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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Easton Rallies To Support Our Diversity

Xenophobia is nothing new. Fear of the different has been used as a tool to manipulate people for centuries. Ivan the Terrible did it. Stalin did it. We all know Hitler did it. And now it is Donald Trump's turn to manipulate the masses by playing on a fear of others. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I see this xenophobia in some old Easton and Palmer Township deeds.They impose restrictive covenants prohibiting future owners from selling to "colored persons" or Italians. I wonder if these people from a different time ever envisioned an Easton with an Italian Mayor, African American City Council VP and a Lebanese council member. How would they feel about seeing two Jewish State Representatives standing at their side?

Last night, before a large crowd that some estimated to be as high as 450 people, that's what happened. Easton's Italian Mayor Sal Panto stood with African American City Council member Ken Brown and Lebanese Council member Peter Melan. They were flanked by two Jewish State Representative, Bob Freeman and Mike Schlossberg. In their midst was ACLU Attorney Gary Asteak. He might be nominally Jewish but that's just his cover. He's actually from the planet Tralfamadore, where they make very nice hats. He stopped here once to take a leak and just stayed.

This odd assortment of people was itself the message. Our diversity is what makes us great already. Without it, we'd be pretty boring. Nobody from Tarlfamadore would ever visit.

"I am proud of our diversity, not afraid of it," said Mayor Panto.

This rally was a reaction to President Trump's Executive Order on Friday. On the surface, Trump claimed he just wants to make us safe. But he's really just trading on our fear.

Panto referred to his Italian heritage, noting it is a country well known for the mafia and criminals. He said it is "just crazy" to force every person of one ethnic background to suffer because of the actions of a very few.

Easton activist Laini Abraham said her family fled anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia. Christian Syrians are being beheaded by ISIS, and Trump has denied them refugee status. Does that make you feel better?

An Iranian doctor who was supposed to work on a cure for tuberculosis at Harvard Medical School was sent back. Do you feel safer?

An Iraqi translator moving his family to this country was forced to return to a people who hate him for working with Americans. Is this gratitude?

"It is unAmerican to send the oppressed back into the hands of the oppressor," said Freeman. He reminded everyone of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech, in which he advocated for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Instead of promoting freedom from fear, President Trump is a fear monger.According to Freeman, he has turned the bully pulpit into a "bully's pulpit."

In one piece of encouraging news, the Trump administration is allowing 872 refugees into this country despite the Executive Order.

Forks Officer Cleared in Shooting Death of Mentally Ill Man

Pellet gun and machete wielded at Forks Tp
police officers by Scott Macintosh on Dec 9
Forks Township police officer James Rovinski has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the December 9 shooting death of Scott Macintosh of the 500 block of Apple Blossom Drive. District Attorney John Morganelli made the announcement yesterday at a news conference attended by five state troopers who conducted an independent investigation. Forks Township Police Chief Greg Dorney. Macintosh's sister, Tammy Frasca, was also present.

Morganelli has called the shooting a "justifiable homicide." Another term also applies. Suicide by cop.

The wheels were set in motion on December 9 when Macintosh texted his sister to say he took all of his medications. he had no criminal record, but had been battling mental illness for the past 10 years. She called 911 to request an ambulance, and called again when he texted her to state that "whoever is sent will die." Frasca told police her brother had been unsuccessful in purchasing a gun, but did own a BB gun.

Rovinski was the first officer to arrive on scene, but saw no movement on the property. He received word that Macintosh threatened to commit suicide if he saw a police officer. He added that he would harm them as well.

Over the next five minutes, five additional officers arrived, along with Tammy Frasca. She told officers she feared that her brother was going to commit suicide by cop.

As officers formulated a plan of approach, one of them detected Macintosh moving inside a shed at the property. As they approached, they saw him standing in an open doorway and stopped. He was holding a machete in one hand and what appeared to be a black handgun in the other. All officers commanded him to drop the weapon and get on the ground. But Macintosh instead began cursing and began moving at the officers with his machete raised. When he began to raise the handgun as well, Officer Rovinski fired twice from an AR-15 he was carrying. One bullet stuck the shed while the other hit Macintosh in the neck. He dropped immediately. Though officers rendered first aid, they were unable to save him. Macintosh was later pronounced dead at Easton Hospital.

The handgun was the pellet gun mentioned by Macintosh's sister and not a real gun. But it lacked the orange coloring commonly associated with toy guns. It was black in color and had a silver barrel. According to the DA, it resembled a 45 caliber colt semi-automatic pistol. Unlike the gun, the machete was real. Macintosh was a large and young man. He was 6'1", weighed 320 pounds and 35 years old. Officer Rovinski waited until Macintosh was about 10 yards away before firing.

When police later searched the home, they found a suicide note among the various kinds of medications that Macintosh was taking. Morganelli called the matter a tragedy.

Chief Dorney noted that his department, the first to be certified in Northampton County, often deals with people who are emotionally disturbed.He said that when there are reports of violence and a gun the first priority has to be locating and securing the person. After that,the very first call would be to Mental Health.

Officer Rovinski is on administrative leave. He and other officers at the scene have undergone critical incident stress debriefings. They have undergone evaluations by a licensed psychologist.

Constable Seeks Judgeship in Freemansburg, Bethlehem

Jon Whittington
Liz Romig is perhaps one of the most admired and respected magisterial district judges from Northampton County. She was much smarter than her brother, Jerry Seyfried, and managed to keep things together on the front lines of justice in a high-crime district that included Pembroke Village. Police officers and defendants both thought she was fair, and attorneys knew she would listen. When she was forced to step down after turning 70 (she tells me it was 40), her daughter Patricia Romig-Passaro stepped in to fill the void. Unfortunately, she was forced to resign. Although she sounds great, she is suffering from vascular dementia, and has been told she has only 5-10 years left.

Though Romig has stepped down, her husband, Jon B. Whittington, has announced his candidacy.

Whittington is known as a constable, but his real background is in the tool and dye industry. He worked there for 22 years, and this gives him a perspective on what it's like to be a hard-working blue collar worker.Beinmg a constable has given him an understanding on how the courts work.

He has volunteered as a Big Brother, has sponsored families at the New Bethany Ministries and participated on Christmas Day celebrations by serving them. He has also coached soccer for many years.

He tells me he decided to run because he thinks he can make a difference. He has a powerful ally behind him. They Seyfried family has been a force in Bethlehem since the '20s, when Floyd "Skip" Seyfried was active. His son Jerry went on to become NorCo Executive, and his daughter Liz and granddaughter Pat both distinguished themselves on the bench.

Jerry claims his cousin Amanda got her good looks from him.

NorCo's Former EMS Director Seeks Hellertown Judgeship

Robert Mateff
When he was in Northampton County, he may very well have been the county's MVP. Aside from Council Clerk Frank Flisser and Budget Administrator Doran Hammon, no one understood the county better. As Director of the county's Emergency Management, he completely revolutionized the department and made it an effective tool that planned for every emergency, from hurricane to chemical spill. Now Bob, a lifelong Hellertown resident who started his career as a dispatcher in their police department, would like to be the Magiserial District Judge for Hellertown and Lower Saucon Township.

He's a Summa Cum Laude graduate of DeSales University with a degree in Criminal Justice. His start as a Hellertown Borough Police Department led toaquarter century career in public safety.

He got his start in NorCo as a Deputy Sheriff, where he participated on the Emergency Response Team, was a Firearms and Chemical Aerosol Spray Instructor and took part in executing civil judgments and criminal arrests. He then helped to establish the first 911 center in Northampton County, overseeing the consolidation of multiple independent answering points and the conversion from a private to public center. He was ultimatelynamed the EMS Director. Former Exec John Stoffa wanted Bob to serve as Administrator as well..

In 2015, Mateff was appointed by Governor Tom Wolf to oversee Pennsylvania’s transition to Next Generation 911. He is currently working as a public safety consultant.

“I have spent my career ensuring the public has equal access to emergency services and providing for the safety of the residents of this community,” said Mateff. “I see service as a District Judge as a continuation of ensuring the public’s safety.”

Mateff has served as Chairman of the Northeast Pennsylvania Counterterrorism Taskforce and President of the Keystone Emergency Management Association. He is a Certified Emergency Manager through the International Association of Emergency Managers, is an Emergency Number Professional through the National Emergency Number Association, and holds a certification in Preparedness Leadership through the University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health.

Mateff has served the community in various roles, including President of the Hellertown Lower Saucon Little League, and was a youth baseball and basketball coach. He is active with his local church and service groups, including the Boy Scouts, the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, the Knights of Columbus and was a member of the Hellertown Civil Service Commission. He was a volunteer with the Leithsville Fire Company, and was a Captain of the Dewey Fire Company Ambulance Squad.

“I would like the opportunity to restore dignity to this position in Hellertown and Lower Saucon and look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve the public as a district judge,” said Mateff.

Mateff is the father of two boys, Robert, Jr. and Kevin.

Two other candidates have also announced for this seat. One is James Hill, a local attorney and borough council member. The other is David Repyneck, who was defeated when he ran against David Tidd four years ago.

Of the three, Repyneck is a bad candidate who would be a terrible magisterial district judge. I will explain why soon.

Ann-Marie Seeks Third term in Palmer Tp

Santa supports Ann-Marie
Blogger's Note: I am delighted to announce that Ann Marie Panella is seeking re-election for a third term as a Palmer Tp Supervisor. Her compassion for other people, which is what made her effective as a counselor for children and seniors, is what makes her good for government. But what makes her really standout is her ability to see through bullshit. I saw that  last year when she asked plenty of tough questions concerning a proposed apartment complex.

Here's what she has to say, in her own words.

"My commitment to the residents of Palmer grows stronger each year. It is with that strength and spirit that I am announcing my intentions to seek re-election as a Supervisor of Palmer Township. The residents of Palmer Township, those who grew up here and those recent to our township deserve a Supervisor who stands with her neighbors in wanting Palmer to remain “A great place to LIVE (I do), WORK (I do) and PLAY (I do).

"During my years as Supervisor, I have witnessed the good and the challenging. But I will never stop standing up for the residents. I have spent my life as an advocate for those who need someone to speak for them. In that aspect, I am genuinely motivated. My dedication to the Senior Citizens, the Veterans, the Working Class, and the teens and children of our community will never end."

Here's her Curriculum Vitae
• Resident of Palmer Township since 1986.
• Currently employed as Administrator at Lehigh Valley Adult Services, in Palmer Township.
• Township Liaison to the Environmental Steering Committee;
• Township Liaison to the Uniform and Non-Uniform Pension Committees;
• Education: St. John’s University, Queens, NY – BA in Chemistry Education – 1974
Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY – MS Ed. in Counseling – 1978
• Member – Society of Human Resources Management
• Member – Kiwanis Club of Palmer
• Annual Township Representative/Speaker at the Brown & Lynch American Legion Memorial Day Service
• Former member of the Board of Directors – CACLV, Third Street Alliance for Women and Children, and Notre Dame High School

Monday, January 30, 2017

Rally For Immigrants and Refugees Tonight at Easton Circle

Tonight, at 6:30 pm, there will be a candlelight vigil at Easton circle to support our immigrant and refugee neighbors. I'd love to hear from individuals affected by President Trump's executive order, issued Friday, (You can read it here). I have no idea why Mayor Sal Panto or Mike "Darth Voter" Schlossberg are speaking, but they are.

Who Does The President's Order Ban? - For the next 90 days, no immigration or visits will be permitted from these seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen. Residents there are also barred from seeking refugee status. For 120 days, the refugee program is suspended. For Syria, the ban on seeking refugee status is indefinite.

Green Card Holders Are OK - Green card holders are already legal permanent residents. Trump banned them, too, but the Department of Homeland Security finally backed away from that provision in the Executive Order on Sunday after two days of contradictions.

Administration Will Comply With Judicial Orders. - Though The New York Post has published ACLU reports that Customs officials are ignoring a judge's order halting deportation of foreign nationals who've already arrived, Homeland Security has vowed it will follow all judicial orders. This is extremely important to me because one of my chief concerns about Trump is that he would ignore the courts. Most of the Order should survive legal challenge, according to legal experts, although the language barring legal residents is on its face invalid.

It is Technically Not a Muslim Ban. - Immigration is still permitted from numerous Muslim majority nations. The seven nations selected were already under restrictions imposed during the Obama administration.

The Order was Incompetently Drafted. - Because Trump is apparently convinced he already knows how to do everything, he failed to have his order vetted in advance by lawyers at DHS, Justice Department, State Department, Department of Defense and National Security Council. The result is four legal challenges in one day and mass confusion..

It Punishes the Innocent. - Despite Trump's claim to be all about protecting us from terrorism, he is hurting innocent people. Trump tweets about the extermination of Syrian Christians by ISIS, and then bans them from seeking refuge.It is ridiculous.In the name of national security, he has deported a Syrian family on its way to Allentown, despite their months of preparation to join their relatives here. Local Trump lover Jamie Kelton insensitively snarks they should go to Canada after this family was shipped to Quatar.

It Diminishes us. - We are now isolationists, a country like Medieval Japan, where outsiders were unwelcome. This actually weakens our national security instead of strengthening it, something Japan learned the hard way when Commodore Matthew Perry paid them a visit in 1853. In addition,it will certainly be construed as a Muslim ban by people in Muslim countries.  

Blogger's Note: I will accept no anonymous comments to this story.

GOP State Committee Wants Giordano For Pa Super Court

Judge Giordanis 11' tall. His son Caden is 16'. 
Over the weekend, the state GOP committee caucused in Pittsburgh and decided they would like NorCo's very own Judge Emil Giordano to run for Superior Court. The state bar association is expected to give him its "highly recommended" rating, too. That's the highest he can achieve.

That's nice, but the reason Giordano stands out is because he's a man of compassion. When his parents first came to this country, they were unable to speak a word of English. They worked hard, and so did he. He learned to listen. I heard him once say that standing behind a counter and serving up hoagies for lunch customers was probably the best training he received to be a judge.

When I see Judge Giordano out and about, especially at sporting events, everyone calls him Emil. Very few even know he's a judge. They know he's Caden's dad. His relaxed and down-to-earth style is no act, and he was one of my grandson's first basketball coaches.

This summer, he perspired with everyone else at the Cedar Beach basketball tournaments. He was there for the games during the week, too.

The only downside I see to this is that we would lose him.

LC State of the County on February 22

Last week, I told you that Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. will be sponsoring a "State of the County Address for NorCo John Brown at Historic Hotel Bethlehem on March 2. It is also sponsoring a similar address for Lehigh Couty Exec Tom Muller on Wednesday, February 22, starting at 7:30am. Muller's address will be delivered at DeSales University Center, 2755 Station Ave, Center Valley, PA 18034.

As with Northampton County, this event includes a free breakfast, and you can sign up here.

These events are always at the crack of dawn so that the businessmen attending can pretend they're extremely busy.

I'm sure Brad Osborne will be there. I hear he plans to run for the job.

I'm pretty sure Tom Muller will be there, too.

Friday, January 27, 2017

You Will Soon Need Passport For Domestic Flights

Because Pennsylvania refuses to comply with the REAL ID Act, passed in the wake of 9/11, you will need a passport to enter federal facilities, including federal courthouses, starting June 7. And starting next January, you will need a passport for even domestic air travel. Instead of agreeing to comply with the federal law, Pennsylvania lawmakers have sent a letter to President Trump,seeking yet another extension.

Updated 10:30 am. If the cost of a passport turns you off, you can get a passport card for $30 for domestic air travel.

Bethlehem's ZHB Unanimously Denies Homeowner a Solar Panel Variance

Pawel Zelinski is willing to invest $23,000 to install solar panels on his 9th Avenue home. He cites "free energy" and :being green" as his two chief reasons. But he wanted to install them between 2' and 2'4" away from the edge of the roof instead of the 3' setback required by Bethlehem's Zoning Ordinance. So he was at the Zoning Hearing Board on January 24 for what is called a dimensional variance. This is a mechanism under which  zoning hearing boards can allow some deviation from the strict letter of the law.  But unanimously, the Board denied Zelinski's request for relief.

The reason for this denial is because Assistant Fire Chief Craig Baer made an unusual appearance and testified that this three feet setback is a matter of safety. He explained that when a one or two-story home is on fire, the first thing firefighters do is break a hole in the roof to act as a vent.  If a solar panel is too close to the edge, that could endanger their lives. In addition to limiting access, it exposes them to the danger of electrocution,especially when thee are solar shingles that often go unnoticed. Thy also run the risk of tripping at a solar rood display, and the increased weight makes structural collapse more likely. In addition, solar batteries exposed to a fire emit caustic fumes.

According to Baer, technology is advancing faster than fire codes and zoning ordinances.

Last September, firefighters were forced to watch a 300,000 sq ft Dietz and Watson warehouse in Burlington County, NJ, literally go up in smoke because the 7,000 solar panels on its roof made it too risky for them.

After the hearing, Chief Baer and Zelinski agreed to work together to come up with a new configuration so that the homeowner can go green while firefighters are assured they will be safe if they are ever needed.

Brown to Deliver State of NorCo County at Hotel Bethlehem

NorCo Exec John Brown will give his annual "State of the County" address this year on March 2 at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem. After breakfast at 7:30 am, his address will start at 8 am and be over in an hour. Tjis event is being hosted by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation and is free to one and all, but you are asked to register at this link.

Mike Recchiuti Running Against Zumas

I told you earlier this week about Vivian Zumas' candidacy for magisterial district judge in Hanover Tp, along with portions of Bethlehem's 14th ward. She's got company. I learned yesterday that former Bethlehem City Council member Mike Recchiuti is also running.

Though I received no announcement from him, his candidacy is now listed on Facebook.

Michael served on Bethlehem City Council, but was defeated in 2015 after it was revealed that 29% of his support came from Martin Tower beneficiaries, where he supported a controversial rezoning ordinance. He subsequently moved out of Bethlehem and into Hanover Township. His law office is located inside the district, too.

He is married and has a cute little girl.

According to his webpage,
"I was born and raised right here in this district. This is where I attended school and played little league. And for nearly 40 years, I have called this district home. I want to be a judge for the people of this district. As judge, I promise I would serve with pride and dignity, be fair and impartial, and allow all coming before me to have their voice heard. I hope that you will support me on Tuesday, May 16th!"

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sentencing Delay Bad News For Fed Ed

Last last week, the sentencing for six Fed Ed associates was still scheduled for late January and early February. But according to several news sources, the date has been pushed back to May. What does this mean?

It means Fed Ed is in serious trouble. If the feds had decided to drop their investigation, as some have contended, there would be no reason for these continuances. The delay means that the investigation is very much alive,and that those Defendants will be expected to testify against Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski.

Bangor Area School Super Resigns!

Dr. Frank DeFelice, Superintendent of the Bangor Area School District, has resigned. He is leaving his current post to become the assistant Executive Director at Colonial Intermediate Unit 20.

As Superintendent in Bangor, DeFelice garnered a reputation as a likable and earnest administrator motivated by what he thought was best for the students.

In Bangor, DeFelice had control over 477 employees.At IU20, there are about 1,500.

Over 100 at Vivian Zumas Announcement For Magisterial District Judge

As I first told you on Tuesday, Vivian Zumas announced her candidacy for magisterial district judge last night at the Prime Steak House in Hanover Township. There were over 100 people there by the time I had to leave for a zoning hearing, with people still coming in the door. They included distinguished barristers like Abe Kassis and John Obrecht, as well as many people who are active in their community. John Diacogiannis, Chair of Hanover Tp's Board of Supervisors, was there. So was Bethlehem City Council member Michael Colón.

I had a chance to say Hi to a reader who often comments here, Peter Cochran. I accused him of seeking constable work, but he told me he's been retired for the past three years.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before saying Hi to The Judge, Jimmy Stocklas, who issued numerous arrest warrants against me for unpaid parking tickets over the years. I wanted to tell him I went to parking ticket rehab and have been clean for over a year.

The judge, you may recall, won $191 million in the lottery, and then amazingly split it up with his brother and a friend because they usually play the lottery with him. I'm sure we'd all do the same thing. Like most lottery winners, he's making lousy choices with his windfall. Instead of spending it on booze, drugs and women, he's wasting it on his family.

Very sad.

The judge is retired so he can attend these functions, not that he gives a shit.

Before I left, Vivian gave me the Cliff Notes version of her speech. She's experienced, has integrity and the proper temperament to be a judge. Having known her for many years, I agree completely. I'd add that she is very down-to-earth and is willing to laugh at herself. Or me.

As I was going out the door, I was stopped by Vivian's uncle, Nick Zumas.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

I told him I was late for a meeting of Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board and was concerned that the Chair, Gus Loupos, would call my editor and get me canned.

"Why isn't Gus here?" he asked.

I explained Gus isn't really Greek, but Irish, and only pretends he's Greek so he can get discounts at diners.

Vivian is running to succeed Jim Narlesky, an excellent magisterial district judge who has dedicated most of his life to public service. He tried many cases against my father, and I recall a few that he tried against me.

(I'll fill you in on the Zoning meeting on Friday. Did you know solar panels can be a hazard for firefighters? I'll tell you about it then.)

Cartwright: State Prison Closures Are Sympton of Broken System

Blogger's Note: The following op-ed comes from Congressman Matt Cartwright. He represents the 17th Congressional District, which includes all of Schuylkill County and portions of Carbon, Northampton, Luzerne, Lackawanna, and Monroe Counties. He is a member of the Committee on Appropriations – and the Commerce, Justice, Science and Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittees – in the House of Representatives.

The beginning of each new year usually brings a sense of optimism for a year better than the last, but, unfortunately for many Pennsylvanians, Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary John Wetzel announced troubling news in early January. The DOC plans to close two state prisons from a list of five under consideration.

Three of the five possibilities are in the northeastern part of the state. These proposed closures are projected to save the Commonwealth money, but, at the same time, the closures would significantly impact thousands of Pennsylvanians who work in the prison system as well as the economies of the surrounding communities. These prison closures are a symptom of a greater problem in the Commonwealth: the Republican-controlled state legislature will not work with Governor Wolf on any real solutions to our long-term state budget challenges.

The inability of the legislature to agree on and pass a responsible budget is mostly the result of a stubborn, short-sighted, and cut-mentality ideological agenda on the Republican side, especially in the Senate. Everyone should understand that Governor Wolf inherited a severely strained state budget with a multi-billion dollar deficit when he took office in 2015. The Corbett administration cut the taxes on larger corporations that were bringing in millions of dollars in vital revenue. Once accounting for over 30% of general funds available each year, corporate taxes today now represent only 17% of total Pennsylvania revenue.

When Republicans consistently side with corporate CEOs on taxes, middle-class Pennsylvanians feel the strain of cuts to vital programs, services, and institutions, like state correctional facilities. State house Republicans were also responsible for the stopgap budget proposal in 2015-16 that preserved current state tax rates but did not fully fund the fiscal year. It fell short, leaving the executive branch scrambling to account for an unfunded twelfth month.

Governor Wolf promised to raise enough state revenues to adequately fund education, social services, and prisons, and he set out to do it. However, he received pushback at every turn from an uncooperative state legislature. This forced the governor to resort to program and job cuts in a desperate attempt to balance the books.

As the governor has been preaching since day one of his administration, with budgeting, there are one-time, short-term fixes and there are sustainable solutions. The two are different. Republican representatives and senators will only raise revenue under extremely limited circumstances, yet they are willing to cut vital programs and institutions for the most vulnerable members of our communities. And even though their legislative use of budgeting gimmicks – such as interdepartmental transfers – and limited alternative revenue sources – such as increased tax rates on gaming – may have temporarily postponed fiscal disaster, this approach has only contributed to the growing budget deficit problem the Commonwealth faces today.

Moves to address a systemic inadequacy with only superficial fixes by past administrations and the Republican-controlled General Assembly are what have brought us to where we find ourselves today. Two state prisons are slated to be the tangible casualty of the lack of any responsible commitment to fix a broken system.

The economic negatives of this situation are very real. Thousands of people from my congressional district work at the three northeastern prisons proposed for closure. This is their livelihood, and many prison suppliers feel just as threatened. Our state legislature’s refusal to take the long view and work with the governor in a bipartisan way is going to have a significant impact on corrections workers, their families, and local businesses.

And closing two prisons will not put an end Pennsylvania’s ongoing fiscal crisis. The proposed closures themselves will not change short-sightedness and more pain to come on state budgeting. Only cooperation can change that, and it’s time we had some in Harrisburg.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Candidate Training Sessions Offered By PSU and Tea Party

If you've never run for office before, you might want to consider a training session being offered by Penn State Extension. It's a two-hour class on February 9, between 7 and 9 pm, at Penn State Lehigh Valley, 2809 Saucon Valley Rd, Rm 222, Center Valley, Pa. 18034. Click on this link if you're interested in running.

The local tea party is offering a training session, too. It's tonight, and free. It's a Hyatt Place (45 West North St) in Bethlehem, and starts at 7 pm.

According to their Chair, Tom Campione, "most school boards and most municipal councils are controlled by progressives" and "[w]e cannot sit back and expect a Trump administration to do it all." He claims that "just 2 or 3 people on a board or council can stop this rapid progression toward socialism."

I don't know about you, but I always suspected that Dale Colver (Palmer), John N. Diacogiannis (Hanover), Mike Hudak (Bethlehem Tp) and Jim Pennington (Lower Nazareth) were pinko commies. And the seven-member GOP majority on NorCo Council are just waiting for the word from Kim Jong-Un, Sun of the Communist Future, so they can unfurl the hammer and sickle.

If you can make it tonight, Campione wants you to register here, so they can keep track of you.

Make the Lehigh Valley great again.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Vivian Zumas Running For Magisterial District Judge

Bethlehem attorney Vivian Zumas will announce her candidacy for magisterial district judge tomorrow from the Prime Steak House on Stoke Park Road. Her event runs from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., and the public is invited. She is running for Jim Narlesky's seat, which includes the 14th Ward of Bethlehem and Hanover Township, Northampton County. Judge Narlesky has decided to retire.

Zumas is a graduate of DeSales and Widener University School of Law, and has been practicing law here in the Lehigh Valley for 16 years. She served a stint as a Deputy AG and as an assistant DA before going into private practice.

She is known for her sense of humor. I think it's humor. Every time she sees me, she starts laughing. She's also a good listener. She has to be.She and her husband George have two very energetic sons.

She is also a first generation American and is deeply devoted to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

500,000 Sq Ft Distribution Center Planned on Brodhead Rd

Plan to develop the last remaining commercial site along Brodhead Road  were considered by the Bethlehem Township Planning Commission at their January 23 meeting. The land is owned by Brodhead Holdings,L.P., which wants to develop a 37-acre tract along the south side of Brodhead Road and north side of Route 22 into a 513,520 sq ft multi-tenant building. Prominent land use attorney Blake Marles presented the project, and Commissioners agreed to place it in administrative review. The goal is to have a plan ready for approval in March so that construction can begin in June.

 Brodhead Holdings also owns a  separate tract between the railroad and Route 191,but have no plans to develop that piece.

The chief concern is one of two access points into the development. One of them is located along a steep hill going along Brodhead Road, along the west side of the railroad tracks  Engineers pointed out that there is a clear sight triangle at both access points. In addition, Brodhead Holdings plans to build a left turn lane for tractor trailer traffic  But is that enough?

Dave Colver,who happens to chair the Palmer Tp Board of Supervisors and has dealt with numerous land use issues in his time. He owns the office building located right at the access point closest to Route 191, and that has him concerned. "Brodhead Road is a problem on a good day,"  he observed  He added that truck traffic already stacks at that location and is concerned that in the winter,  it will be a problem.

Resodent barry Roth noted that a truck in the left lane will be at a dead stop on a hill with an 8% grade, and will have difficulty tuning. He worries that traffic coming from the opposite direction will run into trucks as they turn.

Township engineer Anthony Tallarida agreed that "it's a very challenged road and that trucks need a lot of space to stop and start." Planners have suggested that one of the access points be relocated closer to Fritch Road.

Another concern was the railroad crossing on Brodhead Road, though both Marles and Solicitor Wendy Nicolosi said they were doubtful that Norfolk and Southern would do anything to improve safety.

Planning Director Nathan Jones had a suggestion that everyone seemed to like. He noted that Brodhead Road has the most transit riders of any location in Bethlehem Township. He suggested that part of the planning include a bus shelter to protect employees waiting for a bus in inclement weather.

One legal concern is whether the development must also comply with the requirements of an overlay zoning district at that site. Marles said No, and Nicolosi said Yes. Marles plans to research that matter to see if there is any case law on point.

One of the people with Brodhead Holdings is developer Lew Ronca. I walked over to say Hi and he told me he was busy texting Alicia Karner.

"Now I know where you want to put Martin Tower!" I told him.

Lew was accompanied by his son, who seemed to love it when I teased his Dad.

Pa Supreme Court Extends Gaming Fix Deadline

Pennington and Heintzelman
Late last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stuck down the host fee that casinos must pay each year, concluding  that it violates the state constitution's uniformity clause. The state legislature was given until January 26 to enact a legislative fix, but has thus far been unable to do so. Three state senators sought and were granted an extension until May 26 on Friday. But in a testy dissent, Justice David Wecht grumbles, "[T]his Court should not, and I daresay properly cannot, ease the burdens of democracy by suspending the Pennsylvania Constitution at the first sign of political gridlock."

Given the absence of a legislative fix, Northampton County's Gaming Authority has adopted a wait-and-see approach. It will seek no grant applications until the legislature acts.

But it did reorganize at its January 23 meeting, and voted unanimously to keep the same leadership it has had in place the last two years: Jay Finnigan - Chair; Joe Kelly - Vice Chair; John Dally - Secretary; and Tom Nolan - Treasurer. It also welcomed Donna Louder, who has replaced David Willard as Lower Saucon Township's.representative.The remaining members of the Gaming Authority are Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown), Tony Pristash (Northampton), and James Pennington (Lower Nazareth).

Treasurer Tom Nolan reported that the Gaming Authority has $105,000 in uncommitted funds and $42,000 in restricted funds at the end of the year.

Northampton County Council liaison Seth Vaughn was absent from the January 23 meeting.

Freemansburg Mayor Yob Seeking Another Four Years

Mayor Yob serves the people literally
During Freemansburg's popular National Night Out in early August, you'll find him behind the grill, cooking hamburgers and hot dogs for hungry people. He's at every parade and borough event. And on NorCo's Gaming Authority, he's a quiet but very effective voice for Freemansburg's 2,600 residents. A few short years ago, he persuaded his much bigger neighbors to fund a grant for a modern police station.  It's little wonder he's been Mayor there for 36 years, following 12 years on Council. Believe it or not, Gerald Yob wants to run for one last term.

Yob believes his biggest accomplishment in borough government has been its police department.. He'd like to beef it up a little in his last term. But in contrast to some other boroughs, Yob made clear that the Mayor and Council should help he police department, b ut stay away from telling it how to do its job.

He's 87 years old and looks 20 years younger His mother lived until she was 102 and his father died at age 93.

Combining his years on Council and as Mayor, Yob has served Freemansburg for 48 years.

But West Easton Mayor Gerald Gross has him beat. When he retires at the end of this year, he will have spent 52 years as Mayor and Council member.

Monday, January 23, 2017

NorCo Blocks Barron's Access To Financial Data

Barron was at Lamont McClure's side when
he announced for Exec on Thursday. 
NorCo Controller Steve Barron's access to financial data has been cut off by the Brown administration. Barron is the county official who confirmed that Sara Packer, the ex-adoption supervisor accused of murdering her own adopted daughter was a NorCo employee. At a time when the rest of the county was stonewalling or providing misleading information to reporters, Barron told the truth. And now he appears to be paying the price.

A letter from HR Director Amy Trapp dated Thursday but not delivered until Friday accuses Barron of "intentionally" disclosing the social security number of a county employee to the press.

Though Barron denies deliberately furnishing a social security numbers to anyone, a WFMZ-TV video of Barron at his computer, published on January 10, did reveal reveal Packer's social security number for under a second. There was nothing to identify that number as Packer's social security number or even as a social security number. When Barron became aware of this unintentional disclosure on Friday, he contacted WFMZ-TV69, and the station immediately removed the video.

Brown or Trapp, if they really cared about the privacy of county employees, could and should have done this themselves, as soon as either were aware of this matter. They instead allowed this private information to remain in the public domain for over a week so that they could retaliate. Brown did so at Council's Thursday night meeting, right after Barron said that Brown owes CYF workers an apology for hanging them out to dry. Trapp retaliated when she cut off Barron's access to a menu in the county's system that enables both Barron andhis staff to review payroll.

"This adjustment will in no manner impair your office's or your ability to discharge your duties," Trapp claims. But Baron, who is an independently elected official charged with responsibility for monitoring county finances, disagrees. He said that without the menu, he would never have noticed that employees were being awarded raises without Council approval,or that Brown and Administrator Cathy Allen were improperly seeking reimbursements for expenses.

This is the second time Brown has actively interfered with Barron's access to county systems. In 2014, Barron was briefly barred from blanket emails to county employees that inappropriately referred to Brown as "Dear Leader." Barron's access was subsequently restored.

Barron has asked for a meeting with county officials.

Ray O'Connell Formally Enters Crowded Mayor's Race

Before a group of over 200 supporters crowded into Jack's Slice Restaurant at the Allentown Municipal Golf Course on Sunday afternoon, City Council President Ray O'Connell announced his candidacy for Mayor. His supporters included State Rep. Danny McNeill, all members of City Council and Controller Jeff Glazier. It included city watchdogs like Lou Hershman and Glenn Hunsicker. It included businessman like Joe Clark, Michael O'Brien, Don Ringer and Jeff Vaughan (father of basketball standouts Jay and Sam Vaughan). It included the Chamber's Miriam Huertas, along with community activist Ce-Ce Gerlach. In a city paralyzed by a federal political corruption investigation aimed at incumbent Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski, it was a remarkably refreshing event attended by people of very diverse backgrounds. O'Connell said he was "humbled" by the crowd, and thanked Frank's Slice for letting him use the restaurant to kick off his campaign while Danny McNeill joked that Fed Ed would send the fire marshal to close them down.

The two-term Council member, elected unanimously as Council President three times, is running to restore integrity to Allentown. He said he would "answer all questions from city residents," not just a special few. He also wants to bring community pride back to a city that people are "almost embarrassed" to call their home. He wants to improve the morale of city employees, which he said is at an "all-time low."

His priorities include public safety and a crackdown on those who violate quality of life issues like double parking, noise violations and littering.

He wants the city to "grow our own." This is no reference to urban gardening, but an attempt to garden future police officers, firefighters and EMTs from the ranks of seniors at William Allen, Dieruff and Central Catholic High Schools. He said that could be done through a co-op program where a student spends half a day in school and half a day in training.

He would take on out-of-town landlords who have blighted the city and who couldn't care less about the tenants.

He is well aware that, as goes the school district, so goes the City. "The city is only as strong as the school district, the school district is only as strong as the city."

Hw would strengthen the City's ethics ordinances, crediting Jeannette Eichenwald and Julio Guridy for their work on city contracts.

He would form a task force to review the City's park system, saying there should be neighborhood playgrounds. "A child at 5th and Liberty shouldn't have to go to Ott and Hamilton to go to a playground," he said. "The kids are our future. Old-timers like me will eventually go away. The kids are our future and we'll have to build upon the kids."

Though he's running as a Democrat, O'Connell said Republicans can write him in as well.

The race is a crowded field that includes Democrats Sam Bennett, David Jones, Charlie Thiel, Joshua Siegel and Nathan Woodring. The race also includes incumbent Fed Ed, who is in the race despite a looming federal indictment and a political corruption investigation that has already ensnared three former city officials, his campaign manager, and two businessmen who have admitted paying bribes in exchange for favorable action. They have all pleaded guilty and are currently scheduled for sentencing in late January and early February.

Prominent developer Nat Hyman has switched parties because he is so embarrassed by Pawlowski and is running as a Republican.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Brown and NorCo Council Continue Radio Silence Over Ex Adoption Supervisor

In July of last year, Grace Packer's life was brutally taken from her. She was given sleeping pills that failed to work, after which a man admits to have raped and sexually abused her, as his sexually aroused girlfriend watched. After that, she was forced to take a lethal dose of sleeping pills, but she threw up. The couple left her in a third floor attic, bound and gagged, assuming the heat would kill her. When that failed, the man put his arms around her from behind and "squeezed the life out of her." After this brutal act, the loving couple packed Grace in kitty litter and later sawed her desiccated remains and scattered them in Luzerne County, where they were discovered by hunters on Halloween.

Thankfully, that loving couple is now behind bars. What was not generally known until recently is that accused murderer Sara Packer, who was Grace's adopting mother, was an employee of NorCo's Children, Youth and Families (CYF) Division. In fact, she was the adoption supervisor, and was also a foster mother to about 30 children from Berks and Lehigh County. She was also a foster mother to a child from Northampton County.

While the print media yawned and prepared for Christmas, WFMZ-TV69 and NBC10 were tracking down the rumor that Packer had at onetime been Northampton County's adoption supervisor. Deanna Durante reported this on December 28, and WFMZ-TV69 made the connection even earlier, on December 23.

Durante had been making inquiries with the county since early December, and had run into a stone wall. Calls went unreturned. Then she was misled and told that the County has no employee named Sara Packer, without telling her that Packer had been fired in 2010. After hitting roadblocks everywhere she went, she called every member of Northampton County Council. Ken Kraft told her to speak to Controller Steve Barron, and he connected the dots and provided her with information that the public had every right to know.

"Basically, no one else would speak," Barron explained."I would."

After about a week of publicity on local television stations, it finally dawned on print media that this just might be a story. So they joined the chorus of voices with all kinds of questions for the John Brown administration.. Administrator Cathy Allen issued a two sentence news release that failed to do anything to reassure the public about CYF. This silence continued in the face of claims of ineptness in CYF by a recently retired supervisor. It continued as it became known that Sara Packer's termination was clearly related to allegations of abuse involving Grace, which included the prosecution of Sara's now ex-husband for sexually abusing Grace when she was about nine years old.

Every day another shoe would drop.

Yesterday, Bethlehem Attorney and NorCo Exec candidate Lamont McClure took Brown to task:

"The County administration has been very slow to explain how this alleged person involved in this horrible death was in charge of adoptions in this county. This Executive has yet to fully explain and put the people of Northampton County at ease with respect to what her role was, what she did, what cases she handled, and the people of Northampton County are entitled to an answer."

One month after Packer's NorCo connection established,
Brown releases a statement
Three hours later, as political reality began to set in, Brown finally released a statement, a day late and a dollar short. In it, he disingenuously defends CYF after having already thrown that department under the bus."They have been hung out to dry by this administration," said Barron."They are too good for that. The supervisors deserve much, much better than what this administration gave them, and quite honestly, he owes them an apology. He owes the taxpayers an apology. I'm sick of the radio silence when simple questions are asked."

It was thought that answers would come later, when the Human Services Committee was scheduled to meet.In fact, NBC10's Deanna Durante came to that meeting, looking for answers.

She was answered with more radio silence.

The agenda failed to include a single mention of CYF or the Sara Packer case. Human Services Director Allison Frantz was nowhere to be found, and CYF Director Kevin Dolan was MIA as well. Allison Frantz had sent a memo to CYF staff, telling them to seek a "healthy resolution to the shock of these events,"  but failed to speak up for them when they needed her.

A tenacious Durante went right up to the podium and began asking Council members what they are doing. The answer, quite clearly, is nothing.

"Does anybody like to answer her question?" said Chairman Seth Vaughn, with what certainly looked like a smirk on his face.

"If I may, I think that's more of a legal issue that we shouldn't touch," said an evasive Mat Benol, notwithstanding a plaque of the Ten Commandments behind him,instructing that he be truthful.

Durante: "Any concern from any of you on the fact that she handled the county's children and now we know today that one child from Northampton County was placed in her care as a foster mother?" continued Durante.

Benol said that's something the Solicitor should address. In other words, circle the wagons.

Durante: "This is the Committee that oversees health and human services, is it not?"  

Benol: "I would refer all questions to our Solicitor."

Durante: "How about as taxpayers, as parents, as community members, do you have anything you want to say?"

Benol: "Unfortunately, when I'm on this side of the dais, I'm going to refrain from any comment."

Durante: "So when you walk to this side, you'll give me an interview and give me a comment?"

He agreed, but I'm unclear whether that happened. Benol is usually busy after meetings, hiding his Ten Commandments plaque so Ken Kraft does not steal it.

Later that night, when the full County Council met, Durante was rebuffed a second time while The Morning Call's Tom Shortell huffed on Twitter, "Traditional media doesn't typically speak during public comment." Maybe that's because traditional media have had their heads up their asses while Durante ran circles around them. Traditional media should ask more questions, and if it has to be at courtesy of the floor, so what?

Durante also peppered Brown with questions, including why he ignored her for three weeks. He continued to ignore her.

Though Council members had no time or inclination to discuss the murder and rape of a 15 year-old child, they had all the time in the world for a group of anti-shit people from the Wind Gap area opposed to Synagro's proposed shit bakery at the Waste Management landfill. NorCo Council has absolutely no authority to interfere in these matters of local concern, but they apparently never shit themselves and wanted the entire world to know that they oppose shit. There will likely be a resolution at the next meeting in which a majority will declare that they hate shit.

But they were unwilling to explain to the public (1) how many CYF caseworkers are out there; (2) what their caseload is like; (3) how many hours they work daily; (4) whether interviews are being conducted with every family that Sara Packer touched; what the educational requirements are for a CYF worker; (5) what kind of certifications are needed; (6) how many hours of continuing education are received each year. Those questions and many others can be answered without violating the confidentiality owed to an employee or the children who are placed by Northampton County. But Brown and now Council prefer to circle the wagons than to provide answers for the public that just might make them more confident in CYF. This lack of transparency creates a culture that suits people like Sara Packer just fine.

By the by, The Express Times was missing in action as usual. That suits Northampton County government just fine,too. The less you know, the better.

Blogger's Note: You can see Durante's story on NBC10 here.

Updated: McClure Comes Out Swinging in NorCo Exec Race

Lamont McClure at his announcement, flanked by
Controller Steve Barron
Blogger's Note: This story originally was published yesterday at 4:26 pm, and has been updated with a few pictures.

Bethlehem Attorney Lamont McClure, a former NorCo Council member for 10 years, declared his candidacy for Northampton County Executive this afternoon. He announced from the people's building, the Northampton County Courthouse, accompanied by his wife Sandra and a bevy of supporters that included Controller Steve Barron, Council member Ken Kraft, Easton City Council member Pete Melan, Democratic activist Joanne Messenlehner, and NorCo Dem Chair Matt Munsey. DA John Morganelli, a friend of McClure's, was also present.

Making clear that he's only ever been interested in county government, he said that in his final two years on Council, "I stood as a bulwark against the corruption, the cronyism and the callousness of the Brown administration." He said he regretted leaving government at that time. What he failed to say is that his father, with whom he was very close, had unexpectedly passed away.

But he's back and as is his style, he pulled no punches in a withering critique of the John Brown administration.

"We're talking about how it used public resources to attempt to advance its political agenda," he said, an obvious reference to Brown's use of public funds to hire Sahl Communications to act as a propaganda machine for him.

McCluremakes a point, as Joanne Messenlehner,
Ken Kraft and wife Sandra listen.
"When we're talking about cronyism, we're talking about installing multiple, multiple employees throughout the county system that do not have the requisite qualifications to serve in the positions they're serving in." This is an obvious reference to Administrator Cathy Allen, who Brown appointed as his right hand despite having no education beyond high school and no experience in management of any kind. She is also a tax deainally was pubishedon 1/19/17 at 4:26pm,andhasbeen updated toincludepictures. dbeat at the wrong end of six tax liens and her home is in foreclosure.

"When we're talking about the callousness of the Brown administration, we're talking about the Brown administration and Council raising your taxes 10% while they were charging the taxpayer for meals and mileage reimbursements that they were not entitled to. That's what they thought of you. That's what they thought of the public. Ten percent tax increases for you, lunch and their mileage reimbursements to drive to work, not even between jobs." This is a reference to an attempt by Brown and Cathy Allen to force taxpayers to pay $1,500 for their meals and mileage, which was flagged by Controller Steve Barron.

Some of McClure's supporters
As another more recent example of what he called the callousness of the Brown administration, McClure cited the stonewalling that has gone on since the tragic death of 15 year-old Grace Packer. Her adopting mother, Sara Packer, was charged in a scheme that involved the rape, murder and dismemberment of this child. She had been a NorCo adoption supervisor. She was discharged in 2010, right before her then husband was charged with sexually abusing this child when she was only nine years old.

NorCo officials ignored multiple media requests for information, even after WFMZ-TV69 and NBC10 reported on the NorCo connection in late December. There was no attempt to reassure the public or defend employees in Children and Youth.

"The county administration has been very slow to explain how this alleged person involved in this horrible death was in charge of adoptions in this county. This Executive has yet to fully explain and put the people of Northampton County at ease with respect to what her role was, what she did, what cases she handled, and the people of Northampton County are entitled to an answer."

After pointing to what he called corruption, cronyism and callousness, McClure went on to say how he'd do things differently.

"We must protect our folks, we must preserve, and we must prosper."

Protection. - "Fundamentally, we're talking about our senior citizens," said McClure. He noted that seniors on fixed incomes must still pay property taxes as a result of the uniformity clause in the state constitution. Until that changes, McClure said that no one's property taxes will go up in the next four years. He also pledged that Gracedale would remain county-owned, and that the administration would be returned to the county. He will also create a task force to tackle the heroin and opioid crisis "and all the unnecessary deaths" this has caused.

Preservation. - McClure claimed that the Brown administration has "abandoned" the farmland preservation program. "Let me be clear, they have abandoned it," he said. "We will preserve farmland once again, and at the rate at which it has been previously preserved. He stressed that he also supports preservation of environmentally sensitive lands and other open space.

Prosper. - "No one knows what is going on in the Northampton County Office of Community and Economic Development," he said. "We don't see any jobs being created that are family sustaining."

He noted that the population is growing, but so is the average age. The result is a brain and labor drain.

"We must encourage our young people to stay home."

He will focus on high tech jobs and insist that 80% of all work be done by local labor.

This news conference was attended by all local media outlets except the Express Times. A reporter strolled by, but the announcement apparently interfered with lunch.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Brown Finally Addresses Packer Murder Case

Nearly a month after WFMZ-TV69 and NBC10 first reported that a former NorCo adoption supervisor was involved in the rape, murder and dismemberment of her adopted daughter, Executive John Brown is finally addressing the matter.

Two hours after Lamont McClure slammed him over his refusal to reassure the public or defend his own office, Brown has finally released a statement. It's a day late, a dollar short, and says nothing that has not already been discovered without his help. After throwing the Children Youth and Family Division under the bus and subjecting them to harsh criticism, he now says they do great work, but through an intermediary.

Below is his statement, which he claims is not even from him. The notion that he is unable to discuss employment or breach the confidentiality owed to children is no excuse for refusing to discuss what that office does, or whether the culture there has created a climate in which things like what happened to Grace can happen.  It's no excuse for refusing to tell the public that every case Packer worked on is being reviewed. This review should include an interview with every person she touched.

EASTON, PA - January 19, 2017 - The following is provided by the Northampton County Department of Human Services, Children Youth Families Division, in response to inquiries regarding Sara Packer:

Sara Packer was employed by the Northampton County Department of Human Services, Children, Youth and Families Division. She began as a caseworker in January 2003 and became an adoption supervisor in July 2007.

On January 20, 2010, Ms. Packer was suspended from her employment without pay. At or near that time, a criminal investigation was taking place in Lehigh County. Ms. Packer did not return to the Children, Youth & Families Division. Her employment was officially terminated on April 15, 2010.

At no time during the course of her employment with the Children, Youth & Families Division did Ms. Packer serve as a foster parent for any Northampton County dependent juveniles. Ms. Packer did serve as a foster parent for one Northampton County dependent juvenile from 2000-2001, which was prior to her employment with the County. That individual is now over the age of 21.

Northampton County's Children, Youth and Families Division was not the intermediary for the adoption involving Grace Packer.

After the horrific circumstances surrounding Grace Packer's death became known, questions were posed to Northampton County, as well as many other entities. Northampton County's Children, Youth and Families Division is bound by strict confidentiality statutes and regulations which preclude the release of detailed information concerning this matter. Moreover, the Agency cannot engage in conduct which could compromise criminal investigations or assessments being conducted by other entities.

Information can be provided as to the structure and process that are in place. At the time of Ms. Packer's employment with the County, at the time of her termination, and through to the present, Northampton County's Children, Youth & Families Division has been subject to oversight by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. The County Agency has and will continue to cooperate and comply with the Commonwealth Agency's direction in all matters. This includes any record reviews and/or production of information requested by the Commonwealth Agency.

Whenever a child dies in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has the authority to assess the circumstances that caused or contributed to the child's death. A particular process is in place for such an assessment. The County Agency is required to cooperate with such assessments. The results of the Commonwealth Agency's assessment are ultimately made public.

This particular tragedy has drawn public attention to the employees of our Children, Youth and Families Division. The alleged actions of Ms. Packer are contrary to the mission of our County Agency and its dedicated workers. Typically, these people do not receive enough positive attention - or appreciation - for the monumental work that they do. These individuals devote their lives to the safety and well-being of children. On a daily basis, they go willingly into situations that would make most people feel uncomfortable, repulsed, or even frightened. They do the job that very few people have the guts to do, in order to keep children safe. There is no greater contribution to our society and these workers deserve our gratitude.

NorCo Capital Projects Nuts-and-Bolts Review

Hayden Phillips' Capital Projects Committee met yesterday and reviewed the following capital projects:

Courthouse generators.- Two are here. Public Works Director Stan Rugis said the smaller of the two is for the Data Center, and will be brought online this Saturday. The second generator, which is for fire lights and safety, will be activated in March.

Gracedale generators. - should be active and in place by September or October.

Bridges - Bridges 103 and 187, both located on Steuben Road in Lower Nazareth Township, have been repaired. Bridge 102 is under construction. The bridge on Georgetown Road will be complete in May. Rugis noted that an underground stream has done a lot of damage. Rugis said the mild weather has enabled construction to continue.

Bridge 213, Turtle Bridge, will likely require a condemnation because a landowner with rights refuses to cooperate.

Bridge 125, located on Main Street in Northampton, is complete.

Bridge 160, located in the same area, will start on March 1.

Rugis will supply periodic updates on the bridge bundling project of 33 bridges being handled by GPA. Executive John Brown stated that the contract with Kriger Construction has been signed.

Milides Building.- An engineer has been engaged to give an assessment of the property. He was last seen going in the building.

Parking deck.- Completely finished. The County did the relamping itself, and Rugis pointed out that saved about $100,000. The lighting is LED, which provided a MetEd rebate and will result in energy savings down the road.

Seventh Street Steps - Repair.bids came in at $260,000. The County figured on $50,000. There was only one bidder.

Gracedale parking lot.-should be done this summer.

Jail improvements.- kitchen flooring, a "go path" and other improvements are planned.

NorCo Ponders Periodic Review of Tax Exempt Properties

At yesterday's Finance Committee, John Cusick told Council that, in Allegheny County, all properties granted tax-exempt status must be reviewed once every three years. "It keeps an eye on properties that are tax exempt," he said, and suggested an ordinance requiring a periodic review might be a good idea here.

"I don't see a downside to it, to be honest with you," said Hayden Phillips.

Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter noted that a review of every tax-exempt property has just been completed.

In response to qy=uestion from Bob Werner, Executive John Brown said there are about $2-3 million in delinquent taxes every year, but 98% of it is eventually collected.

NorCo Council Worries State Will Raid Gambling Fund

Northampton County Council President John Cusick has joined ranks with DA John Morganelli to condemn the Bethlehem Sands Casino over its refusal to pay its host and impact fees.

n September, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court declared that the host fee provision in the casino law violates what is known as the uniformity clause A casino must pay $10 million a year, but if its revenues top $500 million, it must pay two percent. Under Pennsylvania's Constitution, even income tax must be the same for one and all. An attempt.to make people who earn more pay more is unconstitutional. This same principle applies to the casino host fee tax.

The Court stayed its decision until January 26 to give legislators time to fix the situation. Casinos were supposed to make their next payment on January 15, but that date came and went without a legislative fix.

Unlike other casinos, Sands Bethlehem has refused to pledge making the annual $10 million payment of its host fee. Mayor Bob Donchez has said that is the equivalent of 100 police officers. DA John Morganelli has threatened to refuse to prosecute petty crimes like bad checks, but the Sands points to a $1 billion investment in Bethlehem, including the creation of 2,500 jobs, as well as millions of dollars in taxes paid.

This topic came up when the Personnel Committee considered the appointment of Donna Louder, a Lower Saucon Council member, to the county Gaming Board. She will replace David Willard.

Louder was thanked for her willingness to serve, and that's when Cusick took the casino to task. "I don't know why, but they seem to be the lone holdout," he complained. "They are a poor corporate neighbor," agreed Ken Kraft.

But Hayden Phillips, who said he was part of a roundtable discussion with Governor Wolf recently, provided an explanation.

"The sands is trying to protect themselves," he said, noting that the state legislature may divert this money away from local governments and into the state Commonwealth Financing Agency CFA, a nontransparent branch of the state Department of Community and Economic Development. It was established in 2004 to enable the state legislature and governor to hand out money based on connections, as opposed to what is needed.

Case in point. Bethlehem Township's Brodhead Road repaving project. A nearly four mile stretch of local road was chewed to pieces by tractor trailer traffic, but the state agency denied any funding to repave the project. Though Manager Melissa Shafer was successful in securing some funding for this badly needed repaving project from other sources, it is a pittance.

The Pittsburgh Tribune has taken this state agency to task for "the public-be-damned secrecy under which it steadfastly operates." This includes a refusal to publish all information from grant requests, including those that are ultimately denied. But lobbyists no doubt love this gigantic candy machine, as well as state legislators seeking money to hand out at election time.

Phillips warns that the legislative "fix" of the state law might include sending the money to the CFA. By refusing to pay the host fee, Sands is placing pressure on the state legislature to do its job.

"It would be a shame if this were to go into the black hole that is the Commonwealth Financing Authority." said Cusick.

NorCo's Gaming Authority is scheduled to meet on Monday. It could be one of their last meetings.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

McClure is Down With PPP

Bethlehem Attorney Lamont McClure is expected to announce his bid for Northampton County Executive on Thursday. He's apparently running on a Preserve, Protect and Prosper platform, and I expect to hear details when he announces. He's down with PPP.

Donald Trump, in contrast, is down with PP.

Incumbent John Brown is expected to seek re-election. He's probably waiting until after The Donald's inauguration on Friday.

Showers are expected.

MDJ Candidate Fails to Disclose He is a Public Defender

On Monday, I told you that Alicia Zito is running for mini-judge in the Slate Belt. I consider her a strong candidate and the front runner. But in fairness, there are others running. I'd be happy to publish their releases if they provided them to me.

According to anonymous comment on my blog, Constable Tyrone Comunale is running. He's the dude whose constable car was stolen by someone he had just arrested. Since no cars are provided to magisterial district judges, we should be ok.

A secretary for Magisterial District Judge Douglas Schlegel, Sr. is mulling a run as well. She should run for Schlegel's seat. He on extended leave for about the gazillionth time, and has basically been a mini-judge in absentia.

Another candidate who just announced is Jason Labar. He's got a very impressive resume, according to Express Times editor Jim Deegan. Instead of having one child like Alicia Zito, he has two. While she went to Pius X, he's a Bangor grad, where he was a three-sport athlete.

Like Alicia, he's a lawyer, too. In his release to Deegan, he claims to have tried dozens of cases and to have represented more than 1,000 people. Deegan, in yet another sign of The Express Times' growing journalistic indifference, never bothered asking him where.

I've never seen Jason in Northampton County. But many lawyers who live in the Slate Belt have active Monroe County practices. I was unable to find him there as a solo practitioner or as a member of a law firm. A little more research and I discovered that he's an assistant public defender. He represents people who are charged with criminal activity but who are unable to afford a lawyer. He failed to disclose this in his announcement.He wanted everyone to know he is a lawyer who has lots of experience, but wants no one to know where.

LaBar is obviously concerned that once people discover that his job forces him to represent the bad guy, people will shy away from him. While it's certainly true that this could cost him some votes, I know numerous judges sitting on the bench right now who at one time defended people charged with abominable behavior. Most people understand that everyone is entitled to a defense.

Although I understand LaBar's reluctance to disclose what he does, his failure to own it in his opening announcement is really deceptive behavior on his part. He should have disclosed it. He's running for a position that demands integrity, and is off to a very poor start.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bethlehem Tp Comm'rs Table Library Referendum, Hear V-7 Redevelopment Plan

Jim Broughal (L) and Mike Hudak (R)
I told you yesterday that Bethlehem Township's Commissioners want voters to decide whether to remain part of The Bethlehem Area Public Library. Earlier this month, they voted 4-0 (Tom Nolan was absent) to direct Solicitor Jim Broughal to prepare a question in time for the primary election. But last night, they voted unanimously to table the matter.

Initiatives and referenda are examples of direct democracy, but Pennsylvania law severely limits their use. Courts have directed county election boards to reject initiatives and referenda that seek advisory opinions from the public on controversial topics. In a memo to Commissioners before last night's meeting, Broughal explained that the Library Code limits referenda to these four matters: (1) levying a special tax for the establishment and maintenance of a local library; (2) remaining part of a county library when there is a pre-existing local library; (3) participation in a “district library center cooperative program;” and (4) a bond issue for the construction or purchase of a library building.

Only the first of these has any application to continued participation in Bethlehem Area Public Library, so Broughal came up with this question: "Do the voters of Bethlehem Township desire that the Board of Commissioners of Bethlehem Township levy a special tax on all taxable property within Bethlehem Township to be used exclusively for the establishment and maintenance of and aid to a local library?”

As pointed out here yesterday, what that question means is subject to numerous interpretations.

"I'll submit any question that the Commissioners vote on," said Broughal. But he warned that the Board of Elections could deny a referendum question outside of what is expressly authorized by the Library Code. "I'm stuck with the law.As bad as it is, that's what it is.

Hudak stated that the latest they can vote ion a question is at the first meeting in February because the cutoff with the Board of Elections is March 7.   He added that the intent of a referendum is "to let the voters decide" whether they wish to continue participating in Bethlehem Area Public Library, not how it should be funded. "There seems to be some confusion among our Board members here as to the intent of this referendum," he observed. He believes the question is misleading, and wanted to hear and said he'd abide by what voters think.

If Bethlehem Township does eventually opt out of Betlehem Area Public Library, all is not lost. A reader, Pippysqueek, commented yesterday that the Free Library of Philadelphia offers free membership to any Pennsylvania resident. It took me about three minutes to join.

A  sketch plan for the redevelopmentof the V-7
includes a movie theatre and a 24-hour gas station.
In other business, Commissioners reviewed a "sketch plan" for the redevelopment of the long-vacant V-7 golf range, a 17 -acre tract located along the southeast corner of William Penn Highway and Route 33.

Chrin is proposing a movie theatre, along with a 24-hour high end convenience store and gas station. He is also planning a bank, some office buildings and a restaurant. A tenant for the movie theatre have been found, but planners prefer to keep that confidential for now. He noted that there will be very high berms,some as high as 20', to shield residents to the east from the development.He added that the development would employ dark sky lighting to reduce light pollution.

Attorney Timothy Charlesworth, who represents Chrin in this endeavor, called it an adaptive re-use of a vacant commercial site. He noted that the Township's comprehensive plan emphasizes the rejuvenation of vacant commercial areas. He added that this development would be a benefit to the Township because it would realign Hope Road and include a traffic light. But a movie theatre is not a permitted use on the V-7 tract.

Tom Nolan noted that the comprehensive plan should be updated by April, and that's when he should seek a zoning change.

Malissa Davis suggested that the 24-hour gas station should be relocated to the western side of the tract, nearer to Route 33, to keep it away from residences along Hope Road.

Don Wright, a member of the Planning Commission, said he'd like to see the size of the parking lot reduced and more green space added.

Resident Roy Roth complained that the plan has no provisions for stormwater management, but Planning Director Nathan Jones responded that stormwater management would be an integral part of the planning process.

His son Barry was even more negative. "My personal feeling is we just rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic from the original plan," he groused.

No formal action is taken on sketch plans. They are informational only.

In a final item of business, president Mike Hudak announced that a public hearing on Tradition of America's tentative plan for Green Pond Marsh will be conducted on February 22 at 6 pm. This tentative plan has been recommended by the Planning Commission.