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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, December 31, 2018

DeSales MBB Wins Holiday Tourney With Magic Shoes

The damaged shoes are being buried today. 
DeSales University Mens Basketball (8-4) hosted and won a holiday tournament this weekend. Former Emmaus standout Matt Kachelries deserved and won the MVP award, but there should have been some kind of recognition for what really won the tournament for the Bulldogs - magic shoes.

DeSales was playing Rhode Island's Johnson and Wales Wildcats (5-7) in the 'ship on Sunday. You might think the Bulldogs would have no trouble treeing these Wildcats. After all, JWW has a losing record. That must be what Maryland's McDaniel College thought in Saturday's contest. Then JWW rained down 10 treys and wreaked havoc on defense, causing 20 turnovers. That team was red hot. As for DeSales, starter Ben Pratt, an ACCHS alum, was sidelined with an ankle injury. To make matters worse, the chemistry that makes a good team into a great team was absent, especially on defense. 

At first, it looked as though JWW would dominate. They were up 11-1 in the opening minutes

Then something strange happened. Chemistry. Everyone played as though it was the last time they would be on a basketball court. For the first time this season, the Bulldogs became tenacious on defense. They would claw their way back from a 10-point deficit twice, finishing the first half down by two.

The second half was a war. As the game was tied 11 times, I had 10 heart attacks Then something strange happened. With about seven or so minutes left in the game, Kalcheris's shoe fell apart. I'm not talking about it falling off. It actually fell apart. One grizzled fan told me this sort of thing happens all the time. I've never seen it.

Coach Scott Covall (Whitehall, '82, 1,800 points) called a full time-out. As he talked to his team, Kalcheris was trying to figure out what the hell to do. My solution to this sort of problem is duct tape. I even use that to keep my car from falling apart. Very few people are that ingenious. Fortunately, there was a better solution.

One of Kalcheries' teammates was wearing shoes that were exactly the same size as his.  He took them off, Kalcheries put them on. He was back in action as soon as the timeout ended and before i could get my roll of duct tape. 

These shoes were magic. Either that or flubber. Once Kalcheries donned them, he could do no wrong. Every shot he took went in. Every jump he made was higher. He was no longer human.

He was Spiderman

In the meantime, the Wildcats were declawed by three technical fouls.

This 91-78 is a big win for DeSales. As for Kalcheries, he was climbing walls when I left the gym.

(This tournament honors former Liberty High School special ed teacher and basketball coach Al Senavitis, who dedicated himself to Special Olympics).

Friday, December 28, 2018

DA: Former LU Senior Yukai Yang Wants Slow Boat to China

Yukai Yang
Late last week, a former Lehigh University Senior Chemistry major was charged with attempting to murder his roommate with Thallium. A former Lehigh University Senior Chemistry major has been charged with attempting to murder his roommate with Thallium. According to Norco DA John Morganelli, who announced the charges Dec 20, Yukai Yang, 22, admitted to Lehigh University police that he had purchased Thallium online, and intended to use it on himself if he did poorly on exams. He admitted to mixing it with food and beverages in a community refrigerator he shared with his roommate. Now Yang, whose student visa has been revoked, literally wants to be deported to China. According to Morganelli, it's to avoid prosecution.

Thallium is considered extremely toxic. Its use has been banned in the United States since 1972 after several accidental deaths when being administered as a pesticide.

Testing of the roommate's blood revealed unsafe Thallium levels, according to Morganelli.

This poisoning goes back to March and April, when Lehigh University police responded to several complaints from Yang's roommate, Juwan Royal. He told police of changing colors in his milk and mouthwash. In addition to getting ill, his personal property was vandalized on several occasions. On his desk, someone had scrawled "NIGGER, GET OUT OF HERE" with a black marker.

Lehigh University police noticed similarities between the message in marker and a written statement from Yang, and charged him in May with malicious mischief, institutional vandalism and ethnic intimidation. Yang was free on $10,000 bail (10%). He is a native Chinese and resides in Easton with his mother. A trial date is scheduled for late January on the ethnic intimidation charges.

Yang never took those exams. He was suspended by Lehigh. Royal graduated from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences in May.

I'll let John Morganelli fill you in on what must have been a busy Christmas weekend for him:

"Over the Christmas holiday weekend, I learned that Yukai Yang had posted $200,000 cash bail in Northampton County. With that, ICE exercised physical custody of Mr. Yang and removed him from Northampton County Prison to a holding location in Lehigh County pending a deportation hearing in York, Pa. I then learned that Yang intended to waive his right to deportation and apparently thought that he could evade prosecution by going home to China.

"As a result of all of this, I directed ADA Abraham Kassis to file a Motion to Modify Bail and a Writ with ICE to have Mr. Yang returned to us for prosecution . This was filed on December 24, 2018. ICE cooperated with my office in this, and Mr. Yang is now back in Northampton County Prison. I am asking that Mr. Yang be held without bail in that he poses a serious flight risk. A hearing will be held on the Commonwealth's Motion at the discretion of the Court as soon as possible. A copy of that Motion and proposed Order of Court is attached.

"If this was an American citizen, that person would be required to face these charges. Mr. Yang thought that because he is a foreign national, now here illegally in that his student visa has been revoked, that he could post bail, waive his right to a deportation hearing and abscond. That will not happen. I want to commend ADA Kassis and officials at ICE who worked over the holiday to assure that the victim in this case will have these charges heard by a judge and or jury."

Celtic Classic Awards $7,500 in Scholarships

Elizabeth Anthony
Although we druids are known for a human sacrifice here and there, there really is such a thing as Celtic culture. The English and Scots have a few bards of lesser quality like Dickens and Shakespeare. We Irish can point to literary giants like W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and George Bernard Shaw, to name a few. We've got more than bagpipes and haggis. We invented or perfected most literary forms. For example, long before the Japanese came up with the haiku, we had the fucku. It comes as no surprise to me that, once every year, Bethlehem celebrates the Celtic Classic. Mayor Bob Donchez, a Slovak, runs around in a kilt. I even taught him an Irish greeting -
póg mo thóin.

I might have slightly embellished my first paragraph. But the Celtic Cultural Alliance (CCA) wants you to know they are more than whisky tasting. This past year, $7000 in scholarships were awarded to students studying Celtic Art forms such as Celtic fiddle, bagpipes, literature, the fine arts, Irish Dance or Scottish Highland Dance.

Now, in the Christmas season, CCA has awarded a $500 volunteer scholarship to Elizabeth Anthony, a Liberty High School junior and daughter of Ed and Robin Anthony of Hanover Township. Elizabeth volunteered at the 2019 Celtic Classic Highland Games and Festival. She is a majorette in the LHSGB, plays lacrosse, is captain of the club cancer crushers and captain of the helping hands committee in BASD mini-thon. She is also a member of National Honor Society, Cops-n-Kids, G.R.A.S.S. club, and S.A.D.D, and Key Club. She is employed as a youth girls’ lacrosse official and as a cashier at Skyzone.

Elizabeth stated one of her highlights as a volunteer was speaking to a visitor using sign language that she learned from her ASL class at Liberty High School. Serving in three different areas of Celtic Classic, she stated she “loved being a volunteer at Celtic Classic because it brings the community together to celebrate and promote the Celtic culture, which is my heritage.”

For more information on the Celtic Classic Highland Games & Festival and other Celtic Cultural Alliance events, visit the organization’s website at www.celticfest.org.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

NorCo's Mid-term Election Turnout 17.64% Higher Than in 2014

Northampton County's Elections Commission conducted a meeting Dec 20. Someone forgot to advertise, so it was called an "information gathering" session. There is no video, either, right after I praised Executive Lamont McClure for his transparency. This meeting should have been rescheduled. No votes were taken, but it is very hard to avoid for members to avoid discussions of agency business. They weren't there to discuss the Eagles. If they talked about any matter having to do with elections, you have a Sunshine Act violation. Assistant County Solicitor Rich Santee was fortunately there. He had his work cut out for him.

Though the public had no notice of this meeting, I was able to dive into a few garbage cans and get my hands on the agenda. From it, I learned the following:

- Voter turnout in November's mid-term election (55.95%) was 17.64% higher than the last mid-term in 2014 (38.31%). there were 209,313 voters, including 4,354 absentee ballots. There were also 37 military ballots and 54 provisional votes. Absentees accounted for two per cent of the turnout.

- Phones inexplicably went down in the elections office,something that has happened in the last few election. This is unacceptable. For periods, it was impossible for elections judges to call in and determine whether a voter whose name is missing from the poll book is actually registered somewhere else. This has the effect of suppressing turnout.
- A shortage of popular "I voted" stickers is being remedied, hopefully not by the same guys in charge of the phones.

- The current voting machines will be used in next year's municipal primary.  This is a problem because the 2019 budget eliminated the voting machine custodian. He made sure they were ready. The county is looking at outsourcing the job to set up the machines, code them and do all the diagnostics.

- Administrator Charles Dertinger tracked down an electric filing system for voter registration applications, pulled them out of a dusty warehouse where they have been sitting for the past 10 years, and fixed them. Well, he is an electrician. The only problem is that everyone who files will be registered as a Democrat. All kidding aside, the elections office staff are very thankful for Dertinger's efforts. I understand Спецслужбы России has offered to do it for free.

- What voting machines are we getting? - Lehigh County's Elections Registrar Timothy Benyo is going to have four or five vendors all day on January 10 so that poll workers can try different systems and express their preference. Northampton County has no such plan.

Blogger's Comment: Under the Elections Code, it is the Elections Commission, and not the County Executive, who makes all decisions concerning an election. This includes the purchase,storage and maintenance of all voting equipment. There's a good reason for this law. That  reason is that the Elections Commission must have minority party representation, whether it is Home Rule or County Commissioners. This makes the process more fair. If the Executive branch is calling all the shots, whether it is Executive John Brown or Lamont McClure,  there is an appearance that the election will be slanted in favor of the incumbent.

There needs to be a public meeting of the Elections Commission, and soon, so that different voting systems can be examined.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My NorCo Council Assessment, 2018

Over the past year, I've been asked several times to weigh in on the new Northampton County Council. I needed a year to see them in action. This is harder than rating the Executive. County Council includes nine different people, six Democrats and three Republicans. They enabled Executive Lamont McClure to enact a very aggressive agenda, and made some of his proposals better with good questions. They have, however, been far from an independent body. None of them, excepting Cusick. McGee and Dietz, had proposals directly related to county government. Their amendment to the 2019 budget was superficial.

John Cusick wanted the capital plan to include the anticipated cost of the new voting machines the county is being forced to purchase. By my calculations, flawed as they may be, the cost should be at least $4.1 million for machines with a verifiable paper trail. Lehigh County has budgeted $3.5 million  for the new system, but not Northampton.

I believe this omission is to make a stronger case to Governor Wolf for more than the $341,000 pittance he is giving the county, but an even better case can be made by budgeting for the most expensive machines out there.

Council's primary obligation is the public purse.They know this is coming,. They failed to prepare for it simply because they are less independent than they should be. So overall, I rate them a "B."

Individually, my assessments are as follows:

John Cusick - A: An algebra teacher, he has long maintained an interest in county government. He is the best-informed Council member, attends conferences by the local state association of counties and also follows the news in other county governments. He asks tough questions and will challenge Executive McClure, but appears to be primarily motivated by a desire for good government and fiscal conservatism.

Matt Dietz - A: A pilot, Dietz is probably the biggest fiscal hawk on Council. He has nevertheless gone along with most of Executive McClure's proposals because McClure himself is fiscally conservative. Very personable, Dietz never was never full of himself. Unfortunately for us, he will be stepping down at the end of his term to spend more time with his growing family. I quote him less frequently than others because he has a tendency to speak fast.

Peg Ferraro - C: A retired teacher, Peg was once described as a "Republican with a heart." It's true, too. She's also a good listener, which has a calming effect on speakers. Though politically astute, Peg has grown increasingly disenchanted with party politics and is beginning to enjoy her life after years of service. She has begun to miss meetings, which is why I give her a "C." But even at a "C," County Council needs her.

Kevin Lott - no grade: A carpenter, Kevin escapes an assessment because he was just appointed. I did have the opportunity to speak with him before his appointment, and I personally think he's going to be excellent. He is personable and down-to-earth like Dietz. He's a damn sight better than the miserable bastard he replaced. Ken Kraft almost certainly quit because he knew I would be giving him an "F." Just because. I'm a miserable bastard, too.

Ron Heckman - A: Ron is a polymath who has worked in human services, community development and as a Lehigh County liaison to municipalities. He loves to talk and is easily distracted, sometimes by himself. This can make meetings take longer than they should. But he is one of just a handful of people who understand Northampton County. When a group recently came to Council because they felt they had nowhere else to go, Heckman listened. He even extended their time. Also, when Executive McClure proposed eliminating positions as part of his 2019 budget, it was Heckman who asked whether other positions had been found. He cares about people. He can also be funny as hell. Rumors abound that the new Democrats wish to replace him with either Heffner or Zrinski. That would be a mistake. 

Lori Vargo Heffner - C: Of nine Council members with an excellent attendance record at Council and committee meetings, Heffner is a rare 100%. A social worker by training and education, Heffner is very committed to her role. According to some who know her, she has even canceled appointments that conflict with her Council duties. Initially, I was quite impressed by her, especially when she stood up to a condescending General Purpose Authority chair, Shawn Langen. But over the year, it's become increasingly apparent that she's full of herself. Who objects to meeting minutes because her name is hyphenated? She did. She was tough with Langen, but also is nasty when there's no reason for it, like when she sabotaged the nomination of the Allentown Diocese Superintendent to the volunteer drug and alcohol board. Her venom was on full display when Court Administrator Jermaine Greene sought Council's approval for a Juvenile Justice Center Director of Treatment. She raised all kinds of roadblocks. She imperiously told a black man who brought a physician and a psychologist that she did not like his tone. Judge Stephen Baratta put her complaints to bed, but she never apologized for her unprofessional behavior. The only reason I do not give her an "F" is because of her dedication. If she wants to stay on Council, she should try to be nicer to people.

Bill McGee - A: A trades union business agent, McGee is nothing you would expect from organized labor. Quiet and reflective, he has an amazing understanding of finance. I also think he sleeps in his suit. He is respectful to citizens and employees. He quietly lobbied for legislation requiring an apprenticeship program for contracts on county-owned property. He was successful, too, but his ordinance has been challenged in court.

Bob Werner - A: A retired teacher, Werner at one time announced he would run for county executive. He had second thoughts when Lamont McClure decided to run. He might be Council's most liberal member, but grew very close to conservative Hayden Phillips. If they were both on the same page on a county issue, they were right. With the departure of Phillips, Werner's enthusiasm for Council has waned. He still does his homework and is prepared for meetings, but the flame that once burned inside him has dimmed. His wife might run for his seat next year, which could mean a primary contest between her and South Easton's Frank Pintabone. 

Tara Zrinski - C:  In November, Northampton County was blanketed by a freak afternoon snowstorm. Some people spent that night sleeping in their cars. County Council was meeting at that time. That's when Tara Zrinski, a solar panel salesperson, decided to launch a diatribe against the lanternfly. She made sure to hand out cards to everyone, which probably came in handy in wiping snow off windshields. At a subsequent meeting, which only involved the approval of a $450 million budget, she had a series of three environmental resolutions. She actually insisted on reading the solar panel resolution in its entirety, maybe hoping she could make a sale.

Zrinsk appears to have little interest in the county or its business. She actually skipped one important meeting explaining a $26 million bond to purchase the human services building so she could attend a Susan Wild rally. She comes late to meetings, phoning in and attempting to listen as she drives to the courthouse. When she gets there, she complains about the reception being bad. She will then ask questions that have already been asked and answered. 

She has complained to Council members in other municipalities that she wants NorCo to pay for her health insurance. Some of you wrongly consider her a committed environmentalist. Her spotty voting history makes clear she has no interest in municipal government. Her chief cause, in the final analysis, is herself.

I would be giving her an "F" except for her attendance. 

Monday, December 24, 2018

McClure Deserves "A" After First Year

In Lamont McClure's first County Council race, he once called a news conference at the courthouse to signal his support for then Executive Glenn Reibman's $111 million bond. During his remarks, he ripped into me because I and four others had sued to stop it. After he finished, I introduced myself. McClure would go on to lose that race and his second race, too. He would eventually get appointed. The very first thing he did was commit a Sunshine Act violation, followed by a threat to sue me for libel when I pointed it out. He and I hardly started out on the right foot. But the very same person I once called "McMud" has been excellent during his first year in office. I give him an "A," and am far from alone. Here's why

(1) He has held the line on a tax hike, something he said he'll avoid completely in his first term.
(2) His first budget is a true balanced budget that only spends the revenue generated,and without dipping into cash reserves.
(3) He eliminated a number of positions he felt were unnecessary.
(4) All along, he has said our core responsibility is to help those unable to help themselves. To that end, he has beefed up Human Services so that it is more responsive to the abuse and neglect that victimizes some of our children, elderly and mentally ill.
(5) He took on a runaway General Purpose Authority (GPA) and won;
(6) He stopped the bleeding of county money for the GPA attorney and Chair;
(7) He has been transparent, advising both Council and the public what the county is doing through frequent news releases. He is accessible, readily available to employees with concerns;
(8) He beefed up the staff at the jail to reduce the mandated overtime for corrections officers, which forces them to work tired and miss holidays with their families.
(9) He revised the procurement provisions of the Administrative Code, which have in the past led to multiple lawsuits. This was discussed for years, but never done.
(10) He returned the administration of Gracedale to the county. The third-party administrator cost the county about $400,000 per year;
(11) He successfully negotiated six union contracts;
(12) Though personally opposed to the P3 bridge project for the repair or replacement of nearly 30 county-owned bridges, he is committed to seeing the project reach a successful conclusion.
(13) When the Meadows Bridge failed in Lower Saucon, he successfully lobbied the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and PennDOT to fast-track a replacement.
(14) He has resurrected the county's commitment to open space, fully funding farmland preservation, environmentally sensitive land and municipal parks.
(15) He has partnered with Easton to create more affordable housing;
(16) He has partnered with the Slate Belt to spur community development and pride.
(17) He is demolishing the Milides building to double the parking area across the street from the courthouse, as well as establishing a safe crosswalk.
(18) After over five years, he finally had emergency generators installed at Gracedale.
(19) He is purchasing the Centralized Human Services Building, but in a way that leverages $800,000 per year in state funds.
(20) After decades of talk, he is building a forensic center.
(21) He persuaded the Retirement Board to award a COLA.
(22) He revamped the county's medical care in a way that encourages health savings accounts, which he is willing to help fund. 

All of this is in one year, and I am sure I missed some achievements. Some employees have been critical because he has failed thus far to address salaries. Give him time. His record in one year exceeds what most Executives accomplish in four.

Later this week, I'll give you my assessment of County Council.

Friday, December 21, 2018

All Hail The Arc Trainer

As many of you have noticed, I struggle with my weight. I can easily lose weight through a combination of diet and exercise. The two are connected. When I exercise, I gradually start eating more healthy. But what always ruins things is an injury. This makes it hard to exercise. When I stop, the healthy eating goes out the window. Fortunately, I've recently discovered something that is really helping me. It's called the arc trainer.

My most recent journey to fitness began, as has happened before, with dog-sitting. I watched my grandson's dog for a few days when my grandson and his mother went on a brief vacation. Suki is a five-pound terror-terrier who thinks she is 500 pounds. She killed me. I had to walk her several times a day. I was in such lousy shape that even ten minutes had me out of breath.

The looks she would give me were very embarrassing.

So when Suki returned home, I began daily walks on my own until I could walk 20 minutes without keeling over. This was in July, so that did almost happen a few times.  As I grew more and more accustomed to these walks, I made them longer or went twice a day. And just like in the past, I gradually began to eat more healthy foods. DA John Morganelli, who is remarkably fit for a man of 90, told me that he had stopped drinking soft drinks and lost a ton of weight. I decided to try that and it does work.

About a month after I started, I woke up one morning with severe back pain (sciatica, I think). This made it impossible to walk. I tried, believe me. But I stayed on my diet, and in a few days, I could walk again, and began making them longer. And then the pain would return.

You know what that means. Unable to exercise, I would lose my interest in healthy eating. This is where the arc trainer rescued me. It's similar to an elliptical, but I find I can really push myself on it and without paying the price I do when I walk or run.  Yesterday, for example, I burned 746 calories in 60 minutes. The day before, in a high intensity workout, I burned 410 calories in a half hour. The best news of all is that there is no pain. So I have actually been able to return to walking, but now I am trying to focus more on the arc trainer

Thanks to the arc trainer, I have been able to stick to my diet and exercise regimen. So far, I have lost 58 pounds. Granted, 58 pounds is not a lot when you weigh a ton, but this seems to be working.

Most of you are much better than I at controlling your weight. I'm interested in your suggestions. Let me give you my routine:
- I start every morning with 16 ounces of water with a little bit of apple cider vinegar. I find this does curb my appetite. I try to drink 80 oz, but rarely make it.
- Contrary to the view that you should start each day with a healthy breakfast, I skip it. I start eating at lunchtime.
- I eat whatever I want, but have reduced calories to 1,800 per day. I count them on an app called My Fitness Pal.
- I lift weights once every three days.
- I do the plank daily for one minute.
- I do 30-60 minutes of cardio daily. With the arc trainer, I can get to 70% of my maximum heart rate in about five minutes.
- I stretch daily.
- I stop eating at 8 pm.

The ONLY time I have really been hungry was last week. I went out with friends and had a 10 oz  filet mignon, salad and a baked potato. When I got home that night, I was starving, which makes no sense.

If you have advice, feel free to share. Forget masking tape. I tried that and ate it.

The Warrior Monk Steps Down

Unfortunately, the wrong person has resigned. The Mattis letter below is a clear rebuke of the impulsive and misguided foreign policy of the person who should resign. Donald Trump has delighted fellow authoritarians Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad as well as the Islamic State. He has shown our allies that we are now unworthy of their respect.

WASHINGTON, DC 20301-1000
December 20, 2018

Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world.

Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9/11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must he resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date of my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and the 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department of all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

James N. Mattis

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Is John Brown the Next Palmer Tp Manager?

Remember former NorCo Exec John Brown? I know about 2,200 employees there who'd like to forget. Earlier this year, he formed John Brown Leadership Solutions Llc. It appears he is bringing that leadership to Palmer Tp. I am informed he is one of the applicants for the vacant Township Manager job there, which pays more than the salary of a county exec. Go figure.

I am unable to confirm this with Palmer Tp Supervisors. Confidential, you know.

Palmer's former Township Manager, Chris Christman, has landed in Derry Township.

Lori Vargo Heffner: 2019 Workhorse of the Year

Who are Northampton County Council's workhorses, show horses and no-showhorses in 2018? What is their attendance, including Committee participation, where most of the real work is done?

This year, all but one Council member get an "A." This is my annual report card, something I have done since 2006.

In 2017, it was a tie. Former Council member Hayden Phillips and current Council member John Cusick both had perfect attendance records. This year, the workhorse award goes to new Council member Lori Vargo Heffner. She had a perfect attendance record in 2018. She was at every Council meeting, budget hearing and committee meeting.

Each Council member is expected to attend 25 regular meetings and 5 budget hearings. Each is also encouraged to attend all of the committee hearings, regardless whether he or she is a voting member. That is where the heavy lifting is done. Altogether, there were 67 meetings last year.

I grade each council member based on attendance at all 67 meetings. If participation is by phone, I count it since the member can vote. If a Council member is present for only part of a meeting, or participates in a combined meeting of two committees, I count him or her as present at both. I am an easy grader.

In fairness, some Council members with lousy attendance may have work conflicts they are unable to avoid. My experience over the years tells me most are very conscientious and try to be present. Wayne Grube insisted on being present, even when he was very ill. Jerry Seyfried would call off from work to attend a meeting.

Council committees met as follows:
Capital Projects - five
Parks and Open Space - six
Economic Development - seven
Human Services - eight
Combined Personnel and Finance - 12

The busiest committee is combined Personnel and Finance, but Human Services is increasingly important. This will become more so now that the County is once again administering Gracedale.

The attendance grade of each Council member is as follows:

Lori Vargo Heffner - 100% (67/67) - A
John Cusick - 99% (66/67) - A
Ron Hechman - 97% (65/67)- A
Bill McGee - 97% (65/67) - A
Bob Werner - 97% (65/67) - A
Matt Dietz - 94% (63/67) - A
Tara Zrinski - 90% (60/67) - A
Peg Ferraro - 64% (43/67) - D

I excluded Ken Kraft, who resigned, and Kevin Lott, his replacement because they obviously were Council members for only part of the year.

I have never handed out this many "A"s. The only bad grade goes to Peg Ferraro, who spent much of last year traveling. Normally, this is where I trash the offender. But I am giving Peg a pass. She has spent decades in public service, is tired of politics and appears to be nearing the end of her political career.

Though I can still pick on Council members for everything else, I have to compliment their diligence.

Hanover Holds Line on Taxes For 10th Straight Year

I missed Tuesday night's final meeting of the year in Hanover Township (NC). I do have the details, but want to tell you why I was MIA.

Dour and misguided blogger Michael Molovinsky has been letting me have it lately. He's been criticizing me for criticizing others, something he apparently thinks only he may do. So I stopped at his house, where I would repeatedly ring his doorbell and then hide in the bushes.

His doorbell, by the way, plays a great rendition of the Israeli National Anthem. After the third or fourth time, he started yelling, "I know it's you, O'Hare! I'm calling the cops." Remembering that the police there can be a little trigger happy with minorities, I skedaddled.

I'm black Irish, you know.

Next, I visited Allentown to watch the DeSales Bulldogs take on the Muhlenberg Mules in college hoops. Both Men's and Women's teams played. DeSales won both games. Ironically, while at Muhlenberg, I bumped into old friends from the courthouse in Easton. I told them I still have at least four years of eligibility and could play if they need me.  A former friend responded that the team would have to be renamed the DeSales Bullshit. Another friend is a Muhlenberg grad who regaled me with tales of his mischief as a student. This included ringing people's doorbells and hiding in the bushes. I reported him today, and the college is revoking his diploma.

Merry Christmas, Frank!

As for Hanover Tp, Supervisors voted unanimously to hold the line for the 10th straight year. Township Manager Jay Finnigan also cut spending by $200,000, and has no plans to borrow money for anything.

The Township currently has zero debt. It has had zero debt for at least three years now.

The millage rate, which has remained the same since 2008 and includes a fire tax of 0.5 mills, will remain 3.90 mills.

"How the hell do you do this?" I asked Finnigan.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Who's Running in NorCo Next Year?

In the 2017 municipal races, Northampton County elected five Democrats for the six seats up for grabs. Executive Lamont McClure toppled incumbent John Brown. Ron Heckman, Lori Vargo Heffner, Bill McGee and Tara Zrinski were elected. The only Republican to hold onto office, and just barely, was Peg Ferraro.  Though McClure ran an excellent race, much of the reason for this lopsided victory - which existed statewide -  was general disgust with Authoritarian Donald Trump. If anything, he looks even worse now. But there should be little or no Trump effect in the Northampton County races next year except possibly in the DA's race. I'll explain why below.

NorCo Judge: District Attorney John Morganelli is mum on his plans next year. But expect him to announce his candidacy for judge. He'll be running for the open seat created by the unfortunate resignation of Judge Emil Giordano. I am unaware of anyone willing to challenge him. He is widely admired and respected by Democrats and Republicans alike. I doubt Republicans want a candidate because this would force Morganelli to mount a campaign, which would increase Democratic turnout and seal the GOP's doom in other races.

A judicial race is nonpartisan, and I expect to see John nominated by both parties. His race will be over in May,so there will be no Trump effect.

District Attorney: Terry Houck, the top Assistant DA on Morganelli's team, and Chief Public Defender Nuria DiLuzio are both expected to announce their candidacy as Democrats. This should be an interesting primary. Houck is a professional prosecutor who has distinguished himself both her and in Bucks County. Before that, he was a Philly cop. DiLuzio is less experienced, but is a very good lawyer. Some Democrats, especially those in the "Down with the Patriarchy" movement, will vote for her simply because she is a woman.

A third Democrat, an Easton lawyer (I do not yet have his name) who claims to have prosecuted war crimes in the  Hague, is reportedly interested. If he runs, I expect that he and Terry Houck will cancel each other out, and Nuria will be the Dem nominee.

On the Republican side, Senior Judge Leonard Zito is rumored as interested. But he is unable to discuss his intentions unless he resigns as a judge. If he does, he would be hard to beat. Tom Carroll, who chairs the LV Tea Party, intends to run. He could be the Republican nominee if Judge Zito stays put. If that happens, the Trump effect will be in play in that race. While his alt-right views have a small following, a Carroll candidacy will hurt mainstream Republicans seeking other county seats.

County Council: The four council seats up for grabs are district, and not at-large, seats. Council members represent portions of the county, and have ample opportunity to make themselves known in their community. Party affiliation is less important if the person is well known and highly regarded  So the Trump effect should be less significant in this kind of race.

District 1 includes Bethlehem, Hellertown, Freemansburg and Hanover Tp. It was represented by Ken Kraft, but he resigned to become the jail's public safety director. Kevin Lott was appointed to succeed him.I expect Kevin Lott, a Hellertown boy, will seek this seat and win. He's very personable and is a Democrat in a heavily Democratic district.  I am unaware of any Republican interested in this seat.

District 2 is known as the Easton district and is currently represented by Bob Werner, a Democrat. It includes, Easton, Forks, Glendon, Palmer, Stockertown, Tatamy, West Easton and Wilson Borough. Werner, who has served two terms, is stepping down. His wife, Sandy O'Brien, a former teacher, may be running. Former EASD President Frank Pintabone is interested as well. Both have deep Easton roots. I am unaware of any Republicans who are interested.

District 3, known as the Nazareth district, is a bit confusing. It does include Nazareth, but also includes Lower Saucon, Williams, Allen, East Allen, Bethlehem Tp, Northampton, N Catasauqua and Lower Nazareth. It is currently represented by John Cusick, a Republican and former Williams Tp Supervisor who has served in this district before. I expect him to seek re-election. His region is more conservative than District 1 or 2, but a Democrat who is well known in this area could win. I am unaware of any Democrat seeking this position.

District 4, known as the Slate Belt or northern tier, consists of the remaining municipalities in the northern portion of the county, along the Blue Mountain. Matt Dietz is stepping down after one term so he can spend more time with his family. Pilot Korry Franke, a Republican, will be running in this conservative district. I am unaware of any Democrat who is interested. 

Controller: It's unfortunate that Richard "Bucky" Szulborski is only serving as an interim controller. He has received kudos for his impartiality. Republican Hayden Phillips might run for the seat. As a County Council member, he was both diligent and honest. I have yet to hear from any Democrats.

Updated 9 am:  In the DA's race, the Easton attorney in question is Arthur Traldi. His LinkedIn page indicates he is a "Courtroom litigator with extensive experience prosecuting some of the most serious crimes in recent history. Specialties include legal services, domestic and international criminal law, litigation, trial practice and advocacy, transitional justice, rule of law, and human rights. Certified to practice law before the state courts of Pennsylvania, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, and the United States Supreme Court."

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

There's a Reason Steve Barron Handles NorCo's Money

Steve Barron, Northampton County's former Controller, is currently Director of Fiscal Affairs. He's got the right job, too. He can squeeze a buck.

I called him over the weekend about six union contracts approved by NorCo Council Thursday night, trying to make sure my story was accurate. I heard back from him late Sunday. He told me that he had taken his family to see Hamilton on Broadway. Those are $1,000 tickets, so I demanded an explanation. His youngest daughter, who is going to be an actress when she grows up, really wanted to go. He checked repeatedly for sales and was able to get four tickets at a price that even I could afford.

Today, he let me in on another secret. There's also a daily online lottery that opens up the first four rows for just $10. The only drawback is that it is for a next day performance.

I've already applied.

Bethlehem Tp Votes For 9% Tax Hike, Including Fire Tax

Bethlehem Township Commissioners have voted 4-1 for a nine per cent property tax hike in 2019. Voting Yes were Vice President Malissa Davis, and Commissioners Kristine Blake, John Gallagher and John Merhotten. Voting No was President Mike Hudak. He voted against both the budget and a fire tax policy that restricts the anticipated fire tax revenue to the acquisition of fire vehicles.

This decision follows three budget hearings. The proposed spending plan was available on the township website and could also be physically inspected at the municipal building over the past 30 days.

At the current real estate tax of 7.09 mills, the annual tax bill is $647 for the average taxpayer. With an increase in millage to 7.74 mills, taxes will increase to $705 for the average homeowner next year.

In addition to real estate taxes, the Township imposes an earned income tax (0.5%). The average annual earned income tax payment per household is $415, and will remain unchanged. .

For the first time, the Township has imposed a fire tax set at 0.15 mills. Under state law, money collected through a fire tax must be set aside in a separate account and may be used only for the township's two volunteer fire departments.

In a detailed budget message, Manager Doug Bruce's cites several reasons. Under negotiated union contracts, wages have increased between two and three per cent. Health insurance costs have risen 8.7%. Debt service next year on four loans over the past nine years will be over $2 million. The cost of the pension funds have increased $100,000. Workers compensation insurance has skyrocketed 27%. Unfunded stormwater mandates will cost $250,000- 750,000 per year. Also, the Township can no longer count an any casino grants, upon which it relied for $250,000 per year.. Bruce describes the Township a "mature, nearly built-out municipality where annual revenues have not quite been keeping up with annual expenses for the better part of a decade."

There was no discussion before the budget vote from any of the Commissioners or the public.

In nearby Hanover Tp (NC), which is poised to adopt its 10th straight no-tax-hike budget tonight, Manager Jay Finnigan has credited their 0.50 mill fire tax as one of the main reasons. It enables the Township to plan ahead for major capital purchases without incurring debt. As a result, the Township has been debt free for the past three years.

"We're $17 million in debt, we have some fire trucks we need to purchase, hence my Yes vote," explained Commissioner John Merhotten. "I'd love to go through the budget with anybody and explain what we're not paying for."

The audience included NorCo GOP Chair Lee Snover, who left the meeting soon after the vote.

Hudak called the fire tax a "feel good" measure that won't really accomplish anything.

In other business, Township Treasurer Rosalia Italiano and a Wells Fargo Bank representative presented plans to relax the investment policy for three of the Township's five pensions. The police pension board has already taken that step with the $17.4 million police pension, but the remaining four pensions need the approval of Commissioners. As explained in a memo from Manager Doug Bruce, "The changes allow for a slightly less conservative investment policy – moving the maximum percentage investment in equities (stocks) from 40 percent to 60 percent (most likely it will actually be 50 percent to start)." The new policy would still ban commodity trading, short selling or option trading. There is no specific ban on hedge fund investments, which are risky investments designed to outperform the market.

According to Italiano, the Township pensions are shooting for a seven per cent return.

Commissioners are taking two weeks to consider the proposal. "If this thing goes South, the Township taxpayer has to make up the difference," complained resident Ben Hedrick. "I'm very uneasy about it."

They also voted unanimously to support an agreement with Bethlehem Area Public Library for a satellite library at the Coolidge Building, to be open three days a week. Commissioner John Merhotten, who is spearheading this effort, hopes it will be open at the end of April.

Commissioners heard complaints from resident Barry Roth about the Township Marshal, who takes a township vehicle home every night. He stated a resolution adopted years ago bans all employees from taking vehicles home, excepting the K-9 officer.

Roth also complained about a $8,800 bill for repairs to a Ford Explorer that was flooded out in heavy rains. Manager Bruce said the damages are covered by insurance, but Roth went on anyway, saying that everyone knows what areas are inundated by heavy rains.

"You just piss money away and nobody gets held accountable for it," he muttered as he returned to his seat.

Beware Of Scam Calls From Fake NorCo Deputy Sheriff

The Northampton County Sheriff’s Department has received numerous inquiries about a male identifying himself as Lieutenant Jones from the Northampton County Sheriff’s Department—Civil Division. He is contacting residents by phone concerning missing jury duty. He then requests money be wired to cover a fine in lieu of arrest.

The Northampton County Sheriff’s Department will never request anyone to wire money or post bond in lieu of arrest. Also, it is the jury clerk, and not the Sheriff, who contacts people who miss jury service.

Please report any solicitations to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office at 800 441 2555 or email them at scams@attorneygeneral.gov. The Northampton County Jury Clerk can be reached at 610 829 6730.

I received a scam email today. It was supposedly an email from former Congressional Candidate David Clark.
How are you doing today?
Please can you do me a favor?
I figured he was running for office again and asked, "What is it?"
I am sorry for bothering you with this mail, I need to get an iTunes gift card for my Niece, Its her birthday but i can't do this now because I'm currently traveling and i tried purchasing online but unfortunately no luck with that. Can you get it from any store around you? I'll pay back as soon as i am back. Kindly let me know if you can handle this.
​Await your soonest response.​
I'm pretty sure someone was running a con.

I also get scam emails that are purportedly from blogger Michael Molovinsky all the time, suggesting weight loss products. Those may really be coming from him. I ignore them in what I consider a profile in courage on my part.

At Least Allentown's Dogs Get $2,500

Allentown residents are seeing their annual water bill soar by 107%, thanks to the City's misguided decision to lease its water and sewer systems. Now property owners are facing a 27% tax hike in 2019 as well. But there's good news if you're a dog. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has donated $2,500 for the Dixon Street Dog Park.

Of course, if you want to use the dog park, your human must register in person at the Parks and Recreation Office at 3000 Parkway Blvd Allentown PA 18104 Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 4:00pm. Proof of residency via photo ID, proof of valid dog licenses and vaccinations and completed application are required in order to receive a dog park key fob.

Construction on the dog park, which cost $125,000, was paid for by grants from the Friends of the Allentown Parks and the Pet Safe's Bark for Your Park program, as well as about $90,000 from Allentown.

A dog park in Nazareth cost $0. Another in Easton cost $12,000,of which $5,000 was donated.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Midnight Madness, Allentown Style

When your local government has to conduct its business at 11:59 on a Saturday night, you know things are bad. Especially if that government is Allentown. As the witching hour approached, Mayor Ray O'Connell vetoed an amended budget that would have lightened the tax load on city residents. City Council was unable to override. So O'Connell's original budget, which increases taxes by 27%, has gone into effect. Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick, who unlike me was actually there in the flesh, concludes that this midnight madness is proof that the budget provisions in the Home Rule Charter need an overhaul. That's what some City Council members like Roger MacLean, who does an amazing job of simulating oral sex, would have you believe, too. There's nothing wrong with the Home Rule Charter. There's plenty wrong with City Council and Mayor Ray O'Connell.

Had City Council really been interested in avoiding the crisis they themselves created, they simply could have approved an amended budget sooner than they did. They had ample time. As for Ray O'Connell, he seems to have forgotten a lot of things. One of them is that he is an appointed Mayor. He has no mandate from the voters, who rejected him as Mayor twice. Yet he has taken it upon himself to veto the will of five elected City Council members. He should have accepted the compromise budget.

While paying 27% more in taxes, many city residents actually have to hire someone to plow their streets after a snowstorm. I learned that on Friday night. It takes city trucks three days to arrive in some neighborhoods, especially on the east side. One east side resident is still waiting for the city to pick up leaves. So yes, Ray O'Connell should lose when he seeks what he calls "re-election" to a job he was never elected to in the first place.

O'Connell has done none of the things he said he would do. Nothing to cut waste in the City. Nothing to improve Allentown schools. He has kept most of Fed Ed's players.

But this is Allentown. Ray appears to have made a deal with the Jenn Mann mob. Her puppet, Charlie Thiel, will support Ray. Then, in two years, Ray will support Thiel.

By the way, if you think this is the last of the massive tax hikes, think again. Ray's life experience is in the public, not private, sector. The only way he knows how to balance the budget is by raising taxes on those who can least afford it - seniors, the working poor and younger people. .

Why Mayor Donchez Got Into Politics

Last week, fellow troublemaker Steve Antalics sent me the news clipping you see above from the now extinct Bethlehem Globe Times, relating to the prosecution of Bethlehem's three top cops back in the '60s. What I failed to tell you is that a Bethlehem officer who assisted in that prosecution paid a heavy price. His name was Detective John J. Donchez. His son would later go into government as a result of what happened to his father. That son is Mayor Bob Donchez.

It's hard to be a good cop. It's even harder to be a good cop when surrounded by bad cops. Detective John Joseph Donchez, known as "JJ," was a good cop. I was still in high school at the time of these prosecutions, but remember fielding many calls from Donchez as well as John Yerk, who would later become Commissioner.

Donchez took this case and his work very seriously. He brought his son Bob to watch the trial and subsequent convictions. He would be demoted as a result of his work and insistence on doing the right thing. This bothered him so much he had a heart attack. A second heart attack, right around Christmas, would kill him and leave Bob without a father. 

My father paid a price, too, although he had no heart and had no reason to worry about a cardiac arrest. My Dad needed Bethlehem to win a tough re-election bid against Charlie Spaziani. He didn't get it. Spaz, to his credit, continued the prosecution after being elected. The convictions of Director of Public Safety Irvin L Good and Vice Squad Chief Detective Louis Maio were ultimately affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

These charges infuriated Mayor H Gordon Payrow. After an all-night meeting with Bethlehem Republican leaders, he claimed my Dad, a Democrat, would be charged with false arrest. He also implied that the reason for these charges was because Payrow had snubbed my father's request for a job at Bethlehem Steel. "Why did word get back to me several weeks ago - get me a legal job at the Bethlehem Steel Corp. after Jan. 1 and I will take the heat off."

My father denied the accusation or any political motive.
"I have what? My God. This just leaves me speechless. I thought that Mayor Payrow's remarks up to now have been unfettered, but I never dreamed this man would stoop as low as this.

"This is absolutely untrue. It is a lie. He is sick, absolutely sick. This is absolutely disgusting. A man of his position getting involved in tactics of this kind is absolutely sickening."
No charges were ever filed against my father. Payrow was apparently unaware that the Steel already had, on several occasions, offered my Dad a job. He repeatedly said No. He was never a company man.

I never saw this exchange until Steve Antalics sent me these clippings. But I already despised Payrow for a different reason. When he was in office, Payrow invited a senior from Liberty and Freedom High School to be Mayor for a Day, while snubbing Bethlehem Catholic. I thought this was subtle prejudice. This was the subject of my first ever letter to the editor. I had no idea until late last week that there already was bad blood between my father and Payrow.

I've painted an ugly picture of Payrow, perhaps unfairly. Mayor Donchez tells me that one day, after this was over, Payrow came to the Donchez home and apologized. He claimed he had been listening to the wrong people. He begged Det. Donchez to take the Sergeant's exam again. He did and got his rank back. Payrow would later ask Det. Sgt Donchez to take the Captain's exam. Unfortunately, Donchez passed away.

Mayor Donchez told me that what happened to his father is what led to his interest in both government and politics. It's why he is basically a boy scout in comparison to other elected officials. He and another young fellow named John Morganelli got involved. John has always had a passion for politics. In Bob's case, he wanted to restore his father's good name.

Mission accomplished, Bob.

Friday, December 14, 2018

NorCo Council Unanimously Approves Six New Union Contracts

Northampton County Council conducted their last meeting of the year last night. Unanimously, they approved six union contracts. Executive Lamont McClure. "They are the greatest!" he said of the workers."They're worth more money than we're about to pay them," adding they understand "the taxpayers are not a money tree."

Four of these contracts are with the Court-Related Non-professional, Court-Appointed Non-professional, Residual Non-professional and Youth Detention Center bargaining units. All are a part of AFSCME and those contracts expired at the end of last year. Under new, three-year contracts, these four unions are each receiving what is known as a "step" increase for 2018. This is a 4 1/2% payhike and is retroactive until the beginning of 2018. In 2019 and 2020, there will be two per cent raises. Employees already at the top step will get a cash payout of $1750 for 2018.

Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron said the retroactive payhike will likely take place in 2019.

The Gracedale Union, which consists of all union employees except for Registered Nurses, expires at the end of this year. In 2019, Gracedale workers will see a step increase, followed by two per cent raises in 2020 and 2021.

Several years ago, Gracedale workers gave up their paid lunches to help keep the then struggling nursing home afloat. Under the new contract, Gracedale workers will get them back.  Human Resources Director Elizabeth Kelly said that the union gave up three benefits in return. One perk is a sick leave bonus paid to part-time workers, even though they have no sick days. Another is something known as "99" days. This enables employees to take up to five unpaid personal days every year. Some employees were taking more, which established a practice. Under the new contract, employees who abuse the "99" day perk will be disciplined. Finally,changes have been made to Friday shift differentials.

The final union contract is with the Human Services PSSU Union, which is part of SEIU. Employees there are getting a retroactive step increase in 2018, followed by two per cent raises in 2019 and 2020. Because a step increase in Human Services is only about 2.25% compared to the 4.5% with the other unions,the county is also agreeing to make up the difference with cash.

In addition to the pay increases, Executive Lamont McClure noted that the new contracts eliminate the gap insurance employees were being forced to pay. In addition, two new health plans are being offered. Both are "Preferred Provider Organization" (PPO) plans. These are allow participants to visit in-network physician or healthcare provider without first obtaining a referral from a primary care physician. According to HR Director Kelly, they provide more favorable prices and better coverage than other plans.

The first of these, called PPO400, is described by Kelly as a "traditional" PPO plan with a $400 deductible for single members and a $800 deductible for family coverage. The second PPO has higher deductibles ($2,000 for single, $4,000 for family), but enables employees to establish Health Savings Accounts. Single employees can contribute up to $3,500 per year, while those with family coverage can pay in $7,000 per year. The County is also willing to fund these accounts to $1,250 for single coverage HSAs, and $2,500 for family.

Kelly pointed out that HSAs are portable, meaning that if an employee leaves to work somewhere else, he can take the HSA with him.

After these contracts were approved by County Council, Executive McClure thanked them for "unanimously validating the dignity of the worker."

These new contracts mean that the county's payroll will increase $848,048 this year, and $2.6 million in 2020.

In other business, the appointment of a Director of Treatment at the Juvenile Justice center was finally approved by unanimous vote. Council member Lori Vargo Heffner, who was imposing all kinds of roadblocks as recently as Monday, is suddenly now "comfortable' with the appointment. Judge Stephen Baratta's letter to her certainly had something to do with making her comfortable.

Also, despite claiming she had the votes and rallying her troops, Tara Zrinski has now decided that the planet will survive if her plastic straw ban resolution waits until next year. But some of her troops were there, including misandrist Becky Wamsley, Kathy Fox and Dr. Breena Holland  The latter two spoke in support of the ban.

Finally, at the request of Council member John Cusick, Council approved $5,000 grants from their contingency fund to The Center for Animal Health and Welfare and the Saucon Valley Community Center. Both are nonprofits.

Council member Kevin Lott spoke highly of both organizations.     

Citizens Complain of Human Services Abuses

Three people complained to Northampton County Council last night over what they claim are serious human services abuses in both Northampton County and nationwide. They all went over their allotted time, but Council VP Ron Heckman let them speak. Since these people feel no one has heard them, he made the right call. Whether what they claim is true is another story

Ron Shegda is an excitable former tea party politician who at one time hosted a blog that tried to imitate mine. His Pa Political Polka video by itself is reason to have him and everyone around him committed. After watching it, I need to commit myself. He once referred to me at a courthouse rally about human services abuses as Satan.

He was the first to speak. His sister, who suffers from Down's syndrome, was taken away from him about seven years ago. He complained of "chronic cruelty and intense abuse" by Northampton County Human Services and the agencies it employees. "They will lie about vulnerable people and their families for their 30 pieces of silver," he said, claiming that Human Services should be called Human Disservices or Inhuman Services. He spoke of his sister being dragged out of the house by Attorney Deborah DeNardo, who is often employed as a Guardian.

He didn't mention his video.

Arlene Dabrow, who refers to herself at LinkedIn as the Chair of Pennsylvanians Against Government Abuse, pointed out that there are three branches of government. "We are not supposed to have a branch called the bureaucrats, but that is what we have." She complained about "negligence and abuse, covered up by fraud."  It appeared that most of her complaints were directed at Lehigh and Northampton County for refusing to hire her.

The final speaker, Tamar Dick, is a disabled artist who said NorCo human services workers mocked her when she filed for disability. She claims to be a victim of capitation fraud. "This is a human rights issue," she argued.

My first impulse on hearing these stories is to dismiss them. But what if they are right?

Executive Lamont McClure told County Council that there's very little he can say in public when accusations like these are made. But he suggested that Council's Human Services Committee could review these allegations, and if thought to be meritorious, refer the matter to the District Attorney.

He also defended the Human Services department, giving it his "strongest endorsement," and calling it one of the finest in the state. "We're not perfect," he admitted. "We do make mistakes." But he added, "We care."

Instead of condemning or dismissing this trio, he commended them for having the courage to address Council.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Judge Panella To Preside Over Pennsylvania Superior Court

Jack Panella is a well-regarded former Northampton County jurist who served as Northampton County Solicitor under former Executive Gerald E. "Jerry" Seyfied. He now is the President Judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

The Superior Court, easily the state's busiest court, handled 8,019 cases in 2017. It is an intermediate appeals court, hearing appeals from the county courts. It also entertains wiretap applications.

I will be contacting Judge Panella for more details soon.

And You Think I'm a Bastard

I can be tough on public officials, as some of my more recent stories make clear. But as I often tell people, the real bastard was my father. Whether it was a judge or Bethlehem's three top cops, he took no prisoners. I'm the nice O'Hare.

(My thanks to fellow troublemaker Steve Antalics for sending me that clipping. My dad took a lot of heat when he went after the three highest ranking police officers in Bethlehem. He didn't give a shit. He got them, too.) 

Zrinski Needs to Correct Incomplete Ethics Statement

Under the state Ethics Act, elected officials must file a "Statement of Financial Interests" every year. It enables the public to follow the money and pick upon possible conflicts of interest. But that's impossible when an official fails to tells us where she gets her money. That's precisely what has happened with Northampton County Council member Tara Zrinski.

Her most recent "Statement of Financial Interests" was filed 3/1/18, and covers calendar year 2017. According to the State Ethics Commission, "THIS FORM IS CONSIDERED DEFICIENT IF ANY BLOCK IS NOT COMPLETED."

Block 10 requires her to list direct and indirect sources of income. The instructions explain that you must list the name and address of each source of $1,300 or more of gross income. If there is no income, you are supposed to check "None."

Zrinski left it blank. She even failed to list the money she is paid by Northampton County.

Block 13 requires her to list the name and address of any business at which she is an employee "in any capacity whatsoever as to any business entity." Zrinski checked "None," indicating she was employed nowhere in 2017. Yet her LinkedIn page claims that she was an adjunct professor at both Northampton Community College and Lehigh Carbon Community College in 2017. It also boasts that she was a Tesla Energy Advisor from June 2017.

Zrinski checked "None." She even fails to list her own business selling her book, "All Ducks are Birds", for $30.99 and offering classroom visits for $50 plus travel.

Now I understand that people often make mistakes filling out forms. I am assuming that Zrinski's failure here is simply an oversight. But these ethics statements are what enable the public to keep an eye on public servants. So I have sent Zrinski an email, asking her to amend her report within seven days. If she does, fine.If she refuses, I will do what I have to do.

Updated 2:12 pm: Zrinski to Amend Ethics Statement. -  Tara Zrinski has emailed me to say she will amend her ethics statement at her earliest convenience.

NorCo Controller Blasts Law Firm, Former Exec, in Devastating Audit

John Lushis
Imagine you're elected Northampton County Executive, go to your office to begin your new job, and find nothing's there. That's what happened when Lamont McClure started as the County's top man. The shredders must have been working OT before he started. He was flying blind on top of a $450 million budget. But one of the first things to cross his desk was an outrageous legal bill from John Lushis of Allentown law firm Norris McLaughlin. Even more amazing, it was for a new jail at Gracedale. Former Executive John Brown had repeatedly denied this during the campaign. As McClure settled in, more and more of these bills crossed his desk. He would eventually learn that Brown had been using the county's General Purpose Authority (GPA) to do an end run around County Council. Now an audit from Controller Richard "Bucky" Szulborski confirms it, and also demonstrates that Lushis' law firm was overbilling.

John Briwn
Earlier this year, Council VP Ron Heckman convened a special hearing over GPA irregularities. Its former Chair, Shawn Langen, was condescending and dismissive. "I have about 12 more minutes before I have dinner for 10 people," he huffed at one point. Following that hearing, Ken Kraft introduced a tough resolution calling for the resignations of Lushis and Langen.

Thy both eventually stepped down. McClure has refused to pay Lushis any moremoney,and he rejectedbills that were also submitted by Langen.

Slowly, Lamont McClure has appointed new members, and the GPA is now a better and more responsive agency. In the meantime, the Controller was asked to audit GPA over the billing and how it is that Lushis was able to get away with charging so much money. That audit was released December 10. Lead auditor Anthony Sabino pretty much confirms that Lushis overbilled and that former Executive Brown was using Lushis as some sort of secret solicitor with no oversight from Council.

According to the audit, Lushis overbilled the county on the P3 bridge project to the tune of $55,069. Even worse, John Brown paid him $153,343.50 for work related to a new jail even though that work was never authorized by Council.

"[W]e , we believe NMM was acting as a Professional Service vendor of the County and that all restrictions included in Article XIII of the County’s Administrative Code (Procurement and Disposition of County Property) are applicable as to their retention for workrelated to the Jail Reconstruction Project. The only procedural difference was that invoices were addressed to the NCGPA but they were paid directly to NMM by the County."

The audit goes on to point out six violations of the county's procurement code. In addition, the GPA violated its own by-laws when hiring vendors.

You can read the audit in its entirety below.

NorCo Controller's Audit of GPA by BernieOHare on Scribd

McClure to Seek Approval of Six Union Contracts Tonight

Despite the distractions from Council members Lori Vargo Heffner and Tara Zrinski on Thursday night, Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure has managed to negotiate contracts with six of the bargaining units representing county workers. At tonight's Council meeting, he will present them to Council and seek approval. At that time, he will outline what employees in those bargaining units can expect.

The proposed contracts are with the following bargaining units:

Court-Related Non-professional
Court-Appointed Non-professional
Gracedale Union
Residual Non-professional
Youth Detention Center
Human Services PSSU

All of these unions, with the exception of Gracedale, have contracts that expired at the end of last year. Gracedale's contract expires at the end of this year, but began negotiations early. These are all AFSCME-affiliated unions. Gracedale's contract has no application to Registered Nurses, who are represented by the Steelworkers.

McClure is currently negotiating with the following unions:

Corrections officers union
Deputy Sheriff Association.

About 70% of Northampton County's workforce is represented by a union.

On Friday, I will provide the details, assuming the contracts are approved.

In addition, Council VP Ron Heckman has directed that a resolution approving a Director of Treatment at the Juvenile Justice Center be placed on the agenda despite the myriad of picayune objections from Heffner, aka Super Shrink.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Pilot Seeking Slate Belt Seat on NorCo Council

Bushkill Township resident Korry Franke has informally announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination to Northampton County Council in next year's election in Region 4. That's the northern tier or slate belt area. That seat is currently held by Republican Matt Dietz.

Dietz is respected by Democrats and Republicans alike for his integrity and complete transparency. He has been a model public servant, but is stepping down so he can watch his family grow up. He will be missed.. He was one of the few there still willing to talk to me.

Like Dietz, Franke is a pilot and works for one of the airlines.

In his informal Facebook announcement, Franke mentions the failed effort of Bushkill Tp parents in persuading the county to move voting from Butz Elementary School in Bushkill Tp to a nearby firehall. "If the county isn't willing to advocate for reasonable citizen requests like theirs, then our community needs someone who will. Franke points out that parents were actually shouted down at the county level. That is unfortunately true. Elections Comm's Chair George Treisner bullied about 50 parents and children who came to a meeting in March. Executive Lamont McClure subsequently apologized for Treisner's behavior.

Franke said he wants "Northampton County to find its true north again."

Northampton County Council is a nine-person body. Five seats are at-large seats,meaning that the members are elected by the entire county. The remaining four seats are district seats consisting of (1) Bethlehem and surrounding areas; (2) Easton and surrounding areas; (3) Nazareth and surrounding areas; and (4) the slate belt or northern tier. The district seats are up for election in 2019.

County council members are part-time and paid a salary of $9,500. They receive no benefits, although they may participate in the pension.

Franke's district is largely Republican, so if he gets the GOP nod, he will likely win the seat.

An Unusual Will

From a recent Will probated in Northampton County:

"I direct that my remains be buried immediately. I don’t want to be embalmed or cut open for religious reasons. I don’t want no autopsy done. I just want to be buried and for a priest to pray over my body and soul to ask God to forgive me for my sins and for him to ask and pray for God to take my soul into heaven. Just make sure I have no pulse and that I’ve been dead for awhile, then bury me right away. I don’t want my body to be touched by Lehigh Valley hospitals, St. Luke’s hospitals, Sacred Heart hospital or anyone that works for or are affiliated with those hospitals. I want to be laid to rest in peace and quickly. I authorize my Executor to carry out these directions and wishes, particularly those for the disposition of my remains."

Judge Baratta Shrinks Super Shrink

Judge Stephen Baratta
NorCo Council member Lori Vargo Heffner, aka Super Shrink, grilled Court Administrator Jermaine Greene and two doctors on Thursday night over a Director of Treatment, what really is a minor staffing change at the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC). After about 30 minutes of hostile questions, she said she had no desire to be "picayune" at 8 pm on a Thursday night. She's decided to be picayune in emails to Greene. Super Shrink is now demanding a "written overview of the program" at the Juvenile Justice Center. She wants to do a site survey, i.e. access confidential juvenile files. She also told Greene she did not like his tone on Thursday night, which was both professional and respectful. That's more than I can say about her own demeanor. Super Shrink has received a response to her latest demands. But they don't come from Greene. They come instead from Judge Stephen Baratta, who is the Administrative Judge for Juvenile Court.

Copies of Judge Baratta's four-page response went to Greene, President Judge Michael Koury, Ron Heckman, County Council and their lawyer, Chris Spadoni. Someone on Council leaked it to me. Below are excerpts:

Greene: "Your reaction does not comport with my understanding of Mr. Greene's general demeanor. Please know that he is a valued employee of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts - the Administrative arm of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He is well respected throughout this Commonwealth, and especially here in Northampton County, for his skill and professionalism. ... [H]is professionalism and his work product have never been questioned before I saw your email."

Lori Vargo Heffner
JJC in Courts' domain: "I remind you that both the Home Rule Charter and the Administrative Code speak to the separation of powers and the exclusive authority of the Court to manage its employees and our internal operations, which includes the employees and the treatment programming of the JJC."

Site survey demand: "[S]tate and federal regulations governing our facility do not permit you, as a county office holder, to have access to our files, as all juvenile records are protected by very stringent confidentiality restrictions."

Must Director of Treatment be licensed social worker: "Please know that we have consulted with the Department of Public Welfare and the Office of Children and Youth about this position, the agencies responsible for auditing JJC operations. Both are comfortable with the job description. No licensure is required to manage and coordinate treatment, as the position is purely administrative. I would also remind you that the position of the Deputy Warden in Northampton County Prison overseeing the prison's treatment services does not require any licensure."

Appointment is Fiscally Prudent: "Frankly, I do not understand your interest in controlling the Court's job description for an administrative position in the JJC. By creating this position, we were able to eliminate a higher paying (Deputy) position, saving the county money and we consolidated services by reorganizing staff. I would think, from an efficiency and fiscal savings standpoint, that this request would be unopposed by Council."

Time to vote: "I do not understand why your intention to examine our clinical operations and programming is relevant to Council's consideration of the request to consolidate various existing JJC administrative duties into this new position. I am told that Council has already been provided with all the forms and other necessary documentation to create this position. You need no other documentation to vote on this request."

Any meeting with Super Shrink will be formal: "I will endeavor to assist you in your efforts to inquire into our clinical programming. I only request, given the tenor of your email, that we do so formally, with the involvement of the entire Council and your Solicitor ... ."

Super Shrink Interfering with Courts: "[W]hat authority does County Council have to interfere with the Court's management of its employees and our desire to reclassify positions when we reorganize our administrative operations, so long as our requests are fiscally prudent and do not infringe upon the duties and responsibilities of the County Executive or County Council Administrative?"

This has gone on long enough. Single-handedly, Super Shrink is destroying the good working relationship that the Courts have with Council and the Executive. It is time for VP Ron Heckman to put a stop to the nonsense and just conduct a vote on the tabled resolution.