City Councilman Shawn Martell resigns, perhaps opening the way for early start by Grace Crampsie Smith

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Sara Satullo, “With resignation of councilman, there’s now a vacancy on Bethlehem City Council.” lehighvalleylive.com, July 18, 2019.

Bethlehem City Councilman Shawn Martell is resigning from his seat in mid-August because he is moving to Washington, D.C., for a new job.

A lifelong Bethlehem resident, Martell is moving to the nation’s capital to join his fiancé and work with the public education team at the United States Botanic Garden. The teacher said it is a difficult choice.

“Bethlehem has been my lifelong home and given me so much over the years,” Martell said in a press release.”… Rest assured that I will also continue to advocate for smart, sustainable and progressive community and economic development.”

Martell said he is most proud of council’s collaborative effort to protect and invest in Bethlehem’s neighborhoods, promote economic stability, prioritize fiscal sustainability and increase government accountability and transparency.

While Martell opted to not seek re-election this year, his Aug. 19 resignation will leave a short-term vacancy on council until newly-elected members are sworn-in in January. Council is mandated to appoint someone to fill the seat within 30 days of Martell’s resignation.

Council will discuss the vacancy at its next meeting Aug. 6 under new business, said Adam Waldron, council president.

Waldron thinks that council should appoint Democrat Grace Crampsie-Smith, who is running unopposed in the November general election, to fill the remaining two year’s of former Councilman Eric Evan’s seat.

Important alert: New Bethlehem Service Center for non-emergency communications

For emergencies in Bethlehem, still call 911 (no change).

To communicate non-emergencies in Bethlehem:
By phone: 610-865-7000|
By email: bethlehemservicecenter@Bethlehem-pa.gov
By app: Bethlehem City Service Center on the App Store or Google Play
By website: http://bethlehem-pa.gov/

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Sara Satullo, “Want to report that giant pothole that nearly ate your car? Bethlehem now has an app for that.” lehighvalleylive.com, July 18, 2019.

Ashley Stalnecker, “There’s an app for that: Bethlehem launches Service Center.” Morning Call, July 18, 2019.

With the consolidation of Bethlehem and Northampton County’s 911 services last month, officials on Thursday announced the formal opening of the Bethlehem Service Center and its accompanying app.

For emergencies, residents still will call 911 to notify the Northampton County 911 Center. For non-emergencies, residents will contact the city’s service center. To submit a concern they have options: Call or email, use the center’s website or use its new, free Bethlehem Service Center app.

Available on both Android and Apple smartphones and other devices, the app allows users to pick from five types of complaints, covering buildings, safety, nuisance, road and utility issues. Users can also attach media such as photos or sound to help document the issue.

Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez said the app was developed so the city could be more accountable, informative and transparent to its citizens.

Bethlehem City councilman William Reynolds said the app will narrow the gap between Bethlehem’s citizens and City Hall. “This is really a step forward, I think, as far as expanding the ways in which people are able to contact City Hall,” he said.

All complaints received by the service center will be sent to an applicable city bureau. The app will notify three to five people best suited to deal with the problem based on its classification. Robert Novatnack, the city’s emergency management coordinator, who is responsible for managing the center, will also be notified.

Mayor Robert Donchez announces the Bethlehem Service Center:

Remarks by Councilman J. William Reynolds:

Further remarks by the Mayor, and the Mayor and Business Manager Eric Evans answer questions. Evans describes the communication process in detail:


Huzza for the City

and

Gadfly hopes you have few emergencies and non-emergencies!

A tip o’ the hat to the Historic Conservation Commission

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

All this Gadfly talk about moving City meetings around time-wise so that they can be more accessible to the public.

All this Gadfly talk about making sure that when City committee members come up for reappointment that Council have evidence of performance before reaffirming.

All this talk — Gadfly — a sensitive man (he says insensitively) — feels he may be creating the impression that in general the City ABCs (Authorities, Boards, Commissions) are not to be trusted.

Not so, not so.

Surely Gadfly followers feel his love for the Environmental Advisory Council (EAC), for instance.

And, after last night’s meeting, Gadfly must give a belated, well-deserved tip o’ the hat to the Historic Conservation Commission.

There were three items on last night’s agenda.  One item dealt with a seeming small detail of an awning, a second with major reconstruction that, in fact, was an amalgam of small details. We’ll deal with the third in another post.

If it weren’t for the third item, Gadfly would have skipped the meeting after looking at the agenda for the outdoor joy of an exquisite summer evening.

(As it was, the Gadfly indulged in that natural beauty anyway by slowly walking the mile back and forth to Town Hall — remember him just saying that he was going to put more walking in his life?)

The amount of care, knowledge, experience, and concern exhibited over the smallest details by the HCC was just truly remarkable.

Nothing dramatic, nothing spectacular — just scrupulous, patient attention.

Gadfly has witnessed this before. This was not a one-time thing.

A great example of your non-tax dollars at work.

Chair: Phil Roeder. Members: Seth Cornish, Craig Evans, Roger Hudak, Gary Lader, Jeff Long, Tony Silvoy, Beth Starbuck. (I hope that’s right.)

Update on the meeting time conundrum

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Executive Director Tony Hanna reports that the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority will change its meeting time from 3PM to 5PM for 2020.

Good work!

Gadfly has been slow to see another benefit of the Mayor suggesting — along with later start-times — live-streaming and archiving such meetings (while there has been some hesitation about changing meetings times, the committee meetings Gadfly attended registered no problems with this).

Gadfly has strongly urged scrutiny of performance when committee members are up for reappointment. The video records can be used as evidence of performance. Council members can now access concrete documentation of performance.

Good work!

 

 

Public meetings should be scheduled for the convenience of the public

(The latest 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.

Gadfly:

The reply to these excuses you mention is simple. These are called “public meetings” for a reason. They are not “staffers meetings” or “convenience for the boardmembers” meetings

Quit your city job or move into the city if you are being inconvenienced as a staff person. Resign from the board or authority if you are being inconvenienced as a boardmember. As a former city administrator I attended all kinds of public meetings AND blockwatch meetings. It is pure selfishness and/or complete disregard for the community and the public by anyone to not schedule public meetings for the convenience of the public.

Dana

Gadfly just needs to be clear that in these discussions no city staffers registered concern about a time change. It was committee members who registered concern for the staffers. Thus, it is not clear that any staffers had any problems with a change.

The Meeting time conundrum

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

The City has a whole bunch of citizen-membered Authorities, Boards, Commissions, and Committees at which your business is done.

They meet at various times Monday through Thursday from 3:00 to 7PM.

Specific attention has been focused on those ABCs that meet late afternoon from 3-4, during a time in which many people work: for instance, Planning Commission, Water Authority,  Historical and Architectural Review Board, Redevelopment Authority, Parking Authority, and the Bethlehem Revitalization & Improvement Authority.

A time-period limiting attendance by the public, many of whom work during that time.

Now most of the meetings of these groups are routine, and public attendance is sparse or non-existent.

But sometimes, of course, there are “hot” items that the public not only wants to witness but to participate in. And that is difficult or impossible for many people when the meeting is early.

Responding to urgent suggestions by some residents and Councilwoman Van Wirt that no meetings should start before 5PM, the Mayor asked those early-meeting ABCs to consider moving their start times for 2020 (meetings dates are set and advertised for the entire year). The Mayor also suggested that the meetings be live-streamed just as City Council meetings are now.

Gadfly previously reported how the Mayor’s request for changing the meeting time gave BRIA the “meeting time blues.”

The Mayor’s request was discussed by the Planning Commission on Thursday, and unresolved since two members were absent, but the general points of issue with the Mayor’s request are clear and uniform.

Here is a recording of the discussion of the Mayor’s request at Thursday’s PC.

The general discussion on the Mayor’s request has been basically the same across the three meetings that Gadfly has attended .

  • The most prominent objection to changing the meeting time to a later hour is concern for city staff members, who have “families to get home to” and for whom it will be a “long day.” But City staff members do now attend other meetings that start in the evening. And if this is a problem, Gadfly wonders if “comp time” for City staffers would be a reasonable solution.
  • Live-streaming (and subsequent archiving for later review) has been offered as meeting the goal of transparency without changing the meeting time. But video access to the meetings does not enable the public to participate, to interact at the meeting. Gadfly does not see live-streaming as meeting the goals of the Mayor’s request.
  • Keeping the early hours as scheduled but moving meetings with “hot” agenda items to later hours on an ad hoc basis has been offered as another option. Some ABCs have done this. But it is not always possible to recognize a “hot” topic beforehand. And a topic may be “hot” only for one individual or group of individuals rather than the wider public. And they may be unfairly shut out.
  • There is some restiveness among ABC members themselves about facing later hours because of their own family or personal situations, but all agree to be flexible if a decision is made to change the meeting time.
  • There has been a question of logistics: can all the ABC meetings be scheduled at 5, 6, or 7 in the limited meeting space and without some meeting at the same time? Not a trivial concern. To be determined by City Hall bureaucracy.
  • The City representatives at the ABCs have fairly represented the Mayor’s request, its origin, and its goal. Which is good.

Followers might remember that Gadfly’s post on the BRIA discussion contained one troublesome member comment.

There was one at the PC too: “I think if the public has a true commitment to voicing their opinion, in most cases if I was the public trying to come to a meeting because I was concerned about something, I would somehow get myself there at 4 o’clock. There might be a small percentage of people who can’t leave work to get here at 4 o’clock, but I think the numbers may be small. And I think the people who are committed to making their voices known have come to those meetings at 4 o’clock.”

Gadfly gathers that the Mayor has ultimately left the meeting time change for the early ABCs up to them.

That may be too soft an approach.

Given resolution of the logistics, the Mayor might need to mandate this change to no meetings before 5PM in order to achieve the important goal of transparency as well as enhancing the means of public participation.

 

False Statements and Fact-Checking

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Bill Scheirer is an economist who grew up in Bethlehem, spent 40 years in DC, and retired here in 2003. He is a life member of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City and was on the Mayor’s Task Force for the City of Bethlehem Comprehensive Plan, Zoning Ordinance, and Zoning Map.

Gadfly suspects this post references Councilman Callahan’s challenges.

Gadfly:

Recently there have been a couple of discussions at the Bethlehem City Council about false statements being made and the consequent need for fact checking. I feel that the bottom line is that we have to allow for opinions. A statement that is clearly an opinion is not a false statement, because it is only an opinion. Conversely, an opinion presented as a fact is a false statement. Suppose you make a statement that is clearly an opinion. If I call it a false statement, I am actually the one making a false statement. And if I respond by offering my opinion as a fact, then I am making another false statement. When it is uncertain whether or not a statement is an opinion, the words “in my opinion” would be useful.

Let me illustrate with the proposed number of apartments on the Martin Tower tract. The 528 apartments proposed is a fact, assuming the press coverage has been accurate and that I remember it correctly. When I say that it is difficult for me to imagine someone wanting to live there, that is clearly an opinion, since I am reporting on my imagination, and there is no way anyone else could know my imagination better than I. When I say that the proposed number is bad planning and bad marketing, that is also clearly an opinion, since there is no way I could state that as a fact, since I am not the repository of all such knowledge. Now Woodmont Mews has 204 apartments. This is a fact, if the web site is correct. It is also a fact that the Martin Tower apartments would then be 2.5 times the number of Woodmont apartments. There will be some people that will find Martin Towers to be too much of the same thing, but would not feel the same way about Woodmont Mews. This is clearly an opinion, since there is no way of knowing this beforehand. If this opinion turns out to be true, then it will be harder to fill up the Martin Tower tract than it was to completely rent Woodmont Mews. This last is a true statement because it depends upon an “if clause”.

In our discussions, let’s make room for opinions, as long as they are obviously or clearly identified as opinions.

Bill

Gadfly #2’s mind is a joy to behold.