Wednesday, July 31, 2019

I'll Chime in on Democratic Debates Tomorrow

I missed the first hour of last night's debate among 10 Democratic Presidential contenders. I will catch that first hour today and tell you what I think of both debates tomorrow. From the hour I did see, I was very impressed. The moderators were much better, and so were most of the candidates. A passionate Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders pitted their views against John Delaney, who contrasted "real solutions" with "impossible promises."

Delaney, who said the wealthy should pay more and is worth $65 million himself, pointed out that raising the capital gains tax makes mores sense than Warren's wealth tax.

NorCo DA Seizes $146,255 and Five Vehicles

Northampton County DA John Morganelli has seized $146,255 and five vehicles from drug dealers during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2019. Morganelli uses this money for undercover purchases, police equipment and training.

He has this message for drug dealers: "When we catch you we will seize your money, your house, your vehicle and any other ill gotten gains from your drug dealings. Drug use and drug dealing in Northampton County will be very unprofitable."

NorCo DA Forfeiture Report by BernieOHare on Scribd

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

NorCo Controller Reviews P-Card Purchases

Back in 2017, when he was Controller, Steve Barron conducted a devastating audit detailing abuse of the county's credit cards, called P-Cards. He noted junkets to Vegas, New Orleans, Atlantic City's Harrah Resort and other posh destinations by some county employees. He also noted meal purchases in violation of Northampton County’s Policy on Travel, Meal and Mileage Reimbursement (Code 3.708). P-C were also being used to purchase gift cards, which were then handed out like candy by former Human Resources Director Amy Trapp. Barron has since moved on to become the county's Director of Fiscal Affairs. A recent audit of the county's P-Card purchases reveals improvement, but there are still problems.

This audit was conducted by NorCo Controller Richard "Bucky" Szulborski and his lead auditor, Kathleen A. Kuzma. They took samples from o 6,257 transactions over a 15-month period ending exactly one year ago.

1. Some P-card transactions failed to have appropriate documentation, were not properly and were beyond the purchasing cut-off date for 2017.
- Of 125 transactions selected for testing, 20 that were approved by a proxy authorized signer that was not on the Fiscal Affairs authorized signer list. Eleven approvals were later found on uploaded documents.
- Eight cardholders were improperly set up for "automatic" approval.
- There were 242 transactions after the cutoff date for 2017.

2. Some P-card transactions failed to comply with county purchasing policies.
- Two of 125 sampled transactions failed to use an approved vendor.
- Four of 125 sample transactions included a charge for sales tax even though the county is exempt from sales tax.
- There were eight gift card purchases. These are still in use for participants of Drug Court as well as some clients in Human Services. Only one lacked proper approval.
- All transactions were within the cardholder's limits.
- Of 438 weekend purchases, 10 were selected. All but one were valid purchases. The improper purchase was a $25 baggage fee for the spouse of an employee. That employee no longer works for the county.
- Of 19 charges for air travel, five were selected for testing. One of these was an inappropriate charge involving air travel of a
spouse of an employee while traveling together. This was picked up by Fiscal Affairs and the employee reimbursed the County for the air fare of the spouse.

3. Employee meal purchases.
- Of 15 transactions for meal purchases, one was for a gift card and another for a non-food item. Three purchases exceeded the county meal allowance. Seven meals were purchased even though there was no travel, which violates county policy.

Meet NorCo's New Voting System

In the weeks leading up to November's election, Northampton Councty has scheduled several demonstrations of the new voting system. It is called the Express Vote XL, and was certified by Pennsylvania's Department of State on November 30, 2018.

If you would like to see the system demonstrated for your organization, please contact Amy Cozze at Northampton County's Department of Administration. ((610) 829-6244.

August 13th Tuesday – August 17th Saturday 12:00pm – 8:00pm Blue Valley Farm Show@ the Block Building, 707 American Bangor Rd. Bangor, PA. 18013

August 29th Thursday 11:00am – 12:30pm Northampton Community College Partner Fair, 3835 Green Pond Rd. Bethlehem, PA. 18020 @ the Quad between College Center and Kopecek Hall

September 3rd Tuesday 3:30pm – 6:30pm Bath Borough Municipal Building, 121 S. Walnut St. Bath, PA. 18014

September 4th Wednesday 11:15pm – 2:45pm Easton Area Community Center, 901 Washington St. Easton, PA. 18042

September 7th Saturday 11:00am – 1:00pm Easton Public Market, 325 Northampton St. Easton, PA. 18042

September 9th Monday 10:00am – 1:00pm Bethlehem City Hall, 10 East Church St. Bethlehem, PA. 18018

September 13th Friday 9:00am-11:00am Cherryville Senior Center @ Hope Lutheran Church, 4131 Lehigh Dr. Cherryville, PA. 18035

September 18th Wednesday 9:00am – 11:00am Slate Belt Senior Center, 707 American Bangor Road Bangor, PA. 18013

September 19th Thursday 11:00am – 1:00pm Northampton Senior Center, 902 Lincoln Ave. Northampton, PA. 18067

September 25th Wednesday 12:00pm – 2:00pm Old York Rd Senior Center, 720 Old York Rd. Bethlehem, PA. 18018

September 28th Saturday 11:00am – 1:00pm Easton Public Market, 325 Northampton St. Easton, PA. 18042

September 30th Monday 10:00am – 1:00pm Bethlehem City Hall, 10 East Church St. Bethlehem, PA. 18018

October 3rd Thursday 12:30pm – 2:30pm Cherryville Senior Center @ Hope Lutheran Church, 4131 Lehigh Dr. Cherryville, PA. 18035

October 5th Saturday 12:00pm – 2:00 pm Hanover Township Community Center- Fall Festival, 3660 Jacksonville Rd. Bethlehem, PA. 18017

Monday, July 29, 2019

Trump Is a Boor, But is Right About Baltimore


Reality TV Show Star turned President Donald Trump has managed to make himself the center of attention again. This time it's for his weekend tweetstorm on Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings. He chairs a House Oversight Committee that has been giving quite a bit of scrutiny to our immigration policies on the Mexican border. Trump called Cummings a "brutal bully" who should take care of the "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess" in Baltimore, adding "no human being would want to live there." I have since read numerous news accounts that just automatically conclude Trump is a racist. Democratic presidential candidates have been quick to join this chorus. Readers of this blog know I consider our President unfit for any office. He may very well be a racist. But what he said about Baltimore is all-too-true. In fact, it can be said of most of our urban centers, including Trump's New York City. It's an inevitable result of one-party rule and the corruption that follows. The solution to this problem is opening up our primaries.

I've been to Baltimore a few times. I've run a marathon throughout the city streets and also participated  in a  bike tour. I have even sailed there a few times. The Inner Harbor is magnificent. The rest? Not so much. During the marathon and bike ride - about ten years ago - I passed by more than a few dead rats rotting in the middle of the road. In addition, it's plagued by a huge homeless problem.

Then there's crime.Here's an observation from The New York Post:
Among the largest 30 American cities, Baltimore has the highest crime rate, and is a close second to Detroit for the highest rate of violent crime. But for murders, Baltimore is second to no other city, with more than 50 homicides per 100,000 people. That puts Charm City in the ranks of Jamaica, Venezuela, and El Salvador in terms of lethality.
But The New York Post is biased, you might say, and it is. How about what Trump calls the "failing" New York Times? It reached a similar conclusion in The Tragedy of Baltimore, and no one called that story racist.

Certainly, there are many reasons to like Baltimore, and it does have pockets of wealth and hard-working people. But like any urban center, it has become rotten from the inside, mostly as a result of corruption that has included several recent Mayors. It's what happens under one-party rule. We've seen the corruption in Philly, Allentown, Reading, Harrisburg and Scranton.

In Philly, two City Council seats are for members of a minority party. According to Governing, those seats may be going to Democratic Socialists this year, a pattern that has started in other cities as well.

The solution to one-party rule,as well as the corruption that inevitably follows, is an open primary in which Independents can vote. Amazingly, the state senate has passed a bill providing for open primaries, and the matter now sits in the State Government Committee.

If Governor Tom Wolf were really interested in stopping corruption, he'd get behind this bill.

Don't hold your breath.

Friday, July 26, 2019

NorCo May Opt Out of State Civil Service

For years, Northampton County has been plagued by caseworker vacancies in Children, Youth and Families (CYF). Without question, this is a stressful job with a high burnout rate. But according to county Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski, an underfunded and understaffed state civil service commission has made things worse. As a result, Executive Lamont McClure will soon ask Council to approve a resolution opting out of civil service.

To illustrate the problem, Wandalowski said at last week's Human Services Committee meeting that there are 13 caseworker vacancies in CYF. Yet it took the state civil service commission two months to provide a list of caseworker applicants. When it finally did, it contained only three names.

When NorCo asked for more names, civil service provided a list of 80 people who had filled out parts of the application, and suggested the county contact them directly. The county did, and learned that list was fraught with errors. Some of the people identified had not only taken the test, but were already working as caseworkers.

Pennsylvania's Civil Service Commission administers the hiring system for 37 state agencies employing nearly 57,000 civil service employees.

Caseworker vacancies in CYF can mean the difference between life and death for some abused or neglected children, so Wandalowski wants to opt out of civil service and do the hiring in-house. This has already happened in Berks and Bucks Counties, she said. According to The Sentinel, Cumberland County is currently in the process of withdrawing from the state civil service commission because of similar difficulties in filling vacancies. The state civil service commission, Wandalowski said, is actually encouraging counties to opt out so long as career service regulations are in place.

Wandalowski estimates the process will probably take a year.

"If it sounds too good to be true, sometimes it is," cautioned Council Prez Ron Heckman. He told Wandalowski he'd want to hear from counties that have opted out before making a decision.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Mueller Hearings a Waste of Time

I  listened to former special prosecutor Robert Mueller testify before Congress yesterday during trips to and from Allentown. Traffic was bad, so I wasted  at least an hour of my life listening to a circus in which no one sounded very good.

Let's start with Mueller himself. He was a reluctant witness who previously made clear he had no desire to testify because his two-volume report speaks for itself. He was hardly compelling. He actually seemed to be trying to forget everything.

Democrats used him as a prop to point out different facets of the report showing that Trump is a disgusting person. His tweets already make that clear. So what?

Republicans attempted to vilify Mueller, suggesting political motives from a career prosecutor who is a registered Republican. Right.

Both parties looked like idiots. If this was supposed to be the preface to impeachment proceedings, Democrats are overreaching. Not happening. It's a monumental waste of time better spent on issues that matter, like a broken healthcare system or our increasing income inequality.

The best way to rid ourselves of the Tweeter-in-Chief is to elect someone else. The hearings yesterday make that a little less likely. Both parties looked bad, but Democrats insisted on this nonsense.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

CACLV Takes Steps To Improve Facade Program

Around this time last year, I chronicled the plight of two West Coast transplants to Allentown named Shelby Brown. They brought their Little Drill marketing business to Hamilton Street. They applied for a facade grant with Upside Allentown, a branch of CACLV. That's when the fun began. Their grant was initially rejected when they refused to paint their building battleship grey. I actually went to the home of CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings to tell him in person about possible insider dealing, but mostly to complain about the color. Battleship grey? Is there an uglier color? Turns out the inside of Jennings home is painted battleship grey.

After the past year, I'd have to say that battleship grey or even camo would be an appropriate color. That's because Whitney and Edwards have been pretty much at war with Jennings, CACLV board members, Main Street Manager Peter Lewnes and various City Council members. Jennings told me he'd not only conduct his own investigation, but would ask the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to do so as well.

CACLV now reports nothing was wrong with the facade grant program. But at the same time, seven recommendations have been made to stop the insider dealing and conflicts of interest that clearly occurred.

Interestingly, there is no report from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. That state agency has confirmed it does no investigations.


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Accused Palmer Tp Murderer Waives Extradition

From Palmer Tp PD: Edgar Himel, has waived extradition in Colorado and will be brought back by Palmer Police Investigators to Pennsylvania  from Colorado for arraignment on charges of Criminal Homicide and Theft ofMotor Vehicle.

A video arraignment has been scheduled for 9:30am Friday morning at the Northampton County Central Booking Center located at Northampton County prison in Easton.

Blogger’s Note: Himel is accused in the July 4 slaying of his wife. Her body was discovered at the couple’s Palmer Tp residence three days later. 

On July 4, the victim had called 911 to report an “emergency.” Two police officers responded, but there was no answer at the door. One officer went around the home and could see a man who appeared to match Himel’s description in the bedroom, where the victim’s remains were eventually discovered. Police cleared the area without making contact.

An internal investigation is underway, and right-to-know requests have been denied because of both the civil and criminal investigation.

 

How About Medical Marijuana at Gracedale?

One problem plaguing Gracedale and other nursing homes is the high use of psychotropic drugs, condemned by some as a chemical restraint. This is just one of many topics Gracedale Interim Administrator Jennifer D. Stewart-King discussed with NorCo Council last week. But they all began to laugh when Council member John Cusick asked if any consideration has been given to the use of medical marijuana. "No!" said Stewart-King.

Medical professionals there should reconsider. According to the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, "Studies examining older adults that are utilizing medical cannabis legally have demonstrated significant decreases in prescription medication use, most notably a reduction in opioid analgesic usage. As such, medical cannabis should be viewed as an additional option in the clinician's toolbox of therapeutic interventions for symptom relief."

Most nursing homes, however, prohibit medical marijuana because of their reliance on Medicare for funding. The feds prohibit marijuana.

One New York nursing home gets around this by refusing to purchase or store medical cannabis, but allowing residents to store their own stash in a locked container. cannabis medicine. Residents must purchase their cannabis medicine on their own and self-administer or have it administered by family.

If you want to increase Gracedale's census, this is one way to do it.

Census Dips at Gracedale

When Premier Healthcare Service was hired as Northampton County's Administrator at Gracedale, the census was down to 590. This means revenue was down, too. Turning that around was a top priority of this privatized manager, and by February 2015, the number of residents had increased to 681. Executive Lamont McClure has fired Premier, convinced the county can administer the home itself. But if census is any indication, it's time for another private administrator.

In February, Gracedale Interim Administrator Jennifer D. Stewart-King reported in February that census was down to 665. Last week, she told Council's Human Services Committee that it dropped even more, to 645 in June. This is now below what is budgeted, meaning a loss of revenue. At the current rate, Gracedale is about three months away from down to the level it was at when Premier was hired to turn things around.

Stewart-King said that she is working to increase census by reaching out to media, including radio and TV. She is also trying to recruit more staff, and has sent flyers to LPNs and RNs within a 30-mile radius. She even advertises in church bulletins.

"Just come and try us out; You'll fall in love with us,." she said.

That's actually a pretty good pitch.

DON told Council that mandated overtime is down from a high of 13 in May to just one this month.

This, however, comes with a price. Less staff.

According to Medicare, Gracedale is still rated below average, at two stars. That includes staffing.

This is not rocket science. The best way to increase staffing is by paying people more. When that happens, census will go up, too.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Zrinski Blasts Bethlehem Tp, Legislators Over PennEast Pipeline

It's no longer just nonbinding plastic straw bans. Northampton County Council member Tara Zrinski is now pursuing a new resolution, also nonbinding, taking aim at the PennEast Pipeline route through Bethlehem Tp. This one calls for an evacuation plan and asks PennEast to provide equipment for first responders. Her resolution was discussed by Council's Energy Committee on July 17. "I can't just sit by and not do something," she said. She was highly critical of Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners and state lawmakers, who have already negotiated an agreement under which the Township will receive $475,000.

PennEast Pipeline is a consortium of natural gas companies who want a 36" compressed natural gas pipeline extending 115 miles from Luzerne County to New Jersey. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted conditional approval on January 19, 2018. Northampton County Council has already adopted two resolutions, both penned by Zrinski, opposed to the pipeline.

In May, Bethlehem Township’s five Commissioners unanimously approved a deal with PennEast under which the consortium agreed to move the pipeline 109’ farther away from residences. It promised to bury the pipeline 4-feet deep instead of the usual 2-3’. It pledged periodic inspections, including x-rays of pipe welds. Finally, it assented to a $475,000 cash payout to the Township. This followed a year of negotiations that included Commissioners, Solicitor Jim Broughal, State Rep. Marcia Hahn and State Senator Lisa Boscola.

Zrinski slammed the deal because, she says, the Township has failed to provide for an evacuation route that passes near residents, schools and hospitals.
"They threw their hands up. They said they had Lisa Boscola on this, they had Marcia Hahn on this and they couldn't negotiate. Their lawyer said, 'Go ahead, take the 475.' They didn't ask for new firetrucks, emergency preparedness equipment. When you have PennEast in front of you, and they're doling out millions of dollars to the water authority and you say, 'Oh yes, I'll take your first offer of $475,000.' Mind blown."
Zrinski also challenged the motives of negotiators. "I think you have to look at the people who are negotiating these pipelines," she cautioned. "They have different interests in them than we have," she said, failing to explain what she meant.

At one point, she said she wanted to invite Bethlehem Tp Solicitor Jim Broughal in for questioning.

Zrinski wants to bring PennEast back to the table and get more equipment for first responders. She noted that homes, schools and even a maternity ward are within the 900' blast zone, but "[t]he $475,000 that Bethlehem Township received or will receive is hardly enough for even a firetruck."

She said one of the Township's Commissioners told her there is no evacuation route. She complained local municipalities are "unprepared to negotiate with pipeline companies or ask for the things that are necessary."

"This poses a significant risk for people in this area for evacuation," she complained. She said some residents would only have 40 seconds to evacuate. "It doesn't matter how much money you have when your house melts," she continued.

In addition to criticizing Commissioners, Zrinski also slammed state lawmakers. "If our legislators are not doing their jobs, we have to push them to do it."

Zrinski is currently running against to State Representative Marcia Hahn. She is also a solar energy sales representative.

She did most of the talking at this committee, which she chairs. It was difficult for Council members to offer suggestions or ask questions without being interrupted by her.

Council President Ron Heckman did have a chance to express some reservations.: "Will it make a difference at the end of the day?" he asked of a nonbinding resolution. "It has absolutely no meaning to them or anyone else whatsoever."

Zrinski sharply disagreed. She warned that, unless the county acts, "We're going to get railroaded and put people in danger."

But is she right?

Commissioners Strongly Dispute Zrinski's Assertions

Three Bethlehem Township Commissioners - John Merhottein, JohnGallagher and Malissa Davis - have teamed up with a joint response to Zrinski's proposed resolution.

"Our issue with Ms. Zrinski's comments regarding PennEast is she never appears to read below the headline. If she would have attended the meeting (or asked us) when we voted to accept the agreement with PennEast, she would have known we offered to accept no money if they would move the pipeline out of the blast zone of Hope Ridge (PennEast Declined). The water authority has nothing to do with Bethlehem Township.

"Neither St. Lukes (assuming she means the maternity ward) nor any school are in the blast zone. Ms. Zrinski again muddles the facts to suit her purpose.

"Our mandate, under circumstances where we had no legal position to change things, was to protect Hope Ridge and we accomplished some pretty significant safety improvements.

"Here are the facts: PennEast had FERC approval. They did not have to negotiate with us. We negotiated and got the following safety concerns: Moving the pipeline over 100 feet from the proposed route, inspections as a class 4 pipeline, 100% x-ray of welds on the pipe, the pipeline buried an additional foot and the Residents in that area asked for a tree line. We did not accept the first offer from PennEast. Our ultimate goal was to move the pipeline as far as possible from Hope Ridge.

"We never 'threw our hands up'. Consider the position we were in with negotiating with PennEast (PennEast could have condemned the land, we could have gotten no safety concessions and less money). We are proud of what we accomplished. There were numerous phone calls and emails; a PennEast meeting with residents; and two negotiation sessions. We would not consider that throwing our hands up.

"Our 'lawyer' never said 'take the 475'. As a matter of fact, our Solicitor did what any good Solicitor should do, guided us through the negotiations, presented the facts and allowed the Board to make the decision. We did not accept the first monetary offer from PennEast.

"As for the 'people who are negotiating these pipelines' and their 'interests in them', we can assure the residents of Bethlehem Township and Ms. Zrinski, our interest is and was the safety of our residents. Moving the pipeline farther away from Hope Ridge and the additional safety concessions we received are proof of that. We could have probably gotten more money and fewer safety concessions.

"We would like to note we do have an emergency response plan in conjunction with the County.

"As for what was or was not asked for, Tara Zrinski was not in the negotiation. She didn't ask anyone on our negotiating team what we asked for, nor did she offer any suggestions. She never asked to sit in on negotiations. It is easy to criticize from afar, especially after the fact. Senator Lisa Boscola and Representative Marcia Hahn reached out to us and asked what they could do. Where was Tara?

"On a personal note, for Ms. Zrinski to make these comments, nonetheless put it in a resolution, without getting all the facts is hurtful and self-serving, not only to this Board, but to the public we both serve."

Commissioner John Merhottein
Commissioner Malissa Davis
Commissioner John Gallagher

Blogger's Assessment: In 2008, Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano sanctioned Tara Zrinski for perjury in a custody dispute. She continues to play fast and loose with the facts. She attempted to rush her pipeline resolution. She placed it on the agenda for Thursday night though she failed to submit it until the Monday before the meeting. When Council members attempted to question her, she talked over them and incessantly interrupted, getting louder as the meeting continued. As we know now, and from Township officials, her proposed resolution was at least reckless with the facts, if not outright lies.

She smeared the entire board, four of whom are Democrats, just like her. Malissa Davis and John Gallagher are both practicing environmentalists, while John Merhottein is a fiscal hawk who would shake down PennEast for every penny he can get.

She also derided two state lawmakers who, unlike her, volunteered their time and services in this negotiation.

What Zrinski really wanted was political mileage in a run against Hahn. This will now backfire. First, she was reckless and tried fear-mongering and alarmism instead of truth. Second, she alienated natural allies like Davis and Gallagher. Third, she has given Hahn an issue to use against her. Fourth, she has lost credibility with her fellow Council members. No one should support anything she proposes unless it is thoroughly vetted.

For this irresponsible behavior, she should asked to step down as Chair of the Energy Committee.

Friday, July 19, 2019

200 Sign Petition Asserting "Staffing Crisis at Gracedale

Kelly Ehlman, a 20-year Gracedale worker, admitted she was nervous as she stood in front of Northampton County Council last night. "I'm here about the staffing crisis that we face in Gracedale," she said, adding she was doing so "on behalf of the residents." She presented a petition with 200 signatures asserting a an employee shortage despite initiatives made by upper management.

Her petition calls on Council to investigate by obtaining the results of a family survey conducted by management, inquiring about the rise of employee resignations, re-assessing initiatives implemented by the Director of Nursing and "find a solution to what management has failed to accomplish."

Council President Ron Heckman suggested that she meet with Human Services Chair Lori Vargo Heffner, who agreed to discuss the mater with Ehlman.

Council member John Cusick also suggested she address her concerns with her union. "I have tried that; that's been void," responded Ehlman. "Out of desperation on my account I am here even though I face possible retaliation in the future."

She said that she recently visited one floor with two aides serving 50 residents on the 3-11 shift.

"Doyou have any specific recommendations that have not been tried?" asked Council member Matt Dietz.

Ehlman responded that the county has already doneseveral things she called ridiculous. She cited a short-lived attempt to eliminate per diem as well as the elimination of a staffing position on every floor.In addition, she said employees are pulled off floors for training.

"Whatever they are doing, the staffing crisis has worsened," Ehlman said of Gracedale administrators.

Heckman promised Ehlman she'd face no retaliation.

NorCo Council Approves $36M Contract For Medical Services at Jail

Though Northampton County Council member John Cusick moved a proposed $36 million contract with Primecare for medical services to the jail over a period of up to 10 years when it was in committee, he was the sole No vote when Council voted on it last night. The contract was approved 7-1, with Council member Peg Ferraro being absent. Cusick is bothered by the length of the contract.

"If you can get stability in health care that the county can count on ..., with due respect John, I'm kind of seeing it from the other side," retorted Council member Kevin Lott.

Six Council members agreed with Lott.

NorCo Saves $453k on Bond Refinance

County Executive Lamont McClure told Northampton County Council last night that, as a result of refinancing a bond issue at a lower interest rate, the County will be saving $453,000. He commended Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron for coming up with the plan.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Trump is Doing What Demagogues Do

I've been doing my best to ignore Authoritarian Donald Trump. He's a realty TV show star whose show has become boring and needs to be canceled. Hopefully, that will happen next year. That's why it was a mistake for the House to condemn his Sunday series of crazy tweets slamming four extremist liberal members of Congress, known collectively as the "squad." All this has done is energize the racists and xenophobes in his base. It also has given him a bogeyman, or should I say bogeywomen, he will denounce throughout his campaign. All Democrats will be likened to their most extreme members.

His North Carolina rally last night proves it, as enthusiastic supporters shouted "Send her back!" in response to his appeal to their darker natures.

NorCo Council Ponders New Primecare Contract for Up to $36 Million

Northampton Councty Council is set to vote tonight on a new contact for healthcare at the jail. It's with Primecare, which has spent 19 years with the county. The contract amount is $24 million over seven years, with options to extend it to 10 years for $36 million.

"The seven years struck me as a very long time," said Council member John Cusick. But the jail's public safety director, Ken Kraft, countered that, with a seven-year contract, "[w]e can stabilize our healthcare costs. We can stabilize our budget for many years."

Cusick also complained that the county would be stuck for seven years, but Kraft retorted that the contract includes a 30-day termination clause.

According to Kraft, the new contract increases mental health and detox treatment

Primecare CEO Thomas Weber said that there are 26 FT employees who spend time at the jail. These include nurses, dentists, physicians, psychologists and psychiatric nurse practitioners.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Coming Soon: Express Vote XL Demos

When you vote in November, you'll notice a new machine that looks a lot like the one you've been using in NorCo. Believe me, it's a vast improvement over the typical touch screen voting machine. One reason for this is the voter-verifiable paper ballot going directly into a sealed ballot box attached to the right side of the machine. But what I like best about it is that it is so user-friendly, both for the poll worker and voter. You'll be able to see this for yourself because the county intends to demonstrate the system at numerous locations before election day. When the county has some dates and places, I will post them. 

This machine is called the ExpressVote XL. The XL just means it's big, with a 32" inch ... screen.  Size matters, you know. A group of election judges, including myself, and county workers were trained on them yesterday in the cavernous Gracedale warehouse. .

Like the current system, this will also have a privacy curtain so no one can see how you vote. Unlike the current system, this touchscreen  has several features that will assist you in making voting much easier.

The write-in option, which usually stymies most voters, is a snap, as easy as typing your name.

Although it's highly unlikely you'll have any trouble reading a 32" screen, there are built-in features for those who do. Not everyone is perfect like me. You can enlarge the text size, which will take you through each race individually. You can then switch back if you want. If you are suffering from macular degeneration, you might have trouble reading a colored screen. You can change the contrast to black-and-white. And for the first time, I've seen a machine that really goes out of its way to accommodate people who are completely blind or may even be paralyzed from the neck down. Each voting precinct will have a large rectangular box enabling a physically challenged voter to make his or her choices. I was concerned this could slow things down but was told it's amazingly fast.

In most touchscreens, a machine operator will activate the machine. The ExpressVote XL is already active. It becomes operational when you insert the ballot - a blank piece of thermal paper - handed to you by a poll worker.

Can the ballot get stuck or refuse to load? I tried everything yesterday. I crumbled it up and tossed it to a fellow student. He stomped on it. We handed it back to our teacher, sure it would fail. He smiled and ripped it. The ballot still loaded. A vote could still be cast.   

No ballot has been so messed up that it's been rejected, but that's for elections in Jersey and Delaware. We Pennsylvanians are a lot sloppier. 

Once the voter makes his choices, his printed ballot will pop up under a glass screen on the right side of the machine. If satisfied, the voter can cast the ballot, which then goes into the sealed ballot box. If not satisfied, he can quit and the ballot will be ejected and handed to a poll worker as a "spoiled ballot."

You get three tries. Then, like in baseball, you're out. But unlike baseball, you still have the right to cast a provisional ballot.

At the end of the night, when the polls close, the votes will be transferred to an encrypted flash drive. They will also still be on the machine. And the sealed ballot box will be opened and scanned during the canvass process. Any number of scanners have been used, and the paper ballots always match the totals on he flash drive and machine.       

I believe you'll like the new system.   

Bethlehem Service Center To Open Thursday

Mayor Bob Donchez will announce the opening of a new "Bethlehem Service Center" and accompanying App during a Thursday news conference at Town Hall, 3:30 pm.

Cedar Beach Pool Back in Business

From Allentown: Allentown’s Cedar Beach Pool reopened at 3:00 p.m. yesterday.

The pool had been closed since Tuesday, July 9 when a broken water pipe in the pool’s pump house damaged the 25hp main motor. City personnel have installed a replacement motor.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Was Palmer PD Short-Staffed on July 4?

Palmer Township Police have a complement of 34 FT and one PT officer who patrol a municipality of 10.7 sq miles with an estimated population of 21,469. This is in line with the size of police departments with similar populations. But how about July 4, when Penny VanTassel-Himel called to report an"emergency? What I am hearing is that the department was short-staffed. There may have been only two or three officers on duty and no supervisor. I am also hearing that one of the officers prepared an incident report claiming, "Everything was OK." I have filed a RTK to determine if this is in fact true.

In addition, I have also filed a RTK for the 911 call made by Penny. There are some who claim she was gasping at the time she reported the "emergency," which might be an indication she was already injured.

Updated 8:45 am: I originally said that Palmer's police complement is "well above" the size of similarly populated areas. It is actually about the same.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Charter School Refuses To Reveal $3.2M Realtor Comm'n to Jenn Mann

As many of you know, I'm no fan of former State Rep. Jenn Mann. My disenchantment with her began when she used her position as a legislator in struggling Allentown to secure a a $10,000 state DCED grant for The Parkland Trojan Ice Hockey Club. Those students need little state assistance. In the meantime, she did next to nothing for disadvantaged kids in downtown Allentown. But in 2014, she was listed as one of the founders of Allentown's Executive Education Academy Charter School. Was she finally giving back? Unfortunately, no. According to information obtained in response to a Right to Know request, Executive Education has paid her $450,000 since 2014 for unspecified "contracted professional services." I've also been told by several people that she was paid a $3.2 million broker's fee in connection with the purchase of the school building. But the school refuses to release that information, claiming it belongs to the Executive Education Charter School foundation, a separate legal entity.

I've appealed this refusal to the state Office of Open Records.

Of course, Executive Education delayed as long as it could in responding. My request was first filed on June 6, and an answer only came on July 12.

Executive Education recently did the same thing to a Morning Call  reporter who sought construction costs for a recently opened $4 million gym. Never mind that the real source of this funding is Allentown taxpayers. In that case, the Office of Open Records concluded the Foundationp and Charter School are one and the same.

The public has every right to know how its money is being spent.

The Charter School is resisting that right in Lehigh County courts. I expect I'll be there soon enough.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Palmer Tp Murder Suspect Arrested

Palmer Tp Police Dep’t:  On 13 July 2019 (Saturday) around 1:00am Edgar Telesphar Himel (age 80) was taken into custody by the Sterling Police Department in Colorado.  Palmer Police Investigators on 7-12-2019 received investigative information Edgar Himel had stayed at hotels off the Rte. 80 corridor in Nebraska and was travelling westbound.  Law enforcement agencies were notified in Nebraska and Wyoming which included the State Police, Highway Patrol, Sheriff Departments, and local police departments along Rte. 80 for Edgar Himel being wanted for Homicide.   Information was later received by Palmer Police Investigators Edgar Himel was staying at a hotel in Sterling, Colorado off or Rte. 76 on 7-12-2019.  Sterling Police Department, Colorado was contacted and confirmed the vehicle Edgar Himel fled from Palmer Township on 7-4-2019 was parked at the hotel.  Vehicle was the 2019 Nissan Rogue owned by victim Penny S. Vantassel-Himel.  Edgar Himel was taken into custody without incident at the hotel.  

Edgar Himel will be held in Sterling Colorado as a Fugitive from Justice, pending extradition to Pennsylvania, on the charge of Criminal Homicide.

During the investigation Palmer Police Investigators were assisted by the Northampton County Coroner’s Office and First Assistant Terry Houck, Northampton County District Attorney’s Office

Friday, July 12, 2019

NorCo Looking For Old Farts

If you're 100 years old and think you can make it until October 3, Northampton County will buy you and your 26 year-old girlfriend lunch at some undisclosed location in Bethlehem Township. You have to register with Melissa Titus (610-829-4509 or mtitus@northamptoncounty.org) so she can determine you're not some 90 year-old trying to rip off the county. The password is "I smell old people."

Palmer PD's 911 Lapse Very Atypical, Say Cops

Many of you were quite upset by yesterday's story, "Did Palmer PD Fail 911 Call?" Let me preface my remarks by saying they did. Leaving the scene of this call was outrageous and undermines public confidence in our first responders. This lapse needs to be publicly addressed. I spoke to numerous police officers yesterday. To a man, they all agree what happened was atypical. But it's important to remember that it was atypical.

The Palmer Police Department is certainly one of the best in the Lehigh Valley. It is one of just 116 police departments accredited by the Pa. Chiefs of Police Ass'n. Most of the officers are highly regarded. Detective Timothy Ruoff, who is working this homicide, may very well be the best investigator in the Lehigh Valley.

In my business, I search titles for a living. If I make a mistake, and I do, nobody dies. With cops, it's different. They know every time they go on patrol, they are putting their lives on the line. But they are human and make mistakes, too.

After a 911 call from a woman who said there was an emergency and then hung up, two officers responded. At that time, no one knew what that emergency was. It could have been a heart attack, an intruder, a fire, domestic violence or any of an infinite number of possibilities. Failing to make contact with the caller was a serious lapse in judgment, especially since a bald and elderly man could be seen inside the bedroom where the caller's deceased body was found three days later.

To their credit, and knowing that this lapse in judgment would infuriate the public, Palmer Police still made what happened part of the affidavit of probable cause. They made no attempt to cover up what happened. They acted honestly, even though it hurt.

Like most of you, I am disgusted at the failure to bring these officers back to explain more thoroughly what happened. I find the excuses - one on vacation and another injured - unsatisfactory. This is another error. It's too soon to say whether disciplinary action is warranted, but any internal review should include the night supervisor and Chief. That might require some involvement by the Board of Supervisors.

Having said what I did, I need to respond to a comment from one of my readers.

"Remember, the police and 911 will not protect you, it is helpful, but most likely this victim was dead before the police arrived, it seems they screwed up, but the police very seldom are able to stop crime before it happens, mostly just clean up and investigate after the fact. We seem to believe the police can protect us from harm, an illusion."

I completely disagree. I can recite numerous examples of police officers who have saved lives and even delivered babies while responding to emergency calls. No one should hesitate in calling 911 ever.

What happened on July 4 is an aberration. It needs to be addressed, and I am sure that is already happening.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Did Palmer PD Fail 911 Call?

A nationwide manhunt is currently underway for Edgar Himel, 81, who has been charged with homicide for the July 4 slaying of his wife, Penny VanTassel-Himel, at their Palmer Township home. He's also been charged with theft because he took off in her car. Investigators and prosecutors called a news conference yesterday to release a recent photograph of Himel, as well as the 2019 Nissan Rogue he is driving.

He is 5'11," brown eyes, bald and was sporting a handlebar mustache. The Nissan is dark green, registration GHV-0051. He is considered armed and dangerous. Anyone who sees him is requested to call 911.

This story has received extensive coverage, as it should, in The Express Times, Morning Call, WFMZ-TV69 and NBC-10. The top priority for police right now, as DA John Morganelli observed, is bringing Edgar Himel to justice. There is little doubt in my mind that will happen. Detective Timothy Ruoff is regarded one of the Lehigh Valley's top investigators. But Palmer police made his job more difficult by giving Himel a three-day head start. Below you can see some of the questions astonished reporters had when Morganelli revealed that two officers left the scene even though they had seen an elderly and bald man standing motionless in a bedroom, refusing to answer the door.



The 911 call came in at 2:18 am from the victim's cellphone, reporting an emergency at her home and confirming her address in Old Orchard. Two officers responded, which is what police protocol requires. They knocked. They could see an older bald man standing motionless inside the bedroom, refusing to answer. They left without trying to enter the home.

Her deceased body was found, in that bedroom, three days later.

"Those are good questions," Morganelli responded to the numerous inquiries. He said those questions will be answered, but he needs to focus right now on locating Himel.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Controller: NorCo Made Duplicate Payments to Four Vendors

Northampton County made eight duplicate payments to four different vendors during the period between Nov. 1, 2017 and October 31, 2018. This is one of the findings of a recent audit of the county's checks and vendors performed by Lead Auditor Antony Sabino and Controller Richard "Bucky" Szulborski. The total overpayments amount to $4,623.91. They include five overpayments by the Court Administration,
two by the Coroner’s Office, and one by Gracedale. The duplicate payments were returned.

Although the county has software in place to prevent this problem, the Accounting Manager pointed out that many vendors use the same invoice number each month. This produces many false duplicate payment alerts, making it difficult for the Disbursements clerks to identify actual duplicate payments and increasing the risk that duplicates will be paid. Changes are being made to the software to make this less likely.

The Controller also checked for vendors using a blank address or multiple vendors using the same address. No fictional vendors were identified. What was found, however, is three instances in which one or more payments were made to vendors with addresses that matched employee addresses. "We investigated all three and found that valid reasons existed for all of them," said Sabino.

DeGrace DisGraced

Ed DisGrace
Following a summary trial before Magisterial District Judge Ronald S Manescu, Allentown Democratic operative Ed "DisGrace" DeGrace was convicted of summary harassment yesterday over a punch he threw a few weeks ago at a fellow Democrat. He was fined $100 and ordered to pay costs for a total of $301.25. He was represented by Attorney Gavin Holihan.

I was unable to attend the trial but spoke to several people  who were there. From what I understand, Magisterial District Judge Manescu was only interested in the incident itself, even though victim Tom Osborne was prepared to call several witnesses who would say that DeGrace admitted he had struck Osborne.

Osborne testified he was punched by DeGrace, who denied it had happened. Judge Manescu chose t believe Osborne.

Prior to the trial, Osborne stated DeGrace was waiting for him outside the Judge's office and said, "Trust me Osborne, if I hit you, you wouldn't be able to open your mouth."

During the trail, DeGrace had accused Osborne of having made racial comments about him.

Ed "Disgrace" DeGrace is pretty much a wannabe thug who uses threats, intimidation and profanity to silence anyone who dares disagree with him about anything. His antics are well known, and yesterday's hearing was attended by several people he has victimized in the past.

Despite his sordid reputation, Ce-Ce Gerlach was only too happy to use him in her Allentown City Council race, and even complimented him on Facebook. I have also learned  he is a CCD instructor at St. Thomas Aquinas. Doesn't the Catholic Church have enough problems without letting this foul-mouthed thug teach catechism to children?

Wolf Attempts End Run Over Voting Machines

Last year, Governor Tom Wolf decreed that all 67 counties must have voting systems with voter-verifiable paper trails in time for next year's Presidential election. But on July 5, he vetoed a bill that would help them pay for it because it also eliminated straight-party voting. Now he's attempting an end run. With no legislative authority, he's attempting to borrow $90 million through the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority (PEDFA). Good luck with that!

Whether the PEDFA has authority to float bonds for voting machines is highly questionable. Wolf himself suggested that a legislative solution is preferable. "It's a proposal that we can move forward with, I think, and if there's something that the Legislature wants to do that they think is better, again I'm all ears," he told Pittsburgh Action News in an unrelated news conference.

He added that "it's important to show good faith and that's what I'm doing here."

If he were really interested in showing good faith, he would have signed the bill instead of attempting what may be an illegal end run around the state legislature.

In addition to eliminating the straight-party vote, the legislation Wolf vetoed also extended the time for absentee ballots to be received and still counted by local elections offices. Every year, thousands of absentee ballots are rejected because they are not received by the Friday prior to an election.

“Our counties appreciate the governor finding a way forward that recognizes both the county need for funding assistance as well as the broad funding support we had in the General Assembly,” said Kathi Cozzone, president of the County Commissioner Association of Pennsylvania. “

She should wait until the counties actually see some money before saying thank you.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Cedar Beach Pool Closed Today

From Allentown: Cedar Beach Pool in the city Allentown is closed today due to a water main break at the pool pump house. The Allentown Dept of Parks and Recreation regrets the inconvenience however, every effort will be made to re-open the pool as soon as possible.

The city’s Jordan, Mack and Irving pools and Bucky Boyle Park and Old Fairgrounds Playground spray parks are open today.

What Happened to Pa.'s Open Primary Bill?



I've told you that the Pa. State Senate recently approved a bill to open primary elections to independent voters. The legislation currently sits in the House State Gov't Committee, with no hearings scheduled at this time. But since the prime sponsor is Republican Joe Scarnati, and the House is Republican, this reform might actually pass.

This legislation was opposed by eight state senators, three Democrats and two Republicans.

Scarnati has argued that his "legislation will give over 740,000 registered unaffiliated voters the right to participate in the primary election process. Specifically, on the day of the primary election, it will allow these voters to choose to cast their vote on either the Republican or Democrat ballot. Voters who are registered with either the Republican or Democratic Party will continue to be required to vote on their respective ballots.

"According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 16 states utilize some form of an open primary for unaffiliated voters. These states include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia.

"In our most recent primary election, only 18 percent of Pennsylvania’s registered voters went to the ballot box to cast a vote. The low turnout can in part be attributed to voters feeling disenfranchised by the extremes of both major parties, who have taken control of our primary process. Allowing more people the opportunity to have a voice in their representation is an important step toward ensuring democracy."

Scarnati's sentiments are shared by Open Primaries. This organization makes the following points:

- 86% of Americans believe the government is broken
- 43% of Americans, including 50% of Millennials, identify as politically independent
- 70% of Americans support open primaries
- Primaries are conducted with taxpayer money. The closed presidential primaries in 2016 cost taxpayers a quarter billion dollars, yet left out 26.3 million voters

NorCo To Offer Affordable Housing Grants

Northampton County will begin accepting applications for 2019 Affordable Housing Program (AHP) grants on July 15th . These are limited to eligible non-profits, public agencies, local governments, government authorities and private, low-income housing providers. But for some reason,low-income housing providees are ineligible.

These middlemen can use the grant money to maintain or increase the availability of quality affordable housing for NorCo residents whose annual incomes are below 80% of the household median income for the County using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 income limits for 2019.

Applications close September 13, 2019. Details and applications can be found on the Department of Community and EconomicDevelopment’s (DCED) webpage:

The money for this comes from realty transfer tax.

Morffi-Marks Appointed to Lehigh County Bench

Anna-Kristie Morffi Marks, who was endorsed by both parties in May's primary, is now a Lehigh County Judge. After the election, she was nominated by Governor Tom Wolf, and the Senate confirmed her unanimously on June 27. She is one of six judges confirmed after winning the nomination of both parties.

It could have been seven. John Morganelli, running for Northampton County Judge, also won the nomination of both parties and could have been appointed to the bench early. But he is Northampton County's District Attorney, and has chosen to finish out the term he was elected to serve.

Had he taken the appointment early, this would have forced Northampton County's judges to make an interim District Attorney appointment. Had they appointed either of the two candidates, the other would complain. There's also a provision in the Home Rule Charter giving County Council the authority to make this appointment. Although I think that provision is wrong, this could open up a can of worms.

So Morganelli will remain District Attorney just a bit longer.

And that's a good thing.

I do not know whether Morffi Marks has taken the oath. When a judge is sworn in Northampton County, it is usually a big ceremony in which the heavens open up, accompanied by harp and cello strings.

Morganelli wants a harmonica.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Wolf's Politically Inspired Veto Punishes Counties

Governor Tom Wolf  may pretend he's a regular guy driving a Jeep Wrangler, but the reality is that he's a partisan hack. He just proved it, too. Let me tell you the story.

Last year, in an effort to settle a lawsuit about election security, Wolf ordered all 67 counties to use voting systems with voter-verifiable paper trails in time for next year's Presidential election.  This was an unfunded mandate that cost both Lehigh and Northampton County around $5 million. But we had no reason to fear. Wolf promised to visit the money tree in Harrisburg at budget time.

After some initial reluctance by the GOP, the state legislature finally groaned and agreed to give counties up to $90 million to help reimburse this cost. At last week's NorCo Council meeting, member John Cusick thanked State Senators Lisa Boscola and Mario Scavello for their support. He urged Governor Wolf to sign it.

Guess what? On Friday, Governor Wolf vetoed it. .

Governor Wolf's veto is the result of a provision that also eliminates straight-party voting. This allows a voter to select one political party's complete slate of candidates with a single mark. In his veto message, Wolf reasoned "the isolated removal of a convenient voting option (the straight-party button) would increase waiting times and could discourage participation."

Elimination of the straight-party option made it unacceptable to partisan hacks who happen to be Democrats. In the House, only four Democrats voted for the bill. In the Senate, Boscola was one of only three Democrats to vote Yes.

Locally, all Democratic State Representatives voted against the measure. The last thing Mike Schlossberg, Pete Schweyer, Steve Samuelson or Bob Freeman wants is an informed voter. They want lever pullers. This leads to one-party rule, and the result is political corruption.

Like Fed Ed.

Or Reading's Mayor.

Or Scranton's Mayor.

Ironically, in states where Democrats are a minority, elimination of straight-party voting is favored. In Oklahoma, for example, State Democratic Chair Anna Langthorn decries the practice in her state, saying it enables "uneducated voting."

Here in Pennsylvania, African American lawmakers blasted the elimination of the straight-ticket as a racist attempt to suppress voting by those with limited literacy or access to information.

In defending this arcane and outdated practice, these so-called representatives have slurred the intelligence of the voiceless they pretend to champion

Pennsylvania is one of only eight states that still allow straight-party voting.

What kills me is that this is a pretty good compromise bill.  Counties get some badly needed money to comply with Wolf's imperial decree. In addition, the vetoed bill would expanded absentee-voting deadlines. In other words, it would make voting more inclusive. Under current law, absentee ballots must be received by the elections office no later than the Friday before an election. Ballots received after that date, no matter when postmarked, are rejected.

Under the vetoed changes, elections officials would be required to accept absentee ballots received as long as a week after the election, so long as they were post-marked the Friday before the election.

Since this was a close vote, I doubt there's any ability to override Wolf's political veto. Besides, there are partisan hacks in the GOP, too, and they love the idea of blaming Wolf and Democrats for screwing counties.

NorCo Council member John Cusick said he is disappointed at Wolf's veto of compromise legislation, saying it has created a "massive unfunded mandate on local property taxpayers across the Commonwealth." Executive Lamont McClure echoed the disappointment, but he adds, "[W]e remain convinced Governor Wolf will make good on his promise to the counties."

And my rent check's in the mail.

NorCo Council Prez Ron Heckman and Peg Ferraro want the state legislature and Governor Wolf to do the right  thing and resolve their differences.

Why start now?

My own view is that counties will never see a dime from the state.

Friday, July 05, 2019

98 Sign Online Petition Seeking Removal of West Easton Constable Tricia Mezzacappa

This was on Mezzacappa's Constable page right after he announced.
She first told a judge this was free speech, then switched and claimed she had been hacked. 
In the wake of criminal charges filed against West Easton Constable Tricia Mezzacappa for false reports to the Pennsylvania State Police, 98 people have signed an online petition seeking her removal. She is alleged to have reported that she was accosted and threatened by a black male, and fired a shot at him. Earlier that evening, she had accosted a black next door neighbor because his car exhaust was too loud, and even began pounding on the neighbor's door. Troopers (four of them) were diverted from protecting the citizenry to investigate what they now believe was a bullshit story.

Here's what some people say:

Kelly Gross (former West Easton Council Prez): "She is a terrible person!"

Marci Lewis: "She certainly does not have the necessary qualifications for Constable. She needs to be removed immediately before she causes more mayhem."

Nichole Bealer (related to man Mezzacappa accosted over exhaust): "tricia mezzacappa should be removed as state constable. Her past record and most recent false accusation made with PSP deem her unfit. REMOVE MEZZACAPPA"

Alexandra Guth: "Constables in Pennsylvania are out of control."

Jenna Martin: "I’m signing because fuck this bitch, pardon my language and all the stress and harassment she caused my sister-in-law and nephews!"

Christopher Jackson: "Harassing people and willfully firing off gun shots in the vicinity of minors based on race or any other factor is injustice and needs to be punished severely."

My favorite:

Josh Fitzgerald: "Inappropriate behavior. Should be above reproach, not act like a cockroach."

Updated 12:20 pm:
In addition to being a West Easton Borough Council member, Matt Dees maintains a very informative blog about West Easton. He has posted a link to he criminal complaint and supporting affidavit. Like myself, he declines to name the victims.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

DOH Rejects Two Complaints About Gracedale Staffing

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure told County Council last night that the state Department of Health has recently visited Gracedale twice in response to anonymous complaints about staffing levels at the nursing home. Both were dismissed as unsubstantiated. Although the source of these complaints is unknown, McClure said employees should refrain from discussing these issues in front of family members.

According to the Medicare and Medicaid rating of nursing homes, Gracedale's staffing is "below average." The amount of nursing care provided is below both the state and national averages. For the past few years, Administrators have been doing their best to recruit more nurses, and even have programs to fund employees who wish to become CNAs or nurses.

McClure said he remains very concerned about the call-offs at the home. In June, it was 32% of the workforce.In May, it was 33%.

This is well in excess of other 24/7 operations like the jail and 911. McClure said he is very pro-union, but these call-offs suggest fraud. He is mulling an investigation.

"It's also a question of fairness to the people who show up and work," he added.

In other news, he reported that the County's bond rating has increased from AA to AAplus. Moody's Investor Service said this new rating is a result of "the county's large, growing tax base, above-average resident wealth and income, healthy financial operations and modest debt burden." This rating increase accompanies the county's decision to refund $5.3 million in General Obligation Bonds. The County expects to save $357,000.

Despite this good news, McClure told Council that "Northampton County is going to the dogs." He said that Danny, a Belgian Malinois working at the jail, has already discovered six contraband items, three of which resulted in prosecution.He also introduced Boomer, an 18-month old chocolate lab trained in explosives detection and tracking. Finally, he said that Human Services has begun using therapy dogs, especially for children unnerved by dependency and abuse proceedings. He said he would consult with the courts about using the dogs outside of courtrooms to help keep children calm.

Council President RonHeckman had one question about Danny, who is assigned to the jail.

"Who will bite somebody first, Danny or Ken Kraft?"

Kraft is a former NorCo Council President known for his biting comments to others, including Heckman. He now works at the jail.

Blogger's Note: My report is based on watching the video of the meeting. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

APD Takes Aim at ATVs, Dirt Bikes

From Allentown Police Department: On Friday June 28, 2019 the Allentown Police Department conducted an operation that focused on ATVs and dirt bikes being driven illegally on city streets.

 

Friday’s operation resulted in the seizure of two dirt bikes and two ATVs.  The operation was cut short by weather but was still effective despite the abbreviated timeframe.

 

A total of 30 citations were issued for the following offenses:

 

Reckless Driving:  1  

Careless Driving:  2  

 

License violations:

•             DUI suspended – 1  

•             Suspended - 1  

•             Operation of vehicle w/o license for that class – 3

•             Registration:  3  

•             No insurance – 3  

•             No inspection – 3  

•             Lighting requirements – 12  

•             Protective equipment required – 1 

 

The Department has partnered with the District Attorney’s office with the goal of eliminating this activity. District Attorney Martin has assigned an assistant district attorney to assist with the prosecution of offenders.

Keystone State Losing Democrats

Do you think Pennsylvanians suffering from Trump remorse are ready to vote Democrat? Think again. According to Governing, voters leaving the Democratic Party are doing so at a much higher rate than those leaving the GOP.
In Pennsylvania, the GOP has lost 31,224 voters (about one-tenth of 1 percent) since 2016. Still, that’s a far lower rate of attrition than Democrats, who have lost 103,862 registered voters (a 2.5 percent drop) over that same span.
Democrats do retain a massive voter registration edge. As of July 1*, there are 4,045,540 Democrats, far more than the 3,245,181 Republicans and 791,011 Independents.

In Northampton County, there are currently 94,569 Democrats compared to 72,883 Republicans and 25,852 Independents. Since the beginning of the year, 180 Democrats and 145 Republicans have defected.

In Lehigh County, there re currently 110,211 Democrats compared to 78,066 Republicans and 31,470 Independents Since the beginning of the year, 270 Democrats and 144 Republicans have left the party.

Voter Registration Statistics Archives

Mezzacappa Uses RTKL to Harass West Easton

Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law, first adopted in 2008, has dramatically expanded public access to government records. They are now presumed to be public. If a local government resists a request for information, it must prove that what is sought is not a public record or falls within one of the exceptions to disclosure. Governments must respond timely, too, or face sanctions from the state Office of Open Records. Although this law has increased government transparency, it is being abused by some to harass and overburden government workers under an obligation to respond. The most chronic offender here in the Lehigh Valley is none other than Constable Tricia Mezzacappa. Yes, the very same person who's been charged with false reports to the Pennsylvania State Police has done her best to bring the government of tiny West Easton to its knees with incessant requests.

Since the beginning of this year, she has slammed the small staff with 40 Right-to-Know requests.

West Easton has joined about 60 other communities and adopted a Resolution asking the state legislature to change the law to provide some way to protect it from vexatious requesters like Mezzacappa.

She's also a vexatious litigant who has been barred from filing incessant motions against West Easton (and me) without leave of court. 

This resolution should be considered by Northampton County. County officials tell me that one Assistant Solicitor's time is almost exclusively spent responding to requests.

Just because you have a right to do something does not mean you should. I always resented when Lehigh Valley Live would post all the salaries of every public employees, even this paid a pittance or who work seasonally. While I get the idea of posting high salaries paid to cabinet officials or those sucking up overtime, there is little to learn from those at the lower end of the scale. It just embarrasses the worker.

To that end, Mezzacappa has sought and regularly posts the wages paid to one IU-20 bus driver. This is done mostly to harass and embarrass him after he defeated her for a seat on borough council. 

West Easton's resolution is below.

t Easton RTKL Resolution by BernieOHare on Scribd

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

W Easton Constable Tried To Railroad Black Father Getting Milk For Baby

Over the weekend, I told you that Tricia Mezzacappa, West Easton's Constable and donor to DA hopeful Tom Carroll, has been charged with making false statements to the Pennsylvania State Police. Yesterday, I reviewed the complaint and Affidavit of Probable Cause prepared by Trooper Drew Hoffman, giving me a good idea of what police say happened.

On February 11, Trooper Hoffman responded to Mezzacappa's next door neighbor, a couple with a newborn infant. This baby needed milk, and dad was dispatched to the Giant to get some. When he started the car, Mezzacappa "appeared out of nowhere and was banging on his driver's side window." Dad said that Mezzacappa was "irate" and yelled at him to "get the F out" because his exhaust was too loud. She also said she'd take him to court.

Dad did as he was told and called Mom. She said that while he was on his way to the grocery, Mezzacappa began banging on Mom's front door "demanding that she get [Dad] out of the neighborhood."

Dad happens to be a black male.

Troopers then interviewed Mezzacappa. She told them that she had been returning home for the night when she was accosted by a black male who "pointed a gun to her head as she exited her vehicle ... ." She told Troopers "she then fired a round from her handgun, and the black male "fled the scene in a vehicle."

Clearly, she was attempting to railroad Dad.

At the request of troopers, Mezzacappa produced the gun she claimed to have fired. It was a Smith and Wesson MP-9, complete with a 17-round magazine. Trooper Hoffman noted that the magazine was full, with no round in he chamber. He indicated that the pistol was incapable of being fired even if the trigger was pulled.

Troopers began the laborious task of looking for a spent shell casing, and were unable to find one.They also conducted "multiple interviews" with neighbors. None heard anything that sounded like a gun being fired. There were also no calls of gunfire to the Belfast barracks.

Mezzacappa voluntarily relinquished her handgun, which was sent to a state police regional lab for testing. Dirt and debris were noted at the muzzle inside the barrel, but after one shot the dirt and debris were gone. Based on this and other tests, state police concluded that the weapon was never fired at the time and place Mezzacappa said it was.

Instead of charging Dad, as Mezzacappa had hoped, she is now a criminal Defendant. This is a third degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled July 22, 9:30 am, before Magisterial District Judge Richard Yetter. She is represented by distinguished Allentown Attorney John Waldron.

Several years ago, Mezzacappa had complained to police about another next door neighbor because a cabbie had beeped his horn when he stopped to pick her up.

At that time, West Easton was served by the Easton Police Department. According to a report prepared by  Easton Patrolman Charles McConagle, Mezzacappa complained to him that her neighbors, who happened to be black, "should have stayed in the projects."

Officer McConagle spoke to the neighbors about this incident, learning that Mezzacappa had told one of them to "take your black ass back to Philadelphia." Mezzacappa also used the word "niggers," and the Easton cabbie later told the patrolman that he heard her use this term, too.

In addition to examining court documents, I filed a Right-to-Know with West Easton for any correspondence from or by Mezzacappa during this time. I received a copy of an email she sent a few days before to the Borough's Emergency Management Coordinator. He made the mistake of knocking on her door to warn of a snow emergency. She complained he "was banging my door down, like a hysterical drug addict in need of cash for his next fix. Last time a drug addicted addict [sic] appeared on my porch doing same, he was greeted with a semi automatic rifle." .

He's white, so she just threatened him.

An online petition seeking her removal as a Constable already has 50 signatures. Unfortunately, thee is no mechanism for removing her except impeachment or conviction of an infamous crime. She could be required ti resign in any plea deal she reaches with prosecutors.

Updated 2:20 pm:  Mezzacappa's preliminary hearing has been continued again. It is now scheduled for Wednesday, August 28, 1 pm. before Magisterial District Judge Richard Yetter in Wilson Borough.