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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, July 25, 2024

Why NorCo Administrators Stopped Baratta's Detective Hire

I told you yesterday that NorCo DA Steve Baratta wants to hire a retiring Bethlehem police officer to add to his stable of county detectives. At the same time, he proposed giving all county detectives what amounts to a 15% payhike over what they are currently paid. But when Baratta and First Assistant Bob Eyer appeared before County Council last week, a resolution that authorized the hire and salary increases was missing. That's because Executive Lamont McClure pulled it. He had good reason to do so.

One of my readers slammed McClure: "He must have it his way and will push back on anything that doesn't get him donors or publicity." But as McClure himself advised Council, county detectives are in a collective bargaining agreement, and the county administration is the sole bargaining agent when it comes to doling out money. 

This appears specifically in the Home Rule Charter's enumeration of the powers of the Executive branch. Among them is the authority to "supervise and direct the negotiation and administration of any collective bargaining agreements with employees ... ." This applies to all union contracts, including the courts and the DA. 

Without question, as an independently elected official, the District Attorney has authority to hire and fire. But he has no authority to raise or lower salaries. That is the province of County Council. If a union contract is involved, it is the province of both the Executive and County Council. The Executive negotiates. County Council approves any collective bargaining agreement. 

Baratta argued that he has the right to "move pieces" as he sees fit so long as he stays within his budget. But that view is wrong. Under the Home Rule Charter, they, and not he, set the salaries.  

In addition to defending the Home Rule Charter, McClure has another reason to put the brakes on Baratta's proposal. Baratta is proposing a 15% wage hike for detectives who already are paid pretty well and drive a county car home every night. He is doing this just as contract negotiations are beginning for a new contract. How does he justify this to Human Services workers who are also getting 15% raises, but spaced out over three years? How does he justify this to other county workers? And how does he justify it to county taxpayers? 

County Council solicitor Chris Spadoni told Baratta last week to just prepare his own resolution so County Council can vote on it. That would also be a mistake and would be just as meaningless as the various toothless resolutions being hurled at County Council in recent weeks. 

Gracedale Rating Jumps From Two to Three Stars in Latest CMS Rating

Though the most recent nursing home star ratings have yet to appear on the CMS webpage, they are in and it's good news for Northampton County. The county-owned nursing home has jumped from two (below average) to three (average) stars. 

What's most impressive about the new rating is that Gracedale is now assigned four stars (above average) for staffing. Reported hours of nursing care per resident per day now stands at 4.078 (four hours five minutes), above the national average of 3.798.  

Gracedale still relies heavily on outside agency nurses as it beefs up its staff. Nursing turnover is still quite high and was 68.75% in 2023. 

The nursing home received only one star (much below average) for an item called "quality measures." That is pretty much expected. Gracedale accepts a large number of residents with issues like dementia and Alzheimer's  

Wednesday, July 24, 2024

NorCo DA Baratta's Proposed Detective Hire Stopped by County Administrators

Before last week's meeting of Northampton County Council, District Attorney Steve Baratta submitted two personnel requests. First, he was proposing the elimination of one vacant full-time Assistant DA position ($67,828) and replacing it with two part-time Assistant DAs ($58,584).  Second, he was proposing a new county detective, with the understanding that all detectives would be paid at Step 7G (salary unknown) County detectives are all union positions. But when County Council met last week on July 17 and 18, the Detective hire was missing. What happened?

Baratta was unavailable for the committee meeting to vet these requests on July 17, but First Ass't Bob Eyer was there. He and Council President Lori Vargo Heffner both noted that a proposed resolution authorizing a new detective was missing. 

Before they were able to discuss this, Council member Jeff Warren (a McClure ally) began complaining about the multiple personnel requests streaming in from the DA asking for salary increases a position restructures. He said he's like a "plan of action in terms of what [the DA] is looking to do in terms of salaries ... ."

At this point, Executive Lamont McClure approached Council to say he had a "nice conversation" with Baratta earlier that week. He indicated that the changes with the detectives implicate an existing collective bargaining agreement. "The county is the exclusive bargaining agent for the District Attorney's office, so these things need to be done in negotiations. He indicated any action taken by Council "would be a nullity on its face because it would be violative of the collective bargaining agreement." 

That's not how Baratta saw it. At the full County Council meeting on July 18, he said a secretary in Human Relations advised him that his detective proposal violated the collective bargaining agreement. "That's a pretty heavy legal opinion for a secretary to make," he observed. 

He said that, as District Attorney, he has the right to move positions around as he sees fit. He indicated his detectives are exempt positions, and so long as meets the budget, the caselaw says he is free to do as he wishes. He believes he can promote and hire detectives without violating any collective bargaining agreement.

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner told Baratta to prepare a resolution on his own and Council will consider it when they meet again August 2. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

NorCo Council Rejects Election Resolution as " Fluff"

Several resolutions proposed by Council member Kelly Keegan at recent meetings of Northampton County Council have nothing to do with county government and have accomplished little more than further divide an already divided body. But just as a broken clock is right twice a day, a resolution she proposed at the July 18 meeting has everything to do with county government. The administration of elections is a core county function in Pennsylvania. Public confidence in Northampton County elections has been shaken as a result of design errors in the Express Vote XL during the 2019 and 2023 elections. The county administrator was forced to resign after the most recent debacle. It's important that citizens who choose to vote know that their votes are counted. But at the July 18 meeting of Northampton County Council, a resolution endorsing election integrity was rejected by a 6-3 vote. 

Voting No were John Brown, John Goffredo, Tom Giovanni, Jeff Corpora, Ron Heckman and Lori Vargo Heffner. Voting Yes were Ken Kraft, Kelly Keegan and Jeff Warren. 

Whether you lean right or left, chances are you think our American democracy is in peril. Some of us fear the emergence of autocracy while others worry that our institutions are being abused to persecute political enemies and suppress free speech. This concern is even expressed in the way we vote. Some of us worry that the right to vote is being compromised, while others earnestly believe that we have set in place so many ways to vote (in person, on demand mail-in ballots) that it's become difficult to prevent voter fraud. 

With this in mind, a nonpartisan group called Keep Our Republic has been formed to "strengthen trust in our electoral system." It supports three basic principles: (1) Let every eligible voter vote; (2) Let every vote be counted; and (3) Let the electoral vote stand. Executive Lamont McClure drafted a resolution expressing these three basic tenets and Kelly Keegan sponsored it. 

Here's what Council members said at the meeting and in a previous committee hearing:

John Goffredo: "If you take it at its word, I agree, it's not controversial at all. The problem is that I think over the last four years our elections systems have changed dramatically and there have been problems. ... I think it's full of holes and problems. ... We do have problems. I think we've experienced them. And we're going to continue to experience them until we fix them."

John Brown: "A resolution like this ... is kinda' like fluff." 

Ron Heckman: "I don't really need to bend a knee to some out-of-state group asking me to reaffirm what I've said 100 times." 

Lori Vargo Heffner: "Whay are we saying something we already do? ... 

Kelly Keegan: "Why wouldn't everybody support this?"

Jeff Warren: "This county has done a very good job of making sure that every single vote regardless of hiccups, every single vote is the right vote ... . We have had some hiccups [Warren's term for the election disasters in 2019 and 2023] and there have been hiccuops since the time our country has started." 

Monday, July 22, 2024

The Lord Almighty Has Spoken, But Does He Endorse Kamala?

After a disastrous debate in which he looked like he was auditioning for a part in the latest zombie movie, President Joe Biden attempted unsuccessfully to show that he has a few sparks left in several disappointing interviews. He told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that he'd withdraw his candidacy for President only if the "Lord Almighty" came down and told him to pull the plug. That must have happened over the weekend because, as we all know by now, he's finally realized he has no path to victory and has pulled out of the Presidential race. At the same time, he's thrown his support behind his VP, Kamala Harris. While she's already received the endorsement of all 50 state chairs and many would-be rivals, several prominent Democrats (Obama, Pelosi, Schumer and Jeffries) are mum. I'd prefer an open process myself

Harris would almost certainly emerge victorious from a competitive convention. This would also prove that she can win, something she was utterly unable to do when she ran four years ago. It would also open her up to a little scrutiny. I believe she had a rough start as VEEP but has come a long way over the past year. My chief concern is whether this Californian from a deep blue state can finally succeed in laying out a vision that appeals to America's disaffected working class. If she can do this, as Trump and JD Vance have done, she could win. 

America has never elected a woman to our highest office. I'm uncertain whether that is coincidence or evidence of the sexism I saw hurled at the female Secret Service agents who protected Trump. I do know this. She will be subjected to numerous similar attacks precisely because of her sex, and some of them will almost certainly come from Trump himself. And those attacks will backfire, drawing more moderates to her. 

What's your take on Biden's withdrawal and Harris' sudden candidacy? Do you support an open process, or should the party just embrace her as if she were an heir apparent? 

Friday, July 19, 2024

NorCo Council Sets Salary for Council Clerk at $107,482, Deputy Clerk at $81,545.

Last night, Northampton County Council voted to set the salary for the Council Clerk at $107,482. It also established a new salary for Deputy Clerk at $81.545.  The vote on the Council Clerk salary was 8-1, with Council member Kelly Keegan being the sole dissenter. The vote on the Deputy Clerk was unanimous.

Keegan argued she is unaware of anyone who starts at the same salary as the person who retires from a position. She added that Council Clerks should get annual evaluations just like she does. Council member John Goffredo agreed with Keegan and said the salary is "bad business by us as the bosses."

Council member Ken Kraft, however, noted the precarious position under which Council Clerks work. They are considered "exempt" employees who lack the protection of career service regulations or a union contract. Council member John Brown added that the title "Council Clerk" is actually a misnomer because of the "complexity of the position."

Council President clarified a misperception by Goffredo and Keegan that the Council Clerk would be starting at the same salary being paid to Linda Zembo when she retired as Council Clerk. She said it is "not the same amount that Linda Zembo was paid."

That might be why Goffredo relented and voted Yes, but Keegan still voted No. 

Aline Shafnisky currently serves as Council's acting Clerk. 

NorCo Sheriff Rich Johnston to Retire August 2

At last night's meeting of NorCo Council, Executive Lamont McClure reported that Sheriff Rich Johnston will be retiring on August 2. He stated that Johnston "exemplified the best of what we would want to see in public officials, especially those in law enforcement." 

The Northampton County Sheriff provides building and court room security, transports prisoners, locates and apprehends fugitives, serves legal papers, administers the foreclosure, repossession and sale of real and personal property, and issues gun permits.

Unlike most other counties in Pennsylvania, which elect their sheriffs, the Home Rule Charter makes the Sheriff an appointed position. The Executive ranks his top three choices and forwards them to the courts. The courts in turn can rank the choices in another order or include new names. The Executive has the final say. Johnston was the top choice of both the courts and McClure.

It's mostly gone, but you can still detect a New York accent in Johnston's voice. He started his career there as a NYC transit cop in 1982. While working full-time, he earned an associate's degree in forensic psychology in 1993. In 1994, he was promoted to sergeant for the NYPD, where he supervised anywhere between 20 and 45 officers, depending on which precinct he worked

After putting in his 20 years with New York City, he continued his career in law enforcement here in the Lehigh Valley. He started as a District Security Officer at Easton School District and became a deputy sheriff in 2002. 

Johnston expressed his appreciation to nearly everyone, including deputies who certainly made his life more interesting. 

I have high regard for Rich, both as Sheriff and as a person. He has always been a gentleman, a rarity. 

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Corpora Proposes, Then Pulls Home Rule Charter Change to Ban Resolutions Irrelevant to County Business

Council member Jeffrey Corpora last night proposed a Home Rule Charter change that would prevent other Council members from introducing resolution that have no relevance to county business.  But after discussion among Council members, he agreed that Council could probably take action without introducing another change to the county's constitution. He also agreed that his wording was a bit unclear. 

I've posted a resolution similar to what Corpora seeks here. I believe my own proffer could use some work as well. How does one determine that a particular resolution is irrelevant? I believe any single member of Council should be able to raise that question. But if a majority can agree to be sponsors, that should indicate that there's some consensus. 

Tonight, County Council will consider a resolution sponsored by Kelly Keegan but that was drafted by Executive Lamont McClure, calling for fair elections in which all legitimate votes are counted. Unlike many other issues, the administration of elections is a core county function. 

Council member John Goffredo complained that it is a toothless resolution, and he's right. But most county council resolutions are toothless.   

NorCo Council Poised to Vote For $107,548 With A Deputy Earning $87,000

Tonight, Northampton County Council is poised to vote on salaries for the Council Clerk as well as a Deputy. Currently, the "Acting" Council Clerk is Aline Shafnisky, and at a salary of $107,548. From what I've been able to glean (it was difficult to hear the audio), Council will vote tonight on a resolution fixing the salary $107,548, well above what most county employees receive.  Moreover, the Deputy Clerk will be paid $87,000, which incidentally is higher than the Executive's salary. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

NorCo PJ Reinstates County Solicitor Fired Under Exec John Brown

Jill Mancini
Northampton County President Judge Craig Dally, in a 16-page opinion (you can read it below), has ordered that Jill Mancini, a former assistant county solicitor appointed under former Exec John Stoffa, be reinstated. He also awarded her four years of back pay and fringe benefits. The exact amount of these damages will be determined during an evidentiary hearing in December.

So ends the latest chapter in a saga that first began on December 23, 2013. There had been a change of the guard in the County after John Brown's election as Executive. His new Solicitor, Vic Scomillio, advised Mancini by phone, and while he was driving, that she was being fired. 

Since that time, this matter has been heard by a federal district court, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the Revenue Appeals Board, court of common pleas and Commonwealth Court. A federal jury determined that Mancini's procedural due process rights had been violated. She was awarded $94,232 in back pay and attorney fees of $186,000

The dispute lingered after Brown was replaced as Executive by Lamont McClure. As a candidate, McClure supported Mancini's cause. As Executive, he appears to have been troubled by the huge payday Mancini would be reaping.

It's going to be larger now.

Mancini Opinion by BernieOHare on Scribd

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Female Secret Service Agents Attacked Mainly Because They Are Women

Yesterday, in response to a post suggesting that President Biden should pardon former President Trump if he really is interested in uniting this country, I received several sexist comments laying blame at the feet of female Secret Service agents who are portrayed as too short, too fat or just plain incompetent. Here's one of the comments: "Did anyone else notice the girls pretending to be secret service agents? Two were fat. Both were too short to provide the secret service "meat shield" on such a tall candidate. One kept pleading "what are we doing? What are we doing?" The men seemed to know without asking. The one fatty couldn't holster her weapon until the fifth try." Well, according to former Secret Service agent Mike McCarthy, who took a bullet for President Reagan in 1981, the agents did exactly what they are trained to do - cover and evacuate.

I suspect each of these female agents is fit and have BMIs under 25. I also watched video of several state troopers in the aftermath of the shooting, including a sergeant who was male but definitely was incredibly overweight. I doubt he could run 100 yards. Then there's a male Butler Township police officer who actually confronted Trump's would be-assassin several seconds before the shooting. He not only retreated, but failed to take any action to alert anyone in law enforcement that a potential killer was on the rooftop. This officer could have fired his own gun into the ground to alert Secret Service sharpshooters that mischief was afoot. He allowed a few crucial seconds to go by, and that was all the time needed for a killer to open up on Trump and innocent people.  

Interestingly, a local counter-sniper unit was actually inside the building in which an assassin climbed up onto the roof and unleashed a hail of bullets that killed and wounded. 

Monday, July 15, 2024

If Biden Really Wants to Bring Us Together, He Should Pardon Trump

Late Saturday afternoon, in western Pennsylvania's Trump country, a would-be assassin nearly succeeded in killing former President Donald Trump. From atop a glass factory only 348 yards from a Trump rally, Thomas Matthew Crooks aimed his father's AR-style rifle at Trump and fired away. One bullet grazed Trump's ear, who was otherwise unharmed. The hail of bullets from Crooks did, however, kill a firefighter and critically wounded two others. While we may have serious differences, people of good will (left and right) quickly condemned this senseless act of violence. President Joe Biden talked about the need for all of us to unite on Saturday night and twice on Sunday. Moreover, following a phone call between these two political rivals, Trump posted a two-word message on his Truth Social account - "Unite America!" Instead of uttering meaningless refrains about getting along, one of the biggest steps Biden could take to ease the political temperature would be by granting Trump a pardon in the federal cases pending against him. 

The federal criminal cases show a man who actively obstructed government officials in numerous attempts to retrieve sensitive confidential records that included nuclear secrets. But I am well aware that a large segment of the American population believe he is a victim of political persecution. This has stoked a lot of the division in this country over the past year. 

I'll concede there are people on both sides of the political spectrum who will never be mollified unless one side completely obliterates "the other." In years past, "the other" has been our foreign adversaries. Now, it's progressive Democrats or MAGA Republicans. There is no hope for people who latch onto conspiracy theories and are so full of hate that they condemn everyone just for their party affiliation. 

Most of us are unlike that. I am close to several MAGA Republicans who are among the most generous people I know. Even my brother is a Trump supporter, and to be honest, he is a far better person than I ever was. With those folks, a Biden pardon would go a long way to easing the current political tensions. They might even help restore faith in some of our government institutions. 

Will this hurt Biden's chances at the "battle box," as he called the ballot box last night? Frankly, who cares? That ship sailed after a disastrous debate performance. And the assassination attempt makes a Trump's landslide even more likely.  But if Biden really cares about bringing people together, instead of his own selfish interests, he'd do it. 

Finally, I wish to address some nasty comments directed at me over the weekend, claiming I took joy in Trump's near assassination and that my own rhetoric is somehow responsible.  I take back none of the things I've said about Trump. I do consider him an authoritarian and a danger to democracy. I've compared him to Hitler and have called him a crime boss. But these does not mean I want people to kill him. I've always believed in following the law, even when I have sometimes failed myself. Finally, I've never advocated violence against him or anyone. 

Friday, July 12, 2024

Biden Excelled in Presser, But That Fails To Erase Disastrous Debate

There was a marked contrast between the walking corpse who debated Donald Trump a few weeks ago and the thoughtful and well-informed man who faced the press last night during a wide-ranging news conference in which he demonstrated a vastly superior knowledge of foreign policy. Is it too little, too late? I think so.

Earlier that day, he introduced Ukraine President Zelensky as President Putin And at the onset of his presser, he referred to Vice President Kamala Harris as Donald Trump. These kinds of flubs are only human and completely normal. I've done this and suspect you have, too, even if you refuse to admit it. And let's, be honest. Like it or not, he does have a speech impediment. But for the most part, he handled himself exceptionally well last night responding to 11 different reporters. I was left to wonder why he has failed to do this more often.

When questioned about domestic issues or his own fitness, he tended to stray away from what he was being asked. But he was clear on the subject of foreign policy and the need to stand up to Putin's aggression.  He does better when he speaks slowly. 

Though impressive last night, it's just impossible to erase his disastrous debate performance, in which he often stared vacantly with his mouth agape. In case you forget it, I'm sure Trump's campaign will be sending you plenty of reminders. 

According to a Washington Post/Ipsos poll released yesterday, 67% of all Americans believe Biden needs to withdraw. This also includes 56% of all Democrats. 

Although Trump is a deeply flawed person and will be a disastrous President who fails to honor America's commitments. Biden's continued campaign means a landslide. Biden hinted he might step aside if convinced he's unable to beat Trump, and it is up to show him this is inevitable instead of being enablers. 

Jow needs an intervention. 

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Tour de France: Vingegaard Silences Trash Talk With Stage 11 Comeback Victory

Two-time Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard was off to a great start in the 2024 cycling season as he readied himself for the penultimate of all races, a 21-day race that goes 2,174 miles through the Alps and Pyrenees' mountains. But in early April, his preparation came to a sudden halt when he had a disastrous crash while racing in Spain's Basque country. Thanks to a concrete culvert, he sustained serious injuries that nearly ended his life, to say nothing of his future in cycling. He suffered a broken collarbone, fractured ribs and a collapsed lung. He spent 12 days in a hospital before returning to his native Denmark, and even his flight home had to be at low altitude to keep his lung from collapsing again. Despite all of this, Jonas was at the starting line of this year's Tour de France, happy just to be there. After 10 stages of the race, he was down 1:15 to Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, who has also won the Tour twice. He was even a few seconds behind Belgian newcomer Remco Evenepoel. But yesterday's 211 km stage, which included 4,350 meters of climbing, proved that it's far too soon to count him out. Not only did he win the stage but did so in spectacular fashion after Tadej launched one of his trademark attacks with 31 km left in the race. Not only did Jonas catch Tadej, but actually beat the explosive Pogacar in a dueling sprint to the finish line.

Just a few days before, Vingegaard's GC rivals were trash-talking him for refusing to pull for Pogacar and Evenepoel in the gravel stage. Evenepoel, who has some growing up to do, actually accused Jonas of "having no balls." The normally affable Pogacar suggested that Vingegaard might be a little bit afraid of him. But as Jonas explained, his goal in the gravel stage was to keep up with the leaders, not beat them. He was riding defensively, and for good reason. First, he considers gravel dangerous, Second, he had to switch bikes with a taller teammate for nearly 100 km of the race, which was obviously not fitted to him. Third, even on that bike, Jonas rode the final three km with a puncture. He made the right move, especially because his strength is in the upcoming mountain stages.

When Pogacar launched his attack yesterday, it at first looked like that was the end for Jonas. He was 30 seconds behind after Tadej climbed a hill and went into a furious downhill descent. But Jonas never gave up. He kept pushing and pushing, and that 30 second margin began to disappear. On the final climb, Jonas caught a struggling Tadej, who made the double mistake of attacking too soon and failing to fuel himself. Usually smiling, he had a pained look in his face. He was running out of gas, or as cyclists say, bonking. 

Jonas took the lead, but the race was not over. In the final few hundred meters, as the parkour flattened, Jonas decided that instead of waiting for Tadej to attack, he'd do so himself. Despite his obviously weakened condition, Tadej met the challenge and the two were neck and neck until the very end, with Jonas winning by a wheel. 

He let his bicycle do the talking. Jonas is still third overall but is gaining time. 

After the race was over, the normally reserved Dane broke into tears. "I'm just happy to be here, especially to win it for my family," he said, and he means it. The first persons he calls after each stage are his wife and daughter. "I'm a bit surprised I could beat [Tadej] in the sprint," he added. He should be. That's the first time Tadej was ever beaten in a sprint. 

The race is still Tadej's to lose. But he needs to ride less instinctively and more intelligently, especially in the upcoming mountain stages. 

I did see Remco congratulate Jonas after the race. Jonas was on the phone with his family but did give Remco a fist bump. Evenepoel then went to look for his balls on the gravel. 

Tadej was complimentary as well. "He beat me really good on the line," he admitted. 

A lot of life lessons were taught today. Don't listen to what others say about you. Listen to yourself. But be honest with yourself. Don't think you're more powerful than you are. 

11 stages to go. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

I Have Finally Recovered From a Nasty Bout of Bronchitis

in cooler weather
Yesterday was the first day since June 12 that I can say I have finally recovered from a very nasty case of bronchitis.  I suspect it had been building up for a few weeks after a summer cold. It hit me hard after a high intensity hard cycling ride with my grandson on June 12. Within hours, I had a high fever, chills, no appetite (very unusual for me), was extremely fatigued and could not stop coughing. I believe this is probably the sickest I have ever been. 

A double dose of antibiotics seemed to knock most of the bacterial infection out of me, but I continued coughing almost nonstop. I actually bruised my ribs during this time, which made breathing very difficult and aerobic exercise almost impossible. I did try cycling twice and made occasional forays to the gym, but it was wasted effort. I had to take several catnaps a day, even as recently as this weekend. 

Last week, I decided to try the elliptical trainer. I am used to exercising 2 plus hours per day, but just 30 minutes on the elliptical was very difficult. I took a day of rest and then continued, adding time every day. It seemed to help stretch the intercostal muscles along my rib cage and made it easier to breathe (and sleep). 

Yesterday, I woke up feeling very good, was able to hit the elliptical for 45 minutes, and then lifted weights. I could see that I lost a lot of strength in less than a month. I also lost 7 pounds, and suspect the weight lost was mostly muscle. It is probably going to take me several months to get my strength back. In the evening, I was able to walk my seeing eye dog buddy for a mile, and he was very happy. 

An elliptical trainer reminds me very much of a hybrid bicycle. Once I can do an hour on the elliptical, I can return to cycling. 

My appetite is still shitty but that probably is more the result of the heat than my illness. 

On the bright side, I really have improved my French language skills and the cataract surgery made it possible for me to return to reading. 

I want to thank those of you who reached out to me or who left encouraging comments on this blog. I know pretty clearly now that I have more time behind me than in front of me and that's OK. As the stoic Marcus Aurelius said, "Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back."  

NorCo: Groundbreaking Scheduled Today for $2.1 Million Parks and Recreation Building at Louise Moore Park

From Northampton County:

The County of Northampton invites media to attend the groundbreaking for the County’s new Parks and Recreation maintenance building at Louise Moore Park on July 10th, at 10:00 a.m.

The 6,300 SF pre-engineered steel garage will feature five garage bays for storage and maintenance of County vehicles and equipment, as well as a workshop and break room area. Constructing this garage at Louise Moore Park, the County’s largest and most centrally located park, will improve the efficiency of the Parks and Recreation Division.

County Council approved a contract in the amount of $2,199,108 with BlueScope Construction at their November 16, 2023 meeting. The building is scheduled to be completed by January 2025.

Media is encouraged to attend. The event will be held outside.

Dixie Cup: Developer Proposes $1.5 Million Cash Contribution to Wilson Borough and Wilson Area School District

Wilson Borough resident Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen attended a meeting of Wilson Area School Board on Monday night concerning the redevelopment of the long vacant Dixie Cup factory into apartments. Developer Skyline Investment Group wants a tax break known as Tax Increment Financing, which will enable it to float a bond from the increased assessment for construction over a period of 20 years. Below is his report.

Last night, both Wilson Area School District and Wilson Borough held meetings where elements of the Dixie Cup redevelopment were discussed. The below picture covers one of the biggest pieces of new information shared at the Wilson Area School Board meeting: Skyline Investment Group is directly offering funding to Wilson Area School District and Wilson Borough (see second row: "Cash Contribution")

While the $1.1 million to Northampton County is not new (this figure comes from the affordable housing opt-out language that's been discussed previously), the $1,000,000 to the School District and the $500,000 to the Borough is entirely new. Additionally, it is important to note that this is only an offer; neither the Borough nor the District have approved any language yet. Considering the fact that there was previously no upfront funding coming to either entity, this is a notable potential concession from the developer. As I asked months ago when we learned about the $1.1 million being offered to the County, I would ask the same question to the Borough and District now: Is this funding offer enough? 


Given the fact that no TIF resolution has been introduced yet by either the Borough or the School District, I am also curious about how this contribution would be handled. For the County, the mechanism enabling the $1.1 million contribution is the opt-out affordable housing language in their TIF ordinance. What is the mechanism for the Borough and District contributions?


In addition to this initial offer presented at the Wilson Area School Board meeting, Wilson Borough Council also voted on a resolution to grant a parcel of land adjacent to the Dixie Cup site to the County General Purpose Authority, with the ultimate aim of getting that site granted to the Dixie Cup developers to complete their development plan (the parcel is largely represented below by the red square). 

As for a vote on the TIF, it looks as though a hearing could happen before the end of the month or early in August at either taxing body. For the sake of those of us who went to both meetings, I can only hope the public hearings and votes are not on the same night. If you have strong opinions on the funding offers or on the TIF in general, please let me know or come out to the hearings when they get scheduled. We've only gotten this far because of the engagement of the community; let's keep it going!

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Wilson Boro Conducted No Vote For Dixie Cup TIF Last Night

Last week, NorCo Economic Development Chief Tina Smith advised County Council that the soonest it would be able to vote on a special tax break known as a TIF (tax increment financing) for Wilson Boro's vacant Dixie Cup factory would be on. October 17. She indicated that the borough would be voting on a TIF resolution on July 8 (last night), and that Wilson Area School District would do so on August 12. While this overall timeline may be accurate, Smith was mistaken when she said the borough would be voting on a TIF resolution last night.

According to the agenda for last night's meeting, no vote or even discussion was scheduled last night For the Dixie Cup TIF. The only matter related to the Dixie Cup was a resolution authorizing the transfer of a small (0.35 acre) tract to NorCo's General Purpose Authority (GPA), with the understanding that the GPA in turn would transfer title to Dixie's developer, Skyline Investment Group. 

Under the Borough Code, it is illegal to convey real estate to a for-profit private enterprise without conducting an auction to ensure that the borough gets the best possible price. But it can convey, and without consideration, to a public authority like the GPA. And then the GPA can turn around and convey it to Skyline. In essence, GPA is a strawman to help Wilson Borough prevent its citizens from getting the best price possible.  

It's unclear precisely when the Borough will vote on the TIF resolution. 

Monday, July 08, 2024

Joe Must Go (II)

One week ago today, I told you that, in the wake of a disastrous Presidential debate, Joe Must Go. In the time that has elapsed since then, all that Biden and his campaign has succeeded in doing is reinforcing my sentiment. Other than a selfish desire to clutch onto power, I see no reason why he or his inner circle are unwilling to accept reality.  

Since his debate, Biden's inner circle continue to shield him as zealously as they've been doing all along. His speeches to friendly crowds, which he still screws up, have been delivered using teleprompters. 

Biden's kitchen cabinet scheduled two radio interviews, but amazingly, had the questions in advance because they supplied them to the radio hosts. Instead of reassuring the public, this just reinforces the belief that he's unable to answer questions unless he knows what is coming in advance. This behavior is dishonest and might explain why so many people no longer trust media outlets. 

Biden's rather brief ABC interview with former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos took place eight days after the debate, and with a host who made clear he largely shares Biden's policy views. But even in this friendly setting, Biden was unwilling to commit to a cognitive test and attempted to blame his poor performance on a cold and jet lag, even though he had 12 days to get plenty of rest, and apparently did so. 

He has yet to conduct an unscripted news conference

Numerous Democratic members of Congress, including Susan Wild, are beginning to express concern. Four top House Democrats are privately urging him to step aside. 

If Biden wants to continue to serve his nation, he can do that by pulling out now. 

Friday, July 05, 2024

The Soonest NorCo Council Will Vote on the Dixie Cup TIF is October 17

On Wednesday evening, Northampton County Council voted 8-0 to table an ordinance that would have given a 20-year tax break (known as a TIF) to the proposed redevelopment of the Dixie Cup factory in Wilson Borough. 

Interestingly, Council member Jeff Warren, who previously hailed the project, was absent. During the public hearing on this tax grab a few weeks ago, he assailed Lehigh Valley developer Nat Hyman for leaving after opposing this corporate welfare during public comment. Unlike Hyman, Warren is an elected official and is paid to attend county council meetings. Warren not only missed the meeting but had time that day to publish five tweets about Philly sports. This is unlike Council members who miss meetings for medical reasons. 

According to Tina Smith, NorCo's Economic Development maestro, Wilson Borough is poised to pass a resolution approving the Dixie TIF on July 8. Wilson Area School District will deliberate that day but will not be voting on it until August 12. 

This means that the earliest a county public notice can be advertised is August 13. The soonest the TIF ordinance can be introduced is September 5. A public hearing would take place September 19, with a final vote on October 17. 

Council member Ron Heckman noted that the county can propose a timeline, but it is up to Council to decide when it will act, so long as it complies with state law. "I know people want to move this at rocket speed," he said, "but I can tell you right now that it's moved too fast."

NorCo Council Approves Three Year Deal With SEIU (Human Services) Giving 15% Over Three Years

At their Wednesday night meeting, Northampton County Council voted 8-0 to approve a new, three-year contract with SEIU Local 668, the bargaining unit for the county's unionized human services employees. The vote followed some extensive questioning by Council members Ron Heckman and Council President Lori Vargo Heffner. 

I had previously reported on these contract negotiations a few times. I had told you that the union voted to reject a new three-year contract that addresses salary more aggressively than I've seen before under Executive Lamont McClure. 

The contract rejected included the following: 

Year one was a 2.75% step increase plus cash equal to 4.5% rolled into the base. Year two was a repeat of year one. Year three was a 4% COLA.

Those already at the top of their pay scales would get $1,750 cash bonuses in years one and two, along with the 4% COLA in Year 3. 

Basically, the proposal amounts to a 13-15% payhike over three years. 

The county even sweetened this deal by offering a $500 retention cash bonus on July 1, 2024 and January 1, 2025.

Not only did members reject this rather generous proposal, but they were prepared to strike. 

The contract that the union members eventually decided to accept was one that just included three 5% COLAs over each of the three years. Basically, it is about the same amount of money as the county had already offered. 

Ron Heckman, who groused that he was "entitled to at least as much information as a blogger," lamented the lack of step increases. He also snapped at fellow Council member Ken Kraft, who tried to point out the more precise terms of what had been negotiated. 

Before I go on, let me point out that I published offers as they were made known to me, and believe therefore that Heckman had at least as much information as I. 

But Heckman's concerns about the lack of step increases was answered by Executive Lamont McClure. The union did not want them. They wanted COLAs instead, which are rolled into the base pay. McClure went on to explain that last year, the residual unit also rejected step increases in favor of COLAs. After that, Heckman stopped pontificating. 

For her part, Vargo-Heffner asked for a detailed explanation of mandates (which have never been imposed in Human Services) as well as the medical benefits. 

The contract was approved in an 8-0 vote by County Council. Council member Jeff Warren, who relied heavily on union contributions for his county council candidacy, was absent. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

NorCo Council to Vote on SEIU Contract for Unionized Human Services Workers Tonight

Despite threats to strike, SEIU Local 668 members recently voted to approve a new, three-year contract with the County. That deal must be approved by County Council and is on tonight's agenda. I will report on the basic terms of this agreement, which will probably be a model for future negotiations, after Exec Lamont McClure explains them to Council.  

NorCo's GPA Tables Property Transfer For Dixie Cup Development in Wilson Borough

Back in May, Skyline Investment Group representatives were at the NorCo's General Purpose Authority (GPA) meeting. Wilson Borough actually owns a small triangular piece shown on the tax map you see above as 1C-1. It is 0.35 acres located along the eastern side of 25th Street and is actually the beginning of a bike path that extends from the Palmer Bike path and hooks up with the Tatamy Trail. According to Claudia Robinson, who is actually a tax credit maven employed by an outfit called AreaProbe, Skyline would move the giant Dixie Cup currently on top of the vacant factory and plant it next to the bike path, where people could ooh and ahh at its wonder. 

But there's a problem. Wilson Borough is unable to convey directly to Skyline unless it first conducts an auction at which anyone could bid to buy the tract. This could complicate Robinson in her quest to attract private equity with promises of an historic tax credit. 

To foreclose the possibility that someone other than Skyline gets this tract, the Borough could convey to the county GPA, which in turn would munificently turn it over to Skyline. That way the law against this kind of insider dealing would be followed even though the spirit of the law would clearly be ignored. 

Yesterday, GPA was poised to act on a resolution to approve the transfer. An attorney with Eckert Seamens, the law firm spearheading the TIF tax grab for Dixie, and Wilson Borough Council member Justin Woodring were on hand to push for the transfer. 

But as it happens, Wilson Borough Council is not scheduled to vote on a transfer until June 8. Moreover, GPA Solicitor only received the resolution on Thursday. Moreover, Council member Woodring said Council needs to rescind an earlier resolution approving the transfer. He added that the property has no value to anyone other than the Borough and the developer.

If that's the case, why not do an auction like the Borough Code requires?

GPA member Lori Vargo Heffner moved to table the property transfer because it made little sense to approve a property transfer that the borough itself has yet to approve. "And I agree with Lori." added GPA member Ken Kraft. "This should have been withdrawn because you're not done. Ww [should be] the last person to do this. Why are we always getting this in different forms before it is finished?" Kraft seconded Vargo-Heffner's motion, and the transfer was tabled. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2024

The Race That Matters Most to Me at This Time

Jonas Vingegaard

It's not the Presidential race or the looming battles for Congressional seats. Rather, the race that matters most to me at this time is one receiving scant coverage in American press. It's the Tour de France, a cycling race that extends 2,174 miles over 21 days. It goes through hills, cobblestones, gravel and mountain stages. Today, for example, riders will go through the Alps from Italy into France, in reverse direction from the way Hannibal descended into Italy over 2,000 years ago. 

The person in the overall lead (General Classification) wears a yellow jersey, known as the maillet jaune, unless someone can beat his overall time. The fastest sprinter (there are sprints in nearly every stage) wears the green jersey. The fastest mountain climber, known as the King of the Mountains, wears a polka dot jersey. 

Slovenian cyclist Tadej Pogacar won the race in 2020 and 2021. Jonas Vingegaard won in 2022 and 2023. They are both in it to win it this year.

These guys are very classy. In the 2022 race, which was a duel between Jonas and Tadej, both were descending a mountain at high speed. Tadej was slightly behind but made a slight mistake and went off the road. Get this. Instead of taking advantage of the situation, Jonas actually slowed down and waited for Tadej to catch up. The two shook hands and continued. That's true sportsmanship.

Though Tadej is predicted to win, Jonas is my favorite. Just a few short years ago, he was working in a fish factory. Now he is the leader of Visma, one of the top cycling teams in the world.

Tadej Pogacar
Earlier this year, Jonas had a terrible accident in the Basque country. He and several other riders were caught up in a collision caused by tree roots that grew out of the road. He suffered broken ribs, a broken collarbone and a punctured lung. Most counted him out for the season. But he's back and is neck and neck with the leaders.  

Tadej just won the Giro d'Italia and basically blew everyone away. He is in top form, so I expect to see their friendly rivalry continue in the mountains and time trials. 

There are lots of storylines. Englishman Marc Cavendish, despite graying hair, is racing just to get one stage win, which will give him 35 stage wins overall and make him the first rider to have accomplished that feat. 

The first three stages have been won by underdogs from small teams. Frenchmen Romain Bardet and Kevin Vauquelin won stages 1 and 2, respectively. Believe it or not, few Frenchman actually win any stages. Stage 3 went to Biniam Girmay, the first black African to ever win a stage. 

In the main battle for overall lead, four cyclists - Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogacar, Remco Evenepoel and Richard Carapaz - have the exact same time. Carapaz is in yellow because his wheel was first over the line yesterday. Expect that to change. 

What kills me is that all of these guys speak perfect English. Tadej always seems to be having fun. Jonas calls his wife and daughter after every stage. 

Though there is little American coverage, NBC sports does daily recaps on Youtube. 

Monday, July 01, 2024

Joe Must Go

In the wake of Thursday night's disastrous debate, the New York Times Editorial Board opines that the best way Joe Biden can serve his country now is by stepping aside.  The New Yorker's David Remnick argues that a continued candidacy is more than self-delusion but is endangering this country. Israel worries that Iran could exploit the obvious weakness.  I am sure Ukraine and Taiwan are concerned as well. Despite his obvious weakness, his family and inner circle - the same idiots who prepared him for a Terrible Thursday - selfishly urge him to stay on. This is in spite of a post-debate poll in which a whopping 72% of Americans conclude that Biden lacks the "mental and cognitive health to serve as president.”

NYTimes columnist Maureen Dowd, a Washington insider, is far from my favorite columnist. She's snide and condescending, and I believe she routinely uses a thesaurus to make herself sound more intelligent than she actually is. But for once, I am in complete agreement with her Saturday Ghastly v. Ghostly column, which starts with these two paragraphs: 

"He’s being selfish. He’s putting himself ahead of the country. He’s surrounded by opportunistic enablers. He has created a reality distortion field where we’re told not to believe what we’ve plainly seen. His hubris is infuriating. He says he’s doing this for us, but he’s really doing it for himself.

"I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about the other president."

Let's forget the "What About" arguments that Democrats are now making about Trump. Of course he lies. We all (or at least most of us) know this. This is not about his fitness to serve. This is about the man who currently is at the helm, and it's downright scary.

As Dowd reminds us, this is a guy who had to bow out of a Presidential race in 1987 when it was discovered that he was using lines from speeches by RFK and Hubert Humphrey. This is the Senator who basically assured us Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court Justice. This is the man who suffered two aneurisms in 1988. 

"Biden looked ghostly, with that trepidatious gait; he couldn’t remember his rehearsed lines or numbers. He has age-related issues, and those go in only one direction. It was heart-wrenching to watch the president’s childhood stammer return."

We are constantly reminded by the media that Trump is surrounded by myrmidons who parrot his every thought, no matter how ridiculous. But it is now clear that Biden has his own set of lemmings who have shielded him from what was so obvious on Thursday night. They are condemning all of us to a Trump landslide.

One of the most important attributes of a President is the ability to communicate. Like him or not, Trump has been an effective communicator. He lacks the soaring oratory of an Obama or FDR. He is far from likable. But he knows how to get his message out, even if it is hawking bible. Biden, in contrast, has miserably failed to explain foreign or domestic policy in terms an average American can understand.

He can step down and open up the convention to candidates who at least are lucid. I doubt this will change the result but am certain about what will happen if he remains in this race. 

He needs to look at the polls instead of listening to his cheerleaders. 

Friday, June 28, 2024

Get Ready For President Trump

 After last night's Presidential debate, my conclusion is that Donald Trump is going to be handily elected in November. Biden delivered perhaps the worst possible performance you could possibly see. He frankly looked like a walking corpse. He had bizarre meltdowns, including the claim that he "finally beat Medicare." He meandered and spent much of his time with his mouth agape and staring as though he failed to understand what was being said.  By contrast, Trump was assertive and was sure of himself, even though he played fast and loose with the facts. 

I'm currently recovering from a nasty bout of bronchitis, and my voice is still very weak. Biden sounded worse. 

If he was auditioning for a role as a zombie in some horror flick, Biden would easily get the part. But President? No way. 

Ousted Norco Custody Master: Judges Sletvold and Roscioli Place Incumbency Protection Over Safety of Children

In 2018, the decision of a Bucks County jurist led to tragic and fatal consequences for seven-year old Kayden Mancuso. Her father had a history of violence. He once bit off part of a man's ear, threw a beer bottle in a woman's face, abused the family dog and even would hit himself. He harassed Kayden's teachers until the school district ordered him to stay away. Judge Jeffrey Trauger nevertheless granted him unsupervised visitation with his daughter, after which he promptly killed her and then himself. 

This case caught the attention of  NorCo Judges Jennifer Sletvold and Paula Roscioli. But instead of being concerned about the lives of children that were in their hands, they focused on insulating themselves from information that could raise red flags, giving themselves plausible deniability in the even a child was abused.

Such is the contention of NorCo's former custody master, in a beefed-up federal complaint filed yesterday. She now specifically names Sletvold and Roscioli as Defendants and adds President Judge Craig Dally and Court Administrator Jermaine Greene to her rogues' gallery as well.  

According to Tresslar's complaint, she advised the Court "that they had a valuable tool to help them search out evidence of danger to children, specifically, her practice of referring custody litigants to family counselors who could then testify in court about psychological evaluations and statements made by parties and their children during the counseling." This would enable judges to craft custody orders that actually kept children out of harm's way. But Judges Sletvold and Roscioli were mor interested in protecting themselves. 

Tresslar asserts "After the Kayden Mancuso case, instead of searching out stronger and more extensive evidence about danger to children, Defendants Sletvold and Roscioli did the opposite, i.e., they (1) tried to discourage, and sometimes prevent, parties and attorneys from presenting evidence about danger to children; (2) unreasonably pressured custody litigants to settle so that the judges would not hear evidence or make decisions about danger to children; (3) unreasonably pressured custody litigants to agree that statements made to family counselors would be forever excluded from evidence before them or any other judge in any type of case, which would include not only custody cases but juvenile dependency cases, protection-from-abuse cases, and criminal cases."

As bad as this is, things got worse. Judges Sletvold and Roscioli, using Court Administrator Jermaine Greene as their patsy, presented changes in custody procedures that ostensibly came from the bar association that would insulate them from any situation like what happened to Kayden Mancuso. But when then Judge Steve Baratta questioned the bar association, lawyers vehemently denied having anything to do with these changes, noting they had come "from the court." Greene was forced to apologize.

Tresslar continued to advocate for children but paid a price. Harassment by Judges Roscioli and Sletvold started in 2018 and continued until her constructive termination in 2023. As their power grew, Tresslar's role in custody was diminished until she was reduced to little more than a clerk. 

You can read her amended complaint below. It is important to remember that we are hearing only one side of the story. Neither Tresslar nor the court will speak outside the pages of the pleadings. 

Tresslar Amended Complaint by BernieOHare on Scribd

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Should NorCo Council Decline Consideration of Matters Unrelated to County Business

Lately, Northampton County Council is being assailed at nearly every meeting with toothless resolutions concerning hot button issues totally unrelated to what county government actually does. These are coming from Jeff  Warren and Kelly Keegan, the two newest members of County Council. While they mean well, they are actually preventing County Council from exercising its oversight over proposed county contracts or other important issues like a new county building or parking deck. Meeting are prolonged, and debates on some county matters are minimal because everyone is tired and cranky.

Although you might think these resolutions are a product of our polarized times, it's just what inexperienced Council members tend to do. When he was starting out on County Council, John Cusick was famous for proposing meaningless resolutions. Ron Angle used to joke that Cusick was a "paper hanger."

Ron Angle was guilty of this himself when he first came on County Council, with numerous attempts to plaster the Ten Commandments nearly everywhere.  

I think it's time that Northampton County Council should take a stand against issuing statements on public matters unless directly related to county government. This is a position recently taken by Harvard University, and it appears to be the sensible approach. 

Below is a proposed resolution, which I believe is consistent with the public's rights to speak and the Home Rule Charter. What improvements would you make? 


WHEREAS, under both the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act and Home Rule Charter, the public has a right to address County Council on matters of public concern; and 

WHEREAS, Northampton County welcomes diverse points of view on numerous topics of public concern, considering this essential to a healthy democracy; and 

WHEREAS, while Northampton County considers these diverse views essential to a healthy democracy, its own jurisdiction is limited to county government; and 

WHEREAS, in recent months, several Lehigh Valley municipalities have been assailed with demands from a portion of the public to take public stands on controversial issues, making it impossible for the governing bodies to conduct the public's business; and 

WHEREAS. Northampton County Council has been asked during several meetings to take positions on issues wholly unrelated to county government; and

WHEREAS, while any member of County Council has the right to propose a proposed resolution; County Council should limit its participation on controversial public issues unless directly related to county government; and 

WHEREAS, when the County Council speaks outside its own area of expertise, its public statements tend to undermine its own integrity and credibility; and 

WHEREAS, if County Council routinely takes public positions on controversial issues unrelated to county government, it will inevitably come under intense pressure to do so from multiple, competing sides on nearly every imaginable issue of the day. This is the reality of contemporary public life in an era of social media and political polarization; and


1) Northampton County Council shall henceforth refuse consideration of resolutions that are unrelated to county government unless a majority of County Council agrees to cosponsor such a resolution. 

2) Any debate on resolutions unrelated to county government shall be limited to one round of argument by Council members. 

Susan Wild and the Veteran

Yesterday, I reported that Ryan Mackenzie, the GOP Congressional nominee in Pa.-07. understated his age on a dating app, presumably to attract younger women.  This happened several years ago before he became engaged or married. 

Some of you thought he should apologize. Others that his dishonesty is a character flaw we should eschew in an elected official. But just as many of you believe this was no biggie and that I was ridiculous for pointing at the puffery that is somewhat common on romance sites. A few of you played the "What about?" card concerning incumbent Congress member Susan Wild. She is alleged to have recently insulted a veteran.

I did some research and found numerous articles that appear to be heavy on opinion but somewhat bereft of actual facts. The most credible appears in the New York Post under the headline "Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild continues trend of disparaging constituents by branding veteran a homophobic bigot".

According to the story, Wild reacted to a friend's Facebook page containing a picture of a home with both the American and a LGBTQ+ flag with this comment: "I suspect that the vet who refused to shake my hand today at a Memorial Day event would not approve of your second flag.”

The Facebook friend is not identified. Moreover, we lack context. All we know is that some person who represented himself as a veteran refused to shake Wild's hand. We do not know the identity of this person, nor do we know what he said that led Wild to conclude he would oppose a LGBTQ+ flag. Nor is there any indication that Wild called this person, whomever he or she might be, a homophobe. 

Last time I checked, veterans are just as capable of being bigoted as anyone else. One's status as a former member of the military deserves respect but is no excuse for bad behavior. 

Susan Wild, incidentally, is a military brat who grew up on military posts here and abroad. As a member of Congress, she has consistently voted for veterans to improve access to medical care and better GI Bill benefit payments. 

She can be attacked with some justification for insulting constituents in Carbon County. But the context-free smear appears to be missing some important details. These are called facts. 

NorCo Awards $649,343 For Trails, Parks

At their June 20 meeting, Northampton County Council voted to approve Executive Lamont McClure's 2024 Livable Landscape Grant plan by a 9-0 vote.  The total grant awards amount to $649,343. It's increasingly rare, but there are times when Council and the Exec work together.

According to a county statement, Northampton County has invested $21 million of Livable Landscapes since 2006 in grant awards for land conservation, ecological restoration, streambank stabilization, regional trails, parks, recreation, open space plans, and municipal park development and rehabilitation.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Dixie Deed on Record With Mortgage to Former Owner for $11 Million

The Deed transferring title of Wilson Borough's vacant Dixie Cup factory was recorded today along with an $11 million mortgage to the former owner. 

WilsonPark, Ltd (a collection of five estates in which Joe Reibman has an interest) conveyed title of the plant and an adjoining parking lot to Skyline Investment Group Easton, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company. The purchase price? $10. But the $110,000 state transfer tax indicates that the actual purchase price is $11 million.

Interestingly, none of this $11 million has gone to Reibman;s WilsonPark, Ltd. Instead, he has accepted an $11 million open-ended mortgage from Skyline. It is due when Skyline gets its $29 million tax break known as a TIF as well as loan proceeds from a "third party lender." If unsuccessful, it's due in 33 months. 

Brian Bartee has executed the mortgage as manager for Skyline Investment Group Easton, LLC. 

Basically, Bartee has acquired title for nothing, and is hoping to leverage the $29 million in taxpayer funding to pay off Reibman. 

NorCo Council Commemorates LGBTQ+ Pride Month In 7-2 Vote

At their June 20 meeting, NorCo Council voted 7-2 to commemorate June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. The resolution notes, in pertinent part, "We must commit to supporting and accepting LGBTQ+ individuals, in particular our youth, who compared to their peers are far more likely to experience violence and bullying at school, to suffer from depression, to struggle with substance use; and to have attempted suicide ... ."

Though it's toothless, I would support this resolution because many of the human services provided by the county involve children whose sexual orientation makes them easy prey for bullies, which leads to depression, substance abuse and suicide. It is directly related to county services. 

The resolution was introduced by Council member Kelly Keagan. 

Council member John Goffredo complained "we are sexualizing everything," although I don't quite see it that way. I believe it instead attempts to remove the stigma attached to people whose orientations make them different. He called the resolution divisive, though I believe the intent is to bring people together. 

In the end, the only dissenting votes came from Goffredo and Council member John Brown. 

Though Council member Tom Giovanni argued that the resolution is not county business, he would support it. 

DailyMail Claims GOP Congressional Candidate Ryan Mackenzie Lied About Age in Dating App

According to conservative British tabloid DailyMail, the Republican nominee in the Pa.-07 Congressional district, Ryan Mackenzie, understated his age by eight years on dating app Tinder. His campaign notes he was neither married nor engaged at the time. 

Now, on the 2d anniversary of the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade, the DailyMail reports that over 100 women in the Pa.-7 Congressional are demanding an apology from Mackenzie, something he failed to do when initially confronted. 

The letter claims, "We worry, if you cannot take accountability for your actions on something as small as a dating app, that you will not be able to honorably conduct yourself as our representative in Washington."

I get that lying about your age to pick up younger women is wrong. But what really bothers me about Mackenzie is his smile. They blind me like the hi-beams on a late model truck,. 

Monday, June 24, 2024

Did Ken Kraft Actually Act Like a Statesman?

On Friday, I told you NorCo Council voted 6-3 to table an ordinance authorizing $63 million in new debt for a new parking garage and office building at the courthouse campus. Voting to table were Council members Lori Vargo Heffner, Ron Heckman, Jeff Corpora, Tom Giovanni, John Goffredo and Ken Kraft. Voting against tabling were John Brown, Kelly Keegan and Jeff Warren.

I want to present remarks made by Council members. That job was more difficult because I was unable to hear them at times, despite watching the video twice.

Earlier this year, Ken Kraft was in the County Council doghouse and for good reason. Council had asked the court to fill a Council vacancy and Kraft took it upon himself to appear in front of our President Judge and misrepresent what had happened. I personally do not think he intended to mislead the court, and in any event, he failed. 

But Thursday night, Kent Kraft the partisan rubber stamp was more of a statesman than at any time I ever saw him in his long career on Council. He gave a lengthy speech to explain why he thinks a new parking deck and county building are necessary, imbued with all kinds of anecdotes from our history and our unfortunate tendency to kick things down the road. He made no personal attacks and spoke in an open and friendly way that put others at ease. His speech was so impressive that Council members Ron Heckman, Lori Vargo Heffner, John Brown and even John Goffredo acknowledged his points

Two weeks ago, Council member John Goffredo was on fire, effectively making points on nearly every issue that came up. But Thursday, he was completely ineffective and unpersuasive. He attempted to turn a county request to fund a county project into an attack on federal debt, and also complained about voter ID and Mail-in Ballots, even though these are both beyond county jurisdiction. Even worse, he seemed to think we'd believe his walk-around of a problem parking deck was somehow superior to the findings of a licensed civil engineer and several Professional Engineers who preceded him. 

Here's my summary.  

Jeff Warren. (He often makes his points from scripts prepared in advance). He argued that some employees in human services are "working out of closets" and that the elections office should be able to work from a central location instead of the current hodge podge arrangement. The garage is a public safety hazard. "The last thing we all need is a huge chunk of rock coming down [and] hitting somebody." Given that the county credit rating is A1, now is the fiscally responsible time to make this move. 

John Goffredo. "I don't know how we can say this is fiscally responsible with the information that we have." He's seen no budget for the $63 million borrowing plan, There are no architectural drawings, just conceptual. (There is a cost estimate, which was presented to Council's finance committee, without which no bond could be floated). "Cutting a check for $63 million is a little premature." He suggested the county should first study how to use the space it does have more efficiently and then determine more realistically what is needed. "This is a Cadillac and I think we need to be able to be looking at the financial interests of the taxpayer as well, not just the people who work in this building." He then leapfrogged to claim we are borrowing from a government (we're not) that is trillions of dollars in debt and not fiscally responsible. He denied that the parking garage is unsafe. "Our parking deck is absolutely fine. I literally walked all around it before I came here, looked all over, and I do have expertise in that, and I do not think it's structurally deficient. ... It is not falling down. That is a structurally sound parking deck and it'll be structurally sound for at least 10, 20 more years if you keep maintaining the way it has been maintained ... . I will provide a structural engineer to come give a second opinion if they're saying it's dilapidated or falling down because it's just not the case, especially after the repairs." 

Kelly Keegan: "We need this election integrity committee because we're all worried about elections, on this hand. But then when you hear we're disjointed and it could be safer on this hand, you don't want to give them the money." (Translation, the elections office needs one location to conduct more secure elections and other offices need more space as well). "Either you want to set them [elections office] up for failure or you just want to obstruct this.... Let's stop being pennywise and dollar foolish. Let's be fiscally responsible. We have the money. Let's do what's right. ... You [addressing Goffredo] walk around the parking lot and make these assumptions that it's sound for 10-20 years .... -

Goffredo: "That's what I do for a living." (Then he digressed to condemn voter ID and Mail-in Ballots as the real election integrity problems. Both of those are outside the county realm, something he should know by now), 

Keegan then went on to challenge Goffredo's expertise despite being admonished to make her points to the chair. The two began to bicker until Vargo-Heffner shut both down.

Ken Kraft: "This is like deja vu for me all over again. I've been at that parking deck since God knows when. It is falling down. It's been repaired by every Executive - I think even John [Brown] had part of trying to fix it. It's a mess. ... I've been around a long time. We've had Councils that would do things and we have Councils that put it in park and don't do anything and talk all the time. Mr. Heckman remembers when we used to have the Milides Building, the Wolf building, we had everybody all over the place. We built a human services building. I heard the same exact arguments. 'Oh my God, we're spending this much money on a human services building. How dare we? How can we do that? We're going to waste all this money. Oh my God, blah, blah, blah.' So we did it. All my life I wanted to build a new morgue (we don't call it a morgue ... I still call it a morgue). We finally got that done. .... They don't spend the entire bond. .... I've also been in construction for years. I don't know if you [Goffredo] actually went to college for that kind of stuff. That garage has wrecked a lot of my cars over the years. Mr. Heckman might be able to speak as to how long that garage has been a mess. We've been through many executives, many fixes. 

"We are out of space. It was supposed to be for human services only and the veterans administration. ... Now we have other people from the county in there. It's crowded. ... [We] need to build this stinkin' building and get rid of that garage. ... We need to be a Council that does something for once and not just talk about it and say No to everything. [The morgue] was working out of a farmhouse and [the Coroner] was dialing for refrigerators to put our bodies because we had no place to put our bodies when people died and we did that for 30 years. It just kept going and going and no one would get the money together to build a morgue. But we did on [a previous] Council. I think Mr Heckman voted for it, Lori [Vargo-Heffner] voted for it. We saw things that needed to be done. This projecting down the road .... we keep band-aiding stuff, we keep trying to find other space. ... We were going to keep the Milides building. Finally, it got condemned by the City of Easton. That's how we work here. ... We're going to get the actual bids. This is the bonding.  

Lori Vargo Heffner: "That was 10 minutes, and I think you took a breath at 8, so that diving [Kraft is a scuba diver] is really .... I need to sigh on. If that's a violation of whatever act we have, I don't care. That was pretty impressive." 

John Brown: "I think $63 million s a lot of money. I don't think I have enough information to really vet this project and all its moving parts. The parking garage has been an issue for a long, long time." He agreed that the parking deck could be rehabbed in a "significant way if not replaced completely." But he believes the market for commercial office space is "cratering," so he rejects McClure's claim that it would cost $2.7 million to lease office space. He indicated the county should explore remote work opportunities and accused the McClure administration of "hoarding cash" that could easily be used for a new parking deck. He suggested retrofitting part of Gracedale for the additional office space needed.

Brown did agree with Kraft's assertion that Council does have a tendency to kick things down the road. 

After this several Council members spoke but either failed to use their mikes or there was a system failure. . 

Tom Giovanni: He said we are now in the era of remote work. "We're looking at making a building just like Guardian did. They made this new building, and half the people work remotely ... and the building's half empty." He needs more information before he can support a $63 million bond. 

Ron Heckman: Made the point that the legislative branch is a separate branch of government, a point he has made numerous times in the past. He cautioned against knocking down and shaming Council members, saying it us unhelpful. "I think we could get a little more specificity for these people who have concerns." "We need to work with each other a little more as opposed to yelling at each other. ... I support this but don't think it's unfair to give more information to people who ask for it." 

After everyone had spoken once, several Council members decided to speak again, doing little more than repeating what they previously said. 

Lori Vargo Heffner: "I'm not opposed but I'm not in favor." 

The can got kicked down the road. But council does seem open. 


Observations From Saturday Visit to Phillies at Citizen's Bank Park

On Saturday, my grandson and his girlfriend picked me up and took me to watch the Philadelphia Phillies pound the Arizona Diamondbacks in what turned out to be a 12-1 shellacking littered with home runs from Bryce Harper (of course), Alec Bohm (of course), Nick Castellanos (of course) and David Dahl (his third this year). Here are some random observations.

You ever notice that it's a lot harder to get into Philly than it is to get out?  The high heat disabled a number of vehicles, especially along the Surekill Expressway. 

Despite purposely avoiding liquids for two hours before leaving, we had to pull over along the Surekill, not because the car was disabled, but for a disabled passenger. Me. I had to go, and go I went. I waved as a large number of cars greeted me with their horns. Shit happens. So does piss. 

As hard as it was to get to Philly, we got into the stadium quite easily. No security checks or wanding, perhaps a concession to the heat.

I told my grandson and his girlfriend that there was no way the stadium would fill up because of the heat. By the end of the first inning, the house was packed, a sea of blue and red despite 97-degree temperatures. To make things even hotter, the sadists running the stadium flipped the lights on right before the game started. 

Usually raucous Philly fans were tamed by a scorching sun that converted seats everywhere into saunas. They were more like the burners on a stove running on low, burning bare flesh when people sat down. None of this bothered me because I already spend lots of time with Lucifer. 

Alcohol flowed freely. People chose to hydrate with hard lemonade and Budweiser as opposed to water.

Seated in front of us was a guy I'll call Mafia Man. His Rudy Giuliani hair dye began bleeding out onto his sweat-soaked blue Hawaiian shirt as the game progressed. He had two quite attractive women, each of whom spoke different languages, draped on each arm. They talked through the national anthem. He and his doll collection did not last long, but they were great fodder for conversation on the way home as we tried to solve Mafia Man Mystery. I think they were due at Bada Bing. 

Two rows in front were a young couple with a young son whose face got more and more flushed with each inning. They eventually left, looking very unhappy. I asked a woman seated near them if the young man was ill, but she said they were in the wrong seats and she apparently ejected them. I thought that was a little mean-spirited since no one ever sat there. 

Behind us were a group of young men who came, not for the game, but the frickin' Riley Green post-game concert. He's waiting for the second return of Jesus and wrangler jeans. Country western music apparently has a following in Philly.

Periodically, a Bryce Harper foul ball zinged a few feet to our left. When they came, they were at such a velocity that I'd never try to bare hand it. I value my hand too much. His hits that day seemed to be sprinkled with magic dust. 

When the bombs came, the sound of the Liberty Bell was ominous. I expected the Undertaker and Paul Bearer to pop out each time. 

After the game, we went to a pho restaurant in the Vietnamese section of the city. (Washington Street). The pho at Bethlehem's Pho Bowl is far better. They let their broth simmer 12-15 hours, and it explodes in your mouth. 

We stopped by a bubble house for dessert. My grandson and KT got avocado smoothies. I opted for a  taro waffle. Probably the only thing healthy about it was the name taro, but it tasted great. 

The game and trip to Philly were a wonderful gift from my grandson and his girlfriend. Might be the best time I ever had at a game, excepting those in which Dat himself played.