|Tom Muller with his wife MJ, on the day he announced his candidacy|
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