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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bethlehem Tp Residents: Where's That Budget?

Ben Hedrick
Bethlehem Township Manager Melissa Shafer prides herself on government transparency.  Shehas introduced a host of social media applications to the Township's senescent population, from Facebook to Snapchat. For some time, she has been posting the agenda of public meetings online, along with all supporting documents.

The tool I like best is Nixle. This provides notifications via text or email or both of traffic problems, road closures, snow emergencies and public safety concerns. It was activated during a recent standoff on Oakland Road, which resulted in the apprehension of a heavily armed Bushkill Township man accused of shooting and killing his cousin. Residents were warned to stay away from the area or shelter in place. They were also informed when the suspect was eventually in custody.   

On a lighter note, Shafer also plays the female lead in a Youtube video. Council President Mike Hudak and CPL Shaun Powell toss her into the back of a cruiser to show what can happen to people who drive without a license.

I'm waiting for a taser demonstration on Pat Breslin to see if he is still alive.

As hard as Shafer is trying, even she makes mistakes. And at last night's Commissioners' meeting, resident Ben Hedrick called her out. He was so angry that flames were shooting off the top of his head, as you can see in the photograph.

He wanted to know how on earth the Township can conduct budget hearings, starting on Monday, when the budget itself is still unavailable.

Shafer told Hedrick that the budget is still being prepared and will be online by the end of the week.

Hedrick also wanted to know why the budget hearings are not listed on the township calendar. "That's not right," he complained. "We have to do better than this."

Shafer apologized and said that the budget hearings will be listed on the township calendar today. She indicated they are listed on the Township newsletter, and I have listed them below.

Hedrick and his lovely wife attend lots of meetings, both on the county and township level. He is a good government advocate, and I decided to console him after the meeting.

"You don't have the budget yet?"

"No, and how can people attend budget hearings when they don't know what's in the budget?"

"Gee, Shafer gave me the budget last week."

Flames began shooting from the top of his head again.

In other business, Commissioners approved a series of change orders to renovations oft the community center, adding about $100,000 to the $1.8 million price tag. Assistant Manager Doug Bruce went through each of them in exhaustive detail, explaining that they were the result of unforeseen conditions.

Thanks to State Senator Lisa Boscola, Manager Melissa Shafer has been able to persuade Penn East Pipeline to meet with residents who are going to be be as close as 200' to the latest version of the compressed gas pipeline. That meeting will occur at the Hope Ridge Condominium.

President Mike Hudak apologized for being a little off his game because he had just returned from overseas.

"Oh , were you in Russia?" I asked Hudak. "How is Putin?"

Hudak explained he was in Japan, learning martial arts moves. Fortunately, he chose not to try any of them on me.

Tom Nolan was absent.

Budget Hearing Schedule:

Monday, October 23rd 5:00pm - 7:00pm
Monday, October 30th 5:00pm - 8:00pm
Saturday, November 11th 9:00am - 12:00pm
Monday, November 20th 7:00pm (First Public Reading)
Monday, December 18th 7:00pm (Budget Adoption)

Brown's Trapp Problem

Amy Trapp is Northampton County's current Director of Human Resources. I'll be the first to admit that when she came here, I was quite impressed. She told me that she would be in all the departments and everyone would know her by name. She said she viewed her role as being an employee advocate. She agreed on the need for a pay study, and said one would be implemented gradually. She also said it was ridiculous to test people on skills having nothing to do with jobs being sought. I was completely conned by her, so it's hard for me to slam Executive John Brown for failing to see through the veneer. But by now, he must know that she is toxic. She has made so many enemies in her short tenure here that it's bound to hurt him in November.

$800 popcorn machines. Trips to Vegas and New Orleans. Lunches at the courthouse on the taxpayer dime. The creation of her own fiefdom with people she imported from corruption-plagued Allentown. Attempts to force everyone to use biometric punch clocks without consensus. The "entitled spoiled brat government employees remark," posted on this blog on an account owned by her husband. And lets not forget those $10 and $15 gift cards she purchased with employee money. She's unable to explain what happened to some of them. 

Brown has both kept her and has in fact praised her. Now she's violating the Northampton County's Home Rule Charter's creation of a career service for its nonunion employees. This is designed to attract and retain the best qualified individuals through a fair and open competitive selection process. Vacant positions must be advertised and filled from within, if possible, through impartial standards.

Perhaps the biggest complaint I hear from employees is that cronyism is becoming rampant. People are selected for jobs based on who they know instead of on merit. This has gone on for years, and under previous Executives. If you've ever wondered why 75% of the County workforce is unionized, this is why.

But currently, the biggest offender is Human Resources  - the one department that should be ensuring that all others operate fairly. If you've ever wondered why 75% of the County workforce is unionized, this is why.

HR Director Amy Trapp has routinely passed over county workers who have applied for positions in her department to bring in people from the outside or who caught her eye, and then has spent county tax dollars to train these people because they were unqualified when selected. When she selects people from the inside, she tips them off about the vacancy and tells them to apply.

The most recent example involves a female corrections officer who Trapp wants in her department. This officer has told several of her co-workers that Trapp has approached her and told her to apply for the vacancy. Giving this person a leg up is completely contrary to the open and competitive process envisioned by the Home Rule Charter.

It gets better. Earlier this year, this officer applied for a lieutenant's position. She thought the fix was in then, and told some black officers that they she'd be writing them up if they wore cornrow hair styles or weaves. I'm unaware whether the grooming policy prohibits these styles, but if it does, this appears to be discriminatory.

Someone must have complained, so this corrections officer was passed over for Lieutenant.

But Trapp now wants this person in Human Resources. Instead of merit selection, the system has devolved into blatant cronyism.

And I was scheduled for corn rows on Thursday.

Brown apparently thinks he'll win the election without the support of the workforce. 

Naval Academy Accepts Beca Grad

Bethlehem, PA – Yesterday, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright announced that Bethlehem Catholic High School student, John Zemanek, has been accepted to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD. Rep. Cartwright nominated John earlier this year.

John is a graduate of Bethlehem Catholic High School and the son of Kenneth and Elizabeth Zemanek. While attending Bethlehem Catholic High, John was a member of the marching band, a jazz band trumpet section leader, a Hawk Ambassador, and a member of the cross country and track & field teams. He is also an Eagle Scout and a volunteer for the Neighborhood Association.

“It is my privilege and honor to nominate our best and brightest students to our nation’s distinguished institutions of military service and higher learning,” said Rep. Cartwright. “Their service to our country will be a source of pride for our communities and a character-shaping experience for these future military officers. John will surely become a successful leader representing our country with integrity. I congratulate John on his acceptance into the academy and wish him the very best.”

In order to attend one of the military academies, students must receive a nomination from their Member of Congress. Students may apply to the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy, and the Merchant Marine Academy. Accepted students will receive a full scholarship, and upon graduation, they must complete the military service obligation requirement for each school.

Rep. Cartwright added, “Throughout our nation’s history, U.S. Service Academies have played an important role in preparing young people for service to our country. As a Pennsylvanian, I am proud of our patriotic young men and women who are willing to step forward and answer the call of duty. It is an honor to play a role in preparing our next generation of leaders.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

#NoJailatGracedale - 1, John Brown - 0

Jenna Hausman and Christine Woodmansee
You've probably heard that one person can never take on the government and win. Two can. Jenna Hausman and Christine Woodmansee are residents of Eagles Landing, and moved there because they want a safe community in which to raise their children. They live in nice homes that they hope to see go up in value over the years. But when they heard that Northampton County is again secretly considering a new jail at the Gracedale campus, they proved that democracy is no spectator sport. Two Republican moms started on online petition at Change.org, a site usually reserved for liberal issues. They formed the Facebook group #NoJailatGracedale and then cascaded into a County Council meeting, where a dozen residents told Council that "the cloak is off" when Council members pretended they had no idea what is going on. They forced a County Executive who likes to play his cards close to his vest to finally rule out a jail at Gracedale. And yesterday, while kids played soccer and fall baseball at Tuskes Park, about 90 Nazareth area residents forced that County Executive to rule out a new jail, not just at Gracedale, but on any county-owned park land.

The Eagles have Landed. #NoJailatGracedale - 1, County Executive John Brown - 0.

It was a rare yet refreshing display of democracy. Perhaps not as big a deal as the Magna Carta, but it'll do. In addition to all the Nazareth area residents, politicians galore where there. I saw Nazareth officials, Upper Nazareth officials and State Rep. Joe Emrick.

NorCo Exec John Brown, aware that his unwillingness to provide straight answers to straight questions could cost him an election, tried to assure everyone that he's their man and has been completely upfront. His challenger, Lamont McClure, slammed Brown over his penchant for secrecy.

Brown did himself no favors.

Fake News

He was rambling, unresponsive and consistently went over the time allotted to him. "I don't play word games," he said at one point, but that's precisely what he did. You can see it for yourself both here and here. Though there is overwhelming evidence that he fully intended to build a new jail on a greenfield and at Gracedale, he dismissed it as fake news.

"[T]his whole issue about putting a jail at Gracedale is completely fictitious and has been promulgated by - uh - you're caught up in political gamesmanship. That's all it is, quite honestly. ... By inflaming something like this, my opponent does not have much of a record to stand on, so if you don't have your own record, you attack someone else."

Lamont McClure, however, had an effective retort.

"How do we know this isn't made up news, an alternative fact? How do we know that? We know that because we have prison advisory board meeting minute notes. And in those prison advisory meeting notes, the Chairman of the advisory board said Gracedale would be the best location of a prison. And what else do we know? We know that Mr. Brown, our current County Executive, gave his budget message a week or two ago and was asked whether he'd rule out the county property at Gracedale for a prison. He would not. A few days later, at the County Council meeting, he was asked to rule it out. He would not."


Challenged on his lack of transparency, Brown insisted, "The whole thing about lack of transparency is nonsense. I am a transparent person. No one came and asked me about this ... ."

"I did," interrupted Julian Kryemadhi.

His comment asking Brown for an update on Facebook was deleted.

His $72,000 study for a master plan, which was awarded to architectural form DLR as a no-bid contract, is by itself a demonstration of a lack of transparency. Hayden Phillips pointed out that he's tried several times to adopt ordinances that would give Council more power to review these contracts, but has been rebuffed repeatedly. When he was on Council, Lamont McClure joined Phillips in attempting to give Council more oversight over county contracts, but Brown vetoed their ordinance.

McClure also provided a disturbing example of Brown's lack of transparency. "He [Brown] once had a press conference where he posted armed guards at the door of the press conference so certain people couldn't come to the press conference," noted McClure. "One of the people specifically identified was a sitting member of county council." Under the Home Rule Charter, Council is considered the governing body, but Brown excluded a member with armed guards. "That is the definition of the lack of transparency," said McClure.

Brown Admits He Could Have Sought Free Study

In response to questions from a woman in the audience, Brown admitted that he will spend $72,000 in taxpayer funds for a report he could have received at no cost from the National Institute of Corrections. "If the study could be done for free by a government agency, why did you give the contract to a private company and pay $72,000?" she asked.

"Those are the decisions you get to make as County Executive, quite honestly," Brown answered. "It wasn't answering the question I needed to have answered in an expedited fashion." Brown acknowledged he never even contacted the National Institute of Corrections.

DLR Report

Brown claimed that the DLR report is coming soon. He spoke to them on Friday and said that DLR will give the County a way to save $6 million per year in spending at the jail, and without moving to a greenfield. He promised to make that report available as soon as he gets it.

No Jail at Gracedale Pledge

Brown initially refused to pledge there would be no jail at Gracedale. "I can't stand here and pledge ... . It's ridiculous to make those pledges because you don't know. I could get back in office and change my mind and flip on it." But as the meeting wore on, Brown reversed course in response to questions from Julain Kryemadhi. "A pledge is - fine - I'll sign that. That's not an issue."

Brown Gets Support

Though the audience was largely suspicious or downright critical of Brown, he got support from Nazareth resident Mary Barket, who described him in glowing terms. What she failed to disclose is that Brown paid her at least $4,000 last year to work on his failed campaign for state auditor general. Whether she is working his Exec race is unknown, but I'll know soon when Brown files his second Friday pre-election report.

What about Council candidates?

In addition to the Executive race, five County Council seats are up in the next election. As you might have guessed, the candidates who came to Tuskes Park are all opposed to building a new jail at Gracedale or anywhere else, for that matter. These included Republicans Hayden Phillips (incumbent) and Ron Angle. They also included Democrats Ron Heckman, Lori Vargo Heffner, Bill McGee and Tara Zrinski.

Republican Peg Ferraro had a prior commitment in Walnutport, but sent a note indicating she opposes any kind of jail at Gracedale. Republicans Glenn Geissinger and Seth Vaughn, both of whom are seeking election, failed to appear. Also missing was Democratic Council candidate Pete Melan.

Fundraiser for Puerto Rico on Nov 5

TIME: 2:00 PM TO 6:00 PM

Puerto Rican leaders in the Lehigh Valley are uniting forces to support Puerto Rico with a FREE concert! Concilio-Philadelphia, the financial conduit, of allmoney raised, has agreed that 100% of the funds collected by Unidos Pa’ PR will be allocated for Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Funds.

Hispanic Center of the LV will also have a booth on-site to collect items for families relocating to the Lehigh Valley. Please bring non-perishable food and clothing donations for them (coats, scarfs, gloves, bed sheets, towels, etc.).

Checks Payable to: Concilio-Unidos PA’ PR

Mail check to: HGSK Law Firm, 1349 Lynn Ave, Bethlehem, PA 18015

El​ ​Concilio​ ​is a 501 C3 organization, 100% of your donation is a tax deductible donation.

Contact info: samuel@soldbyjustino.com, luiz.garcia@gmail.com or onegron@hgsklawyers.com

Friday, October 13, 2017

Why I Am Boycotting the NFL

I love football. High school is my favorite, but I like all levels. But I am watching no NFL games this year. Especially the Eagles. But this boycott has nothing to do with outrage of phony patriots incensed that black men refuse to stand for a national anthem that endorses slavery. My boycott is for other reasons.

First, I watch no television. So I can only see a game if I am there in person. I can afford a few high school games, but not the pros.

Second, I'm a jinx. I love listening to Merrill Reese do the play-by-play.But it finally hit me last hear that when I listen in, the Eagles lose. So I have stopped and the Eagles are winning.

Brown Finally Sez No to Jail at Gracedale

A year ago, when the discussion about a jail at Gracedale was in earnest, Executive John Brown said nothing. He never corrected his Administrator when she said that she had been at a meeting concerning Gracedale and that "some of the people we need to be in our corner will be in our corner." Of course, he was busy at the time, running for statewide office.

Earlier this year, he admitted that he had visited a dozen different sites, including Gracedale, as a new site for a jail. He also told Council that the new jail would never be built in Easton, even after Peg Ferraro told him she opposed a jail at Gracedale.

He represented a $78,000 contract with an architect as a study of jail programming. But the billing shows it as a "master plan" for a new detention center. He awarded this contract even though the National Institute of Corrections would perform an objective study at no cost to the taxpayer.

Last week, when confronted by Nazareth area residents, he still refused to rule out a jail at Gracedale in a long, rambling speech.

Last night, Brown attended the Chairman's Dinner for the county GOP. He was undoubtedly told that his refusal to take a stand may very well cost him the election. So he has finally released a statement on his Facebook campaign page, denying that he has any intention ever of building a jail at Gracedale.
[Lamont] McClure is using "FEAR FACTOR" to incite fear in our seniors, children and families by spreading rumors @ a new jail at Gracedale! Absurd!!
For the past 4 years, I have worked tirelessly to return Gracedale to profitability and guarantee our seniors will always have a safe place to call home.
Unequivocally, as long as I am County Executive there will never be a jail built at Gracedale!
I hate to break this to you, John, but it is you who has incited fear. The concern about a jail at Gracedale is no rumor, and was your creation. You are responsible for the discussions that started over a year ago. Because you lack transparency, you refused to address these concerns..

What you are saying now should have been said a year ago. At this point, you've lost the trust of some people who otherwise might have voted for you. This is not McClure's doing. This is your doing.

Snover Snubs County Council Candidates at GOP Dinner

Last night, at Historic Hotel Bethlehem, the Northampton County GOP hosted its annual Chairman's Dinner. That Chair, incidentally is "General" Lee Snover. Her hard work and organizational skills helped put Donald Trump over the top in Northampton County last year. That's a remarkable feat in a blue County. But success may have gone to her head. She apparently has forgotten that the chief responsibility of a county chair is to recruit and elect Republicans within her own county. She's so focused on next year's congressional mid-terms that it seems to have slipped her mind that five County Council seats are up for grabs in November. She snubbed the Council candidates who came to her dinner.

The dinner started off, of course, with an invocation. Because these are Republicans intent on impressing each other with their Godliness, the prayer went on for quite some time. It's no easy thing to make America great again, you know. In any event, the prayer was so damn long that the Democratic spies in the audience ran out and onto Main Street, throwing themselves into oncoming traffic.

After the ambulances cleared, Snover began bashing Congressman Charlie Dent as usual. He's a heretic, while pussy grabber Trump is everyone's hero.

Snover did let Executive John Brown deliver his "pitch," if you can call it that. He was both lengthy and boring. He pretends he is some kind of corporate savior when the truth is that he was fired at two jobs and laid off at a third. Before long, it was Republicans who began hurling themselves in front of speeding cars and horse carriages on Main Street.

After that, Snover promoted some national races next year because she apparently considers herself a major player now. Some US Senate hopeful parroted a few Trumpisms. She also wanted Justin Simmons to talk about his Congressional race next year, but Simmons' mom refuses to let him out on weeknights. So Tom Carroll got up and drained the swamp for him.

Northampton County Council candidates up for election this year were selectively snubbed.

She allowed Glenn Geissinger to speak, knowing he will never contradict Executive John Brown. But Hayden Phillips was completely disrespected. Geissinger mentioned that Ron Angle and Peg Ferraro were running, but never said a word about his fellow Council member Phillips, who was sitting there. Nor did Snover do anything to make up for this oversight, leading me to believe this snub was intentional.

Last Thursday, Phillips made clear he opposes a jail at Gracedale. So did Peg Ferraro. And Ron Angle has said he opposes a jail at Gracedale, too.

None of these three candidates was asked to speak, either, though their elections are a month away and they were there.

Candidate Seth Vaughn, who never shows up anywhere, was MIA at this dinner. He has said he will be easily re-elected so I guess there's no need for him to campaign.

Reminder: No Jail at Gracedale Group to Meet Sunday

Werner Opposes Jail at Gracedale

Northampton County Council member Bob Werner represents all the citizens of Northampton County, but is elected by those living in the Easton area. So he could support a jail at Gracedale and lose no sleep over it at election time. But he told me earlier this week that he is opposed to relocated the jail there, would vote against it and had given me permission to say so.

Werner joins a growing list of Council members who are No votes. They include Peg Ferraro and Hayden Phillips.   

I have also heard from a zoning expert familiar with Upper Nazareth Township's zoning ordinance, and this person tells me that any attempt by Northampton County to build a jail at Gracedale would be dead on arrival and that I'm an idiot for even entertaining the notion that the County could argue that it must be permitted because the ordinance is exclusionary. He said there are at least five different areas where a jail would be permitted.   

Stuffed Animals for CRPD

From Agent 69 - On Tuesday, October 10, 2017 Hanover Township Supervisor Michael Prendeville presented the Colonial Regional Police Department with 200+ stuffed animals. Mr. Prendeville personally acquired the stuffed animals from a local company after doing a ride-a-long with Sergeant Michael Enstrom.

Why would cops want stuffed animals? Officers giver them to children who are involved in motor vehicle accidents or witness domestic disputes.

Accepting the animals on behalf of the CRPD was Officer Chris Templeton and Sergeant Michael Enstrom (pictured). Supervisor Chairman John Diacogiannis applauded and acknowledged Mr. Prendeville for his kind donation.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

NorCo Council Candidate Forum Nov 1

Dent: ExIm Bank Needs a Kickstart

Many of you have probably never heard of The ExIm Bank. There are no drive-thrus and you certainly won't see any branches here. But it's the key to our ability to compete on the worldwide stage. ExIm is short for the Export Import Bank  Amazingly, the very people who want to "Make America Great Again" are trying to kill this financial institution Fortunately, Congressman Charlie Dent is trying to rescue this lender before it goes the way of the do do. He and Ohio Congressman Frank Lucas have introduced legislation that will reinvigorate this international economic development tool.

As explained in Foreign Policy, an export import bank is a policy tool used by most countries to facilitate exports. China, for example, is expanding its use of export credits. In America, the use of an export import bank helps level the playing field against foreign competition. But the Koch Brothers and other free market theorists smell heresy, and have embarked on a campaign to end this lender. Scott Garrett, who was nominated by Donald Trump to run this bank, has been one of its fiercest critics.

According to Dent, the Export-Import Bank is unable to provide financing for many investment deals. Its Board of Directors lacks a quorum to move forward with economic investment deals greater than $10 million dollars. Dent estimates that $30 billion in pending deals is in limbo.

"Our bill streamlines the Bank’s loan approval process, eliminating artificial barriers created by political gridlock and putting our country’s businesses back on a level global playing field," explains Lucas. "The bank is a critical lifeline for many manufacturers, large and small, in maintaining their competitiveness in international markets and it is past time that its doors are open” added Dent.

Standing Room Only at Lower Nazareth Meeting on Police Coverage

Yesterday, I was at the first of what should be four budget hearings to review Executive John Brown's spending plan for next year. As a result, I missed the latest attempt to destroy Colonial Regional Police Department at a Lower Nazareth Supervisors' meeting at the elementary school on Newburg Road. Departing Supervisor Eric Nagle wants to replace one of this area's top law enforcement agencies with the Keystone Cops.

Though I missed out on all the fun, Agent 77 was there. He is more succinct than I.

I was at this meeting, and it was standing room only. Mr. Nagle from the very start was belligerent and disrespectful to many speakers as they all praised the CRPD. Every. Single. Person. who spoke was in favor of retaining the CRPD. Mr. Nagle clearly has no interest in listening to his constituents and is pursuing something personal. What that is however I do not know.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

EMINEM Freestyle Rap - The Calm Before the Storm


This is the calm before the storm right here.

Wait, how was I gonna start this off? I forgot. ...

Oh yeah.


That's an awfully hot coffee pot,

Should I drop it on Donald Trump? Prob'ly not,

But that's all I got 'til I come up with a solid plot.

Got a plan and now I gotta hatch it,

Like a damn Apache with a tomahawk,

I'm a walk inside a mosque on Ramadan,

And say a prayer that every time Melania talks,

She gets a mou— ah, I'm a stop.

But we better give Obama props,

'Cause what we got in office now's a kamikaze,

That'll prob'ly cause a nuclear holocaust,

And while the drama pops,

And he waits for s--- to quiet down, he'll just gas his plane up

And fly around 'til the bombing stops.

Intensities heightened, tensions are risin',

Trump, when it comes to givin' a s---, you're stingy as I am,

Except when it comes to having the balls to go against me, you hide 'em,

'Cause you don't got the f---ing nuts, like an empty asylum,

Racism's the only thing he's fantastic for,

'Cause that's how he gets his f---ing rocks off and he's orange,

Yeah, sick tan,

That's why he wants us to disband,

'Cause he can not withstand,

The fact we're not afraid of Trump,

F--- walkin' on egg shells, I came to stomp,

That's why he keeps screamin', "Drain the swamp!",

'Cause he's in quicksand.

It's like we take a step forwards, then backwards,

But this is his form of distraction,

Plus, he gets an enormous reaction,

When he attacks the NFL, so we focus on that,

Instead of talking Puerto Rico or gun reform for Nevada,

All these horrible tragedies and he's bored and would rather,

Cause a Twitter storm with the Packers.

Then says he wants to lower our taxes,

Then who's gonna pay for his extravagant trips,

Back and forth with his fam to his golf resorts and his mansions?

Same s--- that he tormented Hillary for and he slandered,

Then does it more,

From his endorsement of Bannon,

Support for the Klansmen,

Tiki torches in hand for the soldier that's black,

And comes home from Iraq,

And is still told to go back to Africa,

Fork and a dagger in this racist 94-year-old grandpa,

Who keeps ignoring our past historical, deplorable factors,

Now if you're a black athlete, you're a spoiled little brat for,

Trying to use your platform or your stature,

To try to give those a voice who don't have one,

He says, "You're spittin' in the face of vets who fought for us you bastards,"

Unless you're a POW who's tortured and battered,

'Cause to him, you're zeros,

'Cause he don't like his war heroes captured.

That's not disrespecting the military.

F--- that! This is for Colin, ball up a fist,

And keep that s--- balled like Donald the b----,

"He's gonna get rid of all immigrants!"

"He's gonna build that thing up taller than this!"

Well, if he does build it, I hope it's rock solid with bricks,

'Cause like him in politics, I'm using all of his tricks,

'Cause I'm throwin' that piece of s--- against the wall 'til it sticks,

And any fan of mine who's a supporter of his,

I'm drawing in the sand a line, you're either for or against,

And if you can't decide who you like more and you're split,

On who you should stand beside, I'll do it for you with this: F--- you.


The rest of America stand up,

We love our military, and we love our country,

But we f---ing hate Trump.

NorCo New Jail Plans Are 90% Complete

According to a bill forwarded to Corrections Director Dan Keen, a new Northampton County Detention Center Master Plan was 90% complete as of August 31. The bill,which comes from architectural firm DLR also shows that the County has been billed $65,241 as of September 11, 2017.

Obviously, the actual design of a new jail will be much more costly. But the fact that a master plan for a new jail is being prepared is an indication that Northampton County Executive John Brown knows exactly what he intends to do.

Just last week, Brown downplayed this contract with DLR. He said the contract was for programming, i.e. whether the county was providing drug therapy or job training. "How efficient or inefficient are we in the current facility?" is what he said was the question being answered.

That appears to be untrue. What DLR is preparing is a "MP" or master plan.

This was clearly being kept under wraps until after the election.

I will try my best to be there. I will be covering a county budget hearing.

Hyman Will Participate in Morning Call Coverage

No politico in his right mind would advise Allentown Mayoral candidate Nat Hyman to refuse the free coverage The Morning Call was offering to provide in his race. So on Monday, I thought he was making a mistake when he said he would refuse to participate in a series of articles. He thought the paper was acting unethically in a poll, even one that placed him in the lead.

In addition to publisher Robert York's explanation, columnist Bill White attempted to clarify things in a thoughtful piece that explained quite nicely what bothered Hyman. Bill probably explained Hyman's concerns better than the candidate himself could do. It certainly was a sign of good faith. So Hyman will cooperate. He is still going to get the coverage and the newspaper itself presented his objections to the poll, which are certainly well-taken. So maybe he did exactly what he should have done.

Hyman sent me this message for publication.

After reading Bill White's clarification of the paper's position in his column in today's paper and giving the matter further consideration, I have been persuaded that the Morning Call may not have been acting unethically or dishonestly when it published its front page article about the Mayor's race on Thursday October 5th. I do believe that article was terribly misleading and an inaccurate depiction of the polling numbers of this race, and that their article on Sunday, which painted an entirely different picture, was an attempt to set the record straight.

I am willing to give the Morning Call the benefit of the doubt that we simply have a disagreement about the way the numbers were presented. Accordingly, I have informed them that I will participate in their coverage of the mayoral race.

There are two good candidates running in this race, Hyman and Ray O'Connell. What hamstrings Ray is that he is counting on the people of Allentown to write him in. But I'd be delighted to see either Ray or Nat as Mayor.

Cusick Removes Kraft From NorCo Personnel Committee

Kraft at Council
Last week, I told you that Northampton County Council member Ken Kraft may be violating the county's nepotism policy  Members from the same family or household are barred from county employment if it would create an "actual conflict of interest" or "the appearance of a conflict of interest." Kraft's wife was recently hired to work in human resources, and he chairs the personnel committee. Every time Human Resources Director Amy Trapp wanted something from his committee, it would look as though the fix was in. It is a malverse situation, even if everything is above board. .   

There were two resolutions to this mess. The first would be to transfer Kraft's wife, who is still in her probationary period and is an at-will employee, into another department. The second would be for Kraft to step down as Chair of the Personnel Committee.

Kraft said he would abide by whatever decision is made by Council President John Cusick.

Cusick has made that decision. He has removed Kraft from the personnel committee completely. Kraft is being replaced by Bob Werner. Mat Benol will chair the October meeting.

On Monday, Kraft was also blocked from participation in the #NoJailatGracedale Facebook page, ostensibly because he jumped on there to insult and mock Nazareth area residents. He insulted and mocked me, but that's the way we talk. 

In the course of his attacks, he let the precise location of the new jail at Gracedale slip. That's hardly the sign of someone with a xyeresic intellect. .

Now Kraft has decided to shut down his Facebook page completely.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jail Expert: NorCo Wasted $78,000 For Jail Study That NIC Does Without Charge

Over the weekend, I spoke with a former county government official who built three different jails in his career. One of them houses over 1,000 inmates. He is PONI (US DOJ Planning of New Institutions) I and II certified so he is no armchair quarterback. I am declining to name him because, although he really does not mind, he still is in an employer - employee relationship. What he tellsme is that Executive John Brown has spent $78,000 of your money for a study that could be done by the National Institute of Corrections at no fee. He also said that the last people you put in charge of the planning process are jail wardens who look to pad their resumes or various outside interests looking at a new jail as the golden calf. Below is his assessment of Northampton County and the way it is pursuing a new jail.

Let's talk about Northampton County and "what" they are doing to plan a new jail. We could use a simple acronym -FUBAR - to describe activity to date. They are throwing away (in the best case scenario) $78,000, by bringing in a "expert" architect firm. That foolish or potentially corrupt decision is going to cost them (the taxpayers, ultimately) millions in capital costs and untold amounts in operating costs should a jail be built. They could accomplish a verified study at no cost by asking the National Institute of Corrections (NIC is a division of the US Dept. Of Justice) for technical assistance.

The programs they offer are extremely helpful and well structured for local government officials (it's one of the efforts the Feds do well, surprisingly). The first thing they stress is being all inclusive in a planning or review process. By all inclusive, they strongly recommend that top levels of government are involved. That means the County Executive or his designee, the President Judge, the District Attorney, Chairman of a Prison Board, Probation Dept., Public Defender, and of course the Corrections Dept. And Finance Dept. You form a committee of all the "Users."

You never put the Warden in charge. That's a foolish move that spells disaster from the outset. I might add that you also do not put an unqualified County Director of Administration in charge with the Warden reporting to her. Massive amounts of money and operational screw ups will result. You also stress transparency. It makes residents much more comfortable in understanding the process. Invite the press to your meetings and brief them on a regular basis.

It is a truism that "no one wants a prison in their backyard". Your committee explores all aspects of corrections from inmate reduction programs, transportation issues, alternatives to incarceration, remote arraignment, Public Safety interface, Mental Health custody, and most importantly, community safety. (That list is not all inclusive. New Institution Planning involves a massive amount of work). You plagiarize other successful efforts in other communities. Design of a potential facility comes later as well as location/locations of facilities. You "Construction Manage" your efforts and independently "value engineer" your final product. The architect is not your friend...... They are in it for the money.

The potential costs I have read of in the press and your reporting are two to three times higher than the norm for building a facility of the size Northampton County most probably may need. Ergo, my observation of "corrupt" . Prison/ Jail planning can be a sham operation that "feathers" many nests. Having all those "Users" involved in an "Open" process makes corruption difficult and in the final analysis leads to more cost conservative decisions.

Northampton County Jail is a federal lawsuit waiting to happen. ... But solutions are doable (including not building a mega jail) if handled correctly without bankrupting the citizenry. Stop the present process now, regroup and ask the NIC for help and involve all segments of government in the process and close all the present "back door" deals. Yes, this process takes time and effort. ... But you only get one chance every 150 years to get it right.

I reviewed the National Institute of Corrections webpage, and sure enough, there is an application form for requesting technical assistance. The Pa Comm'n on Crime and Delinquency also has a grants process. These and other opportunities should have been explored before wasting limited taxpayer dollars on on architect that we are paying to persuade us to hire again for the design.

This is what happens when a county executive with no county experience hires a Director of Administration with no county experience or education and she brings in a Corrections Director who has never been involved in the planning process for anew jail. 

Morganelli: Free Speech Protects Insensitive and Callous People Like Me!

On August 31, Senator Pat Toomey conducted a televised town hall at the PBS studios in Bethlehem. I covered this event for The Bethlehem Press. I was there when Simon Radecki, one of the 54 participants, got yanked when he asked Senator Toomey whether he had heard the news that Toomey's daughter Brigid had just been kidnapped. Radecki was trying to make a point about immigration, but his question was idiotic.

No sooner had the words left his mouth that the long arm of the law reached out and grabbed him. That's the last I saw of Simon Radecki. Numerous news sources, including The Morning Call, indicated that Radecki would be charged with disorderly conduct and disrupting a public meeting. Some more sloppy news sources reported that Radecki had been arrested.

Eventually, newspapers began to wonder whether Radecki's free speech rights had been violated. This started in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with the ACLU offering to represent Radecki even though no charges had been filed.

Morning Call columnist Bill White took things to the next level. He wrote that Radecki had been "charged with disorderly conduct and disrupting a public meeting." He concluded his blog entry by saying that "[t]he charges should be dropped."

Let's be clear here. No one was arrested following Radecki's question. No one has been charged. There are no charges to drop.

There probably would be charges, but as it happens, the officer who collared Radecki went on vacation.

All news accounts that imply otherwise are flat out wrong,

What's more, DA John Morganelli got wind of this matter, and asked that all details be forwarded to him for review. And yesterday, he directed Bethlehem police to close the matter.

Case closed. #J-Mo!

Morganelli is a free speech purist, an unusual trait in a district attorney. In 2004, he dismissed trespassing charges filed against peace activists who were distributing anti-war flyers on a public sidewalk outside the Palmer post office. Three years later, he dismissed criminal charges filed against a Washington Township man who was flying the American flag in an upside down position. In 2012, he refused to prosecute a troll over online comments about a judge. That year, he also dismissed attempted robbery charges against "Nature Dave," a bank protester who held a sign inside a bank, warning customers they were being robbed. He did allow one terroristic threat charge to stand. Just last year, he dismissed littering charges against Trump supporter Tricia Mezacappa when she plastered West Easton utility poles with Trump signs on election eve.

Given Morganelli's track record, I thought it was highly unlikely that he would authorize a prosecution here. For once in my life, I was right. 

"I do not find by his demeanor or the way he conducted himself [he was very polite] an intent to either disrupt the meeting or prevent it," noted Morganelli.. "In fact he was trying to participate in it."

Morganelli agreed that Radecki's ejection was proper because he violated a Code of Conduct he signed before the meeting. He called the question "callous." But as he also observed, "the criminal law cannot be utilized to remedy insensitive conduct."

Thank God If that were so, I'd be sitting in he electric chair right now, with 50,000 volts of electricity going up my ass.

Am I being callous? 

Rudiger Martinez Slams Indigenous People as "Bering Strait Trash"

I've told you before about Rudiger Lyle Martinez. During daylight hours, he's a Northampton County courthouse worker. But once that clock hits 4:30 pm, the metamorphosis begins. You can find him in coffeehouses and taverns reciting poetry or sometimes, face first in the gutter.

It is Rudiger who advised NorCo DA John Morganelli to end everything he does with #J-Mo. Like yesterday, when Morganelli conducted a news conference announcing that there would be no charges filed against an immigration activist who screwed up a Toomey Town Hall by suggesting that the Senator's daughter had been kidnapped.

"No charges.#J-Mo"

"Free speech. #J-Mo."

"There's a Congressional seat with his name on it. #J-Mo 

Unfortunately, Rudeger was suspended from his job with the county when he was caught requiring passport applicants to recite the pledge of allegiance backwards. He was also answering all their questions in Pig Latin.

Even I had no defense for him.

But he's back now. ... In another department. 

I saw him at lunch yesterday, eating his tuna sandwich.

"Happy Indigenous People Day!" I said.

"You mean the Bering Strait trash?" he answered.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Hyman: Morning Call Altered Poll to Favor O'Connell

Allentown Mayoral candidate Nat Hyman is making a pretty incredible claim. He has told Morning Call publisher Robert York that he refuses to participate in their coverage of the mayoral election because he considers their actions and reporting to be unethical.

He asked York to publish the following letter in the Morning Call.
To the Morning Call readers:

I am a life long Allentonian. I decided to run for Mayor because, above all else, I felt it was essential to return integrity and honesty to our city.

Recently, the publisher of the Morning Call wrote a letter to the readers stating that their criteria for including candidates in their coverage is a polling number showing that they are receiving 15% or more of the vote. The poll clearly showed that a write in candidate received 9%, yet the Morning Call led the readers to believe he received 22%. What they didn't make clear to the reader is that the 22% was in response to a question asking who would you vote for if that write in candidate's name were on the ballot, which it is not and never will be because he lost in the primary and is now prohibited by Pennsylvania law from running on the ballot. Despite this and the publisher's proclamation of the 15% threshold, they are now including that person in their coverage.

If I am going to be the Mayor I want to be, I have to stand up to dishonesty everywhere....the Mayor, the President of City Council and, yes, the Morning Call. I believe that a man's word is the man himself. Accordingly, I have informed the publisher that I will not be part of their campaign coverage, despite the fact that doing so might be at great expense to my campaign. I must be true to my sense of honor and integrity.

There is no question I will not answer. So, if any of you have any questions for me, you may feel free to email me directly at Nat@Hymangroup.com
I've asked Hyman to explain how he knows that The Morning Call has misrepresented a nine percent polling figure as 22%. I will share his response when I receive it. I have also emailed publisher Robert York for his take.

Hyman is running against three candidates who are on the ballot and City Council President Ray O'Connell, who is staging a write-in. He acknowledged this may be very well be unhelpful to his campaign.

Updated 10:20 am: Hyman Explains Conclusion that Morning Call Misrepresents Poll

In Thursday's front page article, The smaller headline stated "Write-in candidate O'Connell earns 22 percent of likely voters, a close third." That simply is untrue!  In the article, Emily Opilo wrote: "Ray O'Connell, whose name will not appear on the ballot, had a strong showing at 22% in a field of five". Under our pictures they showed Hyman 32%, Pawlowski 30% and O'Connell 22%.

Evidence that was dishonest reporting comes from Yesterday's article (Sunday) in which Opilo wrote:
"In the poll, 12 percent said they would choose a candidate other than the four on the ballot. Of those, 94 percent said they would select O'Connell."

Clearly those two depictions of the poll are at odds! So, regardless if Ray is at 9%, 11% or even all of the 12%, he did not meet the threshold of 15% stated by the publisher . O'Connell has zero chance of winning this race and can only act as a spoiler. I think that's an important fact for the readers to know. Yet the Morning Call appears to have their own agenda.

To be clear, If Ray had met the 15% threshold I would absolutely be part of their coverage. But a systemic problem in Allentown is that the rules apply to some and not others. I will play by the rules but I expect everyone to do the same.

Updated 11:20 am: Morning Call Publisher Robert York responds to Hyman. - (My conclusion is that The Morning Call is being fair and honest. Ray O'Connell did poll at 22% when he was named.) 

Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

Here’s a podcast we just posted that explains our polling and coverage of the race.
Chris Borick does a better job of explaining the science than I could and Emily provides some behind the scenes look at the challenges of covering this race.


Below is copy of a note that I sent to Nat on Friday afternoon in response to his raising concerns and his request for us to publish the note he sent to you. (In sending to you, I removed two short sentences from this note because they would be out of context for this discussion)
Let me know if you need anything else.


This race is unique and polling for this race reflects it.

Most campaign experts will stipulate that polling of a write-in is very difficult.

There is no direct data to support that Ray received 12% of the polling responses. The 12% is a “none of the above/other” answer. When the poll takers asked (without a name prompt) who the likely voter intended, 94% of the respondents named Ray O’Connell.

When prompted with all names of candidates who have declared interest and are publically campaigning – Ray O’Connell polled at 22%.

The resulting logic is that Ray is polling somewhere between 12% and 22% +/- the margin of error.

You contend it should be 9% - %12, you may be right.

We estimate it’s somewhere between 12% and 22%, we may be right.

For that reason, we’ve decided to proceed on the side of inclusion..

Readers can see the poll for what it is and make their own conclusions about the methodology, fairness and accuracy. For that reason and others, we won’t be publishing your note.


#NoJailatGracedale Forum on Sunday, Oct 15, 1 pm

A grassroots effort by Nazareth area residents, calling themselves, #NoJailatGracedale, will be hosting a Q&A with NorCo Executive and Council candidates on Sunday, October 15, 1 pm, at Tuskes Park. That is located next to Eagles Landing. Lamont McClure and John Brown, the two Exec candidates, are expected. So are Council candidates Hayden Phillips, Ron Heckman and Ron Angle.

No Jail at Gracedale? Think Again

On Thursday night, 12 Eagles' Landing residents told NorCo Council that they are opposed to a new jail at Gracedale. They presented a petition signed by over 1,000 people. Many elected officials acted as though this was the first time they ever heard this idea. While no one on Council lied, their behavior was far from transparent. This can be demonstrated by comparing what was said Thursday night with the video of a meeting on September 15, 2016, when Corrections Director Dan Keen pitched the idea of a new jail. Council members were far more open in that meeting. Executive John Brown, who was running for state auditor general last year, was absent.   

Keen told Council that he had already visited over 100 locations. He wants a new jail, with 40-60 acres, on a greenfield. Locally, he told Council that "[w]e have a couple of areas of interest that we looked at ... potential sites. ...There is still some legwork ...to move it forward." Keen told Council he'd like to get started on a new jail next year and be done by 2020.

On Thursday night, Council President John Cusick told Upper Nazareth resident Bob McMahon, "I have no plan in front of me and this body has received no plan. ... I'm not familiar to what you're referring."

While there is no formal plan for a new jail at Gracedale, Cusick is quite familiar with the idea of a new jail at Gracedale. Last year, when Keen made his sales pitch, Cusick suggested it as the best of three bad options.
"There's here [Easton], which we seem to think does not make sense. There's Gracedale, where there's a lot of land, but we'll certainly run into a lot of local opposition and zoning. But if we have the will to do it, it could be done there. There is enough acreage. And then the third option is someplace else. Finding 40 acres where there's public water - certainly you would need public water, public sewer - those options are limited. So again I come back to this issue where we're going to need outside legal and or land development consulting to move this process forward. ... It's going to take time, effort and political will to move this thing ahead."
On Thursday night, Council member Hayden Phillips eventually said he would oppose a new jail at Gracedale. He is seeking re-election. His wife, who was in the audience, made sure she handed his card to every speaker. He implored them to call him several times.

Last year, when the new jail was pitched, he was less concerned about its location.  "The mechanics of where we are going to do it and everything, my take right now is that I'm letting the administration handle that," is what he said last year.. ... "I don't want to necessarily manage that, micromanage that."

Until he discovered it could cost him an election.

Bob Werner, ordinarily one of Council's most loquacious members, was curiously silent on Thursday night. He failed to clarify Cusick when the Council President attempted to create the impression that no one is even thinking about Gracedale.

Nobody did.

One year ago, Werner wanted to know how the plan would be marketed to Upper Nazareth residents.  "When you try to sell this to the community that you want to put it in - I have to be watch how I word this - If you market this to the community that you want to put it in, the 60 acres, and you approach those people that are on the boards that need to hear this, what is the benefit that you could say to those people on a new facility such as you're talking about?. What would you be able to offer them and say, 'This is not what you think it is.'?" 

One year ago, Werner knew very well that Gracedale was the site being considered. He actually participated with Administrator Cathy Allen in a meeting about it.

"Mr. Werner, I think you were in the one meeting we had met - and I don't think - yes, we're going to have hurdles, but some of the people we need to be in our corner will be in our corner," Allen said a year ago.

"There are people we have met with in the past that have changed," agreed Werner. "Positions have changed."

Neither Werner nor Allen said a word about this meeting on Thursday night.

One Council member is untroubled by public opposition to Gracedale as a site for the new jail. It's Ken Kraft. He is a District Council rep, not an at-large rep, and his district is Bethlehem. He does not have to worry about Nazareth votes.

Kraft is also a business agent for the painters' union, and sometimes treats his position on Council as a way to get work "What does the administration need from County Council to get this started, to get the zoning and the variances and things?" he asked a year ago."We could build it in a year for you," he pledged. He called Gracedale "the perfect place for it and we just did the sewer line and infrastructure and all the things we needed to do over the years to get there."

Werner responded, "That's true."

Kraft said nothing to Upper Nazareth residents who complained, but later threw a lifeline to Executive John Brown by changing the subject to the need for a morgue.

Brown may need a morgue for his political career unless he becomes more frank, and in a hurry, with Nazareth area residents. 

Friday, October 06, 2017

Upper Nazareth Residents Say No Jail at Gracedale

Ryan Woodmansee
Upper Nazareth Township residents upset at the prospect of a new jail in their back yards have mobilized. In five days, #NoJailatGracedale has collected over 1,000 signatures in opposition to any new jail at Northampton County's Gracedale campus. They were at Upper Nazareth Township's Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday night. Last night, 12 Eagles Landing residents let Northampton County Council know how they feel.

Though both Council and Executive John Brown have been tight-lipped about it, discussions about a new jail began a year ago, following a presentation in which Corrections Director Dan Keen called the current facility "a beast."

At that time, Administrator Cathy Allen said the County is very serious about a new site, and hinted that "some of the people we need to be in our corner will be in our corner." Bob Werner added, "There are people we have met with in the past that have changed. Positions have changed."

Mat Benol - Objections just  "political fodder"
In the past year, by his own admission, Brown has visited about a dozen different locations for a new jail. He has declined to name them, but has ruled out Easton. He said the costs of building a high rise there would be "exorbitant." Possible sites include Bethlehem's industrial park near Hellertown Road, Wayne Grube Park, the slate belt and Gracedale. Brown has ridiculed the notion that he visited Wayne Grube Park. But at the same time, he said that county should be looking at properties it already owns.

One of these properties is a portion of the Gracedale campus, located near Eagle's Landing, buffered on three sides by hills. Over the years, it has been discussed as a site for a new jail

Upper Nazareth Township officials say no formal plans have been presented for a jail at Gracedale. Manager EJ Mentry acknowledges contacts with the county, but says there have been no communications within the past few months.

Brown has stated that zoning law rules out a jail at the Gracedale campus. But as Brown undoubtedly knows, the argument can be made that Upper Nazareth's zoning is exclusionary. Though the Zoning Ordinance provides for prisons, it is only in zones where no prisons could ever be built, like a quarry. If a zoning ordinance is determined to be exclusionary, the use must be permitted anywhere. Including Gracedale.

At a prison advisory board meeting in July, Chair Dan Christenson called Gracedale a "great location." Here's an excerpt from the minutes:
Mr. Christenson explained that he believes the valley area near Gracedale would be a great location for a new jail, and he was told a longer than necessary sewer line was installed in the past. [Corrections] Director [Dan] Keen said a site selection has not been discussed from [sic] John Brown, but we have had a group in the jail doing studies to determine exactly what we need. Director Keen said [the current] facility costs us about $115 per day, per inmate. A new facility costs about $67 per day, per inmate. [Prison Advisory Board member Ed] Boscola asked if a new jail would cut out [sic] operating costs in half. Director Keen explained it wouldn't necessarily work out that way because of the need for more officers, based on a staffing analysis. Mr.Christenson asked how much overtime we pay. Director Keen explained the Union Contract dictates we have 1.5 million right off the bat each year in overtime due to the schedule. Mr. Boscola asked if DLR [a prison architect hired by Executive John Brown] would do a financial analysis, staffing analysis, etc. and Director Keen stated yes. Director Keen said they are looking at it from 3 angles and will provide a report when they are done. Mr. Christenson offered the board's assistance when the time is right.
At last night's Council meeting, numerous Eagles Landing residents made clear that Gracedale is far from a "great location."

Attorney Kelly Schreier
When Bob McMahon asked, Council President John Cusick feigned unfamiliarity. "There's been no proposal put before Council," he said, knowing full well that this topic has been under discussion for the past year.

"I understand this is a real concern, and I share your concern, said Hayden Phillips, who lives in Upper Nazareth. Peg Ferraro noted she is opposed to any new jail at Gracedale, not just because of a "not in my back yard" attitude, but for numerous other good reasons. Phillips said he'd share his information with residents. he could start by explaining what Administrator Cathy Allen and Bob Werner meant when they said that some people who at one time opposed a new jail have changed course.

McMahon said he emailed each Council member over a month ago, but heard nothing.

Cindy Lipschutz warned Council, "We are going to fight this and we have the whole community behind us."

Jim Cunningham asked where the feasibility study was. He was told that architectural firm DLR had been hired. "I'm not talking about building, I want to see a feasibility study," he said. He also asked what locations have been visited, and wanted to know if those sites could be listed "before the election."

Instead of answering Cunningham, Benol said that the current jail is a mess. But Cunningham wanted to know if the Easton location has really been studied. "The carriage is getting in front of the horse," he complained.

"It seems like we're pulling teeth here to get answers from Council," said Ryan Woodmansee. He presented a petition with over 1,000 signatures opposed to a new jail at Gracedale. He also disputed Cusick's feigned lack of knowledge about a new jail, referring to newspaper articles indicating clearly that Council is well aware of these plans. "The cloak is off," said Woodmansee. "It's an election year, I'm a Republican myself, but I have no problem crossing party lines come November."

Mat Benol dismissed Woodmnsee's concerns as "political fodder." When Benol stated that this is the first Council that has actually looked at a new jail, Woodmansee noted he has articles from as long ago as 2003 to indicate the opposite.

Julian Kryemadhi told Council that he himself is an immigrant, but knows that the United States is proud of the citizen's right to free speech. In that vein, he asked why Executive Brown deleted a comment on his Facebook page in which Julian merely asked for a new jail update.

Holding her daughter in her arms, Attorney Kelly Schreier said she is "outraged'at the prospect of a jail at Gracedale. "I am also appalled at the lack of transparency and the lack of knowledge that anyone seems to have about this issue. ... Could you please provide some transparency?"

Christine Woodmansee said she and Jenna Hausman introduced themselves as the "two moms" who started the #NoJailatGracedale Facebook page and petition. "We have been on the ground talking to the people of Nazareth who are just outraged about this," said Christine. "People are willing to cross party lines for this. It is that serious of an issue. ... We will hit every single door in Nazareth to make sure we get our point across."

After everyone had spoken, John Brown gave Council and the audience the longest speech he's delivered since he was elected. He failed to address why no new feasibility study is being done, even though there are now problem solving courts and the jail census is dropping. He also failed to list any of the sites he has visited,despite a specific request to do so..

He noted that the zoning at Gracedale is inappropriate, but declined to say whether he has abandoned that site. "Of course, we're going to look at the property we own," he said.

He denied a lack of transparency, saying that it is too early to have a cart or a horse, let alone say that the cart is being placed in front of the horse. He said the process would take four or five years. "It is way too early in the conversation to even be asking those questions," he said.

Brown said that anything that is done, like the hiring if a design architect, would have to be publicly bid. "We're not even sure we could afford to do it," he added. But he said the county does have a responsibility to the jail and the inmates.

He suggested that the public outrage from residents who identified themselves as Republicans is politically driven. "You can conclude for yourself likely how this has gotten started and has gotten inflamed," he said.

Ken Kraft, who supports a jail at Gracedale, attempted to bail Brown out by asking about a morgue.

Then Brown began discussing the county's needs, including toilet paper purchases. "We buy a lot of toilet paper," he said.

I believe him.

"I'm happy to stand on my record, moving forward," he concluded.

Ron Heckman, a former NorCo Council member sitting in the audience, was amused at the discussion. "Every Executive wants to build a pyramid," he wryly observed. "Has he talked to he DA? I have. Has he talked to the courts?" Heckman is running for Council, by the way.

NorCo Employee Fired For Reporting Super Asleep on the Job

NorCo Human Resources Director fired 23 Allentown employees in one year, and apparently is trying to beat that record here. Yesterday, just before she marched into a County Council meeting, she fired a Human Services employee who had been under suspension. Her offense? She reported a Supervisor who was asleep at his desk.

I neglected to ask for permission to name this employee, but she is represented by Allentown lawyer Rick Orloski. He accompanied her to this sundown slaughter, but was denied permission to sit with her as she got the ax.

So if you work for Northampton County and get caught sleeping on the job, you might get fired. If you report the person who is sleeping on the job and that person is a supervisor, you will definitely get fired. 

After Standoff, Bushkill Man surrenders on Charges of Killing Cousin

John Michael Hann, age 61, was taken into custody Thursday morning on charges of a homicide and attempted homicide filed in connection with a shooting in Lehigh Township on Wednesday night. My story about this murder and arrest should appear in this morning's online Bethlehem Press, and is already in The Times News.

Updated 10/9/17 at 10:30 am. - No military at scene! - Bethlehem Township Police Chief has provided the following statement in response to an anonymous claim that military handled this arrest: "FYI. The men wearing Kevlar helmets and carrying automatic weapons who assisted with the apprehension of John Hann on Oakland Road were members of the PA. State Police Emergency Response Team. There were no military personnel on scene."

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Guard Who Helped Police Locate Vegas Gunman Was Union Member

Jesus Campos is an unarmed security guard who took on the Las Vegas gunman in the tragic shooting over the weekend. He was shot in the leg when he approached the shooter's room, but was able to give police information over the phone.

Campos belongs to the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America. That union was organized right after Bethlehem Sands ratified their first contract.

Gregg Potter of the Lehigh Valley Labor Council said his group will be honoring Campos later this month.

Danny McNeill's Ties

Lehigh County Sheriff Joe Hanna, who was very close to Danny McNeill, was wearing something familiar to Jeanne McNeill at her State Representative announcement on Wednesday. It was one of Danny's ties.

Jeanne explained that she gave about 40 of them away, and they were all still tied as Danny did not like pulling a tie apart after spending the time to get it just right.

Joe kept the tie just the way that Danny tied it.

The Trump Factor

Jeanne McNeill draws huge crowd at announcement
In my 11 years as a fairly active political blogger, I've covered numerous announcements and rallies. For most races, getting people to come to these events is like pulling teeth. So I was pleasantly surprised to see a large crowd of about 70 people on hand for Jeanne McNeill's announcement that she would be running to succeed her husband Dan in the 133d legislative district.

Jeanne was introduced by Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez, who at one time was Danny McNeill's chief of staff. She is a job skills teacher for young adults with disabilities at the Carbon Lehigh Intermediate, helping them to become independent. If elected, "I will work every day to make sure educational programs are in place and protect our senior citizens. She added that would "continue Danny's opioid crisis fight."

Short and sweet.

I noticed two things at this event. First, Democrats are energized. Second, though everyone is running for everything, they are strangely united. They know there's a bigger enemy out there, one who is recklessly endangering this country and our very form of government.

Authoritarian Donald Trump.

His base is so far in the tank for him that, as he himself once bragged, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." But the rest of us are disgusted by him and what he has done to this country during his short time in office.

Some of those who voted for him are getting weary of his tweetstorms, bullying and his appeal to our darker sides.

I could feel that as Jeanne McNeill made her announcement.

Though the November election is a municipal race, the national mood always plays a big role in the NorCo races and in the Lehigh County Exec race.

While Northampton County voters elected Donald Trump, was it because they liked Trump or detested Hillary? I think it is the latter. Locally, she turned a lot of people off.

According to McClatchy, Trump is fueling victories in municipal races.

Larry Krasner, who won the Democratic primary for DA in Philly, has said that any sane person must realize that Trump is a potential dictator. “That’s the kind of thing that can wake you up in the morning, make you lace up your shoes, and go vote."

In Northampton County, Brown won four years ago by keeping it close in Bethlehem. Not gonna' happen this year.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

PaBar Ass'n Gives Me a Major Award for ... Journalism

Pardon me, but I'm about to do some bragging. Earlier this year, I received four Keystone Press awards for different stories I've written for The Bethlehem Press. As one of my readers remarked at the time, this is proof that "anything is possible." But a few months ago, when my editor told me that the Pa Bar Association was sponsoring a similar contest that "recognizes journalistic excellence in news and feature reporting about the legal system and its operations," I passed. Those guys would be on to me and might even sue me for impersonating a reporter.

Well, my editor ignored me and submitted an entry for me without my knowledge. Yesterday, he called to tell me I took first place in the weekly newspaper beat coverage category for my coverage of Northampton County.

It's a major award!

As a first place winner, I will receive a $400 check and an engraved plaque. I also get to attend the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association’s Annual Convention at Loews Philadelphia Hotel on November 3 for brunch.

I think it costs $500.

John Brown Proposes No-Tax-Hike Budget

John Brown
Standing inside Gracedale's Chapel, Northampton County Executive John Brown answered the prayers of many taxpayers on Tuesday when he discussed his budget for next year. That's because, for the third year in a row, he's been able to dodge a tax hike. Also, in what may very well be a first in Northampton County, he has avoided dipping into cash reserves to balance his $402 million spending plan. He delivered his remarks to county officials and most of his cabinet. He thanked his cabinet and the county work force several times. "Employees are the county's most valuable resource," he says in his message. The budget itself is online at the county website.

Tax rate remains the same

It proposes a tax rate of 11.8 mills. The median value of a Northampton County home is $220,800. If assessed properly at $110,400, that means a 2018 county bill of $1,302.72.

"This is the fourth budget I'm introducing in which I am not asking, and do not intend to ask for, a tax increase," he noted.

A 10% tax hike was imposed in Brown's first budget, which he approved without a veto.

Brown stated that when he first took office in 2014, the fund balance had dropped from $60.4 million in 2011 to $11.1 million at the end of 2013. For the previous four years, Northampton County had been deficit spending to the tune of over $15.7 million a year. Health care costs had been between $1.5 and $1.7 million per year for the previous seven years. Gracedale had cost the county $20 million over the previous four years. But he claims that the general fund now is now stabilized at over $30 million as a result of "cash flow management" and a "systematic approach to expenditure reduction."

Spending cuts

This "expenditure reduction" means he's cut spending by $7.3 million. And mostly in personnel costs, which he has slashed by $3.3 million. Though he has cut personnel costs, he notes that his spending plan calls for a salary increase of $1.5 million, along with a two percent cost of living adjustment for nonunion workers.

So how has he saved on personnel costs? Brown stated that when he first came into office, health care costs were rising at a rate of $1.5 to $1.7 million per year. By reducing the benefits, he has saved $7.6 million,

In addition to health care savings, Brown said that workers's compensation claims have been reduced drastically. He pointed to $4.4 million in savings over the past two years, a reduction in worker comp claims and a safer work environment.

Gracedale self-supporting 

Brown called Gracedale a "remarkable story." He noted that in 2016, Gracedale returned a profit of about $1.6 million for the first time in eight years. He said he expected that to continue, and is proposing no county contribution to the nursing home. he said that the "team" at Gracedale is doing a "fantastic job," and that should continue for the "foreseeable future." He said the nursing home employs 800 people.

He pointed to a four-star rating at the nursing home by Medicare that lasted for two years,although it is currently at two stars and had dropped to just one.

He said he sees "far more upsides than downsides" to Gracedale, but long-term, "we don't know." He said changes are coming to the way nursing homes are viewed in the health care industry. "That's a future conversation," he remarked. 

Brown conceded that Gracedale is relying on a $2.2 million grant from the federal government this year, and has budgeted for its receipt. Without it, Gracedale will be in the red, and the County will have a deficit.

P3 Bridge Project

He also touted his P3 program to repair or replace 33 bridges, and said work started in March. He said the model used by Northampton County has attracted "state and federal interest." He said the project will create 1,000 family-sustaining jobs and save taxpayers $17 million over what would be spent otherwise.

He also said that the training being done in Human Resources should continue, despite some of the abuses noted in recent audits.

Capital projects under consideration include more bridge repairs, Gracedale improvements, a regional forensic center (morgue), the purchase of the new Human Services building. And yes, a new jail. As he did last year, Brown wants to set aside one mill ($8 million) of tax revenue for the county's short-term and long-term capital needs.

New Jail

Brown acknowledged that he has viewed a dozen sites for a new jail, but that relocating the jail to the Gracedale campus would require approval from Upper Nazareth's Zoning Hearing Board. He said that architectural firm DSL is basically acting as a consultant. he acknowledge he has yet to discuss a new jail with the courts or District Attorney. 

DaVinci Science Center

In presentations throughout the County, DaVinci Science Center has pitched a $130 million aquarium attraction in downtown Easton. Easton has committed $5 million to this project, and according to former Lehigh County Executive Jane Ervin, DaVinci wants Northampton County to front $15 million.

Though DaVinci is listed in the budget as a possible hotel tax recipient, no amount has been set aside. next year, as much s $633,000 in hotel tax revenue is available.

Farmland Preservation

For the second year in a row, Brown is budgeting about $500,000 for farmland preservation, about half the amount assigned by former Executive John Stoffa. Brown stated the amount budgeted is sufficient to cover demand.

What's Next? 

Now that the budget is in their hands, County Council will review it, program-by-program, through a series of budget hearings. Though they are barred from interfering with the Executive's revenue estimates, they may approve amendments that alter his spending plan.

They have until December 15 to adopt or amend the budget and adopt it as amended. If they fail to take action, Brown's budget will be deemed adopted. Even if they reject his budget, it will be considered adopted. This failsafe exits in most home rule charters to prevent what happens on the state and federal level. 

Lamont McClure's Reaction 

Lamont McClure is the Democratic nominee for county Executive in November. He had this reaction to Brown's budget:

We were hoping today that John Brown would address the essential problem with his term of office. Specifically, Northampton County Taxpayers had their taxes raised 10%, so he and his unqualified cronies could unlawfully make claims for mileage and lunch expenses. Or, that while we pay more in taxes, his loyal lieutenants are being sent on lavish trips at taxpayer expense. He handed out secret pay raises without Council approval and none of this was addressed in his budget message. One might say that these unlawful acts are a thing of the past, but a recent audit, regarding the misuse of gift cards, just demonstrated that the corrupt and callous crony-fueled methods are still being employed. This is the main reason John Brown did not propose a tax cut today. If he did, he and his cronies might have to give up the taxpayer funded perks.