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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, August 18, 2017

Romney: Authoritarian Donald Trump Needs to Apologize

From Mitt Romney's Facebook page: I will dispense for now from discussion of the moral character of the president's Charlottesville statements. Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn. His apologists strain to explain that he didn't mean what we heard. But what we heard is now the reality, and unless it is addressed by the president as such, with unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence an unraveling of our national fabric.

The leaders of our branches of military service have spoken immediately and forcefully, repudiating the implications of the president's words. Why? In part because the morale and commitment of our forces--made up and sustained by men and women of all races--could be in the balance. Our allies around the world are stunned and our enemies celebrate; America's ability to help secure a peaceful and prosperous world is diminished. And who would want to come to the aid of a country they perceive as racist if ever the need were to arise, as it did after 9/11?

In homes across the nation, children are asking their parents what this means. Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims are as much a part of America as whites and Protestants. But today they wonder. Where might this lead? To bitterness and tears, or perhaps to anger and violence?

The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize. State forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100% to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville. Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis--who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat--and the counter-protestors who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute. And once and for all, he must definitively repudiate the support of David Duke and his ilk and call for every American to banish racists and haters from any and every association.

This is a defining moment for President Trump. But much more than that, it is a moment that will define America in the hearts of our children. They are watching, our soldiers are watching, the world is watching. Mr. President, act now for the good of the country.

How Do You Feel About Confederate Statues?

I deleted a number of comments in yesterday's post about Authoritarian Donald Trump's attempt to create a false equivalency between KKK and neo-Nazis on the one hand, and liberal counter protesters on the other. Most of them were arguments about whether we really need to tear Confederate statues. Some people feel they have historical significance. Others may have ancestors who fought for the south in the Civil War. They complain that it's unfair to judge these men by today's standards, and ask where it ends. Should we tear down the Washington monument because he owned slaves? Should we destroy statues in honor of Ulysses S Grant, who once stopped a train to eject every Jew who was on board?

Here's how I feel. I think these are primarily local, not national, decisions. People who live in New Orleans or Charlottesville understand their communities better than I and are entitled to deference. Also, it matters when a Confederate memorial was built. The sculptures in New Orleans and Charlottesville existed long before the Civil Rights movement, while the monuments in Baltimore were built right after WWII, during a time of racial unrest.  

I'd prefer to see statues to Christopher Columbus destroyed. He was a monster who practiced genocide and was so brutal to native Americans that Spanish locked him in chains.

I'd prefer to see Allentown, which is named after a Tory who would have hung George Washington if he could, renamed.

But these are primarily local decisions. I don't consider Allentown residents to be secret British spies, and understand that most Italians honor Christopher Columbus because they share a common heritage.

Brown Has Some Good Financial News for NorCo and Gracedale

John Brown
Although he usually passes when given the opportunity to speak, Northampton County Executive John Brown gave a brief report to Council at their August 17 meeting. He had good news and even better news.

First, he advised Council that the annual payment the County must set aside for worker's compensation claims has been decreased sharply, from $9 million to just $6 million. This means an additional $3 million will go into the general fund next year.

Second, he predicted that Gracedale should finish this year in the black, making it the second year in a row that the county's nursing home has actually made money. He cautioned that nothing is certain at this point and added that the money earned this year should be a little less than last year, when the facility closed the books with about $800,000.

In addition to Brown's good news, Gracedale Administrator Raymond Soto reported that Gracedale's Medicare rating is now two stars, thanks to an increase to two stars in its rating for "quality measures," which is resident care. This rating means the nursing home is "below average" as opposed to "much below average."

Raymond Soto, Premier's Administrator at Gracedale, had predicted to Council last month that the overall rating would stay at one star until next year.

This quality measures rating has increased as administrators have begun phasing in a new protocol that reduces the use of psychotropic drugs, which are often criticized as chemical restraints.

Dean Browning
In other business, Council welcomed former Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning, who told them a story about Juan Francisco López-Sánchez. He had been deported from the United States five times, but kept returning. He had seven felony convictions. He had just been released from prison in San Francisco, which refused to honor a request (called a detainer) by federal authorities to continue holding him.

After his release, Sánchez fired a stolen gun three times in the vicinity of Pier 14, a popular tourist destination. One of these bullets hit Kate Steinlein the back, puncturing her aorta. She died two hours later.

Kate's Law is a bill that increase the penalties for illegal aliens who commit crimes in this country after having been deported.

This bill has passed in the House with bipartisan support. Locally, both Congressman Charlie Dent and Matt Cartwright supported this measure.

Another bill, the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act," has also passed the House with the support of both local Congressmen. This measure takes aim at what are known as sanctuary cities. First, it requires an annual list of all jurisdictions that refuse to assist federal authorities with the removal of undocumented immigrants who commit crimes. Second, it removes any legal liability imposed on local jails that honor federal detainers. Third, it provides a private right of action against municipalities that refuse to follow federal immigration law.

Both of these bills are now in the Senate. Browning asked Council to adopt a resolution affirming support for these measures.

Hayden Phillips has agreed to sponsor this resolution.

Browning is still in Easton, by the way. Formerly an intellectual, he joined the tea party and has regressed. He now can only turn right and is stuck in the Easton Circle. Hopefully, Hayden Phillips will pull him out of there before he turns into a Democrat.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

USA Today: Feds Have 87% Conviction Rate in Local Political Corruption Cases

USA Today has a fascinating story on the federal investigation of political corruption. Though the story's focus is a federal investigation of political corruption in Tallahassee, it makes several observations that are directly relevant to the Fed Ed prosecution.

First, despite claims that the FBI's main focus is elsewhere, "Public corruption is the FBI’s chief criminal investigative priority and is something it does very well."

Second, when it comes to public corruption, its conviction rate is 87%.
"From 1996 to 2015, U.S. Attorney offices charged 5,411 local officials with public corruption crimes, earning 4,699 convictions, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The investigation in Tallahassee is one of roughly 5,000 the FBI launched from roughly 2012 to 2016 concerning allegations of public corruption, election crimes or government fraud."
Third, "Local governments are more vulnerable to corruption ... because there are fewer eyes watching. Payments typically don’t need to go through the same approval process required at the state and federal level."

Fourth, local pols are cheap dates. "Bribes can take the form of 'street currency' — dinners and sports tickets. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, prosecutors said all it took for Mayor Ed Pawlowski to dole out a city contract was a steak dinner, campaign contributions and tickets to a Philadelphia Eagles playoff game."

NorCo Sheriffs Have A Rich History

In Pennsylvania, where elected sheriffs are the rule, the guy who wins the election is usually one of the biggest tavern owners. Northampton County is one of the very few counties in which the Sheriff is appointed. Having seen them both, my view is that appointed Sheriffs tend to be far more professional, if only because the courts are given a voice in the selection process.But I'd prefer to see the appointments run for a staggered term of five or ten years to minimize the politics.

Northampton County has quite an interesting history when it comes to the Sheriff's office. As I've told you before, Deputy Sheriff Nathan Ogden was the first American law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty, back in 1771.

Sheriff Dave Dalrymple has managed to put together a complete list of the 71 individuals who have been Northampton County Sheriff since 1752.

Marmaduke McMichael was a Lieutenant during the War of 1812. We even have a Samuel Adams. But instead of brewing beer, he made steel and then became a gentleman farmer.

Trump and Charlottesville: Reaction of Local Exec Candidates

How do our County Executive candidates, in both Lehigh and Northampton County, feel about Donald Trump's assertion that there are "very fine people, on both sides," in connection with the tragedy in Charlottesville. I have responses from three of the four candidates:

Phillips Armstrong, Lehigh County Exec Candidate: "I condemn the violence and racism that was on display in Charlottesville this past weekend, and I say unequivocally that Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan are always in the wrong. I don't believe it takes more than a minute to see that. I believe it is time to move beyond the divisions and supremacist groups in this country and to move forward as one team - Americans."

Brad Osborne, Lehigh County Exec Candidate: ""President Trump's condemnation of white supremacy and racial bigotry made this past weekend is the correct moral response to the events that took place in Charlottesville. There is no room to equivocate from this condemnation.

I also believe that the diversity of Lehigh County residents is one of our greatest strengths, and I look forward to working with leaders of all races and backgrounds as county executive."

Lamont McClure, NorCo Exec candidate: "The Nazis and White Nationalists are solely responsible for the violence in Charlottesville. Any other point of view, is an attempt to normalize the odious, outdated, discredited and repugnant beliefs they spew. If I'm elected County Executive, our people can be confident that all people, no matter their sex, religion, race, ethnicity or national origin, will be treated by their county government with the dignity and respect that they are due by virtue of their Humanity."

John Brown, NorCo Exec candidate: No response.

Fire Marshal Doubts Arson in Warehouse Blaze

Bethlehem Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal Craig Baer has issued a statement downplaying the possibility of arson in the August 10 blaze at a Bethlehem warehouse being built at 3419 Commerce Center Boulevard. The property is owned by Majestic Realty, and is located next to a Walmart distribution center. No one was injured.

Baer has determined that the fire originated while the final roof surface was being installed. This involves the use of a highly flammable adhesive. "The vapors from this adhesive were likely ignited by one of multiple ignition sources on the roof," said Baer. "There is no evidence available at this time to indicate that this fire was intentionally set."

Baer cautions that his investigation is active and ongoing, and that a final fire cause is still pending. Any person who feels they may have valid information regarding this fire can contact the Fire Marshal’s Office at 610-865-7143.

Bethlehem Response To Charlottesville? Holding Hands, Prayer

Over the weekend, as the 34th Musikfest came to an end, Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio had just one word to describe it - "Great!" Over the 10-day festival, over 1.2 million people visited the Christmas City. Only 36 people were arrested, mostly for public drunkenness. But 309 miles away in Charlottesville, Va., a  "Unite the Right"  rally ended in tragedy. Three people are dead. Dozens more are injured. A President first said "both sides" are to blame, then blamed white supremacists and the KKK, and finally returned to saying that "both sides" are responsible.

How did Bethlehem respond?

By holding hands. By praying.

That's what happened Tuesday afternoon at a 5 pm rally called by civil rights champion Esther Lee, who is also President of Bethlehem's NAACP. Nearly 60 people attended. They included clergymen, Bethlehem City officials and the Sierra Club's Don Miles.

"We here in Bethlehem condemn acts of hatred and are deeply saddened by the loss of life," said Mayor Bob Donchez. "We need to show those who divide us that we will not be divided. ... Tonight we are one with Charlottesville and its citizens."

Police Chief Mark DiLuzio stated we have devolved into a nation of "name callers." He said his father is probably "rolling over in his grave at the sight of American citizens giving a Nazi salute."n His father a WWII vet,is one of the 43,000 allied soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach because he did not want Nazism to come to the United States. "Well, Dad, it isn't coming here," asserted Chief DiLuzio. He said people throughout the nation are rising up to say, "We will not stand for or agree with your hatred and prejudice."

Speaking for the Sierra Club, Don Miles read a statement stating that the white supremacists are not patriots, but "vile and unacceptable racists preaching hatred and division that stands in opposition to the values of equality and justice." He added that "those who spew white supremacy feel empowered now when they see allies in the corridors of power."

Rev. Anthony Pompa, Dean and Rector of Cathedral Church of the Nativity,  said that, in the end, "it's all about love. If it's not about love, it's not about God."

Cordelia Miller, Bethlehem NAACP Vice President, said her family came to this country in the bottom of slave ships,"chained together like animals. Someone wants to tell me to go back to the good old days. What good old days?" Holding the American flag in her hand, she said, "This flags stands for something, or it should."

Esther Lee noted that Trump is the people's representative, and was puzzled that he did not immediately condemn the racism."I am very concerned about what he has not said," she observed.

Text of Mayor Donchez' remarks:

Our nation has had a long and difficult history dealing with white supremacy, racism, bigotry, and intolerance. Our founding fathers declared “that all men are created equal,” and it took much conflict and bloodshed over almost 250 years to live up to that. And yet, have we? Once again, we are gathered together to condemn the shocking violence in Charlottesville and the vile ideology behind it.

This kind of thinking and behavior have no place in America or anywhere in the world. We in Bethlehem condemn acts of hatred, and are deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries suffered in Charlottesville. We stand with Mayor Signer and everyone in his city with hope and prayers for a return to a more peaceful time. We also stand together here in Bethlehem, supporting all our brothers and sisters in this show of unity and strength as a community.

We need to show those who would divide us that we will not be divided, we will stand here together as a sign of unity not division. The hatred that comes with racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and intolerance, will not be condoned or supported here in Bethlehem or anywhere else for that matter. We are one. Our anger and abhorrence against those who would hate us, must be converted to something more positive – to hope, to faith and to love. To quote Martin Luther King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Tonight, we show solidarity, not only for Charlottesville victims, but also for Bethlehem and for the Lehigh Valley. Tonight, we are one with Charlottesville and its citizens. Tonight, we need to lock arms across the many lines and boundaries of difference and commit ourselves to unity. Tonight, we must be tolerant of all that makes up our city, our region and our country – Black and White, Latino and Asian, rural and urban, poor and rich, gay and straight, male, female and transgender. Tonight, across the entire spectrum of all that is America we need to achieve social and economic justice and equality for all.

The politics of division and hate must end and they must end now.

To quote John F. Kennedy, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis, maintain their, neutrality.” This is indeed, a time of great moral crisis, and we can no longer say, it doesn’t affect me - because it does. Thank you.

Portions of Esther Lee's remarks:

I was appalled as the President of these United States Donald Trump had great difficulty in condemning the acts of the KKK and white supremacists. I watched as he skirted the issue.

It is so hard to believe that the  President of these United States had to be shamed into delivering his condemnation ... .


We know that hate is alive in this area as there are signs daily in individuals who enjoy sharing their racist views by carrying the Confederate flag or wearing the sign of hate.".

(Blogger's Note: This story was delayed a day so it could appear in The Bethlehem Press first.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Judge Sanchez Schedules Fed Ed's Trial For January

United States District Judge Juan R. Sánchez has granted a government motion for a January 16 trial in the federal political corruption prosecution of Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski. The trial will take place in Allentown.

In a scheduling order on Monday, Judge Sánchez ordered the government to provide all discovery to which Fed Ed and his fellow Defendants are entitled, on or before September 15. Pretrial motions are due on or before November 9, and if a hearing is needed, that will occur on November 28. The judge has also scheduled a final pretrial conference on January 4. That is typically when plea agreements are reached.

In his final paragraph, Judge Sánchez warns, "No requests for a continuance shall be granted."

Trump: "Very Fine People, on Both Sides"

These storm troopers arrived in the dead of night, carrying torches. The next day it was weapons and armor. But this was not Hitler's SS. These were American citizens, saluting each other with "Heil Trump!" and decrying Jews. "They were very fine people, on both sides," said Authoritarian Donald Trump.

"These people want violence,and the right is just meeting market demand," said a white supremacist at the end of this clip.

Why Bethlehem's Proposed LERTA is a Bad Idea

You can read why in today's Bethlehem Press.

Bethlehem Police Chief on Charlottesville

Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio said his father, a WWII vet, would be rolling over in his grave at the sight of American citizens,in Charlottesville, giving each other the Nazi salute. He made these remarks at a rally yesterday at Payrow Plaza, attended by nearly 60 people. My full story will appear in The Bethlehem Press today.

Bethlehem Police Chief Has One Word for Musifest - Great!

Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio told Bethlehem City Council last night that if he had to sum up Musikfest with just one word, that word would be "Great!"

Of the 1.2 million who attended this year's Musikfest, Bethlehem police made just 36 arrests. This is well below the 49 arrest average over the past 13 years. It amounts to 0.0036% per 1 million people.

Of those arrested, only 12 were Bethlehem residents.

The biggest crime, as you may have guessed, was public drunkenness. Thirteen people had a bit too much to drink. But there were only two underage drinkers.

Chief DiLuzio noted that his officer provide a visible uniformed police presence throughout Musikfest. They are on foot,on bikes and on horseback.In fact, the mounted troop has become one of the festival's biggest attractions. He also thanked the departments of other communities, who provide K-9 and other kinds of assistance.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump Tweets Train Running Into CNN Reporter

Just three days after Heather Heyer was run down and killed by a neo Nazi, Authoritarian Donald Trump tweeted an image of a "Trump train" running down a CNN reporter. For those of you who wonder why I think he's bad for this country this is why. This totally insensitive gesture demonstrates scary views about the rights to a free press and gives yet another wink-and-nod to the KKK and other white supremacist hate groups.  

Fed Ed's Graffiti Artist

I debated whether to write anything at all about Allentown Fed Ed's newest cheerleader, especially since he appears to be an attention-seeker. But I decided to fill you in. His name is John-Luke Laube. After some of his more recent publicity stunts, he might want to change that to John-Luke Labotomy. He's the fellow who was charged recently with disorderly conduct and malicious mischief after deciding to paint mostly pro Fed Ed messages on the windows of several businesses. These include The Morning Call, PPL Center, Miller Symphony Hall, Billy's Diner and Starbucks. His crime, if you can call it a crime, was caught on video by Naomi Winch.

Most of us first became aware of John-Luke Labotomy late last week, when he popped up on Facebook to proclaim that "Ed Pawlowski is Innocent." He promised to prove it, too, on Friday night at 7 pm. But that never happened.

His argument essentially is that because "Allentown is on the rise," it necessarily follows that Fed Ed is innocent. This, of course, is an illogical argument. But it's a favorite among Mayors. Criticism of Mayor Sal Panto's use of false names to praise himself on social media has been equated with criticism of Easton. In Nazareth, where a Mayor was skimming from the poker machines, the wagons circled and the Mayor suddenly became Mr. Nazareth.

Though the argument was bad, I was impressed by John-Luke Labotomy's Clickable Click website. It definitely is eye-catching, and he is succinct while sounding sincere. But I was troubled by some things. He lists locations in Paris, New York and Kentucky. He lists a Paris address that is actually a four-story apartment building. He actually just registered his webpage from his home in Emmaus in June of this year. So his claim of multiple locations is a bit far-fetched.

He may have traveled in his young life, but actually lives with his parents in Emmaus.

The next thing that bothers me about John-Luke Labotomy is his LinkedIn profile claim that he's a product of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In truth, he has no degree. He claims to have a "certification" for entrepreneurship, but all that's involved there is a four-week course lasting one or two hours per week. His real education appears to be a stint at Lehigh County Community College. He also claims to be certified as a "Platinum Multimedia Artist" by Lehigh Career Technical Institute, but I was unable to find anything like that on their website.

John-Luke has denied that he is working for Fed Ed in any way, either personally or through his various names. Fed Ed has been even more clear. "Mr. Laube is in no way shape or form employed by me or my campaign," says a Mayor indicted for, among other things, lying to the FBI.

Their claim is flatly contradicted by Yoseph Basrawi, who at one time worked with John-Luke.

Basrawi claims that last week, he ran into John-Luke at the Starbucks in Allentown. John Luke claimed he is working on Fed Ed's campaign, and even demonstrated that he has administration privileges on Fed Ed's Facebook page.

Yesterday, I repeatedly asked John-Luke to explain this relationship, telling him I had information there was one. He declined. John-Luke has played fast and loose with the truth about nearly everything. Fed Ed is himself accused of making false statements to the FBI. So there is little doubt in my mind that John-Luke is working Fed Ed's campaign, either as a volunteer or for money.

What John-Luke is doing is marketing himself and trying to appear attractive to local businesses.

I suspect he picked a lousy way to achieve that goal.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Ron Angle's Cows -1, Suki - 0

This dog can jump out of a Ranger, and fortunately,
can jump back in. 
From time to time, my grandson and his mother go away for a weekend at the beach or for some basketball camp. When that happens, I usually watch their dog Suki. She's what is called a Jack-a-Poo, half Jack Russell Terrier and half Toy Poodle. As someone once explained to me, they are the Captain Danger of Designer Dogs. Sweet, but highly energetic and mischievous. Last night, she finally met her match - a herd of angry cows.

Ron Angle invited me to his farm for a delicious Sunday night dinner of prime rib, baked potatoes and sweet corn. When I told him I was dog sitting, he told me to bring her, too. So that is how Suki paid her first visit ever to a farm.

Dat's mother treats Suki as though she is a foo foo dog. She ties bows in her fur and dresses her in sweaters. But she is all dog. She likes being with me, not just because I spoil her and feed her the same crap I eat, but because I take her on lots of walks and, in wooded areas, will let her chase rabbits, squirrels and groundhogs.

Suki thought she could chase these calves. 
Dat's mother always instructs me not to let her off the leash, especially after an incident with a skunk a few years ago. I always promise. I always break my promise.

A night on the farm was a real treat for her. She was in hunting mode the entire time, chasing down cats, squirrels and rabbits. But the real excitement started when Ron went to water his cows. Suki wanted to come, and jumped into the Ranger with us.

Ron's herd includes four calves. As we got closer to them, Suki got excited and jumped out to chase the calves.

Big mistake.

The cows decided to chase her, but they weren't playing. They are a lot faster than they look. And they were pissed. Suki was pretty much fenced in, so she was running the way Dat used to run when he played football - for her life. She was faster than them, and has so many juke moves she could return kicks for the Eagles. But the cows were faster than Ron's Ranger, which was bogged down by the mud. When she'd get close, they'd tear after her. Eventually, Suki spotted a gap between the cows and the Ranger and jumped. She missed the first time because I dropped her, and the cows continued to give chase. Ron was able to pull her when she tried a second time. Angry cows bounced against the Ranger as they continued to look for her. They actually were smelling the ground for signs of her for some time after we had already left.

Suki will start driving Ranger next time. 
After witnessing this, I think it's safe to say that a herd of cows can handle a coyote.

After this close call, Ron's Ranger passed by a creek. Suki jumped right in.

She needed to cool off.

Eventually, she was full of mud, the bow in her fur was gone and she chased all of Ron's cats into a barn. Then she went after a rabbit.

She was having a blast.

She usually likes women better than men, but after Ron scooped her up, she periodically would walk up and start licking him. Well, he is the Northampton County Bulldog.

As the evening ended, Suki did not want to get in my car. But she fell asleep the moment she got in

Oh, and she had prime rib.

Daily Stormer Loves Trump's Charlottesville Remarks

Donald Trump summed up the weekend violence in Charlottesville by saying, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country.” Many of his critics pounced on his failure to condemn specifically the white supremacists as a wink and a nod to some of his most strident supporters. I was prepared to discount that, but as reported in The Washington Post, the white supremacists loved his tepid condemnation.

“No condemnation at all,” the Daily Stormer wrote. “When asked to condemn, [Trump] just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

Just as he coyly refused to condemn David Duke on the campaign trail, he now refuses to condemn the white supremacist movement. He leaves it to others to explain.

No explanation necessary.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Easton's Failed LERTA Program

The use of tax incentives for economic or community development has been controversial for as long as they've existed. Advocates will tell you they are investments in the community while opponents deride the government for picking winners and losers in what should be capitalistic society. But most agree that a LERTA is the most innocuous. It allows a property owner to gradually phase in a property tax increase that results from improvements like a new porch, addition or a home built on vacant land. Aside from all the philosophical arguments, does this tax incentive work? Based on what has happened in Easton, the answer is a firm No.

Easton enacted its own LERTA ordinance on April 25, 2012. It applies to any industrial, commercial or residential property inside a designated zone. The School District and Northampton County Council also approved this tax incentive. Of all three local government bodies, only John Cusick voted No.

Under Easton's ordinance, applications for LERTA participation are supposed to be available until the end of this year, when the ordinance expires. But that application appears nowhere on the Easton City website. The LERTA program is explained, and readers are directed to the "Forms and Documents" section for more details. But that has been removed from the webpage. In another portion of the City website containing "Forms and Documents," there are no LERTA application forms.

This lapse certainly lends credence to the argument that these incentives are tax favoritism for certain individuals in the know, to the exclusion of everyone else.

Northampton County's assessment office administers Easton's LERTA program. Information obtained pursuant to a Right-to-Know request for the county records of Easton's LERTA reveals the following:

1. The Easton LERTA district comprises 859 properties of all kinds, from residential to commercial and industrial. While this is quite large, it is only about 1/10th the size of the 8,156 properties for which a LERTA is being sought in Bethlehem.

2. In the five years that Easton's LERTA has been in effect, only 72 properties have enrolled in the program, with 56 in progress and 16 under construction. This is a fairly low number.

3. Only 46 residential properties have taken advantage of the LERTA. Even fewer, just 26, are commercial.

4. Twenty-one of these properties are completely exempt from all real estate taxes because they are in the Keystone Opportunity Zone, another tax incentive program in which virtually all taxes, except federal income taxes, are exempt. This includes the Simon Mill (19 parcels), old City Hall (1 parcel) and Governor Wolf Building (1 parcel).          

Given the lack of participation over five years, it is undeniable that Easton's LERTA program is a bust. On Monday, I'll explain why Bethlehem should reconsider its own LERTA in light of Easton's failure. It could actually make the blight there worse.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lehigh Valley School Districts Get Lousy Report Cards

The Lehigh Valley fares poorly in the latest Niche rating of public school districts. This ranking is based on "rigorous analysis of academic and student life data from the U.S. Department of Education along with test scores, college data, and ratings collected from millions of Niche users."

Parkland School District is ranked 21st in the state, which is nice. Its grade is A plus, which is even nicer. There were 18 generally positive reviews, too. But from there it goes downhill.

#64 - East Penn School District
#72 - Wilson Area School District
#80 - Nazareth Area School District (Although the reviews were generally good, one student complained that "I was bullied and was treated unfairly because of my race at this school. The administration did nothing and I had to handle this on my own. I pray for any kid that has to go to this school. My best advice is to get your education and make it out on top. Don't worry about people, worry about your future."
#87 - Southern Lehigh School District
#96 - Palisades School District
#105 - Salisbury Tp School District
#112 - Northwestern Lehigh School District
#117 - Saucon Valley School District
#141 - Whitehall Coplay School District
#145 - Bethlehem Area School District (There were an amazing 29 reviews, and only one was negative)
#155 - Northampton Area School District
#161 - Lehighton Area School District
#208 - Easton Area School District

After #262, Niche stops ranking the schools and assigns a grade instead.

B minus:
Pen Argyl Area School District
Bangor Area School District
Catasauqua Area School District
Northern Lehigh School District

C Minus:

Allentown City School District.

Interestingly, there were 13 reviews of Allentown from former students who were generally positive. One former student said it is "like being in a melting pot of different cultures and races." Another complimented the teachers as "encouraging" and "well-rounded."

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

NorCo 911 Should Seek CALEA Accreditation

If I've learned one thing in my years of blogging, it's that Northampton County's 911 dispatchers sure hate it when I write about them.  My July story about their on-duty habit of watching television drew 123 comments, most of them negative. Yesterday's story was about a 911 operator who chided a caller who dared report a non-working traffic signal. Apparently, that's no emergency until someone gets T-boned, So I took a lot of flak about that one, too.

If I've learned two things in my years as a blogger, it's that the flak is at its heaviest when I'm over the target. When it comes to 911, I'm over the target. We have a problem. It needs to be fixed before Bethlehem's 911 is combined with Northampton County. I have no confidence in the leadership there, as I previously indicated in a story about Executive John Brown's decision to pick Todd Weaver as EMS Director.

I'll be the first to agree that I'm no expert. But someone who is posted a comment yesterday. This person makes a lot of sense.

"I am commenting as anonymous (but I believe you know my identity for we have communicated in the past). Anonymous suits my purposes for now but the future is another reality. I have managed four 911 centers as part of a professional career. Using 911 call centers to report a malfunctioning traffic device is a "normal" occurrence. TV monitors in said centers is also "normal". They are used without sound and are only tuned to news or weather channels exclusively. No exceptions. The average dispatcher/call taker should be a highly trained employee constantly monitored and evaluated for performance. Not all employees are equal in skills but should not be judged simply because they work for the "government" as somehow inferior beings ..... That is grossly unfair. I am positive that there are good, competent employees at Norco 911. The problems at Northampton County are "cultural" in nature. The culture of Northampton County (whether the leadership is elected Democrat or Republican) is one of systemic patronage. The present management team that governs the County is by and large (but not exclusively) composed of political sycophants. I know for a fact that is the reality of the senior management of the 911 operation. That "reality" is at best dangerous, at worst potentially disastrous. I will not vote for the incumbent Executive but will his challenger do anything to change the "culture"? ....... I doubt it. There are ways to "fix" the problems of Northampton County. They are too numerous to mention here but the continuation of the practice of "vacancy factor manipulation" will lead to severe problems for our most vulnerable county residents. When it comes to the 911 operation there is a definitive "fix." The County should seek to obtain a CALEA certification of its 911 Center. CALEA is the Commission on Law Enforcement Administration. It is an independent organization that uses standards and tests for verifying professionalism of organizations and practices employed in public safety functions including separate certifications for 911 operations. It is much healthier to resolve problems than to complain about them. It is time for a change in Northampton County. It is "Failed government" archaic in function and a disservice to its residents as well as its employees."

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Have You Ever Had a Hog Peanut?

This story is about the hog peanut. Basically, I'm asking what you know about it or whether you've ever sampled it.

I'm currently reading Undaunted Courage, the Stephen Ambrose account of the fascinating Lewis and Clark Expedition. As that group made their way up the Missouri and then across the nation, they encountered numerous Indian tribes. The most interesting of these so far is the Arikawa. It's a tribe that was 30,000 strong at the time we won our independence, but was decimated by several smallpox epidemics before meeting these American pioneers.

Lewis and Clark had packed whiskey, not just for themselves, but for the Indians. Most tribes wanted more than they could give. But not the Arikawa. They refused the gift, remarking that "they were surprised that their father should present to them a liquor which would make them act like fools."

The Arikawas were quite a generous people. Among their gifts was a bean they got by digging into the underground storage bins of a vole. They always left some other food in exchange for the beans they took from these voles.

Clark called the bean "large and well flavoured and very nurishing."

I did some research, and as near as I can tell, what the Arikawas gave Clark is known as the hog peanut.

According to Norton Naturals, the hog peanut "is a very appealing plant, both for its edible 'tuber', which is actually a fleshy, buried seed that is both delicious and plentiful and for its usefulness as a nitrogen-fixing ground cover, in combination with other woodland plants. The buried seeds furthermore require very little preparation besides washing and can be cooked in just a few minutes."

I suspect this plant, which looks a lot like poison ivy, grows here.

If any of you have ever tried it, I'd love to hear your story.

NorCo 911 Chides Man For Reporting Traffic Signal Out

On Saturday afternoon, a local municipal official noticed that a traffic signal was out in Forks Tp, and decided to inform 911 because everyone was running it. That call went unappreciated. "I got bitched for dialing 911 instead of thanks for reporting it. I didn't want to take the time to dial the nonemergency number cuz I was driving and he actually bitched at me for using the 911 number."

I hate to break it to this dispatcher, but when a traffic signal is out, that's an emergency and 911 should be called.

I think most 911 dispatchers know this.

Bethlehem Tp To Survey Public Concerning Library

Judge Jennifer Sletvold administers oath to Kutzler
Back in January, Bethlehem Tp Commissioners were poised to ask the public by way if referendum whether the Township should continue its participation in Bethlehem Area Public Library. President Mike Hudak complained that only a small percentage of residents use it, but the annual fee is $17.25 per capita. But they discovered that the Library Law makes it virtually impossible to ask voters directly whether they want to remain. So they've come up with another way to gauge public opinion - a survey.

At their August 7 meeting, Commissioners voted 4-0 (Malissa Davis was absent) to enter into a $14,265 agreement with National Citizen Survey for a public opinion poll. Manager Melissa Shafer advised that a questionnaire, sent to 1,500 people, will register sentiments concerning the library and other issues.

Bethlehem Area Public Library is financed by Bethlehem, Bethlehem Tp, Hanover Tp and Fountain Hill Borough. Bethlehem Tp has 9,749 cardholders, including 528 new cardholders in 2015. That translates to 41% of the Township's population. In addition to the annual per capita assessment of municipalities, the library benefits from nearly $215,000 in donations and grants each year.

Though the Township failed to budget for this survey, Shafer said she could use unspent money in the Planning Department.

There's no need to survey public opinion about all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). In recent years, there's been a rash of complaints about the noise and dust they cause. So Commissioners voted 4-0 to ban their use between dusk and dawn. They must also stay at least 100' away from the property line of any adjacent owner.

ATVs include snowmobiles, motor driven vehicles having two or more wheels (commonly known as trail bikes), dirt bikes, mini bikes, and all other vehicles (licensed and unlicensed) commonly used for off-road purposes. ATVs used for emergencies, residential gardening, property maintenance, or agricultural purposes are exempt.

According to HG, a legal information site, 135,000 people are injured every year in ATV accidents. Over 700 are killed every year, and a third of them are under 16.

In other business, Commissioners authorized an appeal to the Township's own Code Appeals Board concerning the stringent code requirements for a controversial public restroom near the athletic fields, called the North 40.  The most recent cost estimates for this, according to Mike Hudak, are $460,000-$495,000.

According to the Uniform Construction Code, the Township would be required to install six women's toilets; four men's toilets and a separate, "family assisted use" restroom. Shafer is proposing that four family rest rooms should suffice.

Hudak suggested tabling this appeal because he had just become aware of an opportunity to purchase at a cost of between $30,000-60,000.  Though Tom Nolan agreed that the trailer option should be pursued, he recommended that the Board pursue the appeal as well. The Board voted 3-1 to do so,with Hudak dissenting.    

Howard Kutzler, who was appointed on July 31, was sworn in by Judge Jennifer Sletvold just as the meeting started. The Township's newest Commissioner, its former Planner and Manager, needed and got no time to get used to the job. He began his first meeting by proving he is the fiscal conservative he said he is.

On the agenda were three major purchase orders totaling $95,672. Two of these orders - one for the outdoor pool and another for line painting - were already a part of the budget. But the third - $46,642.90 to purchase two small leaf trucks - was not.  Kutzler forced a separate vote on that item, and it failed.

As a final matter, Commissioners considered a proposal to give volunteer firefighters a tax credit, either from real estate taxes or Earned Income Tax., at the suggestion of  Tom Nolan. This is pursuant to a recent state law authorizing municipalities to provide a tax credit of up to 20% to active volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

"Our volunteer firefighters are out daily, said Kutzler. "We're blessed in this community." But Kutzler and Hudak both said they need time to study the proposal.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Bethlehem's Neighborhood Tax Break a No-Brainer

The use of public money for private purposes was rampant in the early 1800s, when robber barons would convince state legislatures to finance rail lines and canals that they themselves would abandon at the slightest indication of financial loss. So many small towns went bankrupt that Pennsylvania addressed the matter in its Constitution of 1874. It banned municipalities from using the public purse to finance the schemes of entrepreneurs and developers (Art. IX, Section 6). Courts have still done an end run around the Constitution by ruling that stadiums and similar projects are for "public" purposes. So now we have all kinds of grants and tax incentives - NIZ, CRIZ, KOZ, TIF - that primarily benefit the wealthy. Corporate welfare.

As I've grown old and demented, I've come to realize that absolutism is a principle best left to Socrates.  I've come to see the wisdom in tax incentives to encourage the revitalization of Bethlehem Steel's south side brownfield. I was even persuaded by Chrin's TIF in northern Palmer Township, which holds out the promise of 5,000 jobs. So I certainly would support a tax break that might benefit a blue collar Bethlehem worker as opposed to a blue blood who flies in from Florida or California.

In the story below about the LERTA proposed in a blue collar Bethlehem neighborhood, that tax break might provide a helping hand for someone looking for a place to raise his family. If we hand out money like candy to those who are already wealthy, doesn't fairness dictate that we help blue collar homeowners as well?

Hayden "the Colonel" Phillips rightly expressed some concern about the government picking winners and losers. My view is that a good business idea will come to fruition without any help, and a bad one will fail no matter how much public largesse is invested.

But the government has already picked the middle class to fail. Its own policies over the past two decades have resulted in a shrinking middle class.

Though this proposed LERTA will benefit non-resident landlords, it will also make home ownership a little more attractive to a young couple who presumably would want to raise their children near a school.

Strong neighborhoods make strong cities.

Bethlehem Pitches New LERTA to NorCo Council

Though Bethlehem officials are unsure why the quality of housing stock is beginning to deteriorate in some north Bethlehem neighborhoods, they are hopeful that a real estate tax incentive will lead to a revitalization. Housing and Community Planner Allyson Lehr pitched this program, called a LERTA, to NorCo Council on August 3.

LERTA is an acronym for Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance. Property owners inside a LERTA zone may apply for a tax break for improvements that increase assessment, upon which all real estate taxes are based. They will continue paying full taxes on the land assessment, but the increase in assessment resulting from improvements like a new roof or front porch can be phased in gradually over a period of ten years.

What is this area? It's the northern neighborhood near Moravian College. Its boundaries are Maple Street on the east, Main Street and Mauch Chunk Road on the west, Broad Street on the south and East Laurel on the north. "It's not the most depressed in Bethlehem, but it's not the most affluent, either," said Lehr. She said the area could go "either way." She believes a LERTA will help this area from becoming a "problem neighborhood."

Why a LERTA?
  • There are 8,156 properties in this area, and 59% of them are rentals. A LERTA gives a landlord an incentive to make improvements.
  • A majority of properties inside this district are rated C or D by county assessors.
  • Three schools - William Penn Elementary, Liberty High School and Thomas Jefferson - are either inside or immediately outside this district. They have all shown an alarming increase in the percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunches. At Liberty High School, that percentage has increased from 34% in 2005 to 55% in 2015. At William Penn Elementary, 77% of the children are getting free or reduced lunches. It's 72% at Thomas Jefferson. "There's an indicator that there's some kind of economic distress in that area," observed Lehr.
  • 208 homes in the proposed LERTA district are vacant in what should be a desirable area just a stone's throw from the downtown.

"We think it could really appeal to people just starting out or people with families if it was uplifted a little bit, said Lehr. "It would be a great neighborhood for families."

Bethlehem approved a LERTA ordinance for this district, which has also been approved by the school district. Northampton County is expected to vote on this matter in October.

Hayden Phillips questioned whether the entire City of Bethlehem will soon be under a LERTA. "I have my doubts," he said. He and John Cusick both stated they prefer to see this tax tool used in a brownfield than in a residential area.

Ken Kraft sharply disagreed with them both. He stated Council approved a LERTA in Easton "the size of the whole darn town."  He added that "Bethlehem doesn't come back and ask for things all the time even though we do provide most of the taxes for the County. This is a blighted area. I lived in that area."

Kraft speculated that this area became blighted because of Allentown's NIZ, which has drawn residents. He also blamed the proliferation of apartments. "Now I wouldn't live there," he said. "If Moravian decides to turn it into student housing, and those people get a hold of it, I'd rather get it back to what it was."

He also noted that Bethlehem pulled its LERTA ordinance three times in an effort to make sure it was not too big, not tooo small, but just right.

"They pulled it to add to it," countered Phillips, who expressed some concern about the government "picking winners and losers."

Friday, August 04, 2017

Lehigh Among Top Ten Party Schools in US

According to Princeton Review's annual rating, Lehigh University is the #9 party school in the country. Although this is an improvement over its #4 rating last year, it is still somewhat of a surprise to see that much larger schools failed to even make the top 20.

The determination is made on the basis of data based on the data obtained from surveys of 137,000 students at 382 schools.

The Brown and White notes that Lehigh has 18 fraternities and 12 sororities. Four students were hospitalized last ear as a result of excessive drinking.

The Top Ten are as follows: 1) Tulane University; 2) West Virginia University; 3) Bucknell University: 4) Syracuse University; 5) University of Wisconsin-Madison; 6) University of Delaware; 7) University of Colorado-Boulder; 8) Colgate University; 9) Lehigh University; and 10) University of Maine.

Nazareth's Downtown Manager Wows NorCo Council

Nazareth Downtown Manager Stephanie Varone wowed NorCo Council yesterday with a description of what she's done since being brought on board 3 1/2 years ago to revive the tiny borough's struggling shopping district. "This is really a success story," said NorCo's Economic Development Director, Tim Herrlinger.

Technically, Varone works for Nazareth Economic Development Comm'n. When she was first hired, it was for 20 hours a week. She now works 30. She is paid $20,000 by Nazareth Borough Council, with another $15,000 coming from Northampton County.

Describing Nazareth as "the little engine that could," she predicted that it could be "a little New Hope." She called her organization "the hub of all that's happening in Nazareth."

And here I thought it was poker machines.

Varone said that, unlike other downtown managers, she took no college courses in economic development. She instead studied marketing. "To me, Nazareth was a business that needed to be promoted," she said.

So how did Varone promote Nazareth?
  • She squeezed borough council for 40 banners in the downtown district to make the shopping district look good.
  • She created Nazareth Now, listing events and local businesses in a positive light.
  • At the county's suggestion, she started a farmers' market on Saturdays in the Nazareth Circle. It has grown from 6 to 27 vendors. Saturday is now the top retail day in the shopping district. But she warned that farmers' markets have grown 400% in the Lehigh Valley.
  • She's pursued facade grant opportunities with Northampton County, and has turned a $50,000 public investment into $140,000 worth of facade improvements.
  • She has personally recruited eight new businesses over the past three years, from the Xpresso Cafe to her own boutique, which she calls Smooch on Main. (That's where Ken Kraft buys his lipstick.) This is $797,000 in leases and a $2 million investment.
  • She persuaded borough council to build a municipal parking lot to handle foot traffic.
  • She has recruited two brew pubs, indicating that craft beer vendors usually develop a following. One of these, which may or may not be called Kerrigan's, is expected to open in December or January. A lease has been signed for a second brew pub, called Birthright Brewery, at 57 S Main Street, site of the former Nazareth National Bank. She expects to see it in business within 60-90 days.
Varone failed to mention that one of the businesses she recruited, the Run Inn from Emmaus, ran out. It is now a vacant storefront. An art gallery she touted is never open. The only things I see there are utility shut off notices. She also apparently had a hand in persuading a well-established pest extermination business, Rid-Et, to leave. She complained about a giant insect in the storefront window. While that may be counter to the New Hope image she is trying to create, it is precisely the kind of shop that makes sense to the practically-minded people who live in Nazareth. 

Varone admitted that Nazareth has had some bad press recently. You'll have this when a police chief chains and perp walks accused litterbugs while the Mayor is skimming from poker machines. You do tend to get a black eye when a council member obstructs a state police investigation into illegal gambling at the clubs. If truth be told, there's been far too little said.

She noted that she's been called a cheerleader, and that's true because I'm the person who called her one. "I like that, actually," she told Council, stating she is "flattered"

"I will do whatever it takes to have something positive in the news," she said.

I perceive my role a little differently. My first obligation is to be honest with my readers. That in the end is the best way to spur business growth.

I exposed corruption in Nazareth. This included a state grant for a private social club at which Council member Larry Stout is a bartender. It also included a grand jury investigation of then Mayor Carl Strye's little skimming operation.

At a borough council meeting, Varone called me "venomous" and a "cancer," so you know she's a pretty good judge of character.

She is a cheerleader, and a good one. She has made a difference in Nazareth. But businesses will stay away from a town full of corruption. Allentown is Exhibit 1 in that argument. Businesses will also avoid a top-heavy police department that is failing miserably. Exposing this wrongdoing may have short-term consequences, but in the long run, improves the economic climate. 

(Blogger's Note: I missed the first part of Varone's presentation, but watched it online.)

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Fed Ed Case Update: Are Four More Indictments Expected?

More Indictments? - When Morning Call reporter Emily Opilo reported on the indictment of Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski, she tweeted that nine sealed indictments had been filed, adding that "some may not be Allentown-related."
Emily Opilo (@emilyopilo)
By the end of the day yesterday, there were 9 sealed cases filed in our district of federal court. Again, some may not be Allentown-related.
In addition to her tweet, federal prosecutors initially indicated they would conduct news conferences on both Wednesday and Thursday. That Wednesday news conference happened, but nothing more was said about a separate news conference on Thursday.  These two factors have led some to infer that four more indictments are pending. More indictments are certainly possible, but we'll have to see.

Allinson's firm bio - In an email to "old friends," three people who had their claws in Northampton County government, Scott Allinson said his firm would stand behind him. His firm bio was gone from the firm web page the day after his indictment was published. That may be the result of remarks he is quoted making about other attorneys in that firm, disparaging their integrity.

Thanks to Google cache, I was able to retrieve Allinson's firm profile, in which he basically claims to be the solicitor to every municipality in the Lehigh Valley.

But he may have been puffing. According to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, which called me last week, Allinson is not their lawyer. They know better who represents them than I do. Nor does he represent the NorCo IDA, they tell me. I believe he did.

How much time does Fed Ed face? - As explained in the US Attorney's news release,

"The charge of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; the charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services mail fraud, honest services wire fraud, and attempted Hobbs Act all carry an individual maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; and the charges of conspiracy, travel act bribery and making material false statements all carry an individual maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine."

Doing the math, means a maximum sentence of 775 years. Is that likely? No. But he is looking at double digits, and was warned.

It's a Fleckin' mess! -  The common denominator in both the Allentown and Reading pay-to-play prosecutions is Mike(d) Fleck. Long before his association with Fed Ed, he had the reputation of fleecing candidates.He tiffed state house candidate Archie Follweiler for $21,000 in 2007. I was told Fleck matured. I agree. He matured into a full-fledged thief.

But a likable one with a good singing voice.

The best Fleck story ever - "You won't Fleckin' believe this!" - was penned by Express Times Editor Jim Deegan. Fleck had plastered Easton with all kinds of signs when he ran against Mayor Panto in 2007, and lost. After the election, he was slow to clean up and was rightly taken to task. Fleck eventually did so and pledged to buy Deegan lunch if he found more than three or four signs.

The Palmer Tp police found hundreds. Fleck apparently threw them in a dumpster at the local Autozone, along with hundreds of copies of his newspaper, The Easton Irregular, and for some strange reason, a jockstrap.

Fleck was charged with theft of services, but beat the rap.

When Fed Ed hooked up with Fleck, he knew exactly what was happening.

A lounge singer.

McClure: Human Services Vacancies Endanger Children, Elderly

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound? If a politician calls a newxs conference and only a blogger appears, is it still a news conference? Bethlehem Attorney Lamont McClure might be able to weigh in on these philosophical questions. He's the Democratic nominee for Northampton County Executive, and called a presser yesterday to lament Human Services vacancies, particularly in the agencies that are supposed to protect our elderly and children. None of the daily news outlets appeared. After the election, they will piously condemn voter apathy and wonder why no one votes.

I get the idea of a news blackout right before an election, when politicians become desperate and will make outrageous claims about the other side. But in August? McClure's news conference, which went on without them, was intended to inform the voters that there are vacancies in several Human Services departments.

Human Services Director Allison Frantz discussed these vacancies at a committee meeting in July. I was the sole member of the press, if you can call me that, who was there. At that time, she disclosed staff shortages at Area Agency on Aging (17%), Children Youth and Families (CYF) (13 caseworkers) and Information and Referral Emergency Services (IRES) (3 PT caseworkers). McClure's fear, and a warranted one is that Executive John Brown is dragging his feet to fill these vacancies, something he did with corrections officers at the jail and row office workers.

"We're going full tilt and we don't have any down time," CYF Director Kevin Dolan told NorCo Council in June. "'Something bad is gonna' happen,' a fellow CYF Director recently told him. Referrals of possible child abuse have risen in his office from 3,514 in 2014 to an estimated 7,500 this year. Most of these new referrals are a result of what are commonly called the Sandusky laws, which now require more reporting.

The Area Agency on Aging is dealing with a surge in baby boomers while IRES is responding to the opioid epidemic.

So the problem goes beyond a need to fill vacancies. There actually is a need for more staff.

Will Brown fill this need? "We need to get those filled now," said McClure.

This was the point of McClure's news conference. An excerpt is posted above.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Musikfest To Offer New Adventure - Treasure Hunting!

Musikfest cometh. It's an Octoberfest in August with all kinds of food, beer and good music. Some of you love it. Others hate it. As an alcoholic with a dairy allergy, I'm pretty much sidelined by events like these. But I saw something that just might draw me out of hiding. A treasure hunt.

UBMe is a social networking app devised by a startup tech company based in Bethlehem, PA. It allows users to connect at a specific place whether that be a business, bar, college campus, concert or sporting event.

For Musikfest, visitors to fully explore the city of Bethlehem, meet new people, and find local business deals. But what's really neat is the treasure hunt series that will start August 5th and continue throughout the 10-day music festival.

Once checked-in, treasure hunters will be able to see clues that UBMe has posted in the live chat that will lead them to the next place on the Bethlehem treasure map. The app is location based, so users cannot participate in the live chat unless they are physically there allowing them to explore Bethlehem.

I downloaded the app for iPhone but it is also available on the App Store and Google Play.

I love the treasure hunt feature, but fail to see why anyone would need an smartphone app to connect with people in the same place as me.

We already have other apps that do this, like our mouth and our voice.

McClure Schedules High Noon News Conference at NorCo Courthouse

Bethlehem Attorney Lamont McClure, Democratic candidate for NorCo Exec, has scheduled a news conference at high noon today at the NorCo courthouse entrance. He is expected to address staffing shortages in Human Services.

According to Human Services Director Allison Frantz, there were 28 vacancies for 239 positions at  Human Services (excluding Gracedale) in July. The vacancy percentage is 12%. But departments like Children, Youth and Families are overwhelmed by a huge increase in complaints as a result of 23 new laws adopted in the wake of the Sandusky child sex scandal. .  

The Tooth Fairy Lives in Allentown!

Scoops like this one is why I win journalism awards. Here it is. I met the tooth fairy last night. She lives in Allentown.

All this happened at Bethlehem Township's annual National Night Out. Firefighters and police officers were there in force, and I'll have a separate story and pictures for The Bethlehem Press.As I began to worry about whether I paid off my latest parking ticket, I spotted her. Dressed from head to toe in white, she was almost shimmering as she handed out tooth brushes and pencils for FreySmiles.

You see her above with Sophia Bermudez, another beauty.

After extensive questioning, the tooth fairy admitted she lives somewhere in Allentown.

She had no comment on the Fed Ed indictment.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Gracedale Rating Back Up to Two Stars

According to Medicare, the overall rating at Gracedale is now two stars, thanks to an increase to two stars in its rating for "quality measures," which is resident care. This rating means the nursing home is "below average" as opposed to "much below average." It is unclear whether this new rating is the result of an inspection or its based on adata that the nursing home itself reported.

Raymond Soto, Premier's Administrator at Gracedale, had predicted to Council last month that the overall rating would stay at one star until next year.

According to The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, two more public nursing homes in Butler and Armstrong County have privatized in the past year. Interestingly, they were purchased by Premier Healthcare Management, NorCo's contracted administrator at Gracedale. The number of county-owned nursing homes has dropped from 36 in 2004 to just 18 today.

Toomey To Host $200 a Head Fundraiser For NorCo Exec John Brown

"Let me take you to
my private beach."
Tuesdays with Toomey is a weekly lunchtime ritual. This began shortly after the Presidential election. Protesters assemble outside US Senator Pat Toomey's various offices throughout the state, including his Cedar Crest Boulevard office, to demand a town hall. What they seek is accountability. Aside from a televised town hall in July, Toomey has yet to meet face-to-face with the people he represents. The cacophony of democracy is a tad too much for this former hedge fund manager. Well, let me tell you all a little secret. If you want to see Toomey, I'll tell you how.  But it's on a Wednesday.  You've been going the wrong damn day.

On Wednesday, August 23, between 5:30 and 7 pm, Toomey will be hosting a $200 a head fundraiser to support the re-election of NorCo Executive John Brown. It's at the exclusive Blue Grillhouse in verdant Bethlehem Tp.

Brown is the man who took last year off at taxpayer expense to run for state auditor general. He lost. For $500, you get to be on the host committee.For $1,000, you get to be on Brown's Finance Committee. Or you can just go there for dinner. Or stand across the street and exercise your First Amendment rights

Like two peas in a pod, Toomey hides from his constituents and Brown has failed to conduct a news conference in two years. The optics of this are lousy.

But Brown and Toomey are kindred souls. Toomey wants to repeal Obamacare while Brown slashed health benefits for county workers. Toomey ducks meetings with his constituents while Brown posted armed guards outside one of his news conferences during his disastrous first year in office.

Brown crows that he has "eliminated all deficit spending," but fails to point out that his Republican Council imposed a 10% tax hike his first year in office. He also brags about his financial success at Gracedale, which has managed to drop from four stars to just one in a federal rating of nursing homes.  He talks about fiscal responsibility, but had to reimburse the county for $1,500 in expenses that he and his Director of Administration improperly claimed.  Just as Toomey has ducked his constituents, Brown has failed to answer Lamont McClure's repeated calls for a debate.

"The consensus is that I have an excellent chance of being re-elected," Brown claims in a letter seeking money.. "Generally, the taxpayers of Northampton County believe I have done a very good job reforming County government."

Really? Take a look at the monstrosity known as the county website, which actually removed important data from the public, like meeting minutes and election results.

But what you don't know won't hurt you. And if it does, at least you won't know.

Bethlehem Tp Appoints Howard Kutzler Interim Comm'r

Howard Kutzler was Bethlehem Tp Manager,
but was succeeded by Melissa Shafer
On July 5, Kim Jenkins resigned as a Bethlehem Township Commissioner for the third ward after just 18 months in office. She said her decision was for personal reasons. At a special meeting on July 31, the remaining four Commissioners appointed Howard Kutzler, 52, to succeed her until the end of the year.

In November, voters will decide who represents them in an election in which the county parties name the candidates.

Kutzler is a Republican,while Jenkins is a Democrat. Nothing in the First Class Township Code requires that an appointed Commissioner be a member of he same party as the person who was elected.

Kutzler was selected from among four candidates. The remaining three include business consultant Gene DePalma, Seafarers' union official Joe Sorei and Upper Macungie Tp Administrative Assistant Sheri Eichlin.

Kutzler, who with his wife raised his son and daughter in the Township, should know Bethlehem Township government very well. He worked there 14 years, both as Planning Director and Manager. In 2013, he accepted a position in South Whitehall Township as Director of Administration, and was named Township Manager in 2015.

Earlier this year, he took on a new challenge as a planner for David Jaindl. Noting he spent 27 years in the public sector, he said he'd like to work in the private sector.

But not completely. He still is hooked on local government, an interest he gets from his father, a police officer, and his grandfather, a former Northampton Mayor. His first job was as a basket boy at the Northampton pool.

He said that serving as interim Commissioner is "an opportunity to give back to this community, which has been so generous to me."

Kutzler is the first Township Commissioner to be appointed to the Board since 1985. Tom Nolan pointed out that's when he was appointed, but he was defeated in the election that year.

Kutzler, who graduated from the University of West Virginia with a degree in Planning, said he expects to run as the Republican nominee.

"Howard, God help you!" said President Mike Hudak after the appointment.