Can you say “no” to a developer?

(17th in a series of posts on City Government)

Followers might have noticed Gadfly wrestling a bit about how he should feel about developers.

Let me tell you a story.

Gadfly began shadowing city meetings one year ago, January 2018. He described it as “auditing,” as one might do in college, going from meeting to meeting getting a sense of what was going on in each.

He found the historic commissions most interesting of all. Sometimes bigger projects, but sometimes discussion and decisions were about the color of paint, the height of lettering, the script on a sign. Fascinating in the commissioners’ attention to detail.

Immediately in January he watched Philadephia developer Robin Reshetar pitch renovations for the Grace Mansion, 114 W. 4th. Having worked on the Southside, Gadfly knew the property well. There even used to be a restaurant there at one time.

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The developer described his knowledge of and substantial portfolio in historical renovation. Conversations with commissioners was always cordial and thoughtful. Reshetar presented plans on January 22, February 26, especially April 16, where you can find great images of his proposed work.

Gadfly watched the commissioners work with national guidelines (the property has an historical designation) and local historical district guidelines.

Each time, Gadfly repeats, the interactions were cordial and thoughtful. The developer listened and came back twice with revised plans. The commission hesitated on his most developed plans, which included town houses. Take a look.

Gadfly wondered about past history with the property. He assumed that there had been other developers who looked promising but eventually disappointed. Here was one who looked very interested, who had invested in several rounds of plans. As I sat there on the sidelines, I worried that the commission was going to chase him away.

But they stuck to their principles.

And, yes, he disappeared.

I felt a sense of loss. I wondered how the commissioners took it. Would, then, the Grace Mansion continue to decay? Perhaps never to be saved. Would it have been better to bend a bit to save the place?

Must have been on some level a tough decision for the commissioners.

But they stuck to their principles.

And six months later another developer – Dallas Basha, only two years out of college — showed up and now renovation is moving along.

Nicole Radzievich, “What’s on tap for Bethlehem’s other Grace mansion?” Morning Call, November 20, 2019.

Historic Conservation Commission November 19

Lehigh University Brown and White

I’d like the moral of my story to be that you can say “no” to developers for the right reasons, and everything will eventually turn out ok.

Gadfly didn’t see a happy ending here.

A wind-fall from Wind Creek

(16th in a series of posts on City Government)

The Sands is changing hands. New Owners Wind Creek coming soon.

To tell the truth, the Sands has been invisible to me.

The Gadfly was aware of the hubbub surrounding its approval and construction. But did not feel especially involved one way or the other in the decision.

And he has not been involved since it opened. Though a regular at ArtsQuest/SteelStacks events, Gadfly has never been to the casino, never been to a show – maybe once or twice to the outlets, never even been caught in a traffic jam in the vicinity.

To tell the truth, Gadfly is hardly aware of the Sands’ existence.

So how should I feel about the fact that so soon after it started, the Sands is getting a new owner?

As I read the news stories yesterday, I could not help but remember CM Callahan’s claim at Council a couple of weeks ago that the Sands brings in more money for the City than the Bethlehem Steel Co did in its heyday.

He made me think that not only is the Sands invisible to me but the “good” it does for the City has been pretty much invisible to me as well – tax dollars that fund public services.

So maybe that’s where his thoughts should go when wondering how he should feel about the entrance of a new owner.

Because some serious money will be generated. One-time, not continuing. But a wind-fall from Wind Creek.

The City stands to gain a yet undetermined but significant amount of money from a “casino transfer tax.”

In fact, the City provisionally included $6m income from the casino transfer tax in the 2019 budget (see p. 278 – 7th column from the left).  Remember that is not a fixed number. It could well be considerably less. But the City will receive one-time income from the casino transfer tax when the sale is consummated.

Read down that 7th column and see what the City tentatively plans to spend that “extra” money on if it gets $6m.

When the exact amount is determined, the City and Council will have another conversation about the exact expenditures. But that list will give you an idea what’s on the radar.

For instance, Gadfly knows there are followers who will be glad to see $40,000 for a pedestrian bridge feasibility study and $50,000 for Rose Garden improvements.

So Gadfly guesses that he should be more aware of and appreciative of the benefit that this developer brings to the City.

Here are some links to bring you up to speed on the Sands/Wind Creek situation. Perhaps you will be amused as he is about speculation that there might be a water park on the old steel property. Now that might get Gadfly to break out some old 60s demonstrator duds and posters and take up a battle station on the Minsi Trail Bridge.

Timeline: “It’s been 10 years since the Sands Bethlehem opened: Here’s a timeline.” Morning Call, January 15, 2019.

Five key takeaways: Nicole Radzievich, “What we know about Sands buyer’s plans for Bethlehem Steel property.” Morning Call, January 16, 2019.

Main story: Nicole Radzievich and Jon Harris, “Sands Bethlehem casino buyer pitches $190 million investment, second hotel on Steel land.” Morning Call, January 15, 2019.

Video interview with new owners: Lehigh Valley Live

Public comment: “What they’re saying about Wind Creek’s plans for Sands Bethlehem casino.” Morning Call, January 15, 2019.

And they’re off ‘n runnin’! (15)

(15th in a series of posts on City Government)

Gadfly got a chance to hear some of the candidates for City Council last night making brief 2-minute presentations at the Bethlehem City Democratic Committee meeting.

We hope we will be hearing more from them on the pages of Gadfly as they make their cases.

Gadfly goal: we want to be the most informed voters that we can be!

Running for City Council that we know of so far are:

Incumbent J. William (Willie!) Reynolds (’08)

Running for his 4th term, JWR thanked everybody at BCDC for their great organizational JWReynoldswork and pointed to his Climate Action Plan, Northside 2027, and Open Data initiatives. His campaign kick-off is Feb 21, 5:30-7:30 at the Brew Works – “All Democrats are invited!”

Incumbent Paige Van Wirt (’18)

PVW pointed to the fresh new energy and perspective she has brought to Council, Van Wirtemphasizing accountability and transparency, and ethics reform as her focus for the upcoming year. She too thanked the BCDC, indicated that she learned a lot from JWR, recounted a collegial atmosphere on Council, and sought a voice of challenge and a voice of concern in new candidates.

New candidate Grace Crampsie Smith

GCS comes from a public service background and pointed to current family members in political positions. Her focus is on socially responsible economic development and her strength advocating for all citizens. Gadfly will be publishing her press release soon.

———-

Incumbent Michael Colon was ill and did not attend.

Basilio Bonilla is also running, and he will speak at the next BCDC meeting.

First Amendment and Robert’s Rules (14)

(14th in a series of posts on City Government)

Respectfully, again, this gadfly thinks that President Waldron’s comments at the January 2 meeting on the relationship between the First Amendment and Robert’s Rules are tricky.

Here’s the primary source again:

I also want to make a couple general remarks which I’m sure some other members of council will want to jump in on once we get to new business about some of the accusations of some of the rules of Robert’s Rules, and my opinion on that. I spoke to Mr. Spirk about it, and I went back and did some research on some of the minutes and some of the things that were said by members of council and by members of the public, and I just don’t see a lot there as far as violation of Robert’s Rules. Personal attacks, I think, is a term getting thrown around for political reasons. I think there’s a healthy debate, and I think there’s respect for each another on Council. We may not agree with each other, and that’s fine, and that comes down to the vote some times, and I like to think they we can move forward professionally. But I think there is a decorum here, and I don’t think that there has been a lack of professionalism. There’s been calls for me to gavel down other members of Council when they are speaking, and I don’t see myself doing that in 2019. I think that the First Amendment is strong and well in this room, and I have great respect for it to the point that I respect it over Robert’s Rules. I think that people should have the ability to speak their mind as long as they are doing it in a respectful way, and I think that disagreement is good because it shows different points of view and perspectives. Again, you may not agree with that assessment, and you might think that we should follow Robert’s Rules to the “T,” but my view is that we should be able to have a positive conversation in which we respectfully disagree with each other. That is not prone to personal attacks just because we use each other’s names. That doesn’t mean that it is a personal attack. It’s just a differing of opinion. . . . I give great respect to Robert’s Rules, but I think the First Amendment, as Mr. Spirk would agree, in court rulings is that the First Amendment will trump Robert’s Rules any day of the week. So if you want to point to Robert’s Rules and say these are the rules we are supposed to be following, I do respect those, however, I think that a healthy dialog starts with the ability to express yourself, and if you don’t like what someone else is saying, I don’t think censoring their speech is the right thing. I think topping it with better speech, more accurate, or a different point of view is a fine thing to do, just like Mr. Antalics and I did this evening. And we can respectfully disagree on a different point of view, but that’s part of the process, I think. 

Here is the pertinent section from our Rules of Council:

RULE 12. Robert’s Rules of Order shall govern the proceedings of the Council on all matters not specially provided for herein.

President Waldron says, “you might think that we should follow Robert’s Rules to the ‘T’.”

Pause there. Gadfly thinks the default answer from most of us would be “yes.”

President Waldron, though, introduces a “but.”

President Waldron: “but my view is that we should be able to have a positive conversation in which we respectfully disagree with each other.” [my emphasis]

President Waldron introduces a second “but” construction, here founded in authority from the solicitor and court precedent.

President Waldron: “I give great respect to Robert’s Rules, but I think the First Amendment, as Mr. Spirk would agree, in court rulings is that the First Amendment will trump Robert’s Rules any day of the week.”

As an inquisitive, curious, nerdy kind of scholar with too much time on his hands, Gadfly would be interested in reading a few such pertinent court cases. He asked the solicitor for references if there are specific cases involving Robert’s Rules or analogous situations but hasn’t heard back.

But the question is really moot. For President Waldron and I disagree at point one. I don’t see the “clueless” comment compatible with having “a positive conversation in which we respectfully disagree with each other.” He does.

So that’s not the point on which I would focus here.

Gadfly does not doubt the trumping power of the First Amendment, but the thing that’s bothersome to him here is the unilateral assertion by President Waldron of the subordination of “Rules of Council.”

If a rule of Council is to have a qualifier, should it not be explicit and adopted by majority of Council? Is such a judgment for the rest of 2019 as President Waldron is making a permissible part of presidential discretion and authority?

Just asking.

For the question is part of a bigger picture Gadfly has noticed – the valuing of personal viewpoint over, say, the Comprehensive Plan or a Zoning ordinance.

Gadfly never thought of himself as such a strict constructionist as over the last few months watching opinions and decisions in the 2 W. Market and 306 S. New controversies.

Gadfly has said that one of the functions he hopes to serve is helping to form better informed voters. It’s become clear to him that CW’s Negron and Van Wirt start their thinking on – for want of a better term – law, whereas several, but not all, of the other Councilmen, seem to start their thinking on what they feel or believe, even to setting themselves up as authorities on neighborhoods they don’t live in.

Worth noting.  Worth thinking about.

Being civil does not negate healthy, open debate (13)

(13th in a series of posts on City Government)

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

Gadfly:

I agree that

• Being civil does not negate healthy, open debate
• Roberts Rules is mostly about procedure & decorum
• Councilman Callahan was disrespectful and went beyond acceptable decorum when he said “If you think,… you don’t have a clue”

It’s also worth noting that RR can be used to censor content—

• by not placing some topics on the agenda or removing it to accommodate a particular point of view
• when a committee is allowed to sit on a bill for an extended period to avoid the topic

Most importantly, in recent memory, rushing through a vote when new information has been introduced without adequate time for public deliberation.

Peter

Decorum does not negate healthy and controversial debate (12)

(12th in a series of posts on City Government)

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

Well put, councilwoman Van Wirt. Over the years I am always willing to hear viewpoints of elected officials, whether I agree with them or not. What has no place on Council is when an elected official touts their own views as the right ones at the expense of others’ views, and then is critical of an opposing view in a derogatory comment. That is an issue of decorum.

As I stated in an earlier post, I’ve been attending Council meetings for a very long time, longer than most most Members of Council are alive. I can state unequivocally that I have never witnessed so many criticisms of others, Councilmembers and public attendees, as have seen forthcoming of late.

Over many decades I’ve witnessed prior Councils exhibit patience, respect, integrity, and adherence to Council’s Rules far better than some on the current City Council. And, there was some very healthy and controversial debate on issues despite that decorum.

Dana

A matter of censorship (11)

(11th in a series of posts on City Government)

To begin:

Two things, not unrelated, as you will see.

1) Socrates died a premature death.

2) President Waldron has a soft gavel.

The second point gives me hope that this gadfly will not suffer the fate of the first point.

President Waldron has a “clement” gavel. “Clement” was the Merriam-Webster “word-of-the-day” on Saturday. I never thought I’d use it. But it’s appropriate here. President Waldron has a clement gavel.

The rules for public comment are made by City Council. And they have been different at different times. The public over the years has been allowed 12 minutes, 2 minutes, unlimited time – and now 5 minutes. There is a timer. Those of you “attending” your first Council meeting via the video now and henceforth available (or the live feed soon) will see a timer in front of President Waldron facing the speaker’s podium. Speakers can see their time dashing to zero. “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” Sigh. But President Waldron has a soft, clement gavel. He does not gavel the wind demons like me-self precisely at the mark of doom. He prompts conclusion, and most times we obediently gallop to conclusion.

We the public are grateful for President Waldron’s soft gavel.

Apparently, that soft gavel has been criticized lately, and President Waldron felt compelled to clarify his position at the January 2 meeting, transitioning so quickly from his annual report that his clarification almost seemed part of his annual report. The key line in his position statement seemed to be “There’s been calls for me to gavel down other members of Council when they are speaking.”

Some people are asking for a harder gavel.

As always, let’s go to the primary source:

I also want to make a couple general remarks which I’m sure some other members of council will want to jump in on once we get to new business about some of the accusations of some of the rules of Robert’s Rules, and my opinion on that. I spoke to Mr. Spirk about it, and I went back and did some research on some of the minutes and some of the things that were said by members of council and by members of the public, and I just don’t see a lot there as far as violation of Robert’s Rules. Personal attacks, I think, is a term getting thrown around for political reasons. I think there’s a healthy debate, and I think there’s respect for each another on Council. We may not agree with each other, and that’s fine, and that comes down to the vote some times, and I like to think they we can move forward professionally. But I think there is a decorum here, and I don’t think that there has been a lack of professionalism. There’s been calls for me to gavel down other members of Council when they are speaking, and I don’t see myself doing that in 2019. I think that the First Amendment is strong and well in this room, and I have great respect for it to the point that I respect it over Robert’s Rules. I think that people should have the ability to speak their mind as long as they are doing it in a respectful way, and I think that disagreement is good because it shows different points of view and perspectives. Again, you may not agree with that assessment, and you might think that we should follow Robert’s Rules to the “T,” but my view is that we should be able to have a positive conversation in which we respectfully disagree with each other. That is not prone to personal attacks just because we use each other’s names. That doesn’t mean that it is a personal attack. It’s just a differing of opinion. . . . I give great respect to Robert’s Rules, but I think the First Amendment, as Mr. Spirk would agree, in court rulings is that the First Amendment will trump Robert’s Rules any day of the week. So if you want to point to Robert’s Rules and say these are the rules we are supposed to be following, I do respect those, however, I think that a healthy dialog starts with the ability to express yourself, and if you don’t like what someone else is saying, I don’t think censoring their speech is the right thing. I think topping it with better speech, more accurate, or a different point of view is a fine thing to do, just like Mr. Antalics and I did this evening. And we can respectfully disagree on a different point of view, but that’s part of the process, I think.

Respectfully, this gadfly thinks that in this statement President Waldron blurs the distinction between “decorum” and “censorship.”

Gadfly is not a lawyer (just plays one – as the joke goes – on this blog), but censorship relates more to the elimination of content, of material, of ideas, of subject matter, whereas decorum relates to presentation, conduct, style, attitude, civility, propriety, decency, politeness, taste.

If people are asking President Waldron to gavel down others on Council for what they are saying, they are asking for censorship, and that’s a violation of the First Amendment, and they are wrong, and President Waldron should forcefully resist such calls.

But that is not what I and others who have spoken to me had in mind. This gadfly was asking for decorum. To use President Waldron’s own terms, this gadfly felt the instance he used in post 9 as an example was a personal attack, did not advance healthy debate, did not show respect for another, was not professional, was not positive conversation, was not respectful disagreement.

And this gadfly was not suggesting censorship of any individual but was suggesting reviewing the principles of decorum with the entire Council.

This gadfly thought CW Van Wirt got the distinction right when she said, “people are confusing First Amendment rights with an agreement to follow Robert’s Rules of Order in a parliamentary procedure. You can say whatever you want but keep it within Robert’s Rules. It’s not a way of editing speech, it’s a way of containing it so it doesn’t involve personal attacks so that we don’t get bogged down in personalities and stuff like that. The things that I’m asking that we follow are that we keep our speeches at 10 minutes each, we have no personal attacks, saying “you” don’t understand something, or “you” this – that’s what Robert’s Rules of Order are about in terms of conduct.”

Decorum not censorship.