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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, July 31, 2015

NorCo HR Director Tracie Barnes Resigns

After less than six months on the job, Northampton County Human Resources Director Tracie Barnes has resigned. Her LinkedIn profile fails to indicate where she is employed now. She may have attended one Council meeting since she was hired, and played no role in the salary dispute between the administration and Magisterial district judge employees.

Fed Ed and Miked Fleck Funneled $1 Million to Honest Abe Atiyeh

Sewage diving wil be part of next year's Sportsfest
When Edwin Pawlowski first ran for Allentown Mayor, colorful entrepreneur Abe Atiyeh loved him. But things quickly changed. J.B. Reilly's urban growth regime killed Atiyeh's dreams of a hockey arena in Allentown, somewhere along Airport Road. The crony capitalists who really run Allentown wanted it downtown as an anchor for their newly created MIZ (Millionaire Improvement Zone). Then city officials even began throwing up roadblocks to Digiview, Abe's billboard empire. But that's old news. Honest Abe is in love again. And he has a million reasons.

Honest Abe sings Fed Ed's praises now, calling him "the best mayor in the history of the city. I've never expected or gotten anything in return for a donation. I've never gotten any city contracts." Of course he did. As I explained earlier this week, Honest Abe bought the billboard company with city contracts for billboards at 13 different locations. Fed Ed denied that the City was involved in any way. "There was no deal that was made here, per se, and in any way, shape or form," he insisted. But there was. The City actually helped him purchase the company by buying two properties it did not need from Abe, allowing him to realize a $999,000 capital gain.

The first property, a series of three parcels along Union and Basin Streets near the city sewage plant, was purchased by Atiyeh's Basin Street Development Company in December, 2012, for $350,000. In May, 2014, he sold it to the City of Allentown for $950,000. He also imposed a billboard easement, which would allow him to advertise at that site.

His capital gain here is at least $600,000, and is probably more because he encumbered the City's property with a billboard easement in his favor.

The second property, located around 1900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, is the remnant of an old fertilizer company, not very far from where a WPA wall recently collapsed as a result of City neglect. Much of this land, around 60%, is actually located in Salisbury Township instead of Allentown.

Atiyeh's Cedar Holdings LLC purchased this property in February 2007, for $51,000. In May 2014, he sold it to the City for $450,000, for a $399,000 capital gain.

His total capital gain from both purchases in $999,000. The City paid him enough money to purchase the billboard company he wanted.

The person who made all of this possible, by Atiyeh's own admission, is Miked Fleck, the Fed Ed campaign consultant who also acted as a business consultant.

It's unclear to me whether Allentown City Council was ever asked to approve these purchases. I see no evidence of it in any of the City Council minutes during that time period. It might be there, but I'm unable to locate it.

Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky, unaware that the City was buying these properties from Atiyeh, speculated at the time that the funding source was actually the water and sewer lease with Lehigh County Authority. Fed Ed has apparently been using it as a slush fund. Since Miked Fleck's sister-in-law works as a "compliance" officer there, I'm sure every t is crossed and i is dotted.

Since that time, Atiyeh has been very grateful. He's donated $12,500 to Pawlowski or his puppets. How much he has paid his "consultant" Fleck is a question best left to the Feds.

The ostensible reason for these purchases was so that the City could add to its parks. Cuz as you know, we all love to picnic next to a sewage plant or an abandoned fertilizer company. In fact, sewage diving is being added to next year's Sportsfest. Instead of an A-town Throwdown, it will be the A-town Throwup.

The real reason for this purchase was to funnel $1 million into Honest Abe's pockets.

Blogger's Note: I have linked to a story written by Michael Molovinsky at the time these purchases were made. Although he was unaware that Abe Atiyeh was the  seller, or that he was walking away with a cool million, he knew something was wrong with this deal. This story just completes the puzzle.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mezzacappa Loses Defamation Appeal

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has today affirmed a $67,140 defamation judgment awarded in my favor and against Tricia Mezzacappa.  Her appeal was considered by a three-judge panel including President Judge Susan Peikes Gantman, President Judge Emeritus John T. Bender and Judge Paula Francisco Ott. Judge Bender penned the Opinion, which can be read here.

In affirming the punitive damages aspect of the award, the Court noted that Mezzacappa's "libelous statements included outrageous and unsubstantiated allegations of criminal behavior." The Court added that the purpose of this award is to "punish a tortfeasor for outrageous conduct and to deter such conduct in the future."

Mezzacappa's arguments that she was never properly notified of the trial were also rejected. So was her contention that court personnel actually misled her into thinking the case was over.

Now that the Superior Court has ruled in my favor, the judgment will be pursued vigorously. An action has already been filed over Tricia Mezzacappa's fraudulent conveyance of her West Easton home to her mother.

In addition to losing her appeal, Mezzacappa is scheduled for criminal trial next week for hiding her car after it was levied upon by the Sheriff. I am informed that she has applied for ARD, a special program for first offenders in which charges are dismissed after a period of probation. To be eligible for this program, the applicant must admit responsibility.

Thanks to the tireless work of the Sheriffs, I already have the car. Thus, I have no opposition to her application for ARD.

I will entertain no comments to this post.

Campos Victim of Hit and Run In Courthouse Parking Lot?

Earlier this month, I told you about a hearing before the Personnel Appeals Board involving a lieutenant who was basically fired for insisting that other corrections officer follow the uniform policy. When the evidence came out, that's pretty much what happened. So this is going to be another big loser for Northampton County unless someone comes to his or her senses and reinstates this guy immediately. But something came out during the hearing that I neglected to mention before. I'll tell you about it now. It involves Operations Manager Alfie Crivellaro and Director of Administration Luis Campos.

Some months ago, some asshole smashed into Luis Campos' car, which was parked on the County lot. I imagine there would be about 2,200 suspects, and considering some of the nice things I've said about Campos, I'd have to be in the top ten.

Believe it or not, I am innocent. The person who smashed into Campos' car, and who then drive off, is none other than the very person who wanted to fire a lieutenant for enforcing the uniform policy. Operations Manager Alfie Crivellaro.

When confronted, he claimed he never knew he hit the car.

In 2010, Crivellaro and his wife were both charged with hosting an underage drinking party. After being declared ineligible for ARD, he pleaded no contest and was fined $1,000.

Now he fires people for doing their jobs.

Is Fed Ed a Racketeer?

We all know that a federal Grand Jury, the United States Attorney's Office and the FBI have subpoenaed documents and served search warrants on Allentown City Hall, Reading City Hall, political consultant Mike Fleck's office and Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer's home. We know agents were poised outside Mayor Ed Pawlowsi's home. We know he and his wife, who is his campaign treasurer, were questioned. We know that political consultant Mike Fleck, who worked for the mayors in both Allentown and Reading, left town in a hurry. We know Feds are seeking information concerning the very cozy relationship that exists between developers and city government. This is compounded in Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone, where $54 million in state tax dollars have been used with no oversight to build an empire for J.B. Reilly. It's inevitable that mischief is afoot. There was simply too much money and too little accountability. But what kind of charges can we expect to see down the road? There was a good indication yesterday that this may be a racketeering investigation. Those are the charges that were filed against U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah Sr, along with four of his assoiciates. It followed a very lengthy investigation that spanned several years, not months. That may be the case here, too.

Fattah has been charged with bribery, fraud and money laundering in connection with several schemes involving contributions to his campaign warchest. But he's also been charged with racketeering, which is the nuclear option for federal prosecutors.

What is racketeering? When you hear that word, you might start think of finding horse's heads in beds and offers that can't be refused. The law was definitely written to take on the Mafia. But it applies to any criminal enterprise, even a legitimate group like ... say a City Council or the bluebloods that infest the NIZ Board. As explained by the law's author, G. Robert Blakey, "We don't want one set of rules for people whose collars are blue or whose names end in vowels, and another set for those whose collars are white and have Ivy League diplomas." Boiling it down to its simplest terms, a prosecution requires proof of  pattern if racketeering activity in the form of two predicate acts.

Its official name is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970.

Prosecutors can go back ten years to find predicate acts, which can come from a list of 35 state and federal crimes. Those who are convicted face 20 years in prison, along with a $25,000 fine and the forfeiture of all assets. There's also a civil component. Those who have been damaged by racketeering can sue and seek treble damages.

In this case, the enterprise could include Fed Ed, Miked Fleck, other politicians along with a cornucopia of crony capitalists who were seeking to enrich themselves. Is the connection between campaign contributions and contracts a coincidence? Or is there a scheme to deprive the public of its right to honest services with bribery, extortion, mail and wire fraud, obstruction?

It's important to note that no one has been charged with anything,

Even without whatever was learned by wire, I know there is evidence of vendors seeking to do business in the City who were told that they should discuss it with Pawlowski at his next fundraiser. There is also evidence that Pawlowski distributed lists to potential vendors, identifying PACs and nonprofits where they should make contributions. I know of one vendor who actually walked out of a meeting after being handed such a list.

Is this criminal? By itself, no.

With Miked Fleck in the picture, things get a lot more interesting. Why did Pawlowski solicit candidates to use Fleck's services? How is it that Abe Atiyeh, who couldn't get his foot in the door in Allentown, suddenly owned all of its billboards after hiring Fleck as a "consultant"? Why is it that the Rosen family, rumored to the financial backer for Fleck's brewer client Ruckus, made all those contributions to Pawlowski's Senate race?

These questions could be asked of numerous other contributors who seemed to be on the inside track to city or NIZ business.  With a wire, the answers could prove interesting.

In a news release accompanying yesterday's indictment of Chaka Fattah, federal authorities make very clear why these prosecutions are necessary.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell: "Public corruption takes a particularly heavy toll on our democracy because it undermines people’s basic belief that our elected leaders are committed to serving the public interest, not to lining their own pockets.”

FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Edward J. Hanko: “A founding principle of our democracy is that citizens place their faith and trust in the public servants they elect to represent them. It is the duty of the FBI, IRS, and Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute those who violate this trust and put personal gain above public service.”

IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent-in-Charge Akeia Conner: “Public corruption by our elected officials and their associates undermines the American public’s confidence in our government.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Murray Believes in Due Process, Scomillio Violates It

Abe Kassis has come out for Sam Murray
No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. That's pretty basic stuff. It is enshrined in our federal and state Constitution. It's pretty much why a judge exists. He is there precisely to ensure that everyone is heard, rich and poor. Sam Murray, the Democratic nominee for judge, understands this. On the very night he announced, he stated that the most important right in a courtroom is the right to due process. Abe Kassis, who ran for judge in the primary and came up a few votes short, also understands this basic right. As an Assistant District Attorney, he has been a tough but fair prosecutor. But Vic Scomillio's inability to follow this simple constitutional requirement convinces me he needs a little more seasoning before he becomes a judge.

I told you yesterday that a federal district court judge has just sanctioned Northampton County with $186,000 in legal fees that were incurred by Northampton County employee Jill Mancini, who was improperly fired by Vic Scomillio when he became the County's Solicitor. A jury had previously awarded her $94,000. Scomillio fired her just two days before Christmas, in a call he made from his car.

In addition to violating her due process rights, Scomillio showed little compassion for her financial situation. Although there's no constitutional right to compassionate treatment, do you really want a cold, heartless judge?

Below is part of a Jill Mancini deposition taken before the trial in this matter. Id this the kind of person you want sitting on judgment of you or someone you love?

Q. On December 23rd when Victor Scomillio called you about the elimination of the full-time positions, you were -- at that point you were already aware that that was being proposed, isn't that correct?

A. I was aware, yes.

Q. It was not a shock to you when he told you that his proposal was to eliminate the full-time positions in the solicitor's office?

A. I would say it wasn't a surprise but that was a shock.

Q. What do you recall as to your conversation with Mr. Scomillio?

A. I recall our conversation opened with congratulations to Mr. Scomillio for his appointment, his presentment appointment. He told me that the positions -- that as of January 7 he was eliminating -- the -- the part-timers were gone and he was eliminating the positions, and then the full-timers would be gone and I would be unemployed as of January 7. So there were -- Victor was on his cell phone in his car. It was very difficult to hear, very difficult to have this kind of conversation. But essentially what happened was at that point when he said to me, I am going to eliminate the positions as of January 7th, you won't be employed, it was clear to me there was a problem with understanding the law. So I decided to ask him, to appeal to humanity. It was two days before Christmas. And there's no time to look for a job. And there was no expectation that I would have to until a few days before he called me. So I asked him if we could delay the end date. And he told me that was not his call. And so I asked him if he would like me to call John Brown or contact him and make that request. And I don't exactly recall what he did say.

Then the next question was, well, how will you eliminate my position because I am a career service -- eliminate -- fire me, there's no just cause, and I am a career service person. And he said, no, you are a career exempt person. I said, no, that is a pay scale. It has nothing to do with protected status. He told me to look at the resolution that created my job and I told him I have. It says nothing about my status, which means I am a career service status. Because unless a resolution says exempt, the position is a career service. Pay grade career exempt has nothing to do with protected status.

Q. Is that what you told him in your conversation or --

A. I did. That's what we discussed. Then there was some discussion about that. And then I said, well, in any case, how can you release me because the position exists? And he said, I am going to eliminate it. I said, well, you can't because that's council's job. So he said he would make a request to council. And I said, well, you will only be -- you are not -- that was another thing too was, how can you make this decision because you are not employed by the county at this time? You are presumptively employed but not yet. So I asked him, you would make that request two days after you have been appointed and approved by council? And there wasn't much discussion about that. Then I said, look, it's just too difficult to have this conversation over the telephone. Why -- when will you be in the office next? And Victor told me, I won't be in the office. And I said, okay, how about if I write you a memo and also make the request for a delayed end date, termination date? And he said, okay. I said, do you have an e-mail? He said, fax me the memo. I said, do you have the fax number? He said, call my secretary. I said, okay, goodbye. And that was it. But I will add this, there was never -- it is a misstatement to say that the reason that I was not offered a part-time position had anything to do with my attitude, because there was never any indication that I was going to be offered a part-time position, either by John Brown at the time he spoke to Karl -- his statement to Karl was that I was not going to be there. And the first thing out of Victor's mouth was, we are eliminating the positions and you will be terminated, effective January 7th.

Q. Did you ever prepare a memo for Mr. Scomillio?

A. No.

Q. Why not?

A. It was clear to me that the decision to eliminate and terminate the full-time assistant solicitors had very little to do with what it was alleged to have to do with; i.e., it was in my mind inconsistent with the law, number one; and number two, was inconsistent with any practical advantage that could be served to the office. So obviously there was another agenda. Why would I invest my time and energy into a useless exercise?

Q. Have you had any discussions with Mr. Scomillio as far as the reasons why he was eliminating the full-time positions?

A. I e-mailed him on two separate occasions and asked for an explanation as to the law and as to any other considerations concerning his decision to eliminate the positions. He never responded to either one.

Q. And do you recall when you sent him the e-mails?

A. Prior to the time that I left. Prior to the 24th of January. As a matter of fact, I think my final request to him was just after he sent the e-mail from the council meeting notifying Mike Alpago, the other full-time assistant, and me that council had approved the elimination of the positions. I sent an e-mail asking him, just as a matter of respect and consideration for somebody who has worked here and worked this hard, would you please be so kind as to give me a legal basis for your -- the authority to do what you are doing and also to give me a description of why you want to do it?

If this is the kind of person you want deciding cases for your loved ones, then by all means vote for Scomillio.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fed'l Judge Orders NorCo to Pay Fired Solicitor's $186,000 Legal Fee

In January of this year, former Assistant NorCo Solicitor Jill Mancini was awarded $94,000 for due process violations that occurred when she was fired by incoming Solicitor Vic Scomillio. Civil rights lawyer Pat Reilly had argued that she was a career service employee and was therefore entitled to due process.

Now, in addition to the $94,000 jury verdict, Northampton County is on the hook for Reilly's $186,018.60 attorney fee. District Court Judge Juan R. Sánchez has ordered the County to pay Reilly for his time spent advocating on behalf of Mancini before the Personnel Appeals Board, too.

In this case, Northampton County had argued that Mancini's termination was the result of a reorganization, and thus there was no reason to afford her due process. The jury disagreed. So did Judge Sánchez, in an order denying the County's motion for a new trial.
"Scomillio, then incoming-County Solicitor, made the decision to reorganize the Solicitor’s Office within several weeks of John Brown’s election as County Executive. ... Scomillio made his decision based on “know[ing] who was on the staff there,” even though he was not yet familiar with the scope and extent of work in the Solicitor’s Office. ... [H]e indicated he “had no interest in keeping [Mancini] on the staff[] based upon her reaction to [his] suggestion of reorganization.” ... [D]espite Executiver John Brown’s announced intention to reduce costs across the County after his November 2013 election, he continued to spend money by entering into new contracts with outside vendors. For instance, Brown hired Sahl Communications in July 2014, despite not knowing if anyone at the County was responsible for doing the work for which Sahl was hired. ... He also hired Deana Zosky, a financial consultant, despite campaigning on the strength of his business background. ... Brown further created a new job, 'Deputy Director of Public Works,' for Steve DeSalva. ... DeSalva was previously the Director of Public Works in the prior County administration. Id. And while Brown believed the elimination of the full-time Assistant Solicitor positions saved the County money, he could not specify how much. See id. at 60. Finally, Mancini produced evidence indicating the eliminated positions were substantially recreated as part-time positions with largely similar responsibilities."

RIP Jolly Joe Timmer

I am reliably informed that Jolly Joe Timmer, who also owned WGPA-AM radio in Bethlehem, has passed on after a lengthy illness. I have no additional details.

Colton Resigns as President of "Divisive," "Unprofessional" Bangor School Board

Pam Colton has stepped down as President of the Bangor Area School Board. Her resignation was announced at last night's meeting, which she declined to attend. She also resigned from the Board. Though Directors were mum, she delivered a scathing letter that was highly critical of them.

And she once served with Ron Angle! She's been a Director for 16 years, and served for the last three as President.

Steve Bussenger, who is VP of the Board, though his election as President was automatic. And he was. ... For about four minutes. The Board instead installed Mike Goffredo.

Colton had been rumored to be a Controller's candidate against  incumbent Steve Barron, but she never circulated a petition.

Her resignation is below:

I have thought long and hard about this and although part of me believes I should stay on as board president until the December 7, 2015 reorganization meeting, I have decided to resign from the board effective immediately. My decision is based on the fact that after 16 years of working very hard for this district, I no longer want to be connected to the unprofessional approach that some board members have adopted when dealing with our staff, nor am I able to support the lack of accountability I am witnessing every day.

Throughout my 16 years I have never served in such a divisive environment, and I have served with some very opinionated school board directors. Now board members task administrators with their own agenda items rather than making sure it is the will of the majority. Board members dig for information on staff members rather than letting supervisors handle situations. Board members railroad meetings with their own personal agenda. Nothing I have done to advise otherwise has changed the behavior. The staff is now operating from a position of weakness, not strength.

I have given 100 percent of my help and support to this administrative team when asked. I have always been available to answer questions, attend meetings, or just talk through a situation. I hope whoever is chosen to replace me by the remaining eight board members treats you as well. I wish you the best going forward.

Pam Colton

Who will Directors appoint to succeed her? My guess would be Ron Angle. His heart has always been in the Bangor School Board, and I think the votes are there. But he would only be serving until the end of the year. That's when Pam's term on the Board expires. She never sought re-election.

Pa's Clean and Green - a 90% Tax Break For the Wealthy

Pennsylvania's Clean and Green Program is a preferential assessment given to property owners with larger tracts of land. In many instances, it gives farmers a break. But in many more, it is a handout to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Statewide, 9.3 million acres are enrolled. In Northampton County, 3,490 properties are in the Act 319 program, with a smaller and still undetermined number in the similar Act 515 program. The tax on these properties is about 10% what it would be without this program.

This tax break is provided for properties that are in agricultural use, agricultural reserve or forest reserve. Northampton County considers all land not used in active farming as agricultural reserve so long as it is "open to the public for that use, without charge or fee, on a nondiscriminatory basis." If a property owner decides to develop, he must pay back the 90% difference, with interest.

While this is a laudable program, it appears to have been perverted. There are huge tracts with private golf courses and swimming pools, and some of these properties are posted against trespassing. I see no reason why Northampton County taxpayers should subsidize this sort of classism.

How many of these properties are actually farmed? How many are made available to the public as open space? How many are private preserves for wealthy landowners, with no public access?

Stay tuned.

Fed Ed's Atiyeh Connection

When you think of developer Abe Atiyeh, you might be thinking rehabs, nursing homes or even private prisons. But in recent years, he's really begun to focus on billboards. He was trying to get his foot in the door in Allentown, but Doylestown-based Premier Media beat him to it with plans for a series of electronic billboards. Abe Atiyeh now operates those billboards himself. How did this happen when the City and Mayor both have vendettas against him, as Atiyeh has claimed?

Two words.

Miked Fleck.

Atiyeh hired Fleck.

"Mike had access to the mayor and the approval process, why not use a consultant for that?" argued Atiyeh.

Because it sure smells bad. Though Fleck and Pawlowski both insisted there would be a separation between Fleck's business and political consulting, it's very clear that Atiyeh was brought on board to sprinkle different campaigns and PACs with money.

Atiyeh insists there was no quid pro quo. Fleck was wearing a wire for 90 days, and I'm sure he has no reason to be worried at all.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Lou Hershman: Those $2 Parking Meters Are Actually $3

As part of his gentrification of the MIZ (Millionaire Improvement Zone), Fed Ed's latest trick is to double the parking meter rates in the downtown, from $1 to $2 per hour, from 8 am to 10 pm, six days a week. The sole vote against doubling the rate came from Jeanette Eichenwald. For people of limited means, this is extremely unfair. It's also a slap across the face of restaurants like Allentown Brew Works, which have no huge parking lots like the nearby malls. But guess what? It might actually be as much as a $3 parking meter, according to City Council candidate Lou Hershman.

Schlossberg getting a few touch ups
Hershman tells me that if you feed the meters nickels, you get a minute for every one you insert. You'd have to plug the meter with 60 nickels for an hour's worth of parking. That comes out to $3 per hour, not the $2 pr hour authorized.

If you use quarters and want to stay an hour, four quarters will give you only 56 minutes.

Allentown is cheating anyone who uses cash at a meter.

But don't fret. Jeanette Eichenwald is going to conduct a hearing to force a rollback. Besides, poor people shouldn't drive.

Thoise with limited incomes may no longer be able to park downtown, but State Rep. Mike Schlossberg wants them to know that they can get free training to work in a MIZ restaurant like Billy's Downtown Diner for under the minimum wage, which is usually the case for waitstaff.

He's posted a link on his Facebook page for anyone looking for a "leg up" on those coveted hospitality jobs. I must say it's very thoughtful of him to take time out of his ribbon cuttings with Butz to share a moment with the unwashed masses.

Incidentally, this free training only costs $35.

A Pennrose By Any Other Name

Before he was being paid by Miked Fleck to shill for Fed Ed, Daryl Nerl was already doing basically the same thing for The Morning Call. In a breathless 2005 account about Pawlowski's obscene campaign finances, Nerl makes it seem like a good thing. Get the very first sentence of his story. "Boosted by an unlikely amalgam of developers he helped bring to Allentown, labor unions and historically heavy-hitting GOP contributors, Democrat Ed Pawlowski has raised 50 percent more money for his mayoral campaign than Republican William L. Heydt." Those developers were already here. For all we know, they brought Pawlowski in from Chicago. He was not here to save Allentown's minority population, but to exterminate them. But in that account, the seeds were already in place. Marcel Groen. Butz. And Penrose. This is about the Pennrose connection. Over the years, Pennrose and its Race Street PAC have been Pawlowski's biggest contributors.

Contributions started in 2005 and have continued from both the Race Street PAC and Pennrose principals Mark Dambly and Richard Barnhart. Pennrose received KOZ benefits for the former Trojan Powder Company and Allentown National Bank Building renovations on Center Square - across from the Arena - in 2004 converting the buildings to subsidized elderly housing. Pennrose also was named developer for the Hope VI HUD funding Hanvover Acres and Riverview Terrace conversion to mixed use housing by the Allentown Housing Authority. That's a $75 million project. The Mayor controls appointments to the Allentown Housing Authority and was a member of the Board himself while DCED director. Alan Jennings, Julio Guridy and Sara Hailstone are members now. Pennrose was also named to redevelop Cumberland Gardens, but that deal was rejected by Lehigh County Commissioners because of the ridiculous $225,000 per unit expense.

Between the two projects, Pennrose was involved with over $90 million in projects for Allentown. They also were named developers by Easton for their Hope VI project. Pennrose is also co-developing Strata Flats with City Center in the NIZ.

Fed Ed's Norris, McLaughlin Connection

Matt Sorrentino
The Norris, McLauglin law firm has a starring role in the summer drama that increasingly appears to be a federal investigation into pay-to-play. Not only are partners identified on the FBI subpoena list, but they have been involved in the Pawlowski story for the past several years.This firm was once known as Tallman, Hudders and Sorrentino, a prominent local firm. The firm recently re-located from South Whitehall to take advantage of the low rents made possible at the disingenuously named Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ).

Managing partner Matt Sorrentno is Lehigh County's Solicitor. He also represents Lehigh Valley Health Network, which just happens to be renting space inside the NIZ and even had two security kiosks installed for the short walk from a parking lot to their fitness center. And for good reason! Patrons might run into Rich Fegeley!

Richard Somach
Richard Somach represents Pawlowski contributor Rob Bennett and Bennett Auto Dealerships. Bennett built a new dealership at the former Exide Battery Plant on Lehigh Street, thanks in large part to $4.5 million in federal brownfield remediation grants.. Though the original construction was done by J. G. Petrucci, the last several additions to the site were done by North Star (J.B. Reilly) and Jim Gentile. Bennett sold their East Allentown - West Bethlehem location to the Banko family. Banko never used it, instead moving to a facility in South Whitehall. Somach is anAssistant County Solicitor, Lehigh County Assessment Board Solicitor and is a collections attorney for Nat Penn Bank, among others,

Fed Ed and his family are rumored to use Rich Somach's Florida Keys second home for vacations.

Scott Allinson
In addition to all of the reported connections of Scott Allinson to Mike Fleck, Allinson also represented Ruckus Brewing in their Neuweiler deal. That was a lot of smoke and mirrors, and may involve Rosen money as speculated by Michael Molovinsky. Contractor Sean Boyle has supposedly been hired by Ruckus to be their Construction Manager. Allinson is a Fleck lawyer, Ruckus lawyer, Reilly friend and lawyer, Fainor friend and lawyer, Lehigh County IDA lawyer and NorCo Gaming Authority Solicitor. A self-proclaimed rainmaker, his profile claims that he helps businesses "achieve their day-to-day, as well as long-term, business objectives."

He calls himself an economic development lawyer.

Ollie Foucek
I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention Oldrich "Ollie" Foucek III, City Planning Commission member and chair, ANIZDA Board member, LV Chamber of Commerce Solicitor and major Fed Ed contributor. He recently was among those to approve plans for a wholesaler along the Allentown NIZ waterfront despite the fact that there were no ... plans. Obviously, this guy is a walking, talking conflict of interest. Being on the Planning Commission and NIZ Board is bad enough, but to be part of a firm that is financially benefiting from both is obscene.

Foucek would likely say Fouck you a year ago. Don't think he'll be saying that now.

Of lesser note are John Lushis, who is involved in the IDA at both Lehigh and Northampton County; and Ted Zeller, who I'll bet has done all the PLCB work for City Center, Arena and NIZ restaurants.

Bumstead Sees Fed Ed's McCord Connection, Too

Brad Bumsted, a journalist at The Pittsburgh Tribune, sees the same connection between Fed Ed and Rob McCord that I wrote about last week.
It's hard to read the tea leaves in a secretive federal investigation. But my best guess is that a state contractor, alarmed at McCord's shakedown, called the feds. They got a court order for a wiretap. They caught McCord in the act — like telling a neighbor in Montgomery County to tell his boss at a Philadelphia law firm doing business with Treasury: “If (McCord) loses and you stiffed him, every time you are trying to get something done through state government, you are going to have the state Treasurer looking to screw you,” according to federal documents.

The feds dropped the hammer on McCord. He went all out to cooperate. He wore a wire. Exactly when that began is unclear. McCord resigned and pleaded guilty in quick succession.

McCord gave them Fleck and maybe more. Now the FBI owns Fleck. He agreed to wear a wire and record some of his clients. They issued subpoenas for a slew of documents in Allentown and Reading with many similarities.

It's the timing that suggests this pattern. McCord's resignation and plea in February — then his sentencing conference set for June was postponed. The subpoenas were then served this month in Allentown and Reading.
Bumstead is also the journalist who reported that Alan Kessler, whose name appears on the FBI subpoena list, was Hillary Clinton's national finance chair in her 2008 Presidential bid.

Lehigh Little League Sends Two Teams to State 'Ship

It is very rare for any Little League team to go very far in the annual World Series tournament. Most are eliminated in the early stages. But this year, Lehigh Little League is making a very serious run for the right to make the pilgrimage to Williamsport. Their Major Division, consisting of young men between 10-12 years old, won their District and Section championships. This gave them the right to participate in the State Championship, which started in Newville last night night.

Lehigh is squaring off against seven other section winners from around the state in a double elimination tournament. On Sunday, as a red hot orb beat down on them, they faced appropriately named Red Land. And Lehigh left the field red-faced, after losing 11-1. But that's no surprise. Red Land had outscored its tournament opponents by 141-6 in nine games before facing Lehigh.

The sun will come out today. And so will Lehigh. They play again tonight.

I am trying to get details about the team. I know that Cole Hershman, a very gifted athlete from Notre Dame in Bethlehem, is on the Lehigh squad as a center-fielder. His older brother Grant is a Becahi pitcher.

The winner of this tournament goes on to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Little League Baseball Tournament in Bristol, Connecticut. From there, it's on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

As unusual as all this is, I have to add that Lehigh's Farm Division, which is made up of 9 and 10 year-old boys, have also won their districts and section.

Butz: We Finished Arena On Time, On Budget

Earlier this month, I told you that three mechanics' liens have been filed in connection with the $160 million PPL arena project. Alvin H Butz got dragged into it, I was surprised to learn this company, large as it is, was not required to post a performance bond, something that any municipal attorney should require. That omission, along with the lack of bidding or any transparency throughout the entire Neighborhood Improvement Zone, are major concerns. But Butz did not get to be where it is today by doing slipshod work. I was contacted by someone from that firm, who asked to present their said of the case. I am only too happy to do so.

Here are the facts:

We served as Construction Manager, not General Contractor. Our contract was with ANIZDA, but we worked under the direction of Hammes Corp., a Madison, Wisconsin firm that served as Development Manager.

Because a Construction Manager is hired before the drawings are complete, there is no way to “bid” the project, but we were selected, by Hammes, after the most rigorous process we’ve ever encountered. We competed with five of the largest CM’s in the world, and the process took months. We were eventually selected on the basis of the quality of the individuals on our proposed management team, our demonstration of understanding of the project, the methods we proposed to employ, and the competiveness of our fee. We were the only local firm capable of undertaking a project of that magnitude.

A performance bond was considered, but Hammes recommended waiving it because of our financial strength, our reliability and the cost savings its waiver would generate. A bond would have cost the project about $1.5 million.

The absence of a performance bond has no bearing on the payment of our subcontracts or on any exposure to the taxpayer. Our contract requires that we hold ANIZDA harmless from claims of subcontractors.

Every subcontract was competitively bid and open to all qualified firms.

The liens have been filed by subcontractors of subcontractors. They involve disputes between themselves, and we’ve withheld money to make sure that any offended party gets the money it’s due.

We have no opportunity to pocket money that should have gone to subcontractors. All the checks we’ve received are made jointly to us and each individual subcontractor and supplier. Furthermore, we would never hold back money that’s due. Our reputation has been built partly on our exceptional treatment of our vendors.

The project schedule proved to be exceptionally difficult. The underground piles turned out to be much more extensive and time-consuming than anticipated. We suffered with hundreds of scope changes, many of them requiring extra time. Just as we were about to put the roof on, we were hit with one of the worst winters in history. It snowed almost every other day. Meeting the completion date became increasingly challenging, and many thought meeting it was impossible. We decided to work overtime to meet the schedule, and the cost of doing so resulted in enormous costs that we could never have anticipated.

Despite the incredible challenges, we finished the project on time; and in this day of huge cost overruns on sports arenas, the final cost to ANIZDA was within 3% of the original estimate.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Allentown Closed Door Meeting - "Business as Usual"

Matt Assad reports that Allentown City Council met behind closed doors today to discuss how to handle the possibly resignation of Mayor Fed Ed. Susan Ellis Wild justified the secret meeting on the basis of the litigation exception to the Sunshine Act. A criminal investigation is under way. Individuals who may have engaged in bribery, extortion or depriving citizens of their right to honest services may be called on to answer for their actions. The City Solicitor really that gives the appearance that she is huddling with Council to come up with a defense strategy. Though they can meet behind closed doors to engage in information gathering, this really should have been open to the public. This lack of transparency is one of Allentown's most basic problems. But as Fed Ed said, "It's business as usual."

U.S. House Takes Aim at Sanctuary Cities

Immigration detainers are notices from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the federal government's intention to take custody of an undocumented alien under local control. They expire after 48 hours. If a bill that passed in the House yesterday becomes law, sanctuary cities that refuse to honor these detainers will lose the right to participate in several federal grant programs.

In Northampton County, DA John Morganelli made very clear last year that he wants those detainers enforced. "This is making sure that Northampton County does not become a safe haven for foreign criminals," he reasoned. But a Third Circuit ruling imposed liability against Lehigh County for refusing to release a prisoner who made bail because a detainer had been issued.

Congressman Charlie Dent explains why he supported this measure.

“There are nearly 300 municipalities or jurisdictions across the country that have decided to pick and choose what federal immigration laws to obey. Sadly, the results of their decisions in several instances have resulted in death and suffering inflicted on innocent individuals.

"We saw this tragedy play out recently in San Francisco, where an unlawful immigrant with a long felony arrest record is suspected of having murdered 32 year-old Kathryn Steinle while she was walking with her family.

"‘Sanctuary city’ policies were also behind a 2009 tragedy in Newark, New Jersey where three young adults were gruesomely executed in a local schoolyard. One of the defendants arrested in that triple homicide was unlawfully in the United States and had earlier been indicted on felony child abuse (31 counts) and aggravated assault charges. He had been released from jail on a $150,000 bond. Newark at the time had a policy of not inquiring about a defendant's immigration status.

"Enough is enough. The law is the law. If interior enforcement is ever to be effective, there must be strong cooperation between state and local law enforcement agencies and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. If misguided elected officials refuse to assist federal law enforcement, they should not be rewarded.”

Dent also cited a study showing that in 2014, the majority (63%) of those illegal immigrants released due to ‘sanctuary city’ policies already had a felony arrest record. Further, of those released 1900 were later arrested again for committing further crimes totaling nearly an additional 7500 criminal offenses.

One Democrat, Congressman Xavier Becerra, derided the bill as "The Donald Trump Act" and president Obama has threatened a veto.

Gary Asteak Down on the Farm

Gary Astteak, down on the farm.
You may think of him as a flamboyant criminal defense attorney, known to wear cowboy boots and Stetsons in court. Others know him as a brilliant municipal solicitor who provided legal advice to Township Supervisors when they still conducted their meetings in German. But did you know that Gary Asteak is also a farmer? He and his wife own and operate Filetown Farms in Bushkill Township. And Asteak is walking on air this week because their produce won blue ribbons at the prestigious Plainfield Farmers' Fair.

At this time last year, Gary Asteak was ripping a Nazareth police officer to shreds in what has become known as StickerGate. He, Phil Lauer and Mark Minotti made up a Northampton County Legal Defense Dream Team who defended the infamous Sticker Gang. Their despicable crime, you might recall, was placing tiny FT ("Fire Trachta") stickers throughout the tiny borough. Chief Thomas Trachta, never known for a sense of humor, had the trio perp-walked in front of news reporters. They dropped their prom coverage for the story. He even tried to involve the feds. Of course the trio was acquitted, Trachta who had refused to shake hands with Asteak, was admonished to "suck it up cupcake."

Blue ribbon kale
But one thing Asteak never mentioned is his interest in farming.

"All I have to do is battle nature," he tells me, which has to be a little harder than his wars with police chiefs

He started out as a beekeeper, and is now up to four hives. They never sting him.

"Professional courtesy," he tells me.

He also has begun raising free-range heritage chickens, along with one hen-pecked bantam rooster. His family was in the poultry business for three generations, so I suspect Gary knows his chickens.

But his favorite is the garden. His wife gets the credit for the blue ribbon kohlrabi, which is great in salads and slaws. He gets the prize for kale, which the Irish mash with potatoes to make Colcannon.
This is a kohlrabi.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Bill White Assaulted at Bethlehem City Hall

If you're a nice guy like me, government officials will do anything for you. In Easton, whenever I get a ticket, Mayor Panto fixes it immediately. In Allentown, Mayor Pawlowski lets me use his office. You won't believe the things I've said on the phone! In Bethlehem, it's usually a police escort at 75 mph, with sirens wailing. Sometimes I ride in on horseback, like Putin. These are the kind of perks you can expect as a pay-to-play bottom-feeding blogger. Michael Molovinsky, though not quite as nice as I, can never go out to eat without some politician picking up the tab and some groupie throwing herself at him. But neither of us would be stupid enough to post life-size cut-outs of ourselves at Town Hall, as Morning Call columnist Bill White recently did. It scared the shit out me last night when I attended a zoning hearing. I assaulted it. Bethlehem police congratulated me.

I also stole his frickin' Christmas lights.

By the way, he's nothing like what you see in that picture, which is the only reason he likes it. In real life, he's about 5'2" and 400 pounds. I'm a svelte 6'0". The camera makes me look a little heavier.

Bethlehem ZHB Approves Expansion of Ben Franklin Tech Center

Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board breezed through four appeals at the July 22 with Gus Loupos, who had just celebrated his 80th birthday, back at the helm. He was sidelined in June by a minor medical issue, but is back with his usual disarming charm and pragmatism. This is always appreciated by nervous zoning applicants.

The biggest action taken was the unanimous approval of the Ben Franklin Technolgy Center, located at 111 Research Drive. Project and facilities manager Charles Diefenderfer, who is represented by Attorney Kate Durso, sought minor dimensional variances that will allow for the expansion of the existing four-story facility. This addition will add office and meeting space.

Zoners also granted a special exception to foodie, author and musician Erik Eppler, who also provides data consulting to investment banks. What he really loves to do is cook, and he was authorized to convert part of his garage into a kitchen for a one-man catering service. He will have no visitors, no signs and no delivery trucks because he selects the ingredients himself. "I'm very particular about my food," he told the Board.

"Samples would have been nice," joked Bill Fitzpatrick.

From catering, zoners went into the world of auto repair. Austin's Auto Repair, which for the past 35 years has been located at 1843 W Broad Street, was unanimously granted minor variances so it could add more storage.Owner Nelson Tavarez. argued that this would make the business safer.

Finally, Bethlehem firefighter Christopher Vargo was granted dimensional relief to allow him to build a garage and driveway at his residence, exactly like other homes in his neighborhood.

No one spoke against any of the applications, although Francis and Linda Gaal expressed some concerns about the catering business.

Attorney Linda Shay Gardner was delayed by business and unable to attend the meeting.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pawlowski's Senate Quarterly, Finally OnLine, Shows $383,717 in Contributions

Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski's expense report for the U.S. Senate, which was due on July 15, has finally appeared online. Because he mailed this report, instead of e-filing it, it caused nearly a week's delay in having the report posted so it can be inspected by the public. It also might violate FEC rules that require any report with more than $50,000 in contributions or expenditures, to be e-filed, although thattule may not apply to U.S. Senate candidates.

Pawlowski reports having received $383,717.for the period between April 1 and June 30. Contributions to candidates for state or local office in Pennsylvania are unlimited, but federal law limits contributions to $2,700.  He also lists $41,856.01 in expenses.

His supporters include some names that are familiar to federal investigators and that are specifically mentioned in subpoenas directed at Allentown City Hall. They include Abe Atiyeh ($500), Abe Atiyeh ($500), Sean Boyle ($5,400) (beneficiary of no-bid contract for parking garage in Allentown); Oldrich Foucek ($5,400 - Norris McLaughlin law firm tied into NIZ six ways to Sunday); Troy Geanopolus ($1,000 from TEN); Patrick Regan ($1,000); Richard Somach ($5,400 from Norris Mclaughlin lawyer); and Matt Sorrentino ($3,800 from Norris McLaughlin lawyer);

Contributors also include political wannabes and those seeking an inside track to business deals, like Candida Affa ($500); Michael Albarell ($500); Richard Barnhardt (He does not identify himself, but he just happens to be the CEO at national real estate developer Pennrose. He gave $2,700 for the primary and $1,900 for the general); Mark Dambly ($4,600 from another Pennrose employee); Vinay Barthwal ($2700)(Holiday Inn owner in Allentown who just happens to be looking for NIZ money);  Sam Bennett ($2,600) (She'd like to be Allentown's next mayor); Anna Boni ($5,000) (commercial developer at Parkway); Jim Brooks ($5,400 - He is the public face of LV Phantoms hockey); Robert Brooks  ($5,400 - He is the other half of LV Phantoms hockey); Butz construction family ($12,900 - How sweet it Niz); Pete Ciarrocchi  ($1,000 Chickie and Pete's, inside NIZ) Louis Costanzo ($5,400 - His Scranton based construction company was drawn into the 2011 public corruption trial of Lackawanna County Comm'rs); Nelson Diaz ($5,400 from NIZ Board member); Michael Dunn ($2500 from NIZ waterfront beneficiary); Robert Dunn ($2700 from NIZ waterfront beneficiary); Ryan S Dunn ($1,250  from NIZ waterfront beneficiary); Charles Everett ($500 - would like to keep his job at airport); Lou and Michael Fromm ($3,000 -There's money to be made by electricians inside the NIZ); Sara Hailstone ($1,000 from the ANIZDA Ezec Director and Allentown DCED Director); Barry Isett ($1,000 - NIZ always looking for a good engineer); Zachary Jaindl ($5,400 - NIZ waterfront); Kostas Kalogeropoulos ($2,700 - hotel business); Billy Konoupis ($500 - Billy's Downtown Diner); Alexander and Patricia Maggitti ($10,800 - He is the president of Diefenderfer Electric, which is doing the bulk of the no-bid electrical work inside the NIZ); Ruth Marcon ($5,400 - Her husband's construction company has a lot of work inside the NIZ): Sal Panto ($1,000 - because he'd like a NIZ, too, where he can fly flags at half-mast); Mark Pepitone ($5,400 - Is he looking to expand inside the NIZ?); Rosen Partners ($25,400 from a NYC-based real estate investment firm); Stephen Schoch ($5,400 from an architect, quelle surprise!); Anthony Stellar ($1,000 from Stellar Construction); Garret Strathearn ($1,000 from yet another City employee); Sy Traub ($1,000 from the ANIZDA Chair, who identifies himself as a seller of kids' books); Andrew Twiggar ($1,250 from NIZ waterfront developer); Herbert and John Wssmer ($5,400 from architects); Susan Ellis Wild ($500 from the City Solicitor); Julio Guridy ($500); Lisa Boscola ($1,000);and Lehigh County Exec Tom Muller ($1,000)

Jenn Mann contributed $500 and also spent $750 out of her disingenuously-named "For the People" PAC. The Fleck-created Citizens for a Better Reading kicked in $1000.

Pawlowski spent $30,000 with Dynamic RSG to do fundraising. He also spent $3,000 on Mike Fleck.

10:50 AM Update: The full report is here.

11:20 am Update: The Morning Call has picked up on this story,and includes a few names I was unaware are connected to the subpoena list.

Groen a Poor Choice For Dem Party Chair

According to PoliticsPA, Governor Tom Wolf is seriously considering Democratic power broker Marcel Groen as the next state Democratic party chair. If anyone epitomizes the dangers of pay-to-play, it's Groen. If anyone is capable of dragging the state Democratic party into an ethical quagmire that already includes three Democratic Mayors and one former state treasurer, it's Grown. This is a bad choice by someone who spent his own money to get elected and seems a bit naive about the dirty world of politics.

Earlier this month, I told you the federal investigation into Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski, aka Fed Ed, is no witch hunt. One if the many reasons for this is Fed Ed's s connections to political power broker Marcel Groen. Their relationship was detailed by Morning Call investigative reporter Jarrett Renshaw.

At that time, Democrats Groen and Pawlowski were both pushing a $28 million waste-to-energy plant at Kline's Island. Despite a complete lack of emission monitors for air quality in a heavily polluted Lehigh Valley, Pawlowski's rubber stamps on City Council approved the deal.

Fracking bad, air pollution good.

The only green that Groen and Fed Ed were interested in was the kind they could use to buy elections.

According to Renshaw, this poorly advised scheme arose from "Groen's personal and professional relationship with Pawlowski, who has enjoyed Groen's financial support during his two mayoral campaigns. Groen hadn't considered the city as a possible site for the plant until a chance lunch in 2009 with the mayor, whom Groen calls a friend and a 'visionary.'"

Pawlowski is so "visionary" that he had Allentown pay Groen's firm $350,000 between 2006 and 2010 for legal work that Fed Ed's legal team in the Solicitor's office was somehow unable to handle.

Might help him in the governor's race.

Fortunately, this project, like Pawlowski's gubernatorial campaign, never got off the ground because no bank was idiotic enough to front $49 million for a business idea that made little sense.

Then Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham bluntly stated that with Green, "it's about money and business." He does not stop there, but added this. "So anyone that wants to run statewide must go through Montgomery County if they want to advance themselves. ... Clearly Pawlowski has developed that type of business and political relationship with Marcel."

If this is so, the feds should be quite interested in Grown. Since former political consultant was reportedly wired for 90 days before suddenly leaving town, it is entirely conceivable that one of the persons he spoke to was Pawlowski ally Marcel Groen.

Tom Wolf is trying to inject a new brand of ethics into politics. No gifts. He refuses to even live in the Executive Mansion. If he really wants to reform our broken system, Groen is the last person he should select.

Sensei Hudak: Defender of Running Bamboo

Artist Sean Delonas
About 50 people attended the July 20 meeting of Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners to complain about raging stormwaters that periodically turn the Township into the Venice of the Lehigh Valley. But Sean DeLonas was there for something completely different. Bamboo. Out-of control flooding has plagued many Township residents, but Delonas warned that destructive bamboo is next. The kind that goes through a home's foundation and destroys underground utilities. Best known as a cartoonist for the New York Post’s Page Six from 1990 to 2013, the artist asked Commissioners for their help, suggesting an ordinance that would impose restrictions on how this grass is planted. Four of the five Commissioners agreed to study the problem. But the fifth, Michael Hudak, repeatedly interrupted Delonas and disputed nearly every point made. Hudak eventually walked out of the meeting.

Running bamboo spreads to Delonas back yard

Delonas told Commissioners that running bamboo is recognized by the Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as one of the fastest growing and most invasive plants in the world. His neighbor planted this bamboo along his property line, and the grasses have spread to Delonas' property at Cabernet Place. According to a study by the Institute of Invasive Bamboo Research, running bamboo even survived the Hiroshima bomb.  Delonas told Commissioners that running bamboo has already broken through his fence "and will break my underground lines, pipes and my home's foundation in less than two years." He requested an ordinance that would hold a property owner responsible for the spread of this plant onto other properties. He stopped short of seeking an outright ban, but wants those who plant running bamboo held responsible if its destructive path takes aim at another person's property.

Throughout Pennsylvania, 17 communities have adopted bamboo ordinances. Some, like Douglass Township, have imposed a ban on this grass.

A Cumberland County Court has declared running bamboo a "vegetative nuisance" The court reasoned that urban living includes certain responsibilities, including a responsibility to take precautions against invasive plants that encroach upon another person's property.

While Delonas attempted to speak, Hudak repeatedly interrupted him. His first comment is that there is a grove of bamboo trees behind his house, and it has not spread into his yard. Delonas tried to explain that clumping bamboo does not spread and that Hudak may have running bamboo confused with cane, which is native to this area and does not spread. But Hudak kept speaking over him.

What running bamboo does to a yard
Hudak then noted that tiger lillies are an invasive plant and no one complains about them. Delonas was not objecting to running bamboo because it is invasive, but because it is destructive. He referred Hudak to several studies, but Hudak retorted, "I'm married to someone with all those degrees."

Hudak kept claiming that Delonas was seeking a ban on bamboo, which Delonas attempted to dispute. Hudak then claimed that bamboo has been growing in the Township for the bast 80 years with no problem.

"You can do what you want," he advised. "Phil will vote for it," he added, taking a shot at another Commissioner. Then, declaring he was "speechless," Hudak said he was "done," and walked out of the meeting.

Phil Barnard's sentiment? "We owe you a review," he told Delonas.

Attempts to contact Delonas' neighbor, who is reportedly out of town, were unsuccessful.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

President Panto?

Though he and other presidents before him have done it in the wake of mass killings, President Barack Obama has so far failed to order United States flags to be flown at half mast in memory of five Marines senselessly slaughtered in Chattanooga. His lack of leadership on this matter is no surprise. But is that a reason for Easton Mayor Sal Panto to assume federal jurisdiction himself?

Panto seems to have done it for the public attention. "It's 95 percent pro, 5 percent against," he told The Morning Call, paying close attention to his fawning Facebook fans and a looming interview on Fox.

But Panto is wrong. He has no more authority over the American flag than Obama does over Easton's.

I get very leery of local officials who decide which federal mandates they are going to follow and which they will ignore.The only real difference between Panto's defiance of federal authority and that demonstrated by Governor George Wallace is one of degree. In both cases, they are wrong.

Updated 2:20 pm: Obama finally orders flags lowered until July 25.

Fed Ed's Senate Report Still Unavailable Online

Though Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski may have suspended HIS Quixotic quest for the U.S. Senate, he was still required to file his quarterly report with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) on July 15. According to his wife and campaign treasurer Lisa Pawlowski, he did. But it is still unavailable online as of 12:00 am this morning.

His report is considered timely so long as it is postmarked by July 15. Once it is received by the FEC, it takes 48 hours to upload it. Failure to file or late filing can result in administrative fines between $50 and $16,000.

Given the federal investigation, I think it's important to know where Pawlowski is getting his money from, and have asked Lisa Pawlowski to send it to me. I doubt she will, but I can always ask.  

Not known for his transparency, Fed Ed has obviously opted against e-filing his expense report, which can be done at no cost to the candidate. What he has never understood is that this penchant for secrecy just makes people more suspicious.

Next thing you know there's a grand jury.  

Bethlehem Tp Comm'rs To Battle Stormwaters

"Hope Road never Gives Up," says the sign held by
Bethlehem Boating Club's Allen Koszi, Jr. 
During the last primary election, Bethlehem Township Commissioner Micahel Hudak actually took to Facebook to deride three of his colleagues seeking re-election. His arch nemesis, Tom Nolan, was forced out as President. It's safe to say that members of this divided board won't be sending each other any Christmas cards. But at their July 20 meeting, they unanimously agreed that it's time to do something about the Township's stormwater problem before the whole township is washed down the Lehigh River or ends up in Freemansburg.

Over 50 people, including volunteer firefighters and a large contingent from the Bethlehem Boating Club, packed the house. A group of Ninth Street residents who have experienced broken windows caused by water pressure are so concerned that they asked distinguished Bethlehem Attorney Tom Maloney to join them at the meeting.

At least 50 people concerned bout stormwaters attended. 
At the meeting's onset, President Marty Zaworski delivered a speech (you can read it below) to tell the group that  "I am making this issue, storm water, my number one priority in making our township a better community." He noted that it seems that we are now getting hundred year storms several times every year, and for too long, Bethlehem Township has failed to address the problem. "I will not tolerate a government that is unresponsive to the concerns of the residents," he remarked. "We must do something, anything we can do, to control water runoff in a better and more efficient manner will have an impact."

Att'y Tom Maloney complimented Board
For once, this divided board was in total agreement. "I know the heartache everybody goes through," sympathized Michael Hudak, but he added that the solution "is going to be very expensive." Tom Nolan, who pioneered a stormwater study about ten years ago, noted that much of the Township was developed in the 1980's, when there were no stormwater controls."Nature is in control, not the township," he concluded. Phil Barnard stated there was consensus. "We are as a family, a community, working together to address these issues." Pat Breslin added that it's "only a matter of coming up with the right plan."

On June 15, in the middle of a meeting, between four and five inches of rain fell within the Township over the course of just three hours. Entire sections of roadway were washed out as the Township ran out of barricades to warn passing motorists. The township spent $140,000 in emergency road repairs.

In a memo to Commissioners, Manager Melissa Shafer noted that there were complaints from 37 different areas within the township. In addition, there were 15 sinkholes. "Impervious areas, lack of stormwater infrastructure in our older neighborhoods, undersized existing stormwater facilities and the shrinking capacity of Nancy Run Creek all contribute to the flooding issues," she reported.

Zawarksi stated that if you drew a 400' radius through each of the 37 problem areas and colored it orange, the entire township would be bathed in orange.

One of Zawarski's proposals calls for the possibility of a fee, possibly based on assessment, that would target every property owner. Even exempt properties like St. Luke's and Northampton Community College would be forced to contribute under recent revisions to state law.

Attorney Maloney, who confessed he does not go out at night anymore, told Commissioners that "I've been rewarded. It appears to have your highest priority." He recommended that Commissioners stop beating themselves up about failures in the past. "Put your character at issue and promptly seek remedies," he advised.

Just in case Commissioners needed to hear more about Waterworld, people share their stories.

Richard Straubuller spoke of the poorly maintained retention pond in his Wagner Farms condo, a new development that is not quite a dozen years old. He complained of clogged grates and trees growing up in the pond. He had to chase two boys away from cleaning the grates out of concern for their safety. He has complained to the Township three times, to no effect.

Suzanne Van Billiard, who lives on Kelchner Avenue, complained that she has been asking the township for help for 22 years. "Our house becomes an island," she declared. Though the Township is supposed to maintain a nearby swale,  Van Billiard insists it has done nothing and that pieces of her property are literally cut away during storms. Over the years, storm waters have carried a 260-pound sand box to what's left of her yard, along with someone's shed. She has even been the recipient of copy fish washed out of someone's pond.

Allen Koszi spoke on behalf of the Bethlehem Boating Club, which is at the terminus of Hope Road. Tyne next stop after that is the Lehigh River. In 2011, Hurricane Irene wiped out most of Hope Road. Koszi noted that PennDOT installed a swale that parallels Hope Road, but it stops short. Abandon hope, all ye who transgress beyond that point during a downpour. This failure cost his club $5,500 for repairs following the June 15 storm, where access to the club was washed out.

Some of the regulars were in no mood to applaud Commissioners.Barry Roth called the proposed study a "waste of time." Chetwin Terrace resident Wayne Kresge was unhappy that he had come to meetings for two years before anything happened. "Why has it taken two years?" he demanded. "It goes in one ear and out the other," added Roy Roth.. Martin Comer even insulted the residents who came. "Nice to see all the people here," he started out, sweetly enough. "Where were you when all the developers came?" he zinged.

Later in the meeting, Commissioners unanimously approved a proposal to join Freemansburg in seeking a stormwater planning grant, with half of the money coming from Northampton County's newly established Community Investment Partnership Program and the other half coming from the state. This grant would deal with the area along the intersection of Willow Park Road and Easton Avenue, which becomes a raging river during downpours. It us is where Debra LaForm was swept away by stormwaters in 1977.

Marty Zawarski: Stormwater Management is Number One Priority

Blogger's Note: Below is the text of Marty Zawarski's comments at the beginning of last night's meeting. 

Since I have been commissioner a month has not gone by, that someone has spoken at this meeting about storm water runoff and how it has impacted them. It seems that several times a year we get 100 year storms. These seem common now and these events effect all of us in some manner. This issue impacts many of our residents directly. I understand the problems and I feel the anger you feel about a government that is unresponsive to the needs of its residents. I know the frustrations you feel. I am going through similar problems that you face, and that is dealing with an unresponsive government and that is totally unacceptable. I will not tolerate a government that is unresponsive to the concerns of the residents. But here is a situation I know I can help minimize, that we can attempt to gain an upper hand. But, I am asking for your patients, your support and your help in getting these issues addressed and then rectified.

I am making this issue, storm water, my number one priority in making our township a better community. This is a problem that will not be fixed overnight, it will take many years to fix , but we can't just sit here and continue to do nothing. We must diligently work to rectify bad situations the best we can. We must do something , anything we can do to control water runoff in a better and more efficient manner will have an impact.

There are several steps we are currently implementing towards this end. Our engineer is currently updating our entire township as to where our current holding ponds and Retention areas are located and where the water comes from and goes to, including storm systems and Swales. I want neighboring municipalities impact area to be included also, both upstream as well as downstream. This gives us our basis and becomes our roadmap in addressing all issues.

Next week, Melissa, Nathan, another commissioner and myself will be visiting Lancaster to see their program. Lancaster is the model program in Pennsylvania as to a community effectively managing their storm water. While at a seminar A month ago we heard a presentation from them and we were very impressed by what steps they are taking to rectify their water issues. Next week, We are going to see firsthand their program. One of the places we have serious issues is at the Chetwin Terrace Park and surrounding neighborhood. One interesting way of improving the water situation in this area is to take the park which is over 2.8 acres and create a massive retention pond that will hold more water than you can imagine and then re-build a park over top of the pond.

Initially we must focus on areas where water enters streams and rivers. Last year we received a grant to improve the pond or holding area by 191 and 22 where water enters the Monocacy from water that is generated from the community college area. But these areas must be improved to accept the upstream water and then we can start working upstream. Working on the Chetwin Terrace Park as soon as we can will have a tremendous impact on our water runoff. We must have a plan to improve every single retention pond that we have under our control. We must modernize them, make them more efficient and make them hold more water.

Alliances between us and other municipalities must be formed to attack water run off on a regional level. Melissa will talk about that issue and steps we are taking in working with other municipalities to get grants to attack stormwater together. That’s why it’s important to map out what happens to water when it leaves our municipality and enters another municipality as well as water that we are receiving from other municipalities. This issue is not something new. Well over 40 years ago The president of the board of commissioners approach the city of Bethlehem about the water making its way from the Freedom East Hills area of the city of Bethlehem, in trying to seek solutions and got nowhere. We will be reaching out to the city of Bethlehem and together hopefully both of us can obtain a grant to improve the large retention pond on East Boulevard and Johnston Drive and Butztown Road which is probably a 5 acre retention pond built in the 70s that with the proper funding could be increased to hold easily 50% more Water. Improving this area will have a tremendous impact on in the Butztown area which is one of our major areas of concern. Our staff will prepare all material needed for a grant joining with the city of Bethlehem. To ask the city to improve it without funding will never happen therefore we must be proactive in forming that partnership in order to get money to support that improvement. Then and only then will that project gets done.

And grants will only be a secondary source for money to address these issues. This will be a very expensive measure which is to improve and modernize our storm water system. The majority of the money must come from all property owners in Bethlehem Township. We will form a storm sewer fund paid for by all property owners in Bethlehem township. A major difference in this fee is that it applies to everyone that owns property. That would include groups and organizations that typically do not have to pay property taxes. They would still be responsible to pay their proportionate share towards this. St. Luke’s and any other hospital, the community college and other tax exempt property owners would be responsible to pay into this fund.

I believe that this is something staff could manage. But we cannot wait anymore. It cannot be expected that this problem could conceivably be corrected without collecting fees. At the seminar attended by Melissa, Mr Hudak and myself, we were shown a Chart showing what residents in about 15 municipalities pay pay towards this and it ranged from $25 to $150 per residence. A fee could be based on your assessment which may be the easiest way to equitably charge each household. The same method maybe apply to other types of property as well. If we were to charge hundred dollars per household on average over a million dollars could be collected. That money could you easily go towards 2 to 4 separate projects. If we address 2 to 4 projects a year in a short time we will make a tremendous impact on stormwater in Bethlehem Township. Of course we could sit and wait and do nothing. But at what cost to our residents and to the township. The Township was hurt significantly with the last several storms. The last two storms cost us easily $250,000. Insurance doesn’t cover that, your taxes do. How many more $250,000 bills can we afford. In my mind we can’t afford any more situations like this, that money is better spent correcting the situation rather than paying for it’s damaging Effects. We really have done nothing towards this end in the last 40 years if ever. The only time we try to help a storm water issue was 30 years or so ago when minimal improvements were made to the Butztown Area. And how much did that really help? Green Pond was dredged in 1960 to lower the water in the pond and intersection.

I don’t want to wait anymore, I believe you don’t want to wait anymore, I believe enough damage has been done. Now is the time that we must move forward and address this issue. I now ask for comments from all the commissioners and staff including Melissa, Nathan and our engineer Bryan Dilman. Then I would want to hear from our residents concerning this issue. Thank you