Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder
Gadfly knows that some of his followers do not believe in systemic racism, nor in the need for anti-racism.
He wishes everybody could immerse themselves in the Black experience, could listen to the Black voices as he has been able to do through local consciousness raising resources provided in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
Especially resources through the Bethlehem Area Public Library.
Gadfly’s posting this one for the future Bethlehem historians who will consult this blog in the archives for a sense of Bethlehem in the short sliver of time between 2018 and 2021 that he was on the beat.
The last night March 2, 2021, City Council meeting wasn’t the most exciting patch of city governing that you can imagine.
Rebuilding crumbling stormwater infrastructure and adopting innovative new practices to reduce flooding is finally gaining the attention it deserves. The City of Bethlehem has hired a lead engineer to head up the Department of Public Works effort to manage stormwater runoff. The result will be a stormwater management plan to tackle long-standing flooding hazards and beautify streets and public areas while finding the best ways to respond to expanding state and federal regulations. This work will be paid for by a stormwater fee added to residential and commercial water bills.
To find out more, sign up for and attend one of the two virtual meetings hosted by Watershed Coalition of the Lehigh Valley on April 1 and 6th. Register at www.watershedcoalitionlv.org/Bethlehem for “Bethlehem Presentation: Stormwater Fees – What Residents Need to Know.”
“Starting this spring, Bethlehem City residents will see a small monthly stormwater fee charge on their utility bills. Join this webinar to learn more. The presentation will cover the basics of urban stormwater management and why more municipalities are approving fees to help rebuild crumbling stormwater infrastructure and create innovative new practices to reduce flooding. Learn how cities and towns are tackling long-standing flooding hazards and beautifying their streets and public areas while finding the best ways to respond to expanding state and federal regulations. There will be a chance to ask questions, with answers posted online afterwards, along with a recording of the presentation.”
Monocacy Creek Watershed Association
Stormwater is also on the agenda for the open-to-the-public Public Works Committee meeting Thursday at 5:30.
Here is the recent presentation on the outstanding Black Bethlehem oral history project that Bethlehem Area Public Library’s Rayah Levy made to an audience of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
We can’t know enough about this great project spearheaded by the great Ms. Levy.
On a grayish, blustery March 1 afternoon, Gadfly visited the Chimney Swift Tower that Elijah Sivick built for his Eagle Scout project.
It’s on a still snow-covered tract on the north side of the First Presbyterian Church on Center Street.
The Swifts, as Gadfly and his followers now know and as Elijah wrote in his project report, have been “designated as Near Threatened since 2010” and “have experienced a 70%+ decline over the last 50 years.”
The First Presbyterian chimneys “are unable to be sufficiently cleaned with the amount of swifts currently occupying them,” said Elijah in his proposal, and so “the swifts require a new home, and a tower must be constructed in order for the swifts to begin leaving.”
We don’t want to lose those Swifts.
Residents in nearby Kirkwood Village report fondly watching the Swifts at the Church site for years and years. Just like good neighbors.
Elijah’s project was designed to help to start the Swifts migrating from the Church to the tower.
A saving act just like Jennie Gilrain initiated at the Masonic Temple.
Elijah’s tower was completed last November.
Such Scout projects by Elijah and Emily exemplify for us that there is ample know-how available to spur much more in the way of constructing habitats to help protect the Swifts, which are now our official Bethlehem City bird.
We’re keeping alive Councilman Colon’s suggestion that Swift towers could be erected in our parks perhaps as Scout projects to educate the public on the value of the Swifts.
Tip o’ the hat to Elijah!
A reminder that we’re still in need of funds for the Masonic Temple chimney project
Dana Grubb is running for Mayor to best serve the residents of Bethlehem, not because he is a political insider or an aspirant to higher office. As a former construction worker, he understands the value of and necessity for building a strong foundation, so that the City and its citizens can rise from strength to strength.
In Dana’s twenty-seven years of City service he learned that one way ‘a better Bethlehem’ begins is with a common sense approach to management, reorganization, and efficiency within City Hall. This translates to a respected, motivated, and fairly-treated staff. Such a staff is then the basis for responsive, efficient and effective interaction between City employees and the residents they work for.
Dana Grubb is the ONLY candidate for Mayor with management experience, having had nearly 100 employees reporting to him when he was both Acting Director of Community and Economic Development and Deputy Director of Community Development. Dana knows how to hold others, as well as himself, accountable, and understands that fair treatment, equal opportunity and a zero tolerance policy for discrimination, favoritism and workplace intimidation are key to an administration’s success.
These are among the reasons that two former City Councilpersons and sixteen former city administrators, with an aggregate of nearly 420 years of service to the residents of Bethlehem, have endorsed his candidacy for Mayor!
The ordinance regulating student housing is up for 2nd reading.
But there’s always the unexpected.
As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.
Be informed. Be involved.
DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.
PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS
REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.
If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (firstname.lastname@example.org) no later than 2:00 PM on the day of the meeting: (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.
After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.
Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.
If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.
As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.
At the start of your call, please state your name and address.
A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.
According to the HCC, only one property slated for demolition on this project has relevant historic value, and the developer has incorporated its façade into their design. Adaptive reuse seems to be off the table for this project (and debatably not an option), but, of course, there’s always the possibility of looking elsewhere for a historic property to rehab.
6) Support projects that incorporate green space and/or the development of public spaces into their design
It’s clear that the developers of this project were told by City staff that they need to think creatively about the adjacent South Bethlehem Greenway. The developer has repeatedly assured the HCC that they will work to “activate the Greenway” through events or contributions of some sort to its livelihood, although the details have not been made clear. Despite these assurances, I’m interested in exploring the impact of a massive, looming structure that will be built nearly on top of the Greenway. Will this be a good addition? The Greenway will certainly be a fantastic asset for the residents of this building, but I’m not so sure about the impact of this new building on the users of the Greenway.
7) Support projects that are developed in response to community needs identified by residents and stakeholders, and that engage residents and stakeholders in idea development and the design process
I’m sure that there are business owners who are excited about this project. 82 apartments-worth of residents living in the middle of the business district! I get the appeal to local businesses who envision hosts of new regular customers. However, luxury apartments have not been among the “needs” or even “wants” that residents have identified throughout recent community visioning processes. Affordable housing, youth-serving organizations, and “everyday” retail and service businesses usually come out on top. Restaurants are also popular, so the food court would undoubtedly have fans among some residents. I’d like to see the developers engage the community in the development process. Although this seems like a long-shot for this particular project, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable expectation of developers—at least the kind of developers that will build what’s most wanted in our neighborhoods.
8) Support projects that prioritize sustainable development practices and take proactive approaches to addressing challenges presented by our changing climate
Based on the developer’s initial presentation, I am not aware of any attempts to prioritize sustainable practices or address the climate impact of their project.
9) Avoid projects that cause displacement of long-time residents, low-income residents, and locally-owned businesses
I discussed the potential displacement in earlier responses, but, as a reminder, this project stands to displace three small businesses and an unknown number of residents. Tenants of the apartments at 325 S. New Street were evicted three years ago when the developer’s business partner acquired the property. Ideally, a proposal like this would take advantage of vacant land to build, rather than displacing existing businesses and residents.
10) Do not use projects that are nearly universally considered planning and design failures as precedent for elements of new development
Yes, there are massive apartment buildings in south Bethlehem. The Rooney Building, Litzenberger House, and Broadhead House at Lehigh were all constructed during the Urban Renewal period and would never be approved today due to their design. Since then, urban planners have shifted to recognize the value of place-making and the importance of historic conservation, and I would hope that this developer sticks with contemporary research when modifying their project, rather than depend on obsolete examples.
He could tell you about the police who stopped a guy walking at night whose only crime was that he was an odd duck, put him in a chokehold, put a spit bag on him, precipitated injuries from which he would die, mocked him, argued that they were simply following policies implemented by city leadership, and buried the body-cam videos.
Enough to remind him that there is enough evidence around in the post-GeorgeFloyd era for our police department, for every police department to undergo self-scrutiny about procedures and practices.
And for City Council to assure that it is being done.
Gadfly is suggesting nothing nefarious about our police department. With its double certification, he assumes the department is as well trained as possible.
But he has said that such visible, public analysis simply makes sense in the post-GeorgeFloyd era.
The international furor over the killing of George Floyd plus the hiring of a new Chief of Police mark the perfect moment to take significant stock of department operation.
So perhaps Tuesday’s meeting on “Police reorganization” will get in to this.
But anything that smacks of criticism of the police will inevitably be a political hot potato.
We’ve already seen a local group applying the heat.
Gadfly thought Councilwoman Crampsie Smith hit the right note, the right balance in her re-election comments before Lehigh Valley for All February 17: “I come from a family of cops, but I also see that you can support the police but also address and fight systemic racism because they are not two mutually exclusive items.”
One of the candidates for Council has put herself behind “re-imagining public safety”: “This to me means not just looking at policing in a vacuum but integrating our approach to public health and our approach to policing. I do think that Chief Kott is on the right track in a lot of ways, but I would love to be there as well to ask how we approach that. There are a lot of new models in cities that are bringing out social workers, public health professionals who are disrupting the police engagement when people are in crisis over things that are non-violent and non-criminal.”
That same candidate has boldly said “Black lives matter and Latino lives matter,” and we know that policing is inextricably tied to racial issues.
So Gadfly hopes that there will be political pressure to keep public safety in front of us.
One week to the day after the May election will be the one year anniversary of the George Floyd killing.
All cities in the country will be asked to show what they have done in response.
And now, in a proposal announced today, the mayor of Ithaca, NY will attempt the most radical reimagining of policing in the post-George Floyd era so far: abolishing the city’s police department as currently constructed and replacing it with a reimagined city agency.
n a nearly 100-page report obtained by GQ, Mayor Svante Myrick will propose replacing the city’s current 63-officer, $12.5 million a year department with a “Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety” which would include armed “public safety workers” and unarmed “community solution workers,” all of whom will report to a civilian director of public safety instead of a police chief.
“IPD currently spends one third of its time responding to calls for service that essentially never lead to arrests,” Myrick writes in the report’s introduction. “Those calls, as well as a majority of patrol activity, can and should be handled by unarmed Community Solution Workers well trained in de-escalation and service delivery. This will allow our new Public Safety Workers to focus on preventing, interrupting and solving serious crime.”
If the proposal is approved, calls for service will be evaluated to determine whether an armed or unarmed respondent is necessary, or another public agency altogether would be best to respond. Mental health calls would be outsourced to a standalone unit of social workers based on the CAHOOTS program pioneered in Eugene, Oregon. The goal, ultimately, is to have far fewer encounters between citizens and armed government agents.
“Everyone wants the police to perform better when they show up, everybody wants that. What this plan is saying is that we also want the police to show up less—and that’s a radical thing for a city and a mayor to do.” Myrick, 33, told me in an interview Sunday.
Now, he’s investing his political capital in a plan that would remove armed officers from most civilian interactions, which he said should free those who remain to fully investigate and solve serious crimes. “The investigators are going to be focused on the shooting last Tuesday, they will have nothing on their plate except finding that gun, finding that shooter and taking them off the street,” he said. “They won’t be pulled away from that work by a motor vehicle crash on 3rd Street or a welfare check on Madison.”
And the proposal will provide new fodder for the national semantics over policing, even as the plan itself lays bare how undercooked public perceptions are around much of the terminology. Depending on your rhetorical goals, it’s possible to argue that the Ithaca plan would mean the police department is being “abolished,” or policing in the city is being “reformed” and “reimagined,” or armed government response to public safety is being partially “defunded.” Myrick notes that the new department would likely result in more city money being spent on public safety—while the specifics are yet to be finalized, he envisions the combined staffs of the department’s unarmed and armed workers exceeding the city’s current number of police officers. He admitted he’s yet to decide whether he’ll use the term “abolish” when discussing the proposal: “This plan would abolish the police department while not abolishing policing,” he said.
The proposal is part of a report Ithaca and surrounding Tompkins County intend to send to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who last June signed an executive order requiring local governments to conduct comprehensive reviews of their police departments. With the help of the Center for Policing Equity, officials conducted a community engagement survey, held a series of town halls and public forums, and convened 21 targeted focus groups that included members of law enforcement, the formerly incarcerated and homeless citizens.
According to the report, community members said they often feel disrespected by police during interactions and questioned whether local police officers knew how to properly deescalate situations. As a result, respondents told city officials, they were hesitant to turn to the police for intervention. During the law enforcement focus group, police officers and sheriff’s deputies said they don’t believe the public understands what their jobs entail. They think the department is understaffed and under resourced; and called for better coordination between police and other public service agencies. “Few people who participated in the Reimagining Public Safety trust the process,” the report notes. “Both targeted focus groups and law enforcement think the other needs education. Both respondents from targeted focus groups and law enforcement agree that the lack of trust is a major issue that needs to be addressed.”
“Once you can fully imagine an alternative response agency,” Myrick told me. “It’s hard to defend what exists currently.”
A young program that puts troubled nonviolent people in the hands of health care workers instead of police officers has proven successful in its first six months, according to a progress report.
Since June 1, 2020, a mental health clinician and a paramedic have traveled around the city in a white van handling low-level incidents, like trespassing and mental health episodes, that would have otherwise fallen to patrol officers with badges and guns. In its first six months, the Support Team Assisted Response program, or STAR, has responded to 748 incidents. None required police or led to arrests or jail time.
The civilian team handled close to six incidents a day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, in high-demand neighborhoods. STAR does not yet have enough people or vans to respond to every nonviolent incident, but about 3 percent of calls for DPD service, or over 2,500 incidents, were worthy of the alternative approach, according to the report.
STAR represents a more empathetic approach to policing that keeps people out of an often-cyclical criminal justice system by connecting people with services like shelter, food aid, counseling, and medication. The program also deliberately cuts down on encounters between uniformed officers and civilians.
The policing alternative empowers behavioral health experts to call the shots, even when police officers are around.
Sailon said she remembers a call last year in which a woman was experiencing mental health symptoms at a 7-Eleven. The clerk had called the police — the woman was technically trespassing — but when the police arrived, they called Sailon.
“We got there and told police they could leave,” Sailon said. “We didn’t need them there.”
The woman, who was unhoused, was upset about some issues she was having on her prepaid Social Security card. Sailon helped her into the van where the two “game-planned” a solution before the STAR crew drove her to a day shelter for some food, she said.
“So we were sort of able to solve those problems in the moment for her and got the police back in service, dealing with a law enforcement call,” Sailon said.
The fact that the police officers even called the STAR team tells Dr. Matthew Lunn, who is in charge of DPD’s strategic initiatives, that the program is working (Lunn has a PhD but is not a medical doctor). About 35 percent of calls to STAR personnel come from police officers, according to the report.
Chief Pazen is thrilled with the success of STAR, but the time and money it saves will go toward fighting crime, he said.
A spectrum of solutions has sprouted from protests against systemic racism and police brutality that started last summer, including the idea of taking money from traditional policing and giving it to social programs not unlike STAR.
For Pazen, transferring low-level calls to civilian teams is not about reallocating money. It’s about solving two problems at once: getting harmless residents the help they need while letting police focus on other things.
“I want the police department to focus on police issues,” Pazen said. “We have more than enough work with regards to violent crime, property crime and traffic safety, and if something like STAR or any other support system can lighten the load on mental health calls for service, substance abuse calls for service, and low-level issues, that frees up law enforcement to address crime issues.”
Pazen added: “I see this as an ‘and.’ Not an ‘or.’”
The city of Rochester, N.Y., has suspended the police officers involved in handcuffing and pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl last week.
The suspensions come one day after police released disturbing body-camera footage of the Friday encounter, which shows multiple officers using force against a young girl in obvious distress while they responded to a “family trouble” call.
“What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged all of our community,” Mayor Lovely Warren said in a statement announcing the suspensions.
The Friday incident began about 3:20 p.m. and police who responded were told the 9-year-old girl, who hasn’t been identified, was suicidal.
The footage shows the officers chasing and restraining the girl. In one video, she’s sobbing and struggling against the cuffs as officers try to force her into a patrol car. The officers chide her and one tells her she’s “acting like a child.” She responds: “I am a child” and pleads with them to stop forcing her into the car.
Minutes later, video shows an officer pepper-spraying the girl, leaving her crying in the back seat. “Unbelievable,” says the officer who sprayed her.
It is yet another example of police treating people in the midst of mental health crises as criminals, said activists, who have questioned why officers responded to the scene and not the city’s newly minted “Person in Crisis” team.
Roj, the city spokesman, said the call originally came in as a “domestic” crime report. The girl’s mother reported her boyfriend, the girl’s father, for allegedly stealing her car, Roj said. It was only when police arrived that the mother told police her daughter was distraught and had threatened to harm herself and her mother, he added.
“It did not come in as a mental health call.”
However, he said, the officers responding to the call on Friday did have the option to call Monroe County’s Forensic Intervention Team, which dispatches mental health clinicians to crisis calls.
The mother of the 9-year-old Rochester, N.Y., girl who was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by police said Wednesday that she repeatedly told an officer that her daughter was having a mental health breakdown and she pleaded with them to call a specialist instead of trying to detain her.
The officer said “no,” Elba Pope said.
Pope, 30, said the incident, which sparked nationwide outrage and prompted fresh scrutiny of how law enforcement agencies deal with people in emotional distress, has left her rattled and fearful that her daughter could suffer long-term emotional trauma.
“I was saying, ‘We need mental health out there,’ ” Pope said in an interview. “He ignored me.”
Pope spoke out one day after she and her attorneys filed a formal notice that they plan to sue the city, citing “emotional distress, assault, battery, excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment,” as well as other potential violations of the girl’s “constitutional rights.” Pope is also calling on the city to fire the officer who pepper-sprayed her daughter.
About 20 demonstrators protested outside the Rochester Police Locust Club, which serves as the police union, on Wednesday afternoon, calling for new laws that would ban police officers from handcuffing or pepper-spraying children.
Pope said her daughter had a similar emotional breakdown in late November, which required her to be evaluated at a hospital under New York’s mental hygiene law, when she became upset over being grounded for failing to do her homework.
Pope said she could immediately tell that the girl’s distress on Friday also required an evaluation by a medical health expert.
“It just so happened she chose that moment to run out of the house, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, here we go,” Pope said. “I had to go get the officer and say, ‘Sir, I know my daughter, and she is about to have a mental health slowdown, can you please contact someone?”
With the girl now about a block and a half away from home, Pope, who is pregnant, said the girl kept screaming she wanted her dad and was about “to kill me and my unborn baby and herself.”
“I said again, ‘We need mental health out here,’ ” Pope said. “He ignored me.”
Pope said the officers then demanded that Pope return to the house, leaving the officers alone with her daughter. Pope said she found out only the following day that officers subsequently used pepper spray on her daughter.
Mike Mazzeo, the president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, did not respond to requests for comment. At a news conference earlier in the week, Mazzeo defended the officers and said they told Pope to return to her house because her presence appeared to be making the girl’s behavior even more unstable.
Napolitano said Pope also hopes any eventual lawsuit she files against the city also includes demands for “systematic changes” in how Rochester police deal with people who might be having an emotional or mental health episode.
Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder
“The family and close friends find ourselves thinking of the countless ways this situation could have been de-escalated. What he needed was treatment, and what he received was a death sentence in a chaotic encounter with law enforcement.”
If we want an example of the kind of situation gone wrong that Gadfly has chronicled in these pages for the past 8 months, we don’t have to go far.
Just to Catasauqua nine days ago.
The scenario is so familiar that the Morning Call reporters could almost just look up a previous shooting, change the name and address, and file their story.
Domestic disturbance. Man having a heated argument with his ex-girlfriend. She calls the police. Certainly we are told that domestic disturbance calls are among the most dangerous of situations for the police. But the police have been to this house before. They know this man. They know his history of mental problems.
Three police arrive. The man has had no gun. When the police arrive, he goes to the cellar to get one. The police confront him there. He refuses an order to drop the gun. They shoot him. The man is dead.
The family grieves, describes what a good and harmless man their loved one was, blames the police for not de-escalating, blames the system for unresponsiveness to a person in need.
Now that’s as far as the story has gone so far, but we can write the rest of it, can’t we?
The police say they were acting in self-defense, the police say they were following their training, the police say the man was at fault for not obeying their order, the D.A. presses no charges, the man’s family sues (and sometimes even the same lawyer shows up to represent them — like the omnipresent Benjamin Crump these days if the subject is Black), the case is settled for Big Bucks, the taxpayer shells out.
Can we not agree that this is a bad outcome for everybody, for everybody, and that we need to figure out a better way to handle such situations?
Can we not agree that just possibly a sensible re-imagining of the way public safety is done in certain situations and circumstances might avoid unnecessary loss of life?
A man arguing with his ex-girlfriend was shot and killed by a Catasauqua police officer Friday after he refused to drop a gun in the basement of the home he shared with his parents, authorities said.
Ryan Shirey, 27, was pronounced dead by the Lehigh County coroner’s office at the home at 133 S. 14th St., where he was shot shortly after 2 p.m.
Shirey and his father and ex-girlfriend were at the house when she called police during an argument that the father told police got “heated,” Martin said. The ex-girlfriend is a caretaker for Shirey’s mother, he said.
Three Catasauqua police officers responded to the home, at which point Shirey “fled to the basement where he retrieved a revolver,” Branosky said.
Police entered the basement.
“[Shirey] was ordered to put the gun down, he did not comply,” Martin said. “And a Catasauqua police officer shot him, and unfortunately he is deceased.”
Ryan Shirey, the 27-year-old man shot to death Friday by Catasauqua police, was “in a heightened paranoid state” when officers responded to a 911 call at the home he shared with his parents, but the encounter should not have ended in a death sentence, his family says.
A statement released by family member Jeff Purdon said Shirey battled mental health issues his entire adult life after being diagnosed during his childhood, and was in need of treatment, not a use of force from police who were called to the home for a domestic argument.
“There are no words to accurately describe the pain of this sudden loss, the anguish at times unbearable,” the family said in the statement. “He is a victim of a system that failed him. A system that made it impossible to get the treatment and help that he so desperately needed.
“Those of us who knew Ryan know he posed no mortal threat to anyone,” the statement said. “The family and close friends find ourselves thinking of the countless ways this situation could have been de-escalated. What he needed was treatment, and what he received was a death sentence in a chaotic encounter with law enforcement.”
Purdon said Catasauqua police had been at the home in the past, and the department should have been aware of Shirey’s mental health issues. The presence of law enforcement could trigger his paranoia, Purdon said.
“I feel like there was no compassion, no understanding [from police] going in,” Purdon said. “We have no idea what was running through his head. Nobody gets to know what his last thoughts were.”
Shirey’s family said they hope the Catasauqua police will consider how the incident could have been better handled considering Shirey’s mental health issues made him a “vulnerable member of this community.”
According to Shirey’s obituary, he loved animals, something family friend Scott Rossi said was evident anytime Shirey was near a four-legged creature.
When Rossi was moving across the country in 2006, Shirey agreed to watch his cat, Scooter, for awhile. The two got so close that Rossi thought it best to let them stay together.
“They had such a bond. It was unreal,” Rossi said.
More recently, Shirey agreed to watch Rossi’s dog while he was at work. He’d come home and find them both curled up on the couch together, snoring away. Rossi said his dog had its own special tail wag dance whenever it laid eyes on Shirey.
“He probably understood animals better than he understood people,” Purdon said.
Shirey’s battle with mental health issues was constant, but according to family and friends, he could find solace “in digital spaces” and the myriad interests that would snag his attention.
Shirey spent countless hours creating electronic music, but was very private about the art and wouldn’t share his creations, Purdon said. Regardless, the comfort Shirey found in his music was clear to anyone who knew him, Purdon said.
His ability to become hyperfocused meant he’d dive deep into a subject once it caught his attention, according to Purdon. And he felt strongly about some of the issues, such as his support for the decriminalization of marijuana, family said.
Purdon recalled how for a period of time, Shirey would haul a tome about coding with him wherever he went, though he never seemed to be reading it.
“It was more like this physical reminder that this was something he had to get into and learn about at some point,” Purdon said.
Purdon also said Shirey loved to spend time surfing Google Maps and touring the halls of far-away museums online with his father, Karl Shirey.
“It was like he was in his own little world sometimes,” Purdon said. “And we were all just guests.”
“This world is poorer for Ryan’s absence,” Rossi said. “He will be greatly missed, and we will spend the rest of our lives working for justice for Ryan.”
Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder
The Public Safety Committee (Chair Colon, members Negron and Crampsie Smith) meets at 5:30 Tuesday, March 2, immediately before the regularly scheduled City Council meeting.
The subject is “Police reorganization.”
We know that the current Chief, Chief Kott, has only held her position since September.
So we can assume that the report at this meeting will embody her plan to shape the department according to her views on policing.
We cannot assume that the meeting will relate to the momentous events of last summer — the killing of George Floyd, the several notable subsequent killings in police actions, the national reckoning with race, and the discussions about re-imagining public safety that ensued.
The meeting might do these things. But we can’t assume.
For instance, when the Mayor requested such a meeting at the February 16 City Council meeting, he clearly said that it would not deal with the Community Engagement Initiative — the Council plan initiated by members Reynolds and Crampsie Smith that was our main response to GeorgeFloyd.
We cannot assume that the meeting will relate to how police handle what Gadfly has called some “first contact” situations, especially, for instance, those that could be identified as mental-health issues.
Trying not to get entangled in the verbal and political barbed wire of “defunding” (a term which he virtually always puts in quotes to indicate its vexed meaning, to the perplexity of follower John Rothschild who wants him to drop the term altogether), Gadfly has simply pointed out that to him there is an obvious problem in how some calls are handled by police, that that problem should be aired, and that, if appropriate, changes should be made.
Gadfly has been impatient with the City’s delay in considering such issues that to him seem to demand first rank attention. Though he recognizes that Chief Kott is new in her position. And though he recognizes that there is a pilot program with the Health Bureau.
Gadfly has said several times that he is afraid George Floyd will be forgotten, that the momentum crest of his killing is passing, that we will soon be asking “George who?”
He hears no one else calling for the kind of internal analysis and self-analysis of the department that last year’s “history” called for.
He thinks that only he and follower Michele Downing care about such. (Ha! true, Michele?)
(Though he does note hopefully “re-imagining public safety” in candidate Hillary Kwiatek’s stump message for City Council.)
But this upcoming meeting prods him to dip in to his clipping file and remind himself and others about some cases that highlight the issues that warrant re-imagining how public safety is done.
Here Gadfly finishes up with his coverage of the CADCB February 18 discussion of the future of the Southside as part of their preparation for their latest Southside Vision Plan.
After the small-group breakout sessions, the 40 or so attendees gathered for a plenary session, and each group did a quick recap of their individual discussions.
This sharing session contains several dozen interesting ideas, and certainly provided CADCB some important things to think about.
Gadfly encourages you to take advantage of this opportunity to feel the pulse of the people.
The meeting ended with a description of these 5 CADCB committees and an invitation, an exhortation to get involved and to help continue the the important work of making the Southside an even better place, as one attendee put it, to live, work, eat, and play. Contact Yari Colon-Lopez at email@example.com.
Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election
Candidate for City Council incumbent Grace Crampsie Smith at the Lehigh Valley for All “Meet the Candidates” event February 17.
I’m in my second year of a two-year term on Bethlehem City Council. I’m running for the 4-year term. I’ve been a resident of Bethlehem for over 30 years. And I’m the grateful mother of three children, who pretty much have contributed to inspiring me to run for City Council to give back to the great community in which they were raised. My daughters Shannon and Bridget are going to graduate from Law School and Medical School in May, so I’ll have two people off my payroll. And my son Brendan is in his third year of college. And I am extremely grateful and proud of them. Professionally, I have a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Lehigh, and I have been a high school counselor at Easton Area High School for over 15 years. I have over 30 years experience in various area. I was an addictions counselor. I was an administrator of government-funded services for people with developmental disabilities and mental health diagnoses and their families. And I was an adjunct instructor at the community college level on the America for Disabilities Act and the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. Currently on Council I am chair of the Public Works Committee, and I am a member of the Public Safety and Community Development Committees. In my first year on Council I initiated and co-chair the current Affordable Housing Task Force. Homelessness and housing that is affordable is a passion of mine. I really got interested in this years ago, but more specifically in the past five years when I saw a significant increase in the number of my students and families who were homeless and transient. So the Affordable Housing Task Force consists of public and private entities, including developers, and our goal is to try to come up with recommendations to address the lack of affordable housing with in the City. Recently, I was thrilled to get the folks from State College and Pittsburgh to join our meeting and give an extensive presentation on their success with inclusionary housing. I also sponsored a resolution to insure insurance coverage to first responders to include post-traumatic stress disorder because that’s important. Councilman Reynolds and I have, through the pandemic, met on an ongoing basis with the local business associations and the Mayor to try to assist them to survive during this pandemic. Councilman Reynolds and I last year also met with the Police and the Administration and pushed for them to review our use of force policy to make sure that restraints were not included if they were going to be adverse like the things we saw last summer. We also formed a Community Engagement Initiative which included people from the community which involved people from the Police, the Administration, and the community to try to join together to look at ways that we can enhance the services of the police within the city. Again, Councilman Reynolds and I have been meeting with the ongoing with the Police Chief and the City regarding adequate and appropriate training for the police and to work toward coordinating with community and governmental services in the area of mental health, drug and alcohol, domestic violence, and other areas. I think that I have a unique perspective when it comes to the police issue because I come from a family of police. My father was a police chief, I have three nephews who are policeman, one of them is currently on the SWAT team at the U.S. Capitol, so he was actively involved in the insurrection unfortunately on January 6 but fortunately he is safe. And as I have said repeatedly, I come from a family of cops, but I also see that you can support the police but also address and fight systemic racism because they are not two mutually exclusive items. Basically, I feel that my personal attributes and my professional experience have been relevant on my role on City Council, and it’s been an honor. Even though this year has been a long, strange trip, I have enjoyed it. It’s been an honor and privilege to serve the great, diverse community of Bethlehem, and I hope I continue to get this opportunity to serve and to represent and to fulfill the initiatives I’ve started.
There are 6 candidates running for 4 seats on City Council. The other candidates are Bryan Callahan, Hillary Kwiatek, Rachel Leon, Adam Waldron, Kiera Wilhelm.
New York-based Chef Rafael Palomino and developer Jeffrey Quinn have proposed a 12-story mixed-use development project for South New Street that includes 82 one- and two-bedroom apartments and a first-floor food court made up of Palomino’s restaurants. The current proposal includes a roof-top terrace, basement fitness center, and two community rooms for residents. The project requires the demolition of four structures: 319-323 New Street, which includes a single-story retail property currently occupied by JC Jewelry and Gifts, and a three-story structure with Lara Bly Designs and Car Village Title and Notary on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors; 325 New Street, which is a three-story structure that was acquired several years ago by the developer’s local business partners, Juan Carlos and Cara Paredes, and has been left vacant ever since, but which previously housed a bar on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors; and 327 New Street, which is a single-story building that was home to Pat’s Newsstand. The project will also extend to cover Graham Street from the third floor upwards.
Here’s the first test for the principles for responsible development that I proposed in a prior post. As the project winds its way through the Historic Conservation Commission and the Planning Commission’s approval processes, let’s think about what this project means for quality of life on the Southside. Is this a project that aligns with principles for responsible development?
1) Support projects that incorporate locally-owned businesses into their plans, and that lead to a net increase in small businesses
The proposed project would add a food court owned by Chef Rafael Palomino, which he says would feature several options–Mexican, Vegan, Italian, Tapas, and American. Data shows that restaurants tend to keep more money in the local economy than other types of small businesses since labor makes up a significant portion of their expenses, and the food court would likely create some jobs. I imagine that a sort-of fast casual food court would be popular with college students and folks working on the Southside, and the location is easy walking distance from Lehigh’s campus. The idea seems sound from a business perspective, and the fact that the developer is also the owner of the food court means that he will build out the space to the appropriate specifications. That is, if the developer sticks to his plan, I don’t think we’ll be dealing with vacant storefronts.
However, the project will result in the loss of several small businesses—a jewelry shop, designer-owned clothing store, and a notary. All three are women and/or minority-owned businesses, which is a category that receives special consideration by organizations promoting small business development. Will these businesses survive the cost of moving elsewhere? Will they find another place on the Southside? Maybe, maybe not. Are these businesses that we want to keep in our community? I’d like to hear the thoughts of Southsiders on this point.
I appreciate the integration of small businesses into the planning, but I do have concerns about other businesses being displaced without an option to relocate in the new development.
2) Prioritize development of vacant industrial properties over demolition of historic properties
Rather than choosing a vacant site on which to build, the developer has decided to demolish properties in the heart of the downtown, although the properties slated for demolition have less historic value than many other Southside landmarks. From a City perspective, however, I would rather see a development like this proposed for an empty lot in the redevelopment areas.
3) Encourage new development that does not exceed the size of surrounding properties and blends with historic architecture in order to create a cohesive sense of place and encourage walkability
While the developers have made an effort with the design, and their willingness to integrate the one historically-relevant façade into their project deserves recognition, I’m afraid that the massive scale of the project cancels out most of the efforts made on design. Twelve stories in an area characterized by 2, 3, and 4 story historic properties just doesn’t seem appropriate. The impact of a huge, out-of-place building on the street-level feel and sense of place on New Street will be significant. Rather than a quirky, small-town neighborhood feel, the narrow street will be darkened by the shadow of this monolith and converted into a channel that funnels walkers from Lehigh to the Fahy Bridge.
4) Support projects that incorporate diverse residential and commercial offerings that are accessible and affordable to South Bethlehem’s population
This project proposes 72 two-bedroom and 10 one-bedroom apartments with approximately 10% slated to be affordable housing (9 apartments). Once the height is reduced (as it would have to be to conform to the HCC’s requests), the number of affordable apartments will inevitably decrease as the 10% rate is maintained. The first floor will contain a food court that will serve the broader community, although judging from the portfolio of restaurants owned by Rafael Palomino, pricing will likely be on the higher side in comparison with the average of 50+ other Southside dining establishments.
So how does this project fare when analyzed from an accessibility and affordability perspective? According to the most recent Census data available, 32% of South Bethlehem residents live below the poverty line (an annual income of $26,500 for a family of four). 72% of homes on the Southside are occupied by renters, and 45% of them are classified as “cost-burdened”—in other words, they pay more than 35% of their income in rent. That is, their housing is, by definition, unaffordable. Median rent hovers around $1,000. The data makes it clear: there is a huge need for more affordable housing in South Bethlehem. When the developer says that they will add affordable units, this sounds like a no-brainer. We need affordable housing, and here is someone willing to build it! But there’s a lot more to consider here. Let’s talk a little more about affordable housing in south Bethlehem.
The City of Bethlehem offers zoning-based density incentives to developers who are willing to include a minimum of 10% affordable apartments in their developments. By federal (and City) definition, “affordable” means that the rents will not exceed 30% of the income of families making 80% of Area Median Income, and the rent will not exceed Fair Market Rent. For a one and two-bedroom building, this translates to a maximum rent of $891 for a one-bedroom (which is affordable for a family making over $35,640 a year) and $1,139 for a 2-bedroom apartment (which is affordable for a family making over $45,560 a year). Applicants for these apartments would be restricted to 80% of Area Medium Income based on family size: that is, a maximum income of $43,800 for one person, $50,050 for two people, $56,300 for three people, and $62,550 for four people. Now, I don’t want to diminish the value of building housing that conforms to these definitions of “affordability,” since these numbers do represent lower rents than many luxury apartments throughout the City. However, we have to take these numbers into the context of this proposed development, which is not occurring in a vacuum.
The proposed tower would displace two buildings that contain multiple apartments. While I cannot find public information on the total number of apartments at 321 and 325 New Street, a conservative estimate of two per floor multiplied by four floors would suggest a minimum of eight apartments. When the developer’s business partner acquired 325 New Street, he gave all of the tenants 30 days to leave. One of the tenants solicited my assistance since he had nowhere to go and was concerned about finding another place that he could afford as a single person making $10 an hour. At the time, he was paying somewhere between $300-400 per month. While I don’t have concrete data on all the existing apartments, I think it is fair to assume that the existing apartments could be rented out at more affordable prices than the proposed new development, given the costs of demolition and construction of a new building.
Affordable housing is extremely difficult to build. Having spoken to affordable housing developers and collaborated on a team that was seeking to build workforce housing in south Bethlehem, I know just how challenging it is to make the numbers work—even with generous subsidies and zoning incentives. Construction is expensive, and contingency funds are often eaten up by unexpected costs that are par for the course when you’re building in small spaces, demolishing old structures, and potentially dealing with environmental contamination issues. It’s understandable that this new project would limit its affordable apartments to the minimum necessary and maximum rent possible to obtain zoning benefits and improve the optics of the project.
But we are considering this project from a community perspective. If affordable housing is so tough to build, we should make sure that we preserve as much existing affordable housing as we can, and create incentives to prevent apartments that could easily be rented out affordably from sitting vacant. If we consider this project from an affordable housing perspective, our community will be demolishing affordable apartments to build unaffordable ones. Once older, affordable apartments are gone, there’s no bringing them back.
Affordable housing is complicated. We desperately need more, but we need to carefully analyze every proposal that comes before us to ensure that the end result is truly beneficial to our community. What would I like to see? Prioritize new construction of apartment buildings for vacant land, and incorporate 10% affordable apartments where it will be a net addition to the community. Don’t knock down existing affordable housing to put up less affordable housing.
So the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, described for you in the last post, held a meeting February 18, asking “What’s your vision for the Southside?” as part of information gathering for the development of its new Southside Vision Plan.
What’s your vision for the Southside?
We are inviting South Bethlehem’s residents and the business community to join us online for a community meeting to discuss the future of Southside.
Your unique perspective on the current strengths and challenges of the Southside, and your vision for improvements to be made in the coming years, would be very helpful in the development of the new south Bethlehem Neighborhood Plan.
As we approach almost 20 years of Southside Vision, our current neighborhood plan and the focus of much of our work in the community. Your input gathered during these meetings, surveys or interviews will assist in the creation of a new neighborhood Plan.
The core of the meeting was straight talk from the attendees.
This is the kind of thing that the Gadfly loves.
He attended and records here part of one of the breakout sessions where participants were asked to talk about several questions.
The first question was “What challenges are we currently facing on the Southside?”
Here are the facilitator’s notes, but I encourage you to listen to the discussion.
It was frank, passionate, and you might find a surprise or two.
Based on a belief in economic and social justice, Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem (CADCB) improves the quality of life in south Bethlehem by fostering economic opportunity, promoting community development, and empowering residents to actively participate in the decision-making process regarding the future of our diverse community.
“Empowering people and transforming South Bethlehem”
On February 18 the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem hosted a meeting in which director Yari Colon-Lopez asked the assembled group the pregnant and poignant question, “What’s your vision for the Southside?”
The CADCB is formulating the next phase of its Southside Vision program.
Gadfly’s betting that most of you, like him, are not familiar with this remarkable organization. And we all should be. So he encourages you to listen at some length to Director Yari describe CADCB’s productive and fruitful activities.
Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election
Candidate for City Council incumbent Bryan Callahan at the Lehigh Valley for All “Meet the Candidates” event February 17.
As many of you know, I am a long-time educator in the Bethlehem Area School District. I teach at Northeast Middle School. I have been a union member my whole entire life. My very first job was in Local 54 down in Atlantic City. When I was in college I was a member down there. And then when I became a teacher I became a building rep at Freedom High School. And then after I became the building rep, I became the vice-president for the BEA for the high schools, for Liberty and Freedom. I have also owned and operated a very successful small business here in Bethlehem for the last 12 years, and I am supported by a very long list of local unions . . . You know, all the building trades and many of the other unions in the City of Bethlehem and in the Lehigh Valley are long-time supporters of mine. Probably the most proudest thing I’ve done in my life is, unfortunately, a lot of you know that I lost my wife Lucia to cancer 14 years ago. I had a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old at the time, and I’m so proud of them. I raised two great kids and have been very successful and are doing very well in their lives. And that’s really the crowning achievement of my life. You know, that I got them through the disaster of losing their mom. And it was a tough thing to do for the first 4-5 years, bit once they started getting off and driving and getting off on there own, things started easing off a little bit. And that’s really my pride and joy. I have B.A. in Journalism and Public Relations. I have a B.S. in Health and Physical Education. I also have my Masters in Education. I was the chair of the Finance Committee, Community and Economic Development, and Human Resources, and I’ve been on Public Works also. I am also on the Bethlehem Mental Health Board which I sit on. I will be running for my third term on City Council. As many of you know, I have a great love for and passion for our city. I’m a Nitschmann Lion and Liberty Hurricane till the day I die. There is a perception and an idea by a few people in our City that all that good that has happened in our City over the last 20 years was just inevitable. And they think that the rebirth and renaissance our City has been through in the past 20 years . . . that simply is not true. There are countless cities littered and scattered through the northeast and the midwest of the Unites States where progressive, forward thinking and leadership did not happen. I am proud of my years in service on City Council. I will finish up by saying that in the years I’ve been on I passed the wage equality ordinance that prevents the perpetuation of gender-based wage inequality, and I also proposed and passed the no gifts ban that prohibits City Council members from accepting gifts from those trying to influence public policy, along with improvements to the Rose Garden and the Municipal Golf Course and more funding for ADA ramps. Next month I’ll be bringing forward a new ordinance that give local businesses, especially minority, female, and veteran-owned businesses advantage in the bidding process in local jobs. . . . I also supported, and this is something I am extremely proud of, I probably gave more money to Democrats in Northampton-Lehigh county, good, hard-working progressive Democrats, than any candidate in the City. I take great pride in trying to help people out financially, so we can get those people elected to office.
There are 6 candidates running for 4 seats on City Council. The other candidates are Grace Crampsie Smith, Hillary Kwiatek, Rachel Leon, Adam Waldron, Kiera Wilhelm.