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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Real Problem With Tuesday's Primary Election

According to the unofficial results of NorCo's election in a Presidential primary, turnout was an anemic 22%. Only one out of five registered voters bothered to cast a ballot. And I'm not picking on NorCo. Statewide, it was only 25%.  Now I understand that part of the reason for this is that independents are unable to participate in closed primaries. But there's another, even deeper, problem. Voters have little choice. Most candidates are incumbents who run unopposed. Even in the Presidential race, Republicans and Democrats had no realistic alternative to Trump or Biden. And this is democracy?  

You can say that people should vote as a matter of civic responsibility. But for what? The same ol' same ol'? There are few contested races. Yes, there were a few challengers to incumbents Zach Mako and Bob Freeman in Lehigh and Northampton, as there should be. But Mako's opponent looks like he's in fourth grade and Freeman's nemesis destroyed herself in so many ways that her career is hopefully over. Because there's no real choice, we are drifting from democracy to oligarchy.

I've argued before that we need open primaries. But we also need term limits. As nice a guy as Bob Freeman is, it's ridiculous that he has been a State Rep for 40 years. 

Ancient Rome, when it was still a republic, was very leery of seeing the same people in office over and over. Its highest office, Consul, could only be held for one year, and after that, a person had to wait five years before running again. Things began to change when populists like Gaius Marius bent the rules and got himself elected seven times. He ended up killing a number of his political enemies and started the devolution to one-man rule. I believe we are headed in that direction here.   

Monday, April 29, 2024

Gracedale Not The Only Public Nursing Home With Staffing Issues

I've written numerous times about staffing issues at Gracedale, Northampton County's nursing home. It is relying heavily on outside agencies to provide nursing care. An operational assessment recently revealed that these nurses are paid 41% more than county employees. But Gracedale is far from alone. According to Lehigh Valley News, Lehigh County nursing home Cedarbrook is contracting out one-third of its nursing care to these outside agencies. 

Cedarbrook Administrator Jason Cumello told Lehigh County Comm'rs that these outside nurses just want cash and do not really care as much about benefits like a pension or healthcare. 

Cedarbrook and Gracedale are by no means outliers. Cumello also said that there is a 130,000-nursing home worker shortage nationwide.  AARP calls it a staffing apocalypse

In the midst of these vacancies, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have incongruously decided to increase the amount of direct nursing care required to 3.48 hours per resident per day. In March, Exec Lamont McClure told me that Gracedale was providing 3.7 hours of nursing care per day per person. 

Friday, April 26, 2024

Dr. Michael Pittaro Conformed as NorCo's New Director of Corrections

Last week, I posted the resume of Dr. Michael Pittaro, who was nominated by Executive Lamont McClure as the county's new Director of Corrections. In addition to an impressive education, which includes a Ph.D. in criminal justice as well as a master's degree in public administration, Pittaro has direct experience at the county jail. He was a filed investigative officer for five years, where he received several commendations for assisting on the capture of escapees. As Treatment Services coordinator, he created the jail's first therapeutic community. He also worked as an internal affairs investigator and criminal records administrator at the jail. 

At Northampton County Council's April 18 meeting, Pittaro was confirmed in a 7-2 vote. The two dissenters were Council members John Brown and Lori Vargo Heffner. 

Traditionally, an Executive is given great deference in his selections for cabinet positions, which are exempt. In the past, I have only objected to three nominations: a Chief Public Defender under John Brown whose wife was a judge (that nomination was withdrawn); a Fiscal Affairs Administrator under John Stoffa who had a history of bad checks (that nomination was withdrawn); and an Administrator under John Brown with no experience and several tax liens (that nomination was confirmed). 

Neither Bown nor Vargo-Heffner provided any rationale for their No votes. If there was something seriously amiss with Pittaro, that should have been disclosed. 

Why Are There Double-Digit Vacancies in Human Services?

Yesterday, I told you that SEIU local business agent Chris Ellis was at Northampton County Council's April 18 meeting. He presented a petition signed by over 100 human services employees who believe better pay is needed to combat double-digit vacancies in departments like Children and Youth, where there should be none. The last time I checked, and that was in 2022, I was told that the county had 8 of 13 allotted caseworkers to investigate sexual abuse allegations. But I'll assume that what Ellis said is correct. But why? Is low pay the only answer? Are other factors involved. 

Here's what I know. Former Exec John Brown was raked over the coals on that very issue by none other than Lamont McClure. He frequently pointed to our obligation to care for our most vulnerable residents, those in the dawn or dusk of their lives.  He made this a campaign issue. 

But is the staffing shortage really the result of poor pay? Aren't there other factors?

The contract

Here's what I know about the "best and final offer" the county made to SEIU human services workers on a three-year contract. In year one, they will receive a 2.75% step increase plus cash equal to 4.5% rolled into the base. Year two will be a repeat of year one. In year three, they will get a 4% COLA.

Thise already at the top of their pay scales will be getting $1,750 cash bonuses in years one and two, along with the 4% COLA in Year 3. 

So basically, the proposal amounts to a 13% payhike over three years. 

There is a downside. Employees will be required to contribute 0.25% or 0.50% more of their salary for health coverage depending on whether they have a PPO or HSA plan. The county was wiling to offer an increase in deductibles instead, but the union rejected that option. 

Overall, I'd say this offer is more generous than what the county has offered in the past to bargaining units. It dies seem to recognize it needs to pay more. But frankly, I think the staffing crisis has other causes. 


The simple reality is that many caseworkers, especially those who investigate child abuse or neglect, get burned out. Wen he was Director of NorCo's Children and Youth, Kevin Dolan often stated that most workers either leave or go to another, less stressful job. This stress also leads to unhealthy habits

Civil Service

Another reason for a staffing crisis was, until recently, the requirement that the county make hires through a state civil service list that was usually outdated. The county began the process of opting out of state civil service in 2019. It took four years, but as of July, Northampton County is now free to hire on its own. 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

NorCo Human Services Employees Seek Better Union Contract

At the April 18 NorCo Council meeting, SEIU Business Agent for addressed County Council on behalf of  Human Services employees in Children and Youth, Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol and other human services provided by the county. They are in the process of negotiating a new contract with the county and are unhappy with a "best and final offer" that includes a "twoload pay increase" [I do not know what this means] as well as an increase in the employee contribution to health care. Negotiations continued yesterday. 

Ellis presented a petition signed by over 100 human services employees that states the following:

"We are deeply committed to bettering the lives of our residents and building a strong community. The NorCo Department of Human Services members take their commitment to serving the community very seriously. However, we are deeply concerned about the disparity between our wages and the rising cost of living. County Executive Lamont McClure acknowledged in the March 2024 edition of the NorCo newsletter that stagnant wages are making it increasingly difficult for middle to lower income workers to afford housing in our region. This issue affects our current workforce and our department's ability to retain qualified staff and fill double digit vacancies, exacerbating caseloads and workload issues. Staff turnover has become a consistent problem across multiple county agencies. For residents of NorCo, this could result in difficulty accessing services, inadequate outreach, inadequate protection of our most vulnerable populations and overwhelmed caseworkers."

NorCo Council Ponders, and Dismisses, Limits on Public Comment

Last September, after listening to three hours of public comment, Northampton County Council member Lori Vargo Heffner tried unsuccessfully to put the brakes on the public's right to speak. She got nowhere, and for good reason. The First Amendment specifically provides that the "people" have the "right" "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  And under the Sunshine Act, either residents or taxpayers must be afforded a "reasonable opportunity" "to comment on matters of concern." Anyone who buys a gallon of gas or cup of coffee in the county is a taxpayer.  Whether "the matters of concern" are agenda items is irrelevant. That's why they're there. It's their job to listen, and the rest of County Council was wary of muzzling the public. I thought that was the end of it, but she's at it again. At the April 18 Governance Commitee that she happens to chair, Vargo-Heffner once again has suggested some gags on the public's right to speak. 

Vargo-Heffner claimed to be worried about what has happened in Bethlehem and Easton, where pro-Palestinian sympathizers were demanding that both city councils adopt cease-fire resolutions. Things did get out of hand in Bethlehem, but that's only because Council both misled these sympathizers and President Michael Colon was completely unable to control the meeting. They never reached that point in Easton despite Council member Taiba Sultana's efforts to wind everyone up. That's because Mayor Sal Panto was able to let people speak while maintaining control. 

Current policy limits public speakers to five minutes, and Vargo-Heffner suggested more restrictions. 

Council member Jeff Warren, who previously served on both Easton City Council and as a Hanover Tp Supervisor, was less than enthusiastic at limiting the public's right to speak. "I personally like how loose it is right now. ... I honestly don't see there being a problem. ... I want folks to be heard."

Council members Ron Heckman and Kelly Keegan both said they'd approve a change that postponed public comment on nonagenda items until the end of a meeting. 

Council member John Goffredo was leery of making any changes. "We're very open, whoever wants to speak on any topic and I think it should remain the same. I don't think I'm in favor of adding another public comments section at the end of the meeting just because then you're almost inviting people to come and speak about things that are off topic." He, like Jeff Warren, believes that Council should have the latitude to let members of the public speak longer than five minutes. 

Given the lack of enthusiasm for any change, Vargo-Heffner put her muzzle away. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

NorCo Has a Problem-Free Election

Winners are certainly happy after yesterday's election in NorCo, but the person with the best night's sleep is someone whose name is not even on the ballot. Executive Lamont McClure has to be relieved that this primary election, in a presidential year, went so smoothly. But that was just a tune-up for November, when the real fun starts. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Mackenzie Poised For Victory in Pa. 7 GOP Primary

With a projected 43% of the vote, it appears that Republicans have elected Ryan Mackenzie as their nominee in the race against Susan Wild for the Pa. 7 Congressional seat. Kevin Dellicker snagged 33% of the tally, and Maria Montero finished last with just 25%. 

Though arguably the best candidate to face Wild in November, Montero raised far too little money and ran a disorganized campaign. Despite being able to raise money, Dellicker lost Republican support when he failed to endorse Lisa Scheller, who defeated him in the last Congressional race. 

DePasquale Leads Democrats in State AG Race

Eugene DePasquale, a former two-term state auditor general, appears to be firmly in the lead of the five-way Democratic race for state attorney general. Despite having less money to spend that Joe Khan or Jack Stollsteimer, he is the only candidate with western Pa roots. The other four are from the Philadelphia area and appear to have canceled each other out. 

Though my vote went for Jack Stollsteimer, I was very impressed by DePasquale when he was auditor general. He was willing to blow the whistle on the state's failure to answer one of five calls for suspected child abuse or neglect even though it made him unpopular with then Governor Wolf. 

Unofficial: Freeman Wins 77.5% Landslide Against Challenger Taiba Sultana

With all precincts in and reported, it appears that voters have decided to send State Rep. Bob Freeman back to Harrisburg for another two years to represent the 136th legislative district. He defeated Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana with 77.5% of the vote (3,985 to 1,152). That's a slightly larger margin than the 76% that Easton Mayor Sal Panto garnered when Sultana ran against him in 2019. 

Sultana's bid for the state house was hampered by what Ray Lahoud's Pa Citizens PAC called a crazy, chaotic and criminal campaign. As if to prove him correct, two of her children were nabbed by Pennsylvania State Police on election eve as they defaced Lahoud's signs. A third has been charged with corrupting the morals of minors. 

Sultana lost in every precinct but Easton 3-3, which she won by one vote. 

No Republican is running. Barring a successful undependent challenge, Freeman's re-election is assured.

Share Your Election Experience and Last-Minute Pitches Here

During the last election, numerous readers who voted in person alerted the rest of us that there was a serious problem with the Express Vote XL. Thanks to what I call participatory journalism, this blog knew before news ever broke that the machines were malfunctioning in the judicial retention races. So I'd appreciate it if you could take a minute to share your experience here. How is turnout? Where did you vote? (I expect it to be light.) Did you have any issues? Also, if you wish to make any last-minute pitches, feel free. Polls are open until 8 pm. 

If you have a Mail-in-Ballot, it must be returned today. Putting it in the mail will not count. It has to be received by the elections office today. If you never received your Mail-in-Ballot, you can cast what is known as a provisional vote at your voting precinct. During the official canvass, election officials will make sure you did not vote by mail, and then can count your provisional ballot so long as it is filled out properly. 

NorCo Officials Present Preliminary Plans For New Parking Garage and Office Building at Easton Campus

On April 17, Northampton County Public Works Director Michael Emili and Executive Lamont McClure provided County Council with preliminary plans for a new parking garage and office building at the Easton campus. 

McClure stated that the county has spent millions on its parking garage and "it's still falling apart." It has a useful life of about three years. He said it needs to be replaced as a matter of safety. "I do not want anybody to be injured in there." 

The parking deck was built in 1975 and was estimated to have a service life of 35-40 years. There are 298 parking spots, including the parking lot on Washington Street. Massive repairs to the deck were conducted in 2010, 2016 and 2023. Pieces of concrete are still falling and water seeps through joints and cracks, picking up minerals and staining cars parked there. 

In addition to a new parking garage, McClure believes a new county building is necessary for various departments that need more space. Chief among these is the elections offices, which essentially runs three elections twice a year. Expanding that office will increase transparency and enable more people to see official canvassing as it occurs. 

"Human services has outgrown its building," McClure said of the facility located at Emrick Boulevard. We wants to move the Department of Community and Economic Development as well as the Juvenile Probation from the Human Services building to the Easton campus. The Controller's office is out of date and not ADA compliant. The DA's office is bursting at the seams. 

McClure wants a solution that will solve the county's space needs for the rest of this century. 

The new office building would be a three-story, 31,000 sq ft facility. The new parking deck (346 spaces) would be directly behind it.  The first floor of this new building would be dedicated solely to elections. 

The second floor would be dedicated to the entire Fiscal Affairs Department. 

The second floor of the existing courthouse building would be used to use the DA and Controller. 

The third floor of the new building would house the Exec,, Human Resources, Solicitor and Community and Economic Development. 

McClure stated that he would need to discuss the proposal with the DA, Courts and Controller. 

No cost estimate was provided. 

DA Baratta Announces Treatment Initiative For Substance Use Disorder

On April 17, DA Attorney Steve Baratta advised NorCo Council that the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative (LETI), first started by Josh Shapiro when he was Attorney General, is making its way to Courtroom #1 on May 29, 1 pm. Baratta said that law enforcement is involved, but it's really more of a social services program designed to encourage police officers to refer people who commit petty offenses to immediate treatment. If the person can remain sober or clean, police would then decline to prosecute. It enables an addicted person to focus on recovery instead of criminal charges. "That kind of program is designed to make the community safer, not by arresting and incarcerating, but by healing people with substance use disorders," he said. He emphasized that the program is not for more serious offenses. "It's not a panacea, but there's nothing we can do that's going to solve everything."

The program costs nothing. "I can tell you it's going to help some people, and that's a good thing." 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Lori Vargo Heffner, Who Are You Calling Monkeys?

Northampton County Council has four new members, so Executive Lamont McClure is once again advocated the voluntary employee health center he promoted last year. Last year, this initiative failed in a narrow 5-4 vote. Three of the new Council members - Ken Kraft, Jeff Warren and Kelly Keegan - all supported the health care center when they ran for office. The fourth, Jeff Corpora, was appointed by President Judge Craig Dally precisely because the controversial health center made it impossible for Council to agree on an appointment. He is a tabula rosa, and it makes sense that the county administration would want to provide him with as much information as possible, including the arguments against it made by Council President Lori Vargo Heffner. That way he can make an informed decision.  That's what happened at Council's April 17 Personnel and Finance Committee, although it appear that some effort was made to prevent it. 

Council member Tom Giovanni, who chairs the Personnel Committee, said he had no idea the employee health center would be a topic until the day prior to the meeting. Fiscal Affairs Director told Giovanni that he did ask the Council Clerk to list the matter on April 8.

Hmmm. Who would tell the Council Clerk to slow walk the health center? Perhaps the same person that the Council Clerk speaks to when she needs to leave early or wants a vacation day. That would be Council President Lori Vartgo Heffner, who opposes the health center. 

Barron explained that the county has been attempting to cut health care costs since Exec Lamont McClure tool office in 2018, Through the use of Teledoc, Health Savings Accounts and a reduction in pharmacy costs negotiated with Blue Cross, the county has saved about $6.5 million in healthcare costs. But it's not enough. They are still rising. In the first quarter of 2023, for example, healthcare costs were up 29.1%. This matters a lot to a county that is self-insured, 

Barron was followed by HR Director Mary Lou Kaboly and Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski, both of whom explained the details of a voluntary and exclusive employee health center. Batting clean-up was Doug Forrester, chairman of Integrity Health, 

Corpora asked Forrester to explain the benchmarks that would determine cost savings. Forrester explained using the health care center for what otherwise would be a costly emergency room visit would save the county and employee money, and this would be replicated with other services like routine lab tests, physical therapy and X-rays. The return on investment is realized through lower claims costs that would otherwise be charged. In addition, the health center would act as an advocate for an employee if there are disputes about the plan and what it covers. He also noted that public sector employees tend to stay, and this gives a health center more of an opportunity to identify cases in which early intervention can be far more helpful. 

Vargo-Heffner suggested that Integrity is the sole provider of health care in Lycoming County, even functioning as a Blue Cross. Forrester told her that is inaccurate and identified the network as Aetna and the claim processor is Luminaire. 

Council member Ron Heckman, who voted for the health center last year, had questions. But he said he's wait until Forrester played a four-minute video presentation. "I've been at this circus before, so I think it's mainly the new people ..." he said

"The same monkeys," stage whispered Vargo-Heffner. 

There are four new Council members, none of whom have heard a presentation. Vargo-Heffner's remark was hopefully not meant for them. More likely, it was meant for the count administration and Integrity Health. '

It is one thing to be oppose this initiative. Reasonable people of good will can have different opinions. It's why we have two parties and should probably have more. It is quite another to try to prevent incoming Council members from hearing the details of this proposal or to make snide remarks about those presenting it. I have asked Vargo-Heffner to explain what she meant, but she has failed to respond. This tells me all I need to know.

It was a disservice to the new Council members, to the administration, to Integrity and a violation of the Civility Code that she seemingly wants to weaponize. 

Tomorrow, I'll be telling you about the county's plans for the parking deck and a new building on its Easton campus. 

NorCo Juvenile Justice Center Has Hired Private Contractor for Staffing

 A statewide staffing crisis at juvenile justice centers has certainly impacted Northampton County. At this time last year, 33 of 57 youth care workers positions were vacant, mostly because of the low pay pay and educational requirements. At the request of Court Administrator Jermaine Greene, Council created 13 assistant supervisory positions and eliminated 15 youth care worker positions. But should these supervisory positions be union or career service?  After some initial resistance, the courts are now willing to make these positions union jobs. Greene explained at a Council meeting on April 17 that he really just needs the bodies, at a good rate of pay, whether they are union or not. Those positions will start at about $51,000, with an increase to $53,000 in 2025. 

At this time, there are still 22 vacancies. Greene also obtained a waiver of the requirement that youth care workers have 60 college credits. They still must have one year of experience and are vetted by the Department of Welfare before they can be hired. 

Greene told Council that the youth care workers are now being paid about $18 an hour. "It's helping, but we gotta' pay them more," said Greene. "That's the bottom line." 

Greene has also brought in a private contractor, Corporate Protective Services, for 10 staff members. 

The JJC has 32 beds in detention, of which 16 are filled. Seven of these are occupied by out-of-county juveniles. There are 48 beds for treatment, 13 of which are for sex offenders. Six of these are filled, with one from outside the county. 

The county is reimbursed for housing out-of-county residents. In January the county received $24,000 from other counties. In February, that sum was $62,000. In March, it was $84,000. Greene stressed that the JJC is not intended to make a profit, but out-of-county residents do reduce the county contribution. 

After noting that the JJC has a number of detractors from inside the county, Greene invited each member of Council to tour the facility at any time. "You have a center to be proud of," he told them. 

District Attorney Steve Baratta, who was at County Council for another matter, said that the problem at JJC is financial. He believes there is no longer any debt on the building. "It's pretty simple math to figure out what we make when we have our JJC open and at capacity - which we can because there's more than enough kids who need that all around - and then figure out how much money we need to keep it open at capacity. I think you'll find it's not going to be a big number, as far as keeping the entire place open." 

Baratta also suggested that the federal government be pressured to come up with more money. He stressed that he didn't want to step on anyone's toes. 

Friday, April 19, 2024

Sultana's 19 YO Daughter Charged With Corrupting Morals of Minors

Yesterday, I told you that Pennsylvania State Police caught two of Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana's minor children in the act of vandalizing a campaign sign at a busy intersection that opposes her bid for the state house. As I noted at the time, there was a third person waiting for these children in a nearby car but was unsure whether she was an adult. It turns out that she is yet another of Sultana's children and is 19 years old. According to a news release from District Attorney Steve Baratta, she's been charged with corrupting the morals of minors. Her name is Imman Malik.

Sultana told The Morning Call that her children were in their way home from school when they saw the signs. Deeply upset, they vandalized them. I suppose a spontaneous reaction like that from children is understandable. But as several of my readers noted, who the hell carries black spray paint in their school back packs? This was obviously planned. 

We have yet to hear whether any action will be taken in response to a complaint from Easton resident Frank Graziano. He spotted Sultana's adult son at the 25th Street and Freemansburg Avenue intersection at 4:30 pm on the very same day as this adult child removed anti-Sultana signs and threw them in the back of his Honda Civic. That actually occurred in Wilson Borough so another shoe may be dropping soon.  

The signs stolen and vandalized were purchased by PaCitizensPAC, an independent committee formed by immigration attorney Ray Lahoud. His signs began disappearing or were spray-painted within hours after they were planted. 

In the meantime, Sultana is continuing a divisive campaign and is doing her best to incite the worst in all of us. A black voter showed me this text from Sultana: "Hey. I need your vote. ... We have to win against the old white network."

NorCo Council: Ken Kraft Tells Lori Vargo Heffner "You're the Queen and We're Just Your Servants"

I've been so caught up with the Sultana saga that I'm unable to bring you up to date about what has been going on in Northampton County over the past several days After Jeff Corpora was appointed by President Judge Craig Dally to fill the Council vacancy created by Tara Zrinski's resignation, it appeared the acrimony might dissipate. Wrong! Tensions were still bubbling under the surface, and there've been several minor earthquakes in Council chambers this past week. I'll be filling you in far more detail next week. For now, I want to tell you about the Council Clerk vacancy, which involved several ugly exchanges about a story from this very blog. 

On Monday, I told you that 22 people have applied for the $107,482 a year Council Clerk position. I noted that only two people who actually work for the county applied. The rest are outsiders. Aside from Deputy Clerk Aline Shafnisky, I did not identify any of these people. But I could have because the public has every right to know who seeks public employment. Those are our tax dollars and we have a right to know how they are spent. 

If I wanted to do so, I could file a Right-to-Know request today, seeking the names of every person who has sought county employment this year. There is nothing privileged or confidential about that information. The application itself is confidential unless the applicant is eventually hired, but the names of people seeking employment would have to be divulged

My story apparently threw some Council members for a loop. That's because Council President Lori Vargo Heffner refused to share the information with anyone, even the members of the committee tasked with going through the applications. She claims to be concerned with protecting the privacy of applicants, but that concern betrays a complete misunderstanding of the Open Records law and the need to be as transparent as possible in government. 

As Judge Damon J. Keith once warned, “[d]emocracies die behind closed doors….When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation.”

Vargo-Heffner should certainly have disclosed the identity of all 22 applicants to her fellow Council members and was wrong to keep this to herself or get worked up in a lather because a member of the public had it. 

Ron Heckman seemed to also think that the identity of public job applicants is some sort of state secret. "It's a personnel issue," he protests. The identity of an applicant or proposed salary is no personnel issue. It is a matter of public record. 

They're both simply wrong, which is kind of scary because they both should know the importance of transparency in government, even when it comes to the hiring process. 

Knowing who is in the running for one of the highest paid positions in the county might trigger some red flags. 

Council member Ken Kraft was bothered that Vargo-Heffner decided how to seek applicants without getting Council members to vote on it. He was especially irate that she unilaterally changed the job description without the approval of five members of Council. Kraft said he probably would have voted for the procedure used or the change in job description, but Vargo Heffner never gave Council the opportunity. 

"Last I looked, we didn't elect a Queen," he snarked. She insisted that the Clerk position is a "private personnel matter," but there is nothing private about a Council Clerk. Her disciplinary record might be confidential, but who her identity is absolutely public. 

At one point, the duo began talking over each other and Vargo-Heffner began to silence Kraft. 

 "I have the floor, I took the floor, thank you. 

"Oh you took it. Ok, 

"I did.

"Because you're the Queen and we're just your servants. Is that what it is?" 

At that point, two Swiss guards removed Kraft and beheaded him. 

NorCo Dem Party Boss Survives Coup Attempt

Last month, I told you that NorCo Dem Exec Committee voted that it has no confidence on party chair Matt Munsey. It did so on the basis of the following: (1) Undercutting elected incumbents Sal Panto, Susan Wild and Bob Freeman . (He's been accused of circulating petitions for challengers and texting talking points during the Easton Mayoral debate); (2) Participating in a GOP effort to undermine public confidence in our voting system to a State Senate Committee whose real goal is to disenfranchise voters; (3) He refuses to conduct regular party meetings; and (4) He has ignored party bylaws requiring a separate treasurer; and (5) has denied party resources to area committees. But at a meeting on Tuesday night, Munsey survived an attempt to remove him as chair. 

The same group that supported the vote of no confidence presented some grievances and wanted to remove Munsey as chair. By a vote of 26-6, the Executive Committee determined that the charges had not been sufficiently proven or investigated, and by a similar vote of 26-6, the Executive Committee voted to dismiss any further action with regards to the Chair until after the November election.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

UPDATED: Pa. State Police Nab Taiba Sultana's Children As They Vandalize Campaign Signs

As I told you on Monday, Pa Citizens PAC is an independent political action committee formed by immigration attorney Ray Lahoud purely to oppose Taiba Sultana's candidacy for the state house seat held by Bob Freeman. Lahoud seeded it with $45,000 of his own money so he could actively campaign against her and reported his spending as required by our campaign finance laws. Part of his spending included the purchase of signs like the one you see with this story. They began appearing throughout the 136th district early this week. Yesterday morning, they started to disappear. Many were also vandalized with black spray paint. 

Usually, these crimes are committed in the middle of the night, away from prying eyes. But the idiots engaged in this criminal mischief were doing so in broad daylight. Yesterday afternoon, Pennsylvania State Police nabbed two minors at the busy 13th and Bushkill Streets intersection as they were spray-painting the anti-Sultana signs. Waiting for them in a car was a third person who may be an adult or minor. All three happen to be Taiba Sultana's children. 

Pennsylvania State Police notified Easton police, and at least two of these children were taken into custody. 

Pa. Citizens PAC has released the following statement:

This afternoon, PA Citizens PAC was contacted by the Easton Police Department. According to arresting officers, Pennsylvania State Police observed two individuals spray painting and defacing PA Citizens PAC's signs opposing Taiba Sultana's candidacy for the Pennsylvania State House.
PA Citizens PAC was informed that the two individuals were children of Easton City Council Member Taiba Sultana (and candidate for the PA State House), apparently at the request of their mother. PA State Police observed the two defacing the political signs and, upon approach, found each with cans of black spray paint. The two were taken into custody.
PA Citizens PAC believes in the right of all to speak freely and has respected Taiba Sultana's whenever she exercised the same. Unfortunately, while Ms. Sultana proclaims her support for the rights enshrined in the United States Constitution and protests for others across the world to enjoy those rights, Ms. Sultana has, time and again, demonstrated a complete lack of respect for others who wish to exercise those very same rights.
PA Citizens PAC urges Ms. Sultana to take time to immediately resign as a member of Easton's City Council and end her candidacy for PA House District 136.

Amazingly, Easton resident Frank Graziano spotted Sultana's adult son at the 25th Street and Freemansburg Avenue intersection yesterday afternoon at 4:30 pm as he removed anti-Sultana signs and threw them in the back of his Honda Civic, Frank called Easton police, so it should be no surprise if charges are filed against this person. 

Vandalizing a campaign sign is usually just a summary offense but can be a misdemeanor depending on the amount of damage caused. Stealing a campaign sign is a third-degree misdemeanor. If Sultana encouraged her children to vandalize and steal campaign signs, she could be charged with solicitation, conspiracy or corrupting the morals of minors. I'd like to know if the minor children were in school yesterday.  I sometimes wonder whether Sultana is a female version of Dickens' Fagin

No matter how much you might dislike them, campaign signs are core political speech fundamental to American democracy. 

Sultana has previously claimed that she is a victim of political retaliation by Mayor Sal Panto. She said so after she was charged last summer with assaulting her adult son. She has also accused Hizzoner of racism and just about every other 'ism there is. But her children were initially caught by Pa State Police, not Easton Police, so it's getting harder for her to claim that she's a Panto victim. But she will. Right now, her Facebook pages are strangely on radio silence. 

I should end this by noting that Bob Freeman had nothing to do with Lahoud's campaign signs. Freeman's campaign insists he has never been associated with those kinds of tactics. Lahoud, in contrast, loves rolling around in the gutter and especially likes to be compared to either Soros or the Koch brothers. He's very naughty. But he followed the law. Sultana's family, and perhaps Sultana herself, broke it. 

UPDATED 12:30 PM: Sultana Plays Victim Card, Yet Again! - In Morning Call coverage of the campaign sign vandalism, Sultana admits the tampering by two of her underage children, but for the 1,678.456th time, claims she's been targeted because she's progressive and a minority.

NorCo Elections to Use New Live Dashboard For Results

From NorCo Elections Office: The Northampton County Elections Office announced that beginning with the General Primary Election on Tuesday, April 23rd, Northampton County will have a new way of reporting election results.

 Designed by Tenex Software Solutions, Inc., a new Live Results dashboard will be located on the Elections Division website. [www.norcopa.gov/election-resultThe dashboard will reflect the unofficial results in real-time as they are processed starting at 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, April 23rd, and will continue to be updated until every eligible ballot has been processed and counted.


Ballots cast by voters either in person, by Absentee or Mail-in ballot are processed at varying times according to what is permitted by Pennsylvania law. The unofficial results will not include write-in candidates’ results until canvass is finished.


During higher turnout elections, this process may take longer to complete.


Pre-canvass will begin at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 23, 2024. The official computation and canvass of the votes cast from the April 23, 2024 Election will begin at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, April 26, 2024.


Election results are not considered official until after they are certified by the Northampton County Election Commission during a public meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2024.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

UPDATED: McClelland Did File Timely Finance Report

On Monday, I reported that Democratic State Treasurer candidate Erin McClelland had been tagged by the Department of State for failure to file her 2d Friday Pre-Primary Finance Report, which was due on Friday. A person who would like to manage state finances should be doing an exemplary job of reporting her own campaign finances. I was already set against her, but this was the final nail in her coffin for me.

I just pulled that nail out. The Department of State was wrong when it included McClelland in its "did not file" list. She had, in fact, filed a timely report. 

I apologize for misleading you. 

Two Ways To Revive Our Troubled Democracy

Donald Trump has done his very best to undermine democracy (yes, I know it is not a pure democracy) in America by assailing the free press and attacking the integrity of our elections. While I think his real goal is autocracy, I agree with conservatives and liberals who think we could really improve our democratic form of government with two simple changes. In an article entitled "Democracy Die in Primaries" and publishes in conservative Rael Clear Politics, Nick Troiano lists them. 

"The reason our elected leaders don’t seem to represent us is because, quite literally, most of us don’t elect them."

1) Open the Primaries Already. - In closed primary states like Pa, we see low turnouts that cater to party extremists. "So far in 2024, nearly a third of U.S. House seats have already been decided by only 3% of eligible votes in the eight states that have held primaries for offices other than the presidency. In 2022, 8% of voters elected 83% of Congress."

2) You Need a Majority to Win. - "Consider how the 2024 election might have been different had these principles been in effect. First, had the GOP required a majority winner in the 2016 primaries, Donald Trump might not have become the nominee with only a plurality (45%) of the vote. Second, without Trump’s victory that year, there would likely be no Biden rematch in 2024, and therefore no efforts to run candidates like Dean Phillips off primary ballots. Third, majority-winner elections using ranked choice voting would level the playing field for independent and third party candidates rather than dismissing them out of hand as spoilers."

NorCo Exec Lamont McClure Has Found a New Director of Corrections

Below is the resume of Dr. Michael Pittaro. He's the man that NorCo Exec Lamont McClure intends to appoint to replace Corrections Director Jim Kostura after 31 years of dedicated service to the county. Kostura intends to retire on May 10. He's a former Navy Seal who strted at the jail as a corrections officer. He credits these officers, and not himself, for being the best in the state, and his boast appears to be backed uo by glowing inspection reports. He will be hard to replace, but I've never seen a more detailed resume than that of Dr. Pittaro. His nomination will have to be confirmed by County Council.

Pittaro Resume by BernieOHare on Scribd

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Pa State Rep. Bob Freeman Raises $66k in Quest For Re-Election: Also Benefitting From Ray Lahoud

According to his latest report with the State, filed Friday, State Rep. Bob Freeman has raised $66,000 in his bid for re-election to the 136th Legislative district. He also reports $24k worth of in-kind contributions. Going into the final days of the campaign, he was sitting on nearly $63k.

His most recent report lists $26.5 in contributions from unions and fellow legislators. In-kind contributions, mostly from the Pa House Dem Campaign Commitee, appear to have funded at least three mailers. 

What about his opponent, Taiba Sultana? She has filed, but her report is still unavailable on the state website. The state elections office informs me that data from some reports is still being imported. When I see her report, I will tell you about it. 

I can tell you that an independent expenditure committee has been formed in opposition to Sultana. This committee, formed by Ray Lahoud and funded with $45,000 out of his own pocket, is exposing her as she should be exposed. 

Lahoud, incidentally, is an immigration attorney and knows all about the plight of immigrants in this country. He needs no lectures from Sultana. 

I'm Falling Apart

A few weeks ago, I told you that I'm basically blind in my left eye as a result of cataracts. That issue will hopefully be addressed soon. But I'm still falling apart. A month ago, I suffered an injury to my shoulder while lifting. That has been slow to heal, but I was doing quite well with some stretches. Until yesterday.

A friend wanted me with her during an appointment she had with Palmer Police yesterday after her parked car was hit over the weekend. I told her there was nothing police could do, and I would be useless, but she insisted. So, I went. And because the weather was so nice, I rode my bike along a number of back roads that are always more hilly than they seem when you're driving. 

I was right. There waws nothing police or I could do. After the interview had concluded, I started to get on my bike, which was right next to her car, where she made me move it. For some reason, I lost my balance and went over. I landed right on the very shoulder that was healing rather nicely. Now it isn't. 

It could have been worse. I fell over right by her car. She did not notice and began backing up and missed running me over by about six inches. She never saw me laying there and just drove off. Eventually, I got up and rode home to an ice pack and Aleve.  

Believe it or not, I still enjoyed the ride and look forward to Ironton Trail tonight, where I will try to beat my grandson 

Stollsteimer Leads in Money Race for Dem AG Candidates

The campaign finance reports of three out of five Democratic candidates for Attorney General. Because the state elections office is still importing data from reports into their system, the reports filed by Jared Solomon and Keir Bradford-Grey are unavailable. Reports are on file for Eugene De Pasquale, Joe Khan and Jack Stollsteimer. 

Of these three, Stollsteimer is way ahead in the money game. He raised $353k in the most recent filing period, which gave him a $$871k warchest. He spent $637k, leaving him with $234k for the closing days. He is heavily funded by trade unions.

Joe Khan raised $276k in the most recent reporting period, giving him a total of $619k. He spent $479k, leaving him with $140k. Locally, he did get a $10k contribution from State Rep Josh Siegel, who while qa member of Allentown City Council voted No to police grants and participated in "Fuck the Police" demonstrations. 

If I were Khan, I'd have sent that money back. 

Eugene DePasquale raised $88k in the most recent reporting period, giving him a warchest of $226k. He spent $132k and had $94k for the closing days of his race. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Making Russia Great Again

The world is a scary place. Donald Trump as President will make it much worse. That is my chief objection to him as President. He endangers national security. His unwillingness to stand by allies undermines our own safety. 

He has stated that, contrary to our treaty obligations, he would refuse to help defend NATO allies who are "delinquent" in contributing to their own defense in the event they are attacked by Russia. “No, I would not protect you ... . In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”

It's bad enough that this bible hawker is unable to keep his own word, as numerous contractors can attest. But he will refuse to stand by America's treaty obligations as well. 

Incidentally, the requirement that NATO nations devote 2% of GDP to their own defense is a benchmark set in 2014, not a treaty obligation. The person who asked nations to pay more was Barack Obama.  

Two Tragic Lsses For Us

Over the past week, two people who I admired very much passed away. They had little in common. One was a hard drinker was completely capable of telling people to shove it when he was tired of their bullshit. The other went out of his way to be kind-hearted and forgiving to everyone, even me. They did have one thing in common.  They cared. 

The former is John Kachmar, who died Friday after a lengthy illness. After graduating from Notre Dame Green Pond, he served in the Marines, ended up in Vietnam and was wounded in action. 

My father, a WWII vet who was wounded in action himself, never talked to me about the war or his experiences as a POW. After being released from the service, Kachmar attended Moravian and wanted to interview my father about the war. Although my Dad tried to duck the interview, Kachmar's father was a bigwig with the local Democratic party and put the heat on. 

During the interview, my dad was initially evasive when asked about his war experience. But he eventually let John have it.

"Excuse me, but what the hell makes you think you know what it was like?"

"Because I was wounded myself in Vietnam."

My father talked to Kachmar after that. They actually became drinking buddies. One night, Kachmar had a tap on his door, and it was my dad with acclaimed novelist Kurt Vonnegut. That trio formed an unlikely bond while Kachmar was still a student at Moravian College. 

Many people think if they wear camouflage or prance around wrapped in a flag and a bazooka at a Trump rally, that makes them patriots. Getting shot in the gut for your country is what makes you a patriot.  

I eventually met John as well, mostly when he worked for former Congressman Don Ritter and was administering Lehigh County.  Kachmar spent several years managing municipalities throughout the country, mostly in the South. In fact, he actually helped establish several local governments.  

We became re-acquainted again when he returned to Bethlehem and took on Willie Reynolds in the Bethlehem Mayoral race.

The latter is Deacon Anthony Koury. 

If you attended Notre Dame Green Pond athletic contests at any point in the past century, you undoubtedly saw him. He worked there for 43 years. 

During his time with the Crusaders, Koury did it all. He was a gym and social studies teacher, traffic director and maintenance supervisor. He was also the school's athletic director. In that role, he was able to persuade Alberell Electric to contribute outdoor lighting for football games. He sweet-talked Young Volkswagon into building a scoreboard. He also lobbied for and finally succeeded in getting Notre Dame into a league. But the accomplishment of which he is proud is convincing the PIAA to allow small schools to join forces for a team sports. As a result, Notre Dame became the beneficiary of gifted football players from Moravian Academy. And Moravian Academy added some Notre Dame girls to its field hockey teams.

I got to know him when he worked as a tipstaff. We were frequent lunch companions. In the years I knew him, I never once heard him say a negative thing about anyone. He would fail as a blogger. But as a human being, he excelled. 

22 Apply For NorCo Council Clerk Position

At the end of the April 4 meeting, NorCo Council President Lori Vargo Heffner announced that she as seeking applications for the Council Clerk, now that Linda Zembo is retiring. The pay is ridiculously high, $107,482 a year. That's over three times what most clerks are paid in the county. The one downside is that it is an exempt position, meaning the position is at-will. 

As of Friday, 22 people applied for this job. Only two are current county employees. An external hire would have a long learning curve.  I am a bit shocked to see that 19 of the 22 applicants are women, and that very few men or women have anything close to qualifying work experience. 

Council should cast the line again, a little closer to shore.  An effort should be made to hire someone who works for and understands the county. I can think pf people in different departments who would be excellent in this role.  

Friday, April 12, 2024

Over 250 Easton Residents File Petition Seeking Resignation of Easton City Council Member Taiba Sultana

Sultana cuffed by Easton police after
alleged assault of adult son
Easton City Council met Wednesday night at the Easton Area Community Center in the west ward. It generally meets once a year in the neighborhoods instead of city hall.  Thugh there is no YouTube video of the meeting, Patsy Hitzel of South Side Civic Ass'n recorded most of the meeting on Facebook. (You can see it here). During this West Ward summit, Council was presented with a petition seeking the immediate resignation of controversial Council member Taiba Sultans. This request, presented by Christine Phillips, was signed by over 250 City residents. Ironically, it included the names of many of the black and brown people whom Sultana claims to champion. 

Here's what Phillips stated, as best as I can transcribe it:

"In the two years that Mrs. Sultan has held her seat in office, she has done very little for the people of the city that she was entrusted to do when she was elected. 

"Since 2022, Mrs. Sultana had shown very little interest in the citizens of this city ... . In 2022, she has missed out of four budget meetings. In December 2023, she missed committee meetings to protest the Menorah lighting in Bethlehem. In January 2024, she missed committee meetings to have her State Rep announcement party. In March 2024, she had her children at the dais during the Council meeting while her husband and adult child were present and were able to sit with them, then proceeded to use the footage of that meeting as a political mudsling opportunity to again disrespect her constituents. On March 27, 2024, she did not appear in person when topics such as the parking issue on Davis Street in Southside was discussed, In April 2024, she did not attend the committee meetings to discuss the quality-of-life issues of parking in the downtown.

"At the end of 2023, South Side residents came to planning to fight three pieces of development that the residents of South Side did not want in the community. She did not attend and of [those meetings] while other Council members showed and addressed the concerns we had ... ."

"She has brought more division in the City and has continuously been combative with her constituents. ... She seems more interested in making headlines addressing national and international business as a priority. 

"Many issues have been raised in South Side Easton and Mrs. Sultana was involved in none of these issues by supporting the residents in finding a solution or attending meetings to object to projects. The many times you've seen Mrs. Sultana on South Side is for her benefit, Seven town homes on Coal Street taking away all green space on an already small lot; a smoke shop less than 215' from another location; selling the same items, wanting to sell synthetic opioids; and a garbage issue in your neighborhood that we reached out for your help. South Side Civisc Ass'n reached out to you about getting benches and tables for the field house about a year ago, and you came back in October to say there was no money in the budget, yet they were notified that they were already ordered and actually [are] waiting in storage to be installed.

"Mrs. Sultana has made false, derogatory statements about the City of Easton police department twice in less than a year by calling them unprofessional, racist [and] politically motivated, and yet again now with a political ad. Her unprofessional behavior and lack of respect, shown multiple times for other members of both Council and public officials, are an indication to all that she does not have the people of Easton's best interests in mind.

"Being an elected official, you are to lead by example 24/7, 365 days a year. Unfortunately, many people who agree with this petition wouldn't sign it for fear of retaliation by [Sultana]. 

"Again, we are demanding that Mrs. Sultana resign as a City of Easton Council member, effective immediately. This should not be a hard decision.to make since she has no respect for the city that pays her ... You've done nothing but pretty much bash everyone who disagrees with you ..."

Earlier that evening, Sultana proved that at least some concerns raised by Phillips are correct. She read into the record a lengthy letter from ACLU objecting to the suspension of licenses to landlords who allow criminal activity in homes they rent Once she finished, Council member Roger Ruggles advised her that legislation has been withdrawn. "She wasn't here," observed Mayor Sal Panto. "It was withdrawn," continued Ruggles. "You read all of that for nothing because it's not in existence any more."

Council member Frank Pintabone said that the legislation would only affect people whose homes are raided for drug sales, illegal weapons, child pornography or human trafficking. It would have no application to women who call police to report abuse "We got to get the criminals out of the neighborhoods," added Mayor Panto. "That's the primary crux of the resolution. ... We're not looking to kick any good people out, we're looking to kick criminals out of the neighborhoods, and as a City Council member, you should be concerned about the crime that's in our neighborhoods."

Sukltana then complained that she wished someone had told her the bill was withdrawn.

After these remarks were made, Sultana asked Council to consider religious holidays when scheduling future meetings and noted that she had to leave a family gathering in Philly to be present. She chose against responding to the petition at the meeting, but later told LehighValleyLive that the petition is politically motivated, part of a smear campaign and "unfounded propaganda." 

She is a candidate for State House. 

Democrats Have No Good Choice in Race For Auditor General

Philadelphian Malcolm Kenyatta and South Whitehall Tp resident Mark Pinsley are the two candidates seeking their party's nomination in the race for auditor general. Republican incumbent Tim DeFoor is unopposed. I've already accidentally voted for Kenyatta (yes, I'm an idiot) but should have voted for neither candidate. In the general election, I will vote for Republican DeFoor. 

Why I dislike Pinsley: He's a blatant opportunist. No sooner was he elected South Whitehall Tp Commissioner than he announced he was running against Pat Browne in a State Senate race. Undaunted after losing, he took on Lehigh County Controller Glenn Eckhart in the next election cycle and knocked him off. As Controller, he proposed both an increase in sales tax in Lehigh County as well as an income tax that would hurt low-income families that work multiple jobs just to put food on the table. He called for UN observers in the 2020 presidential election, He also revealed his true feelings about Allentown and Bethlehem when he objected to them being combined as part of redistricting. "We don't need another ghetto," he said. Well, we don't need Pinsley. While running for re-election as Lehigh County Controller, he told donors he was running for state auditor general. Now he tells donors he wants to run for the US Senate. 

The most offensive thing about him was his use of families accused of child abuse as political props. He paraded them before both Northampton County Council and Lehigh County's Board of Comm's with unproven claims of misdiagnoses of child abuse. His claims were completely contrary to the philosophy of the human services departments in both counties, which will only separate children from their family as a last resort, and with due process. 

Why I dislike Kenyatta: He's a state representative who is running for re-election while simultaneously running for auditor general. This is becoming quite the trend, ad a bad one. I've already noted that AG candidate Jared Solomon and state treasurer candidate Ryan Bizzarro are doing the same thing. 

This practice discourages new blood from seeking office against an entrenched incumbent. Also, if the candidate is successful, there will have to be an expensive special election to fill the vacancy. A ban has been proposed in the state house, but its sponsor is a legislator who just ran for two offices in the same election himself. 

Finally, I believe in divided government. In a Democratic administration, a Republican auditor general is more likely to be independent. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Who's the Best Democrat to Take on Stacy Garrity in Pa Treasurer's Race?

Two Democrats - Erin McClelland and Ryan Bizzarro - seek their party's nomination for Pennsylvania Treasurer. The winner will take on incumbent Stacy Garrity, who is running unopposed for the GOP nod. The position, which pays $197,748 a year, is responsible for managing and safeguarding the Commonwealth's financial assets. This includes meeting payroll, receiving taxes and other revenue and issuing lawful payments. The treasurer also invests Commonwealth funds. It holds the pension funds. The purpose of this post is to tell you about them so you can make an informed decision. 

Ryan Bizzarro: He's a lifelong resident of Erie County who was stricken with leukemia as a child. He graduated from Edinboro University (political science, criminal justice) and then earned a Master's in public administration from Gannon University. He worked as a victim advocate in Erie County before being elected as State Representative in 2012. 

Like Jared Solomon in the AG race, Bizzarro is running simultaneously for state treasurer and re-election as a state representative. As far as I am concerned, that disqualifies him. Plus, who the hell votes for someone named Bizzarro?

Apparently, a lot of people. Bizzarro has raised over $500,000 for this race, and as of early March, has $430,000 to spend. 

Erin McClelland: Like Bizzarro, she's also from the western part of the state. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh (psychology) and Chatham University. She has devoted her private sector career to mental health and substance abuse counseling. She's run for Congress twice and has lost twice. 

Her biggest issue, and she diverge sharply from both Bizzarro and Garrity on this point, is her strident opposition to the proposed Keystone Saves program. 

As explained by the Keystone Saves Coalition, "The Keystone Saves program is intended for businesses without a retirement plan and would rely on voluntary regular payroll contributions to fund individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Keystone Saves would be a public-private partnership in which IRAs are professionally managed by a third-party financial firm overseen by the state. Administration and investment fees would be kept low through the economies of scale produced by a statewide program." This program has been endorsed by Pew Charitable Trusts and is supported by 75% of 500 polled small business owners. AARP also supports this measure. 

The Pennsylvania House passed a bill for this program and Bizzarro voted for it. Incumbent Treasurer Garrity likes this plan as well. 

Not McClelland. She calls the plan a "dangerous financial product" susceptible to fraud. She points to an SEC warning about self-directed IRAs like Pennsylvania Saves. "While all investments have risk, self-directed IRAs have some risks that differ from those involved with IRAs offered by registered broker-dealers and investment advisers. These risks include a lack of legal and regulatory protection and a heightened risk of fraud, particularly when investing in alternative assets." She is also bothered that the legislation would make the plan mandatory for any employer with more than five employees.

She has no money for a statewide campaign, As of March, she had raised $110,000 and had $105,000 to spend. 

My opinion: Though McClelland offers a contrast to Bizzarro and Garrity, she lacks the resources to run and win. I am unable to vote for either of these Democrats. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Who is the Best Dem in PA Attorney General Race?

Pennsylvania's Attorney General, who is paid $197,748 a year, is the Commonwealth's chief law enforcement officer; the state's collection agency; defends all actions brought against the state; administers consumer protection laws; prosecutes violations of antitrust laws; and represents the Commonwealth in cases where a local District Attorney has a conflict of interest. Five Democrats seek their party's nomination. They are Keir Bradford-GreyEugene DePasqualeJoe KhanJack Stollsteimer and Jared Solomon. Above you can see a debate involving all five. Below I'll tell you a little bit about each of them.

Keir Bradford-Grey - She's a graduate of Ohio Northern University Pettit School of Law and served as Chief Public Defender in Montgomery County and as the leader of the largest public defender's organization in Philly. If elected, she would be the first public defender to be elected as the state's top prosecutor. "I'm running to be the people's lawyer, and that's what the Attorney General is in every other state," she has said. The "people's lawyer" in other states prosecutes criminals. She promised to go after criminals in the board room."

As of March, she had raised a total of $640,000 and had $211,000 to spend. 

Eugene DePasquale - He's a graduate of Widener University School of Law who served as a state representative for three terms and as state auditor general for two terms but lost a race for Congress. Though he has no experience as a professional prosecutor, he touts an enviable record during his time as auditor general. "It is my investigation that found over 3,000 untested rape kits. ... It is my investigation that found 58,000 [one out of five] unanswered phone calls at the child abuse hotline. Any single one of those calls could have meant life or death for a child."

DePasquale's work as auditor general found that a former Bangor school Superintendent was paid $142,000 for "consulting services" never provided.  He blew the whistle on voting machine providers who shower county officials with gifts. It is he who revealed that funds from the state's high gas tax were being diverted to fund state police instead of repairing roads. 

His work made him unpopular with the Governor, but he was independent. 

As of March, he had raised $570,000, and had $180,000 to spend. 

Joe Khan - He's a graduate of University of Chicago Law School and served as a local and federal prosecutor, including the corruption investigation that led to the prosecution and conviction of the Mayors of Reading and Allentown. But he fell short in his bid for election as Philadelphia DA. 

He certainly has experience as a prosecutor. He led the pay-to-play corruption investigation that led to the conviction of the Mayors of Allentown and Reading, but he also closed the grand jury even though FBI agent Scott Curtis claimed that the problem still exists in this area. 

As of March, he's raised $923,000 and has $314,000 to spend. 

Jack Stollsteimer - A graduate of Temple Law, Stollsteimer is Delaware County's DA. He led the effort to deprivatize the jail in that county and reduced its population by 30%. Asked whether this is dangerous, he responded by saying he balances criminal justice reform with public safety. He said he actually has reduced the jail population by 40% and uses those savings to get low level offenders the help they need. As a result, shootings in his county are down 72% and homicides are down 68%. 

He's the only Democratic candidate who actually has been a District Attorney. He has support from the trades union and has prosecuted worker misclassification. 

He said he's spent his entire career trying to reduce easy access to guns, not by those who have the right to have them, but from thse who don't. 

As of March, he raised a little over $1 million and had $368,000 to spend. 

Jared Solomon - Thus guy id simultaneously running for AG and for re-election as State Rep. That takes him out of the picture for me. 

My Opinion: I really like DePasquale but believe Stollsteimer will be most effective in that office. I think DePasquale is in the best position to win because he comes from the western part of the state and has no competition from that region. The other candidates are all from the Philly area and might cancel each other out. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Easton LERTA Expansion Explained

Last week, I told you that Easton is seeking approval from Northampton County for a real estate tax break for nine different tax parcels. Under this tax incentive, the owner continues to pay real estate taxes on the property. But once there is an increase in assessment as a result of improvements made, the additional tax due is phased in over a period of 10 years. This has already been approved by Easton and its school district.  County Council will vote on this proposal at their next meeting.

I am philosophically opposed to most tax incentives, event modest breaks that come about from a LERTA. Even I would support one aimed at redeveloping a brownfield or improving blighted property in our urban core. Executive Lamont McClure said the LERTA  has "110% support" from the county administration. Easton Director of Community and Economic Development John Kingsley described the nine tracts as follows:

1-6 Center Square: This blighted property will be redeveloped into a seven-story hotel with a conference facility and two restaurants at a cost of $25 million on a parcel currently assessed at $200,000. It is expected to create at least 30 FTE jobs. Construction would be complete by December 2025. 

8 Center Square: This is the former National Bank building and has been vacant over five years. It will be redeveloped into a five-story building with two restaurants and seven apartments at a cost of $3.4 million for a parcel currently assessed at $98,100. The restaurants will create 15 new jobs.

508 West Canal Street (Southside): This is the old Paradise Club, and was acquired by Shiloh Baptist Church for 60 units of affordable housing for tenants between 20-80% of area median housing. The tract is currently assessed at $76,500. Construction is expected to begin in 2025 and will take 18 months. 

130-134 Phillips Street and Charles Street (Southside): These properties are in the process of being acquired by Greater Shiloh Church for eight owner-occupied affordable housing units. Each will be three-bedroom homes. he project will cost $2.5 million for property assessed at $81,300. The county has already awarded a $100,000 grant for this project. Eligible owners will be at or below 80% area median income. 

653-671 Bushkill Street (West Ward): These properties (former Circle Systems) will be redeveloped into office and manufacturing micro-enterprises. The tract is assessed at $115,000, and $1.5 million in construction is contemplated. The ground floor will include 3-D printing, metal shop, laser cutting and loading docks. This is expected to be ready by Fall 2025. 

Kingsley projects that real estate taxes will increase by a factor of 10 once the LERTA expires. He indicated that both the areas inside the city and the proposed uses make these projects attractive. 

If You Applied For Mail-In Ballot, You Will Get Email Confirmation That Ballot Has Been Sent

If you've applied for a mail-in ballot, you should be getting an email to let you know when it is sent to you. Yesterday, I received such an email from the state, advising me as follows:

Your ballot is almost ready, and it is being prepared for mailing. If you do not receive your ballot within 7 days, please contact your county election office.

If you have questions concerning your ballot, please contact NORTHAMPTON County at (610) 829-6260.

A friend (yes, I do have friends) told me he received his ballot in the mail yesterday, "and the outside envelope wasn’t sealed, nor had it been. It wasn’t even folded over. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that anything is missing."

Monday, April 08, 2024

Lisa Tresslar, NorCo's Ousted Custody Master, Has Sued in Federal Court

Several months ago, I told you that Northampton County had just lost its MVP. Who's that? Lamont McClure? Nah, he's a politico who just thinks he's MVP because his office is up top where the air is thin. Besides, he's still here, and people don't like Executives until they're gone. Could it be DA Terry Houck? He played a very important role in keeping you safe, but the county lost someone for more important than a mere County Exec or District Attorney. That MVP was the county's custody master, Lisa Tresslar. This Harvard Law grad and former Wall Street lawyer completely reorganized and transformed an office that had been in shambles, into an efficient and sympathetic forum for children who often become pawns in the games parents play with each other once their relationships falter. Her north star was what was best for the children, and her gift was an uncanny ability to help warring moms and dads realize this themselves. Once she became custody master, the number of disputes that had to go to trial dwindled substantially. It is still baffling to me that this highly qualified person was treated so badly by at least one jealous judge. Once someone ascends to the judicial heavens, they have a tendency to consider themselves untouchable. But they've been touched in a most unpleasant way today. Lisa Tresslar sued the entire bench, along with Northampton County, on Friday..

Her 18-page lawsuit, filed by Attorneys Sidney Gold (Philadelphia) and Robert Goldman (Doylestown), alleges sex and age discrimination as well as retaliatory employment practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as well as ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act). She seeks damages, both compensatory and punitive, as well as attorneys' fees. Her complaint was filed with the Eastern District of Pa. 

According to the complaint, Tresslar was hired by the Court in 2014 as its first full-time Custody Master. She served until October 14, 2023, when she alleges she was "constructively terminated." Though the entire county bench is listed as a Defendant, her pleading makes clear that her grievances are aimed at Judges Jennifer Sletvold, Paula Roscioli, President Judge Craig Dally and Court Administrator Jermaine Greene. 

"Beginning in June 2018, Judge Jennifer R. Sletvold (approximate age 40s), Judge Paula A. Roscioli (approximate age 50s), and Court Administrator J. Jermaine Greene, Sr. (approximate age 50), repeatedly made false statements to the other judges about Plaintiff's job performance, professionalism, and integrity. They repeatedly requested that Plaintiff's job responsibilities be limited in ways that would reduce her value to the Court. Judge Sletvold specifically requested that Plaintiff be fired. These three individuals did not direct such behavior toward similarly situated younger male employees. These three individuals' attacks on Plaintiff were demonstrably motivated by discriminatory animus based on Plaintiff's age and sex." 

In March 22, they proposed administrative changes that targeted Tresslar and significantly reduced her role.by imposing burdensome restrictions on her ability to settle custody disputes or assist judges. These changes were opposed by Tresslar as well as the Family Committee of the NorCo Bar Association. But they were adopted by President Judge Craig Dally, He ignored an email from Tresslar stating, "The people who proposed these new procedures were, and are, demonstrably motivated by age and sex discrimination. They have certainly created a hostile work environment, not only for me but also for other women in the courthouse." Instead, he "immediately delegated his supervisory power over Plaintiff and the Custody Office to Court Administrator Greene, who was not an attorney, thereby elevating Greene to the position of Plaintiff’s supervisor." 

Greene in turn subordinated Tresslar to a part-time custody master. He directed her to do her own clericsl work. He directed her to stop custody conferences after an hour and list them for trial. He forbade her from responding to judges who requested her assistance. He fired a clerk who had been assisting Tresslar. 

The changes implemented by Greene got the attention of Judge John Morganelli, who at that time was Administrative Judge of the custody division. According to the filing, "advised President Judge Dally that the Custody Division had descended into chaos under Greene’s leadership. After evaluating the foregoing measures Greene had taken against Plaintiff, President Judge Dally and Judge Morganelli jointly decided to remove Greene's authority over the Custody Office and restore Plaintiff to the former scope of her role" He memorialized his agreement in an email to Tresslar. "Effective immediately, with approval of the [President Judge], you shall be charged with the scheduling of all of the custody conferences and assigning them to either yourself or [the recently-hired part-time custody master]. Court Administration will no longer be involved in the day-to-day operations of the custody division."

Greene responded by filing a complaint with the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts ("AOPC"). This, in turn, caused President Judge Dally to renege and place Greene back in charge. When Judge Morganelli learned of this, he resigned as Administrative Judge of the Custody Division. 

The NorCo Court's loss was the District Attorney's gain. Tresslar currently is handling appeals for District Attorney Steve Baratta. He also hired the clerical employee that Greene fired.

Tresslar has declined comment about her complaint. So has Court Administrator Jermaine Greene. 

Previous stories about this matter:

NorCo Custody Master Resigns, Claims Hostile Work Environment Created by Two Judges and Court Administrator

Who is Lisa Tresslar?

The Importance of Custody Court

Judge Jennifer Sletvold Reported to Judicial Conduct Board For Unfair Treatment of Custody Litigants and Their Lawyer

Why Would I Dare Post About Tresslar's Ouster So Close to Judge Sletvold's Retention Election?

Lisa Tresslar's Value as a Custody Master

.You can read the Complaint yourself here:

Tresslar Complaint by BernieOHare