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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:
http://molovinskyonallentown.blogspot.com/2016/12/obamas-progrom-against-israel.html

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

PRESS RELEASE REGARDING AGREEMENT BETWEEN 
THE MAYOR OF THE CITY OF ALLENTOWN AND
ALLENTOWN CITY COUNCIL RELATIVE TO BUDGET FOR 2017 FISCAL YEAR
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.
rs.

Friday, December 23, 2016

O'Hare's WWII Diary: A Final Glimpse at a Time When We Were "Prima"

These are the final entries from my dad's brief writing career, a diary which he started almost immediately after being released as a German POW. My father was a complicated man, and I considered him a cold bastard much of the time. These diaries, and some other letters he wrote to his own "mommy and daddy," opened my eyes in many ways.

I wish I had been a better son.

In addition to the personal impact, these diaries provide a brief glimpse into that greatest generation. Like my father, most WWII vets share very little about the sacrifices they made when the entire world needed them. Sadly, a thousand of them die daily, and with them the memory of a time when Americans were considered "prima."

5/23/45

My lazy senses responded sluggishly to the blare of a bugle that had commenced blowing about 5:30 this morning. Some character dramatically announced that it would be appreciated if everyone fell out. A true count was needed due to the fact that today had been chosen as 'the day' by the powers that be. I did not fall out. Soon after we drew rations and packed. At 11:30 we fell out, were issued cigarettes and were given cigars by the Russkies. Then, after waiting for the usual period, we marched to the exchange lot. As is usual in all these matters nothing went as scheduled. We waited in the exchange lot for almost three hours during which it rained most of the time. The trucks finally arrived and we loaded and were off.

Vonnegut, Dannine and I were lucky enough to get a civilian bus instead of a G.I. truck. Kruse, Jones, Coyle, Watson and Burns also piled into a civilian bus but unfortunately not the same one. After three hours rolled around we arrived in Halle. According to the authorities we will be here three days at the most waiting to be flown via C-47 to LeHavre, France.

I have just digested my first Army food in 6 months - '5 in one' rations consisting of ham and sweet spuds, cheese, crackers, pineapple, rice pudding cigarettes and chocolate. How amazed the limeys were when we told them that the above was for one meal and not one day! We got separated from Jones, Kruse, Coyle, Watson and Burns.

5/24/45

Awoke, washed and drew more '5 in 1' rations of the same unsurpassed American caliber. Before much of the day had passed we moved to a new area of camp. They are separating the English and Americans. I wish they had done that six months ago. Spent the rest of the day on my lazy back reading.

5/25/45

Routine day. I showered, deloused, read, ate and am about to turn in. Red Cross Clubmobile presented itself and I basked in about six doughnuts and a cup of real coffee. Prima.


Blogger's Note: First published 12/17/07.

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!

Pepper's Sailing Adventure With My Dad and Vonnegut

Richard Huntington Pepper, Esq.
Richard Huntington Pepper, Esq., is a lawyer who once represented royalty - a young lady who claimed she was Princess Hope, daughter of an African King. She was jailed when she refused to pay a hotel bill. Pepper tried to get her out of the can on the basis of diplomatic immunity. He was doing pretty well, too, until Her Highness told then Judge Jim Hogan that "Mr. Pepper has the biggest cock I've ever seen!"

Judge Hogan, who had also sailed with Pepper, took judicial notice that the object mentioned was, in fact, considerably smaller than represented. That unfortunately provided a basis for discounting the rest of Princess Hope's testimony, as compelling as it might be.

Before President Judge Al Williams issued a Court Order banning all NorCo lawyers from sailing, Pepper was also a frequent recruit on my father's many maritime adventures. He sent me this email about one of them.

Bernardo,

Your recent blog referencing your old man and Vonnegut brought back memories of sailing with Captain O’Hare and one band or another of pirates and shellbacks.

Having become somewhat used to being reported “lost at sea”, which seemed to occur far more frequently than one might expect; sailing trips with your dad were always an adventure of epic proportion, filled with equal measures of uncertainty, dread and amazement. Often spending a several weeks at a time, a few hundred miles offshore, more or less alone and trapped on a 35’ ill-equipped sailboat; I would like to think affords you a fair opportunity to assess the measure of a man. Such it was with Captain O’Hare.

My customary first watch of the day when sailing with your dad was usually the morning watch from 0400 to 0800, when he would relieve me at the helm. While he enjoyed his first cigarette and coffee of the morning as he tried to figure out how far off course I had placed us, he sometimes talked haltingly about WWII, Vonnegut, the Battle of the Bulge and Dresden. For the most part in the early days of sailing with your dad, I took these tales as more fanciful than factual as often happens among ancient mariners while at sea. Now knowing how much bigger than life your dad actually was, I should have known better.

On a given Friday a few years later, your dad called me and instructed that I pack a day bag for sailing on Saturday around New York with a day passenger. I had, apparently, been shanghaied. As I made the boat ready and pretended to know what I was doing, your father’s day passenger arrived. It was Vonnegut. Not any old Vonnegut; THE Vonnegut. For the better part of a long day, I sailed in circles listening to these two old warriors talk about their youth, the war, their capture and imprisonment, and a long-forgotten German girl that kept them alive. Vonnegut confirmed every word of your dad’s memories of those horrible times, even attributing their survival during capture to your father’s less than artful use of the German language. He was quite a guy. “So it goes.”

Pepper

Addendum: In the Battle of the Bulge, my father and Vonnegut were intelligence scouts, selected for their understanding of foreign languages. But neither knew a word of German. Looking through a phrase book, my father screams, "Nein Scheissen," thinking he's asking them not to shoot him.

He's actually saying, "Don't shit."

The Germans started laughing.They laughed more when they learned my Dad's last name is O'Hare. "Herr O'hare," they'd laugh.

O'Hare's WWII Diary: Half-Starved Soldier Worries About Brother in South Pacific

This is the latest installment from my dad's short-lived diary, penned shortly after his release from a German POW camp. In these entries, my eighty pound and half-starved father worries about his brother, Art, who was then serving in the South Pacific.

Uncle Art was wounded shortly after my father's posts, but not seriously. He was shot in the ass. When I once questioned him about it many years later, he snarled, "I was in front of the front lines, going for extra ammunition."

That's about all he ever shared. He kept no diary. He drank a lot, too.

5/20/45

All of my equipment, loot, real and personal property was once again in moving order waiting to be donned on my aching back as soon as the order to move was given. I waited and waited, a practice at which I have become very adept, for hour upon hour but no such order came. As we were lined up for midday chow ten G.I. trucks pulled up as only G.I. trucks can and I thought that this day would at last see me back to our own lines. However, due to the absence of certain documents or some such reason we are again detained by the Russians. I'm becoming a firm believer in the Vonnegut statement that "getting out of Germany is like walking in sand." The rumor now seems to be that we will pull out tomorrow when the trucks return with the proper papers. More of Hq. Co. showed up today in the persons of Sgt. Shuve and Pfc Sabbatino. Both look OK except for the loss of weight common to all POW's. Neither could give me any info regarding the whereabouts of Sgt. Boyle, Heinbeck, or Edgeworth. I'd certainly enjoy seeing those boys again.

The war in the Pacific seems to be progressing favorably, although we are meeting stiff resistance on some of the islands. I have an uncomfortable feeling that I'll learn more of that phase of our international troubles through first-hand experience. I'd like to see that part of the world but it would be just my luck to accomplish the feat through the medium of being a POW of the Japs, and twice in a lifetime is too much. The Russian band serenaded us again tonight. I'm getting to really like Russian music. The Russians are very much like Americans in their outlook on life. I suppose that is what queers the English with them. A few of us went across the hall to where we had discovered a radio in the room of one of our comrades. We listened for a while and left being driven out by static and by the system the joker in charge was using to operate the darn thing. He's one of that particular species of mankind who thinks he's operating the blue network whenever he comes across a radio with more than two dials on it. We are now preparing for bed at the end of a rather uneventful day.

5/21/45

Lo and behold I am still in Riesa. No trucks appeared today or had been rumored. However, we did receive a visit from two chaplains - one Protestant and one Catholic. They both held services and I heard mass and received communion for the first time in five months. The chaplain who was from the 69th division claimed that we would be out of here in three or four days. He seemed pretty confident that we would be back in the states within a few weeks after we hit our own lines. My inbred scepticism [sic] prohibits me from placing too much stock in his optimistic statement. Time and time alone will tell. The chaplains also brought some V-mail along with them. I wrote to my parents and to Aunt Mae. The letters are supposed to be on their way, having been brought back to our own lines with the chaplain who left here seven o'clock this evening.

5/22/45

A very routine day. I slept through reveille and all the morning, arising only for breakfast. Most of the afternoon was spent by all of us chewing the rag in the room where we were assembled. I thought of home today. Nothing now seems more welcome than news of the family. I am worried especially about Art. I certainly hope he has been as lucky as I in regard to ducking bullets and artillery.

It is early evening now and all of us are in the room now writing, reading, playing cards and talking. Things will no doubt continue along the same line until bed time.

Blogger's Note: First published 12/17/07.

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."

O'Hare's WWII Diary: Still No Word About Dresden Firebombing

This is the second in a series of entries from my father's recently-discovered dairy. He kept it about a week after his release from a German POW camp. This second post, like the first, is strictly present tense. Yet just three months before, my dad and writer Kurt Vonnegut had ringside seats, as POWs, to the American and RAF firebombing of Dresden - Florence of the Elbe.

POWs hid in meat lockers underneath a slaughterhouse during this incineration. One POW blurted out, "I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight." I can't help but think that was my dad. That was his humor.

In a public radio interview, Vonnegut speaks of a conversation he had with my father, some twenty years later.

"What did you learn?" Vonnegut asks.

"I will never believe my government again."

Churchill, who had advocated the firebombing, was knighted.

5/18/45

We moved over to the other compound today. That seems to be the chief benefit accruing to those who have been deloused. The rooms here are much cleaner and better equipped. We eat three times per day restaurant style and the shilly (chile?) is both good and thick - a happy set of circumstances not found readily in Germany. We spent most of the day getting our loot in order and this afternoon learned to our gratification that we were scheduled to move out. About an hour later a sergeant from the 1st Rangers division put in an appearance and announced that trucks were on their way to bring us either to Riesa or Leipzig where there are concentrations of former P.O.W.'s. I had no idea the sight of a G.I. would be so sensational. Needless to say, the limeys hogged him before any of his own countrymen had a chance to learn much from him concerning the good old U.S.A. Well, the trucks finally arrived and after the normal red tape we piled into them and took off. Approximately two hours later we found ourselves in Riesa. Temporary quarters were provided for us in some Jerry barracks. We are supposed to move in the morning to some other place in town where there are more G.I.'s. Our present barracks aren't at all bad except for the lack of anything soft upon which to lay our weary bones. There are some limeys here who have been waiting to get out for almost a month. It seems that Stalag W-B was liberated by the Russians on April 23.

Blogger's Note: This was originally published on 12/12/07.

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. 

O'Hare's WWII Diary: "We are Being Looked After Like Pet Children by the Russians"

Writer Kurt Vonnegut's letter home, written soon after his release from a POW camp, was published here yesterday. Believe it or not, my dad was the real writer back then - he even kept a diary for an entire week.

Unlike Vonnegut, he sheds no light on what had actually happened to him as a POW. He provides no explanation about his weight going from 150 lbs. before the war to 80 lbs. as Adolph's guest. Mum's the word. He'd stay like that the rest of his life. Vonnegut's three-page letter tells me more about my dad's POW experience than he himself ever shared.

He just drank. A lot. Especially at Christmas time. That didn't kill him. Neither did the Germans. The cigarettes did.

But for one week, my father chronicled his post-release experiences in amazing detail. Just twenty-two at the time, he was a pretty good writer himself. Occasionally, he mentions Vonnegut, who was just a "minor being" at the time. For the next few days, I'll share my dad's thoughts with you, day by day.

5/17/45

Our mangy but well-fed crew left DiHille's at noon today. We proceeded over the Elbe to Russian headquarters in the city and after much confusion - due to our ignorance of the Russian language and vice versa - we were directed to the Hitler Caserne on Konigsbage Strasse. Here we find ourselves confronted with the perpetual situation of no one knowing anything about anything. However, we are being looked after like pet children by the Russians. We have been here only four hours at the most and have already been fed twice, showered, de-loused and billeted. As near as we can gather from speaking to the limeys and G.I.'s here, we are to stay put until our troops come seeking us. Except for the anxiety that we all have concerning our parents and families, we don't give a damn how long it takes them to root us out.

I heard my first radio program since I was captured. Dannine and I went across the compound and fell in with a few Tommies who have a wireless set in their flat. We heard an A.M.G. broadcast from Hamburg. That American music certainly sounded good. The Tommies surprised us before the evening was over with a meal of spuds, meat and beans. We rejoined our crew with a full stomach and a highly satisfied mien. I don't believe I'll ever get up out of bed again. Goot nacht.


Blogger's Note: First published 12/11/07.

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.

A Christmas Present From Kurt Vonnegut

A biographer has asked me for information concerning the friendship between my father and author Kurt Vonnegut. My brother, a pack rat, produced a letter that Vonnegut wrote to his own family, not long after he and my dad were released from a POW camp at the end of WWII. In many ways, this three-page letter is his first draft of Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut sent my family a copy of that letter, apparently as a Christmas present, in 1996.

Bewildered that he has somehow survived, the young Vonnegut tells his folks, "I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait." Fortunately for us, he got around to it.

This letter is too important to sit in a dusty attic, so I'm sharing it with you. If you'd like to see a pdf copy, just click this link.

Dear people:

I'm told that you were probably never informed that I was any­thing other than "missing in action." Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Germany. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do - in precis: I've been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler's last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium. Seven Fanatical Panzer Divisions hit us and cut us off from the rest of Hodges' First Army. The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren't much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight - so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Mont­gomery for it, I'm told, but I'll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren't wounded. For that much thank God.

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, un-heated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations - the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn't room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood. We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year's Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn't.

Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical atten­tion and clothing: We wore given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: - one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden - possibly the world's most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to [...] the Checkoslovakian border. There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39's) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way-through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy about Americans. The Russians picked us up in Dresden. We rode from there to the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We've since been flown to Le Havre.

I'm writing from a Red Cross Club in the Le Havre P.O.W. Repat­riation Camp. I'm being wonderfully well fed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I'll have to be patient. I hope to be home in a month. Once home I'll be given twenty-one days recuperation at Atterbury, about $600 back pay and - get this - sixty (60) days furlough!

I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait. I can't receive mail here so don't write. May 29, 1945


First published 12/10/07.

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