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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Milides Parking Lot Built on Fill

Try putting a boot on that, Mayor Panto!
For years, the parking lot adjacent to the Milides building has been one of several used at the courthouse complex. But it's got a problem, as you might have noticed by looking at the "Do Not Cross" tape. It's not a crime scene, but perhaps it should be. The parking lot was apparently built on fill, and as you've probably noticed, next to a cliff.

About 20 parking spots have been removed. Public Works Director Stan Rugis, in technical terms, referred to it as a "mess."

"It was built on an old fill, and they just brought demolition stuff in," explained Rugis. "It's going to have to be shored up. You can get 30 or 40 years out of it, but it's going to have to be built correctly."

Now I know why I was offered a blogger's parking spot.

Did Brown Want New Jail to Hold Federal Prisoners?

Back in October, Northampton County Executive John Brown proposed a new $185 million jail at Easton. It's pretty clear he originally intended to build it at Gracedale until Upper Nazareth residents got wind of his intentions. One of he biggest arguments for a new facility is that conditions are so bad that the federal government would order us to build one if we failed to do it ourselves. But at yesterday's budget hearing, Corrections Director unknowingly defeated that argument.

He told Council that in October, and right around the time that Brown said he wanted a new jail, the county inked a deal with the feds to house up to 30 federal inmates at a time. The county would be paid $72 per day. This amounts to $788,400 into the county coffers every year.

So it looks like Brown was going to go into the jail business.

Whistleblower at Jail Still in Limbo, and at Our Expense

CPT David Collins, the County's first ever black captain at the jail, was suspended on July 13, with pay, and walked out of the jail. Reason? For making "unfounded allegations" about what is going on. The reality is that Collins is a whistleblower. 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. Believe it or not, he's been in limbo for 20 weeks with no idea when or if he is going to be called back to work. Taxpayers have shelled out approximately $20,000 during this time so he can sit at home. They are also paying his benefits, which might be 70% of his salary.

Is this fiscally responsible?

Same thing happened to a corrections officer, who took courses and became a tattoo artist on the County dime while waiting for a decision after she was suspended.

Collins did have an administrative hearing before HR Director Amy Trapp and Corrections Director Dan Keen on August 25. When he asked her why he had been suspended, she told him, "It's for your protection."

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

But in a few weeks, they'll be gone.

If Executive John Brown had any sense of fiscal responsibility, he'd direct Keen and Trapp to bring Collins back already.

McClure: We Just Had a Change Election

NorCo Exec-elect Lamont McClure is happy with his transition team's efforts to ensure that he can hit the ground running. "We just had a change Election, and a great deal of change is coming," he has said.

One of the problems that Exec John Brown had when he first came to office was an absence of qualified people to fill top cabinet positions. One of his first hires, for example, was Solicitor Vic Scomillio. But Vic was only there to raise his own visibility so he could run for judge. For his first six months, he had no real cabinet.

In McClure's case, many NorCo retirees with institutional knowledge have volunteered to return and fill top roles to give him time to select a cabinet that is well qualified and beyond reproach. One told me he will offer to do so without pay.

I think it highly unlikely that McClure will retain anyone in Brown's cabinet.

NorCo Gaming Board Awards $530k to Priority Municipalitities

L to R: Gerald Yob, James Pennington and Dave Heintzelman
NorCo's nine-member Gaming Board may have played Santa Claus for the last time. At their Monday night meeting, they awarded $* in "impact" grants to the municipalities surrounding Bethlehem's Sands Casino. Under recent changes in the state gaming law, county authorities will lose control over how gaming funds are awarded. They will be replaced by the Commonwealth Financing Authority who will decide from Harrisburg  how to dole out this money. Though the County Authority will continue to monitor outstanding grants, they will be unable to award any more money after this year.

Under the gaming law, the Board would first award grants to the five municipalities surrounding the Sands Casino, along with Bethlehem and Northampton County. These are Hellertown, Freemansburg, Bethlehem Township, Lower Saucon Township and Hanover Township. They are entitled to priority, but had to establish that the money being sought was to counter an impact of gambling Since six members of the none-member board are from these communities,

Lower Nazareth representative Jim Pennington said it's time to tell local municipalities, "The goose that laid the golden egg isn't there anymore."  Chair Jay Finnigan (from Hanover Township) agreed. "I think one of the reasons this authority will not exist in the future is because 31 or 32 municipalities expected to get rollover funds a little more consistently than they did," he said, referring to municipalities outside of the six communities that surround the Sands Casino. They were entitled to priority on slots revenue grants, but only if they could establish they were impacted by gaming.

"This is not a budget-filling mechanism for municipalities. This is merit based, and I don't think we ever really looked at it. I think it was how we can get this money into our budgets to make the money go away so it doesn't go to the other municipalities. And shame on us, that we allowed that to happen."

Northampton County is holding $745,314.90 for grants. The priority communities submitted $842,722.05 in grant applications. Bethlehem Township alone was seeking $336,800 of this sum, or 45% for an ambulance, fire marshal SUV and two patrol vehicles.

After listening to Finnigan's assessment, Northampton representative Tony Pristash proposed awarding only $339,776.29 of this sum.

Nolan, who had asked for 45% of the money, complained that Bethlehem Township was being treated unfairly, but Pritash answered him. "This is not a matter of fairness and equality. It's a matter of impact. You prove the impact, you get the award. That's how this Board works."

Nolan ended up being the sole No vote on Pristash's proposed distribution. .

No sooner had it passed that an amendment was offered by Bethlehem representative Joe Kelly to add $191,058.11 to fund police officers in Hellertown and Freemansburg. That passed over the objections of Finnigan, Pristash and Pennington.

The two motions combined represents a grant of $530,834.40 to the priority municipalities as follows  Hellertown (police officers); Freemansburg (police officers, patrol vehicle); Northampton County (court interpreter); Hanover Tp (license plate recognition system);  Bethlehem Tp (patrol vehicle) and Lower Saucon Tp (patrol vehicle).

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Lehigh County DA Jim Martin Endorses Nothstein For Congress

Claiming that Marty Nothstein "combines the American dream with the fresh outlook of a political outsider," Lehigh County DA Jim Martin has endorsed the first-term Lehigh County Commission in his bid for the GOP nomination to the 15th Pa. Congressional District. Martin called Nothstein a "problem-solver" who is among a "new generation of leaders" here in the Lehigh Valley.

For his part, Nothstein is "humbled and honored" by this important endorsement.

In addition to his role as Chair of Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners, Nothstein operates The Velodrome as well as a small business.

Distracted Driver Blamed for Easton Middle School Student's Death

Two years ago, I treated myself to an iPhone. I became instantly mesmerized. I could do anything from it. Send emails, tweets, even blog. And though I prefer to blog from a PC, I soon found myself using the iPhone to read and respond to blog comments. When at a light, I'd glance at the phone, and would start pecking a smart-ass answer to a smart-ass comment. This ended when Palmer Township police officer Jeremiah Santo pulled me over on Route 248 one day, not far from Sheetz. I had been all over the road on what is a very busy highway. I could have killed someone. I was cited for distracted driving and actually thanked the officer. His action woke me up. But the family of Emma Raymondo, age 12, is in a nightmare. Their little girl was taken way from them on September 22 by a driver who has been accused on texting while driving.

Emma had just left the Sheetz Convenience Store, where she had gone with siblings for ice cream. They were walking home. She was off the roadway.

This young lady was a 7th grader at Easton Middle School, a member of the Junior National Honor Society and a high yellow belt at the Lehigh Valley Martial Arts School. .

Dylan T. Groff, age 21, was off the roadway, too. But he was driving, not walking. He had just left Wal Mart at 8:04 pm, and video surveillance showed he was looking at his telephone screen. According to investigators, he had been using the Google Chrome Internet browser from 7:57 pm, when he was still at Wal Mart, until 8:06 pm, after he was already on the road. After that, Groff and two others began exchanging Facebook messages at 8:08:22 pm, with the last message being sent by Groff at 8:10:06 pm. They were discussing dinner options. Then, at 8:11:08 pm, he used his cell phone to call 9-1-1 after striking Emma. Groff was distracted by his cellphone.

Groff admitted he had been using his cellphone, but thought he was off sooner than forensic evidence reveals. He was cooperative with police and upset by what had happened. There is no evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, or that he was speeding. The evidence is that he wandered off the roadway and onto the shoulder because he had been distracted by his cellphone.

Yesterday, DA John Morganelli announced the following charges: homicide by vehicle (Felony 3); aggravated assault by vehicle (Felony 3); involuntary manslaughter (Misdemeanor 1); reckless endangerment (Misdemeanor 2); reckless driving (summary); careless driving (summary); and driving on roadways laned for traffic (summary). He faces a maximum sentence of 22 years behind bars and $46,200 in fines. Because he was texting and his conduct resulted in death, an additional seven years could be added to what is already an onerous penalty.

Morganelli claimed that texting while driving is just as dangerous as drink driving. He cited statistics that here in Pennsylvania, over 14,800 crashes in 2015 were the result of distracted driving. Nationwide, 10 percent of fatal crashes, 15 percent of injury crashes and 14 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes are the result of distracted driving. This could be cell phone use or more innocent distractions.

"You never get used to looking into the eyes if a Mom and Dad and siblings who have just lost a young child," said Morganelli, who had prosecuted these kinds of rimes for the past 25 years. "These are always difficult meetings and are emotional for me and family members." But Emma's family agreed that Morganelli could use what happened to Emma as an example to warn he public and possibly save lives.

He admitted that even he has been distracted at times by his cellphone. But on behalf of Emma and her family,he said we should al examine our own behavior and put down those cellphones.
"New drivers must be given simple, clear instructions not to use their wireless devices while driving. Before our young people get their licenses, we should discuss the fact that taking their eyes off the road - even for a few seconds - could cause someone injury or death.

"We all have to lead by example. As I indicated, none of us can say we never did this. But the truth is noone should text and drive. We can be an example for others. If we need to text, we canpullover to a safe place,making sure our vehicle is not in motion.

"We can become informed and active. We should all tell family, friends and anyone who is willing to listen of the importance of driving without distractions. Schools can play a role in this."
A new feature on iPhone's software might make it easier to keep your eyes on the road. A "Do Not Disturb While Driving" message silences incoming notifications until you reach your destination.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Guardian's "Women Are Pissed" Looks at NorCo

An excellent British newspaper, the Guardian, has been doing a series it calls The Promise. After voting twice for Barack Obama, the county went red in 2016 and voted for Donald Trump. This series explains what happened and periodically asks whether the enthusiasm for a New York billionaire who claims to speak for blue collar workers. The latest story, "Women are Pissed," asserts that "doubts have grown locally about whether Trump could win the county again, which could have implications for his national staying power. And women are at the center of the story." The women featured include incoming NorCo Council members Peg Ferraro, Tara Zrinski and Lori Vargo Heffner. Zrinski and Heffner never held office before.

Tara Zrinski: We Need More Women in Office

“There were people who, when I knocked on a door, said, ‘You’re a woman, I’m voting for you, we need more women in office’,” said Zrinksi, a first-time candidate. “And I heard that theme a lot.”

Lori Vargo Heffner: What's For Supper?

“[W]hen I get done with a campaign event, I still have to go home and do the laundry. I walk in and my dad goes, ‘What’s for supper?’ I’m still expected to have those traditional roles, beyond my workday. Whereas I know that my colleagues who are male had wives to support them and be home for them, and their wives were at the events with them.

“I don’t want to demean my male colleagues. People just have different expectations of women, I think.”

Peg Ferraro: Women Have Come Into Their Own

“I just do not appreciate the gender thing,” Ferraro said in a phone interview. “I think if they’re qualified, we all have to be judged equally. I think sometimes the perception is that women are a little bit more caring, women are a little bit more honest, trustworthy. But that was years ago, when I ran the first time. We’re talking the 80s.

“At this day and age, I think that women have come into their own enough that I’m hoping that we can be looked at for our competence, and our skills – for what we bring to the table. Not just because we’re a women.”

In the meantime, Authoritarian Donald Trump managed to kill two birds with one stone yesterday. At a ceremony ostensibly honoring the Navajo code talkers who foiled the Japanese during WWII, he inexplicably referred to US Senator Elizabeth Warren as Pocohontas. he managed to insult native Americans and women in one fell swoop.

"But do you know what? I like you," he said to the code talkers.

Afterwords, the code talkers sent a few messages.

"Bilagáana t'óó hodiilzha' "(Ditsy Anglo), said one.

"Ahályání!" (Idiot!), said the other.

Interestingly, in a display of Trump's  typical insensitivity, the ceremony was conducted under a portrait of Andrew Jackson, whose nickname was "Indian Killer." In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act that relocated 60,000 native Americans away from the Southeast US. It is believed that 15,000 died along the way.

Basketball Season Cometh

Some of you like the sound of the crack of a bat on a hot summer day. For others, it is the crack of shoulder pads amid the scent of decaying leaves as summer turns to autumn. For me it's the barely discernible but still sweet SWOOSH a basketball makes as the it arcs through a warm gym during the coldest days of winter.

High school basketball season has started, and the teams are on the court.

Allentown Central Catholic has already scrimmaged Scranton Prep, and will be trekking to Reading on Saturday.  

First tip off is less than two weeks away.

Who will be good this year?

They all will.

Monday, November 27, 2017

This Eagles Boycott is Killing Me!

I often hit a bar on Sunday afternoons. No, I'm still sober. I have no TV and go there so I can watch the Philadelphia Eagles. But not this year. I'm boycotting them. Not because Authoritarian Donald Trump tells me to, but because I'm a jinx. Just as I'm often the kiss of death when I predict victory for a politician, I've noticed that the Eagles tend to lose games that I watch. Even if I just listen to Merrill Reese's always-entertaining play-by-play, they lose. So I stopped watching or listening. Since that time, the Eagles have been undefeated.

This is killing me.

If they suddenly start losing, you'll know why.

While I'm here, I might as well share my top Eagles memory. It has nothing to do with the on-field action.

I went on a bus trip to see them play the Redskins many years ago. My son and daughter were with me, too. So were a neighbor and his kids.

Today, our kids would be taken away from us. 

That was the very first time they were having Magistrate's Court right at the Vet stadium, back in 1988. . There had been sixty fist fights at just one game, one Eagles fan shot a flare gun and some guys were urinating in sinks.  Future Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery brought Eagles Court to restore the rule of law.

Well, the crime problem likely was the result of everyone sneaking in all kinds of booze. Inside shirts, jackets, pockets. They even loaded up little kids with Miller Lite, just like drug mules. Because I was no longer drinking, I was viewed as a beer distributor, and was weighted down with so many cans that I could barely walk.

No metal detectors or wands back then. We showed them our ticket and we were in,even though a can fell out as I walked by.

My son and his best friend loved the scalpers and would return in later years and figure out ways to get in for free.

As we sat there, some obviously-loaded guy in front of us got up and was yelling about this and that play. The young daughters who were with us were unable to see, and I asked the fellow to sit down.

"Fuck you!" was his answer.

Then he complained that our group had cans of illegal alcohol all over the place, which we did. A security guys came and said, "I don't see anything" even though one of my friends was holding a can.

A few minutes later, our adversary pulled out some of the things that he had smuggled into the stadium himself. This included a six-pack and a hoagie that looked very good. Then he pulled out a knife to cut the hoagie in half so he could share it with his wife, who seemed like a very nice lady.

"Oh my God, he's got a knife!" I shouted.  "There are children here!"

Let me tell you, within about three seconds, security people were dragging this guy away.  They came from everywhere. Some of them actually jumped up from the playing field and hauled this poor guy off to Seamus McCaffery's court. His wife and the knife went with him, too.

That left the hoagie, which I ate.

The guy and his wife did return to their seats late in the fourth quarter, minus the knife. Judge McCaffery  apparently decided the matter lacked prosecutorial merit. The guy did apologize for his foul language to me and the young ladies who were with us.

In exchange, he and his wife were offered a beer.

Fortunately, he never asked about the hoagie.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Congressional Candidate Nothstein Paid $134k at Velodrome

In stories on Monday and Wednesday, I reported to you on the salaries paid to many of the Lehigh Valley's top nonprofits. One nonprofit executive director asked me to postpone my series because what I am telling you might have a negative effect on "Giving Tuesday," the day everyone is to pony up and donate. But as my stories reveal, only a few salaries appear to be excessive. Also, this is something that you have a right to know. For that reason, I am going to report to you on the compensation paid to Lehigh County Commissioner and Congressional candidate Marty Nothstein.

Nothstein is the Executive Director of The Velodrome. According to its most recent tax return on file,which is for calendar year 2015, he was paid a $134,000 salary based on total revenue of $808,885. This is 17% of total revenue. Comparing this to the salaries and total revenue at other LV nonprofits, it appears that Nothstein is being paid too much.

Another problem is that Lehigh County happens to own the property upon which the Velodrime was built. It is leased to the nonprofit. Nothsetein recused himself from acceptance of a donation to the Velodrome in February, but a few months later, he at least appears to have been among those who voted to hire financial advisers for funding a capital plan that included improvements to his nonprofit.

Coming Up: How about LV Colleges claiming tax exempt status? What do they pay top officials?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Susan Wild to Resign as Allentown Solicitor

Susan Wild,who is seeking the Democratic nomination to the 15th Pa. Congressional District, is resigning as Solicitor to Allentown. She will stay with the City until year'send.

Wild was appointed Solicitor in 2015, and was confronted almost immediately by a federal investigation into political corruption that eventually resulted in a 54-count indictment against the Mayor.

She also had the unenviable task of providing legal advice to two branches of government at war with each other. No man may serve two masters, but a lawyer somehow managed.   

She has handled herself with integrity and a sedulous nature that kept the ship of state from foundering.

Readers of this blog know I support John Morganelli for Congress. Ideologically, he is the best fit. But I have immense regard for Susan as a lawyer.   

More LV NonProfit Salaries

On Monday, I published a story listing the salaries at some of the top Lehigh Valley nonprofits. I obtained my information from 990 Finder, an online compendium of nonprofit tax return. I was asked about Greater LV Chamber of Commerce and Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.(LVEDC), but 990 Finder had no data for these entities. Greater LV Chamber of Commerce is a 504c6 nonprofit, and I assumed incorrectly that LVEDC fell into some other category.

In a fairly good demonstration of what I like to call participatory journalism, readers have been unable to find some interesting information that I missed.  I am listing it below.

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp's (LVEDC) Don Cunningham - $147,702 salary plus $15,640 in other compensation on total revenue of $2,828.040. VP Lea Glembot was also paid $101,253 plus $7,999 in other compensation. Cunningham's compensation package is 5.8% of the total revenue raised. Source - 2015 990 for calendar year 1995.

Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce's Tony Iannelli - $199,539 salary plus $19,019 in other compensation on total revenue of $3,804,639. Exec VP Frank Facchiano was paid a $134,400 salary plus $2,088 in other compensation. Iannelli's compensation is 5.7% of the total revenue raised. Source - 2014 990 for the period 7/1/14 thru 6/30/15.

Allentown Economic Development Corp's Scott Unger -$114,885 salary and $14,695 in other compensation  Unger's compensation is 7% of the total revenue raised. Source - 2015 990 for period 7/1/15 thru 6/30/16.

St.Luke's Health Network's Richard A Anderson - $3,560,530 salary and $286,505 in other compensation on what is being portrayed as negative revenue of $32 million. Source - 2015 990 for period from 7/1/15 thru 6/30/16.

Lehigh Valley Health Network's Ronald Swinfard - $2,364,927 salary plus $33,636 in other income. The revenue figures make no sense to me. Treasurer and CEO Brian Nestor has a salary of $1,002,894 plus $31,340 in other income. Fifteen people are paid over $100,000. Source - 2015 990 from 7/1/14 thru 6/30/15.

The tax bill under consideration by Congress would impose a 20 tax on remuneration over $1 million for the five highest paid employees at nonprofits.

Portrait Presented To Bethlehem Tp Is First Mayor's Son

Yesterday, I told you that Bethlehem Township Commissioners were presented with a portrait of Bethlehem's first Mayor, Archibald Johnston. I paid no attention to Comm'r Malissa Davis when she said it was a portrait of Archibald Johnston, Jr., thinking they were one and the same.

I was wrong. Yesterday, Attorney John Zapf II corrected me. The portrait is actually of Archibald Johnston,  one of the Mayor's two children. John should know. He is Archibald B. Johnston's grandson.

John also tells me that no one referred to his grandfather as Archibald Johnston, Jr.

I regret this error, and apologize to John and everyone else for getting it wrong.

The only thing I can offer in mitigation is that I am a Democrat.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Judge Sletvold to Chair Juvenile Court Rules Committee

A news release from the Court Administrator's office reports that Northampton County Judge Jennifer Sletvold has been named Chair of the state Supreme Court's Juvenile Court Procedural Rules Committee, effective February 2018. According to the news release, she established a school attendance improvement court sometime last year, though I have no idea whether it has progressed beyond Easton.

Sletvold has been a judge since 2014.

Bethlehem Tp Tax Rate To Remain Steady Next Year

Unanimously, Bethlehem Tp Commissioners voted last night to advertise a budget for next year that holds the line on taxes for a second year in a row. But to do so, officials will have to dip into cash reserves. They will start 2018 with an opening cash balance of $3.2 million, but expect to have only a little over $2 million left at the end of the year.

The spending plan next year will maintain the current real estate tax of 7.09 mills.According to Finance Director Andrew Freda, this translates to an annual tax bill of $647 for the average taxpayer.

In addition to real estate taxes, the Township imposes an earned income tax (0.5%). Freda predicts that the annual earned income tax payment per household will be $415. 

Of the $18.5 million the Township will spend next year, nearly $8.5 million is budgeted for public safety, about two per cent more than in 2017. Nearly a third of the tax bill will fund police protection.

Commissioner Tom Nolan proposed establishing a fire tax for vehicle purchases and equipment at the two volunteer fire departments. But the other Commissioners preferred waiting until next year, when two new Commissioners join the Board.

"This is another important item that they're going to live with," said President Michael Hudak.

In other business, Commissioners tabled an ordinance that would prevent trash haulers from collecting before 6 am. Howard Kutzler called it a "quality of life issue," saying residents should be able to "at least sleep until 6 o'clock." Malissa Davis suggested seeking input from the garbage collectors. Hudak stated that he has spoken to one waste collector who would like to collect at businesses at 5 am, but said those businesses are in residential neighborhoods. He was the sole dissenter to Kutzler's motion to table.

Though there's no fire tax, there is a tax break coming for volunteer firefighters. Commissioners unanimously agreed to advertise an ordinance that will exempt volunteer firefighters from up to $1,000 in earned income tax every years. "This is long overdue," said Kutzler. "The volunteers to this community save this community a lot of money."       

Commissioners also voted to advise the District Attorney that a DUI Center lease of the Coolidge Building should be extended only one year instead of five. The Township wants to consider other uses of this property. Kutzler warned that it has been a steady source of revenue and has augmented the police presence in the Township.

Finally, Commissioners agreed to send a letter to Governor Wolf, opting out of any mini casino that might be possible in the Township. Kutzler was opposed, noting that "the Township has benefited heavily from the gaming industry." At Tom Nolan's suggestion, township officials will talk to Lehigh Valley Planning Commission first

Updated: Bethlehem Tp Acquires Painting of Son of Bethlehem's First Mayor

Bethlehem Township Commissioners were presented with a portrait of Archibald Johnston, Jr. at their November 20 meeting. Malissa Davis made the presentation on behalf of Cameron A. Smith, an 18 year-old man who serves on Catasauqua's Planning Commission. Davis and Smith met while both were attending a Citizen Academy at the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. He was unable to attend in person because he had a meeting in Catty.

The painting is of Archibald Johnston, Jr., son of Bethlehem's first Mayor.

Smith purchased the painting on Craigslist for $45 from Ed Sherwood. After listening to Davis talk about Johnston and Housenick Park, he was inspired to donate the portrait. He noted that he is researching Desiderius George Dery, who at one time owned the world's largest silk manufacturer. "[P]eople have donated so many wonderful Dery related items to me and I felt it was my turn to reciprocate," he said.

Archibald Johnston was Bethlehem's first Mayor. He may have been its best. He became Mayor in 1918, when the United States was reeling from the deadly Spanish flu. That pandemic that may have killed as many as 100 million people worldwide.

His City, which had both a strict quarantine and a makeshift hospital at the Steel Company, suffered only about 100 casualties. Philadelphia, which failed to plan for or react to this calamity, dumped close to 13,000 bodies outside police stations and in trench graves.

Johnston, an engineer, believed in planning.

His mansion and surrounding grounds were devised to Bethlehem Township by his granddaughter, Janet Housenick, along with a $2 million fund for maintenance.

In addition to the gift, Smith is asking Commissioners to do "whatever they can to restore the Johnston Mansion. It really is a tremendous asset and an untouched example of gilded age mansions"

Updated 9:15 pm: In my original version of this story, I erroneously reported that the portrait is of Archibald Johnston. I apologize for my error.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Dr. Thode: LU Needs to Ban Sexual Relations Between Faculty and Students

The recent disclosures of sexual misconduct by film producer Harvey Weinstein have cast a bright light on the Hollywood culture which permits such behavior to continue even when it is well-known. But, sexual harassment isn’t just a Hollywood problem. It can be a problem for any organization that is permissive of such behavior.
Almost 25 years ago, my employer, Lehigh University, first sought to codify its policy on sexual harassment. When that proposed policy was brought to the faculty for approval, I rose in opposition, and not because I thought the policy was too tough. Quite the contrary, I felt the policy was too weak. Instead of outright prohibiting sexual relationships between faculty members and their students, and between supervisors and their supervisees, the proposed policy used language like: “an instructor (e.g., advisor, course instructor, teaching assistant) should avoid developing a romantic or sexual relationship with a student taught, advised, or supervised by that instructor.”; and, “a supervisor should avoid developing a romantic or sexual relationship with an employee.” (Emphasis mine)
I asked my fellow faculty to draw a clear line and replace the word “should” with the word “must.” While some applauded me, others jeered. I then asked those who jeered to cite a single example where it was appropriate for an instructor to engage in a sexual relationship with one of their students, or, a supervisor to engage in a sexual relationship with one of their supervisees.
My point was (and is) a simple one: a romantic or sexual relationship between an instructor (supervisor) and a student (supervisee) should never be assumed to be consensual. The instructor (supervisor) has power over the student (supervisee). It is not a relationship of peers.
Nevertheless, the language was not amended, and “should avoid” was codified as official Lehigh University sexual harassment policy.
Nearly a quarter century later, Lehigh has spent untold dollars to hire additional staff devoted to issues of harassment and discrimination, and to require all faculty, staff and students to complete annual training on harassment and discrimination. You would think that Lehigh might have strengthened its official sexual harassment policy.
You would be wrong. The current sexual harassment policy (found on Page 180 here:http://www.lehigh.edu/~inprv/pdfs/active_pdf_forms/RULES_PROCEDURES_MAY2017.pdf) still uses the original language. To wit:
“Supervisory Conflict of Interest  A supervisor should avoid developing a romantic or sexual relationship with an employee. Similarly, an instructor (e.g., advisor, course instructor, teaching assistant) should avoid developing a romantic or sexual relationship with a student taught, advised, or supervised by that instructor.” (Emphasis mine)
Compare Lehigh’s sexual harassment policy with that of Lafayette (which can be found here:https://sash.lafayette.edu/lafayette-college-policy-on-sexual-harassment/):
“While a student is a student of a particular instructor/staff member, the instructor/staff member shall not ask the student for a sexual favor or in other ways make a sexual advance to the student. While a student is a student of a particular instructor/staff member, any romantic advance or sexual relationship between the student and the particular instructor/staff member is prohibited. This rule applies even if the romantic advance or sexual relationship is welcome.” (Emphasis mine)
Or, the sexual harassment policy of Moravian College (which can be found here: https://www.moravian.edu/policy/sexual-misconduct):
“Additionally, employees of the College may be charged with sexual harassment when romantic/intimate relationships occur between students and College faculty or other members of the administration and staff who teach or exercise authority over students, who provide counseling, advising, and mentoring to students, or who assess and evaluate student academic, artistic, or athletic performance. The College prohibits these relationships, whether consensual or nonconsensual, due to the existing power differential and possibility of abuse and favoritism.” (Emphasis mine)
I urge all companies, all organizations, and all colleges and universities to review their sexual harassment policies to insure that any behaviors that may lead to abuse or favoritism are strictly prohibited.
Stephen F. Thode has been on the faculty of Lehigh University’s College of Business and Economics since 1982 

Blogger's Note - The op-ed above was rejected by The Morning Call on the basis that Lehigh bans rides to Space Mountain between faculty and students. But the plain language of the policy makes clear that it is permitted. 

What Do LV Non Profit Bosses Earn?

If you'd like to make a lot of money, you probably should steer clear of nonprofits. I've listed the compensation packages of some of the Lehigh Valley's top nonprofits below. These were obtained from 990 Finder, an online compendium of nonprofit tax returns. .

You can use that site, too, if you are curious about a nonprofit I failed to list. If you learn something you'd like to share, please do so in a comment.

The wages paid to a nonprofit employee only have to be listed once they top $100,000.  Most nonprofits are unable to afford that kind of money.

Nonprofits that can afford to pay higher salaries usually try to stay at or below five per cent of the total revenue. So the top three dogs at ArtsQuest only earn 2.6% of the total revenue. Alan Jennings, who is castigated frequently, receives a very low wage. It's only 0.7% of the revenue his organization raises.

PBS-39's Tim Fallon is listed as getting a third of his group's revenue. I believe there must be another organization that I missed.

Da Vinci's Lin Erickson and Allentown Art Museum's David Mickenberg are paid a bit too much.

ArtsQuest pays three people over $100,000. President Kassie Hilgert is paid a $172,452 salary and other compensation of $10,821. Senior VP Walter Keiper is paid $150,834 plus other compensation of $15,254. Senior VP Curt Mosel is paid $107,814 and other compensation of $16,437. This is based on total revenue of $17.8 million. Source - 2015 990 for calendar year 2015. Combined, these salaries are 2.6% of revenue

State Theatre's Shelley Brown - $153,750 salary on total revenue of  $4,419,353. Source -2015 990 for period from 6/1/15 through 5/31/16. Brown's salary is about 4.5% of revenue.

Allentown Art Museum's David Mickenberg - $151,560 salary and $9,686 in other compensation on total revenue of $2,151,858. Source - 2014 990 for period 7/1/14 thru 6/30/15. Mickenberg's salary appears to be 7.4% of total revenue

PBS-39's Tim Fallon - $140,671 salary and $18,552 in other compensation on total revenue of $473,399. Source - 2015 990 for the period 7/1/15 to 6/30/16  Fallon's salary appears to be 33.6% of revenue.

Allentown Symphony Association's Sheila Evans - $134,025 salary plus $15,975 in other compensation on total revenue of  $3,069,360. Source - 2015 990 for period 6/1/15 thru 5/31/16. Evans' salary is roughly 5% of the total revenue.

Da Vinci Center's Lin Erickson -  $129,500 salary plus $6,624 in other compensation on total revenue of $1.49 million. Source - 2015 990 for the period 7/1/15 to 6/30/16. Erickson's salary is around nine per cent of total revenue.

Wildland Conservancy's Chris Kocher - $127,586 salary plus $7,362 in other compensation on total revenue of $3.1 million. Source - 2015 990 for 2015 calendar year. Kocher's salary is 4.3% of total revenue.

Discover LV's Mike Stershic - $125,000 salary and $30,167 in other compensation on total revenue of $3.8 million. Source - 2014 990 for 2014 period 7/1/14 to 6/30/15. Stershic's compensation package is about 4% of total revenue. 

Allentown Rescue Mission's Jim Byrnes - $109,141 salary plus $9,057 in other compensation on total revenue of $3.5 million for the period 7/1/15 thru 6/30/16. Source - 2015 990. Byrnes salary is about 3.3% of total revenue.

Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV)'s Alan Jennings - $101,336 salary and $47,050 in other compensation on $21.1 million in revenue. Source - 2015 990 for the period 7/1/15 to 6/30/16. Jennings's total compensation is 0.70% of the total revenue.

LV Habitat for Humanity's  Deb Cummins - $98,373 salary plus $2,790 in other compensation on total revenue of $2.468 million. Source - 2015 990 for period 7/1/15 to 6/30/16.  Cummins's salary is 4.0% of tital revenue.

Lehigh Conference of Churches' John Felch - $90,000 salary plus $917 in other compensation on total revenue of $4.6 million. Source - 2015 990 for calendar year 2015, Felch's salary is just about two per cent of total revenue.

National Museum of Industrial History's Amy Hollander - $57,894 salary plus $11,167 in other compensation. Treasurer Theodore Harlan earned $66,284 plus $3,907 in other compensation. Total revenues are $3,328,738. Source - 2015 990 for calendar year 2015. Hollander was replaced earlier this year. Hollander was earning two per cent of total revenue.

Beginning Over Foundation's Heidi Markow - $52,722 on total revenue of $577,427. Board member Helen Venturini also paid $52,777. Source - 2015 990 for calendar year 2015. Markow took 9.1% of total revenue as a salary, but in fairness, it seems like a small organization. .

Baum School of Art's Shannon Fugate - $57,001 salary and $3,139 in other compensation on total revenue of $1,166,348. Source - 2015 990 for period 7/1/15 through 6/30/16. Fugate's salary is 5.1% of total revenue.

Lehigh Valley Arts Council's Randall Forte - $46,000 salary on total revenue of $295,838. Source - 2015 990 for 9/1/15 thru 8/31/16.  While Forte's salary is low, it is 15.5% of total revenue.

Historic Bethlehem's Charlene Donchez Mowers - Not listed. Under $100,000 on total revenue of $338,600. Source 2015 990 for 3/1/15 to 2/29/16.

Greater Easton Development Partnership's Jared Mast - Not listed. Under $100,000 on total revenue of $443,518. Source - 2015 990 for calendar year 2015

Third Street Alliance for Women and Children's Alisa Baratta - Not listed. Under $100,000 on total revenue of $1.744 million. Source - 2016 990 for unstated period. Filed 7/25/17.

Turning Point of the Lehigh Valley's Lori Sywensky - Unlisted. Under $100,000 on total revenue of $1,687,948. Source - 2015 990 for period 7/1/15 thru 6/30/16.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Simmons Out! Who Will Drain the Swamp Now!

Within days of a Morning Call story revealing that political opportunist Justin Simmons missed 500 votes as a state lawmaker, he's withdrawn as a Congressional candidate. Simmons, of course, blamed everything on Charlie Dent.

It's a sad day for General Lee Snover, boss of the NorCo GOP. She no doubt cried herself to sleep.

The good news for Justin Simmons is that he broke completely new ground when it comes to campaign strategy. He campaigned against a man who wasn't running and managed to lose to him.

Voters will have an opportunity to show Simmons the door next year. He's dropped out of a Congressional race. He's abandoned a stab at Lt. Governor. So he'll try to con the people he attempted twice to abandon this year.

I think they're on to him.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Updated: NorCo Council Ponders $1 Million Grant to Da Vinci Center

Without a business plan or feasibility study in hand, Northampton County Council is nevertheless considering a $1 million grant for the Da Vinci Science Center project in Easton. Payments would be made in $100,000 increments over the next ten years. The money would come from hotel taxes, not real estate taxes. Hotel taxes may only be used for projects that promote regional tourism. The proposal is similar to a grant that helped fund Steel Stacks and PBS-39 in South Bethlehem.

While $1 million is a lot of money, it's far below the $15 million sought by Da Vinci Center Executive Director Lin Erickson. Council member Peg Ferraro, a strong supporter of the aquarium, said at the November 16 meeting that she would be offering an amendment. This means she wants to award more than $1 million. She invited fellow members to call her, but an issue like this really should be discussed in full public view.

Pitched as a science center that will promote STEM education, DaVinci's big draw is a 500,000 gallon aquarium with large view panes to be located at the site of the Easton Days Inn, located near the junction of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. Easton will demolish the existing hotel and from its ashes, a 170,000 sq ft facility will rise. In addition to the marine vivarium, it will include a restaurant and event center with seating for 500, an immersion theater, a creativity studio or "Fab lab," classrooms and offices.

Its projected cost is $130 million, and Easton has pledged $30 million. Mayor Sal Panto has told Council that City has already spent $6 million on this project. It intends to borrow $24 million through a bond issue, to be paid by the amusement tax on 400,000 visitors per year and income taxes paid by 200 permanent workers.

Northampton County has already contributed $50,000 in hotel taxes for a $1.2 million feasibility study. As of late last month, Da Vinci still needed $100,000 for this business analysis.

In addition to the difficulty of building in a flood plain, other serious problems with the location include a lack of parking, a dearth of hotel space and possible competition from a similar project under consideration in Monroe County.

Executive-elect Lamont McClure has said at the Executive debate that he supports DaVinci, but more work was needed to determine how much NorCo should contribute.

Incoming Council members have also expressed reservations.

Ron Heckman warned that developers dazzle you with charts and then give you a bill.  Tara Zrinski said she has three children and they all liked shiny new toys. "I don't know if we should be spending taxpayer dollars for a shiny new toy," she said. Noting that the aquarium is in a flood plain, she always instructed her children not to leave their toys out in the rain.

Lori Vargo Heffner objected to there being a "county ATM on all the projects for everyone."

Council will vote on this proposal at their December 7 meeting, before these new Council members are seated.

Earlier in the evening, Council tabled some appointments to authorities on the grounds that incoming Executive Lamont McClure should be able to weigh in on the measure. By that same reasoning, this ordinance should be tabled as well. Let the new Council decide.

Blogger's Note: This story has been updated from the original story posted 11/16/17 at 12:01 am.

Is There a Sexual Assault Epidemic?

On Wednesday, I posted a story that made light of what I called the sexual harassment epidemic, which is  outing alleged predators every day. The accused include both the very liberal and ultraconservative, straight and gay. In many instances, the victims have waited decades before coming forward. This hurts their credibility. But in some cases, several people say j'accuse. That corroborates these indictments.

Two people - Monkey Momma and Dr.Paige Van Wirt - took issue with me. I want to highlight their views.

Monkey Momma tees off on this sentence from my Wednesday story. "It seems that everyone has been subjected to horrifying sexual abuse in their teens or early twenties."

Actually, what it seems like is our society has a very pervasive sexual assault problem. One of the reasons this problem has not been effectively dealt with is our tendency to "laugh it off" or make light of what is really a very serious and sad problem. Victims, more often that not, fail to come forward in a timely manner simply because of the attitude represented in this very surprising and disappointing blog post.

The #metoo movement has made it acceptable to finally reveal past assaults that have haunted victims for many years. For the first time in my own memory, men & women are coming forward with their stories, and for that I very much admire them. Because of our society's tendency to make light of these horror stories, people need a lot of guts to reveal the predators in our midst.

As the mother of a son and a daughter, I am big believer in the Innocent Until Proven Guilty concept - in other words, you can't just totally believe every victim's account at face value. Evidence is needed before a life should be destroyed by would could be, theoretically, lies. However, when multiple victims come forward telling the SAME story about the SAME predator, and a pattern is revealed even years later, then it is (in my mind) safe to assume that these victims are collectively sharing accurate and real histories about criminals who have (so far) gone unpunished. In no way did these victims enjoy their torture, as your blog post seems to suggest. It is not flattering to be targeted by a pedophile or a rapist or sexual predator. Victims didn't earn their crimes, by either their actions or their "attractiveness" - they were simply targeted by sick criminals who have, up until now, enjoyed the tacit protection of a society that really could not give a shit.

I do not personally have a #metoo story. I have been damned lucky. I see now that so many of my close friends and family didn't escape their youth unscathed, and I thank the gods for my good fortune. I admire those who have finally found the courage to speak out about past horrors. You're lucky, Bernie. But just because you dodged a bullet, it doesn't mean the same bullets didn't strike someone else.

Dr. Paige Van Wirt went off on a comment I made defending my Wednesday story. " “I reject the notion that sexual abuse or even harassment is prevalent.”

Ask yourself why. Is it because you were victimized by false accusations? You clearly understand that having been a victim of false accusations does not mean is isn’t painfully prevalent. Part of the reason sexual harassment continues to be a problem, the reason why it continues to happen, is exactly because it is behavior that occurs away from cameras, other people, or any way to meaningfully ‘prove’ that it happened. If it was easy to prove then the perpetrators would not do it! The sudden deluge means that people who have for years, decades, nursed their own pain and memories in the dark, finally feel like there is a platform to share their experience and humiliation without people like you coming down on them and saying “there is no proof!” If the coach at Penn State had not caught Sandusky in the shower with those boys, would the problems not have happened because the boys could not ‘prove it’? If those boys came forward decades later and said “ yes, this horrible, life-changing thing happened to me”, some who even considered killing themselves because of the pain, would they not have been listened to because there was no proof, or not listened to because too many years had lapsed? Patterns emerge, there is strength in patterns, but at the end of the day this is a problem that occurs in the dark, and to dismiss the current wave of allegations as ‘simply unbelievable’ shows a poor understanding of this very real problem.

One of my points was that there was only anecdotal evidence of a problem, no hard facts. But as I looked into this question a little more closely, I discovered there are statistics that tell us that we may very well have a problem. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

NorCo Council Awards $730k in Table Games Grants

Northampton County Council approved $730,000 in table games grants at their November 16 meeting. The vote was 8-0, with Glenn Geissinger being absent. These awards are part of Executive John Brown's Community Investment Partnership Program (CIPP). The plan is to use table games revenue from the Sands Casino for a variety of grants and revolving loans, with an emphasis on aging boroughs and townships. This year, a total of 33 grants were awarded as appears below.

Susan Wild: Why I'm Running

Though I will support John Morganelli for Congress, you might prefer a person like Susan Wild. She is a prominent Allentown attorney and Solicitor to Allentown. She is seeking the Democratic nomination to Congress in the 15th Pa. Congressional District. Here she explains why and asks you to dig into your pockets. 

Like many of you, I’m frustrated and dismayed that our government is broken. Things are spiraling downward quickly. Good government seems to be a thing of the past.

I have spent a lifetime trying to help people. It’s what I was trained to do starting in law school, and throughout my career. Nothing makes me feel better than helping someone with a problem find a solution.

So now, instead of feeling hopeless and helpless, I’ve decided to do something about it. I’m running for Congress.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have had a career that has trained me to listen carefully, question assumptions, do solid research, and find solutions to problems. I’m ready to bring this approach to Washington to fight for Pennsylvania families, but I can’t do it alone -- please make a contribution today to make sure my campaign has the resources we need.

I strongly believe in the concept of good government. I believe that quality, affordable health care is a right. I believe the economy grows best from the middle out, not the top down. I’m ready to work on strengthening gun laws so that everyone can feel safe in their communities. I believe that Mother Earth must be respected and cared for. That the elderly and our veterans need to be respected and cared for. That there must be no discrimination against people based on their race, country of origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation. And good public education is where it all starts.

I also believe that corporations must not be allowed to hand-pick our elected officials and run our country, which is why I wanted to reach out today. We have a real opportunity to flip this seat -- but I need all of you to help me win. Please, make a contribution today.

I was raised to believe that government has a proper place in our lives, and that it is the obligation of our elected officials to work hard for the people who elected them. When I’m in Washington, my sole focus will be on what is right for the people of the 15th, and working to achieve solutions that are right for all Americans.

Thank you for being a part of this,
Susan Wild

(Her donation button is here.)

How is NorCo Handling Opioid Crisis?

Tiffany Rossanese
What's Northampton County doing about the opioid crisis? That question stumped County Council candidates at a recent debate. But Tiffany Rossanese can answer that question. She's the Administrator of Northampton Drug and Alcohol program. She updated Council members yesterday on what her department is doing to combat America's heroin epidemic.

College Outreach. - Northampton and Lehigh County have teamed up to approach local colleges to educate students about the problem. Joe, a Lehigh University Master's candidate and participant in Northampton County's Drug Court, has been sharing his story with students.

HOPE (Heroin and Opioid Prevention Education). - This program is offered at schools and community venues to educate parents, students, professionals about opioid addiction and where to go for help.

Hospital Outreach. - This is another bi-county effort with area hospitals for persons who have substance abuse problems. The goal is to persuade overdose victims to seek and get help, regardless of the substances used or ability to pay. Mid-Atlantic Rehabilitation Services will then provide assessments and recommend treatment. During October, there were 171 referrals, and 146 people were seen.

Police Outreach. - Bethlehem and Bangor police departments have started an open door policy in which a drug addict can approach them and be connected to a treatment provider instead of a jail cell. A person who has drugs or paraphernalia can turn them over without fear that there will be charges. If the person has an outstanding warrant, it will be served at that time.

Recovery Centers.- There are three in Northampton County based in Easton (Change on 3d, 117 3d St), Bethlehem (Bethlehem Recovery Center, 548 N New St) and Bangor (A Clean Slate, 100 S.1st St.).

Drug Court. - This Court, administered by Judge Craig Dally, currently has 54 participants who appear before him weekly. There are eight pending application. There have been nine graduates.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Why an Exec Needs a Good Transition Team

On Monday, I told you that NorCo County Executive-elect Lamont McClure had chosen a transition team. This led to a few derisive comments, which is to be expected on a blog about local government. But yesterday, a GOP friend was talking to me and derided the idea as completely unnecessary. I told him it's too bad he's unable to speak to Ulysses S. Grant.

When John Brown took over as Executive, most of his first year was a comedy of errors. He appointed as a Public Defender the husband of a sitting judge. He named a voice-over artist as his Director of Community and Economic Development. He failed to fill several slots. His first choice for Administrator, Cathy Allen, had no real government experience or education. He went six months before filling three of his most important cabinet posts. He had no transition team. He had one meeting in he backroom of Michael Snover's law office attended by people who themselves had no understanding of county government and just wanted to divide the spoils. Brown thought he knew better because he comes from the business world.

Ulysses S Grant thought he knew better, too. He refused to run his cabinet choices by people who understood how federal government works. He even refused to share his inaugural speech. The result was a disaster. He appointed a Secretary of State who lasted all of five days. He selected a wealthy business magnate as his Treasury Secretary, completely overlooking a federal statute that barred the Treasury Secretary from engaging in trade or commerce. He had to withdraw the nomination.

"I entered the White House without any previous experience in either civil or political life," he would later admit in his memoirs. "I thought I could run the government of the United States, as I did the staff of my army. It was my mistake, and it led me into other mistakes."

A transition team will assist McClure in making quality cabinet level picks before he assumes office. While I am sure there will still be mistakes, a group of advisers should keep them at a minimum.

Grant was so revered at the time that people overlooked these errors. But neither Brown nor McClure were successful generals who ended the Civil War.

NorCo Has $14.5 Million to Buy Centralized HS Bldg

In March 2019, Northampton County will be able to exercise an option to purchase the centralized Human Serviced building, which is located along Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township. The price tag is $14,566,722.

Normally, a county would make this kind of purchase by floating a bond.But instead of shackling the county with more debt, Executive John Brown has been setting aside the funds to complete this purchase. In his latest budget amendment, Brown proposes adding $1 million to the purchase fund, which will be enough to enable the county to buy the building in 2019.

Is It Finally Time For a Step Increase?

One of the chief reasons why morale is bad at Northampton County is that employees who should be advanced in their pay scale never are. A clerk who started yesterday is paid the same wages as someone who has been doing the same job for 10 or 20 years. This breeds resentment and led to questions from Council President John Cusick yesterday. He wanted to know the last time a step increase was provided to career service employees. Budget Administrator thinks the last time this happened was when Glenn Reibman was in office, about ten years ago.

A step increase is an increase of 4.5%. It would reward employees who stay with the county. But how would it be funded?

An answer to that question came in a budget amendment reviewed by Council yesterday. It proposes adding $6.6 million to the county's rainy day fund, called the stabilization fund. This would increase it to $20.4 million. This is 15% of the general fund. Under the county's rainy day fund ordinance, it should be between 5 and 15%. "It may be a bit much," said Cusick. "I don't think it needs to be that high."

Budget Administrator Doran Hamman responded, "You only have $20 million to support a $400 million operation."

Cusick may be looking for a way to fund a step increase to career service employees.

Did Brown and Allen Snub Barron?

Northampton County Controller Steve Barron put a lot of long hours into getting Lamont McClure elected as County Executive last week. Incumbent John Brown noticed. He has complained bitterly about Barron's involvement to several of his allies. In a rare display of pique, he appeared to snub Barron during yesterday's Council committee meetings.

Brown and Administrator Cathy Allen arrived together for yesterday's personnel and finance committee hearings. Things moved along quickly until Council reached the final item on their agenda, a review of hotel tax audits.

As Barron approached the podium, Brown and Allen both got up and walked out, and without acknowledging anyone.

It could just be that hotel tax audits over a few dollars are boring, but it was odd that both would get up and walk out during a meeting that was already brief.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Allentown's Sportsfest to End

From the Sportsfest website
: SportsFest will be discontinuing operations effective immediately.

At our recent board meeting, the Board of Directors wrapped up the 21st annual SportsFest and announced that this past SportsFest would be our last.

We have been proud to provide an event that our community could enjoy together. A community that loves and cherishes its sports history and culture.

SportsFest started in 1997 with a mission to promote the beautiful parks system throughout the City of Allentown, through amateur athletic competition and to raise awareness of health, fitness and wellness in our community. At its height, the annual summer event hosted over 40 competitions, attracting 10,000 athletes and 100,000 spectators. Over its history, SportsFest is also very proud to have awarded $10,000 in Scholarships to high school athletes, to help them further their academic careers.

On behalf of the SportsFest Board of Directors, I would like to thank the countless volunteers and committee members who worked and organized the events over the last two decades. None of what was accomplished could have been possible without your enduring commitment and support. I would also like to recognize the support and generosity of our corporate sponsors, local businesses and restaurants, City and County leaders, and the Allentown & County Parks and Recreation Departments, all who made SportsFest possible and sustainable.

It has been our sincere pleasure to serve the athletic community of the Lehigh Valley over the last two decades and we are confident its thirst for sports competitions will continue to be met by existing and future events and organizations.

Ray Atiyeh
President/Executive Director
Lehigh Valley SportsFest

Sexual Harassment and My Own Sad Story

Forget the opioid epidemic, there's a new public health crisis in town. It seems that everyone has been subjected to horrifying sexual abuse in their teens or early twenties. Then, fifty years later, just as Alzheimers is set to take over, they come forward with tales of being pinched in the ass, grabbed by the p--y or peeper or worse, forced to watch some willie flicker comic. I remember the good ol' days, when only Catholic priests and wrestling coaches were considered perverts. But we now know it could be anybody. Donald Trump. Bill Cosby. Creepy Senate candidates with cowboy hats. Even Mr. Sulu was ready to take some poor male model into warp drive.

Mr. Sulu!

Given what's going on, I thought it's time for me to come out and tell you my own sad story.

When I was in fourth grade, I became an altar boy, and remained one into high school. Now you all know what happens to altar boys and why so many of them sing soprano. But in all my years, no priest ever gave me a second look. Not even when I'd bend over to get the cruets.

It's been that way my entire life. While everyone around me was going to space mountain, I've been untouched. I have never been harassed. Even when I forget to zip up and walk around for an entire day with the garage door open, no one says a word.

I know why. My good looks and charming personality intimidate men and women alike.

It's not easy being handsome. Eventually, I went cRaZy and became a bottom-feeding blogger.

NorCo Considers 26 New 911 Positions

Bethlehem is currently planning to merge with Northampton County's 911 system by July 2019. Though unhappy at the prospect, city officials had no choice. It was either consolidate with the county or lose state funding. The state has provided $8.1 million to facilitate this coordination. This money is being used to purchase new communication centers in Bethlehem, Allentown and in both counties. They will be connected to each other, so that if one goes down, the other can act as a back-up.

Northampton County's 911 dispatchers fielded 97,000 emergency calls last year, 67% of which were from cell phones. There were even 161 emergency text messages. There were also 296,000 non-emergency calls. Bethlehem fielded about 40,000 emergency and 50,000 nonemergency calls, and dispatchers were able to use remote cameras to assist officers responding to crime or other emergencies in real time.

Northampton County's 911 facility, located in Upper Nazareth, will dispatch the emergency calls. Bethlehem is creating its own emergency management center to monitor cameras, handle non-emergency calls and coordinate with city departments.

In order to handle the expected increase in call volume, Northampton County Council has been asked to add 26 new 911 positions. These consist of six supervisors and 20 dispatchers. Supervisors will be paid between $50,130 and71,325, while dispatchers will earn from $36,355 to 51,726.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NorCo: What Are Exempt Employees?

When he was elected NorCo Executive, John Brown's idea of a transition was a private meeting with GOP party leaders in the back room of Michael Snover's law office. That's how he made his initial appointments. There was no transition team and no transparency. So it should come as no shock that one of the first things he did as Executive was to fire a career service employee without due process. This mistake cost the county at least a quarter million dollars.

This employee, who just happened to be an assistant county solicitor, sued. A damages award in her favor was affirmed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the second highest court in the nation.

In that case, Brown tried to argue he was merely reorganizing the department. Here's what the court said.
We are aware of no court that has permitted the government to subvert the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment with a sham reorganization. If the government were allowed to undertake sham reorganizations to dismiss an employee who was otherwise entitled to due process, Northampton’s proposed “reorganization exception” would eviscerate a public employee’s procedural due process rights altogether.
Unlike John Brown, Lamont McClure has a real transition team in place. They can steer him away from mistakes like the one made by Brown. But as a lawyer who served on Council for en years, McClure already knows that he is unable to terminate a career service employee through a sham reorganization.

Career service employees can only be terminated for "just cause," and are entitled to a pre-termination hearing.

He can, however, terminate an "exempt" employee for any reason he wants.

What are exempt employees? The Third Circuit answers that question, too.
The nine exemptions from the career service are: (1) all elected officials; (2) the heads of agencies immediately under the direction and supervision of the County Executive; (3) one confidential or clerical employee for each of the above officials, except for members of the County Council; (4) the Clerk of Council and the staff of the County Council; (5) the members of authorities, boards, and commissions; (6) permanent, part-time professional employees; (7) provisional, probationary, and temporary employees; (8) officers and employees required to be included in a state merit or civil service system; and (9) officers and employees whose inclusion in the career service would be prohibited by the law of Pennsylvania.
Put simply, all cabinet officials serve at McClure's discretion. So does one confidential employee for each one of them. He can also discharge permanent, part-time professional employees like Assistant County Solicitors or the Chief Public Defender.

The obvious reason for this is that an executive should have a core of employees in whom he can confide and who he knows are loyal to him.

I have no idea what, if any, changes McClure expects to make. That's his call. But I am sure that whatever personnel changes there may be, they will be done correctly.

"Saddened" LC GOP Chair Resigns

As you can see in the letter below, Jessica Banotai has resigned as Lehigh County's GOP Chair. She apparently blames herself that the Lehigh County Executive and Allentown Mayoral positions have remained blue.

Let me tell you a little bit about Jessica. She's a Kutztown University graduate who has worked as a staffer for Congressman Charlie Dent and Senator Pat Toomey. She has always been both pleasant and professional. She was certainly that way when I saw her at a last-minute news conference called by Dent in early September to announce formally that he decided against running for Congress next year. It was at that time that Dent was being back-stabbed by his supposed former supporter, Justin Simmons. NorCo's GOP boss, General Lee Snover, had stated at a pro-Trump rally, "I looked into Charlie Dent's eyes, and I saw the swamp."

Like their hero, Donald Trump's myrmidons are never content with a simple criticism. They tend to get personal and ugly. In a PoliticsPa story about Dent's looming retirement, someone impersonated Banotai and posted some very personal remarks about her private life. It's the kind of information that only an insider like Justin Simmons would possess. Though there is no proof that Simmons or his supporters were behind this impersonation, this kind of ugly attack politics is something Simmons has always used in his previous campaigns for the state house.

I saw Banotai shortly after she was impersonated, and she was quite shaken.

The impersonation was eventually removed. Then Banotai herself was caught suggesting, as a joke, that Simmons be featured on a billboard as a member of Hitler youth. She made her comment in a text message she shared with a small group of friends. Except one of them was not her friend.

Next thing you know, Justin Simmons was playing the victim card everywhere he could, and was demanding that Banotai step down.

What happened to her is what often happens in sports. Someone gives you a shot when the ref's attention is elsewhere. You respond, and he's suddenly paying attention.

Rather than abandoning her party on the eve of an election, Banotai hung in there. She's stepping down now, on her own terms. She can fault herself for failing to elect a Republican as Lehigh County Executive or Allentown mayor. But it could be worse. Those seats were already Democratic. In NorCo, the Executive and four Council seats turned blue. While General Lee is draining the swamp, Democrats now have control of the Executive and Council.

Banotai's resignation:

It is with both sadness and pride that I notify you of my intention to resign my position as Chair of the Lehigh County Republican Committee effective immediately. It has been a great honor to serve as the Chair of this committee. I will always cherish the support I received from members of this committee when I was elected to serve as Chair in 2016.

I want to congratulate Marc Grammes, Tom Creighton, Percy Dougherty and Melissa Pavlack for their successful campaigns. I am certain they will serve the citizens of Lehigh County with great distinction.

Like you, I am also deeply saddened by the other results from Tuesday's elections. Lehigh County Republicans were ably represented by strong standard-bearers for our values and beliefs by Commissioner Brad Osborne and by Nat Hyman. Both of them put all of their energies and heart into their campaigns.

Sadly, based on unprecedented results from neighboring counties, Northampton, Bucks and Montgomery where Republican candidates were also wiped out practically across the board, they likely ran into the jaws of a wave election. This happens sometimes and there are certainly issues that will need to be addressed both locally and nationally by dedicated Republicans as a result of the lessons learned last night.

I truly wish that I could have helped this committee spearhead recapturing both the County Executive's seat and the Mayor's office in Allentown. Your hard work, dedication and tenacity are the backbone of the Lehigh County Republican Committee and I applaud you.

While I have had my differences with some of you, it is my sincerest hope that we can leave those in the past. I look forward to continuing to support the Committee's efforts, just not as Chair.

I wish you all and Vice Chair Sean Gill great success in the future.