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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, March 31, 2017

Congressman Charlie Dent To Hold Town Hall Friday in Hanover Tp

Congressman Charlie Dent will hold a town hall on Friday.

WHEN: Friday, March 31st – 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM (Note: Doors open at 930 AM)
WHERE: Hanover Township Community Center, 3660 Jacksonville Rd, Bethlehem, PA 18017

(Originally published 3/30/17 at 7:08 pm)

Does Allentown Need Inclusionary Zoning?

A few years ago, my grandson's dog took off after a ground hog and was gone for two days. Though the story ended happily, I was among those recruited to scour the streets of Allentown, trying to find her. In doing so, I was stunned by the number of homes that were either vacant or posted. So it's hard for me to understand why an inclusionary zoning ordinance is needed in Allentown.

According to Zillow, there are 852 homes for sale in Allentown right now, and some of them can be picked up for a song. The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has a report, but what is needed is one that explains the need for this kind of zoning in Allentown.

Any ordinance that is adopted, however, should be voluntary. I see nothing wrong with giving a developer incentives in exchange for affordable units. This is the approach used in Bethlehem. Anything more onerous would chill housing development at a time when residential real estate is still recovering from the Great Recession. It also could result in gentrification, which is what happened in Los Angeles and New York.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lamont McClure Gets No Response To His Debate Proposal

Lamont McClure, a Democrat, and John Brown, a Republican, are the only two candidates running for NorCo Exec. Last week, McClure suggested that he and Brown conduct one debate every month concerning county issues. While there are obviously political motivations, this is something that creates interest in local government. It's good for democracy. But McClure has received no answer, not even the courtesy of an acknowledgement.

This is what McClure tells me: "It's been a week, and we still have not heard from Mr. Brown on our proposal for 8 debates throughout Northampton County. We believe multiple debates are the best way for both sides to put their best foot forward and to call into question the proposals and positions with which we don't agree. We are on the one hand surprised Mr. Brown won't debate. We have made the very strong accusation that his Administration is corrupt, callous and crony-filled. He should want to tell the people, show the people, why we are wrong about that. Although, on the other hand, he doesn't have a great record on transparency.

"Which might be why he has yet to respond."

Give LV's Favorite Son, Emil Giordano, a Vote in Superior Court Race

The Express Times recently conducted an online poll on which boys' basketball player you'd want to see on the court in the 4th quarter. So naturally, I voted for my grandson and Jay Vaughan, who play together at Allentown Central Catholic. It was actually kind of funny because the top vote getters ended up being kids from schools that receive little attention instead of the powerhouses. The poll was just for fun.

Well, there's another poll going on right now that's just for fun. But this one is a PoliticsPA poll asking you which candidate will be the top vote getter in the GOP race for Superior Court. One of those candidates is the Lehigh Valley's very own Judge Emil Giordano. Because I'm a Democrat, I already voted for him 100 times. Our appellate courts need to include more people who are from outside Pittsburgh and Philly. I have nothing against those jurists, but would prefer to see different areas of the state better represented.

LC Exec Wannabe Eckhart's Honesty Claim

LC Controller Glenn Eckhart would like to be LC Exec Glenn Eckhart. So yesterday, he issued a news release. He announces no new initiatives. He makes no pledges. The reason for his missive is to announce that he's honest. You know things are really bad when a politician actually thinks it's newsworthy to announce that he's being honest. And perhaps it is.

But Eckhart starts off with a canard. Here's his first paragraph:
(Lehigh County, PA) Glenn Eckhart, Lehigh County Controller and Republican candidate for Lehigh County Executive makes good on his promises to the taxpayers of Lehigh County. In the heat of a campaign, politicians tend to make one empty promise after another, Eckhart observes. Eckhart believes it is a good thing he is not a politician; but instead represents a rare breed of true public servants. “Talk is cheap, but I am proud to say that I have followed through on three very important promises that I made to the people of Lehigh County.” Said Eckhart.
Can you find the lie? Yes, it's his claim that he's not a politician. He went from Salisbury Tp Comm'r (2000 to 2005) to Lehigh County Comm'r (2006 to 2011) to Lehigh County Controller (2012 to present). He's also an elected state committee person for the GOP. He proves he's a politician with this obvious falsehood.

He goes on to say that he's really cool because he kept his word when he said he'd take no payraise, no pension and would present a plan to save $5 million.
“I think it is important to be honest with people. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me all the time, but when I say I am going to do something, I am going to do it.”
In case you missed it the first time, he says it again.
"What I say I am going to do, I am going to do. It is just that simple. I am going to be the advocate for the taxpayer. ”
Eckhart never bothers telling us what his plan was, or whether it was actually implemented.

When it comes to honesty, what I know is that Eckhart pretended to support an anti-pay-to-play ordinance in Lehigh County, but behind the scenes, he attempted to kill it. In a 10-31-16 email to Comm'r Dan Hartzell, Eckhart claimed he wanted to "repeal the whole thing," calling it a "bad ordinance."  He said his Solicitor opined that the law is unconstitutional, but correspondence from her says no such thing.

So when Glenn wants to brag about his honesty, I suppose you could say he's honest compared to Fed Ed But that's not saying much. I see no difference between Glenn and his opponent, Brad Osborne, when it comes to honesty. They are both politicians.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

AP Report on Trump Budget is Chillling

It's a bit premature to attack a budget that has yet to be unveiled. But if an Associated Press report on the spending plan is just partially accurate, The Donald is heading for a disaster that's even worse than his failed bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. It proposes $18 billion in cuts to pay for a wall that he said Mexico would fund. Amazingly, it even includes $500 million in cuts for infrastructure grants, something he had promised to increase. Here they are unofficially, at a glance.
  • $1.1 billion from the Agriculture Department, including $363 million from food aid to poor nations.
  • $1.2 billion from the departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, including $350 million from National Science Foundation grants and $210 million to help states keep immigrants in the country illegally in prison.
  • $1.8 billion from energy and water accounts, including $516 million from energy efficiency and renewable energy.
  • $714 million from the Interior Department, including $51 million from rural western school districts.
  • $7.3 billion from the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education departments, including $1.3 billion from Pell Grants, $1.2 billion in grants to reduce class sizes, and $1.2 billion from NIH.
  • $2.9 billion from foreign aid, including $562 million from economic development assistance, $200 million in military aid to "high income" countries, and $547 million from multilateral development banks.
  • $2.7 billion from transportation, housing and development, including $1.5 billion from flexible community development funds, $499 million from transportation projects, and $447 million from transit projects. 
Americorps will be eliminated. Mental health programs reduced. Poor peopleneed no help topay heating bills. They can run laps. Pell grants have gone to hell  Who needs college? Politico has a copy of what are being called the FY2017 options here. In the meantime, we are headed to another government shutdown.

Hanover Township Warned About The Green Menace

As the snow melts away and temperatures slowly rise, Hanover Township's Public Works Director Vince Milite is preparing to start sweeping the roads on April 3. Manager Jay Finnigan is preparing for the dedication of First Responder Park on April 29 and the celebration of Armed Forces Day on May 20. But Blair Bates of the Shade Tree Advisory Board warned Supervisors at their March 28 meeting that it's also time to prepare for something far more sinister - the Green Menace.

You won't see the Green Menace in the next round of super hero movies making their way through the theatres. You may not see it at all. But it's here. And it's a killer.

The Green Menace is a nickname the US Department of Agriculture has given to the emerald ash borer, a tiny illegal immigrant that made its way here from China and eastern Asia. First identified in Michigan in 2002, this insect is responsible for the death or decline of tens of millions of ash trees in 13 states, including Pennsylvania. In the Keystone State,over 308 million trees providing 3.6% of the forest cover are at risk. The insects,which are metallic green and only about a half inch long, are active from May until August. They only infest ash trees.

A Green Menace infestation is always fatal.to ash trees, which decline from top to bottom and are dead in three years.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) recommends community management plans that include tree inventories, removal of infected trees and preventive treatment. Lancaster and West Chester are two municipalities with management plans that include selective removal of damaged ash trees.

Bates asked Supervisors to make Hanover residents of the danger to ash trees posed by the emerald ash borer, and to discourage residents from planting them. He also suggested that the Township notify each resident who owns an ash tree.

Homeowners with high-value ash trees can purchase insecticides, which need to be applied regularly. In addition, the Department of Agriculture has the following recommendations: (1) Don't move firewood; (2) Visually inspect your trees for signs of decline; (3) Spread the word; and (4) Report infestations to the Pa Department of Agriculture at 866-253-7189 or by email to Badbug@state.pa.us .

Bangor School Administrators Need to Fess Up with DeFranco Parents

I don't do school boards as a rule, but feel compelled to write about Bangor School District again.

Yesterday, I told you about a serious problem at DeFranco Elementary School in Bangor. Between students and staff, there are about 600 people there every day. For a time, which could have been as little as a few days or as long as several months, the children and everyone else at that school were drinking untreated well water. Earlier this month, parents were advised to start bringing in bottled water for their children because of a problem with the water. A few days later, they were told things were back to normal. But they were never told what had caused the problem. They were also never told that their children may have been drinking untreated water anywhere from one or two days to two months. That's irresponsible, but it is even more irresponsible for school administrators to tell at least one grandparent who called them that my blog story is inaccurate.

This problem was first discussed in detail at a Bangor School Board workshop meeting on March 20, and when the minutes are finally made available in a few months, what happened will be abundantly clear. They will reveal that there was friction between maintenance and a custodial worker, and that a custodial worker at DeFranco took it upon himself to reinstall a pump for the water system that had already been correctly installed by maintenance. In the course of reinstalling this pump incorrectly, this custodian also disabled the chlorination system being used to treat the school's water.

After incorrectly doing a  job for which he had no qualifications, this very same custodian ran and recorded water tests at the school every day. The problem was not picked up until Prosser Labs, which does independent testing monthly, noticed that there was a problem. It is unclear how long the water was considered unsafe. It could have been as little as one day. It could have been as long as two months.    

Since that time, school directors have demanded an investigation into the possibility that the custodian's reckless actions may have endangered the health of the children. The custodian was allowed to retire at the Board's March 27 meeting.

In addition, the school district is now testing the water twice a day in all five buildings, and by two different people.

That's not enough.

School administrators owe parents an explanation about exactly what happened. They also should review their own records to determine whether there has been an unusually large number of illnesses at the school in recent months, and follow up with any student who reported a stomach virus or other sign of drinking contaminated water

Instead of being concerned with the health of their children, school administrators were more concerned about the confidentiality owed to a custodian who let everyone down. This "circle the wagons" mentality is wrong. But it's going on in other areas, where stories about the Bangor Area School District make it sound like the Harper Valley PTA.

Note: According to Schooldigger, Bangor Area School District ranks 345 of 585 school districts.  The high school ranks 299 of 676 public high schools.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Custodian's Error Exposed DeFranco Students to Unchlorinated Water

Below you will see a number of stories about the Bangor School District. You likely think I was there to see Ron Angle installed as an interim Director. But I only learned of the vacancy over the weekend. The real reason I was there related to something that had happened at DeFranco Elementary School. It happened in late December or early January, but only was discovered in March. It endangered the health and safety of students there, though parents were told about the situation when it was discovered earlier this month.

Sometime in late December or early January, maintenance staff replaced a water pump at DeFranco. A custodian on bad terms with these maintenance staffers decided he didn't like the job they did and decided to fix it. In the process, he disabled the water chlorination system. Over the next few months, students at DeFranco drank untreated water. The problem was finally discovered earlier this month as a result of water testing.

The custodian responsible has retired. Building and Grounds Director Ron Baker told the school board that the water will be tested twice every day, and by different people.

So far as I know, no students were negatively affected by the untreated water.

Ron Angle Appointed to Bangor School Board

Lock up your women and whiskey! Last night, Bangor's School Board voted 5-3 to appoint the NorCo Bulldog, Ron Angle, to a vacancy on the nine-member board. Angle will only serve until December, when a newly elected school director is installed.

With the looming resignation of Superintendent Frank DeFelice, there's a leadership vacuum. There is no assistant Superintendent, and the Business Manager just went on extensive medical leave for an illness. His assistant is about to embark on a 12-day vacation.

DeFelice apparently intends to clone himself.

I have told you before that something is wrong - seriously wrong - with anyone who wants to be a school director. The job pays nothing, and no matter what you do, you make enemies among teachers, parents, staff or all of them.

Bob Cartwright tells me what makes the experience worth it to him is going to a graduation or school event and seeing the fruit of your labor. .

Angle was a school board director for 12 years. He was its President. He also has served as an interim school director. Now you know why he is insane.

But he started a great tradition there many years ago. Coffee, cookies and doughnuts are made available before every meeting. "If you want people to come, give them a cup of coffee and a doughnut and they'll feel more comfortable," Ron explained.

Before anyone could change their mind, Angle was sworn in by Magisterial District Judge Alicia Zito. The oath she administered was much shorter than the 20-minute loyalty oath demanded by Sherwood Grigg when Angle was named an interim director a few years ago.

Bangor's Student Rep is Amazing, Awesome and Super!

Most school boards have one or two student representatives who provide very brief reports from time to time. Bangor High School senior Victoria Swanson has that role, and gave the mother of all student reports at last night's Bangor Area School Board meeting. She talked about everything that's going on at the school, and with such contagious enthusiasm that I almost wanted to repeat high school. For example, "It was so awesome to win the Colonial league title, and the other team was like, 'oh yeah'"). At another point, she mentioned that she is the President of the Ecology Club and picked up her arm to say, "Go green." She is probably the best speaker I have heard in some time and was completely at ease. Though she went on at length, everyone had big smiles when she was done. School Board President Michael Goffredo joked,  "We should keep you around next year so we can hear we are amazing, awesome and super!"

Bangor High School Honors Its Tech Students

Six Bangor Area High School students were honored by the school board last night for their participation in the Skills USA district championships in January. This included 450 students from all over the Lehigh Valley, with many of the contests taking place at Allentown's Ag Hall.  Bangor students who won awards are Casey Clark (Masonry, 1st); Robert Beers (Precision Machine Technology, 1st); Preston Compton (Collision Repair, 2d); Erik Tallaksen (Auto Manufacturing Tech, 3d); Julie Rocco (Cosmetology,3d); and Nick Roberts (IT, 3d). Clark and Rocco appear above with Superintendent Frank DeFelice and Bangor High School Principal Tamara Gary).

In addition, several students were honored for their participation in a recent Technology Student Ass'n (TSA) competition. Aron Furman and Jessica Plate, pictured above with Superintendent Frank DeFelice and Technology teacher, placed in a competition in which students are directed to make something with no advance notice.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Trump v. Dent

I'm told that he can be very charming when he wants to be. But most of you know by now that our so-called President, Donald Trump, has no integrity. He thought nothing of spreading reckless lies about President Obama, claiming to have been illegally wiretapped without a shred of evidence. From there he attempted to justify his falsehoods in a Time interview with this: "I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not." After his attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare fell flat on its face, largely because it seemed too rushed and would actually hurt the very people who elected him, Trump pretended to hold no grudges against House Speaker Paul Ryan. But then he tweeted his minions to "Watch @JudgeJeanine on @FoxNews tonight at 9:00 P.M," where she called on Ryan to resign. His fingerprints are all over this, yet his White House acolytes think you're stupid enough to believe this is sheer coincidence. He also now claims he wants to reach out to Democrats, even though he completely ignored them in his rush to replace Obamacare with something worse. .

It should come as no surprise that a man with no principles would attack Congressman Charlie Dent for following his conscience. Trump supposedly claimed at one point last week that Dent was "destroying the Republican party," and would get the blame when his tax code overhaul fails.

I find it amusing that Trump has suddenly become a team player, now that he finds himself at the head of that team, and wants everyone to do what he wants, right or wrong. This is the fatal flaw of partisan politics.Ron Beitler explains:
"I'm an Eagles fan of the bleed green variety. We pride ourselves in rooting for the team thick or thin. Perfectly appropriate attitude for a sports team. But not for politics. The 'click bait anti left' is far too willing to blindly ignore Trump's many many severe flaws. And Trump masterfully gives them fodder to ignore the problems with his 'fake news' fantasy. I contend that Trump populism actually hurts movement conservatism. Conservatives should be winning hearts and minds with our ideas. Not by engaging in the very same kind of identity politics that the alt left does."
Charlie Dent told me the first time I sat down with him in 2007 that he considers himself a centrist who leans right. And that's what he's been. While he certainly supports his team, he believes it should be a broad-based team.He's a nuanced thinker for whom details matter. Trump is the opposite. "Forget about the little shit," the so-called deal maker with absolutely no grasp of policy told House members.

Having lost, he's driven off in his kiddie car and is blaming everyone except himself. He will no doubt recruit a challenger to Charlie Dent, and Dent will win again. A liar might fool the people briefly. But Trump has already worn out his welcome.

Gracedale Rating Drops to Two Stars (Below Average)

When considering a nursing home for a loved one, it's good to know that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid created a five-star quality rating. In his annual "State of the County" Address at Hotel Bethlehem, Executive John Brown claimed a four-star rating. But at that time, as he later conceded, Gracedale was just three stars, or "average." Its overall rating has since dropped to two stars, or "below average." One of the biggest reasons for this is the home's rating is for "quality measures," which measures things like the use of psychotropic drugs, pain management, bed sores and infections. Gracedale has just one star in this category, which is considered "much below average."

At a standard health inspection in January, 14 health deficiencies were listed. This is well above the state average if 8.5.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bottom-Feeding Blogger Wins Four Keystone Press Awards

Let me apologize in advance. I'm about to pat myself on the back again. As most of you know, I'm a bottom-feeding blogger. A disbarred and disgraced lawyer. A low-life alkie. Perpetually broke. Despised by polite society. Despised by impolite society. Hated by Democrats, Republicans and the LV Tea Party. Fat. Balding. A worse dresser than Ron Angle. But the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association has seen fit to hand me not one, but four major awards in this year's Keystone Press contest. And yes, they are for journalism.

The Bethlehem Press, the weekly newspaper for which I write, won the Professional Keystone Press Sweepstakes Award for the 4th year in a row in our division (under 5,000 circulation). The paper won awards in 16 separate categories.

One of my awards is actually shared with Dana Grubb and Ed Courrier for a special project, but we're unable to remember what it was.

I'm particularly proud that I finally snagged first place in beat reporting for my coverage of Northampton County. Hey, it only took four years. I also won first place in the "news feature" category for a story on the rift in The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem. Editor George Taylor got an award for his front-page design for that story. My gerrymandering tales took second place in the Series category. First place in that category went to The Bethlehem Press' Dorothy Glew for her disturbing accounts on sex-trafficking in the Lehigh Valley.

Our awards are in the smallest circulation division. The Morning Call, which is in the largest and presumably more competitive division, garnered three awards. Bill White was honored for a second year in a row for his entertaining column. Sam Kennedy received an award in investigative journalism for his story on glass in a vaccine. The entire staff was honored for a series on heroin.

The Express Times, which is in the second largest division, received an award for sports photography.

These awards are based on 3,330 entries from 130 PNA news organization in 27 categories across seven circulation divisions. They were judged by journalists in Oregon and Washington. Winners will be recognized May 20, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Press Conference in Lancaster.

Attendance Light at Fed Ed Fundraiser

Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski's former Managing Director, Fran Dougherty, entered a guilty plea plea in federal court on Wednesday to bid-rigging a street lights contract at Fed Ed's direction. He's the seventh person to plead guilty in Allentown's political corruption investigation. Even Fed Ed's attorney, Jack McMahon, agrees that Fed Ed is next, and that an indictment is just days away. But what impact does this have on the embattled Mayor's bid for a fourth term? Given the number of candidates running, common wisdom is that he's the front runner. But are people really that gullible? I set to find out last night.

Last night, Fed Ed had a fundraiser at the NB Center for Automotive Heritage, located at 540 Union Boulevard. It's the site of an old drive-in, and I decided to scout it to see how many people were there.

The event ran between 6 and 8 pm, so I arrived around 7 pm. I did not go inside because there was no way I was going to pay the $100 admission fee, even though that's a bargain compared to the $250 that Charlie Thiehl wants from each person at his April fundraiser.

I counted about 20 cars, and sat with fake foxes to watch as a few couples walked in.

This is hardly the kind of grass roots support I expected to see. My guess is that he's in danger of losing the primary,and if there's an indictment, he's toast.

I was told the fake foxes were there to keep geese away.

But they were already inside.

Fed Ed's Seth Williams Connection

As most of you probably know, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has been indicted on bribery and extortion charges, has pleaded not guilty and is currently out on bail. A reading of the indictment makes him look like a greedy pig. What most of you don't know is that he and Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski were acquainted. In fact, that's how Allentown ended up with Joel Fitzgerald (no relation to Ella) as a police chief in 2013.  

Fed Ed and Miked Fleck ran into Williams at some function. The DA was aware that Allentown was looking for a police chief and made a pitch for Fitzgerald because the two had grown up together. Fitzgerald had spent 18 years in Philly as a cop. But in 2013, he was police chief in Missouri City, Texas.

Fleck and Fed Ed agreed to bring in Fitzgerald. According to my source, there was a shakedown, but I see no evidence of it in Fed Ed's campaign finance reports.

Fitzgerald's son Christopher would later get into a shitload of trouble after an armed confrontation with undercover detectives. Fitzgerald then hired noted Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Jack McMahon, who won an acquittal for his son.

That's when Fed Ed met the man who represents him now. It must have been love at first sight.

McMahon, incidentally, is enjoying himself in the Caribbean and isn't expected back in the states until sometime next week, unless Trump imposes a travel ban on criminal defense lawyers.

Drop Off Your Reading Treasures With AAUW

The AAUW is accepting donations of "gently used" or new adult and children’s books, DVDs, and CDs. for its annual book sale. Donations will be accepted on Mondays through Saturday between 9 am and noon until April 14. One hundred volunteers work for six weeks preparing for the annual sale. You can drop off your treasures at the Memorial Pool Building, 359 Illick’s Mill RD, Bethlehem 18017.

The actual sale starts on April 20, and runs for four days. I'll have a post about that as the date approaches.

This is a rite of Spring in Bethlehem. Linda Robertson tells me that AAUW expects to handle 50,000 books this year for their 55th annual sale. Proceeds help fund scholarships for area high school students as well as a "Let's Read - Math" program in area elementary schools.

Last year, $40,000 was raised. When I lived in Bethlehem, I was there every year. There are some very good deals. Agent 99 often visited that sale as well, if memory serves.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dent to Vote No on Trump's Healthcare Bill

U.S. Representative Charlie Dent will vote No on the American Health Care Act today and explains why:

“The American health care system is in need of reform. The Affordable Care Act, which I voted against seven years ago, has failed to live up to the promises of the previous Administration. Too many Americans have seen their health care costs rise, insurers are fleeing the marketplace, and businesses are struggling under the increased costs and regulations. In Pennsylvania the average 2017 premium increase for all individual market plans was 32%, and 68% of counties have only one or two insurers offering plans on the exchange. Clearly something must be done.

"Over the past few weeks, I have diligently reviewed the American Health Care Act and recently proposed Amendments. I have spoken with constituents, leaders in the health care patient and provider community, Republican and Democrat Governors, Senators, the President and many others. After careful deliberation, I cannot support the bill and will oppose it. I believe this bill, in its current form, will lead to the loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans, particularly for low-to-moderate income and older individuals. We have an important opportunity to enact reforms that will result in real health care transformation--bringing down costs and improving health outcomes. This legislation misses the mark.

"I hope that the House can step back from this vote and arbitrary deadline to focus on getting health care reform done right to ensure that American families have access to affordable health care.”

NorCo Cuts Pension Benefit For New Hires

At their December meeting, Northampton County's Retirement Board voted unanimously to support Council President John Cusick's motion to cut the pension benefits for new hires.

Employees hired before 1/1/17 are in something called a 1/60 Classification. The formula is as follows:

(1.67%) * (years of service) * (3yr (highest) average salary)/12 = monthly annuity

Based on my calculations, which could be flawed, a 30-year employee whose highest three years results in an average salary of $35,000 would see a monthly annuity of $1,461.25.

Employees hired on or after 1/1/17 are in something called the 1/80 Classification. The formula is as follows:

(1.25%) * (years of service) * (final salary) = monthly annuity

My calculation is that a 30-year employee whose final salary was $35,000 would see a monthly annuity of $1,093.75.

That's a major benefits reduction. Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter explained that's what's going on in some other counties. Lehigh County went from a 1/60 classification to a 1/70 classification in January 2015. Monroe County has been 1/80 since 2011. But Berks is still 1/60.

In other business, Executive John Brown requested the Board to deny a cost-of-living increase for retirees in 2017,though they were eligible for a 0.03% increase. Brown and Cusick opposed the increase,primarily because it would cost the county $549,428.

Peg Ferraro, a Council member seeking reelection who sits on the Retirement Board, voted to cut retirement benefits and deny a COLA to retirees.

Glenn Geissinger, another Council member who is seeking reelection and who also sits on the Retirement Board, was a no-show for the Board's most important meeting of the year.

Allentown's Police Chief Resigning

There's a new name in the long list of people to leave Allentown City government since a federal pay-to-play investigation was announced. This time it's the police chief, Keith Morris. According to informed sources, he is leaving to assume control of a police department at a local college.

Up until now, Chief Morris' entire career in law enforcement has been with Allentown.

He has a Master's Degree in criminal justice from DeSales University and also attended FBI National Academy Police Executive Development school and the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command.

Why Should Slate Belt Voters Elect Heather Fehnel?

Heather Fehnel has asked me to tell you about her her candidacy for the Magisterial District Judge position in the Slate Belt. It's a crowded race that includes six other candidates.

Alicia Zito is the incumbent, but not as a result of an election. She was appointed. She is an attorney who served as a Judicial Law Clerk in Northampton County and on the Superior Court. She also contributed to a benchbook for magisterial district judges. The other candidates include Colonial Regional police officer Cody Hendershot, Monroe County Assistant Public Defender Jason Labar, construction manager Tony Labar, Constable Ty Comunale and Easton police officer Dominic Marraccini. All but Marraccini have cross-filed. Marraccini is running on the GOP ballot only.

In her announcement, Fehnel calls herself a single mother with a 10-year-old daughter. A lifelong resident of Pen Argyl, she holds an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Northampton Community College. She also received her Magisterial District Judge Certification held by the Minor Judiciary Board in Harrisburg, PA.

She describes herself as a person with a "strong work ethic"and who has always held two or three jobs throughout her entire working career. This includes work at Family and Friends Country Restaurant, a Bushkill Township diner that her family owns and operates.
She worked for Criminal Defense Attorney Eric Dowdle in Allentown, preparing trial note books and interviewing defendants. She currently works for Central Booking in Allentown, handling arraignments with Magisterial District Judges and processing. She did work for Magisterial District Judge Doug Schlegel, but was required to resign to run for the position.

I asked her what sets her apart in this crowded field. Why should Slate Belt voters choose her?
"The members of our community should vote me because my temperament has always led me to be fair and open minded. Growing up in a lower income family taught me to use every resource for personal development. It taught me work ethic, persistence, and to strive for goals. This will not be just a job for me but a way to show the hard-working Slate-Belt families that anything is possible if you put your heart and mind to it. I have ideas that I would love to implement with the juveniles that come through the system in the office and show juveniles much more by having a positive influence and be a role model for the juveniles and not just bang the gavel down on them. I would like to work with rehab facilities and animal shelters to set up programs that will help create a positive influence for the teens of our community.

"My experience sets me aside from the other candidates alone. I have been working with the magisterial district judges in Lehigh County for over 8 years processing all the paperwork for arraignments during night court. I later started working for a Northampton County District Magistrate Judge Schlegel for over 5 years. Secretary’s in that position need as competent as the Judge for the court to run efficiently. I will not only sit on the bench but I will work right alongside with the secretary’s and be a team player."
If you would like to learn more about Heather Fehnel, please visit https://m.facebook.com/VoteHeatherFehnel/

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fed Ed's Former Right Hand Man Pleads Guilty

There's a dark cloud over Allentown. Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski's former Managing Director, Francis X Dougherty, pleaded guilty this morning to bid-rigging a street lights contract that would favor The Efficiency Network in exchange for $9,000 in campaign contributions to his boss. He's the fourth former city official to admit to political corruption, and the seventh person overall  Yet there Fed Ed was at a Business Matters' Democratic Mayoral Forum today, claiming that all is well. "What cloud?" he asked.

He's in complete denial. Just the day before, in a published Morning Call interview, he claimed there was no need for reform.

"First off, you're assuming there's widespread corruption in City Hall. There is not. You're also assuming there is contracts being exchanged for favors. There is not. I have said from day one that I have done nothing wrong in regards to this particular investigation. You really have a select group of people, a select few, that have potentially done illegal things. I don't know if I'd change anything at this particular point in time."

While he insults your intelligence by claiming black is white, the realty is that this "select few" includes his two closest advisers, Dougherty and campaign manager Mike Fleck.

And the investigation continues.

Thursday night, Fed Ed will have, believe it or not, a fundraiser.

Incredibly, only one of the Mayoral candidates seems to get it  Republican-turned-Democrat Charles Thiel, like the blueblood he is, laments the "bickering." Sam Bennett only says that Allentown should have no Mayor for Life and actually compliments Fed Ed. David Jones thinks he should be elected because he's black and claims to respect Fed Ed. Josh Siegel says he should be elected because he's young.

One candidate gets it. Ray O'Connell. He is willing to talk about the real issue. Ray O'Connell flatly says the current administration is corrupt. That corruption has put Allentown development in neutral. He believes it is time to restore Allentown's integrity and give the City's beleaguered employees a reason to be proud again.

In the meantime, Fed Ed better have Attorney Jack McMahon on his speed dial. One of my sources tells me it is Fed Ed's turn next.


He says as soon as Friday, but I'll be happy as long as it is before the primary. It is irresponsible for federal authorities to let this matter linger as long as they have  Allentown is unable to move forward until this matter is behind them.

In fact, citizens in Allentown should consider asking Judge Juan Sanchez to start refusing to honor sentencing continuances unless federal investigators wrap things up.

Dally Rulings Are a Refreshing Vindication of Judicial System

Judge Craig Dally
I was unable to attend the ballot challenge hearings in Lehigh County because they mostly conflicted with similar hearings going on at the same time in Northampton County. Fortunately, The Morning Call covered the hearings in Lehigh County. But here was no press coverage of two days of ballot challenge hearings in Northampton County, other than this blog. That's really a shame because I found the experience a refreshing vindication of our judicial system and its importance in a democratic form of government.

I make no apology for attempting, fairly and even unfairly, to make a branch of government accountable. But without judges serving as a check and balance, our democratic form of government would have perished long ago. In some cases, ballot challenges are very necessary. A candidate who refuses to play by the rules could emerge as an elected official who thinks he is above the law. But increasingly, election challenges are used by the rich and powerful to deprive the voters of a choice.

In Northampton County,Judge Craig Dally handled four ballot challenges last week. Over the course of two days, he conducted full hearings on every one of them. On a Friday, he conducted one hearing until well after 5 pm. He decided the matters on Tuesday as promised, even though he had gone through a full day of arguments.

In one case, the candidate failed to appear. Rather than assume that he had no interest, as I would have done, he reviewed the challenge and rejected it. In two cases, the candidates represented themselves. They had equal standing with powerful interests trying to deny them ballot access.

In each of his four opinions, Judge Dally made it clear that he was guided by the principle that "[t]he Election Code must be construed liberally so as not to deprive an individual of his right to run for office, or the voters of their right to elect a candidate of their choice. Furthermore, the purpose of the Election Code is to protect, not defeat, a citizen's vote."

As a result of his decisions, Easton and Palmer Township voters will have a choice. He ruled that voter registration requirement in Easton's Home Rule Charter Voters is too restrictive. He agreed with a Pakistani immigrant that the "city rules" were wrong. So was a county rule requiring affidavits for nicknames. He refused to invalidate signatures simply because a letter was missing from someone's name. He honored the signatures that a candidate for magistrate obtained himself, while disallowing those obtained by others who failed to execute a required affidavit.

Thanks to the courts, voters in Easton, Palmer Tp and in one county magisterial district will have a choice.

Judge Dally's decisions are discussed in more detail in the four posts below.

Nick Englesson to Remain on Ballot For MDJ (Updated)

Nick Englesson with Malta Ortiz and Olga Negron
In a ruling handed down late Tuesday afternoon, Judge Craig Dally has dismissed a nomination petition challenge against Bethlehem Attorney Nick Englesson, who is running for the Magisterial District Judgeship in Northeast Bethlehem, part of the south side and Freemansburg. Judge Dally's decision follows a lengthy hearing on March 17 in a case that was well-tried by Allentown Attorney Ron Clever and Bethlehem Attorney Vic Scomillio. Barring an appeal by rival candidate Jon Whittington through his proxies, Englesson will remain on the ballot.

The challenge against Englesson was premised primarily on his circulator affidavits. He executed 16 affidavits attesting that he had obtained the signatures to his nomination petition, but in fact, signatures were obtained by numerous other circulators. He attempted to cure this defect by having each circulator file an affidavit. Judge Dally stuck all signatures that Englesson failed to obtain himself.

During the hearing, Englesson frankly admitted that he failed to have his individual circulators execute an affidavit, calling it an "oversight." "There was nothing nefarious about it," he assured Judge Dally at least three times. "There was no intent to deceive anybody. Nobody was harmed by it and I had nothing to gain by it."

As finder of fact, Judge Dally concluded that "any error in the completion of the Circulator Affidavits was purely accidental, and not done for some fraudulent purpose." But following the dictates of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he refused to accept any signatures that Englesson failed to obtain himself. Judge Dally also struck several signatures from people who previously signed the nomination petitions of other csndidates, as well as several signatures that were defective for other reasons.

In the end, Attorney Englesson was left with 121 valid signatures on his Republican petition and 111 good Democratic signatures. He exceeded the 100 minimum needed to get on the ballot.

Throughout this ordeal, Englesson has been besieged by anonymous comments on this blog, suggesting he be disbarred or charged with "purjury."

I felt bad for Nick, so before the hearing got started, I tried to calm him down.

"Nick, I just want you to know that being disbarred is not as bad as it's cracked up to be. I can teach you how to search titles."

"Go away!"

Later, during a break, I decided to comfort Nick again.

"Nick, I just want you to know that I'm sure Morganelli would seriously consider ARD if you apply."


Later that night, I sent him an email telling him that I could help him get his passport renewed almost immediately.

He never answered.

At one point, Nick told me that before this challenge, only one person had ever questioned his integrity.


"You! You always were filing motions accusing me of prosecutorial misconduct."

"Well, prosecutorial misconduct is not really unethical, Nick."

The Whittington camp has hinted it intends to appeal. That's his right, and i understand him being upset. But it would be unwise. Other than this blog, there's been very little coverage of this challenge. If Whittington appeals, he is inviting more scrutiny. He will look like a bully and will almost certainly lose the appeal and his race.

Let the people decide, just as Judge Dally ruled.
(Blogger's Note: Originally published on 3/21/17 at 5:27 pm)

Taiba Sultana to Stay in Easton City Council Race (Updated)

Taiba Sultana and her husband
at NorCo elections office 
Despite her violation of the residency requirements contained in Easton's Home Rule Charter, Taiba Sultana will stay in the Easton City Council race for the south side. Judge Craig Dally rejected a nomination petition challenge in an opinion handed down late Tuesday. Unless there's an appeal, an immigrant from Pakistan who only registered to vote in February will square off against one of Easton's most entrenched politicos, Sandy Vulcano.

Sultana's nomination petition was filed by prominent Bethlehem Attorney Vic Scomillio on behalf of Vulcano's son-in-law, Ryan Hall. He alleged that since Sultana only registered to vote in February, she fails to meet the one-year residency requirement set forth in Easton's Home Rule Charter. It states that "[o]nly those who are and have been for at least one (1) year registered voters of the City shall be eligible to hold the office of Council Member or Mayor."  Since Sultana only registered to vote on February 23 of this year, she's ineligible, argued Scomillio. Case closed.

A nervous Taiba Sultana, who still has difficulty with the English language, represented herself. She did ask Judge Dally if her husband could sit with her, and he agreed. Her basic argument was that the "state constitution is bigger than city rules."

I had a better argument than that. After all, I have a law degree, damn it. My theory was that the court lacks jurisdiction. Election challenges are for violations of the Election Code or Ethics Act, not some municipal home rule charter, A strict reading of Easton's Charter provides only that she is unable to hold the office of City Council until she establishes one year of residency. Nothing prevents her from running. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at age 29, and had to wait six months before he was sworn in. If the people of West Virginia could wait six months for Rush Holt to be qualified, the people of Easton could wait seven weeks for Taiba .

Judge Dally went with Taiba's argument.

In an interesting, six-page Opinion, Judge Dally concluded that the residency requirement imposed by Easton's Home Rule Charter is invalid because it is more restrictive than the Third Class City Code that it replaced and is not rationally related to any legitimate governmental interest.

The The distinction is that the Easton Home Rule Charter requires that a candidate be a registered voter for one year. The Third Class City Code requires that the candidate be a resident for one year prior to taking office. Thus the city home rule charter is more restrictive than state law. Even worse, it is not rationally related to any legitimate governmental interest. As a result, the voter registration requirement contained in the City's home rule charter fails. Or as Sultana put it, the "state constitution is bigger than city rules."

Dally observes that courts have repeatedly found that residency requirements are "rationally related to a governmental interest in ensuring that candidates for office are familiar with the issues and characteristics of the district for which they are seeking office, and interested in the concerns of the locality." But he found no case law on voter registration requirements,which he believes "are not rationally related to any governmental interest, and could have a chilling effect on the rights of candidates and electors."

That very nearly happened. When I first reported on Sultana's candidacy I received these anonymous comments:
"we need more candidates telling the truth, not just what they think we want to hear. someone with more then 1 year experience on the easton student council. we want someone with experience that has been there before."

"sorry to burst your bubble bernie, in typical immigrant fashion, not playing by the rules, Sandra Vulcano's opponent will be withdrawing from the race and returning to her terror cell."
Pretty clearly, Sultana was pressured to drop out. Vulcano's biggest accomplishment in her 1,000 years on Easton City Council is that she once stayed awake for most of a meeting. She used her City Council seat mostly to sell 40,000 shitty pens and 80,000 palm cards to candidates who pay her to shut her up. I think Easton is sick of people like Vulcano. And the slur at Sultana's religious faith reveals that Republicans have no lock on religious intolerance.

(Blogger's Note: Originally published 3/21/17 at 5:21 pm). 

Terrence Miller Survives Ballot Challenge in Easton City Council Race (Updated)

Long-time grass roots activist Terrence Miller has survived an objection to his nomination petition for a spot on Easton City Council. He submitted a petition with 134 signatures. Judge Craig Dally, in a ruling handed down Tuesday afternoon, determined that 103 of them are valid. That's three more than the 100 he needed. He dismissed a challenge filed by prominent Bethlehem Attorney Vic Scomillio on behalf of Richard Bader, who ironically recited an incorrect address for himself in the body of his challenge. Barring an appeal to Commonwealth Court, Miller will be a candidate for Easton City Council.

Judge Dally's decision follows a March 16 hearing before Judge Dally in which Scomillio called Voting Registrar Dee Rumsey to establish that 28 signatories either lived outside the district, belong to another party or are not registered at all.

Judge Dally dismissed most signature errors as immaterial or name derivatives, noting that the Election Code's signature requirement is only there to prevent forgery and insure that each elector personally signs with knowledge what he is doing.

He did reject a "Leah Lynn Alexander" who signed as "Lynn Alexander," as well as two married women who appear to have retained their maiden names on voter registration records. (I see this all the time as an elections judge).

He rejected challenges based on the use of ditto marks or some fields left blank because Registrar Dee Rumsey testified that each person was a registered Democrat who lived at the address indicated.

In his Opinion, Judge Dally stated he was guided by this admonition from the Commonwealth Court:
[T]he Election Code must be construed liberally so as not to deprive an individual of his right to run for office, or the voters of their right to elect a candidate of their choice. Furthermore, the purpose of the Election Code is to protect, not defeat, a citizen's vote."
"Let the voters decide," Miller had urged Judge Dally. "That's what this is all about." He represented himself and actually did an outstanding job. When he cross-examined Richard Bauder, he asked him whether some people call him Rich. He also asked whether some people call him Dick. I thought at first that he was being a wise guy but then he explained the same situation exists on his petition.Andrew might sign as Andy. Michael might sign as Mike.

Common wisdom dictates that a candidate should get twice as many signatures than are needed precisely to prevent this kind of challenge. But Miller is actually lucky he got any signatures at all. He is currently hobbled by knee injuries and is using a cane.

Miller's primary opponent is incumbent Jim Edinger, who sat in the courtroom during last week's hearing. A common complaint is that Easton's downtown gets all the attention while the west ward is ignored.

I think he has an issue.

(Blogger's Note: This story was originally published on 3/21/17 at 4:11 pm.)

Judge Dally Denies Attempt to Bounce Bellis in Palmer Tp

Charles E Bellis III filed a nomination petition for Palmer Tp Supervisor. He's running as a Democrat against Ann Marie Panella. But on March 13, prominent Easton Attorney Theresa Hogan sought to have him tossed from the ballot in a challenge filed on behalf of Ruthann Arras, a Palmer Tp Democrat. Bellis filed no answer, failed to appear in court, and in fact told Attorney Hogan that he would not be appearing at a hearing that was held on March 16. I assumed that Bellis had thrown in the towel. But not Judge Craig Dally. Not only did he carefully review Hogan's challenge, but he actually dismissed it in an Opinion handed down on Tuesday.

Hogan's argument is that Bellis had to be rejected because he wanted to use the nickname "Zeke" but failed to complete and file an affidavit with Voting Registrar Dee Rumsey.

The problem with this argument advanced by Hogan is that the rule she recited is contained nowhere in the Election Code. It is simply the office policy of the elections office. And that policy contains no time limit on filing the affidavit.

Bellis, incidentally, has always been known as Zeke Bellis.

Though Ann Marie Panella may have been behind this challenge, it's not really her style.She was notably absent from the hearing on March 16.

NorCo Exec Race: McClure Challenges Brown to Eight Debates

John Brown
Both Lamont McClure and John Brown are running unopposed for their party's nomination in the NorCo Exec race. There are no contested Council races, either. This means the primary will be a snoozer. Great new for the candidates.Bad news for the people, who already get next to no county news from our dying dailies. With that in mind, McClure has proposed a series of debates. Here's a copy of an email he sent to Brown yesterday.

Dear Mr. Brown,

In this obvious time of political turmoil, I believe that we owe it the Citizens of Northampton County to take our individual cases for election to them directly. The time honored way to do that is through debate.

Lamont McClure
I have a simple proposition. Let's debate once per month leading up to Election Day. (I'm sure we will have no difficultly finding sponsors.)

With 8 debates, the public can become well and truly informed as to whether my plan to Protect, Preserve and Prosper or your notion of using corporation tactics of seeking efficiencies through finding synergies is the best way of moving us forward.

Please let me hear from you on this proposal as April is nearly upon us and we should begin debating as soon as possible.


Lamont G. McClure

God is Apparently Going to Jump Me

Yesterday, for the first time in about a year, I received an anonymous threat. I thought I must be slipping so it was nice to know I had really pissed someone off. "Hey Bernie, watch your back," I was warned. Then the bastard spoiled it my telling me that my future assailant will be God. That's complete bullshit. The Almighty is currently in the can on a DUI. He's a devil for the drink.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Donald Trump - Defamer-in-Chief

This is what our so-called President tweeted earlier this month:

3/4/17 6:35am: "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"

3/4/17 6:49am: "Is it legal for a sitting President to be 'wire tapping' a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!"

3/4/17 6:52am: "I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!"

3/4/17 7:02am: "How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"

He accused his immediate predecessor of committing a felony. His myrmidons have since doubled and tripled down on these slurs, We now now the truth.

FBI Director James Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers, Director of the National Security Agency,  have convincingly established that there was no truth to Trump's assertions. They were made and repeated with reckless disregard for the truth. If you want to talk about "FAKE NEWS!," this is it. It's also serious misconduct from a sitting president. He is an embarrassment who needs to resign, and if he refuses, should be impeached.

Reibman Ruling Helps Challenged Easton City Council Candidate

Judge Reibman at Ramadan in 2015
Bucks County Attorney Lawrence Otter called Allentown Police officer Luiz Garcia a "knucklehead" a few days ago when he challenged the Allentown police officer's right to run for public office. Now that he's been tossed out of court by Judge Ed Reibman, the true "knucklehead" has been identified. Otter argued that Garcia's candidacy violated Allentown's Home Rule Charter and its administrative code, both of which ban political activity by city employees  But Reibman lacked jurisdiction. The only thing he can decide in a nomination petition challenge is whether the petition violates the Elections Code or state ethics act. That same reasoning could result in a dismissal of the challenge to Taiba Sultana's candidacy as an Easton City Council candidate.

Without question, Sultana fails to meet the one-year residency requirement in Easton's Home Rule Charter. It states that "[o]nly those who are and have been for at least one (1) year registered voters of the City shall be eligible to hold the office of Council Member or Mayor."  Since Sultana only registered to vote on February 23 of this year, she's ineligible.

But as I pointed out a few days ago, any objection to her nomination petition must be based on the Elections Code or the State Ethics Act. Easton's Home Rule Charter is irrelevant,just as Allentown's Home Rule Charter and administrative code were irrelevant to Judge Reibman.

She may be unable to hold the office until February 23, 2018, but she sure as hell can run.

This has happened before. In 1934, Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at age 29, and had to wait six months until he was 30 and could take the oath of office. Sultana would have to wait about two months, assuming that she wins.

Today we'll learn what Judge Craig Dally thinks.    

Bethlehem Township Adopts Medical Pot Ordinance

Pennsylvania is one of 28 states, along with the District of Columbia, that has legalized medicinal pot. Before the law is implemented next year, municipalities throughout the state are revising their zoning ordinances to designate exactly where marijuana facilities will be permitted. Bethlehem Township adopted its rules at its March 20 Commissioners' meeting, with no discussion from any one. The vote was 4-0.

Under Pennsylvania's medical marijuana law, doctors will be able to prescribe cannabis for 17 different ailments. Northampton and Lehigh County will be limited to one dispensary each, and the pot will be in the form of pills, oil, topical or a liquid that can be vaporized.

Bethlehem Township's ordinance provides for four specific marijuana uses: grower/processor facility (indoor growing and manufacturing building no more than 20,000 sq ft); medical marijuana delivery vehicle office;dispensary (n more than 5,000 sq ft, with indoor garage delivery); and academic clinical research center (must be at an accredited medical school with an acute care hospital). All uses must be secure.

All medical marijuana facilities must be at least 1000' from any school, nursery or day-care center.

Dispensaries are the most heavily regulated use. They can only be open between 8 am and 8 pm. No drive-throughs, outdoor seating or vending machines or deliveries are allowed. The facilities are permitted by conditional use in industrial, general commercial and hospital zones.

Pennsylvania's Department of Health was expecting at least 900 applications to participate in its medical marijuana program by March 20.    

In other business, Commissioners authorized Manager Melissa Shafer to explore the cost of a municipal survey that would poll residents on different topics, including participation in Bethlehem Area Public Library. They authorized four officers to attend training sessions on traffic safety and narcotics  They also approved annual payments to two township youth athletic associations and the Miracle League,which offers a baseball experience to differently-abled children.

Commissioner Pat Breslin was absent.

PPL's Laydown Yard Lies Down

Bethlehem Township Manager Melissa Shafer, in her monthly report for March, reports that PPL's proposed Laydown Yard is lying down. Or is it laying? Or should it be a Liedown Yard? Whether it's lie or lay, PPL has informed the Township that the project is taking a nap.

Where is this laydown yard proposed? On Farmersville Road, located between Lehigh River and Freemansburg Avenue. It's where PPL would store utility poles, transformers, wires and vehicles from which it could respond promptly when emergency repairs are needed as a result of an accident or major storm.

Utilities are exempt from township zoning laws. PPL would only need clearance from the Public Utility Commission.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Judge Panella's Has Some Kind Words About My Father

Blogger's Note: Superior Court Jack Panella will address his fellow judges and lawyers at this year's annual Reception for the Court, scheduled this Friday. By digging through his garbage, which is what we bottom-feeding bloggers do, I found an advance copy and am sharing it with you because he'll be talking about Bernie O'Hare. But it's another Bernie O'Hare. My late father. He was Bernie O'Hare, Jr. I am Bernie O'Hare III, or as my father would delicately put it, Bernie O'Hare the turd. I would later name my son Bernie O'Hare IV, and call him Bernie O'Hare the fart. I wish to thank Judge Panella for his kind words about my Dad.  

The Northampton County Bar Association has an admirable long standing tradition which fosters the administration of justice in our county. Each year the Bar Association hosts the judges for a dinner known as the Reception for the Court to honor the bench. But during this evening, as part of the ceremony, the gears switch and the bench joins with the lawyers to recognize the members of the Bar that have been practicing for fifty years (that’s right, half a century). That is an accomplishment not easily reached, requiring both longevity and devotion, as well as the ability to deal with a professional stress level that reaches epic proportions. Often, the honored members of the bar are introduced by their peers.

 My Dad claims our family was kicked 
out of Ireland for making bad whiskey. 
An equally important part of this dinner is that the lawyers and the judges meet outside of the courthouse. Over an evening, they converse about ways to improve the profession. They talk about access to justice. Maybe they do tell a joke or two. And they enjoy their time together. This special relationship between our Bar Association and the Court has produced a prodigious record of improvements in the administration of our courts and support for legal services.

This dinner is also important for the lawyers to meet and get together. In a non-confrontational setting, the event promotes civility among the lawyers. We all recognize that an attorney is obligated ethically to have absolute loyalty to his or her client, and to provide competent representation. Being cordial and accommodating to opposing counsel is not in conflict with a lawyer’s allegiance to a client; rather, it is in harmony with the lawyer’s oath to the Court and usually results in representing a client’s best interests.

I was reminded of the importance of this event when I came across a letter I recently discovered. When I first went on the bench in 1991, I inherited a set of files from former President Judge Alfred T. Williams, Jr., a beloved mentor of mine. In going through some of these files just last month, I uncovered a delightful letter sent to Judge Williams from the late attorney Bernard O’Hare, Jr.

Bernie was an absolute legal genius and a master of the art of cross-examination, and was one of the most respected members of our Bar Association. Judge James Hogan once said that a thousand points of light emanated from Bernie.

It is legendary now that Bernie and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., were prisoners of war together at Dresden during World War II. Vonnegut’s experiences were the basis for his book, "Slaughterhouse-Five" which includes numerous references to Bernie and which was dedicated to Bernie’s wife.

Bernie also had a homespun wit that was unmatched. Although Bernie was extremely intelligent, he had an unassuming, insightful humor that connected with everyone he met. He could put a smile on the most serious, reserved juror, attorney or judge.

And, I found this letter.

In 1982, Bernie wrote to Judge Williams, about that year’s Reception for the Court. In his letter, Bernie offered “anecdotal material” bearing upon and illustrating “the human and endearing side” of one of the 50-year members. Bernie explained that he had “thrived” in the employ of this attorney earlier in his career, and that he was knowledgeable about the attorney’s “health, fortune and lovable disposition.”

Bernie expressed surprise as to why Judge Williams had not contacted him for comments about this attorney. To help remedy this quandary, Bernie offered three pages of these “endearing qualities.”

Bernie then attached three pages.

They were numbered. They were blank.

There was no hostility, meanness or unkindness intended. Just a wonderful humor that I am sure put a smile on Judge Williams’ face. A moment of lightheartedness shared by two professionals who had their share of serious matters every working day.

Englesson Seeks To Amend Nomination Petition Errors

Englesson at Campaign function
At an inviting annual salary of $89,438, a vacant magisterial district judgeship is certain to attract a lot of attention. That's what has happened with an open seat that includes Northeast Bethlehem, Freemansburg and part of the south side. There are four candidates - Constable Jon Whittington, Penn DOT worker Will Power, police officer Fred Lahovski and Bethlehem Attorney Nick Englesson. Whittington has asked Judge Craig Dally to toss Englesson off the ballot because of alleged defects in Englesson's nomination petition. He accuses Englesson of misrepresenting himself in election filings. Judge Dally conducted a lengthy hearing on Friday, and is expected to rule on Tuesday.

This seat was held for many years by Elizabeth Romig, sister of former NorCo Executive Gerald R."Jerry" Seyfried. When she stepped down, her daughter, Patrica Romig-Passaro, was easily elected. Unfortunately, Judge Romig-Passaro was forced to resign for reasons of health. One of the candidates, Constable Jon Whittington, is her husband.

Jon Whittington at Elections office
Englesson filed his nomination petitions a few days early, hoping to get it out of the way. But it also gave Whittington an opportunity to review the paperwork. Englesson had signed 16 affidavits indicating that he had been the sole circulator, or person going from door to door to obtain the signatures from registered voters. But Whittington knew that was inaccurate. His team shadowed Englesson's volunteers as they sought the required 100 signatures from Democrats and Republicans.

On March 13, Allentown attorney Ron Clever filed an objection on behalf of the Whittington camp, seeking to have Englesson's nomination petition stricken. Clever raised most of the usual complaints about bad signatures, bad addresses, unregistered voters or voters from another party. But he also claimed that Englesson had improperly named himself as the circulator when his signatures were in fact obtained by five other persons who failed to sign the required affidavit. He subpoenaed the actual circulators.

At the hearing, Englesson was represented by Bethlehem Attorney Vic Scomillio, who had just one day to prepare.

Englesson explained in court that he had about three weeks to complete the"very difficult and arduous" task of getting 100 good signatures from Democrats and Republicans each. He enlisted five volunteers and provided each with a nametag, a street list of his district, a clipboard and a set of instructions for circulators. He picked up the petitions after a few days and kept them at his home and office. When going out himself, he usually grabbed the petition with the least amount of signatures. He admitted he would take petitions that had been started by someone else and complete the task himself. "There was nothing nefarious about it," he told Judge Dally at least three times. "There was no intent to deceive anybody. Nobody was harmed by it and I had nothing to gain by it."

When pressed on whether he had filed false affidavits, Englesson responded that he had told the truth as he believed it. "I have been a public servant for most of my career, but I not a politician."

When Clever reminded Englesson that he has run fo public office before, Englesson agreed. "I have. ... A long time ago."

Clever suggested at one point that Englesson and his volunteers got together and decided what to say, but Judge Dally stopped him. "I'm not going to allow you to make an accusation like that in court," Judge Dally warned Clever.

In a brilliant move in a case that was well-tried by both attorneys, Vic Scomillio had each of the actual circulators file affidavits indicating what signatures they had obtained.One of them, Kim Plyler, was able to remember where she had stopped because it was a neighbor who lived across the street from her. Clever objected that it was too late to submit amended affidavits, and the two lawyers engaged in a war of citations before Judge Dally.

Testimony went on until after 5 PM Friday afternoon. Judge Dally advised both lawyers he would give them both an opportunity to brief him on the topic, and that he would issue a ruling on Tuesday.

Clever told Judge Dally that he is under no obligation to issue an immediate ruling because judges can pretty much do whatever they want.

"Do you have that citation?" joked Judge Dally.

Mike Buffer Says Hi!

Mike Buffer and his daughter
Mike Buffer is currently a news reporter at Citizens Voice up in  Scranton and Wilkes Barre. But I bumped into him last night when he was having dinner with his daughter. He tried climbing out a window in the rest room, but I was waiting on the other side.

I got to know Mike back when he was working for The Express Times, back when it was still covering county government. He had a knack for really pissing off county executives  Two of them - one a Republican and the other a Democrat - for a time insisted that all questions from Buffer had to be in writing. The more pompous a public official, the more fun Buffer had.

While we chatted, he told me a great Ron Angle story. Blue bloods hate Ron.They like to look down their noses at him. So Angle decided one year to challenge L Jack Bradt XXXVIII's nomination petition to a throne on Northampton County Council, and actually got him tossed  Much as I think voters should decide elections, I loved to see a condescending aristocrat put in his place.

What I didn't know, and what Buffer told me, is that Angle dropped in on Bradt not long after getting him tossed.

"I don't know why you did this to me," complained Bradt. "I'm a Republican."

"What do you think I am, a Whig?" was the Bulldog's answer.      

Pain Management and Psychotropic Drugs at Gracedale

Seth Vaughn 
Contrary to what Executive John Brown stated in his annual "State of the County" Address at Hotel Bethlehem, Medicare's actual rating at Gracedale is just three stars. One of the most troubling aspects of this rating is for "quality measures," which measures things like the use of psychotropic drugs, pain management, bed sores and infections. Gracedale has just one star in this category, which is considered "much below average."  This black eye has been ignored by Seth Vaughn's Human Services Committee, but was one of the first things Pete Melan noted in announcing his candidacy for a seat on County Council. "We should not only focus on revenue and expenses but want families to place their loved ones in a safe and comforting environment and maintain a home away from home feeling," he said.

Guess what? Seth Vaughn's Committee finally addressed these lousy ratings at their meeting last week. Before things got underway, Mat Benol and Vaughn spoke on a hot mike about where to send someone who needs medical care. They also spoke about an email that court administrator Jermaine Greene had sent about the Grace Packer case, with what Benol called "canned responses." Ken Kraft told Vaughn he was lucky I wasn't there, and Vaughn snapped. "I couldn't care less what he says."

Once the meeting finally started, Vaughn asked about Gracedale's terrible rating on quality measures. Administrator Raymond Soto said the nursing home is working with Kendal Outreach to reduce both pain and the psychotropic medications.

Nothing on h Kendal Outreach's webpage even mentions the use of these drugs.

The reality is that most nursing homes, including Gracedale, improperly use psychotropic drugs. At Gracedale, one of every four residents receives antipsychotic medications, and 35% of the facility's population are on anxiety or hypnotic drugs.

A 2011 study determined that 88% of Medicare claims for antipsychotics prescribed in nursing homes were for treating symptoms of dementia even though the drugs have never been approved for dementia. Federal law prohibits the use of psychoactive drugs when they are just for the convenience of staff. It's called a "chemical restraint." There has to be a documented medical need for the drugs. These are considered "chemical restraints."

In addition to the overuse of drugs, Gracedale gets a low score on quality measures for pain management. Soto stated that there is a "pain committee," but it is a subjective matter.

Council was much more concerned about overtime,and devotedmost of the meeting to that discussion.  In February, overtime for LPNs was up 24%. For CNAs, it was up 31%.

Soto pointed to one resident who requires one-on-one nursing care, 24 hours a day. He tried to ship her to NJ, but she is not Medicaid eligible under Jersey law. Once she is, she will be sent off. No one on Council seemed troubled in the slightest by this insensitivity to a fellow human being. They were focused on cost. "Are you saying that one person drive 1,000 hours of overtime?" demanded Glenn Geissinger. Soto responded that five people get one-to-one, but only one gets it a full 24/7.

Matt Dietz complained that Council voted on changes to bring OT down."When is that going to happen?" he wondered. Now Administrator Cathy Allen jumped up to say that the county is building up its staff of per diem RNs.

Soto also noted that the nursing home received a deficiency in February because a psychiatrist made a mistake in ordering drugs.

In other Gracedale business, Human Services Director Allison Frantz reported two pieces of good news.

First, here will be an intergovernmental transfer again this year. That's what helped Gracedale return a slight profit last year.

Second, the VA has conducted an onsite inspection of the facility for residents,and the county is waiting for a contract.

She had nothing to report about the Packer case, but spoke highly of foster parents. "They do the work of angels,." she said.

If Grace Packer were still alive, she might disagree with that assessment.