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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, June 28, 2024

Get Ready For President Trump

 After last night's Presidential debate, my conclusion is that Donald Trump is going to be handily elected in November. Biden delivered perhaps the worst possible performance you could possibly see. He frankly looked like a walking corpse. He had bizarre meltdowns, including the claim that he "finally beat Medicare." He meandered and spent much of his time with his mouth agape and staring as though he failed to understand what was being said.  By contrast, Trump was assertive and was sure of himself, even though he played fast and loose with the facts. 

I'm currently recovering from a nasty bout of bronchitis, and my voice is still very weak. Biden sounded worse. 

If he was auditioning for a role as a zombie in some horror flick, Biden would easily get the part. But President? No way. 

Ousted Norco Custody Master: Judges Sletvold and Roscioli Place Incumbency Protection Over Safety of Children

In 2018, the decision of a Bucks County jurist led to tragic and fatal consequences for seven-year old Kayden Mancuso. Her father had a history of violence. He once bit off part of a man's ear, threw a beer bottle in a woman's face, abused the family dog and even would hit himself. He harassed Kayden's teachers until the school district ordered him to stay away. Judge Jeffrey Trauger nevertheless granted him unsupervised visitation with his daughter, after which he promptly killed her and then himself. 

This case caught the attention of  NorCo Judges Jennifer Sletvold and Paula Roscioli. But instead of being concerned about the lives of children that were in their hands, they focused on insulating themselves from information that could raise red flags, giving themselves plausible deniability in the even a child was abused.

Such is the contention of NorCo's former custody master, in a beefed-up federal complaint filed yesterday. She now specifically names Sletvold and Roscioli as Defendants and adds President Judge Craig Dally and Court Administrator Jermaine Greene to her rogues' gallery as well.  

According to Tresslar's complaint, she advised the Court "that they had a valuable tool to help them search out evidence of danger to children, specifically, her practice of referring custody litigants to family counselors who could then testify in court about psychological evaluations and statements made by parties and their children during the counseling." This would enable judges to craft custody orders that actually kept children out of harm's way. But Judges Sletvold and Roscioli were mor interested in protecting themselves. 

Tresslar asserts "After the Kayden Mancuso case, instead of searching out stronger and more extensive evidence about danger to children, Defendants Sletvold and Roscioli did the opposite, i.e., they (1) tried to discourage, and sometimes prevent, parties and attorneys from presenting evidence about danger to children; (2) unreasonably pressured custody litigants to settle so that the judges would not hear evidence or make decisions about danger to children; (3) unreasonably pressured custody litigants to agree that statements made to family counselors would be forever excluded from evidence before them or any other judge in any type of case, which would include not only custody cases but juvenile dependency cases, protection-from-abuse cases, and criminal cases."

As bad as this is, things got worse. Judges Sletvold and Roscioli, using Court Administrator Jermaine Greene as their patsy, presented changes in custody procedures that ostensibly came from the bar association that would insulate them from any situation like what happened to Kayden Mancuso. But when then Judge Steve Baratta questioned the bar association, lawyers vehemently denied having anything to do with these changes, noting they had come "from the court." Greene was forced to apologize.

Tresslar continued to advocate for children but paid a price. Harassment by Judges Roscioli and Sletvold started in 2018 and continued until her constructive termination in 2023. As their power grew, Tresslar's role in custody was diminished until she was reduced to little more than a clerk. 

You can read her amended complaint below. It is important to remember that we are hearing only one side of the story. Neither Tresslar nor the court will speak outside the pages of the pleadings. 

Tresslar Amended Complaint by BernieOHare on Scribd

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Should NorCo Council Decline Consideration of Matters Unrelated to County Business

Lately, Northampton County Council is being assailed at nearly every meeting with toothless resolutions concerning hot button issues totally unrelated to what county government actually does. These are coming from Jeff  Warren and Kelly Keegan, the two newest members of County Council. While they mean well, they are actually preventing County Council from exercising its oversight over proposed county contracts or other important issues like a new county building or parking deck. Meeting are prolonged, and debates on some county matters are minimal because everyone is tired and cranky.

Although you might think these resolutions are a product of our polarized times, it's just what inexperienced Council members tend to do. When he was starting out on County Council, John Cusick was famous for proposing meaningless resolutions. Ron Angle used to joke that Cusick was a "paper hanger."

Ron Angle was guilty of this himself when he first came on County Council, with numerous attempts to plaster the Ten Commandments nearly everywhere.  

I think it's time that Northampton County Council should take a stand against issuing statements on public matters unless directly related to county government. This is a position recently taken by Harvard University, and it appears to be the sensible approach. 

Below is a proposed resolution, which I believe is consistent with the public's rights to speak and the Home Rule Charter. What improvements would you make? 


WHEREAS, under both the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act and Home Rule Charter, the public has a right to address County Council on matters of public concern; and 

WHEREAS, Northampton County welcomes diverse points of view on numerous topics of public concern, considering this essential to a healthy democracy; and 

WHEREAS, while Northampton County considers these diverse views essential to a healthy democracy, its own jurisdiction is limited to county government; and 

WHEREAS, in recent months, several Lehigh Valley municipalities have been assailed with demands from a portion of the public to take public stands on controversial issues, making it impossible for the governing bodies to conduct the public's business; and 

WHEREAS. Northampton County Council has been asked during several meetings to take positions on issues wholly unrelated to county government; and

WHEREAS, while any member of County Council has the right to propose a proposed resolution; County Council should limit its participation on controversial public issues unless directly related to county government; and 

WHEREAS, when the County Council speaks outside its own area of expertise, its public statements tend to undermine its own integrity and credibility; and 

WHEREAS, if County Council routinely takes public positions on controversial issues unrelated to county government, it will inevitably come under intense pressure to do so from multiple, competing sides on nearly every imaginable issue of the day. This is the reality of contemporary public life in an era of social media and political polarization; and


1) Northampton County Council shall henceforth refuse consideration of resolutions that are unrelated to county government unless a majority of County Council agrees to cosponsor such a resolution. 

2) Any debate on resolutions unrelated to county government shall be limited to one round of argument by Council members. 

Susan Wild and the Veteran

Yesterday, I reported that Ryan Mackenzie, the GOP Congressional nominee in Pa.-07. understated his age on a dating app, presumably to attract younger women.  This happened several years ago before he became engaged or married. 

Some of you thought he should apologize. Others that his dishonesty is a character flaw we should eschew in an elected official. But just as many of you believe this was no biggie and that I was ridiculous for pointing at the puffery that is somewhat common on romance sites. A few of you played the "What about?" card concerning incumbent Congress member Susan Wild. She is alleged to have recently insulted a veteran.

I did some research and found numerous articles that appear to be heavy on opinion but somewhat bereft of actual facts. The most credible appears in the New York Post under the headline "Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild continues trend of disparaging constituents by branding veteran a homophobic bigot".

According to the story, Wild reacted to a friend's Facebook page containing a picture of a home with both the American and a LGBTQ+ flag with this comment: "I suspect that the vet who refused to shake my hand today at a Memorial Day event would not approve of your second flag.”

The Facebook friend is not identified. Moreover, we lack context. All we know is that some person who represented himself as a veteran refused to shake Wild's hand. We do not know the identity of this person, nor do we know what he said that led Wild to conclude he would oppose a LGBTQ+ flag. Nor is there any indication that Wild called this person, whomever he or she might be, a homophobe. 

Last time I checked, veterans are just as capable of being bigoted as anyone else. One's status as a former member of the military deserves respect but is no excuse for bad behavior. 

Susan Wild, incidentally, is a military brat who grew up on military posts here and abroad. As a member of Congress, she has consistently voted for veterans to improve access to medical care and better GI Bill benefit payments. 

She can be attacked with some justification for insulting constituents in Carbon County. But the context-free smear appears to be missing some important details. These are called facts. 

NorCo Awards $649,343 For Trails, Parks

At their June 20 meeting, Northampton County Council voted to approve Executive Lamont McClure's 2024 Livable Landscape Grant plan by a 9-0 vote.  The total grant awards amount to $649,343. It's increasingly rare, but there are times when Council and the Exec work together.

According to a county statement, Northampton County has invested $21 million of Livable Landscapes since 2006 in grant awards for land conservation, ecological restoration, streambank stabilization, regional trails, parks, recreation, open space plans, and municipal park development and rehabilitation.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Dixie Deed on Record With Mortgage to Former Owner for $11 Million

The Deed transferring title of Wilson Borough's vacant Dixie Cup factory was recorded today along with an $11 million mortgage to the former owner. 

WilsonPark, Ltd (a collection of five estates in which Joe Reibman has an interest) conveyed title of the plant and an adjoining parking lot to Skyline Investment Group Easton, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company. The purchase price? $10. But the $110,000 state transfer tax indicates that the actual purchase price is $11 million.

Interestingly, none of this $11 million has gone to Reibman;s WilsonPark, Ltd. Instead, he has accepted an $11 million open-ended mortgage from Skyline. It is due when Skyline gets its $29 million tax break known as a TIF as well as loan proceeds from a "third party lender." If unsuccessful, it's due in 33 months. 

Brian Bartee has executed the mortgage as manager for Skyline Investment Group Easton, LLC. 

Basically, Bartee has acquired title for nothing, and is hoping to leverage the $29 million in taxpayer funding to pay off Reibman. 

NorCo Council Commemorates LGBTQ+ Pride Month In 7-2 Vote

At their June 20 meeting, NorCo Council voted 7-2 to commemorate June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. The resolution notes, in pertinent part, "We must commit to supporting and accepting LGBTQ+ individuals, in particular our youth, who compared to their peers are far more likely to experience violence and bullying at school, to suffer from depression, to struggle with substance use; and to have attempted suicide ... ."

Though it's toothless, I would support this resolution because many of the human services provided by the county involve children whose sexual orientation makes them easy prey for bullies, which leads to depression, substance abuse and suicide. It is directly related to county services. 

The resolution was introduced by Council member Kelly Keagan. 

Council member John Goffredo complained "we are sexualizing everything," although I don't quite see it that way. I believe it instead attempts to remove the stigma attached to people whose orientations make them different. He called the resolution divisive, though I believe the intent is to bring people together. 

In the end, the only dissenting votes came from Goffredo and Council member John Brown. 

Though Council member Tom Giovanni argued that the resolution is not county business, he would support it. 

DailyMail Claims GOP Congressional Candidate Ryan Mackenzie Lied About Age in Dating App

According to conservative British tabloid DailyMail, the Republican nominee in the Pa.-07 Congressional district, Ryan Mackenzie, understated his age by eight years on dating app Tinder. His campaign notes he was neither married nor engaged at the time. 

Now, on the 2d anniversary of the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade, the DailyMail reports that over 100 women in the Pa.-7 Congressional are demanding an apology from Mackenzie, something he failed to do when initially confronted. 

The letter claims, "We worry, if you cannot take accountability for your actions on something as small as a dating app, that you will not be able to honorably conduct yourself as our representative in Washington."

I get that lying about your age to pick up younger women is wrong. But what really bothers me about Mackenzie is his smile. They blind me like the hi-beams on a late model truck,. 

Monday, June 24, 2024

Did Ken Kraft Actually Act Like a Statesman?

On Friday, I told you NorCo Council voted 6-3 to table an ordinance authorizing $63 million in new debt for a new parking garage and office building at the courthouse campus. Voting to table were Council members Lori Vargo Heffner, Ron Heckman, Jeff Corpora, Tom Giovanni, John Goffredo and Ken Kraft. Voting against tabling were John Brown, Kelly Keegan and Jeff Warren.

I want to present remarks made by Council members. That job was more difficult because I was unable to hear them at times, despite watching the video twice.

Earlier this year, Ken Kraft was in the County Council doghouse and for good reason. Council had asked the court to fill a Council vacancy and Kraft took it upon himself to appear in front of our President Judge and misrepresent what had happened. I personally do not think he intended to mislead the court, and in any event, he failed. 

But Thursday night, Kent Kraft the partisan rubber stamp was more of a statesman than at any time I ever saw him in his long career on Council. He gave a lengthy speech to explain why he thinks a new parking deck and county building are necessary, imbued with all kinds of anecdotes from our history and our unfortunate tendency to kick things down the road. He made no personal attacks and spoke in an open and friendly way that put others at ease. His speech was so impressive that Council members Ron Heckman, Lori Vargo Heffner, John Brown and even John Goffredo acknowledged his points

Two weeks ago, Council member John Goffredo was on fire, effectively making points on nearly every issue that came up. But Thursday, he was completely ineffective and unpersuasive. He attempted to turn a county request to fund a county project into an attack on federal debt, and also complained about voter ID and Mail-in Ballots, even though these are both beyond county jurisdiction. Even worse, he seemed to think we'd believe his walk-around of a problem parking deck was somehow superior to the findings of a licensed civil engineer and several Professional Engineers who preceded him. 

Here's my summary.  

Jeff Warren. (He often makes his points from scripts prepared in advance). He argued that some employees in human services are "working out of closets" and that the elections office should be able to work from a central location instead of the current hodge podge arrangement. The garage is a public safety hazard. "The last thing we all need is a huge chunk of rock coming down [and] hitting somebody." Given that the county credit rating is A1, now is the fiscally responsible time to make this move. 

John Goffredo. "I don't know how we can say this is fiscally responsible with the information that we have." He's seen no budget for the $63 million borrowing plan, There are no architectural drawings, just conceptual. (There is a cost estimate, which was presented to Council's finance committee, without which no bond could be floated). "Cutting a check for $63 million is a little premature." He suggested the county should first study how to use the space it does have more efficiently and then determine more realistically what is needed. "This is a Cadillac and I think we need to be able to be looking at the financial interests of the taxpayer as well, not just the people who work in this building." He then leapfrogged to claim we are borrowing from a government (we're not) that is trillions of dollars in debt and not fiscally responsible. He denied that the parking garage is unsafe. "Our parking deck is absolutely fine. I literally walked all around it before I came here, looked all over, and I do have expertise in that, and I do not think it's structurally deficient. ... It is not falling down. That is a structurally sound parking deck and it'll be structurally sound for at least 10, 20 more years if you keep maintaining the way it has been maintained ... . I will provide a structural engineer to come give a second opinion if they're saying it's dilapidated or falling down because it's just not the case, especially after the repairs." 

Kelly Keegan: "We need this election integrity committee because we're all worried about elections, on this hand. But then when you hear we're disjointed and it could be safer on this hand, you don't want to give them the money." (Translation, the elections office needs one location to conduct more secure elections and other offices need more space as well). "Either you want to set them [elections office] up for failure or you just want to obstruct this.... Let's stop being pennywise and dollar foolish. Let's be fiscally responsible. We have the money. Let's do what's right. ... You [addressing Goffredo] walk around the parking lot and make these assumptions that it's sound for 10-20 years .... -

Goffredo: "That's what I do for a living." (Then he digressed to condemn voter ID and Mail-in Ballots as the real election integrity problems. Both of those are outside the county realm, something he should know by now), 

Keegan then went on to challenge Goffredo's expertise despite being admonished to make her points to the chair. The two began to bicker until Vargo-Heffner shut both down.

Ken Kraft: "This is like deja vu for me all over again. I've been at that parking deck since God knows when. It is falling down. It's been repaired by every Executive - I think even John [Brown] had part of trying to fix it. It's a mess. ... I've been around a long time. We've had Councils that would do things and we have Councils that put it in park and don't do anything and talk all the time. Mr. Heckman remembers when we used to have the Milides Building, the Wolf building, we had everybody all over the place. We built a human services building. I heard the same exact arguments. 'Oh my God, we're spending this much money on a human services building. How dare we? How can we do that? We're going to waste all this money. Oh my God, blah, blah, blah.' So we did it. All my life I wanted to build a new morgue (we don't call it a morgue ... I still call it a morgue). We finally got that done. .... They don't spend the entire bond. .... I've also been in construction for years. I don't know if you [Goffredo] actually went to college for that kind of stuff. That garage has wrecked a lot of my cars over the years. Mr. Heckman might be able to speak as to how long that garage has been a mess. We've been through many executives, many fixes. 

"We are out of space. It was supposed to be for human services only and the veterans administration. ... Now we have other people from the county in there. It's crowded. ... [We] need to build this stinkin' building and get rid of that garage. ... We need to be a Council that does something for once and not just talk about it and say No to everything. [The morgue] was working out of a farmhouse and [the Coroner] was dialing for refrigerators to put our bodies because we had no place to put our bodies when people died and we did that for 30 years. It just kept going and going and no one would get the money together to build a morgue. But we did on [a previous] Council. I think Mr Heckman voted for it, Lori [Vargo-Heffner] voted for it. We saw things that needed to be done. This projecting down the road .... we keep band-aiding stuff, we keep trying to find other space. ... We were going to keep the Milides building. Finally, it got condemned by the City of Easton. That's how we work here. ... We're going to get the actual bids. This is the bonding.  

Lori Vargo Heffner: "That was 10 minutes, and I think you took a breath at 8, so that diving [Kraft is a scuba diver] is really .... I need to sigh on. If that's a violation of whatever act we have, I don't care. That was pretty impressive." 

John Brown: "I think $63 million s a lot of money. I don't think I have enough information to really vet this project and all its moving parts. The parking garage has been an issue for a long, long time." He agreed that the parking deck could be rehabbed in a "significant way if not replaced completely." But he believes the market for commercial office space is "cratering," so he rejects McClure's claim that it would cost $2.7 million to lease office space. He indicated the county should explore remote work opportunities and accused the McClure administration of "hoarding cash" that could easily be used for a new parking deck. He suggested retrofitting part of Gracedale for the additional office space needed.

Brown did agree with Kraft's assertion that Council does have a tendency to kick things down the road. 

After this several Council members spoke but either failed to use their mikes or there was a system failure. . 

Tom Giovanni: He said we are now in the era of remote work. "We're looking at making a building just like Guardian did. They made this new building, and half the people work remotely ... and the building's half empty." He needs more information before he can support a $63 million bond. 

Ron Heckman: Made the point that the legislative branch is a separate branch of government, a point he has made numerous times in the past. He cautioned against knocking down and shaming Council members, saying it us unhelpful. "I think we could get a little more specificity for these people who have concerns." "We need to work with each other a little more as opposed to yelling at each other. ... I support this but don't think it's unfair to give more information to people who ask for it." 

After everyone had spoken once, several Council members decided to speak again, doing little more than repeating what they previously said. 

Lori Vargo Heffner: "I'm not opposed but I'm not in favor." 

The can got kicked down the road. But council does seem open. 


Observations From Saturday Visit to Phillies at Citizen's Bank Park

On Saturday, my grandson and his girlfriend picked me up and took me to watch the Philadelphia Phillies pound the Arizona Diamondbacks in what turned out to be a 12-1 shellacking littered with home runs from Bryce Harper (of course), Alec Bohm (of course), Nick Castellanos (of course) and David Dahl (his third this year). Here are some random observations.

You ever notice that it's a lot harder to get into Philly than it is to get out?  The high heat disabled a number of vehicles, especially along the Surekill Expressway. 

Despite purposely avoiding liquids for two hours before leaving, we had to pull over along the Surekill, not because the car was disabled, but for a disabled passenger. Me. I had to go, and go I went. I waved as a large number of cars greeted me with their horns. Shit happens. So does piss. 

As hard as it was to get to Philly, we got into the stadium quite easily. No security checks or wanding, perhaps a concession to the heat.

I told my grandson and his girlfriend that there was no way the stadium would fill up because of the heat. By the end of the first inning, the house was packed, a sea of blue and red despite 97-degree temperatures. To make things even hotter, the sadists running the stadium flipped the lights on right before the game started. 

Usually raucous Philly fans were tamed by a scorching sun that converted seats everywhere into saunas. They were more like the burners on a stove running on low, burning bare flesh when people sat down. None of this bothered me because I already spend lots of time with Lucifer. 

Alcohol flowed freely. People chose to hydrate with hard lemonade and Budweiser as opposed to water.

Seated in front of us was a guy I'll call Mafia Man. His Rudy Giuliani hair dye began bleeding out onto his sweat-soaked blue Hawaiian shirt as the game progressed. He had two quite attractive women, each of whom spoke different languages, draped on each arm. They talked through the national anthem. He and his doll collection did not last long, but they were great fodder for conversation on the way home as we tried to solve Mafia Man Mystery. I think they were due at Bada Bing. 

Two rows in front were a young couple with a young son whose face got more and more flushed with each inning. They eventually left, looking very unhappy. I asked a woman seated near them if the young man was ill, but she said they were in the wrong seats and she apparently ejected them. I thought that was a little mean-spirited since no one ever sat there. 

Behind us were a group of young men who came, not for the game, but the frickin' Riley Green post-game concert. He's waiting for the second return of Jesus and wrangler jeans. Country western music apparently has a following in Philly.

Periodically, a Bryce Harper foul ball zinged a few feet to our left. When they came, they were at such a velocity that I'd never try to bare hand it. I value my hand too much. His hits that day seemed to be sprinkled with magic dust. 

When the bombs came, the sound of the Liberty Bell was ominous. I expected the Undertaker and Paul Bearer to pop out each time. 

After the game, we went to a pho restaurant in the Vietnamese section of the city. (Washington Street). The pho at Bethlehem's Pho Bowl is far better. They let their broth simmer 12-15 hours, and it explodes in your mouth. 

We stopped by a bubble house for dessert. My grandson and KT got avocado smoothies. I opted for a  taro waffle. Probably the only thing healthy about it was the name taro, but it tasted great. 

The game and trip to Philly were a wonderful gift from my grandson and his girlfriend. Might be the best time I ever had at a game, excepting those in which Dat himself played. 

Friday, June 21, 2024

NorCo Council Tables Ordinance For New Parking Garage and County Building

Following a lengthy discussion, Northampton County Council voted last night to table an ordinance authorizing over $63 million in new debt for a new parking deck and adjoining office building at the county campus. 

Voting to table were Council members Lori Vargo Heffner, Ron Heckman, Jeff Corpora, Tom Giovanni, John Goffredo and Ken Kraft. Voting against tabling were John Brown, Kelly Keegan and Jeff Warren.

In my original synopsis, I had this count wrong. (It was very difficult hearing Council members speak) On Monday, I'll summarize the remarks made by Council members to explain why they voted the way they did. 

(On a personal matter, I am still recovering from bronchitis. I'm on a regimen of antibiotics and hope to be fully recovered by Monday.)

NorCo Council Member Warren Wants to Abolish Election Oversight Committee

Like it or not, the administration of elections is a core county function. The state legislature decides things voter ID, mail-in ballots and early voting. The county has no say in those matters but is in complete control of the selection of voting systems used. The county recruits, trains and pays a small army of poll workers before each election. It staffs the polls on election day, accepts the returns on election night and conducts the official canvass. Unfortunately, a dark cloud was cast over the elections in 2019 and 2023 because of issues with machine configuration (2019) and coding (2023). In response to these human errors, Council member John Goffredo suggested the formation of an election oversight committee late year. All nine Council members agreed. But when it met on June 18, Council member Jeff Warren suggested that it be abolished. 

Warren fears that the committee could be weaponized by members who dislike the results, even if an election is fair. He also claims the term "election integrity" is some sort of MAGA code for rolling back many of the reforms (mail-ins, drop boxes, etc.) that our then GOP legislature endorsed. That probably is true in some instances. Council member John Goffredo betrayed some of these views at the County Council meeting the very next day, even though county government has no say in these matters. But in my view, the term "election integrity" is a Socratic ideal that we may never completely achieve, but which we should all strive to find. I care very little about the debunked arguments advanced by election deniers but care very much that the public have complete and utter confidence that its county is doing all it can to ensure that you can vote and that it is counted. Until the Dawn of Donald, The Democracy Denier, both Democrats and Republicans held that belief.

Warren who incidentally has less than six months of experience on County Council, was reminded of two botched elections in the sport span of four years. "We're not necessarily creating committees every time there is a slight mishap in county government." he pontificated. 

Warren is completely wrong on several counts. These were no slight mishaps. They were major errors that could have been far worse, and what did happen was bad enough. He did not sit through the meetings that followed, in which members of the public made very clear that they had lost all respect for the county and our system. Warren's dishonest attempt to minimize these problems is a slap across the faces of the public. It sullies the reputation of Executive McClure, who admitted to and took steps to prevent these problems from recurring. It betrays his own complete lack of understanding of County Council's role. It is there to provide oversight of everything done by the county, even the county courts. Most county committees are oversight committees.  

Ironically, the need for better election security was demonstrated the very next night when Executive McClure pointed out that the office is scattered over five locations.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Possible Strike By NorCo's Human Services Union Averted With Tentative Deal

previously told you that SEIU Local 688, the bargaining unit for NorCo's unionized Human services workers, was pondering a strike to commence on June 21. That strike has been averted by a potential deal.

According to a highly placed county source, "we have a tentative agreement to settle the contract pending approval of the bargaining unit." 

No additional details were provided. 

Human Services union workers recently rejected a new three-year contract that addresses salary more aggressively than I've seen before. 

Year one is a 2.75% step increase plus cash equal to 4.5% rolled into the base. Year two is a repeat of year one. Year three is 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 even sweetened this deal by offering a $500 retention cash bonus on July 1, 2024 and January 1, 2025. 

Whatever the merits of the complaints that Human Services workers might or might not have, it is good to see that they placed the children and elderly they serve over their own financial interests. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

No Vote on Dixie TIF Until September 5 at Earliest

Despite numerous official social media posts from Northampton County demanding to "GetDixieDone," it's increasingly clear that, whatever happens, it won't be anytime soon. 

Jonathan Cox a bond counsel with Eckert Seamans and has been retained by the "Skyline Team" to assist with the TIF process, and explained what is going on at a Council Committee hearing yesterday. He pointed out that there are three taxing districts - school board, borough and county. The county is creating the taxing district into which bond proceeds for the $29 million in increased assessments will flow. The school district and borough must adopt resolutions to participate. Just as the county is slated to get $1 million for affordable housing anywhere within the county the school district and borough are themselves seeking cash. It's less enthusiastic than was originally thought. "We believed we had the support of the borough and the school district," said Cox. Executed copies of the resolutions from the borough and school district had to be available at the public hearing. They weren't, and that's because neither the school district nor Wilson Borough had even begun. Stan Margle, Wilson Borough's lawyer, admitted this at the public hearing. So technically, that public hearing was illegal. 

Cox is now recommending that the county wait until both the school district (the largest taxing authority) and Wilson Borough (the taxing authority most detrimentally impacted) have acted. He believes that, even if all goes well, the soonest the county can schedule a TIF hearing is August 15, with a final vote on September 5. He acknowledged that the wait could be longer.

For those of you interested in how tax incentives like a TIF works, this is how. All properties, even the blighted Dixie Plant is assessed as having a certain value, and taxes are based on that assessment.

A developer who does not hold his hand out to the government for every penny he can grab, will see the assessment of the property increase as he develops and puts up apartments. The borough, school district and county will see increased tax revenue immediately, and that will continue for so long as apartments or other improvements are made.  

A developer with a TIF is able to float a bond (tax-free, of course) based on the increased assessment anticipated. At the DIXIE, it's $29 million. When apartments are put up, the increased assessment is collected by all three taxing authorities, but it is not kept by them. They must fork the money over the county General Purpose Authority (GPA) which will conveniently be administering the bond and no doubt for a tidy commission. The GPA will use this money to pay down the debt on the bond, and for 20 years.

Basically, the government is financing and paying the debt service on a $29 million construction loan. I don't fault Skyline for taking advantage. I do fault the government for using your tax dollars.

Blogger's Note: Eckert Seamans represents the County on union issues, but the County executed a formal waiver of any conflict. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Elected Officials Exclude Public in Back Room Meeting About Dixie

The final speaker during public comment at the lengthy June 6 meeting of NorCo Council, was Wilson Borough Mayor Donald R. Barrett Jr. During his allotted time, he invited elected officials to attend a back room meeting the following week concerning the Dixie TIF. I checked and this meeting was never advertised. It never appeared on aby municipal web page. Barrett can claim that no quorums were present, which would violate the state Sunshine Act. But how do we know that? 

These back-room meetings do nothing more than plant seeds of distrust in local government. I have heard numerous rumors. One is that Wilson has been bought off with a $800,000 (legal bribe and that the school district sold out for $200,000.

Another is that the school district has raised numerous objections and might kill this.  

What's the truth? Who knows? This is what happens when your local government meets being closed doors. On an issue this important, every meeting should be in public

Monday, June 17, 2024

Down But Not Out

Following my rather cryptic post on Friday, I thought I should give you a more detailed explanation of my illness. A few weeks ago, I had a summer cold with the usual symptoms. I thought it was gone but it wasn't. It reared its ugly head during more intense bouts of cardiovascular exercise with lots of coughing and a little trouble breathing. Thursday night, it let me know that it, and not I was in charge.

I had just finished a hard ride on the Tatamy Trail (14.4 miles) with my grandson. I actually finished slightly ahead of him and was quite pleased with myself. But after dinner, I began experiencing more than the usual body aches that an old geezer like me suffers. I figured that the best remedy for that was a 2-mile cooldown walk with Mason, a seeing eye dog with the kind soul of a saint. Unfortunately, I now began experiencing chills, fever and fatigues in addition to the body aches. I finally realized I was sick. 

After finishing the walk, I decided to sleep. I slept all night Thursday, although I was interrupted by frequent bouts of coughing. Ditto Friday, Friday night and Saturday. On Saturday night, the fever finally broke. For some reason, I was certain it was Covid. After the fever broke, I took the COVID test several times, and it was negative. It is just a summer cold. But it's the summer cold that refuses to go away. 

This is likely my own fault. Instead of resting when I first realized I was sick, I continued pushing. This sounds silly, but I had burned at least 500 calories a day with exercise over the past 355 days. I often doubled that goal, which is easy to do on a hard bike ride combined with walking and a little running here and there. 

I believe my reward for my efforts is bronchitis. Since this is usually viral, antibiotics are ineffective, and I've been avoiding them for years anyway. 

I know I am still sick but feel much better than I did on Thursday night and am on the mend. I expect to be walking in a day or two and riding again a few days after that. 

I admit that I am the main cause of my most recent illness. I would much prefer to go tets up on a trail than in my bed, but I don't get to choose how I die. As my brother sagely observed, "We all have expiration dates." 

I loved the comments on Friday.

"Swine flu?" asked one reader. Another was rooting for COVID.  A third called it "Skyline's Revenge" for my posts critical of the TIF for Wilson Borough's Dixie Cup. Someone joked I got sick because I rode with a Republican on Wednesday. 

I plan to return to where I was before I was rudely interrupted on Thursday night with yet another Dixie story on Tuesday. 

Friday, June 14, 2024

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Tax Break Will Line Pockets of Dixie Developer, Consultant and Architect With a Cool $15 Million

Last week, I published Allentown developer Nat Hyman's warnings to Northampton County Council at their June 6 meeting concerning a $29 million tax break known as a TIF proposed for the long vacant Dixie Cup factory in Wilson Borough. "Put simply, folks, you are being scammed," he cautioned. His remarks drew 65 comments from my readers, many of whom agreed with him. But he was also subjected to several attacks, which began almost immediately after he left the building. Many of them come from people who have a major financial interest in this project, thanks to taxpayer largesse. Developer Bill Bartee has put himself down for a $4 million "developer's fee." Consultant Claudia Robinson, who specializes in getting tax credits and public subsidies, is slated to pull down even more, $4.25 million. And Bartee's "exclusive" architect, CHASM, will collect a $6.75 million fee.  So, $15 million of the $29 million in increased assessment will be lining the pockets of a developer, a consultant who specializes in public cash grabs and an inflated architectural fee. The Borough, County and School District will just have to wait 20 years. 

Where did I get this outlandish information? Did I just make it up? Unfortunately, no. It is part of the TIF application attached to the Ordinance introduced on May 6. (Page 5).

The Hyman criticism began with Stan Margle, Solicitor to Wilson Boro. His borough has not formally acted on the TIF request. "I would preliminarily support it," he told Council, seeming to forget that his role is to provide legal advice, not opine on public policy. "This is a real developer," he added, although Skyline has never developed anything other than the Louix, a building that does not even exist. 

"I can tell you Nat Hyman is wrong," proclaimed Margle. "The developer is not getting $29 million out of that [TIF] if you pass it." Margle was unable, however, to tell Council member John Goffredo how much the tax benefit actually is. 

Despite Margle's claim, Hyman happens to be correct. He told County Council that they would be awarding a $29 million tax break, and that's precisely what it is. He did not guess at this figure. It is on page 9 of the TIF application    

Margle also claimed that Hyman was wrong when he asserted that Wilson Borough has been far too lax at enforcing code violations. He told Council member Ron Heckman that Wilson has cited Dixie 10 times for code violations and has fined the maximum $300 each time. I checked. It's true that Dixie was cited 10 times in 2018 and 2019, but not since then. Of these 10 citations, Dixie was fined only three times. They were $100 fines for snow and ice removal (once) and broken windows (twice). If Wilson was really interested in code enforcement, it could cite Dixie for every broken window, and on a daily basis. That would encourage a sale. Instead, it has allowed the property to languish for the past 40 years. 

Margle added that Hyman's $7 million offer to buy the property was rejected "because the product he proposed was substandard." Margle later conceded that Hyman "does good things, but it would not be appropriate for this building in this place." This was all news to Hyman, who told me he had prepared no plans for the property.

Rather than stick around through all the speeches about abortion and a SEIU union contract, Hyman left when he had finished his speech. Council member Jeff Warren waited until then to attack him. "Is Mr. Hyman still here?" asked the increasingly sanctimonious Warren. "I'd like to ask him a question. He came in here pretty bombastic about his project seeming as though he somehow wanted to destroy this project." He later added, "I was going to ask him about labor, but he's gone." 

That explains why Warren and Executive Lamont McClure are so gung ho over an out-of-state developer with zero experience. You see, this project is expected to create about 150 temporary construction jobs. Warren and McClure are so intent on seeing them go to their campaign contributors in the trade unions that they are willing to hand out $29 million of your hard-earned money to someone they do not know for apartments that most of us could never afford. This is no way to govern. 

Another black mark against Hyman, at least to Warren, is that he is from Allentown and not a Northampton County resident. Well, that's a helluva' lot better than a developer who uses a virtual address in NYC as his office. 

Hyman was slammed by Warren for leaving after he made his points, but developer Bill Bartee was completely MIA. Consultant Claudia Robinson, a specialist in corporate welfare, was physically absent and participated via a phone held up to the mike by the "Project Manager." Instead of outlining the advantages of this project, she of course attacked Hyman for a "very unfair" speech. She never stated how Hyman was wrong, but then launched this ad hominem. "Mr. Hyman has his own skeletons and it's really not appropriate for me to start discussing them now ..." Really? Then why mention that there are skeletons?    

Council President Lori Vargo-Heffner eventually stepped in and admonished Robinson. "With all due respect to Mr. Hyman, he came, he left a note, he's not the point of reference here. We are. So it's our turn to ask questions and get the answers. He had an opinion, but that's not what we're basing our questions on." Robinson then apologized.

Council member John Goffredo also defended Hyman. He pointed out that they were conducting a public hearing.  Hyman, unlike Robinson, was actually there, even if he did leave.  

Goffredo asked Robinson of the TIF was really needed. "Without this TIF, this project will not happen," she declared for the first time. Up until now, she had been saying it would be harder to attract private equity investors. Now it's impossible. 

Hyman was also defended by former Council President Ron Angle, who had come to the meeting to say good-bye to outgoing clerk Linda Zembo. "I don't know Nat Hyman, but I do know his reputation is very good," said His Eminence. "Whatever he builds is done right ... . Do you know who Skyline is? One guy. He'll give you all kinds of locations around the country ... That guy should be here. Nat Hyman did come here. He left, maybe he had another appointment, but he did come. ... "

Several people ridiculed the $1 million bribe for affordable housing as a drop in the bucket. Chuck Weiss, the Associate Exec Director of Housing for CACLV, noted that $1 million gets you maybe four apartments. "It would be nice to see a little more money coming out of this for affordable housing." Alyssa Baratta, Exec Director of Third Street Alliance, said that 2,203 LV households are homeless "A million dollars means nothing to housing these people." Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen, a Wilson Borough activist, looked at the gap between the $1,800 in rent to be charged for a 1 BR apartment and the fair market rent of $1,137. He concluded that a much fairer contribution to affordable housing would be $6.3 million. 

The final speaker was Wilson Borough Mayor Donald R. Barrett Jr. Unfortunately, he wasted a lot of his five minutes by needlessly criticizing Wilson Borough activist Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen. "It just needs to get done." he said.  

Warren, who never is at a loss for words, made this final pitch. "Sometimes, you take what you can get."

That's a ridiculous excuse for throwing away $29 million in taxpayer money. 

SEIU Must Seek Mediation and Fact Finding Before Strike

Earlier this week, I reported on SEIU's recent appearance before Northampton County Council on behalf of unionized human services workers. Several comments suggested that the union is pondering a strike as soon as June 21. Lehigh Valley News also reports they are "set to strike." 

Northampton County has responded with a letter warning the union that they are required to seek mediation and fact finding before declaring an impasse and calling for a strike. You can read it below. 

Northampton County Warns SEIU Against Strike by BernieOHare on Scribd

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

$274,525 Mechanic's Lien Filed Against Dixie Cup Property

Last week, I told you that Skyline Investment Group, the private equity developer that is reputedly buying the vacant Dixie Cup factory in Wilson Borough, is being sued in federal court for failing to pay a $274,525 bill for environmental cleanup. I have since learned that a mechanic's lien has been filed against the property in state court as well. (2024-ML-3394). This lien was first placed on the property on April 17. Before doing so, a notice of intent to file the lien was provided on February 27. 

A mechanic's lien is a cloud on title that can interfere with an owner's ability to sell or finance his property. This may explain why the deed transfer has yet to occur of record. 

WilsonPark, the LP that owns Dixie Cup, has filed a motion to strike the lien. Argument on that matter is scheduled for June 18.  

Keegan's Failed Attempt to Make NorCo An Abortion Sanctuary

Pro-lifer waits for meeting
If we've learned nothing else this year, it's that local government does best when it sticks to local government. Sure, there might be times to take a stand on wider issues, but only when there is a broad consensus within the governing body and community itself. We've seen what happens when someone plays politics with a political hot potato, like Easton City Council member Taiba Sultana did when she wanted Easton to intervene with its own pronouncement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She divided both Council and the community she is supposed to represent. What is worse, she made it impossible for Easton to address city issues. The same thing happened a few miles away when Bethlehem City Council member Bryan Callahan instigated a cease-fire resolution. One meeting had to be adjourned without conducting any city business when a riot nearly erupted.  These experiences failed to deter Northampton County Council's Kelly Keegan. At the May 16 meeting, she introduced a politically divisive resolution about abortion. There's certainly no consensus on County Council or within the community on the topic, and it was tabled with the understanding that she would at least remove some controversial language. She refused. At the June 6 meeting last week, her resolution came off the table. Here's what it resolves. 

BE IT RESOLVED 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.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the County of Northampton affirms its support for codifying the right to an abortion into federal law and urges the Unites States Congress, the Pennsylvania State legislature and the President to enact such legislation.

Keegan's resolution attracted quite the crowd, most of whom opposed her resolution. Some were nice. Some were not. They easily outnumbered those who came to congratulate Linda Zembo on her retirement as Council Clerk. Or the purple T-shirted SEIU union members who want a better deal than the 13% offered. Or those who support or oppose a tax break to convert the vacant Wilson Borough Dixie Cup factory into luxury apartments. Ten pro-life and two pro-choice advocates dominated courtesy of the floor. Every minute spent discussing a topic over which the county has no authority was a minute away from county business during a four-hour long meeting. 

Beverly Hernandez threatened County Council with the curses of Leviticus and the wrath of an Old Testament God. Mark Bogunovich, a "sidewalk counselor" at Allentown Women's Center, brought and circulated a model of a 10-week old fetus. Council President Lori Vargo Heffner refused to look at it. "You can't look at it because you're probably pro-abortion," concluded Bogunovich. "Sir, you get the right to speak, you don't get the right to judge," fired back Vargo-Heffner.  

Council member Jeff Warren argued that public officials "should put forth messages to the public in supporting issues that face our communities and our neighborhoods, things that can trickle down from the federal and state government to our communities. No, we don't have to do it every time at every meeting. But when it comes to issues like freedom, when it comes to life, ... I want to make sure that women's lives are saved." 

Council member Ron Heckman was a bit more realistic. 'The state and feds don't care what we do. If they did, we'd get a little more funding for mental health," He noted abortion is available in Pennsylvania for those who want it, and said he sees little sentiment in the state house for diving headfirst into that issue.  He was uncomfortable with the language in the resolution calling for abortion "on demand." He said he would abstain because he is unable in good conscience to vote Yes or No. 

Council member John Goffredo observed that Keegan's resolution "is one of the most divisive topics that we can bring up [and] for what?  We're not going to change anything. We're not changing the state law, we're not changing the federal law, we're not changing anything. This is virtue signaling, a divisive piece of legislation that is going to do nothing but upset people ... ." Goffredo also responded the Braveheart Warren's "Freedom" battle cry, noting that claim went out the window when the government decided to shut everything down during Covid.  "We don't get things accomplished because we keep spending time fighting about these things instead of worrying about things like the TIF in Wilson, which is actually going to affect people in our community. All this is going to do is create problems. It is going to create headlines; it's going to create fighting. I don't know why you'd want to bring it to this Council. I don't think it's productive and it's only going to hurt this body." 

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner said she respected Keegan's right to introduce this resolution but wished she had done so on a less busy night. She said she was abstaining. "It feels like such a gotcha' move because you got to make a choice here." Vargo-Heffner said she disliked the way the resolution is worded and its focus solely on abortion She also resented having a rubber fetus shoved at her. "Give me a break! It's offensive. We're here to do government work, as Mr. Goffredo said, and I don't need that."

Council member Tom Giovanni was the most succinct. "This is not county business and I'm not going to vote for it."

Voting in favor of the resolution were Ken Kraft, Warren and Keagan. These are Lamont McClure's rubber stamps and I suspect the real motive here was to gain an issue with which to hammer Vargo-Heffner should she seek re-election or primary McClure. Voting to abstain were Vargo-Heffner, Heckman and Council member Jeff Corpora. Voting No were Goffredo, Giovanni and Council member John Brown.

The curses of Leviticus will have to wait for another day.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Slate Belt Republicans Meeting Tonight

On Monday, I told you about the major divisions within Northampton County's GOP.  For that reason and others, a coalition of Slate Belt Republicans is meeting tonight at 7 pm at the Trolley Shops Restaurant (257 E Central Ave, Bangor). "Blessed are the peacemakers ... ."

Deputy Clerk Aline Shafnisky is Now "Acting" Council Clerk With $107,548 Salary

John Goffredo
At Thursday night's meeting of Northampton County Council, Deputy Clerk Aline Shafnisky was appointed "Acting" Clerk to County Council now that Linda Zembo has officially retired. The vote was 7-2 with Council members Jeff Warren and Kelly Keagan voting No. They both said their vote was against the "process," not the person. I thought it might be helpful to explain that process and the subsequent debate.

The Process. 

At the April 4, 2024 meeting of Northampton County Council, President Lori Vargo Heffner announced the process by which a new council clerk would be selected to replace the retiring Linda Zembo. She said that the County was seeking applications and had advertised the position. She indicated the personnel committee would be meeting to review the applications received and conduct preliminary interviews. "Then when we're ready, we'll present the candidate to Council for a full vote." Council member Ken Kraft asked if an ad was being placed in a local daily. Vargo Heffner responded it was and that Human Resources was assisting.  No other County Council member voiced a complaint about this process. 

Subsequently, I obtained and provided a link to the application link to the application mentioned by Vargo-Heffner. All applications were due by April 10. After the due date, I reported that there were 22 applicants, only two of whom were county employees. None of the information that I had or reported on was in any way confidential, but it nevertheless infuriated some Council members who felt they were being kept out of the loop. 

At the April 18 meeting, Council member Ken Kraft complained that Vargo-Heffner changed the job description without getting Council approval. She acknowledged doing so. Rather than starting over, Council member Ron Heckman suggested that Council just approve the changed job description retroactively. His motion passed 6-3. The three No votes came from Lamont McClure rubber stamps Kraft, Kelly Keagan and Jeff Warren. It was at this meeting that Kraft accused Vargo-Heffner of acting like she was Queen. 

I know that the full Council met in executive session at least once since that time to discuss a "personnel matter." I presume it related to Zembo's replacement. 

Finally, at the June 6 meeting last week, County Council voted 7-2 to select Aline Shafnisky to serve as "acting Clerk," and at a salary of $107,482 a year. The two No votes came from Warren and Kegan. 

The debate. 

Jeff Warren
Council member Ron Heckman said it was important to recognize this is for an acting Clerk and said that county policy is to pay a person who steps into a role at the same salary as the person who previously held that position. He indicated Council could revisit the salary when the position is made permanent. 

Warren: "I still have no idea what is happening in terms of hiring our Clerk."

Keagan: "I have had nothing. I've been told nothing. When I was in Forks Tp, we worked together. We talked about it. We did the whole thing together. I don't want to say I've been kept in the dark, I'm not blaming anybody. ... This process, I don't feel like I was included at all. 

Kraft: "I'm pretty sure you guys had your meetings and have the votes. I don't know why you're appointing her as "acting." I don't know why you're doing this charade. It appears to me that you have the votes to just make her permanent. 

John Goffredo: "I don't know if there's a conspiracy that I'm not aware of, but I'm pretty sure we're doing this because a lot of people had questions about the process, and the process is we're hiring a new clerk. We don't have a new clerk. Ms. Zembo is retiring today. There's two people over there who know the job, so one of them is going to take the job until we find a new clerk.

Warren: "It's a process situation."

Goffredo: "I know it. It starts today, with this vote."

Warren: "We should have started months ago." [Council did, on April 4, and with no objection. Warren is being disingenuous].

Goffredo: "That's a huge wage increase. ... I think it's too much. Giving it to her Acting could be a bigger mistake. ... We can make an amendment right now and say, 'Hey, I want it to be $85,000.' We can have that discussion. That's what we do here. Why are we pretending like we all decided this already. I was away on vacation last time. I called in on the phone, and I was like OK, good, we're going to talk about it later. Let's talk now. Let's stop pretending like there's a conspiracy going on." 

Warren: "I'm not pretending there's a conspiracy, Mr. Goffredo. I'm not saying anything as such. This should have been done months ago, and there's a process situation that happened or didn't happen."

Goffredo: "Mr. Warren, you are one of nine. Your ideas are just as valuable as anyone else's. If you have a suggestion, make it."

Warren: "Mr. Goffredo, I didn't know that I was even able to make a suggestion about specifically what was going on with the hiring process because it was under my presumption that the President of Council was somehow taking care of this. We were only briefed on this very recently, within the past month. [Once again, this is nonsense. Goffredo was made aware of the process on April 6 and posed no objection. He was made aware on April 18 that Vargo-Heffner changed the job description and voted against accepting that change. He made no suggestions for improvement.] 

Goffredo: "I was at the same meeting where Ms. Vargo-Heffner explained that she was trying to do her due diligence as President, working with Ms. Zembo, to interview a wide range, and if they narrowed it down, we'd get more people involved. It made sense to me logistically because I don't think it makes sense to bring nine of us in here in our spare time to interview 27 people. ... It seems like everything she does, she gets berated about. For what? We're trying to hire a clerk. Let's get a good Clerk--

Warren: "I have not berated our President one time in the six months I've been on Council -

Goffredo: "I disagree, and I don't want to argue."

Warren: "I take exception to that. I've been extremely respectful. [I recall no instance in which Warren publicly berated Vargo-Heffner. That's Kraft. Warren is more subtle.]

My own take.

Lori Vargo-Heffner should have kept all members of County Council in the loop throughout this process. She should have made sure they knew there were 22 applicants and who they were. She also screwed up when she made minor changes to the job description without previous Council approval. 

On the other hand, Warren and Keegan were familiar with the process being followed from the onset, and could have demanded more transparency.

The salary is far too high, as it was for Zembo. It is actually a slap across the face of nearly every county worker. Goffredo said so yet failed to introduce an amendment to the resolution that would have reduced the salary. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

"Northampton Four" To Face Court on Reduced Charges

Steve Lynch
Magisterial District Judge Jackie Taschner decided Friday that four Republican State Committee members (they call themselves the "Northampton Four") must face criminal court on charges of conspiracy to commit harassment as well as harassment at the June 8, 2023 meeting of the county Republican executive committee last summer. But she bounced six other disorderly conduct-related charges brought against this quartet. The surviving charges are third degree misdemeanors, which carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and/or a fine up to $2500. Her ruling was made after a day of testimony at the Northampton County Courthouse. 

Who are the Northampton Four? GOP State Committee members Steve Lynch, Debra Biro, Melanie Heilman and Richard Morea. They ran together for state committee as a slate and have been openly hostile with county party chair Glenn Geissinger at executive committee meetings. After the June 2023 meeting, they were banned from attending future meetings. 

Interestingly, the charges were brought by party chair Glenn Geissinger as a private prosecution. They were approved by District Attorney Steve Baratta. Police declined prosecution, but they were considering other matters.

The hearing attracted quite the crowd. Most were there to support two opposing factions within the county party. 

There's what I'd call the Q-Anon Lynch mob, which is a bit on the looney (and violent) side. Lynch, for example, threatened to bring 20 strong men to forcibly remove Northampton School Directors over, of all things, a face mask mandate designed to protect everyone. His followers like to talk about exercising their 2A rights against critics, and Lynch has a penchant for wanting to fight people who contradict him. He once reacted to criticism from me by challenging me to a boxing match, as though a trial by combat would resolve a difference between opposing ideologies.

On the other side are the tea party Republicans, who are a bit less virulent than the Lynch mob but can be just as cRaZy. They had been trying to take over the county Republican party for many years before finally succeeding two years ago. Some of their confrontations before finally taking over were at wild county meetings during which police had to be called

There was a third faction led by Gloria Lee Snover, which at one time was a bit more mainstream Republican and was outraged by the fanaticism of both the Lynch mob and tea party. Most of them have drifted into the embrace of the Lynch mob, at least temporarily. 

All are MAGAs as the Republican party has grown more polarized. Take Beverly Hernandez, for example. At one time was a decent worker bee for the party. She had conservative values but could work within the League of Women Voters. She has been replaced by a Beverly Hernandez who just threatened a County Council with the curses of Leviticus and Old Testament fury. 

There were also people like myself or Dem party boss Matt Munsey at this hearing. We were like rubber neckers at a car accident, perhaps experiencing a bit too much schadenfreude at seeing county Republicans in such obvious disarray. One of my readers contends Republicans are now more united than ever. The facts on the ground say otherwise.

I stayed for the first two witnesses, Glenn Geissinger and Andrew Azan, both of whom testified to what happened at the June 8 '23 meeting. That took up the entire morning. I did not return after lunch because it seemed clear that at least some of the charges would have to move forward, and frankly, I was tired from a long meeting the previous evening followed by too little rest. So, I'll give you my take on the first two witnesses. 

Glenn Geissinger, the private complainant, was the top of the order for special prosecutor Robert Goldman, who has a strange penchant for holding one hand up in the air as he fires questions.

Goldman must have had second thoughts about taking on this case because Geissinger was a terrible witness. Glenn, a very nice person one-on-one, becomes very different in public or more formal settings. He could be pompous, arrogant and condescending when he was a member of County Council. Unfortunately, he was that way on the witness stand as well. I can't begin to tell you the number of times Judge Taschner had to direct him to answer questions, sometimes even when they were posed by his own lawyer. He also seemed a bit flippant with Judge Jackie, who takes no nonsense from anyone. She even once told a former Nazareth Police Chief to "Suck it up, cupcake!" when he complained about stickers calling for his termination. 

Even if he had been a good witness, there were very few arrows in his quiver. He did establish that the meeting became raucous at times with interruptions from all four defendants. If that's criminal, then a very large percentage of citizens who attend and participate in local government could be rounded up and hauled off to the nearest gulag. He also testified that, as soon as the meeting had adjourned, Steve Lynch and Rick Morea came up to the table behind which he was standing and shoved an email in his face containing pictures of two executive committee members engaged in sex. They had apparently posted pictures and videos on the Porhub website, hoping to profit. 

Lynch and Morea wanted the committee to take action against these members that very evening because it's not a good look for Republicans to be profiting on Pornhub for their sexual encounters. 

The accused members denied involvement, but it was learned nearly a year later that the female member had, in fact, been lying. She posted the porn herself. 

Geissinger had been sent an email earlier in the day apprising him of this discovery. But he was unaware of it at the time of the meeting. He was called a liar and the four defendants were demanding that he remove the accused members at that time, even though Geissinger tried to explain they had due process rights. Though Lynch and Morea were yelling just inches from Geissinger's face, there was no profanity or physical contact.

Andy the Clown
Andy Azan, the party's vice chair, was a much better witness. He's also known, incidentally, as Andy the Clown. He didn't wear his clown costume or anything like that to the preliminary hearing but was everything that Glenn was not. He was quiet, unassuming, listened to the judge carefully, and answered questions as they were asked. He had a sad look to his face, almost as if he was constipated. 

Defense lawyer Andrew Teitelman absolutely destroyed Geissinger during his cross. But as my friend Ron Angle observed, Teitelman lost ground during his cross of Azan. He kept digging a hole for defendants Lynch and Morea. The longer he had Azan on the stand, the deeper that hole got. 

Azan corroborated Geissinger's account of the meeting, including the assertion that defendants Lynch and Morea accosted him right after the meeting. Azan was standing next to Geissinger, and an elderly female Secretary was standing next to Azan. He was concerned about her safety as half of the Northampton Four bellowed in Geissinger's face. He described the scene as "very vocal, very belligerent." Geissinger was told, "You need to see this pornography right now." He added that Morea grabbed Geissinger's gavel and began pounding it until it broke. "They looked like they wanted to start a fight," he said.

Azan described "constant chatter" throughout the meeting, and said many members left, telling him, "I don't feel safe here."

Azan asked Lynch why he always tries to intimidate people. Lynch responded, "We can take it outside and you can throw the first punch."

Azan eventually did go outside, but not to fight Lynch. Apparently, there was an altercation between Brian McCulloch and another member that Andy the Clown broke up.  

While testifying, Azan twice whispered to a female deputy standing in the well of the court that he'd like a drink of water. Both times, she acted as though what he was seeking was a major imposition. She was relieved shortly before noon and said, "This sucks!" to the person replacing her in a tone of voice loud enough to be heard from where I was seated. This is highly inappropriate behavior. Whether she likes it or not, she works for Azan. He does not work for her. 

I failed to return for the afternoon session as my internal battery was near zero. But Tom Shortell of Lehigh Valley News has an excellent account. According to Shortell, at least one witness testified that Geissinger broke the gavel himself as he tried to restore order. 

An audio tape of a portion of the meeting was introduced by Northampton Area School Director Brian McCulloch. It appears to me as though it corroborated the prosecution, not the defense. 

Defense attorney Chris Shipman said the meeting was unruly, but no more so than many meetings of Congress or local municipalities. He characterized what happened as free speech. It can be ugly, but it's pretty basic to American democracy. 

He's right. That's why I consider this a weak case. Perhaps the harassment count against Lynch should survive. He clearly was attempting by physical menace to put Azan in fear of bodily injury. Technically, he could even be charged with assault for this kind of toxic masculinity. 

Judge Taschner maintained firm control of the courtroom. She explained at the onset that her role is quite limited. She does not determine guilt or innocence. Her sole function is to determine whether there's enough evidence to show that a crime occurred and that the Defendants were somehow involved. She is unable to engage in credibility determinations and must accept as true the evidence offered by the prosecution. Even with all these limitations, she dismissed six of the eight charges. 

Defendants will be arraigned on September 5, 9 am, in Courtroom 1. That's when Taiba Sultana's daughter is also being arraigned for encouraging her minor siblings to deface campaign signs opposing her mother. 

NorCo Council Spurns Elections Official Request to Delay Referendum Vote on DA Term Limits

One of the biggest concerns I have about American democracy are the constant attempts to undermine public confidence in the integrity of our elections system. Unfortunately, that's precisely what NorCo Voting Registrar Chris Commini unwittingly did at Thursday night's County Council meeting. 

The Presidential election scheduled for November 5 includes a referendum question on term limits for the District Attorney pursuant to an Ordinance adopted last year. Commini told Council that November's election "is probably the most consequential that we're ever going to see." He said he was concerned that including a question on the ballot might cause a problem with the Express Vote XL and said that the problems in 2019 and 2023 were caused by the addition of a question. 

This is simply wrong. The problems in 2019 involved improperly aligned machines and retention votes, and those in 2023 involved a coding error and retention votes.  There has never been an issue with referenda questions. 

Commini then went on to ask Council to move the referendum question scheduled for November to the next year's municipal primary to avoid any potential issues it could cause in a Presidential election. 

His request betrays his own lack of confidence in our voting system. He said he wanted to avoid "another human error issue on a question." His request was rightly and flatly rejected. 

Council member John Goffredo told Commini, "If we have this hard of a time getting a machine to answer a simple Yes or No question, we need to seriously consider why we're using the machines. We passed an ordinance, which is now law. It needs to be on and that's it. If you can't get it done, we're going to have to continue to find people who can do it. I don't know why this is being brought to us, I have no idea, it seems ridiculous." 

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner told Commini that County Council is willing to appropriate whatever resources are needed to ensure a smooth election but does not wish to see perceived problems pushed down the road. "This is our business, and this is our job. We want to support you in doing your job." 

Postponing a vote would be the exact opposite. 

"We need to have confidence that we can do this right," added Goffredo. "It should be a priority for this administration to have this on there. I hope you [put] everybody's minds at ease and say, yes, no problem, with these sophisticated expensive machines."

"No problem," responded Commini. 

Human Services Union Claims Loss of 188 Employees Since 2020

Kizzie Johnson, the shop steward for the SEIU union representing Northampton County's Human Services workers, addressed County Council at their June 6 meeting in front of an audience that included numerous SEIU workers in purple T-shirts. Some brought signs. She said her remarks were intended, not just for Council, but for county residents and taxpayers as well. "Despite what you're being told and the reports you're being given, we are not OK. For many years, members have tried to tell this county, and even this Council, about issues that are plaguing our workforce. ...Our voices have fallen on deaf ears."

She said the workforce crumbles more every year. "Since 2020, NorCo DHS has lost over 188 employees." This includes nearly 30 vacancies in Children, Youth and Families (CYF). "Some employees retired, some were terminated, but most have voluntarily resigned due to low wages and feeling undervalued." She argued the county is wasting money to hire and train new employees just to see them leave, which also causes a dip in morale. She added it creates more risk to the people they serve as well as to themselves. 

Johnson stated her union has been negotiating a new contract with the county for the past nine months without success. "I know what everybody is saying, if you don't like it, get another job. Well, let me say this. Who will ensure the safety of the babies born that are addicted? Who will intervene when a child reports abuse? Who is going to investigate the 9,000 reports that NorCo got last year, and who is going to investigate the 9,000 reports that we're probably going to get this year? Who is going to protect the aging individuals being abused by their caregivers or being preyed upon by opportunists? Who's going to bring them food, and who's going to make sure that they're cool during blistering summer heat? Who will ensure that our toddlers and infants get early intervention services so they can meet their childhood milestones? Who's going to provide guidance, treatment and referral support to individuals suffering with mental health disturbances or substance abuse? Who's going to be around to answer those 1 am phone calls from people who need help? ... Who's going to be there if we all leave?"

"We need a fair contract. We need livable wages. We should not have to beg."

The picture painted by Johnson is dark and grey, but Human Services union workers recently rejected a new three-year contract that addresses salary more aggressively than I've seen before. 

Year one is a 2.75% step increase plus cash equal to 4.5% rolled into the base. Year two is a repeat of year one. Year three is 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 even sweetened this deal by offering a $500 retention cash bonus on July 1, 2024 and January 1, 2025. 

I'm even told that the county at one point offered a remote work pilot program for some caseworkers, but it was rejected out of hand by the union because it included supervision.

Johnson, who was in some respects quite eloquent, failed to explain why this generous offer is inadequate. She also failed to mention that a significant number of union members support this offer and have even suggested a lockout until union members come to their senses. This is something the county would never do, but it's surprising to me that some union members have themselves urged this action. 

Friday, June 07, 2024

Hyman To NorCo Council re Dixie- "Put Simply, Folks, You Are Being Scammed"

God Threatens NorCo Council
with curses of Leviticu
Last night's meeting of Northampton County Council was before a packed house. Numerous previous County Council members, from Democrat Jerry Seyfried to Republican Peg Ferraro, were on hand to congratulate Linda Zembo on her retirement as Council's Clerk. In addition, numerous county SEIU union workers, mostly clad in purple T-shirts and signs, came to demand a better contract for Human Services than the one offered by Exec. Lamont McClure. There was a large contingent of pro-lifers to oppose a resolution concerning abortion being offered by Council member Kelly Keegan as well as a few pro-choice advocates. Finally, there were several people speaking in support of or against a tax break for the proposed Dixie Cup apartment development in Wilson Borough. The net result of all of this was a four-hour meeting. I intend to fill you in on everything that happened, but because I was actually at this meeting and am attending a hearing for the Northampton Four early tomorrow morning, my writing time is limited. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a copy of the speech that local apartment developer Nat Hyman gave to County Council and will share that with you. 

Before I do, I should warn you that County Council was threatened by Republican kook Beverly Hernandez last night with the curses of Leviticus. "I will terrorize you with disease and fever. You will suffer from eye problems and depression. You will plant your crops and get nothing because your enemies will eat them. I will condemn you so that you will go down in defeat in front of your enemies. Those who hate you will be your rulers. You will run away even when no one is chasing you." So, there's that. Now I know why I have cataracts. "I hope you look good with millstones," she said in a parting shot.

I did not see any millstones but noticed than Council members Ken Kraft and John Goffredo started walking into walls after the meeting even though Kelly Keagan's pro-choice resolution went down the drain. They might be in deep shit with the Big Guy. Not that Big Guy, but the real Big Guy. But I digress.

Nat Hyman is a lousy Hearts player, but he knows real estate better than most. In addition to completing projects in Allentown, he has been developing old factories into apartments in Northampton, Palmer Tp, Nazareth, Stroudsburg and Williamsport. He has a master's degree in architecture, so he knows how to repurpose these vacant buildings and bring them to life. He also is pretty good at spotting a red flag, as he did with the initial developer proposed for Allentown State Hospital. The state was forced to back away from this person, and the project fortunately went to a far more responsible developer. 

Here's what Nat told County Council about the proposed tax break for Dixie. 

Hyman learning how to play Hearts
As the person who has likely done more adaptive reuse projects than anyone else in the Lehigh Valley, many of which are almost identical to the Dixie Factory, I am here simply to share my opinions on this subject. 

First, one disclaimer, I did attempt to buy the Dixie factory. Contrary to the conspiracy theorists out there, I am not here tonight to sabotage this project so that I can buy it.  Joseph Reibman has made it abundantly clear that he will never sell me the building, and, after my comments tonight, I’m sure that is a fait accompli. 

And, as I made clear in my email to Mr. O’Hare, I very much want to see this property returned to productivity.  As I recently purchased a 102,000 square-foot building, less than one mile away from Dixie, I am now invested in this specific area and want to see the whole area improve. But it must be developed successfully and expeditiously to benefit this neighborhood. 

I believe your evaluation of this matter should be binary in nature…..that is you need only ask 2 questions:

1. Is it necessary to grant a TIF to have this property developed and what message would that TIF send to other potential developers? and 

2. Is this developer the best option to whom you entrust $29 million dollars of TIF money and potentially $10 million in RCap money to successfully develop this property? 

Let’s take the first question….is the TIF necessary. The short answer is absolutely not!

I know Mr. McClure has been zealously screaming from the rooftops and posting on every known social media site about how great this project is and how important it is to approve the TIF. I can’t speak to what his motives are but the immutable evidence that a TIF is absolutely not needed here is that I made an offer to buy the building for $7m and was not going to ask for a TIF or any other assistance. To be clear, I am the expert on these projects, not Mr. McClure, and I am telling you that a TIF is categorically not needed here. It is not up for debate. Put even more succinctly, if Mr. Reibman would agree to accept $7m from me, I would write him a check today and sign a contract not to ask for a TIF, RCap or any other assistance. 

Instead, according to the TIF plan, they are paying $12m (which, by the way, is odd given that it has been advertised for the last several years at $10m and if you went on Loopnet right now you would see it advertised for $10m. I have brought a copy of that listing for you at $10m). So, the taxpayers are paying $29 million in TIF and $10 Million in RCap to pay Mr. Reibman $5m more for the property. It is that simple. 

I have previously developed many of these buildings, including some almost identical to the Dixie Factory like the 325,000 square foot Adelaide building in Allentown. In Northampton County alone, I have completed the 130,000 square foot Lincoln Commons project in Nazareth, and will be undertaking 2 other substantial developments….all affordable housing, all with NO TIF. 

So, the question is why am I able to do affordable housing adaptive reuse projects with no TIF and these people need $29m for luxury housing? Is it because the Dixie presents some unique challenges. The answer is again absolutely not!

I will shortly begin work converting the Northampton Brewery to 70 affordable apartments. I have brought with me tonight a package of pictures to leave with each of you which will make very clear the significant challenges I will face with this project: 
1. Enormous 20 foot wide holes in the floors where brewing vats existed.
2. Entire concrete floors that are only 7 feet high which must be removed. 
3. Six story stairwells and elevators which must be created. 
4. All new window openings need to be cut through the stone and then structurally reinforced. 
5. Entire concrete floors which are slanted with troughs for the beer run off. 
6. Concrete platforms must be jack hammered out 

7. And all new underground stormwater sewers and catch basins need to be installed, as well as all new parking lots. 

NONE of this work is necessary at Dixie. Compared to this Brewery project, the Dixie redevelopment is a walk in the park!

In Dixie, all of the window openings exist! They simply need the existing windows replaced with new windows and mullions. 

Inside, it is an empty shell. After removing some lead paint and asbestos, which we all contend with in buildings of this age, it is ready to run new systems and build the apartments. 

There is minimal demolition, minimal structural work, and the parking lots already exist.

We all can agree that the building is a mess and an eyesore and in desperate need of redevelopment. But ask yourself if that should be rewarded with a TIF. 

The building is in this disrepair because it was left to atrophy and was never maintained. Are we as taxpayers now going to reward that negligence with a tax benefit?!

Also ask yourselves, Is granting a TIF here fair to all of us who are doing identical work without the benefit of government largesse? As I said, I am doing a 102,000 sf building less than a mile away. May I please have $29m? Granting a TIF to this project will create an uneven and unfair playing field. It is bad precedent. The government will be picking winners and losers and I can’t imagine that you want to be in that position. 

And as far as Mr. McClure touting how great it is that the developer will be contributing $1m to some affordable housing fund, well if you’ll give me $29m I will happily contribute a million dollars to whatever you want! That’s a brilliant business play! I Would proffer that thinking like that is the difference between using your own money vs. taxpayer money!

So, we are left with the enduring question as to how do you get the Dixie factory developed without a TIF. My friends, the answer is simple. Enforce the building codes on this building now! It is unsafe, unsightly and unfair to all of the good neighbors who maintain their properties. Building codes should have been enforced years ago. 

Directing the owner to promptly bring the building up to code will force him to sell the building to a responsible developer at a reasonable price. No TIF will be necessary. Then you can sit back and watch the building go through an exciting metamorphosis and watch your tax rolls swell……immediately …….not in 20 years!

On to the second question… 

To be clear, I do not know Mr. Bartee or Skyline Investment Group, never met the man or even heard of him. What I do know is that which Mr. O’Hare uncovered and subsequently confirmed with him in a telephone conversation. That is:

1.He has never developed anything….not one building. 

I was recently approached by Catasauqua and asked to respond to their RFP to purchase and develop the Iron Works land. The first criteria for their approval is the experience of the developer. If they are doing due diligence as to the experience of the developer for the opportunity to BUY a property, shouldn’t you be questioning the developer’s experience before giving $29 million dollars?

2. On his website, He claims to have developed one project, The Louix. That is a lie, it does not exist. 

3. He claims to have 5 offices. That is a lie. They do not exist. 

4. He told The Morning Call that he would not be applying for any other government assistance beyond this TIF. That is a lie, he is in the application process for $10 million in RCap money. 

5. The phone number for all 5 offices is his cell phone number

6. He has said that he will be spending $155,000,000 to build 400 apartments and will rent them between $1,800 and $2,900 a month. That is a mathematical impossibility! Just do the basic math….one or both of those numbers must not be true. At market rates the interest alone is $2,300 per unit per month and with the amortization it is over $3,000 per month. So not even accounting for all of the other expenses, how can he possibly rent the units for less than his debt service? They may tell you that some of that is equity, but that requires a return on investment as well.  Before you give someone millions of dollars, I would want to be 100 % certain that they will be successful with it.

My time limit does not allow me to go through the myriad other inconsistencies and red flags with this developer, but the bottom line is if walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck. Put simply folks, you are being scammed. Don’t be swayed by pretty renderings and promises of roof top pools. 

After Hyman left, he was subjected to attacks by Council member Jeff Warren and Skyline advocate Claudia Robinson. I'm sure he'd be happy to return and respond to their accusations. He did have one powerful backer. Ron Angle was at the meeting and was fascinated by and agreed with what Hyman had to say. As Angle spoke, Council member Kelly Keagan kept looking at her watch to make sure he did not go beyond five minutes of saying things she did not want to hear.  

I will bring you the rest of this story, pro and con, on Monday. I will also tell you about the 10-week old model fetus that a pro-life sympathizer brought to the meeting as well as the SEIU union workers who just rejected a fairly generous contract offer. 

By the way, if anyone is offended by my irreverence towards the Almighty, I don't give a shite. I called God last night and he approved this message.