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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

NorCo's New Cell Block

In their latest attempt to destroy morale, Northampton County Executive John Brown and his Human Resources Lieutenant, Amy Trapp, are poised to adopt a new county policy that bans personal cell phone use, except when employees are on breaks and away from their work area. This is a solution to a nonexistent problem. Much like the punch card fiasco, which Brown is obviously waiting until the election to force on workers, all this does is ruin morale.

SHRM advocates a reasonable approach. "Employees may carry and use personal cell phones while at work on a sporadic basis. If employee use of a personal cell phone causes disruptions or loss in productivity, the employee may become subject to disciplinary action per company policy."

Brown and Trapp at first appear to adopt this common sense approach:

"While at work, employees are expected to exercise discretion when using personal electronic devices. Excessive personal calls, emails, or text messages during the workday, regardless of the type of device used, interfere with employee productivity, are distracting to others, may be unsanitary and, in some cases, could present safety concerns in the working environment."

But right after telling you to exercise discretion, you're told that cell phone use is banned.

"Employees are prohibited from using personal electronic devices during work time, and may only use these devices during scheduled breaks and lunch periods. Additionally, the use must occur only in non-working areas. At no time are mifi devices [like WiFi] not issued by the County of Northampton permitted to be used to boost signals for personal devices while in County owned buildings."

In addition, it is apparently now a capital offense to be caught carrying one.

"Employees’ personal electronic communication devices are to be kept secured in parked vehicles, kept in locked desk drawers, or in lockers where available."

This is overkill. Some businesses like Fed Ex ban cell phones completely, but most public and private employers take a more common sense approach. If it is distracting, it must stop. If it hinders performance, it must stop. Department heads will talk to employees who spend their entire day on the phone. There is no need for a four-page policy that in essence treats the county's most valuable asset, the workforce, as though they are little children.

What is the cell phone policy like where you work?

Updated 9:40 am: Hokie Joe, one of my readers, warns that the last place to keep a cellphone is in a parked car: "Here is my recent experience..... To leave your cellphone in a locked vehicle is ASKING FOR TROUBLE. Cell phones are heat sensitive and the batteries can ignite and cause severe damage to your auto as well as destroying your phone and possibly injuring an innocent by-stander. Look at your instructions on your new phones. I recently left my cell phone exposed to the sun while wading in a local creek and when I picked up my phone, it wouldn't work. I went to Verizon with the problem and they explained the heat sensitive issue. When the phone heats up to a higher temperature than your body temperature it will not respond to your touch since your body temperature is lower than the battery temperature. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CELLPHONE IN YOUR AUTO WITH ALL THIS SUMMER HEAT."

Amy Trapp To Sponsor 6th Annual NorCo Citizen Academy

NorCo Human Resources Director Amy Trapp can finally put that $800 popcorn machine to good use. She has declared that her department is "sponsoring" this year's Citizens' Academy.

This will be the Academy's sixth year. It is a 10-week program where interested county residents participate in a series of educational presentations from various departments within County government. These include Human Resources, Human Services, Gracedale Nursing Home, Fiscal Affairs, 911 Emergency Operations, Community and Economic Development, Open Space, Public Works, Parks, Bridges, Coroner, Sheriff, District Attorney, Public Defender, DUI, Court of Common Please, District Courts, Constables. There will also be tours of the Juvenile Justice Center and the Northampton County Jail.

Tell Trapp you love biometric punch clocks, and you might get a trip to Vegas, New Orleans or at least a few gift cards and extra bags of popcorn. I'd recommend you skip dinner on the night of your visit with the coroner.

Weekly sessions begin on Wednesday, September 6, 2017, and conclude with a graduation during a County Council meeting on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

You can download a brochure and registration form here. Amazingly, the County lacks the technical expertise to enable residents to register online.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Rebranding John Morganelli

Rudiger Lyle Martinez
During daylight hours, he's your typical Northampton County courthouse worker. But once that clock hits 4:30 pm, Rudiger Lyle Martinez is out the door and working on his second job as a rising political pundit. In a rare interview yesterday, he told me that, had John Morganelli listened to him, he'd be Attorney General today. "Instead, we're stuck with Not-so-Sharpiro," he laments. So what would he do?

"It's no longer Morganelli. It's J-Mo.And everything he does should end with #J-Mo. Everything he does. Speeches. Briefs. Court appearances. Grand Jury indictments. All should end with #J-Mo. He should also send a letter to #J-Lo calling her an inspiration, and this should get him the Hispanic vote even as he's deporting them."

What about Twitter?

"Absolutely! We millennials love that shit. He should say outrageous things like 'I would have nailed Cosby -#J-Mo,' or 'Our so-called judges suck - #J-Mo.' Boom! His positives will shoot up."

Though no one has hired Rudiger, he claims all his computer models prove that #J-Mo would take out Governor Wolf if the DA just started using the hashtag. He also claimed that Judge Giordano would easily win the Superior Court race if he started referring to himself as "#G-Man."

Lafayette College Gets a $10,000 Jazz Grant

US Congressman Matt Cartwright proudly announced yesterday that Lafayette College has received a $10,000 federal grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This grant will provide support for their long-running Jazz Series programming at the Williams Center for the Arts. Alison R. Byerly, president of Lafayette College, gushed, “The Jazz Series enriches student experience, contributes to the artistic growth of this important field, and provides uniquely inspiring encounters for the public at large. The NEA’s endorsement of this program is valuable testimony to the important role the arts play in our region."

This bothers me. First, Lafayette is a private school with a $740 million endowment. It has no need for federal grant money. Second, a grant for jazz appreciation would be better spent in venues where it's actually created, not an engineering school for people who are already too rich to much appreciate anything. Third, members of the public who wish to see these jazz series programs have to pay for the privilege. Lafayette makes no effort to bring in the unwashed masses. This is a subsidy for the artsy-fartsies.

I believe that the arts do need our support, but this is a waste of taxpayer dollars. We are paying for grants to put on shows we have no money to see.

Slate Belt Watch: Bomb Scare in Bangor

Slate Belt Watch, a very informative Facebook page that I consider a form of participatory journalism, alerted citizens close to rush hour that an evacuation was in process in downtown Bangor on S. 1st St because of a blue book bag sticking out of the UPS box located by the post office. About an hour later, the scene was declared safe. Because a Daycare is in the vicinity, many parents were understandably concerned.

One Slate Belt Watcher snapped a pic of someone in a bomb squad outfit, although it could also be a giant Kermit the Frog.

I loved the humor.

One watcher remarked, "I just ask that all of you keep this in mind, this is Bangor, and no one here is smart enough to make a bomb."

"Just meth," added another.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Inmate Suicide at Lehigh County Jail

From Lehigh County Exec Tom Muller: "On Saturday, 6/24/17, at approximately 9:34 a.m. a Lehigh County corrections officer found Jail Inmate Trevor Vaden unresponsive in his cell.  Vaden, who did not have a cellmate, and was not under any special monitoring precautions, was discovered by a corrections officer performing routine rounds.  The officer immediately declared a medical emergency and began administering CPR.  On site medical personnel assisted in providing life saving measures.  The responding local paramedics continued treatment and he was transported to Sacred Heart Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10:06 p.m. 

"The cause of death is apparent suicide.  The coroner will issue a formal finding at a later date.

"Trevor Vaden, 21 was committed to jail on April 20, 2017 on a parole violation.  His original charge was robbery."

Why Colonial Regional Police Are Worth It

Bath Borough, which recently moved into a new $450,000 municipal building in need of $250,000 in improvements, is pondering whether to cut costs by eliminating Colonial Regional Police Department in favor of some cheaper alternative. This borough thought nothing of borrowing near the limit and didn't blink an eye when legal fees doubled. But Borough Manager Brad Flynn was very upset that the cost of police coverage went up five percent, from $398,000.00 in 2016 to $416,000.00 in 2017. "This increase in cost will prompt upcoming discussions with the Colonial Regional Police Commission about the Borough’s seat at the table and to what future extent," he huffed in his budget message last year.

Decades of fiscal mismanagement from leaders that once included a Mayor who pleaded guilty to stealing from her local church, are being blamed on the men (and women) in blue. Flynn prepared an "informational" packet that was distributed at a Saturday morning town hall, slamming police coverage. Officers were prevented from speaking and were told they could make their case at the next Borough Council meeting. They did so, and were politely ignored. No questions. Not even a "Thank you for your service." At least Borough Council President Mark Saginario opted against open carrying, something he did when AFSCME once appeared at a meeting.

I have requested Colonial Regional to supply me with their response to Bath's "informational" packet.

Here are the points they make.

Bath Compared to Six LV Boroughs

Each of these boroughs has its own dedicated police department, small in size, and staffed by a few full-time and part-time officers. Bath is part of a regional department that has no part time officers. Bath pays the highest salary is not accurate. When compared to similar other boroughs in the Lehigh Valley, Bath is paying a comparable cost to all other departments,but is getting an accredited police department . Bath spends 22% of its budget for police services at $413,536,the second lowest rate for the boroughs listed above.

Cost per officer

Bath pays its portion of the police budget (12%) for the entire department, which includes 25 sworn officers and 2 civilian positions. Bath’s portion of the total police department budget is around 12%.Bath falls far below the average of the compared boroughs at $153/resident. The average is $200/resident. The attempt to compare specific salaries is impossible because many municipalities rely heavily on part-time officers.

Crime Statistics

Bath officials attempted to downplay the severity if crime. That is a mistake. In 2016, there were 141 reportable offenses. These include manslaughter (1), rape (1), burglary (12), theft (44), vehicle theft (2), Forgery/Fraud (15), vandalism (20), Arson (1), Drugs – Sales/Manufacturing (2), Drugs – Possession (16),
Alcohol – DUI (16) and Alcohol – Drunkenness (5).

For the municipalities cited above, Bath has far more reportable crime than any of them. Alburtis, for example, reported only 27 offenses, about 1/20 what was reported in Bath.

Motor Carrier Enforcement

Unlike most small departments, Colonial Regional actually does have a certified motor carrier officer. The other 24 officers have cited dozens of trucks for a variety of other moving violations that are not documented as motor carrier enforcement incidents. An example is when the Mayor reached out to Colonial about speeding dump trucks on Main St. Several trucks operators were cited for speeding. There a have also been dozens of weight violation citations.

Drug Task Force

The Northampton County Drug Task Force is a county run program. It is not funded in any way by Bath. So any drug task force time accounted in Bath or anywhere else in the county is paid for by the county. Between 2012-2016, Colonial seized $55,709 and a total of 7 vehicles. Colonial believes it has been very proactive in addressing the drug issues in the borough.

Ordinance Violations

Flynn's "informational" packet slammed Colonial for failing to issue tickets for parking and other ordinance violations. Reviewing only the parking tickets issued from 2010-2015, Colonial issued 916 parking tickets in Bath.

DARE Program
26 million kids nationwide in 75% of school districts across the country have a DARE program. The last page of the Informational Packet cited outdated studies that implied the current DARE program is ineffective. The Time Magazine study and others conducted in the late 90’s were correct in finding little to no benefit of the DARE program. In the early 2000s the entire program curriculum was re-evaluated and new techniques and methods were implemented to better suit the needs of school age children and adolescents. For understanding, Officer Kovach is teaching the new version of the DARE curriculum at George Wolf and Sacred Heart Elementary Schools. A more recent and relevant study, an independent randomized control sample evaluation of the D.A.R.E. Primary program was carried out in 2015/2016 using a sample of over 50 schools and 1500 young people. The evaluation was carried out by Nottingham Trent University's Professor Andromachi Tseloni and showed that the program had a significantly statistic effect on:
• Increasing knowledge surrounding drugs, alcohol and substance abuse
• Making safe and responsible choices
• Communication and listening
• Getting help from others
Colonial offers the DARE program is offered because the Northampton Area School District requests it. George Wolf and Sacred Heart Elementary are the two schools in Colonial's jurisdiction that continue to support and request the DARE program.

Bike Patrol

Bath’s main use of Bike Patrol is during special events like the Halloween Parade. Each year at least 3 bicycle officers patrol the route along with several other officers positioned through the downtown area both on foot and in vehicles.

Shop with a Cop

-The sole purpose of this annual event is to give under privileged kids a Christmas. The meals for the kids are donated by the restaurants and all the money that each kid gets to shop with is donated by the community. For the past 11 years Colonial has hosted this event and provided a fun filled day for over 100 kids from all over the Greater Bath-Nazareth area. Eighty percent are from Bath.

NorCo 2017 Budget Increase Percentage Among Top Three in State

Of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, Northampton County has the third highest percentage budget increase this year, according to the Spring 2017 edition of Pennsylvania County News.

Though Mifflin and Indiana County had the highest percentage increases, but those are one-time occurrences due to accounting changes (Mifflin) and prison reform compliance (Indiana). I excluded them.

Of the remaining counties, Northampton's 9.79% increased budget is topped only by York (10.16%) and Beaver (13.01%).

Lehigh County's budget increased just 2.59%.

The state average was only 3.33%.  

Yes, NorCo Has a New Deputy Administrator

During his first year in office, Executive John Brown quickly decided to balance the budget on the backs of county employees while claiming they are the county's greatest asset. In addition to slashing health care benefits, he refused to fill vacancies. Eventually, there were 30 open correction officer positions at the jail, which meant mandatory overtime. Countywide, he had refused to fill 268 position in early 2015, or 12.5% of the workforce.

Many of them, 133.15 to be exact, were in Human Services. They included caseworkers for Children and Youth, Area Agency on Aging, Mental Health and at Gracedale. There were 16 vacancies in Children and Youth, the agency charged with protecting our children from neglect or abuse.

Brown was embarrassed into reducing most of those vacancies, but Children and Youth Director Kevin Dolan told Council just last week that he still has ten vacancies. His agency is currently besieged by a record number of referrals. Vacancies also continue to be a problem in the row offices.

But there's no shortage of staff in the Amy Trapp's Human Resources Department, where $800 popcorn machines are the norm and thousands of taxpayer dollars are blown on "gift cards" to boost morale among her favorites.

Brown has also recently hired a Deputy Director of Administration. Rose M Faryna, who hails from the Northampton area, was hired on May 30 at a salary of $49,146.86. Brown had no obligation to seek Council's approval. In fact, he never bothered to tell them at all about this new hire.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Another Judge Palmer Story

Last week, I told you three Judge Palmer stories. I received a fourth one today from a trial attorney who threatened to murder me if I dime him.

This lawyer was at one time an assistant District Attorney. He had worked out a deal with noted Allentown attorney Jerry Roth, who represented every hooker within a 50-mile radius and was called the "King of the Gypsies."  The deal was that the DA would dismiss prostitution charges against a young lady on condition that she leave the Lehigh Valley and never return. In those days, you could do that sort of thing.

This arrangement was placed on the record before Judge Palmer, and he had a few questions.

"Where are you going to go if I dismiss this case?"


"How are you going to get there?"

"I'm going to fuck my way."

"Do you realize how far that is?"

NorCo Grand Jury to Investigate PSP Homicide

Five weeks ago, Pennsylvania State Police shot and killed Anthony Ardo at or near his mother's farm in Lower Mount Bethel Township. The previous day, she obtained a temporary Protection from Abuse Act Order against him. A drug addict, he had threatened to rob her. She testified that he gets "violent and abusive" when he is using. The next day, she called state police and described her son as suicidal. They found him with a fireworks mortar around his neck and opened fire after he attempted to light it.

Did Pennsylvania State Police have the right to use deadly force. They have the right to do so if they reasonably believe their lives or the lives of others are in jeopardy. But no such right exists if a man intends to use deadly force on himself.

Pursuant to state police policy, they are conducting an internal investigation, and it is nearing completion. But NorCo DA John Morganelli believes a more independent investigation is needed so that the public can be confident in the outcome. He cited a Pennsylvania DA Ass'n policy providing that a police shooting be investigated by another department and reviewed by the county DA.

So regardless what Pennsylvania State Police is doing, Morganelli will use the Northampton County grand jury to investigate the shooting, the investigation and the propriety of state policy policy that permits them to investigate themselves.

You can see his remarks above.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Would You Like a Free POW License Plate?

My story about the Wounded Warrior parking sign in Hanover Township has been quite a hit, both here and on Facebook. But it reminds me of a story concerning my Dad, who was wounded during WWII and was also a POW.

One day, my father received a visit from a fellow who was involved in one or another veterans' group. I was with him when the guy came. He wanted my Dad to sign up for a POW license plate. He'd never have to pay to register his car again.

My Dad declined.

"Why not?"

"I don't want the entire world to know I was stupid enough to get caught."

Fed Ed Case: US Atty's Office Should Indict Itself Next

During the primary season, about 8,000 Democrats decided to run for Allentown Mayor and enabled Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski to win with just four cent of the registered Democratic voters. Though seven people had already pleaded guilty to political corruption and had implicated Fed Ed, the United States Attorney's Office was strangely silent. Some say the office is in complete disarray, thanks to the revolving door in which prosecutors there seem to have no idea whether they are coming or going. Some say that they were licking their wounds after having their heads handed to them in a few high profile political corruption cases. Still others speculated that no indictment would be forthcoming because that might impact the election. A few even suggested that Fed Ed would never be charged.

We now that Federal prosecutors managed to find the most idiotic way to proceed in this matter. Publicly, they curled up in a ball and let Fed Ed march on to victory though they know he's a crook and that the vast majority of Allentown voters preferred someone else. But behind the scenes, they secured pay-to-pay guilty pleas from two more businessmen and kept the public in the dark. Heaven forbid that the public be told the truth. Their dishonest inaction impacted the primary election in a far more negative way than if they had just done their jobs and indicted when ready.

The Morning Call provided some of the details yesterday. The new charges are against Mark Neisser, a glorified salesman armed with a briefcase and cellphone who was employed by T and M Associates; and Patrick Regan, a glorified salesman who is also armed with a law degree and who works for TEN. Neisser has been charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery, while Regan has admitted to a conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Both charging documents are based on information that is now years old and has been collecting dust.

Behind closed doors, an information was filed and sealed against Neisser on March 13. He entered his guilty plea on April 6. Earlier this month, the feds quietly unsealed the record with no notice to the public.

For Regan, an information was filed and sealed on May 11, just four days prior to the primary. It was unsealed after the election, on June 14, and he only entered his plea On June 20, with no notice to the public.

What I find especially troublesome, in both of these informations, is the lack of a direct link to Fed Ed.

Neissen is charged with bribing former Mayor Vaughn Spencer, who like Fed Ed is still walking around as though nothing has happened. But in his case, the information includes statements that Spencer made, like “I cleared [a specific engineering contract] for [defendant MARK NEISSER’s engineering firm]. So we need to get something from them,” and "I went out of my way for [defendant MARK NEISSER’s firm] . . . [T]hat project, they weren’t even, they were, they were already ruled out. . . . And I got them back in there and got them approved.”

There is none of that for Fed Ed. Instead we are told that he acted through intermediaries like Francis Dougherty and Miked Fleck, whose credibility can be easily attacked. There are no juicy quotes, indicating either a very weak case on these counts or a terrible job of drawing up the charging documents.

While Fed Ed was publicly proclaiming his innocence and asking, "What cloud?", the Feds were depriving you, the public, of the right to their honest services. Maybe they should charge themselves next.

Their disregard of the public is shameful and should be brought to the attention of the courts when the seek the next round of sentencing continuances.

Mark Neissen Information

Patrick Regan Information

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Why Hyman Challenged Garcia and Pez - A Theory

The Morning Call is reporting that Allentown Mayoral candidate Nat Hyman paid two law firms to challenge opponents Luiz Garcia and Christopher Pez in the primary. This was learned from reviewing Hyman's expense reports, so he has been transparent. Here's what I believe happened.

Hyman grew up in Allentown. His father was a doctor. Though considered a real estate maven, he actually made his money with Landau, an Allentown-based jeweler with 60 stores in the US and Canada. He could leave as Allentown sunk. He stayed. He continued to live in Allentown, too. That says something about his loyalty to the Queen City. Hyman could see that the City was moving in the wrong direction under Fed Ed, and decided to run for Mayor himself. He invested $25,000 of his own money, too. Here's how he explains his decision on his campaign page.
state maven, he actually made his money with Landau, an Allentown-based jeweler with
Nat decided he had to run for Mayor in order to try and pull Allentown out from under the cloud of scandal that its current Mayor has put it in.
Allentown should be enjoying its finest hour of economic opportunity instead of waiting for its Mayor to be indicted and the city to slip back to where it was before the NIZ (Neighborhood Improvement Zone) was established, missing our chance to grow and be one of the greatest cities in the nation.
You could dismiss all of this is pure ego. Or maybe, just maybe, this is the real guy who has been successful and wants to serve in a city that he obviously loves.

Now I support Ray O'Connell. Should Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawolwski be indicted, and should he resign, I will push hard for the former school administrator who understands that the City is only as healthy as its schools.

But Fed Ed has vowed to remain in office, even if indicted. He will have to be dragged out, kicking and screaming.

Several people have vowed to wage write-in campaigns or run as independents  Unfortunately, that just guarantees Fed Ed's victory in the general election, just as the plethora of primary candidates insured Fed Ed's success there.

Hyman, who never ran for office before, had no shortage of advisers. One of the originals was Lehigh County's former GOP Chair, Wayne Woodman. He was Scott Ott's mentor, and must have thought he could control Hyman the way he was puppet master for Ott.

He eventually found out he was wrong, as evidenced by his failure to contribute to Hyman. But in those early days, when he thought he was calling the shots, my guess is that Woodman urged Hyman to finance challenges to Garcia and Pez  

It was still a mistake, but one I can understand.

As the summer winds on, I'll have more to say about this race.  

NorCo CYF Director Dolan - Help!!!!

centralized human services building
Kevin Dolan, long-time Director of Northampton County's Children Youth and Family Division (CYF), updated Council about his department last week. His presentation could be summed up in one word - Help! Referrals have skyrocketed since 2014, when 23 of what he called "the Sandusky laws" went into effect. Those were adopted in reaction to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. They created whole new classes of mandated reporters, who must contact CYF when there are allegations of child abuse.

In 2014, Northampton County received 3,514 referrals of possible child abuse. They increased to 5,617 in 2015 and 6,061 in 2016. This year, we are on track to have over 7,500 referrals, more than twice the number in 2014.

Calling the increased referrals a "tsuanami," Dolan said his staff are overwhelmed. "There is no way with the staff we have that we can do this well." In addition to the increased referrals, he said his staff must also keep up with deadlines mandated by law.

In addition to increased referrals, Dolan said "it's gotten very violent out there. My staff get threatened a lot." Then they quit. He noted that there are 40 vacancies in Luzerne County, where 30-40 people are brought in at one time for interviews.

In addition to guarding against the classical symptoms of child abuse, Dolan said his agency is now also charged with guarding against children in foster care who may be overmedicated.

The saddest thing he sees is when a parent who has gone to the trouble to adopt returns the child. "Here's the suitcase. It didn't work out. Take him back."

This week, Northampton County's CYF is being reviewed by a team of 17 federal investigators. "Lucky us! We won the lottery!" They will be on site for four days, interviewing staff, parents, teachers, counselors, lawyers, judges and children.

Dolan also stated that human trafficking if children has become a problem. "These guys recruit for the dance cubs and for prostitution, and where they hang around are the residential facilities where adolescents are. This is how smart they are,and they figure out what schools [adolescents] are going to, and is there's a needy youth that they can talk into working for them, they do that." he claimed the FBI is "so overwhelmed that they're going to expand [a human trafficking] unit.

Seventy per cent of the caseload is drug or alcohol related.

This increased workload has taken its toll. Statewide, 37 administrators have left in the past 26 months.In his office, the turnover is 20%,and there are currently 10 caseworker vacancies. He currently has 65 caseworkers.

"We're going full tilt and we don't have any down time," he said. "'Something bad is gonna' happen,' a fellow CYF Director recently told him.

He said he and Allison Frantz will probably be asking for more case workers. "Don't go passing all these laws and then don't give us the money to do the job," he said.

Why I Like Hanover Tp So Much

Though most of you consider me a harsh critic of local government, I'll let you in on a little secret. Most of them are quite good, thanks to committed employees and elected officials who care deeply about their communities. Hanover Township is perhaps the best run of them all, and the picture you see above explains why. The choicest parking spot at the municipal building is reserved for wounded warriors.

I was there last night to cover a Supervisors' meeting that actually took place a week ago. I do that sort of thing, which explains why I'm far from the best reporter.

I was so blown away by this sign that I called Manager Jay Finnigan. He said it was just installed that day, along with another at the community center. Finnigan refused to take credit. He said they were seen in Colorado and he considered them "appropriate and deserving for those who served."

Bethlehem Tp Comm'rs Take Aim at ATVs (and I Take Aim at Online News)

After a rash of complaints about the noise and dust caused by all-terrain vehicles, Bethlehem Township Commissioners are on the brink of strictly regulating their use. A proposed ordinance, debated at Monday night’s meeting, would ban their use between dusk and dawn. They would also be required to stay at least 100 feet away from the property line of any adjacent owner.

Commissioner Tom Nolan said that the ordinance under consideration is similar to one already in place in Lower Saucon Township. He said “it’s time to place some regulations. The township is filling out. We don’t have much land.” President Mike Hudak agreed but made clear that “we’re not outlawing anything.”

(For the rest of the story, see The Bethlehem Press. This was an "overnighter" of Monday night's meetingof Bethlehem Tp Board of Commissioners. I am disappointed. Although it was apparently published in the morning, I missed it until last night, and it was buried. If I was unable to find it, I doubt Bethlehem Tp readers did.

This is poor presentation. There is no point to presenting readers with fresh meat daily if it is buried. Whatever daily story is being featured should be presented separately. Also, it is impossible to comment there. That destroys the interactivity on which I depend to make my stories better. If the Press papers want an online presence, they are going to have to do a lot more than I have seen.

As someone who has blogged 11 years, and who has made every mistake in the book, I can tell you there are four keys to having an effective online blog or news presence. First, be consistent. Try to present your readers with information at regular intervals. Second, if you are presenting something new to the readers, it should either be at the top or presented as a featured story. It should never be buried. Third, be interactive. I could understand requiring people to sign in or even moderating, but to be effective, this should be a two-way street. I learn as much from my readers as they learn from me, especially in this kind of story. Finally, use the opportunities the Internet provides. Post videos. Use scribd or other third party services to present documents.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Explosions Expert: Catastophic Failure of LNG Tank "Very Remote"

full containment LNG tank owned
by UGI in Steelton 
Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board listened to over four hours of testimony June 14 in connection with UGI's request for a 98' high, 78' wide liquefied natural gas facility in Bethlehem at 2470 Ringhoffer Road. It will be located on an 83.91 acre tract of former Bethlehem Steel land that is now part of Lehigh Valley Industrial Park. Testimony will continue on July 12.

To review, liquefied natural gas (LNG) is cryogenically cooled natural gas which is liquefied to reduce the volume for shipping and storage. LNG is primarily methane, but can contain up to 10% ethane and propane. It is stored at a temperature of negative 260 degrees Farenheit. The location along Ringhoffer Road was attractive to UGI for two reasons. First, it is located near a pipeline that will enable the company to deliver fuel after returning the methane to its gaseous state. Second, the facility would be located in a swale, affording some natural protection.

The tank will be filled by 10,000 gallon tankers, each of them weighing over 44,000 pounds, that would travel along Applebutter and Ringhoffer Road. About five or six deliveries will be made daily over the course of several months until the tank is full. After that, the only time the tank will be accessed is during extremely cold weather.

Allentown Attorney Tim Siegfried represents UGI, and has already presented at least five witnesses. Lower Saucon Township officials, who oppose the facility, are represented by prominent environmental attorney Charles Elliott.

Three witnesses were offered June 14.

Deputy Fire Chief Craig Baer explained what steps his department would take in the event of an emergency in general detail, though questions about Nixel or reverse 911 notification or door-to-door evacuations are unresolved. An emergency action plan is still in process. He did concede under questioning by Lower Saucon Council member Priscilla deLeon that "[i]f there's a catastrophic fracture [in the tower wall], there's nothing we can do to stop it."

Dr. Ryan Hart, a consultant who assists in the investigation and analyses of fires and explosions, said the likelihood of a major incident at this facility is "very remote." He noted that LNG is heavy and the vapor cloud is not something that will rise up in the sky. He said that instead, it would hug the ground.He also said that LNG is inflammable and needs to mix with air before it becomes explosive.

He told the Zoning Hearing Board that he's done no calculations at this point concerning how far an LNG clud would travel before it disperses or explodes.

Gregory Elko, a principal at Langan Engineering, testified that the proposed UGI is not near any dwellings in Bethlehem. The closest home is 662' away,and is vacant. He said the next two closest homes are 840'and 850' away.

He described the 83.91 acre UGI tract as 87% undisturbed and wooded. He also explained that a lengthy and winding driveway would be used to access the tower, and was necessary because if hills and wetlands.

He indicated that tankers would access the driveway from Route 412, Shimersville Road, Applebutter Road and then Ringhoffer Road. He acknowledged that Ringhoffer Road would have to be widened for the truck traffic.

Hart and Elko have yet to answer questions from Attorney Charles Elliott or the public. "Dr. Hart, I hope you enjoyed the hospitality of Bethlehem because we'd like to have you back," said Kevin Kelleher, who is providing legal advice to the Zoning hearing Board.

About 20 people attended the hearing, but Kellher took a very hard line on who may pose questions.He ruled that one woman, who lives in Springfield Township in Bucks County, lacks standing. He also denied standing to a woman who holds a mortgage to property in Steel City, claiming she would have to live there to be allowed to speak.

When testimony resumes on July 12, Charles Elliott will begin his cross-examination of both Hart and Elko.

NorCo Loses Power for 1,675,463rd Time Since January

The Northampton County Courthouse is increasingly becoming a third world country. I've lost track of the number of power outages in the past few months. There's no sign things will improve anytime soon. Though people might claim I'm exaggerating, and maybe I am, it seems that we lose power at least once every week.

Yesterday, with an hour left in the work day and just as I was putting the finishing touches to a lengthy title report, the power went out.

Now there was a thunderstorm raging at the time, so that's understandable. Power went down in lots of places. Palmer Tp lost power for five whole minutes. In Nazareth, it was six. But at the courthouse, the lights were still off when I left at 4:30 pm.

I heard that a tree went over on 191 around 5 pm, and as of 11:30 pm, traffic was still being diverted.

No sense of urgency.

At the courthouse, I had wasted an hour with my thumb up my ass. So did most of the courthouse workers. They couldn't do anything except gossip. No computers. No Voice IP. Even the $800 popcorn machine was out of service.  Most employees were afraid to walk out for fear that Amy Trapp would zip by in her hoverboard and nail 'em.

After leaving the courthouse, I dreaded going to a meeting in Bethlehem Township, where you usually need an aircraft carrier to get around after a heavy downpour. But the Township was OK.

After writing up my story about Bethlehem Township,I wanted to tell you about Kevin Dolan's appearance before Northampton County Council last week. He's the director of Northampton County's Children, Youth and Family Division. What he had to say is very troubling.

In order to tell his story, I wanted to watch the video of his appearance As difficult as this may be for some of you to believe, I like to quote people accurately. I almost always watch the video of a meeting before I write my story, even if I was there. But at midnight, Northampton County's website was down. Easton City was working fine, as were several Easton businesses. But not the county. Its subpar website is really only good for meeting videos, and now even that has failed.

So that's another story that needs to be told but has to wait.

The one good idea Donald Trump has had is his promise to do something about our infrastructure. That increasingly appears to be an empty promise.          


Where's My Bethlehem Township Story?

When I attend a meeting in Bethlehem Township, I try my best to have story up at midnight or soon thereafter to both inform you and be educated by you.  This is what I consider my first draft. Later in the week, after digesting your comments and correcting errors that you've pointed out, I re-write the story for The Bethlehem Press.

That small weekly has decided it would like to be a bit more spontaneous. So about once every month, I will overnight a meeting story and watch as my first draft is published there instead of here. My lucky number came up last night with Bethlehem Township. So you should see my story in The Bethlehem Press sometime today, hopefully this morning.  I will update this post with a link when it happens.

What happened? Did Township Commissioners decide to do something about all-terrain vehicles, which have terrorized some residents?  Was Breslin there? How's the Brodhead Road reconstruction project going? Is Mike Hudak against it or is he upset that trucks in the industrial park have ruined the road?  Did Commissioners agree to hire a part-time clerk? Was the public opposed? Are township employees and firefighters getting a discount at the community center?   Are they giving a discount to bloggers, too? Does anyone know why Coroner Zach Lysek came and asked everyone how they were feeling?

My story is written, and hopefully, you'll be able to see it soon.

Updated 8:47 pm - The story appears here.