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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Trump's Homeland Security Pick Has Quakertown Roots

Tom Bossert, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Homeland Security, has local roots. He was raised in Quakertown, and graduated from high school there in 1993. A reader who graduated with Bossert describes him as a "decent student but really seemed to excel after High School." He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and also has a law degree from George Washington University. He previously served President Bush as a Homeland Security Deputy.

In contrast to the current arrangement, in which the Homeland Security Adviser reports to the National Security Adviser, Bossert will report to the President.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Obama's Supposed Pogrom

Blogger Michael Molovinsky , who admits he is a Zionist, is understandably miffed that the United States decided recently to abstain from a UN resolution that condemns Israeli settlements along the West Bank. He paints the story as a question of Israel's very survival, without any consideration of the reality that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is poking at a hornet's nest. But where he really loses all perspective when he claims that opposition to any new settlement is akin to a pogrom.

I completely sympathize with Israel. There is no way that Israel should relinquish control of the West Bank borders at this juncture because Molovinsky is right - it really is a question of Israel's very survival. What he fails to mention is that just three months before this abstention, Obama agreed to give Israel $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years.

That's pretty strange behavior for someone who is engaged in a pogrom against Israel.
Link to Molovinsky diatribe:

Expect to See More Taxes in 2017, Starting at the Pump

If you fill upon January 1, expect to pay an additional 8 cents a gallon. That's right, the state that already has the highest gas tax in the nation is kicking things up to a mindboggling 58.3 cents a gallon. Add the federal tax of 18.4 cents a gallon and Pennsylvanians - already saddled with the highest gas tax in the country - will fork over 76.7 cents a gallon in gas taxes.

Then there's the 6 percent increase in tolls on the PA Turnpike (that 6 percent increase could be an annual event every year for the next 27 years!). And, just where is the increase going? To upgrade the quality of the Turnpike? A little, possibly, but mostly to divert Turnpike tolls to other state budget needs.

And just what is the presumed justification our spineless state legislators use for these increases? Moral impotence. Instead of requiring townships without police forces to pay for state police protection, all of us take it in the shorts so that those townships get "free" police protection. A lovely way to buy votes - target specific beneficiaries while spreading the pain across the masses.

And, the state of our roads and bridges? What a joke. I see next to no construction activity on Rt 22 and zero construction activity on the Northeast Extension. For most of last week, there was zero construction activity on the Fahy bridge which is now two months behind schedule. I guess week long holiday vacations for construction workers take precedence over bringing a job in on time. Maybe the Fahy contractor is in a contest to exceed the construction time for Rt 412. The way things are going, he might be successful.

Oh, and the South Side parking garage? You might want to check on how little progress has been made there.

PennDOT has the patent on simultaneously maximizing motorist inconvenience and maximizing the time period to complete a job. Municipal contractors just follow suit.

Cheers to a PA economy which will continue to falter.

Do NorCo Dems Have a Chance Next Year?

As the clock winds down on an eventful 2016, some are looking ahead to next year's municipal races. This story is about the Northampton County Council and Executive races. John Brown will be starting his fourth year as Executive, ending his term in office unless he runs again. Count on it. The five at-large Council seats, all of them held by Republicans, will also be up for grabs. I think it's likely that NorCo will remain red, at least for now.

  • Brown's first year in office was an unmitigated disaster. He screwed the County workforce by unilaterally reducing medical benefits, hired a propaganda director without permission, attempted to jam a $400,000 "consultant" down our throats, fired an assistant solicitor without giving her due process, got caught padding his expense reports, and actually had the temerity to post armed guards outside his office. He also went along with a ten per cent tax hike engineered by the Republicans 
  • During Brown's second year, it was discovered that he authorized numerous pay hikes to county staffers without getting permission from Council. Hotel tax grants were stalled because his quondam Director of Community and Economic Development, Diane Donaher, tried to give the entire $400,000 in hotel tax grants to the Northampton County Historical Society, which just happens to be chaired by a major Republican benefactor. 
  • In his third year, Brown was an absentee Executive,trying to get elected to the state auditor general position. 
  • Brown also shoved a Latino Director of Administration out of the way to make room for Cathy Allen as his top lieutenant despite her history of unpaid tax liens, foreclosure, lack of education and experience.   
  • After allowing the important Director of Emergency Management  to go unfilled for 18 months, he installed Todd Weaver, who just happened to be on the selection committee that panned everyone else. Weaver was chosen despite clear evidence that he is engaged in a blatant conflict of interest, approving payments to his daddy at a fire school where his daughter and wife are also involved.  
  • He has been completely nontransparent, refusing to respond to media requests. He has been reluctant to state just what he did before he became Executive. His new web site is an insult to the public he supposedly serves, providing less information than its predecessor. He has completely failed to use new forms of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram Snapchat and Nixel to reach out to the public.    

Though this sounds bad, he is the frontrunner. Here's why.

  • Two Democrats are interested in this seat, Bob Werner and Lamont McClure. If they engage in a primary battle, even if they keep it civil, they are going to bleed each other of money that could be used in the general election.
  • It appears unlikely that any Republicans will be running in the Democratic strongholds of Easton and Bethlehem. That guarantees a low turnout there, and just like four years ago, makes a countywide Republican victory more likely.
  • The big unknown is the national mood.  If President Donald Trump is a disaster, it should still take about 18 months for people to realize they elected a demagogue. But if Trump is as good as he claims he is, Democrats are in for a thumping. Persons like Seth Vaughn,who said "Who cares?" about missing an important budget hearing, will be re-elected and proved correct   

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why I Support Allentown City Council's Budget Deal

In the post below, I reprinted verbatim an Allentown City Council news release concerning a budget deal reached with Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski. It's no surprise that this compromise has inspired an angry by some who probably retain some healthy skepticism about a City Council better known as bobbleheads than firebrands. But I consider it a good deal and here's why.

1. Though I believe City Council was in a very strong legal position, you just never know what will happen inside a courtroom. A settlement provides certainty and saves the City the expense of hiring lawyers so that two branches of government can fight with each other.

2. The raise for the police and fire chiefs, as well as the Public Works Director is set at five per cent. This is well below what Fed Ed wanted. He wanted an 11% payhike for his police chief, a 13% raise for his fire chief, and 28% for his public works maven.

3. When Council adopted a 10% cut, across the board, in payments to consultants and third party providers, that could open the door to breach-of-contract claims by some providers with existing contracts. Though this could have been avoided, it would have resulted in some providers receiving bigger cuts.

Hendricks, a former cop, had
some tough words for Fed Ed
4. Reducing the OT budget from 10% to 5% avoids the worrisome problem of  a vindictive Mayor refusing to order his road crews to plow snow after hours.  

5. If you read between the lines, controversial employee Michael Walker is gone. When Fed Ed defied Council and hired him after Council rejected him as Director of Community and Economic Development, that's how this mess started. City Council is not talking, but that's because it already has the mouse in its mouth. It won on that major point. The same is true of Fed Ed's pick for Managing Director, Oscar Montaya. He's a dead man walking. Right now, I think City Council would reject Mahatma Gandhi if picked by Fed Ed. He's lost their trust and respect.

6. A non-disparagement clause, the result of some tetchy emails between Fed Ed and Daryl Hendricks, is very nice, but completely unenforceable. You can't muzzle a person from speaking out against his government or other elected officials. That's a clear violation of the First Amendment. While I'm sure City Council members will do their best to avoid lashing out, they have been given ample provocation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fed Ed and City Council Reach Budget Deal

On Thursday, December 22, 2016, with the able and effective assistance of the Honorable Edward M. Cahn and the City Solicitor, the Mayor and City Council (by its elected President and Vice President) agreed to the following:
1. To work in a cohesive and constructive manner, going forward, to accomplish the best budgetary outcome for 2017 and future years; 
2. To refrain from any public comment which would tend to disparage the Mayor or any member of Council, including all of their respective family members, excepting constructive criticism or respectful disagreement; it being understood that this non-disparagement clause includes all language (spoken or written) which is intended, or would reasonably be expected, to materially harm the other, or would harm the reputation of any of the foregoing persons, or which could reasonably be expected to lead to unwanted or unfavorable publicity to any of the foregoing persons.
3. Council’s amendments to the budget for cuts to premium pay (Account 6) shall be reduced to 5% (from 10%).
4. The salaries of the Police Chief, Fire Chief and Interim Director of Public Works shall be increased 5% over their 2016 salaries.
5. Salary ranges shall be restored to the back of the budget book in accordance with prior practice.
6. Council will restore all funding to Account 46 of the Budget, as proposed in the Mayor’s Budget of November 2, 2016.
7. The Department of Economic and Community Development shall be reorganized and reconstituted as promptly as possible, with the now-vacant position of Director of the Department filled in the following manner:
a. An Economic Development Committee (“ED Committee”) shall be formed consisting of three members of Council (two to be selected by Council and one to be selected by the Mayor), one representative of the Administration, and one representative of the Human Resources Department;
b. The goal of the ED Committee shall be to conduct a search for candidates for the position of Director;
c. The ED Committee will provide the Mayor with no fewer than 3 potential names;
d. The Mayor will select and appoint a new Director from the aforementioned list of names, to submit to Council for confirmation. 
e. The salaries of the Director of Economic Development and Operations Manager will be restored to the salary ranges set forth in the proposed Budget of November 2, 2016.
f. Upon completion of the above process, the Department of Economic and Community Development, under the leadership of its new Director (whether interim or permanent) shall be reorganized to maximize the economic growth potential of the City of Allentown, and to further the existing and future goals and projects of the City of Allentown.
8. Council will conduct a meeting to consider Oscar Montoya for the position of Managing Director, within the month of January 2017.
9. In the event Mr. Montoya is not hired, a Managing Director Committee (“MD Committee”) shall be formed consisting of three members of Council (two to be selected by Council and one to be selected by the Mayor; however, the members of the MD Committee shall not be the same as the members of the ED Committee), one representative of the Administration, one representative of the Human Resources Department;
a. The goal of the MD Committee shall be to conduct a search for candidates for the position of Managing Director, and, within 60 days from the date of this Agreement, will furnish to the Mayor a list of no fewer than 2 and no more than 5 names of individuals the MD Committee believes to be qualified for the Managing Director position; and
b. The Mayor will appoint an individual from the foregoing list, unless the Mayor, in his sole and unfettered discretion, determines that none of the individuals on the aforementioned list are suitable for the position, in which case, the Mayor shall submit a counterproposal of names to the MD Committee for input and consideration.
10. Council recognizes and agrees that it is the Mayor’s sole right to hire or appoint City employees (other than Cabinet positions).
11. One member of Council (on a rotating basis) mayattend the monthly meetings of the Administration with all Bureau Managers.  
12. At or before the reorganization meeting on January 4, 2017, Council will take action by way of ordinance to make fund transfers as are necessary to balance the 2017 Budget, and implement the terms of this Agreement.

NorCo Council's 2016 Workhorses, Showhorses and No-Showhorses

Who are Northampton County Council's workhorses, show horses and no-showhorses in 2016? What is their attendance, including Committee participation, where most of the real work is done?

This is my annual report card, something I have done since 2006.

Last year's workhorse was Bob Werner. He had a perfect attendance record at all Council and Committee meetings, something never seen before. The no-showhorse was Seth Vaughn. In addition to getting a failing grade for attendance, Vaughn had the gall to ask Council members, during public meetings, to fill him in in what he had missed.

Will this year be a repeat?

Northampton County Council met 29 times last year, including 24 regular and 5 budget hearings. In addition, its committees met an amazing 51 times. Hayden Phillips' Capital Projects Committee, which met 9 times, has really helped the county address its infrastructure needs, from bridges to generators. Seth Vaughn's Human Services Committee met 10 times, giving all of us a bird's eye view of the numerous human services provided, from developmental difficulties in infants to child abuse to Gracedale.  Each Council member is encouraged to attend committees, regardless whether he or she is a voting member. The committees that do meet are an indication of what issues concern Council members. The Economic Development Committee huddled 10 times, more than twice as often as in 2015. Finance and Personnel remain the nuts-and bolts committees. Other committees that met were Parks and Open Space (6), Governance (3) and Courts and Corrections (2). This Council appears to be very concerned about our crumbling infrasturucture, job creation and our responsibility to help those in need.

It's hard to argue with these priorities. In previous years, I've complained about the very limited use of the Intergovernmental Committee. This is hard to fathom, especially now that a merger of 911 systems is being contemplated. But John Cusick decided to abolish that committee entirely.

Though all would agree that our Administrative Code and Home Rule Charter are in dire need of an overhaul, there still has been no movement to conduct a study.

I have graded each council member based on his attendance of the 80 committee and full council meetings. If participation is by phone, I have decided to count it since the member can vote.
Hayden Phillips, NorCo workhorse of the year

This year's workhorse of the year is the Colonel, Hayden Phillips. He attended 77 of 80 meetings, giving him a 96% record. A proud tea party conservative can be expected to attend meetings about finance and capital projects, but Phillips also attended all 10 human services meetings. His ideology is completely different than mine, but he obviously wants to help people.

Following right behind Phillips is Council President John Cusick, who earned a 95% grade by attending 76 of 80 meetings. I am a harsh critic of Cusick because I prefer to be knifed in the front. Though I have a hard time trusting him or his motives, he has been effective as President and has managed to get a lot accomplished in his first year back in office after a four-year rest.

Bob Werner, last year's workhorse, managed to attend 71 of 80 meetings this year for a 89% attendance record. Though he is a liberal Democrat, he has worked closely with Phillips. But he also has a tendency to lash out at County staff for no reason, is somewhat full of himself and has a penchant for writing out speeches he tries to pretend are off the cuff remarks. He's also the worst interrogator on council.

He said this Summer that he's running for Executive.

From these top three the attendance record begins to slack off. The remaining Council member report cards are as follows: Mat Benol - 74% (59/80); Matt Dietz - 69% (55/80); Peg Ferraro - 66% (53/80); Seth Vaughn - 66% (53/80); Ken Kraft - 65% (52/80); and last but least, Glenn Geissinger - 54% (43/80).

Vaughn has told me he had a perfect attendance record this year. While it's an improvement over 2015, it's no reason to pop open a bubbly. Vaughn actually missed the one meeting of the year that should be a must for every Council member - the vote on Budget amendments. When I confronted him over this, his response was, "So what? Who cares? I'll still win the election next year, pal."

Kraft had a pretty lousy attendance record, too. He actually missed three full Council meetings, and only attended 4 of 10 human services meetings while making sure he was at every economic development meeting.. He's there to represent all the people, not just the trade unions.

The biggest no-show horse was Glenn Geissinger, who neglected his duties on Council so he could run for Congress. After getting knocked off in the primary, he seemed to lose interest in government. He missed three full Council meetings and participated in numerous meetings by phone. He mostly rubber stamps whatever the administration wants.

Here's the breakdown.

Capital Projects (9 meetings): Hayden Phillips, Chair; - 9; Bob Werner - 8; Mat Benol - 7; John Cusick -7; Peg Ferraro - 1;  Matt Dietz - 5 (including 2 by phone); Seth Vaughn - 3 (all by phone).

Courts and Corrections (2 meetings): Mat Benol, Chair; - 2;  Bob Werner - 1; John Cusick -2; Hayden Phillips - 2: Peg Ferraro - 1;  Matt Dietz - 1 (by phone); Seth Vaughn - 1 (by phone): Ken Kraft - 1; Glenn Geissinger -1

Governance (3 meetings): John Cusick, Chair, - 3; Hayden Phillips - 3: Seth Vaughn -2 (1 by phone); Bob Werner - 2; Matt Dietz - 2; Ken Kraft - 1; Peg Ferraro -1; Mat Benol - 1; Glenn Geissinger - 1.

Human Services (10 meetings): Seth Vaughn, Chair -10 (1 by phone); Matt Dietz - 9; Mat Benol - 10 (part of 1 by phone); Hayden Phillips - 10; Bob Werner - 10; John Cusick - 10; Glenn Geissinger - 2; Ken Kraft - 4; Peg Ferraro - 4.

Parks and Open Space (6 meetings): Matt Dietz, Chair - 5; Bob Werner - 6; John Cusick - 6; Hayden Phillips - 5; Seth Vaughn - 3 (1 by phone); Peg Ferraro - 3 (1 by phone); Glenn Geissinger - 2; Mat Benol -1; Ken Kraft - 1.

Economic Development (10 meetings): Peg Ferraro, Chair - 8, Ken Kraft - 10; Seth Vaughn - 10; John Cusick - 9; Hayden Phillips - 8, Matt Dietz - 8 (3 by phone), Bob Werner - 7; Glenn Geissinger - 2; Mat Benol -1.

Personnel and Finance (10 personnel meetings, 11 finance meetings): Ken Kraft, Chair of Personnel - 9, Peg Ferraro - 11 (1 by phone), Mat Benol -9, Glenn Geissinger, Chair of Finance - 10 (1 by phone), John Cusick -11, Bob Werner - 10; Hayden Phillips - 11; Matt Dietz - 9 (2 by phone), Seth Vaughn - 10 (6 by phone).[Since these are combined meetings, I consider attendance at one as attendance at both].

Council meetings (24 meetings) John Cusick - 23/24; Peg Ferraro - 22/24; Ken Kraft - 21/24; Bob Werner - 22/24; Matt Dietz - 23/24; Glenn Geissinger - 21/24; Hayden Phillips - 24/24; Seth Vaughn - 24/24; Mat Benol - 24/24.

Budget Hearings (5 meetings) Seth Vaughn 3/5 (2 by phone), Matt Dietz 5/5 (2 by phone), All other Council members were physically present for all five budget hearings.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hanover Tp Approves No-Tax-Hike Budget Next Year

At its final meeting of the year on December 20, Hanover Township Supervisors unanimously adopted an $8.4 million spending plan next year that holds the line on taxes for the ninth year in a row. The millage rate, 3.90, includes a 0.5 mill "fire tax" started in 2008 to defray the costs of planned capital projects. Saving worked, and Hanover eliminated all of its debt two years ago.

A home assessed at $100,000 will get a $390 Township tax bill, compared to $709 in Bethlehem Township or $825 in Palmer Township.

Hanover Township's real estate tax is lower than any other municipality in Northampton County excepting Moore Township, where the millage rate is 4.0. Moore Township is only $310,000 in debt, according to state records.  


Monday, December 26, 2016

About 10,000 at Washington's Crossing 2016 Reenactment

If you are a night owl and see this story at midnight or in the early morning hours, it will be right around the time that General George Washington had just completed his daring crossing of the Delaware on Christmas Day in 1776. Unlike the pleasant weather we had, the Delaware was beginning to ice over, and a nor'easter made things worse with rain, sleet and blowing snow. Most of the crossing would be done in darkness. He went on anyway. He had no choice. "Victory or Death!" was his password.

On Christmas Day 2016, a huge crowd of about 10,000, helped by mild weather, left their homes to watch or participate in a re-enactment of this historic event, a daring raid on a Hessian encampment at Trenton. This event took place at Washington Crossing park, which is located on both sides of the river,

Militarily, it meant nothing. Politically, it meant everything. Washington gave the American people the one thing it has always relished most - hope.

Things were looking bleak for the American Revolution. Just a few months earlier, the largest sea-borne invading force ever assembled by any nation had landed on Long Island with 32,000 veteran troops, including the Hessians. In short order, they destroyed the American army. Hessians answered surrender attempts with a bayonet. Washington was stuck with the British and Hessians in front of him and the East River at his back.

That night, a strange fog rolled in, making it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. Colonel John Glover and his Marblehead Regiment were all sailors. They managed to use this Providential fog to ferry what was left of a 20,000 man army across the East River. From there, Washington and his army limped across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.

Washington made sure that every boat between Easton and Philly was scuttled or put to his use. Those included the Durham boat, a sturdy flat-bottomed boat that could be as much as 65' long, used to transport pig iron and other resources to Philly from points north.

This is the boat that Glover used to ferry Washington, 2400 troops, 18 cannons and 50-75 horses back across the Delaware on Christmas day 1776. Reproductions of the Durham boat were used in yesterday's re-enactment.

Washington had to strike. If he waited, the river would freeze, and the Hessians would simply cross and destroy him.

After crossing the river, Washington's army marched ten miles to Trenton. Some of them really were barefoot and leaving bloody imprints in the snow. They were starving. They had no sleep. Yet they defeated the world's most feared mercenary force in an hour.

Contrary to popular belief, the Hessians were in no drunken stupor. They were on high alert, and had been for days. They were constantly being harried by much smaller raids and were likely exhausted. The nor'easter gave Washington a strategic surprise.

This was just the first of three battles that Washington would fight, and win, in a series of ten days. The troops whose enlistments were set to expire stayed on, despite having no pay, no food, and in many cases, no weapons. They stayed because he asked, and let them make the decision. They had a leader not known for flowery speeches, but who would sleep under a tree just like his men. A General who led from the front, even with Hessians heading at him with their bayonets in an effort to take the bridge at Assunpink Creek. A taciturn man who initially despised his troops, but would break down in tears and hug his men on the day he said good-bye.

No less a person than Frederick the Great would say, "The achievements of Washington and his little band of compatriots between the 25th of December and the 4th of January, a space of 10 days, were the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements."

It was an integrated army, too. At least ten per cent of the soldiers who fought under Washington were black. Though Washington never spoke publicly on the subject, he set all of his slaves free in his will, and set aside monetary provisions for each family. It was a gesture that other so-called founding fathers failed to grasp or, more likely, chose to ignore.

Yesterday's reenactors included the very young and the very old. It included people of all colors. But just as the Continental Congress had fled Philadelphia as the British advanced, there was a shortage of politicians.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Atiyeh's Kabuki Dance

Though most of Bethlehem was celebrating Christmas early, its Zoning Hearing Board must be on Santa's naughty list. The Board, minus Linda Shay Gardner, conducted three hours of hearings on December 21. This included a new zoning application from colorful developer Abe Atiyeh for a controversial five acre tract along the southeast corner of Center Street and Dewberry Avenue.

It's cemetery land, and is zoned institutional. When he first purchased it, Atiyeh thought it would be perfect as an assisted living facility. Residents could look out the window and see their future home. Zoners gave him a rare use variance, but Atiyeh never followed through.

Instead, he proposed a 102-unit "luxury" apartment complex at the site. This time, zoners said No. Their decision was affirmed by both President Judge Stephen Baratta and the Commonwealth Court.

Beaten but unbowed, Atiyeh kicked things up a notch. "Psychiatric Hospital Coming Soon" signs soon sprinkled the lot. Hospitals are a permitted use in an institutional zone. Atiyeh proposed a 4-story, 125-bed inpatient drug and alcohol detox center, along with a psychiatric hospital and 46 parking spaces.

Detox Platz.

At the same time, he submitted new apartment plans. Instead of 102 apartments, there would be only 96. Attorney Steve Goudsouzian, representing a collection of neighbors that include retired Judge Bill Moran and educator Greg Zebrowski, argued that the matter is res judicata, i.e. has already been decided by zoners. They agreed.

Claiming a change of circumstances, Atiyeh lawyer Mickey Thompson argued that res judicata no longer applies and is supposed to be used sparingly in zoning cases.

In testimony Atiyeh engineer David Harte testified that Planning Director Darlene Heller had actively interfered with attempts to develop a hospital. He and Thompson both claimed they had emails that would demonstrate that Heller insisted that the hospital operator meet privately with neighbors. According to Thompson, the hospital operator "vanished into the ether." Goudsouzian was skeptical, especially when Thompson and Harte failed to produce this evidence. They also never subpoenaed Heller, who could confirm or deny their accusations.

"This is a Kabuki dance," Greg Zebrowski complained when zoners retired to deliberate.

When they returned from a brief executive session, zoners invited both sides to brief the issue of res judicata. They will decide whether it applies at their next hearing on January 25.

In other business, zoners voted 4-0 to approve dimensional variances for Jie Floyd, enabling her to build a small home at 2023 Boyd Street.

Neighbor Dorothy Fornaro complained that most of this neighborhood is owner-occupied. "We do not want a rental property there," she complained.

There won't be. Floyd testified that she could "guarantee" that the home she builds will be sold, noting that the home will be too small to rent.

Finally, zoners granted a special exception that will permit New Jersey police officer Patrick Lilavois to establish a personal care home for a maximum of four people at 1028 W Lehigh Street. "This is not a halfway house," said Lilavois, who also denied would be a drug rehab center. He explained that the home would provide a long-term residence for personals with who are intellectually challenged. He indicated that one staffer will be on duty at the home at all times when it is occupied. If one or more residents have an appointment, another staffer will drive and accompany them. Lilavois stated that he and his brother have prior experience in running these homes, and he hopes to get more involved when he retires as a police officer in three years.

"Thank you for what you do," said Bill Fitzpatrick.

Palmer PD Seek Owner of Lost Dog

From Palmer Tp.: FOUND Male Boxer. Recovered late this afternoon in Wilden Acres, Old Orchard. No chip or tags. Contact PALMER PD with any information. (610) 759-2200. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Water Line Break in Hanover Tp

From Hanover Tp: There is a substantial water line break in the Stafore section of Hanover Township.
Water discoloration is possible throughout the Township.
Please contact the City of Bethlehem Water Department – 610-865-7070 with any questions.

Judge Giordano Appointed to Orphans Court Rules Committee

The term "Orphans' Court" is a bit misleading. It's the court with jurisdiction over most matters of estate administration, including the estates of decedents, trusts, minors and incapacitated persons. It also handles adoptions and the termination of parental rights. Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano presides over Orphans' Court, among his other duties. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court must like what it sees because it just appointed Judge Giordano to its Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee.

But he still is unable to overrule calls made by a basketball referee.

Bethlehem Tp No-Tax-Hike Budget Official

As expected, Bethlehem Township Commissioners adopted a no-tax-hike budget at their December 19 meeting. Michael Hudak was the sole No vote. But as also expected, they unanimously approved a slight increase in the sewer rate.

What does this mean? If your home is assessed at $100,000, you will continue to pay the same $709 tax bill that you paid this year. And your sewer rate will remain the same $52.50 you pay each quarter unless you are using more than 6,000 gallons. If you do, you will see an increase of 0.00707 per gallon above the 6,000 gallons.

Township Manager Melissa Shafer reminded the audience that the Township has vacancies on several commissions and boards.

Kim Jenkins reported that the Township is spending $10,600 for mobile speed signs along Bethman and Hecktown Roads. Speeding along Bethman Road has been the subject of complaints at several meetings this year.

In her monthly report, Shafer also reports that the Township received a $400,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development for its $3.9 million Brodhead Road repaving project. She continues to applies for state funding.

Commissioners also decided to put the brakes on an updated comprehensive plan as a result of recommendations made by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. A new hearing on this plan is scheduled for April 17.

As the meeting came to an end, President Pat Breslin remarked that he was happy that, once again, we can say "Merry Christmas!" Breslin was obviously referring to President-elect Donald Trump's contention that there has been a "war on Christmas."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Donald's Angels

The Donald's Angels (L to R): Peg Ferraro, Gloria Lee Snover and Mary Barket
(all three are from Northampton County) 
Blogger's Note: (An earlier version of this story was published on 12/19 at 1:01 pm.)

Let me preface this by telling you that I am a Democrat. I voted for Hillary. But when Peg Ferraro invited me to watch her vote at Pennsylvania's Electoral College yesterday, I readily agreed. I was very proud to see three women from NorCo among the 20 who cast their votes on behalf of the Keystone State. I was pleasantly surprised to see that nine electors were women

As we made our way down Second Street to the Capital, we could also see a few protesters headed in the same direction, carrying signs. One was wearing what appeared to be a Russian soldier's uniform. But Capital police did their best to keep the electors away from any possible confrontations. Electors were parked and directed to the House floor via the basement, while demonstrators were a floor above. I saw none inside the capital until the electoral college convened promptly at noon. Then you could hear them from the House floor, but their sound was muffled and stayed that way until some made their way into the gallery above.

Secretary of State Pedro Cortes chaired the college until Rob Gleason, the state GOP chair, was unanimously elected as President of the College by voice vote.

Cortes, who noted that this was his third experience with an electoral college (he handled two of them when Ed Rendell was Governor),said that the votes from all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, will be tabulated in a joint session of Congress on January 6. But when he added that the electoral college reflected the people's choice, someone in the gallery shouted, "No, it doesn't!"

Rob Gleason noted that this marked the first time since 1988 that the GOP controlled the electoral college. he characterized it a "peaceful body that will lead to a peaceful transition."

Joyce Haas of Centre County, who was elected VP, said the voice of Pa.voters was heard "loud and clear" while someone in the gallery shouted, "He's not our President." She continued, saying it is "time to come together."

In his brief remarks, Governor Tom Wolf called the electoral college "a process of peaceful transition. We don't need armies, we don't need uprisings or violence to change our country's leadership. All we need is 538 people in rooms just like this, all across the country, doing what you're doing today. ... [W]e gather to follow through on the mandate given by the people."

Wolf invited the electors and their guests to join him for lunch at his official residence.

Interestingly, electors vote by secret ballot.

All 20 voted for Trump.

"Shame on you," cried people in the gallery above. "He's not our President" shouted a woman. Another shrieked, "Now your daughters and granddaughters won't be able to get abortions."

It wasn't until we were leaving the capital that I realized how much state officials were concerned about safety. A capital police officer who escorted Peg in also took us out. And when we got to Peg's rented van, the whole area was swarming with state troopers. One capital police officer told me there had been 12 arrests. But The Inky has reported only one.

On Facebook, a woman calling herself Phoenixsong Alysia Stellamaris states,"fuck every last one of those electors for their part in destroying the last vestige of democracy by electing an overtly fascist candidate."

This is the kind of polarizing behavior that just drives people apart. Trump is our president. I am more than willing to give him a chance. If he succeeds, we all win. If he fails, we all lose. but I'll be watching. That's what you do in a democratic government.

Blogger's Note:  You can see my Facebook album of pics here, and can also view a video of Governor Wolf's remarks here.

Peg and some of her friends and family. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

NorCo's Public Engagement Problem

Once every year, Northampton County conducts a "Citizens Academy" to give residents an insight about county government. This is a good example of public engagement. It pretty much stops there. The county dragged its feet on releasing the names of the most recent graduates, even though they were recognized at a Council meeting on November 17. Three weeks after the fact, the County finally issued a news release about this graduation. This has yet to be posted on the "News" feature of the homepage of Northampton County's disastrous new website. Is this public engagement? This is going through the motions, a day late and a dollar short, by a county government that has no desire to be transparent or accountable.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the "News" feature on the County's new webpage, which seems to have been designed to exclude everyone from finding out anything. This "news" feature is the first thing you see on the homepage. It was last updated on November 7, nearly two months ago. The most recent update does contain important information about a Veterans' Discount ID program. But its link to the program is broken.

That's really a lousy thing to do to those who served. It exemplifies a cultural problem in NorCo's leadership. They feel they have no need to engage the public.

Now that daily newspapers are dying and have pretty much stopped covering County and much other local government, this disdain for the public is becoming a serious problem. It's why a Council member like Seth Vaughn thinks he can skip its most important meeting of the year - the one for budget amendments.

"Who cares?" he said. "I'll win next year's election, too, pal. ... Nobody reads your blog, pal."

This blog's readership is only a small fraction (about 1.6%) of the community, so he has a point. Unfortunately, this blog is now often the only source of news about NorCo government.

Executive John Brown is a product of the private sector. This is a far cry from the participatory democracy contemplated by our Home Rule Charter. His insular and top-bottom style almost never ends well.

In contrast to Northampton County, Bethlehem Township has made great strides to engage the public. Its webpage has a livechat feature where a citizen can talk with a staffer online and be directed to the right place. It includes separate links to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and even Snapchat. Its Nixel feature will alert you to accidents, road closures and other things residents may wish to know.

Because half of the Internet users are now using mobile phones, it's important to use these social media applications. Pismo Beach has actually created its own mobile app, which made city officials there aware of water quality concerns.

NorCo's webpage is designed to keep the public at bay, not engage them. So are Council agendas that don't bother to include underlying documents.

If you look at the evaluation tool used by Pepperdine's School of Public Policy, Northampton County gets a failing grade on public engagement. But I'm beginning to think that's what they want.

After all, democracy is messy.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Electoral College Voter Peg Ferraro Besieged By Mail

NorCo Council member Peg Ferraro, a Republican, is a member of the Electoral College. She'll be voting for Donald Trump on Monday. But she's under siege. Her phone has been ringing off the hook and she's been inundated with mail. What you see is the mail delivered to her on Thursday alone, and this does not even include the Fed Ex deliveries. They are attempting to persuade her to vote for anyone besides Trump. They need 37 defectors to block him, which would send the race into the House of Representatives.

It seems very unlikely that this last-ditch effort will succeed. Democrats spent too little energy getting their voters to the polls and still fail to grasp that a billionaire had more appeal to the working man than they.

As for me, I think this is history in action. Though I am a Democrat, Peg has allowed me to chronicle her day in the land of midnight raises. She's also bringing her grandchildren to witness the power of one vote.

NorCo's New EMS Director Gets 23% Raise Despite Controller Concerns

Todd Weaver
In its final meeting of the year, with no real notice to the public, Northampton County Council voted unanimously yesterday afternoon to give the County's new emergency services director, Todd Weaver, a hefty raise. They brushed aside concerns raised by Controller Steve Barron that Weaver may be violating the state Ethics Act. They also ignored their own policy of requiring that personnel requests be vetted by Council's Personnel Committee before going to the full Council.

Weaver, who had been earning $76,351.81 per year, will now see a $91,051 salary. At the beginning of next year, Weaver's wages will shoot up another three percent to $93,782. Thanks to Northampton County Council, a county employee in possible violation of the state ethics act will see his wages increase by $17,431, or 23%, in just two weeks.

Council's agenda for yesterday's meeting was only published on December 14, the day before the meeting. It indicated that Council would consider a "Director of Emergency Management Services Resolution," but no further detail was provided. The resolution itself was never attached to the agenda, in effect keeping the public in the dark.

It took a call to the Council Clerk's office to discover that Executive John Brown had just appointed Weaver as Director of Emergency Services, and was seeking a significant increase in salary for him. It took just a few more calls to learn that Weaver is in possible violation of the state ethics act.

Every year, Northampton County spends about $100,000 for training in emergency services. That's the result of a contract with Northampton County Fire School. Though Executive John Brown enters into the contract, it is the Director of Emergency Services who approves the invoices. Since May 2, 2015, that person has been Todd Weaver. He had been Acting Director after Bob Mateff's departure for the state. On Wednesday, he agreed to become the permanent Director.

Here's the problem. Todd's father, former NorCo Council member Rick Weaver, is the Director of the fire school. He's also an instructor, as is Todd Weaver himself. For the past 18 months, Weaver has been approving invoices submitted by his father. He may have even been approving his own invoices.

This is a conflict of interest in violation of the state ethics act.

Our state legislature has said that "public office is a public trust and that any effort to realize personal financial gain through public office other than compensation provided by law is a violation of that trust." When he approved payments to his father and possibly himself, Weaver violated that public trust.

According to the state ethics act,  a “conflict” or “conflict of interest” occurs whenever a public employee uses the authority of his office for the private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated. Weaver has been using the authority of his office to approve payments to his father and to a business with which he is associated. He may even be approving payments to himself.

NorCo Controller Steve Barron waved this red flag to Council yesterday. He suggested a brief delay in the appointment so he could further investigate. In the minutes that he had to review the records, he found invoices to Weaver's father that had been approved, although he found none to Todd himself.

The Controller was thanked and politely ignored.

Executive John Brown said there is no conflict because he approved the contract. Brown is dead wrong. Weaver approves the invoices, not Brown, and that is where the conflict occurs.

This conflict has never been publicly disclosed.        

Brown, who has failed to fill the Director of Emergency Services slot for 18 months, is suddenly in a rush.

Council, which is supposed to provide a check and balance against an over-reaching Executive, has instead has become a willing participant in an ethics act violation.

The two Democrats have joined the bandwagon. Bob Werner is weighing a race for County Exec and is unwilling to alienate the Weaver clan. Ken Kraft is letting Brown walk all over him, hoping that he'll get a few union jobs for a jail expansion that may be a decade away.

The Council member who seemed genuinely concerned was Hayden Phillips. But he voted for Weaver's raise, too.    

It is just two years ago that former Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan was forced to resign for using her public office to benefit a nonprofit in which she was involved. Contrary to what John Brown or Northampton County Council may think, the state ethics act applies to county employees, too.

Instead of COLA, It's a Lump of Coal for NorCo Retirees This Christmas

Instead of a COLA (cost of living adjustment), Northampton County's 1200 or so retirees will be getting a lump of coal this Christmas. According to Council Prez John Cusick, a COLA was voted down at the most recent retirement board meeting. Retirees have no representative on the board, despite having presented three names to Executive John Brown in October.

I'd like to provide you with a link to the minutes, but I am unable to locate them on NorCo's new website. In fact, I'm unable to find the retirement board.

The last time retirees received a COLA was in 2013, John Stoffa's last year in office.      

Charlie Thiel Seeking $ For Mayoral Bid

Allentown Mayoral hopeful Charlie Thiel is trying to build up a campaign warchest in advance of his official announcement, which he expects to make in mid-January. His campaign chair is NIZ Queen Jenn Mann. She is quite popular in Allentown, but not with me.

His pitch:

I wanted you to be among the first to know that I will be a candidate for Mayor of Allentown. This is a decision that has been a long time in the making, and I have not made it lightly. I have had many wonderful opportunities to serve this city since first moving here in 1991. This is a great city in so many ways, but it is also a city with unrealized potential.

While we have made great strides in the past few years, our city’s progress has been bogged down in controversy, corruption, conflict, and too much drama!

It is time for competence and stability in City Hall.

It is time for a new direction and a new vision for Allentown, and that is what I will bring to the office of Mayor.

I am proud to have the support of former State Rep. Jennifer Mann, who is my Campaign Chair. I am honored by her confidence that I will do the best job for all our citizens as Allentown’s next Mayor.

But I need YOUR support to win the Democratic primary on May 16, 2017. That is the first step in my effort to become the next Mayor of Allentown, and I need your help to get there.

We started this campaign on December 1st and need to raise a significant amount of money by December 31st. The year-end campaign report is a public report that will tell the community whether or not I am a credible candidate.

The contributions we receive this month will be used for polling, online media infrastructure and content, mailers, and community outreach.

I will be publicly announcing my candidacy in mid-January. That announcement will be accompanied by a media campaign, also requiring significant funding.

Can I count on you? Your support is critical to my success.

Please act now, as December 31st is coming upon us quickly.

Make your donation online here, or you can mail your check to: Friends of Charlie Thiel, P.O. Box 214, Allentown, PA 18015.

Thank you for your support!

Charlie Thiel

LV Municipalities Relying Totally on PSP for Police Protection

Yesterday, I told you that revenue from from former Governor Corbett's controversial gasoline tax is being diverted. Instead of being used to fix our crumbling infrastructure, current Governor Wolf is spending the money for state police coverage in communities too cheap to pay their own way. Governor Wolf's office claims it has no clue on how to make up the shortfall.

The answer, obviously, is too assess any community that fails to provide for its own police coverage, but our state legislators would rather see poor communities like Allentown and Easton pay for state police coverage of places like Lower Macungie and Williams Townships. Statewide, half of Pennsylvania's municipalities rely exclusively in state police. In the Lehigh Valley, reader Hank_Hill lists the communities with no local police coverage.

Lehigh County - Hanover, Heidelberg, Lower Milford (just disbanded), Lower Macungie, Lowhill, Lynn, North Whitehall, Upper Milford, Washington and Weisenberg.

Northampton County - Allen, East Allen, Glendon (at one time contracted with Easton for police and fire), Lower Mr Bethel, Upper Mt Bethel, West Easton (considering new department) and Williams.

In my view, any municipality that fails to provide police coverage has failed in its basic purpose and should be disbanded. Until that happens,it should be assessed for state police coverage based on its population.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Prepare For Higher Vehicle Registration Fees

Earlier this year, NorCo Council was poised to increase vehicle registration fees by $5 to help bridge repairs. Though Council President John Cusick called it a "user fee," it came under heavy criticism. In July, the measure failed by a 6-3 vote. An attempt to resurrect this increase in December was tabled without discussion.

Now comes word that we'll be paying more to drive anyway. According to The Patriot News, the state gas tax will soon be going up eight cents per gallon at the beginning of the year, and turnpike tolls will increase six percent. And if the Consumer Price Index goes up in February, so will vehicle registration and driver's license fees. Next year, the state will stop issuing vehicle registration stickers, which means police will have to buy license readers for which we, the public, will pay. Oh yeah, inspection stickers will go up $1.

This money is supposed to be used to fix the state's crumbling roads. But instead, Governor Wolf is diverting the money to fund state police coverage in communities too cheap to pay their own way. These include communities like Lower Macungie and Upper Mount Bethel, whose police coverage is being subsidized by the poor in Allentown and Easton.

Governor Wolf's office claims it has no clue on how to make up the shortfall.

The answer, obviously, is too assess any community that fails to provide for its own police coverage.

Time To Scrap NorCo's "New" Website

This will be my fifth blog about NorCo's new website. I have reached the conclusion that it is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. If the County can return to its previous version, it should do so at once while it works out some serious kinks.

My first visit to this page - the day it went live - was actually prompted by a reader who noticed that the header on the home page was advertising Lehigh County businesses. I wrote about that and the complete lack of direct links to online services.

Then, in response to numerous complaints about the online list of properties up for Sheriff's Sale, I told you the list was completely mangled and remained that way until the evening before the sale.

I have since begun a more systematic inspection of the new webpage, which was supposed to include all the data that existed on the old webpage.

I started with the elections office.The link to that office is buried under "County Administration," even though neither the Home Rule Charter nor Administrative Code makes the elections office a part of the  Department of Administration. Even more troubling, no ordinary Joe would think to look for the elections office under "County Administration."  There was no direct link to election results, something that is common in other counties.

Election results are now linked on the homepage  But they still only go back for four years.

After looking at elections, I went to County Council. That is the only office that includes pics of elected officials. But there's nothing else.No bio.No indication how long a Council member has served. No listing of the committees on which he or she serves.No contact information.

In another step backwards, only six years of Council minutes exist on the new webpage. Though these minutes exist on a server somewhere, the public has been deprived access. This makes government less transparent. This makes it more difficult to check on the numerous claims made by council members at meetings.For the controversial swaption, it was easy to go back and determine who said what and when.Now it is impossible. This only serves a government who wants to keep you in the dark.

"Who cares?" someone like Seth Vaughn might say. That's what he said when he missed an important budget hearing, and he went on to say you'll re-elect him next year, too. I'm sure he'll just love a website that keeps you in the dark.

Yesterday, I began looking at the County Guide feature of the website.

Under Health Care, it lists Easton Hospital , a for profit hospital in the Lehigh Valley, in addition to the nonprofit hospitals. It identifies and touts several businesses to the exclusion of others. It identifies and promotes some hotels and restaurants, while ignoring others. So public resources are being used, even on a county webpage, to create an uneven playing field.

The County Guide also goes into "Worship," talks about "religious tolerance," and then lists nothing but Christian Houses of worship within the Lehigh Valley. Not one synagogue, Muslim worship center or Hindu temple is mentioned, even though all exist within the County. So public resources are being used to promote Christianity to the exclusion of other religions.

So much for religious tolerance.

And so much for this "new" webpage. It needs to be scrapped and fixed. I am not interested in pointing fingers about who is at fault. I am interested in a functional website that is user friendly and promotes transparency.

Let's fix it.

No Back Up Documents on NorCo Council Agenda

Earlier this year, Northampton County Council agreed informally to start adding back-up documents to its meeting agendas in an online format. This has been the practice in Bethlehem and Allentown for years, and was recently started in Bethlehem Township. This enables the people to see more clearly what their elected public servants are doing  It makes government more transparent. But in the agenda for today's Council meeting, no back-up documents are included.

Today's agenda includes the millage rate ordinance for next year, which should contain no surprise. But Council is also supposed to consider a resolution concerning the Director of Emergency Services.

Has Executive John Brown finally appointed someone to a position that has been vacant since May 2015? Or is Council calling on him to hire someone before the county blows away when the next hurricane hits?

I'm unable to tell you because the Council Clerk failed to add these simple back-up documents. I understand we are all too human and that office might be understaffed at the moment. I am hoping this is an anomaly, as opposed to a step backwards into darkness.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Constable cRaZy Apparently Running For West Easton Boro Council Again

Tricia "Constable cRaZy" Mezzacappa is a two-time loser for a seat on West Easton's Borough Council. She's also lost a race for Northampton County Council, finishing dead last. But now that The Donald has managed to get himself elected president, she must think that America is leaning wing nut. So in her opening salvo in her third attempt to become a burgermeister, she's reverted to the same campaign style that has already cost her three elections. Defamation. She was at West Easton Borough Council on Monday night, demanding that Council member Matt Dees provide a release so she can obtain his DD-214 and determine how he was really discharged from the Navy after five years. You can see her exchange with Dees above.

A DD-214 is a document the military gives you when you separate. It proves that you served, and the circumstances under which you were discharged. Mine, for example, indicates I was Branded.

Mezzacappa, whose name translates to half a head in Italian, is no doubt engaged in a whisper campaign against Dees, her likely opponent..

Dees, who provides his own informative blog about all things West Easton, showed his DD-214 to a Council member whom Mezzacraycray admitted was believable, and asked him to indicate how he was discharged.


She didn't believe him.

Dees has a troubled history with Constable cRaZy. In 2013, she called his employer and claimed he had hacked into her computer. She also charged that he may have broken into her house to steal a portrait of her pig that was no doubt painted by Norman Rockwell. She called him dangerous and suggested he was a pedophile. She also created several false identities on her now defunct blog to smear and even impersonate him. Dees' employer actually became concerned for his safety.

What kills me about this is that she herself has never served, but traduces a person who did.

She's also sued West Easton for a gazillion dollars.

Updated 1:50 PM: Constable cRaZy plays intimidation game with Dees.
- Unhappy that her latest whisper campaign blew up in her face, Constable cRaZy has gone to Plan B - the police. This is another of her tactics. When things go against her, she contacts police to complain that she was threatened by the object of her venom. She called Pennsylvania State Police to complain that Dees had threatened her during the meeting and in his later story. That is obviously complete nonsense, but she uses intimidation tactics against those who dare challenge her. How would you feel to see a state trooper at your door for any reason?    

One question on my mind is why Matt Dees would bring his DD-214 to a borough council meeting. I lost mine long ago. Does Dees carry his with him everywhere he goes? Turns out he got word that Mezzacappa would be demanding proof that he really is an honorably discharged veteran, and decided to bring it with him to the meeting.

Central Catholic Falls to Whitehall

In their first home game this season at a rejuvenated Rockne Hall, Central Catholic's Vikings fell to Whitehall last night, 64-57, in an exciting game that went back and forth until the closing minutes. Whitehall's Mikey Esquilin (left) and Central Catholic's Dat Lambert (right) have been close friends for years. In fact, most of the kids on these teams know each other quite well.

The gentle giant in the middle of the above photograph, named Bol, is a 6'7" sophomore attending school in Philly this year. In the summer, he stayed with Mikey's family. Bol tells me that when he plays in Africa, he is a point guard.

He's considered too short.

It was a night of surprises. Becahi shocked Parkland, 62-61, Easton upset Liberty, 48-44, and Emmaus knocked off Pocono Mountain West, 75-68.

Going into this week's games, here are how LV Boys basketball teams are ranked, according to LV Basketball Rankings:

1. Allen 6A
2. Pocono Mt West 6A
3. Emmaus 6A
4. Liberty 6A
5. Parkland 6A
6. Bethlehem Catholic 4A
7. Bangor 5A
8. Whitehall 5A
9. Central Catholic 5A
10. Salisbury 4A
11. East Struodsburg North 5A
12. Nazareth 6A
13. Easton 6A
14. Stroudsburg 6A
15. Notre Dame GP 3A

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Judge Giordano Reinstates Corrections Officer Accused of Domestic Violence

In an Opinion released late last week, Judge Giordano cleared the way for the reinstatement of a fired corrections officer with a history of domestic violence. He had little choice. He was stuck with a record missing some salient details.

Shawn Hoffert, an elected constable in Bethlehem's 13th ward, had 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. This has been a pattern. 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 they were reduced to harassment or dismissed altogether.

In the 2014incident, Bethlehem police responded when 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. In her Petition, she made this statement:
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."
Then, as so often happens in domestic violence cases, she failed to appear for her final hearing and the case was dismissed.

When Bethlehem police arrested Hoffert, they administered a breath test. He 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.

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, Arbitrator Thomas G. McConnell concluded that Hoffert did engage in acts of domestic violence, but determined there was insufficient evidence to establish physical violence or a death threat. He noted her absence, although that is common in instances of domestic violence. He ordered Hoffert reinstated without back pay.

Though it was an uphill battle, the County appealed the Arbitrator's ruling. Labor lawyer Dave Steckel argued that "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 added 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."

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.

Judge Emil Giordano, disturbed by these allegations, initially remanded the matter back to the Arbitrator, who stuck by his initial decision.

And Judge Giordano was stuck with a lousy record. "[T]he record itself essentially limits this Court in its ability to make a factual finding that Mr. Hoffert would be a danger in the workplace," he writes. All that the County could prove was that there was an altercation that resulted in a guilty plea to four summary offenses. Mrs. Hoffert never testified, nor did any police officers. "[M]ost of what the County presented was hearsay or double hearsay without any evidentiary exception."

Judge Giordano also noted that Hoffert had been suspended without pay for eight months. But he struggled in reaching this conclusion, and for good reason. As he himself eloquently observes,
This Court cannot stress enough how seriously we take all allegations of domestic violence, particularly due to our unique ability to sentence abusers and protect victims of this abhorrent crime. Despite this Court's feelings on the subject, however, it is the law that we must follow ... .
The County should be credited for fighting this losing battle. It failed to produce the one thing Judge Girodano needed - evidence.