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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, August 30, 2019

NorCo Bench Going Mediterranean

Vic Scomillio
Next year, all but one of Northampton County's nine judges will be either Italian or Lebanese. Jennifer Sletvold will be the only WASP (white Angle Saxon prick) left. John Morganelli has already been picked by both parties for Judge Giordano's vacancy. Last night, the executive committees of both parties decided to keep the Mediterranean influence when they decided on party nominees to succeed retiring Judge F.P.Kimberly McFadden.

Republicans voted unanimously last night for Vic Scomillio, a former Northampton County Solicitor who has run for judge once before. Scomillio, who practices law in Bethlehem, is a past president of the Northampton County Bar Association. The vote was unanimous. He was the only candidate. Though some Republicans tried to recruit Magisterial District Judge Alicia Zito, she declined.

Abe Kassis
Democrats had a potpourri of five candidates from which to choose: Easton lawyer Josh Fulmer; Assistant District Attorney Abe Kassis; former Assistant DA and Divorce Master Connie Nelson; Magisterial District Judge Richard Yetter; and Magisterial District Judge Vivian Zumas.

After interviewing each candidate, they voted unanimously for Abe Kassis. In addition to leading the Domestic Violence Unit in the DA's office, Kassis serves on serves on the board of directors of the St. Francis Friary in Bethlehem Township as well as the pastoral council of Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Easton.

Whether Morganelli, Kassis and Scomillio appear on the ballot together is unclear. Ordinarily, voters would be able to select two of the three candidates for two judicial vacancies. Morganelli was the choice of voters who participated in a primary, while Kassis and Scomillio are party nominees.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

West Easton Constable Will Answer in Court For Lying to PSP

Following a preliminary hearing yesterday, Magisterial District Judge Richard Yetter ruled there's sufficient evidence that West Easton Borough Constable lied to the Pennsylvania State Police in an attempt to frame a black neighbor. His sin? He has the misfortune of living across the street from her. She can’t have that, so she concocted a story that he’s a drug dealer who put a gun to her head. She was held for court on charges of having reported an offense that never occurred, a third degree misdemeanor. Her arraignment is tentatively scheduled for November 21. As a condition of bail, Judge Yetter ordered Mezzacappa to refrain from any contact with the neighbor she attempted to frame.

The Commonwealth came well-prepared. Assistant District Attorney Abigail Marie Bellafatto had lined up the Mezzacappa's two unfortunate neighbors as well as five uniformed state troopers. She could have tried the entire case had she wanted, but kept it short and sweet. She only called CPL Marvin Shar and Trooper Drew Hoffman. Mezzacappa, clad in white in an apparent attempt to convey innocence and purity, was represented by John Waldron, a well-regarded criminal defense attorney from Allentown. He presented no evidence, which is typical in a preliminary hearing.

CPL Shar testified he is a patrol supervisor who responded on the night of February 11 to what he initially thought was a "neighbor dispute." He went to the neighbor's home and spoke to the mother of a newborn infant. She had sent her significant other - the father - to Giant to pick up formula for the baby.

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 ... ."

This alleged assailant happened to be a back male, too.

She claimed this black male, whom she referred to as a drug dealer, ran into the neighbor's home and then popped out and hopped into a car. Mezzacappa claimed she fired a round, but probably missed him.

CPL Shar asked to examine Mezzacappa's firearm, a a Smith and Wesson MP-9, complete with a 17-round magazine. He 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. He looked at the muzzle and barrel of the gun, observing lint and debris. This led him to conclude that the weapon had not been fired, as Mezzacappa had insisted.

She told CPL Shar at one point that her assailant was, in fact, the black neighbor who lives across the street from her.

CPL Shar asked her where she had been that evening, and she explained she had been running errands at several places and arrived home about 15 minutes before police arrived. She told them she was driving a silver Cadillac, which was parked outside. He went and checked, and the hood was cold. Mezzacappa lives at the bottom of a hill, so he felt the brakes. They were cold, too.

Mezzacappa was asked to assist police in determining where she fired her handgun. She pointed in one direction, then another.

CPL Shar directed troopers to look for a spent casing while he continued the interview with Mezzacappa. Back inside, he noticed she was rambling a lot and there was a half glass of wine near her. She insisted that was all she had to brink, but when he asked her to submit to a breathalyzer, she refused and became hostile.

He then asked her to write a statement about what had happened. This is what she gave him.

Transcribed, this is what it says:
"The Mayor of West Easton Borough tried to rape me in January of 2016. I reported the attempted rape to Pa. State Police in October of 2018. They blew this off as a false report. The Borough of West Easton has been attacking me and my home ever since this report and have placed my life in danger. The Mayor of West Easton, Dan DePaul, has been stalking me, and has been enlisting other persons to stalk and harass me on a constant basis. I believe he has enlisted drug dealers to continue to appear at my house, break into my house, and threaten me at my home on an [sic] continual basis. It is unfortunate that PSP failed to investigate the attempted rape claim and insted [sic] believed the lies of Daniel DePaul (charged with a criminal stalking and harassment in 2013 - ARD - Easton Police Dep't) and believed his lies instead of believing a Pa State Constable."
Because Mezzacappa failed to address the events of February 11, she was asked to try again.

In her second try, this is what she produced.

Transcribed, this is what it says:
"I was getting out of my car when a drug deler [sic] held a gun to my head, then ran into [the neighbor's house] then out the back door, then into his car. I fired my gun at him. I think I missed. I called the PSP after I went back into my house. This is continued and pre-planned harassment from the Borough of West Easton who has been continally [sic] harassing me and retaliating against me for the past 10 years.

"Mayor Daniel DePaul had tried to rape me in January of 2016. I reported the attempted rape in October of 2018 at PSP barracks in Belfast, PA. The cop in a business suit said that since I walked into the bedroom of Daniel DePaul, I gave him my permission to assault me. He should be fired. Mayor Daniel DePaul should be arrested and charged with attempted rape, assault, battery, harassment and stalking."
Mezzacappa's firearm was seized, packed and sent to a PSP lab for analysis. The conclusion was that it had not been fired recently.

Trooper Drew Hoffman corroborated CPL Shar. Because it was getting late, he decided to wait to canvass neighbors. He did this over the next few days. He spoke to three neighbors. All were at home on February 11. None heard a gunshot. Two of them heard the yelling.

Attorney Waldron sought dismissal based on a failure to produce a record of Mezzacappa's 911 call and because the expert's report failed to prove that the weapon had not been fired that night. ADA Bellafatto countered that there was a "plethora" of evidence, from the troopers' own observations, their canvass of the neighborhood and the lack of a casing.

In view of the complete waste of troopers' time by Mezzacappa, it is unlikely she will be considered for ARD.

It also appears that my libel judgment against her means nothing. She clearly attempted to frame her neighbor with attempted homicide, and then smeared the Mayor of West Easton with more libel.

Not every woman who cries rape should be believed. In fact, she should be prosecuted. She attempts to ruin other people's lives with lies that are hard to disprove. The truth finally caught up with her.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Gracedale's Rating Jumps to Three Stars

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services maintain a five-star rating system for nursing homes. Those with five stars are considered the best. Gracedale, Northampton County's nursing home, was down to a rating of just one star, or "much below average, in May 2017, under former Executive John Brown. Though the home jumped up to two stars just a few months later, that rating is still  "below average" and is the rating that greeted Executive Lamont McClure when he first took office. That rating has just been increased to three stars, or "average."

“We need to continue to work to have a five-star rating,” Executive Lamont McClure said in a county news release. He adds that, “Gracedale is striving to meet our moral obligation of taking care of those who can no longer care for themselves while balancing the interests of the taxpayers who pay the bills ... .”

Eight-seven percent of Gracedale’s residents are recipients of Medicaid. They make up 44% of the entire Medicaid nursing home population in Northampton County. Gracedale accepts one and all, which means the facility often accepts those with the most serious medical and psychological issues.

NorCo Jail Manpower Crisis: The County Responds

On Monday, I reported that Northampton County jail has a manpower crisis after a meeting last week with a part the union negotiating team. My conclusion is that the County needs to pay more money to attract and retain officers. This conclusion is disputed by the county, which has submitted a response. Because there are two and sometimes three or four sides to every story, I am happy to post the county response, in its entirety. 

Recently, correctional officers and people advocating for correctional officers have lamented what they perceive to be inequitable compensation at the Northampton County Jail. The reality is that these perceptions are simply not borne out by the facts. Let’s start by talking about salaries.

The Data Shows That The Retroactive Salary Adjustments Awarded in the Arbitration Process Chosen By The Union Are Competitive With Neighboring Counties.

In 2017 as of the expiration of the most recent labor contract, the average base salary for COs in Northampton County was $54,984. This excludes any overtime and bases average salary on where the County had the most Cos—at seven years of service.

The COs and the County sought to negotiate a new contract following the expiration of the most recent labor contract. As was their right, the COs sought binding arbitration in front of a neutral third party arbitrator. While that occurred, the Parties remained in status quo, and the COs did not receive annual increases, for 2018 and half of 2019.

Going into the arbitration and looking at surrounding counties, Northampton’s 2017 average salary was already higher than the average 2019 salary for Lehigh County, Carbon County and Monroe County and was only $400 less than Bucks County and $2,500 less than Berks County. This, again, is based not on starting salaries but an apples to apples comparison of average CO

Here’s why the average salary of Northampton’s COs at seven years was comparable in 2017. The facts demonstrate that the County had historically invested in CO salaries. For the period of 2008 to 2017, COs received wage increases totaling 43% - which is 30% over CPI for that same period and averages 4.3% per year.

At arbitration the Union’s proposal sought to address a salary inequity which did not really exist. The Union proposed to increase wages 28% in year one only, plus $0.90 per year increases for each subsequent year, roughly 10% total for the remainder of the contract. Nearly a 40% increase over the term. The County could not afford this.

After hours of testimony and discussion, the neutral third party arbitrator provided retroactive wage increases of $0.75/hour in both 2018 and 2019, which based upon a 2080 hour work year, amounted to a total increase of $3,120 per officer. This is the same neutral third party arbitrator who decided the arbitration award resulting in the salaries contained in the 2013-2017 labor contract so he was hardly unfair to the COs either now or in the past.

So, now, using the adjusted 2019 numbers, Northampton County’s average salary is now well above every neighboring County – at the high end, $620/year above Berks County, at the low end, nearly $20,000/year above Carbon County. And, Lehigh County, the marker most often used by the Union, is now $4,100 below Northampton County.

The bottom line is this—data confirms that salaries are comparable and fair. If the data showed otherwise, the neutral third party arbitrator selected in part by the Union would have awarded different salaries.

Overtime Is the Result of a Schedule Which the Union Does Not Want To Change

Let’s now turn to overtime which is another subject that we’ve heard about. The Union claims that overtime is rampant leading to overworked employees.

Here’s why this happens. Data shows that the average CO at the prison works 1611 hours out of a 2080 hour work year. This means that the average CO is not available for 25% of the year, causing holes in the schedule.

In addition, the contract provides that COs — who are expected to work shift work in a 24/7, 365 day a year facility — are entitled to have every other weekend off. In order to meet that mandate, the County must use overtime to cover shifts where COs are required to be off.

In 2018, the total cost of overtime was $1.73 million; nearly $1 million of that cost is directly attributable to the fact the every other weekend off language.

At arbitration, the County sought to eliminate this language from the contract in order to make the schedule more equitable. The County was open to any solutions which the parties could make work. The Union strenuously objected to the removal of this language and, as a result, the schedule remained unaddressed.

The question is why? Who benefits from a schedule that costs more money and makes union members unhappy and unsatisfied? It’s not the County which made proposals to change the schedule and make it more fair. The bottom line is this: if the COs do not like the amount of overtime but also don’t work a 2080 hour/40 hour a week year, then they have to either work the overtime or choose to be partners in reforming the schedule to make it equitable.

The County Is Doing Everything It Can to Recruit and Retain COs

The primary claim that some make is that COs are leaving and, therefore, the Jail cannot be staffed. This is just an excuse and it is not backed up by the facts.

The County employs roughly 198 COs. Typically, the Prison sees about 25% annual turnover.

Of that turnover rate, about 40% is due to employee retirements, death or terminations (in other words, employees who are not doing their job to keep inmates and each other safe). If an employee either passes away or retires, then the best that the County can do is try to replace that officer as quickly as possible. That is why the current Administration has run training academies to attract, train and replace COs multiple times during the last two years.

For those COs who are terminated for poor performance, the County has no choice but to maintain the standard of professionalism which the rest of the COs observe. It is neither fair nor right to keep a CO at his position simply to provide overtime relief if he or she is not safe.

What is significant is that the data shows that less than 2% of turnover is attributable to an employee leaving to be a CO in another county, the reason for which is obvious when looking at Northampton’s wages as compared to surrounding Counties. That means that there is not a better paying job or better schedule for which Northampton COs are leaving. This would seem to validate that the County is paying a competitive wage and providing more than competitive benefits.

Here’s what people don’t tell you. 25% of the departures were due to the employee moving to a different line of work – including law enforcement. That CO positions are often a stepping stone to law enforcement is a well-known fact – not just in Northampton County, but statewide.

The fact of the matter is that the County’s turnover rate at the jail is not unusual for the size of the unit and the type of work performed.

The Future of the Jail

Work in corrections is a calling. It is a difficult job dealing with individuals in crisis. The County’s professional correctional officers work hard to provide a safe and secure facility. But like all workplaces, there is a need for constant vigilance and, where possible improvement. That takes both sides to come together.

We have just come through thoroughly litigated process where professionals used data to make the best determination possible regarding the compensation package for the correctional officers. Where parties don’t reach a deal on their own, there can be some hard feelings as a deal is made for you rather than you having the opportunity to make your own compromise.

The facts demonstrate that the arbitration panel placed the COs in a competitive position with regard to salaries and total compensation. The facts demonstrate that there is no basis to suggest that more money would result directly in more COs coming to or staying at the Jail. Retention just cannot be reduced to a simplistic formula.

But things could be better. The facts demonstrate that the schedule that the COs work needs to be reformed to be fairer to all the COs and not just the most senior COs. If that adds to the quality of life for the COs and is fair to both the County and its taxpayers, the County is willing to look at any proposal which can safely staff the Jail at an equal or reduced cost to the taxpayers. The question is this: are people more invested in complaining about a problem that data demonstrates does not exist or are they motivated to work cooperatively to improve their conditions of work?

Tom Carroll's Tacky Obit

I was sorry to read of the passing of Maj. Tom Carroll, father of NorCo's GOP candidate for DA. As much as I dislike Carroll'sdivisive politics and personality clashes, I am sorry for his loss. But I am repulsed by his politicization of his own father's death. Using an obituary to solicit campaign donations is just downright tacky.

The obituary ends with this: "In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to - Elect Tom Carroll."

Maybe he can have a fundraiser at the funeral.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Judge McFadden's Successor To Be Decided Thursday Night

Northampton County's Democrat and Republican parties will meet Thursday night to nominate a candidate to succeed Judge F.B. Kimberly McFadden. Though voters were deprived of a primary, they will elect one of these nominees in November.

I'm told six Democrats are seeking the nomination. They are as follows:

1) Jeremy F Clark, an Easton lawyer and combat veteran who serves as a Divorce Master;

2) Josh Fulmer, an Easton lawyer who practices law with prominent criminal defense lawyer Phil Lauer;

3) Abe Kassis, an Assistant District Attorney who has run twice for judge;

4) Connie Nelson, a former Assistant District Attorney and Divorce Master;

5) Magisterial District Judge Richard Yetter, who serves in Wilson Borough; and

6) Magisterial District Judge Vivian Zumas, who serves in Hanover Tp.

If either Clark or Nelson is the nominee, they will have to resign as Divorce Masters. As employees of the Court, they are barred from political activity.

According to NorCo GOP Chair Lee Snover, only Bethlehem Attorney Vic Scomilio, has expressed an interest in being the Republican nominee. He is a former NorCo Solicitor who has run for judge before. Snover said any attorney who wishes to be considered can come forward when the party meets on Thursday night.

It is unclear at this point whether these party picks will be placed on the same ballot with John Morganelli, who is running unopposed for the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Emil Giordano. Morganelli was elected on both sides of the ballot during the primary. The current party hopefuls were not. Since public policy and the state Constitution favors the election of judges, requiring Morganelli to appear on the ballot with these nominees appears to disenfranchise primary voters who already made their choice.

Updated 10 am: Jeremy Clark has contacted me to say he has decided against seeking a judgeship at this time.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Faces of Northampton County - The Old Guard

L to R: John Obrecht, Phil Lauer and Richard Pepper
Blogger's Note: This is the first in an irregular series called "Faces of Northampton County." It attempts to explain what county government does, as revealed by the rank-and-file people there. One of its core functions is the back end of crime. Police make the arrests. What happens next is up to our judicial system. 

When a new Northampton County District Attorney takes office is January, there will be no part-time prosecutors left. All 20 assistant DAs will be full-time. The last two part-timers, John Obrecht and Richard Huntington Pepper, are calling it quits after a combined 64 years of service under John Morganelli, and before him, Don Corriere. They will be replaced by a single full-time prosecutor in an office far different than the one in which they started. Both veteran lawyers insist the switch to full-time prosecutors is a good thing, but a lot of institutional knowledge will be lost when they leave. The old guard, along with noted criminal defense lawyer Phil Lauer, reluctantly shared some war stories in a recent interview.

On his first day as an assistant DA, Pepper accompanied a raid at the Hawthorne House. He recalls that, as cops stormed in, proprietor Francis T. "Goo Goo" Rich was attempting to eat betting slips. Pepper directed police to arrest everyone inside, only to discover later that one of the customers was his mother, a local realtor. She had been eating lunch.

A few years later, while picking a jury, Pepper asked the panel whether any of them knew him.

"I do, I'm your mother," responded one. The judge excused her, and ordered Pepper to have dinner with her that weekend after she complained he never comes around.

A little less flamboyant than Pepper, Obrecht found himself immersed in interesting and sometimes difficult cases. His first trial involved a tavern robbery in which the defendant assaulted the barmaid and actually knocked her false teeth down her throat. He has prosecuted murderers, rapists and violent robberies. But he cautioned, "When you're a prosecutor, you're job is not necessarily to get convictions, but to do justice."

Pepper and Obrecht had little time to prepare. More often than not, they would just be handed a file and told to pick a jury.

Defense Lawyer Phil Lauer was even in worse shape. As a young lawyer, he'd sit in the well of the court during criminal court, hoping to learn. The late and great Judge Clinton Budd Palmer noticed this, and called Lauer to the bench.

"Mr. Lauer, I'd like you to meet Mr. Jones. He's your client, and we're picking a jury at 1:30 pm."

Some lawyers actually liked it that way. The late Renald Baratta, one of the premier criminal defense lawyers of his era, sometimes would skip preliminary hearings because his cross-examination of police officers might tip prosecutors to his defense. 

It was a different time in which there was no discovery (the exchange of information between prosecution and defense) and no plea agreements. Many defendants chose to roll the dice. Jury panels often consisted of regulars who made something of a career of sitting in judgment of others. They would be around the entire week. Trials were the norm, and all three lawyers said it was common to try two and sometimes three cases over the course of just one week.

During these long criminal weeks, all three lawyers honed their trial skills. Some might call them thespians, but Obrecht insists they were really learning the Socratic method. "All knowledge is already there," said Obrecht. "You just have to ask the right questions." All three lawyers had ample opportunity to learn while waiting for verdicts to return on many snowy Friday nights.

Today, things are much different. Now there is discovery, and no prosecutor or defense lawyer goes to trial without being fully prepared. Plea agreements with recommended sentences are now the norm. A criminal defendant knows what will happen if he pleads, so there is less incentive to roll the dice. As a result, there are far fewer jury trials.

So few that there are assistant districts attorney and defense lawyers who've never been in one. 

Though all lawyers agree that many of the changes are an improvement in criminal justice, they all agree that something has been lost with the decline in jury trials. Lauer calls it a "human connection" in which judges, prosecutors, witnesses, jurors, defendants and police all realized we are in this mess called life together. A judge might wear a black robe and be perched higher than anyone else. But underneath all that, his underwear is no different. Behind the veneer, this human connection often made its presence felt.

Very often, it took the form of humor, particularly from judges who spent a lot of time on the bench.

We all like to sleep, especially on hot afternoons in a stuffy courtroom with no air conditioning. On one occasion, Lauer was questioning a witness and noticed, out of the corner of his eye, that two jurors had fallen asleep during his use of the Socratic method. He approached the bench and asked Judge Palmer whether he had noticed two jurors were asleep.

"Why yes, I have. You're welcome to wake them up."

Lauer let them sleep.

The Socratic method even infected Judge Richard D Grifo  in a case tried by both Lauer and Pepper. After His Honor nodded off, Lauer accidentally dropped several law books to the floor.

Perhaps the best example of this human connection was evident in a minor case being prosecuted by Pepper. During the call of the list, in which there were over 100 cases, an elderly man carrying a paper bag stood up when his case was called. He had no lawyer.

"Guilty, your honor," he said before he could even be asked how he pleaded. "It's getting cold out there, I have my smokes and all my friends are in jail."

"How about 30 days?" suggested Judge Palmer.

"Could you make it 60?"

"If you don't shut up, I'll put you on probation."

Laughing at this, Lauer provided another example of the human connection involving, once again, the late Judge Palmer.

Lauer was representing an 85 year-old woman who was unable to stop shoplifting. She had been arrested at least 15 times in the past, and under our enlightened laws today, she'd be shipped off to state prison with little fuss. But Palmer intuitively knew that some seniors are forgetful, and shoplifting is often more a mental illness than a crime.

Looking at this woman sternly, Judge Palmer reminded her he had told her if he ever saw her again, she'd regret it. "I hereby remand you to the custody of the warden until such time and place as you can be taken to state prison, where you will spend the remainder of your natural life."

As she was slumping into Lauer's arms, Palmer added, "Just kidding."

She never shoplifted again.

Judges then even sentenced Defendants to one-way bus tickets to New York City, directing prosecutors to pay the fare.

No one disputes that changes in the criminal justice system have been a natural evolution to promote more fairness. Except the human connection is gone.

The two prosecutors view the District Attorney's office as family. Though both will continue their private practice, they will miss representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

NorCo Jail Has Manpower Crisis

Last week, I sat down with part of the corrections' officer union team that sought binding arbitration after negotiations with the County failed. The biggest complaint I heard is not about pay or benefits. It's manpower. As fast as the County can hire corrections officers, that's how fast they leave. Nothing in the arbitration award really addresses this problem. But the status quo is unacceptable.

Before I get into details, I need to correct myself. I was critical of the negotiation team when I wrote about the arbitration award. This led some corrections officers to claim they had been sold out. I poured gasoline on that fire when I said, in comments, that the initial union proposal contained a demand that the personal vehicle of every corrections officer should receive a $200 detail allowance every year.

This was inaccurate. At no time did the union make such a demand. I learned this, not just from union representatives, but from the county. I had the corrections officers mixed up with another union. I hope this sets the record straight and apologize for the bum steer. After making that error, I was surprised that they wee still willing to speak with me, but they were.

I was shown a roster of 192 corrections officers. From #85 on down, it consists of officers with five years of experience or less. This means, of course, that turnover is high. One union official estimates that at least 100 officers have quit over the past year.

Part of the reason for this, everyone concedes, is that many corrections officers are waiting for something better to come along. Many of them want to be police officers, and leave as soon as there's an opening. Others are criminal justice graduates who can do better in another job.

Another problem is salary. Although Council member John Cusick complains that Northampton's benefits package is better and computed differently,  younger officers are more interested in the money.

The starting salary for Northampton's guards is the second lowest in the state for third class counties, at least according to a union negotiator. He claims their goal was retention of junior officers, even though that meant some of them would see little or no raise

OK, so how about hiring older people?  There's a PT test, and though it's ridiculously easy, many older people are unable to pass so they just skip the process.

How about hiring more? An academy of 12 starts today, but the county has scheduled no academies for the rest of the year.

This high turnover means overtime. Mandated overtime, too. At the time of my meeting, every officer working day shift had already been mandated 17 times. This does not include the two of overtime every Wednesday for state training.

To make matters worse, corrections officers are now often tasked with transports This traditionally has been a function of the Sheriffs office.But if there are more than two or three, corrections officers must move inmates from county to county.

This high turnover leads to corrections officers who have no seasoning, and this in turn leads to injuries. One officer who was involved with a violent inmate was required to take him down, but the junior officers who assisted did it wrong, with the result that everyone came crashing down on the more senior officer, causing an injury.

High turnover also means that corrections officers must clear vacations a year in advance.

While the overtime is nice in the short term, it becomes annoying if you have family obligations. One officer tells me that, in 13 years, she has spent three Christmases at home

To me, the solution is paying people more money. A lot more money. This would mean a happier workforce, less overtime, less injury and more seasoned officers.

Hopefully this will be addressed in the next round of contract negotiations.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Special Privileges?

From time to time over the years, some of my fans will claim I get special privileges accorded to no one else. But yesterday, Rutiger Martinez proved it to me. He took me to the restroom next to the Recorders Office and said, "They installed a special urinal for you because you're the biggest prick here!"

This is untrue. I never got the bathroom.

Rumor Mill - Connie Nelson Ponders Judgeship

Informed sources tell me that Attorney Connie Nelson is seeking the Democratic nomination to the judgeship that will be created by the unexpected resignation of Judge FP Kimberly McFadden in November. Because the  primary has already passed, it will be up to the political parties to name candidates. Democrats Abe Kassis and Josh Fulmer are reportedly interested, as is Republican Vic Scomilio.

Currently in private practice, Nelson worked as as an Assistant DA in Northampton County for 13 years. She is the person who was made the object of a coarse and racially insensitive joke by another assistant DA named  Tom Carroll. He placed a gorilla doll in her office, which led to his resignation.

Now he's running for District Attorney.

If she is the Democratic nominee, voters will get plenty of reminders of Carroll's bizarre behavior.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Bob Casey: "America Doesn't Surrender to a Problem"

US Senator Bob Casey responds to a question at Lipkin Theatre Town Hall
U.S. Senator Bob Casey visited Northampton Community College's Lipkin Theatre yesterday for a friendly Town Hall attended by a friendly but small audience of about 100 people, including Democratic area elected officials.  Over the course of an hour, the usually soft-spoken legislator responded to a host of questions on topics extending from the electoral college to infrastructure.

Gun Control. - He was at his most passionate when responding to questions about what the federal government should do in response to the gun violence in this country. The Scranton-area resident is tired of hearing Republicans say there's nothing we can do or we have to get used to it.

"America doesn't surrender to a problem," he declared. "We will never surrender to the scourge of gun  violence," he said to an applauding audience waving "AGREE" signs. He went on to list a number of actions Congress could take that, in his estimation, would reduce the likelihood of another mass shooting.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised a vote on universal background checks. Casey is concerned Senate Republicans will try to weaken a measure that has already passed in the U.S. House as a result of pressure from the NRA

He also spoke in support of "red flag" laws, under which a person's firearms can be removed upon proof that he's a danger to himself or others. Casey added that some of his Republican colleagues will join in this legislation.

He supports a ban on military assault-style rifles and limits on magazine size, noting that the Dayton shooter was able to kill nine people and wound another 20 in just 32 seconds.

He also favors a "no fly, no buy" rule Currently, persons who are banned from flying because of suspected terrorism can still own firearms.

Impeachment. - Though Senator Casey said that an impeachment inquiry is a function of the House, he brought one document with him - the Mueller report. He even read highlighted excerpts indicating "substantial evidence" of intent to obstruct justice.

Medicare and Medicaid. - Casey pointed out that 38% of the children in Pennsylvania and 60% of nursing home residents receive Medicaid. Yet President Trump wants to cut $1.5 trillion from Medicaid and $855 billion from Medicare over the next 10 years. But he's unwilling to support Medicare for All, saying we have to defend what we have now from Republican attempts to sabotage Obamacare.

Infrastructure. - Casey complained President Trump "talked about it, talked about it but never done anything about it." He called ccordfor a national infrastructure bill to address structurally deficient bridges, as well as highways, cables and our power grid.

Climate Change. - In response to a question from Bethlehem Tp resident Karen Berry, Casey was direct. "Climate change is real, “It is caused by human activity and it will lead to the deaths of millions of people around the world." He criticized President Trump over withdrawing from the Paris Accord, reversals on the Clean Power Plan and EPA appointments.

Northampton County Council candidate Kerry Myers praised Casey for his "cajones." The Senator responded, "That must be a Latin term."

Sitting in the front row were NorCo Executive Lamont McClure, Easton Mayor Sal Panto, State Rep Bob Freeman and Easton City Controller Tony Bassil.

NorCo Gives $20k for West Easton Police Department

Pictured are Frank Brooks (DCED), the West Easton Police Chief, Tina Smith (DCED), Ken Kraft, Lamont McClure, James Kostura and Mayor Dan DePaul.

Yesterday, Lamont McClure and the Northampton County Department of Community and Economic Development presented a $20,000 check to the Borough of West Easton to help pay for their new police department located at 301 6th Street in West Easton.

In February, District Attorney John Morganelli gave West Easton $10,000 in drug forfeiture funds to help form a police department.

West Easton has had no police department since 1996 and currently relies on Pennsylvania State Police.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The People, Not Party Bosses, Should Decide Judgeships

Yesterday, I broke the sad news that Judge F.P. Kimberly McFadden is stepping down from Northampton County's bench after 31 years of distinguished service. The Morning Call's Riley Yates followed up with a story listing just some of the reasons why she is so highly regarded. It also turns out, surprisingly, that my analysis is correct. An election to replace her will likely take place this November instead of in 2021. It currently will be a race among three candidates for two open seats. One of them, John Morganelli, received the Republican and Democratic nomination in a primary election. The other two, yet to be named, will be the choice of party bosses. This is the law, but it is also undemocratic.

I quoted from the law on Tuesday. During the day, I researched the matter and found a 1991 case from Allegheny County in which the Commonwealth Court ruled that two judges who withdrew from a retention election would be replaced in a municipal election that year, with the nominees chosen by the political parties. In that matter, the Court noted a "strong public policy favoring an elected judiciary." I am told this practice was followed in 2015 when a Centre County judge withdrew from a retention election.

Although I appear to have read the law correctly and reached the same conclusion as judges did, I think the process is unconstitutional. It violates Article 5 of the Pa Constitution because it does the exact opposite of providing for an elected judiciary. Independents are denied any voice in coming up with a nominee.

This also violates the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. According to our US Supreme Court, all persons "have a federal constitutional right to be considered for public service without the burden of invidiously discriminatory disqualification. The State may not deny to some the privilege of holding public office that it extends to others on the basis of distinctions that violate federal constitutional guarantees.” The state law, as it currently exists, makes it impossible for independents to file a nomination petition to succeed Judge McFadden. The time to do that has passed, and there is no provision that would allow independents to get ballot access. I consider this a fatal defect.

Two party bosses, and not the people, will use a flawed and archaic state law to determine who gets to sit on the bench for the next 10 years. This is as undemocratic as things can get. This promotes partisanship, not unbiased judges.

To make matters worse, a person who actually was selected by the voters of both parties, and who encountered no nomination bid from independents, will have to vie for a judgeship against candidates who could be little more than political hacks.

Under our current system, it is at least mathematically possible that John Morganelli, the choice of voters, could lose

By way of qualification, I've heard that Abe Kassis, Josh Fulmer, Vic Scomilio and Richard Yetter are four attorneys who've expressed some interest. I consider none of them political hacks. But party bosses could pick left and right wing kooks.

Our state election laws are outdated, and this is the result.

I'd rather wait until 2021 and let the voters make the call.

Addendum: The Morning Call story indicates that the Department of State will allow independents to file nomination petitions on or before September 16. That's nice, but nothing in the law authorizes this. The law is unconstitutional, and has to be corrected by the state legislature, not the Department of State.

An Express Times story quotes a Governor Wolf official as saying the election must wait until 2021. This is an inaccurate statement as well, something I would expect from a Governor who thinks he can borrow money without approval from the state legislature.

NorCo Dem Party Has No Treasurer

I'd like to know who's filing finance reports for Northampton County's Democratic party. It has no treasurer.  This is a violation of state law, which provides as follows:

"Every political committee shall have a treasurer and a chairman. No contribution shall be received nor shall any expenditure be made when there is a vacancy in either one of these offices. All money received and disbursed by a political committee must be done through the treasurer of the committee."

How can that happen when there is none?

With no Treasurer, Chair Matt Munsey is still collecting and spending money, even for a $20 parking ticket in Allentown.

Under the same state law, finance reports must be filed both with the county and state. I am unable to find any recent reports filed with the county. I do see reports filed with the state, but the name of the filer is absent.

Matt Munsey appears to be a one-man show, and he is going to recommend a judicial candidate for all Northampton County Democrats.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Judge McFadden To Step Down After 31 Years

I've known Judge F.P. Kimberly McFadden a very long time. We became lawyers around the same time, and my first interaction with her was when she was serving as a clerk to the late and great Clinton Budd Palmer and I was defending the owner of the then Peacock Hotel for after hours sales. That was my first case and my first win. I should have quit while I was ahead. McFadden would go on to bigger and greater things while I became a frequent customer at the Peacock and numerous other establishments. Despite my problem, McFadden was always gracious to me and never once looked down her nose at me. Despite her stern demeanor on the bench, she has always had a gentle heart. That's why I'm sad to tell you she's stepping down from the bench after 31 years.

Judge McFadden was up for retention in November. But yesterday, she notified Governor Tom Wolf of her withdrawal from the retention election. She also advised she would be resigning, effective November 30.

She's a graduate of Bryn Mawr College (1974) and received her Juris Doctor degree from Villanova University in 1978.

After her appointment to the bench in 1988, she was elected in 1989 and retained in 1999 and 2009.

In recent years, she has been plagued by health issues, but was so efficient that she did more in two hours than most judges can do in a full day. Her absence will be felt by her fellow judges.

Is it possible that an election can be held this November to determine McFadden's successor?

Based on a cursory reading of state election law, I think so. A judge who previously filed a declaration of candidacy for retention can revoke it so long as she acts within sixty (60) days preceding the municipal election. (See Section 978.3), At this point the political parties can choose a candidate so long as they do so within fifty (50) days prior to the election. (See Section 993).

A contested judicial race in this municipal election will certainly wake up sleeping voters. If my reading is incorrect, the race will be delayed until 2021. That race will also include the county executive and five at-large Council seats.

Something Smells at Notre Dame Green Pond

In June, I told you that Notre Dame Green Pond planned to dedicate its football stadium to Deacon Anthony P Koury. He served at that school for 43 years, and I can think of no one more deserving than he. When I was recently informed that Deacon Koury had declined this recognition, I thought that sounded just like him. He has always been quite humble. But my bullshit meter started going off.

I found out about the honor from Tony himself. He was quite delighted. Why would he suddenly change his mind, and on the eve of a major celebration? I'm told that several others with deeper pockets have made clear to Notre Dame's Board they want one of their own recognized.

Had Tony really wanted to decline the honor, the Board could and should have insisted.

Something smells at Notre Dame Green Pond.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Forks Tp Lawyer to Replace GOP Nominee in Council Race

James Fuller
Up until very recently, 19 year-old gun rights advocate Andrew Oliveira was running as the Republican nominee for Northampton County Council, District Two. Though I disagree with him about pretty much everything, I looked forward to seeing someone the same age as my grandson take an interest in local government. I was sure he would energize the campaign. Unfortunately, Oliveira has dropped out to tend to a personal matter. NorCo GOP Chair Lee Snover told me last night that Oliveira will be replaced by Forks Tp resident and Monroe County Assistant Public Defender James Fuller. He has been a practicing attorney for the past five years.

I know little about Fuller, but that will change.

Kerry Myers
The Dem nominee in District Two, Sandra Werner, also dropped out. She's been replaced by Kerry Myers, who recently retired from Lafayette College. Kerry fell short in a 2013 bid for an at-large seat on Northampton County Council, but  his job made it difficult for him to campaign.

Myers, who is about 8' tall, also coaches the 'Lil Rovers in Easton. He has also served as a softball ump, and has spent a lot of his personal time mentoring Easton's youth 

District Two, often called the Easton District, consists of Easton, Palmer Tp, Forks Tp, and the Boroughs of Stockertown, Tatamy, Wilson, West Easton and Glendon.

Gracedale Has 44% of the Medicaid Beds in NorCo

As of Friday, Gracedale was still rated two stars, or below average, by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Nearly every month, there are reports of problems at the facility, which are repeated in news accounts. But there's a reason. The Northampton County nursing home has 44% of the Medicaid beds in the county.

"Gracedale is absolutely necessary," Executive Lamont McClure reported to Northampton County Council at their August 15 meeting. "If Gracedale wasn't there and county-owned, there would be a legitimate crisis of care for people who are on Medicaid."

McClure noted that many of the residents at Gracedale suffer from Alzheimer's, dementia or a combination of both in a schizophrenic setting. If the county chooses against psychotropic drugs for some, they can become violent. "We're taking care of the sickest folks, and we don't turn anyone away." He added that the recent state decision to close White Haven means the county will be getting those folks, too.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Why Is Gracedale's Rating So Low?

NorCo Executive Lamont McClure offered a pretty good reason at last night's County Council meeting. I'll share it with you on Monday.

Probation Officers and the Horseshoe Nail

We've all heard the "For Want of a Nail" proverb, in which a kingdom is ultimately lost because something as seemingly unimportant as a horseshoe nail was missing. A two percent raise for Northampton County probation officers is a small matter. Making it retroactive to the beginning of the year, which was done for all other career service workers, would cost the county just $69,982. Treating all career service workers the same is clearly the fair thing to do. But last night, Northampton County refused to be fair, disappointing about 64 court-appointed professionals This might just be that horseshoe nail. This trifle could result in dire consequences for Executive Lamont McClure and the Council members who voted against making the raise retroactive.

McClure relied on 7,000 votes from county workers and their families to ensure his election. I question whether those votes will be there when he seeks a second term. Morale is already terrible, nearly everywhere. Deputy sheriffs are walking on eggshells, afraid of the Sheriff McClure appointed. Corrections officers are very unhappy with an arbitration award that failed to address mandated overtime and constant turnover. 911 workers are underpaid and overworked. There are 11 vacancies in Children and Youth, nine of which are caseworkers. Gracedale is ready to revolt over understaffing. In the face of all these problems, the last thing the county should want to do is aggravate another block of employees. But that's precisely what happened last night.

As I told you yesterday, Northampton County's court-appointed professionals were represented by AFSCME. This never made any sense. They serve at the pleasure of the court, and no union can protect them if a judge decides to can one or all of them for any reason, even a bad one. That's the nature of at-will employment.

These court-appointed professionals petitioned last year to have their union decertified. This happened on January 21 of this year when the union agreed to an amicable divorce.

At the beginning of this year, all career service employees received a two per cent wage hike. But not probation officers. They continued receiving the same salaries they were getting at the end of the year.

Exec McClure recently decided to recommend that they get a two percent payhike like the other career service employees. That's only fair. But the raise only goes into effect on July 28 instead of being effective at the beginning of the year, like it was for all other career service employees. That's unfair.

So far as I can tell, the reason July 28 was picked is because it corresponded with a pay period. So you'd think that when court-appointed professionals asked to make it retroactive, McClure would readily agree. But he sat mute as two Council members who double as union agents bashed probation officers for daring to leave the union. I refer to Council members Kevin Lott, business agent for the Carpenters' Union; and Bill McGee, business agent for the Insulators' Union.

Lott's words at a committee meeting make clear he wanted to punish these workers:
"They made the choice to leave the union and that was their choice ... . They could have stayed there and got what was offered. Now the employees are coming back six months later and are saying, 'Forget your budget. We made a choice but we don't really like that choice' ... I think there was [sic] some bad choices made by employees here."
McGee and Lott both said this group of workers would have to live with the consequences of their decision to leave the union.

Before the vote last night, about ten probation officers were in the audience, making me wonder if I failed yet another urine test. Fortunately, they were not there for me, but to see how their government would treat them. Arky Colon, a pretrial services officer and 29-year veteran, asked Council to "do the right thing."

Council member John Cusick tried. He offered an amendment to make the raise retroactive to the beginning of the year.

"These folks here make up the backbone of the court system," said Cusick. He argued that the pay should be made retroactive to the beginning of the year.

Council member Peg Ferraro seconded. "I strongly feel that these employees are being punished for leaving the union. I also feel it's an affront to these loyal employees ... " She suggested those who opposed retroactivity should "take off their union hats and put on their 'Do what's right for our employees hat.'"

Agreeing with Cusick and Ferraro, Council member Bob Werner said that even if these probation officers made a bad decision, "that doesn't mean they should receive economic hardship."

Council President Ron Heckman also sided with court-appointed professionals, saying they were "wards of the county" once their union was decertified. He heard no strong reason why July 28 was the date the increase should become effective. Actually,noreason at all was offered.

Union agents Lott and McGee of course continued to be vindictive and punish probation officers for daring to leave the union. They were joined by Council members Tara Zrinski and Lori Vargo Heffner.

Zrinski, who is running for State Representative against Marcia Hahn, noted that she's never been a member of a union. But clearly, she wants their money for her campaign.

Heffner claimed to have done her own investigation, which consisted of a phone call to Human Resources Director Elizabeth Kelly. This "investigation" included no calls to probation officers. She made clear what motivated her when she told another member of Council, after the meeting, that she resented probation officers for making more money than she does as a social worker.

Perhaps Kevin Lott can tell her she made a choice and has to live with it.

Cusick's amendment failed by a 4-4 vote. Cusick, Ferraro, Werner and Heckman voted Yes. The others voted against the workers.

Council member Matt Dietz, who almost certainly would have sided with the workers, was unfortunately absent. He was busy stuffing backpacks for Backpack Pals in Bethlehem.

Sitting quietly throughout this exchange was Executive Lamont McClure. He could have spoken up for the workers, but did not. He could have told them that the July 28 date was used because it corresponded with a pay period, but did not. His silence was a message in and of itself.

He may think he's headed to an overwhelming re-election. That won't happen if he continues to alienate his workforce. He can ask former Executive John Brown how that worked out for him. McClure, who railed against vacancies in Children and Youth, now has just as many as Brown did.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Will NorCo Council Penalize Probation Officers For Leaving Union?

Most employers, even public employers, hate having to deal with unions. It's easy to screw a lone employee. That gets a lot harder when he has the legal protections afforded to a collective bargaining unit. There really is strength in unity, and I've seen it firsthand. But yesterday was the first time I saw a public employer try to stick it to a group of workers simply because they have no union. That's what two Northampton County Council members want to do to its 64 court-appointed professionals, who consist mostly of probation officers and court reporters. Will they succeed? We'll find out when County Council convenes tonight. Let me fill you in.

Northampton County's court-appointed professionals were represented by AFSCME, but that never made any sense. This is because they serve at the pleasure of the court, and no union can protect them if a judge decides to can one or all of them for any reason, even a bad one. That's the nature of at-will employment.

Last year, 30% of the court-appointed professionals petitioned the Pa. Labor Relations Board (PLRB) for decertification of AFSCME, their bargaining unit. An election was scheduled, but the union read the tea leaves and decided to throw in the towel. It was basically an amicable divorce. On January 21 of this year, the PLRB decertified the union.

It was around this time that Executive Lamont McClure successfully negotiated six union contracts. He claimed he wanted to follow the same pattern for one and all. This consisted of a step increase (4 1/2%) in the first year, followed by two percent raises in Years two and three. Corrections officers would later insist on binding arbitration, and made out a little worse than if they had just taken McClure's offer.

What about the court-appointed professionals? Exec McClure recently decided to recommend that they get a two percent payhike like other career service employees. But the raise only goes into effect on July 28 instead of being effective at the beginning of the year, like it was for all other career service employees.

McClure's recommendation was considered by Council's Personnel Committee last night. Peter Nebzydoski, a probation officer with the county for the past 10 years, asked Council to make the payhike retroactive to January 21, the date their union was decertified. He certainly works hard enough. He has a case load of 234 people. But two council members - Bill McGee and Kevin Lott - who are or were union agents, basically told Nebzydoski that he should have stayed in a union and must now pay the price for his stupidity.

Not all of Council feels this way. Saying he agreed with Nebzydoski, Council member John Cusick argued that the payraise be made retroactive until the beginning of the year. This would cost the county a grand total of $69,982.

That's too much for Northampton County Council member Kevin Lott, who is still listed as Business Agent for the Lehigh Valley Carpenters' Union.

"They made the choice to leave the union and that was their choice," he said. "They could have stayed there and got what was offered. Now the employees are coming back six months later and are saying, 'Forget your budget. We made a choice but we don't really like that choice' ... I think there was [sic] some bad choices made by employees here." He concluded by saying they made a mistake and would have to live with the consequences.

Pretty clearly, Lott wishes to penalize a class of workers for exercising their right to leave a union. "They didn't see the big picture here," he said, which I translate as meaning they should have stayed union.

Council member Bill McGee, who just happens to be the Business Agent for the Insulators' Union, echoed Lott "They did make a choice."

It is unlawful for union agents to threaten economic harm to employees who desire to decertify. In this case, union agents Lott and McGee are doing more than threatening these workers. They are imposing an actual economic hardship. They both seem to have forgotten that they are on Council to serve the public, not the unions.

"What we're asking for is just to be fair," said Nebzydoski, noting that all other career service employees received a two percent hike at the beginning of the year.

Will County Council relent and make this payhike retroactive? We'll find out tonight.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Binding Arbitration at Jail A Pyrrhic Victory for McClure and Union

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure told County Council on August 1 he is "very pleased" at the binding arbitration award between the County and the union representing corrections officers. The union sought binding arbitration after negotiations with the county reached an impasse.

McClure had offered a step increase (4 1/2%) in the first year, followed by two percent pay hikes in years two and three. In addition, he offered to bring corrections officers into the county's health care plan, a significant improvement over what they have now.  This offer was rejected, and because corrections officers are unable to strike, they are entitled to and sought binding arbitration.

The arbitrator awarded 0.77% more in wages than the county had offered. What McClure liked about this award is that the "lion's share"of the increase went to officers who have been employed for 13 years or less. Those with more than 13 years are getting less money than they would have received had negotiators taken the county's offer.

"The arbitrator did for us what we were not able to do at the table with any of our bargaining units," said McClure. This suggests that perhaps some union negotiators have been more interested in taking care of themselves than in protecting members who have little seniority. 

McClure said the award addresses a complaint he hears often. "We can't recruit or retain because Lehigh pays more ..."

The arbitration award will actually cost the county less than it would have paid had the union accepted the contract.

"Under our offer at the table, which was rejected for arbitration, it would have cost us $827,326. The arbitrator's binding award is going to cost us $791,164."

McClure may be pleased, but corrections officers are not. On the weekend following his announcement, 22 officers were mandated on one shift and 23 on another.  This pattern continued again the following weekend. While corrections officers are being mandated, they can work 16 hours with no relief and no food

In addition, they are leaving sooner than the county can hire them.

McClure or the union might both claim a victory but it is pyrrhic. The final loser will be the officer,inmate and especially the taxpayer, who will have to pay the overtime and awards that occur as a result of civil rights violations. As a jail expert observes, “The risk of an inappropriate response to a jail incident is higher when an employee is mentally or physically fatigued.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Trump Screws NorCo in Transportation Funding

Northampton County has supported Democrats for President since 1988. But in a break from that tradition, it elected Authoritarian Donald Trump as President in 2016. He owes Northampton County. Right after he was elected, he promised to “rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals.” Despite bipartisan support, he failed to deliver. Republicans balked at taxing corporations for parking their offshore money. So the Lehigh Valley, despite having the highest gas tax in the nation, has lost a badly needed $380 million in transportation funding in the latest 12-year money. Forget funding from Highway Trust Fund. That's broke, like Trump's casinos. Ironically, the County that voted for Trump is getting hosed. It's getting just 29% of the money available, and practically none during the middle years of this plan.

"People will be working nights and weekends to figure out what we can deliver," Lehigh Valley Transportation Study Exec Director Becky Bradley told The Morning Call when these cuts were first announced. But when push came to shove and there finally was a meeting showing that NorCo was getting the short end of the stick, she was a no-show. Instead of working nights and weekends, she was having trouble getting a flight from wherever she was spending her summer holiday.

NorCo Executive Lamont McClure has previously threatened to cut funding to the area planning agency. I ordinarily would disagree, favoring regionalism as the best approach. But without doubt, NorCo is getting hosed.

Next time you're stuck on 22 for an hour on a Friday afternoon, be sure to thank Trump.

Monday, August 12, 2019

DeSales Mens' BB Team Abroad

After a year of exercise, I got my ass kicked yesterday by a 12 year-old designer dog. I'm dog-sitting again, but it's for a good reason. My grandson Dat, along with the DeSales Men's Basketball team, is in Europe. His mom took a few days to go to the beach. I am watching Suki, a five-pound menace who views a few days with me as her own vacation. She's never been to Europe. Come to think of it, neither have I.

The team is visiting Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges, Paris and Amsterdam. They are scheduled for a boat tour of Amsterdam and then a bike tour of center city Amsterdam the following day.

They are playing three unofficial games, too, which is permitted by the NCAA.

The team earned most of the money for this trip via basketball camps.

These young men will also visit Breendonk Concentration Camp,a holding place for Jews and political prisoners on their way to Germany.

This is a wonderful opportunity for these young men to grow, not as athletes, but human beings.

Friday, August 09, 2019

DisGraced Again?

Ed DisGrace
Last time I wrote about Allentown Democratic operative Ed "DisGrace" DeGrace, he had just been convicted of summary harassment over a punch he threw at a fellow Democrat. He was fined $100 and ordered to pay costs for a total of $301.25 following a trial before Magisterial District Judge Ronald S Manescu. Guess what? It's happened again. Same charge. Same victim. Same judge. But this time, it is Allentown police who filed a new charge on Tuesday, based on a confrontation the previous day.

Victim Tom Osborne, who lives near DisGrace, was confronted on his way home. From what I've been able to gather, there was no physical violence this time. Just death threats. Osborne declined to speak about the matter because it is still pending.

By the by, he is still a CCD instructor at St. Thomas Aquinas. The pastor there refuses to do anything about him. Hey, if the Catholic Church is willing to cover up the sexual misconduct of priests, what's the problem with a foul-mouthed thug teaching catechism to children?

The mug shot you see above was taken on one of the occasions he tried (unsuccessfully) to intimidate me.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

NorCo GPA Approves $5 M Bond Issuance For Slate Belt Y

A ceremonial groundbreaking took place in late July for an expansion to the Slate Belt Y, which is located in Pen Argyl. Much of the money for this has come from a casino grant obtained by State Rep. Marcia Hahn. On August 6, Northampton County's General Purpose Authority (GPA) authorized a $5 million tax exempt bond issue to complete the project. Voting Yes were GPA members Charles Dertinger, KenKraft, Lori Vargo Heffner, Anne Baum, Paul Anthony, Jr. and Ron Donchez. GPA member Frank Pintabone was absent.

This bond will help finance a six-lane swimming pool and a child care and pre-school wing. Greater Valley Y CEO David Fagerstrom said this project is the culmination of 70 years of effort, including private gifts and a land donation. He expects the project to start in September, and be done in a year.

GPA member Ron Donchez was happy to vote Yes. "This is a really important program for that region," he said. He added the Y is "trying to reach out and make a difference."

During his campaign for Northampton County Executive, one of Lamont McClure's themes was to pay more attention to the oft-neglected Slate Belt.

This bond allows the bank to provide the tax free rate with more certainty. While this is certainly beneficial for the Y and the success of the project, the funding stream is the money it is getting from gaming grants.

Updated 8:30 am. In an earlier version of this story, I incorrectly identified this bond issue as a separate source of money. It is not, but is a vehicle under which the bank can provide a tax free rate.

Saving Glendon Hotel?

Thanks to the repeated efforts of Glendon Borough resident Kenneth Teske, Northampton County recently began taking an interest in the long vacant Glendon Hotel. In addition to being in a state of disrepair, the building is only 10' from Main Street. Teske has repeatedly argued blighted, which the above picture makes clear.  Glendon cited owner Albert Rutherford * in 2013 for code violations. Rutherford paid a $1,000 fine,but has failed to remediate the problem. Northampton County's General Purpose Authority (GPA) was beginning to consider the possibility of demolishing the building and replacing it with affordable housing, which for some reason is now called obtainable housing. But at a meeting earlier this week, Glendon Borough Council President Richard Young made a pitch for saving the old property.

According to Young, the Glendon Hotel dates back to 1740, and might be the oldest building in Northampton County. He claims it operated as a tavern and was a meeting place. He'd like to see it restored.

The Library of Congress appears to confirm some of what Young said. Its Historic American Buildings Survey states initial construction was in 1740. Young said it was a tavern, but the Survey states it was built "as place of refuge from and defense against the Native Americans, the doors were 6 inches thick and the walls perforated with loop holes from which occupants could fire."

Instead of being a refuge for anyone, it is now a safety hazard. But it's highly unlikely the County or GPA will do anything unless borough officials reach a consensus.

*) (Albert is incorrectly referred to as Arthur Rutherford in a recent Morning Call story)

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Trump's Divisive Rhetoric

I've said before that I'm certain Donald Trump was as shocked and saddened as any of us over this past weekend's mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Having said that, it's equally true that his divisive rhetoric has winked at the racists and xenophobes among us.

When I was growing up in the '50s, I remember jokes about some white guy shooting a black guy and being charged with littering. I thought they were funny at the time, when I was as racist as anyone from the Lehigh Valley. But I grew up. Trump apparently did not.

At a Florida rally in May, Trump displayed exactly this kind of callous humor when musing about illegals.

"Don't forget: We don't let them, and we can't let them, use weapons. We can't," Trump said. "Other countries do. We can't. I would never do that. But how do you stop these people? You can't."

"Shoot them!" Shouted someone in the audience.

Trump smiled and joked, "That's only in the Panhandle you can get away with this stuff. Only in the Panhandle."

This is why his comfort is no comfort to the families of undocumented immigrants and Mexican nationals whose loved ones were murdered in El Paso.

What he could do is say he was wrong, admit that he should never under any circumstances condone violence against another human being. But he will never do that. This is why he is unfit for the nation's highest office.

Next NorCo DA Will Have a Full-Time Professional Office

When John Morganelli became Northampton County's District Attorney in 1991, the office was a part-time position. At that time, nine of 11 assistant DAs were part-time prosecutors who also maintained a private practice. Morganelli argued that he and his assistants should devote 100% of their time to prosecuting criminal cases. The voters agreed and adopted a Home Rule Charter Amendment to make his position full-time. Since that time, he has worked year after year to transform his office from a "part-time political office to a full-time professional prosecutor's office." If his budget for next year is approved by County Council, that transition will finally be complete.

Currently, 19 of 21 assistant DAs are full-time prosecutors. The two part-timers left are veteran prosecutors Richard Huntington Pepper, Esq., and John L. Obrecht, Esq. Both were serving before Morganelli himself became DA, over 28 years ago. Both have busy law practices and would like to step down. So they will leave when Morganelli does. Pepper will look for his missing hair, while Obrecht plans to take up the tuba.

In his proposed budget, Morgaenlli plans to replace them with full-time prosecutors. He expects this will have a negligible impact on his $2.5 million budget because the newcomers will start at only slightly more than Pepper and Obrecht were being paid.

In addition, to this change, Morganelli is asking Council to approve a new Clerk to assist county detectives in forfeiture matters. This was recommended in a recent Controller's audit, and will also allow detectives to devote more time to countywide drug investigations.

Finally, Morganelli's budget calls for a $42,000 contribution to the Petzold Forensic Center at DeSales University and $50,000 for the Regional Crime Center established by Lehigh County DA Jim Martin. "Regionalization with respect to these services makes sense," he said.

Morganelli said he has not consulted with either of his two possible successors concerning his budget proposal. "I'm still the boss," he smiled. He is sure both would agree because Democratic nominee Terry Houck is and GOP candidate Tom Carroll was full-time prosecutors in his office.

During his final five months in office, Morganelli is wrapping up a few cases in which he is personally involved and is preparing a transition memo.

When he ascends to the judicial heavens in January, he will take no part in any criminal case that was pending when he was District Attorney.

NorCo DA Sez No Imminent Threat at Musikfest

Though Bethlehem police are rightly taking precautions, NorCo DA John Morganelli announced today that there is no "imminent threat" at Musikfest.

Bethlehem police are reacting to several social media posts concerning Bethlehem and mass shootings last weekend in El Paso and Dayton. According to Morganelli, the FBI are unconcerned about the social media posts, and implied they had tracked down the source.

Whether these mass shootings have affected attendance remains to be seen.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Is This a Threatening Comment?

Back in June, in a story about Bethlehem City Council, someone anonymously published this comment: "FUCK 'EM ALL I HAVE A REAL SURPRISE FOR THEM AT MUSUCKFEST...JUST WAIT AN SEE!!!!!" When a reader brought it to my attention, I decided to let it stand. It makes no threat.

In view of the weekend's mass shootings and a recent Morning Call story indicating police and FBI are investigating several social media posts concerning Bethlehem and these mass shootings, the reader contacted me again.

I have forwarded the comment to police.

This comment makes no specific threat, and a "surprise" can mean many things. I still feel there is no cause for concern, but will let police make that call.