Meet the candidates tomorrow night Thursday at the EAC

Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election

Take advantage!

The Environmental Advisory Council has invited our candidates to their regular monthly meeting.

Thursday, April 1, 7PM.

Contact:
Lynn Rothman, Chair
Bethlehem EAC
Lynn@therothmans.info

LINK TO JOIN
Topic: EAC Monthly Meeting
Time: Apr 1, 2021 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://zoom.us/j/95616243255?pwd=amVDMlhsdEVRUmpnWjBJK05RZG5yUT09

Meeting ID: 956 1624 3255
Passcode: 156493

One tap mobile
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Meeting ID: 956 1624 3255

Passcode: 156493

Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/aBpm39ln8

Case study of police shooting of Christian Hall ripe for good discussion

Latest in a series of posts on Christian Hall

ref: Recent news about troublesome “first contact” situations involving the police
ref: Molly Bilinski and Peter Hall, “Family of teen fatally shot by state police on Poconos overpass announce lawsuit, are being represented by civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.” Morning Call, February 3, 2021.

————

It was another riveting day yesterday in the Chauvin trial.

But let me focus your attention on a fairly local example of police behavior that Gadfly feels raises great points for discussion about the nature of police training in mental health calls.

Gadfly earlier called your attention to a December 30, 90-minute “first contact” situation involving the Pennsylvania State Police and 19-year-old Christian Hall, who was apparently intent on committing suicide, that took place on an overpass on Rt. 80.

Police killed Hall.

A cell phone video by a motorist stranded on Rt. 80 showed Hall’s hands up (see the video here), though holding what was thought to be a gun, when he was shot, sparking characteristic debate about police propensity for violence and ability (or inability) to handle mental health situations.

Yesterday the Monroe County District Attorney ruled the shooting justified.

At the press conference yesterday, the D.A. showed a video of the incident created by his office to bolster the ruling in a move that even the reporters noted as extraordinary.

Gadfly thinks we can say with confidence that the D.A. took the unusual step of creating that video to get out in front of the controversy bound to result from the ruling.

For here was another instance of police cleared from wrong-doing in a tragic situation involving a mentally distressed person.

And — drum-roll, please — the celebrity lead attorney for the family is none another than Benjamin Crump, attorney for the George Floyd family and other families in similar high profile police shootings.

Hall’s family is holding a press conference today. It will be interesting to see if Crump is there.

But close your ears and eyes.

Resist learning anything about the family press conference today. We can pick it up later.

Instead, spend some time — and it will take a bit of time — watching the D.A.’s press conference and video from the links below.

Remember that Gadfly always encourages you to go to the primary sources yourself and form your own opinions.

Do that.

For Gadfly will want to talk with you about what you find there.

He finds much food for thought and discussion.

Much that relates to reimagining public safety.

Dig in, and meet him back here in a day or two to share perspectives, questions, and judgments.

———-

Sarah Cassi, “Troopers legally justified in fatally shooting man on Route 33 overpass, DA says.” March 30, 2021.
a 30-min. video of the incident from beginning to end from police cameras prepared by the Monroe County District Attorney’s office is linked to this article

Video presentation from Christian Hall use-of-force press conference
This is the 30-min. video on YouTube

March 30 press conference by the Monroe County District Attorney’s office
1:13:46 mins. (contains the 30-min. video)
Start at min. 5:07
D.A. introduction mins. 5:07-12:30
The 30-min. video runs from mins. 12:30-45:30
D.A. presentation mins. 45:30-1:00:15
Q & A with reporters mins. 1:00:15-1:13:46

On the Southside, how high is too high?

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly has nudged you a couple times about this meeting tomorrow night.

But he does so again after noting how Kim Carrell-Smith is promoting it: “How high is too high? Find out what the city is proposing for Southside building height limits this Thursday night. And let the city know your opinion!”

How high is too high?

Gadfly is more than ever intrigued now.

Do you suppose the consultant report will make a recommendation about the thorny question of heights?

We have tall buildings on the Southside — Rooney and Zest, etc. We have one approved but not built at 4th and Vine. We have at least 2 proposed. The historic guidelines talk of a 2-3 story kind of norm. Official discussions sometimes speak as if a 4-5 story is acceptable size. One tall building is used as an argument for another tall building. Developers talk of needing to feed their business models.

Such fun.

Got something to say? You know you probably do.

See you there?

Thursday, April 1, 5PM
https://zoom.us/i/93739962164

Thursday, April 1, 5PM
https://zoom.us/i/93739962164

Affordable Housing, part 2: Building New Housing

Latest post in a series on Affordable Housing

Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.

ref: Affordable Housing, part 1: What does housing affordability look like in Bethlehem?

continued . . .

BUILDING NEW HOUSING

Building affordable housing is often the first thing we think of, and new development was the primary focus of the March 23rd meeting. Construction of new housing undoubtedly has a place in our city’s priorities, but the complexities of promoting development as an affordable housing strategy are worth discussing. Bethlehem has only had 2,000 new units of housing built in the last 20 years—The Reinvestment Fund’s analysis of the Bethlehem’s housing market indicated that a defining characteristic is “The absence of virtually any new construction activity in Bethlehem,” in part because of limited land that is available and appropriate for housing construction. They also highlighted the relative affordability (compared to other cities) of Bethlehem’s older housing stock, citing a median sales price across the City of $155,385, although that has increased a bit since the start of the pandemic, as the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has indicated.

So, should we be focused on building new housing? When it comes to building new “affordable” homes for homeowners, the cost of construction is so high that new homes tend to sell for more than the median price for the city as a whole—even those built with subsidies. As part of the CACLV-proposed City Lights development in south Bethlehem, we were anticipating subsidized, affordable, workforce housing selling for $160k+–and the project still fell apart due to financial challenges. In her podcast, urban planner Abby Kinney puts it succinctly, “No new housing is going to be affordable without subsidy.” Is there demand for new housing in Bethlehem? Sure, and that means we should probably build where it’s reasonable to do so. Although the traditional logic of markets suggests that increasing supply should reduce demand and result in a lower equilibrium price, this doesn’t seem to work out with housing, for a number of reasons. One important thing to consider is induced demand: if we build more housing, that doesn’t mean only Bethlehem residents will have access to it. We may attract folks from elsewhere who previously weren’t interested in living in our city. Building housing may help to keep prices from increasing rapidly due to scarcity (as we’ve seen during the pandemic), but just building new housing is not an affordable housing strategy. And building affordable housing with subsidies is ongoing and doable but is not likely to be an option on a broad scale—in addition to the range of individuals for which this housing is actually affordable being limited.

Given the relative scarcity of vacant land in the city, development often means knocking down existing properties to build. Of course, this is a better choice when properties are obsolete or uninhabitable —but it can mean knocking down something more affordable to put up something that will be more expensive. Should we be investing money in the development of new, single family homes for purchase? Maybe some, but I think that there may be other ways to have a more significant impact.

Let’s talk now about development of multi-family housing. We’ve seen a lot of proposals for apartment buildings in our downtowns. While these projects may have merit from an economic development perspective or as a way to support downtowns, as affordable housing projects, there are a few questions we need to consider:

  • Are they destroying existing affordable housing to build?
  • What level of affordability is being used to set new rental prices? The fairly universal standard, set by the federal government, is Fair Market Rent, which is $891 for a 1 BR, $1,139 for a 2 BR, and $1,474 for a 3 BR unit in the Lehigh Valley. Unless they are subsidized substantially, private developers who choose to incorporate affordable units into their projects in exchange for density bonuses (existing city incentives that gives advantages to developers who are willing to include affordable units in their projects) will charge the maximum that is allowed under “affordable” rules, and they may still lose money on those units.
  • How do those rents compare to existing rents in the city? They are all higher than the median rents, which come in at $835, $1,102, and $1,300. Median rents are even lower in our downtowns, coming in around $1,000 in the Southside business district and about $1,150 in the Northside downtown for a 3-bedroom unit. We showed that approximately 50% of renters already can’t afford their homes at current rental prices. New “affordable” apartment rentals will be priced higher than the top 50% of rental properties in the city. There may be a good reason to build these units, but as an affordable housing strategy, they are not likely to make much of a dent.

Put simply, we cannot build our way out of this. We are talking about almost 10,000 households in Bethlehem that are struggling with housing costs. These folks currently live in homes and are part of communities. They send their children to their neighborhood school, know their neighbors, and in many cases have invested years and money into their current living situation. While some may be glad to move into a new home, many would likely find it easier and more desirable to stay put. Let’s make sure that our strategies include ways to support the thousands of families that are happy in their homes but could just use some help paying the bills.

Inclusionary zoning is another idea that has been floated in the city, which would require developers to dedicate a certain percentage of any project to affordable housing. Putting the legality of the approach aside, if we are going to implement an inclusionary zoning policy that actually makes units affordable to members of our community, then we need to think about what that threshold is, and develop our own, city-specific measures of affordability. Fair Market Rent is calculated regionally and does not reflect the housing market in the city of Bethlehem. That, and/or just charge developers a per-unit fee that goes into an affordable housing trust fund to support rehab of existing properties.

second in a series, to be continued . . .

Questions on affordable housing for Anna

Latest post in a series on Affordable Housing

Although she’s lived in Bethlehem for almost 20 years, Carol Burns’ new career as a freelance marketer is giving her an opportunity to “discover” her hometown. She volunteers for several arts-related organizations, and her newest adventure is dipping her toe into local politics and community organizations.

ref: Affordable Housing, part 1: What does housing affordability look like in Bethlehem?

Anna:

Thanks for this, and for putting a face on the issue. Question: When you calculate “housing costs,” is that the rent or mortgage payment only? Or all costs associated, like utilities too?

And although you did note the figures might be higher post-Covid – which they most definitely will be – I think it’s important to acknowledge the eviction moratorium and how its after-effects could further impact this situation. For example, how many landlords will increase their prices even more, to make up for their losses this past year? And how many will terminate their tenants at the end of their current lease (especially if they’ve had problems paying).

Finally, do you have any sense of the migration into Bethlehem by non-residents who are attracted by lower prices than they are used to?

Carol

———-

Hi Carol, Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

The data that the Census uses for “housing costs” includes average utilities (water, sewer, electricity, gas) and fuel (oil, kerosene, wood, coal, etc.) for renters if it is paid by the renter in addition to rent (the survey is designed this way to standardize numbers when rental price may or may not include the above). For homeowners, the calculation includes all mortgage payments with interest, fees, taxes, homeowners insurance, and utilities (excluding telephone and cable).

I absolutely agree about the potential consequences of the eviction moratorium. While our local counties are receiving a significant amount of rental assistance funds through the latest stimulus bill, I am sure that plenty of tenants and/or their landlords will not be able to access the funds for a wide variety of reasons (paperwork, communication issues, fear/mistrust of government, etc.). One of the challenges I regularly saw while working with folks in the community on housing issues was the prevalence of month-to-month leases, which allow landlords to evict a tenant quite quickly pretty much any time that they want. I am concerned about the end of the eviction moratorium, but I also wonder how many folks are being “evicted” without going through the formal court process right now. I’m not working on the ground on this issue to know how frequently this is occurring, but based on my past experience, the majority of families begin looking for housing elsewhere before eviction papers are even filed if their landlord indicates that they want them out (with legal standing or not). I’ve seen quite a lot of movement in my neighborhood throughout the pandemic, and I suspect it was not all voluntary. I imagine it will be a lot worse once the moratorium is lifted.

You ask a great question about migration to Bethlehem. The latest Census data (from 2019) indicates that 82% of Bethlehem residents lived in the same house from one year to the next, while about 9% moved to Bethlehem from somewhere else within the same county. 5% moved from another county in PA (could be moving between Lehigh and Northampton counties), and 3% moved from out of state (a significant portion of which are Lehigh’s freshman class). Less than 1% moved to Bethlehem from abroad. These numbers do not vary significantly from other cities in the area, and Bethlehem has actually seen a decrease of 25% over the last five years in folks moving in from out of state each year. Many of the surrounding suburban townships have seen significant increases in folks moving in from out of state over the last five years, but I suspect that is driven by new construction in places like Nazareth, etc. So, the short answer that I’m seeing from the data would be that there isn’t a significant influx of people moving from other states nor from elsewhere in the region, and, in fact, the rates of pretty much all migration to Bethlehem have decreased since 2014. This is an interesting question, and I’m curious to hear if the data backs up any anecdotal trends.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Anna

Part 2 of Anna’s essay on affordable housing coming next.

Let’s view the draft consultant report on future of Southside downtown

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly covered the front half of this information gathering process in some detail (click here and look for several subsequent posts as well). Let’s see what fruits were borne.

from Anna Smith:

Thursday, April 1, 5PM
https://zoom.us/i/93739962164

Thursday, April 1, 5PM
https://zoom.us/i/93739962164

Gadfly council forum #3: city services

Latest in a series of posts on the Gadfly Forum

The Council candidates comparison chart

“As Councilperson, warmly inviting and empowering residents to participate
will be at the core of my service.”
Kiera Wilhelm

“Elected officials need to find better ways to go to the communities that
tend to have less of a voice in local politics.”
Rachel Leon

“If I am elected, I will view constituent services as, in fact, part of ‘my job’.”
Hillary Kwiatek

“In serving and responding to others within the community my golden rule will
continue to be: ‘It doesn’t cost you anything to be nice to people’.”
Grace Crampsie Smith

“[City residents] know I will look into their particular situation and,
if I have to, fight and act on their concerns!”
Bryan Callahan

————

The prompt:

Bryan, Grace, Hillary, Rachel, Kiera

Our first two Forums were on “heady” topics: the budget and development.

I’d like to come more down to earth in this Forum #3.

Council responsibilities include setting the budget, approving personnel appointments, and passing laws. Big ticket items. On the other hand, the mayor has responsibilities for the day-to-day running of the city — from trash to parking to paving to snow to leaves, etc., and etc.

But you will get asked (or told!) about these things. Even Gadfly gets asked about this kind of basic quality of life/city services stuff. People think since I have a big mouth, I have some power to take care of a problem or get something done at City Hall. So you surely will get asked. People look at you as their voice in City Hall, the person to bring complaints to. The City Council meeting is what I call the “face” of city government. You’ve seen people show up at Town Hall or call in about water leaking into their cellar from a neighbor, fireworks bothering their dogs, and such things. It’s where they bring their complaints. And you’ve seen the Council prez awkwardly try to plead “not my job” and pass the resident on.

(Veterans Bryan and Grace might talk about their experience with this kind of resident contact. What have people complained to you about, what did you do, what was the outcome?)

So in this Forum I want you to think about basic city services. Residents will be telling you things, a lot good, we hope, but certainly some complaints about basic city services. It’s in the nature of your job to have your ear to the ground. Since you are now asking people for their vote, some no doubt are responding to you with a sort of “what will you do for me”? Or here’s what I want you to do. That is, here’s a problem we’d like you to do something about. Will you work on it if I vote for you?

If elected, you may not have a hand in the day-to-day managing of public services, but you will probably find it important to establish good rapport with the Mayor and department heads and so forth to be a channel for resident voices. If another level of persuasion is necessary, you have the power of the bully pulpit at Council meetings to call attention to a problem that you feel needs tending. And in the final analysis you might utilize the power of the budget to shape how City services are performed or delivered.

What are you hearing with your ear to the ground about those basic city services that have such a great impact on the day-to-day lives of the average resident?

Please share what you are hearing, what you are thinking about on this level.

What would you like to see worked on, improved?

You will be working with a new mayor — will there be things you will be bringing to his attention as he shapes his agenda and priorities at this basic level of City/resident relationship and interaction?

Thanks for your service and willingness to serve.

————

Kiera Wilhelm

When I first moved back to Bethlehem seven years ago, I lived in an apartment at a fairly busy intersection downtown. It was a noisy spot, located above a bar, and with

a good amount of incessant atmospheric noise at large. One day, I was speaking (okay, complaining) to a friend about it, who had lived in Bethlehem for years, and was quite involved in the community.

“You should bring it up to City Council,” he shared. “There’s a chunk of time at every meeting for the public to share any concerns or grievances.” This conversation was my first real introduction to Bethlehem City Council.

At the time, the thought of standing in front of a room of people at a podium to talk about my noise complaints made me shudder a bit; who would be interested to hear? Were my concerns important enough for that? But knowing that there was an entity available to hear from me and my neighbors if something was troubling us—and who might be able do something about it—made an impact. (I obviously remember the conversation, all these years later, and here I am running for City Council.)

Needless to say, I have since attended a number of Council meetings. At every one, I admire those who take the initiative to ask their questions, voice their concerns, and share their support. I’ve even been inspired to take the podium myself! I have watched as members of Council have listened—some respectfully, and some, occasionally, less so. You say it yourself, Gadfly, and I agree: these meetings are the “face” of city government. They enable our residents to feel heard. And to me, serving all of the citizens of Bethlehem by listening, respectfully, is one of the greatest responsibilities of being on Council.

Through my work, I have had the pleasure of developing trusted relationships with clients, colleagues, and readers throughout the City. I strive to listen, genuinely, to their needs, and I take my responsibility to each of them seriously. I’d like to think that this is behavior that’s come to be expected of me. I plan to bring that same trustworthy, respectful rapport to my relationships on Council—whether it be with fellow members, the Mayor, department heads, or constituents. (It’s worth mentioning that in my role as director of Fig, people regularly ask me about various aspects of the state of the City and inquire as to whether I can do anything to help any number of concerns, or pass their concerns on to those who can do something about it. This is a big part of why I am running for Council in the first place; I want to be able to say “yes.”)

After receiving this week’s prompt, I reached out to a handful of residents from different areas of the City to ask their concerns about City services. Here are some of the responses I received, in no particular order:

  • Roads have been neglected for so long and the constant utility construction, ripping up the roads and patching spots here and there are so poorly done.
  • As an active walker around the city, I’m saddened by the lack of attention to local parks.
  • I’m disturbed by the amount of trash that seems out of control along sidewalks, near highways, streams, and just in general.
  • The Boyd has sat way too long in utterly horrible condition.
  • Gridlock traffic problem on the South side.
  • My immediate answer is “paving the roads”. Number one. Top of the list.
  • Patiently waiting for the Pedestrian Bridge from North to South.
  • Lopsided attention Main Street receives.
  • People experiencing homelessness – what are the city initiatives to assist? Any secular resources?
  • Something like Denver’s STAR program that dispatches health care workers to some emergency calls so police aren’t always the people dispatched.
  • No single hauler trash pickup.
  • Fixing deteriorating roads.
  • Stormwater fee — this should have been explained better/more before implementing.
  • More attention to the city beyond the two blocks of Main Street that tourists visit.
  • Town & Gown relationships – Moravian, Lehigh, NCC, etc.

There are repeats. There are contradictions. But I learned so much from one simple inquiry. This is the lived experience of these residents, and their input is valuable—crucial—to informing City Hall about what is working well, and what’s not.

Understanding the role of local government, let alone attending or standing up at a Council meeting, can be intimidating. But not only do I want to hear from the citizens of Bethlehem, I want to hear from as many as possible. As Councilperson, warmly inviting and empowering residents to participate will be at the core of my service. Our constituents are our best resources; they represent our neighborhoods and report their real-life experiences. They are, in essence, City Ambassadors. Their input helps make our City better.

————

Rachel Leon

Thank you, Gadfly, for another thought provoking prompt. The part I want to focus on is the “day-to-day lives of the average resident.” It seems like such a mundane statement,

but we live out our lives in these day-to-day moments. When members of our communities are frustrated with local government it is usually a result of what happens in these day-to-day moments. An intersection that is difficult for pedestrians to navigate. Trash piling up outside of a school. The fear of overdevelopment in our neighborhoods. Lack of affordable housing. Food insecurity in areas of our City where there is limited access to a grocery store. As I speak to more and more people about their concerns, I continue to hear about all these things. We are coming out of a difficult time as a nation, and there are also concerns surrounding how our local economy will recover post pandemic. We need to be able to address all of these concerns, not just the ones that have an economic impact. As elected representatives, it is our responsibility to get into all our communities and ask what we can do for them. The key to the quality of life in our communities isn’t always more development, but we won’t know that if we aren’t asking the questions or if we are only listening to people who find a way to get our attention. It is important that we are really asking the questions, not just checking off an obligated line item in a budget meeting.

Of all of the concerns that I have heard, affordable housing seems to top the list. There are amazing people working hard to address the issue of affordable housing, and we need to continue to push forward with them. We need affordable housing, especially in our remaining mixed-income neighborhoods. We need accessible housing. Communities cannot continue to get pushed farther and farther out of their neighborhoods, so they can be replaced by people who can afford higher rents, for the sake of developer profits. Another issue that continuously comes up, and which has support from many local nonprofit organizations, is the need for a permanent homeless shelter. COVID has shown us just how vulnerable we all are. I don’t believe that we as a city can, in good conscience, put off building a shelter any longer. Homelessness was on the rise pre-pandemic and is expected to continue to rise. We need a permanent place where members of our community can get their basic needs met. This is a matter of basic human dignity.

While affordable housing and the building of a permanent homeless shelter are some of the issues I would like to continue to see work on as a councilmember, there are many other issues that face our communities. There has been a rise in civic engagement among citizens who want to protect our historic structures and districts. Parking is increasingly hard to come by in our more densely populated areas, partly due to limited options for public transportation. Our city parks need maintaining. I believe many of these issues can be addressed through better and more communication between residents and local government. It could very well be that there is a plan in place to take care of every single concern that our communities are facing and that our community members are simply not aware of these plans. Simply posting information on a website or hosting only one meeting about something that matters to communities can have the effect of excluding a lot of people from the conversation.

So, what I would like to see improved is our approach and commitment to providing affordable housing, the construction of a permanent homeless shelter, and better communication between local government and our communities. I believe elected officials need to find better ways to go to the communities that tend to have less of a voice in local politics. If we want to understand the issues that they are facing, we can’t just wait for them to come to us. A fully engaged and informed city council would be a forceful back up as the City moves forward with a new mayor.

The mayor and his staff can’t know everything. It’s the job of city council to make sure the mayor’s plans reflect what is good for communities that they may know little about. If the mayor’s plans fail, we all fail. While it may not be the job of councilmembers to fix everything, we can help the mayor know what the problems are and provide some insight on how to fix the problems. This is something I learned in the Navy. If one person doesn’t fix something right, the whole ship goes down. In this respect, local governance is the responsibility of all elected officials.

————

Hillary Kwiatek

The services Bethlehem provides are its most direct connection to residents. And folks are never more aware of those services than when they fall short of expectations.

Unfortunately, that’s usually when residents need those services most.

I have been knocking on doors in support of Democratic candidates in Bethlehem for more than fifteen years, and during that time I’ve probably heard it all: neighborhood bets on whether leaves will be picked up on the Southside or the smaller streets of the West Side, regardless of what the schedule says. A neighbor’s hauler never picks up their trash, and the bags are ravaged by animals resulting in garbage strewn all over the street. Springtime potholes destroy tires and alignments. Musikfest. (I personally love Musikfest, but your mileage may vary!) Absentee landlords who don’t address maintenance of their properties, endangering residents. And, of course, snow removal.

But I’ve also heard the good stuff: the city took care of a neighbor’s complaint that someone was leaving a non-operating car to decompose in their shared alley parking area. New curb cuts make traversing neighborhood intersections safer for older residents. New playground equipment goes up. Potholes get filled. Snow, eventually, is removed.

In a municipal government, the Mayor is the executive and the Council is the legislative body. In this model, Councilmembers are sent to City Hall to represent the people of the city as a member of Congress represents them in Washington, DC.

If I am elected, I will view constituent services as, in fact, part of “my job.”  I will learn the ins and outs of how city services are delivered. I will keep an open line of communication with residents, and I will strive to help them solve their problems or at least point them in the right direction.

Transparency is essential in helping residents understand how and why services are delivered in the city. That’s why Open Bethlehem is such a big step forward. Residents can see, in easy to read graphs, how the city is spending their tax dollars. (I tend to nerd out on data, so, yes, I was pretty amazed to find out that the city’s income from the sale of recyclable materials has plummeted over the past seven years to just 14 percent of what it was in 2013.)

But without good communication, residents won’t even know such resources are available. That’s why I was proud to be a member of the Connect Bethlehem working group. We surveyed residents about their awareness of and satisfaction with the ways the city communicates with them, from paper newsletters and telephone hotlines to social media accounts. From the more than 1,000 responses we received, we found a number of common themes:

  • Lack of awareness of communications resources
  • For those who are aware — concern that there are too many communications resources and a desire to consolidate those resources into fewer, more centralized accounts and tools
  • A desire for more consistent, regular communication that is easier to find
  • A need for a coordinated communication strategy, perhaps led by a dedicated staff position (“chief communications officer”)
  • A desire for more interactivity (“two-way communication”) in the city’s communications — exhibited by comments such as “They just post press releases” and “I sent them a message on FB Messenger and they didn’t reply”

As part of my work on the Connecting Bethlehem working group, I had the chance to meet many city staff members from nearly every municipal department. They were all clearly committed to serving the residents of the city and doing the best job they could with the resources available.

So, I would hesitate to put forth too many proposals for changing the way city services are delivered until I have had the chance to really dive into city operations and learn them from top to bottom.

I believe the new Bethlehem app is a step in the right direction in connecting residents with city services centrally. I have already seen issues in my own neighborhood being addressed as a result of reports sent via this tool. With a new Mayor, particularly one who has a progressive mindset with regard to communications, we can do even more.

————

Grace Crampsie Smith

I was fortunate to be born into a family where service to others was paramount. I literally saw on a daily basis my father, as a Police Chief, constantly respond to the calls and needs of others. Community members knew if there was a problem/issue, they could go to “Jack” and he would deal with it. He emulated to me the importance of treating others with compassion, respect, objectivity, and going to whatever lengths to resolve conflicts. He was known for his motto ”It doesn’t  cost you anything to be nice to people,” and I try to live his legacy every day.

My mother was the epitome of compassion for others. As the eldest of 10, mother of 7, and a nurse, caring for others was her middle name. If someone was ill or had an unmet need, they knew they could reach out to my mom and she’d be there for them.

My 6 siblings were much older than me, so I also got to experience them as role models of service/response to others. Several went into public service, and my only sister became a Sister of Mercy, literally giving her life in service and mercy to others. I always joke that having been born in between 5 brothers she had enough of men and decided to be a nun.

It is no wonder that I choose a professional path of serving those with addictions, mental health diagnoses, and developmental disabilities, as well as counseling high school students for almost 40 years.

In my tenure as city councilperson, I frequently have constituents reach out to me re: concerns. Issues range from public works (streets), safety/police, health, etc. I have responded to every issue by first and foremost gathering the facts, then reaching out to the appropriate person(s) in city administration to address the issue. I always tell fellow community members that I am here to represent and serve them so they should not hesitate to reach out to me. I also advise them of our new Service App, which is so much easier to navigate than the past one. However, I know that not everyone can or cares to access this app.

Over time, I’ve had several concerns within the Moravian College area re: typical college student behaviors that are disruptive to the neighborhood- parties, loud noises, safety of nearby residents due to Covid. I reached out to the College President, College Police, and City Police Dept. to address these concerns. Given my belief it is best to meet issues head on with all involved, I initiated the Moravian Block Watch. This allowed neighbors to sit at the table with city police, Moravian Police, and Moravian Representatives to discuss and resolve presenting issues. I think we were progressing and had success in resolving some issues, but, unfortunately, we had to discontinue meetings due to Covid.

I truly believe the skills I have honed as a counselor, as well as in various areas within the human services field has been a definite advantage in serving as a councilperson. In my career, I have to mediate and resolve conflict amongst individuals and entities on a daily basis. I’ve learned the importance of treating all sides with respect, allowing all sides to express their concerns, and try to guide others to meeting in middle. It is also important for different sides of issues to have their consciousness raised as to the obstacles the other side may face

I never hesitate to reach out to city staff or the mayor and will continue to do so no matter who the new mayor is. I believe those within the city and the mayor know that I will always strongly advocate for those in need, from micro issues such as a potholes to macro issues such as securing inclusionary housing options for multiple income levels. Recently, when we had to implement the new stormwater fee, I noted there needed to be a tier system or appeal process, and the appeal process was added.  Being a student of free/reduced lunch, I know first-hand the monetary challenges some households may face, and I will continue to advocate for those less fortunate.

In the end, in serving and responding to others within the community my golden rule will continue to be: “It doesn’t  cost you anything to be nice to people.”

————-

Bryan Callahan

Ed,

In the 7 plus years that I’ve been on Council, I am probably the most proud of the fact that City residents, taxpayers, property owners, policemen, firemen, and city workers

feel comfortable enough to call me or in many cases come to my house to talk to me and confide in me. They know I will look into their particular situation and, if I have to, fight and act on their concerns!

The issues range from small concerns to much bigger concerns and problems. My favorite memory was on a Sunday morning about 6 years ago. An elderly lady came out of church service at Notre Dame on Catasauqua Road on the West side. It was early Springtime, and as she pulled out of her parking spot her front tire hit a deep pot hole that caused a flat tire on her car. She called to tell me that the tire was so badly damaged that she had to buy a new tire and get a wheel alignment that cost her almost $250 and that she was very upset about it because that was a lot of money for her on her fixed income. As soon as I got off the call with her, I was so touched by her call, that I reached out to Public Works Director Mike Alkhal. Mike has always been a very responsive and responsible department head. I knew he would get it fixed, but I didn’t think it would be the first thing the next morning. Around 9:30 AM on Monday I got another phone call from her number. She told me that she was just driving up the road where the pot hole was, and she was shocked that “my pot hole was already being fixed!” She told me that she was very thankful for me acting on her behalf. I told her that all I did was make one phone call, but that I would call Mr. Alkhal to thank him for her. That situation put a smile on my face, that one little phone call made an elderly resident feel like the City was listening to her!

On a much larger scale I’ve been shocked when I had several police officers tell me that the administration was sitting on and holding back from Council the fact that several months earlier a man, who was being held in police custody, had committed suicide in the basement of City Hall or when residents have informed me about perceived retaliation from permits and inspections workers within the Community and Economic Development Department if they even dared to question the length of time it was taking to get their permit for their new garage, pool, patio or addition to their house.

I have always taken every resident’s phone calls and listen to their concerns, problems, and issues with a seriousness and have acted accordingly when needed.

I truly feel that listening to our residents and being their voice is the most important job of being on Council!

———-

Residents are welcome to fashion reflections on candidate comments, sending them to ejg1@lehigh.edu. On Gadfly we seek the good conversation that builds community, so please be courteous at all times. Gadfly retains the right to abridge and to edit your reflections and to decline posts that are repetitive or that contain personal attacks. Gadfly will publish resident reflections on the week’s Forum at noon on Friday.

Reminder: Reimagining the Morning Call, Wednesday 7PM

Latest in a series of posts about the Morning Call

“We’re trying to find a community solution to save The Morning Call from hedge fund
ownership, which could really decimate the paper.”

Kayla Dwyer

ref: Reimagining the Morning Call

For a bit of a shocker when it comes to the future of newspapers, read this first:
Meryl Kornfield, “Kansas City newspaper sends a warning with a blank front page.” Washington Post, March 25, 2021.

from Councilwoman Olga Negron:

Kayla Dwyer, a reporter from the Morning Call reached out to me to talk about the many issues reporters are having with the paper. Their biggest concerned at this point, an investor far from here will end up purchasing the paper and it will become worse than already is to this point. Big pockets trying to eradicate local papers are paying attention and purchasing them to dry them out. A few local reporters that are real journalist and are from the Lehigh Valley are reaching out to community leaders to express their concerns and to hear ideas. Please understand that this is a concern from local reporters not the MC administration. Re-imagining our Morning Call as our community paper! Even if its turn into a non-profit local newspaper!  What do you think? Interested in hearing more about it or sharing your ideas? Join us in  virtually on March 31st at 7:00 pm. For more details about the meeting, contact: themorningcallguild@gmail.com. Hope to see you on March 31st.  Here is the registration link for the forum: https://bit.ly/3sTfhoa

—————

RSVP: https//:bit.ly/3sTfhoa

RSVP: https//:bit.ly/3sTfhoa

selections from Jon Harris, “Morning Call mystery bidder revealed: A Manhattan investor who sees opportunity in Lehigh Valley new.” March 27, 2021.

The mystery bidder willing to plunk down $30 million to $40 million to buy The Morning Call Media Group is a former investment banker who said he sees the newspaper and the Lehigh Valley community it serves as providing a foundation for a sustainable business for years to come.

“There are many encouraging examples of both large global news organizations as well as small community news organizations that survive and eventually prosper based on improving the quality of the news service,” said Gary Lutin, a 73-year-old Manhattan resident who chairs The Shareholder Forum, which provides information to help investors make sound decisions. “That is the way to assure a sustainable news organization.”

In a phone conversation Friday night, Lutin confirmed he is the bidder — previously only known as “Bidder C” — who submitted an offer to Tribune Publishing on March 10 to buy The Morning Call. Lutin kept his comments mostly limited and spoke in generalities, with the process so early on.

Tribune, in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing Tuesday, said it referred the proposal to Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that announced Feb. 16 it was acquiring the 68% of Tribune stock it doesn’t already own. Alden representatives have not responded to inquiries from The Morning Call recently, including one Friday night after the newspaper spoke to Lutin.

“Alden has expressed interest in talking with me once their acquisition is concluded and they are in a position to discuss what will then be their property,” Lutin said.

In the case of The Morning Call and its nearly 100 employees, other bids for the newspaper could come together, including a nascent effort from a group of community and business leaders organized by Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.

However, splitting a single newspaper away from a chain, which has centralized many operations and outsourced printing to neighboring states, isn’t easy to do. It also remains unclear whether Alden, if and when its acquisition is complete, would be willing to part with a profitable newspaper.

“I do know a little bit about the area, but my interest in this is not sentimental,” Lutin said Friday. “It’s a very practical thing. I’ve analyzed the units that Tribune has and based on the information available, this was one of a few that looked like they might be attractive opportunities. And when it became appropriate to narrow it down to one, this looked like the best one.”

With his bid preliminary, he declined to discuss specifics of how he would run The Morning Call if his offer is successful. But speaking generally about news publishing, Lutin said he believes in a commonsense approach, such as establishing a governance structure that would provide for “board representation by community interests and by the publisher’s own journalists who are reporting on what concerns the community.”

————

By the way, in Gadfly’s last post on this meeting, he suggested we inventory what sections of the Morning Call we now read, those of us who are till subscribers.  Follower JR pointed out that I forgot the obituaries. Sigh. Yes. At a certain age you find yourself reading the obituaries.

Derek Chauvin trial: Day 1

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

Gadfly singing his solo public safety song again.

Glued to the tv yesterday.

Gadfly wishes you all had his “leisure” to sit in front of that window into the body of our legal system.

He’s been hooked on this valuable voyeurism since the Army/McCarthy hearings in his teens.

This has certainly been the year for such binge watching, what with impeachments and all.

So what were his takeaways from yesterday?

Hearing that Chauvin “did exactly what he had been trained to do” got his attention.

That’s standard script in many of the “bad cop” cases Gadfly has read about over the past year, some of which he has reviewed here.

It gets police officers acquitted from questionable behavior.

Gadfly assumes that since we have that dual accreditation, our police training is good.

But, as he suggested the other day, we don’t know much about that training. And we should know more.

The thing he found himself most thinking about was Chauvin’s disciplinary record — 18 complaints in 19 years of service.

Sounds high to this lay person.

And reminded Gadfly that one of the things on his “ask” list for a real Public Safety meeting had to do with our police department disciplinary record and process.

Bethlehem is not Minneapolis, and Minneapolis is not the national norm for bad handling of police misconduct cases, but this article, though long, is thought-provoking and not an outlier in cases Gadfly has read about and reviewed in these pages over the past year (thanks to follower MD for calling this article to his attention): “The Bad Cops: How Minneapolis protects its worst police officers until it’s too late.”

There are many accounts of officers with questionable records, with a series of troublesome incidents, that take forever to be investigated, that are most often met with slight or no discipline, that often involve police unions, and which are kept secret till there is a major blow-up.

Among reforms often suggested is an “early warning” system.

Gadfly remembers Chief DiLuzio responding to a question about discipline by affirming that the department has fired and does fire officers.

Affirming that a good system is in place.

But surely — without in any way suggesting that there is some cancer in the department — we could use more detail than that.

We just need to be secure that we aren’t incubating an officer Chauvin or the other officers cited in the above “Bad Cops” article.

Not too much to ask. But we aren’t going to get a chance to ask.

Unless the current trial reminds the powers that be of the kinds of things that we should be doing in the wake of the GeorgeFloyd event.

Gadfly implies nothing bad about the department.

He applauds the department community service he sees pictorially celebrated on Facebook right now.

He will sob when they play taps over Eric Talley today, moved by and grateful for a heroism he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t be capable of.

But he feels the City and City Council had a “job” to do that they are avoiding.

Affordable Housing, part 1: What does housing affordability look like in Bethlehem?

Latest post in a series on Affordable Housing

Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.

Affordable Housing

by

Anna Smith

Affordable housing is perhaps the most important issue facing the Lehigh Valley and is one that everyone seems to agree is a problem. There’s no easy solution, and I’m certainly not going to offer one, but as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about this topic (personally and professionally), I have a few thoughts to share as the discussion moves forward. The March 23rd Community Development Committee meeting addressed some of the data and potential solutions, but I think that there’s an opportunity for a much broader conversation that brings folks from across the city together to think about the issue and what we’d like to see done about it. There is a lot of literature on affordable housing out there, and the administration has discussed some of the approaches that other (mostly large) cities have used in attempts to build more of it. However, what “affordable housing” means in any given community or neighborhood—or housing market—can vary significantly. We need strategies that take into consideration best practices but, most importantly, that consider the realities of the local market conditions, housing stock, land availability, and economic landscape.

I’ve broken down this initial analysis into three sections—an overview of what housing affordability looks like in Bethlehem, a discussion of the merits and drawbacks of focusing on new construction as a solution, and some brainstorming on approaches to increasing affordability of our housing stock beyond new construction. Thanks in advance for sticking it out until the end!

What does housing affordability look like in Bethlehem?

Note: All numbers in this article are from the US Census American Community Survey 2015-2019 5-Year Estimates, the Bethlehem Blight Study and MVA, and HUD.

 We need to take a look at some numbers. To avoid our eyes glazing over at the sight of percentages and housing jargon, let’s try to think of these numbers in terms of our friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members, and maybe ourselves. These are not abstract statistics; these are people you know and spend time with—these are the families next door, the person who checks you out at your corner store, your child’s teacher, the elderly couple you see walking in the park—folks who work in every sector and live in every neighborhood in our city. As the numbers below show, housing affordability is an issue that affects a significant percentage of population, and before we think about how to address it, we need to understand the scope and magnitude of the challenge.

In Bethlehem, housing affordability is primarily an issue for renters. 48% of renters in Bethlehem are cost-burdened (that is, they spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs). This is equivalent to 6,844 households throughout our city. Naturally, the highest numbers of cost-burdened renters are found in the neighborhoods that have the highest percentage of renters in the city, which are mostly Southside neighborhoods, where 70% of households rent. Other areas with significant populations of cost-burdened renters include northeast Bethlehem, West Bethlehem, and the Kaywin area. 21% of renter households in our city are severely cost-burdened (that is, they spend more than 50% of their income on housing)—this adds up to 2,963 households throughout our city.

Lack of affordability is also an issue for homeowners, but on a smaller scale. 20% of homeowners in the city are cost-burdened, most of whom live in north Bethlehem, where rates of homeownership are higher. This amounts to 2,944 households. About 6%, or 881 homeowner households, are severely cost-burdened.

So, what’s the big picture? Well, if we add up our numbers, we see that 9,788 households—and let’s round up to 10,000 for ease of discussion and recognition that the pandemic may have increased numbers a bit—are paying more for housing than the federal government deems appropriate. 10,000 households, just in the city of Bethlehem, are paying more than 30% of their income in housing costs, regardless of whether they rent or buy. If we just want to focus on those who are facing the greatest challenges to affording housing, we are talking about 3,844 households that pay more than half of their income toward housing. These are families that regularly choose between food for their children, doctor visits, paying the rent, and paying the electric bill. These are families in every single one of our neighborhoods. These are folks living on Social Security and disability income who cannot work to bring in additional income but cannot find a place to live that they can afford that meets their needs. These are families who want to keep their children in their same school and provide stability, so they stay put and do the impossible to pay the rent. These are families and individuals that experience toxic stress due to the constant burden of making impossible decisions and the threat of eviction, and who are more vulnerable to landlords who don’t make repairs or abuse their power. So, what can we do as a community to support these families, these individuals—our neighbors, friends, classmates, and family members—whose struggles with housing affordability lead to health problems, hunger, transiency among school-age children, and countless other consequences of an exclusionary market?

We know that there is no panacea when it comes to affordable housing, and permanent change will only come from the federal government in the form of subsidies, minimum wage hikes, and other policy changes. On the local level, our best solution requires the simultaneous, coordinated implementation of a broad range of strategies tailored to meet the specific needs of each neighborhood. Let’s look at some ideas.

first in a series . . .

Stormwater Fees – What Residents Need to Know

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

ref: Bethlehem stormwater run off improvements on the way

Gadfly’s going to try to get to this. He admits that he didn’t at first pay attention to the issue of stormwater and stormwater fees.

We know in the tough budget year the City made personnel cuts and raised taxes 5%.

But there is also a new $65 stormwater fee for everybody as well.

There’s been some consternation about the fee — you can even see the mayoral candidates talking about it in the Gadfly Forum.

There has been some good discussion among city administrators like Public Works director Mike Alkhal and members of Council like Grace Crampsie Smith about the application of that fee to help homeowners.

No decisions have been made. There’s further discussion planned. Might behoove us to come up to speed.

Gadfly mayoral forum #3: city services

Latest in a series of posts on the Gadfly Forum

The Mayoral candidate comparison chart

The candidates again have wonderfully cooperated with what they might think of as Bethlehem’s form of March madness.

We need to stop, think, and be grateful at what is extraordinary, voluntary cooperation.

The candidate responses are presented in alphabetical order this time.

————

The prompt:

Dana, Willie:

The first two forums have been on “heady” subjects: the budget and development.

I’d like to get more down to earth for Forum #3.

The Mayor is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the city. The Mayor is on the front line every day, in the trenches. The mayor is responsible for the basic city services from trash pick-up to parking to road paving that produce a good quality of life for our residents. The mayor “administers.” I think of him or her as the person who keeps the trains running on time. When basic services break down, the mayor gets the call. The average Bethlehem Joe or Jane no doubt spends less time thinking about the budget and development than whether the snow is shoveled and the leaves picked up.

How do you see yourself in this aspect of a mayor’s job?

For instance, here are some possible things to think about that would be of interest to talk about:

1) What kind of administrator do you see yourself as?  Do you have a sense of your leadership style? Are you a delegator? Are you “hands-on”? Are you a micromanager? Do you foster creativity? How will you ensure that priorities are set, goals met? How will you interact with department heads? How will you set a tone for city employees in dealing with the public?

2) Do you contemplate any changes in the way “City Hall” operates? Will there be administrative innovation? Will there be new internal policies, procedures? Will there be new work structures, new ways of organizing how things get done? Do you plan creating any new administrative positions, any new reporting channels?  Will it be “business as usual” in City Hall when you move in to the corner office, or do you see some changes? For example, I believe fairly recently Recreation was moved around in a reorganization plan. Do you see anything like that as you envision yourself overseeing the nitty-gritty, day-to-day operation of the city?

3) Do you have a sense of what city services are working well and what city services aren’t? For instance, most particularly, are you aware of citizen concerns in certain areas of city services in which you will want to focus your attention right away and strive for improvement? Is there one department on which you will want to focus your attention? How will you monitor resident complaints and concerns and their successful resolution?

Some rich topics there from which to select and focus.

 Thank you for your service and willingness to serve.

————-

Dana Grubb

Having worked 27 years in several positions and with regular interaction among all city departments, I am the only Democratic candidate with the background and management experience to run Bethlehem city government. I will hit the ground running with my plans to reorganize, streamline, and rebuild employee morale so that the residents of Bethlehem get the best services possible and are treated with respect and fairness.

My management style has been characterized as “firm and fair.” I would add compassionate to that because I always try to put myself in the other employee’s shoes. When I worked in city hall, I expected my co-workers to execute their job duties and follow the employment rules and policies. I also sought to encourage them to have an attitude of service to the public, and one of empathy: employees need to consider the way in which they would like an issue handled if it were their own. I showed confidence in bureau heads and those reporting directly to me by enabling them to do their jobs; I also urged them to let me know if they needed support, so we could find solutions together. As Mayor, I may need to be more hands on initially, not to the point of micromanagement, but to ensure that everyone understands my philosophy of working in local government: it’s all about service to the community.

The Continuous Improvement Program under a prior administration failed because of the top-down bullying management style it created. Instead, innovations for cost savings and efficiency will be encouraged organically, and if someone has a good idea, I want to hear about it. I want the city workforce to enjoy coming to work, not be counting down the days until they’ll be leaving public service.

My Mayor’s office will be bi-lingual. There will be both a chief of staff position and a community outreach position. Chief of staff will work closely with me and assist in the dissemination of timely public information among other responsibilities. The community outreach professional will coordinate interaction between my office and outside groups and agencies. Both may be called upon to represent my office if there are scheduling conflicts.

I will also maintain the Mayor’s open office program, although perhaps on a different schedule, including evening hours at locations around the City to make access to the Mayor easier and less intimidating for segments of the population who need that consideration.

I will seek diversity in the hiring of qualified individuals. As much as possible, I will try to find the best and brightest people for city positions who are also city residents. That kind of connection to Bethlehem among city staff is critical, and I want it in my administration.

My plans for reorganization include returning the Department of Sewer and Water back into Public Works, where it used to be. There will be a Public Works Director and a Deputy Director of Sewer and Water in the reconstituted format.

I will reestablish a Department of Parks and Recreation because I think its dissolution was very short-sighted. Our parks, playgrounds, and trails need attention: a reestablished Department will bring a renewed effort to maintenance and potential capital projects. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the need for outdoor activities to keep ourselves mentally and physically healthy.

I will take community policing one step further than the initial re-organization by Chief Kott. The concept of community policing needs to become ingrained among the patrol platoons. I will promote and encourage this so we can build stronger relationships, communication, and trust between law enforcement and the public.

There are several positions inside city hall that will either be cut or refocused. A number of positions have been instituted over the last 15 to 20 years that were created for people and not because of real need.

Unlike my opponent, I am a small business owner. I understand the challenges and mechanics of running a small business, whether existing or start-up. This is why I will create the small business concierge position in the Office of Economic Development, so that a one-stop shop exists to provide resources for both new and existing business owners in Bethlehem.

I also remain committed to transferring the day-to-day operation of the Bethlehem Parking Authority into a City Department of Parking. The physical location will remain the same; however, as a city department, provision of services will be directly responsible to elected officials, which will make it more accountable. The Authority will remain to handle financing and ownership matters, much the same as the current structure with the water system’s Bethlehem Authority and city department.

Finally, delivery of city services is a fundamental responsibility for those serving in city government. I’ve heard far too many complaints about nonresponses to emails and phone calls from business owners and residents. It doesn’t take much to acknowledge a contact and inform someone that you’re working on it and will be back in touch with an answer. To simply ignore something is unacceptable.

The city’s workforce is a tremendous asset. I will do everything in my power to restore morale and pride in effort. Out of my own pocket, I plan to institute a monthly employee award in the form of a gift card from a Bethlehem business; I also have a few other ideas to reverse the current downward spiral of morale.

Managing a workforce takes experience: I have that experience. My opponent does not.

————

J. William Reynolds

The daily running of City Hall revolves around the delivery of basic city services. The efficient delivery of these services is often the determining factor for people when deciding

if they feel local government is working. The City of Bethlehem has a history of delivering services well.  Our water is of the highest quality, our leaves get picked up, and our streets are clean. Our employees deserve credit for the reputation Bethlehem has as a well-run city. There are several things, however, that I see Bethlehem needing to do to improve our delivery of services.

On a systemic level, City Hall needs to use technology to improve the efficiency of our operations. City government has taken several steps in recent years that have improved our use of technology. An improved website, a new services app, and our open data portal have contributed to real progress. We need to continue to implement technology, however. I have learned that citizens become the most frustrated when they cannot get an answer to their questions. Technology should allow neighborhood issues to be responded to in a quicker manner. We should also be using data more effectively to track and determine if city services are being delivered effectively as well. If someone sends me an email that they are happy with leaf pick up, that is great. That does not, however, guarantee that the system of leaf pickup is working or that the majority of people are happy. We need citywide data and metrics to determine that. The establishment of such data systems needs to be a priority moving forward.

Connected to this idea of using technology more, there is a lot of room for the City to communicate more effectively with our citizens. Our communications survey in 2019 showed that while residents (who filled out the survey) were largely happy with City communication channels, there were still things that we could do to make City Hall more accessible, clear, and responsive. This is absolutely an issue that must be prioritized going forward. As stated above, we have made great strides in this area, but there is much more we can do to bring City Hall into the 21st century.

It is also important that when citizens walk into City Hall that they feel that city government is being helpful. Often times, people’s entire opinion of City Hall will be determined by their one visit every couple of years to file for a permit or inquire about a communication that they received from the City. It is important that when citizens come to City Hall that they leave with the feeling that City Hall is welcoming, understanding, and helpful in trying to solve problems.

During my time on City Council, I have learned City Hall is the most productive when goals and priorities are shared between the Administration and City Council, across departments, and the community. Decision-making can never be done in a vacuum.  I have always relied on the leaders of Departments and Bureaus to provide practical, on the ground information to influence decisions related to funding and allocation of resources. This collaborative approach is one that provides the framework for how a City Hall should be run as we look to create a more accessible and responsive city.

Successful leadership in government often comes down to one question. Are you able to build diverse, broad coalitions to create progress and change? During my time in public office, I have learned rarely does anything of consequence happen without significant support, time, and energy coming from multiple areas of the community. When it comes to the City of Bethlehem, this means a combination of City Hall and community support. During my time as a Councilmember, this has been the formula I have used to create our Climate Action Plan and NorthSide 2027. These types of coalitions – residents, City Hall staff, elected officials, and institutional representatives – will be a hallmark of how my Administration would look to organize efforts to create change and progress in our City.

———–

Residents are welcome to fashion reflections on candidate comments, sending them to ejg1@lehigh.edu. On Gadfly we seek the good conversation that builds community, so please be courteous at all times. Gadfly retains the right to abridge and to edit your reflections and to decline posts that are repetitive or that contain personal attacks. Gadfly will publish resident reflections on the week’s Forum at noon on Friday.

A bit of a pep talk as we wait for Forum #3

Latest in a series of posts on the Gadfly Forum

Each Monday at noon between now and the May 18 election, we hope to have on Gadfly the voice of the mayoral candidates, each Tuesday at noon the City Council candidates.

While sitting here in Gadfly headquarters waiting for the mayoral voices coming in an hour, Gadfly has been thinking how lucky we are to have “races” for both electoral positions.

We’ve come very close to having “no contests.”

Wouldn’t that have been something. In a town of our size. In a town of our — what? — stature.

Candidate Reynolds is a young man but old in service years. If it weren’t for candidate Grubb, candidate Reynolds might have just walked through the primary, walked perhaps directly to the corner office at City Hall. Gadfly has heard many times that it is candidate Reynolds’ “time.” As if there is a line of succession. That is not the way we should be thinking. We need to hear candidate Reynolds as if for the first time. He must be made to earn our vote. And it is perhaps our even greater responsibility to listen to “dark horse” Grubb. He is not a casual or a faux candidate. His voice is enlivening our important cyclic community dialogue about the nature of Bethlehem. We must conscientiously seek to know what perspectives he has to offer.

So the Gadfly Forum is a way to help get us beyond mailings and yard signs, the sound bites at “Meet the candidate” events, the inevitable superficiality of meet and greets, the transiency of neighborhood walk-bys, and the potential inadequacy of past and first impressions — to encourage us not only to vote but to vote thoughtfully and mindfully.

We hope you will engage the forums in active mode and in high gear.

Gadfly seeks your questions for and responses to the candidates.

Learn your ABCs and your ADUs

Latest post in a series on Affordable Housing

“I just have lost my faith in capitalism as a way to get affordable housing built.”
Councilwoman Van Wirt

Accessory Dwelling Units

What Gadfly really liked about the March 23 Community Development Committee meeting on affordable housing was the energy on both sides of the table.

In the last post or two, we’ve heard the spirited input by the City.

Now here’s Councilwoman Van Wirt jumping in on what she called RDUs and what Councilwoman Crampsie Smith called ADUs — Accessory Dwelling Units.

PVW’s actually nudging the City toward a quick pilot program, like right now.

Councilwoman Van Wirt: “I would actually urge your committee to come up with a pilot program. Let’s just try something out of the gate. Let’s just change a zoning code to allow RDUs in a targeted area, serviced by public transit, maybe a 10-block area. . . . I don’t see why we wouldn’t try it. Let’s see what happens. . . . This crisis is right now upon us, and if we can come up with some tools that actually work now, I think that’s a good idea.”

Councilwoman Crampsie Smith’s on board and will provide more info:

Gadfly, who’s looking to downsize and looking for an affordable apartment or other mode of living quarter, remembers his reading in Jeff Speck a summer or two ago and casting his eye on a Granny garage next door:

According to Speck, one town offers zero-interest loans up to $20,000 to build ADUs.

Seattle offers a guide. Look at the pictures of completed work!

Gadfly loves the excitement of these early planning stages.

Creating something. Onward!

More context on affordable housing

Latest post in a series on Affordable Housing

“If you’ve been in South Bethlehem for 5 seconds, you know it’s not
affordable housing over here.”
Rachel Leon, candidate for City Council

Gadfly working through the March 23 Community Development Committee meeting on affordable housing.

There’s a lot of inside baseball here today, but we should be trying to get as much of a grip as we can on this important issue that seems to be getting legs.

So here’s Alicia Karner, Director of Community and Economic Development, laying out some aspects of the “problem” of affordable housing.

 

And here’s Darlene Heller, Director of Planning, surveying the tools we have to address the problem of affordable housing.

Allentown police looking to recruit “homegrown” officers

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

“I look for anyone that has a connection to Allentown.”
Allentown Police Chief Granitz

So, once again, Gadfly’s keeping an eye out for what’s happening around us.

Allentown’s making an effort to recruit homegrown Latinx officers.

Allentown’s population is 50% Latinx, ours about 30%.

In Allentown, 30 of 216 officers are bilingual.

Gadfly doesn’t believe we know the racial/ethnic mix of our police department. He remembers Chief DiLuzio saying in one of the post-GeorgeFloyd discussions that all minorities were represented on the force (even Asian), but he does not remember that any numbers or percentages were given. The diversity in the department is another one of the areas Gadfly is hoping we would push on if we were to have the kind of Public Safety meeting he has wistfully wished for.

Several Council members have expressed the desire that the police force “look like” the population of the city.

A resident has suggested to Gadfly this prompt for the candidate forums: “Would you be willing to advocate for the development of a police force that has an equitable ratio of white males, white women, POC males, and POC women officers? Would you seek the same diversity-based composition for our local police union?”

Gadfly has several times heard mayoral candidate Grubb speak favorably of a time when a majority of City employees lived in Bethlehem.

Maybe you are catching Gadfly’s drift.

(Click here for the Hispanic Center virtual event led by Guillermo Lopez mentioned in the article below.)

———–

selections from Paul Muschick, “Allentown police recruit more homegrown officers who speak Spanish. ‘It’s easier to build rapport with someone who can understand you’.” Morning Call, March 26, 2021

Allentown Police Officer Louis Santiago and his partner recently were called to a home where the kids were refusing to go to school.

Santiago, though a rookie, was suited to handle the situation.

He grew up on Allentown’s South Side. He attended one of the same schools, South Mountain Middle, as one of the children. He was able to make a connection with the youngster.

And he was able to connect with the children’s Spanish-speaking parents, because he spoke their language. He is one of 30 bilingual officers on the force of 216.

The city has been working harder recently to recruit its own, especially those who speak Spanish, to join the force. That’s a necessity, as a little more than half of Allentown’s residents are Hispanic. Cities nationwide are facing that same recruiting challenge.

“When I get there and I can explain to them in a language that they can understand, it kind of eases down the tension,” Santiago told me. “It’s easier to build rapport with someone who can understand you.”

He is one of a few Allentown natives who recently were hired. Another, Gregorio Mora, also speaks Spanish.

Officials are seeking officers who know Allentown, who know its people, who have an emotional investment in making life better for them.

“I look for anyone that has a connection to Allentown,” Police Chief Glenn Granitz Jr. said. “I’m looking for someone who grew up here, went to school here, maybe their mom or dad lives here. I’m looking for somebody that wants to move here.

“I have found there is a distinct connection between having that connection of some kind with the city and having that investment of wanting to see Allentown succeed,” said Granitz, who grew up in Allentown, joined the force in 2001 and became chief in 2019.

That’s not a knock against officers who grew up elsewhere. They make up the majority of the police force and serve Allentown well. But it’s important to have your own blood represented. Allentown hasn’t had as much as in the past, though it is making progress.

“Chief Granitz right now is probably making the best attempt I have seen towards trying to get the community to see that this is a career that’s good for everyone,” said Guillermo Lopez Jr.

Lopez is a Lehigh Valley Latino leader who has worked with police departments and other organizations locally and nationally to increase cultural awareness.

Lopez is co-director of the Law Enforcement and Community Trust Building Program at the National Coalition Building Institute, which provides training on diversity, equity and inclusion. He also owns a consulting firm. He has trained and consulted with more than 1,400 police officers.

On April 12, Lopez will be co-hosting a virtual event for the Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley, “Trust Building with Law Enforcement.” Granitz and police chiefs from Bethlehem, Easton, Nazareth and Lehigh University are scheduled to participate.

Lopez said having homegrown officers helps to build a police force that can communicate with and relate to the entire constituency it serves, and give all residents a sense that they will be treated fairly.

Name that tune, er, candidate!

Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election

The Mayoral candidate comparison chart
The Council candidates comparison chart

Test yourself this rainy Sunday.

Now agree that one of the most important things on our plates is the upcoming local election. And Mail-in ballots will be out in 2-3 weeks or so. Voting will begin soon.

You’ve all seen those quiz show/game show bits where contestants are asked to identify a song from hearing only the first few bars.

By analogy, do you know your candidates well enough to identify them just by the sound of their voices?

Give it a try. Below are 10-second clips of the candidates for mayor and city council. Can you match voice to candidate?

The clips were chosen at random, so don’t worry about the content — just the sound of the voices.

Can you identify ’em?

Gadfly knows that these candidates were invited to the upcoming 7PM Thursday meeting of our Environmental Advisory Council.

Zoom in to the EAC at
https://zoom.us/j/95616243255?pwd=amVDMlhsdEVRUmpnWjBJK05RZG5yUT09

Know your candidates.

Vote and vote knowledgeably!

Get beyond the yard signs, which race for quantitative superiority, by the way, in Gadfly’s eye, is currently being won by the fleet Reynolds minions.

Giddy-up the rest of you!

clip 1

clip 2

clip 3

clip 4

clip 5

clip 6

clip 7

Let’s discuss “Reimagining Community Policing”

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

You know Gadfly would be in a front row seat for this if we could be seated.

You know he feels these are the kinds of discussions we ought to be having.

Given the host organization, this event should be . . . thought-provoking.

You haven’t forgotten the related discussion coming up at the Hispanic Center April 12, have you?

Tuesday, March 30, 6-7:30
register

Tuesday, March 30, 6-7:30
register

Develop the Greenway heading west as a tradeoff for “breaking the rules”

Latest in a series of posts on 14-18 W. 3rd. St

Bob Davenport is PA born and raised for 25 years. Now a retired railroad (but not the man at the throttle) Engineer, a CE graduate of Lehigh U,  a Catholic attending daily mass and praying for a better world without apparent success. An optimist.

ref: Stepping down on 3rd St.?

Gadfly:

It’s aesthetics vs economics.  The “Cohen” plan adds architectural interest but reduces potential income by reducing the 3-dimensional space that can be placed on the 2-dimensional footprint. The Lehigh/St Luke’s building nearby looks like the height fight has already been lost.

I would like to see a development of the Greenway heading west as a tradeoff for “breaking the rules.” Luckily or purposefully, the former Reading right of way seems to still exist even though a building uses some of the air rights. It might be possible to put commercial entities on the building ground floor in a style evocative of the former buildings. The Lehigh/St Luke’s building did this but badly in my opinion by putting multi-paned windows at mid-level rather than ground level.

Open access from 3rd Street to an extended Greenway would also add architectural interest.

Summing up, the Cohen plan is interesting but not economically feasible. Give the developers what they want but make them pay for it in ways that should enhance the value of the property for them and the community in the long run.

Bob

Stepping down on 3rd St.?

Latest in a series of posts on 14-18 W. 3rd. St

“We gotta get past the height of the building first.”
developer

ref: Another opportunity to apply the “Smith Principles”
ref: Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 1
ref: Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 2
ref: We need eyes tonight on a proposed Southside project again

Gadfly needs to get back to the interesting Historic Conservation Commission March 15 meeting on proposed new building construction (8 stories) at 14-18 W. 3rd St.

The volunteer HCC. Your non-tax dollars at work. Let’s look at how they’re doing for us.

The HCC historic officer set the table for discussion by outlining three issues:

1) demolition: necessary? can the existing building be saved?

2) the size and scale: 8 stories. The elephant in the room.

3) style: fitting in historically

The HCC chair wanted to talk about these issues in order. Logical. No sense talking about the proposed building unless there’s a decision to demolish the existing ones.

See image on the right for a reminder of what’s there.

But the developer wanted to go directly to the height: “We gotta get past the height of the building first.”

Yeah, the issue that bejiggers so much development on the Southside.

Gadfly loves following the argument in such meetings. Gets you to think about how you would respond, what you think about the issue. Join him, willya?

So here’s the HCC historic officer setting out the guidelines for size and scale and opining that 8 stories does not fit. This is the point of reference for all further discussion on this topic.

The historic officer points out that the guidelines point out that 2-3-4 story buildings are the norm in the district. Deviations to a “large degree . . . seriously impact” the district. Judgment: the applicant’s proposal is “inappropriate.” The historic officer holds up a stop sign!

Here’s the developer’s argument for the large size to go around the stop sign:

It’s an interesting argument, and one that Gadfly thought of and raised in a previous post. If you are coming off the Hill-to-Hill bridge and onto 3rd St., you would have a view of, say, the blank wall of half the Zest building, which is inappropriate and “less attractive,” the developer says, than if they covered it up with their new building. A new 3-story building according to guidelines would be “less historic,” the developer argues, than what they are proposing.

Enter Commission member Amy Cohen floating the idea of a “step down” construction of the new building:

Cohen addresses a nod to the guidelines, a more appropriate view traveling east on 3rd, and — another good point — avoiding a 220 ft long wall along 3rd St.  Yes, a penitentiary-like wall. Gadfly hadn’t thought of that last point. Gotta look at this from all sides, Gadfly — right?!

It would go something like this in Gadfly’s un-draftsman-like rendering.

Whattya think? Does Cohen offer a good alternative?

So what does an apartment cost?

Latest post in a series on Affordable Housing

“Incomes are not matching up to the unit prices.”
Tina Roseberry

ref: Crampsie Smith Affordable Housing Task Force advances
ref: Affordable Housing has momentum
ref: Get ready for some nasty numbers

We’re continuing to slow-walk through the statistics relevant to the much welcomed affordable housing initiative headed by Councilwoman Crampsie Smith presented by the city at the Tuesday March 23 Community Development Committee meeting.

How much does an apartment cost in our town?

And how much money do you need to make to afford one?

Good answers to such good questions.

Listen to the City’s Tina Roseberry again.

 

 

For instance, to rent a newly constructed 2BR apartment, you need to make $1,750/month to not be cost-burdened, that is, you need to make, say, $76,000/yr., and approximately 2/3’s of our residents do not make that much.

———-

Read and weep.

selections from Tom Shortell, “COVID-19 caused Lehigh Valley housing prices to skyrocket. Planners worry what this will mean for low- and middle-income families.” Morning Call, March 23, 2021.

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission raised a red flag over surging housing costs in a report released Tuesday, warning that one-in-three households are paying a larger-than-recommended share of their income to keep a roof over their heads.

The Lehigh Valley has been in a housing crunch for years as the population grew and developers pumped high-end apartments into the market. But these luxury-style abodes cost more than what many families can afford, leaving many residents short on options. The coronavirus pandemic’s arrival stretched those trends to new extremes, the report found.

Between 2015 and 2019, the median home sale in the Lehigh Valley slowly increased from $175,000 to $200,000. But over the last year, the pandemic led residents of New York City and its expensive suburbs to move to the cheaper Lehigh Valley, causing median home sales here to balloon in one year by the same $25,000. While there’s been a surge in proposed single-family housing developments, it’s not enough to meet the demand in the Lehigh Valley, planners said. The high costs are straining low- and middle-income families’ finances.

More than 60% of home owners in some neighborhoods in Center City Allentown and Easton’s West Ward are considered cost-burdened, according to the study.

Nearly 80% of Lehigh Valley residents work in industries where jobs are at risk because of the pandemic, according to the report.

New additions to the Arts Trail!

Latest in a series of posts on the Arts in Bethlehem

Urban Arts Trail

Two new murals will be unveiled on the Southside next Friday, First Friday April 2.

Click here for more info about the works, the artists, and where the murals will be located.

“Rebuilding & Remembering”
By: Devyn Briggs
“The piece celebrates the families that have joined our community after Hurricane Maria. It is also about growing up in two cultures, and the strength that comes from being rooted in family, community, and culture,”
————
“Diversity”
By: Maltas Con Leche
“This image brings to life (with respect to) the SouthSide community, culture and spirit. We wanted to show diversity, and what we have in common. In the Valley – that’s food and our scenery.”