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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Congressional Candidate Kevin Dellicker Addresses Drone Attack That Killed and Injured US Soldiers

On Saturday night, three US soldiers stationed in Jordan were killed and at least 34 were injured as a result of a kamikaze drone launched by Iranian-backed militants. I questioned how we should respond, but received few cogent answers. How about our Lehigh Valley Rep in Washington? Susan Wild was too busy criticizing Republicans over a border security bill to have much to say. GOP Congressional candidates Ryan MacKenzie and Maria Montero were in turn complaining about Wild. But one GOP Congressional candidate, Kevin Dellicker, did have a thoughtful response, and actually sent it to me. 

He's the only one of this quartet who himself was a member of the military. And I appreciate his willingness to address this direct affront to our national security. His reply is below:

Here is my response to your question, “How Do We Respond to the Drone Attack that Killed Three U.S. Soldiers in Jordan and Injured 30+?”

Short Term:

1. We must take immediate steps to protect U.S. troops in the region who are deployed at remote outposts throughout the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and Africa. These brave men and women have been the target of more than 150 attacks from Iranian-backed militias since October and now three Army Reservists are dead. The Biden Administration must remove restrictive rules of engagement and weapons limitations, withdraw vulnerable troops to more fortified locations, and/or reinforce forward operating bases with additional firepower. That means ensuring that enough assets are immediately moved to the U.S. military hubs in the region to respond if remote troops are in trouble. Currently, we are at risk of another Mogadishu or Benghazi.

2. We must strike at the Iranian-backed terrorists who have waged these attacks. Most of these groups are operating in areas where the U.S. has air superiority. We must target fighters, weapons storehouses, command-and-control, logistics infrastructure, and warfighting capabilities in multiple places against multiple militias. This not to “send a message.” It is to degrade the militias' ability to attack American troops in the region and deter them from attacking again.

Near Term:

1. The Biden Administration owes the American public an explanation of why we have all those remote outposts in the first place, what our troops our doing there, and when their mission will be accomplished. Most Americans didn’t even know we had troops in Jordan.

2. The Iranian militias are likely to reconstitute and reattack even after a devastating strike. The only way to stop them long-term is to sever their supply networks and dissuade their benefactors in Iran. This requires a combination of military, diplomatic, economic, and information operations against Iran that will be expensive, difficult, and long-lasting.

3. Bombing Iranian sites that produce the drones, rockets, and missiles is an option, but the American people are not ready for a war with Iran, and neither is the U.S. military. We hardly have enough resources to meet our current challenges. I don’t support this course of action right now.

Long Term:

1. The Iranians are poised to have nuclear weapons aimed at Israel and American military bases in the region. A nuclear-armed Ayatollah will pose unprecedented risks to world peace and prosperity. We have three options to prevent it: destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities before they are fielded, change the regime, or engage the regime. President Biden has tried the latter, and it has failed miserably. The President must level with the American people about his failed appeasement policies and the severity of the threat we face from a nuclear Iran. There are no good options.

2. We must rebuild our military. We have lost our deterrence. Our military is stretched so thin that we are sending reservists from Georgia to remote outposts in Jordan. Did you know that hundreds of soldiers from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard are heading into the region right now? We can’t produce enough ships, submarines, missiles, or aircraft. We can’t even produce enough bullets. Our weapons are too expensive. Our supply chains are too dependent on other countries. Our military wastes millions of dollars on progressive priorities that have nothing to do with fighting and winning wars. We are not ready to counter China.

Our sovereignty is being challenged, our interests are being attacked, and our sons and daughters are dying. We are failing in our responsibility to defend our country and protect our troops.

We need strong leaders in Washington with national security experience to fix our military and keep us safe. That’s a main reason why I’m running for Congress.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

What Success Have We Had Concerning Fentanyl?

At this time last year, at a news conference attended by 25 people, Northampton County launched its "Fake is Real" awareness campaign concerning the danger posed by fentanyl. The program is funded with $2 million received by then DA Terry Houck as a result of his participation in a lawsuit brought against Big Pharma by state District Attorneys. The county will receive another $13 million over 18 years as part of its share of a national settlement. 

The primary goal of  "Fake is Real" is to educate people, and the younger the better. 

Money will be spent to upgrade recovery centers, expand veteran outreach services, conduct substance abuse prevention programs aimed at student athletes and train certified recovery specialists at local colleges.  The county will also acquire a mobile outreach vehicle called Hope1.   It will travel the four corners of the county to provide drug and alcohol assessments and mental health referrals. It also has a billboard on Route 22. 

Fentanyl kills, especially when it masquerades as something else. In Northampton County, over 6,000 people suffer from a drug disorder. In Lehigh County, it's 6,700. They are especially at risk. Statewide, over 89,000 doses of Naloxone have been administered since 2018. 

On the one-year anniversary of the launch of Fake is Real campaign (Jan. 31), the county will host a 1:30 pm news conference and progress report st the county's Human Services Building at 2801 Emrick Blvd. Participants will include Executive Lamont McClure and District Attorney Steve Baratta.

According to Governing, fentanyl and the larger opioid crisis is one of the top issues being faced by state and local government. Drug overdoes deaths have doubled since the pandemic. I personally am acquainted with several people who lost children to this scourge. 

One approach has been to crack down on dealers and even those who possess a small amount of fentanyl.  But that approach has flaws. Even if the import of fentanyl is completed halted from Mexico and China, there still is a lot of domestic production. There are also new synthetics like nitazene, which is 40 times more powerful than fentanyl. 

Pennsylvania recently enacted a law that requires acute care hospitals to test for both fentanyl and xylazine when conducting a drug screening.   

Monday, January 29, 2024

How Do We Respond to Drone Attack That Killed Three US Soldiers in Jordan and Injured 30+?

Three US soldiers stationed in Jordan near the Syrian border were killed on Saturday night by a kamikaze drone attack that also injured at least 34 more. According to President Joe Biden, "we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq.” 

How should we respond? 

President Biden: "[H]ave no doubt — we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing."

President Trump: "This terrible day is yet more proof that we need an immediate return to PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH, so that there will be no more chaos, no more destruction, and no more loss of precious American lives. Our Country cannot survive with Joe Biden as Commander in Chief."

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (on Thursday, before the attack): ""Until Iran feels that its own interests and its own IRGC officers across the region are threatened, attacks on U.S. forces will continue."

Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: "We must work to hold those responsible accountable."

So far, as McConnell has observed, we've been playing whack-a-mole with Iran. 

Friday, January 26, 2024

Rogue Elections Comm'r Dislikes My Criticism of His Refusal To Certify NorCo Election Results

Yesterday, I took NorCo Elections Comm'r Scott Hough to task for his refusal to certify the 2023 election results. Despite going rogue and refusing to follow the very election law he is required to administer, he was re-appointed by County Council last week by a 7-1 vote (Ken Kraft being the sole dissenter). The appointment of an elections commissioner who selectively decides which elections laws he's willing to follow is a mistake, at least in my view.  Late last night, Hough took me to task for my criticism. I responded. This is our exchange:

Scott Hough: "For the record, no one, including Glenn Geissinger, had a conversation with me on how to handle the certification. I made a decision based on not having all the information I felt the commission needed to make a certification. This includes the concerns of dozens of voters who showed up that day. I was requesting (as I had previous to that meeting) to investigate the situation and information gather. Moving forward, please don’t assert that I am beholden to anyone. No one is pulling my strings."

"Secondly, when the documents were handed to me, I told the solicitor, Mr. Santee, that I couldn’t sign them in good faith. I was taught a long time ago not to sign anything I was unsure of, I was not sure those machine results were correct PERIOD and therefore was not comfortable.

"You have my phone number and email, next time feel free to call and ask me questions before you defame me in posts by stating I broke the law and implying I’m a criminal. The election was certified. I have not been charged or arrested. I’m thankful to the Commissioners and the County Executive for reappointing me. There is work to be done to get to the bottom of last year’s fiasco and to do everything we can to not lose anymore faith from the voters.

"I hope you’ll join in reporting on the Election Commission actually being able to do its job and run a fair and transparent election."

My response: - Listen Scott, There was no need to call you. The facts are quite clear. You went rogue. You refused to certify the election results even though it is a statutory obligation and you were quoted the law by your solicitor. You were urged not to certify by a mob at the elections commission hearing and that included the urging of GOP Chair Glenn Geissinger, who spoke publicly. There were several GOP lawyers at that meeting, and not one of them advocated that you refuse to certify.

Nobody defamed you, but if you feel that I defamed you by reporting truthfully that you went rogue and did so after the public urging of your party chair, please knock yourself out and sue. See where that gets you.

Your refusal to certify might have been more damaging to those who who wished to challenge.

Throughout your tenure as an elections comm'r, you have made some worthwhile suggestions, which I have noted in the past. But I'd never vote for someone who choses for himself which laws he will follow and which he won't concerning an election. Your refusal just continued to undermine public confidence in our elections.

It is not a "commission" that confirmed your nomination. It is county council. They may call themselves commissioners, but are still known as county council.

I did not call you a criminal. I said you broke the law, and you did. Had a majority refused to certify, they would have been subjected to a mandamus requiring certification or contempt of court.

The simple reality is that you went rogue and played to the mob.

What Practical Suggestions Do You Have for 2024 Presidential Election

I'm unsure whether any Council members have been appointed to Northampton County's "Election Integrity Committee," to say nothing whether any meetings have been scheduled. In the meantime, the Presidential Primary is coming at the county like a freight train. Moreover, despite an internal investigation that resulted in the resignation of Administrator Charles Deringer, there's been no public airing from the administration about precisely what went wrong and what steps are being taken to guard against it happening again. We know the Express Vote XL was improperly coded. We know that the coding error was somehow missed during logic and accuracy (L&A) testing. We know that there was chaos on election day because the county failed to provide precincts with a sufficient number of emergency ballots. The purpose of this post is to solicit practical suggestions that can be implemented in time for an election just three months away. 

Scrapping the Express Vote XL and switching to another system at this late date is totally impractical. It would be impossible to solicit bids for a new system and train people in time for a new election. Also, the county has no say in issues like Voter ID, early voting or mail-in ballots. That is a matter for the state legislature, not a county government. 

Here are some practical suggestions I'd urge the following:

1) The county administration, which has been fairly transparent about what went wrong, should release a public report detailing all the errors discovered and describing the corrective measures taken. 

2) Elections workers are paid the statutory maximum on election day. I believe that they should be paid for two days and should be required to visit the polling place the evening before the election to set up and ensure that they have the right machines and right epollbooks for the precinct. They should also be required to send a text message from the county-supplied phone to the elections office to ensure that messages are being received.  This may not be possible in every precinct. to the extent it can be done, it should be done. 

3) At the last County Council meeting, Executive Lamont McClure laid out a number of mandatory training dates for elections workers. Though it sounded impressive, the reality is that there is only one training date required for each worker. There are numerous dates to accommodate the schedules of elections workers. The County should actively solicit county employees to participate in these training sessions and assist other elections workers. 

4) Although most people who work elections do so for patriotic reasons, there are some who have a history of making partisan remarks and belong to organizations that undermine public confidence in elections.  If these are elected elections officials, they cannot be fired. But the county should refuse to use them. This danger needs to be reviewed in every precinct. At the last elections commission, I heard two elections workers from a Hanover precinct admit that they knowingly gave incorrect information to voters, saying there would be a special election when nothing of that sort was intimated. Those people need to go away.   

5) Training concerning the use of provisional ballots must intensify. Too many elections workers are completely unfamiliar with them or their purpose. If a voter wishes to cast a ballot and insists he is registered when you have no such record, he must be afforded the option of voting provisionally. 

Thursday, January 25, 2024

NorCo Council Re-Appoints Election Comm'r Who Refused to Certify 2023 Results

At their meeting last Thursday, Northampton County Council voted to re-appoint Scott Hough to the Elections Comm'n. Julie Geissinger, wife of GOP Chair Glenn Geissinger, was also appointed. These are the Republican designees to the five-member Elections Commission, and are the persons recommended by Geissinger. 

Under the Home Rule Charter, the party chairs are required to submit the names of five individuals who are willing to serve. The Executive nominates from that list, with the majority party getting three members and the minority party getting two. County Council must confirm the nominations by majority vote. 

In order to ensure that his two picks received the Executive's nomination, Geissinger only provided two names. They were his wife and Scott Hough, an elections commissioner who refused to certify the 2023 results.

The elections commission appointments were included in a slate of appointments to various boards and agencies. 

County Council member Kelly Keegan asked to have the vote for the elections commission conducted separately, but her motion failed. Keegan was joined by Council members Ken Kraft and Jeff Warren in seeking a separate vote. 

Though there was no discussion, Hough refused to certify the elections results despite being advised by the attorney representing the elections commission that the vote to certify was mandatory and not discretionary. 

A vote to certify the elections results simply means that those are the figures computed, niot that they are accurate. It is what starts the clock ticking for legal challenges that could make that determination. 

All Republicans were joined by Democrats Ron Heckman and Lori Vargo-Heffner in voting No to a separate vote. 

Having failed to separate the vote on the elections commission from other agencies and boards, Council voted 7-1 to confirm all appointments, with Ken Kraft being the sole No vote. 

Council's action reappoints an elections commissioner who violated the law by refusing to certify the election results even though he is mandated to edo so under the Elections Code. 

NorCo Council Should Be Careful What it Wishes For

Perhaps the biggest complaint I hear from some members of Northampton County Council is that, all too often, they are the third wheel on the county government bicycle. I agree. One-man rule has been a trend on the state (emergency powers) and federal (executive orders) level as well. County Council is the first branch of government described in the Home Rule Charter. To me, that's a telling indication where most county power should be vested. But if County Council is unable to appoint a person to fill a vacancy, it will have demonstrated that it is, after all, the weakest branch. 

If County Council is unable to make an appointment at its February 1 meeting, any Council member or any five registered voters can petition the court to make an appointment. If such a petition is filed, the court must make an appointment within 15 days.  At that point, County Council loses control over its destiny.

Contrary to what some Council members seemed to have thought, the courts can appoint anyone who is qualified (US citizen who has resided continuously in the county for a full year prior to the commencement of the vacated term). The court can reach beyond those who filed applications with the county and select anyone. 

Because the court interacts with County Council on a regular basis, it might even ask an out-of-county judge to do the honors. I think any appointment made by Northampton County's bench would be immediately suspect. 

If County Council is serious about its desire to be relevant, individual  members need to put aside differences and appoint a person who will inform himself or herself on county issues and be their own person. Unfortunately, Councilmembers have been more interested in hearing the right answers to questions about the LERTA or the health center than they are in finding the best person. I frankly feel those questions are a disservice to the candidates and the residents if the county. 

Dixie Cup's Supposed Buyer Lends $442,000 to Owner

 Yesterday, I shared Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen's take on the latest proposal for the redevelopment of the blighted Dixie Cup factory in Wilson Borough. What I neglected to tell you is that, contrary to what has been reported in some media sources, the property is still owned by Joe Reibman's WilsonPark,LTD. Although a memorandum of an agreement of sale has been recorded with Syyline Investment Corp, no Deed has actually been conveyed.

Even more interesting is that the Seller has actually borrowed $442,000 from Skyline. I have never seen a commercial buyer loan a seller money and have no idea why they would do this.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Sultana To Seek State House Seat

Two weeks ago, I told you that Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana was looking for a political consultant to help her take on popular incumbent Bob Freeman, a State Representative for  the 136th state house district. Freeman has already announced plans to seek a 20th term

In my view, 20 terms as a State Rep is about 15 terms too long. But I'd support him for 40 terms over a divisive character like Sultana. 

Sultana currently faces assault charges over a domestic incident with her adult son over the summer. Her criminal case is currently scheduled for April 29, although Attorney Ettore "Ed" Angelo said at her preliminary hearing that he was applying for a special program for first offenders called ARD. 

In her time on Council, she has sparred with Council members Israel's invasion of Gaza, and has asserted several times that she is a victim of their racism and sexism.   

The 137th District includes Easton, West Easton, Glendon, Freemansburg, Hellertown and portions of Palmer, Williams and Lower Saucon Tps.  

Latest Dixie Cup Proposal

Blogger's Note: Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen is a Wilson Borough resident very interested in the redevelopment of the blighted Dixie Cup factory located between S 24th and S 25th Sts. He attended a presentation on Monday night that describe the project in detail. You can post your thoughts in the comments. 

Good Morning Neighbor,


[Monday] night, two representatives from the prospective buyer of the Dixie Cup site presented updated plans to Wilson Borough Council. While some things remain the same, there were some substantive changes that I want to highlight.


What's New

The biggest differences since the August presentation were in the details provided. Below is an image I drafted up to try and convey some of the new details that were shared. 

  • Retail and Community Space (Red Circle): The development team has proposed to activate the old boiler room for the site as a retail and community space open to the public. The idea is that people could access this space from either the bike path (which currently runs along the building) or from a newly activated roadway on the southern side.
  • Reactivated Roadway (Blue Rectangle): The gray line on the map represents a roadway that has not been in use but would be reopened to allow for the public to access the retail and community space.
  • Fire Lane Around the Building (Orange Line): The orange line is a poor approximation but is meant to convey that there will be a fire lane all around the building, allowing for emergency vehicles to access the building from any side. I believe this would also allow for greater pedestrian and bicycle flow off of Washington Blvd and the bike path.

In addition to these changes, the developer is not (yet) requesting a tax benefit in the form of a LERTA or TIF. This is different from August's presentation, where a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) was floated as a potential request. 

Unchanged Proposal Elements

Several elements of the proposal remain (largely) the same. A quick rundown is below:

  • Market-Rate Residential Units: There are 405 units proposed for the building, 76% will be 1 bedroom, 24% will be 2 bedrooms (August unit count was 422). All units are expected to be market rate. Target demographic is still "young professionals".
  • Resident-Only Amenities: Amenities for residents include a rooftop lounge, co-working rooms, club rooms, pool on the western side of the building, and courtyards that will be between the "fingers" of each building.

According to a traffic study done by the development team, impact on traffic could be mitigated with updated timing on the signal lights at 25th and Butler. Additionally, with the reactivated roadway, parking around the building and use of the adjacent lot for resident parking, there is minimal concern for increased competition for on-street parking.

What About The Cup?

The development team indicated that the existing cup is not safe to stay in its current location. They are proposing bringing the cup down to the proposed community and retail space and building a replica cup with new materials to put in the original's place.

What's Still Unclear

In August, I indicated that the developer was considering a contribution into Northampton County's Affordable Housing Fund. Whether that is happening (and how much would be contributed) is still unclear. Additionally, there are still questions as to who exactly the developers of this site are.

What Do You Think?

The development team is looking to start work on the project in April of this year and completing work by 2025 or early 2026. There is a lot to digest from this update, but I'd love to know what you think about what's changed and what's remained the same. This is a massive development that could fundamentally transform our community. Do you think it will change it for the better?


As always, thanks for the collaboration!


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Pros and Cons of Upper Mount Bethel's LERTA

Last week, Northampton County Council introduced an ordinance that would repeal a tax break for an industrial development in Upper Mount Bethel Tp. This corporate welfare was approved last April by  Republicans John Goffredo, Tom Giovanni and John Brown as well as Democrats Kerry Myers, Lori Vargo-Heffner and Ron Heckman.  They bought the argument that this would bring jobs to an economically depressed area. Those who opposed it argued that it would also bring warehouses, increased truck traffic on Rte 611 and would destroy the natural beauty of Upper Mount Bethel Tp.

As tax breaks go, this is the least offensive. It is called a LERTA is an acronym for Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance.

Property owners inside a LERTA zone may apply for a tax break for improvements that increase assessment, upon which all real estate taxes are based. They will continue paying full taxes on the current assessment, but the increase in assessment resulting from improvements like a new manufacturing facility or warehouse can be phased in gradually over a period of ten years.

In his report to County Council, Executive Lamont McClure stated that the ordinance he drafted for consideration would rescind the current law and replace it with another that would enable Council to incentivize manufacturing. 

"[I]t's good to incentivize manufacturing," he said. "Also, we want to incentivize brownfield development. ... What I don't think is appropriate to incentivize is warehouses.... We don't need any more warehouses in NorCo and we certainly shouldn't be incentivizing them. But this is not merely a repeal. We're going to have a replacement and we're going to replace the LERTA, but the difference is going to be that, when a permit is filed, you will decide if that parcel gets a tax break. No one else. Right now, under your current law, Upper Mount Bethel gets to decide which parcels get your taxpayers' tax break."

Lou Pektor, a developer of the site, argued that the LERTA should remain intact, noting it demonstrates the support of the local community. 

Pektor said he is competing for tenants on a national and regional level. "This is not a site where we are pulling people out of the Lehigh Valley and moving them 35 minutes north. ... The world has changed and it's not about price. It's about infrastructure, the ability to grow. The changes in what's happened since COVID have accelerated consolidation, have accelerated thinking on plans about long term growth, No longer do you see warehouses removed from manufacturing operations. You see integration of activities, hopefully under one roof or very proximate to each other. Also, transportation between facilities has grown immensely. The cost of labor, transporting people back and forth, has grown immensely.. ... We've designed the site to deliver footprints that are bigger than what a lot of us are used to talking about. .... We believe we'll land one or two data centers at the site until we're done. ... We got great connectivity, we got a great location, we're close to population centers, we have most importantly, power. Power you're going to hear more about if you're attuned to the commercial and industrial world. We have the ability to get up to 400 megawatts. That's almost unheard of." He added the development is close to Route 80 and rail, and that he is putting in water and sewer. ,ned to maximize and compete at a high level. 

Based on election results, it appears that a majority of Upper Mount Bethel residents oppose the LERTA. In fact, I wonder why their Board has failed to take steps to repeal it. 

County Council members Goffredo, Giovanni and Brown all live in other parts of the slate belt. They argue that jobs are badly needed and people are leaving the area. 

I am philosophically opposed to business tax breaks unless they are for a brownfield. What's your take? 

Monday, January 22, 2024

McClure: No Structural Deficit at Gracedale

Last week, during interviews of Northampton County Council aspirants, Council member John Brown twice stated that there was a $20 million structural deficit at Gracedale, the county-owned nursing home.  He made this statement in questions posed to candidates David Holland and William Krzemien. Holland, a nurse once employed at Gracedale, stated that residents at long term care facilities are entitled to the best care they can get, without directly answering Brown. Krzemien, a retired FBI agent, said he'd oppose a tax increase to continue supporting the home under those circumstances. Both of these candidates subsequently received votes from several Republican Council members. They voted in unison for Krzemien for three or more rounds. But was Brown's statement even correct? Is there really a $20 million deficit at Gracedale?   

"There is no structural deficit,"  said Executive Lamont McClure during his report to Council on Thursday evening. "We must pass a balanced budget every year. So that is not a fact. There is not a $20 million deficit for Gracedale; there is a $0 deficit for Gracedale because we must pass balanced budgets every year. That's just not true. ... In my administration, we have not had a county contribution from the general fund, and the general fund, for people listening on Youtube, is the real estate tax revenue we collect. My administration has not once contributed from the general fund  to Gracedale. Gracedale has been self-sustaining since I have been in office. That's through a global pandemic that affected nursing homes the most. The last time there was a county contribution, and that was was $2,453,000, was in 2015, and I was not Executive."

The person who was Executive in 2015 was Council member John Brown.

Brown had no response to what McClure stated. 

I am forced to conclude that Brown was spewing misinformation in an attempt to scare county residents and set the stage for a sale of the nursing home.  

Council Candidate Rips Vargo-Heffner and Heckman For Considering Race in Vacancy Appointment

Melanie Christopher, a teacher with Allentown School District, is an Independent seeking an appointment to the County Council vacancy.  She was in the audience when four Council members voted to appoint  flamethrower Kerry Myers to the open slot, despite being rejected on both sides of the ballot. He was arguably the worst of the 20-plus candidates who applied, but came just one vote short of getting the nomination because he'd be a reliable vote to oppose anything the Executive wishes to accomplish. A vote for him was a vote for obstruction, not balance. Christopher had another reason to be upset with the votes for Myers, and she expressed them in an email to County Council President Lori Vargo-Heffner.  

Dear Commissioner Vargo-Heffner, Thank you for the time you took to review my credentials and for the question posed to me during my interview. I was present last night for part of debates, and arguing, that took place in an attempt to choose a candidate to replace former Commission Zrinski. While I appreciate that the Council did not think I was the best candidate, I did find a comment made to be quite offensive and irrelevant to the process: Vargo Heffner noted of Myers: "He is the only person of color in this room." Heckman said Myers is sometimes accused of playing "the race card," but added, "He's lived that race." Unfortunately, this statement reflects a "judging a book by its cover" type statement. While I am not sure what the purpose of pointing out anyone's race was, your statement was 100% incorrect. You see, I too am a person of "color." While I do have blue eyes and a lighter complexion, the assumption that I too, could not be a person of color who has had to deal with, and whose family has had to deal with, race and/or ethnicity issues, prejudice, or anything along those lines, was unfair and inequitable, to say the least. Mr. Myers may have been the only "male" candidate of color, but he was not the only candidate of color. Had I known that race would be a point used in choosing a candidate, I too would have shared my heritage. Unfortunately, I did not read that in the Charter or the posting on the County website for the County Council position. Since you have been elected to represent ALL individuals in Northampton County, I would think race would not be something that would be considered in rulings and hiring practices and, rather, qualifications only would be considered. I also would think that in following EEOC rules and guidelines, such a statement would never be made. For point of reference, specifically, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states: "The law forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment. The laws enforced by EEOC prohibit an employer or other covered entity from using neutral employment policies and practices that have a disproportionately negative effect on applicants or employees of a particular race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), or national origin, or on an individual with a disability or class of individuals with disabilities, if the polices or practices at issue are not job-related and necessary to the operation of the business." Consequently, while I can accept that I may have not been the best candidate and that I may not have given the answers the Council "wanted" based on my beliefs of what Northampton County needs and/or does not need, it is difficult for me to accept that perhaps you overlooked any of my potential qualifications because I was not a candidate who is a "person of color." In the future, I hope that you think twice before making such statements if for other reason than it could be such statements that keep people like me from participating more in County government whether as a volunteer, potential candidate, or otherwise. Sincerely, Melanie Christopher

NorCo's New Website Attracts Criticism

Last week, Northampton County rolled out a new website promoted as being more secure and user-friendly. Given that this is a presidential year, having a secure website is essential. Four years ago, county IT officials intercepted thousands of efforts to hack into the county system. But is the new website more user friendly? When I'm unable to access basic documents like the county's Home Rule Charter or Administrative Code from a supposed link at the Executive's page, I'd have to say No.  

Last week, County Council candidate Daniel Dewey voiced his own frustration with accessing the new site. "Please fix it," he implored Council at their Thursday night meeting. "There are lots of links that are broken. There's a lot of information that Google is linking that you just can't get to. If information is inaccessible, it doesn't exist." 

Later that evening, Executive Lamont McClure assured Council that the new website just went into operation on Wednesday and all broken links have been fixed. Perhaps he should try to access the Home Rule Charter from his own page. 

Council member Ron Heckman said the new design "looks like it came from middle school. The one we had was so easy to navigate. It was right there in front of you." 

Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron, who spearheaded implementation of the new website, caught a bit of flack from Heckman. Barron explained that the old system was built on a program called Microsoft Sharepoint, That system reached the end of its useful life in April, and no longer receives security patches, updates or support from Microsoft. Because of security concerns with a .gov domain, links that were working just fine on the old system apparently need more time to be operable. 

Heckman insisted that the new website is "unworkable for our average residents. It's just a very poor design." 

My own view is that the new website will eventually be more user friendly after it goes through some growing pains. 

Executive Lamont McClure said that people who have issues with specific problem should notify Communications Director Brittney Waylen (bwaylen@norcopa.gov).  

Friday, January 19, 2024

NorCo Council Deadlocks on Council Vacancy Appointment

Despite a plethora of highly capable candidates, eight members of Northampton Council were unable last night to agree on one person to fill the Council vacancy created by the January 2 resignation of Tara Zrinski, who was sworn in that day as County Controller. Despite numerous ballots, nobody was successful in getting the five votes needed in an acrimonious and lengthy conclave. No white smoke, the fumata bianca to signify a new Council member, billowed from the courthouse smokestacks. 

A triumvirate of Democratic Council members consisting of Ken Kraft, Kelly Keagen and Jeff Warren remained steadfast in their support of IBEW Business Manager Paul Anthony throughout every ballot. Council member Ron Heckman voted for teacher Deb Hunter on every ballot. The rest of Council changed their votes several times. 

Republican Council members Tom Goivanni and John Goffredo initially voted for psychotherapist Gennaro Landi, while Republican Council member John Brown voted on the first ballot for David Holland, a nurse who was once involved in the management team at Gracedale. President Lori Vargo Heffner, a Democrat, cast her first vote for former Council member Kerry Myers.. 

On the second ballot, all three Republicans switched their vote to Myers, a Democrat who opportunistically turned Republican in an unsuccessful attempt to get on the ballot last year. Perhaps unknown to them, he recently switched back to Democrat. 

And so it continued through two more rounds of voting. 

After the fourth round, Goffredo said he's be unable to vote for Anthony because he'd be a fourth vote that would prevent Council from overriding a McClure veto. "It would very much compromise the integrity of this Council," he said. Keegan retorted, "I don't understand why you find that so important." (referring to Council's ability to override a veto,) Heffner explained that she supported Myers because she know he would vote to override vetoes. "If you want to play partisan, just go home," she said to Kraft. "I'm tired of it."

Heckman explained that he was voting for Hunter because of her experience as an elections commissioner, in which she went against the grain and advocated for paper ballots instead of the Express Vote XL, which was improperly aligned in 2019 and improperly coded in 2023.  He added that Hunter, like Zrinski, is a Democratic female. He said he could support Paul Anthony, "but thereis no path for a fifth vote." 

In subsequent rounds, Vargo-Heffner switched her vote and joined Heckman in supporting Hunter. The Republican Council members switched their support from Myers to William Krzemien, retired FBI agent who told Brown in his interview that he'd support the sale of Gracedale.   

After remaining deadlocked through nine rounds, Heckman complained, "It's frightening to me that, at this early stage, we haven't been able to consider compromise." 

Kraft insisted that Anthony is bipartisan because he belongs to the Chamber of Commerce, but that misses the point. The real concern of the five Council members is that Anthony would be the fourth vote in a McClure coalition who would make it impossible for Council to override Executive vetoes.  

Heckman confronted Kraft at one point over his insistence on Anthony. "Do you really think the bullying tactic will work with these people (referring to Council members opposed to Anthony)? It doesn't work anymore. 

Goffredo also suggested John Cusick, who did not apply but said he would serve if appointed. 

The Kraft-Warren-Keegan trio adamantly denied they are rubber stamps, with Ken Kraft insisting that "[i]f you're basing your opinion on some crap from a blog that we're going to be rubber stamps for the administration you're sorrily [sic] mistaken." Goffredo later told the troika that their united actions makes it difficult to believe these denials. 

After numerous failed attempts, Council eventually voted to table the appointment until they meet again on February 1. The vote was 7-1, with Ken Kraft voting No.

If Council is unable to agree on a replacement for Zrinski, this matter will go to the courts, The court can appoint anyone who is qualified, regardless whether an application is filed. 

"I'm actually saddened by the state of government today," said Heckman. 

The candidates sitting in the audience would undoubtedly agree. 

The position pays $9,500 a year.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

NorCo Council Spends 5 1/2 Hours Interviewing Candidates For Council Vacancy

Northampton County Council spent 5 1/2 hours yesterday interviewing 21 candidates for a Council vacancy caused by the January 2 resignation of Tara Zrinski. She was elected Controller, and is unable to hold both elected offices simultaneously.

According to the Home Rule Charter, Council has until the end of January to make an appointment. If they fail, either any member of Council or any group of five registered voters can petition the court to make the selection. The Court must make an appointment within 15 days after the petition is filed. 

Originally, there were 25 applicants. I told you about them yesterday. Since Friday, candidates Tricia Mezzacappa and Scott Hough dropped out. Mezzacappa, who still is a candidate for Executive, withdrew from consideration because she wanted her resume kept confidential. Hough pulled out because he has been appointed to a second term on the elections commission, and feels his energy is best directed at ensuring a successful Presidential election. Artist Jerry Kott was absent when his name was called. Annamarie Robertone called in prior to the meeting to state she was unavailable. It is unclear whether Kott and Robertone are still interested. 

Every person will have different views on who presented well. I'll give you my subjective take. 

Without question, Paul Anthony was the best presenter. He is personable, quick on his feet and is very knowledgeable about county issues. His problem is that he is close to Executive Lamont McClure in a Council that just elected three McClure supporters. Appointing him would make it impossible for Council to override a McClure veto. No Republican will vote for him. Council members Lori Vargo Heffner and Ron Heckman are both Democrats, but have publicly stated on several occasions that they need a Council that provides oversight.  

Following closely behind Anthony was Deb Hunter. She said her role on Council would be information gathering and then making a decision based on that information. She related her experience on the Elections Comm'n and Gaming Authority, and is "absolutely committed" to the county. She is a strong advocate of open space, and actually owns a small farm herself. She criticized a recent pay study, wondering why Lehigh and Bucks County were excluded and why rural 4th class counties were included. She is still considering the proposed health center and would like the opportunity to ask more questions. 

I was very impressed by Daniel Dewey, an unassuming former member of Tatamy Borough Council. "We didn't see party, we saw issues," he said of his time in local government.

Jerry Geake, a 25-year veteran of Upper Mount Bethel Tp's Board of Supervisors, brought a lot of common sense. I suspected he'd be a Pektor plant, but the opposite was the case. He opposes the LERTA in UMBT, noting that area was intended to be kept rural. He dislikes the idea of relinquishing a tax base so a business can increase its bottom line.  "If you want to see economic development, go to Walmart in Lower Nazareth. There's a lot of economic development there. But it is mess." He said UMBT and most small towns are simply unprepared for the traffic and other headaches attendant upon an explosion of businesses. "Vote by your heart, always vote by your heart," he stated.

The only candidates I disliked were Lafayette College's Austin Haytko and former Council member Kerry Myers. 

Haytko was a tad full of himself when he spoke down to Council, and he sure spoke down to them. He has only lived in Northampton County since 2022, and is seeking appointment to a vacancy for a term that commence in 2021. He failed to reside in the county for a full year prior to the commencement of that term. By my reading of our Home Rule Charter, he's ineligible. 

I explained yesterday why I dislike Myers, and he said nothing to shake that disdain. He has yet to apologize for his attempt to undermine our Sheriff. He was given an opportunity to respond to my criticism of him, and had nothing to say. Ken Kraft pointed out that Myers was unable to get on the ballot as either a Democrat or as a Republican after he opportunistically switched parties  For that reason, he believes Myers should be rejected.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Here's a Rundown on the 25 NorCo Council Applicants

Below is a rundown on the 25 applicants for a seat on NorCo Council. I'm a bit surprised that John Cusick failed to apply.  County Council will begin interviews this afternoon. 

Paul Anthony - Business Manager and Financial Sec'y of IBEW Local 735. Has resided in Hanover Tp since 1988. Chairs the General Purpose Authority. IBEW has contributed heavily to Executive Lamont McClure. 

Daniel Balcom - a Supervisor Service Director at United Continental Holdings. Palmer Tp Auditor. Veteran of US Navy, Submarine Fleet. 

Vincent Caminneci - Easton resident attending Northampton Community College. Officer in Easton Democratic Party, but wants to work with both sides and reduce tension with Executive.  Wants to enhance infrastructure and support for LANTA. Fluent in Spanish. Volunteer at Easton Farmer Market. Interned for both Easton Mayor and NorCo DA. 

Melanie Christopher - An Independent, she has taught at Allentown School District since 2008. Prior to that, she was a legal secretary. She has owned a home in Palmer Tp since 2002 and participates in  the Allentown Education Ass'n, PSEA and NEA.

Daniel Dewey - A former member of Tatamy Borough Council, Daniel is employed as a systems analyst with Informa. He has a BS in Computer Science from Kutztown and obtained an MBA in Marketing from PSU in May. He believes in tax incentives for manufacturing and research, but not warehouses. "We might live in the rust belt, but we are far from rusty."  He volunteers as a scout leader and soccer coach.

Jerry Geake - was a Supervisor in Upper Mount Bethel Tp for 25 years, and has 8 years of experience as a shop supervisor at Auto Truck Transport. (I saw him in action at several Supervisor meetings, and there are few people who had a better command of township issues than he.)

Austin Haytko - Employed at Lafayette College since 2022, he is the Associate Director of Student Conduct. He has an Ed. D. from Concordia University Chicago. 

David A Holland -  A psychiatric nurse practitioner at Water Gap Wellness, David has experience as the Health Services Administrator of a 2,000-bed correctional facility in Miami. He is a NorCo Dem committee member and is on the board at St. Andrew's Nursery School in Easton. 

Scott Hough - A Republican, Hough was the sole member of the NorCo Elections Commission to refuse to certify November's election results. Believe it or not, he is a professional roadie. He vows to provide a "true check and balance" on other government branches.  

Deborah Hunter - She taught history at Northampton Area High School for 17 years, and still teaches adult ESL students. In addition to teaching degrees from Moravian College and ESU, she completed the NorCo Citizens Academy in 2012. She has served as a school director in Nazareth, was a member of NorCo's Gaming Board and was an Elections Commissioner who advocated for paper ballots. She also ran for County Council in 2009 & 2013. She clearly has an interest in county government. 

Jerry Kott - "Maker is a term I use to describe my being - artist, designer and craftsperson - all part of the same landscape, but Maker has a broader stoke." His art exhibits are worldwide, and he has been recognized for his work in numerous publications, from Harper's Bazaar to numerous Japanese publications. 

William Krzemien - William has dedicated 29 years of his life to law enforcement. He started out as a Hatboro police officer, spent two years as a Special Agent with the DEA and finished with 16 years as a Special Agent with the FBI. He currently is the Major Crimes Investigations Manager with Walgreens. He also has a degree in business management. 

Gennaro Landi - Like Council President Lori Vargo Heffner, he is employed at St. Luke's. Like Council President Lori Vargo Heffner, he is a psychotherapist. He is a clinical coordinator for outpatient counseling. He is a graduate of both Muhlenberg (Bachelor's) and Chestnut Hill (Master's) Colleges.  

Joseph W Lenzi - He is an active member of the NorCo Dem Committee since 2008 and has lived in the county for 25 years. He is employed as a sales manager at New Jersey Truck Part Sales. He has also worked for JP Mascaro and Nazareth Pallet. 

Peter Melan. - a local government consultant, Peter recently stepped down from Easton City Council after 8 years. He ran for Mayor in 2023, but was defeated by incumbent Sal Panto. He has a Bachelor's degree from Moravian College (Management) and a Master's degree from Ohio University (Public Administration). He is a former County Council candidate.  

Tricia Mezzacappa - She submitted an application and resume on January 9, but withdrew yesterday afternoon. "Please withdraw my application and shred  the resume and cover letter. I do not wish my information to be distributed to the public." 

Kerry Myers - He just stepped down from Council. He failed to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot as a Democrat. Then he switched parties and failed to get the Republican nomination as a write-in. During his stint as a member of Council, he publicly stated that he would refuse to follow orders from the Sheriff if he were a Deputy because it would put his life in danger. He wanted to place an employee of Congressperson Susan Wild on the Elections Commission during the year she ran for office. Though this nominee was obviously conflicted, she was black. He was also caught using his Twitter account to chat with bots he mistakenly thought were attractive women. 

Ed Nelson - a former Upper Mount Bethel Tp Supervisor and Township Manager, Nelson was an ardent supporter of a tax break for a LERTA in his township. This is what likely cost him his job. You may know him as Santa Claus at the Short Hills Mall. He has also served as a security officer for Bangor Area School District. He has been an avid supporter of softball in his community, and founded the Township softball program. He is working on a college degree at ESU. 

David O'Connell -  a graduate of Boston College and Syracuse University, David's professional career was real estate management and sales. He served on Easton City Council from 2015-2023, but lost a recent bid for re-election. He remains heavily involved in the Easton community. 

Sean Patrick O'Hearn. - a Marine and graduate of Liberty High School, O'Hearn spent 22 years as a firefighter in Bethlehem. Those guys put their lives on the line every time they answer a call, and he would be a valuable source for county issues related to emergency management.

Jayden Peters. - A lawyer, Peters graduated from Widener Law in 2022. He worked in the District Attorney's office from November 2022 until January 2023, doing appeals and forfeitures. He was also an intern for Judge Jennifer Sletvold  in 2021 while still attending law school. "Northampton County is my home." 

Annamarie Robertone - A PAR medical consultant, Robertone has a Master's degree in public health from East Stroudsburg U. She refers to herself as an "expert organizer and effective communicator, who is able to establish a positive and productive rapport with individuals from diverse backgrounds." Yet when she ran (unsuccessfully) for County Council, she refused to even acknowledge a questionnaire I sent to all the candidates. She also appeared at a Steve Lynch pep rally at Gracedale's campus, right before the election. She'd be polarizing in a Council that needs a little more civility. 

Vanessa Williams - describes herself as a lifelong Democrat and a communications specialist with organizing experience focused on woman's rights. She is a graduate of York College and is currently a freelance public relations consultant. 

Andrew "James" Wolbers - is the owner of Bitesize LLC and Ghost, DB, which apparently assist other businesses to ensure they are using the right technology.  He lists numerous "city council" objectives, from affordable housing solutions to improving our regional business hub. He has mastered the language of corporatese, but fails to actually say anything.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

What About the Border?

What about the border? That's a question my Republican friends ask me when I'm one of the few Democrats at their parties. Well, let me tell you. A bipartisan group of Senators have produced an immigration bill that deals with many issues, from asylum seekers to unaccompanied minors. But this id DOA in the GOP-led House. 

Why? It could be for political reasons. According to Punchbowl News, House Speaker Mike Johnson told fellow Republicans that the border crisis will just have to wait until Trump or another Republican is elected.  

That's a pretty absurd view for someone who calls this immigration wave an invasion and has Republicans blowin' oil over fears that immigrants will poison our blood.  

Monday, January 15, 2024

25 Apply For Vacant Seat on NorCo Council

It's a strange world. There is a dearth of choices for President, but 25 people have applied for appointment to a vacancy on Northampton County Council. I have asked for a complete list, which will probably be supplied after the appointment, I know they include some highly credentialed candidates, some opportunists and a sprinkling of wingnuts. Council President Vargo-Heffner stated at the last County Council meeting that everyone who applied will get an interview. They start on Wednesday at the Personnel Committee and will likely continue during the regular County Council meeting on Thursday. 

This large number of applicants is proof of a healthy democracy, at least on a local level. It could be argued that many people want to be part of a government led by Executive Lamont McClure. It could also be argued that many people perceive a problem. 

Friday, January 12, 2024

When it Comes to UMBT, NorCo Council Solicitor Spadoni is Conflicted

If the current make-up of Upper Mount Bethel Township's Board of Supervisors is any indication, voters want nothing to do Lou Pektor's River Pointe Commerce Park. They are very concerned this industrial "park" will increase truck traffic along Route 611, add even more warehouses and destroy the rural charm of Northampton County's most beautiful municipality. A large and active group, sometimes referred to as Concerned Citizens of Upper Mount Bethel, has changed been unable to stop this development, but has changed the face of Upper Mount Bethel's government. 

Many of them expressed their concerns when Northampton County Council considered a tax break for Pektor last April. Judith Henckel, a well known environmentalist, added that this kind of tax break is limited to blighted areas, but is being applied to farmland. 

As with most things, there's another side to this story. Council members John Goffredo and Tom Giovanni, who actually live in the Slate Belt, complain there are no jobs. According to Goffredo, "The slate belt is an area where there are no stores, no restaurants, no nothing." Former Upper Mount Bethel Supervisor Robert Teel described it as a depressed area that never recovered when the garment industry died. Giovanni said that his aging father-in-law lives in Evergreen Village and struggles to pay taxes. "This has to go through." said the normally laconic Council member. "That northern tier of our county is suffering and we need to help them."

When push came to shove, Northampton County Council approved this tax break, known as a LERTA. It was supported by Republican Council members Giovanni, Goffredo and John Brown and Democratic Council members Lori Vargo Heffner and Ron Heckman. It was opposed by Republican Council member John Cusick and Democratic Council members Tara Zrinski and Kevin Lott. 

Executive Lamont McClure, no fan of warehouses or truck traffic, vetoed the measure. But Council overrode his veto with the same votes that initially approved the tax break.

McClure's concern may well have been justified. Since this vote, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has been with with 13 million sq ft of proposed warehouse development in Northampton County. This includes nine separate plans submitted by Pektor in Upper Mount Bethel Tp. 

At their last meeting, McClure asked County Council to rescind the tax break. He said he'd support a LERTA for manufacturing or to remediate the hulking PPL power plant, but that incentivizing warehouse development is "obscene." 

I happen to oppose most corporate tax incentives. If someone has a good business idea, he should need no government money to succeed. Moreover, no amount of government money can transform a bad business idea into one that is good. So I pretty much agree with McClure's concern. but that's not the point of this post. 

Though Northampton County Council voted in favor of the tax break and against the wishes of what seems like a majority of Upper Mount Bethel Township's voters, it needs to know that their Solicitor is in bed with Pektor's opponents.

County Council Solicitor is Chris Spadoni. He has represented Upper Mount Bethel Tp residents in their fight against Pektor.  He represented Pektor foe and Township Supervisor David Friedman in a complaint that Friedman lost before the state ethics board. Now that the Township is under control of these concerned citizens, he wants his piece of pie. He's been appointed as an alternate township solicitor, but that isn't enough. He wants to be lawyer to the zoning hearing board, even though he'd have to resign as alternate township solicitor. That way he can pretty much stop any zoning changes that Pektor might think are necessary. 

But there's a price to pay. 

Spadoni is clearly conflicted on this or any matter concerning Upper Mount Bethel Tp and the county. He is ethically barred from offering County Council advice on any legal questions that could arise during their consideration of McClure's latest proposal.  

Thursday, January 11, 2024

National Review: GOP Should Consider Alternative to Trump

Regular readers of this blog know I consider former President Donald Trump a threat to democracy. But I've avoided writing about him in recent months because he needs publicity to appear relevant. Like a WWE wrestler, he'll bluster precisely because he knows it will give him notoriety. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream press still revels in catching his lies or claims to be a dictator. All that does is empower his base. But there is one conservative publication that Republicans should consider.  In a recent editorial, The National Review tells Republican voters that they should rethink nominating Trump as their standard bearer in this year's Presidential.  " They would be well advised to opt for one of the alternatives who are far and away better on the merits, more likely to win in November, and, if elected, more likely to deliver — free from the wild drama of a second Trump term — conservative results."

As a Democrat, I obviously won't be voting for Trump. I won't be voting for Biden, either, especially since I think it is highly unlikely that he can devote the time and energy needed at his advanced age.  But I'd consider one of the Republican alternatives, especially Nikki Haley. 

Aside from his nauseating stolen election lies, the National Review points to numerous other problems: "[M]uch energy would be wasted on his personal vendettas and fighting back against the Left’s sure-to-be-unhinged reaction to his return to the White House. He’d have trouble attracting talent to serve him. His bad instincts on trade and NATO, tendency to personalize everything including foreign relations, contempt for rules that get in his way, and erratic nature would risk real harm to the country. He’d be an easily distracted 78-year-old one-termer sure to get wiped out in the midterms, once again."

He is, as the National Review described him, a "radioactive persona."

Is Trump v. Biden the best we can do? If that's so, then we really are in trouble.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

More Lessons From Allegheny County

Yesterday, I told you about Allegheny County, another Home Rule County. Its Charter was adopted in 1998, making it 20 years younger than Northampton County's 1978 model. Some provisions in Allegheny's Charter would be of immeasurable assistance to good government in Northampton County.

Home Rule Charter Changes

In Northampton County, Council is increasingly cranking out amendments. We are up to about 20 of them so far. They go out to the voters as a referendum vote. That's like a judge's retention vote. Everybody says Yes, even if they have no idea what is being proposed. 

Let me give you an example. Several years ago, Northampton County Council members decided they wanted to be called Commissioner. It makes them sound more important. That required a change to the Charter. The deceptive question put to the voters was whether there should be nine commissioners, not whether to change the appellation being used. People voted Yes because they thought they were voting to establish a nine member Council. They had no idea that what they really were doing was inflating egos. 

Without question, Northampton County's Home Rule Charter is in serious need of an overhaul. There are serious questions in nearly every Article. But instead of the piecemeal and sometimes frivolous approach taken by Northampton County Council,  here's what Allegheny's Charter provides:

a) A County Government Review Commission shall be established five years after the effective date of this Charter and every ten years thereafter. The Commission shall study the Charter and County government, including the organization, practices and responsibilities of all County departments and agencies. The Commission shall evaluate the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of County government and this Charter. The Commission may make recommendations to the people of the County on County government and may recommend amendments to this Charter. 

b) The Commission shall be composed of nine members who shall serve one-year terms. The members shall be voters of the County, five of whom shall be appointed by County Council and four of whom shall be appointed by the Chief Executive. The political party affiliation, racial, geographic, age and gender diversity of the County shall be considered in the appointment process. No County officer, employee, or member of an agency shall be a member of the Commission. The Commission shall submit a final report to the people of the County on the Commission's findings and recommendations within one year after appointment of the Commission.

Instead of piecemeal amendments that are often poorly considered, a better approach would be the establishment of a government review commission every ten years. Members, none of whom would be employed by the county, would be appointed by the Executive and Council and would have one year to recommend changes. I am aware that any recommendation requiring a change in the form of government would require the election of a home rule charter study commission. Most changes, however, would make no changes in the actual form of government.   Northampton County Council could easily adopt an ordinance establishing this Commission, and could still reserve the power to recommend their own changes in case of an emergency. 

Interaction With Executive Branch

Allegheny's Home Rule Charter specifically provides that County Council should refrain from micromanaging the Executive branch.  

County Council and its Members shall deal with the Executive Branch exclusively through the Chief Executive or Manager except for the purpose of obtaining information and advice. Individual County Council Members shall not give orders or instructions, either publicly or privately, to employees of the Executive Branch.

Northampton County's Home Rule Charter contains no such provision. but it's good advice. County Council provides oversight but should refrain from telling county employees what to do. 

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

A Lesson From Allegheny County

Over the past few years, Northampton County Exec Lamont McClure and County Council have sparred over wages paid to county workers. There have been staff shortages in vital departments like Children and Youth, the jail, 9-1-1 and the Juvenile Justice Center.  This friction in Northampton County has also been going on in  Allegheny County. Its Council and former Exec Rich Fitzgerald were at war over precisely the same issue.

In Allegheny County, their Council took the unusual step of adopting an ordinance that would require $20 hourly wages for all employees by 2026. Fitzgerald took them to court, and a judge ruled that the Exec sets the pay, not Council under the terms of a Home Rule Charter that gives the Exec more power than he has under Northampton County's law. But guess what? A new county executive - Sara Innamorato - has been inaugurated, and she has already pledged to do exactly what Council wanted. Full time employees will be paid a minimum $22 an hour by 2027.

Innamorato argues this will save taxpayers money in the long run because there will be less turnover and increased productivity. She is also giving even new employees three weeks of vacation instead of five days. She will also remove degree requirements from some positions. Her argument? “The county has a record low unemployment right now, and that means hiring is competitive and the county cannot compete if we are not recognizing the work/life balance that people need to be successful.”

There have been no lawsuits between Executive McClure and County Council in NorCo, at least not yet But government by litigation is certainly in the long-range forecast. 

Over McClure's strenuous objections, including a veto, Council has ordered a pay study of county employees. This has extended well beyond its predicted 12-week time frame. It is limited to nonunion workers, who only make up a third of the workforce. It includes 4th class counties, which pay lower wages than third class counties like Northampton. Regardless of what is ultimately learned, one need only look to Lehigh or Bucks County to see that employees doing the dame work are paid more.  

When he was Executive, John Brown called the employee the county's most treasured asset, but balanced his annual budget on their backs. McClure rightly took Brown to task, especially when Brown unilaterally (and illegally) reduced medical benefits for even union workers. 

Unfortunately, McClure is doing exactly what Brown did, with the exception of union benefits. When even Republican Council members are urging him to raise wages, it's time to listen. 

Monday, January 08, 2024

NorCo Council Appointed Democrat To Replace Republican in the Past

On Friday, I told you that NorCo Council member Ken Kraft is blowin' oil over the possible replacement of recently resigned member Tara Zrinski. His bid for Council presidency was rejected earlier in the week. He, Executive Lamont McClure and Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron complained on social media about the bipartisan vote leading to Lori Vargo Heffner's election as Council President. At last week's meeting, he made it clear that he would only support a Democrat to replace Democrat Zrinski. The Home Rule Charter provides that any US citizen who has resided continuously in the county for one year prior to the commencement of a term is eligible.  But Kraft insists the seat belongs in Democratic hands and called on 34,000 Democrats to show up at the next Council meeting to bully Council into doing what he wants.  

This mob rule tactic reminds me of when failed NorCo Exec candidate Steve Lynch called on 20 strong men to yank a bunch of elderly school directors out of their seats. But guess what? How do you think Lamont McClure first got his seat on County Council. Let me tell you the story.

After his election as NorCo Executive, John Stoffa appointed two Council members to his cabinet. He appointed Democrat Mike Corriere, a highly skilled attorney, as his Chief Public Defender. He named Republican Mary Ennslin as his Director of Court Services. They had to resign their seats on County Council, creating two vacancies. 

Did the Democratic majority on County Council appoint a Republican and a Democrat to replace the Republican and Democrat who resigned? Nope. They appointed two Democrats, giving them a 6-3 majority. One of the persons appointed was Democrat Lamont McClure.

Is Sultana Eyeing Bob Freeman's Seat in the State House?

On Friday, two sources informed me that Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana has been in touch with several Democratic political consultants for a possible bid to unseat incumbent Democratic State Rep. Bob Freeman. I have reached out to her in an effort to determine whether this is true, and will provide her answer if I get one. 

Sultana, who apparently considers herself Easton's Foreign Affairs Advisor, currently faces domestic assault charges following an incident at her home involving an adult son. She was arraigned in Northampton County Court on December 21, and a trial has been set for February 26. She has, however, applied for admission into a special program for first offenders in which charges are dismissed after a successful period o0f probation,

She is represented in the assault matter by Ettore "Ed" Angelo, a well-regarded criminal defense attorney. 

In addition to these criminal charges, she is being sued by landlords Toni Marie Concilio and Joseph R Rodriguez for $4,850 over a broken lease on Easton's south side. A  hearing in that matter is set for February 1 before Magisterial District Judge Sue Hutnick.   

Friday, January 05, 2024

Ken Kraft Wants Council Vacancy Filled By a Democrat

At last night's meeting of Northampton County Council, newly elected member Ken Kraft said that only Democrats should be considered when filling the vacancy created by the resignation of Democrat Tara Zrinski. He conceded that the Home Rule Charter contains no such requirement, but argued it is "implied."

Kraft argued that Zrinski was the highest vote getter in the County Council race, and that was a "statement by the public on who they want." He then called on 34,000 Democrats to show up when Council makes its appointment. "I'm asking for them to come here and tell you what they want to replace the position that they voted in." He added that, if a Republican had resigned, he would want that seat filled by a Republican. He finished by announcing that he would advocate strongly against any Republican who dares to apply. 

Council member John Goffredo responded to Kraft. "I don't think it really matters whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. I think the most qualified person should be the one that takes the seat." 

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner also shot back. "As of now, everyone of every party ... - any person - is allowed to apply and all applications will be accepted and everyone will get an interview."

In other business, Council VP Ron Heckman read Council's Code of Civility, noting several times that now Exec Lamont McClure was the original author. You could say that he did this for the new Council members, but I suspect it was a gentle rebuke at the way in which both McClure and Kraft groused on social media after Kraft's nomination as Council President failed. Kraft squirmed in his seat as Heckman spoke about decency and civility. 

Finally, in his remarks to Council, McClure stated that he is seeking a bipartisan coalition to revoke an ordinance granting a tax break to an industrial development in Upper Mount Bethel that very likely will include some warehouses. He said tax breaks for warehouses are "obscene." 

Thursday, January 04, 2024

McClure Slams Vargo-Heffner's Election as NorCo Council President

Tuesday's election of Democrat Lori Vargo Heffner as Northampton County Council President was a rare demonstration of bipartisanship in a country divided along party lines. She received votes from the three Republican Council members, Democrat Ron Heckman and herself. She expressed her appreciation on her government official Facebook page, noting that "[w]e serve every citizen in the county. Looking forward to working productively this year." Whether that will be possible remains to be seen. Instead of building bridges to a Council President selected by five democratically elected members of county council, Executive Lamont McClure is more interested in burning them.

McClure's Director of Fiscal Affairs, Steve Barron, kicked things off with this snide remark: "Which one of these guys nominated you to be Council President?," followed by a picture of Council member John Brown standing next to a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump. 

McClure followed this up with a complaint of his own: "It’s unfortunate you needed to do so [get elected] by being nominated by former Republican County Executive John Brown, notoriously one of the worst Executives in County history, and with the votes of Brown and the other two minority Republican council members."

I have a few problems with this reaction. First, it is petty, beneath the dignity of the office of Executive. Second, it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of local government in a purple county. There is no Democratic or Republican way to repair a bridge or run a nursing home. Third, McClure's agenda as Executive, which has included a reduction in benefits to career service employees, is actually Republican. So is his his opposition to a fund set aside by Council to help employees pay off student debt. 

Despite these partisan complaints, what really bothers McClure and Barron is that five Council members would rather provide oversight than be rubber stamps.   

Instead of attacking Vargo-Heffner, McClure should meet with her before every Council meeting to review the agenda. This was routine in previous years and could help prevent some of the misunderstandings that arise.  

Would You Like to Serve on NorCo Council?

Northampton County Council is seeking applications (see below) for the Council vacancy created by Tara Zrinski's resignation on Tuesday. They're moving fast because they only have 30 days to appoint someone. 

Names I have heard include former Council members John Cusick and Kerry Myers, along with retired educator Deb Hunter. Both Cusick and Hunter would provide oversight, but the appointment of Kerry Myers would be a mistake and would be correctly perceived as an attempt to get even with McClure for Myers own failure to gather signatures for his own re-election or wage even a half-hearted campaign to secure the Republican nomination. As a Council member, Myers can best be remembered for undermining the authority of our Sheriff by brazenly stating that he would refuse to take orders from him if he were a deputy. To make matters even worse, he stupidly used social media to chat with bots he mistakenly believed were attractive women.   

Notice is hereby given that the Northampton County Council is accepting the names of individuals who are interested in filling an At Large vacancy on the Northampton County Council. An individual filling the vacancy must comply with Northampton County Home Rule Charter Section 103 "General Qualifications" which provides, "During his term of office each elected official shall be a citizen of the United States and shall reside continuously in the County. Each elected official shall have resided in the County continuously during the year preceding the commencement of his term of office."

Individuals interested in filling the vacancy should e-mail a letter together with a written resume to lzembo@norcopa.gov or mail same to the Office of the Northampton County Council c/o Linda Zembo, Northampton County Courthouse, 669 Washington Street, Easton, PA 18042 or fax to 610-559-3106. Applications must be received in the Northampton County Office by Friday, January 12, 2024, no later than 4:30 p.m., prevailing local time. Notice is further given that the applications of those interested in filling the vacancy will be reviewed and the applicants interviewed at the Personnel Committee Meeting on Wednesday, January 17, 2024, commencing at 4:00 p.m. prevailing local time, and at the Northampton County Council meeting on Thursday, January 18, 2024, commencing at 6:30 p.m., prevailing local time, in the Northampton County Council Meeting Room, Room 3116, third floor, Northampton County Courthouse, 669 Washington Street, Easton, PA. Individuals with questions may contact the office of Northampton County Council by telephone at 610-829-6596.

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Allenrown City Council Postpones Reorganization

Due to the illness of Council member Cynthia Mota, Allentown City Council voted 6-0 last night to postpone its reorganization until January 10 at 6 pm. 

NorCo Counsel Selects Vargo-Heffner and Heckman As Their New Leaders

In a bi-partisan vote, Northampton County Council selected its leaders for 2024 during its annual reorganization yesterday. Lori Vargo-Heffner, a psychotherapist at St. Luke's Hospital and former Council President, was elected President. Ron Heckman, a past Council President as well as the county's former Director of Human Services, won the Vice Presidency. 

Vargo-Heffner, a Democrat, was nominated by Republican John Brown. Ken Kraft, a former Council President as well as an administrator at the jail, was nominated by Democrat Jeff Warren.  

Republican Council members Brown, Tom Giovanni and John Goffredo voted for Vargo-Heffner (President) as well as (Heckman Vice President). Democrats Vargo-Heffner and Heckman voted for each other and themselves. 

Kraft received voted from the troika of Democratic Council members (Ken Kraft, Kelly Keegan and Jeff Warren) elected in November. 

Kraft told WFMZ-TV69 that the election of Vargo-Heffner and Heckman was part of a deal with Republicans, with Executive Lamont McClure adding that the Heffner-Heckman duo is actually being led by Republican John Brown.  Heckman retorted that McClure "had branched into comedy."

Council-Executive relations are strained, to put it mildly. Over McClure vetoes, Council is conducting a pay study. It conducted an operational study of Gracedale that recommended higher wages for nursing staff.  Council also voted to reject McClure's planned employee health center. At recent meetings, Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron actually accused several Council members of awarding grants to nonprofits in which they have an interest. 

Kraft, Keegan and Warren were all supported by McClure. In his Council past, Kraft has never opposed any McClure initiatives. He owed his job at the jail to McClure, which vastly increased his pension. 

With the exception of the trade union-friendly responsible contractor ordinance, the rift between County Council and McClure has nothing to do with Democratic or Republican ideologies, County Council supported repayment of student loans, which McClure opposed. They advocated higher wages, which McClure opposed.  The rift instead reflects a tension between a County Council exercising oversight and an Executive who dislikes being challenged.

If the Executive wishes to be successful in his second term, and County Council is interested in good government, there needs to be a reset in relations. This is something neither side is willing to do. The result is that we all suffer. 

County Council did vote unanimously on one matter. They re-appointed Chris Spadoni as their Solicitor. 

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Allentown "Leader" Hasshan Batts Justifies Baby's Murder

Over this past weekend,  in what should have been a celebratory atmosphere, eight people were shot in three separate incidents in Allentown. Two are dead, including a one-year old boy. 

Never one to waste a crisis, former drug dealer Hasshan Batts conducted what The Morning Call has dubbed a "rally" outside of his Promise Neighborhood's offices on Sunday, flanked by local elected officials who've regularly thrown public money at him to reduce gun violence. That's been a failure, pretty much like The Philadelphia Eagles. 

Batts, who not long ago was chanting "Fuck the police!" from a bullhorn in center city Allentown, actually excused these homicides. "'We’re not here to have a conversation about bad apples,' Batts said Sunday. “When people are wrestling with poverty, they do what they need to survive.'”

I was unaware that murdering a baby is something poor people do to survive.

Amazingly, this demagogue is labeled a community leader. I call him what he is - a thug. 

It is time to turn off his money faucet.