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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

NorCo's Open Space Chair Faces Conflict Allegations

Ron Angle unswayed by Judy Henckel
Judith Henckel is a well-known environmental activist who currently serves as the Chair of Northampton County's Open Space Advisory Board. Before that, she led a "save or pave" drive supporting a 2007 referendum in which Upper mt Bethel taxpayers agreed to a 0.25 tax hike dedicated to preserving open space. That year, she also won a six-year seat on the Board of Supervisors, where she pursued an environmental agenda that included the 2008 purchase of  a 300-acre quarry owned by Eastern Industries, financed with a $2 million bond. That purchase was criticized by Ron Angle, who charged that the Township was buying "barren land" that could never be developed. But Henckel countered that the move was essential to protect the "Mount Bethel Fens."

And bog turtles.

But is it really about the fens and bog turtles? Or is the green pursued by open space activists the kind they can take to the bank?

Based on a tip from Ron Angle, Upper Mount Bethel Supervisors have spent the past month looking at records of payments made to Urban Research and Development, a well-respected Bethlehem-based firm that employs prominent landscape architect Leonard Policelli. Supervisor Anthony DeFranco revealed at last night's meeting that Urban Research has been paid $360,000 in that time period for different projects, including the development of a community park spearheaded by Policelli.

According to the Pennsylvania Ethics Act, a conflict or conflict of interest exists when a public official uses the authority of her office or any confidential information received through that office for the private pecuniary benefit of herself, a member of her immediate family or a business with which she or a member of her immediate family is associated.

"If in fact her son was getting a pecuniary benefit, there could be a conflict," said Solicitor Ron Karasek. "In all due respect, I was not aware that Mr. Policelli was Judy's son."

This relationship was also a surprise to Angle until last month. "Nobody in this audience has attended more meetings than me over the past ten years," he said. "Never once was this ever brought up by her or by him [her son] that 'By the way, there could be a potential conflict and we just wanted to let you know.' They just kept doing the same-o same-o."

Angle told Supervisors that Henckel should be barred from participating in any boards that decide on grants for her projects. He added that, when she was a Supervisor, she steered the Board away from farmland preservation, in which conservation easements are purchased. "Now I figured out why she never wanted farmland preservation," said Angle. "There's no money to be paid to the guy who does the farmland preservation. You just write a check."

Chairman John Bermingham, himself an open space advocate who was elected with Henckel's help, attempted to minimize the problem. "We live in a small town," he said. "It's gonna' happen here and there." He did agree that there "could" be a conflict, but that he and DeFranco have only been on the Board since January.

"She lobbied for these things," countered Angle, "knowing that a close relative would benefit."

For her part, Henckel denied that she opposed farmland preservation, and noted that three Upper Mount Bethel farms are in the process of being preserved now. She also denied that the community park, in which her son and his firm were involved, is open space. She called it a "municipal facility" given to the Township by Reliant Energy, and before she was a Supervisor.

At that time, though, Henckel was nevertheless a public official because she served on the Township's Environmental Advisory Council. She stated that she disclosed the relationship. "A lot of people knew," she explained, though she conceded she "did not advertise it." She indicated her son had just been successful that day in getting a $20,000 grant for trees at the park.

Henckel also questioned the $360,000 figure, indicating that Urban Research had done other work for the Township aside from the community park.

In a conversation during the meeting, Henckel told me may have voted a few times for projects that would benefit her son'e company, but just never thought about it. She also indicated that she spends untold hours working for the benefit of the Township, not expecting anything.

Where things go from here is unclear. Angle believes the District Attorney or Ethics Commission should investigate, but Supervisors took no action at this point.

The open space movement appears to have created its own industry in which "land preservation boards' or "environmental advisory councils" are formed in which members vote to preserve each other's properties at taxpayer expense.

Much more oversight is needed than currently exists. That's why watchdogs like Ron Angle in Upper Mount Bethel and Vince Foglia in Williams Township are essential.


Anonymous said...

Oh please. Morganellie was a co-chair of the Bethlehem mayor race and a close advisor, yet his son is doing Bethlehem city promotion work, is that wrong? You are once again cherry-picking in order to defend some innocent person your pal Angle has a bug up his ass about. No doubt she pissed him off at some point since the guy is all about getting back at people.

Stop the lame witch hunts based on bullshit innuendo from your buddy.

Anonymous said...

What's a Tuesday without a little Angle? Missed him.

Anonymous said...

Just read this entry. Awful.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure a dozen hillbillies in Johnsonville care about this. Yawn

Anonymous said...

Waste of journalistic space. Slow day in the blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Funny how this behavior is excused when its an "environmentalist". She meant well right? Couldn't be any slight of hand or failure to tell the whole truth? Now what if the shoe was on the other foot and Ron was voting on projects that were going to a long lost love child? Judy's head would have imploded.
It is amazing that people are people and we all have the same problems. Remember Judy that playing dumb does not make it right.
Good work Bernie. Now if the twp. could get some of that money back they could throw some of that coal into the UMBT police force!

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

It seems wherever there is citizens money there are vultures circling. This is as true as simple math. Can anyone imagine the corruption in Harrisburg and Washington.

Anonymous said...

Judy Henckel is an asset. Call her an "activist" if you want, but it is damned good we have passionate people like Judy, who get things done. Yes, it is valid to question whether there is a conflict of interest, but your articles on open space have a negative slant in this reader's opinion.

To see the good that the 0.25 mill EIT has done in UMBT, and compare to other townships, see this page: http://www.northamptoncounty.org/northampton/cwp/view.asp?a=1532&Q=621022&northamptonNav=|&northamptonNav_GID=1987

What you may want to investigate, Bernie, is what John Brown has done with the 0.5 mill county tax that was enacted around the same time, to fund open space. This beings in $3.7 million a year. Unlike his predecessors, Brown has totally defunded Open Space in two budgets, aside from the $1m that has to be funded for municipal parks. He is taking $2.7m a year, and nobody knows what he is doing with it. It has been reported that he plans to do the same thing in 2017 ALREADY. Where is the accounting? He claims he is an open space "advocate", which is bull shit. Actions speak louder than words.

Anonymous said...


BO does have a negative slant but so do you. I would call Judy an activist and I do wonder what she has done? By getting things done do you mean spurring job creation? UMBT is the land that time forget because of folks like Judy and her New proxy Mr. Bermingham. They are one dimensional and don't care if there are jobs in the township. John works across the river for his daily bread so what does he care if there are jobs here. Its all about Not In My Back Yard. So if getting things done as an "activist" is buying the development rights on ground that cannot feasibly be developed then Amen! we are saved. So I'm glad Judy has saved the township by sending money her sons way and saving rocks on the side of a mountain. I then ask who will save the township from "activists" like Judy?

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of Karen Dolan...

Bernie O'Hare said...

10:37, When i called Judy an activist, it was not intended as a slur. It is actually a compliment. I am a good government activist, and prefer being called that to what i am usually called, like hemmorhoid.

Bernie O'Hare said...

4:46, Mognaelli is not a Bethlehem City official, so no, there is no conflict.

Anonymous said...

"Bernie, is what John Brown has done with the 0.5 mill county tax that was enacted around the same time, to fund open space."

There is no dedicated property tax for open space. That would be illegal. Next!

Bernie O'Hare said...

It is completely legal on the township level. In Northampton County, it is not a dedicated tax.

Anonymous said...

If giving the chance, like Trump, I would vote for Ron Angle even "if he shot someone in the face in the middle of time square.", for largely the same reasons.

Burn it down, all of it, the good and the bad. Showing how it ALL, all of it works, that provides the match for the tinder.

Politics is a criminal enterprise entirely, and for folks like me, pure entertainment.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernie O'Hare said...

If you wish to personally attack s private citizen, you need to sign your name, mmk?