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Monday, November 30, 2015

Phillips' Proposed Tax Cut Could Result in Tax Hike

In his Budget Message, Executive John Brown has proposed to set aside one mill of taxes ($7.8 million) to address short and long term capital demands. These include the maintenance of 119 county-owned bridges, repair of a Gracedale parking lot that looks like a lunar landscape, the construction of a new jail regional forensic center and the purchase of the centralized Human Services building. Instead of floating a bond, which is how most capital improvements are done, Brown is proposing to set aside the money, a little bit at a time. It actually makes sense. For that reason, I am astonished that Hayden Phillips, a sensible and practical man, would consider taking that money away for a half mill tax cut. Phillips' proposal is one of the items slated for review at Wednesday's final budget hearing.

Phillips wants to remove $3.99 million set aside for the purchase of the Human Services Building and give taxpayers a tax cut. The County is currently on track to buy that building at the end of five years for a total cost of $21.5 MM, including lease payments. If Northampton County misses that boat, it will have to continue leasing the facility for 15 years and pay $27.3 million. You can see all the calculations in a Q and A prepared by Ken Mohr for the County.

The financially sound option is to make the purchase after five years. If that is delayed, or if the County has to float a bond because it lacks the capital, that half mill tax cut is going to end up costing taxpayers a mill in new taxes.

I believe the Colonel, as he is called, is looking for ways to ease the tax burden. But he knows better than most that our capital needs are at the critical point, and need to be addressed.

Cathy Allen Payraise Scheduled For Review

On Friday, I told you that NorCo Executive John Brown's most trusted adviser, Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen, is herself facing a home foreclosure and three tax liens. Thus news comes at a bad time for her. This Wednesday, as part of its budget process, Council is scheduled to consider the propriety of raises that Brown may have illegally given to Allen and 12 other county employees.

These workers were provided raises without getting clearance from Council, which Council Solicitor Phil Lauer advised was necessary. In order to avoid a messy lawsuit in which no one wins, Council decided to review these raises when it adopts the budget.

So far as I know, most of these raises, even if granted improperly, are entirely justified. But one stands out. That's when John Brown responded to Council's rejection of Allen as Administrator by increasing her salary from $57,460 to $65,603, and then to $68,554.93, with no authority from Council.

It is entirely possible that Council will vote to negate that raise. It could try to defund the position completely, but since this is one of the "exempt" positions who serve at the pleasure of the Executive, my guess is such a move would never hold up.

Calling All Non-Union Workers ... Again

Northampton County's Home Rule Charter was intended to make unions unnecessary. The County's constitution establishes a merit personnel system designed impartial standards and competitive testing for promotions. It creates a pay plan as well as a procedure for resolving grievances. But things haven't worked out that way. Instead of rewarding people based on what they know, promotions have often depended on connections. The grievance procedure has become a bad joke, with fired jail lieutenants waiting more than a year for hearings. As a result, Northampton County now has a hodge podge of 11 different unions representing 75% of its 2,200-person workforce.

Surprisingly, it is a union business agent who wants that to change. Ken Kraft, who chairs Northampton County Council's Personnel Committee, represents the painters' union. He would like to restore some sanity to a crazy public sector in which nonunion supervisors make less money than the people who report to them. Until a new pay study can be completed, he is proposing a 4.5-5% across-the-board wage hike for non-union workers.

President Judge Stephen Baratta has already budgeted a 4.5% wage hike for non-union personnel who report to the courts. Executive John Brown agreed to defer to Judge Baratta, but his spending plan limits raises for non-union workers everywhere else to just 2.5%.

Northampton County DA John Morganelli has already urged Council to make this wage hike uniform. He warned Council that his assistant DAs could decide to unionize, as has happened in several other counties. He said there should be "consistency."

We'll have none of that on Northampton County! It is this inconsistent approach that has resulted in the current, 11-union stew. County officials have run from pay studies or any attempts to treat employees fairly, and unless that changes soon, we'll have a few more unions.

If you are nonunion and want that raise, you need to let Council know about it at the Budget hearing on Wednesday, starting at 4 pm.

NorCo Graduates 4th Annual Citizens Academy

Bethlehem Tp's Mary Ellen Stampone Ingeno conratulated
Recently, Northampton County Judge Stephen Baratta sentenced a man to spend the rest of his life in jail for the murder and sexual abluse of his stepdaughter's corpse. It's a story that attracted a lot of attention. But there's much more to county government that what you see at the courthouse. Passports. Marriage licenses. A walk along the beautiful Nor Bath Trail. A 911 call. The bridges you take for granted on the way to work. The certain knowledge that when you pump ten gallons of gas, that's what you get. Gracedale. Mosquito control.

Twenty-two Northampton County residents, from Riegelsville to Northampton, now understand what is often called the forgotten government. They were honored at recent Council meeting as the fourth graduating class of the Northampton County Citizens' Academy. They completed a ten-week program that included Public Works, Emergency Management, Court Administration, Human Services and Gracedale Nursing Home, Fiscal Affairs, Community and Economic Development, the Department of Corrections, District Attorney, Public Defender, Sheriff’s Department, and County Council.

Penn State student Laurie Giannetti stated, "There wasn't really enough time." Rick Sergi, who also is a Pastor in Bethlehem, added, "I was almost excited to pay my taxes." Noting that the County takes care of so my bridges, Sergei called the County a "bridge" that gets people from one side of life to another. "You don't go across every bridge, but you sure hope it's there if you need one."

The 2015 Graduates: Mary Ann Barrett, Gayle Beacham, George Bock, Patricia Cronin, Laurie Giannetti, Ben Hedrick, Susan Hinkle, Timothy Hinkle, Yvonne Johnson-Milligan, Larry Kistler, Greg Linder, Steve Mays, Lois Prytherch, Lucy Reagan, Cara Rutlege, Elle Segal, Rick Sergi, Helaine Sigal, Mary Ellen Stampone Ingeno, Ferne Turner, Robert Walnock and Lisa Youngkin Rex. (Slideshow below).

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Opinions Online, 11/28/15

Blogger's Note: Opinions Online is a regular Saturday feature. If you'd like to express your opinion on any topic, click on the Opinions Online button on my left sidebar. You can also call 385-325-2564. In addition to these submissions, I am taking some comments from throughout the week and re-publishing them here. (Not much this week!)


I see that I have been permanently blocked from LVL for posting objections to posts by the West Easton Pig Lover, and postings against the ongoing Lopatcong Township and Phillipsburg NJ criminality. I remain stuckineaston, but HAVE cancelled my ET subscription and refuse to change my online name so you're "stuckwithme" now BOH!!!


Friday, November 27, 2015

Top NorCo Official Faces Foreclosure, Tax Liens

Cathy Allen
Northampton County Executive John Brown's most trusted ally and staffer is someone who came with him from Bangor - Cathy Allen. He thinks so highly of her that she was his first choice as Director of Administration, despite having only a high school education and a work history that consisted of running a two-person office in which the other person was the boss. He has involved Allen in every aspect of the County's $360 million per year operation, from Gracedale to contract negotiations. But according to records on file in the Civil Division, Allen is herself in financial hot water and is facing a mortgage foreclosure.

Council turned Brown down when he wanted to name Allen as his Director of Administration. In response, he gave Allen a secret and possibly illegal payraise from from $57,460 to $65,603, with no authority from Council. He then raised her pay even higher, to $68,554.93, because Allen was performing Human Relations functions. At this point, it's unclear whether her salary is $65,603 or $68,554.93, but it's still two to three times more than many of the County employees working under her.

In addition to these payhikes, Allen and Brown both began charging the County for travel expenses and meals. That ended when both were cited by Controller Steve Barron in 2014 for charging the County approximately $1,500 in expenses to which they were not entitled. The money was paid back, but Brown then rewarded Allen with the use of a county car.

Unknown to most at the time of her hire was that there are two federal tax liens on record against Allen, from 2008 and 2011, for a total of $57,475.00. They are indexed against Allen under the name Catherine Allen Klages, and this would not be seen by a person looking for matters filed against Catherine Allen.

In September, the state Department of Revenue also filed a lien against Allen, indexed as Allen-Klages, for $1,578.00.

When it rains, it pours.In October, the Bank of New York started foreclosure proceedings against Allen, under the name Allen-Klages, for the nonpayment of a $211,000 mortgage placed against her home in Bangor. Records show that she purchased that home in 2002 for $120,000.Between then and now, she has mortgaged the property nine times. In addition to the $211,000 mortgage, she has another open loan with Household Realty for $67,000. She owes $278,000 on a property that, according to County assessment records, is worth $201,474.00.

Allen failed to return a call seeking comment.

Hearing Scheduled For Fired Jail Supervisor

On Wednesday, I told you that Jason Rosati, a Lieutenant at the jail who was suspended without pay and ultimately fired in January for enforcing the uniform policy, is being denied his day in court. He appealed his termination to the County's Personnel Appeals Board and had a hearing in July. But since that date, no hearing has been scheduled while he has continued to go without a paycheck.

Late Wednesday, Rosati was informed he has a new hearing date on January 8.

Madame X Placed on Administrative Leave at NorCo Jail

On Monday, I told you that a former heroin user and stripper I call Madame X is working as a corrections officer at Northampton County jail.  Informed sources tell me she has been placed on administrative leave while the County investigates these allegations.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ronca's Martin Tower Timeline Shows Demolition in 2016

In order to get an extension on an $8 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant from the state, developer Lew Ronca has been required to provide a timeline about what he expects to happen at the 53 acre site. Much of this is contained in Part 11 of the information provided by the City.

He already expected at this time to have City Council approval of a new Office Mixed Use Zoning Ordinance at the site, with which he has been intimately involved.

Once the ordinance is adopted, he plans immediately to begin engineering a master plan for the site.

In February 2016, he expects to see a Master Plan approved by the Planning Commission. It will include the demolition of Martin Tower, which will be replaced by a commercial building. Asbestos remediation will cost $5.1 million, demolition will cost $1.75 million and another $1.5 million will be spent to prepare the site for a new building. He will spend $2.375 million to prepare for a 30,000 sq ft mixed use commercial building. He will have to front the money, but will be reimbursed by the state, except for the new building. So at this point, he will have spent nothing.

The building will cost $4.1 million.

After approval of the Master Plan, he will submit a specific plan to demolish Martin Tower, and expects to have that approved by April. After that, he will seek bids for demolition, and will begin work on that in October 2016.

What else is planned? Ronca sidekick Duane Wagner discussed a possible Sheetz gas station, which could provide between $218,500 per year in tax money to fund construction costs.

I should complete my review by week's end.

Fired Jail Supervisor Still Being Denied His Day in Court

For the past two days, I've been exposing what really goes on at the NorCo jail. It makes the case of Jason Rosati, a Lieutenant with 20 years of experience in Corrections, just a little more understandable. In January, he was suspended without pay for the strangest of reasons. He was let go for insisting that the people under him follow the rules. That sounds nutz, but after having been exposed to just a slice of what goes there, I understand. Jason had the temerity to discipline a corrections officer who sauntered into work with an unbuttoned blouse and a choker necklace, both of which are contrary to uniform policy. Operations Administrator Al Crivellaro, who just happens to be the very same person who interviewed and investigated Madame X, engineered Rosati's removal early this year. Rosati is still being denied his day in court.

After being fired in late January or early February, Rosati filed a grievance with Northampton County's Personnel Appeals Board. Under Northampton County's Administrative Code and Home Rule Charter, this a five-person body established to adjudicate claims made by career service, i.e. nonunion, workers. Members are appointed by the Executive and confirmed by County Council. They include the following: Bill Alexander, himself a retired corrections officer; Dave "Lump" Sanders, owner of Bethlehem's revered Table of Knowledge at Lump's Deli; Ralph Stampone, owner of Ralph's Radiator and inspector of my now deceased Jeep; Pen Argyl's John Dally, who also sits on the Gaming Board; and Pat Siemiontkowski*, who retired recently as Northampton County's own HR Director. They are volunteers.

Though he has gone without a paycheck since his suspension in January, Rosati's case was not heard by the Personnel Appeals Board until July 14. That night, Attorney Pat Reilly established pretty convincingly that Rosati had been ambushed by a snitch brigade reporting to Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen. Rosati had disciplined one of the head snitches. Even Crivellaro admitted that this snitch let it be known throughout the jail that she has a relationship with Allen. Though he denied ever hearing her referred to as a snitch, he testified that she may believe she is protected.

According to Rosati, other supervisors are afraid of her. "She makes it known that Miss Allen supports her. They are afraid."

Attorney Reilly argued and Rosati testified that Crivellaro is afraid, too. Crivellaro, who pleaded no contest in 2010 to providing alcohol to minors, was told by Allen that he should not be working at the jail. Crivellaro denied this when he testified, but Rosati also insisted that Crivellaro had warned him to "watch your back" and that Allen had both of their personnel files.

Rosati, who admits he is a bit of a hard ass, believes his strict adherence to the rules could save the lives of officers in emergency situations.

Attorney Reilly finished his case in one night, but the County is entitled to present its side of the case, and another hearing was supposed to be scheduled for that to happen.

As of today, Rosati is still waiting for his next date in court. He is still being deprived of a paycheck.

When he wins this case, and I can't see any other resolution, the taxpayers are going to be forced to pay him for the time he spent sitting on his ass when he could have been working.

I suspect the County sees the handwriting on the wall, too, and has still refused to provide dates at which its lawyers will be available for Round Two.

I know this bothers Personnel Appeals Board members, who think they should have a designated night each month for hearings. if there are no cases, they just stay home.

Ken Kraft and Scott Parsons have repeatedly suggested to Executive Brown that this system, which actually denies justice, needs to change.

In the meantime, it appears that Rosati will go until January before his case is heard again.

*)  Siemiontkowski has been recused in this matter.

Martin Tower Developer Used NIZ Lobbyist and Heather Browne For CRIZ

Yesterday, I told you that Bethlehem has complied with a right-to-know request for all communications between developer Lewis Ronca and City employees that are related to Martin Tower. I know City officials took this matter very seriously and provided a wealth of information. Here and there, email addresses and phone numbers are redacted, but my chief concern was establishing when contacts between Ronca and the City began, and what was discussed. I believe the City demonstrated great transparency in putting this information together in an expeditious manner, and I'd be remiss if I failed to point that out and express my appreciation. It could easily remove some documents, and I'd be none the wiser, but it took the high road and gave everything, warts and all.

I want to discuss one of those warts.

On August 28, 2013, ( see Part 9). before the CRIZ was approved, Lew Ronca set up a conference call with Mayor Callahan, Senator Lidsa Boscola and Ronca's partner in Martin Tower, billionaire Norton Herrick. The purpose of this call was to engage high power lobbyists. Who better than the very lobbyists who managed to get the NIZ enacted for Allentown? So the call also included lobbyists Rocco Pugliese and Heather Browne of Pugliese Associates. It also included governmental relations specialist Daniel Robinson, who most have been on board for the ride with Pugliese. .

Heather Browne is married to State Senator Pat Browne, a ranking Senate Republican whose support would be instrumental in getting the CRIZ enacted. And he supported it.

Browne denied his wife had anything to do with the NIZ, but it's pretty clear she had a lot to do with the CRIZ. How is this not a conflict of interest? When he ran against Senator Browne many moons ago, Rick Orloski discussed this arrangement:
"Pat and Heather Browne have injected something new into Lehigh Valley politics, namely, the husband and wife team working in the Capitol with Pat Browne receiving public monies and Heather Browne receiving private monies to advance private agendas. Senators are supposed to serve the public good, not private agendas. Maybe the ideal solution is for Pat Browne to relinquish his public position and join his wife's lobbyist firm."
Under the state Ethics Act,
"A conflict of interest is defined as use by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding public office or employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family, or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated."
It appears that Browne's vote to support the CRIZ was for the private pecuniary interest of his wife and hence a conflict.

Let's discuss another wart.

According to the CRIZ application, Martin Tower represents a $175 million investment. There will be $.42.8 million in financing, with an annual debt service of about $3 million. It is projected to create 1,375 jobs. Total CRIZ revenue through 2024 is estimated at $34.2 million.

The only way that happens is with retail. Lots of retail.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Martin Tower RTK: Ronca Wanted to Wear Public Out

Bethlehem has filed a detailed response to a right-to-know request I filed in October, seeking the following:
"This request is for the period of time extending between 1/1/13 and present. It applies to all City of Bethlehem employees as well as all members of Council and the Planning Commission. What is sought is all correspondence, email communications and text messages between City of Bethlehem employees, City Council members and Planning Commissioners and representatives of the Martin Tower development related to the following topics:
          1) Participation by Martin Tower development in the CRIZ project.
          2) The zoning changes at Martin Tower development under consideration by City Council.
          3) Campaign contributions.
          4) leasing of the martin tower site for Celtic Fest.
I have started to go through it, and will report my conclusions soon. But the more eyes that see this, the more likely it is that someone will pick up on things that I miss. For that reason, I have uploaded the response below.

This is an exercise in participatory journalism. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go through this RTK and note your conclusions in the comments. Here's what I know so far:

* Developer Lew Ronca and his sidekick, Duane Wagner, were in on this new ordinance from the onset. It is NOT a City proposal, despite the City's claim that it is.

* Duane Wagner went so far as to provide talking points to Planning Director Darlene Heller to use with the public, including the myth that the current ordinance allows up to 425,00 sq ft for retail.

* Lew Ronca was hiding in the hallway during the public hearing, but left because he "needed to avoid reporters." He was engaged in a text message party with DCED Director Alicia Karner during the hearing. The plan, it certainly seems, was to wear the public out with Heller's 2 hour, 15 minute presentation.

Oct 6
Ronca: "Didn't D [Darlene Heller] wear them out?" 
Karner: "Only a few."
Ronca:  "OK. Keep me posted. Any grumbling from the audience?"
Karner: "Hearing just ended. rest of council to go. 34 speakers. 2 supportive."
Oct 7
Ronca: "What time did you get out of there?"
Karner: "Idk. 1230 or so."
Ronca: "My God. Had I known I would have bought you a drink or two after that!"
Karner: "http://lehighvalleyramblings.blogspot.com/2015/10/bethlehem-city-council-proves-they-can.html"
Ronca: "There ya go. All was not wasted then!!"
Ronca: "Yes. I read that first thing this morning. Schweder is an asshole by the way."
Karner: "First I ever saw/heard him speak." 
Ronca: "There is a story. I'll tell you when I see you."
Karner: "Can't wait (note the sarcasm)."
Oct 8
Ronca: "Can you meet with me and the mayor tmrw at 3:30?"
Karner:"Yes. At Mayor's office?"
Ronca: "Yes please. See you then." 

The documents:

Part One, Part Two, Part 3, Part 3 (cont'd), Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11

NorCo Jail's Subtle Racism in Hiring and Discipline

Yesterday, I told you that a former stripper and heroin user is working as a corrections officer at the jail. She was hired in January 2014 despite a complete inability to produce a complete work history that would reveal she worked as a stripper and was a heroin user. She is white, proudly refers to herself as a redneck and has displayed both religious intolerance and bigotry on her Facebook page. While she slips through the cracks, many Latinos and blacks who are being denied employment in what appears to be a double standard - one set of rules for white applicants and another for minority hires. This double standard also extends into discipline.

The chief excuses for refusing to hire a Latino or African American is "lack of life experience." At the same time, the County hires 18 year old white kids fresh out of high school. "Poor job retention" was the reason for refusing to hire an honorably discharged 23 year-old Coast Guard veteran. At the same time, whites with a demonstrated  inability to hold onto a job are hired. One black female was denied employment for lying on her job application. She had denied ever working for the County, but had been employed at Gracedale. She was unaware that Gracedale is a County facility. While she was denied a job, the white Madame X was hired despite misrepresenting herself on her application by failing to report her work as a stripper or her drig history.

One black applicant who had lost a job after testing positive for marijuana was denied employment at the jail. Yet white Madame X admitted to experimenting with heroin and was hired.

If a minority applicant is lucky enough to get hired, he is subjected to the same double standard when it comes to discipline.

* A Latina corrections officer was disciplined for letting a visitor with a cell phone get by her during a visit. Yet the white front gate officer received no discipline even though that cell phone came in through that front gate and slipped by that officer, too.

* A Latina corrections officer rumored to be a member of the Latin Kings was investigated for potential gang involvement despite a lack of any credible evidence, and was eventually exonerated. Yet a white corrections officer who actually tape recorded a prison employee was never investigated despite knowledge by prison officials of this illegal act and the existence of the recording.

* A black corrections officer with a hair weave was declared "unfit for duty" and sent home, but a Lieutenant who attempted to enforce the uniform policy on a white female corrections officer was fired.

* A black corrections officer accused of an inappropriate relationship with an inmate was forced to endure an internal and District Attorney investigation, but a white Lieutenant who improperly tied to seek payment for a shift he never worked was never investigated for theft

* A Latina corrections officer who had inappropriate telephone conversations with an inmate was fired, but a white corrections officer who engaged in the same behavior was only suspended.

Beginning to see a pattern?

If you're the kind of person who routinely posts the Confederate Battle Flag on Facebook, you probably are missing it. But it appears that a subtle form of racism is at play, though most participants are probably unaware of it themselves.

NorCo Corrections Officer Admits Troubled Past

Yesterday, I told you that Northampton County employs a corrections officer with quite an interesting history. I call her Madame X. She failed to disclose her work history between 1989 and 1996, and for good reason. During much of that time, she was a stripper at various local bars like The Fox and Erv's, as well as at clubs in Jersey and New York. She also posed for biker magazines. In some instances, she is unclothed. After being hired in January 2014, she began to disclose her past to various people.

In addition to her work in the adult entertainment industry, Madame X also got mixed up in various drugs. One of those is heroin. Northampton County has a policy that anyone who has used heroin is automatically disqualified as a corrections officer. So is anyone who is less than completely honest on his or her job application.

In the course of searching her then public Facebook page, I found even more reason to be concerned. She has posted anti-Muslim remarks, and insists on repeatedly posting pictures of the Confederate Battle Flag. She is both religiously intolerant and a bigot. Many of the people in her care are black Muslims, and if a family member happened to see one of her rants, that could endanger both her and other guards.

Madame X changed the settings on her Facebook yesterday. But before doing so, she posted this comment.
I love when people try to make you look bad when they are the ones that did wrong.I'm not proud of my past but I'm not ashamed of it.when your a single mom and you can't get help.you are forced into doing whatever it takes to feed your kids no, I was never a hooker.and being concerned about terrorism and our government is everyone's concern.I am not racist.never was.but some people try to make you look that way..if that's what you got to do to make me look bad.then shame on you..so I think some jokes are funny ..sure..it's a joke...and if it happened to be a bit distasteful and I laugh or share it..so what.it doesn't mean I'm racist..I started my turn to Christianity about 13 yrs ago and it's been a tough road..it's not easy being a Christian,but I am getting better although I have a long way to go because I am human and all humans are not perfect.God said so.so the ones that are skimming my Facebook and putting it out there that I'm all kind of a bad person..good for you...I actually laughed when I read the blog..you need to get your story straight...if you want to know about me.I'll tell you all about me to your face..you don't need to get stories from people who don't know me..and feeding you lies..but my God is bigger than you...and we will all stand in judgement...btw...I will pray for you...
She denies ever having been a hooker. She does not specifically address the accusation that she posed for biker magazines or worked as a stripper, although there is photographic evidence. She does not address her prior drug use. She admits she is not proud of her past and did what she had to do. She also equates her opposition to Syrian refugees with a post in which she attacks a woman simply because she is a Muslim. She denies being a racist, but I can think of no other reason for her repeated use of the Confederate Battle Flag or her "joke" about shooting a Mexican and an Arab.

She admits to being an imperfect Christian, with which I'll agree. She's also an imperfect corrections officer, and I think she needs to find other employment at the county. She is too much of a risk in her current position.

Calling All NorCo NonUnion Workers

Although judges are seeking a 4.5% raise for their nonunion workers, there are numerous other nonunion workers in the County who could use a 4.5% raise, too. The County has failed to do a job study for years, and the only way to ensure some kind of parity in the workforce is an across-the-board wage hike.

County Council member Ken Kraft is poised to present a budget amendment seeking this kind of wage hike at next Wednesday's budget hearing. If you want to see this adopted, you need to be there to make your case.

Four LV Legislators Will Skip Pa Society Gala

Yesterday, I pointed to the hypocrisy of state legislators and the Governor attending an upper crust gala with the Pa Society at Manhattan's Waldorf Astoria when they have demonstrated a complete inability to adopt a state budget. I contacted all members of the Lehigh Valley delegation. I've heard nothing from the senators, although I'm unsure my email to Senator Maria Scavello went through. I did hear from several state representatives, all of whom told me they will pass on the high society, especially if there's no budget.

State Rep. Steve Samuelson: "I will not attend. In fact, I have never attended the Pennsylvania Society.

1.       - We have work to do in Harrisburg.

2.       - Also, why isn’t this event held in Pennsylvania each year?

3.       - And since February 2015, the Waldorf Astoria – the site of the “Pennsylvania Society” – the has been owned by a Chinese insurance company ...

So, why would anyone who seeks to promote Pennsylvania’s economic prospects travel to New York City and boost the Chinese economy?

State Rep. Pete Schweyer: "Very simply, I will not be attending the PA Society Gala. I cannot in good conscience attend such an event in the absence of a budget. Of course I think we should be here Monday, November 30th as well; alas we aren’t scheduled for session at this point."

State Rep. Bob Freeman: "I will not be attending the PA Society Gala."

State Rep. Justin Simmons: "I will not be attending PA Society if the budget is not passed by then (highly doubt it will be)."

Several state reps have failed to respond, but my emails were bouncing, so don't hold a failure to rely against them.

Monday, November 23, 2015

NorCo Controller: Stop Payments to Harrisburg Until Budget Adopted

NorCo Controller Steve Barron is calling on County officials to stop sending tax payments in to Harrisburg until a state budget is adopted. Bucks and Lancaster County have both threatened to take that step as well. In addition, the County Commissioners' Association of Pennsylvania, which represents the interests if county government in Harrisburg, is pondering litigation to force the state to start funding human services for children, seniors and developmentally challenged.

“I advocated this several years ago when budgets were delayed,” Barron said. “It is not fair that the Commonwealth takes all these fees and taxes and sits on the money earning interest on the stockpile while forcing Counties to borrow funds and pay interest to make ends meet.”

“In just the Northampton County Recorder of Deeds office in the last 90 days the state has taken $2.96 million in real estate transfer tax fees,” Barron claimed. “I believe we should cut them off and send a message that once they start meeting their obligations to the county, we will start meeting our obligations to Commonwealth.”

Northampton County relies on the state for 2/3 of its $330 million dollar budget. It has already been forced to vote for a $50 million emergency line of credit so it can continue to pay for vital services to over 18,000 developmentally challenged adults, seniors and children. Lines of credit or some form of sort-term borrowing have also been authorized in Blair, Cambria, Columbia, Crawford, Erie, Schuylkill and York County.

Lehigh County has been able to weather the storm thus far, according to Frank Kane, who heads that county's Department of Community and Economic Development. He credits the County's $25 million stabilization fund, and noted that both Executive Tom Muller and Commissioners have been united in their approach.  

South Park's Flats at SoDoSoPa

Kenny can't sell them fast enough! Maybe The Morning Call will cover it.

South Park Has a NIZ and CRIZ, Too!

South Park has managed to take every bad economic development idea from Allentown and Bethlehem to create the City part of town.

NorCo Hires Former Heroin User and Stripper as Corrections Officer

When John Brown first became Northampton County Executive, amid trumpets and fireworks, another person was much more quietly starting her employment with the County as a corrections officer. She had good reason to fly under the radar because she had more than a few secrets. But within a month of being hired, she had told enough people about her past that word got back to then Corrections Director Arnie Matos. He refused to take action because, by this time, she and another corrections officer had become a part of the Cathy Allen snitch brigade. Unfortunately, instead of revealing real abuses at the jail, they are using their positions to trump up charges and get rid of good officers

I'll call her Madame X. When she first applied to work at the jail, she was interviewed by none other than Operations Administrator Al Crivellaro. You may recall that in 2010, he pleaded no contest to furnishing alcohol to ten minors during a graduation party for his daughter. When Colonial Regional Police responded, Crivellaro asked them to call Chief Roy "Buzzy" Seiple so he could use his connections to stop the charges. He failed, but managed to hold onto his job at the jail.

Did he use his connections to get Madame X hired? That's unclear, but what is known is that, in addition to doing the interview, Crivellaro volunteered to do the background check. That is something he had never done before, and is a task usually performed by Corrections Department Detective Chris Naugle.

The application cried out for answers. Though required to fill it out completely, Madame X had significant gaps in her work history, most notably between 1989 and 1996.

According to Crivellaro, she passed her background investigation with flying colors.

CR Fanny's closed after i worked there just one night. 
But soon after she started, she began telling co-workers about her past. Between 1989 and 1996, she had led quite an interesting life. She had worked as a stripper at various local establishments, as well as in New Jersey and New York. She had been a model for various Biker magazines, even posing nude. She sent some of these nude pictures to her new pals after being hired at the jail. But it was not all fun and games. She apparently had fallen into drug abuse, too. And with the worst possible drug. Heroin. She did kick her addiction, thanks to her first husband. During this time, when her life must have been at its lowest point, she told at least one person that she had turned to prostitution.

Though former Corrections Director Arnie Matos refused to take any action, she has since confirmed that she failed to submit a complete application. She has admitted to working in the adult entertainment industry, both as a stripper or dancer, and as a model for biker magazines. She has also admitted drug use, but attempts to minimize it.

She claims, for example, that she experimented once or twice with heroin.

Nobody experiments with heroin.

She has also used her connections with Assistant Administrator Cathy Allen and another corrections officer to try to get people fired. So far, they have managed, at least temporarily, to get rid of at least two prison workers on trumped up charges.

I'm all for giving people second chances. But corrections experts tell me that her past in adult entertainment could make her job more difficult, especially if she runs into people she knows from that world.

Northampton County has never had a problem hiring officers who at times smoked weed. But policy is that nobody who has used heroin should ever be hired to work as a corrections officer. In this case, it appears that Madame X has compounded her problem by being dishonest on her job application.

On top of everything else, she has another problem. She is a bigot. I looked at her Facebook page over the weekend. She has repeated posts of the Confederate Battle Flag, complains about the appointment to the Immigration Department of Fatima Noor, a Muslim who fled from Somalia as a child and became a United States citizen. She also claims, on Facebook, that we are one nation under God, not Allah. She just posted a joke about a redneck girl who shoots an Arab and a Mexican.

Very funny.

She certainly has a First Amendment right to be a bigot and be intolerant of other religions. But as a corrections officer, she will encounter numerous inmates who are black or Muslim or both. When she uses Facebook to make racist remarks or statements that infringe on religious freedom guaranteed in this country, she should be fired for that reason alone. Exercising those rights have consequences.

She is also endangering own safety, as well asthe safety of other corrections officers with these unnecessary statements.

She proudly refers to herself as a redneck. At the jail, it appears that only rednecks need apply. I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

While State Burns, Wolf and State Elite to Fiddle at Waldorf

Though a budget breakthrough is supposedly on the way, you never know what's going to happen in the land of midnight payraises. According to the Philadelphia Tribune, rare pangs of conscience (or more likely, election fears) are troubling some state legislators over a regressive sales tax increase that will have a disproportionate and devastating impact on the working poor. But it's not bothering them enough to call off the annual Pa Society shindig at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC.

State reps like Mike Schlossberg will dig into his campaign treasury to reserve his hotel room and rent a tux, if he hasn't bought one already. He, Fed Ed and other members of the LV delegation will make their annual pilgrimage to the Big Apple to dine on oysters and Delmonicos with the developers and business interests who really run this state.

According to the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, sales taxes are regressive because they "inevitably take a larger share of income from low- and middle-income families than from rich families because sales taxes are levied at a flat rate and spending as a share of income falls as income rises." Putting it on Robin Hood terms, they steal from the poor and give to the rich.

Candidate Tom Wolf criss crossed the state in a Jeep Wrangler, trying to pretend he was one of us. But Governor Tom Wolf is tuning up his violin and has already sold out the very people - the working poor - who put him where he is.

In the meantime, out-of state frackers are laughing all the way to the bank.

Updated 11:30 AM - Bumstead reports some lawmakers will skip event if budget deal not reached. - You can read his report here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Opinions Online, 11/21/15

Blogger's Note: Opinions Online is a regular Saturday feature. If you'd like to express your opinion on any topic, click on the Opinions Online button on my left sidebar. You can also call 385-325-2564. In addition to these submissions, I am taking some comments from throughout the week and re-publishing them here.


I just want to put in a statement of support and thanks for Bethlehem's police and fire departments. With all the political problems this city is exhibiting, and with all the bad news stories about excessive police force from around the country -- many of which deserve attention -- I just want to say that every single contact I have ever had with Bethlehem city police has been good. The officers are prompt when called, they are professional, they are appropriate, they are helpful when they can be. I think with Thanksgiving coming, we should give thanks for a fine police department in the City of Bethlehem.


Sir, pray tell how is it possible to be accepted into a first time offender program for a third DUI.
Might this sort of behavior present a risk of injury, or worse
to the good citizens of the region?

Blogger's Reply: If the third DUI is more than ten years old, it is considered a fist offense.


I thought Republicans were against higher taxes? In South Whitehall a entire Board of Commissioners made up entirely of Republicans is raising taxes again for the second straight year! I guess RINOs rule in SWT


This has nothing to do with LV Ramblings., but I've read your blog for years and know of your connection to Kurt V. so I thought this would be of interest:

FX Developing Kurt Vonnegut Project
Nov 18, 2015 • Post A Comment
FX is developing a series based on a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Writing on Deadline.com, Nellie Andreeva reports that the channel has “Cat’s Cradle” in the pipeline as a limited series.

The project comes from IM Global and FX Productions, and will be written and executive produced by Noah Hawley of “Fargo.”

Published in 1963, the popular Vonnegut book “takes a satirical view of war, religion and scientific advances,” Andreeva notes, adding: “It was among the projects on the maiden development slate of IM Global Television, the TV arm of feature-film financing, production and sales company IM Global — a subsidiary of Indian conglomerate Reliance ADA — which was unveiled in April.”

cat's cradle-kurt vonnegut-book cover.


As I have watched the Brown Administration over the almost past two years , I am struck with how many changes he attempts with little or no thought to the ramifications. Is this a reflection of his past as a consultant? After all if no change is made how good was the consultant ? Has anyone ever seen his resume ?

Friday, November 20, 2015

NorCo Tidbits

1) NorCo Exec John Brown had proposed Cindy Miller to replace Tony Pristash on the Gaming Board. But at Wednesday's Personnel Committee, several Council members were upset that Brown would want to replace Pristash, a volunteer who enjoys what he is doing and never misses a meeting. Brown has withdrawn the Miller nomination, but won't say whether he intends to submit Pristash.

2) NorCo's Personnel Appeals Board has not met since a July hearing for a Lieutenant at the jail who was fired in January. Scott parsons asked Brown to direct the Personnel Appeals Board to scedule a regular monthly meeting and begin demanding attorneys to appear.

3) The Hotel Tax Grants of about $500,000 will not be awarded until January 21, at the earliest. These grants have been delayed bc DCED Director Diane Donaher took it upon herself to tell the usual applicants not to bother applying this year. brown quickly reversed her when he found out, and has accepted full responsibility for her error.    

NorCo Council Refuses To Repeal $50 Million Loan

(Blogger's Note: This is similar to yesterday's story, which inaccurately claimed that the repeal could not be voted on until December. I felt I should rerun the story, but try to do so more accurately). 

At their November 5 meeting, Northampton County Council voted 6 to 3 to approve an emergency ordinance authorizing Executive John Brown to borrow up to $50 million so that the County can continue paying human service providers out of its own pocket during the state budget impasse. Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter has since secured a line of credit with Lafayette Bank to borrow only what the County needs, starting sometime in December.

But is the state budget logjam finally breaking up? The Governor's spokesperson, Jeff Sheridan, claims there's a "tentative agreement," and is hopeful that the record-setting stalemate will be over by Thanksgiving. But there is no way of knowing just how long it will take for state reimbursement of human service providers.

Given this uncertainty, Council at its November 19 meeting quickly rejected a Lamont McClure repeal of the $50 million loan authorization. Only Ken Kraft joined him in attempting to kill the loan. .

Executive John Brown stated that, even if the state Budget is adopted by Thanksgiving, it's unclear when state reimbursements will begin trickling back to the County.

"We'll only take exactly what we need," pledged Brown, who indicated the first draw of about $2 million would take place in the first week of December.

Lamont McClure was bothered about borrowing $50 million when the County already has a $10 million rainy day fund. This would require Council action. McClure told Brown, "I think [Council] would give you authorization to use the rainy day fund when it's raining."

But there's another problem. The County can't get at it without incurring penalties. Brown conceded that perhaps that should change.

Northampton County's southern neighbor, Bucks County, is spending about $6 million per month of its own reserves for important programs like child protective services. But instead of borrowing, Bucks Commissioners have threatened to withhold between $4-5 million in taxes and fees it collects monthly for the state, and has already established an escrow fund for that purpose. Bucks stopped paying human service providers in July.

A breakdown of how counties are responding to the budget crisis is located here.

Scomillio Still Won't Concede

Though Sam Murray won by a fairly comfortable margin in the judicial race, opponent Vic Scomillio still refuses to concede. He's waiting for the official results, which might come as early as today.

Now maybe he thinks that four or five military ballots will push him over the top. Or maybe he's waiting for Sam to concede. I don't know.But his refusal to recognize the obvious is just more proof that he currently lacks the temperament to be a judge.

Plus, it's tacky.

NorCo Council Approves $720,500 in Table Games Grants

By an 8 to 1 vote, Northampton County Council has approved $720,500 in table games grants. They are part of Executive John Brown's Community Investment Partnership Program (CIPP), which he first announced in January. The plan is to use table games revenue from the Sands Casino for a variety of grants and revolving loans, with an emphasis on aging boroughs and townships. By August, there were 43 grant applications, which were rated by a committee comprised of county bureaucrats, LVPC and Council member Scott Parsons. Those were whittled down to 22 projects, including four facade plans, a stormwater study for Bethlehem Ttownship and Freemansburg, as well as a regional animal control officer in the slate belt.

Most of Council's discussion focused on whether to vote for this individually or as a block. Lamont McClure said there were a few grants he opposed. Hayden Phillips said he opposed one. Bt Council, which has discssed these grants at several meetings, decided to vote them up or down as a block. McClure voted Yes and Phillips ended up beingthe sole No, because of opposition to one project.

The grants are listed below.

NorCo Says Good-Bye to Gracedale "Godsend" D Freeman

Bob Werner (left) presents proclamation honoring D Freeman (right) 
Gracedale Administrator D Freeman, who has served Northampton County since June 2012, announced his resignation during County Council's November 19 meeting. He's leaving for a nursing home administrator position in the private sector, at Parkhouse Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Royersford.

Freeman came with Premier Healthcare Resources, a privatized administrator for a public home.

The biggest change under Freeman has been a significant increase in residents at Gracedale. Census has grown from 590, when the threat of sale loomed, to highs near 700. The more patients, the more revenue.

He also aggressively pursued accounts receivable, conducting bi-weekly accounts receivable reviews thatwent through each file. going through each file. A collections law firm has brought in $1.4 million, and payment plans are in place for some accounts that were written off in the past.

Through effective use of risk management, workers' compensation claims have dropped from $2 million in 2011 to just $166,000 last year.

Most importantly, and for the first time in 40 years, Gracedale received a zero-deficiency survey from the Department of Health.

Northampton County Council honored Freeman with a proclamation, with Bob Werner calling Freeman a "Godsend."

I Will Be Brief

When NorCo Controller Steve Barron says, "I will be brief," it's time to break out the cold weather camping gear. It's going to be a while. He's a politician, and like all politicians, he likes to talk. So much so that he used to write himself in during courtesy of the floor. Council finally decided to give him his very own spot on the agenda if he really, really has something to say. He always does, and the November 19 meeting was no exception despite a packed agenda.

He just had something to day the day before. At the Finance Committee , he waxed on with about 137 audit reports.

If you have trouble sleeping, listen to them some time.

"I will be brief," he said then, too.

Council President Peg Ferraro tried to give him a hint when she asked, "Do you have a report?" Of course he did, and up to the podium he went. He is very excited about his new anonymous tip hot line, which employees and residents can call to report fraud and waste.

The number is 610-829-6616.

His brief remarks went on for about five minutes. And then Council members, who are politicians and like to talk, too, went on with about another five minutes worth of questions.

Seriously, what about an anonymous tip line that merits five minute of explanation followed by five minutes of discussion. They even managed to get Solicitor Phil Lauer involved with questions about liability.

When Barron had finally finished, it was Executive John Brown's turn to give his report.

"I will be brief," he said.

So if anyone wants to call this tip line to report government waste, you have a few good examples.

ASD Solicitor: FT Union President Illegal

In an opinion released to Allentown School Board last night, Solicitor John Freund concludes that there "is no statutory authority ... for the District to pay the salary of the union president to perform union responsibilities, absent reimbursement by the [teachers' union]." He states that even if the school district agrees to do so, "entering into a contract for the performance of full-time union responsibilities, absent reimbursement, is ultra vires. Moreover, such an agreement may be in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution and void as against public policy. "

So when the school board entered into a contract under the terms of wehich it agreed to pay the union president with no reimbursement from the union, it broke the law.

This practice is currently under challenge in Philadelphia, where teachers have been released to do full-time work for their unions.

In Fruend's view, any teacher who serves as FT union president might also be in danger of losing tenure.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hotel Tax Grants Postponed Until January

Ken Kraft holds binder with $753,000 in hotel tax applications
Pursuant to state law, Northampton County collects a 4% hotel room rental tax from every hotel. That revenue must be used for tourism and community development. Over the years, between thirty or forty different groups like the Bach Choir, Celtic Classic and Historic Bethlehem Partnership have been awarded grants from Council as part of the budget process. They are rated by DCED, but Council has the final say. Except this year.

Earlier this year, DCED Director Diane Donaher, with no authority from Council took it upon herself to suspend a longstanding practice under which tourism grants were solicited by her department, rated and then presented to Council for a final vote as part of the budget. It's unclear whether she even had authority from Executive John Brown, who claimed there was a failure in communication.

She had told organizations like State Theatre and Kreidersville Covered Bridge not to bother submitting applications. Then she announced to a stunned Council on October 14 that she herself, instead of the people's elected representatives, would take control over the nearly $500,000 in hotel taxes used for this program.

Donaher explained that she was considering giving all or a large portion of it to the Northampton County Historical Society, and let it decide how the money should be spent. "We're looking at changing the process," she said.

Council was outraged, and Executive John Brown reversed her a few days later. But thanks to the delay imposed unilaterally by Donaher, none of them will be seeing any grant money this year.

Before Council's Finance Committee met on November 19, Donaher dropped off a thick binder for each Council member, full of grant applications for $753,000 from a total of $496,000. None of the applications has been rated or vetted, as has been done in past years.

The implicit message, at least to Ken Kraft was "Do it yourself!"

"I'd like to throw it at her," Kraft said of the binder. "She's not doing her job with her bloated staff. They want us to sit here and do their job. This is nonsense. This is passive aggressive."

Brown tried defending Donaher, claiming there was "no intent to remove hotel taxes from your purview." But he admitted, We missed the mark. I own that. I take full responsibility."

"I don't think it's doable," said Hayden Phillips as he looked through the thick binder. He suggested that the awards be postponed until January, to give Council time to review them. In the meantime, Brown assured Council that the DCED would rate the applications, as has been done in previous years.

Brown's Clown Car Continues in Reverse

Tony Pristash is a local business owner and member of Northampton Borough Council. He is also one of three at-large members on Northampton County's nine-person Gaming Board.  But if Executive John Brown has his way, Pristash will soon be gone.

Northampton County gets all kinds of money from the Sands Casino. In addition to a host fee, it also brings in about $1.6 million in slots tax revenue annually, and about $1.2 million in table games revenue. State law is pretty flexible about how the table games revenue is spent  But it is much stricter about slots revenue. Northampton County had to create the nine-person Gaming Board just to dole out the slots revenue. Priority must be given to grant requests from Bethlehem and other communities that are contiguous to host city Bethlehem. After all impact grants have been awarded, other communities can apply. Most years, the pie is gobbled up by the host and surrounding municipalities.

Pristash, as one of the three at-large members, has to watch as most of the grants are awarded elsewhere. This may seem unfair, but that's the way the law is written. But in his years on the gaming Board, he has never tried to sabotage grant applications or steer things unfairly. He has often been a voice of humor on a Board with a tedious and thankless task.

At yesterday's Personnel Committee, Brown proposed replacing Pristash with Cindy Miller, a well-regarded Supervisor from Lehigh Township. In response to questioning by Ken Kraft, Brown admitted that Pristash wanted to continue serving, but he wanted to replace him with Miller anyway to "mix it up."

Peg Ferraro stated that Cindy Miller would "be fine, but I also know that the person who has the job really wants it."

Ken Kraft, who serves as Council's liaison to the Gaming Board, agreed that Pristash is "very active, very involved."  

This appointment will now go to Council tonight without a recommendation.

It's unclear precisely what Brown has against Pristash, although it is perhaps because he was part of an unanimous Board that refused to replace Executive Director Karen Collis with Brown's DCED Director, Diane Donaher.

This nomination is almost certainly headed to defeat tonight, and this is yet another illustration of John Brown's poor leadership.

The Gaming Board appointment is not like a cabinet official, where an Executive appointment is entitled to great deference. In fact, the Gaming Board's enabling ordinance, which was drafted by Lamont McClure after several months of study and discussions with Council, specifically provides that it is intended to be an "independent" body. In the discussions leading up to the Ordinance's adoption, McClure made clear that it was his intent to make it as inclusive as possible. He noted that the County Council could serve as the Gaming Authority, but thought it important to give a voice to those on the ground to work together.

It appears that Brown, in complete defiance of this ordinance, wants to pack the Board with people who will do his bidding. This is an insult to Cindy Miller, who is nobody's puppet.

He has needlessly embarrassed her and Pristash, a volunteer who did his job.


Should NorCo Repeal $50 Million Emergency Loan?

(Updated 11/20/15, 12:40 am: This story inaccurately states  that Council would be unable to vote on the repeal until December. In fact, they were able to vote on 11/19/15, and voted NOT to repeal the emergency ordinance. I apologize for the misinformation.) 

At their November 5 meeting, Northampton County Council voted 6 to 3 to approve an emergency ordinance authorizing Executive John Brown to borrow up to $50 million so that the County can continue paying human service providers out of its own pocket during the state budget impasse. Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter has since secured a line of credit with Lafayette Bank to borrow only what the County needs, starting sometime in December.

But is the state budget logjam finally breaking up? The Governor's spokesperson, Jeff Sheridan, claims there's a "tentative agreement," and is hopeful that the record-setting stalemate will be over by Thanksgiving. But there is no way of knowing just how long it will take for state reimbursement of human service providers.

Notwithstanding this uncertainty, Council will this evening consider repealing its $50 million authorization. It is unclear at this point who supports a repeal.

Under the County's Home Rule Charter, even if all nine members of Council agreed, this repeal could not take place before December 3, and by then, borrowing will likely be under way..

Northampton County's southern neighbor, Bucks County, is spending about $6 million per month of its own reserves for important programs like child protective services. But instead of borrowing, Bucks Commissioners have threatened to withhold between $4-5 million in taxes and fees it collects monthly for the state, and has already established an escrow fund for that purpose. Bucks stopped paying human service providers in July.

A breakdown of how counties are responding to the budget crisis is located here.

Photograhed by the Coroner

He must have photoshopped my stomach. 
This all started a few years ago, when Northampton County Coroner Zach Lysek gave Council a pretty graphic description of his typical day.

"It doesn't matter how good looking a person is, we all stink," he observed, in the middle of a discussion about blood spatters and how bodies decompose.

Thank you, thank you, I thought, as I ran to the can.

After a few dry heaves, I walked back in.

"Tell 'em what you do with the bodies," prompted then Executive John Stoffa.

Lysek then started talking about gross tissue samples and some 16-slice scanning machine that sounds like something you'd see in a zombie deli. When he started talking about getting sprayed by dead bodies, I was out the door permanently.

Ever since that day, whenever Lysek sees me, he asks, "Are you feeling alright?"

"You sure?"

Last night was no exception at Council Committee meetings. I have no idea why he was even there, but he kept smiling at me.

After the shouting was over, I turned around and he was right behind me!

"Are you alright?"

Then he asked if he could take my picture. He knows how to use a camera and must have had lots of practice, but I had to lie down.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Dent: Hit Pause Button on Syrian Refugees

Congressman Charlie Dent, one of the few grown ups left in Washington, has issued a statement concerning the vicious terrorist attacks in Paris. He has suggested we hit the "pause" button on the acceptance of Syrian refugees until we are more certain that we are doing all we can to prevent a Jihad John from slipping through the cracks. He has also called on the President to establish a comprehensive strategy for dealing with ISIS. Although Obama has taken action, it is likely time for United States forces to expand rules of engagement that have been criticized by military experts.

Our hearts and our prayers are with the people of France, America’s oldest ally, following the recent terrorist attacks. These attacks provide a clear demonstration that the Administration’s response to the growing threat of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Middle East has been inadequate and ineffective.

Many will recall Vice President Biden’s statement in September of 2014 that we would “follow them [ISIS] to the gates of hell” and that we would “degrade and destroy” them.

Unfortunately, the actions of the Administration have not matched that rhetoric.

It is long past time that the President, in consultation with our national security leadership, develop a comprehensive political and military strategy and present it to Congress and the American people.

Now, in part due to President Obama’s failure to lead, we are faced with instability in the Middle East, an emboldened ISIS, and a humanitarian crisis of millions fleeing from the war zone in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the region.

Let me be clear: America is a caring nation. Our national heart is huge and the plight of the displaced, no matter their race, color or creed, moves us.

In fact, this past year, the United States provided $3 billion in refugee assistance, of which $2.5 billion went to global refugee programs that provide support for people displaced by violence abroad. We provided more than $615 million in economic support to our strong ally in the region, Jordan, to help them absorb the costs of the staggering number of refugees they have already accepted into their country.

However, the security of my constituents, and of all Americans, is one of my responsibilities as an elected Representative. Therefore, I support pausing the acceptance of Syrian refugees until a prompt review of the vetting process is completed by the appropriate federal agencies including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community.

Our current vetting process and security measures are comprehensive, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned in the Age of Terror - no system is foolproof nor is there one that cannot be improved by additional testing and review.

We’ve also learned that hindering our own counter-terrorism efforts in order to appease the ideological fringes of our society is counter-productive.

That is why I am reiterating my firm stand against closing the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Moving the detainees held at Guantanamo to the United States and holding them here would pose an unacceptable risk to the security of Americans with no benefit.

Additionally, we should maintain strong intelligence-gathering activities that have been proven effective in preventing terrorist attacks on America and our allies.

The terrorist attack in Paris proves definitively that ISIS is not “contained” or the “JV” team as President Obama has maintained. We must have a comprehensive strategy and decisive action to defeat them.”

In the fight against Nazism, we were more than willing to endure total war. That included rationing and all kinds of sacrifices. But that was the greatest generation. This is the Selfish Generation, unwilling to do anything except draw red lines. Until it's too late. So I can understand Obama's reluctance to do what he needs to do. But it should be obvious to him now that his strategy is simply inadequate.

Bethlehem Tp Monthly Police Report

During the month of October, Bethlehem Tp police investigated  78 accidents involving 153 vehicles and 14 injuries. They issued 101 traffic citations and 154 written warnings. They made 40 misdemeanor and felony arrests and three summary citations. There were also three DUI arrests.

The Bethlehem Township Police Citizen’s Police Academy was resurrected after a several year hiatus. Twenty-nine township residents and other interested citizens began classes and will meet and be instructed by many township officers.

You can read more about the Township police department and their investigations on their Facebook page, Bethlehem Township Police Department. 

Bethlehem Township's Manager Report

Bethlehem Township Manager Melissa Shafer provided a report to Commissioners at their November 16 meeting:

PennEast Pipeline: The Township is proposing a $15,000 entry fee on all Township-owned property and a $5,000 professional services escrow. .
North Forty (Bulldogs) Bathrooms: The Township is seeking a $250,000 grant application, and is exploring ways to reduce costs with fewer fixtures while still maintaining required handicap accessibility.

Chetwin Terrace Stormwaters: Public Works will increase the size of the swale on the Chetwin Playground side of the Bike Path to allow for more water to flow behind the path. Additionally, money has been budgeted for 2016 to repave that portion of the bike path from Sheridan Drive to the bridge over Freemansburg Avenue. This will add approximately 4” of paving material which will also aid in keeping stormwater off the residential properties on Chetwin Terrace.

Stormwaters: The Township has applied for two grants that would match each other and fund a Multi-Municipal Stormwater Improvement Plan with Freemansburg Borough.

Energy: The Township opted to purchase energy through a reverse auction this year, and was able to lock in both electric and natural gas for four and three years respectively with an anticipated savings of over $35,000 per year.

Insurance: Thanks to an improved safety record, workers’ compensation insurance should be $100,000 cheaper in 2016.

Northampton County's Right Not To Know Law

On October 13, I told you that an arbitrator has upheld a grievance on behalf of AFSCME Local 1435 over healthcare reductions unilaterally imposed by Northampton County Exec John Brown last year. This impacts about 650 Gracedale employees. By Brown's own admission, this could end up costing the County $1 million.

On the day I was made aware of this ruling, I also filed a Right-to-Know request, seeking a copy of the order or ruling. It was a perfunctory request for information to which the public is clearly entitled, as a matter of law. I did not seek a copy of the underlying opinion, just the order itself.

I was shocked when County Right-to-Know Officer, Daniel O'Donnell, invoked a 30 day extension. I thought he was a lawyer, not a lackey. Yet he has allowed himself to be used to impair the public's right to know concerning a matter of vital importance to both employees and taxpayers. The deliberate foot-dragging concerning this information betrays a lack of transparency, which remains a hallmark of the John Brown administration.

Yesterday, just before the deadline, O'Donnell sent me an unsigned and undated "Award and Remedy." I have no way of knowing what union entity is involved or who the arbitrator is or whether this even involves Northampton County. It is a simple two paragraphs:
"The grievance is sustained. As a remedy, the County is directed to provide employees in 2015 with the same health insurance plan they received in 2014 and to make whole any employees who incurred losses under the new health insurance plan.

"The Arbitrator shall retain jurisdiction of the case for the sole purpose of resolving any disputes over the implementation of the remedy."
I've advised O'Donnell that "I need a signed copy of the Order or an affidavit from someone who can attest to its legitimacy or I will appeal this bad faith response." If the only way the County can prove it is legitimate is by attaching the Opinion it should do so. It can redact what it wants to keep from the public, which is apparently everything.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Go West Point!

When I look at this picture, I'm proud to be an American. You can see it on Facebook.

Bethlehem Tp Cuts Tax Hike in Half

Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners meets twice monthly
What was originally proposed as a 37.6% tax hike in Bethlehem Township has been cut in half. At their November 16 meeting, Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to adopt a $16.9 million spending plan for next year, with Michael Hudak casting the sole No vote. Taxes will still increase 1.01 mills (18.4%) to a 7.09 millage rate, about half the increase originally expected  According to Finance Director Andrew Freda, a home assessed at $100,000 could expect to see a $709 tax bill next year instead of the current $599.

This Budget is the culmination of four very crowded budget hearings that had to be moved to Town Hall because the conference room was too small. It may also have cost Republican Commissioners Marty Zawarski and Phil Barnard their jobs. They were defeated in the November 3 election by Democrats Malissa Davis and Kim Jenkins, who had unlikely allies in tea party conservatives.

The Budget adopted for approval decreases the fund balance by $500,000, and Freda warned before the meeting that a second hike might be necessary next year.

During budget hearings, Commissioners slashed $336,000 in spending, mostly by putting off the purchase of a $160,000 radial-arm mower and leaving unfilled a wage permit tech position. They also voted to slash the annual $40,000 allotment to The Bethlehem Township Athletic Association, more commonly known as the Bulldogs, in half. This is because the Bulldogs had built up savings of $113,000 from fundraising and donations.

A nonprofit organization, the Bulldogs consist entirely of volunteers and have had a contractual relationship with the Township that goes back to 1969. The sports group offers recreational cheerleading, football, soccer, basketball, wrestling, softball, and lacrosse to all Township residents. Under the terms of its contract, it must maintain liability insurance, and the Township has agreed to subsidize the organization. Over 1,500 children participate in one or more of these sports. Bulldogs did receive an annual subsidy of $60,000, which was reduced to $40,000 during the Great Recession.
The Bulldogs provide organized sports for 1,500 children a year. 

According to Bulldogs president Frank Grillo, "[T]he commissioners and the township manager asked our organization to do extra fundraising or saving to show good faith and put some money toward the restrooms." Those are projected to cost somewhere around $350,000, although they also include an equipment storage room. "Now that our organization did what the township asked, the BTAA is going to be penalized," Grillo complained.

Grillo and Mike Beck, another Bulldog, asked Commissioners to restore the $40,000 in funding. Noting that the Bulldogs "get blamed for a lot of things," he asked "where taking $20,000 away from the kids is going to get us."

Michael Hudak stated the cut is the result of an "outcry from the public," and that he found it "personally offensive" that Grillo would bring up kids in what is, after all, a youth sports program.'Take $20,000 out of savings and spend it on the kids," he told Grillo. "I would hope we don't back out on this," Hudak told fellow Commissioners. The public spoke at the election as well."

But that's exactly what happened. Commissioner Tom Nolan proposed restoring the $20,000 taken away from the Bulldogs, and with only Hudak voting No, this budget amendment was adopted.

Then the budget itself was approved for advertising by the same 4 to 1 vote.

Hudak, on both his Facebook page and at the meeting, derided the "lame ducks" who voted to restore funding. "We need to stand up for our decisions and have a spine."

Kim Jenkins, who is replacing "lame duck" Phil Barnard next year, is a member of the Bulldogs Board.

As the meeting ended, Pat Breslin stated he talked to several hundred people during the budget process and has several legal ads full of notes. He'd like to form what he calls a citizen's self audit committee to review the budget throughout the year.

"Obviously, we have a spending problem," he said.

Greek Orthodox Church Moving Next to St. Francis Friary

Terraform's Terry DeGroot describes plans for Greek Orthodox Church
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, currently located on 20th Street in Wilson Borough, is moving to Bethlehem Township. Parish Council President Aristides Manolas and Engineer Terry DeGroot presented sketch plans for a church, fellowship hall and administrative offices during the November 16 Commissioners' meeting. It's located on the northern 12 acres of a sprawling 21-acre tract along Bethman and Church Roads, along with a 500-car parking lot. The sanctuary, which is what Manolas called the church, would have room for 350 worshippers. The fellowship hall, which will include a kitchen and can double as a gym, is planned to hold 500.

When asked about the church entrance facing the back of the tract, Manolas explained that Greek Orthodox Churches always try to face east.

Manolas told Commissioners that the Wilson Borough church, led by Father Constantine Papadopoulos, has no insulation or features for the differently abled.

At this point, DeGroot is unable to project a cost or timeline.

St. Jane's, The Franciscan Friary and Calvary Baptist Church are all located on or near Church Road. During an earlier review at the Planning Commission, one member quipped, "Church Road is living up to its name."

The Wilson Borough Church is the site of a famous bi-annual Greek food festival.

NorCo Controller Announces Fraud Tip Line


That's a new tip line set up by NorCo Controller Steve Barron to enable employees and County residents to report suspected fraud and government waste. It will be monitored by Audit Manager Frank Kedl and the Controller Stephen Barron. “I will follow up as best as possible on anonymous tips,” Barron said. “I will also send information to other municipalities and local law enforcement if I feel a tip warrants further investigation.”

Barron explained that CCAP’s line does not follow up on anonymous tips and doesn’t generally share or take tips unrelated to the county.

Although anonymity is guaranteed, Barron said it would make his job easier if people who have concerns identify themselves. "If a person leaves their name and information I will not release their name or information unless they allow me to do so," he promised. "The goal is to stop fraud and waste and rest assure that all tips will be worked to get to that end.”