Wednesday, March 31, 2021

What Is Long Covid?

I'm sure you've heard stories of people who've had Covid-19 but who continue to have symptoms. Unfortunately, we still know very little about Covid-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While most people who suffer from Covid-19 experience symptoms for up to four weeks, there is increasing evidence that some people experience these symptoms much longer. Nature calls this post-acute Covid-19. We call it long Covid or long-haul Covid. These continuing symptoms are likely to include fatigue, difficulty breathing, chest pain, brain fog and joint pain.

You might be tempted to say these symptoms are psychosomatic. But Nature notes that survivors of other coronavirus infections have also suffered from persistent symptoms. 

Three studies have been conducted in the U.S., Europe and China. 

The US study was a telephone survey of 1,250 patients from 38 hospitals in Michigan. Nearly a third reported persistent symptoms 60 days after discharge. 

The most detailed study comes from Wuhan, which conducted an in-person evaluation of 1,733 patients at six months after discharge. Seventy-six per cent were demonstrating at least one symptom. The most common complaint was fatigue or overall weakness. 

You can read more about long covid in Medical News Today. 

Interestingly, some suffering from long covid report recovering fully after being vaccinated. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

NorCo Elections Comm'n Gears Up For Primary

Northampton County's Elections Commission met yesterday. The Board consists of Republicans Maudenia Hornick and Frank L DeVito, as well as Democrats Dr. Alan Brau, Daniel Lopresti and Gail W Preuninger. Maude Hornick, formerly the Commission Chair, was replaced by Preuninger. Dr. Brau remains Vice Chair.

Changes in Election Law

Richard Santee, Solicitor to the Commission, reported on new changes to the election process as a result of case law. Although the state legislature is considering changes, Santee advised they will come after the primary, if at all.

First, the voter must sign and date the declaration on a mail-in ballot envelope in order for it to count. There is no need to fill in the address because it is already stamped on the envelope.

Second, the secrecy envelope must be sealed. (This is a non-precedential decision from one judge of the Commonwealth Court).

Third, a provisional ballot declaration must be signed twice according to a three-judge non-precedential decision of the Commonwealth Court. The voter must sign both the voter declaration and the provisional envelope.

Fourth, if a voter's mail-in ballot is rejected, a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court has ruled his provisional ballot must be discounted. This is a non-precedential decision.

Fifth, political parties have no standing to appeal a decision by the Elections Commission to reject a vote. That right belongs solely to the voter, who is the only aggrieved party.

Sixth, the Pa Supreme Court has ruled that reasonable restrictions on the observation of the canvass process are acceptable.

There is law that if a voter makes an error as the result of bad advice from an election worker, the error will be forgiven.

Registrar's Report

Voting Registrar Amy Cozze reported there are currently 218,499 registered voters (Democrats - 98,156, Republicans - 78,526; Other - 41,817). She has received over 15,000 mail-in ballot requests thus far. There are 482 candidates on the ballot, as well as five referendum questions.

Independents may vote on referendum questions.

Two locations have changed. Hanover1 has moved back to Brith Shalom. Easton 3-3 will vote at Kirby Athletic Center.

Preneinger suggested that an instruction sheet be provided to voters who cast provisional ballots. 

 

Did We Miss the Boat on a Bi-County Health Department?

About ten years ago, both Lehigh and Northampton Counties considered, but ultimately rejected, a bi-county health department. Former NorCo Exec John Stoffa argued for this regionalism, noting that a contagious disease knows no boundaries. There were numerous fierce advocates, including NorCo Council member Peg Ferraro and LC Comm'r Percy Dougherty. But the price tag, lack of financial assistance from wealthy area hospitals and added layer of government bureaucracy doomed it. In hindsight, was this the right call?

"Why create a health department when we can't afford the level of government we have now?" asked then Council member Ron Angle. "Why lead people on such a trip if you don't have the ability to buy a car?" 

At the time it was under consideration, it would have cost both counties about $500,000 per year and would have absorbed separate health departments within the cities. 

Dr. David Lyon, who headed the now defunct health department, explained some of the difficulties encountered: "Everybody wants someone else to make the commitment first. Allentown wants to know what Bethlehem's prepared to do. The County wants to know what the cities are prepared to do. The hospitals want to know what government's prepared to do."

There were also questions whether a regional department would have been beneficial to anyone outside the cities. Would someone in Portland or Slatington really be helped the same way as someone living in the heart of the Lehigh Valley's cities? Proponents thought so, but I was dubious. 

This was a rare instance in which Angle and Lamont McClure were on the same page. They both opposed the idea. So did I. 

After a year of Covid-19, did we miss an opportunity? 

My personal opinion is No. Counties that have active health departments seemed to have done no better in responding to this public health crisis,and may have actually done worse than we did. 

What do you think? 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Bethlehem's FOP Endorses Van Scott, Tony Rybak in Magisterial District Judge Races

Bethlehem Police Department's FOP (Star Lodge #20) requires a 2/3 majority vote from its voting members before it will endorse a candidate seeking elective office. Two magisterial district judge candidates - Tony Rybak and Van Scott - have jumped this hurdle and attained a rather coveted enforcement. 

Rybak

Tony Rybak is a full-time Northampton County Assistant Public Defender seeking the Democratic nomination in South Bethlehem. He's the son of the late Bill Rybak, a former state representative who maintained a south side law practice for five decades. Tony himself has been a lawyer for 20 years. 

Rybak's opponent, Jordan Knisley, is seeking the nomination of both parties. She is a part-time assistant public defender who also works as an associate in the Nazareth office of Harry DeWalt. He's her uncle. She's been a lawyer for five years. 

Referring to Rybak as a "courageous public defender," the FOP credits him with a "thorough knowledge of criminal and civil procedure." It also recognizes his "lifelong commitment," claiming this is what makes him the most qualified candidate. 

Scott

Van Scott is a retired Bethlehem police officer who currently teaches criminal justice. He has cross-filed in his quest for a Magisterial District Judgeship in West Bethlehem and Fountain Hill. A lifelong Bethlehemite, he has shown his commitment to the community by his volunteerism with noble endeavors like the Boys' and Girls' Club and Habitat for Humanity. 

Scott's opponent, Amy Zannelli, is a Jersey transplant and Lehigh County Commissioner. She has claimed she could remain in office for 30 years if she wanted, but it's time for to become a judge. Her volunteerism consists solely of political organizations like LV4All and the Democratic party. 

Noting that Scott has devoted his life to Bethlehem, the FOP is endorsing him because of his "commitment to judicial neutrality." 


Lynch Warns of Satanists and Demonic Entities in Our Midst

I was going to make a gazillion dollars by selling 666 pairs of "Satan shoes" that each contain a drop of human blood. Unfortunately, some little rapper beat me to it. I'm a little pissed about this, but not as much as NorCo's GOP Exec candidate, Steve Lynch. On Facebook, we warns that "corrupt leaders have been setting the stage for decades for satanists and demonic entities to bring their powers into the mainstream." Incidentally, he's wearing "the armor of God," so he's got that going for him.  

As a bottom-feeding blogger myself, I am in regular contact with Satan. He's really pissed about the whole situation, and is threatening to sue. "If Trump can threaten the RNC not to use his name without his permission, you can be damn sure no queer little rapper is going to get away with this," he vowed. 

He's already hired Sydney Powell. 

"And what's with the drop of human blood? Do I look like a frickin' vampire to you? I and don't understand how the Lebanese can handle kibbeh without hurling. Yet I'm the Evil One." 

"Whenever some idiot gets a goofy idea, why is it always my fault? I want people's souls, not their soles." 

"I don't know what the fuck is wrong with Lynch," continued Mephistopheles. "I hate face masks just as much as he does, especially down here. And guess what, my bars are open! I even let my customers smoke!" 

"I let everyone open carry down here."

He complained he's getting tired of all the "fake news" about him. "Read the frickin' Bible. I'm the Morning Star, dude." 

Friday, March 26, 2021

ACCHS Boys Basketball Wins State Championship!

Allentown Central Catholic High School boys' basketball team just won the 4a State Championship. They defeated Hickory by just one point to claim the crown. The Morning Call's Keith Groller, the best sports writer I know, has the details. 

He credits the win to"stingy defense," a hallmark of any team coached by Dennis Csensits. The 18 points scored by Liam Joyce no doubt helped as well. 

I am so proud of the boys. I look forward to seeing them play at Cedar Beach this summer. 

Allentown basketball is back,baby! 

Firearm Mortality Rate by State

In a post published today, I ask whether the pandemic lockdowns have created a surge in domestic violence. Based on PFA cases filed in Northampton County, it appears that Covid-19 has had little or no impact. Governing, however, reports that 2020 was a banner year for gun deaths. Twenty thousand Americans were killed by firearms,  and another 24,000 committed suicide by gun. 

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control in 2019, which tracks the death rate per 100,000, you can see how the Keystone State ranks. Alaska and Mississippi are tied for the top spot with 24 deaths per 100,000. Massachusetts has the lowest death rate - 3.4 per 100,000/

Pennsylvania has 11.7 deaths per 100,000. 

Has Covid-19 Pandemic Led to a Domestic Violence Pandemic?

According to Time, studies show that the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdowns have led to a pandemic of domestic violence. It cites studies showing spikes in three cities: San Antonio (18%), Portland (22%); and NYC (10%).  But is this really true? 

In the year since the pandemic hit NorCo, there have been 1,189 Protection From Abuse cases. The office has certainly been busy. But in the year before Covid-19 reared its ugly head, there were 1,266 Protection From Abuse cases. There were actually 77 more cases in the March '19 to March '20 time period.

This could mean there is actually less abuse. But as someone in the PFA office told me, it could also mean that the victims are trapped and feel they have no way out. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

After Allegedly Threatening Law Enforcement, Mezzacappa Ordered to Relinquish Firearms

Last week, eight people - six of them Asian women - were shot and killed at Georgia  massage parlors by a mentally ill person. On Monday, an equally deranged lone gunman shot and killed 10 people at a Colorado supermarket. Could this happen here? According to an emergency bail petition filed Monday by Northampton County Assistant DA Abigail Bellafatto (you can read below), threats of picking off state troopers and constables, "one at a time," are coming from West Easton Borough Constable Tricia Mezzacappa. 

Mezzacappa was found guilty on March 9 of lying to Pennsylvania State Police in an attempt to frame an innocent black man. Judge Stephen Baratta, who presided at the trial, ordered a psychiatric evaluation and deferred sentencing until April 21. 

According to the DA's petition, state police in Kutztown were recently contacted by a private citizen. He told them she had no intention of appearing at her sentencing. She allegedly said she "would escape court or not go and wait in her basement for PSP or Constables to show up and pick them off one at a time." 

I have a friend who happens to be a police officer, and he personally saw her buy both a shotgun and a glock recently. I have another friend who saw her open-carrying at Wegman's, of all places. So she definitely owns and has a penchant for displaying her firearms. 

Was her statement just an idle threat? I doubt it. She put some thought into what she said.  She allegedly handed this person an envelope and told him to open it if something happened to her. This person opened it and it contained her Will as well as a list of her bank accounts, passwords and pin numbers. This certainly sounds like she was planning to go out shooting. 

According to ADA Bellafato, Mezzacappa "poses a significant risk to herself and to the community." 

I'd agree. 

Bellafatto asked Judge Baratta to order Mezzacappa to surrender all firearms within her possession (good idea!). Although Bellafato noted that the Judge has the power to impose all kinds of other conditions, she limited herself to asking that Mezzacappa surrender her firearms. 

Judge Baratta immediately issued a bench warrant.  Mezzacappa was picked up yesterday by alert deputy sheriffs and brought before him. He ordered her to relinquish her firearms, but her bail was reinstated. 

This does not mean she's at large. If officials consider her a threat to herself or others, she will be committed for at least a brief period. 

I see no indication that PSP in Kutztown have filed charges for terroristic threats. She is alleged to have threatened to kill law enforcement. The private person to whom she made this statement was terrorized enough to contact state police, so there was intent to cause terror. State police were concerned enough to tag her as armed and dangerous. But she made the statement in Berks County, so whether she's charged is their call. 

One thing is clear. Mental illness and guns are often a bad combination. 

Updated 9:23 am

Mezzacappa Emergency Bail Petition by BernieOHare on Scribd

Judge Dally Rules on Challenges to NorCo Nomination Petitions

Judge Craig Dally administers Northampton County's problem-solving courts. His Drug Court has been especially successful in weaning addicted persons like myself off the drug of their choice. In the process, he has no doubt saved lives, not just of the addicts themselves but those they touch. As noble as this effort is, Judge Dally has been the go-to judge for problems of a different sort - ballot challenges. He did an excellent job handling them four years ago, and did so again this week after conducting  hearings on seven ballot challenges. An eighth challenged candidate, Ilda Perna, voluntarily withdrew. 

Judge Dally sustained all the challenges before him, except for the objections filed by Magisterial District Judge candidate Andrew Tupone. 

Based on Judge Dally's rulings, which you can read for yourself below, there are the following takeaways:

1) The Election Code must be construed liberally to preserve a candidate's right to run for office and voter choice. A nomination ios presumed valid, and those who file challenges have a heavy burden of proving defects. If there is any doubt, it must be resolved in favor of the candidate. 

2) Despite the liberal construction of the Election Code, there is one area in which courts have no discretion. When someone runs for office, he must attach a state form called a Statement of Financial Interests to his nomination petition, and must file it both at the Elections Office and with the political subdivision in which office is sought. Two candidates - Phil Taverna (Palmer Tp Supervisor) and Tanya Keller (Easton Area School Director) - failed to follow this statutory imperative. As Judge Dally sadly noted, "[T]he court is not empowered to override this statutory directive." 

Tanya Keller is a first-time candidate and justice was clearly on her side. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with justice, but the law.  The court has no power to re-write a mandatory requirement.

3) If the same person signs two nomination petitions for the same office, only the earlier signature shall be honored. This is what invalidated Tony Rybak's GOP nomination petition for Magisterial District Judge in South Bethlehem.  The Elections Code clearly states that a voter may only sign one nomination petition for an elected office. If a  voter does so, it is only the earlier signature that will count.

Unfortunately, Rybak obtained signatures from 20 Republicans who had already signed Jordan Knisley's GOP petition. Because of that defect, his GOP nomination petition was set aside. He can still run as a Democrat.  In a heavily Democratic district like South Bethlehem, Jordan Knisley might have actually done Rybak a favor. 

4) It's always a good idea to obtain at least twice as many signatures as you need. This failure did in three candidates. Dellise Huertas (Bethlehem Area School Director), Jason Gerhard (Lower Nazareth Constable)  and Emmanuel Jah-El (Norco Council) obtained far too signatures. They were no doubt hampered by the pandemic, but opened themselves up to signature challenges.

5) Don't be petty. Andrew Tupone, who works for Northampton County, wants to be a magisterial district judge. He ran for the office six years ago and lost. Pat Broscius won on both sides of ballot in the primary despite a plethora of candidates.  Tupone decided his best bet was to knock her off instead of letting voters have a say. He filed objections to facial defects in Broscius' nomination petition, which she easily cured.  

At the hearing, all she had to do is sit there and look smart while both prominent Attorney Brian Monahan and Judge Dally himself destroyed Tupone's arguments. Tupone not only nitpicked at Broscius, but even tried playing that game with Monahan's answer. In the process, he proved he'd be a terrible magisterial district judge. Tupne's objections, which consisted of goofy claims like her failure to note the date if the election, were clearly frivolous.  

6) Get a lawyer.  - Well-known and highly regarded attorneys represented some of the objectors. This included flamboyant Gary Asteak and other seasoned lawyers like Steve Goudzousian, Brian Monahan and April Cordts. I am shocked at the number of people involved here who chose to represent themselves. If Tanya Keller had a lawyer, she might have been able to exclude a bare letter from Easton school officials as hearsay in the objection to her candidacy as an Easton School Director. Many attorneys will waive a fee for matters like this, which are basic to our democracy. 

Judge Craig Dally's Rul... by BernieOHare

Updated 7:15 am. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Why Are Covid Cases Going Up Again?

Numbers cruncher Steve Thode, who has been meticulously following the Covid-19 data, has the latest:

As of [Tuesday], Lehigh/NorCo (combined) have reported 1,685 new COVID cases the last 7 days.

That's the highest 7-Day Lehigh/NorCo total since February 15.

Meanwhile, the state has reported a total 21,233 new COVID cases the last 7 days.

That's the highest statewide 7-Day total since February 18.

According to DoH, an additional 2.6 million Pennsylvanians have been vaccinated since February 18 of which almost 1.6 million are now fully-vaccinated.

Reminds me of Don Henley's Heart of the Matter - "the more I know, the less I understand."

Or, as Sam Elliott (as The Stranger) said in The Big Lebowski, "stupefying."

My admittedly unscientific conclusion is that either the vaccine is less effective than portrayed or that the state is over-reporting the number of people vaccinated. I know I am still waiting for an appointment. 

McClure Testifies to Pa. Senate on Election Integrity

Yesterday, NorCo Exec Lamont McClure was one of several local officials to testify before the Pa. Senate on election integrity. Although this review may very well be Republican-inspired, it's always a good idea to review our elections to determine what works well and where we can improve. County officials would like to begin counting mail-in ballots prior to election day. They also think the cutoff date for requesting a mail-in ballot, currently set at one week before the election, gives them too little time. There are other issues to consider as well: drop boxes; the danger of ballot harvesting; allowing voters to cure errors on their ballots; whether no-excuse mail-in balloting should be eliminated; voter ID; and open primaries. McClure commended the Republican-dominated state legislature for its reform, calling it "the most democratizing piece of legislation in the history of the Commonwealth." He supports two tweaks. First, he'd like election officials to have 21 days to pre-canvass mail-in ballots. Second, he'd like statutory authority to send a mail-in ballot application to every registered voter.

Of course, other local officials have different views. One Westmoreland County Commissioner asked that no-excuse mail-in balloting be eliminated, although he was contradicted by other Westmoreland County officials. 

McClure's Statement: 

The responsibility of running elections has always fallen on the shoulders of county government and it is a heavy responsibility. Voting is the cornerstone of every democracy and there is no room for error. Casting a ballot must be accessible to every eligible citizen and the process must be secure from registering to vote to the certification of the final results. The method of counting ballots must be reliable, the final tally incontestable and the entire process open to examination by the public. Plus you have to find a way to pay for it all.
 
Our bedrock principle in Northampton County is to put on fair, legal and accurate elections, and that’s what we did in 2020. Northampton is recognized not only a bellwether of the Commonwealth, but also of the nation. Over the past one hundred years, Northampton County has differed from the national result in a presidential election only three times.
 
In Northampton County, we know a little something about election stress tests. Pursuant to the Commonwealth’s settlement of the Stein case, Northampton County purchased the ES&S ExpressVote XL, a state-of-the-art touchscreen system with a paper ballot backup. In the context of election security, this was light years ahead of the DREs we had previously used. We were excited about this upgrade and paid $2.9 million dollars believing that not only would our election security be enhanced, but the experience would be better for the voter. During our election in November 2019 it quickly became clear that something was not right. By the end of the day, we learned of not just one, but two distinct problems which imperiled the entire outcome of the election.
 
Throughout the day we had fielded reports of touchscreens that were “glitchy,” particularly in the margins. What we subsequently learned was that approximately 1/3 of the machines we’d purchased had not been properly calibrated at the factory before ES&S shipped them to us. Despite these worrisome reports we were heartened to discover that, when questioned about whether their selections had showed up on the paper ballot, voter after voter indicated that they had. It may have taken a few extra taps on the touchscreen but, once they finalized their selections and hit print, the names of their chosen candidates were printed out on a paper ballot that they could review.
 
After 8:00PM that night, I got a call that no County Executive wants to receive. An additional factory error, initiated by ES&S mis-coding caused the votes for cross-filed races to fail to be tallied on the XL’s memory stick. Using the computer results became impossible. Instead, we would have to count the paper ballots. And, we did. All night long. Using high speed scanners we counted over 60,000 ballots and, by 5AM the next morning we had results. And, while this was not our preferred method of conducting an election, we learned a very important lesson—the paper ballot backup works. Ahead of what was likely to result in unprecedented turnout in a presidential year, if the voting machines failed, the paper ballot backup would allow us to put on a fair, legal and accurate election.
 
(I’m happy to report that ES&S quickly investigated the matter, made the requisite fixes and we went through a very busy 2020 without a glitch.)
 
After our harrowing experience, Governor Wolf signed Act 77 tasking election officials with essentially implementing two voting systems—one at the polls and one by no-excuse mail-in ballots. The General Election in 2020 required nearly 1500 people to handle both systems. Our County Council added another million dollars to our election’s budget to ensure there were enough resources. Because of the dedication of our staff and volunteers and the willingness of Council to provide additional funding, I’m happy to report our Primary and General Elections were virtually flawless. During the Primary of 2020 we were one of the first three counties in the Commonwealth to report our results. In November, we were the first to report our 2020 General Election results, posting them at approximately 6:00AM Wednesday morning.
 
I understand that Act 77 has come under intense and withering criticism from virtually all quarters. Some the concerns are valid such as the increased volume of work the new law has imposed on Registrars across the Commonwealth. Others are nothing more than conspiracy theories. Are there aspects of the law that can be improved? I think the answer to that question is, yes. However, it is the view of Northampton County that the Legislature should be commended for Act 77. It is the most democratizing piece of legislation in the history of the Commonwealth, and it is a statute its drafters and all those who voted for it can be deeply proud of upon reflection. 
 
Registrars across the state want to put on fair, legal and accurate elections, but they need your assistance. It is not feasible for them to conduct two separate elections on the same day. Allowing twenty-one days to pre-canvass mail-in ballots would give them more time. Sending an application to vote by mail to every voter has been shown to increase participation.
 
Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. For our citizens to have confidence in the process we must increase accessibility and participation for voters and we must give our Registrars the tools and the space they need to do their work. As we saw in 2020, delays in reporting results can be weaponized and used to form conspiracy theories. As public servants, we serve the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I encourage the committee to not go backwards on Act 77, but to improve it.
 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Updated: Lynch Attacks Media For Reporting Mass Shooting in Boulder

A lone gunman killed 10 people, including a cop, at a Colorado supermarket on Monday. This is obviously highly newsworthy. But not to NorCo GOP Exec candidate Steve Lynch. Here's what he's telling his lynch mob: "Que the mass shootings ...  See how this works folks? Haven't heard this narrative for a while. Now that gun control measures are being pushed through the House ... Voila! Shootings will be front and center! Stop being manipulated and start seeing the truth!"

A reader asked me to post a link to Lynch's remark. Because he has blocked me on Facebook, I am unable to do so. But I have a screenshot, which is posted below. 


(Originally posted 3/23 at 9:10 am. Updated 3/24 at 8:55 am)

Judge Dally to Rule on Objections to Nomination Petitions

Judge Craig Dally (out of uniform)
Northampton County Judge Craig Dally spent the entire day in court on Monday, listening to six of the objections filed against nomination petitions filed by eight candidates.  One of the candidates (Ilda Perna for Magisterial District Judge in South Bethlehem) withdrew, making a hearing unnecessary. The objections filed by Patti Bruno against fellow NorCo Council candidate Emmanuel Jah-El will be heard today. I sat in on two of the hearings; Andrew Tupone's objection to Magisterial District Judge Pat Broscius; and the objection to Tanya Keller for Easton Area School Board. 

Judge Dally handled the objections to nomination petitions four years ago. He was well-armed with the latest case law, to which he referred from time to time. 

Tupone's Objection to Magisterial District Judge Pat Broscius. - Andrew Tupone ran for this office six years ago, and lost. He objected to Broscius' nomination papers because of facial defects that she cured. One example of this was her failure to list the date of the primary. In her Statement of Financial Interests, she stated she had no sources of income although it's quite obvious she does because, as she originally noted on the form, she is employed as a Magisterial District Judge.

Tupone tried to argue these facial defects were fatal, but Judge Dally schooled him. He said that mistakes like the one on Broscius' petition appear to be "harmless error", and referred to a Supreme Court decision involving a State Representative who made the same mistake Broscius did. The state's highest court ruled in favor of the State Rep. "I have the case right here, wanna' see it?" Dally asked Tupone. 

Instead of actually looking at the law, Tupone went on to claim he's doubtful of Broscius' claim to have received no loans or gifts. "How do we know that?" he asked.

"That's what the candidate said," answered Judge Dally. "You can't just say bad faith, you have to prove it." 

Judge Dally asked Tupone if he had any evidence to back up his quasi-assertion of bad faith. "Not at the moment," answered Tupone, stating he might produce it in his closing argument. 

He never did. 

Judge Broscius was represented by Attorney Brian Monahan, who demonstrated she corrected the facial defects on her nomination petition. He also filed an answer to Tupone's objections, and Tupone then started pecking away at two typos in Monahan's response.  

Tupone argued he felt obligated to raise these issues. Judge Dally agreed he had the right. Having the right to do something, however, does not mean you should. 

I have no idea how Judge Dally will rule, but from my box in the peanut gallery, the only person displaying bad faith was Tupone. His objections were frivolous. 

Objection to Tanya Keller in Easton School Board Race. - I felt bad for her. She'd certainly be a better school director than Susan "Karen" Hartranft-Bittinger, the school director who filed objections. She objected to everything. She was antagonistic to Voter Registrar Amy Cozze for daring to accept Keller's Statement of Financial Interests. Like Tupone before her, she questioned its accuracy. But this school board Karen was right about one thing - Keller failed to file her Statement of Financial Interests with the school district.  This is mandatory by statute.  There are no excuses. Keller, to her credit, honestly admitted her error. 

My guess is that she will be removed. 

When Judge Dally's decisions are announced regarding the other objections, I will let you know. 

Why Gracedale Advisory Board Has Stopped Meeting

Jim Irwin is a former Gracedale employee (1999-2013) who has gone on to represent the AFSCME bargaining unit at the county-owned nursing home. He also chairs the Gracedale Advisory Board. He responded at last week's County Council meeting to Council member John Cusick's complaint that there have been no meetings over the past year.

Irwin prefaced his remarks by noting tht the Advisory Board was established as a watchdog to guard against the sale of the facility to a for-profit corporation. "Councilman Cusick should be aware of this as he was one of the members of Council at that time who were in favor of the sale," he remarked. 

Ouch! 

Irwin went on to tick off four reasons why meetings have been suspended. 

First, in the midst of a pandemic, there is little danger that any for-profit corporation would want to buy Gracedale.

Second, County Council receives very detailed reports monthly from Gracedale staff at the Human Services Committee.

Third, as AFSCME's representative at the home, he is on constant contact with both employees and administrators, and knows exactly what is happening.

Fourth, conducting meetings may actually have increased the infection and death rate because it would have imposed a burden on staff at a time when "one more straw could break the camel's back. 

Irwin vowed meetings will resume once the pandemic abates.   

Monday, March 22, 2021

Osborne: South Whitehall Off to the Races!

Normally an “off-cycle” election is sleepy with minimal attention and consequences, but nothing could be further from that in South Whitehall this year. There are two commissioner positions in play, and boy, is that huge!

The addition of Diane Kelly and Michael Wolk to the Board of Commissioners just 15 months ago has added intrigue and potential change in direction in the fifth largest municipality in Lehigh County. For voters who have watched this board in action during this time, it is obvious the issues are less about party affiliation than it is about development, fiscal oversight and transparency. May 18 is sure to bring out more voters than normal as the candidates draw distinction among themselves and battle lines are drawn.

The Democrat ballot features Joe Setton, appointed in 2019 to fill a vacancy on the board, and Tom Johns, a former commissioner with close ties to the community. 

The Republican ballot, however, is contested and will be interesting.

Board President Christina “Tori” Morgan has served on the Board of Commissioners since 2008, the last 8 years as board president. She heads a now-familiar 3-2 majority of the board. She was a leading proponent of the controversial Ridge Farm development made possible by a creative “overlay district” approved in 2014. She is also a supporter of other large developments. Most recently,  she has overseen negotiations that resulted in the first labor strike in South Whitehall since the 1980’s. She undoubtedly will be a target for those voters who disapprove of her leadership on these and other issues. Other voters will see the positives she emphasizes and provide critical support in her re-election effort.

Her competition on the Republican ballot are newcomers Monica Hodges and David Kennedy. Hodges is the co-founder of the South Whitehall Concerned Citizens, which formed in 2017 as a forum for residents to express their views concerning Ridge Farms. This has since grown into a multi-issue outlet that addresses growth, preservation, township finances, and government transparency among other important topics. Kennedy has served on the Parkland School District board for 22 years and the South Whitehall Public Safety Commission for 25 years. He pledges to have developers comply with land development ordinances while also preserving farmland and green space.

I would like to provide the opportunity for the candidates to respond to 5-7 questions on this blog, but before doing so, thought it would be good to see what you think should be asked of the candidates. Each candidate will be asked the same questions.

Updated 9:24 am, to indicate S Whitehall is fifth, not third, largest municipality in Lehigh.  

Liz Romig, Icon of Frontline Justice, Has Passed On

I'm sorry to have to tell you that retired Magisterial District Judge Elizabeth "Liz" Romig-Gainer passed away on Saturday. Of all the judges of any kind that I've known over the years, she was one of the best. She was respected by the people who appeared before, no matter how she ruled. Police officers and defense lawyers alike held her in high regard. She was also good to the people who worked for her. She was a judge who never forgot her roots in Bethlehem's subsidized housing. She was a pioneer for women at a time when very few held held any judicial roles at all. My father, who loved to torment judges, adored her. So did his partner, George Heitczman. So did I. Her departure is a dark day for Northampton County justice. 

Get this. After working as secretary for Magisterial District Judge Mike Huda, she took the seat herself in 1976. She remained on the bench for 30 years, serving northeast Bethlehem from her busy office on Stefko Boulevard. After retiring, she continued to serve another 17 years, filling in for judges who were ill or unavailable. 

She's one of the first magisterial district judges before whom I appeared. I recall a witness who just knew a little bit too much. 

"How do you know all these things?" I asked, after noting an improbable number of things this witness claimed to have seen and heard. 

"I have a photogenic memory," was her reply.  

Judge Romig remained impassive, but I could tell it was all she could do to keep from bursting out in laughter. 

I remember all of this because I have a photogenic memory myself. 

I never knew until after she retired that she was the sister of Executive Gerald "Jerry" E Seyfried. I never held this against her.  

Over the years, I've taken numerous shots at judges. Given the frequency with which I find myself before them, it's one of the dumbist things I do. Now I happen to collect parking tickets the way grade schoolers would collect baseball cards. So I'm a repeat customer before magisterial district judges, whom I like to call mini-judges. But it is they who are on the frontlines of our judicial system. At their best, they are a bulwark between authority and the voiceless. Liz Romig never forgot where she came from,and everyone before her got a fair shake. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

NorCo Exec Candidate Claims Covid Was Created so Government Can Force Vaccinations

Northampton County GOP Executive candidate Steve Lynch may be nuttier than I thought, and that's pretty amazing. On his Facebook page he is claiming that the virus causing Covid-19 "was created to implement forced inoculations." Oh yeah, they alter your DNA, too. 

Cuckoo!

Moderna and other mRNA vaccines will have no effect on a recipient's DNA

His claim that the virus was created so the government can force you to submit to DNA-altering vaccines is just another of numerous conspiracy theories that appear to be more contagious than the virus itself.

Lynch's statement is irresponsible and he should withdraw from the race. People who believe his nonsense could die. 
 

NorCo To Receive $60,710,00 in Covid Relief

Executive Lamont McClure told Northampton County Council that the county is getting $60,710,000 in Covid relief money, thanks to the bill recently passed in Congress and signed by President Joe Biden on Monday. I will outline his comments on Monday. He does plan to reinstate the very popular small business grant program and is looking to provide more relief to nonprofits. . 

NorCo Courts to Review 8 Ballot Challenges on Monday

Objections have been filed to the nomination petition of eight candidates in Northampton County. On Monday, they will be reviewed in court. Below are summaries concerning each of these objections.

1) Objection to Tony Ryback's GOP nomination petition for Magisterial District Judge in South Bethlehem. - This objection was filed by Matthew James Hinner, a south side Republican. He's represented by prominent Easton attorney Gary Asteak. The complaint is that Rybak obtained signatures from Republicans who had already signed the nomination petition of rival candidate Jordan Knisely. He also submitted petitions signed by Democrats and Independents. When these invalid signatures are stricken, Rybak has less than the 100 he needs to get on the ballot. 

While it might seem smart to bounce someone off a ballot when you can, this could backfire. Knisely and Rybak are running in a heavily Democratic district. Rybak could portray himself as the Democratic hero, and paint Knisley as someone resorting to Trumpian tactics to get an edge, even though she herself is a Democrat. 

This objection appears to have merit legally, but might be politically foolish. 

2) Objection to Ilda Perna's nomination petition for Magisterial District Judge in South Bethlehem. - This objection was filed by rival candidate Jordan Knisley, who is also represented by Asteak. That's how I know that Knisley is behind the objection to Rybak According to the chjallenge, she lacks the required 100 signatures. More damning  is the argument that she has failed to live in the district for at least a year. This objection appears to have merit. 

3) Objection to Phil Taverna's nomination petition for Palmer Tp Supervisor. -  This was filed by J. Walter Medlar, Jr., who is represented by yet another distinguished barrister, Steve Goudzousian. According to the complaint, Taverna filed his Statement of Financial Interests a day late. This may seem like a minor matter, but it is a death knell. While the courts will overlook facial defects and give candidates an opportunity to cure facial defects,  the Elections Code  gives them no wiggle room if a candidate files his Statement of Financial Interests late. If this allegation is true, Taverna will have to be rejected.  

4) Objection to Tanya Keller in Easton School Director Race. - This is from rival Susan Hartranft-Bittinger, who represents herself. Her challenge is based on an alleged failure to attach a Statement ofFinancial Interests. This Elections Code requirement is mandatory, not precatory. If true, Keller will be removed.

5) Objection to Pat Broscius in Bethlehem Tp Magisterial Race. - This objection is from opponent Anthony Tupone, who represents himself. It is based on facial defects in Broscius's statement of financial interests and other documentation.  These are defects that can be easily cured. Tupone's objection is frivolous. 

6) Objection to Jason Gerhard in Lower Nazareth Constable Race.- This objection is from opponent Willard Sigley, who is represented by veteran Attorney April Cordts. Her complaint outlines detailed objections to signatures. If correct, Gerhard will have to be removed. 

7) Objection to Dellise Huertas on Bethlehem Area School Board. - This objection is filed by Jolene Vitalos, who is representing herself. She argues only five signatures are valid. Beliueve it or  not, she attacks the legibility of some signatures, but also claims others are from people who do not reside in the school district. 

8) Objection to Emmanuel Jah-El for Northampton County Council. - This is from rival candidate Patti Bruno, representing herself. She argues that 105 of Jah-El's 295 signatures are invalid, but fails to state what makes them that way. Courts require more specificity than bald allegations. 

PJ Koury: Constables and Police Officers Must Avoid Secretarial Areas in Minor Courts

Magisterial District Judge Roy Manwaring presides in north Bethlehem on Broad Street. He ran afoul of President Judge Michael J. Koury, Jr., in 2018 after ordering an innocent parking ticket defendant to pay court costs. Judge Manwaring, a former Assistant DA who really should know better, was forced to return the money. Now he's in hot water again. This time, it's over his obstinate refusal to follow internal controls designed to protect the courts from theft. In a recent audit, Controller Tony Bassil advised Manwaring that police officers and constables should be denied access to secretarial areas, where they have unfettered access to cash and financial records. Manwaring refused to follow this sage advice. Now he has no choice. In the Order and Opinion you see below, President Judge Koury agrees with the Controller. In addition, Judge Koury reasons that Defendants who see police officers and constables in the secretarial areas createses the appearance that the magistrate is biased in favor of police officers and constables.  

The admonition against constables and police officers in secretarial areas goes back to 2012, when Deputy Court Administrator Debra C French specifically recommended that "[c]onstables / police officers / members of the public should not have access to your case records,  cash, financial records, etc. Constables  / police officers / members of the public should never be in the secretarial area."

Judge Manwaring's refusal to follow this directive was first picked up in 2015 by Steve Barron when he was Controller. At the time, Judge Manwaring stated that Barron had exceeded his authority. "I believe this issue rests within the sound discretion of the Magisterial District Judge who was elected to manage and run the court." Manwaring went on to argue that a strict reading of this recommendation would prevent custodians from cleaning or contractors from doing necessary repairs. 

After Barron's 2015 audit, Deputy Court Administrator Debra C French issued yet another Internal Control procedures memo in 2017, affirming that constables and police officers should be excluded from the secretarial area and adding, "Constables should not have keys or alarm codes to any district court." 

I have been reliably informed that Judge Manwaring has provided keys to his court to favored constables. 

Judge Manwaring states that access only exists for the limited purpose of conducting necessary paperwork, but Judge Koury concludes the purpose is irrelevant "because those viewing these actions may perceive Magisterial District Judge Manwaring as biased." 

Judge Koury also responds to Manwaring's argument that custodians would be prevented from cleaning and that contractors would be unable to complete repairs. He notes they are only present when the office is closed. "Additionally, a reasonable person would not view the hypothetical presence of such individuals as affecting a Magisterial District Judge's honesty, impartiality, temperament or fitness to serve ... . Unlike custodial staff, constables and police officers are actively involved in cases that come before Magisterial District Judges." 

Before he became a judge, President Judge Michael J Koury, Jr served as a magisterial district judge, so he understands what should and should not be happening on the frontlines of our judicial system. 

PJ Koury: Magistrates Must ... by BernieOHare

Despite Pledge West Easton Constable Tricia Mezzacappa Appeals Guilty Verdict in False Reports Case

In 2014, West Easton Constable Tricia Mezzacappa was ordered to pay $67,000 in damages to me for some outrageous lies she repeated at various locations, including a local radio station. She's an adjudicated liar.  Instead of learning her lesson, she's progressed from defamation to reporting nonexistent crimes. Last week, a jury found her guilty of false reports to the Pennsylvania State Police when she attempted to frame an innocent black man in 2019 with pointing a gun at her head. On her Facebook page and in statements to Lehigh Valley Live after the verdict, she vowed there'd be no appeal. 

She just appealed. 

On Thursday, she asked Judge Stephen Baratta to "vacate or reverse" the verdict. Maybe she does not consider that an appeal

She claims her right to counsel was violated even though she has bragged on numerous occasions that she is at her best when she represents herself. 

After seeking numerous continuances and skipping out on bail, she argues she was denied her right to a speedy trial.

She asserts her crime was victimless, even though her lie took numerous troopers off the highways for hours. The entire state was a victim, which is why the caption against her is Commonwealth v.Tricia Mezzacappa. 

She claims several jurors tried to talk to her about her case in the rotunda on March 9. There is constant video of the rotunda, which I'm certain will show that, once again, she is lying. She continues to dig a hole for herself. 

She argues the jury foreperson was sleeping during closing arguments. Unless she made an objection to the court at the time, she has waived the right to complain now.

She's upset that the jury took such little time to reach a verdict. She asserts, with no evidence at all to support her wild claim, that "outside influence affected the jury." 

She states she was denied the time to subpoena documents or witnesses. She had well over a year to do so. 

She complains that "nonpublic information" was leaked. Although this is untrue, it has noting to do with the facts of the case. 

She finally asserts that her former lawyer, prominent criminal defense lawyer John Waldron, refused to refund whatever she paid him or find her another lawyer. He  got out of the case, and with her consent, because she refused to heed his advice. In fact, she told LehighValleyLive she regretted her refusal to listen.   

This appeal demonstrates that whatever planet she's on, it's not Earth. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Lehigh and NorCo Team Up with $7.5M in Grants for Suffering Hospitality Industry

At a joint news conference on Wednesday, the Lehigh Valley's two county executives announced $7.5 million in grants for Lehigh Valley's suffering restaurants, bars and hotels. This program is available thanks to a block grant that went to each of the state's 67 counties. In the Lehigh Valley, the assistance will be administered by The Rising Tide. Applications may be made now, and until June 15. The maximum grant available is $10,000. 

According to a news release from Lehigh County, the application process actually opened on March 15. 

Eligibility is determined as follows:

• As stated on tax return, business has an industry classification starting with NAICS code 721: Accommodation or NAICS Code 722: Food Services and Drinking Places and is located in Northampton County and Lehigh County 

• Was in operation on February 15, 2020 and remains in operation, and does not intend to permanently cease operations within one year of the date of application 

• Experienced a reduction in revenue of at least 25% in gross receipts between comparable quarters in 2019 and 2020 

• Has fewer than 300 full-time equivalent employees 

• COVID-19 has had an adverse economic impact on the eligible business 

• Has a maximum tangible net worth of not more than $15 million 

• Business is not publicly traded 

I'd like to know what kind of administrative fee is being paid to Rising Tide. 

Crampsie-Smith Tried to Restore Firefighter Positions

I noted yesterday that incumbent Council member Bryan Callahan was the only member of that illustrious body to say No to a tax hike in the middle of a pandemic. I added he was the sole Council member to say No to the elimination of four firefighters. I have to correct myself. Council member Grace Crampsie Smith did attempt to restore these positions. But when her proposal was shot down, she went ahead and voted for the budget eliminating those positions and raising taxes.

I'll give her credit for questioning the wisdom of her vote. Here's what she said to Gadfly: "Overall, I still have some doubts re: my budgetary votes, but that is the nature of the beast, and I will continue to vote my conscience knowing that often votes can be quite heart-wrenching. Did I make the best decisions during these budgetary votes? I still question if I did and probably always will. Ultimately, I made the decisions I thought needed to be made at that time, and I must live with that and move on."

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Bethlehem Defends Stormwater Fee Transparency

In response to an inquiry from a Bethlehem homeowner, this is how the City's "Stormwater Engineer," Meara C Hayden, justifies this $60 annual fee. 

The City of Bethlehem has been looking into adopting a stormwater fee ordinance for the past five years, similar to ordinances previously passed in Allentown and Easton and others around the state and country. Our fee is considerably lower than both those neighboring cities. Other local municipalities are currently working on stormwater fees as well.  While considering and adopting this fee, we have reached out via newspapers and advertised online virtual public meetings . We met with many of the largest rate payers on October 20, 21, 22 and November 2 and 13 in 2020.  We had an online Public Meeting on November 17, 2020.  This meeting was advertised on the City website, Lehigh Valley Live, the Express Times and a general Press Release was issued.  The Fee was discussed at City Council Budget Hearings in 2019 and 2020, both of which were advertised ahead of the meetings.  An online public presentation (see attached) was given at City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on December 1, 2020 and public comment was also invited at the December 1st and 15th, 2020 City Council meetings which both advertised the agenda in a Press Release, in the Express Times, and on the City’s website.  A number of articles were in the local media over the last two years.  These include Lehigh Valley Live on 11/08/19, 12/18/19, and 12/16/20, the Morning Call on 11/18/19, 12/17/19, and 12/16/20 and on WFMZ on 12/02/20.
 
We are continuing our stormwater public educational program, and we are holding webinars on April 1st and April 6th, which will be recorded and posted online afterwards. This will help to explain why the fee was implemented and what the funding will be used to address.  You can find the link to sign up for that at the bottom of the page here:
 
 
Also on that page is a link to an FAQ document that fully answers the common questions we get about the stormwater fee.
 
All single family home owners are billed a flat $60/year fee. In your situation, even though you share a water meter with multiple other homes, you are still billed for the stormwater fee as a residential property. Let me know if you have any questions our FAQ document can’t a

Five Democrats Seek Four At-Large Seats in Bethlehem

Bethlehem City Council is comprised of seven members, each of whom is elected at-large (city-wide). It's a part-time job with a salary of just $7,100. Four seats are up for re-election this year, and five Democrats have filed nomination petitions. No Republican is running. 

The candidates include incumbents Bryan Callahan and Grace Crampsie Smith. He's the brother of the City's former Mayor, a teacher and owner of the Callahan Driving School. She's a guidance counselor at the Easton Area School District, mmk? 

The three newcomers are (1) Hillary Kwiatek, a communications specialist at Lehigh who unsurprisingly is a prolific tweeter; (2) Kiera Wilhelm, Director of Fig Magazine and small business cheerleader; and (3) Rachel Leon, a Navy vet pursuing a global studies degree. 

Of the two incumbents, only Callahan voted No to the five per cent tax hike and the defunding of four firefighters. 

Blogger's Note: Crampsie-Smith did try to restore the firefighter positions. When she failed, she went ahead and voted for the budget anyway. 

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

So instead of pissing all of you off with my usual political rants, I thought I'd tell you a little story today about my family and why we don't look too closely at our Irish roots.

Black Irish. That's what I am. Instead of the usual freckle-faced redhead, I'm dark and swarthy. Victorian English were sure these physical differences made us inferior, and who am I to argue? Some say we're the progeny of those lucky few members of the Spanish Armada whose brains weren't crushed in by the Irish themselves. Others claim we're actually one of the ten lost tribes of Israel.

My family is originally from Newtownhamilton in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. I could never get a straight answer, but I'm pretty sure we were kicked out for making bad whiskey. In fact, we had to slip into the US over the Canadian border. Imagine that! We were illegals at a time when they'd let anyone in the country.

Ever hear of shanty Irish? We make them look like nobility.

We eventually snuck into Schuylkill County. My great uncle had a beautiful dynamite plant, but blew half of New Ringold off the face of earth when some idiot (another O'Hare, of course) had the brilliant idea of running a phone line in at a time in our history when a lot of sparks flew off those wires. So much for technology. That was nearly the end of the phone line and any other line for the Armagh O'Hares here in America.

Most O'Hares became nohares, going off like Roman (or should I say Irish?) candles because of all the bad whiskey that fueled their bodies.

One of these skyrocketing nohares was my great-uncle Felix, known as the anthracite bard. I can't find a damn thing he's written, but my packrat brother probably has something in some drawer somewhere.

My grandfather (Bernard V.) and his uncle (Bernard H.) survived. Neither ever went to college, yet both somehow became lawyers. They both ran for political office many times, from DA to Congress. They lost every time.

We were like the Orloskis of the coal regions.

Although a staunch Irish Catholic, and a Democrat to boot, Bernard H. denounced the violence used by the Molly Maguires. He preferred the Mahatma Ghandi approach. The Maguires responded to his message of peace and love by burning his home three times. To make sure he understood, they once invaded a school at which he taught and beat him to within an inch of his life.

I adored my grandfather. My parents used to dump me on him at his home in Shenandoah for a month at a time because I was always running away from home to become a mountain man and would wake up neighbors at 4 AM to recruit them in my adventures.

His brother John did manage to graduate from Georgetown, but died on the day he received word that he passed the bar. He was editor of the newspaper, which he called the Hoya, and that became the name by which Georgetown is known. ... Or so I'm told. (My ancestors lied a lot).

My pop pop always wore a three piece suit. I think he slept in the damn thing. He would give me pocket watches he made as a hobby and, for some reason, also gave me lots of American flags. He walked everywhere, and would even let me walk to his office with him. But he was very sickly. Every corner, he'd have me stop and wait for a minute or so while he'd get his "shot." He had lots of doctors. He'd come out, smile, and say, "I feel much better now." Not my grandmother. She'd be angry about all that medication my grandfather needed.

My dad actually got to go to college, but the war put an end to that. Although he never graduated, he was allowed to go to law school and became a lawyer. He also married a nurse, a wise choice for any O'Hare. He's the only one of us who ever managed to get elected to anything, but only lasted four years in office.

He was also a terrible sailor who nearly killed half the bar.

That's pretty much the high point for our branch of the O'Hare clan in the United States. After my father, grandfather and great uncles passed on, so did our glory. It's been pretty much downhill since. My sisters are OK, but shed that surname at their earliest opportunity. Those of us who've kept it have done it no favors.

Growing up, my cousins were well known to the local constabulary. I think they're better now. Just don't let them near a bottle of glue.

Me? In the military, I once was responsible for a shot from a self-propelled howitzer that destroyed a recently vacated outhouse from ten miles away. Have you ever seen shit fly ten miles? I have. You learn things like that in the army. Our entire unit was expelled from Fort Bragg after that little incident, although they could never pin it on me. I was eventually begged to leave the military altogether, which explains why we're still in Iraq.

I also blew up three labs at Baker Chemical while attending college. Before I left for law school, I persuaded my fellow lab techs to unionize. Now, as most of you know, I'm an alcoholic ex-lawyer with a fragile grip on sanity. Worse, I'm an impoverished blogger, a person with less credibility than a radio talk show host.

My brother? He's better than  me - he deserted the seminary to become a frickin' born again Christian who reads the bible every day and goes to church twice a week. He's even converted his dogs, but hasn't managed to get me.

Blogger's Note: First published 3/17/16. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Gadfly Starts Mayoral Forum in Bethlehem

Ed Gallagher, whose nom de plum is Bethlehem Gadfly, has said he'd like to retire from the blogosphere to pursue his dream of becoming a NBA player. But Bethlehem's three-person Mayoral race has forced him to postpone those plans. Instead, he's doing a Mayoral forum. His first installment, published yesterday, is a close look at how each of the three candidates look at the city budget, which (1) imposed a tax hike in the middle of a pandemic; (2) eliminated four positions in the fire department; and (3) gave payhikes between 10.4% and 23.3% to seven very special people, one of whom just happens to be married to the Business Manager.  

Willie Reynolds, a City Council member who supported this nonsense and the presumed heir apparent to Bethlehem's throne, offered a very poor defense. While framing budget time as a "highlight of the year" for him, he states it is "very difficult to add anything responsibly by the time the proposed budget is released." That's precisely what a City Council is supposed to do. City Council controls the purse strings. If he feels he's unable to do anything responsibly, he should step aside and allow someone who can do what he insists is so hard.

He goes on to claim that he helps the City with grant-writing. That's precisely what a City Council should avoid. That's a job for city administrators. 

He offered no explanation for defunding four vital public safety positions. He offered no justification for a salary increase that went to the wife of a former Council member who now is the City's business manager. There was no solace for the many working families who've been shackled by three tax hikes in four years. 

Reynolds argues "[i]t is always easier to criticize than it is to offer actual, responsible solutions." His Democratic opponent, former City Administrator Dana Grubb, offered actual, responsible solutions. 

Grubb said he would "restore the former practice of listing each classified city position by grade and step in the budget, for clarity and transparency." This would prevent the obvious nepotism in the payhike to the wife of the Business Manager. This practice would also prevent the defunding of public safety positions. "There were other positions inside city government far less critical to the health and safety of city residents which could have been modified or eliminated: this would have been part of my overall plan to reorganize and streamline city government operations."

Reynolds failed to even address the hidden tax of a stormwater fee. Grubb made clear there should be "no stormwater fee without a separate series of public hearings outside of the budget timeframe so that taxpayers and any stakeholders could learn about stormwater fees and weigh in on whether or not the City should implement them."

Republican John Kachmar, who has prepared 28 city and county budgets, offered "actual, responsible solutions" as well. 

Kachmar tells us a good budget is "readable and transparent." As for the stormwater fee, he's been involved in that process. "We conducted multiple public hearings. We distributed pamphlets to every land & home owner, sharing the science of how the fee was constructed. Public neighborhood meetings were held to explain the need for the fee. In stark contrast, Bethlehem instituted a $3 million dollar fee program during a pandemic with next to no citizen input and a platform of non-visibility involving online meetings. This is bad form, any way you look at it. Stormwater management has traditionally been funded out of the city’s general fund. Why change the revenue source now? It appears that the City is looking to hide the new fee."

They'll find out when they get their water bill. 

Kachmar calls the defunding of the fire department  nothing short of reckless. He notes the city has numerous dwellings over 100 years old and calls fire a "real threat." " Cutting employees is a quick and easy way to lower costs, but it leaves the remaining employees worried about the stability of their employment. I want firefighters to have good morale when they come to our citizens’ rescue. Once again there are ways to bring budgets in line. I have 35 years’ experience doing so."

Willie may very well be the establishment favorite. He is personable and cares about the City. But Bethlehem needs to stop using schoolteachers to prepare budgets and allow people who understand the very real burden that taxes impose on working families. That would be Dana or John. 

Save the Little Ducks!!

You might think Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky is a miserable bastard. Actually, he is. He pretty much dislikes everyone. I've had numerous battles with him over the years. But I now know there's one thing he likes - ducks. He notes that, last year, Allentown's hard-working parks department was clear-cutting along Cedar Creek, and accidentally turned several of our web-footed friends into pâté when it mowed over nests. 

Tastes like chicken! 

He's asking the parks department to delay mowing this year until the little ducklings are all hatched and shitting everywhere. 

Either that or he's selling the eggs. 

Let the Ballot Challenges Begin!

I have yet to finish writing about Lehigh Valley's upcoming municipal races, and the landscape is already changing. One candidate has withdrawn, two have been challenged and a third complaint is on the way.

Louder withdraws. - As one of my readers suggested, Donna Louder has withdrawn from both four-year and two-year Township Council race. Her departure means that incumbents Jason Banonis and Tom Carocci will be the GOP nominees for the two four-year seats. It also means that Jennifer Zavacky will be the Republican nominee for the two-year seat. 

Bethlehem Area School Director nomination challenger. - Dellise Huertas has filed a Democratic nomination petition for one of three at-large school director seats but it has been challenged. This appears to be her first foray into the world of politics. 

Palmer Supervisor. -  Dr. Phil Taverna has filed a Republican nomination petition in the hope he can unseat incumbent Republican Dave Colver or Robert Smith. Dr. Taverna has long been a critic of Palmer Tp government, and in 2005 threatened to wage a write-in contest for Supervisor. 

South Bethlehem Magistrate race. - I previously told you that Ilda Perna filed a nomination petition, but the elections office has been informed a challenge is on the way, both to the signatures on her petitionas well as her residency. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Who's Running in NorCo Townships?

Friday, I reported on Northampton County's borough races. There will be few contested elections, especially beyond the primary. How about the townships? 

Allen Township: No contested races.

Bethlehem Township: Only one Commissioner race (Ward 2) is in dispute. Democrat Jan Beatty will square off in the general election against the winner of a primary race between Republicans Steven Greco and Franklin Cope. There is also a Constable race. Bethlehem Tp is allotted two. Democrats Richard Seeds and Anthony Ortwein will face Republicans Shawn E Fariello and John F. Gallagher. Believe it or not, there's a contested Judge of Elections race in Ward 1-3 between Democrat Leslie M Altieri, who's run for everything, and Diane Capobianco. There will even be a contested Judge of Elections primary in Ward 2-2 between Republicans Steven Greco and Mary Beth Finnerty. 

Bushkill Tp: The only contested race is a primary contest for Constable between Republicans Mark Alan Staats and Chad Reinert.  

East Allen Tp.: No contested races. 

Forks Tp.:Two Supervisor slots will be decided in a race between Democrats John O'Neil and Durrell Johnson and Republicans Mike Rosenburg and Ty J Corallo. There will also be a disputed Constable race between Republican Gordon Crowell, Jr., and Democrat Jonathan Hagenbuch. 

Hanover Tp: Incumbent Republican Mike Prendeville will face Democrat Jean Versteeg in the sole Supervisor seat up for grabs. The winner of this race will decide whether Democrats or Republicans control Hanover Tp. 

Lehigh Tp: Perhaps the most conservative corner of Northampton County, two Supervisor seats are up for election this year. But no Democrat is running. They will be awarded in the primary to the two highest vote getters among Republicans David Hess, Phillip Gogel, Gerald L Pritchard and Larry Shoemaker. 

A tax collector race between Democrat Mary Louise Trexler and Republican Thyler Hantz will be decided in November. 

Lower Mt Bethel Tp: No contested races.  

Lower Nazareth Tp.: No contested races. 

Lower Saucon Tp:  Three Council seats (two four-year term and one two-year term) will be decided by the voters this year. Both are contested, but the two-year seat will be decided in the primary. 

Democrats after the four-year seat George J Gress, Victoria Opthaf-Cardaro and Maurice Kasmiroski. The three Republicans who filed are Donna Louder and incumbents Jason Banonis and Tom Carocci.

Only two Republicans - Donna Louder and Jennifer Zavacky - have filed for the two-year seat.

Moore Tp: One Supervisor seat and the  Constable position is disputed, but the Constable race will be over in the primary. The Supervisor seat is being sought by Democrat Jeffrey Ayers and Republicans Michael A Tirrell, Jr. and Richard K Gable (inc.). Republicans Jeffrey Kocher, Matthew Flower and Ronnie DelBacco want to be Constable. 

Palmer Tp.: The Supervisor seats held by Republicans Dave Colver and Robert Smitty Smith expire this year. A third Republican - Phil Taverna - has filed in the hope he can eliminate one of them. Three Democrats - Michael Brett, Joseph V Armato and Zane Rice - have also filed. Thre will be a contested general election.  

There will also be a contested Judge of Election race in Western District #2 between Democrat Gregory Hess and Republican Doris Lynch. 

Plainfield Tp.: The Supervisor seats held by Democrat Joyce Lambert and Republican Glenn A Borger expire this year. Lambert, joined by fellow Democrat Donald Moore, will likely square off in the general election against Borger and fellow Republican Robert E Cornman, Jr. In the Kesslersville ward, there will be a GOP primary contest for Judge of Elections between Susan Kleinle and Jennine Buzzard. 

Upper Mount Bethel Tp.: The Supervisor seats held by Republicans John Bermingham and Anthony DeFranco expire this year. They are seeking re-election, but Democrats David Friedman and Stavros Barbounis have mounted a challenge. 

Upper Nazareth Tp. Republican Supervisor Donna M Hirst has filed for re-election. She faces a challenge by Democrat Brian Sayago. There are also contested races for Auditor (Democrat William Bartlett and Republican Tracy L Herman) and Tax Collector (Republican Tracy A Adamski (inc.) and Democrat Jean Morgano). 

Washington Tp.: Incumbent Republican Supervisor David Hess has filed for re-election, but seeks a primary challenge from R Justin Huratiak. The winner of that contest will face Democrat Ralph Falcone in November. 

Williams Tp.: No contested races. 



After A Year, I Finally Saw a High School Basketball Game

As I've mentioned once or twice, I'm quite friendly with the Angel of Death. He is an avid Hearts player and has put off taking me in until he finally defeats me. We play quite often, although I remain the undisputed Champion of the Lehigh Valley Hearts League. The Angel of Death also enjoys basketball. Thanks to him, I was able to see Parkland play Northampton last week in the Districts at PPL Center.  I sat about 200' away from the nearest person, except for the Angel of Death. He's invisible, so no one noticed him. 

What a game! 

Northampton started out like gangbusters and had a 15-2 lead against Parkland before they knew what had hit them. But I have to hand it to the Trojans. They hung in there and clawed their way back to win the game. What particularly impressed me is that they played as a team. Parkland usually has one or two hoopers, and the team strategy is just to pass the ball to him. Although freshman Nick Coval will likely be in that category next year, he was very selfless and other-oriented. That's the way they all rolled. 

I have to thank a Northampton fan who paid for my parking after I went into the wrong garage and was unable to back out. Very classy. 

My grandson's college team is playing and doing well, but it's a very short season and we've had to watch on the Internet instead of in-person. No March Madness for D2 or D3 schools. I feel bad for the athletes and coaches. 

Little Interest in Easton's Election

Three Easton City Council seats are up this year, but there's apparently little interest. Incumbents Roger Ruggles (District 1) and Jim Edinger (District 2) in their bid to retain their seats. Only incumbent Sandra Vulcano (District 3), who has been in office for 1,000 years with nothing to show for it, has a challenger. Her opponent is Taiba Sultana, who ran against Vulcano four years ago. 

Easton's elected officials hate to be questioned. Four years ago, there were legal challengers to Sultana and Terrence Miller, who dared to take on Jim Edinger. Both challenges were eventually dismissed by Judge Craig Dally.

But these challenges, which we have now witnessed on a federal level, tend to dampen interest in local government. That's how you can have three council seats with only four candidates. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Will Carpenter Will Face MDJ Manwaring in North Bethlehem

I've been critical of Magisterial District Judge Roy Manwaring. He imposed court costs on a Defendant  who was acquitted on charges of overtime parking, and even refused to let him leavethe office until he paid up. Judge Manwaring was admonished by President Judge Michael Koury, Jr., and was forced to return the money.   The county controller recently took him to task for allowing constables and police officers in the secretarial area, giving them access to cash and financial records. Manwaring not only refused to take the Controller's recommendation, but I'm informed he's even provided keys to some constables. He also has been slamming President Judge Koury for daring to correct him.

Manwaring now has an opponent. Will Carpenter, a Cornell grad and retired commercial real estate professional, has filed on the Democratic side. Manwaring has cross-filed. 

Carpenter has promised "common sense." Manwaring has demonstrated he lacks that quality.