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Monday, September 30, 2019

NorCo COs Deny They Refused To Discuss Schedule Change

When Lew Donatelli's father passed away in March, his sister asked him to organize pictures his mother had taken over the years. He found five drawers filled with hundreds of them. When he began looking through them, he noticed something odd. He was absent from  most of these family celebrations and milestones. Not because he wanted to be. He had no choice. He is a Northampton County Corrections Officer (CO).

I recently met with Donatelli and Russell Attanasio, another CO who happens to be the union president. They were both on the negotiating team in the latest contract talks, which resulted in a binding arbitration award. They both want to respond to a recent NorCo op-ed, published here, concerning the manpower crisis and high turnover at the jail.

They are both long-time county employees, hired at a time when there was little turnover or overtime at the jail. They routinely were awarded step increases (4 1/2%) as they gained experience. A veteran officer received a lot more money than a new hire.

Times have changed.

According to these senior officers, the changes began with former County Executive Bill Brackbill. Pencil pushers is the county realized it was cheaper to mandate overtime at a 24/7 facility than make new hires. That practice continued and actually increased after Brackbill left. Last year, for example, both officers were mandated to work a second shift at least 25 times.

They met with me in response to two stories about the manpower crisis at the jail. I attributed the problem to low salaries. The county, in a separate unsigned op-ed, responded that salaries are comparable to what is paid elsewhere, and the real reason for the turnover is the union's unwillingness to change its schedule.

This was news to the union.

They want to correct this claim and what they say are other errors in the county response.

1) The Union Never Refused to Discuss Scheduling. - The County insists that overtime at the jail is "the Result of a Schedule Which the Union Does Not Want To Change." It argues this refusal led to $1.73 million in overtime in 2018. It even slurs corrections officers for taking vacations, which are no greater for them than the rest of the county workforce. "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," claims the county.

Sounds good. Complete nonsense.

Donatelli and Attanasio were both astonished by this accusation because a change in scheduling was never brought up during any of the negotiation sessions with the county. Only two matters were discussed, health benefits and wages. Scheduling came up with the current administration for the first time during arbitration, along with proposed changes in 30 of 43 articles in the union contract.

Scheduling did come up once before, on August 12, 2015, during a meeting at the jail under former Executive John Brown. The County broached the subject of either 12-hour shifts or a 5 day on, 2 day off schedule.

These veteran correction officers had one question about a 12-hour schedule. What happens if you have to mandate someone? Wouldn't this mean an officer could be forced to work 36 hours straight?.

That was the last time a schedule change was broached.

How about five days on, two days off? "We'd have to be the two biggest dummies in Northampton County to say No to that," said Donatelli. Pointing to his and Attanasio's seniority, he said they'd be guaranteed every weekend off. But they are the two biggest dummies in Northampton County. They think this would be unfair to fellow corrections officers, and said there's a need to have some senior officers covering shifts.

As things stand now, these senior officers work every other weekend just like everyone else. They both resent the county's misrepresentation about them, and rightly so.

They both agree the real issue is retention.

They have always been willing to discuss changes in the schedule.

The County, if truly interested in solving the manpower crisis at the jail, could ask the union to discuss this matter

2) The County Saves Money By Paying $1.73 million in overtime. - A study of the jail conducted under former Executive John Brown concludes it should be manned by 44 more officers than the 203 currently assigned. But guess what? Those additional officers, at an average of $66,000 per year with benefits, would cost the County $2.7 million. So the County actually saves $1 million per year by mandating overtime instead of hiring people and paying them what they are worth.

This might be fiscally prudent. But it balances the budget on the backs of the county worker.

3) Does County Want Corrections Officers to Work With No Vacations? - In its op-ed, the County makes this complaint about corrections officers: "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." This language also appears in the statement of the County's Partial Arbitrator. The implication is guards are shirkers who only work when they feel like it.

The truth is that corrections officers, like everyone else who works for the county, get vacations and personal days, and those increase as they gain seniority. The "holes" are the result of earned vacations at a jail without enough officers.

Unlike everyone else at the county, these officers have to request vacations a year in advance.

Does the County want corrections officers to give up vacations and holidays?

If so, how long before other county workers are told to forget theirs as well?

If the data shows that there are holes in the schedule, doesn't this necessarily mean that more officers are needed?

This was an unfair argument.

4) The County Misrepresented Average Corrections Officer Salary. - The County contends the salaries paid to COs in NorCo are comparable and even better than elsewhere. It asserts, "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." Once again, this sounds good. Once again, it's completely untrue.

The average salary, in fact, does include overtime.

In fact, the average base salary in 2017, exclusive of overtime, was well below what was portrayed. It ranged from a low of $35,000 for new hires to $56,000 for officers with 18 or more years of experience.

The data used by the County is flawed.  This means that all the conclusions about how NorCo COs compare to other counties is equally flawed:

Donatelli and Attanasio wish to make clear they believe the County acted honestly, but erred and relied too heavily on written arguments made by labor lawyers..

 5) Addressing Turnover. - Both Donatelli and Attanasio agree the County is doing everything it can to attract officers in a job regarded by most as a "stepping stone." A class of 11 new guards just graduated on Friday. There still is a 25% turn over every year. Both argue this problem will persist until wages improve and salary compression stops.

Under the plan proposed by Executive Lamont McClure, officers would have received a step increase in the first year (4 1/2%) followed by two per cent raises in years two and three.

The problem is that anyone hired in 2018 is getting nothing. In the third year of the contract, these three-year veterans would be making no more money than someone who just walked in the door.

"We want the scale to function so that you move through the steps," they said. Right now, they claim it's impossible to reach the top step.

Since these veterans are already at the top of their scales, they are arguing for junior officers, not themselves.

Perhaps the County should listen.

Friday, September 27, 2019

If Amazon Can Afford $15 Per Hour, Why Not the Public Sector?

For about a year, Amazon has been paying all of its US employees (FT,PT and seasonal) at least $15 per hour. Target expects to follow suit by next year. In July, the US. House voted 231 – 199 to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, though it's unlikely the Senate will agree. Northampton County requires contractors on county projects to pay a prevailing wage. It enacted a responsible contractor ordinance under which workers receive a living wage. But it has ignored its own employees.

The chart below shows that Northampton County's rank-and-file custodians receive an average of $13.04 per hour to clean our messes. Seventeen of 21 are paid less than $15 per hour. One of them earns just $10.74.

The County claims the actual wage is higher because it pays $9.62 per hour for health insurance for each employee. It adds the union contract approving these wages was overwhelmingly approved. "The issue of these folks being underpaid did not come up at the bargaining table," notes Deputy Administrator Becky Bartlett.

It should have.

Last year, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed legislation that would give employers a choice: "pay workers a living wage or pay for the
public assistance programs low-wage workers are forced to rely upon."

I would include public employers in that category.

Executive Lamont McClure is balancing his fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer against his sincere desire to pay employees what they are worth. Unfortunately, it is usually the employee who loses.

But so does the taxpayer.

The pittances paid might help balance a county budget and prevent a tax hike. but nationwide, these low wages actually cost taxpayers $152.8 billion per year, according to a 2015 study from the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center.

If people were paid more fairly, there would be less turnover and a happier workforce.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

NorCo 911 Responds to Bath Concerns

A week ago today, Northampton County Council member Matt Dietz raised three concerns brought to his attention by Bath firefighters about the 911 Center. First, they were missing callouts. Second, they said 911 was giving bad directions for some emergencies because a bridge is out in their response are. Third, they argued that the closest fire company or EMS should be dispatched to an emergency, regardless whether it is in the municipality. Dietz raised these issues at a Council meeting because, ironically, Bath was having trouble getting an answer from 911. He wanted to alert his fellow Council members and wondered whether this could be a symptom of a more widespread problem related to the recent consolidation of Bethlehem City and the County.

Below is 911's response to Dietz concerns, which the County was kind enough to forward to me.

You know, a little knowledge can be dangerous. I found that out after publishing my story. What ensued were 52 comments, many from people far more knowledgeable about EMS than I. They include Peter Melan, Ben Miller, Bath Mayor Fiorella R. Mirabito and East Allen Fire Chief Jon Kopishke. One of the things I learned is that proximity to an emergency is only one of several factors considered in determining how to respond. I learned it is the fire chief in the affected municipality who decides on a response plan, which is entered into 911's computer aided dispatch (CAD). Finally, it appears that the dropped calls experienced by Bath are a localized issue unrelated to the consolidation. Had the problem been more widespread, I would have learned that pretty quickly in the responses.

Having said that, the county's 911 center is due for some changes since the first EMS call was made in 1968. Governing explores some of these changes, and I will address them in a separate story, proving again that I know nothing.

Congrats to SGT Laubach on His Pregnancy

Unless you have a reserved parking spot, it can be pretty tough to find a parking spot around Northampton County's Courthouse. It sits atop a hill, too, which means those who arrive late get plenty of aerobic exercise as they scale the mountain. Executive Lamont McClure has reserved a few spots for expectant mothers at the main parking lot. That's actually a very good reason for getting pregnant. I have tried, but have thus far been unsuccessful. In that vein, I wish to congratulate SGT Jason Laubach, a Deputy Sheriff on his recent pregnancy.

Deputy Sheriffs are assigned the responsibility of enforcing the parking rules at the county courthouse. Most offenders get warnings. Anyone who parks in a judge's spot, however, is subject to summary execution.

I have written before about county employees parked in the "30 minute" spots reserved for courthouse visitors. I have stopped short of naming names. But SGT Laubach is an exception.

SGT Laubach's white pickup
Is this because he is a hypocrite who fails to follow the rules he is paid to enforce? Not at all. I'm naming him because his pregnancy is nothing short of a medical miracle. The world should know.

I hope I'm invited to his baby shower.

When I inquired about this, someone in the Sheriff's office told me SGT Laubach was actually in a 30-minute spot, not one of the spots reserved for pregnant people.

If that were true, it would mean Laubach is mocking the very rules he is paid to enforce. So it's pretty clear to me that SGT Laubach is in a family way.

I hope he names the baby "Little Bernie," after me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Transcript of Trump Call to Ukraine Prez

You can read it here. He did ask a foreign government to help him and his personal attorney dig up dirt on Biden and Biden's son.

NorCo Custodian - "We Are the Dogs"

Part of Northampton County's workforce consists of its custodial staff. Every County Executive I've seen, no matter what his other flaws might be, has always been good to them. Unfortunately, this attitude has failed to trickle down to an officious Deputy Sheriff. Recently some custodians were on their way to the judges' private chambers to do some cleaning. They planned to use the elevator, but were stopped by a Deputy who told them they had to wait for some judges who were coming down. He told them to stand off to the side. Now I understand that the security of judges is important. After all, the courthouse is full of criminal defendants, disgruntled litigants in domestic matters, and worst of all, politicians. But then this deputy crossed the line, and told these custodians they had to avert their eyes as the judges paraded by.

"We are the dogs," said one of them to me.

Fortunately, one of them must have told Executive Lamont McClure what had happened.

Suffice it to say this deputy has stopped demeaning custodians.

I'd like to end the story here, but the truth is that custodians are paid like animals.

I spoke to one custodian yesterday who has been with the county for 14 years and is paid $14 per hour. Another started with the county seven years ago at an hourly wage of $10.50. Now she gets $12.50 an hour.

I guess they are the dogs after all.

Northampton County Council recently adopted a responsible contractor ordinance and has prevailing wages language in all of its construction contracts. It endorsed a Tara Zrinski-sponsored Green New Deal resolution that would guarantee a $15 per hour minimum wage. It includes two business agents for trade unions. Yet they have never said a word about full-time county workers being paid less than evil Amazon has agreed to do.

This is first class hypocrisy.

No full-time county worker should be paid less than $15 per hour.

Jacko the Monkey Stars in NorCo DA Debate on PBS-39

PBS has stars like Big Bird and Kermit the Frog. As of Monday night, you can add Jacko the Monkey. He was featured prominently during the debate between Terry Houck and Tom Carroll for NorCo DA.

You can see it yourself on PBS' Facebook page.

Though Carroll was an Assistant DA in NorCo from 2005-2007, he had to resign after he had the brilliant idea of placing Jacko the Monkey on the desk of a black female assistant DA..

As you know, Jacko has posted his own op-ed here, denying any wrongdoing. In fact, he tells me he warned Carroll this would be taken the wrong way. Carroll didn't care, either because he's a bigot or an idiot.

It was funny watching him try to minimize what he did. He claimed he knew this would come up and called Sesame Street headquarters "the lion's den." Then, after some prodding, he claimed he had done it to cheer her up.

"Do you consider yourself astute and aware?" asked PBS host Monica Evans.

"At this point, you made your point," said a flustered Carroll. "I came here today to talk about the issues that are facing the District Attorney's Office ..."

Evans countered that a DA deals with a lot of different people. "If you don't understand the significance and how offensive putting a monkey on an African American's desk can be, I think that's a point to note."

Carroll then claimed, "This is an agenda driven by the left, like you do with everything else, to misdirect the issues."

At the time, Houck happened to be Carroll's boss.He said the black assistant was shaken to the core.He concluded that Carroll either displayed extraordinarily bad judgment or was a racist. Carroll was given two options - resign or be fired.

Sitting in the audience was Tom Carroll supporter Tricia Mezzacappa, who is facing trial for filing a false report with Pennsylvania State Police. She is accused of trying to frame a black male who lives across the street.

So he's got the bigot vote.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Deadly Mosquito Virus Detected in Monroe, Carbon Counties

The Pittsburgh Tribune reports that a rare and deadly virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, has been detected in Erie, Monroe and Carbon Counties. It's called eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), and has a 30% fatality rate among humans who are infected.

The infections detected so far were of pheasants, horses and a wild turkey. Fortunately, no humans.

Governor Tom Wolf recommends those outdoors to use DEET-containing insect repellents and cover exposed skin with lightweight clothing.

Symptoms of EEE appear within 3-10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, and consist of a high fever, stiff neck, headache and lack of energy. Inflammation and swelling of the brain can ensue.

In New Jersey, EEE has been detected in 13 counties, and three people have been infected.

Carroll's Upscale Campaign Signs

If you're fortunate to live or work near Broad Street in Bethlehem, your senses were no doubt assaulted yesterday morning by a garish display of Tom Carroll for DA campaign signs.

His black and white campaign signs look more like mug shots than a way to draw votes. I'd say they look like they were put together by a cub scout pack, but that would be an insult to cub scout packs everywhere.

I believe it was Jacko the monkey

Tom obviously fared poorly in his funeral fundraiser.

No union sticker.

Though I'm unsure, I see no disclaimer. This is required by our campaign finance law. As a candidate for District Attorney, he should give at least some thought to following the law.

But thinking is hardly Tom's strong suit. In a Democratic majority county, he does need some Democratic votes to win. Yet on his DA Facebook page, he recently slammed Democrats. "The Democrat Party has shown its hand with Beto saying hell yes they will take our guns," he declares, illogically assuming that the position of one person is the position of the entire party.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Problem With Instant News

In recent days, there have been hundreds of news accounts detailing claims that Donald Trump has sought the assistance of Ukraine's President in an effort to embarrass Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden over the business dealings of the latter's son in that part of the world.Trump admits this, but denies offering anything in exchange for what appears to be an illegal in-kind campaign contribution from a foreign national. Many claim that Trump has finally crossed the line, while others insist that Biden and his son are no-good crooks. Trump is doing what Quintus Tullius Cicero, younger brother of the more famous Cicero, recommended 2,000 years ago, i.e. reminding the public "of what scoundrels your opponents are." But unlike Cicero, he's doing it in a way that makes him look like the scoundrel.

The one thing I can conclude about all this with absolute certainty is that Trump must worry that Biden will be the nominee of the Democratic party.

I certainly hope so.

Can we really draw any other conclusions? Not yet.

That's the problem with instant news. Both tribes are guilty of bending or even creating facts to fit their preconceived notions.

Assuming Trump actually asked Ukraine to investigate Biden in exchange for foreign aid, that fails to fit into any of the normal bribery statutes. Bribery applies to public officials, and foreign nationals are not considered public officials for purposes of US law,evenif they are the Presidents of their own country.

Also, the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act only comes into play if it relates to an intelligence activity, not some ham-handed attempt to cajole a foreign leader to help smear a political rival.

I think we need to give this some time to develop before reaching conclusions.

Should NorCo 911 Dispatch Closest Emergency Responder?

NorCo 911 Center
On September 10, John Pequeno's Upper Nazareth home, located on the 3300 block of Rising Sun Court, was destroyed by fire. No human lives were lost, but Pequeno did lose a pup named Marshall, whom he referred to as his "fur baby." "The rest of what was lost was mostly just stuff," he said. Nine different fire departments ultimately responded. Pequeno has been so touched by their heroic efforts that he organized a fundraiser for what he calls the Rising Sun Fire Brigade. As commendable as these volunteers are, the Rising Sun inferno may very well have highlighted a major problem in the way Northampton County's 911 Center responds to fire calls.

Bath's Volunteer Fire Department is located just 1.2 miles (4 minutes) away from 3300 Rising Sun Court, an Upper Nazareth community with no public water. Despite its close proximity, Northampton County Council member Matt Dietz reports Bath Mayor Fiorella ‘Fi’ Reginelli-Mirabito told him her Borough's volunteer firefighters received no initial fire call.

In contrast to Bath, Upper Nazareth's Volunteer Fire Department is located 6.2 miles (14 minutes) away from 3300 Rising Court. This was the first department dispatched, followed by Nazareth's Vigilance Hose Co. That department is located 5.3 miles (13 minutes) away from the blaze. According to Bath Borough Manager Bradford Flynn, Palmer Tp's fire department was dispatched to the Rising Sun inferno before Bath finally received a call. Palmer Tp's fire department is 6.6 miles (12 minutes) away. 

Wouldn't it make sense to dispatch the closest fire department?

Dietz met recently with Bath firefighters, and reported to Northampton County Council at their September 19 meeting. He felt it important to note three concerns they have about the 911 Center. He adds they tried calling the 911 Center, but received no answer until some recent emails. These are their issues:

(1) Closest department should be dispatched to an emergency. - During callouts, it's only logical to dispatch the closest emergency vehicle. According to Dietz, vehicles with longer response times are instead being dispatched. He said there could be an emergency call from the west end of Pen Argyl, right next to Plainfield, and Wind Gap emergency vehicles would be sent. Dietz said 911 should consider dispatching  the station closest to the emergency, regardless of mutual aid agreements.

This sentiment is echoed in a September 18 email to Dietz from Bath Borough Manager Bradford Flynn.
"Over the past four years, I have personally witnessed or know of instances where Bath’s Fire Department or EMS Provider/Bethlehem Township EMS is not being initially dispatched to working structure/dwelling fires or life threatening ALS calls respectively within their immediate reach. This unnecessarily delays patient care, protection of property, and degrades the overall public safety mission in our area. In my opinion, the days of mutual aid agreements designed and executed by and between neighboring fire chiefs should be stream-lined through automated systems. Northampton County 911 should have the capability of using CAD systems and GPS resources to synchronize emergency incident locations, linking the location with Fire and Rescue Services to an appropriate 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Alarm, etc. protocol within a designated geographic footprint."
Mutual aid agreements among the county's municipalities need revision.

(2) Bath firefighters are missing callouts on their older radio system. - They believe this problem affects other municipalities, too.

"That's not something that we're seeing broadly and is not something that's been brought to our attention," responded Administrator Charles Dertinger. He added the 911 Center is still using both its new and an older radio console to respond to emergency calls. "The new one has not had all of the bugs knocked out of it yet," he explained.

This would mean that Bath's issue is because of their own equipment, and would have been an issue before the switch to a consolidated 911

"It's their equipment that the County programmed for them,"  countered Dietz.

He's concerned about this issue even of it only applies to Bath. "Saying it's not broad and someone dies in Bath because it's a localized issue is not a good answer," he said.

Detinger wondered why this issue is only being presented now .Dietz responded the 911 Center was contacted several times and only answered a few days ago.  Because of this lack of a response, Bath officials reached out to Dietz, their elected representative on Council.

Dertinger vowed to look into this concern.

(3) Bad Directions.  - In response to a recent cardiac arrest, 911 was dispatching emergency vehicles the wrong way because a bridge in the Bath area is out. Dietz questioned whether 911 is aware some bridges are being repaired or replaced, making alternative routes necessary.

Dietz felt it was important to alert his fellow Council members, the Administration and the public He also said he will be contacting other municipalities as well as 911.

Council member Tara Zrinski then switched the topic to the airport's escalators. "Not that 911 isn't really important," she said with what appeared to be a bit of misplaced sarcasm. "No one wants to die in Bath," she added.

"No one wants to die anywhere," countered Lori Vargo Heffner, who was filling in for an absent Ron Heckman as Council President.

"Council doesn't care that we're fixing escalators," said Dietz after the meeting,. He added they do and should care about 911, a core county function.

Friday, September 20, 2019

NorCo Council Spends 13 Minutes Discussing County Business

It was a short-handed Northampton County Council last night. Council President Ron Heckman, along with John Cusick and Bob Werner, were absent. Peg Ferraro participated by phone, so there was only a six-person quorum.

The first 15 minutes of the meeting were wasted by Tara Zrinski, who must want very badly to be a State Representative. First, she had yet another proclamation, and then paraded three people to promote a National Infrastructure Bank, which she claims is "everything we need." She also insisted on giving a speech to endorse it. Trade union reps Kevin Lott and Bill McGee also supported it. The resolution passed 5-1, with Peg Ferraro voting No.

Thankfully, there was no misinformation or fear-mongering about the Penn East Pipeline.

With 20 minutes totally wasted, Northampton County Council finally started to address county business.

It first adopted a proposal for the county to be able to hire through its own career service, as opposed to a state civil service system that has been unable to send names to fill crucial vacancies in departments like Children, Youth and Families. This was adopted 6-0,, and without the discussion that preceded a national infrastructure bank and proclamation.

Then it adopted an employee referral incentive policy for Gracedale. Employees who refer to vacant positions at Gracedale will get $250 for a RN and $100 for any other Gracedale hire. "Great idea," said Peg Ferraro, as this measure passed 6-0.

It updated by-laws for the Mental Health, Early Intervention and Developmental Programs Advisory Board.

It authorized several purchases of sensitive land.

Its final item of real business was the approval of four contracts.

County Council spent 13 minutes total on actual county business.

Then Council member Tara Zrinski wasted more time discussing what had happened at a committee meeting that had just been conducted.

Council member Matt Dietz had a legitimate county issue. He informed Council there have been some issues with the 911 transition in Bath, which sounds to me like a fairly significant county problem, especially during hurricane season.  This was discussed for a grand total of nine minutes before Zrinski switched the topic to the airport, where the escalators are fixed and more snacks are available. Liaison reports dragged on a few more minutes and the meeting mercifully ended.

This Council has misplaced its priorities.

No one attempted to kill the retroactive payraise for probation officers.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Should NorCo Float Taxable Bonds?

Most of NorCo's financing is done through tax exempt bonds. What about taxable bonds? Scott Shearer, Managing Director at PFM, pitched the idea to Northampton County Council last night.

Currently, the County has a $66 million bond series with a call date in 2022. The current interest rate is around 4.81%. Under changes to our tax law, it is impossible to refund (refinance) them with tax exempt bonds until the call date. But they can be refunded with taxable bonds and at an interest rate under three per cent. The county would save $3.2 million. The County could wait until the call date and save more or less, depending on the interest rate.

"Taxable bonds are nothing new; we've done it before to pay off the swaption," noted Council member John Cusick. He added that changes to the tax law have actually made tax exempt bonds more desirable. But Shearer countered that demand for taxable bonds is also high.

"We're not supposed to gamble with the money of the public," cautioned Council member Bob Werner.

Council member Tara Zrinski asked for a worst case scenario. Shearer said that if the County waited until 2022 to refund, it could realize greater savings than $3.2 million. He recommended that the bind ordinance be drafted in a way that the bond would be issued only if a specified savings of $3.2 million were realized.

Council will consider this possible refinancing in October.

NorCo to Consider Referral Incentives For Gracedale Hires

Exec Lamont McClure
Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure advised County Council at last night's Finance Committee meeting that he would like to offer an employee referral incentive under which county workers will be paid for referring people who are hired at Gracedale. According to Governing, these bonuses exist in 61% of the private sector, but only in 13% of the government workforce.

McClure told Council his administration is already "working mightily" to staff Gracedale. "We're standing on our heads," he remarked.

Under this program, employees who refer someone who is hired at Gracedale and who completes probation will get a bonus - $250 for an RN and $100 for all others.

Human Resources will keep track of when referral fees are due.

Northampton County already offers professional development for employees who wish to be CNAs, LPNs or RNs.     

Civil Rights Activist Marvin Boyer Tapped For NorCo Personnel Comm'n

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure has tapped Easton civil rights activist Marvin Boyer to serve on the county's Personnel Commission. This body administers the merit personnel system applicable to career service workers.

Boyer, as Political Action Chair of Easton's NAACP, is the lead organizer of the Color of Justice Committee, focused on criminal justice reform. His education forums on that topic attracted luminaries that include Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

He, along with Easton NAACP President Lance Wheeler, can often be seen at the courthouse. They have met several times with McClure in an effort to bring more diversity to the workforce and discuss issues affecting all minorities.

Boyer was also the organizer of a Black History Program at the Sigal Museum, which highlighted positive contributions made by persons of color in Easton.

He's a busy guy. He also serves on the jail's advisory board.

The smile you see on his picture is real. He is an embodiment of the words "Mercy" and "Justice" appearing on NorCo's seal.

County Council will vote on this appointment tonight.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Allentown Rescue Mission Wants Your Time or Your Money.

I have no idea what kind of winter we will have this year, but have no doubt that some of our homeless people will freeze to death. The Allentown Rescue Mission is a local charity, in existence since 1900, that feeds and shelters the homeless. It is seeking donations or your time as a volunteer. You can also help by making Amazon purchases through Amazon Smile.

The programs consist of  (1) an emergency shelter offering 72 beds for homeless men who get a voucher from Allentown Police; (2) a transformation program for men who are committed to a transition back to the community; (3) the Clean Team, which pays participants; and (4) a free medical clinic staffed by medical personnel from DeSales University. 

Real Men Wear Pink?

That's what Andy Strummer says. He's raising money to support the American Cancer Society, and explains why here.

Colonial Regional Seeks Police Officers

Colonial Regional Police Department will conduct a test for the position of police officer on Saturday October 12, 2019. Applications are available from the Colonial Regional Police Department, 248 Brodhead Road, Bethlehem, PA, 18017, by calling 610 861-4820 or online at www.colonialregionalpd.org.

Completed applications must be returned no later than 4:00 p.m. September 27, 2019. Minimum Requirements: 21 years of age on test date, High School Graduate /GED, U.S. Citizen, Valid Driver's License, Act 120 certified by 12/30/2019. Starting Salary: $57,934. Anticipated openings in 2020. EOE.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Will NorCo Council Nullify Probation Officer Payraise?

When NorCo Council last met, it decided by a 5-4 vote to make a two per cent probation officer payraise retroactive to the beginning of the year, like it was for all other nonunion workers. Executive Lamont McClure has honored Council's will, and probation officers are now receiving their retroactive pay. The four Council members who wanted to kill this payhike - Kevin Lott, Bill McGee, Lori Vargo-Heffner and Tara Zrinski - were livid. So there's been some speculation that they will try to kill the retroactive pay when Council meets again on Thursday night. This is because some of the Council members who voted to make the raise retroactive will be absent. Council President Ron Heckman and Council member John Cusick are expected to miss the meeting. Peg Ferraro, who also voted to make the raise retroactive, is in Florida.

Council will have a quorum of seven and possibly only six members. Lott, McGee, Heffner and Zrinski - the very Council members who voted against making the raise retroactive - will be the majority of a six or seven member board. Can they kill the retroactive raise?


I doubt they will pull any stunts now that the payments have started.

More importantly, the Home Rule Charter makes it difficult. In most local governments, the majority of a quorum suffices to carry the day. Not so in Northampton County.

Section 601(a) of the Charter specifically provides, "The vote of a majority of the members shall be required for the adoption of an ordinance, resolution, or budget, unless otherwise provided by this Charter."  That means five members, known in this County as the Rule of Five. If only five members are present, all five must vote together.

The only exception to this rule is a motion, which only requires a majority of the quorum. But a pay plan requires action by resolution. Moreover, any attempt to change a resolution requires an act of equal dignity, which would be a resolution.

The only way Council can reverse the retroactive payraise is by convincing one of the Council members who voted Yes to change his mind and vote No. 

As I said, that seems unlikely.   

Allentown's Queen of the Court?

When I received a news release from Allentown yesterday entitled "Queen of the Court," I at first thought Lisa Pawlowski was making a comeback. Fortunately, it was about girls' basketball.

By the time kids reach high school, most Lehigh Valley basketball players are about on the same level. But in the early years, Allentown players prevail because their programs are so good. The Queen of the Court basketball program, which is going into its 10th year and is coached by Brittni Kholi,is a prime example.

It's a free seven-week basketball fundamentals program for girls in fifth through eighth grade. They must live and attend school in Allentown.

It's held at South Mountain Middle School gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays from October 8 through November 14 from 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Pre-registration is not required. Registration forms will be available at practices. Parents are invited to attend and spectate on the bleachers.

It's about fundamentals. There are also weekly speakers.

Parents are invited to attend and spectate on the bleachers.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Be Wary of Latest Decades-Old Kavanaugh Claims

Brett Kavanaugh would hardly be my first choice as a Supreme Court Justice. But that's no justification for smearing him with decade-old attacks that can neither be proved nor disproved. He was greeted with a Salem witch hunt during his confirmation hearings. Now, several Democratic hopefuls are calling for his impeachment based on what two New York Times reporters now claim.

They both just happen to be publishing a book about their "new" investigation into old facts, which by itself is cause for concern. They clearly have a financial interest and, for that reason alone, their employer should have thought twice.

Their story portrays Kavanaugh as some drunken frat boy who liked to prance around with his pants half way down, thrusting his peeper into the faces of innocent co-eds. In addition to Debbie Ramirez' claim that she had to slap away Kavanaugh's baloney pony, these booksellers report another party at which the Associate Justice was supposedly brandishing his pork sword. 

Unlike the liberal New York Times, the National Review is a conservative publication. It has been highly critical of Donald Trump, but its bias leans right. Their analysis concludes that the supposed Kavanaugh bombshell is actually a dud, and for the following reasons.

* The person who claims that Kavanaugh was a flame cannon flasher never actually spoke, on the record, to these reporters. "We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier," they claim. I see.

* The woman who was supposedly flashed denies any memory of the incident. These "journalists" fail to report this rather salient detail.

* These supposed reporters portray Kavanaugh as a privileged white boy while Ramirez had to suffer with hardships like an above-ground swimming pool.

* Ramirez' named eyewitnesses deny the allegation, and she herself was unsure whether it was actually Kavanaugh's crank.

* The story fails to name a single first-hand witness to corroborate the allegation.

Notwithstanding this dearth of detail, the following Democratic presidential pretenders are calling for Kavanaugh's impeachment: Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Beto O'Rourke and Pete Buttigieg.

Bernie Sanders supports the use of the "appropriate constitutional mechanism," whatever that means.

Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar would more fairly support an investigation into the latest claims, which have been denied by Kavanaugh.

Friday, September 13, 2019

NorCo Probation Officers Get Retroactive Raise

NorCo Council, at their last meeting, decided by a 5-4 vote to make a two per cent probation officer payraise retroactive to the beginning of the year, like it was for all other nonunion workers. There had been some speculation that Executive Lamont McClure would ignore what is, after all, a nonbinding resolution. He has honored Council's will, which promotes fairness to all workers, union and nonunion.

The four Council members who argued that probation officers would just have to wait until next year were spearheaded by two Council members who just happen to be trade union agents - Kevin Lott and Bill McGee.

Bill McGee (L) and Kevin Lott (R)
They complained about the $70,000 cost, but a responsible contractor ordinance McGee promoted (and one with which I agree) will be far more costly.

Lott and McGee were joined in giving probation officers a thumbs down by Tara Zrinski and Lori Vargo Heffner.

Tara Zrinski (L) and Lori Vargo Heffner (R)
Zrinski is running for State Rep. against Marcia Hahn and is obviously looking for union handouts. Vargo-Heffner told another Council member that probation officers make more money than she does. 

Winners and Losers in Dem Debate #3

These are my takeaways. What are yours?


Joe Biden - He handled himself well, got a little feisty and stood up to several attempts to trip him. He attacked ideas, but also praised other candidates. He was the only candidate on the stage who enunciated the real problem with China, which is that nation's theft of intellectual property. as opposed to a trade deficit.

Amy Klobuchar - She had a great comeback when Bernie Sanders bragged about having written the Medicare for All plan. "Bernie wrote the bill; I read the bill," she said. She pointed out that under Sanders' Medicare for All plan, 149 million Americans would suddenly have no insurance. "I don't think that's a bold idea; that's a bad idea."

Elizabeth Warren - She excelled in the first two debates and last night was no exception. Though I consider her views too extreme,she has a folksy way of presenting them and is very likable. 


Julian Castro - He mounted several attacks at Biden and looked mean-spirited and vindictive while doing so. He drew a few boos when he implied Biden had become forgetful. Moreover,he was incorrect when he accused Biden of having contradicted himself..

Bernie Sanders - Though he is a champion of many progressive ideas, he really looked rough compared to Biden and Warren. I never noticed this before, but he has cRaZy eyes.

Andrew Yang - Someone should remind him it's illegal to buy votes.

Protesters. - No one could hear what they were saying. 

NorCo Breaks Ground on Forensic Center

L to R: Tara Zrinski, Kevin Lott, Lamont McClure, Lori Vargo-Heffner, Ron Heckman and Bill McGee 
Exec Lamont McClure
Northampton County broke ground on its first real forensic center yesterday. The facility will be located at the Gracedale campus, next to the 911 Center. Currently, Coroner Zach Lysek has no morgue and operates out of a small office at Louise Moore Park.

Executive Lamont McClure credited Northampton County Council for funding the project. "For nearly 30 years, county councils have rhetorically called for building a forensics center, but have never put their money were their mouth was,” he said. He also heaped praise on Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron for coming up with a way to finance the facility in a way that reduces debt payments.

The forensic center, which has a budget of $11 million, is slated for completion by August 2020. It includes the following features:

* Family reception and private meeting rooms.

* Two autopsy rooms with a viewing area for law enforcement and medical school students.

* Digital forensic lab.

* Offices for Coroner's staff.

* Five-bay garage with receiving and storage area.

* Solar panels.

* Capacity for future expansion.

* Secure lockers to preserve chain of custody for evidence and personal effects.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

O'Connell Makes Excellent Pick for Allentown Police Chef

Mayor Ray O'Connell made a good pick for interim police chief yesterday, Captain Glenn Granitz. He lives in the city, close to William Allen High School, and attended Allentown's schools as well. A nice crowd attended his appointment even though it was in the middle of the working day. He clearly has the public's support.

Chief Granitz thanked everyone who came and told O'Connell that, though the Mayor may have done an extensive search, "There's a little one here who thinks she could be Chief."

He was referring to his four year-old daughter.

Granitz is second generation APD. His father, a retired officer, was there.

"We have the same concerns," he told the crowd.

His expectation for his fellow officers? "To work," he said. He acknowledged "it has been a difficult summer," adding that many of his officers are putting in extra hours.

"Our goal as the APD is to fight back against violent crime," he pledged. "The current level of violence and the fear it has created is quite simply unacceptable. We've endured a difficult and heart-wrenching year." He noted that he had a personal relationship with the first homicide victim of this year, including his cell phone. He promised to keep that number until the case is resolved.

He told everyone to expect increased communication via media and social media, a commitment to a neighborhood community policing program, a pilot program to address gun violence in neighborhoods that need it the most, attendance at community watch meetings and expanding the city's relationship with other law enforcement agencies.

"This will take time, hard work and effort from each and every one of us. I, for one, am ready for this challenge. I am asking you to stand alongside me as I am prepared to stand alongside each and every one of you."

Blogger's Note: I was unable to attend this appointment and am relying on video from social media.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Allentown to Name "Interim" Police Chief Today

According to a one sentence advisory, Mayor Ray O'Connell is going to name an "interim" police chief today. Its most recent "interim" police chief, Tony Alsleben, resigned September 6 in the wake of an unusually large number of shootings in Allentown this summer.

He's been scapegoated. Although police morale has suffered under his leadership, the simple reality is the United States leads the developed world in gun violence.

The knee-jerk reaction to gun violence is gun control. But a City like Allentown has no authority ti adopt gun control measures, at least none that would withstand a court challenge.

A possible solution, and one I'm sure Allentown police are already considering or implementing, is a focused deterrence strategy like Boston's Operation Cease Fire, which focuses on hot spots, chronic offenders and gangs.

Hanover Tp Will Remember 9/11, How 'Bout You?

Please join Hanover Township for our Annual Patriot Day Program and Flag Retirement Ceremony.

This years speaker is Jason Harrar. Jason is a combat veteran and also works with an organization called Tails of Valor. Tails of Valor rescues dogs from shelters, train them as service animals, and pair them with a veteran in need. Families can also have a service dog named after their fallen loved one so that their name can live on.

Wednesday, September 11th @ 6:30 p.m.
Hanover Township Community Center
3660 Jacksonville Road
Bethlehem, PA 18017

I have looked at the Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton webpages and see no notices of any remembrance of this tragic day. If you are aware of any, please note it in a comment. I do know that Bethlehem police and firefighters get together that day for a friendly softball game to demonstrate that life goes on in spite of what happened.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Absentee Ballots Available Online, Starting Monday

Beginning Monday, you will be able to apply for absentee ballots online. Though the application is currently unavailable, it will be ready on Monday and can be found here.

While this adds some convenience for those unable to make it to the polls, there's still a very tight and inflexible deadline for absentee ballots. Under current law, they must be received by the county elections office no later than the Friday before the election. If they come in later, they are ignored.

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a bill that expanded absentee ballot deadlines and even provided badly needed money for the new voting machines, but Governor Tom Wolf vetoed it because it also eliminated straight-party voting.

In the House, only four Democrats supported this measure, none of them from the Lehigh Valley. In the Senate, Lisa Boscola was one of three Democrats to vote yes.

Easton Area Community Center - Where God's Work is Done

Last Wednesday, I spent part of the day demonstrating the new ExpressVote XL voting machine at Easton Area Community Center, (EACC) once known as St. Anthony's. I thought it was basically an after school center for West Ward kids. I was wrong. It's actually a jewel in the rough, a community center run by dedicated people who serve everyone. They do God's work. They've been doing it, and with little recognition, for the past 67 years.

When I first walked in, I was a bit astonished to see about 20 seniors there. Some were sewing, others playing bingo. There was even a yoga class, which I joined until I was caught by someone with the county, who said I was scaring everyone away. The seniors were assisted by two very nice ladies named Midge and Gladys.

Get this. Their day starts at 8:30 am with the seniors. Around 2:00 pm, they get two hours off, but have to be back to assist the schoolchildren who start arriving at 4 pm. They often just stay there and clean up while waiting for the kids. They are very dedicated and seem to love their jobs.

At close to noon, all the seniors were all treated to a free lunch that consisted of a veggie burger, fries and veggies. These are served up by Food Director Derek, who told me he prepares 50,000 meals a year. These include dinner and a snack for the after-school kids, as well as holiday dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fathers Day and Mother's Day.

I also met Program Director Elizabeth Reyes. "It's real blessing working here," she told me. She started as a social worker with the Salvation Army, and worked there as a volunteer for six months before she began getting paid. For the past two years, she's been at EACC.

Elizabeth loves the children. "Some of them call me mom," she beamed, and showed me that her nails had been done by one of her girls.

She took me on a tour of a three-story building that has certainly seen better days.

The second floor is a basketball court with wooden floors. They host 10 teams.

The third floor is a gigantic wresting room. Though the ceiling is falling in, it boasts the oldest wrestling team in the country.

There are numerous programs for kids and seniors alike: sewing class; cooking class; computer labs; field trips to places like the State Theatre; cops'n kids, to name a few.

Elizabeth told me EACC could use a few things, which I'll list: old sewing machines; basketballs; cardboard boxes for plays; old computers and laptops (they have five); cooking utensils for the cooking class; a copy machine; and household items (awarded as prizes in bingo games). You can drop these items off at 901 Washington Street in Easton.

Instead of awarding $20,000 to restore a church steeple, I'm sure that Northampton County could and should find a little more money for this pearl, located only two blocks from the courthouse.

Monday, September 09, 2019

William Allen 2-1 in Football?

In a very hopeful sign, William Allen's football program is off to a 2-1 start. They were defeated at home by Emmaus, but have chalked up two wins on the road against Pleasant Valley and East Stroudsburg North. The Canaries always have had an outstanding basketball program, but the football program has struggled.

Part of the reason for this might be Mel Thomas, a University of Colorado standout who made the Philadelphia Eagles roster in 1998. He's joined the coaching staff.

Of course, the main reason is the kids.

State Rejects Challenge to ExpressVote XL From Paper Ballot Purists

The ExpressVote XL with male model 
Under Pennsylvania's Election Code, ten or more citizens have the right to challenge the Department of State's certification of a voting system. That's exactly what happened to the ExpressVote XL voting system, a hybrid that combines a voter-verified paper trail with the simplicity of a touch screen. This system was certified by both the federal and state governments in November 2018. Eight months later, a consortium of paper ballot purists filed a challenge, which triggered an automatic re-examination. This was conducted,off-site, in August. On September 3, the Department of State rejected the challenge (read report here) and has maintained its certification.

This petition for re-examination was signed by 200 citizens in "Free Speech for People," "National Election Defense Coalition," and  "Citizens For Better Elections." With a full quiver, they launched 10 separate attacks on the ExpressVote XL in the vain hope that at least one of them might hit its intended target. They missed.

Seven of these arrows were batted away because "they amount to purely legal arguments which do not apply to the reexamination or certification of an electronic voting system."

The first argument considered is that it's possible to tamper with the machine. I suppose it's possible to tamper with any voting system, but independent examiners were unable to do so after two days of testing.

Second, paper ballot purists complained that the paper ballots cast into a secured black box are in chronological order, making it possible to determine how someone voted. This was rejected because the votes go into a sealed black box that is never seen by poll workers. Also, when the ballot boxes are returned, the paper ballots are commingled by the county elections office before the canvas (official count).

Third, if a voter decides he is unhappy with his paper ballot, he can "quit" and ask for a new ballot. Because an elections worker must retrieve the spoiled ballot, these "better elections" people complain a poll worker might see the spoiled ballot. Well, they might see a spoiled paper ballot, too. Moreover, the ballot is located on the far right side of the machine and is very difficult to review unless a concerted effort is made. Moreover, it's a spoiled ballot that goes right into a spoiled ballot envelope, not the actual vote  So there's no privacy violation.

These "better election" groups are naturally still complaining, but the company that makes the ExpressVote XL feels vindicated.

""We appreciate that the DOS conducted its due diligence and we respect the right of anyone who wants to ask questions and learn more about our voting machines," said Election Systems and Software VP Steve Pearson. "Many counties throughout the Commonwealth have already been experiencing positive results with demonstrations and trainings. We look forward to working with all counties utilizing our systems and ensuring that they have the tools necessary for proper education and outreach."

This system worked flawlessly in Warren County in November and in Delaware in May.

"Accessible and secure elections are our goal in Northampton County, and we have a system that’s passed the test twice!" said NorCo Exec Lamont McClure.

Friday, September 06, 2019

NorCo Council Reverses Itself on Payraise For Nonunion Probation Officers.

Northampton County Council reversed itself last night on a payraise for the county's probation officers. All nonunion workers received a two percent payhike at the beginning of the year, but probation officers were in limbo because they were in the middle of decertifying their union. That happened in late January, and it took county administrators until late July to come up with a payscale, identical to the old payscale, along with the two per cent increase. Probation officers wanted it made retroactive to the beginning of the year, like the rest of the county's nonunion workforce. Though Council voted for the increase, they refused to make it retroactive.

This error was rectified last night. Matt Dietz, who had been absent the night of the increase, revisited the issue and proposed making it retroactive.

Voting to do so were Dietz, Peg Ferraro, Ron Heckman, John Cusick and Bob Werner.

Council members Kevin Lott and Bill McGee, both of whom are union agents, voted No. Their vote was clearly retaliation for leaving the union. Joining them were Tara Zrinski and Lori Vargo Heffner.

While punishing workers who have left the union, these union agents have turned a deaf ear to complaints made by union workers at the jail, Gracedale and 911. It appears the only union workers they like ate their own - trade unions.

NorCo Council Wants to Know Who Dared Leak Sacrosanct Council Email

Earlier this week, I exposed a blatant attempt to pull a fast one by NorCo Council member Bob Werner and Rev. Mike Dowd, a former NorCo Council President. Last year, NorCo Council shelved a proposed $20,000 grant to restore the church steeple at Easton's UCC, where Dowd is Pastor. Though the award was never funded, the money still sits on county coffers. So Dowd came up with a new way to get his hands on this dough. He proposed awarding that grant to the Greater Easton Development Corp. (GEDC) and removing the church's name. This way, GEDP could find $20,000 for the steeple. Now you might think most members of Council would be outraged at this attempted money laundering. You'd be wrong. Instead, they wanted to know who dared leak that email to me.

Council's $100k per year Clerk, Linda Zembo, gave this report:

"There was on Bernie's blog an email I sent to ... certain people that somehow was leaked from his blog. In my email, it does say at the bottom that any transmissions was prohibited because it contained confidential information. I received an email from Mike Dowd. I forwarded it to some people.Then somehow it got on Bernie's blog. I did not release it. ..."

Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni admitted he read the blog, adding it "says something about my lifestyle."

"By the way, we're talking about Lehigh Valley Ramblings," said an amused Council President Ron Heckman.

"Do we really have to talk about this and give it any more steam than it needed?" asked Council member Tara Zrinski.

A few points.

First, and contrary to what $100k per year Council Clerk Linda Zembo asserted, I only published the email that Dowd had sent. Last time I checked, he's not on Council.

Second, any email or communication concerning the disposition of county funds is public information. Especially if it involves possible money laundering. You can mark it "confidential" all you want and I will still publish it.

Third, Council's $100k per year Clerk is a little nutty when it comes to marking things confidential. Even Council meeting agendas,which are about as public as you get, are marked "confidential" in emails.

Finally, I never reveal sources, but just this once, I will.

God gave it to me.

He appeared to me in the Recorder of Deeds

"My Temple will be called a house of prayer, but Rev. Dowd has turned it into a den of thieves,” he boomed.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Meth Found in NorCo's Historic Courtroom 1

Faces of Meth
Northampton County's majestic Courtroom No.1, in existence since 1861, is the venue where officials are sworn into office and immigrants are naturalized. Portraits of long dead judges adorn the walls in a cavernous room with a high ceiling that reaches to the heavens. The centerpiece is the judges' bench, raised above everyone else. It's a place that inspires awe. It's also where a deputy sheriff recently discovered a envelope containing meth.

It's possible to keep a secret in Northampton County, but never for very long. I first heard yesterday that meth had been discovered in the well of Courtroom No. 1, near the jury box. The only people who sit there are lawyers and an occasional probation officer. I contacted Sheriff Richard Johnston to find out if what I had been told is rumor. It is unfortunately true. It is even more unfortunate that there's been no real investigation.

August 8 was arraignment day in Northampton County. On that day, many criminal defendants walk into the courtroom, but are directed alongside one side of the room to the benches behind the well of the court. Inside that well, and on the opposite side of where the public enter and exit, is the jury box. Attorneys sit there. The public is barred from the well and especially the jury box

Before arraignments got underway on August 8, "Boomer" (a K-9 with the Sheriff's office) and a Deputy searched the area for explosives and found nothing. According to the Sheriff, they also looked for contraband, although Boomer has no training yet in drug detection. This was at 7:45 am.

After the morning arraignments, Courtroom 1 was searched again at 12:45 am. This is when a Deputy observed a small glassine envelope containing a clear glassy substance, along with a pack of rolling papers. This was near the jury box, where only attorneys and an occasional probation officer sit.

The Sheriff's Department reviewed a video of the area and was unable to pinpoint anything conclusive because of the location and pedestrian traffic in that area, which gets heavy as numerous lawyers move around.

The substance was field-tested and determined to be methamphetamine.

According to the Sheriff, the DA's office was informed "of the circumstances and the lack of a suspect" and then the suspected meth was destroyed.

This was news to the actual DA, who knew nothing about the incident.

I believe there are suspects and they consist of every lawyer who was in the well of the court that day, particularly those who were in the jury box. I am even told that some lawyers can name the lawyer who dropped his meth bag. An investigation is difficult now because the meth has been destroyed. What's unfortunate is that a local lawyer using meth is a problem, both to his clients and himself. What the Sheriff's office did just enabled a probable addict.

Mezzacappa Responsible For Half of OOR's NorCo Caseload

Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records is the state agency deciding appeals of Right-to-Know Law denials. In Northampton County, this office has decided 25 cases this year, as of today. Of these, 13 were brought by Tricia Mezzacappa. She alone is responsible for over half of this state agency's caseload in NorCo. She has challenged decisions by Colonial Regional Police Department, Northampton County, West Easton Borough, Tatamy Volunteer Fire Department, Nancy Run Volunteer Fire Co and Colonial Intermediate Unit 20.

Of Mezzacappa's 13 appeals, she has outright won two and received partial relief in another two. The rest were dismissed