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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Good Samaritan

Vince Milite is Public Works Director at Hanover Tp. I want to share this Facebook post from him today. It's proof that there still are good people out there.

Every now and then you hear a story of a very small child wandering the streets with just a diaper and a shirt, no pants, socks, or shoes. Well on this 40 degree day, Tricia Milite and myself saved one today on Center Street, Bethlehem. Thank you, City of Bethlehem Police Department and the rest of the good Samaritans who brought out clothes for this lost and wandering child. As it turns out there is a lot more to the story, but now she is safe. ... Wandering the streets at least half hour. Child was put into protective custody. ... [T]his baby was spotted on linden street several blocks away, and no one reported her. The person who spotted her did not have a cell phone and ran home to get a phone. Meanwhile she was just wandering around. Why did no one else care enough to get involved. Again we are not special in any way, we were doing what I thought anyone one would do. It's just a shame everyone else looked away.

Boys' Hoops: Allentown Central Ends Magical Season

"Listen to this ...."

''It's wonderful, isn't it?"

So began my second road trip of the week to watch high school basketball  On Tuesday night, I drove a prominent local attorney through the coal regions to Hazelton, where he grew up. I received quite a history lesson along the way about mining disasters, cannibalism, the Molly Maguires and all kinds of massacres.

On Friday night, Reading was the destination.of the quarter-final match up between Allentown Central Catholic Boys' Basketball and #1-ranked Bonner-Prendergatz at Reading High School. I'll have more about the game, but this second road trip, in which I served as chauffeur again, is noteworthy. This time around, the lesson was music appreciation.

We were leaving early because we were meeting up with a contingent of parents and fans at the Peanut Bar.
Meat may be a sin on Lenten Fridays, but Corona Lite is fine. Because I retired from drinking long ago, I figured Jesus wouldn't mind if had a hamburger. But the others set pretty good examples. One of the moms is even trying to cure me of my tendency to be mean and heartless when I write.

"Choose Christ!" she tells me.

On our way to the Peanut Bar through Friday afternoon traffic, my companion asked me to name my top composer, who is Beethoven.

"Beethoven? He's a plagiarist, you know. His "Ode to Joy" is a clear copy of Mozart's Misericordias Domini K.222. Here, let me play it."

He dug it out and it is pretty much identical. He also told me that Mozart composed over 600 works, while Beethoven had fewer than 100.

"Rightyo," I said. "Why don't you sue him?"

"Statute of limitations," he answered.

On Saturday morning, I received a telephone call from this lawyer.

"Listen to this ..."

More Mozart.

Neither Mozart nor Beethoven was at the game. In a rarity for high school basketball, there was no music at all. I've always wondered what the kids would do if they came out on the court to the tune of Julie Andrews' "I feel pretty." I've never been able to convince PA operators to play it.

No sense of humor.

One woman, a friend of one of the moms who herself was quite a basketball player, asked my to point out my grandson as the team warmed up.

"He doesn't look like you at all."

"What do you mean, how do you think he got so handsome?"

"Not from you."

"Look at his muscular frame, where do you think he got that?"

"Not from you."

"You know what? You should choose Christ."

Vinnie Lynch
As for the game itself, The Morning Call's Keith Groller has a very touching account. The person I want to credit, something I was unable to do during the season, is Coach Dennis Csensits. He did a great job in taking a team that The Express Times did not even include in its initial top ten, ll the way to the quarter finals. He believed in them when they sometimes questioned themselves. In Central's pre-game prayer, everyone is reminded that the gym is a classroom where good sportsmanship is taught. He instilled that philosophy in his players. Yes, they were very physical and aggressive. But if an opponent went down, it was often a Central player who helped him to his feet. Though some parents had problems buying into the Coach's philosophy of limited playing time, almost all of them came around during the season.

If I were to single out a player who best exemplifies the spirit of this rare and remarkable team, it would be "Spicy" Vinnie Lynch.

Now Vinnie is a football player, not a basketball player. He might be the strongest boy at Central and can even bench press me. But last year, he was not getting a lot of playing time, so he went to see the coach. The coach told him his primary role on the team is to serve as a tough defender against whom the starters could practice. He might get some playing time, but not a lot.

A lot of players would hang it up after that. Not Vinnie. He decided to be part of the team and cheer everyone on, whether he was playing or not. His mom came to every game and was one of the team's biggest cheerleaders. We hear lots about the other players. But guys like Vinnie were the heart and soul of this team.

In Central's first state playoff game, Coach Csensits sent Vinnie in as the clock was winding down. Jay fed him the ball, and Vinnie passed it right back to him. So Jay danced across the floor and back and passed it to him again. Vinnie passed it to Keeshawn "the beast" Kellman. Instead of scoring, Keeshawn passed the ball back to Vinnie, who in turn fed it to Jay. This happened about six times until Vinnie finally took a shot ... and scored.

Everyone erupted.

"I was teasing my fans," Vinnie explained after the game.

I will miss these guys.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Two LV Basketball Teams Still Stand in Chip Quest

Just a few days ago, seven District XI basketball teams were still standing in their quest for the chip of their respective divisions.  Now there are only two.

Boys' Basketball:

2A: Moravian Academy, which surprised many people this in outstanding play,was defeated by the #2-ranked Constitution Generals (#2) on Saturday, 83-73. The four remaining teams left are Constitution, Holy Cross (Dunmore), Sewickley Academy and Sacred Heart (Coraopolis).

4A: Bethlehem Catholic (#3) dominated Berks Catholic Friday night, 62-37. On Monday, the Golden Hawks face #1-ranked Imhotep Charter at Reading High School in the final four.

5AAllentown Central Catholic High School was eliminated by #1-ranked Bonner-Prendergast on Friday night. I will have a separate story about that game. The Vikings finish the season ranked by MaxPreps as #5.

In the final four, Bonner will go up against Abington Heights (#4) at Freedom High School on Monday night, 7 pm. In the western part of the state, Milton Hershey (#6) will face Mars (#3).

Girls' Basketball:

5A: Southern Lehigh (#8) continues its march for a state title with a victory over Harrisburg (#2) on Saturday, 42-36. On Monday night, they will play Archbishop Wood in the final four, while Archbishop Carroll will take on Mars.

Friday, March 16, 2018


Lamont McClure addresses bedsores
at Gracedale 
Gracedale Nursing Home, which is owned by Northampton County, has been struggling with its Medicare rating for quality measures, which reflects the quality of care afforded to residents. It had dipped to one star, the lowest rating. It currently is at two stars, which is still considered below average. Every month, at the Human Services Committee, Gracedale Administrator Raymond Soto updates Council on measures being taken to improve resident care. But for the past two months, there's been an increase in the number of pressure ulcers, which are also called bedsores. Lori Vargo Heffner wanted to know why. Although no one can really be sure, this increase may be related to the $500,000 purchase of new mattresses. That took place under former Executive John Brown. Former Administrator Cathy Allen made the purchase, ignoring policies that had been put in place for testing.

Soto indicated that a number of factors can lead to bed sores, including failure to move residents and a diet that contains insufficient protein. But nursing staff is above the state average Heffner kept prodding Soto about other possible reasons until  Executive Lamont McClure provided his own explanation.

"I'm horrified by this," he said, noting that pressure ulcers have increased two months in a row. He agreed that there are several possible reasons. While "correlation is not causation," McClure believes the introduction of new mattresses last December may be one of those reasons. "We're going to get to the bottom of it," he promised. "We're all over it."

McClure added that another problem that has resulted from these new mattresses is that residents are falling out of bed. The mattresses are often improperly inflated by residents and they form domes, causing some of them to roll out of bed and onto the floor.

Cathy Allen, who had no nursing home experience, executed a half million dollar contract to purchase these mattresses.

Sherry Ficocelli
Soto explained that at the end of last year, he was told there would be new furniture. He said the mattresses were an afterthought. Cathy Allen told him she was going to get a "good deal" on new mattresses."There wasn't much input from any of us," he admitted  Soto said there is a policy that new equipment receive a 30-day trial in different areas. "We did not follow policy," he confessed. He said the trial was in one resident's room, and it involved Cathy Allen and the erstwhile Director of Nursing.

After the new mattresses were installed, he began receiving complaints. He spent the night at the facility after a snowstorm and tried one of the 309 new mattresses."It was like a rock," he complained. 

The company that resold the mattresses is checking each mattress and may retain staff on determining the pressure.

Materials Manager Sherry Ficocelli said that Cathy Allen never consulted with her concerning the new mattresses

"It sounds like they were knock offs from Dan's Mattress City," joked Ron Heckman.

Ficocelli said that Allen had overstepped her abilities."We were kind of told to keep out of it," she declared. "We didn't go through the proper trials ... . I was told not to, and keep my mouth shut."

"Say what?" said Heffner. "I don't think we heard what you just said."

"You did. I was told to keep my mouth shut," responded Ficocelli. She indicated it was Allen who muzzled her.

McClure said it is his hope that there are, in fact, several factors. He's also hopeful that better training will solve the problem.

There have been no serious injuries as a result of the falls.

"Keep us updated on Mattressgate," said Lori Vargo Heffner.

Next NorCo Controller Will Get a $10,000 Payraise

Tara Zrinski wants those plastic
eggs recycled. 
When the next Northampton County Controller is sworn into office in January 2020, he or she will be paid $10,000 more than the $65,000 annual salary that Bucky Szulborski receives now. Last night, at a meeting packed with Easton Area High School students who must be serving some sort of detention, a divided County Council approved the raise by a 6-2-1 vote. Voting for the increase were John Cusick, Matt Dietz, Peg Ferraro, Ken Kraft, Bob Werner and Tara Zrinski. Voting No were Lori Vargo Heffner and Ron Heckman. Bill McGee abstained.

Cusick's original proposal included raises for the next Executive ($85,000 to $95,000) and Council ($9,500 to $10,500), too. But at a committee meeting, Ken Kraft said it would make more sense to propose a Charter amendment so that voters could weigh in and wither approve or reject the raise. He also said raises should be tied to the Consumer Price Index so that the salaries go up automatically and never have to be revisited.

"It's a political football," he said. "No matter what you do, it's a no-win situation."

Kraft had suggested that the matter be tabled tonight, but Cusick amended his original payraise proposal so that it applies only to the Controller. The current $65,000 salary is too low to attract a good candidate. "When we went out for the position, we had three people respond," he observed.

Heckman said he was voting No "as a matter of conscience." He failed to explain what ethical principle made this demand, unless political expediency has suddenly grown a backbone. Vargo Heffner voted No and explained more honestly that she has only been in office a few months and doesn't want people to get the impression that the first thing she's doing is giving elected officials a raise. McGee had said he thought the voters should decide.

Less controversial was a Home Rule Charter Amendment, also proposed by John Cusick, that will change the current Charter to read that the "Controller shall devote fulltimeto the office ... ." Cusick explained that the Charter change would allow the Controller to pursue part-time activities like refereeing football or teaching, so long as here is no interference with the full-time position. This measure passed unanimously and the voters will decide.

Council also voted unanimously to approve a number of new positions. The most important of these is a new pretrial services officer who will interview criminal defendants before bail is set and make recommendations to the Magisterial District Judge. Currently, 28 defendants charged with low level offenses are sitting in NorCo's jail, at $106 a day, because they are unable to post bail. This has already cost the county $91,000.

In other business, Council voted unanimously to approve a tax incentive known as a LERTA to help improve blighted property in Upper Mount Bethel Township. Under a LERTA, a property owner will continue paying taxes, but any improvements made to the property are gradually phased in over a period of ten years.

Former State Rep. Rich Grucela spoke in support of the LERTA. "It will really help us in the slate belt to provide some jobs," he said.

Council also considered two matters related to the PennEast pipeline. They voted unanimously to support the a request that the Delaware Rover Basin Commission exercise its jurisdiction over the pipeline to prevent a degradation of water quality inthe Delaware Basin. But Peg Farraro voted No to a resolution seeking a new hearing on federal approval of the pipeline. Ken Kraft and Bill McGee, both of whom are trade union agents, abstained.

They also voted unanimously to give deputy sheriffs $800 for the annual Easter Egg hunt at Louise Moore Park on March 24 at noon. Before voting Yes, Tara Zrinski wanted to make sure that he plastic eggs were either biodegradable or recycled. Fortunately, they are. 

Council also voted unanimously to approve Lamont McClure's appointments and re-appointments to several boards.

Children, Youth and Families Advisory Board: Angela Scott Ferencin (Bethlehem), Susan Grassi (Easton) and Frank Pologruto (Bethlehem).

Drug and Alcohol Advisory Board: Janette Zuk (Easton)

Housing Authority: Christopher Gulotta (Easton)

Industrial Development Authority: Thomas O'Donnell (Nazareth)

LANTA: Cordelia Miller (Bethlehem) and Kevin Lynn (Bethlehem)

LVPC: Malissa Davis (Bethlehem Tp), John Diacogiannis (Hanover Tp) and Kevin Lott (Hellertown)

Mental Health Advisory Board: Frank Pologruto (Bethlehem)

Revenue Appeals Board: Thomas Carocci (Bethlehem)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

7 District XI Basketball Teams Qualify For State Quarter-Finals

The ranks have thinned. Only seven District XI basketball teams - three boys' and four girls' - have made it to the final eight in their quest for the chip of their respective divisions.

Boys' Basketball:

2A: Moravian Academy, which jumped from #21 to #17 in state rankings, dominated Northwest (Shickshinny) (#41) on Wednesday night, 74-46. It will face Philadelphia's Constitution Generals (#2) on Saturday, .

3A: Notre Dame Green Pond (#27) was eliminated by Bishop McDevitt (#15) Wednesday night, 77-51.
4A: Bethlehem Catholic (#3) clobbered Conwell-Egan (#29) Tuesday night, 97-66. On Friday, the Golden Hawks will take on Berks Catholic (#4) in its first competitive game for its division.

5A: Though Allentown Central Catholic High School defeated Dallas High School 61-57, on Tuesday night, they won the game in double overtime. It was against a team that at that time was only ranked #21. So the Vikings' state rankings have dropped from #7 to #10  On Friday, they set sail to Reading High School to take on the #1-ranked Friars of Bonner-Prendergast. .

6A: Pocono Mtn West (#48), the only District XI team still standing, in 6A, was disqualified last night by the Hazleton Area Cougars, 69-50.  .

Girls' Basketball:

2A: Mahanoy Area (#1) will play West Catholic (Philadelphia) (#7) on Friday night, Freedom High School, 6 pm.

Minersville (#3) will play Penns Manor (Clymer) (#10) Friday night at Bald eagle Area HS in Wingate.

3A: North Schuylkill (#1) was eliminated by Imhotep Charter (#9) last night, 65-58.

4A: Allentown Central Catholic (#14) lost a heart-breaker to #1-tanked Lancaster Catholic on Wednesday night, 32-3. .

Bethlehem Catholic (#2) was upset by Bonner-Prendergast (#16) on Wednesday night.  .

5A: Southern Lehigh (#8) trounced Lampeter-Strasburg (#14) Wednesday night, 45-29, and will face Harrisburg (#2) on Saturday.

6A: Easton (#14) was eliminated by Souderton (#2) Tuesday night, 55-41

Freedom (#15) fell to Abington (#10) Tuesday night, 63-55.

William Allen (#32) defeated Central Dauphin (#13) Tuesday night, 42-39, and will play Central Bucks South on Friday night.

Kraft: Let Voters Decide Payraises For Elected Officials

Northampton County Council member John Cusick and Matt Dietz have proposed a payraise for elected officials. If passed, the Executive's salary will increase from $85,000 to $95,000, the Controller's salary will rise from $65,000 to $75,000, and Council members will be paid $10,500 instead of $9,500. The Council President will continue to receive an extra $500. These wage hikes would go into effect the next term. That's because Council members have no authority to give themselves a raise. A public hearing is scheduled today. Council President Ken Kraft as suggested a more permanent solution = letting the people decide.

"It's a political football," he said. "No matter what you do, it's a no-win situation."

He added that if Council approved a payraise for the Exec, there's a good chance that it would be vetoed by the Exec. That's because he would be setting himself up for political attacks should he seek re-election.

What Kraft is suggesting is a Home Rule Charter change under which the people, and not Council, will decide whether a raise is warranted. In addition, he wants the salary tied to the consumer price index so this never is an issue again.

NorCo Court Admin Proposes Way to Reduce Jail Census

Nina Reynard and Jermaine Greene
One way to handle an influx of extra inmates is to build a new jail. That's what former NorCo Exec John Brown wanted to do. It's one of the reasons why he is the former Executive. Had he consulted with President Judge Stephen Baratta and Court Administrator J.Jermaine Greene, he might have learned there's another way. It's simply to reduce the jail population by releasing people who pose no risk to anyone.

Greene unveiled this plan to County Council yesterday. Accompanied by Pretrial Services Director Nina Reynard, he's asking for a new pretrial services officer who will be paid an annual $47,857 salary. This officer will help evaluate persons who are arrested, but before they are placed in custody  The pretrial officer will perform a risk assessment before the Magisterial District Judge sets bail at 7 am.

Greene provided an example brought to his attention by Reynard. A person with no criminal record was arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia because he had a roach. He was unable to post $2,500 bail. He sat in jail for 38 days, even though the maximum sentence is just 30 days. He was released immediately when reynard and Greene discovered what had happened.

After that incident, Greene and Reynard began reviewing the bail set by Magisterial District Judges for low level offenders. At this moment, 28 people are incarcerated on minor charges like retail theft because they are unable to post monetary bail

It costs $106 per day to house an inmate, and Reynard told Council that housing these 28 low level offenders has cost the county $91,000. In nearly half of these cases, defendants are being held even though there are existing detainers, which are requests from other jurisdictions to release the person being held into their custody. 

Administrator Charles Dertinger also pointed to defendants with minor crimes who are hospitalized. Once a Defendant is in the county's custody, Medicaid is dropped and the county is liable for the entire bill. In addition, Dertinger noted that the county had to pay $7,700 in deputy over time.

In addition to costing the county money, Greene and Reynard pointed out that pretrial detention is unfair to the defendants. Greene said they lose families, homes, jobs and get behind on child support. Reyynard added that there's a stigma to being incarcerated. 

"We need to do better," said Greene. "Ninety percent of these people will net be returned to custody," added Reynard. "We are pre-emptively punishing these people."

Greene pointed out that Magisterial District judges still have judicial discretion to set bail as they see fit."We  does work is cojust want to give them another tool to let them know this is a problem we're seeing," he explained.

It appears that Magisterial District Judges Nancy Matos Gonzalez and Robert Hawke tend to be the hammers in Northampton County.

Greene added that this new system will mean that pretrial officers have to work weekends, and he will have to negotiate this matter with the unions.

Monetary bail will still be an option for defendants charged with more serious offenses. But interestingly, Reynard said that studies show that monetizing bail fails to make defendants more likely to appear. She said that what does work are reminders at meetings with pretrial officers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Conor Lamb Victory Good news For Morganelli

Northampton County DA John Morganelli is a tough-on-crime centrist. His views are similar to those held by most people, Democrat and Republican, living in the Lehigh Valley. He is pro-union and more interested in seeing that people have jobs, adequate health care and decent wages than seeing Nancy Pelosi as the next Speaker. His views are very similar to those held by Conor Lamb. Unofficially, Lamb has jest been elected to Congress in a Pa. District that Trump won by 20 points. It's pretty clear that Morganelli is going to win he congressional race here because most voters are, like Morganelli, moderate in their thinking. , .     

A Road Trip Up 309 to Hazleton

It's past 2 am and I've just returned from Hazelton. I was there tonight to watch Allentown Central Catholic and Dallas High Schools play each other in the state 5A boys' basketball tournament. My grandson Dat got himself into early foul trouble and spent most of the night riding the bench. But Keeshawn Kelman and Jay Vaughan saved the day and eked out a 61-59 victory in double overtime. Morning Call sportswriter Keith Groller called the game a classic. The Vikings advance to the quarter-finals on Friday night, where they will face #1-ranked Bonner-Prendergast. We'll find out where the game is being played tomorrow.

This story is about the road trip to Hazleton, taken with a prominent local attorney who grew up in the coal regions. He's a big fan of the Vaughans (Jay, Sammy and Emily) as well as Chad Kratzer.

We tooled up 309 North and I received quite the history lesson en route. We passed near the scene of the Kelayres massacre. That's where five Democrats were shot and killed in 1934 when the passed the home of "Big Joe," the local GOP boss. He wanted to stop there, but I passed.

I'm a Dem, and Big Joe might still be around.

We also passed near the site of the 1897 Lattimer Massacre. that's where 19 striking miners were shot and killed by a sheriff's posse. Though evidence showed that most of those killed had been shot in the back, the Sheriff and his posse were acquitted. The barrister wanted to stop there, too, but I said it's too late to pass out cards now.

We passed through economically depressed McAdoo and Tamaqua and along slag heaps left from strip mining. We passed an old company town, Audenreid, in which workers would be forced to spend all their earnings and never get ahead.

We also discussed the Molly Maguires and whether they received a fair trial (I said they didn't, he said they did).

We passed near the site of the Sheppton Mining disaster, in which two miners were rescued but a third was never found. Some think the surviving two miners ate him. This barrister suggested we stop there. "Not on an empty stomach," I answered.

Speaking of empty stomachs, we did stop at a great Italian restaurant called Ovalon. That's been there forever, and would rival any restaurant in the Lehigh Valley.

Though it's right by us, the coal regions are another world.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Coming Your Way, Truck Traffic and Big Boxes!

Although Allentown has received most of the recent attention, the real story is going on in Allen and East Allen Townships. That's where Fed Ex Ground is under construction. At full build out, Lehigh Valley Planning Comm'n Executive Director Becky Bradley predicts it "will be the largest ground facility in the world." It will bring jobs, but it will also include a lot more big box warehouses and logistics facilities that will double truck traffic in the Lehigh Valley over the next few years. They ware being built in Allen and East Allen Townships, near the Fed Ex, with the ultimate goal being same day delivery to customers along the east coast. And while online shopping and big boxes explode, brick and mortar department stores will wither, taking jobs away.

In his first State of the County address, NorCo Exec Lamont McClure said he's troubled by the impact of this development. But there's little a county can do. We may have a regional planning commission, but we have no regional planning and zoning laws. Over the years, developers have systematically destroyed much of the rustic charm of the Lehigh Valley. There's no longer much difference between Route 248 and in Northampton County and Route 145 in Lehigh.

A small group of local citizens have banded together. They call themselves CARD (Citizens for Accountability and Responsible Development).

In the meantime, Jaindl and Watson Land Companies which are proposing six warehouses taking up 2.5 million sq ft in Allen Township. Part of the plan requires an easement over Northampton Area School District property for a state road and a water detention basin. But a deed restriction in the school district deed requires that the land be used solely for ""education and related purposes."

CARD filed a RTK request, seeking correspondence between Jaindl and school officials from 2014 to present. It's been flat out denied and for five reasons.

One reason cited, an internal investigation, is bullshit. That would include internal correspondence, not correspondence between Jaindl and the school.

A second reason for denying everything is the fact that some of the correspondence includes real estate appraisals. That information could be redacted.

A third reason is that these are internal predecisional deliberations. Bullshit again. Communications with Jaindl are necessarily external.

A fourth reason to deny everything is attorney-client privilege and work product. This is nonsense. To the extent that there is attorney client privilege, it is waived in communications with a third party.

A fifth and final reason for denying everything is that it might reveal employee identification numbers. This is nonsense because that information can easily be redacted.

Unfortunately, the school district response is dated February 20. This was just sent to me yesterday. Hopefully, CARD has appealed. It is quite clear that the school district has no intention of being accountable.

NorCo Council to Consider Raises For Elected Officials

hen NorCo Council meets on Thursday, they will be considering a payraise for elected officials. If passed, the Executive's salary will increase from $85,000 to $95,000, the Controller's salary will rise from $65,000 to $75,000, and Council members will be paid $10,500 instead of $9,500. Council President will get an extra $500. These wage hikes would not go into effect until the next term because Council members have no authority to give themselves a raise.

I expect elected officials to give their full attention to the public they serve. But they are public servants, not slaves,and should be compensated at much higher levels than are proposed.

The Executive is in charge of a budget that is approaching $400 million. He oversees 2,200 employees. Thus, as far as I am concerned, he should receive the same salary accorded to the President Judge. That is $181,871. The salary is adjusted annually in accord with the consumer price index. That way the issue never has to be addressed again.

So I would amend the ordinance so it provides that the Executive is "compensated with an annual salary identical to that of the President Judge of this County. I would also add provisions to the Controller and council salaries that state "as adjusted annually by the Consumer Price Index."

NorCo State Funding For Child Welfare Up 3.77%

NorCo Executive Lamont McClure has stated several times now that his primary focus is making sure that we respond to the most vulnerable among us - our children, elderly and the mentally distressed.  Sohe's pleased to announce a proposed 3.77% increase in state funding from Child Welfare Services for the 2018-2019 budget. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania anticipates releasing $2,665,388 to our department of Children, Youth and Families.

The increased funds will be allocated to counseling, training in life skills, emergency shelter, foster care and child abuse protective services. These programs are crucial to protect our most vulnerable residents.

The total budget amount approved for child services for the next year is $3,497,765 with $2,665,388 from the state, $486,917 from federal funding, and $345,460 from local taxpayers.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Is Allentown Finally Ready For a Ray of Sunshine?

Dark clouds that have surrounded Allentown for the past two years are finally beginning to fade away. Disgraced Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski has finally resigned. Roger MacLean, a well-respected former Police Chief, is Interim Mayor. Starting this past weekend, there's an extra hour of daylight. So it's time to ask whether the Queen City is finally ready for a Ray of Sunshine. That Ray is Ray O'Connell, who just stepped down as Council President a few short weeks ago. City Council will be making its choice soon. You never know what will happen, but it appears that Ray has four votes. That's all he needs.

There is no shortage of people who would like to be Mayor, including some of the several thousand candidates who ran and lost. It's rumored that one of them, Siobhan Sam Bennett, has already called several Council members. I haven't reached out to her to confirm if this is true, but know she already burned her red campaign blazer.

The serious names I've heard are Ray, Roger MacLean, Nat Hyman and Charlie Thiel.

If Roger MacLean wanted this position, he'd be a formidable candidate. But what I've heard is that he has no interest. He did not run for the position, and is already happily employed as a detective for the Lehigh County District Attorney

Nat Hyman, who did run for the job and captured the second highest vote total, is smart, energetic, innovative and reportedly interested. But I suspect Council is wary of this Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat. Although party affiliation means nothing to me, it matters a lot to many elected politicians

Republican turned Democrat Charlie Thiel bugs me. Not because he is a Republican turned Democrat. Because he's full of himself. After having endured 12 years with one narcissist, it's completely foolish to bring in another.

Dan McCarthy, who was named Solicitor by Fed Ed but has not been confirmed, dragged City Council into an executive session last week. On a matter as important as the City's next Mayor, McCarthy wanted to talk about it in the back room.

Though no one asked him, he then proceeded to give a "plainly clear" legal opinion that elected members of City Council like MacLean or O'Connell are ineligible to hold appointed paid positions for a year after they leave office. There is nothing "plainly clear" about that provision at all.In fact, the previous Solicitor, Susan Wild, thought it was "plainly clear" that Council members could be appointed to vacancies left by elected officials. Unlike McCarthy, she was actually confirmed by Council. Council should follow the last real legal opinion it received.

What's "plainly clear" to me is that McCarthy's opinion has Fed Ed's fingerprints all over it. The last thing Fed Ed wants is to see someone from Council appointed to his old job. They called on him to resign, so he'd rather see a former city vendor and contributor like Charlie Thiel in there, who could be controlled by him and lobbyist Jennifer Mann.

It's also "plainly clear" to me that McCarthy's appointment by the now guilty Mayor should be rejected by Council. Fed Ed's successor should be chosen from the ranks of the Council who stood up to him.

This means Ray O'Connell.

Ray's main message? It's the same one he's had since he first ran for City Council. "We, as a City, are only as strong as the School District, and the School District is only as strong as the City."  He said our children and their growth are "vital components" to the City's success. He claimed that 17,000 students in Allentown, or 89%, are from low income families. This is exacerbated by a transient rate of 40%. He described children who attend all four middle schools in the course of one year. "That is unacceptable, totally unacceptable," he said.

Though he believes the school district has made strides, "the city government has failed. We cannot let this continue."

O'Connell believes that the best way for the City and school district to turn things around is through "school-based community revitalization." His plan is to develop areas around the schools and the quality of life for people in those neighborhoods.

"Neighborhoods created this City. East Side. West End. South Side. Northeast. They created this City."

The school district plans to open two schools in 2020. "We need to work with developers to ensure that these schools are built to a healthy standard of living,." he said. Corner groceries.Mentor programs."We would work with the school district to ensure these needs are met. ... We need to come together"

At a school-based community revitalization program in Baltimore, O'Connell noted that state reading standards went from 19% to 78% in five years.

"We can do it here. We do not have dumb children. We need to give them the resources.We need to be with them. We need to give the parents the resources. Every parent I met over the years - they want to do the best for their children. They love their children. They don't have the resources. We, the City and school district, need to bond to give them the resources"

He said that as important as the downtown revitalization is, "we cannot turn our backs" on the rest of the City. "We have to develop the South Side, East Side, Northeast."

"Too many children have not seen success. You grow and you learn from success."

Strong neighborhoods plus strong schools equals a strong city."

You will see Ray O'Connell, Luiz Garcia and Daryl Hendricks at athletic events for these kids like summer basketball and high school games. There is a corps of adults who already are hard at work as mentors. People like Toomey Anderson and Glenn Klein, the most interesting man in the world.

Whoever is appointed faces a tough job because city finances are a mess  Fed Ed actually ignored his most important responsibility as Mayor - public safety. The police and fire departments need to have the equipment they need to keep you safe.

The person best suited to be Mayor is the one who should have won the primary - Ray O'Connell.

Girls' Basketball is Different, But Exciting and Empowering

Traffic was terrible coming from Philly on Friday night, as anyone who has the misfortune to commute could tell you. I doubt anyone at Olney Charter commutes to the Lehigh Valley, so they were taken by surprise and arrived late for the opening round of the state tournament at Freedom High School. To make matters worse, they were up against a very strong Easton Area High School's Girls Basketball team, which is ranked 12th among big schools (6A) statewide and was early. Olney was still given the time needed to warm up, but it probably made no difference. Easton is much bigger and faster. The Lady Rovers had no trouble dispatching Olney, 67-22.

I've watched about five girls' basketball games this year. Contrary to the popular conception, they have been competitive games But what I liked about Easton, led by Leanna Deegan, is that they seem to be really enjoying themselves out there. They're trying to win, but they're having fun, too.

Leanna Deegan by herself might be a reason to watch girls' basketball. As she draws closer to the 1,000 point mark, it amazes me that this Lafayette-bound senior plays two other sports - field hockey and volleyball. Other exciting basketball players that will be around next year. are Taliyah Medina, a Bethlehem Catholic sophomore, and Emily Vaughan, an Allentown Central Catholic freshman.

Girls' basketball is a bit slower, and that is a blessing to me. I try to keep track of assists, steals, rebounds, turnovers and missed shots. I would completely blow that task later Friday night when the Allentown Central Catholic and Greencastle boys' teams faced each other. But it was easier to do with the girls' teams.

There's another difference. The girls are a little less physical.

I've seen Dat Lambert, Chad Kratzer and Jay Vaughan get knocked into New Jersey as they try to make plays. For Keeshawn "the beast" Kelman and Kevin Kern, it's even worse. Those guys are under the boards and are constantly getting nailed with elbows and pokes.But they drive on. An eye can be dangling from Kern's socket and he'll just shove it back in and play.

But on Friday night, when an Easton player tripped over an Olney player, she began to cry. I don't think she was hurt. She was embarrassed.

The final difference is in attire. One of the Olney girls had donned a hijab. Nike has managed to find a way to make them without the safety pins or other details that might harm other players. I heard no one say a word about it, either, which is a hopeful sign of religious tolerance.

What girls' basketball does is empower these young ladies. If they excel in basketball, they can excel in math and science, too.

14 District XI Basketball Teams Still Standing in States

Politicians must have been barred from playing any role in drawing up the PIAA district map that governs high school sports. The Lehigh Valley is part of District 11 and includes Lehigh, Northampton, Monroe, Carboin and Schuylkill Counties. Over the weekend, the first round of games in the state championship basketball tournaments was played. After the last buzzer sounded, 14 of them are still standing and will participate in the "sweet sixteen" of their respective divisions.

I am listing them below with their state rank. This is determined by MaxPreps, and is based on wins and quality wins.  District XI can boast two boys' teams and six girls' teams included in the top ten of their respective divisions 

Boys' Basketball:

2A: Moravian Academy (#21) will face Northwest (Shickshinny) (#44) on Wednesday night.

3A: Notre Dame Green Pond (#33) will play Bishop McDevitt (#16) Wednesday night.

4A: Bethlehem Catholic (#3) will face Conwell-Egan (#29) Tuesday night

5A: Allentown Central Catholic High School (#7) will play Dallas High School (not the Cowboys) (#21) Tuesday night @ Hazleton High School, 8 pm. .

(Bangor was sadly eliminated by Lampeter-Strasburg, 54-42, on Friday night.)

6A: Pocono Mtn West (#48), after beating Chambersburg by just 1 point, will play Hazleton (#8) on Wednesday night.

(The three other District XI teams were eliminated. East Stroudsburg South fell to Neshaminy, 62-47;  Northampton lost a heartbreaker to St. Joe's Prep, 62-57); and Emmaus was dominated by Central Bucks West, 53-35.)

Girls' Basketball:

2A: Mahanoy Area (#1) will play Sacred Heart Academy (#24) Tuesday night

Minersville (#3) will play Old Forge (#26) Tuesday night.

3A: North Schuylkill (#1) will play Imhotep Charter (#9) Tuesday night.

4A: Allentown Central Catholic (#14), which defeated Lewisburg with a 3-point buzzer beater by freshman Emily Vaughan, will play Lancaster Catholic (#1) Wednesday night.

Bethlehem Catholic (#2) will play Bonner-Prendergast (#16) on Wednesday night.  .

5A: Southern Lehigh (#6) will play Lampeter-Strasburg (#13) Wednesday night.

6A: Easton (#12) will play Souderton (#2) Tuesday night. (I had the privilege of watching Leeana Deegan play on Friday night. What struck me about her and the entire Easton team is that they are really having fun.

Freedom (#5) faces Abington (#9) Tuesday night.

William Allen (#33) will play Central Dauphin (#13) Tuesday night.

(Nazareth was eliminated by Council Rock North, 47-34.)

Troll Warning

As regular readers of this blog know, I attract a lot of cRaZies. I'd say these are just jealous people, but it's probably because I'm a little touched myself  Over the weekend, I imposed comment moderation and refused to permit anonymous comments. There's a fellow who comes on this blog regularly, particularly after he's had a few, to attack a local judge. He also attacks the family members of this judge. He's an ugly man who regularly insults the judge with ethnic slurs. Why he uses my blog to do this is a mystery Though he never signs his comments, I know who he is. I am in the process of doing something about him. In the meantime, I refuse to prevent others from commenting on issues as they see fit. If you see something that looks like it is from him or another troll, just ignore it.I will delete the comment promptly.