EASTON, Pa. – Northampton County Council voted Thursday to oppose a change in statewide judicial elections, though one member said the resolution is probably headed for the trash.

Council voted 7-2 to express opposition to Pennsylvania House Bill 38, which would create voting districts for the state Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts. Those 31 judges are currently elected through a statewide vote.

"There are a lot of unintended consequences to such legislation," said Councilmember Tara Zrinski. She warned of gerrymandering of judicial districts and undue legislative influence on the courts.

Zrinski also said there will be no referendum to amend the state constitution in the spring primary, but it could be an issue on the fall ballot.

Councilmember Ron Heckman supported the resolution against HB 38, but added that it is just an expression by council to state legislators and carries no authority.

"Our resolution doesn't really have any power," Heckman said. "I think most of our resolutions end up in garbage cans."

Councilmember John Cusick described HB 38 as "an ill-conceived attempt to bring some accountability to the judicial branch."

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner has spoken out earlier against symbolic resolutions, but voted with the majority Thursday, along with Cusick, Zrinski, Heckman, Kevin Lott, William McGee and Kerry Myers. Margaret Ferraro and Thomas Giovanni were opposed.  

Other business

Council discussed the 2021 goals of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, a lobbying organization that represents commissioners and other administrators in the state's 67 counties.

An error was found in the draft of CCAP's goals during a 45-minute discussion, and a vote on supporting the proposal was delayed.

Council also voted unanimously to accept a memorial bench in honor of Josh Fulmer, an attorney who died suddenly in September 2020. Fulmer's family will donate the bench for the grounds outside the government center in Easton.

"He was a good guy and he'll certainly be missed," Cusick said. "I'm sorry for his family's loss."

Fulmer served council as legal adviser at times when he was in a law partnership with former solicitor Philip Lauer, Cusick said.

In other items, County Executive Lamont McClure said Northampton's pension fund is up to $491 million. The fund had a market value of $424 million at the end of June 2020, according to minutes of the county's Retirement Board, and has increased about 16% since then.

Bethlehem native John Spagnola of Public Financial Management, Philadelphia, advises the county on investments, McClure said. Spagnola attended Bethlehem Catholic High School and is a former Philadelphia Eagle.

The pension fund's growth allowed the county to give retirees a 0.4% cost-of-living increase, which is the maximum allowed this year, McClure said. 

Council's next meeting will be Feb. 18.

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