Democracy in Action (42)

(42nd in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

Nicole Radzievich, “In a Nail-Biter, Council Backs Quadrant Staying in Historic Bethlehem. Morning Call, December 5, 2018.

Sara K. Satullo, “Why Neighbors Aren’t Excited about This Business Invested $1.3M in a Historic Home in Their Neighborhood.”, December 5, 2018.

Jacob Kise, “Bethlehem Council Approves Amendment Allowing Historic House to be Converted to Office.” WFMZ-TV, December 5, 2018.

Gadfly left you at the end of his last post urging those of you who were not involved in the 2 W. Market issue to come to the meeting to witness “democracy in action.”

Gadfly knew it was a “can’t miss” for those involved.

But for the rest of Gadfly followers it should have been a “can’t miss” as well.

It was indeed democracy in action, Gadfly’s Norman Rockwell small-town fantasy come alive.

Maybe 30 speakers on this the third night of testimony totaling over 10 hrs. total.

When Gadfly spoke he couldn’t help calling attention to the vigorous contrasting comments that preceded him by Mr. Fitzpatrick “for” and Mr. Diamond “against” — the high quality passionate presentations that Gadfly has always admired by our residents.

Mr. Rij, patriarch of the petitioners, made a dramatic climactic appearance.

The Mayor spoke.

And then the voting. Tension high.

CW Negron “no.”

CM Colon “no.”

Gasp: 0-2.

CM Callahan, long, long, and then “yes.”

CM Martell “yes.”

O, god, 2-2.

CW Van Wirt “no.”

CM Reynolds “yes.”

Be still my heart, 3-3.

President Waldron, making us die a thousand deaths as he suspensefully wrung us to conclusion:

“This is going to be a 4-3 vote [yes, yes, we get it, but which way?], which is a rare thing on this Council. More often than not it’s 7-0 because there are clear answers and clear solutions to problems [yes, yes, history later, which side? which side?]. This is one where it’s a little bit trickier for sure. Last night we had our 4th budget meeting in which we were discussing a $78m budget for our city including a tax increase of 3% [tonight, damn it, tonight, how are you voting?]. We ended the meeting with one person from the public who was here to be part of that meeting [There were 2 for most of the meeting, but Gadfly was called away for a meeting with his therapist]. This goes to show you where a $78m budget lines up with how people passionately feel about their neighborhood. I think that shows the level of engagement in a both positive and negative way, depending on how you want to look at it [if you wait any longer, I’m urging impeachment]. I think it ultimately comes down to the point of what Dr. Van Wirt said [you, you, President Adam Waldron, you, what are you saying?], is this a net positive for the neighborhood and the city. And I come down clearly on the side that yes, it is. So I will be supporting the amendment this evening [Gadfly fainted].

4-3 in favor of the petition.

Gadfly, remember, had his wing on denial.

Second reading (and voting) on December 18. So don’t go away.

And stay tuned for some analysis of the evening’s proceedings.

5 thoughts on “Democracy in Action (42)

  1. From Beall Fowler:

    About 15 years ago Ralph Schwarz was honored at the Historic Bethlehem holiday dinner. He began his remarks by saying, “The reason we are all here is that we all love Bethlehem.” That phrase has stuck with me since, and I have used it myself on a number of occasions. The long and passionate debate last night at Council rekindled that phrase in my mind: we were all there because we all love Bethlehem! Why else spend 3 hours in that packed chamber and engage as we all did? Yes, we all love Bethlehem – we just have disagreements about what is best for this wonderful city. As you say, democracy in action!


  2. I’m not sure this is a good example of democracy in action. Letting everyone voice their opinion is only one part of ‘democracy’.

    Step 1 is to make sure that all involved have access to all the information needed to evaluate the proposition. In this case, it would have to include more facts (not opinions) on potential impacts other than this one property. This would take a lot of effort, but that enlightened participation is what makes democracy possible.

    And the final step in democracy is for the people to decide — not politicians with a troubling record of acting in the self interest of certain ‘connected’ people and/or their own self-interest.

  3. On another topic from this meeting, the inappropriate violation of the COA for the Benner building. While it is true that the historic boards are ‘only advisory’, this administration has a troubling record of pushing them to approve things that are clearly against the guidelines; Council also has a troubling record of over-riding the historic board’s recommendations to promote certain development.

    In this case, the HCC was very clear about the setback for the top floor, and it was a condition of approval. For the city to issue a building permit was irresponsible or incompetent. For the council to over-ride the HCC and give retroactive permission is outrageous. Council is supposed to represent the people, not developers and private business.

    And, by the way, it is most visible from street level, and not all that visible from the Fahy Bridge.

  4. From Breena Holland:

    Yes, hours of fun last night as city council once again revealed its singular ability to support ongoing violations of our zoning code. Was Waldron even awake while Dr. Wirt was speaking? He must have been sleeping if he thought her vote hinged on whether the proposed zoning amendment was “a net positive to the neighborhood and the city”? Dr. Wirt was not making some utilitarian calculus based on the number of friends Herman Rij could turnout to a council meeting. Her argument was that council should defer to the majority of decisions on this matter made by our own zoning board and the wisdom of those members of our own planning commission who had bothered to offer a reason for their vote on whether to support the amendment. Waldron’s confused reference to Dr. Wirt’s argument probably just reveals his own internal conflict about whether to support something that a commonwealth court has already rejected as “spot zoning” and the general practice of the other three “aye” voters to support whatever strategy the mayor’s staff cooks up to help developers work around local laws (seriously, when has one of them besides Waldron ever voted against a developer or friend of the mayor?). Waldron was probably the one who was doing the calculus, but one intended to align him with the side most likely to sow chaos and hostility in the event of losing the vote. He wouldn’t want to be the person responsible for disrupting business-as-usual in Bethlehem—that would take more courage than we can expect from him in a single month, maybe even in a single year.

    If anything was revealed after nearly everyone left the meeting – when city council overturned the Historic Conservation Commission’s denial of a Certificate of Appropriateness for Dennis Benner’s building changes that violated the Certificate of Appropriateness they previously issued him – Waldron sided with those on council who are apparently unable to contain their hostility. Listening to Councilman Callahan yelling at Councilwoman Negron about what’s good for the South Side made it pretty clear why Waldron would want to try to keep the peace. If he were more skilled in that endeavor, the audience might have been spared Callahan’s ranting and raving about whether Negron knows anything about the community she’s actually lived in for nearly two decades. It was reminiscent of Councilman Reynold’s attacking Dr. Wirt’s motives when she questioned the decision to bail out the golf course. Can someone give these guys a copy of Robert’s Rules? If they are going to vote – time and time and time again – to let the same people break whatever rules they want in this city, can they at least show a little more professional integrity when they have to deal with colleagues who deviate from their utterly predictable behavior?


  5. Gadfly’s rosy image of democracy in action has been robustly whacked a couple times. He left the meeting before the “Benner” part, thinking the “action” was over. Reports of what when on there are disturbing. Gadfly is trying to get more information and will post later.

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