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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Our Open Space Program Needs More Scrutiny - Part Two

I've started this series by telling you that our open space program in Northampton County needs more scrutiny. Locally, land preservation boards like the one in Williams Township consist of the very people who want handouts. That needs to change. Even the County's Environmental Advisory Board is so packed with environmentalists that it fails to look at open space applications more critically. They've ignored state regulations requiring that appraisers determine the increase in value of a property that has been carved out of a preserved tract. This has resulted in higher appraisals than are merited. But the biggest mistake of all is one that is costing everyone in this County money. And it's happening illegally.

The person who first noticed this problem is a Williams Township farmer named Halden Ballek. He is more comfortable on his tractor than with the suits in a meeting room. He went to Vince Foglia with his concerns, and together, they have forced some changes  But they have miles to go before they sleep.

Open Space advocates had argued that getting a handout from the government for development rights is not enough. Getting a preferential assessment under which 90% of your property taxes are eliminated is not enough either. They wanted more. And they got it in the form of an outright tax freeze from the land of midnight payraises. A Millage Freeze Law (Act 4) was adopted in 2006 under which there could never be a tax increase in preserved property. Not ever. But in order to be effective, it would have to be approved by every municipality and school district, as well as the County. Otherwise, Nazareth and Wilson taxpayers could see their own taxes go up while some gazillionare in Williams Township pays a pittance. In other words, and as required by the Pa. Constitution,* taxes must be uniform.  

Northampton County adopted a law that imposed a millage freeze on preserved parties, but the language of its own ordinance makes clear that, before taking effect, every other taxing district in the County had to approve it, too. Some did. Some have not done anything.  Despite this failure, the County imposed a millage freeze on what are now about 240 preserved properties. When taxes went up this year, their taxes remained frozen at the lower rate, and without the consent of the taxing districts. in effect, people of limited means in Glendon and West Easton are now funding the land barons.

Foglia has had several meetings with the County over this issue, and so far, has got nowhere. The matter is supposedly now in Phil Lauer's hands. He is the Council Solicitor and is also the very Williams Township lawyer who at the last Council meeting spoke highly of preserving land in Williams. While Lauer ponders the merits of Foglia's argument, the County has caved on a subissue.

When properties are preserved, there is usually a homestead and sometimes other tracts that are excepted out. Those properties were receiving the low taxes and the millage freeze. The County has agreed they must be taxed at their fair market value, and has designated X and F parcels of lands receiving favorable taxation and those that don't.

According to Foglia, even with these news assessments, the taxes are artificially low.

I'll continue this story on Wednesday.
* Pa. Const., Article VIII, Section 1

Former NorCo Probation Officer Charged With Official Oppression

A former Northampton County Juvenile Probation Officer is himself now a criminal Defendant after trying to get just a little too close to one of his clients. Ryan Christopher Wasser, age 32, has been accused of both official oppression and obstruction as a result of inappropriate contacts he had with a female client who had just turned 18.

The charges themselves are second degree misdemeanors, which carry a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment and $5,000 fine. Instead of being arrested, Wasser will be notified of the police complaint filed by Detective Paul Hulbert by summons. But because these charges concern a public official, District Attorney John Morganelli is taking this matter seriously. "In our view, this kind of conduct is unacceptable," he declared.

Wasser was assigned to supervise probation for a female client who was still a minor. He began to send her inappropriate text messages, but took it to another level when she turned 18. he began sending naked pictures of himself and demanded that she reciprocate. he called every evening at 8:30 pm and later, and wanted to know what she was wearing. Eventually, the conversations became sexual in nature. He expressed reservations about her boyfriend, and threatened to have her imprisoned for a parole violation unless she began sending naked pictures of herself as well. She complied out of fear of imprisonment. She also felt compelled to purchase coffee and gas for Wasser.

The victim reported what was happening in January, and Detective Hulbert began an immediate investigation. He was able to find text messages and pictures that were exchanged, corroborating what he had been told.

President Judge Stephen Baratta, who was made aware of the investigation at its inception, suspended Wasser from his $45,571 job. Not long after that, Wasser resigned from a position that he had held for eight years. He also stepped down as the wrestling coach at Notre Dame Green Pond High School. Just one month later, Wasser began work as a sales consultant with Automated Data Processing, where he was employed at the time charges were filed. He is a 2006 graduate of Kutztown University, where he earned a degree in psychology. He was also awarded a Master's Degree there in 2012 for School Counseling and Guidance Services.

Wasser resides in Bushkill Township, according to the criminal complaint filed. But real estate records reveal he also owns a home in Easton.

According to Court Administrator Jill Cicero, there are 10 male and 11 female juvenile probation officers. She and DA John Morganelli confirmed that there is no policy under which clients and probation officers are the same sex.

A South Carolinian on the Confederate Flag

One of my readers, who recently moved to South Carolina, came upon an interesting article giving the perspective of a the rednecks about the recent Charlestown Church shooting. I wish we had more thoughtful people like that up here.

"I am from South Carolina. A state that has been under relentless attack in the news and on social media since the Charleston Church Shooting. Apparently we are a state of evil, gun-toting rednecks who swaddle our newborn children in the Confederate flag. Do not misunderstand me, I believe that the crimes of Dylann Roof are reprehensible and when he's found guilty he should be executed for his crimes. Keep in mind, this is the SECOND shooting in the Low Country region of my state in recent months to garner national attention. However, my state has handled it right, from the governor to the average person on the street.

"South Carolina did not riot.

"South Carolina did not loot.

"South Carolina did not burn down neighborhoods and businesses.

"South Carolina citizens did not start targeting cops for execution.

"So before you get on your Facebook pulpit and condemn my state, think about what South Carolina DID do.

"South Carolina passed legislation to put body cameras on all cops.

"South Carolinians have come together by the thousands to stand together, united against tragedies such as this.

"South Carolina churches all over the state have joined together in prayer vigils and services for the slain.

"All the barriers that are supposed to be divisive and separate us as human beings; race, religion, political leanings, economic class, have been pulled down as my state has come together, peacefully, to try to heal in the wake of this horrible crime.

"Please keep this in mind as you rail from your pulpits about how awful my state and its people are.

"My state, SOUTH CAROLINA, is handling this tragedy as a family with sorrow, grace, and, and above all, class."

Monday, June 29, 2015

Our Open Space Program Needs More Scrutiny - Part One

Glovas mansion
In Bethlehem and Easton, you might get a free lunch or a cot for the night if you're down on your luck. But if you have property and live in the country, officials will fall over themselves to give you money.

Northampton County's Open Space program is designed for farmland preservation, environmentally sensitive land and municipal parks. Like kissing babies, it's politically popular. In many instances, it is also the right thing to do. But there have been questionable decisions like the preservation of cliff lands and swamps that could never be developed in the Slater Belt as well as last year's bail out of a failed golf course developer in Lower Saucon Township.

The one place I thought might have things right is Williams Township, which has preserved a number of parcels over the years using its own money as well as county and state funds. But then I sat down with Vince Foglia, one of those rare independents who managed to get elected to public office. He is a Williams Township Supervisor. According to Vince and farmer Halden Ballek, it's really an open space scam in which a few people have positioned themselves to get handouts they don't deserve from the rest of us.

This is the start of a series of articles about abuses in what really has become an industry.

Williams Township has a Land Preservation Board that consists of members who have pretty much decided to preserve their own properties..Arlene Koch, Jeff McGuire, Doug Seipt, Linda Heindel and Alan Kirby have all been members. All have had property preserved. I'm sure that each abstained from voting on his or her project, but it's really a game of musical chairs. One hand is very clearly washing the other.

McGuire Estate
What's the big deal?, you might ask. After all, every property gets appraised on both the local and state level. Well, guess what? Every appraisal that's been done, from the inception of the program to the present, has been defective.

Let me explain. Whether it's farmland or environmentally sensitive land, the owner invariably carves out a parcel or two for himself. It might be his home, or it could be land he intends to develop down the road. The state requires the appraiser to "take into account any increase in the value of the subdivided acreage because of the placement of the easement on the remaining farmland." In the case of the Glovas mansion, for example, the appraiser was required to go back to the mansion and surrounding land that Glovas has carved out of the proposed conservation easement and determine how much that parcel would increase in value as a result of the easement preserving the land around him. This is something the appraiser failed to do, most likely because it would decrease the value of the appraisal. In fact, I've never seen it done.

Some interesting points from the Glovas appraisal:

* It's in Flood Zone X. This is a minimal at-risk area, but is pretty strange for a project presented to NorCo Council as "steep slopes." .
* Zoning is Low Density Residential, which requires a 2-acre minimum for building lots on his 68 acres.
* The potential for development is nonexistent. This is because most of the property is considered too full of granite and gneiss boulders. If you go down just 60 inches, you hit a lithic bedrock. Anyone who wanted to develpop here would need lots of dynamite.

Despite these problems, Foglia tells me the Glovas application is actually one of the better ones.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you how residents in this county continue to subsidize these wealthy landowners through a tax millage freeze that Foglia and Ballek both think is illegal. County officials disagree.

As State Shutdown Looms, State GOP Takes on Strippers

State Republicans who have advanced a $30 billion spending package have to know that Governor Tom Wolf has little choice but to veto it, if only because it increases the state deficit to $3.1 billion.As a government shutdown looms, you'll be happy to know that 30 Republicans led by Matthew Baker are leading the charge to do something about those disgusting strippers who visit what are disingenuously called gentleman's clubs. Strippers would be required to pay a $50 annual fee, answer all kinds of personal questions, including their favorite color,. They would also be forced to carry a modern-day equivalent of the Scarlet S, a special kind of photo ID (presumably clothed, but you never know) that they would have to produce on demand by any state agent. .

According to Baker, may of the women at these clubs are there against their will.

You'll be happy to know that this measure already has the support of the following House Republicans: Julie "Dixie Cups" Harhart; Ryan "the Rod" MacKenzie; and Joe "Long Dong Ranger" Emrick.Nice to see these limited government advocates regulating morality while the state goes down the hopper.

Confederate Flags, Microaggression and the Thought Police

“Where are you from or where were you born?”

“You speak English very well.”

“What are you? You’re so interesting looking!”

“You are a credit to your race.”

“When I look at you, I don’t see color.”

“There is only one race, the human race.”

“I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

“America is the land of opportunity.”

“America is a melting pot.”

The statements above seem innocent enough. But according to tool developed by UCLA, it's actually microaggression. That's a fancy word about subtle bigotry, racism, etc. While crossing the street to avoid a black or Latino person can certainly be a form of racism, most of the examples listed above are not. The Confederate battle Flag controversy appears to be the latest victim of the thought police, which appears to have little regard for something called the First Amendment.

Few would argue that it has any place as a sanctioned symbol of any public government. But this is no reason to ban it from a parade, which is what happened in Lewisburg this weekend. Civil war re-enactors were told to leave their flag at home, and they decided to skip it. Even more amazing, the National Park Service has decided to remove 11 items from its gift shops in Gettysburg, which include the flag. "Any stand-alone depictions of Confederate flags have no place in park stores," huffed National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

History be damned.

I wounder if they still sell copies of the Constitution.

Friday, June 26, 2015

NorCo's Fixes Faulty Online Civil Division System Disclaimer

Earlier today, I told you that Northampton County's online record of civil matters has a faulty disclaimer. It was inaccurately reporting that data was updated as of the previous day, without bothering to tell you that it's actually three or more weeks behind. This error is a result of not properly vetting this system with those who use it regularly.

Since my initial report to you, Northampton County has modified its disclosure to warn users that the "data update does not reflect a cover date for indexing." Translated into English, this means users should beware that there may be filings that have not yet made it into the system.

Over the next week, I plan to look at the online system in more detail and can almost guarantee that I will find more problems. No matter what software program is in place, it always pays to have active users check it. This is something that Northampton County administrators failed to do.

Hubris is the most fatal flaw of all.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime For King Edwin?

Though he's supposed to be the Mayor of Allentown, King Edwin has lot of time to do other things like run for Governor and now, the U.S. Senate. He asked for $5 contributions from grassroots supporters when he wanted to go to Harrisburg, and now is asking grassroots supporters for $5 to go to Washington.

What Pawlowski needs to realize is that he has no grassroots supporters. He sold out to developers like J.B. Reilly a long time ago. They might buy him office in Allentown, where democracy is dead, but he is despised outside of his little NIZ bubble.

Not so deep down, he knows this. But running for a never-ending succession of offices gives him an excuse to raise money for his friend Michael Fleck, who also just happens to be a business consultant.

Updated: A Flaw In NorCo's New Online Civil Division System

Northampton County has never made its civil docket available for online research. Until now. A software solution, developed inhouse, is now in operation. You can search these records here. This is something that Civil Division Clerk Holly Ruggiero has sought for years, and Executive John Brown deserves some recognition for encouraging this project. Unfortunately, because of his administration's penchant for secrecy, the system is flawed.

Lehigh County charges users $300 per year to search its completely scanned civil system, and it's great. All records are there and you can download them. Northampton County, which has yet to start scanning its civil records, has the advantage of being free. .

Before this system went live, it was in testing mode for several months. This is where the Brown Administration and Director of Administration Luis Campos blew it.

Brown Administration Testing Inadequate

If you want to determine whether something is really useful or needed, it's best to consult with those who use or might need it. But instead of asking for input from Civil Division employees and title searchers, Luis Campos had it tested by the local bar association. Since less than ten lawyers actually know how to use the courthouse computers, Campos would have been better off asking for monkeys.

This brings us to monkeys. Holly Ruggiero wanted title searchers to check out the new system. She knows from past experience that we may be monkeys,.but tend to find problems. So she forwarded a list containing the contact information for every title searcher willing to look at the new system, including yours truly.

Only two or three were selected. Some of this was certainly a snub of me, which is rather childish. A lot of it is arrogance, a "We know best" attitude prevalent in the Brown administration. This refusal to be more inclusive betrays a distrust of everyone. The net result is that the testing Campos did guaranteed no meaningful review.

Upon learning that the system has gone live, I did take a cursory look yesterday. Since I am a searcher, I will be looking at this much more closely and will more than likely find a few problems. But right now, the system has a pretty basic flaw that could cost the County a lot of money down the road unless it is fixed immediately.

The System Misrepresents What's In It 

At the top of the search screen, you are warned, "Data updated as of 6:00 PM Eastern Time Wednesday, June 24, 2015 [or whatever the previous date might be]." Based on that assurance, anyone would be free to conclude that it is updated as of June 23, 2015.

That would be wrong.

Let me tell you why. Civil records contained in that computer system, as of this moment, are only complete up to June 2, 2014. As I have mentioned several times, the Civil Division is short-staffed, and is unable to index documents as fast as they come in. They will enter judgments and other important matters on something known as the "Daily Sheet," which is required by law. We searchers know that we have to check that Daily Sheet to get a complete picture, but most members of the public, banks and even attorneys are unaware of it.

Right now the cover date is June 2, not June 23. Anything filed after that date may or may not be in the computer system. So the County is actually inadvertently misrepresenting its own records.

Why does this matter?

Let's say you own a property and have judgments for $1 million, all filed after June 2 but not yet in the system. Let's say that you decide to borrow some money from a bank for a trip to Vegas and "forget" to mention them. Based on the assurances on the Civil Division webpage that it is current through June 23, a bank could mistakenly and reasonably conclude that there are no liens against you and give you $2 million, secured by a mortgage or judgment that is not worth the paper it's written on because $1 million in judgments are in front of it.

In the meantime, you blow your wad playing black jack, and leave the bank is high and dry.

Do you honestly think the bank is just going to chuckle and write it off? No, it's going to sue, and one of the Defendants will almost certainly be the County.

How to Fix

This web page disclosure needs to be clarified. In fact, the disclosure at the top should warn the reader NOT to rely on information. For example, an online assessment guide in Northampton County warns, "Please note that this site is considered a demonstration and, as such, the accuracy or currency of data cannot be guaranteed." That's what should appear with the online civil records.

It would be there now except that Campos was too arrogant to ask the people who actually use these records to weigh in with suggestions that might actually keep the County from being sued.

if we want Brown to listen to us, we are going to have to become consultants and charge big bucks.

Updated 6:45 pm: See my update.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ramadan Tent Dinner At Payrow Plaza

As the sun sank into the horizon, a group of hungry people began eating dinner inside a tent pitched at Payrow Plaza. Unlike most Musikfest revelers, this group is observing Ramadan, a month of fasting and prayers for Muslims around the world. The Lehigh Dialogue Center and Peace Islands Institute offered a meal, completely free of charge, to anyone interested in interfaith and intercultural dialogue. Another meal will be offered tonight.

Among those I saw at last night's meal was Lehigh County Judge Edward Reibman.

Ramadan ends on July 17.

The Reporter

He is sorely missed. Many of you who frequent the halls of Northampton County government are sure to remember Al Recker. He covered county government and the courts for The Bethlehem Globe Times, earning a reputation as a fair reporter who was willing to dig and find the answers. After The Globe Times was sold to The Express Times, Al was eventually laid off. these days he's semi-retired, though he does a bit of free-lancing now and then for the Press papers.

Yesterday, Al was sent to cover a news conference concerning quadruple murderer Michael Ballard. As other reporters prepared their brand new iPhones and fancy cameras, or stumbled in after the news conference was nearly over, Al sat there with his shorthand notebook and actually listened to what DA John Morganelli had to say. Other than Reilly Yates, who covers the courts for the Morning Call, Recker had the most penetrating questions.

He is missed.

Dieruff Throws Scare Into Parkland

Dieruff Scares Parkland
Summer league basketball is more relaxed than the winter games.Usually, teams are missing a few guys, and coaches are more apt to experiment. In many ways, that makes the games a lot more fun to watch. They are usually played at Allentown's Cedar Beach, with 20-minute halves in which the clock keeps running. If it rains, the kids descend on one of the area high schools.

That's what happened on Tuesday night. When the skies briefly opened up, the games were sent to Parkland High School. I was there to see my grandson playing for Central Catholic against Freedom High School. But in the court next to me, something very strange was happening, and just about everyone soon had their eyes on the other game.

Parkland High School is the elite basketball team of the Lehigh Valley. But they had their hands full with Dante Rockmore and the Dieruff Huskies. The Trojans were getting beat, at times by as much as eight points.

In the final two minutes of the game, however, Parkland's Trojans erased their deficit and finally took the lead with just three seconds to go. The Trojan who took the bite out of the Huskies is a very physical Jake Bartholmew, who plays with my grandson on the LV Blue Chips 15U AAU team.

Kids from high schools all over the Lehigh Valley will descend on Cedar Beach tonight for summer basketball. If you like basketball, drop in some time. You're in for a treat.

Old West Side Factory Will Soon Be Dr. Li's Home

Suzanne Borzak reviews zoning approval with Yujing Xie. 
Dr. Sherri Li, a distinguished pathologist at Lehigh Valley Hospital, loves Bethlehem. "Especially West Bethlehem," adds her recently married daughter, Yujing Xie. It must be true love, too. She recently purchased an old factory at 821 13th Avenue, next to B. Braun. But instead of competing with her German neighbor, she plans to live there and is refurbishing the building in industrial decor, accentuating the steel beams inside the building. This tract already includes three garages, but to lure her daughter to move in with her, Li needed a fourth. Zoners unanimously approved Li's application for dimensional variances at their June 24 meeting.

Though Dr. Li also appeared before the Board last month, zoners needed to determine whether her proposed garage interfered with a PennDOT right of way. She was able to obtain a map showing clearly that there is no encroachment. After doing so, she and her daughter told zoners that they have located at least 25 abandoned tires on their property.

Bill Fitzpatrick joked that they could sell the tires to pay for the garage. Fitzpatrick was filling and providing the humor that usually come from the Chairman, Gus Loupos. Unfortunately, Loupos was experiencing minor medical difficulties that arose from kissing the Blarney stone in a recent trip to Ireland.

He apparently swallowed it.

The good news is that Gus has made a dramatic recovery at St. Luke's and is expected to return soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What Can We Do To Solve Our Stormwater Problem?

Marcellus Shale. To some, it's a Godsend that will put people to work and strengthen our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. To others, it's a curse that will destroy our environment and result in even more ghost towns than were produced by strip mining in the coal regions, where towns like Turkey Run ran away. But no matter how you feel about hydraulic fracking, no one can deny that it has been a windfall to counties like Northampton, which have no Marcellus Shale. This is because of the impact fee that trickles down to all counties. Lehigh and Northampton County received a combined $627,795 in 2014 from natural gas drillers. So far, the money has been used for environmental initiatives and bridge repairs. But it's time to start thinking about using some of that money for something far more pressing to anyone who lives in the Lehigh Valley. I'm suggesting that it is time for local leaders to start some serious stormwater mitigation planning. Thanks to the Marcellus Shale Legacy fund, we have the money to do it.

Last week, Bethlehem Township was hit with a heavy downpour in the middle of a Commissioners' meeting. The flash flooding was so intense that it's a miracle no one was killed. For that, residents can thank the Nancy Run and Bethlehem Township Volunteer Fire companies, both of which act selflessly during times of crisis. Planning Commissioner Les Walker dismissed the storm as a fluke, something that only happens once every 500 years. But as Attorney tom Elliott countered, we've been experiencing a lot of those 500-year storms in recent years.

I made it home in that disaster, but should not have. The Blue had become one of the great lakes, while Easton Avenue along the Keystone Pub had turned into a Class 5 rapids. The bottom of Hope Road next to the Bethlehem Boat Club is hopeless, completely washed away, and for the second or third time in my memory. It is only a matter of time before fire companies begin requesting submarines.

Some of the reason for all this storm water is undeniably because areas like Easton Avenue at the Keystone Pub are at the lowest point of the Nancy Run watershed. But all of this is exacerbated by the runoff from all the development occurring over the years, both in the township and City of Bethlehem, along with developments going north.

Bethlehem has had its own troubles. Just a few short years ago the flash flooding produced by a sudden downpour ruined Musikfest, which by its nature is somewhat at the mercy of the elements.

In Allentown, sudden downpours cause manhole covers to pop open and spill into Jordan Creek.

These storm waters are usually low quality water, containing arsenic or even fecal matter in more urban areas.

I have listed some of my observations, but you may be aware of much more than I presented here. It is a serious problem and it is a regional problem, the kind that requires communities to work together for a solution. Naturally, nothing has been done. My own research reveals that, occasional, one municipality may threaten to sue another, but that's about it.

After Monday night's Planning Commission meeting, I was speaking to the Roth brothers. They are two ornery men who pretty much hate everything, so naturally, I like them. They suggested that it is time to start using these Marcellus Shale funds and open space money to solve this area's stormwater problem. I discussed this yesterday with Bryan Cope, the Open Space coordinator in Northampton Couunty, and he agreed it's time for some of this out-of-the-box thinking.

Instead of spending a small fortune to provide a handout for some wealthy investment planner as is proposed in Williams Township, why not take some of the Marcellus Shale funding to thoroughly study and then address our stormwater problem? Executive John Brown has started a $1 million grant program to aid our outlying communities. One of their biggest problems is stormwater. Why not address it in a meaningful way? Instead of spending that money to buy swampland or cliffs that will never be developed anyway, why not use that money where it will actually do some good?

If there is open space and state money behind this, municipalities should be much more likely to cooperate with each other. Unfortunately, the Open Space Advisory Board is made up of people who seem to think their obligation is to help out millionaires. In fact, on a municipal level, some of them sit on the local boards that vote to preserve their own property.

There's a vacancy on the Open Space Advisory Board right now. I was going to apply for a position myself, but believe I am too controversial to be effective. But if one of you comes from a business or engineering background, or is just sick of seeing good money wasted on goofy projects while your basement fills with water every time it rains, why not apply?

In the meantime, what is your own experience with stormwaters? Do you think it's getting worse? Where do you live and what do you see? How would you address it?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Updated: Planners Deny Administrative Review of Green Pond Marsh Plan

Att'y Tom Elliott
Traditions of America, one of the most successful developers of active senior communities, have plans for one in Bethlehem Township. It has an agreement with Green Pond Country Club to build a 256-home gated community right next to the Green Pond Marsh, which has been designated by the US Army Corps of Engineers as a wetland. This marsh has also been designated by the Audubon as an Important Bird Area. It is home to over 180 species of migratory fowl. Rather than saying it's "for the birds," Traditions Principal David Biddison has been fairly aggressive about pushing his plan through both the Planning Commission and Commissioners for deferrals that somehow became outright waivers. But he suffered a minor setback last night.when the Planning Commission refused to send the plans into administrative review. The reason for this can be summed up in two words - Tom Elliott.

Kenn Edinger
Green Pond Marsh supporters have retained Tom Elliott, a Township resident who has served off and on as Township Solicitor over the years. He also served for 14 years as a Planning Commissioner.

The first thing he did was ask Biddison to waive his copyright to the plans so Elliott could copy and inspect them.

"I'm not prepared to have a negotiation on copyright law at a Planning Commission meeting," Biddison bristled, as Chairman Lee Snover explained that developer plans are generally not copied for members of the public, although they can inspect them at municipal offices.

Having insinuated a lack of transparency, Elliott went in to claim that the 86-sheet plan is itself "pretty disappointing." He called it both "unimaginative" and "way too dense." He scoffed at the notion of a project for senior citizens located next to a golf course, noting that many of them will be unable to ambulate in just a few years."You're building a project that by its very nature is ill-proposed for a golf course community," he argued.

Les Walker and Harry Powell
But his biggest argument was that planners have seen no storm water management plan, "You do not have a storm water study and are going into administrative review," he observed. "I'm led to wonder what's in that report. ... I think you would at least have a passing interest." Elliott pointed out that just one week before, the township was hit with a downpour that resulted in many closed roads.

Planner Les Walker, who last month derided opponents of this development as NIMBYs, told Elliott that he happens to be a Professional Engineer and that the downpour that closed roads in Bethlehem Township only happens once very 500 years.

"I don't know how many times I've heard in the last 5-10 years, 'That was a 500-year storm,'" responded Elliott.

In addition to the complete absence of a storm water study, Elliott questioned whether there's been any study of the water quality going from the pond and golf course and into the wetlands. he noted the golf course refuses to use that water to irrigate its fairways.

Agreeing that water quality is something that should be looked at, Kenn Edinger moved to table the proposal to send the development into administrative review. He was joined by Planning Commission members Don Wright, Mark Grandinetti, Harry Powell and James Daley. Chairman Lee Snover, who has a personal relationship with Biddison, abstained. Walker was the sole planner willing to move the plans into administrative review without even examining a storm water study.*

Earlier that evening, Walker askked that the minutes be corrected to reflect that he never said he supported the Traditions plan. He did say again that he is opposed to "some of the antics" displayed by Green Pond Marsh supporters.

Citizens also spoke out against the proposed development. Mary Claire Diamond told planners that she grew up on the golf course, and as a little girl, would count the deer and watch baby owls hatching. She called it a "terrible shame that you considering letting this plan go forward." She still lives on Church Road, near this development, and reported that "traffic in the morning is horrendous." She finally called on planners to "address the flooding issue."

Malissa Davis provided a historical perspective. She noted that planners turned down Tuskes plans to develop Green Pond Marsh in 1999. She reported that Leonard Hudak, when he was a Commissioner, complained about increased traffic and stormwaters. A Toll Brothers plan in 2003 was unpopular enough with residents that 50 of them showed for a DEP meeting. A Petrucci plan proposed in 2010 was given a "Yuck!" by Planning Chair lee Snover, and at that time, Commissioner Michale Hudak, like his father  leonard, was concerned about traffic.

After the meeting, Township residents Barry and Roy Roth reported that the flooding from last Monday's storm was so bad that Hope Road is completely washed way at the Bethlehem Boat Club. They believe all these storm waters cascaded down from St. Luke's Anderson campus, which is incidentally expanding.

*    Update 12:45 pm: During the roll call vote on the motion to table administrative review, the Recording Secretary forgot to call on Grandinetti for a vote. Chair Lee Snover caught this, and asked her to get Grandinetti's vote, which was a No. Planning Director Nathan Jones tells me this can be clealry heard on the tape, but I never heard it in the meeting room.

I have also asked Jones why the documentation that should accompany the agenda prior to a Planning meeting is not being attached.  That will start next month. 

Finally, I think it's time to say that the new PA system in place is horrible, worst than the last, and needs to be replaced. When people speak, and you can only hear every other word, something is wrong. Jones tells me it is operator error, and plans to send Planning Commission members a memo indiucating they need to hold the button while speaking.

Summer Hours For Bethlehem Tp Commissioners

Bethlehem Township Commissioners are next scheduled to meet on July 6, but that may not be happening. Three of them - Phil Barnard, Pat Breslin and Tom Nolan - will be away taking good government seminars. So I suspect the meeting will be canceled.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Should Gracedale Reorganize As A Nonprofit?

Bob Werner and Hayden Phillips
During the debate leading up to the primary, NorCo Council candidate John Cusick suggested that it's time to convert Gracedale, the County's nursing home, into a 501c3 nonprofit organization. But that won't be happening any time soon. At their June 18 meeting, Council defeated a proposal to just study the idea.

Premier Health Care Resources is the Gracedale Administrator. It operates the nursing homes in Monroe and Clinton County, which have both opted to transition into nonprofit operations. It proposed doing a study for the County, at no cost, on the pros and cons of such a move.

The biggest advantage of such a change might be that Gracedale would be able to take advantage of higher reimbursement rates currently denied to publicly run nursing homes. But suspicion still runs high that this would just be the opening salvo in an attempt to sell the facility.Lamont McClure, who has often referred to Gracedale as a "moral obligation" of the County, worried that this is nothing more than a replay of the previous attempt to sell.He called it a "step down the path of not taking care of residents," and added that eight out of ten county residents want to see Gracedale remain in County hands

Mat Benol certainly added to McClure's fear when he suggested that the study should consider "all possibilities."

But other Gracedale supporters like Bob Werner and Peg Ferraro welcomed a study. "It's not taking us down any road,"  he responded to McClure's criticism. "You can't say it's a bad thing until you discover it's a bad thing." Scott Parsons echoed Werner and Ferraro. "We owe it to the constituents we represent and we owe it to ourselves to look at all avenues short of a sale."

Dee Freeman, Premier's man at Gracedale, assured Council that all property would be retained by the county, but the management would be a nonprofit.

Although Seth Vaughn liked the idea of a study, he believed it should be done from someone other than Premier

In the end, the measure failed in a five to four vote, with Vaughn, Benol, Glenn Geissinger, Ken kraft and McClure voting No.

NorCo Council Acts to Take Control Over Table Games Revenue

Though Pennsylvania has no money trees, it has the next best thing - casinos. Last year, the state's 12 casinos raked in $2.3 billion. Bethlehem's Sands Casino Resort raked in gross revenues of over $280 million, of which $188 million came from table games alone. Northampton County's slots revenue, which is expected to be about $1.6 million this year, is distributed by an independent nine-member Gaming Board headed by Jay Finnigan. But the law relating to table games revenue, which is expected to fill County coffers with $1.2 million this year, is much more lax, and can be distributed for whatever is deemed to be in the County's best interest. There is nothing to prevent any county executive from spreading that money around in a thinly veiled re-election scheme. As a result, Northampton County Council has introduced an ordinance that gives it final say over any project that is to be funded by table games revenue.

When he was Executive, John Stoffa allowed the table games fund to accumulate. Though John Brown dipped into it for a trolley grant to Easton and Council took money for the open space program, this fund has grown to over $3 million.

"I really think Council should look into controlling this money like any other revenue stream and have say over where it goes," Ken Kraft cautioned at a recent committee hearing. Right now, the only person who has that control is Executive John Brown. He has announced an ambitious funding plan called called the Community Investment Partnership Program (CIPP), to promote community and economic development in the County's aging boroughs. DCED Director Diane Donaher told council's Economic Development committee that 80% of the grants and funds awarded will go to what she calls the "aging communities" in contrast to the urban core.

Judge Dally: Fraud Charges Against W Easton Boro Council Candidate Will Stand

Tricia Mezzacappa is currently a Republican nominee for a seat on West Easton Borough Council. She's been facing criminal charges of defrauding a secured creditor since February. She hid her 2008 RAV4 after it was levied on by the Sheriff in partial satisfaction of judgment I have against her. She then refused to produce it at a Sheriff's Sale, where I bought the car for $1. She still refuses to turn it over, though she was spotted driving it right before the election. Magisterial District Judge Richard Yetter ruled there is sufficient evidence to send the matter for trial. On Friday, Judge Craig Dally denied her motion to quash the information based on a claim of selective prosecution. Her jury trial is scheduled for August 4.

Mezzacappa's public defender, Jim Connell, had argued that in his 36 years as a lawyer, he had never seen "the Commonwealth attempt to collect a debt for a private citizen by using the [defrauding secured creditors statute]." Nor have I. Nor has anyone. And that's not what is happening here. Mezzacappa has been charged criminally because she defied judicial process. Sure, she defrauded me, but she did so by thumbing her nose at court officers. In fact, the evidence in this case will show that, after levy, she lied Deputy Sheriffs when she promised to meet them at the courthouse to pick up her papers. She instead skidaddled. The real victim here is our judicial system. If people can ignore levies and court orders they dislike, our whole system collapses.

As Judge Dally observed, Connell was really arguing that this is a case of selective prosecution. But that's nonsense, too. The only thing selective about this prosecution is that a criminal was selected for prosecution. Last time I checked, that's the way the system is supposed to work. Assistant DA Travis Weber did locate 12 examples of this prosecution in recent years. On th magisterial level, there are probably more because this problem confronts constables frequently.

Mezzacappa, whether she likes it or not, will face the music. Unless she finds religion soon, I suspect she is going to be sent to jail. She seems to think she can pick and choose which orders to follow and which to ignore. For example, at this moment, she has still failed to pay or even make arrangements to pay the $646.88 she owes the Commonwealth as a result of her conviction for harassment of a West Easton Boro Clerk. I can't imagine a judge rewarding someone who thumbs her nose at them with impunity, something she has been doing for years.

The only real question in my mind is whether she will show up for her trial. She has reportedly told a neighbor that she is converting her home in West Easton into an apartment building, and plans to move in with her mother in New Jersey. Thus, i question whether she'll actually show for her trial.

Friday, June 19, 2015

One Day After Drug Sweep, DA Dismisses Most Charges

Early Wednesday morning, Colonial Regional Police and the Northampton County Drug task Force arrested and charged 14 people with dealing drugs from cocaine to hallucinigenic mushrooms. One day later, most of the charges have been dismissed. Detective André Stevens and DA John Morganelli were growing increasingly suspicious about what what they were hearing about the drug buys that led to these arrests. Concerned that a confidential informant had pocketed some of the drug money used to make buys and may even have colluded with suspected dealers, Morganelli decided that the safest course is to withdraw the charges.

"It is absolutely crucial that any criminal prosecution proceed with credible evidence," the veteran prosecutor noted.

Interviews with arrested defendants revealed that the confidential informant being used was actually pocketing some of the drug money given to make buys. There is even suspicion that he colluded with others to make phony buys in an attempt to have other charges against him reduced.

Charges against three defendants whom police observed engaged in the drug transactions are still outstanding. Those still charged with possession of and intent to deliver controlled substances are Colby Sicher, 27, of Whitehall; Christopher Janotka, 22, of Walnutport; and Dominick Nixon, 22, of Bath.

Only Janotka is in custody. All other Defendants were released on unsecured bail as arresting officers grew suspicious.

The confidential informant and others may soon be facing different charges, including false reports to law enforcement officials.

NorCo Council Tables Open Space Handout

Chalk one up for the little guy. By a 6-3 vote at their June 18 meeting, Northampton County Council tabled a $319,970 handout to wealth management specialist Michael Glovas in exchange for a "conservation easement"  for the 72 acres surrounding his palatial estate at 590 Browns Drive in Williams Township. Previously, the Open Space Advisory Board voted had unanimously to support this handout, supposedly mostly because of its location in the Hexenkopf Slope and Rock area. Open Space Coordinator Bryan Cope told Council that it's about a half mile away, but a review of Google maps clearly places it more than a mile away. He wanted to preserve it because it is near other preserved land and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has given it high ratings in its natural resources plan. Fortunately,Council was no rubber stamp and had lots of questions. Cope did say that Glovas would allow access to the site even hunting, so long as permission was first obtained.

Ken Kraft saw through the giveaway. 
I dismissed this yesterday as yet another handout to make a rich person richer, with no real benefit to the environment. Today I'll share council's concerns.

Vaughn asked Cope whether this land could be developed, and he replied that about 20-25 lots could be built there. Vaughn doubted whether this is really environmentally sensitive land.

Hayden Phillips, no fan of open space grants to begin with, complained that the public is spending $321,000 for an easement on property Glovas already has."I'll give somebody development rights to my front yard," echoed Mat Benol.

Phillips also noted that Williams Township has stopped collecting EIT for open space and now "Northampton County is running in." Though Williams Township is contributing nearly $48,000 to this deal, that's less than half of what is being sought from Northampton County. "It would be nice if Williams Township matched the grant," observed kraft, who also questioned how many lots could really be developed there.

"Find out how many lots are developable and we'll preserve those," suggested Kraft.

Lamont McClure then immediately moved to table the matter, and was supported by Kraft, Benol, Phillips, Vaughn and Glenn Geissinger.

I'm sure the Open Space Committee saw all kinds of pictures of rocks, bit I'll lay odds they never saw that mansion. This is a perversion of open space.

Five Deputy Sheriffs Honored by NorCo Council

From L to R: SGT George Volpe,Deputy Lori Neff, Sheriff David Dalrymple,
SGT Michael Orchulli, Deputy Greg Smith and Deputy Brian Budraitis  
When SGT George Volpe, a NorCo Deputy Sheriff, was honored last week by the Northampton County Police Chiefs' Association with the prestigious Nathan Ogden award, he was very modest about his work in tracking down Crips gang member, along with a suspected murderer, drugs and a machine gun. "It wasn't just me," he laconically stated, instead crediting others from his own and other law enforcement agencies.

SGT  Volpe and four other Deputy Sheriffs have now been honored by Northampton County Council for their role in locating and apprehending fugitives, including violent Crips gang members. In addition to SGT Volpe, the Deputy Sheriffs honored by Northampton County Council with a commendation include SGT Michael Orchulli, Brian Budraitis, Lori Neff and Greg Smith.

Mat Benol, who chairs the Courts and Corrections Committee, plans to invite Sheriff Dave Dalrymple to a future Council meeting to discuss exactly what his department does. "There's a lot more to the Sheriff's office than what the public realizes," he observed.

Corrections Officers' Contract Unanimously Approved

Justus James and Cathy Allen
As expected, Northampton Councty Council unanimously approved a new contract with corrections officers at their June 18 meeting. They had no choice because the matter went to binding arbitration.

It's a three year deal for the years 2015-2017. Corrections Officers will receive a 4% raise this year, starting July 1. Next year, everyone will get a step increase, which translates to a 4.5% raise. Those who are the top of the scale will get a $1,200 lump sum payment. In 2017, there will be another 2% increase. Roughly, it's a 10.5% raise over three years.

AFSCME union agent Justus James, who was at the June 17 Personnel Committee to explain the agreement reached with corrections officers, appealed to the full Council to vote on another four union contracts that have been approved. But as Ken Kraft explained later that evening, the Administration needs time to work on the wording. The vote on those contracts will take place on July 1.

Deputy Administration Director Cathy Allen assured the Personnel Committee that the 5% raise on those contracts will start on July 1.

All five contracts will place a $550,000 dent in this year's budget.

Ceasefire Declared in Dispute Between Brown and Council

John Brown
June 18 must have started off as a bad day for Northampton County Executive John Brown. In a sneaky surprise attack, The Morning Call's Bill White inducted Brown into his Hall of Fame. It's a really despicable practice, and I often wonder why I never started it. Though it must have been some small solace to see that Controller Steve Barron was also added, it still had to sting. It's certainly no badge of honor to be part of a motley crew that includes the likes of Jim "Spartacus" Gregory, sludge king Ron Angle and yours truly*. But when Brown addressed Council that evening, he turned that bad day into a good day. He gave what appeared to be a heartfelt apology for his role in creating the friction that currently exists with Council. What impact his had on Council has a whole remains to be seen, but Scott Parsons appeared to be visibly moved and thanked Brown.

What stuck White is Brown's "bizarre determination to do so many things the wrong way." In addition to using taxpayer dollars to hire a public relations consultant who seemed to excel only in getting him into more trouble, he did goofy things like barring a Council member and Baron from a routine news conference, then posting armed guards at a subsequent news event to keep Council members from crashing it. He has saved money by allowing vacancies to pile up, stretching the County to its breaking point. He unilaterally reduced health benefits of a workforce whose income was already going in reverse, thanks to an unpopular Easton commuter tax. He has also been alternatively petulant and arrogant in some of his exchanges with Council.

His biggest problem is his lack of transparency. He has failed to respond to emails or phone calls, and that attitude has been passed along to some members of his cabinet like Luis Campos. This unwillingness to communicate has extended to members of Council and the Controller.

Things came to a head over secret raises he has handed out without seeking the required clearance from Council. This is completely contrary to the merit pay system in place, something that former Executive Gerald "Jerry" Seyfried explained in a rare appearance at council's request. When fellow Hall of Famer Steve Barron found out what was going on, Brown circled the wagons. Finally, after several more weeks, Council demanded he justify these raises by June 17 or face the consequences in court. Unanimously. Though the amount in dispute is minimal, Council's power to set wages was being assaulted along with the merit pay system in place that encourages professionalism, and not cronyism, in the workforce.

Though Brown did ultimately release this information, it was accompanied by a "lawyer letter from his Solicitor, Ryan Durkin, adding fuel to the fire. That letter reserved "all of the Executive's past, present and future rights, claims and defenses in the ongoing disagreement" and contained other language that is routine in the legal arena, but made Council members even more angry.

On June 17, when this matter came to Ken Kraft's Personnel Committee, he decided to forward the entire matter to the full Council without discussion. The stage was set for anything, from the suspension of these raises to a vote that would simply abolish all the positions.

But nothing happened. The matter was tabled by an 8-1 vote with only Seth Vaughn voting No because he was concerned about innocent employees being stuck in limbo. Council is willing to work with the Executive because instead of coming out with guns blazing and corporate babble, he did something different.

He apologized.

What had started out as a bad day was ending as a good one. For perhaps the first time, Brown looked and acted like an Executive instead of some mid-level manager from the corporate world. It was his first good speech, delivered without the usual corporate babble.

He conceded that all parties, including Council, "were and are acting in good faith." Instead of slamming prior administrations, he agreed with former Executive Seyfried's remarks that "one branch of government suing another to resolve differences of opinion is a waste of time, money and only hurts Northampton County."

He reflected on how he would feel if h
e were a Council member. "Standing in Council's shoes, reviewing not only the authorizing documents guiding the County but also the specific actions taken and the lack of communication with and inclusion of Council in those activities, it is absolutely reasonable Council would conclude I was trying to circumvent the County's guidelines, usurp Council's authority and be offended."

He then publicly apologized for any offenses his action may have caused, and told Council, "I have voluntarily agreed to not authorize any additional salary adjustments without bringing the matter before Council until a formal resolution of the matter can be achieved."

He also apologized to the 14 employees who received payraises "for any public and private upset caused," calling them "innocents" who "had nothing to do wit my decision to authorize the salary adjustments without bringing the matter before Council." He also apologized to Cathy Allen, his Deputy Director of Administration, referring to her as a "surrogate target of Council's frustration from my lack of understanding and consideration of Council's need and concerns." And in case they missed it the first or second time, he apologized to Council again.

Scott Parsons, who has repeatedly asked for more transparency from Brown, immediately thanked him. Even Lamont McClure and Ken Kraft, Brown's harshest critics on Council, seemed willing to give peace a chance.

At least a ceasefire.

* My own induction was a travesty..Ron Angle and John Stoffa, my supposed friends, either bribed or threatened White into naming me. I have sworn revenge, and horns are now growing out of Stoffa's head. Angle already had them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Flash Flood Warning: Bethlehem Tp Closes Farmersville Road

An anonymous source reports that Farmersville Road is closed between the Green Pond country Club entrance and Notre dame High School, due to flash flooding. If that road is out, I suspect others may be in trouble. I have NOT confirmed this report, but am passing it along so you exercise caution. If stuck somewhere, do NOT get out of your car. Do not go in water if you have ANY uncertainty as to its depth.

Rabid Cat Confirmed in Bethlehem

From Bethlehem Health Bureau: A cat found in the area of Luna Street on the North side of the City of Bethlehem tested positive for rabies, the Bethlehem Health Bureau has confirmed.

On June 15, 2015, a stray cat bit a citizen who had been feeding it. The stray cat was one of several living in this area being fed by the citizen. The Bethlehem Health Bureau is urging citizens to take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from exposures to and injuries from wild and domesticated animals.

“I strongly recommend that citizens never feed wildlife, stray or feral cats, or stray dogs, or attempt to handle any animal that is not their own,” said Bethlehem Health Director, Kristen Wenrich. All sick or injured animals should be reported to the local police department or animal control officer.

Anyone with a pet that may have come in contact with the rabid cat should contact a veterinarian for information about how to protect their animal, as well as family members. Pet owners are encouraged to keep dogs and cats up to date on rabies vaccine-per Pennsylvania law, all domesticated dogs and cats over three months of age must be vaccinated against rabies.

Anyone who is bitten, scratched, or otherwise exposed to an animal should seek prompt medical care. By law, all medical care providers must report these cases to the local health department for investigation.

For more information regarding rabies, please visit http://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/health/animal/management.html or call the Bethlehem Health Bureau at 610-865-7083.

Open Space - Because the Rich Need Handouts, Too!

Wealth management specialist Michael Glovas, who advises rich people from his Morgan Stanley offices in Easton, has figured out a way to con the government into giving him a cool $319,970 and make his Williams Township estate (you can see his mansion above) all the more valuable. All he has to do is grant a "conservation easement"  and the gummint will fall all over themselves to write him a check. Since none of the land around him will be developed, that will make his remaining property all the more valuable.

Believe it or not, this obscene scheme to help a rich guy become richer is on the agenda at tonight's meeting of Northampton County Council. The Open Space Advisory Board voted unanimously to support this nonsense, mostly because it is packed it is packed with environmentalists, one of whom actually lives on a property that the County paid to preserve.

Glovas' property, located at 590 Browns Drive, is already the beneficiary of preferential tax treatment. One of his two tracts, consisting of 32 acres, is only assessed at $22,400. The other parcel, which includes 40 acres and the mansion, is only assessed at $200,500.

Instead of mere tax breaks, Glovas now wants the government to write him a check. My guess is that they will, too. Last year, in a 5-4 vote, they bailed out failed golf course developer Alexander Patullo in Lower Saucon Township. He ended up getting $1.775 million from various government sources for a golf course he allowed to go to hell.

That bail-out was opposed by Republicans Mat Benol, Glenn Geissinger, Hayden Phillips and Seth Vaughn. But Democrats and Peg Ferraro voted for it. Scott Parsons called it a "no-brainer," although to me, it was pretty lame-brained. Scott has often been the voice of reason on Council, but this is a perversion of open space. Nobody who supported that referendum expected to see it used as a welfare tool for the wealthy.

The reason environments are frothing at the mouth over the Glovas tracts is because they are in what they call the Hexenkopf Slope and Rock areas. But that's nonsense. Instead of being a steep slope, this is a lowland located exactly one mile from the Delaware River.

The whole point of open space is to protect land from being gobbled up by developers. No rich man with an estate and gigantic mansion is ever going to allow the dirty unwashed masses anywhere near him. That land will never be developed. This is nothing more than a scheme in which he can grab a few more bucks from the government so he can buy a few more country club memberships.

This really needs to be rejected.

There also needs to be a concerted effort to get people on the Open Space Advisory Board who will see through these welfare handouts to the wealthy.

Glovas won't even have to take a piss test for this dough.

Marcellus Shale To Fund Greenway Plans in Bushkill and Plainfield Townships

One of Jacobsburg Park's many trails
Tonight, Northampton County Council will vote on whether to spend $77,334.00 in Marcellus Shale funds to finance engineering plans to design a 1.8 mile-long greenway in Bushkill and Plainfield Townships. Hanover Engineering was selected from 98 different engineering engineering firms that had expressed interest.

This is part of a trail known as the Two Rivers Area Trail System. So far, 18 of the 27 mile system is complete. It extends north from Easton along the Bushkill Creek to Tatamy. It picks up again in Stcokertown, and extends north to Pen Argyl. The ultimate goal is to connect Stockertown with Tatamy, and go north from Pen Argyl to the Appalachian Trail.

Marcellus Shale is controversial to many environmentalists, but the impact fees are generating many open space projects.

Payraise Showdown Between Council and Exec Is Tonight

Since taking office, Northampton County Executive John Brown has awarded payraises to about 14 different positions without first seeking the approval of Council. He instead relied upon an obscure provision of the Employee's Policies and Procedures Manual, which the Exec writes himself. Though Brown's lawyers told him he could do this, Council Solicitor Phil Lauer concluded that Brown had stepped on Council'a authority to set wages and salaries. Tonight, Council will determine whether it agrees with Brown's raises.

I have hesitated producing these justifications for fear that I might inadvertently disclose confidential information concerning a public employee. But aside from employee ID numbers, I see nothing that warrants secrecy. Quite the contrary, the justifications are complimentary to the affected workers. So you can read them here.

Most of these increases are small and completely justified. Withe exception of the raises given to Cathy Allen (one of them was stopped on May 10), who Brown recruited from the militant faction of the Salvation Army, I suspect most will be approved, even though it is after-the-fact.

Council's Personnel Committee was supposed to start going through these last night, but Ken Kraft decided to forward it to the entire Council for review tonight. "That's my motion, that's what I want to do and that's what we're going to do," Kraft decided.
He delayed the matter over Peg Ferraro's strong objections. "That's why we have committees," she complained.

Later that night Finance Committee Chair Glenn Geissinger did the same thing. Hayden Phillips wanted to discuss putting some found money into the stabilization fund, but Geissinger wanted to let Council Solicitor Phil Lauer weigh in on the idea first.

New Union Contracts to Cost NorCo $550,000 This Year

Cathy Allen and Justus James
AFSCME union agent Justus James was at yesterday's Personnel Committee to explain the agreement reached with corrections officers. which includes the years 2015-2017. They will receive a 4% raise this year, starting July 1. Next year, everyone will get a step increase, which translates to a 4.5% raise. Those who are the top of the scale will get a $1,200 lump sum payment. In 2017, there will be another 2% increase. Roughly, it's a 10.5% raise over three years.

James called the contract the result of 2 1/2 years of negotiation, which ultimately went to binding arbitration."The employees of Northampton County are still at a disadvantage because of health care," James told Ken Kraft's Committee.

In addition to the corrections officers, James has hammered out agreements with the juvenile detention, court related, court appointed and residual bargaining units. Those are three-year deals as well. There will be a 5% wage hike effective July 1, 2015. In 2016 and 2017, employees will move up a step, with translates to about 4.5% per year. Employees who are already at the top step will get $1,750 lump sum payments in 2016 and 2017. Over three years, it is a 14% pay hike.

Though Council is expect to vote on the corrections officers' contract tomorrow night, a vote on the other four contracts will be delayed until later in July. Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen said the County needs that time to prepare the formal contracts. But she assured the Committee that the Administration will begin paying these raises with the first July paychecks.

How much will this cost the County this year? Executive John Brown told Council that all five contracts will cost about $550,000 more than what was budgeted for those specific positions. "The budget in 2015 will be able to absorb that," Brown assured Council.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

NorCo: Deal Reached With Corrections Officers

Northampton County Executive John Brown has reportedly an agreement with the AFSCME bargaining unit that represents corrections officers. That matter is being added to tomorrow night's agenda for approval,along with two other contracts where arbitration dictated what amounts to a 14% increase in salary over the next three years.

The agreement with corrections officers calls for a 4% increase this year, a step increase in 2016 (4.5%), and 2% in 2017.

The Broken Pieces of Mosaics on Main

They say the most beautiful mosaics are still made, after all, of broken pieces. It appears that there are broken pieces to the story about Mosaics on Main, which had its grand opening on Sunday.Northampton County Executive John Brown and DCED Diane Donaher proudly stood inside this new business, heralding it as something they want to bring to every borough. Perhaps they should think again.

Peter Theodoropolous and his family have owned and operated the very popular Nazareth Diner for at least the past quarter century. So when he announced plans for a new business called Mosaics on Main, there was no reason to doubt its potential for success. According to a news account, he owns three others in Red Bank, Atlantic City and Miami. His mosaics sell at between $3,000 and $85,000.

I'm unsure whether Theodoropolous has mosaic galleries in Atlantic City or Miami, but can tell you that he he has no art gallery in Red Bank. He did have a business there called Tesserae Mosaic Gallery, but telephone calls reveal that the number is no longer working. Rather than being part of a revitalized downtown, it's an empty storefront.

Courthouse records reveal that Theodoropolous is being sued by the Nazareth business that at one time had a contract to mount his pieces. Engineered Wood Products, LLC, supplied easels, gallery renovations and mounted mosaics for Theodoropolous, starting in June 2013. But as of February he still owed nearly $62,000 to Robert Stanke's Engineered Wood.

Stanke, in an attempt to work with Theodoropolous, cut his bill to $51,000, and the artist agreed to pay $1,000 per week for the next 51 weeks until he is current. But nothing was paid.

Easton Attorney Gary Asteak has filed a complaint on behalf of Engineered Wood. Theodoropolous is represented by John Karoly II.

So John Brown announced a $1 million grants program from inside a business that deserted Red Bank, changed its name and is now being sued for $51,000. By the way, his grants program includes public art.

I Survived the Bethlehem Township Flashflood

Barry Roth was missing from Monday night's contentious meeting of the Bethlehem Township Board of Commissioners. Personally, I think he was the object of a human sacrifice by Michael Hudak and others who oppose using public funds, even grant money, to build a public restroom for the Bulldogs.

"If a dog can't piss in the park, kids should learn to hold it, too," noted Sensai Hudak. "That is all I have to say." He dismissed concerns about children running into the bushes. "A corncob was always good enough for me," he declared. "That is all I have to say." He then called the Bulldogs "the special few."

Shit, maybe they're Masons! I always suspected it.

"I want everyone to know I'm the biggest athletic supporter you'll ever see," Breslin could be heard saying on his cell phone, where he was apparently taping another Bobby Gunther Walsh show. Nobody took issue with him.

Well, whatever demonic ritual Hudak and Breslin performed on poor Barry Roth, it backfired. Not only did Commissioners vote to seek $250,000 in grant money for what is really a combination restroom and storage facility, but the skies suddenly opened up and the rains cascaded  Nancy Run did a hell of a lot of running. Roads began to look like Venice.  I even saw Noah go by.

The trip to my estate in Nazareth is usually about ten minutes. It was about an hour on Monday night.

At Northampton Community College, the storm waters looked menacing,  especially when I saw the Titanic. So I decided to go south on Hecktown Road. That was my first mistake. I soon ran up against a lake and decided to turn around and go north on Hecktown Road despite the waters. That was my second mistake, and a big one. .

My car, a 1991 Toyota, has a tough enough time going anywhere when the roads are clear. I was asking too much of it. At one point, I had to be in two feet or more of water, but the little engine kept going, despite 244,000 miles on the odometer. It nearly stalled out, but when I gunned it, I made it through the deep water.

That's one helluva' car! I don't know how the hell we beat the Japanese.

But there were consequences. The floating debris, which was moving pretty fast, had knocked something loose on the undercarriage, and it was dragging. I thought it must be my exhaust, but decided to go for it. I dragged it all the way up Rte 191 to my estate, where my servants carried me in.

The next day, I waved at a cop as I dragged it on the road again to my mechanic, four-way flashers blinking.By the time he got word to Cupcake Trachta, I had disappeared down an alley. Finally made it to my mechanic and it turns out all I was dragging was some plastic cover to the gas tank that he said I don't really need. But he told me, "Your offroading days are over"

It was a harrowing ride. Next time, I will pull over somewhere and wait. Things could have been very different.

Fortunately, there are no news accounts of any fatalities or injuries, except for poor Barry Roth and a few shark attacks

"The Bulldogs suck!" were reportedly Barry's last words.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Divided Board Seeks $250,000 Grant For Bulldogs Bathroom

Comm'r Michael Hudak
At their June 15 meeting, a divided Bethlehem Township Board of Commissioners voted three to two to seek a $250,000 grant towards a $350,000 bathroom at the Northside Complex, also called the North 40. Supporting the measure were President Marty Zawarski, Tom Nolan and Phil Bernard. Voting No were Michael Hudak and Pat Breslin.

This bathroom will service fans watching games involving the Bethlehem Township Athletic Association, known as the Bulldogs. That nonprofit organization, which consists entirely of volunteers, has had a contractual relationship with the Township that goes back to 1969. It offers recreational cheerleading, football, soccer, basketball, wrestling, softball, and lacrosse to all Township residents. Under the terms of its contract, it must maintain liability insurance, and the Township has agreed to subsidize the organization. Over 1,500 children participate in one or more of these sports. They receive an annual subsidy of $40,000.

Complaints About $350,000 Public Restroom

"I'm speechless, I'm speechless," complained Hudak, who argued that this proposal is opposed by 95% Township. "It's gotten so bad we had to get a guy on speaker phone so he can cast a Yes vote," he added, referring to a vote cast by vacationing Phil Barnard via speakerphone.

Noting that there are no public restrooms at four other Township parks, Hudak conjectured that the money could have instead been used to develop a brand new park along Cabernet Drive or Hope Road. Contrary to what Hudak asserted, there are public restrooms at the Township park along Farmersville Road.

"The community does not want this," he concluded.

Whether that's true is debatable, but Chetwin Terrace residents Wayne Kresge and Roy Roth spoke against spending $350,000 for public restrooms. Kresge and Roth have complained for years about storm waters coming from William Penn Highway that flood their yards during heavy downpours like one that coincided with the meeting that evening.  Though the Township has taken remedial action, they have stated it is inadequate.

Of the two, Roth was more conciliatory. "I agree the kids need facilities, but do we need a Cadillac?" he asked. Much harsher, Kresge complained about spending a "small fortune" on a facility that he said would only serve 11% of the population."Is 11% of the population is worth more than my house?" he asked. "Times change," he asserted.

Kresge also questioned whether the Bulldogs have liability insurance or vendor licenses for the concession stand. Hudak stated he made the same request himself, and suspected that the answer is No.

Township Manager Melissa Shafer responded that the Bulldogs do and are required to have liability insurance, but is looking into whether a vendor's license for snacks is needed.

The $250,000 grant was recommended by the Recreation Board at their June 8 meeting by a three to two vote, with one abstention.

On talk radio, Commissioner Pat Breslin claimed he could raise $100,000 for bathrooms without involving the government. But he made no such claim at any meeting of Commissioners and said nothing before voting against seeking this grant.  Shock jock  Bobby Gunther Walsh suggested that this $350,000 was included in the budget so that Commissioners "can then comp one of our cronies."

Bathroom to Serve as Storage Facility

Critics of this bathroom failed to mention is that this bathroom will also double as a storage facility.

The Bethlehem Bulldogs currently pay almost $700 a month (app.$8,000/year) for storage of equipment and supplies during the off season. This facility will also provide permanent storage for shoulder pads and other equipment, much like the Steelers have in Bethlehem. Because the Bulldogs no longer will have to pay rental, they have agreed to an $8,000 cut in their annual allotment from the Township. That annual savings will probably pay for most if not all of the cost of the bathroom over its anticipated lifespan.

Why Does the Bathroom/Storage facility Cost $350,000?

In a memo prepared for Commissioners, Manager Shafer explained that the high cost for the combination bathroom and storage building is the result of the 2009 International Building Code and Township Plumbing Code. Based on parking lot capacity, she reports that the public restroom must include the following: six women's toilets; two men's toilets and one urinal; two lavatories (sinks) in each restroom; Handicapped accessible facilities for each gender; two drinking fountains (one each for wheelchair and standing persons); a service closet with water heater, mop sink, and cleaning supply storage; and a separate, "family assisted use" restroom.

Supporters of the grant offered no arguments.

Nazareth's Strange Parking Enforcement

Magisterial District Judge John Capobianco called the hour-long prosecution of Schubert's baker Stephen Riccelli "the most bizarre parking ticket case I've had in eight years." Since he's had a few involving yours truly, that should tell you just how strange it was. It included five Commonwealth witnesses, including two police officers, Chief Thomas Trachta and Mayor Carl Strye, Jr. It included a tape measure that had been certified by the state Department of Weights and Measures. It included a ticket that had somehow vanished, with orders from the Chief to charge someone even though the Statute of Limitations had expired. It even included a Borough Solicitor, who sat throughout the proceedings. The good news is that Stephen Riccelli was found not guilty, the only possible result that could be reached. The bad news is that Nazareth's police chief and Mayor seemed to be at odds on how to handle the matter, and basically made it impossible for the prosecuting officer to do his job.

Let me give you the facts about the ticket itself. Riccelli had parked his Shubert's bakery truck on Broad Street this winter, and thanks to the never-ending snow, it was stuck there. Riccelli claimed he was actually parked on the curb, but an unknown third party called to complain that the truck was too far out into the street, creating a traffic hazard.

Officer Fred Lahovski was assigned to take care of the matter, and used his certified tape measure to determine that the truck was parked too far into the street. He made attempts to contact Riccelli by phone, but was unsuccessful. So he wrote out a $30 ticket.

Riccelli, who has lived most of his life making Moravian sugar cakes, had never been cited for anything in his life, so this was a big deal to him. He complained to Lahovski several times, asking him to withdraw the ticket. He complained to Chief Trachta. He also complained to Mayor Strye.

Strye thought the whole thing was ridiculous. "If I had the authority to void the ticket, I would have voided the ticket," he testified. "Everybody was parking 12" from the street." But he never spoke to Officer Lahovski, the person who had actually issued the ticket. "I thought the Chief would do that," he explained.

The Chief refused to do anything. Relying on a policy that he himself admitted is on shaky legal ground, he contended that Riccelli had two options - pay the ticket or go to court.  In several email exchanges with the Mayor, he refused to budge.

In the meantime, the ticket had disappeared. That apparently happened earlier in the winter, too, when a number of snow emergency tickets disappeared.

"You are aware that there's a problem with tickets disappearing in the police department, aren't you?" Lahovski asked Strye, even suggesting that Strye had ordered an investigation into the matter.

Judge Capobianco told Mayor Strye he did not have to answer the question, and he didn't.

"Are you a substitute for the courts?" Lahovski asked Strye. He agreed he is not

When the Chief found out about the missing ticket, he ordered Lahovski to charge Riccelli even though the 30-day statute of limitations had expired.

Lahovski disclosed this to Riccelli as part of his obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence, but all the confused baker could say is, "This stuff is going right over my head."

It was a case that involved Mayoral interference, a stubborn chief who was willing to ignore the statute of limitations for summary offenses, no explanation for how the ticket disappeared and a complete unwillingness by both Mayor and Chief to communicate with the citing officer.

It was a parking ticket case in which the real defendant was not the Schubert baker, but Nazareth Borough officials.

What makes this case even more interesting is to look at the summary appeals court, where people can appeal their convictions in magisterial district court. For the first time in 15 months, Nazareth actually had some cases on the May docket. The DA notified them to appear, but the Chief and Mayor decided not to bother spending the money to send an officer. As a result, several parking offenses were dismissed.