Thursday, June 30, 2022
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
I was unimpressed by the first of what have now been six hearings conducted by the January 6 Select Committee. I was bothered by a prime-time production that, contrary to the hype, offered very little that was meaningful. I also believe Congress, instead of being in recess as it almost always id, should be focused like a laser beam on other serious problems like runaway inflation or Putin's landgrab in Ukraine. As these hearings have progressed, however, I've concluded they are required viewing for anyone who would like our democratic form of government to stay that way. They have demonstrated precisely what Liz Cheney outlined in her opening statement - a seven-pronged effort by President Donald Trump to overturn an election he knew he had lost. Yesterday's hearing showed him as unhinged and unstable. In a hopeful sign, the witnesses who have made this clear are other Republicans.
Perhaps there's hope for us after all.
Yesterday's star Republican was Cassidy Hutchinson, top aide to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
Her testimony makes clear that Trump is a megalomaniac. According to what she said, Trump tossed his lunch against a wall when he heard that AG Bill Barr had told the AP that there was no evidence of voter fraud sufficient to change the election results. She helped a valet clean a wall stained with ketchup. She indicated Trump had done that sort of thing before.
Hutchinson also stated that Trump was incensed on January 6 because armed protesters were being denied access to his "Stop the Steal" rally, conducted moments before the attempted coup. "They're not here to hurt me," Hutchinson heard him say. This is evidence that Trump knew that these protesters, who soon would become rioters, were armed.
Hutchinson also spoke of Trump's desire to go to the capitol himself, which is something Rudy Giuliani bragged about with her some day before. When Trump got into the Presidential limo, the head of his Secret Service detail refused to take him there, even after Trump insisted he is "the American' President." Hutchinson herself was not inside the vehicle, but heard the details of that incident in a room in which the head of that Secret Service detail was present. She noted that he never disputed the account.
Her testimony on this matter is hearsay, but the secret service agents involved have already testified behind closed doors. They will obviously be testifying again. Pro-Trump news outlets report they will dispute Hutchinson. I'll wait to hear from them.
Trump actually tried to grab the steering wheel and even attacked the Secret Service officer charged with the responsibility of keeping the President safe.
Trump, of course, denies Hutchinson's account and called the committee a "kangaroo court."
He could testify there himself, but refuses.
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
According to Governing, mass transit is in trouble, at least in the bigger cities. There are two reasons - the pandemic and a growing trend towards remote work. While I'm sure the lockdown imposed by Governor Tom Wolf hit LANTA hard, I see no rush to remote work here in the Lehigh Valley. In fact, as someone who occasionally uses mass transit, I've noticed an increase in ridership. I attribute this to rising gas prices. LANTA received $12.5 million in funding under the American Rescue Plan Act, and a whopping $21.6 million from the CARES Act. Why not use some of this windfall to help riders with reduced fares between now and Labor Day?
As a senior, I ride free. My experience is that the service is fairly reliable. It takes me about twice as long as a drive, but I can use that time to catch up on email. What's more, buses have bike racks, so I can ride part of the trip if I want.
I know some folks would have to make two or three transfers. The solution there is to drive to or near one of the transfer points and use the bus for the rest.
Both counties still have CARES Act and American Rescue Plan money. I believe they could do some real good for working people with limited incomes by helping LANTA with whatever shortfall it might claim to have in funding this project.
I believe reduced fares probably make more sense than a gas tax holiday.
Monday, June 27, 2022
Helene Whitaker, a Northampton Community College pioneer, passed away last Wednesday. You can read her impressive obit here. She spent 31 years in government relations, mostly at Northampton. She was the driving force for expanding its campus to Monroe County and Bethlehem's south side.
She was an ardent ally of former Executive John Stoffa. She teamed up with him on several issues, including the open space referendum (that I opposed).
In addition to her role in education, Helene was active in Democratic politics. She regularly took me to task on this blog when I strayed too far right. I liked the interchanges I had with her because she was fact-oriented and would admit when she had them wrong. She made sure I did so as well.
Yesterday, during a longish bike ride along the D&L Trail, I dodged a few large snakes making their way across the bike path. Like me, they are cold-blooded and enjoy the heat. They do try their best to avoid me.
Alexander Junda ran into snakes, too. He went for a walk in Moore Tp before it got too hot and ran into five timber rattlers, including the beauty he's holding.
Although it appears Alexander knows what he's doing, I'd recommend giving a timber rattlesnake a wide berth.
I usually bite them first.
Photo comes from Moore Township Concerns.
Friday, June 24, 2022
|Then DA John Morganelli investigated Dolan|
These are not my opinions. They are instead the conclusions of the Northampton County Investigating Grand Jury, which released a blistering, 62-page report, after hearing from 20 witnesses, including former Mayor John Callahan.
Thursday, June 23, 2022
Northampton County Council has been involved in lead paint remediation since 2018. Frank Brooks, who administers Northampton County's program, advised County Council last week on the need for this program. The federal government banned the use of lead paint in 1978, but many homes were built before that time. Lead is particularly attractive to young children because it tastes sweet. But it damages their kidneys, lungs, heart and brain development. They also absorb lead at a rate 400x faster than an adult. Executive Lamont McClure proposed spending $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to remediate homes with lead point and remove lead in water lines. County Council approved the expenditure by a 8-0 vote. Council member John Brown was absent.
This program is available for homes that are owner-occupied. Any homeowner whose income is less than 80% of the median household income of 66,214 is qualified. This program is unavailable to investor-owned homes, but the state will step in on request and assist a landlord remediate lead paint.
Chuck Weiss, who is employed by Community Action Lehigh Valley, serves as a project manager on home remediations. He told Council he currently has 14 homes on a waiting list with no funding. He said it costs about $25,000-35,000 to remediate lead paint at a home.
How do people find out about this program? There are flyers at food banks and schools, and Community Action Lehigh Valley does its own outreach. Weiss added that building inspectors also notice problems and call.
The program is available on a first come, first served basis unless the home has a child who already is experiencing lead poisoning. High risk cases like that go to the front of the line.
Brooks advised County Council that 12 contractors in this area are certified for lead remediation.
He also informed Council that there's been a recent discovery of lead in supply lines at 81 homes in East Bangor. The funding approved by County Council will help fix that problem.
Yesterday, I was less than enthusiastic about the $1.2 million set aside by NorCo Council for mobile health vans to be used by both of the hospitals that permeate the Lehigh Valley. For one thing, they are already very well-endowed, as the salaries paid to their administrators make clear. For another, they're already everywhere in brick-and-mortar buildings.
I was unaware that one of these hospitals - St. Luke's - received 26,000 visits from uninsured people last year, and served 19,000. In my view, this justifies the purchase.
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
It seems you can't walk 40' withoput tripping over a facility owned bu one of two hospotals that are ubiquitous here in the Lehigh Valley. From actual hospitals to smaller centers, they're pretty much everywhere. Well, that's not enough. Last week, Northampton County Council approved the $1.2 million purchase of two mobile health vans for both Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) and St. Luke's Hospital. The money comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which has done its part in driving up inflation. Will these vans actually improve the quality of health care? Robert Begliomini, President of Lehigh Valley Health Network, made a successful sales pitch at Council's June 16 meeting.
According to Begliomini, LVHN already has considerable experience in mobile health,
He cited the Miles of Smiles dentistry van in operation since 2009. I've never seen one in my miles of smiles and frowns throughout the Lehigh Valley. He said it has already provided $3.2 million in charitable care.
Begliomini added that LVHN has one of only 20 mobile stroke units operating in this country. This unit can actually do a CAT scan of a patient in his own driveway.
He said that LVHN even can do mobile mammograms, and does so at 28 locations within Northampton County alone.
Finally, LVHN has operated mobile vaccination clinics for COVID.
Council President Lori Vargo Heffner wondered about residents who may be under insured. "We deal with things like this every day," said Begliomini.
Council member Ron Heckman called it a "worthwhile cause," but said his experience is that hospitals are not as pleasant as Begliomini in collecting medical bills. "This has already been paid for by the taxpayers," he observed and he hoped this could be considered in billing.
Begliomini said he'd work with the county to determine where the need might be greatest for location.
Council member Tara Zrinski said she would hope that the hospitals purchase electric vehicles.
Begliomini also stated these vans would close gaps in health disparities throughout the Lehigh Valley.
Council member JohnGoffredo expressed some reservations. noting that $1.2 million in federal funds could be spent on a myriad of things to help taxpayers, "Everything we do is for the betterment of the community," answered Begliomini. "This will go a long way to help both of us to provide the care that's necessary in the community."
Council approved this expenditure 7-0. Council President Lori Vargo Heffner, who works for St. Luke's, abstained. Council member John Brown was absent.
Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Pennsylvania's Department of Health requires that nursing home residents receive a minimum of 2.7 hours of nursing home care every day. It's known as the Per Patient Day, or PPD. As a result of staffing shortages, Gracedale has been struggling to meet this minimum. Its PPD has been closer to 2.5. But according to Executive Lamont McClure, that figure is finally starting to go up.
Gracedale has taken a number of measures to improve daily nursing care, from reducing census to offering $2,500 bonuses for 12 months of work.
Are these measures working? If the daily PPD is any indication, they are. McClure listed daily PPDs as follows: 6/6 - 2.86; 6/7 - 2.95; 6/8 - 3.12; 6/9 - 2.74; 6/10 - 2.68; 6/11 - 2.91; 6/12 - 2.71; 6/13- 2.87; & 6/14 - 2.81. All of these exceed the minimum PPD.
In addition to the increase in daily nursing care, there's been a corresponding drop in FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) absences. In April, FMLA at Gracedale was a whopping 40%. In May, it was jut 21% and is on track to be 20% in June.
After taking office in 2018, Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure restored and actually added to the health care benefits that had been cut by John Brown. He advised County Council last week that he's now exploring a health center for county employees and their dependents. It would be confidential and run by a third party.
Of the 481 county employees who responded to a survey, over 78% said they'd use it.
McClure said he's trying to make the work experience better for county workers.
Monday, June 20, 2022
Bethlehem's newest City Council member is Dr. Wandalyn Enix, a Professor Emeritus at Montclair State. She explained Juneteenth at City Council's most recent meeting.
She indicated that the history of Africans in the Americas predates 1619, and that they were "not necessarily" slaves. She noted a robust population in both Texas and Florida.
After the United States banned the importation of slaves, she indicated that stockmen were hired to impregnate black women. In addition, there was an illegal importation of slaves from Africa into Texas,
These slaves were unaware they had been set free by Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.
On June 19, 1865, accompanied by the US Colored Troops, General George Granger issued General Order 3, which is as follows: "The people are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, become that between employer and hired labor. The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
According to Dr. Enix, ths was originally known as Emancipation Day, and is now known as Juneteenth.
Friday, June 17, 2022
Years ago, when Ron Angle was Northampton County Council President, he proposed that the Executive be provided an opportunity at every meeting to provide a report to Council in which he could make last-minute pitches for agenda items or speak out on other matters of concern. Council agreed, and the Executive's Report has been part of every agenda since 2006. Past Executives have failed to make use of this invitation to use the bully pulpit, but Lamont McClure has embraced it. He has used it to argue in favor of his own proposals and keep both Council and the public posted on what else is happening. It's good politics but is also good government and is a sign of transparency. But while McClure is Exec, he is not a 10th member of Council. He attempted to interject himself in the middle of a debate last night, even to the point of ignoring and interrupting Council President Lori Vargo Heffner. He crossed the line between being helpful and a bully, giving ammunition to his opponents.
The matter in question was a $50,000 grant to monitor air quality at different points within the County. The money for this comes from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Andrea Wittchen, founder of the Lehigh Valley Sustainability Network, gave a presentation on Wednesday about the need for air quality testing. Although Republican and Democratic Council members all agreed there is a need in an area plagued by ozone and particulates. The latest report from the American Lung Association gives NorCo a C.
What bothered Council members was the discovery, only made yesterday, that $23,950 of this grant would be for "project management" with scant details to justify the sum. The proposal failed to identify the nonprofit that would be receiving this sum, or just how this sum would be divided.
That made no difference to Council member Tara Zrinski, who called the group receiving this money environmental leaders. But it bothered other Council members. John Cusick flagged the problem, and John Goffredo observed that Wittchen had proposed a project in which she "more or less is the sole proprietor."
Council President Lori Vargo Heffner noted Council was being asked to approve a$23,950 management fee with "no resume and no outline of what is expected." "Our job is budgetary," she explained, adding that "I just want a little more documentation so I can 100% say Yes."
While one Council member was speaking, McClure interrupted to say that he had Wittchen on the line to answer any questions.
"You are not recognized at this time," observed Vargo-Heffner. Undeterred, McClure continued interrupting and had to be told several times that he was not running the meeting.
"That was just uncalled for," said Vargo-Heffner once McClure finally sat down.
Had McClure simply raised his hand and asked to be recognized, things might have been different. But I think not. County Council wanted it in writing.
At this point Council member Kerry Myers (participating by phone), moved to table. Council voted 6-2 to table, with Kevin Lott and Tara Zrinski voting No. John Brown was MIA.
By the way, Wittchen is a harpist, and a good one. She even has a Master's degree in Business Administration and the Harp, but she has no background in science.
As the meeting reached its merciful end, Council member Ron Heckman gave the homily. "Sometimes, you gotta' read the room.," he suggested.
Council did approve several other grants without controversy. I'll update you about them on Monday.
Thursday, June 16, 2022
Anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis knows I detest Donald Trump. I consider him among this country's worst presidents. He alienated our traditional allies, regularly hinting that the US would refuse to honor security agreements. He embraced thugs like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un. Domestically, he undermined institutions essential to democracy, from the courts to elections officials. I always believed him to be a con man more interested in self-promotion than in improving this country. And after the January 6 attempted coup, he belongs behind bars, not in the oval office. My vote for Biden was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, I now think that Biden is nearly as bad as Trump.
I was encouraged at first. He pledged he'd be a uniter, not a divider, and that he'd represent all of us. He's failed to keep that promise. What really made me pause was his botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. Most Americans (not me) thought we should pull out. I would think that, once that decision is made, all necessary actions should be taken to get our allies and American citizens out before the military departs.
The way this was handled made us appear weak to other countries. So it's no surprise that Putin would roll the dice and make another landgrab. Now Putin miscalculated, but his initial decision to invade was almost certainly based on the perception that American leadership is at a very low point.
We all know inflation is at all-time highs. Part of this was unavoidable. Because of the pandemic and all the lockdowns, it was necessary to inject cash into the economy with a $2.2 trillion stimulus known as the CARES Act. This happened under Trump's watch, and is part of the reason for the inflation.
The American Rescue Plan Act was Biden's doing and added a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus on top of the CARES Act.
How could anyone reasonably think that the injection of $4 trillion into our economy would not result in runaway inflation?
Biden wanted more. He is complaining about Republican refusal to go along with his $5 trillion Build Back Better Plan. Actually, it is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin who had the sense to torpedo that excessive spending.
I don't hold Biden responsible for higher prices at the pump. His decision on the pipeline from Canada reduced the flow of crude oil, which is not the kind of oil used to fuel cars. But I do hold him and state legislatures throughout the country responsible for not insisting on measures to reduce those prices, from gas tax holidays to 55 mph speed limits.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he has had too many gaffes that need to be walked back. I get that he has a speech impediment, but Biden will doggedly double down on his miscues. His staff also appears to be at war with VP Kamala Harris. The man who said he'd unite us is unable to unite White House staff.
He's a one-termer.
Who's the Lion in Winter, waiting in the wings to take on the mantle of leader of the free world?
Sadly, no one in this country.
The free world does, however have a Lion in Winter. His name is Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Trump tried to extort him. And Biden wanted him to flee. "The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” answered Zelenskyy. I do wish he'd get a few new T-shirts.
Zelensky, a former comedian, has turned into a leader. And our leaders, whether they be Biden or Trump, have turned into comedians.
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Northampton County's final voter registration statistics in advance of the 2020 Presidential election were as follows:
Total: 227,315, compared to 211,593 in 2016.
Democrats: 102,436, compared to 98,929 in 2016. Democrats accounted for 45% of the total registration, compared to 47% in 2016.
Republicans: 81,345, compared to 73,638 in 2016. Republican registration increased from 34.8% to 35.8% of the total registration.
Other: 43,534, compared to 39,026 in 2016. Independents shrunk from 19.15% to 18.4% of the total number of registered voters.
Though the county did vote for Biden, it is no longer a blue county. It is becoming more and more conservative,, as the voter registration totals before the May 17 primary make clear. On election day, this is the voter registration data.
Total registration: 220,685.
Democrats: 97,710. This is 44.2% of the total number of registered voters, compared to 47% in 2016. Democrats have been losing voters for the past six years.
Republicans: 80,198. This is 36.35% of the total number of registered voters, compared to 34.8% in 2016. Republicans are clearly becoming more dominant.
Other: 42,777. This is 19.3% of those who are registered, and is approximately where it was in 2016.
Conclusion? Northampton County voters are increasingly rejecting the Democratic message, at least on a national level.
Erratum at 9:15 pm: My thanks to a reader who observes that the independent percentage has increased from 18.4 to 19.15%.
At their reorganization meeting last night, Northampton County Democrats re-elected Matt Munsey as Chair and voted for Sandra O'Brien Werner as Vice Chair.
There had been some grumbling about Munsey during a meeting that was at times fractious. Joe Kelly, a legislative aide to State Senator Lisa Boscola, was floated as a possible candidate, but was himself absent. Munsey was willing to move that nominations be reopened, but that failed.
In its most recent campaign finance report, Northampton County Dems had about $15,000.
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
Yesterday, I introduced Jerry to the Tatamy Trail. This is a great path extending for 3.5 miles from Main Street in Tatamy to the Binney & Smith offices in Palmer. You can keep going from there to Heil Park or the Palmer Bike Path, but it gets hilly.
Jerry had not been on a bike for years, but had no problems at all along this very level and macadamized trail. It runs parallel to Bushkill Creek, which means it's always cool. Hills running along the western side block the wind.
I've been doing most of my riding on roads so far this year to save on gas while getting some good exercise. But I still love Tatamy Trail. Yesterday, near the old Northampton Farm Bureau, I saw a stand with loaves of bread waiting to be eaten. I was trying to keep up with Jerry so I was unable to stop.
In the photo you see, Jerry was just trying the bike. For the actual ride, he wore a helmet. Decades ago, while racing a bunch of kids, I took a nasty spill in which my head pretty much destroyed a wooden fence. I was wearing no helmet and woke up on a ride to the hospital. Now I never ride without one.
In addition to cycling, I see numerous walkers, runners, fishermen, rollerbladers and skateboards on that trail.
Monday, June 13, 2022
For someone who's deluded himself into thinking that Facebook interferes with his LIVE videos. Republican politician Steve "1 in 20" Lynch is certainly using it as often as he can. Even from a lake retreat with practically no reception, he's unable to stay away. On Saturday, he informed his cult following (you can see his Live here) that he's got some competition in his current quest for GOP county chair. He states he's opposed by Beverly Hernandez, a retired Gracedale employee, and former NorCo Council member Glenn Geissinger. That decision will be made June 25 at some location that is yet to be determined.
In his Facebook Live, Lynch is already accusing his opponents of spreading "nothing but lies" about me." He concludes by calling them "vile." He has a habit of accusing everyone he dislikes of being a liar. Then the man who slams everyone, including fellow Republicans, stated he'd unite people. A few minutes later, he said "We know who you are" of those opposed to him. Not long after that, he said he'd "divide out" those people who are useless to him and "they'll just kind of go by the wayside."
Hmm. Steve contradicted himself twice in the span of about five minutes. By my book, that makes him the liar.
Steve the uniter attacked party chair Lee Snover, amazingly calling her establishment. Now Lee is many things, but establishment is not one of them. For one thing, she has alienated nearly as many people as Lynch has. It was her efforts that turned the tide for Trump in 2016 in NorCo. She mobilized a great grass roots campaign. But she's also the reason why Republican elected officials are leery of the county party and are holding back on donations. She attended the January 6 insurrection, just like Lynch did. When Lynch had his head up his ass in some gym, she was calling out Charlie Dent, whose criticism of Donald Trump made him a pariah. She's been nearly as divisive as Lynch, and has never been a country club Republican.
Lynch the uniter smeared Cindy Miller, a Republican Lehigh Tp Supervisor who recently ran for State Senate. He took a dig at Dr. Oz, who, like it or not, is the GOP nominee for the US Senate. He snarked County Council member John Brown as someone "who likes to run for every office under the sun because I guess he thinks he's God's gift to politics."
Maybe you should look in a mirror, Steve.
Lynch said he'd excel at fundraising. His own campaign finance reveals that's total horeseshit. He raised practically nothing in the Exec race. And he was so inept as a candidate that the one and only mailer he could afford arrived in most mailboxes the day after the election.
Although Lynch claimed he and his mob have been organized for the past six months, he still had no Vice Chair candidate as of Saturday.
Oh yeah, he also promised lawsuits once elected. He made that promise when he lost the election, too, but the man who insists he keeps his word never followed through.
He's predicting a landslide in his favor. He has spreadsheets.
I sure hope he wins. Steve Lynch as NorCo GOP chair would be an early Christmas present for Democrats.
I have confirmed with Beverly Hernandez that she is,, in fact, running against Lynch. She is a retired Gracedale employee and, though I disagree with her on just about everything, she's far from the "vile" person that Lynch claims she is. She's a grandmother who cares about Republican values and her country.
Hernandez is running on a plank with Margie Mandell as candidate for Vice Chair. She responded to Lynch's Facebook rant with her own Live, which I will summarize.
I will produce the supposedly terrible letters that Hernandez and Mandell have sent to Republican committee members below. I see no lies.
I will confirm whether Glenn Geissinger is running as soon as I can. I am sure this former Mormon Bishop will be surprised to learn he is a liar and a "snake."
Hernandez letter to Republican Committee members:
Dear Committee Member,
I would like to introduce myself for the role of Republican Committee Chair.
My three sons were raised in Palmer Township and attended the Easton Area School District. I now have two grandchildren.
I have served in administrative roles in the Palmer PTA, the American Association of Women, the League of Women Voters, the Lehigh Valley Tea Party and the NCRC. During my 12 years in the League, I developed my love of the political process.
I met my husband, a PP&L engineer from Colombia, at Penn State University Park. Bilingual in Spanish, I can open the Hispanic community to our Republican values.
I want to represent the Republican Party and continue our conservative values, specifically in Northampton County. I have a proven track record in organizing and motivating people, and we will win elections!
Mandell's letter to fellow Republicans:
Dear Committee member,
I'd like to introduce myself to you for the position of Northampton County Republican committee vice-chair.
I am a campaign manager, mother of five, social network administrator, and protest/rally organizer. I attended Regent University for Criminal Psychology, and am well acquainted with the Northampton County Courthouse and legal proceedings. I am strong in my beliefs yet always and consistently open to listening and learning from those around me. Life is a constant source of education, and one of my goals is to soak in as much wisdom and knowledge as I can as vice-chair.
I believe it is time for the next generation to fill the shoes in our Northampton County Republican Committee. It is essential for our party that we convert younger citizens into reliable Republican voters, and I believe I have the networking ability and connections to do just that. I currently admin an extremely active township page with 3,000+ members and have created dozens of social networking pages for candidates and companies. I have successfully set up fundraisers and events, and plan on bringing my talent and experience into the position as vice-chair.
Between my past experience as an executive chef of a high-end restaurant, raising five children, and running campaigns, I have developed managing skills needed to ensure success in our committee.
Finally, I am capable of disregarding personal grudges and working together to unite the Republicans of Northampton County. There are too many “teams” working against each other. We can not win against the Democrats until we realize, in the end, we are all on the same side. It is my goal, whether I get elected or not, to strengthen the party with unity.
Let's make this the best two years the Republicans of this county have ever seen.
Mandell, incidentally, is the author of two children's books.
(I am quoting portions, but you can see the video in its entirety)
"Steve is not my enemy. I'm not looking to call committee members and tell them how horrible Steve is or whatever he claims I was gonna' do. ... When someone straight up lies about my character and my intent, I suddenly find myself needing to respond.
"I'm running personally because I want to use my tools - my networking abilities and my creativity - to help turn this county red. I want to create a bridge between the opposing cliques within the party and try to bring everybody together in unity because that's how we're gonna' win.
"Steve Lynch is my friend. I support and value his political beliefs. Actually,most of our political beliefs are very much in alignment.
"However,his latest rant from yesterday was not only wrong but borderline dangerous. When you tell your viewers that everything your opponent is about to say to you is all lies, that's not just a form of tyrannical bullying, but that's a typical campaigning method of a crooked politician..
"I'm over here trying to bridge the gap and create some unity while Steve goes on a galloping rant against literally everyone who isn't him. The paranoia is actually concerning at this point. "
* * *
Friday, June 10, 2022
Last night, a staged Congressional hearing concerning the attempted coup on January 6 was conducted during primetime. Committee members even hired a former ABC news exec to choreograph the whole thing. We were told we'd be presented with never-before seen video of the insurrection. Breathless broadcasters called it "stunning, " jaw dropping" and "riveting." It was nothing of the sort. The video added very little to the disgraceful behavior already chronicled. Frankly, I am offended that Congress and networks could collude in this way while war is raging in Europe, inflation has us on our heels and there are mass shootings every 15 minutes. Broadcasting this hearing during primetime is a blatantly political attempt to damage the Trump brand. If Congress were really interested in preserving our institutions, they would have conducted this hearing during regular business hours. Having said that, the hearings are very necessary.
I learned very little from the video, but a lot from Rep. Liz Cheney, whose opening statement was very much like that of a prosecuting attorney. She has laid Trump's seven-point plan to overturn an election he knew he had lost. Thus plan is as follows:
We also know that the AG, Bill Barr, had advised Trump several times that there was no mass election fraud. We know Trump's own daughter, Ivanka, believed Barr. We know that Trump actually condoned remarks suggesting that VP Pence be hanged,.
I'll certainly be looking forward to the additional hearings, which should be conducted during regular business hours.
Thursday, June 09, 2022
Steve Thode, who has been a numbers cruncher for this blog, emailed me yesterday about gas prices, a topic with which all of you are undoubtedly aware. Here's his brief missive:
Locally, Lehigh County is reporting an average price of $5.01 per gallon for Regular; Northampton County is reporting an average price of $5.02 per gallon for Regular.
If you are averaging 25 MPG, you are now paying 20 cents per mile just for gas; if you are averaging 20 MPG, you are paying 25 cents per mile just for gas.
https://gasprices.aaa.com/?state=PAI believe $5 gas is the breaking point for many of us whose income is already fairly meager.
Wednesday, June 08, 2022
Bethlehem's former Budget Director, Mark Sivak, was charged late last week with felony theft as a result of a fraudulent scheme in which he was allegedly selling city cellphones through a third party vendor. Millions of dollars pass through city coffers on a routine basis, but the amount of the theft is only about $15,000. Many of you have wondered why Sivak would throw away his good name (and a pension) over such a paltry sum. Is this just the tip of the iceberg? Bethlehem City Controller George Yasso shares these concerns, and advised City Council last night that his office's investigation is continuing.
Yasso credited Deputy Controller Michele Liberto and Accounting Assistant Michelle-Anne Millward with uncovering the fraud. "To be clear, it was not an anonymous hotline tip or an email from a concerned party that spurred this investigation. It was their hard work and diligence, trusting their instinct and sticking to their guns even though the possible outcome was very unpleasant and unsettling. They are the two that deserve the lion'sshare of the credit for the exposure of the incident."
Yasso also clarified the City's use of a Paypal account,which is something I and others have found troubling. He stated Paypal has never been used for typical business activities, including city purchases and sales.
Sivak was using a Paypal account first established in 2012 for the "Buy a Brick" fundraiser for s steelworkers' memorial. It was again used in 2019 for a farmstand initiative involving Bechtold Orchards and the school district.
Having addressed paypal, Yasso made clear that his office is continuing its investigation. "I personally am not satisfied yet. I know it's ongoing with the District Attorney ... and absolutely 100% ongoing by the Controller's office."
Yasso expressed his outrage at Sivak's alleged misconduct, going on to say that it does "great damage to the level of trust the public puts into their local government. I hope the fact that Mr. Sivak was caught internally, and the aggressive actions that took place after that, can begin to restore or repair the damage he has caused."
Yasso concluded by reminding everyone that his office is independently elected and is designed to be a check and balance against the very kind of alleged misconduct that his staff uncovered. He also repeated his hotline number,(610) 865-7266.
Mayor Willie Reynolds thanked Yasso. He added, "If what is alleged in the charging documents is proven to be true in a court of law, I'm not sure how Mr. Sivak can sleep at night."
Tuesday, June 07, 2022
Last week, Northampton County Council was requested to provide a tax break to the blighted Dixie Cup building, located in Wilson Borough. Owner Joe Reibman has been trying for decades to develop the building into apartments or a condo, but has been unable to make it happen. In the meantime, the building continues to deteriorate. Enter real estate developer Nick Tsapatsaris. He's entered into an agreement of sale to take the Dixie Cup off Reibman's hands. He's pledged to keep the iconic Dixie Cup in place atop the building. But instead of an adaptive reuse for the kind of affordable housing that has made Allentown's Nat Hyman famous, Tsapatsaris wants to put a warehouse there. He will also use it for storage and offices. These are permitted uses under Wilson's zoning ordinance. The property does have 34 loading docks. But he also wants a tax break known as a LERTA.
Under a LERTA, a real estate developer can improve a property and the increased real estate tax on these improvements are phased in over a period of 10 years. Tsapatsaris told Council that, without this tax break, the project is unfeasible. He indicated that Wilson Borough and the
Easton Wilson Area School District have already approved the LERTA, and he wants the county to approve it for county taxes as well.
Council member Kevin Lott expressed reservations because of the potential truck traffic and air pollution right next to two schools. He added that the quality of jobs produced by a warehouse bother him. "I in good conscience cannot see adding more trucks to the most congested area in the Lehigh Valley," said Lott.
Council member Tara Zrinski echoed Lott. She noted affordable housing is needed, but not low-paying warehouse jobs. She said it would be exciting to see the building redeveloped "to its old glory," but is unsure that it would be beneficial to the community.
On the other hand, Council member John Goffredo was more supportive. He said this project will remove an eyesore,adding it would be very difficult to turn the Dixie Cup building into affordable housing. He said he'd need more detail before supporting a LERTA.
Tsapatsaris said that the tract includes a parking lot for nearly 600 vehicles. He indicated residential is a permitted use as well, but the demand right now is for warehouse and storage. He also told Lott, a retired trade union agent, that his construction company would not pay prevailing wages.
Monday, June 06, 2022
John Kachmar devoted most of his career to local government. He was the Republican nominee for Bethlehem Mayor. Voters preferred Willie Reynolds. But in the wake of recent criminal charges filed against Bethlehem's Budget Director, Kachmar's message of fiscal accountability has proven to be correct. In a message he posted on this blog, he is calling for a forensic audit. Here's what he says:
The Sivak story has many missing pieces. Not missing by you , Bernie, missing by the City of Bethlehem's actions. Sivak was the Finance Director for the City, the highest paid non- political fiscal officer. The discovery of his wrong doing was made by the Controllers office in January. An investigation took several months to uncover relatively "low hanging fruit " theft involving PayPal and and the sale of electronics ( cell phones, primarily) to the tune of 12,000 plus dollars. Sivak had access to all city accounts and fiscal transactions. He reported to the the Business Administrator ( a political appointee with no previous fiscal management experience, who has questionable ethical issues involving the hiring of his wife). The Business Administrator reports to a new mayor who has no management experience nor fiscal management experience. Suspicion focuses on Sivak who remains employed during the "investigative period". The Controller ( an elected official) conducts the investigation without outside neutral help and the City Police Department ( which I hold in high regard) is asked to investigate a "white collar" crime ( a skill set not normally performed). Publicaly everyone is patting themselves on their backs stating " we caught the misdeeds and wrongdoer". Did they ? Or is there more wrongdoing and possible theft ? There are many ways you can resolve corruption in municipal government . Let me outline one that is normally used by other local governments that have had similar problems involving theft. You need to keep in mind that "caught wrongdoers" will always "cop" to a lesser crime. That is called self preservation. Sometimes , those who supervise them are complicit and welcome their silence. Sivak's misdeeds (at least for this alleged theft) occurred during a multi- year period (under The Business Administrator's supervision ). How did his misdeeds go unnoticed ? Sivak had a dual role, he was also Budget Director. He was constructing city budgets while purportedly stealing at the same time. He was signing off on expenditure of city, state, and federal revenue sources. Did he "tamper " with other funding that exposed the city to "unallowable" costs ? Was he "directed" to do so. Is there documentation to his actions during and before this alleged crime took place?
Here in this democracy called the United States we have different branches of government that are supposed to function as "checks and balances". The Bethlehem City Council needs to be seen by the public as "involved and accountable" . They can do this by demanding a Forensic Audit be performed by a forensic auditor whose selection they oversee. No cover-ups, no one forgiven for lack of oversight ...... An honest accounting of the city's financing and a renewal of that concept called Public Trust. Transparency and public release of findings would be a welcomed outcome for a City that has too often operated in the Shadows.
Friday, June 03, 2022
Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure advised County Council last night that his administration is participating in a pay study being conducted by Cumberland County. In exchange for county data on salaries and benefits, Cumberland will share its pay study.
Thursday, June 02, 2022
Late last week, I told you that I high-ranking Bethlehem City official had been fired and was under criminal investigation for possible theft from city coffers. I declined to name the person. On Tuesday, after both WFMZ-TV69 and The Morning Call also reported on this matter and identified the person as Budget Director Mark Sivak, I described the fraudulent scheme under investigation. Today, District Attorney Terry Houck announced that Sivak has been charged with Theft by Unlawful Taking, Receiving Stolen Property, Dealing in Proceeds of Unlawful Activities and Criminal Use of a Communications Facility.
These are all felony charges.
In a statement, DA Terry Houck indicates that City Controller George Yasso first identified unusual activity in Bethlehem's Paypal account in mid-January. He noticed that withdrawals from the City's Paypal were going into Sivak's personal account.
The matter was referred to Bethlehem police for investigation, and Sivak admitted to them on April 28 that he was moving money from the City's account to his own. He explained that he sells electronic equipment through a third-party reseller and was having this middleman send payments for sales to tyhe City's account instead of his own so he could evade sales tax.
Police investigated Sivak's email exchanges and noticed contacts with the reseller as far back as May 2021. At that time, Sivak was selling three new Verizon iPhone 11s for $1,638.
Subsequent investigation revealed that, between November 2019 and January 2022, Sivak sold 31 city cellphones for $12,630. In some cases, he ordered upgrades for city employees, but never provided them with the cellphones. In addition, he used the city's Paypal account to order carious electronic devices for himself, including headsets, soundbar and subwoofer. These items are valued at about $2,500.
The charges were filed with Magisterial District Judge Roy Manwaring. He set bail at $25,000, unsecured. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 22 at 9 am. Sivak is represented by prominent criminal defense lawyer James Burke.
Below is a copy of the criminal complaint, which includes the affidavit of probable cause.
OK, I'll admit it. Though many far more important things are happening, from Ukraine to baby formula shortages, I've spent a lot of time watching the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial over the past few weeks. I particularly enjoyed the cross-examination of Amber Heard by Camille Vasquez. That's where the case was won. I've read that some domestic abuse survivors are "sickened" by the result. They need to realize that some women, just like some men, do lie.
Wednesday, June 01, 2022
Blogger's Note: Nearly all of us have been touched in some way by the scourge of fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths. I know several families who have lost sons and daughters who died after unknowingly ingesting this killer, which is 50-100 times more powerful than morphine.
From Northampton County DA Terry Houck: As District Attorney of Northampton County, I am pleased to announce the implementation of the first Northampton County full-time Drug Task Force, effective immediately.
Our county cannot standby as the nationwide spike in fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths infiltrates our communities. While we’ve operated with a part-time task force for the past 20 years, I am certain it is now more imperative than ever to form a full-time drug task force, where officers can fully dedicate themselves to eradicating illegal drug trafficking in Northampton County. The ultimate mission of this task force is to save lives.
The CDC estimated more than 107,000 people nationwide died as a result of a drug overdose in the last year, and 66 percent of those overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. This is an alarming percentage as a nation, and the numbers only continue to climb. Our office has witnessed far too many drug overdoses in our county alone, and the impact drug deliveries resulting in death can have on families, and the community at large.
The Northampton County full-time drug task force is comprised of police officers from various departments throughout the county. These officers will have the opportunity to receive specialized training and experience, which will ultimately benefit not only their individual departments, but neighboring departments as well.
The drug task force will utilize in large part the seized monies of drug dealers to fund its operations. We will turn the dealers’ illicit profits against them, as the implementation of a fulltime drug task force should not, and will not, impact the pockets of local and county taxpayers.
These seized funds will permit our officers to execute more comprehensive investigations, allowing us to ultimately remove drug dealers’ resources and help put an end to their illegal operations that plague our community.
The focused training of our full-time drug task force officers will vastly improve our ability to investigate the illegal distribution of drugs and the complex cases involving drug deliveries resulting in death. Our officers will now be able to go beyond the boundaries of their local jurisdiction and continue investigations throughout the county. Complaints of drug dealing from areas within a community will now be investigated by full-time members who will be able to concentrate their efforts on a problem residence, hotel/motel, or area in a much more effective manner.
In addition, officers assigned to the full-time drug task force will be better able to form relationships with confidential informants, who provide valuable and critical information on drug activity.
I would like to thank Northampton County chiefs of police and local township board supervisors for their quick response and call to action in this matter. As the fentanyl epidemic continues to ravage our nation and infiltrate our communities, I am proud our team was able to implement the first full-time drug task force in the county’s history to combat the epidemic. I am confident our officers’ full-time dedication to investigating drug crimes will significantly benefit our Northampton County community.
I have a friend who owns a Tesla. He outs more miles on the road than most because he has to attend meetings at night as well as hearings before magisterial district judges. Over the past 31 days, it has cost him $10 to charge his vehicle.
Northampton County's Outstanding Senior Award are given each year to old farts who are at least 60 years old and have a passion for helping others through personal action, inspiration, public service, sports, educational instruction or humanitarian efforts.
What about me? As a bottom-feeding blogger, I'm automatically disqualified. I am, however, a member of Bill White's Hall of Shame. So I've got that going for me.
Congrats to this year's honorees.