages to be used to spread the Corporate Word, with no warning to the reader whatsoever.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Brown Wants Economic Dev Director to Head Gaming Board

Northampton County Executive John Brown has just notified the Gaming Board that he wants to replace their current executive director, Karen Collis, with his Economic Development Director, Diane Donaher. He's making this request just one month after the Board unanimously re-appointed her. He argues that Collis will continue doing the grunt work, but he wants all the accolades to go to his economic development director.

At first blush, it appears to me that tying economic development to the Gaming Board is a perversion of its main purpose, which should be to ensure that little places like Freemansburg and Hellertown are compensated for the impact of gambling. 

At a meeting this evening, the Gaming Board rebuffed Brown, unanimously voting to keep Collis.

Updated 5:45 pm

Philly DA Blasts AG Kane

When the Philadelphia District Attorney rips the state Attorney General, a fellow Democrat, over her decision to dismiss bribery allegations against four state representatives and a District Judge, she's got a problem.

How 'Bout a CRIZ For Whitehall, Coplay and Catty?

Many of the same problems that plague the Lehigh Valley's three cities - poverty, aging infrastructure, dying Main Streets and abandoned industry - are also present in Northampton County's 19 and Lehigh County's 8 boroughs. They also exist in older Townships like Whitehall, whose population now exceeds Easton. While it makes sense to encourage growth in the Lehigh Valley's urban core, most planners and legislators forget that these boroughs matter just as much as our cities. It's easy for them to forget, too, because boroughs lack the staff to make their needs known. For any economic development program to be successful, that attitude has to change. Believe it or not, Pennsylvania's new City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) program may open the door a crack. Whitehall Township's Jeff Warren and Howard Lieberman are trying to push that door open. This is their story.

The CRIZ program is available to cities with 30,000 or more people. So far, only Bethlehem and Lancaster have received this coveted designation. On up to 130 acres, new taxes can fund development. Unlike Allentown's more controversial Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), only new development can be rewarded. An existing business poached from another municipality is ineligible.

Whitehall's Howard Lieberman and Jeff Warren
How has the CRIZ cracked the door open for boroughs? It authorizes one pilot zone for a township or borough with at least 7,000 people. So far, there's been no zone designated. Warren, a Whitehall geophysicist, and Leiberman, Executive Director of Whitehall Industrial Commercial Development Authority (WTICDA), would like that designation. That Township's population now exceeds 26,000 and it would probably qualify for a pilot program on its own. It certainly has the inventory. .

Take the former Lehigh Valley Dairy property, for example, which is one of the first things you see when getting off Route 22 and into Whitehall. This gigantic 271,000 sq ft building, has been rotting away for the last 25 years on a designated brownfield, with no buyer or developer in sight. Sitting on nearly twenty acres, it is certainly Lehigh County's most prominent, if not largest, eyesore.

But it's a great property. Almost at the corner of Route 22 and McArthur Road, it provides for easy access to a major interstate. It's within a quarter mile of 18,000 residents, people who could use a job. Over 120,000 vehicles drive past it daily. How something like this could remain undeveloped so long is a mystery. It's about a block north of Allentown's border. It is the heart of the Lehigh Valley's urban core, but its status in a township makes most tax incentives and other resources unavailable.

In addition to the dairy, Whitehall has been attempting to market the former Dent Hardware Manufacturing, former Thomas Iron Works and Whitehall Waterfront.

But Warren and Leiberman think the pilot program, to be truly effective, should be able to cross municipal borderlines and include other properties. They point to Catasauqua's former FLSmidth Manufacturing and Coplay's former General Supply. They'd like to see those properties combined with Whitehall's for a regional pilot.

So when Governor Corbett visited Bethlehem on March 21, they both made their case, as best they could, to the state's highest executive officer. He told them he wants to see how Bethlehem and Lancaster do before deciding whether he wants to take this economic development tool to the next level.

VIA's Version of March Madness

Athletes get pre-clinic instructions, ignored by one and all
Via, a Lehigh Valley human services agency dedicated to children with special needs. conducted its own version of March Madness this month, under the roof of Northampton Community College's Spartan Center. Over forty kids participated in an All-Star Basketball Clinic that went through some fundamentals, but was mostly just fun. The kids needed no lessons for that, but they may have taught a few things to local high school standout who suddenly began to smile.

Parkland Basketball star Brynne Brouse taught the crossover to Samantha Luirwick.

Emmaus guard Beth Wisley showed Brennan Naccaraethy how to make a corner shot.

Matthew Brawn taught Palmerton Forward Mikayla Krupa  to smile.

Talon Helps Lincoln Students Prepare for PSSAs

Talon strikes his modeling pose
Three hundred and eighty-five students at Bethlehem's Lincoln Elementary were recently treated to a special visit from SteelHawks Mascot Talon as they prepared for their annual PSSAs, a standardized test given to students between third and eighth grades.

At a raucous pep rally, kids erupted in laughter as the two-legged prankster swooped in and immediately began to torment their teachers.

Talon was joined by SteelHawks Cory Darby (LB), Leavander Jones (CB), Rashad Rich (WR) and Dwayne Hollis (DB). They served as referees in an athletic contest pitting teachers against students in hulu hoop races and sliding on a small skateboard. The teachers won, but only because they cheated.

Students were also exposed to several sample questions students will answer in the test. Hands flew in the air, as students easily answered math and reading questions.

Students also got a valuable lesson in democracy. They voted on three possible rewards if 100 opr more students get a proficient or higher rating. Principal Benita Draper in a bath robe and slippers for a week, in a clown suit for a week, or in the dunk tank.

An overwhelming majority went with the dunk tank.

While she is being encouraged, June Smith is thanking her teachers.

Custodian Mark Sestak takes a breather with student Byron Haydt.

In addition to Talon, the Lincoln Lion joined the rally.

Students were also visited by a wise old owl. Blinded in an animal attack, Hannibal is cared for by the Wildlands Conservancy. He's 12 years old, and has lived eight years beyond the average life span of a screech owl.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Governor Corbett Wants 4,000 More Jobs in Bethlehem

Governor Corbett tours Bethlehem Steel Machine Shop No. 2
Governor Tom Corbett visited South Side Bethlehem on Friday. It was no social call. He was there to see for himself the former Bethlehem Steel No. 2 Machine Shop. Plans to transform this decaying and rusting hulk into a Bass Pro Shop are underway, thanks in large part to Corbett's designation of Bethlehem as not just a Christmas City, but a CRIZ City.

Machine Shop No. 2 will be transformed into a Bass Pro Shop
Late last year, Corbett designated both both Bethlehem and Lancaster as CRIZ cities. Technically called a City Revitalization and Improvement Zone, it's an economic tool for up to 130 acres in cities with a population of at least 30,000. Unlike Allentown's controversial NIZ, only new taxes generated from a CRIZ parcel can be used to fund development. It rewards only new development, not an existing business poached from another municipality.

State Senator Lisa Boscola enthusiastically thanked Governor Corbett
Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez, who introduced Corbett to a crowd of at least forty elected officials and business leaders, said the Bass Pro project will give "new life to old steel." State Senator Lisa Boscola was enthusiastic. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she exclaimed, noting her father would be proud of her because he was a life long steelworker.

Corbett  expects to see 4,000 permanent and 3,000 construction jobs
For Corbett, it's all about the jobs. He told the audience that, on his way to Bethlehem, he learned that the state unemployment rate had just dropped another 0.2%, bringing it down to 6.2%. That's below the 6.7% national average, and is as low as unemployment has been in Pennsylvania since 2008,

Although Corbett spoke of the steel beams that weighed 550 lbs that are currently inside the Empire State Building, he made clear that he's more interested in Bethlehem's future. He called the CRIZ the "beginning of a voyage", and one that brings 3,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs, along with $1 billion in investment. He called the CRIZ the "spark to unleash new development."

He also made clear that he'll be watching closely, and won't decide on additional CRIZ designations until he sees how things work in Bethlehem.

Corbett with lobbyist Joe Uliana and Beth Sands Interim President Doug Niethold
Aside from Mayor Donchez, two of Bethlehem's former Mayors, John Callahan and Don Cunningham, were present. So were the Lehigh and Northampton County Executives, Tom Muller and John Brown. Northampton County Council president Peg Ferraro also donned a hard hat as Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem interim President Doug Niethold led the tour.

Tony Hanna, whose vision for South Side Bethlehem is becoming reality. 

The Executives: John Brown (Northampton) and Tom Muller (Lehigh)

Cunningham Fired at LVEDC

Photo taken by former LV Ramblings intern Peg Ferraro
After being caught fraternizing with a bottom-feeding blogger on Friday afternoon, LVEDC CEO Don Cunningham has been summarily terminated.

"We have standards, damn it!" explained Board member L. Charles Marcon. "We could put up with the Springsteen concerts, but this is too much."

In another emergency meeting, the National Museum of Industrial History, known as the NMIH and not to be confused with the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) has hired Cunningham at a salary of $5,000,000 per year.

"Let's see what Morganelli does now!" said Board spokesperson L. Charles Marcon.

Some idiots will actually believe this, but I couldn't resist.

Peg Ferraro actually did take that picture. But I fired her as my intern because I'm much more handsome than I appear in that picture. They say the camera adds ten pounds. "You must have eaten ten cameras," Cunningham told me.

I was sleeping soundly Friday morning when suddenly, the bottom-feeding blogger beacon began to shine from South Side Bethlehem. Governor Corbett was coming to town. Cunningham, Peg and a host of other big shots were there.

I hopped into my $500 Blogger-Mobile and made it. I was the only person there who hadn't shaved. ... Or showered.

The Governor's press person allowed me to remain even though I had no credentials except for the "Award Winning Broadcast Journalist" card I had a friend make up for me a few months ago. A state trooper with the Guv' was giving me the "I'll take you down to Chinatown" glare, and i don't blame him. But Corbett and the Sands CEO were cool as hell.

I'll have the straight story later today.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Richard Young: NorCo New Director of Public Works

"You have a big job ahead of you," warned Council President Peg Ferraro.

"That's what I hear," answered the soft-spoken engineer.

Allentown Director of Public Works Richard Young is taking over in Northampton County. He sailed through the Personnel Committee on Wednesday and was unanimously confirmed last night. Though he lives in East Side Allentown, he told Council last night that his family is from Lower Saucon Township, going back at least four generations. He added that Young's Hill is named after his family. "I look forward to serving the people of Northampton County," he added.

NorCo Council Refuses To Sue Over No-Bid Contract

Lamont McClure
During a brief yet contentious March 20 meeting, Northampton County's five Republican Council members staved off an attack aimed at an $84,000 no-bid contract approved by Executive John Brown last month. It's a public relations consultant contract with Bethlehem's Sahl Communications, which is run by Kim Plyler. Two weeks ago, when Lamont McClure first asked Council to condemn the no-bid contract, all five Republicans voted to table the matter. Last night, they rejected several McClure resolutions supported by all four Democrats, including one that would authorize Council Solicitor Phil Lauer to sue. But is this matter over? McClure hinted last night that someone is waiting in the wings, ready to sue.

While this matter was tabled, Brown paid Sahl $7,000 under the disputed contract. That's why McClure said they needed to sue. Referring to an earlier memo from Solicitor Lauer, ruling that the contract is illegal, McClure warned fellow Council members, "You're free to ignore the advice of your own lawyer. I think you do that at your own peril."

Is Public Relations a Professional Service?

Under county law, all professional services must be competitively bid. But is a public relations consultant a professional service? County Solicitor Victor Scomillio says No, calling it a "nonprofessional service done in a professional way." Lauer, who recently won a case against former Executive John Stoffa over the meaning of professional services, believes county law must be clarified. "It doesn't seem to me to make a lot of sense for us to be going to court periodically to have a judge tell us, 'Yes, this was a professional service' or 'No it wasn't.'"

Glenn Geissinger, who is in the public relations business himself, was ironically placed in the position of arguing that what he does is not a professional service, observing that no state licensing or particular certification or membership in any professional organization is required. But McClure had argued that Sahl is a member of several professional organizations and may even be accredited.

Seth Vaughn suggested that McClure was advocating a witch hunt, something McClure denied. "It isn't a witch hunt," he disagreed "It's called doing my job."

Ken Kraft argued that spending $84,000 for a public relations consultant who answers to the Executive is a waste of taxpayer money. "The County Executive will have to answer to the voters for the decision of hiring a communications company," answered President Peg Ferraro. "We can think it's a terrible waste of taxpayer money, but we are voting on procedure."

"We struggle with the Administrative Code every day," said Procurement Officer Kathryn Anderson. "There'a a lot of irregularities in there. There's a lot of things left open to interpretation. We would welcome anyone's input and help in revising that Code."

Anderson also told Council that, before he awarded the no-bid contract to Sahl, Executive Brown did reach out to the Procurement Office. "We really did not feel that there was anything being done here that was not appropriate," she said. She told Council member that this contract was nothing "out of the norm."

Did Brown State Why He Needed a No-Bid Contract? 

Lauer had another problem with the contract. No-bid contracts for non-professional services are permitted by County law. But the Executive must first issue an Executive Order, explaining why competitive negotiation would be impractical or imprudent. That never happened.  The Orders that Brown signed, after the fact, still failed to provide a satisfactory explanation, according to Lauer. Anderson acknowledged, in response to questions from McClure, that an Executive Order is needed before the contract is executed, and failure to do so is a "defective process."

McClure Hints at Looming Lawsuit

Before the vote, McClure hinted that, if Council failed to act on their own, a lawsuit might be filed anyway, though he did not say from where. "I can promise you the lawsuit won't be good, if in fact one happens, and if in fact we don't control it. ... If we allow someone else to do that, we have failed."

If such a lawsuit is filed, it won't be by Council.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hill: Obamacare Premiums to Skyrocket

It was a bad piece of legislation fraught with problems, but was shoved down an unwilling public's throat by Democratic partisans who thought they knew best. Now, in addition to the myriad of problems already reported, comes word from The Hill that premiums are expected to rise notably, and in some areas of the country, will double. Instead of being honest about yet another problem, Obamaphiles are downplaying the latest bad news.

Nazareth Can Expect 6 Months of Traffic Congestion

Native Americans humored cRaZy people, believing they were touched by a force they revered. That's kinda' the way Nazareth treats me. Though I'm a bottom-feeding blogger, they're nice to me.

Secretary and Treasurer (there is no borough manager) Paul Kokolus told me recently that the Borough has a new webpage, which I must admit is quite nice.

Under Borough news, Nazareth warns that a Broad Street detour is imminent. The railroad bridge just north of Nazareth Diner needs to be repaired, and that is expected to take six months. Motorists will likely use Main and Green Streets to access Rtes 248 and 191.

Dent To Visit West Bethlehem Block Watch April 15

Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent will visit the West Bethlehem Block Watch on Tuesday, April 15, at 7 PM. This is thanks to the efforts of Gus Loupos, who chairs Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board. He tells me no Irishman are allowed, but I'm crashing it. I'd like to hear Charlie's take about Russia's takeover in Crimea.

This group meets at the Church of the Manger, 1401 Greenview Drive. I have been to a few of their block watches, and they are always well-attended. The people there ask good questions, too, except for Gus.

While I'm there, I plan to give Dent my 1993 tax return.

Young Sails Thru Personnel Committee

Exec John Brown (left) with Public Works pick Richard Young
Northampton County Executive John Brown's nominee for Director of Public Works, Richard Young, sailed through County Council's Personnel Committee yesterday. The vote was unanimous, with Personnel Chair Ken Kraft telling him, "I've heard nothing but good things about you."

Young, Allentown's current Director of Public Works, is a PE with 39 years of experience. In Allentown, he has 11 years of experience, serving as City Engineer, and most recently, as Director of Public Works. He has also worked for several respected engineering firms in the private sector, including Pennoni Associates, Huth Engineering, Keystone Engineering and Boucher and James.

His appearance comes one day after Hayden Phillips' Capital Projects Committee uncovered a maze of Public Works challenges, some of which present public safety concerns.

The soft-spoken engineer is a product of Allentown's East Side, where he is well-respected by local activists Dennis Pearson and Lou Hershman. Pearson credits Young, at least in part, for a new fire station at the corner of N. Irving and E Green in Allentown.

Brown has proposed hiring Young with a salary of $95,921, with the potential for increases going up to $124,975.

Though Young will replace current Director of Public Works Steve DeSalva, Brown has requested him to stay on board in a recognition that the County needs more than one professional engineer.DeSalva, like Young, is a professional engineer and is known for 60-hour work weeks.

Young meets Capital Projects Chair Hayden Phillips 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Legal Action Being Considered Over Brown's No-Bid PR Contract

Northampton County Executive John Brown's no-bid public relations contract has become a public relations disaster. It's been condemned here as well as in both dailies. The most damaging indictment, however, comes from one of his own, Republican powerhouse Elmer Gates.  In a caustic letter to the editor, Gates rips into Brown for hiring consultants to "start doing the job we elected him to do" instead of governing by consultant. Whether that happens, however, depends on the Gates' fellow Republicans.

On Thursday night, Council will consider a resolution to sue over Brown's $84,000 PR consultant contract with Kim Plyler. Undoubtedly, this will be supported by all four Democrats. But one Republican will have to vote for this as well. Will one of them agree with Republican Elmer Gates, or will they go along with an Executive who never even voted regularly until he became Bangor Mayor?    

State House: Beyer Nomination Petition Challenged

Michael Beyer, son of former State representative Karen Betyer, is running for the seat his mother lost when she was challenged by fellow Republican Justin Simmons in the 131st legislative district. Knowing he would lose in a Republican primary, Michael became a Democrat earlier this month. But whether he gets his party's nomination is in doubt. His nomination petition has been challenged in Commonwealth Court by David and Linda Eisenhauer, two Democrats who live in the District. Representing the Eisenhauers is Attorney Matt Crosslis, who until recently was Lehigh County Executive.

According to the challenge, which you can read for yourself here, Beyer claims he's a lawyer, and he did recently graduate from law school. But he apparently flunked the bar, so he can't hold himself out as a lawyer. The Eisenhauers claim this makes Beyer's nomination petition "materially defective" and "intentionally false."

In addition, Beyer's residency is challenged. Instead of continuously residing in the district or a year, Beyer lived in Pittsburgh, where he went to college and law school. A landlord-tenant complaint was filed against him there. After graduation, he moved to Florida to care for his ailing grandmother. He never established residency in the 131st until March 4, the date he registered in Northampton County.

According to the Eisenhauers, Beyer does not list the persons who actually circulated his petition. Kevin Deely, Gloria McVeigh, Tara Anthony and others claimed to have circulated petitions on his behalf, but none of them signed circulator affidavits.

Democratic activist Bar Johnston, who lives in Simmons' district and is mentioned in the challenged, called the challenge "baseless and total crap. This is just Simmons being Simmons." She added that several years ago, when former state representative Karen Beyer challenged the Michael Horton candidacy on the basis of residency and lost, Simmons turned that into a campaign issue. She claimed his actions now are "hypocritical."

The Commonwealth Court has scheduled a hearing on March 26, 2014, at 9:30 a.m., in Courtroom Number 5001, Fifth
Floor, Pennsylvania Judicial Center, 601 Commonwealth Avenue, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Updated 12:20 PM, after getting comment from Johnston and reviewing docket.

Falling Concrete Plagues NorCo Garage

Steve DeSalva
Public Works Director Steve DeSalva told Northampton County Council's Capital Projects Committee yesterday that pieces of concrete at the parking garage have been falling and hitting cars for at least the past year. He estimates the County has paid at least $5,000 in damages to people parked there. He acknowledged he's had to perform dozens of safety inspections.

This is just one of several public safety concerns raised at what Chairman Hayden Phillips called Council's first capital projects meeting in 12 years. In 2011, former Council member Ron Angle did form an ad hoc long-range planning committee to review capital projects. But this is the first formal effort in over a decade.

Northampton County's parking deck, first built in 1975, is already well beyond its projected 30-40 year lifespan.  In 2008, former Executive John Stoffa proposed a new parking facility, but scrapped that idea in favor of renovations when bids came in lower than expected. Unfortunately, in 2010, a $1.7 million project grew by $500,000 when an engineer claimed there were "unforeseen circumstances." The garage never was properly renovated, and in 2012, the County sued Cleveland-based RAM Construction over defects like cracking, misaligned joints and defective overhead patches. RAM blamed Pennoni Engineering, which designed the project, and the matter is currently being sorted out in federal court.

DeSalva told Council that, for the past year, water has been leaking onto cars, depositing a salt that is difficult to remove. He then added that pieces of concrete have been damaging cars, acknowledging that they could hit people. He said that, for the past year, an engineer has been studying the best way to secure netting to protect vehicles and people. In the intervening period, DeSalva indicated that he makes safety inspections and places traffic cones in areas he considers unsafe.

"It took a year for someone to tell us where we could put up netting to protect people?" asked an incredulous Glenn Geissinger.

Mat Benol suggested the County place "Park at your own risk" signs throughout the lot and use Lehigh and Lafayette engineering students to solve this problem. Executive John Brown distanced himself from those suggestions.

In addition to the parking deck, DeSalva told Council there's a public safety risk at points where county-owned trails cross major roads like Airport and Weaversville Roads. This is in response to a 2007 accident in which a six-year old boy was severely injured while crossing Weaversville Road along the Nor-Bath Trail. Though the County had all the signage required by PennPOT, a subsequent lawsuit revealed that additional safety precautions were necessary. "We're upgrading the crossings to make them safe," DeSalva told Council, noting that Hanover Engineering has been working on the matter for the past two years.

A final public safety risk raised by DeSalva concerns two quarries at the County-owned Gall farm in Plainfield Township, where there is a risk that people could accidentally fall in and drown. Though the County budgeted $50,000 for security-fencing three years ago, the project was only completed last year. According to DeSalva, it's still unsafe. More fencing is needed.

In addition to these public safety concerns, DeSalva updated Council on other pending capital projects.

     • A $500,000 facelift for a leaking roof, asbestos, bird and vermin-infested computer room, which is also exposed to dangerously high temperatures, is five weeks ahead of schedule. DeSalva is projecting substantial completion on May 9.

     • Because he still has to select an engineer, DeSalva does not expect even the design phase for a back-up power system at Gracedale to be ready before the end of the year. "This is not something we do that often," he explained. The county-owned nursing home had to rely on the National Guard for an emergency generator when its own generator failed during Hurricane Sandy.

     • The Gracedale boilerhouse, located near a creek that is increasingly prone to flooding, needs stormwater management. DeSalva estimates that will be completed by the end of July.

     • The jail exterior wall, which consists of large stone blocks and is subject to cracking, must still be reviewed by an engineer. DeSalva told Council it presents no danger.

Chairman Hayden Phillips pressed DeSalva to come up with a maintenance management plan for County facilities by June. "Say what you're gonna' do, do it and prove it," he put is in its simplest form.

Executive John Brown recently named Allentown's Director of Public Works, Richard Young, to succeed DeSalva. But DeSalva will remain as Young's Deputy, as the County has learned the hard way that one engineer is just not enough.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Is ET Public Payroll Database TMI?

The Express Times has managed to compile a payroll database for all public employees in several local Northampton County municipalities. While it's nice to know who is making lots of money, I question whether it is an invasion of privacy for many low level clerks who are just trying to keep their heads above water. Now all their nosy neighbors can see how much money they make, and what public interest is served?

Under the Right-to-Know Act, this is all certainly public information. But just because you have the right to ask for something, doesn't mean you should. It is this kind of behavior that results in laws that will prevent disclosure of this kind of information when it is really needed. Then when real violations of transparency occur, like when NorCo Council member Mat Benol advocates for violations of the Sunshine Act, the Express Times looks the other way.

A Real Neighborhood Improvement Zone?

Though it's called a "Neighborhood Improvement Zone," Allentown's tax incentive is just another gimmick designed to make the rich richer on the backs of those who can least afford to pay. The housing that surrounds this publicly financed construction is still a third-world  wasteland. But that may change.

At a recent meeting in the Butz conference room that attracted about two dozen suits, like flies to shit, the rich have been shamed into contributed about $1 million. This meeting apparently included a DCED Deputy Secretary.

It's not all philanthropy. With a neighborhood partnership tax credit, the suits can write off somewhere between 75-80% of whatever they kick in, while looking like they give a shit. Detials are supposed to be announced sometime in May, from what some of the suits say.

I'll believe it when I see it.

Two of the rich guys you'd expect to be there, NIZ twins J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper, were strangely absent.

Monocacy Creek Friendly Spillway to be Constructed

T&M's Greg Duncan
Since last Summer, T and M Associates' Gregory Duncan has been working on a green solution to a stormwater drainage problem from the Bethlehem Square Shopping Center and into Monocacy Creek. Stormwater collects and ultimately passes under Route 191 and into what's left of a concrete lined swale, which has fallen into serious disrepair. From there, the waters, sometimes mixed with road salt and gravel, cascade into a Class A wild trout stream.

Duncan had the green light from Bethlehem Township Commissioners to apply for two grants for a green solution, including a $300,000 Watershed and Protection Grant. He was successful, and at their March 17 meeting, Commissioners directed Township Manager Melissa Shafer, serving in her first meeting, to enter into an agreement with Duncan to engineer the project.

Duncan plans to replace the broken-up concrete liner with articulated concrete blocks connected by steel cable. This will promote proper drainage, provide erosion control and even allow for natural vegetative growth. Articulated concrete blocks will also handle heavy velocities.

This project will last into next year, according to President Tom Nolan, who joked it will be done "sometime this century."

In other business, Commissioners authorized a number of purchases that are included in this years budget for the following items: police assault rifles - $3,602.50; police body armor- $3,402.00; three police cruisers (Toyota Scion) - $27,548 each; two small dump truck leases - $85,266.80; mowing equipment - $21,836; software upgrades - $54,000; and police department painting - $5,495.00.

Finally, Commissioners unanimously named President Tom Nolan as their representative on the Northampton County Gaming Board, where he has served for the past four years.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Should Public Funds Be Spent on Public Relations Consultants?

Elected officials in the state and federal government have franking privileges under which the occasional mass mailing is permitted, but regulated. They also have public relations personnel, bound by state and federal laws that prevent or at least limit them from crossing the line from informational services and into propaganda.  One of the things that really others me about Kim Plyler's one-year, $84,000 public relations contract is that there is nothing in place to prevent wholesale abuse.

Although this contract is nominally with the County, the real beneficiary is the Executive. Plyler's "scope of services", refers to weekly phone calls with the "client," meaning the Executive, though the the bill for these services are being paid by the people of Northampton County. Nothing in that scope of services provides for communications with either the workforce or Council. It appears that she is being paid $84,000 a year to make sure brown appears in Bethlehem's Saint Patrick's Day Parade. In effect, the public has just made an $84,000 campaign contribution to Brown's next campaign. Why use NIZ twins J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper if you can get the public to foot the bill?

I am also disturbed that Plyler could use her inside knowledge to alert potential vendors to possible County business.

It's a bad contract.

At the last Council meeting, Council tabled a resolution condemning this contract, but the matter was only tabled until the meeting this Thursday. They are going to have to weigh in on the legality of this contract.

Solicitor Vic Scomillio told Council that no bid was required because public relations is not a professional service as that term is defined in the Administrative Code.  Since Plyler has had specialized training in public relations at the Defense Information School and is a member of the Public Relations Society of America, that's a tough sell.

But the biggest obstacle to the legality of this no-bid contract is that the Executive Order authorizing it occurred after the fact, in violation of the Administrative Code. Moreover, the order fails to state any reason why it would be imprudent or impractical to proceed with competitive negotiation. Scomillio noted this process is time-consuming and could take two to three months, but Brown has wasted nearly three months without appointing most of his cabinet.

This contract is certainly illegal, but worse than that, it is something that can easily be abused. Public relations should be performed by government employees who are barred from using their role to play politics or curry favor with vendors.