Fed Ed Paid Atiyeh $1.4 Million For Property Appraised at $580,000

Posted by Lehigh Valley Ramblings.

Abe Atiyeh a few years ago, in Bethlehem  zoning spat.

Around this time last year, colorful entrepreneur Abe Atiyeh purchased the assets of a company that has a billboard deal with Allentown at 13 different locations. It was a sudden turnaround. Previously, Abe had been on the warpath over this and several other matters, including the controversial Neighborhood Millionaire Improvement Zone. When news of peace broke, Mayor Edwin Pawlowski, aka Fed Ed, denied that there was any “deal that was made here, per se, and in any way, shape or form.”  But that was untrue. Atiyeh had hired Fed Ed’s political consultant Miked Fleck to be his business consultant.

On Friday, I told you that Fed Ed spent $1.4 million to buy two Atiyeh properties the City did not need. He walked away with a $999,000 capital gain that certainly would help him make the purchase. But guess what? Fed Ed actually paid Atiyeh $820,000 more than these properties were worth. The City’s own appraisal valued the two properties at just $580,000.

In paying Atiyeh nearly three times what these properties were actually worth it appears that Fed Ed deprived Allentown citizens of their right to honest services.In some contexts, this can be viewed as a federal crime.

Raymond C Geiger, Jr., who is a well-respected certified general appraiser, was hired by Allentown and submitted a report on January 23, 2014, a few months prior to the City’s purchase. (You can read it here). He valued the Basin Street property at $360,000 and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Highway property at $220,000. The City never bothered to get a second opinion.

Julio Guridy, Cynthia Mota and Edwin Pawlowski

Basin Street property – $360,000. – Geiger makes clear that the billboard easement on this property is not part of his valuation. Atiyeh first purchased the Basin St tract  in 1996 from RJ Gorman Railroad for $200,000. Over 18 years, he was unable to develop it. He sold it to Isaam Elias in 2005 for $350,000, but Elias was unable to do anything with it, either. He conveyed it back to Atiyeh in 2012 for $350,000, the same amount Abe had paid for the property.

Atiyeh provided a plan for a flea market at the site, but Geiger notes that “there is no evidence of demand for such use or the financial feasibility of such use. If it were a viable use, the question is why take eighteen years to develop it? No development plans have ever been approved.”

Geiger observes that the site is low-lying and “extremely flood prone.” Most of the land is “100% undevelopable.” Before doing anything on the property, it would need six feet or more of fill, compacting and a one-year settlement period.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Highway Property – $220,000. – Atiyeh purchased this old fertilizer company in 2007 for just $51,000, before the prior owner received an Act 2 release from environmental liability. That was subsequently obtained, and obviously makes the property more valuable than it was when Atiyeh bought it.

Geiger could see signage on the property soliciting “storage use.” In addition, Atiyeh provided him with plans for a three-story office building. Geiger thinks that use is unlikely. “Such use would compete directly with the rising offices in the NIZ and as such would not have a favorable cost-value relationship. I note, no development plans have ever been submitted or approved.”.

Like the Basin Street property, this one is also “extremely flood prone. Much of it is within the 100-year flood plain and 100% undevelopable. About two acres can be developed, but would require 10 feet of fill, compacting and a one-year waiting period. In Geiger’s view, development here is at a “disadvantageous cost-benefit.”

After receiving nearly three times what these properties are worth, Abe began throwing his money at anyone that Miked Fleck or Fed Ed directed him to support. He really has no choice. He has a three year contract for those billboards, and would like to see that contract renewed and perhaps expanded. So in some ways, Atiyeh is a victim here, too; If he does not pay, he does not play.

Fed Ed and Miked Fleck were the predators. The biggest victims, of course, are the people of Allentown. The Mayor and City Council both have a fiduciary duty to safeguard the public’s funds. City Council, with the exception of Jeanette Eichenwald, rubber stamped this proposal. I have no idea if they were provided with or looked at Geiger’s appraisal. In fact, Ray O’Connell actually complimented the Administration. Cynthia Mota, who may have worked for Atiyeh and testified on his behalf in a zoning dispute, voted in favor of the purchase.

The first duty of a public official should always be to the people. The Romans would say semper pro populus – always for the people. In Allentown, that has been perverted.

Others will decide whether this deprivation of the right to honest services is criminal. 

Allentown: Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Posted by Lehigh Valley Ramblings.

Someone asked that question in a comment yesterday.

One person answered,

“Great question. Molovinsky could probably write a thesis for us. However some social and political scientists point to two key turning points. The first (social) was the introduction of low income public housing in the city and subsequent ‘white flight.’ The other (political) would be the disastrous financial mismanagement during the Afflerbach administration.”

Despite the claim that some unidentified social and political scientists point to these two issues as key turning points in the City’s history, this person is wrong.

Low income public housing has been part of Allentown’s landscape since the 1930s. Hanover Acres and Riverview Terrace – now Overlook Park developed by Pennrose “We Love Ed” Properties- were some of the first public housing projects in the country and part of the Roosevelt “New Deal.” In fact, Eleanor Roosevelt cut the ribbon for Hanover Acres.

Project type public housing fell out of favor in the 1970s and 1980s and was replaced with scattered site, Section 8 contracts, that could be used anywhere if the economics were favorable to a property owner. Allentown and many of its landlords availed themselves of this program instead of allowing the Allentown Housing Authority to do more projects – except elderly high rises.

The same thing happened in many cities, but Allentown had a perfect storm of middle class flight – not just white – and vacant houses that were converted, because of lax zoning enforcement and permissive city codes, to inexpensive multi-family housing which became Section 8 subsidized.

The middle class started leaving Allentown because of the Allentown School District’s shortcomings as well as the sea change in demographics in the City’s neighborhoods, especially those in Center City. Allentown had a poverty problem, and the ability to fill rental housing with low-income tenants, subsidized by Section 8 contracts, just exacerbated the poverty problem in the neighborhoods.

While the neighborhoods and school system continued to decline, Allentown, like many other cities, focused all of its attention and resources on Hamilton Street and the Central Business District, ignoring the neighborhoods around them. We have learned nothing from the past, since the NIZ is more of the same, only on steroids. You can’t change a city solely by changing its Central Business District and commercial core.

As for the financial mismanagement under Mayor Roy Afflerbach, the seeds of financial ruin were planted long before Afflerbach became Mayor. The City Council and many before them have to share a lot of the blame by caving in to the Police and Fire unions, giving them anything they wanted because of fear and the mistaken idea that without a strong police force there could be no strong Central Business District and business community.

The final crushing blows were unsustainable pension plans for police, fire and even non-uniform city unions. Afflerbach and his City Council can be blamed for the last round of insane pension deals. Ed Pawlowski was there, too, but he has a short memory and hopes the public does, too. We are still not out of that hole and our water system was sold into bondage to help pay for the gluttonous city unions and their unconscionable pension plans – especially police.

Time will tell if the water lease is nothing more than another way to raise taxes without actually doing so. I could go on, but perhaps I should wait for that Molovinsky thesis.

Bethlehem Tp Wants Running Bamboo to Run Away

Posted by Lehigh Valley Ramblings.

Melissa Shafer and Tom Nolan review agenda

At their April 3 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted 4-0 to advertise changes to their Weeds and Noxious Vegetation ordinance that would require bamboo aficianodos to keep this plant from invading or growing onto adjoining or neighboring properties, usually by installing underground sheathing around what is actually a form of grass. Ordinances in 17 communities throughout Pennsylvania already ban or restrict running bamboo. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources lists this grass, which actually survived the Hiroshima bomb, as one of the fastest growing and most invasive flora in the world.

These concerns were brought to the Board’s attention at their last meeting by artist Sean Delonas, a former Page Six Cartoonist at The New York Post. But he was repeatedly interrupted by Commissioner Michael Hudak, who eventually stated “I’m done” and walked out of the meeting.

Hudak is apparently still done. He was absent from the April 3 meeting. But Commissioner Marty Zawarski was hjust getting started. He began the meeting by publicly apologizing to Delonas for the way that he was treated by Hudak. “[Delonas] was treated in a manner that I felt was inappropriate on so many levels … . I want to extend my apologies for what happened and I will try to make sure that no resident is treated like this again.”

Delonas thanked Commissioners, and informed them that he and his neighbor are working together to solve the bamboo problem. Tom Nolan hopes that the Ordinance will educate residents anout the danger of invasive bamboo.

In other business, Commissioners voted 4-0 to seek $50,000 in funding for a joint stormwater study with Freemansburg Borough. Half of this money is being sought from the Pa. Municipal Assistance Program. The other half is being requested from Northampton County’s newly created Community Investment partnership program.

Manager Melissa Shafer and Zawarski also reported on a recent trip to Lancaster, which is considered a model of successful stormwater reduction. Lancaster upgraded what it calls its “gray infrastructure,” which is what it calls its pipes and pumps. But Lancaster is also investing heavily in “green infrastructure” designed to reduce stormwater runoff. This includes the introduction of porous basketball courts and parking lots, as well as planting more trees.

County eliminates more than 40 jobs at Cedarbrook

Posted by 69News:.

More than 40 positions at Lehigh County’s Cedarbrook nursing homes are being eliminated in the next two weeks.

County executive Thomas Muller maintained eliminating the positions will not impact the quality of patient care, 

Most of the employees losing their jobs work in clerical/support positions.

Brad Osborne, chairman of the county commissioners, was told by the administration that 41 Cedarbrook employees will be losing their jobs.

He was told 45 positions are being eliminated, including four that already are vacant.

But Muller said only 41 positions are being eliminated and that eight of them already are vacant. By his count, 33 people will be out of work.

Muller said 17 of those people are full-time employees,13 are part-time and three are in a hybrid category called regular part-time. 

Osborne was informed about the job cuts Monday afternoon by Dan McCarthy, the county’s director of administration.

Osborne said the majority of Cedarbrook employees who will lose their jobs were being notified Monday.

Osborne said the announcement of job cuts at Cedarbrook caught him by surprise.

He said county commissioners play no role in staffing levels and day-to-day operations of the nursing homes.

Osborne believes the job cuts are being spurred in large part by a recent change in pharmaceutical services that includes a new “point-click-care” software program.

“At a commissioners’ meeting several months ago, Cedarbrook employees asked whether this service and program would result in job eliminations,” said Osborne. “The administration was coy and did not give a straight answer.” 

Osborne was told 25 union and 16 non-union positions are being eliminated. 

Muller said representatives of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union also were advised of the job cuts Monday. 

“I’m sure they were’t delighted, but they understand we’re trying to keep costs down,” said the executive. “They’ve been a damn good partner.”

Muller declined to estimate how much money the county will save by eliminating more than 40 positions at Cedabrook, but did say ultimately it will be “significant — a seven-figure reduction in costs.”

Osborne said he was given no specific reason for the cuts, other than that the administration has been evaluating operations at the nursing homes for the last year or two.

“We evaluate every one of our operations all the time,” said Muller.

Muller promised Cedabrook will continue “to maintain a high level of quality care for those who need the safety net.”

Osborne said he applauds every effort to increase efficiency and reduce costs, but added he is “troubled by the lack of transparency from Tom Muller and his administration. Every Lehigh County employee deserves honest treatment, and every good leader understands the lasting value of trust in relationships.” 

He added: “Our board will have questions relating to this.”

Osborne estimated a total of 625 people are employed in the two nursing homes, which are in South Whitehall and Fountain Hill.

Muller said Lehigh County has a total of 1,972 employees and that Cedarbrook workers comprise nearly 40 percent of that total workforce.

Muller explained the job eliminations at Cedarbrook “are part of our ongoing effort to reduce costs without impacting resident support.”

He added: “I give Terry Hollinger, our administrator, great credit for identifying cuts we could make without hurting quality of care.”

Muller said seven to the 41 positions that already are vacant at Cadarbrook were part-time and only one was full-time.

Whenever someone leaves, he said, the administration takes a hard look at that position to see if there is “a smarter way to work” without filling it.

The county administration and commissioners have been debating the future of Cedarbrook for more than a year. Muller is a Democrat and seven of the nine commissioners, including Osborne, are Republicans.

Exeter PD reaching out through Facebook

Posted by 69News:.

Exeter Township Police are turning up the heat on criminals through social media.

Officers are using their Facebook page to spread the word about crimes in the community like retail theft.

“We need help sometimes and we are not afraid to ask, hey can anyone help us identify this guy, we need a lead here,” said Officer Sean Fullerton, Exeter Township Police Department.

The department has ramped up its Facebook page over the last four months or so. It is posting everything from throw back Thursday pictures to memes.

But, officers said sharing pictures of retail theft suspects has been the most beneficial.

“We are going to use everything that we can in order to solve a case once. If we have a good picture of somebody, why not use it. We have had these things for years and we are clearing retails like left and right here,” said Fullerton.

Officer Sean Fullerton said a Facebook follower once identified someone in about 30 seconds.

The department has built up its followers to more than 3,600 people, becoming one of most followed police pages in Berks County.

The number of people viewing posts has been known to double to at least 6,800 people as the information gets shared across Facebook.

“It is a quality of life thing. Like small petty theft, nobody wants that. What is next, bigger theft and then there is more trouble. It is a great place to live and to work here so we really want to keep it that way,” said Fullerton.

The Facebook page is just one piece of the department’s effort to try and reach the community. They also plan on hosting meet and greets and other activities to let people get to know the officers.

It is all in an effort to show some positive things police can do in the community.

Man found shot, killed in south Reading neighborhood

Posted by 69News:.

Daylight led to a startling discovery on Reading’s south side Monday morning.

A motorist on Neversink Street, just north of Laurel Street, found a young man’s body shortly before 6:30 a.m.

The victim, Jaleel K. Amin, had been shot in the head, according to RPD investigators, who are treating his death as a homicide.

“It’s a sad tragedy,” said Jamie Harris, who lives on the block. “I know there’s more and more shootings going on. It’s someone’s son, someone’s brother and it’s sad.”

A Reading police crime scene unit and homicide investigators filled the block and spent the morning searching for clues.

Detectives said they are looking through surveillance video to get a better picture of what happened. They haven’t determined if Amin, 18, was actually shot where he was found or if he was wounded elsewhere and left at that location.

“We will try to go back in time a little bit and determine if there was anything else that was happening near that area that can give us any clues or ideas of what occurred,” said Chief Bill Heim, Reading Police Department.

“It’s getting wilder and wilder everyday,” said Luis Gonzalez, who lives in the city.

Now, this deadly shooting has some neighbors calling for more police.

“The only thing we need is more police going around,” said Domingo Velez, who has lived on the block for more than 30 years.

“It’s scary to raise children around that kind of stuff going on,” said Harris, who has three boys.

Police said they are following a lead in the case, but no arrests have been made. Anyone with information can call Crime Alert Berks County at 877-373-9913. A cash reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest.

Senior housing high-rise being partially evacuated

Posted by 69News:.

Monday night, Allentown Fire Department evacuated portions of a senior high-rise building after high carbon monoxide readings were found in some areas.

According to Capt. John Christopher, public information officer for the fire department, high carbon monoxide readings were found in some areas of the Episcopal House in the 1400 block of Walnut Street, at about 7:30 pm Monday.

Floors 1-11 were evacuated, displacing about 200 people, according Allentown Fire Chief Lee Laubach. Floors 12-20 were not impacted.  Chief Laubach also said the cause was a malfunctioning auxiliary boiler in the basement.

A LANTA bus was on site to provide displaced residents with an air conditioned location where they could wait until the building could be reoccupied. Ag Hall was also opened as a temporary shelter for residents.

By 9 pm, floors two and three were cleared and being reoccupied, Chief Laubach said.

Three people were taken by ambulance.  Chief Laubach also said one of those injuries was unrelated to the carbon monoxide emissions.  All of the injuries were minor.

The building is an independent living facility for senior citizens and is among the tallest structures in the Lehigh Valley.

Northampton DA wants new execution date for mass murderer

Posted by 69News:.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli wants a date set for the execution of convicted mass murderer Michael Ballard.

Ballard received the death penalty for killing four people in Northampton Borough back in 2010. His execution was stayed last year when a lawsuit was filed over the techniques used to put prisoners to death in Pennsylvania but that stay was lifted by a judge last month.

Today, Morganelli released a letter he wrote to the governor calling for him to set a date of execution. Earlier this year, Governor Wolf issued a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

New safety measures to be in place for Musikfest

Posted by 69News:.

Preparations are underway for the 32nd Musikfest.

Before upwards of one million people fill the streets of Bethlehem for the annual ten day musical festival, ArtsQuest and city officials announced safety enhancements for this year.

Police Chief Mark DiLuzio said, “We have a lot more technology out there on the law enforcement side. We have additional lighting up and down the Main Street area, and some back streets there.”

The safety improvements come after a challenging Musikfest 2014 for Bethlehem Police. Last year there were some serious incidents near the festival, including two shootings and shots fired. On festival grounds, police made 41 arrests, many of which were for public drunkenness.

This year there will be several additional surveillance cameras in the city’s historic district.

“The cameras will be monitored on site at Musikfest in a mobile command center. We have a secondary command center set up also on Main Street at Broad and Main,” said DiLuzio.

It’s welcome news to festival goers and those who work at businesses in the area.

“I think that’s a really good idea actually, especially considering we’re one of the last stores open at night so it can get a little intimidating since there’s a bunch of drunk people out,” said Adria Donegan, manager at The Attic. “It’s definitely going to feel a lot safer like walking to my car.”

Bob Lefever of Bridgewater, New Jersey, who attends the festival, said “I think it’s a good idea but I’ve never even seen anything that was any problems.”

He said, “You see people that are a little more fun loving, I guess, and they can be obnoxious, I guess, but nothing that really bothers anybody.”

Police will patrol in a number of ways, including on bicycles, motorcycles, and mounted patrol units. The department is also adding roving patrols to areas adjacent to the festival grounds.

Mark Demko with ArtsQuest said, “When you look at the city of Bethlehem and you look at Musikfest, this is really a very safe city and a very safe festival.”
The city also made upgrades to sidewalks and removed some trees on Main Street to make it easier for people to get around at Musikfest and all year long.

Palmer Twp. to close parks on weekends

Posted by 69News:.

Besieged by another round of complaints, Palmer Township Supervisors Monday night took the unusual step of closing Pen Pump Park to the public on weekends, effective this weekend and continuing through the end of the picnic season this fall.

The supervisors took the drastic step after hearing for the second week in a row that the park had been practically overrun by 500 or 600 party goers, mainly from New York and New Jersey, who allegedly blared music, tossed beer bottles and generally left the place a huge mess that took township crews hours to clean up.

“It looked like Dorney Park,” said Rich Moran, referring to the size of the crowd attracted to Bushkill Creek. He warned the supervisors the mixture of alcohol and water could result in someone getting hurt and the township finding itself in a lawsuit.

Melanie Christopher, who moved to the area from Bloomfield, N.J., said the trash reminded her of the aftermath of a ticker tape parade. “It was a huge mess,” she said, adding she took a walk by the park over the weekend and didn’t like what she saw.

“I was scared being down there,” she said.

Township Manager Chris Christman recommended the park be closed to the public during weekends and open only to people who have a permit to rent the pavilion, with no more than 200 people permitted.

Christman said the large crowds at the park are causing a serious health, safety and welfare problem.

Dave Colver, board chairman, said orange construction fencing will be placed around the park and extra police officers will be present, including one at the gate.

Colver said he visited the park over the weekend and what he saw was “not what we want down there, folk.”

Colver said the party goers and their “giant speakers” were “beyond what anyone should have to deal with.”

Several residents asked why all of a sudden the township has found itself overrun with hundreds out-of-state party goers headed for Pen Pump Park. Police Chief Larry Palmer said the township is just the latest stop in a moving party that operates through social media.

“It’s not isolated to our location,” Palmer said.

The township, which has operated the park about 50 years, rents the pavilion for $75 to $100 a day, depending on whether the permit is paid by a township resident or a non-resident.