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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, June 30, 2023

NorCo Controller Richard "Bucky" Szulborski Has Passed Away

Northampton County Controller Richard "Bucky" Szulborski has died. according to a county news release. 

Szulborski served on Bethlehem City Council for 12 years before voluntarily stepping down in 1995. He was first appointed Controller in  2018 to serve the unexpired term of Steve Barron after his confirmation as Fiscal Affairs Director. He was appointed again in 2021 to fill the unexpired term of Tiny Bassil after he died in office. 

Szulborski was highly regarded by members of both parties, but never ran for the position, only serving as an interim Controller.  

Szulborski has an extensive record of community service to various organizations, including Camelot for Children, the Catholic Youth Organization, the Sun Inn Preservation Association, the Bethlehem Recreation Commission, the Bethlehem Fine Arts Commission and the Bethlehem Area Public Library Board. He was also a regular judge in various beauty pageants and forged long-lasting friendships with many of the contestants. 

He loved Pennsylvania Dutch food, and often regaled me with stories of his trips to the Amish country.

He and I at one time had lunch together nearly every day at the courthouse cafeteria, and were together working on finding the culprit who was stealing salt and pepper shakers, left and right. 

That mystery remains unsolved, but I expect Bucky will let me know from his new vantage point. 

He had a corny sense of humor. He told me that you if you cut the edges off of pills, you remove the side effects.

Executive Lamont McClure lamented the loss of Bucky so soon ofter Tony Bassil had passed on."The passing of Tony Bassil was a devastating personal and professional loss to us. The passing of Bucky only magnifies the grief we feel and highlights the tremendous value both gentlemen brought to the Office of Northampton County Controller.”

I have no information on funeral arrangements and will update this story when I learn the details. 

Sultana Claims She's Only Easton Council Member Who Cares About Black and Brown Community

Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana claimed at Wednesday night's meeting of Easton City Council that she's the only elected official in Easton who cares about the black and brown community. This no doubt came as a shock to City Council VP Kenny Brown, He grew up in the throes of poverty, first in Philly and then in Easton public housing. His brother Carl went down the dark side, committing numerous armed robberies.  He was killed by Easton police, who informed young Ken that "we killed your n----r brother." I think it's safe to say Brown cares. He's spent a lifetime proving it. Sultana appears to be using the recent arrest of a well-known black activist to paint all other Easton officials, even those who are black, as racist.  

Here's some background. On May 31, Easton activist Lance Wheeler was arrested by Wilson Borough police while in the midst of conducting a donation drive for the victims of a fire on Ferry Street. He allegedly threatened three students while driving a school van for the Wilson Area School District. I spoke with him afterwards, and he told me his arrest was politically retribution by DA Terry Houck (Lance backed Steve Baratta, Terry's opponent) and Easton Mayor Sal Panto (who has no authority to tell his own police department who to arrest, to say nothing of Wilson Borough police). Council member Taiba Sultana was with Wheeler and filmed his arrest, focusing on Easton police officers.  "I am outraged," she writes. "This is crazy," she says, as others use vulgar language and claim incorrectly that Wheeler was arrested for helping the community. Wheeler himself is shouting obscenities at DA Terry Houck as he is led away.

I learned from Wheeler himself that he rejected pleas from Wilson police to come in and take care of the arrest. He knew they were coming. He also insisted on being cuffed. After all, it makes the video that much more dramatic. At the time that Sultana was expressing her outrage, she was apparently unaware that what happened was essentially a PR stunt.

Easton police were present for Wheeler's arrest. This is standard protocol when one jurisdiction comes into another to make an arrest. They had nothing to do with the arrest or the underlying charges. Wilson Borough police wanted this wrapped up quickly. Wheeler is a constable and owns multiple firearms. Though it's highly unlikely, they have to consider the possibility of a standoff had they given a person accused of assault and terroristic threats the time to get angry at being charged. 

Easton police were upset by Sultana's video. It certainly implies they acted arbitrarily, and they  registered their concerns with Easton Mayor Sal Panto and Council member Kenny Brown. They in turn relayed those concerns to Sultana at a committee meeting earlier this month. Unfortunately, there is no video, but the Express Times reported that Sultana became defensive. 

That should have been the end of it. Sultana was "outraged" to see someone arrested in the midst of collecting donations. She thinks police should have waited until he was finished for the day.  Gee, what if he had been accused of rape or murder? Would she still be "outraged"? Once she learned that Wheeler basically gave Wilson Borough police no choice and insisted on being cuffed, and that Easton police played no role in what had happened, a "Never mind!" was far more appropriate than "I am outraged." Instead of toning down the temperatures a bit, an angry Sultana doubled down at Easton City Council on Wednesday night. (You can see the video here). Here are excerpts:

Sultana: "I have every single right to express how I feel. ... I am a minority, a woman, an immigrant, a Muslim, and I want every race of human being who live in the City of Easton to be treated equally, not marginalized and targeted. ... Any woman who stands behind this podium and asks questions has been intimidated by the male elected officials and it's on record.  ... I refuse to accept the status quo and will not allow a group of men to intimidate a woman of color."


"They think the black and brown community is criminal and dangerous ... ."

Panto: "I don't understand what you're upset about because what the police chief and I were looking for was an apology. Whether you want to give our Easton police an apology or not, that's up to you. I never wanted to silence your voice. All I was pointing out was that our police department was there because the warrant served by the Wilson Borough Police and the DA's office was there [in Easton]. Mr. Wheeler was given the chance, a phone call, to turn himself in; he chose not to.  He was given a chance of not being handcuffed; he chose not to. Our police were there solely because the warrant was being served in the City of Easton. ... You put them on the video, not the Wilson police. "

Brown: "As an African American person, I cannot allow myself to look on just one side of the fence. ... Whenever you're in the position that we're in, we've got to be very careful about the things that we do, and the things we say in public because, more times than not, that information that we're disseminating outward can be looked upon in a bad way. And no, I don't think Council woman meant to do it in a bad way, but I believe we need to take a step back and let the process work. That's what I was trying to say."

Sultana went on to insist that she receive a public apology from Panto. "You all ganged up on me," she complained. "You ganged up on 63 police officers," responded Panto.  Brown declinedto apologize, saying that he was just trying to share what he's learned after 36 years of public service. He noted Sultana's Facebook post resulted in people accusing him and Panto of ordering Wheeler's arrest.

Brown: "You don't know my story. You don't know where I came from. You don't know I lived in the worst project in the United States of America, in North Philadelphia. You don't know that I was drawn into a gang and got transferred out of Philadelphia to come up here. You don't know my story. You only know where you came in at. I fight hard for this city. I fight hard to represent my family. my friends and my community because of one thing - I made a solemn promise to my brother on his death bed that I would never, ever, ever give up and that I would fight to change our name to the good. I think I've done that. I carry that on my sleeve and I would never allow anyone to tell me I don't fight for anyone. I don't care if you're white, black, yellow. It has nothing to do with it."

Ironically, the meeting ended when a black woman named Jackie - one of the very people Sultana claims to champion - told Sultana that she was at the courthouse on the day Wheeler was arrested and learned there was a warrant for him. She advised Wheeler of the warrant, and she claims he told her he wanted to be arrested.

No One in a Suit With White Socks Should Ever Be Taken Seriously

Wednesday night, Allentown City Council unanimnously confirmed Nadeem Eli Shahzad as the City's new Human Resources Director. The City has been having trouble finding someone after advertising twice and even using a search firm. I doubt Shahzad will last very long. As Candida Affa observed, he wears a lot of hats and appears to be stretched thin. He's never lasted long in any one location, has been involved in litigation with one of his former employers, and frankly, is something of a bullshit artist. His effusive praise for Mayor Tuerk, which he claims came from 7-11 customers, was a bit much. But I have a much bigger problem than these minor details. It's that no person who wears a suit with white socks should ever be taken seriously.

Don't get me wrong. I'm hardly known for my sartorial splendor. But when I see some guy in s suit with white socks, I immediately think of Jimmy Hoffa. That's why the mob took him out.  

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Gross Unanimously Confirmed as Allentown's New Solicitor

At a special meeting of Allentown City Council last night, Attorney John F "Jack" Gross was unanimously confirmed as Allentown's Solicitor. He succeeds Matt Kloiber, who has resigned to pursue an opportunity in the private sector. 

Mayor Matt Tuerk told Council he was very thankful for the services that Kloiber provided, After Kloiber informed him in early May that he would be stepping down, he approached Gross as one of the first lawyers he got to know after moving to the Queen City. He said he was "incredibly pleased and honored" that Gross would consider this new role. He called the Solicitor an "incredibly important position." He said every decision he makes is first vetted by the legal department.  

Though Gross' salary was originally set at $50,000, there was a possibility that the actual amount paid could be much higher, depending on billable hours. The parties agreed to an annual payment of $70,000, with the understanding that it would be capped at that amount. 

Tuerk said Gross would be paid annually, with no benefits. 

Gross is the grandson of John "Jack" Gross and great-grandson of Malcolm Gross, both of whom served as Mayors of Allentown. He said he considered the nomination "an honor."

Council member Cynthia Mota told Gross, "I like the fact that you went to Allentown Schools." He graduated from William Allen High School. "I went to Dieruff," joked Council President Daryl Hendricks. 

Council member Ce-Ce Gerlach asked whether Gross donated to any members of City Council and was told he had not.

Council member Santo Napoli, who has been represented by Gross, called him a person of  "the highest integrity." 

Gross is the managing partner at Allentown's Gross McGinley law firm. 

In other business, Nadeem Eli Shahzad was unanimously confirmed as Human Resources Director with an annual salary of $128,000.

Mayor Matt Tuerk told City Council that he advertised for the position twice, and received no qualified applicants. He had to use a search firm. He said public sector experience is "critically important." Shahzad's interest in Human Resources is in "serving people," said the Mayor. He will have to update an employee handbook that has needed one since 2009 and change a culture in which employees are disrespected. 

"Human Resources is one of the most important functions we have," said Shahzad. He called Allentown's 800 employees "ambassadors" for the city. He is a Pakistani immigrant who came her with $200. He has two Master's degrees from Villanova and Long Island University. He worked for Nassau County and several other public entities for 10 years, and has also worked in the private sector. He is also an adjunct professor. 

He told Council member Ed Zucal that he currently lives in New Jersey, but if confirmed, will establish residence in Allentown. 

Council member Candida Affa told Shahzad that he wears many hats, but HR Director is a demanding position. "My major responsibility is where my paycheck comes from," said Shahzad. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Violent Crime in Bethlehem Has Dropped Dramatically Over Past Three Years

Kristen Wenrich, Director of Bethlehem's Health Bureau, provided a City Council Committee with her department's 2022 Community Needs Assessment yesterday. It's something the Health Bureau does every three years. Here are some interesting highlights: 

1) Violent Crime Has Dropped Dramatically Over the Last Three Years - "Violent crimes in Bethlehem have dropped from 376.31 per 100,000 in 2019 to 273.1 in 2022.

"The most common types of violent crimes that occur within the City of Bethlehem are thefts (stealing personal property), followed far behind by burglaries (breaking into a home or building) and robberies (stealing from someone using violent force).

"Despite this, the overwhelming majority of residents surveyed (90.6%, SLUHN 2021) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement 'Bethlehem is a safe place to live'."

2) Bethlehemites Like Fruit, But Are Still Couch Potatoes. - Bethlehemites tend to eat more fruit than the rest of the Lehigh Valley. They are more active than the rest of the Lehigh Valley, but nearly 1/4 of them have been physically inactive for over a month.   

It's probably all that fruit. 

3) The Big C is Bethlehem's Biggest Killer. - Cancer kills 164 per 100,000 people in Bethlehem, followed by heart disease and accidental deaths.  

For some reason, this assessment fails to list COVID, which has killed 320 Bethlehemites since March 2020. 

4) Mental Health A Top Priority in Bethlehem. - "41.8% of Bethlehem residents report their mental health status as 'Not Good' in the past 30 days. This is higher than Pennsylvania (39%) and the United State (38.5%), and up from 37.5% in 2019.

"15% of Bethlehem residents have some type of mental health diagnosis, up from 12% in 2019, but less than Pennsylvania as a whole (19%)."

5) Bethlehem Police Do Respond to Mental Health Calls - "Of the 535 Community Connect Referrals Bethlehem Police Department responded to in 2021-2022, 50 (9.3%) were for depression and 48 (9.0%) were for suicidal ideation for a total of 18.3%."

Wenrich's data concerning prenatal care and pregnancy outcomes is outdated. Apparently, the state Department of Health has failed to update its data since 2016. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Jack Gross Will Be Paid $50k If Confirmed As Allentown's New Solicitor

 Allentown Communications Manager Genesis Ortega told me yesterday that Attorney John "Jack" Gross will be paid $50,000 if confirmed on Wednesday as Allentown's new Solicitor. 

"You mean $150,000, right?"

"No, I said $50,000." 

That's a pretty good deal for a very well-established attorney whose grandfather (also named Jack) and great-grandfather (Malcolm) both served the City as Mayor. In fact, Jack's father, another Malcolm, has written a riveting piece about "Jack's Five Years" as Allentown Mayor. It's no puff piece. He criticizes his father as much as he praises him.  I came away from that realizing that elected officials should try top think 25-50 years ahead before deciding on any policy. 

Gross was a little reticent to talk about his appointment, noting that it must be confirmed by City Council.

I suspect he will be unanimously confirmed.

Matt Kloiber was a full-time Solicitor, but Gross will continue the tradition of part-time Solicitors with established reputations. He told me that his firm, and not he, is Whitehall Township's Solicitor. He advised me that in event of a conflict, that matter can be handled by a conflicts counsel.  

Robert the Cyclist

My grandson Dat and I try to ride together at least once a week, usually on the Ironton Trail. But on Sunday, we rode the Tatamy Trail into downtown Easton, and from there along the D&L to the Bethlehem boat launch.  We could have gone farther, but we turned around to beat the rain. Anyway, just as we were getting on our bikes, a fellow named Robert stopped us. He liked Dat's Cannondale, and wanted a picture.  We got to talking and he had a pretty compelling story, which I'll share without identifying him. 

He's a little younger than I, and just started cycling. In that time, he has lost 25 lbs. He was on blood pressure medication and has been able to stop. But he was hurting. He had ridden 500 miles that week. They were on a Trek Domane. He rides that bike at close to 24 mph, which blows my mind. When we saw him, he was on a more relaxing Trek FX2, on which he still averages about 14 mph.  That's still a little faster than me.  

Cycling is great exercise. More importantly, it's fun. 

Monday, June 26, 2023

UPDATED: Gross Scion Tapped As Allentown's New Solicitor

John F. "Jack" Gross, a scion of Allentown's Gross family, has been tapped by Mayor Matt Tuerk to serve as its newest solicitor. He's a grandson of John T "Jack" Gross, who served as Allentown's Mayor between 1960-1964. He's a great grandson of Malcolm T Gross, who was Allentown's Mayor from 1920-1932 and 1936-1940. 

Gross is a graduate of Muhlenberg College (magna cum laude, 1994) and Villanova University School of Law (cum laude, 1998). He's managing partner at Gross McGinley and serves as Solicitor in Whitehall Township. 

I am presuming that, f confirmed, he will resign as Whitehall Township Solicitor to avoid any perceived conflict of interest between Allentown and Whitehall Township. 

Gross will be succeeding Matthew Kloiber, who has served as City Solicitor since June 2019. When he was confirmed, it was as a full-time solicitor. It is unclear where Kloiber will practice. 

Kloiber was confirmed as a full-time Solicitor. Traditionally, City Solicitors are part-time.  

UPDATED 9:45 AM: Kloiber explains departure. - "Four years is a standard term - it is a natural ending point. I had a excellent opportunity arise that I will be going to, but I wanted to finish that four year period first. Returning to the private world was the right choice at this point for my family. I wanted to give enough time for the Mayor to select a replacement so that it would be seamless." 

Attorney Kloiber also provided his resignation letter, in which he thanks Mayor Tuerk for his "commitment to the city, its residents, its employees and its laws ... ." 

Allentown Must Hate Nathan's Hot Dogs

Allentown businessman Nat Hyman was able to persuade Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs to open a franchise in the city. But instead of operating out of  a brick-and-mortar building, he's using a trailer at his 328 W Linden Street location. At the rate things are going, he's never be able to build the restaurant he'd like at that location. And for that, you can thank Allentown's cumbersome bureaucracy. 

You can see Hyman's proposed building in the picture accompanying this story. It's a 1,300 sq ft structure with a drive-thru and walk-up window. There's no indoor dining. It's hardly complicated, and he has zoning approval. 

Here's where things get interesting. 

Allentown, like many municipalities, requires a third-party review of building plans.  This is supposed to expedite the permitting process by allowing a recognized independent agency to review the structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, architectural and accessibility requirements of a building project. This enables the developer to address any issues before plans are approved.  That's what Hyman did and he addressed all issues that were raised. But guess what? Allentown, unlike other municipalities, insists on conducting its own review of submitted plans after the third party review is completed. Hyman's proposed restaurant got hit with 63 comments from Allentown's planners.

To make matters worse, Hyman could address all comments, resubmit and have Allentown planners come back with 63 more comments. 

All this delay is costly to a developer, especially if he has borrowed money to finance a project. 

This is why nobody wants to build in Allentown. Hyman told me he can go to any other community and "be welcomed with open arms and get double the rent," but not in his own home town. "With the present bureaucracy, I will not build," be told me. 

Friday, June 23, 2023

McClure Vetoes Term Limits Proposal

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure has vetoed three County Council ordinances that would allow county voters to decide whether county elected offices should be term-limited. 

On June 15, County Council voted 6-3 to ask voters whether the County Exec should be limited to two terms and Council member limited to three. They also voted 6-2, with one abstention, to ask voters whether the Controller should be limited to two terms. 

In his veto message, McClure expresses no opinion on the relative merits of term limits. Her instead notes that Council, which repeated expressed the need to be "consistent," was inconsistent. Language pertaining to the County Executive differed from language pertaining to Controller and Council.  He refers to it as an "inadvertent ambiguity" that casts "series [sic] doubt" on Council's real intentions. He's returning the term limits ordinances so County Council  can make them consistent.

Since County Council is about to introduce a term limits ordinance limiting the DA to two terms, it's probably a wise idea to be as clear as possible. These are, after all, Home Rule Charter amendments. 

I'd add that, instead of just limiting their discussion to themselves, County Council would benefit from the input that can be provided by former DAs, Controllers and Executives as well as an examination of what other counties do. 

I have no problem with allowing the voters to weigh in on this issue. Given the low regard in which all elected officials are held, it would almost certainly pass overwhelmingly. But at the same time, there's been no public clamor for term limits on the county level. Thius strikes more more as a talking point for some Council members in future races. 

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez: The Democrat Republicans Don't Want You to Know About

The Democratic party has rightly come under fire in recent years for being elitist and out of touch with middle America. Locally, we see this in an out-of-touch Bethlehem City Council that rejects a partnership to stop human trafficking because it involves ICE. We see it in an Allentown citizens' initiative, pushed by well-heeled suburbanites. to limit police response to 9-1-1 calls. Nationally, it's even worse. But there are still centrist Democrats. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a 34 yo Washington auto shop owner who was elected to Congress, is one of them. Here are some excerpts of what she has said:

Crime: "It’s relevant to our lives. I had my [shop] windows broken four times last year. So yeah, I’m pissed off. I’m going to talk about it, you know? It’s a grind, and it gets expensive and demoralizing. I think that for a lot of people that sort of live in these silos, they are not as cognizant of it. And I think maybe that’s why it was not more of a campaign issue for more people."

Congress needs more normal people:  "Sometimes I look around the room, and I wonder: How many people here file their own taxes? How many people are on a waitlist for daycare or pump their own gas? Or know what it is to be an average American?"

Culture Wars: "If I'm talking about culture wars stuff, I'm not doing my job. ... If I’m talking about what Marjorie Taylor Greene [R-Ga.] wore, or the crazy thing that she just said, people in my district don't really care. That's not what keeps them up at night.

"I should be thinking about the things that are keeping them up at night, or the things that they're afraid to tell their friends about — their credit card debt, or that they're afraid that their kids are going to relapse. Those are the things that should be what we're talking about.

"But I think that, often, the media can get more entertainment focused. It's not fun to think about how we're going to balance the budget — it's complex. Thinking hurts; it's painful to sit down and hash out those issues and understand them.”

Environmentalism: "We’ve turned environmentalism into another brand of consumerism. Go buy a Tesla, you’re an environmentalist. I think being an environmentalist is being able to fix your own shit, like stopping an oil leak from going in the river, getting 500,000 miles out of your Honda Civic. The middle class has kind of been made to feel like [environmentalism is] a luxury good. That if you’re wealthy, you can have good air quality, and you can afford to breastfeed your baby instead of using formula."

American Workforce: "We have to start rebuilding the American workforce. We’re all part of the generation where the best trade schools got turned into computer programming schools. Now we’re all on waitlists to see an electrician, plumber or carpenter. Those are the jobs that can’t get offshored — that’s the long-term economic health of our country. So, support for career and technical education programs is key. Ensuring that you can use Pell Grants not just for two- and four-year colleges, but also for apprenticeship programs."

Pickleball, Anyone?

NorCo Parks Director Bryan Cope boasted to NorCo Council last week that Louise Moore Park has the most and best pickleball courts in the county. Since opening, they are attracting as many as 50 people at a time, starting at 7:30 am. "Everyone is very, very happy and the word is definitely getting out," said Cope. 

Most of those people are there to see me, reigning champion of the PPPA (Professional Pickleball Players Ass'n). Occasionally, I put on clinics there. Like a chess grandmaster, I've been easily defeating players on multiple courts simultaneously. Just last week, I clobbered Gracedale residents in one set and Shafer Elementary School kids in another. Gracedale's geriatrics had no idea what hit them, but at least they weren't little crying like the little brats from grade school. I just laughed at them. I concluded with an exhibition match against Lamont McClure, who had to be rushed to the hospital after three minutes of play. "I'd rather be going to an exclusive employee health clinic," he muttered as they carted him away. 


Thursday, June 22, 2023

Biden's Blunder

US Secy of State Antony Blinken has just returned from a trip to China in an attempt to ease tensions between the world's superpowers. He returned alive, so in that sense, the trip was a success. But he was unable to even wrangle an agreement in which the militaries of both nations could establish communications to avoid confrontations. I see no reasonable justification for this refusal by China, and suspected that stance to change. 

Not anymore. 

President Joe Biden has single-handedly sabotaged any diplomatic success by his own Secretary of State by calling Xi JinPeng a dictator

Biden, of course, is correct. But the timing of his remarks pretty much destroyed any thaw. 

My Main Problem With Biden (Aside From His Age)

I still sometimes think and act like I'm 27, but I'm 72. If I skip exercise for just one day, as I did yesterday, my body falls apart. Tonight, I had to walk a mile just to get loose. My hip constantly bothers me unless I take Aleve. I actually get tired at night. If I fall off my bike, it takes a few weeks to heal. Though I think my mental faculties are still pretty good, I did spend an hour a few days ago looking for glasses that were on the top of my head. Whether I like it or not, I'm old. Joe Biden is 80. Donald Trump is 77. Like me, they are past their expiration dates. Based solely on their age, I could never vote for either of them. While both of them can be likable, I have problems with their character. I'll spare you my analysis of Trump, which I've provided many times in the past. But I want to tell you why I dislike Biden as a person. 

Biden has a granddaughter named Navy. She was fathered by Hunter, who was simultaneously seeing both Navy's mother and his brother's widow. He's a very classy guy, the kind who would try to use his father's public office to enrich himself. 

I would never blame Joe Biden for Hunter's flaws. The sins of a son should not be visited on his father. 

I do blame Joe Biden for making no effort to develop a relationship with his own granddaughter. A NY Post article notes that Joe Biden and wife laid out stockings at Christmas for their dog, but not his grandchild Navy. He brags about his six other grandchildren, but ignores her. 

Just as he should bear no blame for his son's sins, nor should Navy bear any responsibility for how she got here. Biden's refusal to acknowledge his own blood is another reason why I'll never vote for him again. 


Wednesday, June 21, 2023

By 4-3 Vote, Bethlehem City Council Shoots Down Agreement With Feds Aimed at Human Trafficking

On a national level, Republicans hate law enforcement. They want to disband the FBI and complain about the Department of Justice. On a local level, it's Democrats who hate law enforcement, at least in Allentown, If a citizen initiative there succeeds, police will be stopped from responding to many 9-1-1 calls. This animus must be contagious. Last night, Bethlehem City Council voted 4-3 to nix an agreement with the feds that would provide more resources to police in the fight against human trafficking. What bothered Hillary Kwiatek, Kiera Wilhelm, Paige Van Wirt and Rachel Leon was that the agreement is with ICE. Neither Bethlehem Police Chief Kott nor Mayor Willie Reynolds was able to budge them. 

Van Wirt said "the jeopardy of abuse is greater than the certainty of benefit." She added that, in some cities, police will hold undocumented immigrants who come forward with claims of human trafficking and turn them over to ICE. Kiera Wilhem said her concern can be summed up in one word - ICE. 

Kott explained that a detective would be assigned to human trafficking on an as-needed basis. In the event of a child exploitation investigation, he or she would have county-wide jurisdiction. It would also enable federal charges against a trafficker. She added her department would be transparent and get out ahead of any concerns from undocumented immigrants who might hesitate to come forward. She added that Bethlehem police would refuse to engage in enforcement if immigration laws. 

Grace Crampsie Smith, who voted for the proposed arrangement, said that DA Terry Houck assured her the program has nothing to do with immigration enforcement. It has everything to do with protecting women and children who are being exploited by predators. Also voting Yes were Michael Colon and Wandalyn Enix. 

I find it sad that four elected female members would use fear of one dirty word - ICE - to vote against a program recommended by Bethlehem's police chief to protect exploited women and children. 

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a federal law passed in 2000, victims of human trafficking are entitled to powerful legal protections, including immigration-related benefits, after ICE has become aware of their presence in the United States.

NorCo Courthouse Parking Deck On Its Last Legs

parking deck in 2016
When he was Executive, John Stoffa once proposed a $33.5 million parking deck next to Northampton County's courthouse. It would replace a 290-space garage built in 1975 with an estimated lifespan of 35-40 years. He had to settle for a $1.7 million makeover in 2010. That project ended up $500,000 over budget. It was a textbook example of what can happen when you use the lowest bidder. The finished product was marred by cracking, misaligned joints and defective overhead patches. This led to litigation in 2012 and yet another facelift in 2016, this time for $500,000. At a Northampton County Council' Capital Projects Committee last week, Public Works Director Michael Emili briefed Council on the latest attempt to extend the life of the garage by three to five years, at a cost of about $750,000. 

THA Consulting completed design work. The project is out to bid for minor structural repairs and waterproofing. Emili told Council that the cost of a new parking deck would be about $15 million.  

Pa. State House Votes For Increase in Minimum Wage, 103-100

A divided state house voted 103-100 to increase the state minimum wage yesterday.

This legislation would increase the minimum wage in Pennsylvania to:

$11.00 per hour effective Jan. 1, 2024.
$13.00 per hour effective Jan. 1, 2025.
$15.00 per hour effective Jan. 1, 2026.

There would be annual cost-of-living increases beginning in 2027. The bill would also set the minimum wage for tipped workers at 60% of the hourly minimum wage – which has been stuck at $2.83 per hour since the 20th century.

Locally, the legislation was supported by Democrats Bob Freeman, Jeanne McNeill, Steve Samuelson, Mike Schlossberg, Joshua Siegel and Pete Schweyer. It was opposed by Republicans Ryan MacKenzie, Milou MacKenzie, Zach Mako, Ann Flood and Joe Emrick. 

Will the Republican-controlled state senate follow suit?


Gracedale Daycare Inches Closer to Reality

Gracedale, the final stop for many seniors, might soon be the launching pad for many toddlers. Public Works Director Mike Emili told Northampton County Council last week that he expects to have a daycare ready by the end of Fall. 

This project is part of Executive Lamont McClure's $15.5 million Gracedale plan to make the nursing home more attractive to employees. This plan was endorsed by County Council last year, with members John Brown and John Goffredo dissenting on the $2 million daycare. It is being built with American Rescue Plan Act funding. At the request of member John Cusick, the daycare was expanded to include employees of the nearby 9-1-1 and Forensic Centers. 

Emili explained that 10 existing bedrooms in a vacant wing are being converted into five larger daycare rooms. There will also be changes to existing bathrooms and a kitchen. A children's playground will be built outside  

Emili estimated this renovation will eliminate about 50 beds. Council member John Cusick noted that licenses for those bed have value, and suggested the county should consider selling them if it has no use for them.

The following day, and without discussion, Northampton County Council unanimously approved three contracts for the renovation at Gracedale. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Following the Money: NorCo Controller's Race

Northampton County Council member Tara Zrinski defeated Nadeem Qayyum in the primary race for the Democratic nomination. Northampton County Council member John Cusick ran unopposed for the GOP nod. The general election in November will be between Zrinski and Cusick. 


Zrinski started her race with $2,325.18 left from her failed campaign for the state senate. Her pre-primary finance report and post primary finance reports reveal that she raised raised $18,139, giving her $19,622.18. She spent $20.464.18, leaving her with $$126.05 as of June 5. 

She received $5,750 from trade unions. She also accepted money from the very people she will be required to hold accountable if elected as Controller. She accepted $1,000 from County Exec Lamont McClure as well as donations from County Council candidates Kelly Keegan and Ken Kraft. In addition to the usual spending for signs and mailers, Zrinski also paid $1,525 for unnamed "field staff."  Pennsylvania law requires that these persons be identified by name and address so that we, the public, can follow the money. 25 P.S. §§ 1626(a) and (b). I dislike the idea of someone walking around on election day with a wad of cash to throw at unnamed people. Zrinski's failure to identify the recipients of this largesse is, at the very least, sloppy accounting. It's certainly strange behavior from someone who wants to be Controller.  


Cusick has formed no committee and is reporting as a candidate. His pre and post primary finance reports show that that he started his campaign with no money, and contributed $2,500 to his own campaign. His main expense was the purchase of campaign signs for $2,155.90. He has $35.29 going iinto the general election. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Following the Money: Baratta Campaign Finance Reports Show Need For Limits

Friday night, I posted the post-primary campaign finance reports filed by Steve Baratta and Terry Houck in Northampton County's DA race. (The pre-primary reports are here). These reports enable us to see who is behind each race and how candidates are spending their money. If you include in-kind contributions, over $422,000 has been spent so far in this race. I've learned the following

1. Big Money Has Returned to Local Political Campaigns. - For a few years after disgraced Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski was convicted of bribery, a lot of donors were very hesitant to give money to anyone. It's safe to say big money has returned. They include many of the very same people who once contributed to Fed Ed. They include NZ twins J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper, who gave $10,000 each to Baratta. They include Abe Atiyeh, who gave $5,000 to Houck. If they wanted to contribute to Joe Biden or Donald Trump, they'd be limited to $3,300. But incredibly, there are no limits in local races. This enables a few deep pockets to buy a race.. 

2. Immigration lawyer Ray Lahoud Emerges as Kingmaker. - Out of the blue - or perhaps I should say out of the red because he's a registered Republican - immigration lawyer Ray Lahoud has suddenly emerged as a big spender in political races. In 2022, he gave $3 million to SuperPACs across the country, putting him at #57 nationwide. In this contest, he provided $10,000 in money and spent $62,301 with in-kind contributions for robo calls, TV advertising, polling and digital and social media ads. He alone is responsible for $72,000 of Baratta's spending. He's also been a bundler. That's a person who gets contributions from others like JB Reilly and Joe Topper. 

While Ray makes too much money to want the job as top assistant, and I have no reason to believe he has any nefarious designs, it's pretty clear that he will have unlimited access should Baratta win the general.

Ray told me he plans to continue spending. 

If this spending tells you anything, it's that we need the state legislature to step forward and start to impose limits on spending in local or state races. I do not fault Baratta or Lahoud. They are playing by the rules. I'm sure Houck would only be too happy to allow  someone to spend $72,000 on his behalf. But this dilutes democracy by enabling one person or a special few to buy political races. 

Pennsylvania is one of just 11 states that impose no limits on campaign spending.

Blogger's Note: Friday was the due date for post primary campaign finance reports. I have many of them, but had to leave the courthouse before the quitting bell tolled. I will get the rest on Tuesday, when the courthouse re-opens, and will start telling you about the remaining races then.  

Friday, June 16, 2023

Following the Money: Post-Primary Reports Filed By NorCo DA Candidates Baratta & Houck

Below are  the Post-Primary finance reports filed by incumbent Terry Houck and challenger Steve Baratta in the NorCo District Attorney's race. They report how much money they've raised since they filed their Pre-Primary reports (you can see them here), and how that money has been spent. I've load them in their entirety, redacting only their signatures and phone numbers. Please feel free to share any observation in the comments. This is participatory journalism. Some of you are going to see things I miss.  I'll take your comments and provide an analysis on Tuesday. 


During the period between January 4 and May 1, Baratta raised $131,875 as well as in-kind contributions of $49,501.69. He spent $115,433.37 

Between May 2 and June 5, Baratta raised an additional $44,817.94, as well as in-kind contributions of $29.020.84. He spent $69,718.48, and is left with $849.06.

In total, Baratta raised $255,215.47, and spent $185,151.84. 


During the period between January 4 and May 1, Houck raised $64,026. Adding that to cash on hand from his previous race, Houck had $99,363.39 as well as in-kind contributions of $2,478.36. He spent $87,760.82..

For the period between May 2 and June 5, Houck raised $39,252.00 and received  in-kind contributions of $10,513.64. He spent 449,395.24, and is left with $1,459.33.

In total, Houck raised $116,270 and spent $137.156.06

Baratta outraised Houck more than two to one, and was able to outspend Houck by nearly $48,000. 

Baratta Post Primary Campaign Finance Report by BernieOHare on Scribd

Houck Post Primary Campaign Finance Report by BernieOHare on Scribd

One More Reason To Be Leery of Jennings Appointment to A'town Redevelopment Authority

Michael Molovinsky has given us yet another reason to be leery of Alan Jennings' appointment to Allentown's Redevelopment Authority.  His Batts at Batt is definitely worth a read. But Jennings seems to be friendly with several convicted felons, including Fed Ed. 

Allentown City Council Rejects $4 Million Citizen Initiative to Limit Police Response to 9-1-1 Calls

By a 4-2 vote last night, Allentown City Council rejected a citizen initiative to limit police response to many 9-1-1 calls and replace them with a $4 million mobile community response team consisting of social workers and EMTs who were never asked to participate. Voting against the initiative were Daryl Hendricks, Ed Zucal, Cynthia Mota and Candida Affa. Voting Yes were Ce-Ce Gerlach and Natalie Santos. 

Santo Napoli was absent.

This rejection fails to kill the initiative, which has the support of 3,800 registered voters. Instead, it will go the Lehigh County Board of Elections to be placed on the ballot for November's election.

Whether it gets there, however, is by no means a sure thing. Allentown Solicitor Charles F Smith, Jr., advised City Council that the expenditure of $4 million outside of the budget process contravenes the Home Rule Charter, In addition, he said Allentown has no authority over county-employed 9-1-1 dispatchers who are governed by state law. 

Before the vote, Mayor Matt Tuerk told City Council that the initiative has a "host of problems" that include misleading statements by petition circulators, but its biggest problem is that "this contravenes our form of government. We have a strong Mayor form of government" in which the Mayor is charged with preparing a presenting an annual budget. "This takes $4 million off the top and says we shall spend it in a particular way. It's not how we normally do things." He also blasted the lack of collaboration. "Programs that are successful need to have buy-in from the program participants. ... We should work to serve the public safety needs of our community, but we should do it together. That's not what happened here." He called the initiaticve  " a solution looking for a problem"

Among the numerous people who spoke against the initiative was Sgt Ben Iobst of Allentown Police Department (APD). He noted that APD already has crisis intervention teams (CIT) respond to mental health issues. He said every police officer receives 36 hours of de-escalation training, followed by 3 hours of A'town specific mental health training. Officers in  CIT receive an additional 40 hours of training. Crisis negotiation team gets 80 hours of training plus 96 hours of annual training. 

In contrast to what appears to be misinformation by initiative supporters, Iobst stated that APD made only 33 arrests last year of people with mental health issues. Nearly every one of those arrests was diverted by the DA for treatment. 

Police responding to overdoses saved the lives of 146 people in 2020, 174 in 2021 and 143 in 2022. After reversing these overdoses, they go out with Treatment Trends and do follow ups, not to arrest people, but get them help. 

SGT Iobst indicated that 1,268 serious mental health incidents called into police in 2022. Officers made 906 referrals to mental health services. 

In addition, they stopped 22 people who were actively attempting suicide. 

Iobst would know, He stopped one attempted suicide victim who had just learned he had a serious illness and was trying to jump off a roof.  In contrast to Iobst, initiative supporter Ce-Ce Gerlach filmed a suicide aftermath, and the victim's family learned about it from her Facebook Live. 

"Don't look at our officers like they're dangerous and can't respond to mental health issues," said Iobst. He instead called them "experts and heroes who do an amazing job and should be celebrated as community role models" 

Vicki Kistler, Allentown DCED Director, said she was at a neighborhood watch meeting and heard the initiative presented as an APD, Allentown Health Department program. People who signed the initiative later told her, "I had no idea what I was signing."  Incidentally, Kistler was a social worker. "I don't see a line of social workers saying this is a great program." 

Mehmet Barzev, who directs EMS in Allentown, was surprised to learn that his department was included in the mobile community response team. "We were not asked for any input in this." 

Something tells me this initiative will be rejected by Lehigh County's Election Board. It's illegal. 

Voters Will Decide on Term Limits For County Officials This November

Vargo-Heffner votes Yes. 

By a 6-3 vote, Northampton County Council decided last night to ask voters whether County Council members and the Executive should be term-limited.  By a 6-2 vote, with one abstention, they also agreed to ask voters whether the Controller should be term-limited. Under the proposal, which will be put to voters in November, the following term limits would apply: Executive and Controller - no more than two successive terms; and County Council - no more than three successive terms. 

The legislation would permit elected officials to return to office after taking a break. For example, after serving two consecutive terms, an Executive or Controller could return to the office once held, but would have to sit out one term. 

If adopted by voters, these term limits would go into effect for the terms starting in January 2024 (County Council and Controller) and January 2025 (Executive).

Voting for the measure were sponsors Lori Vargo-Heffner, John Goffredo, John Brown, Tom Giovanni and Kerry Myers. All but Vargo-Heffner are Republicans.

Voting No to term limits for the Executive and County Council were Democrats Kevin Lott, Tara Zrinski and Ron Heckman. Voting No on term limits for the Controller were Kevin Lott and Ron Heckman. Zrinski abstained because she is running for Controller and felt conflicted, even though Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni advised her there is no conflict as a matter of law. 

Heckman stated during a "governance" committee meeting the preceding day that he supports term limits for state and federal officials, but sees no need for them on a local level. Lott argued that elected officials are already term-limited because they can be voted out of office. Zrinski made the same argument, and added turnout would be too low this November to reflect the views of most voters. 

Vargo-Heffner, who drafted the legislation, argued this is a matter of consistency. County Council members are already term-limited by ordinance, and she believes other elected officials should be term limited as well. She is willing to let the voters decide. "I'm not afraid of the voters," she said.

Zrinski says No
As originally drafted, the ordinances were actually inconsistent. 

The Controller and Executive, unlike County Council, were limited to two terms. Vargo-Heffner explained that's because those are full-time positions. 

Under the original proposal, an Executive appointed mid-term would be limited to one term. Moreover, the bans on additional terms for the Exec and Controller were lifetime bans. Heffner agreed to amend her original proposal so that the Exec and Controller would be able to serve more than two terms, just not more than two terms in succession. She also agreed to remove confusing language in the original proposal that would limit an appointed Executive to just one term. 

Heckman pointed out that the one office that really needs to be term-limited more than any other is the District Attorney. John Morganelli served in that office from 1993 until 2020. Vargo-Heffner responded that she will seek to limit that office to two terms in July. 

John Cusick, who is finishing his fourth term as a Council member, argued that some Council members "stayed too long." 

Will Executive Lamont McClure veto? He was concerned on Wednesday about language in the proposal that seemed to be targeting him, but that language was removed. McClure said after the meeting that he will carefully consider all the implications and make a decision. 

Lehigh County Comm'rs rejected term limits for themselves in 2019. Comm'r Dan Hartzell argued that it suggested that "long service is a negative thing," adding "it feeds easy cynicism."

Blogger's Opinion: I oppose term limits for local officials, but am enough of a small "d" democrat to let voters make the choice. I am wary of a mob mentality among voters who act out of emotion, and would oppose a referendum on a budgetary matter. But this is a fairly simple issue.  

NorCo Council Authorizes DA Houck To Give Raises and Pay Longevity Bonuses to Assistant DAs

Last night, Northampton County Council voter unanimously to approve raises for two assistant District Attorneys that DA Terry Houck recently promoted to Deputy DA. Their salaries will increase from $78,784 to $82,329.  In addition, they approved $3,000 longevity incentives for 13 assistants. 

Houck explained that a Deputy DA supervises assistants, screens cases, conduct continuing legal education classes and is part of a leadership group that discusses issues ongoing prosecutions. 

Both of the promoted deputies are female. 

Prior to the meeting, Houck provided County Council with a memo noting that there is a nationwide staffing shortage among prosecutor offices. "We're down, but we're not at a stage where any of our services are impacted at all," said Houck. 

He noted that Montgomery County is down 22 assistant DAs, and is offering a $4,000 longevity bonus. He added that Allegheny County has lost 22 assistant DAs just this year. 

He told Council member Kevin Lott that his office is currently down about four assistants.  

Competition for prosecutors has increased. Houck told Council that the Attorney General and US Attorney Offices offer much more money. "People that are leaving are leaving for really good reasons," he said. "They're getting a lot more money."

Lott noted that a salary study shows that Northampton County starts assistant DAs at around the same salary range as assistants in other third class counties.. Houck agreed, although he said that Lehigh County pays starting assistants about $4,000-5,000 more than Northampton. 

But he said that's not the problem. The problem comes in hiring assistants who have experience. They are brought in at the same salary as assistants with no experience at all. He noted that he recently hired an attorney with 16 years of experience, and has to pay him the same salary as an attorney fresh out of law school. 

Council member John Cusick suggested that Houck might want to return to hiring part-time assistant DAs who have established practices. Houck said he is considering that option. 

Houck is currently seeking re-election as District Attorney, and is opposed by Steve Baratta.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Allentown City Council Hears From Supporters of $4 Million Initiative to Send Social Workers, Not Cops, on Some 9-1-1 Calls

On Tuesday night, Allentown City Council began the process of listening to supporters of a citizen initiative that would require county-employed dispatchers to send social workers, and not police officers, in response to some 9-1-1 calls. A citizen initiative is a form of direct democracy in which citizens, as opposed to City Council members, can sponsor legislation that could go directly to the voters. In Allentown, a city initiative requires the assent of 2,000 registered voters. After that threshold is met, City Council has 60 days in which to adopt, reject or take no action on this ordinance. It has no power to amend. Only the citizen petitioners' committee can authorize revisions. If the matter is rejected or no action is taken, it must be forwarded to the county as a ballot initiative for the voters in November. 

Initiative supporters were led by one of the petition circulators, Imogen Wirth.  She indicated she got her start as a result of George Floyd's murder. She said her group became more concerned by the way Allentown police responded to a 2020 overdose subject (he had ingested 7 bags of cocaine) who was staggering and vomiting in the middle of the street, at night, outside of a local hospital. He was endangering both himself and the public. Police at the hospital on an unrelated matter assisted hospital personnel by placing a spit mask on this addict, but a shorter video from a different angle made it look as though police were kneeling on this man's neck. The City nearly rioted that night, as convicted felon Hasshan Batts led a mob with chants of "F--- the police."  The Mayor was doxed and was told by members of this mob that they knew where he lived. 

Intentionally or unintentionally, Wirth misrepresented what happened that night. 

Wirth went on to claim that the $4 million budget proposed for this program is entirely reasonable. because Bethlehem's former Health Director told her so. "It would not touch the police's budget in any way.  There would be no need to raise taxes. ... This is the future of public safety."

She said her mobile response team would have their own vehicles and operate 24/7. 

City Council did hear from other speakers, but there were more no-shows than actual speakers. That's OK, because Council President Daryl Hendricks told Wirth he'd allow her to continue to present during tonight's meeting. 

Wirth failed to address three very important questions. First, what legal authority does Allentown have to tell county 9-1-1 dispatchers what to do?  Second, has PEMA been consulted concerning how 9-1-1 dispatchers should be retrained? Third, isn't it discriminatory to refuse to allow former police officers who became social workers to serve on these teams?

During the meeting, Wirth used the term "We" a lot and attempted to drape herself in the clothing of an Allentown resident. Comparing Allentown to Bethlehem, she said, "We're a much bigger city [than Bethlehem]." Interestingly, she's no Allentown resident. Here's what one reader, who is an Allentown resident, told me: "As a City resident, I find it very interesting that the spokesperson and representative of the petition committee (Imogen Wirth) lives on a peaceful suburban street in Lower Macungie Township, a municipality that is 95% white and doesn't even have a local police department. Her position as spokesperson/representative of the petition committee can't help but give the impression that Bill 47 is being advanced by outsiders with a political agenda. How can some hypocrite lecture me, an Allentown resident with a real social conscience, about George Floyd while choosing to live on a suburban cul-de-sac in an essentially segregated public school system? I've bought a home in Allentown and put a child through the public school system. They couldn't even prop up some local Allentown resident to speak for the committee?'

Several Allentown residents did speak, but Wirth was their facilitator.

Tom Giovanni, The Quiet Man, Puts Brakes on NorCo Governmental Study Commission

Last night, Northampton County Council's Governance Committee met for another lengthy discussion to review, yet again, the following: (1) Lamont McClure's proposed gift ban ordinance; (2) term limits for all elected officials (except the DA); and (3) a governmental study commission for an elected sheriff. It was pretty clear that most of them learned nothing from mistakes made two weeks ago. Council member Ron Heckman is still distractingly verbose. Rarely have I seen a man use so many words to say so little. Solicitor Chris Spadoni still interjected himself in policy discussions, weighing in with his two cents on whether a DA should be term-limited. And Council member Lori Vargo-Heffner should change her first name to Pandora. It is thanks to her that County Council last night nearly went off the rails and onto a path that could easily result in a return to a three Commissioner form of government in which all row offices are elected. The person who saved us all is The Quiet Man. 

Gift Ban. - Before I get into Pandora's mischief, let's talk about that gift ban ordinance. Last night, Heckman suddenly claimed he really has no problem with it. He was unaware that the current Administrative Code negates the Home Rule Charter even though he sat through a Council meeting in which Executive Lamont McClure explained that's precisely why it is needed. But the more the talked, and it's hard to stop him once he gets going, it became abundantly clear that he still dislikes it. He continued to complain that he's unaware of anyone who ever acted inappropriately and was never himself offered gifts. He did promise to stop giving legal advice, so there's that. 

Get this. Once again, the gift ban ordinance has not been placed on the agenda for tonight's meeting. This is the third or fourth time that County Council has dragged its feet on this legislation. 

Term Limits for Everyone (Except the DA). - As for the term limit revisions to the Home Rule Charter, Pandora Vargo-Heffner admitted she drafted them.  She wants term limits on everyone to be consistent. But as several Council members pointed out, the three ordinances are actually inconsistent. For one thing, the DA is not included. For another, the county exec can only serve two terms under her proposal and then is banned for life. Moreover, if he's appointed mid-term, he can only ever serve one term. She agreed to offer amendments tonight, and will introduce an ordinance to term limit the DA in July, notwithstanding wannabe Council member Chris Spadoni's opposition. It's still unclear to me whether five Council members support the idea.  Heckman stated several times that he thought term limits are fine for state and local officials, but questions the need for local officials. His sentiments were echoed by Council member Kevin Lott. Council members John Goffredo and John Cusick support the idea. I agree with Heckman and Lott, but have no problem with letting voters decide.

Pandora's Box - a Governmental Study Comm'n. - This is where Pandora got dangerous. She kept circling back to the idea of a governmental study commission even though Cusick warned her to be careful what she wishes for. For all her complaints about being rushed, she tends to do things without considering consequences, as she did with an RFP for a pay study that excluded union workers. Fortunately, the Quiet Man, Tom Giovanni, closed the box. 

"Right now, and where we are in the country itself, everybody's upset at government. So you open it up to the voters, I think we're gonna' have a lot of issues ... because right now people are not happy with the government. Local, federal, state, it doesn't matter."

He's right. The Home Rule Charter does need a serious overhaul, but the political climate and divisiveness right now could throw us back 60 years. 

His brief comments were all that was needed to kill this idea. It pays to say little because when you do, people listen. 

For First Time, NorCo Council Acts Favorably to Proposed Employee Health Center

Last night, Northampton County Council received a presentation from the committee that reviewed three bids for a voluntary and exclusive health center for county employees (and possibly retirees). Although Council member John Brown still had reservations, it appears that the rest of County Council and perhaps Brown himself may be warming to the idea.  Council member Tom Giovanni was part of the committee reviewing the bids, and he recommended that they discuss the matter with Council. The committee has chosen Integrity Health, but a contract is still being finalized. The purpose of the presentation was to keep County Council in the loop. 

The County did issue a news release concerning the health center:

Integrity Health has been selected by the Request for Proposal Committee, which includes Northampton County Commissioner Tom Giovanni, Director of Human Services Susan Wandalowski, Director of Human Resources Mary Lou Kaboly, Director of Fiscal Affairs Stephen Barron, and Procurement Manager Kathryn Anderson, to provide an on-site health and wellness center only for Northampton County employees and employee dependents covered under the county’s health plan.

“The Administration of Northampton County is dedicated to providing its employees with the best health and wellness care available while controlling costs for county employees and taxpayers,” says [Exec] Lamont G. McClure.

A cost assessment calculates savings to the taxpayer of $1.5 million - $2 million per year. The services provided by the Employee Health Center would be confidential and strictly voluntary, and County employees will not be required to visit the center, nor will they be required to leave their primary care doctor. All services at the center will be provided on a no-copay basis. The center would be open seven days a week, 10 hours a day on weekdays and five hours a day on weekends, and allow patients to make same and next-day appointments. Virtual appointments provide additional convenience for patients.

Integrity Health operates several health centers in New Jersey and expanded to Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

NorCo Council Governance Committee Poised For More Juggling

Last month's meeting of Northampton County Council's governance committee was a doozy. Council member Ron Heckman acted as though he is Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni. And Spadoni acted as though he was Ron Heckman. Heckman chimed on on the law. Spadoni initiated a policy discussion on a government study commission, which is the nuclear option for any home rule government.  neither knoew what he was talking about. 

Wannabe Solicitor Heckman incorrectly told Council member Tara Zrinski that any violation of a proposed gift ban by a Council member could result in removal. Real Solicitor Spadoni was worse. He correctly advised Council that recommendations of a government study commission must go directly to the people. Then 30 seconds later, he reversed himself and incorrectly said County Council could pick and choose what to send to voters. It was one of the worst meetings I've ever witnessed among many bad meetings of that august institution. 

True, it lacked the drams of the near fistfight that once occurred between former Council members Ron Angle and Charles Dertinger. It lacked the panache of Administrator Jim Hickey, who could tell Angle and even a common pleas judge to go f--- himself during breaks in meetings. What made it one of the worst meetings of County Council that I ever witnessed was the complete confusion displayed by Council members and Solicitor alike. Much of this was the result of Chairman Lori Vargo Heffner's desire to cover too many serious topics in one meeting. The rest of it was the result of the distracting and misinformed verbosity displayed by Heckman. mostly in complaint about Executive Lamont McClure's gift ban ordinance. 

Vargo-Heffner kicked things off by complaining she needed a pay study progress report and wanted to ask questions she had every opportunity to ask when the vendor appeared, in person, to explain what was happening. 

From there it went to Lamont McClure's proposed gift ban, which Heckman really despises because it might interfere with him getting free ice cream. After that, Council member John Cusick proposed a change in the way vacancies are filled among elected officials. There was practically no discussion at all on the subject of term limits for all elected officials save the DA, yet that appeared the very next day as a proposed ordinance. Finally they discussed whether the Sheriff should be elected, which requires a government study commission. Spadoni said he'd need to research that question, although it'sbeen answered several times over the past few years. 

Northampton County Council's governance committee is set to meet again today. After all the confusion last month, you'd think they'd trim the agenda to a few items that deserve thorough discussion. Nope. Once again, we're going to have a discussion of the proposed gift ban, term limits for all elected officials save the DA, a home rule charter study and whether the Sheriff should be elected or appointed. 

These are all important topics. They each deserve their own separate meeting. 

Vargo-Heffner likes to accuse Executive McClure of being in a rush to do things. Her ambitious agenda makes clear that she's pushing a lot of issues simultaneously. Why?

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

How Would You Like to See Government Reformed?

Back in 2016, then Lower Macungie Commissioner Ron Beitler, myself and a few readers came up with a laundry list of government reforms. Some were actually enacted, at least partially. But most suggestions are still out there. These are neither Republican nor Democratic proposals. You either believe in good government or you don't. 

I am running the latest list and ask you to make your own suggestions. 

1. Term limits now and tweak the terms. Three four-year terms for State Reps. Two six-year terms for State Senators. A two-year term for State Reps is too short, They have to start campaigning for the next election virtually the day after they win.

2. Reduce the size of PA government so state rep districts have 85,000 people within. This is small enough to maintain constituent services at the current level, but large enough to eliminate 52 positions entirely. Eliminate the state senate. 

3. Eliminate pensions for elected officials. Salaries for a full-time state legislator should be adjusted to be the median for the district represented. It is a full time job, but not a career. Pensions are for career positions.

4. Enact Resign-to-run rules that would apply to any full time elected position that draws a taxpayer funded salary.  The only exception to this rule I can see is if the candidate is in the final year of his term.  

5. Require all candidates for state office to file campaign finance reports electronically so the people know immediately how the campaign is being funded. Too many candidates refuse to file electronically, and the state elections office is never in a hurry to get reports online.  

6. Ban the use of campaign funds for criminal defense.

7. Increase penalties for noncompliance with state campaign finance laws, and continue the requirement that a candidate pay for violations out of his own personal funds.

8. Require all local governments with a website to post the campaign finance reports of all candidates and elected officials in that municipality, including Statements of Financial Interest. 

9. All local governments with a website should be required to provide an Internet broadcast of every meeting. If it is too expensive, the government should be dissolved.

10. Ban gifts of any kind, on a state and local level.

11. Require receipts for per diem payments.

12. Allow independent voters to participate in Primary Elections.

13. Ban local governments and school districts from attaching risky derivatives/"swaps" to their debt.

14. Ban candidates or elected officials from using campaign funds to make contributions to any other PAC or candidate committee to prevent the money laundering.

15. Limit campaign expenses to year of election requiring forfeiture of unspent monies. Eliminate rolling campaign accounts and expenditures in non election years. I believe district magistrates must spend it or lose it and cannot accumulate funds when they are unopposed. Similar rules for everybody.

16. LIST candidates on the ballot (per office) in random order with no party affiliation attached.

17. Rather than term limits, place "None of the Above" on the ballot for every elective office. If "None of the Above" wins a majority or plurality of the votes, the other candidates are disqualified and a new slate of candidates (including "None of the Above") must be drawn for a new election. Lather, rinse and repeat until someone other than "None of the Above" receives a majority of the votes.

18. Limit the amount of money any individual can contribute to a candidate to the same amount that can be contributed in a federal race. 

19. Ban campaign contributions from employees of a municipality to any candidate seeking election in that municipality.  

NorCo: Antlerless Deer Licenses Go On Sale June 26

From Northampton County: The Northampton County Department of Fiscal Affairs announced changes directed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission for purchasing antlerless deer licenses for this year’s hunting season.

The new antlerless license purchasing process will no longer accept mail-in applications. Hunters must purchase 2023-2024 antlerless licenses online at HuntFish.pa.gov or any in-store hunting license issuing agent. Create an account on HuntFish.pa.gov in advance to ensure your purchase can be completed when licenses go on sale.

The Northampton County Revenue Division is an authorized issuing agent located on the 2nd Floor of the Northampton County Government Center (669 Washington St., Easton, PA 18042).

The first day of antlerless license sales for residents is on Monday, June 26. Nonresidents can begin purchasing antlerless licenses on Monday, July 10.

The 2023-2024 Deer Season starts on September 16, 2023, and will end on January 27, 2024.

Tuerk Taps Jennings for A'town Revelopment Authority

According to a news release, Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk has nominated Alan Jennings, the retired Exec Director of Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV), to serve on the City's redevelopment authority. Tuerk believes this appointment will foster more affordable (workforce) housing and sustainable growth. 

CACLV has a program called Community Action Homes, which purchases and rehabilitates housing stock throughout the Lehigh Valley. Unfortunately, the demand for services is so high that no applications are being accepted at this time. 

Development of more suitable workforce housing requires more than buying and fixing old homes. Zoning should be re-examined with an eye to increasing density with tiny homes. TFor most families, there's no need for large 3 BR homes.

Though he likes to portray himself as the champion for those who have no voice, my experience with Jennings is that he has really served a lifetime as a lackey to the rich and powerful. When he was on the NIZ board, he made no appeals for local neighborhoods. He supported two goofy new taxes proposed by Mark Pinsley and Joshua Siegel, including an increase in an already very regressive sales tax as well as a county earned income tax. He was one of lasdt few defenders of disgraced Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski. 

I'm sure he'll do whatever the urban growth regime tells him to do. 

Monday, June 12, 2023

Hyman Calls PPL Building First

A decade ago, before the NIZ became reality, Tony Iannelli hosted a Business Matters program to debate its relative merits. It pitted NIZ cheerleaders Sy Traub, realtor Jeff Barber and political goon Mike Fleck (now a convicted felon) against critics that included Lehigh Finance professor and real estate guru Steve Thode as well as Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky. (I had been invited to participate, but Fleck insisted that I be banned or his team would boycott). When Molovinsky complained about the disappearance of Latino merchants on Hamilton Street, Barber called them a "cancer." During that debate, which basically consisted of Fleck yelling for 30 minutes straight, Steve Thode predicted that PPL would eventually be coaxed into moving from its current location and into the NIZ, a few blocks east. Morning Call columnist Bill White dismissed Thode's "wild claims" and "hysteria," but Steve has been proved correct.

What will happen to the PPL building? My prediction is that Allentown developer Nat Hyman will try to purchase it for workforce housing, but he'll be shot down. He refuses to hold his hand out for public money, which makes it very hard for grifters hoping to get a piece of public pie.