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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, December 11, 2017

ACCHS: We Beat the Bubblers!

I was away most of this weekend at a boys' basketball tournament at Boiling Springs High School. Allentown Central Catholic defeated East Pennsboro on Friday and Boiling Springs on Saturday to win the tourney and start the season with a 2-0 record.

After failing to convince the attendant that I'm a student, it cost me $5 to get in. My hand was stamped with this:

BS? She must know me.

In the first game, four Central players scored in the double digits, showing a balance that portends well for them. Junior Chad Kratzer was unstoppable 16, followed by Jay Vaughan (14), Dat Lambert (13) and Nick Filchner (10). On Saturday night, Dat Lambert scored 19. He was named tournament MVP while fellow guard Jay Vaughan was selected to the all-tournament quad.

On Tuesday, Whitehall will host the Vikings.

Will Brown Veto Budget, Millage Rate?

One of my readers claims that outgoing NorCo Exec John Brown is on vacation and we'll never see him again. I believe it's entirely possible that we'll see him again soon, and not in a good way.  He could veto the budget approved December 7, the millage rate ordinance adopted by Council, or both. He has until December 14 to do so, and could even do it after Council meets that day. He has until December 17 to veto the millage rate ordinance. I actually expect him to veto one or both measures, and at the last possible minute. 

After promising Lamont McClure's transition team that he wanted to leave office on a high note, Brown pulled his own Pearl Harbor when NorCo Council met on December 7 to approve next year's budget and millage rate. He proposed a one-mill tax reduction ($8 million) to his own budget. He did so without a corresponding $8 million cut in spending. This was an attempt to sabotage McClure, forcing him to dip into cash reserves and limiting the county's ability to deal with an emergency.

Because Republicans were unable to agree on whether the tax cut should be a full or a half mill, they ended up with the millage rate originally proposed.

Three of them - Seth Vaughn, Glenn Geissinger and Mat Benol - are out to hurt the county. They voted against everything, even the salary for professional employees. Not surprisingly, all three are on their way out.

On Friday, Vaughn used Facebook to lash out at his fellow Republicans on Council for refusing to agree to a one-mill tax cut. "[F]our Republicans on council, Matt Deitz, Hayden Phillips, Peg Ferraro, and John Cusick voted against it. Keep that in mind next time you go to the ballot box."

What surprised me is that Brown's wife Tina slammed them, too. "True colors," she said of this quartet. Never mind that Peg Ferraro invited Tina and Brown to her fundraiser at Holy Family and let him give a speech that was so boring that Nazareth Ambulance had to be called in to revive the cooks. That's gratitude, Tina! Up until now, I considered you a civilian.  If you want to engage in these debates, you become fair game.

Given Tina Brown's comment, my guess is that the attempt to sabotage McClure is alive and well. But the Home Rule Charter may very well protect the citizens of Northampton County.

As I said, his options are to veto the budget, the millage rate ordinance, or both.

Veto of the budget. - The Home Rule Charter does give the Executive authority to veto the budget, but he may only delete or decrease items. So he can decrease the fund balance by $8 million and set the stage fora new millage rate ordinance.

Veto of the millage rate ordinance. - The millage rate ordinance is a separate ordinance, and the Executive can veto it, just like he can veto any ordinance. But guess what? Council would have no authority under the Home Rule Charter to adopt a new ordinance. It lacks the time for a new ordinance, which would take a month for two readings. It would be unable to adopt a new millage rate except as an emergency ordinance. And that's impossible for two reasons. First, there's no emergency. Council and Brown are just playing politics. Second, the Charter expressly states that "an emergency ordinance shall not levy taxes."

That would necessarily mean that the millage rate set in 2017 or the one that Brown vetoed would remain in effect. So Brown and his minions will try, but they will fail.

The law has never been their strong suit.

Ken Kraft had a good retort to Vaughn's false outrage. "If [Brown] wanted to create a budget with a lower tax rate, he would have done it from the beginning. What don't you understand? What part of County government don't you get? I understand exactly what you are trying to do, you're trying to be a vindictive prick and pass an illegal unfunded budget so the next guys are in a bind, you are probably the one who said those words about, lets cut taxes and see them balance the budget... little passive aggressive these days since the voters handed you your well deserved defeat... ."

Friday, December 08, 2017

NorCo's Lame Duck Council Gives $10M to DaVinci, Attempts to Sabotage McClure

The big story you'll see today is that Northampton County voted last night to award $10 million in hotel taxes for the Easton-based DaVinci Science Center. Wednesday, this project looked like it was dead in the water after Pearly Baker owner Jonathan Davis called it a "killer” to local business.  But over the next 24 hours, the aquarium dropped its plans for a dining facility and turned restaurateur Davis from skeptic to cheerleader. What followed was a stream of officials who view the giant fish tank as the answer to all of Easton's troubles. But before you get too excited, remember this decision was made by a lame duck Council on its way out the door. Next year there will be a new Council that  is much more critical, and they could decide to stop the funding before a dime is spent.

The grant passed by a 5-4 vote. Voting for it were Peg Ferraro, Glenn Geissinger, Mat Benol, Seth Vaughn and Bob Werner. Voting No were Ken Kraft, John Cusick, Matt Dietz and Hayden Phillips.

One of my readers predicted this, and it went down exactly as he or she said.

"None of the facts matter.

"What you will witness tonight is a carefully-choreographed performance where Council will appear to take the public into consideration before voting on something that was decided behind closed doors.

"DaVinci will turn out their people to make it appear that the fish tank has real and overwhelming support. The people who actually have their own skin in the game be swamped by the well-connected special interest group looking for public dollars.

"And we all know this story ends the same, with this Executive/Council or the next."

My only disagreement with this reader is that I believe that the new Council will reverse this grant. To use Ken Kraft's words, "It's insane."

Peg Ferraro, who has been named Pocketbook Peg by my readers, was the spearhead for this grant. She has placed a ball and chain around the county's neck for the next 40 years, really hamstringing its ability to fund tourism anywhere else. Kraft told me that repealing this ordinance is the first thing he intends to propose once the new Council is sworn in.

After this grant was approved, most of the public and even the press left. The Morning Call's Tom Shortell and I stuck around. What happened next is the real story last night. It is that a bitter Executive and lameduck Council tried their best to sabotage Executive-elect Lamont McClure and an incoming Council before they can get started. It was an appalling display of sour grapes. They failed last night. But with a few weeks left until they are gone, they just may succeed.

John Brown had assured McClure's transition team that he wanted to leave office on a high note. There would be no surprises. He'd play no games with the budget. But that's precisely what he did.

In a long night that included several presentations, Brown decided to give the longest Executive report of his career. He went on at least 20 minutes, patting himself on the back and congratulating himself on what a fine job he did. I had no problem with this. I'm sure he's disappointed that he lost the election. If he wanted to list some of his achievements, so be it. If he wanted to remind everyone he is still the Executive, he is. But then he told council to reduce the tax millage rate by a mill. Never mind that it is he who proposed a budget that required 11.8 mills for a balanced budget. Never mind that reducing the millage would result not just in deficit spending, but an unbalanced budget that violates the Home Rule Charter. The revenue estimate set by the Executive will fail to equal what the county spends.

Ken Kraft said that the budget Brown introduced in October, when he still thought he was going to win the race, called for 11.8 mills. Now that he's lost, he wants to reduce taxes by one mill without a corresponding reduction in spending, and let McClure deal with the consequences. "You're automatically putting the next administration on their heels, where they're going to have to raise taxes," he said. "I think it's a real shitty thing to do. Underhanded. And you people are despicable for even putting it up there."

Budget Administrator Doran Hamann advised Council that a one-mill reduction would translate to $8 million in tax revenue. "Decisions would have to be made to either cut the budget by $8 million or subsidize the budget with fund balance from the general fund, which only the County Executive can do."

Under the Home Rule Charter, Council has no authority to interfere with revenue projections. Only Brown could decide to deficit spend.

Brown eventually said he would take the money from fund balance.

At this point Council began squabbling over whether to grant a half mill or one mill tax decrease. Seth Vaughn, Mat Benol and Glen Geissinger voted against a half-mill tax decrease because they wanted a full mill. Hayden Phillips, Matt Dietz and Pocketbook Peg Ferraro voted against a full mill tax decrease because they wanted a half mill. So Council did ultimately vote to hold the line on taxes at 11.8 mills, with the Geissinger-Vaughn-Benol trio voting No.

Now you might dismiss what Ken Kraft said as the rants of a partisan Democrat who should be committed. I have tried to have him put away a few times myself.

But it's hard to ignore what Matt Dietz said. Matt is a conservative Republican representing the northern tier of the county. He'd love to cut taxes. But two things bothered him. First, the move to reduce taxes was coming over two months after Brown introduced a budget that called for 11.8 mills. Second, while declining to name names, Dietz said that there comments made by Council members at the last meeting stating that they would vote for a millage reduction "and watch the next council try to balance it. And the next administration. I think that it is poor servants of the people of Northampton County, and I'm pretty embarrassed that it was said."

An honest man.

Sitting next to Dietz was a partisan Republican (Mat Benol) who insists on hanging a decalogue behind him at every meeting. And sitting another seat away was a former Mormon bishop (Geissinger). I am always leery of people who wear their religion on their sleeves. If you ever wonder why I refuse to stand when these phonies offer their fake prayers, this is why. There is no doubt in my mind that the Mormon Bishop and Ten Commandment Kid colluded with Brown and Vaughn to hamstring McClure before he ever got started. Never mind that it's the people who will suffer.

Brown may very well veto this budget so he can press the matter.

I'm sure you have lots of questions about the specifics of this budget, as well as other matters. I'll have more for you next week. For now, I'll say only that it is highly unlikely that anyone who Brown brought with him into Northampton County will be kept after this attempted sabotage. Brown promised no surprises, and then broke his word with this stunt. McClure would be foolish to think he could trust any of them, and he is not foolish.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

DaVinci Center Called a "Killer" For Easton Restaurant Biz

Pearly Baker's Jonathan Davis
Like buzzards who circle a carcass while jackals and hyenas predators rip off the larger chunks of meat, DaVinci Science Center representatives watched and waited patiently last night at last night's final NorCo Council budget gearing. As Council members hacked into next year's $400 million budget, Executive Director Lin Erickson waited her turn. She has proposed a $130 million aquarium project in Easton's flood plain, and has her hand out for every public dollar she can get. She's been at more meetings over the past year than the Express Times. Though Council is scheduled to consider an ordinance tonight that helps to fund the aquarium with $1 million in hotel taxes ($100,000 per year over ten years), she wants  even more. $15 million, to be exact. Last night, for reasons that baffle me, Peg Ferraro pitched a $500,000 grant in 2005 hotel taxes to DaVinci. This is in addition to an amendment she'll be proposing to tonight's ordinance, giving DaVinci even more than the $1 million proposed.

Ferraro first said she would be offering an amendment two weeks ago. But in a remarkable display of secrecy, she has refused to say how much. She hoped to spring it on everyone at the last minute, keeping the public in the dark about their own money

"We have this money, we've been accumulating this money," was Ferraro's justification for giving DaVinci a "shot in the arm."

"I don't know what your rush is to give money," objected Ken Kraft, saying this is a decision that can be addressed by the incoming Council and Executive-elect Lamont McClure.

"It's time to move forward and do something," countered Ferraro, who called for a vote.

Fortunately, Council President John Cusick decided instead to recognize a member of the public who wanted to address the subject.

Jonathan Davis owns Easton's popular Pearly Baker's, Bank Street Annex and Mueller's General Store. He has been operating small businesses for the past 25 years after his graduation from Lafayette College. Claiming to be speaking on behalf of a large number of downtown Easton businesses, he said they are "very much opposed to the Science Center as it now stands."

Plans for DaVinci include a 250-seat restaurant as well as cafes. "The restaurant community cannot have that happen to its downtown," he argued. He noted that four Easton restaurants have closed this year, and only two have re-opened. "This quasi government kind of manipulation that has happened, with good intentions, has ransacked the business community." He said the food court at Crayola has negatively impacted lunch business. He added that the publicly subsidized Public Market is no public market. "It's a food court. That cut our business in half."

He called the DaVinci Science Center a "killer for the restaurant business." He said his 50 or so employees are suffering from lost tips already, and that DaVinci will be a "vacuum that sucks away any benefit it is supposed to have."

"This is our money, this is public funds, and it should be going for the benefit of downtown Easton."

"Destroy the restaurant community that established the downtown, and you will have larger issues than you ever expect," he warned.

He added that Erickson told him that the restaurant would be used as a profit source to offset future expenses.

"Maybe we could have an event center with a caterer and a liquor license," suggested Ferraro.

"Why? Why? What's the mission? The mission is science and education. Where is it coming that we're serving cocktails?"

Erickson admitted that current plans do call for a 250-seat restaurant, a liquor license and an operator.

Mat Benol thanked Davis for his visit, saying it prevented him from a "huge mistake." Matt Dietz said he had enough concerns before last night, but now considers the plan too indefinite to justify any public spending. Hayden Phillips added that he was concerned that a publicly subsidized aquarium would compete unfairly against a private venture like a proposed Ripley aquarium, located 60 miles away. But the competition against small businesses in Easton is much more immediate and serious. Public tax dollars would enable DaVinci to steal business from restaurants just blocks away.

Kraft moved to table Ferraro's grant, and it passed 7-2. Glenn Geissinger and Seth Vaughn voted No without explanation.

"We can visit it next year," said Kraft, who told Erickson that the incoming Council will work with DaVinci.

Later this evening, Council will consider the $1 million grant, which Ferraro wants to increase without bothering to say how much until the public hearing.

NorCo Council Approves Step Increase For Career Service Workers With Four Years Seniority

NorCo Executive John Brown's proposed 2018 spending plan calls for a two percent across-the-board wage hike for career service personnel. But during budget hearings, Council President John Cusick hinted that he might seek a step increase instead. That's exactly what he did at last night's final budget hearing. He proposed a step increase (about 4.5%) for career service personnel who have four years or more seniority as of of January 1.He noted that many of these workers have remained at step one since they were first hired. The step increase will apply to judicial workers and human services workers. The remaining career service employees will see no raise.
There will be a two per cent increase for part-time professionals like assistant District Attorneys, assistant Public Defenders and the 17 criminal defense lawyers who represent criminal defendants when there is a conflict of interest with the Public Defender.

Cusick's proposal would apply only to nonunion workers, which is about 25% of the county workforce. Union employees have their salaries set as part of a collective bargaining agreement.

"What I see happening here is this: we have people who have worked here for a long time, and then we hire somebody new, and they're at the same pay grade as someone who's been here a significant amount if time. The failure to award steps anywhere along the way has created that inequity."

Remaining career service employees, i.e.those with less than four years seniority or who are already at the top of the pay scale, will see no raise. People at the top will get longevity pay.

"I think it's a great idea," said Peg Ferraro, who said there should be "a little bit of separation" between newer and more experienced workers.

This proposed change to the budget was approved unanimously ,with the final vote scheduled for tonight.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

NorCo Has 175 "Exempt" Employees

Northampton County's Home Rule Charter, in an effort to professionalize the County workforce,  established the career service. The idea was to attract the best and the brightest and impose the "highest possible ethical standards." No one in career service may be "demoted, suspended, dismissed,or disciplined" without "just cause." Impartial standards should exist for each position, and people who already work for the county have the right to apply for vacancies as they occur. A pay plan is mandated as well as a policy in the event that a reduction in force is deemed necessary.

Without question, the career service provisions of the Home Rule Charter are paved with good intentions. So naturally, they have been a disaster. Throughout the Charter's 40-year history, there have been numerous examples of people being passed over for promotion, despite being qualified. In some cases, it's been because the test for the new position has nothing to do with the job being performed. In others, an outsider connected to one of the department heads is brought in and the job is never posted.

Perhaps the most glaring example of the inadequacies of the current system is provided by someone who himself was employed in Human Resources and tested for a position. Then HR  Director Pete Regina claimed this person had tested poorly, but this employee marked his test paper in blood and claimed that he had been cheated.

Another problem with career service is that it has no application to a large portion of the workforce.Of Northampton County's 2,200 full and part-time workers, 175 are considered exempt. Most of them work for the judges and are really just at-will employees, even if they belong to a union.

Three of the Clerks working for County Council are considered exempt, and could be replaced by the incoming Council. That's unlikely, but part-time Council Solicitor Phil Lauer (salary $55,858.61) is probably toast. He is one of the County's most formidable litigators. He's won every suit in which he represented Council. In a governing body dominated by Republicans, most of his opinions agreed with the Democrats. But I suspect he will be dumped solely because he is a Republican.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

More understandable will be the replacement of the County's legal department.

Part-time Solicitor Ryan Durkin ($61,886.03) is a gentleman, but the fact remains that he is an Emmaus collections lawyer with no practice in this County. In fact, he is not even a member of the NorCo bar. The six part time lawyers under him include First Ass't Solicitor Stan Margle ($52,675.79) and assistants Dave Backenstoe, Dave Ceraul, Dan O'Donnell, Jacob Sitman and Michael Snover. They are paid $45,340.46 per year. Ceraul is a regular GOP contributor, while Backenstoe gave Brown $1,000. Snover's wife is General Lee, the NorCo GOP boss.

I am sure they will all be replaced.

I'm less clear on the Public Defender's Office. Chief Public Defender (Part Time) Bob Eyer ($61,737.31) made the mistake of contributing $500 to John Brown and will undoubtedly be replaced. I think most of he part-time assistants ($48,338.99) are safe. They include Ed Andres, Syzane Arifaj, Jim Connell, Rory Driscole, Jordan Knisley, Alex Mills, Mark Minotti, Matt Potts, Tim Prendergast, Chris Shipman, Phil Viglione and Joe Yannuzzi. Two full-time public defenders, Susan Hutnick ($74,225.63) and Anthony Rybak ($71,029.30), will likely be retained, but they are exempt employees. So is First Ass't Goodrich Public Defender (Part Time) Matt Goodrich ($61,581.73).

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

NorCo Exec John Brown's Exempt Cabinet

Northampton County has essentially two classes of employee - career service and exempt. Members of John Brown's cabinet are called exempt employees. The purpose of this post is to explain why they can be fired for any reason or no reason.

Career service was created when the Home Rule Charter was adopted. Its purpose in theory was to reward and promote employees based on merit and ability, as opposed to who they know. Shortcomings in that system have led to unions, and 75% of the county workforce is now organized under 11 separate unions. But union or not, the chief advantage of career service is that you are given a property right in your job. You can be fired only of there is "just cause," and are entitled to due process, i.e. notice and an opportunity to be heard, before that happens.

Exempt employees are completely different. They were also established under the Home Rule Charter so that the Executive would have an inner core of staff in whom he can confide and set policy. Unlike career service employees, who are protected in the Home Rule Charter from termination without "just cause," exempt employees serve at the pleasure of whomever appointed them.

All judicial employees are exempt. Even if they unionize, a judge can send them packing.

When Executive John Brown was sworn in, he became the Lord and Master of a gaggle of county employees that extend beyond his cabinet. Each cabinet member has an exempt employee. Assistant county solicitors and part-time public defender are also exempt.

His cabinet is listed below,along with their salaries.

Director of Administration Cathy Allen - $93,626.00. Allen has no education beyon a high school diploma and had no county experience prior to being selected. There were several outstanding tax liens filed against her, and at one point, her home was in foreclosure. Call me cRaZy, but I think McClure will let her slip away.

DCED Director Tim Herrlinger - $85,392.53. Herrlinger is well educated but his prior career is as a fundraiser. Personally, I'd repurpose the department to focus on community development. But McClure has said he'd really like to create some jobs in the slate belt.

Corrections Director Dan Keen - $106,842.94. Keen is a glorified corrections officer who promised to move here, then didn't. His proposal to build a new $185 million jail, and most likely at Gracedale, was rejected by the voters when they rejected Brown. Keen will likely be eliminated.

Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter - $93,626.00. Hunter impressed me with his honesty as Fiscal Director. He comes from the banking industry. He is too close to Brown for McClure to want to keep around.

Human Resources Director Amy Trapp - $111,202.83. Trapp is pretty much responsible for entire county workforce voting against Brown. With her salary, I'd like her to return the money for those gift cards that went who knows where. She was by far Brown's worst pick, unless you like $800 popcorn machines. She flouted rules that she enforced against others. She can sneak her dog into the next place that makes the mistake of hiring her.

Human Services Director Alison Frantz - $102,241.78. I have heard bad and good about her. She is apolitical.

Public Works Director Stan Rugis- $102,241.78. - He is held in high regard by County Council and understands the county's infrastructure. He'll be hard to replace.

Sheriff Dave Dalrymple - $97,446.75. Though likable and professional, Lamont McClure was very bothered about a Sheriff who does not live in the county he serves.

Coroner Zach Lysek - $111,202.83. Though technically exempt, all Lysek has to do is ask, "How are you feeling? You look a little pale." He's a keeper.

Beth Tp Comm'rs Approve Three-Year Contract With Police, Road Crew

At their Monday night meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners unanimously approved labor contracts with two of the three unions representing their workforce. Three-year deals were approved for both the 25 road crew and 32 police officers that will cover their salary and benefits over the next three years. A contract with a third union representing about 10 clerical employees is still in negotiation.

The road crew, members of AFSCME District Council 88, will see their wages rise by one, two and three percent in each of the next three years. A truck driver earning $54,100 a year will see payhikes over the next three years of $541, $1,102 and $1,706.

Police officers will see salaries rise over the next three years by 2.75, 3 and 3.5 per cent. A Senior Patrol Officer earning $75,878 per year will see pay increases of $2,087 in 2018, $2,339 in 2019 and $2,810 in 2020.

Both unions have agreed to contribute more to the cost of their health insurance. There's currently a $50 monthly co-pay for single coverage and $100 for family coverage. Starting in 2020, that monthly co-pay will increase to $75 for single and $150 for family coverage.

In 2018, the average individual medical premium is projected at $11,859. For families, it is $28,432.

These contracts were negotiated over a period of about three months.

Township administrators will see a two per cent raise.

In other business, Commissioners approved a survey of township residents that will be mailed and also appear online. The survey will educate Commissioners on numerous quality of life issues as well as continued participation in the Bethlehem Area Public Library. Over Malissa Davis' objection, Commissioners voted to remove a question that would have polled residents about a single hauler for trash.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Former Morning Call Editor Authors Update of NorCo's 250 Years

Glenn Kranzley, the Morning Call's former editor, has written an update of Northampton County's history. It will be formally introduced on Thursday, December 7, 4 pm, at Easton's Sigal Museum. The public is invited, and Glenn has even promised to sign my copy.

Northampton County has had a fascinating history. For starters, I'd recommend Sweet Land of Liberty, which describes the American revolution at at time when NorCo was In 1774, Northampton County was the second largest of Pennsylvania’s eleven counties. In addition to fighting the British, this tome sheds light on the whiskey patriots who were going to make Northampton County great again. They often victimized those with different religions like Quakers, Mennonites and Moravians. Their religious beliefs forbade the taking of loyalty oaths. That was a perfect excuse to take their belongings.

"The Committee [of Privates] arrested and jailed persons whom zealous patriots had fingered as suspected Tories. It issued summonses and dispatched squads of armed militiamen to apprehend persons who disre g a rded its authority. It extracted confessions, levied fines, and published the names and offences of the guilty in Philadelphia newspapers. In short, frontier justice thrived in Northampton."

A more sanitized version of Northampton County was funded by Northampton County Council in 1953. It is called Northampton Heritage: The Story of an American County, by E. Gordon Alderfer.

As Northampton County approached its 250th birthday, former County Executive and County Councilman Gerald "Jerry" Seyfried urged the County to update its history. Council agreed, and was lucky enough to get Kranzley to write it.

His work is called Still Changing, Still Home: Northampton County Since the 1950s. Paperbacks are $14.99 and hardcovers are $22.99. I will be purchasing a few copies and will review the book. i am told it is extremely detailed.

I am especially interested in Kranzley's account of how Northampton County became a Home Rule Charter county.

Here's what I know, but this is purely anecdotal. I'm told that the big push to change to home rule came from The Bethlehem Steel. This proposal was opposed by the Northampton County Democratic party because it would mean an end to all the patronage jobs that existed at that time. So when Congressman Fred Rooney was recruited to chair the Yes committee, party boss Justin Jirolanio was livid.

It may very well have cost Rooney his seat in Congress.

According to the story, an intern was asked to bring Rooney some documents concerning home rule to the Congressman's Washington office. Rooney was lying on a couch (probably from overwork, not alcohol) and called the young man in.

"Tell me, what's this Yes Committee about?"

"Mr. Rooney, you're the Chairman!"

Police Seek LV Victims of Alleged Sexual Predator

Seth Mull's Facebook profiles (he has three of them) show a muscular man who has lived in Honolulu, Pittsburgh and the Lehigh Valley. He claims to be a personal trainer. His photos show him with a black lab, but no family. They also show someone who frequently has to change his cell phone number and who once set up a "Go Fund Me" page in Hawaii for legal fees. Bethlehem police first arrested him on October 28 on charges of raping, strangling and otherwise intimidating a female victim at the Bethlehem Holiday Inn Express hotel on Cherry Lane. When his mug shot was published, police soon discovered they may have a serial sexual predator on their hands. That's because several victims have come forward locally, in Philadelphia and from as far away as Hawaii.

At a news conference that included DA John Morganelli, Assistant DA Laura Majewski and Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio, authorities asked any additional victims to come forward.

According to Morganelli, Mull uses several internet sites to meet women. He portrays himself as a charming and caring person, winning a woman's trust. But that soon changes. He forces the women in his life to take drugs until they are addicted, refers to them as his "property," and even has even required them to sign sex slave contracts. He forces these women to participate in orgies that he films and prostitutes them.

Unlike sex traffickers who prey on undocumented aliens, Morganelli said Mull's victims are American women, mostly in their 20s.

Chief DiLuzio said a news conference was necessary "for the safety of the community."

People with knowledge about Mull can contact Bethlehem police Detective Brian Quinn at 610-997-7691 or 610-865-7187; Bethlehem police Detective Brad Jones at 610-865-7146; or the Northampton County District Attorney crime tip line at 610-829-6645.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Boyle Construction Assists Puerto Rico Recovery

Boyle Construction, a prominent local contractor, loaded up one of its employees with $5,000 and supplies, and sent him to Puerto Rico for two weeks. It was not a vacation for Jimmy Bentancourt, but an opportunity to help his family and friends recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. I am happy and honored to publish their news release about this trip.

Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board Considers 70-Unit Apartment Complex at Armory

Darlene Heller prepares presentation. Behind
her are City Council members
Eric Evans and Michael Colon
Mary Toulouse teaches French at Lafayette College. But last night, as President of Bethlehem's Mount Airy Neighborhood Association (MANA), she gave a history lesson to the City's Zoning Hearing Board. It concerned the Armory, a National Historic Landmark located at 345 Second Avenue. Peron Armory is seeking a special exception and 11 dimensional variances for a four-story, 70-unit apartment complex at the 2.57 acre site. There will be 50 1-BR and 20 2-BR units without sufficient on-site parking and no plan in place for the Armory. Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board will reconvene on December 12, 6 pm, to announce its decision.

This proposal is backed by some City heavyweights. Peron's principal is Michael Perrucci, an attorney with prominent law firm Florio Perrucci. In addition to Perrucci, members of this firm include a former New Jersey Governor, former President Judge of Northampton County and the son of Bethlehem's current Mayor. It also employs Bethlehem's former Mayor, John Callahan, as a pitchman. Firm lawyer Seth Tipton is representing Peron. This project has the imprimatur of Bethlehem's Redevelopment Authority as the best of 10 proposals. It has also received a thumbs up from the City's Planning Commission. And just in case all this clout fell short, Planning Director Darlene Heller testified in support of this apartment complex, summarily dismissing complaints by neighbors.

"I underestimated the forces arrayed against my client and the community," said Bethlehem Attorney Michael Shay, representing MANA. His firm includes no former governors, judges or mayors.

Only lawyers.

As a lawyer, Shay was particularly irked that the City's Planning Director would essentially act as a witness for the zoning applicant. "I believe it is improper," he argued. She does supervise the zoning officer who denied the application from which an appeal was filed.

"You are the gatekeepers," he reminded Zoning Hearing Board members Bill Fitzpatrick, Mike Santanasto and Jim Schantz. 

Against all this clout were about 35 people who live in West Bethlehem. MANA's Toulouse was the sole witness called by Bethlehem Attorney Michael Shay. Of 13 people who testified, 11 opposed the Armory plans. Tamara Nisic observed, "No one who is not getting paid by the developer has been here to say, "This is a great idea.'"

Engineer Laura Eberly testified on behalf of Peron in support of the project. She claimed that only 99 parking spots could be placed on site instead of the required 123 because of  "physical constraints" caused by a steep slope as well as the adaptive reuse. She insisted several times that Peron is only seeking the minimum amount of relief needed for this project.

But neighbor Jefferson Pooley and Attorney Shay disputed this contention. By simply reducing the number of apartments to 54 instead of 70, there would be no need at all for a parking variance. Eberly was never asked to come up with a plan that minimized the variances, she admitted.

Another point made by Shay is that adaptive reuse is permitted for a primary residential building, but not other structures. "How can you have an adaptive reuse of a building when you ignore the building that necessitates the reuse?" he asked. The Peron plan makes no adaptive reuse of the Armory itself, which will continue to sit vacant.  West side resident Bill Scheier would later complain that this is "demolition by neglect."

Attorney Tipton and Heller countered Shay by arguing that the Armory is connected to two other buildings and this can be considered one building.

An attempt to create additional parking spots with 90-degree parking in Second Avenue was criticized by several residents as unsafe.

A proposal to stripe the ramp leading to the Hill-to-Hill bridge to provide even more parking was slammed because no one is sure that the ramp will even be there once PennDot starts work on that bridge.

Rauch Street resident Scott Arnold was concerned about a parking lot that ends four feet from his house, where he has children. John San Filipo said he will open his front door to a loading dock. Darlene Heller would later testify that there should be "tighter density" in the urban core, but she authored a zoning ordinance that would make this illegal without a variance. 

In an atmosphere that smacked of classism, Professor Toulouse testified to the very real classism that existed in 1930. That's when Bethlehem Steel President Eugene Grace built the Armory. "It served as a protection for the homes of the top executives from the angry workers," she said. She added that the Armory is in front of the home of West Bethlehem's burgher, and along the same route upon which a wagon carried the Liberty Bell to hide it from the British. She called the Armory an "integral part of the West Side's path through history" that links the burial grounds of the Revolutionary soldiers, one street east on 1st Avenue, to the Mount Airy Historic District and Steel executive mansions that extend from 8th to 16th Avenues.

Toulouse testified that she sent several emails and written requests to meet with Peron to develop the Armory in a "historically sensitive way," but received no response.

She castigated developers for renaming this complex the Peron Armory.
"This is the Floyd Simmons Armory, named for Floyd Simmons by comrades who survived him. Floyd Simmons was the first Bethlehem soldier to be killed in World War I. ... It would be a tremendous dishonor for the City of Bethlehem, a City that prides itself on its history, if this Board, in the year 2017, 100 years after the entrance of the US in World War I, votes to allow this proposal to pass and put this national historic landmark in danger of the wrecking ball."
Residents opposed to this plan all agreed they would like to see it developed  and have no problem with residential use, but on a smaller scale in conformity with the community. MANA member Christine Roysdon did a survey of the perimeter around the Armory and said that at 6 am, both blocks had 29 cars parked overnight. She complained that unleashing an additional 24 cars into the neighborhood would have negative consequences.

An angry Amy Zanelli, recently elected to Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners, complained that West Bethlehem has been "overlooked and ignored."  She argued that seeking 11 zoning variances shows a "blatant disregard of our community."  She inveighed the lack of a plan for the Armory as "preposterous."

Tony Hanna, Executive Director of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, counters that this is a "good project for Bethlehem and the neighborhood." He notes zoning is RT and does permit the development by right. What is at issue is a special exception for reducing the Zoning requirement for parking. The Planning Commission has recommended that the special exception be granted - they believe the project meets the tests for that in the Zoning Ordinance - walkability, close to bus routes, mix of units (mostly one BR), etc. He stated that the variances are minor and are needed because of the lot configurations and other site issues.

Updated 3:50 pm: After reading this story, Hanna had the following observations.

First, the Armory is not a Historic Landmark, but is on the National Register of Historic Places. A big difference.

Second, the Armory's name will always be the Floyd Simons Armory. Peron Armory is the partnership's name that is doing the development.

Third, the building is being purchased from the RDA and the Commonwealth subject to a Historic Preservation covenant and easement that will stay on the historic armory property. It can't be demolished and any future work on the Armory will require it to be done subject to the covenants and easement and deed restrictions. All work must comply with the Secretary of the Interior's standards that are the same as if the property is in a historic district.

Chief DiLuzio Rules Out NorCo Sheriff Job

In response to rumors circulating on this blog yesterday, Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio posted a comment that rules him out as NorCo's next Sheriff.

"I have a job serving the citizens of Bethlehem, the Mayor of Bethlehem and City Council of Bethlehem. Any questions Bernie call me. You know I tell it like it is."

And he does. In fact, Chief DiLuzio is so good at public speaking that Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez hates to follow him. Whoever wants to be Mayor there next better hope Chief DiLuzio stays in Hanover Township.

One person who may be in the running for Sheriff is Randy Miller. He served under John Stoffa and is currently Nazareth's Police Chief. My secret agents have spotted him twice over the past two days at the courthouse. He was also reportedly seen talking to President Judge Steve Baratta.

While we're at it, I might as well quell another rumor. No one has asked and I am a disbarred lawyer. But I better stop what I'm sure will be a big push for me as County Solicitor. I must say No. I have a job abusing the citizens of the Lehigh Valley and all elected officials. Any questions call me. You know I tell it like it is.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Milides Parking Lot Built on Fill

Try putting a boot on that, Mayor Panto!
For years, the parking lot adjacent to the Milides building has been one of several used at the courthouse complex. But it's got a problem, as you might have noticed by looking at the "Do Not Cross" tape. It's not a crime scene, but perhaps it should be. The parking lot was apparently built on fill, and as you've probably noticed, next to a cliff.

About 20 parking spots have been removed. Public Works Director Stan Rugis, in technical terms, referred to it as a "mess."

"It was built on an old fill, and they just brought demolition stuff in," explained Rugis. "It's going to have to be shored up. You can get 30 or 40 years out of it, but it's going to have to be built correctly."

Now I know why I was offered a blogger's parking spot.

Did Brown Want New Jail to Hold Federal Prisoners?

Back in October, Northampton County Executive John Brown proposed a new $185 million jail at Easton. It's pretty clear he originally intended to build it at Gracedale until Upper Nazareth residents got wind of his intentions. One of he biggest arguments for a new facility is that conditions are so bad that the federal government would order us to build one if we failed to do it ourselves. But at yesterday's budget hearing, Corrections Director unknowingly defeated that argument.

He told Council that in October, and right around the time that Brown said he wanted a new jail, the county inked a deal with the feds to house up to 30 federal inmates at a time. The county would be paid $72 per day. This amounts to $788,400 into the county coffers every year.

So it looks like Brown was going to go into the jail business.

Whistleblower at Jail Still in Limbo, and at Our Expense

CPT David Collins, the County's first ever black captain at the jail, was suspended on July 13, with pay, and walked out of the jail. Reason? For making "unfounded allegations" about what is going on. The reality is that Collins is a whistleblower. He is being victimized for reporting, in good faith, instances of wrongdoing or waste. He was even grilled over his contacts with me, all of which were initiated by me and after his suspension. Believe it or not, he's been in limbo for 20 weeks with no idea when or if he is going to be called back to work. Taxpayers have shelled out approximately $20,000 during this time so he can sit at home. They are also paying his benefits, which might be 70% of his salary.

Is this fiscally responsible?

Same thing happened to a corrections officer, who took courses and became a tattoo artist on the County dime while waiting for a decision after she was suspended.

Collins did have an administrative hearing before HR Director Amy Trapp and Corrections Director Dan Keen on August 25. When he asked her why he had been suspended, she told him, "It's for your protection."

"We'll get back to you," Trapp said when it was over.

But in a few weeks, they'll be gone.

If Executive John Brown had any sense of fiscal responsibility, he'd direct Keen and Trapp to bring Collins back already.

McClure: We Just Had a Change Election

NorCo Exec-elect Lamont McClure is happy with his transition team's efforts to ensure that he can hit the ground running. "We just had a change Election, and a great deal of change is coming," he has said.

One of the problems that Exec John Brown had when he first came to office was an absence of qualified people to fill top cabinet positions. One of his first hires, for example, was Solicitor Vic Scomillio. But Vic was only there to raise his own visibility so he could run for judge. For his first six months, he had no real cabinet.

In McClure's case, many NorCo retirees with institutional knowledge have volunteered to return and fill top roles to give him time to select a cabinet that is well qualified and beyond reproach. One told me he will offer to do so without pay.

I think it highly unlikely that McClure will retain anyone in Brown's cabinet.

NorCo Gaming Board Awards $530k to Priority Municipalitities

L to R: Gerald Yob, James Pennington and Dave Heintzelman
NorCo's nine-member Gaming Board may have played Santa Claus for the last time. At their Monday night meeting, they awarded $* in "impact" grants to the municipalities surrounding Bethlehem's Sands Casino. Under recent changes in the state gaming law, county authorities will lose control over how gaming funds are awarded. They will be replaced by the Commonwealth Financing Authority who will decide from Harrisburg  how to dole out this money. Though the County Authority will continue to monitor outstanding grants, they will be unable to award any more money after this year.

Under the gaming law, the Board would first award grants to the five municipalities surrounding the Sands Casino, along with Bethlehem and Northampton County. These are Hellertown, Freemansburg, Bethlehem Township, Lower Saucon Township and Hanover Township. They are entitled to priority, but had to establish that the money being sought was to counter an impact of gambling Since six members of the none-member board are from these communities,

Lower Nazareth representative Jim Pennington said it's time to tell local municipalities, "The goose that laid the golden egg isn't there anymore."  Chair Jay Finnigan (from Hanover Township) agreed. "I think one of the reasons this authority will not exist in the future is because 31 or 32 municipalities expected to get rollover funds a little more consistently than they did," he said, referring to municipalities outside of the six communities that surround the Sands Casino. They were entitled to priority on slots revenue grants, but only if they could establish they were impacted by gaming.

"This is not a budget-filling mechanism for municipalities. This is merit based, and I don't think we ever really looked at it. I think it was how we can get this money into our budgets to make the money go away so it doesn't go to the other municipalities. And shame on us, that we allowed that to happen."

Northampton County is holding $745,314.90 for grants. The priority communities submitted $842,722.05 in grant applications. Bethlehem Township alone was seeking $336,800 of this sum, or 45% for an ambulance, fire marshal SUV and two patrol vehicles.

After listening to Finnigan's assessment, Northampton representative Tony Pristash proposed awarding only $339,776.29 of this sum.

Nolan, who had asked for 45% of the money, complained that Bethlehem Township was being treated unfairly, but Pritash answered him. "This is not a matter of fairness and equality. It's a matter of impact. You prove the impact, you get the award. That's how this Board works."

Nolan ended up being the sole No vote on Pristash's proposed distribution. .

No sooner had it passed that an amendment was offered by Bethlehem representative Joe Kelly to add $191,058.11 to fund police officers in Hellertown and Freemansburg. That passed over the objections of Finnigan, Pristash and Pennington.

The two motions combined represents a grant of $530,834.40 to the priority municipalities as follows  Hellertown (police officers); Freemansburg (police officers, patrol vehicle); Northampton County (court interpreter); Hanover Tp (license plate recognition system);  Bethlehem Tp (patrol vehicle) and Lower Saucon Tp (patrol vehicle).

The nine-person Board includes Kelly (Bethlehem), Nolan (Bethlehem Tp), Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Finnigan (Hanover), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown), Donna Louder (Lower Saucon), Pristash (Northampton), John Dally (Pen Argyl) and James Pennington (Lower Nazareth). Karen Collis is the Executive Director.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Lehigh County DA Jim Martin Endorses Nothstein For Congress

Claiming that Marty Nothstein "combines the American dream with the fresh outlook of a political outsider," Lehigh County DA Jim Martin has endorsed the first-term Lehigh County Commission in his bid for the GOP nomination to the 15th Pa. Congressional District. Martin called Nothstein a "problem-solver" who is among a "new generation of leaders" here in the Lehigh Valley.

For his part, Nothstein is "humbled and honored" by this important endorsement.

In addition to his role as Chair of Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners, Nothstein operates The Velodrome as well as a small business.

Distracted Driver Blamed for Easton Middle School Student's Death

Two years ago, I treated myself to an iPhone. I became instantly mesmerized. I could do anything from it. Send emails, tweets, even blog. And though I prefer to blog from a PC, I soon found myself using the iPhone to read and respond to blog comments. When at a light, I'd glance at the phone, and would start pecking a smart-ass answer to a smart-ass comment. This ended when Palmer Township police officer Jeremiah Santo pulled me over on Route 248 one day, not far from Sheetz. I had been all over the road on what is a very busy highway. I could have killed someone. I was cited for distracted driving and actually thanked the officer. His action woke me up. But the family of Emma Raymondo, age 12, is in a nightmare. Their little girl was taken way from them on September 22 by a driver who has been accused on texting while driving.

Emma had just left the Sheetz Convenience Store, where she had gone with siblings for ice cream. They were walking home. She was off the roadway.

This young lady was a 7th grader at Easton Middle School, a member of the Junior National Honor Society and a high yellow belt at the Lehigh Valley Martial Arts School. .

Dylan T. Groff, age 21, was off the roadway, too. But he was driving, not walking. He had just left Wal Mart at 8:04 pm, and video surveillance showed he was looking at his telephone screen. According to investigators, he had been using the Google Chrome Internet browser from 7:57 pm, when he was still at Wal Mart, until 8:06 pm, after he was already on the road. After that, Groff and two others began exchanging Facebook messages at 8:08:22 pm, with the last message being sent by Groff at 8:10:06 pm. They were discussing dinner options. Then, at 8:11:08 pm, he used his cell phone to call 9-1-1 after striking Emma. Groff was distracted by his cellphone.

Groff admitted he had been using his cellphone, but thought he was off sooner than forensic evidence reveals. He was cooperative with police and upset by what had happened. There is no evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, or that he was speeding. The evidence is that he wandered off the roadway and onto the shoulder because he had been distracted by his cellphone.

Yesterday, DA John Morganelli announced the following charges: homicide by vehicle (Felony 3); aggravated assault by vehicle (Felony 3); involuntary manslaughter (Misdemeanor 1); reckless endangerment (Misdemeanor 2); reckless driving (summary); careless driving (summary); and driving on roadways laned for traffic (summary). He faces a maximum sentence of 22 years behind bars and $46,200 in fines. Because he was texting and his conduct resulted in death, an additional seven years could be added to what is already an onerous penalty.

Morganelli claimed that texting while driving is just as dangerous as drink driving. He cited statistics that here in Pennsylvania, over 14,800 crashes in 2015 were the result of distracted driving. Nationwide, 10 percent of fatal crashes, 15 percent of injury crashes and 14 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes are the result of distracted driving. This could be cell phone use or more innocent distractions.

"You never get used to looking into the eyes if a Mom and Dad and siblings who have just lost a young child," said Morganelli, who had prosecuted these kinds of rimes for the past 25 years. "These are always difficult meetings and are emotional for me and family members." But Emma's family agreed that Morganelli could use what happened to Emma as an example to warn he public and possibly save lives.

He admitted that even he has been distracted at times by his cellphone. But on behalf of Emma and her family,he said we should al examine our own behavior and put down those cellphones.
"New drivers must be given simple, clear instructions not to use their wireless devices while driving. Before our young people get their licenses, we should discuss the fact that taking their eyes off the road - even for a few seconds - could cause someone injury or death.

"We all have to lead by example. As I indicated, none of us can say we never did this. But the truth is noone should text and drive. We can be an example for others. If we need to text, we canpullover to a safe place,making sure our vehicle is not in motion.

"We can become informed and active. We should all tell family, friends and anyone who is willing to listen of the importance of driving without distractions. Schools can play a role in this."
A new feature on iPhone's software might make it easier to keep your eyes on the road. A "Do Not Disturb While Driving" message silences incoming notifications until you reach your destination.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Guardian's "Women Are Pissed" Looks at NorCo

An excellent British newspaper, the Guardian, has been doing a series it calls The Promise. After voting twice for Barack Obama, the county went red in 2016 and voted for Donald Trump. This series explains what happened and periodically asks whether the enthusiasm for a New York billionaire who claims to speak for blue collar workers. The latest story, "Women are Pissed," asserts that "doubts have grown locally about whether Trump could win the county again, which could have implications for his national staying power. And women are at the center of the story." The women featured include incoming NorCo Council members Peg Ferraro, Tara Zrinski and Lori Vargo Heffner. Zrinski and Heffner never held office before.

Tara Zrinski: We Need More Women in Office

“There were people who, when I knocked on a door, said, ‘You’re a woman, I’m voting for you, we need more women in office’,” said Zrinksi, a first-time candidate. “And I heard that theme a lot.”

Lori Vargo Heffner: What's For Supper?

“[W]hen I get done with a campaign event, I still have to go home and do the laundry. I walk in and my dad goes, ‘What’s for supper?’ I’m still expected to have those traditional roles, beyond my workday. Whereas I know that my colleagues who are male had wives to support them and be home for them, and their wives were at the events with them.

“I don’t want to demean my male colleagues. People just have different expectations of women, I think.”

Peg Ferraro: Women Have Come Into Their Own

“I just do not appreciate the gender thing,” Ferraro said in a phone interview. “I think if they’re qualified, we all have to be judged equally. I think sometimes the perception is that women are a little bit more caring, women are a little bit more honest, trustworthy. But that was years ago, when I ran the first time. We’re talking the 80s.

“At this day and age, I think that women have come into their own enough that I’m hoping that we can be looked at for our competence, and our skills – for what we bring to the table. Not just because we’re a women.”

In the meantime, Authoritarian Donald Trump managed to kill two birds with one stone yesterday. At a ceremony ostensibly honoring the Navajo code talkers who foiled the Japanese during WWII, he inexplicably referred to US Senator Elizabeth Warren as Pocohontas. he managed to insult native Americans and women in one fell swoop.

"But do you know what? I like you," he said to the code talkers.

Afterwords, the code talkers sent a few messages.

"Bilagáana t'óó hodiilzha' "(Ditsy Anglo), said one.

"Ahályání!" (Idiot!), said the other.

Interestingly, in a display of Trump's  typical insensitivity, the ceremony was conducted under a portrait of Andrew Jackson, whose nickname was "Indian Killer." In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act that relocated 60,000 native Americans away from the Southeast US. It is believed that 15,000 died along the way.

Basketball Season Cometh

Some of you like the sound of the crack of a bat on a hot summer day. For others, it is the crack of shoulder pads amid the scent of decaying leaves as summer turns to autumn. For me it's the barely discernible but still sweet SWOOSH a basketball makes as the it arcs through a warm gym during the coldest days of winter.

High school basketball season has started, and the teams are on the court.

Allentown Central Catholic has already scrimmaged Scranton Prep, and will be trekking to Reading on Saturday.  

First tip off is less than two weeks away.

Who will be good this year?

They all will.

Monday, November 27, 2017

This Eagles Boycott is Killing Me!

I often hit a bar on Sunday afternoons. No, I'm still sober. I have no TV and go there so I can watch the Philadelphia Eagles. But not this year. I'm boycotting them. Not because Authoritarian Donald Trump tells me to, but because I'm a jinx. Just as I'm often the kiss of death when I predict victory for a politician, I've noticed that the Eagles tend to lose games that I watch. Even if I just listen to Merrill Reese's always-entertaining play-by-play, they lose. So I stopped watching or listening. Since that time, the Eagles have been undefeated.

This is killing me.

If they suddenly start losing, you'll know why.

While I'm here, I might as well share my top Eagles memory. It has nothing to do with the on-field action.

I went on a bus trip to see them play the Redskins many years ago. My son and daughter were with me, too. So were a neighbor and his kids.

Today, our kids would be taken away from us. 

That was the very first time they were having Magistrate's Court right at the Vet stadium, back in 1988. . There had been sixty fist fights at just one game, one Eagles fan shot a flare gun and some guys were urinating in sinks.  Future Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery brought Eagles Court to restore the rule of law.

Well, the crime problem likely was the result of everyone sneaking in all kinds of booze. Inside shirts, jackets, pockets. They even loaded up little kids with Miller Lite, just like drug mules. Because I was no longer drinking, I was viewed as a beer distributor, and was weighted down with so many cans that I could barely walk.

No metal detectors or wands back then. We showed them our ticket and we were in,even though a can fell out as I walked by.

My son and his best friend loved the scalpers and would return in later years and figure out ways to get in for free.

As we sat there, some obviously-loaded guy in front of us got up and was yelling about this and that play. The young daughters who were with us were unable to see, and I asked the fellow to sit down.

"Fuck you!" was his answer.

Then he complained that our group had cans of illegal alcohol all over the place, which we did. A security guys came and said, "I don't see anything" even though one of my friends was holding a can.

A few minutes later, our adversary pulled out some of the things that he had smuggled into the stadium himself. This included a six-pack and a hoagie that looked very good. Then he pulled out a knife to cut the hoagie in half so he could share it with his wife, who seemed like a very nice lady.

"Oh my God, he's got a knife!" I shouted.  "There are children here!"

Let me tell you, within about three seconds, security people were dragging this guy away.  They came from everywhere. Some of them actually jumped up from the playing field and hauled this poor guy off to Seamus McCaffery's court. His wife and the knife went with him, too.

That left the hoagie, which I ate.

The guy and his wife did return to their seats late in the fourth quarter, minus the knife. Judge McCaffery  apparently decided the matter lacked prosecutorial merit. The guy did apologize for his foul language to me and the young ladies who were with us.

In exchange, he and his wife were offered a beer.

Fortunately, he never asked about the hoagie.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Congressional Candidate Nothstein Paid $134k at Velodrome

In stories on Monday and Wednesday, I reported to you on the salaries paid to many of the Lehigh Valley's top nonprofits. One nonprofit executive director asked me to postpone my series because what I am telling you might have a negative effect on "Giving Tuesday," the day everyone is to pony up and donate. But as my stories reveal, only a few salaries appear to be excessive. Also, this is something that you have a right to know. For that reason, I am going to report to you on the compensation paid to Lehigh County Commissioner and Congressional candidate Marty Nothstein.

Nothstein is the Executive Director of The Velodrome. According to its most recent tax return on file,which is for calendar year 2015, he was paid a $134,000 salary based on total revenue of $808,885. This is 17% of total revenue. Comparing this to the salaries and total revenue at other LV nonprofits, it appears that Nothstein is being paid too much.

Another problem is that Lehigh County happens to own the property upon which the Velodrime was built. It is leased to the nonprofit. Nothsetein recused himself from acceptance of a donation to the Velodrome in February, but a few months later, he at least appears to have been among those who voted to hire financial advisers for funding a capital plan that included improvements to his nonprofit.

Coming Up: How about LV Colleges claiming tax exempt status? What do they pay top officials?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Susan Wild to Resign as Allentown Solicitor

Susan Wild,who is seeking the Democratic nomination to the 15th Pa. Congressional District, is resigning as Solicitor to Allentown. She will stay with the City until year'send.

Wild was appointed Solicitor in 2015, and was confronted almost immediately by a federal investigation into political corruption that eventually resulted in a 54-count indictment against the Mayor.

She also had the unenviable task of providing legal advice to two branches of government at war with each other. No man may serve two masters, but a lawyer somehow managed.   

She has handled herself with integrity and a sedulous nature that kept the ship of state from foundering.

Readers of this blog know I support John Morganelli for Congress. Ideologically, he is the best fit. But I have immense regard for Susan as a lawyer.   

More LV NonProfit Salaries

On Monday, I published a story listing the salaries at some of the top Lehigh Valley nonprofits. I obtained my information from 990 Finder, an online compendium of nonprofit tax return. I was asked about Greater LV Chamber of Commerce and Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.(LVEDC), but 990 Finder had no data for these entities. Greater LV Chamber of Commerce is a 504c6 nonprofit, and I assumed incorrectly that LVEDC fell into some other category.

In a fairly good demonstration of what I like to call participatory journalism, readers have been unable to find some interesting information that I missed.  I am listing it below.

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp's (LVEDC) Don Cunningham - $147,702 salary plus $15,640 in other compensation on total revenue of $2,828.040. VP Lea Glembot was also paid $101,253 plus $7,999 in other compensation. Cunningham's compensation package is 5.8% of the total revenue raised. Source - 2015 990 for calendar year 1995.

Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce's Tony Iannelli - $199,539 salary plus $19,019 in other compensation on total revenue of $3,804,639. Exec VP Frank Facchiano was paid a $134,400 salary plus $2,088 in other compensation. Iannelli's compensation is 5.7% of the total revenue raised. Source - 2014 990 for the period 7/1/14 thru 6/30/15.

Allentown Economic Development Corp's Scott Unger -$114,885 salary and $14,695 in other compensation  Unger's compensation is 7% of the total revenue raised. Source - 2015 990 for period 7/1/15 thru 6/30/16.

St.Luke's Health Network's Richard A Anderson - $3,560,530 salary and $286,505 in other compensation on what is being portrayed as negative revenue of $32 million. Source - 2015 990 for period from 7/1/15 thru 6/30/16.

Lehigh Valley Health Network's Ronald Swinfard - $2,364,927 salary plus $33,636 in other income. The revenue figures make no sense to me. Treasurer and CEO Brian Nestor has a salary of $1,002,894 plus $31,340 in other income. Fifteen people are paid over $100,000. Source - 2015 990 from 7/1/14 thru 6/30/15.

The tax bill under consideration by Congress would impose a 20 tax on remuneration over $1 million for the five highest paid employees at nonprofits.

Portrait Presented To Bethlehem Tp Is First Mayor's Son

Yesterday, I told you that Bethlehem Township Commissioners were presented with a portrait of Bethlehem's first Mayor, Archibald Johnston. I paid no attention to Comm'r Malissa Davis when she said it was a portrait of Archibald Johnston, Jr., thinking they were one and the same.

I was wrong. Yesterday, Attorney John Zapf II corrected me. The portrait is actually of Archibald Johnston,  one of the Mayor's two children. John should know. He is Archibald B. Johnston's grandson.

John also tells me that no one referred to his grandfather as Archibald Johnston, Jr.

I regret this error, and apologize to John and everyone else for getting it wrong.

The only thing I can offer in mitigation is that I am a Democrat.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Judge Sletvold to Chair Juvenile Court Rules Committee

A news release from the Court Administrator's office reports that Northampton County Judge Jennifer Sletvold has been named Chair of the state Supreme Court's Juvenile Court Procedural Rules Committee, effective February 2018. According to the news release, she established a school attendance improvement court sometime last year, though I have no idea whether it has progressed beyond Easton.

Sletvold has been a judge since 2014.

Bethlehem Tp Tax Rate To Remain Steady Next Year

Unanimously, Bethlehem Tp Commissioners voted last night to advertise a budget for next year that holds the line on taxes for a second year in a row. But to do so, officials will have to dip into cash reserves. They will start 2018 with an opening cash balance of $3.2 million, but expect to have only a little over $2 million left at the end of the year.

The spending plan next year will maintain the current real estate tax of 7.09 mills.According to Finance Director Andrew Freda, this translates to an annual tax bill of $647 for the average taxpayer.

In addition to real estate taxes, the Township imposes an earned income tax (0.5%). Freda predicts that the annual earned income tax payment per household will be $415. 

Of the $18.5 million the Township will spend next year, nearly $8.5 million is budgeted for public safety, about two per cent more than in 2017. Nearly a third of the tax bill will fund police protection.

Commissioner Tom Nolan proposed establishing a fire tax for vehicle purchases and equipment at the two volunteer fire departments. But the other Commissioners preferred waiting until next year, when two new Commissioners join the Board.

"This is another important item that they're going to live with," said President Michael Hudak.

In other business, Commissioners tabled an ordinance that would prevent trash haulers from collecting before 6 am. Howard Kutzler called it a "quality of life issue," saying residents should be able to "at least sleep until 6 o'clock." Malissa Davis suggested seeking input from the garbage collectors. Hudak stated that he has spoken to one waste collector who would like to collect at businesses at 5 am, but said those businesses are in residential neighborhoods. He was the sole dissenter to Kutzler's motion to table.

Though there's no fire tax, there is a tax break coming for volunteer firefighters. Commissioners unanimously agreed to advertise an ordinance that will exempt volunteer firefighters from up to $1,000 in earned income tax every years. "This is long overdue," said Kutzler. "The volunteers to this community save this community a lot of money."       

Commissioners also voted to advise the District Attorney that a DUI Center lease of the Coolidge Building should be extended only one year instead of five. The Township wants to consider other uses of this property. Kutzler warned that it has been a steady source of revenue and has augmented the police presence in the Township.

Finally, Commissioners agreed to send a letter to Governor Wolf, opting out of any mini casino that might be possible in the Township. Kutzler was opposed, noting that "the Township has benefited heavily from the gaming industry." At Tom Nolan's suggestion, township officials will talk to Lehigh Valley Planning Commission first

Updated: Bethlehem Tp Acquires Painting of Son of Bethlehem's First Mayor

Bethlehem Township Commissioners were presented with a portrait of Archibald Johnston, Jr. at their November 20 meeting. Malissa Davis made the presentation on behalf of Cameron A. Smith, an 18 year-old man who serves on Catasauqua's Planning Commission. Davis and Smith met while both were attending a Citizen Academy at the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. He was unable to attend in person because he had a meeting in Catty.

The painting is of Archibald Johnston, Jr., son of Bethlehem's first Mayor.

Smith purchased the painting on Craigslist for $45 from Ed Sherwood. After listening to Davis talk about Johnston and Housenick Park, he was inspired to donate the portrait. He noted that he is researching Desiderius George Dery, who at one time owned the world's largest silk manufacturer. "[P]eople have donated so many wonderful Dery related items to me and I felt it was my turn to reciprocate," he said.

Archibald Johnston was Bethlehem's first Mayor. He may have been its best. He became Mayor in 1918, when the United States was reeling from the deadly Spanish flu. That pandemic that may have killed as many as 100 million people worldwide.

His City, which had both a strict quarantine and a makeshift hospital at the Steel Company, suffered only about 100 casualties. Philadelphia, which failed to plan for or react to this calamity, dumped close to 13,000 bodies outside police stations and in trench graves.

Johnston, an engineer, believed in planning.

His mansion and surrounding grounds were devised to Bethlehem Township by his granddaughter, Janet Housenick, along with a $2 million fund for maintenance.

In addition to the gift, Smith is asking Commissioners to do "whatever they can to restore the Johnston Mansion. It really is a tremendous asset and an untouched example of gilded age mansions"

Updated 9:15 pm: In my original version of this story, I erroneously reported that the portrait is of Archibald Johnston. I apologize for my error.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Dr. Thode: LU Needs to Ban Sexual Relations Between Faculty and Students

The recent disclosures of sexual misconduct by film producer Harvey Weinstein have cast a bright light on the Hollywood culture which permits such behavior to continue even when it is well-known. But, sexual harassment isn’t just a Hollywood problem. It can be a problem for any organization that is permissive of such behavior.
Almost 25 years ago, my employer, Lehigh University, first sought to codify its policy on sexual harassment. When that proposed policy was brought to the faculty for approval, I rose in opposition, and not because I thought the policy was too tough. Quite the contrary, I felt the policy was too weak. Instead of outright prohibiting sexual relationships between faculty members and their students, and between supervisors and their supervisees, the proposed policy used language like: “an instructor (e.g., advisor, course instructor, teaching assistant) should avoid developing a romantic or sexual relationship with a student taught, advised, or supervised by that instructor.”; and, “a supervisor should avoid developing a romantic or sexual relationship with an employee.” (Emphasis mine)
I asked my fellow faculty to draw a clear line and replace the word “should” with the word “must.” While some applauded me, others jeered. I then asked those who jeered to cite a single example where it was appropriate for an instructor to engage in a sexual relationship with one of their students, or, a supervisor to engage in a sexual relationship with one of their supervisees.
My point was (and is) a simple one: a romantic or sexual relationship between an instructor (supervisor) and a student (supervisee) should never be assumed to be consensual. The instructor (supervisor) has power over the student (supervisee). It is not a relationship of peers.
Nevertheless, the language was not amended, and “should avoid” was codified as official Lehigh University sexual harassment policy.
Nearly a quarter century later, Lehigh has spent untold dollars to hire additional staff devoted to issues of harassment and discrimination, and to require all faculty, staff and students to complete annual training on harassment and discrimination. You would think that Lehigh might have strengthened its official sexual harassment policy.
You would be wrong. The current sexual harassment policy (found on Page 180 here:http://www.lehigh.edu/~inprv/pdfs/active_pdf_forms/RULES_PROCEDURES_MAY2017.pdf) still uses the original language. To wit:
“Supervisory Conflict of Interest  A supervisor should avoid developing a romantic or sexual relationship with an employee. Similarly, an instructor (e.g., advisor, course instructor, teaching assistant) should avoid developing a romantic or sexual relationship with a student taught, advised, or supervised by that instructor.” (Emphasis mine)
Compare Lehigh’s sexual harassment policy with that of Lafayette (which can be found here:https://sash.lafayette.edu/lafayette-college-policy-on-sexual-harassment/):
“While a student is a student of a particular instructor/staff member, the instructor/staff member shall not ask the student for a sexual favor or in other ways make a sexual advance to the student. While a student is a student of a particular instructor/staff member, any romantic advance or sexual relationship between the student and the particular instructor/staff member is prohibited. This rule applies even if the romantic advance or sexual relationship is welcome.” (Emphasis mine)
Or, the sexual harassment policy of Moravian College (which can be found here: https://www.moravian.edu/policy/sexual-misconduct):
“Additionally, employees of the College may be charged with sexual harassment when romantic/intimate relationships occur between students and College faculty or other members of the administration and staff who teach or exercise authority over students, who provide counseling, advising, and mentoring to students, or who assess and evaluate student academic, artistic, or athletic performance. The College prohibits these relationships, whether consensual or nonconsensual, due to the existing power differential and possibility of abuse and favoritism.” (Emphasis mine)
I urge all companies, all organizations, and all colleges and universities to review their sexual harassment policies to insure that any behaviors that may lead to abuse or favoritism are strictly prohibited.
Stephen F. Thode has been on the faculty of Lehigh University’s College of Business and Economics since 1982 

Blogger's Note - The op-ed above was rejected by The Morning Call on the basis that Lehigh bans rides to Space Mountain between faculty and students. But the plain language of the policy makes clear that it is permitted.