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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Endorsements? Fed Ed Needs No Steekin' Endorsements

In his latest epistle to his disciples, Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski claims he needs no steenkin' endorsements because he delivers results. Hopefully, we'll be seeing some more of those results soon.  

911 Consolidation Between Bethlehem and NorCo Raises Concerns

Northampton County's 911 dispatchers fielded 97,000 emergency calls last year, 67% of which were from cell phones. There were even 161 emergency text messages. There were also 296,000 non-emergency calls. Bethlehem fielded about 40,000 emergency and 50,000 nonemergency calls, and dispatchers were able to use remote cameras to assist officers responding to crime or other emergencies in real time. What happens to those cameras when the County and City combine their 911 centers, as mandated by the state? That is just one concern raised by NorCo Council member Ken Kraft at Council's February 16 meeting.

Neither Northampton County nor Bethlehem has any say in this matter. This is a state mandate under a law enacted in 2015, increasing the fee charged for 911 services. Under this law, consolidation must be substantially completed by June 30, 2019.

Todd Weaver and Bob Novatnack, newly minted EMS Directors in NorCo and Bethlehem, said they have been meeting monthly to navigate this transition. Weaver estimated that this consolidation will require between 10 and 18 new dispatchers, each of whom takes a year to fully train. Novatnack added that Bethlehem currently has 22 FT and four PT 911 operators. They both acknowledged there are Human Resource issues.

The state has provided $8.1 million to facilitate this coordination. This money is being used to purchase new communication centers in Bethlehem, Allentown and in both counties. They will be connected to each other, so that if one goes down, the other can act as a back-up.

Kraft, who represents Bethlehem on Northampton County Council, wanted to know whether the consolidated dispatchers will still have the same camera access as they currently have in Bethlehem, which enables them to assist police officers in finding fleeing suspects.

Weaver and Novatnack danced around the question. Weaver said that monitoring cameras is a "law enforcement activity," while Novatnack suggested that operators in Bethlehem will still man the cameras. .

"It just seems like it's not going to go as smooth as it sounds," worried Ken Kraft Weaver said there will be "bumps in the road."

"I hope the County doesn't drop the ball," said Kraft.

Hayden Phillips warned that this consolidation is just the first step. He said there are reports that the state's ultimate plan is to have one regional communications center for the entire Lehigh Valley.

Breslin Slammed Over "Alternative Facts" in Radio Interview

Breslin does not like the attention
Pat Breslin, serving in his final year as a Bethlehem Township Commissioner, rarely speaks during Commissioner meetings. But he gave WAEB-AM790 radio host Bobby Gunther Walsh an earful during a recent interview about Township finances. He portrayed himself as a fiscal watchdog concerned that the "train is off the track."  He warned that a tax increase is inevitable next year, meaning that the Township will have raised taxes in two of the past three years. He lamented that "I'm only one person," and called on the public to join him at the next Commissioners' meeting and help him "streamline" local government. That meeting was last night. About five members of the public were there The one resident who spoke about Breslin's radio remarks took him, and not the Township, to task. So did Breslin's fellow board members

Taxes.- Breslin's chief complaint is increasing taxes. He noted that in his first year as a Commissioner, the Board depleted its rainy day fund, resulting in what eventually tuned out to be a 17% tax hike the next year. Though no taxes were raised in this year's budget, he "can almost guarantee a tax hike next year." He ripped the Township for its borrowing, but neglected to say that he is one of the Commissioners who voted for a $10 million line of credit on April 7, 2014.

Community Center. - He also complained about $1.5 million in repairs needed at the 11-year old community center, saying that the "government shouldn't be in the gym business." He never said that during a Township meeting. He failed to mention that, on July 18, 2016 he was one of three Commissioners who voted to hire an architectural and engineering firm for these repairs. He also failed to state that, on September 19, 2016, he was part of an unanimous decision to seek a construction manager. He complained about a $725,000 note owed on the community center construction, but was unable to some up with a single suggestion about how to do better.

Housenick Park.- He lashed out at Housenick Park, which he mistakenly called "Housenick Mansion." He called it a "money pit" and a "waste of taxpayer money," adding  that only five percent of the township even know it exists. He slammed a trail at the park "that nobody uses." He told Bobby Gunther Walsh that he voted against the trail grant, but on March 2, 2015, he was part of an unanimous vote in support of a $471,000 contract to NIMARIS Construction to complete the trails and build a driveway and parking lot. The funding for this came from a DCNR grant, matched by funds from the Housenick Park Trust.

Township Engineer.- He complained about the Township Engineer, noting that the Township has failed to issue an RFP (Request for Proposals) within the last eight years. But he was unable to tell Bobby Gunther Walsh what an RFP actually is.

"They run roughshod over us." .

"Who's they?

"Our Township engineer,. Their bills. They gouge us."

Breslin neglected to say that, in his three years as a Commissioner, he has been one of those unanimously voting to approve the Township engineer about whom he complained.

Bill Agenda - Complaining about the Township's "$18 million budget" (it's actually $19.6 million), Breslin next turned his attention to the bill agenda, an assortment of bills that the Township Commissioners approve each month. "[I]f it was my job, I'd go through it every month and I could probably save 5-10% just negotiating, getting people to sharpen their pencils more." Well, that is his job. Some Commissioners occasionally do have questions about items on the bill agenda. Mike Hudak, Malissa Davis, Tom Nolan and Kim Jenkins have each questioned specific charges, and so do the Township residents. But Breslin has never once uttered a word about the bill agenda in any meeting.

Streamlining. - Breslin also stated that he wanted to "streamline" Township government. When pressed by Bobby Gunther Walsh, he indicated he'd eliminate departments and staff. .

Since Breslin will be unable to inflict his brand of stupidity on Bethlehem Township much longer, I had decided against writing about this radio interview, littered as it is with misinformation. But since it was discussed during the meeting, it's news.

Citizen Reaction. - Barry Roth, a citizen who does a lot of complaining himself, has the personal integrity to do so at open meetings, where township officials can tell him when he is wrong and when he is right. He noted that Housenick Park is no "money pit," but has been self-contained. Money for its maintenance has come from a trust managed by luminaries like Judge Stephen Baratta, as well as grants from DCNR. "Please,do a little more research next time," he suggested to Breslin. "Personally, I felt that we just looked like a bunch of fools."

Commissioner Reaction. - Tom Nolan made clear he was "disappointed" by Breslin's remarks,and thought they were deceptive. He was particularly irked at Breslin's suggestion about eliminating township jobs, saying that sent a "totally wrong message to township staff." Malissa Davis noted that "we did not borrow more money for the last budget." Mike Hudak, who is now President of the Board and is doing an effective job at running meetings, told colleagues that "[w]e're all certainly entitled to our opinions" But he added, "We need to check the facts and not facts that are alternative facts."

Blogger Reaction. - Breslin was on a conservative radio show so he could represent himself as a conservative firebrand for whatever office he is seeking next. Some say he's running against Steve Samuelson. Others say he has his eyes on Congress. But he fed Bobby Gunther Walsh nothing but bullshit burgers.  I am astonished that he spent so much time complaining about things completely within his control as a Commissioner. It is his job to review the bill agenda, something he's never done. If he wanted to seek an RFP for an engineer, he could have opened his mouth and said something. Instead, he voted three times to retain the very engineering firm about which he now complains. His claim that he voted against the Housenick grant is simply untrue. He also voted both for the engineer and construction manager for the community center repairs. With no comment, he voted for a $10 million line of credit. He misrepresented himself. He was deceptive. And, as Hudak so aptly observed, he delivered "alternative facts" in the hope that it plays well to conservative listeners, most of  whom will unfortunately never read the truth.

When Breslin was unable to tell Bobby Gunther Walsh what an RFP is, that should have given him away as what he is  - a fraud.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fearmonger in Chief Warns Us About ... Sweden

Yesterday, the Fearmonger-in-Chief warned that immigrants did something terrible in Sweden on Friday night. It was complete bullshit, the very kind of "fake news" that he decries. His lie was meant to scare people. Be very afraid, says this totally ignorant demagogue.

Anyhoo, Sweden's Aftonbladet came clean and told us all the terrible things that happened there on Friday night:
3:24 PM (local time): A man set himself on fire at Sergels torg, a plaza in central Stockholm. He was taken to the hospital with severe burns. There is so far no information on his motives but the intelligence service is not part of the investigation.
6:42 PM: The famous singer Owe Thörnqvist had some technical problems during rehearsal for the singing competition ”Melodifestivalen”. (However, the 87 year old singer still managed to secure the victory the very next day.)
8:23 PM: A man died in hospital, after an accident in the workplace earlier that day in the city of Borås.
8:46 PM: Due to harsh weather in the northern parts of Sweden the road E10 was closed between Katterjåkk and Riksgränsen. Due to strong winds and snow in the region the Met office also issued an avalanche warning.
12:17 AM: Police officers initiated a chase for a fleeing Peugeot through central parts of the Swedish capital of Stockholm. The pursuit ended in police officers ramming the suspect at Engelbrektsgatan. The driver is now accused of driving under the influence, traffic violation and car theft.
Trump later tweeted that his lie was based on something he saw on Fix News. Locally, The Molovinsky Tabernacle Choir warns that Trump critics are obstructionists. I have another word to describe people who stand up to authoritarians - patriots.

EPC 'Ship: Wm Allen High School Is Unconscious

The word "unconscious" has been used in basketball since at least 2007, according to Urban Dictionary.   But I never heard it until last month, when Parkland's Sam Iorio scored 17,000 points against Central Catholic. "He was unconscious," I heard ballers say. I began hearing it again when Nazareth's Kevin Wagner scored 41 points in an otherwise fairly close victory over Northampton. "The kid's unconscious," I 'd hear. On Friday night, at Freedom High School, I watched William Allen Boys Basketball team systematically destroy a very good team from Becahi, 84-52. As I saw Alan Jennings leave the gym, he told me, "They were unconscious." Then, when I bumped into Allentown City Council Prez Ray O'Connell, "They were unconscious" was his assessment, too. .

Though Becahi has offered me money to say I graduated from Liberty, I'm a Beca grad and was there to root for my team. But I really have to salute William Allen on their victory.  This was about more than basketball to them. Their pride was on the line because the only team to beat them this year was Becahi.

The place went wild long before the game started. That's because the undercard was a girls' championship clash in which Beca came out on top of Easton in a game that could have gone either way.

I had arrived early and got myself a good seat near center court. Then some prick in crutches came and puked as he made his way up the steps. He just kept going, too. A woman called Chief Dan Pancoast over. He looked at it and then he called over some poor custodian. That guy looked at it, too. It just stayed there 'till the end of the game, sending aromas my way every few minutes.

Ordinarily, I'd move. But the game was so exciting I refused. In fact, kids from Whitehall sat beside me and told me they they would keep their eye on the old fart who hurled.  An Emmaus mom was right behind me and she refused to move, too. That was fine with me because she would have absorbed most of the next episode, which thankfully never came.

Then she would have been unconscious.   .

Racine Invites, Then Disinvites Fed Ed

On February 17, Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski's publicly paid propagandist issued a news release proudly announcing that ha had been invited to Racine, Wisconsin. That city is considering building its own arena and hotel, and Fed Ed was going to share his pearls of wisdom. Thanks to their local newspaper, the Journal Times, he's been disinvited as fast as a judge's tipstaff can say, "All rise."

That newspaper did what some newspapers still do. It checked and learned that not only is Fed Ed himself under investigation for political corruption but six people around him have already enter guilty pleas to little things like bribery, lying to the FBI and bid-rigging. Three of those involved were city employees. One was his former campaign manager, who was also a business "consultant" to those who wanted to do business in Allentown.

“When you talk about a person who’s credible, in his case, he’s incredible,” Hendricks told the Journal Times. “He’s one of the least transparent, open and honest politicians I’ve ever met.”

“The investigation has been going on for almost two years and there’s been no charges filed against me,” Fed Ed told the Wisconsin paper. “I’m running for my fourth term as mayor and we’re getting good response.”

After that story broke, Racine Mayor John Dickert pulled the plug on Pawlowski's trip. “It was very disheartening how quickly the purpose of (Mayor Pawlowski's) visit and presentation turned into political mudslinging," he said in a dig at what he called the "hometown" paper. The integrity and economic benefit of this project is too important to allow it to be politicized.”

Rickert obviously failed to look into Fed Ed before inviting him. Given this lack of due diligence on his part, I question what effort he's really put into an arena project.

And that'snot political.

Some Thoughts on Presidents' Day

Forensic reconstruction of what Washington
really looked like as a young man
Today is Presidents' Day. Our two greatest Presidents (Lincoln and Washington) were born in February.

George Washington is the only man ever unanimously elected as President, and that happened twice. He was also unanimously elected as Commander-in Chief of the Continental Army and as President of the Constitutional Convention. On his last day in office, he told his secretary that "although we may be a little wrong now and then, we shall return to the right path with more avidity." That's pretty much sums up this nation's history

The dollar bill portrait of Washington in his waning years, painted after he had finally lost all of his teeth and was trying a new set of dentures, is a disgrace. Here are some little known facts.
  • He never wore a powdered wig, but tied his red hair behind him in what was then the military style. He did pomade his hair. 
  • He was a man of action,often leading from the front, even during the Revolutionary War. During the disastrous defeat at Fort Necessity, four bullets went through Washington's coat and two horses were shot out from under him, but he emerged unscathed. An Indian Chief who had fought against him later said that he had directed his warriors to fire right at him, but no one could hit him. At Princeton, Washington rallied Americans soldiers in flight from Hessians with drawn bayonets and fought alongside them to hold a bridge.
  • Called the Father of his Country, he had no children of his own. Though he loved to flirt with the ladies, he adored his wife and was never happy unless she was with him. 
  • He is also known in some circles as the Father of the American Mule. He developed the breed at Mount Vernon. 
  • He was considered the greatest horseman of his age.
  • Despite his land holdings, he was very often cash poor. He had to borrow money to travel from Mount Vernon after being elected President. He had to sell land in western Pa. to afford the move back to Mount Vernon.  
  • Though personally stung by partisan attacks in newspapers, Washington continued to defend the free press. His thin-skinned successor, John Adams, had critical editors arrested and jailed. But Washington understood the need for a free press, saying that without it, "dumb and silent may we be led, like sheep to the slaughter.".
  • When he surrendered his commission at the end of the Revolutionary War, King George called him "the greatest man in the world."
  • A slave owner, he refused to break up families or buy slaves, although he has been fairly criticized for failing to do enough to eradicate our original sin. In his Will, he set his slaves free and made monetary provisions for each family. This was an example to his fellow Virginians, but they failed to take the hint.
In contrast to Washington, Lincoln was actually uglier than portrayed. His election was far from unanimous. He only won a plurality of the vote. In the Lehigh Valley, Northampton County went with Stephen Douglas. Lehigh County voted for Lincoln.

As we learn in Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, most of  Lincoln's cabinet considered his election a colossal mistake. Some of them, like Secretary of War Stanton, snubbed him as a lawyer many years before, laughing at his tattered clothing. They called him an ape, a gorilla.

Even as President, Lincoln was snubbed. He once paid a late-night visit to General George McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, to discuss strategy. McClellan was out, so Lincoln waited, stovepipe hat in hand. When McClellan returned home, Lincoln waited another half hour until a porter came to tell him that the General had retired for the evening.

He was used to being snubbed. His was a life of hardship, what he himself would call the "short and simple annals of the poor." In his youth, he lost his mother and sister to illness. As a young man, his first love died as a result of illness as well, nearly driving him to suicide. And as a father, he saw two sons die.

People like Stanton grew to respect and eventually admire the man he once abused. Lincoln was just the man our fractured country needed. He started his second term with these words. "With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the Nation's wounds." Instead of preaching fear, his was a message of conciliation and compassion, even for his former enemies.  When he was cut down by an assassin, the very same Stanton who once derided Lincoln announced, "Now he belongs to the ages."

I could use this occasion to dump all over Donald Trump and point out how inadequate he is by comparisons. But so are most of us.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The NorCo Bulldog: "I Have Returned!"

When NorCo Council last met two weeks ago, Ken Kraft asked when Charlie Chrin was going to start kicking in money for farmland preservation.That was a promise made to Ron Angle when Council agreed to go along with a TIF that was supposed to produce at least 5,000 jobs at the Route 33-Tatamy Interchange. Whenever he sold a big box, he was supposed to kick in part of the profit until the county had $2 million to preserve working farms. Nobody seemed to know whether Chrin had kicked in anything. "Where's Ron Angle when we need him?" complained Kraft. He got his wish last night. After an absence of several years, the Northampton County Bulldog has returned, as full of fire and fury as ever.

"People of Northampton County, I have returned," said Angle, with a cigar in one hand and an old copy of Lehigh Valley Business in the other. An amateur historian, Angle was quoting the words that Douglas MacArthur uttered on his return to the Phillipines. The only difference is that, instead of the trademark corncob pipe fancied by the Gaijin Shogun, the Bulldog prefers a stogie and suspenders.

Angle came bearing gifts. He brought a few small bags of Class A sludge pellets, which he handed out before the meeting as Valentine's Day presents. Unfortunately, a Deputy Sheriff thought they were candy, and began eating them.

Her memorial service is on Tuesday.

As deadly as Angle could be in his three terms on Council, he is much more dangerous in the audience. Ask Upper Mount Bethel Township.Or Lower Mount Bethel Township. Or Bangor School Board. When they saw him, NorCo council members hoping for the usual twenty-minute meeting suddenly became quite uneasy. Administrator Cathy Allen scowled. Executive John Brown looked as though he had indigestion, and turned green when Angle plopped his yellow farm hat right next to this wannabe blue blood and former Notre Dame cheerleader, nattily attired like Mr Corporate America.

What made Ron leave his cows?

It was the story he read in Lehigh Valley Business about how John Brown and Council are addressing their crumbling infrastructure with a so-called public-private partnership.Under this program, called P3, 33 of the County's 119 bridges have been conveyed to the General Purpose Authority (GPA) for repairs at 20-30% less than would be paid if the County were to do the work itself. In addition to being cheaper, Executive John Brown has said that the work will be done more quickly. This sailed through Council 7 to 1, with Ken Kraft being the sole No vote, and I thought he was nuts st the time. What's not to like?

The Bulldog doesn't like it, either.

"The story started out saying this was 'innovative,' and ends up by saying they've been doing this for 17 years in California,"  Ron started. "I don't know how 'innovative' it could be if they've been doing it in California for 17 years" He added that he'd hate to see California's finances copied in NorCo. .

He then ticked off the following, more, specific criticisms.
  • If there are utility easements on a bridge, as is often the case, the County is going to have to pay extra. 
  • The project is already $1.5 million over budget and a year behind schedule, without a spade hitting the ground.
  • Kriger Construction, the low bidder on this deal, was well below the others. "The first thing you ought to ask yourself is why?"
  • Though Kriger has some PennDOT bridge qualifications, it's for minor repairs and to mow grass around bridges.
  • Kriger has zero P3 experience. "They've never done a P3, which is an RFP requirement. So again, you ignored that, and they had no experience. They actually have never, ever performed a fixed price contract. And I think all of you would agree this is a major project." 
  • Kriger had to get three lines of credit from three different banks (one of them owned by Louis DeNaples)to come up with the money. It is at best a $4-5 million company. 
  • Most of the work will be done by people from the coal regions. "Why did you not have in your requirement that a percentage - at least 50% - would come from Northampton County?"
  • Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has pledged to provide stimulus money for infrastructure projects, so it would make sense to wait and see what he plans to do.
"You people have gave this contract to someone with literally no money, with three banks on the hook, with no experience doing this kind of stuff, they never met the requirements of your RFP, the only thing they did do is give you the low bid. Well, I think you would learned in history that the low bid is not necessarily the best bid."

"When I hear the term 'public private partnership,' I cringe. In my lifetime of being around the world of public office, I've always understood what that meant. The public will be on the hook for the bill. The private sector will make the money.  It's like the NIZ in Allentown. What has the NIZ done for the citizens of Allentown? Nothing, but there's a couple of individuals who have made hundreds of millions and pretty well will make billions 'till it's over."

When Angle was done, he got 12 yard stares in a two-yard room.

Ron Angle is a husband, father, farmer, entrepreneur, antiques aficionado, cigar lover and is the greatest storyteller I have ever heard. Though he claims his heritage is Dutch and German, he is in reality Irish, a Slate Belt seanchaí, a valued keeper of the oral tradition. As a Druid, I know these things

He's also my best friend.

His appearance at Council tonight tells me he might run for one of the five at-large seats on Council, especially now that incumbent Mat Benol has decided to take a break. But Ron also enjoys private life and communing with the cows at his farm. He is a cow whisperer, and even understands the language. Don't reach any conclusions.

He's also the Republican that Democrats love to hate. They will come out in droves just to vote against him. Come to think of it, a lot of Republicans hate him, too. Especially the bluebloods. But Ron has enough supporters to win a county-wide race for one of five seats.

He makes government better. People have told me they took extra time to prepare if they knew they would be facing the Bulldog. If Lamont McClure wins the Exec race, which looks more likely as he raises money and chips away at Brown, Angle will hold him accountable. Lamont knows this. If John Brown prevails, Angle will be just as critical. He proved that last night.

Psychotherapist Continues NorCo Council Quest

For those of you who feel like the sane in an insane asylum, a psychotherapist is coming. Lori Vargo Heffner is expected to announce her candidacy for Northampton County Council and is currently circulating petitions. She ran in District 3 two years ago, but lost to John Cusick by 741 votes.

She will announce her candidacy at the courthouse steps today at noon.

A psychotherapist at Affiliated Clinical Services, she's a graduate of Moravian College who went on to obtain Master's degrees at Kutztown (psychology) and Temple (education). Her background is obviously an asset to a County charged with the responsibility of delivering human services.

Dietz Gets Answers About NorCo CYF Caseworkers

In the wake of the alleged murder of a 15 year-old girl by NorCo's former adoption supervisor, Human Services Chair Seth Vaughn originally vowed he would ask Human Services and Children and Youth to come to a meeting and explain in detail how child protective services works. But he eventually decided to play the same stonewall game that Executive John Brown was playing, and looked like a deer caught in the headlights when he was eventually confronted by NBC10's Deanna Durante last month.

Later, I submitted a series of questions that could be asked, but Vaughn refused to submit them. He toldKenKraft that it was out of animus for me.

Matt Dietz, another member of the Committee, is a person I opposed when he ran for election. But he posed those questions, especially since some of his constituents were asking them, too. He got answers from Allison Frantz, the Director of Human Services. Though she failed to appear at the meeting, he made her remarks part of the record. Here is their exchange.

Northampton County Department of Human Services
Children, Youth and Families - Questions/Answers
February 13, 2017

1.                   1.           How many CYF caseworkers are employed by Northampton County? 

There are 75 Caseworker (CW) positions approved and budgeted by the state and County Council.

Total staff complement is 128.  This includes case-aides, secretaries, and attorneys.

2.             How many positions are vacant and how long have they been vacant?

61 caseworker positions are filled, 16 are vacant.  Three (3) of the 16 are newly created positions attached to a new unit called Family Group Decision Making [FGDM], which was approved by Council in December 2016.

The oldest CW vacancy is from July 2016.  The hiring process was delayed due to the 90 day right of return per PA Civil Service regulation.

3.             What is the turnover rate and do we know what the industry average is?
                CYF has a continuous vacancy rate and is always engaged in the hiring process.

In 2015, 22 departed = 29% turnover rate.
In 2016, 16 departed = 21% turnover rate.

On the National level, the caseworker turnover rate is between 30% & 40%.The state rate is not available.

There are a variety of factors that affect turnover.  The typical reasons for turnover in a given entry level position [poor working conditions, salary, potential advancement into management] don’t apply here.

As an entry level position, some employees use the position as an entry point to county employment and transfer to other county agencies.  Some employees are at a mobile stage in their life and not rooted to a geographical area and move based on a variety of factors.  Some employees view the casework position as an entry point in the field of child welfare services.  They may leave county employment to focus on foster care work with a nonprofit organization.  They may find their calling in behavioral therapy or psychological services.  It’s a position that requires a great deal of training and certification after hire, and not all people prefer the intensity of the work or training involved.  

4.             What is their caseload like?

Caseload size is between 12 and 25.       

The CYF caseload does not exceed the state maximum caseload limit of 30 cases.

Child Welfare League of America recommends 12-15 cases

5.             How many hours do they work daily/weekly? 

Caseworkers put in an eight hour day with a forty hour work week.

Overtime hours average 2 hours per week.

6.             Does this caseload exceed the state recommendation? 

Caseload size is between 12 and 25.       

The CYF caseload does not exceed the state maximum caseload limit of 30 cases.

Child Welfare League of America recommends 12-15 cases.

7.             Do we have safeguards to follow up with families and/or youth when a CYF worker has contact with a child? 

The job description for a caseworker illustrates that a substantial part of their duties requires field work with families and contact with children.

Cases are tightly monitored for caseworker professionalism, thoroughness, and respectfulness as well as, regulatory requirements. 

During the probationary period workers go in the field with a seasoned worker.  During the course of a case, a caseworker can be accompanied by a seasoned worker or supervisor.

Every two years, existing employees must successfully obtain the PA State Police, ChildLine and FBI clearances.  At the DHS Director’s discretion, an employee may need to submit to clearance checks during the two year period.

Outline, generally and specifically, of case monitoring which provides for all manner of review of caseworker interaction.

Cases are reviewed by a supervisor.  The supervisor reviews cases with the CYF Admin team.  Policy dictates cases are to be staffed /reviewed with CYF administration when direction is needed and if custody of a child is recommended.  Placement reviews occur on an ongoing basis; decisions are made as a team and are not solely resting on any one caseworker's shoulders. 

The Courts also monitor all dependent and Court ordered placement of children.

CYF has an annual licensing review/certification by the PA office of Children, Youth and Families.

Families with a concern call the supervisor and/or program director.  Families can also call the State Office of CYF.

A supervisor must review the cases, initially, every 10 days with the caseworker.  When the case is accepted for services, the identified risk level mandates the frequency of contact ranging from weekly face to face contact to monthly face to face contact.  Risk level determination is a state requirement and the minimum frequency is monthly face to face contact.

Northampton CYF also engages in quarterly reviews whereby every supervisor must submit current details of each case.  The caseworkers provide to the supervisors such details as:  the current status of the situation, paperwork completion status, court proceedings status and verification that all regulatory requirements and timelines are met.

8.             How are complaints against a CYF caseworker handled? 

Complaints are investigated by the administrator, assistant administrator, program director, supervisor or the Regional offices.

If a complaint is verified, discipline of different levels or dismissal may occur.

9.             How many complaints have been made against CYF caseworkers, year by year?

The last complaint against a CYF worker was in 2012.  The individual’s county employment was severed.

In 2016, Northeast Regional OCYF reported 44 duplicated complaints/calls attributed to the Northampton County Children Youth and Families Division.

Majority of complaints are in two categories:  unsatisfied with the outcome, unsatisfied with the issued court order.  There have been no specific caseworker complaints.

The Director of the Northeast Regional Office indicates the number of calls is not high for a 3rd class county.

In addition, the CYF Administrator receives approximately 35 general complaints a year.  These calls are in the same categories as received by the regional office. There have been no specific caseworker complaints.

10.          What are the ongoing requirements/certifications for a CYF worker?

A candidate must first submit application and complete testing with the PA State Civil Service Commission (SCSC) to be considered for employment.

Prior to employment, references are contacted.  Potential hires must provide PA State Police, ChildLine and FBI clearances prior to date of employment.

When hired, the worker must complete a 6-month probationary period and attain Child Welfare Direct Service Worker Certification inclusive of Human Resources, DHS and CYF orientations and completion of “Charting the Course.”  “Charting the Course” is a 120-hour (10-module) course provided by the PA Child Welfare Resource Center, under the auspices of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.

All caseworkers, once certified, are required to have a minimum of 20 hours annual training in Social work related fields.  There are additional annual training requirements for staff that have attained licensure. 

Every two years, existing employees must successfully obtain the PA State Police, ChildLine and FBI clearances.  At the DHS Director’s discretion, an employee may need to submit to clearance checks during the two year period. 

Fred Williams On LANTA Board for 30 Years

Northampton County Council enthusiastically and unanimously voted last night to give affable Fred Williams another four years on the LANTA Board. Though Williams at one time owned an Exxon distributorship, he prefers walking or taking the bus to driving. In 1987, he saw then Executive Gene Hartzell soliciting voters one day as he he waited for a bus to take him to his home at College Hill. Hartzell was a bit confused to see a prominent local businessman using public transit, but Williams told Hartzell he loved riding in buses. Two days later, Williams received word he was on LANTA's board. He is currently their Treasurer.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Brown to Seek Re-Election in NorCo

Calling himself a "proven reformer," and claiming to have eliminated all deficit spending, Executive John Brown has released a statement indicating he plans to seek re-election in Northampton County. "Working together we have overcome deep financial challenges and I am excited about the positive results accomplished over the past three years,” Brown said. “While we have made great strides, I know our county can do even better. I will work to continue what we started by seeking to strengthen, bolster and reform our county’s services to ensure they are both more effective and cost efficient.” He also claims to have tripled the County's reserves.

He takes credit for making Gracedale, the county nursing home, profitable once again. It has gone from a $6.7 million taxpayer operating loss to profitability. A month ago, he reported that the facility made a $800,000 profit in 2016. Two weeks ago, he trimmed that down to $200,000.

He also takes credit for improving the quality of care there, noting there have been no deficiencies at the facility found by the PA Department of Health over the past two years. He claims the facility is now rated by Medicare as a four-star nursing home.

In addition, he claims he is doing something about the county's infrastructure. He is spending $37 million over the next five years on a PennDOT endorsed bridge bundling project that will repair and replace thirty-three (33) of the county’s bridges over the next four years. He said this will save taxpayers 20%-30%.

As for his claim to have eliminated all deficit spending, that's simply untrue. His most recent budget dipped into reserves to the tune of about $8.2 million to balance the budget. That's called deficit spending, and it ultimately leads to tax hikes.

As far as returning Gracedale to profitability, he went from a $800,000 profit to a $200,000 profit in the span of two weeks. And he himself acknowledged that the main reason for this reversal was the injection of $2.4 million of federal funds into the facility under a revived program that allows public nursing homes to pool their money and seek matching grants. Without it, Gracedale would be operating at a loss.

Also his claim that Gracedale is now a four-star facility is also untrue. According To Medicare, Gracedale is a three-star facility. And when it comes to "quality measures," which measures how well the nursing home is doing in caring for resident needs, the nursing home gets just one star, which is "much below average." In fact, this is one reason why Peter Melan decided to run for NorCo Council.

Brown's claim about the absence of deficiencies at Gracedale is also untrue. In September, the nursing was cited for failing to act properly when a resident threatened suicide, which resulted in a suicide attempt.

In essence, it appears that his re-election announcement, which he failed to deliver in person to a group that might have questions, is replete with misinformation.

You'll notice no claim to transparency. This is a guy who posted armed guards outside his office during a news conference,and who crated a new county website that advertised Lehigh County businesses.

Brown graduated from Bangor High School and has an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame. He and his wife, Tina, live in Northampton County and have a son, Zachary. He fails to describe where he worked in the private sector.

Brown is opposed in this race by Bethlehem Attorney Lamont McClure, who served on NorCo Council for ten years. He issued a statement of his own. "The Brown Admin. is itself a prime example of waste, fraud and abuse. Instead of fighting it, John Brown practiced corruption, cronyism and callousness. Brown's illegal budgets, misuse of taxpayer money for political purpose and unlawful taking of meals and mileage reimbursement to which he and Ms. Allen were not entitled, is the sad legacy of the Brown Admin."

NorCo: Personnel Appeals Board Back in Action

One of the biggest drawbacks to being a NorCo career service employee (nonunion) is that it takes forever to have a grievance heard. As I've documented here, hearings are scheduled and then re-scheduled ad infinitum in what really amounts to a denial of due process. Ralph Stampone, who served on that board for ten years, quit in disgust in April after driving to Easton for a hearing, only to learn it had been postponed. Bethlehem Attorney Christian Perrucci, who served as the Board's Solicitor, submitted his resignation at that time as well. According to HR Director Amy Trapp, things are about to change.

Trapp told NorCo Council's Personnel Committee yesterday that the Personnel Appeals Board will have a set meeting day on the fourth Thursday of every month at 5 pm. A hearing has been scheduled then as well. If there is no business on a given month, Appeals Board members simply will have the night off.

In addition to losing Stampone and their lawyer, the Board lost Dave "Lump" Sanders, who like Stampone had long argued there should be a set meeting night. Dave unfortunately passed away.

When the Board convenes in March, it will have a new lawyer - Allentown Attorney Juan Camacho. He is also an assistant Solicitor in Allentown.

Council is being asked tonight to reappoint Bill Alexander, a former corrections officer, and John Dally, a licensed Pen Argyl realtor. A third member, former HR Director Pat Siemiontkowski, has asked not to be re-appointed to the Board because it conflicts with other activities.

Executive John Brown has also nominated Thomas Foster, a recent Citizens' Academy graduate, to the Board.

Cedar Beach Pool GC Worked on Four Pools Simultaneously in 2016

Yesterday, I told you about  Allentown's Cedar Beach pool, which is now a year behind schedule and $681,000 over budget. This pool was designed by Bethlehem architectural firm Spillman-Farmer. Partner Dan Harrigan knows a little bit about swimming pools  He won the 1975 Pan American games in the 200m backstroke. He also took a bronze medal for the same event in the 1976 Olympics. But Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski is pushing a prestigious and local architectural firm away to coddle with MidAtlantic, a General Contractor from Trenton, New Jersey. He also hired the General Contractor's engineer, Frank Clark, to act as an "independent" intermediary while receiving paychecks both from the General Contractor and from the City.

Whitehall Mayor Ed Hozza attempted to defend MidAtlantic and Clark yesterday. He points out that last year, MidAtlantic worked on at least four pool projects in Pennsylvania. The Cranberry Township Water Park addition (North of Pittsburgh), the Fleetwood Borough Pool, The City of Allentown Cedar Beach Pool and the Whitehall Township Parkview Hokendauqua pool. Hozza unwittingly explains what was wrong. MidAtlantic was behind everywhere because it was tying to do too much at once. In addition to being behind schedule in Whitehall, I know Fleetwood was very upset by the delays.

According to Fleetwood's Borough Council minutes, "The contractor is in breach of contract." The Borough had to pay Topton so that residents with passes could use their pool. Their pool did open in late June.

Allentown was upset, too..

On 4/11/16, Parks Director Lindsay Taylor emailed MidAtlantic to say, "I have seen no activity at either pool and that is not what I expected. I expected the project to be moving forward and do not see it as my role as having to oversee this. If you believe this to be my role, at this point, nobody will like it. Please provide us with a project schedule with milestones that will take this project through to completion. If you need anything yet from the City, please tell me ASAP. If there is activity going on behind the scenes and you will be at the sites Monday, please let us know so that we can feel as though we are finally moving forward."

I see no answer to this email, and no schedule.

On May 25, 2016, Allentown was notified by Superior Pool Products that it had a claim against MidAtlantic for services and materials at the site, and it threatened to file a mechanic's lien. "We need to resolve this ASAP," said Purchasing Agent Beth Ann Strohl in an email to interested parties. "If MidAtlantic is not paying their subs, then we need to call on their bonds."

So far as I know, no lien was ever filed.

This is the outfit working on Cedar Beach pool.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Brace's Baloney

I often criticize politicians for feeding their constituents baloney. But I never had one ask me to tell my readers he's doing it. ... Until now.

Lehigh County Commissioner Geoff Brace is launching his re-election campaign tonight at Zion “Liberty Bell” United Church of Christ (620 West Hamilton Street, Allentown), 6 pm., in the church basement.  He's asked me to tell you that he's bringing ring balogna. Then he started quoting Beyoncé's "Put a Ring On It."

Feds Still Have Questions About Cedar Beach Pool

Six Allentown City employees will be re-interviewed by the FBI in the next week or so concerning the long-delayed reconstruction of Cedar Beach pool. What's going on? I'll tell you what I've learned.

Fleck and Spillman-Farmer.

Spillman-Farmer is a very well regarded architectural firm based in Bethlehem. Though it does business development, it was getting none of the action in all of the shiny new buildings going up in Allentown. It was around that time that a very positive Morning Call story about political and business consultant Mike Fleck appeared. He was portrayed as a one-stop shop.Ifyou wanted to get elected, you give him money. If you wanted to do business in Allentown, you hire him as a consultant.

That's what Spillman-Farmer did. This is a firm that makes no political contributions. But faster than you can say "Wiretap!" Spillman-Farmer has a $149,500 with Allentown to do the design work for all of the city's pools. This firm had just finished Nazareth's pool, under budget and ahead of schedule, with no change orders. Though Nazareth Public Works Director Bob Reimer gave Spillman a bad recommendation, that's how Nazareth rolls. There is some suspicion that the RFP was rigged by Fleck in favor of Spillman, but this firm clearly had the best of three proposals.

In the course of preparing its new design, the old plans, dated January 1951, were reviewed.They showed a pool shell with between 3 1/2" and 5 1/2" of concrete.

MidAtlantic hired as General Contractor.

Despite having no experience in pool construction, MidAtlantic was the low bidder for construction at Cedar Beach and Mack pools for the princely sum of $1,872,465.93.

Did MidAtlantic lowball its bid?

All I can tell you is that MidAtlantic also was awarded the contract to do $130,000 in renovations at Whitehall's Parkview Pool, which ended up costing $337,875 last year. Mayor Ed Hozza considered himself lucky to get away at that price.

MidAtlantic was required to obtain the necessary permits for the job, but started work without doing so.

When it finally began construction in Spring 2016, it cracked the pool shell in the course of doing its demo work. Although this appears to be MidAtlantic's fault, it blamed who ever installed the shell in the '50s.  

Pennoni Engineering, which is hired by the City precisely to review these kinds of matters, concluded that the pool thickness was between 5.5-6". Spillman Farmer was willing to resolve this with a $48,000 change order that would increase the cost of the contract slightly, but strengthen the shell beyond what was built.

Frank Clark, Senior Engineer.  

By this time, MidAtlantic was trying to squeeze Spillman-Farmer out of the deal. Frank Clark and Keystone Consulting, who were already working for MidAtlantic, were ready to step in. In fact, they are the team that did the Whiitehall pool at nearly three times the original estimate. But I doubt they dared dream what Fed Ed would do next.

On July 7, exercising his emergency purchases power, Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski hired Keystone Consulting Engineers (Frank Clark) as an independent intermediary between Spillman-Farmer and MidAtlantic, even though it was already being paid by MidAtlantic and is hardly independent.. Now it could collect money from the City, too.

In his memo, Fed Ed offers a very strange justification:

"Keystone Consulting Engineers (KCE) of Wescoesville was engaged by Whitehall Township for their recent pool renovation,and is a very well respected engineering firm in the Lehigh Valley. Frank Clark, the Senior Engineer at KCE, is currently the appointed engineer for Whitehall Township.He has been working with MidAtlantic on their Parkview Pool renovation. He was not familiar with MidAtlantic prior to Whitehall's project, but has been able to develop a respectful relationship with the firm's owner, Joe Ramirez.".

While most of us would run from a duo that jacks up a bid on a public project, Fed Ed embraced them. He calls Clark a senior engineer, a term that Clark also uses on LinkedIn. Clark does have a degree in civil engineering, but has no certification as a Professional Engineer. Using him for engineering work on a public project is like using a biology major to remove your appendix.

Far from being an intermediary or an independent, Clark worked with MidAtlantic while keeping Spillman-Farmer in the dark. Three separate requests for meetings with City officials went unanswered.

Contract Goes From $1.87MM to $2.55MM  

While cutting Spillman-Farmer out of the loop, Clark and MidAtlantic concocted $681,945.48 in change orders that would increase the MidAtlantic contract to $2.55 million. They claimed that the pool shell was below the thickness it should be, despite evidence to the contrary from the City's own engineer.

Amazingly, part of this change order - $76,000 worth - involves the removal of a structural wall around the pool's perimeter, designed in the '50s precisely because the pool is in a flood plain. Now there is nothing, but the deck "sits cleanly," whatever the hell that means.  

Another change order adds a whopping $270,000 for steel rebar, even though that is part of the original contract.

These change orders were reviewed by City Council on December 21. Controller Jeff Glazier claimed he did a "serious walk through" with Clark. "I believe it's justified because we're going to get a pool out of this that will last a long time," he reasoned. He claimed this is just one of the "unsung things that the Controller does."

Julio Guridy was a tad more skeptical than the City Controller. "It is not unusual to do a change order, but it is unusual to be so high,." he said, and decided to abstain from voting.

With a gun to their head, and worried that Cedar Beach Pool may never open at all, the rest of City Council approved the change orders. Even as they did so, Clark warned them, "I know you are going to see other change orders."

Brace Yourself!

Geoff and his family
On Monday, Lehigh County Exec Tom Muller announced his non-election campaign inside the hallowed halls of Brookside Country Club, where my chief concern was being tossed by the waitstaff. But Thursday night, things will be a little different for Comm's Geoff Brace. He promises he really, really, really will be running for re-election. Instead of supplying food and booze at his announcement, Geoff is asking supporters to bring canned juice, bread and jelly for the Jubilee Ministry of Zion UCC. That's a ministry to the homeless Brace and his family support with time, energy and finances. And that's where he will take his stand. Technically, it's at Zion “Liberty Bell” United Church of Christ (620 West Hamilton Street, Allentown), 6 pm., in the church basement. You can park in the rear for free. That's where Pip the Mouse lives. Whether he shows up depends on whether anyone is bringing cheese. He doesn't do juice.

Echoing some of the remarks made by Muller on Monday night, Brace claims "[w]e’ve ended pay to play politics in Lehigh County and strengthened the safety net for citizens of Lehigh County by re-committing to Cedarbrook nursing home by supporting the work for children and youth, providing stronger services for mental health, the homeless, intellectual disabilities and rehabilitation. We’ve also managed to find addition resources for farmland preservation.”

Brace's district includes Allentown's west end, which is no different than Nazareth or Bethlehem. But it also includes Center City. That's NIZ Island. But it's surrounded by a sea of poverty. And that's where Geoff, his wife Sara Jane, and his son Isaac, reside. He walks the walk. I've known him since I started blogging about 11 years ago. Over that time, I've grown to know him as a person who has deeply held religious beliefs, and who tries to put them into practice.

Unfortunately, none of his good qualities ever rubbed off on me.

He's a graduate of Ursinus College, after which he obtained a Master's Degree in Public Policy from Lehigh University in 2004. He began his career in public service by working for the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, visiting the Main Streets in small communities statewide. Then he went to work as the Executive Director at Kutztown Community Partnership. Currently, he is a legislative assistant to State Rep. Michael "Darth Voter" Schlossberg.

I can only hope that his ethics and integrity are contagious.

He may be running unopposed.

Fr more information about Brace’s re-election, visit www.geoffbrace.com.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Updated: Tom Muller Sez No to Second Term

A thorn between two roses. Muller is flanked by his
beautiful wife and daughter, MJ (left) and Joy (right).
MJ is a volunteer with St. Thomas More, while
Joy is a standout field hockey player. 
Lehigh County Exec Tom Muller surprised and disappointed a group of over 50 supporters at Brookside Country Club last night when he announced he's decided against seeking re-election this year. This included three state representatives, a former state representative, two Lehigh County Commissioners and DA Jim Martin. Also on hand were most of Muller's cabinet. "I did not order them to be here, it's the free drinks that got them," he quipped.

He also introduced several Commissioner candidates running for District seats this year. In District One, it's Robert Elbich. He's a LU grad, after which he worked for Air Products and a cryogenics firm, and then launched two companies of his own based on patents that he secured. .He lives in Weisenberg Tp, where he serves on the Zoning Hearing Board. In District Two Three, he introduced Amy Zanelli. She is a Rutgers grad and lives in West Bethlehem. If elected, she will be Bethlehem's first second Commissioner in Lehigh County (Nick Englesson also served a term). She worked in child protective services in New Jersey and is now a realtor. She is also a former rollerblade announcer. In District Five, it's Coopersburg resident Mary Ann Nord, a James Madison and San Diego University grad who works in  intellectual property and national security for Leidos.

Noting that Democrats have a 31,000 voter edge in Lehigh, Muller said they gave both presidential and statewide candidates a clean sweep in the 2016 election. "It's time to bring that same broom to the Board of Commissioners," said Muller, referring to the nine persons who make up the county's legislative branch.

Muller said he's fortunate to have had his wife at his side for the past 30 years. After 40 years in the private sector, he never expected to serve as Director of Administration for another eight years for Don Cunningham and two interim county executives. He also had no idea he'd become a "full-fledged politician" and serve for four years as Executive. "The politics of the other side opened this door for me," he said. He enjoyed those four years "despite the political battling, the 30% pay cut, the frequent nights out, and the part I love, the endless chicken dinners."

In his four years as Executive, Muller tried to be accessible and get as much first hand knowledge from citizens as he could. He attended 20 municipal meetings a year, travelling to as many different communities as he could.

"Public safety is our top priority. Hamilton Crossings with a Costco is a reality. The County is significantly recommitted to farmland preservation. Good Shepherd is finally managing our Cedarbrook Nursing Home.Most of these accomplishments required overcoming the objections of a substantial block on the Board of Commissioners.

"We've also balanced the budget without tax increases despite the veto-proof Republican majority on the Board insisting on providing those "Happy Meal" tax cuts on the taxpayer's credit card. They did it just to adhere to what they thought was a campaign promise they made, but it was on the taxpayer's credit card because we had a budget deficit each time.

"As great as this chapter of my life has been and continues to be, it will come to an end this year, and I know this will come as a surprise to most of you."

Muller explained why he's decided to bow out. He has three sons in the Carolinas. He has two grandsons there "who I see too infrequently." When his daughter Joy graduates from Emmaus High School in 2019, he knows she will want to attend college outside of this area. "MJ and I then intend to close the Lehigh Valley section of our book and head south into retirement."

He's been encouraged to run anyway and then resign when he's ready to retire."I cannot in good conscience do that.What that would mean is going out and collecting contributions and collecting votes from people who think I'm running for four years, and I cannot serve for four years. I personally cannot do that."

Muller said he was unwilling to leave without finding someone who will represent the people as opposed to the "whims of a few wealthy contributors."

That someone is Phillips Armstrong, who was chairing a Whitehall Township meeting as Muller spoke, attempting to persuade his colleagues to adopt a resolution in support of gerrymander reform. Armstrong is a retired teacher and coach who ran unsuccessfully against Zach Mako for the state house. I thought then he was the best Democrat running in the Lehigh Valley.

Armstrong was also working on a proposal to impose campaign contribution limits on township candidates  Muller said that Commissioner Geoff Brace is working on a similar resolution in Lehigh,"which will probably be blocked by our Republican majority for painfully obvious reasons."

Muller said by not running, he can focus on Cedarbrook, which he claimed Commissioners have been kicking down the road for about three years. he said JB Reilly started digging a hole for the arena around the same time he started pushing Commissioners to do something about the Cedarbrook building.

Muller never strayed from the Way. He is giving up his public life but is keeping his honor. His absence will be keenly felt.  

Blogger's Note: Originally published 2/13/17 at 8:36 pm

Updated 10:30 am: A reader points out that Nick Englesson, who at that time was a resident of West Bethlehem, served as a Lehigh County Commissioner. 

Updated 4:12: I incorrectly stated one candidate is running in District Two when she is actually running in District Three.

Bryan Callahan Seeks Second Term in Bethlehem

Two years ago, Bryan Callahan managed to alienate most downtown Bethlehem merchants during the Martin Tower rezoning debate. After they were all done speaking during courtesy of the floor and were unable to rebut him, he'd tick off concessions that the City made to them, often erroneously. At the end of one meeting, he actually accused one critical merchant of paying all of his Bethlehem employees from an Allentown-based business to be able to take advantage of Allentown tax incentives. Callahan claimed that he obtained this confidential information from Keystone Collections, the City's taxing authority. Disclosure of this information to the public is unlawful. What's even worse, Callahan got it wrong. No Allentown tax incentive was being used by this merchant to pay its Bethlehem employees. Despite this clear abuse of his office, Callahan announced yesterday that he's seeking a second term on Bethlehem City Council.

In 2015, I told you that a review of Bryan's campaign finances showed that 31% of his contributions between 2013 and 20015 came from unions, developers, engineers and others with a vested interest in the Bethlehem’s CRIZ, TIF or other city-sponsored projects. In 2016, an off-election year, he raised another $18,325.00, and this time, 74% of his funding came from the same crony capitalists.

Last year, he said he was "proud" to vote for a new parking garage in South Bethlehem, which did have widespread support.  What he failed to say is that he also accepted $1,000 from the Benners, who are developing the office building next door. He also took $9,000 from the trade unions who will build that garage.

At a time when the Bethlehem citizenry is acutely sensitive of pay-to-play in local politics, and two Council members have actually proposed reforms, Callahan's campaign finance is disappointing, to say the least.  

Today, I am proud to announce that I am seeking re-election to Bethlehem City Council. Four Years ago, I chose to run on a simple platform; Keep our City growing, Keep our neighborhoods clean and safe and Keep our taxes low. While we have made great strides in each of these areas, I believe there is more work to do. “I am passionate about Bethlehem. I look forward to working for the residents of Bethlehem and keeping Bethlehem a great place to live, work and visit.”

Callahan portrays himself as a financial watchdog. He points out he was the lone no vote for a property tax increase in 2016. In 2017, he claims that he fought for a tax decrease. What he fails to say is that he failed.  Once again, he was the sole No vote. "I supported additional transparency efforts on the way we spend your tax dollars and ways to reduce and streamline our city government," he claims. What transparency efforts? I wish he were a bit more transparent about what exactly he did.  Whatever they are, he claims his efforts "helped the City’s Bond rating rise from BBB+ to AAA- with a positive outlook."

He said that he will "continue to push for the redevelopment of the old Bethlehem Steel property, the Martin Tower site and infill development throughout our City. By growing our tax base, we all win."

And he collects more campaign dollars.

He claims he was "most proud to spearhead the effort to create an Italian Festival as a tribute to my late wife."

He lives in downtown Bethlehem. "Living in the heart of the downtown has allowed me to experience the vibrancy of our City from a unique point of view," he says."Bethlehem really is a special place." I agree.

I've been highly critical here of many of things Bryan says and has done. I really wish he would tone down the money from groups and people who are looking for something.. I wish they' all tone it down. But if truth be told, he is at heart a very gentle soul who wants what is best for Bethlehem.

I know he really pissed off merchants during the Martin Tower debate, but it's hard to stay mad at him.

Callahan has largely been ineffectual in his first term. He sometimes seems to forget why he's there. But I'd vote for him. He reminds me of an athlete who can't seem to get anything right.You begin to wonder why the coach is even playing him. Then all of a sudden, everything clicks. I think Bryan has great potential, and on his own merit.

He's a starter.

Callahan is a teacher at Freedom High School and is the older brother of former Mayor John Callahan.

He's currently on the bench, but should be a starter, too.

According to The Express Times, Eric Evans also announced today that he is seeking re-election, too. Though I received a notice from Callahan, I received nothing from Eric. After he reads what i write about Bryan, I doubt I'll get one.

I'm unaware of anyone else seeking these offices, which is bad for democracy.

Monday, February 13, 2017

How Trump Can Fix His Travel Ban

Locally, an assortment if bigots and xenophobes at Molovinsky Tabernacle Choir has been trying its best to justify just about everything Trump does, even when he's dead wrong. That's pretty much what has been happening nationally, too. Instead of telling him that his assertions about voter fraud are demonstrably false, sycophant Stephen Miller cascaded upon the Sunday shows and pretty much made an idiot out of himself, repeating whoppers about dead people and noncitizens voting.

His supporters let him down and let the country down when they spout this nonsense. It is precisely this attitude that led to a poorly prepared travel ban that will even fail in the Supreme Court because it denied due process to legal permanent residents.

According to Politico,
If there is a single issue where the president feels his aides have let him down, it was the controversial executive order on immigration. The president has complained to at least one person about "how his people didn't give him good advice" on rolling out the travel ban and that he should have waited to sign it instead of "rushing it like they wanted me to." Trump has also wondered why he didn’t have a legal team in place to defend it from challenges.
He's absolutely right, for once. His inner circle actually kept numerous government agencies out of the loop.

A revised travel ban is his best option. Legally, he has nearly unfettered authority to deny refugee status. He went wrong when he attempted to interfere with the rights of legal permanent residents and others with lesser visa statuses. This can be corrected and will withstand judicial scrutiny.

Desert Storm, Desert Shield Marine To Seek BT Comm'r Slot

John Merhottein is a Marine who served his country during Desert Storm and Desert Shield. He then became a computer programmer, loss prevention manager and project manager. He married, has a family and has live in Bethlehem Township for the past ten years. Now he would like to be a Commissioner representing the fourth word. That ward is currently represented by Pat Breslin, who has apparently decided to call it quits after one term.

John is a Member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and an elected Northampton County Republican Committee member.

His campaign will focus on the following issues that include fiscal conservatism, government transparency, the inclusion of public input on all matters, expenses cut when and where possible, as well as insisting the Bethlehem Area Library increase its services to the township.

On his webpage, he gives a pretty good explanation of what prompted him to run.

"When I heard our taxes were going to go up 37% in 2016, I thought I should go to the budget meetings and find out why. It was interesting to see what budget items residents supported and the ones they were against.

"I wanted to continue to go to the Board of Commissioners meetings, so I had an understanding of what was going on in our township. I found myself enjoying the workings of the township & I liked sharing that information with my neighbors.

"In July of 2016, the Board was presented with a vote to repair the community center for 2.7 million dollars. How could this be? A 10-year-old building that needed almost 3 million dollars of repairs? I wanted answers! I asked my questions to the board and didn't get my answers. Needless to say, I was upset leaving that meeting.

"The more I thought about it and realized that screaming at the board wasn't going to be very productive, and I thought 'What could I do to make a difference?' Thinking about the passionate debate during both the budget and community center meetings, I reached out to Commissioner Malissa Davis with an idea. Could we break down the budget and community center statistics into snapshots? Could we see the number of people that used the community center and library? Anything that a resident wanted, could we get is added to a dashboard? During my first meeting with Commissioner Davis, she asked Melissa Shafer the township Manager to join us. I could not believe how open to suggestions they were. Thanks to Melissa and her staff, the first dashboard was published in October of 2016. It is a work in progress and one I will continue to help grow.

"My goal with the dashboard was to get the information in the hands of the residents and Commissioners, so they could see where their tax dollars and township resources were being spent and as a township have an intelligent discussion.

"Transparency in government is great for the residents and the Board. It allows them and us to make informed decisions. Hopefully, the dashboard will mature into something that has everything a resident could want. I would be honored to take the lead and have a transparent Bethlehem Township. My first task would be to keep working on that dashboard and get the facts and figures to the township residents, Commissioners and township employees.

"Attending the Commissioners meetings has also enlightened me to other issues in the township such as storm water, traffic, and development.

"I have no special interests. I will always put residents concerns first. I will be accessible via email, Facebook, my website, phone or in person. If you have a question, concern or problem, I promise to get you an answer as soon as possible.

"I'm not a politician. I'm like the majority of you, a guy with a family who plans to live in the township for a significant number of years. I love our town and my neighborhood and want it to be the best it could be."

Congrats to Dennis Pearson on His Wedding

Steelworker. Teacher. Historian. Umpire. Block Watch President. Astronaut. Bill White Hall of Famer. Lehigh County Commissioner candidate. And now, at age 70, a married man. Congratulations to Eleanor Mae Hinkle and Dennis Pearson, who exchanged wedding vows yesterday at Lehigh's Packer Chapel. This is Dennis' first marriage. Eleanor is a widow, with two (grown) children, four grandchildren and two cats.

Dennis is running for Comm's in District Three, where Rev. David Jones has ruled the roost through two terms. But David is now running for Allentown Mayor, and apparently has decided against running for two offices simultaneously. Very classy on his part.

Another District 3 candidate is former Bethlehem School Director Basilio Bonilla. He has no job, no experience and was divisive and unprepared during his tenure in Bethlehem. In contrast to Bonilla,, you'll never find a better prepared person that Dennis. I'd love to see the public recognize all the efforts he has made on their behalf over decades.  He's a Democrat with a nonpartisan view of local government. Just don't ask him a question unless you have three hours to listen to his answer.

Dennis really is a very good guy. As a wedding present, The Morning Call's Bill White should remove him from his Hall of Fame.

I sent a cub reporter to cover this ceremony. Churches are off limits to me unless I've been to confession. recently. I've already had enough thunderbolts going up my ass. Unfortunately, only one priest is willing to hear my confession, Father Alex. But after the last time, he had himself transferred hundreds of miles away and is not answering his phone.

Tom Muller To Seek Re-Election as LC Exec

Tom Muller and his much better half, MJ 
Four years ago, when Tom Muller announced his candidacy for Lehigh County Executive in the Emmaus Circle, I froze my ass off. Tom went on to win, and has been fairly successful there. You could say it's because of his Republican Board of Commissioners. You could also say it's despite them.

I am happy to tell you that Muller will be announcing for re-election tonight I'm especially happy to tell you that, this time, it will be indoors. He'll be announcing at the Brookside Country Club Pub, located in Macungie, between 6 and 8 pm.