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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

UPDATED: Do You Really Think Trump Will Win the GOP Nod?

I was in a house full of Republicans on Memorial Day. I was curious what they thought about the numerous GOP Presidential contenders. Not much. Most of them are convinced Donald Trump will be the nominee. That's certainly what the polls say, but he's also under four criminal investigations for (1) inciting a mob on January 6; (2) intentionally concealing confidential documents that included nuclear secrets; (3) pressuring the Georgia Sec'y of State to "find" the 11,000 or so votes he needed to win in that state; and (4) falsification of business records in Manhattan. Regardless how these pan out, it's safe to say he's going to be distracted. The constant media attention, and I agree some of it is very unfair, is bound to lead to Trump fatigue. So I doubt he will be the nominee. 

I think it will be DeSantis. 

I was surprised this weekend to hear a positive discussion of him on NPR, which is hardly a conservative outlet. It was with a writer for The New Yorker, which is hardly The American Spectator. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the program or the article. I could only find a reference in National Review.

Here's what I learned. 

DeSantis grew up in a working class neighborhood, and his gift for baseball got him a scholarship to Yale. Students who attended with him say he was so smart and so outside the box that it was impossible to copy his work because only he thinks that way.  He then graduated from Harvard Law. He served in the military, and in Iraq. He has a near photographic memory.  During COVID, he read all the literature, not just the abstracts. His decision to care for the elderly, while keeping the state open for business, was in hindsight the right call. California, which had strict lockdowns, had about the same death rates as Florida. He's stubborn, as his current fight with Mickey Mouse proves.  He has embraced an anti-woke philosophy. This does have an appeal among Republicans and even some Democrats, absent the book banning and the slurs against those whose sexual orientation are outside the norm. It's unclear to me how much of this is honest conviction and how much is opportunism. 

He's quite formidable 

Do the Democrats have anybody other than Biden? We really have a weak bench compared to Republicans.

UPDATED 11:30 AM: My thanks to a reader who was able to find the New Yorker article, written by Dexter Filkins.

NorCo's Elections Results Now Official

Northampton County's Elections Commission met yesterday at 3 pm to certify the county's primary election results. The meeting was conducted in the public eye, but there is no video. The conduct of elections is one of the county's most important core functions. The county has failed to record several meetings of the elections commission. Given the importance of elections and the need to be as open with the public as is possible, an elections commission meeting should  be recorded. If there is a conflict with another group over Council chambers, where meetings are recorded, the Elections Commission should have priority.

I could have attended yesterday's meeting and reported to you. I assumed incorrectly that this would get at least as much attention as the General Purpose Authority.  

NorCo Council Invests $1,090,686 in a Dozen Open Space Projjects

At their May 18 meeting, Northampton County Council approved $1,090,686 in open space programs for a dozen projects throughout the county. They were all meticulously described by Conservation Coordinator Sherry Acevedo in advance of the vote.  Here's the breakdown. 

Reinhard's Park (Hellertown) - $166,435 (including county grant of $75,000) for a  passive recreational park area, including an ADA accessible gazebo with a native plant garden.

Wilson Borough Meuser Park - $599,000 (including county grant of $75,000) - for two tennis courts and six pickleball courts with crowned surfaces, ADA accessible pathways, parking lot resurfacing, rain gardens, fencing  and benches. 

Bethlehem Tp Municipal Park Playground rehab - $514,585 (with $75,000 county grant) to replace the playground next to community center  with poured in place rubber safety equipment. The current playground is over 20 years old, and there are no spare parts for malfunctioning equipment. 

Hanover Tp pool complex - $152,590 (including county grant of $50,000) . At the new community pool, a subsurface detention basin is being built underneath a rain garden. It will provide a slow, low volume release into an existing swale. It is believed this will minimizes sinkholes common in that area. 

Lower Mount Bethel Tp - $173,746 (including county grant of $35,161) to relocate 1 tennis courts and add 2 pickleball courts with crowned surfaces and construct a vegetated swale 

Moore Tp - $95,000 (including county grant of $47,500) for an open space plan

Palmer Tp - $125,000 (including county grant of $62,500) for Bushkill Creek Corridor Greenway plan to address flooding, access into Penn Pump Park and stream bank stabilization

Upper Mount Bethel Tp - $50,000 (including county grant of $25,000) for a Portland to Minsi Park Trail feasibility study.  This stretch is 5.5 miles, and would be a combination on road and off road. 

Wildlands Conservancy - $240,000 (including county grant of $120,000) for stream restoration after a 2021 dam removal, invasive plant removal.

Greater Easton Development Partnership - $375,000 (including county grant of $187,500) to acquire 1.2 acres from Norfolk Southern at Lehigh Drive and Washington Street for an urban park and a trailhead.

Upper Mount Bethel Tp - $159,000 (including county grant of $75,600) to purchase conservation easement of 33.6 acres.

Upper Mount Bethel Tp - $524,850 (including county grant of $262,425) to purchase conservation easement of 95.86 acres adjacent to Delaware River. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

U.S. Congress - The Highest Paid Telemarketers in the Country

When I think of a member of Congress, I'd like to imagine a person who spends most of her time considering and adopting legislation or someone who is a lifeline for constituents in need. But that's far from the truth. The reality is that they are pretty much nothing more than glorified telemarketers expected to spend 20-30 hours a week at a call center dialing for dollars with scripts provided by party operatives. They do this during business hours, when you'd expect them to be working for you. 

The American Anti-Corruption Act would ban Congressmen from fundraising during business hours, when they should be working for you. 

Last year, Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips (Dem) and Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher (GOP) introduced the On the Clock Act, which would prohibit members of Congress from directly soliciting contributions whenever Congress is in session. “Instead of listening to constituents and solving problems, too many of my colleagues are dialing for dollars and attending fancy lunches and dinners," said Phillips. "In fact, our entire congressional schedules are arranged to make it easier for members to raise money throughout the day. The On the Clock Act won’t fix everything about our broken campaign finance system, but it will force members to spend more time working and less time lining their campaign coffers.”

The bill failed to attract a single supporter from either party.

They were probably on the phone. 

Summer's Here

Over the cold winter and windy spring dog walks, Nazareth Borough Park was mostly empty. Other than other dog walkers and park workers, there was no one to see. Even the rabbits and deer must have been in Florida. That has been changing over the past few weeks. First it was the skateboarders. Then the basketball and baseball players. Yesterday, the pool opened, and people were lined up an hour before starting time.

Gaming Taxes Fund $3.9 Million in Local Projects

Once upon a time, Northampton County had its own nine-person Gaming Board to dole out locally generated slots revenue. It was un unenviable task because they were required to give priority to communities surrounding Bethlehem. Those communities had to show "impact," but that word was left undefined.  Eventually, our betters from the land of midnight payraises decided local boards were getting too much control over large amounts of money. They changed the Gaming Law so that the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA), a creature of the state legislature and Governor, would hand out the awards. That way your state representatives can issue news releases and pat himself on the back when these grants are awarded.   

On May 16, the CFA  decided on its latest awards. Lehigh Valley communities received nearly $4 million in grants from one of two buckets identified below. Most of the money went for laudable municipal projects. I have problems with two awards in Bethlehem and Allentown. 

Given that Bethlehem already receives a host fee every year, I think it's inappropriate to award additional money to the city or a city authority. Yet Bethlehem Economic Development Corp. was awarded $417k for "property acquisition." 

I also question why we'd spend nearly $38,000 to teach Allentown's kids how to fight when there are numerous other sports that involve no physical contact.

Monroe County Gaming Grants, Contiguous Counties

Allen Township Replacement of Backhoe Northampton $125,122
Bangor Borough Bangor Borough Salt Shed Northampton $89,609
Bethlehem Economic Development Corporation Property Acquisition Northampton $239,681
Bethlehem Township CPR device purchase Northampton $18,775
Bethlehem Township defibrillator purchase Northampton $37,733
Bethlehem Township police vehicle purchases Northampton $75,000
Bethlehem Township stretcher loading system purchase Northampton $28,310
Bushkill Township Cooperative Road Improvement Equipment Acquisition Northampton $39,608
Bushkill Township Heavy Rescue Truck Cab & Chassis Northampton $25,000
East Allen Township Rapid Response Vehicle Northampton $165,000
Easton City P25 Radios for the Easton Fire Department Northampton $60,682
Freemansburg Community Amphitheater Seating and ADA Accommodations Northampton $51,000
Hanover Township Police Vehicle & Upfitting Northampton $54,311
Hellertown Borough Reinhard's Park Improvements Northampton $200,000
Lower Nazareth Township Fire Company Radios Northampton $119,669
Lower Saucon Township Easton Road Ballfield Development Northampton $394,330
Nazareth Borough Greater Valley YMCA, Nazareth Branch Building Project Northampton $100,000
Nazareth Borough License Plate Reader System Proposal Northampton $18,000
Nazareth Borough Nazareth Ambulance Power Load System Northampton $52,859
Palmer Township Mill Race Park 9/11 Trail Master Plan Northampton $75,000
Pen Argyl Borough Regional Aquatic Facility, Phase 1 LSA Northampton $64,629
Upper Nazareth Township Upper Nazareth Township Public Works Equipment Northampton $50,000
Weissport Borough WMA Sewer Tank Replacement Carbon $99,000
West Easton Borough Removal of Trestle Bridges Northampton $25,000

Lehigh and NorCo Gaming Funds

Allen Township Replacement of Backhoe Northampton $94,098
Bath Borough Bath Volunteer Fire Department Portable Radios Project Northampton $54,266
Bethlehem Economic Development Corporation Property Acquisition Northampton $177,602
Bushkill Township 2022 Bushkill Township Police Fleet Improvement Plan Northampton $41,985
Bushkill Township Heavy Rescue Truck Cab & Chassis Northampton $50,000
Easton City LIDAR Transport Van for the Easton Police and Fire Departments Northampton $30,060
Forks Township Police Officer Equipment and Safety Plan Northampton $32,485
Freemansburg Borough Community Amphitheater Seating and American Disabilities Act Accommodations Northampton $49,000
Hanover Township New Equipment - Asphalt Roller Northampton $51,458
Lower Mount Bethel Township LMBT Office Security System Northampton $7,045
Lower Nazareth Township Fire Company Radios Northampton $114,178
Lower Saucon Township Easton Road Ballfield Development Northampton $114,530
Northampton Borough Loss Prevention Security Camera System 2022 Northampton $25,300
Northampton County Glendon Hotel Site Affordable Housing Project Northampton $200,000
Palmer Township Suburban EMS- Ambulance 2022 Northampton $115,333
Pen Argyl Borough Regional Police Vehicles Northampton $57,021
Roseto Borough Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus Project Northampton $60,000
Wilson Borough Wilson Borough Community Playground Northampton $100,000
Allentown City LEHIGH VALLEY P4P BOXING, INC - Local Share Account Grant Lehigh $37,783
Emmaus Borough Seven Generations Community Amphitheater Lehigh $83,131
Lower Macungie Township Macungie Ambulance Corp Local Share Grant Lehigh $14,964
Slatington Borough Shadow Oaks Storm Water System Upgrade Lehigh $56,051
South Whitehall Township SWTPD Police Vehicles Lehigh $41,967
Weisenberg Township Portable Radar Speed Display Lehigh $11,093
Whitehall Township Mickley Prydun Farm Restoration (Phase III) Lehigh $97,619

Friday, May 26, 2023

NorCo Snags $200,000 Workforce Housing Grant in Glendon

The Commonwealth Finance Agency,, a board comprised of four legislative and three administrative appointees, doles out gaming revenue received under Pa's Race Horse Development Act to support projects "in the public interest." It awarded $263 million for 843 projects at its May 16 meeting.  I will  tell you about grants awarded in Lehigh and Northampton County next week. One of these grants ($200,000) is for workforce housing at the former Glendon Hotel. 

The county plans to build five 3-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom town houses at this site. It is also seeking grants .  through Pennsylvania HOME Investment Partnership Program (HOME) and federal HOME entitlement funds.

Should NorCo Post County Candidate Expense Reports Online?

When he was NorCo Executive, John Stoffa instructed elections officials to post all campaign finance reports online. They did so for one or two election cycles, then stopped. It was simply too much work to post the finance reports filed for every municipality in the county. But Northampton County could do what Lehigh has been doing since 2009. It could post the campaign finance reports filed by candidates for county office. This would include County Council, Controller, Executive and District Attorney. 

These finance reports can often be the canary in the coalmine, warning of impending corruption. 

Northampton County Council actually killed all thoughts of  online campaign finance disclosure in 2008. Then Council member Charles Dertinger worried that some "little citizen group" might actually get together and challenge campaign finances, keeping a candidate in court instead of letting him campaign. "This is over the top," he concluded.  No "little citizen group" has risen in Lehigh to challenge finance reports since 2009.  Hopefully, Dertinger is less suspicious of the people now. 

I challenged campaign finance reports filed by disgraced former Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski on three separate occasions. I was correct every time.

The canary in the coalmine was sending an alarm. 

Over the past election cycle, I posted the finance reports for some key Lehigh Valley races. A few alarms were sounded over the money poured into Ken Greene's race for Easton City Council as well as the big spenders in Steve Baratta's race for DA. This drew quite a bit of interest, if my blog analytics are any indication. People really do care about who is funding a campaign. It helps them discern where a candidate lands on different issues. 

These reports can be a canary in a coal mine or a good sign as well. For example, in the Allentown City Council races, it was nice to know which candidates were financed by the FOP. It's also good to see who gets a lot of grass roots support in the form of smaller contributions. 

Bethlehem, Allentown and Lehigh County all post finance reports online as a matter of transparency. Isn't it time that Northampton County do so as wel?

Charlie Dent Will Be Osborne's First Radio Guest

As I've already mentioned, former Lehigh County and South Whitehall Township Comm'r Brad Osborne has been planning a weekly radio show called "Good Morning Lehigh Valley," starting this Tuesday. The live show airs on WGPA Sunny 1100. every Tuesday from 9-10 a.m. Listeners can tune in at AM 1100, 98.5 FM, and Sunny1100.com.

The first edition of Good Morning Lehigh Valley will feature guests former Congressman Charlie Dent and IronPigs President & General Manager Kurt Landes.

Osborne's goal is to “connect listeners with community leaders, elected officials, authors, historians, and other experts in fields such as arts & entertainment, financial planning, non-profits, economics, sports, and wellness.”

Thursday, May 25, 2023

McClure Wants Opportunities For Middle Class to Grow

A relaxed Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure delivered his State of the County address (you can watch it here) yesterday morning to a throng of at least 200 people at Hotel Bethlehem's Grand Ballroom. Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. CEO Don Cunningham, who hosted the event and introduced McClure, said it was the largest crowd he'd ever seen for what is usually a very dry affair.  This might be because the event was both free and included a rather luxurious breakfast. I was fashionably late, but still stuffed my pockets with scrambled eggs for the ride home.

As is the norm with most state of the county addresses, McClure lauded several employees. But these workers really deserved the accolades. He praised Gracedale Administrator Jennifer Stewart King, who spent weekends during the pandemic working the floors as a certified nurse's aide at the largest county-owned nursing home in the state. "That's what a leader does," he remarked. He extolled Robyn Barbosa, a Deputy Director of Human Services, for her work in preventing 10,000 families from losing their homes during COVID with $25 million in federal funds. He applauded Drug and Alcohol Administrator Kathy Jiorle for her role in battling the fentanyl crisis with both education and training. But he saved his biggest commendation for the county employees who at that very moment were at the jail, courthouse, 911 center and courthouse. He called them the "finest employees in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." He said he might last one or two more terms, but they'll still be here. "These are fantastic people."

He said most employees stayed by his side during the pandemic, where the county worked while most governments shut down. "They didn't go home and I can't thank them enough."

He hinted he is working on a project with Wilkes University that county employees might like. 

>McClure painted a rosy picture of the county. He pointed to four balanced budgets with no tax hikes and one that included a tax cut. He highlighted a $500 million pension fund despite a market correction, adding that it is 90% funded. But the county's biggest accomplishment during his tenure has been its attention to open space. It has spent $25 million to preserve 3,000 acres of farmland and open space as well as the acquisition of three county parks totaling 300 acres. 

"Our future is green," he said. "Green is the color of nature, and green is the color of money, and green is the light that tells us to go forward into the future.”

He raised the the alarm about "warehouse proliferation," a term he coined himself a few years ago. "Our people are done with warehouses," he declared. He admitted nothing is "inherently evil" about them. He acknowledged iconic logistics firms like FedEx, UPS and Amazon, agreeing they pay taxes and provide good jobs. Though they have their place, preferably next to an interstate, "We don't want to be incentivizing them with tax breaks."

He noted that Northampton County has the fifth highest household income and fifth highest wealth in the state.  He claimed people are moving here to retire. "We're doing very well." 

Yet he acknowledged that the county still faces challenges. 

He's concerned about the deteriorating water quality of the Lehigh River. He claims this has been caused by warehouses and poor planning. He hopes that a land freight study compiled by Lehigh Valley Panning Commission and funded by the county will arm municipalities to control their own destinies. He worries about air quality, which he said is causing children's asthma to skyrocket. (The county has placed several air quality sensors to determine more precisely the sources of pollution.)

He stated the county's biggest challenge is expanding the middle class. To that end, he wants more affordable housing, which he prefers to call workforce housing. He noted that a 50-unit development is being built in Forks Tp and other projects are being pursued in West Easton and with Shiloh Baptist Church. 

He said the county is currently studying ways to expand broadband access . "We want kids of modest means to be able to rise up out of those modest means and join the middle class."

His desire to expand the middle class is also why the county is investing so heavily in what he calls the fentanyl "scourge." He called it poison ingested by people without ever knowing it. "This is a tragedy. ... We don't have anybody to leave behind. How can we build the middle class if we have people injured and dying of fentanyl?"

McClure also spoke in support of passenger rail. He said he's certain that a current study will pan the idea as too costly. He called that argument a "scare tactic." He said a connection to New York or Philly would expand the middle class.

McClure failed to discuss the Gracedale study ordered by County Council over his veto, though he hinted there would be good news about Gracedale soon. He made no mention of the County Council pay study he vetoed, even after Don Cunningham stated that the average wage for unskilled labor in Northampton County is between $21-22 an hour. He was also silent about Council resistance to his desire for an exclusive and voluntary health clinic for county employees, which he believes will save money for the county and workers. 

I saw no judges at this address, but that's almost certainly because the courts are busy on Wednesday with miscellaneous court. DA Terry Houck was likely absent for the same reason. Houck's opponent, Steve Baratta, was present and caught me stuffing those scrambled eggs in my pocket. 

Council members Tara Zrinski and Kevin Lott, who have been McClure's most reliable Yes votes, were sitting up front. Council member Lori Vargo Heffner, despite having some friction with McClure, was also there. The room was crowded, and other members of County Council might have been there. But those are the only three I saw. 

His relation with County Council is actually McClure's biggest challenge. He'll be unable to address anything else unless he establishes a more collegial atmosphere than currently exists. Of course, County Council does itself no favors when one of its members undermines the Sheriff's authority, and no one condemns it.   

I've watched McClure for many years. He can be very guarded with others, and that has often led to misperceptions about him. But when he can just let that guard down and be himself, he's very good. Yesterday, he was very good.

NorCo DA Race: Baratta Made No Effort To Garner GOP Write-ins

As most readers of this blog know, I support incumbent Terry Houck in his race against Steve Baratta for Northampton County DA.  But I have an obligation as a human being to be fair to Baratta. Although Baratta did file paperwork after the election that certainly suggested he was waging a write-in campaign, I have no evidence from Republicans that he actually attempted to do so. I know party officials opposed them both.  I have spoken to several Republican friends who tell me they were approached by no one from Team Baratta when they voted. 

Yesterday, at Lamont McClure's State of the County, Steve Baratta confirmed that he made no effort to secure the Republican nod. He insists he sent no people to the polls with instructions on doing a write-in. He did file paperwork after the election, but tells me that's only because he received calls from several people to tell him Republicans were voting for him. 

Freeman Proposes Minor Change in Campaign Finance Law

While I'd agree that any reform to our campaign finance laws is a good thing, our campaign finance laws need an overhaul. State Rep. Bob Freeman has proposed a minor reform, which might actually be a smart way to make some positive change.  It's legislation that would require state legislature candidates to file campaign finance reports earlier during a campaign. Currently, they must file a campaign finance report on the second Friday before an election. Freeman wants them to report on the sixth Tuesday before an election as well. This requirement already exists for statewide candidates. In addition to himself, Freeman's bill has eight sponsors. 

Based on comments I've received from actually reporting on the details of these reports, I know that what bothers people most is to see one politician greasing another with campaign funds. We give a politician money to help him get elected, not for him to dole out and help someone else get elected. 

In addition to preventing one politician from using donated money to finance other campaigns, it's really time to limit how much any one person can donate in a state and local race.

Currently, individual contributions to federal candidates are limited to $3,300 per election. Why on earth would we allow much higher donations to candidates seeking local office? 

Finally, I'd suggest that each municipality that maintains an online presence should be required to post campaign finance reports under their jurisdiction, and within 24 hours of the filing. Given the inability of local papers to track expense reports 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

UPDATED: Kathy Fox Wins in Bethlehem Treasurer's Race Write-in

No one filed a nomination petition in the race for Bethlehem City Treasurer. When former Mayoral candidate Dana Grubb saw this, he decided to wage a write-in campaign. He told me he thought someone should be in that position. Apparently, Food Co-op Director Kathy Fox thought the same thing and waged a write-in campaign as well.

In Northampton County, Fox has picked up 187 votes, Grubb has 61, and Stacey Garrity has 7.  In Lehigh County, Fox got 98 more votes to 21 for Grubb. 

Unofficially, Kathy Fox is the Democratic nominee for Treasurer. 

Republicans have fielded no candidate. 

Updated: 12:51 pm

Three Bethlehem City Council Seats Will Be Contested in November

Jim Follweiler

According to the unofficial results of last Tuesday's election, the race for three Bethlehem City Council seats this November will be fully contested. Bethlehem's voters will have six candidates from whom to choose.

On the Democratic side of the ledger, Political newcomer Colleen Laird attracted 3,784 supporters, followed by incumbent Michael Colon (3,352) and former Council member Bryan Callahan (2,441).

On the Republican side, Tim Ginther (1,014 votes) and Devin Brunges (848 votes ran unopposed. They will be joined by a third candidate, Jim Follweiler, who mounted a successful write-in campaign for the third spot, just two weeks before the primary. 

Follweiler needed 100 votes and got 139. He won 99 votes in Northampton Couty and another 40 from Lehigh. 

What is the State of Northampton County?

Executive Lamont McClure will tell you what he thinks this morning, 9 am, at a public event hosted by Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation at Hotel Bethlehem. I'm unsure whether there will be recorded video, but I'll try to summarize. 

Anti-Development Plank Wins on Both Sides in Upper Mount Bethel

It's very rare to see a write-in candidate beat someone who's already on the ballot. But that's exactly what has happened in the Upper Mount Bethel Tp, where two Supervisor seats were up for grabs. 

There were two candidate on the Republican ballot, Cori Eckman and James E Potter. Eckman won 723 votes and Potter snagged 420. Unfortunately for Potter, he was eliminated by 439 write-in votes cast for Jason Albert. So the two Republican candidates are Eckman and Albert. 

On the Democratic side of the ledger, Ed Nelson was the sole candidate. Jason Albert was kicked off the ballot as a result of problems with his nomination petition, which were pointed out by Nelson in a challenge. 

Nelson, who incidentally is Township Manager until the end of the year, did pick up 126 votes. But he faced a write-in campaign from Albert and Eckman, and they beat him. Albert won 267 write-ins and Heckman garnered 250.  

So unofficially, Eckman and Albert are the only two candidates on either side of the aisle. They can only be beaten if someone can top them with a write-in during November's election.

Eckman and Albert are part of Take Back UMBT, a group upset about the River Pointe development and the traffic it will bring. Northampton County voted to give developer Lou Pektor a tax break called a LERTA at this project, where increased real estate taxes will be phased in slowly over 10 years. Advocated of this tax break said it would bring badly needed jobs. Opponents said it would bring warehouses and truck traffic.

Based on these election results, it appears that a majority of Upper Mount Bethel Tp voters oppose this development.

Baratta Backer Ray Lahoud Gave $3 Million to SuperPACs in 2022

According to Open Secrets, Norris McLaughlin lawyer Ray Lahoud gave $3 million to SuperPACS in 2022. He ranks #57  nationwide among individual donors. Lahoud is a registered Republican, yet was Steve Baratta's biggest donor in part one of the DA's race. He tells me he cares about the person, not his or her party. 

Coming in at #11 is Bethlehem's Walter W Buckley, Jr., of Buckley Muething Capital Management. He donated $11,800,000 to conservative causes.

I thought I'd be somewhere in there. They must have missed me. 

Blogger's Note: A reader made me aware of this in a comment yesterday. That's called participatory journalism, which I think we all really appreciate.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Tim Reilly's Wite-in Bid Fails in Easton Mayoral Contest

Easton firefighter Tim Reilly waged a last-minute write-in contest to capture the 100 votes needed to secure the Republican nomination in the Easton Mayoral primary. He fell short. 

Reilly only attracted 21 of the 149 write-in votes cast by Republicans. In fact, the leading write-in candidate on the Republican side of the ballot was Mayor Sal Panto, who pulled in 59 Republican votes. Peter Melan, another Democrat, bested Reilly with 22 write-ins. The remaining 47 votes are "not assigned." 

Panto secured the Democratic nomination last week by beating Peter Melan, 1,629 to 704. 

While these results are all unofficial, it appears that Panto is on his way to an unprecedented 7th term as Easton's Mayor. 

Panto has focused his efforts as Mayor on keeping Easton "clean and safe." Meanwhile, Allentown is a pigsty and is being forced to consider a city initiative that would keep police officers sidelined for 9-1-1 calls. 

Whitney: Who Wrote Allentown's Mobile Crisis Response Ordinance?

Blogger's Note: James Whitney lives and works in Allentown, and broke the story about Allentown City Council person Ce-Ce Gerlach's decision to drop off an underage teen at a homeless tent city. Here's his latest. 

Allentown City Councilwoman Ce-Ce Gerlach helped to draft the Mobile Community Response Team ordinance, currently being considered by City Council, according to a representative from the Working Families Party (WFP) who responded to my inquiry on 5/16. The proposed ordinance, which has garnered 2,000 signatures from city residents, may be headed to the ballot this November.

Under the legislation, county 911 dispatchers would be required to send unarmed social workers (without police) to respond to various calls, including domestic disputes, suspicious individuals, and mental health crises, among others.

When asked about the authors of the legislation, Gerlach simply stated "it was written by lawyers.” According to the WFP, the lawyers Gerlach was referring to are with the Abolitionist Law Center, which is committed to advancing movements to defund and abolish the police.

The legislation does allow for police intervention when explicitly requested by the caller. This provision raises concerns about potential biases held by private citizens, as they would have the power to decide whether their calls warrant police or social worker involvement. When this concern was brought up with the WFP representative, they acknowledged it as a valid point for consideration and stated they needed to consult with Gerlach on how to proceed.

A representative for Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk’s office, as well as Allentown Police Chief Charlie Roca, told Ramblings they were unsure who wrote the ordinance. Chief Roca says he isn’t surprised that it was written by an organization committed to defunding the police and that the provision in the ordinance that prohibit retired officers from working as Mobile Crisis Response team members makes more sense, given the ordinance's authors.

According to an open letter written by the Abolitionist Law Center, and published on their website, they “seek the demise of police in their entirety.”

Baratta Sought GOP Write-in, Misled Morning Call

NorCo DA candidate Steve Baratta was highly critical of DA Terry Houck for waging a Republican write-in campaign during a debate hosted by public television. After it was over, he told The Morning Call he'd seek no GOP write in votes. “If I lose as a Democrat, I’m going home,” Baratta told reporter Tony Salamone. “If the Democratic party doesn’t want me, then I have to find different work." What he said and he did are two different things. Contrary to what Baratta told The Morning Call, he waged a Republican write-in campaign. The document below, filed with the elections office, indicates quite clearly that Baratta declared himself a Republican write-in candidate, and supplied numerous variations of his name. 

NorCo Council: Rowe is In, Myers is Out

Hellertown's Bill Rowe and NorCo Council President Kerry Myers both got knocked off the ballot in their attempts to seek a spot on County Council. Bill Rowef, a first-time candidate, was seeking the Republican nomination in District One (Bethlehem) and made one mistake. He failed to file a copy of his financial statement with the Clerk of County Council. That is unfortunately a fatal error. Unlike Rowe, Myers has experience as an office holder. He was seeking the Democratic nomination in District Two (Easton). He failed to get signatures from 250 Democrats who live in his district. 

District 1 (Bethlehem area)

Rowe waged a successful write-in contest on the Republican side for the Bethlehem area County Council district.  Of 451 write-in votes cast, he got 321 votes. Democrat Ken Kraft, who won the Democratic nomination, attempted a write-in campaign among Republicans. He pulled in 52 votes. There were 67 votes designated as "not assigned."

This race will continue in the Fall, with Bill Rowe squaring off against Ken Kraft. 

District 2 (Easton area)

After being knocked off the ballot as a Democrat, Myers switched parties and campaigned for the Republican write-in nomination in the Easton area County Council district.  Forks Tp Supervisor Kelly Keegan was running unchallenged for the Democratic nomination. 

The Republican party hierarchy backed Myers. Party chair Glen Geissinger, flanked by three Republican members of County Council, endorsed Myers at a news conference. But Myers failed to get the required 250 write-in votes. 

Of 299 write-in votes cast, Myers attracted 197 votes. Democrat Kelly Keegan, who waged a write-in campaign on the Republican side of the aisle, pulled down 34 votes. There were also 68 "scattered write-ins.  

This race is over, Barring an unlikely independent candidate, Kelly Keegan will be the next County Council member in District 2. Myers is now officially a lame duck. 

All Write-in Tallies Will Be Posted Today

I've given you the write-in tallies for the NorCo DA and two disputed County Council races. What about the rest?  Did Tim Reilly succeed in his quest for the GOP nomination as Easton Mayor? Did Jim Follweiler prevail in Bethlehem?  Is there a Treasurer candidate? And how about the write-in campaign on the Democratic side for Upper Mount Bethel Tp Supervisor? Those results will be posted online today, probably this morning or early afternoon. You can check for the results here. These are unofficial until certified by the Elections Commission. 

Baratta v Houck - The Sequel

Blogger's Note: I am discussing unofficial results.  They will not be official until certified by the Elections Comm'n. 

As I made you aware late yesterday afternoon, there will be a contested District Attorney's race this November. Steve Baratta secured the Democratic nomination after defeating Terry Houck, 12,943 to 10,799. But Houck won a write-in campaign on the Republican side of the fence. He needed 250 votes minimum, and secured 1,468 of 2,118 write-in votes. There were 650 "not assigned" write-ins. 

Terry Houck remains a centrist Democrat.  He refuses to switch parties just to appease some party machine. He will be driving the red car, but it will be fueled by blue gas. 

Baratta will be driving the blue car, but as his expense report makes clear, it will be fueled by red gas, That red gas includes $20,000 from Republican NIZ developers J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper and a whopping $47,900 in cash and in-kinds from Norris, McLaughlin lawyer Ray Lahoud,

Monday, May 22, 2023

UPDATED: Houck, Rowe Win Write-in, Myers Misses

Terry Houck has won the Republican nomination for DA in NoCo with 1,468 votes.

Bill Rowe has won the Republican nomination for NorCo Council D1 with 321 write-in votes.

Kerry Myers fell short in his bid to win the Republican nod for NorCo Council D2. He needed 250 votes and got 197.

These results are unofficial. The final tally of write-ins will be online by late this morning or early this afternoon.

NorCo Council Considers Elected Sheriff, Home Rule Charter Study

Last week's meeting of Northampton County Council's governance committee was a doozy. I've told you of Council member Lori Vargo Heffner's desire to micromanage what should be an independent pay study. I've detailed the misinformed derision that wannabe Council Solicitor Ron Hackman directed at Executive Lamont McClure's proposed gift ban ordinance. I've chronicled Council member John Cusick's desire to have vacancies among elected officials filled by election instead of lengthy appointments. But there's more. Council also considered, and not for the first time whether the Sheriff should be elected instead of appointed. They also pondered whether the Home Rule Charter needs an enema in the form of a government study commission,  They got contradictory answers from Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni on whether they, or the voters, ultimately decide on government study recommendations.

Council member John Goffredo noted that only two counties appoint the Sheriff and is leaning towards the belief that the people should make this call, as they do nearly everywhere else. He asked if there's any reason why the voters should not be asked to approve a change from appointed to elected by referendum. 

There is. This can only be done by establishing a home rule charter study commission. Council member John Cusick noted that some argue that changing the Sheriff from appointed to elected is a change in the form of government and would require a home rule study commission. Actually, there's no argument. In 2014, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court ruled that changing the Sheriff from elected to appointed would be a change in the form of government and hence would require the election of a government study commission. It necessarily follows that changing the Sheriff from appointed to elected is also a change in the form of government that would require a government study commission. 

At this point, wannabe County Council member Chris Spadoni suggested that it might be prudent to establish a government study commission. Cusick warned that this is a "potential can of worms. You could end up with three Commissioners and an elected Recorder of Deeds." 

Council member Ron Heckman asked Spadoni, who actually is the Solicitor, what Council does with the report of the government study commission. "To be clear, the voters have the say," was Spadoni's first answer. Thirty seconds later, Spadoni contradicted himself and said the County Council could decide which parts of the government study commission's recommendations go to the voters. 

His first answer was the correct one. The final decision on recommendations of a government study commission lies with the voters, not County Council.  

Heckman Fails To Understand Why Gift Ban Needed

Last week's meeting of Northampton County Council's so-called "governance" committee, dominated by Council member Ron Heckman, was actually its antithesis. The main topic was a gift ban ordinance (read it here) proposed several weeks ago by Executive Lamont McClure. It was repeatedly panned by Council member Ron Heckman, although he said he'd support it. He acted as Council Solicitor during portions of the meeting, providing incorrect answers to questions. County Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni not only failed to correct Heckman's errors, but instead acted as though he's now a member of County Council. He engaged in policy discussions with the rest of them. Here are some of Heckman's many complaints: 

"Are we going to have to be constantly looking over our shoulders?

"I wish somebody would invite me to a ball game.

"I think what's already there is clear. 

"You know when you've done something wrong.

"I don't know if we can ever legislate ethics

"Isn't that what the state Ethics Commission is there for?

"I don't have a problem with it in general"

"When you're out of office, you're lucky if they remember your name. I've had that happen on numerous occasions. 

"Isn't the law what the last judge in line says it is?

His remarks and questions betray a basic ignorance about the gift ban ordinance and why it's needed. This has absolutely nothing to do with the state Ethics Code or Ethics Commission. It goes beyond the state law.  It's designed to prevent public officials from trading on their public positions for favorable treatment by those doing business with the county. And yes, it happens. 

PFM Asset Management, which manages the county's hefty pension plan, has a box with the 76ers, Eagles and Phillies. It's good business and is used to keep customers happy. These include public employees. I'd be shocked if county officials would turn down the opportunity to go to a playoff game. 

In fact, in a story advocating a gift ban in Northampton County, a retired government worker had this insight: "Having worked in local government I can say that the amount of people accepting gifts is staggering. Tickets to sporting events (a big one), lunches, dinners, other gratuities were all something that I politely declined. We shouldn't need a gift ban to know the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately there is no shortage of people willing to take something for free when offered. This includes both elected officials and appointed staff members."

A public official who takes advantage of these percs commits no violation of state ethics law. So contrary to what Heckman asserts, the Ethics Commission would take no action if he attended a Phillies or Eagles game as a guest of PFM or any other county vendor. But it's certainly bad optics. Common Cause's Jay Keck has noted, "The real problem in my mind is one of perception. ... Public officials get preferential treatment by being offered these tickets ahead of the rest of the public. ... It creates real cynicism on the part of a lot of citizens about public officials and, frankly, I think public officials, to their detriment, accept things like this and don't think twice about the effect it's going to have on public morale."

That perception exists locally. In a post about yet another handout to ArtsQuest, I wondered whether elected officials get preferential treatment. A reader responded, "Of course elected officials receive tickets to premium ArtsQuest events. They are not always received directly from ArtsQuest, however. Blue Cross, LVHN and other organizations often purchase them in bulk and distribute them to elected officials and other dignitaries. At Musikfest this year, I encourage everyone to take a closer look at the VIP section of every headliner event. You are likely to recognize some of the faces." 

One example of this is Northampton County Council member Tara Zrinski. She even bragged about it. On her public official Facebook page, she has twice thanked ArtsQuest for "hosting" her. On August 10, she published a Facebook post that includes pictures of her with ArtsQuest CEO Kassie Hilgert during a concert. "Musikfest was awesome tonight," she effuses.  "What a great view. Thank you ArtsQuest and Kassie Hilgert for hosting us."

Hilgert responds, "Thank YOU for all of the support!"

This certainly implies a quid pro quo. It's definitely bad optics. Zrinski is a reliable Yes vote to ArtsQuest requests for county funding, VIP tickets at Musikfest can be expensive. I have no problem with Hilgert doing what she needs to do to secure funding, but have a big problem with Zrinski for certainly creating the impression that she's for sale.  She never responded to requests asking her to explain that incident and whether she accepts free meals and tickets to different events. 

So yes, it happens. And it does includes part-time elected officials like Heckman. 

Heckman claims that what's already there is clear. He's joined in this misimpression by Council member John Brown. Yes, a gift ban is our Home Rule Charter, and it's pretty clear. "No elected official, officer or employee shall receive benefit from the profits or emoluments of any contract, job, work or service for the County or accept anything of value, upon terms for favorable than those granted to the public generally, from any person dealing with the County.  No elected official, officer or employee shall solicit or receive anything of value from anyone dealing with the County. This subsection shall not be construed to prevent elected officials, officers or employees from accepting group discounts, group insurance or other economic advantages offered to all elected officials, officers and  employees."

But get this. The Administrative Code completely guts it. Iin violation of the Home Rule Charter, it actually allows officials to be wined, dined and even accept SuperBowl tickets.  They can accept meals and even cash for lodging, travel, and entertainment if invited to participate in some conference. This blatant deviation from our Home Rule Charter renders the gift ban meaningless. So when Council members John Brown and Ron Heckman say things are just fine as they are, what they are saying is that they have no problem with a meaningless Home Rule Charter. 

In reality, McClure's gift ban ordinance is needed to close a gigantic loophole created by the Administrative Code.  

His proposal is less draconian than Bethlehem's. It does allow for gifts of de minimis value. Heckman started ranting about the use of Latin. "Nobody has determined where that line exists," complained Council member Lori Vargo Heffner. That line is defined in the ordinance itself. It is "any property or service the value of which is so small as to make accounting for it unreasonable or administratively impracticable."  

Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni never told Vargo Heffner and other Council members that their question is answered by the language in the ordinance. He apparently never read the ordinance himself. 

If a Council member has a question whether an offered gift crosses that line, he or she should just say No. 

Another objection spun by Heckman is that people can just complain to the state Ethics Commission. That's false. There's nothing in the state Ethics Code that bans public employees or officials from accepting gifts. Spadoni failed to correct that misinformation, disseminated primarily by wannabe Solicitor Heckman, 

Council member Tara Zrinski, who arrived late to the discussion, worried that the gift ban ordinance could be weaponized to remove disliked Council members like herself from office. Wannabe Solicitor Heckman incorrectly told her that a violator can be removed. That's false. The only way an elected official can be removed from office is if he or she is convicted of an infamous crime or by the Governor after impeachment and conviction by the state legislature. Spadoni failed to correct this misinformation as well. 

There were some rays of sunlight. Council member John Cusick summed up his sentiments in two sentences. "I have nothing. I think that it's fine." Council member John Goffredo seemed to be on board. And other than having questions that could be answered by reading the ordinance and the charter, Vargo Heffner had no issues. Tom Giovanni was mercifully silent. 

It will pass unanimously, but Council members like Heckman and Brown made clear they dislike it. That's something to keep in mind should either seek re-election. 

Cusick: Vacancies in Elected Office Should Be Filled By Voters, Not Other Elected Officials

Richard "Bucky" Szulborski, Northampton County's Controller, was appointed by County Council in 2021 after Tony Bassil, the elected Controller, passed away. He was also appointed Controller in 2018, when Steve Barron resigned to become Executive Lamont McClure's fiscal director. I have high regard for Bucky.  The fact remains that for four of the past eight years, the county's fiscal watchdog has been selected by the very people he monitors. Should that change? County Council member John Cusick thinks so. At last week's meeting of County Council's governance committee, he suggested a change in the Home Rule Charter to ensure that vacancies are filled by elections as soon as possible. 

Under the Home Rule Charter, elected officials serve four-year terms. If an elected position becomes vacant, Council has the authority to appoint a replacement who serves until the next election. This has been construed to mean the next municipal election. 

Cusick maintains that appointments to vacancies in office should be as brief as possible so that voters, and not County Council, decide on who represents them. "I would rather see vacancies filled by a special election at the next election to be held, whether that be a general election or a primary ... . I don't want to see appointments for two years without someone facing the voters." He noted Council has made appointments for 23 and 27 months. "I think that's far too long to have an appointed person in an elected position."

Executive Lamont McClure said his office has done research on whether the county can conduct a special election for one of its vacant offices during an even year, which is when state and federal races are decided. He was unable to recall what was concluded but promised to forward that information to County Council. 

Council member Lori Vargo Heffner suggested that Council might want to avoid filling a vacancy in a Presidential, but Cusick disagreed. He noted that local referenda have been placed on the ballot during presidential races for things like open space. He said it might actually be a good thing to have many people weigh in on county government.     

NorCo Council Wants To Micromanage Pay Study

There are members of Northampton County Council who like to complain they are kept in the dark and excluded from what's happening. It's certainly true that there's been unnecessary tension between the Executive and County Council. But when did it start? I believe it was when then Council member Kerry Myers demeaned the Sheriff for refusing to allow deputies to break up a protest outside the courthouse following the election of Joe Biden. Myers stated that, if he were a deputy, he'd refuse to follow the Sheriff's orders because it might put his life in jeopardy.  Instead of admonishing these histrionics that undermined the authority of the county's top law enforcement official, County Council rewarded Myers and elected him President. So yeah, things have gone downhill. Now Council member Lori Vargo Heffner wants a progress report on the pay study they voted unanimously to approve on March 2. "I don't need to micromanage them, but I would like to have a conversation at the beginning," she states. But she did have a conversation with Bolton, the company doing the pay study, two weeks before the bid was awarded. Her desire for a mid-study report is an attempt to meddle in what should be an independent review. 

On February 15, Bolton's Dave Johnson laid put a timeline of approximately 12 weeks from beginning to end of study. County Council members had the opportunity to question Johnson about his proposal, and they did. So what possible purpose could Vargo Heffner have in summoning Bolton to Council now except to micromanage what is happening?

A suggestion was made to summon Bolton before the full Council, but Council member John Brown cautioned against doing so. He wants to hear from them at a committee meeting instead. He is fearful about exposing Bolton (and Council) "to the other forces that might be present at a full meeting." 

In other words, he's afraid of the unwashed masses as well as the people who work for the county who might want to speak out. 

Kinda' tells me what's really going on here. This is a turf war, and county workers are the unfortunate victims. 

Friday, May 19, 2023

Heckman Both For and Against McClure's Proposed Gift Ban Ordinance

Council member Ron Heckman, who is rarely at a loss for words, made perfectly clear that he is both for and against Executive Lamont McClure's proposed gift ban ordinance. He really hates the idea of "looking over my shoulder" every time he takes a freebee. He thinks the current ban which has so many holes  to render it meaningless, is just fine. But he's reluctantly willing to go along with a ban that actually does ban gifts.

He also complained that people stop saying Hello to you once you're out of office. 

Last night, Northampton County unanimously agreed to delay introduction for two weeks so Heckman can tweak it a bit. 

NorCo Council Addresses Staffing Shortage at Juvenile Justice Center

On April 21, a 16 year old teen stole a car near Cheston elementary school after the driver exited the vehicle with the engine still running. Pennsylvania State Police apprehended this youth an hour later in Ross Township, Monroe County. He was charged but was released to his mother because Northampton County's Juvenile Justice Center lacked the staffing to handle him. The very next day, this same teen carjacked another vehicle parked outside a Palmer Tp convenience store with its engine running. This time, an 8 year old girl was in the car.  When the driver saw the carjacking, she ran outside the store and tried to get in the car. She got a hand on the door, but was repelled and hit her head on pavement. Fortunately, the 8 year old (the driver's daughter) managed to unlock the door and jump out. This teen led police on a high speed chase before rolling the car in Upper Nazareth Tp. 

Northampton County Court Administrator Jermaine Greene and Juvenile Justice Center Director JaMarr Billman described this incident to Northampton County Council on Wednesday when discussing the staffing crisis at the county's Juvenile Justice Center (JJC). 

"This is a public crisis, guys, said Greene. "We gotta' stop playing around here."

The JJC is an 84-bed facility budgeted for 57 youth care workers. Right now, only 19 are employed, with no new hires in the pipeline despite efforts from Human Resources to get the word out. There's a serious staffing shortage at JJCs throughout the state, widely believed to be caused by low pay. Youth care workers, who must have at least an associate's degree, are only paid $16.46 an hour. The county has offered a new contract that mirrors the compensation paid to corrections officers, but union negotiators have declared an impasse and demanded arbitration. The matter has lingered for 17 months with no arbitration date in sight until yesterday, when a date was finally set for June 29.  

In an attempt to get staffing at the JCC, Greene has proposed eliminating 15 vacant, not filled, full-time youth care caseworker positions as well as 5 vacant, not filled, part-time youth care caseworker positions and replacing them with 13 assistant supervisor positions. These supervisory positions would include an annual salary of $49,721, but would be nonunion. 

There would still be 42 full-time youth care caseworker positions and 20 part-time youth care caseworker positions

This bothered the union. The same union that has dragged its feet about scheduling an arbitration. 

For some reason, this move also bothered the county administration. Human Resources Director Mary Lou Kaboly informed County Council that this move, if made without a memorandum of understanding with the union, could be perceived as an unfair labor practice.  This was disputed by Greene: "If the union disagrees with me, they can file a unit clarification petition with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, and they decide. Not me. Not you. Not the County Executive. Not the union. Let them decide."

Greene later explained, "I've been coming here since October 2021 to talk about the juvenile center and how badly we need staffing. Every time I come here, there's a roadblock. Every time I come here, there's something that you're getting a memo. Every time I come here, I'm subverted. It's always something. This isn't how we should be running county government."

Council member John Goffredo agreed. "Not for nothing, but this problem has existed as long as I've been here, and they have not made any progress at all. Finally we have a solution that Mr. Greene has come up with, with his people, and it seems like we're throwing up roadblocks." 

At last night's meeting, the same duo of Council members - Kevin Lott and Tara Zrinski - who have thrown up roadblock after roadblock to every staffing change suggested by Greene, continued that same pattern of obstruction. 

Latt and Zrinski first attempted to have Greene's staffing proposal tabled.  All seven remaining Council members voted No. 

After that failed, retired trade union agent Lott accused Greene of wanting to "knock the union out." He suggested that Council should wait until June 29 for the arbitration or create the supervisory positions without eliminating the union youth care positions. "I question Mr. Greene's motives. I think a big motive is getting the union out of this courthouse." He referred to the proposal as "union bustin'." 

Lott complained that a 2 to 1 ratio of supervisor to worker bee is ridiculous, and it is. But so is allowing a JJC to go unmanned and exposing the public to the criminal behavior of juvenile delinquents. So is refusing to provide treatment to children who need it./

Zrinski accused Greene of "circumventing the process of arbitration now that we have an arbitration date of June 29." She also called him "deceptive."

Council President Kerry Myers refused to allow Greene to respond to Zrinski's attack, but he later told her that questioning his integrity and ethics was "unacceptable to me."  

In response to a question from Goffredo, Greene said the assistant supervisors would be put to work as soon he could hire them, and he would have them working while the administration or union filed a unit clarification petition to determine union status.

Council member Ron Heckman asked Greene if he is trying to bust the union at JJC. Greene answered, "No, I'm not trying to bust the union. I'm trying to find solutions." He also was "a little apprehensive" about an arbitration date because he's been given four or five different dates. 

Executive Lamont McClure told Council that he would negotiate with the union to get the JJC exactly what the courts want. He indicated any resolution of the supervisory positions would come after the arbitration. He believes that the supervisory positions will likely be considered union.

"If this gets a fire lit to get this done, I'm all for it," said Council President Kerry Myers.  Greene's proposal was adopted 7-2. Council members Myers, Goffredo, Heckman, Lori Vargo Heffner, John Brown, Tom Giovanni and John Cusick voted Yes. Lott and Zrinski voted No. 

McClure Responds to Cusick Question About West Easton Work Release Facility

Yesterday, I told you that Northampton County Council member John Cusick questioned what was going on at the vacant work release facility in West Easton. Corrections Director James Kosura said there was no "immediate time" to re-open it. 

County Exec Lamont McClure had a more detailed answer at last night's Council meeting. He said the building is currently used for training by deputy sheriffs and corrections officers. "But I'm here to announce tonight that West Easton will be open next week."

McClure acknowledged that the facility was closed during COVID. The national public health emergency ended on May 11. McClure said that he was waiting for a new scanner to check inmates when they return from their jobs.

In other business, McClure announced that the County has received a $264,000 federal grant for solar panels at the Archives building. He expects this will produce enough energy that ot will both power the building and provide energy the county can cell. The county also has solar panels at the forensic center, which provides most of the energy consumed there.  

Thursday, May 18, 2023

NorCo Council Poised to Consider McClure's Proposed Gift Ban

Pennsylvania is among a minority of states that still allow gifts from vendors and prospective vendors so long as they are disclosed. Northampton County's Home Rule Charter ostensibly banned them, but the subsequently adopted Administrative Code created so many exceptions that it rendered the gift ban completely meaningless. Elected and appointed officials and county employees could attend an Eagles game or ArtsQuest concert with a prospective vendor sitting next to him and do no wrong. Most of us need no one to tell us this is wrong, if only because it undermines public confidence in honest government. For the rest, there's a gift ban. 

In April, Executive Lamont McClure proposed a comprehensive gift ban (you can read it here) similar to one imposed by Governor Josh Shapiro for executive employees.  Yes, you can accept items of de minimis value like a bottle of water or bag of chips. But it will prevents public officials from accepting gifts from anyone who has or wants a relationship with the county. 

I know of very few NorCo elected or public officials who have used their office to grease vendors . But it happens, perhaps without realize that it makes that official and everyone around him or her look corrupt. 

It is my hope that all nine Council members would want to sponsor this proposal. 

NorCo Election Analysis - A Tale of Two Cities

Easton and Bethlehem are Northampton County's only two cities. They are located in close proximity to each other. Easton has a slightly lower income, but Bethlehem has a slightly higher poverty rate. Easton has a slightly more diverse population, but both cities are far more diversified than the rest of the county. Both are Democratic strongholds. Despite these similarities, they voted a lot differently on Tuesday.  

Bethlehem - In the DA race, challenger Steve Baratta completely smoked Houck, 2,654 to 1,353, He took every single precinct, and walked away with 67% of the Democratic vote. But in the judicial race, Democrat Brian Panella barely squeaked by Republican Nancy Aaroe. He pulled in 1,961 votes to 1,890 for Aaroe, giving him a bare majority of 51%. In the Controller's race, Tara Zrinski defeated Nadeem Qayuum, 2422 to 1416,in the Democratic primary. She captured 63% of the vote. But interestingly, Qayuum won in the poorer precincts. 

Easton - It was completely different in Easton. In the DA race, Houck defeated Baratta, 1135 to 1079, capturing 51.3% of the vote. It was no blowout, but a win's a win. In the judicial race, Panella destroyed Aaroe, 1,374 votes to 659, with 68% of the vote. And in the Controller's race, Qayuum beat Zrinski, 1369 to 746, getting 62% of the vote. 

Why did Qayuum win in Easton? Of course, that's where where he lives and campaigned the hardest. Buy why did he also win in the poorer sections of Bethlehem (Wards 1N, 1S, 2-5, 16 & 17) while getting trounced elsewhere?

Why did Panella do so poorly in Bethlehem compared to Easton? How could Houck get demolished in Bethlehem yet win in Easton?  These are my guesses. 

First, just as the Morganelli mafia was after Houck, I suspect they wanted to embarrass Panella as well.  

Second, Easton is less impressed by money than Bethlehem. Easton rejected a City Council candidate who raised three times as much money as all other city council candidates combined.  So the fact that Baratta raised twice as much money as Houck meant nothing in Easton. 

Third, Houck and Panella got help in Easton from guys like top vote getter Frank Pintabone. Bethlehem's elected officials are too busy looking at themselves in the mirror to be much use to anyone. 

Fourth, in Easton, nobody gives a shit about LGBTQ?&# or plastic straws. I think there's a difference between actual working poor and the faux liberals, most of them the white well-heeled females who make up Zrinski's base. They call themselves allies but had no problem making classist and xenophobic comments about Qayuum. The working poor are more interested in putting food on the table than listening to a tirade against plastic straws or sludge.  But in the more foo foo sections of the Christmas City, where people drive hybrids and want back yard chickens so they can pretend they're helping the planet, someone like Tara is just right.  

Why do you think there was such a difference between the voting in Bethlehem and Easton.?  I threw out my guesses, but I'm very interested in what you think. 

Cusick Asks Why County Pays Rent For Vacant Work Release Facility

West Easton wirk release center
At a NorCo Council Committee hearing yesterday, Corrections Director James Kostura was pitching the creation of some new positions at the jail when Council member John Cusick had this exchange with him:  

"How's the West Easton facility? What's going on with that?"

    - "Right now we have West Easton still remained secured at this time. I'm able to handle the numbers up at the main institution and we're looking down the road to possibly opening that up again."

"We're currently paying rent for that facility and it is unoccupied."

    - "That is correct."

"Ok, and there's no immediate timetable to use it?"

    - "Not at this time. I don't have an immediate time. No, sir."

Alright, thank you." 

Later in the meeting, Council member Ron Heckman asked Kostura how much rent is paid by the county. Kostura, understandably, was unable to say off the top of his head. 

Northampton County's work release facility in West Easton was closed during the COVID-19 outbreak. When it started up again last year, there apparently was no need to use the West Easton facility. 

Northampton County Council unanimously approved a five-year lease for the West Easton facility at its March 17, 2022 meeting for an annual rent of $436,000, with the rent increasing every year with the cost of living. The lease provides that if the county ends it, it must pay the full balance of the lease. 

Cusick's question exposed an area of possible waste of county resources. If there's no need for use as a work release facility, it could be used to temporarily house other county departments that need more room. 

His question is typical of the kinds of questions he has asked as a Council member. It's why he should be Controller. 

(Tomorrow I'll bring you the latest in Court Administrator Jermaine Greene's quest to get the juvenile justicve center staffed)

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

When Will Write-In Victors Be Known?

Canvassing (the official tally) of  Northampton County's election begins Friday, most likely in the training room located across the hall from County Council chambers on the courthouse's third floor. The write-in votes in each precinct will be printed out and processed, precinct by precinct, by a canvass board that includes at least Democrat and one Republican. This process is open to the public. It should take several days. This is the same system that has always been used for write-in votes. They just take time to count, and are counted in a way that leaves no room for doubt. 

Northampton County's District Attorney's race includes 2,118 Republican write-ins. That pattern has been repeated on a smaller scale in several other races. 

In County Council District 1 (Bethlehem area), where Republican Bill Rowe mounted a write-in campaign, there are 451 GOP write-ins. In County Council District 2 (Easton Area), where Democrat-turned Republican Kerry Myers sought write-in votes, there are 299 GOP write-ins. In the Upper Mount Bethel Supervisor's race, 563 Democratic write-in votes must be counted. In the Bethlehem City Council race, where Republican James Follweiler is seeking a spot, there are 178 write-ins. In Easton's Mayoral contest, where Republican Tim Reilly is running, there are 149 GOP write-ins.

Did Rowe and Myers Win GOP Nods With Write-ins?

Ken Kraft and Kelly Keegan are  the Democratic nominees for County Council District 1 (Bethlehem) and 2 (Easton) respectively. But both are facing write-in challenges on the Republican side. Republican Bill Rowe, who was bounced from the ballot, is running a write in campaign in the Bethlehem District. Kerry Myers, who was eliminated from the Easton District ballot, became a Republican and is seeking GOP  help.

Kraft and Keegan have countered by seeking Republican write-in votes, too. 

To win a write-in nomination for NorCo Council, a candidate must get 250 write-in votes 

In the Bethlehem District, there are 451 Republican write-ins.  In the Easton District, there are 299. 

The canvassers are going to be very busy. 

Sheila Alvarado Tops Dems in Race For Four Lehigh County Comm'r Seats

Sheila Alvarado, a legislative aide to State Rep. Peter Schweyer, was the top vote getter among seven candidates for four seats on Lehigh County's Board of Comm'rs. She pulled in 13,364 votes, followed by Danny Hartzell (13,115), April Riddick (10,472) and Jon Irons (10.327).

Democrats Victor Martinez, Michael Blichar and Joe Setton fell short. 

Four Republicans - Paul Moat, Rita Sisselberger, Gary S Fedorcha and Jackie Rivera - ran unopposed for the Republican nod. They will face the top for Democrats in November. 

Laird, Colon and Callahan Win Bethlehem City Council Seats

Political newcomer Colleen Laird won the most votes in the race for the Democratic nomination to three seats on Bethlehem City Council. She attracted 3,784 supporters, followed by incumbent Michael Colon (3,352) and former Council member Bryan Callahan (2,441).

Following the winning candidates were Celeste Dee (2,391) and Ricky Butler (2,391). 

Two Republicans - Devin Brunges and Tom Ginther - ran unopposed. James Follweiler waged a write-in campaign for the thrid Republican spot. Whether he was successful will be determined when the votes are formally canvassed. 

Allentown Keeps Its Three City Council Incumbents

Allentown Democrats have voted to keep incumbent Council members Ce-Ce Gerlach, Santo Napoli and Candida Affa around for another four years.  They were the top vote getters in a field of seven candidates. Gerlach led all candidates with 2,765 votes, followed by Napoli (2,270) and Affa (1,921)

The winning candidates were followed by Luis Acevedo (1,725), Sarina Torres (1,585), Rodney Bushe (1,335) and Tino Babayan (1,101). 

I'm a bit shocked that a person who dropped an underage runaway at a tent city, where he was sexually propositioned, would be the top vote getter. But that's me.

Source: Lehigh County Election Results

Frank Pintabone Top Vote Getter in Easton City Council Race

I was right and wrong about Frank Pintabone. I told you I expected him to win one of three seats on Easton City Council, and he did. I told him there was no way he could come out ahead of Kenny Brown, but he did. He led all seven candidates with 1.252 votes. Brown is close behind with 1,114.  The race for the third spot is very close, and cold change once county election officials begin their canvass. Right now, Crystal Rose has the lead for spot #3 with 1,025 votes. But Ken Greene is just 37 votes behind her. 

I'm sorry to say that two-term Council member David O'Connell won only 620 votes and was defeated. 

I'll tell you how Frank captured the top spot in a day or two. 

Source: Northamptonvotes.com

NorCo Judge Race: Panella and Aaroe To Face Each Other in the General

Two candidates are running to replace Steve Baratta as a Northampton County judge. Brain Panella, a Democrat, and Nancy Aaroe, a Republican, cross-filed. As might be expected, each candidate won the nomination of his and her party. 

Panella won the Democratic nod with 1,098 votes to 9,960 cast for Aaroe. He got 57% of the Democratic vote.

Aaroe captured the Republican nomination  by more than 2 to 1 over Panella. She received 10,932 votes to just 4,223 for Panella. That's a 72% landslide on the Republican side.  

Source: Northamptonvotes.com

Panto Beats Melan in Easton, But Could Face a Republican in November

Should six-term Easton Mayor Sal Panto serve for a seventh? Democratic voters think so, and by a 2-1 margin. Panto received 1,629 votes, while Melan attracted 704. Panto picked up 70% of the vote. Four years ago, when he faced Taiba Sultana, Panto raked in 75%. Melan was a stronger candidate than Sultana, but this was still a landslide for Easton's longtime top public servant.  

Despite his overwhelming victory, Panto might be facing a Republican challenge. Tim Reilly mounted a last-minute write-in push. Canvassers will be sorting through 149 write-in votes to see if Reilly or anyone else has secured enough votes to claim the Republican nod. 

Source: Northamptonvotes.com

NorCo DA Election: Baratta Snags Dem Nod, But Houck Likely Captured GOP Write-In

On Monday, I told you all the reasons why DA Terry Houck would win his re-election campaign.  Once again, I was the kiss of death. But I stand by that prediction. It's just going to take a bit longer than I thought. I did expect Terry to prevail, but Steve Baratta won the Democratic nomination rather handily, both in mail-in ballots and in-person voting. He garnered 12,932 votes to 10,792 for Terry. He got 54% of the Democrats. 

I congratulate Steve for his victory, but it's pyrrhic,  This race will continue. That's because there are 2,118 Republican write-ins to be canvassed. Once that happens, it's very likely that Terry Houck, a Democrat, will be the Republican nominee. 

If he keeps his Democratic support, he should win in November. Houck wants to represent everyone. Baratta has made clear he's only interested in Democrats. 

Ray Lahoud, a major Baratta donor and supporter, told me he intends to challenge every single write-in vote that went to Houck.  

You can see the election results here