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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Saturday, June 30, 2018

O'Connell: "Hunger Doesn't Take a Summer Vacation"

Allentown's Future
O'Connell tries to register a few voters
On Friday morning, Attorney Scott Allinson was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for his role in a pay-to-play scandal that included former Mayor Edwin Pawlowski and several other high-ranking City officials. But at another end of town, the mood was much brighter. Cedar Beach Park was packed as hundreds of kids from all over the city were there for Cedar Sports Day.  Basketball courts were busy as youngsters defied the heat and raced up and down the macadam courts as teenagers festooned in Irish green "STAFF" T-shirts made sure everyone stayed hydrated. In the midst of it all was Mayor Ray O'Connell. The teacher-turned-politician worked the crowd, though they're a bit too young to vote for him. His real reason for being there was to announce the expansion of a summer meal program that gives Allentown's most important asset, its youth, something it desperately needs - hope.

Hendricks has just returned from hunger conference
In Pennsylvania, one out of every five children lives in a home without consistent access to food. In Allentown, where the poverty level is 26.7%, so many kids are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches that school officials decided to make that program available to everyone during the school year. But what happens when school lets out for the summer?

Currently, meals are served to 1,500 children at a total of 64 sites in Allentown over the summer months as part of the City's 105 year-old playground program. But that's only a fraction of the City's 17,000 children.  Thanks to the help of many caring people, O'Connell is announcing an expansion of that program at five new locations: Allentown Public Library; Lehigh Valley Hospital - 17th St; Greater Valley YMCA; Alliance Hall of Allentown; and Mosser Village Family Center.

Mota pledged to get the word out
"One thing we know for sure is that hunger does not take a summer vacation," said O'Connell. This expansion ensures that no child need go hungry this summer. "Good things happen when as a community, we come together for a common purpose, and that common purpose is to feed our youth," said O'Connell.

He credited the Allentown Health Bureau, Parks and Recreation, the School District, Lehigh Valley Children Centers, Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council and other community organizations.

As a former teacher and school principal, O'Connell said there is a direct relation between food and learning capacity. "Too many students regress over the summer, not necessarily because they're not reading or doing math, but they're hungry," he observed.

O'Connell: "Hunger doesn't take a summer vacation."
O'Connell asked several of the people who worked on this expansion to say a few words.

Ellen O'Brien, who retired from Allentown School District on Friday, agreed that food security does not end with the end of the school year.

Lehigh Valley Health Network's Cathy Coyne, who said her center provided lunches to 14 kids on their first day, pointed out that food insecure children have a greater risk of illness.

Greater Valley YMCA's Maribel Tandazo actually has five open sites, and has served over 1,000 meals this summer. Some of the children have told her that they are more than food insecure. When they return home, there is no food at all.

CACLV's Susan Dalandan said that, in 2016, the number of Lehigh Valley sites serving meals to children had dropped to 60, and reached only a very small percentage of food insecure children. This year, it's double that amount. 

Allentown Health Bureau's Tina Amato had a message for parents who are worried about where they will find theur next meal."We are here to help you."

"I know all too well what happens when children don't have a meal," said Allentown City Council member Daryl Hendricks, a retired police captain. "They tend to act out."

"The children are our future,"added City Council member Cynthia Mota. She vowed to do her best to get the word out. 

Families can call 211 or text "food" to 877-877 to find the closest free summer meal site.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Why NorCo Workers Should Stay and Pay

Northampton County has three kinds of employees. First, there are "exempt" or confidential employees, those with whom the Executive can feel free to discuss policy. These are his cabinet and few other positions. Second, there are career service employees. They have no union protection and must rely on their own wits if they think they are being treated unfairly. Third, there are union employees, which make up about 75% of Northampton County's workforce. They are represented by 11 different bargaining units who negotiate and enforce contracts, and file grievances when an employee thinks he is being treated unfairly. Thanks to the Janus decision, these workers can no longer be forced to contribute to the union that represents them. But that is the worst decision they can make. It is better to stay and pay, and I'll explain why below.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision reversed over 40 years of established precedent. Writing for the Court, Justice Sam Alito ruled that public sector workers have a First Amendment right to refuse to help pay for their bargaining unit that negotiates and enforces their contracts. "As Jefferson famously put it, 'to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of
opinions which he disbelieves and abhor[s] is sinful and tyrannical.'”

The majority rules that free speech trumps everything, even the common good that is ensured by requiring nonunion members to pay their fair share.

Justice Elena Kagan, speaking for four dissenters, complained that the government is acting as an employer, not Sovereign, and needs to have some control over what employees say to be able to deliver services efficiently.
The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law — and in its economic life — for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.
The Janus decision is almost certainly a death blow for most of the 11 unions representing Northampton County workers. Bargaining units representing corrections officers, deputy sheriffs and nurses should stay strong because they have the right to demand arbitration during contract negotiations. But other bargaining units, like the residual unit, are in trouble. As Kagan explains in her dissent, this is what will happen to employees who are under no obligation to help pay for the union negotiating their contracts.
"Without a fair-share agreement, the class of union non-members spirals upward. Employees (including those who love the union) realize that they can get the same benefits even if they let their memberships expire. And as more and more stop paying dues, those left must take up the financial slack (and anyway, begin to feel like suckers) — so they too quit the union. ... And when the vicious cycle finally ends, chances are that the union will lack the resources to effectively perform the responsibilities of an exclusive representative — or, in the worst case, to perform them at all."
Based on what three members of the residual unit told me today, I think Kagan is right. Only one of these three was around in 2003, when employees organized after layoffs and going several years without a raise. This person supported stay and pay. A second  employee, who has only been with the county briefly, was opposed to paying a fair share long before Wednesday's decision. He complained that unions have always been a disaster for him.

The third employee at first told me he didn't care. But he did. He actually tracked me down later to say he is pro-union, "but this union needs to do a lot more and perhaps this will put their feet to the fire."

Let me explain what happens if they fail to pay and stay. First, the union might disappear. Second, the union might redefine the bargaining unit to exclude all those who refuse to pay fair share. In both of these cases, the employees will be re-classified as career service. What that means is that they'll be lucky to see a 2% raise every year, and their benefits will be subject to the whims of the Executive.

Free speech has consequences.

It is smarter to stay and pay.

By the way, the logic of the Alito decision means that fair share payments to private sector unions are in jeopardy because those are authorized by statute.

They're next.

U.S. Congressman Matt Cartwright introduced federal legislation yesterday that basically reaffirms the right to organize. He was highly critical of the Supreme Court.

“This is not jurisprudence, this is bare-knuckle politics,” Rep. Cartwright said. “I will always fight to maintain collective bargaining rights for hard-working Americans, including my constituents in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where union rights are a time-honored tradition. Strong public and private sector unions built the middle class in our country, and we should not turn back the clock on those struggling families.”

According to Rep. Cartwright, union members employed by a state government earn 17 percent more than their non-union counterparts, and union members employed by a local government earn 35 percent more than their non-union counterparts.

Erratum: I incorrectly reported that nurses have a right to compulsory arbitration. They have no such right.


A Donald Trump supporter who has somehow managed to retain a good sense of humor just turned me on to Breaking Burgh, a satirical blog covering western Pa. and beyond. It reports that Trump has decided to use catapults to expedite deportations along the border without worrying about silly things like due process. In a bow to humanitarians, he has decided to launch families together. This humor site also reports that Trump has scrapped the wall, which he now concedes was stupid, in favor of land mines. Finally, he is nominating Roseann Barr to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Supreme Court is Making America Great Again

Until yesterday, about 23 states allowed public sector unions to collect a "fair share" of union dues from nonmembers to cover the cost of collective bargaining that benefits them. No more. In a 5-4 ruling along ideological lines, the Supreme Court reversed itself and ruled that this practice violates the First Amendment. This means they will lose members, possibly as many as 726,000. It also means they will lose revenue, not for political contributions as many people erroneously think, but to pay for the very real cost of negotiating contracts or resolving grievances.

State Rep. Jeanne McNeill, whose late husband was a trade union business agent and was a union member herself, released this powerful statement:
“While this decision will signal to some that it’s OK for people to leave unions, it’s important to remember that unions will never leave working people. Because of unions, we have a minimum wage. Because of unions, we have an eight-hour work day. Because of unions, we have rules limiting underage labor. And because of unions, we will continue to have workers who truly believe in what public service is all about. No court case will stop the union movement.”
I know people who have long grumbled about having to pay for union representation when they refuse to join. But this is a "What have you done for me lately?" attitude.

I used to agree with these people. I thought of public sector unions as the equivalent of an appendix. Since a government is required to provide due process (notice and a hearing)  to most employees before firing them, I considered them unnecessary. 

But then I saw unions protect public sector employees from bureaucratic bullies who like to throw their weight around or politicians who were more interested in playing tough for the press than in being fair. I saw two simple clerks who were fired over an exchange of racy emails after a two-year investigation by a manager who always smelled to me like a brewery. How did they get their jobs back? Unions. I know a cop  who was always getting disciplined and was eventually fired because he refused to drop cases against the pals of elected officials. how did he get his job back? His union. I also know a nonunion county employee who was unfairly laid off and got no help 

As for the First Amendment, it appears to me that unions have that right too, and it includes the right of assembly. The Supreme Court has effectively gutted that right.

Yesterday's ruling is far from a win for the First Amendment It's actually a win for those who like to keep their lessers under their thumb.

Like it or not, that. has been this nation's history.

Back when America was great, we chained and loaded blacks onto ships to work our southern plantations, and thought nothing about ripping babies out of the arms of their mothers and breaking up families. Now we wonder why so many African American families are split up, and blame them for a condition we created.

Back when America was great, in 1897, Luzerne County Deputy Sheriffs thought nothing of gunning down dirty Polish, Slovak, German and Lithuanian miners who had dared strike for better conditions. Nineteen were shot dead, and as many as 49 more were wounded in what became known as the Lattimer massacre.

Back when America was great, in 1910, Pennsylvania state troopers shot three strikers at Bethlehem Steel, killing one of them.

Back when America was great, my own grandfather was forced as a boy to work the mines, picking up pieces of coal that had fallen off railcars. He lost two fingers.

Yesterday's ruling tells me the Supreme Court wants to make America great again.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Is Dem Party Taking a Hard Left?

I can still remember when there was virtually no difference between a Democrat and a Republican.Republicans tended to be a bit more pro-business while Dems tended to be a bit more pro-union. But that's changed. The GOP's shift to the right began a few years ago with the emergence of the tea party  Now it appears that the Democratic party is taking a hard left.

Earlier this year, two thirds of the Lehigh Valley Democrats voted for a "progressive" Democrat Sue Wild or Greg Edwards over blue dog John Morganelli. And in NYC, Democrats have just elected a 28 year-old Democratic Socialist Latina over a powerful, ten-term Congressman who himself is quite progressive.

Hanover Tp (NC) Asked to Endorse Redistricting Reform

Terry Schettini pitches redistricting reform in Hanover Tp
Hanover Tp (Northampton County) Supervisors have been asked to join 19 counties and over 250 cities, townships and boroughs to fight for redistricting reform in Harrisburg. About 20 people from Fair Districts Pa. filled the municipal building June 26 to complain about the gerrymander.

Fair Districts Pa describes itself as a "nonpartisan, citizen-led, statewide coalition working to create a process for redistricting that is transparent, impartial, and fair."

Resident Cecil Blocker, wearing a Fair District Pa. T-shirt, was very blunt. "My vote won't count in the coming election," he complained. He explained that he is a Democrat in State Rep. Marcia Hahn's Legislative District, and that his vote will never count because her boundaries are gerrymandered to ensure she has solid Republican support. "Her District looks like a fat 'I' with warts," he lamented.

A bill that would end gerrymandering and replace it with a independent citizen commission has cleared the state senate, but Hahn has yet to sponsor any of the bills under consideration in the House. Her opponent in November's election, Bethlehem School Director Dean Donaher, supports an independent citizen commission.

Hanover Township resident Jean Shenk, who met with Hahn, said she was told no one seemed that concerned about the gerrymander. Hahn did agree to poll constituents in newsletters, and Shenk claimed that 70% of those responding do consider redistricting reform an issue. "This isn't a ninth grade civics lesson that you forgot about a long time ago," said Shenk.

In addition to the remarks made by Shenk and Blocker, Supervisors heard a brief presentation from Fair District Pa.'s Terry Schettini. He told them that gerrymandering has led to the current gridlock in Harrisburg, and this prevents local government from serving their community.

He also pointed out gerrymandering is a double-edged sword, and that Democrats could just as easily manipulate the process as Republicans.

Time is running short on redistricting reform. This must be approved by voter referendum, and before that can happen,the state legislature must pass a law calling for a referendum in two consecutive sessions. If this fails to happen this year, it will be toolate because the next census is in 2020. Redistricting reform will have to wait another ten years for the 2030 census.

In the Lehigh Valley, resolutions supporting redistricting reform have passed in Lehigh and Nortampton Counties, Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Coopersburg, Lower Macungie, Lowhill, Lynn, Macungie, North Whitehall, South Whitehall, Upper Milford,Upper Saucon, Washington, Weisenberg, Whitehall, Bethlehem Tp and Williams.

Supervisors were provided a sample resolution to consider, but took no action.

In other business, Public Works director Vince Milite reported that is being repaved. Macada Road is next, after the July 4 holiday.

Manager Jay Finnigan said he will soon be seeking proposals for an update to the Township's comprehensive plan, which should cost between $50,000-80,000.

The next scheduled meeting for Township Supervisors is on Tuesday, July 8, at the municipal building on Jacksonville Rd, starting at 7 pm. Supervisors only meet once in July.

NASD's $1 MM Ball Field Draws Wrath of Nazareth Residents

From Becky Bartlett's report on last night's meeting of Nazareth Area School District: Two residents from Nazareth spoke out about the $1 million in construction at the baseball field at the Intermediate School. A Borough Councilman asked the [school] board why the district didn’t work with the borough concerning improvements to the town baseball field and read a letter he wrote to [Superintendent Dennis L.] Riker — a letter, he said, had never been answered. He accused Riker of behaving unprofessionally, pointed out that relations with previous administrations had been much friendlier and that the Intermediate School field was at risk for sink holes. (Editor’s Note: I have personally seen sinkholes in that area since the school was constructed)

Another Nazareth resident wanted to know why there wasn’t more communication between the district and the town on this issue, claiming that, in his experience, the project was likely to cost $1.8 million dollars when it was all finished. He pointed out that the town ball field was already established and the extra expense offended him as a taxpayer. Board member [Adam] McGlynn claimed the town field was too wet to use and that students had been forced to practice in the parking lot. The resident pointed out that he’d played ball as a student and practicing in the parking lot was a common.

[Board member] Kenneth Butz aggressively pushed back, saying the town wouldn’t keep circuses and car shows off the field and that insurance won’t allow kids to practice on parking lots anymore. [Board member] Linda Stubits, looking a bit appalled, expressed concern about the deterioration in community relations and asked someone to find the minutes from the last meeting between the district and the borough.

Prompted by a question about why the district hadn’t communicated with the borough, Butz admitted that, in the past, the deal for the district to play on the ballfield had been a handshake deal.

Blogger's Note: The above excerpt should tell you that Becky Bartlett's Upper Nazareth Township Meetings provides excellent and remarkably unbiased coverage of Upper Nazareth Township and Nazareth Area School District. She is also succinct, unlike me. 

NorCo, Easton Team Up For Affordable Housing

Northampton County and Easton have teamed up to seek more federal funding for affordable housing. On Thursday night, Northampton county council voted unanimously (9-0) to form a consortium council. Together, they will be able to tap into more money to build, buy or rehab affordable housing for low-income residents. In addition, there are rent assistance, homelessness assistance and other worthwhile programs.

“I’d like to congratulation Northampton County’s Department of Economic and Community Development for their assistance in putting together this partnership with the City of Easton,” said County Executive Lamont McClure. “We want every resident of Northampton to be happy and successful and it’s hard to do that when you don’t have a safe place to call home. We believe this collaboration with Easton will go a long way in helping our citizens find and keep affordable housing.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Mayor O'Connell Honors Mohammad Ali

Not that Muhammad Ali. I refer instead to Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the former Allentown Central Catholic High School guard who recently excelled as a Michigan Wolverine in the NCAA National Tournament against Villanova. He often would return to Rockne Hall during school breaks, and like his father Dawud, is very much a part of the Lehigh Valley sports scene. He was honored during the “Bash at the Beach” this weekend during a high school basketball tourney at Cedar Beach.

Mayor Ray O’Connell, himself a former point guard, is a fixture at these summer tournaments. Next one coming up is the A-town Throwdown. As Mayor, Ray is a fan of all three Allentown high schools. It’s nice to see a Mayor who actually promotes sports instead of one who removes the rims from basketball courts.

Above you see Muhammad with several current Vikings.

Where is NorCo's Drug Epidemic Hitting Hardest?

Tiffany Rossanese, who administered NorCo's Drug and Alcohol program until a few days ago, is moving over to take control of the county's Mental Health and IDD (Intellectual Disability) department. But last week, she still updated Northampton County Council on the impact of the opioid epidemic. She was able to report on surprising trends noticed in data compiled by the Northampton County Opioid and Heroin Overdose Task Force.

This first chart reflects the number of NorCo residents hospitalized with overdoses in 2015 (250), 2016 (567) and 2017 (558). Though overdoses dropped slightly in 2017, both 2016 and 2017 are double the number of overdoses in 2015.

This chart breaks down overdoses by month. I am unable to discern a pattern. Perhaps you see something I am missing.

Here you can see that the percentage of males who overdose is slightly higher than women.

As you may have guessed, young people are most severely impacted by overdoses, especially those between 15 and 44.

It's no surprise that residents living in zip codes 18015, 18017 and 18042, which include Bethlehem and Easton, would have high number of overdoses. But so does zip code 18067 (Northampton) and 18064 (Nazareth).

Statistics gathered by the Coroner show that drug overdose deaths have quadrupled since 2010.

Interestingly, 80% of those who die from drug overdoses are white.

Though younger people experience the most drug overdoses, the highest number of overdose deaths is in the 51-60 age group.

Monday, June 25, 2018

NorCo to Take Closer Look at GPA Finances

Northampton County Controller Richard "Bucky" Szulborski has been requested to audit the County's General Purpose Authority. "The McClure Administration would like to formally request that your office review the recent activities of the Northampton County GPA," states Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron in a letter dated June 21, and hand-delivered to Szulborski right before County Council met.

"It is our belief after hearing from the GPA at their public meetings and in front of Northampton County Council that there was taxpayer money that was spent potentially in violation of the Northampton County Administrative Code," continues Barron. "Our office would like to make sure we have the review of an independent office who can review and recommend a course of action forward."

No matter who is Executive, or who is on County Council, nothing has infuriated Councils more than when an Executive goes behind their backs, intentionally or unintentionally, to spend money in violation of the County's Procurement Code. Former Executive John Brown spent $153,343.50 last year to pay invoices for “special legal services” submitted by GPA Solicitor John Lushis. Council was never consulted concerning this expenditure.

As explained in the County Council resolution adopted on Thursday night,
* Former Executive Brown's authority to hire a special solicitor is set forth in the 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 ignored. There was no competitive negotiation. There is no written contract, and nothing is on file in the Procurement Division. Though former County Executive Brown paid over $100,000, he never sought County Council's approval. No final report was filed. This procedure was done specifically to keep the governing body, County Council, uninformed about plans to use a P3 to build a jail and market it to other municipalities.

Allentown City Council Votes For Financial Study

At their June 20 meeting, Allentown City Council approved Ed Zucal's motion for a financial study, including a forensic audit of some accounts. This is to ensure there are no more hidden debts waiting to ambush them. The sole No vote came from Jenn Mann acolyte Courtney Robinson.

This is really needed. Earlier this month, Finance Director Brent Hartzell told Council that its debt service is already too high to justify any more long-term debt. The City had a $8 million deficit in 2016, which climbed to $10 million in 2017. The City is expected to run $5 million deficits for the next five years.

When he interviewed for Mayor, Nat Hyman  said pretty much the same thing.

This explains why former Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski was so anxious to run for Governor, then Senator.

Councilperson Zucal; June 20, 2018 Motion under Old Business:
Given the fact that we had some discussion about doing a financial study during a presentation from a representative from the state: I make a motion to establish committee of council, consisting of the Chairperson of the Budget and Finance Committee, two additional councilpersons as appointed by the President or agreed upon by City Council, and the Clerk; and that they  consult with selected city staff on an as needed basis, to draft and release an RFP by August 8, 2018; and such audit might include but not be limited to examining the following as determined by the committee and council:
This motion is being made to show transparency between city government and the citizens of Allentown; and to remove any doubt that might be placed on the current council and incoming Mayor Ray O’Connell in regard to any unknown hidden financial debts the city may have had without their knowledge.  
  1. Financial and Management audit.
  2. Long-term financial obligations – Post Retirement Benefits, long term pension costs, etc.
  3. Forensic audit of specific accounts – for example: capital projects and their reconciliation, determination of cash balance, topics as determined by council.
  4. Identify available cash including bank balances and cash flow issues going forward.
  5. Collective bargaining review.
  6. Review of service level and delivery or services.
  7. Identify potential non-essential services.
  8. Options for reducing cost of services.
  9. Options for raising revenue.
  10. Make use of funding available through the EIP.

Trapp Wants Back in Allentown

Northampton County Executive John Brown lost his re-election bid for many reasons. Lamont McClure ran an excellent race. Brown was certainly hurt by the Trump factor. Most county employees (and their families) voted for McClure, too. His unilateral decision to cut benefits made clear that he was intent on balancing the budget on the backs of county employees. Then he hired Amy Trapp as Director of Human Relations. She was toxic. She brought us an $800 popcorn machine, trips to Vegas and New Orleans and lunches at the courthouse on the taxpayer dime. She created her own fiefdom with people she imported from corruption-plagued Allentown. She attempted to force everyone to use biometric punch clocks without consensus. Then there's the "entitled spoiled brat government employees remark," posted on this blog on an account owned by her husband. Let's not forget those $10 and $15 gift cards she purchased with employee money. She was unable to explain what happened to some of them. McClure obviously declined to retain her.

Not long after she left the county, it was my understanding that she found a Human Resources job. I declined to write about it because it was in the private sector. But I learned over the weekend that she is trying to get her old job back in the City of Allentown. Over one year in Allentown, 23 people were fired or forced to retire.

On her Linked-In page, Trapp fails to mention the job she had in the private sector. It either fell through or sheleft after a short period. She describes herself as a "dynamic, professional, experienced human resource professional seeking a new opportunity!"

She's endorsed by Charlie Thiehl. I's sure that will carry great weight with Allentown Mayor Ray O'Connell.

Gracedale Residents Visit NorCo Council

Gracedale resident Alfred Kimpel, age 82
Uncaring teachers at Easton Area High School have been inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on students for the past several years. It's far more sinister and evil than corporal punishment. These poor kids are forced to attend Northampton County Council meetings. They have to prove they were there, too, but the pricks on Council refuse to sign attendance rosters until after the meeting. Most of these students emigrate to Canada after graduating.

Actually, despite my negative humor, I love seeing young people at meetings. I'd love to hear what the students really think about their experience, and what  government can do to be more responsive. Now that
school's out, Executive Lamont McClure extended an invitation to our seniors, another overlooked, segment of society. Specifically, he invited Gracedale residents, and about ten or so appeared. One of them spoke during courtesy of the floor and had four questions. She said she'd wait a week for answers before going to the state. She was tough!

Maybe I can get her to start a blog.

Alfred Kimpel, age 82, sat next to me. Council member Matt Dietz said he first meet Al at another nursing home. Since coming to Gracedale, Al's health has improved markedly. Al's a native of Queens in NYC. He spent 32 years in the Brooklyn Air National Guard, sold advertising for the Ridgewood Times and Times Newsweekly for two decades. But his most important role was in delivering first aid to many very ill Irishmen in the greater New York Area. He delivered cases and kegs of Guinness, Harp Lager, Irish Red Ale and Kilkenny. Those are like blood deliveries.

As of late last week, Gracedale's census was hovering at 670, which is very close to its max capacity

Also, in what is very good news for the nursing home's bottom line, it has received a $4 million Intergovernmental Transfer from the federal government. This is nearly twice the $2.2 million budgeted by former Executive John Brown. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

NorCo Council: Enough With PPP Already

You down with PPP? Yeah, you know me. 
You down with PPP? Yeah, you know me. 
You down with PPP? Yeah, you know me. 
Who's down with PPP? Every last homie.

Not the homies on Northampton County Council. Last night, by an 8-0 vote (with one abstention), they made very clear that they've had it with the Northampton County General Purpose Authority (GPA). They want no more PPP (public private partnership), or P3 agreements, coming from the GPA. They want all marketing to stop. They want the GPA to end their relationship with GPA Solicitor John Lushis and his firm, Norris, Mclaughlin and Marcus. They also want GPA Shawn Langen to resign. They stopped just short of seeking a criminal investigation.

This resolution is the result of a meeting called by Finance Chair Ron Heckman on Wednesday. I have already provided a detailed account. An exasperated Ken Kraft said several times that the way  GPA Solicitor John Lushis was paid by former County Executive John Brown amounted to a misappropriation of County funds.

Yesterday, before Northampton County Council met, GPA board members Peg Ferraro and J.Michael Dowd resigned, signalling their own displeasure at the way things have been going. They both have worked hard to develop reputations for integrity and fairness, and Executive Lamont McClure made clear last night that he holds them both in high regard.

Since she just resigned from the GPA, Ferraro thought it was appropriate to steer clear of this resolution, and abstained.

Yesterday's resignations mean that McClure may have won his battle with the GPA, and without firing a shot. He has just appointed Paul Anthony and Frank Pintabone, and he will soon be naming two more members. Ferraro must be replaced by a fellow Council member. McClure can appoint himself to replace Dowd. Historically, the county executive has chaired the GPA, and resigns when his term is up. 

Since the GPA is made up of seven members, and McClure will have named four of them, he appears to be on the cusp of reining in this runaway horse.

During Council meetings, usually only summaries or excerpts of resolutions and ordinances are read. But last night, Council President  Ken Kraft felt it was important to read the entire resolution. What particularly bothered Ron Heckman is not the money wasted by former Executive Brown, but the end run around the Administrative Code. "This is a big deal," he said several times.

The resolution, authored by Kraft and perhaps Heckman, is a powerful indictment of abuse of authority. I have copied it for you.         

WHEREAS, by Ordinance No. 605-2016, enacted on March 3, 2016, Northampton County Council approved a public private partnership project (P3) to repair or replace 33 bridges located within Northampton County; and

WHEREAS, at no time has Northampton County Council approved a public private partnership project (P3) for any other purpose; and

WHEREAS, at a June 20, 2018 meeting of Northampton County Council attended by representatives of the Northampton County General Purpose Authority (GPA), County Council learned the following:
 thought it was

·        Former Executive John A. Brown  told the GPA, in February 2017, that he'd like to use P3 for another 66 bridges, a new jail or adaptive reuse of the existing jail, a warehouse, forensic center, purchase of the Human Services building and a new parking facility.  He made this representation without informing Northampton County Council.

·        Former Executive Brown decided to employ John Lushis, Esq., who already was Solicitor for the GPA to research legal issues, draft legislation, meet with municipal officials and lobby state legislators to sponsor and enact enabling legislation.

·        John Lushis, Esq. and his law firm, Norris Mclaughlin and Marcus, submitted $153,343.50 in invoices for “special legal services” in 2016 and 2017.

·        These bills were funneled in contravention of the Home Rule Charter and Administrative Code through the GPA to former County Executive Brown,  Department of Fiscal Affairs, Department of Public Works and Department of Community and Economic Development in order to keep both County Council and the Controller unaware of what was happening.

·        The funds to make these payments were drawn from a $500,000 fund approved by Northampton County Council as line item 93010, which was to be used to update a jail study performed by former Executive John Stoffa.

·        Former Executive Brown's authority to hire a special solicitor is set forth in the 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 ignored. There was no competitive negotiation. There is no written contract, and nothing is on file in the Procurement Division. Though former County Executive Brown paid over $100,000, he never sought County Council's approval. No final report was filed. This procedure was done specifically to keep the governing body, County Council, uninformed about plans to use a P3 to build a jail and market it to other municipalities.

·        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."

·        GPA Solicitor John Lushis and former County Executive John Brown have continued to market P3 projects to other entities, both public and private, for their own personal gain and without regard to the best interests of Northampton County


1) Northampton County Council hereby requests the General Purpose Authority to terminate the services of John Lushis, Esq. and Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus as Solicitor to that body.

2) Northampton County Council hereby requests that GPA Chair Shawn Langen resign from the GPA and expresses their appreciation to him for many years of dedicated service.

3) Northampton County Council hereby requests that the GPA not attempt in any fashion to market P3 to any other entities.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Kraft: Fees Paid to GPA Solicitor a Misappropriation of County Funds (Updated)

Ken Kraft
"No dogs or ponies were harmed," quipped County Council Finance Chair Ron Heckman yesterday at the conclusion of a meeting he called to try to get a handle on what's going on at the beleaguered General Purpose Authority (GPA). Heckman was responding to GPA Chair Shawn Langen's gripe that it would be nothing more than a dog and pony show. The nearly two-hour meeting was actually quite productive.

What's at stake is a $38.5 million project to replace or repair 32 of the county's 119 bridges. They have been conveyed to the GPA for construction and a 10-year maintenance period, after which they will be returned to the county. The contractor is Kriger Construction, and Benesch Engineering has been providing third-party oversight. The work Benesch is doing has been in turn been monitored by GPA Chair Shawn Langen. He has billed the county for his work, but NorCo Exec Lamont McClure refuses to pay. In addition, GPA Solicitor John Lushis and his firm, Norris, Mclaughlin and Marcus has been paid $813,000 in 2016 and 2017. McClure refuses to pay any of the 2018 bills, but is paying Kriger for its work as milestones are met.

Ron Heckman
In recent months, there's been increasing friction between the GPA and the County. The GPA, without seeking any competitive bids, hired Philadelphia firm Conrad O'Brien after John Lushis told them that the County was about to sue. Instead, this law firm wants authority to sue the County. After receiving several negative reports from McClure, County Council invited the GPA to appear at its Finance Committee. Langen complained he wanted an invitation in writing, and then when he got it, complained about the short notice. But he was at yesterday's Finance Committee, along with fellow members Shawn Donahue, Paul Anthony and Peg Ferraro. Benesh Engineer Greg Kuklinski also appeared. Executive Lamont McClure was at a meeting of the Lehigh Valley's Planning Commission to ensure that the Meadows bridge in Lower Saucon Township is expedited.

1) Does the third-party checker need to be checked? -  Kuklinski told Council there's no need for a separate set of eyes and ears to watch him, in stark contrast to what the GPA has been doing. Langen stated that he has been spending too much time doing this, and wants proposals for someone else to do this work  This appears to be both unnecessary and redundant.

John Cusick
2) Who picked the 32 bridges being repaired or replaced? - Not us, said Langen for the GPA. Not us, said Benesch Engineer Kuklinski. Last week, I reported that only nine of these bridges are actually considered structurally deficient.  Now no one likes to admit that they read this here because I am a bottom feeder, but everyone was pretty quick to deny involvement in bridge selection. So are we spending money unnecessarily? Kuklinski said he never really examined the bridges to determine whether the work is actually needed. But he said the majority of them are 60 years old and are mostly single lane bridges. He believes this raises safety concerns, although people in Lower Mount Bethel want to retain single lane bridges along Little Creek Road because they are part of a designated scenic byway.

The person who came closest to answering this question is a Matt Dietz. He believes the bridges were to be spread out so there is no unnecessary traffic burden on any one municipality. But that answer makes no sense because eight bridges in this round are located in Lower Mount Bethel.

Lori Vargo Heffner
3) How is the project itself going? - Ken Kraft notes that we've already paid $5.6 million and only one bridge is done. But the project itself seems to be going well. According to Kuklinski, the County is finishing Bridge #202 (Ott Road, Lower Mount Bethel) and expects to start three bridges in the next few weeks. In 2019, Kriger plans to repair or replace another nine bridges. The DEP has given 10 of 13 permits. There has been only one change order, and that is one that actually benefits the county by returning Meadows bridge. Kriger is on track to be finished by January 2021.

4) How about that $813,000 legal bill? - In February, I reported that GPA Solicitor John Lushis and his law firm, Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus, were paid $813,039.30 in 2016 and 2017 as a result of their affiliation with the GPA  The money came mostly from the County and the GPA, although it also included $30,000 for a St.Luke's bond. During yesterday's meeting, both Shawn Langen and Financial Specialist David Hughes attempted to cast doubt on that figure, and in a way that cast doubt on me.

"Where are you coming up with $800,000?" Langen huffed to Cusick. I laughed to myself because neither Cusick nor Ken Kraft, who said he learned of it during a meeting in January, wanted to admit they read it here. After all, I am a bottom-feeding blogger who dives into garbage cans. But I also know how to file and pursue Right-to-Know requests.

Robert Werner
What Hughes did was disingenuous. He handed up a list of the billing over the past two years that are "relative to the P3." I listed all the sums paid to this law firm, whether it was P3, GPA, "special legal services," or the $30,000 paid by St.Luke's as a result of a bond. As I have previously reported, they add up to $813,039.20.

According to Hughes, the amount paid was only $607,027.33. That's incorrect.

Ken Kraft picked up on this immediately.

"Where's the other $153,000 bill for the P3 jail thing that was never approved by this Council?"

Hughes then produced that bill. He never provided the actual GPA bills or the money that came from St. Luke's. I have gone over my figures with several county sources, and they are accurate. What the GPA attempted to do was minimize excessive billing.

Once the numbers were out there, Langen tried to argue that soft costs like these are reasonable for a $38 million project, and even suggested that Council is unaware of this kind of finance.

Actually, it is

John Lushis
5) What about the billing at $700 per hour? - The GPA's agreement with Lushis' law firm authorized payments of $250 per hour, but he submitted bills that included charges of $700 per hour from one of the attorneys in his firm, and that's a lawyer who isn't even admitted to practice in Pa. Kraft asked for an explanation.

"The $700/hour fee comes from litigation," said Financial Specialist David Hughes. That's very interesting, especially when you consider that this lawyer has no license to practice in this state. But the information Hughes gave is again incorrect. As a county employee, he should make more of an effort to be accurate.

I have the bills. As you can see in the excerpt of one of them below, "PDH" charged $700 for one hour's worth of emails concerning prisons in Pennsylvania, and if he actually practiced here, he'd know they are called jails. He charged $1,260 for 1.8 hours to review a John Lushis memo concerning prison legislation that Lushis was lobbying before the Pa.legislature. "PDH" charged another $1,750 for 2.5 hours to talk with Lushis about, among other things, "political issues" that might arise with the sponsorship of this state legislation.  These guys were charging outrageous legal fees to talk to each other and were acting as lobbyists and politicians, not lawyers. "PDH" has no law license in Pa, so he may be unaware that he should have registered as a lobbyist. .

I could cite additional examples, but I made my point. Hughes was feeding Council bullshit burgers.

They deserved the truth.
6) Who authorized Lushis to research P3 projects like the jail, which are outside the scope of the bridges project? - According to Langen, former Executive John Brown. At a meeting in February 2017, Brown told them  he'd like to use P3 for another 66 bridges, a new jail or adaptive reuse of the existing jail, a warehouse, forensic center, purchase of the Human Services building and a new parking facility. He had run none of this by County Council. Ron Heckman, who read the minutes of that meeting, told Langen that GPA pledged that it would be fully engaged, but Langen explained that the GPA would only work on a new P3 if it was "fully vetted and approved by county council."

Langen eventually complained he was being asked John Brown questions. "You want to ask questions to somebody who's not in the room," he protested. Ron Heckman said no one expects him to speak for Brown, but the only way they could find out what is going on is by asking questions.

7) How were the bills paid? - Ken Kraft managed to establish that there was absolutely no oversight. According to Hughes, Brown just authorized payment of bills that followed a rather circuitous route. Lushis would present a bill to the GPA. Langen insisted that they never approved the payments for "specialized legal services." The bills were instead passed along to Brown. Hughes said Brown would sign off, then the bill would go to Fiscal  and a check would be cut. From there, the money went to public works. They would call Hughes, and he would pick up the check and deposit it into a GPA account. From there, a check would be drawn to Lushis. This whole process certainly appears to have been designed to keep the County Council in the dark and the Controller out of the loop."That's circumventing our authority and the Home Rule Charter," observed Kraft. "They used you as a conduit to get something that they wanted done without our approval."

8) Are the Specialized Legal Services a Misappropriation of County Funds? - "This is a misappropriation of county funds," declared Kraft.. "This is spending something we never approved." He and Cusick both observed that the money was drawn from a $500,000 fund set up in the corrections budget and that was supposed to have been used to update a jail study. "What we approved was an update to a decade or so old jail study that was done under the John Stoffa administration," said Cusick. "At no point was it ever brought to Council that this would be done as part of a P3 project."

9) Is the GPA Marketing P3? - Langen denied that GPA is pursuing any P3 projects outside of Northampton County, although Lushis said earlier this week he was contacted by another municipality. He also admitted to hiring Sahl Communication at the request of John Brown. It is also known that Brown and Lushis tried to pitch P3 for the Hotel Bethlehem with a lender.

Bob Werner said he supported the bridge bundling project in 2013. He proposed and pushed this long before P3. But he is leery of what is going on with P3, and who is benefiting. He told Langen that Lushis went to Columbus Ohio to pitch the mechanism  "This thing has been abducted and kidnapped by a couple of people for profit," he asserted.

10) Was Langen Condescending? - Pretty much. "You keep making references to maybe we don't understand what multimillion dollar projects are," noted Lori Vargo Heffner, so she asked him to explain what he does. Landen refused. "I'll answer questions as they relate to the finance of this project," he replied.. "I have about 12 more minutes before I have dinner for 10 people. You gave me less than a week's notice during working hours"

Heckman then reminded Langen that he got plenty of notice but said he wanted a formal letter. "You were aware that we wanted to have this, so please, let's stick with the facts," he admonished him.

Updated 2:05 pm, Ferraro Resigns From GPA:  Below is her resignation:
Please accept my resignation as the Northampton County Council representative on the Northampton County General Purpose Authority.   I have been honored to serve and see the benefits to many worthwhile projects.  When the Authority agreed to be the conduit for the P3 project the responsibility changed and I feel that it is time for me to allow someone else to serve.
Peg Ferraro 

Updated 3:30 pm. Dowd Resigns From GPA, Too! - J Michael Dowd has joined Peg Ferraro in resigning from the GPA. Both Dowd and Ferraro have worked hard over the years to develop reputsations as fair-minded people. Their continued involvement in the GPA is something neither needed. Both Ferraro and Dowd are former Presidents of Northampton County Council.

The by-laws of the GPA provide that one member must be a member of Council, so McClure will have to fill Ferraro's vacancy with another member of Council. Dowd should be replaced by McClure himself. Historically, the County Exec has chaired the GPA.
Blogger's Note: This story originally published at 2:48 am.

Trump Thankfully Relaxes Separation Policy

I tend to write slowly when it's about something like yesterday's summit between Northampton County Council and the county's General Purpose Authority. So it actually took me about seven or eight hours for the story you see below. Because I was engrossed in county government, I had very little time to read about Donald Trump's sudden reversal on his barbaric separation policy. I know the criticism continues, but I'm thankful he changed course. I doubt morality had much to do with his decision. He was obviously concerned this might have an adverse impact on the midterm elections. But for whatever reason, I'm glad that no one is going to separate children from their parents over an illegal entry.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

BTCC Staff Honored For Medical Aid to Heart Attack Victim

Earlier this month, Bethlehem resident Kirk Hawk suffered a heart attack while visiting the community center. Thanks to the quick action of the staff, he has made a complete recovery. At Bethlehem Tp's June 18 meeting, these workers received commendations. Pictured with hawk,from left to right, are Dana Donatelli, Madisyn Einfalt, Kylene E Gill and William Wescoe.

Allentown Diocese Bishops Condemns Trump's "Separation" Policy

In previous posts, I have listed a number of the religious leaders who have condemned Trump's recent decision to rip children away from their parents at the border. You can now add my Bishop to the list. The Most Rev. Alfred A Schlert, who delivered both the Invocation and Benediction at induction of a first-generation Lebanese American as Northampton County president Judge yesterday, has released this statement:

Reasonable people may disagree over the best ways to control illegal immigration to the United States.
Bishop Schlert at the Baccalaureate Mass for ACCHS
late last month. 
It is hard to disagree, however, with the growing chorus of voices from both sides of the political aisle, and from religious leaders of many faiths, that we should not be solving this problem by taking children from their parents at the border.
United States immigration officials are separating children from their families under a policy in which all cases of illegal entry are referred for criminal prosecution. Children are not allowed to accompany their parents to jail, so they are separated and held in detention facilities.
The nation’s Catholic Bishops have condemned using the separation of families as a way to deter illegal immigration. Bishops from around the country have called this practice immoral, cruel, unjust, ineffective and contrary to human decency. The forcible separation of children from their families is in direct violation of Catholic beliefs and values.
This is not a debate about whether our borders should be secure. They should be, and my brother Bishops and I believe that our government’s leaders should take all reasonable steps to keep them that way.
Rather, I would submit that this is a debate about human dignity, about doing the right thing for innocent children, about the sanctity of the family, and about the integrity of the moral compass of our country and its people.
Remember that ours is a nation of immigrants. Few among us would be here if our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents were not afforded the chance to come to this land of opportunity in search of a better life, or to escape persecution.
The Catholic Church, too, is built on a foundation of immigration. We have a long history of embracing immigrants, migrants, refugees and others in need, and proving them with pastoral care and a sense of community and belonging. Our Church has responded to Christ’s call to “welcome the stranger among us.”  We are taught to treat the newcomer as we would treat Jesus Christ himself, were He to arrive at our nation’s border in search of a better life.
The news reports from our Southwestern border are heartbreaking. Imagine how these children must feel, not knowing when or if they will see their parents again. I pray that our nation’s leaders will find a way to care for our national interest on illegal immigration while also treating all people with the compassion and respect they deserve as human beings.
Meanwhile, as we work to find a just and humane solution to the separation crisis, we also must continue to seek effective resolution of other pressing immigration issues: the granting of political asylum for those fleeing domestic and gang-related violence; the search for a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants, called Dreamers; the tragedy of eliminating Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from certain countries, many of whom have been here for years and are productive members of our society; and the plight of Christians fleeing persecution in the Middle East.
Please join me in praying for successful resolutions, and in praying that all of us, regardless of political affiliation, can open our hearts and participate in meaningful and civil public discourse on these issues.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. - Mark 10:13-16