Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Las Vegas Security Officer Honored by Local Labor Leaders


Earlier this month, I shared a small story about Jesus Campos. He's the unarmed security guard who took on the Las Vegas gunman in the tragic shooting death of 58 people on October 1. In addition to these deaths, over 500 people were wounded.  On the Ellen show, Campos explained that his attention was first drawn to the gunman by what he thought was a drilling sound, and he did not even know at first that he had been wounded. He was shot in the leg when he approached the shooter's room, but was able to give police information over the phone.

Campos belongs to the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA). That union was organized right after Bethlehem Sands ratified their first contract.

Gregg Potter and John Werkheiser of the Lehigh Valley Labor Council honored Campos last week during a visit to Vegas. They brought some clothing for Campos, along with a gift card to which Superior Court Judge Jack Panella was kind enough to contribute.

Potter met with David Hickey, the President of the SPFPA, as well as local president Dennis Lang.

Campos himself was unavailable.

"The people here are frankly unbelievably resilient and compassionate," said Potter. "I am overwhelmed by them."

After this incident, the SPFPA website was hacked and numerous videos that included Campos were mysteriously deleted.

Brown's Largest Donor a Pro-Trump PAC

I told you yesterday that Great American Pennsylvania Fund was Executive John Brown's largest donor. Sounds a bit like Great America or Great Pennsylvania, doesn't it? How about Make America Great Again, Donald Trump's campaign theme? Well it turns out that the Great American Pennsylvania Fund was set up by former Pa GOP Chair Rob Gleason, with the help of a retired zillionaire, precisely so that he could help pro-Trump candidates and counties. That's what state GOP insiders told me yesterday.

John Brown, who supported Donald Trump for President and went to a few rallies, was rewarded with $5,000. The NorCo GOP was rewarded, too. But the Lehigh County GOP, which refused to support an authoritarian who is dangerous to this country, got squat. 

I'm unable to find the pic Brown posted of himself with Trump, but here he is with Kelly Anne Conway.

Brown Took $1,000 From Prison Architect

I reported to you yesterday on the pre-election campaign finance reports filed by NorCo Executive candidates John Brown and Lamont McClure on Friday. I listed all contributions that were $1,000 or more. This included a $1,000 contribution made by Csaba Balazs to Brown. I told you he was an architect from Ebensberg, but that's all I knew. I have since learned a bit more.

Balasz is actually an architect who specializes in designing correctional facilities. He designed Lehigh County's jail.He designed a new jail for Franklin County. His firm, L.R. Kimball, boasts that it has "been setting the standard in corrections programming and design for more than 35 years."

In August, Balasz pitched a new jail to Berks County Commissioners. He said he could build a brand, spankin' new 1200-bed facility for a mere $159 million. He could also renovate the existing jail with 1,200 beds for just $142 million.

"I really don't think we can ask taxpayers to absorb a $142 to $159 million infrastructure cost," said Berks County Comm'r Kevin S. Barnhardt.

Balasz was sent packing, but later that month, he appeared at a John Brown fundraiser with a check for $1,000. Oh yeah, contractor Lee Butz was there with another $1,000.

Can you smell a deal in the works?

I sure can.

John Brown thinks you can absorb a $185 million infrastructure cost,and without a tax hike. He says he will build a 912-bed prison for $185 million at Easton, not Gracedale. That's right. Three hundred less beds at a cost of between $26-43 million more than Balasz estimated for Berks County.

He's a businessman.

Monday, October 30, 2017

NorCo Exec Race: McClure Beats Brown in Money Race

Lamont McClure and John Brown
Though it's the race on election day that counts, Lamont McClure is winning the war for money in the Northampton County Executive race against incumbent John Brown.

According to his pre-election report for the period between June 6 and October 23,  McClure started with $55,151 and raised another $57,975.00. This gave him a warchest of $113,126, of which he has spent $94,870. Going into the final days of the campaign, he has $18,256 to spend, in addition to whatever sums of money he can raise.

McClure also has campaign debt of $4,587.78 from previous races.

Brown's pre-election report shows that he started the cycle with $7,126.28 and raised $66,816.35. This gave him a treasury of $73,942.63, of which he has spent $3,053.76. He still has $10,888.87 to burn, in addition to any last-minute contributions he might receive.

Brown has campaign debt of $42,380, most of it from his failed bid for state auditor general. 

Major Donors

Donations to McClure in the amount of $1,000 or more come from the following: Eckert Seaman Government PAC - $2,000 (law firm); IBEW PAC - $10,000; Steamfitters Local 420 PAC - $2,500; DC 21 PAC - $2,500; Asbestos Workers PAC - $4,000; Operating Engineers PAC - $2500; King Spry LLC - $1,000 (law firm); Bob Donchez - $1,500; Rosen Law Firm -$1,000; Northeast Carpenters PC - $2,000; AFSCME -$1,500; Plumbers Local 690 PAC - $2,000; Bill Hillanbrand - $1,000 (former Deputy Sheriff who started the Nathan Ogden award); Jack D'Alessandro - $1,000 (Gracedale advocate); Murat Guzel - $5,000 (businessman and DNC official); John Morganelli - $5,000; and Susan Biggica - $2,000..

Donations to Brown in the amount of $1,000 or more include the following: Fulton Financial PAC - $1,000; Cozen O'Connor PAC - $1,000 law firm); Mario Scavello - $1,000; Charlie Dent - $1000; Ryan MacKenzie - $1,000; Delaware County Republicans - $1,000; Great American Pa Fund - $5,000; David Ceraul - $2,500; Andy Daub - $2,500 (car dealer); Carroll Neubauer - $1,000 (B Braun); Dave Backenstoe - $1,000; Joe Topper - $1,000 (gas stations and NIZ developer); William Kennedy - $1,000 (Attorney); Stephen Hurni - $1,000 (Green Knights); Jeffrey Feather - $1,000 (LV Industrial); Csaba Balazs - $1,000 (architect from Ebensburg); Paul Oberbeck - $4,854.70 (Nat'l Magnetics); David Lobach - $1,000 (Embassy Bank); Claudia Acharya - $1,000 (financial analyst); Charles Chrin - $2,500 (landfill and developer); Vicki Doule  - $1,000 (Capital Blue); Robert Asher - $1,000 (Pa Future Fund); Lee Butz - $1,000 (contractor); David Jaindl - $1000 (farmer and developer); Steve Follett - $1,000 (ice machines) John Malloy - $1,000 (Victaulic); Thomas Boles - $1,000 (C3); Lou Pektor - $1,000 (Ashley Development); Cynthia Di Renzo - $1,000 (vitamins); Dennis Benner - $1,000 (developer); Albanese and Grimes - $1,000 (developer); and  Charles R Diacont - $1,000 (developer).

Brown Appointees, County Vendors Add to his Coffers.

Brown's warchest includes payments from some of his county appointees. They owe their jobs or titles to him. They include Dave Ceraul (Ass't Solicitor - $2,500); Dave Backenstoe (Ass't Solicitor - $1,000); Michael Snover ( Ass't Solicitor - $400); Robert Miklas (Assessment Appeals Board - $500); Dick McAteer (Assessment Appeals Board - $500); Tim Herlinger ($400, DCED); and $200 each from Dan O'Donnell (Ass't Solicitor), Dan Keen (Corrections Director), Ryan Durkin (Solicitor), Jim Hunter (Fiscal Affairs Director), David Dalrymple (Sheriff), Dan Trapp (husband of Human Resources Director Amy Trapp) and Public Works Director Stan Rugis.

There is nothing illegal or even unusual about an elected official who accepts campaign contributions from people who work for the county or who serve on county boards. It is only illegal if the payments are made as a condition of keeping the job.

The only contribution that really bothers me from county appointees and workers is the one from Dan Trapp. Even though it is only $200, Brown accepted money from someone (unless his wife was using his name) who referred to county workers as "entitled spoiled brat government employees," and on this very blog. If Brown values the county employee, he should return Trapp's money.

Brown also accepted donations from current and prospective vendors.
- Christopher B Baily is President of Premier Healthcare Resources, which manages the county-owned nursing home.He contributed $970.70.
- Charlie Chrin, mentioned above, has connections to Northampton County through his Route 33 TIF and landfill,
- Capital Blue administers the county's health plan, and Sales VP Vicki Doule donated $1,000.
- Thomas Boles works for C3, which has its tentacles throughout Northampton County, and is largely responsible for Brown's decision to cut medical benefits. He donated $1,000 to Brown.

McClure's Union Support

McClure received $28,250 from unions. With the exception of $1,500 received from AFSCME, this comes from trade unions. Those of you with an anti-union bias should know this is where McClure has historically received his money over the years. And he is a true believer. While on Council, every year he sponsored a resolution concerning Labor Day. Those are no longer even introduced.

So yes, if you want to charge him with supporting unions, he's guilty. My question is why anyone from the Lehigh Valley or coal regions would oppose them.

My grandfather on my mother's side used to marvel us all with his missing fingers. He'd show use the stumps and ask us who hid them. We'd look everywhere. He was missing a few fingers because, as a child, he worked by picking up pieces of coal that fell off the trains that ran inside the mines. No child labor laws then. No unions, either. Attempts to start them, whether at a steel company or in the mines, were dealt with swiftly and brutally.

It is thanks to unions that decent  wages finally began being paid to most of your ancestors in this area. It is thanks to them that worker safety became a bargaining issue.. As unions have withered away, so have your wages. So have family values Moms and dads both work several jobs and are more focused on surviving than teaching their children the importance of morality. A century ago, business owners had no compunction about hiring goons and even the police to bang heads and sometimes even kill union protesters. These days they are more sophisticated. They move.     

You could argue that McClure as Executive will support massive public building projects like the massive $185 million jail proposed by John Brown. But McClure has made clear he opposes this.

During the debate last week, McClure also expressed disdain for the big box warehouses exploding all over the Lehigh Valley, which offer job insecurity and meager wages.

Is that wrong? Is it right for local businesses to rip off blue collar workers by hiring  undocumented workers at job sites, and then ripping them off too because they have nowhere to complain?.

If you hate unions, then Brown is your guy. If you prefer buildings that are built by American citizens who know what they are doing, then McClure is your man.

Lehigh Valley Contributions.

According to one of Brown's campaign mailers, "almost two thirds of Lamont McClure's campaign contributions come from donors outside of Northampton County." The innuendo there, of course, is that outside special interests hope to gain something in exchange for their money.  After checking both reports for Lehigh Valley contributors, I can tell you that Brown's mailer is not only false, but that he has a higher percentage of outside donors than McClure.

In his pre-election report, McClure identifies 87 contributors, and 62 of them are from here in the Lehigh Valley. So 71% of his contributors are local. That seems to be the exact opposite of what Brown's mailer claims.

Brown identifies 109 donors, of which 64 are from the Lehigh Valley. So his percentage of Lehigh Valley donors - 58% - is actually lower than McClure.

Most of McClure's outside money comes from fellow attorneys he has met over the years, as well as local trade unions. They employ people here in the Lehigh Valley, but their PAC addresses are outside the area.

Brown's report includes an unusually large number of mostly small contributions from people in the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area. Financial adviser Matthew Garber, Dan Meuser (running for Congress), Attilio Frati, (Wilkes-Barre operations director), Robert Knowles (Franklin Bank Director, Scranton Prep Director), Paul LaBelle (Clarks Green attorney) and a host of others. Brown's P3 building project is with Kriger Construction in Lackawanna County.

Great American Pa Fund PAC Donors Hidden From Public View

Brown's biggest contributor is the "Great America Pa Fund PAC." This PAC was just formed in March, and given that its address is at property owned by former state GOP Chair Rob Gleason, I suspect it is his baby. This PAC gave Brown $5,000, and another $3,500 to the NorCo GOP. But where did it get its money? In other words, who donated to the Great America Pa Fund PAC so that it could make these donations? That's the whole point of requiring these reports. It enables us to see who is doing the laundry. To follow the money.

The Great America Pa Fund PAC reports having received $255,000 between June 6 and September 18, but has failed to list a single one of these contributors. Its pre-election report that was due on Friday is still unavailable online. It is entirely possible that we will not know where this money comes from until after the election, thanks to toothless campaign finance disclosure laws.

The telephone number of this PAC is (814)341-7100. I would urge you to call during normal business hours and ask this PAC to follow the law and list its contributors.

The PAC's first filing listed two contributors - Gleason ($5,000) and Dr. Josephine Templeton ($250,000), a retired pediatrician. She and her deceased husband at one time funded organizations opposed to same sex marriage, but may have softened their views.

How Have Candidates Spent the Money?

If you drive throughout Northampton County, you know where McClure has spent $1,650. On signs.  Lots of them. They're everywhere. If you have a phone, you know here he's spent another $1,270. On robocalls. (Money for that is paid to Steve Barron, which he then uses to buy the minutes. He keeps none of the money.) If you get mail, and are a Democrat or an Independent, you've received some of the mailers for which he has spent $55,494.52. If you watch television, you may have seen his ad, which cost him $29,500.

He has also paid $400 to Advantage Pep (Celeste Dee) and another $2,500 to Rich Wilkins for his ground game on election day. Finally, he has paid Tom Severson $3,200 to poll for him. McClure is using no political consultants to instruct him on how to sell himself.

Brown has paid Mary Barket $4,000. She's appeared at a Q and A by Nazareth area residents concerned about a jail at Gracedale, and told them how great Brown is. She never bothered disclosing that Brown paid her $4,000 on September 1.

Brown has also paid himself $4,025.52 to get back some of the money he lent his campaign when he ran for state auditor general.

 He spent $35,980 with LN Consulting to devise his campaign strategy from Harrisburg.  Communications Concepts received about $7,400 to print his campaign ads.

Brown also gave the Northampton County GOP $46,000, which was turned over to the state party so that it could pay for the postage on three of Brown's mailers.

McGee Leads NorCo Council Candidates in Money Race

Bill McGee going door to door
When I heard that a union agent was running for Northampton County Council, I was unimpressed. We already have one, and he drives me nutz. But Bill McGee, business manager for the Heat and Frost Insulators, has really impressed me. Over the past few months, when I'd turn around at a Council meeting, I'd often see him sitting there. Soft spoken, he listens more than he speaks. But he's really onto something when he talks about the need for creative curricula at community colleges for trade apprenticeships and skilled jobs. So much so that I'm voting for him. I believe many others will, too, because he leads the ten Council candidates this year in fundraising

According to his pre-election report, McGee started off the period between June 6 and October 23 with $20,484.71. He raised $36,400, giving him $56,884.71 to spend. So far, he has spent $24,227.75 on signs that you see all over the county, along with two mailers. He has $32,656.92 left in his coffers for last-minute spending. Obviously, trade unions are the main source of his campaign money.

Peg Ferraro, home wrecker
The only other candidate to spent anything remotely near McGee's amount is Ron Angle. He raised $3,125.19, but had $10,251.95, giving him a total of $18,377.14 to spend. He is extremely proud of the $500 contributions he received from Charlie Dent and Scott Wagner. Angle spent his money by giving $15,067.40 to consultant Cheryl Corsa (She hates when I mention her name, but she's good!) for two mailers to super voters. Though I am a super voter, I received no mail from Ron. That might be because, for the past few years, I have been voting by absentee ballot. Angle still has $3,309.74 left in his account for last-minute spending.

Tara Zrinski and Ron Heckman
Ron Heckman finishes third behind McGee and Angle in the spending war. Heckman started this period with just $152.92. He raised $9,710, mostly by lending money to himself, giving him a kampaign kitty of $8,861.92. He spent $8,220.61, mostly on newspaper ads in the small weeklies like the Press newspapers. He has $1,641.31 for the closing days of the campaign.

Next is Tara Zrinski, who has done a remarkably good job of raising  money for a first-time candidate. She started this reporting period with $681, and raised $6,106, giving her $6,787 to spend. She has spent $4,784.13, leaving her with $2,002.87 in her warchest.

Perhaps more impressive than her money is Zrinski's door-to-door campaign, which experts consider the most effective way to campaign.

Right behind Zrinski is Lori Varo Heffner. Starting with $2760, she raised $3,140, leaving her with $5,950 to spend. Of that  sum, she has given $1,950 to Sandy Werner for campaign materials, and has given Steve Barron $375 for robocalls (Barron does not benefit personally, but uses the money to buy minutes on an autodialer). Lori is extremely personable. As a psychotherapist, she might be able to cure me.

Next is Peg Ferraro, who told the audience at a recent fundraiser, "This is the last time." She started with $193.10, and raised $2,550. That includes a $2,500 donation came from the Pa Future Fund. This gave her $2,743 pile of money, but she spent only $360. She has just $2,383.10 left in her account. No signs. No mailers. No robocalls.  She's running no campaign. She has no need for one.She will be the top vote getter.

Peter Melan, who has never run county-wide, raised less money than Peg Ferraro.He started with $1,372.85, raised $1,050, and spent $550. I think I saw one campaign sign somewhere. For someone who started with such promise, Peter's campaign has been a total flop. I feel that I wasted the time I spent talking to him.

Hayden Phillips really surprised me. He started this campaign period with $3,452.69, but raised only $200. That came from Congressional wannabe Ryan Mackenzie. Phillips spent $679.88, leaving him with a $2,972.81 cushion for the closing days  He is clearly the most energized campaigner. He's been everywhere. He even opens my car door for me..   

He's raised no money to speak of, but is running the most energized campaign. He's everywhere. He probably has knocked on more doors than all the other candidates combined.

Seth Vaughn's campaign has been much like his Council and Committee attendance. Terrible. He started this period with $0 and raised just $300 from congressional aspirants Ryan MacKenzie and Justin Simmons.He claims to have spent it all, too.

Last is Glenn Geissinger, who spent part of his first term on County Council losing a Congressional race. Though he started off with a high attendance rate on Council, it has dropped dramatically in each succeeding year. He clearly thinks that being a Council member is beneath him. I saw no finance report filed by Geissinger. If one is there, I will report on it. I emailed him about this and received no reply. No surprise.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Who Won the McClure-Brown Debate?

Lamont McClure and John Brown

Executive John Brown and challenger Lamont McClure squared off in a lively debate last night at Northampton Community College's main campus. Over 100 people attended. There were the usual camp followers. There were nervous cabinet officials wondering whether it's time to dust off their resumes. The X factor was a crowd of concerned Nazareth and Easton area residents. Real citizens! Who won? Believe it or not, Ron Angle. He at least gets an assist in a Lamont McClure decision.

No, I've had no cocktails tonight. Let me explain how I've come to what must strike many of you as a ridiculous conclusion.

Dr. John Kincaid was superb as moderator
Contrasting styles

Nobody hit any home runs. Brown's people think he won. McClure's people think Lamont crushed. After thinking it over, Lamont came on a bit too strong. Brown is simply unable to answer a direct question.

Here's kind of how it went.

"How's the weather?"

McClure: "Much as my opponent would have you believe that the skies are gray as he spends thousands of taxpayer dollars on illegal lunches, the sky is actually blue as his callous cronies jet off to Las Vegas and New Orleans. And no, we don't need a new jail."

Brown: "My executive experience in the private sector has empowered me with the core competency to move the needle and work through the synergies of the moving parts to think outside the box and leverage a solution. Thank you."

It's understandable that both may have been a little self-conscious, but they should have opened up a bit more.

John Brown: "We do what municipal gov't can't
do,and what state gov't won't do."
About the only time McClure gave you a glimpse into himself is when he briefly discussed being the son of a civil servant and growing up "acutely aware" that everything he had, from the shoes on his feet to the roof over his head, was paid for by the taxpayer. He said he developed a "great respect" for the public sector employee as a result of his upbringing, and he suddenly sounded both sincere and very likable in that moment. In the 17 years I've followed him, it's the first time I saw him act that way publicly, but it was only for a moment. He should do that more often.

McClure attacks

As it is, he did offer the following devastating indictment of the past four years under Brown:

1) Brown posted armed guards outside a news conference to keep Council members out (Brown never answered this charge)
2) Brown misused his expense allowance (Brown admitted he goofed)
3) Brown's vaunted P3 bridge project is $2 million over budget and behind schedule (Brown said the first bridge will be done tomorrow.)
4) Brown cut farmland spending by 84% (Brown said every farm that has applied and is qualified has been preserved.)
5) Brown balanced the budget on the backs of employees by allowing a large number of vacancies at the jail and in Human Services (Brown responded that Civil Service rules make it difficult to fill vacancies quickly)
6) Brown could have vetoed a 10% tax hike in 2015 (Brown said that would have opened the budget back up to more spending by the Democrats)
7) Brown claims business experience, but was fired from two jobs and laid off by a third (Brown had no response)

Lamont McClure: "So many seniors are struggling that
they fear they won't be able to stay in their homes." 
Brown counterattacks

Brown had his own zingers against McClure:

1) McClure lacks executive experience and would "learn on the way." (McClure said he had 10 years on County Council and that Brown demonstrated his own shortcomings when he attempted to hire a $750,000 business consultant to do his job, and did award an $86,000 contract for a PR firm).
2) Gracedale lost $30 million when McClure was on Council (McClure retorted that his council hired an administrator).
3) A jail at Gracedale is the result of "political rumors" started by McClure "because he doesn't have anything else to run on." (McClure credited Nazareth citizens who rose up after seeing several news accounts).

Areas of agreement

The candidates did have some areas of agreement. Neither is enthusiastic about a reassessment at this time. Neither supports a tax hike. Both support tax incentives to spur economic development, although McClure said he'd like to see developers forced to prove they are actually creating the jobs promised. Both like the DaVinci Center aquarium concept, but both agree that much more needs to be done to determine how much the county should contribute.

Both support more diversity at the courthouse. But McClure said he'd emulate the example set by DA John Morganelli. Half of his prosecutors are women and he has made minority hires  He hired the first black prosecutor in he history of the county.

In contrast to Morganelli, Brown has suspended the first African American captain who worked at the jail as well as a Latino trainer.

Both were in the audience.

McClure's vision is to encourage as much open space preservation as possible to deter the inevitable big box explosion and the doubling of truck traffic over the next ten years. Brown promises "more of the same," and touted his financial acumen in stabilizing county finances and creating a true balanced budget.
L to R: Beverly Herandez (LWV), Marvin Boyer (NAACP), John Brown,
Lamont McClure, Dr. John Kincaid (Lafayette), Lance Wheeler (NAACP)
Angle Nails Brown on Jail Sites


Wheeler laughs as Angle plants one
on Peg Ferraro
While McClure opened up once, Brown never let you see behind the curtain at all, which hurts him. He had a nervous habit of glossing his lips at least once every two or three minutes and would start smiling whenever McClure went on the offensive, which was pretty much nonstop. But those are minor criticisms. The big question is whether he is transparent.

Brown failed on that count.

Despite substantial evidence to the contrary, Brown denies any intention of building a jail at Gracedale. That denial only came after it became apparent that a jail there is politically unpopular. Brown claimed as recently as June that it would be too costly to rebuild the jail at Easton. Now he wants to build a $185 million jail there without raising taxes.

He's relying on a report from architectural firm DLR that was just released on Tuesday. That report listed seven different options, including greenfield sites.

On Tuesday, Brown told me that the options were based on a generic greenfield, not a specific site. But the report lists different levels of "community support" at the different locations. If this is just some abstract greenfield, the "community support" should be the same.

Wheeler cries as Angle plants one on him.
Last night, McClure asked Brown to list these undisclosed sites. Brown stated again that the report is based on a generic greenfield, and that Lamont McClure is quite the storyteller.

As he began to sit down, someone in the audience smelled a bullshit burger. It was none other than the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle.

"You haven't answered his question?" barked Angle, who demanded to know which sites were considered.

Brown suddenly changed his tune. As Angle pressed, the formerly generic greenfield sites now became "irrelevant" because they were never considered.

That's why I give the win to Ron, or at least an assist..

One county official told me on Tuesday that the sites were confidential, but there is nothing confidential about property already owned by the county.

Now Angle is no friend of Lamont McClure. But he hates bad government, and a government that keeps secrets is bad government.

NAACP and LWV were wonderful

This was the only debate between McClure and Brown. It never would have happened but for the League of Women Voters and Easton's NAACP. Beverly Hernandez and Lance Wheeler deserve our thanks for the work they put into making a night of democracy possible. Lafayette College's Dr.John Kincaid served as moderator. He has performed this chore several times, and brings a quiet dignity that makes these events better.

Hanover Tp Taxes To Remain Steady Next Year

Taxes in Hanover Township next year will remain the same as this year under a budget recently proposed by Manager Jay Finnigan. I'll have details after reviewing the budget and attending a budget  hearing

Thursday, October 26, 2017

McClure Slams Brown in TV Ad



Four years ago, a little known Mayor from Bangor, John Brown pulled off a major upset. He defeated Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan.  Lamont McClure, who is challenging Brown four years later, may pull off an upset of his own. His campaign has thrown Brown on the defensive This hard-hitting TV ad has been airing the past few days on several local news outlets.

I Missed Pilates

After patiently waiting several years during yesterday afternoon's budget hearing and learning all about dead bodies,  Clerk of Criminal Courts Leigh Ann Fisher was called up before Northampton County Council. She told them she is fully staffed, has no vacancies, has a "wonderful" department and "I missed Pilates."

"So did I!" wisecracked Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter, who weighs 700 pounds, from the rear of the meeting room.  

I missed Pilates, too. 

I'm only 699 pounds. 

I'm an instructor. 

NorCo Drug OD Deaths Have Tripled Since 2014


Northampton County Coroner Zach Lysek advised Northampton County Council yesterday that he'd like another full-time Deputy Coroner. He's been pretty busy. Deaths in the county have increased from 1,460 in 2006 to a projected death count of 2,593 in 2017. And the way he was looking at me yesterday, I think he wanted to make it 2,594.

Unfortunately, there has been a sharp increase in drug overdose deaths. The number has tripled from 31 in 2014 to 91 this year. "It's unbelievable the number of cases we're getting," Lysek said.

To counter the opiate epidemic, Lysek and his deputies now seize all drugs that were prescribed to a decedent  Over the past year, they've collected 407 pounds of drugs. 

Lysek also broke down deaths that are suicides, accidental and homicide. Though homicides are thankfully rare, accidental deaths have sharply risen since 2014 as you can see in the graph below.


This corresponds roughly with the increase in drug overdose deaths.

Lysek's office conducts an average of 216 death investigations monthly, and the number of autopsies is on the rise. There have been 252 autopsies in 2017 so far, compared to just 95 in 2008. 

Lysek has no morgue, nor is there one at St. Luke's hospital. He said he usually is looking for places to store seven or eight bodies at a time.

In his 25 years as a coroner, Lysek has buried only one body at taxpayer expense. He said that if he is unable to locate relatives, he has been successful in donating the bodies to science.

Finding next of kin has grown increasingly difficult for his staff, and Lysek indicated that relatives sometimes have to be embarrassed into assuming responsibility for a deceased relative. "We've become a throw away society," he said.

NorCo Gaming Board Waiting on Harrisburg

Karen Collis 
Northampton County's Gaming Board has two funds. The first is a restricted account ($745,219.96 as of 9/30/17), from which it awards priority grants. The second is its uncommitted fund ($40,969.94 as of 9/30/17), which is used for everything else.

Communities surrounding the casino get priority and some of them would really like some money. But they'll have to wait.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has 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 funds collected are in legal limbo. Solicitor Graham Simmons has warned the board that "the money collected is an unconstitutional tax" and that "there could come a day when the state calls this money back."

At the October 23 meeting of the Gaming Board, Tom Nolan urged the board to at least start accepting grant applications. "We're just letting the money sit there," he complained. But the Board will continue to wait.

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

Reminder: NorCo Exec Forum at NCC Tonight!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Brown Proposes $185 Million Jail in Easton

John Brown
With an election just around the corner, Northampton County Executive John Brown proposed a new jail at Easton yesterday with a $185 million price tag. His recommendation is based on a $78,000 study prepared by architectural firm DLR, which reviewed seven different options. The report also states that the existing facility cold be could be repaired at a cost of $82.7 million.

Brown acknowledged yesterday that neither the state nor federal government has ordered that a new jail be built. He also admitted that no litigation has been filed by inmates concerning jail conditions. He also agreed that he could have asked the National Institute of Corrections to prepare a study at no cost to taxpayers.

The options considered greenfield sites compared to the existing facility. Brown denied that any specific location was considered, but the DLR report contradicts him.

One criterion used to evaluate each option is "community support." Two are color coded red, meaning community support is "fair."  Four are color coded yellow, meaning community support is "better." The Easton site is color coded green, meaning community support is "best."

How could there be such different ratings for community support if no specific location is considered?

Brown said I'd have to look through the report to get an answer to that question, but there is no answer. Brown has simply refused to list the greenfield locations considered, and that's because one of them is  Gracedale.

One county official told me that these locations are confidential, but there is nothing confidential about Gracedale, which is already publicly owned.

This report includes an inmate population profile and plans for different services like mental health treatment, but does so without seeking input from the biggest stakeholder of them all - the courts. They have a much better idea of what is needed than the Executive, Correction Director or a prison design firm from California. Amazingly, they were ignored in preparing this report, which renders it worthless in my view.

Brown claimed that he will save $6 million per year at the new jail, and can build it without a tax hike through the P3 "alternative bidding" he has used for bridges.

But as the Morning Call's Tom Shortell observes in his own compelling analysis, the savings is likely half that amount because it is premised on 254 corrections officers,not the 200 currently employed. It also fails to include the cost of demolishing the Civil War era jail as well as the expense of a new parking deck.

This is as nutty as the County spending $15 million for the DaVinci Center's giant fish tank in an Easton flood plain.

Brown supports that, too.

Brown Has Skimped on Open Space as Exec

When he was elected Executive in Northampton County, John Stoffa lobbied for and convinced Council to vote for a 1/2 mill tax hike for a pay-as -you go open space program. Though the money went into the general fund and could be spent for anything, Stoffa largely stuck with his pledge.

Between 2007 and 2014, tax receipts from this tax amounted to $29.6 million. Stoffa devoted $23.5 million to open space. 

That commitment has been ignored by Executive John Brown.  Over the past three years (2015-2018), that half mill of taxes has generated $15.2 million. But Brown has spent only $3.7 million on open space projects It has gone to county and municipal parks. .

I Could Have Made $148 at Peg Ferraro's Fundraiser

Peg flirting with Scott Parsons
Peg Ferraro, easily the most popular member of Northampton County Council, hosted a fundraiser last night at Holy Family Club in Nazareth. Like Superior Court nominee Emil Giordano, Peg strives to be bipartisan, so I and several other Democrats were there. Council candidates were snubbed by GOP party boss General Lee Snover at her event at the Hotel Bethlehem. But Ferraro made sure that every GOP Council candidate who attended (Seth Vaughn was absent) had an opportunity to speak.

Unfortunately, Ron Angle has been unable to mount much of a campaign this election cycle. But he was in vintage form, and gave the best speech of bout 10,000 candidates who were there. Angle railed against the pervasive corruption that existed in a Democratic administration when he was first elected, in which pay-to-play sent one person to jail. He then pointed to the federal investigation into political corruption in Allentown, and argued that the only way to prevent it from coming here is to vote Republican. He also generously gave Executive John Brown an A- as Exec, but said he'd give him a D- as a politician.

Phillips gave a decent speech as well, noting both his independence and his work ethic.

Peg was Peg. Though she will be attacked here anonymously by partisan Democrats, those of us who know better know that though she is definitely a Republican, she has always adopted a bipartisan attitude when it comes to governing.

And she can send messages without saying a word. Earlier this month, she and other GOP Council candidates were snubbed at General Lee Snover's dinner because she is fixated on Donald Trump and is already promoting candidates like Justin Simmons to succeed Congressman Charlie Dent. She has been vicious to Dent, the most popular Republican in the Lehigh Valley

Peg responded last night by recognizing Ryan MacKenzie's mother. Mackenzie is one of several Congressional candidates, including Marty Nothstein, who has risen up against opportunistic Simmons and his ugly campaign tactics.

Judge Emil Giordano, who is usually jovial and relaxed, sounded very tired. He's a great guy, but a statewide race is obviously taking a physical toll. 

The other candidates were pretty bad. Brown rambled on and on about the jail, the last thing he should be talking about in a room full of Republicans. Then he sat down to nurse a glass of red wine. Glenn Geissinger just comes off as a condescending person. One woman went on for about 15 minutes about a race next year, and spent a great deal of time patting herself on the back.

I'm unpopular in any room full of partisans, Democrat or Republican. But lately, the Republicans are really mad at me. So there were a few groans when Peg mentioned me. General Lee is really angry with me.. Especially since I mixed her up with another Lee Snover last week. She does not scare me, but her mom does. Anyway, Angle offered me $100 to walk up to Lee and plant one on her.

Another person - I won't mention his name - offered me $48 to go up and shove the Fake Rev, another one of my many fans. He was there to support Peg. 

So I could have made $148, but I would have lost it all in doctor bills.

So I passed. 

Like Hayden Phillips, Peg gets my vote.

(Blogger's Note: - I feel uncomfortable taking photographs at most fundraisers. Also, the lighting in there is terrible. So I will spare you my photography.) 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Brown To Release Jail Study Today


Last week, Northampton County Executive John Brown said that he would release a $78,000 jail study, and one that he could have obtained at no cost, on either Friday or Monday.he apparently obtained the study, prepared by architectural firm DLR, on Monday.

Rather than release it as promised, he's holding it and will release it today, 2;30 pm, at a news conference at the Human Services building.

He's already had one selective news conference with WFMZ-TV69, in which he states that he';s decided on Easton and everything else was just fake news and political fodder.  We know that as recently as June, he ruled out building a prison in Easton. We know his prison advisory board wanted it at Gracedale. We know that a year ago, Gracedale was the obvious choice.  So what has really happened is that Brown has been caught trying to pull a fast one.

In his selective news conference, Brown also stated that he could build he jail with no tax hike. We know about that, too. he plans to use an "alternative bidding process" that he managed to slip through the state legislature as part of the budget on Wednesday of last week.

Brown Vetoes Good Government Study

John Brown
In a shocking disregard for good government, Northampton County Executive John Brown yesterday vetoed a County Council initiative that would ask you, the people, how best to improve county government.

On Thursday night, Northampton County Council voted 6-3 to allow you to decide next year whether to embark on a much-needed government study of the Northampton County's Home Rule Charter. Since it was first adopted in 1976, it's been amended 16 times. In September, Council was poised to unleash another set of these piecemeal amendments when I suggested it's really time to look at the Charter as a whole.

Keep what works. Get rid of what does not. I have been making this argument since 2000. For reasons that escape me, I finally persuaded most of them.

Brown's veto message complains, "A Government Study will be costly, drain resources and be a distraction to the actual work that needs to be performed." He also argues that the current government already "provides for a robust checks and balance between the Executive and Legislative bodies as it was intended to do."

Brown is afraid of good government.

Far from being costly, a government study would likely be quite inexpensive, depending on the persons who serve. It would reduce the expense of litigation concerning the Charter. There will be no drain on resources because this will be an independent body. It will hardly be a distraction. It might actually encourage Council members and the Executive to sit down and read the Charter.

According to his deposition in the Mancini case, that is something Brown failed to do until eight months after being elected.
Q. Why did you read the home rule charter?
A. There were some issues going on, I needed to review them.
Q. For this deposition?
A. Just -- I happened to be doing it in general for other issues in the county.
As for Brown's claim that the Charter already contains enough checks and balances, he completely ignores the judiciary, as though they don't exist. The unfortunate truth is that the Brown has grown far too powerful. He has made a practice of governing by by consultant,  bringing them in at levels that are just below the threshold that invites Council scrutiny. 

The reality is that a government study is long overdue. The most basic question, of course, is whether to continue with some form of home rule or revert back to the three-Commissioner form of government.

I'm willing to keep an open mind on that question.

Most counties are governed by three Commissioners, and there's been no rush to go the home rule route. In a Commissioner form of government, one member must be a member of the minority party. This gives the minority a voice. It prevents some of the excesses of one party rule, which can lead to public corruption.

What I like about home rule is that, at least theoretically, it should be more responsive to the public. The biggest illustration of this self-rule is the Gracedale referendum, which would have been impossible under the Commissioner form of government.

Assuming that the nine-member home rule charter government study commission recommends that we keep the charter, what changes could and should be made? Should we keep an elected Executive? Or should we replace him with an appointed county manager, similar to the practice followed in most township governments.

Most people I speak to believe that home rule is working, but could use an overhaul. Some of this might involve changes in the form of government, and for that reason, a government study is needed.

Some like Ken Kraft have argued that the Administrative Code is in dire need of an overhaul, and he's absolutely right. While Council has adopted numerous meaningless resolutions, it has ignored its most basic responsibility after the budget - writing legislation. It has actually appropriated money so the Executive can redraft the Code, which is an abdication of its responsibility.   

Gerald E  "Jerry" Seyfried, a blue collar steelworker, played a big role in drafting the Administrative Code. Without question, there should be at least one Council member who knows how to write a law without hiring a $100,000 consultant.

But that's a red herring. The County's most basic document, the foundation for everything else, is the charter

For those of you who think a government study is just a political stunt, think again. There are 13 articles, and nearly every one of them needs a review. Article I, for example, which deals with elected officials, needs at least nine changes. They are listed in a separate post below.

Finally, Northampton County should consider an ethics framework to prevent an Allentown from occurring here.

NorCo Home Rule Charter Study Series - Article I


Northampton County's Home Rule Charter consists of 13 articles. I intend to do a report on what changes should be considered for each of them.

Article I is entitled "Elected Officials." Those include the Executive, Council, Controller and District Attorney.  I have noticed nine problems in this Article alone. 

Should there be term limits? - In Article 102(a), the Charter establishes that elected officials serve for four years. It imposes no term limits. If there is a desire to impose term limits, this is where it would need to be placed.

I agree completely with the argument that people in federal and state offices tend to become entrenched and are hard to weed out. But in a local government, especially a county government where there is little or no pay, I believe that long-serving members provide institutional knowledge.

I would like to hear from others on this point.

Should legislators be called Council members or Commissioners? - Two years ago, believe it or not, Seth Vaughn and Ken Kraft actually pushed for Charter change so that they would be called Commissioners instead of council members. I consider the name deceptive because it gives the incorrect impression that the person bearing that title has the same executive powers as a Commissioner in a three-Commissioner form of county government. On the other hand, Lehigh County's governing body is called the Board of Commissioners.

Should district Council seats be retained? -  Currently, four of Council's nine members are district representatives, and those districts change after each census. District Council members are elected by citizens who live in that district. The other five are county-wide.

In a district race, money does not matter as much as knowing people and being responsive to them. In a district race, a Republican or even an Independent who is responsive can be elected in a predominately Democratic district. An at-large race can be affected by the national mood.

Because district seats are more democratic, I think they should be retained.

Qualifications - Under the current Charter, a person is qualified to run for Council or even Executive if he is a citizen who has lived continuously within the county for one year before his term starts. There is no minimum age or requirement that the person running be a registered voter. I am completely satisfied with these minimum standards except that I believe that a person should be 18 years old.

Should Council members be barred from serving in another elective offices?  - Section 104 provides as follows: "During his term of office no elected official shall hold any other elective public office or hold other employment with the County for which he receives compensation."  This poorly drafted sentence has created confusion. I think the intention was to rule out anyone on County Council who holds any other elected office as well as any paid County employee. But it has been interpreted to mean that an elected official can serve on County Council or be the Executive or Controller.

At the same time, state law prohibits a school board member, who receives no salary at all, from serving on County Council. A quo warranto action was brought against Ron Angle when he sat on the Bangor School Board without pay, but Tony Branco was able to sit on both Hellertown Borough Council and County Council and draw a salary from both. The same is true of Joe Capozzolo, who was Bangor's Mayor and a Council member.

Judge Zito, who was Council's Solicitor at the time, ruled that only the state legislature could determine which offices were incompatible. But the whole point of home rule is to enable local governments to make these decisions except where pre-empted.

The basic principle here is that no man can serve two masters. There is divided loyalty when someone sits on two different local governing bodies. This, I would amend Section 104 to read as follows:

"During his term of office no elected official shall hold any other elective public office in government; nor shall he hold any other employment with the County for which he receives compensation in any way."

I would make clear that the elected public office must be in government to prevent the argument that a county committee person from any party is unable to hold county office.

Should elected officials be barred from acting as officials within their own party? -  Section 104 attempts to remove the taint of partisan politics from government with this prohibition: "During his term of office no elected official, except any member of the County council, shall serve as an official, other than as a candidate of a political party."

I have no problem with someone acting as a county committee person. But I think Council members, the Executive and Controller should be barred from serving on the state committee or as an officer in the county party. I would change Section 104 as follows: "During his term of office, no elected official shall serve on the state committee of any political party, nor shall he serve as the Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer or in any officer position of any local political party."

Should Vacancies Be Filled by Persons of the Same Political Party? - In the Lehigh County and Allentown Home Rule Charter, persons who are appointed to vacancies must belong to the same political party as the person who sat in the office being vacated. I believe a similar restriction should be inserted in our Charter.

How Should Elected Officials Be Compensated? - Section 106 states that Council members can set salaries, but not during their term of office. What has happened is that someone will propose an increase, and then everyone will grandstand about it for hours.  What I would do is establish appropriate salaries for elected officials and tie them to the Consumer Price Index. That way the issue is never visited.

Office Forfeiture Provisions Need to Be Removed. - Article 107 contains office forfeiture provisions that provide an elected official can be removed for violating the Charter or various other kinds of misconduct. Article 108 provides for removal after a six month absence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that elected officials can only be removed by the state legislature, the Governor and Senate or the court after conviction of a serious crime. So both of these articles need to be stricken.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Dems Well Received in Nazareth Halloween Parade

Though it passes directly in front of my estate atop the Army Navy Store, I missed Saturday's Halloween Parade in Nazareth for something far more compelling - basketball. After doing without for several months, I finally was getting a chance to see Allentown Central Catholic play on Saturday.

I did get to see Central play three games, and so did my grandson. He was sidelined by a bum ankle, along with Keeshawn "the beast" Kelman. Without two starters, the team still won all three games. This is thanks in large part to exciting play by Chad Kratzer, and Jay Vaughan's uncanny ability to steal the ball and find open players.

Moravian Academy played in this tourney, and I got to see Abraham Atiyeh tear things up as a sophomore. Abe sat with me and started going over all the blogs I've written that have criticized him.

I think he carries them with him.

When I left, I though I'd give Abe something to remember me by, so I let the air out of his tires.

My grandson Dat and Keyshawn went to their Homecoming dance later that evening. I hope they remembered to limp now and then.

Unfortunately, I made it home too late to see the Nazareth Halloween parade, but my servants tell me it was great as I made them give me their candy. Democrats came through in a truck that included exec candidate Lamont McClure and Council candidates Ron Heckman, Bill McGee and Lori Vargo Heffner. The truck carried "No Jail at Gracedale" signs.

Above you see Christine Woodmansee, co-founder of No Jail at Gracedale, exchanging pleasantries with the candidates.

I've been unable to locate pics of the GOP in Nazareth. But the NorCo GOP does have pics of Justin Simmons in the Emmaus Halloween parade. Last time I checked, Emmaus is in Lehigh County and Justin Simmons' race is next year.

Bethlehem Tp Receives Major Award!


Bethlehem Township is one of two municipalities from Lehigh County and two from Northampton County to receive a "Community of Distinction" award at a ceremony hosted by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. Factors considered included multi-municipal planning, multi-modal planning, preservation of natural resources and infrastructure planning and improvements.

"It was a great night for Bethlehem  Township and we are already planning our applications for next year’s awards!" said Manager Melissa Shafer (far left above).

I do not know the other Northampton County community honored or the two Lehigh County communities.If you have that information, please post. .

Friday, October 20, 2017

Brown Skipped NorCo Council For Parade


Northampton County Executive John Brown knew that Nazareth area residents were coming to Northampton County Council on Thursday night. They are concerned about a jail at Gracedale. But when they arrived, Brown was missing.

I have since learned that he skipped Council to bask in the Bangor Halloween parade. You can see the video here

NorCo Voters to Decide on a Government Study Comm'n

Is Northampton County government working? Could it be improved. This time next year, you'll be able to answer that question yourself. After a contentious hearing, a divided Northampton County Council voted last night to ask voters whether its time for a government study commission. Voting in favor of this measure were Council President John Cusick, Hayden Phillips, Matt Dietz, Mat Benol, Seth Vaughn and Bob Werner. Voting No were Glenn Geissinger, Peg Ferraro and Ken Kraft. 

The ordinance, which was sponsored by Phillips and Werner, originally called for voters to decide in next Spring's primary. But it was delayed at Geissinger's suggestion until the general election next November, when more independents would be likely to vote. 

If approved by voters, a nine-person government study commission will study Northampton County's existing form of government. It could recommend a return to the three-Commissioner form of government that exists in most counties. Or it could suggest retaining the Home Rule Charter government with some changes, or no changes at all. 

The commission, which would consist of nine citizens, will have 18 months to finish its job. 

Northampton County's Home Rule Charter has been in existence since 1978. Phillips explained that whenever he talks to people, he walks away with a laundry list of proposed changes.Over the years, numerous amendments have been adopted. In addition, parts of the Charter, like the recall provisions for elected officials, have been declared unconstitutional. Other portions of the Charter are ambiguous. Some positions established, like the Director of Court Services, are considered political plums that an Executive can hand out to supporters. Should the Sheriff be elected? Should the Controller be appointed? Many think that high-ranking officials should be required to live in the county. Some argue for term limits.It is unclear whether the Voting Registrar reports to the Executive or the Elections Commission. He believes that a government study "will make it better than what we have right now." Instead of "piecemeal changes," he said a government study "will look at the whole picture."

But Peg Ferraro was disturbed that "just anyone could run for this" with no qualifications. "We all ran for the office we're in, and we're running the county budget without a requirement," retorted Matt Dietz. She also said a substantial budget would be needed, but Cusick said Council would be able to control over how much is spent. 

"I think this is a complete waste of time, waste of money," said Kraft. "The problems that you're citing are in the Administrative Code, not the Home Rule Charter." 

The problems cited by Phillips are in the Home Rule Charter..

When Cusick and Dietz attempted to answer Kraft, he cut them off. "I'm not asking you," he said to hem both. "I think you're just grandstanding, you're trying to deflect on whatever other nonsense is going on,"  Kraft charged Phillips. "It's an election year. It's a lame duck Council. Put this off until next year, and if you're here, vote for it."
    
"I can't believe you're saying I'm doing this to grandstand," responded Phillips.

"You are."

"I'm not."

Kraft also objected that "just anybody could tell us how to run the government. No background. No knowledge."

"That's democracy,"Cusick reminded Kraft. 

Geissinger also objected to nine individuals "with who knows what background" demanding a $500,000 budget. 

Cusick noted that an attempt to do a government study 12 years ago failed in a 5-4 vote."It's been 12 years since then, and we owe it to ourselves to ask this question - is it working?"

He added he'd like to study whether there should be an appointed administrator and a Council. He noted that most townships have appointed managers. 

He claimed that the argument that just anybody can run without qualification is ridiculous. That's democracy," he said, repeating a point he made earlier. "If you're a citizen who is registered to vote, and you live in the community, well, that's your right unless you're running for an office that requires a specific qualification, like a judge or district attorney."

Kraft attempted to table the matter, but his motion failed.    

After the measure passed, Ferraro expressed her wish that knowledgeable people like Gerald "Jerry" Seyfried and Frank Flisser, the Council's former Clerk, would consider serving on a government study.  
               

Brown Delayed Six Magisterial Leases Introduced Last Night

Yesterday, I told you that Magisterial District Judges (our minor judiciary) are increasingly concerned about security in their small courtrooms. They stand on the front lines of our justice system, but often have no way of keeping Defendants separated from their accusers. Judge Nancy Matos Gonzalez, in particular, wanted a new courtroom that at least provided a separate entrance for her and her staff.

She's going to get one. Last night, Northampton County Council seems anxious to approve six leases for magisterial district judges throughout the County. The ordinances were introduced last night, and will be voted on in two weeks. Precise terms are in yesterday's story.

Those leases were held by Executive John Brown for eight weeks before being submitted to Council. He told the courts that he wanted to negotiate them himself, even though he knows nothing about the security needs of a court.  The courts finally had to insist that the matters be put on Council's agenda.

Erratum 12 40 pm: In my original version of this story, I reported that the leases had been approved. They were introduced last night, but will not be approved for two weeks. I apologize for my error. 

Brown MIA For #NoJailatGracedale

Kelly Schreier 
Jenna Hausman and Christine Woodmansee are Nazareth area residents who moved there because they want a safe community in which to raise their children. When they heard that Northampton County was secretly considering a new jail at the Gracedale campus, they mobilized. Two Republican moms started an online petition at Change.org, formed the Facebook group #NoJailatGracedale and then cascaded into a NorCo Council meeting. A dozen residents told Council that "the cloak is off" when Council members pretended they had no idea what is going on. They forced County Executive John Brown, who likes to play his cards close to his vest, to finally rule out a jail at Gracedale. Then on Sunday, in a public meeting at Tuskes Park, they coaxed Brown to pledge there would be no new jail, not just at Gracedale, but on any county-owned park land. They warned him they'd be at Council's meeting again last night.

They came.

Brown was MIA.

Brown is at nearly every Council meeting, so this was a bit odd.


Nazareth area resident Christine Woodmansee provided more petitions to Council. Her husband Ryan said they came two weeks ago to get answers.

"We didn't have many," admitted Council President John Cusick.

"That was apparent," responded Woodmansee. He said that he reviewd the presentation that Corrections Director Dan Keen gave in September 2016, and said it was "disheartening" to see the innuendo about building at Gracedale. "Before, a lot of people weren't paying attention," he admitted. But that's changed. "We'll be here at every meeting. If I can't see a meeting, I'll be watching on the web." He also admonished Council for failing to pay closer attention on something so sensitive as a jail next to a residential community.

Attorney Kelly Schreier echoed Woodmansee's remarks about the September 2016 meeting, when Council knew much more than it knows now. "Some of the comments are quite disheartening," she said. She was appalled at the suggestion that the county hire a lawyer to go up against Upper Nazareth. She also ridiculed Keen; suggestions that the community would benefit from 1,000 people using local restaurants. "One thousand cars going up and down a two-lane street just to visit the Dunkin' Donuts?" she scoffed. "I'm strongly opposed to that."

She was also bothered that Council seemed to know less about the jail two weeks ago than they did last year, when Keen gave his presentation.

The previous day, Brown had presented what he called an executive summary (it was actually a graph) of seven different options for the jail. The graph fails to indicate the sites considered, other than West Easton and the current jail location. My impression is that Brown now favors remaining in place.

But how serious is he? While Brown was speaking to Council yesterday, the State House had just voted to adopt the Administrative Code (HB 118) for next year. That and the Fiscal Code are dark holes where unpopular legislation is hidden. It's where the NIZ was buried a few years ago.

The legislation passed yesterday allows is for an alternative bidding process to be used to either rehab an old jail or build a new one. (Article XXIV-B).

The legislation concerning jail facilities only applies to third class counties with a population between 280,000 and 298,000 as of the 2010 census. That means it can only apply to Northampton or Erie County.

This legislation was reported out of committee and voted on the same day. I doubt that most legislators read it. I am informed that State Rep. Joe Emrick, who opposes a jail at Gracedale, voted No precisely because he thought this could be used for a jail at Gracedale. (I have not confirmed this with Emrick).

A similar bill was adopted by the Pa. Senate on July 27 by a 37-13 vote. State Senator Lisa Boscola voted for it. I am told she is the person who actually proposed this legislation, and at Brown's request, but this is unconfirmed.

"It just seems that comes at a pretty convenient time for something like this," said resident James Cunningham.

Cusick knew nothing about this new law, but Ken Kraft did. "It is basically a law that allows for the P3 to build a jail in a greenfield or an existing jail," he explained. "It was put into the state senate in July and passed by the urging of the county executive, and it came out of committee yesterday on the house floor and it passed. It applies to counties that have exactly the amount of people that we have. The only other county it applies to is Erie. ... So now you can use a P3 to build a prison, which is a public private partnership where they come and build it, similar to our bridge deal."

Cunningham responded that it sounds like a "custom fit for Northampton County, especially applying to a jail over 100 years old."

Peg Ferraro was unable to attend the Tuskes Park gathering on Sunday because of a prior commitment. But she said last night that she has long opposed the use of Gracedale as a jail, gun range or anything other than the cornfields that are there now. "I will fight to the end to make sure no jail is up at Gracedale," she vowed.

Cusick told Eagles Landing resident Julian Kryemadhi that a full report from prison architect DLR will be available by Monday, and Bob Werner called it a "very general statement." Hayden Phillips said the terminology used is unfamiliar to him, so everyone is waiting for a full report.

"It seems like we did have a change of heart," said Kryemadhi, and he thanked those who attended a citizen meeting at Tuskes Park on Sunday. He added that, based on a savings of $6 million per year, the County should be able to self-finance any renovations.

Updated: NC GOP Party Boss Lee Snover's Message For #NoJailatGracedale

Updated 2:15 pm  Since this story first published , I was informed there are two Lee Snovers. There is Gloria Lee Snover, who chairs the NorCo GOP. There is also Lee Snover, who claims to be from the mountains. 

I have always believed that Lee Snover and Gloria Lee Snover were one and the same person. Some people establish several Facebook accounts. John Brown,for example, has three of them. I have followed both Gloria Lee and Lee on Facebook for some time and have found that the opinions expressed by both are nearly identical I also note that, in the past, Lee Snover has not answered a question asking whether he or she is the NorCo GOP Chair. It never dawned on me that they might be two separate people

After publishing this story, Michael Snover (Gloria Lee's husband) posted an angry comment claiming that Gloria Lee and Lee are two different people. He ought to know. He demanded I take down my story. I called Gloria Lee Snover, who did not answer me. I also called Michael, who explained that Lee Snover is actually a male named Layton Snover  My information from Intelius is that a Lee Snover from Bath works at the Pritchard Company, which is where Gloria Lee Snover is employed at her parents'company. 

Though I am persuaded that my post below is erroneous, I decline to take it down. I believe the proper way to deal with this is to allow my error to stand, in all its glory, and simply admit that I erred, which I did. 

I apologize to Gloria Lee Snover, Lee Snover, Layton Snover, Michael Snover and all the Snovers of the universe for my error. I am entitled to my own opinions, but not my own facts. I believed Gloria Lee and Lee were one and the same person, and had reason to think that was the case. But I was wrong, and believe the best way to correct my mistake is by clearly noting my error in the story below.   

Lee Snover, whom I now call General Lee Snover, is the Chair of the Northampton County Republican party. She has a message for Nazareth area residents opposed to a jail at Gracedale.

"I think this fear of building near grace dale is illogical. The current prison is near schools, etc. we’ve had very few escapes. Nimby reins in ignorant minds. Think of the extra commerce this could bring to Nazareth. I live very close and it doesn’t bother me to consider this. Especially if the land is otherwise paid for.

"That said we could invest far less money in working with repeat offenders and drop the number of inmates considerably. Especially with regards to prostitution and drugs. We do not do nearly enough to help these folks upon ending their sentences to get to the route problems."

She claims to live "very close to Gracedale," but that is complete horseshit. She lives in a secluded area of Bethlehem Township, about seven miles away.

She calls  #NoJailatGracedale NIMBYs and "ignorant minds." Of course they are NIMBYs. We are all NIMBYs when it comes to certain things. None of us would want a venomous snake pit in our back yard. None of us would want to live next to a rapist, murderer or child molester. It is perfectly reasonable for any residential community to oppose a jail and all it brings to the area.

I am astonished that General Lee would insult #NoJailatGracedale in this fashion. Her job is to get Republicans elected, not Democrats. But she appears to be doing the latter.

Bethlehem Township Releases 2018 Budget With No Tax Hike

Bethlehem Township's Proposed 2018 is now available online. I'll have a more detailed analysis on Monday. But for most of you, the important question is whether it includes a tax hike. There is no tax hike.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Nothstein Announces Congressional Bid

"Work hard, dream big." That's what Marty Nothstein learned growing up in what he calls a blue collar family here in the Lehigh Valley. A 1996 Olympic champion, known as the Blade during his cycling days, has just announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination to Congress in the 15th Congressional District.

“America is the land of limitless opportunity, he says on his webpage. "However, too often, Washington fails us because career politicians are only looking out for themselves and their friends. Instead of tax reform and health care reform, we get gridlock and cronyism.”

“That has to stop.”

Nothstein is currently in his second year as a Lehigh County Commissioner.

His campaign announcement is on video form here.

The Perils of Being a Magisterial District Judge

Yesterday, Northampton County Council's Finance Committee was reviewing six leases for magisterial district judges. Glenn Geissinger said they were pretty much standard leases and wanted to consider them together. When Council president John Cusick pointed out to him that there were people who wanted to speak, he seemed a little put out, complaining that he was "trying to save a little time." He was apparently unaware that the three people who came were themselves Magisterial District Judges. They included Judges Alicia Zito, Nancy Matos Gonzalez and Dan Corpora.And they had a message.

Magisterial District Judge Nancy Matos Gonzalez, who has presided in South Bethlehem for the past 26 years, spoke for them. 

"Our court functions without any security personnel unless by chance a police officer happens to be there or a constable comes in for a hearing. ... There are some significant security lapses that really need to be addressed. We're without some holding cells. We have prisoners being transported into areas that are right past the general public. We have crime victims that have to share a waiting area with the accused. It may be a gang-related matter. It may be a sex crime victim.

"Some of the offices at this point are antiquated in design, and it is the desire at this point to come up to date with industry standards.   

Matos Gonzalez said her new lease will help protect the people in her courtroom, her staff and law enforcement.

Under the new leases negotiated, it is up to the landlord to design the court facility to the satisfaction of the courts.

One important feature, according to Gonzalez, is a separate entrance for her and her staff.

Within the past two weeks, her staff encountered a verbally aggressive and mentally disturbed male who wanted the judge to drive him to a consulate so he could return to his home country.

President Judge Steve Baratta said that these leases are part of a long-term process. He said that the courts are looking for secure facilities, and that Judge Matos Gonzalez definitely needed a new courtroom.

At this point, there is no plan to spend money on security measures. But he acknowledges that there are "difficult people" who give hem reason to feel insecure.

Salient lease terms are as follows:

Judge Zito - $4,810.63 per month for 269 Blue Valley Drive, Bangor, owned by United Hoisting Company, Inc. (10 years)
Judge Grifo - $4,290 per month for 400 Northampton Street, Easton, owned by 400 Northampton LP (10 years)
Judge Corpora - $3,500 per month for Suites 700C and D, St. John St and Philadelphia Pike, owned by NIDI Group, t/a Plaza at Crossroads (10 years)
Judge Taschner - $3,699 per month for 3 Weller Court, owned by Palmer Tp.(6 years)
Judge Matos Ginzalez - $5,338 per month for 322 E 3rd St, Bethlehem, owned by Polk Street Dvlpmnt Ass'ts, LP (12 years) (Lou Pektor)
Judge Yetter - $2,999 per month for 1710 Butler St, Easton,owned by James Garofalo.(1 year)