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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why I Oppose Trump

NPR and other media outlets are slamming Donald Trump for his refusal to disavow David Duke and the KKK on the Sunday talk show circuit. Since he previously did disavow the endorsement, I think he was honestly confused. But that's not my problem with him. David Brooks expresses my reservations.

People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.

323 Northampton St Collapse: Storm or Negligence?

Last week, Easton Mayor Sal Panto managed to annoy downtown merchants in a lengthy discussion over whether to light the gigantic Phallus symbol known as the Easton Peace Candle on Black Friday or Small Business Saturday. The following day, just as a woman had walked past the building at 323 Northampton Street, a section of brick wall collapsed onto the bank Street alley. Fortunately, no one was hurt, although surrounding businesses will be closed. An Express Times headline calls it a "storm damaged" building. But Mother Nature had nothing to do with the decision to completely gut the building, even below the foundation. Easton Codes was apparently warned about this condition, yet did nothing.

323 Northampton is the former Dollar Store, and is being converted into a restaurant by the River Grille and Ocean owners. At the rate things are going, all dining there will be al fresco. Though that term sounds very foo foo, it actually means spending time in jail, and some people are claiming on the Easton Facebook page that what has happened is criminal.

Easton's $87,000 per year Code Inspector is Stephen Nowroski, remember? About this time last year, I told you he had left Forty Fort in the midst of allegations that his department engaged in retaliation and played political favorites. According to the Department of Labor and Industry, his department only inspected about 25% of the properties for which permits had been issued. Forty Fort residents also got stuck with an 80' high lighted billboard after he or the Solicitor neglected to mail an adverse ruling to the property owner. That turned a No into a Yes.

Neither the public nor Easton City Council knew any of this when Nowrowski was hired. Panto wanted it to be a surprise.

In the meantime, architect Jeff Martinson went to work at the Dollar Store at 323 Northampton Street. Yes, this is the same genius who recently testified in the Palmer Points project that the Value Place Extended Stay Motel is an example of excellence in architecture. He was unable to answer basic questions, like how a "story" is defined under Palmer's zoning ordinance.

Martinson completely gutted the building. According to merchants in the area, he got rid of all lateral supports, and nothing was there to prevent the building from collapsing. Bricked-up windows were removed inappropriately. There was no proper temporary bracing to the weakened wall. He also allowed the building to be unsecured to the point where someone could literally step from the alley, over a 16" high window sill and fall 20 ft into the basement.

Unqualified workers were used. I doubt any trades unions worked here.

Martinson also dug below the foundations. So no 50 mph winds were needed. A healthy fart could have sent that building into a nosedive.

This point is corroborated by this Easton Facebook entry. "Storm damage? Are you kidding? The building was completely gutted including all the floor joists, the windows were removed and they excavated under the existing foundation. They even dug under the foundation of the party wall connecting to the new public market."

Kevin Ruppert adds, "In fact the city has failed. There is no veil to hide this. Was the undermining of the foundation planned? I saw many truckloads of compacted clay removed in a grasshopper landscaping truck. Where were the code inspectors?"

I am informed that calls were placed to the Easton Codes department in October and November, to no avail.

I expect to see Panto respond to these concerns with his usual bully tactics. He's too busy doing things he strongly denied. One of his buddies wants him to fix a parking ticket. Shhh!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Opinions Online, 2/27/16

Blogger's Note:Opinions Online is a regular Saturday feature. If you'd like to express your opinion on any topic, click on the Opinions Online button on my left sidebar. You can also call 385-325-2564. In addition to these submissions, I sometimes highlight comments from throughout the week and re-publish them here.


Central boys basketball eliminated from District play awfully early this year.

How did your grandson's season play out? I hadn't seen them play since mid-Jan.

Blogger's Reply - They made it to both league and district playoffs, but were eliminated in the early going by Poconon Mountain West (league) and Becahi (district). My grandson goes from this right into AAU, so he will continue playing and work to make himself better. Unfortunately, I miss most of the AAU games bc they are not local and it is too expensive for us all to go.


So did anyone else get the nice fancy mailer inviting the public to a John Brown "I am so great" conversation on Tuesday? The one that says how he tripled the general fund, made changes to Gracedale that 'Really Paid off'? Seems like he forgot to mention the disaster his entire administration has been. The mass retirements that are still being felt by those who remained. Oh, yea, and I am not really sure what he did for Gracedale since the changes were made well before he took office. Will the County tax payers foot the bill for him to spread it on thick? I am sure this is just a stunt to get elected to the next office. Those of you who know should go and call him on it.


I talked to a woman in east allen twsp who when she moved into her husbands existing habitated house was forced to get an occupancy permit and allow them to inspect the house the occupancy permit code applies to business only there is not a resident code.


How about the whooping cough case at Spring Garden School? It was the Principal that had it. What an inconsiderate person to not have protection against that. You would think a person in his position would get shots for it. He was in contact with all principals in the school district who can conceivably spread it throughout the whole school district. What a jerk. There should be some kind of discipline for this inconsiderate behavior.


love the article in the Call re special court to help the mentally ill/ All courts should be trained to address issues-- 50% 0f immates are mentally ill-- the state legislation needs to adapt the law to swing back to the middle from the 70's to promote therapeutic medication & treatment for persons with chemistry inbalance. the state hospital should have become mental health wellness centers for each city. this would create a way to help/intervene homeless, family crisis, child behavior issues and elderly incompetency. I applaud you for initiating this court-- Promote improve care for the mentally ill--every one is a little off the chart at times.. Doris Farrar RN-- retired psychiatric nurse.. advocate for improving mental treatment-- this would prevent the shootings to a high percentage .


Interesting that the Lehigh county executive should mention fifty acres in west Bethlehem in his annual address and the downtowns, both of which are in Northampton county. Sounds like more political wagon circling.

Meanwhile, Honest Bob could not say what is going to happen to two other crucial properties, namely the land next to the casino complex, and the rail yard.

Despite periodic cries that Bethlehem needs to become an international port, where is the action? Or more specificsally, the leadership?

Similarly, there has been no announcement by the Sands about how it plans to rejuvenate the buildings and land adjacent to the casino. Is Adelson rethinking once again his most profitable casino? A preemptive strike against north Jersey hasn't materialized, and that worries me.


it is about time the Lehigh Valley Hospital enforces their no smoking on their property rules. Sickening to visit a family member and have to walk outside therough a giant gathering of cancer spewing jerkoffs on the sidewalk. The entire campus at Cedar Crest is no smoking, if these people want to kill themselves through addiction then they can get in their cars and puffs away. No reason to subject people to their cancer causing idiocy. Lehigh valley Hospital needs to enforce their own rules and get these people to stop being pigs and smoking then throwing their butts on the ground as well. I wonder if I started drinking a 30 pack of Pabts on one of the benches if someone would stop me... #StopSmokingAtTheHospitalJerkoffs


Why do people complain of recruiting when a Catholic high school sports team wins? Hows comes they never complain when they lose or post losing seasons one after another for several years (i.e. Notre Dame of Green Pond football program)? What is the status of Easton Area High School Red Rover's football coach, Steve Shiffert? Should Palmer football pee wee coach be hung and burned in effigy?


Are there any prerequisites needed to be a Tip Staff for a Commonwealth Judge in Northampton County? Are there any criminal background checks or anti-nepotism requirements?

Blogger's Reply: There are anti-nepotism rulesm, but they do not apply to tipsatffs who were working before the rules went into effect. I have no problem with nepotism in that category, incidentally. A judge is entitled to have one or two people around whom he can be himself.


Wonder why [Mayor Bob Donchez] didn't tell us about the new housing development along the Lehigh river in his state of the city address. (see the article and pictures on ET 2/22/16) Yet another embarrassment from this failed and tarnished administration for the city that until a couple of years ago was the jewel of the valley. His hand picked chief of police acknowledged the crimes of this debacle in the article by the ET. "It's crazy, he said. "I don't get it". (this so called administration doesn't get a lot of things.)

The chief went on to say that bad weather had kept him from looking into this. Message to criminals cops in [Bethlehem] don't work in bad weather.

Blogger's reply: I have edited the slurs by a person who obviously has an ax to grind, but let his opinions stand.


As reported in the ET and the MC the parking authority of [Bethlehem] has raised parking rates yet again. Reportedly this is so they can build a new parking lot on the south side further clogging up a already over used intersection. Just think, as soon as it is built they can raise fees again on any whim.

The parking authority is appointed by the mayor and approved by council. Thus they are just puppets of the administration. This demonstrates how woefully out of touch the current administration is with it's [sic] citizens and businesses. Or could this last increase be just another kick in the head to downtown merchants who oppose some of the mayor/dced goofy plans? At any rate the puppets strings have been pulled, the citizens and businesses screwed and the laughable business administrator gets to rape the authority (as they do every year) for even more money to try to balance their uncontrollable budget. Bend over and grab your ankles!!!


Who is the worst and best mayors to ever grace the position in the City of Easton?


"Abusing a drug is not a disease. I don’t care for how Doctor’s and the insurance industry have labeled it. It’s a choice. A disease is something that invades your body or something in your body that has started to malfunction causing undesirable health results.

Most people blaming the drug dealer, when there would be no drug dealers without willing clients. The drug dealers do not threaten these people to use the drugs. Where is the self-responsibility?"

In light of the uptick in drug casualties this past week, I read a LehighValleyLive article and came across this FIRST entry in the comment section; I found myself agreeing with it (for the most part - as there are a FEW exceptions).


I had a run in with one of the new city council persons at the City of Easton. I think he is quite unique. Does anyone else have this same problem? Also, I noticed that CHT seems to be doing a booming business on the poker machines. Since when are poker machines legal in bars? Isn't there a special resort liquor license needed to have those kind of machines? I think because the new council person and the owners of the CHT along with their connections in code enforcement and PA LCB get them special treatment?


Well, it looks like things are gonna start heating up in Ye Olde West Easton. Next council meeting should be verrry verrry intewesting,no?


Why doesn't the P.I.A.A. do something about the poor officiating at the local high school level especially in high school basketball? This is such a farce. My grandmother in a wheelchair can do better than these guys and way better than the women that go out there on the floor. If it isn't the coaches, it is the referees that lose the games for my kids. There ought to be some kind of law.


Will you ever post an updated version of "where are they now" article? You can start with the Gracedale gang: Rev. Mario, the Otter, All the boys love Maryann. the Mezz, and the rest of the gang. It could be a monthly feature of all the people that fell by the waist side after there short-lived 15 minutes of fame on this blog. Still wondering where that loud mouthed know-it-all Geeting guy ever got to.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Schweyer Challenges Dominguez Petition

too brown for Allentown?
State Rep. Pete Schweyer has a pretty good gig goin' as the Gringo representing a new District in Allentown that was supposedly established for its Latino population. But Norberto Dominguez, who actually is a Democrat and an honest-to-goodness Latino, has dared to challenge the natural order by running himself. So Schweyer has challenged Dominguez's nomination petition, hoping to have this election decided by a judge and not the voters.

Schweyer is using the same Philly lawyer - Adam Bonin - who challenged Terri Powell's signatures.

According to Tonya Trotter, who is volunteering for Dominguez' campaign, Schweyer "doesn't want the Latinos (that he represents) in the 22nd district to decide. What he wants is for Mr. Dominguez, who is Dominican, founded HALA (Hispanic American League of Artists), has beautified ugly parts of this city with full scale murals, and turned a dirty lot into a park, to be kicked off the ballot. He filed his lawsuit late on Tues, the 23rd, the deadline for objections."

"How serious is Mr. Schweyer's commitment to the Latino people of the 22nd district if he wants to kick their Latino candidate off the ballot?

"That should speak volumes to the voters of the 22nd district about his character and true motives for being in that seat. He's okay representing them in a seat of power, but he is too afraid to face a true contender in an election?"

Tonya, I don't believe Pete represents the voters. He represents the crony capitalist party headed by J.B. Reilly. From time to time, he hands out food to the poor, kinda' like the aristocracy used to throw coins at the unwashed masses in France.

Schweyer and his Bobbsey Twin, Mike "Darth Voter" Schlossberg, are far more comfortable among the Lee Butz' of this world, something their campaign finance reports make very clear.

I don't know his challenge claims. Maybe it was signed by people who aren't really registered. Maybe Norberto did not know about filing his Statement of Financial Interests with the Ethics Commission. But Schweyer's real argument is that Norberto is too brown for Allentown.

Lieb - Panto's Peace Phallus

Dennis Lieb is a former Easton Planning Commissioner and critic of Easton Mayor Sal Panto. It's a City plagued by pension woes gang violence in the West Ward. Yet Hizzoner is embroiled in a completely silly discussion over whether the gigantic phallic symbol (which glows in the dark!) known as the Easton Peace Candle should be lit up on the Friday after Thanksgiving (Panto) or on Small Business Saturday (local businesses). Lieb weighs in.

Panto spent extensive time at council Wednesday night - including a special presentation by Main Street and the pleadings of a dozen local merchants - discussing whether we should light the Peace Candle on Black Friday (his preference) or Saturday night.

He claims that he needs a reason "to go against 26,000 taxpayers" who want it on Black Friday. The idea that 26,000 people are supporting him is pure bullshit. I've lived here over fifty years and haven't heard a single person complain about the Saturday lighting last year. The fact is that Panto is doing what he always does: using anything controversial as a platform to espouse his opinions and putative expertise in front of a microphone; interjecting himself into a process he has no business in or probably any real knowledge of; and using his own, well-crafted techniques to bully council and the public around to his way of thinking until they give up and capitulate.

I have never been a fan of the Peace Candle for many reasons but that's irrelevant.

If we are going to have it here and it does generate a certain amount of tourist activity, foot traffic and retail expenditure (even if for just one night) then shouldn't we be maximizing its effect? If Saturday isn't causing some emotional meltdown of the total population AND it improves the prospects of a struggling downtown merchant class (as Manager Kim Kmetz can assuredly prove with her Main Street stats), then doesn't it make sense that we just accept it as a non-issue and move on?

This town has too many legitimate problems to name that are not being addressed while Panto pontificates over minutiae. Many of these problems are in the West Ward, but I won't get on a soapbox about them. What's the point with a tone-deaf government?

Moravian College Ponders Track Meets at Bi-Centennial Park

Chair Roger Unangst
Though Moravian College is a Bethlehem school, it is considering Bicentennial Park for track meets this spring. Parks and Recreation Director Chuck Franz told Supervisors at their meeting last night that several high schools are already using the park for track meets. What they like is that they can see the students at all times, and consider the venue to be relatively safe.

Bicentennial Park, located along the Nor-Bath Trail between Northampton and Bath, is in my view the most beautiful park in Northampton County, with plenty of opportunity for both passive and active recreation.

I've been to Bicentennial Park on numerous occasions, but this was my first visit to an East Allen Board of Supervisors' meeting. About 20 residents and all Supervisors were present. There are two opportunities for the public to speak at these meetings, although no one exercised it. But at times, during different parts of the meeting, Chairman Roger Unangst involved the public, asking questions.

The Township is still cleaning up from Wednesday night's downpours, during which a sinkhole blossomed at Osage and Towanda. A cement truck will fill the hole (with cement) at noon today.

The Township is doing a comparison of health insurance costs at different municipalities.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

McNeill Heroin Forum Long Overdue

Because I cover Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board, I was unable to attend State Rep. Dan McNeill's heroin forum last night at Whitehall High School. Ironically, a Bethlehem City Council member wanted to go, too, but was stuck at a meeting as well. But Mick Dee, McNeill's legislative aide, called to tell me the get-together was well-attended and quite informative.

Fortunately, the press covered it, and you can read read Kurt Bresswein's well-written account in The Express Times. He reports LC DA Jim Martin as telling the audience that there had been five overdose deaths over just the past few days. That's not five overdoses, but five deaths.

I was told that Bethlehem police respond to about five drug overdoses a week. Though they have been trained in the use of Naloxone, they have no kits.

183 House Seat: Grammes' Nomination Petition Under Siege

Nomination petitions filed by Marc Grammes in the 183rd State House race have been challenged by three citizens. Gammes, a Republican, is running for the seat being vacated by Julie Harhart. Two other Republicans - Cindy Miller and Zachary Mako - are also running.

Two Democrats are also seeking to win the seat - Phillips Armstrong and Terri Powell.

Updated 3 PM, Grammes Petition Challenged For Failure to File Statement of Financial Interests, Powell and Mako Nomination Petitions Challenged as Well.

According to a news release from Cindy Miller, in which she refers to herself as "small businesswoman, trusted township supervisor, wife, and mother," she states Grammes' petition has been challenged because he neglected to file his Statrment of Financial Interests with the Ethics Commission at the time he filed his petition. If this is true, his campaign is in trouble. In other cases, the state supreme court has ruled that this omission is a "fatal defect."

In addition to the challenge directed at Grammes, there have been two other nomination challenges in the 183rd legislative distict.

The noimination petition filed by Republican Zachary Mako has been challenged by the same attorney who filed against Mako - Larry Otter. In addition, a legal attempt to remove Democrat Terri Powell from the ballot has been mounted by a group of four Democrats represented by Adam Bonin.

Route 412 Improvements Destroy Bethlehem Restaurant

You might not think much of any restaurant that includes the words "Coke Works" in its name, but Nick Coke Works Restaurant was at one time a thriving eatery for the breakfast and lunch crowd driving between Hellertown and Bethlehem. It was located just off Main Street, and people could easily pull in and out.

But that was before progress came to Bethlehem. First came Commerce Center Boulevard. LVIP VII quickly followed, along with a Walmart distribution center and other businesses. The expected increases in truck traffic meant that major improvements were needed on Main Street, especially between Commerce Center Boulevard and nearby Route 78

All of these changes meant that Nick's was no longer so easy to find. Instead of a quick jump on and off Main Street, a patron would be required to travel along several roads within LVIPVII , going back and forth like inside a maze. Zoning Officer Suzanne Borzak, who is very familiar with Bethlehem, said she was "driving forever" to get to the property.

Eventually, people stopped coming. "We had to shut down," Despinas Kotastos told Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board at their February 24 meeting. "What are you gonna do?"

One thing would be to find some other uses at the property. With the help of Bethlehem Attorney Jim Holzinger, Kotastos asked for a special exception that would allow her to rent two offices at a restaurant that was first established in 1978.

"This is a very unique property," Holzinger told the board. "The whole area around it has been tremendously impacted. ... It really is a shame.

Unanimously, the Zoning Hearing Board agreed to permit Kotastos to convert the restaurant and the floor above it "offices or such similar use as determined by the Zoning Officer."  

In other business, the Board unanimously granted Nicholas Bozakis' request to convert some commercial garages near his business - Nick's Pizza - into two residential units on West Spruce Street. Bozakis told zoners that the garages had proven too difficult to access from the narrow street.

Attorney Holzinger represented Bozakis as well, and told the Board that these garages once served as the stables for horses used by the Bethlehem Police Department. They will be razed.

Zoners also agreed, by a 4-0 vote to the dimensional variances needed to convert a single family home at 418 E. 5th Street into three multifamily dwellings that would house college students. James Byszewski, a principal at Webster, said he has invested approximately $2 million to 40 homes, most of which are on the South Side. Zoning Officer Suzanne Borzak is a former code inspector, and told the Board that Webster always goes "above and beyond" what is required by code. Webster was represented by Bethlehem Attorney Lisa Periera, who has had considerable success in zoning matters before the Board in recent years. Michael Sntanasto recused himself from considering the application because he knows Byszewski.

Juan Gonzalez' request for an auto repair business at 818-820 Evans Street was delayed for a month, with his permission, so that the Board could study a 16-year old decision in the matter that might mean they have to rule in his favor.

Finally, Charles Tommor's appeal of an enforcement notice requiring him to pave a third parking space on his property, located at 505 16th Avenue was dismissed. Tommor failed to appear without explanation.

Leeson Arson Suit Update

Earlier this month, I told you that a damaging 2014 fire at the Leeson Law offices in Bethlehem has sparked a civil suit. No arrest has been made, but the City Fire Marshal ruled that the fire was an arson. Just as the two-year statute of limitations was set to expire, Selective Insurance Company started the lawsuit against Bethlehem Recreation Coordinator Mark Atkinson. Bill Leeson, Managing Partner at the Leeson law firm, is the City's Solicitor. Selective filed its action as the subrogee for the Leeson law firm and DMAR Construction, which performed the fire restoration.

The action contained no Complaint, but is simply a writ of summons for now. That's a formal notification to someone that he is being sued. According to the civil cover sheet accompanying this writ, this is an an "intentional" tort action.

Arson is considered an intentional tort.

Expect to see a Complaint soon. Bethlehem Attorney Paul Bender has entered his appearance for Atkinson, and has issued what is known as a Rule on Selective Insurance. It will be required to spell out, in detail, exactly why it is suing Atkinson.

No one is talking, and I don't blame them. We'll have to wait and see the court papers when they are filed.


LV Bldg Trades Endorse Morganelli in AG Race

The Lehigh Valley Building Trades today formally endorsed Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli for Attorney General yesterday, following a meeting in Allentown.

Morganelli has a long history of labor support. His father was a lifetime union blue collar worker who worked as an oiler with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local #542 for 30 years. He was also a Teamsters for 10 years. As a steelworker, he was a member of AFL/CIO. John's mother was a union garment worker and member of ILGWU. Morganelli represented a union before he was DA and has been attentive to union issues including enforcement of the Construction Misclassification Act.

"I am proud to have the support of the LV Building Trades," beamed Morganelli. "They know me the best and my commitment to enforcing laws that protect the hard working men and women in the labor force."

The Lehigh Valley Building Trades is an organization composed of local construction unions. The members are local residents who are plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, bricklayers and members of various other construction related professions. The following are the constituent unions: Boilermakers Local 13; Bricklayers, Tilesetters and Cement Masons Local 5; Carpenters Local 600; Cement Masons and Plasterers Local 592; IBEW Local 102; IBEW Local 375; Elevator Constructors Local 84; Glaziers Local 252 DC 21; Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers Local 23; Heavy Highway Construction Workers Local 158; Ironworkers Local 36; Laborers Local 1174; Millwright and Machinery Erectors Local 1906; Operating Engineers Local 542; Painters and Allied Trades Local 1269 DC 21; Plumbers Local 690; Road Sprinkler Fitters Local 669; Roofers and Waterproofers Local 30; Sheet Metal Workers Local 19; Steamfitters Local 420 and Teamsters Local 773.

Full Disclosure: I support John Morganelli in this race and made a small donation to his campaign.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dent Endorses Kasich For President

From Congressman Charlie Dent's campaign offices. - Today, Congressman Charlie Dent endorsed Gov. John Kasich for president and joined his campaign as a member of the Kasich for America Leadership Team in Pennsylvania.

Dent praised the Ohio Governor stating, "John Kasich is a proven leader who knows what it takes to get things done for the American people. During his very successful time as the governor of Ohio and as chairman of the Budget Committee while in the House of Representatives, he repeatedly demonstrated his ability to bring both accountability and fiscal responsibility to government."

"Too many people feel that their voices are being drowned out by constant bickering and obstructionism in Washington. I believe John is the candidate who is humble enough to listen to the American people, reasonable enough to build consensus with lawmakers while maintaining commonsense principles and strong enough to bring real, effective governance to the White House. That is the type of leadership America needs now and that is why I am endorsing John Kasich for President of the United States," concluded Dent.

A life-long Lehigh Valley resident, Congressman Charlie Dent represents Pennsylvania’s 15th congressional district. He is the co-chair of the TuesdayGroup, a group of center-right Republicans dedicated to promoting fiscal responsibility and a strong national defense. He has been a leader in Congress in shepherding support for real solutions that promote economic growth and stability.

Said Kasich, “I deeply respect Congressman Dent and his efforts to advance conservative solutions that bring lawmakers together in Congress on behalf of the American people. Day in and day out, Charlie puts the priorities of his constituents in Pennsylvania’s 15th district above the fray of politics. I am grateful for his endorsement and he is a great addition to our team.”

Should Taxpayers Fund Union Prez Salary?

A news release from the Fairness center indicates thsat Allentown taxpayers Steven Ramos and Scott Armstrong have filed suit in Commonwealth Court against the Allentown Education Association (AEA), the Allentown School District (ASD), and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) to end a contract provision letting the AEA president work for the union while drawing a publicly funded salary and benefits.

“It’s absurd that Allentown taxpayers are being forced to pay a union employee’s salary along with health and pension benefits,” said Allentown taxpayer Steven Ramos. “How many students could be educated with the more than $1 million the district has given to a private organization? This misuse of public money must end.”

Allentown School District, the third largest in the state, has consistently struggled financially. Since 2011, the district has laid off 272 teachers. Incredibly, during those layoffs, a classroom teacher lost a job so a ghost teacher could stay on the district’s payroll. In an insult to dedicated teachers, the union president accrues seniority over classroom teachers while skipping school to work for the union.

You can read the complaint here. In November of last year, ASD Solicitor John Freund told the school board that paying the salary of the union president was illegal. His opinion can be read here.

Lindy Li Claims Nomination Petition Challenged

Lindy Li is a 24 year-old Princeton grad who could be working in the financial sector, raking in the dough, but has decided instead to run for Congress in the gerrymandered 6th District, which seems to contain portions of all 67 counties. Someone has challenged her nomination petition, and Li believes the culprit is her Democratic opponent, Mike Parrish. She has released this statement:

We learned today that my opponent will challenge our petition signatures in a desperate attempt to prevent a primary election on Tuesday, April 26th. Our team filed 100 more signatures than he did.

It's becoming increasingly clear that my opponent doesn't want this campaign to be focused on you and the issues facing Americans everyday. Pennsylvania residents are saddled with student loan debt, concerned about national security, and disappointed with our elected officials in Washington. If the only thing that he is focused on is kicking me off the ballot, then I seriously doubt his commitment to the citizens of the 6th district. Instead of engaging in a battle of ideas, he's retreating to lawsuits. Is he afraid to allow the people to decide?

There are many ways to win elections, and the approach a candidate takes reveals a lot about his or her character. Please walk with us as we fight this legal challenge.

Lindy is a tad left of me politically, but I admire her enthusiasm and hope she prevails in this nomination challenge. A few years ago, Rick Orloski said, "People should decide elections, not judges." I agree, and unless her mistakes are blatant, would hope this fresh new voice remains.

Proposed Palmer Points Panned at Public Hearing

Is Value Place cutting edge architecture?
Will Palmer Township approve controversial plans for a mega-apartment complex smack dab next to St. Jane Frances de Chantal's new digs? Beats me. Supervisors were supposed to make a decision last night, but re-opened the record to allow additional testimony. After two and a half hours, Chairman Dave Colver pulled the plug and put the matter off for another day. Testimony, arguments and a possible decision will come on March 29.

Developer Lou Pektor has proposed converting the abandoned 28-acre ITT facility, located next to St. Jane's along Hartley Avenue, into 312 apartments spread out among 13 buildings  He calls his project Palmer Points, and hopes to collect between $1,200 and $1,600 per month for one and two bedroom apartments. They is within spitting distance of Route 22, so he's sweetening the deal with a clubhouse and a swimming pool. The ITT building would be razed. But he's got a problem. This area is zoned light industrial, and he needs Palmer Township's blessing to change the zoning to residential. Not just that, he also wants Supervisors to give him a density bonus for excellent architectural design. Based on poor testimony last night in a meeting room packed with about 50 objectors, he did a poor job of demonstrating that he's entitled to any bonus.

High density apartments are usually quite unpopular. In the Lehigh Valley, deconversion of single-family homes into multi-family apartment buildings is thought by many to be the single biggest reason why cities like Allentown, and to a lesser extent, Bethlehem and Easton, are in such trouble. The following arguments are often made:
• Multifamily apartments lower the value of single-family homes in the neighborhood.
• People who live in apartments are less desirable neighbors and more likely to engage in
crime or other anti-social behavior.
• Apartments overburden schools, produce less revenue for local governments, and require more infrastructure support.
• Higher-density housing creates traffic congestion and parking problems.
Those arguments against Palmer Points have been made. Resident Joe Gagliano has made them, and has presented Supervisors with a petition signed by 83 homeowners opposed to re-zoning. Whether those arguments are factually supported is another question. According to one Harvard study, the data fail to show that multi-family apartments lead to lower property values, cause more crime or create more traffic. A similar conclusion has been reached by the Urban Land Institute, which adds that high density apartments are far less destructive of the environment.

The reality is that apartments are hot. People are no longer interested in purchasing homes because of the uncertainty in the job market and difficulty in obtaining financing. Home ownership has declined more than 6 percentage points in the last decade - from nearly 70% to a little over 63%. That translates into 10 million more family units who rent rather than own.

The type of apartments Pektor is proposing are for what we call "volunteer renters" - that is, folks with the means to buy a home but who have chosen to rent an apartment. $1,200 a month for a one-bedroom, or, $1,600 a month for a two-bedroom is hardly Section 8 territory.

But there's no denying the perception that high-density housing will cause problems.

Jeff Acopian, who has hired hired prominent Easton Attorney Gary Asteak in this dispute, does provide a factual analogy. In an email to Supervisors, he makes the following comparison to Forks Township.
Look at Forks township. Palmer isn’t as congested as they are- YET. But this kind of project will get us to the Forks level of congestion. Years ago, those in favor of this kind of development in Forks used the argument that this kind of project is good for the tax base. But look at what Forks has now! Besides a very congested community, they've also had to raise their taxes a total of almost 25% in the past 3 years alone. It's a false economy to say this type of project will keep the taxes of Palmer residents low. That's just not true.
Acopian believes more effort should have been invested into luring a light industry into the site, mentioning a trend toward "Made in the USA" industries. But distinguished Zoning Attorney Jim Preston, who represents Pektor, told the Board that Pektor has tried. "If we could sell the property tomorrow, we would not be here."

Jessica McAndrew told Supervisors that this project is very similar to the Madison Farms apartment complex in Bethlehem Township. According to her, people who live in surrounding neighborhoods are now experiencing more vandalism, thefts and scams from "out of state people." She claims things are so bad that a Neighborhood Block Watch has been formed. McAndrew also complained about crowded classrooms at Palmer Elementary, where 30 students to a class is the norm, becoming even more crowded.

I don't know if McAndrew is accurate about Madison Farms. I believe a block watch is being formed, but it's a reaction to the apartments at Northampton Community College, not Madison Farms

Some have hinted that allowing this site to remain light industrial would make it more difficult for Charlie Chrin to lure businesses to his 1,000-acre industrial park in northern Palmer Township, which is supposed to create 5,000 jobs. Converting the zoning here to residential would certainly remove some of the possible competition to Chrin.

After the record was closed in January, Pektor decided that he needed zoning approval for 48' high buildings, and not the 36' in his application. So he presented testimony to the Planning Commission two weeks ago, and Easton architect Jeff Martinson spoke on the subject last night. The higher buildings and density bonus would be permitted if it could be established that there is "excellence in architectural design."

Martison showed two pictures of the proposed buildings and claimed that the rooftops, manufactured stone and chimneys provided that excellence.

Gary Asteak tore poor Jeff apart. He admitted he himself was not the architect who designed these buildings, and is unaware of any awards given to the actual designer. When pressed, he called the design "prototypical" and then later called it part of the "vernacular architecture" in this region. In other words, common. He refused to use the word "common" or "typical" once he realized where Gary was headed, but had already screwed himself.

Amazingly, this architect had no idea what the height of these proposed buildings actually is, and never bothered looking at the Zoning Ordinance, which defines these things. Eventually, Chairman Dave Colver had to read the definition himself.

Martinson did no favors to his cause when he produced pictures of the proposed buildings, which look exactly like the Value Place Extended Stay Hotel in Bethlehem.

"You're trying to turn this town into extended stay hotels!" joked resident Alex Karapetian.

It was at this point that Colver decided he had heard enough for one night. Though he kept tight control on outbursts, he made sure that everyone who wanted to speak got a chance. Some residents were allowed to speak several times. He mentioned there's a five-minute rule on comment, but added he has never imposed it.

One woman - her name is Karen Wasielewski - made comments when she was supposed to be asking questions and asked questions when she was supposed to making her arguments. That's common at zoning and planning hearings. Palmer Township Solicitor Chuck Bruno gently teased her on her mistake, and she joked, "That's because I'm married to a dumb Polack."

Updated 9:30 am: In an earlier version of this story, I got Lou Pektor and Lew Ronca mixed up. Now both of them are going to sue me.          

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Judge Joe Barner - 46 Years of Service in Bethlehem Township

Magisterial District Judge Joe Barner
Imagine a time when Bethlehem Township police officers had no cell phones, no two-way radios, and in some cases, only parts of a uniform. A time when police officers had to buy their own weapons. Or when officers on patrol had to swing by the municipal building from time to time to see if a light was blinking at a nearby pole. If it was, that meant there was a call. There was no 911. No dispatch.

Imagine a judicial system with no magisterial district judges. Instead, there were Justices of Peace who were paid only if a Defendant was found guilty. They wore no robes. Their courtrooms consisted of their parlor, where coffee and cookies would be served.

This was the world of law enforcement in 1967-8. At that time, Joe Barner had other things on his mind. Like dodging rocket attacks in Da Nang, where he was a military policeman with the Air Force. "If I survived, I was going to do something with my life," he vowed. But what? His parents had no money to send him to school. They urged him to consider law enforcement. In 1970, he become a patrolman with Bethlehem Township. Now a Senior Magisterial District Judge, he is still quite active.

Both police work and the minor judiciary have changed dramatically in the 46 years since Barner first became a police officer. On the day of his interview, Barner was hearing cases, not in his living room, but a courtroom on Stefko Boulevard. Wearing a black robe Barner was offering an Arabic interpreter instead of coffee and cookies.for a young college student charged with a minor criminal offense.

Though he admitted that he likes to "fly below the radar," Barner took the time to discuss his lengthy career in criminal justice.

When he first started in law enforcement, there was no DNA evidence. Officers would "wait forever" for state police to come up with a match on fingerprints lifted with scotch tape. File drawers held criminal records that were often misplaced

Barner, who wanted to make a difference, put himself through Alvernia College by going to school at night. He earning a Bachelor's degree in criminal justice. From there it was night school at Temple and a Master's degree in Education. He was set to pursue a doctorate until he realized he'd be attending classes at the same time that his daughter was studying to be a pharmacist. .

In addition to his education, Barner also attended the state police academy, and was also selected for training at the FBI National Academy in Quantico.

As he gained education and experience, Barner rose through the ranks of the police department, and eventually became Chief. It was a position he held for 22 years. Calling him an "excellent" police officer, Commissioner Tom Nolan credits Barner with starting the "tradition of a well educated police department" before being elected as a Magisterial District Judge in 2000.

For the next 15 years, he served on the frontline of Pennsylvania's judicial system. Though called the minor judiciary, these judges handle the majority of cases considered, from neighbor squabbles to a disputed parking ticket. In Barner's courtroom on Route 191, he posted an excerpt of a decision from the late Chief Justice Ralph Cappy, who called magistrates "the bulwark between the police and rights of citizens."

The biggest challenge Judge Barner has seen on the frontline are young adults caught up in serious crime. He noted that most have no family support, no job and no military option. By default, they lapse into a life of crime.

He also laments the truancy cases that magisterial district judges often see. He said he tries to find out why, and in one instance of a good student attending Northeast Middle School, discovered that she had been the victim of bullying.

But he loves the "day to day contact with everyday people" who bring different personalities to his courtroom.

"I've married quite a few people over the past 16 years," he said with a smile. He will bump into people at the store and they tell him, "You married me!"

"Hope it worked, he answers.

Though forced to step down from the bench at age 70, Northampton County Courts are using Barner and three other senior judges to hear cases in vacant districts.

Barner and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, have two daughters. Rene is a pharmacist while Kim works at Freemansburg Elementary School.

NorCo Gaming Board Accepting Impact Grant Applications

Northampton County's nine-member Gaming Board have begun accepting applications for impact grants from an anticipated $1.6 million in slots revenue that should trickle into County coffers this year from the Sands Casino. The first application has already arrived, according to Executive Director Karen Collis during the Board's February 22 meeting. All applications must be in by March 2.

Northampton County also receives about $1.2 million in table games revenue from the Sands, but that money is controlled by County Council. Table games revenue can be spent on anything considered in the "best interest" of the County. But with slots revenue, priority must be given to requests dealing with the impact created by gambling. In addition, these impact grant requests are limited to Bethlehem and the communities surrounding the Christmas City. Those are Freemansburg, Hellertown, Lower Saucon Bethlehem Township and Hanover Township.

If there is money left over after impact grants are awarded, the Gaming Board may consider grant requests from other municipalities. Last year, the slots revenue was only enough for impact grants.

Treasurer Tom Nolan indicated that the board is sitting on $263,000 in uncommitted funds as of the end of January. Its restricted account, from which grants are awarded, is down to $13.66.

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

Seth Vaughn, Council's liaison to the Board, was absent from the meeting.

Green Pond Marsh Developer Withdraws Waiver and Deferral Requests ... For Now

Traditions of America, the developer proposing an active senior community next to an Audubon-designated Important Bird Area known as Green Pond Marsh, has temporarily withdrawn its request for Township approval of waivers and deferrals. That announcement was made at the February 22 Bethlehem Township Planning Commission meeting. It is still moving ahead with development, but advised the township that it is engineering a formal plan to replace a sketch plan currently under consideration. Township Commissioners had been scheduled to vote on these waivers and deferrals on February 15, but its meeting was canceled as a result of an icestorm.

Is NorCo Council Crooked?

"What's wrong with those pictures?" asked Tony Pristash before yesterday's Gaming Board meeting.

"Those are previous Councils," I answered.

"Yeah, but they're all crooked," observed Pristash.

"Exactly!" wisecracked Jay Finnigan.

Subpoenas will be next.

McNeill To Host Town Hall About Heroin Epidemic

There's little dispute that heroin overdose deaths have reached all-time highs in Pennsylvania and nationwide, causing more fatalities than car crashes. It's an equal opportunity killer, too. Suburban deaths are steadily climbing. It the heroin is laced with Fentanyl, it becomes 30-50 times more potent. State Rep. Daniel McNeill, D-Lehigh, will host a town hall meeting on the heroin and opioid addiction epidemic that is plaguing the Lehigh Valley.

The event will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24 at Whitehall High School, 3800 Mechanicsville Road, Whitehall in the Large Group Instruction Room.

McNeill will be joined by Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin, Lehigh County Sheriff Joe Hannah, Lehigh County Administrator for Drug and Alcohol Layne Turner, Lehigh County Chief Deputy Coroner Andrew Kehm, Toxicologist in Emergency Medicine for Lehigh Valley Health Network Dr. Matthew Cook, Devin Reaves from Young People in Recovery, representatives from HOPE (Heroin and Opioid Prevention Education), Denise Continenza from Communities That Care/Penn State Extension, and Nicholas Labar, a recovering addict and advocate for clean and sober living. Parents and students are invited to ask questions and be part of the discussion.

The meeting will focus on how and why children get involved with drug use, how to identify children who are abusing the drugs, and what the community can do to fight back and prevent the use and abuse of such addictive narcotics.

If you plan on attending, please consider writing a brief story. I will be covering Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board at that time, but I think we all need to know how we can help.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Winter is Trumping

"Donald Trump is a very nice person."

So How Do You Handle the Sting of Defeat?

On Friday night, before a packed gym at Allen High School, Central Catholic High School's basketball team was humbled in a quarter-final loss in the District 11 championship AAA race. The team lost in a Holy War against Becahi, which turned things around after winning only three games last year. Becahi will face #1-seeded Pottsville on Tuesday night, but Central's season is over.

It was a tough season for my grandson, who was usually 6th or 7th off the bench. But he never complained and gave it everything he had in his limited opportunities to play. So how did he react when his season suddenly ended?

By going to a basketball game.This weekend, he visited West Virginia and from there, bounced over to watch the Michigan Wolverines and Central Catholic alumnus Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman play in Maryland.

In a matter of days, his AAU season starts.

Winner of Democratic AG Debate? Republicans

Three Democrats running for Attorney General had the opportunity to trade barbs during a weekend debate at the Progressive Summit, which was held this year inside the swanky Hilton Harrisburg.  People inside could pretend to be liberal, but without really having to look at the poverty that engulfs so much of our urban cores.

The three Democrats seeking their party's nomination are Northampton County DA John Morganelli, Allegheny County DA Steve Zappala and Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro.

Republicans seeking the nod of their party are Montgomery State Senator John Rafferty and former federal prosecutor Joe Peters. They declined to attend a debate at which their presence was obviously unwelcome and joked about by moderator Mike Morrill.

The only candidate with no experience as a prosecutor, or in trying any cases, for that matter, is Josh Shapiro. So naturally, he would be the favorite in a straw poll of 65% of the so-called progressives at this oh-so-important gathering. The crowd seemed to be limited to people from southeastern Pa. and the Harrisburg area. Shapiro's inexperience was blasted again and again by Morganelli, and to a lesser extent, by Zappala.

Noting his 24 years of experience as Northampton County DA, Morganelli argued he is the state's most senior DA, and one who has personally tried 25 first degree murder cases. Zappala has 18 years of experience in Allegheny County, but tries no cases. In a county his size, which prosecutes more cases every year than the entire population of Northampton County, he explained that it's more important to be an administrator.

In contrast to two veteran prosecutors, Morganelli called Shapiro a "self-described politician." When Shapiro touted his chairmanship of the Pa. Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Morganelli derided it as a "MAC machine" that hands out federal funds to municipalities. "It has nothing to do with crime fighting," he complained, noting that Shapiro has only held this particular title for a few months.

"He has titles but no experience," Morganelli observed. "How do you fix something you know nothing about?"

Shapiro eventually countered that he would be an "activist" Attorney General who would stand up for the constitutional right to a thorough education as well as clean air and water. He portrayed himself as a "reformer" who as a state representative stood up for "Democratic" values against the "status quo." Shapiro later added he was not running to be the state's 68th District Attorney.

After Shapiro stressed this constitutional right to a through education, Morganelli noted that Shapiro accepted $25,000 from Students First PAC, which advocates for charter schools.

Moderator Morrill failed to pose a single question about two 800-lbs gorillas in the room - Kathleen Kane and rampant political corruption in Pennsylvania. He instead focused in issues that mean little to everyday Pennsylvanians, like the LGBT movement and "structural racism."
From time to time, the issues came up. Zappala conceded that Pennsylvania is the "most corrupt state" in the country, and Shapiro blasted the "mess" in the AG's office. Though Morganelli has previously called for an overhaul of that office, he actually defended Kane at the debate, admitting only that "she made mistakes."

All candidates pledged to support the eventual nominee.

On points, Morganelli scored an easy victory. If you want to see a vivisection, watch the debate.

You could say Zappala won, too. Morganelli was a pit bull with Shapiro. As underdog, he needed to be tough. But he probably hurt himself as well. Zappala was able to just sit there and watch.

But the real winners weren't there. The Republicans won. If this debate establishes anything, it's that the Republican nominee, most likely John Rafferty, will be the next Attorney General.

Democrats have already ruined any hope they have of retaining this important office with their abysmal failure to address the real issues confronting every day citizens. It's not, like Kathleen Kane thinks, a group of old farts in black robes who sometimes send naughty emails to their pals. Nor is it, as Michael Morrill seems to think, "structural racism," although that sounds very liberal. Nor is it the LGBT movement, which is oh-so-passe.

People don't give a shit about a transgender's right to tinkle in a public ladies' room. What bothers ordinary people are street gangs, fatal drug overdoses, random violence and ripoffs by predatory lenders and other shady businesses. In addition, there's no public confidence in a government so gridlocked it's unable to even agree on a budget. Legislators engage in rampant pay-to-play, ghost voting and violate campaign finance laws as a matter of routine in Harrisburg, where Shapiro claimed to be a reformer.

In the urban communities, crony capitalists have taken over, leading to federal investigations in Harrisburg, Reading, Allentown and Philadelphia. The state's top prosecutor is herself facing perjury charges and her law license is suspended. The party's top Democrat, Marcel Groen, may yet be caught up in the federal investigation in Allentown.

Republicans have long had the power to remove Kathleen Kane from office. But they've allowed her to remain. They know she is a constant reminder to ordinary citizens, including me, that we made a big mistake four years ago when we chose a pretty face over someone who was actually qualified.

In this climate, people will turn to the Daddy party - the Republicans. This debate also establishes that so-called progressive Democrats are out-of-touch. One of the hosts bragged about being at the Hilton without a tux, but he was still at the Hilton. Maybe Governor Wolf should take another trip in his Jeep Wrangler and pretend he's poor.

Blogger's Note:  I am compelled to note that I personally support and have contributed $100 to John Morganelli's campaign. In my view, he would be an outstanding Attorney General who would ovehaul that office and restore confidence, but his fellow Democrats have already lost this race.

Updated 9:15 am: In an earlier version of this story, I got one of the Republicans wrong. I have corrected this error and apologize. 

John Brown Takes Campaign to Bethlehem Township

NorCo Exec John Brown has invited the public for "free coffee, cake and conversation" at the Williams Restaurant on Tuesday night between 6:30 and 8:30 pm.

"Bring your family and friends!" the mailer says, so should I go? I think I will. My own invitation must be lost in the mail.

Brown, who is running for state auditor general, is careful to note, "No taxpayer money used for this event or mail piece."  His invitation is sent out under Lehigh Valley Postal Permit 387, and indicates it is paid for by Friends of John Brown.

According to his annual campaign finance report, Brown had just $810 in his campaign treasury at the end of 2015. But he did pay political consultant Gray Birks $3,500, and that may have funded a limited mailer.

During his first year in office, Brown did use taxpayer funds for several informational town halls, including one in Bethlehem at which only two persons who actually live there were present. Brown awarded a $76,500 (it was originally $84,000) no-bid contract to Kim Plyler's Sahl Communications, and these little soirees were part of the deal.

Brown could argue he was using taxpayer funds to promote the County, not himself. But it's impossible for him to maintain that fiction now that he is running for statewide office.

He's running against Democrat Ernest DePasquale, a breath of fresh air among statewide Democrats accused of corruption, perjury and complete intransigence.

I will say, as a Democrat, that it's going to take more than a cup of coffee and piece of cake to buy my vote..

It will probably take two.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Opinions Online, 2/20/16

Blogger's Note:Opinions Online is a regular Saturday feature. If you'd like to express your opinion on any topic, click on the Opinions Online button on my left sidebar. You can also call 385-325-2564. In addition to these submissions, I sometimes highlight comments from throughout the week and re-publish them here.


The Lehigh Valley lost a cherished labor leader, boxing fan & community activist - RIP Steve Curto

Blogger's Reply: He worked very hard for Sam Murray's judicial race. I can say I shared a Pat Sportelli spaghetti meal with him and Tom Nodoline, and he was a class act.


wonder how the green pond preservationists feel about green pond country club being sold and turned into houses?

will it happen????


My condolences to you for losing your mother to Asbestosis. It is a horrible way to go. By any chance was she employed at the Northampton County Courthouse?


I'd like to see a pole & or statistics on prostitution stings set up by local police (Bethlehem Twp):
1. Do they make for a safer community?
2. Do they impact real estate sales / prices?
3. Are they a cash grab?


Today's post on Bethlehem twp. was excellent.
I read you blog every day.

G. John Bryant , Jr


Here is yet another example of how the federal government has completely failed the people:
It is illegal to kill a Canada Goose. These damn flying rats are a total nuisance to many property owners, are overpopulated, yet they are protected. If my property weren't so visible to neighbors and passers-by, I'd kill every damn goose that touched the ground here. Worthless poop generators they are.


Does being gay impact government leadership?


The Lehigh Valley probably has its weakest delegation to Harrisburg in recent modern day history. This includes Senator Boscola and Brown. Ask yourself what has any one of them accomplished in the past 2 years or more. Jeanette Reibman must be turning over in her grave. She was the last respected legislator we had. By the way diverting taxes from the commonwealth to a piece of Allentown to me is not a success as time will tell.


Any elected or appointed official who has anything to do with public parking should do us all a favor and visit Corning New York. Or better yet Planning Commission,, invite them here for a valley wide meeting.
Briefly here is how it woks: drive into town and its busy street and get 2 HOURS OF FREE PARKING. After that meters are available or parking lots where one has to pay. From Friday night around 6 parking is free until Monday around 6 am. I counted over 200 businesses on their main street and there were only 2 empty store fronts. Place is jammed with people down town until the wee hours. I`d go back in a flas


Bethlehem claims to be open for business while trying to woo Fedex, but at the same time Main St is struggling to survive. There are countless storefronts with nothing to show.

Little Italy has been closed more than a year. Corked, by association, is on borrowed time. The clothing store across from BrewWorks just shut it's doors, as did American Hairlines.

I understand that the city can't prevent all businesses from going under but it's quite obvious that there is a problem here that needs to be attended to. It's time to table the Martin Tower discussions and instead focus on Main St. Without Main St Bethlehem will turn back into another downtrodden city.


Just got finished reading donchez's state of the city. Sure used the word "I" a lot. Major swollen head on this guy. Far as I can tell the major accomplishment was 22 years as a tree city and 600 smoke detectors. By the way booby, they're not free. The citizens paid for them.
9.7 million casino cash for "public safety" or we'll lose 110 cops. What a simpleton crock that statement was.


What are the chances of Jimmy's Hot Dog in Easton moving to the NIZ in Allentown?


Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is totally in control of the 2016 election. By words and deeds, he is FORCING citizens to examine their government and to define what is America. Because of Mr. Trump, I expect many more people to go to the polls in November than would have gone without a "Trump" in the race.

A huge turnout will, of course, increase the amount of voters who determine our picks to fill local offices, as well.

Right now, I don't believe Donald Trump will be the eventual winner. I honestly think our politicians now in place will drive him off. STAYING in place is what incumbents are all about, I think. Trump threatens the status quo.

Career politicians are NOT what's best for any electorate. I'm going non-incumbent this November.

Fred Windish


the ex teacher (grabbing a pension and health benefits), ex councilman (grabbing a pension and health benefits) present mayor (adding to his pension and health benefits) needs to reduce expenditures. Here's some hints your committees probably haven't been smart enough to think of. 1)Privitize the golf course, eliminating both union and non union jobs cutting associated costs, pensions and other benefits. 2) do the same with the grass cutting, thus eliminating more union jobs and even more pensions benefits, etc. 3) turn the city garage over to a private concern further reducing all the crap mentioned above.

Study it. Now having given my advice I realize that you can't cut all the positions. You need more people in street and parks to do snow removal and to maintain public properties. Just keep the sober ones.


Your story about Rose S., the lady whose body was found in a recycling container, was very kind, and very appropriate. May she rest in peace, and I hope those responsible are found and locked up post-haste.

There is no known connection, but the fact is that the Republican ladies were over here one night last week at the gun club, learning how to shoot. These are ladies in their 60s, 70s, and 80s! God bless them, we all maybe ought to do the same.

Blogger's Reply: I was very upset over that homicide for a lot of reasons. She was obviously a very good person, and I still feel terrible about how she lost her life. I was so impressed that APD did not ignore this, but investigated it vigorously, even though it came at the price of an officer being hurt.

Friday, February 19, 2016

NBC10 Investigates Schlossberg Ghost Voting

NBC10 has done an investigative report on State Reo. Mike "Darth Voter" Schlossberg's vote for an absent colleague, in violation of House rules. Schlossberg attempted to minimize the practice when confronted by Channel69, claiming he needed to ghost vote to deal with evil "tea party extremists." But NBC10 discovered that the House member for whom Darth Voter was votng had mysteriously voted four other times that day, even though he was absent. Barry Kauffman, who heads Common Cause in Pa., said this practice creates government cynicism. "What this really comes down to is government integrity."

The Schlossberg perp walk on camera is priceless.

State Auditor Gen'l: Using Campaign Funds For Lawyers Should Be Illegal

Calling our arcane state campaign finance laws a "joke," State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said they need to be reformed to impose contributions limits and bar the use of campaign funds to pay lawyers. Currently, at least three elected officials are using campaign funds to pay for lawyers. The include U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah, Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski.

NorCo Council Treats Gracedale Nonprofit Options Skeptically

Gracedale workers listen to NonProfit Options
After being elected as President of Northampton County Council, the first thing John Cusick did was urge fellow Council members to adopt a resolution authorizing a "study" of the advantages and disadvantages of converting the County nursing home, Gracedale, into what is known as 501c3 nonprofit. During his Council campaign, Cusick argued that this would enable administrators to get medicare and Medicaid reimbursements at the same level as is provided to other non-County homes. Cusick got what he wanted, and a study was authorized in January in a 6-3 vote, with only Ken Kraft, Bob Werner and Peg Ferraro opposed.

Premier, the County's Administrator at Gracedale, had offered to provide this research at no charge. Vice President John Belko, whose company already manages two nursing homes that have been converted into nonprofits, presented his company's findings at the February 18 meeting of Council, with about 15 Gracedale employees sitting in the office, including union agent Jim Irwin and union president.Hector Rivera. 

No one spoke during courtesy of the floor. But Controller Steve Barron cautioned Council, before the presentation was made, that  he would "highly recommend a true and independent opinion" from a party that has no interest in the matter."We have no preference," stated Belko.

A 501c3 nonprofit is one that is exempt from federal income tax. Persons who make donations are able to deduct their contributions. It is barred from involvement in political campaigns. 

Booster Club Option

The most innocuous form of nonprofit Belko described is one that would enable the facility to raise private funds that are tax deductible. Barron called this the "booster club" option because it is similar to booster clubs at many schools, which have a 501c3 status. This is a kind of 501c3 group that Bob Werner and Peg Ferraro had described over a year ago, and no one opposes this concept.  That's because the nursing home would still remain, in all other respects, a county owned and operated nursing home.

County Control Option

The second option discussed was one in which Gracedale's assets would be conveyed to a 501c3 nonprofit corporation, but the County would still be in overall control. According to Belko, the County would still receive the same Medicare and medicaid reimbursements as a county-owned home. But he indicated the employees would no longer be considered County employees.

Controller Steve Barron pointed out that this would be a disaster. Because all these employees will be considered involuntarily terminated, they would be able to take their pensions.

Another drawback is that there would be a smaller pool for health insurance and workers' comp, which would result in higher costs.

The home would no longer be able to rely ion the County for things like IT services, but would have to make its own arrangements.

Belko stated that Gracedale would no longer be hampered by the bidding requirements imposed by state and county law, but ken Kraft questioned whether that's true. Since the asset itself would still be county-owned, Kraft maintained that all those requirements would still apply. Belko admitted he just didn;'t know and would have to research the matter.

Belko admitted the unpopularity of mass firing and mass re-hiring. "All you're doing ... is taking people's pensions and paying less money, probably minimum wage." complained Ken Kraft "Basically, the employee loses.".

A final drawback, and one driven home by Barron, is that the County would no longer be able to allocate overhead costs to the nursing home. That amounts to nearly $3 million per year.

Privatized Option

The third and final option was one ion which the County would surrender control to some outside board. Though this would enable the nursing home to seek higher Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, Belko warned that under this option, the outside board could decide it no longer will house people with no income.

Bob Werner complained that his proposal, which essentially was a "booster club" option, had been morphed and changed.

There was little sentiment with moving forward with any of the options at this juncture. Hayden Phillips stated he is tracking legislation in the state senate that will increase the reimbursements paid to county-owned nursing homes.

After the presentation, John Cusick refused to allow a Gracedale employee to pose a question that occurred to her during the presentation. He noted that she should have spoken at courtesy of the floor. But that occurred prior to the presentation.

Instead of starting this meeting with a prayer to the "Heavenly Father," as he did last time, John Cusick asked everyone for a moment of silence in honor of deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

In the meantime, I am contacting the Satanic Temple so they can lead a "convocation of the godless" next time council meets. Perhaps that might convince him to keep church and state separate.   

Judge Tidd Reverses Himself, To Remain On Bench

They say a judge is never really a judge until he's reversed himself at least once. David Tidd can now say he's a judge. He's reversed his decision to resign as magisterial District Judge in Hellertown and lower Saucon Township, thanks to an outpouring of support from the community.

Last Friday, Tidd announced he was resigning his position as Magisterial District Judge, effective March 1.I knew he had gone through a particularly vicious campaign. I knew that he had been ill, and had lost income. But I was unaware that he had grown so disenchanted until I spoke with him.

It bothers him that he has to pick winners and losers. I never thought about it because I'm a prick. But I suppose it's troublesome to good-hearted people who know their rulings are going to make some people unhappy. On top of that, mini-judges, as I like to call them, are the Rodney Dangerfields of our judicial system. They may wear the black robe, but only rarely get the respect they deserve. In many cases, it is the magisterial district judge, sitting on the front lines, that keeps our system from erupting into chaos.

I often think of John Gombosi on Bethlehem;s south side, who approached his duties with common sense, humility and humor. He kept the South Side of Bethlehem from breaking out into riots.

The same is true in Nazareth with Elmo Frey, a great judge who had all the Gombosi qualities. He could still be sitting on the bench, but the truancies got to him. He could not understand why no one from Children and Youth was coming to the hearings. He invited me to come for an afternoon of hearings in the slate belt, so I could see things for myself. I'm ashamed to say I forgot.

But this is precisely the kind of person who needs to be on the bench. A person with both knowledge and compassion. Fortunately, Tidd received a large number of phone calls from constituents and his colleagues asking him to reconsider.

Below is his statement.
I recently announced that I was going to be resigning my position of Magisterial District Judge. I was fortunate enough to have been re-elected last year and began my second term in January of this year.

My decision to resign was based upon purely personal issues. When my intended resignation was announced, I am gratified to say that I received an upwelling of support from my constituency as well as professional colleagues, all of whom urged me to reconsider my decision.

I have done so. I have rescinded my resignation and intend to continue with my duties. Upon reflection, and especially upon consideration of the comments of my professional colleagues, I believe I have an obligation to the citizens who elected me to honor their wishes and their votes, put aside my personal issues, and continue my public duty.

LV State House Race Lowdown

Though an anti-incumbent sentiment is definitely on the rise, the following Lehigh Valley state house representatives are running unopposed: Steve Samuelson (135th); Bob Freeman (136th); Joe Emrick (137th); Marcia Hahn (138th); and Ryan MacKenzie.

Contested races are more fun.

Julie Harhart's seat in the 183rd is up for grabs. The Republican nomination is sought by Marc Grammes, Cynthia Miller and Zachary Mako. Democrat Phillips Armstrong, Jr.and Terri Powell are seeking their party's nod. There's blood in the water.

Justin Simmons is being challenged by fellow Republican Bill Coyle in the 131st. No Democrat has announced. Bill Coyle, who thinks he's more Republican than Simmons, can start by explaining why he only votes now and then, and never in primaries..

Gary Day is facing Democrat George Stephen Nicholas in the 187th. There are about three Democrats in that district, including Nicholas.

Peter Schweyer, who represents Allentown's new District for Latinos, the 22d, is facing an honest-to-goodness Latino. His name is Norberto Dominguez, Jr., and he's even a Democrat. And a community organizer! Schweyer better bone up on his Spanish lessons and start calling Schlossberg his esé.

Mike "Darth Voter" Schlossberg will square off against Republican Ben Long in the 132d.

Dan McNeill will face Republican Dave Molony in the 133rd. Dave has run about 7,000 times for this seat. I think he looks on it as a form of free advertising for his successful accupressure business.

Rose Sieniawski, RIP

This picture of Rose Sieniawski is from her Facebook page
I've been upset ever since the story first surfaced - on Valentine's Day of all days - that a woman's body was found inside a recycling bin near Dieruff High School. The victim was described as an Asian woman who could be anywhere between 18 and 30 years old.  I called a few Asian women I know to make sure they were OK, but without scaring them. After all, a call from me is probably annoying enough. The last thing I wanted to do was ask, "Oh by the way, you weren't murdered and stuffed into a recycling bin lately, were you?"

Fortunately, the women who have not yet blocked my number told me they were doing fine. But still, everything about this murder really bothered me. It disturbed me that no one seemed to know the victim. Descriptions of one bracelet inscribed with "A daughter is a little girl who grows up to be a friend" hit me.

This was a person. She had family. She lived a life.

I never would have guessed that Allentown Police would be so successful, and so quickly, in cracking this case. It came at a cost, as one officer was himself shot while serving a search warrant. The intensity of their investigation tells me that at least they feel that all lives matter, even Jane Does who were never reported missing. They did not make wisecracks about her like the insensitive comments I read in several news forums, posted by anonymous cowards. They instead found out who killed this human being.

Her name is Rose Sieniawski, age 59. According to what appears to be her Facebook page, she graduated from St. Adams High School in India. She apparently continued her education, graduating from the City University of New York, College of Staten Island. She worked both there and in the legal department at Goodwill Industries. She also worked for United Way. She received a master's degree in 2010, at age 53.

She signed a petition to President Obama in 2013, asking him for a U.S. Policy in Colombia that would end the violence and killing there.

She had her opinions, and weighed in with Staten Island Live when that paper covered Angelina Jolie's proactive decision to have a double mastectomy. "Why not get a mammogram, go to the doctor?" she asked. "What is she going to do next, remove her leg so she doesn't get leg cancer? You can't do that."

She seemed to be a spiritual person, though I know nothing about her family except that she had one.

May she rest in peace.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

LC Exec Tom Muller's 2016 State of the County Address

Blogger's Note: Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller delivered his address this morning at DeSales University. Of all the local leaders I've heard, I believe Muller is the only one currently in office who truly understands that the Lehigh Valley's problem stems from single-mother households in which kids never have a chance.

Good morning. I'd like to share with you the perfect introduction into the state of Lehigh County. This wonderful 4-minute film is thanks to Ted Rosenberger--a recent appointee to the Airport Authority. Ted shot the footage from his "Vertivue" helicopter and did all of the editing and production.

[do not have video}

Obviously, we have a beautiful and diverse county, complete with numerous higher education options, extensive health care resources, terrific social, sports, cultural and recreational venues, the State's third highest number of preserved farmland acres, abundant natural resources, ideal distribution logistics, great workers and relatively low taxes. It's no wonder Lehigh County has been the fastest growing county in the State for a number of years and has had population growth of 1% per year for the past 25 years!
Economically, things are on an upswing. Unemployment continues to drop, the real estate market has strengthened, companies and developers continue to focus on our county and government support for development has contributed to that interest. One project that drew a lot of attention and controversy, along with support from both the East Penn School District and Lower Macungie Township, is the Hamilton Crossings shopping center. The latest update on that project is that the three anchor stores--Costco, Target and Whole Foods--are on schedule to open this summer and the other tenants will open by early Fall. That’s a lot of new jobs and this center being built on blighted land has already generated almost $1 million in tax revenue and paid contractors $23 million for their work.

But, obviously, the biggest beneficiary of government support has been Center City Allentown and that support has had its critics but Allentown’s transformation is important to the entire county. Several years ago, Mayor Pawlowski and I had a brief debate regarding the importance of Allentown to the County. He took the understandable position that Allentown is one-third of the County. My counter was that Allentown represented one-third of the County’s population but only 19% of the County’s tax revenue and over 70% of the County's spending. Those statistics are shifting as the development is generating increased revenue and crime has dropped for 8 consecutive years. I'd like to share with you another video--this one by students at Allen High School--that very effectively captures Allentown's transformation.

Many people tend to forget that a sizeable portion of Bethlehem is part of Lehigh County and there has been a lot of controversy lately regarding the Martin Tower site—over 50 acres of prime urban land that has been standing vacant for over a decade. Mayor Donchez and the City Council have moved in favor of a plan that will probably result in the razing of Martin Tower itself and include some retail development considered threatening by downtown merchants. Those concerns are understandable but, in my opinion, underestimate the strength of the businesses they’ve created and I support what those elected officials are trying to do.

Dialing down to the state of our Lehigh County government, the picture is quite good. Starting with what many focus on exclusively—taxes—our tax rate is less than 1% above where it was 25 years ago and the taxes on the median home are more than 40% less than in either Berks or Northampton counties!

We entered both 2014 and 2015 with budgeted deficits and eliminated them by finding ways to improve efficiencies, refinance debt and carefully shrink County government. As a result, our personnel count has dropped in each of the last 7 years and is now down to below where it was in 1988. Meanwhile we’ve added staff to critical public safety initiatives including the Central Booking Unit, the Regional Crime Center, a Digital Forensics Lab, the Coroner’s Medicolegal Center and a Ballistics Lab.

We also have a "rainy day" fund that exceeds the minimum recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association and enjoy ratings from both Moody's and SandP that have enabled us to profitably refinance borrowings. A point that most impresses the ratings agencies is the fact that, with the exception of the Coca Cola Park bonds, our debt goes out only 6 years and our overall debt is far below guidelines for a county of this size.

All of this good news doesn't mean we don't have some challenges. Cost reduction efforts at our Cedarbrook nursing homes has brought the financials well under control while retaining our 4-star rating. Better yet, two actions moving through the State legislature could move us to a breakeven point or better if passed. But, we desperately need to reach agreement on the management of Cedarbrook, which I hope we will accomplish yet this month. And our big open issue is determining if we are going to renovate the South Whitehall building or build a replacement home. We should lock that decision down by mid-year and will then take advantage of our strong ratings to fund that plan via a bond.

Other issues on our plate include working to eliminate a budgeted 2016 deficit of $6.5 million, meeting our pension obligations after a down-market year, bringing open union negotiations to positive closure and maintaining our provision of services while the State continues to bumble with its 2015-2016 budget. To put that last issue into perspective, you should be aware that, even excluding Cedarbrook, over 50% of the County's budget is provided by the State. I don't care what side of the political aisle you favor, there is simply no excuse for the State's failure to enact a budget.

My brother-in-law's response when someone tells him he's looking good is often "better than my x-rays" and the same might be said for Lehigh County. Despite all of the positives, there are issues of concern.
On the political front, we need campaign finance reform and I applaud Commissioner Brace’s willingness to take on the challenge. The "pay-to-play" legislation passed last year was good media fodder but focused on the area where there were already significant "checks and balances". The loop needs to be completed--as it has been in Philadelphia--to address influence-buying by both individuals and special interest groups.

Leaving politics behind, the great growth we've seen over the past 25 years and particularly the past 10 has put tremendous pressure on our infrastructure and I think we all can attest to the fact that traffic--particularly truck traffic--is an issue. The truck traffic is a natural fallout from our prime location for product distribution and distribution centers result in heavy usage of our roadways while generating a relatively small number of local jobs….unless the trucks are built by Mack!

But trucks aren't the only traffic issue. We live in a county of commuters; 47% of Lehigh County workers commute to jobs out of the county and 54% of those who work in Lehigh County come from outside the County. More important, most of those workers--over 80%--travel alone and only 2% use mass transportation. The burden all this traffic puts on our highways and bridges is clear.

We have spent millions of County tax dollars on bridge repairs and replacements in recent years and PADot has projects lined up for the next decade. The good news is that we are better off than most counties in the State. The bad news is that the need to invest in our infrastructure and the need for greater usage of public transportation will not subside. That's why we need to seriously consider enacting the $5 fee for vehicle registrations that was authorized by the State legislature last year to fund transportation-related needs and has already been enacted in some counties.

I believe another challenge facing us is linked to both Allentown's transformation and general business forces. The strong job and leasing growth in Allentown has come at the expense of our suburbs and we need to successfully draw businesses from outside the County and work with the businesses we have to help them grow if we want to end up at a true "win-win" end point.

We also can't afford to lose any big businesses and should be wary when the PPL spin-off--Talon--hasn't announced a final site selection and the company officers have been granted "golden parachutes" in the case of an acquisition. Similarly, I won't be comfortable until the Air Products spin-off commits to a home in the County. I've spent too many years in the corporate world in acquisitions, divestitures and closures to feel comfortable until final decisions are made.

And, of course, as Alan Jennings frequently reminds us, Allentown’s transformation has to extend beyond the borders of the NIZ!

But, Lehigh County's biggest challenge, in my opinion, is far more basic. With all due respect to the Declaration of Independence, the fact is that all men are not created equal....or at least not born equal. Every child represents tremendous potential but the odds of achieving that potential for a child born into a single-parent, low income home, are not equal to those of a child born into an affluent two-parent home. That single parent can be at wit's end faced with the challenge of being the bread winner and trying to raise that child. If you are thinking “Not here. Not in my area.”, consider these facts:
• Over 40% of children born in Lehigh County each year are born into a single-parent household.
• 45% of Lehigh County families with children below 5 years of age and only a female head of household live below the poverty level.
• Even affluent school districts such as East Penn and Parkland are dealing with homeless students numbering in the triple digits. It’s not just an Allentown School District problem.
• An education--starting with pre-school--is critical. If a child isn't reading at the 3rd grade level by 3rd grade, his or her odds of earning a high school degree are severely diminished.
• If an "at-risk" child can be saved and earn a high school diploma, the savings to taxpayers over that individual's lifetime is over $2 million on average.
These are sobering facts facing us right here in our county. We simply can't afford to ignore them and I believe there are three key steps we need to take:
1. We need to recognize the problem and be willing to make solving it a high priority.
2. We need a bi-partisan commitment and effort. The partisan politics in play 75 miles to our west should make this need clear.
3. We need to focus and consolidate efforts as much as possible. One thing I've observed over my first two years as County Executive is that there are many individuals and entities trying desperately to make a difference, but far too many are lacking the resources to make a long-term impact. There is great truth in the phrase "United we stand; Divided we fall." and we need to set aside parochialism to achieve the greater good. We have a good example of such an effort. This past year we pulled together a number of individuals and groups with interest in eliminating homelessness among veterans and that team is approaching its goal.

Unfortunately, there is no single answer to the problem and the Lehigh Valley has lost many of the individuals who never shied away from funding a worthy cause. But we all can find time to spare if we believe in the cause and we need organizations to seriously assess if combining efforts could drive better results. I plan to continue to meet with the concerned groups to explore more effective ways to ensure that every Lehigh County child has the opportunity to achieve his or her potential.

In closing, I'd simply say that we have a financially strong county, rich in resources and opportunities but those opportunities can only be realized for all of our citizens if we work together. We can be better together.