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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Becahi's Black Fly Bowl

As a former artilleryman in Oklahama, I've been in foxholes full of scorpions. In Louisiana, I've seen jeeps sink all the way to their steering wheels in the mud. In Virginia, in a lonely advance party, I'd listen to the music of coyotes as darkness fell. None of that is as bad as those black flies were yesterday. In addition to making it difficult to see, they crawled right up my legs, biting all the way. They even flew off with the Golden Hawk mascot at one point.

Becahi's Freshman and JV squads hosted the Dieruff Huskies yesterday in a field near the high school. I'm calling it the Black Fly Bowl. It was brutal. I don't know how the kids can play, but play they did. As 8th graders, Becahi was annihilated by Dieuruff. As Freshman, the situation was reversed.

My video is shaky for three reasons - the flies, I was working the chain gang and I suck. But I got three plays. The first is a kickoff return by Becahi's #5, Brandon Clark, for a touchdown. The second is a screen pass to Dat Lambert, #7, and the final play is a punt return by Dat in which he just scoops the ball up and goes.

Coplay Council's Carl Luckenbach Messes Up a Church Picnic

Think things are bad in Nazareth? West Easton? At least their Council members aren't threatening to kill each other. For that, you have to go to Coplay.

Coplay has always been one of my favorite Lehigh Valley communities. In July, it's home to an annual baseball tournament for kids age 9 and under. It's great for the kids. For many of them, it's their first opportunity to use big barrel bats. I can still remember those games vividly.This successful tournament has been going on for close to thirty years. Instead of power bars, baseball players consume the best homemade pierogies in the world, along with strawberry shortcake. The tournament always ends with a night of fireworks to match those that go on inside the baseball diamonds.

Fireworks have been going on at Coplay Borough Council, too. In 2010, I attended a fractious meeting, and concluded pretty quickly that they pretty much thumb their noses at the Sunshine Act. The Morning Call's Bill White reached pretty much the same conclusion.

I thought things must be improving after Bill Leiner, a former Lehigh County Commissioner and one-time Mayor of Coplay, was elected to Borough Council. Just last year, he told The Whitehall-Coplay Press that he would "continue to work for open, honest government ... and work to eliminate the negative politics from the council chamber during meetings."

In August, while attending a picnic at St. Peter's Catholic Church, Leiner was approached by someone who told him he'd like to kill him.

"If I could kill you and get away with it, I would," said this person repeatedly until Leiner decided he better get the hell out of there.

The person who threatened him is another member of Borough Council, Carl Luckenbach.

I contacted Leiner, who tells me he has no idea what set this guy off. I contacted Luckenbach late yesterday, but have not heard back from him. If I do, I'll update this post.

Luckenbach was charged with disorderly conduct, and last week, entered a plea of guilty. His fine and court costs totaled just $168, which is something of a bargain for a conditional death threat.

Maybe District Judge Robert Halal was running a special. Or it's not considered that serious at a Catholic Church picnic.

Leiner told me he's satisfied that Luckenback "has paid his debt to society," but I don't know. While there is no way to force him out of office for a summary offense, his threatening remark to another elected official undermines Borough Council, and he should resign.

Nazareth Mayor: "I Don't Care What a Judge says"

From Carl Strye's Facebook 
Let's get something clear here. Nazareth Mayor Carl Strye, a carwash salesman, never bothered to show his face in the courtroom when District Judge Jacqueline Taschner, a former cryptanalyst who also served as an Assistant District Attorney, acquitted the Sticker Gang of all charges in a ridiculous and vindictive prosecution inspired by a thin-skinned police chief who hated being criticized. The sole Council member who did go, Frank Maurek, was disgusted by the ineptitude displayed. Putting the Constitution aside, there simply was no evidence to establish that defendants Trevor Gehret, Jeremy Peters and Dan Logothetis did anything wrong. It was a trumped up case brought by bullies.

At the time, Hizzoner told a reporter he supported Judge Taschner's decision, not that it's needed. That was a bold-faced lie. Yesterday, he told The Express Times what he really thinks, "I don't care what a judge says." He also complains that the Sticker Gang, whose case he never saw in a courtroom, "didn't get any kind of sentencing, they were sort of let go." Incredibly, speaking as the Mayor of Nazareth, he defames three innocent people who were already publicly humiliated in a staged perp walk.

Strye is reacting to the story, which first appeared here yesterday, that someone is plastering stickers in Nazareth again. There are big differences from what happened earlier this summer.

First, these stickers are a lot bigger. Nobody except those on foot noticed the postage-stamp sized stickers. These are easily visible to drivers.

Second, these stickers are a traffic hazard. Most have been placed on stop signs. The tiny stickers went on park benches, water fountains and other innocuous spots.

Third, these stickers don't say anything. They are Chicago Bulls logos. The tiny FT stickers, critical of  police chief Thomas Trachta, were an expression of core political speech.

Finally, and this fact seems to have eluded both Hizzoner and Trachta, I'm told these stickers have been spotted in Bushkill and Palmer Townships, Most seem to be around the high school and elementary school. The FT stickers were limited to the downtown section of Nazareth.

My guess is that whoever is doing this has probably never even heard of the Sticker Gang. But Strye uses this as an opportunity to both bash a judge and question why innocent people escaped a sentence in a case he never bothered to watch.

When Strye states he "does not care what a judge says," what he is really saying is that he can ignore the rule of law. When he states that innocent people should have been sentenced, despite never having witnessed the hopeless prosecution, he is again saying he can ignore the rule of law.

When we have a Mayor who effectively thumbs his nose at the courts and out criminal justice system, can he really expect others to follow the law? He is setting a terrible example.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Nazareth Has A New Sticker Bandit

Sometime late last week, someone began plastering Chicago Bulls stickers on Nazareth stop signs. Though these are so large that they clearly impair driver safety and contain only commercial speech,  no effort has been made by Nazareth's constabularly to remove these impediments or find out who plastered them. But then again, these stickers don't criticize Police Chief Thomas "Cupcake" Trachta.

One of them is a Masonic symbol.

Trachta and his sidekick, bull-rider Danny Troxell, hate those damn Masons

Better get the ATVs out again.

Trevor Gehret, ringleader of the real Sticker Gang, has condemned these oversized traffic hazards.

Tax It Where It Lives, Not Where It Works

For the past several years, a group of mostly conservative thinkers has advocated patriotic-sounding Property Tax Independence Act, In a bid to make themselves sound like the Founding Fathers, they call their bills HB 76 and SB 76. Their logo also is surrounded by 13 stars. I guess that's in honor of the 13 original states or something. Basically, their plan is to phase out property taxes over two years and then play their fifes and drums and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

In Easton, Democrat Mayor Sal Panto is so terrified of raising property taxes to meet that City's obligations that he instead imposed an unpopular commuter tax.

No question about it, property taxes are unpopular, and are particularly unfair to seniors on fixed incomes.

But according to The Wharton School economist Robert Inman, the property tax is probably the fairest of all the taxes imposed by local government. He was one of the featured speakers at a Lehigh University Symposium on Friday on the crisis in local government finance.

His specific point of reference was the city, where taxes are higher than in the 'burbs, and his basic argument is that all taxes are bad. But as we all know, they are a necessary evil. He explored which taxes do the least harm. Believe it or not, it's the property tax. He did the math and everything.

Property taxes are evil. 

If Philadelphia's tax rate of 2.99% were to increase by just 1% to 3.99%, Inman calculates that average city property values will decline by 20%. "That's a pretty big effect," he notes.

Business taxes are evil. 

This is a tax on business activity, not profit, and can be devastating to a new business. If Philadelphia were to increase its gross receipts tax rate by just 0.10%, the net result would be a 4% decline in the City's business activity.

Wage and Commuter Taxes are evil.

Those taxes cause jobs to leave a City. Philadelphia woke yup to this reality and has begun to reduce its wage and commuter taxes. Reducing the resident rate from 3.93 to 3.76%, and the non-resident rate from 3.50 to 3.35%, is expected to result in an 8,375-job increase by 2018.  

Tax It Where It Lives, Not Where It Works

According to Inman, the fairest way for a City to tax is by moving from a mobile to an immobile tax base. Commuter taxes, wage taxes and gross receipts taxes just drive business and jobs away. Lowering the wage tax will result in more job, more income and encourage people to live where they work by investing in real estate.  he would increase real estate taxes, but homeowners who live in their homes would be afforded a partial exemption.

All of this was in a 2009 Task Force recommendation that was never implemented.

The political winds, however, have been blowing the other way.

Some Sad Facts About Allentown's Homeless Problem

Chris Cocca has set up a GoFundMe site for Allentown's homeless. Here's what it says:

Where do the homeless go when the temperatures turn to freezing in our area?  Contrary to common belief, our area shelters are running at or close to capacity and when 4 people froze to death on the streets several years ago, the generous parish of St. Paul's Church at S. 8th and Walnut, opened their doors and created Safe Haven.  It offered a blanket and a spot on the floor to get out of the cold but with the limited budget of this small church, little more.

When overcrowding at this ministry was brought to light (over 40 people crowding into a space that should house 25), the City of Allentown’s Commission to End Chronic Homelessness formed a Seasonal Sheltering committee to create a community solution to emergency shelter for the 2014/2015 winter . This committee involved existing shelters, homeless service providers, street medicine clinics, faith-based communities, and homeless advocates with a goal of find a solution to the overflow of the established year round shelters that would provide accommodations AND services to help move people out of homelessness .  

This shelter will be open to men, women, couples and families with no one turned away.  In Allentown currently, the Salvation Army and the 6th Street Shelter (women/children/ families) are full and both have a waitlist.  The Rescue Mission, which is only available to men, just added 18 beds because they have housed a record number of homeless men this summer.  And as a further indication of the need, Allentown School District saw almost 700 homeless children last year.

This shelter will not only finally give us an opportunity to officially quantify the problem of homelessness in our area (which rose by 21% rather than decreasing like nationwide numbers) but it will also facilitate getting people back on their feet faster with scheduled case managers and a consistent intake process allowing each individual to be known by name and their unique needs.  In addition to blankets, there will be cots, meals  and non-uniformed supervisory staff, with accommodations for up to 50 comfortably.

The Board of Alliance Hall of Allentown has offered the gym at their 6th & Chew building to serve as the winter shelter.  The Board of The Lehigh Conference of Churches has offered its staff to provide operational support but this Emergency Winter Shelter is being considered a community effort and what’s needed now is the funding to make this winter shelter happen.

The estimated costs for the November 1st through April operation is $140-160,000.  Several of these costs are one time start up costs such as the cots.  As stated, the majority is being solicited from businesses and organizations but we hope that each of you sees the importance of keeping people from freezing on the streets of Allentown this winter.

Though I pretty much despise the hypocrisy displayed Lehigh Conference of Chruches last year, I'll pitch in. I don't have much money, but will fast every Monday and kick in $5.

Can you help?

Updated 10:30 am: The GoFundMe site is up to $570, with the most recent sum coming from Lisa Lockley, "In memory of my uncle norman markham murdered on the streets of allentown while homeless."

TOA Brings Police to Green Pond Marsh

Maybe these holes are traps for tresspassers. 
Last week, I told you that developer Traditions of America has decided to rip open the environmentally sensitive Green Pond Marsh (Bethlehem Township) with 39 holes, each of them 4' x 6'. Engineers are conducting infiltration tests on the site's ability to handle stormwater. This digging is going on in what The Audubon Society has designated as an "Important Bird Area." 162 bird species have been documented there, including eight that are considered endangered or threatened. When I found out what was going on, I went out there to take pictures. They scared the birds away, but I may have scared the developer. There was no backhoe at the site on Friday. Instead, two police officers were there while soil samples were extracted.

One of the officers was Police Chief Dan Pancoast, who told a Sierra Club representative that he was sent there by Manager Melissa Shafer.

Maybe they thought I'd be back and were going to arrest me for taking shitty pictures.

I'd have to plead guilty.

Or maybe they were acting as scarecrows.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dieruff - The Team to Watch

Dieruff's loss to the now 5-0 Bethlehem Catholic Golden Hawks at J. Birney Crum Stadium on Friday night was no surprise. Nor was the lopsided, 65-21 score.  Simmons sizzled. McDaniel mauled. But they played a team that is getting better, week by week. In fact, two years from now, the Huskies are going to be a threat for the Districts.

I won't beat around the bush. The chief problem at both Allen and Dieruff has been poverty. This has led to a transient population in which families move frequently. That often prevents the most athletically gifted students in the Lehigh Valley from excelling. A few things have stemmed that tide for Dieruff. I can't put my finger on any one thing, but have seen a lot of interest in youth sports in East Allentown over the past ten years. Is it the East Side Youth Center? The Wall to Wall basketball program? The frequent tournaments in which fathers and mothers watched their sons and daughters grow up?

Something good is happening. Instead of seeing a deserted J. Birney Crum stadium on Friday night, there was a bit of a crowd. Lots of proud families. One young man, about 7, told me several times that his brother was playing. I sat near one woman who came because she's an alumnus and is excited at how the kids are doing, even though she knows none of them.

Freshmen football players walked up and down the concourse, proudly wearing their Jerseys. I begged them to go easy on my grandson on Monday, when the Freshman team plays Beca, and they laughed.

You won't find a better football stadium in the Lehigh Valley. You also won't find better food, including funnel cakes.

On the field, I could see #50, Badid Haddad, a linemen who made a few key stops throughout the game. He'll be back next year. He gives it everything and  happens to be pleasant young man off the field. 

Senior Shakur Lester (#6) took a kickoff all the way in for a score, and had several great long runs. So did Juniors Devante Robinson (#20) and Jayden Reyes (#1), who will be back next year.

For whatever reason, Dieruff is developing a core of athletes who grew up and have played in the Lehigh Valley. Tough and gritty, they know and have played the same kids who now play for Parkland, Beca, Central, Freedom and Liberty.

They never quit.

Another amazing phenomenon was the band. A reader observes, "They can't have more than twenty people who play instruments and I noticed two of the big bass drummers marching at halftime were actually football players who took their helmets off and never made it to the locker room! I was sincerely shocked at how loud they were, though; I never would have guessed they could generate that much noise."

I laughed when the Husky mascot pretended to pee on the Golden Hawk.

I did see a fight as I left, but it was broken up by the kids themselves. Another good sign. What I see at that football game is a much more hopeful prognosis for Allentown than the NIZ.

The big game Friday night was Whitehall's upset of Parkland. That's Dieruff in two years.

MaxPreps now rates Becahi #6 among AAA teams, and #15 statewide. Easton is rated #4 among AAAA teams, and #9 statewide.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Whining A Poor Way To Attract Readers

LVCI is an anonymous blogger who is so afraid of everyone that he once told me he won't attend a meeting. I refuse to link to him. He is incapable of offering original local news, and I have no interest in opinions offered by cowards afraid of their own shadow. Nor do many others. Instead of considering the possibility that much of his problem might be him, he lashes out at his readers and even other local bloggers. Unsuccessful in the Lehigh Valley, he's going international. That way he will an attract readers who appreciate his quality work, he reasons. 

He'll fail.

What I've learned over years of blogging is that the surest way to turn off readers is to cater to what you think they want. Whenever I do that, I fail, no matter how clever I think my post might be.

To be successful, you have to write about what what appeals to you. I am passionate about local government, and appeal to readers who share that passion. I try to be informative, original and try to avoid the mistake of taking myself or anyone else too seriously. When I do, I get hammered.

Another way to fail is to whine repeatedly about a lack of readership or comments. LVCI does that quite a bit. I usually just chuckle. But I was unaware until now that this is a trash-talkin' BS blog.

I kinda' like that.

Here's an excerpt of his rant:
I've become acutely aware readers of blogs here in the Lehigh Valley only have 1 or 2 sites they participate with. I named this blog focused on my introspectives concerning issues and spending a lifetime growing up here for a reason. As I look over various other blogs, both past and present, apparently few in this area appreciate those efforts I and others have made concerning local issues over these many years.

It makes little sense to spend so much time on people who care so little. Over the years I (and others) spent countless hours researching links for each of every conceivable issue one could think of going on the Lehigh Valley offering opinion and commentary. Nearly all received a tepid response in readership. While most other bloggers gave up on them I hung in.

That Is, Until Today...
Lehigh Valley readers have taken to only one other local blog no matter how much effort is made by myself or others over the years. If dozens of readers want to respond to only one other's BS blog which caters to talking trash so-be-it.
I was also unaware he viewed himself as a competitor. In any event, he's now gone on to more important stuff, like the property tax elimination issue that people have been talking about for 1,000 years, and the iPhone.

Zero comments.

Dees Reports Jill Garcia Now Wilson's Borough Manager

Jill Garcia, a former part-time West Easton Borough clerk, was forced to leave her job there as a result of harassment by Tricia Mezzacappa, which was both vulgar and extremely personal. She went to work for Wilson Borough, and Matt Dees is now reporting that she's just been named Borough Manager! Good for her!

Jill, I owe you a lunch at Betty's Luncheon, home of the best falafel in the Lehigh Valley.

Troubled Teen Admits to False Abduction Report at Nazareth Boro Park

DA John Morganelli
Mathew Cooper, an 18 year-old Nazareth High School sophomore, is the person who falsely reported that a 7 year-old girl had been abducted at Nazareth Borough Park on September 14. At a news conference, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli announced that Copper has been charged with false reports, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison, and disorderly conduct, a summary offense with a 90-day maximum. He indicated these are the most serious charges that can be filed. Despite some mitigating circumstances indicating that Cooper himself is a troubled young man, Morganelli said criminal sanctions were appropriate because of the significant diversion of police resources to investigate what turned out to be a wild goose chase. This includes state police helicopters that were supposed to be assisting in the manhunt for a slain state trooper.

Morganelli's charges are by summons. There will be no arrest. No shackles. There will be no staged perp walk, something his office disdains.

The False Report

Mathew Cooper (Facebook profile)
As explained by Morganelli, this case started when Cooper approached Sean Hand, who was walking his dog near the park on Sunday evening, September 14. Cooper, claiming that he had just seen the abduction of a 7 year-old girl, asked Hand to dial 911. Hand did so, and Cooper borrowed the phone to claim that a male had dragged a 7 year-old girl with short blond hair, black shorts and a white shirt, into the woods. He tried chasing after them unsuccessfully.

Nazareth Police Officer Eric Schwab, who was patrolling in the vicinity of the park, was the first to respond. Eventually, a massive manhunt was undertaken as darkness fell. This included at least five police departments, along with the Pennsylvania State Police and the FBI. It also included volunteer firefighters from several local departments as well as the Nazareth road crew. Thermal imaging devices, night vision equipment and spotlights were used. Nazareth was in virtual lockdown for several hours.

In the meantime, there had been no report of a missing child.

Hand showed police his cell phone, in which it appeared that Cooper had made several calls after contacting 9-1-1, including calls to his birth father in Ohio.

Cooper Wanted to Draw Attention to Sister

The next day, police took Cooper out of school to return to the park and explain the abduction in more detail. Pennsylvania State Police asked him to submit to a polygraph, during which he admitted that he had made the whole thing up. He did so "to draw attention to his sister," Jacqueline Mae Cooper. A 13 month-old tot, she was pummeled to death on October 6, 2004. She suffered bruises, broken ribs, a broken ankle, a lacerated liver and a killing blow that snapped her neck. Her feet and cheeks had also recently been punctured 47 times with a tattoo needle.

Cooper's mother, Vanessa McGlumphy, pleaded to involuntary manslaughter, and was sentenced to prison for 10 years. She was aware of the abuse, but had done nothing to stop it.

"When push came to shove, she had to choose between her daughter and her boyfriend," an Akron prosecutor stated. "She chose her boyfriend and her daughter died."

She's due out of jail any day.

The boyfriend, Daniel Duffield, was sentenced to 28 years in prison, following a jury trial. .

There was some testimony that he may have even sacrificed the child in a bizarre religious ritual as a "black pagan."

News accounts from that period do not indicate whether Cooper, then 8 years old, was living in that household. But clearly, it had an impact on him.

According to Cooper's Facebook page, September 15 would have been her 11th birthday. On that day, at 2:16 am and shortly after his false report, he writes, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY JACQUELINE MAE COOPER,YOUR ALWAYS IN MY HEART I HAVE NEVER FORGOT ABOUT YOU .AND I NEVER WILL .#FOREVER.ALWAYS"

Below is a Youtube video released in honor of Jacqueline Mae Cooper on what would have been her 7th birthday:

Morganelli acknowledged at the news conference that he was aware of these Internet reports, but stated he needed to confirm the details before deciding on a sentencing recommendation. He did state that the story about the Ohio murder is "not really relevant to my decision. It's not a good reason to call in an abduction."

Sticker Gang Cleared

Sticker Gang: Jeremy Peters, Trevor Gehret and Dan Logothetis
Before these charges were filed, there were a number of anonymous accusations implicating the Sticker Gang, yours truly and other Nazareth police officers.

For example, there's this comment, which has to come from a part-time Nazareth police officer who would like very much to be a full-time Nazareth police officer.
Why don't you pay attention to your own problems Bernie ???? You have many of them!!!! Trachta is a true professional and you can't stand that he won't just go away because that's what you and the loser sticker gang want! When this investigation is over concerning the abduction , I am sure you, the sticker gang, Lehovsky and dumb dumb will be implicated!!!! That's the word on the street ! There's a line and you crossed it!
Then there's this from the trolls:
Word on the street is that the perpetrators of this hoax will be faced with a 5 figure bill minimum. Looks like your little band of rebels will be paying interest on the case they dodged earlier this summer, maybe you can start a commune above Army Navy it would save money on heat in the winter all those young nubile bodies curled up together.

The investigation is under way................. Stay tuned!!! I am sure you'll have a front row seat!!!!!!! Better get your story straight!
Matthew Cooper's Facebook reveals he has no "friends" among the Sticker Gang.

Questions Raised

Though Morganelli had no choice but to bring charges, the question in my mind is why so many police resources were diverted to investigate a report from someone who is obviously an emotional mess. Though he has no record as an adult, sources report he is well-known to Nazareth police. The fact that he is 18 and is still a sophomore should have set off a few flares in Chief Thomas Trachta's head before he alerted half the police departments of the United States to investigate this bogus abduction. The fact that not one other person saw or heard the abduction should have triggered a few alarm bells as well. I won't condemn him on this one, however, as he erred on the side of caution. He over-reacted, but maybe that's a good thing.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Trachta Targets Deaf Mother of Sticker Gang Member

The Sticker Gang with the Legal Dream Team - Gary Asteak
Phil Lauer and Mark Minotti
Just when I think he's finally run out of stupid pills, he proves me wrong. I'm speaking, of course, of Nazareth Police chief Thomas "Cupcake" Trachta. He's sunk to a new low. Unable to get a conviction in Stickergate, he's decided to go after the deaf mother of one of the Defendants. What's more, he reportedly enlisted the help of a Borough Council member to act as a mini-Detective for him. Let me tell you the story.

Most of you are familiar with my Tales of Trachta. He's the thin-skinned cop who earlier this year was the subject of tiny, postage stamp-sized stickers that said, "FT Fire Trachta." Most people never noticed them, but Trachta did. He actually tried to involve the feds in a major investigation. They're still laughing.

Danny Troxell
So he used Danny Troxell, a part-time cop who's bounced around from town to town over the years. Troxell is also a bull-rider who's been bounced on his head one too many times. Get this. Troxell sees stickers in a parking lot, and illogically deduces that the Sticker Gang must be responsible. He also testified, illogically again, that residents were "terrorized" when they saw stickers on parking meters. His list of charges went well beyond the littering charges authorized by the DA. He was unable to even fill out the criminal charges correctly, listing the wring statutes.

In short, he's an idiot, but will do anything Trachta tells him because he's desperate for a full-time job.

 We all know what happened to the Stickergate prosecution, in which Troxell was so inept he was unable to even introduce a photograph into evidence.

But the lowest point was when he called a deaf woman to the stand. She had absolutely nothing to add to the case, but was subpoenaed and was even instructed to stay away from her own son. Troxell never bothered to inform the court he had a deaf witness, so arrangements could be made for a sign language interpreter. She was being called solely to establish that this fellow lives with his mom from time to time, which is apparently a violation of her lease.

Needless to say, the witness was excused.

This case was so bad it was laughed right out of court. Council member Frank Maurek would later say he was "embarrassed." But Maurek and other Council members refused to do the right thing and get rid of Trachta and Troxell. Instead, they kicked the can down the road, asking for a state study, even though they already had one done, telling them they have a problem.

In the meantime, Nazareth and Trachta have been sued for civil rights violations in a devastating complaint filed by Officer Fred Lahovski. They've received notice that all three members of the Sticker Gang are suing. Other civil rights suits are in the pipeline.

How do Trachta and Troxell react?

By picking on a defenseless and deaf woman.

Sticker Gang leader Trevor Gehret has been telling me that Troxell will drive along side him and just start staring at him. I'd tell Gehret it's no stare. Troxell has just been knocked off a bull so many times that he has a rough time figuring out where he is.

But when they actually started keeping tabs on this poor deaf woman, whose only real sin is loving her son, they really went too far.

Under the terms of her subsidized lease, she must live alone. But she has allowed her son to stay with her. To prove this, Trachta has actually had the Belvidere Street apartments staked out. He and Troxell kept tabs. So did a Borough Council member, who bragged about his detective work to the wrong person.

This woman has been given a notice of eviction, but I suspect housing officials will relent once they learn that this was a vindictive move.

It is pure retaliation by a petty police chief who was publicly embarrassed. It's done to chill free speech, too, and I am sure it will be part of the civil rights action filed.

Far from condemning the civil rights violations, Nazareth Borough Council has just demonstrated it is complicit with him.

In the mean time, Trachta is getting half the police departments of the County to search for a child that never was missing, based on information that he had to know was bogus. He's also been importing crime, using out-of-town informants to arrange drug buys in Nazareth with out-of-town dealers.  

I'm sure Trachta and Troxell would be much happier as rodeo clowns. We don't need police clowns.

Developer Digging 39 Holes in Green Pond Important Bird Area

One of 39 holes being dug at Green Pond Marsh
The Audubon Society has designated the Green Pond Marsh, located in Bethlehem Township, as an "Important Bird Area." Bird watchers have documented 162 bird species at the site, including eight that are considered endangered or threatened. But right now, nonexistent might be the better word. There were no birds spotted at Green Pond Marsh at all yesterday because developer Traditions of America is digging it all up.

In a telephone conversation, Traditions of America (TOA) Partner David Biddison confirmed that engineers are conducting infiltration tests "to ensure that we have a viable and complete stormwater management plan."

Engineer and two others descend into one of these holes
Jack Glagola, a Save Green Pond organizer, counters that TOA has another motive. "If they can dump water into the wetlands, they get more square footage to build. What they're trying to do is pull a fast one."

Biddison has referred to a planned series of ponds as a conservation area, Glagola scoffs, "It's not a conservation area. It's a god damn sewer."

An onsite engineer stated that 39 holes, each of them 6' x 4', are being dug, These are 75' away from the only portion of land that has been designated a wetland. But the digging, along with mountains of dirt, are piling up inside an area that Save Green Pond activists contend are very much part of the wetlands.

A meeting had been planned so that Save Green Pond could present the findings of consulting ecologist James Schmid, but that meeting was abruptly canceled when TOA withdrew its sketch plans.

The appearance of a backhoe and excavators is a sure indication that TOA still plans to develop the site with a senior living community.

Dr. Schmid, who happened to be on site yesterday, produced aerial maps going back to 1939, showing the area as a wetland. He indicated that there are three tests which would confirm whether this disputed area really is a wetland, The United States Army Corps of Engineers has declined to investigate because the area is too isolated to be considered "waters of the united States." But the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) can make that determination, Schmid stated, because that regulatory agency has jurisdiction over "waters of the Commonwealth."

According to Glagola, the state DEP has one person assigned to investigate 11 counties.

"We'll get to it in a couple of weeks for sure," DEP promised Glagola. He has asked State Rep. Bob Freeman for assistance in getting an investigator assigned.

By the time the investigator arrives, there will be 39 mountains of dirt in an area that ornithologists love to study, and no birds.

Bethlehem Zoners Grant Relief to Three Homeowners

Despite being wheelchair bound, Charles Bickert (center)
asked zoners to grant relief to his neighbors,
Otilla and Raymond Rivera
A light agenda, combined with little opposition, made for a quick Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board meeting on August 24. All five zoners decided to grant three zoning appeals and were finished in an hour.

The first matter was for a slight dimensional variance that would allow Otilla and Raymond Rivera to build a carport on an existing asphalt pad. Rivera, an ER Physician's Assistant, told zoners that last winter, the heavy and frequent snow convinced him he needed to do something. His neighbor, Charles Bickert, agreed. "He works in a hospital and has to get out," Bickert noted. "This is a benefit to everyone."

In the second matter, Ann Miller was granted a variance that would allow her to run her life and health insurance business from her home. Bill Scheier, who lives at least 1 1/2 miles away from Miller, warned zoners that he office would be too close to nearby Calypso Elementary School. "Society has an ongoing problem with people hanging around schools," warned Scheier, pressing the fear monger button.  Miller ignored Scheier, who produced no evidence that her clients are in any way unusual.

The final matter considered was an expansion at 2111 Boyd Street, in which a proposed master bedroom would be two feet closer to the adjoining rear property than allowed. Owner Francis Macklin explained that his back yard is fenced, and there are 15-18' arborvitae between his and the rear property.

Watch Your Step!

On my way to a meeting of Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board last night, it was pretty obvious that all the steps leading to Town Hall were ripped open, with crime scene taped all over the place, along with wooden blockades. My conclusion is that Controller Steve Barron must have farted there.

I was still able to get in by following a young female attorney who had figured it all out. She was very smart.

Once we got inside, she drew my attention to the above sign.

That probably would have made a little more sense outside, but I'm not in government.

I'm A Miserable Bastard

I really am nasty. Today, some poor guy followed me into the courthouse and asked, "Where's the Revenue Office on the Second Floor?"

"On the Second Floor," I answered, and walked away.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hanover Supervisors Remember Fallen PSP Corporal

Milite during last winter's salt shortage
Unlike many other local governments, Hanover Township Supervisors remember things like Flag Day or Patriot Day. It has its very own Armed Services Park, If someone like Jared Robinson Brooks attains the rank of Eagle Scout, he is recognized with a proclamation as well as a day named in his honor. So it was no surprise that when Supervisors met on September 23, the first thing they did was offer a moment of silence in honor of fallen Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Bryon Dickson, who was cut down during a shift change the previous week. And when it was over, Chairman John Diacogiannis wiped away a tear.

After this somber start, Supervisors took care of business during a brief meeting.

They accepted the resignation of long-time Planning Commission member Joseph Hilton "with regret," and will be sending him a letter of appreciation signed by each Supervisor.

Township Secretary Lori Stanzl announced that there will be an electronics recycling event at the Municipal Building on Saturday, October 11, between 9 am and 3 pm. Most items can be recycled free of charge.

Supervisor Jack Nagle announced that Trick or Treat day this year will actually take place on Halloween, Friday, October 31, between 6-8 pm.

Public Works Director advised that leaf collection will start on October 13, and continue through December 5. He also reported that this road crew used 400 tons of black top this summer to mill and repair potholes. The Township usually uses only around 100-150 tons, and Milite stated this is another indication of just how bad last winter was.

Nagle asked Milite if he had checked the Farmer's Almanac for this winter's severe weather.

"I don't want to know," he replied.

Does Bangor Need a New Stadium?

As a rule, I don't do school boards. Whether it's Frank Pintabone in Easton, Mike Faccinetto in Bethlehem or Bob Cartwright in Bangor, these directors are all nuts. They spend money to run for nonpartisan offices in which they are paid nothing. If they do manage to get elected, the good ones spend countless hours negotiating with teachers who rightly want more money and taxpayers who rightly demand an end to all the spending. No matter what they do, they eventually end up pissing off everyone.

Kinda' like me.

But I'm about to violate my own rule again by discussing Bangor Area School Board. Spillman Farmer, a prominent architectural firm, was hired recently to lay out a number of options for the school's athletic fields. One of them is an $8.8 million stadium. As much as I love youth sports and enjoy sitting inside a local stadium, this is a bad idea for Bangor.

Bob Cartwright told me yesterday that the school district has many more pressing needs. These include a leaking roof at the middle school, which will cost $3.3 million to repair. Two teacher contracts need to be negotiated, and they have endured wage freezes long enough. The school district is running a $2 million or so deficit. The pension contribution is going up $1 million per year. And Bangor, like every school district in the state, is required to report that three times its $26 million payroll as a pension liability.

"We're the Titanic about to hit the iceberg, and they want to re-arrange the deck chairs and move the orchestra," he complained. "You can't spend money you don't have."

Cartwright raises another troubling point. "This is Bangor," he started. "We have some kids in this district whose only real meal is the free lunch they get at school." He added that over 400 families participate in the Portland's food bank. Portland's population is not much larger. "I'm a die-hard conservative," he added, "but at some point, you gotta' open your eyes."

Bangor always has very competitive sports programs, I reminded Cartwright. He agreed, but added, "Our priority is education."

That's too bad because Ron Angle, the Sultan of Slate Belt Sludge, spent the weekend designing the new stadium, which he has suggested be named after him. "If the weather gets bad, just close the lid," he explained "If the other team gets out of hand, just flush!".

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Who Won Wolf-Corbett Debate?

Because I was at a Upper Mount Bethel Township Supervisors' meeting with Ron Angle and Mark "the bastard" Thatcher, I missed last night's gubernatorial debate between Democrat Tom Wolf and Republican Tom Corbett. Who came across better?

According to Democratic State Rep. Peter Daley, front-runner Wolf was "terrible." But Chris Borick, who is paid by newspapers to furnish polls, huffs that little things like debates have only a "modest impact" on elections.

I guess little things like seeing how candidates interact with each other, and how their ideas hold up, is meaningless to the poll man.

They will debate again on October 1 and October 8.

Nazareth's Pool Grant is Drowned By Gaming Authority.

In late August, Nazareth Borough Council member Frank Maurek patted borough officials on the back for getting a $39,750 grant for the new pool patio from Northampton County's Gaming Authority. But as I warned both Council and readers, that application was in serious trouble. The borough pretty much bungled a previous $27,500 road grant to build a road for its ambulance company. ... In Upper Nazareth.

Since that project has not even started, that money must be returned. And yesterday, the Gaming Authority passed on a $39,750 pool grant. In fact, Nazareth should know that it finished #35 out of 35 applications.

Dead last.

All told, Nazareth has missed out on $67,250 that could have been used on more worthy projects in the borough, like police vehicles or trucks for the highway department.

$710,747 in Gaming Funds Awarded to 16 NorCo Municipalities

Joe Kelly
Northampton County's nine-member Gaming Authority, at their September 22 meeting, placed a priority on public safety. They voted to provide the money for seven new police vehicles, establishment of the Slate Belt Police Department headquarters, in-car police cameras, a thermal imaging to help police during rescue operations, a computer work station for law enforcement, police radios, security cameras, speed radar signs and a breathing apparatus for firefighters. They also funded the purchase of road crew truck. Of 35 applications received for over $1.5 million, 16 municipalities were awarded a total of $710,747.

Each of the 35 applications received a numerical rating by each Board member.

The 6th highest rated application was a combined request by Wind Gap, Pen Argyl and Plainfield for $150,000 to help establish the Slate Belt Police Department, a new regionalize police force in Northampton County. This project had the support of Northampton County Council member Scott Parsons, who was President of Wind Gap Borough Council.

But Ken Kraft, the Northampton County Council non-voting liaison, argued that application should be rejected because Wind Gap mishandled a previous grant award in 2012. Executive Director Karen Collis explained that the previous grant award to Wind Gap "fell within the scope of the entire project." She added that Wind Gap did file a late compliance report, but did return unspent grant funds.

Kelly pointed out that Wind Gap's noncompliance was made known to all board members before they rated each project, and still came in at #6. "It finished fairly high in the overall ranking of the projects," he observed.  

By a 7-2 vote, the Gaming Authority voted to fully fund the 16 most worthy grants, as opposed to partially funding each municipal request.

Bethlehem Township Commissioner Tom Nolan, whose township's request was rated #30, advocated a distribution to each grant applicant, where "everybody goes away with something." Freemansburg Mayor Gerald Yob, whose Borough's application was rated at #28, joined Nolan in voting unsuccessfully against fully funding the highest rated projects.

Joe Kelly, representing the City of Bethlehem, countered Nolan's argument by noting that that some municipalities would lack the resources to fund the difference between what is needed and a pro rata award. Chairman Jay Finnigan agreed, noting that Tatamy in particular, had warned "they are pretty strapped for money." Joining Kelly and Finnigan in voting to fully fund the 16 most worthy projects were David J. Heintzelman, David Willard, Tony Pristash, John Dally,Jr. and James Pennington.

The highest rated projects, in order, are as follows:
  • Stockertown - $30,000 for a new police vehicle and accessories
  • Bangor -$47,461 for emergency response police vehicle and equipment
  • Bushkill - $50,00 for two new outfitted police vehicles
  • Forks - $36,531 for new outfitted police vehicle
  • Washington - $45,971 for Ford Expedition police vehicle with four-wheel drive 
  • Pen Argyl, Plainfield and Wind Gap - $150,000 to establish Slate Belt Police Station
  • Roseto - $50,000 for fire company breathing apparatus and portable police radios
  • N Catasauqua - $28,415 for updated in-car cameras
  • Upper Nazareth - $10,625 for thermal imaging equipment in search and rescue operations
  • Hellertown - $47.985 for new police vehicle and forced entry equipment
  • Lower Saucon -$9,398 for 16 security cameras at township complex
  • Hanover - $39,000 for two radar speed signs
  • Lower Nazareth - $49,431 for traffic signal battery back-ups
  • Tatamy - $28,058 for road crew truck and police computer work station
  • East Allen - $42,897 for security cameras at three municipal locations
  • Palmer - $48,965 for computerized accident and crime scene mapping software
You can see all 35 grant applications, and how they were rated, here

Monday, September 22, 2014

Should Foreskins' Chris Baker Be Suspended?

Because I have no desire to offend Native Americans, I'll join those who call Washington's football team the Foreskins. That name seems apt after the cheap shot that defensive lineman Chris Baker laid on Eagles QB Nick Foles yesterday.

Incredibly, Baker is saying he'd do it again.

Check this, from The Washington Post:
According to Rule 12, article 9.7 of the NFL rulebook, “it is a foul if a player initiates unnecessary contact against a player in a defenseless posture,” including “a quarterback at any time after a change of possession.”
“I did not even really hit him hard,” Baker said of Foles. “I just happened to hit him on this shoulder, and he happened to fall. He’s the quarterback, and I guess that’s why there was an ejection.”
No shit, Sherlock. He clearly violated NFL rules, and if the league has any regard at all for its players, Baker should be suspended.

Face of the County v. Asshole of the County

In 2011, Northampton County voters spoke. By a 73-27% margin, they rejected any attempt to sell or lease the county's nursing hone, Gracedale, for the next five years. The County responded by privatizing the administration in an effort to reduce the annual County contribution, which this year should be over $8 million.

Millard "D" Freeman is the Premier Healthcare administrator in supposed command at Gracedale. He's trying to change what he calls the "culture".

I'd call it employee abuse.

Get this. Freeman has had to change the time clock to prevent workers from punching in any earlier than seven minutes before their shift starts. Before that happened, some employees would regularly check in 1 1/2 hours early and  collect the overtime. There are some who would even decide to report in on their day off and get paid.

"It is unbelievable," Freeman stated in a report to Council's Human Services Committee last week. He added this waste had been going on for 20 years.

It is wrong for Executive John Brown to arbitrarily impose health plan increases on an already beleaguered and poorly paid workforce.  But those few Gracedale employees who steal from the County deserve no consideration and disgrace the entire workforce.

Brown calls the County worker the face of the County. These thieves must be the asshole.

Any other County employee caught doing this would be fired on the spot.

Sunshine Act Reform Looks Likely

Under Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act, citizens and taxpayers have the right to address local governments before they do something stupid. That right means a lot more if you know what they intend to discuss in advance. So Jim Christina, an evil Republican from Beaver County, has proposed a reform under which agendas must be posted and placed on the municipality's webpage at least 24 hours before the meeting. There are exceptions if there's an emergency.

According to The Citizens Voice, this bill is opposed by local governments, including the County Commissioners' and Township Supervisors' Association. One of their complaints is that this would force them to break down and host a web page. If they're unable to do that, despite all the free sites available, they have no reason to exist.

Their real objection is that they'd prefer to keep you in the dark.

Because this Bill appears to have bi-partisan support, my guess is that it will eventually become law.

Unfortunately, none of that bi-partisan support is coming from the Lehigh Valley.

Did Seth Vaughn Call the NorCo Workforce a "Gang"?

Last Thursday, after Northampton County Council member voted to move to Courtroom #1 on Lamont McClure's motion, courthouse workers burst out in applause. Two Republican Council members were caught on an open mike, complaining. (See it here).

"When did Lamont become Council President?" asked Glenn Geissinger. "I missed that.".

"He's showing off for his gang", answered Seth Vaughn,.

Did Vaughn just refer to the County work force as a gang? It sure sounded that way to me.

He denies it with this statement:

It was not my intention to offend anyone with my comment. The comment was not directed at the county workers that evening. I was actually just joking around with Glen about Lamont and his close confidants. I often joke around with the other members and wasn't trying to be insulting. If anyone in the audience thought the comment was directed towards them, then I do apologize. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clear the air."

I'd agree Vaughn had no intention of giving offense because he did not know he was still being recorded. As for his claim to be the Council clown, that's a bit of a stretch. I regularly attend Council meetings, and he's been no barrel of laughs. I'll leave it to you to decide whether he is demeaning the workforce or joking.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Becahi's Golden Hawks Remain Undefeated

Freddie Simmons (#5) and Michael McDaniel (#2) 
Fireworks! You could see and hear them exploding at Sand Island as the first half ended in Saturday night's gridiron contest between East Stroudsburg South and Bethlehem Catholic. But they were nothing compared to the fireworks on the field. Those were all coming from the Golden Hawks, who were up already up 28-0. Becahi would go on to win its fourth victory in four games this season, by a final score of 42-0.

Was it Fabulous Freddie Simmons, who just last week returned three punts for touchdowns? No, Coaches sheathed their most powerful weapon during the first half, and only used him sparingly in the second. Instead, they relied on some other very powerful weapons.

Michael "M1" McDaniel took the ball down the field for a 61-yard touchdown in Beca's first offensive drive. He improved on that in the next drive with a 99-yard scamper from the one, in what might be a school record. He followed that up later in the game with a 23-yard run to the goal line. He ended the night with 215 yards rushing.

Antwon Keenan also scored on a 21-yard pass.

Becahi's bend-but-don't break defense mounted two goal line stands, stopping the Cavaliers twice when they threatened in the first half.

Then the sack machine went to work. Dante Lonordo had at least two sacks and another two hurry-ups on East Stoudsburg South QB Nick Boushell..

With the game in hand, McDaniel and other starters found themselves on the bench, too, as coaches wisely avoided the temptation to run up the score. High school football is so unpredictable that it could easily have been the other way around.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Custody Court Reorganization Proposal Unanimously Approved

Yesterday, I told you that President Judge Stephen Baratta has proposed a sweeping reorganization of custody court that will reduce the time it takes to resolve matters, as well as save $45,000 a year. His plan is to inject more court participation in order to finish these matters in four to six months. Though Council fought abut everything else, Judge Baratta's proposal received their unanimous support.

I also have to apologize to Court Administrator Jill Cicero for referring to her by her previous name yesterday. I've got early onset dementia, Jill.

NorCo Council Rejects Increased Contract Oversight

Brown and cabinet members sit at prosecutor's table
A divided Northampton County Council last night rejected an Ordinance that would dramatically increase their oversight over contracts. Currently, they must approve contracts in excess of $100,000, but Lamont McClure wanted it reduced to just $10,000.

This proposal failed along party lines after council members traded barbs.

Lamont McClure accused the administration of already wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars on contracts like one for Integrity personnel, which was paid $24,000 to help Executive John Brown find a cabinet. He noted it took Brown seven months. "What kind of public value was there to that?" he asked.

What rankled Republicans was McClure's additional accusation that they are all "complicit in allowing public money to be used for political work." As public relations consultant Kim Plyler shook her head, McClure read an excerpt from an email to Brown, in which she referred to someone as heavily involved in the GOP. A few other emails indicate that Plyler took notes for a fundraiser and met with Brown in his County office to discuss the matter.

Brown previously has strongly denied any impropriety.

McClure insisted Council needs to do more than simply alert authorities. "It should be us who takes care of this," he argued.

Republicans were appalled. "We have a good deal of witch hunting going on right now," remarked Seth Vaughn. Glenn Geissinger was more direct. Addressing McClure, he said, "As an attorney, I find it appalling that you would accuse a man without the proper foundation."

Knowing this was a loser, Werner proposed an amendment allowing to allow the Executive to have authority over contracts under $25,000. That failed in a 5-4 vote, along party lines. Then Ken Kraft suggested a $50,000 amendment, which met the same fate.

The Face of The County Speaks

NorCo Council on the bench
Last night, Executive John Brown referred to the county workers as the "face of the County." That face was bright red last night over health care plan changes coming at the same time that Brown is telling workers he has no plan to give them any raises. Most of them are going backyards. Over 200 people crowded into Courtroom 1 to let Brown know he's wrong.

AFSCME agent Justus James
AFSCME union agent Justus James spoke on behalf of several of the bargaining units currently in negotiation with the County. He said he's "mad as hell," not just at he health care plan, but Brown's unwillingness to fill vacancies. He noted there are 16 vacancies at the jail, which is making life more dangerous for corrections officers. He noted there are 113 vacancies throughout the County, which Brown himself confirmed in a news conference on Wednesday.

"Is it the employees' fault that $62 million in the reserve fund went magically away?" he asked. He said that when Brown stated that the county worker is its most important asset, he had "hope for a new day." But instead, he's doing more than balancing his budget on the back of the employee, "We just got kicked in the tailbone. ... The employee can no longer afford to pay for the mistakes you've made."

One of the more disturbing speakers was Stacy [last name withheld], a 20-year County employee who has seen her income reduced every year since 2009. She's a single mother, drives a 13 year old truck, has no money to buy a newer car, and for the past year, has been forced to go to a food bank and stand in line for hours because she has no money to go grocery shopping, Her kids eat the old food from Giant.

Tabatha Gartner warns of an exodus
"Why does a 20-year County employee have to go to food banks?" she asked. "There is something wrong with this picture."

Shirley [last name withheld] works in the Revenue Office assisting delinquent taxpayers in making payment arrangements. She noted that Executive Brown had the money for a public relations consultant and other no-bid contracts, "but the county doesn't have money when it comes to us."

Her office is so short-staffed that she was recently forced to work alone. She was nervous and suddenly began shaking and decided she needed to leave for the day. Her Supervisor told her she would need a doctor's excuse, so she went to one who ordered her to stay home several days instead of the afternoon she intended to take off.

"We're understaffed, underpaid, and now, I'm drugged to work here," she complained.

Tabatha Gartner warned these health plan changes will lead to an exodus from Human Services, creating a need for new staff that has to be trained, which will result in a decline of service and lawsuits." It's like firing the entire coaching staff and expecting the team to have a winning season," she observed.

After hearing from both workers and Brown, Peg Ferraro suggested that there be meetings in smaller groups to see if management and employee can come to some middle ground.

""I believe in my heart we should leave everything alone," said Lamont McClure, especially after Bob Werner pointed to research showing the County's health plan falls below the level needed to be considered a Cadillac plan. McClure was also disturbed that Executive Brown would impose these changes while refusing to discuss raises or other benefits. Brown responded that the County's health care plan will become a Cadillac plan by 2018 at its current rate of spending.

If that happens, and no changes are made, the County will be forced to pay a $9.3 million excise tax.

Ken Kraft, in response to several pleas from workers, noted that Council has no authority to prevent Brown from making changes to his health plan. But he added that they do have authority over the budges, which will be introduced next month.

NorCo Exec John Brown Health Plan Changes

NorCo Exec John Brown
Brown denied he has any desire to balance the budget on the backs of County employees.  He noted that if he wanted to do that, he could just stop providing health insurance directly. He'd take a $4 million penalty, and require employees to pay the going rate on employee healthcare exchanges. That would save $18 million per year.

His plan, which he described as a desire to impose "cost control" and "consumerism," would make the following changes:
  • The annual deductible will double.
  • The out-of-network deductible would increase by 1000%
  • He will add a 10% co-insurance cost
  • co-pay for ER care will double from $100 to $200
  • He will institute a $30 co-pay for urgent care
  • He will increase the employee payment for prescription drugs. 
Though he's attempting to avoid a $9.3 million excise tax on what may or may not be a Cadillac Plan, he explained his real goal is to lower health care costs, which have risen from $17.5 million in 2009 to $24.6 million this year.

Why There's No Video of NorCo Council

Before the move to Courtroom 1
Some of you are wondering why you were unable to livestream Thursday night's Council meeting. It was turned off. Deliberately. And it was my fault, too. Before you string me up, let me explain.

I am a Sunshine Act fanatic. It's one of the few good things to come out of the land of midnight payraises. Though state legislators naturally exempted themselves, they require pretty much every other governing body to deliberate and vote in public. In addition, residents or taxpayers have the right to address these officials on "matters of concern" before any action is taken.

Last night, Council chambers were packed. People from all over the County were there. Corrections officers, Gracedale workers, row office and revenue clerks and Human Services caseworkers, By the time the meeting had started, there were well over 300 people. They had filled up the seats and were even lined up along the walls. Moreover, there were 22 people standing outside in the hallway, and they would be unable to hear or comment..

"Hey Bernie, why don't you give up your seat to one of the women?" taunted Mary Ann Schmoyer, who disrupted numerous meetings when John Stoffa was Executive. I had something else in mind.

I objected.

Under the Sunshine Act, any person has the right to object to a perceived violation.

Over the years, reporters have usually raised these objections. But newspapers are dying. Last night, for example, The Morning Call failed to send anyone to cover a fairly critical meeting.

To their credit, County Council immediately agreed to move the meeting to Courtroom No. 1, which can accommodate larger crowds. In fact, the member of Council I criticize most frequently on this blog, Lamont McClure, made the motion.

The only concern Peg Ferraro had was that people at home would miss the livestream. My response is that the Sunshine Act gives people the right to participate, be present and comment, and there is no state law requiring a video. If one thing has to give, it would be the video.

After everyone moved into Courtroom No. 1, all those who wanted to speak were able to do so.

I thought the large audience, though loud, made every attempt to be respectful.

There were two exceptions.

While Executive John Brown was presenting his plan in more detail, one woman insisted on trying to talk over him.

"Can he shut up already?" she shouted at one point.

The second disruption occurred after the public had spoken, Controller Steve Barron, who had been sulking in the back, interrupted Mat Benol when he pointed out that the HR Director stated last year that the County's health care plan was a Cadillac plan.

"She was wrong then and she's wrong now," yelled Barron, who just two weeks ago stated he was unsure himself whether the County's health care plan is a Cadillac plan.

He was pandering.

After the move to Courtroom 1

Updated 11:00 a.m.: Turns out that The Morning Call had Christy Potter, a freelancer, cover the meeting. Sorry Christy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dent Opposes Arming Moderate Syrian Rebels

Congressman Charlie Dent is opposed to a Bill that would arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. His No vote was on the losing end of a 273-156 vote in which House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were united.

His explanation:

“There may have been a time when, in 2011 or 2012, arming Syrian moderates would have been possible with a reasonable chance for success. That time has likely passed.

"Too many questions remain today that cannot be answered to my satisfaction. How will we effectively vet the opposition forces? How will we ensure that arms delivered will not be sold to ISIS forces or used against already persecuted people in the region, such as the Syrian Christians? In my opinion, the Administration has not provided reasonable answers to these key questions.

"ISIS is antithetical to American and civilized ideas of justice, equality and decency. They have demonstrated this fact with their barbaric beheadings of Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff and of British aid worker David Haines.

"ISIS needs to be rooted out and destroyed, but to do so we need a comprehensive plan. What was proposed today was only a partial plan.

"Everyone is familiar with the saying ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ It certainly fits the notion of our being able to reliably identify and arm Syrian ‘moderates.’ With that in mind, I believe that if we err – it should be on the side of caution.”

Brown To Face Tough Crowd Tonight

County Executives, much like Presidents, are often liked a lot more after they leave office than when they're in it. Incumbent Executive John Brown is going to face a hostile crowd of County employees tonight. They're scared. Some think their jobs are in trouble. They're angry. Some can't really afford to pay more for their health insurance. They're frustrated. An Executive who claims they are the County's "most valuable asset," wants most of them to bite the bullet on wages while exalting a few. The biggest problem they have with John Brown right now is they don't really know or trust him. Is this quiet and unassuming man being honest with them, or is he going to balance next year's budget on their backs? Tonight Brown needs to take his case to them. He has made many mistakes in his first year, to be sure. But he is right about one thing. The County workforce really is the jewel of this County, not Gracedale or any program. If he is fair to them, that will erase many of his rookie errors. If he'snot, he's a one-termer.

PJ Baratta Proposes Sweeping Reform of Custody Court

PJ Stephen Baratta in street clothes, with Court Admin Jill Cicero
Custody disputes tend to bring out the worst in people. Children are pawns in battles between parents that often have nothing to do with them. Lawyers, who are trained to be adversarial, can sometimes make a bad situation worse. Cases that should take four to six months, often last a year or more. President Judge Stephen Baratta would like to improve Custody Court to make it more efficient, quicker and more likely to result in the correct result. Moreover, his plan will actually save taxpayers money. Needless to say, it sailed through County Council's Personnel Committee last night. His plan also has the support of County Executive John Brown, and will likely be approved by County Council tonight.

Back in the early '80s, there was just one custody master, Harry C.J. Blair. A Master is a lawyer who hears custody disputes and then makes a recommendation to the Court. Though people waited three hours or more to get in front of him, Blair resolved 95% of the cases he heard. But that was "a different day and age," noted Judge Baratta.

There have been changes in custody law and proceedings are much more adversarial. Only about 45% of them settle at the master's level because the process has become an "attorney-driven" instead of a "court-driven" exercise. Matters that do eventually settle, for the most part, are placed on non jury trial lists, but only when the attorney is ready to do so.

Instead of one part-time custody master, there are now three. In addition, two former judges who are beyond Senior Judge status listen to some of these cases.

"These matters are languishing far too long," complained the President Judge. He wants to get the judges more involved in the process. So he is proposing the elimination of all the part-time custody masters. They will be replaced by one full-time custody master who will ensure that the process is once again driven towards mediation and resolution, as opposed to an adversarial process. In addition, President Judge Baratta and Senior Judge Leonard Zito will ride herd, with the goal being a resolution in four to six months.

This will save taxpayers $45,000 per year, Court Administrator Jill Cicero told Council.

What do you say to a guy who tells you he wants to do things better and can save you money at the same time?

Thank you.

That's pretty much what Council's Personnel Committee did last night.

Another False Alarm For Trachta

Nazareth Police Chief Thomas Trachta has had one shitty summer. His prosecution of the Sticker Gang, a trio that had dared criticize him, blew up in his face when it was laughed out of court. Now they're suing him for civil rights violations. So is Officer Fred Lahovski, who was wrongfully terminated. Things got even worse on Sunday. While most of us were watching concussions disguised as NFL football games, Trachta had half of the county's police departments scouring the woods around Nazareth Park. Whirlybirds with search lights lit up little Nazareth, scaring all the ghosts away. They were looking for a missing seven year-old girl. But they'd been punked. On Wednesday, Trachta was punked again. Four schools were placed on lockdown while the Chief and 50,000 cops surrounded a vehicle they thought might be connected to the tragic slaying of PSP CPL Bryon Dickson.

All they found were cupcakes.

Trachta and his sidekick, part-time Officer Danny Troxell, want to prosecute the Sticker Gang and yours truly for making false reports. That way they can do another perp walk with new chains. He was daydreaming about that yesterday, when the phone rang, with a mysterious voice on the other end.

Voice: "How's it going, Cupcake?"

Trachta: "That's Chief Cupcake to you, asshole."

Voice: "All right, all right, don't get touchy. It's not like I'm ISIS ready to behead the Mayor at the Indian Tower. Did you want pepperoni on that piz---

Trachta: "Troxell, get in here."

Troxell: "Yes, Chief, What can I do Chief? Can I play the siren again?"

Trachta (lowered voice): "Shh. Get the Pentagon on the line while I keep this terrorist on the phone. This asshole doesn't know I was a New York City cop,"

Troxell: "Yes Chief, right away, Chief"

Trachta (back on the phone): "Now listen, you bastard, you know America doesn't negotiate with terrorists, don't you?"

Voice:  "Dude, I was just asking if you want pepperoni on your pizza.

Troxell: "Missiles, away, Chief!"

Trachta: "What?"

Troxell: "They'll be here in three, two, one ...


Half of Nazareth disintegrates and the line goes dead. 

Trachta: "Mother of God, What the Hell did you just do??"

Troxell (looking out window): "That blowed up good, Chief. Real good!" 

Trachta (as sirens wail): "Another false alarm. The Sticker Gang will pay for this!!!"

Troxell: "My daddy will say you did the right thing. Where's our pizza, Chief?"