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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, September 29, 2017

There Really Is Something in the Water

W.C. Fields, hero to misanthropes like myself, once proclaimed that he never drank water because "fish piss in it." He preferred vodka, and once got extremely upset when someone slipped a thermos of orange juice to replace a thermos of vodka that he carried while filming a movie.

"Who put orange juice in my orange juice?" he roared.

A report recently released by Environmental Working Group reveals that Fields may have had a point. If you have no filter attached to to your tap, and I sure as hell don't, the water you drink may include industrial or agricultural contaminants that pose health risks. Most of these are at low enough levels to comply with the Safe Drinking Act, but still are at levels considered too high by authoritative scientific studies. By the way, the federal government has failed to add a single pollutant for 20 years. This includes chemicals like 1,4-dioxane, which has a demonstrated connection to cancer.

Lehigh Valley drinking water appears to include contaminants.

Bethlehem water, for example, contains five contaminants in levels linked to cancer: Bromodichloromethane, chloroform, chromium, Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) and 4-Androstene-3,17-dione hormones in drinking water that come from human and animal wastewater discharged into drinking water sources.

But it tastes good.

Lehigh County Authority has seven contaminants, including Radium-228 & Uranium.

This explains why it sometimes glows in the dark.

Easton, which like Bethlehem only has five contaminants, can count radium-228 among them.

Mmmmm. Radiummmmm.

Election Coverage 2017

On my left sidebar, you will see a link to what I hope will be a number of pages providing you with information concerning the November election in Northampton County and Lehigh County. It will be updated periodically with links to articles that will help you decide who deserves your vote. You may post comments there just as you do to my stories here. I am starting with the Northampton County Executive and Council races. I considered adding links to numerous stories about these candidates, but decided against it. Those pages are intended to inform you, not persuade you. In the comments, you can make your arguments for the candidates.

If you see information that I have wrong, feel free to let me know.

I will also provide information concerning the Allentown and Lehigh County races over the next week.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Judge Emil Needs Your Help

Judge Giordano in Naturalization Court
This past summer, I had numerous opportunities to chat with Emil Giordano as he watched his son Caden put in an excellent summer of basketball at Allentown's Cedar Beach. Unfortunately, it was so good that Caden's team, Bethlehem Catholic, managed to defeat my grandson's Allentown Central Catholic in the 'ship. Now he should have been criss-crossing the state and putting 200,000 miles on his car, hunting for a vote here and there in his race to become a Superior Court Judge. But he put his son first. If only for that reason, he should be elected.

Judge Giordano has been on the bench in Northampton County for 13 years. He could have sentenced anyone at Cedar Beach to death, especially a few of the refs. But no one there knew he was a judge. He was Emil. Down to earth. Plain spoken. Complaining like everyone else about the heat. Taking pictures of my bald spot and texting them to me.

It's rare to see a judge who remembers that he still wears underwear, but Emil Giordano is that kind of person.

It could be because of the way he was raised. His parents were both Italian immigrants who met while learning to speak English. Like so many of these gifts from abroad, they worked hard and established a chain of pizza restaurants. Emil made hoagies and learned what it was like to talk to people.

As a lawyer and then as a judge, Emil has been selfless, just like his son is on the basketball court.

He's running for a seat on the Pennsylvania Superior Court, an appellate court that hears most of the criminal appeals and wiretap requests.

He's one of eight candidates for four seats.

He is easily the most popular judge in the Lehigh Valley and has widespread bipartisan support.  Though he's a Republican, he has the endorsement of numerous unions, including trade unions.

But what hurts him is that he's from the Lehigh Valley. It is very difficult for someone from the Lehigh Valley to be elected to statewide office  Making matters worse is a federal investigation into political corruption, which has had a chilling effect on donors.

He's not allowed to seek donations, but needs money to have a fighting chance. So if you can see your way to giving his campaign some financial help, this is a link to his donations page.

Who's the Snowflake?

He insulted Mexicans
Some of you said ‘excellent!’
A lot of you made him President.

He mocked a person with a disability,
Some of you said ‘it’s not what you see’
A lot of you said ‘let him be’.

He degraded women,
Some of you said ‘just talk’ ‘locker room fun’
A lot of you said ‘He’s just a human’.

So he insulted men of valor,
Some of you turned deaf ear,
To a lot of you, it didn’t matter.

So now, Kaepernick’s knee is keeping you awake,
Offending you, making your moral ground shake?
Now tell me again, who’s the snowflake?

Author: Shayar Ajnabi

Hyman Begins Relief Effort for Puerto Rico

Allentown Mayoral candidate Nat Hyman owned a business in Plaza Las Americas in San Juan for many years. He spent a great deal of time in Puerto Rico and feels a deep connection to both the island and and its people, whom he says are "among the warmest and kindest people I have ever met. So he has initiated a massive relief effort for the people of Puerto Rico, collecting nonperishable food items and household supplies. He hopes to ship over $100,000 worth of desperately needed items to the hurricane-ravaged island.

"The devastation our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico have experienced is unimaginable," he said. "It is a once in a lifetime disaster. We all must come together to lend a helping hand!"

Hyman said his strong ties to the Latino community is one of the reasons he decided to run. "Over 50% of our city is Latino," he observed. "The current Mayor has not addressed the needs of this community in any way. It is absolutely essential that the next Mayor take on the issues which are most important to the majority of our citizens, the Latino community. We must ensure that we have clean and safe streets where our children can play and the elderly can walk at night without fear. I will aggressively eliminate the 1,000 blighted buildings throughout the city and, in so doing, help those who want to achieve the dream of homeownership. Most importantly, we must ensure that every child has access to an excellent quality education which will give them hope and a bright future they deserve."

Hyman's wife, Erica, and his two daughters, Julia and Lizzie, all speak Spanish fluently. They have been meeting and speaking with members of the Latino community to understand their needs, wishes and dreams. "The people have been inviting us into their homes like we are members of their family," said Erica. "I cannot tell you how warm and kind people have been to us. When we meet, I try to explain that the main reason that Nat ran for Mayor was to improve the quality of life for the Latino population of Allentown. He will work tirelessly to give a hand up to everyone who wants it! "

If you wish to assist Nat Hyman's relief effort to Puerto Rico please drop off nonperishable food items and household supplies (diapers, toilet paper, soap, etc). at his office located at 727 North Meadow St. in Allentown between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM Monday through Friday.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Shhh! NorCo Viewing Gracedale Campus For New Jail

Last week, I told you about Executive John Brown's secret plan for a new jail. Cost is estimated at $128-132 million. This would mean a tax increase of 60-70%. This heavy financial toll, combined with the widespread unpopularity of jails, is why Brown and County Council Republicans have suddenly become tight-lipped. They'll surprise you about this after the election. Of course, by then it will be too late for you to do anything except pay more taxes.

If you own one of those half million dollar McMansions at Eagles Landing, your property values may soon be taking a nosedive. That's because Northampton County is looking at the Gracedale campus for a new jail.

At the prison advisory board meeting on July 25 2017, prison advisory board chair Dan Christenson called Gracedale a "great location." Here's an excerpt::
Mr. Christenson explained that he believes the valley area near Gracedale would be a great location for a new jail, and he was told a longer than necessary sewer line was installed in the past. [Corrections] Director [Dan] Keen said a site selection has not been discussed from [sic] John Brown, but we have had a group in the jail doing studies to determine exactly what we need. Director Keen said [the current] facility costs us about $115 per day, per inmate. A new facility costs about $67 per day, per inmate. [Prison Advisory Board member Ed] Boscola asked if a new jail would cut out [sic] operating costs in half. Director Keen explained it wouldn't necessarily work out that way because of the need for more officers, based on a staffing analysis. Mr.Christenson asked how much overtime we pay. Director Keen explained the Union Contract dictates we have 1.5 million right off the bat each year in overtime due to the schedule. Mr. Boscola aksed if DLR [a prison architect hired by Executive John Brown] would do a financial analysis, staffing analysis, etc. and Director Keen stated yes. Director Keen said they are looking at it from 3 angles and will provide a report when they are done. Mr. Christenson offered the board's assistance when the time is right.
In September 2016, Keen gave a presentation to Northampton County Council in which he advocated for for a new jail. At that time the jail census was 732 inmates, and 117 of them were women.

In the summer, as temperatures rise, so does the jail population. But at the July 25 prison advisory board, the inmate population had gone down by 61 inmates. The census dropped to 671 inmates, and 122 of them were women.

Rather than deciding where a new jail should be located, the question that really needs to be answered is whether one is needed at all. If the census is going down, then talk of a new jail is premature.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Amy Trapp Looks Out For The Ruling Class

When Amy Trapp was confirmed as NorCo's Human Resources Director in late 2015, I was favorably impressed. She had been the HR Director in Allentown, where she claimed she was friends with one and all. She vowed that would continue at Northampton County, where she would visit offices regularly and get to know people. She had the support of John Stribula, who at that time was President of Allentown Firefighters (IAFF, Local 302). Allentown employee Mike Twining, a crime analyst who represented nonunion employees, also spoke on her behalf. By a 7-2 vote, she was confirmed with a starting salary of $104,328. I would have voted for her myself. I told Scott Parsons and Bob Werner that, by opposing her, they were just playing politics. She would be an employee advocate.

I was wrong.

What I failed to realize is that Trapp has a modus operandi. It's something I learned about later, from Allentown employees and with my own eyes. Basically, her gimmick is to befriend certain people and play them off against each other. She did that to me, and I fell for it. She was more than willing to trash other cabinet level officials behind their backs while befriending others. It was only after the time clock issue, when either she or her husband posted that "entitled spoiled brat government employee" remark on my blog, that I finally got wise to her. What I have since learned is that if she wants to find an "entitled spoiled brat government employee," all she needs to do is look in a mirror.

As she made clear to DA John Morganelli with respect to the time clocks, she very much believes in a different set of rules for different classes of people. The ruling class can pretty much do what it wants, while the underclass better punch in.

At one time, she was Director of Human Resources in Allentown. I have checked her out with employees there. People besides Mike Twining, whom she rewarded with a job here and trips to Vegas and New Orleans for supporting her.

When she was hired in Allentown, the first thing she did was force everyone out in the HR department and recreate it in her own image. She brought Courtney Kendzejeski into Allentown, and now she brought Courtney from Allentown to NorCo. Mike Twining, a 911 supervisor who caught her eye and became a "crime analyst," was also imported here.

In Allentown, she befriended Allentown cops and building maintenance workers, telling them all about certain surgically induced physical enhancements she had done to herself. This should be private, but she proclaimed it to them. According to one Allentown worker, "I went into HR one day and she was in an ultra tight short skirt and she was leaning against a desk regaling the guys with her 'body'."

Seeking to be the center of attention, she would wear provocative outfits in Allentown and had to be told to tone it down.

As for the Allentown cops she befriended, most of them now have Facebook profiles under assumed names or not at all. She would Facebook friend them and then use information obtained to hurt those who could be sacrificed.

In just one year in Allentown, she fired or forced 23 people to retire.

Some employee advocate.

In Allentown, she also started the practice of forcing office managers to attend weekly "training" sessions.

In Northampton County, Trapp has followed the same pattern. She cleaned out the HR department and remade it in her own image. She brought a hoverboard to the courthouse and actually used it to make copies.

She admonishes employees if she catches them in sneakers or casual garb, while she dresses however she wants. Several months ago, an employee in the Juvenile Justice Center passed away unexpectedly, and Trapp went down to console employees ... in flip flops.

Perhaps the biggest illustration of her belief in a different set of rules for the ruling class is her penchant for bringing her dog to work.

She hides it in her purse.

Any county employee who did that would be disciplined if not fired. But just as she drives without a license, she does what she wants at the courthouse.

NorCo Gaming Board Now Sits on $745,128

According to Treasurer Tom Nolan, Northampton County's Gaming Board is sitting on a $745,128 pile of cash. That's how much is in its "restricted" account, i.e. the one that pays municipal grants. They are in no hurry to dole it out because, if they do, the state could ask that the money be refunded.

Bethlehem Township Commissioners recently adopted a resolution that practically begs the Gaming Board to start awarding grants to the municipalities surrounding the Sands Casino. But the Gaming Board has instead listened to their lawyer. At their September 25 meeting, Solicitor Graham Simmons cautioned them on this topic again.

About a year ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the tax imposed on slots revenue is unconstitutional because it violates the uniformity clause. The Court has stayed its decision while a legislative fix is attempted in the land of midnight payraises. But until that happens, the finds collected are in legal limbo. Simmons noted that "the money collected is an unconstitutional tax" and that "there could come a day when the state calls this money back."

Tom Nolan said he would be filing a motion to establish a round of grants for the municipalities surrounding the casino, which includes his own Bethlehem Township. He noted that Lehigh County distributed its casino funds. Mayor Gerald Yob of Freemansburg agreed with Nolan. His argument was that if they don't spend the money, the state will certainly want it back.

Other Gaming Board members suggested waiting. Tony Pristash (Northampton) observed that this issue has already been decided, and Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown) warned that Nolan's proposal is "playing with fire."

Joe Kelly, representing Bethlehem, played peacemaker. He suggested waiting until a legislative fix is in place and then calling a special meeting.

After hearing this compromise, Tom Nolan withdrew his motion.

Count on Trapp's Time Clocks if Brown is Elected

Earlier this year, NorCo HR Director Amy Trapp's attempt to force biometric time clocks on county workers at the courthouse received a rather dim reception, especially when DA John Morganelli saw the wires for one such monstrosity dangling from a wall outside his office. Trapp tried to assure Morganelli that they would have no application to him, his assistant DAs or his detectives. Just the underclass. Secretaries and clerks. Morganelli, an independently elected official, ended the matter, at least in his office. "There is no need to discuss this," he told Trapp. "I am not doing it. Period."

That may have ended things for DA staffers, but Executive John Brown and Trapp still want to force other courthouse employees to use them. Documents obtained from the Controller's office reveal that the county spent about $30,000 to purchase seven biometric time clocks from Kronos.

Where are they? For all I know, they are next to her $800 popcorn machine.

There would be too much heat to force them on county workers now. Obviously, John Brown is waiting until after he is re-elected, and then woe to the county worker who objects. It is Amy Trapp or her husband who, on this very blog, disparaged county workers who oppose time clocks as "entitled spoiled brat government employees who need to get on board."

Amazingly, this is the Director of Human Resources. Brown, her boss, never forced her to apologize for this slur.

How does Executive candidate Lamont McClure feel about time clocks? "[T]here is a right way and a wrong way to do this, and I believe the Brown Administration time clock plan is the wrong one for Northampton County," he said. "I would certainly not propose and/or implement it."

"The first concern I have is that a time clock program needs to be fair. And, by fair, I mean that everyone must use it. There is a widespread sense among county employees that not all of their fellow co-workers would be required to use it. That's just not right.

"The second concern I have is that in order to properly serve the public many employees need to spend large portions of their work week out in the community. There is some thought that the Brown system would not accurately or fairly reflect that important work.

"Finally, it seems to me having a system that is accessed by a fingerprint is disrespectful to hard working, decent and honorable public servants. After all, in our society fingerprinting is most often thought of in terms of law breaking. It sends a terrible message to the employees, and undermines the public's confidence in their government."

"I'm Not That Kind of Lawyer"

Heavy traffic yesterday afternoon meant that it took gaming board members a bit longer than usual for them to make the meeting. It also have Board Chair Jay Finnigan just the opening he needed to take a shot at booth funeral directors and lawyers.

Hellertown funeral director David Heintzelman, who also is running for Mayor, came in nattily attired with a bowtie and well-tailored suit. Following behind him was Allentown Attorney Graham Simmons, who represents the Board.

"Were you in the same traffic Mr. Heintzelman was?" a Board member asked Simmons.

"He [Heintzelman] picked up business. How about you?" wisecracked Finnigan.

"I'm not that kind of lawyer," replied Simmons.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Authoritarian Donald Trump Plays to His Racist Base

Around this time last year, I posted the essay you see below concerning NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem. One year later, Authoritarian Donald Trump asked a mostly white crowd in Huntsville on Friday whether "people like yourselves" agree with his anger at "those people" who dare take a knee during the national anthem. He'd love to see some NFL owner say, "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now."

This is nothing less than thinly disguised racism.

He's playing to his base.

Trump is getting the opposite of what he wanted. Instead of acting like plantation overseers keeping their slaves in line, one NFL owner actually joined players who protested the anthem at a game played in London. Numerous players took a knee, and with the support of owners and coaches.

Trump also withdrew an invitation for the Golden State Warriors to visit him at the White House. "Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team," Trump tweeted. I loved LeBron James's response. "U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite," tweeted James. "Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!"

The National Anthem and Our False Patriotism

(From 8/29/16) - Break out the torches and pitchforks. It's time to lynch an American for acting like ... an American. I refer to NFL back-up QB Colin Kaepernick (he must be an Irish Muslim), who had the temerity to refuse to stand like everyone else and pretend to be a patriot during the singing of the meaningless National Anthem during an equally meaningless preseason game that his team lost. He should show respect to the Flag, they say. Move to Canada, they roar. Kaepernick was simply exercising his First Amendment rights, something a lot more important than a song penned by a bigoted slave owner while the British were burning the capital to the ground. It probably should be scrapped.

I am always leery of these forced displays of false patriotism. A true patriot does exactly what Kaepernick did. A true patriot goes to government meetings or gets involved in his community. He informs himself before voting and is willing to take unpopular stands if he thinks he is right. A false patriot condemns those who follow their conscience.

When I was growing up, I remember quite clearly how people vilified Muhammed Ali for courageously refusing to sign up for the draft. He was stripped of his title, prosecuted and condemned. Except by one loudmouthed Jewish broadcaster who himself happened to be a WWII vet - Howard Cosell. Cosell then realized and said that what really had people fired up about about Ali is that "he was black and he was boastful."

And so it goes with Kaepernick, another black man (his father is black) who does not know his place.

Oh but he disrespected the Flag, you say. How dare he! This reminds me of another time, when America was in its infancy, and Pennsylvania Revolutionaries required everyone to take a loyalty oath. Whiskey patriots would ride throughout the Lehigh Valley, looking to line their pockets with the assets of Mennonites, Moravians and Quakers. In 1778, for example, eleven wealthy Mennonite farmers were herded onto Northampton County Court and ordered to swear their allegiance. Because their religious scruples made that impossible, they refused. Their assets were declared forfeit and they were ordered to leave Pennsylvania. Of course, most of the money ended up in the pockets of a few officers.

And let's talk for a moment about the real verses in Francis Scott Key's Star-Spangled Banner. At that time, the British military was recruiting and using runaway slaves. Key, who in fairness did think slaves should be treated humanely, writes gleefully about slaves being killed by American bombs.
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The Star-Spangled Banner became our National Anthem because Woodrow Wilson, another bigot, issued an edict making it so. Congress eventually rubber-stamped Wilson's decree.

There is nothing remotely American about that song, unless you want to emphasize the ugly American. Nor should we be required to pledge allegiance every time we fart.

The whiskey patriots say otherwise, but any real patriot would understand and respect what this quarterback did.

Ten Weeks After Suspension, Collins Still in Limbo at NorCo Jail

One or two weekends ago, the Easton NAACP has its annual summer picnic. Northampton County Executive candidate Lamont McClure was there. Executive John Brown apparently went to the wrong venue, though he did try to attend. It's unfortunate that he missed it. In addition to missing out on some excellent food, Brown also lost out on an opportunity to hear constituents who are a shade darker than he sees among the so-called Lehigh Valley elite. They have questions, and they vote. One of those questions is why Brown has allowed David Collins, the County's first ever black captain at the jail, to sit in limbo. He's been suspended (the county calls it "administrative leave") for nearly three months Corrections and HR Directors Dan Keen and Amy Trapp look for an excuse to fire him. They'll wait until after the election before lowering the boom because it might cost Brown votes on Easton's south side. A second question is whether Keen and Trapp might have interfered with a possible criminal investigation.

I've told you about Collins before. He rose through the ranks to become the jail's first African American captain at a jail with only one captain and in a county where minorities have been historically under-represented. In his 15 years with the county, he has never been disciplined for any infraction. Though he's a big man, he has an artistic side and sometimes teaches inmates how to draw at night. His evaluations have all been off the charts. Though he's a big man, he has an artistic side and sometimes teaches inmates how to draw at night. But on July 13, he was suspended and walked out of the jail for "unfounded allegations" concerning Corrections Director Dan Keen.

Some months before the rug was pulled out from under him, Collins was at a training seminar with Keen and several lieutenants. While he was sitting in a training session, Collins received a text from Keen, asking him to meet him in the hotel lobby because Keen wanted to talk to him. When Collins met him there, Keen suggested that the two go to the hospitality room for some privacy.

Alone, Keen asked Collins what he had heard about Keen's so-called "double life."

Keen said that at different training events, he had heard that from people in other counties but had no idea what was meant by it.

Keen eventually dropped the matter, but Collins noticed that he was treated differently after that day. Whatever this "double life" is, Keen wants nothing said about it.

Collins tells me he had a hearing before HR Director Amy Trapp and Keen on August 25. When he asked her why he had been suspended, she told him, "It's for your protection." And then, like Nancy Drew on The Case of the Floating Crime, she drifted from one topic to the next in an effort to find something ... anything with which to hammer him.

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

The reality is that Collins is a whistleblower, as I told you before. He is being victimized for reporting, in good faith, instances of wrongdoing or waste. He was even grilled over his contacts with me, all of which were initiated by me and after his suspension.

What bothers me more than anything is his investigation into the assault of one female inmate by another. Collins reviewed video of the incident, which shows this inmate walking into the open cell of another, after which she was physically assaulted and ended up with a broken nose.

The assaulted inmate's cell door had been left open. That could happen only if the corrections officer in that area was either negligent or in on it.

The corrections officer was suspended (with pay) while Collins investigated. He turned over the video and his own findings to Keen.

After a few months, Trapp reinstated this corrections officer with no discipline. She told Collins the information he provided was insufficient.

He asked whether she reviewed the video.

"What video?" was her answer.

Keen sat on evidence of what was definitely evidence of criminal assault by an inmate. He sat on what might also be a conspiracy involving a corrections officer. He is required by his own Code of Ethics to furnish that information. I think it's unlikely that the corrections officer acted criminally, but that determination should be made by a District Attorney.

Not Keen. Not Trapp.

When administrators at the jail turn their heads the other way, corruption begins.

We need more people like David Collins at the jail, not fewer.

By the way,since his suspension on July 13 with pay, the taxpayers of Northampton County have shelled out
$10,000 in salary, and about 70% that amount in benefits, so that Collins can sit and do nothing. .

Is this fiscally responsible?

Friday, September 22, 2017

NorCo Council Adopts Bethlehem LERTA

Allyson Lehr
Last night, by a 5-3 vote, Northampton County Council approved a LERTA program in North Bethlehem. Ken Kraft, Seth Vaughn, Mat Benol and Bob Werner voted Yes. Hayden Phillips, Matt Dietz and President John Cusick cast No votes. Peg Ferraro, who did support the LERTA, was apparently kidnapped by the forces of darkness and missed the meeting. This left everything in the hands of Glenn Geissinger, the sole Council member who said nothing.

He voted Yes.

For those of who who just aren't up tp date on all the tax gimmicks out there, 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.

To me, these are the least offensive of the tax breaks. Generally, NorCo Council will approve a LERTA if it has been approved by the City and school district, as is the case here. But the sheer size of the area, combined with LERTA failures in Easton and philosophical concerns about picking winners and losers, made county officials hesitate.

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 Bethlehem Housing and Community Planner Allyson Lehr back in August. She said the area could go "either way." She believes a LERTA will help this area from becoming a "problem neighborhood."

Why a LERTA? here's what Lehr told Council in August.
  • 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.

After Lehr's excellent presentation, I decided to see how successful Easton has been with its smaller LERTA, which also includes residential properties. It has been a failure:
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).
But Bethlehem, unlike Easton, recently adopted a Financial Accountability Incentive Reporting (FAIR) program, thanks to Bethlehem Council president Willie Reynolds. This will enable Bethlehem to keep an eye on its LERTA.

Willie, who is used to being in a room full of Democrats, had an eye-opening experience when he visited NorCo Council two weeks ago and again last night. But he was quite conciliatory when he addressed County Council and thanked them  "Now is not an easy time to be in government," he said.

I had considered bribing John Cusick to tell Reynolds his time was up as soon as he got to the podium.

Though I think the LERTA will accomplish nothing in Bethlehem, I expected to see it pass last night.

But that was before an amendment to the LERTA ordinance was introduced last night.It was about 7,000 pages long and was itself completely full of errors.

It took Council nearly an hour of meeting time to sort through the mess and correct it.

When it was time to discuss the ordinance on its merits, Hayden Phillips and Matt Dietz repeated their argument that the government was"picking winners and losers."

John Cusick's opposition was a bit more nuanced. First, he complained about the the 10-5-0-50split among the three taxing entities. Second, he thinks the area issimply toolarge. Third, he'd like to see the City use all the other tools available.

"This whole body is amazing to me," said Ken Kraft, who would love to be in a room full of Democrats. "We're not picking winners and losers. We're taking an area out of blight."

 Kraft also said that Bethlehem is more proactive than Easton and won't be the LERTA failure that Easton is.
Bob Werner, who represents Easton, was outraged and challenged Kraft to a duel. Today at dawn, they rowed across the Delaware so that Morganell is unable to prosecute them. I will report the details when they come.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

LVEDC Claims LV GDP Was $39 Nillion in 2016

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation is claiming in a statement that the Lehigh Valley’s gross domestic product (GDP) for private sector industry has grown to a record-high $39.1 billion for 2016, a more than 4 percent increase over the previous year.

“It’s truly remarkable to consider that the economic output of our two counties has increased to the point that it’s larger than two states,” said Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC). “We saw growth across each of our economic subsectors, and manufacturing continues to grow in the Lehigh Valley, making up an even larger percentage of the regional economy than last year.”

The findings released Sept. 20 by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) show that the Lehigh Valley economy now ranks 65th out of the 382 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, compared to ranking 73rd last year.

The Lehigh Valley GDP is now larger than of Wyoming ($38.5 billion) and Vermont ($31.5 billion), as well as 108 other countries in the world. If the Lehigh Valley were a country, it would be the 87th largest in the world in terms of economic output.

A breakdown of the total GDP by subsector, as well as the rate of year-over-year growth, can be found below:
· Finance, insurance, and real estate: $8 billion (+5.9 percent)

· Manufacturing: $6.9 billion (+2.6 percent)

· Education and health care: $5.3 billion (+4.6 percent)

· Professional and business services: $5.3 billion (+4.2 percent)

· Retail trade: $2.3 billion (+3.2 percent)

· Information: $1.9 billion (+1.6 percent)

· Transportation and warehousing: $1.9 billion (+9.5 percent)

· Arts, accommodation, and food services: $1.6 billion (+5.4 percent)
Manufacturing year-over-year growth was led by a 4.5 percent increase in non-durable goods manufacturing. This includes food and beverage and chemical products, which reflects two of the target sectors of the Lehigh Valley (food & beverage processing and life science research & manufacturing) as identified by LVEDC.

Transportation and warehousing is the fastest-growing sector of the regional economy, according to the BEA, with 9.5 percent growth year-over-year.

Goods-producing industries in the Lehigh Valley economy increased by 3.4 percent, according to the BEA, while service-producing industries increased by 4.4 percent.

These GDP figures derive from the BEA and were analyzed and presented by George Lewis, LVEDC Director of Research and Analysis. GDP rankings of other countries come from the World Bank. The BEA adjusts its figures to account for new information and projections, so numbers that have been reported for previous years may have been changed or adjusted over time.

2016 is the most recent year for which measurable GDP data is available. The $39.1 billion GDP figure does not account for government spending.

(Blogger's Note: This post is based on information supplied by LVEDC and cites its sources).

Updated: Property Tax Town Hall Includes Some Mini Profiles in Courage

Deb Hunter
Last night, well over 200 people cascaded into Bethlehem Township's meeting room to hear three state senators (Lisa Boscola, Dave Argall and Mario Scavello) talk about school property taxes. I went in there to cover the story for a few local papers, and my actual story is located here. t publishes in one of those papers, I'll provide a link.  Basically, the idea is to eliminate property taxes (they can still be levied to pay off existing debt) and replace them with an increase and expansion of sales tax (7%) and an increase in income tax (3.07% to 4.95%).if a school district wants more money, it has to ask the voters. They will almost certainly say No.

Most of the people in that room were avid fans of property tax elimination. As someone who has my own doubts about the merit of this idea, I'd agree that many of their arguments were persuasive. But as always happens when there's a one-sided group, there's a tendency to shout down those with a contrary view.

With that in mind, I want to mention that three women had the courage to stand up and express their reservations. Bethlehem's Linda Robertson was loudly booed when she suggested that if something looks too good to be true, it usually is. But she stood her ground, and one of the panelists chided the crowd. Believe it or not, the crowd improved.

Deb Hunter is a brilliant woman who ran for Northampton County Council four years ago. After Linda was booed, she voiced her concerns anyway. So did Salisbury Township's Elizabeth Lechner.

As profiles in courage go, these are small examples. But it was refreshing to see these three people take a principled stand in unfriendly waters.

It was also encouraging to see so many people who have been actively working on property tax reform for may years.One gentleman from York, Joel Sears, actually presented an analysis of 15 properties in Northampton and Lehigh County  to demonstrate the disparities in property tax.

I rarely see this kind of interest in government. What I saw last night gave me hope for us.

The only disappointment was some selfish asshole who even begrudged having to fund school lunches.

I hope he gets a lump of coal for Christmas.

(Blogger's Note. Originally published 3:59 am and updated to include a link to my story.) 

NorCo Council Considers Establishing Home Rule Study Commission

Yesterday, Northampton County Council's Governance Committee was set to discuss all kinds of questions. Was its ordinance limiting Council members to three terms legal? Was its proposal to limit the County Executive to two terms legal? Why is the Executive limited to two terms and Council limited to three terms? Should it impose job qualifications on the Controller? Should he be barred from officiating at football and baseball games on weekends?  Once that happens, should he be term limited, too?  Each of these questions was looking for an answer by way of Home Rule Charter amendment, which requires a public referendum. Each of these matters was placing Council members in serious danger of running aground, and without the benefit of their legal lifeguard, Solicitor Phil Lauer. He usually only attends the full Council meetings.

All of this had me concerned, but I was shocked to see that Council members themselves were concerned, too. They did something very rare yesterday. They put on the brakes and asked themselves, "What the hell are we doing?"  And they decided that it's really time for a home rule charter study commission.

Most counties follow the county code and are a three commissioner form of government in which one commissioner must be a member of the minority party. This prevents a tyranny of the majority. But Northampton County is different.. It is what is known as a home rule county. It is governed by a Charter which first went into effect in 1978, nearly 40 years ago. This Charter, which I sometimes mention in my blogs, is the equivalent of the County's Constitution. Under this Charter, the County is governed by an elected Executive and nine elected Council members instead of three Commissioners. Row offices like the Recorder of Deeds, Sheriff, Register of Wills and Coroner are appointed, not elected.

I was unaware of this, but the Home Rue Charter was actually opposed by the Northampton County Democratic Party. They like having a lot of row offices with the accompanying patronage. But some prominent Democrats like Congressman Fred Rooney bucked he party and decided that professionalism trumps cronyism.

Lehigh County also adopted a home rule charter around the same time as Northampton County.

Today, there are home rule charters in Allegheny, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties.

After 40 years, is it time to end the experiment and return to a Commissioner form of government? Or should we keep the Charter and just improve on what is working and eliminate what is not? This is what a home rule charter study can accomplish. A home rule charter study commission is elected by the voters and they make a proposal that voters can either accept or reject.

Do we need nine Council members? Would it make more sense to have an appointed Executive who is paid an appropriate salary? Should the Controller's office be converted to a nonpartisan position like a judge instead of forcing someone to run for political office and then insist he be nonpartisan? Should the Sheriff be appointed to a five or ten year term to avoid the political process? Should the provisions concerning recall, which have been declared unconstitutional, should be removed? Who appoints the Voter Registrar, the Executive or the Elections Commission? Wouldn't it make more sense to have the court serve as the Elections Commission so they can decide whether a referendum question is legal? Should there be term limits?  Should salaries of elected officials be tied to the consumer price index so that there is no need to revisit salaries and the grandstanding that results? Is it time to strengthen the Career Service provisions? Should cabinet officials or other employees be barred from working with a county vendor for a period of time after they leave the county's employ? Should we define more clearly what political activity is appropriate? Are the citizen participation provisions adequate?

These are all good government questions. After 40 years, it makes sense that the a charter be reviewed and strengthened or abolished?

Ken Kraft and Peg Ferraro were both unable to attend yesterday's meeting, but i believe they would both support a review. Seth Vaughn, who was participating by phone, called the idea "radical." But other Council members disagreed,and think it's time to give the Charter a tune up.

Hayden Phillips, a Republican, and Bob Werner, a Democrat, have agreed to sponsor the legislation needed to allow you to have a say in your own government.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

NorCo Council Fails To Invite Controller to Meeting About ... the Controller

Yesterday, Northampton County Council's Governance Committee, spearheaded by lameduck Mat (not Matt) Benol, released an agenda for a meeting today. One item is a proposed change to the Home Rule Charter that will limit the Executive to two terms in office. This discussion was scheduled at the last Council meeting. While they're at it, Benol has decided to address Council's term limits, too, even though Council term-limited itself several years ago. As if these two items are not enough, Benol has also decided to schedule a discussion on both "special qualifications" and "special prohibitions" for the County Controller. But he hasn't bothered to inform the person who has occupied that office for nearly a decade.

I contacted Controller Steve Barron yesterday, who was unaware of a meeting scheduled to talk about him behind his back. "I fail to understand why Council would schedule a meeting concerning my office and fail to invite the person who has occupied it for nearly ten years," he noted.

I know why. They want to clip his wings. He asks too many questions.

Since the mainstream press has more or less fallen flat on its face in covering county government, the sole watchdogs left are bottom-feeding bloggers like me and the County Controller. But as was recently pointed out in Governing, this is an increasingly troublesome problem for independent auditors.
When performance auditors rile mayors and department heads with negative audits, retaliation can come in the form of budget cuts, slow action on personnel requests or even suggestions that auditor functions be eliminated. David Jones, Seattle city auditor and chair of ALGA’s advocacy committee, says, “We frequently find that local government auditors are under attack.”
This is precisely what is going on here. In April, Barron infuriated County administrators and Benol with a detailed memo outlining county waste and abuse. He was concerned that Human Resources Director Amy Trap had increased staff development training from $5,749.35 to a staggering $56,758.15 in the course of just one year. He was bothered that her staff had taken trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans and had stayed at exotic places like the Mirage Hotel, with absolutely no effort made to get a government rate. He noted that her department was charging meals beyond what is permitted. He also warned that this was only the tip of the iceberg, and that a county credit card audit was being performed, which would certainly show that she spent $800 for a popcorn machine and bought meals at the courthouse, to which her staff had no right.

Barron suggested stronger internal controls were needed, and they are.

Though County Council is supposed to be a check and balance on administrative overreach. They instead went after Barron.

Benol accused Barron of playing "political football," adding, "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."

Benol was upset that Barron had failed to provide his report to both sides,and that would be a valid complaint if it were true. Barron did make sure that the administration received a copy of his memo.

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.

Benol clearly is planning on retaliation against Barron for doing his job.

Or Benol and his Ten Commandments may be trying to scare Barron off. His audit of the county credit cards (called P-cards) is coming out very soon.

DA: No Evidence of Criminal Conduct in Death of Lafayette Lacrosse Player

DA John Morganelli, flanked by
Lt. Matthew Gerould (L) and Detective Darren Snyder (R).
Lafayette College's McRae Williams, a freshman lacrosse goalie, died on Monday, September 11, just as his college career was beginning. Several unfounded rumors about how that death occurred began appearing in some news outlets, so NorCo District Attorney John Morganelli called a news conference yesterday to disclose some details of this ongoing investigation. Morganelli was flanked by Easton police Lt. Matthew Gerould and Detective Darren Snyder.

Here's what they know so far:

1) Williams had been drinking on Friday and Saturday of the previous weekend. - He attended a party that Friday at Rueff Hall, starting around 6 pm, with fellow lacrosse players. They say he was under the influence, but appeared to be OK and was "talkative." later that night, lacrosse players went to another party on High Street, but it is unclear whether Williams attended. On Saturday, at about noon,he began to drink, but texted a friend that "all we have is watermelon vodka and I hate watermelon." He later attended a beer party at the Boneyard on Cattell Street. Surveillance video showed him walking to and from the local WaWa with friends, where his gait appeared to be unsteady. That was the extent of his drinking. He skipped a Saturday night party.

2) There is no evidence of hazing. - Investigators have spoken to 14 people so far and have uncovered no evidence that Williams was forced to undergo any ritual or that his drinking had been involuntary.

3) Williams became sick on Saturday, and may have fallen. - On late Saturday afternoon, after returning from the WaWa, Williams had the company of a female friend. Around 5 pm,he got up and went to the bathroom to throw up About an hour later, he did so again. At this time,she heard a loud noise in the bathroom and he was on the floor, but she did not see him fall. There was no sign of an injury.

4) Friends grew concerned as Williams continued sleeping.  - On Saturday night, Williams skipped a lacrosse player party. When friends checked on him, he pulled the covers over himself. On Sunday, he continued sleeping. Around 4 pm,his friends began to think he might need medical attention. He became combative as they tried to dress him, but was noticeably weak. They got him outside and called thwir coach, and he advised that they call 911 immediately and arrived himself at 4:22 pm.

5) Williams had a fractured skull. - At the hospital, and X-Ray and cat scan revealed that, despite the absence of physical evidence, he had a fractured skull. Williams passed away on 9/11, and Coroner Scott Grim has ruled that the death is the result of blunt force trauma to the head.  

"At this time, I have no evidence of criminal conduct," said Morganelli. "I do not see this as a Penn State case," he concluded referring to a Center County prosecution of several Penn State students accused of contributing to the drinking death of a fellow classmate.

Morganelli said there is a "strong likelihood" that Williams suffered a serious head injury when he fell onto the floor. .

(Blogger's Note: Please be respectful in your comments on this tragedy, which shows how fragile life can be.)  

Happy Rosh Hashanah!

Today, starting at sundown, Jews worldwide will celebrate Rosh Hashanah. It is considered the birthday of the universe, and who am I to argue? This holiday will continue for two days. It includes the repeated sounding of the shofar, or ram's horn, following a reading of the Torah in the morning. It also involves a lot of food.

Now the shofar is actually pretty badass.

But the dungchen, played by Tibetan Buddhists, is even more badass.

To my Jewish friends, "Shana tova!"

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

John Brown's Secret Plan for a New Jail

On the campaign trail, I doubt that Northampton County Executive John Brown is saying much about a new jail. He was going to run on that issue until someone poited out that is a surefire way to ensure his defeat at the polls. So mum's the word. But don't kid yourself. He's looking. And if you are a NorCo resident, it might be in your neighborhood.

You'll learn the details once he's re-elected.

This is unacceptable to Bethlehem Attorney Lamont McClure, who is running for Executive.
I am opposed to the building of a new jail with an anticipated price tag to the taxpayers in excess of $120,000,000.00. We have also learned, although, we cannot verify this as the Brown Administration is pursuing its plan in secret, that one of the proposed sites is county property at Gracedale. This location is unacceptable to me. My opposition does not flow simply from the outsized costs or the terrible site selection alone. Specifically, we do not need a new prison. We have plenty of capacity to meet the need of local incarceration at this time. To my knowledge no one in the criminal justice system is clamoring for a new jail. I served on Council for nearly a decade. After the West Easton facility came on line, the Director of Corrections Mr. Myers retired. After his last Council meeting, I walked out of the courthouse with him. I asked him that now that we have the West Easton facility would we need a to build a new jail. His answer was "not in our life times."
Northampton County's jail was first built in 1871 for $200,000. It's been expanded a few times since then, with the most recent addition coming in 2006 at a $22.8 million cost. But in the old jail in particular, things are a mess. Corrections Director Dan Keen called it a "beast" during a presentation last September. County Administrators vowed to be back no later than the end of November to update everyone after identifying funding sources. They never did come back, but Executive John Brown has begun the process of selecting a new jail.

He's done so without involving the courts or District Attorney..

Where will it be? How much will it cost taxpayers? Do we really need a new jail? These are all questions that need to be answered.

Where will it be? - At a recent Council meeting, Brown told Peg Ferraro that the cost of a "high rise" solution in Easton is too exorbitant, and that he's already visited a dozen different locations. He needs a tract of between 40-60 acres. The most logical choice is Gracedale in Upper Nazareth, where the County already owns plenty of land. There would be no need buy, and the infrastructure should be a snap. But the public opposition would be intense, especially to owners of the Eagles' Landing development. Zoning might be an insurmountable hurdle.

Brown has also considered some of the Bethlehem Steel lands in South Bethlehem. Rumors abound that he's also considering Wayne Grube Park, Louis Moore Park (which is suddenly getting water) and Upper Mount Bethel Township. I believe Abe Atiyeh would be interested in selling his facility in West Easton.

No matter where he decides to build, there will be opposition.

How much will it cost? - According to a jail study commissioned by John Stoffa in 2008, the cost of a new jail at a new location would be $130-136 million. Build a seven story monstrosity that Eastonians would be sure to love would cost $128-$132 million.

What does this mean to taxpayers? Glenn Reibman's $111 million bond issue in 2001 resulted in two consecutive years of tax increases of 64%, along with layoffs. Reibman had hoped it would be revenue neutral because $29 million went to economic development. A new prison would just cost you money, most likely a 70-80% tax hike.

As Ron Angle asked back in 2008, "The reality here is, who the hell wants a new prison?"

Do we really need a new jail? - Back in 2008, at the time of the last prison study, it was projected that we'd need 1,300 beds by 2015. There were only 732 inmates when Keen made his presentation to Council last year. And that number is dropping as courts look to alternatives to incarceration. We now have problem solving courts, not warehouses.

So far as I know, Brown has failed to meet with the courts to discuss the trends. He even failed to meet with the judges over e-filing in the Civil Division, and just attempted to ram it through.

Brown's Executive Order. -  Brown has signed an Executive Order authorizing Corrections Director Dan Keen to enter into the planning process for a new detention center with DLR Group for the sum of $72,000 over the next three months. His deal with DLR is a "sole source," or no-bid, contract. This way he can avoid the competitive bidding that would otherwise be required under the county's Administrative Code.

Brown said competitive bidding in this instance "is just a waste of time and energy."

Bethlehem Tp Considers Fire Tax, Tax Break For Volunteers

Bethlehem Tp Volunteer Fire Co. Engine 1712
Bethlehem Township's volunteer firefighters may soon receive a tax credit for their service under a new law recently signed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Under this law, municipalities now have the option of establishing and setting the amount for a tax credit for earned income or property taxes for first responders. But to participate in the program, the individual must be an active volunteer, reside in the Township and meet certain certification requirements. Also, the tax credit is limited to 20 percent of tax liability.

This exemption was proposed by Tom Nolan in August, but Mike Hudak and Howard Kutzler said they'd like to review the matter.

At the Township's September 18 meeting, Manager Melissa Shafer said the tax would impact 33 volunteers at Bethlehem Township Volunteer Fire Company, and a similar number at Nancy Run. She estimated that the Township would lose revenue of about $17,500 if he exemption came from earned income tax. She and Finance Director Andrew Freda had previously said that it would be easier to administer this exemption if it only came from earned income tax.

Howard Kutzler called the exemption a "wonderful tool to support our volunteers."

Commissioners directed that a specific proposal be created at the fire relations committee meeting in October, with the plan of enacting an ordinance in time to take effect next year.

While on the topic of firefighters, Tom Nolan proposed that the Township enact a fire tax similar to a tax already in place in eight other Northampton County municipalities.

President Mike Hudak, who said he proposed a fire tax himself several years ago, has grown leery of the notion. He warned about setting aside money to buy equipment that is unneeded. he said fore trucks are sold to other municipalities who have no problem obtaining the necessary certifications. He added that Bethlehem City drives "shiny fire trucks" from the '60s, "and they love 'em."

Finance Director Andrew Freda told Hudak that he spoke with the state about this idea and it was recommended as a "common practice" and as a good way to plan ahead. Hudak said that he'd want the fire tax to include the Township's entire annual obligation to volunteer firefighters. Freda said that was a good idea and would enable him to streamline that contribute to 80-90% of what volunteer firefighters get now.

Chief Ron Ford told Hudak and other Commissioners that firefighters don't dictate what equipment the Township must purchase, and explained some of the difficulties faced in obtaining insurance.

Nolan cautioned that a fire tax would not mean, by itself, a tax hike. He said a 0.50 mill fore tax could mean a reduction in the general millage rate.

Roadwork in Bethlehem Township

According to Bethlehem Township Manager Melissa Shafer's monthly report, several road and bridge projects are under way.

Willow Park Road Bridge Replacement – Willow Park Road has been shut down, with a detour approved between August 14 and October 13, 2017.

Middletown Road Bridge Replacement – the township awaits construction details. Work could start this or next year.

Easton Avenue Repaving (Butztown Road to Farmersville Road south) - ADA curb ramp work is to begin immediately. Paving will be night work only with a completion date of August 2018. Traffic disruption should be at a minimum.

Easton Avenue Repaving (Hope Road east into Palmer Township) - ADA curb ramp work is to begin immediately. Paving will be night work only with a completion date of August 2018. Traffic disruption should be at a minimum.

Brodhead Road Construction In progress, with a one-way detour has been flipped to the other lane. Township Commissioners approved a $49,000 change order at their September 18 meeting, with $4,000 for a UGI line that needed to be moved and $45,000 for additional millwork between Township Line Road and Commerce Boulevard. The vote for the change order was 3-1, with Mike Hudak dissenting.  Hudak is opposed to any township funds spent on Brodhead Road because he feels the cost should be borne by the companies whose trucks have torn up the road.

Correction, 2:50 pm: I incorrectly reported that Howard Kutzler had voted No to Brodhead Road, and apologize to him and my readers for this factual error.

St.Luke's Anderson Campus To Double in Size

At their September 18 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve an expansion at St. Luke's Anderson 500-acre campus that will allow the hospital to double its capacity. "Tower Two," a four-story hospital building nearly identical to the main site, is what St. Luke's VP Ray Miolam calls "the next chapter" in the development of the Anderson campus. He anticipates the project will be complete in 2 1/2 years, with construction starting next Spring.

To minimize stormwaters, St.Luke's has agreed to "bank" its parking. The proposed paving has been approved, but will only be used when it is needed. In addition, St. Luke's has agreed to place a gateway monument sign at the intersection of Routes 33 and 78, stating "Welcome to Bethlehem Township, Home of St. Luke's."

Though President Hudak voted for the project, he warned Miolam and St. Luke's engineer Scott Pasterski that water flowing downhill from the hospital campus along Hope Road is causing problems. "And now we're adding another building with a sea of blacktop," complained Hudak.

Pasterski told Hudak that the basin at the bottom of Hope Road is "well under capacity," but Hudak told the engineer that millions and millions of gallons of water flow into an "unimproved swale."

Howard Kutzler noted that what was approved there is within the letter of the law. But resident Wat=yne Kresge, who personally experienced stormwater problems at this home on Chetwin Terrace,noted that the plans for his property were within the letter of the law, too, but he still experienced flooding after heavy rains.

"Very often things look good on paper, but in reality they don't work," cautioned Kresge.

Both Pasterski and Miolam agreed to look at the problem during the next rainstorm.

"We're not looking to flood out anyone's home," said Miolam.

In other business, Commissioners rejected a $1.3 million contract for the exterior renovation of the Archibald Johnston mansion at Housenick Park. Bracy Contracting was the sole bidder, and its price is nearly twice the $675,000-750,000 estimate. This may be because many items were added during the bidding process, like alterations to the elevator shaft and removal of lead-based paint.

Work on this mansion has been paid from grants and a $2 million trust fund established by Janet Housenick, Archibald Johnston's granddaughter. Trustees Bill Leeson, Steve Baratta and Tim Brady advised Commissioners in writing that they want to see the exterior stabilization project started by September. "We reserve the right to review and change the annual contribution amounts if the exterior stabilization project is not commenced in earnest and on a continuous basis before September."

This bid was tabled in August because Commissioner Pat Breslin was absent. He was absent again on September 18, so Commissioners voted without him.

It will cost the Township $4,000 to rebid the project.

Wayne Kresge complained that renovations at the mansion will eventually start costing the Township money. "We have a habit of spending money in this Township," he said, noting the cost of the Brodhead Road reconstruction and repairs at the community center. He said even the carports built for police cruisers have failed in their purpose of keeping snow off.

Monday, September 18, 2017

My Link to Molovinsky's Blog Was Removed Because of the Hate

Sometime ago, Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky decided that he would not only moderate his comments, but would also require readers to identify themselves. He did so out of fear. He's afraid of a troll who harasses him. He also rarely interacts with his readers, even when they post ridiculous comments about the IQs of Somalis being substandard.

It's his blog and he can do what he wants.

But I don't have to link to it.

When John Morganelli decided to run for state AG in 2016, I supported him. In every post I wrote about the race, I included this disclaimer: "I support John Morganelli for AG and have made a small contribution."

I thought my readers should know about my bias. I was trying to be honest and above board. At that time, I thought Molovinsky and I were friendly. He certainly called me enough.

So in March 2016, in a post about Morganelli's AG race, I was upset when Molovinsky, someone who I thought was my friend, slammed me for failing to do more. He never made clear exactly what that was

I was embarrassed and hurt that someone I had thought of as a friend would attack me in this way. If he had a question about what I was doing, he could have included it in his daily telephone calls. Instead, he ripped into me.

He lost a friend that day.

But not the link.

That came later.

He is now telling his readers that the reason the link was removed is because of his unfounded Morganelli criticism. "In Bernie's world loyalty is the main theme, in mine it is truthfulness." He accuses me of misrepresenting why the link was removed. He even calls it a "hostile" misrepresentation.

I made no misrepresentation.

The blowup over Morganelli occurred on March 21, 2016.

My link to Molovinsky's blog remained until May of this year. When I did remove it, Molovinsky himself almost immediately noted it on his Facebook page.

The removal of the link to his blog had nothing to do with Morganelli. It was removed for precisely the reason I said it was. I was disgusted by the racist and xenophobic remarks from his readers, and his outright refusal to do anything about it.

The link removal came 14 months after the Morganelli dispute.

So when it comes to misrepresenting things, Molovinsky is playing fast and loose with the truth.

And he's been pretty damn hostile about it.

Updated 10:20 am: Molovinsky attempts to justify his lie. - Having been caught in a lie, Molovinsky states he would prefer it had I let his lie stand. I'll bet. He now claims that the reason I removed the link to his blog is because it was repeatedly attacking me.

I wish he'd make up his mind.

His repeated personal attacks certainly played a role in my decision in concluding his is a hate blog.

After Donald Ttrump's election, Molovinsky's blog devolved into a cesspool of hatred that attacked women, blacks and Islam. Molovinsky led the charge in the attacks aimed at women, while his myrmidons are responsible for his other slurs. At first, I took them all to task. Then I decided to just delete my link to the hate blog.

My decision had nothing to do with Morganelli. Molovinsly's assertions that it did are lies that he now seems to admit.

Sen. Boscola To Host Roundtable on School Tax Reform

For the past several years, a group of mostly conservative thinkers has advocated patriotic-sounding Property Tax Independence Act, In a bid to make themselves sound like the Founding Fathers, they call their bills HB 76 and SB 76. Their logo also is surrounded by 13 stars. I guess that's in honor of the 13 original states or something. Basically, their plan is to phase out property taxes over two years and then play their fifes and drums and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

No question about it, property taxes are unpopular. They are particularly unfair to seniors on fixed incomes.

But SB76 and HB76 are just tax shifting proposals. According to The Wharton School economist Robert Inman, the property tax is probably the fairest of all the taxes imposed by local government. His basic argument is that all taxes are bad. But as we all know, they are a necessary evil. He explored which taxes do the least harm. Believe it or not, it's the property tax.

According to Inman, the fairest way for a City to tax is by moving from a mobile to an immobile tax base. Commuter taxes, wage taxes and gross receipts taxes just drive business and jobs away. Lowering the wage tax will result in more job, more income and encourage people to live where they work by investing in real estate.  He would increase real estate taxes, but homeowners who live in their homes would be afforded a partial exemption.

All of this was in a 2009 Task Force recommendation that was never implemented.

Pa State Rep. Will Not Stop Car for Protesters

Aaron Bernstine is a State Representative from the western part of the state, representing a gerrymandered district that consists of portions of three different counties. He's a "conservative" who just voted to close a state budget gap by borrowing $1 billion.  Of course, he is part of the Donald Trump personality cult. He also describes himself as a "Christian," a word perverted by people who proudly proclaim to be all about Jebus while hating anyone who is different. Bernstine stands for the important Christian principle of vehicular homicide, otherwise known as murder, if done to run down a protester.

As many of you will recall, Heather Heyer was mowed down by a pro-Trump white supremacist on August 11 in Charlottesville.  Though the grass has yet to grow on her grave, this is what "Christian" Bernstine tweeted about protesters who blocked traffic in St. Louis last week:

"If anyone EVER tries to stop my car on a highway with negative intentions... I will not stop under any conditions."

When taken to task, he doubled down with this:

"Feel free to call my office and let me know if you think it is ok to refuse to stop if thugs try to stop me or my family on a highway."

And this:

"Difference between me and these snowflakes is that I won't be assaulted in name of "free speech"

And even this:

"Wrong.... I'm saying when thugs try to stop cars and threaten drivers trying to go to work."

These offensive have actually trumped Trump, at least within the last week. although Trump has everyone beat over the long haul.

The Pennsylvania Democratic party has asked Bernstine to apologize, like that's gonna' happen. Bernstine's Republican leaders will no doubt get him his own engraved hood, along with a year's supply of tiki torches.

They may also advance a legislative proposal that already exists in six other states to shield drivers who negligently hit protesters who obstruct traffic. This has been criticized by the ACLU as a "hit and kill" bill, but defended as a way to protect drivers from liability when a protester darts into traffic.

Hyman: "If We Do Not Have Safety, We Do Not Have a City"

When Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski recently posted a Labor Day montage that included city workers, he omitted firefighters. Of course, that's something he's been doing for years in his annual budgets.

I told you in April that the department's operating budget has shrunk from $455,098 in 2008 to just $156,896 in 2017, a drop of 65.52%. No provision has been made for repair or maintenance supplies. The equipment on hand has decreased from $108,638 in 2008 to just $23,396 this year. Only $35,000 is allotted to train 122 firefighters. A scant $3,500 is set aside to purchase chemicals that are often more important than water in extinguishing a fire.

"He is setting our department up for failure," said firefighter Jeremy Warmkessel, a hero who once gave up his own breathing mask so that a little boy could breathe in a building being consumed by fire.

He does not care about politics. He cares about lives.

Allentown City Council President Ray O'Connell has previously called the situation an "embarrassment to the City."

What about Mayoral candidate Nat Hyman ?

He met with firefighters recently to get a jumpstart on a positive dialogue and relationship with them, something that's currently absent with Fed Ed.

Hyman said there will be three non-negotiable items in the city budget - fire, police and EMS. "If we do not have safety, we simply do not have a city," said Hyman. "Safety is the foundation for everything we want to do in this city."

Hyman said that the first thing he will do as Mayor is "sit down with all of the stakeholders from the firefighters, push the reset button and start a fresh new relationship. While I cannot promise you that I will always tell you what you want to hear or agree with everything you want, I can promise that I will always listen and do what is in the best interest of Allentown. I have absolutely no other agenda."

He addressed the fact that there are fewer firefighters today than 12 years ago and called that "obscene, particularly when you consider that they have double the call volume from 12 years ago!" He likewise said that the fact that they do not have a functional ladder truck while Bethlehem has three is unconscionable."It is not a function of if there will be a tragedy but rather when and the likelihood of loss of life is very real."

Hyman assures firefighters that if he is Mayor, they will have a friend in city hall as he views his number one job as Mayor is to "ensure that every citizen is safe and that we do everything we can to get every firefighter and police officer home safely at night."

Friday, September 15, 2017