Tuesday, December 31, 2019

An Epidemic of Anti-Semitism

National Review's Richard Brookhiser appeared on C-Span's Washington Journal yesterday to promote his latest book, Give Me Liberty. It is his view that, contrary to my own negative views about nationalism and American exceptionalism, it's actually a good thing. As he explains,
I AM JUST TRYING TO DIRECT OUR ATTENTION AWAY, FOR A MOMENT, FROM THE POLITICAL MANIA THAT HAS SURROUNDED US FOR 363 DAYS THIS YEAR SO FAR AND COUNTING. WE HAVE TWO MORE TO GO. WEDNESDAY WE START ALL OVER AGAIN. I WANT TO TAKE A BREAK FROM THAT AND HAVE US LOOK AT  400 YEARS WITH THE ENGAGEMENT OF THE IDEA OF LIBERTY. MY ARGUMENT IS THAT IS THE ESSENCE OF AMERICA, OUR NATIONALISM. IT IS THE EXCEPTIONAL AMERICAN IDEAL. IT IS SOMETHING AMERICANS HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT, WRITING ABOUT, FIGHTING FOR 4 CENTURIES. 
If this is so, we should all be disgusted by an epidemic of anti-Semitism sweeping this nation.

According to Brookhiser, our obsession with liberty is manifested by 13 documents, starting with the Jamestown papers in 1619. He continues through Ronald Reagan's "Tear Down this Wall Speech" in 1987. He stops there. Like any good historian, he avoids the temptation to cover more recent events.

One of the 13 papers he mentions is the Flushing Remonstrance, a 1657 petition signed by about 30 Flushing residents in opposition to as ban on Quaker worship. It concludes,
The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sonnes of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our Saviour sayeth it is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Saviour sayeth this is the law and the prophets.
This theme of tolerance exists in other documents as well, including William Penn's Charter of Privileges to the inhabitants of Pennsylvania.

So it's clear this religious intolerance is distinctly unAmerican. This is not a Jewish problem, but a stain on American exceptionalism.

Though I am not particularly religious, I intend to visit a few more synagogues in upcoming weeks. Also, like the residents of Flushing, we need to stand up to those who engage in anti-Semitism, no matter how subtle they are.

I Just Canceled My Morning Call Subscription

I believe local news coverage is essential to democracy. Without it, corruption rears its ugly head. Without information about those who decide local issues, we tend to vote by tribe instead of for the person. I've seen this in the at-large county races, and it has resulted in the election of several wing-nuts. Yet I just canceled my online subscription to The Morning Call. Let me explain why.  

We all know its coverage of local news is a shadow of what it once was. Aside from the cities, its reporters have largely stopped going to meetings. Thanks to Keith Groller, the paper still makes a valiant effort to cover high school sports, but he's only one person. Knowing these shortcomings, I was still willing to subscribe. Half an apple is still better than no apple.    

I've ended my subscription because, time and again, the newspaper denies me access to my digital subscription. When I call to complain, I am told to clear my cache. It still fails. After I give up, it starts working again when I try a few days later. It is only temporary. 

The website is painfully slow and full of pop-ups as well.  

I have online subscriptions to several publications. Only The Morning Call does this. I am unwilling to spend my limited resources on a company that seems uninterested in saving itself. 

Have any of you had these issues? 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Fall Down Seven Times ...


七転び八起き. Sometimes I see this proverb, which is actually Japanese, in a fortune cookie. It literally translates as "Fall seven times and stand up eight." Our successes are the result of our failures. We just need to persevere. Or be very lucky. Since my only luck is Irish luck, I need to keep trying. Based on the number of failures I've had in my life, I should be pretty damn successful once I've finally grown up. I saw several examples of perseverance this past weekend in both local and professional sports.

In the NFL's 2017 season, the Philadelphia Eagles won its first Superbowl despite losing starting QB Carson Wentz to injuries. This year, ironically, it seems Wentz is the only uninjured player. The team just took the NFC East with players like 5'7" Boston Scott, who was cut from the team and was playing on the practice squad.

This happened because Wentz and Scott never gave up on themselves.

While the Eagles were clawing their way into the playoffs, I was at DeSales for a mens' basketball game against bigger and stronger William Patterson University. Two of DeSales' starters have been sidelined with injuries. In no time at all, the team was down by 12. But like the Eagles, this squad never quit on itself and ended up winning a close and very exciting 62-60 game. The top two Bulldog scorers, Timmy Edwards (13) and Mike Bealer (12), came in off the bench. Matt Kachelries (10), a former Emmaus standout who was hobbled by a virus early in the season, managed to somehow block a three-point shot from William Patterson with 4.9 seconds left in the game.

I've fallen many times in my 68 years. My critics like to point out I'm a drunk, and I am. They say I'm disbarred, and I am. They point out I have little money, and that's true.

But I keep getting up.

I imagine many of you have had failures of your own. In most cases, they've made you a better person.

Friday, December 27, 2019

This is Reform?

No one will dispute that Pennsylvania is infected by a culture of corruption from top to bottom, and much of it revolves around campaign finance or outright bribery. A few local governments have stepped up with reforms, but they are pretty much meaningless unless the people in the land of midnight payraises completely overhaul our antiquated Elections Code.  State Rep. Bob Freeman has taken a baby step in that direction with a bill requiring state house and senate candidates to file an additional campaign finance report on top of the five mandated during an election year. While I suppose something is better than nothing, it's almost a joke.

Below are a list or reforms proposed, way back in 2016, by Lower Macungie Commissioner Ron Beitler, myself and a few readers. These were sent to Governor Tom Wolf and the Lehigh Valley delegation to the state house and senate. I never received a reply.

1. Term limits now and tweak the terms. Three four-year terms for State Reps. Two six-year terms for State Senators. A two-year term for State Reps is too short, They have to start campaigning for the next election virtually the day after they win.

2. Reduce the size of PA government so state rep districts to have 85,000 people within. This is small enough to maintain constituent services at the current level, but large enough to eliminate 52 positions entirely.

3. Eliminate pensions for elected officials. Salaries for a full-time state legislator should be adjusted to be the median for the district represented. It is a full time job, but not a career. Pensions are for career positions.

4. Enact Resign-to-run rules that would apply to any full time elected position that draws a taxpayer funded salary.

5. End gerrymandering by establishing independent commissions to do the redistricting.

6. Require all candidates for statewide office to file campaign finance reports electronically so the people know immediately how the campaign is being funded.

7. Ban the use of campaign funds for criminal defense.

8. Increase penalties for noncompliance with state campaign finance laws, and continue the requirement that a candidate pay for violations out of his own personal funds.

9. All local governments should be required to provide an Internet broadcast of every meeting. If it is too expensive, the government should be dissolved.

10. Enact State Rep. Bob Freeman's Bill Freeman's bill (H.B. 1745) to require candidates for the General Assembly to follow the same expense report requirements as candidates for statewide office. Currently, both General Assembly and statewide office candidates are required to file a report on the second Friday before an election, but only candidates for statewide office are required to report on or before the sixth Tuesday before the election.

11. Ban gifts of any kind, on a state and local level.

12. Require receipts for per diem payments.

13. Allow independent voters to participate in Primary Elections.

14. Ban local governments and school districts from attaching risky derivatives/"swaps" to their debt.

15. Ban candidates or elected officials from using campaign funds to make contributions to any other PAC or candidate committee to prevent the money laundering.

16. Limit campaign expenses to year of election requiring forfeiture of unspent monies. Eliminate rolling campaign accounts and expenditures in non election years. I believe district magistrates must spend it or lose it and cannot accumulate funds when they are unopposed. Similar rules for everybody.

17. LIST candidates on the ballot (per office) in random order with no party affiliation attached.

18. Rather than term limits, place "None of the Above" on the ballot for every elective office. If "None of the Above" wins a majority or plurality of the votes, the other candidates are disqualified and a new slate of candidates (including "None of the Above") must be drawn for a new election. Lather, rinse and repeat until someone other than "None of the Above" receives a majority of the votes.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Monday, December 23, 2019

Updated: Former Congressman Fred B Rooney: RIP

Former Lehigh Valley Congressman Fred B. Rooney passed away Monday afternoon. He was 94 years old.

He served as the Lehigh Valley's Congressman between 1963 and 1979. My father, who hated everyone, adored Rooney. They were fellow Democrats, fellow Irish Catholics and both had a fondness for alcohol.

I met Mr. Rooney several times when he'd visit my Dad at our house, after which the two of them would disappear. He was quite kind to me.

My Dad loved Rooney's sense of humor. He said that once, Rooney walked into his south side Bethlehem office, but instead of talking to anyone, he brusquely walked by and slammed the door to his office.

After that, everyone heard a loud BANG!

His secretary thought he had finally shot himself, and threw open the door.

Rooney was standing there laughing. He had just set off a firecracker.

He attended my wedding, and I'll never forget that he handed me a crisp $100 bill.

He got me my first real job, too. While going to Georgetown, I worked as an intern for then Congressman Dan Rostenkowski. That was before Dan got into trouble.  Someone from Rostenkowski's office worked for Rooney. This way no one could claim favoritism.

I met some real characters because we all would eat lunch at the same cafeteria. One day, Wilkes-Barre Congressman Dan Flood, white cape and all, came prancing in, with his wife at his side. They were both totally smashed.

This was before he got into trouble.

When I was not writing speeches in honor of Polish heroes, I attended and took copious notes at the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. That's where I met Chair Wilbur Mills. He used a cigarette holder, just like FDR.

This was before he met Fanne Foxe.

Then he got into trouble, too.

Seems like everyone I met there eventually got into trouble.

Rooney was a mentor to several people who went into politics. Judge-in-Limbo John Morganelli and Bethlehem Mayor Bob  Donchez are two of them.

They never got into trouble.

Rooney was the Chair or something of Northampton County Citizens for Home Rule, back before the County switched from a Commissioner form of government.

He even wrote an op-ed in support of it, except he didn't really write it.

One day he called one of his proteges into his office.  "Am I for it or against it?" he asked.

"You're for it," the high school senior answered.

At a time when machine politics was still very real, this is what might have doomed him. At that time, Justin Jirolanio was the very powerful Chair of Northampton County's Democrats. Jirolanio was strongly opposed to home rule because it would end all the little fiefdoms in the row offices, along with the patronage jobs that followed.  So Jirolanio was quite unhappy.

I am sorry about Rooney's death, but know my Dad has another buddy, wherever he is.

Updated 8:06 pm

Order!



Unlike most of the civilized world, I actually watched (on Youtube) some of the impeachment hearings conducted in recent weeks. In case you think you missed history in the making, you didn't. I found many of the witnesses impressive, but was turned off by the partisan guttersniping and grandstanding by nearly all the House members. There certainly are no future Sam Ervins or Howard Bakers in that bunch.

In stark contrast to what I see from Congress, I love exchanges in the British House of Commons. There debate is lively, intelligent, spontaneous and actually quite entertaining. Overseeing it all is the Speaker. This role is currently held by the very likable Sir Lindsay Hoyle. But his predecessor, John Bercow, and his penchant for saying "Ordair," was always a delight.

The "Speaker" of Northampton County Council is Ron Heckman, and boy does he speak. He also has more county knowledge than the others, with the possible exceptions of John Cusick and Peg Ferraro. Since the latter two are Republican, they have no chance at being elected President when Council reorganizes in January.  Heckman should keep the gavel.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Happy Chanukah!


It starts tonight. Chanukah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods.

Friday, December 20, 2019

DOS - Paper Ballots Are Already in Place

As newspapers across the country have breathlessly reported, failed Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein has asked federal District Court Judge Paul S. Diamond to ban the continued use of the ExpressVote XL. They've been a little slower to report the state's contention that Stein knew this system was among those being certified, yet waited nearly a year before complaining. Or the argument that such a ban would throw the Presidential Primary into "complete chaos." On Friday, the Department of State delivered a knock-out blow to Stein's complaint. It's simple, too. People who want to vote on paper can already do so.
"Recently adopted amendments to the Elections Code provide that all voters may vote using mail-in ballots or absentee ballots, both of which are on paper. See Pennsylvania Election Code - Omnibus Amendments, Act of Oct. 31, 2019, P.L. 552, No. 77, Cl. 25, Article XIII-D (2019) (codified at 25 P.S. §§ 3150.11 et seq.) Accordingly, any voter who wishes to vote on paper may do so."
Judge Diamond has scheduled an evidentiary hearing on January 21. He's not interested in legal arguments, but wants testimony on a few very specific questions, including why Stein waited nearly a year before complaining and what effect a ban would have on the upcoming election.

Pfffft. Hear that? That's the sound of the air going out of the Stein balloon.

Elections Comm'n Has "No Confidence" in ExpressVote XL

Public confidence in Northampton County's $2.9 million ExpressVote XL voting system was badly shaken during its rollout in the November 5 election. At the polls, some voters complained they had difficulty making choices in the retention races. This is because as many as 30% of the machines were improperly configured in the factory. Worse, 100% of the machines reported false results in all races in which cross-filing was permitted. Finally, neither of these significant errors was caught during pre-election testing. ES&S, manufacturer of this system, has repeatedly apologized for these errors and has vowed to strengthen its quality control. "We will do better," pledged Executive Lamont McClure right after the election. None of this mattered to Northampton County's Elections Comm'n. During a lengthy and sometimes contentious meeting last night, they voted 4-0 to declare they have no confidence in the ExpressVote XL voting system. Since they themselves recommended this system on March 6, they in effect voted they have no confidence in themselves. I certainly have none after watching them in action.

The Yes votes come from Deb Hunter, Maudeania Hornik, Layton Snover, Jr., and Kathy Fox. A fifth board member, George Treisner, Jr., was unable to stay and left the meeting prior to this vote.

Though the Board declared they had no confidence in the machines they themselves had recommended in March, they stopped short of demanding they be scrapped. An online headline from The Morning Call trumpets, "No confidence: Northampton County election board calls for new voting machines for 2020." This is inaccurate.

The recommendation to scrap the machines came from the Democratic and Republican parties, not the Commission. In a bipartisan blunder, Dem Party Chair Matt Munsey and GOP Exec Committee member Mary Baurket pretended to like each other and were almost holding hands as they approached asked Elections Comm'rs. It is they who want to scrap the machines.

In papers filed in federal court, ES&S has argued that such a decision would throw next year's election into "complete chaos." A Declaration obtained from Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar states it's simply “too late for Counties to replace ExpressVote XL machines in time for the 2020 primary, which will be held on April 28, 2020.” The selection process for a new system would take 3-12 months, followed by another 3-8 months for delivery, training, outreach and testing.

What makes more sense is doing everything possible to make next year's election successful. Instead of doing that, the Commission was focused on what went wrong. Commission member Deb Hunter used the fiasco to quarrel with County Administrator Charles Dertinger. She and other Commissioners were focused on what went wrong, but practically no attention was paid to suggestions that might streamline next year's elections.

Hunter did make a pitch for a machine custodian, and I agree with her. But Maude Hornik was dismissive of epollbooks. Instead of concentrating on improvements like a pilot election, precinct action plans or better testing, they wanted to know who in the county screwed the pooch on the testing.

Instead of helping our elections run more smoothly, it appears that some Commissioners wish to use this fiasco politically against Executive Lamont McClure. Right before the meeting started,  Elections Comm'r Maude Hornik handed me a statement from the NorCo GOP, slamming McClure. It even insinuates, with zero evidence, inappropriate contacts between his administration and the vendor. It even raises the specter of evil unions throwing their weight behind ES&S.

Ironically, GOP party boss Lee Snover was a supporter of the ExpressVoteXL. Her sister Maude and first cousin Daryl voted for it. McClure could never have purchased this system without their support. Now, instead of working to produce the best and most fair election possible, they will use this fiasco in an effort to defeat McClure in two years.

10 am Update: The Morning Call has fixed its misleading headline, which now reads "No confidence: Northampton County election board ‘extremely disappointed’ in machines it selected"

Thursday, December 19, 2019

How Would You Improve Next Year's Presidential Election?

At a news conference last week, NorCo Exec Lamont McClure said he would be presenting a game plan for the 2020 Presidential election to the Elections Comm'n in January. The Elections Commission meets today, at 3:45 pm. With the primary a few short months away, McClure should be making his recommendations now.

Next year's Presidential election will have issues no one foresaw. There is always a high turnout, and the parties appoint lots of watchers. They often magnify minor or nonexistent issues beyond their import. Though there will be no-excuse absentee voting for the first time, long winding lines are still inevitable. These are my suggestions:

(1) More Voting Machines. - Every precinct should have an extra machine so that voting moves faster. This is imperative. It is important to place the order now to get a state match. This will cost money, but it is clear more are needed.

(2) Epollbooks - Implementing these at polling stations will make it much easier for voters to check in. Tim Benyo has been using them in Lehigh County fr at east three elections. The danger of hacking is a nonissue. Provide each precinct with one epollbook and still use the paper books. This is a Godsend that really saves time and helps voters, especially if they go to the wrong precinct. You can bet this will happen in the presidential.

(3) Double the Pollworkers.- The County could keep a skeleton crew to cover departments and strongly encourage the staff to work their eight hours at a polling station. Even if they don't vote themselves, employees could help keep lines orderly or help monitor traffic outside. There should also be extensive outreach to the public, seeking volunteers.

(4) Extensive training is needed. - All pollworkers need to be reminded what they can and cannot say. They all need to understand provisional ballots and emergency ballots. No voter should be able to complain that his or her right to vote was denied.

(5) Action plan at each precinct. - The set up at each precinct should be examined with the lessor, election judge and county officials to determine the best way to get people in and out. An onsite inspection should take place a month before the election. There is always a lot of confusion at polling places with two precincts. There need to be plans in place to minimize confusion.

(6) Testing, testing and more testing. - Once the ballot is configured and programmed (about 5 days before the election), the value and accuracy testing needs to be enhanced. This should include a pilot election with about 30 machines.

(7) Hire a Machine Custodian. - In 2019, Northampton County had no machine custodian because the position was eliminated. In hindsight, his was a mistake. A custodian is needed, with the understanding he/she must work at the office if not needed at the warehouse.

If you have suggestions, feel free to share them.

O'Hare's WWII Diary: "We are Being Looked After Like Pet Children by the Russians"

Writer Kurt Vonnegut's letter home, written soon after his release from a POW camp, was published here yesterday. Believe it or not, my dad was the real writer back then - he even kept a diary for an entire week.

Unlike Vonnegut, he sheds no light on what had actually happened to him as a POW. He provides no explanation about his weight going from 150 lbs. before the war to 80 lbs. as Adolph's guest. Mum's the word. He'd stay like that the rest of his life. Vonnegut's three-page letter tells me more about my dad's POW experience than he himself ever shared.

He just drank. A lot. Especially at Christmas time. That didn't kill him. Neither did the Germans. The cigarettes did.

But for one week, my father chronicled his post-release experiences in amazing detail. Just twenty-two at the time, he was a pretty good writer himself. Occasionally, he mentions Vonnegut, who was just a "minor being" at the time. For the next few days, I'll share my dad's thoughts with you, day by day.

5/17/45

Our mangy but well-fed crew left DiHille's at noon today. We proceeded over the Elbe to Russian headquarters in the city and after much confusion - due to our ignorance of the Russian language and vice versa - we were directed to the Hitler Caserne on Konigsbage Strasse. Here we find ourselves confronted with the perpetual situation of no one knowing anything about anything. However, we are being looked after like pet children by the Russians. We have been here only four hours at the most and have already been fed twice, showered, de-loused and billeted. As near as we can gather from speaking to the limeys and G.I.'s here, we are to stay put until our troops come seeking us. Except for the anxiety that we all have concerning our parents and families, we don't give a damn how long it takes them to root us out.

I heard my first radio program since I was captured. Dannine and I went across the compound and fell in with a few Tommies who have a wireless set in their flat. We heard an A.M.G. broadcast from Hamburg. That American music certainly sounded good. The Tommies surprised us before the evening was over with a meal of spuds, meat and beans. We rejoined our crew with a full stomach and a highly satisfied mien. I don't believe I'll ever get up out of bed again. Goot nacht.


Blogger's Note: First published 12/11/07.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Is the GOP Now the Working Class Party?

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon made some interesting points in an recent interview with The Guardian. “We’ve turned the Republican party into a working-class party,” he boasts.

I do believe he has a point. Increasingly, Democrats are being viewed, and with justification, as elitists who have no regard for the working class.

ES&S: Decertification of Express Vote XL Would Result in "Complete Chaos"

The Express Vote XL voting system is the subject of two lawsuits in both federal (E.D. Pa. 2016-6287) and state (Commw. Ct. 674 MD 2019) courts. Both challenges, filed just days ago, seek a ban on the continued use of The ExpressVote XL voting system. Three counties - Philadelphia, Northampton and Cumberland - intend to use this hybrid voting machine in the 202 Presidential Primary. A Brief filed in federal court yesterday by machine manufacturer ES&S (Electronic Systems & Software) argues such a result would throw that election into "complete chaos." It could disenfranchise the 1.2 million registered voters in these three counties.

ES&S serves approximately 3,000 of the nation’s more than 10,000 voting jurisdictions. It is 100% American-owned and, over thirty years, has grown into the industry leader with voting-machine solutions for each phase of an election. ES&S notes The ExpressVote XL is one of the voting systems certified by the Federal Election Assistance Commission. It has been certified twice by Pennsylvania's department of State. It also has been state certified in California, Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey and Texas.

In Philadelphia, the first County to purchase this system, ES&S notes there were 827 public demonstrations of the ExpressVote XL between June 2019 and October 2019, and more than 100 poll worker trainings throughout the City. In Northampton County, I can add there were at least 20 public demonstration and five training sessions for elections workers. In Philly, a pilot election was conducted in August 2019 involving 80 ExpressVote XLs across the City of Philadelphia and more than 100 Board of Elections employees. (Unfortunately, this did not happen in NorCo and should before the Spring primary).

Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar has affirmed with ES&S that it is simply “too late for Counties to replace ExpressVote XL machines in time for the 2020 primary, which will be held on April 28, 2020.” That is apparent given the fact that “[t]he ballot for an election is finalized roughly 50 days before the election.” For the April primaries, the ballot will need to be finalized around March 9, 2020 – less than three months from now. ES&S argues that unfounded assertions must give way to the considered judgment of Secretary Boockvar and the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Failed Presidential candidate Jill Stein speculates it is “feasible for malware to cause the machines to print bar codes that corresponded to candidates the voter did not select.” ES&S disagrees. "There is absolutely no record that any of the kind of hypothetical malicious cybersecurity breaches Plaintiffs describe have ever taken place, either in actual elections or in testing of the ExpressVote XL," it asserts. In addition, it observes its system has no connection to the Internet.

I Really Do Like Children

The cover photo in yesterday's story about Human Services workers evoked pious indignation from some of you.

There was this:

"Totally tasteless photo. If you think it is amusing, you are a sick man."

I think it's amusing.

And this:

"The picture is very clearly child abuse, and your thought that it is "funny" is disturbing. Just reposting it perpetuates the abuse, similar to child pornography. Just because you didn't create the photo, doesn't remove your complicity. I agree with many of your viewpoints, and would like to think that your removal of the photo will be coming quickly. If it doesn't your blog must be reported to Blogger, IWF, and NCMEC.
Please remove immediately."


I'm unclear on what the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has to do with this, but report away.

These outraged people lack something known as a sense of humor.

I better stop now to explain that I really do like children . . . if they are properly cooked.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

NorCo's CYF Caseworkers Complain About Low Wages, Staff Shortages

Caseworkers from Northampton County's Human Services Department appeared en masse at Council's December 12 meeting to complaint about two things - low wages and understaffing. Three union stewards-Mike Koscia (sp?), Keezie Johnson (sp?) and Miguel Santiago spoke on their behalf

At issue is a dispute over a negotiated union (PSSU) contract. The bargaining unit went eight years without a contract because workers wanted to stay in the old health plan. The negotiated contract they overwhelmingly approved increase their pay by 6.25% over three years. It consisted of a step increase in he first year, followed by two percent raises in years two and three.

The disagreement centers on that step increase. Because of the civil service wage scales, steps are only 2.25% instead of the 4 1/2% in the rest of the County. To make up for that discrepancy, they wee paid an extra 1.75% cash bonus in the first year. Union stewards believe this 1.7% increase is recurring. Executive Lamont McClure insists it was a one-time payment designed to get these workers to 8% in total wage hikes like the other unions. Otherwise, Northampton County taxpayers would be penalized over PSSU's refusal to negotiate a contract for eight years.

This dispute is currently in arbitration, but the stewards took their case to Council. As President Ron Heckman observed, "We don't really get into negotiation. We gotta' be careful what questions we ask."
This is because when Council injects itself into a contract dispute, it can and has in the past ended upon the wrong side of an unfair labor practice accusation.  ButHeckman allowed everyone to speak, andeven extended the time of two speakers.

Are caseworkers paid more in Lehigh?

Mike Koscia was the leadoff hitter. He has worked for 18 years with the County, both as a youth care worker. and as a casewoker for CYF  (Children, Youth and Families). He said he was speaking "under fear of possible reprisal."  He insists that a negotiated 1.75% wage increase has been withheld. "We do not seek gladitorial combat but will not stand as a fool in a King's Court," he said to applause.

Keeze Johnson, a caseworker in CYF for the past 11 yrs, is the chief shop steward.. She noted a major discrepancy between what is paid to caseworker 2s and 3s in Northampton and Lehigh County.

Caseworker 2
$44,000 in Lehigh
$40,000 in NorCo

Caseworker 3
$56,000 in Lehigh
$44,000 in NorCo.

She said in 11 years, her pay has increased just 42 cents per hour, and she is forced to work three additional jobs with the county to make ends meet.

According to county sources, NorCo's caseworker 2s start at about $40,255. Lehigh pays a lot more at $47,000, but the caseworkers there pay more for benefits. In other countues, the pay is lower. Monroe starts at 36,058.04. Erie starts at $34,860. Delaware is $37,322. York is $35,422. According to Glassdoor, the average for a caseworker 2 is in pa is $37,835 or 8% higher than the national average.

Is CYF understaffed?

Johnson also mentioned a staff that is overwhelmed and understaffed. She noted there were over 2,000 referrals in 2018.  This year, there are nearly 6,000. "Who is supposed to handle all these cases? she asked. "Us? When there's 15 vacancies? As we speak, caseworkers are walking out the door." she claimed.

Caseworker vacancies in CYF was a major campaign issue when McClure ran for Exec. He is trying to solve the problem by getting out of state civil service so the county can hire on its own, but that process is time-consuming.

Gracedale Administrator's 9.2% Raise a "Slap Across the Face"

Both Johnson and Miguwl Santiago, a third steward, also complained about a 9.2% payraise for Gracedale's administrator and McClure's decision to hand out "steps like it's Christmas candy" to some cabinet members. He said it was hypocritical for McClure to argue that Gracedale's administrator is underpaid in comparison to other nursing home administrators when caseworkers are also underpaid.

"We need your help. We need your support. We are worth it What are you gonna' do?" Johnson asked Heckman.

Other than listen, there's nothing he or Council can do because their dispute is in arbitration. Clearly, caseworker perform an invaluable service for our most vulnerable. I hope they can resolve their issue with the county.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Express Vote XL Lawsuits

Pa. Sec'y of State Kathy Boockvar tries ExpressVote XL
There are now two lawsuits challenging the continued use of the $2.9 million Express Vote XL voting system in Northampton County. The first of these, filed in federal court is courtesy of failed presidential candidate Jill Stein.  The second, filed in Commonwealth Court, includes outgoing Council member Bob Werner as a Plaintiff. In the unlikely event that either suit succeeds, Northampton County would have no choice but to scramble and spend millions for another voting system. In addition to costing the County money that has not been budgeted,  it would create a logistical nightmare for elections staff who have already invested a lot of time and energy into improving the system we have.

The Commonwealth Court Lawsuit

Had Bob Werner thought a new system was needed, he should have voted No to the budget unless it was amended to set aside money for something new. Instead he said nothing and joined a lawsuit. This is irresponsible.

Strangely, this lawsuit was first reported in The Washington Post, and offers little more support than "hacking fears."

This should have a short shelf life.

The Federal Lawsuit 
.
On Thursday, the state responded to Jill Stein's attempt to bar the use of The ExpressVote XL.

It claims that Stein was well aware the state intended to certify the Express Vote XL, and posed no objection to its use until nearly a year had gone by.

In that year, both Philadelphia and Northampton County purchased and began using ExpressVote XL systems. Cumberland County has also purchased this system. "[T]hese counties expended significant funds and time on reviewing and procuring ExpressVote XL machines, and training personnel and educating voters in their use," the state observes in its response. "Under these circumstances, the doctrine of laches applies and precludes the relief Plaintiffs seek."

Laches is an equitable principle protecting defendants against unreasonable delay in filing a suit if they are prejudiced by that delay.

Judge Diamond has given Stein until Wednesday to respond to the state.

It's pretty clear to me that both lawsuits, accompanied by news releases and public pronouncements about hacking and other nonsense, are designed to disrupt the 2020 Presidential election and undermine public confidence in our most important right.

The Express Times, no fan of Northampton County's new voting system, said it best.
"Alas, an all-paper system might have been the better choice, but it’s too late now. Changing horses in the raging torrent of the 2020 elections is frightening. On such short notice, it carries its own set of potential screw-ups.

"The mandate for Northampton County and ES&S to get it right couldn’t be clearer: Do several dry runs to trouble-shoot everything. Hold open meetings to demonstrate the machines. Invite the public to tryouts. Double up on training for county election workers. Have ES&S representatives at the polls as well as the courthouse. Hire more election workers.

"And be prepared for a deluge of mail-in votes in 2020. It might be the only paper backup that some voters trust."

NorCo's CYF Workers Unhappy With Wages

At Northampton County Council's December 12 meeting, several caseworkers with Children, Youth and Families complained about their salaries. I had hoped to bring you this story today,but have had insufficient time to research the matter. I will report to you Tuesday or Wednesday. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

ES&S: Problems With Express Vote XL Result of Human Error

Adam Carbullido, ES&S Senior VP
At a news conference yesterday and again during a presentation to  Northampton County Council later in the day, ES&S Senior VP Adam Carbullido fell on the sword and took responsibility for all the problems that occurred in the rollout of the Express Vote XL on Election Day. He blamed human error. Express Vote XLs were configured improperly at the factory, making as many as 30% of the 320 machines too sensitive. In addition, an untested ballot layout technique was used, creating false results in cross-filed races. Finally, ES&S failed to provide the correct guidance in the logic and accuracy testing done on the machines before they were sealed and put into circulation.

"I want to apologize to the administration, county officials, elections staff, elections administrators and most importantly, voters," said Carbullido. What happened on Election Day is "completely unacceptable."

While waiting for an impound order on the machines to be lifted, ES&S created an "all hands on deck" team and began running tests on machines at their home base in Omaha, using the same configuration and ballot layout used in Northampton County. When the Order was lifted, tests on the machines led to the conclusions reached.

The fix? All machines will be properly configured before the next election. The small boxes marked with an "x" will be eliminated. Tha ballot layput technique will never be used again. The logic and accuracy testing will be strengthened.

"These are human errors and we own that," said Carbullido. "These issues will never occur again," he promised.

Council member Tara Zrinski asked how the County could be sure that another human error would result in no additional problems. Carbullido explained that the work done by one person will be checked by another.

In addition to the improvements by ES&S, which will be done at its own expense, Executive Lamont McClure said he would be presenting a plan for next year'selection to deal with long lines and other voter inconveniences. McClure said he "couldn't be more sorry" about what happened, but reminded everyone that the election was still "accurate, fair and legal."

Elections Commission member Deb Hunter, who opposed the Express Vote XL, said the County needs to address the lack of a permanent director of elections as well as machine custodian. She also said poll workers need better training.

Sandy Werner, who is married to Council member Bob Werner and who has previously been critical of both ES&S and the Express Vote XL, was incredulous about the improper configuration. "If I buy a microwave for $150, I expect all the functions to work when I plug it in at home," she complained. "I don't expect a few of them to work."

"Who will win next year's election?" asked Ms. Werner.  "ES&S. $2.8 million and not much to show for it."

A Boy's Best Friend

On Monday, I told you about Suki, my grandson's dog. After she collapsed on Sunday and a trip to the emergency vet, we learned that her heart was simply too big and that she was dying of congestive heart failure. We were given medicine to make it easier for her to breathe, and had an appointment to see the vet today. But she won't be there. She passed away yesterday afternoon.

Suki was a Jackapoo, the Captain Danger of designer dogs. She was the sweetest dog I ever saw. I got her for Dat 13 years ago, and she adored him. I loved watching them play. If it was baseball, she'd shag the balls, even though they barely fit into her mouth. She got so used to going after baseballs that she once ran out into the field during a Lehigh U game and stole a baseball.

When Dat played football, she had to get in on that action, too. Dat would announce "Down," and she would assume the linebacker position. Then Dat, who actually was a very fast running back would call out signals and snap the ball to himself. Once he did that, no matter how fast he ran, she'd get him. She was never content until she pulled his pants down.

Unfortunately, she was a terrible basketball player. Couldn't dunk.

She was very mischievous. She loved to quarrel with skunks, and once took off on an adventure that had us looking for her for three days.

She was good for me, too. I would dog sit at times over the summer, and she inspired me to start exercising at least twice. In the summer of 2018, when I was 128 pounds heavier than I am now, it is she who coaxed me into walking again. She'd also give me a look of complete disgust as I struggled to keep up with her.

This past summer, it is she who struggled to keep up with me. I thought her age might be catching up to her. Then, when I received word from Dat that she collapsed one hot July day, I thought it must be the heat or that she just tripped. Then came a second report, and once again, I assumed it was the heat. When she collapsed a third time on Sunday, it was time to see the vet.

Though the medicine made it easier for her to breathe, her energy and passion for life seemed to be gone.

We had kept Dat in the dark because he was taking exams. But his mom visited him on campus yesterday, after he had taken his last exam, and brought Suki to see her pal. Suki was thrilled and was her old self. After filling Dat in on the situation, Suki and his mom returned home. As soon as she got back, Suki let go and is now gone.

It seems that she had kept herself alive just to see her best friend one last time.

I said good-bye to her at the vet. She was finally at peace.

Thanks to those of you who emailed and messaged me.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Express Vote XL Vendor to Explain What Went Wrong in Nov Election

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure, along with representatives for the Express Vote XL voting system, have scheduled a news conference at 1 pm today to discuss arising significant issues during the rollout of this $2.9 million hybrid touch screen and paper ballot system. Some voters complained they had difficulties making choices in the retention race. More importantly, at the end of the night, when the polls closed, most of the printouts showed that Democratic judicial candidate Abe Kassis had zero votes. A scan of the paper ballots, conducted election night and into the early morning hours, showed that Kassis had actually won.

The Express Vote XL voting system is a product of Electronic Systems & Software (ES&S), a wholly owned subsidiary of The McCarthy Group. It is the largest manufacturer of voting systems in the United States, including paper ballot systems like the one used in Lehigh County. ES&S Senior VP Adam Carbullido will be at the news conference, and both he and McClure will report their findings to County Council later that day.

How Did Northampton County Get The Express Vote XL?

You can blame failed Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein, along with Governor Tom Wolf. In 2016, she filed a bizarre lawsuit demanding a recount and attacking the various systems used to count votes throughout the state. Judge Paul S. Diamond gutted most of the suit, noting that Stein had presented "no authority recognizing a right to have one’s vote verified through any procedure," let alone paper ballots. He also said Stein's fear of vote tampering in “borders on the irrational.”

Though her lawsuit was on life support, Governor Tom Wolf nevertheless settled. He commanded all 67 counties, in late 2018 unfunded mandate, to acquire voting systems that include voter-verifiable paper ballots. What's more, they had to be in place in time for the 2020 presidential election. No consideration was given to the logistics of such a demand or the financial burden it imposed on counties.

The Express Vote XL was the choice of the vast majority of about 30 election judges who viewed four different systems in Lehigh County. It was the choice of Northampton County's Election Commission, who recommended it to Northampton County Council by a 3-2 vote on March 6, following a contentious meeting pitting election judges against paper ballot purists.

Arguing in favor of The Express Vote XL was GOP Chair Lee Snover. "We're not a third world country," she assserted. "We have technology for a reason. I don't want anyone determining the intent of my vote except for me and the machine."

Before accepting this recommendation, Northampton County Council waited to see how the system performed in Delaware's primary. Council finally approved the purchase on May 16 after the system received a glowing recommendation from Delaware election officials.

Numerous election judges and poll workers spoke in support of the new system. They argued it would be familiar to voters and present none of the privacy concerns or multiple lines that would accompany paper ballots.

In addition to election judges, Elections Commissioner Maude Hornick said she supported ExpressVote XL because she wants no election official to decide how she intended to vote.

Trudy Fatzinger, Secretary of Pennsylvania Council for the Blind, reported that ExpressVote XL is handicapped-friendly. This was a selling point to Executive Lamont McClure, who observed that 25% of Pennsylvania's registered voters have some form of disability.

The sole dissenter was lameduck Robert Werner, who argued illogically that because an old touchscreen voting machine could be reversed engineered, it necessarily follows that the Express Vote XL would be vulnerable, too. This is what is known in logic class as a fallacy.

Why Did It Take So Long To Find Out What Went Wrong?

Immediately after the election, a court order impounded the voting system in anticipation of a possible challenge. So ES&S was unable to look at the system until November 26, the last day on which a challenge could be filed. The company was legally unable to look at the machines until late November.

Questions to Be Answered at News Conference

1) What did voters have issues using the touchscreen, and how is this being resolved?

2) Why did the printed returns contain incorrect vote totals, and how is this being resolved?

3) Why were these glaring errors missed in the "logic and accuracy" testing done on each machine prior to an election, and what steps are being taken to ensure that these kinds of mistakes are caught before an election?

4) What is the County doing to ensure the Presidential election runs as smoothly as is possible?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

HS Hoops: The ACCHS Chain Gang?

Coach Andy Weaver
Last night, Allentown Central Catholic Boys' Basketball team defeated the Nazareth Blue Eagles, in Nazareth, by a lop-sided 64-46 score. I want to tell you about the game, but before I do, I have to confess I really miss high school hoops and the contagious excitement during a game,

Most of the games I attend now are college games. Although the athleticism is much higher than at the high school level, there's no real enthusiasm until the final games of the season. You'd think a 30-second shot clock would spark everyone, but colleges level refs are much more likely to call fouls. This slows things down. Moreover, unless they are playing themselves, college students are unlikely to attend because they are preparing for their futures. This week, most colleges have no games at all. Instead, students are taking their finals. So last night was a perfect opportunity for me to watch Allentown Central Catholic Boys' Basketball team take on the Nazareth Blue Eagles in Nazareth. What a difference!

The price was great. Senior citizens, aka old farts, get in for free.But I still made it a point to talk to Coach Andy Weaver, who is the official ticket taker. He proudly showed me the gold medal he received when the Blue Eagle football team won a district championship. He was also operating with a brand, spankin' new wheelchair, thanks in large part to one of my readers.

When I arrived, the JV game was in its closing minutes. The Blue Eagles managed to win by six, but the score mattered little to me. What impressed me was the enthusiasm shown by players from both sides. The bleachers were full, too, with lots of roaring fans.

I felt a little guilty about being there without paying, so when three little brats came by to sell 50-50 tickets, I spent $5 to buy 6. So did a friend of mine who came all the way from the western portion of the Lehigh Valley just to watch the kids play. Like me, he's a senior citizen. Like me, he bought six tickets for $5. Unlike me, he's a terrible Hearts' player. But I go to his house because his wife is a superior cook and is nice to me.

Now whenever I go to a game, I usually buy 50-50 tickets. Not out of guilt but greed. I've never won. In fact, I'm pretty sure the fix is in. After all, this is Nazareth  Get this. My friend made the mistake of entrusting his six tickets to me, a disbarred lawyer, when he hit the can at halftime. That's when the number was called. This meant I had 12 tickets and was bound to win. I would just tell my friend, who is barely competent, that he lost. On top of this, the little juvenile delinquents who sold me my tickets assured me I was a winner.

I lost.

The winning number probably went to ex-Mayor Carl Strye, who is no longer on ARD for skimming gaming machines at the Vig and now intends to run for Mayor.

The ACCHS Chain Gang
I tried to have the little brats arrested but they conveniently disappeared.

No wonder people want a curfew in Nazareth.

Before the game got underway, the teams come out and warm up, doing drills and shaking hands as hip hop music echoes throughout the gym. The Blue Eagles looked very sleek. But I did a double and triple take when the Vikings ran into the gym.

They have new warm-up uniforms, and they all look like they just escaped from a state penitentiary. They are a frickin' chain gang.Well, they are from Allentown. Whoever decided on that as a warm-up uniform should be excommunicated. Seriously.

As for the game, all I can say is Central is back, baby. The team dominated in an away game against the very talented Blue Eagles.

You can never count Nazareth out. One regular told me that he witnessed a game, many moons ago, in which the Vikings had a 50-point lead ... and lost. But last night, no lead was squandered. After a close first quarter, 6'7" Senior Nick "the gentle giant" Filchner exploded in the second with 10 points, including two treys. At the end of the first half, Central was up, 34-20. The Vikings kept it up in the second, and finished the night with a lop-sided 64-46 victory.

Filchner finished the night with 21, and was 7-7 in free throws. Liam "the Irishman" Joyce  had 11, and was great under the boards. Other scorers included Andrew Csentsis (8), Thomas Tyson (8), Leroy Johnson (6), Christian Spugnardi (4), Aidan Burmeister (3), Brendan Reed (2) and Colby Faust.

The team scored 8 three-pointers, and was 14-22 on the line.

Nazareth's lead scorer was 6'10" Senior Zach Umar, who wants to major in Accounting. He scored 15, including two treys. Other scorers included Anthony Harris (6), Latif Elam (6), Ryan Kressge (6), Chris Bonser-Santos (4), Dan Novak (2), Andrew Stapert (2), Ben Houchin (2), Joseph Adames (2) andMatt Bugbee (1).

The team scored 5 treys, and was 6 for 9 in free throws.

The ACCHS Chain Gang will be hosted by Parkland Thursday night, while Nazareth visits Whitehall.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Voting Machine Lawsuit - State Must Answer Stein By Thursday

Jill Stein, the Green Party's 2016 Presidential candidate, in late November asked a federal court to ban the use of The Express Vote XL voting system, was used in November's election in Philadelphia and Northampton County. Cumberland County, which also bought this system, plans to roll it out next year. Judge Paul S Diamond has ordered the state to answer her latest demands by Thursday.

Stein, along with paper ballot purists, maintains the Express Vote XL fails to provide voter verifiable paper ballots and thus violates a settlement agreement with Pennsylvania. Under that deal, the state ordered all counties to have new voting systems with voter verifiable paper ballots in time for the 2020 election.

I never understood why the state settled Stein's frivolous suit. Judge Diamond, in a 2018 Order, had already dismissed most of her case. It was on life support.

Judge Diamond has already pointed out that there is "no authority recognizing a right to have one’s vote verified through any procedure," let alone paper ballots. He also observes that Stein's the fear of vote tampering in “borders on the irrational.”

This is hardly the language a judge uses if he finds an argument persuasive.

In addition, Stein has an extensive history of 20 frivolous election lawsuits in the federal system.

Is Trump Really Ahead in Pa?

Keystone Report, a Pennsylvania-based version of The Drudge Report, is touting a poll showing Donald Trump leads all Democratic hopefuls here in Pa, including Joe Biden. He's leads in Wisconsin and Michigan, too. This poll, the product of Firehouse Strategies and Optimus, has been picked up by numerous unquestioning news sources. But I have reservations.

Without question, this could be an accurate reflection of three battleground states. It is nevertheless important to note that Firehouse Strategies was founded in 2016 by GOP strategists.

The methodology used in this poll, conducted December 3-5, consists of interviews with 1,759 likely 2020 general election voters in Wisconsin (N = 610), Michigan (N = 551), and Pennsylvania (N = 598.) These were via live landline, live cellphone and peer to peer text message to web. The margin of error is reported as +/- 4.1% in Wis., ± 4.3% in Mich., and ± 4.3% in Pa.

A 538 analysis of 15 polls conducted by Firehouse-Optimus gives this GOP-leaning pollster a C/D rating and notes a Republican bias. But in fairness, an earlier poll in September showed Trump behind in the three battleground states.

Whether the poll is accurate or not, it's a pretty clear reflection of GOP strategy. The overall popular vote is meaningless. What matters are votes in the Electoral College, and that is why the battleground states are so important.

This explains why both Trump and VP Pence will be in Hershey today.

Monday, December 09, 2019

My Sunday

Sunday is the day I begin developing most of my stories for the coming week. I owe some people some calls, but they will have to wait. I spent most of the day at an animal hospital with a very sick dog suffering from congestive heart failure. She's been supplied with some medications to help delay the inevitable. She has been having trouble breathing and collapsed yesterday. The vet said she has both a murmur and arrhythmia.

This is why I am starting the week with only one story.

Ironically, I have a murmur and arrhythmia myself, and since my 40s. As most of you know, we bottom-feeding bloggers have no need for useless appendages like a heart. But unlike me, this dog is a sweetie. I hope she's around for a few more years.

A Jewish James Bond?



Hakol, "The Voice of the Lehigh Valley Jewish Community," is a monthly publication of the LV Jewish Federation. It's an excellent newspaper, and it enlightens me on issues troubling Lehigh Valley's Jewish community. I can safely say they are scared. And for good reason. In 2018, The Tree of Life Massacre in nearby Pittsburgh claimed the lives of 11 Jews and wounded another 7 who were simply participating in morning services. Whether it's aimed at Jews, Muslims or any other group, hate is unfortunately all too real. So much so that Jewish Federation is sponsoring a security app.

This app, called Bond, is a free service LV residents can load on their smart phones. It can connect you with a security agent in uncomfortable situations This agent can track you, stay online with you, notify a car to come get you or alert authorities.It even can activate a siren and alarms in dangerous situations, which might make an attacker hesitate.

The Bond founder is a The Bond founder/CEO is a former deputy chief in the IDF and the engineering team is based in Israel.

If you'd like to know more, check out www.ourbond.com.

It saddens me that something like this is necessary, but it probably is.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Party Chairs Unite to Seek Independent Analysis of November's Election

The Chairs of both Republican and Democratic Party, Lee Snover and Matt Munsey, appeared together at last night's Northampton County Council meeting to seek an "independent" study of what went wrong in November's election. "Wouldn't that help people have confidence going into 2020?" asked Munsey. Snover thinks so, and told Council it would "reassure Lehigh Valley citizens."

They had a name, too. Dr. Duncan Buell, a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at The University of South Carolina. According to Snover, Dr. Buell could do his analysis without examining the county's voting machines, is willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement and would work for free.

Dr. Buell previously sent an email to County Council, but Snover stated he received no reply.

There is some question about just how "independent" Dr. Buell would be, given that he's involved in former Presidential pretender Jill Stein's lawsuit against the state, seeking a decertification of the Express Vote XL voting system used in Northampton County.

Though he failed to address the request of both party chairs, Executive Lamont McClure told Council that ES&S, manufacturer of the ExpressVote XL, will be on hand at the next Council meeting to explain what went wrong and how hey are making sure it never happens again.

NorCo Council Approves No-Tax-Hike Budget for 2020

Exec Lamont McClure (L) and Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron with 2020 Budget
Northampton County property owners will see no county tax hike next year. By an 8-1 vote, County Council voted last night to adopt his $445 million spending plan for 2020. The tax rate will remain 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.

This is McClure's second budget as County Executive, and the second time he's held the line on taxes.

“A no tax increase budget for a second year in a row is an accomplishment Council can be proud of," McClure said in a news release issued immediately after the budget was adopted. "We’ve cut the budget nearly 6% without reducing vital services. We are investing $3 million to preserve farmland, environmentally sensitive land and investing in parks. In our fight against warehouse proliferation our administration has already invested $6 million. Finally, we are keeping our commitment to maintain Gracedale as a County-owned-and-operated facility and, once again, Gracedale will not require any money from the County’s general fund to operate.”

It may require no County contribution, but Gracedale is operating with a structural deficit, argued Council member John Cusick, the lone dissenter. He also objected to the inconsistent way the county manages hotel tax grants, but was strongly opposed to a 9.2% payhike for Gracedale Administrator Jennifer Stewart-King.

Under the adopted budget, her wages will jump from $102,291 to $111,704. Cusick said this is "insulting" to other Gracedale workers who will see three per cent raises or less. He added that Gracedale's rating remains unchanged and its census may be dropping.

Executive McClure countered that Stewart-King is actually underpaid compared to Administrators at nearby nursing homes, who are paid salaries ranging from $132,000 to $175,000. "We don't want to lose her, argued Council member Bill McGee. Council member Kevin Lott added that Stewart-King "came up through the ranks." Finally, Council member Lori Vargo-Heffner noted that Stewart-King has brought about positive changes at Gracedale, including electronic health records, and is turning morale around. She agreed that Gracedale's rating remains unchanged, but that's because the county nursing home will accept anyone. "We will not turn people away," she said.

Budget Administrator Doran J Hamann
Joining Cusick in opposing this payraise were Council members Matt Dietz and Bob Werner, though they later voted for the budget.

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. The state is expected to reimburse the county around 60% of the cost.

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.

This is the last budget prepared by Budget Administrator Doran J Hamann. This Lehigh University MBA retired in November after 40 years of service to Northampton County. He was nevertheless at last night's meeting as well as the budget hearings preceding the final vote.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Gov Wolf's Edict Resulted in Election Problems in Six Pa. Counties

In 2016, former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who incidentally lives in Massachusetts, sued Pennsylvania in federal court over its "national disgrace" of an election system. Though the state's 67 counties were using a large variety of different systems, she nevertheless blasted them all as "vulnerable, hackable, antiquated technology."  Rather than fight Stein's frivolous lawsuit, Governor Tom "Neville Chamberlain" Wolf appeased her.  He ordered all counties to replace existing systems with "new modern machines" that include a voter verifiable paper trail. Although he provided no money,  his edict declared these new systems had to be in place before the 2020 Presidential election. Dauphin County thumbed its nose at Wolf, but 46 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including Northampton County, used these new systems in November's just-held election. We all know Northampton County's experience was a disaster. But there were problems in five other counties as well. It appears that problems with new systems applied to paper ballots as well.

York County - York used the Dominion Image Cast Precinct (scanner) and Image Cast X ballot marking device. According to the state, York had the largest number of complaints throughout the state. Voters reported getting wrong-sized ballots and the county failed to provide enough scanners, which resulted in long lines. Some scanners would only read the first page of a two-page ballot. Voters began placing their ballots in a ballot box instead of using the scanner. In one township, the ballots were carried to the courthouse in a suitcase.  Results were not posted until two days after the election.

Carbon County - This County received its new system just a month before the election, the same paper ballot system used in York County.Voters used Sharpies with a two-sided ballot, leading to concerns that marks would bleed from one page to the next. On election night, the original count was 14,007 ballots. The next day, it was 24,334 votes. This is because the paper ballot scanners had a software glitch in which election results in some precincts were not added. Carbon County had to recount every vote by hand, and its official results were not reported until 17 days after the election.

Montgomery County - This County also used the Dominion system. Though I am unaware of any major issues in November's election, the Spring Primary was a disaster. Voters had to stand in three lines: check-in, filling out ballot and scanning. Poll workers began scanning ballots, compromising privacy. There were too few scanners.

Monroe County - Used the Clear Ballot paper ballot favored by some members of the Elections .
Commission. There were privacy concerns and scanner issues because paper ballots were incorrectly cut   

Lehigh County. - One candidate was accidentally left off the ballot. Poll workers had difficulty turning machines on and had to hand out provisional ballots. Voters also expressed privacy concerns. 

Whether it was Express Vote XL that Northampton County used or the paper ballots, there were problems using a new system to address a nonexistent problem.

To make matters worse, Jill Stein has sued again. Though her complaint now is just as frivolous as the original, I have to wonder how Governor Woolf will appease her this time.

NorCo Budget Hearing Still Not Online

On December 3, Northampton County Council conducted its final budget hearing for next year's spending plan. I attended part of the meeting but had to leave just as Council began an interesting discussion concerning a 9.2% payhike proposed for Gracedale's Administrator. I figured I could watch the video and report to you. But when I checked later that night, there was no video except for about a minute's worth of video before the meeting. 

Yesterday, I was assured the video was online and could be seen. This turned out to be untrue. 

When I ran into the same problem earlier this year (it was still Winter), I was told a new system would be in place very soon. The IT commander told about a month ago it would be in place in two weeks.  But I learned the IT department is now saying February.

This is rather strange from an administration that prides itself on transparency. Tiny communities like West Easton and Emmaus have no problems posting video. Bethlehem and Easton do it via Youtube. Yet the County is paying an arm and a leg for a touchy system that just failed to capture one of the most consequential meetings of the year

This is good news for Council members like Bob Werner and Tara Zrinski, who never use their mikes. It is good news for a government that wants to make it difficult for you to know what is going on, except for what it spoonfeeds you. It's bad news for citizens who want to see their government in action.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Police Seek Missing Autistic Male

From CRPD: The Colonial Regional Police need the public's assistance in locating a missing and endangered person.

Police are attempting to located a 21 year old black autistic male who resides on Susan Drive in the Pointe North section of Hanover Township.

The individual is 5'6' tall; 175 lbs.; short black hair; brown eyes, mustache; dark marks on forehead and may be wearing glasses.

Last seen wearing a blue puffy jacket, Eagles Jersey, black sweat pants, and an Eagles green and gray knit cap. He likes coffee and hanging out at Wawa. 
If seen/located, please contact the 911 Center (DIAL 911) immediately.

Thank you for your attention to this matter

McClure Wants Payraises For Some Administrators

Although the video failed, I know Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure asked County Council last night to approve payraises for three county administrators.
- Director of Fiscal Affairs Steve Barron. His salary will increase from $97,886 to $102,291.
- Director of Human Services Sue Wandalowski. Her salary will also increase from $97,886 to $102,291.
- Gracedale Administrator Jennifer Stewart-King. Her pay is slated to jump from $102,291 to $111,704.

For their part, County Council voiced no objection to the raises proposed for Barron and Wandalowski. Barron, in particular, has saved the County several hundred thousand dollars in debt service. Moreover, he was the person who found a way to leverage the county's money with the state so that it could both purchase the Centralized Human Services Building while starting on a much-needed forensic center. Wandalowski has been spearheading an effort to cut the county off from state civil service so it can hire caseworkers much more quickly. 

County Council member John Cusick objected, however to the proposed pay increase for Gracedale's Administrator. He pointed out that Gracedale's rating has failed to increase and argued it is "insulting" to give her a 9.2% increase in comparison to what is being paid to the Gracedale workers. Cusick was countered with the argument that Stewart-King is actually woefully underpaid in comparison to the salaries of other nursing home administrators.

I will bring you the details of this discussion when and if the County Council video from last night surfaces.

NorCo's IT Department Fails in Yet Another Council Video

Last night, Northampton County Council  conducted its final budget hearing before deciding on next year's spending plan. In what is becoming a common place problem, the video failed.This has happened several ties over the last year. I've been told enhancements to the system would be in place soon.That was about six months ago. This IT provider is simply failing to service the county and its residents.

Evicted at DeSales!

My grandson is a sophomore at DeSales and lives on campus this year. He loves it there, but was evicted from his dorm yesterday. So was everyone else in the building. Did they all forget to pay their rent? No, what happened is that a student carrying a chair accidentally knocked into the fire sprinkler system. It works. It works so well that the entire building was flooded out and it will be a few days before students can return. In the meantime, the University is renting out hotel rooms. My grandson and many other students, however, are just doubling up with friends.

Probably female friends.

The reason I tell this story is to share my own experience with the fire sprinkler system at Northampton County's Recorder of Deeds.

Back in the day, long before computers were de riguer, the Recorder's Office was backed with books going all the way back to 1752, when Northampton County was carved out of Bucks County in some kind of power play against the Quakers. In addition to all those musty books, there were plenty of ash trays, and cigarette smoke wafted through the air. You can still smell the smoke in some of the books.

Protecting these treasures was a gigantic ball, hanging from the ceiling, ostensibly full of some kind of fire suppressant. Nobody thought the damn thing worked. 

One day, a searcher (now deceased) insisted the ball is inoperable and said he'd prove it. He lit yup an entire pack of matches and stuck it right under the sprinkler.

It went off. Boy did it go off. But instead of water,it shot out some kind of gas. Not the kind of gas that comes after lunch, but still pretty noxious. It was so bad that Ann Achatz, who then was only a clerk in that office, fainted. Tom Castellano, heartthrob of all the women there, picked Ann up in his arms and carried her off to safety.

To this day, she credits him with saving her life.

I stayed. I liked the smell.    

Nazareth To Consider Curfew Next Year

I missed last night's Nazareth Borough Council meeting after being assured there would be no action taken on a proposed curfew for minors. I had conflicts. I am nonetheless happy to report that Nazareth Borough Council, to its credit, took no official action on any measures at last night's meeting to stay in compliance with the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act I am even happier to report, based on several sources at the meeting, that Borough Council will delay its consideration of a curfew ordinance until January. This is smart. Two members are leaving at the end of the year. Their replacements, who waged campaigns and have spoken to residents, will have a better understanding how they feel.

I did speak to a Borough Council member yesterday. This person tells me that, while the minutes contain very few references to teen crime, this was the subject of several neighborhood block watch meetings.

I also spoke to a resident who supports the curfew, but thinks most teen crime is committed during the day. She states it is in the form of drug sales at Shafer Elementary's park, and learned that piece of information from her own son. I am told this go on in broad daylight, not under cover of darkness.

If she knows this, so do Nazareth police. But as one officer (from another department) told me yesterday, "It is one thing to know about drug sales It is another to prove it."

I remain leery, but am willing to listen to evidence showing there is a rational basis for this significant restriction on the freedom of assembly. My own observations, as a long-time resident, is that these concerns are overblown.

I never thought I would say this, but Nazareth Borough Council did the right thing last night.   

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Nazareth Borough Council's Meeting Tonight Violates Sunshine Act

Nazareth Borough Council was poised to vote Monday night on a large number of items. Though the borough website fails to list its most recent agenda, a no-tax-hike budget for next year would seem to be the entree. A curfew on minors (discussed here yesterday) is a side dish. But that meeting never occurred. Last night's meeting was postponed until tonight at 6 pm. According to the Borough website, "The December 2nd snowfall has caused Council President Daniel Chiavaroli to postpone the Monday, December 2nd Council Business Meeting. Instead, Council will conduct business on Tuesday evening, December 3, 2019 at 6:00 pm at Council Chambers." Tonight's meeting, if conducted, will violate Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act.

Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act was adopted to "insure the right of its citizens to have notice of and the right to attend all meetings of agencies at which any agency business is discussed or acted upon." Thus, all public meetings require public notice. Under state law, Nazareth Borough Council "shall give public notice of each special meeting or each rescheduled regular or special meeting at least 24 hours in advance of the time of the convening of the meeting specified in the notice."

"Public notice" is defined as
(i) Publication of notice of the place, date and time of a meeting in a newspaper of general circulation, as defined by 45 Pa.C.S. § 101 (relating to definitions), which is published and circulated in the political subdivision where the meeting will be held, or in a newspaper of general circulation which has a bona fide paid circulation in the political subdivision equal to or greater than any newspaper published in the political subdivision.
(ii) Posting a notice of the place, date and time of a meeting prominently at the principal office of the agency holding the meeting or at the public building in which the meeting is to be held.
(iii) Giving notice to parties under section 709(c) (relating to public notice).
In this case, Nazareth Borough Council did post a notice of the place, date and time of tonight's meeting at Borough Council chambers. But it failed to advertise the meeting. This renders tonight's meeting unlawful.

Under the Sunshine Act, a rescheduled or special meeting must be advertised at least 24 hours before it occurs. "An agency shall give public notice of each special meeting or each rescheduled regular or special meeting at least 24 hours in advance of the time of the convening of the meeting specified in the notice." There is no obligation to advertise if it is a recessed or reconvened meeting. But this is a meeting that has yet to occur. It is a rescheduled meeting. Hence, it must be advertised at least 24 hours in advance.

I have reviewed legal ads in both Express Times and Morning Call, and there is no advertised public notice of tonight's meeting. It is therefore unlawful.

As Joe Biden might say, "This is a big fuckin' deal!" The reason is because a budget could be adopted. A court, in its discretion, could declare all business transacted at tonight's meeting void. This would include both the curfew and the budget. It could even sanction Borough Council members.

So what should Borough Council do? They plan on honoring several borough luminaries, as well as he Nazareth football team. Neither of these items requires any official action. So they should meet as planned. But after bestowing their good wishes, the meeting needs to be rescheduled so it can be properly advertised.

If Borough Council expects minors to obey the law, it can set the right example by following the law itself. That would be far more meaningful than an ineffective curfew.

Updated 10:15 am: Nazareth to take no official action tonight! - I have been informed Nazareth officials will take no official action tonight. They will reschedule and advertise.