Saturday, December 30, 2017

Dieruff Stuns Nazareth Blue Eagles in Wild Game

ACCHS's Chad Kratzer, Dat Lambert and
Jordan McChristian scouted their oppoents
What makes Dieruff's boys' basketball team so entertaining is that you never know what is going to happen. It is always going to be a wild game, both on and off the court. That's precisely what happened tonight when the Huskies hosted the overconfident Nazareth Blue Eagles. Dieruff won the game, 64 to 56.

Right from the National Anthem, I knew we were in for a teat. The announcer basically gave a "Make America Great Again" speech right before it was played, and invited everyone to sing along. I thought he'd finish with "God Bless Donald Trump."

Fans were also warned about cursing and were told the building would be locked after halftime. 

Nazareth is ranked higher that Dieruff and apparently thought they were going to have an easy night. And that's the way things looked at first. But Dieruff, a very scrappy team, hung in there, and started cooking in the second quarter. That's when Chico White and CJ Richardson began to take control under the boards. Will Melson and Justin Rockmore could streak down the court faster than most teams. But their deadliest weapon is #1, Honor Huff. He's the shortest player I've seen in the Lehigh Valley, but can kill you from beyond the arc. 

Will Melson fouled out during the game, drawing protests from the Dieruff coaches. Four Nazareth players fouled out, too, which had Nazareth coach Joe Arndt apoplectic. I thought they'd have to wheel him out of there.

Since Central Catholic will be playing both of these teams, a number of players played scout.   

ACCHS Beats PMW to Win Christmas Tournament

ACCHS Boys Varsity Basketball Squad, 2017-18
In a weekend filled with Christmas basketball tournaments all over the Lehigh Valley, Allen's 62-52 victory over Emmaus was the one that garnered most local interest. But just over a mile away, another game was going on at Rockne Hall that had all the feel of an EPC playoff game. That's because Pocono Mountain West (PMW), rated Number 3 in Lehigh Valley Basketball's 12/20 power rankings, was squaring off against the Allentown team ranked second. It's not Allen. It's not Dieruff. It's Allentown Central Catholic. The Vikings, which failed to even qualify for the EPC playoffs last year, had an 8-0 record going into the game against the Panthers. That record is now 9-0.

MVP Jay Vaughan and All-tournament Dat Lambert
Central, a team known for its shots beyond the arc, nailed 10 from downtown last night, but only after a slow start. It looked at first as though the Panthers might run away with the game.  Kevin Kern (9 points) was getting a lot of pressure under the boards from PMW Senior Travis Elmore, who led both teams in scoring for the night with 24 points, including 10 buckets and 4 free throws.

Ordinarily, Kern could look for help from Keyshawn "the beast" Kellman. But he's been sidelined by a back injury, so it was up to John Mickley and Dennis Csenscits to help.

All tournament Travis Elmore and Lee Mosley
When PMW spread itself out to prevent the 3-point shot, Central just went inside and drew fouls. Dat Lambert scored 10 of his 22 points with free throws and still managed to sink two from beyond the arc and two field goals.

While PMW keyed in on Lambert and PG Jay Vaughan, Sophomore Nick Filchner sunk 5 from downtown. Junior Sam Vaughan and Senior Jordan McChristian added two more apiece

Just two points separated these two teams after three quarters, but that's when PMW started getting into foul trouble with Lambert, Filchner and Chad Kratzer

If last night's game proves anything, it's that Allentown Central Catholic is a real threat this year  They may stumble at times, as all high school kids tend to do.

Scoring:

ACCHS: Lambert -22, Filchner - 19, McChristian - 11, Kern - 9, S. Vaughan - 6, J. Vaughan -  4, Kratzer - 4.

PMW: T Elmore -24, S Ernest - 14, Lee Mosley -11, Josiah Burns -8, Haybert Louche - 4, Ishyne Pilgrim - 3, Joseph Kidney - 2.

J. Vaughan to D.Lambert three-point:

Friday, December 29, 2017

ACCHS Christmas Tournament Continues Tonight


Last night's games:

5:30PM Pocono Mountain West (4-1) defeated Notre Dame Green Pond (5-3) by a convincing 68-43 score. Despite being smaller, the scrappy Crusaders won the battle of rebounds. But both teams were missing a lot. But it is hard to match the sheer athleticism and speed of Pocono Mountain West.

7:30PM Freire Charter (2-6) as annihilated by ACCHS (8-0), 79-56. Senior Jay Vaughan was unconscious in the first half, the team had 11 from beyond the arc, with 5 coming from Vaughan. By the time the first half was over, he had 23 points, and Coach Dennis Csensits rested him most of the second half. Dat Lambert had 13, including two from downtown. He also had 4 assists, 3 steals and three rebounds. Nick Filchner and Chad Kratzer had excellent games, but I neglected to get their point totals. Central only scored six points in the final quarter.

Tonight's games:

5:30PM Consolation Game between Notre Dame and Freire Charter.

7:30PM Championship Game between Pocono Mountain West and Allentown Central. - Will discipline, stingy defense and accurate shooting trump blinding speed, size and sheer athleticism? We'll find out.

The Morning Call's premier sports journalist, Keith Groller, covered this game and will have a detailed report. This is just a fan's take.

I said yesterday that I'd be handing out autographed pictures of myself for $25. I had no takers, so I'm increasing the price to $100.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

ACCHS Christmas Tournament Starts Tonight


As The Morning Call's Keith Groller reported on Christmas Eve, Allentown Central Catholic usually travels over the Christmas holiday to play in a few boys' varsity basketball games.But this year, they're staying out, and why not? Rockne Hall is one of Allentown's seven wonders. Its hardwood floors have beckoned ballers from Notre Dame Green Pond, Pocono Mountain West and Freire Academy in Philly.

Tonight:
5:30PM Pocono Mountain West (3-1) vs. Notre Dame Green Pond (5-2)
7:30PM Freire Charter (2-5) vs. ACCHS (7-0)

Friday:
5:30PM Consolation Game
7:30PM Championship Game

Former Central Catholic and Princeton standout Gabe Lewullis, now an orthopedic surgeon, will be the special guest. I will also be handing out autographed pictures of myself for $25.

Updated: McClure to Announce Cabinet Picks January 4

For weeks, rumors about Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure's cabinet picks have been swirling around the courthouse and this blog. I contacted him yesterday, and he told me he has made some selections. He plans to announce them on January 4.

From the Brown staff, he is keeping Attorney Dave Ceraul on the Solicitor's staff, even though Ceraul was a Brown contributor. My guess is that McClure has a personal relationship with this slate belt lawyer that transcends partisan politics. He also plans to hold onto Mark Hartney, a Deputy Director in Community and Economic Development. Hartney is a relatively recent hire and appears to be apolitical.

The only appointment I know of for sure is in Fiscal Affairs. Steve Barron, the current Controller, will take control of that department. I had to waterboard him, but Barron eventually talked.

Barron will obviously have to resign as Controller if he is confirmed by Council. They will have 30 days to appoint Barron's replacement.

The day after the election, Peter Melan was reportedly on the phone, asking Council members to support him. Melan had served just one year on Easton City Council when he announced that he was running for Northampton County Council. He nearly ran for Executive. After a mega kickoff at the swanky Grand Eastonian, he did nothing. He just disappeared. The only time he's been at Northampton County Council was to sit with the DaVinci fish tank cheerleaders. I think his appointment would be a mistake, but that call is above my paygrade.

As for other cabinet positions, I have no definite knowledge.

Yes, I've heard the rumor that Charles Dertinger will be the next Administrator, but do not know that to be fact. Dertinger and I have crossed swords many times over the years, which means he's probably be pretty good in that role. He has never thrown me off the courthouse roof like Jim Hickey did, but I'm a lot heavier now. If he takes this job, it's not for the money. He makes a very good living managing construction projects in the Big Apple. If he takes the job, it will be out of respect and admiration for McClure, with whom he is close.

I've also been told that Ken Kraft will be the next Administrator. Though he's another proper bastard, I believe he will be the next Council President.

As far as the Sheriff's appointment is concerned, McClure plans to follow the process set forth in the Administrative Code. The position will be advertised, and after reviewing applications, McClure will send a list of the top three names to the President Judge. The Court will rank them and has the option of adding additional names. Then, after consultation with the judges, McClure will make his selection, which must be confirmed by Council.

Bethlehem Police Chief, Mark DiLuzio, has already ruled out the Sheriff's job. Chief Deputy Christopher Zieger, who appears to have earned the respect of fellow deputies and the courts, would be the obvious choice. But he'd have to surrender his career service status, and I doubt he's ready to take that chance at this point.

Will Missy Rudas be Northampton County's first woman solicitor? We'll find out next week. She searched titles at the county in her college and law school years. I actually worked with her, and she is extremely knowledgeable about the County and has the respect of the judges.

Will Nuria DiLuzio be Northampton County's first public defender? She is another excellent attorney with a good reputation. But one question that's sure to arise is whether she has a conflict. She is married to Bethlehem's Chief of Police. Will she and her office have to recuse themselves from all matters involving that department? I am unaware of any ethical guidance in Pa., but this situation has been addressed in Arizona. The state bar there calls for a case-by-case determination. Obviously, the potential for a conflict would be greatest in a case in which Chief DiLuzio is directly involved, but that appears unlikely.

At the jail, McClure said he's reviewing the administrative structure, and believes that the person in charge should be called a warden.

Update 11:20 am:  I have been informed by a highly placed member of McClure's transition team that Scott Parsons has been offered the position of Deputy Director of Public Works, and has accepted.Parsons is a former member of NorCo Council. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

What Will McClure Do As NorCo Exec?

Unlike the President, newly elected county executives give no inaugural speeches. Perhaps they should. Common wisdom is that elected executives are judged by what they get done during their first 100 days in office. NorCo Executive Lamont McClure, who will start his term of office on January 2, has explained what he intends to do in an op-ed published in The Morning Call. As he explains it, his top priority is the selection of a cabinet that will help him pursue his broader goals of protecting seniors and youth, preserving the county's diminishing supply of open space and creating an economic environment that attracts and retains jobs. He also believes it's time to treat county workers with dignity.

Did you know that an employee in Northampton County's Civil Division makes $3 an hour less than his and her counterparts in Lehigh County? Not only is this worker paid less, but the benefits are worse, too. I know this because the employees know this. They know lots of things.

McClure's greatest resource - the employee - is at his fingertips. That's where he'll find the best suggestions on how to get things done. Fortunately, he knows this, unlike his predecessor.

Jim Hunter is Staying at NorCo

Jim Hunter is currently NorCo Exec John Brown's Director of Fiscal Affairs. He distinguished himself there as brutally honest, yet accessible and affable. Yet as a former athlete, Jim understands better than most that Executive Lamont McClure is entitled to his own team once he assumes office.

But Hunter is staying. Not as Director of Fiscal Affairs, but in a position where he will be able to order attorneys around and demand that they be in three places at once.

That's because Judge Emil Giordano has hired Hunter as a tipstaff. Jim's salary will drop precipitously, but he will get full medical benefits.

Hunter brought his grandson to work yesterday. This young man just happens to be the ball boy for Easton High School's boys varsity basketball team. He was proudly wearing a badge that Northampton County sheriffs gave him. He said his favorite person is his Poppy.

"If you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?" I asked.

"Play basketball," he answered without hesitation.

His father, Ben Childs, is the coach at Easton, and  has turned the team around. They are young, and in two years, will be the team to beat.

Childs is Hunter's son-in-law, so Jim goes to all the games. But he is secretly a Central Catholic High School fan.

In an effort to get Hunter fired before he starts, something I've never done before, I relayed all this information to Judge Giordano. He's a huge Bethlehem Catholic fan, where his 19' tall son Caden plays both baseball and basketball. 

But the Judge had already done a background check and is hiring Hunter anyway. "I've decided to overlook this obvious flaw," said Giordano.

Hunter incidentally lives in Pen Argyl. If you ever visit that slate belt oasis, you may notice a peculiar odor. It's not coming from the landfill. It just means Hunter is home.             

Who's replacing Hunter? It's no secret that McClure intends to nominate Steve Barron, the County's current Controller, as the finance maven. If confirmed, Barron's salary will increase substantially from the current $65,000 per year. Hunter is currently paid $93,000.

Barron is a graduate of Freedom High School, where he claims to have played football  I understand he is now an accomplished Irish dancer, and plans to perform Riverdance when McClure is sworn in.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Dent: Loyalty to Trump New Litmus Test For GOP

Back in August, Charlie Dent participated in a panel discussion of the food and beverage industry following a tour of Hanover Township's amazing Freshpet facility. He was very much a Republican. He favored a corporate tax cut from 35% to about 20% as well as "clearing out some of the regulatory underbrush" that can make life difficult for an expanding business.

At that time, I asked Dent him about NorCo GOP Chair Gloria "General" Lee Snover, who participated in an anti-Dent rally and basically attacked his personal integrity.

At that time, Dent told me that there's a new litmus test for Republicans in office. You are wither loyal to Authoritarian Donald Trump or you're not. If you support him, you can take whatever position you want. But if you oppose him for his disgusting style, his fear-mongering and thinly disguised racism, you're no good.

Dent has now said the same thing to ABC's "This Week." "Before Donald Trump became president, the litmus test for Republicans was— it was really about the ideological purity and conformity. Now the litmus test has changed. The issue is loyalty to the man.”

Thanks to General Lee and political opportunists like Justin "Absent" Simmons, the Pa. 15th Congressional District will go blue in 2018 when John Morganelli, another centrist, enters the race.

NorCo Council's 2017 Workhorses, Showhorses and No-Showhorses

Who are Northampton County Council's workhorses, show horses and no-showhorses in 2017? What is their attendance, including Committee participation, where most of the real work is done?

This is my annual report card, something I have done since 2006.

In 2016, Council's workhorse was Hayden Phillips. He had a 96% attendance record at all Council and Committee meetings. The no-showhorse was Glenn Geissinger, who had an appalling 54% attendance record so he could run for Congress, yet hypocritically contended at a Council debate that attendance is important. .

Both Phillips and Geissinger were swept out of office in 2017. I doubt many voters knew about their attendance. They were caught up in a blue wave of resentment against Donald Trump.

What about 2017?

Northampton County Council met 29 times last year, including 24 regular and 5 budget hearings. In addition, its committees met 50 times. Hayden Phillips' Capital Projects Committee met 8 times to deal with the county's nuts and bolts, its infrastructure. bridges to generators. Seth Vaughn's Human Services Committee met 9 times for periodic updates from Gracedale and other human services departments.  Peg Ferraro's Economic Development Committee huddled 9 times, mostly for repetitive updates from the DaVinci Science Center and its quest for public funding of a $130 million fishtank. Finance and Personnel remain the nuts-and bolts committees . Other committees that met were Matt Dietz' Parks and Open Space (7), Governance (2) and Courts and Corrections (1).

Each Council member is encouraged to attend committees, regardless whether he or she is a voting member. The committees that do meet are an indication of what issues concern Council members. This Council appears to be very concerned about county bridges, funding DaVinci and our responsibility to help those in need.

It's hard to argue with these priorities.

I have graded each council member based on his attendance of the 79 committee and full council meetings. If participation is by phone, I have decided to count it since the member can vote. If a Council member is only present for part of a meeting, or participates in a combined meeting of two committees, I count him as present at both.
Hayden Phillips, one of NorCo's workhorses of the year
Based on this system, this year there was an unusual tie for workhorse of the year. Both the Colonel, Hayden Phillips, and Council President John Cusick had perfect attendance this year.  Each attended every one of Council's 79 meetings.

Bob Werner, who was sidelined at times by a family illness, still managed to punch in for 74 of 79 meetings this year for a 94% attendance record. A liberal Democrat, Werner has worked closely with Phillips and has tried to avoid partisanship.

From these top three the attendance record begins to slack off. The remaining Council member report cards are as follows: Matt Dietz - 76% (60/79); Mat Benol - 75% (59/79); Seth Vaughn - 72% (57/79);Peg Ferraro - 71% (56/79); Glenn Geissinger - 71% (56/79); and Ken Kraft - 67% 53/79.

So Kraft is the no-show horse of the year, which is hardly an encouraging sign from someone who is supposed to take over as President of Council in 2018.  He is the only Council member with a failing attendance grade, but he has been plagued by two problems. He had a number of medical procedures last year, and in fact attended one meeting at which he should have stayed home because he was trying to talk with a broken nose. He also admitted that his work schedule this year was hectic, and included one session that conflicted with a committee meeting. Neither his bosses nor committee chair was willing to change the time. 

Vaughn likes to claim he has a perfect attendance record, but that's false. He has managed to attend more meetings, but mostly by phoning it in. In 2016, he missed the one meeting of the year that should be a must for every Council member - the vote on Budget amendments. When I confronted him over this, his response was, "So what? Who cares? I'll still win the election next year, pal."

I created a Facebook page to remind voters of his prediction right before the election.

Like the other Republicans, he was swept out of office by an anti-Trump surge. But my Facebook page reached  1,742 people in the three days before the election. I doubt it helped him.

Here's the breakdown.

Capital Projects (8 meetings): Hayden Phillips, Chair; - 8; Bob Werner - 7; Mat Benol - 7; John Cusick -8; Peg Ferraro - 3;  Matt Dietz - 7; Seth Vaughn - 3; Ken Kraft -0..

Courts and Corrections (1 meetings): Mat Benol, Chair; - 1;  Bob Werner - 1; John Cusick -1; Hayden Phillips - 1: Peg Ferraro - 1;  Matt Dietz - 1; Seth Vaughn - 1: Ken Kraft - 0; Glenn Geissinger -0.

Governance (2 meetings): John Cusick, Chair, - 2; Hayden Phillips - 2: Seth Vaughn -1; Bob Werner - 2; Matt Dietz - 2; Ken Kraft - 0; Peg Ferraro -0; Mat Benol - 1; Glenn Geissinger - 0.

Human Services (9 meetings): Seth Vaughn, Chair -9; Matt Dietz - 8; Mat Benol - 9; Hayden Phillips - 9; Bob Werner - 9; John Cusick - 9; Glenn Geissinger - 9; Ken Kraft - 9; Peg Ferraro - 4.

Parks and Open Space (7 meetings): Matt Dietz, Chair - 5; Bob Werner - 6; John Cusick - 6; Hayden Phillips - 5; Seth Vaughn - 3 (1 by phone); Peg Ferraro - 3 (1 by phone); Glenn Geissinger - 2; Mat Benol -1; Ken Kraft - 1.

Economic Development (9 meetings): Peg Ferraro, Chair - 9, Ken Kraft - 7; Seth Vaughn - 7; John Cusick - 9; Hayden Phillips - 9, Matt Dietz - 8; Bob Werner - 8; Glenn Geissinger - 4; Mat Benol -0.

Personnel and Finance (11 combined meetings): Ken Kraft - 8; Peg Ferraro - 8, Mat Benol - 10, Glenn Geissinger - 11, John Cusick -11, Bob Werner - 11; Hayden Phillips - 11; Matt Dietz - 11, Seth Vaughn - 6. [Since these are combined meetings, I consider attendance at one as attendance at both].

Council meetings (24 meetings) John Cusick - 23/24; Peg Ferraro - 22/24; Ken Kraft - 21/24; Bob Werner - 22/24; Matt Dietz - 23/24; Glenn Geissinger - 21/24; Hayden Phillips - 24/24; Seth Vaughn - 24/24; Mat Benol - 24/24.

Budget Hearings (5 meetings) Seth Vaughn 3/5 (2 by phone), Matt Dietz 5/5 (2 by phone), All other Council members were physically present for all five budget hearings.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Bethlehem Township's Top Administrators to Get Payhike

Melissa Shafer
On Monday, when Bethlehem Township Commissioner adopted the 2018 budget, they also included some nice raises for the township's top two administrators. Manager Melissa Shafer, employed with the Township since 2014, will see her salary go up from $105,000 to $115,000. Assistant Manager Doug Bruce, who has been at the Township since 2004, will see his salary increased from $72,472 to $87,500. He is also being promoted to Director of Administration.

Someone complained anonymously, "THE REAL PROBLEM I HAVE IS THE $10,000.00 RAISE BOTH THE MANAGER AND ASSISTANT MANAGER GOT. $10,000.00 EACH. AND THIS WAS ADDED AFTER THE PUBLIC BUDGET MEETINGS. SOMETIME BETWEEN NOVEMBER AND MONDAY NIGHT THEY WERE BOTH GIVEN $10,000.00 RAISES AND YOU PEOPLE ARE CRYING ABOUT CALLING A LIAR A LIAR ! WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE? HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN WITHOUT INFORMING THE PUBLIC. AM GOING TO ASK BERNIE TO LOOK INTO THIS. TALK ABOUT YOUR BACK DOOR DEALING. AND SHAFER AND DAVIS KEEP SPOUTING TRANSPARENCY. WHERE THE TRANSPARENCY HERE ?"

There certainly is no transparency in $10,000 raises slipped into a budget after the final hearing. But when someone posts anonymously and uses the CAPSLOCK button, those are two red flags. What I have learned is that both Administrators received the raises claimed, but in an open and transparent process. Moreover, the raises are overdue.

According to a 2016 salary study of Lehigh Valley township and borough managers, the following compensation packages (salary plus benefits) were being paid: Bethlehem Tp- $101,400; Emmaus - $84,718; Forks - $99,184; Hanover (NorCo) - $121,771; Lower Macungie - $121,206; Lower Saucon - $84,496; North Whitehall - $107,186; Palmer - $104,887; Salisbury - $103,043; South Whitehall- $108,604; Upper Macungie - $128,974; Upper Saucon - $95,093; and Whitehall - $86,331. Bethlehem Township is exceeded in population only by Whitehall and Lower Macungie.

According to several Commissioners, another municipality had offered Doug Bruce a Township Manager position, and at a higher salary than he currently receives. They wanted him to stay, and also realized that Shafer is underpaid compared to smaller Lehigh Valley communities.

The proposal to increase salaries was made prior to the final budget hearing, and all Commissioners supported the raise. No one spoke against it.

The increases were a part of the advertised budget. So you could say that the salaries are too high, but this was done with complete transparency and no objection.

For what it's worth, I think it was the right decision.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hanover Holds Line on Taxes For Ninth Straight Year

Blogger's Note: Because I was sidelined by basketball, I was unable to tell you about Hanover Township's final meeting of the year on Tuesday night. Fortunately, Agent 25 was there. Below is his/her report, lightly edited.

Mark Tanczos commended by John Diacogiannis
Hanover Township (Northampton County) Supervisors, at their final meeting of the year on December 19, adopted a 2018 budget that will maintain a stable tax rate and spare residents a tax hike.

The millage rate, which has remained the same since 2008 and includes a fire tax of 0.5 mills, will hold steady at 3.90 mills. The township is expected to receive $2.1 million from property taxes next year. The Earned Income Tax and local Services Tax will be 1 percent and $52, respectively. The balanced general fund is estimated to have $8.6 million on hand in 2018, which represents a $20,579.00 decrease from last year.

In other business, the board unanimously passed an ordinance establishing a Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights provides taxpayers with a procedure to contest the imposition of Act 511 taxes if they believe they were unfairly charged. The ordinance covers the Per Capita Tax, Business Privilege Tax and the Earned Income Tax.

H.A. Berkheimer, Inc. collects the township’s Per Capita and Business Privilege taxes. Keystone Collections Group collects residents’ Earned Income Taxes. Residents can request a copy of their rights from the collection agencies, at no charge, according to the ordinance.
If one of the collection agencies decides that a resident owes additional taxes, it must inform residents in writing why it reached the decision, including the amount due and the legal grounds for the decision.

If it is determined that a resident owes additional taxes or if a resident’s request for a tax refund is denied, the resident can file a petition with Keystone or Berkheimer to appeal the decision.

The board also passed unanimously an ordinance rewarding volunteer firefighters with tax credits, similar to an ordinance adopted in Bethlehem Tp.

Joan Rosenthal honored for her service. 
The Board recognized Vice Chairman Mark J. Tanczos for his service to the Township. Supervisor Tanczos decided not to seek reelection this past November. Mr. Tanczos served on the Township’s Planning Commission from June 21, 1993 as Vice Chair 2000-2002 and Chair 2002-2008. In 2008 he was appointed to the Board to fill the unexpired term of Dr. Frank Colon and was elected to an additional term.

Finally, the Board recognized Joan R. Rosenthal for her service to the Township. Mrs. Rosenthal is stepping down from the Zoning Hearing Board at the end of the year. Mrs. Rosenthal served on the Hanover Township Planning Commission from October 9, 1979 through October 21, 1984; on the Hanover Township Zoning Hearing Board from January 3, 1984 through January 27, 1987; and again May 23, 2000 through December 31, 2017. She was also a member of the Board of Supervisors from January 27, 1987 through January 3, 2010.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What Do You Think of the Tax Reform Bill?

I've been reluctant to weigh in on the GOP tax plan that will almost certainly be enacted today. Real details only emerged late last week, and it has been difficult finding stories that are more factual than they are slanted. NPR has a nice comparison of the difference between the current plan and what is being proposed.

The proposal does reduce the corporate tax rate, and I've read that it benefits the wealthiest most of all. But it actually seems to help middle-income and low-income Americans, too, at least in the short term.

Matt Cartwright (Pa. 17th) voted against the bill for two reasons.

First, he is offended by the lack of transparency. He's right, but the very same lack of transparency existed when Obamacare was enacted)

Second, Cartwright believes with some justification that the bill does little to discourage multinational corporations from moving jobs overseas. Cartwright observes that when Trump ran for President, he pledged to impose a 35% import tax rate on businesses that move jobs overseas. But he's unable to find this in the finals bill.

Charlie Dent (Pa. 15th) voted for the bill because he thinks It will provide real tax relied, which in turn will lead to the creation of jobs.

"Tax data show that nearly 70 percent of the taxpayers in the 15th Congressional district of Pennsylvania do not itemize on their federal tax returns," he noted in a statement. "That makes the near doubling of the standard deduction ($12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples), tied to lower income tax rates, a great benefit to the overwhelming majority of them.”

Dent noted that the typical family of four, earning the median family income of $73,000, will receive a tax cut of $2,059. He also applauded the doubling of the Child Tax Credit and the provision that raised the fully refundable portion of the credit to $1,400.

Though this is rushed legislation, which always means trouble, I like aspects of this bill. It's a shame everything is so partisan. I think both sides could hammer out something that serves the American people, if they try.

That's why they are there.

Unfortunately, the tax cuts for individuals are only temporary.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

NorCo's Failing Elder-Abuse Grade

Back in August, when he was running for Northampton County Executive, Lamont McClure called a news conference to discuss Human Services vacancies that endanger children and the elderly. Aside from one bottom-feeding blogger, the mainstream media turned up its nose. It refused to dirty its dainty little hands covering a story that might have political overtones.

Well, as it happens, McClure was right on the money. According to the state Department of Aging, Northampton County gets a failing grade in its handling of elder-abuse complaints.

Now that the election is over, the mainstream thinks it's safe enough to tell you what is going on.

A responsible press informs the electorate about issues.

Bethlehem Tp Approves No-Tax-Hike Budget

In their final meeting of the year last night, Bethlehem Tp Commissioners voted 4-0 to adopt a 2018 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.

The vote was 4-0 because Commissioner Howard Kutzler was absent.

In another 4-0 vote, Commissioners ordained a tax exemption of up to $1,000 in earned income tax for volunteer firefighters. This is permitted under recent changes to state law aimed at helping municipalities to retain dwindling numbers of volunteer firefighters and other first responders.

Thanks to brilliant advocacy by prominent Easton Attorney Chuck Bruno, plans for a 400,000 sq ft flex building off Hecktown Road were approved. The property is a 28-acre tract, located mostly in Lower Nazareth Township, along Commerce Park Drive near the Route 33 exit. Bethlehem Township officials had concerns about drainage, but those were addressed by principal Lewis Ronca. This project had been recommended by both the Planning Commission and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

Ronca told me he's moving Martin Tower there.

Commissioners also approved the following police promotions: Shaun Powell, from CPL to SGT; and Officer Jeremy Anderson, from OFC to CPL. Both of these officers are heavily involved in community outreach, and I hope to tell you more about them when they are officially sworn in.

The meeting ended in a debate over, of all things the field use policy at township parks. Commissioners voted 3-1, with Mike Hudak dissenting, to revoke the current field use policy and replace it in a few weeks.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Jim Hickey Should Be Exiled.

Jim Hickey
Last week, former Northampton County Administrator Jim Hickey entered a guilty plea to two counts in a federal corruption case aimed at Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski and Reading's former Mayor, Vaughn Spencer. Under the deal, he could be sentenced to 18 months in the slammer. But I know Hickey, and he's a miserable bastard like me. He can do 18 months standing on his head while monkeys throw shit balls at him. He'd probably even like it and ask for more time. Jailing him is the worst thing the feds could do. He's a frickin' Druid, for Christ's sake! A Merlin! The last place to put him is in a prison where he will unite the Aryan Brotherhood, Crips and Nuestra Familia into an unholy alliance that will make the Penguin look like a boy scout.

Do what should Judge Sanchez do? A firing squad would be more appropriate, but bullets just go right through him. The best bet would be to exile him to a despised country like New Jersey, provided a steady supply of priests are on hand for the inevitable exorcisms that will be necessary for the rest of the population.

Hickey's very surname should tip you off. It's an Anglicization of the Gaelic ilchruthach, which means he comes from a long line of shape shifters. He could be Glenn Reibman one minute, Don Cunningham the next, then himself.

Hickey got his start in the US Navy, where he wrote safety manuals on how to avoid accidents on the high seas. While there, he met his wife Carla in a discussion about, of all things, Irish writer James Joyce.

I first got to know him when he was Glenn Reibman's Director of Administration. I'd pass by him on my way inside. He'd be outside by his Death Star, smoking seven cigarettes simultaneously with two cell phones going off nonstop and all kinds of wires coming out of his head.

He and I were on opposite sides during the debate over Reibman's $110 million bond. A group of five citizens that included yours truly challenged it in court, and won.

It was the first time in my life that anyone took me seriously.

Hickey's response? A $111 million bond. We fought that one, too, but lost.

During this debate, Hickey and I clashed constantly. In his Jim Hickey Belongs in the Hall of Fame column, The Morning Call's Bill White mentions one profanity-laced tirade that Hickey directed at me in the hallway outside a Council meeting. In fact, Council stopped the meeting so they could listen to it.

Me: I'll never join you!
Hickey: If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Ron Angle never told you what happened to your father.
Me: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Hickey: No. I am your father.
Me: No...no. That's not true. That's impossible!
Hickey: Search your feelings, you know it to be true!
Me: Noooo! Nooooo!

Then he cut off my arm and threw me off the courthouse roof, which explains why the parking lot needed work.

After one particularly nasty session, I gut a call from him early one morning. He was fishing, and thought of me for some reason.

Maybe he was cleaning his catch.

But he and I became friends.

As I got to know him better, I learned that Hickey is very loyal to his friends, even when it hurts him. One of those friends was Mike Fleck. I know him to be honest, so much so that he turned down two bribes while in the public arena. He is also brutally honest with people. One day he told me, "I think I've finally gone too far."

"Why?"

"I just told Judge Moran to go fuck himself."

Gotta' agree there, but that's Jim. He likes to talk badass, which is probably why the feds were so hot for him.

But the truth is completely different. 

He and his wife Carla have raised three fine sons, which really is the ultimate achievement. He goes to their football games, even the ones in Canada.

Newspapers throughout the state should have pooled resources to contribute to his defense, if only because a trial would have resulted in a supply of colorful quotes that could be used until the next century. But here in America, justice is available only to those with money or a good lawyer. Hickey has no money. He spent it all on campaign contributions. He was lucky enough to get a good lawyer. But the feds knew it and were trying to disqualify him.

He is a good man,and I am honored to call him my friend. 

Lower Saucon Tp Agenda, Back-Up Docs, Now Available Online

Lower Saucon Township has joined the growing number of municipalities that include background information for Council agenda's on the township's website. Lehigh County, Allentown and Bethlehem have been doing this for some time. Northampton County and Bethlehem Township started making this information available within the last year. Easton posts unfinished business and bending legislation.

Priscilla deLeon spearheaded the effort in Lower Saucon. "I feel residents can only ask questions if provided with information," she said.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Tidd Exonerated by Judicial Discipline Court

Until he resigned in July 2016, David Tidd was Magisterial District Judge in Hellertown and Lower Saucon Township. It was a position he had held since 2009. He should be there now. But he stepped down because of a distracting investigation and eventual complaint filed by officious lawyers on the Judicial Conduct Board. Chief Counsel Robert Graci and his Deputy, Elizabeth Flaherty, had painted a bull's eye on Tidd's back. They were all-too-willing to accept the word of clerks who had tried and nearly succeeded in setting up a good man. Fortunately, the Court of Judicial Discipline saw things differently. Except for one instance in which Tidd angrily confronted his staff, the Court found no merit in any of the numerous other accusations.

Tidd was represented by West Chester Attorney Samuel C. Stretton. The judges on this panel were Allegheny County Magisterial District Judges David Barton, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart and Lackawanna County President Judge Michael Barrasse.

This ordeal took its toll on Tidd. In addition to resigning as a Magisterial District Judge, he also moved his law practice to Berks County.

He still faces a potential parallel complaint with the state Disciplinary Board, but Friday's ruling makes that far less likely. .

Though exonerated by the Court of Judicial Discipline, Tidd was convicted by the Express Times long ago. Here are some of the headlines. "Bully judge dropped F-bombs, slept on floor in robes, panel finds." "Misconduct trial starts for ex-judge who ran 'fast food' court." "Bully judge ignored warnings about misconduct, clerk testifies." "Work was 'intolerable' with judge's cursing, abuse, clerk testifies." "Judge held clerks 'against our will' in confrontation, witness says." "Disgraced judge admits regrets, suicidal thoughts, but not misconduct."

As if this were not bad enough, he was also accused of playing favorites with a local defense lawyer.

Headlines are one thing, but facts are another. As the 32-page opinion below makes clear, Tidd was victimized by office staffer Brenda Anthony, who for some reason had it in for him. You'll have to ask her why. Tidd even hired her daughter, Amber Glass, to work for him. Tidd lent his staff money, too. But behind his back, Brenda Anthony was talking to Tidd's election opponent, feeding him confidential information. This is in violation of a ban on partisan political activity by court-appointed employees. She and Amber kept notes about Tidd, and would save video clips from within the office if they were juicy, while deleting everything else. They even scheduled hearings for him on election day, forcing him to leave the campaign trail.

They dimed him for sleeping on his robe without bothering to point out that he used his robe as a pillow to take a nap one day because of a serious medical illness.

He was slammed for running a "fast food" court, dispensing justice from his office counter. But as witnesses explained, Tidd never conducted trials from a counter. He did sometimes ask a police officer or a defendant of there was going to be a plea arrangement. His function there was mostly administrative and had more to do with being in confined quarters than any desire for a judicial McDonald's.

He was also accused of playing favorites by notifying a local defense lawyer he knew of outstanding parking tickets so he could come in and pay the fine before an arrest warrant was issued.  Testimony showed that Tidd offered this same courtesy to others.

He was charged with using his position as a judge to pick up work as a lawyer or to represent peiple who had matters before him as a jurist. Testimony showed that Tiidd sought and followed ethical guidance concerning anyone who approached him for representation when there was a matter before him as a judge. When there was a conflict, he'd have the judicial matter reassigned. One of the persons who testified against him was Leslie Ziegler, the wife of one of Tidd's judicial opponents in 2015."We find troubling the apparent motivation behind Ziegler's April, 2015 complaint concerning acts that occurred in 2010 and 2011," the Court observed.

So after being tarred and feathered, where does Tidd go to get his reputation back?

As of November, Brenda Anthony was still listed as a Magisterial District Judge Tech. Her daughter, Amber Glass, is a 911 operator.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Brown Does Go Out On a High Note After All

John Brown
Last night, Northampton County Council met for the last time this year. For four of them (Mat Benol, Glenn Geissinger, Hayden Phillips and Seth Vaughn) it was their last meeting, at least for now. As Council President John Cusick observed, "There are second acts in government." 

Seven of the nine Council members were there. Bob Werner, who is dealing with a family illness, was absent. Seth Vaughn, hardly known for his attendance, was also absent.

One of you said that Northampton County Exec John Brown had left for a long vacation, and we'd never see him again. But he was there, along with Administrator Cathy Allen and a few of his cabinet officials.

I was deeply concerned that Brown was intent on mischief. Just a week before, he asked Council to cut taxes a mill, which would throw his budget out of balance and require deficit spending. I had also discovered that, contrary to what he said on the campaign trail, he did meet secretly with Upper Nazareth Township officials on March 27 to pitch a jail at Gracedale. I was certain he would veto the budget, millage rate ordinance, or both.

But he didn't.

Ken Kraft had a broken nose
Earlier that day, Brown signed both the budget and millage rate ordinance. "The 2018 budget is balanced and balanced on its own revenue. We did not need to use any of the general revenue funds to balance the budget."

Going all the way back to 1982, Brown said this was the first time that the County has seen a budget that involved no deficit spending. When he came into office four years ago, he had to spend $19 million in cash reserves to balance the budget, but spent his time in office looking for operating efficiencies. He thanked his "team," as he likes to call his cabinet, and wished the new Council good luck.

Later that night, Solicitor Ryan Durkin complimented Brown's integrity and organizational skills. "You had a  hell of an Executive here," he said. 

At this meeting, departing Council members were presented with plaques thanking them for their dedicated public service, guidance and wisdom. ironically "dedicated" public servant Seth Vaughn was playing hooky so his plaque will be mailed.

Phillips, who is unfairly beating himself up over his loss, said he would "treasure" his four years.

Geissinger admitted to "mistakes along the way," which I've been all to happy to point out. He claimed to have learned, but after the meeting was over, he was already planning for his next election - challenging Lamont McClure for County Exec.

Benol claimed everyone is his friend and apparently even gave his decalogue to Ken Kraft, but I missed it because at this point, I was throwing up while these politicians all pretended to like each other

Ken Kraft came closest to the truth when he told fellow Council members, "You made my life a living hell."

Cusick thanked everyone and hinted a little that he'll be out as Council president next year. Ken Kraft is reportedly taking his place at the helm of County Council.

Kraft came to the meeting with a broken nose. His wife was seen earlier, running from the building and laughing. 

State Theatre's Denise Smith
In an indication that Council Solicitor Phil Lauer is getting fired, Council presented him with the "dedicated public service, guidance and wisdom" plaque. Lauer said that when he first came on board, he knew very little about County government. Now that he's finally figured it out, he's getting kicked out.

Lauer will likely be replaced by Bethlehem Attorney Chris Spadoni, so hide the $800 popcorn machine.

In other business, Council hired the Haviland Hughes law firm to pursue litigation against opioid manufacturers. I will have a more detailed story about this next week. I will be speaking to Lehigh County attorney Bill Platt, who is a member of that firm.

Finally, as it does every year, Council dipped unto its contingency fund for three worthy entities that were unable to make timely applications for grant awards.

* The State Theatre's Denise Smith asked for and got $20,000 to help the State update its ticketing system so that patrons can print out tickets online. "She's a money pit, but she's absolutely gorgeous," she said in reference to the State, not Executive Director Shelly Brown.

* "Because of a Dog" got a $5,000 grant for a kennel in Bethlehem to hold stray dogs. Because Bethlehem has no kennel, police officers lose time on patrol while taking dogs to temporary shelters.

* Stephens Place, a halfway house for nonviolent but addicted adult males who are reintegrating from prison to society, received $5,000.

DaVinci's Lin Erickson was also hovering at the meeting with her hand out again, but received no money last night.

Nothstein Pledges Self-Imposed Term Limit in Congressional Bid

FROM THE NOTHSTEIN FOR CONGRESS CAMPAIGN: - Conservative Republican Marty Nothstein has formally pledged to self-imposed term limits if elected to Congress for Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District.

Nothstein, a small businessman and Lehigh County commissioner, called term limits crucial in the effort to eliminate the problem of government gridlock created by career politicians.

“It's no secret that the longer our elected officials are in office, the more likely they are to become career politicians,” Nothstein said. “Term limits are the first step to getting rid of career politicians in Washington who end up working for big special interests instead of working for those back home. If elected, I promise to term limit myself to no more than 8 years. If it's good enough for the President then it's good enough for Congress."

He cited the current gridlock in Congress as a prime example of the dangers of returning career politicians to office for decades.

“I'm tired of career politicians telling us they are going to do something but then it never getting done,” Nothstein said. “There's no urgency in Congress because they are guaranteed their paycheck whether or not they get anything accomplished. I have lived my entire life setting goals and then working hard to achieve them. I will bring that same drive and determination if given the honor by voters of the 15th district.”

Nothstein said he would also favor and work toward a Constitutional Amendment to create term limits on members of Congress.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Brown Signs Budget, Millage Rate Ordinance

I was deeply concerned that outgoing NorCo Exec John Brown would veto the budget, millage rate ordinance or both. I have just learned that he signed them both. Based on his last-minute attempt to sabotage incoming Exec Lamont McClure with a tax cut, I fully expected the games would continue.

Freeman Wants to Expand State Insurance Fund For Medical Insurance

Whether you support or oppose Obamacare, I think just about everyone agrees that health insurance has simply become unaffordable. It's one of the biggest line items in both municipal and private sector budgets, and the costs just keep rising as hospitals multiply.

State Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, has introduced legislation that would make health insurance more affordable for Pennsylvanians by permitting the State Workers’ Insurance Fund to sell health insurance.

The State Workers' Insurance Fund provides a workers' compensation program for Pennsylvania businesses unable access workers' comp insurance in the private sector. It is only permitted to sell workers' compensation insurance. Freeman's bill would expand its offerings to include health insurance.

"[I]t would make a quality insurance product available to Pennsylvanians at a lower cost than current rates because of its lower administrative overhead, and it would create more competition within the health insurance market," Freeman said. "In addition, by making this available in the market, it would serve as a yardstick by which to measure the fairness of rates charged by private health insurance companies."

Freeman said this would be paid for with premiums to health care subscribers and a loan from the SWIF fund, which would be paid back.

His bill was just introduced yesterday, but has attracted four co-sponsors.

Some Brown Hires Want to Stay at NorCo

It started on Monday. Letters started arriving at the Northampton County Courthouse, informing numerous exempt employees that when John Brown leaves office, so should they. Unlike career service personnel, these are the cronies. They are here because of their connection to Brown or one of his cabinet officials. If they stay, Executive Lamont McClure will have to prepare for numerous knives in the back. But some of the people who came here under Brown want to stay. They've worked out deals so they can continue collecting a paycheck by taking career service and union jobs.

One of these is Deputy Director of Human Resources Michael Twining. He's the guy whom HR Director Amy "Toxic" Trapp sent to Las Vegas, and then to New Orleans, on the public dime. You may have seen him operating Trapp's $800 popcorn machine at the "wellness" fair.

The deal with Twining is to send him to take over Bill Hillanbrand's job at 911. Bill, unfortunately, retired. This position was advertised, and lo and behold, the only person qualified was none other than Twining. What a coincidence!

Here's what a reader tells me:

"My main concern is that fact Michael Twining is suddenly popping up as a supervisor at the 911 center. Myself and Mr. Twining went head to head on several issues during his time in HR and now he's going to be my supervisor. I fear retribution. Thanks in advance for any information you can provide on the legality of this process."

The other special arrangement is with Deputy Director of Public Works Landon Parker. He's going from there to a union position somewhere in the County.

This is contrary to tradition in Northampton County, but so far as I know, it is legal.

The problem that both Twining and Parker have is that they will be considered probationary employees. They have no property right to continued employment unless they successfully make it out of probation.

Brown's Detailed Plans For Gracedale Jail

Lexington jail
On the campaign trail, Northampton County Executive John Brown adamantly denied any plans to build a jail at Gracedale. He accused Lamont McClure, the man who beat him of fear-mongering. He derided my reports, collected over a period of one year, as "fake news." But as I told you yesterday, the truth is that Brown had a secret, two-hour long meeting with Upper Nazareth Supervisors on March 27 to lay out his plans for a jail at Gracedale. He only changed his tune when Upper Nazareth residents became alarmed.They have no interest in politics,but care about their children.

I looked through the 30-page power point that Brown (along with Administrator Cathy Allen, Corrections Director Dan keen, Public Works Director Stan Rugis and General Purpose Authority Solicitor John Lushis) presented to Upper Nazareth officials.

Brown went through several correctional facilities visited by Corrections Director Dan Keen. All had been designed by DLR, which just happens to be the firm he hired with a $72,000 no-bid contract to do a jail study.

Here's what he claimed it would look like from the front.


He also presented an aerial view that includes the new jail and Gracedale.


He told Supervisors that residents would barely be able to see t from the roadway. They'd never know it was there.


There was also a discussion of specific site issues like "integration" with the community, traffic mitigation,night lighting, a nice buffer and the clearance needed for a Medevac helicopter next door.


Minutes of the Upper Nazareth Supervisors indicate that this private meeting was not mentioned for nearly three months, but I've been informed that it was disclosed on several occasions in April.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board Approves 70-Unit Apartment Complex at Armory

Earlier this month, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board considered a request for a 70-unit apartment complex at the Armory on Second Avenue. Last night, the Board voted 3-0 to grant the dimensional variances sought. Voting in support were Bill Fitzpatrick, Jim Schantz and Attorney Mike Santanasto. Twoother members of the Board - Gus Loupos and Attorney Linda Shay Gardener - were unable to participate.

Because I was at a basketball game, I missed the deliberations and vote. But Agent 54 was there, and let me know what happened. he also provided a copy of a motion that Attorney Micahel Shay filed, seeking to strike the testimony of Darlene Heller. That motion was also denied, 3-0.

Shay argues that Heller was essentially acting as a witness for developer Michael Perrucci.

It's perfectly acceptable for a Planning Director to appear on behalf of a Planning Commission that is recommending variances. This ios expressly permitted by the Pa Municipalities Planning Code. In this case, she was there to relay the recommendation of the Planning Commission. But she went too far, injecting her own opinions about some of the testimony opposed to the variances. What I also find noteworthy is that whenever Heller does appear on behalf of a developer, it is Michael Perrucci.

Below is Shay's motion.

May Planning Director Testify in Support of Zoning Appeal by BernieOHare on Scribd

Brown Met Secretly With Upper Nazareth For Jail at Gracedale



One of the biggest issues in November's election was Executive John Brown's secret plans for a jail at Gracedale. Since September 2016, I had been warning you about this possibility. In September 2017, I told you that Brown himself had visited a dozen different locations, had ruled out a new jail at Easton, and had told Council he would build on a greenfield. In July, prison advisory board chair Dan Christenson called Gracedale a "great location." When I pressed Brown on the issue, he said only that zoning approval would be needed. He declined to rule it out. Even when a large group of Upper Nazareth residents invaded Council to complain, he refused to rule it out. He finally did so from his Facebook page in mid-October, when I'm sure he was told he was digging his own political grave. Brown claimed Lamont McClure was trying to scare people. He also repeatedly referred to these stories, most of which came from me, as "fake news." Brown went on to lose the election, this is all water over the dam now. But I learned last night that Brow had every intention of building a jail at Gracedale. His statements to the contrary are the "fake news."

Above you can see the cover page of a 30-page power point presentation that Brown gave to Upper Nazareth Supervisors in a closed-door session on March 27, outside the public spotlight. Under our toothless Sunshine Act, you can get away with keeping the public in the dark by claiming it is just information gathering.

Brown met with Supervisors for over two hours. Attending this secret meeting with him were Corrections Director Dan Keen, Administrator Cathy Allen, Public Works Director Stan Rugis and General Purpose Authority Solicitor John Lushis. His presence is an indication that Brown was considering a P3 financing mechanism for a $180 million jail.

I only have the cover page of the power point for now, but will have the whole thing by the end of the day. i wish I had this before the election..

I'm informed that the power point shows the different sites visited by Keen, and also shows how a site from Kentucky would fit at Gracedale's campus. It even includes different rotations.

It's pretty clear that Brown did intend to build a jail at Gracedale. It'sjust as clear that he wanted to keep the public in the dark while disingenuously claiming to be transparent.

He should look up the word.

In short, Brown was untruthful. It caught up to him.

In June, Supervisors admitted to this secret meeting,. Three of them - Mike Rinker, Donna Hirst and Scott Sylvainus - said they oppose the idea.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Beitler to run for State House

One of my favorite elected officials is Lower Mac Comm'r Ron Beitler. Like Matt Dees in West Easton, he uses his blog (Lower Mac News) to keep residents well-informed about their community. I have learned that Ron intends to run for the state house seat currently occupied by Ryan MacKenzie.

Beitler is a graduate of Emmaus High School and Slippery Rock University. He owns and operates Bar None, an event services planner.

“By now, it’s no secret that Harrisburg is a mess. What has been a well-kept secret is that the problems can be fixed by honesty, integrity, and common sense,” Beitler said.

He has promised to term limit himself to a total of eight years in office.

“If you can’t get the job done in that time, then you shouldn’t be there.” Beitler said.

He also has signed a pledge to reject a government pension stating, “service is a calling, not a career path - my small business is my career, and when I get the job done in Harrisburg I’ll come home to that.”

Beitler claims to have reduced spending, opposed debt, lowered tax bills and worked to block waste while serving in Lower Macungie. He said he will support a State Constitutional amendment limiting spending increases.

“Government needs to live within the same constraints that we do,” he said.

He resides in Lower Macungie with his wife, Amanda, their nine-month-old daughter, Cecilia Adeline and their family dog Ellie Mae.

A Christmas Story in Coplay

As most of you know, I am a miserable bastard. I'm as mean as cat shit, a bottom-feeder who is always complaining about something. It's what I do. And today, I want to tell you all about the antics at a Buzz N Beyond. It's a small barbershop located at 601 Chestnut Street in Coplay, not far from the amazing Thai Diner.

Proprietor Sue Santiago has been cutting hair for 29 years. In her words, "I have met so many wonderful people, formed many friendships, shared joys of graduations, weddings, babies, grandkids etc. But sometimes, I hear the not so happy stories."

One of her customers, an elderly man named John, told Sue earlier this that his dream was to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but he was unable to afford the trip. So every time he came in for a trim, she'd set aside the money he paid her. When he came in for a haircut yesterday, she gave him all the money she had set aside for him along with a "Dear John" letter. But it was the nice kind.


Don't worry. I'll return to my usual miserable self by tomorrow. .

Vote For Dat!

Just when you think I'm done talking about elections, I've got another one that's far more important than anything else. My grandson Dat had a pretty good weekend with the Allentown Central Catholic Vikings, as his team won the Paul Corby tip-off tournament to start the season at 2-0. They all did very well.

I was surprised to learn that he's been nominated as The Morning Call's athlete of the week. So if you can, please vote for him.

I'm waiting for the beauty contest.

On the left, you can see Dat with Suki, his cRaZy dog. She is actually quite the athlete herself, but she plays dirty. When Dat played football, she'd not only tackle him, but rip off his shorts.

Monday, December 11, 2017

ACCHS: We Beat the Bubblers!

I was away most of this weekend at a boys' basketball tournament at Boiling Springs High School. Allentown Central Catholic defeated East Pennsboro on Friday and Boiling Springs on Saturday to win the tourney and start the season with a 2-0 record.

After failing to convince the attendant that I'm a student, it cost me $5 to get in. My hand was stamped with this:

BS? She must know me.

In the first game, four Central players scored in the double digits, showing a balance that portends well for them. Junior Chad Kratzer was unstoppable 16, followed by Jay Vaughan (14), Dat Lambert (13) and Nick Filchner (10). On Saturday night, Dat Lambert scored 19. He was named tournament MVP while fellow guard Jay Vaughan was selected to the all-tournament quad.

On Tuesday, Whitehall will host the Vikings.

Will Brown Veto Budget, Millage Rate?

One of my readers claims that outgoing NorCo Exec John Brown is on vacation and we'll never see him again. I believe it's entirely possible that we'll see him again soon, and not in a good way.  He could veto the budget approved December 7, the millage rate ordinance adopted by Council, or both. He has until December 14 to do so, and could even do it after Council meets that day. He has until December 17 to veto the millage rate ordinance. I actually expect him to veto one or both measures, and at the last possible minute. 

After promising Lamont McClure's transition team that he wanted to leave office on a high note, Brown pulled his own Pearl Harbor when NorCo Council met on December 7 to approve next year's budget and millage rate. He proposed a one-mill tax reduction ($8 million) to his own budget. He did so without a corresponding $8 million cut in spending. This was an attempt to sabotage McClure, forcing him to dip into cash reserves and limiting the county's ability to deal with an emergency.

Because Republicans were unable to agree on whether the tax cut should be a full or a half mill, they ended up with the millage rate originally proposed.

Three of them - Seth Vaughn, Glenn Geissinger and Mat Benol - are out to hurt the county. They voted against everything, even the salary for professional employees. Not surprisingly, all three are on their way out.

On Friday, Vaughn used Facebook to lash out at his fellow Republicans on Council for refusing to agree to a one-mill tax cut. "[F]our Republicans on council, Matt Deitz, Hayden Phillips, Peg Ferraro, and John Cusick voted against it. Keep that in mind next time you go to the ballot box."

What surprised me is that Brown's wife Tina slammed them, too. "True colors," she said of this quartet. Never mind that Peg Ferraro invited Tina and Brown to her fundraiser at Holy Family and let him give a speech that was so boring that Nazareth Ambulance had to be called in to revive the cooks. That's gratitude, Tina! Up until now, I considered you a civilian.  If you want to engage in these debates, you become fair game.

Given Tina Brown's comment, my guess is that the attempt to sabotage McClure is alive and well. But the Home Rule Charter may very well protect the citizens of Northampton County.

As I said, his options are to veto the budget, the millage rate ordinance, or both.

Veto of the budget. - The Home Rule Charter does give the Executive authority to veto the budget, but he may only delete or decrease items. So he can decrease the fund balance by $8 million and set the stage fora new millage rate ordinance.

Veto of the millage rate ordinance. - The millage rate ordinance is a separate ordinance, and the Executive can veto it, just like he can veto any ordinance. But guess what? Council would have no authority under the Home Rule Charter to adopt a new ordinance. It lacks the time for a new ordinance, which would take a month for two readings. It would be unable to adopt a new millage rate except as an emergency ordinance. And that's impossible for two reasons. First, there's no emergency. Council and Brown are just playing politics. Second, the Charter expressly states that "an emergency ordinance shall not levy taxes."

That would necessarily mean that the millage rate set in 2017 or the one that Brown vetoed would remain in effect. So Brown and his minions will try, but they will fail.

The law has never been their strong suit.

Ken Kraft had a good retort to Vaughn's false outrage. "If [Brown] wanted to create a budget with a lower tax rate, he would have done it from the beginning. What don't you understand? What part of County government don't you get? I understand exactly what you are trying to do, you're trying to be a vindictive prick and pass an illegal unfunded budget so the next guys are in a bind, you are probably the one who said those words about, lets cut taxes and see them balance the budget... little passive aggressive these days since the voters handed you your well deserved defeat... ."

Friday, December 08, 2017

NorCo's Lame Duck Council Gives $10M to DaVinci, Attempts to Sabotage McClure

The big story you'll see today is that Northampton County voted last night to award $10 million in hotel taxes for the Easton-based DaVinci Science Center. Wednesday, this project looked like it was dead in the water after Pearly Baker owner Jonathan Davis called it a "killer” to local business.  But over the next 24 hours, the aquarium dropped its plans for a dining facility and turned restaurateur Davis from skeptic to cheerleader. What followed was a stream of officials who view the giant fish tank as the answer to all of Easton's troubles. But before you get too excited, remember this decision was made by a lame duck Council on its way out the door. Next year there will be a new Council that  is much more critical, and they could decide to stop the funding before a dime is spent.

The grant passed by a 5-4 vote. Voting for it were Peg Ferraro, Glenn Geissinger, Mat Benol, Seth Vaughn and Bob Werner. Voting No were Ken Kraft, John Cusick, Matt Dietz and Hayden Phillips.

One of my readers predicted this, and it went down exactly as he or she said.

"None of the facts matter.

"What you will witness tonight is a carefully-choreographed performance where Council will appear to take the public into consideration before voting on something that was decided behind closed doors.

"DaVinci will turn out their people to make it appear that the fish tank has real and overwhelming support. The people who actually have their own skin in the game be swamped by the well-connected special interest group looking for public dollars.

"And we all know this story ends the same, with this Executive/Council or the next."

My only disagreement with this reader is that I believe that the new Council will reverse this grant. To use Ken Kraft's words, "It's insane."

Peg Ferraro, who has been named Pocketbook Peg by my readers, was the spearhead for this grant. She has placed a ball and chain around the county's neck for the next 40 years, really hamstringing its ability to fund tourism anywhere else. Kraft told me that repealing this ordinance is the first thing he intends to propose once the new Council is sworn in.

After this grant was approved, most of the public and even the press left. The Morning Call's Tom Shortell and I stuck around. What happened next is the real story last night. It is that a bitter Executive and lameduck Council tried their best to sabotage Executive-elect Lamont McClure and an incoming Council before they can get started. It was an appalling display of sour grapes. They failed last night. But with a few weeks left until they are gone, they just may succeed.

John Brown had assured McClure's transition team that he wanted to leave office on a high note. There would be no surprises. He'd play no games with the budget. But that's precisely what he did.

In a long night that included several presentations, Brown decided to give the longest Executive report of his career. He went on at least 20 minutes, patting himself on the back and congratulating himself on what a fine job he did. I had no problem with this. I'm sure he's disappointed that he lost the election. If he wanted to list some of his achievements, so be it. If he wanted to remind everyone he is still the Executive, he is. But then he told council to reduce the tax millage rate by a mill. Never mind that it is he who proposed a budget that required 11.8 mills for a balanced budget. Never mind that reducing the millage would result not just in deficit spending, but an unbalanced budget that violates the Home Rule Charter. The revenue estimate set by the Executive will fail to equal what the county spends.

Ken Kraft said that the budget Brown introduced in October, when he still thought he was going to win the race, called for 11.8 mills. Now that he's lost, he wants to reduce taxes by one mill without a corresponding reduction in spending, and let McClure deal with the consequences. "You're automatically putting the next administration on their heels, where they're going to have to raise taxes," he said. "I think it's a real shitty thing to do. Underhanded. And you people are despicable for even putting it up there."

Budget Administrator Doran Hamann advised Council that a one-mill reduction would translate to $8 million in tax revenue. "Decisions would have to be made to either cut the budget by $8 million or subsidize the budget with fund balance from the general fund, which only the County Executive can do."

Under the Home Rule Charter, Council has no authority to interfere with revenue projections. Only Brown could decide to deficit spend.

Brown eventually said he would take the money from fund balance.

At this point Council began squabbling over whether to grant a half mill or one mill tax decrease. Seth Vaughn, Mat Benol and Glen Geissinger voted against a half-mill tax decrease because they wanted a full mill. Hayden Phillips, Matt Dietz and Pocketbook Peg Ferraro voted against a full mill tax decrease because they wanted a half mill. So Council did ultimately vote to hold the line on taxes at 11.8 mills, with the Geissinger-Vaughn-Benol trio voting No.

Now you might dismiss what Ken Kraft said as the rants of a partisan Democrat who should be committed. I have tried to have him put away a few times myself.

But it's hard to ignore what Matt Dietz said. Matt is a conservative Republican representing the northern tier of the county. He'd love to cut taxes. But two things bothered him. First, the move to reduce taxes was coming over two months after Brown introduced a budget that called for 11.8 mills. Second, while declining to name names, Dietz said that there comments made by Council members at the last meeting stating that they would vote for a millage reduction "and watch the next council try to balance it. And the next administration. I think that it is poor servants of the people of Northampton County, and I'm pretty embarrassed that it was said."

An honest man.

Sitting next to Dietz was a partisan Republican (Mat Benol) who insists on hanging a decalogue behind him at every meeting. And sitting another seat away was a former Mormon bishop (Geissinger). I am always leery of people who wear their religion on their sleeves. If you ever wonder why I refuse to stand when these phonies offer their fake prayers, this is why. There is no doubt in my mind that the Mormon Bishop and Ten Commandment Kid colluded with Brown and Vaughn to hamstring McClure before he ever got started. Never mind that it's the people who will suffer.

Brown may very well veto this budget so he can press the matter.

I'm sure you have lots of questions about the specifics of this budget, as well as other matters. I'll have more for you next week. For now, I'll say only that it is highly unlikely that anyone who Brown brought with him into Northampton County will be kept after this attempted sabotage. Brown promised no surprises, and then broke his word with this stunt. McClure would be foolish to think he could trust any of them, and he is not foolish.