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My Friend Mark

Let me tell you a story.

I’ve been working as an election worker since the primary of 2018, first as a Minority Inspector and then as a Judge of Election in Lower Saucon District 7.  In the Spring of 2022 the County Board of Elections asked me to switch to Saucon District 6 which I did.

When I contacted the person who would be working as the Machine Operator for District 6, it became clear rather quickly that he and I were on opposite sides of the political divide.  But as a Judge of Election, I don’t really care who you support or who you vote for as long as you do your job competently and with integrity.  Party politics has no place in the administration of our elections.  My team member agreed.

That first election and every election since he has been a competent team member, good at his job and good at making voters feel welcome.  He answers questions, even dumb ones, with grace and accurate assistance. 

At the end of each very loooooong election day, it is the responsibility of the Judge of Election to return all of the election materials to the County Courthouse in Easton.  To maintain ballot integrity, someone from the election team needs to accompany the Judge so that the election materials are never in the sole custody of any one person.  I had arranged for one of the other team members to accompany me at the end of that first primary in May 2022.  At the last minute, she decided she couldn’t do that because it had been a long day and she wanted to go home.  My Machine Operator immediately volunteered to ride shotgun so that we would meet the requirements for returning the election materials even though he hadn’t planned on it and it would add at least a full hour of time to a grueling day.  I was very grateful.

Fast forward to December 2022.  The Lower Saucon Township Council had set up a hearing for the rezoning of property owned by the Bethlehem Landfill, aka the Dump, to allow the massive expansion of the Dump.  I had joined forces with a number of other concerned township residents to organize community residents in opposition to the expansion since I have been an environmental advocate and professional for most of my life and I could see the horrors that the Dump expansion would bring.

We set our first community meeting for December 14 at the Mennonite church in Steel City.  I was surprised when I recognized my election team Machine Operator as he arrived for the meeting.  Turned out, his property is very close to the property that is threatened by the Dump expansion.  For residents like him and his wife, without huge amounts of excess financial resources, the only way to protect their financial interests is to join with other similarly threatened residents to pool resources to fight the multi-billion-dollar out-of-state corporation and our own township council which seemed intent on making it easy for Waste Connections to get what they wanted.

I had been livestreaming township council meetings since January 19, 2022, because the township had dragged their feet month after month, trying to avoid having to livestream meetings themselves.  It had become very obvious that they had no interest in letting township residents see what was happening at council meetings.  The meeting on December 22, 2022, was particularly important because it would include the hearing on the requested rezoning.  I planned to livestream the meeting.

It turned out that my election Machine Operator had more sophisticated video equipment than I did as well as a set of higher level skills in recording events.  But he couldn’t livestream.  However, he offered to record the meeting for future use.  It was a good thing because I had technical problems livestreaming that evening and lost some parts of the meeting.  He had captured them and although they weren’t livestreamed, he posted them on his own company’s YouTube channel the next day so township residents could see the rude and dismissive reception that township residents had received as they voiced their objections to the rezoning.

The next day in my blog I thanked him for his help, appreciating his time and patience and calling him a good man.

In the almost one year since then, I have been grateful to him for the fact that he took over the livestreaming of council meetings once he got livestreaming capability in place in the months before the township finally, after almost two years, managed to develop livestreaming and recording themselves.  After more than a year of covering council meetings, I’d gotten pretty tired of it and fairly angry at the township’s unwillingness to do its job.

In addition, he has been livestreaming and recording meetings of council committees whenever it seems like there will be useful information that township residents should hear.  This has included Zoning Hearing Board meetings, Planning Commission meetings, and EAC meetings.  This is the only way that residents have of seeing firsthand the machinations undertaken by our delinquent township council since they continue to refuse to livestream or record committee meetings.

His video skills have been invaluable in our continued battle against the encroachment of Waste Connections with the complicit township council.

In the last year I’ve also learned a bit more about him as we have worked together on various projects or in discussions with friends.  I learned that he ran his own welding company.  I learned that had spent some time in prison – I didn’t know what for – but that he had completed his sentence and re-entered society. Since in the American system of justice when a person has been imprisoned and finished his sentence he is then considered to have paid his debt to society, I didn’t think much about it.  Nor did I ask why he had been in prison.  None of my business.  And I know some important civic leaders in the Lehigh Valley who likewise have a period of incarceration in their personal history who are fine citizens.

This man is Mark Ozimek and he is my friend.  I’m proud to call him that.

So today when Saucon Voice, a piece of yellow trash that doesn’t even rise to the level of journalistic trash, posted a hit piece following Mark’s conviction yesterday on a disorderly conduct charge, I didn’t know that he had been imprisoned for killing someone while driving under the influence.  Nor did I know that he had taken responsibility for his actions, had pleaded guilty to three of the eight charges against him (the rest were dismissed), served his time and was subsequently released – decades ago.  The incident happened in 1991. 

All I knew was that Mark had asked me to testify to what I saw on July 26 and I was happy to do that for my friend.

It doesn’t make a bit of difference that Mark was involved in that accident in 1991.  He paid his debt to society and it’s nobody’s business but Mark’s.  But having been married to an alcoholic for 23 years, I can tell you that the fact that Mark took responsibility for his actions and beat his alcohol addiction makes him an even better person in my estimation.  It’s hard to beat an alcohol addiction and most alcoholics never take responsibility for the harm they do.  I know my ex-husband drove drunk many times with my children and me in the car and he still won’t admit it.  We were just lucky none of us or anyone else was killed.

As to the disorderly conduct charge, I’m guessing there’s not a single one of us who doesn’t know someone who has acquired a disorderly conduct charge during their lifetime. But Saucon Voice made it sound so much more ominous.  It’s not.  And it has nothing to do with his prior history.

To give you some idea of how much credibility to put into Saucon Voice’s writing, note that there is no by-line to the article so we don’t know who wrote it. The coward wouldn’t even put his name on it.  I know for a fact that there was no one from Saucon Voice in the courtroom on Tuesday because I testified on Mark’s behalf at the hearing.  The Magisterial District Justice’s courtroom is very small and I recognized every person in it either by name or by role.  There was no one from Saucon Voice there unless it’s Banonis or John Blair who wrote the article.  So all the ominous fluffing was hearsay. So much so that the writer of the article, whoever that is, didn’t even know that I had testified on Mark’s behalf.  Because I’m sure if he did, he would have tried to smear me with that too.

You see, it doesn’t work.  Mark Ozimek is a good person.  He’s honest, compassionate, competent, reliable, and behaves with integrity.  He has been hounded and harassed by Lower Saucon Township council members ever since he began videotaping council meetings related to Dump expansion.  One council member even calls Mark by the name of the man who died in the accident 30+ years ago every time he sees Mark.  I’ve heard it and so have others. That’s the kind of scum who sit on our township council, always excepting Priscilla deLeon.

And not a one of them could ever qualify to be a friend of mine.  I’m happy that Mark is.

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