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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Morning Call Guild Is Overdue

When I was younger and had more hair than I do now, both local newspapers would send squads of reporters nightly to cover municipal meetings all over the Lehigh Valley. They also had someone on hand to cover every high school athletic contest. I remember watching Peg Rhodin phone in stories from the Easton courthouse and give flawless accounts of criminal cases. Or reporters hounding an Executive so much that he would insist all questions must be in writing and faxed to him in advance. Times have changed. The Express Times no longer covers county government, and is content to just run news releases sent by the county. The Morning Call will sometimes send a reporter, but he misses the most important stories discussed in committee hearings. This is bad for democracy. People who have no idea who is representing them will naturally align themselves with their tribes and might vote for a terrible candidate simply because of his party. What's worse, this lack of coverage is an open invitation to political corruption. We need newspapers, but they are now owned by corporations who care more about dollars than actually telling you what is happening. Though we still have two dailies, the Lehigh Valley has become a news desert. WFMZ-TV69 actually provides vastly superior local coverage than you'll find in your daily. So that's why I think the efforts of Morning Call reporters to unionize is long overdue.

Morning Call reporter Tom Shortell tweets, "I've worked as a newspaper reporter for 11 years, all for non-union papers. It's a brutal industry. My newsrooms have been downsized 5 times, including a round where I was laid off. This step is to protect our local newsroom and provide job security for the journalists in it." Reporter Steve Essack adds that reporters have formed a guild to combat "Tribune’s corporate nonsense that wastes money and people."

I've certainly seen both newspapers waste good people.

Although I understand newspapers need to make a profit, they also need to tell us what is going on or people will stop buying them. While a union offers no protection against short-sighted corporate cuts, a contract would ensure better working conditions. More importantly, a guild will enable reporters to continue to act as watchdogs instead of lapdogs licking up news releases.

They explain more in this FAQ.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

NorCo To Help Families In Need of Subsidized Daycare

Back when I was a little monster, I had this annoying habit of waking up around 2 am, and then knocking on neighbors' doors. I ran away from home periodically to become a mountain man. The last straw was when I nearly killed my sister. She was thirsty and whining to my mother, who was trying to clean the bath tub with five kids tormenting her simultaneously. As the oldest, I decided to help. So I gave my sister a bottle of clorox. That was just one of several occasions in which I was shipped off to my grandparents for a little vacation. I liked it better there anyway because my grandfather - a really cool guy who always wore a three piece suit - gave me pocket watches and American flags. He also took me on walks every night, even though he was quite ill. We'd walk a block or two, and then he'd tell me to wait on the corner while he gets his shot. He'd tell me he was quite sick. A block later, he would need another shot. After a few blocks, I could see myself that my grandfather was very unhealthy. When we'd return home, my grandmother could see it, too.

In those days, most mothers stayed home with the kids. Their salvation was their family, who could be counted on to look after holy terrors like myself.

Times have changed. Both parents work, almost always as a matter of economic necessity. Most salaries are too low to raise a family on one parent's income. Although some can rely on family to help take care of young children, most are spread out. As a result, there has been an explosion of daycares. But what do parents do when their combined income is so low they are unable to afford it?

Northampton County has decided to help.

On the first Thursday of every month, between 1-5 pm at the Human Services Building on Emrick Blvd in Bethlehem Tp, Human Services staff will assist anyone with questions about child care, including subsidized child care.

“Finding quality child care can be difficult under the best circumstances,” says Executive Lamont McClure. “We hope, by providing access to specialists, it makes it easier for our working families to find daycare.”

Human Services is located at 2801 Emrick Blvd. Bethlehem, PA 18020.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Another Kind of Election Fraud

Governor Tom Wolf has imposed a gift ban, but it only applies to state employees. Bethlehem has a gift ban, too. Most local governments allow them. his needs to stop.

As I've reported as recently as last week, all of Pennsylvania's 67 counties have been directed to have new voting systems in place for next year's Presidential election. One way or the other, you'll be paying the bill for machines that include a paper trail. But are the best products being purchased? According to a disturbing report from Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, officials in 18 counties accepted gifts from vendors that ranged from free trips to Las Vegas, dinners and even tickets to an amusement park.

No official accepted any gift in Northampton or Lehigh County.

“Even if this activity was permitted under the law, county officials who are making decisions about spending taxpayer dollars should not accept anything of value from the companies that are asking for their business,” DePasquale said. “It’s not only about the need for officials to follow the letter and the spirit of the law; it’s about preserving the integrity of their role in the democratic process.”

Michael Colon Seeks Second Term on Bethlehem City Council

Michael G. Colón, 32, who has served on Bethlehem City Council since 2016, is seeking a second term.

He is a graduate of Liberty High School and Penn State University, where he obtained a degree in political science. He is currently employed at Gracedale Nursing Home as its Admissions Coordinator.

Why is he running again?

"Bethlehem is currently in the middle of major transition as we merge our own existing 911 center with the Northampton County 911 center. As chair of the city council public safety committee, a former county 911 dispatcher, current county employee, and citizen of Bethlehem I find myself in a unique position to provide oversight and feedback during the transition. Moving ahead I also look forward to using the public safety committee to continue following how Bethlehem is handling the on-going opioid epidemic which sadly no community is immune from. During the summer of 2018 we were able to bring representatives from state, county, and city levels of government to a committee meeting for a comprehensive outlook on how we’re addressing this problem. In the face of local and regional competition I will work to grow Bethlehem’s economy as we continue to bring in new jobs, support small business, and revitalize our city. Lastly, I will continue to stay involved in our community listening to the feedback from all corners of Bethlehem."

A Democrat, he is a lifelong Bethlehem resident

Four Bethlehem City Council spots are up for grabs this year. In addition to Colón, other Council members whose terms end this year are  Shawn M. Martell (Nazareth High School teacher), J. William "Willie" Reynolds (William Allen High School teacher) and Dr. Paige Van Wirt (physician). Martell has decided against seeking a second term while Reynolds seeks re-election. Dr. Van Wirt, a Council appointee, has yet to announce.

Retired firefighter Davd Saltzer, Easton Area High School guidance counselor Grace Crampsie Smith, motivational speaker Carol S Ritter and former Aldi Exec Bill Carpenter have all announced their candidacy.

So far, there could be as many as seven people running for four seats.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Mark Pinsley Running For Yet Another Office

Before the ink was dry on the election results that would make Mark Pinsley a South Whitehall Township Commissioner, he was running for another office. He challenged incumbent State Senator Pat Browne before he even took the oath in South Whitehall. After losing that race, he's now decided to take on Glenn Eckhart for Controller in Lehigh County. 

The Controller, established under Lehigh County's Home Rule Charter, exists primarily to follow the money. Is it being spent properly?

In the past, I have tormented Eckhart for his poor spelling and grammar. But he knows how to count, has been an effective Controller and is highly regarded by his contemporaries.

Pinsley, quite obviously, is an opportunist.

Werner's Wife Running to Succeed Him

Sandy O'Brien-Werner has to decided to seek her husband's seat on Northampton County Council. Unless they are getting a divorce, this is a pretty clear indication that Werner himself is calling it quits after two terms representing District 2. This includes Easton, Forks, Palmer, Glendon, West Easton, Wilson Borough and Stockertown.

Werner is politically very active, and I have seen her at all kinds of Democratic events over the years. As she makes clear on her Facebook candidate page, "I am an elected member of the State Dem. Ctte., EADC, NCDC, and am a member of the Northampton County Council of Democratic Women. I am wildly partisan when it comes to national politics but not so much at the local level. I'm looking forward to working with all members of Council, both Ds and Rs, and toward maintaining Gracedale and assisting Area 2 citizens."

One place I have never seen her is at a Northampton County Council meeting.

Though she has been extremely active within her own party, I am unaware of any public office Werner may have held.

She is a retired educator who studied at Wilson Area High School, Clarion University and UConn. She taught at Easton Area High School.

Former Easton Area School Board President Frank Pintabone may also be seeking this seat.

I am unaware of who is running on the Republican side.

Friday, February 22, 2019

More Oversight Suggested at Gracedale

Blogger's Note: This report is based on Northampton County videos. I skipped last night's meetings to watch DeSales defeat DelVal in an exciting basketball game. It's playoffs, and both Desales MBB and WBB will play in the 'ship on Saturday. In case you're wondering, my grandson did get in the game for the final 30 seconds. He looked very good standing on the court as the clock ran out.

Last night, Northampton County Council's Human Services Committee was supposed to conduct a meeting  focused exclusively on Gracedale, the county-owned nursing home. The most recent state survey, released January 4, cites 11 deficiencies directly related to resident care. Medicare now lists the home as a two-star, or below average, nursing facility. This is in stark contrast to the five stars (much above average) assigned to Lehigh County's Cedarbrook. But as happened before, there was no detailed discussion for three reasons. First, Human Services followed a lengthy Tara Zrinski committee meeting on, of all things, industrial hemp. Second, Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski, who really likes to talk, spent 40 minutes talking about every department but Gracedale. Third, Human Services Chair Lori Vargo Heffner spent a good ten minutes stating she'd like to change these meetings on a different day and time. So only about 35 minutes was actually spent on Gracedale. What little was revealed is disturbing.

By the numbers, we know the following, based on the month of December:

- Gracedale's census was about 665.
- Over $200,000 was paid to outside agencies to provide nursing care.
- The number of bedsores was a net of 53. (They do not count residents who have them when they arrive).
- There were 119 reportable infections.
- There were 332 incident reports.
- There were 172 falls.

Interim Administrator Jennifer D. Stewart-King made the case for electronic health records. She noted they are in use at Cedarbrook. She added that they need to institute pain and wound committees as well. She said employees were ignored when they asked for these things. "[County Executive]. McClure was the only one who heard us," she said.

McClure's decision to remove Premier as an outside manager was challenged as well. Council member John Cusick noted that when Premier took over, the County was paying $6 million to fund the home. Premier turned a $6 million deficit into a $3.3 million operating surplus.

"I think that is a big plus," observed Cusick.

McClure responded that Premier exalted cost over care and ruined morale. "They were tasked to run the home so there would be no county contribution," he asserted.

McClure's decision was challenged by Council member Bob Werner as well. He asked whether the County had ever looked at the operational assessment done by Premier. Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski admitted she was unaware of it. He then asked McClure whether he performed an operational assessment before terminating Premier. McClure admitted he performed no operational assessment.

"How did you determine you were going to do a better job without a plan?" asked Werner.

McClure said his decision was based on interviews with county employees as well as the $500,000 Premier charged every year.

Though he neglected to mention it, McClure has been concerned that Premier's record at other public nursing homes has been the subject of bad surveys and complaints.

Council President Ron Heckman, who earlier said he's "all for hemp," concluded Gracedale needs more attention. He noted that in the past, there were bi-weekly meetings to provide oversight.

"We as a group have to think about the largest department in our county with the largest number of residents and the most employees," he said.

And then they ran out of time.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Gracedale Needs More Attention Than Green New Deal

Wisely, because of inclement weather, Northampton County Council canceled its Personnel and Finance Committee meetings yesterday. Two other committees will meet today. The first is Tara Zrinski's  Parks and Open Space Committee, which meets at 4 pm. The second is Loroi Vargo Heffner's Human Services Committee, scheduled at 5 pm. What has been happening is that Zrinsi's meeting always goes on forever, which gives Heffner less time. She starts to do a slow burn as Zrinski goes on and on. Then, when Human Services meets, so many items are scheduled that it is difficult to do justice to them all. That is why a devastating Gracedale survey got about five minutes of attention.

Today, Zrinski is going to discuss the Green New Deal in her committee meeting, as well as the impact of the Federal Farm bill. Neither item is related to a core county function. She also wants to change the name of her committee, most likely to reflect a more aggressive environmental agenda.

As for Human Services, Gracedale is the sole topic of discussion today. Heffner wants to hear more about the good things going on there. I prefer the truth.

A letter sent to all Council members in early January provides more insight about conditions at Gracedale than months of Heffner's committee. It should. It comes from the former Director of Nursing. She was replaced by Executive Lamont McClure when he took office.

Here's part of her letter:
Gracedale has been neglected for years. Not just the last four years but for many decades. The outdated and appalling status of the living conditions for the residents of Gracedale actually brought me to tears the first time I saw the cinder block walls and furniture obviously from decades ago. The resident mattresses had not been replaced for years (actually no one could tell me when) leading to resident skin pressure injury. An assessment revealed these mattresses were no longer offering any pressure reduction. The mechanical lifts recently assessed found 22 lifts were in poor condition. The most vulnerable of our population have been ignored and the taxpayers should be appalled as I was. However, my goal was to work to improve the conditions and the mattresses have been replaced, some furniture has begun to be purchased and the next step was to begin mechanical lift replacement. The ultimate goal being to develop a purchasing replacement plan yearly to assure that this would never happen again.

I knew the position would be a challenge, and I happen to love a challenge that works to improve the lives of residents in long term care. So imagine my response in early December when I received a letter from the new county executive- elect that stated “this past November our voters spoke loudly and issued a mandate for change.” It went on to say “ I write at this time to inform you that you will not be re-appointed to your position in the new administration” and “your last day of employment with the County of Northampton will be January 1, 2018.”
Perhaps Heffner should spend some time discussing this. She's only had this letter a year.

NorCo and Berthlehem Close to 911 Deal

Northampton County Council will tonight consider the purchase of Bethlehem's 911 assets for a net profit to Bethlehem of $1.37 million. The county is poised to assume control of Bethlehem's emergency calls by the end of June. That's when the state stops providing 911 funds to Bethlehem.

Clarification, 10:10 am: It's a poor choice of words to say Bethlehem is making a profit. It is getting what it needs to pay off the debt. Sorry for the confusion.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Bangor School Board VP Resigns After Ejection

When then Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan was ejected from a wrestling match in which his son was a participant, that was news. Nobody questioned it, even though he quickly apologized to the referee who tossed him. So when Bangor Area School Board VP Stephen Bussenger was not just tossed from a basketball game in his own school's gym, and had to be escorted out by school police, I considered that newsworthy as well, and reported it. As a high school basketball fan myself who has seen Bussenger at several games, I noted I had never seen him act out. I even speculated that the ref may have confused Bussenger with someone else. But I added, "If he did misbehave, he certainly owes the referee and his school board an apology. A high school basketball gym is actually a classroom in which good sportsmanship is taught." According to Lehigh Valley Live, Bussenger did apologize half-heartedly at last night's school board meeting. He also resigned because, as I learned, he recently moved out of the school district. Finally, both he and his wife bashed this blog for allowing vicious anonymous comments about him.

You know, like the kind.that appear all the time on Lehigh Valley Live.  and set an

The attacks on my readers sound suspiciously like they come from Bussenger and his wife. Anonymously,of course.

I have three points for Bussenger et ux.

1) If you are an elected official, especially a school director, don't get tossed out of basketball games 

2) If you want to set a good example for your daughters, don't get tossed out of basketball games.

3) If you want to avoid suggestions of impropriety, don't sell candy from your chocolate store to the school district where you are a director.

Tiny West Easton Starting a Police Department

West Easton Police Department
Throughout the Lehigh Valley, many geographically large municipalities like Upper Mount Bethel or Williams Townships, have no local police department. They rely on the state police. If the people who live in those communities have to wait 40 minutes for state police to respond to a complaint, so be it. These supposedly conservative townships have no problem in allowing impoverished cities like Allentown or Easton to subsidize what little coverage Pennsylvania State Police can provide. No law requires police protection, though most of us think government has a core obligation to do so. At a time when many local governments have forgotten why they're really there, one tiny community is bucking the trend. West Easton, whose population was estimated at 1255 in 2014,is forming its own police department. District Attorney John Morganelli is helping, too, with $10,000 in drug forfeiture money.

During a news conference at the site of the new police station, 301 Sixth Street, Mayor Dan DePaul introduced retired Pa. State Police SGT Robert Mehady. He served with the state police for 25 years,mostly out of he Belfast barracks. He served as a consultant to the borough as it considered the pros and cons of its own force.

That's something West Easton has done without since 1966. Between 966 and 2013, it contracted for police coverage with either Wilson Borough or Easton. Since that time, it has relied on the state police.

DePaul, Morganelli, Mehady and paint can
Though DA John Morganelli said he is "very satisfied" with the coverage provided by state police, he pointed to a recent activity in which state police were too busy to follow up on suspected drug activity occurring within the borough.

Calling West Easton a "great location for a small police department," Morganeli added that "folks like the idea of knowing police are nearby."

Chief Mehady  called West Easton a "tremendous community," a "little oasis" in the Lehigh Valley.

The department will actually be a hybrid police department staffed by the chief and two part-time officers. State police will still be patrolling the borough when local officers are off-duty.

Mayor DePaul said that $150,000 was budgeted for the new department in 2018 and 2019. It already has acquired three police vehicles, two of which were donated by Palmer Tp. He hopes to see the department function in a matter of months.

One shortcoming of state police coverage is that they refuse to enforce local ordinances regarding parking. Chief Mehady said that in just one swing through the borough, he spotted about 50 vehicles with expired inspections. Mayor DePaul added some of these cars are parked on borough roads for months at a time.

West Easton might ne an oasis to some, but is also the lair of Tricia Mezzacappa. She has flooded the tiny borough with incessant Rights-to-Know, has driven up legal costs and is in court with West Easton so frequently that its Solicitor has asked that she receive approval from a judge before she files any more actions.

Tricia Mezzacappa is certainly part of the reason Easton stopped providing police coverage. She has since that time made numerous unfounded complaints to state police. I suspect Chief Mehady will have his hands full. Nevertheless, I must applaud West Easton officials for doing something more wealthy communities have forgotten. They are serving their residents.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Updated: Former Aldi Exec Seeks Bethlehem City Council Seat

Will Carpenter, a former Aldi executive and resident of Bethlehem's northside historic district, is running for a two-year term City Council.

 “I am running for Council because I believe we must build on our strong foundation with a vision that puts our community needs and values front and center," he said in his announcement. "I look forward to bringing my experience to help Bethlehem find the right balance in continued growth and sustainability with responsible government oversight. Transparency, inclusion and high ethical standards are key ingredients to keep Bethlehem strong for generations to come.”

Carpenter was raised in upstate New York and is a graduate of Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Economics and Business Management. For 24 years, he was employed at ALDI USA, a popular grocery chain. Promoted to Director of Real Estate, he spent 20 years working with cities, including Baltimore and Philadelphia. In that time, he spent many hours with council members, mayors and city staff negotiating agreements that included zoning changes, improvements to public infrastructure, traffic studies and performance guarantees

He made Bethlehem his home in 1999. He states that, unlike many other cities in the Northeast, the Christmas City has defied the odds and continues to be in a strong position for responsible growth

Carpenter is married and has two daughters, both of whom attend Liberty High School.

According to LinkedIn, he currently is a Sprint business solutions advisor.

He either is or was President of Bethlehem's Historic District Ass'n as well as a trustee at River Valley Waldorf School.

Carpenter was among those who late last year objected to a zoning text change that would permit the commercial use of a corner property in the City's Historic District. The measure passed.

Unfortunately, I failed to get Carpenter's political party. I will update when I do.

Updated 9:41 pm: Carpenter is a Democrat.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Taiba Sultana Running For Easton Mayor

A local Easton activist, Taiba Sultana, is running for Easton Mayor. She is seeking the Democratic nomination, which will guarantee a primary contest between her and incumbent Mayor Sal Panto.

This is the fight to build a City that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and the well-connected," she states on her webpage. She backs that up with a progressive and aggressive platform.

I've already received one email attacking her, but my view is that people should decide these things. When Sultana ran for City Council, party bosses tried to force her off the ballot. Now they are painting her as an American hater.

Although she is far to the left of me politically, her voice should be heard.

Panto is immensely popular. Personally, I think he's a bit too full of himself. he's also dishonest, something he demonstrated when he was posting under fake names at Lehigh Valley Live. He has been a good Mayor most of the time. His stand on Lafayette College and the problems in the west ward have plagued him. His promotion of some 100' tall Vitruvian Eunuch (politically incorrect to call it a Man) is borderline idiocy that will end up costing the City.

If Vitruvian Peter M(el)AN runs, Sultana suddenly becomes viable.

There's quite a lively discussion at Laini Abraham's Easton page. I was surprised at all the "progressive" Eastiniand=s who condemn Sultana because of her religion.

Former Business Owner Seeks Slate Belt Seat on NorCo Council

Wind Gap resident and small business owner Tom Giovanni is seeking the GOP nomination to Northampton County Council's District 4. That seat covers what is known as the slate belt and northern tier. He will announce officially tomorrow night at the Columbia Fire Company, 164 Garibaldi Avenue, Roseto, PA 18013, 6 pm.

I know Giovani. I used to walk by his shop in Nazareth every day on my way from my estate to my car. It was called Hi-Tech Laser Systems, and I once walked n to see if they could laser he hair off my back.

"We're not that kind of laser business," said Giovanni, who is more into information technology.

Tom says he wants to be decided to be a part of bringing back the focus of looking at the needs of the people who live in Northampton County. He wants them to "stay on track with keeping human services at the forefront of the decision-making process." He feels that with his business background, leadership, and community involvement he can connect reason and responsibility to basic fiscal choices that will forge Northampton County into a place that serves as a lighthouse community for common sense productivity.

Born and raised in Bangor, PA. Tom attended elementary school at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and graduated from Pius X high school. Tom lived in the Nazareth Area School District in Bushkill Township for 31 years. This past year he moved to Wind Gap, PA. Tom founded Hi Tech Laser Systems in 1990. In December 2012, he sold the business to East Coast Network Services and continues to help the company grow as one of its employees. Throughout his career Giovanni has earned a number of IT certifications (Microsoft Networking, Hewlett Packard Certified Printer Technician, Microsoft Windows Server Sales, Cisco Authorized Sales Partner, etc.). Tom has volunteered time in the community as he has served on many Boards in the Lehigh Valley with organizations, such as: Greater Valley YMCA, Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, Nazareth Business Council and Nazareth Bath Chamber of Commerce. Tom enjoys spending time with his wife, three children and two grandchildren as they attend community, church and social event.

What I like about Tom already is that he is someone who has spent a lot of time volunteering in different organizations. This used to be commonplace among candidates for public office. Now the only volunteering most candidates do is at the phone banks of their party organization.

Roseto Borough Councilman Dan Engle is seeking the Democratic nod. After promising transparency, he blocked me on Facebook for criticism of a campaign announcement that tells us nothing.

This race is already over. Unless Giovani is caught with an altar boy, he wins in a solidly Republican district.

Better make that two. . 

In Off Election Year, McClure Raises $57,700

Incumbency helps. Lamont McClure was elected Northampton County Executive in 2017. In 2018, there were no county races. He nevertheless raised $57,700 last year. His vanquished foe, former Executive John Brown, raised no money. In fact,he had to lend his campaign $6,500 so he could pay a $6,632 bill still owed to his political consultant, Communications Concepts.

The lion's share of McClure's money comes from the trade unions. This is no surprise. Historically, they have always been his biggest supporter. He has always supported them, too. One of the first times I saw him, he was handing out flyers for one of them.   

The one troublesome aspect of McClure's warchest is that it includes a large number of $500 donations from people who work for him. McClure assures me that no one is forced to give him money. Of course not. That would be macing, and is criminal. It's still something that was largely absent under former Executives John Stoffa and John Brown. It still looks like pay-to-play.

You might think that these kinds of donations should be illegal. Such a law, however, would almost certainly be considered an infringement of the First Amendment  Also, it would make it very difficult for someone like  McClure, who took a major paycut to become Executive, to get his message out to the public.

The one and only contribution that really bothers me is $500 from lobbyist Jennifer Mann. I saw her in the courthouse halls a few weeks ago, headed to public works. She's up to something.

The only other NorCo pol who went out of his way to raise money in a nonelection year is Bethlehem City Councilman Bryan Callahan. He raised $20,800 last year, including money from the controversial Benner family as well as Westgate Mall owner Mark Pepitone.

Personally, I'd like someone to give him money to just shut up at Council meetings. His incessant monologues alienate everyone eventually.

Bethlehem City Councilman Willie Reynolds, who can raise money as well as anyone, made no effort to do so last year. Nor did incumbent Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez, who is sitting on $130,298.92 .

Easton Mayor Sal Panto, running for his 638th term this year, raised no money last year. 

Nor did Bethlehem City Council member Michael Colon, who reports a whopping warchest of $168.84.

Good on them.

Friday, February 15, 2019

NorCo Elections Comm'n Ponders New Voting System

ExpressVote XL a top contender 
Northampton County's Elections Commission met yesterday to discuss, among other things, the new voting systems that the state wants in place before the Presidential election. These must contain a paper trail. Governor Wolf has given counties this mandate, but has only provided a pittance. The Commission decided to conduct a meeting again on March 6 to seek input on which system to recommend to NorCo Council for funding. The only No vote came from Chairman George Treisner. "Personally, I think it's a waste of time," he said.

On January 10, about 30 NorCo elections judges visited Lehigh County for a demonstration of several voting systems. According to Deputy Voting Registrar Amy Hess, a survey of these judges reveals they like the ExpressVote XL (previously discussed here) as well as Clear Ballot. Elections Commissioner Deb Hunter would like to invite some experts from Lehigh University to discuss these systems.

Hunter also expressed frustration at receiving the agenda on the day of the meeting, although it was pretty much identical to an "informational" meeting in December. She also complained about the meeting being set by the Administration. "These are our meetings," she complained, asserting the Commission's independence.  .
Bushkill Township resident Crystal Mulada spoke about moving elections from the Butz Elementary School to a nearby fire hall. "The voters of this Township are telling you they want [the polling place] changed," she argued.

Commission member Maudeania Hornik commented on an elderly voter who was struck and killed by a driver in the Forks Tp Community Center parking lot during November's election. "The Forks incident bothers me," she said. "I think it's horrible that someone went out to vote and lost their life." She noted that the parking lot there is always congested, and suggested that Forks officials be requested to cancel other events on election day. "I'm not telling them what to do," she stressed, but said that would make things safer.

Administrator Charles Dertinger said he would discuss the matter with the community center.

Complaints about the Upper Nazareth Municipal Building as a polling place are being reviewed, advised Solicitor Richard Santee. He said he had received a letter from Upper Nazareth Solicitor Gary Asteak.

Finally, Commissioners approved a referendum question in Lower Nazareth Township asking the voters if they would support an additional earned income tax of 0.25% for the acquisition of open space.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Was McClure Right to Replace Gracedale's Manager?

Last week, NorCo Executive Lamont McClure placed the blame for a negative health inspection at Gracedale on Premier Healthcare Services. That's who was managing the county nursing home when state officials arrived. Is McClure right or is he just scapegoating Premier? Based on what has happened in Westmoreland County, he appears to be correct.

Premier was hired to manage Gracedale in 2011. It manages numerous nursing homes. At the time this private manager was hired, the nursing home was losing $5.9 million a year, and going in the wrong direction. Premier worked on increasing the census while improving the quality of care. It paid off. Gracedale went for two years without a single deficiency during state inspections. But that all changed with the departure of D.Millard Freeman, who had been Premier's point man.

Two years ago, the ratings at the nursing home tumbled after a suicidal resident was left alone. The most recent inspection resulted in 11 deficiencies among a small sample of residents. They ranged from keeping residents in restraints to improper feeding. By this time, Executive McClure had already decided to replace Premier with an in-house administrator.  He nevertheless faulted himself for failing to act sooner.

Premier is also the manager at Westmoreland Manor, a county nursing home in the western part of the state. It is a 408-bed facility. It was hired in 2016 after there were dozens of deficiencies in a state survey. A negative state inspection in September has resulted in the replacement of Premier's administrator, but Premier itself is still managing the county home.

Westmoreland Manor is rated by Medicare as a "one star" home, meaning it is "much below average."  Gracedale has a "two star" rating, meaning it is "below average." Cedarbrook, Lehigh County's home, has a "five star" rating, meaning "much above average."   

Former GOP Council Member Running for NorCo Controller

Former NorCo Council member Hayden Phillips, 66, is seeking the Republican nomination for County Controller. That position is currently held by Richard "Bucky" Szulborski, who is stepping down at the end of the year. Easton Controller Tony Bassil has already declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination.

The controller is an independently elected official responsible for the internal control of the county's financial transactions. He may audit county departments or outside agencies receiving county funds. He can audit on his own initiative. The annual salary is $65,000.

Born and raised in Wilkes-Barre, PA, Phillips attended and graduated from Meyers High School. He earned earned a BS Degree from Mansfield State University and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Lehigh University.

He spent much of his career in the Technology Service Industry, gaining expertise in Project, Program and Portfolio Management. He retired from Hewlett-Packard with 25 years of service. He continues to teach classes in Project and Portfolio Management as an Adjunct Instructor at Penn State Lehigh Valley.

In addition to his business experience, Phillips has served his country as a United States Marine. He has 27 years of combined active and reserve service. He retired with the rank of Colonel.

He previously held elected office, holding an “at large” seat on Northampton County Council for four years, during the period 2014 -2017.

His campaign announcement states that Phillips "was known as hardworking and conscientious. He earned a reputation as independent and non-partisan. He looked at the facts and made decisions only on what he felt was for the good of Northampton County."

Ordinarily, I would disregard this as puffing. But I happen to agree. He has a conscience and was more than willing to stand up to a Republican Executive when he thought it was going in the wrong direction.

Despite his independence, he was defeated in 2017 in a blue wave that swept many local Republicans out of office statewide. Because local newspapers provide little coverage of county government, to say nothing of the persons who seek election, there is an increasing tendency to just vote the party instead of the person. On the other hand, voters like divided government 

Though fiscally conservative, Phillips has also been criticized for proposing a tax hike during his first year in office. He was acting on the basis of dire financial predictions about the county's finances, which later proved to be inaccurate.

Phillips and his wife have resided in Lower Nazareth Township, PA. since 1993. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Engle Demonstrates His Transparency By Blocking Me

I've had two stories this week about elected Slate Belt officials. The first involves Bangor School Board VP Steve Bussenger. He had to be escorted out of his own gym during a basketball loss to Moravian Academy after refusing to heed a referee's ejection. I noted I had never seen him act out at any of the basketball games I attended. The second story involves Roseto Borough Council member Dan Engle. He's running for NorCo Council, and wanted me to tell everyone. His campaign manager provided no biographical information, not even a photo. I had some fun, admittedly at his expense, with his own Facebook intro. He calls himself "big dark and handsome .. if you like big." Both stories were fair. But the comments in each story make clear that both of these guys are thin-skinned.

Engle, who promised in his campaign statement to bring transparency to Northampton County, blocked me on Facebook. He failed to provide any meaningful information, and then his supporters accused me of "stalking" for trying to find out on my own. So much for transparency.

Bussenger supporters blamed the ref and everyone else. He recently sold his home. He was going to use his rental property as a new address, but too many eyes are on him now.

If you are or want to be an elected official, expect scrutiny. That's what happens in a democratic government.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Dan Engle is Big, Dark and Handsome ... If You Like Big

Dan Engle, a Roseto Borough Council member and fourth generation member of Boilermakers Local 28, is running for Northampton County Council. He wants to represent infamous District 4, also known as the Slate Belt or Northern Tier. It consists of the Slate Belt area, Bushkill Township, Upper Nazareth, Bath, Chapman, Moore Township, Lehigh Township and Walnutport.

Engle is a Democrat in a Republican district. Republican Korry Franke had planned to run for the position, but recently changed his mind. The seat is currently held by Republican Matt Dietz. He unfortunately is stepping away from politics to spend more time with his young family.

Other than telling me that Engle is a trades union member serving a two-year term on Roseto Borough Council, his statement tells me nothing about him. His LinkedIn page provides no details either. Is he a Slate Belt original or from elsewhere? Where did he go to high school? Does he have a college education? I do know he served an apprenticeship.

Hos Facebook page could use some work. His intro starts out with "I'm 6'1 and big dark and handsome .. if you like big."

WTF is that?

I've seen him at one or two County Council meetings and he is almost as ugly as Ken Kraft.

His campaign announcement provides no photo.

I'll be talking to Dan as the campaign progresses and ask for details concerning is background, which really should be in his announcement.

For more information, email Engle at engle4noco4th@gmailcom or visit Facebook at fb.me/engle4noco4th.

The public is also able to join him at his kick-off on Thursday, February 21 from 7pm-10pm at the Scorecard located at 130 North Broadway, Wind Gap. So he is opening his campaign on a night that NorCo Council meets.

NorCo Deputy Sheriffs Approve New County Contract

The union representing Northampton County Deputy Sheriffs has voted to endorse a new, three-year, labor contract. The terms of the new deal will be revealed when the new contract is presented to County Council for approval. It is expected, however, that the contract terms will be in line with six other labor contracts that Executive Lamont McClure has negotiated since assuming office.

The one holdout is the union representing corrections officers.

One county union, the one representing court-related professionals like probation officers, has disbanded. Since they serve at the pleasure of the court, there is little a union can do for them.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Why I Ignored Trump's SOTU

Over the years, I've religiously watched or listened to SOTU addresses. I provided no coverage of Donald Trump's speech last week, which Republicans loved and Democrats hated. That's because I chose to ignore it.

Here's why. I've had enough of Donald Trump. I've grown tired of his ugly tweets, his blatant lies, his fear-mongering and the constant chaos that surrounds him.

Time to cancel his series. It's become boring. 

Allentown Accepts $132k For Supposed $1.25 M Fire Bill

After weeks of needless review, Allentown Mayor Ray O'Connell has finally signed a release accepting Nat Hyman's payment of $132,363 as full settlement of city expenses incurred in the a vacant Franklin Street factory that Hyman had hoped to rehabilitate. Unfortunately, the property went up in flames late last year.

Though Allentown is in financial distress, O'Connell sat on the release for weeks before signing it, likely because it vindicates Hyman.

This is far below $1.25 million demolition cost originally projected by city officials. The sole council member to voice any concern about this cost is Julio Guridy. City officials reluctantly agreed to allow Hyman to renegotiate the cost, and he managed to shrink it about 90 per cent.

Imagine what he could have done with a city budget.

"Now if only I can get Pat Browne to return my calls and letters and save the taxpayers another $15,000,000 on the state Hospital!" said Hyman.

Bangor School Board VP Tossed From Basketball Game

Earlier this season, Moravian Academy stunned Bangor's talented boys' basketball team in a 66-65 victory. Not only was it Bangor's first Colonial League defeat in three years, but the game was won in a buzzer beater off an assist from Abe Atiyeh to Peter Chiaradia. But that was then. Surely things would be different when the Lions would visit Bangor and play both the team and a host of enthusiastic Slaters ON February 6. Sure enough, things were different. This time, Moravian won by 10in a 73-63 victory during which four Lions scored in the double digits. Unfortunately, the game was marred by a display of poor sportsmanship. Was it someone on the team? No. Coaching staff? No. A student? No. A parent? No. The person who had to be taken out by police was none other than Bangor School Board VP Steve Bussenger.

Over the years, especially at summer league, I've seen Bussenger at numerous games. I've never seen him act out. But he apparently did something during last weeks game to prompt an official to eject him. After the signal was given, Bussenger refused to move. So the signal was given again, and Bussenger still refused to leave. The official had to request a school police officer, and one who happens to be a Bussenger cousin, to escort him from the facility.

Everyone in the slate belt is related. Bussenger is also a cousin of Bangor's coach, Bron Holland.

Exactly what Bussenger did to prompt ejection is unclear to me. I've been unable to reach him.

On Facebook, former school director Bob Cartwright makes this observation:
If this was a student or your child or mine there would be discipline or a penalty for being ejected for one's conduct. Whether it is school suspension, loss of the privilege to attend sporting events etc but when its a School Board member there is a different standard? We teach our children and lead our students to do the right thing and conduct themselves accordingly in representing themselves,family, community and school and we are expected to look the other way when it is someone in a leadership role? We have a top notch security dept who should not have to deal with this kind of issue from our leaders.
I'm no Bussenger fan, but know from past experience that there are times when referees eject the wrong person. I'd want to hear from him before condemning him. If he did misbehave, he certainly owes the referee and his school board an apology.  A high school basketball gym is actually a classroom in which good sportsmanship is taught

Bron Holland's team is very tough and physical But in the encounters I've witnessed against Allentown Central Catholic, they were always good sports. In rare losses, Bron Holland is among the first to congratulate opposing players and coaches.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Gracedale's Bad Survey Gets NorCo Council's Attention

I took NorCo Council to task yesterday for scheduling a meeting with nothing on the agenda, not even a discussion of a negative survey about Gracedale. I decided to skip. I had no desire to attend a meeting in which all Council members do is blow their own horns and then go home. Guess what? Council suddenly reversed course and decided, after all, to make that health inspection the focus of last night's meeting. This report is based on the video

Executive Lamont McClure started by saying he regrets not having fired Premier, the nursing home's administrator, last year. Premier was still Gracedale's manager at the time of a health inspection that resulted in 11 deficiencies.

Saying he was "very disappointed," McClure pointed to several other nursing homes run by Premier with "below average" ratings. He noted that five of the 11 deficiencies are directly related to the system used by Premier to direct nursing home care. To make matters worse, he said that Premier's expert at the home had basically checked out in April. "Not only were we poorly managed, we weren't managed at all."

Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski stressed that the county takes each of the 11 deficiencies seriously, and corrective actions are in place. Jennifer D. Stewart-King, the county's own nursing home administrator, echoed Wandalowski. She said her team "by no means takes this lightly." She noted the inspection process became more rigorous as a result of complaints from state auditor general Eugene DePasquale. State inspectors were at Gracedale for four days, talking to everyone. They also watched residents at mealtime, and check the medications administered to 70 of them.

She went over each of the 11 deficiencies (you can read them here) and how they are being addressed.

Stewart-King said that immediate education and audits at every shift are being done. "We do what needs to be done to make sure this doesn't happen again." Both Wandalowski and Stewart-King stresses a need for electronic health records. Stewart-King said the paperwork is "overwhelming"

Wandalowski agrees there "needs to be more in-person training." She pointed to health education software being implemented, but still six months away.

"Do whatever you have to do, lean on whoever you need to lean on, push whoever you need to push, but let's get this system going," urged Council President Ron Heckman.

"We were lied to, said Councilman Bob Werner, referring to the private administrator."We finally got into the black and now we find out we have some problems again."

He asked specifically about the wound care team, only to learn that one resident has six pressure wounds.

"Please, let's fix something here," he said with some exasperation.

Despite the concerns expressed by everyone else, two people attempted to minimize the negative survey. Unfortunately, one of them - Lori Vargo Heffner - chairs the Human Services. Just as unfortunately the other - Brian Dunlap - is Gracedale's administrator in training.

"Comparatively, it was good," said Heffner. She wants to chair a meeting in which administrators will "tell us what you did well, too. Let's not just focus on the deficiencies."

Brian Dunlap, an accountant, played math games. He presented a spreadsheet of 15 nursing homes and contends that Gracedale would only have one deficiency if it were smaller. This argument is based on the fallacy that deficiencies are somehow related to number of residents.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

NorCo Council Has No Business For Tonight's Meeting

Last time Northampton County Council met, there was a disturbing report of a negative survey by the state Department of Health at Gracedale. Though the nursing home is now rated "below average" by Medicare, there was no discussion. Council President Ron Heckman did suggest that there should be a meeting devoted entirely to Gracedale. Tonight could be such a night because nothing is listed on the agenda. Not even about plastic straws. They will give meaningless committee and liaison reports, and then go home. This needs to be discussed, not brushed under the rug. 

Retired Firefighter Seeks Bethlehem City Council Seat

He's a south side resident who understands the plight of a the blue collar worker. He's a retired city firefighter who was seriously injured while fighting a fire. His name is Dave Saltzer, and he is running for Bethlehem City Council.

He was also the IAFF Local 735 President.

Four Bethlehem City Council are up for grabs this year. They are currently held by Michael G. Colón (Gracedale Admissions Coordinator), Shawn M. Martell (Nazareth High School teacher), J. William "Willie" Reynolds (William Allen High School teacher) and Dr. Paige Van Wirt (physician). Martell has decided against seeking a second term while Reynolds seeks re-election. Dr. Van Wirt, a Council appointee, has yet to announce. Colón has offered no announcement, either.

Aside from Saltzer, there's two other newcomers. Grace Crampsie Smith, an Easton Area High School counselor, is running. So is motivational speaker Carol S Ritter.

So far, there could be as many as six people running for four seats.

Obviously, Saltzer would be a voice for first responders and offer Council members a different perspective. But what I like is that he would also be a voice for the often forgotten blue collar workers. In his announcement, he admits to having worked several jobs at a time to help make ends meet. That's an experience shared by many Bethlehem residents.

"Bethlehem is a historic steel city, made up of hard working people, and I want to be a voice for these hard workers," he said. "I feel like I can represent them because I’m just like them. I’d feel so honored to be able to do that.”

One negative. He's a Yankees' fan.

Dem DA Candidate Was Bucks County Resident Until October

Terry Houck
Terence Houck, John Morganelli's top Assistant District Attorney, is seeking the Democratic nomination as District Attorney. He's a tough prosecutor who is highly regarded by law enforcement, although criminals pretty much detest him. To some politicos, however, he's no good because he's from Bucks County and just moved here.

Records at the courthouse reveal that on October 24, Houck moved from Bucks County to Forks Tp. This was about a month before Morganelli announced he had decided against another term as District Attorney. It's no sham purchase. He encumbered the property with a hefty mortgage, meaning he has moved here for real. He obviously did this to be eligible to meet the residency requirement for the top prosecutor's office, and he does. To some, this makes him a carpetbagger.

As I indicate in my story below, this is really a nonissue. Houck has been trying cases in this county for years. He knows the lay of the land.

The real question, both for him and the other candidates, is whether he would make a good DA. I believe he would.

Dem DA Candidate Was Republican Until November 21

Nuria DiLuzio
Nuria DiLuzio, Northampton County's Chief Public Defender, is seeking the Democratic nomination as District Attorney. I have said she appears to the candidate to beat, but some local Dem politicos think they have found her Achilles heel. She only recently became a Democrat.

On November 19, DA John Morganelli announced that his current term, which ends December 31, will be his last. Two days later, DiLuzio switched parties from Republican to Democrat.

Her voting history goes back to 1996. It reveals that, except for 2012 and 2013, she has always voted as a Republican.

This is a bit strange. During the time I've known her, she has always supported Democrats locally. I have seen her at numerous political events for Democrats seeking office.

DiLuzio offers this explanation..

"In regard to the question of my voting record, I want to say unequivocally that I am a Democrat. My values align and have aligned with the values of the Democratic party, as evidenced by my support, both in time and resources, of Senator Lisa Boscola, District Attorney John Morganelli, County Executive Lamont McClure, Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez and most recently, Congressperson Susan Wild.

"My bi-partisan voting record is mostly evidence that I am not a political operative. My work and my values are more reflective of my ideology than what's on my voter registration card.

"If elected, as your District Attorney, you can trust that I will pursue policies that respect each and every one of our citizens and ensure that everyone has equal access and protection under the law."

My own view, for what it's worth, is that this is a nonissue. One of the most liberal people I know has always been a Republican. No jury I know has ever had much interest in political party. The real question is whether she would make a good District Attorney. I think she would.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

"Reformer" Wild Brings Top Dem Donor to SOTU

Murat Guzel and Susan Wild
At last night's SOTU, both President Donald Trump and numerous members of Congress brought guests to use as props for points they wanted to make. Trump brought the surviving family of an elderly couple killed by an undocumented immigrant (or illegal alien) in January. Not to be outdone, Democrats hosted an air traffic controller, a Liberian under threat of deportation and at least least one transgender. So who did SusanWild, the Lehigh Valley's voice in Congress, bring? Was it the cancer survivor (and employee of Wild's law firm) who railed against Marty Nothstein in a TV ad? Was it the woman who must work a second job to pay for her health insurance? Nah. The candidate who said her top priority is campaign finance reform brought top Democratic donor Murat Guzel.

The message this sends is pretty clear.

Susan Wild lauded Guzel for his "countless contributions to the Lehigh Valley," but you can count them. They fill the coffers of local, state and national Democratic candidates.

In years of examining campaign finance reports, I've seen Guzel's name often. He contributes to just about every Democrat on the ballot. Lots of money, too. For example, he seeded Executive Lamont McClure's race with $5,000. But that's (organic) peanuts to him. As of April, 2018, the CEO of Natural Food Group and SMART Juices has contributed over $1 million to Democratic candidates through Super PACs, Hybrid PACs, historical soft money party accounts and joint fundraising. This is in addition to his direct contributions, which add up to at least $642,000 to 79 filers over the past nine years.

That's a lot of health food!

He even kicked in $5,000 to Governor Tom Wolf's first inauguration party.

Now I don't blame Democrats for taking this money. They need all the money they can get, what with the feds shutting down the money stream from engineers, developers and unions. Pay-to-play is more difficult these days. What could be more innocent than accepting a donation from a health food purveyor who presents himself, as he did in The Morning Call, as a successful new American?

If you're in Congress, there's lots wrong with taking money from this guy, though Wild took the maximum amount he could give.

Thanks to Wikileaks, we know that the man Wild invited as her SOTU actually may have paid a former Congressman to write a pro-Turkey op-ed. "[W]e were able to get an article from a very important person and we didn’t spent that much money for it,"he boasts in an email to a Turkish official. “To stand by Erdogan and do whatever we can against evil powers is not just an act of kindness but rather an Islamic obligation upon all of us,” he adds.

Through a lawyer, Guzel denies sending this email. Uh huh.

I'd like to know whether these political donations come from Guzel or Turkey.

In addition to his support for an authoritarian, Guzel has also lobbied Congress to end any financial support for the Kurds, who have been the driving force in the fight against ISIS. Aside from Israel, the Kurds have been our only real ally in the Middle East.

We complain about possible collusion with Russia, but it's pretty clear that Guzel is using either his or his country's treasure to support a strongman government in Turkey as well as suppress an ethnic minority. Considering that Erdogan had a goon quad beat up Kurdish protesters here in the United States, I am leery of both him and his health food salesman.

So there you have it. Our representative in Washington, who claims to be all about about campaign finance reform, brought a top Dem donor to the SOTU. Not just that, but a top Dem donor who supports an authoritarian and is all for suppressing an ethnic minority.

Brilliant, Susan.

My Dancing Days Are Over!

After work yesterday, I donned my candy man costume and headed over to Spanky's East to begin my second job as an exotic dancer. I'm very artistic, you know. I was greeted my three deputy sheriffs and a locksmith. They were padlocking the place.

Earlier that day, DA John Morganelli sought and obtained an emergency order to shut the place down. When I'm not there, things like prostitution, gunplay and drug activity are alleged.

I am totally shocked that something like this could happen at a place that, until recently, was called CR Fanny's.

I will tell you more about Morganelli's petition, which was granted ex parte by Judge Sam Murray. A full hearing is scheduled this Friday.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Holes in the Safety Net

One of the great things about this country, up until now, is that there's a safety net for families in dire financial straights. But authoritarian Donald Trump is cutting holes in it.  His council of economic advisers have declared that we've won the war on poverty, but that's what he likes to call "fake news." 

Let's look at the Lehigh Valley. According to a recent analysis by The National Association of Counties, $46.6 million in SNAP benefits (we used to call them food stamps) were paid in 2017 to 11,700 households.  In Lehigh County, $73.6 Million was paid to 18,700 families.  The number of children living below the poverty line was 8,531 in Northampton and 14,900 in Lehigh.

Under current law, an adult without dependents can only receive three months of SNAP benefits over a three year period unless enrolled in job training or school.

Under the latest farm bill, these benefits will be reduced about 1.7% over the next ten years.   

Who Says There's No Free Lunch?

I can tell you, first hand, that getting old is pretty shitty. But there are some perks. I can get into a movie theatre, high school or even college basketball game at a reduced rate. But I was completely unaware that I am also entitled to free lunches. Northampton County's 11 senior centers offer a free hot lunch daily to anyone over the age of 60, so long as a reservation is made the day before.

"We want to be as proactive as possible to protect the health of our older residents by making sure they have access to adequate nutrition,” says Executive Lamont McClure. He is also concerned that SNAP benefits could be cut off if there's another government shut down.

Here are the 11 senior centers where I can eat for free. One of them is convenienly located next to the courthouse.

I hope it's dairy free. I wonder if they serve Thai?

Easton Area Lifestyle Campus
3201 Sullivan Trail
Easton, PA 18042

Slate Belt Senior Center
707 American Bangor Road
Bangor, PA 18013-9313

Nazareth Senior Center
15 South Wood Street’
Nazareth, PA 18064

Mid-County Senior Center
234 Walnut Street
Bath, PA 18014-1031

Old York Road Senior Center
720 Old York Road
Bethlehem, PA 18018

Rooney Senior Center
4 E. 4th Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015

Basilio Huertas Senior Center
520 E. 4th Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015-1804

Saucon Valley Community Center
323 Northampton Street, P.O. Box 111
Hellertown, PA 18055

Cherryville Senior Center
4131 Lehigh Drive
Cherryville, PA 18035-1030

Northampton Senior Center
902 Lincoln Avenue
Northampton, PA 18067-1725

St. Anthony’s Youth Center, Inc.
Easton Area Community Center
901 Washington Street
Easton, PA 18042

Monday, February 04, 2019

Immigration Activist Seeks Lehigh County Comm'r Seat

Two years ago, in at-large races for Northampton County Council, Republicans lost a 7-2 majority. Republicans lost four of five races. GOP incumbent Peg Ferraro, usually the top vote getter, hung on by a slim margin. This blue wave was replicated throughout the state. Many of those who voted for authoritarian Donald Trump were experiencing buyer's remorse. This year, four Lehigh County at-large Commissioner seats are up for grabs. Will history repeat itself? We'll know in November. So will David Harrington, a left-leaning Democrat and Lehigh Valley4All (who agree with them) organizer. He's running for one of those seats.

Like Northampton County, Lehigh County is governed by a strong executive under a Home Rule Charter. As Northampton County has a nine-member County Council, Lehigh County has a nine-member Board of Commissioners. These are primarily legislative bodies who hold the purse strings.

In Northampton County, four members of County Council represent districts, or geographic areas. The other five are elected at-large. In Lehigh County, it's five who represent districts. The remaining four are at-large. The salary is a pittance, $7,000, but it's a part-time gig. The four at-large Commissioners in Lehigh are Dan Hartzell, Amanda Holt, Marty Nothstein and Brad Osborne. All but Hartzell are Republican. I've received no announcements, but presume they all will run again. Late Friday, I received word that David Harrington, an immigration lawyer whose practice is based in Allentown, is running.

According to his LinkedIn page, Harrington is a 2013 graduate of Penn State and a 2016 graduate of Dickinson School of Law. While still in law school, he did clerk a few months for Superior Court Judge Bill Platt. He also worked as a field organizer at For Our Future, a SuperPac started by billionaire Tom Steyer and labor unions. He currently is employed as an immigration attorney at an Allentown law firm.

Harrington and his other Kathy are driving forces behind Lehigh Valley For All (who agree with them). Just as some members of the local tea party can be quite intolerant of different views, the same is true of some members of this group.

According to his web page, he's running " because I see a need in our county for a government that is focused on people first. We need to ensure that our community members, regardless of race, income, sex, gender, and background have a government that works for them. We must protect our most vulnerable in our community and ensure that when someone falls on hard times, they have the platform on which to lift themselves up. We need to ensure that our local government is not beholden to the wealthy and powerful, but answers to the working people that call Lehigh County home."

Last summer, he threatened to sue Lehigh County if it passes a law giving deputy sheriffs the power to honor detainers against undocumented immigrants in local custody. That would actually be the jail. Dean Browning, himself a former Commissioner and member of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, said Lehigh County is a "sanctuary" jurisdiction because it refuses t honor detainer requests unless accompanied by a court order.

Both want to take a federal debate to a county level. County government's primary role is and should be human services, bridges and the courts.

I'm unsure but believe Harrington lives in Coopersburg.

Harrington will announce formally on Thursday, February 7, at Bell Hall in Allentown.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Lehigh County Deputy Coroner Seeking His Retiring Boss' Job

Lehigh County Coroner Scott M. Grim, a man with a name that really fits the job, has announced he is retiring. His top deputy, Eric D. Minnich, is seeking the Democratic nomination for Lehigh County Coroner in this year's election. Minnich, 41, began his employment with the Lehigh County Coroner’s Office as a part-time Deputy Coroner in 2006. By 2007, Minnich began as a full-time Deputy Coroner. In 2012, he was promoted to First Deputy Coroner and Operations Manager. Grim.

As First Deputy Coroner, Minnich oversees the daily operations of the office; including scheduling, staffing, training, monthly and yearly statistical reporting, policy development and review, disaster planning, interagency relations, vehicle maintenance and other duties that assist our office in completing its mission. Minnich has worked with several local school districts and assisted them with their Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) mock accident. This position has also allowed Minnich to work side by side with Coroner Grim and the rest of the Coroner’s Office staff at several major incidents; including the recent car explosion in Allentown and on several major projects; including the first re-accreditation at the new Forensics Center by the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners.

Prior to working for the County, Minnich worked as an EMT and Paramedic throughout the area. “My medical training and over 24 years of emergency medical experience has been a tremendous asset to my investigations and our office. Additionally, I’m serving my 28th year as a volunteer and Assistant Chief with the Neffs Volunteer Fire Company,” says Minnich.

“In seeking the position of Lehigh County Coroner, it is my hope to lead the office with the same respect, professionalism and compassion that I’ve come to know under the leadership of Coroner Scott M. Grim.” Minnich humbly asks for the voters, and all people of Lehigh County, the opportunity to serve them with his leadership and a strategy of continuing to operate the Lehigh County Coroner’s Office to the highest recognized standard.

Minnich plans to run an aggressive campaign, host and attend numerous meet and greets, and hopes to give the public a better understanding of what the duties and responsibilities of a Coroner involves.

He currently resides in Schnecksville with his wife Pamela, a Registered Nurse, and is the father of three girls.

Unlike Lehigh County, there is no election for Coroner in Northampton County. We're stuck with Zach Lyseck. He visited my gym with a body bag a few nights ago and just stood there, smiling, as I exercised.

"Push a little harder," he said. "You look a little pale."

Motivational Speaker Running for Bethlehem City Council.

Carol S. Ritter, a motivational speaker and small business consultant, has announced her candidacy for Bethlehem City Council. Her announcement indicates that she was born and raised in Bethlehem, but little else that is substantive. Where did she go to high school? College? Where did she work before becoming an expert? Her LinkedIn page indicates she studied organizational management at Moravian College for two years, but I have no idea if she has a Bachelor's, Master's or any degree. I also have little idea where she has worked.

Ritter hosts her own webpage, CarolTalks, where she holds herself out as a motivational speaker. I know she either is or was a trustee at Bethlehem  Food Co-Op.

She is also an alternate on Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board.

She did apply for the vacancy created by the resignation of Eric Evans from Bethlehem City Council early last year. Her response to a questionnaire from City Council members appears online. She was asked whether she'd be running for election this year. Her answer? "I currently have no intention to run for city council in the next election year."

Well, she is.

The only member of City Council to vote for her last year was Bryan Callahan. She lost out to Dr. Paige Van Wirt,.an exceptional candidate. That's understandable. Even Mother Teresa would have lost to Dr. Van Wirt.

At the time, Bethlehem resident and former political consultant Donald Flad spoke on Ritter's behalf. He said she has no personal agenda, she has no ax to grind, and only wants to see the City she loves so much continue to moves forward. Another person who worked with Ritter at Just Born about 20 years ago also spoke highly of this candidate.

I've learned she was a Northampton Area School Director between 2003 and 2007.

I get that she's a great motivator and consensus builder. I'd just like to know more details about her past history.

Four Bethlehem City Council are up for grabs this year. They are currently held by J. William "Willie" Reynolds (a government and history teacher at William Allen High School); Michael G. Colón (Gracedale Admissions Coordinator); Shawn M. Martell (Nazareth High School teacher); and Dr. Paige Van Wirt (physician). Martell has decided against seeking a second term. Also, Dr. Van Wirt was appointed to Council, not elected. It is believed that she and Colón are running, too, although I've received no announcement. Reynolds has announced he is seeking re-election.

Grace Crampsie Smith, an Easton Area High School counselor, is also running.