Lehigh Valley

County looks to buy out of swaption

EASTON, Pa. - Northampton County Council hired a Philadelphia lawyer Thursday night to help the county buy its way out of a costly investment deal  known as swaption.

Jonathan Lichtenstein of Cozen O'Connor could earn as much $55,000 for his work on the $25 million buyout, which council narrowly approved March 1 by a 5-4 vote.

The 8-1 vote to hire Lichtenstein was not without some controversy. Council member Lamont McClure Jr. insisted that a local law firm could have done the work, and perhaps more cheaply.

Assistant County Solicitor Jill Mancini said no local firm was capable of doing the job "because of the complexity of the transaction."

She said Cozen O'Connor has "extraordinary credentials" that could save the county up to $1 million, because the firm will be ready to act quickly to make the buyout at the most advantageous time. "It's now a matter of timing, and timing is of the essence," Mancini said.

Even though council member Robert Werner backed up Mancini's claim, McClure remained skeptical. "There are local firms who can do this," he said. "We should seriously take a look at keeping this work at home."

In other business, council directed human services director to find out how many people at the Gracedale nursing home will be affected by the new voter photo ID law signed Wednesday by Governor Tom Corbett.

McClure suggested that the sheriff's office might arrange to take photos for Gracedale residents who want ID cards so they can vote.

Council member Kenneth Kraft noted the new photo ID rules will be part of poll workers' training sessions for the upcoming presidential election.

Council president John Cusick said, "I think we'll have long lines [at the polls] in November."

Council also introduced a resolution to buy a warehouse in Forks Township for $750,000 that will be converted into the county archives building.

County Executive John Stoffa estimates the project will cost a total of $2.2 million.

A public hearing on the purchase will be held at council's April 4 meeting.

The Northampton County Archives building was demolished in 2004 as part of a Northampton County Prison expansion project. The county is currently paying $125,000 a year to store more than 18,000 cartons of documents at Iron Mountain, an information services company in Allentown.

Council approved a $780,877 contract with its IT services provider, Affiliated Computer Services, to replace switches that transfer data from one unit to another. "The switches are eight years old, and they've reached the end of their life," said company representative Al Jordan.

Council also voted to give $700 to the sheriff's department for the annual Easter egg hunt at Louise W. Moore Park in Nazareth. The egg hunt is for the children and families of county employees.

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