“This decision leaves many questions unanswered”

(115th in a series of posts on parking)

Steve Melnick is a retired economic development executive and a 25-year resident of Bethlehem.

It strains my credulity to believe that one developer willingly overpaid by some $200,000 dollars and then asked to be included in the CRIZ to recoup some of the costs of the proiect and the other developer didn’t ask for the same benefit. This decision leaves many questions unanswered. One developer has national retail clients lined up and the other one doesn’t. One developer asks for financial incentives after agreeing to pay $200,000 more than the other and doesn’t bring as much experience to the project. It seems to me that after overpaying for their last project, the BPA took the extra cash simply to offset any deficits they may have. Long range benefits be damned.

Steve

Lack of discussion by the BPA before voting

(114th in a series of posts on parking)

Audio from the August 28 Bethlehem Parking Authority meeting:

City of Bethlehem ad hoc committee report: BPA Proposal Analysis (FINAL)_1

Pertinent attendees:
The City ad hoc committee: Alicia Karner, Eric Evans, Paige Van Wirt
City Councilman: Bryan Callahan (liaison to BPA)
BPA Exec Director: Kevin Livingston
BPA Board: Joseph Hoffmeier, Dino Cantelmi, Billy Kounoupis, Lynn Cunningham, Eugene Gonzalez
The BPA financial guys
Nova representatives
Desman consultant
Reporters
Your Gadfly
Several others Gadfly didn’t know

The BPA Board was to decide between two proposals for retail/residential development associated with the Polk Street Garage: Nova and Peron.

Board members were sent the proposals and the City ad hoc committee report the previous week.

This section of the meeting was opened by an objective description of both proposals by the BPA consultant from Desman. He made no recommendation but refreshed people on the comparative proposals.

If you know anything about Gadfly, you know he values conversation: “Good conversation builds community.”

Gadfly expected discussion before a motion. Gadfly is not all that conversant (good SAT word) with parliamentary procedure, and he is used to more collegial decision-making, so he was surprised at the immediate motion supporting Peron.

Gadfly has attended many other “hot-button” City ABCs where after discussion by the Board, the floor is opened to the public.

Gadfly feels something like that should have happened here.

The City had been asked to participate, asked to make a recommendation, and three committee members were present prepared to discuss their report.

The City report gave several reasons for their conclusion and, perhaps anticipating that the Board might immediately favor the highest bidder, counseled that the finances were more complex than represented and would require more investigation and evaluation.

No investigation or evaluation of the financial matters had been performed.

And the City committee members were not invited to speak.

Nova was not invited to speak. (Gadfly is not sure if Peron representatives were there, but one of the newspaper articles seemed to imply that Peron’s Rob DeBeer was there.)

There was really no interaction among Board members either, no chance to determine how conversant (worked it in twice!) they were with the various documents and the issues.

There was no sense that the Board members weighed issues involved in the decision.

In fact, Gadfly has never seen substantive discussion in any Board meeting he attended nor seen such recorded in any past minutes he has consulted.

The usual procedure in Gadfly’s experience is exactly what happened here, a motion quickly followed by a unanimous voice vote.

Let’s come back and chew on the issues — was there nothing in the ad hoc report worth discussing? — but as far as process and procedure is concerned, Gadfly feels the BPA failed completely.

More info on the BPA meeting on Polk to chew on

(113th in a series of posts on parking)

There are some things regarding the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s choice of the retail/residential component of the Polk Street Garage development that we ought to be chewing on (damn prepositions: “on which we ought to be chewing” is what Gadfly meant to say).

Gadfly likes to lay out the primary sources for you to use to do your own thinking.

Here’s the Gadfly audio (10 mins.) of that section of yesterday’s BPA Board meeting (BPA has not agreed to move all their meetings to a later time nor move to Town Hall and have meetings live-streamed and archived, but they are now posting audio on their web site under News):

The Desman consultant to BPA read what he described as an objective analysis of both the Nova and Peron proposals, Board member Ms. Cunningham immediately moved to accept the Peron proposal based on the significant money difference, Board chair Hoffmeier agreed with a few comments, Board member Kounoupis colorfully agreed, and then the Board voted unanimously for Peron.

The left rendering is Nova, the right Peron:

Here’s the memo from the City ad hoc committee favoring Nova and stating that “While there is a difference in the offered purchase price, each proposal has complex financial aspects that should be evaluated by the BPA.” There was no indication of such evaluation, and the Board moved immediately to the Peron proposal because of the purchase price differential.

BPA Proposal Analysis (FINAL)_1

This is the conclusion:

“Both proposals received were comprehensive, thorough and comparable in Proposal and Presentation Format, Planning and Zoning Consistency and Financial Viability. While both entities are experienced, capable and successful, Nova Development has a stronger track record of project completion in the City of Bethlehem and a more desirable building design. The Nova design would add a variety of building styles to the corridor and is inclusive of more desirable design elements. The overall aesthetics, including the stone arches reflecting the ruins and the steel elements, provide an overall stronger relationship to the place in with the building is located. Additionally, Nova Development’s proposed use of the building is more comprehensive, providing commercial opportunities beyond first floor retail and greater opportunity for use by the general public. The proposed roof use of the Nova design, as either an amenity or restaurant, is a significant strength in the proposal and is a large factor in the difference between the two proposals. It is important to note that there was significant discussion around the uniqueness of The Factory Retail and the value that tenant brings to the project. If The Factory Retail is exclusively associated with the Peron/Petrucci proposal, the loss of that opportunity would be considered the largest negative, if the Nova proposal is selected. While there is a difference in the offered purchase price, each proposal has complex financial aspects that should be evaluated by the BPA, including significant variances in contract parking spaces and some uncertainty around the potential for CRIZ increment generation.”

Without such financial evaluation, should the BPA have moved so quickly to accept the Peron proposal?

In any event, should the other positive aspects of the Nova proposal be overshadowed by the dollar signs?

Chew on!

“South Side Bethlehem’s new $16.8 million Polk Street parking deck isn’t going to be your average concrete monstrosity”

(112th in a series of posts on parking)

Meet the Polk Street Garage that will be more than a garage. Gadfly has clips from the two media stories below, but he suggests that you read both articles fully. Note especially the opinion of the City ad hoc committee. More comment and analysis coming.

Polk St sketch 2

Polk St sketch 3

Polk St sketch 4
renderings from both lehighvalleylive and Morning Call

Nicole Radzievich, “Here’s a look at what will front a future south Bethlehem garage.” Morning Call, August 28, 2019.

A long-envisioned parking garage in south Bethlehem would be fronted by a five-story building of high-end apartments and a ground-floor retail store, under the proposal the Bethlehem Parking Authority selected Wednesday.

The 8,000 square feet of retail space is to be anchored by Factory Retail, a project of the nearby Factory that opened in a former Bethlehem Steel building by former FreshPet executive Richard Thompson. That’s an innovation campus or launching pad to raise relatively new food and beverage companies to the next level — a term known as “scale up.”

The residential portion of the $6.4 million project, proposed for Polk and Third streets, is to include 32 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The project was picked over one by Nova Development, a subsidiary of Allied Building Corp. of Bethlehem. The biggest difference was over how much each was willing to pay for the 12,000 square feet of land needed to build the project, authority members said.

The decision comes after a city ad hoc committee had reviewed the proposals, concluding both entities were “experienced, capable and successful” but that Nova “has a stronger track record of project completion in the city” and proposed “a more desirable building design,” including the rooftop which could feature a restaurant or other amenities. The committee also advised that there was much “uncertainty” around the CRIZ designation part of Peron’s proposal.

According to the memo, the committee expressed concerns around the capacity of Peron “to complete the project without delaying or sacrificing” other projects it has already undertaken in the city.

The ad hoc committee also noted the uniqueness of the Factory Retail portion, saying it would be a lost opportunity if it were exclusively associated wit the Peron/Petrucci proposal and not picked.

The Nova project said it had lined up a national retail tenant for the project.

Other big differences in the proposals had to do with how much parking each needed from the proposed garage. Nova anticipated at least 75 spaces and Peron/Petrucci 32, according to the proposals.

Also on Wednesday, the Parking Authority backed taking out a private loan to be taken out to pay for an estimated $16.8 million garage.

 

Sara Satullo, “‘A lot of ka-ching,’ unique tenant put this Polk Street proposal on top for Bethlehem.” lehighvalleylive.com, August 29, 2019.

South Side Bethlehem’s new $16.8 million Polk Street parking deck isn’t going to be your average concrete monstrosity.

In order to not waste prime real estate along one of South Bethlehem’s fastest changing corridors, the Bethlehem Parking Authority put out a call for proposals for a mixed use development fronting East Third and Polk streets with the garage to the rear. Proposals were received June 7 and then they were vetted by the authority, its Desman parking consultants and an independent committee of city officials.

On Wednesday night, the authority’s board selected a Peron Development and J.G. Petrucci Co. plan that proposes a five-story building with 32 luxury apartments on the upper four floors and a unique first floor retail user.

Peron beat out a proposal from Anthony Scarcia’s Nova Development and Allied Building Corporation that pitched a six-story, $7 million project with 7,700-square-feet of first-floor retail with commitments from two nationally-recognized tenants, 45 apartments and a rooftop space that could act as a building amenity or restaurant.

Peron’s offer of nearly $200,000 more in their purchase price for the land sealed the deal for the authority’s board members.

“It is a lot of ka-ching,” said Billy Kounoupis, member and owner of Billy’s Downtown Diner in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.

The authority is planning a deck with at least 470 spaces and a 30-spot parking lot with bid alternatives that could grow the garage to 750 spaces with enough commitments. The board also authorized issuing bonds of up to $25 million for the project, which is estimated to cost $16.8 million.

Authority board members expressed excitement for Peron’s proposed retail tenant. The 8,000-square-foot ground floor is to be anchored by a unique type of retail run by The Factory — the glossy, high-tech innovation laboratory for entrepreneurs located steps away on Columbia Street in a former Bethlehem Steel Corp. building.

Customers will be able to learn about entrepreneurship and food production while sampling and shopping for products from a rotating lineup of retailers. The Factory partners with companies like Mikey’s and Honey Stinger looking to scale-up their business and innovate in their facilities.

The city committee formed to evaluate the proposals for the authority came to a different conclusion, backing the Nova Development project due to the company’s stronger track record of project completion and a better building design that adds to the variety of styles in the corridor.

“The overall aesthetics, including the stone arches reflecting the ruins and the steel elements, provide an overall stronger relationship to the place in (which) the building is located,” the committee’s memo states. In a memo, the committee said the difference in purchase price is not the only financial aspect to consider and pointed to the large gap in contracted parking spaces.

Parking Authority Chairman Joe Hoffmeier said he ultimately thinks the number of contracted parking spaces would end up being similar. The Factory already is committing to spots in Polk Street. “I’m not walking away from $200,000,” he said.

Shenanigans happen at Zoning Hearing Board meetings

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Al Bernotas is a 36-year resident of Bethlehem, somewhat of a law and order zoning wonk, with many years fighting a ruling by the Zoning Hearing Board, only to find out that they had discretion to do whatever they want to do. So said the Commonwealth Court, with the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania turning down a request to hear the case. Now he just spends much of his time mowing his lawn, while watching tractor-trailers mosey on down the residential street whereupon he lives, Johnston Drive. In his spare time he is a Medicare Advisor, Census Bureau Enumerator, and Landscape Specialist, and All-around Handyman. Or, some other folks would call him a know-it-all.

The Gadfly blog states, “The last Zoning Hearing Board meeting was livestreamed [sic] and is available on YouTube (not on a City archive yet).”

It would have been great if back on November 10, 2010, the Zoning Hearing Board meeting would have been live-streamed. Then we would not have had to worry about the lost or destroyed transcript. The story is below, in a detailed press release from the Zoning Hearing Board.

The nub of the story is that during the November 10, 2010, meeting the Zoning Officer put his foot in his mouth, to the point where the Zoning Board solicitor asked if he (the Zoning Officer) would like to stop the meeting so that he could obtain legal counsel. This version of the story cannot be proven, because the transcript was lost or destroyed.

But, I was there. It happened.

Shenanigans happen at Zoning Hearing Board meetings. Videotaping each session will go a long way to disinfecting the meetings. And so will public deliberations!

If you want to know the rest of the story, read the Press Release below.

Al

***

PRESS RELEASE – BETHLEHEM ZONING HEARING BOARD

On September 30, 2010, the Northampton County Court filed an Order affirming the prior decision of the Zoning Hearing Board of the City of Bethlehem regarding Elias Market located at 3131 Linden Street in the City of Bethlehem. However, the Court remanded the matter back to the Board to address a procedural defect by the City of Bethlehem Zoning Office in the initial appeal. On November 10 and November 29, 2010 the Board held hearings consistent with the Court’s Order. The Board unanimously granted the Elias’ Market request for Special Exception at the conclusion of the Hearing. On January 13, 2011 the Board filed its Formal Decision.

On February 10, 2011, Al Bernotas, Walter Ward and Guishu Fang filed an appeal in Northampton County. As is standard procedure, the Board was served with a writ to produce the record from the proceedings that includes the original decision, all exhibits, and the transcript from both hearings. Numerous attempts were made to obtain the transcript from the stenographer. The Board was informed that there was a computer diskette error with the November 10, 2010 transcript. The stenographer informed the Board that it would take two weeks to go back through the “paper tape” produced by the stenographic machine and prepare the transcript. The Board authorized the stenographer to prepare the transcript. Several additional attempts were made to obtain the transcript in the subsequent weeks and the answer was always that “it will take a couple of weeks.”

The matter was scheduled for Argument Court in April and May, 2011. Both dates were continued by the Appellants because the original transcript from the November 10, 2010 hearing had not been produced. Following the June 22, 2011 meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board, the stenographer advised that he lost the paper tape, could not retrieve data from the diskette used at that hearing and could not locate an audio tape from the November 10, 2010 hearing. As a result, he could not complete the transcript. The Board then directed the stenographer to produce either a completed transcript or turn over all records and information pertaining to the November 10, 2010. The Board obtained the
computer diskette on June 27, 2011 and no data, retrievable or otherwise, was found within the diskette. No other notes, tapes or audio records were turned over to the Board.

Section 908(7) of the Municipalities Planning Code requires “*T+he board or the hearing officer, as the case may be, shall keep a stenographic record of the proceedings…” Case law reiterates that failure to comply with this section “is fatal” and such cases must be remanded back to the board for a new hearing (Penn Tp. Bd. of Supervisors v. DeRose, 339 A.2d 859, 18 Pa.Cmwlth. 626, Cmwlth. 1975, Howarth v. Trumbauersville Borough Zoning Hearing Bd., 20 Bucks 609 (1971).

As such, the Board will reconvene for the purpose of re-litigating the November 10, 2010 hearing. The Board directed its solicitor to contact the attorneys representing their respective clients, including the solicitor for the Bethlehem City Council. It is our understanding that the parties are in agreement that a rehearing of only the November 10, 2010 meeting is required. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board will review the prior transcript from November 29, 2010 and will then vote upon the matter in an effort to preserve the record for the ongoing litigation in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas.

Ultimately, it is the Board’s responsibility to preserve the record. We are deeply embarrassed and have taken affirmative measures, along with the City of Bethlehem, to make certain that this situation never happens again. This includes hiring a new stenographer with modernized recording devices and multiple levels of redundancy. We sincerely regret the inconvenience that this has caused to all of the parties involved and will do everything humanly possible to expedite this matter.

Gus Loupos, Chairman
William Fitzpatrick, Member
Kenneth Kraft, Member
Ronald Lutes, Alternate Member

“Member rant ends meeting”

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Gadfly thought he was done with this thread on the August 20 City Council meeting.

The purpose of which thread is to give us important information about our city officials when we come time to vote.

Today’s Bethlehem Press article doesn’t mince words.

The front-page headline is “Member rant ends meeting.”

We now have three reporter perspectives and Gadfly’s mini-series.

Douglas Graves, “Member rant ends meeting; Zoning issue questioned.” Bethlehem Press, August 28, 2019.

The Bethlehem City Council meeting went off the rails Aug. 23 [20].

Councilman Bryan Callahan started out challenging some comments that he alleged were made by another councilperson to one of Mayor Robert Donchez’s nominees for the Zoning Hearing Board.

At the heart of Callahan’s indignation was the idea that campaign contributions would somehow influence a politician’s vote and thus call into question the civil servant’s integrity.

For more than half an hour, Callahan expressed his grievances to council, while frequently lapsing into charges and complaints leveled directly to individuals on the city council, a violation of council rules.

Callahan repeatedly claimed that his only goal was to introduce open debate on issues as opposed to deciding issues via phone calls and back-room deals.

A Polk Street Garage rendering

(111th in a series of posts on parking)

Lookie here:

Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem agency authorizes design of 585-spot garage.” November 20, 2014.

Yes, a 2014 newspaper article.

Rendering of the proposed Polk Street Garage:

Polk St sketch

What Gadfly did not realize and/or fully appreciate was that the Polk Street Garage has a history going back several years when it was under control of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority before being transferred to the Parking Authority.

A “history” by Tony Hanna for the Mayor: Polk Street Parking Garage Timeline and Background

And it was designed then and run through City approvals.

That design should basically be the design now.

And it’s got some things Gadfly was looking for.

From the Gadfly mail bag:

“The rendering of the garage facade shows the retail/mixed-use building in front of the South facade running along East Third Street. It shows a multi-story building running in front of the garage. The assumption is the garage design is not going to be very different than the design completed by the RDA that received City Planning Commission approval.”

“The garage is set back from the street, providing for a space to build a building that could conceivably hide the garage facade and provide for street front retail, office, and perhaps residential in the new multi-story building. ‘Ground-floor retail’ implies that the retail would just be on the ground floor of the garage — similar to South New Street. Polk Street is more along the lines of Speck and other good planners and developers.”

“The PSPG design and development doesn’t get more sustainable and more ‘new urbanism’ friendly. It’s being built on a brownfield, and the stormwater management system was especially designed to minimize stormwater impacts on the site and the community. A comprehensive traffic study was completed, and the garage was designed accordingly. Finally, the East Third Street side of the parking facility will have a ‘liner mixed-use’ building built to ‘hide’ the garage facade on the south side of the structure, keeping the streetscape lively and active. Jeff Speck would be proud.”

On the street level of the New Street Garage is the Police substation and the Southside Arts District office. These storefronts always seem “dead” to Gadfly — not really contributing to streetscape. Nothing really to see there if you are a walker. He hopes we get something more “lively and active” for 3rd Street. He can’t get out of his head Missy’s idea of a piano out in the open on the sidewalk by the college!

And Gadfly is glad to read in the 2014 article that the garage entrances are planned for Filmore and on 2nd St., not on 3rd Street. Gadfly doesn’t like the New Street Garage entrance on New St. – but maybe there was no other option.

But Gadfly still thinks that the BPA should open up a conversation on the design and specifically address issues of aesthetics, walkability, and the recent letter from the Environmental Advisory Council. And Gadfly still thinks about Missy Harnett’s idea of a piano on the street by the college!

It looks like good ideas were incorporated into the design. It would be good to see them, hear about them.

Thank you, followers, for filling Gadfly in.

Remind me where 3rd and Polk is, Gadfly

(110th in a series of posts on parking)

The Parking Authority never did come back to City Council in August to share and discuss their final financial statement on the Polk Street Garage.

Promises, promises.

Sigh.

Instead, tonight they are signing the papers that get PSG going.

So we are going to have a garage at 3rd and Polk Streets for $16.8m. Could be by end of 2020.

But you know Gadfly had resigned himself to that.

And the last time we met on this topic he was on to concern about the design of the garage.

He was saying such things as, Well, if we are going to have a garage, let’s make sure it incorporates the best design ideas and that it aligns with such City goals as walkability and Climate Action.

And you know he was reading Jeff Speck’s books on walkability and getting idea after idea.

Gadfly eagerly wants “us” to have a conversation about the design before it’s too late, before the PSG goes into production.

Gadfly rather likes the current “feel” of the eastern corridor of 3rd Street between New and Hayes. How ’bout you?

Can you picture where the new garage will be? Some people have to pause and think.

3rd and Polk. Where Polk takes that bent jog across 3rd. Open tree-lined space now. Between Charter Arts and Northampton Community College. Catercorner from Molinari’s on one end and Five10 Flats on the other.

The circled area in the center of the map here:

Polk St Garage Google

Polk looking north, Charter Arts on your left, garage space on right:

Polk St Garage 1

Looking east from Molinari’s corner, NCC behind trees in the center:

Polk St Garage 2

Looking west, that’s Five10 Flats under construction on left, garage space on right:

Polk St Garage 5

Polk looking south, garage space on left, Charter Arts on right:

Polk St Garage 3

Got it in your mind’s-eye now?

We want a great design on that corner, right?

Missy Hartnett of Southside Arts District talked of putting a piano on the street by NCC — Whoa! Are we going to be funkeeeee?

And though Gadfly’s heard all kinds of talk about the size of the garage and the cost of the garage and such, he’s been hoping for a design, hoping that he could “see” what is planned.

Well, thanks to good followers, there is some information he can tell you, show you.

Follow on.

Look what’s going down: Parking Authority meets at 6pm today

(The latest in a series of posts on City government and parking)

“Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down”
Buffalo Springfield 1967

Back in the days when there still was a tower named Martin, several people — especially Diane Szabo Backus and Paige Van Wirt — raised some dust over City ABCs (Authorities, Boards, and Commissions) that meet in the afternoon, at a time when probably the greater number of residents work and thus are unable to attend.

Hizzoner the Mayor got the message and asked those earlybirds to move to later times — and to videotape their meetings.

Gadfly witnessed some harumphing from those ABCs.

Except the Redevelopment Authority. Good scouts there.

But “There’s something happening here . . . look what’s going down.”

The last Zoning Hearing Board meeting was livestreamed and is available on YouTube (not on a City archive yet).

The Planning Commission moved to 6pm Monday night.

And so did the Bethlehem Parking Authority for its meeting tonight.

The BPA meets tonight 6pm in their bunker on North St.

It didn’t take “A thousand people in the street / Singing songs and carrying signs.”

Just forceful voices like DSB and PVW.

Thank you, YerHonor.

Not perfect yet. The BPA hasn’t agreed to move out of the bunker to the Town Hall “People’s House” and will only do 6pm for “hot issue” meetings.

Sigh. We live in a fallen world.

What’s the hot issue tonight? Major legal stuff advancing the Polk Street Garage.

Paperwork stuff. Legal stuff. Ceremonial stuff.

No debating probably. But still hot stuff for the City.

Polk St agenda

We ought to reward BPA’s time flexibility by turning out in the dozens and swarming around the act of signing us in to $16.8m debt like pictures we see of such ceremonies in the Oval Office.

If we don’t turn out, they’ll say, “See, they’re ungrateful.”

Now Gadfly is being snarky (not a good SAT word).

But actually he has what he thinks is some good news about the Polker.

Hang around for another post or two.

Gadfly knows that the Buffalo Springfield song has absolutely no relation to anything at issue here, but it is a wonderfully haunting tune, isn’t it?

Another heads-up on Touchstone Theater’s 10-day “Festival Unbound” in October

(Latest in a series of posts on the Arts)

Festival UnBound

Touchstone Theater is truly one of those places that makes Bethlehem special.

Make sure Touchstone’s 10-day “Festival Unbound” — featuring many local artists and performers and taking place at a variety of local venues — is on your calendar: October 4-13.

Festival UnBound is designed “to use art to bring the community together to explore its future now that it is ‘unbound’ from the Steel.”

Far out!

One of the events in the festival is “The Secret,” an original play on Bethlehem-born writer H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), part of the Finding H.D. series that followers know that we have been . . . well, following. More on that event  later.

Take a look at this fine article on the festival and particularly on its centerpiece “Prometheus/Redux.”

Kathy Lauer-Williams, “Theater previews: ‘Prometheus/Redux’ at Touchstone,” Morning Call, August 19, 2019.

Prometheus

Bill George plays Prometheus. Photo by Christopher Shorr.

“Prometheus/Redux,” is Touchstone’s sequel to “Steelbound,” a 1999 groundbreaking theatrical work, which reflected on what Bethlehem Steel once meant to the region, shortly after the closing of the iconic company.

“Steelbound” which featured a cast of more than 50, including former steel workers and their families and neighbors, and was produced in the iron foundry of the closed Steel plant in south Bethlehem. The sold-out production was the centerpiece of the company’s Steel Festival, which celebrated Bethlehem’s heritage of steel-making.

“Steelbound” was an adaptation of Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound,” a Greek tragedy in which Prometheus, who stands for human progress against the forces of nature, was punished by Zeus by being chained to a rock, where an eagle perpetually ate his liver. In the work, Bill George, Touchstone co-founder and ensemble member, played a steelworker named Prometheus.

In “Prometheus/Redux,” written by Gerard Stropnicky, co-founder of Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, George returns as Prometheus 20 years after he left the Steel. However, now, instead of being chained to the ladle, he is bound to a hospital bed, suffering liver failure and trying find a place for himself in a changed world.

“Prometheus/Redux” will run during the festival’s opening weekend at Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts.

The play takes place in a Bethlehem hospital, representing the healthcare industry, one of the area’s strongest industries post-Steel. Many characters are hospital staff, and part of the team that tends to Prometheus.

“We want to honor the work of the healthcare field by taking the action seriously, and portraying it realistically,” says Christopher Shorr, director of “Prometheus/Redux” and director of theater at Moravian College.

Far out!

Festival UnBound

An example of good Zoning Board action

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Al Bernotas is a 36-year resident of Bethlehem, somewhat of a law and order zoning wonk, with many years fighting a ruling by the Zoning Hearing Board, only to find out that they had discretion to do whatever they want to do. So said the Commonwealth Court, with the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania turning down a request to hear the case. Now he just spends much of his time mowing his lawn, while watching tractor-trailers mosey on down the residential street whereupon he lives, Johnston Drive. In his spare time he is a Medicare Advisor, Census Bureau Enumerator, and Landscape Specialist, and All-around Handyman. Or, some other folks would call him a know-it-all.

Gadfly:

My experience with the zoning hearing board shows me that, in the past, they would stretch every zoning ordinance, and word within, to accommodate the appellant, often to the detriment of a neighborhood or a neighbor. Below, is a summary of a zoning case which I feel sets a good example of how to work with the zoning code. Hopefully, Bethlehem’s current Zoning Hearing Board is more inclined to work within the letter and spirit of the law.

***
NY Appellate Court Upholds Zoning Board’s Denial of Application to Change Nonconforming Use to Another Nonconforming Use and for Area Variance
by Patricia Salkin

Petitioner purchased real property in December 2013 on which a gas station and auto repair shop were operated as a legal nonconforming use. In May 2015, the petitioner sought approval to renovate the gas station and convert the auto repair shop to a convenience store. The application was denied and petitioner applied to the Board of Appeals for permission to change the preexisting nonconforming use to another nonconforming use. The petitioner also sought an area variance in connection with the placement of the convenience store’s solid waste disposal unit. Following a hearing the Board denied the application. The petitioner appealed and the Supreme Court granted the petition, annulled the determination, and, in effect, directed the Board to grant the petitioner’s application. The Board appealed.

The appellate court reversed, noting that “because nonconforming uses are viewed as detrimental to a zoning scheme, the overriding public policy is aimed at their reasonable restriction and eventual elimination…courts will enforce a municipality’s reasonable circumscription of the right to expand the volume or intensity of a prior nonconforming use.” The Court explained that the City code provides that a nonconforming use “may be changed to another nonconforming use … based upon a finding that the proposed use is more consistent with the character of the surrounding neighborhood and having less adverse impacts.” Here the Board determined that the change from a gas station and auto repair shop to a gas station and convenience store would have an adverse impact upon traffic. The Appelllate Court said that the Board’s determination was not irrational and was supported by evidence in the record, and that the denial of the petitioner’s application for the change of nonconforming use rendered the petitioner’s application for an area variance academic.

Nabe v Sosis, 2019 WL 3679336 (NYAD 2 Dept. 8/7/2019)

Al

“BASD Proud Parents” touts programs and provides resources on the charter school issue

(27th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Karen Beck Pooley is a Professor of Practice of Political Science at Lehigh University, where she directs the Environmental Policy Master’s Program.  She also serves as a Senior Associate at czb LLC (an urban planning and neighborhood development consulting firm), and is a member of the Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) School Board and BASD Proud Parents.

Gadfly thought the chatter on charter schools was dying down. But his clipping file seems always full. Remember that for us in Bethlehem, the charter school concern is budgetary. There seem to be no academic or administrative problems such as plague many districts. In fact, Gadfly — grandfather of dancers and actors — hopes to have a pleasant visit at our Charter Arts school in the near future.

Jacqueline Palochko, “Lehigh Valley charter schools tell Allentown School District to ‘live within its means’; reject tuition pay cut.” Morning Call, August 21, 2019.

“Sounding Board: Should state reform charter school law?” Morning Call, August 21, 2019.

Your View by state senator: Charter school costs have created a ‘crisis in education’.

Gadfly:

Hard to believe that another school year is nearly underway!  There’s a lot to look forward to in Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) schools this year:  the ongoing implementation of the district’s nationally recognized literacy program, Reading by Grade 3 (RBG3); the start of BASD Empower, which will provide all 8th through 10th graders with a Chrome Book for use at school and at home this year (and which will extend to all middle and high school students next year); and expanded access to the arts for all elementary and middle school students thanks to support from the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child program.

These exemplary programs are just some of the many things our group, BASD Proud Parents, loves to tout.  Not only do we aim to “shine a light on the innumerable ways our schools are working for our children and our communities,” though.  Our mission is also “to educate parents and our community about issues that impact our public schools and to empower parents, students and neighbors to make our voices heard.”

Along these lines, we’ve spent a lot of time on charter schools.  We hosted a screening of Backpack Full of Cash and public discussion about the film last spring, and we’ve met with state legislators about how the current methods for funding charters short-change public school students and over-burden taxpayers, how the current system for monitoring charter schools (particularly cyber charters) is woefully inadequate, and how little say the public has in charters’ budgetary and programmatic decisions.  We were thrilled to hear that Governor Wolf is committed to tackling these issues, and that local legislators, including Senator Pat Browne, agree that we are at a “crisis point,” with the Commonwealth’s 22-year-old charter law threatening “significant detrimental effects on all of our students’ progress in school.”

If you would like to learn more about charter schools – what they are, how they are funded, what their funding means for local school districts and local taxpayers (given that Lehigh Valley taxpayers now spend more than $100 million on charter schools annually) – please take advantage of the resources BASD Proud Parents has compiled.  (They’re available on our website:  https://basdproudparents.org/.)  Please reach out with comments or questions.  Please help us plan more community events to keep this conversation going.  And please help us support our elected officials as they grapple with drafting the reforms designed to most benefit students and community members.

Karen

The link to BASD Proud Parents — Gadfly loves such community organizations — can always be found on the Gadfly sidebar if you ever need it.

Zoning Board controversy: part — O my god! — 9

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Gadfly thought he was done. He promises this is finale on this topic.

He had shied away from newspaper accounts, wanting not to be influenced.

But he was curious how reporters rather than analysts would cover the contentious part of the meeting.

Here’s coverage by the Morning Call just this morning:

Nicole Radzievich, “How a meeting over a routine board appointment became Bethlehem City Council’s most streamed video.” Morning Call, August 27, 2019.

Heck of a way to get a big tv audience!

The headline in the print edition this morning is “Feud on council turns personal.”

And here’s coverage by lehighvalleylive. com. Sara’s diction is a bit more pungent.

We learn the Mayor’s reasons for the nomination; we learn that Councilwoman Van Wirt is indeed drafting an ethics ordinance; and we learn more from Nominee-1’s side.

The meeting was “fiery.” Councilman Callahan’s defense of Nominee-1 was “impassioned and rambling.” The interchange between Callahan and Councilman Reynolds was “strained,” a “strange exchange,” and “a weird moment in local politics.”

Amen, Sara, Amen.

Sara Satullo, “In fiery meeting, how some campaign donations may have just revived ethics law talk in Bethlehem.” lehighvalleylive.com., August 22, 2019.

Questions surrounding the potential appointment of a recent Bethlehem City Council candidate to the city’s zoning hearing board led to a fiery meeting of council on Tuesday. But they may have also revived talk of creating an ethics law in the Christmas City.

The mayor says Ritter seemed like a logical choice as she was the senior alternate with a long resume of volunteerism and an interest in public service. She also applied to replace Councilman Eric Evans’s on council after he stepped down to become city business administrator.

“If there is going to be an issue that involves someone (who donated to them), they should recuse themself,” said Donchez, who pays for his own car, expenses and meals. “The question is where is the line as far as dollars go? We don’t have a benchmark here.”

The pulled nomination sparked an impassioned and rambling defense of Ritter by Councilman Bryan Callahan, a long-time supporter who nominated her to replace Evans and who loaned her council campaign $4,000. He critiqued Councilwomen Olga Negron and Paige Van Wirt and Councilman J. William Reynolds for not supporting Ritter.

This sparked a strained back-and-forth between Callahan and Reynolds, as Reynolds tried to explain to Callahan why he was failing to connect with his colleagues.

Ultimately, the strange exchange that unfolded Tuesday could go down as more than a weird moment in local politics. It just might have made the case for a comprehensive ethics law in Bethlehem.

Van Wirt is working with the city solicitor to craft an ethics law to bring to council. It is up to council to hammer out contribution levels and time frames for recusals from votes after receiving certain donations, she said. “If anything, this experience has brought into strict definition the fact that we need to have some understanding of when recusal is important,” she said.

In an interview Wednesday, Van Wirt said she called Ritter before the meeting as she does with most nominees. The campaign contributions from developers left Van Wirt concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest and she wanted to know if Ritter planned to recuse herself from projects involving those developers.

From serving on the zoning board, Ritter said Wednesday she feels the board’s attorney already acts as a check against conflicts of interest. “If there is an appearance of a possible conflict, I think you need to disclose that,” Ritter said. She noted when a controversial project near her home came before zoners, she flagged it with the attorney. “You bring it up, disclose it and the chips fall where they may,” Ritter said.

But Ritter does not think the fact that she accepted donations from developers should disqualify her from serving on the zoning board. The donations were legal, Ritter noted most council members have accepted similar donations, and helped her pay to market her campaign.

“Not one person who gave me funding during my campaign asked me for a favor and they know me well enough not to ask because I would never do that,” Ritter said.

Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board Chairman Bill Fitzpatrick said the board complies with any city laws, but there are no campaign contribution guidelines. Ritter has been a conscientious member, he said. “We’ve relied on people to just use their own conscience,” said Fitzpatrick, who was first appointed by former Mayor John Callahan. “… The entire time I have been on the board no one has knowingly advanced any kind of an agenda. There have been numerous members who have recused themselves.”

The Zoning Board controversy: part 8

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

The last 15 minutes of the August 20 City Council meeting were especially painful to Gadfly.

A few people he talked with felt the final colloquy (good SAT word) between Councilman Callahan and Councilman Reynolds was cathartic and thus healthy.

Feelings bottled up finally let loose.

Things needing to be said, said.

Ability now to start fresh.

Gadfly could not find that optimism.

Judge for yourself. He welcomes different perspectives.

(A reminder again that you can see the meeting for yourself: “Zoning Hearing Board appointment withdrawn, Council discussion ensues” or the City web site for audio and video.)

From the beginning BC rather relentlessly pushed PVW and JWR for a response to his pointed commentary.

Egged them on.

In words such as:”Everybody talks about openness” . . . “honest open debate in front of people” . . . “Let’s have the debate” . . . “What are you afraid of?” . . . “No more backroom phone calls” . . . “I’m all ears.”

(Out of the loop spectators like Gadfly could only wonder what of such seriousness some members of Council were doing out of public view and perhaps BC’s view.)

JWR finally took him up.

Watch what you ask for “they” always say.

For JWR talked not of issues, but — offering the “honesty” BC asked for — talked about BC himself and his relationship with Council.

Strong talk. Not in a vindictive but a clinical tone.

Describing dysfunction and fracture long in the making.

JWR: You are “angry and frustrated.” Your response to people, “rather than respectful merit-based disagreement,” is perceived by many, though maybe not intended as such, as personal. “It is not the way things are done here successfully.” Sometimes you say things I agree with, sometimes I definitely disagree, but “what I almost always think is that I disagree with the way you say it.” “It is sad, it’s disappointing, it’s difficult to watch the way that I think that you portray and share your feelings.” You are working for a certain kind of response, and I will not play in to that because “it is not the way to move forward.” “Most of us have no working relationship with you any more.” “The way to persuade is to have a working positive relationship.” “Your problem is the fact that you do not have good relationships.”

Powerful stuff. Months ago president AW referred to JWR — 12 years on Council — by some such phrase as “elder statesman.” I forget exactly what the phrase was. But Gadfly thought of that moment. Earlier in the meeting — being a bit reflective on his tenure himself — JWR talked of things he’s learned “over the years.”

Frankly — and feel free to disagree here — based on BC’s deportment (good SAT word) in the previous 3/4’s of an hour, JWR’s words had the ring of truth.

The reason Gadfly can’t feel optimistic stems from BC’s response to the openness he desired.

JWR’s words did not stimulate reflection but defense.

BC countered with “I have great relationships” with members of Council, citing casual contacts.

BC countered with some personal anecdotes such as JWR calling PVW “some names which I won’t repeat” (which JWR denied). Did we need to hear this?

BC explained some aspects of his relationship with JWR that ended in this fashion: “When you lied to me and stuck it in my back that’s when I stopped having a discussion with you because I’m a man of principle. . . . You in my eyes did something that I thought was unethical.”

Without any details.

What Gadfly would consider innuendo (good SAT word).

All of this made Gadfly feel very uneasy.

As if an accidental auditor of a private conversation with no way to escape without revealing himself.

Like a gaper passing a car wreck.

BC’s “this has been a great debate” totally missed the point for Gadfly.

Even after president AW rebutted BC’s assessment of the night work as a great debate as “not very productive to relationships on Council nor helpful to anyone in the room” (and by extension the rest of the public watching on the livestream or following on this blog), BC thanked him for the opportunity to “vent” and hoped for continuing open debate “and honest and fair discussion in front of everybody.”

Gadfly might be dead wrong on his negative take on the entire Zoning Board discussion section of the August 20 Council meeting.

And he would like to repeat that the negative take has nothing to do with Nominee-1. As Gadfly said earlier: “He should have made clearer that he was implying nothing evil, shady, dishonest about [Nominee-1’s] character. She has an enviable record of public service. On many a City ABC she would be a welcome addition. But in Gadfly’s opinion she was an obvious mismatch in appearance and optics for this position, and the Mayor was tone-deaf in nominating her.”

And he will repeat as well his rationale for the long examination: “One of the goals of the Gadfly project is to help you know your City officials better, so you will have a better idea whom to vote or not vote for when the time comes. Before he became a Gadfly, Gadfly never felt he had enough information at voting time to make a truly responsible choice. So Gadfly feels that it worthwhile to examine this section of the Council meeting in some detail. We will learn something about our elected officials.”

And also repeating that contrary views are invited.

A good example of Zoning Board action

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Al Bernotas is a 36-year resident of Bethlehem, somewhat of a law and order zoning wonk, with many years fighting a ruling by the Zoning Hearing Board, only to find out that they had discretion to do whatever they want to do. So said the Commonwealth Court, with the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania turning down a request to hear the case. Now he just spends much of his time mowing his lawn, while watching tractor-trailers mosey on down the residential street whereupon he lives, Johnston Drive. In his spare time he is a Medicare Advisor, Census Bureau Enumerator, and Landscape Specialist, and All-around Handyman. Or, some other folks would call him a know-it-all.

Gadfly:

My experience with the zoning hearing board shows me that, in the past, they would stretch every zoning ordinance, and word within, to accommodate the appellant, often to the detriment of a neighborhood or a neighbor. Below, is a summary of a zoning case which I feel sets a good example of how to work with the zoning code. Hopefully, Bethlehem’s current Zoning Hearing Board is more inclined to work within the letter and spirit of the law.
***
NY Appellate Court Upholds Zoning Board’s Denial of Application to Change Nonconforming Use to Another Nonconforming Use and for Area Variance
by Patricia Salkin

Petitioner purchased real property in December 2013 on which a gas station and auto repair shop were operated as a legal nonconforming use. In May 2015, the petitioner sought approval to renovate the gas station and convert the auto repair shop to a convenience store. The application was denied and petitioner applied to the Board of Appeals for permission to change the preexisting nonconforming use to another nonconforming use. The petitioner also sought an area variance in connection with the placement of the convenience store’s solid waste disposal unit. Following a hearing the Board denied the application. The petitioner appealed and the Supreme Court granted the petition, annulled the determination, and, in effect, directed the Board to grant the petitioner’s application. The Board appealed.

The appellate court reversed, noting that “because nonconforming uses are viewed as detrimental to a zoning scheme, the overriding public policy is aimed at their reasonable restriction and eventual elimination . . . courts will enforce a municipality’s reasonable circumscription of the right to expand the volume or intensity of a prior nonconforming use.” The Court explained that the City code provides that a nonconforming use “may be changed to another nonconforming use . . . based upon a finding that the proposed use is more consistent with the character of the surrounding neighborhood and having less adverse impacts.” Here the Board determined that the change from a gas station and auto repair shop to a gas station and convenience store would have an adverse impact upon traffic. The Appellate Court said that the Board’s determination was not irrational and was supported by evidence in the record, and that the denial of the petitioner’s application for the change of nonconforming use rendered the petitioner’s application for an area variance academic.

Nabe v Sosis, 2019 WL 3679336 (NYAD 2 Dept. 8/7/2019)

Al

The Zoning Board controversy: part 7

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

gyreWe are now in the upper levels of the widening gyre that for Gadfly represents the structure of Councilman Callahan’s new business “debate” at the August 20 City Council meeting, which started, as we examined a few posts ago, with his concern over Councilwoman Van Wirt’s phone conversation with Zoning Board Nominee-1.

At this highest level of the gyre, BC connects, although unsuccessfully, the rejected appointment of Nominee-1 to the Zoning Board with two big overriding and tricky subjects: campaign finance and recusal.

Both topics, however, that seem to need some legislative guidelines.

It was Councilman Colon who said he looked forward to reopening this conversation with the aim of forming rules and standards for everybody to follow. Amen to that!

So it is good that BC brought these two topics to the forefront.

Let’s take campaign finance first.

BC has caught wind of the fact that PVW may be proposing “a campaign contribution amendment to ban people from raising a certain kind of money.” Since PVW self-funded her recent campaign to the tune of $9000, something that no other member of Council could do, what will happen, he asks, when people who can’t self-fund are limited in the amount or kind of money they can raise? The answer is that “only rich people can run for office,” and that will be a “sad” day. Now Gadfly agrees. He wouldn’t want to see the good Nominee-1’s of the City shut out from seeking office or facing insurmountable odds to success. And he wouldn’t want to see our local government only by the rich. But there is no PVW amendment on the table now to look at, nobody knows exactly what PVW may be proposing in this regard (if anything), so BC’s point about PVW’s views on campaign finance has only distant relevance to the issue at hand and is out of place. But as a result of BC’s heads-up, Gadfly looks forward to a “rich” conversation on this important subject that is worthy of substantial thought.

And then, second, there’s the tricky matter of recusal.

BC finds “bizarre” the “hypocrisy” of JWR taking, over the years, $40-50-60,000 in economic development and Union money and yet penalizing Nominee-1 who took only a minuscule fraction of that. What’s fair about that, he asks?

BC is also quite aware that nobody questioned PVW on her participation in the 2 W. Market case (see under Topics on the Gadfly sidebar). PVW lives on W. Market several houses from the contested one, and it was well known that her sympathies lay with the neighbors trying to oust the business under fire. Yes, Gadfly remembers thinking it curious that PVW got a pass in this deliberation.

So the personal decision of when to recuse and when not looks like it’s also in need of some “rich” conversation aimed at guidelines known to and followed by all.

But these examples do not apply well for BC in the instant situation. Here individuals were left to decide for themselves whether to recuse or not — and BC is not happy with their decisions. Why would it be any different with leaving Nominee-1 to decide for herself? So — as important as a wider recusal conversation is needed — it does not advance BC’s argument here and is out of place.

The Zoning Board controversy: part 6

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Here are a few examples at the lower end of the ever-widening gyre of BC’s earnest and laudably passionate attempt to call attention to what he perceived as a wrong done to a good person by members of Council who did not support her nomination to the Zoning Hearing Board.

1) BC claims that PVW and JWR believe that donations will cause Nominee-1 to hold, to take on a certain position she did not have, rather than ratifying a position already held. He uses himself as an example: he was pro-Union 30 years before he got to Council and Unions started giving him money. But there is no evidence PVW and JWR indeed hold that view. BC simply asserts it without basis. And, in fact, it makes no difference what view they hold about the purpose of the money. It’s the fact that Nominee-1 is pro-development not how she got there that is the issue.

2) Another weak assertion BC makes is that PVW is trying to “pigeon-hole someone into not participating in something that [she is] not in favor of.” But limiting Nominee-1’s power to decide just in cases involving her few donors would have little impact on the wider community of developers. Nominee-1 would still rule in cases involving every other developer. If PVW were enacting an anti-development agenda, this would have minor impact.

3) BC suggests that JWR is playing politics, finding “preposterous” that JWR withholds support from Nominee-1 for such a small amount of money in campaign donations, when he took vastly larger sums from the same or same kind of people — floating but then quickly backwatering the idea that JWR’s lack of support is payback for Nominee-1 running against him. Yikes!

4) BC sees the fuss PVW made over cement particulates (a substance BC said he never heard of, as if she made it up) as an example of “fear-mongering” over the Martin Tower demolition and as part of her anti-development agenda. But the doctor who testified at the Nitschmann open hearing certainly knew of the long-term cancer et al risks from cement particulates. PVW’s health concerns from the demolition were legitimate not “fear-mongering.”

5) Asserting the legitimacy of non-recusal in the case of a donor on the basis of this exact practice by the current Zoning Board chair is not a good argument. Poor judgment does not a precedent make. The fact of the Board chair’s practice makes a better case for an ordinance on the subject so that there are rules that apply to every one.

6) “Mr. Reynolds stabbed me in the back,” claimed BC to impugn JWR’s integrity. Maybe so, maybe so. But no details. Simply an unsubstantiated charge. Probably out of bounds Roberts-Rules-wise anyway.  So this can have no influence over our thinking about the nomination.

Gadfly has been negative here about the quality of BC’s argument, but, surprisingly, you will find him positive, though in an ironic way, as we move next time to the higher levels of his widening gyre image.

The Zoning Board controversy: part 5

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

gyreGadfly has called the structure of the new business discussion at the August 20 City Council meeting a widening gyre.

Let’s begin to spiral up several levels from what Councilwoman Van Wirt asked of Nominee-1 in the phone event that triggered Councilman Callahan’s “new business.”

BC opened by saying that he was “very disappointed by the actions of Councilman Reynolds [JWR], Councilwoman Negron [ON], and Councilwoman Van Wirt [PVW] for their lack of support and the pulling of the name of the highly qualified and ethical candidate for the Zoning Board for no other reason than a couple of perfectly legal campaign donations for her Council race.”

In his subsequent comments BC focused just on PVW and JWR.

BC thought the last hour of the meeting was a “great debate.”

In truth, it was hardly a debate, much less a great one. There was no back-and-forth on content or policy issues.

Only JWR spoke at any length of time at all (and we’ll get to what he talked about later) and not on content or policy issues.

In truth, it was a one-man show. BC’s show. And there are those who thought it was a “circus.”

Before we judge BC’s performance, however, let’s try to understand him. Let’s see where he’s coming from.

In fact, BC said enough about himself in bits and pieces here and there for Gadfly to paint a portrait. Let’s sew those bits and pieces together before we go on.

BC comes from Kaywin, where people struggled economically, even for money for sneakers.

He joined a Union at 18, has been “Union all my entire life,” and is “proud” to be a Union member. He believes that life in America was best for the common people when Unions were ascendant.

BC is a “middle-class guy,” he’s a small business owner, he works 7 days a week.

He’s unabashedly pro-development because development brings Unions and Unions bring good paying jobs.

Unions give him money, and they do so to help him get elected, and their money he will always take, but they do not shape his views, he was pro-Union way before he was ever on Council.

“I am a straight shooter,” says BC, and he expects others to be the same with him.

BC feels injustice, especially for the average worker (witness his concern over the recently fired Zoning officer), yet he can fawn over the rich (the 2 W. Market case) because of his views on development.

BC is committed to, almost obsessed by openness, which he feels is how the public wants to see Council conduct its business, unlike what is happening now.

He’s “Irish” and grew up in a family of 4 brothers where if you didn’t argue, you didn’t eat.

Thus, by nature and nurture, he’s a passionate kind of guy, and he feels that, unfortunately, his passion is often mistaken for anger, so he often apologizes for seeming to be in attack-mode.

So that’s Bryan Callahan, pretty much in his own words.

Did Gadfly get him right? Any additions, qualifications, errors?

You have access to the same primary source he has. You can hear his voice, see his expression.

Now let’s look at what he said and how he said it.

Gadfly told you that part of his mission is to help you “know” your elected officials better so that you are making informed choices.

Good example happening here, eh.

The Zoning Board controversy: part 4

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

It must be stressed that virtually all information about the events leading up to the withdrawal of the nomination presented at the August 20 Council meeting comes from Councilman Callahan (BC). Nominee-1 did not attend the Council meeting (though BC said she may attend and speak next time). We do not have any information directly from Nominee-1. Neither Councilwoman Van Wirt (PVW) nor Councilman Reynolds (JWR) gave any facts about their involvement in the events. Again, virtually all information comes from BC.

So let’s finally get to it, Gadfly!

Was PVW wrong? Does Nominee-1 have a legitimate right to feel bullied? Is BC’s charge of unethical behavior on PVW’s part reasonably based?

What are you thinking?

To help us focus, see if this is a fair statement of the question relating to PVW’s phone contact with Nominee-1.

Was it unethical for PVW to say that her support was contingent on a promise that Nominee-1 would recuse herself from any case involving someone who gave her a campaign donation?

Here’s how Gadfly sees it. See if you agree.

If that is a fair statement of the question — if PVW did ask for such a guarantee as BC described — then for Gadfly the answer is “no” — PVW did nothing unethical.

What was Nominee-1 prepared to do in a case involving one of her donors? As reported by BC, Nominee-1 says that she would judge such cases on their merit and never see a need to recuse herself, implying that the campaign contributions would have no influence.

Did PVW indicate there was anything unethical in the campaign contributions that Nominee-1 received? No.

Did PVW have “probable cause” to raise the issue of Nominee-1’s campaign contributions? Yes, as documented in the previous post, 80-85% of Nominee-1’s campaign contributions came from the pro-development community (for want of a better term), strong evidence (by BC’s own words) of their recognition of her existing pro-development views, thereby raising the appearance of a possible conflict of interest.

Did PVW go “too far” in asking Nominee-1 for a guarantee of recusal? No, as described by BC, PVW asked for recusal only in a case involving one of her donors [individual donors] — nothing more — a situation in which Gadfly feels common sense would normally call for recusal, a situation, that is, needing virtually no reflection. The ethical thing to do would be to recuse yourself in a case involving one of your donors. It sounds to Gadfly that PVW was not calling Nominee-1 unethical but calling her to be ethical.

Is asking for the promise of recusal in a case involving a donor, the same as questioning Nominee-1’s ethics? No, it is pointing out how important it is that judicial processes avoid the appearance of undue outside influence.

What would happen should Nominee-1 recuse herself from a case involving one of her donors? An alternate already previously appointed by City Council would take her place for that one case.

Did PVW (or anyone else on Council) question Nominee-1’s ethics, call her “unethical”? No, according to president AW: “In my conversations with everyone on Council . . . no one accused her of being unethical; that was not an accusation I heard from anyone. That word didn’t come up. So [for BC] to throw that word around I don’t think is fair. . . . Nobody said ‘unethical’ to me. There was a perception of a conflict of interest; that was the term that was used. An appearance. . . .When you [BC] throw that word [‘unethical’] around, it’s a very strong word. It’s not helpful, especially when there’s nothing to stand behind it.”

So for Gadfly there was no evidence presented at the meeting that PVW did anything unethical or that anybody questioned Nominee-1’s ethics.

How do you see it? Gadfly welcomes your views. Make sure they are based on the primary source.

(A reminder again that you can see the meeting for yourself: “Zoning Hearing Board appointment withdrawn, Council discussion ensues” or the City web site for audio and video.)

Gadfly started this series of posts by saying we are going to examine the last section of the August 20 City Council meeting because “we will learn something about our elected officials.”

It’s the thought process of Councilman Callahan and what it tells us about Council dynamics that we want to look at next.

The Zoning Board controversy: part 3

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Gadfly apologizes for the plodding and pedestrian way he approaches issues before making a decision. But he likes to get all the information out there in front of him. And you.

Nominee1 ran unsuccessfully for City Council in the May primary. Here is a listing of her campaign contributions (combining the May and June reports available on the City web site).

Gadfly finds these seeming  — but in this case at hand not especially relevant — errors in the forms:

  • $500 error on the May Part C — one $500 contributor is not identified & left out
  • contributors on the June Part A do not look like PACs
  • no amount given for a contributor on the June Part A
  • Part C in June is incomplete, repeats earlier items, and miscategorizes contributors

These campaign finance reports are the basis for questioning Nominee1’s nomination by the several Councilpersons.

Gadfly may be wrong, but he possibly associates these names with the builder/developer community and pro-developer views — but is ready to stand corrected and apologizes for any mischaracterization: Gavin McGeehan ($100), Thomas Barker ($100), Christian Perruci ($1750), Dennis Benner ($1000), Dominic Villani ($300), David Ronca ($500), Robert DeBeer ($750), and, of course, the political committees.

Councilman Callahan explained the circumstances surrounding his contribution to Nominee1’s campaign at the Council meeting, indicating that it was a loan because of a delay of Union PAC money arriving and that she returned his contribution, but that return is not reflected on these campaign finance reports that Gadfly can see. Again, he apologizes if he is misreading.

The forms also seem to indicate that Nominee1 paid her printing bills before receiving the large contribution from Councilman Callahan — the reason she needed the large loan according to BC — but the forms can be confusing and the Gadfly may be wrong about that.

Many Gadfly followers may have never seen local campaign finance reports. He never did till prompted by this occasion.

What do you see?

Part A: Political Committees $50-$250
100  — McNeil for Pa.

Part B: All Other Contributions $50-$250
100  — Gavin McGeehan
100  — Mark Diluzio
100  — Joanne Tott
100  — Donna Pierog
100 — Gracinda Glick
250  — John Freund III
100  — Evangelina Papadopoulos
100  — Janet Jackson
250  — Daniel Krasnick
250  — Dino and Joanna Cantelmi
100  — Thomas and Jama Barker
100  — Marie Sterlein
250   — Christian Perruci
100   — Mark Will Weber
250   — Rodney and Diane Holt
100  — Walter Culpepper
___________
$2350

Part C: Political Committees over $250
500  — Friends of Kevin Lott
500  — Friends of Bryan Callahan
500  — Asbestos Workers PAC
500  — IBEW Local
4000 — Friends of Bryan Callahan
1000 — International Union of Operating Engineers
___________
$7000

Part D: All Other Contributions over $250
1000 — Dennis Benner
300   — Dominic Villani
500  —  David Ronca
750  —  Robert DeBeer
1500 — Christian Perruci
_________
$4050

More analysis will follow later today or tomorrow. Keep chewing.

The Zoning Board controversy: part 2

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

It must be stressed that virtually all information about the events leading up to the withdrawal of the nomination presented at the August 20 Council meeting comes from Councilman Callahan (BC). Nominee1 did not attend the Council meeting (though BC said she may attend and speak next time). We do not have any information directly from Nominee1. Neither Councilwoman Van Wirt (PVW) nor Councilman Reynolds (JWR) gave any facts about their involvement in the events. Again, virtually all information comes from BC.

Let’s start at the base of the gyre focusing narrowly on the point closest to Councilwoman Van Wirt’s phone call to Nominee1 — the triggering event for Councilman Callahan.

Councilman Callahan (BC) was “very disappointed by the actions of Councilman Reynolds (JWR), Councilwoman Negron (ON), and Councilwoman Van Wirt (PVW) for their lack of support and the pulling of the name of the highly qualified and ethical candidate for the Zoning Board for no other reason than a couple of perfectly legal campaign donations for her Council race.”

BC became involved when Nominee1 contacted him after receiving a call from PVW that BC characterized as “[expressing] concern about her ethics if she didn’t recuse herself.” Nominee1 felt “a little strong-armed and intimidated” by the phone call from PVW. PVW “had asked her that unless she guaranteed that she would recuse herself from participating in any discussion while on the Zoning for anybody that gave her a donation that [she] would not support her.”

(Recuse: to disqualify (oneself) as judge in a particular case; to remove (oneself) from participation to avoid a conflict of interest.)

Nominee1’s response to PVW was “that she couldn’t promise [her] that — that she would take each case on a case-by-case issue and do what’s best for the City of Bethlehem. She wouldn’t recuse herself if she thought it was a good project, and she didn’t want to recuse herself if she thought it was a bad project.”

BC advised Nominee1 to contact the Mayor, the Zoning Board chair, and the City solicitor.

BC addressing PVW:

  • “You’re questioning a woman’s ethics, right,” a woman with a 25-year record of service, and “she’s never-ever been questioned.”
  • “You’re trying to pigeon-hole someone into not participating in something you are not in favor of.”
  • “The thought process . . . is that someone becomes pro-something because they got donations, and it’s incomprehensible to them [PVW, JWR, ON], I think, that maybe the reason why they are getting the donations is because that’s their view, their opinion.”
  • In other words, Nominee1 was not susceptible to forming a view/opinion because of the donations. The donations did not/would not influence her. She already held certain views/opinions.
  • “For a member of Council to call up and bully someone, and that was her [Nominee1’s] term not mine, that she felt she was being strong-armed, I thought that was highly unethical.”
  • “To tell me or anyone else that you are unethical because of your beliefs and that because of your beliefs the people who like those beliefs are participating in the process [is wrong].”
  • “It’s a shame that people can’t take campaign contributions from union members and economic development people when she already has the interests; it’s not like she wasn’t interested in economic development, economic development gave her a donation, now she’s pro-economic development — she’s always been pro-economic development, pro-business.  Big difference.”
  • “There’s a lot of inconsistencies . . . that I think are extremely unfair to tell someone who has been nothing but ethical in her life that you are unethical because she wouldn’t agree to something [PVW] demanded.”

For BC, Nominee1 is a good person — an ethical person — treated unfairly as a result of unethical behavior as perceived by a Council member (focusing here just on PVW).

(Unethical: not conforming to a high moral standard : morally wrong )

Chew on this for a while.

Has Gadfly fairly captured BC’s position narrowly focusing on the action by PVW — (other elements will be discussed later)? Note that he has tried to use BC’s exact words.

What do you think? Is BC right or wrong? Was the decision to pull the nomination right or wrong?

Join Gadfly next time for some analysis.

Gadfly invites your responses throughout his discussion here and in future posts on this topic, but he asks that you treat this “case” as almost a classroom exercise and not make personal comments regarding Nominee1.

The Zoning Board controversy: part 1

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

There was an hour of “New Business” at the City Council meeting Tuesday August 20 —  the last hour of the meeting.

See “Zoning Hearing Board appointment withdrawn, Council discussion ensues” or the City web site for audio and video.

Councilman Callahan was upset that fellow Councilpersons objected to one of the two people nominated to the Zoning Hearing Board, causing the Mayor to withdraw the nominations.

Let’s call that person Nominee1.

Nominee1 is currently an alternate member of the ZHB, having served in that position about a year.

And before we go on, let’s remember a few basics.

City Council has three primary roles and responsibilities: approving legislation, approving the budget, approving members of the many Authorities, Boards, and Commissions (the ABCs) that do the important work of the City.

The Mayor nominates members of the ABCs; City Council approves or disapproves them.

The Zoning Hearing Board is not only one of the ABCs; it is one of what Gadfly calls the “hot-button” ABCs, one of those whose cases can be high profile, whose subject matter can be high impact, and whose decisions can be controversial.

If you are unsure what a Zoning Hearing Board does, Gadfly has just taken several posts to describe a hearing in detail. See “Bethlehem Manor” under topics on the Gadfly sidebar.

And the entire hearing is on video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfqPc02DAVo

The Zoning Hearing Board is a “quasi-judicial” body. Witnesses are sworn in, testimony must be the truth, so help you God. A court recorder takes down all testimony and produces an official transcript. Board deliberations are done “off-the-record” and sometimes literally out of view of the public. Appeals from ZHB decisions go to Northampton County Court.

Councilman Callahan (BC) was “very disappointed by the actions of Councilman Reynolds (JWR), Councilwoman Negron (ON), and Councilwoman Van Wirt (PVW) for their lack of support and the pulling of the name of the highly qualified and ethical candidate for the Zoning Board for no other reason than a couple of perfectly legal campaign donations for her Council race.”

Nominee1 ran unsuccessfully for City Council in the recent May primary.

Councilman Colon (MC) indicated he was prepared to support Nominee1, and President Waldron (AW) moderated the discussion and did not express a preference.

With 3 people slated to vote “no,” Nominee1 would have failed if there were a vote (there being only 6 Council members because of Shawn Martell’s resignation).

So the Mayor withdrew the nominations.

Justification or lack of it for Nominee1’s denial, then, is where the discussion started.

gyreBut the structure of the discussion was more like a widening gyre (anyone recognize the literary allusion?) than a linear progression, moving up and away but still always connected to the original issue.

One of the goals of the Gadfly project is to help you know your City officials better, so you will have a better idea whom to vote or not vote for when the time comes. Before he became a Gadfly, Gadfly never felt he had enough information at voting time to make a truly responsible choice.

So Gadfly feels that it worthwhile to examine this section of the Council meeting in some detail.

We will learn something about our elected officials.

 

Homework assignment

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Good followers: did you review last Tuesday’s City Council meeting as Gadfly urged?

Here on Gadfly at “Zoning Hearing Board appointment withdrawn, Council discussion ensues” or on the City web site.

The last hour of the meeting, Gadfly means — the “New Business” section.

Part of Ol’ Gadfly is saying just let it go.

But he thinks he has to write about it.

And he will value your thoughts.

Two days have passed. Participants have probably cooled.

Gadfly himself has some distance on the happenings.

And will try to put some thoughts together for some time tomorrow.

He will invite you to think along with him.

But it’s important that you are familiar with the primary source and have done some of your own thinking.

 

Mark your calendars: “H.D.’s Bethlehem: A Walking Tour”

(24th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.:
A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

Bethlehem-born writer Hilda Doolittle — H. D. —  (1886-1961) is
the “Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure.”

dollar sign

Contributions to fund the museum-quality portrait of H. D. by local artist Angela Fraleigh that will hang prominently in the library are lagging. Can you please help? Visit http://www.bapl.org/hd/

 

Mark your calendars Sept. 28 for “H.D.’s Bethlehem: A Walking Tour,” led by Seth Moglen. Further details will be announced.

Those of you attending “Finding H. D.” events or following reports of them here on the blog (see Hilda Doolittle on the sidebar) know that H. D. left Bethlehem at age 10, but returned to it artistically throughout her life, and was buried here in Nisky Hill cemetery.

People come to Bethlehem to pay homage at her grave site.

H. D. not only adds to the artistic luster of our town but continues to chip in economically too!

HD Nisky

 

 

 

Gadfly has heard more than one talk of difficulty finding the site.

Seth will guide us.

photo by Jennie Gilrain

 

 

 

One visitor wrote: “The old granite is covered in tokens left by visitors; pebbles, shells [familiar imagery], feathers and folded sheets of paper tucked under a rock and recently plastered to the stone by a night of mid-summer rain. Often, visits to grave sites are lonely affairs, a simple place to stand and be reminded of a literary life well-lived. But H.D.’s memorial does not feel that way. Rather, it suggests that it is its own destination, a place where the writer came full circle, a place others have visited recently and where more are sure to swing by soon; a writer’s end very much connected to her beginning.”

Bethlehem was very special in H. D.’s life.

Finding H.D.:
A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle