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Nazareth, Pa., United States

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Listen to the Children

Propublica last week obtained this audio of 10 Central American children separated from their parents at the border. They use words like “Mami” and “Papá,” which tells me they were taken from their parents, not someone else. This is barbaric.

Despite Efforts to Keep Public in Dark, GPA Meeting Is Broadcast

Yesterday, I told you that Northampton County's General Purpose Authority (GPA) was meeting that day at 8:15 am. It was a "special" meeting designed to keep the public away. For one thing, it was scheduled for the Human Services Building, not Council Chambers. For another, it was also a teleconference meeting. Pretty hard to participate when no phone number is provided.  The meeting was called concerning Ron Heckman's invitation to appear at his Wednesday Finance Committee. He's concerned about Solicitor John Lushis' excessive bills over two years, which do add up to $813,000.

I was more than a little surprised to go on the county website yesterday and learn that I was able to listen to the meeting  Someone in the County hooked it up to the video system, so whether the GPA likes it or not, their pearls of wisdom have been recorded. 

As usual, Solicitor John Lushis dominated the meeting as though he were a member of the Board and not there to provide legal advice. He even went so far as to start talking about a new P3 project he wants to run through the GPA He had to be told to stop talking.

During this meeting, Chair Shawn Langen called the invitation "political,'and called Heckman's meeting a "dog and pony show." He said he wouldn't go.

His sidekick, Shawn Langen, said Lushis' $813,000 bill was actually "reasonable." He vowed to boycott Heckman's meeting, too. 

Peg Ferraro had a different view. "We absolutely have to show up," she said. "How does it look if we don't show up?"  Frank Pintabone said much the same thing.

Somewhere along the way, Chair Shawn Langen got disconnected. When he returned to the meeting, he warned everyone that there were listeners.

"We do have 11 callers, so there's a handful that haven't identified, so there's a head's up," Langen warned everyone.

"Did you say 11 callers?"asked Lushis.

"Yeah I was the 11th caller." Then he gave this warning.  "So everyone knows, there is a list of numbers generated from this phone call. A list of the phone numbers. Not the individuals' names."

After this, Langen and Donahue decided they would go the meeting after all. But not Lushis. He said it would be "improper," but wanted everyone to know that "a lot of information about this project that is flat out incorrect." He said claims that he was paid $813,000 are "absolutely incorrect."

"It is up to us to educate everybody to what is going on,." responded Frank Pintabone, but that won't be happening.

Shawn Donahue told Pintabone, quite condescendingly, that he is "drinking from the fire hose with information that is being thrown at you."

But it's not appropriate for Lushis to explain. They will instead provide CDs in which 95% of the information has been redacted

Heckman told me he likes dogs and ponies.

Judge Koury Inducted as NorCo's 27th President Judge

President Judge Koury sworn in by Judge Stephen Baratta 
A packed house crammed into Courtroom #1
Michael Koury's great-grandfather is a Lebanese immigrant who was naturalized as an American citizen in 1926 in Courtroom #1.His grandfather often visited Courtroom #1 to watch trials in progress, and would regale his grandson with stories about the courtroom exploits of colorful lawyers like Charles Hogan. He is rumored to have once put himself on the stand, only to object to his own testimony. Hearing these tales, young Michael Koury decided to become a lawyer. But he was destined to be a judge Yesterday, before standing room only crowd of well over 500 people in historic Courtroom #1, he was sworn in as the 27th President Judge of Northampton County.

This distinguished audience included the heart and soul of Easton's proud Lebanese community. The entire Northampton County bench was on display. The jury box was filled with visiting judges who included Superior Court President Judge Susan Gatman, along with Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert "Robin" Simpson, Federal District Court jurists Ed Smith and Jay Leeson and former Judge Emil Giordano. County Executive Lamont McClure, District Attorney John Morganelli and Chief Public Defender Nuria DiLuzio, along with former County Executive Gerald E. "Jerry" Seyfried and County Council members Ron Heckman and Lori Vargo Heffner.

The Koury family
As prestigious as this group might be, the seats of honor were saved for Judge Koury's family. His wife Elaine was flanked on one side by their son Michael and on the other by daughters Josie and Rebecca. Seated at the same table was Judge Koury's mother Josie, who just turned 39 like me, and his sister. Michael's Uncle Anthony, who is also a Deacon at Our Lady of Lebanon, served as Court Crier.

The one family member missing was Michael's father, who was certainly watching from above. Michael's father, also named Michael was a popular magistrate in Wilson Borough. He was known for his common sense, humility and the courtesy with which he treated everyone. Attorney Dan Cohen spoke fondly of his fairness.President Judge Stephen Baratta remembered Koury's dad for another reason - basketball. Baratta was himself an excellent basketball player in his youth, and knew Koury as the well regarded coach at Allentown Central Catholic High School, where he developed an innovative press defense that is still used today.

Judges Sam Murray, Craig Dally and Paula Roscioli watch as
color guard advances to well of the court. 
I myself knew Judge Koury from Josie's Deli. He worked the cash register at  lunch time, freeing Josie up to make her famous sandwiches and soups.

Bishop Alfred A Schlert
Unfortunately, Judge Koury passed away unexpectedly when he was only 60 years old. Michael, then a prominent lawyer on Wall Street, decided to follow in his father's footsteps.  He waged a rare successful write-in campaign to succeed his father. He was first elected to the Court of Common Pleas in 2009. His selection as president judge after just nine years on the bench is an indication of the high regard in which he is held by his fellow jurists.

Outgoing President Judge Stephen Baratta handed Judge Koury a copy of a book that has been handed down from president judge to president judge since the days of Judge Williams - a copy of Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince. This book espouses the principle that the ends justifies the means, and even goes so far as to profess that a prince should keep his word only when it suits his purposes. Judge Baratta said he tried using these principles around his own household, and found himself on the couch for a week.

Att'y Daniel Cohen: "The story of the Koury family
is the story of the American dream."
President Judge Koury said he'd work by consensus among fellow jurists and would follow the teachings of another Mediterranean scholar - Socrates. According to this ancient philosopher, a judge has four duties: (1) To hear courteously; (2) To answer wisely; (3) To consider soberly; and (4) To decide impartially.”

Judge Koury singled out several members of his family who have had a big influence on him growing up. He finished by acknowledging Easton Attorney George Baurkot, a pillar of the Lebanese community, as his mentor.

As has happened at several ceremonies in recent years, and honor guard of Northampton County Corrections officers, including a bagpiper, presented the colors. Melina Heffner, a student at Saucon Valley High School, sang the National Anthem and God Bless America. Most Rev. Alfred A Schlert, Bishop of the Diocese of Allentown, delivered the Invocation and Benediction.

Immediately after the induction ceremony, everyone was invited to Our Lady of Lebanon for a reception and Lebanese food. Fortunately, I had to leave for a meeting in Bethlehem Tp or I would have eaten all the food.

I Get a Shout Out in Courtroom One

Northampton County's Court of Common Pleas consists of nine judges and a senior judge. 
Facebook ruins everything. You've all heard the data-mining stories, but what really gets to me is that it discloses my birthday to everyone. If I were 18, that would be cool. But at age 67, I'm on my way out. Because I've become senile and forgot to change my Facebook settings, the entire world knows that there's another nail in the coffin. So yesterday, when Michael Koury was sworn in as Northampton County's 25th President Judge, he gave me a shout out because it was my birthday.

With the exception of Jerry Seyfried, who insists I'm 90, 500 people actually applauded. I was embarrassed at first.  I am more accustomed to being booed, and there is always at least some justification. I am the only person I know who can go to a meeting of Republicans and get heckled, and then follow that up by getting jeered during a meeting of Democrats. I've even been booed during a meeting in Nazareth. Yes, even Nazareth.

"Could this be because I'm a blogger?" I once asked Ron Angle.

"Nah, it's because you're an asshole," he gently replied.

Not that long ago, all kinds of names and accusations were also being hurled at me in Courtroom #1 ... and #2 ... and #3 .. and so on.

Yesterday is the first time in my 67 years on earth that my name was called out in court in a positive way.

I was told that, if I can last another 67 years, they'll do it again.

Monday, June 18, 2018

GPA Schedules "Special" Meeting Today

Northampton County's General Purpose Authority (GPA) cancelled their regularly scheduled meetings in both March and May. Now they have scheduled a "Special" meeting by teleconference for today. Here is the exact language of the Notice.
PUBLIC NOTICE The Northampton General Purpose Authority has scheduled a Special Meeting to be held on Monday, June 18, 2018 at 8:15 AM by teleconference. Anyone wishing to listen to the meeting is invited to attend at the Northampton County Human Services Building, Conference Room C-6, located at 2801 Emrick Blvd, Bethlehem, PA, 18020. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the recent invitation from the Northampton County Council Finance Committee to attend its meeting on June 20, 2018 and such other business as the Board of Directors may deem necessary or desirable. Northampton County General Purpose Authority Shawn Langen, Chairman
Under Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law, the meeting must be advertised 24 hours in advance. I notice the meeting will be held at the Human Services building and not Council chambers, and wonder whether that is to prevent it from being filmed.

I've previously told you that the GPA has been invited to the NorCo Council Finance Committee convening on Wednesday.  They are concerned about  the outlandish $813,000 billed by Solicitor John Lushis, as well as bills submitted by GPA Chair Shawn Langen. Executive Lamont McClure refuses to pay them.

McClure Takes Aim at Unpaid Fines, Costs and Restitution

It is a basic obligation of local government to provide for public safety. Some municipalities have abdicated this role in the name of the Almighty Dollar, responsible government understands the importance of dealing with the front-end of crime. Citizens might be annoyed by a parking ticket here and there, but they also appreciate when local streets and neighborhoods are patrolled, or when a cop responds to an emergency in minutes. Counties provide for the back-end of crime, the prosecution and sentencing of criminal offenders. This is by no means discretionary, even when it costs money. If a person is jailed, for example, the County has to pay the medical bills if he gets sick. Medicaid won't pay. It would be nice if the fines and costs imposed would pay for the County's expenses. But at this moment, he county is owed $80 million in unpaid fines. In addition, innocent victims are owed $41.3 million in restitution to compensate them when they are fleeced out of their life's savings or incur medical bills as a result of violence. Finally, $47.2 million in outstanding fees is owed. In some cases, that money will never be collected because these convicted criminals simply lack the means. But in some cases, Defendants are just thumbing their noses at the system. They have the money. They can afford to pay. They just refuse.

When he was on Council, Lamont McClure spearheaded an effort to hire a debt collector. Now he's Executive, and he just hired two debt collectors - Modern Recovery Solutions (Newmanstown, PA) and its sister company, MRS EBO, LCC. These companies were selected as a result of competitive bidding.

These companies can keep up to 25% for every account closed.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Opinions Online 6/16/18 - Stoffa Defends Milides Purchase

Blogger's Note: Opinions Online is a weekly feature that gives readers the opportunity to weigh in on any topic. In this week's column, former NorCo Exec John Stoffa explains why he advocated the purchase of the Milides building. I am honored that John decided to speak out.

There has been some criticism recently on this blog regarding the purchase of the Gus Melitus building for 1.5 million. A major goal in this purchase was to gain parking spaces. Let me ask you a question...Do you think the Court House will be in Easton 100 years from now? After all, the county seat has been in Easton for 266 years now so the chances appear pretty good. The County acquired not only a building but 60 desirable parking spaces. Just look at the 60 parking spaces. Over 100 years and assuming 260 working days per year, the cost is $15,000 per year for the lot ($1,500,000 divided by 100 years); $57.69 per day for the lot ($1,500,000 divided by 100 years divided by 260 working days per year); $0.96 per parking spot per day per year for the lot ($1,500,000 divided by 100 years divided by 260 working days per year divided by 60 parking spots). The costs go down if you factor in weekends and holidays. They go down even more if the Courthouse lasts more than 100 years.

Addendum: To give you some perspective, I'd recommend that you review the minutes of the 3/15/07 meeting at which NorCo Council agreed to this purchase. The vote was 6-2 in favor, with Ron Angle and Ann McHale opposed. The arguments against the purchase were that it is situated on a cliff and other properties are cheaper. The arguments in support of the purchase were that it provided a place for the Archives Department and added badly needed parking very close to the courthouse. The six Yes votes were John Cusick, Mike Dowd, Charles Dertinger, Diane Neiper, Wayne Grube and Lamont McClure.

I believe they made the right decision. It did provide a temporary and excellent location for the elections office. It did add valuable parking. That will continue.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Hickey's Parting Words

Jim Hickey is reporting to FCI Loretto on Saturday to begin an 18-month sentence in the Allentown political corruption case. He just tweeted this:

I'll be right back....

A Special Place in Hell

Authoritarian Donald Trump tweets all kinds of personal insults at perceived enemies. We've become habituated to this diminution of his office. Now, administration officials are sinking to that same level. Over the weekend, trade adviser Peter Navarro blasted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on network TV, claiming there's a "special place in hell for him." Navarro, who has since apologized for his childish remark, was miffed at the time that  made Trump look weak on the eve of a historic summit with North Korean dictator Jim Jong Un.  But still I agree with Dante that there are indeed special places in Hell. I'd stick Trudeau in there for at least a day or two as a way of saying thanks for Justin Bieber. But Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have condemned themselves to Lucifer's Lair for a much graver sin.

Both of these so-called leaders have adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards immigrants who enter this country without the proper papers, and have separated an estimated 500 children from their parents thus far. In one instance, federal authorities ripped a child from her mother as she was being breastfed. While I agree that people should be discouraged from entering this count illegally, this sanction is cruel and heartless.

Mahatma Ghandi once said that "[a] nation's greatness is judged by how it treats its weakest members." Based on what is happening at the border, it's safe to say that Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are hardly making America Great Again. They are instead poster boys for the Ugly American.

US Senator Jeff Merkley (D. Oregon) has actually claimed that children were caged at at least one facility. While I have a hard time believing that federal officials could be so monstrous, The Washington Post confirms that this has occurred, at least temporarily. Merkley was denied access at a second facility, where all the windows were blacked out.

Forcibly separating these children from their parents and stuffing them in cages with other children who speak no English has to be traumatic. I'd call it torture.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, believes in civil authority, but "I cannot be silent when our country’s immigration policy destroys families, traumatizes parents, and terrorizes children. The harmful and unjust policy of separating children from their parents must be ended." Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoes those sentiments. “Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral,” he said.

"I think it’s disgraceful, it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit,” says Rev. Franklin Graham, who is otherwise a Trump supporter and son of evangelical preacher Bill Graham.

Updated Saturday, 6/16/18, 1 PM: The LA Times has a very detailed story about exactly what is happening. In tis stories, homeland officials deny that that separated an infant who was breastfeeding, whie lawyers for the mother continue toinsist that is what has happened. It does appear that deceptive means are used to effect the separation, such as excuses that the child is being taken away for a bath, although again, homeland officials deny deception. the practice of separating children from their parents was initiated by Trump,and through May 31, a total of 1,995 children have been separated. Health and Human Services is currently housing over 11,000 children at 100 shelters in 17 states, and have actually created a soft shelter,derided as a tent city, for some undocumented minors. Reporters have been given a tour at one shleter, a former Walmart, but were allowed no interaction with the kids. At another facility, a caseworker quit and has claimed conditions are bad and have led to runaways and attempted suicide.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Heckman Invites GPA to Finance Committee

In a post about the P3 bridge project yesterday, I told you that only 9 of the 33 bridges are actually "structurally deficient." The very first comment to that story asks, "Is it true that county council sent the GPA a very insulting and demeaning letter demanding they attend the next county council meeting?"

Below you can see the "very insulting and demeaning letter." It's an invitation from NorCo County Council Finance Chair Ron Heckman, asking the General Purpose Authority to attend his meeting next week on June 20 at 4 pm.

invitation to NorCo GPA by BernieOHare on Scribd

Anti-Gerrymander Bill Clears Senate, Despite Hissy Fit by "Good" Government Groups

Those of us following along at home knows that time is of the essence for legislation to end the currently flawed system under which legislative and congressional districts are created. It has to clear both the Senate and House for two years in a row before it can go to the voters. Next year will be too late. FairDistrictPa, the League of Women Voters, Committee of Seventy and other good government groups should be ecstatic that the Senate voted yesterday to approve an anti-gerrymander bill that will call on an independent commission to set these boundaries. Instead, they are furious. They are taking their marbles and going home. In doing so, they have diminished themselves and betray a partisanship they tried to deny.

About two summers ago, on a hot Friday night inside a crowded Bethlehem church, I received an education concerning the fundamental threat to democracy posed by gerrymandering. Thanks to advances in technology, a system has arisen in Pennsylvania in which your legislators pick you, and not the other way around. The change proposed was the creation of an independent election commission, which would establish fair boundaries instead of an incumbent insurance program.

I am proud to say that the Gerrymander Slayers in the Pa Senate have been our own State Senators, Lisa Boscola and Mario Scavello. In the House, the driving force was Bethlehem's Steve Samuelson.

Partisan Republicans were afraid of this reform. Backbenchers Marcia Hahn, Joe Emrick, Ryan MacKenzie and Zach Mako put on their blinders and ran from reform, while GOP apparatchiks adopted the short-sighted view that they could use this to water down Democratic votes.

That thinking changed when a Democratic Supreme Court struck down the unconstitutional gerrymander, and imposed a congressional map of their own when state Republicans refused to act. A light bulb went off in the small minds of at least some of these partisans, who realized they had gone too far and given a Democratic Supreme Court just the excuse it needed to negate decades of gerrymandering.

Worried that Democrats could do what they've been doing, they suddenly developed an interest in correcting a flawed redistricting process.

A Senate Committee decided to endorse the gerrymander bill after watering it down a little. Then on Tuesday, State Sen. Ryan Aument added a new wrinkle - the creation of judicial districts for the election of appellate judges. You'd think the sky has fallen. All the supposed good government groups withdrew their support of the gerrymander bill, and all but two Democrats joined them in voting No on a bill that would finally end the gerrymander.

Boscola, who still voted for the Senate bill, explained that she would have preferred a more "pristine version," but even with these amendments, the bill is a "vast improvement" over the current system

Like Boscola, I would have preferred to see a separate bill to create judicial districts. But I actually like the Aument amendment. Currently, he vast majority of appellate judges are from Pittsburgh (conservative) and Philly (liberal). It is extremely difficult fora qualified judge from he Lehigh Valley to get elected. Sure, it happens, but is rare. Most people will just pull a lever. With judicial districts, voters will have a much better chance to learn about the candidates. They in turn will not have to spend $10 million to be heard. This way of selecting judges is much more democratic than the current statewide system.

The reason these good government groups are so opposed is because it could mean that more conservative judges will be elected. Too bad. The price of democracy is that the people, and not some reform group, makes the call.

It's probably true that some of the inspiration for this legislation is anger at the Supreme Court over its gerrymander decision. That's OK by me because it means that the gerrymander bill will attract more Republican support in the House, where it is badly needed.

The fact that these so-called reform groups are blowin' oil over a measure that will actually allow voters to make informed choices tells me these groups are more partisan than they pretend.

On cue, Democratic State Senate candidate Mark Pinsley - who announced his candidacy before he was even sworn into office in South Whitehall - proclaimed that the "anti-democratic movement is at it again." How? By enabling people to vote for people they actually know. He slams Pat Browne "because when it matters, he gets in line and votes for whatever his party wants, not his constituents." The reality is that Pinsley is standing in line, screaming what his party wants him to scream, while real Democrats like Lisa Boscola are trying to govern.

By the way, Pinsley wants you to send him money so he can end corruption.

Like Fed Ed.

Multi-Cultural Fest in Bethlehem This Weekend!

Weather forecasters are calling for a beautiful weekend, and this looks like the prefect way to spend it. I know that at least one seanchaí will be there. Me.

A Wheelchair For Andy

If you follow The Morning Call's Keith Groller like I do, you  know about Andy Weaver. If you go to their basketball games, he's the smiling guy who takes your ticket. Though challenged by cerebral palsy, he loves sports. To be more specific he loves Nazareth sports, and the players and coaches love him back. Andy needs a new wheelchair.

Here's what he says:

I am raising money for a new wheelchair because my chair has broke and it my only means of Transportation in my every day life. I use my chair to collect tickets at Nazareth and coach Softball and it helps me to get around everywhere that I go. I am in my chair 16-18 hours a day and i desperately need help to get a new wheelchair because the state won't pay for it Any little bit helps! It is a everyday thing, it almost like my legs, my wheelchair is my legs and the only way I get around to do what I do and without it I am basically stuck.

I know money is tight everywhere. But if you'd like to help Andy get a new wheelchair, you can donate through this Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Allentown Police, City Agree to Four-Year Contract

From Allentown: The City of Allentown and FOP Lodge #10 have reached agreement on a four year contract extension.

The pact covers the period between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2022 and includes annual wage increases of 3-percent. The rest of the existing contract provisions remain the same. The existing three year contract, which was reached through arbitration, expires December 31, 2018.

“I want to thank the union for the spirit in which they entered into the give and take that makes-up collective bargaining,” said Mayor Ray O’Connell. “This contract provides cost certainty and avoids the costs and delays associated with arbitration. Knowing the personnel costs of the department is a significant help in formulating future city budgets.”

FOP Lodge #10 President Scott Snyder said, “On behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 10, I would like to sincerely thank Mayor O’Connell for his willingness to sit down and negotiate a contract extension that is fair and beneficial to the City and our dedicated members.”

The department has an authorized compliment of 222 officers.

Blogger's Note: I will try to get more details on Friday. What are the average and starting salaries? How much do officers contribute to their medical care? Is there a uniform allowance? Based on what I see, I like this deal. I like it when management and labor can reach a deal before a contract expires. The increases sought barely cover inflation, so the City is not giving away the store. Police officers are becoming an increasingly rare commodity because, like firefighters, they put their lives on the line every day. Of all the places in which to make cuts, police and fire should always be the last.

Only 9 of 33 Bridges in NorCo P3 are Structurally Deficient

Northampton County has 119 bridges, and it's no secret hat many of them are in serious need of repair Several years ago, Council member Bob Werner suggested bundling bridges so that similarly constricted bridges could be worked on simultaneously. Former Executive John Stoffa liked Werner's idea, and in 2013, a $19.6 million bridge bond was floated to fix 16 bridges and make other improvements.

After Stoffa had ridden off into the sunset, the County replaced him with Executive John Brown. He was going to streamline county government, and claimed to have a better of fixing our bridges. he said that with a public private partnership, the County could fix or replace 33 bridges over the next five years, and for far less money. Ken Kraft had his misgivings, but the rest of County Council were sold. This is the same group of "conservatives" who voted to give the DaVinci Center $10 million for a giant fish tank in downtown Easton.

Now if you owned 119 bridges and could fix 33 of them over the next four years, it stands to reason that you would first go after the infrastructure that actually endangers the public. But it appears that public safety  was far less important to John Brown than making bridges wide enough for increased truck traffic.

Two bridges in East Allen and Allen Tps, one on Valley View Rd and the other on Willow Brook Road, are located quite close to the UPS Distribution Center under way in Allen Tp. Though both bridges are in great shape,with sufficiency ratings of 60.6 and 84.4, they are being replaced for wider bridges that will be better able to carry on commerce. Damn quality of life!

The spice must flow!

And so it goes with nearly every bridge. Only nine of the 33 are actually considered structurally deficient.But 28 are being replaced with wider versions that will enable rigs to make their way into every nook and cranny of the county. Brown even took it upon himself to ruin a scenic byway in Lower Mount Bethel, and ignored Supervisors and residents who complained. Even The Morning Call scoffed at the "little village" for daring to think that a rustic lifestyle matters more than commerce.

The spice must flow!

One of the bridges in Lower Mount Bethel actually has a sufficiency rating of 93.2, meaning it is in excellent condition. But it will be replaced by a wider bridge, enabling commerce. I have listed all 33 bridges below. Although a few of them are clearly unsafe and need to go, where are the other unsafe bridges? It.
 is clear that Brown's selection had nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with business.

The spice must flow!

Bridge 185 (built 1917) (Little Creek Rd, L Mount Bethel) is considered functionally obsolete because it is one-lane, but is not structurally deficient. It has a sufficiency rating of 64.8. Average daily traffic is 200 cars. Slated for replacement.

Bridge 41 (built 1946) (Little Creek Rd, Lower Mt Bethel) is neither functionally obsolete nor structurally deficient. Average daily traffic is 200 cars. There is a 20-ton weight limit. Slated for replacement.

Bridge 43 (built 1911) (Little Creek Rd, Lower Mt Bethel) is a concrete, arch-deck bridge that is rated functionally obsolete, but is not structurally deficient. It is considered stronger than most county bridges, but is single lane. According to Lower Mt Bethel resident Michele Szoka, any attempt to widen it will result in destruction of properties on either side, and will destroy flora and fauna in and around the creek. Average daily traffic is 350 cars. There is a 20-ton weight limit. Slated for replacement.

Bridge 44 (built 1957)  (Little Creek Rd, Lower Mt Bethel) is a steel-beam bridge considered neither functionally obsolete nor structurally deficient. Average daily traffic is 200 cars. There is no weight limit. Slated for replacement.

Bridge 195 (built 1927) (Little Creek Rd, Lower Mt Bethel) is a concrete-encased steel beam bridge that is rated both functionally obsolete and structurally deficient. It is single lane. I question whether it is really structurally deficient because the structural evaluation numbers are all 4 or higher. According to L Mt Bethel Supervisor Sandra Newman, the Township and a third-party engineer have determined the bridge is adequate. Average daily traffic is 150 cars. There is no weight limit. Slated for replacement.

Bridge 54 (built 1939) (Flicksville Rd,Washington Tp) is a concrete encased steel beam bridge with no restrictions and considered neither structurally deficient nor functionally obsolete. Slated for replacement.

Bridge 63 (built 1923)(Bushkill St, Tatamy Borough) is a concrete encased steel beam bridge considered functionally obsolete, but is still structurally sound, with a 16 ton weight limit. Slated for replacement.

Bridge 66 (built 1916, re-built 1949) (Lefevre Rd, Stockertown) is a steel beam one-lane bridge that is structurally fine but is considered functionally obsolete. There is a 15 ton weight limit. Slated for replacement. Average daily traffic - 250 cars.

Bridge 76 (built 1915) (Bowers Rd, Bushkill Tp) is a concrete slab one-lane bridge with no restrictions that is structurally sound but is rated functionally obsolete and will be replaced. Average daily traffic is just 50 cars.

Bridge 78 (built 1910) (Engler Rd, Plainfield Tp) is a concrete arch bridge that is structurally sound but is considered functionally obsolete because it is one lane and will be replaced. Ave. daily traffic is-200 cars

Bridge 119 (built 1920) (Valley View Rd, E Allen Tp) is a concrete slab bridge that is considered structurally sound but will be replaced because it is one lane and is considered functionally obsolete. Only 100 cars per day traverse this bridge.

Bridge 124 (built 1958) (Willow Brook Rd, Allen Tp) is a steel I-Beam open-grate bridge rated structurally deficient even though the structural evaluation is at #4 or higher. There is a 20-ton weight limit. The sufficiency rating is 84.4. Ave daily traffic is 200 cars. It will be replaced.

Bridge 138 (built 1946) (Club Rd, Moore Tp) is a concrete encased steel beam bridge that is structurally sound but is considered functionally obsolete and will be replaced, possibly because it is only 23' wide. There is a 20-ton weight limit. Average daily traffic is 150 cars.

Bridge 139 (built 1911) (Walker Rd, Moore Tp)  is a concrete arch one-lane bridge considered functionally obsolete and slated for replacement even though it is structurally sound with a sufficiency rating of 77. There is a 25-ton weight limit. Average daily traffic is 150 cars

Bridge 146 (built 1920) (Delps Rd, Moore Tp) is a steel I-beam one-lane bridge with a 9-ton weight limit with homes coming right up to both sides of the bridge. The average daily traffic is just 90 cars. Though only one-lane, it is not rated functionally obsolete. It is instead rated structurally deficient even though its structural evaluation is 4 and above. It is 16' wide.

Bridge 184 (built 1917) (Clearfield Rd, Bushkill) is a concrete encased steel one-lane bridge that is therefore considered functionally obsolete and will be replaced even though it is structurally sound. The average daily traffic is 150 cars. There is a 20-ton weight limit. 

Bridge 188 (built 1919) (Dogwood Dr, Lehigh Tp) is a concrete slab one-lane bridge with a sufficiency rating of 77.5 that will nevertheless be replaced even tough it is rated neither functionally obsolete nor structurally deficient Average daily traffic is 100 cars.

Bridge 189 (built 1922) (Ackermanville Rd, Washington Tp) is a 13-ton weight restricted concrete slab single-lane bridge considered both functionally obsolete and structurally deficient, with a sufficiency rating of just 18.1 It will be replaced. Average daily traffic is 200 cars.

Bridge 191 (built 1922) (Factoryville Rd, Washington Tp) is, like Bridge 189, a a 13-ton weight restricted one lane bridge. It is a concrete encased steel beam and is considered  both structurally deficient and functionally obsolete, with a sufficiency rating of just 17.1 It will be replaced. Average daily traffic is 400 cars.

Bridge 202 (built 1922) (Ott Dr, L Mt Bethel Tp) is a concrete encased one-lane steel beam bridge with a 20-ton weight limit. It is in excellent condition, with a sufficiency rating of 93.2. It is neither structurally deficient  nor functionally obsolete, yet it will be replaced Average daily traffic is 300 cars.

Bridge 205 (built 1927) (S. Cottonwood Dr, Lehigh Tp) is a 20-ton weight limited one-lane bridge of concrete encased steel beams that  is neither functionally obsolete nor structurally deficient, and has a sufficiency rating of 60.5. Its average daily traffic is just 100 cars. But it will be replaced.

Bridge 207 (built 1951) (Getz Rd, Plainfield Tp) is an 8-ton weight limited one-lane steel beam bridge.It is structurally sound and has a sufficiency rating of 64.6  Average daily traffic is 100 cars. But it is just 17' wide, is considered functionally obsolete and will be replaced.

Bridge 210 (built 1930) (Miller Rd, Lower Mt Bethel Tp) is a 23' wide, 13-ton weight limited concrete encased steel beam bridge with a sufficiency rating of 40.9. Average daily traffic is 100 cars. Though not considered functionally obsolete, it  is structurally deficient and will be replaced

Bridge 212 (built 1930) (Sand Pit rd, U Mt Bethel) is a 26' wide steel I-beam bridge with no restrictions. It is considered neither functionally obsolete nor structurally deficient and has a sufficiency rating of 76. Its average daily traffic is just 150 cars. Yet it will be replaced.

Bridge 215 (built 1929) (Rasley Hill Rd, L Mt Bethel) is a concrete encased steel beam bridge with a sufficiency rating of just 23. It is both structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.It is single lane and 20-ton weight restricted Its average daily traffic is 150 cars. It will be replaced.

Bridge 219 (built 1947) (Able Colony Rd, Plainfield Tp) is  steel beam bridge, 20'wide, with no restrictions and a sufficiency rating of 69.6. It is neither functionally obsolete nor structurally deficient. Average daily traffic is 200 cars. It will be replaced.

Bridge 224 (built 1945) (Fox Rd, Upper Nazareth) is an 18' wide single steel I-beam bridge with a 7-ton weight limit. These make the bridge functionally obsolete, but is is structurally sound and has an overall sufficiency rating of 73.6. Its average daily traffic is just 100 cars, but it will be replaced.

Bridge 227 (built 1958) (Knauss Rd, Bushkill Tp) is a steel beam open grate bridge, 22' wide, with a sufficiency rating of 73.4. It is considered neither structurally deficient nor functionally obsolete. Its average daily traffic is 150 cars. It will be replaced.

Bridge 15, also known as The Meadows Bridge and located in Lower Saucon Tp, was one of the few bridges slated for repair instead of replacement because of its historical significance. But a PennDot inspector recently discovered a serious crack and the bridge was closed. This bridge is being conveyed back to the county, and bridge contractor Kriger Construction will be compensated for the work it did. the County was fortunate to be able to include it in the Transportation Improvement Program, where 80% of the costs of a new bridge will be covered by the federal and state governments. The County will have to pay for the remaining 20%.   

Bridge 101 (built 1949) (Hanoverville Rd, Lower Nazareth) is a stone mason two-arch bridge with a 10-ton weight limit, although I routinely see large trucks ignore that limit. There are few weigh stations. it's a busy road, with a traffic volume of 1,000 cars daily. The bridge is considered functionally obsolete and has a sufficiency rating of just 22.2  This is a bridge that clearly should be replaced. Instead, it is getting some masonry work so it looks pretty as it collapses into Monocacy Creek. 

Bridge 157 (built 1964) (Evergreen Rd, Lehigh Tp) is a 28' wide concrete slab bridge with a 76.1 sufficiency rating. It is considered neither functionally obsolete nor structurally defective. It has no special restrictions. traffic volume is 350 cars per day. Safety improvements are planned, but it is unclear what they are.

Bridge 132 (built 1910) (Stone Bridge Rd, Allen Tp) is a 23' wide stone one-lane bridge with 3 arches. It has a 10-ton weight limit.its sufficiency rating is 38, and the bridge is considered both functionally obsolete and structurally deficient. It is on a quiet road, and only 30 cars traverse daily. Instead of replacement, the bridge will be repaired with stone masonry   

Bridge 143 (built 1839) (Glase Rd, More Tp) is a single-land stone-arched bridge with a 12-ton weight limit. Though its sufficiency rating has dropped to 33.7, it is still structurally sound. he average daily traffic here is just 75 cars, and an attempt will be made to rehab the bridge instead of replacing it.

* Bridge Lingo

Sufficiency Rating is essentially an overall rating of a bridge's fitness for the duty that it performs based on factors derived from over 20 NBI data fields, including fields that describe its Structural Evaluation, Functional Obsolescence, and its essentiality to the public.They range from 0 to 100.

"Structurally deficientt" means that the condition of the bridge includes a significant defect, which often means that speed or weight limits must be put on the bridge to ensure safety; a structural evaluation of 4 or lower qualifies a bridge as "structurally deficient".

"Functionally obsolete" bridges are those that do not have adequate lane widths, shoulder widths, or vertical clearances to serve current traffic demand, or those that may be occasionally flooded. A functionally obsolete bridge is similar to an older house.

"Structural evaluation" is a number for a bridge, based on its deck, superstructure, substructure, and culvert. Anything below a 4 is trouble.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trump-Kim Summit Harbinger of Peace, Relaxed Tensions

As I write this, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un are meeting in Singapore in an historic first. It is the first time a sitting US President has met personally with North Korea. I've read one headline entitled "Murderous Dictator Meets Dishonest President Behind Closed Doors." Another reads, "The Smallness of Trump's North Korea Diplomacy." I detest Trump. As an American, I hope the summit succeeds.

Before this summit, I honestly thought we were going to see military action. I think what changed things was Kim Jong-Un's two trips to China. I believe the Chinese pressured Jong-Un to lighten up because after those trips, his sister came to the Olympics. Then Jon-Un personally met with South Korea twice.

Trump and Jong-Un can both rightly take credit for this, but I suspect China played a big role in making this happen. It benefits greatly if the US removes the bulk of its troops from South Korea. The New York Times claims China has actually become "jittery," but my view is that Xi Jinping knows this is in China's interest.

Lehigh Valley Evictions, By the Numbers

On Monday, I told you where municipalities are growing fastest here in the Lehigh Valley. Where are they trying to get rid of you? Thanks to Eviction Lab, a project of Princeton, I can tell you based on data from 2016.

Statewide, about 80 renters, usually single mothers with children, are evicted daily. Two of  those renters will be from Allentown. The actual eviction rate in Allentown is 2.79%, and the filing rate is much larger, at 13.3%  Both are about twice the state average. But so is the poverty rate. Statewide, the poverty rate is 9.29%, but in Allentown, it is 22.44%. Allentown's rent burden, i.e. the amount of disposable income going to rent, is 37.5%.

Easton is nearly as impoverished as Allentown, with a poverty rate of 17.57%. Yet its evictions are much lower. Though it has an eviction filing rate of nearly 10%, the actual eviction rate is only 0.91%, far lower than Allentown. In Easton, the rent burden is only 33.4%

Bethlehem, which has a 13.16% poverty rate, has an eviction rate of 1.51% There, the rental burden is 32.1%

In all three cities, about half of the housing stock consists of renter homes as follows: Allentown (53.92%), Easton (53.44%) and Bethlehem (49.16%).

In the two counties, Northampton County's eviction rate of 1.4% is slightly lower that Lehigh County's 1.93%. The most likely reason for this is that Northampton County's poverty rate of 6.78% is below Lehigh County's 9.68%. 

You can use  Eviction Lab to check out how frequent evictions are in your community. In Nazareth, where I live, there were 26 eviction filings in 2016. But only 6 actual evictions.

I could have sworn I was evicted 7 times. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Bethlehem Relocating Water Transmission Lines Along Willowbrook Road

From Bethlehem City: Beginning Monday June 11, 2018, contractors for the City of Bethlehem will be relocating one of the City’s water transmission mains along Willowbrook Road in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, north of LVIA Airport. This work is part of the broader project to widen Willowbrook Road in preparation for the opening of the new FedEx Distribution Facility later this year. The work is expected to be completed by the end of July 2018.

This transmission main provides drinking water to a large part of our service territory, particularly customers in West Bethlehem and Hanover Township - Lehigh and Northampton Counties. The City and Contractors are taking steps to ensure that there should be no disruption of water service during this project.

However, there is the possibility that a loss of water pressure or discolored water could occur at any time during this period. The City will provide immediate updates should any major disruptions occur and if any corrective actions are warranted. We monitor water chemistry in the distribution system every day and we continue to meet or exceed stringent PaDEP limits on drinking water quality. There are no restrictions on water use and there are no boil water advisories at this time.
Should you experience discolored water we advise that you do not let your water run continuously. Rather, run your cold water faucets only for a few minutes at a time until it begins to clear up. Repeat this step every hour or so until the water runs clear. We recommend that you do not run your hot water while you are experiencing discolored water and to use discretion when using water for routine chores such as washing clothes.

We take our responsibility to delivery safe, clean drinking water to our customers very seriously and are taking steps to minimize the impact to our customer’s daily activities during this project. Any questions or concerns can be directed to the office of the Director of Water and Sewer Resources at the above number or contact our 24/7 Control Center at 610-865-7077. Thank you for your patience in this matter.

Census Estimate Shows Population Explosion in 6 Lehigh Valley Communities

The latest U.S. Census estimate reveals that Lehigh Valley's population is exploding, and in the strangest places. The Patriot News has a listing of the top 41 communities statewide that are surging.

East Bangor comes in at #4 with an estimated population of 1,630. While that's still a small population, it's an increase of 39% since 2010. Other communities in the top 40 are as follows
  • Upper Macungie, 21% population increase since 2010, population estimated at 24,356, ranked #11.
  • Allen Tp, 16% population increase since 2010, population estimated at 4,938, ranked #21 (tie).
  • Upper Sacuon Tp, 14% population increase since 2010, population estimated at 16,818, ranked #28 (tie).
  • Alburtis, 11% population increase since 2010, population estimated at 2,622, ranked #41 (tie)
  • Lower Nazareth Tp, 11% population increase since 2010, population estimated at 6,276 ranked #41 (tie).
Lehigh County's population is now estimated at 366,494, a 4.8% increase from the 2010 census. Northampton County is smaller, with an estimated population of 303,405 that has only increased 1.9% since 2010.

How about the urban core? Allentown's population of 121,283 is a 2.7% increase from 2010. Bethlehem, at 75,707, has seen a growth of just one percent over 2010. Easton, at 27,109, is 1.3% larger than in 2010. Whitehall Township, at 27,564, has seen a growth of 3% since 2010.

Bethlehem Tp Survey Favors Library

Should Bethlehem Tp continue its participation in the Bethlehem Area Public Library? According to a survey recently conducted by National Citizen Survey, the answer is Yes. When Township Commissioners learned that the state Library Code prevents a referendum, they opted to gauge public opinion on the library and other issues through a $14,265 survey conducted by the National Research Center. Close to 500 responses were received in a questionnaire that went to 1,500 families. The results are available on the Township's Internet dashboard.

The big question, at least for Commissioners, was how residents feel about the Township's annual contribution to the Bethlehem Area Public Library, which was $416,000 in 2017. The Yes vote won, 57% (271) to 43% (204). But 280 respondents agreed that the Township should end its relationship if it could offer the same services itself for the same or less money. Forty-five percent of those responding are card-crying members, but only four per cent visit the library twice a week or more. Sixty-one per cent do not visit at all.

Overall quality of life in the Township is ranked very high, at 89%. Their chief complaints are traffic flow on the major roads and flooding. Township services, especially firefighters and police, are ranked very high. But only 45% of those surveyed think that the Township government welcomes citizen involvement. Only a slight majority (55%) have overall confidence in Township government.

Though Housenick Memorial Park and the Archibald Johnston mansion have dominated meetings for years, 68% of those responding never heard of it. Yet 60% of those responding would restore the mansion at this park.

The survey also shows a citizenry that has little interest in its own government. Only three per cent of those responding have been at a township meeting in the past year, and only five percent bother to read the agenda or minutes. Only 28% consider the local newspaper a source of information about the Township.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Return of Opinions Online Saturdays

Opinions Online is a weekly feature that enables you to comment on any topic and see it here on Saturday, not as a comment, but as part of the actual post. After a hiatus, it will resume June 15. You can post your comment here. Anonymous comments are welcome on any topic, especially those I fail to cover. What you say has far more credibility if you honestly identify yourself. I refuse to post anything I consider defamatory, vulgar or trollish. Anonymous personal attacks on elected officials will receive heightened scrutiny. I refuse to allow anonymous personal attacks at most other public employees. If you would like to see your comment in a separate post, get it in by Friday night.

This was a fairly popular feature but I stopped it because the third-party software I used to collect comments was no longer working. Also, I got too caught up in the conversations during time that I should be reading or researching. This time I will try to be less involved. So as not to confuse people, I have disabled comments to this post.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Qualis Artifex Pereo!

From The Daily Stoic: It would be today, June 9th, in the year 68 AD, when the people of Rome finally had enough. They had seen Nero kill his political rivals, his stepbrother, and his wife. They had even seen him kill his own mother. They endured decades of incompetence and deranged violence and literally watched Rome burn. Seneca had tried to contain it (though he was also complicit in its continuance) until he, too, was killed by Nero.
But on that day, 1,950 years ago, Nero’s time ran out. After a rebellion in one of Rome’s territories, there was so much dissatisfaction within the Senate, the state, and the Praetorian Guard, that Nero was forced to flee. He found himself without friend, without quarter. A new emperor was named. Nero was tried (in absentia) and sentenced to death.
There was a dark karmic justice in this. The Emperor who had forced so many to commit suicide while he was in power (Seneca, Thrasea, Piso, Lucan, and more), now faced the same choice. Except when Nero called upon his friends to deliver a compassionate death with a sword, no one came. Because he had already ruined, killed, or driven them away. “Have I neither friend nor foe?” he cried out. The answer was that he had none of the former, and too many of the latter, to go out with any sort of dignity.
Even in his final moments, Nero was deluded by ego. He paced back and forth saying to himself, Qualis artifex pereo ("What an artist dies in me"), until he eventually demanded his secretary, Epaphroditos, to kill him. Like Seneca and Cato, Nero’s suicide would not come easily. Bystanders attempted to save him, only prolonging the pain and delaying the inevitable. Finally, Nero passed.
What is the lesson of Nero’s death? Well, first, that an undignified and cowardly life almost always presages an undignified and cowardly end. It also reminds us that power built on lies, on evil, on narcissism and delusion will always come crashing down. How long it will take is unknown, but we can take it as a historical law that the Hitlers and the Neros always end up dying painfully, alone, and in a way that exposes their moral bankruptcy one last undeniable time.
Needless to say this is a life and a death that a Stoic attempts to learn from—to learn what not to do. Because it was not only toxic and unbearable to the man who lived it, but it sucked in and stained the lives of nearly everyone around him, including Seneca.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Wind Gap Citgo Back in Biz

Northampton County’s Department of Weights & Measures reports that the Citgo Gas Station at 1040 South Broadway, Wind Gap, PA has reopened. The station had to be closed last Friday after several motorists reported their cars stalling and stopping after purchases of fuel.

Since that time, the station’s holding tank was pumped out, replaced, and retested twice. The State’s Department of Weights & Measures reports that the fuel quality meets all standards set by the state and the station could now reopen.

Voter Registration to Move Into Courthouse, Milides Bldg Converted to Parking

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure announced some changes last night that could make it easier for employees and visitors to find a place to park a the courthouse. He is moving the Public Defender's office from its current location on the first floor back to the basement. This will make it possible to move the Voter Registration office from the Milides Building, across the street from the courthouse, to the first floor of the courthouse. The Milides Building itself, which is always in danger of collapsing into the Lehigh River and is plagued by periodic mold outbreaks and constant electrical problems, will be demolished.  "Milides will be gone by the end of the year," he predicts. The cliff adjoining that property will be shored up stabilized. The property will be converted into a parking lot that could include as many as 150 badly needed spaces.

Peg Ferraro wondered why the Voter Registration office could not be moved to the Human Services Building. That is a more centralized location, but the elections office has to be located  "at the county seat." There can be branches in other locations.

Northampton County purchased the Milides Building in 2007 for $1.5 million.

NorCo Council Finance Committee Has Some Questions For GPA

Your friendly neighborhood GPA
Last night, Northampton County Council Finance Committee Chair Ron Heckman announced that he had just sent an invitation to the Northampton County General Purpose Authority (GPA) to come in and explain what they've been doing. After reviewing three years worth of minutes, he has questions. He believes the GPA sees itself as being marketable, but "I never thought of them as an entity unto themselves."

He specifically has questions about legal bills. They include bills for $400 per hour from Norris, Mclaughlin and Marcus attorneys to speak to each other. One attorney at that firm was actually charging $700 per hour.

Peg Ferraro, who is increasingly growing disenchanted with her role as Council's representative on that Board, said she was enthused about using a P3 to repair or replace dilapidated county bridges, but "it's got out of control."

Council Prez Ken Kraft, the sole No vote to this P3 project, also set the record straight. At Tuesday's meeting, GPA Chair Shawn Langen asserted that the County had authorized the GPA to pursue P3 agreements for other projects. There was no such authorization from County Council, which is the governing body.

Lori Vargo Heffner, who attended Tuesday's GPA meeting, said the "tone and tenor of it is very disconcerting to me." At one point, Chair Shawn Langen called her out and asked, "Who are you?" Langen, along with GPA Solicitor John Lushis, also asked her to leave Council chambers during an executive session, even though that was taking place elsewhere.

"I think I want to be spoken to respectfully," she said of Langen. She also complained about the way that GPA Board members treated Lower Mount Bethel residents. "They were yelled at. They were not allowed to finish sentences. We have a job to represent this County, and not an elitist group of individuals."

The finance committee will meet Wednesday, June 20, at 4 pm.

Elder Abuse is Real

On Wednesday, DA John Morganelli and Colonial Regional Police Detective Gary Hammer announced the filing of sexual assault charges against a physical therapist who was supposedly treating a 97 year-old man in his Hanover Tp home.  They were focused on a sex offense, but elder abuse can take many forms. I saw what I think was an example yesterday.

I was sitting at a small dinette in Wilson Borough yesterday afternoon, grabbing a quick bite before a NorCo Council meeting. An elderly gentleman walked in and ordered soup.The owners know him, though not by name. After ordering his soup, he matter-of-factly announced that his niece had assaulted him.  He also told me that police had laughed at him when he complained about some problem. What exactly happened is unclear. He was difficult to understand because he is Greek.

He then asked the owners to call a cab for him because he was unable to walk home.  One of the owners drove him home, which is only about a block away.

They later told me he comes in now and then. His wife passed away about six months ago, and she suffered from Alzheimer's. Before his license was taken away, he used to stop for soup, but his wife would open the car door and wonder off. .

Unfortunately, the owners don't know this fellow's name, which is something I should have obtained.

Clearly, this gentleman needs help. I can't say whether he is really a victim of abuse, but he is a victim of neglect.

If you know or see an elderly person who you think is a victim of abuse, you can ask  NorCo or LehCo caseworkers for help. The state hotline is 1-800-490-8505. Reporters may remain anonymous and have legal protection from retaliation, discrimination and civil or criminal prosecution.

I will try to find out who this fellow is.

Discover LV, By the Numbers

Discover Lehigh Valley, our local tourism bureau, has been around since 1984. It has a $3 million budget and 13 full-time employees. You might ask yourself, "What good is it?" Is it all just fluff? Not according to Mike Stershic, who is President at Discover LV until the end of the year. In a presentation to Northampton County Council last night, he made an effective case for tourism. Here's a condensed version of his presentation, by the numbers:
  • In 2016, visitors spend $2.2 billion in the Lehigh Valley. They spent more on recreation (28%) than all other regions in the state.
  • The tourism industry employs 24,750 people valleywide, generating $480 million in federal, state and local taxes.
  • The overall occupancy rate at hotels in 2017 was 70.7%. Over 1.5 million room nights were sold, which translates to 4,186 people in our hotels nightly.
  • 59% of LV visitors have been here four or more times within the past two years.  
  • The Lehigh Valley accounts for 5.2% of visitor spending in the state, up from 2.46% when DiscoverLV was first formed.
Mike Stershic, long-time president of DiscoverLV, called tourism a "first date" for likely investors. He also shared a statement he heard from Maura Gast of the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau:
If you build a place where people want to visit, you'll build a place where people want to live. If you build a place where people want to live, you'll build a place where people want to work. And, if you build a place where people want to work, you'll build a place where business has to be. If you build a place where business has to be, you'll build a place where people have to visit.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Allentown Mayor, City Council, Vow Swift Action Against LCA Rate Hike

From Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell And City Council: The Lehigh County Authority (LCA) has begun mailing notices to customers that it intends to implement monthly rates and billing for all City of Allentown customers in August 2018.


As you know, the lease of the city’s water and sewer system with LCA was important to the City to allow it to address its massive pension liability and to avoid significant tax increases to our residents that would be needed to fund that liability.  The lease is a very lengthy and complex document which provides for limits on rate increases while allowing for recovery by LCA of capital improvement costs to the water and sewer systems and for limited annual inflationary rate increases.  The letter from LCA however is disingenuous because it advises of a switch to monthly billing based on a rate schedule without disclosing that the new rates will be substantially higher on an annualized basis compared to current bills. The new rates will increase fixed charges 107% for the average residential water and sewer customer which is estimated this year to cost an extra $13 per month.


The City has retained special counsel to deal with this and other issues and we believe that the large rate increase buried in this letter is unjustified and does not reflect the terms of the lease.  We intend to take any and all legal remedies that are available to the City to prevent this unreasonable rate increase and we will do so promptly, well in advance of the August billing cycle. We are as frustrated as our residents and we are working with our counsel to move quickly to address this rate increase.   We know that we are not a wealthy City given the average household income. We know how difficult a rate increase can be on our residents. Our goal is to allow the City to continue on its successful path of economic development and not do anything to make our City a less attractive place to live and work.  


We will take quick action against this unfair rate increase and we know that we have the community’s support in doing so.

Trump's Failed Humor

New tariffs by the Trump administration are going pretty badly among our allies. In a telephone call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Authoritarian Donald Trump allegedly joked that the Canadians burned down the White House during the War of 1812.

If this really happened, and is not Fake News, it is incredibly tone deaf. America did invade Canada twice, both during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. On both occasions, we got our asses kicked. Nobody in America or England remembers the War of 1812. But Canadians do.

We also wanted England to surrender Canada to us as reparations after the Civil War. Then President Ulysses S Grant dropped that demand.

Dem Legislators Want To Make College Free

Two Dem legislators - Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, D-Philadelphia and state Rep. James Roebuck, D-Philadelphia - want to introduce legislation that will make community and state colleges free for students with a family income under $110,000. Those whose incomes are under $48,000 will get assistance for room and board. It's being called The Pennsylvania Promise