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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, March 31, 2016

PFA Details of Terminated Corrections Officer

Last week, I told you that Northampton County has asked a judge to reverse an arbitrator's decision to reinstate a corrections officer who engaged in domestic violence. In addition to two PFAs that his wife ultimately dropped, I pointed to criminal charges that had been filed against him in 2004 and 2006. Agent 99, who was pulled his PFA file in Lehigh County, also stumbled upon criminal charges filed against Hoffert in 2001. Those charges have been expunged, but Agent 99 found a civil file for the court costs.

Agent 99 pulled Hoffert's PFA in response to several anonymous comments that attempted to minimize what had happened. I've decided against publishing the file in its entirety because it would reveal the home addresses and personal cellphone numbers of both Hoffert and his wife. But I am reproducing the claims his wife made in her 2014 petition, right after the assault.
I was sent to the hospital after several open hand hits by Shawn Hoffert on my face. He continued. He slapped my face back and forth from one side to another. He punched me in the eye, causing several stitches, swelling, neck pain, etc. With his two hands he put them around my neck and was choking me. He was banging my head on the floor. he did this 2-3 times. I was gasping for air. While he was doing this, he either said "I'll kill you" or "I can kill you."

McNeill Hosts Second Town Hall on Heroin Epidemic

Dan McNeill hosts Second Town Hall about heroin epidemic
I caught half of State Rep. Dan McNeill's Town Hall at Coplay's American Club Pavilion last night concerning the current heroin and opioid addiction epidemic.  There were about forty people in the audience including a few parents, teachers and high school students. McNeill did practically none of the talking. Instead, we heard from three parents whose children died as a result of heroin addiction. In addition, two young ladies who are in the very early stages of recovery spoke. One has been clean for just 76 days, and spent much of the meeting shaking The other has only been sober for two months.

A Drug Overdose Parent

Sharon Stauffer, a mother from Emmaus, had the most poignant advice. "If you're gut's telling you there's something wrong, there's something wrong." She lost her son Ryan to a heroin overdose in 2010. He dide with two needles stuck in his arm and eight empty bags of heroin at his side.

He started his drug use in 2001, smoking marijuana. Now most people don't progress from that to marijuana, bit he did because he is an addict. He had battled his addiction fro years, in and out of rehabs.

Three months before his death, friends noticed needle marks in his arms and he began crying. "I can't stop," he told them.

Before he overdosed, he made an appointment to see a counselor. She couldn't see him for a few days because one of her other clients had just overdosed and had died.

"I could be doing a lot better," he told her.

"A least you're not dead," said the counselor.

Three days later, he was.


Sarah McCann, 76 days clean

Sarah McCann
Sarah McCann, age 24, is a cutie from New York's finger lakes. Literally, she's a farmer's daughter. And a heroin addict. She's still in a very fragile condition, and was shaking as she waited her turn to speak.

She began dating early, at 14, and began abusing heroin with her boyfriend.

In May of last year, she discovered that she had become pregnant. But doctors told her she would lose the baby, and she did. Depressed, she abused heroin even more. Then her grandmother, with whom she was very close, passed away. That made he rmore depressed, and the drug abuse continued.

Forty bags a day.

Things came to a screeching halt when her boyfriend of ten years died as a result of a heroin overdose.His parents blamed her and refused to allow her to attend the viewing. She was accused of supplying the fatal dose. "I wish I had been the one who gave it to him," she said. "Maybe it wouldn't have killed him.

The good thing about Sarah's story is that she's only 23 and has a long life ahead of her.

Heroin Caucus. 

State Rep. McNeil, said he and another State Rep will be forming what he calls a "heroin caucus" to find ways to combat this epidemic. According to everyone there, this is going to be a banner year.

Parent Support Group

If you have a teenage child suffering from addiction or alcoholism, .this is a place for support and encouragement. This group meets every Thursday, 7 pm, at First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, 3231 Tilghman St, Allentown, PA 18104.  For more information, contact Donna Jacobsen at DonnaJacobsen657@gmail.com

I will tell you about other support groups in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Palmer Tp Approves 312 Apartments at Vacant ITT Site.

Gary Asteak chats with Chuck Piazza before the hearing starts. 
Palmer Township's Board of Supervisors unanimously decided last night to approve controversial plans for a 312-apartment development called Palmer Points at the old ITT factory at 3100 Charlotte Avenue. They did so before a standing-room only crowd and over the vocal objections of prominent Easton Attorney Gary Asteak, numerous residents and Asteak's client, business owner Jeff Acopian. He kept referring to himself as Rodney Dangerfield. The Board's decision followed 10 1/2 hours of testimony in contentious hearings that first began in January.

The developer of this project, Lou Pektor, was represented by zoning law expert Jim Preston. Providing legal advice to Palmer's Board was respected Easton Attorney Chuck Bruno, who got his start under the wing of Charlie Spaziani.

The apartments will be a mix of one and two bedroom apartments spread out among 13 buildings inside the 28-acre tract. These will be three and a half stories high. Developer Lou Pektor has been allowed to increase the density, but will be required to provide a needed traffic signal at the Greenwood and Hartley Avenue intersection and make other infrastructure improvements.

Pektor will collect between $1,200 and $1,600 per month for one and two bedroom apartments. They are within spitting distance of Route 22, so he's sweetening the deal with a clubhouse and a swimming pool.

Pektor's Bethlehem Fields
Although Supervisors spoke of other apartment projects in Palmer, this is very similar to Pektor's Bethlehem Fields apartments on Cherry Lane in Hellertown, right off the route 78 exit. That is a 216-unit development, is fully rented, and has resulted in little additional traffic.

High density apartments are quite unpopular, especially when planned near single family homes. The following arguments were made concerning Palmer Points.
• 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.
Palmer Tp's five-person board, chaired by Dave Colver
Those arguments are rebutted by a Harvard Study as well as the Urban Land Institute. But after hearing these complaints from so many people, Palmer Board Chair Dave Colver asked Township Manager Chris Christman to look into these concerns at other apartment buildings in Palmer Township.

Impact on Schools - Palmer View is a 306-unit apartment complex and has 27 school age children. Woodmont is a 216-unit operation and has 20 school age children. Based on what is going on there, Christman estimates that Palmer Points will produce 30 school age children.

Traffic - Police spent 30 days measuring the traffic along Hartley Avenue, the main point of access of  Palmer Points. They counted 3,350 cars per day, driving an average of 30 mph. The 312-apartment complex will add 624 cars to the road and will increase traffic by about 50%.

Crime - Woodmont, Gateway Terrace and Palmer View all have extremely low call rates. Statistically, they are negligible  According to Christman, the majority of police calls are 911 hang ups and false alarms, with little evidence of drug activity.

During February's hearing, Jessica McAndrew told Supervisors that people in homes near the Madison Farms apartment complex in Bethlehem Township are now experiencing more vandalism, thefts and scams from "out of state people." Christman asked Bethlehem Township Police Chief Dan Pancoast whether this is true and he responded that there was one incident of vandalism. During construction, there was some theft of material. Hhe noted three retail thefts at the nearby Shop-Rite and said the crime rate at the apartments is "extremely low."

Property Values - In reaction to those who complained their property values would deteriorate, Christman cited a study from the Delaware Valley Planning Commission, indicating that there is actually a slight appreciation in the property value of single homes. This was confirmed by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. Christman also spoke to a realtor who sells homes in the Woodridge Falls housing development, located near Woodmont. He was told sellers are getting 92% of their asking prices, and that properties are on the market an average of 58 days.

Taxes - The total taxes currently paid at the ITT site is $42,435.16. But once Palmer Points is in business, the estimated total real estate taxes (school,county and township) will be $534,959.50.

"I feel this Board has to deal with the facts," stated Colver.

Tom Comitta, deer in the headlights
Height Increase from 2.5 to 3.5 stories

In February, Jim Preston attempted to establish "excellence in architectural design," which would justify an increase in the size of the buildings from 2.5 (35') to 3.5 stories (48'). He called Easton architect Jeff Martison, the same guy who was overseeing a project in Easton in which the building would collapse later that week.

Among other things, Martison was clueless when asked to define what constitutes a story.

Gary Asteak tore poor Jeff apart. He admitted that he himself was not the architect who designed these buildings, and was 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.

Preston decided he better try again, so last night, he had a new witness who would establish "excellence in architectural design." After all, he couldn't possibly be worse than Martison, right?

Sign at library, where meeting took place
Wrong. Thomas Comitta, a certified planner from near Philly who presented a 15,000 page curriculum vitae, was a disaster. Unfortunately, he's a consultant in Bethlehem Township and is helping them prepare their updated comprehensive plan.

Comitta is actually a landscape architect. He's never designed an apartment building or any residence. But there he was, horn rimmed glasses and all, providing thirty-minute answers to five second questions. Among other things, he let it be known that he could help Palmer write their own design guidelines.

He went to Harvard, you know.

Things got so bad that Chuck Bruno had to step in and tell him to just answer the damn questions.

Comitta said he wouldn't call the design "ugly" or "repugnant" or "awkward."

When Asteak finally had him in his clutches, Comitta was soon ready to be committed. Asked to provide examples of other designs in this area that are "a cut above," he was unable to do so. He actually at one point likened the design to a Moravian building. That was likely news to Pektor, who graduated from Moravian.

Asteak had Comitta simultaneously saying that the architecture is "excellent" and "normative."

Yes, normative is a word. It means normal, not excellent. .

Because the zoning ordinance mentions pitched roofs, and this design is a pitched roof with gables and dormers, he hung his hat on clause in the ordinance.

So did Supervisors, when it was time to vote. But this was clearly the weakest part of the plan.

Gary also tangled with Supervisors at times. He thought he and others should have been allowed to cross-examine Christman's "study." but Bruno refused to allow it.

Asteak began suggesting that this was a "done deal and we're wasting our breath." Bruno responded that Asteak was essentially making an "accusation of corruption, and you better back that up."

He then explained there is no need to go back and forth with "point and counter-point."

"If you don't let me speak, I'm going to raise Hell," said a man behind me in the audience. "Every one of you has spoken ten times," replied an exasperated Dave Colver  He also claimed that the information provided by Christman was no study, but just a response to questions he had after listening to residents express their concerns.

"There was no Watergate report," he said. . .

Though Supervisors gave Pektor all the relief sought, and did so unanimously, they want the traffic signal in operation before he gets a CO for any of his 13 buildings."You need the signal now," advised Township Engineer Brian Dillman.

That in turn will require a Highway Occupancy Permit from PennDOT, and Diillman predicted that will take "at least" a year.

Colver suggested that Pektor might want to return with phases, so that he might be able to build one or two buildings to generate the revenue needed to pay for the traffic signal and other infrastructure improvements.

Courthouse Workers Who Steal Public Parking

Two of the usual offendors
If you ever visit Northampton County Courthouse, your parking options are very limited. You could spend a small fortune at a Panto parking meter, if a spot is available.There's also a deck by the courthouse, but it's always full. For most of you, it's a long walk, and uphill, from lots that are farther away. If you are elderly or disabled, make sure your life insurance is paid  Just remember that one of the reasons you need hiking boots is because some County workers are pigs who are stealing parking that was specifically set aside for you.

I told you the parking deck is always full. but there should always be several empty spots. That's because the County has set up about five "30 Minute Parking" spots inside the deck, and in close proximity to the courthouse. These are there for members of the public who have short errands like paying a tax bill, getting a dog license or picking up a license to carry.

Unfortunately, some County workers treat these as their own reserved parking places. They drive in at the beginning of the day, and just park their cars there until it's time to go home. Because they are too lazy or important to walk a little, they will often penalize elderly and disabled citizens.

Most County workers won't do this. In fact, it is a County worker who told me what is happening. It disgusts her. It's also a slippery slope. A County worker who knowingly deprives the public of a parking spot is in my opinion far more likely to cheat the County in other ways.

Yesterday, I positioned myself in the parking lot at the end of the day and saw that each of theses 30 minute spots was taken by a County employee.

I photographed two of them as they got into their cars. Although I should post both of their pictures here for the world to see, I have no desire to get them in trouble. I just want them to do the right thing.

I also photographed two of the cars, and know that one of them belongs to a high-ranking County employee who is paid well enough to know better.

I will be back. Next time, I will publicly shame all employees who hog spots intended for the public they are supposed to serve. It needs to stop.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Leeson Law Offices Lawsuit Dismissed

Litigation over a February 9, 2014, fire at the Leeson Law offices, located at 68-70 E. Broad Street in Bethlehem, has ended with no sparks. Fire Marshal Craig Baer ruled that the blaze was an arson. Though no criminal charges were filed, an insurance company representing the Leesons filed a civil suit against Mark Atkinson just before the two-year statute of limitations was about to expire.

Atkinson is Bethlehem's Recreation Coordinator. Bill Leeson, who maintains a private practice at the Leeson Law offices, is Bethlehem's Solicitor.

No complaint was filed. Instead, Selective Insurance company, as subrogree to the Leesons and the contractor who did the fire restoration, filed what is known as a praecipe for a writ of summons, a formal notice of a lawsuit. The cover sheet to this lawsuit indicated that the action was for an "intentional" wrong.

Neither Atkinson nor Leeson has discussed this matter. But Atkinson's attorney, Paul Bender, filed a Rule directing Selective Insurance to file a Complaint, detailing exactly what happened and why it is entitled to damages.

Selective declined to do so, even after receiving a 10-day notice of intention to dismiss the case.

And that's what has happened. On March 28, a non pros was filed in Northampton County Court, which is how a case is ended when a party refuses to file a Complaint.

Because the two-year statute of limitations has now expired, the civil matter is over. For the crime of arson, the statute of limitations is five years.

NorCo Wants $407k For Regional Crime Center

Sheriff Dave Dalrymple waits to make his presentation. Immediately behind him are
Police Chiefs Carl Scalzo (Easton) and Larry Palmer (Palmer).
Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin's dream of a truly regional crime center came a step closer to reality on March 28.

Its technical name is the Regional Intelligence and Investigative Center (RIIC) or Regional Crime Center, and has been in existence since 2012. But despite its regional application, which has extended to police departments in Bethlehem and Easton, there's been no regional support. Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin has been forced, year after year, to ask Lehigh County Commissioners to fund this crime-fighting tool.

The main obstacle in Northampton County was then Sheriff Randy Miller. But there's a new Sheriff in town. David Dalrymple, who actually ran the Intelligence Section of the New Jersey State Police, is well aware of the use of computers to aggregate data and solve crimes. He calls the RIIC  "a step beyond" what he saw in New Jersey.

At their March 28 meeting, Dalrymple stood in front of Northampton County's nine-member Gaming Board on March 28 to seek $407,000 in slots revenue so that Northampton County can formally become a part of the RIIC. Informally, Lehigh County DA Jim Martin has already been making the Regional Crime Center's services available to Northampton County's police departments in Bethlehem and Easton..

Dalrymple spoke both as Sheriff and on behalf of the Northampton County Police Chiefs' Association, which recently voted unanimously to support the RIIC. Police Chiefs Mark DiLuzio (Bethlehem), Guy Lesser (Lower Saucon), Larry Palmer (Palmer Tp),  Carl Scalzo (Easton) and Robert Shupp (Hellertown) were in the audience and acknowledged by Gaming Chair Jay Finnigan. In addition to the police chiefs, about half of Northampton County's Assistant District Attorneys were also present, showing their support.

Earlier this year, Northampton County DA John Morganelli announced that Northampton County had signed on to a digital forensics lab established at DeSales University by Lehigh County DA Jim Martin in 2011. At that time, Morganelli expressed his desire to join the Regional Crime Center, using gaming funds.

What is the RIIC?

DAs Jim Martin, John Morganelli agree on
RIIC, Digital Forensics Lab
Located in Allentown, the RIIC offers investigative case support, strategic analysis and situational awareness to county law enforcement. In addition, it provides expert assistance from crime analysts who can review millions of pieces of data from numerous incident reports, investigatory files and prison records to make connections that solve crime. It even provides a daily blog for police officers, not about politics, but recent criminal activity

A perfect example of the Regional Crime Center's value is the 2013 investigation of Ulysses "Slime" Rodriguez. He was convicted in a shooting death earlier that year, outside of Scoobies Gentlemen's Club. Rodriguez was observed leaving the scene in a vehicle with taillights that started at the roof and got wider toward the middle of the vehicle. It could only be a Volvo or a Honda CRV.

Examination of prison records at the Regional Crime Center revealed just a few jail visitors drove those models, and the getaway car was soon identified. The vehicle's owner only knew Rodriquez as "Slime", but RIIC review of millions of incident reports quickly revealed that "Slime" was none other than Rodriquez.

Sheriff Dalrymple explained that the $407,000 sought will enable Northampton County's 30 police departments to integrate the information from their incident reports and investigative files with Lehigh County's 17 police departments, state and federal agencies, and data from both county jails.

In addition to enabling police in the Slate Belt to understand what is happening in Emmaus, Dalrymple stated that the Regional Crime Center will make them aware of trends and will provide timely investigative support that is currently unavailable to most departments.

Dalrymple explained that if someone committed a crime in the meeting room, he could forward the surveillance camera images to the RIIC, and in-house analysts would them provide them to every police department in the Lehigh Valley. "We could immediately get input," he noted, instead of having a detective make calls and send images to a newspaper.

Dalrymple told James Pennington that crime centers are "commonplace," nationally. But he said that what makes the RIIC unique and valuable are the in-house analysts who make associations and "tell you what you need to know."

"We feel passionate about this," said the Sheriff. "This is a product that will enhance immeasurably investigations, officer safety and prosecutions within the County." He added that, if he were still a young detective, the RIIC would probably have to block his calls because he'd inundate them. "It's that good," he argued.

Dalrymple assured the Gaming Board that the RIIC has been instrumental in many prosecutions and investigations arising from or related to the Sands Casino. Earlier, Fremanburg Borough Manager Judith Danko provided a study demonstrating that casinos lead to a rise in major crime after five years in business. "Basically, the impact is all around us," explained the Sheriff.

Total of $2.2 Million in Grants Sought 

Dalrymple will find out on April 25 whether the Gaming Board is willing to fund all or any of the RIIC. There are numerous other applications. Altogether, over $2.2 million is being sought. Slots revenue this year is projected at just $1.7 million, according to Gaming Chair Finnigan. Gaming Board members will rate each grant request

By law, the first round of grants must go to Bethlehem, Northampton County and the five municipalities surrounding Bethlehem. These are Hanover Township, Bethlehem Township, Lower Saucon Township and Freemansburg and Hellertown. To be successful, they must show they've been impacted by gambling. If any money is left over, it can be awarded to other municipalities.

This year's other grant applications are as follows

Bethlehem. -
$88,749 - Replacement of three Lifespan 12 Cardiac Monitors (EMS Director Tom Decker explained that there were 11,652 calls last year, and 832 of them were for problems at the casino)

$39,935- 45 sets of body armor for EMS personnel (Decker admitted this is something new for Bethlehem, although he said they are used in Allentown.
Bethlehem Tp.
$300,000 - Heavy Rescue Truck. (Bethlehem Tp Volunteer Fire Co. Ass't Chief Ron Ford admitted no heavy rescue truck has been needed at the casino, but Bethlehem Township is a back up provider there and is responsible for 10 1/2 square miles in the Township, including vehicles travelling to and from the casino. His department makes about 800 calls per year, and 40% are for accidents. The heavy rescue truck is used between 12-24 times per year).

$110,000. - for the retention of a police officer.

$6,813 - Tasers.

$42,400 - Two License Plate Recognition Systems. (Bethlehem Township already has four. Gerald Yob said he had just read that day that the state will be offering grants to local police departments, and CPT Gregory Gottschall agreed that some state funding might be available).

$73,854 - Public safety software. (CPT Gregory Gottschall explained this funding would help the Township integrate with the RIIC).

$104,723 - Two police vehicles. (Manager Melissa Shafer said there's applications to Monroe County for another four cruisers. CPT Gregory Gottschall stated that five or six cruisers are on patrol during peak hours)
Freemansburg. -
$110,000 - Full Time Police Officer. (Manager Judith Danko explained that major crime is now increasing in her borough, including an armed robbery, nine burglaries and even counterfeiting during 2015. There were also 47 DUIs last year.)
Hanover Tp.
$50,633 - Ford Police Interceptor operated by Colonial Regional Police
$219,150 - Two police officers.

$164,777 - Ambulance for Dewey Fire Company (replacing 11 year old vehicle. Dewey Ambulance responded to the casino six times last year.)
Lower Saucon. -
$105,438 - Police officer.

$37,571 - Police vehicle.

$60,603 - Fire police vehicle (replaces 2006 ambulance with 212,000 miles)
Northampton County. -
$196,116 - for Coroner equipment modernization, including portable X-ray machines  Coroner Zach Lysek discussed the possibility of a tragedy like a casino bus or even a school bus flipping over. "We need to be prepared for when it happens," he said.

$10,000 - Interpreter Fees. Court Administrator Jill Smith explained that the County does have an in-house Spanish interpreter, but paid $38,720 last year for interpreters in other languages. She indicated there's been a rise in the need for Asian language and Indian language interpreters, largely as a result of the casino.

$100,442 - Gambling Addiction Treatment and Support. Drug and Alcohol Administrator Tiffany Rossanese explained that her department did 967 gambling screenings last year, and 10% of those were identified as being at risk, which is twice the national average and five times what Northampton County was before the casino. The funding provided to the County goes to education at the schools and faith-based institutions, and provides transitional housing to people who have lost their homes as a result of gambling.
The Gaming Board members who will rate and decide on these applications are Joe Kelly (Bethlehem), Tom Nolan (Bethlehem Tp), Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Jay Finnigan (Hanover), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown), Dave Willard (Lower Saucon), Tony Pristash (Northampton), John Dally (Pen Argyl) and James Pennington (Lower Nazareth).

McNeill To Host Second Town Hall Concerning Heroin ODs on Wednesday

In the aftermath of the public interest sparked by his first town hall on the heroin and opioid addiction epidemic, State Rep. Dan McNeill recently hosted a St. Paddy Day fundraiser, not to fill his own coffers, but to fund research. He will also host a second town hall this Wednesday, 6 pm, at American Club Pavilion, 300 Cherry St., Coplay.

“We need to keep this conversation going in order to educate everyone about the seriousness of this issue, McNeill said in a news release. “If we can prevent one young life from being lost, it will be worth it.”

Some of the scheduled speakers include: Detective Sgt. Jeffrey Taylor, Drug Enforcement Agency; Nancy Howe of G.R.A.S.P. (Grief Recovery After A Substance Passing); Donna Jacobsen, parent leader of the Lehigh Valley Parent and Family Support Group; Devin Reaves, Young People in Recovery; and Chelsea Ruane and Sarah McCann, recovering addicts. Several parents who have lost a child to an overdose have also asked to speak.

Parents and students are invited to ask questions and be part of the discussion.

The meeting will continue the conversation about why children get involved with drugs, how drug use can be prevented through education, and what the a community can do to fight back against such destructive behavior with often-tragic results.

Monday, March 28, 2016

I Never Had Spring Breaks Like This

My grandson Dat is a basketball fanatic and had what had to have been the perfect Spring break for him. On Thursday night, he was in Anaheim to watch the Sooner crush the Aggies in the Sweet Sixteen.

Seeing a game like that would be enough to make any hoops fan happy. But it does not end there. The next night, he watched Kobe Bryant score 28 points for the LA Lakers in a losing effort against the Denver Nuggets.

That should be enough, but it does not end there. After the game, he was allowed to shoot around on the court. And one of the guys he bumped into was NY Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr...

"Like your do, man."

"No, I like your do."

John Morganelli - "What I'll Do as Attorney General"

In this brief video, John Morganelli explains why he should be the next Attorney Gen'l. For his part, Allegheny County DA Steve Zapalla is portraying himself in a TV spot running only in Philly as a champion of "Black Lives Matter." Montgomery County Comm'r Josh Shapiro touted an endorsement from Planned Parenthood.Senator Bob Casey, aka "Fillintheblank", has given his "strong" endorsement of Shpario.

Interestingly, Morganelli has denied working in concert with Zapalla to deny the nod to Shapiro. “I'm not going to blow $600,000 just to help somebody else, though it may end up that way,” he told Pittsburgh Tribune reporter Brad Bumstead.

In the final analysis, this may all be academic. Democrats allowed themselves to be played by Republicans concerning Kathleen Kane instead of forcefully demanding her resignation. Her trial is set to start in August and oh what a show that will be!  If that's delayed, Republicans who control the state house will work hard for her impeachment. Democrats will drown in a sea of corruption that includes state representatives, Mayors and the Attorney General. When they needed to call on her to step down, they didn't. The Republican nominee, most likely John Rafferty, will likely be the next Attorney General, no matter who Democrats choose.

I'd love to see Morganelli elected. There is no doubt in my mind that he'd restore morale and be an effective prosecutor.  But I fear this job is going to go to a politician.

(Blogger's Note: As a matter of full disclosure, I support John Morganelli and have contributed to his campaign.)

Bethlehem Steel - Forefathers of American Soccer

The Bethlehem Steel Football Club, which played from 1911 to 1930, is one of the most successful teams in American soccer history. They won 20 titles, including five U.S. Open Cups. A 1914 article from the New York Times points to Steel President Charles Schwab who “spared no expense to get together a team which promises to surpass any soccer team in this country.”

Bethlehem Steel, at one time the world's largest corporation, is indisputably the forefather of American soccer.

In honor of that team, Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union will sport a replica jersey during an exhibition match tonight against England's Stoke City Football Club, and during other games this season.

Bethlehem Steel Field, located at Center and Elizabeth Avenue, is where they played and was in its time the largest soccer stadium in the country.

Fifteen members of the Bethlehem Steel Football Club have been inducted into the American soccer Hall of Fame.

Bethlehem Zoners Authorize Group Yoga, Auto Repair

Plans to renovate the Wilbur Mansion were approved by Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board on Wednesday night, but two other matters were considered as well. They authorized group yoga and an auto repair shop, but not together.

Wendy Littner Thomson, who operates a grief counseling service from her home at 408 N.New St, was given permission to include small group yoga. She testified and presented literature that therapeutic yoga "is one of the most effective ways to deal with PTSD, grief, depression and anxiety." The Zoning Hearing Board also granted her request for counseling sessions on weekends, limited to 12 times a year. But she will be unable to include group yoga on weekends.

Thomson was represented by Attorney Robert Littner.

Zoners also gave Juan Gonzalez a green light to operate an auto repair shop at 818-820 Evans Street, limited to small repairs and no body work. There was an auto repair shop at that location, but it was destroyed by fire in 2006, and only the building's shell has remained.

Gonzalez was before the Board in February, but agreed to wait a month so that his file could be examined He was reluctant to agree to a continuance because, as he explained to zoners, he needs to get to work

But when his case was called on March 23, he was absent. He had the wrong time and would have missed out completely had Zoning Officer Suzanne Borzak not called him to ask where he was.

"You were nervous about being held up and then you almost missed a hearing," teased Bill Fitzpatrick, who voted to re-activate the use variance. "It's a great project to help the South Side," said Linda Shay Gardner.

Bethlehem Tp Engineer To Survey Brodhead Rd Repairs

It's easy to tell where Hanover Tp ends and Bethlehem Tp begins on Broadhead Road. The Hanover Tp portions is nicely surfaced, but once you hit Bethlehem Tp where Brodhead Road intersects with Township Line Road, it becomes a lunar landscape for approximately 9,000 feet until it intersects with Route 191. At their March 21 meeting, Commissioners authorized Engineer Brian Dillman to complete a $30,000 survey on what he estimates to be a $3.1 million project, without any grants. He told the Board the road is in "deplorable condition."

This paving project will include curbing and 72 ADA ramps. He eliminated ornamental street lights and signalized pedestrian crossings,sidewalks and landscaping. Depending on weather and traffic, Dillman estimates the survey will be complete within two to three weeks.

Nolan noted there's money for the survey in the budget. It's unclear whether there is any money for actual construction.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Opinions Online, 3/26/16

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.


What's the plan for re-use of the Allentown State Hospital property? I recall 3 years ago there was talk of the state wanting to sell it, but if it hasn't sold by now, they want too much money? Will it sit and rot for the rest of eternity? That property has a lot of potential uses, if it can be bought at a price reasonable enough. It is very rare to find a property of that size in a city that isn't an industrial brownfield.


Regarding the "Medical Marijuana bill"...

Just what we need. Another bloated government bureaucracy. What is this new bureaucracy going to cost us? We don't need to keep finding new ways to increase revenue streams. We need to look for ways to decrease and cut bloated, overreaching, out of control government spending. The government should not be in the drug dispensing business; just like it should not be in the alcohol business. Even though the state control of alcohol is different than the medical marijuana legislation, it still creates a new bureaucracy surrounding the dispensing and sale of a product. Determining a medicine is appropriate for certain conditions is not a proper function of government. It is an issue the medical community should address. It's not about being "compassionate" to those who may anecdotally benefit medically from the use of "medical marijuana". It is really all about the money. - Jeff


Does anyone know why the Bethlehem police has stopped putting it's crime logs online? There have been no posts from 11/6/2015 except for one on 11/20 saying they were transitioning to a new system. Was the department unable to get the new system working, or are they just trying to keep us in the dark?


The Bethlehem PD hasn't put the police "blotters" on their blog since sometime last fall. I recall at the time they said this was due to a computer system "upgrade". It takes 6+ months to upgrade a computer system? What gives?


Blogger's reply: In response to the above two comments, I spoke with Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio last week. He told me the reason the blotter has not published is because there's been no crime. "I'm doing pretty good, aren't I?" he joked. He told me the software changes, which will catch private information like social security numbers, are the reason for the delay. He expects things will be back to normal within 30 days.


I don't trust Hillary Clinton because of the allegations that have come out against her. I voted against her. She should not be elected. I don't trust her to be in The White House. I wouldn't even trust her to be the mayor of my town.


Are the efforts of Bethlehem Area Schools and their individual PTA non profit fund raising dollars, worthy of spending those locally earned wages on a borderline Morman religious program called "Leader In Me"? Thousands of dollars have already been spent by the Bethlehem Area School District via questionable grants and PTA dollars. It's scary what this kool-aid is doing to some staffers.


There is no question in my mind, Donald Trump, if Republican nominee, has the best chance to defeat Hillary Clinton. Keeping the Clintons out of the White House remains a top priority. That's Obama, Part 2.

If we get back to having three, co-equal branches of government, with honest, untainted people in Congress, anyone elected new President can be managed and limited to just one term. But, therein lies the problem. We don't!

Our legislative branch has been corrupted. Over the past eight years, those who supposedly serve us in the House and Senate have FAILED. They've lost focus.
Remaining IN office is what guides them, not you and I.

No matter who you prefer as new President, it is essential to clean out all incumbent politicians in the House and Senate. At least, most of them.

Doesn't matter if you choose a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or other. All that matters is, someone NEW gets a chance.

American democracy, liberty, and freedom are in decline. Those now in office, through their actions and in-actions have placed our futures in jeopardy.

Now that President Obama has said there is no difference between Communism and Capitalism, we need to build a better team . . . . quickly!

Fred Windish


Friday, March 25, 2016

Bottom Feeding Blogger Wins Two Keystone Press Awards

Let me apologize in advance. I'm about to pat myself on the back. As most of you know, I'm a bottom-feeding blogger. A disbarred and disgraced lawyer.. A low-life alkie. Perpetually broke. Despised by polite society. Fat. A worse dresser than Ron Angle. But the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association has seen fit to hand me not one, but two, major awards in this year's Keystone Press contest. And yes, they are for journalism.

I took first place in Investigative Reporting for my coverage of the Martin Tower story for the Bethlehem Press. This is the second time I took first place in the Investigative Reporting category. I also received an "Honorable Mention" for my beat reporting of Northampton County.

Over the three years in which I've participated in this contest, I've snagged journalism awards each year.

My secret?

I plagiarize.

While I crow and brag, I should point out these awards are in the smallest division. But in that field. The Bethlehem Press weekly had the highest number of awards, and for the third year in a row! This year there were over 20 individual awards, too many to spell out here. ... Except for me.

By contrast, The Morning Call, which is in the largest and presumably more competitive division, garnered four awards. Bill White took second place in column writing. Jennifer Sheehan got an "Honorable Mention" for a personality profile.  Steve Esack and Emily Opilo took first and second place for news beat reporting. Top paper in the top category was The Patriot News.

The Express Times, which is in the second or third largest division, captured no awards.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Coup at Bethlehem's ZHB

Linda Shay Gardener brought her 10 year old grand-daughter, Marley, to last night's Zoning Hearing Board meeting, which probably qualifies as child abuse. But Marley got even. She quickly took over, and handled the agenda herself.

When Chairman Gus Loupos complained, she had him executed.

Today, she visits the Mayor's office, so he better lock up..

Zoners Approve Plans to Restore Wilbur Mansion, Build Iconic Apartment Building

Wilbur Mansion Office
Following a lengthy hearing attended by about 30 people on March 23, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board voted 4-0 to approve a series of dimensional variances that will allow developers John Noble and Bob Ashford, with no government assistance of any kind, to preserve and rejuvenate the historic Wilbur Mansion that serves as a gateway to South Bethlehem. It will be converted into Class A office space. The adjacent Masonic Temple, which served as a banquet hall as recently as December, will be replaced by  an iconic two four-story apartment building that Noble describes as "Frank Llloyd Wright West Coast, with a touch of South Bethlehem."

Noble and Ashford, who were represented by prominent land use attorney David Backenstoe, are both longtime residents and business owners in the Lehigh Valley. Ashford lived in Bethlehem for over 20 years before recently moving to Coopersburg. Noble, a Lehigh grad, lives in Lower Saucon.

"The driving force for this project was the desire to get something going in Bethlehem," testified Noble.He and Ashford wanted to "get involved in something that would make a difference." When he heard that the Wilbur Mansion was available, Noble made a phone call, and 24 hours letter, had a signed agreement. Eight months later, he had a vision for what he calls a "spectacular mansion, one of the few mansions left in the State of Pennsylvania."

Unlike many other recent Lehigh Valley projects, Noble and Ashford haven't sought a dime from the public. "I'm not subsidized," he said. No NIZ, CRIZ, KOZ, TIF, LERTA, RACP or any of the alphabet soup of handouts that are often given to developers.

The one goal Noble has had from the onset is "preserving a historic landmark that has been there since 1865."

The mansion was originally built by Elisha Packer Wilbur, who was President of Lehigh Valley Railroad, Treasurer and Board member at Lehigh University and was associated with a number of local businesses, including the E.P. Wilbur Trust Bank. He was also a Director at the Lehigh Valley National Bank of Bethlehem. The mansion was sold in 1925 to the Masons, who added the Temple Building  

Noble testified that the Wilbur Mansion features "fantastic" wood work from the 1800's, along with beautiful stained glass windows and tile work. Years of upgrades are needed for electricity and plumbing, but he wants the "function and appearance to remain intact." He not only wants to bring the mansion back to life, but plans to accentuate it on the 4-acre tract so that it stands out. One way to do that is with a 4,200 sq ft glass-encased entrance.

Class A office space in the mansion will be for attorneys, engineers, architects and realtors, but not for "customer-driven" professions like medical arts.

But two separate engineering studies dictate that it's unfeasible to rejuvenate the Masonic Temple, thanks to decades of water damage that has eroded the internal steel structure and black mold. He called the building "structurally deficient, kinda' like the bridges in Pennsylvania." He didn't ant to restore the building as "cookie cut-up building with a whole bunch of windows that look like a factory."

Bethlehem City View Apartments
Instead, Noble himself designed a 64-unit apartment building - it's actually two buildings connected by a 60' wide entrance enclosed in glass - that will consist of one and two bedroom apartments designed to attract a mix of empty nesters tired of a large home and yuppies Underneath there will be 64 parking spaces.

Noble explained that it's actually a parking deck, and the only one of its kind in the Lehigh Valley because they are expensive to build. Every apartment will have its own balcony and there will also be staggered roof height instead of the typical monolithic block. In front of the building will be a parking lot for overflow parking, but everywhere else will be a "sea of green in an urban environment."   He called it a "dynamic community" that would also include an exercise area and other amenities. He is unsure how much rent he'll be seeking, but knows it will be at the upper end.

From both the apartments and the Wilbur Mansion offices, Noble stated there would be beautiful views of the City and Lehigh River and open space in an urban setting.

Though traffic studies are in their infancy, Van Cleef Engineering's mark Bahnick testified that the traffic from the apartments would be about half of that of the apartments and offices.

Most of the audience was complimentary.Robert Vidoni,, who manages the nearly Brighton Court Apartments, asked whether construction would inconvenience his tenants. Noble answered that there is enough room on the four acres to do all the construction on site. He indicated he ideally would like to see the project finished by the end of next year.

Peg Church, who lives in the Wilbur Carriage House, said she's "glad to see someone take the Wilbur Mansion and try to do something good."  Her only complaint was that a four-story apartment building "is a bit of a leg out of the character of the neighborhood."

John Harrington, who lies nearby, applauded the project, but warned that traffic will be terrible between 3 and 6 pm because of St. Luke's.

Even Bill Scheirer, who criticizes most zoning plans, made some attempt to be positive. "There's a quite refreshing difference between this developer and another one who wants to build on the South Side," he said in an obvious dig at developer Dennis Benner.

There were dissenters. "It's not a European City, it's Bethlehem," complained Joseph Legenberg. Others were concerned about parking , although they were repeatedly told that no zoning relief was being sought from parking requirements.

In granting the litany of variances, zoners did condition approval on the requirement that all parking be on site. They also want the architecture to be compatible with the rest of the neighborhood.

Michael Sanatanasto was detained on business and was unavailable.

State House Candidate Chided For Misrepresentations

Earlier in the week, I told you that state house candidate Bill Coyle ducked a number of questions I sent to him. He was on Gunther's WAEB program yesterday. His interview on Tuesday had to be bumped because of the tragedy in Belgium.

Coyle did answer some of the questions I had previously posed.

During the program, Coyle claimed he spoke with State Rep. Harry Lewis, Jr, who is Secretary of the Urban Affairs Committee, and Lewis claimed he did not know who Simmons was.

This is untrue.

Lewis fired off this email to WAEB yesterday, after the show.
It was brought to my attention today that you had a guest on one of your radio talk shows who is running against Representative Simmons. This gentleman apparently made representations that I commented on Representative Simmon’s attendance at the Urban Affairs Committee meetings. I’m very disappointed in such a gross misrepresentation of my brief conversation with this gentleman. Representative Simmons has served his constituents well in his participation on the Urban Affairs Committee.
Representative Harry Lewis, Jr.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

183d Legislative District Update

The following is the latest in the 183rd state house race for the seat being vacated by Julie Harhart.


Cindy Miller - No Challenge. On ballot.

Marc Grammes - Tossed off ballot by Commonwealth Court. Appeal to Supreme court filed 3/17/16.

Zach Mako - Nomination pertition challenged by Cindy Millerr proxy, but challenge discontinued. Remains on ballot.


Terri Powell - Nomination Petition Challenged. Withdrew as candidate on 3/22/16. (According to Dem. Committee member Rich Wilkins, the Commonwealth Court had sustained the ballot challenge).

Phillips Armstrong. - No challenge. On ballot.

Can We Afford Prison Guards With A Domestic Violence History?

Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting one out of every four women. The overwhelming majority of female prisoners - 82% - sufffered serious sexual or physical abuse as children. There is a compelling public interest, obviously, in preventing those who prey on women, either physically or sexually, from ever becoming or remaining a corrections officer. Northampton County is using this argument in court right now to justify the termination of a corrections officer with a history of domestic violence. It is in the hands of Judge Emil Giordano.

Shawn Hoffert, an elected constable in Bethlehem's 13th ward, has also been a corrections officer at Northampton County jail for the past 23 years. But he was fired by Northampton County after an October 17, 2014 fracas with his wife, who also happens to be a constable. Review of his criminal history reveals this has been a pattern. So is working out deals. In 2004, he was issued a harassment citation after he allegedly slapped his wife. Assault charges were filed against him in 2006, although it appears that he them reduced to harassment or dismissed altogether.

In the most recent incident, Bethlehem police responded when his Hoffert's wife called 911 and reported that her husband was drunk, had choked her, hit her repeatedly and then threatened to kill her. They observed that she was bleeding from her temple, and she was transported to Muhlenberg Hospital. She later obtained an emergency Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order, but as often happens, never made it final.

Hoffert was administered a breath test, and registered a 0.157, about twice the legal limit. He admitted drinking, said his wife started the fight and he may have pushed her once to get away. he also claimed she "had a way of producing her own injuries."

Hoffert was charged with terroristic threats, simple assault, simple assault/physical menace and harassment. He ultimately pleaded to four summary charges of harassment and was placed on probation for 360 days. But at his arbitration hearing, he denied abusing his wife and described himself as a pillar of the community. A union VP testified that Hoffert was told by former Corrections Director Arnie Matos that he'd get his job back if the criminal charges "went away."  But Director Dan Keen, who succeeded Matos, had a different view and fired Hoffert.

In his Opinion, which you can read below for yourself, Arbitrator Thomas G. McConnell concludes that Hoffert did engage in acts of domestic violence, but was unwilling to conclude that he choked, hit or threatened to kill his wife. He noted her absence from the equation, although that is common in instances of domestic violence. He ordered Hoffert reinstated without back pay.

The County appealed, using labor lawyer Dave Steckel. In his view, "it is inconceivable and morally reprehensible that a person who displayed (on multiple occasions) such little regard for the safety and well being of a female should be placed back in charge of an inmate population."  He also argues that reinstatement "presents a substantial risk of harm to the inmate population, particularly the female inmate population, as well as to the female Corrections Officers and other female staff, due to Mr. Hoffert's troubling history of committing physical violence against women, and further it unnecessarily exposes the County to significant potential liability in the event Mr. Hoffert once again exhibits physically abusive behavior towards women."

The County was aware of the 2004 harassment incident, which Hoffert apparently failed to disclose initially. I don't know if Hoffert's supervisors even know about the 2006 assault charges. Clearly, there is an established pattern.

I'm all for giving a guy a second chance and would speak up for any corrections officer, firefighter or cop who is fired over a drunk driving charge. But physical violence against women is different. Allowing him to remain in county employment would undermine a public policy that condemns violence against children. Unfortunately, those who are in law enforcement have a bigger domestic violence problem than even the NFL. It is two to four times more likely than in the rest of the population, likely because these are stressful jobs.

I have no idea how Judge Giordano will rule. But I believe the County's position in this case, right or wrong, strikes a blow for women's rights. This, and the County's decision to terminate Madame X, is evidence that that it cares about both the inmate population and other corrections officers. .  
Shawn Hoffert Arbitration

TOA Residents Complain They Can See Warehouse

Bill Hoffman spoke for most TOA residents
Two Traditions of America (TOA) communities for active seniors are located in Hanover Township.Only four homes are left in its newest development on Bridle Path Road. Its 241-home Jaindl Boulevard project has been complete for several years. About ten of these Jaindl residents massed before Hanover Tp Supervisors at their March 22 meeting to complain about the warehouses across the street.

People like Bill Hoffman feel they were misled about the warehouses going in across the street during a 2012 zoning hearing for dimensional variances for two "flex" buildings, structures that can be used for multiple commercial purposes, on Jaindl Boulevard, directly across the street from the TOA development.

At that time, Project Engineer Kenneth Horvath assured both the Zoning Hearing Board and the public that the visual impact of the $25 million project would be minimal because the land slopes down away from the TOA development. Standing on Jaindl Boulevard, he said the see the top 10-15' of these 38-40' high buildings would be visible. From inside the TOA development, only the tops of these buildings would be visible.

"The feeling is that we were really misled," stated Hoffman, who worried that this will diminish property values. He said a prospective buyer would "look to the left, see a massive warehouse and keep on driving by."

"You were not misled," Township Manager Jay Finnigan told Hoffman. He explained that the actual height of the buildings is two feet lower than they could be under the approved plans.

Though Hoffman and other residents made clear that they understand that removing these buildings is unrealistic, they asked that measures be taken to reduce the visual impact. Township Engineer Jim Milot assured residents that he would  look into the matter and present several suggestions at the next meeting on April 12.

The Traditions of America development along Jaindl Boulevard is surrounded by land slated for eventual commercial development. Developer David Jaindl has previously explained that he actually planned for a residential community next to a planned industrial business district. "It's smart growth," he said in 2012 when the zoning variances were heard. "Live here, work here, shop here."

One person who never got that message is Richard Brand, of Betsy Ross Circle. He stated that he and others were assured by TOA that "nothing is planned" when he made his purchase in 2012. "We were totally misled by TOA," he insisted. "Hanover is a great place," he said. "We love it. But we are being surrounded byand our quality of life is deteriorating. We need some help."

No TOA representatives were on hand to dispute Brand.

Resident Ron Coleman added that idling tractor trailers wake him up at night. "It's unreasonable," he insisted.

"Our community is up in arms about this," added Hoffman. Noting that residents pay for their own snow shoveling and street work, he believes the Township should try to d=find a solution. He's unahppy at buffering because it takes trees twenty years to mature.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Vandalism, Sinkholes Reported at Housenick Park

Bethlehem resident Doug Lander spoke at the March 21 Bethlehem Township Commissioner's meeting concerning "more and more vandalism" that he and his wife have noticed during the past two months at Housenick Park. Although he noted that the mansion has been boarded up, it has an "abandoned and neglected look." He added that there are huge sinkholes near a parking lot that was just completed for the park, and suggested that security cameras need to be installed.

Lander and his wife noticed vandalism while walking at the park the previous Saturday.

On Saturday morning, approximately 11:15, my wife and I were walking the perimeter of the Housenick Mansion and observed what appeared to be a break-in and vandalism at the mansion. My wife walks there daily and recalled that as of 4:00 pm on Friday evening, the damage to the property had not yet occurred. Sadly, it seems that vandalism occurs all to often at the property with the resulting plywood covers over windows diffusing the still somewhat stately presence of the mansion.

The attached pictures [you can see them above] show the damage. The bottom half of one of the floor to ceiling windows in the sun room on the north side was completely destroyed to (apparently) gain entrance. Other panes were damaged as well. Some type of pipe was removed and tossed in the yard area and at least two cans of old paint were removed. What little paint left in the cans was splattered on the brick steps and one can was tossed on the steps. Paint was also splattered just a bit down the drive. We spotted the second can in the wooded area on the other side of the stone wall during our walk this afternoon.

We did place a call to the police and explained our findings upon their arrival. The alarm system apparently did work, as they had received a call on Friday night around 8:00 pm. The police indicated that they are at the property on a fairly regular basis, often due to a call that the portable toilet had been tipped over.

During our walk on Sunday, we did notice that the window has been covered with plywood. The paint cans were still lying about. There were also broken window panes in the porch-like area in the rear of the mansion that we had observed on Saturday, but we do not recall if that was new damage. Sadly, while the mansion would appear to have so much potential, the repeated acts of those with no regard for history and who do not respect the property of others, leaves us to wonder if the mansion will too soon be a victim of a tragic loss or simply become too expensive to consider returning to some likeness of its former grandeur.

Lander asked Commissioners what they plan to do with mansion. He said he recalled there was a plan, but it is two years old. Michael Hudak disputed that, saying the plan is only a year old.

Township Manager Melissa Shafer's March report indicates the following facts about Housenick Park:
* The Township now owns the driveway leading to the Park, and will complete paving this Spring.
* Draft plans for the mansion and bathrooms have been submitted to Comm'rs, and they are expected to decide on the best use of the mansion after reviewing them.
* :The Township has applied for a $427,222 grant for the park and trails.
*  Housenick Trustees  have asked for a meeting with Commissioners.

The Question Bill Coyle Has Ducked

Coopersburg resident Bill Coyle, a furniture wholesaler, is challenging Justin Simmons in the Republican primary in the 131st. He appeared as a guest on Bobby Gunther Walsh's radio show in February, which was pretty much a disaster. So my guess is that Walsh has been pressured to give Coyle a do-over, and he'll be on the show again today.

Though Simmons is very conservative, the reason I like him is because he is one of the few state legislators who worked to settle the NIZ lawsuit.

I've met Coyle. After doing so, I checked his voting record and discovered he's pretty much a hit-and-miss voter, especially in primaries. So I find it out that he would showcase himself as a standard bearer for the Republicans, especially since one of the persons who encouraged him to run is none other than Democrat Jennifer Mann.

She wants Coyle to bleed Simmons, while Democrats write someone else in.

He fell for her spiel while paying for her meal at White Orchid.

When Coyle first announced, I sent him a list of admittedly tough questions on February 18. He got them because he sent me an email about them. He has not answered me, and over a month has elapsed  Since he is using Robert Kerr as a consultant, my guess is he won;t be answering me at all. So maybe he'll tell Bobby Gunther Walsh what he's afraid to say to me.
Will you take the pension? (No answer.)

Will you take per diem? (No answer.)

Will you take state car? (No answer.)

Will you take cell phone? (No answer.)

Will you take mileage? (No answer.)

Since you are running against Simmons because of his term limit pledge. What is your term limit pledge? (No answer.)

What are your thoughts on the Republicans blocking Wolf's budget? (No answer.)

How would you be different? (No answer.)

What are your thoughts on Tom Wolf's 2015 budget? (No answer.)

What do you agree with? What don't you agree with? (No answer.)

What are your thoughts on Tom Wolf's 2016 budget? (No answer.)

What do you agree with? What don't you agree with? (No answer.)

How should we fund increase in school funding? (No answer.)

What should we do with property taxes? (No answer.)

What is your current employment? (No answer.)

Why do you think you can do a better job? (No answer.)

Why should people vote for you? (No answer.)

He dodged the question whether he would send out mailers at taxpayer expense when he was on Gunther's show in February. Gunther has stated he would host an hour-long debate between Simmons and Coyle. According to Coyle, Simmons has missed 60 votes during his time in the state house. I have tried, and am unable to confirm this.

Ex-Comm'r Wants Extra $32k For Beth Tp Police Carport

A year ago, Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners awarded a $139,024 contract for an 18-vehicle carport for the Township police patrol cars. The goal, according to then President Marty Zaworski, was to protect not just the police cars, but the technology inside of them. But a few eyebrows went up when the contract was awarded to Weiss Construction. That's because owner Paul Weiss was himself a Commissioner for eight years before being defeated by Pat Breslin in the 2013 election.

Weiss was the low bidder. His bid was $20,000 below the next highest bid. Bids ranged as high as $299,000. The work was supposed to be finished by August, before the cold weather hit.

It wasn't. According to Solicitor Stanley Margle, who is representing the Township in this matter, Weiss was granted two extensions.

When Weiss started, he hit rock 18' below the surface while drilling for the posts. Instead of stopping work and seeking approval for an extra expense with what is known as a "change order," he continued, and went $32,070 over budget. Of that sum, $27,000 is what is owed to the drilling subcontractor. The rest is profit to Weiss.

On January 19, Weiss submitted his change order, seeking an extra $32,070. But Solicitor Margle advised that nothing in the Township's contract with Weiss requites it to pay anything beyond the original, agreed-upon price. He noted it is common for construction contracts to contain what he calls a "rock clause," entitling a contractor to seek additional compensation  if excavation is difficult. But he noted that there was no such clause in the agreement with Weiss.

"You are not contractually required to accept the change order," he advised Commissioners. "It is entirely discretionary with the Board."

"I'm kind of torn on which way to go," lamented Michael Hudak, who was a staunch Weiss ally during his time in office. Hudak has since recommended Weiss for the Recreation Board, as a liaison at Housenick Park, and just this past January, successfully lobbied Weiss for a seat on the Zoning Hearing Board.

Hudak noted it's hard to fault Weiss for finishing the job, rather than halting and waiting several weeks for approval, during which time costs would add up. "I can see why he moved forward," he said.

Agreeing that a rock clause is typical in construction contracts, Hudak suggested that "Maybe we were remiss" for not including such a clause in the Weiss contract.

Margle immediately rejected that argument, noting that it would be against the Township's interests to insert such a clause to benefit the contractor. He added that he prepared an addendum to the original contract, in which Weiss specifically agreed to be responsible for all excavation costs.

Tom Nolan stated that Township has no obligation, "legally or morally," to pay the change order. Malissa Davis added that, in her experience in the construction industry, change orders are approved before, and not after, the work is done.

Hudak suggested paying just the $27,000, and not the profit being sought by Weiss, but no one jumped on that compromise. Then he said he's like to see the other bids.

Commissioners took no action. Weiss himself was absent.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Shapiro's Pay-to- Play Slammed in Montgomery County

People in the Lehigh Valley are waking up to the evils of pay-to-play, which has spawned a federal investigation into political corruption in Allentown and Reading. But not Josh Shapiro. This Democratic candidate for Attorney General has clearly benefited from County vendors. Today, at the Montgomery County Courthouse, Morganelli has called on the County Controller to audit Shapiro's campaign finances:

I am here today in Montgomery County to compare Josh Shapiro's rhetoric to his actions and conduct. I am also here, as a first step, to ask the Montgomery County Controller to look into the relationship between campaign contributions to Commissioner Josh Shapiro from vendors who have been awarded lucrative contracts with Montgomery County. An audit is in order as first step to fully identify all county vendors who have been solicited by Josh Shapiro, and who have dumped thousands of dollars into his campaign coffers either immediately before, or immediately after Shapiro has voted on awarding county contracts to these same vendors.

In this campaign to date, and in the forums we have participated in, Josh Shapiro likes to lecture everyone about ethics and integrity. He brags about his so-called "integrity agenda " for Pennsylvania. He says that he will adopt a gift ban that will forbid an official from accepting even a free cup of coffee so as not to be influenced with respect to his public duties. He says that even if none of the little gifts a public official may accept are intended to influence public policy, that such practises "appear suspect" and must be stopped. He says he will lead by example.

But as I have pointed out in debate after debate, Josh Shapiro does not practise what he preaches. His rhetoric does not match his conduct. He runs around with ethics and integrity on his sleeve, but where is that when it comes to his own conduct? Are the folks of Montgomery County paying attention to what is going on right here under this roof? Are they aware that Josh Shapiro wants to ban state officials from accepting a free cup of coffee, but at the same time, here in Montgomery County, Josh Shapiro has no problem at all soliciting campaign contributions from special interests who he then awards a lucrative county contract. Let's look at the facts:

McCormick Taylor
* February 20, 2015 - $2500 contribution to Shapiro

* March 6, 2015- Shapiro votes for a $400,000 contract award to McCormick Taylor for engineering services

And another $1,000 from a principal of McCormick on March 7,2016

Matt McTish ( McTish, Kunkel Associates)
* June 18,2014- Shapiro makes the motion and votes for $1 million dollar contract for construction inspection services

* February 23, 2015- Shapiro accepts $5,000 from Matt McTish
Exelon Corporation- energy company in Chicago/subsidiary is Constellation Co.
* June 19, 2014- $2.4 million dollar contract awarded

* February 19, 2015- Shapiro accepts $5,000 contribution from Exelon

And more recently, Exelon PAC contributed another $2500 to Shapiro on March 7, 2016.
PECO Energy Co
* October 15, 2015- PECO awarded a $73,896 contract

* October 19,2015- Shapiro accepts $1,000 contribution/ he had previously received a $500 contribution on 1/19/15
Gannet Fleming- engineering services
* February 18,2015- Shapiro accepts a $1,000 contribution

* October 15,2015- Gannet awarded a $285,400 contract
Aetna Inc
* January 15,2015- Aetna awarded a $2 million dollar contract for dental services

* March 20, 2015- Shapiro accepts $2500 fro Aetna PAC
Allan Myers
Between 2012 and 2015 Shapiro accepted $30,000 in campaign contributions from the head of Allan Myers Construction Co. Myers was awarded an $11.5 million contract for highway work in Montgomery County- a contract Shapiro voted to increase by $3.4 million in August of 2014.
The aforesaid information was gathered in about an hour of time comparing campaign finance reports filed by Shapiro with Montgomery County contract awards and minutes of commissioner meetings. Josh Shapiro is worried about a public official accepting a free cup of coffee. He says such an incidental gift "... appears suspect and we must put a stop to it." But he doesn't think this pattern of awarding lucrative contracts to vendors and then either right before or right after having his campaign coffers filled with cash by these vendors is a problem. Josh Shapiro needs to answer to this. Today, I am asking Josh Shapiro to come clean. I am asking him to address this directly, not through some spokesperson or paid mouthpiece. I am asking him to disclose all of the other vendors doing business with Montgomery County that are also depositing campaign cash into his bank account. As I have said, I am also asking the Montgomery County Controller to audit this- to place a big flash light on what Josh Shapiro is doing.

Josh is great at giving lofty speeches and lecturing everyone else on ethics and integrity. Meanwhile, he has hand out to vendors who have to have his vote and support for work in Montgomery County. Josh voted on all these contracts and never once disclosed that he was in bed with these vendors-- that they were giving money to him right before or right after the award of these lucrative contracts. He could have even abstained, but he didn't. This is hypocrisy of the greatest degree. When will Josh address this?? When will the press stop promoting the Josh Shapiro fairytale that he is some kind of boy scout. The truth is, his self described description on his Facebook page as a politician is accurate. He is nothing more than a typical politician. If Josh wants to adopt an "integrity agenda", why doesn't he start here in Montgomery County and ban campaign contributions from vendors doing business with the county? Why doesn't he? Because the rules do not apply to Josh.

Full Disclosure: I support John Morganelli for AG and have made a small contribution.

Updated 10:15 pm:  The Morning Call has picked up on Morganelli's accusations. The Shapiro campaign has responded by claiming that he gave Montgomery County an ethics policy and is fighting patronage. He does not appear to respond to Morganelli's very specific accusations.

ET: GOP Ranks Surge in NorCo

According to The Express Times, there are still more Democrats than Republicans in Northampton County. But the GOP is growing at nearly triple the rate of Democrats since November's election.
The county's ranks of registered Democrats grew from 92,453 on Oct. 28, 2015, just before the most-recent general election, to 93,551 as of Wednesday, according to Northampton County Voter Registration. That's an addition of 1,098 Democrats, or a growth rate of 1.2 percent.

Republicans more than doubled the growth rate of Democrats in Northampton County, going from 64,842 to 66,959 over that span. That's 2,117 more Republicans eligible to vote in the primary, or 3.3 percent more than last fall.
This is why those who say this is a Democratic year in Pa are completely off the reservation. Increases in Republican ranks have previously been noted in three Pa. counties. Earlier thia month, I said it was too early to call it a trend.

I think it's a trend now.

The last day on which you can register or change your registration, prior to the primary, is March 28. The last day on which you can apply for an absentee ballot is April 19.

Fr. Cusick's Pre-Meeting Prayer - "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"

I find it more than a little ironic that the biggest proponent of pre-meeting prayers, Council President John Cusick, is someone who never practices what he preaches. Father John is in the driver's seat now, as he was once before, purely as a result of stabbing another Council member in the back. He's no role model, but insists on leading Council with a prayer before meetings while another Council member, Mat Benol, hangs his personal copy of the Ten Commandments on the wall behind his desk. This injection of religion into government needs to stop.

Contrary to what a few local elected officials like Cusick seem to think, theocracies are barred in this country by the Establishment Clause in the Constitution's First Amendment. Pennsylvania's Constitution goes even further:
[N]o man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.
Now Northampton County has no policy concerning pre-meeting prayers. They came into vogue when Ron Angle was elected President. His practice, which was actually the consensus of Council, was to invite church leaders from throughout the community to deliver an invocation, after which they were encouraged to share a little bit of information about their church.

Because most of the religious communities in Northampton are Christian, those clerics dominated meetings. But Angle also brought in rabbis and, on one occasion, a Buddhist.

Though Angle had no way of knowing this, the approach he took was precisely what the United States Supreme Court would sanction in its 2014 decision in Greece v. Galloway. Pre-meeting prayers, even those that refer to specific religions, pass constitutional muster so long as the following four factors exist:
1. Local clergy are invited to deliver the prayer (elected officials should be discouraged from delivering the prayers themselves).
2. Citizens are never compelled to participate in the prayer.
3. The prayers never demean other religions, threaten Hell or seek converts.
4. There must be opportunity for a would-be prayer giver of any religious persuasion.
When Cusick engineered Angle's ouster as Council President, he took over the pre-meeting prayers himself. He became the Alpha and the Omega, the  voice of the Almighty, and clerics of different faiths were no longer invited.

Once Cusick was gone, Peg Ferraro reverted to the practice of inviting clerics from different area churches. But now that Cusick has managed to remove her as Council President, he has taken it upon himself, once again, to be the Prophet, the burning bush.

On January 7,  he decided on his own to command us all to "bow our heads" to the "Heavenly Father" On January 21, he invoked the "Heavenly Father." again. On February 4, we were commanded to "rise for the Prayer" to - guess who? - the "Heavenly Father."

After I begam to complain, Cusicj decided unilaterally on February 18 to tone things down a tad with a "silent prayer" for the happy repose of the soul of Antonin Scalia. On March 3, it was once again a "silent prayer" followed by an "Amen.".

There is nothing even remotely uplifting about listening to an anal algebra teacher pretend he's religious.

But his prayer on March 17  takes the cake. Please rise for the prayer. May the thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks.... When Irish eyes are smilin', 'tis like a morn' in Spring."

He took the lyrics of an Irish drinking song - and all Irish songs are drinking songs - and turned it into a frickin' prayer. He did so with a smirk on his face, revealing what I already know - he's a phony who had to have offended anyone with religious sensibilities with what amounted to a taunt, not a prayer.

I don't know what is more amazing - the fact that he is pulling off this nonsense or the fact that everyone in that room is willing to put up with it.

Below is an email I'm firing off to all members of Council:

Since his installment as President, John Cusick has taken it upon himself to deliver what what some might call a prayer at the start of each meeting. So far as I know, Council has no policy concerning prayer and Cusick is therefore exceeding his authority as Council President by unilaterally imposing his own religious beliefs upon everyone else.

The purpose of this email is to demand that Cusick cease his ultra vires practice until Council votes on a policy that comports with the Supreme Court's 2014 decision in Greece v. Galloway. That decision is one in which clergy from the community is invited to lead everyone in prayer, and no one is ever even mildly coerced into participation. 

The Greece v. Galloway decision also requires you to give the opportunity to would-be prayer givers of any religious persuasion. So if you insist on kicking off each meeting with a prayer,  please be advised that I demand  the opportunity to present representatives of the Church of Satan, Lehigh Valley Humanists, Circle of Ancient Paths Coven and the Lehigh Valley Network of Unified Pagans at your next several meetings.