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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, October 31, 2019

NorCo Council: Why I Will Vote For John Cusick

Northampton County Council District 3 is a big chunk if the middle and southern portions of the county. It includes Williams, Lower Saucon, Bethlehem, Lower Nazareth, East Allen and Allen Townships. It also contains Nazareth, North Catasauqua and Northampton Boroughs. It is represented by algebra teacher and Williams Tp resident John Cusick, who has 12 years of service combined. Heis being challenged by Luke Verdes, who works for a consulting firm assisting nonprofits. I will be voting for Cusick. The reason is quite simple. Cusick asked. Verdes did not.

I live in this District so I pay attention to Cusick. He is Council's most knowledgeable member, next to Ron Heckman. He comes to nearly every meeting, is always well prepared and has been a very effective check on Executive Lamont McClure. He is something of a wonk, loves to attend County Comm'r Association meetings and understands county issues thoroughly. And he asked for my vote.

Though I am a Democrat, I have heard nothing from Luke Verdes, the man who wants to represent me. I've never seen him at a meeting, although I confess I would not know him if he did because he never bothered to introduce himself.

If he wants to screw me on Council, I expect at least some kind of courtship. Cusick sent me a mailer. Verdes sent me nothing.

To make matters worse, Verdes is running on issues that have nothing to do with county government. Abortion, labor law, gun reform laws and our environment are the domain of the state and federal government. If Verdes is interested in those natters, he should run for the state legislature or Congress.

We already have one Council member who distracts us at every meeting with non-county issues.

County government provides human services and has numerous contracts with nonprofits. I worry that Verdes, a consultant for nonprofits, will use his position on Council to advance the nonprofits he represents.

Jeff Warren A Bad Choice For Hanover Tp

Once upon a time, people who ran for local office would first spend years in their community doing volunteer work. They were true volunteers, and brought that spirit with them when they became public servants. They were involved in their community, and you could see and talk to them at Fall Festivals and National Nights Out. Two such people are John Diacogiannis and Steve Salvesen, who are seeking re-election to their seats in Hanover Township. Unfortunately, there's also a new breed of politician who have no sense of community. These people are driven by nothing more than raw political ambition. One such person is Jeff Warren. He's running against these true public servants.

Warren is a former legislative aide to State Senator Lisa Boscola. It appears that his specialty was drinking. In addition to being charged by Washington, D.C. police, he was cited again in 2010 after being stopped by Hellertown police with a 0.18 blood alcohol content. He was admitted into a special program for first offenders because his records at the U.S. Capital mysteriously vanished.

At the time of the Hellertown charges, Warren was a member of Easton City Council. When a police detective was charged with drunken driving, Warren argued public servants need to be held to a higher standard. He never applied that logic to himself.

Incidentally, he bought his seat on Easton City Council. When he ran in 2007, he raised more money than all other candidates, including even the mayoral hopefuls Sal Panto and Mike Fleck. Only $300 of the money he raised came from actual Easton residents. The rest was from developers and other special interests. He spent $14.90 per vote compared to 8 cents by Ken Brown.

When he left Easton City Council in 2014, he went to work for one of those special interests, Gilmore and Ass'ts Engineering. He lasted there for three years.

Now he's a political consultant and also does podcasts about Philly sports.

He's treating his race for Hanover Townshiip Supervisor as though he's running for Congress, getting endorsements from NorCo Exec Lamont McClure and, of course, the Lehigh Valley Labor Council.

He has complained about potholes in Hanover Township,which prompted Township Manager Jay Finnigan to ask where they are. He also wants lower taxes in a township that has held the line on tax increases for 13 years straight. He claims to be a long-time resident, but has only lived in the Township for five years.

He shot a video on primary day from inside the polling place at Asa Packer Elementary, which is illegal.

He is allied with a group interested in building several three-story apartment buildings in Hanover Tp.

Finally, after he announced, he was slapped with a municipal lien on March 28 for $642.50 by Hanover Tp. (2019-ML-2635). This was quickly paid off, but is yet another indication he cares little about the community he claims to want to serve.

Why I Will Vote For Tony Bassil

Democrat Tony Bassil and Republican Hayden Phillips are both running for NorCo Controller. I'll be voting for Tony. Let me explain why.

I got to know Hayden Phillips during his tenure on NorCo Council. He was hard-working and dedicated. Even more important, he was independent-minded. He was perfectly willing to take on Executive John Brown. So though he lacks the financial expertise that Bassil has, I'd be tempted to vote for him.

What has turned me off is his continued association with the GOP's DA candidate, Tom Carroll, who hates Democrats, is divisive and a racist. There are several photos of the two together on Carroll's Facebook page. Other GOP candidates have wisely treated Carroll like the pariah he is.

I will vote for the man who came to this country with pennies in his pocket and became a successful businessman.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

I Finally Hit My Goal, Dropped 125 lbs


Northampton County has a Department of Weights and Measures. This story is about my weights and measures. I finally did it. I started in July 2018, and as of October 25, 2019, have reached my goal weight of 170 lbs. In the pic on the left, I weighed in at 295. I dropped 125 lbs over the course of 15 months. I posted about this once before, when I was at the halfway mark. I want to thank all the people who encouraged me along the way. You have been very supportive.

What got me started was a tiny Jackapoo (half Jack Russell and half toy poodle) named Suki. She's the Captain Danger of designer dogs. When she is at my grandson's house, she mostly acts like a toy poodle and even refuses to go out in the rain. When I have her, the Jack Russell comes out, and she is the Terror of Terriers. I have to walk her incessantly. I have had to give her several skunk baths over the years. In July of last year, I spent a few days dog sitting and she got me motivated again.

She was quite disgusted with me, which she would make clear as I struggled to keep up with her.

Gradually, I cut out the junk food and replaced it with more healthy choices. I also limited my caloric intake. I try to consume my calories for the day within an eight-hour window. With rare exceptions, I stop eating by 8 pm. Using an app called "MyFitnesPal," I have been able to keep track of exactly what I eat, and with a fairly accurate count.

I start the day with a capful Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar, mixed with 16 ounces of water. I continue drinking water all day, trying to consume 80 ounces.

Initially, I was just walking, but at my weight, it was becoming very painful in my hips. So I used a machine called the Arc Trainer, which burns a shitload of calories in far less time and is very gentle on the joints. As time has gone by, I can walk again, and at a brisk pace. I'm uncertain whether I'll be able to return to running. I try to burn 500 calories a day. I try to get it in every day unless I am sore or sick.

I began lifting weights in September 2018, and that has been the biggest surprise. I spend one day doing upper body, one day doing legs and one day doing nothing. If I am sore, I will rest extra days. I am still unable to do a single unassisted pull-up or chin-up, but can bang out 43 push-ups.

This exercise has made me much stronger than when I was running 26.2 mile marathons in my younger years. Over last winter, I did a header on black ice, landing on the back of my head and ass. I was uninjured, but think I would have had broken bones had I not been exercising.

Have I relapsed? Yes, and as recently as Saturday. But these binge fests have become less common, and after Saturday, I was so sick I doubt I will ever binge again.

As things stand, I am still at the high end of what is considered normal, but will take it.

My worry is that I will return to my evil ways, as I have always done. I'm like a yo-yo when it comes to weight, and marvel at those of you who can maintain the same weight for decades. To me, maintaining is much harder than losing.

To those of you who still like to taunt me about my weight, keep it up. It motivates me.

Unfortunately, I'm still ugly.

Once again, thanks to the many people who said such nice things as I struggled.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

LV LWV Voter Guide Contains Serious Error

(You can actually vote for two)
Twice a year, in advance of the primary and general election, the Lehigh Valley League of Women Voters produces a Voter Guide. The latest edition appeared in The Morning Call on October 24. It includes a serious error concerning Northampton County's judicial race.

Three candidates - Abe Kassis, John Morganelli and Vic Scomillio - are vying for one of two open seats. The guide (page 10) mistakenly instructs voters they can only select one of the candidates. Voters actually have two choices.

Although the League of Women Voters does a great service to the Lehigh Valley, I think the organization has an obligation to inform voters of their error, especially on their own website. I am unaware whether The Morning Call has noted and corrected this error. If it has not done so, now would be a good time to remind NorCo voters they can vote for two of the three candidates. 

According to NorCo GOP Chair Lee Snover, several of the down-ballot Republicans received no questionnaires. My guess is this is also the case with several Democrats. "I don't think the League is dependable anymore," she states, and with some justification.

This year, the League failed to host a single candidates' night for county candidates. In fairness, this is a collection of volunteers.


Nurses Give Gracedale Black Eye

I must admit I had a tough time believing this. One reason Gracedale has always stood out is because many of its employees really care about the residents. They take them shopping. They sometimes bring them home for holidays. After these workers retire, they often come back as volunteers. Though the pay is low and turnover is a problem, there is a core of workers who really care. Having said that, there are also some nurses who have disgraced both themselves and Northampton County who have made a mockery of the Nightingale Pledge. Let me tell you the story.

One of the biggest problems at any nursing home is bed sores. Bed-ridden residents tend to develop them, and they require attention. One resident, whom I understand is a difficult person to begin with, has this problem. On August 10, he was treated with a pressure dressing, which is common.

What is uncommon, and frankly inexcusable, is that this resident's dressing went unchanged until September 7, nearly a month later. During this time, as many as 14 nurses falsely claimed to have changed it.

This possible criminal negligence was caught by Gracedale's Risk Manager. The dressing had to be double-bagged because it stunk so horribly.

The resident was immediately placed on antibiotics. Fortunately, he needed no additional medical treatment.

When I first heard this story, I declined to write about it because it seemed so contrary to everything I know abut Gracedale. So I contacted county officials, who looked into the matter.

Unfortunately, it's true.

Once made aware of the situation, county officials undertook a thorough investigation.

The first question is why this matter was never reported to the Department of Health. The Risk Manager, who discovered this matter, said there was no need to contact state officials because the resident required no hospitalization. I understand that Executive Lamont McClure, unhappy with this answer, reported it anyway. He was willing to see Gracedale's ratings drop rather than be dishonest. He learned that the Risk Manager was correct. The state Department of Health declined an investigation because there was no need to hospitalize the resident.

The second question is how the County responded to this gross dereliction of duty. This is what I've learned:

* Six of the nurses who falsely claimed to have changed the pressure dressing were "agency" nurses, not Gracedale employees. They are brought in from the outside to make up for manpower shortages. They have been banned from Gracedale.

* Two Gracedale nurses who falsely claimed to have changed pressure dressings resigned after being told they would be terminated.

* One Gracedale nurse of lesser culpability was suspended without pay for five days, and others have received reprimands.

Gracedale's Administrator, Jennifer Stewart King, released this statement:
The rebound to the census at Gracedale, as well as the improved quality ratings, demonstrate that the majority of the staff do their work with consummate professionalism. However, from time to time, there are some instances where individuals do not always fully complete the job they are supposed to do. That is unacceptable.
I agree, and believe this should also be referred to the state licensure board and District Attorney's office.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Out of Action

Sorry, folks. I had a sudden bout of nausea yesterday. Fortunately, I feel better, but will rest a day before blogging.

Friday, October 25, 2019

NorCo Receives $342k For $2.9 M Voting System

Secy of State Kathy Boockvar (left) presents to Exec Lamont
McClure and Council VP Lori Vargo-Heffner
Pennsylvania's Acting Secretary of State, Kathy Boockvar, visited Northampton County on Thursday to present a $341,970 check to help pay for the $2.9 million Express Vote XL voting system approved by County Council in May. The County intends to use this system, which combines a 32" touch screen with a voter-verifiable paper trail, in November's election.

This purchase was an unfunded mandate. Last year, Pennsylvania’s Department of State directed all 67 counties to select new voting systems with a voter verifiable paper trail, making post-election audits more accurate. They must be in place before the 2020 primary. Though the statewide cost of this change is estimated at $125 million to $150 million, the state has yet to provide most of the funding. In fact, the $341,970 check delivered to Northampton County on Thursday comes mostly from a federal grant awarded to the states last year.

Sec'y of State Kathy Boockvar casts write-in vote for
Exec Lamont McClure on Express Vote XL.
The state legislature tried to help the counties. In July, the General Assembly passed a bill to reimburse counties for at least 60% of the actual cost of these new voting systems.

Governor Tom Wolf vetoed the measure because it also eliminated straight-ticket voting.

After this setback, Governor Wolf proposed floating a bond for new voting systems through the state's Economic Development Financing Authority (PEDFA). But Republicans argue the Governor lacks constitutional authority to borrow or spend money without approval from the General Assembly. Moreover, PEDFA bylaws prohibit borrowing on behalf of state departments without approval from the legislature.

Sec'y of State Kathy Boockvar meets a few
election judges 
Acting Secretary Boockvar still held out hope for a PEDFA bond on Thursday, but Governor Wolf appears to have reversed himself. He is now willing to support a bill nearly identical to the measure he vetoed in July. His spokesperson said that, despite opposition from many Democrats over the elimination of straight-party voting, the governor now views the amended bill as a compromise.

So far, 52 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties have taken steps toward selecting a new voting system. Northampton and Lehigh Counties are two of 46 counties ready to use these new systems in November.

Boockvar said Northampton County's Express Vote XL is one of seven systems certified at both the state and federal levels. She added that Pennsylvania's certification process is even more rigorous than the federal review.

Executive Lamont McClure put it more simply.

"Your vote will be counted," he said.

In addition to a paper trail for every ballot, the Express Vote XL has been lauded for its accessibility by organizations like the Pennsylvania Council for the Blind.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

NorCo's Nalaxone Supply Exhausted

Bethlehem's Health Bureau, which distributes nalaxone to police departments throughout Northampton County, today confirmed the cupboard is bare. Health officials state they ordered a fresh supply in September, but are still waiting to receive kits from the state.

Nalaxone is used by police and other first responders to treat opioid overdose victims, and is credited with having saved lives.

Although some police departments still have kits, about five are completely out.

Coroner Zach Lysek "Very Excited" About New Forensic Center

Coroner Zach Lysek is "very excited"
Last night, Northampton County Council conducted the second of several budget hearings to discuss Executive Lamont McClure's spending plan for next year in several county departments. "I just hope the jail's OK because, if all else fails, that's my retirement plan," quipped Council President Ron Heckman before the meeting got underway. According to Corrections Director James Kostra, it is. He reported there is only one vacancy among corrections officers at this time. An astonished John Cusick said this was a first for him in his 12 years on Council.

District Attorney John Morganelli presented his last budget from his 28 years as the county's top prosecutor. It is one that completely fulfills a promise he made in his first campaign, when he said the office needed to transition to an office of full-time prosecutors.

When he was first elected, there were nine full-time and two part-time  prosecutors.Even the District Attorney was a part-time office. Now the District Attorney is a full-time position, and 19 of his 21 assistants are full-time. If his proposed budget is approved, the office will have 21 full-time prosecutors.  His final two part-timers, John Obrecht and Richard Pepper, will resign at the end of the year.

Morganelli told Council that he has accomplished everything he set out to do, but now the office needs "a new set of eyes." He hopes he has laid a "good foundation" for his successor.The next DA will deal with "changing technology," extending from cell phones to the body cameras police officers now wear.

He was extremely complimentary of the Regional Crime Center started by Lehigh County DA Jim Martin, along with the forensic center at DeSales University. "In today's world, in almost every crime,we take someone's cell phone or computer,." he noted.

Speaking of forensic centers, Coroner Zach Lysek's forensic center is on target to be operational by September, 2020. He was before Council, too, to justify his budget.

"Be polite," Council President Ron Heckman warned his colleagues. "He takes the pictures when it's all over."

Though Lysek looked like he's ready for a body bag himself, he claimed to be "very excited."

Lysek stressed the importance of digital forensics in explaining the cause or manner of death. In fact, it is his one work that helped Colonial Regional police discover what happened when a Lower Nazareth woman suffering died in 2017 after ingesting what she thought was Percocet, but what was actually a combination of heroin and fentanyl. Lysek was able to analyze cellphone records and find the dealer. 

Lysek said the new forensic center will be "cutting edge technology," and he plans to work together with DeSales. But over time, the money spent on DeSales will decrease.

He also said radiology and patholgy residents from local hospitals will be welcome. This will generate no revenue, but Lysek said it is "good for society."

Sheriff Rich Johnston also presented his budget. In it, he takes aim at a county-wide problem - salary compression. Very few sergeants are willing take the leap to Lieutenant because, without overtime, they make less money. He has proposed increases. This is a signal, at least to me, that Executive Lamont McClure is approaching this problem incrementally, department by department.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Hanover Tp - No Tax Hike in 2020

From Hanover Tp - NorCo: Hanover  Township's  Board of Supervisors  unveiled  the 2020  Township  Budget,  which  maintains  the  mill  rate  at  3.9  including  a  .5  Fire  Tax.   

The  Township mill  rate  has  been  3.9  since  2008,  making 2020  the 13th year  without  a  tax  increase  in  Hanover Township.

Significant items in the 2020 Budget include the  following:

  The  funding  of  two  (2)  additional  police  officers.    The  Colonial  Regional  Police  Department will  now be  staffed  with  twenty-five  (25)  sworn officer.
  Two  (2)  2020  Chevrolet  Silverado  3500HD  4  WD  Crew  Cabs,  fully  equipped  for  the  public works department.
  Funding  for  two  (2)  replacement  roof  air  conditioning  units  for  the  Hanover  Township Volunteer  Fire  Company.
  Purchase  of  a  2020  replacement  ambulance  for  the  Hanover  Township  Volunteer  Fire Company.   Continuance  of  the  replacement  strategy  for  equipment  in  the  fitness  room  at  the  Hanover Township Community  Center.
  Continued  maintenance  of  Township  roads  with  the  overlaying  of  Stoke  Park  Road  between Jacksonville  and Schoenersville  Roads.
  Increased  security  features  at  both  the  Hanover  Township  Community  Center  and  Municipal Building.
  Upgrades  to the  Zoning  and Financial Software.
  Continuance  of  funding  reserves  for  Vehicles  &  Equipment,  Infrastructure,  Recreation  and  the unfunded MS4 requirements.

Bethlehem Tp Engineer Is $217% Over 2019 Budget

The Pidcock Company is a 90 year-old engineering firm representing numerous public and private clients. Among its 11 public clients is Bethlehem Tp. In addition to performing services directly to the Township as its engineer, Bethlehem Township is authorized by state law to charge developers "reasonable and necessary fees" to review developer plans and inspect the actual improvements. A dispute over these fees has led developer Traditions of America (TOA), which already has both plan and permit approval for an active senior community at Green Pond, to seek judicial relief. In a mandamus action filed against the Township on October 21, TOA asserts what essentially amounts to a shakedown. It is asking the Court to order the Township to start using another engineering firm, Arro Consulting, which was appointed for conflict cases. The merits of this matter will be decided in court, but this does raise an interesting question. If Pidcock is bilking a developer, is it also bilking the taxpayer and Township? I am unable to answer that question, but can tell you it has blown its budget with the Township by $217k.

This year, Bethlehem Township has budgeted $60,000 for Pidcock's direct services to the Township. Based on my review of this year's budget, along with billing statements attached to the agendas of every meeting, it looked to me as though Pidcock had charged at least $130,000, with two months to go. I asked Township Manager Doug Bruce whether I was wrong, but believe it or not, I am right!

According to Bruce, "You correctly noted that, for budget line item 430-42185 (Planning & Community Development/Engineering/Non-Reimbursible), through October, we’ve charged $130,313, or 217 percent of the budgeted $60,000. Please note I have proposed increasing this line item to $120,000 in 2020."

Now when custodians blew their budget, they were replaced in the middle of the year. When the Library costs go up, there's a long line of moaners and groaners at the next meeting. But Bruce defends Pidcock:
"The Board of Commissioners and the township’s staff rely on Pidcock for thorough and professional engineering services, delivered in a timely manner, for widely varied projects: traffic, public safety, stormwater, land development, public infrastructure, sinkholes."
Well, they're relying even more on the taxpayer to foot the bill.

By the way, in addition to the $130k directly billed to the Township, Pidcock has submitted $653,000 so far this year in bills to developers like TOA.

Perhaps TOA has a point.

By the way, the Township was served yesterday with TOA's lawsuit.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Russian Assets and Asses



When Hillary Clinton appeared at Bethlehem's Liberty High School in 2008, she made sure several local Democrats knew she still remembered LV Congressman Paul McHale. Our former Congressman was among those Democrats who voted to impeach Bill Clinton for perjury. She made sure Bethlehem knew her displeasure by refusing to pay the bill for two years. She has even more reason to detest Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein.

Stein, a Green, ran against her in 2016, and picked up enough votes in battleground states to deny Clinton a win. Gabbard resigned as DNC Chair in 2016 to support Bernie Sanders.

Hillary, who has a long memory, blasted both on Friday as "Russian assets" with no evidence.

Kinda' like exactly what Donald "the Joker" Trump does.

It appears those on the supposed left are as plagued by conspiracy theories as those on the right. Although I'm sure there are Russian assets out there, they do not include Tulsi Gabbard, Jill Stein or even Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is no Russian asset either. She is just an ass.

Bethlehem Tp Proposes Budget With No New Taxes

At the Commissioners' meeting last night, Manager Doug Bruce unveiled a proposed budget $19M budget for next year. The good news? His spending plan seeks no tax hike. The bad news? He is deficit spending  To balance the books, he will dip into the Township's rainy day fund to the tune of $1.77 million. He still projects a $2.97 million fund balance at the end of next year, but warns this structural imbalance will ultimately result in a tax hike.

There will be a three per cent sewage treatment rate increase next year. This is because Bethlehem City increased its sewage treatment rate to 8.4%.

Employee wages and benefits account for 60% of the budget. Bruce explains that the Township has decreased its full-time workforce from 93 to 85 over the past decade.

As a result of contractual obligations, Teamster and police union workers are slated for a 3.5% raise next year. Employees who bargain through AFSCME will get a 3% hike. Bruce proposes 3.5% for the Township's non-union workforce.

If approved, the millage rate will remain at 7.74 mills. This means a home assessed at $50,000 will see an annual tax bill of $387.

Budget hearings, which are open to the public, are scheduled at the municipal building as follows:

Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 9 a.m. - 11 a.m.

The first public reading of next year's budget will take place on November 18, after which the budget will be advertised and made available for public inspection. A final vote is scheduled December 16.

Commissioners Malissa Davis and Janice Blake were absent.

Bethlehem Tp Asks: What Mandamus Action?

Earlier this month, I reported a mandamus action filed against Bethlehem Township by Traditions of America. According to the lawsuit, filed October 11, Township engineer Pidcock Company has been actively engaged in what can only be described as a shakedown of the Green Pond active senior community developer. Traditions, which has an approved plan and all the necessary permits, wants the Township to engage the previously appointed back-up engineer while the dispute with Pidcock is resolved. Township Commissioners and Pidcock, decline to comment on the pending litigation. But Solicitor Jim Broughal has an interesting observation. The Township has yet to be served.

This is no fault of Traditions. On the day the action was filed, an Order of Service went to Sheriff Rich Johnston. But ten days later, he has failed to serve the complaint.

This is inexcusable.

Service of process is a core function of the Sheriff's Department.

It's not as though the Township is hiding.

Monday, October 21, 2019

ADL: Anti-Semitism Alive and Well

In the one-year following the atrocity at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports 12 white supremacists have been arrested for their alleged roles in terrorist plots, attacks or threats against the Jewish community. Jewish institutions have been targeted at least 50 times with the following:

* 12 instances of vandalism using white supremacist symbols;
* 35 distributions of white supremacist propaganda;
* At least 30 additional incidents in which individuals of unknown ideology committed arson, vandalism or distributed propaganda that was not explicitly white supremacist in nature at Jewish institutions.

Seven hundred and eighty (780) incidents of anti-Semiticism have been reported in the first six months of this year.

The data, located here, include the arrest of Corbin Kauffman, age 30, from Lehighton, Pennsylvania, who was charged April 1, 2019, with interstate transmission of threats to injure the person of another. He had threatened multiple times to kill Jews. His preliminary examination is still pending, believe it or not.

Philadelphia's ADL can be reached at (215) 568-2223.

Code Enforcers: How Would You Make Them Accountable?

When he was Allentown's Mayor, Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski was more than willing to use his code enforcement officers as a gestapo to punish political enemies. He did it to a building owner who dared sport a digital billboard that featured an ad from Lou Hershman. Then Pawlowski came out with his own digital billboards. He sicced these goons on a 75 year-old woman who conducted occasional yard sales for pin money. He also used code to help pals, including a hedge funds manager who needed the city's blessing for some in ground pool he wanted at his mansion. Managing Director Francis Dougherty fired off an email to one of his underlings, demanding quick action. "This is a favor for tim holt. Our action on tim's behalf means money from air products later." And when he himself wanted to build a mancave, he did so without bothering to get a permit until his transgression was pointed out by a bottom-feeding blogger. Fed Ed is currently teaching government classes to fellow inmates, but Allentown's code officers are as arbitrary as ever. Ask Kim Oliver.

Oliver made the mistake of complaining about a next door neighbor whose leaking chimney was causing problems for her. After doing so, she herself was cited over a supposedly defective porch. She called blogger Michael Molovinsky, who soon learned that she reported the wrong homeowner. You see, this homeowner, who also has some kind of business across the street, is pals with a code supervisor. The two sit there on lawn chairs when the weather is nice, watching the cars go by.

Molovinsky visited code officers, and after doing so, they came back and photographed Oliver's porch. They did so from inside the home of the supervisor's pal.

At a hearing on this supposed violation, Magisterial District Judge Michael D'Amore had no problem finding Oliver guilty. In fact, he allowed code to argue a violation for which she had never been cited, claiming she never had obtained a permit. The City had no records.

Guess what? She did. While D'Amore railed at Molovinsky for daring to speak up for Oliver, Oliver looked through her records and found the permit the City claimed she never had.

D'Amore was forced to reverse himself and find Oliver not guilty.

But now that she's on code's naughty list, they'll be back.

I believe it is entirely improper for city officials to interfere with code. But I have heard numerous horror stories throughout the Lehigh Valley. In one city, a code officer was dinging a property owner at one visit, and then asked her to sell him the property. It turns out that he has quite the portfolio.

My question is what recommendations would you make in holding code officers accountable?

"Oh Shit, Should I Delete This?"

That's how NorCo Council member Tara Zrinski started Thursday's Energy Committee hearing. She apparently was referring to some email. Very professional.

NorCo Plans To Extend Liberty State Park Trail With Slate Belt

Northampton County's Conservation Coordinator, Sherry Acevedo, described plans at NorCo Council's Energy Committee on October 17 to link the Liberty State Park with the Slate Belt. This trail extends 150 miles from Jersey City and will cross into Pennsylvania at the Portland-Columbia footbridge. From there, it extends north along Route 611 to Delaware Water Gap. The trail will be available for foot traffic and bicycles. Ideally, the rail will be paved and 10-12' wide.

Acevedo calls the project a "challenge" because the 611 portion of the rail is narrow. Parking is being considered at the old railroad station in Portland.

Portland, Upper Mount Bethel Township and Delaware Water Gap have already adopted a memorandum of understanding, and now it is up to Monroe and Northampton Counties to adopt an intergovernmental agreement for the planning, design and acquisition. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has committed $50,000 to help fund the project, provided there is a match from each county.

Council member John Cusick said that state and federal funding should be sought, especially from the Commonwealth Financing Authority. He also believes hotel taxes could be used because this project promotes tourism.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Lehigh County's New Voting System - The Movie



Lehigh County Voter Registrar Tim Benyo is now a movie producer. He has prepared a video explaining Lehigh County's new voting system, from start to finish.

What I love about Lehigh County's operation is their decision to use electronic pollbooks. That makes it so much easier for our election workers to find a voter. If a person should be voting somewhere else, the e-pollbook will make that clear, too. I have bugged NorCo County Administrator Charles Dertinger to get these, but he is a cheap bastard and called me the world's most overrated election judge. I complained to Executive Lamont McClure and he called me a third-rate election judge.

Lehigh Couny's voting system itself is designed to ensure that there is little question of voter intent, like those that delay the counts in Florida.

The problem with this system is there will be two separate lines. You will first stand in a line to make your selections. Then you will have to move to a separate line to cast your vote in a scanner. This could be a problem in a busy election. Northampton County election judges who viewed this system disliked this feature and preferred the ExpressVote XL.

NorCo Council Votes To Refi $61M in Debt, Expects $3.2M Savings

Northampton County Council voted 6-1 last night to approve up to $75 million in bonds to refinance about $61 million in debt. The sole No vote came from Peg Ferraro (by phone). Voting Yes were Council members Ron Heckman, Bob Werner, John Cusick, Matt Dietz, Tara Zrinski and Kevin Lott (by phone). Council members Bill McGee and Lori Vargo-Heffner were absent.

This debt is from a 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. If it is done at an interest rate under three per cent, the County would save $3.2 million. Alternatively, the County could wait until the call date and save more or less, depending on the interest rate.

By approving the refinancing last night, County Council has given financial adviser Scott Shearer the authority to pull the trigger if he can save the county $3.2 million.

There was some confusion among Council members about a $75 million issuance to refinance $61 million in debt. Shearer explained the refinancing would have to include the interest, which would increase the debt to about $67 million. He has no expectation of issuing $75 million in bonds.

He added the only purpose of this new bond is to refinance existing debt. There will be no new money.

In other business, County Council introduced an ordinance to condemn 150 South Union Street in Easton. This is adjacent to the county campus and is for a handicap-accessible parking lot to service the courthouse and jail. Interestingly, this property was just purchased in February September by Sunblest Holdings, LLC, and at a Sheriff's Sale, for $33,045.00.

As the meeting ended, Council President Ron Heckman announced that Vargo-Heffner was absent because her father passed away the previous day.He asked everyone to keep her and her family in their thoughts.

LV Planners To Intensify Warehouse Scrutiny

Critics like to call warehouses big boxes. Developers like to call them fulfillment centers. Whatever name you use, they have gobbled up much of the Lehigh Valley's open space while simultaneously increasing truck traffic on roads unable to handle the load. Bethlehem Township had to impose a tax hike last year to completely rebuild Brodhead Road, which truck traffic reduced to a washboard. Once Allen Tp's Fed Ex is in full swing, there will be more traffic snarls and ruined roads. Thanks to some strong advocacy, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) is expected to intensify its review of warehouse plans once its latest comprehensive plan is adopted.

In his report to Northampton County Council last night, Executive Lamont McClure condemned the "warehouse proliferation" he sees in the Lehigh Valley. For that reason, he has fully funded open space with $3 million in his proposed budget for next year. But since most open space projects are nowhere near planned warehouses, that's a very limited solution.

More meaningful is his proposal for the LVPC to intensify its review of warehouse plans exceeding 100,000 sq. ft. Currently, reviews are triggered for plans in excess of 500,000 sq ft. In a compromise, the latest comprehensive plan calls for a review of warehouses exceeding 250,000 sq ft.

Even more meaningful are two proposals made by Greg Zebrowski, who is the LVPC's Vice Chair. Automatic review of warehouse plans will be triggered if (1) they are more than a quarter mile from a major roadway or (2) are outside of designated development areas.

What really will stop them, dead in their tracks, are high traffic impact fees to repair the roads they destroy.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Pelosi Pic Sends Many Messages


Donald "the Joker" Trump, who hates criticism and is fairly thin-skinned, has tweeted the picture of Speaker Nancy Pelosi above in an attempt to disparage her. She has made it her Twitter cover photo. The Washington Post has some interesting observations. It shows someone standing up to power. It also shows a woman unafraid to assert herself in a room full of men.
“Can a woman beat Donald Trump? Yes,” Democratic presidential contender Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) wrote on Twitter. “@SpeakerPelosi does it every day.”

232 NorCo Employees Paid Under $15/HR

Not long ago, I told you 17 of Northampton County's custodial workers are paid less than $15/Hr. I have since learned, in response to a Right-to-Know request, that 232 full-time county workers are paid under $15/hr. Another 163 part-time or seasonal employees are also paid less than the US House has determined American workers are worth. This is roughly 18% of the County's workforce. While Northampton County construction contracts require prevailing wage to be paid, and Council members moan about the need for a living wage, they appear to have no regard for their own workforce.

The list, which you can review for yourself below, covers numerous important jobs. These include over 50 certified nurse's aides at Gracedale, social workers and numerous clerks in the row offices. The County justifies these save wages because it pays $9.62 per hour for benefits for every full-time worker. That's unfair, too. This is because the county pays this same amount for everyone. Employees who earn far more money and who could and should pay more for benefits get the same hourly rate as someone receiving a pittance. In effect, the lower paid employees subsidize the benefits paid for cabinet officials.

In Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced this week that his entire workforce is now being paid at least $15/hr. He said Columbus should "lead by example." City Council President Elizabeth Brown adds, "Leveling the playing field for families in Columbus starts with living wages, and one of our goals as an employer must be to set a standard for wages and benefits that help families thrive. I’m proud to see the city beat its commitment to bringing all full-time workers to $15-per-hour by 2020."

Closer to home, both Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are on track to pay their workforce at least $15/hr by the beginning of next year. But Northampton County Council, despite having two trade union agents as members, seems to be more interested in plastic straw bans.

Many, if not most, of the Northampton County workers getting paid under $15/hr are single parents. The living wage in Northampton County for a single parent with just one child is $23.93.

According to Keystone Research, 42% of those paid under $15/hr are over the age of 40. Over half (55%) are women.

NorCo Council Gets Bridge Update

Though Northampton Couny's General Purpose Authority is overseeing a bridge project for the repair or replacement of nearly 30 county bridges, there are still a number of bridges the County is doing on its own. Last night, Public Works Director Mike Emili updated Council on these projects

The Mill St Bridge (#115), located in Bath, should be open to traffic in beginning of November "at the latest."

Another Bath area bridge on Stone Post Road (#118) along with a Plainfield Tp bridge on Sandt Rd (226) were closed in August for latex concrete modified overlays. Both re-opened to traffic early this month. A third bridge on Illick's Mill Road (#93) has to be done inphases because traffic is heavy in that area.  It should be complete by the end of October.

The Meadows Bridge in Lower Saucon Township is part of the Lehigh Valley-wide TIP. Emili said he expects to hear from authorities by the end of the year with a progress timeline.

NorCo Council Gets Milides Parking Lot and Crosswalk Update

If you work at or visit Northampton County Courthouse from time to time, you know parking is often a challenge. What's worse, the courthouse sits atop the forbidding Washington Street hill. It's great cardiovascular exercise, but is actually dangerous if you have medical issues. To make the people's building a bit more accessible, Executive Lamont McClure recently razed the county-owned Milides building, which is directly across the street. He plans to expand an existing  40-space parking lot to one with a capacity of 104 vehicles,including eight parking spots. Finally, he will improve a crosswalk across Washington Street, between the courthouse and this parking lot. Tonight, Northampton County Council will vote on $960,896 in contracts for general construction and electrical. The contract duration is set at six months.

Council was updated on the project last night.

Bean Inc has been recommended as the general contractor, and Wind Gap Electric for the electrical work. This is the result of negotiations with both firms after two attempts to solicit bids were unsuccessful. This is because the project will require work to prevent continued subsidence down the side of a cliff along the southern edge.

According to Public Works Director Mike Emili, Michael Baker Internat'l has been engaged to do the engineering for the crosswalk. This part of the project is financed by a grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development. It is expected to be similar to crosswalks used by Moravian students along Elizabeth Avenue in Bethlehem. The crossing will include pedestrian push button to trigger flashing lights and warn oncoming traffic.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A 3-Hour Debate Among 12 Democrats is Too Much

Although I made it through last night's three-hour debate among 12 Democrats who want to be President, I learned very little. The questions were really bad, especially from The New York Times. The worst was the last one, posed by Anderson Cooper, asking candidates to say something nice about someone after they had just spent three hours tearing everyone apart.

The clear winner was Elizabeth Warren, who is able to present her extreme views in a likable and down-to-earth manner, despite relentless attacks. She also got to do the most talking. I'd give props to Bernie Sanders as well, who looked pretty sharp for a guy who just had a heart attack. He was very gracious to his fellow candidates and thanked them, I think sincerely, for their concern. Joe Biden did very well talking about foreign policy, and was able to step back while the arrows were aimed at Warren. But he has to stop patting himself on the back so much. Also, his son did a much better job explaining his poor judgment in trading off his father's name.

The rest had their moments, but the format is just terrible.

Can You Help Pay For Mitch's Funeral?


As many of you know, I've searched real estate titles at Northampton County's Courthouse since the days of William Penn. One of my fellow searchers is a woman named Jacquie. A breast cancer survivor, she recently participated, along with her daughter and pretty granddaughter, in the annual Women's Classic 5k at Lehigh Parkway. Her son Mitch, pictured on the left, was a race volunteer. Someone snapped a picture of this happy family. Unfortunately, it is the last picture ever taken of her son.

Over the weekend, her son passed away unexpectedly. He was only 30.

At that age, no one is thinking about funeral expenses.

If you can spare a few dollars to help pay for his funeral expenses, I am sure it will be great help to his family. The GoFundMe Page is located here.

If unable, that's OK. Just keep the family in your thoughts.

I will be accepting no comments on this thread.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"My Name is Lisa Scheller, and I'm Running fro Congress!"

Lisa Scheller 
Last year, at the Hope and Coffee House she founded in Hazelton, Lisa Scheller began her story with, "My name is Lisa, and I'm a recovering addict and alcoholic." This is the standard introduction used by alcoholics and addicts in smoke-filled meeting rooms, where nicotine and caffeine are acceptable drugs for those of us hanging onto a shred or two of sobriety. Yesterday's meeting room was Allentown Renaissance Hotel. It was no AA meeting. Though coffee flowed in abundance, none of the 25 or so well-dressed guests was smoking. Except for me. I had a pinch of Skoal hidden between my cheek and upper gum for that pure tobacco satisfaction. Instead of a boring suit and tie, I was dressed in SWAT-team pants I picked up for a song at the local Thrift store. This is the perfect ensemble for a room full of Republicans, especially if one of them wants to go skeet shooting or something. Lisa Scheller, who called this meeting for an important announcement, had something else on her mind. "My name is Lisa Scheller and I'm running for Congress," she declared.

I never heard that at an AA meeting. President? Yes. Congress? Never.

Scheller, an Allentown resident, is seeking the Republican nomination to Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District. That seat is currently held by Democrat Susan Wild. It includes Lehigh, Northampton and a portion of Monroe County.

Unlike many in recovery from substance abuse, Scheller embraces it. She understands how "the politics of smear works," but wants her struggle known. "I'm not ashamed of my addiction and I empathize with people who struggle, and their families," she noted. She overcame her addiction and went on to earn degrees in both mathematics and engineering.

In 1988, after her brother passed away unexpectedly, she took over the reins of Silberline Manufacturing, a company started by her immigrant grandparents. She transformed it into a leading international manufacturer of aluminum-based pigments for the automotive and other industries. Her company employs 600 people in economically ravaged Tamaqua. Her sister-in-law, Jill Scwartz, referred to Scheller as a "force of nature."

In addition to her education and business skills, Scheller also served a term as a Lehigh County Commissioner. In her final two years, she chaired the nine-person board.

In a stirring speech, Scheller said she's running for Congress because the people of the Seventh District have been poorly served. "They've lost faith in government because government has constantly acted in bad faith," she argued. "It's tearing us apart. Nobody's really speaking on the issues that matter to people here." She identifies these issues as jobs, education, health care and secure borders. She derided "a permanent political class that feeds on division" instead of addressing these problems.

Jobs - Scheller observed "Government cannot create jobs. Businesses do." But she slammed excessive regulation.  She claimed this just leads to income for the governing class and bigger government."Yes, we need some regulations to protect our safety, environment and equality. But over-regulation destroys employment."

Education. - Scheller, who has established and expanded a scholarship program at Lehigh County Community College, said student debt is "out of control" and a "crushing burden" on our youth. "Becoming a nation of educational haves and have-nots is a danger to our democracy and prosperity," she warned. She said it's time government focuses on education instead of perpetuating conflict.

Medical care. - "Here's the message: it's not really the Affordable Care Act if you can't afford it and end up with no health care. I'm committed to ensuring that pre-existing conditions remain covered for all people and I'm equally committed to making sure that we end the spiral of costs that was triggered by another well-intentioned government disaster. It's time tofree people who are held hostage to this system."

Secure Borders - Scheller's grandparents and great-parents immigrated here from countries where they were unsafe. She argues they were safe in America for two reasons. First, they had the freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. Second, they had borders to protect that freedom.

"Why are people in this district concerned about our borders? Because we're the ones who have to live with the consequences of a nation without them. People here understand something: you can't have a nation without borders."

After her speech, Scheller spoke individually with the guests who had come to see her, thanking them. Then she met us, The Fake News. We had questions about the Trump impeachment inquiry, the betrayal of Kurds in Syria and homeless veterans. For someone who disdains the political class, she did a pretty good job of ducking questions that might shed light on where she stands on Trump.

She did say he's entitled to due process, and of course, he is. But due process provides for notice and an opportunity to be heard before being removed from the Office of President. Prosecutors have no obligation to disclose details of a pending investigation to a target. In this case, the prosecution is the House of Representatives. Their hearings can be likened to grand jury proceedings. If they do vote to impeach, the President would be entitled to full due process during his trial in the Senate.

Her webpage is www.schellerforcongress.com. She is also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Scheller has one declared GOP opponent, Dean Browning. He is a Trumpeteer.

Monday, October 14, 2019

"Blood on Trump's Hands"

Those are the words used by retired four-star Marine general John Allen in reaction to Donald "the Joker" Trump's betrayal of Syrian Kurds. Since Turkey has begun its offensive (laughingly called Peace Spring) against Kurdish fighters in Northeast Syria, the fake news reports the following:

Is Engineer Strong-Arming Green Pond Developer?

After years of debate, lengthy meetings and several plan revisions, Bethlehem Tp Commissioners voted over a year ago to approve an active senior community at Green Pond Country Club. But if you drive by, you'll see no homes being built. The environmentally sensitive wetlands next door, located in the middle of an Audubon-designated “Important Bird Area” called Green Pond Marsh, are still there. Migratory birds still visit. But no seniors. You might think developer Traditions of America is having trouble getting a highway occupancy permit or environmental approvals, but it has them. So what gives? Believe it or not, it's the Township's engineer, The Pidcock Company.

Late last week, Traditions took the rare step of filing a mandamus action in Northampton County Court. It is asking that the Court order Bethlehem Tp to replace Pidcock with its backup engineers, Arro Consulting. Since the developer already has all of its approvals, it essentially is accusing Pidcock of a shake down. In one instance, it billed for 35 hours to prepare a one-page email with eight comments. In another, multiple individuals charged to prepare for meetings they never attended. Pidcock billed 30 hours to review stormwater plans even though DEP had already issued a permit.

When Traditions complained, Pidcock stopped working on the project, effectively shutting it down. Though the Township convinced the engineering firm to return,  Traditions asserts Pidcock is now throwing up roadblocks to prevent development. It is insisting on using an outdated procedure for utility line  construction, which will add another two months of delay. 

I am in the process of seeking a public comment from Pidcock.

Back in 2012, former Comm'r Marty Zaarski complained about Pidcock's billing. He also groused about the mileage being charged, noting that Pidcock is located near Route 309, a forty mile round trip from the Township. "There are very, very good engineering firms within ten minutes of here," he observed.

Lisa Scheller Poised For Congressional Bid


Earlier this month, former Lehigh County Comm'r Lisa Scheller attracted attention when she expanded an innovative scholarship program at Lehigh County Community College, enabling high school students to obtain both an associate's' degree and high school diploma simultaneously. At that time, I speculated about her possible interest in Congress. Scheller told me she expected to make a decision soon. It appears she's taking the plunge. She's scheduled an announcement for this morning, 10:30 am, at Renaissance Allentown Hotel.

If she's running, it will be for the LV Congressional seat currently held by Susan Wild.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Other Shoe Drops

After reading "Giuliani’s Ukraine Team: In Search of Influence, Dirt and Money," it should be clear to one and all, Democrat and Republic, that an impeachment inquiry is demanded. Giuliani claimed to be looking for corruption by Joe Biden and son when it's pretty clear that he's up to his neck in it himself. We now know why Trump trashed Ukraine's Ambassador. It was at the behest of a bunch of crooks who wanted to start a natural gas company.

At least Giuliani has finally shut up.

Nazareth Schools Will Finally Close on Election Day

Last year, both Executive Lamont McClure and Northampton County Council were besieged by Nazareth parents upset about conducting elections at Butz Elementary School. The County countered that state law prefers that elections take place in public buildings. Nazareth, unlike other school districts, was reluctant to close on election day.

At Wednesday's Budget Hearing, Administrator Charles Dertinger reported that Nazareth Area School District has finally agreed to shut down on election day. What's more, the school district is allowing the use of the school cafeteria at Butz Elementary. Dertinger said that no one will be forced to wait in line outside

Elections will cost the County $868,000 this year. Next year, the cost is budgeted at $1,090,000, a 16.1% increase. The reason for this is because next year's election is a presidential election.

Registrar Amy Hess told Council that no polling precinct will be seeking an increase in rent. She added the County will use 286 of its 320 ExpressVote XL machines.

PD DiLuzio: "I Thought Crime Was Going Down"

Public Defender Nuria DiLuzio presented her budget to Northampton County Council on Wednesday. Though she's calling for no major changes, she predicts changes might be necessary in 2021.

DiLuzio said her staff, which consists of 15 part-time and 3 full-time public defenders, is handling a caseload of 1,100 "active, substantive criminal cases." This includes 341 felonies and 4 major homicides.

"We're managing, but it's sometimes difficult with a part-time staff," she said. "I thought crime was going down."

She indicated she may seek a full-time public defender to handle appeals.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Who Will Win the Kassis-Scomillio Judicial Race?

This November, in addition to elected a new District Attorney, Northampton County voters will also decide two county judge races. Three candidates - incumbent DA John Morganelli, Assistant District Attorney Abe Kassis and Bethlehem Attorney Vic Scomillio - are all running.

John Morganelli, who ran in the primary, is the nominee of both Democratic and Republican parties. Democrat Kassis and Republican Scomillio were selected by party apparatchiks because, at the time of the primary, there was no second opening. That happened when Judge Kim McFadden, who had intended to seek retention, changed her mind and resigned, effective November.

Morganelli should win easily, but he is nevertheless campaigning. He knows anything can happen in politics. The real question is who will win the race between Kassis and Scomillio. I believe the race will be very close, and depend on turnout.

Both Kassis and Scomillio have run for judge before. They know how to put together a campaign. Both have worked hard for their respective parties, so they will get volunteers to help them on election day. Both know how to raise money.

Kassis should win Easton and Bethlehem. He is running with John Morganelli and DA nominee Terry Houck, so that should really help him. He will also get union support.

Victor will win everywhere else, especially in the Slate Belt and Northern Tier. He will lose Bethlehem, but will win several precincts on the north side.

Vic appears to be keeping his distance from the GOP's DA candidate, Tom Carroll. That's because Carroll can only hurt him. Carroll, who once was an Assistant DA in Northampton County, was forced to resign after he placed an ape doll on the desk of a female assistant DA who is black.

What about the Lebanese factor? Northampton County's Lebanese community is heavily Republican, but you could expect most of them to split their tickets to vote for Abe. But not all. Victor's wife is Lebanese, and he has made inroads.

Scomillio has some negatives because, as NorCo Solicitor, he fired an assistant without due process and right before Christmas. Northampton County was sued and lost. This lapse cost the County money, and Vic was hit hard on this issue when he ran (and lost) against Sam Murray. But Abe Kassis has thus far failed to use this ammunition. Those who know him say he'll avoid being negative.

In my view, this race will depend on turnout. If Democrats stay away from the polls, as they often do in municipal races, Victor should win. If Democrats are outraged enough that a racist is running on the GOP ticket for DA, that might be enough for Abe to win.

It's bad enough to have a racist in the White House, let alone as NorCo's top prosecutor.

We'll see.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

LC Exec Armstrong: A Budget Is More Than Numbers

Blogger's Note: On Monday, I published an op-ed from Lehigh County Comm'r Brad Osborne, opposing a 5.5% tax hike proposed in next year's budget. Fairness dictated a request to Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong, asking him to explain why it's needed. His response is below. I thank both of these county leaders for their input.

Budget season is upon us again, and that means the inevitable fights over tax rates, amendments and complex finances. As both County Executive and a resident of Lehigh County, I want to set the record straight and spell out the facts.

While every budget inevitability comes down to two key numbers, revenue and expenditures, lets recognize what those numbers truly represent. A budget is about our values, our commitments and priorities. It’s also reflective of hard truths, numbers don’t lie, and a good budget is about more than the next year.

First, I’d like to explain plainly some key misconceptions surrounding this year’s budget. Yes, I’ve requested, a tax increase this year, which breaks down to about $3 more per month for a homeowner. Let’s be clear, this proposal is not made lightly or without regard to the well-being of our county taxpayers.

This administration made many tough decisions. We saved over $1.5 million in prescription drug costs, and made $638,000 in payroll cuts. My administration takes seriously the significance of asking for this increase, but to be clear, it’s entirely necessary.

Second, you’ll likely hear two claims from some commissioners. One is we don’t have ability to accurately predict tax revenues, the second concerns the validity of our five-year plan. It was recently suggested by one of our commissioners, that last year the county came in with $9 million more than expected. This is deliberately attempting misleading to the public.

In local government, we deal with encumbrances, plainly speaking, this is money planned for an expense that has yet to produce a bill. In 2019, we had $8 million in encumbrances payable in 2020, meaning we truly only came in $1 million better than expected.

It’s important to remember, our budget is $514 million of which only $115 million was from local property taxes, predicting our exact revenue within $1 million is essentially a 1% margin error. That’s a high degree of accuracy and common in any organization with a large budget.

Furthermore, several commissioners have cast doubt on our five-year financial plan. It’s a plan they requested and it’s a plan you paid for, to the tune of $40,000.

That plan shows us depleting our stabilization fund by 2023 at our current millage rate. The fact is this, you paid for a plan that pointed to facts that some commissioners are choosing to disagree with because its politically convenient. In the end, you’ll pay a lot more.

Lehigh County is filled with examples of municipalities that chose to take things year by year instead of planning for the future. Commissioner Osborne, should know this best.

As a South Whitehall Township Commissioner from 2005-2012, taxes stayed flat, while expenses went up and reserves went down. Three years later, South Whitehall saw its taxes rise, 36% in one year, and 11% percent the next.

Allentown made the same error, hitting its residents with a 27% increase last year, and Lehigh County not long ago passed along a 70% increase to its residents.

As a social studies teacher, I can confidently say those who don’t learn from their own history will certainly repeat it.

Finally, it’s about what’s in the budget that should matter to our residents. It’s our $46.7 million renovation of Cedarbrook, the social safety net for our seniors. It’s two sheriffs’ deputies that will process PFA’s ensuring that domestic abusers no longer have firearms to harm their partners and $3 million for farmland preservation. Our budget funds Children and Youth, the courts and corrections. It’s a matter of protecting the vulnerable, keeping you safe and investing in your future.

Commissioners can’t say they support these initiatives but oppose how we get there, blocking this year’s budget puts our values and wallets in jeopardy.

$3 more per month is a small price to pay for these things, and its certainly preferable to the sticker shock of a large increase down the road. I proposed this increase because I believe that we must meet the needs of our community.

If you believe in this mission too, then support this budget at the Commissioner meetings. You can stand up for our seniors, our children, our sheriffs, our public servants and our finances.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

WaPoPoll: 58% of Americans Now Support Impeachment Inquiry

A poll was conducted for the Washington Post by the Schar School of Policy and Government between October 1-6 of a random national sample of 1,007 adults (69% reached via cell phone). This poll reveals the following:
  • 58% of Americans now support the impeachment inquiry initiated by the U.S. House
  • 60% of Americans believe Donald Trump is unethical
This group identified itself as Independent (44%), Democrat (30%), Republican (25%), no opinion (1%).

So far as I can tell, this poll failed to ask whether those sampled are actual voters.

Both of Pa's Senators Condemn Withdrawal From Syria

Senator Bob Casey: “Kurdish forces have been a steadfast U.S. ally and President Trump has shamefully betrayed them. Thousands of Kurds died in the fight against ISIS only to be abandoned by President Trump, whose fascination with authoritarian dictators, like Erdogan, seems to control U.S. foreign policy. Turning our back on the Kurdish people in their time of need will make our nation less safe. Potential allies will no longer trust our government. President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria also underscores the problematic nature of his continuing involvement in his business, the Trump Organization. Since President Trump has not fully divested from his private business, our nation is left to wonder whether the fact that the Trump Organization has dealings in Turkey impacted his decision.”

Senator Pat Toomey: "The president's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the northern Syrian border poses a significant threat to our national security and risks reversing the progress made in the region to destroy ISIS. It could also lead to war between Turkey and Syrian Kurds, a result that will boost enemy regimes in Syria, Iran, and Russia. This betrayal of the Kurds will also severely harm our credibility as an ally the world over. President Trump should rethink this decision immediately."

In reaction to outcry over this "stain on America's honor," Donald "The Joker" Trump has walked back a complete withdrawal. At this moment, 400 troops will stay. But as Foreign Affairs observes, "his new plan is even riskier: it tasks a small cohort of troops with the same mission as the current U.S. deployment in northeastern Syria, which is ten times as large."

Vladimir Putin must be smiling again.

How to Apply For Absentee Ballot

"Bernie can you review how to get an absentee ballot?"

This question was asked in response to my post yesterday, telling you Monday was the last day to register if you wish to vote in November. It's too late to register now, but if you are registered, you can vote by absentee ballot.

Absentee ballots are available to people who are unable to go to their designated polling place on election day. If you are in the military or a bedridden combat vet, you can vote by absentee ballot even if you failed to register.

Absentee ballot applications for the November 5 election must be received by your county election office by 5pm on Tuesday, October 29, 2019. You can apply for an absentee ballot online or by sending an application to your county office.

Lehigh County Voter Registration Office
Lehigh County Government Center
17 S 7th St
Allentown, PA 18101

Northampton County Voter Registration Office
Northampton County Courthouse
669 Washington St
Easton, PA 18042

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.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Donald Trump: Joker of American and International Politics

On Saturday, I saw The Joker, a dark and gritty portrayal of the fictional supervillain and Batman nemesis.  Before going, I read several warnings that the movie does little more than glorify mindless violence. That's untrue. The film instead explains how one fictional mass murderer got that way. As I watched the movie, I was struck by how popular this evil creature had become. Many Gotham residents preferred him to the elitists in control of the city. You know, the deep state. This movie is much more than a psychological profile of violent madness. It is also a condemnation of the mob and populism giving rise to authoritarians like  Donald Trump.This reality TV show star turned President is the Joker of American and even international politics.  His romper room is the twitterverse.

Most of you can see why he is the Joker domestically. Just check out his alligator-infested moat.

But I want to detail, just a little, why the impeachment process is so necessary. Many of you are unaware Ukraine is currently embroiled in a war with Russia (using separatists who just happen to be supplied with advanced Russian hardware). Over the past five years, 13,000 Ukranians have died. Another 1.5 million people have been displaced. Ukraine forces have held their own, but they rely on Western support.

Instead of being concerned about this Russian threat, Trump actually was unwilling to help or even talk to Ukraine When he finally did talk to President Zelensky in late July, his focus was a political opponent and his desire to make Ukraine an ally in an attempt to smear him. The fight with Russia was never even mentioned. Of course, this is criminal. Even more worrisome is that Trump is undermining both our security as well as Ukraine.

And Vadimir Putin is laughing.

So is Kim Jong Un. He now is launching ballistic missiles with impunity, with nary a word of condemnation. "Nothing to see here," sez th Joker. "Move along."

He has alienated our closest allies while cozying up to dictators.

In the meantime, he may have lobbied Japan Prime Minister Shizo Abe to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He's the Joker.

Updated 9am: The Joker has now abandoned the Kurds, who fought against ISIS in Syria. He's pulling American troops out so Turkish authoritarian Erdogan can begin the expansion of his renewed Ottoman empire. Instead of being critical of the authoritarian, the Joker chides betrayed Kurds and, of course, our European allies.   

Osborne Opposes 5.5% Tax Hike

Blogger's Note: Below is an op-ed by Lehigh County Comm'r Brad Osborne. It first appeared in The Lehigh Valley Press on October 3, 2019.

For the second consecutive year, Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong has delivered a budget with a tax increase to the county board of commissioners.

Last year, a 4.1-percent tax increase was proposed, with the administration stating it wasn’t necessary for 2019.

This year, the administration proposed a 5.5-percent tax increase based on its five-year financial forecast, and again an increase in this amount is not necessary to fulfill the county’s responsibility to the community in 2020.

What is going on?

Frankly, this year’s budget is designed to conform to a predetermined outcome ignoring historical data.

Last year, for instance, the county came in $9 million better than projected.

No one is to blame for this variance as it is obviously difficult to project revenue and expenses in advance. Also obvious, we are not quite ready to tax our citizens five years in advance of our knowledge base.

The fact that we started 2019 with a rainy-day fund exceeding government standards by more than 25 percent and came in $9 million better than projected last year should be all the evidence anyone needs to be convinced the county should take this year by year.

Can you imagine what shape our families would be in if we allowed every school district, every municipality, our state and federal government to overtax us like this?

I oppose this overtaxing for the unnecessary burden it would put on our community.

Please call the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners at 610-782-3050 or attend the 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10 meeting to let your elected officials know your thoughts.

If You Want to Vote This November, Register Today!

On Saturday, I spent a few hours at Hanover Township's Fall Festival, demonstrating the ExpressVote XL system we will start using in November. I did this once before in Easton. Thanks to Northampton County's Amy Hess and Amy Cozze, there was a Herculean effort to introduce these new voting systems at numerous different locations. But I was disappointed. Aside from senior citizens and election workers, there was little interest.

What bothered me most was a young couple who walked by with their two children on Saturday. I asked if they'd like to try the new touchscreen with a vote-verifiable paper trail, and they politely said, "No thanks."

"We'll find out the results in a few weeks," smiled the father.

I realize municipal races are nowhere near as dramatic as a Presidential election, but your local government often has the most direct impact on your lives.

If you want to vote in November, today is the last day you can register to vote. You can do so online.

Friday, October 04, 2019

NorCo Council: Extend OSHA Protections to Public Workers

What if I told you that private sector workers have more workplace protections than our police officers, firemen, corrections officers, road maintenance workers, and other public employees in Pennsylvania? That's a question State Rep. Patrick Harkins has asked his Harrisburg colleagues. Most private sector workers are protected by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA). Public sector employees, however, are on their own. Harkins has proposed legislation that would extend OSHA protections to government workers as well. His bill is languishing, however, in the House's Labor and Industry Committee. At their October 3 meeting, Northampton County threw their support behind Harkins' proposed law, which is called the Jake Schwab Worker's Safety Bill.

Schwab, a mechanic with the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority, was fatally injured at work in 2014 by an exploding air bag. He had been using the wrong tools and was working at a garage that had gone nine years without safety training. His public sector employer is exempt OSHA protections.

Every Democrat in the Lehigh Valley delegation to the state house has agreed to sponsor this legislation. But not one Republican.

Jim Irwin, a former Gracedale employee who now works for AFSCME District 88, argued that worker safety protection should be the same for everyone. He said the proposal, first made four years ago, has never made it out of committee because of cost.

"What's the cost of someone's life?" he asked.

Council President Ron Heckman talked about his own experience, pre-OSHA, working one summer at a cast iron foundry. He and his co-workers donned leather gloves they would purchase themselves, and would wrap a wet handkerchief around their faces. By the end of the day, the entire room was a fog. "OSHA changed that," he said. "They actually got masks."

Heckman went on to say that the government often passes laws applying to the private sector, but exempts itself. "I think that stinks," he concluded.

Council member Kevin Lott recounted that he once observed borough workers dig inside a trench about three feet over their head, with no protections. "Our public sector workers are second class citizens," he complained. "You need to set standards."

Northampton County's resolution, which is non-binding, was passed 8-1. The sole No vote was from Council member John Cusick.

Cusick said he "supports worker safety," but the statewide organization representing counties is opposed to this legislation. He suggested that this group, called CCAP, should first be asked to change its platform.

Council member Bill McGee, who introduced this resolution, told Cusick he would contact this county government advocate, which is known as the County Commissioners' Association of Pa.