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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, September 29, 2023

A Little More About that Senate Dress Code

I voted for Mehmet Oz, not John Fetterman, in last year's race for the US Senate. I voted by mail, before the fateful debate in which Fetterman stumbled badly. But it was after I watched an interview with NBC. His cognitive ability and his extreme views bothered me. Not his attire. I frankly don't pay much attention to what's on the outside. It's what's inside that matters. Several of you are embracing this dress code as just another way to bash Fetterman. But I can tell you about two previous Pa politicians who preferred ordinary clothing to the required uniform of elitists. 

It's hard to drive through any county without stumbling across at least one school named after the 15th President of the United States. That's James Buchanan, a Franklin County native. He preferred the simple clothing worn in his agrarian community, and rejected what he called a "peacock parade" in which the United States had started to adorn its foreign ministers with military coats adorned with gold lace, a chapeau and a small sword. They called it the "livery of the American people." He  called it "ridiculous." 

When he himself was sent to the court of St. James, he refused to deck himself out with all the frills that elitists were wearing at the time. He offended many English bastard by dressing in the "simple, unpretending garb of the American citizen."  

I'll bet he even though those little American flag pins that everyone inside the Beltway wants to show off these days was never once worn by Buchanan. 

In addition to James Buchanan, we can look to one of our founding fathers who lived most of his life in Pennsylvania. Instead of decking himself in a powdered wig and frilly jacket, Benjamin Franklin preferred a simple dark purple jacket with a fur hat. His goal was to show American self-sufficiency and it actually caught on. 

So when you mock Fetterman's simple attire, you should know he is just following the lead of fellow Pennsylvanians James Buchanan and Ben Franklin. 

Ichiban Steakhouse Refuses to Seat Blind Patron With Seeing-Eye Dog

Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse, located on Catasauqua Road in Allentown, has long been a favorite  among those of us who love the hibachi experience. A chef cooks your meal before your eyes on a grill located in the center of the table. He (or she) dazzles everyone seated with flaming onions and then has customers demonstrate their wide receiver ability to catch shrimp or vegetables with their mouths. It's a great place for birthday celebrations. But I learned yesterday that this popular eatery has been denying service to blind patrons with service dogs. This is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and needs to be corrected.   

As some of you know, I walk a seeing-eye dog named Mason as often as I can. The owner is no longer able to do so, and the dog began gaining weight. Before you make the mistake of assuming that I've turned soft in my old age, I am still very much a miserable bastard. It helps the dog, sure, but it helps me even more. It's a great way to cool down after a hard exercise session or warm up before I start. It keeps the weight off so long as I watch what I eat. 

Mason himself is the most mellow dog I've ever seen, Nothing bothers him. He's highly disciplined and extremely intelligent. He received 18 months of training before being selected as a seeing-eye dog. He knows the difference between left and right, something I've been unable to master.  There is no doubt in my mind that he could have been a bomb or drug detection dog because of his highly developed olfactory nerves. He can smell deer or a fox long before I see it. When he's with me, he gets to be a dog and pretend he's a great hunter.  

I had the day off on Wednesday because the owner and his girlfriend had to run errands, and that included dinner at Ichiban. That's when Mason goes on the clock and serves as a guide dog.  I was surprised to learn that the restaurant refused to seat Mason's owner, who is both legally blind and somewhat deaf.  This was because he had Mason with him.  

This was confirmed by Ichiban's manager. He said he was refusing to seat patrons with service dogs, even if disabled because the presence of dogs might offend patrons who are allergic to dogs. He told me that Allentown police and Department of Health both advised him he had the right to exclude disabled patrons with service animals. 

I am sure this manager is acting in good faith, based on what he thinks he was told. I believe that he must have misunderstood them because the law is very clear. 

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a restaurant must permit service dogs to accompany people with disabilities to all areas where the public is allowed. Only two questions may be asked: 1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?; and 2) what work has the dog been trained to do? That's it. The owner is under no obligation to provide an ID card or other proof. 

What about people with allergies or a fear of dogs? This is no justification for refusing service to a person with a seeing eye dog. They can simply be seated as far apart as possible. It's called accommodation. But people with disabilities still have all the rights to be seated at the same tables and areas as anyone else. Moreover, a restauranteur may not take on special fees for service dogs. 

So has it all gone to the dogs? No. A restaurant can eject a patron if he's unable to control his guide or the dog starts shitting and pissing all over the place. A K-9 dog snarling at everyone could legitimately be ejected. Also dogs may not block aisles. 

I have forwarded the link above to Ichiban's manager and hope he changes his policy because, quite frankly, he's breaking the law. I've learned that Ichiban has even excluded disabled veterans with service dogs. 

If this persists, a complaint can be filed with the Department of Justice  

Thursday, September 28, 2023

As Gov't Shutdown Looms, Senate Adopts a Dress Code

You can't make this stuff up. While the federal government is on the brink of a shutdown, the U.S. Senate  has unanimously adopted a dress code requiring business attire on the Senate floor. Heaven forbid that these elitists would want to like like the populares. John Fetterman should wear a nice business skirt next time he's there. 

Bob Menendez, who is accused of accepting bribes and providing sensitive information to Egypt, is welcome. He wears a suit. 

2d GOP Presidential Debate More Like Food Fight Than Policy Discussion

Well, that's two hours wasted. I made the mistake last night of watching seven GOP Presidential hopefuls interrupt and talk over each other instead of providing specific answers to the questions. The FOX moderators refused to blow the whistle as this free-for-all went on for two hours, even though they had the power to cut the mikes of candidates who incessantly operated and insisted on going beyond their time limits. All they managed to do was make themselves look as childish as frontrunner Donald Trump.  

Though there are serious issues facing this nation, one moderator diminished the forum when she asked  candidates who they would vote "off the island," as though this was some reality TV show. I'll credit Ron DeSantis for recognizing the stupidity of that question.

Who looked best? In my view,  they all looked pretty bad out there. 

For the second time, Donald Trump has won a debate despite skipping it. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

SAVE CARBON COUNTY Asks Bethlehem to Stop Spreading Sludge on Its Farms

A group of Plainfield Tp residents are outraged over Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority's plan to spread sewage sludge on their farmland. They've been before Northampton County Council a few times. If it's any consolation, they are not alone. Last week, Save Carbon County's Linda Christman addressed Bethlehem City Council over its practice of spreading sewage sludge from its wastewater treatment plan on Carbon County farmlands. 

Christman noted that a city staffer told her that it would cost $500,000 a year to send this sludge to a landfill instead of spreading it in Carbon County. She said cost should not be a consideration when it comes to doing the right thing. She added that the City could add an anaerobic digester to its wastewater treatment plant as an "economically viable alternative."

These digesters expel gas, which can be used to generate electricity to run the wastewater treatment plant and to sell on the grid.

"This use of sewage sludge to fertilize farm fields is poisoning land across Pennsylvania and the United States," she said. "Something needs to change." 

Various state laws restrict a municipality's ability to regulate sewage sludge. But Bethlehem, dewspite its Climate Action Plan, is itself participating in this practice. 

Cusick Wants Experienced Nurses Hired at Higher Rates than Newbies

At last week's Personnel and Finance Committee, Council member John Cusick began discussion of a recent finding operational assessment of Gracedale nursing home. Noting the county' heavy reliance on outside nursing agencies, Cusick complained that "[i]t almost appears as though we've outsourced nursing." He also criticized the county practice of hiring experienced nurses at the same starting salaries as those fresh out of school. He noted nothing in the union contract prevents the county from rewarding nurses with experience by starting them at higher rates of pay.   

That study was critical of the county's use of outside agency nurses to provide more than half of the nursing care. They are also paid 41% more than in-house nursing staff. The audit rejects the argument that the "robust benefits" offered to workers outweigh the lower salaries. According to Candace McMullen, who presented the report, "It's about paying your bills and having money in your pocket." ... "Whether it's right or wrong, it doesn't really matter. That's the reality."

Cusick, a teacher, stated that experienced teachers can be brought in at higher rates. But Mary Lou Kaboly, the county' HR Director, said this issue would need to be negotiated with the union. She said that bringing people in at the lowest step is county practice, even though it is unwritten. 

"We're handicapping ourselves," complained Cusick. "Why would someone with 10-15 years of experience come in at step one. They can go to an agency and get paid more." 

Council member Tara Zrinski suggested that the county's reliance on outside agency nurses is declining with the pandemic. But that point was disputed by Cusick. He said Gracedale has been over budget on the use of agency nurses in every quarter this year. 

Kaboly said the current AFSCME contract at Gracedale expires at the end of 2024,but Cusick said it aciually expires at the end of  2025. he urged Kaboly to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the union under which experienced nurses can be brought in at starting wages commensurate with experience.

Kaboly said that would require a lot of analysis. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Updated: McClure to Unveil NorCo's Proposed 2024 Budget Today

Today, at 10 am, Northampton County Exec Lamont McClure will unveil his proposed 2024 budget from the  County Council meeting room on the third floor of the county courthouse. You can watch it in person or online

Northampton County's spending plan last year was a half billion dollars. In  his nearly six years as Executive, he has never proposed a tax hike. He actually reduced taxes once. 

I will tell you more about the budget after listening to McClure's address. 

UPDATED: As most of you know, I'm an idiot. The budget presentation is a week from today, not today. 

Sparks Fly in NorCo Judicial Race Over Women's Rights to Choose

There is one opening on Northampton County's bench this election cycle. Brian Panella secured the Democratic nomination while Nancy Aaroe is the choice of Republicans. Up until now, the sole issue has been experience. Aaroe has more of that than Brian. A lot more. But Brian has more judicial experience since he's served as a Master in the ugliest kind of cases in existence - custody disputes. They should be issued whistles instead of gavels. 

Over the weekend, Panella made this point on Facebook. He noted his exposure to these warring factions, where he was required to control unhappy parents, who often act very much like the children over whom they seek parental rights. He declared that because of this, he "is the most experienced candidate. Period."  And then he adds this zinger: "Our conservative opponent tries to hide from the fact that she poses a direct threat to a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions."

What ensued was a fascinating and frank dialogue between these two:

Nancy Aaroe: "Which is it Brian? Apparently to you, I’m a Liberal pushing pro-choice Baratta when you’re speaking to Republicans, but a conservative threat to women’s rights when you’re trying to scare Democrats and Women? Stop pushing divisive partisan narratives you don’t even believe in and which are not even relevant to this race." She then adds the script of a text message sent by the Panella campaign to Republicans, calling her a "Democrat in Republican clothing." 

Brian Panella:
"You have publicly stated that you are a “conservative and a constitutionalist”, but you have donated money to many liberals including an ultra liberal DA candidate with no police endorsements. So Nancy, you tell us which one it is, are you Pro-life or Pro-choice?"

Nancy Aaroe: "I will be following the LAW, and the Judicial CODE OF ETHICS, which expressly states that candidates cannot “in connection with cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court, make pledges, promises, or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of judicial office” (Canon4(a)(12)) ; and Rule 4.2(1) that a candidate must “act at all times in a manner consistent with the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary”.

"Perhaps you should spend more time studying both, instead of attempting to inappropriately politicize a judicial race. Maybe with some time and experience as an attorney, you can familiarize yourself with the appropriate ethics of being a judge.

That's the end of this unusual exchange between these two. But one person thinks that voters have the right to know where judicial candidates stand on different issues. 

Jason Bryan Boulette: " Hi Nancy: federal courts have held that there is a difference between making a commitment or pledge to ruling in a certain way on a case likely to come before a judge and a judicial candidate stating his or her personal beliefs. And in 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Republican Party of MN v. White that the First Amendment prohibits the government from preventing judicial candidates from stating their opinions on disputed political or legal issues. So I'm not sure why you're trying to hide behind a false interpretation of the Code of Ethics. The fact is that judges' views on issues matter. In Nebraska, a woman was just sentenced to two years in prison for helping her daughter obtain abortion medication. In Texas, a federal judge ruled that drag shows are offensive and lewd and not subject to the protection of the First Amendment. If you hold views like that, do you think the voters have no right to know where you stand? Your claim that judicial races are being politicized is funny -- sure, it would be nice to take politics out of judging, but in the Commonwealth, the people elect judges and the judges run political campaigns, so as long as that's the case, we have a right to know your beliefs and stances."

Since this exchange, the Aaroe campaign has fired off a news release claiming that Panella has been reported to  the Judicial Conduct Board and that he is a "flagrant" liar . She claims he crossed the line by discussing women's rights and that he's "purposefully attempting to scare women voters by invoking the issue of women’s reproductive health, which is not remotely applicable to our present judicial race."

Then , right after stating that candidates are barred from discussing this kind of issue, she does it herself. 

"LET ME MAKE MY STANCE ON THIS TOPIC VERY CLEAR: Nothing in my 32 year legal career would suggest that I would do anything to stand in the way of women’s health issues. I plan to follow the LAW - The PA Constitution has protections in place for elective abortion access through 24 weeks (and medically necessary abortion thereafter), this has been in our State Constitution for over 30 years. Abortion access is NOT at risk in our County or in the State of PA, and to say that ANY County Judicial Candidate is a “direct threat” to abortion access is factually incorrect and purposefully misleading. As a judicial candidate charged with reading and ruling on the law, there is nothing more that is appropriate to say on this, and Panella should be mindful of that. Judge candidates are not allowed to either voice their positions on these issues, nor campaign on them."

Methinks she does protest a bit too much. 

Bethlehem's Open Data Map Fails to Include Crime

Yesterday, I told you that Robert Virgilio, who makes the famous Bethlehem Bar, would like to see a crime map for Bethlehem.  Reader John M. posted this response: 

Bernie - Bethlehem is very far along in making data open to residents and others interested in statistics about the city. If this link - https://maps-bethlehem-pa.opendata.arcgis.com/ - doesn’t work, using the search “Bethlehem pa open data” will.

"The platform is built on the near-universal standard ArcGIS product. It’s the same product driving our two counties’ parcel databases, PennDOT mapping, etc. As of today we can see leaf collection, snow removal, historic districts and structures, and more. Nothing except an instruction from city management is preventing the publication of this dataset in a format anybody can access."

It is missing crime data.

"Indeed, that’s my point. They could and I don’t know why they don’t. The data exists - that first link from the state? Ucr.pa.gov is what the base URL is; the pasted link from the original poster was goofy. It worked for me once I played with it a little.

"As to what I found for the Bethlehem city jurisdiction - it presents current year versus prior year. You can adjust a lot of settings to do types of crimes and a lot of year ranges. WHAT IT DID NOT DO IS MAP CRIME TO LOCATION. I’m certain the BPD has geolocation data associated with each arrest and indictment as well as the date they report to the state.

"Crimemapping.com could do that. From their website:

'If you do not see your local agency on CrimeMapping.com then they do not yet subscribe to our services. We would love to serve your community and would urge you to contact the public information officer at your local law enforcement agency to let them know about CrimeMapping.com.'

"Why don’t they?

"You have a bully pulpit, Bernie. I’m a resident with no real ear on council."

I might have a bully pulpit, but it is readers like John M who have the brains and provide thoughtful commentary. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

County Tax Break For Volunteer Firefighters Deserved, But Needs Legal Scrutiny

At their Thursday night meeting, Northampton County Council introduced an ordinance that will give volunteer firefighters or employees (presumably unpaid) of an EMS nonprofit a rebate of up to $250 for county real estate taxes that have been paid that year by the volunteer or EMS employee.  It was suggested the previous day by Council member Lori Vargo Heffner. It's a great way to show appreciation to volunteer firefighters, whose numbers are diminishing. If adopted, Northampton County would join Cumberland County as the only two counties offering this incentive. As wonderful as this idea sounds, I think more study is warranted because the enabling statute could very well run afoul of our state constitution. 

There is a statutory basis for this proposal. In 2016, the state legislature authorized municipalities to offer a real estate or earned income tax credit to active volunteers for up to 20% on their tax liability. This tax break was enacted in Bethlehem Tp the following year. In 2020, the General Assembly authorized counties and school districts to offer this tax credit as well, even up to 100%. 

While there's certainly a statutory basis for this tax break, the real question is whether it is unconstitutional. 

Pennsylvania's Constitution includes a "uniformity clause" providing that "[a]ll taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws." Unlike other states with similar constitutional provisions, Pennsylvania courts have consistently interpreted this mandate very strictly. It was enacted in 1874 precisely to prevent state or municipal officials from giving preferential tax treatment to influential developers who line politicians' pockets with campaign contributions. 

This, of course, was completely unsatisfactory to special interests looking for LERTAs, TIFs and other real estate tax breaks. So the state constitution also includes some exceptions enacted in 1968.  These include churches, cemeteries, public properties, veterans' clubs and purely public charities. The exception also authorizes the state legislature to carve out exceptions for private forest and agricultural reserves and to create those special tax breaks for developers. It allows the state to create limited tax exemptions for the aged, infirm and disabled.  Disabled veterans are expressly exempt. 

I see no basis in the state constitution under which volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel are entitled to a tax break. This could be why Cumberland County is the only one in the state to embrace this initiative.  

This matter needs to be researched thoroughly, and it's unfair to expect Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni to have an answer in a matter of days. Given the strict interpretation given to the uniformity clause and the lack of a clear constitutional exception, this relief is questionable. 

So what?, you might ask. Who would dare challenge this in court? I suspect that paid firefighters might have a problem with it. So might the municipalities that have paid fire departments. They already are subsidizing townships and boroughs who refuse to provide police protection, and now their citizens might be compelled to pay for eventual tax increases caused by this subsidy. 

Here's another question. How much is this going to cost the county? How many active volunteers are out there? How many of them own real estate?  Lori Vargo Heffner introduced a good idea but without getting some important data that might have an impact on the budget and revenue projections. 

In Cumberland County, this measure reduced revenues by $47,124 this year. Cumberland has a population of 268,579. Northampton County has a census of 318,526. So it will cost a little more, assuming a commensurate number of firefighters. 

Finally, isn't this a slippery slope? What about teachers, nurses and cops? Back in 2007, when Lamont McClure was on County Council, he proposed an American Heroes Grant for combat veterans in Iraq, Ron Angle retorted sarcastically with the suggestion that there be a Greatest Generation Grant for WWII vets. These would be politically beneficial, but were unlawful. Former Exec John Stoffa vetoed this proposal, which had no basis at all in law or the constitution. That was a very unpopular thing to do. But that's how he rolled. 

Does Bethlehem Need More Police?

Robert Virgilio, who owns and operates the Granola Factory, was at Bethlehem City Council last week. He even brought some samples of the popular Bethlehem Bar. He spoke highly of Bethlehem police, nut is concerned that the force is shrinking while the city itself is growing. He said the public should know whether there's been an increase in crime commensurate with the increase in population, but unfortunately, "there's not a whole lot in the newspaper anymore." He recently read of a shooting on Ettwein Street, but there was no follow-up story. He also noted that the city police website contains no online blotter as it did a few years ago. 

Virgilio suggested that Bethlehem police should establish a crime map like Lower Saucon Tp "so that the public can know what's going on with crime and any kind of illegal activity that's taking place so they can determine whether it's close to home, take a stand with crime watch, be aware of it and also so they can be aware of the fact that our police are taking care of these problems."  

This small business owner has obviously been rattled by another recent shooting, this one at the 540 Democratic Club on New Street. 

Mayor Willie Reynolds stated in response that Bethlehem has had 150 officers for a number of years, but keeping those officers is a challenge. He said fewer people are taking the Civil Service test to replace retiring officers. He noted that six officers were hired a few months ago, and another six are in the police academy. He also said an arrest was made within 24 hours of the Ettwein Street shooting. 

According to Bethlehem's webpage, there are 154 "members" of the Bethlehem police department. It is unclear how many of that number are officers.   

Friday, September 22, 2023

NorCo Council Proposes $250 Real Estate Tax Break fior Volunteer Firefighters, EMS

Two weeks ago, Northampton County Council's meeting went on for nearly five hours. Last night's session was a scant  26 minutes. Both Council President Kerry Myers and VP Ron Heckman were absent, so the first order of business was the selection of a chair, Council member Lori Vargo Heffner was unanimously selected.  

Council introduced an ordinance that actually gives a tax break to someone other than a developer. If passed, a county real estate tax credit of up to $250 would be provided to volunteer firefighters and volunteer EMS staffers. 

County Council discussed this and numerous other issues over two days of committee meetings preceding last night's Council meeting. I'll tell you about them next week. I'd ordinarily cover at least some of them, but I am exhausted after a long day for me. 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Return of Child Labor - Part Two

Last week, I told you that proposals to water down child labor laws are being considered or already have been enacted in 10 states. You can add Florida to the list. 

A Florida House Republican has proposed a new law that will allow 16 and 17 year-olds to work the same number of hours as an adult. Currently, they are unable to work before 6:30 am or after 11 pm. 

It's unclear whether this bill has enough support to pass or whether Governor Ron DeSantis will sign it. 

According to a Jacksonville news source, these proposals are coming from The Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think tank that views child labor protections like work permits or local licensing as too burdensome. 

Steel Ice Center Partner Claims Bethlehem Race Will Close Him Down

Tom Schantz, partner of the Steel Ice Center in South Bethlehem, appeared before City Council on Tuesday night to complain about the upcoming Bethlehem Running Festival on October 21. This is expected to draw 6,000 runners. Proceeds of that race (there are actually four races) are earmarked for the American Cancer Society. But it will put the Steel Ice Center out of business for most of the day.

Schantz stated that the Steel Ice Center has five hockey games that day, which were scheduled a year in advance, starting at 6:30 am.  He said there will be no way for players to access his venue. "I'm paying these taxes to have my stuff shut down," he complained. He indicated the race was authorized by the City without contacting him or other business owners who will suffer during the event. It's just a shock that this could happen. I was the first one to build down there. No one else was down there. All these problems started coming down when ArtsQuest came down there. ... We're working side by side with ArtsQuest and they take and take more."

Schantz suggested that the race could be better run along the D&L towpath or Lehigh's campus. There's no need to host the race at ArtsQuest, "It's been going on for 11 years now since ArtsQuest has been down there."

Council President Michael Colon suggested that Schantz speak to Public Works after the meeting to see if some resolution can be found. 

Cusick: NorCo Council Already Has Public Comment Policy

Yesterday, I told that Northampton County Council member Lori Vargo Heffner decided she wanted to discuss the public's right to participate in Council meetings. Her decision to do so came on the heels of a recent meeting in which there was nearly three hours of public comment concerning a doctor accused of misdiagnosing child abuse as well as arguments supporting and opposing changes to the county's responsible contractor ordinance. I told you this foolhardy decision creates the impression in the minds of the public that she has no interest in hearing what they have to say. I added that the county already has an unwritten policy under which individual members of the public may address Council for up to five minutes. While it might be a good idea to codify that policy, it was stupid to do so two weeks after listening to unhappy parents open up about their ordeals after being accused of child abuse. It turns out that I was both right and wrong. 

Let me tell you first where I was right It turns out that it actually was the lengthy public comments two weeks ago that led Heffner to wonder if there was some way they could get around the unwashed masses. She admitted this herself in her opening comments. 

"Every time I write an agenda for two months worth of business, it seems to have a question about my timing and my intent. So let me just get that out of the way. There has been a lot of conversation about Council, how it conducts business, do we have rules of order, did we adopt anything or not ... Given that last month's meeting was very long due to public comment, I had questions about whether there was any flexibility, if there were any rules about that, and did we want to take a look at that as well as other matters that I've heard Council address at times about how we conduct our meetings."

Now let me tell you where I was wrong. I told you that Northampton County Council's five-minute rule on public comment was an unwritten policy. But guess what? According to Council member John Cusick, he voted on a public comment policy back in 2006, and that codified the five-minute rule. It allows the public to comment on matters they deem important. Unfortunately, I am unable to locate the document myself,  He forwarded copies to other Council members. "Do we want to change it? I don't know, I don't think so."

Other Council members were wary of any change that would limit public comment. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Northampton County Blatherskites Worry About Public Comment

In recent years, Northampton County Council meetings have rarely gone longer than two hours. In fact, Council President Kerry Myers and former President Lori Vargo Heffner have joked with each other about who can conduct a quicker meeting. Unfortunately for them, they were forced to listen to nearly three hours of public comments at their last meeting from parents concerned about a doctor who allegedly misdiagnoses child abuse as well as union and nonunion contractors who had differing views about the responsible contractor ordinance. Now, Lori Vargo Heffner wants Council to review the public comments policy. 

Her timing is awful. It sends a message that the last think Council members want to know is what members of the public actually think. In fact, I received this Facebook message yesterday from a local resident: "Guess they feel the need to silence people speaking out about important issues."  

I doubt that is Vargo Heffner's intention. If her goal is to formalize an unwritten policy that gives each speaker five minutes, that's a good idea. But the timing is still terrible. 

Although current Council members may think that its most recent meeting went on for too long, they are mistaken. Over the years, particularly at budget time, Council has had meetings that have gone until past 1 am.  Meetings that lasted four hours or more were the norm when Ron Angle was one of the nine overseers. It used to drive everyone, including his wife, nuts. 

The first time I met Sharon Angle was at one such meeting. She had been forced to drive Ron to the meeting because his leg was in a cast. She had reams and reams of magazines to review, but after a few hours, she began groaning and complaining, "Won't he ever shut up?"

"Excuse me, but who are you?"

"His wife." 

Council members never hesitate to blow their own horns during meetings with numerous committee reports, even though they are from committees that met that very day. Then there's the endless liaison reports. They have no rules of order, which means that members like Tara Zrinski can weigh in on one issue about 40 times before a vote. 

Pretty much every single one of them has, at one time or another, fit the definition of blatherskite (N. A person who talks at great length without making much sense). 

And they want to review public comment? 

The right of the public to speak at public meetings is enshrined in both The First Amendment and Pa. Sunshine Act. The First Amendment specifically provides that the "people" have the "right" "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  Under the Sunshine Act, either residents or taxpayers must be afforded a "reasonable opportunity" "to comment on matters of concern." Anyone who buys a gallon of gas or cup of coffee in the county is a taxpayer.  Moreover, whether the matter of concern is an agenda item is irrelevant. 

I'd agree that Council should formalize its public comment policy, but doing so right after hearing a number of heart-wrenching stories from members of the public is completely tone-deaf. Before they regulate public comment, they should regulate the blatherskites among them with rules of order. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Is It Time to Ban Guns in Public Parks?

Last year, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney banned the possession of firearms and other deadly weapons at city parks. This ban was quickly overturned on the basis that state law preempts any municipal gun-control measure. Now, State Senator Vincent Hughes has introduced legislation (SB 53) that will ban the possession of firearms and other deadly weapons in public recreation areas. Identical legislation has also been proposed in the state House. 

Hughes states his bill mirrors "current provisions of law which prohibit the possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapons in court facilities and on school property ... ." If enacted, it would be a crime to possesses a firearm or other dangerous weapon in a public recreation area, defined as a park, recreation center or pool owned or operated by a political subdivision."

This bill has 13 sponsors, none of whom are state senators from the Lehigh Valley. It has been referred to the state judiciary committee, where it will  likely die a slow death. 

That's too bad.

No right, not even a constitutional right, is absolute.  

Given the increased incidence of mass shootings, which have included shootings at public parks, it's hard to argue that government's substantial interest in providing for the safety of those who visit parks  are outweighed by an individual's fear that he needs a weapon for self-defense against rambunctious kids.   

In fact, the legislature should ban the possession of firearms at municipal meetings. 

Monday, September 18, 2023

Lehigh County Wants an 11th Judge

In both Northampton and Lehigh County, a common pleas judge will receive a $214,347 salary this year. Their wages are tied to the cost of living, so they go up every year. There are nine judges in Northampton County, which has an estimated population of 318,526. That's one judge for every 35,392 people. There are 10 in Lehigh, which has an estimated population of 376,317. That's one judge for every 37,632 people. Lehigh County's President Judge and its Board of Commissioners is seeking an 11th judge. 

Commissioner Ron Beitler, who voted to seek an 11th judge, noted this will cost Lehigh County taxpayers at least $400,000 per year in terms of administrative staff that comes with a judge. But he voted for it because "the U.S. Constitution obliges us." He adds that "[c]ourts are a core function of County government ... ."

A state senate bill authorizes a few additional judgeships, but not in Lehigh. That might change when the measure is considered by the House. 

I'll agree that as a county's population increases, so does the need for more judges, prosecutors, public defenders, etc. But what about counties with decreasing populations? Beitler observes that "[c]ounties with decreases have not reduced their number of Judges even when warranted based on population and caseload. This means everyone gets less pie. Including those who need it."

I am unaware of any push in NorCo for an additional judge. 

Friday, September 15, 2023

Montero Answers Carpetbagger Charge, Claims Wild More Interested in Silicon Valley Than Locals

(Blogger's Note: I was not physically present at the LehCo GOP meeting discussed below, and have had no opportunity to discuss what happened with those who were there. With that disclaimer, below you will see a news release from Maria Montero's Congressional campaign here in Pa.'s 7th Congressional District. She is running in the primary against Ryan Mackenzie and Kevin Dellicker. The winner of that race will face incumbent Susan Wild. Montero discusses her roots in this district and takes a few shots at Mackenzie and Sue Wild) 

From Maria Montero's Congressional CampaignALLENTOWN, PA (September 14, 2023) Maria Montero, a Republican candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, discussed her policy priorities, experience, and vision with attendees at the Lehigh County Republican Committee’s monthly meeting Tuesday night.  

A mother, attorney, and former Executive Director of both the Pennsylvania Commission for Women and the Pennsylvania Latino Commission, Montero will bring a wide range of experience to Congress. During the meeting, Montero discussed her roots in the 7th Congressional District, where she has lived nearly 30 years, including the first 26 years of her life in Summit Hill and Palmerton in Carbon County and Allentown in Lehigh County. 


Montero, who is of Peruvian, Italian, and Irish heritage, discussed her support for strengthening our national borders to curb the flow of deadly illegal drugs like fentanyl into our country. She also expressed her unwavering support for law enforcement and our veterans, as well as the need to achieve energy independence to reduce our reliance on Russia and the OPEC alliance. She also lambasted the state of the U.S. economy.


“It is unacceptable that so many of our families are struggling to put food on the table due to the current state of our economy,” said Montero. “We need to get our economy back on track, increase family sustaining jobs by support Pennsylvania based manufacturing, and curb the devastating effects of inflation on working families.”


She also expressed dissatisfaction with the current Democratic Congresswoman for the 7th Congressional District, stating that she has done a poor job representing local residents. “Wild seems more concerned with what the elites in her party think of her than doing what’s right for the people of our district.  She spends more time worrying about and raising money in Silicon Valley than she does representing residents of the Lehigh Valley.”   


Montero’s campaign also blasted her Republican opponent, State Representative Ryan Mackenzie, for issuing a misleading press release after the event about where Maria grew up. 


“Spreading lies and half-truths is exactly what people have come to expect from a career politician like Ryan Mackenzie,” said Brendon Del Toro, a senior advisor to Montero’s campaign. “Maria spent the first 26 years of her life growing up in this district, the majority of that time in her hometown of Summit Hill in Carbon County. Mackenzie is so desperate to avoid talking about his own record in the state legislature – like voting for the mail-in ballot program – that he has resorted to spreading lies about Maria being some sort of outsider. It’s pathetic.”


A testament to her deep roots in the 7th Congressional District, Montero was a co-founder of the Lehigh Valley-based Power of Women Networking Initiative, previously served on the board of the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley, was a member of the Allentown Puerto Rican Parade Committee, and served as a Trustee of DeSales University. She currently serves on the board of directors her alma mater, Marian Catholic High School and is an Easton City Republican Committeewoman.  


“I grew up in Summit Hill in the 7th Congressional District with Maria Montero and it’s mind-boggling that Mackenzie is trying to claim she grew up outside the district,” said Maria Ravert, a native of Summit Hill and current resident of Carbon County. “Fact-checking where Maria Montero is from would have been so easy. Mackenzie is playing dirty pool and it’s these types of deceptive tactics and falsehoods spread by career politicians like Ryan Mackenzie that turn so many people off to politics. Voters deserve better than bogus smear campaigns and they certainly deserve better than Ryan Mackenzie.”

What Questions Do You Have For NorCo Candidates?

This election cycle, NorCo voters will be electing four District County Council members, Controller, District Attorney and Judge.

Only one candidate is on the ballot in the District Attorney's race (Steve Baratta) as well as the County Council races for the Slate Belt (Tom Giovanni) and Easton  (Kelly Keegan) areas. 

The other races are contested.

Democrat Brian Panella is opposed by Republican Nancy Aaroe in the race for county judge.

Republican John Cusick is facing Democrat Tara Zrinski in the race for County Controller.

In the County Council race for the Bethlehem area, Democrat Ken Kraft is opposed by Republican Bill Rowe. In the County Council race for the Nazareth area, Democrat Jeff Warren faces Republican Casey Foreman.

I intend to send a questionnaire to the county candidates in contested races next week, and am inviting you to suggest questions that can be asked of both candidates in any of these races. I will try to limit the questions sent to no more than 10.  

In the judicial race, Nancy Aaroe argues that her experience makes her the better choice. I'd be interested in the views of judicial candidates on the roles that judges play in cases involving juvenile matters, PFAs, and elder abuse. 

In the Controller's race, I'm concerned whether candidates will continue to work any part-time jobs they currently hold/

In the County Council races, I have a number of questions. Feel free to make them better. 

1) Do you support or oppose the exclusive, voluntary health center proposed by Executive Lamont McClure. Please explain your reasoning.

2) County Council, over the objection of McClure, has ordered a wage study of the county workforce. It is limited to career service workers, who only make up a third of the work force. Would you support expanding this salary review to include union workers as well? Please explain your reasoning.

3) County Council operates without rules of order. Would you support adoption of rules of order like Roberts Rules by an ordinance that would bind future Councils? Please explain.

4) The county's Home Rule Charter, first adopted in 1978, has been amended at least 18 times. Do you think it's time for a review of the Charter itself, even if it is limited to specific issues like an elected as opposed to an appointed sheriff? 

5) What is your stance on the tax breaks that the county routinely dispenses to developers and builders in the form of LERTAs, TIFs, KOZ, etc? 

6) Are there any county departments you would consider eliminating? 

7) Gracedale, the county nursing home, requires considerable oversight by county council. In what ways would you improve this oversight and do you think the home is moving in the right direction? 

8) Allentown is the asthma capitol of the U.S. Northampton and Lehigh County recently approved the installation of air monitors throughout the Lehigh Valley. Would you approve continued funding of this project? What additional steps would you take to mitigate asthma?   

9) Would you support a county limit on campaign contributions on candidates for county office?

10) Bethlehem, Allentown and Lehigh County post online the campaign finance reports filed by candidates in their municipalities. Would you support this kind of transparency for county candidates here? 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The Return of Child Labor

My maternal grandfather was a proud man. He was unable to read or write, but liked to carry a newspaper and pretend. He particularly enjoyed showing off his signature, complete with flourishes. He was illiterate because he never had any education. He was sent off to the mines when he was a little boy, where his job was to pick up pieces of coal that had fallen off the railcars that lunged upwards from the bowels of the earth. That's where he lost two fingers. He was fortunately very mechanically inclined (unlike me) and able to provide for his family until coal dust took its toll on his lungs. I often wonder how far he would have gone and how much longer he would have lived had he been sitting in a classroom, above ground, during his youth. You may think I'm speaking about ancient history, but a federal ban on child labor has existed less than a century. If some right-leaning groups have their way, it will be making a return. 

It was not until 1916 that a federal ban on child labor was enacted (over the objection of Pennsylvania's two senators), and that was struck down a mere nine moths later by a Supreme Court who considered interstate commerce far more important than children's lives. A child labor ban that stuck was finally enacted in 1938 under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

According to Governing, a relaxation of child labor laws is being considered or has already been adopted in 10 states. Wisconsin is pondering legislation to lengthen the hours children under 18 may work and to allow 14-year-olds to serve drinks in bars.  Laws have been relaxed or are being considered in 10 other states. Iowa is now letting children as young as 14 work in factories. Nebraska is debating a bill to allow 8th graders to drop out of school and go to work, so long as their parents agree.  Arkansas legislators are considering allowing 16 and 17 year-olds to work 50 hours per week when not in school. Idaho and Maine are thinking about allowing minors to work in the logging industry, 

Children should be earning an education, not money. 

When you hear about the children sewing your clothing in India or mining the cobalt for your cell phone batteries in the Congo, that tragic child abuse might soon be here.. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

UPDATED:MacKenzie Blames Biden and Sue Wild For Escaped Killer

Danelo Cavalcante, who was convicted of stabbing his girlfriend to death, escaped from Chester County jail on August 31. He has eluded a manhunt and has slipped through a perimeter set up by Pennsylvania State Police. 

He immigrated here illegally from Brazil in 2019, where he is wanted in connection with another murder. He speaks Portuguese and English. He is a slight man, about 5' tall and 120 pounds. At the time of his escape, he had bushy hair as well as a beard and moustache. In the most recent surveillance photo, however, he appears to be clean-shaven. He was last spotted in South Coventry Township on September 12, where he stole a .22 rifle from a homeowner's garage. South Coventry is just about 35 miles south of Allentown. 

Police consider him armed and "extremely dangerous."

Ryan MacKenzie, a Republican candidate for Congress, is blaming President Joe Biden and Congress member Sue Wild. "Danelo Cavalcante is an illegal immigrant turned convicted murderer who escaped from prison here in PA. He is making large numbers of Americans live in fear. He never should have been in our country, and he shouldn't be here now. But, while police search for him in our PA neighborhoods, what are Biden, Wild, and the open borders crowd worried about? Pushing policies that make it easier for illegal immigrants to quickly take American jobs. Let's just say it clearly, Biden and Wild have an agenda they want to implement and they don't care if the American people suffer or get hurt along the way."

According to the most recent data from FAIR, 16.8 million illegals or undocumenteds (takeyour pick) live in the U.S.

UPDATED 12:40 PM: Cavalcante has been captured.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Donald Trump and the Art of Kayfabe

I have a confession to make. Back in the day, I was an incorrigible fan of "professional" wrestling. This included trips to Philly to see the Undertaker, Paul Bearer, Doink the Clown, Kamala and whoever else was on the card. But it did not end there. My kids, their friends and I also made regular trips to south Allentown, the Poconos and Plainfield Tp, where I even met Scary Sherri. I loved the suspension of reality and the blending of fact v. fiction until it would be impossible to distinguish what is real and what is not. After reading an article in Popular Information, I'm finally convinced that what makes Donald Trump so popular as a politician is that he blends fact with fiction (it's called kayfabe) in exactly the same way that wrestling personalities do.  He claims to follow in the footsteps of Andrew Jackson, but it's really the Vince McMahon playbook.

Speaking of Mr. McMahon, who portrays himself as the incredibly evil head of the professional wrestling empire, he was supposedly placed under arrest during a 2015 RAW production and taken to the hokey . Shortly thereafter, the "NYPD" released his mugshot:

Now, I'd like to think most of us realize this is pure entertainment. I love it myself, and think of these storylines as soap operas for males. But what Trump has done is bring these same zany storylines, in which he engages in bombastic behavior with little regard for the truth, into the world of politics and government. 

Like McMahon, there's mugshot of him as well. Entertaining? Yes. Statesmanlike? Hardly. 

Now we all know Trump is an inveterate liar. The MAGAs know this, too. Here's how author Judd Legum explains it:

"This ecosystem allows people to do horrible things and still succeed, even among people who are offended by the things that are being done and said. Because you operate from the assumption that everything you're seeing in the ring is fake, or at least most of it. And that's dangerous, because once you're assuming everything's fake, except for the things you want to believe are true, then you're just having a grab bag, personalized reality. So you can go, if you're a Trump voter, "Trump means it when he says [X], but he doesn't mean it when he says [Y]." And once you start just picking and choosing what you think reality is from a grab bag of truth and lies that you can't distinguish between, then you're in real trouble as a society. Every individual person is just picking their own hodgepodge reality."

As much as I love professional wrestling, good goverment requires a bit more than kayfabe.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Gracedale Operational Assessment Reveals Need For Higher Wages

Over the past few years, especially during the pandemic, Gracedale was attacked by numerous former and current staffers over low morale and, more importantly, a failure to provide adequate care. It even became a campaign issue during the last Executive race, with two press conferences on the campus. Staff were leaving the home at a high rate, while those remaining would be mandated into overtime. At one critical point as COVID raced its way through the home, the state national guard was providing assistance. Both Executive Lamont McClure took steps to attract and retain more staff. This included hefty annual bonuses and the decision to launch a daycare for staff. But is it enough? That was the reason why County Council sought a controversial performance audit. That study is now complete, and was presented to Northampton County Council last week.  

Affinity Health Services, which already assists Gracedale in its preparation for annual inspections by the state Department of Health, was engaged by Northampton County Council in March to provide a performance audit at the county's nursing home.  This included an off-site data analysis along with an om-site visit in May that included focus groups with staff from every shift. 

Affinity's Exec VP, Candace McMullen, provided the bulk of a detailed analysis. But it could be summed up in her two-sentence answer to a question from Council member John Cusick. "The two biggest problems I think you have are wages are not competitive and you don't pay for experience. So your ability to recruit people is very limited."  

In stark contrast to numerous complaints, the study found that Gracedale's management meets or exceeds expectations. So does its dietary and maintenance (housekeeping).  It needs improvement in reducing nursing overtime, its five-star rating, its compensation package and environmental sciences.

McMullen lauded the home for a "true county home philosophy" to care for residents without regard to ability to pay. She noted a large number of residents (90%) have very limited resources. 

Financially, Gracedale fares better than most county nursing homes They had negative margin of 3% in 2021 while Gracedale was 7% to the positive . In 2022, Gracedale had a negative margin of 1% , but nationwide, county nursing homes had a 4.8% loss. in 2022.

She was critical of the use of outside agency nurses to provide care. Gracedale's nursing employees was at the following level at the time of the study: 11 RNs, 46  LPNs and 85 CNAs. Outside agencies were as follows: 15 RNs, 34 LPNs and 30 CNAs.  Over half of Gracedale's nursing care is provided by outside agencies. 

The reason for this, according to McMullen is "very clear"  - low wages. She provided data showing that the wages paid to nursing staff at Gracedale is considerably lower than that paid in this region and statewide. Outside agency nurses are paid 41% more than county employees

The argument has often been made that good county benefits are the trade off for low wages.  While conceding that Northampton County has a "very robust benefit" plan that exceeds most others, but the workforce is less interested in benefits than it was in days past. "It's about paying your bills and having money in your pocket." ... "Whether it's right or wrong, it doesn't really matter. That's the reality." 

Cusick also wanted to know why the county couldn't start an experienced nurse at a higher salary than a recent graduate. "You can, but because you have collective bargaining units, that's a bargainable [sic] issue."

It's a mystery to me why unions have failed to fight for higher wages or why they would oppose allowing an experienced nurse to start at a higher step. 

In her discussion of Gracedale's average CMS rating of three of five stars, McMullen explained that what holds the home back is its one-star rating for "quality measures." This applies to the medical care afforded residents. She acknowledged that because Gracedale accepts residents with serious issues like dementia, it will be hard to improve that rating. 

The study also encompassed the possibility of reducing 4-BR units to private or semi-private rooms.  Under the current reimbursement structure, the home would lose money. 

Friday, September 08, 2023

Steve Lynch, Underwear Model

Northampton County's loss is the underwear modeling industry's gain. Failed NorCo Exec candidate Steve Lynch has announced that he will be modeling underwear on his Instagram account, sometime in the next week or two. 

He does it all. Boxer, GOP state committeeman, political operative, body builder, diet pill expert, log thrower, dedicated public servant and now, he'll be modeling panties.

Good for him! 

Misdiagnoses of Child Abuse Voiced at NorCo Council - "All of this Seems so Bizarre"

Dr. Debra Ersenio-Jenssen, a child abuse pediatrics specialist employed at Lehigh Valley Health Network, was the subject of attacks from numerous families at last night's meeting of Northampton County Council. They themselves were the victims of unfounded claims of child abuse over the past several years. In public comments that went on for nearly three hours, they detailed repeated misdiagnoses of child abuse. Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley urged that, at the very least, a county should seek a second opinion before separating a child from his or her family. 

To his credit, Council President Kerry Myers ensured everyone got five minutes. He called it the "toughest three hours I had to sit through in my entire life." On a hot mike during a recess, Council member Ron Heckman told Solicitor Chris Spadoni, "All of this seems so bizarre." It is. From what I understand, the last thing that Children, Youth and Families wants to do is remove a child from his or her home. 

In his Executive report, Lamont McClure called the subject "complicated," but acknowledged you have to feel empathy for the "pain and real trauma" he heard.      

I'd need to hear a lot more before making any judgment. 

In county business, County Council also heard from the public on Council member John Goffredo's proposed ordinance to exempt Lehigh and Northampton County contractors from a responsible contractor ordinance. 

Similar proposed responsible contractor ordinances in Bethlehem and Allentown have been rejected. 

Public Works Director Mike Emili told County Council that, contrary to what certainly seems to be the case, there has been no decrease in the number of bids on a project since the responsible contractor ordinance was adopted. 

Goffredo argued that 88% of the local workforce is ineligible to bid on a county job because of the responsible contractor ordinance. He also argued that a performance bond is a contractor's guarantee. This was disputed by Administrator Charles Dertinger. 

Council member Kevin Lott, himself a former union agent, claimed he was threatened by Associated Building Contractors with boycotts when the responsible contractor ordinance was originally considered by Council in 2018. He thanked them for not threatening him this time. Lott kept calling for a vote, trying to exclude Goffredo from speaking. 

Goffredo said his family has been in construction for four generations, but takes it personally when nonunion tradesmen are excluded from county work. He argued this ordinance is unfair to the taxpayer. Goffredo also offered an amendment to the ordinance that would still require prevailing wage and OSHA training. Council member Lori Vargo Heffner agreed to second Goffredo's amendment, which was adopted over the objections of Lott, Council member Tara Zrinski and Council member Ron Heckman. 

Heckman said he still supports the responsible contractor ordinance, but believes that Goffredo has a point concerning the need to use local labor. He said that the county also has a local labor ordinance, and wonders whether there is a conflict. He also suggested that smaller projects should probably be open to everyone. 

Heffner stated she heard no argument to persuade her that apprenticeship programs are unnecessary.  But she is concerned about the recent dearth of bids on county projects. 

Council member John Cusick stated he supported the original responsible contractor ordinance because the minimum threshold was $250,000 and it provided for an alternative apprentice program. He opposed the 2020 revision, which lowered the project threshold to $100,000 and made the apprentice program mandatory. 

When the final vote was tallied, Goffredo's proposed ordinance failed, 6-3. It was supported by Goffredo, Council member John Brown and Council member Tom Giovanni. It was opposed by Council members Ron Heckman, Lori Vargo Heffner, Kerry Myers, Kevin Lott, Tara Zrinski and John Cusick.  

Thursday, September 07, 2023

NorCo Council Poised to Consider Its Responsible Contractor Ordinance

Northampton County Council must anticipate a lot of visitors tonight. Its regularly scheduled meeting will be conducted in Courtroom One instead of the Council chambers. I doubt people are coming to hear the annual presentation from the external auditor. I suspect they want to weigh in on proposed changes to the responsible contractor ordinance sponsored by Council member John Goffredo. 

In 2018, County Council adopted what is known as a "responsible contract ordinance" for its own public works projects valued at over $250,000. Bidders on these projects were required to submit a "responsible contractor certificate" that included proof that it has participated in a Class A Apprenticeship program for the past five years. In 2020, this requirement was tightened to make it applicable to all public works projects over $100,000. 

The argument for this ordinance is that it ensures that all public construction and maintenance projects are performed by responsible firms with the expertise to perform on time and under budget. The argument against it is that most nonunion contractors have no such apprenticeship program. But some do. 

In the five years since this ordinance was originally adopted, Northampton County's biggest public works project was the design and construction of the forensic center on Gracedale's campus. According to Executive Lamont McClure, several nonunion contractors participated.

But it's also true that in the five years since this ordinance was adopted, the county has had numerous smaller public works projects with one or no bids at all. 

In July, County Council was a proposed $340,000 contract with Wilmer R Schultz, Inc. a union general contractor located in Emmaus. The project was repairs to the courthouse steps as well as the retaining wall on 7th Street. According to Public Works Director Michael Emili, this proposal had gone out to bid at least twice. He received only one bid from Schultz, and after competitive negotiation with the sole bidder, he was able to knock down the price tag by $34,000.

Just a few months before this, the County received no bids at all for the plumbing of a bathroom replacement project at a county park. It was forced to seek out a union plumber located in Reading.

Council member Kevin Lott, himself a former union agent, dismissed concerns about the $340,000 contract with Schultz. "$340,000 on a commercial job is a small job," he said. "It's very busy in the LV right now."

If a $340,000 commercial job is considered small, then requiring prospective bidders to have Class A apprenticeship programs just limits the number of potential bidders. If a contractor can establish that his workers have technical school backgrounds or several years of on-the-job training, that should suffice for smaller jobs. 

I understand the rationale for a responsible contractor ordinance, but it is actually irresponsible for a county to erect so many hurdles as to make it nearly impossible to secure competitive bids on its own projects? How does this serve the taxpayer who foots the bill?

Goffredo's proposal would exempt all Lehigh and Northampton County contractors from the responsible contractor ordinance. I doubt that will fly. What might get five votes is a responsible contractor ordinance that only applies to larger projects like the forensic center. 

According to former union agent Lott, a $340,000 commercial job is small. A responsible county council should trigger a responsible contractor ordinance for major projects, not an outhouse at a county park.  

I doubt very much that Goffredo will be successful. There may be a gift ban, but most Democratic Council members as well as Executive McClure rely heavily on union support to fund their campaigns. 

I support unions. People like to say they gave us the 40-hour work week. That souns nice, but what unions really did is make working conditions safer. My grandfather lost two fingers in a cola mine where he worked as a little boy. Unions put a stop to this misuse of child labor. So yes, I support an ordinance designed to give them edge. But it should only apply to larger projects. If they were bidding on smaller projects, I'd want the ordinanceto remain in place as is. But we shouldn't need to go to reading to get a union plumber on a small job.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Court Filings Reveal Sultana Under Investigation by CYF, Water and Electricity Stopped at Family Home

I've previously told you that Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana, 39, has waived a preliminary hearing on charges that she twice assaulted her adult son. Her attorneys, Ettore "Ed" Angelo and Elliott Love, advised Magisterial District Judge Jordan Knisley that they planned to seek admission into accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD). That's a special program for first offenders in which charges are dismissed after a successful probationary period. Angelo also sought a modification of bail that would allow Sultan and her husband to return home. After a hearing on September 1, Senior Judge Thomas Munley decided that bail should remain the same. 

I have since learned that there are not one, but three, separate Protection From Abuse actions. 

1) Son's PFA against Sultana. - In this matter, based on allegations of repeated assaults by Sultana against her son, including death threats, an emergency PFA Order against her was entered on August 18. A hearing scheduled for August 30 was postponed, and the emergency order was extended until November 8, 2023. This is because of the pending criminal case.

2) Son's PFA against Step-Father Muhammud Nadeem Qayyum. -  In addition to the PFA against the mother, the adult son also sought and obtained a PFA against his stepfather.  Muhammud Nadeem Qayyum, aka Nadeem Qayyum, is a failed candidate for Magisterial District Judge and NorCo Controller. He also was unsuccessful in his bid for appointment to the Controller's job after the unfortunate death of Bucky Szulborski. 

Interestingly, in the PFA petition filed by the son, he claims that Nadeem is unemployed. That is in stark contrast to representations Qayyum made when running for Controller and when he applied for the vacancy. 

The PFA entered against Qayyum is based on allegation that "he's cutoff the water, not paying for it or the electric, tried shutting off the electricity, stealing my personal items ... Any food that I buy gets taken. No food, water, electric, constant yelling and harassing me."

Qayyum was ordered evicted from the family home.  A hearing scheduled for August 30 has been postponed, and the emergency PFA has been extended until November 8, 2023. 

3) Sultana's PFA Against Son. -  Sultana has filed a PFA against her son, claiming she was actually the one assaulted when she tried to stop her adult son from playing violent video games. She added that he fabricated his allegation that she assaulted him. 

The court declined to enter an emergency PFA. It instead scheduled a hearing for August 30, adding that "due to a pending children and youth investigation, the court hereby directs that a representative from CYS appear at the hearing."

That hearing was continued until September 13.


1) Nadeem, according to his stepson, is unemployed.

2) Children and Youth are investigating Sultana.

3) The water and electricity at the family home was cut, either deliberately or through nonpayment of bills. 

Why Jay Finnigan Is Running For Hanover Tp (NorCo) Super

Below you can see a news release from Jay Finnigan's campaign for Hanover Tp (NorCo)Supervisor. He's currently the Township Manager, and would be required by state law to step down if elected. 

When I wrote for a local weekly, Hanover Tp was my first beat assignment. It quickly became my favorite local government and I regarded my trips there as mental health breaks. The Supervisors were all dedicated, but could laugh at themselves. And they did.

Finnigan went years without raising real estate taxes. He erased all debt, something I've seen nowhere else.  Services remained outstanding because the late Vince Milite and he regularly manned the plow trucks. 

I think Finnigan might have wiped out a mailbox or two, but he blamed Milite.

I don't live in Hanover Tp. But this is a no-brainer. 

From Jay Finnigan's Campaign for Township Supervisor: Jay Finnigan, Hanover Township –Northampton County is seeking his second term as a member of the Hanover Township Board of Supervisors. Jay was elected Vice Chairman in 2003 and Chairman in 2004. He has served as the Township Manager since 2006, after leaving the Board.

Jay was previously employed by D&B, Inc. (Dun & Bradstreet) for 25+ years, lastly serving as Director, Sales Policy & Planning in the Bethlehem, PA facility. He had previously held management & sales positions in Boston & Springfield, MA; New York, NY, and Hartford, CT.

“My goal is to continue to make Hanover one the most desirable communities to live and work in the Lehigh Valley”, Finnigan commented. He continued, “families want to move to Hanover as evidenced by the increasing value of home sales and the low number of days on the market.”

Among the accomplishments he cited are:

• Maintained a flat tax rate for all eighteen years as manager
• Chief plaintiff and organizer in the lawsuit that kept NIZ tax dollars in Hanover and other Northampton County municipalities.
• Significant improvements to the Township’s Infrastructure
• Spearheaded the land acquisition for First Responder Park, Armed Services Park, and the expansion of Pharo Park
• Solid growth with a balance between Residential and Non-Residential property
• Expanded community based events
• Has a solid working relationship with surrounding municipalities, county, state, and federal government
• Maintained and improved the level of service of Township staff
• Development of the Township Website (currently being updated as part of 2023 budget), introduced Constant Contact and Nixle.
• Secured funding for three electronic message boards
• Secured grants for police vehicles and accident reconstruction equipment Challenges ahead
• Continuing to provide superior services while maintaining a stable tax rate
• Ensuring the proper development of remaining undeveloped properties
• Continuing to provide superior public safety to the residents and business community
• Maintaining a great quality of life in the Township as the communities to Hanover’s north, east ; west continue to develop
• Continue to work with PennDOT to ensure improvements along S.R. 0987

When asked why he was running, Jay stated the following:

“I could no longer sit back and watch the image of the Township be tarnished by those holding an elected position who should be doing everything in their power to enhance our image.”

“I could no longer sit back and watch the integrity of the Township staff be impugned by those in elected office.”

“Having served previously I know what a Township Supervisors role and responsibilitiesare and it is clearly evident that some shrink away from their role and responsibility.” “You can’t hold an elected office and not engage the Township Staff on a regular basis. Showing up for one or two meetings a month and believing that is acceptable, isn’t acceptable! Claiming a lack of transparency when you’ve met with the Township Manager twice in five and a half years is totally unacceptable.”


• President, Delaware Valley Hockey League
• Chair, Northampton Tax Collection Committee
• Member & former President, Lehigh Valley Ice Hockey Officials Association
• USA Hockey Certified Coach, Instructor and Official
• Member, USA Hockey Congress
• AHL Supervisor of Off Ice Officials
• Former President, Bethlehem Blast Youth Hockey
• Former Coach, Bethlehem Blast Youth Hockey
• Former member, Hanover Township Recreation Advisory Board
• Chief Fundraiser, Hanover 200th Committee

Personal Information:

Married: wife Mona; two sons, John and James


BS, Business Management, Bentley College, Waltham, M

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Affordable Housing Grants Available in NorCo

From Northampton County:  County Executive Lamont McClure and the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) announce that the County of Northampton will begin accepting applications for 2023 Affordable Housing Program (AHP) grants on Monday, September 11. AHP funds are available to eligible non-profits, public agencies, local governments, government authorities, and private, low-income housing providers. Grants must maintain or increase the availability of quality affordable housing for residents of Northampton County whose annual incomes are below 80% of the household median income for the County using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 income limits for 2023.

Proposed projects must fall into one of three categories:
  • Create, retain, or improve rental units or owner-occupied housing
  • Emergency housing services
  • Transitional housing facilities and affordable housing supportive services
Applications open on Monday, September 11, and close on Friday, October 20, 2023. Interested organizations can apply by visiting the Northampton County Participant Portal hosted by Neighborly Software at:

Registration is required on the Participant Portal in order to apply.
Program inquiries should be directed to:
Sarah Ortiz, Northampton County DCED