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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Brown Has Opened Pandora's Box

On Monday, I told you that Executive John Brown had no real authority to award Cathy Allen a 19% payhike. His Solicitor relied on a personnel policy that has been challenged in court, so its predecessor is still in play. In addition to being illegal, what Brown did is bad public policy. Not only does this anger workers who are overlooked, but it opens a Pandora's Box.

Northampton County has independently elected officials besides the Executive. DA John Morganelli and the judges are actually constitutional officers. Their positions are created by the Pennsylvania Constitution. Although there is some tensions between the competing powers of the Executive and these other officers, they mostly defer to the requirements of the Charter and Career Service Regulations. But why bother when the executive himself is thumbing his nose at them? Morganelli could easily justify a four or five step increase for half of his staff, and declare he has no obligation to go before Council, just like the Executive.

Similarly, the judges could just start issuing court orders awarding payhikes.

The same situation holds for the Controller. though his office lacks the constitutional luster that accompanies the judges and DA, he could pretty much decide to bump up all his auditors.

This was a bad move by an Executive who thinks he knows everything and is unwilling to account for anything.

Jerry Seyfried, who basically wrote the career service regulations, is the Council member who negotiated a settlement when a controversy between the competing powers of Council and Executive resulted in a lawsuit in 2008. He managed to work out a settlement, but that settlement required that all these policies would go to the personnel Commission and then to Council. That never happened.

I have asked Council to invite Jerry to explain to Council (only Peg Ferraro and Lamont McClure were on board when this problem arose) the best way to resolve this problem. He can speak about this much better than I. Peg Ferraro wants to hear from Jerry, but not until the second meeting in May.

This problem has existed since 2008, so I suppose another two weeks will make no difference.  

Browning: How to Stop Deficit Spending in County Government

Pick a county. Any county. Most of them engage in the same deficit spending that we see in Washington. But unlike the Beltway Boyz, they can't print money. Eventually, they run out of it and have to impose a tax increase. That builds up the fund balance, opening up the door to more deficit spending. This has happened in both Lehigh and Northampton County in what can only be regarded as a bipartisan failure. It makes no difference who's in charge. It's just too tempting to spend down reserves instead of imposing a modest tax hike when it is needed. Dean Browning, a former Lehigh County Commissioner who is running again, has a plan to put both counties back on a firm financial footing - a true balanced budget amendment to both Home Rule Charters.

Though both counties require a balanced budget, what is created is a fiction. The spending is almost always greater than the revenues, so counties use cash reserves to plug the gap.

Over the past dozen years, lehigh County has had two tax increases. Northampton County has had three. Browning explained his proposals to Lehigh County Commissioners at the March 11 meeting.

"[B]udget deficits are caused by elected officials approving budgets that put in place a plan to overspend. Approving budgets where you plan to spend more than you take in and then hoping for the best is not sound fiscal policy.

"Families don't budget that way, at least not if they want to stay out of bankruptcy. Businesses don't budget that way, at least not successful ones. And Lehigh County shouldn't budget that way. Otherwise we are no better fiscal stewards than those in Washington - and In Lehigh County taxpayers deserve better."

Northampton County's Home Rule Charter considers the budget balanced so long as the proposed expenditures do not exceed the amount of funds available. [Section 703(b)]. Similarly, Lehigh County's Home Rule Charter allows the "balancing" to be accomplished by using "the total of estimated income AND cash reserves."

Brown insists this has to change. He is suggesting a "balanced budget amendment" to the Home Rule Charter in Lehigh "that would prohibit the use of cash reserves as a means to balance the budget." There would be exceptions for emergencies or to give a credit to taxpayers when the underlying budget is still balanced, but that would need six votes.

Of course, Browning was politely ignored. But people might start paying attention of he gets the Republican nomination. He's running against a group of four other candidates - Amanda Holt Vic Mazziotti, Brad Osborne and Marty Nothstein - who have already run disappointing robo calls attacking Browning. He'll have to respond, and the result will be an ugly slog in which no one, least of all the people, benefit.

Browning's balanced budget amendment is a good idea, and he should be given the opportunity to implement it. Someone should pick up on this idea in the People's Republic of Northampton County, too.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Diacogiannis Speaks Out on Baltimore

Several years ago, when Hanover Township was among the first of numerous municipalities to challenge Allentown's NIZ, the urbanistas ganged up on this suburban community for daring to challenge the diversion of its earned income tax. Never mind that Hanover and other rural communities were proved correct.

Hanover, in particular, was portrayed as anti-city because one of its Supervisors made a joke about the proposed arena. The Morning Call, which incidentally provides no coverage of Hanover's meetings, did a hit job.portraying a very collegial board - the best in the Lehigh Valley as far as I am concerned - as a bunch of heartless bastards who were laughing at Allentown.

At the start of last night's meeting, Chairman John N. Diacogiannis spoke about the unrest in Baltimore following the death of an African American who was in police custody.

"I really love Baltimore," stated Diacogiannis. "It's one of the nicest cities in the United States. I hope everyone stays safe tonight."

Baltimore has some real problems that have nothing to do with police brutality, like a 14% poverty rate and water shut-off notices sent to 25,000 customers last week.

It might sound corny, but the best start to dealing with the real problems there is by expressing good will for the people who live there. That's what Diacogiannis did.

Updated 7:11 am: What You Need to Know About Baltimore.

State Senator Mario Scavello Made Honorary Hanover Tp Resident

Last month, State Senator Mario Scavello dropped in on a meeting of Upper Mount bethel Township's Board of Supervisors. He's just been elected, so I did not expect to see him again for another four years. He proved me wrong. Not only did he make the rounds in Upper Mount Bethel, but said he plans to hit every municipality in his senatorial district over the next year, and then return again. He told them he'e here to help.

After he left, Supervisors discussed an emergency generator they need, and joked they should have asked for some help. Well, Senator Scavello read about it on this very blog, and Upper Mount Bethel is getting that generator.

Last night, Senator Scavello, true to his word, visited Hanvoer Township's Board. He was leaving from there to go to Allen Township.

He will be visiting each of the forty municipalities in his district as often as possible.

I'll be seeing a lot of him.

Steve Salveson joked that Scavello should have an office in Hanover when he's ready to go "upscale." Actually, Scavello is working on plans to do that, and have a staffer available one day a week, either in the Municipal Building or at the community center.

Upon hearing this, Township Manager Jay Finnigan handed Senator Scavello a new resident package and welcomed him to the community.

"There's even a map in case you get lost," joked Finnigan.

Auditor: Hanover Township in Strong Financial Shape

While many municipalities are struggling to stay afloat and even to meet payroll, Hanover Township is in strong financial shape. Independent auditor Todd Bushta told Supervisors at their April 28 meeting that the Township actually had a $1 million profit last year, although $732,000 of that money was used to pay off a note and reduce debt. He offered a clean and unqualified opinion, and was unable to find any instances of noncompliance with governmental accounting standards.

The Township's pension fund is 100% funded and fully liquid as well. Overall, there's a $7.5 million fund balance.

The only debt left is a $700,000 note from 2006. Township Manager Jay Finnigan recommended paying it off to escape interest payments.

Werner Condemns John Brown's Government Behind Closed Doors

Bob Werner and Steve Barron were both tossed out of an
Executive news conference last year. Reporter Joe McDonald
phones in his story. 
It takes about two years for Council members to find their bearing. Bob Werner, now in his third year, is no longer a rookie. He's a big believer in transparency, and is the Council member who was tossed out of a relatively meaningless Executive John Brown news conference last year. He is the reason why Brown later decided to post armed deputy sheriffs at a later news conference. At the last Council meeting, Cathy Allen refused to answer questions about why members of Public Works were absent despite his request that they be there to discuss a bridge bundling program. This could conceivable save the County millions over time. Werner has been persistent about getting the County in this state program. But Allen blatantly ignored him.

Werner has sent out the following missive:

In defining Northampton County Executive John Brown's leadership, I find his supervisory accountability confusing and secretive. Often without County Council’s knowledge, guidance, or approval, Mr. Brown has forged ahead, making perplexing decisions regarding job and duty reclassifications that have proven to be problematic.

Council has asked for months for written justification and submissions, as required by policy under established guidelines; it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Nowhere in the Home Rule Charter does it state that the County Executive can change job descriptions or classifications without written submission of specifics and rationale for the changes. Any good businessperson knows the importance of documenting performance outcomes and expectations; unfortunately Brown has not accounted for a number of job modifications, refinements, and pay variations.

It seems the transparency that John Brown claims to embrace has thus far eluded Council and the taxpayers of Northampton County. Council has had to rely on news reports, reporters, and the right to know law to obtain information that Mr. Brown and his administration should share freely with the governing body.

Adding insult to injury, Mr. Brown offered praise to departing Director of Public Works Rich Young, who resigned after just 11 months amid assurances that there was no longer a generator problem at Gracedale. In actuality, the generator is still in need of repairs and the residents may tragically find themselves without power should a natural or manmade disaster cause a power outage to the facility.

Citing a sense of urgency, Mr. Brown has also stated his intentions to strategically overhaul delivery practices, staff programs adequately, and reduce personnel vacancies. Aside from administrative appointments, these goals remain largely untouched.

Finally, Brown appointed a Deputy Director, who, in his absence, declined not only to address Council but also refused to step up to the microphone to make her comments public, displaying a total disregard for governmental protocol and the Sunshine Act. Meanwhile, she continues to be financially rewarded for working in shadows and silence.

Looking over the past year and four months, it brings to mind George Bush’s preposterous compliment to his FEMA director following Hurricane Katrina: Good job, Brownie!

Northampton County Councilman
Bob Werner

LWV Schedules Candidates' Night For Hellertown Mini-Judge Candidates

David Tidd
They used to be called Justices of the Peace, and many of them did a great job preserving that peace over the years. In his 36 years on the front lines of our justice system, John Gombosi used common sense and good humor to keep South Bethlehem from breaking out into riots. I call them mini judges, but our regular judges will be the first to tell you how important they are.

Last week, I told you about a disputed magisterial contest in Bethlehem Township, in which five people are in contention for a job that pays $88,000 a year.

There's another magisterial race in Hellertown and Lower Saucon Tp. Magisterial District Judge David Tidd has two opponents. One is Attorney Amanda Kurecian, a divorce attorney with her own practice in Allentown. The other is David Repyneck, a former probation officer who served in the National Guard.

He is unrelated to former Magisterial District Judge Diane Repyneck. From what I hear at the courthouse, Repyneck is running a fairly negative campaign, but strangely will be a no-show at a candidates' night to be hosted by the League of Women Voters on Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 at 7pm, at the Hellertown Area Library, located at 409 Constitution Ave., Hellertown, PA 18055.

I will find out more about each candidate and report to you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

PSP Endorse Judge Giordano

Bethlehem – The Emil Giordano for Superior Court Committee is proud to announce that Judge Giordano has received the endorsement of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association (PSTA).

“As a former Assistant District Attorney, I have the deepest respect and appreciation for the men and women in law enforcement who selflessly put themselves on the front lines to keep our streets and communities safe and I am honored to have their support in my race for Superior Court,” said Judge Giordano.

PSTA President Joseph R. Koval said, “As President of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association I am privileged to inform you that our members have unanimously endorsed your candidacy for Judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the upcoming Pennsylvania Municipal Primary Election.”

Judge Emil Giordano is running for a seat on the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Judge Giordano has been endorsed by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania and has earned the “recommendation” of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Judge Giordano currently serves on the Northampton Court of Common Pleas, a position he has held since 2003. Prior to being elected, Judge Giordano served as an assistant district attorney, assistant public defender, civil litigator and as lead counsel in his private law practice. Judge Giordano resides in Bethlehem with his wife Tina and his two sons Joseph and Caden.

The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association represents more than 8,000 active and retired State Troopers and seeks to endorse candidates who have the best interest of Pennsylvania and its law enforcement community at heart.

Bethlehem City Council Candidates Exchange Views at Northwest Blockwatch

Jeff Kocsis
All seven Bethlehem City Council candidates were in church last night, but they were not praying. At least not yet. They were there for a candidates' night hosted by the Northwest Block Watch, which meets monthly at the Church of the Manger on Greenview Street. It was standing room only, too, as about sixty people crowded into the nave, including State Rep. Danny McNeill and Lehigh County Commissioner candidate Dan Hartzell. Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board Chairman Gus Loupos served as facilitator. He just got back from Ireland and claimed to have a piece of blarney stone for any candidate who was bashful about speaking. None of them needed any help. For a little over an hour, the candidates fielded some excellent questions.

Matt McKernan
Three of the seats up this year are for four-year terms. Four candidates are in the running, including incumbents Willie Reynolds and Mike Recchiuti, along with newcomers Shawn Martel and Michael Colon. Reynolds and Martel are teachers. Recchiuti is an elder law attorney, and Colon heads up volunteer services at Gracedale. One of these candidates is going to come up short, but all four proved to be knowledgeable and engaged.

One seat is only for a two-year term. It is the balance of Karen (K. Dierdre) Dolan's unexpired term. She resigned at the request of a Northampton County Investigating Grand Jury. Her position is being sought by Jeff Kocsis, Matt McKernan and Olga Negron. Kocsis works for Lehigh County in the register of Wills office, and Negron is employed by the Bethlehem Area Public Library. McKernan owns Mosaic, an ad agency in Bethlehem.

Olga Negron
1. 911. Since the City is being forced to contribute more money for 911, should it consider regionalizing with Northampton County, Lehigh County or Allentown? - In his opening statement and at other times during the evening, McKernan spoke of the need to create efficiencies by regionalizing municipal services. But not 911. He called it "vital to our City" and said it would be a "big mistake" to walk away. Negron added that consolidating 911 with another entity would be "horrible." Kocsis argued for keeping 911 "at all costs." Martel stated that Bethlehem's 911 is much more comprehensive than one seen elsewhere, with 108 cameras to assist firefighters, police and EMS. But Martel noted that, under current state law, Bethlehem will receive no funding for 911 next year. Colon, who worked in 911 himself, stated that some of the "equation may be out of our hands."

Michael Colon
Reynolds explained that, at one time, the state funded 75% of the cost of 911. He acknowledged everyone wants to keep it, but noted that Allentown and Bethlehem are the only two cities left in the state with their own 911 centers. "There's a very real possibility that we won't have a choice," he added.

"We on Council have done everything we can," noted Recchiuti. He told the audience that the 911 tab this year is $3.4 million, and Bethlehem is paying $2.1 million of it.

Several candidates pointed their finger at Harrisburg, and State Rep. Dan McNeill pointed out that all 83 Democrats voted to continue finding 911.

Shawn Martel
2. Single hauler. - None of the candidates champion the single hauler solution championed by former Mayor John Callahan. They instead support zoned hauling, which will permit the City to ensure that trash is not out on the street for days at a time while protecting private businesses. According to Recchiuti, Mayor Bob Donchez will soon be introducing a zoned hauling plan.

Reynolds stated that when a single hauler proposal was first floated by Mayor Callahan, his mother gave him an ultimatum. "If you vote for single hauling, take the yard sign out," she warned him. "I've known my garbage man longer than I've known you, and he's more reliable."

Mike Recchiuti
Negron stated that, as a community organizer in Allentown, she once was in charge of 42 blocks. "Allentown has a single hauler and is still full of trash," she commented, quickly adding she did not mean that quite the way it came out.
McKernan stated that, from a pure business perspective, single hauler makes sense because it is much better service at about half the cost. But he said that it's still a bad idea because it would take jobs and income away from people. "When you hire a Bethlehem hauler, that business stays in Bethlehem," he observed.

Kocsis, Martel and Colon all spoke of giving people the right to choose. Martel stated he'd be unable to sleep at night if he voted to pass a bill "that would cause people to lose their jobs."

Willie Reynolds
3. What's happening to Martin Towers? - Recchiuti was quick to point out that the city does not own the 53-acre site. He stated plans are in the works and should be on the table in three or four months. He supports a mixed use development, a proposal shared by other candidates. He stated the CRIZ is not the NIZ, referring to two development tools that develop sites with public assistance. "We've always known that this is going to need taxpayer assistance," he added. Colon lamented the lost local tax revenue from a vacant building.

Martel pointed out that it will cost $40 million to remediate problems at the site, which include asbestos. Negron stated she has a "lot of hope" for the building (there are actually several buildings) but that the City "needs to do a better job reaching out to developers."

Dan McNeill
McKernan called it "kind of an eyesore" that's "not doing anything for us." He thinks that a solution can be found by convening more "community forums" to talk about it.

Pointing out that he lives on the west side, Kocsis advised being "vigilant" and watchful. "Your concerns are mine,:" he said to the largely West Bethlehem audience.

Reynolds noted that demolishing the building might release a lot of asbestos in the air. Whatever plans are ultimately produced must "balance the needs of the neighborhood," he stated.

4. If you had to cut, where would you do it? -   Reynolds joked that he'd eliminate the $25 currently paid to Gus Loupos to conduct zoning hearings. Recchiuti stated that he does not think it would be possible to pick any one thing, but suggested a possibility with recreation. Colon proposed closing a few swimming pools. Martel agreed with cuts to recreation and overtime. Kocsis seemed to object to the question."You can't just go in with a machete and cut away," he complained. Negron suggested recruiting volunteers and students to save costs.

"I don't want to cut anything," said McKernan. "We just need to be more efficient." He added it would be "short-sighted" to close the pools because the kids would start getting in trouble.

NorCo Gaming Board Awards $1.66 Million in Impact Grants

Dave Heintzeleman is a local funeral director who
volunteers his time to NortCounty, like his fellow
Board members
Northampton County's nine-member Gaming Board, which doles out the slots revenue generated by the Sands Casino every year, is basically finished for the year. At their April 27 meeting, they awarded $1.66 million in what are referred to as impact grants to Northampton County, Bethlehem and the five communities surrounding Bethlehem. Since this exhausts all the revenue that will be anticipated this year, there will be no funds available this year for other communities seeking grants.

Bethlehem is getting nearly half of the $1.6 million expected this year. This includes $400,000 for a $1.2 million 95' aerial bucket truck, and $130,000 to rechassis an aging 2007 ambulance. Those grants were approved unanimously, but a $250,000 grant sought for improvements to the South Bethlehem greenway very nearly failed for lack of a second to Joe Kelly's motion for approval. At the last moment, Dave Willard seconded Kelly's motion for the "sake of discussion."

Kelly argued that the greenway is one of the "rare projects" that rewards a positive impact of gaming. It provides a means of access for casino employees who walk to work, as well as patrons. The reason for the high cost, explained Kelly, is that the connection to Hobart Avenue must be ADA accessible. In response to questions from several board members, Bethlehem DCED Director Alicia Karner advised that 15% of the casino workforce live in South Bethlehem, and these improvements will help them walk to work.

That was enough to persuade the Gaming Board, who voted in favor of the grant by a 7-2 vote, with only Tony Pristash and Gerald Yob opposed.

After all grants were awarded, John Dally urged fellow board members to come up with a way to differentiate between impact caused by the casino and impact caused by other things. "If we're here to determine impact by the casino, we have to come up with a way to determine impact of other venues that are there,." he reasoned.

The Board also voted to set limits on grants for commonly requested items, like police interceptors, adjusted to the consumer price index.

There grants awarded are as follows:

Bethlehem Tp. - Two police vehicles ($101,528), 15 new defibrillators ($23,514) and replacement of a 2007 ambulance ($120,200).

Freemansburg. - $102,988 for an enhancement to operational technology.

Hanover Tp. - $50,601 for a Chevy Tahoe to be driven by one of the Township's three emergency management professionals, as well as software for accident reconstruction.

Hellertown.- $207,034 for two police officers.

Lower Saucon. - A police officer ($101,897) and police cruiser ($30,294).

Northampton County. - $143,765 to Northampton County Drug and Alcohol for gambling addiction treatment and support services.

The Gaming Board is made up of nine members:  Joe Kelly (Bethlehem), Tom Nolan (Bethlehem Tp), Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Jay Finnigan (Hanover, Chair), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown), Dave Willard (Lower Saucon), Tony Pristash (Northampton), John Dally (Pen Argyl) and James Pennington (Lower Nazareth).

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nazareth PD Has No Patrol Officers Today

From 6 am to 4 pm, no patrol officers will be covering Nazareth today. This means that Chief Trachta and Deputy Chief Miller will have to respond to calls.

Did Brown Have Authority to Award 19% Raise Without Council Approval?

Tom Shortell's "Brown gave a pay raise to Cathy Allen without Council approval" is a detailed piece of investigative journalism following the revelation, first made here, that Cathy Allen was given a 19% pay hike in just one year. Tom places the raise at 14%, but that's without including a "temporary" raise, which Allen may still be receiving.

At the April 16 Council meeting, collections lawyer turned Solicitor Jeffrey Durkin justified Allen's raise as something permitted by the Personnel Policies Manual.

This manual, which is a creation of the Executive, is necessarily subservient to The Home Rule Charter, which gives Council the authority to set wages.. The authority for this manual comes from career service regulations, which must be approved by Council. Personnel policies might set things like hours or dress codes, while Council-approved career service regulations detail how raises are awarded.

Several years ago, a dispute over whether the policies manual had invaded the province of Council resulted in litigation. That matter was settled, thanks to Jerry Seyfried, who was sitting on Council at the time as an appointed member. Many of the policies adopted without Council approval were negated. I will review and report back on that lawsuit.

How Stoffa and Brown Paid Top Officials

At the request of Council members Bob Werner and Ken Kraft, NorCo Controller Steve Barron has done a pay comparison for the top officials in the John Stoffa and John Brown administrations. Stoffa consistently said NO to many top officials seeking higher wages because he felt it was unfair to reward them when others were forced to make do with less.

Directors of Administration: John Conklin v. Luis Campos


Starting: $84, 420.96
Ending: $100, 637.66
Change: $16, 216.70
Salary Increases were given at the same time and consistently with all other county employees.


Starting: $87,837.57
Ending: N/A
No raises given at this time. Starting Salary $3,416.61 higher than John Conklin or about 4% higher.

Ass't Directors of Administration Tom Harp v.. Cathy Allen


Starting: $42, 406.21
Ending: $48,393.07
Change: $5,986.86
When John Conklin resigned, Harp took over as Director of Administration. His starting salary was $77,307.36 and he ended at $87, 837.57. That's the starting salary for the current incumbent in the position.


Starting: $57, 459.58
Current: $68, 554.93
Change: $11, 095.35
Approximately $3,500 is a non-permanent raise for working out of class since there was no director of Human Resources. Ms. Allen has been in the position for just over a year at the time of this analysis. This is a 19.3% Payhike in one year, if you count the "temporary" raise..

Fiscal Affairs Directors Vic Mazziotti v. Jim Hunter


Starting: $88, 219.87
Ending: $105, 204.11
Change: $16, 984.24
Salary Increases were given at the same time and consistently with all other county employees.


Starting: 87, 837.57
Ending: N/A
No raises given at this time. Starting salary is $382.30 lower than Vic Mazziotti or less than 1% lower.

Sheriffs Randy Miller v. David Dalrymple


Starting: $76, 997.02
Ending: $87, 485.01
Change: $10, 487.99
Salary Increases were given at the same time and consistently with all other county employees.


Starting: $94, 422.03
Ending: N/A
No raises given at this time. Starting salary is $6, 937.01 higher than Randy Miller or about 7.8% higher.

Corrections Directors Robert Meyers v. Daniel Keen


Starting: $77, 307.36
Ending: $82, 603.66
Change: $5, 296.30
Salary Increases were given at the same time and consistently with all other county employees.


Starting: $100, 237.28
Ending: N/A
No raises at the same time. Starting salary is $17, 633.62 higher than Robert Meyers or about 21% higher.

Note: John Stoffa had no Deputy Director of Public Works. John Brown's Deputy Director is being paid   $86,647.00 per year, about $4,000 more his starting salary. An Assistant Director of Administration was vacant most of John Stoffa’s first term time in office

A Letter For Bill Blake

                                                                                                April 23, 2015
                                                                                                Salvatore Tornabene
                                                                                                Easton, PA  18045

Attorney William Blake
Bethlehem Pa  18020

Dear Attorney Blake,

                It is my understanding you are an official ballot candidate for the vacancy of Magisterial District Judge at District Court 03-2-03 in Bethlehem Township.  As a concerned citizen and resident of Bethlehem Township, I am writing on behalf of myself and a number of other Bethlehem Township resident voters to inquire whether you have obtained a Formal Opinion from the Judicial Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges in regard to your eligibility to actually serve as the District Judge in Bethlehem Township if you were to be elected.

                My concern is I am aware that your brother, Sgt. Rick Blake is a high ranking supervising officer in the Bethlehem Township Police Department, and your wife, Assistant District Attorney Kristine Blake is a practicing prosecutor in Northampton County and both of these relationships present a conflict of interest.  Has the Judicial Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges rendered an opinion informing you that you can preside over any and all Bethlehem Township Police Department criminal cases?  It is my understanding that District Court 03-2-03 will only be covering Bethlehem Township Police Department matters starting January 1, 2016.  If the relationship with your brother being a sergeant supervising officer conflicts with your ability to oversee and make judicial decisions in a non-bias manner how will you even be able to preside over any criminal matters that would come before you if elected as District Judge? Additionally, your wife is a member of the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office and is responsible for prosecuting cases that will come before you if elected as District Judge, how is this not another conflict regarding your ability to preside as District Judge? Is there a formal opinion from the Judicial Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges in regard to these conflicts of interest?

                If you have not officially requested a Formal Opinion in regards to your eligibility to actually serve as the District Judge in Bethlehem Township, I ask you do so immediately. These conflicts pose a great concern to me and other voters of Bethlehem Township and the residents of the community where we live. As a judicial candidate, I believe you have an obligation to get a formal opinion. The voters should be asked to consider only those candidates who are free of any conflicts of interest or appearance of conflicts of interest in the primary and general election, to preserve the sanctity of the criminal justice system. 


                                                                                                                Salvatore Tornabene,
                                                                                                                Concerned Bethlehem Twp. Citizen
Cc: Morning Call, Express Times,

     Bernard OHare

Stoffa Sez: Get Off the Sofa and Vote For Murray

John Stoffa at his farm
Do you remember when we had a Northampton County Executive who was actually respected by the employees, even when they were mad at him? A man who financed his second term campaign completely out of his own pocket, refusing to take a dime from anyone? A man who stood for honesty and fairness? A man who actually believed in transparency?. A man who though people matter just a little more than numbers? A man who always had a corny joke?. That man, John Stoffa, was Northampton County's Executive for eight years. His integrity was and remains beyond reproach. Sadly, men like him are rare. And he is making a rare endorsement. John Stoffa wants you to get off the sofa and vote for Murray in May.

Stoffa is the second former NorCo Executive to ask you to support Sam. Jerry Seyfried, who gave Sam a job when he was County Executive, did that last week.

Like any good man, both Stoffa and Seyfried have detractors. Some are the usual anonymous trolls. Others are those who resented the fairness of these true public servants. They made this little corner of the world a better place. They think Sam can do so, too.

Sam's Spaghetti DInner Big Success!

Much as I like the ambiance at places like the Hotel Bethlehem or Sun Inn, I feel a lot more comfortable at more down-to-earth places like the Safety First Fire Co. in West Easton. I was there yesterday for a spaghetti dinner in honor of Northampton County judicial candidate Sam Murray. I stayed a little more than an hour, and at least 100 people had come and gone in that time. There is no truth to the rumor that I was thrown out for sneaking a fourth helping.

I invited West Easton Borough Councilman Tom Nodoline. He and his lovely wife sat next to me, but I feel a but embarrassed because Tom can no longer eat pasta. He's lost 175 pounds and is on a very strict diet. Because I did not want the food to go to waste, I ate his pasta, too. I also decided to eat the spaghetti plate set up for Tom's wife. I felt I owed it to her, knowing she'd want to sit there unable to eat, in solidarity with her husband.

Let me tell you, it was good spaghetti. Pat Sportelli made it, and I proposed to her about three times before I left.

It was nice to meet Freedom High School's head football coach, Jason Roeder, who was there with his wife and kids.

"You're not going to stay coach of the year for long if you keep eating like that," I told him, and ate his spaghetti. I ate his wife's, too, although I left her salad. I also left one meatball for their three children.

Environmentalist Isidore Mineo was there, too.

"Izzy, I'm pretty sure that cow was loaded up with antibiotics and God knows what else before he was turned into a meatball," I told him. I also described, in grisly detail, exactly what goes on at a meat plant. Once he lost his appetite, I ate his spaghetti.

Then I walked into the kitchen and told them I needed plates for Judges Beltrami and Roscioli.

"But they told us they couldn't make it!" said Sportelli.

"They'll be here. They just can't stay long."

I ate their spaghetti, too.  

Easton City Council member Ken Brown, who is running a race of his own, came with his wife to support his long-time friend from Easton's west ward. "I am proud to be here," he remarked.

Sam spoke of their childhood together in the West Ward, and mentioned that some of children there now need food assistance before and after school from the Easton Community Center at 9th and Washington. Sam grew up just three blocks away, on 9th and Ferry.

What Questions Would You Have For Bethlehem City Council Candidates

Tonight, Bethlehem City Council candidates will speak at the Church of the Manger (1401 Greenview Drive). West Bethlehem's Blockwatch is hosting a Candidates Night. All seven candidates will be there. I am going to get the contact information of each candidate and present them with five questions. I will run their answers in a future blog entry.

What questions should they be asked? That's your job. Please post them in the comments below. I will take the five best ones and send them out.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Nazareth Pool Pipe Cracked, Has Leaked 70,000 Gallons

Nazareth's new $2.3 million pool, which is scheduled to open amid fireworks sometime in May, has a crack in an underground return pipe that has resulted in the loss of 70,000 gallons of water. Though it's under warranty and the repairs are supposed to cost nothing, the opening of the pool may be delayed.

Updated 1:08 pm: I have clarified this post to point out that it is actually a pipe underground, and not the pool itself, that has cracked.

Abe Kassis Appeals to Fringe Again

Assistant District Attorney Abe Kassis is a fine lawyer, but I now question his judgment. A few months ago, he himself circulated a nomination petition at a meeting of the local tea party. He got the endorsement of members who like to call themselves RATs. He was so busy there that it made him late for a meeting of local Democrats.Unfortunately, this was no fluke.

In February, Kassis appealed to tea party hard-liners like Chairman Ronnie Del Bacco and gun nut Tom Campione, who is currently threatening to sue municipalities who don't allow fellow gun nuts to prance through parks with a six-pack in one hand, and a six-shooter in the other. Bethlehem Tp Comm'r Pat Breslin, who voted against a no-tax hike budget because it included a slight increase in wages for non-union employees, signed Kassis' petition. So did Saucon Valley School Director Bryan Eichfeld, who recently advocated replacing what he calls propaganda about global warming with "true science." Kassis even allowed Tom Carroll, another RAT, to circulate for him.

You might write that off as inexperience or a simple mistake. But Wednesday, Kassis appeared as the guest of Bobby Gunther Walsh. He is so over-the-top on crime that he is being sued by Lehigh County DA Jim Martin for defamation. Just the day before, Walsh had gun nut lawyer Joshua Prince as his guest. A few fays before that, it was gun nut Larry Pratt. That guy has been linked to white supremacist, anti-Semitic and paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. He even called on the Protestant population there to arm themselves.

I believe it's a mistake for any judicial candidate to appear on that program. I can forgive Judges John Foradora or Cheryl Allen because they are not not local. But Abe is, and should know better.

He never listed his Bobby Gunther Walsh appearance on his Facebook page, which tells me he was trying to appeal to the frings.

Who's Ahead in Bethlehem Tp Magisterial District Judge Race?

I sometimes tease them as mini-judges, but Magisterial District Judges are the front lines of our judicial system. They are what former Chief Justice Ralph Cappy called "the bulwark between the police and the rights of citizens."  I first saw those words are contained on a plaque adorning the courtroom walls of Bethlehem Township's current Magisterial District Judge Joe Barner. Unfortunately, he's stepping down at the end of this year. Five candidates, three of them assistant DAs, have lined up to take over in a new district limited to Bethlehem Township.

Magisterial District judges are paid $88,290 a year, along with complete medical benefits, to hear "minor criminal offenses, traffic offenses, landlord and tenant matters and other civil actions where the amount claimed does not exceed $12,000.00."  They must be 21, residents of the state and must have lived in the magisterial district for at lest one year before assuming office. Terms last for six years, and nothing prevents other employment, though that is becoming less common. They must be attorneys or certified by the Administrative Office of Pa. Courts. Though there's a movement afoot to require that all mini-judges have law degrees, I hope it never passes. A law degree is a nice thing to have, but nothing can replace the common sense wisdom I often see displayed by Magisterial District Judges like Barner

In this case, the two nonlawyers running are poor candidates. Andrew Tupone, a 911 dispatcher as well as some sort of alcohol agent for the PSP, became a little too well known to lawyers around the courthouse when he served as part of the Panto Parking Police. Some tell me they felt they were targeted, which is hardly the kind of conduct you'd want from a judge.

The other weak candidate, Bryan Altieri, has two college degrees nut has never held a job. He and his wife Leslie, a perennial candidate for state house, live in a home worth over $500,000. Last time I checked, they had made no mortgage payments in over four years. This appears to be irresponsible.

To top everything off, neither Tupone nor Altieri is certified by the Administrative Office of Pa. Courts.

The other three candidates - Bill Blake, Pat Broscius and Sandy McClure - are all prosecutors in John Morganelli's office. They all have the right temperament for the job, though Bill Blake has some conflicts of interest to resolve.

Blake and Broscius are both full-time prosecutors, meaning they spend forty hours or more every week, doing the people's business.But Sandy McClure, who is part-time, has more time to go out and knock on doors, and is apparently doing just that. From what I hear, she is well-regarded in her neighborhood. As quiet as she can sometimes be in a courtroom, she is more extroverted in small groups.

Some super Republican voters tells me they have already received three well-done fliers from McClure

I have no idea who is going to win this race, but McClure is spending the most money. This race won't be decided until November. My guess is that McCure will capture the democratic nod and that the Republican nomination will go to Pat Broscius or Bill Blake.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cemetery Residents Have No Objection to Home at Holy Ghost

Bethlehem ZHB deliberates. 
His name is Bishop but he's a priest. Father Cliff Bishop, Pastor at both the Incarnation of Our Lord and Holy Ghost Parishes in South Bethlehem, stood before the City's Zoning Hearing Board on April 22. The cemetery there has a house that was once occupied by a caretaker, but is currently vacant. So Father Bishop wants to offer the home for sale. He needed what zoners call a variance for the residential use right next to the graveyard.

"I would assume there would be no objection from the residents right next to the home?" asked Chairman Gus Loupos.

"I would hope not," answered Father Bishop, who added they're "pretty quiet" and "don't make much noise."

The use variance was unanimously granted by four members of the Board. Linda Shay Gardner, detained by a business conflict, was absent.

The Diocese of Allentown was represented by Allentown Attorney Benjamin Traud.

The Board also gave Dylan Finelli permission for a carport at his home at 627 4th Avenue and approved a four lot subdivision at 802-804 Atlantic Street after an extensive presentation by Engineer Kevin Horvath and Bethlehem Attorney Joe Piperato. Owner Brett Lewis plans to build four single homes at the site. Attorney Michael Santanasto, who is acquainted with Lewis, recused himself.

Finally, zoners granted Colleen Miller permission to establish a new storage facility next to one she already owns at 815 Traveler Avenue. She testified that no chemicals and no residents are permitted at the site, which is located near the Greenway.

She caught a person there last year who was living in one of the storage sheds.

"I think it's wonderful that she didn't mention you by name, Bernie," wisecracked Santanasto.

Miller was represented by Easton Attorney Ted Lewis and Engineer Kevin Horvath. "We liked him so much we asked hom to stick around," joked Lewis.

U Mt Bethel Supervisor Relents on Evicting Waitress

Yesterday, I told you that Upper Mount Bethel Supervisor Dennis "Jonesie" Jones was attempting to evict a waitress who has a valid $600 a month lease with him because she refused to sign a new one increasing her rent to $1000. I'm happy to report that he's had a change of heart and will allow her to stay at the already agreed upon rent. Good on him.

The Perils of Running For Bethlehem City Council

Jeff Kocsis
I saw Jeff Kocsis, one of three candidates for a two-year seat on Bethlehem City Council, at my satellite office (Panera Bread) yesterday. He stopped there for a tall cup of coffee after work at the Lehigh County Register of Wills. He tried to dart away when he saw me, but I blocked the door. I finally let him go after he gave me his number. When I called later that night, Willie Reynolds answered.

He got me good.

Jeff's been knocking on doors all over Bethlehem. "I do enjoy it," he admitted, but had a close call last weekend.

Most people aren't home when candidates knocks on doors. So Jeff writes out a little "Sorry I missed you" note and sticks it in the door with a flier. He was doing that on Sunday when he saw a dog at someone's home, not too pleased to see him.

Maybe the dog was a Republican.

Because it was behind a closed window, Jeff was unconcerned.

"What kind of dog was it?"

"Couldn't tell you."

As Jeff walked away, out of nowhere, the dog jumps him from behind, like a ninja, and sinks his fangs into the back of his thigh.

"Holy shit! Where'd the dog come from?"

"Couldn't tell you."

Jeff finally got away.

"It got me good!"

Kocsis' mom and recently departed father both worked two jobs to make sure he got through Becahi and Moravian College. He told me he's proud to be from Bethlehem. "I love it here.".

"I'm a dog guy, you know."

He's running on a "clean and safe " platform. In my view, this is the foundation from which everything else flows.

"I've got a Shepherd."

Maybe that dog was a Liberty grad.

Last time I got bit by a dog, which was just last year during those Lenten feasts in Roseto, the dog got rabie and had to be put down.

I'm a carrier.

Bethlehem City Council Candidates Night This Monday

Did you know that seven people are running for four seats on Bethlehem City Council this year? You'll have an opportunity to lean more about them on Monday night April 27. The Northeast Blockwatch, located at the Church of the Manger (1401 Greenview Drive) is hosting a Candidates Night. The fun starts at 7 pm. All seven candidates will introduce themselves and answer questions.

I'll be there, but iIm taking my life into my hands. Last time I went, I got blasted by a bolt of lighting that I'm sure was intended for Gus Loupos.

Bethlehem's City Council consists of seven members who constitute the City's legislative body. They all serve at-large for four-year terms and are paid a salary of $7,100 (the president gets an extra $500). They are also entitled to health benefits.

This year, four Bethlehem City Council seats are up for grabs. But one of them is just a two-year seat because whomever is elected will serve out the remainder of Karen Dolan's term. She resigned earlier this year after an Investigating Grand Jury determined she had engaged in multiple conflicts of interest. Amazingly, three candidates - Olga Negron, Matt McKernan and Jeff Kocsis - are all after that one seat.

The remaining three seats are all for four-year terms. Incumbents Willie Reynolds and Mike Recchiuti are asking voters for another shot. Michael Colon and Shawn Martell are seeking an opportunity to serve as well. Cathy Reuscher, an appointee, decided against running for the job.

All seven candidates are Democrats, so this race will be decided in the Primary unless an Independent gets on the ballot or Republicans mount a write-in campaign.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bethlehem's Pothole and Graffiti Hotlines

From City of Bethlehem: - Mayor Bob Donchez encourages Bethlehem residents to take advantage of the City’s Pothole Hotline and Graffiti Hotline:

Pothole Hotline: 610-865-7053
Graffiti Hotline: 610-865-7060

“As spring arrives after another difficult winter, I encourage everyone to use our Pothole Hotline so we can repair our streets where potholes have occurred,” said Mayor Donchez. “Additionally, we want to make sure our city looks as good as it can, so if you see graffiti be sure to contact the Graffiti Hotline.”

Using these hotlines will promptly alert the necessary city departments to the work that needs to be completed, so that city crews can be dispatched in a timely matter to address both potholes and graffi

Minimum Wage Increase Would be Raise to 65,000 LV Workers

From CACLV: - The Keystone Research Center today announced the release of a new report showing the impact of increasing the Pennsylvania minimum wage from $7.25 to at least $10.10. They studied the impact on all 67 PA counties. A $10.10 minimum wage would give 65,382 workers a raise in the Lehigh Valley and boost the state's sluggish economy, according to the report. For Lehigh County, a boost in the wages of 35,582 workers would increase total wages by $52.1 million; in Northampton County, increased wages of 29,800 would increase total wages by $43.3 million.

In the region, which includes Carbon County, women working who would be affected by an increase to $10.10 per hour outnumber men. Consistent with state averages, the typical worker in Lehigh and Northampton counties who would get a raise is an adult, over the age of 20, working full-time.

"When workers can pay their bills, the whole economy thrives: the landlord hires contractors, the contractors go out to dinner, and the servers buy clothes. It's time we realized we really are all in this together," said Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.

While workers in several industries call for $15 an hour and the right to join a union, advocates say that the state should ensure that every worker in Pennsylvania makes at least $10.10 an hour.

The advocates called on state lawmakers to increase the minimum wage to at least $10.10 for all workers, including tipped workers, and tie the rate to inflation, as well as increase the fines for employers who commit wage theft against their employees and strengthen enforcement efforts.

Across the state, wages are so low that hundreds of thousands of workers are living in poverty. In the Lehigh Valley, more than 1 in 5 homeless heads of households are working. These low wages are not just so low they result in hunger and homelessness, but they are stalling our economy and hurting communities. It's time to update the wage floor so people can meet their basic needs, like food, medical care, and gas.

Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 would give over 1.2 million Pennsylvania workers a raise, according to the Keystone Research Center. It would put nearly $2 billion into the state's economy. The benefits would be felt throughout Pennsylvania, with nearly one in four workers in the state's 48 rural counties and more than 700,000 workers, or 18 percent, in the state's urban counties getting an increase in wages. In addition, more than 200,000 people in each of Philadelphia and Allegheny counties would get a boost.

"More than 80 percent of workers who would get a raise by increasing the minimum wage to at least $10.10 are adults age 20 and older, not affluent teens with after-school jobs" said Mark Price, an economist with the Keystone Research Center. "Raising the minimum wage would also help close the wage gap between women and men -- nearly six-in-ten workers who would get a boost in pay are women, including thousands of single moms."

The PA minimum wage has not been raised since 2007, which is stalling our economy and harming communities. Today, a person working full-time making the minimum wage has an annual income of only $15,080, which is below the poverty line for a family of two. To make matters worse, the wage floor has not kept up with the rise in consumer prices. As a result, the minimum wage is 23 percent lower today than it was in 1968.

Compared to other states, minimum wage workers in Pennsylvania are falling behind. Already 29 states have increased their minimum wage above the federal government wage floor of $7.25, including all of our neighboring states, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and Maryland.

"No one working full-time should have to live in poverty or rely on emergency food pantries to feed their family," said Janet Ney, of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania.

"Rigorous research over the past 20 years has proven that raising the minimum wage boosts workers' pay and their purchasing power without causing job losses," said Price. "Raising the minimum wage puts money in people's pockets which they then turn around and spend in the local economy."

The failure of employers to pay fair wages is creating stress on working families and forcing taxpayers to subsidize corporate profits through increased costs for social programs. Wages for low wage workers in Pennsylvania and nationally have stagnated in the past six years. Lower waged Pennsylvania workers have lost $.24 per hour or 3% relative to inflation since the last increase in the minimum wage in 2009.

"The hardworking people who serve our food, clean our hotels and care for our children deserve a raise," said John Dodds, of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. "Working families are the engine of our economy, but they haven't received a raise since before the Great Recession. It's time to do the right thing by raising the incomes of 1.2 million Pennsylvania workers, which will boost our economy and strengthen local communities."

Bobby Gunther Walsh Plays Defamation Game Again.

WAEB's Bobby Gunther Walsh is currently facing a defamation lawsuit as a result of a series of libelous radio shows in which he attempted to tarnish the good name and reputation of Lehigh County DA Jim Martin. Walsh was pursuing a personal vendetta against Martin, whose office once prosecuted him for assaulting his daughter. The charges were ultimately dropped, but Walsh became bitter.

In the face of such a lawsuit, you might think that Walsh would be more careful with his accusations. Instead, on his April 21 show, he lashed out at a new target, Ron Angle. Walsh appears to have a hot nut for Angle, too.

Angle is the Northampton County Republican Party's write-in candidate for Controller. But he's been somewhat reluctant, and won't mount a campaign unless 250 Republicans want him to run. There are several Republicans who don't, like tea party chair Ronnie del Bacco. They're known as the RATs. These folks are near and dear to Gunther's heart, and are his usual guests.

The moment that Republicans decided that Angle was their man, the RATs went to Anthony Catino, and duped him into running. Gunther hosted Catino as his guest, and in his very first question, made this defamatory defamatory statements, innuendo and implication about Angle.

"This is an interesting question - I have no idea what this means - do you have any civil judgments or have you been arrested for theft like the other Northampton County Republican write-in candidate has? I have no idea who he means or who he's talking about there."

Gunther knows exactly what the question means. He knows exactly who is being discussed. This is a smear on Angle, against whom there are no judgments and who has never been arrested or convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude.

The deceit and dishonesty come from Walsh and his fellow RATs. I plan to alert Angle about this defamation, and hope he sues. Part of that suit should require Walsh to divulge the identity of the question that Walsh posed, knowing it would damage Angle.

Judicial Candidate Sam Murray: "I Want to Make a Difference"

When I was younger, I used to visit The Moravian Sun Inn, located on Bethlehem's historic Main Street, to purchase Advent stars. I never got past the counter. I finally had an opportunity to do that yesterday. Most of the rooms are roped off, but I did sneak up into the attic, where there is supposed to be a ghost of a little girl. I thought I heard a faint voice whisper, "No more pepperoni for you, fattie." My real reason for being there was to attend a get together for Northampton County judicial candidate Sam Murray, hosted by Bethlehem Attorney Michael Santanasto. I simply took Easton Mayor Sal Panto's name tag, and nobody was any the wiser. I even ticketed a few cars before leavin the Christmas City.

Santanasto, who went to high school with my son, is a member of Sun Inn's board. He gave us all a history lesson. Many famous people have been there as guests of the Moravians. George Washington, John Adams, Ben Franklin. Those are hard acts to follow, but now it's Sam Murray's turn.

Santanasto stole Judge Emiil Giordano's line. "Give me ten," is what Judge Giordano likes to say. He's not referring to money or pushups, but votes. Michael asked each person present to get ten friends to vote for Sam and Judge Giordano.

Nearly 100 people were crowded into the second floor, to wish Sam luck. They included famous attorneys like Gary Asteak, Bill Murphy, Joe Piperato, Lenny Mellon, Stanly Vasiliadis, Herb Litvin and Dave Backenstoe. Judge Paula Roscioli, who is seeking a well-deserved retention, was there, and I was finally able to photograph her. Numerous elected officials came, too. Controller Steve Barron, Easton Controller Tony Bassil, former Magisterial District judge jimmy "the Judge" Stocklas, Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez and Easton City Council member Ken Brown, a childhood friend of Sam's.

Judge Emil Giordano, who is criss-crossing the state, was supposed to come, but was still on the road at the time I had to leave for a meeting. It turns out that I had no meeting to cover, and I could have stayed and finished all the pepperoni.

Former NorCo Executive Jerry Seyfried introduced Sam, who he appointed to the PD's staff in the 90s. Seyfried called Murray a "rising star" at that time. He should know. Several of the lawyers who worked for him have gone on to become judges, including President Judge Steve Baratta and Superior Court jurist Jack Panella.

His daughters helped sign everyone in, and his wife Marge is very much like her husband, unpretentious. Their dignity comes from the way they act, not the airs they assume.

In a brief speech, Sam gave his background as a lawyer. He has also been a Custody Master and Juvenile Court Hearing Officer, making him the only candidate among three fine people who has judicial experience. Sam also discussed, too briefly, his role in Little League baseball, where he accomplished the rare feat of taking a little-known Bethlehem team and marching it right into the World Series.

Why does he want to be a judge? "I want to make a difference," answered Sam.

If you'd like to meet Sam, he's having a spaghetti dinner this Sunday from 12:30 - 4 pm at the Safety First Volunteer Company, 307 6th Street West Easton, PA 18042. It costs $10.00 per person, and Pat Sportelli is doing the cooking. Please contact Margie at 610-392-9249 for tickets.

Bethlehem Tp Comm'rs to Let the Public Speak

At their April 20 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners unanimously decided against enacting a public comment policy that would have limited the right to speak to a five-minute time limit. It would also have restricted the public soapbox, called courtesy of the floor, to the beginning of a meeting or during a public hearing.

The public right to speak during municipal meetings is guaranteed by Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act, which is designed to make local government more transparent. That law specifically provides that open meetings are "vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process." As stated by Judge Damon Keith, "Democracy dies behind closed doors."

Though the public has the right to speak, numerous boards throughout the Lehigh Valley impose time limits on speakers in order to keep meetings moving. Bethlehem Township Commissioners tabled a discussion on this limitation in September, but resurrected the issue recently after two meetings in which PennEast Pipeline opponents, most of them nonresidents, made lengthy and redundant presentations.

After a meeting in which ten residents spoke, Commissioners again decided to table the adoption of any public comment policy. It is a topic that was recently brought up at a debate.

"This is where we get our frustration out on you!" joked Martin Comer, himself a former Commissioner and a regular at every meeting. His thoughts were echoed by Bill Berry, another former Commissioner. "There's an issue of transparency in the Township," he warned. He added that, as a regular at meetings, he's seen no reason for a formal policy.

Micahel Hudak, a proponent of the policy, agreed with other Commissioners to table the matter, especially with an election less than a month away. But he defended the policy as a "fire extinguisher" that the President of the Board would invoke only when needed.

"Nobody's trying to stifle anybody," he assured everyone.

Tom Nolan, who previously spoke out against a formal public comment policy, stated it would "have more than a negative impact on our meetings."

Wanna' Make Some Money on Election Day?

Northampton County's election office is looking for a few good men (and women) on election day. It needs to man the polls for the primary election on May 19. It's a long, 14-hour day, but it's also rewarding to watch democracy in action and be a part of it.

The pay is $175, in cash.

I've participated as a poll worker in two elections so far, and am very impressed by the dedication of mny fellow poll workers. They try very hard to get it right.

If you'd like more information, contact the Northampton County Elections Office at 610-559-3055.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Divided Board Grants Waivers to Green Pond Developers

Brooke Kuronya passes out watercolors
of birds documented at Green Pond Marsh 
By a three to two vote, Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners have approved a series of waivers and deferrals for a controversial senior housing development proposed by developer Traditions of America. This senior housing specialist has submitted plans for a 261-home development located next to Green Pond Marsh. That's a habitat for over 280 species of migratory birds, and has been designated as wetlands by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This approval followed a lengthy presentation by Traditions that included powerpoints, partners, a lawyer an engineer and supportive statements from two township residents introduced by Traditions' partner David Biddison. Earlier that evening, during courtesy of the floor, Board President Marty Zawarski had assured opponent Kathy Glagola that there would be no presentation because everything had already been reviewed by the Planning Commission.

Traditions had sought waivers and deferrals on road widths and sidewalks. The Plan proposes road widths of 26' and 28' in a 33-38' wide right of way, while the township requires 32' wide roads as part of a 50' wide right of way. Traditions also sought a waiver of sidewalks on both sides of the street and a waiver of a sidewalk along Farmersville and Green Pond Roads. he developer sought a deferral of sidewalks along Church Road.

The main argument in favor of granting these waivers and deferrals is that this would decrease the amount of impervious coverage by 3.12 acres, making it easier to manage stormwaters and protect the wetlands. More narrow roads would also have a traffic calming effect, though Township Engineer Bryan Dillman observed that it would be slower traffic in more congested roads. "I wouldn't say it's safer," he remarked

Before the presentation, artist Gwendolyn Evans Caldwell, with the assistance of Brooke Kuronya, distributed watercolor paintings of the different bird species that will be impacted by this development. She called the plan "unconscionable." Don Morgan objected to the traffic from 500 cars on country roads that are already too busy. He also questions what effect it will have on his well. Kathy Glagola reminded Commissioners that waivers and deferrals are "discretionary. You don't have to grant it." Melissa Davis said it would be "smart to hold off," noting that Green Pond Marsh is "something we have that no one else has in the Lehigh Valley."

Tim McCarthy, Managing partner at Traditions, assured Commissioners, "We expect it to be the best community we ever had." Partner David Biddison added there were similar environmental fears when a senior living community was proposed at Bridle Path Road. "Usually, it's the fear rather than the execution," he remarked.

Michael Hudak complimented Biddison. "I think you've gone above and beyond on this project," he told him. "I applaud your tenacity. Hudak noted their role is very limited. They are simply granting waivers and deferrals. It will be up to PennDOT to decide on the traffic impact. Stormwater concerns are addressed by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, he argued.
"The birds, the wetlands, are not going to be affected. I see these birds all the time. they will continue to come here. If I'm wrong, that's egg on my face."
Hudak was joined by Marty Zaworski and Pat Breslin in granting the waivers. Breslin stated he is very impressed by the club house at other Traditions developments.

Tom Nolan and Phil Barnard voted against the waivers.

Calling the proposal a "poor plan" at a "terrible location," Nolan noted, like Glagola, that waivers are discretionary. He worried that granting waivers would be "basically giving you a green light to come in with a preliminary plan."

"We're the only voice for the migratory birds," Nolan concluded.

The Bob Birk Show

Robert Birk
Though he was a no-show at the candidates' night hosted by Republicans on Thursday night, Bethlehem Township Commissioner candidate Bob Birk made a guest appearance at a Township Board meeting on Monday night. He arrived fashionably late, while people were still weighing in on different topics during courtesy of the floor. He was perspiring, which is a tad unusual because he's unemployed. Birk wanted to address the Board, too, but they were already past him on his side of the room. So he popped over to the other side and positioned himself to drop his pearls of wisdom.

When it was his turn, he got and basically told the Board they are doing a lousy job.

Birk, a former Commissioner, has tried three times to get an appointment to Northampton County Council. He, along with Paul Weiss, are running for Marty Zawarski's seat.

Pat Broscius to Host Fundraiser Next Monday

Magisterial District Judge candidate Pat Broscius is hosting a fundraiser next week at the Palace Restaurant. An Assistant DA, she handles crimes against children.

TIME: 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Other candidates in this race include Assistant DAs Bill Blake and Sandra McClure, along with PSP employee Andrew Tupone and political consultant Bryan Altieri.