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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. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

UPDATED: NorCo Unofficial Election Results Nearly Complete By Midnight

Back before we had no-excuse mail-in ballots, I recall several instances in which Northampton County's elections results were posted well after midnight on the day following an election. Now we have early voting, mail-in ballots and in-person voting. It's actually three elections in one.  By law, elections officials can only start to tabulate mail-in ballots on election day, at 7 am. With all these handicaps, the unofficial results of 150 of the county's 154 voting precincts were posted by midnight. The mail-in ballots for four remaining precincts were still being tabulated when I write first posted this story. Now that all votes have been counted, I'll update with more precise figures. 

Elections (unofficial) results show that 130,383 ballots were cast in Tuesday's midterm election in Northampton County. This amounts to an incredible 57.94% turnout.  This is the highest percentage turnout in a midterm election that I could find in Northampton County. The advent of no-excuse mail-in balloting and early voting has dramatically increased voter participation. 

Prior midterm election percentages are as follows: 2018 - 55.95%; 2014 - 38.31%. The data for 2010 and prior is unavailable online. 

We also know that over 94,276 votes were cast in person on election day. There were also 36,307 mail-in ballots. 

The victors in Northampton County are as follows:

Governor. - Josh Shapiro has 71,584 votes to Doug Mastriano's 54,716. This is a convincing rebuke of the right-wing extremism that Mastriano represented, along with a poorly run and financed campaign. 

U.S. Senate - John Fetterman has a comfortable lead over Mehment Oz. Fetterman has 65,835 votes, while Oz has 59,623.

U.S. Congress, Pa.-7: Incumbent Susan Wild is clinging to a 65,929 to 62,550 vote lead over Lisa Scheller,  That race will also be determined by vote counts in Lehigh and Carbon. 

Pa. Senate (18th). Incumbent Lisa Boscola has a commanding lead, with 55,329 votes to 40,327 for John Merhottein.  (Note: There are separate results in Lehigh County).

Pa. Senate (14th): Dean Browning is ahead of Nick Miller, 18,343 to 14.053. (Note: There are separate results in Lehigh County).

Pa. State Rep. (131st); Kevin Branco is ahead of Incumbent Milou Mackenzie, 2160 to 2125, but the results in other counties must be considered. This is only one or two precincts. 

Pa. State Rep. (137th): Incumbent Joe Emrick is clinging to a 15,556 to 14,800 lead over newcomer Anna Thomas. Given that Anna started late and had little money, she did remarkably well. 

Pa, State Rep. (138th): Incumbent Ann Flood has easily dispatched Gene Hunter, 18,728 to 10,740. I believe Gene got the Dem nomination as a write-in.  In response to a reader's question, Gene is indeed the husband of prominent and proud Democrat Deb Hunter


Today is National Scrapple Day!

I know that many of you delight in this Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy. I've never tried it myself. Hog offal is not my idea of a good meal. Tell me I'm wrong. 

What Red Wave?

All day yesterday and for days before, I was inundated by comments bragging about a big red wave on its way. I believed it, too. While Republicans will certainly take the House, it will be by a slim margin. And it appears now that the Senate may remain Democratic. I'll know more tomorrow. They had the perfect message. We do have a terrible economy and a president who is definitely past his prime But as good as their message might be, they had terrible messengers. Election deniers. Anti-vaxxers. QAnon types who latch onto conspiracy theories instead of facts.    

NBC: Fetterman Defeats Oz, Flips US Senate Seat

According to NBC, Democrat John Fetterman has defeated Republican Mehmet Oz in the race to fill the vacancy created by the departure of US Senator Pat Toomey.  Unofficial results at the state elections website (1:45am) show Fetterman with 2,480,141 votes, compared to 2,353,299 for Oz.

Fetterman tweets, "It's official. I will be the next US Senator from Pennsylvania." 

Actually, it's not official, although I think it will be hard for Oz to find 100,000 votes.

My hope is that Fetterman resigns and allows the Governor to appoint someone to fill his slot.  

Josh Shapiro is Projected Winner In Governor's Race

 AP has called the Governor's race for Josh Shapiro. This should come as no surprise to anyone. 

I Really Don't Care About the Pinsley-Coleman Race

They are both terrible candidates who represent everything that's wrong about their respective parties.  Whomever is elected, the people have lost. 

Nick Miller Leads in Pa Senate 14 Race

The newly created Pa. Senate District 14 is a slice of heaven and hell. It includes the vibrant heart of urban Allentown as well as rural northwestern stretch of NorCo. Which is heaven and which is hell? Dean Browning would probably like to sit on a tractor or eat scrapple in NorCo's northern tier, because that's where he's winning. Nick Miller would prefer a salad and an ebike in downtown Allentown, where he leads.

As I write this, Dean Browning is ahead in NorCo, 18,021 to 13,156. But Nick Miller leads in Lehigh, 31,891 to 21,859.  Overall, Miller is about 5,000 votes ahead. 

To win, Browning needed more Allentown voters to stay home. 

Boscola Defeats Merhottein in Pa Senate 18th District Race

Despite having been a state senator for about a thousand years, voters have voted to keep Lisa Boscola in place for another four. In Northampton, she defeated Bethlehem Tp Comm'r John Merhottein with 52,823 votes to his 39,739. In Lehigh County, she collected 5,487 votes to 2,303 for Merhottein.  I personally think Lisa is past her expiration date, but the people have said otherwise. 

Wild Has 4,000 Vote Lead in Pa.7 Congressional Race

One of the nastiest races in my lifetime is finally over. The ugly ads run by both incumbent Susan Wild and challenger Lisa Scheller were disgusting. Hopefully, there will be no more. As I write this, Wild appears to be ahead by about 4000 votes.

Wild has 62,555 votes in NorCo, 72,795 in Lehigh and 9,128 in Carbon. The total is144,478 votes. 

Scheller has 61,615 in NorCo, 61,987 in Lehigh and  16,812 in Carbon. Her total is 140,414. 

I believe Wild will win this race. Scheller's business ties to China, her association with extremists like Steve Lynch hurt. I also think that her views on abortion, which may have been misrepresented, hurt her. 

Source: Pa. Dep't of State.     

2022 Election Winners - Lehigh Valley Election Workers

Even if I were a Republican, I'd have voted by mail yesterday. I'll spare you the usual lectures about it being secure or more inclusive and just admit I like the convenience. There are also people, even some Democrats, who like voting in person. It's a chance to catch up with the neighbors and gossip a bit about what's going on in town. I'd be tempted to do that, but most people who know me really dislike me for some reason. Probably because I'm rather handsome and quite intelligent. But I can tell you now who won the 2022 general election even here in the Lehigh Valley, even before the results are official.  It is the same group of people who were being savaged in 2020 and again last year as corrupt and incompetent. It is the election workers, from volunteers who work the precincts just two days a year to the full-time elections offices in both counties. 

I believe most of the accolades I received on yesterday's blog came from Republicans. If so, that means that voters do have confidence in our electoral system after all. Here are some of the compliments that they were given:

"Saw the poll workers showing up at 6am to set up. They probably won’t be finished counting until 8 or 9 pm and then they have to take everything down too. The judge then has to drive to the county voting office to deliver the results. They often don’t get done until 10 or 11 pm. It’s a long day for the poll workers so remember to thank them. They are not government employees they are basically volunteers (they get a $100 stipend for their 12-14 hour day)."

"Lower Saucon Township. Arrived 7:05AM. Usually, I’m the 3 or 4th in line at opening. Today, there were already about 25 in line ahead of me. So, this looked to be a heavy turnout. When I actually got to vote, I was numbered at 35. The line outside the door continued to grow. Everything seemed to be running smoothly. I voted for the Republican candidates."

"Folks joked about having Disney or Chick-fil-A consult on improving the flow, but the team did the best they could with the space they were provided. ... The poll workers did a great job and their service to their community is appreciated!"

"Just votes at 9 a.m. in Walnutport borough. There was no line at all and maybe four folks came in behind me. Poll workers were friendly and courteous."

"Voted at 7:00 am at lock ridge. Ran smoothly with no issues."

"Beth Twp I-3. Usually number 2 or 3, but got there right at 7am, and about 20 ahead of me. All moving smoothly. Made me feel good to see everyone off the sofa and at the polls. Workers did a great job!"

"Two young men and a young woman were ready to greet and sign-in voters at my polling place this morning. Students from Allen, Dieruff and Building 21 were trained to be poll workers this year. I was thrilled to see young people involved. I thanked them for this service, and they thanked me for voting."

"Was in and out quicker than Steve Lynch's modeling career."

"God bless the poll workers. Everyone kind and helpful. The voters were also kind. The news makes us all to be an angry mob but today showed we are all just people praying for things to get better and doing what we can . democracy at work."

"I voted just before 5 pm at the Baptist Church on 191 in Bethlehem. No line to get in, only a couple of other voters there. I thanked the people standing outside for being out as well as the people working inside to keep the process running. Even if my choices don’t win, it’s heartwarming to see the people working the polls and standing outside. All acted quite civil and all were quite friendly."

At this time last year, failed NorCo Exec candidate Steve Lynch was doing his best to interfere with the canvass, called then Voting Registrar Amy Cozze a liar on several occasions and  implied that she was trying to throw the election to McClure. He was unaware that there Cozze had every reason to go against McClure because he refused her request for a raise.  In 2020, Cozze and other elections workers received all kinds of vulgar messages for doing their job. 

I am pleased to see them acknowledged for the very hard work they do in every election. Democracy appears to have survived. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Share Your Voting Experience Here

Polls are open from 7 am until 8 pm for in-person voting today. Feel free to share your experience. What was turnout like at your polling place? How long did you have to wait? How were the voting machines or, if you're in Lehigh, the paper ballots?  

People are permitted to engage in active electioneering until you are 10' away from the polling place. Then it must stop. Voters (not elections workers or poll watchers) are allowed to engage in passive electioneering (campaign buttons and shirts) inside the polling place. 

When you check in, an election worker might announce your name. The reason for this is that others might wish to challenge your right to vote based on their belief that you are not who you say you are. I have never seen this happen.

Unless he or she is voting, police officers must stay 100' away from the polling place unless the Judge of Elections asks for them. A constable is on hand to maintain order if needed. 

If you have a mail-in ballot and decide you want to vote in person, just bring the ballot and envelopes with you to the polling place. They will be voided and you can vote. 

\If you check in and are told that you are not registere3d or belong somewhere else, you can vote provisionally. You can ask for a provisional ballot. If it turns out that you were registered, your vote will count. If you are at the wrong location, it might partially count. 

Here are some voting tips for those of you who desire to be there in person. 

Monday, November 07, 2022

Election 2022: Make Your Last Minute Pitches Here

You are welcome to post your last minute pitches with specific reasons why you favor a candidate in tomorrow's election. I will not post tribal comments about either party. Why do you support Shapiro, Mastriano, Oz, Fetterman, Scheller, Wild or any of the state rep or state senate candidates?  

NorCo Council Discusses Proposed Health Center

At the tail end of last week's budget hearing, Northampton County Council discussed the employee health center proposed by Executive Lamont McClure.  This would be an employee primary care center that would be exclusive to county employees and their families. It would provide a wide array of services, from regular doctor's visits to employee advocacy regarding the health plan. It would be voluntary and offer same-day appointments  According to Integrity Health Center,m which would operate the facility, it would offer a return on investment between 1.8 and 2.2. This is based on an an actuarial analysis of savings realized by public employee health centers operated by Integrity in New Jersey. 

Integrity Health Center has already made two presentations to County Council. It has also supplied a memo to answer specific questions and has offered to meet, o0ne-on-one with individual members of Council. 

This health center will cost $800,000 a year to operate. In addition, there will be start-up costs for a facility ($2.2 million estimate) and equipment ($300,000) estimate.

Before taking this proposal to County Council, McClure considered it for several years and, by his own admission, was originally skeptical.  So it's no surprise that County Council is hesitant.

Council member John Brown wanted to know how the program would be funded. Finance Director Steve Barron indicated the expense would be covered by the $23 million set aside for health care.

That figure, incidentally, is expected to climb 24% over the next year, so county funds will likely need to be added via a budget amendment. 

Brown also wanted a detailed  breakdown on the ROI (return on investment) projected to be 1.8 to 2.2. Integrity has projected a savings of $180-$220 for every $100 spent on health care. Barron told Brown that the best way to get a detailed breakdown would be by speaking to Integrity directly. 

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner succinctly stated her concerns: "Large amount of money, great idea, one entity is being considered and not more."  The County's Administrative Code does authorize noncompetitive negotiation when, in the opinion of the Executive, this is the only practical way to go.  County Council must agree with him. I'm unaware of any company that offers this service and that is located in such close proximity. 

Council Member Ron Heckman noted that the savings are based on Integrity's projections. " We have no idea how many employees will use it," he added. "It could go bust." He also complained about the " banker's hours." The best way to determine whether there are savings is by speaking to the five public entities that already use Integrity. As for use, a county survey answered by about 450 indicated support. As for hours, those can be altered to be optimal for county workers. I believe that allowing county employees to use the facility on county time will make it a lot more popular. 

I understand the skepticism. County Council is doing its job by being critical. If something looks too good to be true, it usually is. I believe, however, that if someone as cheap as McClure likes it, it probably will save money. And I know county workers will use it, especially if employee visits are on the county dime.   

Gracedale Continues to Improve

Last week Gracedale Administrator Jennifer Stewart-King updated Northampton County Council. Its October census average was 407, with  281 open beds. There were 234 referrals, 13 admissions and 13 discharges .The wait list is at 32. There was an average of two residents and two staffers suffering from COVID. 

The most important data point is the PPD or Patient Per Day Average. This is the number of nursing care hours that must be provided to each resident on a daily basis. The state standard was 2.7 hours, but Gracedale was having difficulty meeting 2.5. As a result, Gracedale began to hire more outside nursing agencies and reduced census. That strategy is working, even with the state increasing its PPD. 

The new PPD is 2.87, In October, Gracedale's PPD average was 3.20. 

Stewart-King advised County Council last week that she will now try to increase the census gradually. She added that some employees who had left the nursing home have returned.