City Council and the Police Chief discuss the city marijuana decriminalization ordinance (1)

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Gadfly is anxiously awaiting news of the Public Safety Committee meeting on the police department use of force directives and on a proposed Community Engagement Initiative.

But thinking of the upcoming meeting reminded him of a previous Public Safety meeting on March 3 about police department application of the relatively new city ordinance decriminalizing possession of a small amount of marijuana.

Bethlehem is one of 7 cities in the state to have a local summary offense ordinance that can be used in certain circumstances instead of the stiff state misdemeanor charge that can have severe and long-lasting consequences for someone caught with a small amount of marijuana.

Southside district judge Nancy Matos Gonzalez triggered the meeting by her concern about the difference between the way Lehigh students and Southsiders were being charged for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Gadfly shelved discussion of that meeting when the pandemic caused things to go to hell, but he returns to it now as we are thinking in great depth about the relationship between the police department and the community.

It turns out that, though City Council voted 7-0 in favor of the decriminalizing ordinance, the police department was only using it in about 10% of cases. Council wanted to know why.

It was a very interesting meeting, and Gadfly will spend 2-3 more posts on it.

Chief DiLuzio opened the meeting providing statistics that City Council asked for. Gadfly hopes to provide you with a full copy of those statistics, but the one that catches your attention right away is that in the period since the city ordinance was enacted there were 289 arrests for minor marijuana possession and in only 19 of those arrests was the city ordinance the charging statute — a pitiful 10%!

That was certainly not what City Council envisioned as the consequence of their ordinance.

Here’s the Chief.

Chief DiLuzio

The new City marijuana ordinance went into effect July 2018, and the Chief had statistics through January 2020 — about 1 1/2 year’s worth. There are between 150-200 minor marijuana possession charges a year on a force of 154 officers. The numbers show we are not actively pursuing marijuana arrests. Average of 1.1 arrests per officer per year. Charges usually are made related to something else, such as a traffic offense, or if they smell it and thus have an obligation to act. Lehigh University had only 5 such arrests during this time. During this period there were 289 total minor marijuana arrests: 270 charged to state law, 19 to the City ordinance. 127 arrests were made on the Southside, of which 9 were charged to the City ordinance. 47% of arrests were made on the Southside. The largest age group is 25-34. 71 arrested were black, 121 Hispanic.

Councilman Reynolds asked Councilwoman Negron to state the rationale for her ordinance and then probed for the reason why the city ordinance was not being used as it was imagined. First of all, the choice of whether to use state or city law was left to the discretion of the arresting officer. The Chief surveyed his department, found that about 50% of the officers were ok with the decriminalization ordinance but that almost all felt that such an act must come from the state and be universal in the state. Otherwise, they — the officers — were in a tricky middle ground where they could easily be accused of bias. The Chief seemed to feel that he was handcuffed (bad pun on Gadfly’s part) and couldn’t legislate officer behavior. Councilman Reynolds firmly but respectfully pushed back against that, feeling that the department could do more to foster use of the city ordinance.

It’s a good conversation. Listen in.

Councilman Reynolds and Councilwoman Negron and Chief Diluzio

Councilwoman Negron went over the rationale for the City ordinance. Councilman Reynolds asked the Chief to comment. “Is that a rationale that you agree with?” The Chief’s in the “middle of the bridge.” His “professional opinion” is that he’s ok with the officer using either option. His “personal opinion” based on extensive experience is that marijuana should be decriminalized but at the state level. The push has to come from Harrisburg. Right now the situation is creating problems for local police. He doesn’t want to see the police caught in a political issue. The Chief did a survey (117 of 154 officers responded) in the department, and there was a pretty even split — about 50% for decriminalization and 50% against (specifically, 44% yes to decriminalization — 56% no). The Chief describes the 6 question survey. For instance, 97% said the state should do the decriminalizing. They want the law to be universal across the state. The feeling is that it is not fair that people caught elsewhere get a stiffer penalty. The door is open, for instance, to somebody claiming I got a misdemeanor citation because I’m black, when a block away someone else — white –got a summary offense. Officers are afraid to use the city ordinance because they can be subject to a claim of bias. Nowadays anybody can make such a claim, and all of a sudden the officer’s name is splashed all over the papers. There are 7 cities in the state with a city ordinance. JWR indicated that in Phila, for instance, the number of uses of the state law went down because the Philly police took a strong view for the city ordinance. JWR asked directly whether the Chief sees a problem in the fact that the officers are choosing the state law 90% of the time. The Chief said that honestly he would like to see the city ordinance used more but that he is not out on the street when those decisions are made by his officers. Has the department considered changing the directives to make them stronger? The Chief said the factors for use of the City ordinance are already in the directives and that he has talked with the officers at roll call and platoon meetings. “It’s up to the officers to use this.” We are at the “stumbling block” of state v. city law. JWR intimated that there are “tools” the Chief as leader of the department could use, but he didn’t go further. JWR said when comparing with Lehigh, it’s hard not to see the “troublesome implication” there between what happens when you caught at Lehigh and a few blocks away in the city. The Chief said Lehigh is a different department serving a different community. The answer/solution to the disparity is a decision at the state level. JWR said he respects the Chief, but he thinks we could do more. JWR expressed his disappointment. The Chief said he can’t change the inner feelings of people or tell them how to do their job when they are on the street. The police can’t be robots. JWR: “I think we can do more. I think we can come up with stronger directives,” but he respects the job the Chief has to do.

to be continued . . .

“Shadow” Resetco, arguably the greatest athlete to wear the Red and Blue of Liberty High

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Gadfly loves this kind of stuff. Don’t forget to support the BETHLEHEM Press. Tip o’ the hat to Jason.

from Jason Rehm, “Shadow Resetco: Remembering one of Liberty High School’s greatest athletes.” Bethlehem Press, June 25, 2020.

As the ball sailed through the uprights, a wave of excitement shot through the crowd gathered at Lehigh’s Taylor Stadium.

Liberty High School had just defeated Eastern powerhouse Steelton 3-0 off a stunning field goal drop kicked from the 42 yard line. The drop kick, often used as a surprise tactic in early football, is rarely used today, but this was 1922 and one of George J. Resetco’s most thrilling moments on the gridiron.

Resetco, better known as “Shadow,” was arguably the greatest athlete to wear the Red and Blue of Liberty High. He began playing varsity sports as a freshman and was the only person in the school’s history to letter in five – football, basketball, baseball, track, and swimming.

“I’d throw the javelin on Friday and the baseball on Saturday,” he once said.

The athletic feats of Shadow Resetco read like legends. For instance, as a freshman he pitched varsity baseball and won six consecutive games, besides playing the outfield when he wasn’t on the mound. In his four years he lost only four games.

Shadow’s graduating class of 1925 produced many memorable athletes. On the football team were Phil Phillippi who went on to become Athletic Director at Liberty, John “Snooky” Hudak who became track coach, Al Seifert and future state senator, Joe Yosko. Along with Shadow, this dynamic group ran roughshod over Allen in the Fall of ’24 to the score of 64-0.

Shadow helped the basketball team secure a league title his senior year and the team defeated several opponents in state championship playoff contests before finally being eliminated. The captain that year was Joe “Pickles” Preletz who returned to coach basketball at Liberty.

The baseball season was almost capped with an eastern state championship, but Harrisburg Tech pulled out a 3-2 win as Resetco looked on from the outfield. Joe Yosko was the catcher on that team, “and a wonderful catcher he was,” said Shadow. “He had plenty of pepper.”

After graduating, Shadow attended Allentown Prep before heading to Holy Cross where he had received an athletic scholarship. He played only three quarters of the football season before developing severe pain in his ankles, wrists, and joints that doctors diagnosed as arthritis.

Once destined for stardom, a sportswriter surmised that his “star was setting before it had achieved full brilliancy.” His friends believed he had burned himself out with too many sports in his youth.

He stuck it out at Holy Cross the rest of his freshman year and even tried out for baseball, but developed a sore pitching arm during an indoor workout. He returned home to Bethlehem and put in a semester at Lehigh but had to drop out when his pain prevented him from attending classes.

Shadow reunited with former teammate Joe Yosko that next summer and had a comeback of sorts. The two became a dynamic pitching-catching combination for the Bethlehem Catholic Sokols baseball team and won 11 straight games and earned a berth in the league playoffs.

When the playoffs arrived, five players had already departed for Atlantic City vacations and replacements were selected among youth from Bethlehem playgrounds. “I pitched my head off, but we lost 2-1,” Shadow recalled.

Resetco began working for the Bethlehem Area School District in 1928 and in 1940, Phil Phillippi recommended Shadow as equipment manager. For 31 years Resetco carried out this job at his alma matter, equipping new generations of athletes with the gear they needed to succeed.

Did the scores of high school students who filed into his office each year realize that he had been one of Liberty’s most outstanding athletes? Maybe some did, but many may have overlooked this soft-spoken, aging employee.

In his later years, swimming was the one sport he could still participate in and he often taught it at the Bethlehem Boys Club’s Camp Mohican.

George J. “Shadow” Resetco passed at the age of 68 in 1973. He was a charter member of Liberty High School’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

Nearly a half-century after his death, Resetco’s memory lives on each fall when the winner of the Liberty-Freedom game is presented with the Shadow Resetco trophy.

Maybe more apartments on the way

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Morning Call photos by April Gamiz and Christina Tatu

from Christina Tatu, “Two historic Bethlehem churches may become apartment buildings.” Morning Call, June 28, 2020.

The 170-year-old former Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church at 537 High St. is proposed to be converted to 15 apartments with off-street parking by developer Ryan Dunn of DTMG 1665 VCP, LLC.

In the South Side, the former Zion First Hungarian Lutheran Church with parcels at 938 E. Fourth St. and 949 E. Fifth St. would be partially demolished to make way for 24 affordable apartments, said developer Plamen Ayvazov, president of Monocacy General Contracting.

The Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board will review both proposals July 8.

Ayvazov plans to keep the front of the church and its steeple intact, but would demolish the rear of the church to construct a five-story addition for the apartments. The building would also have a community room and fitness area, he said. There would be 42 parking spaces. Ayvazov believes the church has been empty for more than three years.

Ayvazov bought the building for $285,000 in November, according to Northampton County property records. He believes it was constructed around 1925. He was able to salvage some of the church’s interior, selling or donating various artifacts, including wooden pews purchased by a Connecticut congregation.

The project would feature two-bedroom apartments ranging from $800-$1,100 per month.

Dunn didn’t return a phone call requesting information about his project.

According to documents filed with the city, Dunn wants to redevelop the five-story building into 15 apartments, with 21 parking spaces.

Neither church is in the city’s historic district. Darlene Heller, Bethlehem’s director of planning and zoning, isn’t sure how long the churches have been empty.

Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, Part 3

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Alison Steele is a Liberty High School alum who traveled the world looking for adventure and purpose before finding it in Pittsburgh.  She has made it her mission to help others make more informed decisions around how they interact with people and the planet.

from Steele’s Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, Part 3

I think part of the reason why it’s so hard to change the systemic racism in our country is that it requires those of us with privilege to accept, examine, and adjust things that are so intrinsic to our daily lives, we don’t even know they’re there.

Time to Act

I do think that reading [Robin DiAngelo’s] White Fragility [Steele is in a discussion group] is an important first step – at least it has been for me in helping to identify my biases and defense mechanisms when I’m feeling challenged, guilty, and/or uncomfortable. But while it’s a good first step, it can’t be a last step. Growth is uncomfortable, if not painful. If you are committed to being anti-racist, you need to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to make mistakes and be embarrassed, but ultimately learn how to be a better ally (if ally is even the word we should use).

In my first post, I shared a reading list that will help other people like me learn more than what we were taught in school and what we see on the news. In the second post, I shared a list of organizations that are doing good work to combat systemic racism and promote equity locally, regionally, and nationally; if you don’t know what else to do, you can financially support their work. In this last post (for now), I am including a list of resources that can help you get involved in shaping local policy by voting and reaching out to your local elected officials.

———–

Did some of you think Gadfly was serious and somewhat unhinged in his response post to his friend Steele’s part 2? Naaa, tongue-in-cheek, trying to make a point about white-person defense mechanisms as his subsequent post makes clear.

Working through the resource section at the end of Steele’s post, Gadfly focused on the Obama Foundation Anguish and Action site, and there found the 2015 Obama era 21st Century Policing report and especially, as we approach a Public Safety meeting on the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith Community Engagement Initiative, the chapter on “Building Trust and Legitimacy,” which is, of course, the foundation of the whole local police/community relationship.

Look what Minneapolis is proposing: a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention

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We have a Public Safety Committee meeting coming up to discuss Police department policies and the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith Community Engagement Initiative. ‘Tis being planned. No date announced yet. Or format. Councilman Colon chairs the committee, with Councilwomen Negron and Crampsie/Smith as members.

Gadfly’s excited.

He loves the idea of a community gathering. It’s a chance for us to talk, to exercise our citizenship, to influence local government policy, to have some input on the quality of our lives. “Good conversation builds community.”

He also likes planning. “Planning,” like “community,” is one of Gadfly’s aphrodisiac words. Planning is foreplay, a key step in the continuum of creativity, and creativity — bringing something to life that did not exist — is the quintessential human activity.

But at the moment Gadfly doesn’t know what to plan for.

Mainly because he doesn’t have a good grasp of the problem, if there is one, locally here between the police and our community, or with some segment of our community.

He has asked for stories. And he got one. And he hopes for more, many more. Please help him with that. For he feels that it is only on the basis of those stories that we will know what to plan for.

There might be problems more or less severe that need to be tended to. Or the murder of George Floyd just might be a ripe moment to reflect on and review what we are doing well under the headlight of the new ideas that problems elsewhere are shining on how police departments and local criminal justice systems do their work.

So while Gadfly treads water a bit waiting for that meeting to call us to order and to focus our attention, he pays attention to the more radical ideas percolating out there. He has called attention to Governor Cuomo’s plan for community engagement.

And here below is what is envisioned in Minneapolis — a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention — which, of course, may be no model for us because of the long history there of rupture between police and the community.

Note that the Minneapolis City Council has been hanging together with 12-0 votes and that in the envisioned new system the City Council manages the system. Which would mean the equivalent of 4-5 more sets of twins for our president Waldron.

Food for thought here.

from “City Council OKs charter amendment to remove Minneapolis Police Department.” Minneapolis Fox 9 News, June 27, 2020.

The Minneapolis City Council on Friday unanimously approved a proposed amendment would remove requirements for the city to maintain a police department from the city’s charter. The 12-0 vote is step toward putting the issue in front of Minneapolis voters on the November ballot.

Under the current charter language, the city council is required to fund a police force of a size proportionate to the city’s population. Changes being considered in the amendment would remove that requirement along with an entire section on the police department.

The proposal replaces that language with a new department: the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. It would be managed by the City Council, marking a key power shift for a council frustrated with limited authority.

“Using the bully pulpit, using the budget, using the chief’s appointment to try move things around a little bit, but I don’t think we’ve had the kind of policy-making participation that we should have,” said Council member Cam Gordon.

The changes also remove minimum officer requirements within the new community safety department, instead saying the council is responsible for “adequately funding” the replacement department.

Along with the department of community safety, the amendment would add a Division of Law Enforcement Services, which would be composed of “licensed peace officers” under the purview of the director of the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.

While the current charter language gives the mayor complete control over the police department, including hiring the chief, the new proposal would put the mayor in charge of nominating a director for the new department that would be appointed by the city council.

That person would be someone who has “non-law enforcement experience in community safety and violence prevention” which could include “public health and restorative justice approaches”

The appointed director would in turn choose the leader of the Law Enforcement Services Division.

Mayor Frey has previously shared that he does not support disbanding the police department – a stance which led to him being booed at a rally. After the vote Frey stood by his previous remarks saying he supports “deep structural reform” and “complete transformation” of the policing system. He criticized the amendment for lacking clarity moving forward.

“This amendment to our legal city charter does not provide clarity. There are more questions I have regarding this amendment than answers,” said Frey. “If this amendment passes will we still have police? If you vote for this, are you voting to abolish the police department? Or is this merely a cosmetic change where you add a bureaucratic layer, you change the name to peace officers and give them different uniforms?”

he Board of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis put out statement in response to the vote and criticized the amendment for lacking clarity.

“Public safety is a primary role of city government and the politicians in charge of the Minneapolis City Council are not putting the safety of residents and visitors to the city at the core of their actions. This charter amendment fails to clarify questions about what replaces the police department, how it will work, and what actual steps will be done to address and prevent crime.”

Bethlehem to review School Resource Officer program

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Everything dealing with the police is on the table in the post-George Floyd era. We’re looking at a meeting on a Community Engagement Initiative in the near future. It promises wide-ranging discussion.

Even School Resource Officers (SRO) are on the table, under the microscope.

Gadfly noted the review of the SRO program in Dr. Roy’s fine Op-Ed last week.

There were no police or SROs in Gadfly’s educational background.

In elementary school, Sister Helen Regina patrolled the halls, Bantam Weight champion of the North American Order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart. Given her diminutive height, she was perfectly positioned to use her pointer to poke boys in tender areas.

In high school, Father Alfred Monte patrolled the halls. He was rumored to have undergone torture in a Pacific theater POW camp, apparently a uniquely valuable experience for a Head Disciplinarian.

Gadfly watched himself.

But he has no experience with which to judge the impact of SROs on students of color in inner-city schools.

While reading the article below in today’s print Morning Call, his mind wandered to the presence of an officer at our City Council meetings and other places/occasions where there is a police presence.

Gadfly’s not sure how to think about this issue. Dr. Roy is listening to arguments against the program and will put in writing, for the first time, a statement of its purpose. Good. Gadfly would like to hear arguments on both sides in more detail. He knows there are teachers among his followers. He knows that there are parents of school-age children among his followers.

Feels like a subject on which good people can differ. But Dr. Roy (and the BASD board) will need to justify their position.

Probably a delicate writing assignment.

Thoughtful discussion invited.

from Jacqueline Palochko, “‘I’m listening to the argument that police don’t belong in schools’: Allentown and Bethlehem reconsider resource officers.” Morning Call, June 27, 2020.

For children growing up after the 1999 Columbine school shooting that left 13 people dead, seeing an armed officer patrolling the hallways is a common part of the school day.

Bethlehem Area students start encountering officers in school in sixth grade. All together, the district has seven school resource officers — two at Liberty High, and one at Freedom High and each of the four middle schools.

All seven wear a police uniform and carry a gun. And Superintendent Joseph Roy believes the officers, six of whom are employed by the city police department and one by Bethlehem Township, are the best of the best. After school, they coach basketball teams, organize clothing drives for students and run clubs.

“They do what you would want a [school resource officer] to do as far as being embedded in the school community and getting to know kids,” Roy said.

But as the nation examines police violence following the death of another unarmed black man by a white police officer, many districts are reconsidering the decision to put armed officers in schools.

“I’m listening to the argument that police don’t belong in schools,” Roy said. “For students coming from communities that don’t have the best relationship or the police aren’t viewed in a positive place, having a police officer in the school might not make them feel safer.”

The district will review the purpose of its school resource officer program, Roy said, and put that purpose in writing, which is something the district has never done.

It’s a shift in the conversation after 20 years of placing armed officers in schools to keep students safe from shootings. Now advocates and many students believe policing does not belong in schools and contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline, especially for Black and Hispanic children.

Allentown and Bethlehem, the Lehigh Valley’s two largest districts, have the highest percentage of students of color. In Allentown, more than 85% of its 17,000 students are Black or Hispanic, while more than half of Bethlehem’s 13,600 students are.

After Columbine, other Lehigh Valley districts added officers, some picking up the tab and some applying for grants to cover the costs. Bethlehem’s school resource officers were paid through a federal grant, but when the grant ended, the city and district split the tab. The district pays $400,000 for the six city officers.

Roy believes the solution of armed officers in schools is likely somewhere in the middle.

“You have to find that balance between the feeling of safety you want from an external intruder and then the internal school climate you want where kids feel comfortable and safe in school,” he said.

The state Education Department collects school safety data, including how many officers are posted at schools. For the 2018-19 school year, there were eight school police officers, 14 school resource officers and 65 security guards in Lehigh County schools. Northampton County schools had 31 school police officers, 11 school resource officers and 32 school security officers.

School police officers are typically those employed directly by a district, while school resource officers are usually from municipal departments. Unlike police officers, most security officers are unarmed.

Some districts, such as Easton Area and Northampton Area, operate their own police departments.

But after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis, was killed on May 25 when an officer pressed a knee into his neck for more than eight minutes, the conversation about police brutality spread to schools.

Several large districts, such as Seattle and Minneapolis, recently promised to end contracts with local police. On June 18, the American Federation of Teachers, one of the country’s largest teacher unions, passed a resolution calling for the separation of school safety and policing.

Some also argue that instead of officers, schools should employ more counselors to help students.

“When you have mental health issues and other social issues that would require counselors or therapists, is a school resource officer being a first responder for those instances?” he said. “Because if they are, then that’s maybe a problem.”

In Allentown, Dieruff High student Nasheera Brown, who organized Tuesday’s rally, said, “A lot of students feel they shouldn’t have to have police on their backs.”

Brown believes students should be disciplined for misbehaving in school, but minor incidents should not involve the police. She thinks that the district should also employ more staff members with a better understanding of Allentown students, most of whom live in poverty.

“We have some great leaders but some of our leaders don’t understand what we go through, and we need more understanding people to enforce positivity,” she said.

According to numbers the Allentown and Bethlehem districts provided to the state, 74 Allentown students and 95 Bethlehem Area students were arrested at school in 2018-19.

Bethlehem school Director Winston Alozie agrees with Roy’s call to review the school resource officer program.

“I want to make sure that teachers and administrators understand the roles of SROs because I feel like sometimes that area can get very gray very fast and maybe lead to situations that shouldn’t happen,” he said. “You don’t call an SRO if a kid isn’t listening to the teacher. That’s not an SRO call.”

Alozie said when he ran the Boys and Girls Club in South Side Bethlehem a few years ago, he heard students talking about an officer using a stun gun on a Freedom High student.

“I remember them talking about that and the indelible impact that was left on their memories,” he said. “As a school community, you need to ask how something like that can happen.”

Since the protests against police brutality started, including marches and rallies every week in the Lehigh Valley since late May, Roy has met with current and former students who told him they don’t think officers belong in schools.

Roy believes school resource officers should be used only for matters that school officials would call the police for, such as weapons in schools or assaults. They shouldn’t be pulled into theft and other cases that school officials can handle.

The argument students at Tuesday’s rally made was that when resource officers get too involved with enforcement, schools start to resemble prisons. And that’s the last message Roy and Parker want to relay.

“The possibility is always there when there is a police officer nearby that they get pulled into things that we wouldn’t otherwise be calling the police for,” Roy said. “If it’s a child that’s a Black or Latino child getting into the system, that’s not what we need.”

The City could do better making citizen participation on the ABCs visible and inviting

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Carol Burns is a freelance marketer who works with several local organizations, both paid and volunteer. In addition to supporting WDIY, the Bethlehem Public Library, and local theatres, her “third place” is the Bethlehem Food Co-Op — she contributes her time to helping bring a full-service, community-owned grocery store to Bethlehem’s downtown.

Gadfly:

Out of curiosity I went to the city’s website to see if I could find info about getting involved in an advisory council or other board [one of the ABCs!] as a citizen. I poked around for awhile and not finding any obvious paths finally put “boards” in the search bar.  This page came up: https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/City-Government/Authorities-Boards-and-Commissions.

The page leads with: “For information regarding vacancies on Authorities, Boards, and Commissions on which you may be interested in serving, please e-mail or call the listed number.” And then lists 21 such groups.

Each one had a phone number, several had a website listing, and one had an email. A few listed their meeting times. Not one had a description of what they do — and without a website, you are left on your own to figure that out. Of course some are self-explanatory, like Bethlehem Area Public Library, but others are not clear — at least not to me.

It doesn’t seem particularly compelling nor welcoming, and I’m going to take a wild guess that specific openings are not publicized beyond a general “come on out and apply” message once or twice a year. A clear opportunity to do better!

Carol

Carol’s post is quite apropos of the recent series of posts on the ABCs. We might need to think about that page on the City web site more as a recruiting opportunity than just providing factual information. And is it even right that interested people should be directed to the ABC head? And how about some sort of “advertising” of positions that are open? Thoughtful post, Carol. 

to be continued . . .

Councilwoman Negron: “our city needs your civic engagement”

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So the last 3-4 posts in this series have been about the volunteer-staffed ABCs — the Authorities, Boards, and Commissions — that in the June 16 City Council meeting Councilwoman Van Wirt called, in a phrase so wonderful Gadfly keeps repeating it, “cloistered venues of power.”

And the Gadfly followers are smart people.

So you knew where he was going to end up.

Yes, with a recruitment pitch.

Gadfly is “the pied piper of civic engagement,” as a blessed follower tagged him.

On which ABC would you like to serve? On which ABC have you offered to serve?

Council, as we saw in the last post, is hot to improve the selection process.

Now we need good people to go along with that.

Here below is an oldie but goodie from Councilwoman Negron, who, if you listened to the audio from the June 16 meeting in the last Gadfly post, was “on fire” about the importance of the ABCs and Council’s role in them.

Gadfly wrote you about her Morning Call article last year when it came out. It bears another read. And some action on your part.

Olga Negron, “Your View by Bethlehem councilwoman: Want to help democracy? Serve on a government board.” Morning Call, August 31, 2019.

Voting in national elections is important, but it’s only one of many ways that citizens can fulfill their duty to contribute to the governance of their communities and country.

I’m Councilwoman Olga Negron, vice president of Bethlehem City Council and the first woman of color elected to Bethlehem City Council. Getting elected to City Council was not a matter of chance or luck. I’ve been civically engaged all my life. Before running for local office, I served in many volunteer positions within the city, such as on the Planning Commission, the Public Library Board and many other nonprofit boards.

As a member of these governing bodies, and now as an elected official, I’m here to tell you that our city needs your civic engagement.

A few highly visible decision-making positions in local government are elected positions and each of us has to be a resident of our municipality in order to hold that post (mayor, city council, etc.).

However, that’s not the only way to be part of the decisions about what happens in our city. There are many, other extremely important nonelected positions in local government that need to be filled by volunteers, such as positions on the Public NegronLibrary Board, Fine Arts Commission, Housing Authority, Human Relations Commission, Board of Historical and Architectural Review, City Planning Commission, Environmental Advisory Council, Historic Conservation Commissions, Parking Authority, Recreation Commission, Redevelopment Authority, Zoning Hearing Board. (A full list for the Bethlehem can be found at: www.bethlehem-pa.gov/about/authorities/index.html).

Although some positions have residency requirements, in many cases people who sit on these commissions and boards don’t live in our city.

We also have individuals who have been members of the same board or commission for 15 to 20 years, and some individuals are members of two or three boards at the same time. Why, you might wonder?

Some of these positions require an expertise (electrical, health, financial, etc.). And these are also nonpaid positions, which makes it more difficult to find individuals willing to serve.

Many times when there are vacancies, they need to be filled rather quickly and the person charged with selecting nominees is “stuck” with the same few individuals.

However, it’s important to know that not all positions require a specific expertise; most just require a dedicated person with common sense and love for our city who is willing to be the voice of their community.

As a member of city council, I understand that one of my roles is to provide a check and balance on the mayor of the city and at the same time to be the voice of the people.

But the people in our city have diverse voices, and what we need is more of that diversity working in our government. That’s why I’m reaching out to challenge every single one of you to get civically engaged, to share your talents and put them to work for the betterment of our city. Don’t wait until you are negatively impacted by a government decision to get involved in local decisions.

A functioning democracy requires citizens who care what their government is doing and who put the time in to make it work for them. At the municipal level, you can have an impact on the political.

When citizens get involved in local government, they make it possible for government to do more than elected officials could accomplish alone.

Just this year, the city’s Environmental Advisory Council proposed several ordinances that would otherwise never become a possibility.

When members of local boards and commissions tell us what they think is good for the city, their views can have a significant impact on the decisions that elected officials make.

By getting involved in local government, you can make a big difference in the governance of our collective life and community long before the 2020 presidential election arrives.

The link to the City page above in the Councilwoman’s article says to contact the person on the ABC in which you are interested, but you should also contact the Mayor’s office.

to be continued . . .

How the Fine Arts Commission does it

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Deni Thurman-Eyer heads the Fine Arts Commission.

Gadfly:

The Bethlehem Fine Arts Commission changed the process for appointments to the BFAC about 12 years ago.  For many years, the Mayor would submit names to Council for approval without any input from the BFAC. This produced a Commission which had members who were not all engaged and, worse, acted in their own self-interest.

We recognized that we could improve that process. We revised and strengthened our Nominating procedures. We evaluated the needs of the Commission in terms of diversity, skills, and commitment to the arts, actively seeking nominees in that context. The Nominating Committee interviewed potential nominees before sending our recommendations to the Mayor to submit to Council.

This process has vested power in the BFAC to develop a strong, engaged, and productive 25-member Commission. This could be a model for improving the recruiting and retention of effective ABC boards.

Deni

Making some points about the ABCs

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Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly,

I’ll make 4 points on the ABCs:

First, solicitors (or their firms) for ABCs should only be permitted to serve one ABC.

Second, there should be term limits. We need more turnover so that fresh ideas and experiences can be introduced. If you’ve served for 12 years (for point of discussion) on the planning commission, I would have no issue with you moving to the housing authority board and putting in additional time there. Some people want to contribute to their community through service, so this would allow them to continue to do so.

Third, all resumes submitted expressing interest in serving should be shared between City Council and the Mayor, and vice versa. This way they both know who is interested.

And, fourth, both the Mayor and Council should strive to have the ABCs as representative of community demographics as possible. Turnover mentioned in #2 would help that. There appears to be far too much “old boy network” at play, and while that may satisfy political and special interests, it doesn’t necessarily satisfy the community’s best interests.

Dana

The ABCs are cloistered venues of power . . . Council must check and balance . . . We need to include more types of experience

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Authorities, Boards, and Commissions

Ok, so now you have your annual refresher on the ABCs and some current problems with them.

So Gadfly recommends that you listen to the whole 30 minutes of the discussion of the ABCs at the June 16 City Council meeting.

Yes, yes he does — all 30 minutes — he likes that you hear, that you experience your elected officials rather than just reading about them.

The audio below is an example of City Council at its best, on the same page, concerned about fostering proper and widespread citizen participation in city governance.

Councilwoman Van Wirt tees up the issue of how ABC members are selected, Councilwoman Negron sets the issue on fire, President Waldron coolly engages the Mayor diplomatically and the Mayor reciprocates in kind, and the other Councilmembers ratify the need for Council attention and the process agreed on to move ahead.

Agreed on is that the Mayor will provide an inventory of openings now on ABCs and openings/reappointments coming up till the end of the year so that all concerned can have a head-start on cultivating a diverse pool of candidates.

There was not much focus on specific candidates up for approval on that June 16 night. The focus was on the process of selection, the diversity of the ABCs, and such matters. But Gadfly would say that a quiet example of the “problem” under consideration was the reappointment that night of a member of the Planning Commission who’s been in place 12 years. Gadfly  has been to many of the Planning meetings, and if he were asked, he would have had to say that from what he could see in the public deliberations (as opposed to whatever goes on in executive session) that the 12-year member was not a “presence” in deliberations.

Please kick back and listen.

Councilwoman Van Wirt (min. 0: 20)

  • [The process] seemed like a mere rubber stamp by Council to approve anyone the Mayor put forward.
  • This has been the argument for Council continuing to approve reappointments . . . for people who have been on for years and years and decades.
  • One of the first things I had asked for is resumes of people who were coming forward from the Mayor . . . so we could actually vet somebody.
  • We still don’t have attendance given for reappointments, but overall here’s this ongoing kind of notion in Bethlehem that this is the Mayor’s prerogative, but I’m pushing back against that because I feel that the reason that City Council was given the vote instead of just the Mayor appointing whomever he wanted so that we as representatives of the citizens of Bethlehem could insure that Authorities, Boards, and Commissions have people on them who actually represent the citizens, who look like the citizens, who come from different areas of the city, who come from different income levels, different perspectives, that’s the point of City Council to me.
  • [Last time] one of the suggestions that was made by President Waldron was that we invoke term limits . . . Any term limits discussion there’s pros and cons to the approach, and the problem I had with that is our Authorities, Boards, and Commissions are all vastly different.
  • Some have way more power and influence on day-to-day lives, some use our tax dollars, some leverage the borrowing capacity of the city, and these are ones that need particular scrutiny because that’s where power is held.
  • Power in this city is held in the Authorities, Boards, and Commissions. Not having a voice in that in Council, we allow the Administration to have one blanket approach to how things are done, and it doesn’t represent this city.
  • I would hate to institute term limits for a commission that we have trouble even filling all the spots on it. It doesn’t seem to me that that would be a helpful thing.
  • Maybe we should just apply it to our powerful commissions . . . the Bethlehem Parking Authority, the Zoning Hearing Board.
  • I just wanted to have an open dialog with Council about these feelings.
  • . . . haphazard approach to staffing . . .
  • Often what we hear from the Administration is that they cannot find the people to staff them . . .
  • We have no way of knowing who has submitted resumes unless they have also submitted them to Council.
  • We don’t know how the Mayor goes about finding people to go on these Authorities, Boards, and Commissions.
  • I understand that it is his prerogative to put people forward, but it is also our prerogative and indeed our duty . . . to make sure that our ABCs look like Bethlehem.
  • This is a huge responsibility of Council . . . The way things have been done in the past is not always the right way to do things right now.
  • Circumstances change, cities change, and we are a reflection of the city, so I hope that we can consider a different way of approaching how we put people on these Authorities and Boards and Commissions.

Councilwoman Negron (min. 5:38)

  • [Last year] I wrote an article in the Morning Call . . . where I was actually asking the people . . . to be actively engaged. to be civically engaged, to be part of the movement, being an elected official is one way, but [the ABCs] is another.
  • [got responses from the Latino community mainly]
  • Many of them said the Mayor is not going to appoint me . . . we look very different.
  • I challenged them, I really did. Last Thursday I sent to all of you members of Council . . . sharing an email from a member of our community that back in February sent an email to the Mayor expressing interest in the Planning Commission, and here we go again.
  • There’s interest. I’ve been talking to individuals, and they want to be part of Commissions and Boards
  • So with 76,000 people in the City, you can’t tell me you can’t find people to serve.
  • Members of the Latino community say why would I bother if I’m not going to be appointed.
  • It’s our responsibility as members of Council to be the check and balances, we are not being the checks and balances.
  • I am sick and tired of hearing this, professionally, and at all levels, because I have to hire another white person because there is no person of color that send me a resume of is qualifies for the job — really?!
  • [My daughters] don’t want to come back to Bethlehem . . . Why would you want to come back to a place that’s not going to hire you, that looks down on you, that’s going to treat you differently.
  • This is the right time to think of our role as members of Council — checks and balances, that’s what we are supposed to be doing.

President Waldron and the Mayor (min. 9:30)

President Waldron engaged the Mayor in a conversation about the process of nominating ABCers. The Mayor is not for term limits. He does check the record of attendance and input for reappointees. If City Council votes down, he will submit another name. Has sometimes not reappointed people. It’s a process, and he does evaluate. There are not many ABCs that have vacancies. Willing to sit down with Council members to review the appointments for the rest of the year.

  • ARW: Do our Boards, Authorities, and Commissions represent the people of Bethlehem? What is the gender split? What is the geographic split from different parts of the City? What is the racial split?
  • ARW: At some point you can either take a passive role and say these are the people who have applied. or maybe there’s some efforts with which the Administration can work with Council on to reach out to different groups that might be interested in serving but have not been tapped to say are you interested in serving/
  • ARW: I think just that question to start the dialog might be helpful to have a little more diversity on those boards.
  • RJD: I certainly would support that.
  • ARW: This conversation should happen beforehand.

Councilwoman Van Wirt (min. 16:00)

PVW brought up the problem “from the citizen’s perspective” of those ABCs who still meet during the day. An interested applicant to an ABC had to say no because he was a working person and could not make the time of the meeting.

  • PVW: We have essentially cut out an entire part of the electorate that is willing to serve but can not meet at 4 o’clock because they have normal working jobs.
  • Our ABCs are cloistered venues of power that are only accessible to a certain political class, and I certainly feel we need to consider how we change this dynamic so that all of our citizens can participate [by being on the boards or coming to the meetings and speaking their minds].

Councilwoman Negron (min. 18)

ON reiterates that she has people interested. Will have people interested send resumes to entire Council. She’s hearing from non-Latinos too. Her community is not just the brown and black.

Councilman Colon (min. 20:20)

Now a good time to start getting an inventory of Councilmanic appointments.

The Mayor agrees to do a full inventory of vacancies and reappointments coming up and to share that with Council.

Councilman Reynolds (min. 21:45)

  • We need to understand that because of traditional structures in our city, you have had certain groups of people and certain areas of the city that have been underrepresented.
  • The sooner that we get that in the forefront of all of our minds . . . It’s a conversation that we need to have about how we get as many people as possible involved in these conversations because people do bring different experiences.
  • In general we need to do a better job in getting as many people involved in these conversations, especially when some of these conversations may affect communities traditionally underrepresented on these boards in the decision-making.
  • We need to include more types of experience throughout the city and more histories throughout the city on these boards and commissions.
  • It’s on all of us to try to help find those people.

Councilwoman Crampsie Smith (min. 24:05)

Frustration about process: more info, more notice. Hope the process can be streamlined so it works in a better fashion.

Councilman Callahan (min. 25:30)

Not in favor of term limits. Influential, “power” boards need people with suitable background. Classes available for people who want to be on boards like planning. Can’t just jump in to some boards. Need background. Would favor increasing membership on Human Relations Commission.

June 17 Climate Action Plan meeting slides and transcription now available

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Gadfly knows that some of you tried to participate in the webinar but ran into
technical problems, Now you can catch up!

BethlehemCAP.org

CAP 5

  • First Public Virtual Meeting: June 17, 2020 – Completed
  • The first public meeting on the CAP was held as a webinar at two separate times on June 17 to maximize accessibility. If you missed the sessions, please see the materials below:
  • During the meeting, consultants WSP and Nurture Nature Center reviewed the projected impacts of climate change on Bethlehem, introduced the climate action planning process, and provided information about actions the City has already taken to address climate change. Participants were then asked to share their thoughts on the goals and priorities they hope to see reflected in the plan.
  • Additional public meetings are planned for September and November. Details will be published here when these dates are announced.

It’s Friday, June 26, do you know where your Climate Action Plan is? Yep!

The green comes back to Bethlehem

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Let’s be smart!

Kayla Dwyer and Jacqueline Palochko, “Green phase guide: What to expect at Lehigh Valley gyms, restaurants and salons as restrictions lift Friday.” Morning Call, June 25, 2020.

Steve Novak, “Pa. coronavirus reopening: As Lehigh Valley enters green phase, data shows extent of COVID-19′s economic impact | Unemployment, job openings, traffic, real estate.” lehighvalleylive.com, June 26, 2020.

Jennifer Sheehan, “As green phase approaches in Lehigh Valley, what should you do if you encounter someone without a mask in a business?” Morning Call, June 23, 2020.

Green

Crownfield trifecta on the police and community trust issue

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Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

ref: “Is the trust between police and community broken in Bethlehem?”

I still think the real question is still I posted as a comment on your ‘Now is the time for listening’ post: Why do we want to have a meeting instead of getting out and working with people one on one?” Or is real community engagement too much work?

ref: First-person testimony necessary

It would be illuminating to learn about people’s experiences — but what’s really needed is someone willing to listen. And willing to rethink things based on those people’s feelings and thoughts. (Not to learn facts so we or BPD can decide what’s right.)

ref: Rockwell revised 2020

Just to confirm that this is not just a joke — About 20 years ago, when I was involved in a community assessment in the ‘West End’ of Plainfield NJ, I heard one community leader ask a young Black man what he expected to be when he was 25. His answer was ‘dead’.

Peter

Trust between police and the community is not as strong as it could be or needs to be

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ref: “Is the trust between police and community broken in Bethlehem?”

Gadfly,

An African-American friend recently made the point that the police don’t know the people in the communities they’re serving. How can any relationship, let alone trust, be developed? He and I talked about this at length because years ago every cop seemed to know mostly everyone else, and vice versa.

Why isn’t this happening today?

Perhaps because Bethlehem cops all used to be Bethlehem residents. There were residency requirements for city employees up until 1989. A retired Bethlehem cop I spoke with also mentioned another reason for this happening. He feels our population is also more transient, so you don’t have time to develop any connections between law enforcement and residents.

In answer to your question, I think it depends on where you live in the city and what your experiences have been. That being said, I don’t think it’s as strong as it could be or needs to be. What is called community policing today isn’t as integrated into neighborhoods as the team policing of the past, nor as the prominence of sub-stations in various city neighborhoods used to be.

These community relationships need to be strengthened and that starts with honesty and openness, positive experiences between law enforcement and residents, and developing trust.

Anon.
The writer is known to Gadfly but prefers to remain anonymous.

Your refresher course in the ABCs (2)

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Authorities, Boards, and Commissions

Gadfly has devoted considerable attention to the ABCs. At the bottom of the right-hand sidebar here, you will find a Search box. Enter “ABCs” and click to find the full collection of those posts.

In his apprentice year, Gadfly went to as many ABC meetings as possible, often the only spectator person in attendance. From his personal observation, Gadfly became very knowledgeable about the quality of the members on many of the ABC groups, quality which, in the overwhelming majority of the cases, was excellent.

Over and over again, Gadfly was impressed by the care with which this corps of volunteers did their work.

There were some dead spaces, though, and some questionable choices.

There are, however, three issues of concern with the ABCs:

1) The appointment and re-appointment of members: it is the prerogative of the Mayor to appoint members, and apparently historically Council almost always acted as a “rubber stamp” on the Mayor’s nominations. As if these appointments were an uncontested “perk” of office rather than a “check and balance.” Council seems to be given little more than a vita shortly before a meeting in which approval is sought. Gadfly can understand the “politics” of that tradition (elections have consequences) but has expressed the view that, at the very least, reappointments should be based on evidence of performance, more than just on a vita. Lately, though, even the appropriateness of first appointments has been scrutinized. In any event, the issue is that Council is not exercising proper oversight over the appointments. Councilwoman Van Wirt has rightly been especially concerned about this.

2) Meeting times: The ABCs do public business, and they meet in public, mostly at Town Hall. Each ABC sets its own meeting time at the mutually decided upon time agreed on by the members. By law the meetings times must be scheduled and advertised a year ahead. The idea is that the citizenry knows when the meetings are and can attend if so desired. Most of the meetings are in the evening, thus “after dinner,” “after work” (for most people). But some (1/3?) were held during the day, late afternoon, when (most) people are working and thus would find it difficult to attend. Some important meetings requiring broad public input before significant decisions have been held at these difficult-to-attend times. Causing some justifiable consternation. Councilwoman Van Wirt again took the lead on this point — the Mayor did ask the afternoon ABCs to consider moving their times to evening. Some but not all did.

3) “representation”: Do these ABCs have a balance of genders, a balance of our city’s ethnic and racial make-up, a balance of members from both sides of the river? It is not clear that such thinking has gone into staffing the ABCs, and there are obvious and notable gaps on the ABC menu of membership.

It is easy to think of these ABC procedural matters as mere housekeeping to be as quickly disposed of at City Council meetings as legal decorum allows.

But not so.

We have voting power over the Mayor and the Councilors, but there’s a layer of important personnel here we don’t directly control and of which we might not even be aware. (Think presidential appointment of Federal judges.)

Now you should have the backstory for the good 1/2hr. discussion of the ABCs at the June 16 Council meeting.

Authorities, Boards, and Commissions

Your refresher course in the ABCs (1)

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Ok, time for your annual refresher course in City Civics, my good followers.

Subject: the ABCs of city government.

ABCs — our acronym for the City “Authorities, Boards, and Commissions.”

You know how the City is run, right?

We have a “Strong Mayor/Council” form of city government.

The Mayor runs the nuts and bolts of the city.

Council members are part-time, and their role is 3-fold:

  • pass legislation
  • pass the budget
  • appoint members to the ABCs

So its the ABCs that you probably don’t know about unless you are a veteran city watcher, as many Gadfly followers are.

We have about two dozen “Authorities, Boards, and Commissions.” Take a look.

The ABCs are staffed by around 125 volunteers from the city.

All of the ABCs do important business, contribute to the quality of our lives, and some wield extraordinary power.

Who serves on the ABCs, therefore, is critically important in all cases, but especially on those that wield extraordinary power.

The Mayor nominates residents to serve on the ABCs, Council approves.

The main point to know is that much of city business depends on the freely given good will of citizens over time and a steady stream of such citizens.

Serving on the ABCs is an important way that “we” participate in and help shape our city government.

It goes without saying that we need to have the best possible people serving on the ABCs.

There was an important discussion about the process of filling slots on the ABCs at City Council on June 16.

You will want to see the next post in this series.

First-person testimony necessary

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Gadfly wants to hear all that Councilwoman Negron hears.

Why in God’s good name would he want that?

For he has described her as a giant ear into which all the anguish of the Hispanic community pours. ***

Not so nice.

The reason he wants this crazy thing is because he needs data.

We will be talking about a Community Engagement Initiative because, so the proponents say, “a level of trust is still lacking” between the police department and the community — and for our purposes here, let’s focus on the Hispanic community that makes up about 30% of our population.

How is Gadfly — who is white, middle-class, old, sedentary, a Northsider, for whom the police are more or less invisible — how is this Gadfly to know how to feel about such an endeavor without data?

Data. Evidence. That proves there is a problem. That proves such an endeavor is necessary.

Yes, certainly hard data like number of citizen complaints, law suits, and police department discipline cases relating to racial issues.

But, yes, also — and what is more powerful to Gadfly — to what might be called soft data in the way of stories, personal accounts — first-person testimony.

The Community Engagement Initiative memo speaks of giving “louder voice to issues of injustice.”

Gadfly would like louder voice given to those who suffer injustice.

Let’s not talk of such serious issues as racism and discrimination and criminal justice reform in the abstract.

Where all this starts is with people in pain, in anger, in fear. Let’s make sure we hear them.

How are we to gauge if we have a problem, how are we to gauge the scope of the problem, how are we to gauge the nature of the problem without . . . testimony?

But how are we to get such first-hand testimony?

Members of minority communities are sometimes reluctant to come forward officially. Instead, they will pour into willing ears like Councilwoman Negron’s.

If you agree that such testimony is crucially important, help me — what are your ideas?

  • There may be letters, statements in the police department complaint file.
  • We could set up an open mic at a Public Safety meeting, such as was done at the 2016 NAACP forum, at which some stories reportedly did come out, though it would take great fortitude for most people to make such statements, naked in a sense, in a Liberty auditorium perhaps even in front of the police.
  • We could recommend the City hot line –610-865-7266 — on the Controller page, where people can report anonymously, or establish a hot line specifically for this purpose.

Or here’s another idea. Refer people with complaints over racial issues with the police to Gadfly, who will, all in confidence, interview them, log their accounts, and publish them anonymously.

Mrs. Gadfly just said that is one of the worst ideas she has ever heard.

She may be right.

Mrs. Gadfly didn’t raise six sons without some (un)common sense.

But, if there are problems that must be addressed, the real plight of real people, people who are our fellow residents as well as fellow human beings, is a powerful motivator for reform.

If there is a local Bethlehem problem, it is, frankly, not real for Gadfly yet, though it may be for others.

He sensed a problem in the way the Hayes St. case was handled, but he needs more.

Pass the word about the Gadfly suggestion if you think it makes any sense.

*** This Gadfly image of Councilwoman Negron deserves a treatment. Is there an artist out there, a caricaturist who would take a crack at Councilwoman Negron as a giant ear? Gene Mater, where are you?

Is the trust between police and community broken in Bethlehem?

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Gadfly listens to Governor Cuomo a lot.

In announcing a program for New York that might be a model or partial model for our Community Engagement Initiative, Cuomo says, “There is no trust between the community and the police.”

Is that true in Bethlehem? Or in parts of Bethlehem?

In a CNN interview Monday Cuomo said, “There’s been an international swell of outrage. . . . It’s not ‘Are the police right? Are the police wrong?’ Once the community stands up and says, ‘We don’t trust the police. We don’t respect this type of policing,’ the game is over because it’s a relationship. And the relationship is now breached, and it only takes one side of the relationship to say this relationship doesn’t work for me.”

In that same interview, Cuomo says, to make fundamental change “requires a united, consistent voice of outrage.”

Is there a sense of outrage in Bethlehem about local policing? Is it game over in Bethlehem?

So, where exactly are we in our thinking about the relationship between police and our community, or certain communities within our community?

The first question on which Gadfly would like to focus is “Is the trust between community and police broken in Bethlehem?”

What’s yours?

Gadfly forgot when he gave you homework last time that he has already written on this subject: “How would you characterize the relationship between the police and the community?”

“the perfect opportunity to ask bigger and deeper questions”

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Good article by Nate Jastrzemski in the print version of the Bethlehem Press this morning, and good not just because he found in ouroboros the absolutely perfect image for our life these days. Most days it simply feels like we are eating our own tails, doesn’t it? Gadfly couldn’t find Nate’s article online, so he typed most of it here for you.

The image of Bethlehem as “sitting quietly amid the tumult,” a Bethlehem “quiet and lucky,” a Bethlehem “fairly peaceful” evokes Gadfly’s fantasy image of beneficent and Rockwell 1caring small town police/community relations in our town captured in Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Runaway” painting. The way Gadfly would like to see it.

But “would it take only one incident [here] to light the fire?” Frankly, that’s what’s been on Gadfly’s mind as he recently wrote about what he will call for shorthand the “Hayes St. case,” the traffic stop of the Hispanic man.

from Nate Jastrzemski, A balance is needed: law enforcement and healthy living.” Bethlehem Press (print edition), June 24, 2020.

We now live in a world of pandemic and protests.

Together, they are an ouroboros of social anxiety, a circular inflammation of pain and loss, feeding each other and off each other. While we strive to keep ourselves healthy, the police work to keep us safe. But from what threats?

Worldwide protests demanding massive reforms in legislation and the daily practicalities of justice and law enforcement demand we ask bigger questions, and we fact is we are fairly helpless against the coronavirus, but over-reactive and violent policing is a manageable human, institutional failing.

Sitting quietly amid the tumult of neighboring East Coast metropolises, the Lehigh Valley, and Bethlehem in particular, has been blessed with small, peaceful demonstrations calling for reforms and solidarity. They have not been inflamed by bitter memories and pain from a local history of civilian deaths at the hands of police officers. But would it take only one incident to light the fire?

While supportive and appropriate [statements by the Mayor and the Chief], these messages did not address deeper systemic parts of our national conversation. They speak — importantly — of overcoming bigotry, but they do not speak of structural racism; of unequal housing, healthcare, employment and education and a national preference for spending on police departments over social programs.

When questioned about the feasibility or efficacy of defunding police — which does not mean eliminating them, but reallocation some of their resources toward other programs — no one [Mayor, Chief] answered. . . .

In fact, inquiries on this subject to police, administration official and several city council members, including President Adam Waldron, resulted in only a single response.

Councilwoman Olga Negron . . . likewise remained silent on the matter of defunding, but said of the Justice Policing Reform Act of 2020, “I’m so proud of our Senator Casey for joining the brave ones in the senate. It’s time for reform; it’s time to reflect, to speak up and change. Enough is enough. . . . It’s very clear that it took a BPD deadly raid to create change [in] the department, but that is far from saying we have a squeaky clean department. . . . Training is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Diversifying the police is a must, and community policing should be the number one priority of every police department. Creating transparency and accountability is is something easily said but not easily done. The fact that we have police body cameras as well as cameras on police cars is a good start, but what’s done with the footage is when the transparency and accountability really comes in.”

{The initiative by Councilpeople Reynolds and Crampsie Smith] may be the perfect opportunity to ask bigger and deeper questions.

As parts of our country cry out for justice and equality in televised bouts of demonstrators versus heavily armed police, Bethlehem is quiet and lucky. Perhaps now is a time for introspection, to analyze what other, less fortunate cities are doing correctly or incorrectly. Should we analyze the cultural, legislative or financial options of the police department before we join the daily headlines?

Bethlehem remains a fairly peaceful community, with little crime, despite our increasing use as a national delivery hub and waves of millions of visitors — in less fraught years. But with jobs down, businesses closing and people trapped at home for months on end, frustrations are high. Friction can start a fire.

City leaders agree we need to work together, but do they believe anything needs to change?