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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dolan: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Karen Dolan, in late 2012, was among those Council members who argued that nonprofits should contribute financially to the City. She pointed out that it's a two way street. Cities need support from nonprofits to provide and pay for the environment that makes them so appealing and functional.

At the same time, she was paying nothing towards utilities at her rent-free nonprofit location. Later that month, she voted for a budget that included $6,000 for heating oil at her nonprofit.

NorCo Real Estate Market Worse Now Than Last Year

Though the Lehigh Valley Association of Realtors painted a rosy forecast for the housing industry in 2014, the truth has been far worse. It's bad, perhaps at its lowest point in decades. Let me give you the raw numbers in Northampton County.

In 2013, the first three months were pretty bad. Only 1,485 deeds were recorded in Northampton County. But this year, when the boom is supposed to return, the bottom has instead fallen out. During the first three months, only 1,348 deeds were recorded.

But that's nothing compared to mortgages and mortgage-related instruments. During the first three months in 2013, there were 8,127 documents recorded. But this year, it's just 4,948.

Not only are people buying fewer homes, but the credit market is much worse no than it was at this time last year.

The severe winter played a role, according to Greater Pa. Abstract's Tom Castellano. But he also points to new banking regulations. Designed to reel in predatory lending practices, they seem to have hurt people who simply want to buy a home.

It is at times like these that unscrupulous practices begin. I'll have more about that soon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Illick's Mill Chair: Dolan "Transparency" Email a Mistake

Andrew Bollinger, who chairs the Illick's Mill Board, has acknowledged that Karen Dolan's "transparency" emails were a mistake. "At our most recent board meeting, last night, we agreed that all future public correspondence would be reviewed and edited by the board prior to its release. More eyes, less haste."

He also indicated that Karen Dolan's last day as Executive Director is tomorrow. The Board voted to accept her resignation at a Sunday night meeting.

Dolan, a member of Bethlehem City Council, has come under fire for using her influence to ensure special treatment.

Most members of the Board, including Bollinger, are relatively new, and I have no desire to paint them or the Mill with Dolan's mismanagement.

Gaming Board Nixes $550,000 Firetruck Grant in Bethehem Township

Nancy Run Fire Chief Jamie Hauze pitches firetruck
Has gambling at the Sands Casino had such a direct impact on Bethlehem Township that it needs to purchase a $1.2 million firetruck?  In a divided 5-4 vote, Northampton County's Gaming Board said No at their April 28 meeting, rejecting a $550,000 grant request for a new aerial ladder truck.

Tom Nolan, representing Bethlehem Township, argued that emergency services are clearly included in what the legislature intended when it gave communities surrounding Bethlehem Sands Casino the first crack at gaming revenue. Those municipalities are Hanover Township, Hellertown, Lower Saucon Township, Freemansburg and Bethlehem Township

"If you keep whittling this down, you're putting money into the wrong account," he argued, referring to grants for other communities. But as might be expected, a Gaming Board member from one of those other communities disagreed.

Tony Pristash, an at-large member from Northampton, objected to "calling the other account the wrong account." He noted that surrounding communities, to be entitled to first crack at gaming revenue, must show a direct impact. Jim Pennington, another at-large member from Lower Nazareth, worried about the precedent this big ticket item would set in the five contiguous municipalities.

"Do they need it? Yes," said Hellertown representative David Heintzelman. "But I struggle with the word 'direct' impact."

Joe Kelly, representing Bethlehem, supported the grant, noting that Bethlehem Township is a back up to the two ladder trucks in service in Bethlehem. He said they have an obligation "to protect that asset," referring to the Sands casino. But Northampton County EMS Director Bob Mateff noted that numerous other communities also back up Bethlehem, including SeWyCo, Allentown and even Easton. He added it is rare to see both Bethlehem aerial ladder trucks go out of service.

Voting for the grant were Nolan, Freemansburg Mayor Gerald Yob, Lower Saucon representative David Willard and Bethlehem's Joe Kelly. Opposed were Heintzelman, Pennington, Pristash and at-large member John Dally. Chairman Jay Finnigan, who represents Hanover Township, was the final No vote.

"And let me tell you why. We have an aerial being specced [on spec] right now, and I couldn't justify giving Hanover $550,000.

Other grant requests were approved.
Hellertown: $213,155.03 to fund the cost of two police officers.

Northampton County: $10,000 for interpreter fees.

Northampton County: $184,000 for gambling addiction treatment.

Lower Saucon: $29,342 for a police vehicle and $90,482 for the cost of an officer.

Bethlehem: $128,883 to remount an ambulance onto a new chassis.

Bethlehem: $75,000 towards a $400,000 sign program directing tourists to different attractions.

Freemansburg: $103,723 to replace two aging police vehicles.

Bethlehem Township:   $99,181 for two police cruisers and $7,049 for a polygraph.
How much money is available? According to Nolan, the Gaming Board's treasurer, $403,688 was received for the first three months of the year, down from about $440,000 last year.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Dolan Speaks to The Vulgaris

Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan may have resigned as Executive Director at Illick's Mill, but it's pretty clear she's still running the show. Over the weekend, she appears to have sent out three "GB. Fox Transparency" emails to the public.

Below a picture of her staring up at the Mill reverentially, as though it were the Face of God, her missive starts like this:

Although the recent false accusations, innuendo, and attacks against our non-profit have been outrageously untrue, we know that no one can protect themselves against unethical bloggers and those who act on the principle of repeating lies so that eventually they become “the truth.” In today’s 24-hour news cycle and atmosphere of vicious and unsubstantiated on-line accusations, we understand what Warwick meant in Henry VI: “What fates impose, that men must needs abide; It boots not to resist both wind and tide.” (Loose translation: Don’t fight what you can’t change.)

I'm not sure who this unethical blogger is, but I'm thinking Molovinsky. Might even be that bastard, Bill White.

How do I know it's Dolan? She quotes Shakespeare, and then has to translate it for we vulgaris, her intellectual inferiors.


She condemns the attacks on her nonprofit, but actually, it is her own conflicts of interest and questionable dealings with the City that have drawn criticism.

Anyhoo, after the tautology that false accusations are outrageously untrue (She was an English teacher?), Dolan goes on.

But we can speak the truth to you – backed up by every supporting document we have -- in the hopes that you will make up your own minds about the Fox Environmental Center. To that end, we created a Google Drive web site where anyone can review our organizational information at his or her convenience. In the coming weeks and days, we will add additional text to help our members and supporters understand how these documents make a clear case against loose accusations. We will also respond to each question raised against us in the blogosphere and then repeated in mainstream media.

She's gonna' need more supporting documents. None of them rebuts any of the things I've said about her. She failed to file 990s for three years straight. As a result, her nonprofit status was revoked by the IRS for at least a year. During that time period, she continued fundraising. She stopped paying utilities at Illick's Mill, despite the plain language of her lease. Her weddings at Illick's Mill also appear to violate the strict language of her lease. She racked up a $128,000 debt to the City that mysteriously went Poof! As Chair of the Parks Committee, she proposed easing up on the booze rules so her nonprofit could benefit. As a Council member, she voted twice to approve City budgets that included $11,000 for heating oil at a nonprofit in which she was financially interested. She threatened to use her powers as a member of Council to keep a new lease from going to that body.

In short, nothing she has posted changes the fact that she engaged in conflicts of interest in violation of the Ethics Code.

The documents she does post raise new questions. Why is it that the 2008 and 2009 tax returns are undated and unsigned? Where are the 2011 and 2012 tax returns? Why is it that the 2010 tax return bears a date of 4/15/14? What authority did she have to host weddings when they appear to have been conducted in violation of the plain language of the lease that she published? Why did she throw her accountant under the bus when it was her own responsibility, as Executive Director, to file those tax returns?

I've got a quote for her.

"We must be careful about what we pretend to be." Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night. Loosely translated, that means Dolan is the worst kind of phony.

I sent an email to the address in this weekend screed. No response. I called the number. Not in service. Using the Illick's Mill webpage, I emailed Board Chair Andrew Bollinger. Invalid email. I emailed a Board member I know. No answer.

So much for transparency and wanting to answer questions.

Dolan should put down the Bard and pick up the Ethics Code.

She should also resign.

Don't Tell Me to Bow My Head

When Ron Angle was Northampton County Council President, he persuaded Council Clerk Frank Flisser to invite clergymen from all over Northampton County to give a little invocation before each meeting. After they were done, they were asked to say something about their Church and congregation. The one who got to me the most was Rabbi Isaac Yagod, who worships at Bethlehem's Beth Avraham. Instead of praying, he spoke about justice, calling that principle the foundation of the Ten Commandments. He asked each Council member to find a way to be just. Instead of a boring, mind-numbing experience in which everyone pretends to be holier than thou, I found the Rabbi's comments insightful. So I appreciate the value of a brief prayer before a public meeting, which happens in Bethlehem, too. But the way Northampton County Council does it is ridiculous. Moreover, it has now become a violation of the First Amendment.

After Ron Angle was shipped off to the shit fields of Upper Mount Bethel, then Council President John Cusick took over the prayer himself, and would read some banal statement he did not mean to people who did not listen before every meeting. Now it's Glenn Geissinger's turn. My problem with that is that he at least was a Bishop in his own denomination. So allowing him to lead the prayer before every meeting, as Peg Ferraro has done, really favors his religion to the exclusion of others. It also creates the impression that anyone who differs with Geissinger is taking on God.

Before the last meeting, Geissinger started things off with, "Bow your head!"

Say what?

You're not the boss of me.

I don't mind if some preacher from a real church tells me to do that, but no member of Council has the constitutional authority to tell anyone they must participate in what he considers a prayer.

Since Peg Ferraro is apparently too lazy to line up clerics to give real invocations before each meeting, the prayers should stop. This has crossed the line.

I refuse to participate in this nonsense one instant more.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Miracle That Is Allentown!

Who'd have thunk it?

Actually, quite a few of us. All the la-de-das were sitting on their asses inside some tent outside the Allentown Symphony Hall today in yet another propaganda show when reality burst on the scene.

According to a Morning Call account, the beautiful people at a Pennsylvania Society Gala were quite upset to see ... crime and violence in downtown Allentown.

Gotta' love King Edwin blaming Whitehall.

There goes about $50,000 in campaign donations, Ed.

Hope the cops are OK. Cynthia Mota seems peeved that her day was ruined. Maybe she spilled her drink.

Not to worry.J.B. Reilly is hiring Omnicorp to protect Allentown.

Investigating Grand Jury Aims at Dolan NonProfit

Illick's Mill
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli empanelled his fourth Investigating Grand Jury on April 25. Although their work is done in secrecy, their selection, or voir dire, is done publicly. This gives you an idea about what matters might be under review. Morganelli asked 110 prospective jurors whether any of them were familiar with any of a number of unsolved homicides or the Easton School District, subjects he had already discussed before. But then he quizzed them about their knowledge of the Gertrude B. Fox Environmental Center, known to most of us as Illick's Mill. He even canvassed them on their knowledge of Bethlehem City Council and its Parks Department. It's clear that this new Grand Jury, which began taking testimony as soon as they were sworn in by Supervising Judge Michael Koury, will be looking into possible mismanagement and conflicts of interest involving Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan and her connections to a nonprofit at the Mill.

Morganelli has used the Grand Jury before as a tool to expose mismanagement at area nonprofits. In January, a previous investigating Grand Jury issued a scathing report about the National Museum of Industrial History, calling it a "resting place for soon to be unemployed officials" at Bethlehem Steel. Executive Director Steve Donches resigned.

Why would an investigating Grand Jury want to review Fox Environmental Center? That nonprofit, like the National Museum of Industrial Steel, has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement. To make matters worse, its Executive Director, Karen Dolan, may have violated the conflict of interest provisions of the Ethics Act.
  • She voted to approve two City Budgets that included payments to her nonprofit, where she was a compensated Executive Director.
  • Late last year, she pushed for raises to Parks Department employees, who were providing her free services.
  • As Parks Chair, she proposed easing alcohol regulations in City parks, where her nonprofit was hosting as many as 20 weddings a year.
  • She used the authority of her office to block a new lease requiring her nonprofit to pay rent.
These conflict of interest transgressions are no minor matter. They formed the basis for the Bonusgate prosecutions under then Attorney General Corbett.

It all starts with Illick's Mill, one of the City's treasures. An old 1856 grist mill, it is the centerpiece of a park along the Monocacy Creek. This park was established by the FDR administration during the Great Depression. Today, that historic mill is known as the Fox Environmental Center. It's a nonprofit that, until recently, was under the direction of Karen Dolan. A member of City Council since 2006, she managed to snag an appointment as the Parks Committee Chair.

Between 2001 and 2009, Dolan worked to restore the old mill. She used a steady supply of labor in the form of Liberty High School students. After all, she was teaching there. Her husband was a teacher at Bethlehem Vo-Tech, and that school soon began helping with the project, too. The City of Bethlehem also provided a lending hand.

According to the nonprofit webpage, over $1.3 million was raised to restore the mill. How much of that is public money is anybody's guess. The most recent 990 (that's a nonprofit tax return) is from 2007. It lists at least $121,000 in public funding in that year alone. But what about subsequent years? Guidestar, an online repository for nonprofit financial records, has nothing beyond 2007. Where are those records?

Perhaps even more troubling than the missing 990s is that Dolan's nonprofit owed $128,000 to Bethlehem. It was reported that way in several city audits. Then suddenly, in 2012, it was just written off in a City audit with no explanation.

"We're not the National Museum of Industrial History," Dolan stated during a February interview at the Mill. "We've done everything by the book always."

When asked to provide the nonprofit tax returns, Dolan handed over financial statements, insisting they are just as good.

When pressed on the matter, Dolan admitted that her nonprofit failed to file 990s in 2008, 2009 or 2010. She blamed her accountant, although she was the Executive Director. She went on to say that, at one point, she even executed a Power of Attorney to her accountant.

Eventually, her nonprofit status was revoked by the IRS on 5/15/11. It remained revoked until 5/15/12. She had to re-apply for non-profit status.

Dolan insisted during this interview that she raised no money during this time period. But research reveals that in an August 15, 2011 interview with The Express Times, Dolan clearly was raising money during the time that her nonprofit status was revoked. She claimed to have a $170,000 budget, and was opening the Mill for weddings at $1,200 per event.

In the meantime, she ran up a $128,000 debt to the City for improvements to the facility that were supposed to be repaid from grant money. The City used a special account, its nonutility capital fund, for these improvements. This is borrowed money. This means taxpayers are on the hook for as much as twice the $128,000 spent.

Steve Antalics
"It looks like the money disappeared and no one seems to know," City watchdog Steve Antalics said at an April 15 City Council Finance Committee meeting. "This is our money. We want to know what happened to our money."

"Anyone care to answer that?"

Mayor Bob Donchez did, announcing that there were 90-pages of documents related to invoices owed by Dolan's nonprofit. They have recently been released to City Council.

One of those documents is a 2010 Memo from Parks and Public Works Director Ralph Carp to Dolan, concerning the $128,000 debt. Carp told Dolan there would be no additional services from the City until that debt was settled.

Another is a memo to the file, made by a Parks Department employee, after she was instructed to stop sending utility bills to Dolan's nonprofit.

The City not only wrote off the $128,000 debt, but began providing utilities at no cost to Dolan's nonprofit. This was contrary to the lease.

On City Council, Dolan has voted for two City budgets that included $11,000 for heating oil at the Illick's Mill. As a compensated Executive Director her votes appear to violate the Ethics Act. Section 1103(a) states, "No public official or public employee shall engage in conduct that constitutes a conflict of interest." The Act defines "conflict of interest" as the "[u]se by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding public office or employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated."

At the last budget cycle, Dolan also pushed for payraises for Parks Department employees. This raises the question whether this was some sort of quid pro quo for her special privileges.

In reaction to all the ethical questions surrounding the Mill, Mayor Bob Donchez recently asked his legal department to prepare a new lease for the Mill, one that would require some rent and a contribution towards utilities.

Dolan responded, "I will do everything I can to prevent this lease from going to Council,"  in an April 12 email to the Mayor.

After this email became public, Dolan resigned as Executive Director at the Fox Environmental Center, blaming politics.. But she is still on City Council and still chairs the Parks Committee.

Dolan, in February, claimed that her nonprofit was paying utilities. That appears to be untrue. There are numerous unanswered questions. Why did the City continue furnishing services after the 2010 warning? Did the Mayor let her off the hook? If so, why? Who made the decision to write off the debt? Who made the decision to begin supplying her free heating oil? Why was that decision made? Why did she suddenly start advocating for wage hikes in Parks?

Citizen activist Steve Antalics has previously called for a Grand Jury investigation into the mismanagement of the Fox Environmental Center (Illick's Mill) under the stewardship of City Council member Karen Dolan. His wish appears to have been granted. It will now be up to the Investigating Grand Jury to peel away the layers of the onion and find out exactly what happened..

Are Stay-at-Home Moms Unwelcome on Bethlehem Boards?

Diana Morganelli, wife of the District Attorney, is a magna cum laude graduate of Moravian College with a BS degree in accounting. She worked at Air Products, a Fortune 500 company, for about 6 years. After that, she went to work at a Big 8 accounting firm. She also served as Treasurer of the Library Board in Bethlehem. But after being grilled for fifty minutes by three City City Council members on Tuesday night, she was deemed unqualified to serve as a volunteer, unpaid and advisory member of the Parking Authority.

A painter (Adam Waldron), ex nonprofit boss (Karen Dolan) and community activist (Cathy Reuscher) concluded that Morganelli lacks the high standards Bethlehem demands of its Parking Authority.

I see.

Like Parking Authority member Dino Cantelmi? He's a frickin' undertaker! If being able to enbalm a body is required, then he's your man.

Morganelli, whom they obviously never intended to approve, was asked ridiculous questions about the proper square footage of a parking space and the airspeed velocity of an unladen sparrow.

One of them said that accounting "has changed" in the past 30 years. Really? Accounting principles are pretty basic. So far as I know, 2 plus 2 is still 4. So far as I know, you still have to file tax returns, as Dolan recently discovered. Besides, she wasn't applying for an accountant position.

Morganelli was actually told that, as a stay-at-home mom who raised her children over the last 30 years, she simply is unqualified.

No stay-at-home moms need apply.

Dolan thinks Morganelli's place is at the library, reading books to little kids. Unlike Karen Dolan, Morganelli simply lacks the expertise to run up a $128,000 City debt; fail to file tax returns for three years in a row; and get a nonprofit status revoked. Unlike Adam Waldron, Morganelli lacks the sophistication to file nomination petitions that are completely invalid. Unlike Cathy Reuscher, Morganelli would actually think for herself instead of letting others push her around.

Mayor Bob Donchez refuses to back down on this point and will send Morganelli's nomination to the rest of Council.

Hopefully, Council President J. Willie Reynolds will knock some sense into a Committee that clearly was under Dolan's influence.

Blogger's note: I was not present at this meeting, and am relying on first and second hand accounts.

Karen Dolan Tells Morning Call that Stay-at-Home Moms Are Unqualified. - "Bright and astute, true, but no clue what the Parking Authority even does. With all the potential shenanigans coming up, the city needs someone who really understands the issues. It's hard to picture this very nice lady, who hasn't worked -- except for a fews years as a school substitute -- since 1984, would even be nominated if she weren't the wife of the Mayor's Campaign and Transition Chair, best friend, and "behind the scenes" guy. Get real!"

How can a public official say this in today's world without criticism? Does raising your children erase your college degree and professional experience? Or make you incompetent to listen to the professionals who are paid by the authority and consider options? This is insulting and condescending to ALL stay at home moms.

In the comments, someone calling herself Karen Dolan denies that she is the Karen Dolan who posted those remarks at The Morning Call.

Updated 12:10 pm

Brown's Decisions Have Spawned Three Lawsuits

If nothing else, Northampton County Executive John Brown has made some lawyers very happy. His decisions have resulted in three lawsuit over the past three months.

The first of these was filed in February by Jill Mancini, a former Assistant Solicitor who claims she was a career service employee who was entitled to due process before being fired. The second, a declaratory judgment action, was filed by the Controller over the Executive's award of an $84,000 no-bid contract to a public relations firm. Now he's facing a third suit, filed by former Sheriff Randy Miller. Like Mancini, Miller claims he was a career service employee who was fired without cause..

Miller, Bethlehem's former Police Commissioner, is represented by Attorney Jason Schiffer, another former Bethlehem police chief.

Allen Nomination Fails

By a 6-3 vote, Northampton County Council has declined to confirm Cathy E. Allen as Director of Administration at last night's meeting. With no discussion, her nomination was supported only by Council President Peg Ferraro along with Council members Glenn Geissinger and Seth Vaughn. All Democrats were opposed, along with Republicans Hayden Phillips and Mat Benol. Though present, Allen made no attempt to persuade Council. Nor did Executive John Brown. Allen is still a Deputy Director of Administration.

The County's current Director of Administration, Tom Harp, is resigning, effective May 2.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Expanded Guestlist Considered at West Easton Treatment Center

During yesterday's meeting of the Courts and Corrections Committee, prison officials acknowledged that they are entering into discussions with West Easton to expand the types of offenders housed at its West Easton treatment and work release facility. Currently, the only inmates permitted there are DUI and nonsupport offenders.

Corrections Superintendent Arnie Matos told Council that it costs $93.40 per day to house an inmate at the main jail. At West Easton, it's a little higher, costing $96.15. That price would drop to $69.13, however, if the treatment center was at its 100-person maximum.

As of April 23, there were 678 inmates at the main jail and 72 offenders at West Easton.

"We would be very careful about who we would send down there," Matos told Council member Hayden Phillips, in response to concerns that the wrong kind of person could interfere with rehabilitation.

Not Again, Say Bethlehem Zoners

2 W Market St
At their April 23 hearing, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board refused to consider a zoning appeal filed by Morning Star Partners for an unusual property located at 2 West Market Street because it was basically the same request considered and denied in October. This matter is already on appeal in Northampton County Court, with arguments scheduled in May. But Attorney Jim Preston, representing Morning Star, argued that the inability to market the property over the past six months presented a hardship that would justify a second look. But unanimously, the zoners said No.

The Morning Star property includes a single-family residence, two apartments and two retail businesses. Those businesses have closed. Located in the City's Historic District, it would be difficult to get the approvals needed for demolition or renovations. So Morris asked for a use variance that would allow the home to be used as a financial services office.

In the face of a crowd of residents from the Historic District, including Attorney Timothy Stevens. He successfully argued that res judicata applies.

In other business, zoners turned down a special exception request by Georgina Jimenez for a family daycare center at 820 Itaska Street. In December, zoners delayed making a decision so that Jimenez could provide a property inspection report, indicating it would be safe for children. She presented a 21-page report that noted several safety deficiencies, most of them electrical.

"This is my job, I'm the only one who pays the bills," she pleaded. But Zoning Hearing Board member Linda Shay Gardner told her that, as a parent, she would not want to see children exposed to a safety risks.

Jimenez was asked several times to withdraw her request, and return when the safety concerns were fixed. But she asked for a ruling.

If she had withdrawn her appeal, Jiminez would have to cease operating as a daycare. But if she appeals a denial, she will be able to operate until the matter is heard in Court.

Allen Nomination in Scalding Water ... and Blogs Suck

Cathy Allen and "Dee" Freeman
Whether someone has a college degree has little to do with his or her ability to do a job. The best proof of that is Northampton County Executive John Brown, a Notre Dame alum. He has yet to learn the five-vote rule. Don't propose someone for a position or contract without ensuring in advance that you have the votes. So far, Brown has needlessly embarrassing Bob Sletvold, his failed nominee for Chief Public Defender. From there, Deana Zosky tanked as his proposed business consultant. Now, he's headed to almost certain defeat in his effort to persuade County Council to confirm Cathy Allen as his Director of Administration. At yesterday's Personnel Committee, Republican Hayden Phillips panned the nomination. If all four Democrats join Phillips, which seems likely, her nomination will fail. Thus far, only Council President Peg Ferraro and Glenn Geissinger have voiced their support. The vote is scheduled for tonight, unless Brown pulls the nomination.

Allen's Background

Currently a Deputy Director of Administration with about two months of experience, Allen has no previous County experience, although she has been a member of Bangor Borough Council for five years. Brown apparently got to know her there when he was Mayor. She has no education beyond a high school diploma, and her private sector experience consists of working in a two-person insurance office in which the other person was the boss.

Allen worked for Marino Saveri, another Bangor Borough Council member who also was Administrator of the Borough Authority. Saveri worked out some deal under which Borough Council members who acted as delegates to the Borough Authority received a monthly stipend. When Bangor's own Solicitor told them this was illegal, Allen voted (unsuccessfully) to continue the practice.

When her boss resigned from Borough Council, Allen was involved in the appointment of a volunteer coach who was soon thereafter charged with corrupting the morals of a minor. So was then Mayor Brown, who cast a tie-breaking vote to appoint this person, who turned out to be Marino Saveri's goddaughter. When this coach was charged, she resigned from office the next day. But Allen sat on the letter for a month not divulging it.  

So my concern is that Cathy Allen has had the wrong kind of life experience to be an $88,000 Director of Administration. Her resume falls far short of the qualifications spelled out by the County's Human Resources Department.

Yesterday, Allen continued to display her lack of transparency and accountability by declining to answer Council's questions. She sat there, and let others do the talking.

In a move worthy of Marino Saveri, she let one of the County's vendors make a pitch for her.

County vendor makes pitch for Allen

Millard "Dee" Freeman is the Administrator at Gracedale, the County nursing home. He's not a County employee, but works for Premier Health Care, a privatized service. He has no reason to get involved in County policy. But he has every reason in the world to speak highly of the County Executive and his proposed Director of Administration. After all, that could lead to his own contract being renewed.  So Freeman was at Allen's side yesterday, doing the talking for her.

Freeman said he was addressing Council to counteract some of the negative information he had read about Allen "on the blogs", which presumably is a reference to me. He called her one of those "people you go to when you want to get it done now." He praised the "amazing job" she did in addressing the nursing home's scalding water problem. "From Gracedale's perspective, I have to give her major kudos," he said.

He has known Allen about a month.

Council member Ken Kraft, who chairs the Personnel Committee was unhappy at the obvious attempt by Freeman to ingratiate himself with the brown administration. "It's odd that a vendor gets up and gives a statement for someone," he noted.

Freeman said his bosses would probably be unhappy with him.

"Yeah, I'm not very happy with it either," answered Kraft. "I don't think it's your place to come here and tell us how she works with you."

Nobody Likes the Blogs (Lehigh Valley Ramblings)

Freeman apologized, and again explained that he felt compelled to give a different picture than the one being presented "on the blogs". That's an obvious reference to me, since my blog is the only one that has discussed the Allen nomination. It worked. Kraft, whom I also hammered yesterday for his ridiculous proposal to make the Sheriff an elected office, jumped on the "I hate blogs" bandwagon.

"Well, I don't know how much people weigh blogs and blog inputs and things in these matters here on Council. So if that's where you got your information, you know ..."    

So there you have it. According to all of Northampton County officialdom, blogs suck.

I feel so special.

Allen's Qualifications Fall Short of Written Policy

Pointing out that Director of Administration is the "most important position" in County government, next to the Exec, Bob Werner observed that Allen's appointment would be contrary to written policy and criteria established by Human Resources. Kraft, noting the actual compensation is about $120,000, agreed that she falls short. "She's been in a two-person office, and the only person she supervises is herself." Kraft when on to say that if Council had a say in Deputy Director, she'd be unqualified for that, too.

Hayden Phillips compared her supplied resume against the job qualifications. "I can't get there, it's not even close," he observed.

The Arguments For Allen

Peg Ferraro stated that she believes in deferring to the Executive on cabinet appointments and has only voted once against a nomination in her 19 years as a Council member. Glenn Geissinger said her "life experiences" mean more than a sheet of paper.

Executive Brown piggybacked onto the "life experience" argument. "I have worked with Cathy for four years. I have come to depend on her heavily." He said her appointment is "in the highest and best interests of the County." He asked Council to give her an opportunity.

In the end,Werner and Kraft voted against the nomination, with Ferraro and Geissinger voting yes. It goes to Council tonight, where it seems headed to defeat.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Elected Sheriff On The Agenda Again

Looks like Democrats Lamont McClure and Ken Kraft remain intent on bashing their heads against the wall in an exercise of bad government. On the agenda for tomorrow night's meeting of Northampton County Council is an ordinance that proposes making the Sheriff's Office an elected position.

What Kraft and McClure really want is a return to the days of patronage politics, in which cronyism and a culture of corruption prevails.

I've discussed this before. Several times. Council members have weighed in on the topic. McClure and Kraft have to know that, aside from those two, nobody supports this idea. They ruin their own credibility by pushing a bad idea. They also hurt their party.

Republicans on Council can be justly criticized for being all too willing to give Executive John Brown whatever he wants. But this Democratic proposal, which promotes cronyism disguised as democracy, is just another example why neither party is to be trusted.

LWV State Senate Debate on May 8

On May 8, 2014, the League of Women Voters of Northampton County and the Gracedale Nursing Home are partnering to present a Candidates’ Forum for the Democratic 40th Senatorial District Primary Race. It's scheduled for 7 pm at the Gracedale Chapel.

The three candidates in contention are Attorney Mark Aurand, Bangor Mayor Joe Capozzolo and Northampton County Council member Scott Parsons.

This is the only debate for this race this election season at this time. It is a new Senate seat based on the 2010 PA Census and includes most of Monroe County and the northern portion of Northampton County.

What bothers me is that the debate is scheduled to coincide with a meeting of Northampton County Council.

Brown Pick For Administrator Appears to be Unqualified

As I've already told you, Northampton County Executive John Brown has nominated Bangor Borough Council President Cathy Allen as the next Director of Administration. This is perhaps the most important cabinet official in the County, but Brown wants to fill it with a person who has no education beyond high school and no County experience whatsoever. He wants to pay her $88,000 per year, too. Her nomination will be considered by County Council's Personnel Committee today at 4 pm. On Thursday, 6:30 pm, the full Council will consider it again.


According to the County's Human Resources Office, the Director of Administration should have the following education and training:
* Education equivalent to completion of a bachelor's degree program with major course work in public or business administration.
* Extensive public administration experience, which has included significant involvement with personnel, labor relations, or other administrative function, including two years in a supervisory position.
* Or any equivalent combination of acceptable training and experience which has provided the knowledges, skills and abilities cited above.
Allen has none of this. She has a high school education with no real involvement with personnel, labor relations or other administrative functions. She has only supervised herself in her two man office in the private sector because the other worker there, Marino Saveri, was her boss. She has served on a borough council for five years, and one that had a very capable manager.

Knowledge and Skills

According to Human Resources, a Director of Administration should possess the following knowledge and skills:
* Comprehensive knowledge of the public administration principles and practices commonly employed in the planning, direction and control of an organization providing Countywide administrative services.
* Comprehensive knowledge of goals, objectives, methods and techniques applicable to the management of personnel and labor relations programs.
* Comprehensive knowledge of functions, organization and operations commonly found in government at the local level.
* Thorough knowledge of supervisory principles and practices.
* Ability to organize, direct and coordinate the activities of several organizational subdivisions engaged in separate functions.
* Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with associates, elected officials, representatives of the Court, other County, State and Federal agencies, and the public.
* Ability to express ideas and communicate County policy on technical and/or administrative subjects, both orally and in writing.
Nothing in Allen's background shoes a comprehensive knowledge of public administration, personnel, labor issues or supervisory practices.

Under the County's own Human Resources policies, she's unqualified. But what disturbs me even more is her participation in unethical and nontransparent policy in Bangor Borough.

Allen's Saveri Connection

In 1984, Allen began working for Marino Saveri at Diversified Financial Planners, Inc. In addition to his work there, Saveri managed to get himself elected to Bangor Borough Council, then coaxed the Borough Authority into paying him monthly.. He eventually became Administrator there, while retaining his seat on Borough Council in an obvious ethical conflict.

Another Council member, Bonnie LaBar, began attending Borough Authority meetings, and was paid $200 per month to do so.So she became involved in the ethical conflict as well.

I should point out that the Borough Council stipend was $50 per month, though it recently has gone up to $100. LaBar, and presumably Saveri before her, waived the Borough Council salary. But they were making much more with what they received from the Bangor Borough Authority.

This went on for six years under LaBar.

Last year, around the time that Saveri left his seat on Borough Council, this practice was stopped. At the October 2013 meeting, after hearing from the Solicitor that the practice was illegal, Cathy Allen was a member of Borough Council herself.

Allen voted to continue sending LaBar to the Authority despite the legal problem. She was outvoted.

When Saveri resigned, Allen pushed to have Stephanie Merlo, Saveri's goddaughter, replace him. Merlo was a volunteer coach at Pius X who was soon thereafter charged with corrupting the morals of a minor. She was selected as a result of a tie-breaking vote cast by then Mayor John Brown.

Merlo resigned the day after she was charged. But Allen kept this information about a public official secret for nearly a month despite media inquiries and requests from other Council members.

It appears to me that Allen has picked up bad habits as Saveri's protege. She lacks transparency. Also, she seems more than willing to permit unethical behavior, even when it is pointed out by the Council Solicitor.

While the Executive's choice for Administrator is entitled to great weight, the argument can be made that Allen is unqualified. I would go along with this pick under these three conditions:

1) She must resign her seat on Bangor Borough Council because it presents too many opportunities for mischief, and Allen's own record reveals an amazing insensitivity to ethical concerns;

2) She must agree to a background check.

3) She should not start at $88,000. Her initial salary should be about half that amount.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bloodless Coup in Bethlehem Tp

Top row (L to R): Marty Zawarski, Tom Nolan
Bottom row (L to R): Phil Barnard, Mike Hudak

In a bloodless coup, Tom Nolan stepped down as President of Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners at their April 21 meeting. Almost immediately following that announcement, Martin Zawarski was elected to replace him as President in a 4-0 vote with no discussion. Michael Hudak retained his position as Vice President. Pat Bresslin was absent.

"My time is really being spread thin," Nolan complained in a brief statement before his resignation. "Sorry to hear that, Tom", responded Hudak, who praised Nolan's years of service. But the writing was on the wall. Resign or be voted out. Nolan admitted as much after the meeting. "I chose to take the high road," he explained. "I'll do the same thing regardless whether I'm President."

The decision to replace Nolan may have come after his recently appearance before the Parks and Recreation Board to pitch a garden project at Housenick Park. Commissioner Phil Barnard had just said, days before, that the Board has yet to decide how that park should be used. Nolan's plan, which appears to have been an end run around Commissioners, was rejected. It involved seven different organizations and included cutting down a 40' high oak tree. The project was also located in an area that the Township insurer wants roped off for now.

Hudak had scheduled an appointment an hour before the April 21 meeting to discuss things with Nolan. After that, Nolan could be seen in the lobby, speaking individually to Commissioners Zawarski and Barnard.

After those individual discussions, Nolan announced his resignation.

 Nolan has served the Township for 35 years as Commissioner, Planning Commissioner and most recently, as its representative on the Gaming Authority.

The garden project at Housenick came up again during the meeting. "We cannot have all these people in our park doing what they want," noted Hudak. "We're just not there yet" Hudak added. "I would prefer they are Township residents" pointing out that the Township's Autumn Club is waiting to start these kinds of projects. "It's just not safe," he reasoned.

President Zawarski agreed, claiming this garden project was "too soon, too fast."

Nolan noted that one of these seven groups was a boy scout troop, and that most involved are Township residents.

"It is up to this Board to send a message, positive or negative. They sent a very negative message. {The Scouts] will not be back."

In other Housenick Park news. Hudak announced he received two estimates for replacing the slate roof and associated items at the Archibald Johnston mansion. A new slate roof will cost $335,800, while a substitute will be only $209,000. But Hudak added that no rood replacement is necessary, and the Township's bi-annual maintenance is adequate to keep the building watertight.

Angels in the Outfield

Megan Brown and Dana Pollock - angels in the outfield
Juniors Megan Brown and Dana Pollock are outfielders on Freedom High School's winning softball team. But they're angels in the outfield. Thanks to their effort, they were able to collect enough food to replenish the empty food shelves at New Bethany Ministries' food bank, located on Bethlehem's South side.

Megan, whose mother Marie is a volunteer at the food bank, toured the facility with Dana. "The shelves were really empty," noted Dana. So the two of them, with the help of their teammates, recently organized a food drive and brought for the 500 families who depend on the food bank for three days worth of food every month.

The food collected filled two SUVs.

"They always need food, not just during the holidays," observed Megan.

FHS Softball Team during practice, coached by Nora Borger

Molovinsky to Run Against Harhart For State Rep

Molovinsky at Allentown City Council
If you ever want to run for public office, the last thing you should do is start a blog. Everything you say can and will be used against you. If you're anything like me, you'll give opponents plenty of ammo, too. Yet blogger Michael Molovinsky, who is both uglier and nastier than I, woke up yesterday morning and decided to run for State representative. He's running in the 183rd against Julie Harhart, who already has Republican opponent Marc Grammes and Democrat Terri Powell.

"We are victimized by ingrained partisan politics, always putting special interests ahead of that of the citizen. We keep adding new revenue streams; lottery, casino, fracking, but never providing the homeowner with the promised tax relief. I have established a facebook page, Molovinsky For State Representative, which will be dedicated to the campaign."

Personally, I could never be a politician. I view them as prey.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bill White Nails Karen Dolan

The Morning Call's Bill White, who is much nicer but uglier than I, also has problems with the way Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan abused the power of her office to get her way with her Illick's Mill nonprofit. In an email to the Mayor last week, despite knowing that her conduct was under scrutiny, she used these threatening words concerning a lease that asked Illick's Mill to pay something for rent and utilities.

"I will do everything I can to prevent this lease from going to Council."

Talk about conflict of interest.

Blaming me, she stepped off the Illick's Mill Board. She still needs to step down from Council, which she has used to stifle free and open discussion. 

Ethical Questions Over Brown's Proposed Director of Administration

In the wake of Tom Harp's resignation as Director of Administration, Northampton County Executive John Brown has proposed that Deputy Director Cathy Allen take his place. This is a mistake.

Cathy Allen, who happens to be a Republican, has been on Bangor Borough Council for five years and is currently its President. She is paid $600 per year. What's interesting to me is how she got there, and what she's learned in the business world. This is especially important because she has no education beyond a high school diploma.

Until she went to work for Brown as a Deputy Director of Administration, she was the "office manager" of a two-person office in Bangor called Diversified Financial Planners, Inc. The other person in that office is the boss. That corporation is owned - lock, stock and barrel - by Marino Saveri.

He knows all about diversification.

Until late last year, Saveri was a member of Bangor Borough Council. He was also one of their two paid representative to Bangor Borough Authority. For some reason, the Bangor Borough Authority pays two Council members to attend their meetings. This presents all kinds of ethical problems, especially when the Authority has a matter before Council..

In 1999, Saveri proposed and may have actually audited Bangor's books himself to save the borough the expense of an independent and professional audit.

It does not stop there. Saveri is also the paid Administrator of the Bangor Borough Authority. As a member of Bangor Borough Council, Saveri never shied away from advocating for the interests of the Borough Authority.

In a nutshell, Saveri is a walking conflict who makes Karen Dolan look like a Girl Scout by comparison.

This is the problem. The only real job Cathy Allen has had is as Saveri's protege.

Three years after graduating from high school in '81, she went to work with Saveri, and stayed with him until Brown recruited her.

While working for Saveri, she became a long term care insurance sales person. She sold policies to seniors. This makes her no expert on risk management.

Aside from Cub Scouts, she was never involved in anything. Then four years ago, out of the blue, she ran for and was elected to Bangor Borough Council.

Saveri needed an ally. Maybe Brown, newly elected Mayor, needed an ally, too.  

When the heat began to turn up on Saveri, he resigned his seat on Bangor Borough Council late last year.

The person he wanted to replace him was none other than Stephanie Merlo, the Pius X volunteer coach who had never even been registered to vote before her appointment. Allen voted for her, and when the matter ended up in a tie, then Mayor Brown broke the tie to vote for her.

Only a few weeks after this, Merlo was accused of corrupting the morals of a minor at Pius X. Allen, as President of Borough Council, refused all calls for information.

So she has no real academic education. From her work history, you can see that the only thing she has been schooled in is engaging in conflicts of interest, combined with a refusal to be transparent.

It would be irresponsible to set this person loose on 2,000 county workers and a $330 million budget, without an extensive background check. There is also no way that Northampton County Council should confirm a sitting Borough Council President to Director of Administration because it presents too many opportunities for the same kind of conflict that existed with Allen's mentor.

As things stand, most of the clerks in the row offices have more education and experience than Allen. But they don't get paid the $88,000 salary Brown is proposing for her.

Can Parsons Do It Again?

Northampton County Council member Scott Parsons is running for the state senate in a newly formed district that includes most of Monroe and the northern part of Northampton County. He's been called the "David who slayed Goliath" because he beat long-time Republican Council member Ron Angle in a fairly conservative district.  But can he beat Mario Scavello, a Republican State Representative in Monroe County who has had a two-year head start and a massive warchest?

Before he can beat Scavello, he has to come out on top of two other Democrats who have their eyes on the same seat.

One of them is Joe Capozzolo, who was trounced by Joe Emrick in the State Rep. race two years ago and who won the Bangor Mayoral contest by just one vote. Just sworn into office, he's running for something else. He likes to keep everyone in the dark, and even kept his state senate ambitions as secret as possible for reasons that elude me.

He stands for nothing, which his record as an appointed County Council member some years ago should make clear.

The only thing Capozzolo can do is draw votes that would otherwise go to Parsons.

The other candidate is Mark Aurand, an Allentown lawyer who has never run for anything, but whose interest in politics began when he became associated with and eventually spearheaded the Organizing For America movement in the Lehigh Valley.

Aurand is a class act, like Parsons.

He's working hard, raising money and is well-organized. I've already received a flyer and knock on my door. His strength and his weakness is his left wing agenda. That draws many volunteers and energizes what's left of the Obama supporters. The weakness is that it turns off everyone else. A unabashed liberal will sell in Bethlehem or Allentown, but not in the Slate Belt or Monroe County. Mario Scavello will be able to "define" him, as consultants like to say.

The candidate who has the best shot at beating Scavello in the Fall is the moderate, Scott Parsons, but only if he runs hard.

Best Seafood in LV? Wait a Year

Where's the best place to go for seafood in the Lehigh Valley? You won't find it at over-priced and under-portioned Youell's or the really over-priced Blue in Bethlehem Township. If you want a lobster that's really a lobster and tastes sweet, or tasty clams with no sand, you're gonna' have to wait until next year. That's because this place only cooks up these concoctions once every year, during their Lenten Friday dinners. I'm speaking of the Columbia Fire House in Roseto, believe it or not.

Good seafood at a firehouse?

Damn straight. Not just good, but probably the best you'll ever eat.

Unfortunately, you'll have to wait until next Lent to try it out. I asked Jesus Christ to delay his Resurrection a week or two, but He doesn't care much for seafood and said No.

No reservations. You go there and some surly fat gay takes your name and you have to wait a good hour or so.

No fancy tables either. You're not going for the atmosphere, but to eat.

Flounder, Clams. Calimari. Shrimp. Scallops. Lobster. And pasta, of course. It's Roseto.

Just about everybody from the Slate Belt goes. I went on Good Friday with Mark Cotturo, a former male model who had about eighty women swoon over him during the evening. I was hoping for some fallout, but no dice.

Also with me was The Bastard, Mark Thatcher, the very dude who grabbed Toni Lynch's cell phone a few months ago and chucked it into an unflushed hopper at the Mount Bethel Diner. Lynch kept playing "Ride of the Valkyries" on the phone, and Thatcher hates Wagner.

Toni was there, too. He actually handed The Bastard his new, snazzy iPhone, his third in the last two months, because a second iPhone was also smashed to pieces at the Mount Bethel Diner after he kept playing "Along Came Jones."

Bangor School Director Dennis Jones came along and chucked the phone against the wall.

Lynch's cellphone was safe Friday night, but he took no chances and bought The Bastard drinks.


There was a shitload of other Slate Belt people there, too. This place is so good that Northampton County Council member Scott Parsons, currently running for the state senate, ditched Detzi's Tavern for the night. Don't tell anyone, but John Detzi from Detzi's Tavern was there, too.

So were Judge Craig Dally and Executive John Brown.

They had to wait.

I'm unfamiliar with Slate Belt society, but one family was pointed out to me as "The Kennedys". They apparently dress very fashionably and still have all their teeth. They walked around with their noses in the air. Except instead of the husband screwing around, it's the wife. She's apparently done everyone in the Slate Belt at one time or another.

Except me.

And the Judge.

They had to wait, too.

Unfortunately for them, we had already eaten most of the food.

Where was Ron Angle, the Northampton County Bulldog? Well, he's really fixated on shit lately. He was working his ass off to clean cow shit out of his barn after the long, hard winter. Once Angle gets his hands on shit, he just doesn't want to let go.

Next Lent, be there if you like good seafood.

There's no parking lot, and on my way to go inside, some asshole decided to let his dogs out without bothering to go with them. Pit bulls.

One of them nailed me from behind, but let go as soon as I swung around and he recognized me.

Professional courtesy.

Then I bit the owner.

Roseto needs to change its symbol from a rose to a lobster. Or a bowl of pasta.

Wanna' Vote? Better Register Today

The Northampton County League of Women Voters asked me to remind you that TODAY IS THE LAST DAY to register to vote before the May 20 Primary Election. If you want to run as an Independent, today is the last day for switching to that status.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Is Allentown Abortion Clinic Dodging Health Inspectors?

That's the conclusion suggested by pro-life blogger Jill Stanek, who claims the clinic somehow was tipped about an unannounced inspection in late March, and responded by closing that day.

I can't vouch for this, but am passing it along.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why You Don't Elect Row Officers

Lamont McClure and Ken Kraft, who want elected row offices for the patronage jobs that will be created in those little fiefdoms, need to read about Schuylkill County.

State House: Beyer Wins Ballot Challenge

Michael Beyer, son of former State Representative Karen Beyer, will be on the Democratic ballot for the seat his mother held as a Republican four years ago. Beyer has survived a three-pronged nomination challenge attacking nomination petitions, residency and his claim to be a lawyer. In a ruling issued this morning, Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer rejected the challenge.

David and Linda Eisenhauer, two Democrats who live in the District, filed the challenge. Representing them is Attorney Matt Crosslis, who until recently was Lehigh County Executive, and has vowed to appeal.

Originally, Crosslis' petition argued that petitions were being signed by circulators who did not actually circulate them. He also argued that Beyer was a Pittsburgh resident. But he withdrew those two challenges, leaving him only with the claim that Beyer, a recent law school grad, had somehow misrepresented himself.

Give me a break.

Once Crosslis realized he was unable to mount a successful circulation challenge, this case was pretty much toast. An appeal is a waste of money.

Since no one else is running on the Democratic side, this assures Beyer's nomination.

In the Fall, he'll face incumbent Justin Simmons, the man who beat Beyer's mother four years ago, and the man who will very likely beat him.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dolan Does Some Damage Control

After resigning from her Executive Director position at the Illick's Mill, under a cloud of suspicion based upon her own mismanagement and conflicts of interest, Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan is doing a bit of damage control. She has told The Express Times' Lynn Olanoff that she's merely trying to save her poor little nonprofit from the vicious world of politics. Of course, I'm in the center of this dark world, as Dolan paints it in version #694 of what has happened.

Here's my response.

This has nothing to do with politics. This has everything to do with expecting elected officials to be loyal to the people instead of whoever pays their salary. The organization has been hurt, not by stories on my blog, but by Dolan's own unethical behavior and mismanagement of the nonprofit.

This is a woman who has told several stories now about what is going on. Let's deal with facts. 1) She failed to file nonprofit tax returns for three years in a row. 2) Her nonprofit status was revoked for at least a year. 3) Her vote on last year's budget was in violation of the Ethics Act because she voted on a matter in which she had a direct financial interest as a paid Executive Director. 4) She continued raising money after her nonprofit status was revoked and gave a misleading interview to The Express Times, falsely claiming to be a nonprofit. 5. She violated the Ethics Act again as recently as last Friday, when she threatened the Mayor concerning a new lease. "I will do everything I can to prevent this lease from going to Council."

Incidentally, her threat to the Mayor, in addition to being a conflict of interest under the Ethics Act, is also an example of exactly how she plays politics.

I find it totally incredible that City officials would send her a letter in 2010 about her unpaid $127,000 debt, threatening to suspend services, and then say nothing more about the situation. That is just unbelievable. She obviously had conversations. What were those conversations? Did the Mayor let her off the hook? If so, why? Who made the decision to write off the debt? Who made the decision to begin supplying her free heating oil? Why was that decision made? Why did she suddenly start advocating for wage hikes in Parks?

The best thing Dolan could do for the public now is to resign. She has abused her office. The people of Bethlehem deserve better than someone who plays petty games to advance causes in which she has an interest.

Updated 9:45 pm: In the Express Times story,  Dolan claims that it makes no difference whether booze is permitted in City parks, as she advocated at a recent meeting, because the Illick's Mill has a liquor license.
Reader Hank_Hill, however, has discovered the license is listed as "inactive" by the state liquor control board. Nonprofits can obtain a "special occasion permit", which is what Illick's Mill has, but it can only be used six times per year. According to the Illick's Mill webpage, it hosts 20 weddings and 100 other social events a year. It would seem that, even if the license were active, the number of weddings hosted are more than what the law allows.


Harp Resigns as NorCo Director of Administration

I had predicted that Northampton County Director Tom Harp would be canned on March 15, right around the time that the Centralized Human Services building was dedicated.

"Beware the Ides of March!" I would warn him.

But he lasted a little longer. He is resigning, effective May 2. In a letter to Executive John Brown, Harp states, "I was pleased to be able to complete the very important Human Services Building project, and to see that facility become fully operational."

In a memo to Council, Brown praises Harp. "He has done an excellent job with the Human Services building and managing the closure of the Bechtel and Wolf facilities. His support and guidance will be missed."

Harp is an avid baseball fan and is resigning in time to watch his grandson play.

Three Bethlehem City Council Members Uninterested in Liberty Lockdown

Yesterday, there was quite a stir about the four-hour lockdown at Liberty High School, which was prompted by a 911 call that three armed men had been seen entering the building. Fortunately, the matter turned out to be an elaborate hoax, but was one that upset even the parents of students at nearby schools. Mayor Bob Donchez, whose father was a detective, asked Police Chief Mark DiLuzio and Fire Chief Robert Novotnack to brief Council at last night's scheduled meeting. And most of them were quite interested. Council member Adam Waldron, for example, is married to a Liberty High School teacher. But while the Chiefs explained exactly what happened, three Council members were more busy carrying on private conversations behind the dais than in listening to what was said, to the point where it was actually difficult to hear the persons who had the floor. 

Let me tell you what the Chiefs said. Forty police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel responded to the lockdown,  along with the FBI, in accordance with a national protocol established for these scares. While they searched the building, two additional hoax calls were received.

During the lockdown, three people required medical assistance. One was a diabetic. Another suffered heat exhaustion. The third was a local resident who just walked up and requested assistance.

"It ended the way it should have," noted Chief DiLuzio. Mayor Donchez was happy with the "level of cooperation between the City and school district."

While this was going on, Karen Dolan was carrying on a loud whispered conversation with fellow Council member Bryan Callahan, making it difficult to hear.  No sooner were Dolan and Callahan done than President J. Willie Reynolds was involved in another loud whispered exchange with a substitute City Clerk. Whatever they were discussing, it should have waited until the persons who had the floor were done. Their conduct was both insensitive and rude, and may have violated the Sunshine Act.

So much for a civil Council.

Antalics Wants Grand Jury To Probe Dolan Nonprofit

Citizen activist Steve Antalics is calling for a Grand Jury investigation into the mismanagement of the Fox Environmental Center (Illick's Mill) under the stewardship of City Council member Karen Dolan.

Antalics has uncovered a 2010 letter from Parks and Public Works Director Ralph Carp to Dolan, concerning the Mill's $127,000 debt. In this letter, Carp states the City would be providing no further services until that debt was settled.

What happened?

What changed between 2010, when the City wanted its money, and 2013, when the City was providing all utilities, even heating oil? Were promises made?

Antalics believes the only way that all the layers of this onion can be peeled is through the subpoena power of a Grand Jury, and intends to ask District Attorney John Morganelli to investigate. Whether he does so is another matter.

City Council members sat there, like deer caught in the headlights. Council member Karen Dolan, who was accompanied to Council by her husband, had nothing to say.

Morganelli to Convene New Grand Jury

DA John Morganelli
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli is convening a new Grand Jury, starting April 24, with a continued focus on unsolved homicides and official corruption. Morganelli said this new panel will work under the supervision of Judge Michael Koury. The chief prosecuting attorney will be Assistant DA Bill Blake.

The previous Grand Jury, first empaneled on March 29, 2012, worked on 30 different investigations during its two-year life span. "This, by far, was the most work done by grand juries that I have empaneled as District Attorney," he noted. He filed a termination report on April 16, at the same time he announced his intention to form a new Grand Jury.

Grand juries fell out of favor during the '60s, according to Morganelli, when rules were relaxed to allow prosecutors to file charges independently, without these charging bodies, through what is known as a criminal information.

But grand juries remain important, insists Morganelli.

"The Grand Jury represents one of the oldest tools utilized by prosecutors to investigate matters of public concern. As everyone knows, the Grand Jury has the power to compel testimony, offer immunity and obtain any and all records without probable cause."

The 1999-2000 Grand Jury

Morganelli was unable to convene a Grand Jury during his fist seven years in office, he explained, because he needed more full-time staff. Finally, in 1999, he had enough staff to justify a Grand Jury for unsolved homicides. That resulted in the successful prosecution of James McBride, who is serving a life sentence for the 1984 murder of his wife. It also resulted in a second-degree murder conviction of Joseph Strohl for the 1986 beating death of his North Catasauqua. The Grand Jury helped prosecutor Bob Eyer, now the Chief Public Defender, build a circumstantial case.

The 2010 Grand Jury

A second Grand Jury, convened in 2010, heard evidence in 14 different investigations, and solved three more old homicides. It focused a great deal of its work on the 1979 murder of Holly Branagan, a Freedom High School Senior who was found stabbed to death in her Bethlehem home. Thirty-one witnesses testified. Morganelli is hopeful that Bethlehem police may have sufficient evidence to file charges in the future, but the case is still open.

That Grand Jury also expanded its scope beyond homicide and into more complicated, white collar crimes. Its work resulted in the successful prosecution of the principals of Municipal Energy Managers, who bilked Bethlehem Township out of $832,000 in a streetlight scam.

The 2012 Grand Jury

This Grand Jury investigated the following matters:
  • Conspiracy to Commit Homicide charges against Franklin Barndt for the 2009 killing of Miguel Aponte at the Easton Cafe.
  • The successful prosecution of former Assistant Chief Public Defender Anthony Martino, who stole in excess of $200,000 from private clients.
  • The successful prosecution of Shawnta Carmon, who conned philanthropist Linnie Fowler out of more than $1 million.
  • Theft charges against investment advisor Richard Freer, who is accused of bilking clients out of more than $10 million. 
  • Nonprofit mismanagement at the National Museum of Industrial History, with finding forwarded to the state Attorney General.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

D'Isidore Out at Northampton County

Director of Court Services Archie D'Isidore is the latest Stoffa cabinet member to get the ax from Brown. As far as I'm concerned, this guy was Stoffa's weakest cabinet member. He's also responsible for the two Stoffa decisions I consider his worst in eight years as Executive

It is D'Isidore who conducting some goofy Internet investigation of two County workers who were exchanging naughty emails. They were both canned, but were thankfully re-instated when the County came to its senses.

It is also D'Isidore who advocated for a former Secretary in the Solicitor's Office to replace the Register of Wills. A person who knows nothing about estates was selected over a 12-year Deputy.

Bethlehem Has 90 Pages of Documents Detailing Dolan's Nonprofit Debt

Steve Antalics
I arrived early yesterday for Bethlehem City Council's Finance Committee. I went there because I thought that maybe the same Council members trying to save $5,000 here and $4,000 there, might have some questions about what the hell happened to the $127,000 that the City fronted fellow Council member Karen Dolan for Illick's Mill. But the meeting, and it was a long one, nearly ended without a peep from any of them about just what happened.

Maybe they thought it would be a violation of their so-called rules of civility to look out for the taxpayer.

They almost got away, but just as the meeting was about to end, an old bastard stood up and began asking questions.

That bastard is Steve Antalics, who has been on something of a quest to learn just ho Dolan was able to get $127,000 for her Mill from the City without so much as a Thank You note. Antalics has also raised questions about unpaid utilities and free heating oil.

"It looks like the money disappeared and no one seems to know," Antalics said. "This is our money. We want to know what happened to our money."

"Anyone care to answer that?"

Antalics was answered with uncomfortable silence, after which Bryan Callahan suggested that they just don't know what happened themselves.

That's why they're there. After pushing a meaningless hiring freeze to save money, six Council members (Dolan was absent) showed an amazing lack of will to look into what one of their own was doing.

Then Mayor Bob Donchez, who was at the meeting, answered Antalics, noting that the administration had just sent City Council 90 pages of documents detailing unpaid invoices accumulated by Dolan during her tenure at Fox Environmental Center.

In addition to failing to file tax returns, Dolan was also ignoring City bills.

That explains the $127,000

After the meeting, I learned that most of these invoices were for capital improvements that the City fronted for Dolan. She was supposed to pay from grants that were restricted for that purpose, but spent the money on other needs. The City decided to write off the balance due because the improvements increased the value of a building owned by Bethlehem Authority.

I don't accept that reason because most of the money fronted by the City came from borrowed money. This means the taxpayers could have spent as much as twice the amount of money spent on improvements. That is money that could have been used to help residents, pay cops or plow roads. Instead it was sunk into a building without a vote by Council.

Last week, in addition to sending a new lease for the Fox Environmental Center (Illick's Mill), Mayor Donchez asked to be paid for $8,000 in utilities fronted by the City.

Dolan, on Friday, sent Donchez an email vowing to close the Mill and "vacate the premises immediately." Later, she sent another missive. "I will do everything I can to prevent this lease from going to Council",she threatened.

Last night, right before the Finance Committee met, Dolan resigned as Executive Director at Fox Environmental. She still needs to resign from Council.

Corrected 8:16 am to indicate they are 90 pages of documents, not just invoices.

Bethlehem City Council Advances Meaningless Hiring Freeze

Last night, Bethlehem City Council's Finance Committee voted 2-1 to advance a meaningless hiring freeze to the full Council for a vote in May. It won't make a damn bit of difference to City finances, but that's not the point. In future campaigns, Mike Recchiuti and Bryan Callahan will be able to pretend they are fiscal conservatives who drew the line and crap like that. But other than the political gain, there's no point.

Earlier that night, Director of Community and Economic Development Director Alicia Karner wanted staffing in her department increased by one or two people to handle the workload that will come with the CRIZ. David Brong found a way to make it budget neutral. But Callahan and Recchiuti voted No because the City is in dire financial straights. Eric Evan countered the best way to change that is by increasing revenue with the CRIZ, but their minds were made up.

Amazingly, right after refusing to listen to some pretty powerful arguments for CRIZ staffing, which the City agreed to provide in its application to the state, Callahan claimed City Council would listen to administration pitches for hiring staff.

"I don't think we're going to be hard of hearing," he said, right after listening to the administration point out that these jobs are needed for what is expected to be $538 million in development.

He sounds deaf to me.

As for the hiring freeze, about half the City's workforce is exempt. It doesn't cover fire, police or EMS. They will also make sure it doesn't affect seasonal employees. When all the exemptions are considered, it might affect three positions for two months, a point noted by nonvoting member Adam Waldron.

"It's more like a chill," he observed.

So then what's the point?

Aside from the question whether Council has the right to stick its nose into day-to-day administrative affairs, Business Administrator David Brong told them it simply won't work. Other things will, he noted, like consolidations within departments, the increased use of technology and elimination of non-core functions.

"A Council-imposed hiring freeze takes the reins of leadership away from those who run the City," Brong argued. "Abandon this hiring freeze and let us do our jobs."

Brong called it an "irritant" and "token effort."

"How much mileage are we really going to get out of this?" he asked.

That depends on whether you are interested in government or politics.

Molovinsky Speaks to Sam Bennett

Newspapers generally shy away from coverage of political races especially when they're three years away. Besides, in urban growth regimes like Allentown, democracy is pretty much dead. But Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky, who prefers opinion pieces, did a fairly balanced interview with possible Allentown mayoral candidate Siobhan Sam Bennett yesterday. He even took notes.

It's very well done, and I recommend anyone from Allentown to give it a read.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dolan on Thin Ice With Ethics Act

In recent posts, I've told you about Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan. She has used the authority of her public office, as well as confidential information received through her holding public office, to benefit a nonprofit at which she's the paid Executive Director. That, according to the state Ethics Act, is a conflict of interest. But it's an admonition she has repeatedly ignored. According to informed sources, she did precisely what the law condemns this past weekend, in an email to the Mayor. She threatened to prevent Council from reviewing a proposed lease for the Illick's Mill. One that would actually require her to pay utilities and rent. Let me tell you the story.

Dolan, a City Council member since 2006, is the paid Executive Director of what is known as the Gertrude B. Fox Environmental Center. That's a nonprofit known to most of us as Illick's Mill. She failed to file nonprofit tax returns (990s) for three years in a row, which ultimately resulted in the revocation of her nonprofit status with the IRS. While working to get it back, she continued accepting grants and public assistance. While her status was revoked, she gave a misleading interview to The Express Times. She touted a $170,000 budget and announced wedding receptions at the site.

Most of her old board members abandoned ship. The ones she has now were not around when the 501c3 status was pulled.

At a recent Parks Committee meeting, where she conveniently happens to be the Chair, she advocated easing up on booze restrictions in City parks, where Illick's Mill hosts wedding receptions. That's an ethical conflict, though she countered that all nonprofits in City parks would benefit.

In the meantime, questions have begun to arise. Why is there no recent record of Illick's Mill paying any utilities? Why did the City suddenly start providing her with free heating oil? Why does she pay no rent? Why was the $127,000 owed to the City just "written off", according to an independent audit of City finances.

When I met with her in February, she told me she had a valid lease and was paying utilities. That was untrue. I have learned recently that she stopped paying utilities several years ago, in 2011, or perhaps even earlier. She has told others that utilities are not being paid until there's a new lease.

As Right to Know requests have descended upon Bethlehem like a plague of locusts, the City decided it's time for a new lease at Illick's Mill. It was on the agenda for Wednesday night's City Council meeting, and you can see it yourself under "back up documents." (Sublease Agreement Illicks Mill).

This proposed lease is pretty much like the old lease, with two major exceptions. This one calls for monthly rent of $300 and requires the nonprofit to pay for utilities.

Even heating oil.

Dolan, who really should have no public role in the finances of an entity that pays her a salary, nevertheless had to weigh in.

Over the weekend, she sent several emails to the Mayor, in which she specifically stated she would prevent the lease from being considered by Council.

Quite clearly, she is in violation of the Ethics Act.

Section 1103(a) of the Ethics Act states, "No public official or public employee shall engage in conduct that constitutes a conflict of interest." The Act defines "conflict of interest" as the "[u]se by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding public office or employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated."

As recently as this weekend, Dolan was using the authority of her public office and confidential information she obtained by virtue of her public office, to threaten to keep the proposed lease from Council.

Dolan is now telling The Express Times that she met with the Mayor concerning a lease earlier this year. That's a violation of the Ethics Act.  She acknowledges that she somehow talked former Mayor John Callahan into waiving utilities completely and to even start supplying heating oil. Of course, that's her third story now. She told me she was paying utilities and told someone else she was waiting for a new lease. Now it's blame Callahan time. It's also another conflict of interest by her. Maybe Callahan was getting hounded. Or maybe there's a fourth story.

One Express Times reader sums things up quite nicely:

"So, let me get this straight. The organization for which a city councilwoman is a paid employee gets a special break on rent and utilities while taxpayers and businesses have to pay their taxes, which she has no doubt voted yes to increase? Something smells about this entire situation. Maybe she personally would be willing to pay my utilities. Sounds like a fair trade to me."

What smells is a conflict of interest.

So who cares about an Ethics Act violation? The Commission will make a ruling ten years after everyone is dead right? Wrong. Whether Dolan knows it or not, that conflict of interest provision in the Ethics Act is exactly what then Attorney General Corbett used to go after state representatives who were using state employees to run their political campaign. The Court noted three elements to the offense: " (1) the defendant was a public official;  (2) the defendant knowingly or intentionally used the authority of his or her office for private pecuniary gain;  and (3) the gain was more than de minimis."

Dolan is a public official. She is knowingly and intentionally using the authority of her office to avoid rent and utilities at a nonprofit that pays her a salary. The gain is certainly more than de minimis.

The ice beneath her is cracking.

According to a Morning Call account, Board Chair Andrew Bollinger is now speaking for Fox Environmental, not Dolan. He and the Mayor have talked. No threats. The Mayor is willing to negotiate terms, but the free ride is over. Bollinger and his Board appear to be tired of the hole Dolan is digging for them.

Someone needs to relay that message to Dolan.

This nature center should continue, thanks to the hard work of many people over the years, not just Dolan. If she cared about its mission, she'd resign. In fact she needs to leave City Council as well.