Friday, November 17, 2017

St. Pat's Bazaar, Sweet Charity, and ways you can help your town for the holidays

Thanksgiving, the official beginning to the end-of-year holidays, is less than a week away. You can make a table decoration at the library today, or visit St. Pat's bazaar this weekend to get in the mood. And at the end of this Diary entry are two opportunities to do something for Norristown's less-fortunate this season. Get involved.

Friday, November 17, 11 am-1 pm at Norristown Library. Make your very own Thanksgiving table decoration from local, natural materials. Artist Gary Fischer will help you make your own table decoration with locally-sourced natural materials including dried leaves, vines, grasses, seed pods and beautiful bittersweet. We'll provide everything you need. Call or drop by the Front Desk to register. SPACES ARE LIMITED. Contact Cliff Hirst, 610-278-5100 x0, cliffhirstmnl@gmail.com.

Friday, 5-8:30 pm and Saturday, 10 am-8 pm, St. Patrick's Church Christmas Bazaar. Plan to come for a meal of homemade soul food and/or Mexican food. Lots of crafts, gifts, jewelry, candy, games, etc. Silent auction and raffle baskets. Santa! Dancers at 6:30 pm Friday, Carolers at 1 pm Saturday, plus other entertainment.

Friday, 6-8 pm at Alfredo's Restaurant. Norristown Welcome Committee meeting. The Committee is developing a Welcome Packet to be given to all new residents. If you're interested contact Denise Hall at poboxhall@gmail.com.

Friday and Saturday, 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm at Centre Theater. Last weekend for "Sweet Charity" by the King of Prussia Players. Info at this link.

Saturday, 9 pm-midnight at Five Saints Distillery (E Main and Green Sts.). Wes Johnson will perform.

Tuesday (and all Tuesdays in November), 6-7:45 pm, Norristown Library. Career Workshops. Local career coach Lynn Carroll will share her expertise and enthusiasm with you in a series of workshops that will be helpful to job seekers at all skill levels and in all industries. This week Build Your Network. Register at www.lynncareercoach.com/events.

Tuesday, 6:30 pm, Council Workshop. Municipal Hall.

Wednesday, 1 pm at Norristown Library. FREE movie. "The Big Sick"~a romantic comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan and Ray Romano. Rated R. Drop in.

Thursday and Friday, Municipal offices closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. Library is closed on Thursday.

Next Saturday, November 25, is Small Business Saturday. Please give Norristown's small businesses your patronage for your holiday food, spirits, gifts, holiday hair-dos, etc. Remember, spending your bucks within N-town's borders boosts our town's economy. Going to the mall doesn't.

The Norristown Police Department will once more be doing Seven Days Before Christmas, where they donate to the neediest families in Norristown. You can nominate a family at this link. Monetary donations can be made by mailing your check to the Norristown Police Foundation, 235 E. Airy St, Norristown, PA 19401. Donations of toys and other gifts, and gift cards can be brought to the Police entrance in the rear of 235 E. Airy. DEADLINE is December 1.

On Wednesday, December 13, the Lt. Patty Simons Food Drive will be gathering at Elmwood Park Zoo and they'll need volunteers anytime between 8 am-11 pm to help collect, sort, and box donated nonperishable goods for this years drive. Heated tents, food and a DJ will make the volunteer time enjoyable. Please come and help.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Craft Fair, Theater, FREE stuff

Chilly weather has arrived, reminding us that the holidays are coming up, which means food and clothing drives as well as crafts for Thanksgiving and beyond. You can start dropping off non-perishable food items for the annual Lt. Patty Simmons Food Drive this week at Municipal Hall, Five Saints Distilling, Norristown Library, Piazza Family Market (247 Lafayette) or Police and Fire Depts around Montgomery County. Crafts can be found at Selma Mansion's Craft Fair on Saturday, or make some of your own at the library next Friday.

Friday, November 10, Municipal offices will be closed (for Veterans Day).

Friday and Saturday, 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm at Centre Theater. "Sweet Charity" by the King of Prussia Players continues. Will run weekends through Nov 19. Info at this link. 

Saturday, 9 am-3:30 pm at Selma Mansion (1301 W Airy) Norristown Preservation Society's Annual Holiday Craft Fair, featuring gifts and decorations for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other December holidays, such as jewelry, candles, homemade items, candy, bath items, baked goods, and more. Raffle baskets. Santa! Historical Harmonies will sing carols (and maybe some drinking songs!) from 10 am to noon. The event is free and open to the public. All profits from the sale of vendor spaces go towards the restoration and maintenance of Selma Mansion.

Saturday, 11 am-1 pm at Cecil and Grace Soup Kitchen, 521 Church St. A November to Remember Event. Healthy hot lunch, warm hats, gloves, and socks (adults and kids) as well as hot chocolate, FREE. Sponsored by Alpha Kappa Alpha, Advocates Against Hunger and Einstein Medical Center.

Saturday, 8 pm-midnight at Five Saints Distillery (E Main and Green Sts.). Brian Horoho will perform.

Monday, 4 pm and 7 pm, Eisenhower School, Markley and Coolidge. 2018-19 NASD Budget Process Forum. Come participate in the process of setting the schools budget for next year. Learn how your schools get funded. Attend either session.

Tuesday (and all Tuesdays in November), 6-7:45 pm, Norristown Library. Career Workshops. Local career coach Lynn Carroll will share her expertise and enthusiasm with you in a series of workshops that will be helpful to job seekers at all skill levels and in all industries. This week Tell Your Story.  Info at this link. 

Tuesday, 7 pm, Planning Commission meeting. Municipal Hall.

Wednesday, 5-8 pm, Municipal Hall. Public Hearing for Septa Regional Rail to King of Prussia. 5-6 pm Open house and refreshments, 6 pm presentation, 6-8 pm, public comment.

Thursday, 6-8 pm at Municipal Hall, Council Chambers. Law Enforcement Explorers Program Open House for students ages 14-20. Come learn about a career in law enforcement. Questions: Captain Rich Clowser, NPD, at 610-270-0496 or rclowser@norristown.org.

Next Friday, November 17, 11 am- 1 pm at Norristown Library. Make your very own Thanksgiving table decoration from local, natural materials. Artist Gary Fischer will help you make your own table decoration with locally-sourced natural materials including dried leaves, vines, grasses, seed pods and beautiful bittersweet. We'll provide everything you need. Call or drop by the Front Desk to register. SPACES ARE LIMITED. Contact Cliff Hirst, 610-278-5100 x0, cliffhirstmnl@gmail.com.

Next Friday, 5-8:30 pm and Saturday, 10 am-8 pm, St. Patrick's Church Christmas Bazaar. Plan to come for a meal of homemade soul food and Mexican food. Silent auction and raffle baskets. Santa! Dancers at 6:30 pm Friday, Carolers at 1 pm Saturday, plus other entertainment.

A month from now, on Wednesday, December 13, the Lt. Patty Simons Food Drive will be gathering at Elmwood Park Zoo and they'll need volunteers anytime between 8 am-11 pm to help collect, sort, and box donated nonperishable goods for this years drive. Heated tents, food and a DJ will make the volunteer time enjoyable. Please come and help.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Election, Theater, Comedy, FREE Library Programs

Good news this week ~ CONGRATS to Theatre Horizon for winning 2 Barrymore Awards for their 2016-2017 season. Also, I want to see all you registered voters out for election day this week. Don't let the weather or anything else stop you. Send a message that everyone in N-town cares about their government. Voter info can be found at vote411.org or scroll down here on my blog and read the previous entries for this week.

From Nov 1 through 15, Stewart Middle School will be collecting wearable clothing, shoes, belts, handbags, linens, stuffed animals and hard toys. They'll receive money for each pound of goods they collect. Place items in tightly tied plastic bags drop off in the rear of the building. A sign will be posted on the drop-off door.

Friday and Saturday, Nov 3 and 4, 8 pm at Centre Theater. "Sweet Charity" by the King of Prussia Players opens. Will run weekends through Nov 19. Info at this link.

Saturday, starting at 8 am, Reformed Church, 1700 W Main, 5K Run for Immigrant Rights. Info at www.WeAreOneResistHate.com.

Saturday 9-10 am at Norristown Library. NCIA (Norristown Citizens in Action) is forming a Welcome Committee. The goal is to create a cost-effective, useful, welcome package that is thoughtful, intentional and informs newcomers to Norristown. The scope of this initiative is for homeowners, renters and businesses and will be implemented in phases. Bring your enthusiasm, ideas, and "can do" spirit.

Saturday, 9 pm-midnight at Five Saints Distillery (E Main and Green Sts.). Peggy Kellar will perform.

Sunday, 2-5 pm, Elmwood Park Zoo. FREE admission for Norristown residents with ID.

TUESDAY, 7 am-8 pm at your polling place. Election Day. (FREE admission, but preregistration required.) Polling locations and sample ballots at this link.

Tuesday, 2 pm at Norristown Library. Thanksgiving Craft Fun for children, grades K-6. Make some festive holiday-themed crafts. Kids under age 8 must be accompanied by an adult. Drop in.


Tuesday, 3:30-5 pm at Norristown Library. Create Club for Teens (ages 10+). Monthly arts and crafts. This week's club: creating temporary tattoos. No registration required.

Tuesday (and all Tuesdays in November), 6-7:45 pm, Norristown Library. Career Workshops. This week Find Your Dream Job. www.lynncareercoach.com/events.
Tuesday, 7 pm, Five Saints Distillery, Laugh Out Loud Comedy Showcase. Doors open at 6 pm. $7 presale, $10 at door. Info at 701-314-2147.

Wednesday, 7:30 pm, Council meeting. Municipal Hall.

Thursday, 9-10:30 am, Human Services Center (1430 Dekalb St). ICN presents Opiod Update. For info, contact Vivian Schorle, icn@icnconnections.org

Next Friday, November 10, Municipal offices will be closed (Veterans Day).
Next Saturday, 9 am-3:30 pm at Selma Mansion (1301 W Airy) Norristown Preservation Society's Annual Holiday Craft Fair, featuring gifts and decorations for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other December holidays, such as jewelry, candles, homemade items, candy, bath items, baked goods, and more. Raffle baskets. Santa! Historical Harmonies will sing carols from 10 am to noon. The event is free and open to the public. All profits from the sale of vendor spaces go towards the restoration and maintenance of Selma Mansion.


Next Saturday, 11 am-1 pm at Cecil and Grace Soup Kitchen, 521 Church St. A November to Remember Event. We will be offering a healthy hot lunch, warm hats, gloves, and socks (adults and kids) as well as hot chocolate, FREE. Sponsored byAlpha Kappa Alpha, Advocates Against Hunger and Einstein Medical Center.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Common Pleas Court Judge Candidates

Several different judge candidates appear on the ballot this election. I’m only going to summarize the Common Pleas Court candidates. Information for the others can be found at www.vote411.org. Put in your address, click Enter, then click on “Get personalized information on candidates and issues.”

Judges of the Court of Common Pleas are the ones who try most criminal and civil cases. If you’re called for jury duty in Norristown, those trials are handled by these judges. They serve 10-year terms. You’ll vote for no more than 2 candidates.

All three candidates are lawyers, of course. I put them in alphabetical order by their last name.

WENDY G. ROTHSTEIN of Plymouth is with the law firm of Fox, Rothschild, LLP and has been a respected trial attorney in Montgomery County. She’s running on both Republican and Democratic tickets. She was born in Norristown and spent her early school years. Other Norristown connections: she’s a board member of the Elmwood Park Zoo, and also chaired the Liberty in the Law Program, facilitating visits of attorneys and judges to 6th grade classes in the Norristown Area School District.

JEFFERY SALTZ is running as a Democrat. He’s from Lower Merion and runs his own law firm in Center City Philadelphia. He has 30 years of courtroom experience, including in Montgomery County.

JOSEPH P WALSH, Republican, is from Montgomery Township (near Lansdale). He was appointed as a Common Pleas Court Judge last September to fill a vacancy. He’s now running for a full term.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Questions on the Ballot

On the far right side of the ballot next Tuesday, you’ll see 5 questions. Four have to do with whether or not the judges below should retain their offices for another term:

THOMAS SAYLOR – Currently chief justice of the PA Supreme Court, which he’s served on for 20 years. Republican, age 71 in December.
DEBRA TODD -  Democrat, age 60. Has served 10 years on the PA Supreme Court.
JACQUELINE O. SHOGAN – Republican, age 64.  Has served on the PA Superior Court for 10 years.
THOMAS M. DELRICCI has been a Judge of the Common Pleas Court of Montgomery County for 20 years. Currently President Judge. Age 62. I couldn’t find his party affiliation anywhere, but both parties are endorsing his retention.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The 5th question is for a proposed amendment to the PA Constitution about Homestead Exclusions to your Property Tax Assessment. Here’s the wording:

“Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law?”

If you’re like most of us, you didn’t understand a word of it. There’s supposed to be a “plain English” explanation posted in all polling places next Tuesday. I’ve heard though, that the “plain English” wording isn’t much better. And do you really want to be trying to wrap your brain around the meaning at the last minute?

Here’s what I think it does and doesn’t mean.

* It absolutely DOES NOT mean your property taxes will be lowered or eliminated. *

The current law says that local authorities (that is, counties or school boards or townships) can grant homestead property tax exclusion on your assessment, up to 50%. Most homeowners get one. Look on your school tax bill under “Homestead”. Mine lowers my assessment about 8.5% and I have a fairly modest home. I don’t know who, if anyone, gets 50% off. If anyone does, I hope they’re poorer than me and not richer.

The ballot question asks whether the percentage should be changed to 100%. That is, should your local authority be allowed to lower assessments by up to 100%. Does this mean this would actually happen? No.

The main reason this probably won’t happen is that lowered property taxes MUST be made up elsewhere. You might get higher income taxes, with a portion going to school tax, or a new local sales tax in addition to the state sales tax. Think about how this shifts the tax burden.

A higher income tax would shift it off seniors and onto working people. You might think that’s fairer and maybe it is. Working people tend to be the parents with kids in our schools, or in charter schools supported by our district. But there are lots of single working people with no children living in the district who might move to get away from a higher income tax, thus lowering other tax income. And you might end up with the same homestead exclusion on your house while others get a better percentage, PLUS having to pay a higher income tax.

A new sales tax would depend on what exactly was taxed. Food? Clothing? Other necessities? Or only luxury items? If necessities, then every taxpayer would support the schools, whether they have kids or not, but at an unequal ratio to their income. The poor would likely have a greater percentage of burden than the wealthy. But, really, could a reasonable sales tax raise enough money to fund our schools? Probably not. And the implementation and enforcement of it would likely cost more than other methods. Again, you might end up paying the same in property taxes AND paying a sales tax.

What would be better, I think, is if the PA General Assembly raised funding for education back to its old levels and quit playing these sorts of games, trying to appease PA’s wealthy estate owners, setting rich folks against the poor and middle class. And putting the burden of ultimate blame on local authorities instead of on the state legislature, who created the funding mess in the first place.

I’d recommend voting NO on this question, because it’s too misleading, too hard to understand, and smacks of political manipulation.



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

School Board Candidates

Here are the seven candidates running for School Board, listed on the ballot as Norristown Area School Director. You’ll vote for no more than four. Their comments below came from the candidate’s forum last spring. They were all asked what issues they believed most important for the position. Here are their answers (alphabetical order, to be fair). Remember, you can also write-in candidates.

SHAE ASHE is running as a Democrat. He listed three issues that he wants to work on: special needs funding, which Congress keeps threatening to cut off every time they talk about healthcare; the NASD budget; and the false perception that NASD schools are not as good as other districts. Shae, as most of you know, founded The Norristown Project and has worked most of his life in some way or other with the Montco OIC. He now works for Congressman Brendan Boyle and has a degree in finance.

KATHLEEN BELLO is running as a Republican. She also listed false perceptions and poor attitudes as a main issue, as well as poor healthcare and nutrition effecting the ability to learn. She was very positive about the district. She believes NASD’s diversity of staff, students and administration is our greatest strength. Her background is nursing, but she also taught at Central Montco, so she’s been in a classroom.

JOHN C. HOLLAND, Republican, said that drugs and gangs were the major issues, which he says he knows because he can see them from his house on Freedley St. (He seemed unaware that the police are in charge of these issues, not the NASD board, and that the NPD has juvenile officers in the schools.) He also said that students should be required to create peace posters for the Lions Club Contest. He’s retired.

TUREA HUTSON, Democrat, is currently on the School Board. Her issues were funding and educational mandates from the State and Federal levels, that the board and community needs to have realistic expectations given current funding, and that collaboration is important. She was an assistant teacher for 7 years and now is a manager for Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

JOHN MAXEY, Republican, said the main problems were lack of community support for the schools, lack of communication with the community, and high property taxes. He graduated Norristown High School a year ago and is currently a full-time college student at Temple.

MATT RIVERA, Democrat, is currently on the school board. He said he couldn’t “hyper-focus on any one issue.” Instead he told us, at length, that we should vote for his “team” (he, Shae Ashe, Turea Hutson and Jamila Winder are running as a team, which only means that they’re sharing campaign expenses ~ they still appear separately on the ballot and should be considered by the voters to be separate candidates. There are no running mates on the School Board). I wish I could tell you how he feels about issues facing the schools, but I can’t.

JAMILA WINDER, Democrat, also listed the poor perception of NASD as an issue, as well as the career and college readiness of the graduates. Said the School Board needs to advocate for the students. She’s an Executive Director at Laureate Online Education (part of Laureate Education Inc, the world’s largest for-profit college company, which operates colleges mainly outside of the US, according to Forbes). I personally believe her employment creates a conflict of interest that voters ought to question (that is, she earns money at an institution that recruits students from schools like Norristown High. Like a car dealer applying for a job on the board of a drivers’ school).

That’s it for School Board Candidates. The election is November 7, one week from today.

UPDATE: Jamila Winder sent me an email with this statement:

"While you are correct that Laureate Education is a for-profit education company, it will not be a conflict of interest because we do not recruit high school students. Walden University, who I work for, is designed to help working adults achieve the ultimate dream of earning a degree... I personally work to develop strategic partnerships with employers who wish to partner with Walden to support professional development initiatives."


Monday, October 30, 2017

Council-At-Large Candidates

Election Day is a week and a day away. Here is information about the candidates for Norristown Council-at-large. Two seats are up for grabs this time around and two candidates are on the ballot. If you live in District 1 or 3, you’ll also see your local district council rep on the ballot. All of them are running unopposed.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you ought to vote for them without giving any thought to their qualifications or experience. If you’re don’t think the incumbents have done a good job or don’t think the new candidate is qualified, don’t give them your vote. You can write in candidates for any office. Push the “Write-In” button in the far-right column beside the office (make sure you select the correct button ~ look at the numbers), then type in the name on the keypad below. Be careful you spell the name as close to correct as you can.


How do you know if the incumbents are doing their jobs? Here’s how I measure my council reps:

1. If I have a problem in my neighborhood, can I get hold of my council rep or one of the council-at-large reps? Does action follow my communication or do I just get unreasonable excuses? (I’m willing to consider reasonable explanations, but I can also recognize a run-around when I hear it.)

2. Does my council rep or any of the others make any kind of effort to communicate or get to know their constituents even when we don’t have a specific complaint? (for instance, well-publicized Town Hall meetings, social media communications (and not only the day before or day of the event), etc.) Do they show up at town events? Do they make a real effort to update us on big projects (and not only after they’re a done deal)? Personally, I prefer honest updates from the reps themselves, not dog-and-pony shows from developers where questions and concerns are always glossed over or even lied about.

3. Do my council reps ask questions at their meetings? Do they seem to make an effort to truly understand what they’re voting on? Do they educate the public about the issues? (Frankly, this current council, other than to put out meeting agendas (which are usually so late, you can’t plan to get to a meeting for an important issue)—no, they don’t always communicate what they’re doing and don’t try to reach the widest audience when they do try to communicate. I miss the days of regular 3rd district newsletters and meetings.) I want council reps who don’t simply allow non-elected municipal employees to dictate policy and tell them how to vote, but who understand the issues themselves and make up their own minds.

That said, here are the candidates for Council-at-large. They’re both Democrats. No Republicans ran in the primary. The information beside each candidate was gleaned from their remarks at a candidates’ forum last May.

DERRICK PERRY: Derrick is the current Vice President of Council. He would like to change the attitudes about Norristown, work on economic development, keep our AA Bond Rating, and get residents to be involved more, both in voting and in “showing up” (I think he meant for meetings). One thing I will say for Derrick, he’s one of the only council reps I can consistently get hold of. When I had 2 separate Public Works problems in my neighborhood the last 2 years, I let Derrick know and the problems were each addressed within 24 hours. He’s on Nextdoor.com and Facebook, and lets residents on both venues know he can help if they have a council-related problem. And I’ve frequently seen him (and his son) around town at events.

REBECCA SMITH:  She said would focus on development of vacant properties. She talked about creating a sustainable tax base and encourage homeownership by shifting taxes from residents to businesses, but then said she’d support small businesses (not sure how you can support them, yet raise their taxes at the same time). She said she supported safe neighborhoods through community policing, but then went on to quote crime stats that didn’t sound right, saying Norristown was one of the most dangerous communities in the country. I fact-checked her. One erroneous Patch article made this claim a few years ago, quoting questionable sources that didn’t cite their own sources. It’s fake news, but unfortunately, it's the first result you get if you google Norristown crime statistics. Ms. Smith apparently read only that article and never checked with Crime-Mapping (actually statistics, not hearsay) nor did she check Norristown.org which now lists real trends in our crime statistics based on Crime-Mapping, nor did she talk to Chief Talbot. My own opinion is that I don’t think I’d vote for anyone who repeats false rumors about Norristown at a public forum. We have enough trouble with our image.

There are your Council-at-large candidates. Tomorrow, School Board.