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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Warning to my Fellow Turkeys

Tomorrow is the first day of turkey hunting season, and Jerry Seyfried will be out there. So stay home. He can only go after bearded birds, so if you shave, you should be ok. As most of you know, we turkeys are vicious serial killers. I will be out all night setting up snares and staked pits for the fools who will be out there tomorrow.

After we catch someone, we tie him down and force him to listen to Justin Beiber tapes all night.

Another Allentown Fire Engine Breaks Down

Another Allentown fire engine had to be towed away again last night. If one more breaks down, firefighters willhave to respond to fire calls in a pick-up truck once again. In an interview with broadcast journalists, Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski snickered as he said that a couple of engines "were down for just a week."

The Moon Crickets of Bangor

Have you ever heard the expression "moon crickets"?  I learned what the term meant yesterday, during a discussion with a Bangor resident.  Apparently, it is a term that plantation owners lovingly used for their slaves in the antebellum South when they would come out at night and sing gospel songs. The moon crickets are out. Ohh, what wonderful music they make!

It's a term that a Bangor coach used with two of his black athletes. They knew what it meant, and sued in federal court. The matter was ultimately settled in 2015 for an undisclosed amount.

Fast forward to this year. Bangor's shadow Superintendent is Bron Holland, the athletic director and boys' basketball coach. His boys had a wonderful season.Until the end, when he kicked two players off the team.

They happen to be of color. They had an attitude, I'm told.

All stallions have attitudes. A good coach breaks them and turns them unto team players.

Perhaps this coach did all he could do.Perhaps not.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Brown Admin Has Spent $347,144 For Hotels and Travel Since 2014

Northampton County Executive John Brown's Administration has spent $347,144 for hotel stays, travel expenses, meals and conference since 2014. That's according to nearly 1,000 pages of information supplied in response to several right-to-know requests.

The $174,138.90 figure is for hotel stays, and not just for county workers. The County sometimes houses homeless people or even people making trips for visitation. This figure also includes extraditions and times when a deputy must make an overnight state in connection with a prisoner transport.

The $173,005.75 figure is for mileage,conferences and meals.

The overwhelming majority of these travel expenses appear to be related to trips to Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Penn State. But there are numerous out-of-state stays as well.

It will take me several days to sift through the information presented and report back to you.

Bangor School District - the New Harper Valley PTA

On Monday night, as I told you, I visited a Bangor School Board meeting. I was told a big story would break, but it was a bust. The school board went into executive session after honoring several students. After an hour and 40 minutes, I took off. Since that time, I have been wondering whether I should tell you what's going on. The school district appears to be adrift. Dr. Frank DeFelice, the Superintendent, is leaving at the end of the school year, and refuses to stay even with the offer of a considerable raise. The business manager was out on medical leave, and whether he stays much longer is very much an open question. The assistant business manager is also retiring. These departures and problems indicate something is amiss.

The problem is one I'd ordinarily consider nobody's business. A private matter. But when the private lives of people begin to interfere with their public occupations, it becomes the public's problem.

The problem is that Bangor Area School District is Harper Valley PTA.  Pam Colton, who served on Bangor's school board for 16 years. She served the last three as school board President, but suddenly resigned in 2015. In her resignation letter, she slammed the board as "unprofessional" and "divisive." At the time, there were a number of whispers about her that I considered inappropriate and deleted. Two of her daughters came on this blog and defended her against anonymous attacks.

Unfortunately, there is more substance to these latest allegations, which involve a meretricious relationship with a school district employee that has been admitted to by this employee. It has thrown a monkey wrench into operations. What people do with their personal lives is their business, but not when it interferes with the efficient operation of a public school district.

Colton serves as liaison to Northampton Community College. She was approached and was asked to step down, but refused. So that's why the Board when into executive session on Monday night. Though she is an appointee and not an employee, the other person involved is.

I know there was a lot of yelling and screaming behind closed doors because everyone could hear it. I got tired of it and left. When directors returned, there was a motion of no confidence in Pam as liaison, but it failed by a 5 to 4 vote. Ken Brewer, Bob Cartwright, Ron Angle and Laraine Brands believe it's time for Pam to go. I agree. This alleged relationship has interfered in smooth school operations, and both she and the employee in question should go.

Those who voted to keep Pam include Craig Berger. He apparently found the whole discussion distasteful, but that's his job,like it or not. After the meeting, he sent a condescending missive to his fellow board members. I was told about it and asked for it. Berger initially refused, but changed his mind after I filed a Right-to-Know request.

In his email, he complains about personal attacks. That's fine, but he had no problem launching one against me, who was just there for a story and actually ended up taking pictures for the school district. He also personally attacked Ron Angle, knowing that Ron hates computers, refuses to buy so much as a smart phone and hence was defenseless to Berger's bile.

Here's his email:
I would like to suggest that we no longer meet in Executive session. There is obviously no sanctity to the process. Funny how the person that praises himself so much about knowing public meeting rules more than anybody, feels the need to update(and invite) the press after our meetings. Maybe we can just vote to have Bernie be an honorary member of the Board and he can sit in. I’m sure you can get a 5-4 vote for that. Last night was very disheartening. I know we don’t all agree but in the end we usually end up doing the right thing for the District….last night that did not happen. As Bob [Cartwright] always asks “At the end of the day does this make us better”, the answer to that is an emphatic NO. I was embarrassed to be a part of this Board last night.

I will not sit through 4 hour meetings filled with personal attacks and agendas. While some of you may have all the time in the world, I have many other obligations that need my attention as well. While I have no problem giving my time to the District, I will not waste valuable time that can be used more productively….for gods sake don’t you realize Steve [Bussenger] and I have a school District to run.
Just so Berger knows, neither he nor any school director runs the school district. Dr. Frank DeFelice has that responsibility, along with the entire school board.

Berger later told me his last sentence was intended as a joke.

When a former school board president who is the liaison to the community college completely screws up school operations and has everyone's tongue wagging with an alleged meretricious relationship with a district employee that she actually helped hire, the Board needs to step in. People can do as they wish. But when they disrupt operations, they need to go.  

Just so you know, I did contact Colton to ask for an explanation. She knows from my past dealings with her that I would be very receptive to any explanation or request. I heard nothing.

11:15 am Update: Pam Colton has responded to me and claims the entire story is "nonsense." She has asked me to remove the blog post,but that is contrary to what this district official himself has admitted. So I need a bit more.

Will Hanover's Turkey Hill Sell Wild Turkey?

Mark Tanzcos
Will you soon be able to pick up a six-pack at the Hanover Township Turkey Hill? Or stop there for one or two beers? That's a question Hanover Township Supervisors pondered at their April 25 meeting.

Attorney Mark Kozar of the Pittsburgh law firm Flaherty and O'Hara asked Supervisors to approve a license transfer to the Turkey Hill located at 6220 Sterners Way saying it would basically be the same thing as exists at Wegmans and Weiss. "What you see there you will see at a smaller scale at Turkey Hill," he predicted.

But Mark Tanczos, who recused himself from the Board on this decision, was fiercely opposed. His family owns a beer distributor. He said the Township is already over the quota permitted for these licenses. One is permitted for every 3,000 people, and Hanover Township already has eight of them in a Township with only 11,000 people. He produced pictures of other gas stations that make alcoholic slushies, and warned of unsupervised minors hanging around a gas station that sells alcohol.

Supervisors will decide on this request at their May 9 meeting.

Cathy Haire
In other business, Hanover Township resident Cathy Haire asked Supervisors for help in dealing with the noise from low flights by Amazon's Prime Air at Lehigh Valley International Airport. Admitting that she bought a home knowing the airport is there, she said recent changes in flight patterns have made life unbearable. "We're getting bombarded," she claimed.

Haire stated that one recent flight was so low that she actually ducked. "I thought it was going to crash into the house," she said. "You do such a beautiful job of taking care of the Township," but asked them to send the airport a letter.

"I've been fighting this for 30 years," said Steve Salvesen, noting that everyone of them lives in the flight path. He has even gone so far as to photograph low flights that the airport insisted did not exist.

Manager Jay Finnigan told Haire that pilots have discretion to fly low, and that local airports like Lehigh Valley International must be open 24/7. But the Board will send a letter, and Salvesen said he'd try to enlist the support of Congressman Charlie Dentand Senator Pat Toomey.

Charlie Thiehl to Host News Conference Today

Allentown Mayoral candidate Charlie Thiel will host a news conference today, at 1:30 pm at his campaign office, located at 612 Hamilton Street, 2d floor. The subject will be economic development. We will also be streaming it live on Facebook if you can’t make it but want to tune in.

Negrao Wants Swim School on Linden Street

Joe Negrao is the owner of Alexandria Manor, a popular assisted living facility with locations in Nazareth and in Bath. He has a personal care facility in Bethlehem at the corner of Linden St and Oakland Rd, and had a green light for another.  But instead of the personal care facility he planned to build, he's decided on a swim school for children. It will be located next to Lightbridge, a pre-school center he plans to build there. He owns the entire city block along Linden Street, between Johnston Drive and Macada Road.

"They are few and far in between," he told Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board at  their April 26 meeting. "It's extremely good for the City and extremely good for the neighborhood, and I say this as a businessman and as a father."

The swim school would have a smaller footprint. The personal care facility he originally planned would be a three-story 18,300 sq ft building. But his swim school would be only one story and only 8,500 sq ft. In addition to being next to his own pre-school, it would be across the street from an early learning center. "A swim school fits perfectly in this area," he said.

But he will have to wait for approval until May. He needs to advertise that he is seeking a special exception.

In other business, a divided Board granted only partial relief in a request for signage at the new Nitschmann Middle School along Union Boulevard, called NewNitsch. Gus Loupos and Mike Santanasto wanted to allow the signs to identify Nitschmann with Bethlehem Area School District, but were outvoted by Bill Fitzpatrick, Linda Shay Gardner and Jim Schantz.

Principal Peter Mayes were a bit miffed that the Board rendered a decision without hearing from him first, a mistake that Chairman Gus Loupos acknowledged Mayes said that NewNitsch, as he called it, "is not just a school, it's part of the fabric of the community." He called the decision a "missed opportunity" to market the school and let people know where it is, just as drivers along Route 378 can see signs marketing B. Braun. "What a great opportunity to let everyone know," he lamented.

Would You Like to Be a Secret Agent?

I am fortunate that, over the years, I have developed a number of sources who know I will never rat on them, even if ordered to do so. If you'd like to be a secret agent, and have information to disclose, you can always reach me at Bohare5948@aol.com or 610-533-7379.

Agent 99 is taken.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The O'Connell Formula: Strong Neighborhood + Strong School = Strong City

Ray O'Connell at East Side Youth Center
There was quite a bit of activity yesterday in Allentown's crowded Mayoral race. It started with a Sam Bennett news conference. It ended with a Charlie Thiel wine-and-cheese fundraiser. I had conflicts for Sam's morning event. I was unable to afford Thiel's fundraiser, which is just as well because I am an alcoholic who happens to be allergic to all dairy products. But in the late afternoon, I had time for a Ray O'Connell rally at East Side Youth Center, attended by about 30 of his biggest supporters.

O'Connell, who is a youth sports enthusiast, was fittingly introduced by boxing announcer Mike Mittman. "He is one of us, a man of the people," said Mittman. "When he becomes Mayor, he is going to do what is best for you, the people of Allentown. He is going to do the right thing."

His main message? It's the same one he's had since he first ran for City Council. "We, as a City, are only as strong as the School District, and the School District is only as strong as the City."  He said our children and their growth are "vital components" to the City's success. He claimed that 17,000 students in Allentown, or 89%, are from low income families. This is exacerbated by a transient rate of 40%. He described children who attend all four middle schools in the course of one year. "That is unacceptable, totally unacceptable," he said.

Though he believes the school district has made strides, "the city government has failed. We cannot let this continue."

About 30 people attended O'Connell's presser
At a recent first time home buyer program  hosted by Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, O'Connell noted there were 55 participants. None of them was willing to buy a home in Allentown. Reason? The schools.

O'Connell believes that the best way for the City and school district to turn things around is through "school-based community revitalization."His plan is to develop areas around the schools and the quality of life for people in those neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods created this City. East Side. West End. South Side. Northeast. They created this City.

He noted that the school district plans to open two schools in 2020. "We need to work with developers to ensure that these schools are built to a healthy standard of living." Corner groceries.Mentor programs."We would work with the school district to ensure these needs are met. ... We need to come together"

At a school-based community revitalization program in Baltimore, O'Connell noted that state reading standards went from 19% to 78% in five years.

"We can do it here. We do not have dumb children. We need to give them the resources.We need to be with them. We need to give the parents the resources. Every parent I met over the years - they want to do the best for their children. They love their children. They don't have the resources. We, the City and school district, need to bond to give them the resources"

He said that as important as the downtown revitalization is, "we cannot turn our backs" on the rest of the City. "We have to develop the South Side, East Side, Northeast."

"Too many children have not seen success. You grow and you learn from success."

Strong neighborhoods plus strong schools equals a strong city."

NorCo HR Director Brags About Being Late

I told you in March that Northampton County Human Relations Director Amy Trapp has wasted nearly $30,000 in taxpayer funds for biometric time clocks that may never be used, except on the oxygen-deprived third floor. Remaining floors at the courthouse have holes in the wall, with dangling blue wires.

Either she or her husband has referred to county timeclock opponents  as "entitled spoiled brat government employees" who "need to get on board."

Yet as you can see for yourself, Trapp brags about being late herself on her Facebook page.

If she thinks no County employee has noticed, she's wrong.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

NorCo DCED Director Sued Over $15k in Credit Card Debt

Tim Herrlinger is Northampton County's Director of Community and Economic Development. A member of Executive John Brown's cabinet, he oversees the distribution of a great deal of money flowing through the county coffers. CDBG grants. Bond money. Casino funds  His department provides the administration of the General Purpose Authority, which has embarked on an ambitious, and costly, bridge bundling program. And he's been sued for $15,884.32 on a credit card.

A complaint was filed in Northampton County Court by American Express Centurion Bank on January 6 (File C-48-CV-2017-00123). After a complaint is filed in court, it is delivered to the Sheriff's office for service. The record reveals that deputies attempted to serve him four times at his Fairview Avenue address in Wilson Borough, but were unsuccessful. They apparently were unaware that he is a cabinet official.

Herrlinger, contacted late yesterday, said he was unaware of the complaint. When asked about four separate attempts by the Sheriff to notify him, he responded, "I am not often home." He said he was aware that Discover Bank was after him for $11,000, but knows nothing about American Express. He declined comment until he speaks with an attorney.

No judgment is on record against Herrlinger in this or any other matter. There are times when credit card holders have legitimate disputes over what is owed. But in view of Herrlinger's high-ranking role in NorCo government, this is something the public should know.

County Administrator Cathy Allen is subject to four tax liens.but a foreclosure brought against her was withdrawn by the suing bank in March.

Bangor School Board Interrupts Meeting With One Hour, 40-Minute Exec Session

As most of my regular readers know, I generally don't do school boards. I'm a product of Catholic schools, so my understanding of the public school system is very limited. On top of that, I am only fluent in English. I get lost when I hear whatever language they're speaking. What I do know is that every school director should have his or her head examined. They run for a job that pays no salary and then get beaten up by parents who want to ban books, teachers who want more money or old farts tired of paying taxes now that their own kids are educated. Often, they get clobbered by all three groups combined. So last night, I was at Bangor School District for one of those meetings. The only thing I can say in my defense is that I did walk out after they had been in executive session for an hour and forty minutes. When they came out, they voted 5 to 4 to keep Pam Colton as their liaison to Northampton Community College. They also voted to leave the Slate Belt Council of Governments (COG). Neither of these subjects qualifies for an executive session, but nobody was there to object. I had already left, and no member of the press had bothered to show up.

I was there because interim school Director Ron Angle had asked me to come, telling me a big story would break. Now I guess I need my head examined.

The meeting started off nicely. Bangor was honored with a major award as one of the elites when it comes to music education. As in top four percent nationwide. That is pretty impressive, but this is hardly the red meat that bottom-feeding bloggers like me crave.

After the music department received its major award, students who had placed very well in a regional spelling bee were also honored. So was a student who participated in and nearly won the National Geo Bee by answering questions like "Narvahls, often called the unicorns of the sea due to their large tusk, can often be found near Svalbard in which ocean?" and "What is the airspeed velocity of a laden swallow?"

No questions about the salmon of Capistrano.

This kid must be a regular Einstein, but when the hell do I ever write nice stories, unless they're about me?

Victoria Swanson, the best and most relaxed student representative I ever heard, gave another inspired student report, so good that I was ready to enroll there myself. But do I write happy news?

Finally, some parents got up to complain that the cheerleading coach refuses to let their kids cheer if they are involved in any other activities, including All Star cheering. School directors started blowin' oil, but President Michael Goffredo said his colleagues should wait to hear from the coach before jumping to any conclusions.

What fun is that? The tar and feathers will have to wait 'till next time.

Right after that,the Board voted to go into executive session. Actually, Goffredo said they were going into executive session, but Ken Brewer reminded them they had to vote on it first. No one bothered saying why.

So where's the big story?

I'd have to wait until they were out, and was told it could be quick So I waited. One hour and 40 minutes later, I was still waiting with my thumb up my ass. So were a number of parents, teachers and old farts who claim their taxes are too high. For awhile, I could hear all kinds of screaming and banging around. Then it suddenly became very still. Unearthly quiet. Two paramedics were waiting.I figured they all killed each other so I left. They weren't going to pin the rap on me.

No sooner did I get home than the phone rang.

"Why the hell did you leave?" asked Angle. "You missed the good stuff."

When they came back into session, they voted 5 to 4 to keep Pam Colton as their liaison to Northampton Community College. Allegations of Colton's alleged misconduct were never discussed publicly even though she is no employee and has no right to confidentiality. Angle, Brewer, Bob Cartwright and Laraine Brands voted to ask her to step down. But the others voted to keep her. Toni Lynch, who is a little bit in love with Pam, was the swing vote.

Why are they worked up about Pam, their former school board President? You'll have to ask them.

They also voted to leave the Slate Belt COG, which was likely less controversial. A lot of the COGs are being disbanded.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Lehigh County Court Names Pidcock to Trexler Trust Board

From Lehigh County Court Administration: The judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County have selected J. Scott Pidcock to succeed the Reverend Daniel G. Gambet, OSFS, as a Trustee of the trusts under the Will of Harry C. Trexler for a ten-year term effective May 22, 2017.

Mr. Pidcock is the managing principle of the Pidcock Company, an Allentown-based civil engineering, land planning, architecture and land surveying firm. The company was founded in 1924 and employs 50 persons.

Mr. Pidcock is a registered architect and a registered professional engineer. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree with honors in civil engineering from Lafayette College, a Master of Architecture Degree and a Master of Structural Engineering Degree from the University of Virginia and a Master of Arts Degree in Religion from Yale University.

He currently serves on the Yale University Divinity School’s Board of Advisors, and is a Trustee of the Rider-Pool Foundation and an Elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Allentown. His previous service to the community has included membership on the Boards of Trustees of : the Wildlands Conservancy; Moravian Academy; Allentown Art Museum; Baum School of Art; Cedar Crest College; and American Bank. He is also a member of various state and national professional organizations for professional engineers.

Among Mr. Pidcock’s various charitable involvements in Lehigh County is a program he and his wife initiated at Sheridan Elementary School, where Mr. Pidcock attended the sixth grade, which provides winter coats and a food pantry for students and families.

“Mr. Pidcock has a demonstrated a long history of understanding the character and evolution of Lehigh County, from what it was to what it is. He is a careful listener, deep thinker and thoughtful communicator. His business acumen, sense of community and philanthropic commitment will help steer the important work of the Trexler Trust in the years ahead” said President Judge Edward D. Reibman in announcing the appointment.

The Trexler Residuary Trust was created under the Will of General Harry C. Trexler, who died in 1933. It is a $120 million charitable foundation that distributes about $5,000,000 each year. Under the terms of General Trexler’s Will, 25% of the net income from the Trust is added to the principal of the Trust, 25% of the net income is distributed to the City of Allentown “…for the improvements, extension and maintenance of all of its Parks; …” and the remaining 50% of the net income is distributed by the Trustees to “such charitable organizations and objects as in their discretion shall be for the most benefit to humanity, … limiting them … to the City of Allentown and the County of Lehigh ….”

The other currently serving Trustees are Barnet H. Fraenkel, Senior Vice President of Wealth Management with Morgan Stanley in Allentown; Allentown Attorney Malcolm J. Gross; Jamie P. Musselman, President of Musselman Advertising; and L. Charles Marcon, President of Dugan and Marcon, Inc.

Allentown's East Side Senior Little League Needs Pitcher's Mound

On his Facebook page, Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski claims he was at opening day for East Side Memorial Little League yesterday. You won't find him near the Senior Little League.

They were scheduled to play on Saturday, but there's no pitcher's mound at the regulation baseball field along Martin Luther King Highway.

Very nice dugouts, but no pitcher's mound.

In addition to being unable to keep the firefighters properly equipped, Fed Ed decided that there's no money for a pitcher's mound.

The kids from East Side have to schlepon over to Alton Park for agame and hope noone else was there first.

Organized sports are a good way to keep kids from straying. But Fed Ed makes it harder for Allentown's youth to do the right thing.

Brown's Expense Reports Show He was MIA in Much of 2016

Brown at State of County Address
Until medical conditions dictated otherwise, Executive John Stoffa refused to accept a special parking place that is coveted by so many other county officials. He marched up the Seventh Street hill daily, trying to set an example. During his eight years in office, he also refused to submit an expense report for the numerous functions a county Executive is expected to attend. John Brown is another story.  He filed expense reports for everything, including political trips. He, along with then Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen, were surcharged $1500 by Controller Steve Barron. To their credit, they both reimbursed the County. But what about Brown's expense reports for 2015 and 2016?  Do any look suspicious?

As part of a Right-to-Know request filed with Northampton County, I sought Brown's expense reports for 2015 and 2016. I am still awaiting some records, and told the County to take its time as I wade through the 500 pages produced. They include Brown's expense reports from 2015 to 3/25/17. During that time, he has been reimbursed $4,378.48.

Here's what I can tell you about Brown's expense reports:

1) In his first two year in office, Brown billed 151 trips. He billed for for 75 trips in 2015, mostly for travel to different functions here in the Lehigh Valley. But in 2016, he only went on 38 trips. That's about half as many as in 2015 or 2014. Why? It's because in 2016, he was too busy running for state auditor general to have much time for the county. Instead of running the county, he was trying to unseat incumbent state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. His absence created a vacuum.

2) Brown billed us $644.46 for six round trips to Philly in his unsuccessful effort to defend his termination of Ass't County Solicitor Jill Mancini without first affording her due process of law. Mancini was awarded $94,232 for the due process violation, along with $217,452 in attorney fees. The decision was affirmed by the Third Circuit, which tacked on an another $31,433.15 in attorney fees. I see no reason why taxpayers should reimburse Brown for a mess he created.

3) During his tenure, Brown has had three overnight stays at hotels, all in connection with County Comm'r Assn of Pa (CCAP) conferences. On November 22, 2015, he stayed at the Hersey Hotel for a room rate of $254.19, even though the Hampton Inn only charged Public Works Director Stan Rugis $130.67. In March 2016, he spent two nights at the Harrisburg Hilton for a CCAP conference, at a room rental rate of $317.48 for both nights. In November 2016, he was back at Hotel Hershey, which dropped its rate to $204.24. Brown was unable to state at the April 20 Council meeting whether the County even attempts to get discounted rates like the state and federal government.

4) Brown never charges for meals, even when he has meetings at restaurants. So either he is paying his own way, which is to his credit, or he is dieting so he can look as svelte as i do.

The Donald Coming to Pa

According to what's left of Patch, Donald Trump's rally this Saturday will be at  the Pa Farm Show Complex and Convention Center. It's scheduled to start at 7:30 pm, the same time as the White House Correspondents' dinner that he has elected to snub. You can get tickets here. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Fed Ed Lite Fails To Invite Blogger to Transparency Presser

I've pretty much reached the conclusion that, if any one of the Allentown Mayoral candidates besides incumbent Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski is to be ignored, it is his pale imitation, Charlie Thiel. I've dubbed him  Fed Ed Lite because of sleazy campaign tactics in which he used a third party intermediary to approach two Mayoral candidates and offer them jobs if they drop out. This political logrolling is perfectly legal But it sends the wrong message in a City that has been decimated by a federal political corruption investigation that has already bagged and tagged seven people, including four City staffers. In addition, he conducted an unethical push poll in which he referred to himself as the only honest Mayoral candidate. And he is scheduling wine-tasting seminars for the oh-so- so-do-so-pa  people in the Jenn Mann cabal at $100 a pop, while ignoring Allentown's blue collars and working class. But if there was any lingering doubt in my mind before, I am now more convinced than ever that he is Fed Ed Lite.

Thiel recently conducted a news conference to discuss transparency and ethics in an attempt to pawn himself off as ethical. But guess what? He failed to invite this bottom-feeding blogger to the event for some reason. That's exactly the kind of trick that Fed Ed himself likes to pull.

NorCo Council Pays Lehigh Township's Central Booking Bill

Lehigh Tp Police Chief Scott
Fogel addresses Council
Yesterday, I gave you the lowdown on a dispute between Lehigh Township and NorCo Executive John Brown over who's responsible for an overdue bill for computer services at the Lehigh Township booking center, which serves five northwestern NorCo communities. It's a $17,680 bill. Lehigh Township thinks the County should pay, while Brown thinks it's on Lehigh Township. At their April 21 meeting, Northampton County Council finally put this matter to rest by taking the money from their own contingency account.

Matt Dietz and John Cusick came up with the idea. Hayden Phillips warned, "This is something to take the wolf off the door. This is a one-time payment"

Council wants a Memorandum of Understanding between all parties involved over who pays for what.

Two weeks ago, over an hour was spent discussing this bill. On April 20, another hour was spent discussing the matter.

An exasperated John Cusick finally said, "This is $17,000 for public safety. We spent $50,000 for a fish tank at the bottom of the hill."

That fish tank at the bottom of the hill is a $130 million aquarium proposed by the DaVinci Center. If we can spend $50,000 on that pipe dream, we can spend money to enable police officers to get back on patrol.

Why Brown took such a stubborn position mystifies me, especially since he agreed to fund Bethlehem's booking center. The northwestern tier of the county is also the most conservative and Republican quadrant of the County, which is presumably where Brown could expect to post an easy victory.

Not anymore.

Brown and Benol: What Happens in Vegas Should Stay in Vegas

Mat Benol hangs Ten Commandments behind
him before every meeting
On Monday, NorCo Controller Steve Barron suggested to Council that tighter internal controls might be needed for staff training and development. He pointed out that, in 2016, Human Resources spent $56,758.15 for training, nearly ten times the $5,749.35 spent the year before. He noted a "training" trip at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, and another trip by the same employee to New Orleans. He told Council that training costs this year are already close to $20,000, even though only $35,000 is budgeted. His report fails to get into various P-card purchases made by Trapp and others in the Human Resources Department, including an $800 popcorn machine and $1,000 spent at Target for gift cards in violation of county policy. That will be coming later, I can assure you, and may even be flagged by external auditors. Pointing to the practice in other jurisdictions, Barron suggests it might be appropriate for Council to approve trips more than 100 miles away from the county. Executive John Brown defended this spending at last night's Council meeting. Council member Mat Benol attacked Barron.

Brown claimed this spending was really an attempt to build the foundation of Human Resources by providing better training to managers and supervisors in other departments. "It is the number one thing we need to do," said Brown. He said he'll be increasing the amount of money the County spends for staff development and training. He argued that the County employees themselves recognized, in a recent survey, that they need more training when named to supervisory roles.

The problem with Brown's explanation is that the $56,758.15 spent by Human Resources in 2016 is more than the $30,000 budgeted. He spent most of 2016 running for state auditor general instead of the job that the people of Northampton County elected him to do, and over much of that year, no one was at the helm. When I go into Brown's own expense reports next week, you will see yourself that there was a leadership vacuum in 2016.

It's the kind of vacuum that would enable Trapp to raid the health and wellness fund for an $800 popcorn machine she keeps in her office. The smell alone should have given that away.

Brown also failed to explain why Human Resources Director Amy Trapp has already spent over $20,000 of the $35,000 set aside this year for training and staff development in her department.

Trapp herself was unavailable. She is recovering from an automobile accident earlier this week, and hopefully makes a complete recovery.

Brown told Council he would make her available to explain these expenditures. Council President John Cusick is a big proponent of a statewide county organization called CCAP (County Comm'r Ass'n of Pa) and has for years encouraged even his fellow Council members to participate. But CCAP meets at places like Mechanicsburg, not Las Vegas or New Orleans. "The optics of that don't look particularly good," he said. Brown still justified the trips because they were highly recommended by a third-party consultant.

Hayden Phillips said that the idea of conferences and conventions is diminishing. He thinks Council might consider, as Barron suggested, a greater role in approving outside travel.

Bob Werner also is concerned because CCAP ismore locally located. He added, "There are best Western hotels."

Brown was unable to say whether the county seeks discounted rates.

Mat Benol, however, is angry that Barron had dared to question these expenses. "This type of report is nothing more than a political football," he said, calling it an "inflammatory" report.
"This is another one of those knee-jerk things that our Controller has done to try to make the Executive look bad. I'm just getting tired of it. At the next meeting, I plan on taking some action on the Controller because the Controller is a financial position, it's not a political position. To me, it's a bean counter position. I understand that this is one of the areas that technically falls to that position, but if you're going to do an objective report, you talk to both sides. You don't just grab some things and make it inflammatory and throw it out there to get the headlines. I'm tired of it. And because I'm not running for re-election, I'm politically expendable. This is just me as a Councilperson getting tired of our Controller using that position as a political pulpit."
Under Northampton County's Home Rule Charter, the Controller is the person responsible for the internal control of the fiscal transactions of the county. This includes trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans. It includes department heads who exceed their spending budgets. It includes spending more money than permitted for meals. It includes the purchase of $800 popcorn machines and the abuse of the county purse to purchase gift cards that violate county credit card policy. As an independently elected official, the Controller has the power, at any time and on his own initiative, to review the fiscal transactions of any county agency without first seeking permission from John Brown or Mat Benol. That's what the Controller did, and that is his job. He has in the past found that the Executive himself was abusing his expense reports, and money had to be paid back to the County.

Now Barron is a Democrat who supports John Brown's opponent in the Executive race, Lamont McClure. Without question there are political overtones to what he is doing. But what he is doing is the job the people elected him to do. "If I really wanted to be political, I'd gather this information and just sit on it until September," said Barron. "I told Council about it now because I want to keep staff training and travel expenses in check.If I failed to disclose it now, Benol would be asking, 'Where's the Controller?'"

He's doing his job.

Benol is supposed to provide oversight of the executive branch as well. But he apparently thinks he's a cheerleader.

Friends of Gracedale Foundation Established

Scott Parsons and Bob Werner
Former NorCo Council member Scott Parsons may no longer be a member of County government, but is still involved in County service. He was at Council's April 21 meeting to announce the establishment of the Friends of Gracedale Foundation, a non-profit charitable corporation that will be able to accept tax-deductible donations for the county's nursing home.

"It's good to see most of you," joked Parsons,who was joined at the podium by Council member Bob Werner, with whom he formed a close friendship during his tenure on Council.

"We're here to help," he added.

Though the Foundation will target corporations and philanthropists, anyone who wishes to make a tax-deductible contribution may do so with a check that can be mailed to Friends of Gracedale Foundation, Post Office Box 138, Nazareth, PA  18064.    

NorCo Council Honors Lyme Disease Warrior Cathy Gumlock

Cathy Gumlock with NorCo Council President John Cusick
At their April 21 meeting, Northampton County Council honored Palmer Township resident Cathy Gumlock, a retired school teacher, for her crusade against Lyme disease. She is a founding member of the Lehigh Valley Lyme Support Group, which meets the first Wednesday of every month at Country Meadows, 4011 Green Pond Rd,Bethlehem Township, Building 1. That group seeks to improve the lives of those who suffer from Lyme disease.

She told Council and a group of about 30 high school students that the best cure is prevention and early. She said those who suffer from the summer flu might actually be experiencing Lyme disease. She explained the disease is carried by tiny deer ticks that usually latch on to people around their ankles, then work their way up the body to find a spot to inhabit.

As she spoke, a lot of people began scratching themselves.

Solicitor's Office: Fed Ed Had No Say Over RTK

At Wednesday night's Allentown City Council meeting, Roger MacLean gave a pretty dramatic display of how Allentown responds to a Right-to-Know request. My impression was this is yet another indication of Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski's lack of transparency.

On Thursday, I contracted the Solicitor's Office and learned that Fed Ed actually had nothing to do with how City lawyers responded. In addition, I was told that, in addition to the redacted material you see, the City furnished a great deal of information.

In fairness  to both the Solicitor's office and Fed Ed, I thought I should clarify what I wrote.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

O'Connell: Faulty Fire Trucks An Embarrassment to City

Allentown firefighters at City Council
On Friday, I told you things are so bad at Allentown Fire Department that a pick-up truck is being used as one of the six "engines" responding to fire calls. There are supposed to be two ladder trucks, but one has been taken out of service. On Monday, that remaining ladder truck broke down while smoke jumpers battled a blaze at the rear of 654 N Jordan, endangering both the laddermen and the citizens they serve.

Firefighter Keith Pierce
This problem has been going on for some time. Between 2008 and this year, Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski has slashed the operations budget by 65.52%. Last night, a group of firefighters took their concerns to a packed City Council meeting.

Arriving late, I missed the first two speakers, Jeremy Warmkessel and Adam Perreault. But I was in time to hear Keith Pierce, the safety committee liaison. He is also a rescue engine driver, hazmat team tech and tech rescue operator. He told Council that the entire reserve fleet is now on the front line.If one more vehicle breaks down, enginemen will be responding to fires in a pick up with no water and no hoses.

"In my opinion, it comes down to the fact that we don't have a fleet replacement plan," said Pierce. He added that many of the vehicles being used are 1999 vintage or earlier. "You wouldn't drive your car as much as we drive those fire engines." He said the vehicle breakdowns, combined with a force that Fed Ed has whittled down from 146 to 122, has created a safety risk

Coach Michael Kaminski
"I think it's an embarrassment to the City," responded Council President and Mayoral candidate Ray O'Connell. I think it's a slap in the face to our firefighters, who risk their lives every day.I think it's a slap in the face to the residents, who are at risk."

Controller Jeff Glazier said a new fire engine in planned in 2018, and two more are planned in 2019. But Pierce, who said that "firemen are the ultimate pragmatists," responded that these pipe dreams tend to vanish at budget time. "It's where the rubber meets the road. When those trucks back into the fire station for the first time,that's when we'll count in it."

O'Connell, who said he'd meet with Pierce any time, is concerned that a "tragedy is around the corner. ... Bottom line, it's public safety."

Daryl Hendricks, a former police captain who handled hoses himself and is Chair of the Public Safety Committee said he'd like to join in that discussion. So would Julio Guridy, chair of the Finance Committee. He called the situation "unacceptable" and "deplorable." Roger MacLean said he'sseem the reuests for equipment, and they get cut.

Public Works Director Craig Messinger agreed that "there is a need for it. ... It is a priority"

Daryl Hendricks listens as Ray O'Connell pledges
to meet with firefighters
Michael Kaminski, the well-regarded head boys' basketball coach at Harrison-Morton Middle School said that in 2009, there was a gas break right next to his house."I wouldn't have wanted to walk in that, let alone, have the guts to walk in the street, and I thank you for that,guys. It is the duty and responsibility of the people in front of me here ... and in the administration to make sure something gets done.He questioned what would happen if I fire broke out at the NIZ or the PPL building and there was no ladder truck..

Julian Kern said that, in years past when he worked as a freelancer, two trucks would respond to blazes. Now, "these engines and trucks break down constantly," including one truck that went down while responding to its first fire. He said the situation "is putting the lives of firefighters and the residents at risk." He added that the fire department, however, is "top notch. They are quick at getting on scene. They are quick at fighting the fires. I've watched them in person doing this. They are awesome.These guys deserve to have the proper staff and equipment."

Restaurateur Don Ringer asked, "I thought we were the City Without Limits, is that true? He noted that, just last week, Fed Ed claimed to have $18 million in reserve. "Why can't we use some of that money to buy a fire truck? It saddens me to see those guys, who do a helluva' job, sitting here with garbage."

Dennis Pearson, who just came from umpiring at Notre Dame, said this lack of equipment causes pressure on other communities rendering assistance.

Fed Ed, of course, was absent. He was busy blacking out Right-to-Know requests.

Transparency, Fed Ed Style

Roger MacLean shows a Fed Ed response to a City Council RTK
Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski has taken transparency to a new level. City Council asked him for a copy of his five-year plan, something the City's Home Rule Charter (Sec. 811) requires him to produce with his Budget every year. He played games so Council members filed a Right-to-Know request. What MacLean is showing is Fed Ed's response, clear as mud. Maybe there's a few fire trucks in there.

It's astonishing that a person who is so secretive and whose indictment is imminent according to his own attorney, can arrogantly thumb his nose at at the public's right to know and the people's elected representatives.  

Hey, I Have Had No Thai Food For a Week!

After leaving NorCo Council yesterday, I traveled to Allentown because I thought firefighters would be there to tell City Council that deteriorating equipment is endangering public safety and their own lives. When I got there, the meeting had already started and the room was packed. But as is the case with most meetings, the front row is almost always empty, so that's where I went. I plopped down, took off my Barmah hat and began snapping pictures. When I turned to get a photo of the audience, the four previously packed rows behind me had gone to the other side of the room. Poor Julian Kern bravely tried to keep his seat, but eventually passed out and was taken away.  He'll be complaining about headaches on Facebook for the next several weeks.

The Thai food I had last week is more powerful than I thought.

John Brown Pisses Off His Most Loyal Supporters

As much as I criticize NorCo Executive John Brown, he does have a tough job that forces him to make unpleasant choices. It's too bad he never got the chance to see Marty Bechtel or Gene Hartzell, our first two Executives, in action. It was a simpler time, but they still made it look easy. Brown, in contrast, has managed to piss off his most loyal supporters in the northwestern tier of Northampton County in a way that makes him look like a grinch who is insensitive to public safety. Amazingly, it's over the paltry sum of $17,680. He's right, but could have used one of Amy Trapp's staff development courses so that he could explain things better.

Before I tell you what happened, I want to explain a little more about Gene Hartzell. When he was concerned about tardiness, it never crossed his mind to install punch clocks. He instead would occasionally stand at the courthouse entrance and look at his watch as a tardy staffer came in. That took care of the problem. If you needed something and went to see him, he'd say No and give you 1,000 reasons why what you were seeking is impossible. Then in the next day or two, you'd see a news account telling you he was doing exactly what you had suggested. He knew how to listen and how to be flexible.

Northampton County now has a streamlined centralized booking center right outside the jail. Brown is right to be very proud of it. When a person is arrested and charged with a serious offense, he is taken to a central booking station, located next to the jail. Arresting officers at one time had to wait as the accused was processed, which usually took between two and four hours. With 2,000* bookings per year, this was roughly 4,000-8,000 man hours. This is an incredible drain on smaller departments. It often meant that there'd be no police coverage. The changes that Brown and Corrections Director Dan Keen made early last year put those police officers back on the street within 30 minutes.

In addition to the central booking station at the jail, there are two others. One of them is in Bethlehem, and that at one time was the sole booking center. The third and newest one was built in Lehigh Township with grant funds provided by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. In addition to Lehigh Township, it serves the police departments in Walnutport, Northampton ,North Catty and Moore Township. It includes a Livescan Fingerprint Computer System, Commonwealth Photo Imaging Network (CPIN) and Videoconferencing Closed Circuit TV Network. It's a 24/7 operation that serves the same purpose as the other two booking centers - getting police officers back on patrol. But the grant commitment only funded operations temporarily, and language in the agreement made that clear.

Somewhere along the line, Lehigh Township got the impression that Northampton County would continue funding operations. Two weeks ago, John Brown made clear they were wrong at a Council meeting attended by Supervisor Cindy Miller, Chief Scott Fogel, Manager Alice Rehrig and Magisterial District Judge Robert Hawke. They wee also lathered up that the County had moved a polling station out of Lehigh Township and into Moore Township.

Brown's attitude was that, if these municipalities want their officers back on the road quickly, they should pay for it. Their position is that the county should pay for it out of funds assessed to defendants when they are processed. Brown made his remarks after Lehigh Township officials had already left, but when they heard about it, they vowed they'd be back.

In the meantime, Council President John Cusick asked Controller Steve Barron to "audit" the Lehigh Township center. All Barron could really do is point out the competing arguments made by both sides.

Yesterday afternoon, Cindy Miller was back before Council's Finance committee. She claimed that Northampton County's central booking unit was a "mess" before her Chief came down to Northampton County and assisted them in streamlining it. She asked why the County would refuse to pay for Lehigh Township but pay for Bethlehem.

Brown previously stated that he agreed to pay an additional year for Bethlehem because of the 911 merger, but it's only for one year.

He told Council that the central booking unit actually operates at a loss. In 2016, it collected $274,578 in fees but spent $418,443 in expenses. He was unwilling to bear the $17,680 bill for Lehigh.

Council President John Cusick put things in perspective. "This is $17,000 for public safety," he observed. "We spent $50,000 for a fish tank at the bottom of the hill," he added, referring to the proposed DaVinci Center.

Gene Hartzell, if he were still Executive, would call Cindy Miller into his office and explain in detail why he's unable to pay that bill, much as he'd like to help. Then he'd send her a check and tell her it's the last time.

The northwestern quadrant of Northampton County is heavily Republican. Why on earth would John Brown want to alienate them in an election year, especially since he already suppressed the vote by moving a precinct that would have voted for him into another township? He may be a good bean counter, but he's a lousy politician who is arguing over a minor matter.

After the meeting, Miller went to Brown's office. Hopefully, the spirit of Gene Hartzell possessed him.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Congressman Cartwright Gets Friendly Reception at NCC Town Hall

Matt Cartwright
When Congressman Charlie Dent faced 400 angry people at Hanover Township Community Center a few weeks ago on a cold and rainy day, it was hard for him to speak more than a few words without being interrupted by numerous catcalls over Trump's attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare with something that Dent himself refused  to support. But the weather and mood was much brighter last night, when Congressman Matt Cartwright faced a friendly crowd of about 90 people at  Northampton Community College's Alumni Hall. One of the messages he repeated frequently is that "democracy really works."

Northampton County is split between Dent, whose 15th Congressional District extends along Route 78 to Dauphin County, and Cartwright, whose 17th Congressional District extends north to Carbondale.

Bethlehem Township Commissioners Tom Nolan and Malissa Davis were there, along with Palmer Township Supervisor Ann Marie Panella and Easton Mayor Sal Panto. NorCo Exec hopeful Lamont McClure attended, along with County Council hopefuls Bill McGee and Tara Zrinski. Easton City Council candidates Terrence Miller and Taiba Sultana were spotted, as was Saucon Valley School Director candidate Tracy Magnotta.

Cartwright began the town hall by introducing and praising many members of his staff, outlining their specialties. Then he got down to business, answering questions written in advance by members of the audience. From time to time, someone would blurt out a question, and he answered those, too.

About 90 people at Cartwright Town Hall
Obamacare. - Cartwright said that he and Dent are in the same neighborhood. "There are a lot of problems with ACA (Affordable Healthcare Act). It's too expensive on some groups. It has deductibles that are too high on some other groups, and it involves some taxes that disparately impact some groups and some industries." He spoke of some taxes he considers unfair, like the Cadillac tax and the bedpan tax. "It actually hurts some of the manufacturers right here in the Lehigh Valley." But Cartwright observed that "we've moved the needle on this discussion. It used to be, 'no way, no how,' on anything like the ACA, but now it's, 'Let's make it work.'" He is hopeful that a bipartisan solution can be achieved "to work out the kinks in the ACA and make it work for everybody. That's what the American people want."

Trump Budget. - Cartwright believes Trump never laid eyes on his proposed budget,and that it was hatched "in the basement of the Heritage Foundation." He said "it is dead on arrival." He noted American people will oppose many of the cuts to popular programs.

Appropriations Committee. - "I really enjoy working on the Appropriations Committee," Cartwright said. It's a position he shared with Dent.

Trump Tax Returns. - Cartwright explained that there is a Bill to force Trump to release his tax returns, but that because Republics are in charge of the House, "they control what bills come up for vote in committee." He also noted that even if such a bill were to pass the House and Senate, it would have to go to the White House for Trump's signature. "Raise your hand if you thin he's gonna' sign that."

Social Security - Cartwright supports SS2100, an attempt to extend the solvency of social security. He noted that Schuylkill County has 150,000 people and 38,000 are on social security.

Regulations. - Cartwright opposed and voted against the Scrub Act because there were no hearings. "I don't call them regulations, I call them protections."  He admitted "there are some bad regulations out there that need to go but we need to work on them one at a time."

Trump.- "Make no mistake, I am not here to trash Donald Trump. He won the election," said Cartwright. "Not by a majority," someone in the audience muttered. "He won it by the rules that are laid out and I have to work with him." He likes Trump's desire to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure, but not by tax credits to private corporations.

Next President.- "Not me."

Gerrymandering. - Like Dent, Cartwright explained that redistricting is done by the state legislature, not Congress. Speaking of his own district, he asked, "Did you ever see a map of my district? That is a shape that does not occur in nature."

Bethlehem Township Paves Way For Brodhead Road

Township Engineer Brian Dillman
At their April 17 meeting, Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners voted on a number of resolutions that gives Township engineer Brian Dillman the green light to proceed with what really is a reconstruction of Brodhead Road. That's a 9,000 ft long, two-lane Township road that extends east from Township Line Road until it intersects with Route 191. Located in Lehigh Valley Industrial Park, the road is heavily traveled by tractor trailers, and has been the subject of numerous complaints by township residents. Commissioners set aside $1.3 million for this project in this year's budget, and a $400,000 grant has been secured.

Dillman told Commissioners that the eastern part of the project, near Route 191, will be completed by the Bethlehem Distribution Center developer. The project will include four pedestrian crossings, and Commissioners agreed to seek PennDot approval for warning signals at the three crossings near Township Line Road, Miller Circle and Opus Way.

Before reconstruction begins, handicapped accessible ramps must be prepared on sidewalks adjoining the road.

Bids are expected by late May, followed by a contract award construction starting in mid to late June. It will be a 120-day contract broken into three phases. In the first phase, the contractor will put together a maintenance and traffic protection plan. The second phase, will involve reconstruction of one of the road lanes. The third phase will be reconstruction of the other lane.

When the actual reconstruction starts in late July, Brodhead will be a one-way detour westbound to Route 512. Some of the work will be done at night, but Dillman said some of the work must be done in daylight or else the product suffers.

Tom Nolan, Malissa Davis and Pat Breslin voted to authorize Manager Melissa Shafer to seek bids. Mike Hudak and Kim Jenkins were absent.

In other business, Commissioners approved an update to its comprehensive plan after an exhaustive review that included 14 meetings. Planning Commissioner James Daley told the board that traffic mitigation and stormwater management are the two critical issues they considered most.

Nolan, Davis and Breslin also voted unanimously to adopt a resolution supporting legislative efforts to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania by establishing an independent commission to draw state legislative and congressional districts following the 2020 census. They did so following a lengthy presentation by Fritz Walker of Fair District Pa. "Voters should choose their legislators," said Walker. "Unfortunately, it's frequently legislators who are choosing the voters. That's not the way it should be."

Bethlehem Township is the 21st Pa. municipality to adopt a resolution in support of an independent redistircting commission.

Beware of HR Staffers Bearing Gifts

In Northampton County and other municipalities, some employees have something called a P-card. This is a purchasing or procurement card. It's similar to a credit card. It eliminates both a cumbersome procurement process and the need for petty cash, which is always subject to abuse. It provides an electronic trail, so people like the Controller or any good government watchdog can determine whether taxpayer funds are being spent properly. But Northampton County's Department of Human Resources has basically perverted the P-card system to crate another kind of petty cash or slush funds. It is doing so by purchasing gift cards.

On January 1, Courtney Kendzejeski, who is in command of Human Resources at Gracedale, used her P-Card to purchase $1,000 worth of gift cards from Target. Human Resources Director Amy Trapp has been handing others out to some county workers. So what's the big deal?

First, gift cards totally defeat the purpose of having P-Cards. With a P-Card, you can follow the money. But once that money is spent to buy gift cards, accountability is gone. When $1,000 worth of gift cards are purchased, what assurance is there that these gift cards are actually being used to reward worthy employees? Unfortunately, the potential for fraud exists. Amy Trapp or Courtney Kendzejeski or someone else could simply keep a few or even most of those cards for themselves, and no one in the county would be any the wiser. To be clear, I have no reason to doubt the personal integrity of any person in Human Relations. But sooner or later,someone in that department will use these gift cards as his or her personal piggy bank.

Second, there is some evidence that rewarding employees with gift cards can backfire. According to one article in Forbes, they can actually demotivate workers who would prefer to see their hard work rewarded the way it should be - with a fair wage. Some will also feel that favorites are being rewarded.

Finally, gift cards are taxable income. The County derives its revenue with property taxes, yet is handing out cash equivalents to employees that it is failing to report as income. This happens to be the opinion of SHRM,where several HR staffers are members.

Allentown Ladder Truck Breaks Down Battling Blaze

On Friday, I told you things are so bad at Allentown Fire Department that a pick-up truck is being used as one of the six "engines" that respond to fire calls. There are supposed to be two ladder trucks, but one of them has been taken out of service. Between 2008 and this year, Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski has slashed the operations budget by 65.52%.

"He is setting our department up for failure," warned firefighter Jeremy Warmkessel.

On Tuesday, that failure happened.

Firefighters responded to a fire at the rear of 654 N Jordan with their one remaining ladder truck. It broke down as they battled the blaze, endangering both firefighters and the citizens they serve.

The fire vehicles are serviced by a a garage whose manager seems always to be "waiting for parts." He receives a bonus each year, determined by how much he saves the City.

Fortunately, no one was injured as a result of using defective equipment. But that is only a matter of time.

NorCo Heroin Task Force Gets $103,000 Grant

Northampton County's Heroin and Opioid Overdose Task Force (Task Force) has  received a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic. This money will promote community based education and awareness. It will also fund access to treatment and naloxone, a life-saving treatment for drug overdoses. .

Who's in this task force?  Bethlehem Health Bureau, Northampton County Drug and Alcohol Division, Northampton County Coroner, St. Luke’s University Health Network, Lehigh Valley Health Network, ethlehem EMS, Bethlehem Police, Bangor Police, Northampton County Department of Corrections, Center for Humanistic Change, Neighborhood Health Centers of the Lehigh Valley and Two Rivers Health and Wellness Foundation.

Two Rivers Health and Wellness will administer the grant.

Justin Sheftel Memorial Softball Tournament Set

The 13th annual Justin Sheftel Memorial Softball Tournament is set for June 17, 2017 at the Lehigh County Athletic Fields. Twenty-two teams will be competing and over 800 friends, players, family and community members will be in attendance.

Former Philadelphia Eagles placekicker and 6-time NFL Pro-Bowler David Akers will be part of a new VIP Reception and will participate in a free Fitness and Sports Performance Clinic for middle and high school aged students. There will be softball, but mostly, there will be fun.

Through the Tournament, the Justin Sheftel Memorial Fund has grown significantly over the years and, with its growth, the memorial fund has been able to increase its impact on local non-profits and to deliver a message against underage drinking and drinking while driving. The Justin Sheftel Memorial Fund has awarded twenty-two scholarships to deserving Parkland High School students and participates in many other charities throughout the community.

Information on how to meet David Akers and to become a sponsor: http://justinsheftel.com/sponsorship/sponsorship-information

This event is held in honor of Justin Sheftel, who died in June of 2005 at the age of 18, just hours after he graduated from Parkland High School. Sheftel was hit by a car driven by a drunken driver while crossing a street in Ocean City, Maryland. Out of this tragedy grew the annual Justin Sheftel Memorial Softball Tournament, which was started by a group of Justin’s friends as an incredible and meaningful way to honor his life.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Barron: Stronger Internal Controls Needed For NorCo Staff Training and Travel

Controller Steve Barron
What happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, they say. But word that two Human Resources staffers went on a junket there, and to the Mirage Hotel no less, is just one of many disturbing details disclosed by the information I've received from Northampton County in response to a Right-to-Know.

It disturbs NorCo Controller Steve Barron, too. Below is a memo he sent to County Council yesterday, calling for greater internal controls over staff training and travel instead of an out-of control county that has authorized trips to Vegas, New Orleans, Atlantic City's Harrah Resort and other posh destinations. Specifically, he suggests that Council should approve all travel requests that are over 100 miles away.  

As Controller, I have the duty to audit the fiscal transactions of all agencies that receive or disburse county funds, and report to you and the Executive if I determine that the potential for waste or abuse exists. I am empowered to audit the account of any agency, at any time, without interference and on my own initiative. The purpose of this report is to put you on notice that the potential for waste and abuse exists with staff development training and travel expenses, demonstrating a need for stronger internal controls.

Year-end budget numbers for 2016 reveal that the budget for staff development in the Department of Human Resources jumped from $5,749.35 to a staggering $56,758.15. This is an increase of 987% in one year (Exhibit 1).

I reviewed other county departments to compare those costs of staff development and training within the county (Exhibit 2). As you will see, the jail had the highest cost for staff development and training, but that is because the County was addressing drastic staff shortages and the training was mostly done in-house. The jail now has filled 196 of its 200 positions.

Human Resources did a lot of training away from the courthouse campus. To prevent potential waste and abuse and conserve taxpayer dollars, internal controls are needed to ensure that training and travel expenses are not abused.

As an example, I refer to an airfare charge for a two-night trip to the NeoGov User Conference (October 12-14, 2016) in Las Vegas (Exhibit 3). There is a hotel bill for that time period for two employees at the Mirage Hotel. There were two rooms purchased as one male and one female traveled on the trip. Conferences like this are meant more for networking and less about training. NeoGov was brought online in late 2014 and used through 2015. This conference was not so much about training and seems to be excessive if not outright abusive. The total cost for the airfare, conference fees and hotels was $2,434.32. This total does not include meals. This seems excessive when the Department of Defense only allows $102 max for a hotel and a $166 dollar per diem total in Las Vegas (Exhibit 4).

A second example is an airfare charge that came two months after the Las Vegas trip. This trip was for a Worker’s Compensation Conference in New Orleans, LA. Two male Human Resource staff members were scheduled to go on this trip, but only one went. Interestingly, this staff member is one of the two who had just traveled to Las Vegas two months earlier. He stayed from 11/29/2016 until 12/2/2016 in New Orleans (Exhibit 6). The cost for airfare and hotel on this trip was $1,297.68. This cost does not include fees for the conference or meals. The Department of Defense per diem rate in New Orleans is $192-220, and the funds expended by the County appear to have been in excess of that allotment.

This same staffer is currently registered for a Harrisburg Worker’s Compensation Conference in June. This begs the question whether the New Orleans travel was really necessary as there are clearly conferences much closer. Also, how many training conferences does this employee need to be proficient in Worker’s Compensation?

The Controller’s office uses software for data analysis called ACL. This software has a user conference as well. In 2017 it is in Nashville, TN. While I would love to send my staff to this conference, it is would be a poor use of taxpayer money. We have instead formed a user group with several members of the Institute of Internal Auditors and that group meets at PP&L on a regular basis.

I am sure there are users of NeoGov in close geographic proximity to Northampton County where the Human Resource Office can apply a similar strategy to save taxpayer money. The next NeoGov User Conference is at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in October of 2017. It is my hope that Council can work to convince the County Executive that sending people this year would be a waste of taxpayer money.

I decided to check what other counties do when travel expenses are approved. In Lehigh County it is largely a function of the department head to anticipate training and travel during the budget process. In Cambria County (Johnstown, PA), County Commissioners must approve all travel outside the state. Cambria County is a 4th class county. Allegheny County has a very strict policy on travel, which I have attached (Exhibit 5). You can see that they limit travel and require several approvals. Allegheny County is a 2nd class county. Finally, Dauphin County, who is a 3rd class county like we are, has the county commissioner vote on all travel outside the routine mileage taken by workers who are required to travel off site as part of their job duties.

The final highlight of these expenses would be a $7,050.00 bill paid to Northampton County Community College for five employees in the Human Resource Department to be trained (Exhibit 7). These trainings were titled:

• Effective Interactions
• Situational Leadership
• Conflict Resolution Strategies
• Managing the Performance of Others
• Coaching for Improved Performance
• Basic Management Skills

This cost was approximately $1,400 per employee. This is excessive. In 2016, we spent approximately $700.00 per correction officer at the jail for their training and staff development. Someone hired into a professional human resources position should be proficient in them before they are hired into that department.

I wanted to also note that there are several meals that seem to be purchased and paid for on these trips and at these conferences that look to be in violation of Northampton County’s Policy on Travel, Meal and Mileage Reimbursement (Code 3.708). However, I will address those in the Procurement Card Audit that will be beginning this month. Several of the meals purchased in the Human Resource Department and throughout the county are purchased using Procurement Cards. This way we can do a universal look at the reimbursement policy and make recommendations based on a larger countywide view.

In closing, it is important to bring this to your attention now since the cost for this line item is already at $19,906.26 (as of 4/12/2017). At the end of 2016 there was discussion of budget transfers to pay a vendor that ultimately led to that bill being paid in 2017. In the e-mail attached Doran Hamann said to one of the disbursement staff that there was no more money to move in 2016 (Exhibit 8). The bill was paid in the 1/06/2017 check run when there was money in the budget to cover the expense. The e-mail exchange was attached to the bill that was paid in 2017 as justification for holding the bill and delaying payment.

Clearly some of these 2017 expenses are not budgeted for and the budgeted amount for 2017 in Misc Employee Benefits in the Human Resource Department (which includes staff development) is only $35,000. That means that already 63% is spent for 2017, and we are only in April.

Alerting Council to this matter in advance highlights a potential problem. Hopefully, this memo will curb spending as more scrutiny is placed on these expenses and ultimately prevent the frivolous and abusive spending of taxpayer money. I also included a complete list of these costs for 2016 in Exhibit 9 and total for 2017 expenses as Exhibit 10. If there are any other items you would like reviewed or to inquire about you now have ready access to the information.

I also recommend that Council take a larger oversight role in travel matters that could lead to large costs. Something reasonable like council approval of all travel that is over 100 miles from the county (excluding the District Attorney, Courts, Sheriff duties for the Courts or routine travel in departments like CYF) would not be too burdensome and allow you greater oversight of the budget expenses which you approve as part of your duties under the Home Rule Charter. The 100 mile limit would not limit travel to places that county employees usual travel to for conferences and training (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, New York), but will provide oversight and an additional approval when airfare and additional taxpayer money would be required to be spent. Council may also want to consider adopting adherence to the DOD rates for travel and reimbursement.

Thank you for your diligent review of these concerns, and I would be happy to provide additional documentation if requested.