(55th in a series of posts on parking)
Gadfly is very self-conscious about his worldview. Truthfully, not many people are.
Gadfly loves the classic movies.
And taught them for years. (Has he suggested you look at the wonderful Reel American History project he and his students put together? Shameless promotion.)
Gadfly is self-conscious that the lens (or one of them, anyway) through which he looks at the world is through classic movies like Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” (Everybody remembers Mr. Smith’s famous speech, right? — enjoy a few minutes!)
In the movie, though, Jimmy Stewart’s almost child-like character Jefferson Smith, head of the Boy Rangers [Boy Scouts] back home, achieves eventual stunning success in the nation’s capital against the selfishness and greed of the pernicious power brokers.
Well, Gadfly certainly left you with the exact opposite feeling, a sense of failure, in the last post of this series about his going to the Bethlehem Parking Authority Board meeting last Wednesday October 24.
But the trip was not all for naught. Gadfly did learn something to help his understanding of what he is starting to think of for himself as the “Polk Street caper.”
But it wasn’t a promising beginning, let me tell you.
Gadfly entered the Courtesy of the Floor period clutching to his bosom the question that has been consuming him lately, “Has the decision to build the Polk Street Garage been made?”
The Board Solicitor body guard immediately interjected that the Board does not have to answer questions during the Courtesy time.
Which is true.
But the Board can answer questions during the Courtesy period.
There is nothing stopping the Board from answering questions during the Courtesy period.
And, in fact, as I’m sure the minutes will show, the Board did answer questions of another Courtesy speaker. Hmmm, smacks of a bit of selective non-answering, no?
That kind of thing can drive you crazy.
In fact, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records recommends that questions be answered:
Can the public ask questions during the comment period?
Yes. Although members of the agency are not required to provide an answer, it is certainly a good practice to do so whenever possible. Answering questions can demonstrate a commitment to helping constituents and, in many cases, answering questions informally at a public meeting can reduce future requests under the Right-to-Know Law, which saves time and money for both the agency and the commenter / requester.
(Gadflies-in-training should again note the link to the Sunshine Act on the Gadfly sidebar.)
So the Board is choosing not to answer some questions.
So Gadfly got nowhere with his burning question during Courtesy of the Floor.
But after the meeting the Board Chairman did stay graciously for several good minutes of conversation with the interested meeting attendees.
Parenthetically, the Board Chairman is an interesting guy: handsome, likeable, with an imposing athletic frame (he was a sports intern at the Morning Call years ago, and he certainly looks like he played sports), a rapid-fire persuasive talker, who runs a meeting with crisp authority. It’s easy to like him.
So the BC made for me what was an important distinction. In response to a question about the work that the BPA has already been doing in relation to the PSG, BC distinguished between buying the land and building the garage (Wow! I almost said “casino”!). If I understand correctly (and Gadfly is always ready for the whack upside the head), the BPA is engaged in buying the land (about 2mill, I understand) where a garage might go, but a decision has not been made about building the casino, er, garage. At least publicly. The BPA cannot decide to build the garage but, in buying land, is waiting for (and preparing for) the go-ahead. The BC said the BPA is not strained financially now (doesn’t need extra money now to buy land), and if the garage is not built, then the BPA can just simply sell the property that it just bought. All good, says the BC.
Now that was helpful. Made some sense.
The BC counseled paternally that everybody should calm down, that everything’s ok, that things will become clear in due course. He even said leases in the PSG would be at market rate (unlike you know where!)
Gadfly doesn’t think too well on his feet in situations like this (like Jimmy Stewart!), but he did ask BC from whom the decision on building a garage would come (most of you would have written that last part to end with a preposition). BC’s answer – sphinx-like – was that Gadfly should be able to figure that out.
Who could that be but the Mayor? And is it true that the BPA has not been given “authority” to build yet?
In his October 1 memo to BPA approving the meter rate increase, the Mayor says the additional revenue should be used, among other things, “to plan for the future construction of the Polk Street Garage.” Doesn’t say “plan for potential future use.” Ambiguous.
And the August 9 BPA memo to President Waldron alerting him to rate increase proposals coming soon to Council says the funds will be, in part, used “to allow the Parking Authority to construct a new parking garage at Third and Polk Streets.” Sounds declarative not tentative.
So though Gadfly feels he got some new awareness at the BPA meeting, he still feels in a Hall of Mirrors.
But what’s the big deal? Why don’t you just calm down like BC advises, Gadfly? Why are you so obsessive? Go watch some football. Stop acting like a squirrel hunting nuts in springtime that he buried in the fall.
It’s just that the amount of money definitely needed is related to the amount of the proposed increases in revenue definitely sought. No PSG > less money needed > lower rate increases.
Just your average citizen trying to follow the dots.