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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Opinions Online, 7/30/16

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 sometimes highlight comments from throughout the week and re-publish them here. Please keep your comments brief, if possible.

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Melina a immigrant who does not like immigrants.

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Why in the world does the Lehigh County Housing Authority own a house on Carter Road in Bethlehem Township, Northampton county?

Blogger Reply: I will find out.

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Got your wish No more Debbie at the DNC

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If you think that the FPC mess is unique to Bethlehem, check this out.... and the lawsuit ran for 15 years! http://www.mainlinemedianews.com/articles/2011/09/03/main_line_times/news/doc4e622e26019b9741622227.txt

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John Stoffa, Ground Hog Trapper: Bernie this is John Stoffa. The following is not an opinion but a suggestion. For all of you out there who struggle with eradicating groundhogs try this: get your self a live trap and the secret bait to use are unshelled inexpensive peanuts. This works. Try it !

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God Bless the parents of Capt Humayun Khan

Friday, July 29, 2016

Bexley Hosts Tea Party For Cop Who Saved Her Life

The Best Convention Speech



Donald Trump's intemperate mouth and tweets have been is his own worst enemy. But Hillary Clinton's frosty silence has been her handicap She has too often vascillated between saying nothing or speaking in a shout that seems insincere and contrived?  Did Chelsea humanize her mother? I think she did. Did Hillary succeed in opening up about herself? No.

It was a below-average speech. She simply is no orator and is unable to open up the way her husband or Barack Obama does. She tends to shout too much instead of using the mike.

She gave a devastating assessment of The Donald, particularly when she paraphrased Jackie Kennedy's worry about "little men, the ones moved by fear and pride," having access to nuclear weapons

I also believe she did an effective job of portraying herself, not as a Democrat, but as a candidate of democracy.

The best speech in both conventions came from someone who is not running for anything. No, not Michelle Obama, though she was good. No, it was not Chris Christie or Rudy Guliani. In my view, the best speaker was a Muslim, Khizr Khan, whose son died in the service of the United States.
Like many immigrants, we came to this country empty-handed. We believed in American democracy — that with hard work and the goodness of this country, we could share in and contribute to its blessings.

We were blessed to raise our three sons in a nation where they were free to be themselves and follow their dreams.

Our son, Humayun, had dreams of being a military lawyer. But he put those dreams aside the day he sacrificed his life to save his fellow soldiers.

Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son "the best of America."

If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America.

Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country.

Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words "liberty" and "equal protection of law."

Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities.

You have sacrificed nothing and no one.

We can't solve our problems by building walls and sowing division.

We are Stronger Together.

And we will keep getting stronger when Hillary Clinton becomes our next President.

New Car Seat Law Takes Effect August 2

The change is explained in The Inky:
The current version of the law requires that all children under 4 years of age are restrained in an approved child passenger restraint system, and children between 4 and 8 years of age are restrained in a booster seat. Beginning in August, the new law expands this by specifically requiring children under age 2 to ride rear-facing. There two types of car seats that can be used rear-facing: convertible car seats and infant-only car seats.
For the first year, violators will get away with a warning.

Should Lehigh Valley Start DePaving Roads?

Though his detractors forget this, one reason why Don Cunningham was so effective as Bethlehem's Mayor is because he aggressively attacked roads. Unlike most politicians, he understood how important good roads are to a community. He may have recognized that there's also a political dividend. But as the cost of materials increase and other municipal expenses mount, it is becoming very for many Lehigh Valley communities to maintain their roads. I have an idea that might sound ridiculous, but just might work - depaving.

According to LVPC Executive Director Becky Bradley, there are 4,105 miles of roads in the Lehigh Valley. Most - 3,046 miles - are owned by local communities. Do they all really need to be paved?

Depaving roads has gone on for some time in other states. In Texas, a funding shortage in 2013 forced the state to depave 80 miles of roads. But it's apparently going on in at least 27 states, according to Wired. This is because, in addition to limited public dollars, the costs of asphalt, cement and concrete have gone up.

In Bethlehem Township, it will cost about $3.9 million to repair about 9,000 ft along Brodhead Road. That has to be done. But what about low volume roads like Wilson Avenue, which runs parallel to the Lehigh River? It might make sense to depave that road.

I am sure there are numerous low-volume roads, even in Lehigh Valley cities that could be depaved. Roads in City parks, for example, should probably be unpaved.


State funding is available for communities looking at depaving roads.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Who's Your Daddy?

"If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton's 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!" - The Donald

Trump's flippant remarks about a political opponent, to say nothing of other cavalier remarks about NATO, have threatened our national security and our international reputation. I had thought that Trump would at least project an image of strength in the post-Obama years. He'd represent the Daddy party. But he is actually a scared neo-isolationist. ... At least today

I listened to Democrats attempt to project an image of strength during the convention last night, as delegates shouted "No More War!" They come up short, too.

Warning: Bethlehem's Town Hall Can Be Dangerous To Your Health

Bethlehem's town hall, an aging and poorly lit rotunda, may very well be a public health hazard, especially for older citizens. Whether it is City Council, the Planning Commission or Zoning Hearing Board, members of the public often trip when entering the room. They also often lose their footing when approaching a microphone. The most recent example of this occurred on July 27, just as the Zoning Hearing Board was about to consider four matters.

An elderly woman named Carol arrived just as Gus Loupos was getting down to business. She missed a step and did a header right into the well of the rotunda. As she lied lay on the floor, trying to figure out what the hell had just happened, Attorney Jim Preston was among the first to rush to her side. Though still a bit woozy, she must have immediately recognized him as an attorney because she snapped, "That's my purse," as he picked it up for her.

Zoning Office Suzanne Borzak also rushed to this woman's side, and the Zoning Hearing Board delayed the start of business while police and an ambulance were summoned. Carol was eventually helped to her feet by a large police officer. She was taken to Muhlenberg Hospital to ensure that, aside from embarrassment, she had no major injuries.

Carol seemed to appreciate the attention of the police. "I told him he was a cutie," she said of one officer as she made her exit.

Carol could have stayed home, along with about 25 other residents. Most were there for Sterling Development Group's plans to add 48 apartments to two apartment buildings at 1620 Catasauqua Road, which already has 121 units. Attorney Preston sought a continuance based on information just discovered that day. Attorney Tom Caffrey, who represents Buchanan Park Housing Corporation, had no objection. The Board continued the matter until August 24.

In other business, the Board granted Tracey and Jose Santiago dimensional variances that would permit them to build a two-car garage at their Lincoln Street home, like their neighbors. Jose currently stores his Harley in a neighbor's garage.

James and Janet Schoffstall were granted variances for a new shed at their 36 W Garrison Street property so they can store their kayaks. They are currently storing them in their living room and basement, and actually had an aluminum boat stolen from their old shed.

Attorney Todd Nickischer was granted permission for a solid fence along the property line of his mother's property at 1737 Carlisle Street, but for safety reasons, not within the driveway sight triangle.

All votes were unanimous among the four members present. Attorney Linda Shay Gardner was absent.

Postscript: 

This place was packed with lawyers. In addition to Preston, legal eagles included Erich J. Schock, Michael Santanasto, Tom Caffrey and Todd Nickischer. Yet when Carol took a tumble, not one of them handed her a business card or suggested that she at least lie there while they arrange to get her a neck brace. 

Makes you wonder what they teach in law school these days.

When my dad practiced law, he had an office in what is now Bethlehem's historic district. That's where he met all the accused druggies and murderers. One rainy day, a short bus transporting mentally challenged children took a corner by his office a little too sharply, and tipped over. All the kids inside were yelling and screaming, but unharmed.

As my father stood outside and surveyed the wreckage, Attorney Pete Ryback pulled up in his car and asked, "What seems to be the problem here, Bernie?" 

"Get lost! This is my corner!" was my Dad's answer.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Bethlehem Gives Gordie Mowrer Unusual Good-Bye

Bethlehem said goodbye to Gordie Mowrer, known as The Main Street Mayor, in a memorial service on July 26 at Bethlehem's Central Moravian Church. Over 350 people braved 90-degree temperatures to pay their respects, but Mowrer, a former Moravian Pastor known for his gentle humor, had a surprise for them. 

Central Moravian Church, with its wonderful acoustics, is a regular host for the Bach Choir, Christmas Vespers and Handel's Messiah. Love of music is part of a rich Moravian tradition. It's where Haydn's oratorio, The Creation, made its debut in this country. So the rich organ prelude at the beginning of the service, performed by Rebecca Kleintop Owens, could be expected. But as soon as she was finished, The Mainstreet Brass began performing "Dead Man Blues." Jelly Roll Morton would say, "I believe I hear that trambone moan," and moan it did. A New Orleans funeral dirge was certainly weather appropriate, but what about the family? Did the Moravians finally go too far with their love of music? 

His daughter Margaret, the baby of the family, explained. Mowrer wanted that music and asked for it himself. "When the Saints Go Marching In" was trumpeted as everyone else marched out at the end of the service.

"While he was dying, he would still sing to me," said his baby daughter. In phone calls to her, he'd start singing, "You are my sunshine" or "I just called to say I love you." She became a social worker after watching him help people while he was Chaplain at St.Luke's Hospital. "He had empathy and compassion. That's what this world needs.” 

Daughter-in-law Betty described a one-man welcome wagon who was always offering the apartment above his garage to people in need.  

Son George described his father as a risk-taker who "always did what he thought was right." His father once told him, "Relationships matter. People matter."

Mowrer served as Bethlehem's Mayor between 1974 and 1978, and then again for a year in 1987. He also served several terms on City Council. 

Though he had degrees from Dickinson College and Lehigh University, Mowrer would return to the Moravian Theological Seminary in the '90s, and was ordained by Advent Moravian Church in 1992.  

Mowrer is called "The Main Street Mayor" because he rebelled against "urban renewal" premised on tearing down buildings and replacing them with something more "modern." Historic downtown Bethlehem, with its specialty shops along Main Street, would have been bulldozed for big department stores. Mowrer reversed that trend in his single term as Mayor. 

"There's only one thing Bethlehem has to sell, and that is its history," he writes in The Comeback Kid, his autobiography. "The uniqueness of Bethlehem is our history; that's what we have to sell, and if we try to sell anything else we are going to fail. Bethlehem is not a shopping center, it is not a brand-new community, we are an old city that has charm and delight, and we need to sell that."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Are Casino Host Fees Legal?


Three Pennsylvania casinos are challenging the constitutionality of the host fee it must pay each year to their municipal hosts, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rivers Casino (Pittsburgh), Mount Airy (Poconos) and Harrah's (Philadelphia) have each filed complaints alleging that the host fee, or "local share tax," is unconstitutional. They are being heard by the state Supreme Court.

Under current law, casinos are subject to two different rates of taxation. If gross revenues are more than $500 million, the host fee is two per cent. But if revenues fall under that amount, the host fee is $10 million. So a casino with gross revenues of just $1 million could hypothetically be subject to a $10 million host fee.

Pennsylvania's Constitution (Article VIII, Section 1), states that “[a]ll taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be collected under general laws." This single sentence is why Governor Wolf is unable to impose a graduated income tax.

Casinos argue that the Gaming Law unconstitutionally imposes two different tax rates on the same class, i.e. gaming houses with licenses. The Rivers lawsuit calls this "arbitrary and not rationally related to any legitimate governmental purpose.”

If the Sands Casino were to file this kind of suit and win, it would have a devastating impact on Bethlehem. In his State of the City, Mayor Bob Donchez said that without the $9.7 million host fee he received last year, he'd have to increase taxes 39% or lay off 110 cops.

I. Holy War: A Church Divided Against Itself

Blogger's Note: I wrote this story two weeks ago, but wanted to wait until it appeared in The Bethlehem Press before running it here. I especially like the graphic. Like yesterday's story, this is a three-part story. Comments are welcome, but all comments concerning any part of this story can only be made here. I disabled comments for parts II and III. The weakness of this story is that i was never able to speak to Rev. Crumpler, despite repeated attempts. I believe she and other ECO proponents have decided to avoid press inquiries. 

A Holy War is raging in Bethlehem. It's not Christians against Jews, Jews against Muslims, or Muslims against Hindus. It's actually a battle within one denomination and at one church. The congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, which has existed for the past 141 years and includes 2600 members, has voted overwhelmingly (76%) to break away from the Presbyterian Church USA. It has instead opted to join the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterian Church (ECO). Not so fast, says the Lehigh Presbytery, the regional arm of the national church, which claims that the Bethlehem church has no authority to leave with its assets, which include a beautiful church and a sprawling 50-acre campus. The result has been dueling lawsuits over the church's assets and an uncertain future.

One lawsuit, filed by the Presbyterian Church USA and Lehigh Presbytery, seeks to prevent the Bethlehem Church from conveying church asserts. The other, filed by Bethlehem, claims that its Charter, first granted in 1877, gives the congregation control over its property and staff, and not some "self-written spiritual rulebook."  

At a hearing on June 24, President Judge Stephen Baratta resolved the dispute between the warring factions in King Solomon-like fashion. He has ordered that both sects may continue to worship within the same four walls, with one offering services early in the morning and the other a little later. Neither side may interfere with the other, and both must act in good faith  A nonjury trial is scheduled in October. Both sides claim to be in the miracle business, and they'll need one to resolve this dispute before a judge decides for them, which will likely be next year. After that, appeals could linger for years.

What's it all about?

Though she failed to respond to multiple requests for comment, First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem Pastor Marnie Crumpler derided the Presbyterian Church USA in a WFMZ-TV69 interview as a "bureaucracy that is trying to protect itself. ... The denomination is trying to make [same sex marriage] the issue. But that is not really the issue. The issue is control and authority and what they would like to do with our property."

But same sex marriage and gay clergy members are very much a part of the discussion, too. According to a church member named Ellen, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) has "become a political organization supporting 'progressives'agendas. This is NOT biblical. The General Assembly meetings keep the organization in constant turmoil. They started back in the 1970’s with the homosexual issue and would not take NO for an answer. This is not the work of an organization which is looking for Unity. This is more the work of Satan. Kill the church and Christianity from the inside. Focus on political issues — not on spreading Christ’s message."

Over the past three decades, the Presbyterian Church USA has mirrored the same conflict and debate concerning gay issues that exists throughout the rest of the nation. In 1976, the practice of homosexuality was regarded as sin. But by mid-2014, the Church's General Assembly modified its Book of Order to recognize same sex marriages, although each congregation was given the freedom to decide on its own whether to perform same sex marriages.

The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, the largest religious congregation in Bethlehem, is a mainstream Protestant Christian that had been affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA since 1983. That's the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country, and is known for a relatively progressive stance on doctrine.

A group of elected leaders or "elders" make up the church's session. The session in turn is represented in the Lehigh Presbytery, which includes 31 churches. The Lehigh Presbytery has representation in the Synod of Trinity. The highest authority is the General Assembly. A Book of Order suggests worship services, but each local congregation retains a great deal of autonomy.

Linda Robertson, a former Moravian, first joined the church in 1988. She loved its sprawling campus on Center Street, with "lemonade on the lawn" after Sunday services. She enjoyed the high standards of preaching. She eventually was elected to the Session, where she served for six years. At that time, she said the church was known as "the center on Center." But she acknowledges that, over time, the Bethlehem church has grown more conservative.

Over the past three decades, the Presbyterian Church USA has mirrored the same conflict and debate concerning gay issues that exists throughout the rest of the nation. In 1976, the practice of homosexuality was regarded as sin. But in 2011, it was ordaining gay clergy. By 2014, the Church's General Assembly modified its Book of Order to recognize same sex marriages, although each congregation was given the freedom to decide on its own whether to perform same sex marriages.

Courts refuse to involve themselves in religious disputes. "The law knows no heresy," said Supreme Court Justice Samuel Miller in an 1871 dispute between another set of Presbyterians. But courts have full authority to resolve property disputes and interpret corporate charters.

The facts in this case are almost identical to those confronting the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court when the Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church voted to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church USA, and wanted to take its assets with it. In a 4-3 ruling, President Judge Dan Pellegrini concluded that the church had no such authority because it unequivocally incorporated into its own Charter and by-laws a commitment not to disaffiliate without permission from the local presbytery. That is exactly what has happened here. The local church also was unable to assume control of the real estate because it ratified a PCUSA Book of Order providing that all property owned by local churches are held in trust for the PCUSA.

Mark Twain, himself a Presbyterian, once said, "You never see any of us Presbyterians getting in a sweat about religion and trying to massacre the neighbors. Let us all be content with the tried and safe old regular religions, and take no chances on wildcat."

He never visited First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem.

II. Holy War: Where Churches Stand on LGBT Issues

Opposed to same sex marriages:   Roman Catholic Church; Orthodox Jewish movement; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Southern Baptist Convention; National Baptist Convention; Assemblies of God; United Methodist Church; Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; Islam; Jehovah's Witnesses; Seventh day Adventists. 

Supports same sex marriages: Conservative Jewish movement; Reform Jewish movement; Episcopal Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Presbyterian Church USA; Society of Friends; Unitarians; United Church of Christ; Moravian Church (Northern Province Synod)

Source: Pew Research Center

III. Holy War: First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem Timelime

1875 - A group of 22 men and women form the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem (FPCB).

1877 - Church Charter filed

1907 - Church Charter amended, placing it under control of Presbyterian Church of the United States. This Charter requires that all real estate conveyances require majority vote of the congregation and written permission from the Presbytery. .

1952 - FPCB takes title to 52 acres along Center Street, site of current church. The Deed contains no trust clause or right of reversion in favor of the general or denominational church.

1983 - FPCB becomes affiliated with Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) when two national Presbyterian denominations merge in what is called the "reunion."

1984 - Congregation amends Charter again, but continues to require written permission from presbytery for any conveyance of church property.

2011 - PCUSA decides to allow gay and lesbian clergy

2012 - A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO) is formed in reaction to decision of PCUSA to admit gay and lesbian clergy. Dr. Marnie Crumpler, then a Pastor in Atlanta, is part of the task force that develops this new denomination's polity.

2016 - Rev. Alf Halvorson, Pastor at FPCB, leaves for an ECO church in Texas. Dr. Marnie Crumpler called to replace him.

June 3, 2016: An independent straw poll conducted by Lehigh Presbytery indicates that 57% of the FPCB congregation wants to dissolve its ties with PCUSA. This is below the 66% requirement, and the Lehigh Presbytery votes unanimously to attempt reconciliation.

June 10, 2016: The lawsuits begin. FPCB sues PCUSA, and a countersuit is filed by PCUSA on June 21, 2016.

June 21, 2016: Rev. Marnie Crumpler emails FPCB congregation, warning that Lehigh Presbytery plans a hostile takeover of the church and its assets, and intends to fire her and the staff. A second vote is scheduled for June 26.

June 24, 2016: President Judge Stephen Baratta issues a Court Order allowing both sides to conduct Sunday services under the same roof, but at different times. Both sides must operate in good faith, and no personnel may be terminated pending resolution of the dispute. A nonjury trial is scheduled on October 11.  

June 26, 2106: FPCB congregation votes overwhelmingly, with 76% of 1,048 members who cast ballots, to split from PCUSA and join ECO.

June 27, 2016: Rev. Crumpler and members of FPCB meet with ECO and are "joyfully received," becoming the 286th church to join that growing denomination.

Barron Gets Beach-Bashed at NorCo Council

Though noting in the Home Rule Charter requires it, Controller Steve Barron usually attends Northampton County Council meetings. He even has an agenda item for any remarks he wants to make. Bur he was absent on Thursday night. He and his family were at the beach for their fourth one-week vacation during his eight years in office. A week before the meeting, he advised Council Clerk Linda Zembo in writing that he'd be on vacation. Council used his absence to bash him.

"Is Mr. Barron still employed by the County?" asked a smug Glenn Geissinger when Council President John Cusick noticed that Barron was absent. Now Geissinger missed meetings when he was running for Congress. Unlike Barron, he is required to attend Council meetings. But he was going to be a Congressman. Geissinger also very often attends meeting by phone because he's too important to be there in person.

Ken Kraft, a fellow Democrat, asked to have the Controller's report removed from the agenda. "I don't really want it," he said, noting that Barron has more than enough time to say whatever he has to say during Finance Committee meetings that Kraft usually skips.

Peg Ferraro and Seth Vaughn were all for removing this agenda item. Cusick said he wanted to hear from Barron first. 

To be fair, Cusick or Linda Zembo should have told everyone that Barron had notified them he would be on vacation. But it's pretty clear that no one on Council is interested in being fair to Barron.

I know Barron talks a lot, and I hate it, but I'd rather have a public official who is transparent than some smug and condescending bastard who phones in to meetings because he's too important to hang with the vulgari.

When Juliet said, "I'll be brief," she meant it. She stabbed herself with Romeo's dagger, ensuring that there'd no sequel. But when Barron says "I'll be brief," it's my cue to hunt down Romeo's dagger and join Juliet. He talks too much. I've told him this. Ken Kraft has told him this. But it is because he cares.

I think it's unfortunate that Council would trash Barron over a family vacation when most of them skip meetings themselves.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Lehigh Valley Inland Empirre

Blogger's Note: I accidentally deleted this three-part story, and am reloading it. Sorry, but all comments were wiped out.


I. Lehigh Valley Inland Empire, Freight to Double in Ten Years

If you think of the Lehigh Valley as a sleepy countryside, that's about to change. Freight transportation will double in the Lehigh Valley over the next decade. That's what Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) Executive Director Becky Bradley told Northampton County Council at their July 21 meeting. It will occur on all levels - rail, roads and air. Accompanying this explosion, there will be more warehouses and traffic. "If they're coming, we have to plan for them," said Bradley.

Noting that manufacturing facilities like Crayola and Olympus now look very much like warehouses, Bradley pointed out that "there's been a change in the way we shop" as online warehouse businesses like Amazon take root in the Lehigh Valley. She said that will only increase once Fed Ex Ground, which started construction in Allen Township last week, is complete. "At full build out, in its third phase, it will be the largest ground facility in the world," she reported. "They are a transportation company. So we obviously need to work with them in order to plan for the transportation system that they need."

Bradley stated that the Fed Ex in Allen Township is already leading to an increasing demand for warehouse and logistics facilities along Route 248 that will "drastically change transportation patterns" in Northampton County.

In addition to Fed Ex, Bradley pointed to a proposed inland port that would expand the current Norfolk Southern rail yard in South Bethlehem, which could soon include a U.S. Customs station for international freight.

Bradley also stated that the "Chrinterchange," a new Route 33 interchange in Palmer Township, will increase freight traffic.

"The Lehigh Valley, all the way down to Harrisburg, actually has better access to markets than the port of Long Beach in California. We really are the new inland empire." The recent Panama Canal expansion is expected to have a major impact along the U.S. eastern seaboard, making inland ports a necessity.

With drastic increases expected on the Lehigh Valley's roads, Congress in December appropriated $458 million for infrastructure projects over the next four years. That's an "unheard of" increase in federal funds for transportation infrastructure, according to Bradley. For the first time, more money will be invested in bridges ($183M) than highways ($131 M). "You lose a bridge, you lose an entire road," reasoned Bradley. Another $144M will be spent for transit.

Mat Benol complained about all the warehouses. "There's gotta' be something that can be done about all these warehouses that keep popping up," he said, adding that many of them are now vacant. Benol commutes to East Brunswick every day, and "I know what the truck traffic is gonna' do. This Fed Ex facility is gonna' kill this area."

"Mat, you can move closer to where you work," noted Ken Kraft.

Bradley acknowledged that increased freight traffic is the biggest transportation issue facing the Lehigh Valley, but added that Pennsylvania is a "right-to-develop" state. She noted that many municipalities have local zoning that permits warehouses, even where it is inappropriate. She agreed that warehouses are often on very short term leases.

Bradley indicated that she is currently working on establishing to truck routes to keep freight off of back roads. She added that there is an agreement in place with Fed Ed under which there will be no truck traffic during peak commuter periods. "We'll see if that happens in implementation," she cautioned.

II. Lehigh Valley Inland Empire, Transportation Trends

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) prepares a Transportation Improvement Program funded by the federal government. It is updated every three years. LVPC Executive Director Becky Bradley notes the following trends:

* Most people commute alone in their own vehicle. Only about nine per cent carpool. Only four per cent work from home. Two per cent use their feet, while another two per cent ride LANTA.

* 89,000 of the people who work in the Lehigh Valley commute in from somewhere else. About 187,000 people both live and work here. About 104,000 people who live in the Lehigh Valley commute to work somewhere else.

* Ninety per cent of the freight is moved by tractor trailer.

* 912 bridges are over 50 years old. 169 are structurally deficient and 199 are functionally obsolete. Six bridges are closed and 98 are posted weight restricted. "We need to make sure we're investing in those bridges on defined schedules so we don't lose them," states Bradley

* The most productive warehouses are next to major arteries. "Keep warehouse and distribution facilities where we have good infrastructure, next to major highways," she recommends. "The worst thing that could happen is to have them on a tar and chip road and the local municipality in two years has to pay for a road that they can't afford."

* There are 4,100 miles of roads in the Lehigh Valley, over which 13.6 million miles are traveled daily, with the highest concentration on Airport Road, where the job density is the greatest.

* Over 3,000 of these roads are owned by local government, but federal law requires that improvements be made to federal and state roads first.

III. Lehigh Valley Inland Empire, Major Road Projects

Most of the road projects are along the spine of Routes 22 and 78. Among the major projects are the following:

* Over $17M will be spent to widen Route 22, between 15th Street (Allentown) and Airport Road, with construction slated for 2019 and 2020.

* $14M will be used to reconstruct State Route 100, between Schantz Road and Tilghman Streets, with the work starting in 2017 and going through 2020.

* 12.8M will be used to resurface SR 309 from Walbert Avenue to Shankweiler Drive, as well as improvements to the Orefield Road intersection to accommodate truck turns.

* $11.3M will fund signalization of the SR 222 and Schantz Rd intersection, as well as the SR 222 and Farmington Road intersections.

*$11M will pay for an upgrade to the SR309 and Tilghman Street interchange.

*$7.2M on the 15th St (Allentown) corridor for new signals between Hamilton and Tilghman Streets to improve pedestrian safety.

* $5M will fund highway improvements for Fed Ex, and include widening Airport Road and intersection improvements at Postal and City Line Roads.

* $4M will fund improvements to the Route 22 and 13th St (Easton) interchange. Bradley said at one point that there is more traffic along Easton's 13th Street than west-bound Route 22.

* $3M will be used for Center Street (Bethlehem) resurfacing, between Fahy and Monocacy Bridges.

* $1.5M will be spent for corridor improvements along Easton Avenue (Bethlehem), between Stefko Boulevard and Willow Park Road.

* $2M will be spent to convert one-way streets in Easton's central business district back into two-way streets in 2017 and 2018. Streets involved are Second, Spring Garden, Fourth and Ferry Streets.

Fed Ed Lends Fed'l Campaign $21,608 To Pay Lawyers

Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski's latest federal campaign finance report, due July 15, is finally available for public inspection. You can see it here. It shows that he was aware of the federal freeze on his campaign bank accounts by April 15. He describes it on his report as an "involuntary forfeiture" of $29,371.93, made to The United States Attorney.

This seizure has forced him to dip into his own pocket. He has lent his campaign $12,000 as follows: $7,500 on 4/12; $3,000 on 4/14; $1,500 on 6/22. In addition he has advanced his campaign another $9,608.33, meaning that the total of debts and obligations owed by his committee is $21,608.33.

Why has he has he had to borrow money?

Lawyers, of course.

·        $2,500 to Philly law firm Borum, Burke and DiDonato on 4/28.
·        $2,783.33 to Allentown lawyer Maureen Coggins on 5/12 (She may be representing Lisa Pawlowski).
·        $4,325 to DC law firm Oldaker Group, which was hired as a result of compliance issues with his campaign finance reports.

He's got just $1,589.39 left in what at one time was a $427,000 war chest.

According to another Philly lawyer, Jack McMahon, Fed Ed had no idea whatever that his bank accounts had been frozen until a check bounced. It's pretty clear that he knew in April, when he started borrowing money. McMahon waited until July 11 to file a "Motion to Release Frozen Assets."

The $4,325 payment to Oldaker group, which was hired to insure FEC compliance, is undoubtedly permissible. But the other legal fees are likely improper.

Is the expense one that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or duties as a federal officeholder? If the answer is Yes, it is a personal expense. Fed Ed is not a federal office holder. The expense would exist regardless of his campaign because the expense is related to a pay-to-play investigation, not his campaign. This is a personal expense, and will likely be disallowed by the FEC.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Joanne Messenlehner Honored on 77th Birthday

L to R: Sarah Kaboly, Valerie Kiltie, Lamont McClure, Kaija Farber, Joanne Messenlehner,
Lori Vargo Heffner, John Morganelli, Geri Stofko Ameri
Most people in Northampton County politics know Joanne Messenlehner as a Democratic activist, a two-time party chair who has orchestrated numerous campaigns over the years. What many don't know is that she grew up on Bethlehem's south side. A Stofko, she was the first member of her family to go to college. She went on to become a teacher and swim coach in the Bethlehem Area School District, and moved her family out of the projects.

Joanne Messenlehner with granddaughter
Sarah Kaboly and daughter Mary Lou Kaboly
When she got into teaching, she took her little sister with her to many of her classes and extracurricular activities. That sister, Geri Ameri, became a health and physical education teacher like her big sister. So did her brother and her daughter. Ameri is now athletic director at a high school in Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood. "She was a role model to me," she said, as she told tales of sleeping in a double bed with two other sisters.

Messenlehner, who just turned 77, was recently honored by family and friends in a roast at Holy Family Manor (now called the Phoenix).

Lamont McClure, John Morganelli, Rich Grucela, Jane Wells Schooley and many other prominent politicians were there to pay their respects. So were numerous of her Bethlehem friends, including Valerie Kiltie, Kaija Farber, Mary Ann Ursu, Nancy Dieter Lilly and Connie Glagola.

Noting that she received a birthday card from Reichel Funeral Home, Messenlehner quipped, "They don't fool me. They only want my body."

She said America is already great. "If we weren't great, we wouldn't have so many people trying to come into this country."

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Opinions Online, 7/23/16

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 sometimes highlight comments from throughout the week and re-publish them here. Please keep your comments brief, if possible.

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Melania Trump : "I'm so proud of your choice for President of the United States. And, we are so proud to be here. When it comes to my husband, I am definitely biased and for good reason. He loves this country very much. I was born in Slovenia, then a communist country in central Europe. My family gave me my love of family and America. The values are that you work hard for what you want in life. That is the lesson that I pass on to my son. And the lessons for generations to follow because we want our children to know that it is about your strength in your dreams and your willingness to work for them. We cannot take the freedoms this country offers for granted."

Michelle Obama: “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country … not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change, I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment.”

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Is there any truth to the rumor running around the courthouse that the court administrator is being pushed out by the judges because they prefer the deputy court administrator?

Blogger's Reply: I addressed this rumor some time ago. Jill Smith is on sick leave and IS the Court Administrator.

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When my issue of The Bethlehem Press arrived Wednesday, I was happy to see Bernie's article on First Presbyterian of Bethlehem. I think he did a great job, and the timeline was especially helpful, especially the legal content and implications of the entries. It had a good pulled-together message on the whole issue. The Morning Call did what daily papers do, and doled out news of events as they appeared on the landscape. But they did not have the same ability to read and analyze legal documents that Bernie has. Good job, Bernie.

Blogger's Reply: Thanks. I put a lot of time into that story. I wish Rev. Crumpler would have spoken to me.

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Bernie,

How many tickets did you or any of your readers buy from the Queen of the Big Time in Roseto?

Blogger's Reply: I have never been there. Maybe I should go.

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I would like an explanation when people are driving in a lane that is ending and they stay in that lane till there's no road anywhere, why don't they safely merge over before they run out of the lane.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Dear Heroin

Joseph Bleiler, known to his friends as Joey B, started using heroin at age 13. The result of that lifestyle is revealed by headlines like "Son wielded knife, wrestled with mother, according to Roseto police chief" "Roseto mom purchased heroin in Easton with 17-year-old son in car, police say" and "Joseph Bleiler shops on another man's dime."

Joey B is a participant in Northampton County's Drug Court, and was promoted to Phase 2 yesterday after writing and reading this essay in open court to his ex-wife, heroin.   

Dear Heroin,

Well old friend it's been a long time since we last talked, I remember the last time we talked it was a rough day the last time I saw you. You know you really destroyed a lot of my life. You took my family from me, and you took my own life. It's because of you that my arms are always cold. You're the reason my family turned their backs on me, because you did this to me you ended up making me the evil person I did not want to be. That would steal anything that wasn't tied down. You broke me spiritually, emotionally and physically. You robbed me of my dignity and self-respect. You took everything from me. You stole my family and you made all my friends hate me and worst of all you took it all. I have nothing because of you, you made me weak and broken. I definitely won't let it happen again. I loved you, and you never gave me anything but a bad life because you drained me of everything I ever had. I committed crimes because of your influence and tried to take my own life. You left bruises on my arms. You made my life a living hell. I hated each day that I had to wake up and see you robbing everyone I know just for me to feel normal. I'll never give you that control again, because today I found a better way. I found I don't need you make me feel sick. In fact, just the thought of you makes my stomach turn. I lost it all for you, and I promise you'll never get another thing from me as long as I live. I won't let you take my life the way you did before because I'm stronger than you and I know you don't like it. The pestering of me every day was the worst part. The last thing I ever gave you was my freedom. You will never have anything of mine again. I was lost in a dark room with you and I won't go back to that room. I have nailed that door shut. left you. In the past all you wanted was to see me dead, and give me a false sense of happiness. ...

I have broken those chains you shackled me in. I have taken my life back, and I won't let you back in any matter how much you beg. I will never give this life up. It is beyond my wildest dreams. I don’t want to lie in bed with you anymore. That bed was cold, dark and filled with nothing but pain. I never knew who I was until now, and I'll never give it up. I want this forever.

You'll always be a distant memory of what life was like. I will never give you another ounce of my being. You took so much from my life, all the time I missed with my family, all the people who came and went in my life because of you. You took so many of my friends’ lives, but I won't let you take mine.

I remember the first time I met you, you made me feel complete inside. You could do no wrong and everything was just perfect. Then one day I woke up and thought I had the flu, turns out it was my body just missing you. Once I got you back in my veins, where you belonged, all my permanent problems were temporarily solved. Slowly but surely, you began to destroy my life. My family and friends just didn't understand that I had taken a vow and made you my wife. I loved you more than I loved my own mother for some reason even I couldn't understand. There in my room I sat, with all my possessions gone, my life gone, with just a mattress and a room. I gave you one last shot and fell on my face, hoping that I wouldn't awake. Then someone walked in my room and saved my life, and for that I am eternally grateful. Now I have a clear understanding that what I did was not right.

I thought life was perfect, I thought it was pure, but them the law caught up and I found a cure. On sheer willpower I couldn't go alone. I remember the nights crying on a jailhouse phone, pleading for forgiveness, asking for help. When I was released it was put on a shelf, never to be thought of again till the day you robbed me of my only best friend.

Alone in my cell is where I sat, when I got the news my mother had passed. I missed the last moments she had alive because I wanted to be with you one very last time. That was the last time you tried to take my life. After that day, you were no longer my wife. You took way too much and it wasn't enough, so no longer will I be a shell just left to wander and rust. Today I found a new way to live happy and free, so I'm closing the door and tossing the key. This is the last time I speak to you.

Sincerely,


Joey Bleiler

A Tax Deadbeat is NorCo's Interim Administrator

Next to the Executive, the most important position in Northampton County is the Director of Administration. The Director supervises numerous county departments, negotiates union contracts and handles relations with Council and other municipalities. The person who now occupies that position is someone with four tax liens. Her home is in foreclosure, too. Her education consists of a high school diploma. Aside from her 18 months of county experience, she worked in a two-man insurance office in which the other person was the boss.

Cathy Allen was confirmed by Council at their July 21 meeting as Interim Administrator for the next six months. Her salary will be $91,790 per year.

At the time of her confirmation hearing, Allen was facing a foreclosure action of her Bangor home. A records search at the courthouse she will supervise shows the following judgments that were still open at the time of her confirmation:

1) IRS v.Catherine Allen (Klages), 2008-FT-1338, filed 12/22/08, for $51,414.69 in unpaid income taxes (1040) in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

2) IRS v.Catherine Allen (Klages), 2011-FT-3697, filed 4/25/11, for $6,060.33 in unpaid income taxes (1040) in 2007.

3) Pa. Dept of Revenue v. Catherine Allen-Klages, 2015-J-8690, filed 9/23/15, for $1,551.15, in unpaid personal income tax in 2008.

4) Pa. Dept of Revenue v. Catherine Allen-Klages, 2015-J-11366, filed 12/7/15, for $1,857.99, in unpaid personal income tax in 2010.

The only Council member who seemed bothered by her financial history was Hayden Phillips. "Can you shed some light on that and how it came about?" he asked Allen. "In working with my attorney, and we've been working on this for quite a few years, he advised me not to speak about it in public, so I cannot give you an answer at this time," she answered.

Essentially, she took the Fifth.

Other Council members lobbed softballs. "Over the past 2 1/2 years, you have gained a great deal of experience," said Glenn Geissinger, a John Brown ally who can counted on to support. Noting that former Gracedale Administrator D. Freeman spoke on Allen's behalf, he added, "That speaks volumes."

Allen said that her work would be a "reflection of what the Executive wants done."

Seth Vaughn complimented Allen for her work with the unions and reminded everyone that she had been praised by Justus James, something she had never heard him do for anyone else.

"Especially a Republican," added Allen.

When it came to a vote, Allen's appointment was supported by Geissinger, Vaughn, John Cusick, Peg Ferraro and Mat Benol. Hayden Phillips and Matt Dietz voted No. Ken Kraft, who believes that Council should have no say over interim director appointments despite a contrary ruling from Council Solicitor Phil Lauer, voted "present." That is the equivalent of a No.

Council member Bob Werner was absent.

So by a 5 to 2 vote, with one member voting present, Northampton County Council has installed a tax deadbeat in foreclosure to the second highest ranking position in the County, despite a lack of education and minimal experience.

John Brown is running for state auditor general, a position that ensures that public money is being spent appropriately. He apparently sees nothing wrong with hiring a tax deadbeat in foreclosure to the second highest position in a $330 million operation. The five Council members who voted for her have a fiduciary obligation to the public that was very poorly served by this vote.

NorCo Council Kills Vehicle Registration Hike

John Brown noted that the County owns 119 bridges
In Pennsylvania, it costs $36 to register your car every year. An effort to raise that fee to $41 in Northampton County failed at Council's July 21 meeting. For the measure to pass, five votes were needed. There were only three. Bob Werner, one of two sponsors for this rate hike and was "all for it," was absent. Mat Benol, who originally called it a "good idea," changed his mind.

In 2013, the state legislature enacted a massive gas tax, giving the Keystone State the highest gas taxes in the nation, even higher than California and New York. Legislators also authorized counties to impose a $5 "local use fee" on vehicle registrations, so long as the money is used for transportation. So far, 11 counties have enacted this additional tax. Northampton County has rejected an opportunity to be the 12th.

"This is a user fee," explained Council President John Cusick in June, adding that roads and bridges have been a core government function since the days of the Roman Empire."The question is how to we pay for this need," he said. "One option is real estate taxes. The other is this user fee"

According to Cusick, who also sponsored this measure, this would mean $1.4 million in additional revenue for bridge repairs. The money could also be awarded to municipalities that need to make road repairs.

"It's $5, I support this," said Ken Kraft, raising the specter of residents unable to get firetrucks to their homes, or who are forced to go out of their way to get their children on a schoolbus that subsequently plunges from a defective bridge into the murky depths of a creek. "If you don't vote for this, you're voting against the primary reason you got on County Council.... This is a no-brainer"

"This is a unique opportunity for us to have a dedicated funding stream," argued Peg Ferraro."To me, it's good fiscal management." She noted that bridge repairs are usually funded by bonds that require the County to pay debt service. "Things have been kicked down the road for the twenty-some years I've been here."

"I think this is a tax that we're voting to increase," countered Hayden Phillips. "I think we have sufficient money to handle the bridges and the needs of the County."

Matt Dietz claimed that the money raised in a real estate tax hike two years ago is adequate to cover bridge repairs.

Mat Benol, who originally called this a "good idea," flip flopped. He at first tried to table the increase but was unsuccessful. He now wants to see a plan from Public Works before voting to increase registration fees. "All I want is a plan." Glenn Geissinger echoed Benol, but opposes imposing a user fee that nets $1.4 million unless Council simultaneously reduces real estate taxes in the same amount.

Executive John Brown told Council that 99 of the County's 119 bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Three have been closed. He predicts that it would cost about $100 million in today's dollars to repair all the County-owned bridges. He pointed out that average age of the County's bridges is 61 years, and that also happens to be each bridge's life expectancy. He said he is concerned about safety and liability, and added there are other capital needs, including a 1870s era jail that needs to be replaced.

Brown indicated that the $1.4 million received from a vehicle registration rate hike would be required by state law to go into an account dedicated to bridge repairs.

No members of the public spoke about this ordinance. But two weeks ago, Pen Argyl's Jeff Fox urged Council to vote it down.  "These hurt the poorest the hardest,' he argued.”Many of the biggest users have vehicles not registered in the county. You can call it a fee or whatever you will. It is indeed another tax. If you call yourself a fiscal conservative or care about the less advantaged within our county, vote it down."

When it came down to a vote, the registration fee hike was supported only by John Cusick, Peg Ferraro and Ken Kraft.

Peron Development Takes Over Bethlehem Armory

Peron Development of Bethlehem will soon be the new owner of the Bethlehem Armory, located at 301 Prospect Avenue in West Bethlehem. The two-acre property includes 27,000 square feet of space and consists of a large drill hall, administrative space, classrooms, kitchen, multiple storage areas, and a large vehicle storage area. The armory, no longer in use, was constructed in 1930. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The deal, announced today by Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez, is for $322,000. This allows Bethlehem's Redevelopment Authority to purchase the property from the Commonwealth for the agreed upon price of $272,000 – with the preservation covenant – and utilizing the $50,000 premium over the purchase price to recover expenses involved in the planning and development process.

It is anticipated that closing will take place in 2017.

The Peron team includes Boyle Construction, USA Architects and Noble Preservation Services. The Peron proposal provides for the development of 70 to 76 apartment units and depending upon the final zoning and planning approvals the creation of mixed-use commercial tech space in the former drill hall. The project is projected to cost approximately $10 million.

What I love is that this property will be developed with no tax abatement, no public subsidies, no CRIZ, no NIZ, no TIF, no Fed Ed and no help whatsoever by Senator Pat Browne. A property that is currently tax-exempt will turn into a $10 Million tax-ratable for the City of Bethlehem, Bethlehem Area School District and County of Lehigh.

The state was willing to convey the property so long as it remained subject to an historic preservation covenant approved by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

“The City of Bethlehem has a long history in preserving important elements of our local history, and the Bethlehem Armory will be no exception,” said Mayor Donchez. He called the Armory a "pivotal gateway to West Bethlehem."

Bethlehem sure has a lot of gateways.

Blogger's Note: I was unable to attend this announcement because I was sitting in on Drug Court. I have relied on information supplied by Bethlehem and its redevelopment Authority.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fed Ed To Host Government Purchasing Summit

Just when you think things couldn't get any weirder for Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski, will host a they do. Get this. On August 18, Fed Ed will be hosting a "summit" on government purchasing. It's free, too. I've sent this email to Alexis Turner, the Senior Program Manager in Pa. for U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance:
Your organization is hosting a sourcing summit in Allentown on August 18, and you incredibly are using Mayor Edwin Pawlowski to help. He is currently under federal investigation for bid rigging and bribery in connection with city contracts. Unless the summit includes lectures on bid-rigging, bribery and the use of burner phones, this is an incredibly stupid idea. Your summit should be somewhere else, and you need to stay miles away from Pawlowski. Five people have already pleaded guilty to bribery and bid-rigging.

Allen Appointment Inches Forward for Vote Tonight

Cathy Allen
Northampton County Executive John Brown's nomination of Cathy Allen as Interim Administrator went through Council's Personnel Committee with no discussion yesterday. They voted unanimously "to move it forward for full discussion" tonight. No one spoke against the appointment. But no one spoke in favor of it either.

When Allen started her employment in Northampton County, her salary was originally set at $57,460. Executive John Brown then raised her salary to $65,603 without obtaining approval from Council, which resulted in a bitter dispute whether he had acted legally.

If Allen is approved as Interim Administrator, it will be at a salary of $91,790, substantially more than she is making now.

I have previously told you about her lack of education and experience, as well as her financial difficulties. Yesterday, at 3:30 pm, I checked the records in the Civil Division to make sure that the liens previously reported are still open. They are.

Allen's Bangor home is currently in foreclosure, and she now has her second lawyer, Allentown Attorney Charles Laputka.

In addition to the foreclosure, the following open tax liens remain open:

1) IRS v.Catherine Allen (Klages), 2008-FT-1338, filed 12/22/08, for $51,414.69 in unpaid income taxes (1040) in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

2) IRS v.Catherine Allen (Klages), 2011-FT-3697, filed 4/25/11, for $6,060.33 in unpaid income taxes (1040) in 2007.

3) Pa. Dept of Revenue v. Catherine Allen-Klages, 2015-J-8690, filed 9/23/15, for $1,551.15, in unpaid personal income tax in 2008.

4) Pa. Dept of Revenue v. Catherine Allen-Klages, 2015-J-11366, filed 12/7/15, for $1,857.99, in unpaid personal income tax in 2010.

NorCo Council Poised to Condemn NIZ Hotel Tax Grab

Hotel taxes from Historic Hotel Bethlehem
will subsidize its competitors 
Last Wednesday, at about 3 pm, a state revenue package that included a lengthy Fiscal Code that no one had read was introduced in the state legislature. It went through the state house (you can see the votes here), state senate (you can see the votes here), and despite Ken Kraft's denials, was in fact signed by Governor Wolf. This all went down in about four hours. Buried on page 195 is a provision that diverts NIZ hotel taxes away from Discover Lehigh Valley, the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) and Lehigh County. Instead of promoting tourism and economic development,the money will go into the pockets of hotel developers. According to The Morning Call, it's about $300,000.

This impacts Northampton County because the services provided by Discover LV and LVEDC benefit both counties. Less money for them hampers their ability to provide service to the Lehigh Valley, including Northampton County.

"Nobody knew about this," noted NorCo Council Prez John Cusick at yesterday's Finance Committee. "Nobody here certainly knew about it. LVEDC and DiscoverLV woke up to find out they were going to be short $300,000."

Cusick had problems with the way this legislation was adopted and the diminution of services that will necessarily follow from DiscoverLV and LVEDC.

Ken Kraft is a union business agent who has represented trade union workers inside the NIZ, where he helped negotiate a Project Labor Agreement for the arena and may very well be conflicted. He attempted to downplay the obvious diversion. Kraft indicated Northampton County will be paying about $20,000 more per year to Discover LV and LVEDC. "It's really insignificant in the whole pot."

Council members who have no financial interest in building or renovating hotels inside the NIZ had a much different view than Kraft.

Matt Dietz noted that hotels outside of the NIZ will be paying into the hotel tax program while hoteliers inside the NIZ will be doubly benefiting by being able to divert hotel taxes for construction while still receiving services from DiscoverLV and LVEDC.

"It didn't seem to be done on the up and up," added the Colonel, Hayden Phillips.

"It just doesn't sound right," agreed Peg Ferraro. "All these other hotels are contributing hotel tax, but this group of hotels get to keep the taxes. ...It's just a very flawed thing ... like Obamacare. Once you pass it , you can read what's in it."

"That's a really poor analogy," complained Kraft.

Tonight, Council will introduce a resolution condemning the uneven playing field created by requiring hotels to pay a tax that benefits other hotels that compete against them. If adopted, it will call on the legislature to repeal the diversion of hotel taxes.

Judge Dally Explains Problem-Solving Courts

Judge Craig Dally
Problem solving courts deal proactively with the underlying reasons for criminal behavior. A person with mental illness might harass his or her neighbors. A drug addict might steal from family and friends. Both can and are often sent to jail, but unless the addiction or mental illness is addressed, jails become revolving doors for repeat offenders. It does them or their victims no good. It costs the rest of us money. Soon after he became a judge, Craig Dally recognized that "[w]e could do a better job." He now presides over Northampton County's two problem solving courts, which meet every Thursday at 3 pm. These tribunals address the root cause of criminogenic behavior and are less adversarial than traditional courts. It's too soon to say whether this approach is working, but Judge Dally updated Northampton County Council at its July 20 meeting.

Drug Court

The first of these community courts, Drug Court, was established in April 2015. This court is available for county residents with substance abuse disorders who commit crimes. It is a post-conviction court, meaning it is available to people who have already pleaded guilty. Participation in drug court might be part of probationary sentence or could be offered to eligible probation and parole violators.

It's a four-phase program that starts with electronic monitoring, curfews, weekly reinforcement meetings and drug testing twice every week. Over time, the electronic monitoring and curfews are dropped. Reinforcement meetings become less frequent. But the drug testing, twice a week, continues. Before advancing from one phase to the next, participants must write and read an essay in open court on a designated recovery topic.

During this time, participants are assisted in obtaining housing, education and employment. They are encouraged to attend daily Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, with the goal being 90 meetings in 90 days.

Before graduating, participants must have nine months of sobriety, a decent job, a stable home and must have set up a plan to pay all fines and costs.

It's an 18-24 month program, so there are no graduates at this early stage. But 27 people (60% male) between ages 20 and 50 participate in drug court. Most are heroin addicts.

Though there are no statistics for Northampton County, Judge Dally reports that nationwide, the recidivism rate of drug court graduates is 16% in the first year and 27% in the second. By comparison, the recidivism rates of imprisoned drug users is 60-80%.

Judge Dally told Council that drug court has saved 4,138 prison days, resulting in a cost saving to the county of $423,386.88. In addition, participants have been able to pay $17,813.15 in fines and costs.

Mental Health Court

Northampton's second problem solving court, Mental Health Court, has been in operation since early 2015. Unlike Drug Court, this is a diversionary court, meaning that a person charged with a crime has an opportunity to get the charges dismissed following successful completion of the program. This court exists solely for non-violent offenders with a diagnosed mental illness. There must be a direct correlation between that illness and the criminal activity charged.

There are currently 12 participants in Mental health Court, eight males and four females. They range in age from 21 to 61. Two persons have graduated thus far.

Admission into this program must first be approved by the District Attorney, after which a participant undergoes a clinical assessment. The Court makes the ultimate decision. Like drug court, this program requires attendance at reinforcement hearings and payment of all court costs.Participants are assisted in obtaining stable housing and employment. Special attention is paid to ensuring that prescribed medication is taken and that treatment sessions are attended.

Unlike therapeutic programs offered at the jail, problem solving courts cost the county nothing. It costs $101.73 per day to house an inmate, so these courts actually save money.

The main goal is to stop the revolving door of repeat offenders.