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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, September 30, 2016

Brown Releases 2017 Budget - No Tax Hike

NorCo Exec John Brown has just released his proposed budget for next year. It's a $379 spending plan that holds the line on a tax hike. I'll have a detailed analysis on Monday.

183rd Update: Mako Hiding From Armstrong

Armstrong has long history at Whitehall
This week, I've written about three contested state house races here in the Lehigh Valley. Though I am a Democrat and would love to side with the home team, I would never do so at the expense of good government. So yes, I'd pick Republican Ben Long in a heartbeat over Mike "Darth Voter" Schlossberg. Yes, I'll take Republican Justin Simmons, whom I consider an effective and responsive legislator, over Joanne Jackson  I even have to give the nod to Republican Joe Emrick over Dave Mattei, who simply is a trainwreck. Fortunately, one Democrat is running whom I consider far superior to most entrenched incumbents of either political persuasion. His name is Phillips Armstrong, and he's running for Julie Harhart's seat in the 183rd state house district. She's retiring, but has hand-picked a replacement who has absolutely no knowledge or understanding of state government, or anything else, for that matter. So naturally, anointed heir Zach Mako is trying his best to avoid debating Armstrong.

Phillips is retired after 40 years as a social studies teacher at Whitehall High School. He also has a master's degree. While teaching, he was also a tour bus driver for 38 years "I totally enjoyed that," he has said. After retiring, he decided to continue public service in local government. He is currently the President of Whitehall Township's Board of Commissioners. He also is involved in CTC (Community that Cares). He wants to go to Harrisburg "to make a difference." "I don't want a job,. I don't want a career," he said. His campaign finance reveals heavy union support. The root of all evil in state government, according to him, is gerrymandering. "We don't vote for our representatives. They vote for themselves. We can't do that anymore."

Armstrong really distinguished himself in a primary debate, which you can see here. Mako looked like a deer in the headlights. It goes beyond poor debating skills. He claims to be a helicopter pilot, but I'd never get in one with him.

Mako's campaign is being funded by the power structure seeking another back bencher who will do as he's told. And right now, his marching orders are to avoid a debate at all costs.

Mako sidestepped a candidate forum arranged by PBS 39 the week of September 13th He is also refusing to respond to the Northampton and Lehigh County League of Women Voters. Armstrong, in contrast, is ready any date between now and the election.

“The public deserves the chance to make an educated decision about who will best represent them in Harrisburg for the next two years,"he stated. "They have the right to examine candidate qualifications and the candidates’ abilities to find solutions to the problems faced by the people of the district.”

Like Armstrong, I strongly believes in public accountability and transparency. I find it disrespectful and contemptuous of the voters to refuse to debate on the issues and trust the voters to make the best decision in choosing their next State Representative.

Even The Donald debates.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Blogroll - Lost in CyberSpace

On my sidebar, I have kept a few blogrolls of other blogs I find interesting. It has vanished! Poof! Lost in cyberspace. I have begun restoring it. If you know of a site you'd like included, let me know. I won't host hate blogs and am leery of anonymous bloggers. But other than that, the more the merrier.

Bethlehem Fire Dep't: Gas and Water Leak in the 700 Block of North New Street

From Robert Novatnack, Fire Chief/ E.M.C: Today, at 6:51 AM The City of Bethlehem Fire & Police Departments responded to a water & natural gas leak in the 700 block of North New Street. Emergency crews evacuated the immediate area do to the gas leak and partial collapse of the roadway.

The water, electricity and gas in the 700 block of North New Street are currently turned off for repairs. Representatives from the City of Bethlehem Water Department, Bethlehem Police & Fire, U.G.I. and P.P.L. are on scene working on the utilities and roadway.

Residents in the area may experience cloudy water while repairs are being made. In Addition, North New Street will be closed indefinitely from Union Blvd. to Broad Street while crews remain on scene making repairs. Please avoid travel in this area if possible until the repairs are completed.

Update 9/30, 1:15 pm: Work continues. Avoid the location if you can.

After Investigation, NorCo Jail Investigator Fired

In late April, I told you that the investigator at Northampton County's jail, Christopher Naugle, was himself under investigation. He was fired on September 23, as you can see in a termination letter sent by HR Director Amy Trapp.

I obtained the termination letter via a RTK request. County officials refused to supply the Loudermill letter, which is more specific. But Trapp's letter suggests that Naugle may have violated the Code of Ethics, violated confidentiality, made untruthful statements and deviated from internal investigation procedures.

It's safe to say that Keen and Trapp are cleaning house.

Brown Raises $68K in Auditor General Race

Brown with Trump cutout
Northampton County Executive John Brown, who has challenged incumbent Eugene DePasquale for state auditor general, has stepped up his fundraising. In his 6th Tuesday pre-election report, which covers the period between May 17 and September 19, he reports $35,970.40 in contributions. This is slightly more than the $32,477.20 he raised between January 1 and May 16.

Brown's report, which is due today, is unavailable on the state website. But he is required to file in his county of residence as well as with Harrisburg. He filed a report with the Northampton County elections office yesterday.

In addition to the cash, Brown reports $2,744.31 in in-kind contributions from the state Republican party. This is on top of nearly $14,000 in in-kind contributions already received, and is being used for campaign literature.

Brown reports 20 contributions of $1,000 or more, including $2,000 from the Republican Caucus of County Commissioners and yet another $2000 from a PAC calling itself the Northeast Leadership Fund, which is based in Wilkes-Barre.

This Northeast Leadership Fund is funded by attorneys, developers and engineers who are obviously looking for "leaders" who will do as they're told. Louis DeNaples (you may have heard of him) kicked in $5000 to this PAC, but Matt Cartwright kicked in $1000, too. It appears to be a PAC interested in money and developers, not ideology.

State Senator Pat Browne gave $1,400 to this PAC. Two of Brown's cronies, Matt Deibert and Glenn Geissinger also kicked in $2,000 each.

Glenn Geissinger is a member of Northampton County Council, which is supposed to be a check and balance on the Executive. But Geissinger has been Brown's biggest cheerleader.

In addition to contributing $2,000 to a PAC that gave Brown $2,000, Geissinger reached into his pocket and gave Brown another $1,000.

Another troubling contribution to Brown is $1,000 from Lehigh County DA Jim Martin.

In April, Northampton County's Gaming Authority awarded $407,000 to Martin's pet project, the Regional Intelligence and Investigative Center (RIIC), which is also called a Regional Crime Center. Brown's Sheriff, Dave Dalrymple, lobbied hard for the project. Martin's $1,000 contribution came in September, well after the award, but it does raise eyebrows.

Like Brown, DePasquale's 6th Tuesday report is still not online. But even without his most recent report, he has raised far more money than Brown. Up until May 17, he reported having raised $258,726 and was sitting on a $353,518.70 warchest. Brown has $8,600.

Other $1000 donors include GT Commonwealth PAC, David Master, Devlendra Amin, John McGeehan, David Lobach, Edwin Coranzo, Dhruv Acharya, Lou Pektor, Anthony Salvaggio, Curtiss Barnette, Charles Diacont, Dave Jaindl, Cynthia DiRenzo, Christine Toretti and Marcus Lemon.

Brown also owes $46,840.05.

Dave Mattei? No Way!

Mattei at a picnic
Earlier this year, State Rep. Joe Emrick was well on his way to another two years in the 137th state house district. For a second time, Democrats had failed to field someone to run against a hardcore conservative Republican with a lifetime 90% rating from the American Conservative Union. It's a district that does include conservative pockets in Palmer and the Slate Belt. But it also includes Democratic boroughs and increasingly Democratic Forks Township. Democrat Rich Grucela managed to keep the seat for ten years, so why no one wanted to challenge Emrick was a mystery. People like myself, who are unhappy with Emrick, were delighted when insurance salesman Dave Mattei stepped forward, out of nowhere, to run as a write-in candidate. We were conned.

For one thing, Mattei has never voted as a Democrat. He registered as an independent in 1997 and, over the next 19 years, has only voted sporadically. He didn't vote at all in 2014 or 2015. This year, he was unable to vote in the very primary in which Democrats happily wrote in his name because he was still registered as a Independent. So far as I can tell, he still is.

In addition to being an independent with a shaky voting record, Mattei has no real roots in this area. He is originally from Jersey, and moved into the Lehigh Valley some time in 1997. At first, he lived in Easton and Washington Township, then moved to Lehigh Tp for 14 years. He has only been in the Nazareth area for four years or less.

Why did he move to Pennsylvania from Jersey? It appears that he was fleeing debt. According to New Jersey Courts public access, actions were brought against him at F002217-92, F003270-93, F005758-96 and F008490-96.

Mattei getting chickens
While living in Easton, in what appears to be its West Ward, he worked at Home Depot in Whitehall, a rather strange occupation for a retired New Jersey state trooper. It was during this time that his emancipated daughter sought and obtained a Protection From Abuse Act Order against him. What set him off is unknown, but the incident included allegations of throwing his own flesh and blood across a room and dragging her down the steps by the ankles.

Mattei never contested the PFA.

In 2000, Mattei left Easton for the greener pastures of Lehigh Tp. He bought a home, and over the next 14 years, managed to rack up nine mortgages. According to Northampton County's civil index, Northampton Area School District also ended up filing two municipal liens (2007-ML-6826 and 2008-ML-8846) against him because he failed to pay his school tax bill. Unable to keep up with his mortgages, he gave his Lehigh Township home back to the bank. He also filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy (15-12857-ref) and, on 8/20/15, was granted a discharge.

That's how he ended up in Nazareth, just up the street from me.

Anyone can go through a bad stretch financially. But for Mattei, bad financial decisions appear to be way of life. It sure looks like that's what caused him to flee Jersey. Ringing up nine mortgages on one property in 14 years is also pretty stupid.

If he's unable to manage his own finances, how can he be expected to manage ours?

What would prompt a bankrupt Independent who only votes sporadically to want to be the Democratic champion? He certainly has no burning interest in issues. But he sure does like to eat.

He just filed a 6th Tuesday pre-election report for the period between 5/17/16 and 9/19/16, even though state house candidates have no such obligation. (You can see it here). In it, he claims to have raised $15,836.00 and has already spent $13,901.70,  a lot of it on dinners and lunches.

The Easton Area Democratic Committee gave an independent outside of the Easton area $3,000. He also collected $3,000 from the trade unions. He suckered Martin Guitar owner Christian Martin into giving him $500, and sucked money from poor Glenn Reibman, Rich Grucela and the Bobbsey twins, Pete Schweyer and Mike Schlossberg.

Mattei gets cake for intern
What has he done with this money?


A lot.

He's a hungry guy and, in his defense, did have a family BBQ this summer. He must have really been famished on June 13. He was at Subway, the Trolley Shoppes Restaurant and the Leaf Cigar Bar, all in one day.

I'd say the Leaf and Mickey D's are his two favorites. He's been to each five times.

Mattei has also been to Nazareth Diner four times, Pizza Joe, Villa Grande Pizzeria, Pies to Die For, Dunkin' Donuts, China Wok, Pita Pit, Blendlife Smoothie and Juice Bar, Fairways Cafe, Rice 'n Beans, Little Corner Cafe, Xpresso Cafe, Diner 248, Baby Harry Coffee, Wok Box, Chestnuthill Diner, McDonald's, WaWa, Sam's Club for groceries, Tuscana Pizza and Whitetail Golf Club.

He even charged a meal in New Jersey at DeLucia's. He has also picked up between meal snacks at the gas station across the street from his office. And let's not forget the booze from the liquor store.

All told, he has spent $1,662.95 in campaign contributions on food, cigars and booze. Over 10 per cent of the money he raised is in his stomach.

This has to be some sort of record.

He must be loading up for the winter.

He did give $1,000 to Controller Steve Barron for robo calls and another $300 to Rich Wilkins for consulting. Barron won't say whether his deal includes an "all you can eat" clause.

So we Democrats have really done well. We have an independent with a spotty voting record and an even more shaky financial history to run against an entrenched, well-financed incumbent. He is using campaign finances to play big shot. He has no chance of winning. My chief concern is that Mattei might explode before the election.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Should Pa Try Ranked Choice Voting?

Though I'm unaware of any movement in that direction here, voters in Maine will decide this November whether to adopt something called ranked-choice voting. Under our current system, the person with the most votes wins, even if it is only a plurality. Under ranked choice, if no one with gets a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the second choice votes are tabulated in what is sometimes called an instant runoff.

This system would be helpful in primaries with numerous candidates. It would also work well in races with strong independents. This system is in place in a few cities, but no state has adopted it.

Why Joanne Jackson Will Lose to Justin Simmons

Justin Simmons is a hard-core conservative Republican representing people from three different counties who have been thrown together in the 131st District. Since he first upset Karen Beyer in 2011, he has been targeted by Democrats and Republicans alike. He has always come out on top, and I expect to see him pull a repeat performance again this year. That's pretty much because his opponent, write-in Joanne Jackson, is waging the same kind of dark campaign that has repeatedly blown up in the faces of other candidates.

I probably agree with Justin about five percent of the time. But he is one of the legislators who helped to remove the EIT tax grab from the NIZ legislation. He is a cosponsor to bipartisan gerrymander reform legislation proposed by State Senator Lisa Boscola and State Rep. Dave Parker. He is also one of the best debaters I've ever seen. He responds to every phone call and email and answers every question I have, even when we disagree. Transparency and accountability are very important to me, so I have supported him, and will continue to do so.

His Democratic opponent, Joanne Jackson, entered this race as a write-in candidate, and only because she claimed to be worried that Simmons' GOP opponent was going to ask Dems to vote for him. She found herself the nominee, and decided to give it a go.

She has been elected as an Allentown School Director, so she knows how to run a race. But she will lose.

She will raise far less money that Justin, but that's not why she'll lose.

She's in a Republican District, but that's not why she'll lose.

She'll lose because she's making the same mistake as Justin's previous opponents.

A few weeks ago, she was actually knocking on the doors of Justin's GOP supporters and telling them to remove yard signs they had planted at their homes. She apparently was unaware that the First Amendment trumps any attempt by local government to curb political speech. In fact, it is Democrats who filed a federal lawsuit over these unconstitutional ordinances several years ago.

I can understand Jackson being confused about free speech. But it takes a lot of nerve to knock on a homeowner's door and tell him to take down a sign. Especially when you're wrong. News like that gets around pretty fast, so my guess is that she lost a lot of ground with that mistake.

But that's not why she'll lose, either.

A few days ago, I received an invitation from Jackson to like an amateurish site called "Justin Simmons' Horror Stories". It depicts Justin as some sort of Dracula and is resurrected before every race. It's full of all kinds of hokey, personal attacks. I was offended.

That's why she's going to lose. Simmons is a fierce campaigner who subscribes to the Charlie Dent admonition that there's only two ways to run - hard or unopposed.

She should ask Simmons' previous opponents how their negative campaigns worked out for them.

Justin can be beaten, but not this way.

He wins in November.

$476,000 in Casino Grants For Local Municipalities

Karen Collis and Jay Finnigan
In April, Northampton County's nine-member Gaming Authority awarded nearly $2.2 million in grants to communities surrounding the Sands Casino, including $407,000 to help fund a regional crime center. But because it failed to spend everything, it conducted a second round of what are called "impact" grant requests for Bethlehem and its surrounding communities. Those are restricted to projects dealing with the aftermath of gambling, from increased traffic to an increased police presence. In addition, the Board sought proposals from all county municipalities for money left over after impact grants are awarded

At their September 26 meeting, the Board voted unanimously the remaining $476,000, with $188,000 going for impact grants and $289,000 in awards for communities with no need to show impact. .

The impact grants went to Bethlehem Tp ($50,915 for a police vehicle); Hanover Tp ($11,675 for body armor); Hellertown ($43,626 for police SUV); Lower Saucon Tp ($24,981 for unmarked police car);and Freemansburg ($15,788 for body armor and $41,000 for license plate reader).

The $289,000 in uncommitted funds were awarded as follows:
Nazareth - $25,000 for police patrol and safety enhancements.

Palmer Tp.- $25,000 for body armor. This is an upgrade and includes plates for front and back kill zones.

Stockertown - $25,000 for police vehicle.

Forks Tp. - $25,000 for AWD police intereceptor

Bangor - $25,000 for K-9 vehicle.

Walnutport - $25,000 for new police unit. (This funds only a portion of the cost).

Lower Mt. Bethel Tp - $24,420 for speed radar message boards. These are solar-powered, with a battery back-up.

North Catasauqua - $25,000 for equipment upgrade.

Tatamy - $11,342 for emergency services.

Glendon - $25,000 for town hall improvements

Bath - $20,231 emergency services equipment upgrade

Wilson - $24,630 self-contained breathing apparatus

Hanover Tp. - $8,100 for speed message boards for Macada Rd, Southland Dr and Highland Ave.
Twenty municipalities were unsuccessful. Only $289,000 was available for $764,000 in grant requests. These were ranked by gaming board members in advance of the meeting, and only the highest-ranked proposals were approved. So Bethlehem lost out on body armor for first responders, while Easton failed to get funds for pedestrian improvements on Northampton Street. So did smaller municipalities like West Easton .

The nine-person Board includes Joe Kelly (Bethlehem), Tom Nolan (Bethlehem Tp), Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Jay Finnigan (Hanover), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown), Dave Willard (Lower Saucon), Tony Pristash (Northampton), John Dally (Pen Argyl) and James Pennington (Lower Nazareth). Karen Collis is the Executive Director.

At the end of the meeting, Collis was thanked for her work in putting together all the applications.

"Did you get the flowers we sent?" asked Tony Pristash. "I think Mr. Heintzelman has the flowers," joked James Pennington.

Heintzelman is a funeral director.

Who's the NIZ Arson Bug?

September 25, 2016. A fire breaks out in center city Allentown at 20 S Hall Street. It is ruled an arson. Same thing for a 2014 fire at 27 S 8th St and a 2015 blaze at S 8th Street, near Walnut.

What do these arsons have in common?

All are smack dab in the middle of NIZ projects. All the buildings held some sort of historical significance that would make it tough, even for Allentown's lax planners, to approve a demolition. But thanks to these arsons, all will get a raze and repair order slapped on then and can be automatically get torn down.

Public safety, you know.

I'm accusing no one, but these strangely coincidental fires demand a thorough investigation.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Is The Donald OK?

Gotta' love a case of the sniffles from a candidate who had Hillary at death's door.


This explains why nearly half of Japan's millennials are still virgins. But I love the video.

Here's the original.

Ben Long: "The People Deserve Better"

Ben Long, who is running against incumbent Mike Schlossberg in the 132d state house district, was interviewed on WAEB yesterday. He's a Republican running in a gerrymandered district designed to keep Democrats in office. On top of that, he's way too young and has no real life experience. But then again, Schlossberg was too young and had no real life experience when he was first elected without opposition. .

"The people deserve better," he said, after ticking off some of his beefs against Schlossberg. Chief among these is Schlossberg's ghost vote in a crucial budget vote that passed by only one vote. When asked to explain, Schlossberg claimed it was "much ado about nothing" and blamed tea party extremists for his moral lapse.

Long had a different view, noting that Schlossberg "undermined democracy." He stated that Schlossberg's cavalier attitude "says a lot about his lack of integrity" and he asks, "If that's acceptable to him, what's not?"

He also took the incumbent to task for forming a PAC with Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski, who is the obvious target of a federal political corruption investigation in which six people have already entered guilty pleas.

He is running on a reform slate that includes campaign finance and gerrymandering. But as a Republican, he believes in  "empowering the private sector, not growing government."
Just 23 years old, Long is a product of Parkland School District, where his Dad sits on the board. He graduated from DeSales in May with a degree in political science. He works part-time for his father's business and spends the rest of his time knocking on doors, even on Sixth Street. His grandfather was an UAW union leader and is probably spinning in his grave.

Though he's obviously a sacrificial lamb in a heavily Democratic district, he claims he's "all in" and is apparently learning from residents as he knocks on doors.

"When you actually look people in the eye who are struggling to pay their school bill, it puts things in perspective," he said. He mentioned a widow he met who has a dilemma between paying her school tax bill or buying medication.

Long was also questioned, in a shot from Lehigh County Comm'r Michael Schware, about his resignation as a committeeman several years ago to support Tom Muller over Scott Ott for Lehigh County Executive. Schware, who is something of a snake, was probably upset when his name was mentioned. His question did exactly what irked him about Long. He's upset that Long supported a Democrat, but Schware is supporting one by trying (unsuccessfully) to attack Long. As far as I'm concerned, Long's support of Tom Muller demonstrates that he is not a blind partisan like Schlossberg. ... Or Schware.

Though he has no prayer, I found Ben Long to be very impressive and hope he stays interested.

Who Won the Clinton-Trump Debate?

I suspect that most of you watched last night's spirited debate between presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Hofstra. Moderator Lester Holt was the clear loser, completely losing control of  Trump several times throughout the night. Nevertheless, for the first third of the debate, when the conversation was focused on jobs, Trump was the winner. But that changed.

I think Clinton baited him, and it worked. As the night wore on, and as he continued to interrupt and make childish faces, he looked pretty bad.

I'd say Clinton did quite well, and Trump did not.

Does it matter? Beats me.

Interesting facts:

1) Trump interrupted Clinton 51 times. She interrupted him 17 times.

2) Trump told ten whoppers.

3) Voters say Clinton won, 51-40.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Welcome to Wennsylvania

After yesterday's commanding win over Pittsburgh, the state is changing its name to Wennsylvania. Philly will be known as Carson City. Did anyone seriously think the Eagles would be 3-0?

Lehigh County Judge Jim Anthony's Bias and Political Machinations

Lehigh County Judge Jim Anthony is a Nazareth-raised veteran who served his country with honor as a Marine. I had a post critical of him, but after speaking to lawyers who know him well, I believe i misjudged him and apologized to him.

He graciously accepted.

The only thing I dislike about Judge Anthony is that he's not on Northampton County. .

The Unfairness of Privatized Tax Collection

Few dispute that real estate taxes, which fund schools and many other municipal services, are very unpopular. But so far, any and all attempts at "reform" have failed. Even if successful, the tax burden would simply be shifted to an increased income or sales tax. One thing is certain - taxes are here to stay. The last thing on the minds of most public officials is being fair about it. The story I am about to tell makes that very clear.

Lehigh County officials are a bit more fair than their counterparts in Northampton County. In 2012, Commissioners went ahead with a reassessment that was at least intended to spread the misery more evenly. Northampton County Council members, who worry about keeping their seats, prefer to kick the can down the road while school districts and municipal governments routinely raise taxes. Their last reassessment was done in 1995.

How the County collects unpaid real estate taxes

If you fail to pay your real estate taxes or make payment arrangements, the County can sell your home after you are delinquent for a period of two years. Before that happens, the county runs ads in the local papers. People love reading them to see who is behind. Most delinquent homeowners come forward at this time and make payment arrangements. But there are still a few homeowners who, for whatever reason, fail to pay their bill or make arrangements. Their property can then be sold in what is known as an "upset" sale, which is held once every year.

Northampton County's upset sale takes place tomorrow at 2 pm.

At an upset sale, you can buy this property, but it is subject to whatever other liens might exist. You get the property along with whatever unpaid mortgages and judgments are out there. So most properties remain unsold. That's when the county kicks it up a notch, and schedules what is known as a "judicial" sale of the property.

The judicial sale is unlike the upset sale in that the County gets a court order authorizing a sale free and clear of all liens, except for the outstanding taxes. At this sale, almost all the properties are sold.

When the County sells your property to collect unpaid real estate taxes, it moves very slowly, and for good reason.  People have a constitutional right to due process. County officials get very concerned when someone fails to respond to notices. Is the person really a tax deadbeat? Or is the homeowner an elderly person suffering from dementia?  If there is any doubt in the minds of county officials, the sale will be delayed another year

Enter the tax farmer

Most school districts and many municipalities are unwilling to wait two years or more to get their taxes. They want their money now. Instead of relying on county officials who recognize they have some obligation to be fair to homeowners, they have actually privatized the collection of taxes by employing tax farmers.

Throughout history, tax farming has occurred in Egypt, Rome, Great Britain, and Greece. It has always been accompanied by abuse. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin predicted that privatized tax collectors, "the most indiscreet, ill-bred, and insolent [men] you can find," would lead to revolution.

Nevertheless, nearly every Lehigh Valley school district, along with cities like Bethlehem and Easton, use Portnoff Law to squeeze homeowners. They make their money by assessing attorney fees that in some cases are ten times the amount of unpaid taxes. Portnoff represents 130 municipalities and handled over 40,000 municipal collections in 2015.

Unlike county tax claim bureaus, which schedule tax sales only once a year, Portnoff and other tax farmers will go to work immediately.

The first step is to file a municipal lien, and of course, assess attorney fees. About a month later, Portnoff will file what is known as a writ of scire facias, which is a fancy way of saying that it is going to enter judgment against the homeowner, even though the municipal lien pretty much makes it impossible for the homeowner to sell the property without paying off the lien. After that, Portnoff will enter judgment and, of course, tack on more attorney fees.

The final step is the Sheriff's Sale, with even more attorney fees. In 2015, Portnoff listed 512 properties for Sheriff Sale, and ended up selling 73 of them.

Sheriff Sales Confuse Potential Bidders

This accelerated process is extremely unfair to homeowners, many of whom are already distressed financially. The extra money they pay to prevent a sale goes into the pocket of the privatized tax farmer, not the municipality.  But  it also unfair to bidders at the Sheriff's Sales  They are accustomed to thinking that they are buying the property free and clear of liens. But the sale is actually an upset sale, at least at first.

Last month, in Northampton County, someone bought a property at a Sheriff's Sale. But on her way up to deliver her check, someone complimented her on buying a $50,000 mortgage. She panicked and withdrew her bid.

The Lehigh County Experience

The same thing happened in Lehigh County last week. Agent 99 was there, and told me what happened.

A downtown Allentown property was up for sale because of unpaid school taxes. Someone bid on the property.

The Deputy Sheriff handling the sale asked, "Do you know what you're bidding on?"

"You mean the address?"

"No, it's an upset sale. You're buying subject to any liens. Do you want to withdraw your bid?"


When someone in the back heard what was going on, he got very upset that bidders were not being told, in advance of each sale, whether the sale is "free and clear."

He was asked to sit down, but he was upset and refused, and eventually was dragged out of the room by two deputies as he complained, "This is not fair."
Of course, it's unfair.  This is no longer about collecting taxes, but enriching Portnoff at the expense of everyone, from homeowner to unsuspecting bidders.

After this guy was dragged out of the room, the very next property up for sale was another Portnoff sale. This time, the Deputy asked Portnoff's attorneys to explain whether it is an upset sale.

"I have no legal obligation to do so, but I will," huffed the attorney.

That's a problem. Privatized tax collectors have no obligation to be fair. This is why tax farming should be illegal.

I contacted the Lehigh County Sheriff's office and spoke to the Deputy who ran the sale. She was unable to speak to me, and said I'd have to talk to the Sheriff. But he failed to return my call. The Portnoff lawyers also refused to explain what the hell they are doing. And why should they? They don't work for us. 

NorCo Elections Office Overwhelmed By Absentee Ballot Requests.

People hate standing in line, whether it is at the grocery store or an election. What they seem to be doing, at least in Northampton County, is applying for absentee ballots.

Before the 2012 Presidential race, Northampton County elections officials processed a record number of 6,906 requests for absentee ballots. They expect to see that record smashed this year.

The last day to register is October 11. You can do so online.

The last day to apply for an absentee ballot is November 1. It's supposed to be limited to people who are ill, disabled or are going to be outside the district on election day.

Election judges must wait to open these ballots until the polls close. So the more people who vote absentee, the longer it will take to count the votes.

Celtic Classic Bagpiper Fixes Wheelchairs, Too!

From Agent 99: Yesterday I went to Celtic Classic for a couple of hours with a friend. We stopped to listen to a bagpiper who was practicing (and was well worth listening to). He stopped mid-song, laid his bagpipes in the road, and walked over to a young man in a wheelchair who had been crossing the road. We then saw the front wheel of the wheelchair had fallen off into the road. The bagpiper knelt down on the dusty road and, with the help of a couple of other men who came over to help when they saw what was happening, put the wheel back on, wiped off his hands, picked up his pipes and rejoined his band (who had already started to play). I was impressed at his matter-of-fact attitude, and how he just saw that something needed to be done, and did it without fanfare. He is the piper to the left in the picture, I have no idea who he is or even which band he belongs to.

Blogger's Note: I missed this year's Celtic Classic because I pulled my back. But it is my favorite festival.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Opinions Online, 9/24/16

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. I prefer local topics, especially concerning topics I miss, as opposed to talking points. 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. Anonymous personal attacks will be deleted, especially when aimed at other readers. I refuse to publish anything I consider possibly defamatory.


The more i watch Penn State football the more i wonder if coach Franklin is the answer at P.S.U. Yes he didn't have 85 scholarships but how many players are on the field during a game? 11? H e boasted 3 years ago he was going to dominate recruiting. and yet many of his recruit targets go elsewhere. He hasn't beaten ohio state,michigan,or michigan state in numerous tries. Finally the talent level is more in line with Temple , Rutgers etc not Ohio State. John Gruden would be a great replacement if someone could talk him into it!


At what time does the Bethlehem public works shift start? It seems like they all congregate at Wawa every morning on the taxpayers dime. I have to stop before going to work, and so should our public servants.


Trumpion OK
TRUMPETER better and abrasively louder


Does anyone know what is happening with the road work at Rt 33 and Freemansburg? They haven't been working on the bridge all summer.


One of the reasons i would never want to be a policeman is the continued use of tinted windows. I know the laws are different from state to state but why is this so? Why aren't theses standards the same in every state? Imagine approaching a vehicle with intent to harm inside and you have no idea until a gun is raised to shoot you...


What's with all the hysteria about people in clown costumes? Why are police wasting their time responding to silly people complaining about what are obviously pranks?


A friend of mine told me about something the other day. They said they went looking for an online article about Former editor Joe Owens and his dui and said he couldn't find it.

I told them they were crazy but when I went and looked and couldn't find them either.

I am not talking about just the lvl site either they are gone from mcall and NJ.com, too.

Do you think he got his journo buddies to take them down or did he pay lawyers to do this work?

As a journalist Bernie, how do you feel about this? I know he went through ard and his record was expunged but having it wiped out from a news outlet as though it never happened?

Could you or I call in these favors? What about your Buddy strye once he completes his program.

I find it disturbing.


Why has the Express-Times become a glorified police blotter???


Julio Guridy spoke at Wednesday's Allentown City Council meeting to add Calle Siete signs to the signs for 7th St. He stated that the Latino community deserves something named in their honor for the "contributions, perspective, and values" the Latino community has brought to Allentown.

Lets review those contributions, perspective and values. The Latinos brought drugs, gangs, violence, parents and children that don't want nor care about an education. They made Allentown into a welfare magnet. It is true they are not alone and had a lot of assistance from the democratic liberal government of Allentown as far back as Mayor Daddona.

The majority of the crimes committed that are reported by the media are perpetrated by Latino names. If we should rename anything in Allentown after the Latino community it should be Lehigh County Prison At least until the Latino community begins to police itself and rid itself of the undesirable members of it and start becoming productive members of society by getting off of welfare.

Blogger's Reply: Spoken like a true bigot. My guess is you are a Trump supporter. I will ask Mr. Guridy to provide some insights into the contributions, perspectives and values.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis: Hillary Clinton

Zach Galifianakis brings us another one of his hard-hitting interviews.

Pastor Arrested For Child Porn, and He's Not Even Catholic!

News that a Pastor has been arrested for possession of child porn is commonplace news. What's unusual is when that Pastor is Protestant. WNEP reports that a Baptist preacher has been nailed in possession of child porn, both on his computer and cell phone.


The common theory is that Catholic priests are all perverts because they are barred from marriage. I'd say that perverts come in all forms, married and unmarried.

When he was at Penn State, my son dabbled a bit in stand-up comedy, and in some of his gigs, he used to complain that the Catholic Church traumatized hi,m. He did everything right. Went to Catholic school, became an altar boy and even got friendly with a few priests and a Bishop. But none of them ever molested him.

"What's wrong with me?" he'd cry.

He eventually abandoned stand-up and became a chemist.

RumorMill: Unreleased NorCo Budget Contains 2.5% Payhike For Nonunion Workers

Though Executive John Brown has yet to release next year's budget, I've already speculated that there will be no tax hike. That would kill his chances of being elected state auditor general. Yesterday, I heard rumors that he will propose a 2.5% payhike for nonunion workers. This would be on top of raises of about 4.5% last year.

We'll know in early October if this rumor is true.

Fed Ed Prosecutor Running For Philadelphia DA

Why would Joe Khan, the hard-nosed federal prosecutor who was at the tiller of the Fed Ed investigation, resign before his mission is complete? My assumption was that some high-powered Philly firm had lured him away. But I was wrong. The Inky is reporting that Khan has resigned so that he can take on Seth Williams, Philadelphia's embattled District Attorney.

Williams impressed the hell out of me when he accepted a Kathleen Kane taunt and prosecuted five State Representatives and a traffic court judge with political corruption after she dumped the case, claiming it was unwinnable.  All but State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown have pleaded guilty.    

But Williams himself is in hot water for failing to report $160,5000 in gifts received over a five-year period. According to Khan, Seth "has lost his way."

Khan is a Democrat.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fleas Club Liquor License Up For Grabs Tomorrow

The liquor license for the Fleas Club will be exposed to a NorCo Sheriff Sale tomorrow, at 10 am, to satisfy a debt of about $12,000. You don't actually get the license, but the right to apply for it. 

I know liquor licenses are valuable, so I thought I'd share this info.

Another sale against another debtor has been stayed. That one included a Steinway piano in excellent condition. 

Nazareth's Ex Mayor Lashes Out at Blogger

Nazareth's ex-Mayor, Carl Strye, was accepted into the ARD program yesterday, following a brief hearing before Judge FP Kimberly McFadden. That's a special program for first offenders in which the slate is wiped clean after a period of probation. He had been charged with felony theft for skimming $8,000 from the Vig, one of the Nazareth area's many social clubs. An admitted thief should have no say in what goes on in a police department, so I was gratified when the District Attorney insisted that Strye resign. He also had to admit what he is - a thief.

I had pretty much decided that there's nothing more to say. Justice has been served to him, and Borough Council is next. But Strye, who also ducked discussing his situation and continues to do so, has nevertheless taken to Facebook to lash out at yours truly.
"We have a very hateful, spiteful, revengeful, blogger in town that will twist and report the ugly lies on his ego filled blog. I personally do not go on it because all his "anonymous" friends feed into his hatefulness.
"Now, that the dust will settle, the comments will go away and I will pick up the pieces on move on with a very POSITIVE attitude. I am still the same ole Carl and I am NOT going away!"
Carl mistakenly thinks I am responsible for the mess he created. He gives me way too much credit, which is great for my ego-filled blog. I do believe he is the "same ole Carl."

On the very day he admits in open court that he's a thief, he's also still arrogant enough to call me a liar. Doesn't like my "anonymous friends." Sometimes, I don't like them, either. Sometimes, they don't like me. He acts more like a victim than what he really is - a criminal.

I reported very accurately that you are a crook, Carl. I would prefer to live in a borough where there is no corruption. Instead, I live in a town that steps on people's constitutional rights, even police officers. I live in a town where you as Mayor actually said that you don't care what a judge thinks. You likened a police officer who saved a little boy's life to an arsonist.You skimmed from poker machines and I really question how much you've stolen over the years. You are supported by a Council that spent taxpayer money to refurbish the American Legion, a private club repeatedly busted for illegal gambling. That Council includes someone who was also placed on ARD for trying to use police resources to identify an undercover informant. After the last raid on the Vig and Legion, you and the other clubs got together and dimed out an undercover informant.

In short, you are corrupt and should never be part of any government.

Unfortunately, you are also a liar. You lied to me. You denied you had been before the Grand Jury on the very day that you admitted stealing $8,000. You also lied when you denied that you had done any skimming. I have the emails, Carl, and just so you know, I turned them over to the Detective who filed the charges against you.

You claim you will be coming back stronger than ever after taking a break.Yeah you do seem to have a lot of money for breaks. I wonder how you got it.

But not too much.

NorCo Needs a Grants Administrator

Northampton County's budget is due soon, and I doubt it will include any tax hike. Since Executive John Brown is running for state auditor general on the basis that he is the Savior of county finance, he's in no position to raise your tab. But when that budget does come in early October, Council should take a very hard look at a reorganization of its redundant Department of Community and Economic Development. In June, Council rejected Brown's request for raises and a new position in that department. But now that crunch time approaches, Council should consider a budgetary reorganization. It provides no economic development, and should stop pretending it does. It does provide valuable community development and assistance to county authorities. That should be its focus.

I'd reorganize the office and rename it Office of Community Development, and place it under Director of Administration. There is no need for a separate director in this department. Former Exec John Stoffa went without one for eight years. The one who was hired by Brown put the county in reverse.

Grants Administrator. - Believe it or not, this county has no grants administrator. As a result, it is missing out on huge sums of money. One person should be tasked with identifying and going after grant opportunities for every department. Two people might be needed.

HUD Compliance Officer. - The County receives millions each year in HUD block grants. One person should identify projects and then monitor them after they are funded for compliance. This might also be a two-person job.

Authorities Administrator. - This position would serve as the administrative arm of the county's General Purpose Authority, Industrial Development Authority and Gaming Board.

Environmental Officer. - Currently, this position deals with recycling events. I think the position should be expanded and monitor environmental hazards, especially since our air quality is among the worst in the nation.

Of course, I would want to give existing staff ample opportunity to prove the current organization works.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fed Ed Investigation: The Quiet Before the Storm

Back when the investigation into Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" began pointing at him, Iran a poll asking you when you thought he'd be indicted. Most of you thought it would happen pretty quickly, but my prediction was that we'd be waiting until some time closer to the end of the year. This is no shoplifting case, but a major inquiry into political corruption involving an incumbent elected official in denial. He will have to be dragged out of office, kicking and screaming. That will happen, and as I previously indicated, it will most likely be by the end of the year.

The investigation itself appears to be over. Some of the players, who have become accustomed to being contacted by the FBI nearly every week, have heard nothing for a month.

This is the quiet before the storm.

There are three anchors slowing things down.

First, lead prosecutor Joe Khan is leaving the US Attorney's Office. These guys tend to be comets streaking across the sky. Few make a career of this very demanding job. Khan is being replaced by Michelle Morgan and Anthony Wzorek, both of whom are proper bastards in their own right. They'll have no problem.

Second, prosecutors were waiting for a decision form the United States Supreme Court in the McDonnell case. That provides guidance on what can be charged and what cannot. A letter or phone call on behalf of a campaign contributor is likely not criminal, but extortion, bid-rigging and bribery are clearly criminal. There is ample evidence, and it's in Fed Ed's own words.

Third, this will be a RICO prosecution, as was the case for Chaka Fattah. Those require approval from the Justice department, Criminal Organized Crime and Gang Section (OCGS). Every pleading must also be approved. That takes time.

Updated 11:45 am:  Another blog  predicts there will be no prosecution, based on a misinterpretation of a recent Supreme Court case called McDonnell. The author seems to think there must be a direct quid pro quo. "[N]o one was dumb enough, or felt the need to even be as blunt to say or put in writing, '"I am giving you XXXX dollars, and you agree to give me that zoning exemption for the YYY site, correct? "Yes, I agree if you give me the money I will rubber stamp the YYY site tomorrow." No one says, "I hereby announce I am bribing you.....I hereby accept a bribe.'"

 This is NOT the holding in McDonnell.

As I've explained once before,  the Fed Ed investigation is alive and well. Had the Court invalidated he honest services fraud and federal bribery statutes as unconstitutionally vague, as it was asked to do, that would have ended most political corruption investigations, including the one aimed at Fed Ed. But the Court actually held these statutes are constitutional. It has interpreted the law in a way that avoids the vagueness claim.

McDonnell has by no means been exonerated. Get this. The Court rejected a request to dismiss the case. He and his wife accepted gifts that included a Rolex watch and a shopping spree for designer clothing. There were stays at a donor's vacation home, loans and even more gifts. Their behavior was "distasteful" and "tawdry." and the Court agreed that "it may be worse than that."

All that the Court did is reject a criminal conviction because of faulty jury instructions on what constitutes the "official act" aspect of honest services fraud. He could very easily be retried, but in a prosecution in which the jury gets better instructions on what constitutes an "official act" for purposes of honest services fraud. .

Under the Supreme Court's interpretation, "Setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an ‘official act.’” But it could be.

"[T]his is not to say that setting up a meeting, hosting an event, or making a phone call is always an innocent act, or is irrelevant, in cases like this one. If an official sets up a meeting, hosts an event, or makes a phone call on a question or matter that is or could be pending before another official, that could serve as evidence of an agreement to take an official act. A jury could conclude, for example, that the official was attempting to pressure or advise another official on a pending matter. And if the official agreed to exert that pressure or give that advice in exchange for a thing of value, that would be illegal."

From the federal charging documents filed in the Allentown and Reading investigations, there is ample evidence of criminal conduct by Fed Ed, even under a more restrictive definition of what constitutes an "official act."

We know the scheme: [Fed Ed] aspired to win election to a statewide elective office. To achieve this goal and others, [Fed Ed], while still serving as a public official in Allentown, hired and directed certain political operatives (“the campaign operatives”), known to the United States Attorney, to help him raise campaign contributions from donors, including parties who had profited from their dealings with the City of Allentown and who sought favorable treatment from the City of Allentown (“the vendors”). [Fed Ed] also directed certain municipal officials to give preferential treatment to certain of his past and potential political donors.

In 2014 and 2015, [Fed Ed] and others, known to the United States Attorney, knowingly devised and intended to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and deprive the City of Allentown and its citizens of [Fed Ed]'s honest services through a bribery and kickback scheme, wherein [Fed Ed] sought campaign contributions, including contributions to [Fed Ed]’s federal campaign, in exchange for past, continued, and future official actions that  [Fed Ed] took, attempted to take, and caused and attempted to cause the City of Allentown to take. 

[Fed Ed] directed other public officials to identify for him individuals and entities who had profited from their dealings with the City of Allentown and who sought favorable treatment from the City of Allentown (“the vendors”). [Fed Ed], directly and through subordinates, made clear to certain vendors, including [Jack Rosen], [McTish and Kunkel Engineering], and Ramzi Haddad, that providing [Fed Ed] with campaign contributions was a necessary condition for receiving certain favorable treatment from the City of Allentown.

Disappointed by his poor fundraising in his earlier campaign for statewide office, [Fed Ed] instructed defendant MICHAEL FLECK, [Jack Rosen], [McTish and Kunkel Engineering], [Scott Allinson] Donor #5, Ramzi Haddad, and others that his best chance at winning his party's support as a candidate for the federal office was to maximize the campaign contributions that he received on or before a federal campaign reporting deadline of June 30, 2015.

We know he threatened adverse official action against those who failed to come up with money for his various campaigns:

[Fed Ed] communicated to others, including Allentown officials and defendant MICHAEL FLECK, that the city of Allentown would withhold favorable treatment from certain donors who failed to provide satisfactory campaign contributions to [Fed Ed].

On diverse dates between on or about January 6, 2014, and on or about May 26, 2015, [Fed Ed], Mary Ellen Koval, defendant MICHAEL FLECK, and others met for the purpose of helping [Jack Rosen]'s company receive a "no-bid" contract from the City of Allentown as a reward for [Jack Rosen]'s agreement to raise campaign contributions for [Fed Ed].

Here feds may have a problem, at least isolated by itself. We know that sending a letter, by itself, is not considered official action when directed at boards over which there is no control. Except in Allentown, Fed Ed appointed members of these commissions and boards. .

[Fed Ed] caused and attempted to cause certain municipal staff to take official action favorable to certain actual and potential donors, including defendant RAMZI HADDAD and other donors to [Fed Ed]’s federal campaign.

An outright bribe is still an outright bribe.

During his in-person interactions with defendant RAMZI HADDAD at restaurants, [Fed Ed] directed defendant HADDAD to pay [Fed Ed]’s food and beverage bills

In order to conceal and continue the conspiracy, [Fed Ed] employed countersurveillance maneuvers, including destroying records, conducting sweeps of government offices for electronic surveillance, and procuring disposable “burner phones” that he believed would be difficult for law enforcement to monitor.

Bid rigging is pretty clearly an "official action."

On or about January 8. 2014, [Fed Ed] contacted defendant GARRET STRATHEARN to explain the importance of awarding the 2014 revenue collection contract to [Northeast Revenue Service] and ensure that defendant STRATHEARN would help achieve that result.

On or about May 27, 2014 and again on or about August 14, 2015, in order to conceal and continue the conspiracy, defendant GARRET STRATHEARN made materially false statements to agents of the Federal Bureau of  Investigation who were investigating the conspiracy. For example, defendant STRATHEARN falsely claimed that [Fed Ed] was unaware of  expressing any preference about, let alone having input or involvement in, the award process for the 2014 revenue collection contract when in fact, as STRATHEARN well knew. [Fed Ed] had specifically told him that [Fed Ed] wanted [Northeast Revenue Service] to win the contract and that it was important for STRATHEARN to provide that result for [Fed Ed]'s benefit.

This sounds like official action to me.

On or about August 8, 2014, [Fed Ed] agreed to help [McTish and Kunkel]'s company receive a contract from the City of Allentown as a reward for [McTish and Kunkel]'s agreement to raise campaign contributions for [Fed Ed].

On diverse dates between on or about April 14, 2014, and on or about May 8, 2015, [T and M] met with [Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer], [Fed Ed], defendant MICHAEL FLECK, and others, known to the United States Attorney, to discuss trading municipal contracts in Allentown and Reading for campaign contributions from a political action committee over which [T and M]'s company had influence and control.

By itself, this is not an "official action."

On or about April 21, 2015,[Fed Ed], acting in his official capacity as an elected official, used the U.S. mails to send a letter of support for a proposal in which Ramzi Haddad had a business interest, in consideration for Haddad's agreement to raise money for [Fed Ed].

If communicated to Donor Scott Allinson, this is extortion. 

Upon hearing that [Scott Allinson] had expressed doubt about [Norris McLaughlin]'s willingness to make future contributions, [Fed Ed] complained "Really! I've given him millions of dollars.. .. Relatively, compared to other law firms, they've given nothing. [Allinson] for sure will get nothing now. ... You know, f--k them! And I'm not gonna award work to [Allinson's] law partner] or anything. Screw it all!"

On or about July 2, 2015, in order to conceal and continue the conspiracy, [Fed Ed] made materially false statements to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who were investigating the conspiracy. For example, [Fed Ed] falsely denied having had any knowledge of, involvement in, or interference with Allentown's RFP process when, as [Fed Ed] well knew, he had taken steps to help award the 2014 revenue collection contract to [Northeast Revenue Service]. 

False statements are still false statements.

On or about July 2, 2015, in order to conceal and continue the conspiracy, [Fed Ed] made materially false statements to FBI agents who were investigating the conspiracy. For example, [Fed Ed] falsely denied knowing whether he had received campaign contributions from [Jack Rosen]’s company or its principals when in fact, two days earlier, as [Fed Ed] well knew, [Jack Rosen] had donated and bundled tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, which were transferred to [Fed Ed]’s federal campaign via interstate wires, including the Internet. 

NorCo's New Phone System Needs Some Attention

John Brown and his lovely wife on Labor Day.
Before he became Northampton County Executive, John Brown claims to have spent "most of his career working in the private sector turning around unprofitable businesses by making them more effective, efficient and successful." He has never identified even one of these businesses. Based on his performance in Northampton County, my guess his that he never lasted anywhere for long.

In Northampton County, he pledged on the day he took office that he would both enhance county services and deliver them more efficiently. Instead, his unilateral reductions in healthcare, which were ultimately determined to be illegal for around half of the workforce, caused a record number of departures during his first year in office. In addition, he refused to fill vacancies, which actually slowed things down.

One of the changes Brown recently initiated is a switch to a new, VoiceOverIP, phone system. That's turning out to be a disaster, too. Though the sound quality is excellent when talking to someone else at the courthouse, that's about it. People calling in can no longer page lawyers and cops, and telephone calls to county employees are often dropped in the middle of a conversation.

I know lawyers who got in hot water for not calling in for pretrial conferences when they did so. I have also heard of several instances in which messages were left with county workers, but they have no record of on incoming call. It is hanging somewhere in cyberspace.

Angelina and I are Just Friends

By now, most of you have heard of the unfortunate divorce proceedings between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. I just want to make clear that, whatever you heard, I had nothing to do with it. Angelina and I are just friends.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Plans For Behavioral Health Hospital Pulled in Bethlehem

A rare special meeting of Bethlehem's Planning Commission, scheduled for Thursday afternoon, has been canceled. The Board had been scheduled to review an 80-bed behavioral health hospital at Center and Dewberry streets, proposed by Arcadia Healthcare. A special meeting had been necessary because otherwise, the plan would go into effect by operation of law. But Arcadia has just notified the Cityit is withdrawing its plans.

The property, owned by Abe Atiyeh, has probably seen more plans than any five-acre tract in the history of the world. It's zoned institutional and is supposed to be a cemetery, but Atiyeh decided he wanted to put an assisted living facility there so residents could look out the window and see their future homes at the nearby graveyard.

Zoners said why the hell not.

But Abe changed his mind. Instead of assisted living, he decided he wanted to build luxury apartments. This worried Bethlehem's faux progressives, who worried that Abe would pack the place with poor people. They love poor people, but think they belong in Allentown.

Zoners agreed with the faux progressives, and said No.

Abe was swinging and missing. Across the street, he wanted to put in a residential rehab for people with substance abuse addictions. People like me. Now, faux progressives teamed up with Holy Mother Church and fought the project. They professed to love people hooked on drugs and booze, but they belong somewhere else. Not near rich people or a Catholic high school.

Zoners agreed with the progressives again, and said No.

Abe figured he'd show them. He'd pack the block with cRaZy people. He put "Psychiatric Hospital Coming Soon" signs all over the lot and lured a hospital for the area, which is zoned for hospitals.

Faux Progressives and Holy Mother Church love cRaZy people, but they belong in Allentown with Fed Ed. They want to build a wall around the tract and make Atiyeh pay for it.

The fact that plans have been pulled indicates that this was just a bluff or a deal is in the works.

We'll see.

The Trump Train Rolling Along

I've seen no Clinton signs and only a few Trump signs, but that should change soon. NorCo Republicans put together about 700 of them over the weekend, so his signs should start appearing soon.

Trumpions have been conducting what they call flashmobs near major roads. A bunch get together with Trump shirts and hats and wave signs at oncoming traffic. This weekend, a woman I know was stopped at traffic on Easton Avenue during one of these flashmobs, with her kids in the car, returning from soccer practice. The driver of the car in front of her gave the flashmob a thumbs down, and a Trumpion ran up to the guy, screaming at him. At the other end of the Lehigh Valley, in Allentown, another Trumpion attempted to run down someone at an immigration rally. The driver's license plate was photographed.

Democrats are silly, too. A township supervisor who has a Trump sign in his yard has been accused of being a KKK supporter.

So things are getting ugly, as they always do in Presidential races.

The candidates in the meantime vilify each other, setting a good example.

Authoritarians will love to hear that Donald Trump now advocates profiling for suspects, claiming that we are just too damn politically correct. Last time I checked, the prohibition on profiling has nothing to do with being politically correct. It has everything to do with equal protection and unreasonable searches and seizures. But aside from the Second Amendment, a President Trump will trash pretty much the rest of the Bill of Rights.

A friend of mine who did polling during the primary in a totally unrelated race received the call you hear above from a Donald Trump supporter. It's a fascinating look into the mind of a Trumpion.

Wanted: Construction Manager for Bethlehem Tp Community Center

At their September 19 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted unanimously to seek a construction manager for $2.5 million in repairs needed at the community center. "Nobody that's applying for this job should have had anything to do with what's there now," suggested resident Barry Roth. "I an guarantee that," responded Michael Hudak.

The community center, built ten years ago at a cost of $10.3 million, needs $2.5 million in repairs, according to Entech Engineering's Ryan Kennedy. The biggest problem he flagged is the metal roof over the facility's natatorium, where gutters were improperly sloped, leading to pockets of standing water that seep into the building.

In July, Commissioners authorized Kennedy to begin engineering on 15 high-priority projects that must be addressed immediately. Commissioners expect to appoint a construction manager in November, who will serve as Township advocate and "ensure the project is completed safely, professionally, on time, within budget, and to the highest standards of workmanship and craftsmanship."

Included among these repairs is an ultraviolet water-treatment system to reduce chloramines in the air at the indoor pool. Chloramines are a by-product of the chlorine used in pools, and causes an odor noticed in nearly all indoor pools. In addition to removing this odor, Township Manager Melissa Shafer reported that ultraviolet reduces the need for chlorine, which saves money.

In other business, Commissioners unanimously voted to minor modifications for the new McDonald's at Bethlehem Plaza, as well as entrance into the Bethlehem Plaza. They also agreed to give St. Luke's an extension until November for landscaping and other streetscape improvements along Freemansburg Avenue.

Nobody complained about the Bulldogs.

Nobody complained about stormwater.

Monday night football makes for quick meetings, especially when the Eagles are playing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Brief History of NorCo Jail Expansions

Last week, Northampton County Corrections Director Dan Keen pitched Council on the need for a new jail. He did a great job of pointing out some serious issues and told Council what his ideal jail would look like. But he had no insight on where it should go or how much it will cost. Council was ready to break ground that very day, but their attitude will change once they discover how much this beast, as Keen aptly called the jail, will cost. Also, no matter where it goes, it will be controversial. Even if it stays in Easton, people will complain.

Nobody likes jails.

That reality is lost on some gung-ho members of Council. One of them, Ken Kraft, is a trades union agent. He has a legitimate interest in the jail and attends their meetings. But make no mistake. He no doubt is eyeing up a gold mine in construction labor costs. He likely has no legal conflict of interest, but his involvement certainly has an appearance of impropriety, especially since he said several times that he wants to be on a committee to expand the jail. 

Then there's Bob Werner, who strangely announced that he is running for Executive earlier in the summer. He hinted he has already met with municipal officials at a location nobody has the guts to mention, and claims their leaders are now on board with a new jail.  You see, he knows how to market these things, unlike his inferior predecessors.

This past weekend, Werner made sure he marketed himself. An anonymous comment, either from him or one of his supporters, was posted on my blog:
"Stop the blame game and get on with a planned bi-partisan solution to the impending crisis. Start talking seriously about the future needs of the courts and the tax payers. Work together instead of griping about the past. Werner and Phillips and others see the need to work this out. Brown needs to bend also and stop pontificating and listen to the options. The jail is a pen stroke away from being declared a human rights violation of Federal law. Werner showing leadership skills the current executive has no idea about."
Contrary to what this political comment suggests, our county history on this point is both relevant and instructive. Here's what has happened in past administrations.

Gerald "Jerry" Seyfried. -  Seyfried completed a $7.5 million prison expansion in 1993 that included a dining hall and a work release facility for females. But he reached the conclusion that "you can't build your way" out of this problem because, as soon as you expand a jail, the judges fill it out of fear they will otherwise be viewed as being soft on crime.

Seyfried formed a prison expansion committee that included the courts, the DA, members of Council and John Stoffa from Human Services. This committee was also charged with coming up to alternatives to incarceration.

Seyfried also began using inmates who volunteered to work odd jobs. The very first person selected, a local town drunk, keeled over dead of a heart attack on the first day of the program. That threw a monkey wrench into things.

Bill Brackbill. - Despite Seyfiried's expansion, which ballooned to $12 million when all was said and done, the jail was soon again at capacity.

"I'm scared," Brackbill told a Morning Call reporter. "I don't want to be involved in building a new prison, and I'm not sure what space we have to expand ... Everyone wants us to lock people up, but nobody wants to spend more money on prisons. We're in a Catch-22."

Corrections officers would later accuse Brackbill of plotting to privatize the jail. He had previously privatized the commissary and medical department. Though Brackbill denied any such intention, he refused to rule out the possibility.

Glenn Reibman. - Overcrowding at the jail forced the County into sending inmates to other counties at what was then a cost of $55 per day. Because of problems with Easton officials, he was forced to demolish a state-of-the art archive building to make way for a $22 million expansion that added about 388 beds. He hoped to build on top of the existing expansion for future expansions, but it is doubtful Easton officials would be very receptive to that idea.

About 3/4 of Seyfried's expansion was funded by grants, but Reibman included the cost for his expansion in a $111 million bond that eventually resulted in a 65% tax hike and layoffs for the first time in county history.

Primary voters gave Reibman his walking papers when he sought a third term. 

John Stoffa. - In 2008, Stoffa commissioned yet another jail study and learned that Northampton County's jail, built in 1871, has "outlived its usefulness." It's a "problem waiting to happen," said consultants from Highland Associates. Six unpleasant and expensive options were presented for bigger prisoner warehouse, one that could pack in around 1,488 inmates. The county could simply abandon the site and start out fresh somewhere else. $130 to 136 million. Cha ching! It could rip down the old prison and build a seven story monstrosity that Eastonians are sure to love. $128 to $132 million. Cha ching! And, of course, it could split operations up and still spend gobs of money.

As consultants laid out the proposals, exasperated Finance Chair Ron Angle questioned where we could build a new prison or even have a split operation. "The reality here is, who the hell wants a new prison?"

To make matter worse, John Stoffa said the brand new courthouse would be full with the arrival of a ninth judge. 

Stoffa suggested that all administration offices should be concentrated at Gracedale, which is the geographical center of the county. That is when he first proposed that the Bechtel and Governor Wolf buildings, which housed human services, be sold and replaced by a new human services building. He would leave the vacated government center for the courts. That would leave more room for both the judges and the people they send to jail. It might even eliminate the need for a new parking lot.  It might also reduce the cost of a proposed prison expansion.

Stoffa's proposal went nowhere because, for his first six years in office, he was shackled by a Council that exalted political sniping over good government.  

But in his last two years, Stoffa made progress with a new work release facility in West Easton. He also brought in a program to reduce recidivism with treatment plans, but Council rejected that contract within a few months after he left office.  

Stoffa ran out of time. 

John Brown - In his first year in office, Brown agreed to drop the only real program the County had to treat inmates and prevent recidivism. He and Council have failed to replace it with another and this is part of the reason why the jail is over-crowded, although I doubt they'd ever admit it. To their credit, Judges Craig Dally and Steve Baratta have attempted to fill this rehabilitation vacuum with problem solving courts. In fairness, Brown has made his staff available to the courts. It's a great program, but I'm sure the judges would like to see something in-house. 

Keen's presentation, while excellent, tells us what we've known since the Seyfried administration.  

Lessons from the past. - We need  governing, not politics. 

Seyfried and Reibman were successful with prison expansions because they avoided politics, at least on that issue. Seyfried sought grants, so that taxpayers only paid about 1/4 of the cost. Reibman was less frugal, and though he did what had to be done, it cost us too much and he lost an election. Brackbill made the mistake of refusing to rule out privatization, which turned a jail expansion into a political hot potato Stoffa was the victim of a hostile council, though he made great strides in his last two years. Brown failed to even appear at Keen's presentation. His penchant for secrecy and politically ambitious council members could ruin any expansion before it gets off the ground. None of them has even mentioned the courts, which must be involved in this process.  All alternatives to incarceration need to be fully explored, and for that, you need the courts. In short, we need governing, not politics. Governing means transparency, not secrecy. We need to know where it is and how much it will cost.