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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, December 29, 2023

NorCo Launching New Website That Is More User Friendly and More Secure

Northampton County has announced improvements to its website that will make it both more user friendly and secure. People who access northamptoncounty.org are being redirected to norcopa.gov. It is supposed to be operational early next year.

According to a county news release, a click on an "“Accessibility & Language Support” link in the upper right hand corner provides enhanced tools that enable users to magnify font size, change font type and even change languages. Those features appear to be available now.

Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron told me that he is still collecting information from newly elected officials to load onto the site,. That should be available soon after they are sworn into office. 

The .gov domain is what makes it more secure because it includes more rigorous verification processes than a commercial domain. Attempts to hack into county servers spike at election time, especially during as Presidential. The .gov domain also alerts the user that he or she is dealing with an official government website.  

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Terry Houck Prepares to Depart as NorCo DA

I sat down with outgoing NorCo DA Terry Houck last week. He will be leaving office once Steve Baratta is sworn in to replace him. But he was still ready for action. Inside his office, he printed out data as he spoke and had three separate cell phones lined up to his right so he could respond immediately to incoming calls. 

He's had several offers, but said he needs time to decompress after which he will decide whether he wants to continue as a prosecutor, a consultant or retire. 

Terry has devoted his professional career as both a cop and as prosecutor, so he's ruled out a return as a criminal defense attorney. 

He started out as a beat police officer on the streets of Philadelphia, but found it ironic that the last criminal charges he approved were theft charges against Hellertown's former police chief. 

The biggest case he tried as District Attorney was the Easton Cafe homicide, in which Jacob Holmes, Jr. was convicted of first degree murder. That case was tried in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of being seated in the tight confines of a jury box, jurors were scattered throughout the courtroom. Everyone donned face shields as well, and a separate room was set up so that the public could view the proceedings. It was the first homicide case tried throughout the state during the pandemic. 

Houck stated COVID was a challenge. His office remained open because he considered his first duty was an obligation to keep the people of Northampton County safe.  With stores and businesses closed, there was less reported crime, But Houck wonders whether a lot of crime, especially domestic violence, slipped through the cracks. 

In four short years, he accomplished a lot. He established a recordkeeping system for police reports written by county detectives, He instituted an on-call system for after hours police calls. During COVID, he established a mutual aid agreement among all county police departments in the event that a department lacked the manpower to conduct patrols. 

In addition to reacting to crime, he undertook proactive efforts to prevent crime from happening. This included Courageous Conversations between law enforcement and local civil rights leaders in the wake of the George Floyd homicide. He established a Major Crimes Task Force to prepare for catastrophic or complex crime. He started a full-time, self-sustaining Drug Task Force, He organized the PAIR (police assisting in recovery) program, in which an individual suffering from substance abuse could walk into a police department and ask for help. He joined the opioid suit, which has netted the county $2 million for drug abatement. He also conducted several gun buybacks. He participated in the mental health problem-solving court and began talks to institute a pre-trial drug court.

He was working on a pardon project under which convicted offenders could  have their records expunged after a period of good behavior and a demonstration that they turned their lives around.   

His biggest regret was failing to establish a separate Child Advocacy Center in Northampton County. He had the support of Northampton County Human Services and a hospital was in place, but that decision will now be made by incoming DA Steve Baratta.

He never felt any political pressure in his charging decision, which he said were based on the facts and the law. He pointed out that his duty was to represent the people of Northampton County. "It is the Commonwealth against a Defendant, not Terry Houck against a Defendant."   

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Updated:NorCo Judges (and Funeral Directors) to Hold Coronation Ceremony In Courtroom #1

The last time that Northampton County robed judges assembled en masse in Historic Courtroom #1, it was for an after hours viewing of the late Judge Ed Smith. It was probably the first time in county history that judges were actually at the courthouse on a late Friday afternoon. Next week, on Tuesday, at least seven of them will be around for the coronation ceremony we put on every other year to swear in newly elected and re-elected county officials. 

Hypocritically, Judge John Morganelli will be searing in recently elected Judge Brian Panella, even though he did everything he could behind the scenes to get Nancy Aaroe elected. 

The bench must have had trouble finding someone to swear in Steve Baratta as District Attorney. Half of the judges are not on speaking terms with him. The one judge who pushed Baratta to run, John Morganelli, has artfully dodged administering the oath. Our soon-to-be DA reach out to Westmoreland County to find a judge willing to do the honors. 

Everyone will slap each other on the back, pretending they are great friends. 

Executive Lamont McClure will present concluding remarks, at which time he will hopefully present judges with a bill for all the overtime he had to pay for their start-up funeral home.  

Updated 8 am: In the story above, I have John Morganelli swearing in Brian Panella. That is acrtually incorrect. I muisread the news release. Panella has already been sworn in, and in any ceremonial swwearing the follows this inceremonious stuff, the President Judge and Chief Funeral Director would handle things.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Steve Baratta, Union Buster

NorCo DA-Elect Steve Baratta ran as a Democrat. During his campaign, he staked out positions that are a bit left of center, at least for prosecutors. He opposed the death penalty. He'd decriminalize possession of marijuana. He opposes cash bail for many crimes. He refused to wage a write-in campaign as a Republican, and criticized incumbent Terry Houck for doing so. But before he's even sworn into office, he's taking a very Republican position. He's a union basher. I've told you about his decision to terminate two highly regarded county detectives protected by a union contract that specifically requires "just cause" for their removal. He just happened to pick the two detectives who negotiate the contract. If he gets away with this, no unionized worker is safe in his office. That includes all the clerks. Like the detectives, they can be fired at any time for any reason, including a bad reason.  

When I spoke to Baratta, he told me that the law supports his expansive view of his power to hire and fire, regardless of any union contract.  Let's look at the law. 

Pennsylvania's Constitution, like the US Constitution, provides for three separate, equal and independent branches of government - judiciary, executive and legislative. It specifically reserves to the courts the right to supervise their own employees. (Article V, Sec. 10.)  This is why many unionized court workers are still considered "at will." 

Like the courts, the office of District Attorney is also established by Pa,'s Constitution, (Article IX, Sec. 4). It would be a part of the executive branch, not the courts. No constitutional provision gives that office the exclusive power to hire and fire its staff.      

State law, however, does throw a monkey wrench into things. The County Code (Section 1620) provides that the "salary board" (Executive and County Council) have the sole power to negotiate with unions representing court workers as well as other staff for other elected or even appointed officers. But it goes on to provide that this "shall in no way affect the hiring, discharging and supervising rights and obligations with respect to such employes as may be vested in the judges or other county officers."

A strict reading of this statute suggests that no county union is safe, regardless of any "just cause" provisions in a collective bargaining agreement.  A Northampton County Corrections Director who is appointed by the Executive and confirmed by County Council, could ignore union contracts negotiated by his boss. So could a constitutional row officer like the Prothonotary.  This is precisely the rationale being advanced by Baratta. 

The law should never be interpreted to produce absurd results. Let me give you an example. Law provides that a person who breaks out of prison commits a felony, but no prisoner will be prosecuted if he escapes because the jailhouse is on fire. As one English judge pithily reasoned, "he is not to be hanged because he would not stay to be burnt." 

I'll concede that an independently elected District Attorney stands in a superior position to a row officer appointed by the county. He can argue that he has the exclusive right (by statute, not Constitution) to hire, fire and supervise. But he has to assert that right when the contract is being negotiated.  In one Berks County case, an elected row officers actually notified the "salary board" (County Commissioners) that "I do not authorize any negotiation on behalf of myself in regard to the hiring, termination or supervision of employees in my office." In another Lackawanna County case involving a contract negotiated by deputy Sheriffs, the Sheriff was uninvolved in negotiations. In stark contrast to those cases, incumbent District Attorney Terry Houck accepted collective bargaining agreements. Abd Baratta was on the bench. 

Baratta might be able to argue that he must be consulted before any new contract is negotiated with detectives or his clerical staff. But he's unable to unilaterally change the terms of a contract that was agreed upon before he even assumed office. 

What Baratta is actually doing is undermining the morale of his office before he steps foot inside the door. He could have made better use of his time by familiarizing himself with several ongoing investigations and prosecutions.   

Friday, December 22, 2023

A Christmas Present From Kurt Vonnegut

A biographer has asked me for information concerning the friendship between my father and author Kurt Vonnegut. My brother, a pack rat, produced a letter that Vonnegut wrote to his own family, not long after he and my dad were released from a POW camp at the end of WWII. In many ways, this three-page letter is his first draft of Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut sent my family a copy of that letter, apparently as a Christmas present, in 1996.

Bewildered that he has somehow survived, the young Vonnegut tells his folks, "I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait." Fortunately for us, he got around to it.

This letter is too important to sit in a dusty attic, so I'm sharing it with you. If you'd like to see a pdf copy, just click this link.

Dear people:

I'm told that you were probably never informed that I was any­thing other than "missing in action." Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Germany. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do - in precis: I've been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler's last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium. Seven Fanatical Panzer Divisions hit us and cut us off from the rest of Hodges' First Army. The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren't much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight - so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Mont­gomery for it, I'm told, but I'll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren't wounded. For that much thank God.

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, un-heated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations - the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn't room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood. We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year's Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn't.

Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical atten­tion and clothing: We wore given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: - one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden - possibly the world's most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to [...] the Checkoslovakian border. There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39's) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way-through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy about Americans. The Russians picked us up in Dresden. We rode from there to the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We've since been flown to Le Havre.

I'm writing from a Red Cross Club in the Le Havre P.O.W. Repat­riation Camp. I'm being wonderfully well fed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I'll have to be patient. I hope to be home in a month. Once home I'll be given twenty-one days recuperation at Atterbury, about $600 back pay and - get this - sixty (60) days furlough!

I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait. I can't receive mail here so don't write. May 29, 1945

First published 12/10/07.

O'Hare's WWII Diary: A Final Glimpse at a Time When We Were "Prima"

These are the final entries from my dad's brief writing career, a diary which he started almost immediately after being released as a German POW. My father was a complicated man, and I considered him a cold bastard much of the time. These diaries, and some other letters he wrote to his own "mommy and daddy," opened my eyes in many ways.

I wish I had been a better son.

In addition to the personal impact, these diaries provide a brief glimpse into that greatest generation. Like my father, most WWII vets share very little about the sacrifices they made when the entire world needed them. Sadly, a thousand of them die daily, and with them the memory of a time when Americans were considered "prima."


My lazy senses responded sluggishly to the blare of a bugle that had commenced blowing about 5:30 this morning. Some character dramatically announced that it would be appreciated if everyone fell out. A true count was needed due to the fact that today had been chosen as 'the day' by the powers that be. I did not fall out. Soon after we drew rations and packed. At 11:30 we fell out, were issued cigarettes and were given cigars by the Russkies. Then, after waiting for the usual period, we marched to the exchange lot. As is usual in all these matters nothing went as scheduled. We waited in the exchange lot for almost three hours during which it rained most of the time. The trucks finally arrived and we loaded and were off.

Vonnegut, Dannine and I were lucky enough to get a civilian bus instead of a G.I. truck. Kruse, Jones, Coyle, Watson and Burns also piled into a civilian bus but unfortunately not the same one. After three hours rolled around we arrived in Halle. According to the authorities we will be here three days at the most waiting to be flown via C-47 to LeHavre, France.

I have just digested my first Army food in 6 months - '5 in one' rations consisting of ham and sweet spuds, cheese, crackers, pineapple, rice pudding cigarettes and chocolate. How amazed the limeys were when we told them that the above was for one meal and not one day! We got separated from Jones, Kruse, Coyle, Watson and Burns.


Awoke, washed and drew more '5 in 1' rations of the same unsurpassed American caliber. Before much of the day had passed we moved to a new area of camp. They are separating the English and Americans. I wish they had done that six months ago. Spent the rest of the day on my lazy back reading.


Routine day. I showered, deloused, read, ate and am about to turn in. Red Cross Clubmobile presented itself and I basked in about six doughnuts and a cup of real coffee. Prima.

Blogger's Note: First published 12/17/07.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

O'Hare's WWII Diary: Half-Starved Soldier Worries About Brother in South Pacific

This is the latest installment from my dad's short-lived diary, penned shortly after his release from a German POW camp. In these entries, my eighty pound and half-starved father worries about his brother, Art, who was then serving in the South Pacific.

Uncle Art was wounded shortly after my father's posts, but not seriously. He was shot in the ass. When I once questioned him about it many years later, he snarled, "I was in front of the front lines, going for extra ammunition."

That's about all he ever shared. He kept no diary. He drank a lot, too.

All of my equipment, loot, real and personal property was once again in moving order waiting to be donned on my aching back as soon as the order to move was given. I waited and waited, a practice at which I have become very adept, for hour upon hour but no such order came. As we were lined up for midday chow ten G.I. trucks pulled up as only G.I. trucks can and I thought that this day would at last see me back to our own lines. However, due to the absence of certain documents or some such reason we are again detained by the Russians. I'm becoming a firm believer in the Vonnegut statement that "getting out of Germany is like walking in sand." The rumor now seems to be that we will pull out tomorrow when the trucks return with the proper papers. More of Hq. Co. showed up today in the persons of Sgt. Shuve and Pfc Sabbatino. Both look OK except for the loss of weight common to all POW's. Neither could give me any info regarding the whereabouts of Sgt. Boyle, Heinbeck, or Edgeworth. I'd certainly enjoy seeing those boys again.

The war in the Pacific seems to be progressing favorably, although we are meeting stiff resistance on some of the islands. I have an uncomfortable feeling that I'll learn more of that phase of our international troubles through first-hand experience. I'd like to see that part of the world but it would be just my luck to accomplish the feat through the medium of being a POW of the Japs, and twice in a lifetime is too much. The Russian band serenaded us again tonight. I'm getting to really like Russian music. The Russians are very much like Americans in their outlook on life. I suppose that is what queers the English with them. A few of us went across the hall to where we had discovered a radio in the room of one of our comrades. We listened for a while and left being driven out by static and by the system the joker in charge was using to operate the darn thing. He's one of that particular species of mankind who thinks he's operating the blue network whenever he comes across a radio with more than two dials on it. We are now preparing for bed at the end of a rather uneventful day.


Lo and behold I am still in Riesa. No trucks appeared today or had been rumored. However, we did receive a visit from two chaplains - one Protestant and one Catholic. They both held services and I heard mass and received communion for the first time in five months. The chaplain who was from the 69th division claimed that we would be out of here in three or four days. He seemed pretty confident that we would be back in the states within a few weeks after we hit our own lines. My inbred scepticism [sic] prohibits me from placing too much stock in his optimistic statement. Time and time alone will tell. The chaplains also brought some V-mail along with them. I wrote to my parents and to Aunt Mae. The letters are supposed to be on their way, having been brought back to our own lines with the chaplain who left here seven o'clock this evening.


A very routine day. I slept through reveille and all the morning, arising only for breakfast. Most of the afternoon was spent by all of us chewing the rag in the room where we were assembled. I thought of home today. Nothing now seems more welcome than news of the family. I am worried especially about Art. I certainly hope he has been as lucky as I in regard to ducking bullets and artillery.

It is early evening now and all of us are in the room now writing, reading, playing cards and talking. Things will no doubt continue along the same line until bed time.
Blogger's Note: First published 12/17/07.

Union Contract With County Detectives Requires "Just Cause" for Termination

On Tuesday, I told you that NorCo DA elect Steve Baratta has notified two assistant DAs and two county detectives to clear out by January 2, the day he is sworn in. He did so without prior discussion with any of them. The assistant DAs are "at will" and serve at then pleasure of the District Attorney, so there's little they can do,. But the county detectives are a different story. They have a collective bargaining agreement with the county. Baratta dismissed that concern, stating the union contract is for wages and benefits only./ He adds that they are considered exempt employees. Baratta should have looked at the union contract before lowering the boom on these detectives.

Before I get into that, I decline to name these detectives. They rightly feel their reputations have been sullied even though both of them have been dedicated law enforcement professionals their entire careers. In fact, I consider these two detectives the best in the county's bureau. They scare even me. Whenever either of them looks at me, I plead guilty. 

The union contract with the county detectives provides very specifically that they can be terminated only for "just cause."  Before that happens, they would have to be afforded due process, which includes a Loudermill hearing. They also have a right to file a grievance and seek an arbitration of their contractual right to continued employment. There are unions, mostly for judicial employees, in which members can still be terminated at will. Given the specific language of this collective bargaining agreement, however, I believe Baratta is mistaken. If there is any ambiguity, and I don't think there is, it would have to be resolved in favor of the injured detectives. 

In addition to being wrong about the union contract, Baratta's belief that these are exempt employees is another mistake. In 2008, Human Resources notified then DA John Morgaelii that county detectives could no longer be considered "exempt" under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Jan 28, 2008 memo specifically states that, "effective immediately the position of County Detective is reclassified as FLSA nonexempt." 

Baratta is starting his tenure as DA by alienating both the existing prosecutors as well as the detective bureau. 

Easton Mayor Sal Pamto Explains Millage Rate

On Tuesday night, with little discussion, Bethlehem City Council voted 6-1 to approve both a 2.6%  property tax hike as well as an 8% sewer tax hike for next year. The sole dissenting Council member was Grace Crampsie Smith. It did so despite having received $34.4 million in ARPA funding, which can be used to replace revenue. In Allentown, their City Council enacted a budget that takes $760,000 out of the rainy day fund without touching $1 million in unspent ARPA funding, Given the amount of federal funding provided to municipalities over the past two years, both Bethlehem's tax hike and Allentown's decision to deplete its emergency fund balance are fiscally irresponsible decisions. If the Lehigh Valley's three cities, only Easton acted responsibly. For the 16th year in a row, it avoided a tax hike by raising parking meter fees and passing along part of the cost of an increase in trash collection. 

Some of you remarked that Easton is near its maximum tax rate of 25 mills for third class cities and thus has been forced to be more creative. This is incorrect. Mayor Sal Panto posted a comment on this blog explaining that the 25 mill max applies only to the city's general fund. He added that is only taxed at a rate of 12 mills. Here's what he said. 

Hi Bernie, Sal Panto here. I would like to clarify the issue about the millage ceiling. The ceiling for a city of the Third Class like Easton is 25 mils for the General Fund. This does not include a number of budgets that aren't part of the General Fund. The actual millage rate for the General Fund is about 12 mils and all budgets combined including recreation, debt service, etc. equals 24.95 mills. Let's also remember that I have never shied away form the fact that we are increasing fees, like parking fees. The intent is to place any increases on our visitors and tourists, and not the city property owners, many of who are elderly and on a fixed income. The fact is that we could raised the millage rate a lot higher if we needed to but my intent is to keep it level and hopefully lower the rate.

Whatever you may think of Mayor Panto, he has been an incredibly good steward of the people's money. And incidentally, he is a Democrat.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

What's Going on in the Lance Wheeler Case?

Wheeler returned to donation drive
after his arrest
According to both Lehigh Valley Live and Lehigh Valley News. Lance Wheeler was arrested by Wilson Borough police on May 31 while conducting a donation drive for the Ferry Street fire victims. Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana was there, shot a video of the actual arrest, and said she was outraged. For his part, Wheeler insisted on being cuffed and led away, even though he had previously been given several opportunities to surrender voluntarily. He wanted a show, and could be heard blaming both DA Terry Houck and Easton Mayor Sal Panto.  According to the news accounts, the arrest stems from an incident last August, when Wheeler allegedly threatened three students while driving a Wilson Area School District van. What's happened since Wheeler's arrest? Nothing. 

Preliminary hearings have been scheduled in this case for June 21, July 11, August 23, October 20 and November 30. They've all been continued. Wheeler's lawyer, Glennis Clark, also represented some of the Commonwealth witnesses who appeared before the Grand Jury. This raised the possibility of a conflict, and that question was booted to President Judge Craig Dally. 

Is Wheeler stringing this case out, hoping for more favorable winds when Steve Baratta is sworn in as District Attorney?  You won't see Lance's name on any campaign finance reports, but it's no secret that he was a big Baratta backer. He took Steve through Easton's west ward, introducing him to voters. He also introduced Baratta to one of the warring factions in the Sikh Temple dispute in Lower Nazareth Tp. Wheeler provided security there.   

Wheeler told me believed his arrest was politically motivated because he supported Steve Baratta for DA, and is the person who encouraged the Sikhs in Lower Nazareth to reach out to him. He also blamed Easton Mayor Sal Panto, although I'm unsure how Panto can issue orders to Wilson Borough police. 

At his most recent appearance, I'm told Wheeler shouted out to prosecutors and detectives that they'd be gone next month. Not long after that, one of the detectives and prosecutors involved received a letter from Baratta telling them to have their personal belongings out of the courthouse by January 2. 

When I spoke to Baratta this week, he told me he knew nothing about the Wheeler case. I have no reason to doubt him or his personal integrity But Wheeler's alleged remarks, which I only learned about yesterday, combined with his active support for Baratta, raises a serious concern whether Baratta should handle the prosecution or have the state attorney general oversee the case. 

"Caesar's wife must be above suspicion." The same is true of Baratta.

Americans are Prima, not Schwein

This is the third in a series of entries from my father's recently-discovered dairy. He kept it about a week after his release from a German POW camp. Just a few weeks before, German people cursed and threw rocks as my father and other prisoners carried dead bodies to huge funeral pyres in Dresden. Now they are "Prima!"

I was awakened this morning by that good old American "you gotta get up" bugle call. I must confess that it was the first time in my life that it ever sounded good. No doubt in four or five days I will be back in the old routine of cursing it. All eight of us met the chow line early in order to assure ourselves of 'seconds.' We were successful in the endeavor. In fact we were successful for all three meals by religiously following the same procedure. It makes one feel piggish but I know of nothing better to help that empty stomach feeling.

The highlight of the day consisted of the introduction and confirmation of a rumor that we are moving back to our own lines tomorrow. It seems that we will march out to some motor pool about three kilometers from here and there we will entruck. G.I. coffee and 'shokolade' here I come.

The Russkies had a band serenading us this afternoon. It consisted of 15 pieces and stressed the bass section. They were very good and we all enjoyed the Russian music. One American piece "Rose Marie" was played, and it brought down the house. Aside from listening to the band concert and eating, all I have done all day is sleep. I won't be worth anything when I get back to the states.

However, I am becoming anxious to get to law school. I hope I won't have to go back to college to finish earning my degree. Nevertheless, if there is one thing I have learned in the past half year it is 'things will be as things will be.' I don't believe I'll ever be demonstratively impatient again.

James, Kruse and I have plans to play a little rummy this evening. We played last night and of course Jones won. That joker has more pure, unmitigated luck than anyone I have ever come across.

All the fellows here expect to be flown back to the states. I can't picture myself admiring the Atlantic ocean from the windows of a C-47 but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Should it so happen it will certainly be wonderful. The sooner I get to see the best set of parents in the world the happier I will be. I'll bet a Jerry luper there are a lot of changes in the old town. With luck I will soon see for myself.

There was a Tommy over to see us today. He came uninvited and when he left statements such as "come back soon" were conspicuously absent. All of us Americans are set up in much finer style here than the English. It seems that Joe [Stalin?] doesn't care too much for them. After the way they've bled us we can appreciate his sentiments. They've had no cigarettes issued since they've been here whereas all of us are smoking ourselves silly on Chesterfields, Luckies, and Camels. That's just one more condition that the end of the war has set back to normal.

Everything that we have been or rather had been reduced to by our stay in Germany has been rectified. I've had Germans beg me for food, clothing, and cigarettes. The mention of the magic word 'American' elicits "prima" instead of 'schwein.' The past week has effected quite a change in Germany and certainly as far as we are concerned it is a change for the better.

(First published in 2007)

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Baratta Gives Two Assistant DAs and Two County Detectives Their Walking Papers

Some anonymous comments posted here allege that District Attorney elect Steve Baratta has notified two assistant District Attorneys and two County Detectives that their services are no longer needed. I reached out to Baratta and he confirms that he is, in fact, discharging these prosecutors and detectives.   

Assistant DAs serve at the pleasure of the District Attorney and are "at-will" positions. They can be terminated for any reason or no reason so long as there is no violation of important public policy. 

Unlike Assistant DAs, county detectives are unionized. Does that afford them some protection? According to Baratta, No. He contends that they collectively bargain for wages and benefits, but are still considered "exempt" or "at will" employees.

He stated that it's important that he has his own people in place when he assumes office.  I've heard and expect that he will announce some of these people in the coming days. 

O'Hare's WWII Diary: Still No Word About Dresden Firebombing

This is the second in a series of entries from my father's recently-discovered dairy. He kept it about a week after his release from a German POW camp. This second post, like the first, is strictly present tense. Yet just three months before, my dad and writer Kurt Vonnegut had ringside seats, as POWs, to the American and RAF firebombing of Dresden - Florence of the Elbe.

POWs hid in meat lockers underneath a slaughterhouse during this incineration. One POW blurted out, "I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight." I can't help but think that was my dad. That was his humor.

In a public radio interview, Vonnegut speaks of a conversation he had with my father, some twenty years later.

"What did you learn?" Vonnegut asks.

"I will never believe my government again."

Churchill, who had advocated the firebombing, was knighted.


We moved over to the other compound today. That seems to be the chief benefit accruing to those who have been deloused. The rooms here are much cleaner and better equipped. We eat three times per day restaurant style and the shilly (chile?) is both good and thick - a happy set of circumstances not found readily in Germany. We spent most of the day getting our loot in order and this afternoon learned to our gratification that we were scheduled to move out. About an hour later a sergeant from the 1st Rangers division put in an appearance and announced that trucks were on their way to bring us either to Riesa or Leipzig where there are concentrations of former P.O.W.'s. I had no idea the sight of a G.I. would be so sensational. Needless to say, the limeys hogged him before any of his own countrymen had a chance to learn much from him concerning the good old U.S.A. Well, the trucks finally arrived and after the normal red tape we piled into them and took off. Approximately two hours later we found ourselves in Riesa. Temporary quarters were provided for us in some Jerry barracks. We are supposed to move in the morning to some other place in town where there are more G.I.'s. Our present barracks aren't at all bad except for the lack of anything soft upon which to lay our weary bones. There are some limeys here who have been waiting to get out for almost a month. It seems that Stalag W-B was liberated by the Russians on April 23.

Blogger's Note: This was originally published on 12/12/07.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Is It Time For Publicly Owned Groceries?

As noted in Governing, nobody bats an eye about publicly owned parks. They are a given. The same is true of libraries, which could be owned by a municipality or a nonprofit. So how about publicly owned groceries to fill a need in urban settings? Believe it or not, this idea is being considered in Chicago and has been implemented in Kansas. 

While there is a dearth of groceries in poorer communities, a study by the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative reveals that inner city groceries in Philly have no impact on obesity rates.  

Fruits and vegetables cost more than processed food. 

Instead of  public groceries, we should try to make an apple cheaper than a Snickers bar. 

O'Hare's WWII Diary: "We are Being Looked After Like Pet Children by the Russians"

Writer Kurt Vonnegut's letter home, written soon after his release from a POW camp, was published here yesterday*. Believe it or not, my dad was the real writer back then - he even kept a diary for an entire week.

Unlike Vonnegut, he sheds no light on what had actually happened to him as a POW. He provides no explanation about his weight going from 150 lbs. before the war to 80 lbs. as Adolph's guest. Mum's the word. He'd stay like that the rest of his life. Vonnegut's three-page letter tells me more about my dad's POW experience than he himself ever shared.

He just drank. A lot. Especially at Christmas time. That didn't kill him. Neither did the Germans. The cigarettes did.

But for one week, my father chronicled his post-release experiences in amazing detail. Just twenty-two at the time, he was a pretty good writer himself. Occasionally, he mentions Vonnegut, who was just a "minor being" at the time. For the next few days, I'll share my dad's thoughts with you, day by day.


Our mangy but well-fed crew left DiHille's at noon today. We proceeded over the Elbe to Russian headquarters in the city and after much confusion - due to our ignorance of the Russian language and vice versa - we were directed to the Hitler Caserne on Konigsbage Strasse. Here we find ourselves confronted with the perpetual situation of no one knowing anything about anything. However, we are being looked after like pet children by the Russians. We have been here only four hours at the most and have already been fed twice, showered, de-loused and billeted. As near as we can gather from speaking to the limeys and G.I.'s here, we are to stay put until our troops come seeking us. Except for the anxiety that we all have concerning our parents and families, we don't give a damn how long it takes them to root us out.

I heard my first radio program since I was captured. Dannine and I went across the compound and fell in with a few Tommies who have a wireless set in their flat. We heard an A.M.G. broadcast from Hamburg. That American music certainly sounded good. The Tommies surprised us before the evening was over with a meal of spuds, meat and beans. We rejoined our crew with a full stomach and a highly satisfied mien. I don't believe I'll ever get up out of bed again. Goot nacht.

*) Vonnegut's letter home will be published here on Christmas Eve, 

O'Hare Describes WWII Firing Squad: "German Justice Taking Its Usual Course . . ."

As time marches on, we are slowly forgetting what military historian Charles B. MacDonald has called "the greatest battle ever fought by the United States Army." The soldiers who fought in it are dying at the rate of 1,000 per day, and with them their history.

Unlike the talkative baby boomers in my generation - with our cell phones, the Internet and blogs - the soldiers of that Greatest Generation are strangely quiet and modest. They managed to save the world from a real Axis of Evil in spite of being caught late and off guard, and then went to work to make our own lives easy.

Although our memory is dimming, Blue Coyote tells us that in some portions of Europe, Americans are still considered "prima." The people of Bastogne still remember.

In his diary, my father never discussed what had actually happened during his captivity as a POW. Below you will find the only instance in which he speaks about the war. It's a letter he sent to the War Department in 1947, responding to an inquiry about one of his fellow POWs who never came home.

In reply to your letter of the 14th inst., I beg to express my regrets that you were required to make two inquiries concerning the above-noted matter. The receipt of your first letter was never called to my attention or you would most certainly have received a more prompt response.

Pfc. Michael Palaia and myself were sent with a detachment of American soldier-prisoners from Stalag IV-B to Dresden, Germany. After Dresden was bombed (about Feb. 14th, 1945), it became necessary for our captors to remove us to a new section of the City which, although not quite, was practically in the suburbs. It required climbing a rather steep hill to reach this place, from the summit of which it was possible to see practically the whole city. At the base of the hill was a moderate-sized street car barn and also a building in which German prisoners were hospitalized. I mention all of this as it may be necessary for you to fix the location of this place, and it is the only way I have of describing it, never having known the name of the section. Dresden is divided by the Elbe River and the section to which I have reference was on the eastern side thereof.

Our work after the bombing consisted wholly of cleaning cellars of their casualties and streets of their refuse. Our food ration per day was very low and survival made it necessary to pilfer food from cellars in which it was found from time to time. Unfortunately, Pfc. Palaia was discovered while doing this and at the time of the discovery one jar of string beans was found on his person. His number (prisoner number) was taken by the guard. The very next day when we had lined up ready to march to work, Pfc. Palaia was taken from our ranks by the German in charge - his official title being to the best of my recollection "Feldwabel." When we returned from work that night we learned that he was on trial for his life. Naturally, German justice taking its usual course, he was found guilty and four days after his apprehension he was killed by a firing squad. Four of our fellow-prisoners had witnessed this shooting, identified his body, dug his grave and buried him.

The shooting took place at some German military installation which, from the witnesses' reports was from five to seven miles from the location of our barracks. It must have been in a general westerly direction therefrom as I recall their stating that on their way they had crossed the river Elbe. I am not positive in my recollection of this, but I believe they also stated that they had constructed a cross for his grave to which they attached his dog tag.

The Month of his death was march, I am certain, and March the l6th, I believe. One of the witnesses was a Frank Terterici from Boston, Mass. I have a record somewhere of at least one of the other witnesses and his address. I will forward this information yo you as soon as I am able to locate same.

I hope the above account will be of some aid to you. Please have no hesitation in making further inquiry if you deem it feasible.

Asking your pardon for not having replied sooner, I am

Very truly yours,

B.V. O'Hare, Jr.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Easton Holds the Line on Property Taxes for 16th Straight Year, But Trash Rates Will Rise

I often hear that city governments are always raising taxes because they are full of spendthrift Democrats.  Bethlehem and Allentown are often guilty as charged. Despite getting millions in American Rescue Plan Act and CARES Act funding,  Bethlehem wants a 2.6% tax hike while it pretends to care about affordable housing.  Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk sought 2% because City Council appropriated ARPA funds for a nonprofits slush fund instead of using this money to replace revenue. Those rocket scientists instead chose to close a $760,000 gap by invading the city's rainy day fund for emergencies. Unlike either of its sister cities, Easton's Democratic City Council voted Wednesday night for its 16th budget with no tax increase. 

Parking meter rates will rise. There will be a $5 increase in trash bills. But property taxes will remain the same.

This is how you make housing affordable. 

The meeting was marred by a last-minute demand for a $100,000 emergency relief fund from Council member Taiba Sultana. She arrived late to the meeting and had no suggestion about what she'd cut to establish this fund, and was unable to explain what qualifies as an emergency. 

Sultana had called for a budget hearing on Tuesday. All Council members were there, waiting for her at 6 pm. She failed to show, and that meeting was canceled.

Instead of attending the budget hearing, Sultana was participating in a combination protest and menorah lighting ceremony in Bethlehem. 

"That is where you were on Tuesday for the meeting you called and didn't show for ...," noted Easton resident Patty Brennan Hitzel. 

"Yes, Proudly," responded Sultana. 

She later claimed that she attended every budget hearing, including the one she called on Tuesday and at which she failed to appear because she was busy protesting in Bethlehem.. 

Maybe she has an invisibility cloak.

Ironically, on December 5 in Easton, Sultana held a candle during a menorah lighting in Easton without uttering a word of protest. 


Thursday, December 14, 2023

Election Complaints Continue at NorCo Council's Final Meeting of 2023

Northampton County Council conducted its final meeting of 2023 last night. Four members are leaving, so much of the meeting was consumed with goodbyes and accolades. But November's election debacle remains very much an issue. Elections Commissioner Scott Hough and citizen Roger Gilber both weighed in with their concerns. 

Hough spoke as an outgoing member of the Elections Commission  (EC). He was the sole member who refused to vote the certify the election results.

He told Council that he hopes that its recent establishment of an election integrity committee is not an attempt to overstep the Elections Commission. He said that it was "very disappointing" that nobody bothered to come to their meetings over two years until "things hit the fan."

He said Council oversight might actually be helpful in assuring that recommendations made by the EC are actually implemented. He noted that, over the summer, his board unanimously recommended that an additional drop box be placed in Region 4, which has a drop box in Bangor. He said that a drop box in a place like Northampton would be helpful to voters in the northern tier. 

The county administration refused to implement this recommendation even though both the Home Rule Charter and the Election Code specifically provide that the EC is responsible for the "administration of elections." 

"When we vote to give people an opportunity to vote, nothing happens," Hough complained. 

He added that he also sought a meeting before the end of the year, but was notified there would be no meeting. He suggested that a through investigation is needed, echoing the sentiments of at least one other Elections Commissioner. 

Gilbert was disgusted to be one of over 100 voters who came to the most recent EC meeting because they certified the results. "It didn't matter what you think, said their lawyer." 

When Executive Lamont McClure later gave his report, he asked Council if they had any questions. They had none. He chose against addressing the concerns expressed by Hough and Gilbert, instead speaking about the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission budget and his recent appointment of an acting administrator. 

What's Your Take on the $10 Million Grant For Bike Lanes in West Bethlehem?

This year is the first I've ever cycled in temperatures below 50 degrees. So on Tuesday morning, I rode from Nazareth to my favorite bike shop in Bethlehem, Action Wheels, which just happens to be next to my favorite restaurant, the Pho Bowl. That way I could grab a healthy lunch and continue my trek. At the bike shop, they were very excited about The Morning Call report that Bethlehem is getting a $10 million grant for protected bike lanes, enhanced crosswalks and LANTA infrastructure along 1.5 miles of West Broad Street. Action Wheels is located on West Broad, serves a lot of bike commuters and should benefit immensely

This is an even bigger coup for Bethlehem. I've never hesitated to criticize Mayor Willie Reynolds, but he and his staff should be commended for snagging this grant money while Easton argues about the Israeli invasion of Gaza and Allentown keeps trying to defund the police.  

According to studies summarized in People for Bikes, which is obviously a tad biased, protected bike lanes substantially reduce both cycling and pedestrian injuries. They are reported to increase retail sales, nearby property values and even make motorists feel more comfortable. Moreover, people who might be reluctant to cycle on roads embrace protected bike lanes.  

As nice as this sounds, there are also studies concluding that these bike lanes are actually unsafe, increasing the likelihood of a crash by between 117 and 400 per cent.  The problem is that drivers do not look for or see cyclists in the dedicated lane and will turn right into them if turning at an intersection or into the parking lot of a business. Cyclists in turn are lulled into a false sense of security and are less likely to be vigilant. 

I do a lot of cycling and walking. I've ridden on a few of these dedicated bike lanes in Philly and dislike my own experience. For one thing, motorists tend to ignore bike lanes and will both drive and park in them. I feel safest when I'm on the road, hugging as much of the right side of the road as I can (without smacking into someone opening a car door). I try to be highly visible and can usually stop or swerve if a car suddenly pulls in front of me, That's one advantage of being slow. To be honest, I make more mistakes than drivers, and they are mostly very courteous. So I'm unsure whether a dedicated bike lane is really needed, but am interested in what you think. My own experience is very limited. 

While dubious about enhanced bike lanes, I'm all for enhanced crosswalks and wider sidewalks. I actually walk more than I cycle (in terms of time), and can attest that drivers simply do not see pedestrians. My only issue with wider sidewalks is that they should be permeable pavements with more trees to reduce city temperatures on hot summer days.  

I''ll also agree that we should do everything we can to encourage mass transit.   

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Divided Allentown City Council Adopts Fiscally Irresponsible Budget

Northampton County Exec Lamont McClure has been taking it on the chin lately. November's election was a disaster, and it cost him his Administrator and could end up costing him a re-election. His relationship with Council, already frayed, has been damaged more as Finance Director Steve Barron is getting testy with them.  Though three new pro-McClure Council members have been elected, he still is at odds with five others. But things could be worse. He could be Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk. Just last week, Allentown City Council adopted a meaningless resolution in which three wannabe Mayors (Ed Zucal, Ce-Ce Gerlach and Cynthia Mota) joined a clueless Council member (Natalie Santos) to declare they have no confidence in Hizzoner. They'll be able to put that in their negative mailers. Last night, they voted down his requested 2% tax increase for next year. I get that. But instead of dipping into unspent ARPA funds slated for nonprofits, which can be used for revenue replacement, they opted to dig the city into a hole by taking the needed $762,045 out of the fund balance. 

Of course, this vote went exactly the same way that the vote of "no confidence" went. Wannabe Mayors Ed Zucal, Cynthia Mota and Ed Zucal all proudly said No to the tax hike. Santos voted the way the triumvirate told her, once it was explained to her several times. Voting to compromise and support a 2% property tax hike were Daryl Hendricks, Candida Affa and  Santo Napoli.

I've said before that no municipality should be contemplating a tax hike until next year at the earliest. That's because, over the course of the past two years, the federal government has flooded local governments with cash under  both the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the CARES Act. Allentown received $57 million under just the ARPA.

If City Council really wanted to dodge a tax hike next year, and be fiscally responsible about it. they could reduce the $1.2 million allotment in ARPA funds set aside for nonprofits grants. Those nonprofits came out in force to heckle, catcall and demand that Tuerk be admonished last week. The three wannabe Mayors need those people as political allies when they run, and of course will be taking care of their pals with "competitive" grants. So while it might be good for the average taxpayer to dip into that nonprofits slush fund, it would be politically unwise.  The mob that turned on Tuerk could just as easily turn on them, especially if they say No.      

Instead of taking $762,045 from the money they set aside for their pals and political allies, they raided the city's fund balance, its rainy day fund. That's about the most fiscally stupid thing they could have done. 

Controller Jeff Glazier explained the idiocy. He told them that a healthy fund balance can be used for an unforeseen expense, from, flooding that seems to accompany every rainstorm in the city to real natural disasters that require an immediate response. It can be used for emergencies. But City Council is taking $762,045 from the fund balance for a recurring expense. They are digging a hole, and next year, that hole will be twice as deep. They will have to dip into the fund balance to the tune of $1.5 million, assuming it's still even there. 

"You can't tell me that makes sense," said Glazier. "It's an easy way out, but it's not a good way out." 
The good way out would have been to take that unspent ARPA money away from clamoring nonprofits. 

But three Council members with political ambitions have no desire to be fiscally responsible. They just want to win the next Mayoral race. 

Easton has one troublesome Council member who seems to think the city should establish an office of  foreign relations. Bethlehem has two council members who are original members of the woke brigade. But Allentown has three council members who are there for themselves and their own ambitions, not the people.

As I said before, Allentown is officially cRaZy.  

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Who Will Serve the Final Two Years of Zrinski's Term on NorCo Council?

In January, Tara Zrinski will be sworn in as Northampton County's new Controller. She will be required at that time to resign her seat on NorCo Council. The remaining eight members will have 30 days to replace her. If unable to do so, any member of Council or any five registered voters can petition the court to make an appointment. The court must do so within 15 days of receiving the petition.

Qualifications: The person appointed must be a US citizen who has resided continuously within the county for at least a year prior to appointment. The candidate is barred from holding any other elective office. County employees are barred. So are "officials" of political parties.  There is no prohibition against appointment of a person simply because she belongs to a different political party than the holder of the office being vacated. Thus, a Republican or Independent could be appointed to fill Zrinski's vacancy, even though she is a Democrat. 

Appointing Body: The eight members of Northampton County Council making this appointment will be five Democrats - Ken Kraft, Ron Heckman, Kelly Keegan, Lori Vargo Heffner and Jeff Warren and three Republicans - Tom Giovanni, John Goffredo and John Brown.  Though Democrats have a 5-3 majority, both Heckman and Vargo Heffner have resisted attempts by Executive Lamont McClure to control them. Thus, I think it unlikely that they will go along with appointing a rubber stamp. 

Most Qualified Persons: The most qualified persons for this seat are John Cusick (his term just expired), former Exec Gerald E "Jerry" Seyfried, former Clerk Frank Flisser and former Council member Ron Angle. They all know the Charter inside out, and Cusick religiously follows the county's quarterly financial reports  

Though Council can appoint a Republican, I consider that highly unlikely. Ron Angle would have trouble attracting even Republican support. 

That leaves Democrats. Seyfried is too busy visiting his swamp and is even stepping down from the Retirement Board. I also doubt Flisser has any interest. 

Others: I believe Deb Hunter has a realistic shot if she is interested. She was vocally opposed to the Express Vote XL and is willing to say No to the Exec. So is Bob Werner or his wife, Sandy O'Brien. 

Who do you think they should appoint?

Monday, December 11, 2023

Former Jailbird Tricia Mezzacappa Announces Candidacy For NorCo Exec

The next NorCo Exec race is two years away. We have a Presidential race next year, along with a myriad of Congressional and statewide elections. But West Easton's most infamous resident, Tricia Mezzacappa, has announced she's running for Lamont McClure's spot. He should contribute to her campaign. If she is the Republican nominee, he will win in a landslide. She is so far out there that she makes McClure's most recent GOP opponent - wingnut and conspiracy theorist Steve Lynch - look like the voice of reason. 

Lynch, who hated my criticism, once challenged me to a duel. But if a letter from the District Attorney's office is to be believed, Mezzacappa wanted to kill me. An examining psychiatrist insisted that authorities warn me after she allegedly told a fellow inmate that she intended to build a ghost gun upon her release and put an end to me.

I stopped writing about her, not because of her threat, but because I thought she'd never run for office again.  Now that she has re-entered the political sphere and is seeking votes, I have no choice. 

In 2012, Mezzacappa was convicted of disorderly conduct after she barreled into borough hall and threatened to punch then Borough Solicitor Peter Layman in the nose and twice stated she was "going to fucking drag [Council President Kelly Gross] to the river and drown her."

In 2013, Mezzacappa was convicted of harassment of a West Easton Borough Clerk with threatening and abusive behavior, which included constant kicking and banging at the doors to Borough Hall after being told to wait for a police escort.

In 2021, Mezzacappa was convicted of false reports to the Pennsylvania State Police. Here's how the Northampton County DA summarizes what happened in a subsequent federal action that Mezzacappa filed, in which she is referred to as "Petitioner."

On February 11, 2019, in West Easton Borough, Northampton County, Petitioner reported to the Pennsylvania State Police that she had been held at gunpoint by a black man, a drug dealer, who ran away after she fired a shot in his direction. Petitioner told the Pennsylvania State Police that this black man lived at 816 Ridge Street and had fled into that address after threatening her. Petitioner voluntarily gave troopers the firearm that she reported firing, a Smith and Wesson 9 millimeter, indicating that she had not manipulated it following the shooting. However, troopers noticed upon examination that there was no round in the chamber, that the magazine was at full capacity, and that there was lint in the barrel of the firearm. The firearm was submitted for ballistics testing. The firearm was found to be fully functional; however, Sergeant Daryl Elias of the Pennsylvania State Police, an expert and forensic and toolmark examiner, concluded that the firearm had not been recently fired due to the extent of the debris present within the barrel and muzzle. Moreover, Petitioner’s neighbors denied hearing a shot fired. No shell casings were found in the area Petitioner alleged shooting her firearm. 

Upon arrival, the troopers interviewed Gregory Bealer and Charose Krock, the sole adult residents of 816 Ridge Street. Mr. Bealer reported that when he had entered his vehicle to get formula at the store for his newborn baby earlier that evening, Petitioner banged on his driver’s side window and “was screaming at me to get out of the neighborhood” because “they do not want drug dealers in the neighborhood.” Ms. Krock stated that five minutes after Mr. Bealer left, she heard a bang on her door and that Petitioner yelled through the window to her that “she wanted the drug dealer out of her neighborhood.” Petitioner gave two witness statements to the troopers, alleging that drug dealers had been sent to her address to harass her, and that on the day in question, “a drug dealer held a gun to [her] head,” “ran into 816 Ridge Street,” and that she “fired [her] gun at him.”

Following a jury trial, Mezzacappa was convicted. A disturbing presentence report noted instances of "racial rhetoric" employed by Mezzacappa, including the term "tar baby," She was sentenced to 12 months of probation, but ended up doing the entire 12 months behind bars instead because she refused to comply with any terms of probation. According to a court opinion, she was involuntarily committed to Norristown State Hospital during a portion of her stay in jail “based on her behavior and threats to Corrections Officers and/or other inmates.”

Of course, Mezzacappa appealed her conviction. Of course, she lost.  

Since her release, she gloated when West Easton Borough Council member Matt Dees passed away. "Good riddance to the nastiest rotten criminal west Easton has ever seen," she wrote on Facebook. Her violation of this social norm about speaking ill of the dead is sinful, regardless of which religion she pretends to follow. 

What's especially sad about Mezzacappa is that she is actually quite intelligent. But if she thinks she stands a chance in a race for any public office, she is sadly mistaken. 

McClure Names HR Deputy Director as Acting Director of Administration

Late Friday afternoon, Executive Lamont McClure announced the appointment of Nicole Pietrzak as the county's Acting Director of Administration. She replaces Charles Dertinger, who resigned following a disastrous election. She has only been employed by the county since May 2022 as the Deputy Director of Human Resources. She has a BA from Kutztown in Political Science. 

Pietrzak has zero experience providing direct management oversight of Administrative Services, Emergency Management Services (EM & 911), Weights and Measures, Agricultural Extension, Farmland Preservation, Conduct of Elections, or the Conservation District. She does have experience in negotiating collective bargaining agreements.

Friday, December 08, 2023

NorCo Council Votes For Prayer or Moment of Silence at Meetings

When Ron Angle presided over NorCo Council, I liked his approach to pre-meeting prayer. He would invite clergy from different denominations at every meeting to offer an invocation followed by a brief description of their congregation and what it does in the community. With the help of long-time Clerk Frank Flisser, he snagged preachers of all faiths. From Catholic priests to Buddhist monks, they all came and we were all a little better for it.

Things changed when John Cusick became Council President. Instead of recruiting local clerics, he opted to offer a meaningless secular prayer himself. That's when I stopped standing for pre-meeting prayers. This drew a few side-long glances from others in the audience, but as a blogger, I was already unpopular. 

When Ken Kraft became Council President, he dropped the pre-meeting prayer completely.  Nobody complained. Nobody missed it. 

Until last night, when Council considered adopting rules of order. Council member John Brown, noting that previous versions included a pre-meeting prayer, suggested adding one. Council member Tara Zrinski objected on the basis of the Establishment Clause.  Things went back and forth and Council eventually arrived at a consensus that meetings start with either a prayer or a moment of silence.

I'll still refuse to pray at any public meeting. At the one public meeting Jesus attended - his own frickin' trial - he refused to pray. When elected officials beat themselves on the chest and wear their religion on their sleeves, they remind me of the original virtue signalers - the Pharisees.  Jesus, you may recall, slammed them. "On the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." 

The new Council rules contain a provision that bans Council members from engaging in text messaging with others during meetings unless disclosed as public comment. This is aimed primarily at Council member Tara Zrinski, who has been accused at times of getting marching orders during meetings from the administration. 

Almost all of my text messages during meetings have been aimed at Council members Lori Vargo Heffner and Ron Heckman and that is to advise them when Council members are failing to use their microphones. 

NorCo Council Approves Next Year's Budget With No Tax Hike.

Northampton County Council voted last night to approve a no tax hike budget for next year. It was supported by Council members John Cusick, Tom Giovanni, John Goffredo, Lori Vargo Heffner, Kerry Myers and Ron Heckman. The sole No vote came from Council member Tara Zrinski, who opposed Council's amendments although she was absent from the meeting at which they were adopted.  Council member Kevin Lott, whose term expires at the end of the year, was a no-show. 

The current 10.8 mill tax rate remains the same. This means that a home assessed at $75,000 will receive a tax bill next year for $810. Three years ago, that same home would have seen a $885 tax bill. The budget is also balanced, which is a requirement of the Home Rule Charter. 

In his six years as Executive, Lamont McClure has never proposed a tax hike. Three years ago, he proposed and Council accepted a budget that slightly cut taxes. 

The spending plan invests $3 million in open space in accordance with a 2002 referendum overwhelmingly embraced by the voters to preserve farmland, protect environmentally sensitive land and maintain municipal parks. McClure hopes this investment will "slow warehouse growth." He added that he wants to "limit new development, not give it tax breaks ... ."

The budget fully funds health carte benefits for county employees even though those costs have increased dramatically with the pandemic. He dipped into the fund balance to fund health care. Unfortunately, the out-of-pocket expenses of  career service county employees will increase. McClure indicated he had hoped to reduce them, but County Council refused to fund his proposed employee health center.  He claims this "would have saved significantly on health care costs."  

As far as Gracedale is concerned, a nursing home has never been considered a core county function. But McClure refers to it as a "moral obligation, and boy, have we learned the meaning of moral obligation."  Gracedale is fully funded with no need for a county contribution in 2024. 

At its final budget hearing, Council considered and adopted a number of budget amendments to award grants to several nonprofits, mostly fire companies, who had either been denied or had never even applied. It approved a $500,000 student loan program to attract or retain employees. Zrinski and Goffredo attempted to remove the student loan program, but were unsuccessful. Zrinski voted against all budget amendments as well as the budget itself. The other seven Council members voted yes. 

NorCo Council Establishes Election Integrity Committee

Government's answer to election problems? Let's form another committee.!

After two botched municipal elections over the past four years, NorCo Council member John Goffredo last night proposed the establishment of an election oversight committee. Council member Tara Zrinski initially complained that such a committee is unnecessary because we already have an elections commission. But she was quickly shut down when Council member Ron Heckman said that Council can pretty much establish a committee to do whatever it wants. Council member Lori Vargo Heffner suggested that her Governance Committee might be the best place to tackle our election woes, but Goffredo responded that a separate  committee is the way to go. And Heckman added that it would send a message to the public that Council really, really, really, really cares. Really!

Goffredo's resolution provides that the committee is "necessary to provide oversight and promote fair, transparent and legal elections, registration of voters and related functions."

Prior to the vote, Democratic Chair Matt Munsey and GOP Chair Glenn Geissinger, speaking in stereo, both endorsed the idea.  

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Allentown City Council Has No Confidence in Mayor Matt Tuerk

By a 4-3 vote, Allentown City Council last night adopted a resolution expressing no confidence in Mayor Matt Tuerk's leadership. The resolution was supported by Ed Zucal, Ce-Ce Gerlach, Cynthia Mota and Natalie Santos. Opposing the measure were Daryl Hendricks, Santo Napoli and Candida Affa, 

Though the public was permitted to speak before the vote, many members of the audience were intent on interrupting Council members opposed to the measure. An exasperated Candida Affa finally shouted "Shut Up! as she was constantly heckled. Hendricks had to have one member of the public removed. 

Council members who chose to speak on the measure are as follows:

Ed Zucal: "It appears that I'm the only one who tries to show some leadership here. ... ." He noted five good department directors have kleft along with another five deputy directors and supervisors have also left.  One employee left because, according to Zucal, Tuerk wanted him to do things contrary to his personal integrity.  Zucal noted that Mayor has called himself a budgetary guru. "How can you be a guru when you call for a 6.9% budget increase and 23 positions?" 

Santo Napoli: "There is a lack of cooperation between Council and the administration. I think there's blame on our side. We need to do a better job communicating. ... What's happening here tonight - I'm very disappointed because we're taking our eye off the ball when it comes to serving our residents. That's really what we're here for."  He noted that City Council authorized an investigation and taking any action now is premature. He said the resolution makes Allentown government dysfunctional, like Congress. 

Candida Affa: "I don't know what we hope to accomplish." She noted Council has no power to remove an elected mayor, and all this does is drive a wedge between Council and the Mayor.. "Tomorrow he will still be our Mayor." 

Daryl Hendricks: "There is nothing positive in this resolution. ... "  He echoed Napoli's Washington analogy. 

Ce-Ce Gerlach: "We got concerns about your leadership just like you all said to me. We might not get invites to Mayor Tuerk's cookouts." 

Matt Tuerk: "I'm going to continue to stay as high as possible." He noted Zucal doess not answer his texts or phone calls. He was also disappointed in the behavior of some of the citizens in the audience.  He added, "I got thick skin." he said he will continue to respect Council. "Let's get back to business." 

He then had his communications officer note that, based on numerous complaints, the city commissioned an outside investigation in which 25 employees were interviewed. The report recommended the termination of 3 human resources employees. Tuerk followed those recommendations. The city declines to say more because these are personnel matters.

Allentown is now officially cRaZy.  

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Bethlehem Pundit Bill Sheirer Has a Possible Tax Solution

Bethlehem is blessed with a wealth of intelligent people, although scant few of them are in government. One of the brightest is Bill Scheirer, a statistical economist who used to work in D.C. At last night's meeting of Bethlehem City Council, he drew upon his experience inside the beltway to come up with a suggestion that could not only ease the impact of higher taxes on people with fixed incomes, but would do so without violating the Pennsylvania Constitution's very strict uniformity clause.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of a property tax increase is the devastating impact it has on people with fixed incomes, most of whom are retired or disabled. Why not just exempt them? You can't because Pennsylvania's Uniformity Clause mandates that "[a]ll taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws." The Constitution does allow the General Assembly to carve out a rebate for those of us with limited incomes, but it is quite limited. 

He said that in the DC area, any property tax increase due to improvements made to the property goes into escrow and becomes due only when the property is transferred. He suggested that property tax increases could be deferred on seniors or those with limited income until their home is sold. They would still be obligated tp pay the taxes due before the increase. 

Here's an example. Let's say your current property tax is $500 a year. The City approves a tax hike to $600. You would still be obligated to pay the $500, but could defer payment if the additional $100 until title to your home is transferred. 

Bill's suggestion still runs afoul of the uniformity clause. But if this deferral option existed for everyone, it would withstand an attack because taxes would be uniform, 

Most homeowners would likely pay the increase if they are working, but would have the option to defer if, in their opinion, they need that money. The city would still realize an increase in revenue and would have a basis for a very low interest tax anticipation loan because the money will come once the home in question is sold. 

This idea is certainly worth a more detailed review. If the numbers work, they could make tax hikes a little more palatable.

The Drip! - A Facebook "Watchdog" Group For Bethlehem Water & Sewer

Mark Will-Weber, a running coach who makes his living with both his feet and his pen, has established a Facebook Page called The Drip. That's not about him, but Bethlehem's water and sewer bills that are skyrocketing after "upgraded" meters are being installed.   

Reynolds' Proposed Property & Sewer Tax Hikes Criticized in Bethlehem

In a brief blog yesterday, I told you that Bethlehem Mayor Willie Reynolds has proposed a 2.6% property tax hike as well as an 8% increase in sewer taxes in next year's proposed budget despite receiving $34.4 million in ARPA finding from the feds. He may claim to want affordable housing, but these constant tax hikes say otherwise. Whether it's an apartment or a home, they are death by a million cuts to both renters and owners. They make homes and apartments more expensive.

Bethlehem resident Bud Hackett suggested at last night's City Council meeting that, before considering a tax hike, city officials should consider operational cuts. "If you're going to ask taxpayers to pay more, how about saying we did everything we could to cut costs?" He said one Council member (that would be President Michael Colon) has told WFMZ-TV69 that Bethlehem's proposed tax hike is actually 20% lower than other comparable cities.  He found Colon's attempt to minimize yet another tax hike "insulting." He went on to ask whether City Council "is a watchdog or an enabler."

That pretty much depends on which Council member. Members Rachel Leon, Grace Crampsie Smith and Wandalyn Enix are asking tough questions during budget hearings. The rest are certainly lapdogs. 

One differently abled resident - I won't name him - said his taxable income is just $2,000 a month. "Where is somebody with that amount of income supposed to come up with the extra money?" he asked of the proposed tax hikes.   

Dana Grubb is a former Bethlehem City employee who was defeated by Willie Reynolds in the most recent Mayoral race. He had this to say about the proposed property and sewer tax hikes: 

Four things about the City's budget that jumped out for me after the mayor's Chamber of Commerce fundraiser dog and pony show breakfast on November 14 at Moravian College:

1. If the city's finance are the best they've been "in a long, long, long time," why is a property tax increase of 2.6% needed?

2. The mayor championed sustainable revenues for his budget. One time revenues like the $34.4 million in federal ARPA funding are not sustainable revenue sources. Once it's spent, what replaces it?

3. How much of the 8% increase in sewer revenues will end up in the general fund, and not be used on capital improvements for the sewer system? It's an age old trick, increase specific user fees and then use them to bolster the general fund. Politicians get to claim no or low tax increases while still filling general fund budget holes.

4. How many and which employees are receiving increases in pay above cost of living and step increases, or reclassifications? If there are any, why hasn't a Council Human Resource & Environment Committee meeting being held to address this?

Budgets in Bethlehem (and probably elsewhere) are often a huge subterfuge, and it takes City Council Members with a a sufficient financial background to root out the tricks and hidden stuff to ask the right questions.

It also doesn't help when a mayor announces a budget one day and the next day is the first budget hearing. There is no way City Council knew enough about that budget to be well prepared for that initial budget hearing.