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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Easton City Council Rejects Cease Fire Resolution, But Calls For Peace

"We will vote you out."
Easton City Council last night rejected a cease-fire resolution concerning the Gaza conflagration. It was sponsored by Council member Taiba Sultana. Her resolution died for a lack of a second. But by a 6-1 vote, with Sultana the sole dissenter, they adopted a resolution calling for world peace. (The text of both the cease-fire resolution and the competing peace proposal are located here). 

Sultana questioned how six members of City Council could draft a resolution without first consulting her. Council member Frank Pintabone responded, "I think our resolution was drafted the same way yours was because nobody was offered to get involved with yours either." 

She also stated resolutions eventually become law, but was corrected by both Solicitor Joel Scheer and Mayor Sal Panto. They both said that an ordinance is required for anything to become a city law. 

Sultana argued the peace notes there are over 45 armed conflicts but fails to specify where. That can be found with a one-second search at Google, which lists precisely where there are 62 ongoing armed conflicts in the world

Council member Crystal Rose explained that "the thought process was that there are always going to be conflicts worldwide and we would like to say that all of us up here don't want to see people die, we don't want to see people harmed, we don't want to see armed conflict throughout the world but we want to get back to city business and I think that if we keep bringing this up, we're getting away from the things that the people elected us to do here. I have had an overwhelming amount of people come up to me and email me and ... most of them have been angered that we are focusing on issues that don't involve Easton." She said she was elected to deal with issues like affordable housing and food insecurity.

Sultana said she was listening to the people who came to the meeting, not those who sit in their "cozy homes." Pintabone said he received 740 emails just that day "90% of them told me they did not elect me to represent them on international business. They elected me to represent them in City of Easton business. 

Of the 13 members of the public who spoke before the vote, 12 supported the cease-fire resolution. I have summarized their comments below. I found it necessary to fact check a few claims.  

Kaitlyn Hart (sp?): "I've been able to hold my newborn while others have placed white sheets over theirs." 80% of the world's population experiencing famine is in the Gaza strip."

Factcheck: The claim that 80% of those who experience famine worldwide are in the Gaza strip is false. Today, nearly 45 million people in 37 different countries are at risk of starvation. This problem is most acute in Somalia. 

Mark Rosenzweig "We can't ignore this ... genocide in progress. It's being televised. " At least 70 cities have advocated cease-fire resolutions. 

Factcheck (Reuters): 70 cities have called for ceasefires in Gaza. 48 cities have called for a halt to bombing in Gaza. Six cities have adopted resolutions broadly calling for peace. 20 cities have condemned the Hamas attack in Israel. 

Jason Werner: A ceasefire resolution is appropriate on a local level because "that is the most direct form of democracy the people have."  

Kaylee Smith: "Our tax dollars are sent to Israel when they could instead fund the future of our children in this city." 

Crystal Phillips: "I wish that we would fill the room for local stuff. ... There's multiple things that we presented as south side residents, but you [Council member Sultana] have not been there for us ... and it's frustrating."

(Council member Sultana retorted that she represents residents "diligently.")

Rai Ismail: $367,000 goes to Israel from Easton.

Factcheck: Any calculation of how much each city resident contributes via federal tax to Israel is at best a guestimate. 

Logan Scheirer: He lives in Lehighton but is too scared to speak there because residents there intimidate him with threats and harassment.. He spoke twice to Easton City Council, both before and after the vote. Then he made his own promise to return to every City Council meeting until a cease fire resolution is adopted. 

Aven Lancaster: All 12 universities in Gaza have been bombed and destroyed. 

Factcheck: All 12 universities have been bombed and destroyed or damaged. 378 schools have been destroyed or damaged,   

Avalea Danes: Unless City Council adopts a cease-fire resolution, "we will organize and we will vote you out for your duplicity."

Yaseen Salee: This was his fourth or fifth appearance before City Council. He pretty much said what he said every other time. 

Raya Abdelaal: "We're gonna' keep coming back 'till this is passed."

Jack Rosa with flag and mask: claimed incorrectly that Easton City's budget "is and has been funding a genocide in Palestine." She added South side Easton is not as important as the conflagration in Gaza.

Thomas Henchen: Criticized the competing peace resolution as a "vague platitude that mocks us. ... We know how the world works. ... We are a political movement with political power.""

What Are the Lehigh Valley's Natural Hazards?

Earlier this week, I told you that both Lehigh and Northampton County Emergency Management agencies are in the process of updating the Lehigh  Valley Hazard Mitigation Plan Hazards. It identifies both natural and man-made hazards. Below is a listing of the natural hazards considered here in thye Lehigh Valley, which include a summary of past occurrences and an estimate of the likelihood of recurrence.  I'll list man-made hazards on Friday. 

Drought: "Predicting the frequency of droughts is challenging. However, droughts appear to be cyclical, implying they'll reoccur in the future. In fact, periodic droughts are commonplace in almost all U.S. climates."

Earthquake: "Based on the Lehigh and Northampton County Emergency Management Agencies’ operational viewpoint, as well as previous historical earthquake events, the probability of occurrence for earthquake events in the Lehigh Valley is considered Unlikely (less than 1% annual probability), as defined in the Methodology Section."

Extreme temperature: "The highest temperature ever recorded in the region was 105°F on the 4th of July weekend in 1966, while the lowest temperature ever recorded was -15°F on January 21, 1994. Since 1996, the Lehigh Valley was subject to more than 196 extreme temperature events. ... Over the 27 years of record keeping of extreme temperature events (1996-2023), there have been 196 recorded events, an average of 7.25 events per year. In the last 10 years, 2013 – 2023, there has been an extreme temperature event in 7 of the 10 years. As such, the probability that the Lehigh Valley will experience an extreme temperature event in any given year is Highly Likely."

Flood, Flash Flood, Ice Jam: "The Lehigh Valley has a long history of flooding events. According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) Storm Events Database, the Lehigh Valley experienced 235 flood events between January 1, 1996, and March 31, 2023. These floods resulted in one death, four injuries, an estimated $145.75 million in property damages, and approximately $2 million in crop damages. ... Based on the Lehigh and Northampton County Emergency Management Agencies’ operational viewpoint, the probability of occurrence for flood events in the Lehigh Valley is considered Highly Likely with a higher than 90% probability of annual occurrences as defined in the Methodology Section."

Hailstorm: "Hailstorms can occur as a routine part of severe weather in the Lehigh Valley. The potential for hail exists throughout the Lehigh Valley, with a few minor incidents recorded each year. ... Based on historical occurrences of hailstorm events retrieved from NCEI, the probability of occurrence for hailstorm events in the Lehigh Valley is considered Highly Likely, greater than 90% annual probability as defined in the Methodology Section."

Invasive Species: "Invasive species have been entering the Lehigh Valley for quite some time, though not all occurrences have required government action. Specific occurrences and quantified losses were not identified for these invasive species in the Lehigh Valley. ... Based on the Lehigh and Northampton County Emergency Management Agencies’ operational viewpoint, the probability of occurrence for invasive species impacting the Lehigh Valley is considered ‘highly likely’ (higher than 90% probability) as defined in the Methodology Section."

Landslide: "Pennsylvania has frequently been a hotspot for significant landslide occurrences due to its unique blend of a humid climate, locally intense topography, and the varied erosion and weathering characteristics of its sedimentary rocks. Additionally, human endeavors, including commercial, residential, and industrial development, along with transportation and mining projects, often intensify the susceptibility to landslides. ... From the perspective of the Lehigh and Northampton County Emergency Management Agencies, the probability of landslides occurring in the Lehigh Valley is categorized as 'unlikely'."

Lightning Strikes: "Defined as a lightning strike resulting in death, injury, or damage to property or crops, a lightning "event" has specific consequences. From 1993 to 2023, the Lehigh Valley registered 86 such events, with Northampton County accounting for 60 and Lehigh County for 26, as documented by NOAA-NCEI. ... Based on the Lehigh and Northampton County Emergency Management Agencies’ operational viewpoint, the probability of occurrence for lightning strike events is considered ‘highly likely’ as defined in the Methodology Section."

Pandemic and Infectious Disease: Includes data concerning incidence of COVID-19, influenza, West Nile virus and lyme disease. "Influenza is among the most common and recognizable diseases within the Lehigh Valley, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. as a whole. Influenza virus infections are detected year round in the U.S., although cases typically increase during “flu season” in the fall and winter months. ... Based on the Lehigh and Northampton County Emergency Management Agencies’ operational viewpoint, the probability of occurrence for pandemic and infectious disease events in the Lehigh Valley is considered ‘likely’ as defined in the Methodology Section."

Radon Exposure: The LV is in a "Zone 1" radon zone, "which means that the average indoor radon levels are likely to exceed 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter). The EPA recommends that all homeowners who have radon concentrations of 4 pCi/L or greater take remedial actions to reduce the presence of radon. ... Radon is a constant threat throughout the Lehigh Valley. As a naturally occurring element, radon has been present in the ground across the Lehigh Valley since long before the area was settled. Overall, Pennsylvania is an area with historically high radon levels due to shear fault zones in the state that contain large amounts of uranium which eventually decays into radon. ... Radon exposure is inevitable given present soil, geologic, and geomorphic factors across Pennsylvania. In the future, the overall likelihood of radon exposure in the Lehigh Valley will remain high."

Subsidence/Sinkholes: "The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Sinkhole Inventory Online Database, along with the 2023 Pennsylvania State Hazard Mitigation Plan, recorded 470 sinkholes in Lehigh County and 677 in Northampton County between 2010 and 2013. Additionally, local data from the Lehigh and Northampton County Knowledge Center databases for 2012 and 2017 indicate 101 sinkhole incidents across 23 municipalities. Bethlehem Township experienced the highest number of sinkholes (28), followed by Palmer Township (19), Easton (12), Hanover Township in Northampton County (6), and Lower Saucon Township (5). ... . From the perspective of the Emergency Management Agencies of Lehigh and Northampton Counties, the likelihood of subsidence and sinkhole incidents in the Lehigh Valley is categorized as 'likely,' in accordance with the definition provided in the Methodology Section." 

Wildfire: "The Pennsylvania 2023 State Hazard Mitigation Plan notes reported wildfires and acres burned in the Lehigh Valley between 1992 and 2015. 122 wildfires in Lehigh County burned over 313 acres, while 87 wildfires in Northampton County burned more than 168 acres. 151 Wildfire events that were recorded in the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) Storm Events ... with one death reported. In addition, Lehigh and Northampton County Knowledge Center databases identified 67 brushfires from 2012 to 2017. Information regarding damages, injuries or deaths was not available. ... Based on the Lehigh and Northampton County Emergency Management Agencies operational viewpoint, the probability of occurrence for wildfire events in the Lehigh Valley is considered ‘possible’ as defined in the Methodology Section.

Windstorm/Tornado: "Data from the NCEI Storm Events Database reveals a notable increase in tornado occurrences over recent decades. Comparing two periods, from 1950 to 1995, a span of 46 years, there were 493 tornadoes recorded. In contrast, a shorter period from 1996 to 2021, lasting only 26 years, saw a similar number of tornadoes at 497. This trend appears to be more pronounced regionally and might partly be attributed to advancements in reporting techniques. According to a 2018 report by the National Weather Service, part of NOAA, the overall frequency of tornadoes across the United States has been relatively steady since 1950, suggesting that the observed increase could be linked to more sophisticated and thorough reporting methods. ... From the perspective of the Lehigh and Northampton County Emergency Management Agencies, the probability of windstorm and tornado events occurring in the Lehigh Valley is categorized as 'possible,' as outlined in the Methodology Section. This classification underscores the need for continued vigilance and preparedness in the face of these natural phenomena."

Winter Storm: "Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Centers for Environmental Information reveal that between 1993 and 2023, Lehigh County encountered 256 winter storm events, while Northampton County faced 257. These events led to property damages of approximately $3.8 million in Lehigh County and $2.25 million in Northampton County. ... . Based on assessments by the Emergency Management Agencies of both Lehigh and Northampton counties, the probability of winter storm events occurring in the Lehigh Valley is classified as 'likely'."

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

State House Candidate Sultana Can Add Civil Judgment to Criminal Case

This blog and various other media sources have told you that Taiba Sultana, who is both an Easton City Council member and a candidate for State Representative, currently faces assault charges arising from a domestic dispute with her adult son. She even spent a night in the hoosegow.! People accused of this kind of crime are usually eligible for ARD if they are first time offenders. I expect to see her admitted into this special program for first offenders. But as that bizarre chapter in her life comes to a close, another opens. An $11,380 civil judgment has just been entered against her in magisterial district court. 

From what I've been able to learn, that judgment arises from a property she rented on south side Easton. According to an anonymous comment on my blog, "she was scammed by the people whom she helped rent the apartment. That defense apparently failed in a case heard by Magisterial District Judge Sue Hutnik on February 22. Judge Hutnick entered an $11,380.50 judgment against her. 

Sultana can appeal this matter in county court and have the case heard de novo

This is just another of numerous red flags that have been swirling around her long before she announced her candidacy for state house.  

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. McClure Goes to Upper Mt Bethel Tp

In the famous movie, Mr. Smith went to Washington to fight against government corruption. Mr. McClure, our Northampton County Executive, is going in a different direction. Instead of Washington, he visited Upper Mount Bethel Tp on Monday night in an effort to prevent the use of public money to incentivize warehouses. He had a better reception there than he gets from his homefield County Council.  

"The era of warehouse proliferation in Northampton County is coming to an end," he told Supervisors. He urged them to adopt a new ordinance to replace a current ordinance that gives a tax break for warehouse development in the township. Under his proposal, the Board would be able to give manufacturers a tax break, but not warehouses. "There is no reason any government at this time in Northampton County or the Lehigh Valley should be using our fellow citizens' tax dollars to incentivize the building of purely logistic buildings," he argued. 

McClure's proposed ordinance would include a hearing board that would enable all taxing authorities to meet with the developer if he disagrees with the denial of a tax break for a specific parcel. Under the current ordinance, the tax exemption would be automatic. 

UPDATED: Easton City Council Poised to Consider Competing Resolutions Concerning Israeli Incursion Into Gaza

Easton City Council is poised tonight to consider competing resolutions concerning Israel's invasion of Gaza on October 27, 2023. This invasion is a response to a Hamas incursion into Israel on October 7, 2023. Over 1,100 noncombatants were killed and 253 people were abducted, including women and children. The Israeli response has killed over 28,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children. Nearly the entire population of 2.3 million has been displaced. 

The first resolution, sponsored by Council member Taiba Sultana, calls for an immediate ceasefire. The second, sponsored by five Council members, calls for peace. Unfortunately, I am unable to locate the actual text of either resolution on the city's webpage. If I get them, I'll produce them for your review. 

Similar resolutions have been proposed in Allentown and Bethlehem. Thus far, none have been adopted. 

It's pretty clear that there's a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Although Israel's IDF takes greater pains than any other military in the world to avoid civilian casualties, there may even be some war crimes. But there are currently 62 armed conflicts worldwide. It is hypocritical to take a stance on just one of them.   

UPDATED 11:07 am: Below are the draft resolutions. 

Sultana Resolution: WHEREAS The recent escalation of violence and tensions between Israel and Palestine has brought this conflict to the forefront of global attention.

WHEREAS the Easton City Council values peace and human life.

NOW THEREFORE LET IT BE RESOLVED that the City of Easton, per our commitment to peace and humanity, condemns violence and joins other cities in calling on our Congress Members to demand: an immediate permanent ceasefire; the release of all hostages, the unrestricted entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza; the restoration of food, water, electricity, and medical supplies to gaza; and the respect for international law; and calls for a resolution that protects the security of all innocent civilians; and be it


Easton City Council urges congresswoman Susan Wild, Governor Josh Shapiro, Senator John Fetterman, Senator Bob Casey, State Representative Robert Bob Freeman, and the Biden administration to immediately call for and facilitate de-escalation and a permanent ceasefire to urgently end the current violence.

Resolution of Panto, Ruggles, Pintabone, Rose, Edinger and Brown:

WHEREAS the City of Easton recognizes the inherent value of human life and the fundamental rights to peace and security. There are over 45 armed conflicts worldwide, resulting in widespread suffering, displacement, and loss of life,

WHEREAS armed conflicts and war crimes are an egregious violation of human rights, causing immeasurable harm to individuals, families, and communities,

WHEREAS it is incumbent upon all responsible parties, including governments, international organizations, and civil society, to work tirelessly towards the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and to hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable for their actions,

WHEREAS the City of Easton reaffirms its commitment to promoting dialogue, diplomacy, and peaceful resolution of conflicts, both domestically and internationally. We stand firmly in support of the universal right to protest as a means of advocating for peace and justice.

NOW THEREFORE LET TI BE RESOLVED, that the City Council of Easton hereby condemns war crimes in the strongest terms possible. Be it further resolved, that the City Council expresses solidarity with al those affected by conflict and reaffirms its commitment to supporting efforts aimed at achieving lasting peace and justice.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

LV Hazard Mitigation Plan To Consider Gas/Liquid Pipelines and Cyber-Terrorism

Northampton and Lehigh County are currently considering an update to their Hazard Mitigation Plan. This is done periodically to identify risks and vulnerabilities and develop strategies to protect people and their property. It's required to turn on the money spigots in the event of a disaster. The plan itself is 448 pages long and a bit beyond my paygrade. But according to an overview, it will confront the dangers posed by liquid/gas pipelines as well as cyber-terrorism. 

You can share your own opinions or insights with both counties here. Public comment is being accepted until March 25. There also will be a virtual public meeting concerning the plan on March 6, at 4:30 pm. Details for participation are located here

Monday, February 26, 2024

Pete Wambaugh's "It's a Beautiful Day in Pennsylvania" On Our Election History

Pennsylvania's State Archives includes a number of audio recordings prepared by Peter Wambaugh, a radio journalist who regaled listeners with tidbits about Pennsylvania's fascinating history, from The Whiskey Rebellion to witchcraft trials. 

He started each broadcast with "It's a beautiful day in Pennsylvania." Below is his tale of "Old Time Elections" here in the Keystone State. 

In old political Pennsylvania there are election stories and political stories. The fights in Philadelphia over both the Declaration and the Constitution are in that category, but are preserved as hallmarks of Americana, not tainted in glory, time-hallowed rust of politics. 

Pennsylvanians have always taken their politics seriously, as when the Pennsylvania delegation swung for Abraham Lincoln in 1860, or when they swung with Arthur James for Wilkie in 1940 and for Dewey in 1948 with Edward Martin. These were affairs of a national nature, and as I had pointed out in a story before, Pennsylvania swung many of the nation's national conventions. 

The old time local campaigns however, with their torch-light parades with Boss Tweed type politicians exhorting paid hirelings to "vote today and vote often"--those are the historical political happenings that make the past interesting. William Rirnmel, Pittsburgh newsman some time ago reminisced of such pasts in a column, stating that Alleghenians took their politics seriously years ago. As did other countians in the Commonwealth, and still do. Speakers were treated with catcalls, and found themselves targets for a barrage of mud and missiles. Shame it doesn't happen anymore! 

After the Harrisburg Whig convention in 1839, when John Tyler spoke in West Park Commons in Pittsburgh it turned into a riotous affair. The famed Pittsburgher General William Robinson was hit by a brick in front of his home. A howling mob chased the son of a Whig editor after the young man had belted one of the speakers at a rally. After a close riotous campaign in Pittsburgh, the folks were so jubilant they shot off a cannon in front of the home of the mayor-elect there, breaking windows and nearly killing the political hero of the hour. Ah, and those political rallies were something! I've seen them in the past quarter century at the Northside Armory and they were noisy, but not like the marching clubs, attired in colorful unif orms and lighted torches marching through the streets. 

On election day, ward leaders everywhere set up their barrels of beer. And Jimmy McKay, a tavern owner conducted his mayoralty campaigns in a more direct way- -like the Great McGinty. He gave McGinty and even Skeffington of the "Last Hurrah" a few lessons. He'd take the army of thieves sheltered in his tavern and others, on the rounds of polling places where they voted again and again.

Jimmy's boys voted as many as a dozen times during the day. Elections were colorful - and they were crooked! One remembers fifty years ago, an Allegheny County event--in which votes were allegedly dumped into the river--to swing a state primary party.

Ah, those were the days the old timers said--"Vote early and often"--Well sir, this is election day in Pennsylvania. Vote today--'nuff said.

This is Pete Wambach. It's a beautiful day in Pennsylvania.

Pa.State House 136 Race: Incumbent Bob Freeman to Debate Challenger Taiba Sultana

Incumbent State Rep. Bob Freeman will square off against Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana in the race for Pa. legislative district 136. They will debate on March 5, 6 pm, at the Shiloh Chapel in Easton. (201 Brother Thomas Bright Ave.) Both are Democrats, so this race could be over in the primary election. No Republican has filed a nomination petition. 

Freeman's district includes Easton, West Easton, Glendon, Freemansburg, Hellertown, Wilson Borough, Williams Tp and parts of Palmer and Lower Saucon Tps. 

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. A conference has been scheduled before President Judge Craig Dally on March 6, the day after her debate. 

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.   

Most recently, she submitted a nomination petition circulated by her husband that forged the signature of State Senator Lisa Boscola. When Boscola and Freeman took offense, she called them members of the gerontocracy, a slur at older people. Whether this is a smart tactic in a race and district dominated by more mature voters remains to be seen. 

On her Facebook page, She gas slammed Freeman and Boscoloa over their refusal to pass "the botan [sic] to the younger generation, they are afraid of loosing [sic] the power.

Incidentally, she's no spring chicken herself. According to her criminal docket, she is 41 years old. 

Friday, February 23, 2024

Pffft! The Air Goes Out of Biden Impeachment Probe

I'm sure we're all dismayed that so many sitting members of Congress have used their public perches to grow rich on stock investments. That's no coincidence. It's corruption. Of course, there's always legislation proposed to prevent Congressman and Senators from investing, but nothing ever seems to pass. The same is true of highly placed elected officials. Whether it's President Joe Biden or President Donald Trump, the sons and daughter of both have become quite wealthy by trading in their father's name. Ivanka Trump's husband Jared Kushner received $2 billion from the Saudis for his investment firm. And House Republicans have been beating a drum for years about corrupt Hunter Biden, who was paid handsomely to sit on the board of a Ukrainian company about which he knows nothing. This is all perfectly legal, but it should be banned. But that's not what House Republicans want to stop. They instead were set on impeaching President Biden based on a lead informant's claim that both Biden and his son received millions in bribes. Turns out that this "highly credible" informant had extensive and recent contacts with the Kremlin. 

House Republicans have been played by Vladimir Putin. They built their entire case around a guy hawking Russian disinformation just as deftly as Trump sells his gaudy sneakers. Our GOP is even helping Putin mount an offensive by blocking aid to Ukraine. 

Thursday, February 22, 2024

NorCo Council's Election Integrity Committee Has Yet to Meet

This is a presidential election year. The primary is on April 23, just two months from now. Yet Northampton County Council's election integrity committee, formed last year in the wake of a botched election, has failed to conduct a single meeting. At this point, the only thing it can accomplish is to muddy the primary waters. 

I point this out, not to bash County Council, but to show its inherent weakness as a branch of government. Unlike the full-time executive, who has a small army of both full and part-time employees to implement his goals, County Council members are part-time. Most of them have full-time jobs. They have a staff of three people. And there are nine Council members. They have not only had problems working with the Exec, but lately, they've had problems working with each other.

In preparation for this year's election, the county administration has put out three separate calls for poll workers. It has scheduled several mandatory training sessions at which each poll worker will rece3ive two hours of training. Judges of election and machine inspectors will get additional training. The casting of lots for the primary was livestreamed and open to the public. It has publicly advertised the election dates and offices to be voted on by the public. It has scheduled four elections commission meetings, with the first to take place on March 5. The Express Vote XL logic and accuracy testing will be conducted publicly, with express invitations sent to candidates and party chairs. It appears that the county is making an effort to be totally up front and open about what is happening.

To be sure, there are some underlying questions that need answers. The county administration runs the elections office. Does that give the Exec an unfair leg up during years in which he's running? That's a question Executive Lamont McClure himself has asked. Exactly how powerful should an unelected elections commission be? Both the Home Rule Charter and Elections Code give this board the authority to "administer elections," but does that mean they can hire and fire workers protected by career service or unions? Does that mean they can unilaterally decide to purchase new machines in derogation of county council's control of the purse strings? Do they get to decide that one region of the county gets more drop boxes than the others, like Republican Scott Hough wanted to do for a GOP district? 

The public is entitled to the most efficient and fair elections that the county can provide. I'm really doubtful that will happen with unelected part-time election commissioners whose names are submitted by party bosses. Especially when one of them goes rogue and refuses to certify election results despite that being precisely what the law requires. 

What's really at play here are the requirements of the Home Rule Charter and Elections Code. Instead of an election integrity committee, Council would be better off establishing a committee of individuals who are willing to look at the Charter, article-by-article, and make recommendations after a year of study. This committee could recommend a home rule charter study commission for significant changes, or it could recommend a series of changes that would need no home rule charter study commission. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

35 Nomination Petition Challenges Filed Statewide

Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court is going to be busy over the next few days. Yesterday was the final day in which challenges could be filed for the various nomination petitions for state and federal office. Yesterday, the Court logged 35 complaints. 

These include petition challenges to candidates for the state house (24); Delegate to the GOP Convention (3); US Congress (4); US Senate (1); and Pa. Senate (3). 

None of these challenges are against state house candidate Taiba Sultana (state house) or Mark Pinsley (state auditor). Sultana's nomination petition included the forged signature of a state senator, while Pinsley's submission contained the forged signature of a Chester County judge. 

Falsus in uno, Falsus in omnibus is a common law principle under which a witness' entire testimony can be disregarded if it is determined that at least part of his testimony is fabricated. That  maxim is inapplicable in election law. If a signature is forged, only that signature may be stricken, not all of them. So both Sultana and Pinsley will be on the primary ballot.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Objections to Nomination Petitions Due February 21

I've told you that nomination petitions for state and federal office were due in Harrisburg on February 14.  Objections to these petitions can be filed, but that must happen no later than today. These objections must state specifically why the nomination petition is being challenged and must be served on the state elections office. 

Most (if not all) of these challenges would need to be filed in Commonwealth Court. The Court has set up a link to review objection petitions and case management orders. 

As of Monday night, no petition has been legally challenged. 

Congressional Candidate Kevin Dellicker Shares Views on ACP Extension and Broadband Infrastructure

Yesterday, I commended Lehigh Valley Congress person Susan Wild for her support of legislation that will extend the Affordable Connectivity Program, which gives a $30/month reduction in the cost of internet service to 23 million American households.  Because this program is set to expire in a matter of about two months, an extension would have to be in place long before November's election. For that reason, I decided against asking Wild's Republican opponents for their take on this topic. Despite this, GOP Congressional hopeful Kevin Dellicker shared his views on both an ACP extension as well as our broadband infrastructure.  Here's what he has to say:

Broadband is my business. I’ve been helping enterprise customers upgrade their broadband infrastructure for 20 years. Our typical project organizes large groups of buyers, puts their services out to bid, and then sources the most cost-effective solution from the best qualified providers. It maximizes private investment, encourages cooperation among buyers, drives competition among vendors, and puts the consumers in the driver’s seat. Our typical project results in a big service upgrade for the buyers, a more profitable investment for the providers, and better infrastructure for the entire community. If a public organization is involved, we often achieve big taxpayer savings on top of everything else.

Contrast that to the Broadband Infrastructure bill passed by President Biden and Susan Wild. Their program creates a bunch of grant programs around the country that will administer the broadband funds. State and local governments had to hire new people to manage the grant programs, and many of the new hires don’t know anything about the telecom industry. The grants are written to include all kinds of progressive priorities unrelated to broadband, such as environmental factors, labor union requirements, diversity, equity and inclusion plans, and the applications are extraordinarily complicated. Many of the established providers won’t go near them, so the program encourages unproven providers to jockey for the grants. The consumers don’t drive the process. Instead, the providers submit grants that are reviewed by the bureaucrats, who give the money to their chosen providers to build out the services. Often, the new providers with federal money get to compete against established providers who spent their own private capital to build out their own infrastructure. Nobody asks the consumers if they really want the services from the newly selected providers, but it doesn’t matter. The money is spent, and the politicians can claim that they’ve done something to improve broadband access.

This is why we are two years into the broadband infrastructure program and no broadband has been built. And its why even after the grants are delivered, people will be disappointed. Unfortunately, this same grant-based, bureaucrat-driven approach is being used for the CHIPS Act, the cybersecurity funding, and many of the other high-tech initiatives that Susan Wild and Joe Biden tout. Eventually, after tons of overhead and administrative costs, the remaining money goes to companies based on bureaucratic criteria, not to consumers based on market requirements. It’s all corporate welfare, and it’s doomed to failure.

Regarding the $7 billion in additional broadband spending, I won’t support that. Two questions for Susan Wild:

1) Is this really the most important thing that you think the federal government should be spending $7 billion on right now? I choose securing the border, replenishing our military weapons, and fighting fentanyl instead. Or maybe we can just not add to the deficit.

2) If we didn’t solve the broadband problem with the original $65 billion, why does anybody think another $7 billion will do the trick? The truth is, it won’t.

This broadband infrastructure bill is a perfect example of good intentions gone bad by ineffective politicians who know nothing about the industries they are trying to impact. Politicians like Susan Wild are doing more harm than good with this broadband infrastructure bill, and its only a matter of time that people start figuring it out.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Wild Supports Bill To Continue Internet Access to Low-Income Residents

Pennsylvania Congress member Susan Wild represents the Lehigh Valley in Congress. Her district includes low income communities like Allentown, Southside Bethlehem and Bangor Borough. She supports an extension of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides a $30 per month discount on internet access for those of receiving social security, SNAP, Medicaid or any household that is under 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The FCC has begun the process of winding it down unless it is extended by April. A bipartisan extension act in both Houses of Congress puts the cost of continuing to provide internet access at $7 billion. GOP House leadership has thus far refused to bring the matter up for a vote, as they've done with other spending measures. The Republican reputation as the Party of No is well-earned.

President Joe Biden has called on Congress to extend ACP, which currently benefits 23 million households, including 40,823 (14%) in Wild's district. In the Nazareth zip code, 495 households are enrolled. In the Easton zip code, it's 3,076 residences. 

According to the White House, "[A]ffordable, reliable high-speed internet is critical in order to access education, healthcare, and work, engage in precision agriculture, and keep in touch with loved ones. Still, too many are left without high-speed internet because they lack the infrastructure or are inhibited by high costs. In particular, these inequities impact underserved communities, rural communities, veterans, and older Americans where the lack of affordable, reliable high-speed internet contributes to significant economic, health and other disparities."

Northampton and Lehigh Counties have both spent (and without controversy) millions in American Rescue Plan Act funds to expand broadband access. This work will have been in vain unless those least able to pay are given a hand up. Sure, you can regulate what is charged, but that wioll just deter investment and innovation. You could shoot for municipal broadband, but that would discourage competition and would be far more wasteful. ACP is a no-brainer. 

Friday, February 16, 2024

NorCo Controller Zrinski Gets Career Service Protection For Senior Lead Auditor

After kicking off the new year with several fractious meetings, a kinder and gentler Northampton County Council convened last night. "We're getting back to the business at hand, which is nice to see," said Council President Lori Vargo Heffner as the conclave ended. That's good news for the county, but bad for me. I'll have to start making this up. 

Last night's meeting was the first for Jeff Corpora. He was appointed earlier this month by President Judge Craig Dally after Council deadlocked on appointing a ninth member. He was welcomed by both Vargo-Heffner and Executive Lamont McClure. 

The only controversy concerned Controller Tara Zrinski's desire to create a senior lead auditor in her office who would be protected by the career service provisions contained in both the Home Rule Charter and Administrative Code. This position would assume many of the duties once performed by the Audit Manager. That is an exempt or "confidential" position who serves at the pleasure of the Controller. Under the county's Home Rule Charter, all elected officials (except County Council members) are entitled to one confidential position. 

Zrinski said her proposal would ensure the "stability, efficiency and consistency in the office." She noted that a recent change in the Home Rule Charter limits the Controller to two terms, "so there's going to be guaranteed turnover in eight years." She believes a nonpolitical senior lead auditor  would keep the office intact, no matter which way the political winds are blowing. 

Stacy Duke, who likely will be the senior lead auditor position, was asked by Vargo-Heffner whether she was offered the audit manager position. She was, but turned it down because she wanted to keep the protection of career service. "I have 21 more years with the county, at least, until I can retire. I do know with the new terms coming in - when I started, the Controller could stay for as many terms as they wanted. and you could be guaranteed that position throughout your time. With the terms being changed to [no more than] eight years, it's not guaranteeing me anything at all, and I felt I wanted to remain with the county and with my office, so I did not take the appointed position, No."

Council member John Goffredo was told repeatedly that there would be no expansion of the office. He was unpersuaded but still supported the change because he said Duke has been a loyal employee who deserves better compensation. "I've been supporting pay raises across the board because the cost of living has gone up dramatically."

Council member John Brown remained skeptical. What really seemed to bother him was Zrinski's appointment of Mark Aurand. He's an attorney but is not an accountant. "If you were sincere in what you're attempting to position and concerned about the workload, then you would have filled that position with someone I believe, my opinion, would be more inclined to execute audits and do some of the workload. He also stated that Duke would be getting a 41% pay hike, but Goffredo corrected him. Her salary would go from $67,000 to $81,000.  Brown apologized once he was shown his error.

Zrinski noted that Aurand reviews and proofs audits, and is actually conducting small audits. "You do not need a CPA to do an audit," she told Brown, "but it does need to be done by generally accepted auditing standards."

What Brown refuses to recognize is that, pursuant to the Home Rule Charter, Zrisnski in entitled to a confidential employee. it makes no difference whether that person is or is not an accountant. 

Zrinski herself has already completed one accounting course and was on her way back to Carlisle after the meeting to continue a second course. "If you think I don't take this job seriously, you're definitely wrong," she told Brown. 

In the end, all of County Council, with the exception of John Brown, supported Tara Zrinski's resolution for a senior lead auditor who would be protected by career service.

Even I agreed with her.  

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Zrinski Impresses Me in First Council Appearance as Controller

Regular readers of this blog know I supported John Cusick, and not Tara Zrinski, for NorCo Controller. I believed that, like Controller Mark Pinsley in Lehigh County, she's use the job as a launching pad for the next political opportunity that comes along.  That may very well be true, but I must confess that I've been impressed by what I've seen. She appears to be taking the job seriously, has enrolled in accounting classes, and probably gave a better presentation of auditor reports than I've seen since staff were doing it themselves. 

In addition to presenting audit reports, she also made a personnel request yesterday. She wants to change the Audit Manager position, also known as senior lead auditor, from an exempt position serving at the will of the Controller into a career service position that would be protected no matter who is in office. County Council seemed puzzled by her request. Council member John Brown told her to come back in six months. Council member John Goffredo worried that she was creating a new position and expanding its size, even though Lead Auditor Stacy Duke and Zrinski both told him that the number of personnel would remain the same. What County Council fails to realize is that, as an independently elected official, she pretty much has the right to create and eliminate positions as she sees fit, unless they are protected by a union or career service. Council's sole role is setting the pay. 

Let me explain what led Zrinski to seek this change. Under the Home Rule Charter (Section 801), every elected official (except County Council) is entitled to one "confidential" employee. This is the person that an elected official can trust. Yes, it is a patronage position. In the Controller's office, that person has always been the senior lead auditor. 

This has never been an issue, even as Controllers have changed over the years because the senior lead auditor pretty much knows the office better than anyone. But theoretically, a newly elected Controller could dismiss the senior lead auditor and install a political hack. This would hurt the continuity of the office and would certainly disrupt the office's efficiency. 

When the senior lead auditor position opened up, nobody in the office anted it because they would lose career service protections. So Zrinski wants to convert the position to career service. This makes sense.'

But what about her confidential employee? She's entitled to one, and decided to give it to Attorney Mark Aurand. He's been a political and financial contributor to Zrinski for years, so you could rightly say this is pay to play. But this kind of patronage is expressly authorized by the Home Rule Charter so log as it is limited to one person. So she's calling Aurand her Deputy Controller, and has the money in the budget to pay him. 

Aurand is no accountant, but explained that in his years of legal work, he has become quite familiar with financial statements. That does not matter. He is her confidential employee, and she is entitled to have one. 

It seems that what Zrinski has proposed will preserve the continuity and efficiency of the office while simultaneously allowing the Controller to make one political hire. 

Sultana Blasted by State Senator Lisa Boscola Over Forged Boscola Signature on Sultana Nomination Petition

Yesterday, I told you about several problems with Taiba Sultana's nomination petition for the state house seat held by Bob Freeman. She signed her own petition three times, and included a duplicate page of signatures. But the biggest red flag was the signature of State Senator Lisa Boscola on a petition circulated and attested to by Sultana's husband. As word of this circulated, Boscola and Freedman issued a joint statement blasting Sultana.  Their remarks: 

State Senator Lisa Boscola said that “Taiba Sultana should be ashamed of herself for submitting a nominating petition containing my forged signature.” “Getting on the ballot is a serious responsibility for any candidate seeking public office and knowingly turning in petitions with fraudulent signatures should be a disqualifying act”, Boscola stated.

Ms. Sultana and her husband Nadeen Qayuum, who signed as the circulator on the petition containing the forged signature, both know better. Each of them has run for office several times. There is only one registered voter with the name Lisa Boscola in Northampton County and she does not reside at 203 Jungstown Rd Bethlehem. A road that does not actually exist.

Boscola, who does not even reside in Representative Freeman’s district, noted: “Make no mistake, I am supporting Bob Freeman. He is a great representative and a tremendous partner in delivering for the communities we both serve. I am proud to serve with him in Harrisburg and would vote for him if I could.”

Rep. Freeman echoed the sentiments of Senator Boscola. “Submitting fraudulent signatures on a nominating petition further amplifies questions about Ms. Sultana’s fitness for her current office let alone her fitness to become a member of the State House,” Freeman stated. “The fraudulent signature of the State Senator is just one of the many irregularities on her petitions.” Freeman noted.

"Taiba’s recent claim that my supporters were instructed to fraudulently sign her nominating petitions is equal parts outrageous and pathetic and entirely untrue. Her own husband signed as the circulator of the petition containing Senator Boscola’s forged signature, attesting to the signature. Ms. Sultana has a history of making baseless accusations and never taking responsibility for her own actions,” Freeman concluded.

On her Facebook page, Sultana is blaming everyone but herself for the forged submission. In addition to claiming that Freeman instructed his supporters to fraudulently sign, she paints Easton City Council member Frank Pintabone as part of Freeman's "paid staff." This is untrue. He and several other members of Easton City Council circulated for Freeman because they support him. Nobody had to pay them. 

Sultana also called Mayor Sal Panto a liar at Wednesday night's Easton City Council meeting. She stated she intends to introduce another Gaza Cease Fire resolution,. Panto responded that he scheduled a committee meeting to discuss it and would put it on the agenda if she could get a second. But she failed to show up. When he noted this, she exploded. "You have been lying to the media!" she shouted. "Please stop this!" she bellowed. "I will not allow you to silence my voice," she continued. 

Panto had to ask her to calm down. 

Sultana appears to have two real problems. She's unacquainted with the truth and angers far too easily. That could explain why she's facing domestic assault charges.   

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Sultana Nomination Petition Includes What Appears to Be Forged Signature of State Senator Lisa Boscola

State house candidate Taiba Sultana's nomination petition, which you can view yourself at the DOS website, is questionable. 

Pn Page 25 Side 1, Lisa Boscola "signed" the petition. Boscola lives in Bethlehem Township and is not in HD-136. Moreover, the address listed on the petition is not Boscola's (as far as I can tell it doesn't exist at all ). It looks like a forged signature of a sitting State Senator, which is a huge deal in my mind. On this same page, Taiba signed off on the petition but she had already signed off on her petition on page 16.

Sultana's husband, Nadeem signed off as the circulator on this page 25 petition. 

Further, Page 31 and the second of two pages numbered 25 are obvious duplicates of each other, so at least one of the pages is definitely a photo copy. However, the circulator signatures (again Nadeem's) do NOT match exactly. Someone appears to have knowingly signed off on a photo copy of petitions.

Ifyou see problems like this with any of the nomination petitions, feel free to share them here. One of my readers alerted me to the problems with Sultana's petition, but asked to remain anonymous.

Nomination Petitions Filed in Lehigh Valley State House Races (UPDATED)

Yesterday was the final day for state house candidates to file their nomination petitions in Harrisburg. You can view actual nominating petitions at the Dep't of State webpage.  Below is a listing of those who've filed in the Lehigh Valley's state house districts. In five of the 11 legislative districts, the incumbent is running unopposed. 

Pa House 22: (parts of Allentown and Salisbury Tp). - Joshua M Siegel (incumbent Democrat) is running unopposed for a second term

Pa House 131: (parts of Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton Counties). - Journalist Meriam M Sabih (Upper Saucon) and Paralegal Jayharon Santos (Lower Saucon) seek the Democratic nod. Milou MacKenzie (Lower Saucon (incumbent Republican) seeks her party's nod. 

Pa House 132: (S Whitehall Tp and parts of Allentown and Upper Macungie).  -  Michael Schossberg (incumbent Democrat) is running unopposed. He's been there 10 years. 

Pa House 133: (Lehigh County portion of Bethlehem, Catasauqua, Coplay, Fountain Hill, Hanover Tp (Lehigh) and Whitehall Tp) -  Jeanne McNeall (incumbent Democrat) is running unopposed.  She has been in office since 2018. 

Pa House 134: (Emmaus and parts of Allentown and Salisbury Tp) - Peter Schweyer (incumbent Democrat) is running unopposed. He's been in office since 2014. 

Pa House 135: (NorCo portion of Bethlehem and part of Hanover Tp) - Steve Samuelson (incumbent Democrat) is running unopposed. He was first elected in 1998. 

Pa House 136: (Easton, West Easton, Glendon, Freemansburg, Hellertown, Wilson Borough, Williams Tp, parts of Palmer and Lower Saucon Tps) . -  Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana and incumbent Bob Freeman both seek the Democratic nomination. No Republican has filed.  Freeman is seeking a 20th or 21st term. 

Pa. House 137: (Bethlehem and Lower Nazareth and Upper Nazareth Tps, parts of Palmer and Hanover Tps, Nazareth, Tatamy, - Anna Thomas seeks the Democratic nomination to take on incumbent Republican Joe Emrick. This is Thomas' second campaign against Emrick. 

Pa. House 138: (Bangor, Chapman, East Bangor, Pen Argyl, Portland, Roseto, Stockertown and Wind Gap Boroughs; Bushkill, Forks, Lower Mount Bethel, Plainfield, Upper Mount Bethel and Washington Tps; part of Moore Tp) -  Jared Peter Bitting, a teacher in Berks County, seeks the Democratic nod to challenge incumbent Republican Ann Flood. She's been in office since 2021. 

Pa House 183:  (Slatington, Lowhill and N Whitehall in Lehigh County; Bath, Northampton, North Catasauqua and Walnutport Boroughs, Allen, East Allen and Lehigh Tps, parts of Moore Tp, in NorCo. Incumbent Zack Mako, who has held office since 2016, is being challenged by fellow Republican Zachari Halkias, who is a 19 yo member of Slatington Borough Council. Seeking the Democratic nomination is Joseph Lenzi, a sales manager for Coopersburg Kenworth, . 

Pa. House 187:  (Alburtis and Macungie Boroughs; Heidelberg, Lower Macungie, Lynn, Washington and Weisenberg Tps as well as a portion of Upper Macungie Tp) - Democrat Stephanie Rafes, a physician's assistant, will challenge Republican Gary Day,

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

UMBT Supervisor Discloses Criminal Past Before Being Sworn In

Newly appointed Supervisor Jonathan Erler disclosed a criminal past before being sworn in as an Upper Mount Bethel Tp Supervisor at last night's meeting. He was appointed to fill the vacancy created by David Due's resignation.

In 2013, Erler was pulled over by Long Island police for talking on his cell phone while driving. At the time, he owned a headshop called Twisted Glass in Wantagh, NY, that sold items like bongs. Marijuana and a flintlock were in his car. Police subsequently obtained a search warrant for Erler's home. They  discovered a pound of marijuana, five ounces of concentrated cannabis and $5,000 in cash. More importantly, they uncovered a wide assortment of weapons that included six assault rifles, five high-capacity ammunition feeding clips, Chinese throwing stars, two bulletproof vests, dozens of guns, armor piercing bullets, brass knuckles, swords and daggers. He was charged with possession of marihuana, possession of a controlled substance and criminal possession of a weapon. 

Here's how Erler explained it: "12 years ago, I was arrested in New York on marijuana possession charges and all my firearms were seized. After a few years and many court proceedings, I plead guilty to a first degree misdemeanor as well as some others and later received all of my firearms back from police, including my tactical flintlock rifle or musket. Subsequently, four years ago, the state police again were at my home due to a complaint, though no charges were ever filed. 

"To be clear, I have never been to jail and I do not have any felonies. But since I do have a Class A misdemeanor from New York, I am currently barred from purchasing a firearm while still maintaining my Second Amendment freedom to keep and bear arms."

Erler went on to explain that he disclosed his criminal past to Supervisors after hus appointment but prior to last night's meeting "so they can reflect on it. ... If the board would like to revote on my appointment, I take no offense." 

After his disclosure, there was no motion to revote on Erler's appointment. He was sworn in. 

Supervisors could probably use a few Chinese throwing stars for when Ron Angle gets out of hand. 

LV Congressional Race Update

Three Republicans - Kevin Dellicker, Ryan MacKenzie and Maria Montero - seek the Republican nomination. Incumbent Susan Wild, seeking the Democratic nod, is running unopposed. 

Kevin Dellicker - He's outraised his Republican opponents, but that's only about 10% of the money in Wild's coffers, He also has support from four local police FOPs (Bethlehem, Allentown, local state troopers, township and borough police and Lehigh and NorCo deputy sheriffs).

Ryan MacKenzie. - He has attracted support from heavyweights like State Senator Mario Scavello and Americans for Prosperity, a group "dedicated to economic freedom and individual liberties."

Maria Montero. - She's both Irish and a Latina who complains that too many families struggle to put food on the table, something I rarely hear from Republicans. As the sole woman in the race, I think she has an edge against her male opponents as she can argue she would do better against Wild than either of them. She has an endorsement from Easton's FOP. 

Susan Wild - She's survived one re-election contest and is sitting on a mountain of money. She should be re-elected but recently disparaged Carbon County ("they drank the Trump Kool Aid") Not the smartest thing to do when you need their votes. 

Monday, February 12, 2024

NorCo Council Clerk to Retire

Northampton County Council Clerk Linda Zembo has advised County Council that she intends to retire on June 7. County Council's weakness is that its members are all part-time, and its full-time staff of three has fallen far short of expectations. With this kind of lead time, Council should be able to attract a superior successor. 

Needless War Between Norco Exec and Council President Continues

After President Judge Craig Dally appointed Jeff Corpora to the Northampton County Council vacancy on February 1, you'd think that the war between Exec Lamont McClure and Council President Lori Vargo- Heffner would finally be over. Instead of needless squabbling between members of the same party, you'd think they'd finally try to work together. You'd be wrong.  

Over the weekend, McClure posted several comments complaining about Council President Vargo-Heffner's appointments to the eight committees that meet in advance of full Council meetings. In one, he refers to Council member Tom Giovanni, who now leads Council's Courts and Corrections Committee, as a "MAGA Chairman of Committees." He also points out that rookie Jeff Warren chairs non committees. In yet another entry, he uploads a picture of Tom Giovanni posing with Republican State Rep. Ann Flood: "And this Fella was just appointed Chair of the Personnel and Courts and Corrections Committees of Northampton County Council by the President. You good with that?"  

Yes, I am. As McClure most certainly knows, most of what a county government does has very little, if any, connection to party politics. Tom Giovanni, also known as Council's Quiet Man, is very dedicated to his role and has the time to spend because he's retired. He does his homework and has adopted a bipartisan approach on most issues. 

Is he a MAGA? Well, he's a Republican, but he's no cult member and I've never heard him belching any of the goofy conspiracy theories that unfortunately have infected many Republicans. 

Why was Jeff Warren excluded as Chair of even one committee?  It takes about two years for a newly elected council member to get a handle on what exactly county government does. I personally think it is a mistake to appoint a rookie to head any council committee .

Vargo-Heffner's appointments were actually an olive branch to the Kraft-Keegan-Warren rubber stamps. She appointed Kelly Keegan to chair the Energy Committee and Ken Kraft over Capital Projects.  I would have excluded Kraft. At a hearing concerning the council vacancy appointment, he misrepresented the facts to President Judge Craig Dally. As Judge Dally noted, "[t]the County Council minutes belie [Kraft's] assertions." Kraft has actually damaged his credibility and reputation with the courts. If anything, he should be lying low. 

Finally, McClure's complaint actually identifies the real problem,. He works hard and does a good job, but wants to control everything, including County Council. He already controls three Council members. Despite his effort to paint this in partisan tones, his complaint has nothing to do with whether Council members are MAGAs or pose for pictures with Ann Flood. It's all about control. He wants to control all nine. That would make his job easier, but he knows that is not how a healthy government works.

Friday, February 09, 2024

LV Breathes Project: Only 23 of 40 Air Monitors Installed Since August

In a sunny August day last year, as diesel trucks belched fumes as they brought in equipment for Musikfest at Sand Island, County Execs Phil Armstrong (Lehigh) and Lamont McClure (NorCo) announced a project  called Lehigh Valley Breathes. The plan was to install 40 air monitors throughout both counties. These measure tiny particulate matter called PM2.5. These are fine inhalable particles, less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, that come from emissions of gasoline, oil, diesel fuel and burning wood. After collecting data for a full year through all four seasons, report is to be issued to both counties and to the public, including possible recommendations to municipal governments. How's this project going? 

As of today, only 23 of the 40 monitors purchased by both counties have been installed. 

According to the latest monthly report from Lehigh Valley Breathes, "our preliminary analysis of existing monitors shows that there are higher levels of average PM2.5 in areas that are proximate to roadways and warehouses than at our urban background sites." This seems like common sense. But interestingly, whenever I look at their ShinyApp, the highest concentrations of PM2.5 I've seen have been in Lower Mount Bethel, nowherenear a major roadway or warehouse.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

NorCo Adds Veterans to Its Problem-Solving Courts

Northampton County has embraced the concept of problem-solving courts in an effort to get at the root of what causes some people to commit crimes. There's a drug court for post-conviction offenders that help participants get a handle on addiction. There's also a mental health court for both pre- and post-conviction offenders that assist people who offend because of mental illness. Now there's a new problem-solving court for veterans. Below is an explanation:

From Administrative Office of Pa Courts:

The Northampton County Court of Common Pleas is pleased to announce that it will hold its first meeting of its new Veterans Treatment Court on Thurs., Feb. 15, 2024.

The Court will meet bi-weekly to provide supervision and support to its veteran participants with partners from the Northampton County Offices of Adult Probation, District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, VA Veterans Justice Outreach Program, and local non-profit, BattleBorne, as well as veteran mentor volunteers from the community.

Applications are available at the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office, and they will soon be available online at the County’s Criminal Court forms page.

Hon. Jennifer R. Sletvold, Administrative Judge of Problem-Solving Courts, first announced the establishment of a Veterans Treatment Court in August 2023.

Northampton County joins 25 other Pennsylvania counties with Veterans Treatment Court programs that assist justice-involved veterans suffering from mental health issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder and other co-occurring disorders as a result of their service to this country.

The purpose of these programs is to reduce recidivism and help veterans return to their jobs and families and become productive citizens. Participants are intensely supervised throughout the course of the program, while receiving guidance and support from veteran mentors, as well as any necessary treatment from the VA or local treatment providers.

NorCo's New Website: What I Like and Dislike

Northampton County's new website (norcopa.gov) has been operational since mid January. Unfortunately for Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron, there was a County Council meeting the day after it went live. He and Executive Lamont McClure received complaints about its aesthetic appearance and more importantly numerous broken links. Now that it's been operational for a few weeks and we've all had a chance to get used to it, I thought I'd share what I like and dislike, and I'd appreciate your feedback as well. 

What I like:

1) On the old webpage, you had to  click on "Administration" to find the elections office. On the new page, a link to the elections office is at the top of the webpage. 

2) The popular tasks feature (located on the left sidebar) provides immediate access to frequently accessed information. I was unaware that the county actually had a link to requests for bids on county projects or that it is possible to bid on county surplus property. It also includes job postings. 

3) Under Events (also located on the left sidebar), you can see what meetings are scheduled. For example, the Elections Commission intends to meet on March 5. People interested in the integrity of our elections process should be there.  

4) A link to crisis resources is at the top of the page for people who need help concerning child abuse, elder abuse, suicide prevention, homelessness assistance, help with utility bills, addiction and mental health. A person in crisis should be able to access this help right away. 

5) The webpage includes contact features so you can message anyone, from DA Steve Baratta to NorCo Council member Tom Giovanni. 

What I dislike:  

1) Though there is a "Pay my Bill" tab at the top of the webpage, it is still impossible to do so online. That should be made available as soon as possible.

2) A link for Right to Know requests should be in the main page. 

3) There is too much fluff on the main page. "Northampton County By the Numbers" is more propaganda than informative. 

4)  The top of the main page "Northampton County is About ..." is too large. You have to scroll halfway down to get into the meat. 

5) The main page contains two pics of the county executive. This is supposed to be an information source, not a campaign page.  They should be removed. 

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

NorCo Solicitor Rudas Explains Why She Opposed NorCo Counciil Petition to Fill Vacancy

I received an email from NorCo Solicitor Missy Rudas that attempts to explain what the hell she was doing in Motions Court last week. I'll post her email and respond to it.

I’m writing to provide facts and to correct your post.

On Friday, February 2, I appeared before the Court to object Council Solicitor Christopher Spadoni’s petition and to defend the Home Rule Charter on behalf of the County.

At Council’s meeting on Thursday, February 1, their vote acknowledged that Council had reached an impasse and would let the Court decide. County Council did not vote to authorize a petition that would allow Council Solicitor Spadoni to appear in Court on their behalf. After the Council meeting, I approached Council Solicitor Spadoni to inform him that it would not be proper to appear before the Court with a petition. Filing a petition without Council authorization is a violation of the County’s Home Rule Charter and should not be considered in Court.

Additionally, I did not represent Commissioners Ken Kraft, Kelly Keegan, and Jeff Warren in Court. They have the authority to appear before the Court and file their own petition. They represented themselves, and I made no arguments on their behalf.

My Response: Judge Dally's "Statement of Reasons," which includes both the minutes of the meeting and a transcript of Missy Rudas' appearance before him, pretty much rejects her contentions. I have high regard for her, both as a lawyer and as a person, She is obligated to represent her client zealously, but simply had no standing. 

Her contention (along with that of Council member Ken Kraft) that County Council never authorized the filing of a petition is flatly wrong. It's a misrepresentation of what occurred. As Judge Dally notes, "[t]the County Council minutes belie these assertions; at the February 1, 2024 meeting, Councilmember Kraft seconded the motion made by Council President Vargo-Heffner to petition the courts due to the impasse and ultimately voted yes on the motion. ... Ultimately, the motion to petition the Court was passed by a majority vote of County Council."

She contends that the Kraft-Keegan-Warren troika were on their own and she did not represent them. But according to the transcript, she appeared alongside them and advised the Court that they had their own petition to appoint Paul Anthony. 

When questioned about her standing, she eventually declared that she had standing as a private citizen and as a taxpayer.

The only persons with standing are Council members, their legal representative or a collective of five registered voters. She is none of those, unless she cloned herself four times. It was a mistake for her to have been there. 

Missy incorrectly advised the Court that County Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni was only representing Council President Lori Vargo-Heffner, and not Council as a whole. Spadoni was representing the will of Council as reflected by a 5-3 vote. That's the way majority rule works. Lori Vargo-Heffner's only role was to verify the petition as reflecting the will of a majority of the governing body,   

Ken Kraft, who introduced himself for some reason as the former President of County Council, told Judge Dally under oath that "[w]e're here to serve a petition for somebody else, irregardless [sic] of  this. But Mr. Spadoni was not given authorization to come down here and do this by a vote of full Council." 

It's pretty clear that Spadoni was authorized to do exactly what he did. The notion that a separate vote is needed for each and every pleading filed in a court is on its face absurd. 

In addition to petitioning the court to appoint Paul Anthony, Jeff Warren advised the Court that applicant Paul Anthony just happened to be sitting in the courtroom. Judge Dally twice told Kraft that the Home Rule Charter does not expressly authorize a Council member to seek appointment of a specific person. As I've noted before, a petition for appointment can only ask the Court "to fill the vacancy."

Judge Dally yesterday granted Spadoni's petition by appointing Jeff Corpora. He rejected the rubber stamp petition as moot. 

It's pretty clear that Judge Dally was going to reject anyone like Anthony, Peter Melan or Kerry Myers because it would still result in a dysfunctional County Council. His decision to give the position to Corpora, a Democrat, was a nod to the argument that a vacated Council seat should be filled by someone from the same party. 

Hopefully, County Council can finally get to work. It is time for Ken Kraft to realize that his hard-ball tactics have misfired. It is time for Jeff Warren and Kelly Keegan to realize that they were elected to serve the citizens of Northampton County, not Ken Kraft or Lamont McClure. 

Who Is Jeff Corpora?

"You can't go wrong with a Corpora!" That's what a friend told me late yesterday after hearing that President Judge Craig Dally had appointed him to the vacancy on Northampton County Council. There are about 30,000 Corporas in Northampton County, so he should be easily elected should he choose to run. Below is his resume.


Corpora Resume by BernieOHare on Scribd

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

PJ Craig Dally Appoints Jeffrey Corpora to Fill NorCo Council Vacancy (Updated 7 pm)

President Judge Craig Dally has issued an Order appointing Jeffrey Corpora to fill the vacancy on NORCO Council. Below you will find both the appointment and Judge Dally's "Statement of Reasons" in support of his decision.

Corpora Appointment by BernieOHare on Scribd

What's in the Dueling NorCo Council Vacancy Petitions?

Northampton County Council, at their Thursday night meeting, deadlocked for a second time on appointing a qualified person to fill the vacancy created by the January 2 resignation of former Council member Tara Zrinski. They voted 5-3 to refer the matter to the courts. Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni advised he would be in motions court the very next day to seek judicial assistance. He was there as promised. So was County Solicitor Missy Rudas, who objected to Spadoni's petition.  So were the three rubber stamps. County Council members Ken Kraft, Kelly Keegan and Jeff Warren were in motions court with a petition of their own. What do these petitions seek?

County Council's Petition (2024-790). - This petition was exactly as described by Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni. It noted that County Council was unable to appoint someone to the vacancy despite attempts at two separate meetings. It contained this language from the Home Rule Charter: "If the County Council fails to appoint an individual to fill the vacancy within thirty (30) days after the occurrence of the vacancy, the Court, upon the petition of any member of the County Council or any five (5) registered voters of the County, shall appoint an individual to fill the vacancy within fifteen (15) days after the filing of the petition. The individual appointed to fill the vacancy shall take office immediately upon appointment and shall serve the unexpired term of office of the elected official." It also advised the court that Council had received 20 applications and listed the names of those who applied. It further stated that resumes for each name were on file with the County Council Clerk should the court wish to review them. Its proposed Court Order leaves the name of the appointee blank, as Council has abdicated its responsibility to appoint a qualified candidate. 

The Kraft-Keegan-Warren Petition (2024-791). - Though supposedly pro se, this petition was definitely prepared by a lawyer who understands how to caption cases, obtain verifications and who understands that Pa court practice requires separate paragraphs for each point.  One of the facts pleaded is that the vacated position was held by a Democrat. "In light if this, another Democrat should be appointed to the vacant seat."  While I understand and actually agree with the sentiment, Northampton County's Home Rule Charter contains no such restriction. Any qualified person can be appointed, regardless of party. After pointing out that a Democrat should be appointed to the vacant seat, the petition avers that "[Paul Anthony] is a Democrat and more than qualified." Attached to the petition is a proposed court order that presumptuously appoints Anthony.

The Home Rule Charter authorizes any member of County Council to petition the court to "fill the vacancy," but there is no authority authorizing anyone seeking judicial assistance to fill the vacancy with a specific person. 

The County Solicitor - I am still puzzled about why Missy Rudas, an excellent lawyer and person, allowed herself to be dragged into this mess.  She really had no standing, but her integrity is beyond reproach. 

An anonymous comment posted on my blog yesterday asserts that, right after Thursday night's meeting, the Kraft-Keegan-Warren trio huddled in Executive Lamont McClure's office with Attorney Rudas. If that is so, it explains why they were all in court Friday and with a petition that very obviously was prepared by a lawyer.  This faction is trying their strong-arm tactics on the Court after failing with Council.  Good luck with that! To make matters worse, Ken Kraft misrepresented that Council only voted to declare it was deadlocked when it in fact voted to refer. 

Should the courts seek an outside judge?  - Probably. They do business with the County Council and Executive on a regular basis, and their choice might make relations with both branches more frosty. Having said that, there really is no legal basis for punting this matter. So I expect there will be a decision on or before Feb. 19. The courts can appoint anyone who is a US citizen and who has resided continuously within the county for a year prior to the commencement of Zrinski's term of office, which began in January 21. If you'd like to serve, I'd suggest you call the court administrator at your earliest convenience.