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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, March 31, 2023

UPDATED: LVPC Are the Canaries in the Coalmine

When I wrote about the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission's proposed move to Alllentown's Waterfront, I was asked about "[a]ny recent figures on the salary component of the annual LVPC budget? Does the number of full-time employees merit a large, rented permanent building space or are the two counties paying for a huge conference room that sits empty the majority of days each month?" 

Recently, I posted a story about former Allentown Mayor John "Jack" Gross, who mistakenly believed that Allentown's health was dependent on an increasing population. He demolished neighborhoods, created one-way streets, allowed the conversion of single-family homes into apartments and embraced parking meters. He thought he was doing the right thing, but lacked the insight that could have come from a long-range planning organization like The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. 

The LVPC website reports a staff of 20. At a recent NorCo Council meeting, I heard Council President Kerry Myers complain about the salaries paid.. A response to a Right-to-Know indicates they have room or  42. The lowest position is grade 5, which has a minimum $44,840 to maximum $60,535 salary.  The highest position is grade 16, with a salary between $225,259 and $360,415. 

Nobody is in Grade 16.

From what I can see in googling these individuals, they are all highly qualified and well-educated. Thery also appear to be dedicated. Have they stopped warehouses or increased truck traffic ? No.  Under state law, they are more or less toothless. But they've been the canaries in the coal mine for many years. We've ignored them, and now want to scapegoat them for precisely what they've been telling us is happening.

Salaries are below. Staff appears to be paid fairly.  

Grade 15: minimum salary of $173,276 to maximum of $277,242

Executive Director Becky Bradley  

Grade 14: minimum $133,291 to maximum $283,286.

Administrator Tracy Oscavich,

Grade 13: minimum $115,519 to maximum $173,278.

Transportation and Data Director Patrick Osei,                                                                              Regional Planning Director Dean Severson

Grade 12: minimum $100,451 to maximum $150,577. 

Controller Vicki Weidenhammer

Grade 11: minimum $87,349 to maximum $131,023

Managing Editor Matt Assad                                                                                                                Chief Community Planner Steve Neratko                                                                                            Senior Civil/Environmental Engineer Denjam Khadka

Grade 10: minimum $77,506 to maximum $112,383

Economist and Data Scientist David Jan

Grade 9: minimum $68,894 to maximum $99,896

Senior Environmental Planners Teresa Mackey and Susan L Rockwell                                              Senior Community Planner Jill Seitz                                                                                                    Senior Community and Regional Planner Bambi Griffin Rivera                                            Transportation Planner Brian Hite

Grade 8: minimum $61,239 to maximum $88,797

Graphics and Publications Coordinator Taylor Beassley                                                            Community Planners Joseph Dotta and Christian Martinez

Grade 7: minimum $55,569 to maximum $77,796

Program Associate Hannah Milagio                                                                                                Executive Administrative Assistant Angela Ellis

Master Planner and Engineer Geoffrey Reese, P.E., is supposed to be retired, but is still listed on the webpage. He works part-time for stormwater reviews

Joseph Dotta and Christian Martinez are community fellows, are interns, and work part-time. 

Updated 9:46 AM

Lehigh Valley Planning Comm'n by BernieOHare on Scribd

Trump Prosecutions Begin

According to CNN, it's a 30-count indictment. That's based on two anonymous sources. The charges themselves are still under seal. If it's just a business fraud complaint based on hush payments to Stormy Daniels, it's an incredibly weak case. If it includes the Truth Social threats that Trump made against the DA, which included an image of him holding a baseball bat next to an image of the DA's head, then Trump has a problem. It could very well be charging crimes about which we know nothing. 

Things are only going to get worse as other investigations conclude. The NY AG is considering Trump's inflation of the value of business assets to secure bank loans. A Georgia DA is considering Trump's request that election officials "find" the votes he needed to win that state. The US DOJ is looking into his refusal to turn over confidential documents that included nuclear secrets as well as his 1/6/20 incitement of a mob at the capitol. The man who claimed he could shoot someone and lose no voters could very well be right. But he might lose his liberty. He lost his integrity long ago. 

He's entitled to a presumption of innocence under the very Constitution he attempted to repudiate. 

Trump's former VP, Mike Pence, calls the indictment he hasn't read an "outrage." The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, observes that Trump "is subject to the same laws as every American." 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

UPDATED: Jarrett Coleman Eyeing Congress? I'M TOLD NO.

I saw Jarrett Coleman at a fundraiser that a fellow Democrat organized for then US Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz. The place was full of politicians whose love of completely useless banter is exceeded only by their constant use of the bathroom. I am sure the host had a hefty plumber's bill soon after the event was over. At least I hope so. But I digress. This post is about one of the many elected officials and candidates who were there. Unlike the rest, he stood off in a corner by his lonesome, speaking to no one. He was afraid that centrism might be contagious. His name is Jarrett Coleman, and it looks like he'll be running for U.S. Congress in Pa.7.  That seat is currently held by Sue Wild. 

Coleman is an airlines pilot who found himself elected to the Parkland School Board in December 2021 on an anti-mask and anti-CRT platform.  But no sooner was he elected than he was off and running again, this time for State Senator Pat Browne's seat. He won, too, as  Browne seemed to have lost touch with the people of the Lehigh Valley and was always getting involved in suspicious motorcycle accidents. 

Now that he's been a State Senator for three months, Coleman has apparently decided to aim a little higher. I've seen no paperwork filed with the FEC, but he does have a cell phone that he answers, in his recorded reply, "Jarret Coleman for Congress Pa. 7."

 I left Coleman a message. Twice. No answer. 

That's OK. He never promised to be transparent or accountable. 

He'll never get my vote. 

4 PM UPDATE: Since this story published, I've received several calls from people who tell me that Coleman is not running for Congress. I have yet to hear from Coleman, but am told it will happen.

The cell phone that I called no longer replies with "Jarret Coleman for Congress Pa. 7." Instead it's a generic "leave a message" from an automated voice. I've been told that the cell number I called is not the number Coleman uses, so someone might be trying to damage him. I fell for it. 

Baratta's Low Point In DA Debate

Terry Houck
I've written before about an ongoing dispute between two factions of Sikhs at Guru Nanak Sikh Society of Lehigh Valley. It's become an issue in the NorCo DA race, but the problem has gone on at least a decade. It's been chronicled in Lehigh Valley Live, and includes accusations that one group of seven malcontents has pulled a priest off the altar, dragged congregants outside and sawed off locks. As noted in the article, police have responded to each complaint. But anyone familiar with the Constitution should know that one must tread lightly and avoid interfering with the free exercise clause of the first amendment. 

A lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction against the sect of seven was filed February 15.  

In addition to this lawsuit, there was a "protest" at the temple. Guest speaker Steve Baratta sides with one of the factions, and posted this on his Facebook page: "Today I was proud to be with the leaders of Guru Nanak Sikh Society of Lehigh Valley and stand up for their constitutional right to practice their religion safely in their place of worship. The current District Attorney and law enforcement have neglected to protect these people and this Temple from harm. On the bench I was honored to provide equal treatment and as District Attorney I pledge to provide fair justice for all."

In addition to attacking the District Attorney, Baratta attacked police officers who have responded to each complaint. 

Some of these Sikhs were at Tuesday night's District Attorney debate. 

Baratta: "I got my friends from the temple here. Those people came to you [Houck] for help. Those guys invaded the temple, attacked a priest, tried to steal their money, and you sent them out and said, 'We're not getting involved, we're not going to give you protection in your township, we're not going to protect you so you can practice your religion peacefully.' They're here because you refused to listen to them and you passed them away"

Houck: "There is a civil, not a criminal, dispute between two factions of the temple that has existed for about 10 years, long before I was district attorney. They're apparently suing each other to keep each other out. Neither side has got an affirmative ruling from the courts, which of course prohibits us from expelling either faction and this has always been the genesis of what both groups want. Both groups have always had the option of getting civil injunctions ... . 

"I've met with both sides and their attorneys on two separate occasions ... I also gave them the option of continuing the discussion, sir, which they both were grateful for. Neither side claimed at that time that the police or this office was ignoring them, and in fact, it was just the opposite. The police have responded to every call. I think they've been there in excess of 20 times. So the accusation that the police are not doing anything is patently false. The police arrive and are often met with accusations by both groups of lack of identification, alleged wrongdoing, inconsistent statements and recantations. ... Police are given accusations like 'He looked at me the wrong way' or some other similar type statement. If anyone ever feels the police are doing nothing, or they have evidence of a crime that the police are ignoring, they always have the option of filing a private criminal complaint, which to my knowledge they have never done. ... We have charged people in the past. In April 2022, we charged three people with harassment ... .All three have been convicted. ... Presently, there are two ongoing criminal investigations by the Colonial Regional Police Department"

"If [Baratta] had picked up the phone, he would have realized that both the police and my office were proactive in this. Instead, he took a side, made an accusation with no facts and now has disqualified himself from any independent investigation should he become the District Attorney. In other words, for anything in the past or the future, a referral would now have to be made to the state Attorney General's office to do all investigations, all at the added expense to the taxpayer.

"The district attorney is ethically bound to remain impartial in his pursuit of justice. This means conducting investigations in a fair and objective manner. He has failed at that task."

Baratta (to the Sikhs in the audience): "Apparently you guys aren't in control of your own church. He doesn't care about all the legal documentation that indicates that you guys have a board of directors and an executive committee and you guys own that property and you guys control that property. He [Houck] doesn't want to look at that and doesn't care because you guys don't look like him because when he looked at the video he told you what - he told you  [audience begins to interrupt] Wait! Wait! Wait! Be quiet! - He told you what? He told you what? He told you, 'I looked at the video and you all look alike. I can't tell you apart.' [several members of the audience walk out]

Houck: "This is a lie. It's been in the civil courts for 10 years."

Blogger's Opinion: This was, in my view, Baratta at his worst during the Tuesday night debate.  Don't get me wrong. He has some very good ideas and has some valid criticism.  But he diminishes himself and his quality suggestions when he goes off on tangents like these. 

First, it's quite clear that his claims that Houck and the Colonial Regional Police Department have done nothing, are factually inaccurate. 

Second, he is no longer a judge and has no right to tell members of the audience to be quiet. I'm sure that alienated a few people. He could have asked me for assistance and I would have warned his detractors to be quiet or be gone. I could have played the bad guy, which I had no problem doing with a few people who tried at times to take over the questioning.   

Third, his claim that Houck told people of Indian descent that they all look alike is highly insulting to anyone of average intelligence. That is when a few people left. Houck, and I daresay most white people, are well aware that statements like that should never be made  Baratta claims this is what he was told. But the people telling him this, while understandably distraught, appear to have trouble with English. I believe they likely misunderstood Houck or offered that as a reason why Houck refused to do what they wanted.

Houck Finances Come Up During Debate

In Pennsylvania, public officials must annually file something known as a Statement of Financial Interests (SFI). During Tuesday night's NorCo DA debate, Steve Baratta repeatedly ripped Terry Houck because his SFI reports that he received income from the Kline & Specter law firm. 

"You didn't tell us about Kline Specter," complained Baratta. "Why not? How do you believe that you're allowed to earn income when the statute creating the position of District Attorney says you cannot have any clients, you cannot take on any cases and you cannot have a private practice. So how do you get paid from Kline Specter?

Fair question. 

Houck agreed he is unable to do outside work as District Attorney and derided Baratta for "waving the form, ... but he's got nothing."

Then why is Kline Specter listed as a source of income? Houck never really answered that question, and I received questions after the debate from several audience members who wanted a better explanation. 

Houck told me that over a decade ago, long before he was District Attorney, he was contacted by a friend whose wife contracted mesothelioma.  He suggested the Kline Specter firm and thought that was the end of it. He never even spoke to the firm. Last year, he received a check. He duly reported it and committed no ethical or legal violation because the payment was for a referral made long before Houck became Northampton County's District Attorney. To be sure, he consulted with the State Ethics Commission. 

"The State Ethics Commission was spoken with regarding whether it is an Ethics Code/statute violation for a lawyer referral fee to have been paid by a law firm to an elected District Attorney during his/her tenure in public office for a case referral made some 12 years prior to being elected.

"The person spoken with consulted with a staff ethics attorney and reported that it would not be an ethics violation since the District Attorney, while serving in his capacity as an elected official, performed no work for or on behalf of the law firm in the subject case nor had any involvement in the actual case itself during the period of time he was an elected official subject to the restrictions of the statute on elected fulltime district attorneys having outside employment.

"Since the referral was made and completed long before the District Attorney was elected and became subject to the statute's restrictions on outside employment by a fulltime elected District Attorney, and the District Attorney had no involvement with the case, its outcome or the law firm during the period when the District Attorney was in elected office and subject to the statute, there is no ethics statute violation because there was no prohibited employment of the District Attorney while he was serving as an elected official. "

Thus, the income he properly reported as such is the result of something he did long before he was ever elected as District Attorney. He never violated the prohibition on outside legal work by the full-time District Attorney, took on no cases and had no private practice.  Moreover, that's what the Ethics Commission told him.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

UPDATED: Last Night's DA Debate A Victory For Democracy

Nearly 100 people attended a raucous debate last night between NorCo District Attorney candidates Terry Houck and Steve Baratta at the Oliver Border House in Nazareth. Both are Democrats. No Republican filed a nomination petition, this race could be decided in the primary. Given this reality, I asked both Houck and Baratta whether they'd  be willing to square off, and before ballots are sent out. To their credit, they both agreed. 

What truly shocked me was the number of people here on a weeknight, though it can be a haul to travel to Nazareth from Bethlehem, Easton or Forks. This is a heated race, but I've rarely seen a crowd this size at any past debate for any local office. Most of the time, audiences are made up of people who've already made up their mind. To be sure, camp followers came. But I could also see a lot of undecided faces, as well as numerous Republicans. People are still very hungry for democracy. Most stayed the entire evening, despite the heat. They, and small "d" democracy, were the real victors.

I previously labelled this as a "candidate's night." Time to fess up. It was a classic debate. Houck and Baratta were both afforded two opportunities to state their strengths and point out their opponent's weaknesses. I served strictly as a moderator. I posed no questions, nor did I plant any. 

Most "debates" are designed to stifle real interchanges by inserting questioners and strict time limits to questions. It's hard to say anything substantive. It's even worse when the audience starts screaming every five seconds. But the audience is either denied the privilege of asking questuions or are very limited. 

Unlike those formats, this was a classic debate. Houck and Baratta mixed it up with both each other and the audience. 

My biggest mistake was my failure to impose a time limit on how long candidates, especially lawyers, could speak. My bad. I rectified that in the second round, but by that time, several people had withered away.  I supplied water where I could. 

Because I was acting as a quasi-moderator, I really had no opportunity to take notes and summarize what was said. I'd refer you to Tony Salamone's well-written rendition in The Morning Call, A videographer also filmed the debate, but it's unclear whether it will be published online.   

I'll say this. The longer the night went on, the more crazy things got. Both Baratta and Houck were calling each other liars with reckless abandon, Some audience participants began getting angry as well. At one point, I tried to bring Sergeant at Arms Mason down to impose order with a few growls. Unfortunately, he's a black lab and refused unless I could load him up with cookies. 

Republican Margie Mandell loved the cacophony . "It was nice to see Democrats fighting for a change," she said.  Other Republicans at this debate included former County Council Prez Peg Ferraro, current D4 Council member Tom Giovanni and Upper Nazareth Supervisor Scott Sylvainus. 

All were welcome, but the crowd was mostly Democratic. I saw several candidates in the room, including judicial candidate Brian Panella, Controller candidate Nadeem Qayyum, and NorCo County Council candidate Kelly Keegan.  

After the event was over we picked up two items that people left. 

One is a ladies' sweater Please contact me at bohare5948@aol.com, so I can arrange its return to you. 

The other item left behind is a very nice L.L.Bean leather satchel. Witnesses told me it belongs to Baratta. The first thing I did was remove all the money. Then I called Baratta and told him I saw Houck rifling through it before he left. Then I called Houck and told him I found Baratta's bag at the debate full of what appears to be cocaine or something.  Narcs are on their way and Baratta is now claiming it's my bag. 

Because this debate was so successful, I will host debates this fall for (1) the judicial race, assuming there are still two candidates; (2) the county controller's race; and  (3) the D3 County Council race.  In addition to imposing time limits on speakers, tables will be removed and chairs added to the community room for the crowds

I wish to thank Rosie Grube, Patti Butz, Joe Kostolanci and Dat Lambert for their invaluable assistance. I wish to thank Terry Houck and Steve Baratta for being willing to serve, face the public and put up with me. Most of all, I want to thank those of you who came. It was truly inspiring to see so many people who really care about their government.   

UPDATED 10:30 am: Margie Mandell videotaped the Q&A from the audience following the debate. It's pretty wild, and I'd recommend you view it. 

UPDATED 5:00 pm: Kurt Bresswein at Lehigh Valley Live also has an excellent account of last night's debate. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Fo Shizzle, My Nizzle

Mississippi news anchor Barbie Bassett, in banter about Snoop Dog on March 8, blurted out, "Fo shizzle, my nizzle." That's the last time she appeared on air, and her name has been removed from the station's website. 

This expression is commonly thought to mean, "For sure, my friend," but some interpret it to mean, "For sure, my n----r." She's white. Apparently only a nizzle can call someone a nizzle. 

This anchor was in hot water once before for referring to a black guest's grandmother as her "grandmammy.

Perhaps I'm woefully out of touch, but I'm doubt even Snoop knows what he's saying half the time. I would not interpret either of her remarks as racially offensive or passive aggressive except for someone looking for a reason to complain. 

US Experiences Its 129th Mass Shooting of 2023

Over the weekend, I spoke to a Jewish friend about the rise in anti-Semitism, especially at schools. He told me Jews feel safe at Christian schools. But is anywhere safe? The U.S. just experienced its 129th mass shooting of 2023 (seven dead, including assailant) at a private Christian school in Nashville. The killer carried three guns, two of them assault-like rifles.  

Like a broken record, President Joe Biden will call on Congress to ban assault-style rifles. Our betters at Capitol Hill will wring their hands between calls to contributors to proclaim that what happened is just tragic. Then they will do nothing until the 130th mass shooting of 2023.

We love our cars and we love our guns.

Vroom, vroom, bang, bang! 

Monday, March 27, 2023

Why Facebook Keeps Suspending Failed NorCo Exec Candidate Steve Lynch

I know this may comes as a shock to some of you, but failed NorCo Exec candidate Steve Lynch has issues with Facebook. His account keeps getting suspended. His latest was for 30 days. You can see why above. 

Sultana Only Person Among City Council Members or Candidates With Code Violations

On Friday, I told you that Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana has been cited three times for code violations at her Easton residence. She was found guilty in one matter and two others are pending. To be fair, I checked all other members of Easton City Council, as well as Mayor Sal Panto, for code violations filed in district court. I also checked all candidates for city council. Other than Sultana, there are no code violations.  

REMINDER: DA Candidates' Night for Terry Houck and Steve Baratta on 3/28

This is a reminder that there will be a candidates' night for Northampton County District Attorney candidates Steve Baratta and Terry Houck on Tuesday, March 28, 7 pm at the Oliver Border House located at 15 Wood Street, Nazareth, Pa. 18064 ( right by Holy Family Church). The public is welcome. 

Both candidates will be given an opportunity to make opening statements and then respond to each other. After they have finished, it will be your turn to ask questions

Both candidates are Democrats. Unless there's a write-in campaign on the Republican side, this race will be decided in the primary.

The Morning Call will be there, and I will see what I can do about having someone shoot a Facebook Live of the event. 

Parking in available on Center and Wood Streets. Parking in the lots is limited to building residents

I tried to schedule this night so that candidates could make their pitches before mail-in ballots go out so you can make an informed decision. 

The last to register or change your party registration is May 1. 

Will there be other candidates' nights? 

In the Fall, I plan to schedule candidates' nights for the Judge, County Controller and County Council D3 races on separate evenings. But I'd like to devote one night specifically to the DA's race in the primary. 

Trump Should Be Charged With Threatening Prosecutor

Nobody I know calls The New York Post a liberal rag. That newspaper was the first to go with the story about Hunter Biden's laptop in October 2020, right before the Presidential election. The story was intended as an October surprise, but happened to be accurate. Its scathing editorial of Trump, calling him both "deranged" and "bat hit crazy," should give pause to Republicans wondering if he'd Make America Great Again. 

Without question, the indictment Trump claims is under review by New York prosecutors - falsified business records in connection with hush money paid to Stormy Daniels - is legally tenuous. It appears to be politically motivated, and could delegitimatize other, far more serious investigations into Trump. These include his January 6 incitement of a mob that led to capitol riots; his request that Georgia election officials "find" the votes to put him over the top in that state; a NY state investigation into his inflation of the value of business assets; and his refusal to turn over confidential material that included nuclear secrets. 

While I certainly understand the anger at Manhattan's District Attorney, that's no justification for Trump to post an image of himself holding a baseball bat next to an image of the prosecutor's head. That, combined with threats of "potential death and destruction," warrants legal attention

Just as he did on January 6, he is fomenting violence. 

It's time he suffer the consequences. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

ADL: US Anti-Semitic Incidents at All-Time High

The ADL has reported a record 3,697 anti-Semitic incidents across the U.S, in 2022. According to the audit's Executive Summary,"This is a 36% increase from the 2,717 incidents tabulated in 2021 and the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. This is the third time in the past five years that the year-end total has been the highest number ever recorded."

Pennsylvania experienced 85 incidents in 2022, compared to 49 in 2021. 

According to the report, "Legitimate political protest or expressions of opposition to Israeli policies is not included in the Audit.

Senior Judge Munley Strikes Three Candidates From Ballot

There are three fewer candidates in the upcoming NorCo primary. Senior Judge Thomas Munley has ordered three candidates removed from the ballot.

Jason Albert, who filed as a Democrat in the Upper Mount Bethel Supervisor's race, has been stricken from the ballot based on objections lodge by opposing candidate Ed Nelson. Nelson was represented by Ron Clever. 

In response to objections filed by Shawn Hackman, Tighe J Scott voluntarily withdrew his Republican nomination petition for Pen Argyl School Director, according to an Order filed by Judge Munley. He failed to file as a Democrat, so he's off the ballot. 

Long-time Bangor Area School Director Toni E Lynch has had his Republican nomination petition stricken in response to objections from Caterina Campbell, represented by Attorney Victoria Opthof Cordaro. Lynch remains on the ballot as a Democrat.  

Commonwealth Court Moving Quickly With Rowe Ballot Challenge

In a ruling on Monday, Senior Judge Ed Reibman dismissed a challenge to the GOP County Council candidate William Rowe. He concluded that Steven Topp, who challenged Rowe's right to run, should have appeared at the hearing or, at the very list, verify that he is a Republican who lives in D1, where Rowe is running. Thus ruling was appealed and, yesterday, the Commonwealth Court issued an order requiring briefs from both sides no later than April 4. 

While this matter is being considered, elections officials are unable to prepare and print a ballot for County Council District One. 

This could result in fewer mail-in-ballots from Bethlehem. That could hurt Tara Zrinski in the Controller race and help Nadeem Qayyum. 

Easton City Council Member Racking Up Code Violations

Taiba Sultana, who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan, is Easton City Council's first Muslim member. As an elected official for the City, she should be setting an example for the people she represents. She is, but it's a bad example. She's been cited three times. In one matter she was found guilty and fined. In the other two matters, the court awaits a plea.  

property maintenance violation 4/7/21. Guilty 7/13/21. Fined $170.76. (NT138-2-21)

property maintenance violation 12/29/22. Awaiting plea. (NT2-2023)

exterior maintenance sanitation violation 12/29/22. Awaiting plea (NT3-2023)

Most code violations are the result of inspections following complaints by neighbors. That's hardly a good way to get re-elected. 

Sultana's husband, Nadeem Qayyum, is running for Northampton County Controller as a Democrat. 

Baratta, Qayyum Win Top Ballot Positions in County Races

Last week was a busy week in Northampton County. In addition to numerous County Council meetings, the elections office determined ballot positions in this year's municipal primaries. 

In the Democratic primary for District Attorney, Steve Baratta will appear on the ballot first, followedby Terry Houck.

In the Democratic primary for County Controller, Nadeem Qayyum will appear ahead of Tara Zrinski. 

There are only two candidates in each of these primaries, so ballot position should be inconsequential.  

Thursday, March 23, 2023

DA Candidates' Night: Meet Sgt-At-Arms Mason

 A candidates' night for NorCo DA candidates Terry Houck (incumbent) and Steve Baratta (challenger) will take place Tuesday, March 28, 7 pm at the Oliver Border House (15 Wood St) in Nazareth. I've been hearing things might get a little heated, not from the audience, but the candidates themselves. There's no reason for alarm. 

Mason, a 117-pound black lab has been training since August. In the coldest days of this winter, he was walking and running five miles a day. He also plays tug of war and can pull twice his body weight. He's become an incredibly fit badass. It's true that black labs in general, and Mason in particular, are very mild-mannered. But it's also true they love to eat, and he will be fasting next Tuesday.  

Mason will keep order. 

I've told him lawyers taste like chicken.    

Zrinski Slams Dem Controller Opponent, Nadeem Qayyum

Last week, NorCo Controller candidate Tara Zrinski was telling people to "disrupt" meetings of Nazareth Borough Council and its Municipal Authority, which incidentally would be a crime. Now Zrisnki has accused her Democratic opponent, Nadeem Qayyum, of "lying" about endorsements.  "My opponent has exaggerated his experience and has puffed his resume including lying about endorsements he has received in posts that have now been deleted," she grumbles on her official Facebook page. 

I'll concede Zrinski is an expert when it comes to lying. She was actually sanctioned by a judge for perjury in a custody dispute, Not everyone can boast that achievement. 

Zrinski also accuses Qayyum of claiming endorsements that have never been made. That is just terrible. Why, it's exactly what she did when she falsely claimed to have U.S. Rep. Sue Wild's endorsement in her State Senate race against Nick Miller. ... Which she lost. 

Qayyum does have endorsements from civil rights icon Esther Lee and NorCo Council President Kerry Myers. 

In a parting shot at Qayyum, Zrinski claims she earned her "masters degrees in the classroom." The implication here is that Qayyum's education in Pakistan and through an online course here is substandard.

Here's the truth about Qayyum. He earned two degrees at University of the Punjab before he came to this country. One is a B.A. in the arts. The other is a law degree. He practiced law in Pakistan and was admitted to the Bar. 

After coming to the US, he continued his education by enrolling in an online program at Phoenix University, where he was awarded a M.S. in Criminal Justice. 

Not all of us are able to afford the exorbitant tuitions charged by colleges. Qayyum was already highly educated before he arrived in the US, and took the unusual step of furthering his education here. Zrinski's slur is a classist remark aimed at people of lesser means, many of whom are minorities or refugees. 

This might explain why Qayyum is getting minority endorsements and Zrinski is not. 

Qayyum does have experience with budgets as a restaurant CEO and Dunkin' Donuts GM

I'll agree that, based on his campaign, Nadeem has no understanding of just what a Controller does. But then again, neither does Zrinski. Between those two, he's actually more knowledgeable and educated.  He also would be his own man, while Zrinski would provide no independent oversight. As a Council member, she's been nothing more than a rubber stamp and has failed to act as a check and balance. That's a fatal flaw in a Controller candidate. 

Republican NorCo Council Candidate Challenged in Commonwealth Court

Senior Judge Ed Reibman has ruled that Northampton County Council District One voters will have a choice this Fall.  That district consists of Bethlehem, Hellertown, Lower Saucon and Williams Tp. But Republican Steven R Topp, represented by Bucks County election lawyer Larry Otter, is persisting in his claim that Hellertown Republican William Rowe should be removed from the ballot because of a technical defect in his nominating petition.  He has asked the Commonwealth Court to reverse Judge Reibman

Northampton County elections officials are unable to prepare, print and mail out ballots until this question is resolved.

Ken Kraft is the Democratic candidate. 

William Rowe Appeal by BernieOHare on Scribd

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Pektor Tells Council He Doesn't Really Need a Tax Break in UMBT.

Yesterday, I told you that the Slate Belt is suffering. Nobody builds slate roofs anymore. The garment industry has moved to China, Bangladesh and Viet Nam.  Two County Council members made that very  clear last week. Tom Giovanni said his father-in-law struggles to pay his taxes. John Goffredo describes it as "no stores, no restaurants, no anything." But that weakness might also be that area's strength. There are people who will buy $700,000 homes at Saddle Ridge precisely because there are "no stores, no restaurants, no anything." They like rambling over one lane bridges or watching coyotes dart through their yards and are willing to commute an hour or more one-way for that lifestyle. These are the people who oppose extending a LERTA that will bring industry and jobs to UMBT. They're already angry about increased truck traffic on 611 caused by a highway project in Jersey. They need no jobs, If truth be told, these might very well be the township's majority. Given how controversial this has been, I was a bit surprised last week when developer Lou Pektor got up and told County Council he doesn't really need it. 

Between yesterday and today, I received a copy of the county LERTA ordinance. By its own terms, it ends after five years. So Executive Lamont McClure made no unilateral decision to end it, as I mistakenly suggested yesterday. It ended by its own terms. 

Does it matter?

Pektor told Council, "While we would like to have the LERTA extended, whether it's extended or not, our project will go ahead. It's gonna' make it less competitive, it'll make it harder for us to get manufacturing users versus general warehouse logistics that everyone is so fearful of. "

The reason Pektor believes his project will draw manufacturing because it is right on the PGM grid with a 230 Megawatt agreement. He said that is a major draw for the three companies that are interested. he added that these companies use the rails, not trucks. 

Since Pektor has stated that his project will go forward without a LERTA, why give him one? He hinted that might tempt him to build warehouses, but he's provided no guarantee that he he will mostly go with manufacturing. 

I believe Council could grant a LERTA on the condition that it only applies to manufacturing facilities. And just in case someone wants to get cute and challenge this condition, Council could add  a clause stating that the LERTA  expires automatically if it is challenged. 


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Suffering Slate Belt

I like to poke fun at Upper Mount Bethel Tp (UMBT) Manager Ed "Santa Claus" Nelson. His main claim to fame is his role as a shopping mall St. Nick during the Yuletide season. He's been a Supervisor, but has no experience or education as a public administrator. I was more than a bit surprised when he was selected as a township manager. I was not surprised at all when he got suspended a week for awarding a no-bid paving contract for something that may or may not have been an emergency. But after listening to him speak to Northampton County Council last week, I understand now why he got the job. He's sincere and truly cares about his township and the slate belt. Many township residents are bitterly opposed to an industrial development in the area. They now want the County to reneg on a 10-year LERTA unanimously approved in 2018, and have raised the specter of yet more warehouses and truck traffic. While I am philosophically opposed to any tax breaks that might permit warehouses, the slate belt is suffering and needs help. Community leaders are convinced that continuing a previously enacted LERTA will help. In fact, they believe it will spawn manufacturing businesses, not warehouses.

Council members like John Goffredo and Tom Giovanni, who actually live in the slate belt, draw a bleak picture. In my opinion the slate belt and Upper Mount Bethel in particular, are the most beautiful areas of Northampton County. Yes, there are old quarries, but there are also beautiful woodlands, farms, rolling hills and mountains. But there's no jobs. According to Goffredo, "The slate belt is an area where there are no stores, no restaurants, no nothing."  Upper Mount Bethel Supervisor Robert Teel described it as a depressed area that never recovered when the garment industry died. Giovanni said that his aging father-in-law lives in Evergreen Village and struggles to pay taxes. He recently learned that Executive Lamont McClure was holding up the LERTA because of his opposition to warehouses. "This has to go through." said the normally laconic Council member. "That northern tier of our county is suffering and we need to help them."

Manager Ed Nelson, who clearly was uncomfortable, gave what at first was a plodding presentation. He noted that, of the township's 28,166 acres, only 4,788 acres pay the full tax rate. The rest of the land is either tax exempt or tax reduced by state lands, county lands, a federal park, churches, cemeteries, railroads, utilities and farmland. The LERTA, which only applies to 3% of UMBT lands in an industrial park a stone's throw from the highway and a bridge into NJ, 

Nelson said that developer RPL is foicused an manufacturing, not warehuse. His assertion was backed by Teel, who has been UMBT's chief negotiator with RPL. Lisa Pekto, speaking for RPL, stated, "We have always worked at making this a manufacturing-focused site." 

Council member John Cusick was dubious. Noting the opposition, he apologized for being "jaded and cynical," but noted that developers always promise manufacturing and then bring in warehouses like Chrin did in Tatamy. Agreeing with Cusick, Council member Tara Zrinski pointed to a LVPC letter warning that RPL will bring high cube warehouses.

Nelson, who frankly admitted to having made mistakes in the past, stressed the importance of an industrial park that will actually create jobs. Instead of plodding, he started to become passionate. He said there's no place for kids who get out of school to get a job and stay in the community. They just leave. He saw that as a security officer at Bangor Area School District for 10 years. He added that he coached 40 years. Now he can't get a volunteer. They all want to be paid because people who do live in community have to commute long distances to their jobs. "It's all I, I, I, I. And it's not from the kids, it's from the older folks." 

Former State Rep. and NorCo Council President Rich Grucela also spoke in support of the LERTA. "We never received any marketing support over the years from the LVEDC (Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation). He said the slate belt lost 3-4 prospects while he was a state rep. because there was no marketing and no sites. He added that the rail inside the industrial development should alleviate should alleviate truck traffic. 

Goffedo said Council members should listen to members who actually live in the slate belt. I agree with him.  A possible $1.6 million annual benefit should help a township whose land is 83% tax exempt or tax reduced. 

The vote on this LERTA, which already passed, will take place in April. 

Appeal Likely in Reibman Ruling Allowing Republican NorCo Council Candidate

Yesterday, I told you that Senior Judge Ed Reibman dismissed a challenge to Hellertown resident Bill Rowe's Republican nomination petition in the Northampton County Council District 1 (Hellertown, Bethlehem, Lower Saucon and Williams) race.  The case was dismissed because there really was no challenger. Steven R Topp, the named petitioner, failed to appear in court or attest in writing that he is a Republican who lives in that district. 

I have been reliably informed that election attorney Larry Otter plans to appeal this dismissal to Commonwealth Court. He argued before Judge Reibman that his own verification should suffice and that Rules of  Civil Procedure are inapplicable in election contests. 

Republican contender Bill Rowe vows that "[t]the one thing I know for certain is that I will not be overworked." He added that if a write-in campaign becomes necessary, "I welcome it. My purpose in life is to serve, even outside of the capacity of county council, and I know that no matter what, I will put in the work that it takes."

Bethlehem resident Ken Kraft's nomination petition as a Democrat was unchallenged. He is the presumptive Democratic nominee.  

REMINDER: DA Candidates' Night on 3/28

Steve Baratta (L) and Terry Houck (R)

This is a reminder that there will be a candidates' night for Northampton County District Attorney candidates Steve Baratta and Terry Houck one week from today. It's on Tuesday, March 28, 7 pm at the Oliver Border House located at 15 Wood Street, Nazareth, Pa. 18064 ( right by Holy Family Church). The public is welcome. 

Both candidates will be given an opportunity to make opening statements and then respond to each other. After they have finished, it will be your turn to ask questions.

At least one of the dailies will be there, so I better shave. 

It should be a doozy. Baratta has sent two campaign mailers so far. His first missive is a very positive piece. His second is a brutal attack saying, "Northampton County's citizens deserve better than an incompetent Terry Houck." 

Houck has yet to respond, but I expect he'll be sending his mailers soon.  

Both candidates are Democrats. Unless there's a write-in campaign on the Republican side, this race will be decided in the primary.

I tried to schedule this night so that candidates could make their pitches before mail-in ballots go out so you can make an informed decision. 

The last to register or change your party registration is May 1. 

Will there be other candidates' nights? 

In the Fall, I plan to schedule candidates' nights for the County Controller and County Council D3 races on separate evenings. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Hellertown's Bill Rowe to Remain on GOP Ballot For NorCo Council District Seat

It looks like voters in Northampton County Council District One will have a choice this Fall. In a one-page ruling, Senior Judge Ed Reibman has dismissed a challenge to Republican Bill Rowe's nomination petition. This paves the way for a contested general election in November between Rowe and Democrat Ken Kraft. 

Northampton County Council District One consists of Bethlehem, Hellertown, Lower Saucon and Williams Tp. 

Rowe's petition was challenged by Republican Steven R Topp, represented by Bucks County election lawyer Larry Otter. When Rowe filed his nomination petition, it included the required Statement of Financial Interests (SFI). But Rowe failed to file a copy of the SFI with the Clerk of County Council. While this might sound like an easily corrected minor technicality, courts have ruled that the statutory requirement is mandatory and have consistently rejected nomination petitions with this error. 

But someone has to complain. That was the problem Judge Reibman had with this challenge. 

Although Attorney Otter verified the complaint, there was no affidavit from Topp himself, asserting that he is a Republican and that he lives in District One. Topp also failed to appear at the hearing scheduled to consider his challenge. 

"Without more, the integrity of such challenges will be compromised and havoc will ensue whereby any person could peel anyone off of the voter registration poll, even without that person's knowledge or consent, and challenge a candidate's nominating petition."   - Judge Reibman

Our Juvenile Justice Crisis

It's very woke these days to talk about racist cops, cash bail and legalizing weed. Our social justice warriors, however, have completely missed a very real crisis happening right under their noses.  It's a serious staffing shortage at juvenile justice centers throughout the state. It has ripped families apart better than King Solomon could ever do. Children are being sent hours away from their families, making treatment more difficult and eroding familial bonds. This is a public safety problem, too. Some children who should be detained are instead allowed to remain at home, and they commit new crimes.  Our juvenile justice system is on the brink, endangering both community safety and county finances.  

In February, Northampton County Council members Kevin Lott and Tara Zrinski double-teamed Court Administrator Jermaine Greene when he requested upgrades for six supervisor positions at the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC).  He wanted them paid at the same level as lieutenants at the jail. An angry Lott called for an operational and even a sustainability study of the facility. Zrinski noted these supervisory positions are nonunion. She also questioned whether there was money for these upgrades, even though Greene had previously said there was. 

Greene, who has endured this passive aggressive behavior from Zrinski and Lott for well over a year, finally called them out and suggested their persistent digs are both personal and "politically motivated."  

Last week, at a Council Committee meeting that both actually attended, they got a detailed explanation of a major crisis at the Juvenile Justice Center caused by a serious staffing shortage of 39-43 youth care workers out of 57 positions.  If this continues, it means that some juvenile offenders who need to be in detention are going to be out on the street, committing more crimes and endangering our community. It also means that juvenile offenders who are detained will be sent hours away from their families. While many of you might say that's just too damn bad, you'll sing a different tune when you learn it costs $700 a day to detain a juvenile at an outside facility. That money comes out of your pocket. 

Greene was joined by Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Matthew Garvey, JCC Director JaMarr Billman and Court Fiscal Administrator Badaoui Boulos.  The bleak picture they painted for Council was one that cries out for immediate attention. . 

Matthew Garvey: The big picture

Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Matthew Garvey said that, in 2005, there were 29 detention centers across the state. Now there are just 17, with 533 beds available. Only 366 are operational because of insufficient staff. The situation is so critical that, last year, the Juvenile Court Judges' Comm'n asked then Governor Tom Wolf to start paying more money to youth care workers. They noted 10 instances of juveniles under "house arrest" who went on to commit new crimes or disappear before their hearing. 

Governor Wolf did nothing. Neither has Governor Josh Shapiro, at least not yet. His proposed budget contains no increases for youth care workers at state facilities. 

This staffing shortage costs counties money. Garvey spoke of a situation in Dauphin County in which juveniles charged with adult crimes are being housed at a private facility at a cost of $700 a day. Greene added that, in some counties, juveniles are being housed at hotels guarded by deputy sheriffs. This is a big drain on limited county resources. There are probation officers now who spend nearly half their working day trying to locate a bed. This takes them away from other, more productive, duties. 

In addition to the financial drain on counties, Garvey indicated that shipping juveniles far from home often makes treatment impossible. A CBS21 (Harrisburg) news report tells the story of Santos Robles, a Lebanon County juvenile offender who was shipped off to Philly and then Pittsburgh. He lost all ties to his family. Juveniles in 76% of Pennsylvania's counties are 1-2 hours away from the nearest available bed. That makes family visits very difficult, especially for those with limited incomes. That trip is 3-4 hours for juveniles in 22% of Pa. counties. "You need to have families engaged in treatment and that is why is is a poor idea to send them across the state for treatment," said Garvey

JaMarr Billman: NorCo's JJC

The JJC is an 84-bed facility budgeted for 57 youth care workers. Right now, only 14 youth care workers are employed, with no new hires in the pipeline despite efforts from Human Resources to get the word out. Since Nov 2022, 8 JJC employees have left and 8 have been hired. Of those who left, they went to other jobs dealing with children and youth, security and police. Three part-time employees have been hired and two are in the hiring process. "It helps us fill that need at night, " said Billman. 

State regulations require one youth care worker for every 6 residents in detention. There are three detention units that can house 12 residents each.  

One staffer is required for every 8 residents in a treatment or specialized program.  There are 12 beds per unit in those programs. 

The facility passed its last inspection in February, with zero complaints about staff from juveniles.  He indicated they "really like the food," too. He said his staff has excelled at de-escalation, making juveniles feel safe and secure/ If they feel that way, he said they are more likely to open up. 

A critical staffing shortage has created a statewide crisis, but Zrinski wanted to know what the JCC does about trans juveniles. 


Detention facilities are co-ed. There are treatment programs for males and females and Billman indicated PREA guidelines are followed for trans juveniles. 

Badaoui Boulos: The financial picture at JCC

Boulos told Council that the County has set aside $9.2 million for the JJC this year. Of that sum, $5.5 million is intended for staff salaries and benefits.  Unfortunately, a whopping $1.35 million is for home services and placement in outside facilities. 

He indicated 13 juveniles are in detention, including two from out of county. In Specialized Treatment, there are 8 residents, including 1 from out of county. The male and female treatment programs have no residents because there is insufficient staff. In fact, supervisors are doing the work of youth care workers.

Revenue from the JCC is projected this year at $5.7 million. There are contracts for bed space with 16 different counties inside the state. The budget optimistically predicts $1.6 million from other counties sending juveniles. 

Bolous was a bit more realistic. "If things stay the way they are, we're probably only going to bring in $600,000 in revenue," he cautioned. 

He indicated that the JJC's best year was 2019, when there was more staff. "We've never been fully staffed, but it's never been anything like this," he said of the vacancies.   

The county currently receives $290 a day to house a juvenile from another county. That will increase to $315 a day on July 1. 

Greene: The Fix is In 

Court Administrator Jermaine Greene minced no words with County Council. "If we don't have this center, it's going to be catastrophic to this county on many different levels," he said. "I've been talking about this for 14 months and we're still here paying people $16.40 an hour to go in our 24/7 facility when they can go to WaWa and make $15 an hour. What are we doing? We have an obligation here, all of us. ... We're gonna' break up these families. ... If you don't help us, you should be ashamed of yourselves.  The courts are being treated differently here, and I don't like it because I think the fix is in on this union thing because we're still waiting for an arbitrator there. ... That's unacceptable to me"  

Greene is understandably exasperated, but the crisis at JJC makes everyone look bad, from the County Exec to Council to the courts to the union. There is no upside for anyone in permitting this crisis to linger. 

The reality here is that the union was offered exactly what the courts requested, and that was to pay youth care workers the same money that is paid to corrections officers. There has been no vote on this issue. Union negotiators have instead declared an impasse because more senior members will see no benefit until the final year of a three-year contract.

According to Executive Lamont McClure, the first arbitrator chosen retired. The bargaining unit requested another list, and the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board has so far failed to supply a list. 

Greene also wants a legal opinion from the County Council Solicitor on the feasibility of using American Rescue Plan Act money to pay bonuses to youth care workers since that was done at Gracedale. 

I have several problems with this request. First, Spadoni is the Solicitor to County Council, not the courts. Second, there is very little American Rescue Plan Act money left. Third, no legal opinion is being sought. 


Council member John Goffredo came up with a possible solution. He suggested that Council simply approve new wage classifications for youth care workers at higher salaries and be done with it.  While this is a worthy idea that deserves consideration, my chief concern is that the union or county might consider it an unfair labor practice. It probably would be a good idea to run this by the bargaining unit and county administration.  

Another solution follows the admonition my father often had for his clients. "Sue the bastards!" In this case, the bastard is not McClure, Council or even the union. It is the PLRB, whose delay in getting an arbitration list is borderline criminal. The mere threat of a mandamus action, coming from the courts, should awaken this sleepy state agency. 

Blogger's Note: When people come to Council to make presentations, they should be allowed to finish instead of being interrupted repeatedly with questions. That is simply rude. This is especially annoying because Council members like Zrinski simply refuses to use mikes. 

Zrinski Advises Sludge Foe to Break Law and Disrupt Naz Boro Municipal Authority

Regardless whether he's ever charged with anything, most rational people take a dim view of Donald Trump's January 6 incitement of a mob that resulted in the violent invasion of Congress. More locally, most of us would condemn failed County Exec candidate Steve Lynch for his threat to bring "20 strong men" to forcibly remove Northampton School Directors over a mask mandate. These are right-wing extremists. But we have left-wing extremists, too. One of them, Tara Zrinski, is a member of Northampton County Council. Last week, she actually advised a citizen to disrupt meetings of Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority.  

Here's exactly what she said to Megan Uliana, who was complaining about an unresponsive Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority. "Pack the room. Force them to talk to you. and if they won't, disrupt. Honestly! Let them kick you out again and again, and I honestly wish I could go there."  

Under Pennsylvania law, "A person commits a misdemeanor of the third degree if, with intent to prevent or disrupt a lawful meeting, procession or gathering, he disturbs or interrupts it."

As valid as Uliana's complaints might be, that is no excuse for disrupting a public meeting. It was extremely irresponsible for Zrinski to make this suggestion, especially since she herself would suffer no consequences. 

What's bothering Uliana?  At numerous times over the past year, Plainfield Tp resident Millie Beahn has been before Northampton County Council to complain about Nazareth shit. Contrary to what many of us who live here may think, our shit does stink. What bothers Beahn and other Plainfield Tp residents like Uliana is that we're spreading it there.  

In November 2021, Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority bought an 80-plus acre preserved farm in Plainfield Tp for $850,000. It's using it to spread sludge from its waste treatment plant.  "Let's be real," said Uliana.. "These guys don't care about farming. They could care less [sic] whether a farmer has a good yield or not so long as they have someone to spread the sludge and farm the land. ... What are we going to do when our preserved farms are literally covered in crap?" 

According to Uliana and Beahn, this sludge is a health hazard. I'd like to see something called  proof. Scientific proof. Not some peroration by Zrinski or Beahn.  On top of that, why do they always come to Northampton County Council, which has no power to do anything?. It's pretty clear to me that Zrinski encourages them behind the scenes even though she knows this has nothing to do with county government. 

Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority is an independent state agency. Neither Northampton County nor Nazareth Borough can force this Authority to do anything. 

The best advice Uliana received came from Council member John Cusick. Instead of packing the room at the municipal authority, go to Nazareth borough council because borough council appoints the members of the municipal authority. "What you have to do is you have to get involved in the election in the Borough of Nazareth and shame them. Support candidates who will appoint members to this board who can change that and stop this practice. "

Uliana could ask Nazareth residents like myself to hold borough council accountable, which I've done a few times now that I think about it. I've even sued them over the Sunshine Act and actually won. 

I have reached out to a member of borough council and will have more to say after speaking to him. It might be refreshing to hear the other side of the story.

That is preferable to breaking the law, as Zrinski suggested.  

How Should $3.2 Billion in Federal Transportation Funding Be Spent Over the Next 25 Years?

Becky Bradley, who heads both the Lehigh Valley Planning Comm'n (LVPC) and Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS) was at Northampton County Council last week to discuss the latest long-range transportation plan investments for the Lehigh Valley. Every four years, the federal government requires LVTS to update its 25-year transportation plan. Funding has increased from $2.4 billion over 25 years to $3.6 billion over 25 years. investments in the Lehigh Valley. 

LVTS is meeting with all 62 local governments. Some local governments lack the resources to put forward projects that they may really need while municipalities with a lot of resources can put in 12 requests and pay third parties to put them together. So Bradley is reaching out to everyone. 

Congress funds 80-100% of transportation. It's usually a 80/20 match, with the state picking up 20%. 

Bradley indicated that LVTS is he only study in state that asks the community what their priorities are. 

She indicated there is also an online survey in which you can make state your own priorities. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

LVPC Moving to Allentown Waterfront

At last night's meeting of Northampton County Council, Executive Lamont McClure reported that the Lehigh Valley Planning Comm'n (LVPC) plans to move from its current location at 961 Marcon Blvd in Allentown to The Waterfront along the Lehigh River. That's a Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) project being developed by Jaindl Properties. 

The NIZ is a special taxing district in Allentown under which a developer may use state and local taxes to subsidize development. 

McClure stated the vote was 7-5 over his "strenuous objection." He indicated that several members of the Northampton County contingent of LVPC "do not wish to travel to downtown Allentown for their Comm'n meetings. It's going to be a major inconvenience."

He argued that regional entities should try to be located as near the geographic center of the Lehigh Valley and that the Marcon Blvd location fits that bill.  

McClure noted "the new lease will be a triple net lease. This is a [quasi] government. Government should not be paying triple net leases. ... The total cost of the lease will be $120,000 more annually than what they currently pay."

According to the Exec, LVPC could sign a five-year lease extension at Marcon Blvd for $600,000 total. 

He reported that LVPC claims it needs $2 million in renovations at Marcon Blvd. "I don't necessarily agree with that number. There may be some renovations that are needed. It could be done over time."

He argued that spending public money just to move to a "cool location" is "the quintessence of bad government." 

Northampton County would have to pay 40-50% of this $600,000 "above and beyond what we pay now for no good reason other than to be in a cool location.

McClure said he will propose a reduction in the annual allocation to LVPC.

The relocation is strongly supporty by Lehigh County. 

Council member Kevin Lott saisd he sat on LVPC and recalls that "less than 10 year ago, we remodeled that building [the current location]. I don't know how you spend that kind of money remodeling it again."  

In response to a question from Council member Lori Vargo Heffner, McClure stated that he's investigating the idea of forming a Northampton County Planning Comm'n. 

(I'll have more about NorCo Council on Monday. I was drafted to call Bingo last night. Yes, I'm old) 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Can Nomination Challenge Win When Objector Fails to Appear or Sign Verification?

Things looked pretty bleak for Hellertown's Bill Rowe yesterday morning. He oreviously submitted a nomination petition, as a Republican, in Bethlehem area County Council District 1. He was careful to get more than the 250 signatures he needed. He made sure to attach a copy of his Statement of Financial Interests (SFI) to his petition. But he made one rookie mistake. He failed to file a copy of that SFI with the Clerk of County Council as well. This might seem like harmless error, but courts have routinely sustained challenges on that basis because the statute leaves no wiggle room. It is mandatory, not merely precatory. So when Republican Steven R Topp objected to Rowe's nomination petition, it seemed like a slam dunk. Topp was represented by Bucks County election lawyer Larry Otter, who had every right to feel confident going into yesterday's hearing before Senior Judge Ed Reibman. 

The problem with raising a technical defect as a fatal error is that it invites increased scrutiny by the courts. They'd really prefer to see elections decided by voters, not them. So if you give a judge a plausible reason to find a technical defect in the objecting petition that complains about a technical defect, he can and often will dismiss a challenge. Bethlehem lawyer Vic Scomillio, who represented Rowe, gave Judge Reibman  the ammo he needed to reject the challenge in a hearing yesterday. Scomillio'ss something of an election law expert himself, and has won challenges in several cases over the past few years.  

When you file a petition or complaint with the court, it must include something known as a "verification." This is an averment by the petitioner that the facts recited are, to the best of his knowledge, accurate. 

The petition challenging Rowe did contain a verification, but it was signed by Otter, not the complaining party. Moreover, Topp never showed up for the hearing, and Scomillio jumped on this. He argued that the court should refuse to entertain a nomination challenge when the challenger himself fails to show up or even attest to the challenge. 

Otter insisted it has been common practice for him to sign verifications himself over the past 25 years, even in the Commonwealth Court. But Judge Reibman cautioned that it's an "invitation for mischief" in these "hyper partisan times." 

Judge Reibman agreed that Rowe's failure to file a copy of his SFI with County Council is a "major  defect." "You don't throw these challenges out lightly, but having said that, we don't have a petitioner." 

Otter cited some cases for Judge Reibman to consider, and he will do so before he enters an Order. 

If I were a betting man, I'd bet that Rowe will remain on the ballot as the Republican nominee. 

Rowe's family at one time owned and operated Bechtold Orchards in Hellertown. Members of his family also owned and operated Rowe Cycle Service in Bethlehem. 

The Democratic nominee is Ken Kraft. He used to represent Bethlehem on County Council, but resigned in the middle of his term to work for Executive Lamont McClure at the jail. Now he wants to return to the same elected office from which he resigned.  I think it's highly unlikely that he'd be a check on a County Executive who hired him as a political appointee. But it's also highly unlikely he'd lose a race in a heavily Democratic district. 

NorCo Council Prez Kerry Myers Will Be Off Ballot in Re-Election Bid

Kelly Keegan, Myers' opponent,
braved the dark and cold to get
her signatures. 
It could have been worse. Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March. Northampton County Council President Kerry Myers got off a lot easier. Senior Judge Ed Reibman thanked Myers for his "demeanor and honesty. " He then indicated that he'll be sustaining objections to Myers' nomination petition for re-election to County Council. 

Myers, Northampton County's first ever African American Council President, submitted a nomination petition for County Council on March 7. Under state law, 250 registered Democrats from his council district are required to endorse that petition. Myers submitted a nomination petition with 310 signatures. Many appeared questionable on their face.  They included voters from Bethlehem, Nazareth and Allentown. These are all outside Myers' Easton area district.

Objections to Myers' nomination petition were filed by Forks Tp Democrats Ed Keegan, husband of Myers' primary opponent Kelly Keegan, as well as Laurie Jackson. They were represented by Bucks County election lawyer Larry Otter at a hearing conducted yesterday morning by Judge Reibman. They both sat quietly in the back of the courtroom, or at least tried. Laurie Jackson's cellphone kept going off, which always happens to people at the most inopportune times. When it does, the phone is always buried somewhere impossible to find. Eventually, a Deputy Sheriff asked her to leave and stay out until her phone was turned off. When she returned a few minutes later, my phone went off. I pointed at poor Laurie.

She'll be home in 5 to 10. 

Otter characterized the matter as a "garden variety election petition challenge," although it's pretty rare to see a local nomination petition signed by so many people who are completely unqualified. It's rarer still when the proposed nominee is the President of County Council. Otter methodically began going through the petition, signature by signature, with Northampton County Elections Registrar Christopher Commini. 

Myers, dressed in his Suburban Ambulance regalia, represented himself, and had no trouble interjecting himself whenever he felt like it. 

Commini went through signature after signature of voters who were either not registered at all or who were registered as Republicans or independents. He also flagged numerous signatures from voters who simply are outside Myers' district. 

Myers was simply forced to concede they were invalid. He explained at one point that he was circulating in [Shiloh Baptist] church on a Sunday morning and "had five petitions going at one time."  By his own admission, Myers was using a church for political purposes. 

God probably took a dim view of this. 

Once the number of clearly invalid signature hit 71, Myers admitted defeat. "I went out and did the best I could," he lamented. "If this is the game they want to play, I'm all in."

Actually, he appears to be all out.  

He later said, "I'm 69 years old and have been serving the people since I'm 18."

According to a Morning Call account, Myers placed the blame on the county administration and vowed to "raise a little hell" in his remaining months on Council. 

In his four years on County Council, Myers has already done that. He has debased both himself and his office by his regular use of foul language during meetings. He undermined the authority of the Sheriff when he publicly stated that, if he were a Deputy, he'd refuse to follow orders because it might endanger his life. He threatened Council members when they declined to vote for a proposed Elections Commissioner who happened to be black, but also happened to be working for a candidate seeking re-election. 

After the hearing was over, Myers marched down to the elections office to demand to know who looked at his nomination petition. 

The elections office does not maintain those kinds of records, but I was one of them. 

I'll just stay away from Suburban EMS. 

Judge Reibman said he will enter an order sustaining the challenge, but as of the time this story posted, no order had made its way to the docket. 

Myers can still wage a write-in campaign, but a guy who was unable to get 250 signatures on a nomination  petition has no prayer winning a write-in vote.