Perhaps the most interesting part of last Tuesday’s April 6 City Council meeting came near the very end under new business.
A discussion of the $33.7m in Covid money coming to Bethlehem from the federal government. Business Administrator Evans advised that half will arrive this summer, half a year later, and that there will be eligibility guidelines and that information should come in a month or so.
Once it’s clear what the parameters are, then there will be discussion of how to spend that money, and Mr. Evans said there were ideas of opening discussion up to the public.
Councilman Callahan made 2 welcome suggestions, that residents be given a rebate of the 5% tax increase and that funds be put to affordable housing, supporting the efforts of Councilwoman Crampsie Smith in that direction.
The tax increase is raising $1.5m, just a fraction of the Covid windfall.
Looks like we’re in for some good discussion in a couple months! About how to spend all that money in the best possible ways.
Council approved legislation adopting policies and regulations which determine stormwater user fee credits and how property owners could appeal the stormwater fee the city assigns them to pay. The stormwater fee a property owner is charged is based on impervious area on the property, according to the city.
Residents have two ways to reduce that fee. One is by reducing the impervious area and the other is by having a stormwater management structure on the property. Those structures include dry and wet ponds, wetlands, bioretention, bioswales and filter strips, permeable pavers and green roofs.
During the new business portion of the meeting, in discussing what he called a “windfall from the federal government” in COVID-19 funding, Councilman Bryan Callahan said it would be a “goodwill gesture” to provide rebates to property owners. Last year, council voted for a 5% tax increase, which Callahan said was challenging for taxpayers struggling during a global pandemic.
“Let’s give a break back to the residents,” said Callahan.
Last Tuesday Council’s Community Development Committee held a meeting on ordinances proposed by Councilman Callahan relating to Third-Party inspections.
Councilwoman Van Wirt chairs the committee; other members are Councilman Reynolds and Councilwoman Crampsie Smith.
Yawn, you are saying, yawn.
But this meeting touches on three important subjects: the quality of City services, the City budget, and the upcoming election.
Gadfly would like you to think about all three subjects as you contemplate this post, but especially the last — the upcoming election.
Literally as he was writing this, Gadfly learned that Councilman Callahan will not be running for Mayor but for re-election to his third term on Council.
One of Gadfly’s most basic goals has been to help you have the information that you need to vote in the most informed way possible.
This is Councilman Callahan’s project.
We should be paying attention to such things as we consider spending our votes (though, at the moment, it looks like 4 candidates for 4 slots — no competition).
Take some time to witness him on center stage, in action, as it were, proposing legislation, one of the main jobs of a councilman. You can listen to him on the meeting video here.
Gadfly will provide some audio clips with summaries from the meeting below, but followers know that he always advises that you go to the primary source yourself and form your own opinions before he comments.
He will only say now that this meeting shows a pattern in the way Councilman Callahan works that he has seen before, and he wonders if you do too.
Councilman Callahan’s proposal cum rationale (20 mins.):
The City employs building inspectors. Councilman Callahan has heard complaints from both commercial entities as well as “mom and pops” of undue delays getting necessary building inspections. His purpose is to streamline the permit process as well as save money by using outside inspectors. This year our taxes went up 5%, we cut 4 public safety positions, etc. The hard budget choices will continue next year. We currently use our in-house inspectors as well as a third-party inspector for acute needs. Councilman Callahan has learned that many other surrounding towns simply use the third-party inspectors. If we did that, he argues, we could cut our budgeted inspectors, save money, and provide better service. Councilman Callahan notes that the Department of Community and Economic Development is the only City department that hasn’t been cut recently — in fact, it has grown. We have 8-10 inspectors now, and something is wrong in the way our sysytem is operating. Councilman Callahan is not asking for immediate change but for the City to request bids from third-parties so that we can determine if a new system would be good for us. He outlines the potential benefits of replacing in-house inspectors with third-party inspectors, such as more efficiency because of more sophisticated technology. Bottom line: a win/win of cutting payroll while gaining more efficient services. Something’s not working now, he argues, and cost-savings will be substantial.
DCED Director Karner’s initial response to Councilman Callahan’s proposal (3 mins.):
Director Karner agrees that there is some technology desiderata while describing what they do have now in the way of technology, but she categorically rejects the anecdotal evidence of delays in the inspection process. These complaints have not come to her attention, and if and when such problems are brought to her, they are/will be addressed immediately.
Further response from Director Karner (5 mins.):
In response to probes by Councilwoman Crampsie Smith, Director Karner adds that the use of a third-party inspector would result in loss of control in front of a magistrate, that the inspectors are revenue-neutral, and that City inspectors do a much more comprehensive inspection than the third-partyers.
Response from Councilman Reynolds (5 mins.):
Councilman Reynolds argues that there would not be a financial savings as indicated by Councilman Callahan (in ways ex-English-teacher Gadfly couldn’t follow!) and that he could not be in favor of the proposal until all the questions/objections raised by Director Karner were satisfied.
Councilman Callahan and Director Karner interact (36 mins.):
Councilman Callahan questions Director Karner for a long time. The Councilman is especially interested in getting some data from the Director in written form. The Director makes two points, that third-party inspectors would not save the taxpayer money (there would be a “remarkable difference” in cost) and that the data he seeks about time lag in inspections will not give the Councilman the information that he is looking for (“it will not show why things are delayed”). Director Karner suggests that Councilman Callahan take up any complaints about delay with the permit coordinator and reminds him of a complaint in the past that turned out to be “unfounded,” turned out to be a “lie.” “I am not going to allow you to sit there and continue to make these accusations that we have these long delays.”
Councilpeople Crampsie Smith (1 min.) and Reynolds (2 mins.) respond to the Callahan/Karner dialog:
Councilwoman Crampsie Smith wonders about simply a policy to deal with complaints, starting with the department head and going up to the mayor rather than dealing with these kinds of things at Council. Councilman Reynolds says that it’s obvious we are not ready to vote on Councilman Callahan’s proposal, that there are questions to be answered, that this meeting is not the most “productive” way to get answers to those questions, and that the proposal should be revisited when Councilman Callahan has the answers to his questions.
Chair Van Wirt make suggestions to Councilman Callahan (5 mins.):
Councilwoman Van Wirt, as chair of the Committee, indicates that a lot has been covered, tries to move Councilman Callahan along by suggesting that he put his thoughts in writing and take time “away from this committee” to pull things together. Councilman Callahan summarizes what he’s looking for and tasks chair Van Wirt for being “unfair” and “stifling” his desire to get information when the meeting has only gone on one hour and twenty minutes.
Chair Van Wirt wraps up the meeting (4 mins.):
Councilwoman Van Wirt pushes back strongly to Councilman Callahan’s proposal. There are “irrelevancies” in the questions he was asking. This is “a solution in search of a problem.” She has seen no evidence of complaints. Until there is a “clear need” for a different way of doing things, the current way (a la Crampsie Smith) is adequate. She suggests adjourning the meeting rather than tabling the proposal, which was what Councilman Callahan was suggesting.
Now Gadfly is asking a lot here.
If you followed him and worked through this meeting, you spent a lot of time.
But when it comes to assessing our candidates for office, that is time well spent.
Gadfly started this post this morning thinking that Councilman Callahan might be running for mayor, and the pattern he sees in such interactions would have been more significant in that context.
But it applies to assessing him for another term as councilman too.
City Council approved the 2021 City budget last meeting, December 15.
That budget, you will remember, included cutting 4 firefighters, cutting 2 Service Center staff, moving money from cash reserves — and a 5% tax increase.
Gadfly did not sense significant resident opposition through the approval process, and he doesn’t recall any resident commenters during the budget hearings.
But at City Council last night two callers reminded us of the hard times to which tax increases contribute.
Garrison St. resident (2 mins.):
She was “shocked” at the 5% tax increase. She wouldn’t have “fathomed” that we’d do it at this critical time, the pandemic and etc. People struggling to pay rent, mortgages, put food on the table. “O, my god, this is crazy.” “Where’s your compassion and sensitivity during this time?” When you’re struggling to put food on the table, 5% is a lot. This was not the time to do something of this nature. “Everybody’s under the gun.” I thought that our city wouldn’t “even dare” do something like this.
Richard Ellis (2 mins.):
Other places surrounding us not increasing their taxes. Recalls tax increase because of the Hirko law suit. Raised taxes in 2017, 2018, 2019. Getting a 1.3% increase in social security, half of which will go to taxes. And there’s the new water run-off charge. It’s time to stop. He’s a registered, regular voter, and he will “remember Ms. Smith and Negron and Mr. Waldron, who are up for re-election.” “They will not get my vote. Us seniors deserve better.”
Councilman Callahan (2 mins.):
Councilman Callahan is also up for re-election. Note that Mr. Ellis did not mention Councilman Callahan. Councilman Callahan was the strongest voice for cutting during the budget hearings. And he picked up on these phone callers and said that he “felt their pain” and reminded us that he did not vote for the tax increase. And he reminded us that we must “seriously look at” what we’re doing tax-wise or we’ll push out low-income housing. “Every time we have a tax increase, we make our city more expensive to live in.” Everybody on Council is for affordable housing, a “livable city.” If we don’t start making some cuts and stop pushing development away from the city, there’s going to be “tough times” in the next couple years. Councilman Callahan often cites his working-class Kaywin background as a point of reference for the need for fiscal conservatism, and if, indeed, he does run for Mayor, he is staking out a position as a kind of budget hawk.
For the purposes of voting at the December 15 City Council meeting, the budget was broken up into these 12 parts, corresponding to parts of the actual budget that you can see if you follow the link above.
Council took 12 votes.
All parts passed by a 7-0 vote except parts 8A, 8K, and 8L.
Parts 8A, 8K, and 8L passed 6-1, Councilman Callahan being the nay vote each time.
8A: General Fund Budget
This is the section of the budget containing the police and fire departments.
Councilman Reynolds had previously asked Chief Kott to report at this meeting with a community engagement plan for the department. The Chief read her response and discussion ensued with Councilfolk Reynolds, Negron, and Crampsie Smith. Councilwoman Crampsie Smith raised the troubling possibility of low morale in the Fire department. Gadfly will devote a separate post solely to this discussion.
Councilman Callahan indicated, without elaboration, that he would vote “no” on this section of the budget because of the cuts to the fire department and Lehigh University’s withdrawal of an annual $100,000 that had been going to fund city housing inspectors.
8K: Tax Rate
Councilman Callahan voted “no” here without elaboration.
Gadfly had not been paying a lot of attention to this issue and thus has not reported on it to you previously. Here’s what he understands. The City has been mandated by the state to set a “Stormwater Collection and Management User Fee.” The City set the fee at $60 per homeowner. Council members — especially Crampsie Smith, Negron, and Van Wirt — have sought a way to alleviate that burden on low income residents and have questioned whether fees for the Housing Authority and School District would additionally be passed on to low income residents. There was thoughtful discussion. One option, for instance, might be a tiered system in which higher income people would pay more than $60 and low income residents would pay less or nothing at all. The City is considering options and further thoughtful discussion on the fee will take place early next year. See meeting video mins. 1:50:00-2:05:00.
The discussion of the stormwater piece of the budget ended in a way that highlighted tension over Councilman Callahan’s desire to cut the budget. Sounding much the fiscal conservative in contrast to liberal spenders, Councilman Callahan pointed out that we can’t just keep adding taxes and fees, that somewhere along the line we need to cut. He used the feasibility study for the pedestrian bridge again as an example of something that he was in favor of but that was improper funding at this particular time. He predicted that next year at this time Council would again be faced with raising taxes. The Councilman reminded everybody that he tried to cut inspectors from the DCED budget — DCED being the only department that has grown significantly in the past six years and a department that is “over-bloated.” Councilman Callahan’s discussion engaged Councilman Reynolds and President Waldron and was marked with a reference to Councilwoman Van Wirt.
This part of the meeting outlines importantly different perspectives on the budget and is worth listening to (7 mins.):
Bethlehem City Council Tuesday night backed a 5% tax increase to help the city weather the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and created a new stormwater fee.
The $87.4 million spending plan cuts six jobs through attrition and means the average homeowner of a home with an assessed value of $50,000 would pay $46 more a year in city taxes.
It passed in a 6-1 vote with Councilman Bryan Callahan dissenting due to the tax hike and cuts to the city fire department through attrition.
The budget includes no new jobs or programs. It cuts four firefighters from each city platoon as well as two Bethlehem Service Center employees, estimated to save $500,000 annually in salary and benefits. Bethlehem’s workforce will drop to a low of 588 people, from a high of 670 back in 2010.
Council also voted to create a new stormwater fee that was postponed amid the pandemic. It’s needed so the city can comply with a federal mandate to cut pollution in stormwater to protect Bethlehem’s waterways.
For single-family detached residential properties, the rate will be $60. The fees for other properties will be set via a city formula.
Councilwoman Olga Negron earlier this month raised concerns about a blanket fee vs. a tiered fee for homeowners. She reiterated those concerns Tuesday night, saying she’d be happy to pay more so her neighbors on a fixed-income don’t get hit with a fee they cannot afford.
Negron is also worried about the burden this might present to the Bethlehem Housing Authority and the Bethlehem Area School District, which could pass those increased cost on to taxpayers.
City Public Works Director Michael Alkhal told council Tuesday evening the city is working to incorporate guidelines to offer certain residents up to a 50% discount on the fee based on income and property size.
Budget projections for next year show the city starting the year with a $4.5 million budget hole, largely driven by skyrocketing pension costs and a $1 million drop in earned income taxes. The spending plan is making up the loss with the tax hike and $1 million from city cash reserves.
Much appreciate the work Gadfly; the need for this conversation is pretty apparent if one does believe that there are over 1000 neighbors “supporting” the fear mongering being driven by the so-called good Neighbors Assoc.
To stick to facts over 50% of Americans believe that policing needs a major over all while only 6% believe no improvements are needed.
Latest in a series of posts about the Bethlehem Police
We come to an end of Gadfly’s coverage of the December 1 City Council meeting. You have heard lots of voices. Gadfly loves these voices. Both our elected officials and our ardent residents.
Most recently we have been listening to Council voices. You can really learn something about these people by hearing their voices, no?
And I hope you can recognize them by their voices.
When Gadfly started Gadfly he used to put pictures of the Council members up and ask you to identify them. He did that because he quickly learned that there were a decent number of followers who couldn’t name the Council members and, of course, couldn’t “recognize” them either.
Gadfly wants you to know them, know them well, especially if they are on the ballot next time ’round.
But, he wonders, could you recognize their voices if he put up some audio clips without identification?
Maybe will do that. Would be an interesting exercise.
But we’ll end this thread of posts with one voice you can’t miss.
And she’s on fire here!
I’m very upset right now.
[Thanks Councilpeople Reynolds and Crampsie Smith]
Thank you for calling the group that is spreading fear, especially among the elderly . . . they are scared.
They are spreading lies, lies.
This is not fair.
As a woman of color that has been hurting about everything happening in our nation . . .
[Recounts her work history and experience with the police]
That’s what I did for frickin’ fve years!
I know we can do better, I know how to do it better.
So it is appalling to me . . . that somebody would just come up and say this is what they are doing.
It is wrong.
Stop the lies.
I am really happy we have a brand new Chief of Police, I am very proud of her.
And I know that under her leadership, we are going to do a whole lot better.
The role that we have as members of Council . . .
You want to fire me, go ahead, I don’t pay for my rice and beans for the $185 I get from City Council.
Stop threatening for something that has no value.
You wake up and smell the coffee.
It is wrong.
Something that you need to understand is [both City and Council have roles and services they need to provide] we can not just eliminate public safety and police and hire 50 case workers.
It doesn’t work that way.
We are not in the case worker business.
[Police and Health Bureau working together]
[Working with Pinebrook]
[Northampton County and Lehigh County have great crisis programs]
We need to do a better job sharing this information with our community.
We have a great service [at the county level], we don’t have to reinvent the wheel for something the city is not meant to do.
That is what the county Human services do.
[Mental health and drug court]
They get treatment according to their need.
I am really appalled that some individuals took it upon themselves . . . to scare half of the city.
Latest in a series of posts about the Bethlehem Police
Latest in a series of posts about the Bethlehem Police
If you’ve been following Gadfly’s coverage of the butt end of the December 1 City Council meeting, he left you with Councilman Callahan in the middle.
Where Councilpersons Reynolds, Van Wirt, and Waldron took aim.
We have suspicion that Councilman Callahan is the source of the “fake controversy,” outrage that he’s driving a wedge between Council members, and belief that his intention is to separate himself from the rest of Council in regard to support for the police.
Councilman Reynolds (4 mins.)
better idea of where this fake controversy came from and how it got pushed to this point
[conversations with other Council members] we all had our suspicions.
pick and choose [quotes]
[About the Community Engagement Initiative] A lot of people are feeling pain, and we are trying hear different people’s perspectives
A lot of the comments that night, some we agree with, some we disagree with.
[Long meeting, lot of people talking] You do not have to own every comment made.
Different people have different perspectives.
[Conversation with a police officer]
A lot of discussion over past six months is not . . . slogans, or how we make people look bad . . . [but] how do we move past that for the betterment of society.
You have a 4hr meeting and somebody says O they agree with this and they don’t agree with that so on and so forth — that’s not a serious way to look at these issues.
Councilwoman Van Wirt (2 mins.)
[Thanks to other Councilmembers for their words] to promote unity and healing.
[Thanks to Councilwoman Crampsie Smith] for the dichotomy that is a good Councilmember, which is that you can do both things at once.
Indeed, that is the definition of a good Council member, being able to do both things at once, both sides of the coin.
Usually, I don’t respond to Mr. Callahan . . .
But I am outraged at his behavior . . . driving a wedge that doesn’t exist in between Council members and causing such pain and fear among our fellow citizens.
His words have been divisive and inflammatory, self-serving, and distorted.
What we need is unity.
Finding someone using such a painful topic for their own gain, I find reprehensible and I’m embarrassed.
For him to take words and distort them, I find reprehensible.
President Waldron (2 mins.)
mixing and matching different quotes from callers and Council members that may or may not have anything to do with each other
out of context look pretty damning, and I think that’s exactly what you are doing right now, inciting a lot of the rhetoric that’s been going on
After a lot of the rhetoric that’s been going on and the emails we’ve been getting . . . facebook posts that have been circulating there’s been a lot of misinformation and a lot of quotes being taken out of context.
I’ve had an opportunity to correspond with a few people . . .they thanked me for clarifying the record and said they were misinformed.
. . . intent to separate you from the rest of your Council members as if you are the only one who is standing up for the police department when clearly every one on this Council supports the police department.
There’s no proposals to defund . . . supporting [the police department] 100%.
Latest in a series of posts about the Bethlehem Police
Councilman Callahan got himself in the middle, a not unusual position for him, by providing his explanation of the genesis of the Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance and the callers the night of the December 1 Council meeting.
That genesis, he said, was a combination of the tough defunding/abolition statements by commenters at the July 7 meeting plus sympathetic and supportive responses to them especially by Councilpersons Reynolds and Van Wirt.
Councilman Callahan went to the July 7 primary source and quoted passages from the Councilpersons to back up his point.
He explained that he wasn’t trying to differentiate himself from others on Council, but he wanted the record to show that such statements were made, statements that would concern some citizens, and Gadfly believes that Councilman Callahan was implying that if it weren’t for pushback at the August 11 meeting, there might have been amendments affecting the police department from the more liberal members of Council.
Certain members of Council “re-prioritized” after pushback, he said.
This, you will recognize, is the narrative of the LVGNA.
I agree with a lot of the comments that Grace Crampsie Smith made.
All of us agree . . . very unfortunate deaths of those individuals..
Some of those cases, I believe it was murder.
I’m totally supportive of the police in our city, but I understand why the Black Lives Matter movement came up . . . supported that movement.
I don’t know the group that you are talking about [Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance].
Obvious some of the residents of the city were concerned that some of the comments that were made at the July 7th meeting . . .
No one on Council right now is making any amendments to defund the police department, but, let’s be honest, that was not the case at the July 7 meeting.
[reads comments from public at the July 7 meeting]
Based on comments made at that meeting . . .
[reads direct quotes from Councilpeople Reynolds and Van Wirt at the July 7 meeting]
Those are the comments that were made and that’s the genesis of some of the phone calls that were coming in tonight.
I don’t know about any threats, and I apologize to Ms. Crampsie Smith if anybody attacked her.
[People who called in tonight] felt there were some pretty radical comments made at the July 7 meeting and there were some comments by Council members that backed up that.
I’m just quoting from the record.
That’s where the genesis of that was.
Nobody should be inciting any type of violence against anybody, or any type of fear . . .
We’re talking about the Bethlehem police department [not Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc.].
Our police department hasn’t really had any ____?___ since the Hirko settlement . . . national accreditation.
[Concerns of people who called my house came from comments by Council people Reynolds and Van Wirt]
Those were direct quotes from the Council meeting.
I just want it on the record that those comments were made by those two individuals.
[Mr. Waldron], I think what happened was in that following Council meeting there was a lot of pushback
I was the only one at that time — I’m not trying to differentiate myself from any Council members — I said very plainly we are not defunding the police department.
There was a lot of pushback and [Councilers Reynolds and Van Wirt] had a re-prioritization of their thoughts.
[repeats comments of Van Wirt from July 7]
That’s a direct quote; I’m not putting words in anybody’s mouth.
If anybody thinks the context is wrong, please go and check.
[Gives time marks on video for each Council person] Judge for yourself on the context.
I agree . . . empathy . . . seeing from both sides of the issue.
All I was saying — I don’t know any of the callers who called in, I don’t know why anybody thinks I had anything to do with it, I didn’t encourage anybody, if you want to blame me for that, you may, I had nothing to do with it, I don’t know anybody who called in — I’m just trying to correct the record.
I encourage all the residents, go look at the July 7 video and make up your own decision.
I’m not putting words in anybody’s mouth, go look at the meeting.
It wasn’t till after that meeting [August 11 public safety meeting] . . . when there was pushback and everybody kind of took a step back from their comments . . .
For everybody to pretend that those comments weren’t made is very disingenuous.
Make up your own mind.
Had there not been pushback from the community . . .
I don’t know anybody that called tonight . . .
Had there not been the pushback, some of the more liberal people on our Council . . .
When it comes to our police safety, I think some of the comments that those two Council members made that night were not welcome.
Mr. Reynolds, I agree with you about the emotional and reactionary response.
I plainly said, right away, immediately, we are not going to defund the police department.
My point is that some of you reacted . . . very reactionary and emotional responses to what was being said that night instead of thinking through the process.
I stated right away, we’re not defunding the police department.
I’m not trying to embarrass anybody, but everybody’s trying to back walk.
Just like these comments weren’t made. They clearly were made.
I felt they were reactionary and emotional responses from you.
If anybody is offended by me quoting . . . I apologize.
But I encourage city residents to watch the video.
Latest in a series of posts about the Bethlehem Police
The sense of injustice that most Council members felt at the actions by the Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance might best be registered by the response by Councilman Colon the night of the December 1 Council meeting.
In his more than two years of Council watching, Gadfly never saw Councilman Colon so exasperated.
The always pleasant, always cheery, always even tempered, always brief Councilman was, in Gadfly’s view, quite a bit off his equilibrium in his longest commentary in Gadfly’s tenure (8 mins.). Not, it seemed to Gadfly, “appalled and angry” like Councilwoman Crampsie Smith, but pained and frustrated.
What I heard tonight was a lot of fear but not a lot of understanding.
As Councilmembers we are tasked with looking at things from everybody who calls in and understanding that life looks a lot different depending on what lens you are looking at it from.
This heightened sense of fear that we heard tonight . . . where’s this coming from? . . . what’s driving some of this? . . .
this idea that there’s a nefarious, clandestine, undermining of the police department and beyond our police department our City’s sense of feeling safe in our residents’ own homes . . . and drumming up the sense that looming around the corner is us, the City Council, with this plot to kinda push Bethlehem over a cliff into chaos.
And we hear these anecdotal notions of other cities and what’s going on . . .
this idea that if it weren’t for Council being called out that we were ready to unplug the energy of Bethlehem . . .
or that conversations going back to over the summer where we tried to understand where people were coming from . . .
people who feel that they are walking around with targets on their backs, whether real or perceived . . .
we heard tonight, some people who say that they can’t call the police
then on the other end of the spectrum people who feel that they can’t go to bed at night because they don’t know if there’s going to be someone to call if they need help.
Or to the brave men and women who actually punch a clock every day and put on a badge feeling that they aren’t being supported or that they are walking around with a target on their back . . .
A lot of this fear, but not a lot of understanding.
Talking about something that happened more recently, we all lauded an appointment that came before us with our new Chief of Police, Chief Kott, that passed unanimously, without question, not only did everyone vote in favor of Chief Kott, everyone sung her praise, justly so . . .
After the new year we should have conversations about hiring practices within the police department, promotions within the police department, what police responses look like, what our policies . . . and also visit the pilot program with the Health Bureau . . .
Previous to this fury of emails we had already established that at a budget hearing that we were not taking any positions away from the police department.
It’s a matter of understanding comprehensively how we operate a city . . .
I invite . . . anyone interested in learning anything, tune in.
Don’t just take it from a Facebook post, get it from the source, tune in to a Council meeting . . .
We’re getting emails from people telling us not to do something that we have not had discussions to do.
Acknowledging that there are people who think different than you not that they are trying to plunge Bethlehem into an anarchist state but that they want to look at things in a certain way to accomplish goals.
And that’s not going to happen overnight . . . these things don’t happen with a flip of the switch.
hope that we as a Council, outside of some of the other forces that be . . . continue to offer understanding of each other, of the different perspectives, and really try to diminish fears out there . . .
that we are behind closed doors in the shadows plotting to turn Bethlehem into some sort of chaotic city, which there’s nothing to support that.
Latest in a series of posts about the Bethlehem Police
“I can do both. I can sympathize with people of color and the hurt and pain they are feeling, and I can also support the police. They are not mutually exclusive things.” Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith
Last week was a quite busy week for your city government and thus for Gadfly. A regular City Council meeting and the final budget hearing. Lots of interactions by our elected officials, the kinds of things that are not only important for us but also give us a good view of our elected officials. Gadfly will try to provide a few more scenes from the City Council meeting today to catch up on that one anyway.
The response from City Council members at the December 1 City Council meeting to the full court press that the Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance put on to obstruct Council’s suspected conspiracy to defund the police was vigorous.
Led off by Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith in strong words that were praised by her colleagues (5 mins.):
No one on Council has ever proposed eliminating the police.
That has been the message sent out to the community over the past days and weeks, and that is unfortunate.
Many on Council have been hurt and moved by the pain and hurt that people of color have experienced.
This doesn’t mean that we are anti-police.
In my personal and professional life I have had many friends and clients and students who have been victims of systemic racism.
I see them, and their hurts, and I sympathize, but I can do both.
I can sympathize with people of color and the hurt and pain they are feeling, and I can also support the police. They are not mutually exclusive things.
And that needs to be clear to the community and the individuals and the groups that are spreading falsehoods about me and my fellow Council people.
[Council supported resolution for supplies for police.]
[She enrolled in the Bethlehem Citizens Police Academy to get a better feel for what police do.]
[Have been meeting with police since June about how to improve the quality of services and officer training.]
The biggest concern I have . . . is the falsehoods circulated by individuals such as the Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance.
They have instilled fear in our community needlessly at time when we should be encouraging and supporting of others, especially like the elderly, crime victims, and those with PTSD, etc.
[Personal experience, daughter of a police chief, knows the stress.]
I saw my father get hurt and have a heart attack in the line of duty and almost die when I was 10 years old.
“She claims she’s not for eliminating the police but she wrote the resolution that gives radical Marxists direct influence over City policy and policing.”
The LVGNA “coffee cup” brochure
I saw the stress that that job took on him and I saw him go to an early grave because of the stress.
I am appalled, I am angered by the individuals and the groups that say I and my fellow Councilman do not support the police.
My father was a police chief and frankly I feel you are spitting on his grave by saying I do not support the police.
You can insult me, you can attack me personally, but don’t attack my family and that is what you are doing.
[Other family members in police work.]
I have nothing but complete respect, love, and admiration for them.
I would just ask that the individuals and groups that are spreading these falsehoods please consider the ramifications of your actions.
The one thing that is most upsetting is that you are instilling fear needlessly in innocent citizens of our community.
The claim that the Community Engagement Initiative Councilwoman Crampsie Smith co-sponsored with Councilman Reynolds gives direct influence to anybody much less radical Marxists is false.
Latest in a series of posts about the Bethlehem Police
Gadfly has liberally quoted recent voices from the Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance without comment.
But he does not agree with them.
Here is some of his thinking on that.
LVGNA’s two highly placed but unnamed sources who indicated City Council was conspiratorially plotting as a bloc to “defund” the police department were wrong.
In fact, two Council members were immediately on record weeks ago as totally opposed to “defunding.”
Gadfly followers would know that he, who looks forward to comprehensive discussion but not necessarily “defunding,” has been whining precisely about Council inaction and saw no movement toward a vote of any kind.
People paying attention would know that there would be no vote on the police department funding at the regularly scheduled Council meeting December 1, that if there were to be any voting at all it would happen at the budget hearing December 3 and the final vote would not be till December 15.
Thus, LVGNA created a false sense of crisis for December 1.
People paying attention would know that Council is planning public meetings with and about the police in January, and if there were to be any change in the way policing is done, it surely would not happen till after that public discussion.
People paying attention would know that, on their own initiative, the police have instituted a pilot program involving a social worker, without any “defunding,” to be sure, but precisely in the kind of direction that “defunders” would like to see them go.
That said, the new Chief has basically recognized that there is a problem to be addressed and Council and police seem to be working cooperatively not antagonistically.
The notion fostered by LVGNA that people need to rally at the barricades to defend the police and save public safety from dissolution seems a false narrative.
LVGNA has perpetuated the notion of “defunding” — admittedly a poor term to begin with (which is the reason why Gadfly tends to put it in quotes) — as a mindless or Marxist attack on the police rather than a good faith attempt to address some problems by re-imagining how policing is done.
Those who call for “defunding” are not monolithic. Gadfly spent several posts on the “abolitionist” who presented at the NCC conference in October. He saw change gradual as public safety moved to a new structure.
The notion that “defunders” or “abolitionists” want an immediate end to police departments, throwing civilization into chaos, returning us to the law of the jungle, misunderstands the movement.
There were extreme public statements made against the police July 7 — that, yes, gave even Gadfly the shakes — but his response, like those expressed by some members of Council, was to try to understand the basis of such rhetoric not immediately condemn it. That seemed the neighborly thing to do, and certainly would be the role of a Council charged with representing the entire community.
Since that time those speaking for change in public safety have been quite moderate both in tone and idea. Gadfly has come to think of them as mainstream “defunders.”
In contrast, we find the LVGNA facebook pages filled with extreme hostility: Council members are characterized as “big city leftists,” supporters of “BLM, Antifa, and the criminal element,” toxic, disgusting, Socialist, simple minded, disgraceful, shameful.
And we find callers referred to as “radical Marxist anarchists.”
The kind of language hardly conducive to the good conversation that builds community.
The LVGNA seems to believe that police should be allowed to operate without oversight, especially by the body legislatively charged with doing so.
In short, Gadfly has a hard time seeing that LVGNA is doing any good. In fact, quite the contrary.
Without a doubt, the main thing that Gadfly has noticed in the recent self-styled LVGNA march to victory is what is not there.
Not a mention of George Floyd. Nor the other names on the necrology of tragic police encounters with people of color.
Not a mention of awareness of where and why the “defunding” movement started.
Not a mention of the problem the movement is trying to address.
It’s generally agreed that the “defunding” movement began with the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
And in the past six months it crescendo’d with a series of such events spanning George Floyd to Walter Wallace.
If you don’t try to understand the trauma of these events, you will never understand the “radicals.”
LVGNA has 7000 signatories to a petition to defend the police. LVGNA could do a lot of good with that following.
Gadfly has suggested starting a conversation based on a specific “first contact” situation between the police and a member of the community.
Here’s how he put it after his discussion of LVGNA’s “coffee cup” brochure.
Does LVGNA see no first contact problem that needs to be addressed? Gadfly would be curious to know the basis for such a view. That would be good conversation.
Or does LVGNA see a first contact problem and have a solution (such as more training handled internally by a department) but are objecting to “defunding” and/or to the presence of BLM? That would be good conversation too.
Such a conversation would better prepare us for the meetings Council will host with and about the police in January.
All sentiment aside, we make financial decisions based on data and not our personal feelings about police officers.
This has nothing to do with individual police officers; we are being negligent, at best, to continue raising the police budget, year after year without any discussion about the actual need for and cost of the service.
This discussion isn’t going away, even conservative estimates confirm that the city won’t be seeing even a beginning to the return of normal revenues until Summer of 2021.
The 4th City Council hearing on the 2021 budget took place last night.
There was a time when the Morning Call would have a story this morning to fill us in.
No more. Sigh.
What would we do without Gadfly?
The Mayor and Business Administrator Evans began by providing a brief overview (3 mins.):
The Mayor indicated this was his toughest budget year, reviewed measures taken during the year to tighten the City’s belt, assured that the Fire Department and the Service Center would be ok with the proposed cuts (4 firefighters, 2 ServiceCenterers), and reminded us that the City had an A+ rating as a result of good financial management in recent years. BA Evans added that the City produced the “most responsible” budget for the residents of Bethlehem.
President Waldron began the business proceedings indicating that there were 4 proposed amendments to the Mayor’s proposed budget (2 mins):
transfer $400,000 from cash reserves to cover the firefighters (Crampsie Smith)
cut 2 building inspectors from one area (Callahan)
cut 2 building inspectors from another area (Callahan)
cut $40,000 for a pedestrian/bike bridge feasibility study (Callahan)
After vigorous and lengthy discussion on each amendment (some of which Gadfly will cover in due course), each amendment failed.
The Mayor’s 2021 budget goes forward as proposed.
The budget will be voted on at the December 15 City Council meeting (at which amendments can still be entertained).
I attempted to call in to the council meeting at least eight times Tuesday night, from both cell and landline with the same “mailbox full“ message that I’ve never received before. (This format is more appropriate but I’m sorry to say it won’t be five minutes.)
I too am grateful for the real protection – and assistance – I have received from police in my lifetime. It has not been little. And I Appreciate so many citizens engaging Tuesday. And for your dedication.
There were many anecdotes and feelings expressed about proper police funding and, while anecdotes matter because we must value/validate our neighbors’ lives, in order to decide an issue that affects so many – so seriously, nothing less than science is sufficient, where it exists. And while science is not perfect, it has the ability to clarify. Lehigh’s Professor Ochs, (worthy of much better treatment than she has received) presented bits at the Community Engagement Initiative in the jarringly little time afforded her and by some Tuesday night citing the lack of causality between money and safety …and more.
Sadly, the conversation about funding police appropriately, based on scientific research – not anecdote – doesn’t seem to have taken place here in our previously forward thinking city.
Can you prove the many people wrong who have spoken TO you and can you share the details of the thorough discussion you’ve had? And then continue to involve residents in it, rather than shut it down surreptitiously? Topics of such profound importance should not be rushed.
It is our obligation to those whose families and communities carry the concrete consequences of 400 years of horrific oppression that took place here but also whose deep veins still throb with its legacy today, keeping the progeny of many – and our entire community – buried in its inequity and far from our best. It is our obligation to repeat these facts until made right. Doing right and righting wrong is our responsibility.
The citizenry is owed some answers regarding the proper treatment of this invasive issue.
1)What are the notes and result of the CEI initiative? Where are they shared? What has council gleaned from the repeated calls on the topic? Is a city TRANSCRIPT of calls (in addition to the Gadfly’s considerable effort) published for reference?
2)All people deserve to know the process of the budget consideration and of your decision making. Does council consider it radical, as suggested by some citizens, to ask that the police budget be evaluated and the process and results shared? Are police policies now and in perpetuity made public?
3)HOW did you decide to increase police funding? Was it as simple as, “We increase it every year per COL so do it again”? THIS is as important to many as the funding itself and arguably more important as it speaks to the transparency and health of our city government.
So, was the DISCUSSION completed and, if not, continue it, out of respect and obligation to ALL in the city.
Finally, 4) Broad outgoing communication like ease of access to city information for many does not seem to be a priority. Why not?
Variable electronic message boards (on highways) have been used since 1950 at the earliest. And text messaging technology has been mainstream for 15-20 years. Have you considered the efficacy of these and to what end? And if not, why not?
For instance, other than print newspaper and the city website, why do we not publicize data, decisions, upcoming meetings and agendas that affect everyone more widely to engage a larger portion of the electorate? Or, if we do, how?
It would be enlightening, for example, for residents to find the following on a digital message board (while crossing the Hill to Hill or the Minsi Trail, or on 4th St, Hayes St, Center St, Schoenersville, 8th Ave, or entering public buildings): “Next City Council Mtg Tues, Dec 15, 7PM. Listen on YouTube and call in starting at 7:05 with your concerns at 610….” or “The 2020 and proposed 2021 police budgets numbers are…., an increase of 3%”, or “City council’s reasoning for maintaining the police budget is explained at the City website under news”. You’ve sat through the call in sessions this year. You know the importance.
Or mass text messaging via a Remind.com type app? Or another? Imagine the reach and simplicity?
As I’ve mentioned this before without treatment, I’m imagining that it sounds ridiculous to some of you, and that’s upsetting. (I posed the question twice during call-ins and in the Gadfly blog.)
You must be aware that most institutions use such messaging boards and text messaging. (Our school buildings use them.)
Sure, I love navigating the city website to the narrow nested openings for budget or council meetings and then plumbing docs such as the budget for a few high impact numbers, but not everyone does. Hard to believe! I know.
Don’t you want the public more engaged, especially the young that so many either hope for or complain about? Wouldn’t you rather residents be more educated on city matters?
Thanks for your commitment. I look forward to your response(s)!
Also hard to believe, Allentown has had recycling containers in high pedestrian traffic areas of the city for years but Bethlehem STILL hasn’t done this – even on Main Street. When I spoke with the (now deceased, bless him) recycling office director some years ago he explained that the historic oversight board said it was too expensive to obtain historically appropriate containers. (They were around $900 each, I believe.) Yes, that’s a lot. But what alternatives have been considered to remedy this missed opportunity?
Defunding is an unfortunate word. A better word would be “focusing,” focusing the police on what they do well. Leaving the social work to others who are trained for that. Emergency medical services are only a half-century old, before that the police would transport to hospital. That gives some perspective on the whole issue. There have been changes in the past. A change of terminology would be helpful.
Supports budget from Lehigh Valley Stands Up. More police funding doesn’t mean safer communities. Systemic issues can’t be solved by greater incarceration and police presence. Invest in the people not the punishment of the people for safer, healthier communities. We’re asking cops to do too much. Not enough mental health funding . . . let the cops handle it. Etc., etc. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems. My fear of men pales in comparison to children in my neighborhood when they see cops around here in broad daylight. Seeing this traumatizing presence and police brutality, I will avoid calling police at all costs. Council should look closer at the people’s needs. Our community would prosper if much needed funds were allocated to other causes.
People have been saying they would be scared with fewer police on the streets. That’s what everybody always says to people on our side. We have had to exist in states of fear because of the police. We’ve heard arguments like if you have one nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from the police. This absurd claim completely ignores obvious facts and examples. Petty offenses used to justify the act of murder. Justinian’s code argues that the punishment for a crime must not exceed the crime itself. Michael Brown. George Floyd. Eric Garner. None of these lives were granted due process. Killed extra-judicially by their local government. Bill of Rights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Power given to police to kill for disobedience regardless of the justness of the order or the character of the officer. Imperfect humans placed in position where deemed infallible. Officers word given credibility when known they manipulate facts to win cases. Such practices right here. Judges disproportionately jail people of color, etc. As a Jew, disturbed by way white supremacists have been allowed to infiltrate police. National problem. Police not immune to moral or personal failings. Accountability. Transparency. They behave with impunity. They kneel on necks, etc., and they walk away, etc. They violate the most sacred of human commandments. This is not a minor, casual issue but a matter of life and death. We hear from citizens that we’d be less safe without police. Even if Bethlehem were an unsafe city, police would not be the solution. We have been raising police budgets for decades and have seen negligible changes in crime rates. We continue to put money into something that does not change outcomes. Inefficiency. We are safe because police are funded at appropriate level. As cities put more money in, outcomes are worse. Probably just correlation not causation. by giving so much money to police, opportunity is lost. Our city lacks critical services. We cannot continue to write blank checks to inefficient parts of the budget. Pandemic. People facing evictions, etc. Government is two-way street. Government becomes tyranny. Money needs to be administered in line with our values. Budget looks like we value police and little else. Prove us wrong by taking action now. Activists call in repeatedly expressing concern for civil rights of citizens. Council inaction. Not personally attacking nay individual officer. Yay for Chief Kott. Opportunity to present policies to improve lies. There has been a marked shift in the culture of the department. Appreciated. We are not as inflexible as portrayed. It takes a lot of energy to repeat ourselves over and over. We were told to come back in budget season. And here we are. You said we hear you in June. We don’t expect you to abolish police tomorrow. We want to see incremental steps to invest in our community while divesting from police department. Let data dictate where we go. We are here because an office knelt on a man’s neck. George Floyd. Does that look like liberty to you. Done to you, would you feel free. None of us are free till all of us are. All lives. Blue lives. Black lives.
3% raise, ok. But police budget has become inflated over the past 4 years or so. Body cameras, etc., not pertinent to deter crime. Spike in crime in 2018. Budget increased. More overtime. Cut things that have been shown not to have an effect on crime. Defunding is not to take away salaries or livelihoods of the police officers but to refocus our attention on the police budget as a whole and how it acts to serve our community.
Disturbed and confused by comments tonight. Proportion of police budget has increased over time. Nostalgia tonight is for a time when police got less. No statistical link between crime rate and funding. Alternatives to calling police often end up calling the police. If we are proud of those alternatives, we should be funding them better. How is claim that we are finest department measured, we are 5 times more likely to use force against people of color. Against minors too. Actually facts are embarrassing. Disheartened that Council is backing down. Statements supporting the police have been confusing, contradictory, problematic.
Latest in a series of posts about the Bethlehem Police
Largely through the efforts of the Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance, public comment was lively at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting and focused on the police part of the City budget discussions.
Word was out — unreliably — that a move was afoot on Council to “defund” the police department and perhaps that a vote would be taken, and the majority of the callers expressed their support for the department and disapproval of any attempt to “defund” the department.
Here are those voices. Gadfly encourages you to listen. If the audio clips are hard to hear, click to the video of the meeting for better quality.
Gadfly’s text is not meant to be exact or complete. Listening best.
See how these callers support their positions.
If your time is limited, Gadfly’s picks on which to focus would be George and Greg.
Concerned about full funding for the police. Family moved here from crime-filled city. Love this town. Thanks you for making us feel safe. Shook up by incident in which daughters’ school door was shot through. Professionals and essential workers insecure with the way the world is these days. Police presence at Musik-Fest a huge deal. Incident where there wasn’t. Brawl. Grabbed daughter and ran away. Opportunists look for opportunities where there are no police. Thank you. Wish more support for police. Grandfather was a cop. Police essential for well-being and safety of our community. Thanks to police for doing what they do in thee difficult times.
Glad we’re just talking about rumors here. Long-time resident. I love our country. I love our city. I support the police. They have a lot of honor and should have a lot of respect from all of us. They’re going through a rough time. It’s a great time to support police and make sure they have what they need for training and accountability. They are first and last line of defense. Daughter with car trouble, officer on the scene and got her going. Lehigh Valley is nice area and we can show leadership to the rest of the country if we go in a positive direction.
Thank you for your service to the city. Life-long resident of the Valley. I’m calling because I heard there was an effort to defund our police. Reassuring that that is not happening. I highly value the Bethlehem police department. Exceptional. Have had great interactions with police. Terrific interactions. Great reputations in the LV. One of the best departments in the Valley. Want to make sure that they are funded and even a little more. Public safety is paramount. I as a tax payer support your efforts.
Total and heartfelt support of our police department. Extremely blessed by leadership. Good men and women who work hard to keep community safe. Department is 1 of 800 of 17,000 nationwide with accreditation. Statewide only 120 of 824 departments have it. Only 4% nationwide have dual accreditation like we do. Only 24 complaints out of 61,000+ calls. 2 complaints a month. Lots of time and effort put in on their own volunteering, fundraising, etc. Good humans. We are blessed. If you are looking for funding, take back department head raises. City Forester, Zoning inspectors, etc. I hope you will look deeper into the budget. Don’t cut police and fire. They keep historic neighborhoods quiet, deal with crazy domestic calls, etc. Mentally ill. They know how to deal, that’s what trained to do. If you don’t support them, you should be ashamed of yourselves. They are doing a great job despite what I hear from some of you. They make our city a great place to live.
Very happy not defunding and that police are getting raises. Our police deserve it. Military kid, lived many, many place. Bethlehem police best I’ve ever encountered. Best in state. Very proud. Bethlehem lately built on tourism. We can have best festivals and etc but if people aren’t safe, it’s all for naught. Extremely happy we’re not defunding. Proof in the pudding. Reading articles every day about cities like Portland, etc., where there’s a direct correlation between defunding/devaluing of police, mass retirements, and crime has spiked upward. New York City used to be great place to take a family. Mass exodus there. More police, safer we are.
Reading comments by other people (from survey?). May be no current proposals to defund, it’s obvious that sympathies of some council members are with radicals to undermine or re-structure the police force. It’s stunning that City Council would make one of these radical groups with no practical knowledge of policing de facto subcommittees of the Council. Anyone afraid to call the police shouldn’t call the police, they should call anybody they feel comfortable calling. And see what happens. Sending a social worker to a domestic violence call, not good even for police. Words of comfort and consolation inadequate in these volatile situations. The folks who are trying to defund the police departments have other agendas in their minds. A lot of these activists became activists because they were conditioned to be activists. It’s very easy to be pulled into these organizations. Violence we see elsewhere hasn’t come here yet because we have what we need from the police and the community. But other cities have said the same thing til it turns on them.
Much has been made of tone of political statements and how much words matter. If simply relating quotes elected officials make upsets them, maybe they should think more carefully about what they say. I’ll spare Council the pain of hearing their own quotes in favor of hearing the voice of the people. Over 7,000 signed a petition to defend the police department from defunding and many left comments representatives should hear. [Reads series of vivid comments.] Hopefully from those voices of your constituents you get the idea.
Defunding an emotional issue for us. Events across the nation riveting and troubling. Reminded about how important police are to us. Accountability is at the core, for everyone not just the police. We are 50% of situations. We choose how we respond. Choose well. Although our police great, 911 is not only option if you don’t want to encounter police. If in mental health crisis, both Lehigh and Northampton county have hot lines. Mental health assistance offered at county level. Majority of people feel 911 ok. Gives crisis intervention numbers. Thanks Chief DiLuzio for decades of service. Shares more comments by respondents to the petition to defend police. Thanks you for hearing the majority of Bethlehem residents with common sense and belief in our police force.