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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, May 11, 2020

NorCo Council Extends McClure's Emergency Powers Until June 8

At a technology-challenged "virtual" meeting that lasted over three hours, Northampton County Council voted 7-1 to extend Executive Lamont McClure's emergency powers until June 8. Council President Ron Heckman and members Lori Vargo-Heffner, John Cusick and Kevin Lott were physically present. Remaining members participated by Skype, with Peg Ferraro leaving early at a meeting interrupted by numerous screeches, feedback, garbled voices and the occasional inability of some Council members to hear what was going on.

Courtesy of the floor was a lengthy disaster, as Heckman would call out individual phone numbers and ask people who phoned in if they wanted to speak.

Human Services Workers Want to Telecommute 

Tiffany, a County employee at the Human Services building, complained about being called back to work at the Emrick Boulevard location. McClure had been allowing Human Services workers to telecommute. She noted that Northampton County is projected to be under lockdown until May 25. "I don't feel it's safe for us to return," she said, adding that the McClure administration "has very little concern" for the problems this would cause to workers with school-age children. "We're taking an unnecessary risk with no concern given to our families. We are 100% capable from working from home."

McClure responded that the County has an obligation "to keep the people's business moving forward." He noted that some operations are 24/7, and employees who work at the jail, Gracedale or 911 must be physically present. But he decided to allow employees at Human Services to telecommute.

That experiment has failed. McClure stated after the meeting that productivity in this cricual area was going down.

"Remember, we are public servants," he reminded Council. "We are paid - all of us - by the taxpayers. And the taxpayers have not been getting all of the public service that they need to get because I made a choice to help the overall environment by keeping as many people at home as possible."

McClure said he has empathy for parents with school-age children. He noted anyone who comes into a County facility must be temperature-checked and don a mask. He added he is also concerned about the children that are being abused  or neglected and "who need us full time."

"It's very important to remember who comes first. The public comes first," he concluded.

Human Resources Director Elizabeth Kelly told Council any employee who contracts  Covid-19, is  exposed to it or cares for someone with it, is entitled to emergency pay for 14 days. If an employee has difficulty finding child care, he or she is entitled to 12 weeks at 2/3 pay. This does not apply, however, to first responders, which would include children and youth workers. .

"This county has done right by its employees," said Kelly. She noted they can accrue unlimited sick leave, up to two years of vacation and get six days of personal leave every year. "Most of our employees would have enough leave to carry them through an emergency leave," she said.

Elections Office Getting Hammered with Mail-In Ballot Requests

Voting Registrar Amy Cozze reported that her office has been flooded with mail-in ballot applications, and has processed 29,000 so far. Under recent changes to the elections law, voters have until May 26 to request a mail-in ballot.

She said logic and accuracy testing has been performed on every voting machine, which took about an hour per machine. She's still looking for a few dozen poll workers for the June 2 primary. All workers will be wearing masks and gloves. Representatives of both the voting machine and epollbook vendor will be on hand election day to troubleshoot.

Covid-19 Testing

McClure  thinks the County needs more testing sites, and has contacted Governor Tom Wolf's office to pitch a Department Of Health testing site at the Park and Ride exit located at William Penn Highway along Route 33 in Bethlehem Tp. . Though he's been "getting a stiff arm. I think that site would be a game changer. He is hopeful that more testing will give the decision makers in Harrisburg a basis for allowing the County to re-open.

Though there is no state resting site, McClure has used $150,000 from the CARES Act to do testing at the Easton Hospital parking lot. In two days of testing, the County performed more testing each day than the state regional site in Wilkes-Barre.

Emergency Powers Extension

After three hours, County Council finally considered the request to extend McClure's emergency powers until June 8. "This resolution takes us through the primary," noted Heckman, stating this resolution will enable McClure to move staff around for the June 2 primary. He called it a "reasonable" request and noted it gives McClure no authority to suspend constitutional rights.

Council member John Cusick offered no explanation for his No vote. Peg Ferraro had already left the meeting. All other Council members voted Yes.


Anonymous said...

It reads like the technical difficulties infected your writing.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Sorry, my raw notes from the meeting were at the end. I deleted.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the County have a reserve fund (unallocated) in the ball park of forty to sixty million dollars? This is supposed to be set aside as an emergency fund covering a number of possible "emergency scenarios". If this isn't an emergency then what is? Think about what the County can do with that funding I.e. equipment and masks for our Gracedale employees, testing equipment for employees and the general public, emergency staffing, etc. etc. We could do a lot with that money. It can always be replaced later.

Anonymous said...

when is the court house due to open?

Anonymous said...

DA's team is functioning. Overburdened, but functioning. They call you back on a timely basis in spite of the chaos. I even got a call from DA Pepper who threw Bernie in the Chesapeake.

He's OK on this basis alone.... just kidding Berne... say well


Bernie O'Hare said...

7:56, The courthouse is open today for people returning mail-in ballots. I thought it would be open to the public but that apparently will have to wait bc Wolf extended the lockdown.

9:08, DA Richard Huntington Pepper did indeed throw me in the Chesapeake, and several times. I also remember that he, Dwight Danser and I took some type of mariner's course together at LU. The instructor hated us but we all somehow passed. Then one day, we chartered a sailboat and the fellow who was renting to us was him. We accidentally knocked him into the water, too.

Anonymous said...

Why does the emergency declaration in NC June 8th extend beyond PA June 4th?

Anonymous said...

I am so pleased that Dr. Trump knows exactly what is needed to maintain good health in the U.S. Without him, we'd need to listen to such idiots as the Centers for Disease Control and Dr. Fauci. Losers!

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with BO being thrown into the Chesapeake. However, I do object to his being fished out.

Anonymous said...

Want to thank Mr. Heckman for allowing an unedited forum for people to speak at the county council meeting. At least they did not threaten to fire us for talking. A big thank you to Ms. Zirinski for being a true advocate for Human Service workers. She cares about our situation. Doesn't the council have a Human Service Committee? Why isn't it looking into all of this? So thank you Ms. Zirinski for your work.