too much like the imperial executive

Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past and current director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.

Gadfly, thanks for this information. It’s fascinating!! Do you have any information about what the “weak Mayor” form of local government would be? That is the form I would be interested in understanding better, especially if it gives more power to the City Council. I think one problem we have is that we need more ideas than just one person — the Mayor — can provide. What would happen if councilmembers were paid a more reasonable wage to help with some of the tasks involved in city governance? Right now the mayor gets all the money and has all the power and all the responsibility. I fear it is too much like the imperial executive. I think the city would benefit from a broader distribution of responsibility, in particular.

Breena

Yes, Gadfly can return to this with, especially, some opinion from that time period about how the Commission form was perceived. His sense at this point is that the Commission form was not well liked, was seen as inefficient. But this deserves a closer look at the specific reasons. And Gadfly, ever-the-utopian, wonders whether there is a 4th and even better choice, wonders with Thoreau whether “there is a still more perfect and glorious [form of city government] imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.”

 

Fighting City Hall: November 4, 1958

This story will be the subject of the next Bethlehem Moment at City Council.

You just never know. Where there’s an interesting – and even inspiring – story for a Bethlehem Moment.

Gadfly, as some of you are aware, is coming up on his first-year anniversary of observing City affairs. It was Christmas-time last year that he resolved to act on his long-time hankerin’ (Gadfly loves and for many years taught the classic Westerns – can you tell?) to attend some City Council meetings.

And he was immediately struck by the “architecture” of the meeting – Council members in judicial-like semicircle at the head of the hall, with the Mayor on the side. What’s with this, Gadfly thought? Isn’t the Mayor top-dawg?  Then hearing the occasional distressed resident addressing his or her distress to a Council that in most instances had no direct powers to redress the distress.  And meetings in which the Mayor seemingly rarely spoke, even in his assigned “report” time on the agenda. It took a while for Gadfly to recognize the Mayor’s voice. At election time, from Gadfly’s sideline seat, the mayoral race seemed the focus. City Council members were faceless to him. Yet here the site of power was the “City Council” meeting, seemingly above the mayor. City Council ran the meeting – did they “run” the City?

Curious to Gadfly. Odd. Puzzling. Intriguing.

How do things get done in the City? Who’s in charge? Where’s the power?

And why do we have this form of city government? And how did we get it?

So Gadfly was happy to use a Bethlehem Moment as the occasion to do a little historical research. You’ll find the long version of a piece of his research on this linked short essay – short but still too long for top billing on a blog like this. Gadfly hopes you will click the link and take a few of your own Bethlehem moments to read:

Fighting City Hall – and Winning, November 4, 1958

The short of this part of Gadfly’s research is that when Bethlehem was born in modern form in 1917, it operated under the state-mandated Commission (so-called Weak Mayor) form of government. In 1957 the state granted cities the voluntary option of staying with that form or choosing between two other forms: the Strong Mayor-City Council form and the City Manager form.

The Democrats ran Bethlehem, and an entrenched element of the Democratic Party fought efforts by the Bethlehem Junior Chamber of Commerce to study the advantages and disadvantages of the three options and provide residents with an opportunity to choose among them. How’s that for democracy – the opportunity to choose your form of government!! The “political novices” successfully fought the “machine,” educated the general populace about the choices they had, and voters ultimately chose our current Strong Mayor-City Council form of government.

gov 4

It’s a pretty amazing and, I say again, inspiring story of the power of the public to fight – and beat – City Hall. Not that every City Hall has to be beaten, mind you.

But this is the kind of story that we need to periodically remind us where the power ultimately lies. With us. Out here in the cheap seats at Town Hall. And beyond.

Please read: Fighting City Hall – and Winning, November 4, 1958

This is a story of Bethlehem residents taking control of their own destiny. Never easy. But doable.

Founding Fathers and Mother

Gadfly is researching the history of the Bethlehem Charter Commission for the next “Bethlehem Moment.”

Charter

Here is the newly elected group — November 13, 1958 — that gave us our current Mayor-City Council form of government.

Elaine Meilicke was the top vote-getter.

Not all that long ago — any connections with these folk we should know about?

Charles Donches is not related to our Mayor but is the father of Steve Donches, who was head of the National Museum of History.

An interesting story here, but you’ll have to wait for the “Moment” to hear all about it!

Bethlehem Moments: A Proposal (8)

(8th in a series of posts on Bethlehem Moments)

Taking a break from the big project of organizing the public hearing on 2 W. Market last Tuesday.

Remember that in these 8 posts, Gadfly is kind of drafting a proposal for Council to add a Bethlehem Moment to the opening of each Council meeting. Thinking out loud about all the components of such an addition.

So we have had 2 so far, one on the Hill-to-Hill bridge fund raising as a precursor to the joining of the boroughs that  gave us the single town of Bethlehem, the other on the death of 14 Bethlehem “boy” Army recruits in what was then the greatest air tragedy in Lehigh Valley history.

Too random? The scholar in Gadfly would start at the beginning way back in Europe and work up to the present over the next 50yrs of his life. But that wouldn’t work, would it? But is just bouncing around too random? Gadfly is reading and thinking about Bethlehem history in an unorganized way, and, as long as he is doing the Moments in this trial period, he will just wait to be struck by something interesting.

Gadfly’s Hill-to-Hill Moment came as a result of the billboard controversy (Whatever happened to that? Did Gadfly hear we did get sued?). The plane crash came out of studying Triangle Park and the presentation at Council on plans for the Rose Garden.

So Gadfly’s finding the Moments so far from what seems to be going on now.

Does that feel alright? Or should there be more structure?

So that’s one thing Gadfly is thinking about, Moment-wise.

A second is that he is not sure the Moments will really be meaningful unless they are ultimately incorporated at the very top of the meeting right after the prayer and the pledge.

To do them as part of public comment feels not right at all.

There they lose their isolated and high-lighted significance. There they get mixed in with business. When the meeting starts after the pledge, people go into work mode. The introduction is over, and now we’re focusing on the “meat” of the meeting.

If there is any future for the Bethlehem Moment idea, it has to be as part of the introduction to the meeting.

A third thing Gadfly is wondering about is the title. Would “Bethlehem Remembers” be better?

So that’s what Gadfly has been thinking about in regard to the “Bethlehem Moments.”

Shoot me some ideas, or do one in this trial period. What say?

Ok, back to 2 W.

Bethlehem Moment 2: Bethlehem Mourns

Bethlehem Moment 2
City Council
Nov 20, 2018

Ed Gallagher 49 W. Greenwich

A Bethlehem Moment: November 8, 1961

In Berlin August 1961, the Communists built a wall, and in Bethlehem November 1961 fourteen young men joined a U.S. Army expanding to meet an escalating international crisis. Before these “boys” touched a uniform, much less a weapon, they were dead, incinerated in a tragic plane crash near Richmond on the way to basic training. Their deaths hit the town hard. They were our neighbors, living on Broad St, Center, Brodhead. Though aged 17-22 – yes, one was 17 — they were “boys” to us. Their high school class pictures stared at us from the obituaries. They lived at home with Mom and Dad, had nicknames from cowboy heroes, pets that followed them everywhere, girls they didn’t want to leave, careers on hold. Some had never flown before. We gasped at the terror of the phone that rings in the dead of night. We watched helplessly as hope drained away. We grieved with mothers who ran shrieking from houses, never to be the same again. We shrugged shoulders with fathers who had premonitions of disaster. We were reminded through our shared mourning that we are a town not just a geographically framed collection of individuals. We were reminded that there is no such thing as a “cold” war. Lest we forget these valuable lessons, we erected a monument, which now resides in the Rose Garden.

For a more detailed description of this event, see the “Bethlehem Pays the Price for Freedom 1961” post dated Nov. 18.

Bethlehem Pays the Price for Freedom 1961

See also the “Veterans Day, Bethlehem, 2018” (Nov. 11) and “Developers, leave this park alone” (Nov.16) posts. Gadfly stumbled on to this story while researching Triangle Park. Thanks to Dana Grubb.

On November 8, 1961, 14 Bethlehem “boys” died near Richmond, Virginia, in what was described as the “Lehigh Valley’s worst toll” in a plane crash, as “the greatest single air tragedy ever to affect the Lehigh Valley,” and as “the second worst for a single non-military aircraft in U.S. history.” The 14 boys —  young men, really, ages 17-22 — were part of 29 from the Lehigh Valley and 77 overall who died — new Army inductees and crew members headed to basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Albert W. Andreas, Robert S. Bedics, Barry A. Brandt, Donald F. Doyle, Thomas D. Gasda, Richard W. Jones, Joseph J. Kobli, Stephen M. Kobli, Leroy Kranch, Jr., Thomas A. Motko, Michael Placotaris. Albert J. Rice, John D. Schuler, Charles D. Yeakel

The “happy-go-lucky” Bethlehem residents gathered early morning at the Salvation Army, bused to Wilkes-Barre where they were inducted in the afternoon, then boarded a plane, which after a stop in Baltimore to pick up more recruits, crashed near Richmond shortly after 9pm. All died in the fire subsequent to the crash except only two crew members. News reports described “the fuselage [of Imperial Airlines’ Lockheed Constellation], looking like a crushed cigar, gaping gash in its top, mired in the muck” on the outskirts of the airport.

The tragedy hit our town hard. There were stories of joking at departure about heading to “warmer southern temperatures,” of promises to be home for Christmas, of last words to mothers like “I love you, Mom.” It was the first plane ride for some. Two brothers and their next-door neighbor – life-long buddies — were among the victims. One victim lived “a few doors away” from Mayor Earl Schaffer. Some had joined the service because “unable to find steady work.” One had two jobs, supporting a struggling family. One was engaged. One had a girl whom he liked a lot and didn’t want to leave. One had a girl who loved him like a sister. One had enormous hands and was nicknamed “Duke” like John Wayne. One had a pet dog, his “pride and joy,” who “cried pitifully all morning” after the news.

The father of the brothers regretted turning down a last drink with his sons: “I would give anything to be able to have one last drink with them.” A grieving mother ran from her house — a doctor had to be called. She was never the same. There were reports of premonitions of disaster among the parents.

Communication about the tragedy was chaotic. Many families were awakened from sleep in the early hours of November 9 by phone calls from reporters. Because of the fire, identification of the incinerated bodies was difficult. One was identified only by a class ring. Telegrams from the Army were slow in coming. After agonizing waits, some families weren’t notified officially till 8am. 6 listed as dead turned out not to be so. They had not made the trip.

These Bethlehem men were victims of our Cold War with the Communists. The Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961. President Kennedy increased the draft in response. The Bethlehem Globe-Times editorial provided the larger political frame around this tragedy:

The lives which these young men gave before they ever donned a uniform is one of the ironic tragedies of the Cold War. While they were headed for duty as part of a tactical military build up which is destined to save us from a hot war, their death is a grim reminder that there is no such thing as a “bloodless war.”

To the families, no words can be written that will ease their pain and suffering. To the rest of us, no incident could illustrate with more impact the price which we as a nation must pay in the protracted struggle between the free world and the Communist world.

In a bitter punctuation to this local tragedy, however, the death of these young un-uniformed soldiers has been described as a “useless sacrifice.” The horror of the crash triggered a national investigation of the way U.S. military were transported on substandard, unregulated private airlines called “supplemental carriers.” The Civil Aeronautics Board soon issued a report that was as devastating as the crash. Time magazine reported, “it seemed a wonder that Imperial’s Constellation had got off the ground in the first place.”

The Time article cited the following problems: the pilot had failed some of his flight tests, and Imperial Airlines planes regularly had so many problems they routinely took up half the time of a Federal Aviation Inspector who reported hydraulic leakages, faulty fuel indicators, improper rigging of fuel mixture controls, bald tires, and fuel seeping out of the plane and onto the ground.  In addition, Time noted the doomed plane’s fuel was contaminated with rust, that the crews couldn’t determine the condition of the plane because the logbooks were not up to date, and the confusion in the cockpit that lead to the loss of the fuel-starved engines.  Perhaps the revelation most indicative of the miserable quality of airplane maintenance was that of the Chief Flight Engineer, who recounted not having a part for a motor on an Imperial Airlines plane and substituted a piece taken from a 1954 Mercury automobile.

It’s small but at least some solace that the “useless” deaths of these Bethlehem residents and others led to useful reforms in military transport operation that would protect the lives of similar young “boys” into our day.

004Our town marked the tragedy with a monument dedicated June 8, 1962, that for a long time resided at Triangle Park, 3rd and Wyandotte, was rededicated June 8, 1986 (State Senator Fred B. Rooney and Mayor Gordon Payrow presided), and now resides on the edge of the Rose Garden near the corner of 8th Avenue and Union Boulevard, and can be readily seen there and, more importantly, reflected on as you drive by.

The monument was meant to serve as a reminder. Sometimes we have to be reminded about the reminder.

This event will be the subject of the next Bethlehem Moment at City Council.
————————
See:

“29 Area Army Recruits Killed in Fiery Virginia Plane Crash.” Bethlehem Globe-Times, November 9, 1961: 1.

“A Few Discrepancies.” Time, December 15, 1961.

Monument Honors 14 Plane Victims.” Bethlehem Globe-Times, June 9, 1962: 13.

Jennifer Rittenour, “25 Years Later, Pain Of Air Crash Lingers.” Morning Call, November 9, 1986.

Frank Whelan, “1961 crash brought regulatory changes.” Morning Call, December 2, 2001.

Daniel Patrick Sheehan, “When the Lehigh Valley lost its youth in a Virginia marsh.” Morning Call, November 7, 2011. 

Kauffman, Louis R. “50 years later, airplane crash stirs memories of best friend.” Morning Call, December 12, 2011.

Seldon Richardson, “Richmond’s Worst Airplane Disaster: Flight 201/8 – November 8, 1961.” The Shockoe Examiner, November 14, 2013. 

David H. Stringer, “Non-Skeds: The Story of America’s Supplemental Airlines Part III.” Airways, May 26, 2016.

Bethlehem Moment 1: “Fraternal Cooperation” Spurs the Greater Bethlehem Movement, 1916

Bethlehem Moment 1
City Council
Nov 7, 2018

video

I’m Riley Gallagher, 1605 Chelsea

Good Evening Council President Waldron, Council Members, Mayor Donchez

A Bethlehem Moment: October 2 to October 8, 1916

Within a whirlwind one-week period in October 1916, citizens of the two Bethlehems worked intensely together to raise the final financial piece in funding the Hill-to-Hill Bridge. Large clocks were mounted on the Bethlehem Trust Company north of the river and the E.P. Wilbur Trust Company on the south, where crowds of people gathered at lunch each day singing songs and making speeches while watching the new funding total posted. In the end, in an awesome display of ground-roots civic power, individuals raised over $200,000 towards providing a long-awaited secure and stable link between the two Bethlehems. The Hill-to-Hill Bridge — with its eight approaches plus crossing a river, a canal, and four railroads — was an engineering marvel of its day, and the “fraternal cooperation” of the final campaign to build it spurred the Greater Bethlehem movement. One year later the two Bethlehems would be one.

See R. R. Keim, The Hill-to-Hill Bridge, 1924
https://historicbridges.org/pennsylvania/hilltohill/booklet.pdf

For the full story, see “The Hill-to-Hill Bridge: A Story of ‘Fraternal Cooperation’” under Bethlehem Moments on The Bethlehem Gadfly, September 16, 2018 (thebethlehemgadfly.com/).