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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, May 31, 2024

Trump Guilty x 34 on Weakest of Four Criminal Prosecutions

Late yesterday afternoon, as my grandson and I were getting ready to ride the Ironton Rail Trail, a Manhattan jury returned a verdict of guilty against Donald Trump in what I consider the weakest of four criminal prosecutions brought against him. As I said earlier this week, I doubt this verdict will change the minds of anyone who already decided to vote for him. But in my view, an acquittal would have all but ensured his election. He is in a good position to win despite this setback. 

I do think Trump sympathizers have a point when they claim this particular prosecution was politically motivated. Although Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg never specifically promised to prosecute Trump, as some have falsely asserted, he did vow to hold Trump accountable. As a politician who may very well be looking out for his own future, I have little quarrel with those who say his decision to seek an indictment was at least partially political. But it stops there. There is no evidence of any organized or disorganized effort by Biden to go after Trump. Even Biden's Department of Justice has taken a hands-off approach, relying instead on a special prosecutor to look into Trump's federal violations. And Trump's contention that Biden authorized the FBI to use deadly force in the Mar-a-Lago raid is just a blatant lie. They are always authorized to use deadly force, but only when there's a "credible imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm to themselves or others." 

This is what Trump does. He lies. That's why he's been held liable in defamation cases. That's why his business has been held liable for fraud. And now, he's been convicted by a jury of his peers for lying on his business records. 

Had I been a member of that jury, I probably would have voted to acquit. And yes, I do think he has a good shot at getting this conviction reversed. But unlike the MAGA cult and Trump himself, I respect the jury. Our system is built in a way that 12 people can see through a biased judge (I doubt that very much) or a political prosecutor out to make a name for himself. All 12 must agree on guilt, and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So like it or not, on the law that was given to them, a jury did its job. 

Trump knows this. If he really thought the system was rigged, why would he bother to appeal?  He'll appeal because he knows our system of justice, despite many flaws and inequities, is fundamentally fair. 

He's done his best to undermine public confidence in our elections. Don't let this demagogue do iyt to our justice system.   

Thursday, May 30, 2024

NorCo's Human Services Union Rejects Proposed Contract

Last week, I told you that Northampton County administrators sweetened a proposal with human services union workers for a new, three-year contract. I am informed that the bargaining unit has voted to reject this offer. 

The county offered a three-year contract. Year one would be a 2.75% step increase plus cash equal to 4.5% rolled into the base. Year two would be a repeat of year one. In year three, they would get a 4% COLA.

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

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

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

It's apparently not enough. 

No Response in Tresslar's Federal Lawsuit

In early April, former NorCo Custody Master Lisa Tresslar filed a federal lawsuit against both the county and its judges in which she alleges age and sex discrimination as well as retaliatory behavior when she stood up for herself. (You can read those details here). To date, no responsive pleading has been filed. The parties have agreed to an extension until late June. 

PoliticsPa Lists Wild As one of Four Vulnerable Congrssional Incumbents in Pa

PoliticsPa lists four Pa. Congressional incumbents as vulnerable in their re-election bids. They include Matt Cartwright (Pa.-8), Susan Wild (Pa.-7), Chris Deluzio (Pa.-18) and Scott Perry (Pa.-10). All but Perry, a MAGA hardliner, are Democrats. 

Though Wild has a cash advantage over challenger Ryan Mackenzie, the margin of victory by which she has won in the last three elections has decreased. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Pintabone Wants Easton To Fine Candidates Who Fail to Remove Signs From Public Property After Election

At Easton's May 22 City Council meeting, member Frank Pintabone advised he will soon propose legislation who refuse to remove campaign signs from public property after an election. He is suggesting that any candidate who fails to remove these signs within five days after an election be fined $25 per each sign removed by Public Works. 

This ordinance would have no application to political signs on private property.

Guilty Verdict in Trump Case Means Nothing, But Acquittal All But Guarantees His Re-Election

Although former President Donald Trump is currently facing federal and state charges in four different jurisdictions, only the Manhattan case will be concluded before the election. No matter what the outcome might be, I doubt a guilty verdict will change many minds. He will continue to portray himself as the victim of a political prosecution being heard by a Democratic jury and a trial judge out to get him. But if he is acquitted, or even if there is a hung jury, he will certainly claim vindication. Moreover, a "not guilty" verdict will almost certainly win him the Presidential election. 

The Manhattan case, the weakest prosecution against Trump, is like a precarious house of cards. You pull just one card out, and the case comes crashing down. The prosecution must prove that Trump, not his accountant, falsified business records in payments to his lawyer, Michael Cohen, a convicted liar and thief. The government must prove that checks to Cohen for legal services were actually a series of payments reimbursing Cohen for buying off a stripper who allegedly had sex with Trump. What's more, there has to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that these payments were made for the purpose of influencing an election.   

Lawyers often settle disputed on behalf of their clients with monetary payments. That's how most civil cases work, although the lawyer usually pays with is client's money instead of his own. These are legal services. So what is false about noting the reimbursements to Cohen as such? 

Assuming that these really are falsified records, there is scant evidence that directly ties Trump himself to the falsification. I'm unaware of any evidence from sources outside of an unbelievable liar and thief that directly ties Trump to this notation on the checks paying Cohen.  

Finally, there was evidence from the prosecution that Trump tried very hard to keep this story away from his wife, even to the point of hiding newspapers she might read. 

Though I detest Trump and believe he is a threat to our democratic form of government, I have grave doubts about the merits of the case against him in Manhattan. My opinion might be different if I sat through the trial. But based on what limited information I have, I myself have a reasonable doubt about his guilt. 

The strongest case against Trump is the one premised on his obstruction of federal attempts to retrieve classified documents. But that is years away, if ever. 

Whatever the verdict might be in Manhattan, I see no downside for Trump. If he loses, he can claim he was set up. If he wins, he will be the next President. 

That is why this case should never have been brought. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Twilight Criterium Proves Easton Becoming a Destination Town

The start and finish line on Northampton Street, just below 
the circle, packed with enthusiasts. 

Easton is one of many river towns that dot both sides of the Delaware. According to the New York Times, it is undergoing a transformation as a "refuge" for double-platers from NY and NJ escaping higher home prices and taxes. So is the entire Lehigh Valley and that's no reason for celebration because they drive up prices and taxes here. But there's something more going on in what was once called Fishtown. I was there for Saturday night's packed Twilight Criterium, a series of events throughout the afternoon and evening eclipsed by a criterium for professional male and female cyclists. The place was packed, not just with cycling fans like myself, but with people just out to enjoy a pleasant evening. There was high energy and lots of smiles, especially since the booze was flowing freely. Moreover, the shops and restaurants along Northampton and Third Streets might actually be nicer than those you'll find at Lambertville or New Hope, and with a lot less snobbery than you'll find at other high-end locations. Easton has arrived. 

What the hell is a criterium, you might ask. Most cycling races are for long distances on roads from one city to another, usually lasting for several days. The Giro d'Italia, for example, was a 19-stage race on  roads, cobblestones, mountains and gravel. Fans along the route get to see the riders once as they go by in a blur. In contrast, a crit is a short race along city streets with numerous turns and multiple laps. Fans can see the riders every time they lap the course. 

Though the crits were the main event, the day was packed with events for everyone. There was a free fun ride along the course, a foot race for runners with cash prizes and even a wheelie competition 

US Crit Champion Coryn Labecki

The winner of the Women's Pro Criterium, EF Education - Cannondale's Coryn Labecki, had just won the USA National Crit in West Virginia. In her two decades of racing (she started at age 11), she has garnered 74 national titles on the road, time trials or at crits. She may be only 4'11' but is a cycling heavyweight. She would go on to win the Tour of Somerville yesterday. 

Unfortunately, I had to leave before the men's race, which started with some rain. If you were there, feel free to share what you thought. 

Monday, May 27, 2024

Memorial Day: Remember the Young Dead Soldiers

We're a strange bunch. We look forward to Memorial Day as an extra day off from work, a time for picnics and the start of summer. Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted, "Enjoy the long weekend!" Before you bast away at her, she is far from alone. We say "Happy Memorial Day" to each other from the Jersey shore. Few of us take the time to think of, to say nothing of honoring, those who have offered their lives for a freedom we take for granted.

It's always been that way. Even during the Revolutionary War, which started with the Boston Massacre, there was little public regard for those who put themselves in harm's way and lost their lives.

“Good God, are the Americans all asleep and tamely giving up their Liberties?” asked Benedict Arnold, who ultimately sold out himself in bitterness as much as greed.

The very first American to give his life in the cause of liberty was Crispus Attucks. His father was an African-American slave. His mother was a Natick, who were called the "Praying Indians." Little is known about Crispus. Unfortunately, many have followed him. Their lives are summed up in the immortal words of Archibald MacLeish.

The young dead soldiers do not speak.

Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?

They have a silence that speaks for them at night
and when the clock counts.

They say: We were young. We have died.
Remember us.

They say: We have done what we could
but until it is finished it is not done.

They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave.

They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours,
they will mean what you make them.

They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this.

We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.

First published Memorial Day, 2016

Blogger's Addition: I am also touched by the elegant prose that Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered to the families of soldiers who died fighting fascism and genocide during WWII. Each received a certificate that includes these stirring words: "He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives - in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men."

Friday, May 24, 2024

Taiba Sultana Is Cause of Yet Another Chaotic Easton City Council Meeting

She's done it again. Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana managed to create chaos at Wednesday night's meeting. This is because she has a habit of springing items on City Council members with no advance notice. Like when she proposed a $100,000 emergency relief fund without explaining what constitutes an emergency or where the money was coming from. Or when she spung a highly controversial Gaza cease-fire resolution at the last minute. Items to be considered at a meeting must be submitted the City Clerk no later than the Thursday prior to a meeting, but Sultana appears to be incapable of following that directive. At the same time, she has alienated fellow Council members at meetings with remarks like "They [Council] think the black and brown community is criminal and dangerous ... ."

On Wednesday, it was over a natter that should have been completely innocuous. May is American Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and she decided it would be a nice gesture to honor a number of Asian small businesses. No argument there. She invited a number of them to attend Wednesday night's City Council meeting. She also prepared certificates of appreciation that she apparently found on Google. For some reason, she inserted Administrator Luis Campos' name on the award, although he is part of the Executive branch. She never let anyone on Council know what she was doing, nor did she circulate her proposed citations to other Council members. They never saw them. Nor did Campos, who apparently was the bestower of this honor. 

When she mentioned her intent to bestow these certificates, Mayor Sal Panto asked if they were coming from her or City Council. "Council," she replied. 

Then, before they could do anything, like vote on it, she was off the dais and calling out names. Three businesses were there. When Campos saw his name on the certificates, he told Sultana he did not know anything about it. Sultana responded, "Lewis, we'll talk later."

At least she did not forge his signature, like someone who forged State Senator Lisa Boscola's signature on a Sultana's nomination petition for the state house. That petition was circulated by her husband.  

Easton City Council applauded the recipients of these awards, but at the end of the meeting, Sultana was taken to task. She said Council should be tanking these small businesses instead of attacking her. Council member Frank Pintabone then did just that. He thanked the small businesses, but added, "Unfortunately, none of us had any idea what award you were getting or for what. You didn't get an award today from City Council. You got one that Councilwoman Taiba Sultana made up and she put the Administrator's [name] on it without his knowledge." He concluded that they deserve a legitimate city certificate with the city seal. 

An indignant Sultana was shouting, as usual, and interrupting everyone in the middle of sentences. Council member Crystal Rose tried to explain that the certificates were never provided to Council members in advance of the meeting, but Sultana continually talked over her. Eventually, all I heard from Rose was the word "Ridiculous!"

Sultana then noted that she is the first Asian American member of City Council and implied at points that others may not care about this. She even told a recipient, "We talked about this." She later said, "They are recognized by me and nobody - if they want to recognize or not - but they're definitely recognized by me. And you know, as the first elected Asian American - ..."

At this point, Mayor Sal Panto had enough. "Oh, you know what? I'm tired of hearing that. That is so stupid. I'm the first Italian Mayor. Does that make me any better than you? No. Cheezit crackers, we're all Americans." 

Then Ken Brown, who has valiantly tried to play the role of peacemaker, decided he had enough as well. "Ms. Sultana, I've served this City for almost 27 years in various capacities, and in all of my years, I've not ever dealt with what I've dealt with over the last two years. It's to the point right now where I, Ken Brown, have no more confidence in you."

"Me neither," responded Sultana. 

Easton's Twilight Criterium This Saturday

Tomorrow, Easton will host its 4th annual Twilight Criterium, a lapped bicycle race on a closed circuit set in cities. Easton's race will be on a 0.71 mile course in the downtown with six turn.  

There are actually 11 different events, starting with a community ride (free) at 1:15 pm and ending with a race for the pros at 7:20 pm (women) (25-miles) and 8:40 pm (men) (35-miles).   

I had hoped to participate in the community ride, but I had cataract surgery on Tuesday and am unable to ride outdoors for a week. (I may do it anyway). 

I am looking forward to watching the pros in action. At Wednesday's City Council meeting, Mayor Sal Panto said it's "like the Grand Prix, but on bicycles." 

Wild Attacks Johnson Visit For Wrong Reason

US House Speaker Mike Johnson was in the Lehigh Valley this week to promote Republican nominee Ryan Mackenzie's quest for the Pa. 7th Congressional seat currently held by Democrat Susan Wild. One of his stops was at Cetronia Ambulance Corps, where Johnson and Mackenzie provided EMS staff with coffee and doughnuts in honor of EMS week. Wild apparently slammed the duo for using Cetronia as a prop “touting their supposed ‘support’ of emergency services.” 

Mackenzie has issued a news release that fires back at Wild. “Susan Wild continues her disturbing pattern of making offensive statements. This time she chose to disparage the son of a first responder - who was injured in the line of duty - for visiting and thanking EMS professionals for their work during National EMS Week. She should be ashamed of the offensive comments put out by her campaign, and she should immediately retract her statement and apologize.”

As far as I'm concerned, the Johnson visit does more damage than good. He is a hardline MAGA who just paid fealty to Trump at Mar-a-Lago and outside a Manhattan courtroom. He is currently pushing a bill that requires, not just ID, but proof of citizenship at the polls. Wild could have pointed that out instead of attacking the son of an EMS professional. 

Moreover, Mackenzie authored a bill creating the Keystone First Responder Award to honor those who are injured or killed in the line of duty. He also authored a bill to ease the tax burden on fire departments going through a merger. 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

NorCo Sweetens Contract Offer to Human Services Union

Northampton County and SEIU Local 688 are currently negotiating a contract for union employees in Human Services. 

In April, the "best and final offer" the county made to SEIU human services workers was a three-year contract. Year one would be a 2.75% step increase plus cash equal to 4.5% rolled into the base. Year two would be l be a repeat of year one. In year three, they would get a 4% COLA.

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

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

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

Bethlehem Police Officers "Very Angry" About Loss of Trust

The arrest of a former Bethlehem police officer for sexually assaulting a 14v year-old student was addressed at Tuesday night's City Council meeting by Mayor Willie Reynolds, Police Chief Michell Kott and Council members. "Any behavior that undermines public trust or violates the law will be swiftly and decisively addressed," said Chief Kott in brief remarks. She added that the actions of one individual "do not reflect the values or the professionalism of our department."

Mayor Willie Reynolds told City Council that he has visited the police department during roll calls and has spoken to several officers. "As you can imagine, there is a very, very, very, very high degree of anger within our police department." He noted that Bethlehem officers pride themselves on a positive relationship with the community, which has obviously been damaged.  He said he would be reviewing internal procedures for improvements and thanked DA Steve Baratta for his assistance, vowing to work with him on any changes that need to be made.  

Council member Colleen Laird asked whether a replacement school resource officer has been selected. Chief Kott said someone will be trained over the summer. She also asked whether support has been offered to the school community. Chief Kott said the school district is offering every and any support it can. Mayor Reynolds added that counselors are available. 

Water, Water Everywhere, and a Not a Drop to Drink

A disabled Bethlehem resident who gets everywhere he needs to go on foot addressed City Council Tuesday night on the topic of water access. This should be quite important in a city that is trying very hard to be both pedestrian and bicycle friendly. We need it to survive, especially when temperatures climb. 

This resident told City Council that if he enters a business to ask for a cup of water, they often will provide it. But he observed that some places will tell him to leave. He added that this is unlike Arizona, where he claimed incorrectly that it is illegal to deny someone a cup of water. His main complaint, however, is that many of Bethlehem's water fountains are inoperable. He asked if the City could do something. 

"Water access to me is just a basic right," observed Council member Rachel Leone. She said she is working with Public Works Director Michale Alkhal to restore service in the parks. 

Alkhal stated the City has 19 water fountains, of which only 5 or 6 actually work. He said the others have fallen into disrepair over the years. He added there is little demand for them, they are difficult and expensive to maintain and are often vandalized.  "We've been revisiting that," he acknowledged. 

Mayor Willie Reynolds said "it's a completely legitimate thing for us to look at." He indicated a meter has been installed at one of the working fountains so the City can determine actual demand. He said the City would never turn anyone away who requests water. 

"This isn't something I really honestly gave a ton of thought to, said Council President Michael Colon. 

It would be preferable to plastic bottles in a City with a climate action plan. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Hyman: Dixie Cup Plan "Has Disaster Written All Over It"

At last week's Northampton County Council meeting, there was a full-throated push for a substantial tax break known as a TIF at Wilson Borough's long-vacant Dixie Cup factory. and the plan to convert into 405 high-end apartments ($1,900 - $2,900). Those rentals are well beyond the means of most people who live here. This apartment complex will be marketed to double-platers (people from NJ and NY), who in turn will continue to drive up the cost of living here as we morph into another bedroom community for Gotham. These proponents of a public handout even included Executive Lamont McClure, no doubt because the developer, about whom I've previously raised a number of red flags, is willing to give the county $1 million for affordable housing. As nice as that might be for some county projects, it will exacerbate our affordable. Moreover, there is no real need to grant a TIF because the private equity firms funding this deal have never said it must happen. Finally, the argument that this would never be otherwise developed is simply false. 

In response to stories I've written about this project, I received an email from Allentown developer Nat Hyman.  He's rich. I'm poor. He'll deny this, but we are friends. The one thing we have in common is that everyone hates us.

I asked Hyman if I could publish his email, and he has agreed. I do expect the TIF to be adopted overwhelmingly, and by all three taxing bodies (borough, school district and county). I'll agree there are arguments to support it and have previously noted them. But Hyman's arguments against the TIF make sense to me. He was interested in buying the site and without any tax incentives. 

I read with great interest your articles last week regarding the proposed Dixie factory adaptive reuse and the associated comments. I want to congratulate you on great investigative reporting to uncover so many red flags about this “developer” and finding that he has told so many untruths, most critical of which is that he has never developed any building….ever!

My company has developed dozens of buildings similar to Dixie. In all cases we have created affordable housing in those buildings. In all cases we have not accepted any TIF, LERTA , historic tax credit or any other government hand out.  If we do not need the incentives to construct affordable housing, you are 100% correct when you wrote that it is absolutely not necessary to grant such a subsidy for luxury housing. In fact, it seems to me that it is an unconscionable waste of taxpayer money to give that to this developer for this project.

As a basis of comparison, in Northampton County we recently finished an 89 apartment development, purchased the Northampton Brewery for which we have received approval for 70 units and , just one mile from Dixie, purchased a 102,000 sf building with the plan to convert it to 120 apartments. All affordable housing. All with no government incentive or tax relief.

The $1,000,000 they are contributing to the affordable housing fund is de minimis when compared to the money they are receiving from the tax payers in the form of a 20 year TIF. In essence, they will give Lamont McClure $1 in exchange for the taxpayers’ $100.

For the record, I did try to buy the Dixie factory but was unable to make a deal with the seller. If I had bought it, I would have built affordable housing with no tax breaks or  government incentives.

Having undertaken many of these adaptive reuse projects, I can tell you that they are a specialized type of development and difficult. Accordingly, it would be nothing short of miraculous for someone who has never built anything to be successful with a project of this scope and size. A 640,000 sf building is not where you cut your teeth.  It is far more likely that this building will still be sitting there blighted five years from now.

After all that you have uncovered about this guy (ex: he lied on his website, claimed to have developed a project which was actually never done, lied about the number and locations of his offices, has zero development experience, lied about his partners, etc.) it is absolutely mind boggling to me that Lamont McClure, and council members, would still support this TIF! This is mismanagement 101. In business school we used the case method of study.  I had a professor who constantly reminded us that “as circumstances change in any case, so must your evaluation and thinking. Business is fluid, not static.” I know you’ve written that this TIF is a done deal. If that is true, it is purely obstinance and stupidity. And for those who think this is the best chance they have to get this property developed, they are dead wrong. What they are actually doing is the opposite, ensuring that this blighted mess will sit there in perpetuity as this guy tries to finance against the TIF and get this thing developed. Make no mistake, if they give this TIF, this blighted building will be sitting there 5 years from now, exactly as it is today.

Finally, the developer himself has said that they will spend $150,000,000 on building 405 apartments. That is $370,000 per apartment! Given where rates are today, it is obvious that the project is not viable at the rents he claims he will be charging. The debt service alone will be  $2,913 per unit per month. That does not include ANY of the myriad other expenses they will incur…..insurance, utilities, maintenance, real estate tax, etc and making a profit. They will need to charge $5,000 plus a month in rent for each apartment to make this project financially viable…..which they will never get in this market. They are trying to bring New York rents to Lehigh Valley economics.

The fact that McClure and council members did not take the minimal amount of time to investigate this developer and/or to review the finances of the proposed development before supporting the TIF, is amatuerish, sloppy and lazy. But if they still continue moving forward with granting it now that they know all of this, it is nothing short of malfeasance.

Having purchased a building one mile away, I really hope Dixie does get developed. A rising tide lifts all boats and it will improve the area in which I am invested. But it needs to be done by a competent, experienced developer (and there are several, not just me) with a viable plan. This has disaster written all over it.

Wishing you the best of luck on your cataract surgery.

Nat Hyman

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Is Pa Turning Red?

That's what Charles McElwee, founding editor of Real Clear Pennsylvania, has argued in a recent roundtable. ""Places like Southwestern PA, Westmoreland County, was Democratic now it is Republican. Luzerne County is just about 2,000 away from being a Republican-majority county in Northeastern PA. It's the parties that have changed, not so much the voters."

Based on comments I hear from fellow seniors and bus passengers, I think things are trending that way. These are people who I would expect to vote Democratic, but they are disenchanted by the party that actually tries to help them. 

(Blogger's Note: I am under the knife today, so if you don't see your comment immediately, it/s because I'm a bit more groggy than usual.)

NorCo Civil Division to Accept Electronic Filing

At the May 16 meeting of Northampton County Council, Executive Lamont McClure announced that the county's civil division is accepting e-filings for most matters.  "Change comes slowly to Northampton County, and we are dragging it into the 21st century," said McClure. This system is available 24/7, but matters will be processed during regular business hours. Northampton County's Recorder of Deeds has already been accepting electronic recording for several years. 

McClure stated one of his goals is to go paperless by 2025. 

In addition to efiling, the county's Emergency Management has joined the Next Gen 911 network. All communications from and to the county's 911 will also appear in real time with Pennsylvania Emergency Management. A secure fiber network replaces state infrastructure from the '70s.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Memorial Day Events Around NorCo

From Northampton County's Veteran Affairs: The Northampton County Veterans Affairs office encourages residents to remember the importance of Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a time for remembering and honoring those who have died in our nation's wars and is a reminder to honor, respect, and remember the men and women who have served this incredible country and made the ultimate sacrifice. Below are ways the community can keep the memory of our fallen military service members alive.


The Northampton County Veterans Affairs office encourages residents to reflect on the significance of Memorial Day. It's a moment dedicated to honoring the memory of those who have fallen in service to our nation, reminding us to pay tribute, show respect, and cherish the bravery of the men and women who have selflessly served our country and made the ultimate sacrifice. Here are some meaningful ways for the community to ensure the enduring memory of our fallen military heroes.




  • The Pen Argyl Area High School Memorial Day Assembly will occur at Alumni Stadium on Friday, May 24, 2024, from 8:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.. The student body will gather outside for the student-run assembly, where speakers will talk about the importance of Memorial Day and the history behind it. In coordination with the military branches, many traditions and services will be held throughout the assembly to honor fallen soldiers. The event will include a flag-folding ceremony, complete with the playing of taps.


  • On Saturday, May 25, the American Legion Brown & Lynch Post No 9, in Palmer Township, will conduct Memorial Day ceremonies at 9:00 a.m. at the Veterans' section of the Northampton Memorial Shrine Cemetery, 3051 Green Pond Road, Easton, PA.


  • Williams Township Memorial Day Remembrance Ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 26, at 6:00 p.m., at the Williams Township Municipal Building, 655 Cider Press Road, to honor fallen heroes, living veterans, and service persons on active duty.


  • Monday, May 27, the American Legion Post #9 Honor Guard will render prayers and honors at 9:00 a.m. at the Historic Easton Cemetery at the Grand Army of the Republic plot at the flag pole and cannon area.


  • Bangor Borough will host a Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday, May 27, from 10 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at St John's Cemetery.


  • The Easton Memorial Day Parade will start at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, May 27, from Sixth and Northampton Streets through Centre Square to the Northampton Street free Bridge. Ceremonies will continue on the bridge, with the playing of the National Anthem, the Brown & Lynch Post #9 firing a volley from the south side of the bridge, the sounding of taps, and the tossing of the Memorial Day wreath onto the waters of the Delaware River. The public will not be allowed on the bridge.


  • For the 14th year, the SteelStacks Campus will hold the annual Memorial Day Commemoration, transforming the campus into a living memorial honoring our hometown heroes from Saturday, May 25, until Sunday, July 14. ArtsQuest will honor men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country in a community event on Monday, May 27, at 3:00 p.m. The event will feature speaker Northampton County Executive Lamont G. McClure at the Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks stage with "A Time to Remember" in honor of the Lehigh Valley's fallen soldiers from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.


  • The Historic Fairview Cemetery in Northampton County invites the community to join their Memorial Day observances. The event will take place on Monday, May 27, 2024, at 3:00 p.m. The two-hour event includes the formal rededication of the newly restored veteran burial areas, American Legion Section 1 and Section 2, and the Monument to the Unknown Dead. The ceremony will be held on the east side of the cemetery. Afterward, there will be a small reception. The Dukes of Albuquerque Band will play military music during the event. Additionally, Warren Brock Orleans American Legion Post 69 will hold a traditional Memorial Day service at the Fairview Cemetery Pavilion on the same day, starting promptly at 11:00 a.m.

Goose 1, Cyclists 0

Yesterday started out nicely enough, but it nearly ended in disaster. It was one of those days where anything that can go wrong, does. Let me tell you how it went down. 

As I believe I've mentioned a few thousand times, I'm a highly conditioned, well-trained athlete. My day began as it usually does, with a routine that involves stretching and core work for at least three minutes. Then I did my warm-up routine by walking a 132-pound English black lab for four miles. I walk him between three and five miles a day but he's actually gaining weight. His owners tell me it's all muscle. Once that was done, it was time for a bike ride, and my grandson told me he was available. 

My neighbors laugh when I tell them I have four bikes, but it's a good thing that I do. 

Plan A was to ride Ironton Rail Trail, the perfect one-hour workout. My grandson wanted to ride the USPS road bike (it's the same model Lance Armstrong rode to win the Tour de France, but I modified it to replace the drop bar with a flat bar). I started to get that bike ready but managed to break the Presta valve on the rear tire when filling it with air. We then went to Plan B.

Plan B was to ride the Ironton Trail with a Fuji cross bike. That's like a road bike, but it has wider tires and the geometry is a little more relaxed. As I rolled that out to my car, I noticed that the rear tire on that one was flat. Since it takes me three hours to change a flat on a rear tire, we decided on Plan C.

Plan C was to ride along the D&L trail between Allentown and Easton. I could use my Bianchi, a very sturdy hybrid that has become much faster than it was when I first rode it three years ago. My grandson would use his Cannondale Trail 5, a beautiful and very fast mountain bike with 29" wheels. But there was a problem, there, too. Last Thursday, we rode in the rain, and my grandson went down twice on wooden bridges at Ironton. As I took that bike to the car, I noticed that the handlebars were off center. Way off center. I pulled out my multitool, and believe it or not, I think I fixed it. 

It was still daylight when we made it to the D&L and started our ride. Three miles in, I realized I had left my phone in an unlocked car. Given that so many things had already gone wrong, I decided to go back and get it. Fortunately, it was still there. 

We continued our journey, and I must say the D&L was in excellent shape. We were cruising along at 13 mph, when suddenly, out of nowhere, we were confronted by Aviary Adversaries of the worst kind. Canada geese. In addition to the shit bombs they drop everywhere, they have goslings this time of year, and are very protective of their young.  

I was confronted by two adult geese who were right in the middle of the bike path, just daring us to pass them. I went as far to the left as I could, but it was not far enough to satisfy this foul fowl. He flew right at me. He nipped at my leg but missed. My grandson, who was behind me, was less fortunate. 

As I went to my left, he went to his right. This gregarious goose and his pissed partner were both quite incensed that I slipped by and took it out on him. They both came at him at once. As a former high school and college basketball player, my grandson has been fouled many times, but never by a fowl. He slid off his Trail 5 and down the bank of a very fetid canal. He managed to catch a root or would have gone in to the deep. 

The Cannondale was not so lucky. It went in partially, but we fished it out. Aside from mossy wheels, it was fine. 

We finished the rest of our ride rather uneventfully and had dinner before heading home. When I arrived back in Nazareth, I realized that I had failed to clamp down the Cannondale in my car. Thankfully, I also had it strapped so there was no issue. 

Today should be better. 

Friday, May 17, 2024

NorCo Council Needs To Stay In Its Wheelhouse

In recent weeks, well-meaning if rowdy college students and pro-Palestinian residents have invaded the city councils of Bethlehem, Easton and Allentown to demand a stop to the conflagration in Gaza. They've been egged on by Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana, but most other local elected officials have rightly recognized that foreign policy is well outside their wheelhouses. They deal with potholes and parking, bridges and administering elections, not the tragedy of war. While Northampton County Council has yet to demand a free Palestine, members are using their elected office to advance agendas that have nothing to do with county government. Lat night, Council member Kelly Keegan introduced a resolution on the divisive topic of abortion. The resilution declares "that the County of Northampton, Pennsylvania declares itself a Right-To-Choose Sanctuary County, recognizing that anyone should have a right to abortion, on-demand, and without question."

In Easton, Council member Crystal Rose told pro-Palestinians, "[W]e want to get back to city business and I think that if we keep bringing this up, we're getting away from the things that the people elected us to do here. I have had an overwhelming amount of people come up to me and email me and ... most of them have been angered that we are focusing on issues that don't involve Easton." Her views sum up the opinions of most local elected officials. They are elected to deal with issues like affordable housing. Easton City Council member Frank Pintabone states residents "did not elect me to represent them on international business. They elected me to represent them in City of Easton business."

County Council member Kelly Keegan has been elected in the Easton district to represent its citizenry on county issues, not hot button topics like abortion or declaring that the county is a sanctuary for this medical procedure. 

I'd love fighting to end everywhere. I believe a woman should be able to choose what she does with her pregnancy without interference. But these are not county issues. 

Keegan's toothless resolution has been tabled for now, but only because Lori Vargo Heffner is uncomfortable with calling NorCo a sanctuary. It will no doubt be brought up again at the next meeting for a vote. All this does is open a Pandora's box for a host of other issues that have nothing to do with county government. 

Dixie Cup Developers Offer Full Throated Defense of Project

On Friday and Monday, I questioned the credibility of Skyline Investment Group., the private equity firm that plans to redevelop the long vacant factory into 405 fashionable apartments beyond the reach of most Lehigh Valley residents. I did so because Skyline wants a 20-year tax incentive known as a TIF. Under this program, it could be 20 years or longer before any taxing authority sees increased tax revenue. But it will be required to provide the services that 405 residential units will undeniably demand. In response to thos criticism, the wagons have circled. 

At last night's County Council meeting, several people involved in the project once again stressed the importance of the project. Skyline principal Bill Bartee, whose website is an exercise in puffery rivalling Donald Trump, was there in the flesh. So was Claudia Robinson, although this time she made sure to make clear she is a consultant. David Amirian, a real estate developer who said he's a "man of faith," identified himself as involved in the project. Finally, Executive Lamont McClure also waxed on about the importance of this project, stating that the giant Dixie Cup will be a symbol for other communities to emulate. He also issued a news release advocating the project.

I'll agree there are numerous arguments supporting a tax break. I expect it to pass easily. But Bill Bartee's website for Skyline Investment Group.is without question blatantly dishonest. 

Thursday, May 16, 2024

McClure Administration Makes Case to Borrow $60 Million For New Garage and Office Building at NorCo Courthouse Campus

At yesterday's Finance Committee meeting of NorCo Council, Executive Lamont McClure made the case for borrowing the money needed for a new garage and office building at the courthouse campus. (Preliminary plans were discussed here). His basic argument is that the county is in a very good financial position to assume more debt.

McClure stated that there have been no tax increases in any of the past six budgets presented, including a tax cut in 2022. During that time, the size of county government has actually decreased 31% ($121 million). Moreover, during these six years, outside auditors have annually given the county a clean bill of financial health. 

He also addresses the claim that he is only able to do these things by cutting into the county's fund balance and reducing it until a massive tax hike is necessary. That's just untrue, he observed. He told Council that the average fund balance over the past six years has been $48 million.  He predicts it will be $50 million this year. 

Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron followed McClure. He explained that municipal debt is financed through Non-Taxable Bonds sold on the secondary market. "Acquiring debt to construct buildings and infrastructure for government services effectively reduces the burden on today's taxpayers, distributing payments over the useful life of the facility so that those benefiting from it contribute to debt service payments."

According to Barron. most municipalities consider $1,600 to $2,000 per person as a reasonable debt load. If the county assumes new debt to finance the garage and office building, the burden per taxpayer would be $440.73, which is significantly below the average. 

Barron also told County Council that the total assessed value of taxable county property is over $10 billion. The debt burden of financing a garage and office building would be 1.4% of the county’s assessed value. 

He also discussed the $100 million in annual revenue generated by the county. While many municipalities allocate between 40% and 50% of their revenue to debt service, Northampton County's allocation is notably lower at 16.6%. "In summary, with over a billion dollars of borrowing capacity, we currently utilize only 8.2% of that capacity. The new proposal would bring us to 12%. These factors contribute to Northampton County's Aa1 rating from Moody's and its status as an excellent credit risk, attributed to our timely payments, robust revenue, prudent debt management, and conservative approach." 

Barron then introduced Scott Shearer from PFM, who discussed the options for borrowing $60 million in new debt. He said current rates on bond debt are about 2.6%, below historical averages. Moreover, the county can invest this borrowed money with a 4% return rate until the money is needed. He added that demand is high for tax exempt bonds from highly rated entities like the county. 

There are two ways to re-pay a $60 million bond. The first is through level payments over 20 years, similar to a typical mortgage. The second is through wrap around payments in which the amounts increase over time. 

Shearer told Council that borrowing $60 million should have no adverse impact on the county's bond rating. 

$500,000 Bail Set For Bethlehem Cop Accused of Seducing 14 YO Girl and Taking Upskirt Photo of Middle School Student

Bethlehem police officer Costas Alestas is behind bars. After his arrest yesterday for numerous alleged sexual encounters with a 14 yo East Hills Middle School girl, as well as an upskirt video he shot of another female student, he was preliminarily arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Vivian Zumas. She set bail at $500,000, and Alestas is now off the street.

The criminal complaint, including a very detailed affidavit of probable cause, can be seen below. It is actually somewhat shocking to read. NorCo DA Steve Baratta announced the charges yesterday at a news conference inside Bethlehem's City Hall. I unfortunately was unavailable. 

Yesterday, I received an anonymous comment hurling some serious accusations against other Bethlehem police officers. If you'd like me to publish them, you are going to have to tell me who you are and the basis for your invective. Most cops are decent and honorable people. Unfortunately, an incident like this tarnishes them all. 

Alestas Criminal Complaint by bernieohareiii on Scribd

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Municipal Lien Filed Against Easton City Council Member Taiba Sultana

Her list of transgressions continues to grow. Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana has the distinction of being the only Council member who was charged with code violations at her own home. She was placed on ARD after being accused in the domestic assault of her adult son. She has accused Easton City Council members and Mayor Sal Panto of both racism and misogyny while simultaneously blasting older people. Her own adult daughter has been accused of corrupting the morals of minors after she and two of her minor siblings were nabbed by state police in the process of damaging anti-Sultana campaign signs. A judgment has been entered against her in a dispute with a landlord. Her car was booted for failure to pay parking tickets. And now, a $922 municipal lien has been filed against her for failure to pay real estate taxes on her Vista Drive property. 

These taxes are what pay her salary. 

Allentown Mural Arts, Cedar Crest College, Transform Utility Boxes Into Art

Can Allentown's electric utility boxes be transformed into works of art? Shocking, you might say, but that's exactly what's happening. Allentown Mural Arts has teamed up with Cedar Crest College Arts students to create public art out of Allentown's nondescript and ubiquitous utility boxes.

According to Jane Heft, Director of Allentown Mural Arts, this program is intended to "bring color and creativity to otherwise dull and utilitarian structures in the heart of Allentown." This project started May 8 on Hamilton Street and will continue throughout the summer. 

City Center Group and Fast Signs of Allentown have contributed to make this possible. 

Pen Argyl Resident Arrested For Eight Burglaries Late Last Year

I was unable to attend a news conference conducted yesterday by NorCo DA Steve Baratta because I'm getting a series of goofy tests done in advance of an eye operation I'll be getting next week. His office was kind enough to forward a news release announcing the arrest of Pen Argyl resident Shane Lake, who's been accused in a string of eight burglaries last year. I thought I'd share it with you. 

NorCo DA: Pen Argyl Resident Accused in String of Eight Burglaries by bernieohareiii on Scribd

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

NorCo DA: East Hills Middle School SRO Being Charged With Sexual Offenses

Northampton County DA Steve Baratta will be conducted a news conference tomorrow "at 2pm in the rotunda at Bethlehem City Hall. Costas Alestas, a school resource officer at East Hills Middle School, [is] being charged with Statutory Sexual Assault, Institutional Sexual Assault, Aggravated Indecent Assault, Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse, Criminal Use of a Communications Facility, and Invasion of Privacy."

From what I've been told, a teacher has been either suspended or placed on leave as well. It's unclear whether those matters are related.

Officer Alestas had been a Big Brother. The Bethlehem Police Department, on its Facebook page stated in 2017 that he was "mentoring" students at Broughal Middle School. "The officers meet with their little brothers/sisters once a week and play sports, help with schoolwork, read or just chat about things going on in their lives." 

I realize Alestas is presumed innocent, but this is a bad look for Bethlehem's Police Department, especially during law enforcement week. 

The Argument For the Dixie Cup TIF

Over the past few days, I've been hammering away at the special tax break known as a TIF at the long-vacant Dixie Cup factory in Wilson Borough. I philosophically oppose most tax breaks but usually have no problem when it's given to develop a blighted urban property or a brownfield. The Dixie Cup is certainly a blighted urban property, but I oppose a tax break there for three reasons: (1) I believe it will exacerbate, not alleviate, our housing crisis; (2) I have no confidence in the private equity developer; and (3) It subverts natural revenue growth. TIF Having said this, I expect the TIF to be granted by the borough, school district and county. And no, it has nothing to do with campaign contributions to anyone. There are none. The simple reality is that reasonable people of good will can look at the same facts and have different opinions.

Yesterday, I received an anonymous letter (not an email, but an actual letter) endorsing the Dixie Cup project. Although I know who the author is, I'll honor his anonymity. Here's what he said: "The TIF is a good thing for certain type properties, like the Dixie Cup property which has sat vacant for too many years. Waiting another 20 years to get the increase in taxes is not a long time. The government bodies lose nothing because without the development there will be no increase in tax base. It's obvious this building will sit forever if no government incentives, like the TIF, are involved."

In addition to this anonymous letter, I also received a "Redevelopment Project Status Report" concerning the project, which you can review yourself below. Though Skyline's Brain Bartee leaves a lot to be desired, he has had enough sense to involve over 20 highly qualified consultants. Moreover, before closing on the deal, over $3.5 million has already been invested into this project. 

I also received a message (I'll keep it anonymous) telling me that doing nothing is what exacerbates the affordable housing crisis. "[Y]ou exacerbate the Affordable Housing crisis by not increasing the overall supply of rental housing in The Valley. So, a warehousing use or worse yet no use at all makes things worse by failing to increase the overall supply. In other words, doing nothing or the wrong thing exacerbates the situation. More supply. Lower rents throughout the market as people will stop renting less housing than they can afford"

The justification for the $1 million the county receives for the TIF is that it will fund affordable housing projects in Glendon Borough, Forks Tp and on the Southside of Easton. But, more importantly it is sending a symbolic message that if you're going to build luxury or mid-market rate with County support, you are going to need to find a way to help us defray the costs of the Affordable projects we are working on all over the County.

I remain opposed to a TIF, but there are two sides to every coin. 

Redevelopment Deal Status Report 240220 Dixie Cup by bernieohareiii on Scribd

Monday, May 13, 2024

Dixie Cup: Skyline Addresses Red Flags About Its Credibility

On Friday, I questioned the bona fides of Skyline Investment Group. This private equity firm plans to buy the long vacant Dixie Cup building in Wilson Borough and convert it into 405 apartments. Why this matters is because it seeks a considerable 20-year tax break known as a TIF. Under this program, it can use the increase in property taxes that result from development to finance additional development. The three taxing authorities (county, school district and borough) will see none of it, although Skyline is willing to give the county $1 million for affordable housing projects in Forks Tp, Glendon and Easton. After I published this story, I received a call from Brian Bartee, the founder of Skyline.  He blew smoke up my ass, telling me that this small blog is very influential. At the same time, he threatened me with a defamation lawsuit from the Morgan, Lewis law firm. The purpose of this story is to review each of the red flags I raised on Friday, along with Bartee's response. You can then decide for yourself whether this is a credible developer. 

Red Flag #1. Skyline Investment Group appears to be a knock off of the worldwide Skyline Development Group. That's owned by Zygi Wilf, who also owns the Minnesota Vikings and is an actual developer. I believe using a name so similar to Skyline Development Group is designed to confuse gullible people.  

Bartee's response. - He chose the name because he likes the word Skyline, did the necessary corporate name search and had no desire to fool anyone. 

Red Flag #2Skyline Investment Group's website lists locations in California, Florida, New York, Tennessee and Texas. But with the exception of its New York location, it fails to provide a physical address for any of these other venues. The only contact - and it's the same contact for all five locations - is a cell phone number with a 551 area code (in New Jersey). This kind of misrepresentation is designed to make Skyline look bigger than it actually is. 

Bartee's response. He admits he has no physical presence anywhere except for NYC. He blamed it on COVID. 

Red Flag #3.  The sole physical location that Skyline does list is in New York at 200 Park Avenue, Suite 1700. That's the Metlife Building, and the use of that address is intended to create the impression that Skyline has a prestigious address. But it's a virtual address. 

Bartee's response: He admits he uses a virtual address. He also blames this on COVID. 

Red Flag #4. The portfolio for Skyline lists one project called the Louix. It fails to indicate where it is, what it is or when it was built. There is no description at all. 

Bartee's response. He admits there is no Louix anywhere. Apparently, it is a design prepared by CHASM architecture. 

Red Flag #5. The services offered at Skyline' webpage are a ridiculous array of items from accounts receivable to second mortgages to lines of credit to energy production. This is not development. 

Bartee's response.  Before he went into development, and the Dixie Cup is actually his first development. Bartee provided these services, mostly as a broker. 

Red Flag #6. The webpage lists several firms as "partners" that are actually not partners. For example, CHASM Architecture is listed as a "partner." It is actually an architectural firm that would be employed by a developer.

Bartee's response. CHASM Architecture is his exclusive architect for all his development projects. (He has one). He added that Nathaniel Clark, managing partner at CHASM, is a principal in Skyline Easton, the entity that actually is poised to buy the Dixie Cup. So there is validity to his claim that CHASM is a partner. 

Red Flag #7 The public faces of Skyline at municipal meetings have been Claudia Robinson and Neil Griffin. But get this. Neither is actually employed by Skyline at its make-believe office. Robinson is actually employed at AreaProbe, Inc., a Washington DC real estate advisory firm. She is apparently particularly good at snagging tax credits and is obviously working this deal as a consultant.  I don't know what she may have told other municipal bodies, but she failed to disclose exactly what her employment status is with Skyline, despite a direct question about it from Council member Lori Vargo Heffner. As for Neil Griffin, he is a Project Manager at CHASM.

Bartee's response. He acknowledged that neither Robinson nor Griffin is employed directly by Skyline. He stated that he has 80 people working this project, including the Morgan Lewis lawfirm. They are not employees. When pressed, he said he has 11 direct employees. 

Red Flag #8. On Friday, I confused Bartee with another person by the same name and incorrectly stated he was in sales for the medical care industry. 

Bartee's response. He has never been involved in the health care industry and has devoted his career to real estate. He correctly took me to task for that error on my part. He acknowledged that this is his first actual development. 

Why Dixie Developer Needs NorCo To Take Over Wilson Boro Tract

Last week, Skyline Investment Group representatives appeared at the county's General Purpose Authority.   Wilson Borough owns a small triangular piece shown on the tax map you see above as 1C-1. It is 0.35 acres located along the eastern side of 25th Street and is actually the beginning of a bike path that extends from the Palmer Bike path and hooks up with the Tatamy Trail. Skyline wants to take it over and move the giant Dixie Cup that currently sits on top of the factory to this triangle. But Skyline wants this deal to go through the county. It wants the Borough to convey to the county or General Purpose Authority, then have the county or General Purpose Authority convey to Skyline.


Under the Borough Code, Wilson Borough can convey land to another municipality or municipal authority. But if it desires to convey to a private party, it must do so by auction. 

This provision in the Borough Code is obviously intended to prevent sweetheart deals between a municipality and for-profit developers. But isn't that exactly what is happening? 

Friday, May 10, 2024

UPDATED: Dixie Cup's Questionable Developer Will Exacerbate Affordable Housing Crisis

In March, Northampton County Council approved a nonbinding resolution aimed at capping increasing lot fees charged by the private equity firms that are gobbling up manufactured home developments throughout the country. But at the same time, Northampton County is poised to give a significant tax break for Skyline Investment Group. This private equity firm plans to buy the long vacant Dixie Cup building in Wilson Borough and convert it into 405 apartments. Monthly rentals for single bedroom apartments will be $1,900, which is well above what City Center charges ($1,200) for luxury apartments at the Strata. It's nearly twice what most commercial landlords charge in the Lehigh Valley. Though Skyline is willing to throw a $1 million bone to the three taxing districts for affordable housing elsewhere, all three taxing authorities will have to wait 20 years before they see increased revenue to help their bottom lines. While waiting, ordinary taxpayers will have to pick up the tab for the increased services that the school district, borough and county will have to provide for double-platers who move here from New Jersey and NYC. These transplants will be among the few who can afford these rents. Most of us would agree that tax breaks for warehouse developers should be spurned. Similarly, we should discourage private equity firms like Skyline that exacerbate the affordable housing crisis. They've already taken over the trailer parks and now have their sights set on larger apartment complexes throughout the country. While they certainly have the right to invest in apartment buildings and charge exorbitant rents, the last thing a government should do is incentivize them. 

Earlier this week, I shared Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen's informative description of the project (you can read it here.) In addition to seeking a tax break known as a TIF, which would delay enhanced tax revenue for 20 years, Skyline wants the county to acquire a triangular tract (at least temporarily) next to the factory upon which it plans to move the Dixie Cup that currently sits on top of the building. 

One of my readers asks, "Has anyone done research into this developer? What other projects have they done? Anything of this size? Do they have a reputation as a good operator? I would think that A LOT of research should be done before McClure hands out our tax dollars to them!"

I've done a little digging and can see a number of red flags.

First, this private equity firm (it is not really a developer) calls itself Skyline Investment Group. Just as there are knock offs of name brand products, Skyline Investment Group appears to be a knock off of the worldwide Skyline Development Group. That's owned by Zygi Wilf, who also owns the Minnesota Vikings and is an actual developer. I believe using a name so similar to Skyline Development Group is designed to confuse gullible people.  

Second, Skyline Investment Group's website lists locations in California, Florida, New York, Tennessee and Texas. But with the exception of its New York location, it fails to provide a physical address for any of these other venues. The only contact - and it's the same contact for all five locations - is a cell phone number with a 551 area code (in New Jersey).

Third, the sole physical location it does list in New York is 200 Park Avenue, Suite 1700. That's the Metlife Building, and the use of that address is intended to create the impression that Skyline has a prestigious address. But it's a virtual address. 

Fourth, the portfolio for Skyline lists one project called the Louix. It fails to indicate where it is, what it is or when it was built. There is no description at all. 

Fifth, the services offered are a ridiculous array of items from accounts receivable to second mortgages to lines of credit to energy production. This is not development. 

Sixth, it lists several firms as "partners" that are actually not partners. For example, CHASM Architecture is listed as a "partner." It is actually an architectural firm that would be employed by a developer.

Seventh, the public faces of Skyline at municipal meetings have been Claudia Robinson and Neil Griffin. But get this. Neither is actually employed by Skyline at its make-believe office. Robinson is actually employed at AreaProbe, Inc., a Washington DC real estate advisory firm. She is apparently particularly good at snagging tax credits and is obviously working this deal as a consultant.  I don't know what she may have told other municipal bodies, but she failed to disclose exactly what her employment status is with Skyline, despite a direct question about it from Council member Lori Vargo Heffner. As for Neil Griffin, I was unable to find out exactly who he is and where he works.

So who is the moving force of Skyline? It appears to be one person - Brian Bartee. Amazingly, his LinkedIn page fails to even mention Skyline. He calls himself an investor in venture capital and private equity. He was a salesman for Lifescans for a year and was an account manager for the health care industry.  

If Bartee has lined up a number of investors for the Dixie Cup, good for him. If he wants to charge rents that most of us could never afford, that is his right. But the government should do nothing to help someone who is only going to make the affordable housing crisis worse even if he dangles a $1 million carrot.  

UPDATED (12:30 pm): Brian Bartee, Skyline's owner, called me this morning. The one part of my story that is inaccurate is my confusion of him with another Brian Bartee from Arizona. He also insists that CHASM is a partner, although that's debatable. The rest of my story is accurate. I'll fill you in on that conversation on Monday.  

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Bill To Permit Pre-Canvass of Mail-in Ballots Goes to Pa Senate

Under current law, county election officials are unable to start the process of counting mail-in ballots until 7 am in election day, when they are doing 10,000 other things. This can and does result in delays in many jurisdictions. Throughout the state, county officials have been asking the state legislature to allow elections offices to begin this tally sooner. The state house has complied with a measure that will allow pre-canvassing to begin seven days before an actual election. Under this bill, the results will be tabulated, but may not be published or reported until polls close. This bill passed in a 102-99 vote along party lines, with Republicans opposed. It now advances to the state senate, where Republicans are in control. 

NorCo's Primary Election Results Now Official

Northampton County's Elections Comm'n has certified the election results from the May 23 Primary, and they are now official. Tie votes in 16 GOP committee slots will be decided on Friday in a casting of the lots. This will take place at noon, Friday, in County Council chambers. You can appear in person or watch on YouTube.  

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

UPDATED: Dixie Cup Developer Wants County To Take Over Wilson Borough Tract

Last week, the New York City based developers of the long vacant Dixie Cup building presented their plans to NorCo Council. Skyline Investment Group is seeking a tax incentive known as a TIF. Under this kind of a tax break, the owner can divert increased real estate taxes to pay for improvements over a period of 20 years. In exchange for this benefit, they will make 10% of their apartments "affordable" or kick in a little over $1 million that the county can use for affordable housing elsewhere.  As generous as that may be Skyline has one more request.

Yesterday, Skyline was at the county's General Purpose Authority (GPA) meeting. Wilson Borough actually owns a small triangular piece shown on the tax map you see above as 1C-1. It is 0.35 acres located along the eastern side of 25th Street and is actually the beginning of a bike path that extends from the Palmer Bike path and hooks up with the Tatamy Trail. Wilson Borough wants Skyline to take it over and move the giant Dixie Cup that currently sits on top of the factory to this triangle, where people can offer human sacrifices or whatever to the Dixie Cup gods.  Skyline wants GPA to help with the purchase of this tract. Specifically, it wants the NorCo to assume ownership of the triangular lot, and then eventually pass it on to Skyline. 

It's unclear to me why this is necessary. 

Tina Smith, NorCo's Director of Economic Development, told the GPA that "[I]t's a great project and we hope to see it come to fruition."

Skyline Investment Group descriobes itself on LinkedIn as "one of the premier nationwide commercial real estate finance firms. Senior debt, preferred debt, student housing, construction, multifamily, hospitality, retail, industrial, office, net lease, credit lines and assisted living financing is part of our core business." I'm unaware of any projects in which it has been involved.

Claudia Robinson told Council member Lori Vargo Heffner, "It;s a small industry. My area is historic rehabs." Though she presented on behalf of Skyline, she actually is employed by another firm. She did identify a major investor, but I was unable to catch the name. She stated that monthly rents for 1 BR apartments would be about $1,900.