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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, October 31, 2016

How NorCo Law Clerk Code of Conduct Should Ban Outside Legal Work

Last week, I told you that Northampton County's nine judicial law clerks are an entitled bunch. They are overpaid, and as a result, some of them now treat an apprenticeship as a career option. Three of them are vested in the county pension, which has a negative impact on county finances. They have also cost the County $110,225 in divorce stipends since 2010, getting paid to do what their job description already requires. Some of even moonlighting doing legal research for attorneys who practice in Northampton County court.

President Judge Stephen Baratta is pretty much blameless in this matter. He was never involved in setting, managing or paying out this execrable divorce stipend, which goes back to the days when clerks were paid a pittance. He also made clear that his factotums put in a full work, something his own work product proves. He also reassured Council that no clerk of his has ever been given permission to do outside legal work. But he also said that the Code of Conduct for law clerks was recently revised. That's true, but any reasonable interpretation of the Code should make it pretty clear that no clerk should be permitted to do research for an attorney who practices in Northampton County, even if it is research for another county. Permitting this kind of behavior completely undermines public confidence in the judiciary and totally defeats the purpose of a Code of Conduct.

If PJ Baratta refuses to permit his clerk to moonlight for attorneys, that should be a signal to other judges.

LWV to Host Meet 'n Greet With Local Candidates on Thursday

I will be covering NorCo Council and am unable to attend. At the last one of these, a few stidents popped in for refreshments, but there was no real audience.

Is Simmons Break-In Attempt Politically Motivated?

The glass door has been boarded.
About a week ago, US Senator Pat Toomey's Zionsville neighborhood was vandalized with anti-GOP graffiti. Instead of hitting his home, two homes across the street from him. In what could be a coincidence, someone attempted a break-in at State Rep. Justin Simmons' Coopersburg office late last week.

Though this could be a druggie, Simmons seems to be suspicious that it is coming from political opponents.

From his Facebook page:
"I'm extremely saddened to report that this campaign season continues to deteriorate as one of the worst. Last night, someone tried to break into my Coopersburg legislative office. This behavior is unacceptable and I have to say I have never seen anything like this (on the campaign side as well) until this election. The way to get your message across is to win at the ballot box, not engage in scare tactics. Obviously, the other side doesn't think they can win."
He has reason to be suspicious. Campaigns against him have all been ugly.

On her Facebook page, challenger Joanne Jackson condemned the attempted break-in. "I am so upset at the vandalism perpetrated towards the incumbent," she said.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

No Opinions Online This Week

Over the past week, the Opinions Online feature was only up sporadically. As a result, I only received one comment. Opinions Online will pick up next week. Since that will be the weekend before the election, I will accept comments concerning the Presidential race next weekend.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Defense For Entitled Law Clerks?

Yesterday, I told you about Northampton County's entitled law clerks. They start at $57,925.71, which is well in excess of the $43,770 annual mean wage paid to county law clerks in Pennsylvania. Unlike DAs and PDs who hold people's lives in their hands, they hold a judge's robes. Most are gone when the judge is gone, meaning most put in a 20-30 hour week. Historically, this has been an internship in which a judges grooms a clerk into an excellent attorney over one or two years. But thanks to an increased salary, clerks are turning this job into a career. Three of the nine law clerks have been employed for 8-10 years. Two are being paid $66,102.00, and are fully vested in the pension.

In addition to making this a career, clerks pad their pay with a $25 stipend from reviewing divorce cases. Since 2010, Northampton County has paid these clerks $110,225 in stipends for doing what their job already requires them to do. This money is added to their salary for pension computation purposes. This money belongs in county coffers or better yet, in the pockets of parties seeking a divorce, not some entitled law clerk.

It gets worse. This isolated crew, who are only seen during their occasional peregrinations to row offices or the courthouse cafeteria, are moonlighting for attorneys who practice in Northampton County. They are writing briefs and doing research. This might be out-of-county research, but it's a patent conflict of interest that needs to stop immediately. It completely undermines public confidence in an independent and fair judiciary.

Late yesterday, I received four "questions" that are really an out-of-touch attempt to defend this outrageous behavior. Here are the questions and my answers.

1. Do you know if the divorce decree preparation is something that the law clerks are required to do as part of job or is this something the clerks do in addition to their other job responsibilities? If it's something extra, then I don't think the $110,225.00 over the course of 6 years is really that much-- roughly $18,000.00 per year. If the clerks stopped doing them wouldn't the county have to hire another employee to handle all of them? Surely that would cost the county far more than $18,000 per year.

Reviewing the record in a divorce case is very much something that law clerks are required to do as part of their job. According to the job description for this position, a law clerk reviews the documentation in no-fault divorces and drafts decrees for the judge. In essence, a law clerk does what a judge tells him to do. So he is getting paid to do something that the job description already requires.

2. Are you saying that your sources know for a fact these law clerks are doing research for lawyers in cases that are actually filed in Northampton County? The Code of Conduct rule you cite seems to be a bit ambiguous regarding whether a clerk is forbidden doing research for lawyers on cases not filed in Northampton County. The "any person or entity doing or seeking to do business with, or having an interest in a matter before" language could be interpreted as forbidding a law clerk from doing for a lawyer that is/has been "doing or seeking to do business" any time, ever, or forbidding a law clerk from doing work for a case filed in Northampton County. The latter I would certainly have a problem with, but I'm not that concerned with law clerks doing research for cases in other counties or federal court. Perhaps you and others feel differently, but I highly doubt its being done so that the lawyers gain some sort of favor with the court.

What I am saying is that these clerks are doing research for attorneys who practice in Northampton County. It makes no difference to me whether this is out-of-county legal research. If I am an attorney and discover that the judge's clerk is doing research for an opposing attorney, it will make no difference to me that it is out-of-county research. I will be deeply concerned whether the judge can be fair. I have discussed this with several attorneys and they are outraged that this is happening. Expect to hear about it. If you are doing work for an attorney, you better wrap it up quickly because you won't be doing it much longer.

3. Why is it such a big deal that some of the judges decide to keep their law clerks beyond 1-2 years? Shouldn't the judge be able to decide who their law clerk is? Maybe the law clerks that have been there enjoy being a law clerk. Federal judges frequently have life-long clerks. Just because a clerkship has traditionally been a 1-2 year position doesn't mean that you or I should have any say in whether or not a judge decides to keep a clerk beyond the traditional time frame. Is it really a bad thing that we have experienced law clerks contributing to decisions that affect people's lives?

This is no federal court. It is county court, where historically, clerks are there one or two years. That is how the funding has been planned. So no, a judge should be rebuffed when he attempts to cost the county more money than it plans on for this kind of expense. Council counts on paying for a clerk who will be there one or two years, not one who makes it a career. A clerk and a single judge have no authority to take it upon themselves to impose a financial burden on taxpayers without the assent of Council. The pay for clerks should be frozen at the starting salary. That way, you can be there 100 years and will never get more than the starting salary. County taxpayers also should not be shackled by a pension obligation for what should have been temporary employees.

4. The salaries might be a bit high compared to other counties, but when the vast majority of law grads have, on average, over $100,000.00 in student loan debt I don't really think that $57k is that high considering the costs/debt they've incurred to be eligible for the position. Hasn't there always been a mindset in this country that the benefit of advanced degrees is the potential to make more? Don't teachers and other people with professional degrees have a starting salary in the same ballpark?

What on earth makes you think that the taxpayers of Northampton County have some obligation to pay off your student loans? This is precisely the attitude I mentioned. You think you're entitled. You're not.

I know one law clerk who I would have begged to stay forever, a Harvard Law grad who edited the law review. She could do whatever she wants, but the court correctly made her a Master.

Resolution Increasing Law Clerk Salaries May Never Have Been Adopted June 7,2007

Here's a question from me? Did NorCo Council ever vote to increase the salaries for law clerks in the first place?

This matter was first considered on April 12, 2007 and was tabled. Lamont McClure noted the inherent unfairness in singling out this group of employees for special treatment while other groups are forced to wait. Mike Dowd did not like the 33% increase. On May 17, 2007, Council voted 7-1 to remove it from the table. Council member John Cusick was the sole No vote at that time. But the consensus of Council was to wait to vote on it until the next meeting because no one had a copy of the resolution.

At the next meeting, the matter was never placed on the agenda. Nor was it placed on the agenda for the meeting after that. Or the next one. I think they forgot to ever vote on this raise.

Though I was unable to find it, better minds than located the resolution, which was adopted June 7, 2007. It was opposed by John Cusick, who thought the raise was too high. Cusick was right.

Darth Voter Schlossberg Misses 13 Votes to See Kaine

State Representative Mike "Darth Voter" Schlossberg missed 13 votes on Wednesday evening, including votes on the opioid crisis and to help veterans find job. He did this so he could campaign with VP candidate Tim Kaine at Muhlenberg College.

Ben Long, who is opposing Schlossberg, properly took him to task. “Mike Schlossberg is a paid employee of the taxpayers of Pennsylvania," he said. "He is supposed to work at their discretion and put their needs and wants before his own political interests. This is an attitude that has unfortunately shown to be the norm with Mike Schlossberg and in Allentown recently. He has consistently surrounded himself with people who could further his political career but have plead guilty to various crimes from extortion to conspiracy to commit bribery. The people of the 132nd District deserve better. As the state Representative I will represent the people, not special interests. Mike is not interested in working for his constituents. His actions, like those last night, show that clearly. He needs to go. It is time to bring trust and integrity back to our community.”

After attending a political rally at Muhlenberg College, Schlossberg drove back to Harrisburg to resume his work. Long hopes he has not charged taxpayers mileage or used a taxpayer paid car for his trip.

Schlossberg is a New Jersey transplant who stuck around after college. Ben Long is a fifth-generation resident of Allentown. Born and educated here, he learned to swim at the Jewish Community Center and spent "countless hours" (his words) at places like the Allentown Farmers Market and the Civic Theatre which helped build his passion for our community.

He is a recent graduate of DeSales University and works for his family’s small business which has taught him the value of hard work, integrity and the importance of creating quality family sustaining jobs. Ben’s grandfather was a proud UAW (United Auto Workers) Union leader at the old Exide battery plant on Lehigh Street.

Long has knocked on 13,000 doors while Darth Voter is relying on money.

Inspector General: Zach Mako Violated DOD Directives in State House Race

Wanna' know why State House candidate Zach Mako refuses to face Phillips Armstrong in the race for Julie Harhart's seat? In addition to being completely uninformed, Mako has violated military directives in his race for the state house.

According to the Office of Inspector General for the US Army, Mako improperly disclosed "future mission information" during a tea party-sponsored debate. he disclosed he would be heading to Europe, and that NATO generals would be getting advice from him.

In addition, Mako improperly played upon his military background in the primary.

Any adverse action against Mako will be taken by the Commander of his aviation brigade.

If there were a medal for stupidity, Mako would have several by now.

His Campaign theme? Make America Stupid Again.

The letter from the Inspector General is below.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Bethlehem ZHB Approves Gas Station at New Walmart

Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board, at their October 26 hearing unanimously approved a gas station at a new Walmart Supercenter proposed at the intersection of Commerce Center Boulevard and Hellertown Road. this is the only zoning relief needed for the new Walmart, which will be located on an 18-acre tract. That Walmart still needs planning approval.

In other business, the Board approved a boarding house for Miriam Rodriquez at 822 W Broad Street. (I missed that hearing as I was enroute from Easton).

They also granted a variance so that Robert and Ruth Walden could place solar panels as close as seven inches from the edge of their roof at 1508 W Market Street. Zoning Officer Suzanne Borzak was concerned that placing the panel that close to the edge would hamper firefighters in the event of an emergency,  but architect Brian Baker indicated that there were numerous other places on the roof where firefighters could stand, and added they could stand on the solar panels as well.    

By a 4-1 vote, they denied a use variance for Antonio Cabon for a auto repair service at 1449-1453 E 6th St, in a residential neighborhood. Tom Gillis, who owns property in that neighborhood, opposed the variance because of concerns over pollution and customers parking in an area where he loses tenants over a lack of parking. Cabon had previously been issued a cease and desist order at that location.

"If he has any neighbors that he's done anything wrong to, he's sorry," he said through an interpreter.

Updated: NorCo's Entitled Law Clerks

Numerous Northampton County workers are paid far less than their counterparts in other governments or the private sector. Human Relations Director Amy Trapp acknowledged this at a recent Council meeting. But yes, there are overpaid County workers, too. Not only do they have a negative impact on morale, but they impose a burden on taxpayers that Northampton Council should refuse to shoulder when they adopt next year's budget. In addition to getting paid more than they deserve, these workers also are able to supplement their incomes with stipends about which Council was never informed. Some are also permitted to moonlight, even though their outside work is a direct conflict of interest with what they do at the County. But they are an entitled bunch, and are protected by Northampton County's judges. I'm referring to the County's nine judicial law clerks.    

The Culture of the Northampton County Judiciary 

Northampton County currently has nine sitting judges, one senior judge, six special court masters, two guardians ad litem and nine judicial law clerks. Each of these judges has his own little parking spot, which is usually empty. They all have their own private little entrance into the courthouse, so they don't have to dirty themselves by mingling with the vulgari. The $43 million courthouse expansion was actually built to isolate them. It surprises me they haven't thought of palanquins, but give them time.

While the judges are isolated from the public they are supposed to serve, ostensibly for reasons of security, the public is treated like garbage. If you visit the courthouse and don't know the secret spots, you can drive around for forty minutes before you find a place at the bottom of Mount Everest, which you must climb to get inside the courthouse. Assuming you survive, you're searched if you're lucky enough to find the real entrance to the courthouse. This, of course, is at the most inconvenient spot for the general public.

You'll be inside three times longer than you anticipated. Occasionally, a judge will walk by, surrounded by a phalanx of 18' tall Deputy Sheriffs. Security, you know. Their names are blotted out on assessment records, too, while your property is there for one and all to see.

Once you leave, pray that the Panto Parking Police have spared you.

Employees go through this, too. They are used to most of it, but the not-so-hidden message is that you and they are second class citizens.

Individually, judges are great people and actually very down-to-earth. Some, like Baratta, Zito and Koury, are very hard workers. But collectively, they represent what's wrong with our whole system of governance. They do nothing to inspire confidence in our judiciary. They do everything to breed cynicism in government. 

Bureau of labor Standards: NorCo Judicial Law Clerks Overpaid     

This is the culture that a recent law school graduate faces when he becomes a judicial law clerk. He sees a system of entitlement and a "us v. them" attitude. It's hard to avoid developing a condescending attitude, which eventually ensnares most law clerks

This is the exact reverse of the way things should be. Historically, a judicial law clerk is like an intern. He or she is someone who just graduated from law school and spends one or two years with a lousy salary under the wings of a judge. The whole point is to turn a recent law school grad into a good lawyer, and then kick him out and in bring someone new. The judge is a mentor. The clerk is his protégé.

But that's changing. A few years ago, then Court Administrator Jim Onembo demanded that the salaries for law clerks be raised so that the County could be "competitive." Since that time, starting salaries for judicial law clerks have continued to climb in Northampton County.

The current starting salary is $57,925.71, the same amount of money paid to an Assistant DA or Assistant PD. That's just ridiculous. A prosecutor and public defender can put in an 80-hour work week if he's trying a case. They hold people's lives in their hands while a clerk holds a judge's robe. It is simply unconscionable that a judicial law clerk would make anywhere near what these trial lawyers earn. This starting salary is also well above the $43,770 annual mean wage paid to county law clerks in Pennsylvania, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

This salary is much too high, especially since most of these clerks are only putting in 20 or 30-hour weeks.

Because they are being paid 32% more than the average mean wage reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for Pennsylvania, these law clerks are reluctant to leave the warm embrace of public sector employment after one or two years and face the cold, hard legal world

Though I've never heard anyone say he wants to be a judicial law clerk when he grows up, that has become a career path for three of Northampton County's nine judicial law clerks. Holly Frompovicz was hired 8/14/06, and currently earns $66,102.82. Stephanie Spencer was hired on 8/13/07, and her salary is $66,102.82 as well. Heather Charnegie started on 8/11/08 and rakes in $63,256.34.

Three of Northampton County's nine judicial law clerks have been working for the judges 8-10 years. In addition to shackling the taxpayer with salaries that are completely out of proportion to what they do, they are now all vested in the pension, so we will be paying for them a long time.

Northampton County's remaining six law clerks have been with the county for two and a half years or less, and are paid $57,925.71.

At a Budget Hearing on October 26, President Judge Stephen Baratta defended the salary, indicating his own law clerk puts in a 40-hour week and this is appropriate compensation for a new attorney. "I can't speak for other offices," he said.      

He also indicated that some judges like having a "seasoned" law clerk. I'm sure they do, but it defeats the whole purpose of clerkships.  

NorCo Judicial Law Clerks Paid $110,225 in Stipends Since 2010

In addition to making this a career, these law clerks are receiving stipends above and beyond what is authorized by Council. They are essentially getting extra money for doing their job.

If you go to the Civil Division and file a passport application, no clerk would dream of charging you extra money for her own work in helping you. If she did, she'd likely be prosecuted for theft and would certainly be fired on the spot.

But for the entitled, the rules are different.

In divorce actions, when the parties are ready to wrap things up, they pay a fee to the Civil Division, and ask the judge to issue a decree.

These are parceled out to the law clerks, and they are paid $25 for every divorce case they review, above and beyond what they are already being paid. Council was never made aware of this when it set the salaries for this entitled group. I doubt very much that Executive John Brown or his predecessor, John Stoffa, was ever made aware of this abuse.

It should be halted immediately.

That $25 adds up. Since 2010, law clerks have been paid $110,225 to process divorces, something for which they already receive a salary. The three clerks I mentioned above have done rather nicely. Frompovicz has been paid $13,300 and Spencer has been paid $13,375 in addition to their $66,102.82 salaries. Charnegie has raked in $12,225 on top of her $63,256.34 salary, too

The remaining six clerks have all participated in this abuse as well, to a lesser extent.

This conduct is a violation of the Code of Conduct that applies to judicial law clerks:
"Employees of the Unified Judicial System are appropriately compensated for the performance of their duties and shall not solicit or accept any additional compensation or anything of value from any other source for performing the duties and responsibilities of their position."
Clerks should receive no compensation for doing what they are already paid to do. This money belongs in the county's coffers, not their pockets.

These clerks also do not pay fees to belong to the Bar Association, which violates the Code of Conduct. 

President Judge Baratta indicated he had nothing to do with establishing, managing or paying out this stipend. He is a correct. It is a vestige of the days when law clerks were paid far less, and that money now belongs in county coffers.  

Are NorCo Law Clerks Moonlighting For Outside Attorneys?

As bad as the exorbitant salary and stipends are, what's even worse is that some of these law clerks are moonlighting for outside attorneys, writing briefs and doing "research." This is the report I have received from three different sources at the courthouse. Any judge who did this would be removed from the bench. That's precisely what should happen to the law clerks who have whored themselves out to lawyers who are obviously trying to succor favor with the judges.

Though they may consider themselves entitled and above everyone, the Code of Conduct applying to them bars this kind of work.

"A fair and independent court system is essential to the administration of justice. Proper conduct by employees of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania (UJS) inspires public confidence and trust in the courts, and conveys the values of impartiality and fairness that promote the integrity of the work of the Unified Judicial System. 

"Employees of the Unified Judicial System shall not solicit, accept or agree to accept anything of value from any person or entity doing or seeking to do business with, or having an interest in a matter before, the court or court-related entity by which they are employed ... ."

Northampton County Council has the authority, under its Home Rule Charter, to request special reports from elected officials and their subordinates.  The Court will be at a Budget Hearing today and should be asked to explain what its clerks are doing, and what steps the judges are taking to cut off the stipend and ban work with outside law firms.

President Judge Baratta indicated that the Code of Conduct has been changed to allow outside employment, but he refuses to permit his clerk to work for outside attorneys. He failed to state whether other judges allow their clerks to moonlight. My information is that some do,and it involves attorneys who practice in Northampton County. It is an obvious conflict of interest and needs to end.     

The Courts' Budget Needs Better Explanation 

The Problem Solving Court Budget is a problem. It’s proposing a 50.9% increase in personnel, with absolutely no explanation of who those people are or what each of them is being paid.  One rumor floating around is that one of the law clerks is already being paid as program administrator. I am unable to confirm what is happening, but that is why there are budget hearings.   

Judge Craig Dally told Council he would supply the details explaining how exactly it willbe funded. 

Appendix: Law Clerk salaries, hire dates and divorce stipends 

Abigail Bellafato - $57,925.71. Hired 8/8/16. $125 in divorce stipends
Holly Frompovicz - $66,102.82 Hired 8/14/06. $13,300 in divorce stipends
Jordan Knisley - $57,925.71. Hired 8/10/15. $2,325 in divorce stipends
Heather Charnegie - $63,256.34. Hired 8/11/08. $12,225 in divorce stipends
Matt Alkon - $57,925.71. Hired 8/11/14. $4,175 in divorce stipends
Sara Moyer - $$57,925.71. Hired 8/22/16. $0 in divorce stipends.
Stephanie Spencer - $66,102.82. Hired 8/13/07. $13,375 in divorce stipends
Holly Huerta - $57,925.71. Hired 1/2/14. $5,200 in divorce stipends
Kelly Fackentrhall - $57,925.71. Hired 8/10/15. $3,650 in divorce stipends

Blogger's Note: Originally published 10/26/16 at 5:06 pm. 

NorCo Council Hears from Row Offices

Northampton County Council heard from the row office department heads at yesterday's budget hearing.

Sheriff - Dave Dalrymple is "not comfortable" having unarmed people at courthouse entrances.

Coroner - Zach Lysek looked a little pale.

Public Defender - between 65-70% of all criminal defendants are represented by Bob Eyer and his office.

Jail - Dan Keen  has to provide inmates with one hour of outside recreation every day.

Civil Division - Holly Ruggerio noted that the county is going to begin scanning and imaging filings very soon. She acknowledged that the office will wait to see how that operates before deciding on new people.  
Criminal Division - Leigh Ann Fisher said she has a "good team, an awesome staff."

Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans Court - Gina Gibbs claims that computer enhancements made last year are working very well.  "We are doing OK."

Arhives - Renee Drago says, "I love the new building. I love Forks Tp." She indicated that the state is ready to start allowing pdfs to save documents instead of microfilm.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Message About Discolored Water in Bethlehem

From City of Bethlehem: Many City of Bethlehem water customers, particularly on the north and west sides of the City and Hanover and Bethlehem Townships, have been experiencing discolored or cloudy water intermittently over the past several days. We are taking this situation very seriously and we appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to investigate the problem and try to clear up the water system as quickly as possible. Your water may have a brownish color which is indicative of sediment in the system, or it may have a yellowish hue which is indicative of a seasonal change in water chemistry which can occur in the Fall. Neither condition is harmful to human health and safety.

Know that the water is safe for consumption. We monitor water chemistry in the distribution system every day and we continue to meet or exceed stringent PaDEP limits and guidelines on drinking water quality. There are no restrictions on water use and there are no boil water advisories at this time.

While the water is safe for consumption, we recommend that customers monitor their individual usage and, since the occurrence of discolored or cloudy water appears to be intermittent over the course of a day or several days, to use discretion when using water for routine chores such as washing clothes since the discolored water may stain clothing.

If you are experiencing discolored water we advise that you do not let your water run continuously. This will not clear up the water any faster and brings more sediment into your home’s plumbing system from the water main in the street. Rather, run your cold water faucets only for a few minutes at a time until it begins to clear up. Repeat this step every hour or so until the water runs clear. We recommend that you do not run your hot water while you are experiencing discolored water. This will only draw sediment into your hot water tank.

If the water does not clear up after one day or you have an emergency involving your water please contact Water Control at (610) 865-7077. Thank you for your continued patience in this matter.

Fed Ed Update: Federal Campaign has Just $89; Sentencing Delayed in Allentown Probe


That's all that's left of a federal campaign warchest that raised $437,529 in Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski's ill-fated bid to become Pennsylvania's next United States Senator. It seems like only yesterday that he as accepting bribes from Ramzi Haddad. Now he's been reduced to lending his federal campaign another $1,868.75, hopefully out of his own pocket, so that he can pay Oldaker Law Group another $3,368.75.

That's the firm he's been using to straighten out the mess with his campaign finance reports.

So far, he's lent his campaign $23,477.

In other Fed Ed news, sentencing is delayed for the Defendants who have pleaded guilty to political corruption in Allentown.

- Michael Fleck (Fed Ed's campaign manager) will be sentenced February 6 at 3 pm.
- Garrett Strathearn (Allentown's former Business Manager) will be sentenced February 7 at 3 pm.
- Mary Ellen Koval (Allentown's former Controller) will be sentenced February 8 at 3 pm.
- Matt McTish (Fed Ed briber) will be sentenced February 9 at 9 am.
- Ramzi Haddad (Fed Ed briber) will be sentenced February 9 at 3 pm.
- Dale Wiles (former assistant solicitor) had been scheduled for sentencing on January 30, and I suspect a delay there has not made its way to the record.

This postponement suggests action will be taken against Fed Ed by the end of the year or early next year, right around the time he has threatened to run for re-election.

Hanover Tp: No-Tax-Hike Budget For Ninth Consecutive Year

Last night, as people gathered for a Supervisors' meeting at the Hanover Township Municipal Building, a volunteer fighter was running tests on the Township's new 100' ladder truck."We just put it into service last night," he said, with a smile like that of a father with a newborn baby. That truck came with a $1.2 million pricetag. Hanover Township just wrote a check. No line of credit or bond with accompanying debt service.

This reluctance to borrow, combined with planning ahead for capital projects, is part of the reason why Township Treasurer Beth Bucko was able to announce, once the meeting got underway, that there will be no tax increase in Hanover Township next year, based on an $8.4 million general fund budget. The tax rate will remain at 3.9 mills, which includes a 0.5 mill fire tax. Once again, there will be no debt or borrowing. "We will be self-funding all of our projects," said Bucko.

Treasurer Beth Bucko
She indicated that three capital reserve funds (or savings accounts) have been established for (1) vehicles and equipment; (2) road repairs; and (3) the community center. "We established these funds to prevent future funding issues that some local municipalities have had recently," she said, in what appears to be a reference to Bethlehem Township's problems with the Brodhead Road repaving project and $2 million in repairs needed at its community center.

Hanover's tax rate has been stable at 3.9 mills since 2008.

Chairman John N. Diacogiannis believes the township is in good financial shape because of work done over the past 15 years. He acknowledged that Supervisors had concerns when Manager Jay Finnigan first proposed a 0.5 mill fire tax and establishing capital reserve funds, but it worked out very well. "We planned ahead, John," added Steve Salvesen.

Finnigan said that carving out the fire tax in 2006 has really paid off. Not only could the Township afford a $1.2 million ladder truck, but it will be able to purchase an ambulance next year without borrowing. Avoiding finance costs and debt payments is what leads to a stable budget, he said.

His fiscal conservatism was in full display when a resident asked about what impact the cessation of gaming grants will have.

"We do not budget for any type of grant revenue," he explained. "If it comes, we buy the thing it was destined to buy. Other municipalities use gaming revenue to at least help balance the budget. ... It does not affect our budget."

He also acknowledged a road crew that is willing to switch hours so they can paint the community center after hours or who stripe roads to avoid inconveniencing the public.

"It's not just the leadership. It's the people in the trenches," said Finnigan. "They are willing to adapt. They do things off the cuff." That road crew operates under Public Works Director Vince Milite, who said he has "faith in his employees to do the job."

Things look good at the community center, too. Director Robert Cepin told Supervisors. Over the past two years, he has cut expenses there by over $150,000. He has budgeted a five percent drop in revenue next year because of the anticipated opening of a new state-of-the-art fitness center that comes complete with an indoor pool.

The meeting usually concludes with a report from Finnigan. As people were antsy to get home to the World Series, he began delivering an unusually long report, detailing street by street where leaf pick up was occurring. Then he announced that Cleveland was up 2-0 and we all could leave.

The Voter Fraud Myth

NorCo Voting Machine
Blogger's Note: This article has also been published in The Bethlehem Press.

Without offering specifics, GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted that the November 8 election "is going to be rigged."  On the campaign trail, he has said the only way he can lose Pennsylvania is if there is "cheating," so "[w]e have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching." He has singled out Philadelphia as one city where voter fraud might occur, and has refused to state whether he will accept the election results if the vote goes against him  And guess what? Most Republicans - 73% according to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll - agree that the election could be stolen from Trump as a result of massive voter fraud. But despite these repeated assertions, there simply is no evidence of any kind of systematic vote-rigging in Pennsylvania. As Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, himself a Republican, recently said, "The real threat to the integrity of elections ... isn't voter fraud, though it does rarely occur. The real threat to the integrity of elections is irresponsible accusations that undermine confidence in the electoral process."

Remote Hacking Impossible in Pa.

Twenty different electronic voting systems are approved for use in the Keystone State's 67 counties. We read daily stories that banks, major businesses and even the Democratic National Committee are being hacked. On Friday, a major cyberattack paralyzed Internet use along much of the East coast.  So wouldn't it be possible to remotely hack into electronic voting machines and either alter results or cause systems to crash?

Not in Pennsylvania.

At a recent news conference, Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortés explained why. These are all stand alone systems. They have no connection to the Internet, or for that matter, to each other. They have no blue tooth that would permit someone to access them from outside the polling place.

Cortés' remarks have been confirmed by elections officials in Northampton, Lehigh and Dauphin County as well as Philadelphia. Northampton County uses the Sequoia Advantage while Lehigh County uses Premier AccuVote TSX. Philadelphia and Dauphin both use the Danaher ELECTronic 1242. Assuming that remote access were even possible, the hacker would have to penetrate 20 different systems statewide

"I could take this voting machine, drop it off in the middle of Red Square in Moscow, and the Russians couldn't hack into it," Dauphin County Voting Registrar Gerald Feaser told NPR.

Safeguards Protect Against Internal Hacking

So remote hacking into an electronic voting machine is impossible, but what about internal hacking? That's physically possible, but improbable.

First, assuming someone is sophisticated enough to access 20 different voting systems, that person would have to break into every one of them at over 9,100 polling precincts statewide. Philadelphia alone has 4,000 machines, observes Deputy City Commissioner Donald Garecht. Northampton County has at least two machines at each of its 149 polling districts.

Second, before every election, after voting machines are successfully tested for logic and accuracy, they are locked and sealed. A person who wanted to tamper with that machine would have to break a numbered seal and attempt to reseal. Given the thousands of machines statewide, this mischief would likely be detected.

Third, assuming that someone could break into each machine, add votes for one of the candidates and then reseal the machine without detection, it would still be impossible to rig an election without inside collusion. You see, each polling place maintains a numbered list of voters. Ideally, that numbered list should match the number of votes cast on the machines throughout the day. But if someone added 500 Clinton or Trump voterson the voting machine, there would be a major discrepancy with what appears on that numbered list. It would be immediately noticed and reported, unless there was widespread collusion

Each polling precinct has five or more elections workers, and they'd have to be in on it. To be statistically significant, there would need to be a widespread conspiracy among elections workers in numerous polling places. This would require thousands of dishonest elections workers engaging in forgery. Human nature being what it is, do you think that many people would stay silent for long?

Philly and Voter Fraud

Some of you will point to the 2012 Presidential election, in which President Obama received 100% of the votes in 59 Philadelphia area "divisions."  That is damning evidence of  voter fraud, argue some. But is it?

The Philadelphia Inquirer took a close look and discovered that these divisions were almost exclusively black and Democrat. Since President Obama received 93% of the black vote nationwide in 2012, is there really odd or unusual about him getting 100% of the vote in a black and Democratic district?

Reporters were unable to find more than a few of the Republicans registered in these divisions. Most had moved. When they did, they learned that these were Republicans who thought they were Democrats and who voted for Obama.

Incidentally, there are 1,700 divisions in Philadelphia, each with a little over 600 voters. So if you still want to call this voter fraud, it is limited to 3.5% of Philadelphia's voting total.

But ironically, it is the much maligned voting machine that disproves voter fraud in Philadelphia. Once someone votes on a machine, it is impossible to subtract that vote. So if anyone had really voted for Mitt Romney, President Obama's opponent, the vote would be on the machine.

Republicans Sue to Flood Philly With Out-of-County Poll Watchers

Donald Trump has continued to insist that this election will be “rigged” and has called on supporters to watch in places like Philadelphia. But there's little for his supporters to see. Aside from the voters and elections workers, few are allowed inside a polling place. Trump may have called on police chiefs to be present, but state law requires law enforcement to stay at least 100' away because of a concern that their presence will intimidate voters.

So how can a candidate concerned about a rigged election protect himself?

The answer is poll watchers, who serve as watchdogs for candidates and parties. Each party can designate up to three watchers at each precinct. In addition, each candidate may name two watchers per precinct, but only one watcher per party and one watcher per candidate is allowed inside the room at any one time. They must reside in the County they watch. Watchers are entitled to be present from the moment election workers arrive to set up until they leave.

Though a poll watcher is barred from any direct interaction with the voters, he may challenge a voter with the election judge, either because that voter is not who he says he is or does not reside within the district. If a voter is challenged, he must sign an affidavit confirming his identity and must produce another voter from inside the district to vouch for him before being allowed to vote. He may still cast what is known as a provisional ballot, which will be reviewed by elections officials.

According to Northampton County Voting Registrar Dee Rumsey, she's received no requests for poll watcher certificates from anyone. But she expects to be flooded with requests right before the election.

Lehigh County Voting Registrar Timothy Benyo has only received requests for poll watcher certificates from Congressman Charlie Dent. He said that requests for poll watcher certificates after October 25 will only be produced as time permits.

How about Philadelphia and its 1,000,000 voters? According to Deputy City Commissioner Donald Garecht, the City usually receives requests for poll watcher certificates for every party committee member. But his office has seen no deluge of requests.

On Friday, the Pennsylvania GOP filed a federal lawsuit demanding that out-of-county pollwatchers be permitted in cities like Philadelphia. The lawsuit maintains that open elections are crucial to a democracy and that citizens have a "fundamental right to a fair and honest election process."

According to the Electoral Integrity Project, the United States ranks 47th worldwide in election integrity, but not because dead people are voting. The poor rating is blamed on the unfettered influence of money and gerrymandering, not voter fraud.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Kane in Cuffs

Kathleen Kane's fall from grace is now complete. Once a rising star touted as Pennsylvania's next US Senator or governor, she was clapped in handcuffs yesterday after being sentenced to 10-23 months of county jail time for leaking grand jury materials. She pleaded with the judge for a sentence that would allow her to remain with her two sons, but the judge told her she put herself in that situation.

Kane's stay in jail was short-lived because she posted bail. But when she got back to her black Land Rover, there was a $28 parking ticket attached to the windshield.

Not a good day for her.

Not a good day for Democratic AG candidate Josh Shapiro, either. In a debate on the same day that Kane was sentenced, republican AG candidate slammed Shapiro as  "Kathleen Kane in a suit,"notingthat Shapiro has even less experience in a courtroom than Kane did.

Rafferty, himself a former prosecutor, is right. Shapiro was also slammed because he obviously is using the AG's office as a stepping stone at a time when that demoralized office needs a prosecutor.

That's why I voted for Rafferty.

Election Behavior Quiz Answers

Yesterday, I gave you an elections quiz and invited you to post additional questions if you want. Here are the questions and answers.

1) If someone comes into the polls wearing a "Hillary" or "Trump" T-shirt, should he be asked to leave and wear more neutral clothing? - No. A voter with clothing or buttons supporting a candidate or political party is exercising his First Amendment rights. According to a 2008 memo from the Department of State, this is not illegal "electioneering" unless the voter begins to exhort others. Poll  watchers who wear political clothing or pins can be asked to leave.

2) Are reporters allowed inside the polls? - No. The only persons allowed inside are voters (no more than 10 at a time), persons assisting voters, elections workers, a constable or deputy constable, overseers appointed by a County judge and appointed poll watchers (no more than two at a time).

3) Is there any problem with a person talking on his cell phone while waiting to vote, or snapping pictures around him? - No, but wait until you've left the polling place before you post anything online. Though you will see signs telling you that cameras and cell phones are prohibited, there really is no law banning their use. The Department of State "recommends that counties adopt common sense rules that take into account the need for order in the polling place and the right of citizens to vote unimpeded." The Pa. Constitution (Pa. Const. Art. VII, § 4) guarantees the right to vote in secret. So the chief concern is that Voter A does not photograph Voter B as he casts his ballot. That's a No No. How about a selfie? The Department of State asks you to wait until you leave before posting a selfie online.

4) Must the name and party of a person coming in to vote be announced? Isn't the voter entitled to some privacy? - Yes, the name and party of the voter must be announced, even though it bothers elections workers and voters.This is what triggers the challenge process. Once a voter comes in, he or she can be challenged by anyone, from another voter to elections worker to poll watcher, on the basis that he is not who he says he is or live where he says he does. It's impossible to do that unless until you know who he claims he is. The party announcement is important for poll watchers.

5) What about those annoying people who rush over to you the second you get out of your car? Shouldn't they take a hike? - They have as much right to be there as you do to vote. This is core political speech, and so long as it occurs 10' or more away from the polling place, it is protected speech.

6) If my father or mother is unable to see, can I go into the voting booth with him and help him vote? - One of the most moving sights I see at an election is an older voter, on a walker, who struggles to make his way to the voting booth. He is usually wearing a tie and dress shirt, and though every steps he takes is painful, he will cast his vote. These are real Americans. But according to NPR, we do a terrible job of accommodating voters with disabilities. Only one out of every four polling places is completely accessible to persons with disabilities. The electronic voting machine is equipped to enable a person who is blind to vote, but it takes forever. Most people with a disability bring a family member, who is permitted into the voting booth so long as a Request for Assistance is completed. Other elections workers may assist a voter, but not the judge of elections.  

7) If you are a convicted felon, do you have the right to vote? -  Yes. So long as you have served your sentence, you can vote, even if released on probation or parole. If convicted of an elections offense, you lose the right to vote for four years.

8) In line with what is and is not allowed at polls maybe someone out there can answer my question. Is Pennsylvania an open carry state? Can you buy a handgun and carry it on your hip in the open without getting a concealed weapons permit?
- Although Pa. is an open carry state and firearms are permitted at the polls, most people drive to the polls. Unless you are going to the gun range, if you strap a six-shooter to your side and lack a concealed carry permit, you are asking for trouble. Felony trouble. If you vote at a school, don't even think about bringing a gun.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tim Kaine in Allentown Wednesday

WHO: Senator Tim Kaine
WHAT: Campaign Rally
WHEN: Wednesday, October 26
5:00 pm. Doors open 3:00 pm.
WHERE: Seegers Union
2400 Chew St Allentown, Pennsylvania 18104

This post is closed to comments because partisans on both sides are incapable of being civil.

Election Behavior Quiz

In many instances, a voter who wants to carry a firearm to vote is no issue because the polls are located at gun-free schools. But what about a polling place located at a church or municipal building? Under current law, a voter is entitled to strap on his six-shooter.  Given that police must stay at least 100' away, this concerns me. Governing reports that very few states regulate firearms at the voter booth.

Here's a quiz.

1) If someone comes into the polls wearing a "Hillary" or "Trump" T-shirt, should he be asked to leave and wear more neutral clothing?

2) Are reporters allowed inside the polls?

3) Is there any problem with a person talking on his cell phone while waiting to vote, or snapping pictures around him?

4) Most the name and party of a person coming in to vote be announced? Isn't the voter entitled to some privacy?

5) What about those annoying people who rush over to you the second you get out of your car? Shouldn't they take a hike?

6) If my father or mother is unable to see, can I go into the voting booth with him and help him vote?

I'll answer these questions tomorrow. If you have additional questions, post them in the comments. If I am unable to answer you, I'll find out from elections officials.

Panto's Pseudonyms May Cost Easton

Back in March, I told you that Easton Mayor Sal Panto was using two pseudonyms - Tom18017 and Roverfan73 - to participate in online discussions at Lehigh Valley Live. This is in addition to comments he would post under his own name, often in connection with the same story in which he was using his pseudonyms.

How do I know he was using these pseudonyms? Because like most liars, he's also stupid. Abraham Lincoln once said, "No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.” Panto is proof.

When someone teased him about his moonlighting at Riverview, he started to blow oil about his 80-hour weeks and invited this critic to visit his office. But instead of writing as "Sal Panto," he got mixed up and posted as "roverfan73." In another story about Easton'sparking garage, Panto took it upon himself, as Panto, to correct several errors in the story. Then, when someone complained to him about the construction, he told this person to call his office for an appointment, providing his telephone number as Mayor. But once again, he got confused. Instead of "Sal Panto," this one came out as "tom18017."

Panto used both of these pseudonyms (some believe there were more) to bully people and make all kinds of vicious remarks about others, while simultaneously patting himself on the back as Easton mayor. When posting as panto, he often took others to task for failing to say who they really were. But he was doing it himself!

Panto used LehighValleyLive to create the false impression that others think like him, and to vilify perceived opponents.

After I outed Panto, both here and at Laini Abraham's popular Easton Pa Facebook page, tom18017 and roverfan73 suddenly went Internet-silent. He ignored my request for an explanation and even snubbed activist Dennis Lieb, who raised the topic at a City Council meeting.

He eventually came up with an answer. At a meeting of Easton Democrats, he claimed he had been hacked. Nobody believed him. That explanation itself is an admission of dishonest behavior (setting up false identities) to respond to accusations of ... dishonest behavior.

When I outed Panto, I did so because I was disgusted by his dishonesty. But I dropped the matter, thinking it could never come back to bite him. Well, it just did. All of Panto's Easton cheerleaders will be held accountable for his lies. He has been sued, both individually and in his capacity as Mayor, over the wrongful death of Richard Scheuermann. Whether Easton police acted appropriately or not when they fired at Scheuermann is a question for another day and another venue. But part of the claim relates to Panto's use of the pseudonym tom18017 and roverfan73 to defame Scheuermann's family.

Guess who will be paying for that?

Panto was asked about the use of these pseudonyms by LehighValleyLive, and declined to answer. He can thumb his nose at yours truly, Dennis Lieb and LehighValleyLive, but will eventually have to answer the federal lawsuit.

As Roverfan73 and tom18017, here is what Panto has had to say about several different topics.

Himself: "The man works tirelessly for he city say and night and if he didn't respond you would criticize him for that as well." ... "Wow. the mayor is doing a great job and the naysayers all over him for doing his job. Call it as you want there are laws on the books and he swore an oath to enforce them,,,,,and I say thank you. Downtown looks better and better everyday." ... "We have a very good mayor ..." ... "I believe this mayor is tough on crime." ... "Can the mayor and council run the country??????" ... "We need Mayor Panto for life! Case closed." ... " I guess good government doesn't warrant news coverage."(He also falsely claims to live in the West Ward, and talks about taking his sons to the parks). 

Easton Public Market: "It has been postponed so many times it is ridiculous and I looked in the windows just today and they are no where ready to open." ... "Seems more like a Reading Terminal than a grocery store. So I can buy my meat and seafood there but not the flour and butter to cook them or the bread crumbs or the dish detergent to clean the pots, pans, and dishes. And how does the city get paid back the million dollars they gave to support the project? I hear in addition to that amount there is another million or so on top of that."

Street Crime: "use a gun and it should be a minimum sentence of 30 w/o parole." ... "The courts need to be more aggressive in their setting of bail amounts, especially when guns are found." ... "Blame our liberal courts these dirtbags are arrested by the police and out before the paperwork is done."

Magisterial District Judge Antonia Grifo: "Good thing this guy is going to Corpora because if he was going to Grifo she would have him back out on the streets in no time."

DA John Morganelli: "Finally Morganelli wants to get tough on crime. HMMMM any reason other than it is happening in his beloved Bethlehem. He has been tough on crime to some extent in Easton but rumor has it that Magistrate "easy on crime" Grifo let the ARMED actors that held up the Dollar Store and led police on a massive manhunt -- is it true she let them off the hook and dismissed the case. How dare she do that!!! We need the President Judge and the DA to pull her in and set her straight. I am sure if it was Bethlehem John would do it. Let's get tough on crime in Northampton County."

Judge Sam Murray: "I hope he makes better decisions on the bench than the choice for tip staff. He is a good person but his choices were more political than anything. There were so many good people that helped him. It is a shame he didn't choose one of them. But I hear he had a great reception and rumor is it was all donated by the owner of Riverview Country Club. I wonder if that is true, hope not Seems like more of the same at the county."

Easton Peace Candle: "IT'S SIMPLE THE CANDLE SHOULD BE LIT ON FRIDAY NIGHT --- PERIOD ----- " ... "I also vote for candle lighting on Friday. Does GEDP run this city or the Mayor and City Council?"

Public Education: "I am a former public school teacher and loved the profession. I was never paid what teacher's are paid today." ... " C'mon man if you want a full-time President then pay for it. Teachers should know their history just look at Bethlehem Steel and IR where many of the union bosses were paid to do union business. How did it work out for them?" ... " I rarely see any teachers anymore at extra curricular events unless they are being paid. Many don't even don't live in the area. The union saw to that when they got rid of residency requirements."

Suburban kids: "So you think all suburban kids are angels. Think again. Some of the most disrespectful brats come from the wealthier families who let their kids run wild with little oversight."

Easton Snow Plowing: "I traveled many roads in the townships that were worse than the city's streets. Ask some of the residents who live in developments that weren't even plowed." ... "I have to commend the city if Easton. I had to travel I too other areas today including the suburbs and Bethlehem and Easton's roads were far superior."

NorCo(Central Booking): "Northampton County finally coming into the twenty first century. Several years after LEhigh County but it is appreciated." (Emergency Shelter): "Thank you Mayor "Panto and City Council for doing what the county should be paying for. They are supposed to be the human services division of government but they haven't come into the 21st century. Nothing there has changed in the last 50 years."

Glenn Steckman: "Insiders have told me there was tension between the mayor and Steckman but it was always over Steckman's handling of personnel and the public. No one likes to see a person terminated or resign but the fact is this person should have been let go a long time ago. The only reason he lasted as long as he did is because employees have told me often times that Panto is too loyal and always gave Steckman another chance." ... " I had several dealings with this guy and he was rude and nasty." ... "He needs some humility like the mayor."

Allentown Pay-to-Play: "Ah yes Mr. Stathern, he was good friends of you know who --- Mike Fleck. Why not check their involvement together and what Strathern "treated" Fleck to when Fleck was on Easton Council the first time." ... "No doubt the guilty one is the fleckster. I am sure he promised a lot the mayor didn't know because everything he got in contributions he got more money." ... "This guy was friends with Mike Fleck when he was on easton city council and did some unethical things then.. When he was out of work Fleck got him the job in Allemtown. The Fleckster was the main ingredient in all of this and should be in jail." (I am sure the feds would love to know the details here, Sal. Why not give them call? Maybe they'll call you!)

Bethlehem Street crime: "Gee I thought all of the gangs were in Allentown and Easton. Seems like there is more and more crime in Bethlehem."

Bethlehem taxes:  "Maybe Bob [Donchez] should take some lessons from Sal in Easton. I left Bethlehem and moved to Easton abour 7 years ago and we haven't had a property tax increase nor any loss of sevices. A a matter of fact there has been an increase. esecially in the polioce department, and I live in the West Ward. Bethlehem should be financially sound with all of the development and the casino"

Jeanette Eichenwald: "Does Eichenwald know any other words. All she talks about is the cloud hanging over city hall. Get a life and start working on making Allentown a better place to live instead of pushing the cloud over the Chief of Police. She wants everything tied to the investigation and pay to play and yet no one has been charged or indicted. She has done nothing on council that is positive in any way, shape or form. And just recently she put down Easton. What the heck? And oh, I don't live in Allentown and I don't know the mayor and I don't have any contracts with the city."

Addendum: I mentioned Laini Abraham and just want to take this opportunity to congratulate her on her new role as a Mom.

Brown the Bridge Builder

Irish bridge
At their October 20 meeting, Northampton County Council voted 7-1 to approve an bridge-bundling ordinance under which 33 of the County's 119 bridges will be conveyed to the General Purpose Authority (GPA) for repairs at 20-30% less than would be paid if the County were to do the work itself. in addition to being cheaper, Executive John Brown has argued that the work will be done more quickly.

County officials have indicated that the GPA is ready to award the $34 million deal to Kriger Construction, which is located in Dickson City. A disappointed bidder, Clearwater Construction, has filed suit over the award, claiming that Kriger is unqualified. Judge Craig Dally has ruled that Clearwater lacks standing, and his decision is under appeal. Kevin Lott, a Hellertown resident and trades union organizer, has also sued.

Ken Kraft is the sole Council member to vote No to this ordinance, even though one of the union painting that he represents, would be used by Kriger. Kraft had no comment, but has previously complained that Kriger is unqualified to replace bridges. He is also concerned that there will be cost overruns because Kriger low-balled the project.

Brown has touted this bridge bundling project in his race for auditor general. In an interview with PCNTV,he said he's been told, "You were able to come up with a solution that no one thought of before." He argues that the County lacks "the capacity to do this" and that it's time to "stop pretending we're going to get to the bridge repair."  He claims that PennDot sees this " a pilot project that, when successful, they'd like to probably roll it out to the other 66 counties in the state. We're very fortunate that the Federal Highway Administration is taking a look at our project as a model to roll out, potenially nationally."

Mike Bonini, director of PennDOT’s P3 project, said that Northampton County is blazing a trail for other counties.

Council President John Cusick commended Brown, calling it a "groundreaking" effort.

Matt Dietz was absent from the meeting.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Opinions Online, 10/22/16

Blogger's Note: Opinions Online is a regular Saturday feature. If you'd like to express your opinion on any topic (excepting the Presidential election), click on the Opinions Online button on my left sidebar. I prefer local topics, especially concerning topics I miss, as opposed to talking points. 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. Please keep your comments brief, if possible. Anonymous personal attacks will be deleted, especially when aimed at other readers. I refuse to publish anything I consider possibly defamatory.


The best way to get reassessment done is to have a judge order it. Otherwise , it never gets done. Though it is proffered that 50% of assessments stay the same, 25 % go up and 25% go down in a reassessment nobody believes that. It is political suicide for anyone in office to recommend it. John Stoffa

Blogger's Note: After stepping down as NorCo Exec, John Stoffa has followed his lifelong dream and is currently a male model.


Just who and what official capacity were actor no1 and no2 that too have not been named, or is there no such a part in the writ?


Blogger's Reply: Are you referring to the FBI investigation in Allentown and Reading. Public Official No.1 is former Reading Mayor Vaughan Spencer. Public Official No.2 has never been identified, but is most likely former Reading City Council President Francisco Acosta.


You were asking for some local news and discussions.

Major League Baseball currently contracts with Majestic in Palmer County for its game uniforms, as well as uniforms sold as licensed products to the public. The Uniforms are made here as well.

Now, MLB has switched it's contract to Under Armour, meaning our area will lose another manufacturing plant. Under Armour manufactures in Asia, Central and South America and Mexico.


Why does The city of Allentown and the school district own so much vacant surplus land? They cry poverty but could reap a small fortune by selling it off for development. I'm not talking parkland, I mean vacant acreage and lots that aren't used by the public. Bethlehem and the BASD don't seem to have these large vacant land holdings.


Bernie there are whispers going around that Fed Ed's golden boy, Michael Walker did not leave Community Service for Children as he claims. I think there may be some truth here because why would someone "resign" from a position without having another one. Something for you to dig into, which you are very good at.

Blogger's Reply: We now know these are more than whispers.


It is good to see you are back covering our backs in local political venues. G. John Bryant, Jr.

Blogger's Reply: Thanks, John.


Would you recommend any opinions, yours or others, articles or possible implications etc on the following state (1) or local (2, 3) issues?

1) Constitutional Amendment 1 to set 75 as the Mandatory Judicial Retirement Age (PA)

2) Home Rule Charter Amendment for Advertising and Distribution of Public Documents and Meetings (Northampton Co.)

3) Home Rule Charter Amendment for Advertising Vacant County Positions (Northampton Co.)

Voting from Dublin... Ireland.

Blogger's Reply: Hope you are having a blast and tell us about it. I'm thinking of visiting. I published my absentee ballot earlier this week. I voted to extend the mandatory retirement age, but I do like Hayden Phillips' argument that there should be more turnover. The other two questions relax the Charter requirement that meetings and vacancies be advertised in the newspaper. A lot of the advertising is governed by state statute, and state law will be followed. But newspaper ads cost a lot of money,and the county wants to substitute the Internet for newspapers when it can do so without breaking state law. I voted Yes to Question No. 2 but completely missed No. 3 because I am an idiot. Enclosed are links to stories on the mandatory retirement age and advertising in the dailies. It particularly irks me that, in addition to paying for advertising that is not needed,we subsidize both daily papers by providing them with free office space. That needs to end, especially since The Express Times can't be bothered to cover Northampton County government.

Those are my views, so you now know the wrong way to vote.


As one who spent over a year at Gracedale recovering from a horrendous accident, I am sure that I can vouch as to the top notch care and attention delivered , from the housekeeping staff to the head of the facility. This place is the Crown Jewel of Northampton County...

Friday, October 21, 2016

About Those Timeclocks ... Again

Northampton County employees entering the courthouse have personalized ID cards that are swiped as they come in through a special gate. One County employee suggests that, instead of a biometric punch clock, why not set up a biometric entrance gate? It would be more efficient and would apply to everyone, even if the hours of salaried employees are not needed.  

Gracedale Administrator "I've Got Good News and Bad News

Gracedale's new Administrator, Raymond Soto, had good news and bad news for Northampton County Council at their October 20 meeting.

The good news is that the County's nursing home has finally been able to sell 37 excess bed licenses to Wyndmoore Care Center for $700,000, with payment to be received on or before October 30. In addition to the revenue, this sale paves the way to higher Medicaid reimbursement rates. Those payments are higher if 90%of the licensed beds are filled. As of yesterday, Gracedale had a census of 674 with the new maximum bed count at 688. That's 98%.

But those higher rates are in jeopardy, thanks to the bad news. On September 15, a resident told a nurse's aide that she was going to commit suicide. When the aide went to get help from a supervisor, the resident took a magnifying glass, broke it, and slit her wrists."We are totally responsible for that," said Soto. "We dropped the ball in that situation."  He explained that proper protocol would have been to remain with the resident and buzz for help.  

Gracedale reported itself, and the state Department of Health found there was a "G" level deficiency, meaning one that caused actual harm. It could have imposed a $3,000 fine and closed the facility to future admissions. But on October 18, the state accepted a plan of corrective action from the nursing home that includes education of the entire staff and actively identifying any resident with suicidal ideas. The "G" level deficiency, however, will remain in Gracedale's record for three years. Worse, its current 4-star rating from  the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)  could be reduced to a 3-star rating, leading to lower reimbursements.  

Bob Werner and Hayden Phillips were miffed that they were not immediately informed of the incident as well as the bed sale. Acting Administrator Cathy Allen apologized, and said these details are usually disclosed to the Advisory Board, but there was no meeting in September  Hayden Phillips agreed that the nurse's aide did what she thought was right and was under a lot of pressure.

NorCo Council v. The Gerrymander

Do you think that voters should select their legislators or that they should decide who gets to vote for or against them? Under the current system in Pennsylvania, state legislative leaders get together and slice up districts pretty much to protect incumbents. As a result, Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent has a district extending from Easton to Dauphin County. Instead of being the Congressman from the Lehigh Valley, he's the Congressman from I-78. In Allentown, one legislative district has been established primarily for people of Latino or Hispanic descent, which dilutes their influence in other districts. This is gerrymandering.

State Senator Lisa Boscola, a Democrat, and State Rep.Dave Parker, a Republican, have introduced legislation to slay the gerrymander. Instead of permitting state legislators to carve up districts to protect each other, this legislation will establish an independent commission to do the redistricting, made up of nonpoliticians. Though it's too late for this to pass in the current legislative session, numerous Lehigh Valley State legislators, both Democrat and Republican, are cosponsors  And at their October 20 meeting, Northampton County Council adopted a resolution urging the state legislature to end gerrymandering. The vote was 8-0,with Matt Dietz being absent.    

"At least we have added our voice for fair and equitable redistricting," said Peg Ferraro, a long-time proponent of redistricting reform. Glenn Geissinger, who has personal experience with a gerrymandered district as a former congressional candidate, said the way redistricting is done is "a system that makes absolutely no sense." Ken Kraft, who cosponsored Ferraro's resolution, noted that Northampton County Council has always done its redistricting fairly. "If we can do it, so can they" he said.

Despite Voter Fraud Accusation, No Rush For Poll Watchers

NorCo voting machine, minus
the privacy curtain
Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, has repeatedly raised the specter of voter fraud in the November 8 election, particularly in Pennsylvania, and has called on his supporters to “go around and watch other polling places.” But according to three different elections offices, there's been no cascade of requests for poll watcher certificates.

Poll watchers are individuals designated by a candidate or party to make sure that only registered voters cast ballots. They are to have no contact with voters, but can challenge someone's identity or residence with the elections judge.

According to Northampton County Voting Registrar Dee Rumsey, she's received no requests for poll watcher certificates from anyone. But she said she expects to be flooded with requests right before the election.

Lehigh County Voting Registrar Timothy Benyo has only received requests for poll watcher certificates from Congressman Charlie Dent. He said that requests for poll watcher certificates after October 25 will only be produced as time permits.

How about Philadelphia and its 700,000 voters? According to Deputy City Commissioner Donald Garecht, the City usually receives requests for poll watcher certificates for every person. But he said that even his office has seen no deluge of requests.

I am working on a more detailed story on the machines in use in each of these counties and the likelihood that they can be hacked. That story will appear in The Bethlehem Press next Wednesday, after which I will publish it here.

NorCo VA Announces Veterans Discount ID Program

Freddie Ramirez addresses NorCo Council
Northampton County's Director of Veterans Affairs, Freddie Ramirez, has teamed up with the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce to start a new discount ID program with various participating merchants. But, as he explained to County Council at their October 20 meeting, this is a benefit that will extend to all former members of the military, including those who served in the Reserves or National Guard.

Any County resident who was discharged honorably or under honorable conditions can ask for a veterans Affairs Photo Identification Card, and they will be able to take advantage of discounts or special offers.

Ramirez explained this is a way for the business community to express their gratitude to those who have served, and a way for smaller businesses to become better known.

If you would like an ID card or have a business interested in participating, contact the Veterans Affairs Office at 610-829-4875 to enroll. All participating businesses will be listed on the County's Veterans Affairs webpage.

Mat Benol complimented Ramirez, calling the idea "fantastic." Ramirez said similar programs are in place in Berks and Monroe County, but not Lehigh County.