Bethlehem Press

Monday, August 20, 2018

NORCO-County to require apprentice programs

Tuesday, May 29, 2018 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Northampton County Council voted 7-1 at their May 17 meeting to require all contractors and subcontractors who perform any county works project valued at $250,000 or more to meet certain basic qualifications, including the establishment of a Class A apprenticeship program.

Matt Dietz was the sole No vote, and Peg Ferraro was absent.

Common in Europe, apprenticeships are becoming popular in the United States. They allow young people in the workforce to learn a trade and make a living wage without being shackled by student debt. Council member Bill McGee, who is also a union agent, made apprenticeships and trade vocations a cornerstone of his campaign last year. They were even touted by Congressional candidate Marty Nothstein during the Republican debate, and Congressman Charlie Dent has on numerous occasions spoken of the need to develop skilled labor. But Council member Matt Dietz argued that imposing a requirement of a Class A apprenticeship program was unfair. He said it would hurt small, family-run businesses and would give union contractors an unfair advantage. He pointed out that Ken Kraft and Bill McGee, who drafted the ordinance, are both union agents.

McGee told Dietz that some nonunion contractors have apprenticeship programs, too, but Dietz was still suspicious. Tara Zrinsky proposed amending the ordinance to require that contractors have either an apprentice program or “its equivalent,” but that brought questions of what would be “equivalent.” Her proposal failed 4-4, with Kraft, McGee, Lori Vargo Heffner and Ron Heckman voting No.

It was a tough night for Matt Dietz. He was the sole No vote on the Apprenticeship requirement and the sole Yes vote on a proposal to give voters have the final say if and when Northampton County decides to borrow money for a private ventures like a baseball stadium or convention center. For over a year, he has lobbied to give voters this veto power. Lehigh County’s electorate approved this change in 2013. But there will be no referendum in Northampton County. Dietz was unable to persuade even one Council member to join him as a co-sponsor. Since the Home Rule Charter requires two sponsors to even introduce an ordinance, his plan failed.

“I have a big problem with this,” said Council President Ken Kraft at a Committee hearing the previous day. “We’re a representative democracy,” he argued, noting that the voters elect Council to make these decisions. Executive Lamont McClure said he understood what Dietz was trying to do and could never see himself voting to incur debt for a private entity. But he added that that option should exist in Council if a heavy hitter like the Yankees or the stock exchange wanted to relocate to the Lehigh Valley.

“I would hate to see that opportunity lost in a low turnout No referendum,” he reasoned.

He added he would oppose any debt to bring the Mets here.

In other business, Council learned that Area Agency on Aging Director John Mehler is retiring after 43 years of service to Northampton County. His retirement will become effective on June 7. Zrinski observed that Mehler has been employed by the county longer than she has been alive.

In good news, Council learned from Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski that the state has signed off on 11 new positions for Children, Youth and families, effective July 1. Beefing up that staff has been a top priority for Executive McClure.

Finally, Council heard from drone hobbyist Gus DeArmas. He has enjoyed flying his drone at Louise Moore Park, where there are no power lines.But a park attendant recently informed him that drones are forbidden in the park. DeArmas noted that people can fly kites or throw balls in a park, and flying drones responsibly should be permitted.

Matt Dietz, a commercial pilot, began discussing the matter and also said that perhaps it should be permitted for people who receive certificates from the FAA. DeArmas suggested that certain areas could be set aside for drone take offs and landings. No one seemed to know what the park rules require, so Kraft appointed Dietz to head up a newly created drone committee to look into the question and come up with a proposal.