Friday, November 30, 2018

Should Pa Relax Absentee Ballots Law?

Under Pa.'s 87 year old election code, absentee ballots must be returned to the elections office by 5 pm on the Friday before the election. Absentee ballots received after that time are excluded, even if received before the election. Should that law be relaxed? State Rep. Tina Davis thinks so. In nearby Bucks County, she lost a state senate race against incumbent Sen. “Tommy” Tomlinson by a scant 74 votes. Because at least 216 absentee ballots went uncounted, she claimed her constitutional rights were violated. A Bucks County judge named Jeffrey Davis, not to be confused with Jefferson Davis, disagrees. He dismissed the lawsuit.

This question is the subject of a lawsuit by the ACLU. I understand there's a public interest in ensuring that every vote is counted. But in my view, there is an equally important public interest in a swift and certain count. When there are delays, as happened in Florida, public confidence in the entire system is undermined.

NorCo Sheriffs Bag Bobko

Northampton County Sheriff’s Department Criminal and Field Operations Units have apprehended Christopher Michael Bobko, 41, for failing to return to West Easton's Work-release facility on Saturday, November 17th. He was at-large until Wednesday, when he was picked up without incident at Fulmer Rd in the Nazareth area.

Last year, Bobko was charged and eventually entered a negotiated plea to receiving payment in advance from three different people for work he never performed. He also faces a trial for drunk driving and related summary offenses.

“We would like to thank the law enforcement professionals in the Sheriff’s department for their work in apprehending Mr. Bobko,” said Executive Lamont McClure. “Our Work Release programs are an important part of reducing recidivism, but the public has every right to expect that those enrolled follow the rules.”

Bobko now faces charges of Failure to Return and most likely, state prison.

One of the summary charges he faces is driving under suspension. I wonder how he got to Fulmer Road from West Easton.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

McClure Leaning Towards Forensic Center at Gracedale Campus

Although I was at a basketball game and hence unable to attend yesterday's budget hearing, I watched the video. Executive Lamont McClure informed NorCo Council the proposed forensic center may very well be located at the 911 Center at the Gracedale campus. Council member Peg Ferraro said she'd rather see it at St. Luke's Anderson campus, but McClure said the county would not own the land. "I think you're probably going to have the finest forensic center in the state," he predicted.

McClure also said public works will be quite busy next year with the P3 bridge project, construction of a forensic center, purchase of the human services building and renovating county parks. He also said there is a need for inmates with mental health issues to be able to move around, and is considering the construction of space that permits that to happen.

During a discussion of bridges, McClure complained the county spends the same money as Lehigh to fund regional organizations like The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, but only gets 1/3 of the federal dollars. He said part of the reason for that is the county failed to be the "squeaky wheel." He noted that needs to change.

Public Works Director Mike Emili told Council member John Cusick that the county is resuming a vector control program. Penn State Extension was doing it, but has decided to stop.

He told Council member Matt Dietz that major renovations are planned at Wy-Hit-Tuk Park, located at the southern boundary of the county in Williams Tp. It is a park that has been neglected for many years and underutilized, according to Emili. "I'd be surprised if 10% of the county residents know about Wy_Hit-Tuk Park," remarked Council VP Ron Heckman.

Maintenance barns at Louise Moore Park will be replaced long term, but not next year.

Over $334,000 has been budgeted for the demolition of the Milides building next year, along with the establishment of crosswalks.

In 2019, the county will repave the parking lot for the 911 building.

At the Courthouse complex, roof repairs are planned over judges' chambers. "We have a lot of problems with leaking," said Emili. He added exterior repairs are planned on stone walls at the courthouse. Public works will also repair steps in front of juvenile and probation building and repair a concrete handicapped ramp at the criminal administration building.

For the jail tier renovations, $200,000 is set aside. Cusick wondered whether this fund is adequate, and Emili said it's adequate for the engineering.

At Gracedale, a bathroom project is planned in 2019. Broken tiles pose a slipping threat. Four floors with 15 rooms each are slotted for repairs this year. In addition, the nurse call system improvements will continue.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

John Stoffa Report

I talked to former NorCo Executive John Stoffa on Monday. Although he has blocked my cell, I got through using someone else's phone. He sounded very cheerful and complimented Lamont McClure. He also admitted that he's still ugly, but not as ugly as me.

Easton School Board Kills Angle Nomination as NCC Trustee

Northampton Community College is governed by a Board of Trustees that currently includes 14 members. There should be 15. Bangor's former School Board President, Pam Colton, was a trustee, but her term expired in June. Unanimously, the Bangor Area School Board selected Ron Angle to succeed her. But his nomination was killed. All school boards contributing to the college have a say. All but two had no problem with Angle. Bethlehem and Easton did. Because they kick in more money than other school districts, their No votes outweighed everyone else.

As you might imagine, Bangor's School Board resented having their choice rejected. Though Angle is an ornery bastard, he's their bastard.. That's who they want to sit on the Board of Trustees. So unanimously, the sent his name in again. Once again, this choice was fine with all but two school districts. Bethlehem said No, and at Easton's School Board meeting last night, the motion to nominate Angle died for a lack of a second.

Robert Fehnel, an Easton School Director, is the Chairman of Northampton Community College's Board of Trustees. The trustees, who enjoy their lobster dinners and filet mignons, are concerned that someone like Angle might spotlight what's really going on.

what's really going in is that Northampton Community College is sitting on a ton of money. Yet all the school districts it serves have to kick in every year. Bangor is paying close to $500,000. Other school districts pay more. This money was certainly needed when the college was first formed in 1967, but is it needed now. Angle has questioned this funding formula, along with former school director Bob Cartwright. Given the importance of education, this funding may still be needed. But you need people who will ask the tough questions.

A last night's school board meeting, there was no discussion of agenda matters. Items were lumped together and voted on together. This is because they were discussed in the back room or possibly at a committee hearing. When Angle's nomination came up, there also was no debate. Though one member did nominate him, it's pretty clear to me that Fehnel blackballed him in private discussions.

Ron was there, dressed in suit and tie. He spoke in support of his nomination, saying he would bring his knowledge of finance to the community college. One board member actually laughed at him.

Under state law, "The composition of the board of trustees shall be representative of the geographical area to be served by the college and shall include members of the professions, business, industry and other organizations or lay persons." Thanks to the weighted votes of Bethlehem and Easton, the slate belt is being denied representation. The board is also short of entrepreneurs. It's also short of true fiscal conservatives. The college hypocritically brags that it promotes "diversity and inclusion," but that pious platitude has no application to conservative viewpoints.

McClure Taps Emrick Foe For Staff

Northampton County Exec Lamont McClure has hired Amy Cozze to join his staff in Northampton County. He told me she will split her time between working for Public Safety Director Kenm], but Kraft at the jail and Administrator Charles Dertinger. I neglected to ask her salary will get that information.

Cozze is a lifelong LV resident who earned her Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Pittsburgh, where she majored in Psychology and minored in Business Administration. She then worked at Deerfoot Auto Parts, a successful family-owned auto recycling and service business located in Wind Gap. She also started her own cake bakery in Nazareth.

You may remember her as a candidate for State Rep. She ran against incumbent Joe Emrick. He smeared her at the end of the race with a negative mailer and TV ad attacking her for sending "foreign substances" to the Nazareth police. It was apparently the result of Cozze and a business colleague using glitter while making decorations for some event in Nazareth. Glitter tends to stick to everything, and it got stuck to a few paid parking tickets.

Though this was completely innocuous, Cozze received threatening calls. Someone even let the air out of her tires.

It was a cheap shot, typical of Emrick.

Unless McClure is creating a new position, no Council approval is needed for this hire.

Cozze, along with Becky Bartlett and Tina Smith, is McClure's third hire of someone in the Nazareth area.

He did offer me a job as Solicitor, but I wanted too much money.

Updated 3 pm:  Ms. Cozze is working for Administrator Charles Dertinger and Director of Court Services Ken Brown, not Ken Kraft. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hyman Gets Green Light to Redevelop Adelaide ... Again

Adelaide Silk Mill in 1907
Allentown's Adelaide Silk Mill, first opened in 1881, was at one time one of the world's largest silk mills  In 1953, Allentown was the largest silk city in the world. No more. Spinning stopped in 1964. Though various businesses cam to the Adelaide, they went. Plans to redevelop the former factory into an apartment building failed when both Lehigh County and Allentown School District refused to place this eyesore in a Keystone Opportunity Zone. This would have exempted the property owner and all its tenants from virtually all taxes except federal income tax. This blighted structure, a fading reminder of Allentown's past, continued to sit empty until it was purchased by developer Nat Hyman. He's planning 184 apartments in an adaptive re-use. He's asked for no tax breaks. He received a green light from both Allentown's Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board in 2017 after hours of testimony. This included expert testimony that the building was above the flood plain. Yet when it came time for Hyman to seek building permits, they were mysteriously denied. After a two-hour hearing before the Zoning Hearing Board last night that should have taken all of two minutes, Hyman was finally granted a "variance" from the flood-proofing requirements of the zoning ordinance. He can pick up his construction permits just as soon as his engineer certifies that filling in the basement, as the City wanted him to do, is a really stupid idea.

Hyman was represented in this matter by prominent zoning attorneys Bill Malkames and John VanLuvanee. Allentown was represented by no one. The building inspector who refused to issue construction permits was a no-show. Same for the Solicitor's office. There simply was no legal basis for denying the permits. In fact, the denial itself could have been appealed. VanLuvanee, in an apparent attempt to allow inspectors to save face, said he was seeking a variance and had no intention of arguing anyone was wrong. But clearly, the inspector was. Hyman referred to him as "overzealous." I personally believe there were political overtones in this denial. That was pretty apparent when the Managing Director came and quietly took notes.

Now VanLuvanee had three witnesses - Nat Hyman, civil engineer Peter Terry and architect Stewart Gouck. Instead of putting everyone through hours of testimony, the attorney presented summaries of what each would say and then asked each witness to agree. Each did. This seemed good enough for Chairman Robert Knauer. It even seemed good enough for member Scott Unger, although he wants an engineer to certify that the Adelaide will not be floating away anytime soon. But Alan Salinger, a former city bureaucrat, had thousands of questions, some of which were downright nonsensical.

Salinger's namesake, J.D., once said, "I don't exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it." That pretty much sums up Alan. From his comments about the "histerocity" of the building to his suggestion that Hyman be somehow required to shore up a flood wall along Jordan Creek, which he doesn't even own, Salinger even worried that the feds might deny grants to the City if the Zoning Hearing Board grants what it already granted well over a year ago. And he took offense when Hyman called the building inspector overzealous.

What should have offended him is that the building inspector was a no-show who wasted everyone's time and money.  This especially includes the time and money of the one developer in Allentown who is actually providing affordable housing without handouts through the adaptive re-use of historic buildings.

City Council member Daryl Hendricks smeared Hyman recently, saying it was time for him to put on his "big boy pants." Hendricks should ask that question of the city inspectors and lawyers who failed to show last night. While he's at it, he should ask it of himself.

The story I saw was a developer who asks for nothing and is providing the city exactly what it needs. I also believe the hoops Hyman is forced to jump through are certainly political and possibly something far worse.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Christmas City Tickets Shoppers, Easton Ignores Neighborhoods

It's no surprise that Bethlehem is raising its parking rates again. After all, someone has to pay for Dennis Benner's parking garage. Heaven forbid that it be him. Bethlehem hands out tax incentives to developers like candy cane. For the citizens, it's coal in the form of yet another tax hike. For visitors who actually shop and help struggling small businesses, their trees are decorated with parking tickets.

One NY family who visited the Lehigh Valley this weekend draws an interesting distinction between Bethlehem and Easton. Unlike Bethlehem, Easton had free parking this holiday weekend and will continue free parking on weekends until Christmas. Here's a letter she sent to Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez:
My family and I visited the Lehigh Valley area this weekend for Black Friday shopping. We shopped in Easton, Bethlehem and the Sands outlets; we spent more than $2,000 supporting your local businesses. While Mayor Panto enabled visitors to shop this weekend by suspending meter parking, we were surprised to received a $10 parking ticket while supporting some of your local shops on 3rd Street in Bethlehem on November 24.

I will pay this ticket since I did break the law by not feeding the meter. Next year, we will shop in the towns that provide visitors with a suspended meter courtesy while supporting your local businesses. Downtown Bethlehem is scratched from our shopping stops.
I am informed Mayor Donchez has informed her he will discuss this matter with the Executive Director of the Parking Authority. That discussion should have been had a long time ago.

Don't leave here thinking Easton is blameless. Mayor Sal Panto does deserve credit for suspending parking enforcement over the holiday season. But as Terrence Miller observes in a recent letter to the editor, Easton has pretty much failed to improve the infrastructure in its neighborhoods.
To put it in perspective, while the city leverages debt by giving away a $6 million parcel of land to the Da Vinci Science City project within a $30 million commitment, bank rolls $360,000 on behalf of Billy's Diner fit-out while losing millions of dollars on the City Hall and Transportation Center, it can't afford a mere $15,000 for traffic-calming signs to protect children from speeding cars on a single street that cuts through the West Ward.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Who Will Replace John Morganelli?

If  you believe  John Morganelli is a good District Attorney, his logical successor is his first deputy, Terry Houck. He earned his law degree at Temple while simultaneously  patrolling the streets of Philadelphia as a cop.

His strength is that he is a professional prosecutor. He spent 14 years in the Bucks County DA's office before coming to Northampton. He has tried numerous high-profile cases here. This includes the recent prosecution of  Daniel Clary, who was convicted of attempting to kill two state troopers in a shoot-out on Route 33. One of these trooper, Seth Kelly, was shot four times and was in a medically induced coma for four days.

Terry's weakness is that he is a professional prosecutor. He is unfamiliar with the rocky reefs of NorCo politics.

Another top contender is Judge Leonard Zito. Why would a judge be interested in the DA's job? Because Judge Zito will soon have to step down, even as a senior judge. Under recent rule changes announced by the Pa. Supreme Court, counties with nine or more judges are barred from using senior judges.

Judge Zito's strength is that he can easily navigate through the turbulent waters of NorCo politics. He has made lots of friends. His weakness is that he may be perceived as just a tad too political. He has used his connections to become a judge, Chief Public Defender and Council Solicitor. He is no Cincinnatus, aching to give up his sword and return to his farm. 

Both of these possible contenders are highly qualified and would be excellent DAs.

It is widely believed that many more attorneys may seek this position.

NoCo Jail Adds Nine New COs

In a ceremony at the courthouse on Wednesday, Northampton County's Department of Corrections provided badges and certificates to nine graduates of the 61st class of its training academy.

“We cannot express enough our deep gratitude to these fine men and women who have chosen to protect the health and safety of their fellow officers and the inmates they watch over,” said Executive Lamont McClure.

These new Corrections Officers are: Daniel Castro, Noah Wilder, Aaron Arizmendi, Stanton Santos, Aiden Pheiffer, Bryce Bohannon, Jeremy Walker, Tiffany Wilson, and Cameron Wehr.

The starting pay for a new CO is NorCo is $16.60 per hour, compared to $19.31 in Lehigh.

Employees who only insure themselves in NorCo walk have a net bi-weekly pay of $1,221.91, compared to a net bi-weekly pay in Lehigh County of $1,392.08. But if you get family coverage, the NorCo take home pay is $1,195.34, compared to $1,247.21 in Lehigh. Prescription, dental or vision coverage is not included and if you want them, that costs you another $78.42 per pay.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

US Military Might in Doubt

The greatest Army in the history of mankind, especially after the Marian reforms, was the Roman legion. They were professional and highly disciplined soldiers who served for 25 years. "Their exercises are unbloody battles, and their battles bloody exercises," remarked Josephus. Many elements of the American military, like the heavy reliance on non-commissioned officers, can be traced to the Roman legion. This army ultimately failed, not because of their amazing soldiers, but because of a government that failed to finance it properly. As a result, that empire faded away as well. The United States military is in serious danger of failing as well, thanks to a government that refuses to fund it properly.

A report by the bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission, released last week, has issued a stark warning:
The security and wellbeing of the United States are at greater risk than at any time in decades. America’s military superiority—the hard-power backbone of its global influence and national security—has eroded to a dangerous degree. Rivals and adversaries are challenging the United States on many fronts and in many domains. America’s ability to defend its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests is increasingly in doubt. If the nation does not act promptly to remedy these circumstances, the consequences will be grave and lasting.
The report continues,
The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia. The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously. Additionally, it would be unwise and irresponsible not to expect adversaries to attempt debilitating kinetic, cyber, or other types of attacks against Americans at home while they seek to defeat our military abroad. U.S. military superiority is no longer assured and the implications for American interests and American security are severe.
One cause for concern is that China, with 350 ships, is now larger than the US Navy. We rely heavily in the aircraft carrier, and China has developed a "carrier killer," a missile with an 800-mile range that has the ability to sink a carrier. The range of carrier aircraft is just 550 miles. Though we do surround carriers with guided missile destroyers, China could just send more than we can handle.

I'll agree that, over the years, some military spending is absurd. There are numerous examples. Democrats will soon take over the House. According to their platform, "Democrats have made modernizing our military a top priority while also eliminating outdated programs and unnecessary spending." I am very concerned that too many Democrats will instead adopt the Pollyannish view that we should just cut spending, instead of spending more wisely.

The best way to prevent a war is to be ready to fight one and win. We no longer are in that position.

Lehigh County Sez No to Retiree COLA

At their Oct 25 meeting, Northampton County's Retirement Board voted unanimously, on motion of Executive Lamont McClure, to award county retirees a 1.7% cost-of-living raise in 2019.

Lehigh County has a Retirement Board, too. Members include Executive Phillips Armstrong, Commissioners Marty Nothstein and Percy Dougherty, Controller Glenn Eckhart, Ed Hozza, Tim Reeves, Ed Sweeney and possibly Judith Johnston.

Their Board last met in November. Glenn Eckhart, who is the Secretary of the Retirement Board, informs me that at that time, the Board voted unanimously against granting a COLA to Lehigh County retirees. The minutes of this meeting are unavailable until approved by the board.

So the grass may not be greener in Lehigh County after all.

I have also received some documentation about the $3 per hour disparity in wages paid at the two counties. Though the wages may be higher, employees with families tend to lose out on health care benefits. I'll have more detail later this week or Monday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Bethlehem Tp To Advertise Nine Percent Tax Hike

Finance Director Andrew  Freda
At their Nov 18 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted unanimously to advertise a budget for next year that imposes a nine per cent tax hike. This decision follows three budget hearings. The proposed spending plan can be reviewed on the township website and can be physically inspected at the municipal building for the next 30 days. A final vote is planned for December 17.

For the first time, the Township is considering a fire tax set at 0.15 mills. Under state law, money collected through a fire tax must be set aside in a separate account and may be used only for the township's two volunteer fire departments.

At the current real estate tax of 7.09 mills, the annual tax bill is $647 for the average taxpayer. With an increase in millage to 7.74 mills, taxes will increase to $705 for the average homeowner.

In addition to real estate taxes, the Township imposes an earned income tax (0.5%). The annual earned income tax payment per household will be $415.

Why a tax hike? Manager Doug Bruce's detailed budget message cites several reasons. Under negotiated union contracts, wages have increased between two and three per cent. Health insurance costs have risen 8.7%. Debt service next year on four loans over the past nine years will be over $2 million. The cost of the pension fund has increased. Workers compensation insurance has skyrocketed 27%. Bruce describes the Township a "mature, nearly built-out municipality where annual revenues have not quite been keeping up with annual expenses for the better part of a decade."

Resident Bill Spanogle complained, "You want to raise my taxes, and my fixed income neighbors are not very happy about that." He wanted to know where the extra money is going, and complained there should be an executive summary explaining the need in half a page. He also argued a tax hike should be voted on by the public.

In other business, Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a $15 rate hike for nonresidents at the community center. They alsoagreed to advertise an intermunicipal cooperation agreement with Hanover Tp and Bethlehem City to provide sewer service for a development proposed along township Line Road. They voted to approve a settlement agreement with Birchwood commons that will permit the development of an old trailer park along Freemansburg Avenue. They also voted unanimously to elect Malissa Davis as Vice president of the Board.

The five Commissioners now are President Mike Hudak, Vice President Malissa Davis, and Commissioners Kristine Blake, John Gallagher and John Merhotten.

Kristine Blake Sworn in as Bethlehem Tp's Newest Comm'r

Kristine Blake and son
Better late than never. Attorney Kristine Blake was a few minutes late for her first meeting as a Bethlehem Tp Commissioner. The audience still applauded when she took the oath of office, administered by Judge Jennifer Sletvold during the November 18 meeting.

She replaces the late Tom Nolan, who died in office after three decades of service.

Aside from Blake, former Commissioners Art Murphy and Tim Brady had applied for the post. Commissioners Mike Hudak and John Merhotten favored Murphy, while Commissioners Malissa Davis and John Gallagher wanted Blake.

It was up to Frank Pologruto, who chairs the Township's Vacancy Board, to break the tie at a meeting on November 5.

Blake, an attorney at Pro Unlimited in East Hanover, N.J., was a Northampton County Assistant District Attorney. Her husband Bill is the Assistant District Attorney in charge of the investigating grand jury.

A Democrat, Blake will serve the remainder of Nolan's term of office. It expires at the end of 2019.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Morganelli to Step Down as DA

John Morganelli has decided against an eighth term as NorCo’s District Attorney. I believe he has served in that position longer than anyone in county history. Rumor is that he plans to run for judge. Although I’m sure he’d be good, I just don’t see him as happy in that role. He would be one of nine judges and barred from taking an active role in politics.

Over the past three decades, Morganelli has been the most effective DA I have ever seen. He will be nearly impossible to replace.

Statement of Northampton County District Attorney

"Twenty eight years ago, I had the honor of being elected district attorney of Northampton County. My years have been rewarding and professionally satisfying. Today, however, I am announcing that I will not seek re-election for another term as DA in 2019.

"During my tenure as district attorney, I have implemented many initiatives that have transformed the office from a part time political office to a full time career, prosecutors office. I am proud of the many achievements I have had including but not limited to the following:

* Leading the fight to make the DA a full time job
* Eliminating part time political positions and replacing them with full time career prosecutors
* Hiring an equal number of male/female prosecutors including the appointment of the first woman to serve as First Deputy District Attorney
* Hiring the county's first and second African American Assistant District Attorneys, the first Hispanic ADA and the first African American County Detective
* Creating the Northampton County Chiefs Association
* Creating Specialized Prosecution Units - Violent Crime, Domestic Violence, Juvenile, Sexual Assault, Drugs, DUI, White Collar Crime, Appellate and Grand Jury Units.
* Leading the fight for a Mental Health Court
* Revamping the Northampton County District Attorneys County Wide Drug Task Force and confiscating over $3 million dollars from drug dealers
* Impaneling Northampton County's first grand jury in 30 years to investigate unsolved murders and other crime
* Personally and Successfully prosecuting 25 first degree murder cases to verdict
* Being the first Northampton County DA to serve as President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association

"I want to thank everyone who has worked with me in the office over the years. All of my present and former assistant district attorneys, county detectives, victims' advocates and clerical staff have always been my partners in helping keep our communities safe. Without their hard work and dedication, I could not have done this job. I also want to thank the men and women in our local, state and federal law enforcement agencies who day in and out do a tremendous job.

"I know that I will miss the challenges of this job. I feel that I have accomplished everything I set out to do and more. But there comes a time when we must move on to seek new challenges. For me that time is now. The first part of my legal career was in private practice serving my clients. The second part was my career as DA. Soon I will announce what I want to do for the remainder of my career. In the meantime, I will continue to lead this office and continue to be an outspoken advocate for victims of crime and for safe communities."

Basketball Weekend With DeSales, Lafayette

This is one kind of terrier. 
This was a basketball weekend for me. It started with an exciting weekend tournament at Salisbury University, where DeSales University dropped one and won one. It ended with Lafayette College's home opener against St. Francis Brooklyn before an enthusiastic crowd in Easton. Though Lafayette was down by as many as 25 in the second half, Leopard sophomores Alex Petrie and Justin Jaworski kept the game within reach. The 84-72 final score could just as easily have been the other way around.

My grandson plays for DeSales. He tells me college is a much quicker paced game than high school, but loves it. His smile as the team warms up makes the trip to watch him worth it.

His Central teammate, Jay Vaughan, is another one of my favorites. He is at Lafayette and loves that school so much he turned down opportunities elsewhere.

What I like best about both of these young men is they are team players.

On Sunday, I arrived a little early for the Lafayette game. I bought a ticket, assuming that I could sit anywhere. Naturally, I picked the best seats I could find at center court. When I saw the rest of the gang that came to watch Jay, I called them over to sit with me. So there were about six of us, sitting in perhaps the best seats in the house.

A woman sitting in front of us turned around and told me, very nicely, that we might have to move. She explained some of her friends join her at games. They sit exactly where we were seated.

Who the hell did this lady think she is? What made her think she could just tell my friends and I to move from seats we already had? Doesn't she know possession is 9/10 of the law? These were the thoughts going through my mind. But strangely, I agreed to move if her friends showed. She was so damn nice it disarmed me. Plus, I was with a group of very nice people.

At this point, I pulled out my ticket and looked at it. It was assigned seating. I was sitting in someone else's seat. My actual seat was somewhere in the library, second floor.

Then, on the Jumbotron, there was a video explaining how great Lafayette is. It started with remarks from college president Alison Byerly.

That was the lady who had just told me I was in the wrong seat.

Little did she know that she had just interacted with the Lehigh Valley's meanest and most ornery bottom-feeding blogger.

To make up for my uncharacteristic pleasant behavior, I let the air out the tires of the St. Francis team bus.

Now let me tell you about the game. Lafayette started off with seven unanswered points. The Leopards dominated 7-3 at the first break.

This is another kind of terrier
Then the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers, a basketball squad with 12 players over 6'3" and four players who are 6'8" and above, introduced someone into the game who is more like their team name than any of the giants on the court.

This terrier is sophomore Chauncey Hawkins. 5'8" tall and 155 pounds.

A terrier is hardly the kind of dog that instills fear, especially when its owner dresses it up like a little doll. As any terrier owner will tell you, this is a mistake. Despite its small size, this is one smart, fast and completely fearless canine.

Hawkins displayed all these qualities the moment he made his appearance. His jumper at 11:10 put his team in the lead, 11-10, and the team stayed there. What surprised me about his play was his ability to penetrate. Most shorter players rely on the three-point shot. but Hawkins also went inside, scoring 18 of his team-high 26 points by driving to the rim. He kept going even after being knocked down on one effort in which he took a nasty shot to the ear.

Hawkins also has a future career in Hollywood. On several occasions, he ran into a defender and would shout out and grimace, drawing a foul. This resulted in 10 free throws, and he sunk six.

On defense, he kept close without fouling, just making it harder for the bigger player to move.

Lafayette turned the ball over too much. Eighteen of St. John's 84 points came courtesy of Leopard turnovers.

My assessment is that Lafayette is a much better team than the one that played on Sunday. It will find its groove. They will be at home again on Wednesday, November 28, hosting Cornell.

As for DeSales, 2-2, there should be a very exciting game on Tuesday when they visit Moravian College, 2-2. Moravian lost to Johns Hopkins 81-75. DeSales lost to Johns Hopkins, 85-78.

Friday, November 16, 2018

NorCo Hit By 1.4 M Cyber Attacks on Election Day

Northampton County is hit by an average of 27,000 cyber attacks daily, according to Executive Lamont McClure. On Election Day, there were 1.4 million. None succeeded, McClure reported to County Council at their November 15 meeting. He said most of the attacks originated from Ukraine. He added that the County currently blocks 44 counties. 

In other business, County Council voted 7-2 to table a $20,000 grant of table game taxes for the restoration of the 187' tall steeple at Easton's First United Church of Christ. Voting Yes were John Cusick, Peg Ferraro, Bill McGee, Matt Dietz, Kevin Lott, Bob Werner and Lori Vargo Heffner. Voting No were Council President Ron Heckman and Tara Zrinski.

The previous day, Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni advised Council that the proposed grant appears to be consistent with the Establishment Clause. But Council members, particularly Heckman and Dietz, expressed concern that the county is buying a lawsuit.

Though the resolution has been tabled, the grant is still a part of the budget. A budget amendment is needed to remove the grant in its entirety.   

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NorCo Council Poised to Approve Steeple Grant in Easton

Based on an equivocal opinion from Solicitor Chris Spadoni, Northampton County Council is poised to gift $20,000 for the steeple restoration of Easton's United Church of Christ. During a hearing on this matter, one congregant called it a "beacon of hope and faith." That's more or less why no government funds should be spent. This grant promotes religion, and one specific kind of religion over others.

Lori Vargo Heffner, who was on the selection committee that made the original mistake, plans tpperpetuate her error and vote for it. She claimed that Council has in the past given gifts to churches. I defy her to cite one example in which Northampton County donated any money to a church so it could promote its religion. Even if it's true, that's no reason to continue violating the Establishment Clause.

Matt Dietz, participating by phone, gave an explanation that is borderline moronic. He claims it is "almost" discrimination NOT to promote this church and its religion. He should read the First Amendment.

Bob Werner is supporting it because he represents the Easton district and it's historic. The Constitution applies in Easton, too, Bob.

My guess is that Peg Ferraro, and John Cusick will go along, meaning there are at least five or more votes

Ron Heckman is a No. He dislikes the support of one specific church. He is also quite concerned that Northampton County is buying a lawsuit. I believe several groups could take the county to court, wasting far more money than the grant is worth.

What this is really about is taking care of a connected insider, Mike Dowd.

Lizzie Hyman's Struggling With Tree of Life Massacre

Nat Hyman's daughter Lizzie is a sophomore at Georgetown University. This Jesuit school experienced a 275% increase in hate crimes in 2017. Her thoughtful op-ed in The Hoya is worth sharing.

Just two weeks have passed since a shooter killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. While the rest of the world is moving on to the next big story, the Jewish community is still mourning. As a Jewish student at Georgetown University, I have spent these past two weeks attempting to wrap my head around what occurred — but I am still struggling.

While devastating for the entire Jewish community, this hate crime has been particularly difficult for me to cope with. My best friend from high school is the grandson of Alvin Berkun, the former rabbi at the Tree of Life synagogue and a current congregant.

Dressed and ready to walk out the door that morning, Berkun had to take his wife to the hospital after she had a bad fall. That was the first Saturday in 35 years that he missed synagogue.

Every Saturday, Berkun sits in the same seat.

The people in front of him, to his left and to his right were the ones killed.

When I chose to attend a Jesuit school, I knew I would face difficulties because of the small Jewish community on campus. But, to my surprise, the difficult part about being Jewish at Georgetown has not been the lack of representation but rather Georgetown’s failure to address issues that affect different religious communities.

Last year, as I began my four years at Georgetown, vandals drew swastikas in bathroom stalls and on hallway walls across campus. Students and faculty talked and wrote about it, but as soon as the story was told, the incidents became old news. Though it seems like everyone on campus continued with their lives normally, the Jewish community was neither able nor allowed to. We had to be more careful about our surroundings and cope with the fact that many of us did not feel safe at our own university.

In the days following the shooting, I received several text messages from my non-Jewish high school friends telling me that their thoughts were with me, even before they knew that Berkun was affiliated with the synagogue. Yet only one friend at Georgetown reached out to me to see if I was okay, and none came to stand with me at the brief mourning service in Dahlgren Quad.

I am not mad — I know my friends here care about me. However, they do not realize that caring for me extends to caring about issues that affect the Jewish community, even if the events do not directly involve me.

During the mourning service, Georgetown classes continued, practices were held and lives went on as normal. No one knew to care about the shooting because, despite the mourning service that was announced through one email by campus ministry, Georgetown did not do anything to highlight the importance of this tragic event.

A campus that cares more about the return of a famous alumnus like Bradley Cooper (COL ’98) than a tragic hate crime affecting many members of the community must re-evaluate its priorities. Not only did University President John J. DeGioia fail to attend the mourning service due to a business conflict, but he made no attempt to address the community himself.

When drawings of swastikas and synagogues under attack do not affect your safety, it is easy to push them out of your mind. But some students and faculty on this campus —perhaps your close friends and mentors — fear for their lives. Positive messages chalked in Red Square and Facebook posts are important, but they are not enough.

The Jewish community feels itself under attack yet again, and I now regret all the times I did not speak out for those who could not do so themselves. I urge you not to make the same mistake I did.

Even if Georgetown’s administration does not work to keep students informed, everyone must become more aware, stand by their friends and speak up. It is time for all of us to take initiative about the things that truly matter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Tale of Two Counties

Lehigh County is currently hiring 911 dispatchers at a starting salary of $42,016. That's $20.20 per hour. With shift differential and OT, it's more.

Northampton County is currently hiring 911 dispatchers at a starting annual salary of $36,355. That's $17.48 per hour.

If you can do the same job in either county, why on earth would you work at one that pays $6,000 less per year?

This is why NorCo is unable to keep 911 dispatchers ... and corrections officers ... and nurses ... and clerks.

This needs to change. Current pay is very unfair to NorCo workers.

FBI Reports That Hate Crimes Targeting Jews Rose 37% in 2017

Monday night, I had breakfast for supper at the local diner. I sat at the counter and ordered two poached eggs, dry rye toast, fruit and coffee. Sitting a few seats away from me was a man about my age (Old Fart #1). He was watching TV and slowly getting angry. He was dressed in working man's clothing, and was soon joined by another old fart (Old Fart #2), who ordered chocolate cake.

I was more interested in the very pretty waitress than those guys, but it was apparent that Old Fart #1 was very upset. I kept hearing the word "Trump" and figured that he must be a supporter upset about something the libs are doing. After all, he was an angry old white man like I read about on Facebook and various news stories. .

My Trump-profiling was off. Old Fart #1 actually detested Trump, and was angry about something

Maybe he reads my blog.

Old Fart #1 then began to complain about Israel, saying it can do whatever it wants because it has all the money on the world. Old Fart #2 disagreed

Old Fart #1 insisted he was right and then went on to say that Jews run this country, too. Old Fart #2 disagreed.

Old Fart #1 was loud enough at this point that both I and our pretty waitress could hear him. He had no idea whether she or I were Jews.

Instead of interrupting this conversation, I ate my eggs. Old Fart#2 was doing alright.

Maybe I should have said something. On Tuesday, I learned that the FBI is reporting a 17% rise in hate crimes in 2017. Hate crimes targeting Jews rose 37%.

What's scary about this data is that 91 cities with populations over 100,000 either failed to report any data to the FBI or actually said there was none.

According to Voice of America, this surge is the biggest since 9/11.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

In 2020, Will Trump Go Gentle into that Good Night?

Authoritarian Donald Trump, who has returned to the United States after an underwhelming trip to Europe, has given us all a preview of what could happen in the 2020 Presidential election. It started on Thursday. It continued on Monday. He is complaining about close races in Florida, Georgia and Arizona with tweets like these:
Law Enforcement is looking into another big corruption scandal having to do with Election Fraud in #Broward and Palm Beach.

As soon as Democrats sent their best Election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias, to Broward County they miraculously started finding Democrat votes. Don’t worry, Florida - I am sending much better lawyers to expose the FRAUD!

Rick Scott was up by 50,000+ votes on Election Day, now they “found” many votes and he is only up 15,000 votes. “The Broward Effect.” How come they never find Republican votes?

Mayor Gillum conceded on Election Day and now Broward County has put him “back into play.” Bill Nelson conceded Election - now he’s back in play!? This is an embarrassment to our Country and to Democracy!

In the 2016 Election I was winning by so much in Florida that Broward County, which was very late with vote tabulation and probably getting ready to do a “number,” couldn’t do it because not enough people live in Broward for them to falsify a victory!

Just out — in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON’T MATCH. Electoral corruption - Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!

Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!

The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!
I understand frustration with vote-counting, especially in Florida. Re-counts might take us past Thanksgiving. There is a strong public interest in certainty and speedy results. These concepts appear to be alien to Florida election officials. Their delay undermines public confidence in election results.

Trump is pouring gasoline on this fire. With no evidence, he has claimed "corruption" and adds ballots are "massively infected."

He's been doing this for some time. After losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential, he claimed that 3-5 million of her votes were fraudulent. He even formed a since disbanded commission to get to the bottom of things.

My concern is that, after losing the 2020 Presidential, he will claim election fraud and dismiss the results as illegitimate. He will also reject media accounts, which have become biased against him, as "fake news." A large minority of Americans will support him in the overthrow of democracy.

This is why I refer to Trump as authoritarian, and as often as I can. This is why Congress, more than ever, needs to be a check on Presidential power.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Veteran's Day Apology



Hard as may be for you to believe, I am a US Army vet. I was a field artillery reservist for eight years. This was before all but two Reserve combat units were abolished. And for good reason. We sucked. I was a terrible soldier. But my proudest moment is when I was killed during a mock war in one of the many evaluations we failed. We were being tested by the 82d Airborne, and our monitor told me he really liked the way I died. In a slow southern drawl, he told me he'd be "honored" to have me in his unit. So I've got that going for me.

Before the Persian Gulf War broke out, I volunteered to join the many reservists who had also signed up. Initially, I was accepted. There was a going away party for me at the courthouse. Others took me to lunch. I was very popular.

I made it as far as battalion headquarters in Burlington. There I was told that there was a very good chance my unit would soon be activated. They needed me there because I was a Chief of Smoke. But they'd be "honored" to have me.

When I returned to the courthouse the following day, I was pretty much the laughing stock. I still hear about it. At my Reserve unit, I soon realized it had been pretty much gutted. All the young guys were gone. Some went on to become helicopter pilots and tank commanders. Every now and then, one would call or even drop in.

Some say I was passed over because I was too old. I prefer to think I was too good-looking.

Quite obviously, my experience in the military pales in comparison to those who served in combat, as did my father and daughter. Those are heroes. Unfortunately, some go astray when they return. We need to do a much better job of recognizing post traumatic stress syndrome and caring for combat veterans.

I was delighted to read SNL's Pete Davidson apology to disabled vet and Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw, who lost an eye on his third combat tour in Afghanistan. Davidson had mocked Crenshaw's eyepatch.

"Americans can forgive one another—we can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other," said Crenshaw.

Hope he's right.

He went on to say that Davidson's father was a firefighter who lost his life on 9/11.

"Never Forget."

Friday, November 09, 2018

Allentown's $1.25 M Demo Contract Miraculously Shrinks to $200,000

I like to tease Allentown Council member Julio Guridy over his command of the English language. Not because I'm a bigot, but because I'm an asshole. One thing Julio does understand is real estate. He has bought and sold property over the years, and quite successfully. When Nat Hyman's property on Franklin Street went up in flames, he knew that the $1.25 million projected demolition cost was outrageously high. He was the sole council member to vote No.

It is Guridy who proposed an amendment to that contract on Wednesday night, cutting the cost to $200,000.

Nat Hyman tells me he can probably do it for $150,000. Unlike the City, he actually negotiated with the contractor. Unlike the false claim made by city officials, this contractor had no difficulty contacting Hyman. Incidentally, Hyman also tells me that the building is stable and there is no danger of collapse.

The petty criticism of Hyman, who redevelops old warehouses and factories into affordable housing with no city or state assistance, started almost immediately after the fire. Mayor Ray O'Connell uncharacteristically lashed out at him, without bothering to talk to him. Council member Candida Affa falsely claimed that she tried to call him. She now admits she was wrong, but made no apology. On Wednesday nigh, Council member Daryl Hendricks continued to lash out, saying it is time for Hyman to put his "big boy pants on."

I thought that personal attacks like the one made by Hendricks are forbidden.

Or does that rule only apply when to members of the public like Don Ringer, who rightly took Council member Courtney Robinson to task?

In the meantime, City officials have refused to issue building permits for another Hyman property, claiming it is in the flood zone. They reached this decision even though the city's own Zoning Hearing Board has previously determined it is not in the floodplain.

Hyman has to appeal this denial.

Guess who hears it? The same zoning hearing board that has already ruled in his favor.

All of this smells like politics to me. Ray O'Connell and other city officials must really be worried that Hyman might run for mayor.

When he applied for the interim appointment, he was the only one of the entire lot who was able to tell City Council that they have a structural deficit.

Anyway, I think Julio should be credited for doing the right thing. Council member Ed Zucal should also be credited with calling out city officials for their failure to communicate with Hyman.

Update 9:40 am (posted originally at midnight): Candida Affa is now repeating her falsehoods on Guridy's Facebook page, but this time, Nat Hyman caught and responded to her:

Affa: "I would like to clear up some questions in fiction about the events surrounding Nat Hyman‘s property on Franklin Street. On Sunday when the fire was raging nat Hyman was at the site standing next to the Mayor and Courtney Robinson. The next day the mayor and the ministration was informed that this building had to be demolished before they can put out the fire without demolishing it the fire could not be put out. Our Solicitor’s reached out to Nat Hyman‘s lawyers. They got no response . The mayor had no choice but to declare the building a public safety hazard. We did not have the luxury of getting estimates so he asked for 1.2 million dollars. Since we heard nothing from Mr. Hyman and what his plans were we had to estimate four demolishing , removing , hauling,removal of hazard materials,filling in of land etc.The 1.2 million was taken from different department .The Mayor did not know at that time how much everything would cost .....council agreed we would go high rather then come back every time we needed more money..... Mr.Hyman agreed to pay for removal and clean up....the city is still negotiating with Mr. Hyman on reimbursing the city for the demolition .It came in under 200,000 .So therefore the rest of the 1.2 million went back to the departments that originally gave money....We have all intentions of going after Mr. Hyman for the money for the demolition....So I am making this very clear ——-Tax payers will not be paying 1.2 million.....what is left is under 200,000 and Mr. Hyman is going to have to pay.... I believe The Mayor,The Fire Cheif and firefighters,Lenard Leitner our economic director, our finance director,our Mgr.director ,our city Solictors and all members of city council did one hell of a job. This was not a one man effort..... We were in a public safety crisis and I believe our Mayor did what he had to do to prevent a catastrophe. I stand by his decision and councils . I hope I cleared things up ......Candida"

Hyman: "Once again, Candida Affa is not telling the truth. The night I made my speech at City Council, she waited until after I left to say that she tried to call me but my lines were disconnected. She later admitted that was not true.

Now, she posts this series of self-serving mistruths which she knows are not true! What we have seen from Ray O’Connell, and now Candida Affa, is that they will change the “facts” to cover their mistakes.

Here are 10 mistruths in Candida’s post:

1. “Our Solicitor’s reached out to Nat Hyman‘s lawyers. They got no response .”

The Solicitor sent an email to my attorney AFTER the demolition had been contracted for and they were moving the machines on site. The email simply said “the administration would like to know Mr. Hyman’s plans for the property”. Not one word about demolition !

My Attorney responded within the hour of receiving the email from the Solicitor. So her saying they “got no response” is an outright lie.

2. “The next day the mayor and the ministration (sic) was informed that this building had to be demolished before they can put out the fire without demolishing it the fire could not be put out.”

That’s peculiar because when the Mayor said that it needed to be demolished he said it was because the danger of it collapsing posed an imminent threat and could fall on neighboring buildings. Now that has been proven untrue the story has switched to the fire needed to be put out.

3. “We did not have the luxury of getting estimates”

Yesterday’s Morning Call states , and I quote, “Lightner said city officials spoke to multiple contractors before beginning the work and proceeded with the cheapest.” Which is it Candida ???!! Another lie!

4. “so he asked for 1.2 million dollars”

So, he just asked for 1.2 million??! ? Did he pull that number out of the sky? The night Ray O’Connell appeared before City Council, he told them that was what it was going to cost. It was only later that, after I told them that they were massively over paying, that he said it was just a cap.

5. “Since we heard nothing from Mr. Hyman and what his plans were”

As we now know the facts, that’s because they never even attempted to contact me! And as everyone knows, I’m not hard to find. My phone number is in the phone book and on a sign in front of every one of my buildings. My office phone number has been the same for 30 years!

6. “The Mayor did not know at that time how much everything would cost”

As shown in the Morning Call statement from Leonard Lightner, they ABSOLUTELY knew how much everything would cost!

7. “It came in under $200,000”

It came in under $200,000 because I contacted the contractor and renegotiated the deal. Now they are taking credit for it. Believe me that if I hadn’t gotten involved, they would have paid every cent of $1.25m

8. “We have all intentions of going after Mr. Hyman for the money for the demolition”

This is the most sinister of all comments. In the same way that Ray did when he got up there and said “Mr. Hyman this is not a threat, it’s a promise, you will pay back every cent” the implication is that I don’t intend to pay. I have ALWAYS said that I will pay for everything and the tax payer should not pay! When I made my speech to City Council I showed up with a check for $217,000! Now Candida is trying to imply that I don’t want to pay or don’t intend to pay which is an outright lie and she knows it !

9. “I believe The Mayor....did one hell of a job”

Candida, if you believe he did one hell of a job, then you have no business on City Council! The Mayor was willing to pay 6 times the price of what the work should have cost and would have done so had I not gotten involved. He was prepared to waste $1.1 million of tax payer dollars!!! He lied to City Council and the press about trying “many times to contact Mr. Hyman”. He used my tragedy as a political platform to try and damage me. And he has repeatedly lied to cover his mistakes. He did NOTHING right ! If you think that is one hell of a job then your judgment is seriously in question.

10. “We were in a public safety crisis and I believe our Mayor did what he had to do to prevent a catastrophe”

What catastrophe? You just said they needed to knock the building down to extinguish the fire. While all of this was going on, the building sat there and smoldered for 2 weeks. Nothing more could have happened other than the smoldering would ultimately burn itself out. There was no catastrophe so stop grandstanding.

People make mistakes and that’s ok. But lying to cover up those mistakes is not ok. And lying over and over is really not ok. Candida, you should [know] better and as a public official you should stand for more than these cover ups.

Nat Hyman

Hey Lehigh, Should NorCo Use E-Pollbooks?

Northampton and Lehigh County are next door to each other. Both are home rule counties. They are managed by an executive and legislative body, as opposed to three county commissioners. They both own and operate a nursing home. Both counties do a good job of making real estate records available online. But there are differences. Northampton County requires pro se litigants to fill out their own paperwork in custody cases, while Lehigh County will have staffers sit down with them so a judge actually understands it. Lehigh County's civil records are available online, while Northampton County has been grappling with that issue for several years. On election day, Lehigh County has begun using electronic pollbooks (e-pollbooks) to check in voters. Northampton County still uses paper books. Is it time for Northampton County to change? The persons who can best answer that question are voters from Lehigh County, who just went through a busy election. What can you tell us?

One thing that bothers me on election day is to see voters standing in line, waiting to be checked in. Most of them work, and their time is limited. With paper pollbooks, it often takes time to go through the pages and find the person. They also waste even more time filling out a slip that is given to the clerk so their names can be entered.

An e-pollbook makes it much easier to sign in a voter. It means less time standing in line, wondering why things take so long. One Lehigh County voter has told me she does not like the way her signature looks on an e-pollbook, but that seems to be a minor complaint.

For election workers, an e-pollbook would be far more efficient. If a voter who belongs somewhere else comes to vote, it takes time to determine where that person should be voting. An e-pollbook will provide an answer. It will also alert election officials if that person has already voted somewhere else. When a person signs in, he or she is automatically logged onto the list of voters. This eliminates the need for a clerk.

E-pollbooks, which look like iPads, were considered in NorCo a few years ago. The idea was rejected as too costly. Now Northampton and every other county has been state-mandated to purchase new voting machines that provide a paper trail. This means the county is going to be spending a lot of money. It might be able to negotiate a better deal if e-pollbooks are included.

But are they worth the expense? What is your experience in Lehigh? On a day like Tuesday, I imagine the lines were still long. But was it faster? If you went to the wrong polling place, did a voting official tell you where you belonged? Is this a good use of taxpayer dollars?

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Nothstein Loses, But Wins

As I warned you, Marty Nothstein is likely going to serve in Congress for a few weeks. There were two races - the Pa.7th and a special election in the more conservative Pa. 15th, Despite having a 5 to 1 edge in money (counting outside money) and a newspaper that did its best to screw Marty Nothstein, unofficial results make Susan Wild the loser to Nothstein in the 15th. The tallies are as follows:

Northampton County: Wild - 31,278; Nothstein - 28,464.
Lehigh County: Wild - 66,657; Nothstein - 52,057.
Dauphin County: Wild - 12,574; Nothstein - 16,081
Berks County: Wild - 7,000; Nothstein - 11,794
Lebanon County: Wild - 9,473; Nothstein - 18,644

This adds up to Nothstein with 127,040 over Wild's 126,982.

Election officials need to canvass these unofficial results before they become official. This is basically a recount.

What about an automatic recount?

Under Pa.law, recounts are automatic when a candidate for statewide office loses by less than 0.5%. But this rule has no application to congressional races. 

Three electors from each precinct who allege fraud or error can petition for recount

Antonia Grifo Decides Against Re-Election

In her time as Magisterial District Judge, Antonia Grifo has played a crucial role in seeing that the law is applied evenly to everyone, including those who have never had much of a chance in life. I am sorry to report that she has decided to step down.   

It is with mixed emotions that I announce that I will not be seeking reelection to the seat of Magisterial District Judge for District 03-2-05 for the term beginning January, 2020.

It has truly been a pleasure and a privilege to have served our District as Magisterial District Judge these past five years, to have worked with my fellow MDJ’s and to have played a part in Northampton County’s judicial system.

I would have liked to have served for several more years. However, as I reach retirement age, I must concede that I cannot commit to completing another 6 year term. Our District deserves an MDJ who can commit to completing the term to which he or she is elected.

I will be returning to practicing law in my limited estate practice, however, I will continue to serve my community as I increase the time I spend volunteering in a variety of not-for-profits devoted to the betterment of Easton. I also look forward to the ability to be politically active in the community and beyond, which I have not been permitted to do as a sitting judge.

NorCo Budget Hearing Revelations

I attended a NorCo Budget hearing yesterday, but could only take it for two hours before I got up and left. I'm getting old and was still tired from Election Day. They may still be there as I write. I did learn the following:

- NorCo's No Cash Bail is working. - Judge Craig Dally and Court Administrator Jermaine Greene explained that a pretrial services officer arrives every morning at 6 am to do a risk assessment on overnight arrests, and makes recommendations. It has eliminated the problem of low level offenders languishing in jail, which costs the county money. But Judge Dally said that the safety of the public is the paramount concern. He added that many of these people have engaged in domestic violence.

- NorCo's Drug Court is working. - This is an 18-month program for defendants who have already been convicted. Judge Dally reported that 51 participants are currently enrolled, with four applications pending. Over its existence, 45 people have been removed from the drug court program, which is very arduous. But he has had 17 graduates, with another scheduled for today. Of those who graduate, the recidivism rate is about 20%.

- McClure Eliminating Two DCED Positions. - Executive Lamont McClure explained his decision to eliminate two positions from the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). He would like DCED to work more on community development. He added that he may eventually approach Council for a grant writer to help municipalities and small businesses.

- DCED and Lead Paint. - One of DCED's programs is to fund contractors to eradicate lead paint in homes with children aged 1-6 who have elevated lead levels. The average age of a LV home is 53 years, before it was known that lead is a problem. Fifty children are on awaiting list. The plan is to remediate 30 homes per year. Lead testing for children in Pa. is voluntary.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Updated: NorCo Voters' Chief Complaint - No "I Voted" Stickers

From 6 am until 9 pm yesterday, I served as an election judge in one of Northampton County's many districts. Here's my take.

- It was quite busy, busier than the Presidential race just two years ago. Contrary to what you might think,election workers actually like busy elections. Not only does it make us feel better about what we are doing, but the time flies.

- At various times, I was visited by four poll watchers appointed by the Democratic party. Two of them were there for the entire day. That has never happened before. One even sat with me when I opened up and counted 26 absentee ballots.

- There were a few early complaints that one machine refused to light up when Dean Donaher, a Democratic candidate for State Rep., was selected. This complaint quickly made its way to Facebook. The name would eventually light up. I believe the voters expected the machines to operate like an iPad. They are making selections on machines that have clear plastic over cardboard. I reported the incident to a machine technician, who told me that a new machine would likely produce the same result. The machine operator checked it and it was fine. Voters were instructed that if the name they select fails to light up, try again. This was also reviewed with three of the Democratic poll watchers, each of whom is an attorney. They were satisfied with what we were doing.

- We ran out of "I voted" stickers very early. Voters really like to receive those, and complained about being shortchanged. The County needs to have these stickers, especially for the kids.

- I caught one person who voted twice. She came to the polls with her mom and voted. Then, a few hours later when she thought out guard was down, she returned with her dad and voted again. I let her off the hook.

- One of the biggest problems in a busy election is registered voters who come to the wrong polling place. At least eight people came to me with that problem. The county produced a great poll locator so I could help these voters. But because my polling place is at a school, the school WiFi blocked me from accessing anything. As a result, I had to call Easton several times and it took their time and mine. Around 4 pm, one of my poll workers was able to access the website from her iPhone. It was magic! It helped quite a few voters get to the right polling place.

- In a precinct with 950 voters, there were 26 absentee ballots.

- I was not keeping count, but my impression is that more women voted than men. They seemed quite determined.

- I helped one voter cast a provisional ballot.

- We were all very sorry to hear that a Forks Tp woman was unfortunately killed in an automobile accident at her polling place.These accidents are why schools need to be closed on election day.

Erratum: In my original story, I said the women who was in an auto accident had been at a school. (Published originally at 12:00 am)

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Make Your Last Minute Pitches Here

As many of you know, I man one of the polls as an election worker. I turn in early the night before, so I have no stories for you today. It's your turn. Please feel free to make your last-minute pitches here. Also, if you've voted, please let us know where, what time, and what the turn out is like.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Why You Should Vote For Nothstein, Wild or Silfies

A divided congressional district in a divided nation will elect a new member of Congress on Tuesday. There are clear differences among Republican Marty Nothstein, Libertarian Tim Silfies and Democrat Susan Wild. Below are what I consider the strengths of each.

Nothstein. - This is a man who already runs his family farm and owns a car wash. He turned finances around at the Velodrome. As a Lehigh County Commissioner, he has said No to Executive Phil Armstrong's request for a tax hike. He wants to make the tax cuts for the middle class permanent.

"Unemployment right now is at the lowest level since 1969. Wages grew nearly three per cent, the highest since 2009 and nicely outpacing inflation. A record seven million jobs are on the market, more jobs available than people willing to work. Pennsylvania has added more jobs this year than at any time over the last 18 years. Record job growth in Pennsylvania, also right here in the Lehigh Valley. Why? Tax cuts. More money. People are motivated."

Silfies. - A former business reporter, Silfies describes Nothstein and Wild as two sides of the same coin who will do and say anything to win. His primary concern is the $21 trillion debt and the inability of the major parties to get anything done. He would like to see more free market solutions instead of responding to problems from Washington. He noted Lasik eye surgery is paid for by individuals, and prices have gone down.

Wild. - An experienced attorney, Wild would serve as a check on Donald Trump. She supports a phased-in $15 minimum wage and considers health care a right. She also believes the government has no business in a woman's medical examination room. She argues it's "outrageous" that interest rates on student loans are higher than on her mortgage and car loan.

Allentown's Whopping 1.5 Mill Tax Hike

It's no secret that Allentown Mayor Ray O'Connell has to seek a tax hike next year. His Budget Message, seeking a 1.5 mill tax hike, is below. It's the first tax increase since 2005.

As Mayor O'Connell observes, the City's biggest expense is personnel. It would be foolish to reduce the size of the police force or fire department. But every department, including the mayor's office, needs close scrutiny. I also question three per cent raises at a time when taxes are going up. Northampton County, which has proposed no tax hike, is giving two percent raises.

In accordance with the provisions of the Home Rule Charter adopted by the voters of the City of Allentown on April 23, 1996, I, Ray O’Connell, acting in my capacity as Mayor, herewith present to City Council and the residents of the City of Allentown a proposed Budget and Program of Services for the fiscal year 2019. As required by ordinance, I verify the 2006 reserve fund account is on deposit and not impacted by this budget.

The 2019 proposed operating and capital budget for the City of Allentown addresses these service needs and their resulting fiscal realities in a responsible manner by constraining expenditures and enabling sufficient recurring revenue as a foundation for future years.

In 2005, when the City of Allentown last implemented a property tax rate increase, that year’s current real estate tax collection totaled $28.2 million. Adjusted for inflation, taxes on the same properties in 2018 would total $35.8 million, but actual collection was less than $30 million.

Thirteen years without a property tax increase have provided beneficial cost stability for Allentown taxpayers. However, the City’s costs of materials, supplies, wages, benefits and services have continued to rise with inflation while the revenue to support them has not kept pace. Defrayal of costs in subsequent years by means of debt financing and the water/sewer concession lease provided Allentown temporary cash reserves to close this gap. In the last three years, the citizens and workers of Allentown have funded increases in earned income tax rates and stormwater management fees to reduce the recurring operating deficit significantly, and a permanent closure of that gap is within reach.

Allentown’s financial standing has been bolstered by the growth of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone and by the sustained pride and efforts of Allentown citizens. The City and surrounding Lehigh Valley are among Pennsylvania’s fastest-growing population centers. Allentown’s government has responded to these trends by maintaining and improving police protection, fire and emergency medical response, street maintenance, street lighting, bridges, traffic control, solid waste and recycling, parks and recreation, health, community and economic development, code enforcement, building standards and City planning services to ensure that all citizens benefit sufficiently from their provision. These departments and bureaus perform and provide a myriad of services that contribute to the health and well-being of a 21st century city.

THE FISCAL SITUATION

The administration is doing and will continue to do everything possible to restrict spending. The City of Allentown will try to expand its revenue base, as well. A spirit of cooperation between the administration and City Council will work to preserve city services at the lowest possible cost.

In 2015 Allentown’s General Fund faced an annual structural operational deficit of $8 million that was growing over time. Thanks to two increases in the resident earned income tax rate and the imposition of a stormwater management fee, by 2018 the City had reduced much of that deficit. But closing the gap required the use of cash reserves each year. An effective $2 million reserve draw in 2015 was followed by a $4.5 million repayable loan from the Solid Waste Fund in 2016, a $2.5 million budgeted reserve draw in 2017 and a $3.9 million budgeted reserve draw in 2018. Careful expenditure control has minimized these deficits, but these actions effectively reduce the General Fund unrestricted cash reserve to about $6 million by the end of 2018. Bond rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have downgraded the City’s financial outlook, with the latter agency reducing the City’s bond rating by one notch in October 2018. Both agencies have indicated the need for Allentown to match recurring expenditures with recurring revenues in order to stabilize and improve this outlook in the coming years.

The City’s use of debt financing has also reached a near maximum level. In recent years, the City issued millions of dollars in bonds for capital expenditures, but generated no new revenue stream to back these proceeds, resulting in a sizeable increase of General Fund dollars being used to service debt. The City now uses more than 8 percent of its annual General Fund appropriation to pay principal and interest on general obligation and pension obligation debt. This constriction will be critical as additional needs for fleet services, street repair and information technology renewal will require standard operating funds for 2 to 3 years, putting additional stress on the General Fund.

With approximately 800 employees, the City’s operations today have nearly 200 fewer staff than a decade prior, yet employee wages and benefits remain the primary driver of cost increases. Department managers have effectively controlled non-personnel costs in recent years to save money, but cost increases in this sector are now inhibiting essential service provision to an unacceptable extent.

The Neighborhood Improvement Zone has provided growing property tax revenue during the past five years, but the overall impact will remain modest until this Center City development reaches its intended capacity. Meanwhile, City property tax collection outside of the zone has remained nominally flat during the same five years.

2019 BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

This proposed 2019 operating and capital budget for the City of Allentown establishes a genuine balance between recurring revenues and expenditures, avoiding further reserve draws while maintaining and improving the quality of the City’s public services. Significant provisions of the General Fund budget include the following:

• An effective 1.5-mill increase on the aggregated value of real estate, from 5.81 to 7.31 mills, will generate an additional $7.6 million in recurring annual revenue. The separate millage rates for land and improvements are increased by the same percentage so that all taxpayers are affected equally regardless of the type of property owned. As an example, an Allentown home with an improvement value of $150,000 and a land value of $20,000 would see its annual City property tax increase from $903 to $1,139, or about $20 more per month. These increases would be smaller for lower-value properties and greater for more expensive properties.

• The Business Privilege Tax remains stable, as does the Earned Income Tax, and the $52 Local Services Tax. The Refuse Collection Fee remains flat.

• Cash reserves are not utilized and are in fact slightly supplemented, demonstrating the City’s commitment to fiscal responsibility going forward. The $4.8 million last-resort Stabilization Fund remains fully funded and unutilized. Additionally, new capital and equipment expenses will be paid from operating funds in 2019, avoiding additional debt service obligations.

• Two additional fire fighters are authorized, increasing total fire staff to 124, and efforts to reduce the backlog in building inspections will continue in 2019. Most positions remain essentially the same as in 2018 in advance of the findings of a City compensation study. Three percent wage increases are provided to all bargaining unit and non-bargaining positions, and a pool of money is provided for non-bargaining positions upon completion of the compensation study to ensure market-competitive pay rates.

• The City will expand its winter aquatics program both to provide recreational opportunities for youth and to establish a reserve of trained lifeguards that will enable full utilization of City pools next summer. Additionally, wage rates for lifeguards and summer recreation program staff are increased to be more competitive with labor market conditions.

• The City’s 911 system management responsibilities will be transferred fully to Lehigh County in early 2019, and the City will no longer coordinate emergency dispatch thereafter.

• Additional technical support is provided in the information technology budget to bolster protection against future malware attacks on the City’s computer system. Significant increases are also provided to the Risk Management Fund to address health insurance costs and potential liability and legal matters. All other major City activities are provided at or above 2018 service levels.

• General Fund repayment of the 2016 loan from the Solid Waste Fund loan will be suspended for one year in order to support the available cash balance in the General Fund. Five years of repayment remain on the loan and continuation of repayment is anticipated in 2020.

All special purpose and enterprise funds, including Trexler, Liquid Fuels, Solid Waste and Stormwater, will either have revenues exceeding expenditures in 2019 or will have sufficient cash reserves to cover excess expenditures.

Relations between the Mayor’s office and City Council have improved significantly this year with a greater focus on policy and fiscal transparency. Just as Allentown looks forward by updating its comprehensive plan in the coming year, I similarly look forward to building with you a positive future vision for the City beginning with this budget.

About a dozen Lehigh County municipalities have raised property tax rates since the last county property assessment in 2013. Allentown’s 13-year rate consistency has lasted far longer, but cannot credibly continue. The opportunity to stop the continued depletion of cash reserves will be costly at first, but it establishes a dependable fiscal foundation for coming years. The citizens of Allentown deserve nothing less.