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Friday, March 29, 2024

Passenger Rail Study Far From Complete (Updated)

I want to start out by commending Jay Bradley and Lehigh Valley News for an exceptionally well-written summary of the LV passenger rail study made public on Wednesday afternoon. In addition to his story, the 60-page analysis itself is included. It's important to note at the onset that no project sponsor has been identified. This simply identifies the best five of 12 different possibilities for passenger rail to NYC, Philly and Reading. It is not a feasibility study, despite what it calls itself. That comes later, as the report itself acknowledges (page vii, 4). It is not an alternatives analysis. That, too, would come later. (page vii, 4) There has been no consultation with railroads like Norfolk Southern, which might have problems sharing limited rail space for much-needed freight that minimizes highway traffic. (page 4)

According to the study, 30,000 people commute from the LV to the Newark/NYC area; 100,000 to Philly; and 70,000 to the Reading area. Before getting into the prohibitive costs, the commuting time alone should be a deal killer. It will take 2.5 hours to get to NYC, nearly 2 hours to get to Philly and nearly an hour to Reading. Who is going to spend 5 hours a day sitting in a train? 

And will it be 5 hours or more? I took an Amtrak from DC to Pittsburgh two summers ago. The trip was supposed to take 7 hours. It took 12. 

My own view is that this analysis is flawed. In addition to identifying routes for Amtrak (the only possible sponsor), feasibility and alternatives should have been explored in detail. For example, the routes into Philly would require the elimination of Bethlehem's Greenway and the Saucon Rail Trail. Not only is this controversial to recreational cyclists and businesses who benefit from them, but it destroys a pedestrian route used by many who work at the casino. It destroys or interferes with several parks and pay $739 million to do so. 

And why not identify alternatives first?

 As John Marquette observes at Reddit, there are positives to passenger rail. But can't we consider buses?

“Four or five express buses a day from either Trexlertown P&R or the Lehigh Valley service area on the NE Extension (yes buses have stopped there in the past) to Norristown Transportation Center. Two ways to Philly from there - train or light rail to El. 50-min to 1-hr trip time. 

" LANTA can design it and contract out the service to Trans-Bridge (avoids complaints from private sector). Fares can be lower per mile than to NYC. Best part: it could start a lot faster than 12-14 years from now. 

 "Hidden bonus to this if the senior citizen fare was same as on LANta and SEPTA - nothing. The lottery would help subsidize the service for everybody by getting boomers out of the house for day trips.”

UPDATED 10:15. Below is the perspective of Lehigh County Comm'r Ron Beitler:

Let me start by saying I'd LOVE train service to NYC or Philly and would use it if it made sense to do so. Crazy we don't have it, given our location between major metros. Hindsite it should have never been abandoned back in the 60's.

𝐇𝐎𝐖𝐄𝐕𝐄𝐑, committing county dollars to more studies gives me pause for several reasons:

• The cost is astronomical, not profitable, and would demand massive taxpayer subsidies. While most transit is subsidized, the cost for rail would exceed typical amounts. Estimates are over $800 million.

• Rail wouldn't be competitive with current bus service. Rail to NYC might take an hour longer and service to Philadelphia 2 hours. I can drive to Citizens Bank Park in an hour and 15 minutes, longer with traffic.

• The availability of freight lines is uncertain. And further, whether those times would be convenient is a question.

• In a time when residents overwhelmingly want the region to better manage growth, rail lines would once again supercharge it.  Much like happened when I-78 was built. We have to think long and hard about what kind of community we want to be in 20 years and rail service would greatly impact that.

Given these considerations— staggering cost, need for massive subsidies, less than competitive travel times and uncertainty around the availability of freight lines for passenger use—it's clear why I'm hesitant about investing in additional county money to explore passenger rail service.

Challenges are massive and warrant a cautious approach before committing more tax dollars. I'm open to more discussion. But at this point I'm not anywhere close to committing county dollars towards a half million dollar study to move the ball forward.

Gotta say, it's a bummer. Again, LOVE to see passenger rail service here. Just don't know that it's feasible. I've written on my blog before that the viability of American passenger rail depends on achieving true high speeds. Unfortunately, with the exception of Acela that hasn't happened in the US. What's proposed for Lehigh valley service isn't anywhere close to what's needed to make a system work.

𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐝𝐨 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐤?

Thursday, March 28, 2024

NorCo DA Baratta - Two Juveniles Responsible For False Bomb Threat at Saucon Valley School District


DA: Bomb Threat at Saucon Valley School Not Credible by BernieOHare on Scribd

NorCo L&A Testing of Express Vote XL Starts Monday

 From the NorCo Elections Office: Notice is hereby given that on Monday, April 1, 2024, at 10:00 am, the Northampton County Board of Elections will be conducting the Logic & Accuracy (L&A) Testing of the DS Central Count Scanners to be used at the General Primary Election to be held on Tuesday, April 23, 2024, to ascertain that they will accurately count the votes cast for all offices.

 This will take place in the 3rd Floor Training Room of the Northampton County Government Center. Testing is open to the public and media.

Blogger's Note: According to the Elections Assistance Commission, "Logic and Accuracy (L&A) Testing is a collection of pre-election procedures that insure that the voting equipment and ballots to be used in an upcoming election can properly display the ballot, collect votes, and tabulate results. Usually referred to as L&A, these tests occur prior to the election and are conducted in such a way as to make public observation of the procedures and results possible. The historical purpose of L&A was to permit candidates, parties and the public to review ballots and lever machine programming prior to the election. The purpose was to demonstrate that the ballot was accurate, complete and votes cast could be properly tabulated."

71,904 Lehigh Valley Registered LV Voters Will Be Unable to Vote in April 23 Primary

According to PoliticsPa, 71,904 registered Lehigh Valley voters will be unable to vote in the April 23 party primaries.  That's because they are independents in a closed primary state. As a result, the most conservative Republicans and most liberal Democrats tend to get the party nominations. This just feeds a divisive system in which gridlock is becoming the norm. Below is a comparison of the party registrations as of March 26, 2024, compared to what they were during the 2016 Presidential election. 

Northampton County

Total: 220,976, compared to 211,402 in 2016.

Democrats: 95,858, compared to 99,075 in 2016.  Democrats account for 43.4% of the total registration, compared to 47% in 2016. 

Republicans: 81,654, compared to 73,473 in 2016. Republican registration increased from 34.8% to 37% of the total registration.  

Other: 32,886, compared to 38,854 in 2016. Independents increased from 18.4% to 14.9% of the total number of registered voters. 

Lehigh County

Total: 243,897, compared to 236.081 in 2016.

Democrats: 111,717, compared to 115,745 in 2016. Democrats account for 45.8% of the total registration, compared to 49% in 2016.

Republicans: 85,209, compared to 80,623 in 2016. Republicans account for 34.9% of the total registration, compared to 34.2% in 2016.

Other: 39,038, compared to 39,713 in 2016. Independents account for 16% of the total registration, compared to 16.8% in 2016.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

NorCo Dem Committee Votes It Has No Confidence in Party Chair Matt Munsey

Last night, the Executive Committee of Northampton County's Democratic Committee voted it had no confidence in party chair Matt Munsey. This vote, in which I'm told 24 people participated, comes in the wake of a joint letter that he and his Republican counterpart sent to the senate state government committee. He did so without authorization from anyone in the Committee. 

This vote has no legal significance. It does reflect, however that the party faithful has been increasingly upset by Munsey. The committee has no treasurer, and Munsey failed to notify candidates of an endorsement meeting hosted by the Lehigh Valley Labor Council. 

NorCo Council Supports Cap on Lot Fees For Manufactured Homes

At their March 21 meeting, Northampton County Council voted 7-2 to endorse a nonbinding resolution supporting a cap on lot fee increases being imposed on the owners of manufactured homes. These are typically located in trailer parks in which residents own the homes, but not the land.

In recent years, corporate developers have been purchasing these trailer parks and doubling or tripling the rents (lot fees). The resolution supports legislation pending in the Senate and House that would restrict landowners from unfettered increases.

Under current law, park owners are already prohibited from imposing more than one rent increase a year. The resolution provides that "creating a cap on yearly land rent increases will help ensure more equitable and affordable housing for Northampton County residents who reside in manufactured home communities."

Council member Jeff Warren proposed this resolution, which was supported by members Lori Vargo Heffner, Ron Heckman, Kelly Keegan Ken Kraft, Jeff Corpora and Tom Giovanni. It was opposed by members John Goffredo and John Brown. 

Nicole Pietrzak Confirmed as NorCo's New Direcotor of Administration

At their March 21 meeting, Northampton County Council voted unanimously to confirm Nicole Pietrzak as the County's Director of Administration. She was confirmed without discussion and will be paid $107,481 a year. 

Pietrzak succeeds Charles Deringer, who resigned in the wake of the botched 2023 municipal election. She had been serving in an acting capacity prior to her confirmation. Prior to that, she was employed by as a Deputy Director of Human Resources since May 2022.  

She has a BA from Kutztown University. 

Prior to her appointment, Pietrzak had no experience providing direct management oversight of Administrative Services, Emergency Management Services (EM & 911), Weights and Measures, Agricultural Extension, Farmland Preservation, Conduct of Elections, or the Conservation District. She does have experience in negotiating collective bargaining agreements.

LVPC Makes Annual Presentation to NorCo Council

Six staffers from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC), including Executive Director Becky Bradley, were at Northampton County Council's March 21 meeting to provide an annual update on what LVPC has been doing for the past year. They've been busy. So busy that County Council wants them to return for a separate meeting for a deep dive in what's going on in a county where Bradlley says there will be 100,000 new residents by 2050. Below are some highlights from its 2023 annual report:

  • 1,250 reviews including 595 subdivision and land development reviews – the most since 2008 – and 190 stormwater management reviews. A record 105 reviews for municipal ordinance and map changes were done, a sign that municipalities are taking a proactive approach to managing the development arriving in their communities. 
  • Reviews of 4,916 new homes, marked by greater diversity that included 2,472 apartments, 1,170 townhomes, 764 single-family homes, 397 twins, 83 manufactured homes and 20 condos. (Note that over half of these "new homes" are actually apartments.)
  • 21 million square feet of proposed non-residential space proposed – the second-most ever in a single year. More than 17 million sq ft of that is industrial, most of which was for warehouses and logistics. It also included 1.8 million square feet for commercial, 1.1 million of public/quasi-public, 316,457 of office, 176,421 of retail, 27,813 of transportation and 25,403 of recreational. 
  • Adoption of a $4.3 billion Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) that maps out how to invest in roads, bridges, trails, transit and communities over the next 25 years. In part due to advocacy by the LVPC and community leaders, and the arrival of new federal programs like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the number is a 70% increase over the 2019 LRTP. The plan includes the region’s first use of federal Justice40 initiatives designed to direct 40% of funding for certain projects to disadvantaged and underserved communities.  (Council member Ken Kraft observed that NorCo is getting $50 million over the next three years, while Lehigh is getting $200 million. "It's unacceptable," he said. Bradley responded that PennDOT should be asked to explain because that money is going to the state for what she calls mega projects.)
  • First-ever Lehigh Valley Priority Climate Action Plan. It focuses on reducing transportation-related emissions by increasing the use of alternative fuel vehicles, increasing transit ridership, implementing Walk/RollLV: Active Transportation Plan, using technology and efficiency to reduce congestion, and creating green infrastructure along our busiest highways. If those goals are met, it will reduce carbon emissions annually by 300,000 metric tons of caron dioxide equivalent by 2030, and 321,000 by 2050. 
  • Working with 37 communities in five multi-municipal plans that give them tools to find new efficiencies and better control development. (These plans enable communities to assess impact fees for traffic that may increase in area outside of a host municipality)
  • Leading the Eastern Pennsylvania Freight Alliance in a multi-regional coalition, created to write a new freight infrastructure plan for the Lehigh Valley, Northeast Pennsylvania, Lackawanna-Luzerne, Berks County and Lebanon County areas. The plan is scheduled to be completed in 2024.  
  • Leading the Lehigh Valley Passenger Rail Analysis, a partnership endeavor between the LVTS and PennDOT, that analyzes the potential for the restoration of passenger rail service between the Lehigh Valley and Northern New Jersey, Philadelphia or Reading. The analysis is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2024.
  • Expanding training programs through the Lehigh Valley Government Academy, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Education Institute and PennDOT. The year included training more than 100 students during in-person planning, zoning and land development classes, performing 67 transportation tech assists in the community to improve pedestrian safety, and offering online Local Technical Assistance Program classes for engineers, public works and transportation crews. 
  • Community outreach that included hosting a Pennsylvania House Local Government Committee Hearing on a bill to update the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, hosting the U.S. EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan visit to announce a $1 million grant to the LVPC, and hosting a major transportation projects meeting with regional legislators and PennDOT Secretary Michael Carroll.  
  • Updating the LVTS’s policies for providing public access to work done by the two organizations. The Planning For All campaign included an update the two organization’s Public Participation and Limited English Proficiency Plans.   

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Bow Your Head

After several years of going through NorCo Council meetings without being stricken by boils, locusts or thunderstorms of hail and fire, the pre-meeting prayer (or moment of silence) has once again begun to rear its ugly head. Now look, I have no problem with bringing in a preacher from any of the counties numerous houses of worship to say a word or two, but County Council is too lazy to reach out Instead, it anoints one of its own to pretend he is a cleric. Up until now, it's just been a moment of silence. I'd actually prefer several hours of that, so that's been no trouble for me. But last week was John Brown's turn. 

"Bow your heads!" he instructed everyone. Amazingly, all but Lamont McClure's three rubber stamps did so. Lori Vargo Heffner even gave an "Amen!"

Yeah, the Supreme Court says its ok for elected officials who take an oath to uphold a secular constitution to open a meeting with prayer. But this same august body is also now interfering with a woman's right to choose. If County Council members want to pray on their own time, have at it. But doing it on the taxpayer dime is inevitably going to lead to preference of one religion over others. 

So far as I can tell, there are no Jews, Muslims, Sikhs or Buddhists on Council. They are all plain vanilla Christians, and one of them is eventually going to start showing preference for his or her religion. 

Better not to start.


NorCo Council Adopts Top Priorities of State County Ass'n

Northampton County is a member of the County Comm'rs Ass'n of Pennsylvania (CCAP). At their March 21 meeting, County Council voted unanimously to endorse CCAP's top eight priorities. They are listed below. 

1) 911 Funding and reauthorization. - Current 911 funding revenues have failed to keep pace with the increasing costs of the system, which must support county future needs, including Next Gen 911. The current surcharge is $1.95, and that is set to expire in February 2026. 

2) A mental health base funding increase. - Counties provide community-based mental health services/ These include community residential programs; family-based support; and outpatient care and crisis intervention, 

3) County inmates with mental health issues. - According to an assessment done by NorCo's health provider at the jail, 72% either are or were suffering a mental illness. A whopping 23% suffer from sever mental illness with current and acute symptoms. 

4) Increase state prevailing wage threshold from $25,000 (set in1961) to $250,000. - Yes, this would enable governments to use limited resources to provide the maximum level of services possible. But it would be at the expense of blue-collar workers, both union and nonunion. I am surprised Democrats on County Council voted for this, and either I'm missing something, or they failed to read this portion of the resolution.

5) Right-to-Know Law reforms. - During election season, that office actually conducts three elections - mail-in ballots, early voting, and traditional voting at the polls. They really have no time to respond to numerous requests during certain periods. Moreover, some individuals use the Right to Know Law vexatiously, making it impossible for smaller governments to do anything other than respond to multiple requests. Counties have seen an influx in large, complex record requests, as well as requests for records with the intent to burden and bog down the records request process, particularly around elections.

6) Vote-By-Mail Reforms. - Counties need to be able to start pre-canvassing MIBs before 7 am on election day. Moreover, the deadline to apply a mail-in ballot should end 15 days before an election to give officials more time to get ready. Finally, the law concerning drop boxes should be made clear. 

7) Broadband access and development. - Expanding the infrastructure should enable more competition, which should bring prices down for seniors and those on fixed or low incomes. 

8) Address the juvenile detention capacity crisis. - Unfortunately, Northampton County's Juvenile Justice Center is still understaffed. 

NorCo To Seek Grants For Minsi Lake

Super Ct Judge Jack Panella with 
Gerald E "Jerry" Seyfried
At their March 21 meeting, Northampton County voted unanimously to seek grants from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for Minsi Lake improvements.  

Parks Director Bryan Cope wants to replace or rehabilitate a boardwalk along some portions of the trails surrounding the lake. He said the boardwalk was initially built in the '70s by the youth corps. This is a $1 million project, and Cope is seeking $550,000 from the state. 

The state Game Commission has already committed to a complete makeover of the Gerald E Seyfried Bear Swamp Park and Archery Complex. In addition, it will add parking at the site and ADA accessible ramps. 

Cope told Council member Tom Giovanni that this is one of the first projects that the Game Commission hopes to get done and predicts it should at least be started by Fall. 

Monday, March 25, 2024

Nazareth's Mr. Hankey On His Way Plainfield Tp

In November 2021, Allen and Hart Hower sold their 93-acre farm, located in Plainfield Tp, to Nazareth Borough Municipal (BM) Authority for $850,000. The property is probably worth three times as much except for one thing - it is subject to an agricultural conservation easement The Howers not only sold their own rights to develop the property but restricted all future owners from doing so as well.  Under an agreement with Northampton County in 2008, they were paid $606,347 to preserve about 82-acres for agricultural purposes. Given that the use of this tract is mostly limited to planting crops of animal husbandry, why on earth would Nazareth BM Authority buy it? To spread shit, of course. Starting in April, it has clearance from the state EPA to treat the property with what is called class B biosolids. That's a very  saying shit. It's not raw shite. They pop it in an oven first and bake it a bit, just like pizza. But Plainfield Tp citizens have been railing about this for some time. I don't blame them. After all, this is Nazareth shit we're talking about here.  Have you ever seen what they eat here? From pasties (the meat pie, not nipple cover) to Moravian sugar cake, it's no wonder this tiny borough is littered with port-a-potties all over the place. More specifically. this is my shit, for which there really should be a special category.  There's a reason UGI is constantly digging up the streets here. 

Plainfield residents have done what they can do. They've complained to the BM Authority and to the Borough itself, only to be told to shut up. Northampton County Council has listened to them several times, but there's really nothing a county government can do. You see, spreading treated sludge is considered a "normal farming practice" protected under Pennsylvania's Right to Farm Act.  

Exec Lamont McClure made this clear last week at County Council's Energy Committee. Its jurisdiction apparently includes fecal matters, although I'd argue that every one of Council's committees talks shit pretty much nonstop.  "I wish I could stop it, but I can't," said the Exec, before turning around and hurriedly walking away. 

Hey, when you gotta' go, you gotta' go.  

Before making his exit, McClure said that the law needs to change. Maybe it does. But all kidding aside, the reality is that, except for judges and Donald Trump, we all drop anchor from time to time.  Incinerating it or dumping it in the ocean seems far more harmful than spreading cooked crap over farmfields.

The real outrage here is that Nazareth BM Authority had land within a stone's throw of its treatment plant with which it could spread sludge. Instead of doing so, it sold the land for $53.1 million to a warehouse developer. 

I believe the Right to Farm Act should be amended, but not to ban sludge. Instead, any sewage disposal authority should be confined to disposing of human waste within its own service area unless it can demonstrate with a Declaratory Judgment action that it has no option. 

Friday, March 22, 2024

Five NorCo Polling Locations Have Changed

 From Northampton County's Elections Office

The Northampton County Elections Office announced that some polling locations have changed for the Tuesday, April 23, 2024, General Primary Election.

New voter cards with updated information have been sent to residents in each precinct.

Anyone with questions, or if you would like to check your polling location, call the Northampton County Elections Office at 610-829-6260 or enter your address at: www.vote.pa.gov/pollingplace.

NorCo Voting Registrar Discusses Preparations For Presidential Primary

This year's Presidential Primary is scheduled for April 23, 2024 in Pennsylvania. With slightly more than a month to go, Northampton County Council's "Election Integrity Commitee" finally kicked off its inaugural meeting yesterday afternoon. This tardiness is a clear demonstration why part-time elected officials whose role is oversight should leave county administration to administrators. Nevertheless, the meeting provided some insight into what steps election officials are taking to make sure those who vote in person can do so without worrying whether it will be counted. All Council members except John Brown and Ken Kraft were there. 

Elections Registrar Chris Commini explained some of the steps his office is taking.

1) Training. - Training is mandatory for all 780 plus elections workers.  Thus far, 18 classes have been conducted for judges of elections (JOE) and machine operators, with 10 more classes scheduled in April for minority and majority inspectors, as well as clerks. 

2) Privacy screens. - Each of 154 precincts will get two privacy screens for voters who are filling out emergency or provisional ballots. 

3) Emergency paper ballots. - In the last election, when a flaw was discovered with the Express Vote XL, elections officials were temporarily directed to have voters fill out what are called emergency ballots.  Each precinct was only supplied with about 20 and quickly ran out. Provisional ballots were then used, but those supplies were quickly exhausted as well. As a result, some voters had to be turned away and were told to return later. 

Commini said the state requires that there be emergency ballot for 20% of each precinct's voters. His office will prepare them for 30% of the voter registration. Each JOE will be supplied with 100 emergency ballots. If those supplies are exhauster, a runner will bring additional ballots. In the general election, a higher percentage of emergency ballots will be prepared. 

4) Mail-in Ballots (MIBs). - They will be contained in larger envelopes so that voters are more likely to recognize them. Voters who fail to sign or who provide an incorrect date with their return will be notified and have until 8 pm on Election Day to cure any defect. 

Both Council members Jeff Warren and Kelly Keagan spoke positively about MIBs. Keegan stated she receives emails when her ballot is returned, which gives her peace of mind. Warren stated his own mother es able to cure a defect on her MIB when she neglected to fill in the date. 

5) Drop Boxes. - Two drop boxes were added in Washington and East Allen Tp in the slate belt and northern tier, which is more spread out than the rest of the county. A drop box has been added in south Bethlehem because the current drop box on the north side is only open until 4 pm. All drop boxes are under 24-hour video surveillance and must be in a secure building. They must be accessible (ADA) to any voter. 

6) Key dates. - Voter registration deadline is April 8, 5 pm. Applications for MIBs must be received by April 16, 5 pm. Those ballots must be returned by 8 pm on election day. Postmarks do not count. They must be brought to the elections office, not the voting precinct.  They can surrender their ballot at the precinct on election day and vote by machine if they wish. The primary is closed. Independents are unable to vote in a Democratic or Republican primary, with the exception of referendum questions. If an Independent appears and decides he wants to become a Democrat or Republican, it's too late. On April 23, polls will be open from 7 am until 8 pm. 

7) Logic and Accuracy (L&A) Testing. Each machine is subjected to public L&A testing. No date has been established until a ballot challenge is finalized in court. Dates will be set up in early April.. Parties will be notified as well as any person who requests notice. 

8) Precinct cell phones. - Instead of basting out text messages, which happened in the 2023 election, the elections office will have 18 people on hand to speak personally with JOEs. Commini said most problems occur when setting up the machines and epollbooks. Before the phones go out, they will all be updated, and all judges will be asked to phone in to indicate it actually is operable. 

9) The state has established a $45 million election integrity fund for the counties. This year, NorCo will receive about $1.15 million. This can be used to purchase equipment, required polling place material, rent, payments to poll workers, purging voter rolls, training costs, etc.


1) Can someone appear at the polls and insist on voting by paper or provisional ballot? - Commini stated that the standards for provisional or emergency ballots are set by the state and that a person may vote that way only under limited circumstances, such as when a machine goes down or his eligibility is called into question. 

In my view, this is incorrect and inconsistent with the federal Help America Vote Act, which established provisional voting precisely to ensure that everyone's voice is heard. Commini stated that if someone insists on voting by paper or provisionally, "We're not going to turn you away."

2) What about people who drop off multiple ballots in a drop box? If someone sees this, it can be reported, and the surveillance video will be examined. In 2020, then GOP chair had watchers posted at various drop boxes, one of whom complained that she saw a person dropping off multiple ballots. According to Exec Lamont McClure, the person was identified. Investigation revealed she was a Republican. She was not prosecuted, and my guess is that she probably was dropping off votes for her family. "In America, we don't go looking for crimes. We're not setting up a sting." But he said nothing prevents watchers from reporting possible violations. 

3) Are elections offices targeted with vexatious Right-to-Know requests? - After the 2023 election, there was a massive number of requests. Exec Lamont McClure said Right-to-Know abuse could be the subject of an entire meeting. He acknowledged that folks "have a right to know what we do," but the number of requests coming in is burdensome. 

4) What is the role of the elections commission in a home rule county? - Michael Vargo, Solicitor to the Elections Commission, will respond to that question at a future meeting. 

5) Does the elections office need anything? - Commini said he could use more space. He has 8 people permanent. There will be numerous temps over the election season. He complimented Deputy Amy Hess for recruiting a large number of poll workers.  

Thursday, March 21, 2024

NorCo Council Gets Long-Awaited Pay Study

Yesterday, a poorly attended meeting of Northampton County Council received the final presentation from Bolton Partners regarding wages and benefits paid to county career service employees. Unfortunately, only five of nine Council members - Tom Giovanni, John Brown, Jeff Corpora, Jeff Warren and Kelly Keegan - were physically present.  Several members have been undergoing medical procedures. 

Bolton Partners' Scott Schreiber highlighted the findings of the compensation study. He gave an initial presentation in November, limited to wages. His final exposition compares benefits between Northampton and other counties. 

Compensation findings

Finding #1: With the exception of court-appointed professionals, 65% of nonunion workers are only in the first three steps of their pay structures, which indicates they are being improperly utilized. "That's quite unusual," noted Schreiber. 

Finding #2: Based on a study of 17 third- and fourth-class counties, the actual compensation paid in Northampton County on July 1, 2023, was 95.2% of what was paid in the other counties. "That's very competitive," said Schreiber. He added that court officers are paid about 10% less than the peer counties.

Finding #3: The middle step of the pay structures are "dead on" the 50th percentile compared to peer counties, but 65% are in the first three steps. They are not at the middle step. 

Finding #4: Based on a study of compensation paid to the third-class counties, they pay about 3.6% more than Northampton. "It's a difference, but not a huge difference."

Benefits findings: 

These were made on the basis of a comparison of benefits with six third-class counties, including Lehigh. The reason only six counties are included in this peer group is because it was extremely difficult to get reports from other counties on benefits programs. 

Finding #1: The employee cost for medical benefits in NorCo is better than the average elsewhere until the salary exceeds $43,000. It is less competitive for employees who make that sum or more. 

Finding #2: Dental and vision benefits are competitive with the six third-class counties. 

Finding #3: The compensation for short-term disability is only half of that paid by the peer group (maximum $2,000 per week). In Northampton County, the maximum payment for short-term disability is only $1,000 per week. 

Finding #4: NorCo pays a maximum $20,000 for life insurance and is only about half of what is paid by the peer group. 

Finding #5: NorCo employees are permitted to carry over sick and personal days from one year to the next. Schreiber called this "very generous" compared to the peer group. The maximum there is 85 days. In NorCo, there are currently 105 employees who have more than that accrued. There are 67 individuals with 125 days or more accrued. "It's rewarding long service employees," observed Schreiber. "That is very rich relative to the market."

Pay Study Recommendations

1) Adjust the step structures to stay competitive. -  The step increases should be 2.5% to be competitive with the peer group of 17 counties, or 5.2% to be competitive with other third-class counties. The 2.5% step would cost the county $750,000, while 5.2% would cost $1,560.000. 

2) Fund a step increase for all employees. 

3) Redesign the step structure.  - Having 65% of nonunion county employees in the first three steps creates retention issues. These include internal compression; inability to attract new employees; an internal perception of not being paid competitively; and a failure to reward long-term service to the county. "An uncomplicate solution is to divide each step in half." This would make it easier to grant and budget for annual step increases. Schreiber said that the current 4.5% gap between steps is a "fundamental flaw in the design of your structure." He acknowledged it is difficult to budget for a 4.5% step increase every year. A smaller gap would enable the county to move 2/3 of the nonunion workforce out of the first three grades. 

4) Fund annual step increases. - If you make it easier to fund a step increase by cutting steps in half, then you need to fund it. This will cost the county about $720,000 a year. 

5) The county should have a base pay external market strategy - It should identify a peer group. This could be the 17 counties identified by Bolton or just other third-class counties. After that is established, comparisons should be made regularly to assure that the county is paying a competitive rate. 

Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron told Council that a shrinking of steps was tried by another administration and was not well received. "The Council used its contingency fund to pay for this study that shows what the administration has been telling Council from Day One. We offer fair wages and contracts to our employees and pay similar to our peers. We are glad this study outs this argument to rest and we will continue to offer competitive wages and salaries so long as we are the administrators of this county government."

I believe the pay study shows there is room for improvement for two-thirds of the employees compressed into the first three steps. I also believe that the suggestion that step gaps be cut in half so they can be awarded every year is a good one. Executive Lamont McClure once told Council that this was something he might consider. 

Below is a handout Barron provided to Council showing that NorCo is a relatively small third-class county. 

NorCo County Comparison With Other Third Class Counties by BernieOHare on Scribd

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

NorCo Party Chairs Criticize Local Elections, Seek Changes in Election Code

Matt Munsey and Glenn Geissinger, Chair of NorCo's Democratic and Republican Committees, have written to the State Senate Government Committee to raise "recent concerns" that appear to be aimed at the Express Vote XL machine used at the polls. The letter claims that the "device has caused errors in two elections in the last four years," although the errors in question were very, very human. 

The joint letter makes three requests. 

First, it asks for a clarification in the Election Code to establish clearly what is actually the vote of record. I'm unable to speak generally but know that the state certification of the Express Vote XL quite clearly provides that the voter verifiable ballot (the one the voter can read before casting the ballot) ist the "official vote of record." In the 2023 election, the human readable text on the vote summary card failed to reflect voter wishes in retention races. Under these circumstances, the ballot should have been spoiled and the voter should have been provided with an emergency or even provisional ballot. That's what initially took place, but when the county quickly ran out of ballots, it received authorization to instruct voters to rely on the machine. This was a mistake and contrary to the state's own certification. 

Second, it recommends that voters who wish to vote by paper ballot should have that option, regardless whether a machine is in use. It is my understanding and was my practice as a JOE to allow voters to vote by provisional ballot if they distrusted the machine. In fact, federal law already mandates that anyone who wishes to vote by provisional ballot should have that option. 

Third, it suggests the need for a "robust chain of custody" without specifying where it needs to be strengthened. My impression is that the chain of custody is already pretty much ironclad. If there are improvements that can be made, they should be identified. 

Although the letter is framed to improve the electoral process and erase "mistrust of election workers," I think it just undermines public confidence in what is overall an excellent system. I found the gratuitous shot at election workers offensive.

I don't know whether Geissinger was authorized by his committee to sign that letter. I do know that Matt Munsey acted on his own and without authorization. 

Executive Lamont McClure blasted the Dem chair. "Munsey aligning himself with election deniers and apologists for the insurrection is deplorable. At this moment, his partner in this endeavor Mr. Geissinger and the Republicans in the State Senate are attempting to outlaw drop boxes and amend Act 77 in a way that would virtually destroy mail-in balloting. These are the people Munsey has decided to make common cause with today."

Democratic and GOP Boss Raise Concerns With NorCo Voting Machine Technology by BernieOHare on Scribd

After 10 Months of Delay, Charges Against Easton Activist Lance Wheeler Dismissed

Wheeler returned to donation drive
after his arrest
Easton activist Lance Wheeler was arrested by Wilson Borough police on May 31 while conducting a donation drive for the Ferry Street fire victims. Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana was there, shot a video of the actual arrest, and said she was outraged. Wheeler insisted on being cuffed and led away, even though he had previously been given several opportunities to surrender voluntarily. He wanted a show and could be heard blaming both DA Terry Houck and Easton Mayor Sal Panto as he was walked to a waiting police cruiser. According to both Lehigh Valley Live and Lehigh Valley News Wheeler allegedly threatened three students while driving a Wilson Area School District van. After nearly 10 months of delay, the charges against Wheeler were dismissed yesterday by Magisterial District Judge Alan Mege after the victims failed to appear. 

Preliminary hearings had been scheduled in this case for June 21, July 11, August 23, October 20, November 30, January 19 and yesterday. All but yesterday's hearing were continued. Interestingly, Wheeler's lawyer, Glennis Clark, also represented some of the Commonwealth witnesses who appeared before the Grand Jury. 

You won't see Lance's name on any campaign finance reports, but it's no secret that he was a big Baratta backer. He took Steve through Easton's west ward, introducing him to voters. He also introduced Baratta to one of the warring factions in the Sikh Temple dispute in Lower Nazareth Tp. Wheeler provided security there.   

Wheeler told me believed his arrest was politically motivated because he supported Steve Baratta for DA and is the person who encouraged the Sikhs in Lower Nazareth to reach out to him. He also blamed Easton Mayor Sal Panto, although I'm unsure how Panto can issue orders to Wilson Borough police. 

At one appearance, I'm told Wheeler shouted out to prosecutors and detectives that they'd be gone next month. Not long after that, one of the detectives and prosecutors involved received a letter from Baratta telling them to have their personal belongings out of the courthouse by January 2. 

Under Pennsylvania law, the District Attorney has the authority to refile charges dismissed at a preliminary hearing. Double jeopardy is inapplicable at that point. Whether Baratta and Wilson Borough police want to pursue a case with reluctant victims seems unlikely. 

Although Wheeler told me his arrest was politically inspired, he's now telling The Morning Call he was arrested because he's black. "My thoughts are with Lance and many other people of color who have encountered systemic racism leading to injustice," added state house candidate Taiba Sultana.

Interestingly, Lance's alleged victims happen to be black. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

"Victim" of Revenge Porn Posted Videos Herself Online

Yesterday, I told you that Northampton County DA Steve Baratta authorized a private criminal complaint by county Republican chair Glenn Geissinger against four elected state committee members Steve Lynch, Deb Biro, Melanie Heilman and Richard Morea as a result of their unruly and disruptive behavior at a county committee meeting on June 8, 2023. At that time, two Republican County committee members who are married to each other were confronted with pictures of them engaged in intimate relations, together with accusations that they had posted several videos on an Internet porn site. Both have denied to me that they were aware that their intimate videos had been taken and posted online. But I learned yesterday afternoon that the female half of this married couple posted those videos herself. She admitted it to me.

When this first happened, I was deeply concerned about this woman's mental health. She was already suffering from depression, and abruptly left the meeting after being confronted. She had been attacked on social media by Steve Lynch's myrmidons with comments like this: "[A]re they little problems or big problems, meaning are the 5.56 problems or .308 problems or,…. Do we have .50BMG to problems, You got problems, I’ll solve it, check out the beat while my DJ revolves it." Moreover, the husband half of this married couple was suspicious that someone stole their private videos.

Although police declined to file charges, I thought approval of the private criminal complaint might provide some measure of justice. So did the female "victim" who texted me after my story published to tell me. it was a "good story."

And that's the problem. It's a good story, but it's not the truth. I finally got that yesterday afternoon. 

It's no secret that I'm no fan of Steve Lynch, whose constant conspiracy theories and bullying of everyone who disagrees with him, make him a threat to democracy. He and his allies have disrupted meetings before the one that took place on June 8, 2023. He was ejected from a Nazareth eatery after disrupting a meeting there. But his bad behavior is no justification for dishonesty. 

After my story initially posted, I received numerous comments, including this one:

"The "Victim" admitted (after initially lying) on the Bethlehem township police report #23-04723 that she was not hacked and that she uploaded the videos herself to her and her husband's public porn hub site. This police report is available to the public. Do your research before blindly defending these people. It's just going to make you look bad in the end when the whole naked truth comes out."

I immediately contacted both husband and wife.

Husband told me that the first time he knew these videos were posted online was at the June 8, 2023 meeting. 

After nearly a year, the wife finally acknowledged to me yesterday afternoon that "I was not completely honest with you." She flat-out lied to me, and on several occasions. 

Her explanation: "I never imagined anyone would see them and I don't know how they could've found them amongst the millions of photos and videos that are available online."

If she didn't think anyone would see them, then why post them in the first place? 

Now look, I'm no prude. It makes no difference to me whether someone wants to post his or her private sex life online. I think it's a bit odd, but I won't judge. But when a person lies and maintains that lie for nearly a year and allows a person to defend her based on that lie, it's a pretty clear indication that person is untrustworthy.  

Does this mean the private criminal complaint filed by Geissinger lacks merit? No, they are predicated on unruly behavior at a meeting, not the sex tapes themselves. I do think that the First Amendment, which guarantees core political speech, might encompass at least rowdy behavior. 

It seems to me that NorCo GOP committee members have formed a circle and are just shooting each other. Glenn Geissinger should be asking himself if he really wants to ruin his own county party. 

Monday, March 18, 2024

NorCo DA Authorizes Private Criminal Complaint By GOP Chair Against Four State Committee Members

Glenn Geissinger
Northampton County DA Steve Baratta has authorized the filing of a private criminal complaint by GOP party chair Glenn Geissinger against four elected members of the Republican State Committee. Steve Lynch, Debra Biro, Melanie Heilman and Richard Morea have each been charged with eight counts of harassment and disorderly conduct as a result of their conduct at a Republican County committee meeting on June 8, 2023. All charges are third degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in prison and a maximum fine of $2,500. 

Lynch opposed Geissinger in the race for county chair and lost. These four committee members have been openly hostile to Geissinger since that time and have disrupted several meetings. 

During that June 8 meeting, two Republican committee members who are married to each other were confronted with pictures of them engaged in intimate relations, together with accusations that they had posted several videos on an Internet porn site. Both have denied to me that they were aware that their intimate videos had been taken and posted online. 

These two married committee members have been Geissinger supporters.

To make sure that I was aware of what was going on, someone calling himself "Another concerned Republican" emailed me some of the photos. Because it is a crime to share intimate photographs of another person without his or her consent, I forwarded this email to former DA Terry Houck.   

Steve Lynch
After being accosted with these images at the county committee meeting on June 8. the female married committee member abruptly left and has refused to return since that time. Deeply embarrassed and already suffering from depression, it was touch-and-go with her for awhile. That's why I decided against writing the details of this story at the time. 

The four state committee members have since been banned from attending county meetings.

This matter was investigated by two police departments who decided against filing charges. But Geissinger's private criminal complaint was still under consideration when DA Terry Houck left office. 

After taking office, representatives of the District Attorney's office met with Geissinger, after which his private criminal complaint was approved.  "I am very grateful to the District Attorney's office," said Geissinger. 

Will this divide county Republicans in a crucial Presidential election year? Geissinger believes it will do the opposite. "I believe this is going to help the party," he said. "Unruly and disruptive behavior by a few is not going to prevent the party from doing its job, which is supporting our Republican candidates."

WFMZ-TV69 also has a report on these charges, which are hotly disputed by Defendants Lynch and Heilman. 

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for April 23. 

Morning Call Fails To Even Acknowledge LTE Submitted by Prominent Local Attorney

Bill Malkames is a highly regarded zoning lawyer who practices in Allentown. I've told you before about his love for practically all sports. He met Judge Ed Cahn, himself a Lehigh University basketball hall of famer, in a pick up game. His real athletic prowess was in biathlons and triathlons. In his 50s, he once defeated the Naval Academy's entire team in a biathlon. But that's only a part of his story. Let be give you some more.

The guy is a frickin' genius. So smart that they rushed him through high school. I think he graduated when he was 9. He went to both Muhlenberg and University of Pennsylvania Law School on academic scholarships. At age 90, he still practices law and is still winning cases in Allentown. He reads voraciously, and can quote from poems like Oscar Wilde's Reading Gaol once the Sangria (his favorite vitamin) kicks in. 

Though gifted genetically, he does have some flaws. He's a terrible Hearts player. And despite his intelligence, he's an unabashed conservative. My life's mission is to bring him and his wife back from the Dark Side. 

He recently sent a letter to the editor to The Morning Call, the Lehigh Valley's largest daily. He criticizes the newspaper for its "far left leaning" proclivity in headlines, columns and even cartoon selections. You can read his brief missive below.

Whether Bill's criticism is correct is irrelevant to me. What disturbs me is that the newspaper has failed to even acknowledge receipt. That reflects a disdain for nearly all the customers it is supposed to serve. The result is fewer subscriptions, ads and reporters to keep you informed. In short, it's bad business.     

Bill Malkames LTE by BernieOHare on Scribd

Friday, March 15, 2024

Easton Police Chief Carl Scalzo's Full Statement Concerning Sultana Arrest and Her Subsequent Accusations

Yesterday, I reported on Wednesday evening's City Council meeting in Easton. I believe it was actually the most significant local government meeting to have taken place over the past several years. Not because body cam video was played. Not because it embarrasses Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana. This meeting stood out to me because Chief Carl Scalzo finally gave a full-throated defense of what local police officers do and how much people like him care. 

Personal integrity means very little to most of us, but it matters a great deal to a good cop. Years ago, I remember interviewing Upper Nazareth Police Chief Alan Siegfried when he ran (unsuccessfully) for Magisterial District Judge in Nazareth. I forget exactly what I asked him, but I'll never forget his steely blue eyes when he told me he'd never lie for anyone. That's a good cop. I've seen that same attitude in most other police officers. 

Of course, a police officer who breaks the law should be vigorously prosecuted. But we've tarnished them all with movements like "Defund the Police!" or Allentown's "Fuck the police!" demonstration, led by a convicted felon on the basis of information that proved to be incorrect. Instead of admonishing this thug, his nonprofit has been showered with state and federal grants from "leaders" who have refused to stand up for the people who actually keep you safe at night.

Easton Police Chief Carl Scalzo stood up for his own at Wednesday evening's City Council meeting. Mayor Sal Panto and Council member Frank Pintabone did so as well. I think it's important to let  you read for yourself what Chief Scalzo had to say as 10 uniformed police officers stood quietly in the back of the room. 

EPD Chief Scalzo's Statement Concerning Arrest of Taiba Sultana by BernieOHare on Scribd

Thursday, March 14, 2024

To Disprove Allegations of Political Bias and Racism, Easton Police Chief Releases Body Cam Footage of Council Member's Arrest

At last night's Easton City Council meeting, Easton Polic Chief Carl Scalzo responded to a request by Council members Frank Pintabone, Ken Brown and Jim Edinger concerning multiple accusations of racism and political bias made by Council member Taiba Sultana. These came after her arrest in July for assaulting her adult son. He strongly denied Sultana's accusations, noting that his accredited department's mission statement requires officers to treat everyone like members of their own family, regardless of status. He also responded to DA Steve Baratta's assertion, during an ARD (first offender) hearing for Sultana, that there had been "political twisting" and that "political avenues could raise their head."  He seemed, however, to be satisfied by later statements, in which Baratta said he would have dismissed the case if he thought it was politically motivated.  Chief Scalzo closed by playing the body cam footage of interviews with Sultana, her adult son and other members of the family that clearly demonstrate that police officers acted professionally and treated everyone, both victim and Sultana, with respect. 

I physically attended last night's meeting, something I have not done since COVID first reared its ugly head. As I walked into City Hall, I opened the door right into my own ugly head. Either the cataracts in my left eye are playing games with my depth perception or Mayor Sal Panto knew I was coming and spring loaded the door. I was unaware I was bleeding until the meeting was half over. 

In prepared remarks, which I will post separately once I obtain them, Chief Scalzo noted his department has been accredited for over 15 years. "That is why I was so upset, was offended, and I was angry when I heard and read the comments posted by Councilwoman Sultana that alleged that her arrest was somehow unfair, unwarranted or based on something other than our officers answering a 9-1-1 call from a young man seeking help."

The past several meetings were flooded by pro-Palestinian cease-fire proponents encouraged by Sultana, and they promised to keep coming, too. But last night, there were no flags or people draped in Yassir Arafat scarves. Sultana, however, has apparently learned a trick from her Hamas backers. She used children as human shields. She brought two of her children to the meeting and propped them up behind the dais, even though one of them was whimpering and clearly would have preferred to be anywhere else. Her husband sulked in a hallway outside. Instead of caring for the children, he let Sultana use them as political props.

There were no people wearing the Palestinian kaffiyeh, but there were 10 persons in the back of the room dressed in a different kind of uniform. They were Easton police officers and were obviously there in a sign of solidarity with their chief. 

District Attorney Steve Baratta was also present. He had a suit and tie. 

"Are you here for the cease-fire resolution?" I asked.

"If you want me to be," he responded. 

Chief Scalzo said he was releasing the body cam footage "to be transparent with the community we serve and to ensure that we have not violated the oath that every single one of us has sworn to uphold." He added that playing the video is "necessary to regain the trust of the citizens of this community. I say this because I genuinely believe that there are real life consequences to making statements such as those made by Council woman Sultana. My officers will have to deal with those negative consequences for the foreseeable future and attempt to convince the public that those statements are invalid."

Easton police are required to respond to all complaints of domestic abuse, no matter who is involved. Although parents may physically discipline minor children, any physical violence against an adult child is considered an assault. If there is an assault with physical injury, police are required to make an arrest. 

Chief Scalzo noted that police obtained statements from the victim and Sultana, took pictures and also obtained statements from other children indicating that she has been violent on several occasions. In one instance, the victim had to seek stitches after an assault. Police take these statements and photos in every case because victims often will later recant their accusations and "in doing so, remain in a potentially dangerous and abusive relationship." 

In recent years, the ranks of police officers have been dwindling nationwide. This is at least partially the result of calls to "defund the police" or even "fuck the police," which echoed a few short years ago on the streets of Allentown. "This profession and the officers who choose to serve across this country are constantly under attack, " noted Scalzo. "Yet these men and women continuously answer the call when community members need help. They don't ask for praise. They don't ask for appreciation. But I do not believe it fair to accuse these officers of racial bias or political bias when it simply did not occur. It is well past time that government leaders, political leaders and even law enforcement leaders begin to stand up for these officers and not only defend them when they do things the right way but praise them for their willingness to stand in defense for all of those who need help. I can assure you that our officers answered the call for help that afternoon and this department and these officers deserve much better than what they got in this instance."

Mayor Sal Panto noted he has the "utmost respect for our law enforcement officers. ... It is the men and women of the police department who have put their lives on the line and made this city a safe city" He noted that when he took office in 2008, the City was infested by the Latin Kings, the Bloods and Crips. Now they're largely gone, thanks to police. In response to Sultana's repeated allegations of political bias, Panto stated, "We are not involved politically. We are not involved at all." 

Sultana had no response to Chief Scalzo's or Mayor Panto remarks. During the time during which Council members report on what their committees are doing, she had no report. Instead, she reminded everyone that this was the fourth anniversary of the death of Breeana Taylor, who was killed by Kentucky police mistakenly executing a "no-knock" warrant at the wrong address. She called it an example of "systemic racism and police brutality," adding that "we must demand accountability, transparency and meaningful change in our law enforcement system." 

The last person to speak was Pam Panto, a former Council member and the Mayor's wife. "Ms. Sultana should be more concerned about the violence in her home instead of all the other issues." She also complained about Sultana having two of her children sitting with her behind the dais.  "It's not 'Bring your children to work' day. ... The father is here. The children should be with the father." 

During the meeting, progressive Democratic Lehigh Valley For All (who agree with us) released their slate of endorsed Democratic candidates in the state house races. They recommended Bob Freeman with three stars and gave Sultana a "not recommended." She's the only candidate in any of the state or federal races who specifically is "not recommended." Sultana claims "they have betrayed their own message and turned on communities of color to stoke [sic] their ego and to benefit a longtime do-nothing legislator." Yet in another disputed state house race (Pa House 131), the group endorsed Meriam Sabih, a Pakistani Muslim. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Warren Wants NorCo Council to Support Rent Caps on Manufactured Homes

At last week's Northampton County Council meeting, fair housing advocate Jeffrey Zettlemoyer claimed that large-scale developers have entered the mobile or manufactured home market. He noted that when he was employed by Moore Tp, there were 18 mobile home parks. He asserted they are being gobbled up by major developers, who in turn will triple the rent (lot fee). This pushes people with low and moderate incomes out of the Lehigh Valley and into Carbon County, where rents are cheaper. 

Later in the meeting, Council member Jeff Warren noted there is state legislation (SB 861 and HB 805) pending that would place a cap on lot fees for manufactured homes. State Rep. Bob Freeman is a sponsor of the House Bill. He said he knows about these increased rents because it happened to his mother. Although the county government has no control over rental fees, he suggested that County Council might wish to consider a resolution supporting the state legislation. "We can't set a cap on these lot fees, but what we can do is send a strong message."

NorCo Has Received 21,963 Mail-In Ballots

At last week's meeting of Northampton County Council, Executive Lamont McClure reported that 21,963 applications for mail-in ballots have been received. Democrats account for 16,821 and Republicans for 5,142. 

Expect this number to grow. The deadline for a mail-in or absentee ballot is April 16, 5 pm. (The application must be received by that date and time. The deadline for returning a completed ballot is primary election day, April 23, 8 pm. (The completed ballot must be returned by that date and time). 

You can apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot online

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Easton Police Chief To Address City Council Wednesday Night

Easton City Council member and state house candidate Taiba Sultana was charged over the summer with assaulting her adult at the family residence. Last week, she was admitted into a special program for first offenders called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). Under this program, charges will be dismissed and possibly expunged if the participant complies with all conditions. Her admission into this program is in no way unusual. But it was disheartening to hear DA Steve Baratta imply that the sole reason Sultana was prosecuted was because of her fractious relationship with practically everyone in city government. For her part, Sultana has claimed, for the 7,654th time, that she is a victim of black and brown prejudice, religious intolerance and misogyny. This could explain why Easton Police Chief Carl Scalzo will be making a presentation to Easton City Council at their Wednesday evening meeting. 

Easton PD is one of 12 accredited police departments in Northampton County. Yet Northampton County's top prosecutor has suggested that it allowed politics to play a role in a charging decision. Since 1790, Pennsylvania's Constitution has placed reputation in the same class as other basic rights like life, liberty and property. 

My Eyesight Is Slowing Me Down

I usually spend a minimum of two hour outdoors daily. The first thing I do when I wake up is do a slow jog for about five minutes. This Winter, I've been able to ride outdoors from time to time, and I walk and run with a seeing-eye dog pretty much every day. It's good for both of us. But over the past few weeks, my left eye has been irritating me and I find it necessary to place a finger over it if I want to see clearly. It has reached the point where it interferes with both reading and writing. 

I'll be seeing an eye doctor today to find out what's going on. I believe the raw weather over the Winter probably got to me. Over the past several days, I've purposely cut back a little on writing. I expect to be fully operational very soon. After all, I only need one eye. 

Updated 11:30 am: It turns out I have cataracts in both eyes. My left eye is completely shot, but my right eye is apparently pretty good. It was 20-25 even with cataracts. This has nothing to do with walking in high wind and everything to do with getting older. I've been referred to someone who will take care of it and will try to get a head transplant while I'm at it. 

Monday, March 11, 2024

Gracedale Drops to Two Stars As Result of Filing Error

Northampton County Council's Human Services Committee was updated last week about Gracedale, the county-owned nursing home. Administrator Jennifer Stewart King was unavailable, so the report was provided instead by Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski. She painted a rather rosy picture, saying that the facility is bringing in more workers than it is losing, although reliance on nursing provided by outside agencies is still too high. She reported that a day care for employees still needs to be outfitted and licensed. Census stands at 411, and the county is looking to increase that number to 425-450. She finally stated that a new Director of Nursing is scheduled to start in April. 

What Wandalowski failed to address is the latest Medicare and Medicaid rating of the home, which was updated online on February 28. Gracedale had been listed as average (three stars), but that has dropped again to below average (two stars), mostly because of staffing. 

According to what is reported online, Gracedale's nursing care for each resident stands at just 2 hours and 45 minutes a day, over an hour below the three hour 47 minute state and national average. 

Contacted over the weekend, Executive Lamont McClure indicated the online report is a mistake. He said the PPD (nursing care per patient per day) is actually 3.7. He indicated that an error was made when the report was filed with the Medicare and Medicaid Center.

A similar error last year resulted in Gracedale having a one-star rating, and the nursing home had to wait for the next round of ratings to clear it up. 

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Biden-Harris Campaign Ad Touts Success of His Administration

"Donald Trump believed the job of the President is to take care of Donald Trump. I believe the job of the President is to fight for you, the people."

Friday, March 08, 2024

Biden Delivers Stirring SOTU

It couldn't have come at a better time. I thought President Joe Biden's last SOTU was excellent, particularly the way he played rope-a-dope with Republicans about cuts to social security. His speech last night, delivered in the midst of two regional conflicts that could easily spiral out of control and a time when his poll numbers have sometimes been behind those of a wannabe dictator currently facing both state and federal prosecutions, was the best I've ever heard him make. He made me proud that I am still a Democrat. He was feisty. A man whose every verbal literal slip is the subject of Fox News headlines demonstrated that he was completely willing to go off script and spar with jeering Republicans over reasonable proposals like increasing taxes on the rich to cut our deficit. "I know you know how to read," he mocked them at one point. At another, he chastised them for tying everything to a border crisis. "We can fight about fixing the border or we can fix it," he declared. Is one strong speech that reminding me that Biden is an old school Democrat, and that there really are serious policy differences between the parties, enough to make me want to vote for him? It might.

For at least the past year, I've sworn up and down that I am unwilling to vote for either Biden or Trump this year. I am appalled that these two are the best alternatives a country of 334 million can produce. In fact, they aren't. There are clearly better Democrats than Biden and better Republicans than Trump. Our failure to produce such a candidate tells me our democratic form of government is in trouble, and we need to take a close look at how we select future leaders. But that's likely going to take a few years and younger voters. 

What has bothered me the most about Biden is his age. He moves about one inch an hour, unless he's falling off his bike. I have serious doubts whether he will survive a second term. He addressed age last night, and I thought I'd include what he said. 

I know I may not look like it, but I’ve been around a while.
And when you get to my age certain things become clearer than ever before.
I know the American story.
Again and again I’ve seen the contest between competing forces in the battle for the soul of our nation.
Between those who want to pull America back to the past and those who want to move America into the future.
My lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy.
A future based on the core values that have defined America.
Honesty. Decency. Dignity. Equality.
To respect everyone. To give everyone a fair shot. To give hate no safe harbor.
Now some other people my age see a different story.
An American story of resentment, revenge, and retribution.
That’s not me
I was born amid World War II when America stood for freedom in the world.
I grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania and Claymont, Delaware among working people who built this country.
I watched in horror as two of my heroes, Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, were assassinated and their legacies inspired me to pursue a career in service.
A public defender, county councilman, elected United States Senator at 29, then Vice President, to our first Black President, now President, with our first woman Vice President.
In my career I’ve been told I’m too young and I’m too old.
Whether young or old, I’ve always known what endures.
Our North Star.
The very idea of America, that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives.
We’ve never fully lived up to that idea, but we’ve never walked away from it either.
And I won’t walk away from it now.
My fellow Americans the issue facing our nation isn’t how old we are it’s how old our ideas are?
Hate, anger, revenge, retribution are among the oldest of ideas.
But you can’t lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back.

To lead America, the land of possibilities, you need a vision for the future of what America can and should be.
Tonight you’ve heard mine.
I see a future where we defend democracy not diminish it.
I see a future where we restore the right to choose and protect other freedoms not take them away.
I see a future where the middle class finally has a fair shot and the wealthy finally have to pay their fair share in taxes.
I see a future where we save the planet from the climate crisis and our country from gun violence.
Above all, I see a future for all Americans!
I see a country for all Americans!
And I will always be a president for all Americans!
Because I believe in America!
I believe in you the American people.
You’re the reason I’ve never been more optimistic about our future!
So let’s build that future together!
Let’s remember who we are!
We are the United States of America.
There is nothing beyond our capacity when we act together!

Thursday, March 07, 2024

PA 7th Congressional District Republican Candidates Debate

Above is a Youtube video of Monday night's debate among three Republicans seeking their party's nomination to take on incumbent Democrat Susan Wild in this year's race for Pa.'s 7th Congressional District. They are Kevin Dellicker, Ryan Mackenzie and Maria Montero. The debate was broadcasted by BRC13, located in Lehighton. Here's what was discussed:

How Are You Suited to Represent Carbon County, which was added to Pa.-7? - Dellicker said he spent a great deal of time in Carbon County, white-water rafting in Jim Thorpe and skiing at Blue Mountain. His wife teaches school in Palmerton and many of his relatives live there. Montero grew up in Summit Hill and stated nobody understands more than she does what is needed in Carbon. "We are looking for good jobs, great paying jobs." She would achieve that by cutting taxes and eliminating regulations. Mackenzie said the problems of Carbon County are similar to those in the rest of the district, "a wide open border" and out-of -control spending in D.C. 

How would You Encourage Tourism, Especially in the Poconos? - Montero said she has been in the hospitality and tourism industry over the past eight years. She said that she would try to make sure there is clean air and clean water for the Pocono parks. Mackenzie said tourism is something to embrace and promoted it as a member of the state house. Dellicker said there's no place he'd rather be than the Pa.7th, and people should know how wonderful and diverse it is. 

How would You Improve Public Transit, especially for Seniors? - Mackenzie said his top priority would be ensuring that social security and Medicare is protected.  "We should not be taking those benefits away from them," he noted. Dellicker observed that public transportation is a "real challenge" for seniors in rural areas like Carbin County. But he stressed that runaway inflation is impacting seniors even more. He will cut spending to get inflation under control. Montero believes in limited government, "but the one thing we should do well is infrastructure. That means transportation and good roads.

How Will You Help Veterans Avoid Homelessness and Ensure them a Good Quality of Life? - Dellicker started by pointing out that he spent 28 years in the military. He and his wife actually wrote as book (20% Soldiers) about the reserve component of the military. He vowed to "tackle those issues" for "people who served our country so nobly." Montero has spent three years with a nonprofit whose goal is reducing homelessness. She complained we have spent $100 million in Ukraine, but she wants to spend that money here. MacKenzie stressed that veterans served us when on active duty so the government should serve them with things like special office hours. He also authored the "Start Up For Soldiers" program to help vets start businesses. 

Are Women's Rights Under Attack? - Montero pointed out that she's the only candidate who was ever pregnant and who ever delivered a baby, she believes women's health rights are something Americans can ever ignore. "Women deserve to have real choice." She lamented that programs like Real Alternatives, which help women who want to choose life, are being cut. Mackenzie stated he has consistently voted pro life in the state house and to reduce the number of abortions performed in Pa. "It sounds like we're all in agreement," added Dellicker. He said it's a"crazy" to cut thiose programs and then divert the funds to abortion centers. "Thise are the sort of divisive issues we don't need right now ... ."

Top Priority if Elected? - "Building the wall and securing our border," responded Mackenzie. Dellicker wants to get on the Armed Services Committee and fix our military so we can have "true peace through strength." Montero's top prioority is to "secure our borders and protect Americans."

What Can You Do to Provide Quality Education? - Montero believes there should be more technical schools because "not everybody needs to go to college." She also wants to empower parents with a Parents' Bill of Rights, which was opposed by Susan Wild. Mackenzie believes the feral government should not be expected to solve "our education problems here at home."  He does support and has voted for a Parents Bill of Rights on a state and local level. "I'll take it a step further," added Dellicker. "I don't think the federal government should be funding education at all."

How Will You Support Local Business? - MacKenzie has a three-pronged approach: reduce taxes; reduce and streamline regulations; and more workforce training. "If you don't run a small business, I don't think you can possibly understand the burdens that small businesses are under," added Dellicker. Montero agrees with cutting taxes and regulations, but added that the production of natural gas should be encouraged. 

Will You Vote Independently or Along Party Lines? - Dellicker pledged independence "because I am not a career politician. ... I don't need to go to Congress to enhance my career or my livelihood." Montero would ask herself two questions before voting on an issue: is it constitutional; and is it in America's best interests? Mackenzie said government is controlled by a Uniparty and he has voted against his party on things like the gas tax. 

Should There Be Age Limits on Those in Office? - Mackenzie opposes an "artificial age limit" on elected officials. Dellicker joked that he is the oldest of the three candidates and would fight any attempt to remove him from the ballot. Montero would support term limits as opposed to an age barrier. 

Do You Support Gun Controls? - Dellicker dodged the question, saying only that he is a "law and order" candidate. He added he is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. Montero and Mackenzie dodged as well. 

Susan Wild's Comment that Carbon County is Drinking the Trump Kool-Aid? "Susan Wild does not respect her constituents," observed Montero. MacKenzie would like to serve Wild kool-aid at her retirement party in November. "What she said is disrespectful to every person sitting in this room and every person watching at home." Dellicker cautioned it will take more than press stunts to defeat Wild. "Remember, she did this two years ago, too."