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Friday, October 18, 2019

Lehigh County's New Voting System - The Movie

Lehigh County Voter Registrar Tim Benyo is now a movie producer. He has prepared a video explaining Lehigh County's new voting system, from start to finish.

What I love about Lehigh County's operation is their decision to use electronic pollbooks. That makes it so much easier for our election workers to find a voter. If a person should be voting somewhere else, the e-pollbook will make that clear, too. I have bugged NorCo County Administrator Charles Dertinger to get these, but he is a cheap bastard and called me the world's most overrated election judge. I complained to Executive Lamont McClure and he called me a third-rate election judge.

Lehigh Couny's voting system itself is designed to ensure that there is little question of voter intent, like those that delay the counts in Florida.

The problem with this system is there will be two separate lines. You will first stand in a line to make your selections. Then you will have to move to a separate line to cast your vote in a scanner. This could be a problem in a busy election. Northampton County election judges who viewed this system disliked this feature and preferred the ExpressVote XL.

NorCo Council Votes To Refi $61M in Debt, Expects $3.2M Savings

Northampton County Council voted 6-1 last night to approve up to $75 million in bonds to refinance about $61 million in debt. The sole No vote came from Peg Ferraro (by phone). Voting Yes were Council members Ron Heckman, Bob Werner, John Cusick, Matt Dietz, Tara Zrinski and Kevin Lott (by phone). Council members Bill McGee and Lori Vargo-Heffner were absent.

This debt is from a bond series with a call date in 2022. The current interest rate is around 4.81%. Under changes to our tax law, it is impossible to refund (refinance) them with tax exempt bonds until the call date. But they can be refunded with taxable bonds. If it is done at an interest rate under three per cent, the County would save $3.2 million. Alternatively, the County could wait until the call date and save more or less, depending on the interest rate.

By approving the refinancing last night, County Council has given Shearer the authority to pull the trigger if he can save the county $3.2 million.

There was some confusion among Council members about a $75 million issuance to refinance $61 million in debt. Shearer explained the refinancing would have to include the interest, which would increase the debt to about $67 million. He has no expectation of issuing $75 million in bonds.

He added the only purpose of this new bond is to refinance existing debt. There will be no new money.

In other business, County Council introduced an ordinance to condemn 150 South Union Street in Easton. This is adjacent to the county campus and is for a handicap-accessible parking lot to service the courthouse and jail. Interestingly, this property was just purchased in February by Sunblest Holdings, LLC, and at a Sheriff's Sale, for $33,045.00.

As the meeting ended, Council President Ron Heckman announced that Vargo-Heffner was absent because her father passed away the previous day.He asked everyone to keep her and her family in their thoughts.

LV Planners To Intensify Warehouse Scrutiny

Critics like to call warehouses big boxes. Developers like to call them fulfillment centers. Whatever name you use, they have gobbled up much of the Lehigh Valley's open space while simultaneously increasing truck traffic on roads unable to handle the load. Bethlehem Township had to impose a tax hike last year to completely rebuild Brodhead Road, which truck traffic reduced to a washboard. Once Allen Tp's Fed Ex is in full swing, there will be more traffic snarls and ruined roads. Thanks to some strong advocacy, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) is expected to intensify its review of warehouse plans once its latest comprehensive plan is adopted.

In his report to Northampton County Council last night, Executive Lamont McClure condemned the "warehouse proliferation" he sees in the Lehigh Valley. For that reason, he has fully funded open space with $3 million in his proposed budget for next year. But since most open space projects are nowhere near planned warehouses, that's a very limited solution.

More meaningful is his proposal for the LVPC to intensify its review of warehouse plans exceeding 100,000 sq. ft. Currently, reviews are triggered for plans in excess of 500,000 sq ft. In a compromise, the latest comprehensive plan calls for a review of warehouses exceeding 250,000 sq ft.

Even more meaningful are two proposals made by Greg Zebrowski, who is the LVPC's Vice Chair. Automatic review of warehouse plans will be triggered if (1) they are more than a quarter mile from a major roadway or (2) are outside of designated development areas.

What really will stop them, dead in their tracks, are high traffic impact fees to repair the roads they destroy.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Pelosi Pic Sends Many Messages

Donald "the Joker" Trump, who hates criticism and is fairly thin-skinned, has tweeted the picture of Speaker Nancy Pelosi above in an attempt to disparage her. She has made it her Twitter cover photo. The Washington Post has some interesting observations. It shows someone standing up to power. It also shows a woman unafraid to assert herself in a room full of men.
“Can a woman beat Donald Trump? Yes,” Democratic presidential contender Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) wrote on Twitter. “@SpeakerPelosi does it every day.”

232 NorCo Employees Paid Under $15/HR

Not long ago, I told you 17 of Northampton County's custodial workers are paid less than $15/Hr. I have since learned, in response to a Right-to-Know request, that 232 full-time county workers are paid under $15/hr. Another 163 part-time or seasonal employees are also paid less than the US House has determined American workers are worth. This is roughly 18% of the County's workforce. While Northampton County construction contracts require prevailing wage to be paid, and Council members moan about the need for a living wage, they appear to have no regard for their own workforce.

The list, which you can review for yourself below, covers numerous important jobs. These include over 50 certified nurse's aides at Gracedale, social workers and numerous clerks in the row offices. The County justifies these save wages because it pays $9.62 per hour for benefits for every full-time worker. That's unfair, too. This is because the county pays this same amount for everyone. Employees who earn far more money and who could and should pay more for benefits get the same hourly rate as someone receiving a pittance. In effect, the lower paid employees subsidize the benefits paid for cabinet officials.

In Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced this week that his entire workforce is now being paid at least $15/hr. He said Columbus should "lead by example." City Council President Elizabeth Brown adds, "Leveling the playing field for families in Columbus starts with living wages, and one of our goals as an employer must be to set a standard for wages and benefits that help families thrive. I’m proud to see the city beat its commitment to bringing all full-time workers to $15-per-hour by 2020."

Closer to home, both Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are on track to pay their workforce at least $15/hr by the beginning of next year. But Northampton County Council, despite having two trade union agents as members, seems to be more interested in plastic straw bans.

Many, if not most, of the Northampton County workers getting paid under $15/hr are single parents. The living wage in Northampton County for a single parent with just one child is $23.93.

According to Keystone Research, 42% of those paid under $15/hr are over the age of 40. Over half (55%) are women.

NorCo Council Gets Bridge Update

Though Northampton Couny's General Purpose Authority is overseeing a bridge project for the repair or replacement of nearly 30 county bridges, there are still a number of bridges the County is doing on its own. Last night, Public Works Director Mike Emili updated Council on these projects

The Mill St Bridge (#115), located in Bath, should be open to traffic in beginning of November "at the latest."

Another Bath area bridge on Stone Post Road (#118) along with a Plainfield Tp bridge on Sandt Rd (226) were closed in August for latex concrete modified overlays. Both re-opened to traffic early this month. A third bridge on Illick's Mill Road (#93) has to be done inphases because traffic is heavy in that area.  It should be complete by the end of October.

The Meadows Bridge in Lower Saucon Township is part of the Lehigh Valley-wide TIP. Emili said he expects to hear from authorities by the end of the year with a progress timeline.

NorCo Council Gets Milides Parking Lot and Crosswalk Update

If you work at or visit Northampton County Courthouse from time to time, you know parking is often a challenge. What's worse, the courthouse sits atop the forbidding Washington Street hill. It's great cardiovascular exercise, but is actually dangerous if you have medical issues. To make the people's building a bit more accessible, Executive Lamont McClure recently razed the county-owned Milides building, which is directly across the street. He plans to expand an existing  40-space parking lot to one with a capacity of 104 vehicles,including eight parking spots. Finally, he will improve a crosswalk across Washington Street, between the courthouse and this parking lot. Tonight, Northampton County Council will vote on $960,896 in contracts for general construction and electrical. The contract duration is set at six months.

Council was updated on the project last night.

Bean Inc has been recommended as the general contractor, and Wind Gap Electric for the electrical work. This is the result of negotiations with both firms after two attempts to solicit bids were unsuccessful. This is because the project will require work to prevent continued subsidence down the side of a cliff along the southern edge.

According to Public Works Director Mike Emili, Michael Baker Internat'l has been engaged to do the engineering for the crosswalk. This part of the project is financed by a grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development. It is expected to be similar to crosswalks used by Moravian students along Elizabeth Avenue in Bethlehem. The crossing will include pedestrian push button to trigger flashing lights and warn oncoming traffic.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A 3-Hour Debate Among 12 Democrats is Too Much

Although I made it through last night's three-hour debate among 12 Democrats who want to be President, I learned very little. The questions were really bad, especially from The New York Times. The worst was the last one, posed by Anderson Cooper, asking candidates to say something nice about someone after they had just spent three hours tearing everyone apart.

The clear winner was Elizabeth Warren, who is able to present her extreme views in a likable and down-to-earth manner, despite relentless attacks. She also got to do the most talking. I'd give props to Bernie Sanders as well, who looked pretty sharp for a guy who just had a heart attack. He was very gracious to his fellow candidates and thanked them, I think sincerely, for their concern. Joe Biden did very well talking about foreign policy, and was able to step back while the arrows were aimed at Warren. But he has to stop patting himself on the back so much. Also, his son did a much better job explaining his poor judgment in trading off his father's name.

The rest had their moments, but the format is just terrible.

Can You Help Pay For Mitch's Funeral?

As many of you know, I've searched real estate titles at Northampton County's Courthouse since the days of William Penn. One of my fellow searchers is a woman named Jacquie. A breast cancer survivor, she recently participated, along with her daughter and pretty granddaughter, in the annual Women's Classic 5k at Lehigh Parkway. Her son Mitch, pictured on the left, was a race volunteer. Someone snapped a picture of this happy family. Unfortunately, it is the last picture ever taken of her son.

Over the weekend, her son passed away unexpectedly. He was only 30.

At that age, no one is thinking about funeral expenses.

If you can spare a few dollars to help pay for his funeral expenses, I am sure it will be great help to his family. The GoFundMe Page is located here.

If unable, that's OK. Just keep the family in your thoughts.

I will be accepting no comments on this thread.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"My Name is Lisa Scheller, and I'm Running fro Congress!"

Lisa Scheller 
Last year, at the Hope and Coffee House she founded in Hazelton, Lisa Scheller began her story with, "My name is Lisa, and I'm a recovering addict and alcoholic." This is the standard introduction used by alcoholics and addicts in smoke-filled meeting rooms, where nicotine and caffeine are acceptable drugs for those of us hanging onto a shred or two of sobriety. Yesterday's meeting room was Allentown Renaissance Hotel. It was no AA meeting. Though coffee flowed in abundance, none of the 25 or so well-dressed guests was smoking. Except for me. I had a pinch of Skoal hidden between my cheek and upper gum for that pure tobacco satisfaction. Instead of a boring suit and tie, I was dressed in SWAT-team pants I picked up for a song at the local Thrift store. This is the perfect ensemble for a room full of Republicans, especially if one of them wants to go skeet shooting or something. Lisa Scheller, who called this meeting for an important announcement, had something else on her mind. "My name is Lisa Scheller and I'm running for Congress," she declared.

I never heard that at an AA meeting. President? Yes. Congress? Never.

Scheller, an Allentown resident, is seeking the Republican nomination to Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District. That seat is currently held by Democrat Susan Wild. It includes Lehigh, Northampton and a portion of Monroe County.

Unlike many in recovery from substance abuse, Scheller embraces it. She understands how "the politics of smear works," but wants her struggle known. "I'm not ashamed of my addiction and I empathize with people who struggle, and their families," she noted. She overcame her addiction and went on to earn degrees in both mathematics and engineering.

In 1988, after her brother passed away unexpectedly, she took over the reins of Silberline Manufacturing, a company started by her immigrant grandparents. She transformed it into a leading international manufacturer of aluminum-based pigments for the automotive and other industries. Her company employs 600 people in economically ravaged Tamaqua. Her sister-in-law, Jill Scwartz, referred to Scheller as a "force of nature."

In addition to her education and business skills, Scheller also served a term as a Lehigh County Commissioner. In her final two years, she chaired the nine-person board.

In a stirring speech, Scheller said she's running for Congress because the people of the Seventh District have been poorly served. "They've lost faith in government because government has constantly acted in bad faith," she argued. "It's tearing us apart. Nobody's really speaking on the issues that matter to people here." She identifies these issues as jobs, education, health care and secure borders. She derided "a permanent political class that feeds on division" instead of addressing these problems.

Jobs - Scheller observed "Government cannot create jobs. Businesses do." But she slammed excessive regulation.  She claimed this just leads to income for the governing class and bigger government."Yes, we need some regulations to protect our safety, environment and equality. But over-regulation destroys employment."

Education. - Scheller, who has established and expanded a scholarship program at Lehigh County Community College, said student debt is "out of control" and a "crushing burden" on our youth. "Becoming a nation of educational haves and have-nots is a danger to our democracy and prosperity," she warned. She said it's time government focuses on education instead of perpetuating conflict.

Medical care. - "Here's the message: it's not really the Affordable Care Act if you can't afford it and end up with no health care. I'm committed to ensuring that pre-existing conditions remain covered for all people and I'm equally committed to making sure that we end the spiral of costs that was triggered by another well-intentioned government disaster. It's time tofree people who are held hostage to this system."

Secure Borders - Scheller's grandparents and great-parents immigrated here from countries where they were unsafe. She argues they were safe in America for two reasons. First, they had the freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. Second, they had borders to protect that freedom.

"Why are people in this district concerned about our borders? Because we're the ones who have to live with the consequences of a nation without them. People here understand something: you can't have a nation without borders."

After her speech, Scheller spoke individually with the guests who had come to see her, thanking them. Then she met us, The Fake News. We had questions about the Trump impeachment inquiry, the betrayal of Kurds in Syria and homeless veterans. For someone who disdains the political class, she did a pretty good job of ducking questions that might shed light on where she stands on Trump.

She did say he's entitled to due process, and of course, he is. But due process provides for notice and an opportunity to be heard before being removed from the Office of President. Prosecutors have no obligation to disclose details of a pending investigation to a target. In this case, the prosecution is the House of Representatives. Their hearings can be likened to grand jury proceedings. If they do vote to impeach, the President would be entitled to full due process during his trial in the Senate.

Her webpage is www.schellerforcongress.com. She is also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Scheller has one declared GOP opponent, Dean Browning. He is a Trumpeteer.

Monday, October 14, 2019

"Blood on Trump's Hands"

Those are the words used by retired four-star Marine general John Allen in reaction to Donald "the Joker" Trump's betrayal of Syrian Kurds. Since Turkey has begun its offensive (laughingly called Peace Spring) against Kurdish fighters in Northeast Syria, the fake news reports the following:

Is Engineer Strong-Arming Green Pond Developer?

After years of debate, lengthy meetings and several plan revisions, Bethlehem Tp Commissioners voted over a year ago to approve an active senior community at Green Pond Country Club. But if you drive by, you'll see no homes being built. The environmentally sensitive wetlands next door, located in the middle of an Audubon-designated “Important Bird Area” called Green Pond Marsh, are still there. Migratory birds still visit. But no seniors. You might think developer Traditions of America is having trouble getting a highway occupancy permit or environmental approvals, but it has them. So what gives? Believe it or not, it's the Township's engineer, The Pidcock Company.

Late last week, Traditions took the rare step of filing a mandamus action in Northampton County Court. It is asking that the Court order Bethlehem Tp to replace Pidcock with its backup engineers, Arro Consulting. Since the developer already has all of its approvals, it essentially is accusing Pidcock of a shake down. In one instance, it billed for 35 hours to prepare a one-page email with eight comments. In another, multiple individuals charged to prepare for meetings they never attended. Pidcock billed 30 hours to review stormwater plans even though DEP had already issued a permit.

When Traditions complained, Pidcock stopped working on the project, effectively shutting it down. Though the Township convinced the engineering firm to return,  Traditions asserts Pidcock is now throwing up roadblocks to prevent development. It is insisting on using an outdated procedure for utility line  construction, which will add another two months of delay. 

I am in the process of seeking a public comment from Pidcock.

Back in 2012, former Comm'r Marty Zaarski complained about Pidcock's billing. He also groused about the mileage being charged, noting that Pidcock is located near Route 309, a forty mile round trip from the Township. "There are very, very good engineering firms within ten minutes of here," he observed.

Lisa Scheller Poised For Congressional Bid

Earlier this month, former Lehigh County Comm'r Lisa Scheller attracted attention when she expanded an innovative scholarship program at Lehigh County Community College, enabling high school students to obtain both an associate's' degree and high school diploma simultaneously. At that time, I speculated about her possible interest in Congress. Scheller told me she expected to make a decision soon. It appears she's taking the plunge. She's scheduled an announcement for this morning, 10:30 am, at Renaissance Allentown Hotel.

If she's running, it will be for the LV Congressional seat currently held by Susan Wild.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Other Shoe Drops

After reading "Giuliani’s Ukraine Team: In Search of Influence, Dirt and Money," it should be clear to one and all, Democrat and Republic, that an impeachment inquiry is demanded. Giuliani claimed to be looking for corruption by Joe Biden and son when it's pretty clear that he's up to his neck in it himself. We now know why Trump trashed Ukraine's Ambassador. It was at the behest of a bunch of crooks who wanted to start a natural gas company.

At least Giuliani has finally shut up.

Nazareth Schools Will Finally Close on Election Day

Last year, both Executive Lamont McClure and Northampton County Council were besieged by Nazareth parents upset about conducting elections at Butz Elementary School. The County countered that state law prefers that elections take place in public buildings. Nazareth, unlike other school districts, was reluctant to close on election day.

At Wednesday's Budget Hearing, Administrator Charles Dertinger reported that Nazareth Area School District has finally agreed to shut down on election day. What's more, the school district is allowing the use of the school cafeteria at Butz Elementary. Dertinger said that no one will be forced to wait in line outside

Elections will cost the County $868,000 this year. Next year, the cost is budgeted at $1,090,000, a 16.1% increase. The reason for this is because next year's election is a presidential election.

Registrar Amy Hess told Council that no polling precinct will be seeking an increase in rent. She added the County will use 286 of its 320 ExpressVote XL machines.

PD DiLuzio: "I Thought Crime Was Going Down"

Public Defender Nuria DiLuzio presented her budget to Northampton County Council on Wednesday. Though she's calling for no major changes, she predicts changes might be necessary in 2021.

DiLuzio said her staff, which consists of 15 part-time and 3 full-time public defenders, is handling a caseload of 1,100 "active, substantive criminal cases." This includes 341 felonies and 4 major homicides.

"We're managing, but it's sometimes difficult with a part-time staff," she said. "I thought crime was going down."

She indicated she may seek a full-time public defender to handle appeals.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Who Will Win the Kassis-Scomillio Judicial Race?

This November, in addition to elected a new District Attorney, Northampton County voters will also decide two county judge races. Three candidates - incumbent DA John Morganelli, Assistant District Attorney Abe Kassis and Bethlehem Attorney Vic Scomillio - are all running.

John Morganelli, who ran in the primary, is the nominee of both Democratic and Republican parties. Democrat Kassis and Republican Scomillio were selected by party apparatchiks because, at the time of the primary, there was no second opening. That happened when Judge Kim McFadden, who had intended to seek retention, changed her mind and resigned, effective November.

Morganelli should win easily, but he is nevertheless campaigning. He knows anything can happen in politics. The real question is who will win the race between Kassis and Scomillio. I believe the race will be very close, and depend on turnout.

Both Kassis and Scomillio have run for judge before. They know how to put together a campaign. Both have worked hard for their respective parties, so they will get volunteers to help them on election day. Both know how to raise money.

Kassis should win Easton and Bethlehem. He is running with John Morganelli and DA nominee Terry Houck, so that should really help him. He will also get union support.

Victor will win everywhere else, especially in the Slate Belt and Northern Tier. He will lose Bethlehem, but will win several precincts on the north side.

Vic appears to be keeping his distance from the GOP's DA candidate, Tom Carroll. That's because Carroll can only hurt him. Carroll, who once was an Assistant DA in Northampton County, was forced to resign after he placed an ape doll on the desk of a female assistant DA who is black.

What about the Lebanese factor? Northampton County's Lebanese community is heavily Republican, but you could expect most of them to split their tickets to vote for Abe. But not all. Victor's wife is Lebanese, and he has made inroads.

Scomillio has some negatives because, as NorCo Solicitor, he fired an assistant without due process and right before Christmas. Northampton County was sued and lost. This lapse cost the County money, and Vic was hit hard on this issue when he ran (and lost) against Sam Murray. But Abe Kassis has thus far failed to use this ammunition. Those who know him say he'll avoid being negative.

In my view, this race will depend on turnout. If Democrats stay away from the polls, as they often do in municipal races, Victor should win. If Democrats are outraged enough that a racist is running on the GOP ticket for DA, that might be enough for Abe to win.

It's bad enough to have a racist in the White House, let alone as NorCo's top prosecutor.

We'll see.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

LC Exec Armstrong: A Budget Is More Than Numbers

Blogger's Note: On Monday, I published an op-ed from Lehigh County Comm'r Brad Osborne, opposing a 5.5% tax hike proposed in next year's budget. Fairness dictated a request to Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong, asking him to explain why it's needed. His response is below. I thank both of these county leaders for their input.

Budget season is upon us again, and that means the inevitable fights over tax rates, amendments and complex finances. As both County Executive and a resident of Lehigh County, I want to set the record straight and spell out the facts.

While every budget inevitability comes down to two key numbers, revenue and expenditures, lets recognize what those numbers truly represent. A budget is about our values, our commitments and priorities. It’s also reflective of hard truths, numbers don’t lie, and a good budget is about more than the next year.

First, I’d like to explain plainly some key misconceptions surrounding this year’s budget. Yes, I’ve requested, a tax increase this year, which breaks down to about $3 more per month for a homeowner. Let’s be clear, this proposal is not made lightly or without regard to the well-being of our county taxpayers.

This administration made many tough decisions. We saved over $1.5 million in prescription drug costs, and made $638,000 in payroll cuts. My administration takes seriously the significance of asking for this increase, but to be clear, it’s entirely necessary.

Second, you’ll likely hear two claims from some commissioners. One is we don’t have ability to accurately predict tax revenues, the second concerns the validity of our five-year plan. It was recently suggested by one of our commissioners, that last year the county came in with $9 million more than expected. This is deliberately attempting misleading to the public.

In local government, we deal with encumbrances, plainly speaking, this is money planned for an expense that has yet to produce a bill. In 2019, we had $8 million in encumbrances payable in 2020, meaning we truly only came in $1 million better than expected.

It’s important to remember, our budget is $514 million of which only $115 million was from local property taxes, predicting our exact revenue within $1 million is essentially a 1% margin error. That’s a high degree of accuracy and common in any organization with a large budget.

Furthermore, several commissioners have cast doubt on our five-year financial plan. It’s a plan they requested and it’s a plan you paid for, to the tune of $40,000.

That plan shows us depleting our stabilization fund by 2023 at our current millage rate. The fact is this, you paid for a plan that pointed to facts that some commissioners are choosing to disagree with because its politically convenient. In the end, you’ll pay a lot more.

Lehigh County is filled with examples of municipalities that chose to take things year by year instead of planning for the future. Commissioner Osborne, should know this best.

As a South Whitehall Township Commissioner from 2005-2012, taxes stayed flat, while expenses went up and reserves went down. Three years later, South Whitehall saw its taxes rise, 36% in one year, and 11% percent the next.

Allentown made the same error, hitting its residents with a 27% increase last year, and Lehigh County not long ago passed along a 70% increase to its residents.

As a social studies teacher, I can confidently say those who don’t learn from their own history will certainly repeat it.

Finally, it’s about what’s in the budget that should matter to our residents. It’s our $46.7 million renovation of Cedarbrook, the social safety net for our seniors. It’s two sheriffs’ deputies that will process PFA’s ensuring that domestic abusers no longer have firearms to harm their partners and $3 million for farmland preservation. Our budget funds Children and Youth, the courts and corrections. It’s a matter of protecting the vulnerable, keeping you safe and investing in your future.

Commissioners can’t say they support these initiatives but oppose how we get there, blocking this year’s budget puts our values and wallets in jeopardy.

$3 more per month is a small price to pay for these things, and its certainly preferable to the sticker shock of a large increase down the road. I proposed this increase because I believe that we must meet the needs of our community.

If you believe in this mission too, then support this budget at the Commissioner meetings. You can stand up for our seniors, our children, our sheriffs, our public servants and our finances.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

WaPoPoll: 58% of Americans Now Support Impeachment Inquiry

A poll was conducted for the Washington Post by the Schar School of Policy and Government between October 1-6 of a random national sample of 1,007 adults (69% reached via cell phone). This poll reveals the following:
  • 58% of Americans now support the impeachment inquiry initiated by the U.S. House
  • 60% of Americans believe Donald Trump is unethical
This group identified itself as Independent (44%), Democrat (30%), Republican (25%), no opinion (1%).

So far as I can tell, this poll failed to ask whether those sampled are actual voters.

Both of Pa's Senators Condemn Withdrawal From Syria

Senator Bob Casey: “Kurdish forces have been a steadfast U.S. ally and President Trump has shamefully betrayed them. Thousands of Kurds died in the fight against ISIS only to be abandoned by President Trump, whose fascination with authoritarian dictators, like Erdogan, seems to control U.S. foreign policy. Turning our back on the Kurdish people in their time of need will make our nation less safe. Potential allies will no longer trust our government. President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria also underscores the problematic nature of his continuing involvement in his business, the Trump Organization. Since President Trump has not fully divested from his private business, our nation is left to wonder whether the fact that the Trump Organization has dealings in Turkey impacted his decision.”

Senator Pat Toomey: "The president's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the northern Syrian border poses a significant threat to our national security and risks reversing the progress made in the region to destroy ISIS. It could also lead to war between Turkey and Syrian Kurds, a result that will boost enemy regimes in Syria, Iran, and Russia. This betrayal of the Kurds will also severely harm our credibility as an ally the world over. President Trump should rethink this decision immediately."

In reaction to outcry over this "stain on America's honor," Donald "The Joker" Trump has walked back a complete withdrawal. At this moment, 400 troops will stay. But as Foreign Affairs observes, "his new plan is even riskier: it tasks a small cohort of troops with the same mission as the current U.S. deployment in northeastern Syria, which is ten times as large."

Vladimir Putin must be smiling again.

How to Apply For Absentee Ballot

"Bernie can you review how to get an absentee ballot?"

This question was asked in response to my post yesterday, telling you Monday was the last day to register if you wish to vote in November. It's too late to register now, but if you are registered, you can vote by absentee ballot.

Absentee ballots are available to people who are unable to go to their designated polling place on election day. If you are in the military or a bedridden combat vet, you can vote by absentee ballot even if you failed to register.

Absentee ballot applications for the November 5 election must be received by your county election office by 5pm on Tuesday, October 29, 2019. You can apply for an absentee ballot online or by sending an application to your county office.

Lehigh County Voter Registration Office
Lehigh County Government Center
17 S 7th St
Allentown, PA 18101

Northampton County Voter Registration Office
Northampton County Courthouse
669 Washington St
Easton, PA 18042

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a bill that expanded absentee ballot deadlines and even provided badly needed money for the new voting machines, but Governor Tom Wolf vetoed it because it also eliminated straight-party voting.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Donald Trump: Joker of American and International Politics

On Saturday, I saw The Joker, a dark and gritty portrayal of the fictional supervillain and Batman nemesis.  Before going, I read several warnings that the movie does little more than glorify mindless violence. That's untrue. The film instead explains how one fictional mass murderer got that way. As I watched the movie, I was struck by how popular this evil creature had become. Many Gotham residents preferred him to the elitists in control of the city. You know, the deep state. This movie is much more than a psychological profile of violent madness. It is also a condemnation of the mob and populism giving rise to authoritarians like  Donald Trump.This reality TV show star turned President is the Joker of American and even international politics.  His romper room is the twitterverse.

Most of you can see why he is the Joker domestically. Just check out his alligator-infested moat.

But I want to detail, just a little, why the impeachment process is so necessary. Many of you are unaware Ukraine is currently embroiled in a war with Russia (using separatists who just happen to be supplied with advanced Russian hardware). Over the past five years, 13,000 Ukranians have died. Another 1.5 million people have been displaced. Ukraine forces have held their own, but they rely on Western support.

Instead of being concerned about this Russian threat, Trump actually was unwilling to help or even talk to Ukraine When he finally did talk to President Zelensky in late July, his focus was a political opponent and his desire to make Ukraine an ally in an attempt to smear him. The fight with Russia was never even mentioned. Of course, this is criminal. Even more worrisome is that Trump is undermining both our security as well as Ukraine.

And Vadimir Putin is laughing.

So is Kim Jong Un. He now is launching ballistic missiles with impunity, with nary a word of condemnation. "Nothing to see here," sez th Joker. "Move along."

He has alienated our closest allies while cozying up to dictators.

In the meantime, he may have lobbied Japan Prime Minister Shizo Abe to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He's the Joker.

Updated 9am: The Joker has now abandoned the Kurds, who fought against ISIS in Syria. He's pulling American troops out so Turkish authoritarian Erdogan can begin the expansion of his renewed Ottoman empire. Instead of being critical of the authoritarian, the Joker chides betrayed Kurds and, of course, our European allies.   

Osborne Opposes 5.5% Tax Hike

Blogger's Note: Below is an op-ed by Lehigh County Comm'r Brad Osborne. It first appeared in The Lehigh Valley Press on October 3, 2019.

For the second consecutive year, Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong has delivered a budget with a tax increase to the county board of commissioners.

Last year, a 4.1-percent tax increase was proposed, with the administration stating it wasn’t necessary for 2019.

This year, the administration proposed a 5.5-percent tax increase based on its five-year financial forecast, and again an increase in this amount is not necessary to fulfill the county’s responsibility to the community in 2020.

What is going on?

Frankly, this year’s budget is designed to conform to a predetermined outcome ignoring historical data.

Last year, for instance, the county came in $9 million better than projected.

No one is to blame for this variance as it is obviously difficult to project revenue and expenses in advance. Also obvious, we are not quite ready to tax our citizens five years in advance of our knowledge base.

The fact that we started 2019 with a rainy-day fund exceeding government standards by more than 25 percent and came in $9 million better than projected last year should be all the evidence anyone needs to be convinced the county should take this year by year.

Can you imagine what shape our families would be in if we allowed every school district, every municipality, our state and federal government to overtax us like this?

I oppose this overtaxing for the unnecessary burden it would put on our community.

Please call the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners at 610-782-3050 or attend the 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10 meeting to let your elected officials know your thoughts.

If You Want to Vote This November, Register Today!

On Saturday, I spent a few hours at Hanover Township's Fall Festival, demonstrating the ExpressVote XL system we will start using in November. I did this once before in Easton. Thanks to Northampton County's Amy Hess and Amy Cozze, there was a Herculean effort to introduce these new voting systems at numerous different locations. But I was disappointed. Aside from senior citizens and election workers, there was little interest.

What bothered me most was a young couple who walked by with their two children on Saturday. I asked if they'd like to try the new touchscreen with a vote-verifiable paper trail, and they politely said, "No thanks."

"We'll find out the results in a few weeks," smiled the father.

I realize municipal races are nowhere near as dramatic as a Presidential election, but your local government often has the most direct impact on your lives.

If you want to vote in November, today is the last day you can register to vote. You can do so online.

Friday, October 04, 2019

NorCo Council: Extend OSHA Protections to Public Workers

What if I told you that private sector workers have more workplace protections than our police officers, firemen, corrections officers, road maintenance workers, and other public employees in Pennsylvania? That's a question State Rep. Patrick Harkins has asked his Harrisburg colleagues. Most private sector workers are protected by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA). Public sector employees, however, are on their own. Harkins has proposed legislation that would extend OSHA protections to government workers as well. His bill is languishing, however, in the House's Labor and Industry Committee. At their October 3 meeting, Northampton County threw their support behind Harkins' proposed law, which is called the Jake Schwab Worker's Safety Bill.

Schwab, a mechanic with the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority, was fatally injured at work in 2014 by an exploding air bag. He had been using the wrong tools and was working at a garage that had gone nine years without safety training. His public sector employer is exempt OSHA protections.

Every Democrat in the Lehigh Valley delegation to the state house has agreed to sponsor this legislation. But not one Republican.

Jim Irwin, a former Gracedale employee who now works for AFSCME District 88, argued that worker safety protection should be the same for everyone. He said the proposal, first made four years ago, has never made it out of committee because of cost.

"What's the cost of someone's life?" he asked.

Council President Ron Heckman talked about his own experience, pre-OSHA, working one summer at a cast iron foundry. He and his co-workers donned leather gloves they would purchase themselves, and would wrap a wet handkerchief around their faces. By the end of the day, the entire room was a fog. "OSHA changed that," he said. "They actually got masks."

Heckman went on to say that the government often passes laws applying to the private sector, but exempts itself. "I think that stinks," he concluded.

Council member Kevin Lott recounted that he once observed borough workers dig inside a trench about three feet over their head, with no protections. "Our public sector workers are second class citizens," he complained. "You need to set standards."

Northampton County's resolution, which is non-binding, was passed 8-1. The sole No vote was from Council member John Cusick.

Cusick said he "supports worker safety," but the statewide organization representing counties is opposed to this legislation. He suggested that this group, called CCAP, should first be asked to change its platform.

Council member Bill McGee, who introduced this resolution, told Cusick he would contact this county government advocate, which is known as the County Commissioners' Association of Pa.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

McClure: No Tax Hike in 2020

Exec Lamont McClure (L) and Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron with 2020 Budget
Northampton County property owners have been spared a tax hike next year. Executive Lamont McClure  unveiled a $445 million spending plan for 2020 during a presentation this morning at the 911 Center on Gracedale's campus. His budget keeps the tax rate at 11.8 mills, where it's been for the past five years. A home assessed at $75,000  will receive a tax bill next year for $885.

McClure is spending 5.6% less than he did last year. Part of the reason for that is because the county is no longer paying a triple net lease for its human services building, located in Bethlehem Tp. It now owns it. In addition, thanks to a refunding of county bonds, the annual debt service has dropped. .

Though spending has been reduced, McClure wants to spend $2.6 million of the county's reserve, or rainy day, fund. This is to help pay for new voting machines mandated by Governor Tom Wolf's Department of State. Though the state legislature approved a measure to reimburse counties for some of the cost of new voting machines, Wolf vetoed the bill because it eliminated the straight party voting option.

McClure said he does expect that the federal and state governments will eventually reimburse the County for this unfunded mandate.

In a sign that county nursing home Gracedale has turned a financial corner, McClure's spending plan includes no county contribution to keep it afloat. He added that the nursing home's rating has gone up as well.

McClure's proposed budget attempts to combat what he calls "warehouse proliferation" by setting aside $3 million for open space projects. The Executive added this also reflects the will of the people,as expressed in a 2002 referendum in which voters overwhelmingly endorsed open space.

Like most employers who help pay for the healthcare of the workforce, Northampton County saw its healthcare costs spike 39% last year. This includes approximately $1.2 million the County used to fund the health savings accounts of employees. McClure believes part of this increase is also because people are now electing to undergo medical procedures they deferred under the previous administration, which had a less generous health plan.

McClure added the budget fully funds a "disastrous public private partnership" for the repair or replacement of 27 bridges. The private contractor has missed several milestone markers and the Executive anticipates "much debate and discussion" next year over what appears o be a stalled project.

The budget also includes a 2.5% raise for its career service, or nonunion workers. Union workers are paid in accordance with separate contracts, and most bargaining units will see a 2% raise next year.

Budget Administrator Doran J Hamann
This is the last budget prepared by Budget Administrator Doran J Hamann. This Lehigh University MBA is retiring in November after 40 years of service to Northampton County. He expects that most debate concerning the budget will be resolved by the time he retires, but is willing to return if questions arise. Over the years, he has been a trusted source by both Democratic and Republican Executives.

His heir apparent, at least if he has a say, is accountant Brandon Donstane, an ESU grad who has been with Northampton County for 11 years.

Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron said the Budget is available on the county web page. For the first time, it includes the "blue book" previously available only to members of County Council.

"Marsy's Law" On Ballot in November

When you vote in November, you'll be asked to approve an amendment to the state constitution, called Marsy's Law, to give crime victims many of the same rights that apply to criminal defendants. They will have the right to be present at every proceeding. This has passed both houses of the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions, and it's now up to voters.

These will include constitutional rights to:

* be treated with fairness and respect for the victim's safety, dignity, and privacy;
* proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt and final conclusion of the case;
* have the safety of the victim and victim's family considered when setting the bail amount and release conditions for the accused;
* reasonable and timely notice of public proceedings involving the criminal conduct;
* be present at public proceedings involving the criminal conduct;
* be heard at proceedings where a right of the victim is implicated, including release, sentencing, and parole proceedings;
* receive notice of any pretrial disposition of the case, with the exception of grand jury proceedings;
* provide information to be considered before the parole of the offender;
* reasonable protection from the accused and those acting on the behalf of the accused;
* reasonable notice of the release or escape of the accused;
* refuse an interview, deposition or other discovery request made by the accused;
* full and timely restitution from the person or entity convicted;
* the prompt return of property when no longer needed as evidence; and
* confer with the government's attorney.

Twelve other states have adopted this constitutional change.

Who could possibly be opposed to crime victims? This is opposed by both the ACLU and conservative publications like Real Clear Policy.

If someone accuses me of rape or an assault, the whole purpose of a criminal trial is to determine whether the accuser is actually a crime victim. As noted in Real Clear Policy,
"While considerate treatment of victims is important, and it can make sense to take steps to assure them (e.g.) better notice of proceedings and return of their lost property, it is dangerous to let the conduct and timing of criminal process itself depend too much on their wishes. Interests of evenhanded justice counsel against letting patterns of conviction and punishment depend too much on whether the complainant in any particular case is angry, energetic, articulate, or for that matter present at all. The function of criminal prosecution cannot be to validate the victim’s suffering. It must instead be to ascertain the truth as best as possible and impartially carry out the legal consequences on the guilty.

"In short, there are very good reasons why the Framers included in the Constitution and Bill of Rights many protections for criminal defendants, but relatively few for victims. We forget that wisdom at our peril."

Of course, this measure will pass overwhelmingly. Then it will create bottlenecks in our courts.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Lisa Scheller Expands LCCC Scholarship Program

I got to know Lisa Scheller during her days as a Lehigh County Comm'r. I was pretty rough on her because that's the way I roll, and after all, she is an evil Republican. She never seemed bothered by my diatribes. She always answered my emails. I was actually sorry to see her leave Lehigh County's Board.

In the real world, she's President and Chairman of Silberline Manufacturing Co., Inc. In case you don't know, this Tamaqua - yes, I said Tamaqua - corporation is a world leader and global supplier of high-quality special effect and performance pigments. She has both math (University of Colorado) and engineering (Lehigh University) degrees. Just a few months ago, she was honored by Schuykill County's Chamber of Commerce as their Entrepreneur of the Year.

But her story goes beyond her government service and business acumen. She is a recovering heroin addict who lived on the streets. Unlike many others, she has gone public. In fact, she established the Hope and Coffee shop in Tamaqua, her hometown, for fellow addicts.

When I received word that Lisa would be making an announcement at Lehigh County Community College yesterday, a 36 minute drive from Nazareth, I felt I owed it to my fellow addict.

She announced a scholarship program for Lehigh County and Tamaqua high school students enabling them to take college-level courses in the junior and senior years and receive both a high school diploma and associate's degree. This scholarship is available to students eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Currently, 56 students from Allentown School District alone are enrolled in a scholarship Scheller made available to technical school students. She's expanded the program so that it applies to all high school students.

In her remarks, Scheller said education "opens so many doors" for people who were "not put here to be something, but to be someone."  She stressed a country of "educational haves and have nots is a threat to democracy." 

Scheller is mulling a run for the Congressional seat held by Susan Wild in the Pa. 7th District. It's rated by Cook Political Report as "likely Democratic," but 2020 is far off.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Morganelli Establishes Community Policing Award in Bethlehem

Mary Mowrer
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli has established the Gordon B. Mowrer Community Policing Award in Bethlehem. The Fraternal Order of Police will annually recognize a police officer who has contributed to a strong police and community relationship that year with a contribution to the charity of that officer's choice. The program is funded with a $2,000 donation from the drug forfeiture fund.

Mowrer served as Bethlehem's Mayor from 1974-1978, and as Acting Mayor in 1987. He passed away in 2016 at age 80.

Though credited with preserving Bethlehem's historic downtown, Morganelli hailed his former mentor as a pioneer of community policing. He established thee teams (Adam, Baker and Charlie) responsible for different areas of the City so that police officers and the community they served would know each other. His changes resulted in a dramatic reduction in crime.

According to Morganelli, the Mayor was so enthusiastic about building a positive police presence that he would often ride along with officers.

His city vehicle, a black Pontiac, was equipped with a siren, and Morganelli said theMayor used it a few times to give stern warnings to red light violators. This was confirmed by one reporter at Morganelli's announcement, who confessed he was once stopped by the "Main Street Mayor."

George Mowrer, son of the late Mayor, said he often rode along with his father. His widow Mary said her husband often bolted on date night when he heard a siren or saw police lights.

"He really made Bethlehem a safe community," added Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez, whose late father was a police detective. Police Chief Mark DiLuzio said Mowrer was the Mayor who made sure officers were equipped with bulletproof vests.

McClure Unveils NorCo's 2020 Budget on Thursday

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure will unveil his 2020 Budget for Northampton County on Thursday, 10 AM, at the 911 Center on Gracedale's campus. The current tax rate, set at 11.8 mills, has remained the same for the past five years.

Lehigh County, which released a $514.6 million budget earlier this month, has proposed a tax hike. It is unknown whether McClure will hold the line.

Under Northampton County's Home Rule Charter, it must be a balanced budget. Proposed expenditures must be no greater than the anticipated funds available.

County Council has until December 16 to adopt or amend the budget. If it fails to do either, McClure's budget will be automatically adopted. County Council can also reject the budget, but that will also mean it is automatically adopted on December 16.

Monday, September 30, 2019

NorCo COs Deny They Refused To Discuss Schedule Change

When Lew Donatelli's father passed away in March, his sister asked him to organize pictures his mother had taken over the years. He found five drawers filled with hundreds of them. When he began looking through them, he noticed something odd. He was absent from  most of these family celebrations and milestones. Not because he wanted to be. He had no choice. He is a Northampton County Corrections Officer (CO).

I recently met with Donatelli and Russell Attanasio, another CO who happens to be the union president. They were both on the negotiating team in the latest contract talks, which resulted in a binding arbitration award. They both want to respond to a recent NorCo op-ed, published here, concerning the manpower crisis and high turnover at the jail.

They are both long-time county employees, hired at a time when there was little turnover or overtime at the jail. They routinely were awarded step increases (4 1/2%) as they gained experience. A veteran officer received a lot more money than a new hire.

Times have changed.

According to these senior officers, the changes began with former County Executive Bill Brackbill. Pencil pushers is the county realized it was cheaper to mandate overtime at a 24/7 facility than make new hires. That practice continued and actually increased after Brackbill left. Last year, for example, both officers were mandated to work a second shift at least 25 times.

They met with me in response to two stories about the manpower crisis at the jail. I attributed the problem to low salaries. The county, in a separate unsigned op-ed, responded that salaries are comparable to what is paid elsewhere, and the real reason for the turnover is the union's unwillingness to change its schedule.

This was news to the union.

They want to correct this claim and what they say are other errors in the county response.

1) The Union Never Refused to Discuss Scheduling. - The County insists that overtime at the jail is "the Result of a Schedule Which the Union Does Not Want To Change." It argues this refusal led to $1.73 million in overtime in 2018. It even slurs corrections officers for taking vacations, which are no greater for them than the rest of the county workforce. "The facts demonstrate that the schedule that the COs work needs to be reformed to be fairer to all the COs and not just the most senior COs," claims the county.

Sounds good. Complete nonsense.

Donatelli and Attanasio were both astonished by this accusation because a change in scheduling was never brought up during any of the negotiation sessions with the county. Only two matters were discussed, health benefits and wages. Scheduling came up with the current administration for the first time during arbitration, along with proposed changes in 30 of 43 articles in the union contract.

Scheduling did come up once before, on August 12, 2015, during a meeting at the jail under former Executive John Brown. The County broached the subject of either 12-hour shifts or a 5 day on, 2 day off schedule.

These veteran correction officers had one question about a 12-hour schedule. What happens if you have to mandate someone? Wouldn't this mean an officer could be forced to work 36 hours straight?.

That was the last time a schedule change was broached.

How about five days on, two days off? "We'd have to be the two biggest dummies in Northampton County to say No to that," said Donatelli. Pointing to his and Attanasio's seniority, he said they'd be guaranteed every weekend off. But they are the two biggest dummies in Northampton County. They think this would be unfair to fellow corrections officers, and said there's a need to have some senior officers covering shifts.

As things stand now, these senior officers work every other weekend just like everyone else. They both resent the county's misrepresentation about them, and rightly so.

They both agree the real issue is retention.

They have always been willing to discuss changes in the schedule.

The County, if truly interested in solving the manpower crisis at the jail, could ask the union to discuss this matter

2) The County Saves Money By Paying $1.73 million in overtime. - A study of the jail conducted under former Executive John Brown concludes it should be manned by 44 more officers than the 203 currently assigned. But guess what? Those additional officers, at an average of $66,000 per year with benefits, would cost the County $2.7 million. So the County actually saves $1 million per year by mandating overtime instead of hiring people and paying them what they are worth.

This might be fiscally prudent. But it balances the budget on the backs of the county worker.

3) Does County Want Corrections Officers to Work With No Vacations? - In its op-ed, the County makes this complaint about corrections officers: "Data shows that the average CO at the prison works 1611 hours out of a 2080 hour work year. This means that the average CO is not available for 25% of the year, causing holes in the schedule." This language also appears in the statement of the County's Partial Arbitrator. The implication is guards are shirkers who only work when they feel like it.

The truth is that corrections officers, like everyone else who works for the county, get vacations and personal days, and those increase as they gain seniority. The "holes" are the result of earned vacations at a jail without enough officers.

Unlike everyone else at the county, these officers have to request vacations a year in advance.

Does the County want corrections officers to give up vacations and holidays?

If so, how long before other county workers are told to forget theirs as well?

If the data shows that there are holes in the schedule, doesn't this necessarily mean that more officers are needed?

This was an unfair argument.

4) The County Misrepresented Average Corrections Officer Salary. - The County contends the salaries paid to COs in NorCo are comparable and even better than elsewhere. It asserts, "In 2017 as of the expiration of the most recent labor contract, the average base salary for COs in Northampton County was $54,984. This excludes any overtime and bases average salary on where the County had the most COs—at seven years of service." Once again, this sounds good. Once again, it's completely untrue.

The average salary, in fact, does include overtime.

In fact, the average base salary in 2017, exclusive of overtime, was well below what was portrayed. It ranged from a low of $35,000 for new hires to $56,000 for officers with 18 or more years of experience.

The data used by the County is flawed.  This means that all the conclusions about how NorCo COs compare to other counties is equally flawed:

Donatelli and Attanasio wish to make clear they believe the County acted honestly, but erred and relied too heavily on written arguments made by labor lawyers..

 5) Addressing Turnover. - Both Donatelli and Attanasio agree the County is doing everything it can to attract officers in a job regarded by most as a "stepping stone." A class of 11 new guards just graduated on Friday. There still is a 25% turn over every year. Both argue this problem will persist until wages improve and salary compression stops.

Under the plan proposed by Executive Lamont McClure, officers would have received a step increase in the first year (4 1/2%) followed by two per cent raises in years two and three.

The problem is that anyone hired in 2018 is getting nothing. In the third year of the contract, these three-year veterans would be making no more money than someone who just walked in the door.

"We want the scale to function so that you move through the steps," they said. Right now, they claim it's impossible to reach the top step.

Since these veterans are already at the top of their scales, they are arguing for junior officers, not themselves.

Perhaps the County should listen.

Friday, September 27, 2019

If Amazon Can Afford $15 Per Hour, Why Not the Public Sector?

For about a year, Amazon has been paying all of its US employees (FT,PT and seasonal) at least $15 per hour. Target expects to follow suit by next year. In July, the US. House voted 231 – 199 to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, though it's unlikely the Senate will agree. Northampton County requires contractors on county projects to pay a prevailing wage. It enacted a responsible contractor ordinance under which workers receive a living wage. But it has ignored its own employees.

The chart below shows that Northampton County's rank-and-file custodians receive an average of $13.04 per hour to clean our messes. Seventeen of 21 are paid less than $15 per hour. One of them earns just $10.74.

The County claims the actual wage is higher because it pays $9.62 per hour for health insurance for each employee. It adds the union contract approving these wages was overwhelmingly approved. "The issue of these folks being underpaid did not come up at the bargaining table," notes Deputy Administrator Becky Bartlett.

It should have.

Last year, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed legislation that would give employers a choice: "pay workers a living wage or pay for the
public assistance programs low-wage workers are forced to rely upon."

I would include public employers in that category.

Executive Lamont McClure is balancing his fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer against his sincere desire to pay employees what they are worth. Unfortunately, it is usually the employee who loses.

But so does the taxpayer.

The pittances paid might help balance a county budget and prevent a tax hike. but nationwide, these low wages actually cost taxpayers $152.8 billion per year, according to a 2015 study from the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center.

If people were paid more fairly, there would be less turnover and a happier workforce.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

NorCo 911 Responds to Bath Concerns

A week ago today, Northampton County Council member Matt Dietz raised three concerns brought to his attention by Bath firefighters about the 911 Center. First, they were missing callouts. Second, they said 911 was giving bad directions for some emergencies because a bridge is out in their response are. Third, they argued that the closest fire company or EMS should be dispatched to an emergency, regardless whether it is in the municipality. Dietz raised these issues at a Council meeting because, ironically, Bath was having trouble getting an answer from 911. He wanted to alert his fellow Council members and wondered whether this could be a symptom of a more widespread problem related to the recent consolidation of Bethlehem City and the County.

Below is 911's response to Dietz concerns, which the County was kind enough to forward to me.

You know, a little knowledge can be dangerous. I found that out after publishing my story. What ensued were 52 comments, many from people far more knowledgeable about EMS than I. They include Peter Melan, Ben Miller, Bath Mayor Fiorella R. Mirabito and East Allen Fire Chief Jon Kopishke. One of the things I learned is that proximity to an emergency is only one of several factors considered in determining how to respond. I learned it is the fire chief in the affected municipality who decides on a response plan, which is entered into 911's computer aided dispatch (CAD). Finally, it appears that the dropped calls experienced by Bath are a localized issue unrelated to the consolidation. Had the problem been more widespread, I would have learned that pretty quickly in the responses.

Having said that, the county's 911 center is due for some changes since the first EMS call was made in 1968. Governing explores some of these changes, and I will address them in a separate story, proving again that I know nothing.

Congrats to SGT Laubach on His Pregnancy

Unless you have a reserved parking spot, it can be pretty tough to find a parking spot around Northampton County's Courthouse. It sits atop a hill, too, which means those who arrive late get plenty of aerobic exercise as they scale the mountain. Executive Lamont McClure has reserved a few spots for expectant mothers at the main parking lot. That's actually a very good reason for getting pregnant. I have tried, but have thus far been unsuccessful. In that vein, I wish to congratulate SGT Jason Laubach, a Deputy Sheriff on his recent pregnancy.

Deputy Sheriffs are assigned the responsibility of enforcing the parking rules at the county courthouse. Most offenders get warnings. Anyone who parks in a judge's spot, however, is subject to summary execution.

I have written before about county employees parked in the "30 minute" spots reserved for courthouse visitors. I have stopped short of naming names. But SGT Laubach is an exception.

SGT Laubach's white pickup
Is this because he is a hypocrite who fails to follow the rules he is paid to enforce? Not at all. I'm naming him because his pregnancy is nothing short of a medical miracle. The world should know.

I hope I'm invited to his baby shower.

When I inquired about this, someone in the Sheriff's office told me SGT Laubach was actually in a 30-minute spot, not one of the spots reserved for pregnant people.

If that were true, it would mean Laubach is mocking the very rules he is paid to enforce. So it's pretty clear to me that SGT Laubach is in a family way.

I hope he names the baby "Little Bernie," after me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Transcript of Trump Call to Ukraine Prez

You can read it here. He did ask a foreign government to help him and his personal attorney dig up dirt on Biden and Biden's son.

NorCo Custodian - "We Are the Dogs"

Part of Northampton County's workforce consists of its custodial staff. Every County Executive I've seen, no matter what his other flaws might be, has always been good to them. Unfortunately, this attitude has failed to trickle down to an officious Deputy Sheriff. Recently some custodians were on their way to the judges' private chambers to do some cleaning. They planned to use the elevator, but were stopped by a Deputy who told them they had to wait for some judges who were coming down. He told them to stand off to the side. Now I understand that the security of judges is important. After all, the courthouse is full of criminal defendants, disgruntled litigants in domestic matters, and worst of all, politicians. But then this deputy crossed the line, and told these custodians they had to avert their eyes as the judges paraded by.

"We are the dogs," said one of them to me.

Fortunately, one of them must have told Executive Lamont McClure what had happened.

Suffice it to say this deputy has stopped demeaning custodians.

I'd like to end the story here, but the truth is that custodians are paid like animals.

I spoke to one custodian yesterday who has been with the county for 14 years and is paid $14 per hour. Another started with the county seven years ago at an hourly wage of $10.50. Now she gets $12.50 an hour.

I guess they are the dogs after all.

Northampton County Council recently adopted a responsible contractor ordinance and has prevailing wages language in all of its construction contracts. It endorsed a Tara Zrinski-sponsored Green New Deal resolution that would guarantee a $15 per hour minimum wage. It includes two business agents for trade unions. Yet they have never said a word about full-time county workers being paid less than evil Amazon has agreed to do.

This is first class hypocrisy.

No full-time county worker should be paid less than $15 per hour.

Jacko the Monkey Stars in NorCo DA Debate on PBS-39

PBS has stars like Big Bird and Kermit the Frog. As of Monday night, you can add Jacko the Monkey. He was featured prominently during the debate between Terry Houck and Tom Carroll for NorCo DA.

You can see it yourself on PBS' Facebook page.

Though Carroll was an Assistant DA in NorCo from 2005-2007, he had to resign after he had the brilliant idea of placing Jacko the Monkey on the desk of a black female assistant DA..

As you know, Jacko has posted his own op-ed here, denying any wrongdoing. In fact, he tells me he warned Carroll this would be taken the wrong way. Carroll didn't care, either because he's a bigot or an idiot.

It was funny watching him try to minimize what he did. He claimed he knew this would come up and called Sesame Street headquarters "the lion's den." Then, after some prodding, he claimed he had done it to cheer her up.

"Do you consider yourself astute and aware?" asked PBS host Monica Evans.

"At this point, you made your point," said a flustered Carroll. "I came here today to talk about the issues that are facing the District Attorney's Office ..."

Evans countered that a DA deals with a lot of different people. "If you don't understand the significance and how offensive putting a monkey on an African American's desk can be, I think that's a point to note."

Carroll then claimed, "This is an agenda driven by the left, like you do with everything else, to misdirect the issues."

At the time, Houck happened to be Carroll's boss.He said the black assistant was shaken to the core.He concluded that Carroll either displayed extraordinarily bad judgment or was a racist. Carroll was given two options - resign or be fired.

Sitting in the audience was Tom Carroll supporter Tricia Mezzacappa, who is facing trial for filing a false report with Pennsylvania State Police. She is accused of trying to frame a black male who lives across the street.

So he's got the bigot vote.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Deadly Mosquito Virus Detected in Monroe, Carbon Counties

The Pittsburgh Tribune reports that a rare and deadly virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, has been detected in Erie, Monroe and Carbon Counties. It's called eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), and has a 30% fatality rate among humans who are infected.

The infections detected so far were of pheasants, horses and a wild turkey. Fortunately, no humans.

Governor Tom Wolf recommends those outdoors to use DEET-containing insect repellents and cover exposed skin with lightweight clothing.

Symptoms of EEE appear within 3-10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, and consist of a high fever, stiff neck, headache and lack of energy. Inflammation and swelling of the brain can ensue.

In New Jersey, EEE has been detected in 13 counties, and three people have been infected.