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Friday, February 27, 2015

Hozza Seeking Third Term as Whitehall's Mayor

FROM ED HOZZA CAMPAIGN: Last night, Whitehall Township Mayor Edward Hozza, Jr. announced his intention to run for re-election to the seat he has held since 2008.

“It has been my pleasure to serve the citizens of Whitehall over the last eight years,” said Mayor Hozza. “I look forward to building on my progress in bringing Whitehall into the 21st Century while also remembering our Township’s history.”

Hozza continues to work as Whitehall’s “full-time mayor” and hopes to work to improve the lives of its citizens every day in the future. He has successfully balanced seven budgets over his two terms as mayor When Mayor Hozza took office, the township was at its debt level in 33 years and the township has seen its debt level decrease to its lowest amount since 2003. At the same rate, Whitehall Township will have its planned lowest debt payment in 2017 due to Mayor Hozza’s focus on paying down the township’s debt. By implementing a non-essential personnel hiring freeze, bidding contracts into categories, and switching healthcare providers, Mayor Hozza has saved the residents of Whitehall Township over $5 million during one of the country’s worst economic periods. Whitehall has also stabilized its pension obligations at a level that reduces future liabilities and burdens on taxpayers, stabilizing the budget.

Mayor Hozza also continues to work towards a safer Whitehall for both its residents and visitors. He has begun to plan for future succession plans for the police department by approving the promotions of several officers and has approved technology upgrades to improve information sharing and make the department more efficient. He also reviewed the existing ten-year fire apparatus replacement schedule and expanded it to include every new apparatus for the next 23 years.

“Public safety has been and will continue to be one of my chief concerns over the next four years,” said Mayor Hozza. “I have already begun to study the feasibility of a new police station to replace our current aging one and have studied the possible legal ramifications of the prospect of mandating body cameras on our police officers.”

With Whitehall’s reliance on a strong commercial tax-base, Mayor Hozza has reenergized economic development in Whitehall over the last eight years and will do so moving forward. He resurrected the Whitehall Township Industrial and Commercial Development authority to advocate for redevelopment in the township. His main focus has been the redevelopment of the former Lehigh Valley Dairy and Mayor Hozza continues to call for a tax incentive for developers to reuse the property. He plans on continuing to pursue a CRIZ designation for Whitehall along with a TIF and LERTA for the dairy property with other government entities in the township.

Mayor Hozza also sees Whitehall’s economy moving away from a sole reliance on retail to one focusing on other sectors like the healthcare industry. “With the aging population of both Whitehall and the country as a whole, the need for medical staffing over the next 30 years will skyrocket,” said Mayor Hozza. “I look forward to an announcement on the plans of Lehigh Valley Health Network on their intentions for their 143-acre property they own along MacArthur Road.”

Mayor Hozza demonstrated his dedication to open space preservation in Whitehall Township by working with federal, state, and county agencies to purchase the Prydun Farm, the first case of new open space in Whitehall Township since the implementation of its new strategic plan. Mayor Hozza also worked with the Ironton Rail Trail to complete the paving of the trail by the end of this year and helped to implement the construction of the D&L Trail through Whitehall.

Mayor Hozza is a member the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, which granted Whitehall Township its Transportation Public Safety Award last year for the State Route 145 Safety Improvement Project. Hozza is also a member of the Pennsylvania State Mayors’ Association, the Pennsylvania League of Municipalities, and he and his wife, Denise, are active members of the Whitehall Chamber of Commerce and are active members of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church

Blogger's Note: What is less than apparent in this news release is Hozza's great sense of humor. I sat next to him during meetings in which he had me rolling on the floor. He needs to be able to laugh because Whitehall is the fourth largest municipality in the Lehigh Valley. (The largest are Allentown, Bethlehem, Lower Macungie, Whitehall and Easton.)

Commissioner Jerry Palagonia, a former Township police officer, is also running.

Civil Rights Movement: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Michael Dyson
Moravian College's Foy Hall is usually a venue for harpsichords and bassoons. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson had neither, though he did sing at times to over 150 people on February 26. As part of black history month, Dyson was invited to explain where we are in the civil rights movement. Charles Dickens might say "it is the best of times, and it is the worst of times." The hip hop group Future would say, "at the same damn time." Dyson acknowledged that we've made tremendous progress, but we have a long way to go.

Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, has been described as both "a Princeton PhD and a child of the streets" who grew up in Detroit. He is an admitted welfare dad who never started college until he was 21. Since that time, he has authored 18 books and is one of the talking heads sometimes seen on cable TV or heard on NPR, discussing race relations.

According to Dyson, the civil rights movement is nothing less than the complete fulfillment of the social contract articulated by Thomas Jefferson at the founding of our nation. The immortal declaration that "all men are created equal."

He reminded the audience that it is really not all that long ago that blacks were required to drink out of separate water fountins, sit at the rear of buses and were denied access to places like Disneyworld. He noted his own experience as a child, being denied service at a restaurant because he's black.

"What's a n-----, momma?" he asked, never having heard that word before. "Just you don't tell your daddy," she warned him.

Those days are over, but because we live in what Gore Vidal has called the United States of Amnesia, we quickly forget these indignities. He noted it is "not truly American to hold people hostage to their racial identities."

Today, Dyson explained, there is some evidence that the country is actually moving backwards. The Supreme Court has nullified a core provision of the Voting Rights Act, ending nearly 50 years of U.S.oversight of elections in much of the South. And Dyson insists that black people are "precriminalized" in the minds of both black and white police officers.

"Black people don't hate the police," he stated. "They just don't want the police to mistake us for the criminal."

Though he generally supports President Obama, the nation's first black president, he had some criticism for him, too. "Obama can't act as black in public as Bill Clinton does. He can't play the sax or start rappin' on Ellen's show." He complained that, all too often, Obama acts as though his mission is "to control the Negro madness." Dyson believes this is just as ridiculous as when Obama complained about Pennsylvania voters who "cling" to their guns and religion. In many ways, Obama has continued to reinforce a view of white superiority.

Dysin suggests hip hop as a way of understanding what it is like to be born black and disadvantaged. He calls Tupac Shakur, a black rapper gunned down in a 1996 drive-by shooting, the "Truman Capote of the hood," a genius whose lyrics graphically described life in the ghetto.
Not to disrespect my peoples but my poppa was a loser
Only plan he had for momma was to fuck her and abuse her
Even as a little seed, I could see his plan for me
Stranded on welfare, another broken family
Now what was I to be, a product of this heated passion
Momma got pregnant, and poppa got a piece of ass
Look how it began, nobody gave a fuck about me
Pistol in my hand, this cruel world can do without me
How can I survive? Got me asking white Jesus
will a nigga live or die, 'cause the Lord can't see us
in the deep dark clouds of the projects, ain't no sunshine
No sunny days and we only play sometimes
When everybody's sleeping

Pearson Reports: Tom Muller's State of The County Address

Tom Muller with his wife MJ, on the day he announced his candidacy
Blogger's Note: Because I was still writing after midnight on Wednesday, I was unable to attend Tom Muller's State of the County Address on Thursday morning. I was unaware that Tom Muller's wife would be there, and had I known that, I would have gone. MJ and Cheryl Browning always give me hugs and kisses, so I always enjoy myself. That's a stark contrast from Northampton County, where the women know me better. Dennis Pearson, who was inducted into Bill White's not-so-prestigious Hall of Fame at the same time as me, offered to go in my place as a member of what Lehigh county Exec refers to as the pseudo press. I asked him to send me a pseudo report, never expecting to get one. Not only did Dennis send me one, but he even gave me a pseudo update.

Dennis is a regular at Lehigh County and Allentown City Council meetings, so he knows what is going on.  I enjoyed his report thoroughly. This is an edited version of what he sent me.

No Tax Hike

There will be no tax increase in Lehigh County in 2016. Lehich County Exec Tom Muller made that pledge during his State of the County address, delivered during a breakfast gathering at Olympus Corporation in Center Valley.  He credits both the expertise of his administrative team and the local economy as the reasons for his commitment to hold taxes to 3.75 mills.


The executive opposes the creation of the Cedarbrook Nursing Homes Advisory Team created by Commissioners during a meeting in which they shot down two out of four Lehigh County Authority appointments. Commissioners argue they have that right under the Home Rule Charter.

Muller and Commissioners have sounded a battle alert on another, more recent, matter. Cedarbrook's long-time private manager, LW Consulting Inc. is pulling the plug when its contract ends on June 30.

Most commissioners have been publicly critical of LW since October 2013, when the county had to come up with $3.6 million to keep the nursing homes operating through the end of that year.


Muller is a blunt, in-your-face kind of guy. He said Commissioners could be misinterpreting his direct way in speaking on issues. To quote Muller: "Directness is often confused with defiance; it doesn't necessarily sit well with everybody," ..,"An olive branch can come back at you as sharp stick in the eye."

Muller stated that since January 2012 the Board has had seven Republicans and two Democrats. Since the inception of Home Rule, the Board has generally has a majority of Republicans. This had no impact on relations between the County Executive and the Commissioners until Republicans sought and got a veto proof majority. That changed the equation.

Muller said that County Executive Don Cunningham had regular meetings with the leadership of the Board, but this arrangement ended in 2012 because it had become unproductive. This arrangement was not revived by Executives Hansell or Croslis. Muller said he tried to revive the pre 2012 meetings, but ended them two months later because there was always an impasse.

But he denies he has refused to meet or communicate with commissioners. He stressed that any commissioner who asserted that ... Well that is not so... If someone wants to speak to him, Muller says the door is open.

Economy Better, But People Aren't

Muller says the economic outlook of the Lehigh Valley is very good and gave plenty of examples. But  there are plenty of families still struggling with unemployment and uncomfortable levels of family income, There is too much homelessness of children and veterans who fought for us in war; Schools must stick to austere budgets with certain mandates that force schools to sustain certain non-classroom programs. And much of the County's finances depend heavily upon dwindling pass through money from the state and federal government. The County struggles to keep up with pension payments as more and more County employees retirees

Comm'r Takeover of Labor Negotiations

Muller briefly addressed the Comm'r takeover of labor negotiation role. He believes this will lead to more arbitration hearings. .

What has Muller learned?

1) When he goes out to public or municipal meetings, he is not always greeted warmly.

2) With Northampton County Executive John Brown in the room, Muller said that the best way to get noticed is to get a consultant's contract from John Brown.

3) On the local level people seek to have problems solved period ... They are not very ideological.

4) When you hold an open house to receive citizen input the phrase "if you build it" doesn't always apply ... You have to go out to the people.and listen to what they are saying ... If you are talking you can't listen.

5) 92% is a important number ...This adds up to amount of people who may not be in your camp

Barron Has No Republican Opponent ... Yet

Northampton County Controller Steve Barron is Executive John Brown's biggest public enemy right now. So much so that he attempted to block his right to send emails to county workers. So much so that he temporarily removed a fraud reporting link that Barron had installed. Last Thursday, he unsuccessfully asked Council to muzzle Barron during Courtesy of the Floor.

Brown's Republican allies on Council would love to see Barron  out of the way, too. Hayden Phillips, Seth Vaughn and Mat Benol proposed a resolution calling on the Kilted One to resign. Benol even secretly contacted Barron's staff to find out if they had any dirt on him.

"Does he wear anything under that kilt? asked Benol.

Instead of diming Barron, staff dimed Benol.

Pam Colton, Bangor School Board Prez, was supposed to be the Republican who would remove the Curious Controller. But she's circulated no petitions.

I learned yesterday that no Republican is circulating petitions against Barron. Now that could change, but the last day to circulate in March 10.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Superior Court: Child Rapist and Murderer Deserves No New Trial

Pennsylvania's Superior Court today refused to grant a new trial to an Easton man first convicted in 1989 of the rape and murder of an 11-year old child whose body was found near an abandoned railroad on the South Side. He was sentenced to life in prison. The Innocence Project claimed that Scott Oliver was entitled to a new trial  based on inconclusive DNA tests.

Oliver provided the beer for a group of minors, which included the 11 year old Melissa Jaroschak, on August 20, 1989. He attended a party with them, was seen spending time alone with her and occasionally walking with his arm around her. They left the party together at about 8:30 p.m. that evening.

She never made it home.

When her body was found, an autopsy revealed she had been beaten, choked, raped, sodomized and then strangled to death with her own sweatshirt. Though he initially claimed he had done nothing more than walk the victim home, he later gave police a four-page confession.

In a statement, NorCo DA John Morganelli indicated that Oliver had been successfully prosecuted by his predecessor, Don Corriere. Morganelli handled the subsequent appeals. "Today should put this case to rest for all time," stated Morganelli, hoping that the Court's opinion puts "the victim's family at ease knowing that Mr. Oliver will die in prison serving out his deserved life sentence."

King Edwin For Senator?

Though his gubernatorial campaign fizzled pretty quickly, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski is being considered as a possible contender in the Democratic quest for a candidate who can beat U.S. Senator Pat Toomey. According to The National Journal, many of the state's top Democrats are less than enthusiastic about another Joe Sestak bid. T.J. Rooney has already predicted a loss if Joe Sestak carries the Democratic banner.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already talked with Pawlowski, but is also talking to others. Potential candidates include Philadelphia DA Seth Williams (he says maybe), Allegheny County Exec Rich Fitzgerald (he says No), former U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, State Senator Vince Hughes, Josh Shapiro (he says No).

Pawlowski's political adviser, Mike Fleck, declines to confirm or deny that Pawlowski is running. But he said to check back in April.

No More Fireside Chats With Brown

I stopped attending what Northampton County Executive John Brown calls "media events" after he decided to post armed guards at one of them. Late yesterday afternoon, he announced that he's dropping his Thursday meetings with the press, which is likely because everyone else has stopped going, too. posting armed guards at them. Now he didn't make the announcement himself. He's too important. He used his Executive Secretary. A few minutes later, she sent an email instructing  reporters that if they wish an audience, they must go through his public relations consultant, Kim Plyler.

My response to his Executive Secretary? "If I have a question for Brown or anyone else, I intend to ask them directly. I respectfully suggest that Brown has no right to instruct me on how to pose questions. He is simply muzzling free inquiry, as he did his first year in office."

The Two Chiefs Send Me a Message

Fortunately, I took a few pictures of Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio and Lehigh University Police Chief Ed Shupp at the Zoning hearing Board meeting I describe below. In this one, they appear to be reviewing my rap sheet. This one will not be sent to The Bethlehem Press, but I have to share it.

"You know, you got the wrong finger out," Shupp tells DiLuzio, proving why he's a cop.

Just a few months ago, Chief Deluzio was holding hands with some woman in a prayer circle at Payrow Plaza, praying for peace.

But I get the finger.

I suppose it's better than a taser.

Lehigh University to Build New Police Station at Windish Hall

When two police chiefs, a fire chief and Mayor Bob Donchez ask for something, it's hard to say No. At their February 25 meeting, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board said Yes. In an unanimous 5-0 vote, they granted a use variance that will allow Lehigh University to build a new police station at the site of toe 100 year-old Windish hall, located at 321 E. Packer Ave. Instead of pork sausages and homemade noodles, there will be holding cells and interrogation rooms as Lehigh sees a need to be closer to the community where many of its students live.

Ed Shupp, who has served at Lehigh University for 35 years as both a police officer and Chief, told zoners that Lehigh's police force is accredited and has the authority to enforce both the Crimes Code and City Ordinances. As it has outgrown its current headquarters on University Drive, Chief Shupp wanted a new station that would serve as a "commitment we're making to the community in the area where our students live."

The Windish Hall, an outdated and antiquated wedding and banquet facility, is the perfect site, according to Schupp, because of its proximity to the Zoellner Arts Center and the off-campus stufdent housing in that area.

Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio provided his "full support to Chuef Shupp, noting that the two departments work closely together. They often conduct joint patrols and joint bike patrols. The new police station would serve as a substation for Bethlehem police.

Noting that Lehigh's police force is no campus security department, he told zoners that Lehigh University actually provided police coverage on the entire South Side during the bomb threat at Liberty High School in 2012. He added that the University invested $200,000 in surveillance cameras, both on and off campus, and that Bethlehem dispatchers are able to see what Lehigh sees.
Chief DeLuzio called the new location, standing by itself  a crime deterrent.

After granting a use variance that will allow for a police department inside a residential area, Chairman Gus Loupos commended the two chiefs on their cooperative attitude. "It is so good to see the people of this City work together," he remarked.

But it was sometimes confusing. As Chief Shupp was called, DiLuzio would respond, and vice versa.

"We have too many Chiefs and not enough Indians!" wisecracked zoner Bill Fitzpatrick.

In other business, zoners unanimously approved the application of BethApp Properties to convert a vacant school at 1815 Main Street into a five-unit condominium. They are double the amount of greenspace while retaining 12 parking spots. Principal Eve Metzger argued this vacant property has become a "drain" on the city and added that few people would want to buy it to convert into a mansion. Her husband, Mike Metzger, is the architect. He assured neighbors they plan to "bring back what has been a neglectd property to something of value."

Zoners also granted Leela Jadhav's application for a dimensional variance to permit a daycare at a 5,440 sq ft lot at 746 main Street instead of the required 6,000 sq ft.

But they denied a use variance that would allow Carey Hamm to convert what was once a doctors office into a dog grooming facility at 1809 Columbine Avenue. Realtor Lucy Lennon had sought a special exception that would allow the continuation of a nonconforming use at that residence, but she told zoners that the doctor who once lived there had been retired for many years.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Giordano: The Lehigh Valley Comes Out For "Our Favorite Son"

Just last month, when Sam Murray announced his intentions to run for Northampton County Judge, the 170 people who crowded into Riverview Country Club created a bipartisan aura of inevitability. But I have never seen a larger crowd for a campaign kickoff than last night, when Judge Emil Giordano kicked off his campaign for the Pennsylvania Superior Court. He made his announcement at the cavernous Northampton Memorial Community Center amid dozens of empty pizza boxes. Those boxes were empty because it seemed as though the entire Lehigh Valley had cascaded into Northampton, despite the single digit temperatures and mounds of snow everywhere. The Express Times' Tom Shortell placed the number at about 600, although it could easily have been 700, It was a bipartisan crowd, too. Democrats and Republicans. Lawyers and friends. Urbanistas and country folk. It was the Lehigh Valley. Northampton Mayor Thomas Reenock put it best when he called the gathering "our favorite son's debut."

That favorite son also happens to be the sons of two Italian immigrants who met while learning how to speak English in night school. They came here to raise a family and made pizzas. Lots of them. When Emil was old enough, he made pizzas, too. Lots of them. They got him through Bethlehem Catholic High School, Moravian College and Villanova Law School. Giordano learned about hard work. He learned to respect and admire his parents and grandparents, and to admire the many people wo appear before him to become naturalized citizens. Most importantly, he learned how to listen.

"The time spent behind counters, waiting on people, served me very well," remarked Giordano last night. In time, there was a law office adjacent to Pizza Village. And after 18 years of practicing law, he became a judge. And for the past 12 years, he has handled that role with humility and a genuine concern for everyone who comes before him,lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

At the same time, he has taught at Becahi and Moravian College. But where he has excelled is as a coach to young athletes, bringing out the best in them. I've seen him take groups of kids and win basketball championships despite claiming to know nothing about the sport. He knows how to motivate.

After 12 years as a judge, Emil Giordano is the same person he was before he put on a robe. Few other judges can make that claim.

Why is he running for the Pennsylvania Superior Court?  That;s the state's busiest court. It's an appellate court that reviews the decisions of common pleas judges in all 67 counties. Just to keep up, the 15 judges on that bench must each hand down one or two opinions daily.

Giordano already knows about hard work, He added that he would be a "common sense judge who follows the law." He also believes that the best person to evaluate the work of other judges is a person who once sat where they are sitting.

Business Matters' Tony Iannelli served as Master of Ceremonies and shared a story he had heard that very day from DA John Morganelli. Giordano, when he was still practicing law, once challenged Morganelli in a DA's race. That night, as the numbers came in, it was clear that Morganelli would be the victor. Instead of calling Morganelli to concede, Giordano actually walked into the Democratic stronghold and congratulated him in person.

That's class.

That's Giordano.

Aside from Iannelli, Giordano invited Judges Anthony Beltrami and Paula Roscioli to his reception. Because they are seeking well-deserved retentions this year, they are permitted to attend political gatherings. But Giordano and Iannelli decided against calling them up onto the stage. "Four Italians on the stage at one time might be a RICO violation," explained Judge Giordano.

Giordano also introduced Michael George, the President Judge of Adams County, who is also seeking a seat on the Superior Court.

(This is just part of huge crowd of at least 600 people at Judge Emil Giordano's campaign kickoff for the Superior Court. Judge Giordano asked each of them to give him ten. Not $10,000, but ten votes.)

(Attorney Vivian Zumas shares a few words with Judge Giodano after his speech. At the far right, you can see Al Recker, the great Bethlehem Globe Times reporter who used to cover the courthouse).

(Judge Beltrami with his lovely wife, Gina. Judge Beltrami and Judge Paula Roscioli are seeking retention this year. I trapped Judge Beltrami for a picture, but Judge Roscioli was too fast for me.)

(Abe Kassis, who is running for Judge, offers his best wishes to Judge Giordano. Kassis' opponents, Sam Murray and Vic Scomilio, were there, too, but they slipped out with Judge Roscioli. Abe is Lebanese, Sam is half Lebanese and Vic's wife is half Lebanese.So that's two Lebanese running for judge, right?)

(Though he's only in the 8th Grade, Caden Giordano is already 23' tall, and is just what Becahi's basketball program needs. He's a great athlete, but more importantly, is a great young man. He must be smarter than his father because he tells me he's staying away from the law.)

(Bethlehem City Council Member Eric Evans and his gorgeous wife Jodi, with Judge Giordano. It was amazing to see so many Democrats flock to Giordano's banner.)

(South Whitehall Township Manager Howard Kutzler told me tonight that he is not running for Township Comm'r in Bethlehem Tp because of the time it would take away from his day job. He's also the Treasurer of the Northampton County GOP, and kept charging me admission.)

(My favorite tea party person, Arlene Klocek, and I exchange our usual pleasantries. Not only do we disagree about everything, but she is part of the Ronnie del Wacko wing of the NorCo GOP. But for some reason, I really like her. "I pray for you, Bernie," she always tells me. So I got that going for me.)

(Well-spoken and cerebral, Joan Rosenthal is a member of the NorCo Elections Commission and is on Hanover Township's ZHB. I think she prays for me, too.)

(Bethlehem City Council member Mike Recchiuti, along with a gentleman I'll call Mr. Donchez. The rise between these two thorns is Gross McGinley lawyer Loren Speziale, who no doubt will be suing me one day.)

(Bethlehem City worker Mike McGraw, with Judge Giordano. Mike, a former baseball standout, is the man at Northwest Little League. As baseball season approaches, he is required by baseball law to insert a little chew in his mouth from time to time. It's a rule. But he's quit smoking. Incidentally, he knows EVERYTHING about Bethlehem).  .

Nazareth Cops Committing Random Acts of Kindness

It pains me to write this story. I'm much more at home when I'm exposing some dark ugly secret, like NorCo Councilman Mat Benol's strange sexual attraction to banana peels. But Nazareth police are screwing me up lately with random acts of kindness. I have to tell the story.

Last Summer, I was pretty tough on Nazareth police. They deserved it, especially after Chief Thomas "Cupcake" Trachta and Trachta goon Dan Troxell, a supposed police officer, decided to chain, shackle and perp walk the Sticker Gang. That's a trio of young men falsely accused of distributing tiny, postage-stamp sized, Fire Trachta (FT) stickers throughout the boro. Most laughed it off. But not the doubleTs. No sense of humor in those two. But they did such a shitty investigation that all charges were dismissed in court. Not oven one littering count made it past Magisterial District Judge Jackie Taschner.

Part-time officer Dan Troxell had to take a leave of absence and repeat grade school.

But that's only the bad side of Nazareth cops. There's a good side, too. A very good side. As much as it pains me, I want to share that with you today.

Let me start around November or December. A woman in Nazareth, working at a local business, was the victim of a hit-and-run car accident. Someone slammed into her parked car, and then took off. Her car, not worth much to begin with, was a total loss. Because the car is so old, she had no collision coverage, either.

The Nazareth Borough Police Association did more than take a report. They helped this lady get a replacement vehicle. It was still an old, used car. But they got together among themselves and chipped in the money to make the purchase. Her boss helped, too.

More recently, this group gave $500 to a single mother who works two different jobs to help make ends meet.

This Nazareth Borough Police Association is a labor organization that consists of the full-time officers: Alan Koch: Freddie Lahovski; Steve Schleig and Adam Shimer. Of the four, Adam Shimer is an Iraq war vet who grew up in Nazareth and always wanted to be a police officer. Officer Koch, another vet, has two sons who played ball with my grandson. Steve Schleig is the smiling face you'll see during festivals, talking to people. And Lahovski, their President, is the officer who shielded a child during a gunfight with his own body.

They may be despised by Borough Council, but these are the good guys.

Now if you break the law, they're still gonna' arrest you. But they are good and honorable men and are a credit to Nazareth. At this time of the year,they conduct their annual fundraiser. Yes, they are a union, but this fundraiser has nothing to do with the cost of filing grievances. In fact, in a telephone interview last night, Officer Lahovsky told me that he pays his legal bills out of his own pocket. This fundraiser is to help them be better cops and help them to help others.  Because they use no outside agencies to solicit on their behalf, 100% of what you give goes directly to the Police Association. You can send them as little as $1 or as much as $1 trillion, to the Nazareth Borough Police Association, P.O. Box 573, Nazareth, Pa 18064. The fundraising letter adds, "Our legitimacy can be verified by calling Nazareth Police at 610-759-9575."

What will they do with your contribution? Aside from the acts of kindness above, see the contest below.

Nazareth Boro Police Ass'n Announce $500 Essay Contest for HS Seniors

The Nazareth Borough Police Association is offering a $500 scholarship to residents who are Seniors in high school, either at Nazareth High School or a private or charter school. The details are below. If you know someone who lives in Nazareth and is a senior in high school, make sure he or she knows about this essay contest.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Updated: Plainfield Police Chief Reinstated by Arbitrator, But Fired Again

Plainfield Township, a participant in the planned Slate Belt Regional Police Department, has had numerous problems with its own police force, especially Chief Dean Ceraul. At a meeting on  December 11, 2013, Supervisors in Plainfield Township voted 5-0 to fire him for "neglect and violation of his legal duties."

Chief Ceraul sought an arbitration. I learned this morning that an arbitrator reinstated Chief Ceraul late last year. Executive Sec'y Joyce Lambert directed me to the township's labor lawyer, and he has condirmed exzactly what has happened.

Attorney Neil Morris of the Offit Kurman law firm confirmed today that late last year, an arbitrator did order Chief Ceraul reinstated on the basis that Township Supervisors had no just cause to fire him. He was awarded back pay, minus whatever he was able to earn from his private business.

Ceraul and the Township have a contract under which he could be fired without just cause, though the Township then would have to pay him one year's salary as liquidated damages. The Township had urged the arbitrator to affirm the firing and just award one year's worth of liquidated damages, but he declined, noting that he was mediating a "for cause" termination.

As a result of the decision, Supervisors voted at their January 14 meeting to fire Ceraul again, except this time it is on nondisciplinary grounds. Thus, the Township owes Chief Ceral one year's worh of salary and all back pay, minus whatever he earned.

Updated 2:35 pm 

Cedarbrook Loses Private Management Firm

From Lehigh County: LW Consulting, Inc., which has been providing the professional management of the Cedarbrook nursing homes for the past 11 years, has formally advised Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller that they will not be seeking to continue their relationship with Lehigh County when their current contract expires on June 30th.

County Executive Muller expressed his regrets at LW's decision. "I am disappointed to see the relationship with LW end and particularly for the reasons offered. LW has done an outstanding job of managing our Cedarbrook nursing homes through very challenging times.”

Muller said LW has beaten the budget 8 out of 11 years and delivered better than a net break even financially in 9 out of 11 years; they accomplished both in 2014. He said “Even more important than the financial results has been Cedarbrook's consistent four-star rating by Medicare during their tenure--a rating that was re-confirmed last week under Medicare’s new, tougher ratings for quality of care."

In a demonstration of support for Cedarbrook, LW management has agreed not to hold the current Administrator and CFO to their contractual non-compete limitations, which enables them to retain their roles at Cedarbrook if the County and future management firm is interested in doing so. Muller said “I am pleased that LW has made that important concession; Administrator Terry Hollinger has been critical to significant financial improvements at Cedarbrook this past year.”

County Executive Muller has indicated that the County will initiate an RFP for a new management firm by early April if certain confidential discussions underway don't result in a better option.

Baer: Morganelli May Run For AG

The Philadelphia Daily News' John Baer claims the Oscars are nothing compared to Pennsylvania's Pennies. Best Picture, for example, is the Kane Mutiny. What caught my eye was Best Animated Short - John Morganelli.
No one has been more animated than the diminutive Northampton County district attorney. (Hey, it's not a slight: I'm short, too.) He offered op-ed pieces trashing the state bar on judicial recommendations, hammering Wolf's death-penalty moratorium and weighing in on the Kane probe.

Morganelli, a Democrat who lost a bid for attorney general in 2008, just might be getting ready to cast himself in a rerun come next year.

Bethlehem Schools In Session Holy Thursday

Because of the numerous snow holidays, Bethlehem Area School District students will be in class on Holy Thursday, or April 2. Only four snow days are built into the school calendar, according to Superintendent Joseph Roy.

Bonilla Accusations Prompt Quick End to Bethlehem School Board Meeting

An unpopular decision to switch athletic trainers at Bethlehem's schools resulted in an early end to the School Board's February 23 meeting. They voted to adjourn when School Director Basilio Bonilla insisted on repeating allegations made during an executive session. Right before the vote, Bonilla had started to claim that some school officials were provided with sports tickets and golf outings in exchange for supporting a switch in athletic trainers from Coordinated Health to St. Luke's,

By a 7-2 vote in January, school director decided to replace Coordinated health, which had served Bethlehem's schools for 25 years, with St. Luke's. They did so despite protests from a long line of student athletes, parents and Freedom High School football coach Jason Roeder.

St. Luke's could do more for less money. For $25,000 annually, St. Luke's will provide athletic trainers to the high schools and middle schools.

Lehigh Valley Health Network had also bid on this project.

Resident Jack Toy stated he was "blindsided" by the switch. "What did they do, or what didn't they do?" he asked. Toy went on the claim that St. Luke's, the original high bidder, had been given the opportunity to reduce its bid. He added that he had heard that "fringe benefits were provided to certain staff at the school district.

Dr. Josephy Roy, usually rather mild-mannered, told Toy that he is "really disappointed in you." He added that Toy had most of his facts wrong. "You're not going to come in here and challenge the integrity of our school officials based on inaccurate information," he lectured.

Toy then responded that he got his information from a school board member.

"If a school board member shared false information, then I apologize," stated School Board president Michael Faccinetto.

"Who was the school board member? he asked.

That's when Bonilla outed himself, and began repeating these accusations.

After the meeting, Faccinetto pointed out that the school officials who were supposedly bought off favored keeping Coordinated Health.

NorCo Gaming Board Gears Up For Another Year of Grants

Northampton County's nine-person Gaming Board is off to a late start this year. Its first meeting, scheduled in January, was canceled as a result of a snow emergency, so it started one month behind schedule on February 23. This body was created by Northampton County Council to distribute the slots tax revenue received from Bethlehem's Sands Casino, Table games tax revenue, which is doled out by the County, can be used for any purpose that is deemed to be in the best interests of the county. But for slots tax revenue, priority must be given to Bethlehem and the municipalities surrounding the casino, i.e. Freemansburg and Hellertown Boroughs, as well as Lower Saucon, Bethlehem Township and Hanover Township

This nine-person board consists of one representative from each of the five impacted municipalities, as well as three at-large members. The impacted municipal members are Joe Kelly (Bethlehem); Tom Nolan (Behlehem Township), Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Jay Finnigan (Hanover), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown) and Dave Willard (Lower Saucon). The at-large members are Tony Pristash (Northampton area), John Dally, Jr. (Slate Belt) and James Pennington (Nazareth area).

Finnigan, despite his protest, was unanimously selected Chair again. Kelly is Vice Chair, Dally is Secretary and Nolan is Treasurer. The Board's Executive Director is Karen Collis, who is also an employee of the County's Department of Community and Economic Development. Legal advice is provided by Scott Allison and Graham Simmons III.

In 2014, the Gaming Board awarded $1.5 million in two rounds of what they call restricted grants. These were awarded to Bethlehem and the municipalities surrounding the Christmas City. Those awards, most of which were public-safety oriented, required a showing that the community has been impacted by the casino.

Before the meeting, Mayor Yob, who is Freemansburg's representative on the gaming Board explained that pre-casino, Freemansburg had only about 67 police incidents on a monthly basis. But now, that number has grown to over 300.

Last year, the Gaming Board also awarded another $711 thousand to municipalities in Northampton County, based on a showing of need.  Those grants also went mostly to public safety enhancements like new police vehicles, or in the case of Upper Nazareth, thermal imaging equipment.

The Board decided to eliminate the requirement that interest money earned on grant monies be returned to the County. Collis explained that, for over 130 grants awarded, the County only received back about $2,000 in interest money. "It seems like a lot of work for not a lot of money," reasoned Board member Pristash.

The Board's Compliance Committee has agreed to meet with Freemansburg, which is struggling with an audit of the grant for its new police station. Borough Manager Judith Danko explained that it's a lot of extra work for a small borough that provided a six-month report, twelve-month report and closeout. "A lot of this is redundant to what was submitted," she explained, adding that the material being sought is stowed away in 18 separate boxes of documentation.

Collis reminded everyone that applications for the first round of restricted grants are due on March 4. The Board will begin its review of those grant applications at their March 23 meeting.

Rumor: Lower Saucon Democrat May Seek McClure's Job on NorCo Council

A Lower Saucon Township woman is reportedly interested in seeking the Democratic nomination to the District 3 seat currently occupied by Lamont McClure on Northampton County Council. I only have a name, and am uncomfortable writing about her without learning a little more about her.

Lamont McClure decided early this year to put his political career on hold. He was no doubt aided in that decision by the addition of conservative Williams Township to his District.

Thus far, one Republican, Mickey Thompson, has announced John Cusick, a former Republican President of Council, is circulating a petition as well, although he has yet to make a formal announcement.

LC Exec Tom Muller to Deliver "State of the County" Address on Thursday

On Thursday, February 26 at 8:00 AM, Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller will deliver his annual State of the County Address to a gathering of business and community leaders, i.e.. the unelected aristocracy known as the Urban Growth Regime, at the corporate headquarters of Olympus Corporation of the Americas in Center Valley.

For some stange reason, I got an invitation.

It's my chance to steal the silverware!

Mezzacappa Released on $5000 Unsecured Bail

As most of you know, a number of trolls infest this blog, especially on weekends. One of them is West Easton's Tricia Mezzacappa, against whom I have a defamation judgment now valued at neartly $71,000.

Mezzaccappa is currently facing criminal charges in connection with that defamation matter. She hid her car after a Sheriff's levy, and is still keeping it under wraps somewhere. At a bail hearing on Friday, District Judge Richard Yetter released her on $5,000 unsecured bail. One of the conditions is that she refrain from all contact, direct or indirect, with me.

That includes comments on this blog of any kind, anonymous or not.

I doubt very much she will honor this Order.

Monday, February 23, 2015

UPDATE: Easton Proposes New Ticket Ordinance That Still Violates Due Process

One of the problems I had at the Panto Presser earlier this month, when Hizzoner stated that City officials have decided to go the civil route for parking violations, is his basis. I asked Bill Murphy several times to explain his authority for imposing civil liability, and Bill never answered me. It now appears that no such authority ever existed.

According to The Express Times, City Officials are proposing a new parking ordinance. Mayor Panto has minimized four pages of amendments as "minor tweaks," but they appear to be very substantive, They reveal that, under Easton's current parking ordinance, the only remedy authorized is criminal. Panto is only now converting the ordinance to a civil creature, meaning that every fine imposed and collected in 2014 was done illegally.

At the Panto presser, officials indicated they were more than willing to set up payment plans for offenders who have no means to pay outstanding "fees."

These minor tweaks make absolutely no provision under which a citizen can dispute a parking ticket.

So the ordinance, as proposed, still violates due process.

Updated 4:00 pm: Easton Unable to Say Who Won Ticket Appeals Last Year.

Last year, Easton claims to have forgiven 3,534 parking tickets. But in response to a Right-to-Know, City officials are unable to identify any of them.  Were tickets voided after an honest review, or because the person who got that ticket was connected to someone inside City Hall?  Amazingly, there are no records. This process smells very much like corruption to me.

Brown: NorCo Needs $45 MM Over Next Five Years

Northampton County Executive John Brown warns that the County is in "fiscally troubled waters" that he inherited when he took office. In a rare report to Council at their February 19 meeting, Brown pointed out that revenue from real estate taxes remains flat. Though additional revenues will come in as a result of one mill tax hike approved late last year, those monies will be set aside in order to build up the rainy day found. This year, Brown is also projecting a $9 million drop in intergovernmental revenue provided by the state and federal government to fund human services.

Though revenue is flat, Brown points to these "significant financial needs":

1) Gracedale - $14 million in capital improvements are needed.

2) Human Services Building - It will cost $14.5 million to buy in Year 5 of the lease.

3) A possible Cadillac tax, based on Obamacare, will be $9.4 million tax in 2018, unless things change.

4) $9.3 million in taxable bonds are coming due in 2019 and 2020, and will cost $7 million.

These four needs, all by themselves, will cost the County as much as $45 million in the next five years. This is without considering upgrades to the County's IT or the costs of a Civil War era jail.

Brown is proposing that the County save $9-11 million annually to gather the money needed.

He added it;s still too early to tell whether his reductions in health care coverage have saved any money.But he conceded that the record number of 136 employees who left last year cost the County $4 million.

Jim Gregory, 1983

Thirty years before being sent to state prison for repeated violations of a PFA, Jim Gregory had his life in front of him. He was even profiled by the Saucon News in an article that read like something out of Match.com.

Now, he is sitting in state prison as the result of repeated violations of the no-contact provisions of a Protection From Abuse Act Order. He pens screeds to anyone and everyone, including his ex,. This is yet another violation of the no-contact provisions of his PFA. He continues to blame everyone but himself for his troubles.

Panto's Parking Police "Appeals" Process Raises Concerns

Easton's response to a Right-to-Know request filed with Easton officials on February 10 has presented some concerns about the possibility of favoritism in the way it handles so-called appeals of parking tickets. Easton's appeal records are virtually nonexistent. Moreover, the City  has no idea how much revenue it generated from its switch to a so-called civil process in 2014.

The revelation that the City still is unsure of its parking ticket revenue last year is contrary to what was said a news conference called earlier this month by Mayor Sal Panto, At that time, Director of Administration Glenn Steckman stated that Easton had raised about $650,000 in 2014 from its kinder, gentler switch to a civil enforcement in which people's cars are being booted and towed without due process. The City also lacks any record that can tell anyone how much revenue was raised from the practice of booting cars.

One of my numerous concerns with the City's civil appeals process for parking tickets, in which cops get to wear black robes and play judge, is the very real danger that who you know will turn out to be much more important than the facts.

Panto himself opened that door.

At his news conference, he stated he is approached frequently about tickets and went into detail about one woman going through a divorce who had her car booted in an effort to show how compassionate city officials are with people who have financial hardships. He sent her to Lt. Lohenitz, but then quickly added he has no idea what happened in her case.

Of course, that's bullshit. He would not mention her at all as an example of a kinder and gentler system without knowing what ultimately happened. And as it turns out, that woman was shown leniency after being sent over by Hizzoner.

Am I suggesting that City officials are fixing tickets? I think it's unlikely on the part of the Mayyor and high-ranking police officers, but the potential for chicanery among some existspotential for it exists.

In the City's response to my Right-to-Know, it points out that there were 3,534 hearings last year. But it provides no breakdown on how many appeals were granted and how many failed. In a clarification, the City has told me it only has a record of the appeals granted. It kept no records of any appeals that were denied.

Doesn't that strike you as odd? The whole reason I asked for a breakdown was to determine whether the process is fair. I would expect that, in most instances, the appeal would be denied. But the City has no record

I have filed a new Right-to-Know with Easton, seeking the identity of the persons who won appeals with the City in 2014. I am willing to give City officials any reasonable extension of time needed to respond. Will a large number of the exonerated tickets turn out to be connected to Panto, police, Council members and City workers?

We'll see.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Brown Attempts to Muzzle Barron at Council Meetings

Under the Sunshine Act, any resident or taxpayer has the right to address a municipal body before they take official action. Last night, and in several meetings over the years, Controller Steve Barron has exercised that right. He is a resident. He is a taxpayer. But if Executive John Brown had his way, Barron would be required to get permission to be placed on the agenda.

Barron raised concerns last night about a contract with C3, the cost control consultant who implemented many of the unpopular health care changes. I'll tell you about those concerns on Monday. For now, I want to focus on the Sunshine Act.

When Barron was finished delivering his speech, Executive Brown stood up to complain that, as a matter of protocol, Barron should be required to seek time on the agenda if he wishes to address Council.

I like 15-minute meetings as much as the next guy, but Brown's suggestion is contrary to the Sunshine Act. Peg Ferraro noted that Barron was addressing an item on the agenda. And Lamont McClure, noting that Ron Angle sometimes liked to step from the dais to address Council as a citizen, added that any citizen - even elected officials - has the right to speak.

Collections Lawyer From Emmaus Tapped as NorCo's New Solicitor

Along party lines, Northampton County Council has confirmed Emmaus attorney Ryan Durkin as the County's new Solicitor. He was nominated by Executive John Brown to replace Bethlehem attorney Vic Scomillio, who resigned so he could focus on his race for judge.  All five Republican's supported Durkin's appointment at their February 19 meeting, while all four Democrats were opposed.

Hayden Phillips, who stated he is proud to be referred to as a "conservative tea party member," is ironically often the swing vote for Democrats. But during Durkin's confirmation hearing the day before, he supported Durkin.
"Ryan's a lawyer. He has solid work experience. Did a Google search. No felonies. No misdemeanors. No moral lapses. And the Executive feels like he could work with Ryan. That's good enough for me."
But Durkin, though an experienced collections lawyer, has no real experience in dealing with county law, which troubled Council member Bob Werner. Several former Solicitors, including Jack Panella and Bill Moran, went on to become distinguished judges, But Durkin is a nonresident who does not even belong to the Northampton County Bar Association. This bothered Council members Ken Kraft and Scott Parsons.

Durkin defended his status as a collections lawyer. "To the extent debt collector has been thrown around, I don't think that's a bad word. They provide a service that's necessary to keep the County running."

Speaking on behalf of Durkin was Attorney Bob Daday, who is employed by Portnoff law firm. That firm has come under attack for the fees it charges to property owners when it files liens on behalf of municipalities. That law firm is responsible for numerous of the Sheriff's Sales conducted in Northampton County. Yet Durkin referred to this privatized tax collector as "humane in the way that they collect."

Lamont McClure provided Durkin with a copy of the Home Rule Charter and asked him whether he'd agree that County Council has no power to borrow money to balance a budget or pay operating expenses. Durkin. He stated he'd have to study the matter."This is the first time I'm seeing this," he explained. The day before, he told Council he had read the Home Rule Charter.

McClure also had a few questions about the Administrative Code, to which Durkin declined to answer, explaining he would not want to respond "off the cuff, standing here at the dais."

"That's fair enough,"countered McClure. "I don't think anyone argues that you have any particular experience with our Home Rule Charter or Administrative Code, and I think that's being demonstrated."

When McClure had finished, Phillips complimented Durkin on avoiding the "bear traps" set by McClure. He added that he felt he needed to give great deference to the Executive's choice. "It's on his shoulders. He's picking the man he wants to work with."

"Exactly," concurred Peg Ferraro, who has only voted once against an Executive's cabinet pick.

Durkin stated he planned on making no changes inside the Solicitor's office.

John Brown told Council he had spoken to a dozen Northampton County lawyers. He feels that Durkin fits best with his team approach. Acknowledging that Durkin lives outside the County he told Council he did make a concession. "He is in the state of Pennsylvania," he joked.  

Bi-Partisan Effort to Limit NorCo Executive Spending Fails

A bi-partisan effort that would give Northampton County Council more oversight over Executive spending has failed. On February 5, seven members of Council voted for an ordinance proposed by conservative tea party member Hayden Phillips that would require Council approval for any contracts over $25,000. "I just think it's better government," explained Republican Seth Vaughn. The only Council members opposed were Glenn Geissinger and Mat Benol, who have been Brown's most ardent supporters.

Previously, Council approval was only needed for contracts that exceeded $100,000. But last year, Brown executed several controversial no-bid consultant contracts, including one for a public relations and several cost control deals.

Brown vetoed the ordinance because it would "restrict the ability of the current and future administrations of Northampton County [to enter contracts] in a timely and cost effective way."

Since seven members of Council supported the ordinance, and since only six votes are needed to override a veto, you might think this Ordinance is veto-proof.

Welcome to the People's Republic of Northampton County.

The attempt to override Brown's veto failed by a five to four vote, with Peg Ferraro, Seth Vaughn, Mat Benol and Glenn Geissinger voting No.

Vaughn, who was all for "better government" on February 5, probably just meant "OK government." Council President Peg Ferraro, who hates her wishy-washy reputation, lived up to it with an about face, too..

Baffled, Lamont McClure asked Ferraro what caused her to change her mind.

"I don't think I have to answer," responded Ferraro.

"Two weeks ago, you and Mr. Vaughn show courage and vote with Mr. Phillips, and tonight, you and Mr. Vaughn show the opposite of that. A lack of courage."

I can tell you what is going on, Lamont. John Brown's closet consigliere, consultant Matt Deibert, was sitting in the audience, watching. Brown doesn't fart without Deibert's permission. After the meeting, Deibert gave Peg, Mat, Glen and Seth their very own rubber stamps.

A Gracedale Update

D. Freeman and John Belko
In 2011, voters overwhelmingly decided to keep Gracedale, the Northampton County owned nursing home that originally served as its poorhouse. In an effort to make the aging facility more efficient and cost-effective, the County decided to replace in-house administrators with Premier Healthcare Resources. That has resulted in improved quality of care, as recently reflected by a zero-deficiency survey recently performed by the Department of Health, a first in forty years. In addition, Premier has been able to vastly reduce the County's contribution. But in an extensive presentation made to the Finance Committee on February 19, Premier warns that the County's annual cost may be as high as $11.5 million by 2018. Moreover, over $14 million in capital repairs are needed.

This presentation came from D. Freeman, the Premier Administrator working at Gracedale. He was assisted by John Belko, Premier's VP of Operations. Freeman did most of the talking.

The biggest change under Premier has been a significant increase in residents at Gracedale. The census has grown from 590, when Premier first took over, to a high of 681 at the time of the presentation. The more patients, the more revenue.

Administrator D. Freeman has also aggressively pursued accounts receivable. There are bi-weekly accounts receivable reviews going through each file. A collections law firm has brought in $1.4 million, and payment plans are in place for some accounts that were written off in the past.

Through effective us of risk management, workers' compensation claims have dropped from $2 million in 2011 to just $166,000 last year.

But labor still eats away at 67% of the operational costs, compared to an industry standard that varies between 25 and 35%. "This is the killer for us," remarked Freeman. He noted that the facility is about as full as it can be, so that revenue is already maximized. In addition to these high labor costs, the nursing home is at the mercy of declining reimbursements from the state and federal government.

In 2014, Northampton County budgeted $5.85 million to support Gracedale.  It spent $6.7 million.

Updated 2/24: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect link to Premier.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Morganelli: Why Wolf's Death Penalty "Moratorium" Will Fail

I admire elected officials who actually stand up for their beliefs, even if it costs them votes. Too many of them, especially among our State Representatives, are unwilling to speak up for their districts. They're unwilling to do anything without checking and then double-checking with their party bosses. But from time to time, you run into an elected official who actually has the courage of his convictions. Ron Angle is one example. Another is NorCo DA John Morganelli.

Let me make clear that, unlike John, I oppose the death penalty. I believe all choices against life are wrong. But I admire Morganelli for advocating his position forcefully. In 1994, it was this little known DA who, against all odds, successfully sued then Governor Robert Casey to enforce Pennsylvania's death penalty. He paid a price politically, but followed his conscience.

Below, he explains why Governor Tm Wolf's moratorium, which really isn't a moratorium at all, must fail.

Governor Wolf did not impose a “moratorium” on Pennsylvania’s death penalty. He has no such authority and he knows that. The Governor was properly advised by Judge Timothy K. Lewis, former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, that there exists no authority in the Office of Pennsylvania Governor to declare a moratorium or suspend the death penalty. What the Governor did was to grant a “reprieve” to one death row inmate who was scheduled for an imminent execution. The granting of a “reprieve” is one of the Governor’s powers with respect to clemency in Article IV, Section 9(a) of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The other two are the power to “commute” a death sentence to life and to grant a “pardon.” The latter two, however, cannot be exercised by the Governor unless recommended by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. With respect to commuting a death sentence to life, the recommendation must be unanimous.

Under Pennsylvania law, the issuance of execution warrants by the executive branch is a mandatory duty. That precedent was established in Morganelli v. Casey, a case I brought in 1994 against then Governor Robert Casey. Today, the governor is given 90 days to sign a death warrant after receiving the case from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If the governor does not sign the execution warrant, the execution date must be set by the Department of Corrections and the execution proceeds without the governor’s signature. Accordingly, Judge Lewis advised the Governor that executions must proceed and that the use of the “reprieve” power was the only constitutional basis for creating a de facto moratorium. The Governor has stated that he will grant “reprieves” for subsequent scheduled executions for each death row inmate at least until the release of an impending study being done by a task force established by the legislature.

The Governor’s objective is unlikely to succeed. In Morganelli v. Casey, the court held that a “reprieve” exists only to afford an individual defendant the opportunity to temporarily postpone an execution for a particular proceeding involving that defendant – i.e. a pending application for a pardon, commutation or judicial relief. It is unlikely that a court will allow a governor to grant “reprieves” based on a governor’s concern about the fairness of the process or the release of a report that has no legal significance. If this was permitted, it would in effect allow a governor to commute death sentences to life bypassing The Board of Pardons in contravention of Article IV of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Only the legislature has the power to repeal the death penalty and only the judiciary has the power to suspend the death penalty or declare it null and void as unconstitutional or in violation of due process. Pennsylvania’s death penalty was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court many years ago in the case of Blystone, and, therefore, the Governor will not be able to derail Pennsylvania’s death penalty by continuously granting “reprieves” in individual cases. As someone who has personally litigated these issues, I predict that ultimately the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will find the Governor’s action outside of the intended purpose and scope of a “reprieve.”

In Philadelphia, DA Seth Williams has already challenged Wolf's decision in court.  Williams' challenge will likely be dismissed. As Morganelli observes, the Governor is really only granting reprieves, something he has the legal authority to do.

NorCo Finances: "I've Got Good News and I've Got Bad News"

Northampton County Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter approached Council's Finance Committee yesterday to state he has "good news" and "bad news." The good news is that the County finished 2014 with $28 million in its general fund, more than was thought would be there. The bad news is that $17 million of that sum is needed to fund the 2015 budget, resulting in a rainy day fund of just $11 million. Because the County spends $11.5 million per month, that rainy day fund is too low and will be noted by independent auditors. Moreover, it's a violation of the County's own 2010 ordinance requiring a higher sum held for emergencies. Though Council can take action this year to build what is sometimes called a stabilization fund, the County is going to be tagged by independent auditors.

I have some good news and bad news of my own.

The good news is that Hunter explained this succinctly and matter-of-factly. No bullshit. No corporate babblespeak. We ended last year with more money than we thought we'd have, but our rainy day fund is dangerously low.

The bad news is that nobody understood Hunter, even though he speaks English. From Executive Brown to Controller Steve Barron to every Council member who tried to explain what Hunter meant.

He meant what he said.

After they all weighed in for several centuries with their lengthy and confusing explanations of what they thought Hunter meant, Finance Chair Glenn Geissinger finally threw in the towel.

"I'm lost," he admitted. "But that's OK."

Arbitrator: Fired Bethlehem Cop Deserves Job Back

Around this time last year, I was having apoplectic fits over the abuse being heaped upon a Bethlehem police officer who was fired in a Kangaroo Court orchestrated by Bethlehem City Council. Though they had all already decided to get rid of the guy, they conducted a sham hearing and attempted to force officers who obviously liked Richard Hoffman to testify against him. As I predicted at the time, Officer Richard Hoffman has been ordered re-instated following a hearing before a union arbitrator.

Hoffman was fired because of an off-duty drunk driving accident with no injuries. In fact, the accident happened partially because this officer mistakenly thought he saw a pedestrian, and swerved. Officers who were with him that night thought he was sober and would have stopped him from driving if he had too much to drink.

But he did. And though The Express Times goes to great lengths to muddy up this officer, it leaves out one very important detail. An explanation for why Hoffman might have been under the influence that night. A good one, too.

You see, this accident occurred right around the anniversary of August 11, 2011. That probably means nothing to you, but it meant a lot to Hoffman. You see, on that date, a Freemansburg police officer was lying in a pool of blood. Officer Robert lasso was responding to a domestic disturbance, and was greeted with a shotgun blast to his face.

The first officer on the scene to assist lasso? Richard Hoffman. He tried to save Lasso's life and repeatedly administered CPR. But he was too late. Lasso succumbed.

Obviously, this affected him. It would affect anyone.

Hoffman is, incidentally, a highly decorated officer. That's another thing that Bethlehem City Council failed to consider. That's another thing you won't read in The Express Times. They want to look tough.

The star witness against Hoffman was a bar bouncer who himself was under house arrest for a second offense DUI at the time of a supposed argument with the officer. Nobdy bothered to point that out. Instead, disgraced former Council member Karen Dolan, who now calls herself K. Dierdre Dolan, told the bouncer he is "quite heroic."

Frankly, it is people like Hoffman who are the heroes, not bouncers at some bar frequented by council members.

An injustice has thankfully been reversed. Much of the credit for this is due to Wade Haubert, who represents Bethlehem's police union. Should Hoffman have been disciplined? Of course. But the remedy was too harsh.

NorCo Courts Project Saving in Proposed Personnel Changes

Instead of three full-time clerks in NorCo Court Administration, there will just be two in a new proposal approved by President Judge Stephen Baratta. In addition, two full-time jury clerks will be reduced to one . The courts will bring on someone part-time as the need arises.

According to Court Administrator Jill Cicero, this staff shuffle will save between $33,000-42,000 per year. It involves no layoffs. President Judge Baratta's plan was unanimously endorsed by the Personnel Committee and is expected to sail through the full Council tonight.

Controller: Time to Revise Administrative Code

Steve Barron
Right after Solcitor nominee Ryan Durkin was finished telling Northampton County Council how easy it is to "apprehend" a Home Rule Charter and Administrative Code, Controller Steve Barron presented a long overdue audit of the Code's procurement provisions. His conclusion is that they "are unclear, inconsistent, and in some cases, overly restrictive." Given the fact that there have been at least four lawsuits in recent years regarding how the County's process for goods and services, Barron is obviously correct.

Barron is recommending the formation of a committee to revise the Administrative Code. This was supposed to have started last year, but never did. Maybe this year.

Debt Collector Likely to Be Confirmed as NorCo Solicitor

Ryan Durkin
To NorCo Council member Hayden Phillips, the confirmation of Ryan Durkin as the County's new Solicitor is a no-brainer. "Ryan's a lawyer. He has solid work experience. Did a Google search. No felonies. No misdemeanors. No moral lapses. And the Executive feels like he could work with Ryan. That's good enough for me." Whether he's good enough for five members of Council is the question that will be decided tonight. Five votes are needed to confirm a cabinet pick. He'll probably get them in another vote along party lines,. But is it the right choice?

I'd say No. I agree that an Executive's picks for cabinet level positions should be given great deference. And Durkin certainly does have a law degree, and is the person Brown wants. But a Solicitor is more than Brown's legal mouthpiece. He represents the people of Northampton County in all civil matters. Historically, the position has been conferred only on the County's top lawyers. Legal scholars like Bill Moran and Jack Panella, who went on to become distinguished jurists. Even now, former Solicitor Vic Scomillio is running for Judge. Brown would like to give this important position to a debt collection lawyer. One who does not even live in this County. Having reflected on it, I find the choice insulting.

It's insulting to the attorneys who preceded Durkin and accepted a low salary for a part-time position. They were there to serve the County and make it a better place. Durkin is there for the dough.. In response to a question from Ken Kraft, he conceded he's not even a member of the Northampton County Bar and has no familiarity with the County's judges or its lawyers.

Durkin has done some work for two counties, but mostly in the same role that predators like Portnoff Law occupy. He's a tax farmer. A hired gun who goes after poor bastards who fall behind on their real estate taxes, filing liens and charging outrageous sums as "reasonable" attorney fees. In some people's minds, those are lawyers. In my mind, they are tax farmers. These privatized tax collectors have been viewed with derision since this nation was first formed, yet John Brown is embracing one of them as the Solicitor

With his unilateral changes to the health care plans in place for County workers, we know what John Brown thinks of what he once called "the County's most valuable asset." Now you should know what he thinks of the rest of you. He is bringing in a man who specializes in squeezing nickels and dimes out of taxpayers.

A very real part of what a County Solicitor does requires knowledge of the Pa. Municipalities Planning Code, the Third Class County Code and numerous arcane laws regarding the filing of documents in the various row offices. Durkin, though a lawyer, knows none of this because his practice is focused on different areas.

To make matters worse, he's a tad cocky. "I've read the Home Rule Chater," he told Council member Bob Werner, adding that he's "litigated derivative complaints. I've litigated just about everything under the Sun. The complexity of the Home Rule Charter or the Lackawanna County Administrative Code or the tax laws, I have not found to be tremendously difficult to apprehend."

I apprehend that as a problem

My father used to tell me he knew a lot of people with law degrees, but very few lawyers. As a person who possesses a law degree and was retired before my time as an attorney by a unanimous Pennsylvania Supreme Court, I think this is a bad nomination. The County needs a lawyer, not a tax collector. A lawyer who is willing to tell the executive what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear. It makes no difference to me whether Brown can work with him. This man is there to represent the entire County, not just Brown

Brown submitted a letter of recommendation on behalf of Durkin, hoping it might push him over the top. And maybe it will. It's a letter from a Philadelphia lawyer who, like Brown, graduated from Notre Dame and watched Durkin grow up. It establishes that Durkin is a fine man, and I have no doubt that he is. But this job requires a fine lawyer, knowledgeable in municipal law and from this County. We're getting a debt collector. Durkin will be a workin' for the County, collecting $58,000 to shake the money tree.