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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Sign of the Times



I noticed this sign while parking yesterday in Nazareth. It is located right by the police department and is under constant video surveillance. It is apparently a safe spot for child custody exchanges as well as Internet sales.

From what I see at the courthouse, where PFAs are quite common, I certainly think something like this can save lives.  I am nevertheless amazed that people who have children can be so cruel to one another. It’s sad something like this is needed.

I am a child of the 50s. Although domestic violence existed then, I believe married couples had a little more respect for each other than couples do today. I suspect one reason for this is that economic pressures mean that people in relationships see less of each other. 

Whatever the reason, it’s a sad commentary on what we’ve become. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Gutless Lawmakers Divert Gas Tax for PSP

Pennsylvania has the highest gas tax in the nation, something you've likely noticed at the pump. Candidate Tom Wolf hated it, but Governor Tom Wolf is a cheerleader. He claims that this money is helping pay for repairs to the state's crumbling infrastructure. Except it isn't. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has complained that this gas tax , which is supposed to be dedicated to fixing our damn roads, is being diverted to pay state police by the very lawmakers who insisted this money be used exclusively to make our highways and bridges safer.

State Rep.Bob Freeman has justified this illegal diversion because money is needed to pay for state police protection in municipalities with no law enforcement.

I've long maintained that any municipal government with no police protection should be dissolved. But who is it that is in effect forcing cash-strapped taxpayers in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton to subsidize state police in the 'burbs? Why our state legislature, of course.

Career politicians like Freeman willfully violate their own law, and then have the balls to blame municipalities who use the state police for community policing.

Should such municipalities pay for the state police? Of course they should. But politicians would risk losing their cozy jobs if they required that. So, just let the problem fester while our roads and bridges deteriorate even further.

By the by, there are approximately 4,500 PA state troopers. They will receive $790 million from the Motor License Fund this year. That's $175,000 for every state trooper on the payroll! According to the PSP, half of those 4,500 troopers are assigned to municipalities that don't have a police force. That works out to $350,000 per trooper assigned to unpoliced municipalities.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Uncle Joe for President



 He's been called the third Senator from Pennsylvania. He's also been called Uncle Joe. He's finally made it official. He's running for President. He's running to redeem the core values of America. "We have to remember who we are. This is America."

 I spoke about Biden's announcement yesterday with a group of women who are certainly more left-leaning than I. Each of them said they will support Biden. Ironically, it is precisely because he is an old white male. They believe he will attract the blue collars who voted for Trump.

 He has to win the primary first.

Court Fast Tracks Hyman Lawsuit

Nat Hyman's desire to stop the demolition of Allentown State Hospital has been ignored by state and city officials. But his lawsuit seeking an injunction against the razing of any buildings on the 200-acre campus has the Commonwealth Court's full attention. 

On Wednesday, Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer ordered the state's General Services Administration to answer the motion for an injunction by May 9. In addition, she scheduled a hearing for May 21.  

Since that is election day, I suspect a continuance will be sought. 

I expect the state will argue Hyman lacks standing. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Monk Soup

I love soup, and one of my favorites is monk soup. These is a Lebanese dish, and is made during Lent. It's a bean soup with barley and little dumplings with caramelized onions in the center. It is also flavored with lemon. I suppose it's called monk soup because this is what the monks would at instead of meat.

Though Lent is over, I was able to get a bowl of monk soup yesterday. After I ate it, I immediately went to confession. I already have a tonsure, which some ignorant people call a bald spot.

NorCo Courthouse - A Monument to Stupidity

Former President Judge Robert Freedberg once called the $43 million Northampton County Courthouse expansion a "monument to justice." I call it a monument to stupidity, and all you need do is look at the door to see what I mean.

This $43 million expansion was funded back in 2001 with the proceeds of an $111 million bond. Though I and several other citizens managed to band together and stop it in court, our success was short-lived.The County just adopted another bond ordinance. 

One of the big selling points of this expansion is that it would protect judges from lunatics like the one I described in the story below. It does give judges their own private entrance, but it was so poorly designed that it fails to protect them from the elements. A leak from the roof went right into Judge Kim McFadden's chambers a few months ago, which basically converted it into an indoor swimming pool.

The roof was designed so that whenever it snows, an avalanche can come crashing down and kill someone on his way to pay his taxes. But the most idiotic feature is the public entrance, known as the rotunda. It's located at the most inconvenient spot for access that could be imagined. Most people who visit the courthouse have to trudge up the Washington Street hill, which is like Mount Everest in the Winter. Assuming they survive, they have to continue walking to the rotunda before they get into the building.

The rotunda has massive glass doors. Every time the wind blows more than 10 mph, it becomes impossible to keep them closed. So Deputy Sheriffs usually have to block access at one of them, as you can see above.

You would think that the public entrance of a $43 million building owned by the public would have a functioning door. But no one can fix it. Glenn Reibman tried. So did John Stoffa and John Brown. And though Lamont McClure has made a lot of improvements, even he is stumped by the door that refuses to close.   

This monument to stupidity resulted in a 70% tax hike and layoffs over two years. It resulted in 11 county unions. It also ended Glen Reibman's tenure as Executive.

And to this day, no one can fix the damn door.

Judge Murray's Troll

A lunatic named Bob Ryan has been posting hateful comments on this blog about Judge Sam Murray and even his family. It's been going on since the day Judge Murray was sworn into office. Some of these remarks smear Judge Murray because of his Lebanese ancestry. Others attack his wife. Though I delete them when I see them, I'm sure most of you have wondered about his bizarre rants. So let me tell you.

Amazingly, Ryan's hatred has nothing to do with any ruling from Judge Murray made. Believe it or not, it's over Little League baseball. Judge Murray at one time coaching a Little League team so good it went to Williamsport for the Little League World Series. Ryan's son was part of that team, but failed to qualify as an all-star. All this happened about two decades ago, but Ryan is still bitching about it. His comments are ugly and attack both Muslims and Jews.

This behavior constitutes harassment, at the very least. Because many of Ryan's comments are ethnic slurs, he could be prosecuted for a hate crime.

This guy lives in Jersey, but for some reason feels a need to post here.No matter what the topic,he attempts to hijack this blog with hateful rants

There are ugly people in this world, and he is certainly one of them.

If you see his comments, please ignore them. I will delete them when I can.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Hyman Sues To Halt Allentown State Hospital Demolition



On Monday, Allentown entrepreneur and real estate developer Nat Hyman filed a lawsuit to prevent Pennsylvania from demolishing the buildings on the Allentown State Hospital campus. Filed in Commonwealth Court by Attorney Suzanne Ilene Schiller of the Bala Cynwyd law firm of MANKO, GOLD, KATCHER and FOX, LLP, the litigation is an attempt to halt the latest folly coming from  a cabal of state and local officials who seem to be more interested in enriching a Doylestown tax deadbeat than in doing what is in the best interests of the community.

Background

As we all know, state officials who know better than the rest of us decided some years ago to close down the state hospitals. Residents there would do better in community mental health programs, they said..You've seen the results  Some severely mentally ill people are on the streets, including me. Instead of being treated in a hospital, they've been flooding our jails, too. In Northampton County, 72% of the jail population is mentally ill. Twenty-three percent suffer from serious mental illness, with acute symptoms.

In the meantime, Allentown State Hosptal's 200-acre campus sat dormant while state officials considered how they could top the initial blunder of closing it down. They came up with a scheme so monumentally stupid that you have to wonder whose pocket is getting greased.

Get this. Our leaders in Harrisburg plan to spend $15 million to tear down the buildings so it can be sold to a wheeler-dealer from Doylestown named David Ali.  It gets better. In addition to being someone who has no clue about the Lehigh Valley, Ali is a tax deadbeat who has racked up eight judgments in Bucks County, including tax liens to the state and IRS. It gets even better. The state is giving him three years to arrange financing.

Why such a sweetheart deal?

Two words. Jenn Mann. The former state lawmaker turned lobbyist is running interference for Ali. She has current state lawmakers Mike Schlossberg and Pat Browne waving the pompoms. She has quietly been pushing officials at Allentown School district to buy some of the land from Ali for an unneeded school. She is also pushing to give Ali a tax break, not that he pays them.

Of course, this is corruption. It's a little more smooth than what we saw with disgraced Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski, but it is still corruption. In fact, it's worse. For all his flaws, Fed Ed at least thought he was doing what was in the best interests of Allentown. No one can say that about this scheme.

Nat Hyman, who is local and has no tax liens, was also interested in buying the property. He sought no tax breaks, either. He wants to preserve the buildings. Officialdom ignored him. So Hyman did the only thing he could do - sue.

The lawsuit

According to the suit, Allentown State Hospital is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and is listed on the Pennsylvania Register of Historic Places. As a result, a state law called The History Code required a consultation with the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, which is a part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. In fact, the History Code actually requires the state to consider alternatives to demolition of historic structures. It also mandates the General Services Department to “[i]nstitute procedures and policies to assure that [its] plans, programs, codes, regulations and activities contribute to the preservation and enhancement of all historic resources in this Commonwealth.”

The state has no procedures or policies. It ignored its own laws.

The State Historic Preservation Office did visit the site, and concluded
Per the appraiser’s evaluation, many of the buildings due to
their overall condition and general maintenance that they
have received, are in average condition, and may be viable
for rehabilitation and reuse. Even those buildings that had
not been included in the overall usable square footage may
have potential rehabilitation potential. A practical plan for
redevelopment of the campus should balance historic
preservation and economic development.
It added that “[t]he demolition of the hospital complex will adversely affect the property as it will no longer be able to convey its historic and architectural significance.”

In addition to ignoring The History Code, the suit alleges that the state has even failed to follow the law authorizing this conveyance. In December 2017, the state legislature blessed a conveyance to Ali's company, TCA properties. It specifically authorized a conveyance that included the buildings and structures on the campus.No law authorized any demolition.

Hyman seeks an injunction that will halt demolition and preserve the status quo.

Allentown State Hospital, which opened in 1912, was designed to be in a block plan with several buildings connected by corridors and originally included administration buildings, patient ward buildings, a dining room and auditorium, two chapels, a dietary kitchen, a boiler and an electric plant. It includes historically and architecturally significant building details, such as marble floors and columns, stained glass, stately wood trim and wood doors, and a spiral staircase with brass railing and marble steps.It was closed in 2010.

Most recently, it was the location of a movie.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Gracedale Nurses Have New, Tentative, Deal

After taking their case to Northampton County Council twice and threatening to strike, registered nurses and social workers at Gracedale have a tentative deal with Northampton County. Executive Lamont McClure announced a possible new contract at Council's Apr 18 meeting, but disclosed no terms. These workers are represented by United Steelworkers Local 2599.

At two consecutive meetings, these nurses appeared at Council to complain of staffing shortages and resident care. But was it really about that or money? Let me make three points.

First, a contract with AFSCME, the union representing LPNs and CNAs, was approved overwhelmingly late last year. If things were so bad as portrayed, why on earth did that happen?

Second, it appears that nurses themselves are responsible for this problem. As Exec Lamont McClure observed in his State of the County, 30% of the workforce at Gracedale is absent on a daily basis. Could you imagine what impact that has on any business, to say nothing of a nursing home?

Third, if these nurses really did care about the residents and not their pocketbooks, wouldn't they have come to the April 14 meeting to continue speaking out? Their absence tells me more than their complaints.

I suspect the strategy here was to smear McClure until he met their monetary demands. This included an increase in an hourly bonus a RN gets just for showing up to work. This may have worked, but the nurses themselves look rather unprofessional.

This deal still has to be ratified by County Council, but that should be perfunctory. The only time Council hesitated to approve a union contract, it was sued for an unfair labor practice.

With this new contract, McClure will have settled eight of nine union contracts since taking office. The only bargaining unit he's been unable to persuade is the union representing corrections officers. That matter is currently in arbitration.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Happy Easter

I am enjoying the Easter holiday and will resume on Tuesday. I have stories about Northampton County, the DA’s race, Allentown State Hospital and more. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

NorCo Council Puts Brakes on New Voting System

Following a lengthy meeting that included a parade of 10 speakers opposed to the Express Vote XL voting machine system, Northampton County Council voted 5-4 last night to put the brakes on the $2.9 million purchase. Council member John Cusick, who said he actually supports XL, suggested waiting until after the May election to see how the system performs in Delaware. Joining him in a motion to delay the purchase were Council members Bob Werner, Peg Ferraro, Matt Dietz and Tara Zrinski. Opposing a delay were Council President Ron Heckman and members Bill McGee, Lori Vargo Heffner and Kevin Lott.

Cusick argued that a brief delay would give him "peace of mind" in this choice.

Executive Lamont McClure said that he would honor Council's wishes and wait, though he could make the purchase now. Earlier that night, Council voted unanimously to set aside the money for this system, which was endorsed by the Elections Commission in March.  There is some authority that it is the Elections Commission, and not County Council, who decides on voting systems. That issue is currently being litigated in Allegheny County, which like Northampton is a home rule county.

This delay means that the new system, if purchased, will cost an additional $20,000. Administrator Charles Dertinger added, however, that it will still be in place in time for November's election.

Pennsylvania's Department of State has directed all 67 counties to have new systems in place, with a paper trail, in time for next year's Presidential race.

The ten speakers who oppose the XL included two Elections Commission members, Councilman Bob Werner's wife, a self-proclaimed "data geek" and Janice Hobbs Pellechio, an "election integrity" activist from Doylestown. They want to return to paper ballots, which are later scanned  and have in some states presented questions of voter intent.

Pellechio lectured Council that they were quick "to pick something that most of you do not really understand." She said they need "to step back and do your homework."

Bob Werner accused the McClure administration of having already decided on XL in August.

This was disputed by Administration employee Amy Cozze, who spent "five months of my life" weighing the pros and cons of different systems. She insisted that neither Dertinger nor anyone else had directed her to favor any one system. 

The XL system has been under consideration since August. Council members John Cusick, Ron Heckman and Bill McGee all said they had already spent a great deal of time looking at all the systems.

Despite a Cozze presentation showing that the legacy costs of XL are cheaper over 10 years than a paper ballot, Deb Hunter insisted it was more expensive. She dismissed concerns about a state law requiring that over 100% of the ballots be pre-printed for polling places that use paper ballots,though she failed to explain how state law could be ignored. Those bags of paper would weigh over 80 pounds in some precincts.

In response to concerns about judges of elections being tasked with transporting this load back to Easton, Hunter said the same pubic works employees who transport the machines to the polling place can simply pick up the bags when they return after the polls close.

Though this was not addressed, Hunter's suggestion would mean that you'd never see elections results on election night. Public works employees would need several hours to pick up these bags and would have to be paid overtime. To preserve the chain of custody, judges of elections would have to remain at the polling place, alone, until the bags are picked up. It is also unclear whether judges of elections can surrender results to anyone other than the Register of Elections

Ironically, many of the speakers accused County Council of not only being in a rush, but acting undemocratically. Tara Stevenson called the decision "boneheaded," and said they were all being "hustled."  They were presented with a state map showing the number of counties that had decided to use paper ballots. Dertinger and Cozze responded this map, which was waved by several speakers, was pure misinformation. They had spoken to each of the counties.

Though each of the speakers who opposed XL claimed to be interested in democracy, they were asking Council to ignore the wishes of a clear majority of election judges who preferred XL over three other systems. "Elections judges do not understand the system," condescended Elections Commissioner Kathy Fox, who was on the losing side of the 3-2 March recommendation in support of XL.

Tara Zrinski, rumored to be running against State Rep. Marcia Hahn next year, presented the spectre of hacked machines. This was quickly rebutted by both Dertinger and Cozze. Cozze pointed out that each machine is stand alone, and the only way it could be hacked is by giving someone access to each of them in 125 precincts  She pointed out that they are secured in a camera-monitored warehouse. Dertinger added that no other computers are allowed inside that building. Cozze said the more troubling concern is when arguments arise over a marked ballot where the voter's intent is unclear.

Zrinski also attacked XL vendors because they were absent last night. They had already made three presentations, including a presentation on Wednesday to which  Zrinski arrived about an hour late. She stressed the importance of this decision, but was absent for most of the discussion on Wednesday.

Hunter and Werner complained that the Elections Commission should have considered a third paper system, the one chosen by Lehigh County. As Dertinger explained several times, the systems considered were the top two preferences of elections judges.

Last time I checked, Lehigh County does not select voting systems in Northampton County. 

One of the bugaboos raised about the XL system is a barcode that appears on each ballot. This makes them insecure, according to Deb Hunter husband Gene. This is a nonsense argument. Barcodes are common in hospitals, pharmacies, banks and even at frickin' PennDOT

Sitting in the back of the room,but saying nothing, was puppetmaster Matt Munsey. He chairs NorCo Dems and has apparently decided that he, and not the elected members of NorCo Council, calls the shots.

He'll be disabused of that notion in May,when the XL is used in Delaware with no issues.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Your Elected Officials in Action

It was tough to sit through yesterday's Committee meetings of Northampton County Council. In fact, after over two hours of nonsense, I got up and left. There were numerous questions about the Express Vote XL Voting machines recommended by a vast majority of election judges, the Elections Commission and the Lamont McClure administration. Most came from a point of absolute ignorance.

Council member Tara Zrinski, who walked in about an hour after the meeting had started, had baseless concerns that she said she read in some article she never identified.

But the most idiotic questions came from outgoing (thankfully) Council member Bob Werner. His wife is running to take his seat, though I've never seen her at a Council meeting.

What Werner did is mention another unidentified article about a voting machine that was purchased by some retiret member of Homeland Security or the KGB or something. According to Werner, this tecchie reverse engineered the machine and was able yo retrieve voting data.

His illogical argument is that if one voting machine is bad, it necessarily follows that they all are.

This is what we call a fallacy in logic class.

It was only toward the end of his questioning that Werner revealed that the machine in question is not the machine being considered by Council.

Council member Kevin Lott nearly fell out of his seat when Werner made that revelation.

In addition to faulty logic, Werner demanded that Administrator Charles Dertinger tell him whether the state could come along in the future and demand a different machine. He wanted a guarantee this would never happen.

How the hell can a county employee guarantee what the state will or won't do?

They were stupid questions about a good system that has been certified by the federal and state government. Werner at one point said the certification process was halted, but as it turns out, that was with a different system, too.

These are your elected representatives folks.

Does NorCo Council Really Need a New Staffer?

At a time when people are advocating for smaller government with fewer people, Northampton County Council member Bill McGee thinks there should be more. At yesterday's Personnel Committee, he pitched the idea of hiring a "Deputy Clerk" who will be paid about $15,000 more than Executive Secretary Christine Blackford. She's leaving Council for another position with the County, and McGee thinks this is the perfect time to hire a Deputy so that the Deputy and Clerk can be the boss of one person.

McGee said that Council would seek resumes from anyone who might be interested, but this has the stench of cronyism all over it.

Council member John Cusick, who has served as President said he sees no need for it, and his comments were echoed by Peg Ferraro, who also served as President.

In contrast to these veterans of county government, McGee has only been there a year.He said this "Deputy"could do research, something the current Clerk already does for an extremely high salary that is on par with cabinet officials and higher than the amount paid to Executive Lamont McClure.

Here's an idea. Why not let the current Clerk earn her salary?

Here's another idea. Why not hire someone in the Civil Division, or give the low-paid employees there a bump?

Ron Heckman, the current Council President, went into along-winded attempt at justifying this new hire Along the way, he mentioned that his grandparents were farmers, which has nothing to do with anything.

To be fair to McGee, he made clear that he was proposing this as something to consider, but sees no need for an immediate decision.

It's a dumb idea that will only irritate hard-working county employees whose own staffing and salary needs are ignored. 

But it will be a great job for a crony who can walk the halls.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

NorCo Council Poised to Buy New Voting Machines, Electronic Health Records

Northampton County Council is poised to make some major purchases this week to address our elections as well as problems at Gracedale.

The first big-ticket item is the purchase of Express Vote XL voting machines from Election Systems and Software for $2.9 million. This new system is necessary because the Department of State has mandated all 67 counties to purchase voting systems that include a paper trail, and have it in place in time for the 2020 Presidential election. This system was the overwhelming choice of election judges who visited Lehigh County to look at four different systems. It was recommended by the Elections Commission in a 3-2 vote. It is also the choice of Executive Lamont McClure.

The second major purchase is $1.7 million for electronic healthcare records software at Gracedale. The vendor is Point Click Care Technologies, which is one of three proposals received. Officials have argued that electronic health records will enable nurses to spend more time with the residents.

These purchases will be reviewed at today's Finance Committee.

Finally, Council will consider a $15,000 payment from its own contingency fund for Recovery Revolution, a drug treatment center in Bangor. Numerous people, including Bangor Mayor Brooke Kerzner, complained two weeks ago that Human Services had arbitrarily cut off funding in favor of a for-profit company that is located in Monroe County. Executive Lamont McClure has denied that funding has ended.  .   

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Bernie Sanders Proves He Can Never Be Elected

Bernie Sanders was at Artsquuest last night before a friendly crowd of about 500 to answer some tough questions from Fox News hosts about tax returns showing that he is one of the reviled one-percenters. His answers and thin-skinned attitude prove he's no answer to Donald Trump. He is instead a re-election ad for him. While I largely agree with the classic American liberalism of maximizing the minimum, his there is no way Americans will elect someone who promises to raise their taxes. In addition, he is just as intolerant of criticism as Trump.

Democrats would be better off looking for someone who can actually be elected.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Bernie Sanders in Bethlehem

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders will be in Bethlehem tonight to discuss issues like universal healthcare, free college and a $15 minimum wage. Great ideas, though he's a bit at a loss when he tries to explain how to pay for it. I will be there, and if I have an opportunity to ask a question, I will. If you have a question you'd like answered, please post it in the comments. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

PJ Koury Pays Tribute to Judge Zito

President Judge Michael J. Koury, Jr. 
Earlier this week, I profiled Northampton County Senior Judge Leonard Zito, who is stepping down from the bench in June to return to private practice. President Judge Michael Koury will assume the unenviable task of administering criminal court. This is what Judge Koury has said about Leonard Zito.

Judge Leonard Zito has been a dedicated public servant. He served his country in the United States Navy. He served as the county’s Chief Public Defender and County Solicitor. And for more than a decade, Judge Leonard Zito has served the citizens of Northampton County as a judge with distinction and honor. Judge Zito brought to the bench all his life experiences and street smarts, as well as his unparalleled work ethic which was instilled in him by his parents Nicholas and Rose Zito. And as the sum of all these parts, he became known as one of the most reliable and knowledgeable of people to sit in judgment of others.

Judge Zito never forgot what it was like to practice as a lawyer. He maintained a collegial relationship with the members of the bar and treated them with respect and professional courtesy. Judge Zito created and administered an efficient and effective criminal case processing system, and through his tireless efforts we have been able to swiftly and fairly dispense justice to the citizens of Northampton County.

The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “Four things belong to a Judge: to hear courteously; to answer wisely; to consider soberly; and to decide impartially.” During his years on the bench, Judge Zito always followed Socrates’s time-honored instructions. The Court thanks Judge Zito for his many years of service to the bench, the bar, and the citizens of Northampton County. When Court adjourns on May 1, 2019, it will do so with gratitude and in honor of the Honorable Leonard N. Zito.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

NorCo Accepting Applications For Hotel Tax Grants

Norco Executive Lamont McClure is inviting county municipalities and nonprofits to apply for grants from a pot of around $400,000 in hotel tax revenue that should be available for distribution this year. This money is collected from a hotel room rental tax of 4% on hotel guests, to be used for tourism and community development initiatives. Some of the money must go to the tourism bureau, which in turn helps fund Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. But there still is about $400,000 left.

This money is awarded only to municipalities or federally registered 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) nonprofit. There must be a showing that the project for which money is sought will promote tourism or community development and be completed by the end of next year.

Like the DaVinci bug farm. 

Hotel Tax Grants are awarded through a competitive process and distributed at the discretion of County Council, based on the recommendations of a Hotel Tax Review Committee. Grant awards announcements are expected to be announced December 2019.

Interested organizations must submit a 2019 Hotel Tax Funding Request using the application form available by visiting the Community and Economic Development section of the Northampton County website: www.northamptoncounty.org. Applicants are required to register with the Northampton County Department of Community and Economic Development's County Relationship Manager (CRM) and submit electronic applications through the web.

The application process opens Monday, April 15, 2019 at 8:30 A.M. The deadline is set for Friday, June 14, 2019 at 4:00 P.M.

Program inquiries should be directed to:

Northampton County Department of Community and Economic Development
Tina Smith
610-829-6310
tsmith@northamptoncounty.org

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Judge Leonard Zito: "Everything Has a Beginning and an End"

Judge Zito in the "boiler room" with Secretary Anne Goetz
It's hard to think of anyone more closely connected to Northampton County government than Leonard Zito has been since he first began practicing law in 1971. As a lawyer in Bangor, his hard-hitting style attracted attention from both the public and other lawyers. For many years, he was the man to see if you were from the Slate Belt and had a problem. He's been Chief Public Defender, County Council's Solicitor and was both appointed and then overwhelmingly elected as judge. On the bench, he quickly reorganized criminal court and developed a reputation as the hardest-working judge in the Lehigh Valley. But if you talk to him, he still considers himself an "outlier" from Roseto. "We came from nothing," he said, but is very proud of the "fierce independence" of the Slate Belt and Roseto, in particular. He credits this background as the reason for his success, both as a lawyer and judge. To the dismay of President Judge Michael Koury and his fellow judges, Zito is hanging up his black robe in June to return to private practice.

"Everything has a beginning and an end," he said.

When I met with Judge Zito last week, he welcomed me into a room with a long table decorated, from one end to the other, with numerous papers, open law books, legal pads and pens. "Welcome to the boiler room," he said, and quickly got down to business.

As a lawyer who practiced in Northampton County, he knew there was a problem with criminal court. At that time, about 5,000 criminal cases were filed in court every year. Most would eventually result in pleas, but not before month after month of continuances. Juries would be empanelled, day after day, for cases that never went to trial. Witnesses and victims would make the same trip to Easton, month after month, only to see a case put off.. Judge Zito spoke of mothers and grandmothers who, month after month, would have to find someone to watch their children for pointless trips. He spoke of people who lined the halls during something that was more akin to a cattle call than a day of justice. Defendants charged with minor crimes would languish in a jail that was so overcrowded that inmates were sleeping in hallways

Guess who pays for this? You, the taxpayer. You pay over $100 per day for a Defendant sitting in jail. "You might as well send them to the Hyatt," joked Zito. You pay for the juries that mill around a day or two before being sent home. You pay for the witnesses who come, month after month, for a case that never goes to trial.

Zito said that, no matter where you go statewide, only about five percent of criminal cases go to trial. That means Northampton County could expect about 25 jury trials a year. The rest are pleas. His goal was to clear the clutter, not from his table, but from the courthouse. He did that by encouraging pleas to minor cases on the day of arraignment, the first date that a Defendant appears in court to answer charges.

In previous years, defendants would enter "Not guilty" pleas and start the cycle of month after month of continuances. Zito stopped that practice.

As an example, he mentioned a Defendant who is charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana. "That's a zero to me," he said.

He said more serious cases are assigned to a judge on the day of arraignment so that pretrial issues can be resolved. But most cases are minor.

Last year, Judge Zito disposed on 86% of all criminal cases on the day of arraignment. Some went for alternative disposition. Others were guilty pleas. If a Defendant wanted a trial, he still got one before a judge who knew the details of the case. There were 28 trials last year, jury and nonjury.

Thanks to this system, criminal court is usually over on Monday morning. In addition to bringing swift justice, this has the added benefit of saving you money. But it takes a hard-working judge. One day last year, his court reporter walked into the law library at the end of a long day and nearly collapsed. "We just did 44 guilty pleas," she said.

Zito told me that Judge Kimberly McFadden has him beat. She once did 45.

Before attending the University of Scranton and Villanova Law School, Zito spent four years in the Navy. Not behind a desk but as an Aviation machinist. As a younger man, he and a few friends also raced dirt-modified race cars.

How did he transition from hard-charging lawyer to a thoughtful jurist? His answer is advice he received from Judge Isaac Garb, who before his death was a senior judge in Northampton Count. "Judge Garb told me to check my Italian attitude at the door," he said, and soon learned Garb was right.

"You just can't fight with all the lawyers, there's too many of them," joked Zito.

Where is he going? Zito plans to practice with the Florio and Perrucci law firm, located in Bethlehem.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Nothstein Stories Garner Keystone Press Award

Last year, I did a series of stories about what turned out to be unfounded allegations of some form of sexual misconduct by then Congressional candidate Marty Nothstein. Though this supposedly had occurred 18 years ago, and the women who supposedly were involved denied that anything improper had occurred, this nevertheless became a front page story in The Morning Call. It was an obvious hatchet job designed to ruin any hope he had of winning. It succeeded, too.

Since these stories are critical of a newspaper and were judged by other journalists, I fully expected they would be politely ignored. Instead, they took first place in the ongoing news coverage category.

Below are links to my stories:

‘It’s time to end this sort of politics’ - Campaign manager says newspaper rejected evidence clearing Nothstein of sexual misconduct

NOTHSTEIN PRESS CONFERENCE Candidate cleared by SafeSport of misconduct allegations

Nothstein weathers false claim, sues

Monday, April 08, 2019

State Agency Determines ASH Buildings Are Fine


In the cRaZy world of state government, one hand often has no idea what the other is doing. So while the State Department of General Services wants to tear down Allentown State Hospital at a cost of $15 million so it can sell it for $2.5 million. Makes sense, right? But get this. At the same time, another state agency says it should be kept.

And people wonder why I'm nuts.

The Pa. Historical and Museum Comm'n is the "the official history agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." It has an "An Official Pennsylvania Government Website" and everything. In other words, it's part of the government. And while the Department of General Services, along with a gaggle of local state legislators, are hell bent on wasting your money to tearing down the state hospital, this official state agency thinks it's just fine.

Just like Allentown developer Nat Hyman said.

He's an architect, you know.

The Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (“SHPO”) is a bureau within the Pa. Historical and Museum Comm'n. It looked at the grounds last year. It concluded that the Hospital retains its integrity and should still be considered eligible for listing in the National Register.

In a letter to General Services dated letter dated March 12, 2018, SHPO declared that “due to the overall condition and general maintenance” of the Hospital buildings, the Hospital “may be viable for rehabilitation and reuse.” In fact, SHPO determined that a real estate market analysis may conclude that the highest and best use of the Hospital would “support a combination of adaptive reuse and redevelopment.”

Hello.

But other vested interests want you to waste millions in taxpayer dollars to demolish perfectly good buildings and sell it to a tax cheat.

Makes sense to me.

Something smells.

Are Bangor Addicts Being Denied Treatment by NorCo?

When he ran for Northampton County Executive, Lamont McClure identified a need for community development within the Slate Belt. After his election, he helped fund Slate Belt Rising to revitalize four northern tier boroughs - Bangor, Wind Gap, Pen Argyl, and Portland. He also mentioned his concern for the Slate Belt in his recent State of the County address, arguing for sewer along a portion of Route 611 in Upper Mount Bethel Township. Yet at the same time, perhaps unknown to him, Northampton County's Human Services Department has strangely decided to cut funding to a 15-year old drug treatment program within the heart of Bangor. Clients who could walk there will now be forced to take a us for a 90-minute ride to Easton, or arrange for transportation to another treatment center in Bartonsville.

Recovery Revolution, located in Bangor, describes itself as the "premier" outpatient addiction treatment center in the Slate Belt. Last year, 90% of its clients were located within a five-mile radius. In addition, this nonprofit also visits area schools to provide treatment to students.

Jana Morris, Recovery's Executive Director, was at last week's Northampton County Council to try to find out what is happening. She claimed that the decision was made without informing the Drug and Alcohol Advisory Board. According to Morris, her nonprofit has been dumped in favor of an our-of-county for profit provider called Pyramid. County officials told Morris that Bartonsville is in the Bangor area, even though it is farther from Bangor than Easton. There is no public transportation to the facility, either.

She also claimed that the county appears to be directing clients to the for-profit.

"A day, an hour, a minute after they ask for help is too long," Morris said of addicts. She predicted they would return to drugs rather than jump through these county hoops.

She called what is happening a local access to treatment issue.

Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski said that everyone who needs treatment will get it, but failed to explain how.

Northampton County Council was ready to fund the program itself, but decided to do some investigation first.

Executive Lamont McClure had left the meeting before Morris spoke because of a prior commitment.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Staffing at Gracedale - "Worst It's Ever Been"

NorCo's Human Services Director, Sue Wandalowski, discussed staffing at Gracedale with Northampton County Council last night. She was responding to complaints made by several nurses. Registered nurses insist they need larger paychecks. Union rep Valerie Mikula (sp?), who has worked at the nursing home as an RN since 2001, said last night that the $26.65 hourly salary is far too low, well below the $33 per hour starting salary paid at other long-term care facilities. "We know we need more staff," agreed Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski. "It's the worst it's ever been." But she points her finger at Gracedale staff, and not what they are paid.

According to Wandalowski, the call-offs at Gracedale are about twice what they are at other 24/7 operations like 911 and the jail. She suggested it's possible that employees are gaming the system to pull in more overtime.

She added that the county recently made changes to its policy concerning per diem worker Those are part-time workers who must work at least one shift every six months. That policy was changed to require that they work at least four shifts per month, including one weekend shift. In addition, they must work at least one holiday. As a result of these changes, 84 per diem workers either quit or were terminated.

Wandalowski also addressed the issue of resident falls. When a resident falls, staff must wait for an RN to assess the situation to ensure there is no injury. She agreed with the nurse who said a re issue is governed by the union contractsident who recently fell had to sit in the floor for too long, but denied it was a 30-minute wait. She called it a "very isolated incident."

She also addressed mandated overtime. In response to a nurse who complained about receiving frequent requests to work overtime, Wandalowski said an employee can set preferences to eliminate these notifications. She said that from January through March, only 16 people were mandated to work as a result of 283 call-offs.

Several members of Council reported Gracedale visits over the past two weeks. Tara Zrinski, Bill McGee and Kevin Lott were all there. While Zrinski said she thought it was "depressing," Lott and McGee were impressed by the cleanliness.

Zrinski said that, given the environment, the frequent call-offs are justified. Lott argued tht the pay should be higher fir experienced RNs, but Executive Lamont McClure said that issue is governed by the union contract.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Upper Nazareth Hires New Manager

Lisa Klem, currently the Township Manager in Kidder Township, has been hired as Upper Nazareth's new Township Manager, according to Upper Nazareth Township Meetings. Her start date is May 6. She succeeds E.J. Mentry, wholeft late last year to manage Schuylkill Township in Chester County.

Her compensation package is unknown at this point.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

NorCo Awarded $225k Streetscape Improvement Grant

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure announced yesterday that the County has been awarded a $225,000 streetscape improvement grant for improvements at the courthouse campus. The money is coming from the Commonwealth Financing Authority.

Why does this matter?

If you work at the courthouse or are a regular visitor, you should know. There are numerous pedestrian safety concerns at a crosswalk from the courthouse to parking lots on the other side of busy Washington Street. I know of two people who were hit by cars while crossing.

Former Executive John Brown's solution was to get rid of it, and he even had it painted over. Everyone ignore him.

With the Milides building being demolished to increase parking space, there is a corresponding need to make sure everyone is safe. ADA compliant handicap ramps, decorative street lights and landscape improvements are planned as well.

Judge Zito to Resign June 1

Yesterday, I told you that I had just heard that Senior Judge Leonard Zito, a mainstay at the courthouse, was resigning on June 1 to return to private practice. Later that day, Judge Zito confirmed my report. He has also agreed to an interview concerning his years on the bench.

One reader took me to task. "Why not take the extra day to confirm the rumor?" this reader asks. "Isn't the truth more valuable than having your blog post scooped?"

Of course the truth is more valuable. That's why I reported I was unsure and would confirm this rumor as soon as possible. I decided to report the rumor, and as a rumor, for the following reasons:

First, I made clear that I would confirm the story, one way or the other.

Second, I know that reporting the rumor would be the quickest way of getting that truth. I have been blogging a long time, and have learned that it is often difficult to get answers without doing exactly what I did.

Third, I consider the matter significant. Judge Zito's absence is going to place a huge burden on the courts.


Tuesday, April 02, 2019

The Hypocrisy of the Left

"Ban the box" is one of the latest  rages from the left. I happen to agree that  a criminal conviction should never be the basis for an automatic disqualification from employment. A more nuanced approach is fairer to prospective workers and employers.

Ironically, the same people who think we should hire ex-offenders are outraged that some members of the Trump administration were given security clearances despite problems in their past.

This is hypocrisy.

Is Judge Zito Stepping Down?

Judge Zito (in shorts) at Stockertown Rod and Gun Club 
According to sources at the courthouse, Senior Judge Leonard Zito is stepping down from the bench, effective June 1, to return to private practice. I have been unable to confirm this from the court because I only received this information last night. 

Judge Zito is a Navy veteran and a graduate of both the University of Scranton and Villanova Law School. As a lawyer in Bangor, he developed a reputation as a tough and well-prepared litigator. In addition to his time on the bench, he has served as NorCo's Chief Public Defender and as County Council's Solicitor.

When John Morganelli ascends to the judicial heavens, Judge Zito will no longer be able to work as a senior judge in Northampton County. His resignation now might pave the way to a Morganelli appointment right after the primary.

Judge Zito has left an indelible mark on Northampton County and is perhaps the hardest working judge in its history.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Jennings on Trump's Proposed Cuts to CACLV

Donald Trump's proposed budget, which is DOA, does more than gut Special Olympics. According to CACLV Exec Director Alan Jennings, Trump also wants to eliminate all spending for his community action committee. Below is Jennings' response:

The president of the United States has defined himself, once again, by the actions he has taken. In order to fund a wall that won't work, a defense budget the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn't seek, and a tax cut the people who benefitted most didn't need, Mr. Trump has proposed a federal budget that turns its back on tens of millions of Americans. If we interpret a budget as a reflection of the priorities of the individual who proposed it, this president, once again, has made it clear that he has lost any claim on a moral compass. Lacking that compass, the president can stake no claim on right versus wrong. It would be wrong to shut down the largest shelter for homeless families with children in the region. It would be wrong to shut down our revitalization of neighborhoods. It would be wrong to shut down a weatherization program that reduces heating costs, wrong to shut down programs that teach people to help themselves, wrong to stop saving homeowners from foreclosures, wrong to look someone in the eye and tell them they don't matter. The contrast between right and wrong has never been so clear.

In dramatically reducing and, in some cases, eliminating funding of such programs as the Community Services Block Grant, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Community Development Block Grant, the Weatherization Assistance Program and others, the president's budget, if adopted by the Congress, would shut down the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. CACLV has stood up on behalf of those who have been knocked down for more than five decades. And, while barely 20% of our funding comes from federal funding, this funding is key to the agency's ability to leverage other funding.

We look forward to the support of the majority in the Congress, both Republican and Democrat, and yearn for the day when Americans relearn the lesson that we are only great when everyone has access to opportunity, the ability to pursue that opportunity and a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Great countries do not turn their backs on those whose skills are of limited value in the marketplace or those too old or too young to work. Great countries invest in themselves, learn from the past, improve on the present and build a future that leaves no one behind.

Mr. Trump has, yet again, divided our country. There is not a single person who has gone down in history admired as one who divided people, pitting them against each other, turning a deaf ear to their cries or a blind eye to their suffering. The great, admired, respected people throughout history have always been those who stood up to injustice, fought back against oppression and lifted up those who fell down.

CACLV operates a wide range of programs designed to improve the quality of life for low-income people in the region. They include the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, housing initiatives like home ownership counseling and foreclosure mitigation, rehab and new construction. The agency operates entrepreneurial programs that make loans and offer small business training. It also does extensive neighborhood revitalization work in downtown Allentown, south Bethlehem and the Slate Belt, ranging from fa├žade improvements and creating pocket parks to planting trees and streetscaping. Only 20% of its budget comes from government funding.