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Friday, April 20, 2018

McClure Labels GPA a "Rogue Authority," Calls Legal Bills an "Outrage"

Lamont McClure smiles when Peg Ferraro asks,
"Will you say, I do?"
Since January, I've been critical of the General Purpose Authority (GPA). This is a county agency originally established as a conduit for pass through loans by universities and hospitals. But when former Executive John Brown designated this authority to administer what really is a $38 million county bridge building project, the problems started.

It started the year with a Sunshine Act violation, ducking into executive session without bothering to explain why. Review of the minutes revealed that its Solicitor, John Lushis, was tapped by Brown to work on other P3 projects and provide "special legal services" without the knowledge of Council and in apparent violation of the County's own Administrative Code. The GPA also hired Brown's former publicity agent, Sahl Communications, to establish a web page and Facebook page that could have been created by a grade school student. It also voted to pay Chair Shawn Langen $200 per hour yo check the work being done by the third party engineer checking the bridge contractor.

I learned from Langen himself that the GPA and Lushis intended to market P3 projects to other municipalities.

In response to a Right-to-Know, I learned that Lushis' law firm, Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus, billed the County $3,390 for six copyrights that were identified as the property of that firm, and not Northampton County or the GPA. I learned that Langen had submitted a bill for $11,950 to check the work being done by the checker. Finally, and most significantly, I discovered that Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus had billed and received  $813,000 in 2016 and 2017. Brown buried the expenditure in the jail budget

At their April 10 meeting, the GPA refused to recognize Charles Dertinger, the County's second highest ranking official, when he approached them with information they had just finished complaining they had not received. They also voted to hire a Philadelphia law firm for litigation with the County without bothering to seek proposals from anyone. They may have already paid this firm a $10,000 retainer.

During this meeting, they also voted to approve five invoices submitted by Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus, including a bill for $34,000 to respond to three Right-to-Knows (Two from me, one from The Morning Call). At that time, I still did not have a complete response to my requests.

I have it now, and it is a joke. I intend to appeal.

What does Executive Lamont McClure make of all this?

He answered that question last night, in his report to Council. He called the GPA a "rogue authority" and said that the John Lushis bills are an "outrage." While saying he'd like to avoid litigation, he made clear that GPA's role in the P3 project needs to be lessened.

Here's what he said.
"I believe that I was not clear enough when I made my last statement on this issue. I want the P3 project, specifically the P3 project with the 33 bridges in it, to be successful. I want to complete it, and when I highlight the difficulties with it, I want no one to assume that we are anything but completely committed to finishing the project. That isn't to say that we don't want our laws followed, including our 80% rule [80% of all county-financed construction must be with local labor]. We do. That isn't to say we won't stand on our rights in the contract. We will. But we want this to succeed. We will make the milestone payments when it's appropriate under the contract. The construction company will have its cash flow.


"We will get this done, but that isn't to say there aren't problems. One of the big problems is we have a rogue authority right now in the General Purpose Authority. And they really are in the way of us getting this project done in a timely fashion. Frankly, some of the things they've done, including bill you - you're paying - 800, almost $1 million in legal fees over the last two years - you're paying that. That's an outrage. We have a bill from [GPA Chair] Langen for $11,000. He's the Chair of the General Purpose Authority. He submitted a bill under the services agreement for checking the work of the third party engineer. Well, as you might imagine, I haven't paid it. These are some challenges that we have going forward.

"Now Ms. Ferraro, you're on the GPA. You were at that last meeting. You saw a bill and I think you voted to approve it, which I think was disappointing. Thirty-four thousand dollars to do a Right-to-Know request  We do Right-to-Know requests all the time around here, and we don't spend $34,000 on them, I was also very disappointed that the GPA voted to use public money to sue this County or to hire a special counsel to do that. That's very, very unfortunate.
Peg Ferraro asked McClure to sit down with the GPA like he did with the Gaming Board.. He said he would, and would be at the next meeting himself.

Gaming Board Goes Out a Winner

At this time two weeks ago, it looked as though Northampton County and its nine-person Gaming Board might end up in court. Recent changes in the Gaming Law provide that the Commonwealth Financing Authority, from the land of midnight payraises, will now decide how to dole out slots revenue that is generated locally. That change effectively ended the Board's existence, and County Council was set to adopt an ordinance pulling the plug at their April 19 meeting  But the Board was still sitting on $1,274,982.42 in uncommitted slots revenue that was never awarded. Should the County gobble up this money,or would it allow the Gaming Board to distribute the remaining funds.

Thanks to Executive Lamont McClure and Board Chair Jay Finnigan, the two entities came up with a solution that will warm the hearts of every municipality in Northampton County. All save Bethlehem.will be receiving a check for $31,440, to be used for human services, infrastructure improvements, facilities, emergency services, public health or public safety. Some money has also been set aside to cover administrative expenses.  Bethlehem is getting no grant because it will be receiving 20% of the slots revenue as well as an annual $250,000 over the next 20 years for an existing arts community that could only be The Banana Factory.

At a special meeting on April 17, the Gaming Board met for the last time to award these grants. Once those are complete, the Board will officially dissolve

"It was a solution that all parties were happy with, and we can move forward with that process," reported Executive Lamont McClure. He also complimented the Board. "The administration of these gaming grants has been extraordinarily difficult," he noted. The Gaming Law forced Board members to give priority to communities impacted by gambling and contiguous to the casino, but never explained how to determine impact. "They did as good a job they could do under very difficult circumstances because the way the law was written, it made the job very, very difficult."

McClure expressed his appreciation. "I want to thank all of the people who have served  honorably, given of their time, made no money on that authority through the years, including this most recent group of authority members. I thank them on behalf of Northampton County for their service."

Several Council members echoed McClure.

"They did a heckuva' job, and for no pay," observed Council President Ken Kraft. ."The work you've done will be far better than what we are likely to see out of the Commonwealth Financing Agency," added John Cusick.

On behalf of the Gaming Board, Jay Finnigan returned the compliment. "I want to thank the Executive for working with us and achieving an amicable solution," he said. "I believe it serves the need of the County Executive, County Council, as well as the various municipalities." He also thanked the County for letting him serve through three different administrations.

"It's been an honor," he said, adding he'd be willing to serve again.

And then he and McClure kissed.

OK. I made that part up.

Other members of this Board are Joe Kelly (Bethlehem), Thomas Nolan (Bethlehem Tp), Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown), Donna Louder (Lower Saucon), Tony Pristash (Northampton), John Dally (Pen Argyl) and James Pennington (Lower Nazareth). Karen Collis is the Executive Director.

Angle's Property Being Condemned?

One of the items on last night's agenda was a condemnation ordinance. for the bridge project. One of the 33 bridges being restored to pristine condition abuts property owned by His Eminence, Ron Angle. The County needs a tiny sliver.

"Are we taking Angle's land?" asked John Cusick. "We might have nine sponsors!"

Angle has already loaded this bridge with tannerite that he picked up cheap from a state trooper. He has also constructed a moat around this tract, filled with spiky blowfish.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Gracedale to Offer Tuition Assistance for Nursing Degrees, Increase Differential

Sue Wandalowski (L) and Mary Lou Kaboly
(R) discuss tuition assistance
Back in the late '80s, Gracedale Nursing Home offered a tuition assistance program for NorCo employees interested in nursing. The program was a success, so naturally, the County stopped it. Human Services Director Susan Wandalowski would like to restore this program, especially since there are 23 open LPN  and 33 open RN positions. She discussed these plans yesterday at a sparsely attended* Personnel Committee meeting.

This program will be offered in conjunction with Northampton Community College. The program will be available to Gracedale employees in good standing who have been employed at the nursing home for at least a year. The County will pay the tuition and buy the books needed, but the student must maintain a B average. The employee must also agree to remain with the County for two years after getting her degree.

The County will get a break on the tuition. The LPN course will cost $6,000, while the RN program is $12,000. The County expects to pay $60,000 for five RN and 10 LPN slots. That is only slightly more than the average RN salary of $55,448.00.

The program is only available to Gracedale employees, but Human Resources Director Elizabeth Kelly said after the meeting that tuition reimbursement programs are available to other county employees.   

In addition to this tuition assistance program, Human Resourced Director Kelly discussed a "Memorandum of Understanding" between AFSCME and the County concerning a $0.15 increase in shift differential  for nurse's aides and LPNs at Gracedale. This means that nursing staff working the middle and graveyard shifts will see an extra dollar per hour. 

Typically, Council is never informed of these administrative matters, so this transparency is refreshing.

John Cusick was critical of the $0.15 increase, but only because the contract with AFSCME is ending on December 31. He suggested that the increase could have been part of the new contract. But Kelly countered, "The problem is acute now." She said that the second shift (3-11pm) is the worst.

In addition to the tuition assistance and differential increase, Council also agreed with DA John Morganelli's request to reclassify three clerical positions to pay about $4,000 more for all three combined."[T]here is difficulty filling and retaining these positions," said Morganelli.     
* (Bob Werner, John Cusick, Lori Vargo Heffner and Ron Heckman were there. Chairman Bill McGee arrived just as the meeting was ending, apologized and said he had been held up by traffic. Ken Kraft was in Washington, D.C., on business. Tara Zrinski and Matt Dietz were absent. Dietz, a pilot, called in after the meeting was over. Zrinski arrived at 5:20pm, just as the Finance Committee was ending  Peg Ferraro, who has no job and no excuse, was simply MIA). 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Message For The Lady on the Treadmill at the Allentown Y

Believe it or not, I have a fan. I'm told that a nice lady who likes to use the treadmill at the Allentown Y actually likes this blog. So to you naysayers out there, I do have one admirer. It's a start.

She wants to know what I think of Charlie Dent's looming resignation. I'm heartbroken. Since I've known him,  I've considered him a voice for decency and common sense. The adult in a House filled by 434 children. He always got blasted by Democrats, but his centrist ideas and disdain for Trump's boorish behavior has earned him the enmity of right wing ideologues and Donald Trump bobbleheads.

It's almost as bad as blogging.

The rumor is that Dent will be a well-paid analyst for one of the networks. With mid-terms right around the corner, that makes sense.

As for me, I've had it, too.

Starting next week, I'll be a personal trainer at the Y.

Every NorCo Municipality To Receive Early $31K Christmas Present

Jay Finnigan
Though it's April, the cold weather and snow falling yesterday made everyone feel as though Christmas is just around he corner. For 37 Northampton County municipalities, it is. That's because Northampton County's Gaming Board decided yesterday, during a special meeting at Hanover Township's Municipal Building, to award grants of $31,440 to every Northampton County municipality, with the exception of Bethlehem. The Christmas City was omitted only because it already receives the lion's share of gaming revenue.

The nine-person Board includes Joe Kelly (Bethlehem), Thomas Nolan (Bethlehem Tp), Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Jay Finnigan (Hanover), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown), Donna Louder (Lower Saucon), Tony Pristash (Northampton), John Dally (Pen Argyl) and James Pennington (Lower Nazareth). Karen Collis is the Executive Director. Heintzelman, Kelly and Louder were unable to attend the special meeting, and Pennington participated by phone. The six Board members present unanimously agreed with Tony Pristash's motion to divest itself of all remaining funds. They also agreed unanimously with a second motion, made by Tom Nolan, to disband after the funds are disbursed. Chairman Jay Finnigan has been authorized to sign any documents necessary for the termination of an authority that has existed for eight years.

Two weeks ago, Northampton County Council introduced an ordinance calling on the Gaming Board to disband. Jay Finnigan was opposed. "If you just took the remaining funds and split it between each municipality evenly, the distribution would be approximately $31,000," he said in an email to other municipal officials. "This would also allow the authority to pay all its professional obligations, and then dissolve once we fulfilled our legal requirements."

Lamont McClure
McClure considered Finnigan's remarks and agreed to allow the Gaming Board to release the $1,274,982.42 in uncommitted slots revenue to the municipalities so long as the Board certifies that it can be dissolved once the grants are made. "This is a compromise that meets the Gaming Authority well more than half the way, and it should satisfy the concerns of all involved," he said. Now that the Gaming Board has done its part, McClure will ask Council on Thursday night to table the dissolution ordinance.

Instead of an ugly law suit and hard feelings, everyone wins. McClure looks good. The Gaming Board looks good. And 37 Northampton County municipalities will soon be $31,440 richer. That grant should fund Chapman's needs for the next 100 years.

The money granted may only be used for human services, infrastructure improvements, facilities, emergency services, public health or public safety.

Some money has also been set aside for administrative expenses.

When he was a member of County Council, it is McClure who drafted the ordinance establishing the Gaming Board. But the underlying state law was recently changed to address a successful challenge by a group of casinos who persuaded the Supreme Court that the slots taxing scheme violated the uniformity clause contained in the state constitution.

The state law changes made the Gaming Board irrelevant.

Before the changes to the Gaming Act, 1.2% of the slots revenue from Sands Casino was allocated as follows: (1) 20% to Bethlehem; (2) 30% to the County; and (3) 50% to the County for municipal grants within the County, with priority given to the Bethlehem and the municipalities contiguous to Bethlehem. This is the money that was disbursed by the Gaming Board.

Under the changes to the Gaming Act, 20% still goes to Bethlehem and 30% still goes to the County. But that final 50% will be distributed differently. Bethlehem will get $250,000 per year over the next 20 years for an existing arts and education center that has professional artist space and studios. (Can you say Banana Factory?). The remaining money will be deposited with the Commonwealth Financing Authority to be used exclusively for economic development projects, community improvement projects and other projects that are in the public interest. The CFA must give priority to municipalities contiguous to Bethlehem.

Wanted: Grant Applications From NorCo Municipalities and NonProfits

Norco Executive Lamont McClure is inviting county municipalities and nonprofits to apply for grants from a pot of around $400,000 in hotel tax revenue that should be available for distribution this year.  This money is collected from a hotel room rental tax of 4% on hotel guests, to be used for tourism and community development initiatives. Some of the money must go to the tourism bureau, which in turn helps fund Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.  But there still is about $400,000 left.

Historically, this money has been awarded to communities and nonprofits that seem to be connected to the right people. Many worthy nonprofits like the Celtic Classic have failed to apply. So it is nice to see Executive McClure make an effort to be more inclusive.

I think we can do better than the DaVinci Science Center's giant ant farm.

Eligible Projects are those that enhance tourism and/or promote community development within Northampton County. Applicants must either be a federally registered non-profit entity (501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4)) or a municipal entity located within Northampton County. In addition, events and activities must occur in Northampton County.

Funding Requests are currently being accepted for projects that will take place in Calendar Year 2019. All projects funded under this announcement must be completed within the 2019 Calendar Year. Grant award announcements are expected to be announced December 2018.

Interested organizations must submit a 2019 Hotel Tax Funding Request using the application form available by visiting the Community and Economic Development section of the Northampton County website: www.northamptoncounty.org. Applicants are required to register with the Northampton County Department of Community and Economic Development's County Relationship Manager (CRM) and submit electronic applications through the web.

The application process is open now. The deadline is set for Friday, June 15, 2018 at 4:00 P.M. The Hotel Tax Grant is distributed at the discretion of County Council, advised by the County Executive who receives recommendations from the Hotel Tax Review Committee.

Program inquiries should be directed to:
Northampton County Department of Community & Economic Development
Tina Smith

Bath to Leave Colonial Regional Police Six Months Sooner Than Expected

At their April 10 meeting, Hanover Township Supervisors unanimously approved an agreement that will allow Bath Borough to leave the Colonial Regional Police Department six months sooner than was expected. Under its contract, Bath was required to continue using the services of Colonial Regional until January 1, 2019. But at Bath's request, its separation from the regional police department will be accelerated to July 1, 2018. Bath will still be required to pay Colonial Regional $242,714.88. It will also pay $92.26 per hour for contract services.

Colonial Regional will continue to provide police coverage for Hanover and Lower Nazareth Townships. The cost for police coverage will be based in an apportionment formula based assessed property valuation (30%), municipal population (30%) and the number of incidents (40%).

"This has been a long haul," said Chair John Diacogiannis.

In more pleasant news, outside auditor Todd Bushta has given the Township a clean bill of financial health again, a clean and unqualified opinion. "The Township is doing a fine job with the financial staff it has," said Bushta.

Highlights from the report reveal that the Township is debt free. There is also no deficit spending. It spends less than it takes in, and was sitting on over $5 million in unrestricted cash and investments at the end of last year. Manager Jay Finnigan has previously credited the 0.5 mill fire tax for enabling him to plan ahead.

The audit is now available on the Township website. In an effort to be more transparent, back-up documents to agenda items are also on the website.

As winter has ended, Public Works Director Vince Milite and his crew have started street sweeping. They plan to hit each street twice.

Supervisors will meet again on April 24, 7 pm, at the municipal building located at 3630 Jacksonville Road.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Dent Resigns!

From LV Congressman Charlie Dent: "After discussions with my family and careful reflection, I have decided to leave Congress in the coming weeks. Serving the people of the 15th Congressional district has been a tremendous responsibility and the privilege of a lifetime, and I am honored by the trust that so many of my constituents placed in me to represent them in Washington. Actively engaging in the legislative and political process presents many challenges, and in so doing, I believe I have had a positive impact on people’s lives and made a difference in Congress.

"I am especially proud of the work I have done to give voice to the sensible center in our country that is often overlooked or ignored. It is my intention to continue to aggressively advocate for responsible governance and pragmatic solutions in the coming years."

I will have more about Charlie later. Dent's statement fails to state when his resignation will be effective, but it could trigger a special election.

According to The Washington Post,

"Pennsylvania election law requires the governor to issue a writ of election within 10 days of a vacancy, with an election to follow “not less than sixty days” later. Although the election could be held during 'the next ensuing primary or municipal election,' Pennsylvania’s primary will be held May 15 — before any special election could be called. It is not clear whether Wolf would schedule an election so soon before the November midterm election will bring a full-term replacement for Dent."

In a special election, party bosses would choose the nominees. But since it would be after the primary, they should go with the primary nomineees.

"Pappy" Frankenfield Honored For 65 Years as a Firefighter

In a room full of volunteer firefighters, Bethlehem Tp Commissioners paid homage on April 16 to the late Curtis "Pappy" Frankenfield, who passed away on April 2 at age 89. According to the resolution honoring him, he "served with great passion as a volunteer fireman for 65 years." Forty-one of those years was with The Bethlehem Tp Volunteer Fore Co. Station No. 17.  He also served as Chief from 1989-1991.

"[H]is passing leaves a huge void in our hearts and our organization, and he will be missed," said Kevin Kalman, one of his fellow firefighters.

Frankenfield was also posthumously honored with a citation from the Pennsylvania Senate.

Bethlehem Tp Ponders Pollution Reduction Plan

Some who attended the April 16 meeting of Bethlehem Tp's Board of Commissioners may have arrived a little late. Heavy rain that day forced Public Works to close a roadway that leads to the Municipal Building from the community college. After finally getting there, stormwater ended up being the chief topic of discussion.

Municipalities like Bethlehem Township are required to obtain permits from Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection in order to discharge water from storm sewers into "water of the United States." Bethlehem Tp has such a permit, called a NPDES permit, but it expires on October 31, 2018. To get a five-year renewal, it is going to have to present a pollution reduction plan. T and M Associates, the Township's stormwater engineer, made the presentation.

Siltation, also called sedimentation, is what impairs water quality the most in the Township. The Township's stormwaters account for 2,035 tons of sediment every year. Even when that figure is offset by water that drains into 112 existing basins, there still are 1,881 tons every year. The state DEP wants a plan to reduce that sedimentation by 10% over the next five years. The plan is to do the following: 1) vacuum sediment from existing inlets; 2) convert old existing dry basins (10% sediment removal effectiveness) to dry extended detention basins (60% effectiveness), with priority to basin conversions that also provide flood mitigation benefits; 3) Inlet vacuuming; and 4) Perform 3.5 basin retrofits every year.

This will cost the Township $350,000 per year. Funds can be sought through the grants process, but those are expected to be very competitive. A more likely source of revenue is a stormwater fee, which can be imposed on nonprofits. T and M also suggested an ordinance that would require land developers to bear the cost, although that suggestion would require a legal review.

"Where does it come from?" asked John Gallagher. Nobody knew. "It seems like we're treating a disease rather than preventing it," he complained.

In other business, Commissioners granted a six-month extension for the Brodhead Road Distribution Center. It was delayed, ironically, by roadblocks encountered in obtaining a NPDES permit that is also required of developers. Attorney Blake Marles, who represents the developers, said he was only seeking this extension as an "exercise in caution."

This project includes a pledge to finish the construction work on Brodhead Road. "That road can't take another winter," complained resident Barry Roth. But engineer Brian Dillman advised that the road reconstruction will begin at the end of the summer.

Nathan Jones Leaving Bethlehem Tp For Lower Mac

Nathan Jones has been Bethlehem Tp's Planning Director since July 2014. But starting in May, he will be the Ass’t Planning Director in Lower Macungie Township.

"I really enjoyed my time here," he explained, "but I could not miss this professional opportunity."

Jones had been slated to attend the American Planning Association conference in New Orleans for a week's worth of training in April, but has canceled those plans. He said it would be inappropriate for him to travel on the dime of Bethlehem Tp taxpayers when he knows he is leaving.

Jones is a graduate of both The University of Pittsburgh and Suffolk University,where he attained a Master's degree in Public Administration. Before coming to the Lehigh Valley, he was a planner in New England.

Monday, April 16, 2018

LWV to Nothstein - We Are Nonpartisan

Last week I told you that Lehigh Valley Congressional candidate Marty Nothstein, a Republican, refuses to participate in a primary debate with opponent Dean Browning. He's blowin' oil because the League of Women Voters is a "partisan, liberal organization allied with the interests of the Democratic party." He's particularly irritated at the stance this good government group has taken against the gerrymander. Up until that moment, I thought Nothstein was running a pretty good campaign in which he cast himself as an outsider. But we know now that he's really one of the good ol' boys.

Last week, State Rep. Daryl Committee convened a half-hour hearing on the gerrymander bill with virtually no notice and gutted it. He refused to allow the meeting to be livestreamed and threatened to clear the room when his transparency was challenged.

This divisive and polarizing behavior, we now know, is what to expect from Nothstein.

Beverly Hernandez, Vice President of the Northampton County League of Women Voters, said there is "no partisan agenda. Our purpose is to educate and inform the voter. There ARE Republicans in the League. ... The debates must include both ( or all) parties or we won't hold the debate. Nonpartisan."

In addition to Beverly Hernandez, I'd like to share a comment from Irish Mare:

I am shocked that a campaign manager for Marty Nothstein would allow him to go after an institution like the League of Women Voters. Not only is he hugely misinformed and completely wrong; but he has insulted people who work tirelessly year round to educate, inform and protect the voting rights of all citizens from all parties. And these people (men and women ) have been doing this for years for us, the voting population of the Lehigh Valley from all parties!

Perhaps he should: join the League, attend some meetings, help interview legislators from both parties, organize the Voter's Guides, voter registration efforts, hold candidates forums and debates, research voter reforms and redistricting reforms and help organize the yearly Government Directory that I am sure he has used often. Then I challenge him to make those same claims...

If he wants to go after someone, perhaps he should go after those who were originally responsible for drawing an unconstitutional, partisan gerrymandered map in the first place, in 2011. Who might that be, Mr. Nothstein? I can guarantee it was not the League of Women Voters. This will hurt his campaign going after such a well-respected institution with facts that are erroneous and false. Maybe have a nice long talk with his campaign manager about acting like a grownup and having your facts straight! And maybe he will join the League. He has divulged a side of himself that is very spiteful and nasty and boy oh boy, I believe everyone would agree we don't need anymore of that in Washington, DC! And maybe, just maybe he will be man enough to apologize!

A Tannerite Ban in Upper Mount Bethel?

Mr. Counterman with another friend, Mr. Bob Cartwright
I've told you recently about the uproar in Upper Mount Bethel Township over exploding targets. A Pa. State trooper decided to blow up, not one, not two, but 30 pounds of tannerite at his Upper Mount Bethel Tp property. If you or I did something like that, we'd be sentenced to the electric chair for 20 years. But the grey gods are above the law. Some people were furious about a series of three explosions on March 18, and packed into a Supervisors' meeting. Though town fathers knew exactly what had happened, they claimed the matter was "under investigation." They also discussed the possibility of banning the use of binary explosives (the kind you have to mix together) in the Township. But resident Rufus T. Counterman, a slate belt resident whose family has lived there for generations, is adamantly exposed to any restriction on his personal freedom.

"It's Mister Rufus T. Counterman to you," he told me when he and his buddy, Leroy Sigafoos, recently met me at Mount Bethel Diner. "We are learned gentlemen, you know. Double wides."

Counterman was referring to the double wide trucks he drives for a living.

He told me he is unalterably opposed to any kind of regulation of tannerite. "It gives us something to do, and keeps us away from our cousins and farm animals."

Tom Wallitsch, Former LC Judge, Endorses Morganelli for Congress

Tom Wallitsch
Former Lehigh County Judge Thomas A. Wallitsch has endorsed Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli for Congress. Wallitsch was a Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas Judge from 1991 to 2006. He served as Chair of the Appellate Court Procedural Rules Committee and served as Co-Chair of the Education Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of Trial Judges for eight years. He is a frequent lecturer and author on issues relating to civil litigation including medical malpractice and the settlement of cases.

"I have known John for 35 years," said Wallitsch. "We practiced law together, and he appeared before me as a judge. He has advanced Democratic values his entire career and has been a leader in advancing women and minorities in the criminal justice system. He is a man of integrity and principle, and would be a highly respected representative for our district."

Morganelli said he was honored to have the support of "a highly skilled jurist and man of integrity."

Friday, April 13, 2018

NextGen America Hosts Unusual Debate For Dem Congressional Candidates

Last night, I attended a Congressional debate starring the six Democrats who want to represent the Lehigh Valley in Washington. Though I had a ticket for the Iron Pigs opener against Louisville, I thought I owed to the six Democrats running to be there. Also, it was at Fegley's Allentown Brew Works, a wonderful place. I was lucky enough to say Hi to Rich Fegley and his lovely wife Diane.

This event, called "Keeping Up with the Candidates," was hosted by NextGen America This group was created in 2013 by billionaire Tom Steyer "to prevent climate disaster, promote prosperity, and protect the fundamental rights of every American." The group has really focused on attracting both the young and the forgotten. Despite a $5 admission fee, I'd say there were at least 150-200 people there. The alcohol was flowing freely, and the crowd was feeling raucous and was actually encouraged to be that way by State Youth Jarrett Smith. Even when candidates were answering questions.

Morganelli hung in there, and told the people there that they make a ripple when they stand up for themselves. Quoting Robert Kennedy, he said "those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance."

Parts of the debate, which included an "either or" session, were fun. Unanimously, candidates picked WaWa over Sheetz, the Eagles over Giants, Yoccos over Potts (except for Ruggles) and Musikfest over the Allentown Fair.

But other parts were silly. Candidates were encouraged to get goofy in their closings, and Rev. Edwards led everyone in Gospel music.

In an event like this, it's nearly impossible to get nuanced takes on issues. Let me give you snippets from each candidate.

David Clark - Donald Trump has set the bar of morality so low that even the Devil himself is on higher ground.

Rick Daugherty: He mentioned several times that he has the best job in the world and thinks that a Congressional job is lousy.

Greg Edwards: "College is no longer a pathway out of poverty. It is a pathway into it."

John Morganelli: Since he has been DA, the office has gone from one female assistant DA to over 50% female, along with African Americans and Hispanics. He supports health care for all, fixing student debt and protecting Medicare and Medicaid.

Roger Ruggles: Supports unions and was surprised to discover recently that only six percent of the private work force is union.

Susan Wild: Told the mostly young audience that they are worse off than their parents were, but "I will never run from a fight. I head for a fight every time I see one.".

The audience was packed with Greg Edwards and Susan Wild supporters, who cheered their candidates while booing down John Morganelli when he tried to explain why, unlike the other candidates, he thinks local authorities should cooperate with ICE.

"May I explain?" he asked. But the mob was unwilling to listen and shouted him down. This is what always kills me about supposed progressives. They hold themselves out as enlightened but are intolerant of views that differ from theirs. Moderator Smith made no effort to stop this display of intolerance.

Later, Morganelli complimented the mostly young audience for being interested, even though they shouted him down. He said they are sending ripples, and quoting from Robert Kennedy, said "those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.”

Updated: Boscola, Stack To Host News Conference on Redistricting Legislation

State Senator Lisa Boscola and Lt. Governor Mike Stack will host a Press conference to discuss recent activity on the redistricting legislation.

WHEN: Friday, April 13, 2018

WHERE: Bethlehem City Hall 10 East Church Street, Bethlehem, PA 18018,

TIME: 1:45 p.m.

Updated 10:15 am. This event has been postponed.

Nothstein Accuses LWV of Meddling, Sez No To Debate

Marty Nothstein is one of two candidates, along with Dean Browning, seeking the Republican nod for Congress here in the Lehigh Valley. He has been avoiding primary debates, which tells me he considers himself the front runner. He has released a statement, along with a Pittsburgh contact number, refusing to participate in the League of Women Voters debate next month. The reason he gives for dodging it tells me that he will be running from behind in the general election. . He has accused this good government group of "meddling in Congressional politics."

He's angry that the League of Women Voters has not just fought against gerrymandering dragon for years, but has managed to slay it. Our state court has ended an undemocratic system in which your legislators pick you, instead of the other way around.

Gerrymandering has been a wrecking ball to good government in Pa. It is both an incumbent insurance program and a magnet for ideologues rather than people who are willing to work together. It is also a two-headed monster. Democrats are just as capable of gerrymandering districts as Republicans. They have done so in other states.

The effort to end this disgraceful system has been bipartisan. Numerous Republicans in the state house and state Senate, including Lisa Boscola, Pat Browne and Mario Scavello, have endorsed an end to a system in which the majority party draws the boundary lines for legislative and Congressional districts.

The League of Women Voters and Common Cause spearheaded the effort here in Pennsylvania. The League of Women Voters exists primarily to make sure that your vote matters. It has historically opposed poll taxes, racial gerrymandering and efforts at voter suppression. It has supported attempts to educate voters, which is why this group always tries to host debates.

Nothstein has derided this group as a "partisan, liberal organization allied with the interests of the Democratic party." If his attack were really true, the League would have lost its tax exempt status decades ago. It's false.

Nothstein is skipping a debate designed to educate you about his positions. Instead of being honest and just admitting that he is in the lead and does not want to give any exposure to Dean Browning, he embraces a system that is wrong and that has actually led to the very partisanship he now decries.

The proof of Nothstein's hypocrisy  is his willingness to participate in a League of Women Voter debate in the general election, where he claims to be "open to an invitation." If he really felt that the League was just a tool of the Democrats, he would boycott them completely.

In one news release, Nothstein has demonstrated that he stands for bad government, is intellectually dishonest and just a tad arrogant. He has just assured his own defeat in the general election.

Dean Browning told me, incidentally, that he is "willing to debate anybody, anytime, anywhere."

John Morganelli told me he is willing to debate Nothstein, too, but draws the line at bicycle races.

The League of Women Voters debate, for all candidates, Democrat and Republican, is on May 2, 7 pm, at Northampton Community College's Alumni Hall.

Nothstein news release:

 he is

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Lushis Billed $34,000 to Gather His legal Bills

In early January, after watching the Northampton County General Purpose Authority (GPA) thumb their noses at the Sunshine Act,with the blessing of Solicitor John Lushis, I became concerned. When I watched the entire video, I was appalled at how he just took over the meeting and the Board. It should be called the John Lushis authority, not the GPA. As a result of that Right-to-Know, we know that GPA Solicitor John Lushis and his law firm, Norris McLaughlin and Marcus, billed Northampton County at least $813,039.30 from their affiliation with the GPA in 2016 and 2017. And now,in another indication of just what kind of pigs they are, Lushis and his firm have billed the County $34,000 to respond to my two Right-to-Know requests, as well as a third filed by the Morning Call. The GPA just rubber stamped the bill for payment, even though Lushis and his firm have still failed to answer my request for information, and keep postponing a reply. I believe it's time that Northampton County surcharge him. He evidently realizes this, and that is why he conned the GPA into hiring "special counsel."

In addition to seeking these bills, I also requested correspondence as it relates to a jail at Gracedale. That has nothing to do with the GPA, but the Lushis bills reveal an inordinate amount of research and work related to a new jail at Gracedale. I am sure the correspondence will contain several smoking guns. Thanks to advances in technology, this information could be assembled in a matter of a few hours. I offered to sit down and review it all, from which I could determine what I needed to have copied. But I was primarily interested in the bills, and appear to have most of them.

They are damning. They confirm that Lushis was working on the side, not for the GPA, but for former Executive John Brown as some sort of secret Solicitor. Though he was still sending in bills through the GPA, these were for "special legal services." I confronted Lushis about this at February's GPA meeting, and he denied it. But GPA Chair Shawn Langen had previously told me that's exactly what happened. And I now have the bills, and some of them are marked for "special legal services."

Lushis was working for Brown on the sly because our former Exec liked to keep everyone in the dark. He never grasped the importance of transparency in government. Or working with Council. Unfortunately for Brown and Lushis both, they also failed to follow the law.

This law is contained in Northampton County's Administrative Code.  The only professional service agreements exempted from the Code are those negotiated by the courts or human services. § 13.01e. Professional services defined as "services requiring specialized knowledge, skill and expertise ... ." § 13.02. Procurement authority is vested in the County Executive, subject to approval by Council. § 13.03. All county services, including professional services, must be obtained by one of several forms of competitive negotiation. § 13.07a. Services in excess of $25,000 requires a written contract. § 13.16a. These contracts must be filed in the Procurement Department. § 13.16a. If they exceed $100,000, Council approval is needed. § 13.16c. Contracts for professional services must require that there be a final report provided directly to County Council. § 13.16f.

These requirements were flatly ignored. There was no competitive negotiation. There is no written contract, and nothing is on file in Procurement. Though Brown paid over $100,000, he never sought Council approval.  No final report was filed. This was a blatant end run around Council.

Section 13.21 of the Administrative Code provides,
"No elected or appointed official or employee of the County shall intentionally or knowingly circumvent the provisions of this Article. Further, that any such elected or appointed official or employee of the County of Northampton who shall intentionally and/or knowingly violate this Article shall be subject to surcharge to the extent of the damage shown to be thereby sustained by the County of Northampton, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon a conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to imprisonment of not more than one year or pay a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. Any contract entered into in violation of the within article shall not be binding upon the County of Northampton."
This was a serious transgression.

What are these "special legal services?"

Lushis was helping lay the groundwork for a jail at Gracedale in Upper Nazareth. You know, the one Brown eventually pledged never to build.

His bills tell quite the story.

On February 8, Lushis charged for participation in a two-hour meeting with Brown and Upper Nazareth Solicitor Gary Asteak. He and his firm also spent that month researching the application of zoning laws and also drafted legislation to enable the jail to be built as a P3 (public-private partnership) project.

In March, Lushis met with Senator Pat Browne to discuss legislation that would enable the jail to be built as a P3 project, and started lining up banks like American, First Northern, PNC and Embassy Bank as possible lenders. His firm drafted a zoning ordinance amendment for Upper Nazareth Tp. They researched whether the Upper Nazareth Zoning Ordinance is exclusionary. They also studied whether "essential government services" like a jail trumps local zoning.

Finally, March 27 arrived, the day of Brown's backroom meeting with Upper Nazareth Supervisors.

Lushis billed the county for ten hours that day. Other members of the Norris, McLaughlin  billed for another 13 hours.

Twenty-three hours for one day.

And the County paid for this meeting about which no one in the community knew anything.

In April and May, Senator Pat Browne was lobbied to enact legislation in which local zoning laws could be trumped for projects like a jail .

In July, Lushis was still preparing talking points about a jail at Gracedale. He and his firm also billed $2,730.00 for a 3.9 hour long "strategy telephone conference" based on a review of a 2008 entry in this very blog, in which different jail options were presented. That's the meeting in which Ron Angle, then Finance Chair, asked, "The reality here is, who the hell wants a new prison?"

Congressional Dems Will Debate at Lehigh

As the above flyer indicates, Congressional Democrats have agreed to a debate at Lehigh University one week from today. I'll be at NorCo Council that night and am unable to attend. Breena Holland from Lehigh University has warned me that Neville Hall can only hold 300. More than that, and the building tips over. So if you want to go, best to reserve a seat with Lehigh Valley For All right now, and at this link.

Also, in case you were wondering, the Republican Congressional candidates were contacted and asked if they wanted a debate. The Committee people were stoked, but the campaigns were unable to nail down a date.

Holland is also hoping to schedule a debate between the primary winners this fall.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

NorCo's GPA Hires "Special" Counsel From Philly For Fight With County

If there was any doubt in anyone's mind whether Northampton County's General Purpose Authority (GPA) is a runaway train, it was removed during yesterday's meeting. Solicitor John Lushis, who has been paid $813,000 over the past two years, continues to run the show,. In fact, five invoices from his firm were approved for payment without anyone batting an eye. That includes GPA Board member Peg Ferraro,an elected official who should be representing the public, not the Norris McLaughlin law firm. The county's second highest ranking official, Administrator Charles Dertinger, was silenced when he attempted to answer questions raised by the GPA  Lushis accused the County of being in breach of its agreement with the GPA. And they voted to hire Philadelphia law firm Conrad and O'Brien for potential litigation against the county.

The meeting started with a statement from Chair Shawn Langen, who has billed NorCo $11,950 for checking the work of a third party engineer who was hired to check the work of bridge builder Kriger Construction. The statement he read, which I have reproduced, was obviously prepared by Lushis:
"The county has made certain assertions, most notably with respect to the P3 bridge project. Notably, on 4/3/18, the County Solicitor informed Solicitor Lushis that we may be headed to litigation. The county has also asserted that copyrights related to the P3 documents should be transferred to the county. [The copyrighted documents indicate they have been created for the sole use of the GPA]. The county solicitor has also advised Solicitor Lushis that litigation could possibly occur over the copyrights. The GPA has received three right-to-know requests. The party making the request can file an appeal with the records office. Neil Koplin resigned in late January, Solicitor Lushis has requested on several occasions that the county solicitor provide an opinion stating that the manner in which Mr. Koplin's seat was filled complied with applicable law. The opinion has not been provided. The foregoing matters could possibly result in disputes and adversarial proceedings, including litigation. Thus, the Board will not discuss any specifics relative to this matter in the public meeting. Further, the Board must now decide whether to retain special counsel in view of these events. This will be discussed later in the meeting."
After solemnly announcing that these matters will not be discussed, that's precisely what happened.

Frank Pintabone's appointment. - In recent months, Frank Pintabone and Paul Anthony have been appointed to the GPA. Anthony was appointed to succeed Helene Whitaker, whose term had expired. Nobody had a problem. But Neal Koplin resigned in the middle of his term. Lushis told the GPA that they could appoint someone themselves. But Executive Lamont McClure quickly appointed Pintabone toKoplin's vacancy. The GPA wanted to see legal opinions, from both the County Solicitor and the County Council Solicitor that this appointment was lawful. Langen and Lushis were miffed that their directive had been ignored.

"We welcome Frank," claimed Langen. "We're gonna' work this out. I just want everyone to know that we still are not in receipt of either of the things we asked for "

Langen Refuses to Recognize Dertinger. -  When Langen made these pronouncements, both Administrator Charles Dertinger and County Solicitor Missy Rudas were sitting in the peanut gallery with the little people. Missy either raised her hand or stood. She apparently had something to say, but Langen refused to recognize her.

Administrator Charles Dertinger approached the podium, carrying documents and ready to address concerns. He was summarily dismissed. "We're not doing courtesy of the floor right now," announced Langen, who imperiously sent the county's second highest ranking officer back to his seat. "But welcome, Frank. We'll figure his out. Hopefully, they'll do the paperwork they're supposed to be doing. ... We brought this up two months ago. ... I met face to face with Mr. Dertinger and Ken Kraft afterward. They said, 'Yep, we'll work this out. That hasn't happened at all."

Pintabone suggests Dertinger should be recognized. - Frank Pintabone, who was probably wondering by this time what the hell was going on, suggested  that maybe things could be worked out if they allowed Dertinger to speak.

Then Lushis spoke up

"I received a correspondence yesterday from the County Solicitor stating that the law speaks for itself. That's the opinion."

In other words, contrary to the misrepresentation made by Langen, the GPA had a legal opinion from the County Solicitor. They just doesn't like it.

Dertinger got up a second time to say that interim appointments have been made in the past by Council,not the GPA. In fact, he told me later that Mark Schiavone was appointed by County Council after Lazaro Fuentes left the GPA in the middle of his term. He had other examples as well, but was shot down again.

"We're not going to do a three-hour meeting today," said Langen. ""Shawn, we need to keep the meeting moving," added Lushis, in what clearly is a violation of his role as solicitor.

Lushis interjected, "Shawn, we need to keep the meeting moving."

P3 Bridge project concerns. - According to the third-party engineer, Kriger Construction should have three bridges done by the end of June. They have contracted to replace or repair 33 county bridges, but have only completed one bridge so far. According to the third party engineer, Kriger hopes to complete 8-10 bridges this year. he added that he has never seen bridge building go so smoothly as it has with Kriger.   

Langen disputed claims that the County is in the dark. "There was some assertion this week that the County does not know what is going on with the bridge project and doesn't have any contact, and we're in contact almost on a daily basis with their Director of Public Works." 

Paul Anthony questioned whether Kiriger is paying a living wage. Lushis promised to pull payrolls,something he hasn't done. he's also apparently decided, on his own, to ignore a county law requiring that a certain percentage of the work be done by people who live here in the Lehigh Valley. Lushis huffed that the "applicability of that provision to this project is highly uncertain." He said it could be unconstitutional.

Public comment. - In all its years of existence, the GPA has only ever heard from two members of the public, Jeff Fox and yours truly. Jeff Fox is nice. I'm not. In my first exercise of my right to address my own government, Lushis began blowin' oil almost immediately and had to be thrown on a lift afterwards to find out where he was leaking. yesterday, I called on hom to resign. The amount of money paid to him is obscene, and his firm has been tainted by the pay-to-play investigation in Allentown.

The GPA response to public comment appears to be abject terror. Instead of actually listening to what is being said, they have decided to create a "policy" for public comment. Maybe limit comment to 30 seconds. If you're a blogger, 10 seconds. 

Special Counsel. - "My worst fears have been realized," exclaimed Lushis. He claimed to have just discovered that "privileged information" was supplied to "people in the county" and that the "Right to Know request process has been compromised."  He added that the integrity of the GPA must be "sacrosanct."

"You have no choice but to retain special counsel," he insisted. "I will state for the record that the county is currently in breach of the P3 agreement," apparently because McClure refuses to pay Langen.

Lushis had a Philadelphia firm in mind, too. One that he "interfaced"  (whatever that means) during his days at Bethlehem Steel. He had no time to seek proposals. "We can't wait," he insisted. "The RTK request process has been compromised. I have right here the written documentation proving it."

I don't, and I'm the person who made the request.

If Lushis is blowing oil over the disclosure of his fees to the county, then he should know he waived attorney-client privilege the second those bills went to the county for payment. And most legal bills are not privileged. 

So now, in addition to paying the Lushis law firm an obscene amount of money, a law firm from Philly that Lushis has personally selected will be taking even more public money.
Lushis indicated that he offered to resign several times if board members thought he was getting in the way, but the problem is not him.

Sorry, John, but the problem is you. Resign.

Elections and Schools - A Bi-Partisan Blunder

Last week, in a 5-4 bi-partisan blunder, Northampton County Council voted to impose an undue burden on elections officials and increase the cost to taxpayers of conducting an election.  To be specific, it voted to support state legislation offered by State Senator Mario Scavello and State Rep. Marcia Hahn that will require elections officials to "to avoid selecting schoolhouses as polling places."  This legislation is intended to placate parents at Butz Elementary. They are concerned that their children will be subjected to mass shooters, bad drivers and pedophiles if they are forced to go to school on election day. But in addition to failing address how to keep children safe on other school days, the bill fails to provide the one solution that will protect both children and taxpayers. That solution is to close schools on election day, or require an in-service day.

Since introduction, the Scavello bill has attracted just four sponsors. The Hahn bill has just three. Both bills are sitting in the state government committee, where they will die a natural death.

And they should.

A state law that requires election officials to avoid selecting schools imposes an unfair burden on them. In Northampton County, 25 of 153 polling places are at schools. This, the voting registrar and her deputy would be required to seek alternative locations when they should be checking machines, reviewing ballots, training poll workers and getting absentee and military ballots issued.  Being diverted from their other duties increases the likelihood of error.

In addition to the unfair burden, there is added cost. Schools and government buildings are usually rented out for nominal fees. But private entities will charge high rents because elections officials will have no choice.  I have been told that already happens at some polling places where elections officials have no choice.

The Council members who supported this resolution were Republicans Matt Dietz, John Cusick and Peg Ferraro, as well as Democrats Ron Heckman and Bill McGee.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Where is Fed Ed Working?

I used to call him Fed Ed, but these days it really is Dead Ed. Former Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski has been disgraced by his conviction on 47 counts of political corruption, and will be going to jail for a very long time. Had he accepted responsibility at the onset, he'd be looking at far less time. He chose to roll the dice and lost. In the process, he put himself in front of city workers and residents, as well as his own family.  He endangered the very revitalization he claims to have created. But I've heard he has a job with a prominent former attorney, at least until he is sentenced. I have emailed this former lawyer, and am waiting for a reply before I name him. While I wait, feel free to comment on anything you've seen to support this story. 

Why Liberal Dems Should Support John Morganelli for Congress

No Labels is a political reform group that consists of members of all political parties. "As long as they are intellectually honest, we respect conservatives, liberals, and anyone in between who has a sincere desire to address the nation’s problems.” But as two members of that group recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal, they were vilified by the left for supporting conservative Democrat Dan Lipinski in Illinois, even though he votes with his party 88% of the time. He was under assault in a primary by first-time candidate Marie Newman. She initially refused to concede because she “would like Mr. Lipinski to have a very painful evening.”

Intolerance in politics has reached epidemic levels. As No Labels explains,
Legislators in both parties have to worry too much about primary challenges from ideologues on the far left or far right. That’s why Democrats and Republicans are so unwilling to work across the aisle. And that in turn is why Congress is failing to address the biggest problems facing America.
The Lehigh Valley was at one time represented by centrist Charlie Dent. He did a great job, and his views really did correspond closely to those held by most of the people who live here. We are basically centrists. But Charlie's refusal to swear fealty to Authoritarian Donald Trump earned him the wrath of some very intolerant people within his own party, including NorCo GOP Chair Lee Snover,who actually participated in a rally opposing him. Charlie eventually got tired of the nonsense and decided to step down at the end of his term.

I would say you can chalk one up for the extremists, but they inadvertently left the door open for another kind of centrist. A Democratic centrist. A tough law-and-order prosecutor. John Morganelli.

Unfortunately, intolerance is a two-way street. It is just as prevalent on the left as it is on the right. So just as Charlie was bashed on the right, Morganelli is getting bashed on the left. He refuses to strike back, saying only that he respects his opponents and will support the ultimate nominee.

Tamara Greenfield
If you're a Lehigh Valley Democrat, and you're wondering who you should vote for in this year's Congressional primary, it's very instructive to consider who the Republicans would like to see get the nod. According to an article in Salon, NorCo GOP Chair Lee Snover would just love to see "the most liberal, the most progressive [as the nominee], because that's a great contrast for us." The Democrat she'd like to see least is Morganelli. She told Salon that he has "that Joe Manchin thing [a reference to the centrist United States Senator from West Virginia]. He talks like us but votes like them."

So it's simple. Be as liberal as you want. But if you want to see a Democrat represent the Lehigh Valley in Congress, vote for the candidate who is in the best position to win the race in November. The Republicans have made clear that person is centrist John Morganelli.

He's ready, like Dent was ready or Matt Cartwright is ready, to roll up his sleeves and work with both sides to solve this nation's problems. We've tried ideologues. Let's try problem solvers. And is you want to know what kind of person John is, talk to Tamara Greenfield.  Here's what she says.

"I am proud to be part of the groundbreaking history of Northampton County in 1992 as the first African American ADA appointed by DA John Morganelli. Under John’s leadership, all people in the criminal justice system were treated with respect and fairly, and not based upon their gender, race or ethnicity."

September 11 Trail Alliance Coming Through!

Blogger's Note: I rarely get a news release without feeling the need to edit it in some way. But I am sharing this county news release in its entirety. I am blown away by this 1,300 mile bicycle trip that simultaneously honors those who died on September 11 and draws attention to NorCo's growing trail system. I have cycled over portions of this trail myself, and imagine many of you have done so, too.

Lamont McClure is pleased to welcome the dedicated cyclists of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance to Northampton County on their inaugural ride.

A group of cyclists will pass through the Lehigh Valley this month, raising awareness of the September 11th National Memorial Trail. They will begin their journey on April 11th at the Pentagon, peddle to the site of the United Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, PA, pass through Northampton County on their way to New York City, then return to Washington D.C. on May 3rd – a journey of twenty-three days and 1,300 miles in honor of all those who lost their lives during the 2001 terrorist attack.

This inaugural ride, the first-ever to connect the three 9-11 memorial locations, will be undertaken by a small group of board members of the September 11th Trail Alliance. The bikers plan to be in Easton, PA on the 22nd, and Andover, NJ on the 23rd. The multi-day ride is closed to outside riders for logistical reasons, but local cyclists will be able to join when the group passes through their communities.

The September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance was formed in 2004 to establish a triangular path to link the three sites of the terrorist attacks. When completed, people should be able to hike, bike or drive the entire route. In Pennsylvania, planners are constructing the track by using existing trails and greenways. Northampton County’s Open Space Coordinator, Bryan Cope, is also a board member of the September 11th National Memorial Trail. “We looking forward to this event which showcases our extensive trail network already in place in Northampton County.”

Northampton County is becoming a hub for trail systems on the East Coast. Six major trails connect in the county, offering over 4,500 miles of land and water routes. For the September 11th Trail Alliance, the county is utilizing the D and L, Two Rivers, Liberty Water Gap, and the Northern Tier Trail. The Northern Tier Trail is currently being developed as a thirty-mile corridor which passes through the northern municipalities of the county to connect Delaware River to the Lehigh River. The Open Space committee estimates that work on that section will be completed by spring 2018. In 2017, the County of Northampton committed $5,000 to the memorial trail for signage.

Tim Brown, a member of the 911 Trail Board and a retired FDNY firefighter says, “After September 11th, in every firehouse around NYC, the words “Never Forget” became the mantra. These words have special meaning to us, but in particular they mean Never Forget the individual lives that were lost that day. Never Forget who they were. Never Forget their parents, their spouses, their children, their legacy. So when you ride or walk this trail, keep these people in your thoughts and prayers. Never Forget.”

Schedule for those Biking the Trail
Ride Schedule (w/overnights)
Day 1 (4/11): 10am Arlington VA, Pentagon, 11am CandO Canal Mile 0, (Lock House 28, mp 49)
Day 2 (4/12): Brunswick breakfast, Harper’s Ferry w/Canal Towns Partnership (10am), Williamsport lunch,
Four Locks (Lock House 49, mp 109) CandO Canal Trust (6pm)
Day 3 (4/13): Hancock breakfast (Park-n-Dine), Cumberland dinner, 6:30pm (Attiani’s), Inn on Decatur
Day 4 (4/14): Meyersdale lunch, Berlin, PA
Day 5 (4/15): 10am Flt. 93 Memorial, lunch 12:30pm (Lincoln Cafe), Johnstown (Holiday Inn)
Day 6 (4/16): Hollidaysburg
Day 7 (4/17): Canal Basin Park (9:30am), Huntingdon
Day 8 (4/18): breakfast (Top’s Diner, Mill Creek), Mifflintown
Day 9 (4/19): 3:30pm DCNR, Harrisburg
Day 10(4/20): Reading
Day 11(4/21): 9:30am, Schuylkill River trail clean-up, Weissport (Canal Edge Guest House),
Day 12(4/22): 10am Weissport event, Easton
Day 13(4/23): Andover, NJ (NJ Forest Fire Service HQ),
Day 14:(4/24): Andover Diner breakfast, lunch Chester Field House, Morristown (Best Western)
Day 15:(4/25): 9:30am Eagle Rock Reservation, Liberty State Park, ferry, 3pm NYC memorial
Day 16(4/26): Princeton Junction
Day 17(4/27): Trenton, Doylestown, PA
Day 18(4/28): Valley Forge, Wayne
Day 19(4/29): 12pm Conshohocken Brewery, Philadelphia
Day 20(4/30): 10am Schuylkill River Dev. Corp., Newark DE
Day 21(5/1): 2pm Perryville MD, MARC station, 6:30pm dinner, R House (301 W. 29th St.) Baltimore, MD
Day 22(5/2): breakfast (Handlebar Cafe), 9:30am 9-11 memorial, 3pm State House, Annapolis,
Day 23(5/3): 10:30am WBandA trail (Panera MLK Hwy), 12:30pm lunch (REI), 2pm Pentagon

Monday, April 09, 2018

McClure Apologizes to Bushkill Parents

It's probably time that George Treisner resign from the NorCo Elections Commission. There's simply no excuse for his behavior at a meeting last month when about 50 parents, many of whom brought their children, wanted a polling place moved from Butz Elementary in Bushkill Tp. to a nearby fire hall. He lashed out as people began speaking over each other, although he is the person who failed to maintain decorum and allowed a situation to develop. He began getting angry with the crowd and threatened to clear the room. Parents got up and left.

NorCo Executive Lamont McClure apologized for Treisner last week. He was "embarrassed at how that meeting was conducted. All public meetings should be conducted with civility. I apologize to those parents and their kids who were offended." Council also voted 5-4 to support a Matt Dietz-sponsored resolution supporting legislation that will require county elections officials to try to find alternatives to using schools as polling places.

Voting in favor of this resolution were Dietz, John Cusick, Peg Ferraro, Bill McGee and Ron Heckman.

Lori Vargo Heffner had previously offered to meet Bushkill parents and show them how things are done in Saucon Valley. But no one ever called her. "I'm a little offended," she admitted. "It goes both ways and civility goes both ways."

Ken Kraft said he would support legislation requiring schools to close or to conduct in service days. But he said the legislation offered was just "two state representatives pandering for a vote in their area." He said the legislation places an unfair burden on elections officials and will never get out of committee.     

But Ron Heckman said he would support the resolution."You are parents, I am a parent, I get it." But he called it an "an elegant solution to a problem that should never have existed in the first place." He said  the schools should be closed or conduct in-service days.

Morganelli Gets McClure Endorsement

It's no secret that Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure, Jr. and DA John Morganelli are close friends. So it's no surprise that McClure, who is serving his first term as Northampton County Executive, has endorsed  Morganelli for Congress.  and r to that served 10 years on Northampton County Council. McClure is a life long Democrat and has been active in numerous Democratic campaigns the last 20 years.

On Sunday, McClure issued a statement noting that, as a DA, "John is the only candidate who has sat with families who have lost loved ones to gun violence, and the only candidate who has waged a decades long fight to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers, children and the mentally ill."

Morganelli's efforts to curb gun violence go back to 1999, when he asked the state legislature to enact The Parent's Responsible Gun Ownership Act. This law would require firearm owners who have children and mentally ill people residing with them to secure their firearms."

More recently , Morganelli has released a common sense plan to reduce gun violence that includes a ban on the sale of assault-style rifles to the general public as well as background checks on the sale of all firearms. He has testified before state house committees on school violence issues.

Morganelli is particularly pleased by McClure's support because of his popularity with both senior citizens in Northampton County and younger Democrats. McClure is a lifelong Democrat who served on NorCo Council for 10 years and has been active in numerous Democratic campaigns.

In addition to McClure's endorsement, Morganelli has the support of State Senator Lisa Boscola and Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez.

Donchez and Morganelli are childhood friends who grew up on Bethlehem's south side. They both got their start in politics under Congressman Fred B Rooney, running errands and delivering flyers long before the days of cell phones and Facebook.

John is now poised to succeed his former mentor.

McClure Seeks Council Review of GPA

Northampton County's embattled General Purpose Authority (GPA) has a meeting set for Tuesday. Hopefully, it will go on as scheduled instead of being canceled. It has lots of explaining to do.

1) It started the year with a Sunshine Act violation.

2) It approved an obscene $813,000 in payments during 2016 and 2017 to John Lushis' law firm, Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus (NMM) That firm figured prominently in an investigation into political corruption in Allentown. NMM Partner Scott Allinson was convicted of bribery. He is the attorney who initially lobbied for the GPA Solicitor position. Assistant US Attorney Michelle Morgan called founding partner Matt Sorrentino a liar.

3) Former Executive John Brown was using this authority to promote projects he knew that Council, the County's elected governing body, would question. Like a new jail at Gracedale. Or his own re-election. Or hiring Brown's political propaganda machine after Council made clear this was unacceptable.

4) Chair Shawn Langen was amazingly "hired" as a GPA contact to check the work being done by a third party engineer who is already checking bridge contractor. Langen billed $11,950 last year. As of about a month ago, Executive Lamont McClure was reviewing the invoices.

5) Anyone who does bridge work will tell you that one of the biggest impediments is the acquisition of easements. Let's say UGI or Met Ed has a line going over, under, or through the bridge. Those must usually be altered, and can hold up work for years. Then there are the temporary easements needed during construction itself. Former Executive John Brown failed to budget for the permanent easements.

6) It is unclear whether Kriger is complying with a county ordinance requiring the use of local labor.

At their Thursday night meeting, McClure has asked Council to set aside a committee meeting to review these problems in detail.   . 

Zrinski Gets Airport Authority Post

Matt Dietz, Tara Zrinski
Braden Airpark is one of three facilities under the control of the bi-county airport authority. For several years, it was an ugly step sister that the airport considered selling to pay off a $16 million judgment. In 2012, Northampton County threatened a lawsuit to prevent a sale. Last year's budget even authorized a $250,000 grant in table games revenue for Braden. These financial concerns have diminished through the sale of land surrounding the main airport. Braden has been a hot-button item in Northampton County. But on Thursday night, Council appointed a person to the bi-county board who is unfamiliar with the Forks Tp facility and who knows nothing about airports. By a 6-2 vote, Council appointed one of its own, Tara Zrinski, to the Airport Authority. Zrinski abstained from the vote. Peg Ferraro and Matt Dietz cast the sole No votes.

Before the vote, Ferraro asked Zrinski whether she fully supports Braden Airpark. Zrinski said the issue had only recently been brought to her attention.

"I want to vote for you," said Ferraro.

"I'm not pandering for your vote," responded Zrinski. "That's not what I do. ... I'm going to look at all sides of an issue." She admitted she has only been to only one meeting, and said that she is concerned about the "responsible" development of the airport's surrounding land.

Matt Dietz said he'd like the appointment himself. "That airport has been my life since I graduated from high school," said Dietz, who indicated he works out of the airport and has been a tenant there. He said the board needs people like himself, who have an aviation or business background.

Ken Kraft said he appointed Dietz as liaison, and though he has no vote, can exercise his influence.

Heckman said he favored Zrinski she is not part of an "inner circle" that had "lobster lunches." He said she "is not beholden to the corporate gods of the Lehigh Valley."

Blogger's Opinion: I agree the position should go to someone with a business or aviation background, not Zrinski. She has only attended one meeting and appears to be more concerned about land development than airport operations. She is not beholden to corporate gods, but is an environmental activist Her response to Ferraro was a bit arrogant. But it also should not go to Dietz. Although he has no direct conflict of interest, that stigma followed airport tenant Dean Browning when he was on the board.

No Sexism in Kraft's Dishwashing Remarks

At Thursday night's NorCo Council meeting, I could hear a gasp behind me when Ken Kraft made a remark to Peg Ferraro about washing the dishes. Some people evidently thought he was being a sexist, but Kraft and Ferraro had a more benign explanation. At a party at Peg's house, Peg designated Kraft as the dish washer for certain glasses that he was the only one tall enough to reach, and Kraft dutifully washed those glasses. That has been a running joke between the two since then.

Friday, April 06, 2018

McClure Wants NorCo Gaming Authority to Disband

Jay Finnigan addresses NorCo Council
When he was a member of Northampton County Council, Lamont McClure drafted the legislation creating the county's nine-member Gaming Board. As Executive, he wants to abolish it. "The Gaming Board's time has come and gone," he told Council last night. "I brought the Gaming Authority into the world, it's time to take it out."

Northampton County's Gaming Board was established to award grants of tax revenue collected from the slot machines at Sands Casino. Priority had to be given to the five municipalities bordering Bethlehem, along with Bethlehem itself.  But the law was changed recently. Now the slots taxes are going into a dark hole known as the Commonwealth Finance Authority. Grants will be awarded the old fashioned way to those who are politically connected, as opposed to those who can show a need.

Though it is no longer being funded, several Gaming Board members and other local officials were at last night's Council meeting, not quite ready to go gentle into that good night.

Reason? $1,255,000. Northampton County would like that money, and Council introduced an ordinance to seek a court order abolishing the Gaming Board. but the Gaming Board thinks it should continue to award the remaining funds to municipalities.

Gaming Board Chair Jay Finnigan, in an email to local officials, asserts that his Board still has the authority to dole out what's left in the till. "If you just took the remaining funds and split it between each municipality evenly, the distribution would be approximately $31,000," he writes. "This would also allow the authority to pay all its professional obligations, and then dissolve once we fulfilled our legal requirements."

Finigan led a small procession of local officials at last night's Council meeting. Tom Nolan,a Bethlehem Twp Comm'r, told Council that he opposes the ordinance. So does Lower Nazareth's new Township Manager, Lori Stauffer. Hanover Township Supervisor Michael Prendeville emailed Council,and urged them to vote No. "[T]he mere optics of a 'smash and grab' will not bode well for the Council," he argues.

But McClure has a different interpretation of the new state law. "The state has ... empowered us to keep whatever is not committed," he told Council. "This is not a mere money grab to fill a budgetary gap." He said the money could be used the salary and benefits of staff within the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). It could also help fund the Regional Crime Center, located in Allentown. "It is not good government to have an authority continue to grant money when it is about to be abolished," he concluded.

Peg Ferraro said that, in her opinion, the gaming authority should disburse the remaining funds. "It is not appropriate for the County to take money, give it to DCED or any other department to disburse," she argued. "I think we have to exercise some patience and think about this over the next two weeks." She said that when the dollars are gone, the Board could be abolished.

Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance on April 19.