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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.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

As an insomniac I was browsing the web and caught this late entry. So it looks like war between McClure and the GPA. So far you seem to hate the way the new county council is voting. I guess we will see if they side with McClure or the GPA. They will have to agree as this will get messy and possibly costly. I guess you feel they will fold for the GPA.

Anonymous said...

And why has not John Morganelli called a grand jury or requested and FBI investigation?

Anonymous said...

800,000 of taxpayer money, and you say Peg just voted to pay a few more bills? Did she even look at the bills and what they are for?

Also, did Peg vote to hire a law firm from Philadelphia to sue the county on a law that SHE voted for?

It seems Peg is finally proving she is unfit for office and should be called on to resign since she clearly can’t perform or grasp her duties these days, and to think I voted for her, I am so ashamed of that vote

Anonymous said...

Thank you for covering this, Bernie. It's clear the GPA needs oversight from the press.

Anonymous said...

Get rid of Peg!

Anonymous said...

It doesn't sound like the Authority's Board is doing their job.

How many people serve on this Board? Could you list all the members?

I know you mentioned a few, but the public should know the names of these rubber-stampers.

Also, why did Koplin resign? Could it be he wasn't happy with the way things were being run?

Anonymous said...

Peg is clueless,going down like the Titanic ! ✍️

Anonymous said...

Pintabone is gonna be a freaking wrecking ball. this should be fun...

Anonymous said...

Bernie, great job! This whole board and Lushis should be ousted. Transparency, open meetings and secret deals are the norm with the GPA. Their solicitor, a NMM crook, should be banned from all governments in the Lehigh Valley. They lied at the Pawlowski/Allinson trial and have no regard for the public; except their money.

All government agencies and boards should review their relationship with NMM and promptly fire them. Otherwise, they will control you like the NC GPA.

Anonymous said...

Team Langen and Lushis are at it again. One covers for the other. Pretty pathetic to observe. The County should clean house. The GPA has obviously gone rogue.

Ken Kraft said...

I’m sorry I missed the meeting, I want to state publicly that I am concerned with Pegs vote to spend County Money To hire a Philadelphia Law Firm to sue us with our money Over something she voted for. The 80% local labor law should be followed by anybody doing work with taxpayer money in Northampton County

Anonymous said...

Pocketbook Peg spending tax money anwyhere she can. Demand her resignation and she now has a strong conflict. Rid us if this old spending hag.

Chris Casey said...

THE GPA has the authority to spend millions. Where there is that kind of money, temptation lurks, and by the size of those legal bills, it looks like temptation won, and someone is trying to use vague interpretation of the law for legal cover. Hmmm, that sounds familiar. Who has jurisdiction to legally investigate? Too bad if Scott Curtis and the FBI are not interested, it seems a certain law firm is always involved in this type of shenanigans

Anonymous said...

Wow - just wow. More people need to show up at these meetings. This agency needs a major overhaul and attitude adjustment. Keep up the good work, Bernie. You have your nose up their butts, and they aren't in heat yet. Give it to them good.

Jeff Fox said...

It concerns me that Mr. Lushis told the chairman to move the meeting along. That was obviously in his own best interest and outside of his purview. It is also concerning that the invoices/bills to be paid, were only provided to the members of the GPA at the meeting. The members of the GPA had no or very little time to examine these invoices/bills. This is taxpayer money. It is also quite concerning that the votes I witnessed were all voice votes and the chairman never asked for "all opposed". No roll call vote on record, with no one seemingly even hardly given the opportunity to voice any concerns or ask questions, is not very transparent and seems to show where the people of Northampton County stand with Mr. Langen and Mr. Lushis. The people, the taxpayers, do not seem to be paramount. They should be.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"So far you seem to hate the way the new county council is voting."

Far from true. I opposed their support of a meaningless resolution in support of a meaningless state bill that will never become law. I disagreed with appointing Zrinski to the airport.I also disagreed with the O'Donnell and Treisner appointments, and should have written about it. But that is only a small amount of Council'swork. For the most part, I have agreed with their votes.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Readers, Jeff Fox, whose comment you see above, was at yesterday's meeting, and I appreciate that he has weighed in with his own take. At 8 am, the last thing I want to do is be at a meeting. I did go back and watch the video to make sure my facts are right. They are. Contrary to what Lushis has asserted in the past, video is nearly instantaneous and can be seen on the county web page.

http://nccvid.northamptoncounty.org/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=735&doctype=AGENDA

Bernie O'Hare said...

"And why has not John Morganelli called a grand jury or requested and FBI investigation?"

I see no evidence of criminal behavior. But I do think Lushis billed and paid for work that was well outside of his role as GPA solicitor. He should be surcharged. I am talking about him, not the GPA. That is apparently what bothers him, but guess what? A special counsel paid by the GPA is unable to represent him in a surcharge action.

Anonymous said...

Pocketbook Peg should resign. She is just a hot mess in looking out for the taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Undoubtedly Neal Koplin, a person of great integrity, didn’t like what he saw at the GPA. Guilt by association doesn’t enhance a stellar reputation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"It doesn't sound like the Authority's Board is doing their job.

How many people serve on this Board? Could you list all the members?"


https://www.northamptoncounty.org/CMTYECDV/Pages/General-Purpose-Authority.aspx

Anthony and Pintabone just served in their first meeting.

Robert Trotner said...

This is obscene. Morganelli should convene a grand jury and Northampton County and all its authorities, boards, and commissions should do what Allentown did after they were burned: bar Norris McLaughlin from any contract whatever.

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure 815k in legal billing is not criminal. Just cause it was billes for services did they get what the taxpayer was paying for. A fortune 500 company not far didnt pay nor has legal budget near that amount. Bernie has anyone seen the retainer agreement?

Bernie O'Hare said...

That is part of my RTK request.

Anonymous said...

This whole gig smells bad. Something is not right.

Anonymous said...

That local worker law is a good thing. Finally something for the regular people. I hope the county stands up to this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Time to defease and have the county take over. Or create a new authority to assume the liabilities and take control of the projects.

Anonymous said...

Since Peg is a Trump supporter she won't mind not having evidence against her presented in a court of law, instead we can go right to the "Lock Her Up" portion of the matter.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,you are excellent with your reporting.My advice is you need to report beyond the Valley.You can then earn advertising dollars.I will contact you directly by Mothers Day (May 17).I have a lot of contacts including a movie director, Valley may make you famous.

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Who hired this law firm from philly? Peg? Did they get three bids' did they interview anybody, do they know exactly what the cost per hour is for the firm? How can Peg vote for something as bad as this?

Peg, we are asking you a question, please answer, We know your reading this!

Jeff Fox said...

Anonymous April 11, 2018 at 8:06 PM

Trump has nothing to do with this. This is about transparency in government. This is about bad government which is not responsive to the people which it serves. Peg is not the only member of the board.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, Peg is the county council member of that Board. She is inadequate. Failure to realize that is just partisan blindness.