Tuesday, July 31, 2018

White Supremacist Haven Here in Pa

Yesterday, I told you anti-Semitism is creeping its ugly way into a supposed Easton Facebook group, along with a healthy dose of xenophobia blended with racism and misogyny. All in good fun, they say. But that's nothing compared to Ulysses, Pa., which has been tagged by the Inky as a "haven" for white supremacists. Ulysses is in Potter County, which voted 80% for Trump.

From the article:

“Personally, I don’t know about Trump,” [said local Nazi Daniel Burnside]. “You won’t necessarily see MAGA hats at an NSM meeting. We’re anti-Semitic. Something’s off about Trump with the Jews. That said, we’re strategically aligned. When Trump says something that aligns with us – close the borders, build the wall, look after your own – that’s good: We’ve been saying this for 25 years, but he has made it mainstream.”

“We’re still a white nation, and I respect that he supports that," Burnside added. “He’s also highlighted social problems. The kids who go to bed hungry, people who can’t pay their bills, the damage being done to society.”

Brown's $800,000 Budget Hole

Standing at the lectern inside Gracedale's Chapel last year, former Northampton County Executive John Brown delivered a homily about NorCo's budget money. year. Instead of Psalms, it was the collection plate.. He solemnly vowed that there would be no tax increase, and added that his budget was the first since 2010 that was completely balanced. There would be no need to deep into reserves. He used this remarkable achievement as a big selling point in his re-election campaign, but as it happens, he was wrong. .

Brown projected that Northampton County would receive $808,400 in revenue to house federal inmates. He apparently had big plans to warehouse federal prisoners. This might explain why he wanted a new jail at Gracedale. Instead of $808,400, the county received just $72 from Uncle Sam this year for federal prisoners.

Lamont McClure, who has replaced Brown as Exec, has had to scramble to find that money from other sources.

NorCo Going to the Dogs

To those of you complaining that Northampton County is going to the dogs under Executive Lamont McClure, it looks like you're right.

Thanks to a generous and anonymous donation, Norco is acquiring a drug-sniffing Belgian Malinois to add to its corrections staff. It will be the first K-9 dog ever used in NorCo. No word on whether it's joining the union.

“We’re very excited about the prospect of a trained K-9 working with our Department of Corrections,” said Lamont McClure. “We see this as an opportunity to lower the costs of drug testing and reduce our man hours.”

The dog will be procured from Progressive K-9 Academy in Walnutport, PA and will be certified and registered with a nationally recognized authority. The dog will be able to detect schedule 1 to schedule 5 drugs and will have training in apprehension. A dog with this kind of education can cost $15,000 with another $3,000 per year for recertification.

The American Kennel Club describes the Belgium Malinois as "confident, smart and hardworking. ... They are highly sought after as police and military K-9s.”

Taught to detect both illegal and prescription drugs, the two-year old canine is expected to save money on drug investigations and to reduce man hours. The dog will be based in the work release facilities in West Easton and on the main campus for the jail. There is no plan to use the dog in the juvenile facility..

Suspicious powders and substances are regularly seized through the mail or inmate intake. With a keen sense of smell, the K-9 dog will be able give an instant response on seized materials instead of having to submit everything for laboratory testing. In 2017, 137 suspicious powders were submitted for testing, with 25.5% of them yielding a positive result for illegal drugs.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Nothstein Campaign HQs Vandalized


Tonight, the Lehigh Valley's GOP Congressional candidate, Marty Nothstein, will open his campaign headquarters at 4260 Nazareth Pike in Bethlehem Township. He will do so even though the building was vandalized over the weekend, when someone through a piece of concrete through a first floor window.

“Our political opponents, including far-left groups from outside the district, have declared the Lehigh Valley a battleground, so it’s little wonder that extreme rhetoric has now translated into physical violence," said Nothstein. “We will not allow them to prevent our grand opening Monday. We need to stand up to political bullies.”

No charges have been filed against anyone.

No charges have been filed against anyone. In addition to Nothstein's campaign offices, the property also includes a tattoo parlor. It is only in recent days that a large Nothstein sign has appeared in front of the building, facing Nazareth Pike.

Entrepreneur Abe Atiyeh, who owns the building, said that there is security footage.

There is little doubt in my mind that this vandalism was aimed at Nothstein. During the primary, Democrat John Morganelli was shouted down and prevented from even answering a question at a debate in Allentown, and was booed at a debate in Bethlehem.

Lehigh Valley For All (Who Agree With Them) is planning a so-called "Harmony" Fest on August 9 in Coplay, but have declared, "Absolutely no Trump supporters allowed!"

Nothstein, who chairs the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners, won a gold medal in cycling during the summer Olympics in 2000. Susan Wild, an Allentown attorney and that City's former Solicitor, is the Democratic nominee. Tim Silfies, WFMZ-TV69's former business reporter, has filed as a Libertarian.

McClure Resigns From GPA, Appoints Dertinger as Replacement

Charles Dertinger
On July 19, Northampton County Council voted to confirm Executive Lamont McClure and Council member Lori Vargo Heffner to the county's embattled General Purpose Authority (GPA). Eight days later, on July 27, he has suddenly resigned. He has appointed Administrator Charles Dertinger to replace him.

McClure has already won the battle to control the GPA, which he has blasted as a "rogue" authority. Earlier this year, he was able to appoint two allies to the seven-member board. Then, right before County Council was poised to act, GPA Board members Peg Ferraro and J Michael Dowd also resigned. These resignations are what enabled McClure to appoint himself and Council member Lori Vargo Heffner to the GPA, giving him effective control.

On June 21, County Council adopted a strongly worded resolution calling for the resignations of both GPA Chair Shawn Langen and Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus (NMM), GPA's Solicitor.

NMM has since resigned. GPA Chair Shawn Langen refuses to step aside, but has instead challenged Executive McClure's right to participate on the GPA board, based on a 1941 Pa. Supreme Court decision.

Historically, the County Executive has chaired the GPA. In fact, GPA by-laws require at least one County Council member to serve on the Board.

Executive McClure explained that he'd rather resign than give Langen an opportunity to file a lawsuit and waste taxpayer resources.

Langen has also suggested that the GPA, and not County Council, should fill vacancies on its own Board. But Steve Hann, regional solicitor to the Pa. Municipal Authorities Association, has already told him that the prevailing view is that County Council, and not the GPA, makes these appointments.

Easton's Creeping Anti-Semitism

One of the debates leading up to the Congressional primary herein the Lehigh Valley took place at Bethlehem's Congregation Brith Shalom. Moderator Barry Goldin's said that there's a 60% increase in anti-Semitism the United States, Britain and France in recent years. He added that there's an 80% rise on college campuses, and it even includes professors. Wayne Woodman, a Jew who was standing in for eventual GOP nominee Marty Nothstein, agreed that anti-Semitism is on the rise in a way that has not been seen since the '30s. "We're the canary in the coal mine," he warned, in what to me was one of the most memorable lines of the campaign. That canary is struggling for oxygen here in the Lehigh Valley, art least in Easton.

There are two Easton Facebook groups - Laini Abraham's Easton, Pa. (14,000 members) and Easton, Pennsylvania Unsensored (3,000 members). Laini's group is very Easton-centric. Uncensored is not. Formed by a few people who either dislike Abraham's comments policy or feel they have been treated unfairly, they waste a lot of time calling her childish names and promoting racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Authoritarian Donald Trump. They want to Make Easton Great Again.

Up until this weekend, I belonged to both groups, although I've largely ignored Uncensored. Now I just belong to the original Easton, Pa. I've been censored from Uncensored group for registering a complaint with Administrator James Gischel about the anti-Semitic post you see below. It suggests that three of the four women (three Supreme Court justices and the US House Speaker) depicted should be shot. Two of these women are Jewish, although the author of the Uncensored post, James Rotchford, has convinced himself that Roman Catholic Sonia Sotamoyer is actually a Jew in disguise.

In an attempt to delude himself into thinking he has nothing against Jews, Rotchford ( from Riegelsville) claims his real beef is with Khazars, who just happen to be ... Jews. "Three Khazarian's and a Goy walk into a bar ....," he jokes. "That’s a lot of kosher salt," adds Matthew Kozloff (Hellertown). I skipped a few comments about nose sizes, but I think you get the point.

Most of the comments there come from Authoritarian Donald Trump cheerleaders. But active participants also include Easton Zoning Hearing Board member Matt Loebsack and Wilson Borough Council member Jeff Bracken. Both are Democrats.

Rotchford the anti-Semite is also a xenophobe. He posted approvingly at Uncensored about a woman moving back to Chile "with her two spawns," saying that "people are getting less tolerant of those people thumbing their noses at ALL our laws." Instead of condemning Rotchford's dehumanization of two children whose only offense is having been born, Democrat Bracken childishly threatened, several times, to repost this xenophobia at Easton.

When Easton Pa group founder Laini Abraham suggested she'd like to monetize her group with a tip jar or something along those lines, Loebsack went ballistic and threatened that "she better get her appropriate business licenses, pay all her taxes on her revenue."  One member of Uncensored warned, "Don't let me see her on a dark crosswalk at the wrong time."

Most of the stuff going on at Uncensored is just childish nonsense. But I feel it's important to draw attention to the very real hate that has infected that site.

FROM EASTON UNCENSORED (Note: I REMOVED THE METADATA)
James Rotchford
July 25 at 7:14 PM

You're stuck on a deserted Island with them and just three rounds left in your mag .... then smile when you remember your wrist band is made of para-cord ....

Comments

James Rotchford Three Khazarian's and a Goy walk into a bar ....

Bill Welsh I mean technically, if there’s three rounds left in your magazine, one must conclude that there’s still one in the chamber

Travis Loebsack My guy 😎

James Rotchford We see if anyone can come up with a scenario where there a mag inserted and no round chambered ...anage

James Rotchford miss fire cleared .... squib ? .... show clear, reinsert mag ?

Bill Welsh Well yes there are obviously scenarios where there wouldn’t be a chambered round.

James Rotchford One always assumes a gun is loaded for safety, until shown clear .... but one should never assume a round has chambered if you really need it .... a chamber round saves 1.5 seconds .... and has also killed many

Stephen Andre If any photo could be a boner killer ....

James Rotchford A Detective friend of mine shot and killed his partner while exiting the squad car while perusing an armed bank robber ... one in the chamber Glock .... I passed the memorial on the side of the road daily for 10 years .... and why I was taught 30 years ago not to a carry a semi with a round loaded unless I'm in a firefight

Ant Mondillo You could make them stand in a line, and still have 2 rounds to hunt with

Matthew Kozloff That’s a lot of kosher salt.

James Rotchford SC is intentionally stuffed with Khazarian Socialists ... that drunk RBG think the Constitution is an old, outdated document .... also thinks the age of sexual consent should be 12 years old .... so how much more do you need to know ??????????????????????

James Rotchford Khazarians are not a religion or race .... they are atheists with a common political ideology, Marxist/Socialists .....

James Rotchford It's all about how you were schooled .... been a big problem in this country and europe since the late 1800's .... study and learn history

James Rotchford Most Khazarians are Eastern European .... the same people who brought you the Russian Revolution .... killing or starving 10 million of their fellow country men, women and children .... all in the name of "Fairness" ..... Marxism was the basis .... so …See More

Stephen Andre Socialism is a disgusting platform and followed mostly by youth or older lazy types. It’s always said “it’s never been done the RIGHT WAY”... it all ends the same, except American is where people go to escape it!

James Rotchford Socialism is taught to many at a young age .... by people who were taught socialism at a young age .... by people who followed Marx back in the old country .. who controls the media worldwide ? ... then follow these owners lineage back 2-5 generations ... there is your answer .... if you want to know who controls you, and things, think of who you're not allowed to criticize .... think "Easton Commie Page"

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Bangor Hit-and-Run Caught on Security Camera

Right after midnight, a woman driving a late model SUV (likely a Jeep) stuck and damaged three parked cars on Broadway in Bangor and then just left the scene. Slate Belt Watch actually has a video, in flagrante delicto, thanks to a homeowner's security camera.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Local News Deserts In the Information Age

The Morning Call's Bill White has chimed in with a story about what Tronc, which owns his paper, has done to The New York Daily News, now half the size it was a few short days ago. "I’m one of the lucky ones who still is working here, so I’m not inclined to rant and rave too much," he writes. That's a problem. I expect rants and raves from columnists. But Bill apparently feels he has to keep his head down. I suspect that attitude is now prevalent at most newspapers, Journalists have been replaced by content providers who tell us the best five places in town to buy a hamburger. You won't see them at most municipal meetings.

It's weird. We have iPhones, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and a host of social media platforms. But we now know less about what is going on locally than we did before the Information Age.   

The real problem is that, as this industry fails, so does democracy. There are still a gaggle of reporters who cover Donald Trump every time he passes gas, which is pretty much every time he opens his mouth. But there is very little coverage of what is going on locally. It's an atmosphere that invites corruption.

Believe it or not, a lack of news coverage also can be tied to an increase in the cost of government.

According to Governing, researchers at Notre Dame and Chicago Universities have determined that borrowing costs, government wages and taxes go up in a municipality when a newspaper stops covering it.

New Jersey recently has agreed to spend $5 million on a “civic information consortium” to provide news coverage of local communities that have become information deserts. Politicians will have no say in what is covered.

Lou Greenwald, who is the majority leader of the New Jersey state assembly, said this action is necessary for "the civic health of our communities. Study after study has shown what happens when local news is deficient or disappears altogether. Civic participation drops. Fewer people run for public office, fewer people volunteer.”

NorCo Retirement Board Adopts New Formula For Retiree Medical Benefits

Blogger's Note: If you are a county employee or retiree, you'll want to read this post. If not, you may wish to skip to the final paragraph telling you that the county pension fund is now 90% funded at $415 million, a feat that few municipal governments can replicate. 

In May, Northampton County's Retirement Board voted to end a practice that was chipping away at pension checks. The Board directed the County to stop deducting medical contributions from retiree benefits after determining that the practice is illegal. Since that time, retirees have paid nothing for their medical care. At a meeting last night, Board members voted to continue the practice of providing free medical care to county employees, as well as spouses and dependents, who retired before 12/31/96. Those who retired after that date will still have free individual medical care, but if they wish to include a spouse, three percent of the base pension will be deducted. If it is a spouse and other eligible dependents, it's five percent.

This change is the result of a 5 to 1 vote. Voting in favor of this pension change were Lamont McClure, Ken Kraft, Steve Barron, Bill McGee and Tom Guth (employee representative). The great dissenter was retiree representative Gerald E. "Jerry" Seyfried. Ron Heckman was absent as a result of a conflict.

Barron explained that, under this proposal, 384 retirees will be paying less, 255 will pay more and 555 will pay no more than they were before. For those who pay more, the average will be about $50 per month. No one will pay more than $150.

In response to questioning by Executive McClure, Barron stated this policy is similar to what happens in other third class counties, including  Lehigh County.

When Home Rule was established in 1978, one of the benefits that employees received upon retirement was free medical care. Spouses and dependents were included. This changed when Bill Brackbill became Executive. He first imposed a $10 co-pay, but later changed it to a percentage of the pension. These deductions continued and increased under Executives Glenn Reibman, John Stoffa and John Brown.

Seyfried has long maintained that only the retirement board, and not the Executive, has the authority to change retiree benefits. He has also long argued that it is illegal to reduce a pension benefit. He argued it violates the nonimpairment clause of the Home Rule Charter and Pennsylvania State Constitution, the latter of which provides that "[n]o ex post facto law, nor any law impairing the obligation of contracts, or making irrevocable any grant of special privileges or immunities, shall be passed."

Solicitor David Ceraul advised the retirement board that the county's contract is with the retiree,not a spouse or dependent. Thus, requiring a contribution for a spouse or eligible dependent is no violation of the nonimpairment clause.

Seyfried was unswayed by Ceraul, arguing that this new policy is still a diminishment in benefits. Lamont McClure disagreed, although he told Seyfried that retirees owe him a "debt of gratitude" for his role in correcting an illegal practice.

McClure went on to say that, though the practice of deducting from pensions for medical benefits was illegal, every retiree signed documents agreeing to it. He said he wanted to be fair to the retiree, but "I have an obligation to the county taxpayer as well. I was not going to treat the county taxpayer as a piggybank."

Under Barron's proposal, no county contribution will be needed to fund retiree health benefits. "Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the very, very good," McClure implored Seyfried.

This, incidentally, is a nonissue for employees hired after June 30, 2010. They  must provide for their own medical care when they retire. Only half of Pennsylvania counties offer post-retirement benefits. Lehigh County ended them in 1987.

Tom Guth asked county administrators for better literature on retirement benefits. The county agreed to prepare a handbook and will present cost figures at the August meeting.

In other news, the county's pension fund is now 90% funded. Pension Fund manager John Spagnola told the retirement board that, as of two days ago, the fund contained over $415 million. The OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) Fund, which pays for retiree medical benefits, stood tall at over $41 million.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

NorCo Council Opposes Larger, Heavier Trucks

Yesterday, I told you that several Northampton County municipalities have joined forces with a multi-municipal plan. Brien Kocher, the Chair of Bushkill Township's Board of Supervisors, likens it to having a home in a neighborhood. Nobody tells you what to do inside your home, but you have an opportunity to work with your neighbors on goals that are in your mutual interest. He chairs the steering committee of a plan that encompasses the boroughs of Bath, Nazareth, Stockertown, and Tatamy; as well as Bushkill, Lower Nazareth, Moore and Upper Nazareth Townships. On Tuesday, Hanover Township voted to join this neighborhood.

There's a similar multi-municipal comprehensive plan in southwesterm Lehigh County. It includes Alburtis, Emmaus and Macungie Boroughs as well as Lower Milford, Lower Macungie and Upper Milford Townships. This regionalism empowers municipalities to join forces and combat truck traffic, congestion and warehouses. Affected municipalities can assess impact fees based on the adverse effects of a warehouse development, giving them the money needed to keep roads in good repair. And so long as a use is permitted in one municipality, it can be banned in the others. This enables community leaders to steer warehouse development near major highways, where they are more appropriate.

Unfortunately, once you get on that Interstate, you may soon be seeing a different kind of truck. Segments of the transportation industry are pressuring Congress to allow 33-foot doubles and 90,000 lb.gross vehicle weight as part of the next appropriations bill. The argument for these increases, expressed by Americans for Modern Transportation, is that bigger and heavier trucks will result in fewer of them. But Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety dispute this argument, noting that the increased stopping time for these larger trucks will mean more rear-end collisions. to control :

At their July 19 meeting, Northampton County Council unanimously adopted a resolution opposing any increases in the size of trucks. According to the resolution,
* double-trailer trucks have an 11% higher fatal crash rate than single-trailer trucks.
* Heavier and longer trucks will be more difficult.
* Pennsylvania has the second highest number of structurally deficient bridges in the country.
* Increases in the size and weights of trucks would damage the infrastructure in cities, boroughs and townships. They would have to pay for the repairs to roadways, making these wide loads an unfunded mandate.

Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board Hears Three Appeals in One Hour

Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board is known for marathon meetings, sometimes taking testimony over several nights before deciding whether to grant a variance. But at their July 25 meeting, they heard three separate zoning appeals in less than an hour.

Eugene Takacs was granted a dimensional variance to erect a 15' x 15'deck at his property at 1621 East Boulevard. He is allowed 25% building coverage on his lot, but the deck puts him at 27%.

Carol White was also granted a dimensional variance for an 18' round pool in the back of her property at 1542 Valley Road. She will be 3' away from her side boundary instead of the required 6'. She explained that's the only way the pool will fit. She testified that her pool is surrounded by fencing, but it will be inspected for safety.

Finally, 2 Brothers Realty Group was granted a special exception to substitute one nonconforming use at 821 Monocacy Street with another. This property is located within a limited commercial district. Principal Zeeshan Butt said that he'd like to convert an auto repair and auto body repair shop at that site to an auto sales and auto body repair shop. The repair shop will be open weekdays and Saturday from 8 am until 5pm, with the auto sales continuing until 8 pm on weekdays. All vehicles being sold pr repaired must be parked on the lot.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Dems Have 12-Point Lead in House Races, Thanks to Women

From Quinnipiac University: With almost 2-1 backing from women, Democrats take a 51 - 39 percent lead in hypothetical races for the U.S. House of Representatives this year, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today.

Women back Democratic candidates 57 - 32 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University National Poll finds. Men are divided with 46 percent going Republican and 44 percent for Democrats. White voters are divided with 46 percent for Democrats and 45 percent for Republicans. Black voters go Democratic 78 - 16 percent and Hispanic voters back Democrats 66 - 23 percent.

The key block of independent voters backs Democratic candidates 50 - 33 percent.

American voters disapprove 66 - 27 percent of the job Republicans in Congress are doing and disapprove of Democrats in Congress 63 - 30 percent.

Voters are divided on President Donald Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court as 40 percent say the U.S. Senate should confirm the nomination and 41 percent say the Senate should not confirm the nomination.

*     *     *     *

American voters disapprove 56 - 36 percent of the way the media covers President Trump, and disapprove 65 - 32 percent of the way Trump talks about the media.

Voters trust the media more than Trump 54 - 34 percent to tell the truth about important issues. Republicans believe Trump more 75 - 16 percent, the only listed group to side with the president. White voters with no college degree and white men are divided.

The media is an important part of democracy, 71 percent of voters say, while 21 percent say the media is the enemy of the people. This is the strongest support for the media since the Quinnipiac University National Poll first asked this question in April.

From July 18 - 23, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,177 voters nationwide, with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points, including design effect. Live interviewers call landlines and cell phones.

The Quinnipiac University Poll, directed by Douglas Schwartz, Ph.D., conducts nationwide public opinion surveys, and statewide polls in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado and Texas as a public service and for research.

Hanover (NC) Tp Takes Aim at Warehouse Development

John Diacogiannis
A recent Lehigh Valley Planning Commission survey lists trucks, traffic congestion and warehouses as the three top negatives for Lehigh Valley residents. It's going to get worse before it gets better. A FedEx ground terminal under construction in Allen Township will be operational in September. It will be its largest distribution hub in the U.S. Between January and June of this year, there has been an explosion of 1.5 million sq ft in warehouse space in Northampton County, with another 844,000 sq ft in Lehigh County. Given its proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley is fast becoming a warehouse magnet. What can a local government do? That was a topic of discussion for Hanover Township Supervisors at their July 24 meeting.

Chairman John Diacogiannis proposed that Hanover Township team up with eight other municipalities in preparing a regional comprehensive plan at a cost of about $12,000. Manager Jay Finnigan advised Supervisors that its current comprehensive plan is 13 years old, and is overdue for an update.

Diacogiannis urged a multi-municipal plan, authorized by state law, as the best way of dealing with the warehouse crisis. But Steve Salvesen  was opposed. He kept questioning whether this regional effort would really be a benefit to Hanover Tp. Finnigan replied that under this approach, Hanover Tp would get traffic impact fees from warehouse development "to improve our roads. ... We don't have that ability right now."

The biggest advantage to multi-municipal planning is that it allows for planning all categories of land uses across the participating municipalities. This means there's no need to permit all possible legal uses within one municipality, so long as one municipality accommodates it. Thus, some municipalities could deny warehouses so long as another municipality permits it. One municipality could refuse to permit a gentleman's club so long as another municipality provides for it.

Other advantages to multi-municipal planning is that it provides a framework for enhanced communication, sharing of municipal services and coordination when there are development proposals of regional significance.

The current multi-municipal plan serves the boroughs of Bath, Nazareth, Stockertown, and Tatamy; as well as Bushkill, Lower Nazareth, Moore and Upper Nazareth Townships.

Resident Cecil Blocker said he counted 16 trucks on Crawford Road on his way to the meeting. "This is going to be Trucksville USA soon," he complained. "We're at the end of the colon," replied Steve Salvesen, referring to truck traffic that will be coming through Hanover Township as a result of the FedEx facility.

Voting for the multi-municipal plan were Diacogiannis, Susan Lawless, Esq., and Michael Prendeville Salvesen was the dissenter. Jack Nagle was absent.

Hanover Tp (NC) Supervisors Endorse Gerrymander Reform

Cecil Blocker and his companion. She
denied she is his daughter.  
You can add Hanover Tp (Northampton County) to the list over 270 counties, cities, townships and boroughs fighting for redistricting reform in Harrisburg. At their July 24 meeting, Supervisors voted 3-1 in favor of a resolution supporting a constitutional change that will allow an independent and inclusive commission to draw the boundaries for state legislative and congressional races.

Supporting this nonbinding resolution were Susan Lawless, Michael Prendeville and John Diacogiannis. Voting No was Steve Salvesen. Jack Nagle was absent.

The vote followed a debate in which Salvesen argued that the resolution was not just "outside the Constitution of the United States and state law," but "might even be in violation of the oath of office we took."  He condemned "activist judges"on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court "who decided to become legislators" and draw their own map He said the current law is "very clear" and contains "no ambiguity."

"It very clearly has not worked," responded Lawless. Diacogiannis agreed. He acknowledged that no commission is truly independent, but it was time to try something less political. "It may turn out to be just as bad as we have it now," he said. 

Solicitor Jim Broughal advised Supervisors that nothing in the resolution is contrary to the Constitution. Salvesen acknowledged that he's no lawyer

After the vote, a group of about ten Fair Districts Pa members applauded the board. That grassroots group describes itself as a "nonpartisan, citizen-led, statewide coalition working to create a process for redistricting that is transparent, impartial, and fair."  They included Hanover Township residents Joanne Kelhart, Esq., Jean Shenk and Cecil Blocker.

"My vote doesn't count," said Blocker. "I find that to be unacceptable."

As Supervisors turned to other items on the agenda, most of this citizens' group melted away. Salvesen, a veteran of many political firestorms in his career, said that he had driven them off, and jokingly threatened to bring the matter up again once they were gone.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Two NorCo Deputy Sheriffs Respond to Easton Overdose

Lamont McClure commends the actions of Deputy Sheriffs Dan Zeigler and Stephen Tuxhorn. Last Friday, the two deputies were on their way to serve a Protection from Abuse Order when they heard a call on the radio for an unresponsive male in the area. They stopped to ask the
Easton police officers on site if they could be of any assistance and were asked if they had any NARCAN. Deputy Zeigler assisted Officer Thornton in administering NARCAN to the unresponsive male. Within one minute, the man was responsive and alert. EMS arrived at the scene soon afterwards.

“I want to thank our deputies for their quick actions in this situation,” McClure said. “Considering the scourge opioids presents to our County, I’m glad members of our sheriff’s department were able to help.”

This is not the first time that Deputy Sheriffs have responded to an opioid overdose. In November, Deputy Sheriff Scott Kuehner respnded to two overdoses in two days.

Northampton County residents with drug and alcohol problems can call the County’s HELP line at 610-252-9060. Services offered include referrals for treatments, assessments, guidance, support and information for both individuals seeking assistance and their families.

Want Affordable Housing? Permit Tiny Homes

How much does it cost to live in the Lehigh Valley?  Pretty much, In 2016, the median price for a single-family detached dwelling was $211,000, according to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. If you wanted to buy a home at that price, you would need a 20% down payment and then would pay a $855.28 mortgage if you go the 30-year fixed rate route.That means you would need at least $41,000 in take home pay per annum to be able to meet all your other expenses. If you go for the row home, the bank will jack up the interest rate, and your monthly mortgage will be $629. That means your annual take-home pay must be at least $30,200. For many people, home ownership is simply the impossible dream. People have turned to rentals, and the increased demand has caused rentals to go up. So yes, there is a lack of affordable housing here in the Lehigh Valley, just as  CACLV's Alan Jennings laments in a recent Morning Call op-ed.

I have a solution. It's becoming more popular, too. Tiny houses. I am not speaking about some modest row home but an actual tiny house, sometimes on wheels, usually about 400 sq ft or less. The problem with them is that most fail standard building codes. What a responsive local government does is to simplify building codes for these smaller homes.

Lancaster County has done just that, with a planning tool for municipalities that are considering a tiny house. One primary concern is making sure homes have addresses so that emergency responders know where to go if needed. Nationwide, in 2017, the International Code Council adopted new building regulations specifically for tiny homes.

Tiny homes can be expensive, or can go as low as $15,000.

What Do People Like Most About the Lehigh Valley?

Yesterday, I reported to you on a Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) survey conducted in March and April, with over 1,000 responses, telling us what we like least about the Lehigh Valley. What do you like most? Here's what the survey says:

1) Parks, Trails and Recreational Activities (61%).- Whether it's outdoor basketball at Cedar Beach, or a bike trail that extends from Allentown to Easton and points south, it's hard for any community to compete with Lehigh Valley parks

2) Natural Lands and Farmlands (59%).- The Lehigh Valley lost 80 percent of its farms between 1930, when there were 5,032 farms, and 2007, when only 1,002 farms remained. The acres of land devoted to farmland has dropped 53 percent, from 323,000 acres in 1930 to 153,000 in 2007. Pennsylvania leads the nation in preserving farmland, but the best way to preserve farmland is by preserving the farmer. The number of farmers under the age of 35 dropped by 37 percent between 1997 and 2007. Only 17 percent of farmers actually own the land they farm because land values are prohibitive.

3) Proximity to NYC and Philly (55%) - Unfortunately, this is what also makes the Lehigh Valley a warehouse magnet.

Other LV positives are 4) mix of urban, suburban and rural (47%); 5) near family and friends (46%); 6) cost of living (46%); 7) cultural and entertainment activities (40%); 8) historic sites and architecture (38%); and 9) proximity to work (37%).

It's Official! Sheriff Johnston Sworn In

Sheriff Johnston and Judge Koury
So there I was at the courthouse on Monday, not having shaved all weekend and wearing a ratty grey T-shirt. In other words, I looked like a slob instead of a debonair bottom-feeding blogger. Most of the time, that's fine. The property records I examine don't mind a bit. But out of the blue, the blogger beacon began flashing. I was wanted in a Courtroom because Rich Johnston, the new Sheriff, was being sworn in. And I had no time to go home and change.

I like to dress informally most of the time, like the Israelis. They wear no suits and ties. They keep it real, baby. They know a scud can fly up their ass at any minute. Why ruin a good suit? I feel the same way. I'm Moshe O'Hare.

L to R: Executive Lamont McClure, Sheriff Richard Johnston and
President Judge Michael Koury, Jr. .  
But if I know I'm going into a courtroom, I like to wear a dress shirt and tie, and if I have time, rubber underwear. It might shock you to learn this, but I'm not always on the best of terms with the black robes. Any one of those bastards can give me 20 years in the electric chair. So I was taking a chance when I walked into President Judge Michael Koury, Jr.'s courtroom looking like someone who needs to be committed.

Nobody noticed. Apparently, I am such a shitty dresser that people have become habituated to it.

Kinda' like Trump Tweets.

Having been spared by the President Judge, I was still a little nervous because the new Sheriff is still a little miffed with me.

"On the night that I get confirmed as Sheriff, you just have to hit on my wife!" he accused me.

"That's not true at all, Sheriff," I lied. "It was that damn Bucky Szulborski."

Sorry, Bucky. I hear Graterford is lovely this time of year.

Anyway, they had to hold up the swearing-in ceremony until Court Admin Jermaine Greene could locate a Bible. Apparently, former Council member Mat Benol stole them all when he left. He's very religious, you know.

My shots of the actual swearing in ceremony are terrible. Sheriff Johnston and President Judge Koury were about 40' away from each other for some reason, and there was too much glare. But after the ceremony, I got a nice shot of President Judge Kourry and Rich Johnston together.

"Would you smile, Sheriff?"

"I am smiling."

I also got a shot of Sheriff Johnston, flanked by Executive Lamont McClure on the left and President Judge Koury on the right. I wanted the three together because both Executive McClure and President Judge Koury had Johnston as the number on pick.

Monday, July 23, 2018

What People Like Least about the Lehigh Valley

What do you like least about the Lehigh Valley? The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) conducted a survey in March and April, receiving over 1,000 responses. Here's what we like least:

1) Truck Traffic takes the lead at 66%. - That's why it makes no sense that planners are "scrambling" to find more parking for trucks. They do not work for the transportation industry. They work for the people, and should be less, not more, hospitable. That's why all P3 bridges, even along a state-designated scenic byway in Lower Mount Bethel, had to be two lanes. That's why roads keep getting wider and wider. Local governments could take much more forceful action, at least along their own roads.

2) Traffic congestion is second at 65%. - At rush hour, it now takes me about an hour on average to get from Easton to Allentown. Widening these highways is just leading to more congestion, so I'd call this planning a complete failure. One of the answers, believe it or not, is to lower the speed limits along portions of 78 and 22, as is done along the M25 motorway in London. At lower speeds, cars can travel closer together and this increases capacity. There are numerous other options, like car-pooling, but people are not ready for it.

3) Warehouses are third at 56%. - I don't really care whether it is called a fulfillment center, it's still a warehouse. They are fine in south Bethlehem, where they are located very close to 78. They are fine at Chrin, where they are close to 33.They are a disaster in Allen and East Allen Tp. The answer is very aggressive use of something known as an impact fee. In approving a warehouse plan, an impact fee is assessed and paid, but there is no monitoring down the road to ensure that the impact has not exceeded the plan. That needs to happen Zoning in all municipalities needs to change so that these are only allowed close to an interstate.

Other complaints are 4) loss of farmland and natural lands (53%); 5) lack of alternative transportation (48%); 6) population growth (37%); and 7) loss of historic architecture (28%).

Casey: "We're Americans. We take care of each other."

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa) toured Northampton County's nursing home, Gracedale, on Friday. He also spoke to about 30 workers and residents at a pavilion on the nursing home campus. Below are excerpts:

Americans: "We're America. We're a strong country. We have the strongest economy in the world. We have the strongest military in the world. But that same strong county will take care of people. That's what we do. We're Americans. We take care of each other. So if a child has a disability and they're getting Medicaid, we're going to make damn sure they get that Medicaid for the rest of their life if it is necessary. And if we have to say to some rich people, 'You're going to pay for it,' that's what we do in America  We make sure that those families get taken care of. When you're a strong country like that, you can show the world that you have the values to make sure that we take care of those people."

Medicaid: "That's not just a program for seniors getting into a nursing home, helping a facility like Gracedale to be able to exist. A lot of great facilities like this providing skilled care could not exist without the Medicaid program. Half of the people in our state have a disability and benefit from Medicaid. You've got kids in rural areas, small town and big cities that have health care through Medicaid. Thank God they do. But we have to make sure that we don't go in the wrong direction by allowing a group of hard right ideologues to undermine the Medicaid program and end Medicaid expansion. That's what they're trying to do. Medicaid expansion, which brought health care to 700,000 people in Pa,, and when you had people who got help in the exchanges, it's over 1.1 million. Thank God we did that. If someone in your family or someone you know has an opioid problem, they can get help through medicaid expansion. We're not going back to the days where we shortchange health care for people who need it."

"Republicans in Washington have a different idea. So what do they want to do for the next ten years? This is literally their budget plan. They want to cut Medicaid by $1 trillion. Not billion. Not hundreds of billions. $1 trillion. We're going to stop them from doing that. We're not going to allow them to do that to our families."

Pre-existing Conditions. - (Senator Casey said that 133 million Americans suffer from pre-existing conditions, including 5.2 million in Pa. and 643,000 children) "They tried to rip away health care by repealing the Affordable Care Act and the protections that the Affordable Care Act provides. They're in court now litigating whether or not we're going to have protection for pre-existing conditions. Are we going to go back to those dark days when someone does not get coverage or treatment because they have a pre-existing condition? My answer is No, we are not going back to those days where an insurance company can determine whether a child gets health care or not whether someone who has a pre-existing condition gets treatment. We changed that in the law. We're going to fight to make sure we never go back to those dark days when your life is controlled by an insurance company. ... I find it hard to believe that we're even having a discussion about whether we can even defeat Republicans in a courtroom to stop them from taking away protections for pre-existing conditions."


Unions. - "We would not have that middle class that I talked about were it not for the men and women of organized labor. Just imagine what our country would be like if we didn't have unions. We would have no middle class. We would not have the growing economy we usually have if we didn't have unions. We've taken that for granted. Frankly, both parties have Both parties have not spent enough time talking about the contributions of workers. We've allowed the corporate right to denigrate unions, to rob you of your dignity. Never let them take that dignity away from you. You contribute so much to our country. You helped build the middle class after WWII. You keep our economy secure because of what you do. Your work ethic makes it possible for us to run a huge government every day, to run a facility like the one we're at. You protect us, you serve us, you strengthen us and you work on our behalf. We've got to have policies that support you."

The Election. - "The other side tends to have more money, but this year we're going to have more votes."

"One party is ruling Washington, and it's not like it's a moderate or even a conservative party. They're governing to the hard right."

You can see more pics here.

No Word For a Parent Who Loses a Child

Royce Atkins
On Friday, Pennsylvania's Superior Court affirmed a four- year sentence against hit-and-run driver Royce Atkins, currently a guest at SCI Rockview. In 2015, his Mazda struck and killed nine year-old Darious Condash, a fourth-grade student at Shecker Elementary School. Condash had darted back onto a busy Schoenersville Rd to pick up a fallen piece of candy. Though there was no evidence that Atkins himself was speeding or impaired, he rushed off without stopping and spent several days concealing what had happened, perhaps because it was too terrible to believe. 

I have written a detailed story about this for some weekly papers. But I want to publish a small story here because Judge Koury had something to say about parents who lose a child.

Quoting from An Orphan's Tale, Judge Koury said,

"A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. There is no word for a parent who loses a child. That’s how awful the loss is."

I know some parents who have lost children, either to illness or a motor vehicle accident. Some of them get involved in different charities or organizations that will prevent other children  from suffering a similar fate. But there are a few who just lose it and get pretty ugly.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Senator Bob Casey Visits Gracedale


Sporting a Nazareth baseball cap, U.S. Senator Bob Casey visited Gracedale today. In addition to speaking to residents, he gave a powerful speech to residents and staff during the shift change. I will fill you in on Monday.

NorCo Council Confirms New Sheriff

Sheriff Johnston, flanked by his wife Barbara, left,
and daughter Maya, right
At their July 19 meeting, Northampton County Council voted 8-0, with Peg Ferraro abstaining, to confirm Richard H. Johnston as Sheriff.  He is also the joint top choice of both Executive Lamont McClure and President Judge Michael Koury, Jr.

Johnston's salary will be $89,235.

Johnston is the 72d person to serve as Northampton County Sheriff since the county was first formed in 1752. The County's first Sheriff, William Craig, was a Captain in Pennsylvania provincial militia under Major William Parsons during the French and Indian War. Johnston's immediate predecessor, David Dalrymple, was a major in the New Jersey State Police.

The Sheriff's Office goes all the way back to tenth century England, when Alfred the Great divided England into "shires" led by a "reeve." The shire reeve eventually became known as the Sheriff, who would defend the people against Viking incursions.

These days, the Northampton County Sheriff still provides building and court room security. He also transports prisoners, locates and apprehends fugitives, serves legal papers, administers the foreclosure, repossession and sale of real and personal property, and issues gun permits. It is an elective office except in Northampton and Luzerne Counties.

Sheriff Johnston,l eft, with Lamont McClure
You can still detect a slight New York accent in Johnston's voice. He started his career there as a NYC transit cop in 1982. While working full-time, he earned an associate's degree in forensic psychology in 1993. In 1994, he was promoted to sergeant for the NYPD, where he supervised anywhere between 20 and 45 officers, depending on which precinct he worked.

After putting in his 20 years with New York City, he continued his career in law enforcement here in the Lehigh Valley. He started as a District Security Officer at Easton School District, and became a deputy sheriff in 2002. He worked his way up through the ranks until he became a lieutenant in 2008.

He also knows what it's like to suffer adversity on the job. In 2010, he was laid off as a result of a department reorganization. Instead of giving up, he worked for Sands Casino as a security officer and a table games dealer until he was reinstated in 2013.

Johnston has 34 years of experience in law enforcement.

He lives in Bethlehem Township with his wife Barbara. He also has two daughters, Flannery and Moya, who graduated from Freedom High School.

Our Forgotten Veterans


A few months ago, Lehigh University's Dr. Stephen Thode chronicled his difficulties in obtaining a simple ID card, known as a VIC, from our Veterans Administration. That's nothing. Freddie Ramirez, Jr., is Director of Northampton County's VA office. It took him six years to get another kind of ID card from the VA that is supposed to give him access to VA buildings and their computer system. The VA managed to screw up his name and the card does not work. But it does have a nice plastic cover.

Executive Lamont McClure said we need to do a better job for our veterans. He gave an example. A few weeks ago, county officials were set to release a homeless vet who has a substance abuse problem. Allentown Rescue Mission was willing to accept him, but he had no way of getting there. Neither the judge, prosecutor or public defender had any idea that the county has an agency that could have helped him. The public defender dug into her purse for a $20 and was about to give it to this fellow until someone pointed out that the county could help. And it did, with vouchers so this gentleman could get where he needed to be.

McClure believes the County needs to do a better job of making people, especially those in the criminal justice system, aware of what the county can do to help veterans.

Lori Vargo Heffner drove this point home at yesterday's Human Services meeting, and in the coming weeks, I will spotlight what the county is doing to help our forgotten veterans.

GPA: McClure and Heffner In, Law Firm Out

Last night, Executive Lamont McClure edged a bit closer to reining in the county's General Purpose Authority (GPA), which he has blasted as a "rogue" agency. He's already been able to appoint two members of the seven-person board. County Council confirmed another two appointments during their meeting. This gives him effective control over four of he GPA's seven votes.

Lori Vargo Heffner was voted in unanimously as Peg Farraro's replacement after her resignation a few weeks ago. Under the GPA by-laws, at least one board member must be also be a County Council member

McClure appointed himself to replace J.Michael Dowd, who also resigned from the GPA a few weeks ago. Only John Cusick opposed McClure's appointment. His argument was that the GPA needed to be independent from the County. I understand that argument, but if that is so, why do the by-laws insist that at least one member be from County Council?

A few weeks ago, in a strongly worded resolution, Northampton County Council requested Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus, the law firm representing the GPA, to resign. That wish has been granted,effective 5 pm today.

McClure has refused to pay any of that law firm's invoices since becoming Executive in January.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Updated: NorCo Solicitor Missy Rudas Charged With DUI

NorCo Solicitor Melissa Rudas has been charged with driving under the influence after a July 8 traffic stop in Bethlehem in which her blood alcohol was 0.08. That is the lowest level BAC under which a person can be presumed to be under the influence.

Rudas explained that she was on her way home after attending a high school graduation party for one of her daughter's friends. She was crossing Minsi Trail bridge from south side Bethlehem, but saw flashing lights up ahead. She made what may have been an illegal U-turn to avoid the area, and was pulled over by an officer. What had been ahead of her was a checkpoint, not an accident.

Rudas accepted complete responsibility. She apologized to her family, friends, clients and Executive Lamont McClure after last night's Council meeting. "I own this," she acknowledged. She said the officer who charged her was very professional.

She caused no accidents, nor was she speeding.

Executive Lamont McClure said he was “disappointed” by the charges, but added she is taking responsibility for her mistake. “She’s done a tremendous job as Solicitor and I won’t deprive the people of her expertise,” he said.

****

Personal observation: You can take this for what it's worth, but I've known Missy for over 30 years. Before she was a lawyer, I used to search real estate titles with her at the courthouse. After becoming a lawyer, she could easily have turned her nose up at me, but she remained friendly with me over the years. If she told me something, I could take it to the bank.

In the time I have known her, and at various functions, the only time I have ever seen her drink is during parties at her own home. I'm sure she did drink outside her home, but very little.

I am an alcoholic who was born with a 0.08 BAC. I am fortunate to have stopped drinking in 1985. Before that happened, I once passed out and rammed a few parked cars. I had to be taken to the hospital. The officer who helped me knew I had been drinking, but said nothing. On another occasion, I was with a fellow lawyer and we were both so drunk that I got lost driving. I had no idea where we were, which turned out to be the middle of a very foggy cornfield. A state trooper escorted us to our hotel and confiscated our keys. He was pretty pissed at us, but let us off the hook.

That last story might sound funny, but it would not be so funny if I had struck and killed a child.  My behavior was completely reckless. I would much rather be charged with a 0.08 BAC than to hurt another person.

I would recommend to anyone, that if you want to go out and drink, have a good time. But have no more than one drink if you are driving. It is very easy to get to 0.08.

And Missy, I admire and respect you even more than I did before for taking the hit instead of playing games.

(Updated at 9:44pm)

NorCo May Soon Be Checking Lehigh County Gas Stations

John Keppel
Two years ago, in a different time and different County Council, Northampton County's Department of Weights and Measures was denied a modest rate increase in a 5-4 vote. In fact, three members of Council (John Cusick, Hayden Phillips and Seth Vaughn) wanted to abolish the department completely and let the state get to it whenever it can. But times change. Recently, a Wind Gap gas station was shut down by Weights and Measures because, through no fault of the owner, there was water in the holding tank. After the water was pumped out and the tank was retested, the gas station was back in business  After that event, a county department of weights and measures began looking like a pretty good idea after all. In fact, it looks so good that Northampton County might soon expand into Lehigh County.

Weights and Measures is a county department that makes sure you're really getting a gallon of gas and that a pound of balogna is not just baloney. It even tests the parking meters to make sure you get an hour when you pay for an hour. Northampton is one of just 13 counties with its own Weights and Measures Department. Elsewhere, including Lehigh county, that function is now performed by the state Department of Agriculture thanks to a change in state law that allows counties to opt out ofproviding this service to consumers and businesses. 

"I do not think we need this service, this cost, this additional government in Northampton County," said Hayden Phillips, arguing instead for "less governmental oversight" when he was on Council two years ago.

There are only 37 inspectors statewide. Lehigh County gets a half inspector from the state. Northampton County's Sealer, John Keppel, has told Council that the state simply lacks the manpower "to do the in-depth testing that we do. Once you're two blocks off Main Street, for the most part, they don't know you exist."

Keppel went on to say that the state is so strapped for manpower that it actually certifies sellers and installers of scales, pumps and timing devices in use in many stores.
"That's like me coming into your store and saying, 'This scale or timing device is not any good. I'll sell you a new one.' It's like having the fox in the henhouse."
Two years ago, Ken Kraft delivered a withering criticism of  abdicating this department to the state in the name of  less government.

"[Y]ou're going to put your faith in the state when they can't even pass a budget for 15 months and they can't do anything like fix their own bridges and their own roads. That's a foolish road to go down." He later added, "As long as I'm here, there will be a Department of Weights and Measures."

Last night, a wary Keppel was before County Council again, but let Administrator Charles Dertinger and Executive Lamont McClure do most of the talking.

"We're protecting consumers," McClure said. Administrator Charles Dertinger told Council that the state would like Northampton County to take over inspections in Lehigh County. To do inspections in Lehigh County, Dertinger said there would need to be a memorandum of understanding  with both Lehigh County and the state. He said the state wants counties that still provide this service to expand into adjoining counties because its own manpower is stretched too thin.

Keppel's two-man department will soon be a three-man department, with a weights vehicle and a measuring vehicle. He said he already has made forays into Lehigh County to check the scales at some PIAA wrestling matches.

As Weights and Measures explains on the county website,
We belong to a unique group of professional regulatory officials that perform a valuable community service through out the country. In some states over 50% of an average family's income is spent on items sold by weight, measure or count. The program provides a set of weights and measures standards to which industry adheres to and consumers can count on. What would consumers do if this system did not exist? Bring their own measuring devices to make certain that they got their fair share for each purchase? It is not something each of us considers, but applying uniform weights and measures standards to commercial transactions is one of the most important supports to a strong national economy.

GPA: McClure Appoints Himself, Lori Vargo Heffner

Late last month, General Purpose Authority Chair Shawn Langen was invited to appear before County Council to explain some of strange happenings in what Executive Lamont McClure has called a "rogue" authority. Langen had publicly complained that it would be a "dog and pony show." After suggesting to Council that they lacked his understanding of high finance, he refused to answer a Lori Vargo Heffner question, asking him to explain what he did for a living. It might make him late for a dinner party.

In the wake of that disastrous performance, both Peg Ferraro and Mike Dowd resigned from the GPA's seven member board.

McClure has appointed himself and Lori Vargo Heffner to replace them.

Council is set to confirm these appointments tonight.

Earlier this year, McClure appointed Paul Anthony and Frank Pintabone to the Board.

What this means is that the Executive will soon be in control of the GPA.

Protecting Our Children

Kevin Dolan, NorCo CYF Director
Lamont McClure hails from coal cracker country, not the Indian subcontinent. But he subscribes fully to Mahatma Gandhi's belief that "the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members."  This was a major theme of McClure's campaign for NorCo Executive. Since his election, he has put that principle into practice. He is beefing up the Department of Human Services, adding personnel who can insure a safety net for our elderly, our young and those of us who have developmental issues.

Last night, McClure proposed eliminating two positions from Human Services and adding 11. These  including seven caseworkers for Children, Family and Youth (CYF), along with two casework supervisors and support staff.

Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski told County Council that each CYF caseworker manages between 15-17 cases at a time, almost twice the 9 case per caseworker recommended by the state. She added that overtime is excessive. between January 6 and June 2, CYF caseworkers have spent 514 hours of overtime doing paperwork. They spent another 2,512 hours of overtime in home visits. "We talk about retention, we're wearing out people, to say the least," she noted.

In determining how best to beef up his department, CYF Director Kevin Dolan invited the state to help him. The state will pay between 80-90% of the cost of this manpower.

"I'm not going to miss an opportunity to protect our children," said Lamont McClure  "We can't protect everyone all the time, but we can look ourselves in the mirror."

County Council will vote on this proposal tonight.

Mike Emili Reports - NorCo Capital Projects

NorCo Director of Public Works Mike Emili briefed Bob Werner's capital projects committee last night on the status of our physical plant:

Courthouse Campus
- Boilers have been replaced at the Juvenile Detention Center and Criminal Administration building. Boiler replacement at Domestic Relations is nearly complete.
- Milides Building. A meeting is planned with an engineer to  design a new parking lot after demolition of the Milides building. A curtain around the edge is being considered  to increase stability.         in September, after steam line is finished.

Jail
- Security upgrades are planned later this year. Bathroom showers are complete Kitchen flooring work will start in August. Paving in the area around central booking is complete.

Gracedale
- After a five year wait, three emergency generators are sitting in concrete pads. Conduit installation is underway. When ready, Executive Lamont McClure:has vowed to christen them as if they were ships. He told Council member John Cusick, that he could christen one of the generators.
- Kitchen flooring work complete.
- Two Elevators (#5 and #6) to be replaced this month.
- Steam line by boiler to be replaced in August
- Parking lot paving will start
- Arcade roof is leaking and in process of being repaired.
- Therapeutic garden in design stage.
Parks
- Home renovations at Louise Moore Park nearly complete

Bridges
- Bridge 115 (Mill St, Bath) goes out to bid this summer.
- P3 bridges. One bridge is done, two bridges are close to completion and another two bridges are underway.

Wamsley Wants More Bethlehem Dems to Vote

At one time, I thought there were three Democratic parties in Bethlehem. Bob Donchez and John Morganelli, who started out as errand boys for the party and former Congressman Fred B. Rooney, are now the old guard. They are still the biggest group of Bethlehem Democrats, which are virtually indistinguishable from Bethlehem Republicans. But there are numerous other factions. Club Callahan, whose leader at this point appears to be Willie Reynolds, is a bit to the left of the old guard. As you go more and more left, you'll see other pockets that include LV4All, South Side Democrats and, of course, the Lehigh U Birkenstocks. Some people consider themselves member of all these groups, like Becky Wamsley. It's a good thing, too, because she has chaired the City Dems since June.

Becky told me she first first got interested in politics a few years ago. I believe Trump's ascendancy may have sparked her. She told me that Bethlehem has a Democratic majority, but would like to see the precincts delivering more votes than in the past. She is more interested in seeing a unified Democratic vote than in siding with any of the factions.

She had opposition when she ran for party chair. But she told me she wants to move forward and to cause no rifts within her party. he goal is to increase Dem turnout in Bethlehem., and I hope she succeeds.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Allentown's Parks and Rec Director Out

Exactly one week ago, I sent this email to Lindsay Taylor, Allentown's Director of Parks and Recreation:
Ms. Taylor,

I publish a blog about local government in the LV. I notice that, for some time, you have been the Executive Director at Lower Macungie Youth Association, a 501c3 that fosters organized sports among the children in that community. You are also the full-time director of parks and recreation in Allentown.

Allentown's HRC requires that you devote full-time to your position as parks director. While I see nothing that bars outside employment on a part-time basis, I believe that your dual positions in Allentown and Lower Macungie creates the appearance of a conflict of interest. Parks and Recreation and a Youth Association are closely related, and I question whether your duties in Lower Mac present a conflict.

I have never seen you at an Allentown sports function in any of its parks. I think that is because you spend your evenings and weekends paying attention to Lower Mac.

Frankly, I consider the duties in Allentown should preclude your participation as a paid executive director to foster youth sports in another community. As laudable as that is, you should be fostering youth sports in Allentown, where you do not live.

Before I write about this, I want to give you an opportunity to explain why I am off base. In your answer, I would appreciate you telling me your salary at Allentown and Lower Macungie. I would rather just ask you rather than have you learn that someone is filing RTKs.

Thank you. Please let me know.
To be clear, I never thought Taylor has a legal conflict of interest. It's just that the busiest times at parks and recreation are also the peak periods for most youth sports groups. I never saw her at any Allentown sports function, and have attended many of them. Others tell me they've never seen her there either. She leaves her Allentown job most days by 2:30 pm, presumably for her other job. Part of my letter, in which I accuse her of being a nonresident, is wrong. She lives in Allentown.

Taylor never responded to my email, but I wanted to give her an opportunity to explain herself.

That will no longer be necessary.

I was surprised to see a Morning Call report that Taylor is now the former parks and recreation director. She'a a former Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski holdover, and Ray O'Connell should be able to fill that slot with someone who has his complete confidence.

Updated, 10:31 am: - The Incredible Ego of Michael Molovinsky - Molovinsky, on the same topic, says this: "[I]t would not have been inappropriate for the Morning Call to ask me for my opinion about Lindsay Taylor being let go."

College Roundtable on Student Alcohol Abuse Today

Northampton County's four colleges and universities will join DA John Morganelli today to address drinking at the four campuses and potentially outline a unified strategy toward keeping students safe, particularly freshmen during their initial weeks away from home.

“Obviously, college students will continue to drink,” Morganelli said. “My purpose in having this summit is to avoid the kinds of tragedies we have seen on a daily basis across the country and right here.”

Before the roundtable, representatives of Lehigh University, Moravian College , Lafayette College and Northampton Community College will hear presentations about alcohol abuse by college students.

NorCo Drug Court Gets $200,000 Grant

Craig Dally is Administrative Judge
of NorCo's Problem Solving Courts
Northampton County Drug Court has received a $200,000 grant from Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD). According to Problem Solving Court Administrator Stephanie Spencer, this money pays for training, education, monitoring, sober living activities and need-based assistance.

Northampton County's Drug Court is a rigorous five-phase program lasting 18 to 24 months in which graduates must meet the following requirements: (1)complete recommended treatments and aftercare; (2) achieve and maintain sustained sobriety; (3) get a GED; (4) obtain and maintain full-time employment; (5) engage in self-help recovery activities; (6) budget for and meet financial responsibilities including making regular payments on any costs, fines, and restitution they may owe; and (7) volunteer service.

The program not only ensures that individuals are in recovery and contributing to their communities and families, it has also saved over $1,000,000.00 in incarceration costs since its inception. The Court currently has an enrollment of fifty-two (52) active participants, and to date, it has had fourteen (14) graduates.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Freemansburg Ave Construction For Six More Years

Bethlehem Tp's Municipal Building is located at 4225 Easton Avenue
Eight years ago, Bethlehem Tp and St.Luke's Hospital entered into a three-phase Master Development Agreement for $40 million in improvements to Freemansburg Avenue, which is the main access point to the hospital's Anderson campus. Two of these phases are substantially completed, and construction on the third phase is imminent. Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted 4-0 at a lightly-attended July 16 meeting on new timetables for the final third phase. What this means is that all road work outside the hospital should be done within the next six years.

Voting for this agreement were Mike Hudak, Malissa Davis, John Merhotten and John Gallagher.

Tom Nolan was absent.

Solicitor Jim Broughal, who helped draft this "First Amendment to the Amended and Restated Master Development Agreement," pointed out that all costs of this $40 million project have been borne by the hospital. President Michael Hudak added that he travels frequently along Freemansburg Avenue, and has not been unduly inconvenienced. He observed that roadwork is done at night when possible and is usually suspended over the rush hour.

In other business, commissioners discussed a policy for admitting swimmers to the outdoor pool at the community center. As a result of overcrowding in weekend, pool use has been limited to residents and members of the community center.

Jackie Bittel, the community center's director, said that only time overcrowding has been a problem has been on weekends. She favors the approach used in Palmer Township, which limits pool use to residents and members on weekends. She did note that the temporary policy has resulted in about 80 new three-month memberships.

A three-month family membership at the Bethlehem Township Community Center can be purchased for $175 by residents and $260 by nonresidents. Single memberships are $60 for residents and $90 for nonresidents.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of Bethlehem Township Commissioners is set for Monday, August 6, at 7 pm at the Municipal Building located at 4225 Easton Avenue. The public is invited to participate at every meeting.

NorCo Has Record Year in Cash Seizure From Drug Dealers

DA  John Morganelli
The last 12 months have been very unprofitable for at least some Northampton County drug dealers. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, DA John Morganelli office has seized $280,907 in US currency. It's the most money his office has taken out of the hands of local drug lords within the past five years. In addition, his office has sold 10 vehicles.

Morganelli is acting under the authority of state law, which allows him to commence civil asset forfeiture actions against the property used in the commission of crime, not the person charged. This has evolved from the common law principle of deodand, under which instruments used to commit crime, as well as the profits, were declared forfeit.

Forfeitures are controversial

Prosecutors have long defended civil forfeiture as one of the tools in their arsenal to deter organized crime. But in Philadelphia, the Institute of Justice filed suit in 2014 when people, many of them with low incomes, were losing homes, bank accounts and cars. A mother whose son dealt from her home could see her home taken away, and often had little or no notice. In 2015, Philadelphia agreed to stop taking homes without providing better notice. In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously ruled that there must be strong evidence showing a home or car was used in a crime and that the owner consented. Governor Tom Wolf also signed a new law that allows parities to retain seized property during the pendency of criminal cases if they can show a hardship.

In Northampton County, DA John Morganelli said that he only brings civil forfeiture actions if there has been a conviction. But the a United States Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a case filed by a convicted Indiana heroin dealer whose $40,000 Land Rover was seized by police after he sold a few hundred dollars worth of heroin. This has been challenged as an "excessive fine" in violation of the Eighth Amendment, especially since the vehicle was purchased with life insurance proceeds, not drug money.

Community Outreach Program

In a July 16 news conference, Morganelli announced plans to use forfeiture proceeds to fund a Community Outreach Program.

First, he wants to meet with the legislative body of every municipality to determine how his office can better serve each community. he has already met Bangor Borough Council and is scheduled to visit Hellertown Borough Council in August. He pointed out that different communities have different needs.

Second, he will be sending a newsletter to county residents to outline the benefits of community block watch groups and explain how to get one started. using drug forfeiture proceeds, he is willing to provide start-up costs. This newsletter will also remind citizens of
National Night Out, scheduled this year for Tuesday, August 7, 2018.

Other Uses of Seized Drug Money

In addition to community outreach programs, forfeitures fund the salary of an assistant District Attorney, training, drug buys, equipment purchases. Since starting the drug forfeiture program, Morganelli's office has seized over $3 million. He credited Assistant District Attorney Julianne Danchak and County Detective Andre Stevens for their work in making the past 12 months a banner year for Northampton County.

Drug Forfeitures over Past Five Years

2013 -  $79,831
2014 - $120,544
2015 - $107,802
2016 - $140,290
2017 - $132,000
2018 - $280907