Friday, December 02, 2022

NorCo Council Adopts 2023 Budget That Holds The Line on Tazes

If you own a home in Northampton County assessed at $75,000, your 2023 county tax bill will be $810. Two years ago, that same home would have cost you $885 tax bill. At a time when inflation has skyrocketed 7.7%, the 2023 Budget adopted by Northampton County Council last night should be welcome news. 

The $544.8 million spending for next year plan is actually 4.5% smaller than it was in 2022. It follows what Executive Lamont McClure told Council was 14 hours of hearings. He said that, despite disagreements over some aspects of the budget, it's "another no tax increase budget, a credit to us all," He stressed that the spending plan will fully fund a green future, open space and environmentally sensitive land. He concluded the "overarching theme is working together and fully funding core responsibilities."

During courtesy of the floor, Council heard from three entities that would be impacted, positively or negatively, by how Council would vote. 

Bruce Haines, managing partner of Historic Hotel Bethlehem. was lead-off hitter. there because Council was considering a request for $75,000 to promote the tourist agenda for historic Bethlehem. Through pass through grants from the Chamber of Commerce, historic Bethlehem has already received $185,00 to market the hotels, family-owned shops and restaurants along Main Street. He said they are under assault by Amazon and warehouses. He requested $75,000 in June and a county  committee recommended only $12,500, not enough to buy even one ad in marketing magazines. He wants $62,500. 

Kurt Landes, who lives in Nazareth. is President of the Iron Pigs and was second in the line-up. He was there because, as Council President Lori Vargo Heffner threatened two days earlier, they were about to get a "haircut" of the hotel taxes set aside for the Iron Pigs. He asked Council to fully fund the grant. He called Coca Cola Park a "regional asset" that "needs the full support of the Lehigh Valley. Of 700 people employed by the Iron Pigs, 44% come from NorCo. Of 8 million fans who have visited Coca Cola Park over 14 years, 41% from NorCo.  The Iron Pigs is one of the top five drawing teams., but provides "affordable family entertainment,"  Of 30 teams, the Iron Pigs ranks 27 of 30 in costs for a family of four. "Baseball is a very small part of what we do," he observed. Coca Cola Park hosts 119 events a year, in addition to 75 season games. Iron Pigs Charities has given back $2 million over 14 years. mostly to youth organization and for kids who are differently abled. 

Rick Molchany, a NorCo resident is Lehigh County's Director of General Services. He was the third hitter. He noted Lehigh County, which owns CocaCola Park, makes no profit. "People don't come here because we have a good jail; they come for quality of life." He conceded Allentown elected not to fund the Iron Pigs, but has assumed social services enabling Lehigh County to reduce its spending there by $1.5 million.  He said Lehigh County has helped fund Artsquest, State Theatre and even to Northampton County Historical Museum. He said the counties should work together to improve quality of life and called Artsquest an  incredible regional asset,

Bath Mayor Fiorella-Mirabito was the clean-ip hitter. She asked the County to consider a $50,000 grant for a park master plan. "We can't do anything without a master plan," she said. "We're growing but we need help." 

Following courtesy of the floor and a brief report from the Executive, Council got down to business. 

In personnel matters, a raise for the Deputy Director of Administration was approved by 5-4 vote, strictly along party lines. Council member John Cusick said he was unable to support a $10,000 raise for a "political hire."  

They unanimously approved a payhike for the Clerk to $118,000 and Deputy to $61,000. Council member Tara Zrinski said there should be more parity. Council member Ron Heckman retorted that's the reason for a pay study. 

Other career service (nonunion) workers are getting a 3% cost of living adjustment.. Last year, they received a step, which is about 5%. Administration officials previously explained that the raises were kept at 3% to maintain parity with the county's union workforce.  Heckman said that what drives employees crazy is that the county got away from using step increases in any systematic way. "I just don't see the purpose of the steps any more."  Cusick observed that steps should be awarded as persons progress over their career. He also said that the 3% fails to keep pace with inflation. He made no motion to increase it. 

The first budget amendment proposed was a reduction of  $1,147,000 from a $1.5 million loan agreement with New England Hydropower Company for a small hydropower plant along the Delaware and Lehigh Canal at Easton's Hugh Moore Park. This project, first approved in 2018, would generate enough power for 500 homes, but the plan is to sell the energy to a local college. 

Zrinski called the measure irresponsible. Council member Kerry Myers said he just learned that day that the hydropower plant is educational. Council member Kevin Lott observed that this is not corporate welfare, but a loan. There is also a dry dock and it will keep the canal going for 75 years.

Cusick said the money would be better spent on farmland preservation, affordable housing and repayment of student loans. He said this project would be better undertaken by the Industrial Development Authority.  

Heckman argued the hydropower project was valuable and it is a loan, not a grant. He said he'd be willing to give New England Hydropower one more year "to get off the stick." 

At this point, Council President Lori Vargo Heffner sought an amendment that would just eliminate $647,000 from the New England Hydropower loan inasmuch as farmland preservation is fully funded. this year 

Lott complained that Cusick has provided no detailed plan for paying off student loans. Cusick agreed he has no specifics, but argued the money must be there first. Then Lott noted that Cusick is being inconsistent because he opposes funding a health center without more detail. "You can't have it both ways, John," he said. 

Council member John Brown said that Cusick's proposal will attract and retain employees. 

By a 5-4 vote, Council voted to remove $647,000 from the New England Hydropower loan and use that money to fund student loans and affordable housing. Council Members Lori Vargo Heffner, Tom Giovanni, John Brown, John Cusick and John Goffredo voted Yes. Council members Tara Zrinski, Kevin Lott, Ron Heckman and Kerry Myers voted against defunding.

The second budget amendment considered was the removal of $50,000 from Iron Pigs for future grants. This motion failed 7-2.  Cusick and Goffredo were the dissenters.  

The third budget amendment was removing $100,000 from elections funding to help fund student loans.

"So we're voting to defund elections?" asked Zrinski. "Just to make that clear."

Cusick argued that a state grant for the conduct of elections could be diverted and that is what he's been told by a state county organization. Administrator Charles Dertinger responded that there are limitations on how the money can be spent. He said that it even proscribes payments  to elections workers. "We're not imagining that we have this money,"  he remarked. The county has received $1.1 million for elections expenses, but it is considered deferred revenue because it's unclear how it can be spent. . 

This budget amendment failed by a 5-4 vote. Voting to defund elections by $100,000 were Vargo Heffner, John Cusick, Tom Giovanni and John Brown. Voting No to defund elections were John Goffredo, Tara Zrinski, Kevin Lott, Kerry Myers and Ron Heckman. 

The fourth budget amendment was the removal of $5,000 from Iron Pigs for Touchstone Theatre and Godfrey Daniels. This was proposed by Vargo-Heffner even tough both Touchstone and Godfrey Daniel were already awarded exactly what they sought. Ron Heckman said Council members have a "time honored right to give a few dollars here and there to charities op their choice." This passed 7-2, with No votes from Zrinski and Lott. 

The fifth budget amendment was the removal of $20,000 from Iron Pigs for Bath's park plan.  Myers said that amendment would still fund both entities.  This amendment passed 7-2, with No votes from Zrinski and Lott. 

The sixth budget amendment removes $50,000 from Iron Pigs and places it in future grants. This leaves the Iron Pigs with $100,000.

This passed 8-1, with Kevin Lott being the sole dissenter.  

The seventh budget amendment takes $62,500 from future grants and awards it to the Chamber for the benefit of historic Bethlehem tourism. DCED Director Tina Smith advised Council that the $75,000 ask was reduced because there already are numerous websites and promotions of tourism in Bethlehem. The City of Bethlehem itself has provided no funding. Historic Hotel Bethlehem's Bruce Haines conceded he never approached other businesses because they are all mom 'n pop shops.  

Council member John Goffredo said this will help the entire region, including the county.  

This passed unanimously. 

All budget amendments were then adopted unanimously, along with the budget itself. The capital  improvements plan was also adopted unanimously. 

The real estate tax millage rate is 10.8 mills. 

Although a half billion dollar budget is a lot of money, only 18% comes from real estate taxes. Over half comes from the state and federal government as pass-through money to fund various county human services programs. And 20% comes from the county's fund balance, which is basically the equivalent of a family's checking account.

Gracedale, the county-owned nursing home, requires no county contribution. It has a separate budget of $103 million. 

The county's fund balance hovers at around $60 million, is far too high. The spending plan has set aside $17 million as a stabilization fund, which you could call a "rainy day " fund. This includes two months of expenses. Finally, about $6 million has been set aside for a possible resurgence of COVID-19.

In other business, County Council next considered a proposed ordinance that essentially kills an exclusive and voluntary health center for county employees. During the hearing, McClure read a letter from AFSCME supporting the health center. 

Heckman said he agrees with some of McClure's comments. He agreed that Council is unable to force employees into a survey. "I'm not against this," he said of the health center. "I don't have enough information."  

Goffredo, who sponsored the ordinance, argued there's no competition. He said he sent a two-three page email to Integrity, and got no direct answers. "I'm very reluctant about a health center or a health department." 

John Brown said he appreciates what the Executive is going through as far as rising health costs are concerned.  He imposed a 10% co-pay when he was Executive. He suggested that very shortly, $40 million of $100 million collected in taxes will go to health care. He has a few problems with the proposed health center. He indicated that 40% of what Integrity does is already being done. "There's more work that needs to be done," he said. He indicated that a health center might save money, but not enough over the long term. He speculated that the program will probably become mandatory at some point. He does believe in actively speaking with Integrity. 

Myers stated that he's concerned about the lack of competition. "We don't need to vote on this thing tonight. ... I personally would like to table this thing. "  Lott  seconded the motion to table, but not before Vargo-Heffner interjected herself to claim more time is needed to review the idea. . Then the ordinance was adopted 5-2, with 2 abstentions.  The two No votes came from Zrinski and Lott. The two abstentions came from  Myers and Heckman.

Although generally pleased with the Budget, McClure has promised a veto of the reduction of the loan to New England Hydropower. And he will also veto the Ordinance that attempts to kill a health center before it is vetted. 

Thursday, December 01, 2022

AFSCME Supports Proposed Health Center for NorCo Workers

One of the criticisms levied against the proposed Northampton County Health Center is uncertainty whether employees really want it. A voluntary survey answered by a quarter of the workforce indicates they do. In addition, Executive Lamont McClure has advised Council that the Steelworkers Union, which represents the RNs at Gracedale, endorses the idea. Now AFSCME, the union representing a plurality of county workers, has advised Council that it supports the proposal as well.

AFSCME Supports NorCo Health Center by BernieOHare on Scribd

Winners & Losers in Proposed NorCo Council Budget Cuts

On Tuesday, Northampton County Council considered a series of budget amendments. They will vote on them tonight while considering Executive Lamont McClure's proposed spending plan for next year. Under the County's Home Rule Charter, a Council is unable to touch the Executive's revenue projections. This prevents a legislature from spending money that the county is unable to generate. But it can make cuts in some spending to fund other projects that are deemed more worthy. That's what happened yesterday. If the budget is adopted, NorCo employees with outstanding student debt will be the big winner, with over $400,000 set aside to help them. Other beneficiaries of Council largesse are Bath Borough, Godfrey Daniel and Touchstone Theatre. The big losers are Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, New England Hydropower and Historic Hotel Bethlehem.  It was a bit ironic to see county Republicans clamor for student loan assistance while six GOP-led states are fighting against it in the US Supreme Court. 

I already told you about the clawback of about $1.1 million from a 2018 loan agreement with New England Hydropower yesterday. The following additional budgetary changes were considered. 

Reduction of $50,000 in hotel taxes set aside for the Iron Pigs, and reallocation of that sum to a student loan repayment program for county workers. 

Council member John Cusick explained he offered this amendment for two reasons; (1) Coca Cola Park is located in Lehigh County; and (2)  Allentown, the host municipality, refused to fund it.  . Allentown chose not to fund at all. Council member John Goffredo called it "corporate welfare" and chastised the Phillies for holding its affiliates hostage by threatening to move unless improvements are made. 

Council member Kevin Lott hates that MLB holds its affiliates like the Iron Pigs hostage, especially at a relatively new stadium. But he argued that losing the Iron Pigs would be devastating to helping market the area. Council member Tara Zrinksi argued that the Iron Pigs provide lots of jobs, even for residents of Norco. She added that Allentown actually did give Covid funds to the Iron Pigs, but that statement appears to be refuted by a news account.  

This proposed budget amendment has been tentatively adopted by a 6-2 vote. Tara Zrinski and Kevin Lott are the two dissenters, while the amendment was supported by Cusick, Goffredo, Lori Vargo Heffner, Tom Giovanni, John Brown and Kerry Myers. 

The final vote is tonight.  

$62,500 from Future Grants to Greater LV Chamber of Commerce as a pass thru for Historic Hotel Bethlehem.  They hotel had applied for $75,00 and got only $12,500

TZ gave HB lots of money. $185,000 over the years. Gave $12,500

All four Republican Council members consider this a great investment in the community. Democrats noted that Bethlehem already are already getting over $2 million in different grants.

This motion failed 4-4, along party lines. 

Removal of $100,000 from pooled communications as it could be funded with state money for a county student loan repayment plan. 

This would actually remove some funding for elections for a student loan repayment program. Cusick argued that there are state grants for elections, which should have been declared as revenue. 

Zrinski actually agreed with Cusick. Agrees.

This motion passed 7-1. Lott was the sole No. 

Remove $5,000 from Ironpigs and give $2500 to Godfrey Daniel and $2500 to Touchstone Theatre. 

Vargo Heffner : "These two are small but they do a lot of good work. ... It wouldn't hurt to give the IP a haircut, so ... ." 

Kevin Lott observed that we already gave Touchstone and Godfrey Daniel exactly what was requested. 

This motion passed 6-2. Tara Zrinski and Kevin Lott are the two dissenters, while the amendment was supported by Cusick, Goffredo, Lori Vargo Heffner, Tom Giovanni, John Brown and Kerry Myers. 

Remove $20,000 from Iron Pigs and give to Bath for a long-range parks plan. They really didn't have a plan. 

This Tom Giovanni-sponsored amendment was offered because Bath has the money to match and an engineer who can prepare a long-range plan.  John Brown, himself a former Mayor, said it is hard for a borough to raise even $1. "We  can't do enough to support our smaller communities," he said. 

This budget amendment passed 8-0. Ron Heckman, the ninth member of Council, was absent. 

Remove $100,000 from Iron Pigs for future grants 

This Cusick amendment was originally intended for a bridge study, but questions arose concerning the liquid fuel tax fund, a separate account

This motion passes 5-2 .  Tara Zrinski and Kevin Lott are the two dissenters, while the amendment was supported by Cusick, Lori Vargo Heffner, Tom Giovanni, John Brown and Kerry Myers. 

Goffredo was forced to leave before he could vote, and Ron Heckman was absent. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

McClure Fires Back at NorCo Council Ordinance Killing Employee Health Center

In August, Northampton County Exec Lamont McClure proposed an employee-only health center that would be managed by a third party called Integrity Health. In addition to appearing before Council on two separate occasions, Integrity CEO Doug Forrester has sent two detailed responses to questions. He's also offered to meet with them individually. McClure presented Council with a proposed Resolution under which the County would have at least have a green light to pursue the concept, pending an actual contract. Instead, Council members John Goffredo and Tom Giovanni have introduced an ordinance that effectively kills an employee health center.  Council is slated to vote on this ordinance on Thursday, along with a few other minor items, like a budget.  In the meantime, McClure has prepared a point-by-point rejoinder (in blue).

WHEREAS, Northampton County Council has been advised by the Administration of Northampton County (Administration) of the intent to institute, operate, and maintain an Employee Health Center; and
·        The idea and concept of an Employee Health Center was pitched to Council on August 17, 2022 at the Finance Committee meeting.
·        Integrity Health operates several health centers in New Jersey and recently expanded into Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. 
 
WHEREAS, Northampton County Council has not been advised as to the startup costs for this Employee Health Center, liability issues, operational costs, return on investment, and detailed projected cost savings to Northampton County, if any; and
·        Council was provided with additional details and answers to all their questions shortly after their meeting on August 17, 2022.
·        On October 19, 2022, Council was able to further question and vet Integrity Health Care about their services and their proven model.
 
WHEREAS, The Administration has advised that funding for this Employee Health Center is present within the 2023 proposed Fiscal Budget; and
·        There are funds in the budget designated to cover the costs of Employee Healthcare for 2023. While this ‘trust fund’ is for those costs, we believe that the expenses and cost savings can be covered by the money we have requested in the 2023 Budget.
 
WHEREAS, Pursuant to the Northampton County Administrative Code, Section 13.15 et al., any contract exceeding $100,000 requires the review and approval of Northampton County Council, and no contract has been produced; and
·        After the October 19, 2022 Finance Committee meeting a resolution was presented to County Council to allow the County to pursue the Employee Health Center in concept and then present a contract to Council for approval once all the details were resolved.
·        Council does have the power to approve, and we would seek Council’s approval for any contract with Integrity Healthcare, but Council was asked to consider the concept of the center via resolution at their October 20, 2022 General Meeting and did not present the resolution as an agenda item.
 
WHEREAS, Pursuant to the Code Section 13.07, competitive bidding is required, but was not entailed, nor have exceptions been stated in detail as required in Section 13.10, in the proposal forwarded by the Administration; and
·        Competitive bidding is not “required” by Administrative Code Section 13.07; rather, Section 13.07 states that procurement of County goods and services over $25,000 shall be made by one of the five methods outlined under Section 13.07(a): competitive sealed bidding, competitive negotiations, noncompetitive negotiations, emergency procurements, and cooperative purchasing.
·        Section1 13.10 vests the County Executive or his designee with the authority to determine whether Noncompetitive Negotiation is required and that prior
to the award of the contract an Executive Order is issued stating the reason for using Noncompetitive Negotiation.
·        Integrity offers a unique concept for an exclusive employee health center which we presented to Council and the public on at least three occasions.
·        While there are two major health networks in the Lehigh Valley which may provide similar services, County Administration wanted to avoid branding that might prevent or dissuade employees from using the health center.
·        The County Administration and entities associated with the County approves bonds and financial instruments for those local hospital networks and it was easiest to avoid favoritism by going with an entity that is stand alone and provides a la carte services unique to our employees.
 
WHEREAS, Pursuant to the Code Section 13.14.c, the purchase and/or leasing of any real estate for any Employee Health Center requires review and approval by Northampton County Council, which has not been forthcoming; and
·        Leases and negotiations are exclusively the prevue of the County Executive with Council approval pursuant to the Home Rule Charter.
·        At each meeting the Administration has been clear that they did not want to talk about the location in public to protect the County’s negotiating position (therefore protecting taxpayer money). Council can ask the Administration individually or in an executive session for those details, but have not done so yet to date.
·        We will get whatever appraisals and disclose lease details when we are ready for Council to vote and a deal is negotiated as is done with MDJ leases and others the County engages in every year. A lease will be ready for presentation to the Finance Committee for the first meeting in the New Year.
 
WHEREAS, Northampton County Council requires that a full and complete review be had for any Employee Health Center, including, but not limited to, full disclosure as to all costs and expenses, staffing, compensation, operational costs, liability, and the County’s return on investment; and
·        This full and complete review was done on August 17, October 5 and October 19th of this year and during interim calls between Commissioners and Integrity to answer questions individual Commissioners might have. Calls to Commissioners by Integrity have, in some cases, been ignored.
 
WHEREAS, The Administration has advised County Council that the Employee Health Center has been overwhelmingly approved following a survey of Northampton County Employees. The survey contacted less than 25% of the County’s workforce, did not include details and circumstances as to its operation and effect upon County employees, and did not set forth the terms and conditions of its use or operation. County Council requests that conditions of its use or operation. County Council requests that a full and complete survey with regard to the detailed data be made of Northampton County Employees as to this Employee Health Center, including but not limited to location and hours; and
·        Employees cannot be forced to answer a survey. Twenty-five percent on any survey is a very good sample of the Northampton County workforce. Council has been asking employees what they need; Council can clearly ask employees if a free convenient alternative to health care was provided to them, would employees use it?
 
WHEREAS, Northampton County Council requests that a Request for Proposal be issued by Northampton County for any Employee Health Center; and
·        Council cannot compel a service to be procured or determine the manner a service is to be procured. Council’s powers in the Home Rule Charter and
Administrative Code are clear. Administration Code Section 13.03 states that “procurement authority and responsibility resides with the County
Executive, subject to approval by County Council as required.” The Executive proposes and Council can approve or disapprove of the proposal. This section of the ordinance violates the separation of powers inherent in the Home Rule Charter.
 
WHEREAS, Northampton County Council requires that there be a full, complete, and transparent disclosure of all facts and circumstances of any Employee Health Center; and
·        This was done during the meetings listed above and can be viewed online. Any suggestion this has not been done is simply not factual.
 
WHEREAS, Northampton County Council has been advised that other Counties within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, prior to the establishment of an Employee Health Center, have done so only after competitive bidding.
·        Council has yet to provide this information to the Administration. While the Administration has been open and transparent about our intentions, it is clear that members of the Northampton County Council prefer to place statements into law without sufficient backup.
 
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY ENACTED AND ORDANINED by Northampton County Council as follows:

1.   The Employee Health Center shall only be considered after a full and complete survey of County employees as stated above
a.   This violates other provisions of Article 13 of the Administrative Code.
 
2.   The Employee Health Center shall only be considered after a full and complete survey of County employees as stated above
a.   “Full and complete” is subjective and there is no objective measure determining if this provision of the law is met. There is no legal authority which requires an employee to fill out a survey that may or may not be in their job description, and for union members such a mandate may violate applicable Collective Bargaining Agreements.
 
3.   All Departments and Employees of Northampton County shall comply with the terms of this Ordinance
a.   If this is an enforceable law it must be complied with. This statement is redundant and repetitive to the extent it is adjudicated lawful.
 
4.   Any Ordinance or part of any Ordinance conflicting with the provisions of this Ordinance are hereby repealed in so far as the same affects this Ordinance
a.   Standard language
 
5.   The Administration is prohibited from transferring any monies from the 2023 Fiscal Budget of Northampton County for an Employee Health Center prior to review and approval by Northampton County Council
a.   The Budget is an ordinance in and of itself. This Ordinance may have weight, but since there is no budget passed for 2023, this Ordinance references a law/Budget Ordinance that does not exist, therefore rendering this section of the Ordinance unenforceable as it would bind a future Council or Administration as stated in the Home Rule Charter.

Blogger's Note: I have no problem with a County Council deciding to take its time with a novel idea and refusing to be rushed. According to McClure, he was also skeptical at first. But I've never seen a County Council react to an idea by proposing an ordinance that effectively kills it with next to no consideration. I am especially bothered that this bill is dishonest.

This proposed law mendaciously asserts there's been no disclosure of costs, staffing or return on investment. This has been made clear in two presentations, two memos and an offer to answer individual Council member concerns. In short, this ordinance starts off by lying to the public. 

In addition to being disingenuous, McClure's response reveals what appears to me to be a Sunshine Act violation. He indicates that, after the October 19 meeting, he submitted a proposed resolution authorizing the county to proceed with the concept. This resolution never made its way to the Council agenda. Refusal to place this matter on an agenda is considered "official action" as that term is defined by the Sunshine Act.  This requires a public meeting, not a decision to keep the public in the dark. President Lori Vargo Heffner has no authority to take official action from behind closed doors. That's quite clearly what happened. 

And why? Could it be that she has a conflict of interest?  She is employed by St. Luke's, which has indicated its interest in this idea. She should seek an opinion from state Ethics Commission whether her conflict is real or de minimis and let the rest of Council decide on the health center. 

.

NorCo Council Tentatively Sets Aside $400,000 For Student Loans of County Workers

Yesterday, Northampton County Council began the arduous process of considering changes to Executive Lamont McClure's proposed spending plan for next year. They're not really cuts, but reallocations of money Most of these budget amendments were penned by Council member John Cusick. I'll tell you about the first change now and fill you in on the rest tomorrow. 

In the first amendment, Cusick proposes eliminating $1,147,000 from a $1.5 million loan agreement with New  England Hydropower Company for a small hydropower plant along the Delaware and Lehigh Canal at Easton's Hugh Moore Park. This project, first approved in 2018, would generate enough power for 500 homes, but the plan is to sell the energy to a local college. 

Cusick would use this money for farmland preservation, affordable housing and to help employees repay student loans. 

Cusick, who opposed this project from its inception, condemned it as "corporate welfare," and added that taxpayers "should not be venture capitalists."  He also noted that the project's overall cost has risen from $5 to $10 million.  "That's a lot of inflation in four years," he remarked. 

Council member Tara Zrinski countered that ending this project now could be a breach of contract. "This money has been allocated for several years now, the project is under way. ... We need to honor our commitment ... ."

But Cusick countered that the county still has money from other sources to fund this project. He noted there is $1 million in a fund from the American Rescue Plan Act, $1.1 million in reimbursements from the state for elections and over $1 million in gaming funds. 

Although this is still tentative, County Council voted 5-3 to move this amendment forward for the budget meeting on Thursday night. Voting yes were Cusick, John Goffredo, Tom Giovanni, John Brown and Lori Vargo Heffner. Voting No were Zrinski, Kevin Lott and Kerry Myers.

Council member Ron Heckman was absent.  
 
I'll discuss the remaining amendments tomorrow, but Cusick was quite pleased by how things went. "We voted today to allocate $400,000 for student loan relief for county employees and prospective employees. I think that's the way that it should be done. We should reward work and we should attract workers and the fact that they may have a student loan obligation that may make them not consider a job here at Northampton County is .... . Let's just say I'm real happy that we're trying to establish this program."

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Say No to Freight Rail Strike

Back in July, long before the threat of a freight rail strike was looming, I told you how important freight rail is to our economy.  Four of the 12 unions representing freight rail workers have rejected a deal that would prevent a December 9 walkout. The contract spurned by bargaining units included a 24 percent pay raise by 2024, annual $1,000 bonuses, and no increases in health care costs. But the proposed deal guarantees only one sick day a year instead of the 15 sought by iron benders and gandy dancers.  The Railway Labor Act authorizes Congress to impose a contract if no agreement is reached with rail carriers.  President Joe Biden calls himself a friend of organized labor, but has already called on Congress to intervene. This is a no-brainer. 

The freight must flow. 

This is also why I oppose the expansion of passenger rail. Fright rail is too damn important. Privately-owned freight lines should never be forced to cede control of its tracks to accommodate Amtrak, which is perhaps the most inefficient passenger rail in the country.  "To do anything to knowingly undermine the fluidity of the freight network is frankly wrongheaded and at odds with the overarching goal of maximizing freight movement, " says Ian Jefferies of the Association of American Railroads. 

The freight must flow. 

Freight rail is  important to both our economy and environment. 

Freight rail owns 140,000 miles of track, transports a third of all exports and 40% of our long-distance freight volume. It has become immensely profitable, earning $71 billion in 2019, and its volume is expected to grow 50% by 2050.  

Environmentally, it emits about 25% of the pollution you'll find from trucking. It handles what are often called the "middle miles" as intermodal containers are offloaded from ships directly onto trains about 200 cars long and then are passed off to trucks for the final miles.

Expansion of passenger rail, which has never made a profit, will actually result in more congestion because there will be more trucks on the road. 

We already have passenger trains going to NYC. It is called Transbridge Bus, and is privately owned. 

We're wasting federal dollars to study, yet again, the feasibility of passenger rail. If we recognize that  freight rail is important enough to require Congressional intervention to prevent a strike, then it's timeto drop these pipedreams of riding the choo-choo.. 

Interruption of freight rail for a strike or passenger service would be an economic catastrophe.  A strike would interrupt the shipment of 300,000 barrels of oil daily, delay the shipment of new cars, slow the transport of refrigerated food and result in numerous Christmas shortages. 

The freight must flow. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Road Lining on Newburg Road

 


I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation for this road painting job on Newburg Road in Lower Nazareth.

Covid Screws NorCo's Hydropower Screw Project

On July 19, 2018, Northampton County Council voted 7-2 (Peg Ferraro and John Cusick dissented) to lend up to $1.5 million in matching funds for a small hydropower plant in Hugh Moore Park along the Delaware and Lehigh Canal. The private company benefiting from this government largesse, New England Hydropower Company, planned to use ancient technology - a modified Archimedes screw - to produce hydropower. Four years have passed since that time, so it's fair to ask whether we've been screwed by the Archimedes screw. New England's CEO,  Michael Kerr, updated Council on November 17. 

Kerr explained that jurisdiction over hydropower plants is governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). They need a license to operate, but Covid was a logjam for this canal project. "Stuff just didn't happen," said Kerr. It is only in March that things picked up. 

Kerr advises that hydropower is five time more efficient than solar and three times for efficient than wind. It will run for 60 years. The company will also build a dry dock for maintenance on the canal barge. It will be enough to power 500 homes, but there are plans to provide the energy to a local college. 

Kerr intends to file with FERC in December, and once approval is obtained, it will take another year to get the turbines manufactured. They should produce energy for 

Hydropower only accounts for about seven per cent of America's energy usage, said Kerr. Pennsylvania has the second highest number of rivers, but only one per cent of its energy comes from hydropower. 

It's a $10 million project, and New England is coming up with $7 million on its own. Of the $1.5 million from the county, there still is about $1.1 million available. Most of the money spent has gone to soft costs like engineering and design. 

Private investors will be encouraged with tax credits.  

Council member John Cusick noted that three different federal laws have been enacted and asked whether New England has sought funds under these laws. Kerr answered that the tax credits he mentioned are enabled by these laws. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Steve Lynch, NorCo GOP State Committeeman, Thinks Public Executions Will Solve Gun Violence

NorCo GOP State Committeeman Steve Lynch has a solution to mass shooting like the recent one in Virginia. "This has nothing to do with guns! Stop focusing on inanimate objects and focus on the killers and the punishment that needs to be enforced upon him. How you truly fix the problem is by raining down unbelievable penalties for murderers and rapists. Public executions will do the trick. No one wants to fix the problems because no one wants to talk about the real solutions necessary to scare away crime."

Alrighty then. 

The death penalty, whether public or private, never has reduced the crime rate in this country. But it sounds tough, doesn't it? I imagine it would really help out local economies, too. People could sell hot dogs and cool T-shirts. Cash-strapped governments might even consider charging admission. They could raffle off  throwing stones or sell of pieces of the hangman's noose. 

Yeah, it's time to join more enlightened nations like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

Hey if public execution was good enough for Jesus, it must be OK. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Seeing-Eye Dog Continues To Shed Pounds

Blogger's Note: I periodically suffer from blurred vision, caused by styes developed from walking and cycling in windy weather. So I'll offer this short story instead if the usual politics. 

In early August, I started to walk a very cool black lab named Mason. He's a seeing-eye dog. His owner has been unable to exercise him, and he gained weight. He was 140 pounds when I started. He should be about 90 pounds, I'm told.  In late September, he was down to 128 pounds. Yesterday, I walked him down to the local vet, where he weighed in at a sleek 118 pounds. 

When we first started, he was exhausted after about a half mile. He was also bothered a bit by the heat. As time went on, we gradually increased the distances. These days, he goes anywhere from 3 to 5 miles daily. He really looks forward to it, and has much more energy than he did in August. 

I've almost been fired a few times. Once, he tore after a fox and both of us ended up covered with burrs and nettle. Not long ago, we got nailed by a skunk during a night walk. I never even saw the stinker. 

This dog has managed to find trails that led us to a hidden baseball field as well as the Indian Tower. He's also discovered nearly every pond and stream within a five-mile radius of Nazareth.  

This fellow was trained for two years before being paired up with his owner. He's extremely intelligent. For one thing, he knows the difference between left and right. Most people have trouble with that. 

He also has an incredible sense of smell. He will stick his nose in the air and whimper to let me know that another animal is near, long before I see it. He loves a game in which I hide small pieces of hot dog and have him seek them. I think he could probably have been used as a drug detector if he washed out as a seeing-eye dog. 

This is as good for me as it is for him. Walking is a great exercise and a great alternative to cycling. 

NorCo's Elections Results Now Official

Northampton County's elections results are now official. There were no challenges or controversies during an election with a 58.38% turnout. There were 36,401 votes collected by mail or early voting, and 94,276 ballots cast at the voting precint. In addition, 708 provisional ballots were cast.

At last week's County Council meeting, Executive Lamont McClure was happy to report a drama-free election. He commended the 750 citizens who work the polls for the county on a very long election day. He thanked Deputy Sheriffs who collected ballots cast at the drop boxes as well as the maintenance department, who made sure that voting machines were in place. He lavished well-deserved praise was reserved for the elections office staff, now headed by Chris Commini. But the primary focus of his gratitude was "indispensable Amy" Hess, the Deputy Registrar. "Amy knows how to put on an election. ... We are so fortunate that we still have her."

"I appreciate every one of you and the effort you put in," echoed Council President Lori Vargo Heffner. "Don't believe a bad word anybody says about you because it's just not true." 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

UPDATED: NorCo Council Moves to Kill Health Center

At this time last year, Northampton County Council was considering a long-awaited pay study, Gracedale performance audit and a review of IT. Over the objections of the Executive, it set aside $450,000 for that purpose in December. Since that time, nearly a year has gone by without issuing a request for proposals (RFP). It was finally sent out on Thursday of last week. Council wasted a year with resolutions and ordinances, even a meeting in which it called a "Clerk" as an expert on pay studies, RFPs and Gracedale audits. In violation of its own ordinance, it last week watered down its much ballyhooed pay study so that it applies only to nonunion workers. It did so without even bothering to vote on it. At the rate it's going, the current workforce will be long retired before there's ever a pay study.  

Council works very hard to move as slowly as possible, and is doing so now with a proposed health center for county workers. Executive Lamont McClure has yet to make a formal proposal, but Council has actually introduced an ordinance designed to make sure it never happens. It's sponsored by Council members John Goffredo and Tom Giovanni. I respect legislative resistance to being rushed. But there has never been any urgency. This ordinance is little more than an attempt by legislators to ensure nothing happens. We've all seen gridlock on a federal and state level, and now it is beginning to rear its ugly head in county government. 

The proposed ordinance was introduced without discussion last week. On its face, it's dishonest. 

It falsely states  that "Northampton County Council has not been advised as to the start up costs for this Employee Health Center, liability issues, operational costs, return on investment, and detailed projected cost savings to Northampton County, if any ... ."

Integrity Health Center, a Princeton-based health center, has already presented twice to Northampton County Council, both here and here. Council has been provided at least one memorandum, responding to concerns raised. Doug Forrester, the founder and CEO at Integrity, has personally appeared at both presentations. He has also invited Council members to reach out to him with any questions. 

In contrast to misrepresentations made in the proposed ordinance, County Council has been advised that the health center will cost $800,000 a year to operate. It has been told there will be start-up costs for a facility ($2.2 million estimate) and equipment ($300,000) estimate. It has been informed that it could expect to see between 1.8 and 2.2 times its annual investment in saved medical costs. ($1.44 million to $1.76 million). Council has been told how many people will staff this center and what they will be paid. John Goffredo knows this because he questioned Integrity about the nurse salaries during the second presentation. They've also been told that there's money in the budget for this project, which is located under medical costs. 

In addition to its misrepresentations, Council also objects to a voluntary survey of the workforce because it was only completed by about 450 of 2000 workers. It wants another survey done. Frankly, I'm unsure whether a public employee can be forced to respond to a survey. The same folks who complain about mask mandates want to force county workers to participate in a survey. I doubt that can be compelled, especially among union workers. This objection is really little more than a red herring. 

In this ordinance banning a health center before it is even formally proposed, Council demands a Request For Proposals in accordance with the Administrative Code, Section 13.07. There's no need for an ordinance telling the county to follow another ordinance. That's what the law already requires. It even specifically permits noncompetitive negotiations with a sole source, so long as the Exec explains why this is necessary and Council agrees.  

Council has thus far failed to even seek proposals on the pay study promised a year ago. Now it wants to screw employees out of an exclusive and voluntary health center designed to give them same day medical service with no co-pay. It also wants to screw taxpayers out of $1.44-$1.77 million in savings a year. 

This is not good government. This is gridlock.

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner has told WFMZ-TV69 that Council has the right to take all the time it needs and get all the information it wants. It also has obligations to the employees and taxpayers. Based on the way it has mishandled the pay study and Gracedale audit over the course of a full year, I'd say Council needs to get off its ass.  

She complains that the Exec has failed to state where the center will be located. That's a bit disingenuous on her part. She knows very well that the County has a location in mind because she's been so advised during a public meeting. The County is unwilling to publicly identify the location only because it is unwilling to prejudice itself in lease negotiations. That's called looking out for the taxpayer. 

Vargo Heffner also states that "[m]ost of Council feel this is an inappropriate way to approach this." Really? Has she been conducting meetings privately? Behind closed doors?  How the hell does she know what most members of Council want? There's been no such expression at any public meeting. There have been concerns raised and answered.  

If Council were really interested in helping the employees and taxpayers, it could invite one of the five governmental entities already using Integrity to explain how it has worked. I understand that Integrity has even offered to set it up. Shouldn't that be part of Council's due diligence instead of just rejecting an idea out of hand? Why has it failed to do this? 

Let's review, shall we?  A New Jersey company that specializes in public health centers and already has five locations has offered its services to NorCo. It would be a voluntary health center, one that an employee could use if he wants for all or just some medical services. It would be exclusive to NorCo employees. There would be no co-pay. It would be open every day, with  hours that will be optimized for the workforce. It will offer same-day appointments to county workers for a wide variety of medical services, including mental health counseling. Start up costs are about $2.5 million, and operation costs are about $800,000. This will save the county between $1.44 and $1.77 per year in medical costs. It is popular with 450 employees who responded to a survey.   

Council, for no real good reason, wants to either kill it or erect so many obstacles that it will never get off the ground. 

UPDATED 11 am: In my original version of this story, I incorrectly reported that the RFPs for a pay study and Gracedale audit were still collecting dust. They went out on Thursday. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Left and Right Criticized For Expressing Sympathy After Colorado Springs Shooting

Over the weekend, we were all victimized by the latest mass shooting.  A lone gunman entered a gay bar in Colorado Springs and started shooting. Five people are dead and another 25 are wounded. A suspect is in custody. It's unclear to me whether this is a hate crime, mental illness or both. There is no dispute this is a mass shooting. Sadly, liberals who have offered condolences are being slammed by phony patriots, and conservatives who have sympathized are getting slammed from the left. We are as divided as ever, thanks to the extremes.

I did not vote for Senator-elect John Fetterman. But after the shooting, he tweeted he is "angry" and "devastated" "Our hearts are with Colorado Springs." 

Failed NorCo Exec candidate and drama queen Steve Lynch reacted to this sympathy tweet by accusing "Fetterwoman" of "hypocrisy." "You're going to wish you stayed in the shadows as you did as lieutenant governor. Better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove everybody right."

I believe that's what Lynch himself did. 

On a completely different planet than Fetterman, pistol-packin' Lauren Boebert tweeted, "This morning the victims & their families are in my prayers. This lawless violence needs to end and end quickly.”

Just as Fetterman was slammed by Lynch. Boebert was attacked by squad member AOC with this: "You don’t get to “thoughts and prayers” your way out of this. Look inward and change."

Fetterman and Boebert are both vilified for acting like decent human beings by extremists on the other side who clearly lack any empathy.  

Kerry Myers, NorCo Council President?

Those who know him tell me Kerry Myers is a great guy, so long as he holds no office. I'm no pal, but have spoken to him a few times before his election to Northampton County Council.  He was likable and down-to-earth. Something happened after his election.  He morphed from nice guy to pretentious asshole in a matter of months. He's his own biggest fan. He did a very good job of patting himself on the back at a meeting of Easton's School Board last week. He was speaking during courtesy of the floor about a concession stand, but wanted everyone to know how important he is. He finished off his remarks by hinting that he'll soon be County Council President. 

Here are some excerpts of his remarks, which came close to the end of the meeting. (1:24:00) 

"I don't need a microphone. You can turn that damn thing off. I am Kerry Myers. Most of you know me, some of you don't. I am the current President of the Varsity E. I'm also the Vice President of Northampton County Council. I'm a former school board member, past President and VP of this organization. I vowed I never come back in this building when I left in 2011. That didn't work." 

When he learned that the cost of a concession stand at the new Cottingham stadium might be $600,000, he "immediately went into 'What the Hell is going on' mode." He wants the school district to hand over the project to his club. He claimed, incidentally, that the Varsity Club owns the concession stand. 

"I am a 1972 alum. I was the Captain of the basketball team that only finished third in the state. I have my connections. ... ." 

After bragging about his prowess on the basketball court about 100 years ago, Myers takes a shot at Easton's current football program. "We ain't seen a playoff at Cottingham stadium in 10 years, so we ain't gotta' worry about that happening to the football team."

He also accuses school directors of Sunshine Act violations. "When you do things behind closed doors and don't actually talk to the people doing it, this is what happens. This money bites you in the ass."

During this meeting, a duo of educators spoke about homelessness among some students. That means a bit more to me than Myers' quest for control over a concessions stand. 

Myers did address them at the end of his peroration: "Please get ahold of me. I'm at the county level. I'll see what I can do for you. As the Vice President I'll do the best I can. Hopefully in the next few weeks, I might be the President, the first from Easton High School." 

If Myers does become the next Council President, the county should open its own concession stand for  future meetings. It will sell a lot of popcorn. I can form my own Varsity club and run it. 

During a meeting last year, Myers first betrayed his overbearing style when he went into full bully mode on Sheriff Rich Johnston. Myers actually stated that, if he were a Deputy Sheriff, he'd refuse to take orders from Johnston.  

Myers: "I may be the only one here, but - Whooo! - I have a hard time saying I wanna take orders from this guy because I think my life would be in danger. But you hired him. 

McClure: "That's an outrageous statement. No one's life is in danger. None of the management decisions that were questioned tonight put anyone's life in danger. That's an outrageous statement. 

Myers: "Stop. This is my meeting. You can walk away frustrated and mad as hell. I'm running this meeting."

Myers never apologized for his disgusting remarks about the Sheriff, who has more personal integrity than most people I know. He is precisely where he needs to be. 

Myers likes to brag that he was elected with 72% of the vote. He fails to realize that he was elected in a statewide blue wave, He seems to have forgotten that he failed to make it out of the primary in a previous try for County Council ... and in a previous school board race. He forgets that when he left Easton's School Board, it was running at a deficit and he was threatening layoffs unless unions made concessions. He is a polarizing figure who makes Lamont McClure look like Mr. Rogers. 

Friday, November 18, 2022

NorCo Pay Study Limited to NonUnion Workers

Yesterday, at a rare meeting of Northampton County Council's Governance Committee, Deputy Clerk Alene Shafnisky took center stage to discuss Council's pay study, which apparently has still gone nowhere. She pretty much established that she knowns next to nothing about personnel, or bidding. Nor should she. She's a Council Clerk, not a sage. She also said the pay study would be limited to nonunion (career service) workers, which is news to me. Elected officials will be ignored as well. The persons who could more properly advise County Council would be procurement, personnel and fiscal.  

Council member John Goffredo questioned why unions would be excluded. Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni thought it could violate a collective bargaining agreement, but that's pure  nonsense. A pay study would almost certainly find that most union positions are underpaid, and I doubt very much that an unfair labor practice can be filed over something that actually inures to the benefit of the employee. Moreover, a pay study makes no changes to any union contract. So what the hell is Chris talking about?

He does sound very dignified.  

Now I am biased against Chris Spadoni. I admit it. That bastard defeated me in my first ever criminal trial. I still cry over that defeat. He also convinced me decades ago to do a 22-mile run, but then he dropped out after four. All that is irrelevant to my searing logic. Spadoni needs a few refresher courses at Lycoming College, the Harvard of North Central Pennsylvania. 

Aside from all of that, Northampton County Council adopted an ordinance on September 15 calling for a pay study for all employees. If they now wish to limit this to nonunion workers, that requires an act of equal dignity, i.e. an amended ordinance. 

As things stand, County Council is ignoring their own ordinance. 

Bentzoni Talks Farmland Preservation in NorCo

Maria Bentzoni, Tsarina of farmland preservation in Northampton County, updated County Council on her program yesterday. She's been the thumb in the dike preventing a raging flood of warehouses (and truck traffic) in what was once a rural community. Since 1989, she's been the driving force behind the preservation of 18,820 acres on 244 farms, including 20 farms in 2022.  

This is accomplished by the purchase of a farmer's future development rights in what is known as an agricultural conservation easement. This is a very restrictive agreement that runs with the land, not the owner. It prevents the farmland from ever being developed. Statewide, 540,000 acres of farmland have been preserved this way. The money to purchase these easements comes from the state, county and 10 municipalities who contribute valuable earned income tax dollars through referenda approved by the voters. 

Northampton County pays about $4,300 for each acre preserved. This pales in comparison to what a developer is willing to spend, so the farmers who apply for this program are making a major sacrifice to preserve a way of life that is quickly being erased.  According to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, 79% of Northampton County was undeveloped  and farmland in 1972. Now, it's just 47%. 


In her presentation to County Council, Bentzoni laid out several benefits to farmland preservation, aside from slowing the pace of warehouse proliferation.

First, it preserves the industry of farming in a state where one in every seven jobs depends on agriculture. Bentzoni stated that the Lehigh Valley's soil quality is the best in the nation, although she conceded that some farming practices like failure to grow cover crops does tend to degrade things. 

Second, farmland preservation is a way to preserve our heritage and history. 

Third, it helps migratory birds along the largest northern flyway in the U.S. 

Council member John Goffredo lauded Bentzoni on her work, but asked about what efforts are being made to preserve the farmer. She answered that there are numerous other agencies involved in trying to stem the tide of people who have given up on farming as a way of life. She noted that earlier in the week, she participated in a summit of 31 farmers who were provided with tips and access to grants on  improving soil quality.

Council member John Cusick asked Bentzoni about the dwindling number of dairy farms. She said they are struggling because their operating costs are higher than market conditions permit.

Bentzoni's goal is to preserve another 31,000 acres. I hope she can stay on board for another 40 years. 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

NorCo Council Bothered By Lack of Bids For County Work

Yesterday, Northampton Copunty Council considered bids for a general contractor and electrician for improvements at Minsi Lake. They consist of walking paths alonng both east and west shore, parking lots, a restroom and a new pavilion. When this matter originally went out to bid, there were no takers. The project was bid again. In the second go around, 22 potential biiders reviewed theproposal, but only one bid was received for the electrical and general contracting work. This sole bidder is Wilmer R Schultz, which does have offices in Allentown.

Northampton County Council considered this problem last month as well. There were no bids at all for a bathroom replacement project at Louise Moore Park, which forced the county to shop for a plumber in Reading. 

Republican Council members feel that potential bidders are hamstrung by the county's responsible contractor ordinance. Member John Goffredo has suggested that the county consider nonunion bidders who are locally based, so long as they agree to pay a living wage. 

In this case, the sole bid received did come from a local contractor.

Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron previously told Council that this dearth of bids could be for many reasons, including supply chain issues, unavailability or an inability to meet timetables. But it's undeniable that the responsible contractor ordinance could also be one of those reasons. 

"This trend is not a good sign," remarked Council member John Cusick. 

One possible solution is to revise the responsible contractor ordinance to give preference to local contractors who have an apprentice program. If no bid is received, then the connty should be able to consider nonunion contractors who are local, bonded and agree to pay a living wage. 

NorCo Courts Seeks Council Approval For 20 PT JCC Workers

Northampton County's Juvenile Justice Center, the residence for some adjudicated juvenile delinquents, is in crisis mode as a result of a serious shortage of youth care workers. There were 33 vacancies in March. The county has made its highest offer ever to the bargaining unit representing staff, but it has been rejected. Until the facility has a full complement of full-time officers, Court Administrator Jermaine Greene would like to employ as many part-time staffers as he can. He is seeking Council approval of as many as 20 part-time employees to bridge the shortage.  Council will vote on this proposal tonight. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

NBC: Trump to Run For Prez

NBC reported Tuesday night that Donald Trump was expected to announce his candidacy for President, and he did an hour later. If he has more than one primary opponent in the primary, I'm sure he will win the GOP nomination. And then lose in the general election. 

Trump's candidacy is an early Christmas present for Democrats. He lost the popular vote in 2016. It resulted in a blue wave in municipal races the following year, in which Democrats won in many places they always lost. He lost control of the House in the 2018 midterms. He lost both the popular and electoral college vote in 2020. And despite record inflation and flaws in a Democratic president past his prime, the specter of Trump certainly played a role in preventing a much ballyhooed red wave in last week's midterms. 

National Review's editorial on the subject has a one-word headline: "No." "To paraphrase Voltaire after he attended an orgy, once was an experiment, twice would be perverse."

It's sad. I am hard pressed to think of many Democrats who I could picture in the White House. But there are more than a few eminently qualified Republicans. Unfortunately for them, they will almost certainly go with their most flawed candidate. 

Trump did propose some reforms to "drain the swamp" towards the end of a low energy and at, times, rambling speech so full of misinformation that it was was actually cut off by several networks. These included term limits for members of Congress and a ban on lobbying by former lawmakers. He made this promise when he ran in 2016, too, and then did nothing.

Lehigh Valley MAGA Steve Lynch Snaps After Midterms

Failed NorCo Exec candidate Steve Lynch is not a total loser. He's a member of the GOP State Committee and even has a "public figure" Facebook page with which he can bray away with conspiracy theories. His real Q-Anonsense, however, is at his personal Facebook page, replete with apoplectic Facebook aLives, which he irresponsibly broadcasts while driving. He loves to refer to himself as "We, the People," but is going to have to change that now that the midterm results are trickling in. Given his propensity for threatening those who disagree with him with boxing matches and duels, perhaps he should just be honest and refer to himself as "We, the Lynch mob." He's been silent on Facebook since the midterms, but that's only because he was suspended again for violating terms of service. Not to worry. He's been exploding as a twit. Here's what this representative of the Northampton County Republican Party has been saying since voters dumped all of his candidates:

"Can't comment on fascist book because I was immediately restricted after the election for 7 days. I haven't even been putting up any crazy posts lately. Interesting ..."

"The operatives of the left truly are scum of the Earth!"

"The right side is weak! They have no idea how to fight! It's really pathetic watching conservatives pray for Paul Pelosi and the sham of the left."

"The idiot left will have you believe it was the fairest election ever. Why? Because they suck and are hateful people that only care about murdering their own unborn babies above everything else!"

"We have a two tiered justice system and it isn't black vs white or gay vs straight it is God fearing soldiers of righteousness vs the gates of hell! The quicker we all realize this the quicker we can fight to win!"

[responding to a picture of Fetterman] "All this picture proves is how many millions of idiots we have living in Pennsylvania! Every single one of you!"    

[reacting to Shapiro win] "Come to Pa ... Where your rights will be violated day in and day out by tyrants like lil Josh!"

[election integrity] "[D]eep down everyone knows this election process was a complete joke!"

Lynch's penchant for the exclamation point is just more proof that he is, in fact, a drama queen. I think he'd be much happier if he considered yoga.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Why Did GOP Do So Poorly?

Even I was fooled about the much vaunted red wave that never was. I believe it's a combination of factors. 1) People are sick of Trump and his MAGA puerility. 2) People really are, after all, centrists. 3) Abortion should be rare, safe and legal.  4) The GOP had some really bad candidates. Mastriano my very well have doomed the entire ticket. What's your reason for the poor showing?  

Commonwealth Court Orders State to Take Custody of 15 Juveniles From Philly

Staffing shortages at juvenile justice centers are by no means unique to NorCo.  It's a statewide problem that has prompted the Juvenile Court Judges' Commission to reach out to Pa. Governor Tom Wolf for help.  

At Philadelphia's Juvenile Justice Center, the staffing shortage has been made worse by overcrowded conditions. A Commonwealth Court judge has ordered the state Department of Human Services to take custody of 15 children.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Juvenile Justice Center Workers Reject Highest County Offer

According to NorCo Council member John Goffredo, "we have a lot of staffing shortage issues." This apparently is what prompted his call for Exec Lamont McClure to relax a county vaccine mandate. Northampton County only has a vaccine mandate for new hires. The mandate at Gracedale is driven by the CMS. 

McClure discussed staff shortages and pay, but said it would probably be for the last time. He noted that the CO classes might lose one or two prospective employees for each training class. "It's not a problem," he assured Goffredo. 

McClure did, however, discuss the staffing crisis at the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC). He repeated that he has made the largest three-year contract offer to the union representing JJC staff in the history of the county - 4 1/2% step, 4 1/2% step and 2 1/2% COLA. There would be no increase in the cost of medical care. "That's a lot of money. And that's a lot of money to our taxpayers living in fixed incomes who write their real estate property tax checks to our general fund. There are widows all over this county trying to stay in their homes. ... We need to be cognizant of that and I have been but I also know I have the responsibility to balance those interests - to balance the interest of fairly paying the youth care workers. I understand that and that's why we made this offer.

"All of this talk that we've been doing in public about the pay of unionized workers ... - it materially disadvantages the taxpayer. who I am the representative of, in the negotiations. In other words, all that talk costs the taxpayers more money. And it doesn't mean the record offer we made isn't fair. 

McClure went on to say that he has "a lot of respect for Judge [Craig] Dally," who has advocated higher wages at JCC. "When he came here and talked about the starting salary, we thought a lot about that. And we enhanced the already record offer. We took that starting salary, which was somewhere in the $16 and change range, and we did this; [reading from a memo] "[T]he County is willing to move all individuals working at the youth development center to a base salary of $19,63 per hour in 2023. If an individual is making over $19.63 per hour, their wage will not be adjusted. The starting wage will be reset at $18.78 an hour." McClure also added three steps for employees already at the top step. 

This offer was rejected. 

"This is the last time I'm going to talk about this in public," McClure said. he feels that doing so has a negative impact on the taxpayer, who will have to pay the bill. 

Goffredo told McClure "the taxpayer doesn't care," and then quickly corrected himself to imply that McClure will waste taxpayer money on a yet-to-be funded health center. McClure retorted that the health center will save taxpayer money, not waste it.  

NorCo Council Member John Goffredo Shows His Inner QAnon

At the November 4 County Council meeting, member John Goffredo asked Executive Lamont MvClure if he was still enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandate "in light of the recent New York Supreme Court ruling that upheld a challenge to NYC's vaccine mandate for public sector employees, ruling that the vaccine was not stopping transmission or preventing infection, that it would be able to hire back employees who were either fired or left because of the vaccine mandate. Knowing that that is the news, is there any chance that Northampton County is going to be relaxing their requirements?"  

I have to make a few comments about Goffredo's question. 

First, although I'm sure his intentions are good, I doubt Goffredo is aware that the New York Supreme Court is actually only a county court of general jurisdiction. It's the equivalent of the county courts in Northampton and Lehigh Counties. While New York's highest court is known as the Court of Appeals. 

Second, The New York county court ruling did uphold a challenge by public sector workers to a city vaccine mandate on all public sector workers. Northampton County, in stark contrast, only has a vaccine mandate in place for new hires. There is also a mandate at Gracedale, but that's a federal mandate applying to health care providers and suppliers. That requirement has already been upheld in a per curiam opinion of the United States Supreme Court. 

Finally, and most importantly, the New York Court objected to the arbitrary manner in which the mandate was enforced while simultaneously making clear that "vaccination should be encouraged."  

Goffredo failed to note that this county court ruling has been appealed. 

Executive Lamont McClure told Goffredo that he is guided by the United States Supreme Court. But Goffredo, diving into his inner QAnon persisted. "What is the justification now, knowing that many people here are vaccinated but got COVID and there is no evidence - no science at all - to prove that we are no longer transmitting with the vaccine ... ."

Wow! I was unaware that Goffredo is an infectious diseases expert.  The CDC, which actually knows a bit more about that topic than he, has determined that the vaccine is safe and effective. So has The Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins

Goffredo was trying to make a few cheap political points with the antivax lunatics. Never mind that it is at the expense of our public health. Or the lives of Gracedale residents. 

The midterm results should make clear to him that we are sick of the extremists.  

Friday, November 11, 2022

Veterans Day 2022 - Thank You For Your Service

For veterans like Peter Cochran and other members of the Brown and Lynch American legion Post #9, the service continues after they lay their arms down. They perform as the Color Guard in naturalization ceremonies. 

And then, after the pledge of allegiance, the colors are retired and these old citizen soldiers fade away, no longer needed.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;

Thank a Veteran today. They are the real patriots.  

Nailed By a Skunk

My late father and I are very much alike in that we're both strikingly handsome and very intelligent. But we're also quite different. I have a knack for really pissing people off without even trying. It's a gift. My father, on the other hand, could insult people mercilessly and they'd love it. 

I remember once walking into an elevator with him that was already occupied by a Commonwealth Court judge. 

He stuck his rather prominent proboscis into the air and sniffed, "Why you really smell lovely today!"

"Thank you," she blushed.

"What is it, a new after shave?"

If I did something like that, I'd get 20 years in the electric chair. 

I constantly read, and at numerous places, that I'm pretty despicable. The latest comes from a person who writes this about me: "I'm hoping he burns alive...nice and slow,, not sure if I mentioned this asshat before." 

So hard as it might believe, I have some detractors. 

This apparently extends to the Animal Kingdom as well. Last night, while walking the seeing-eye dog, we both got nailed by a skunk. 

I thought it would have extended me some professional courtesy. 

WFMZ: Easton Official Charged With Pokemon Threats

WFMZ reports that Easton's Director of Public Works, David Hopkins, has been charged with two counts of terrorist threats and two counts of harassment after two preteen boys assailed him with, of all things, a Pokemon card. I was unaware they were so infuriating. He apparently chased after them and threatened one of them, who was cornered inside Lafayette's gym. 

He's facing misdemeanor charges, but had the good sense to hire prominent criminal defense lawyer Vic Scomilio. Hopkins' lawyer is hopeful he can reach an "amicable" resolution. 

Sounds like somebody needs one of those anger management classes.  

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Wild Now Has 6,500 Vote Lead in Pa.7 Race

Early Wednesday, I told you that incumbent Congress member Susan Wild had a 4,000 vote lead over challenger Lisa Scheller. That lead is now 6,503 votes. That's unassailable. She squeaked out a win in NorCo, clobbered in Lehigh and was destroyed in Carbon. Source: Pa Dep't of State Election Return. 

Democrats Need to Remember They LOST Tuesday's Election

Without question, the results of Tuesday's election were a firm rebuke of Donald Trump and his MAGA cult. People are sick of him and his mini-mes, like failed NorCo Exec candidate Steve Lynch. In addition, it was almost certainly a reaction to the Supreme Court's Dobbs opinion on abortion. But many people within my party are acting as though we just won some great victory. Here's a newsflash - we lost. We've almost certainly lost control of the House and might lose the Senate as well. We just lost less badly than we thought we would. That's hardly a reason to celebrate. It is rather a memento mori moment.  "We the People" do resent extreme Republicans who threaten to bring 20 strong men into a school board meeting and remove school directors. We resent the violent rhetoric. But we also resent the ridiculously absurd priorities of Democratic politicians, who promote issues like transgender inclusion over far more important matters like the economy.

When it comes to issues like the economy and inflation or reducing crime or border security, Republicans have done a better job than we have of articulating the problem. They have messaged better. They just have shitty messengers. 

We have failed to message at all, except on issues that mean very little to the typical voter. Frankly, it's a little nauseating to get an email from Allentown's Mayor Tuerk signed ("he, him, his"). Instead of focusing on that, how about doing something about the constant gun violence and the dirt bikes ripping along city streets with no regard for others? 

Democrats, not Republicans, have painted themselves as uncaring elitists. The reality is that the Democrats have a pretty good message about the shrinking middle class. They recognize that the reason for this is because wealth has been concentrated over the years into the hands of the few. These 1%ers refuse to pay fair wages for fair work, and would prefer to send jobs overseas than actually pay people. Joe Biden talks about standing up for democracy, The reality is that our supposed republic  is slowly but surely morphing onto an oligarchy . The business interests of the wealthiest 10% are reflected in 78% of Congressional decisions, while those of average Americans account for just 5%.

Money misers have conditioned you to think of unions, which have saved countless lives in the coal mines and steel mills, as evil. They even rip public school teachers, who more often than not, dig into their own pockets to help students in need.  They've made it impossible for families to afford the homes or apartments in which they live. 

We Democrats have some pretty good messages. We can and should communicate these messages in a way that resonates with the blue collars and younger voters.  And elect leaders who listen to us, not hedge fund managers.