Bethlehem City Council meeting tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 6, 7PM

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 6 at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council meetings on the following YouTube channel: City of Bethlehem Council
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

————

7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

Of interest:

  • There may be more discussion of the stormwater fee.
  • First reading of the Community Development Block Grant Budget.

But there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on the day of the meeting: (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

Stormwater Fees – What Residents Need to Know

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

ref: Bethlehem stormwater run off improvements on the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethlehem City Council meeting tomorrow night, Tuesday, March 16, 7PM

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tomorrow night, Tuesday, March 16 at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council meetings on the following YouTube channel: City of Bethlehem Council
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

————

7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

Of interest:

  • You will want to be putting a bug in everybody’s ear about the Ahart closing.
  • Stormwater ordinance is up for first reading.

But there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on the day of the meeting: (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

Bethlehem City Council meetings tomorrow night, Tuesday, March 2, 5:30PM and 7PM

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tomorrow night, Tuesday, March 2, Public Safety Committee at 5:30 and regular Council meeting at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council meetings on the following YouTube channel: City of Bethlehem Council
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

————

5:30PM: Public Safety Committee

  • Police department reorganization

7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

Of interest:

  • The ordinance regulating student housing is up for 2nd reading.

But there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on the day of the meeting: (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

Councilman Callahan as legislator

Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election

Community Development Committee Meeting
Tuesday, February 09, 2021
Proposed Ordinances related to Third-Party Inspections

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.

Third-party inspections.

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.

Bethlehem City Council meeting tomorrow night, Tuesday, February 16, 7PM

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tomorrow night, Tuesday, February 16 at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council meetings on the following YouTube channel: City of Bethlehem Council
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

————

7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

Of interest:

  • Public hearing about zoning of the long-contested property at Center and Dewberry. Another try to do something with the property — a grocery store. This case has been of interest to many, especially those in the neighborhood. Long history.
  • The much-vetted ordinance for regulation of student housing with especial attention to the Southside area around Lehigh University is up for the first vote. Much anticipation here.

But there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on the day of the meeting: (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

Bethlehem City Council meeting tomorrow night, Tuesday, February 2, 7PM

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tomorrow night, Tuesday, February 2 at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council meetings on the following YouTube channel: City of Bethlehem Council
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

————

7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

Of interest:

  • Important public hearing at the beginning of the meeting on an ordinance to create a Student Overlay District and Provisions to Address Student Housing on Southside around Lehigh.
  • The Resolution in support of naming the Chimney Swift the official Bird of Bethlehem — followers can’t help but be aware of Gadfly’s interest in this one!!!!

But there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on the day of the meeting: (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

An opportunity to step up: “our city needs your civic engagement”

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

The City just published the following announcement seeking applications for volunteer positions on the City Authorities, Boards, and Commissions — what Gadfly calls our ABC’s.

The primary election is May 18. We will be electing a mayor and City Council members. But sometimes we too little recognize that a lot of the City work and a lot of the decisions are made by volunteer residents serving on the ABC’s.

The City is looking for volunteers. Now is the time for you to think about where you can participate.

Follow the link in the announcement to the list of ABC’s. If unsure about what one of the ABC’s does or what you might be suitable for, you can talk to Alex Karras in the Mayor’s office wkarras@bethlehem-pa.gov.

The City has been responsive to calls for new blood on the ABC’s, especially from women and people of color.

For a pep talk, I recommend Councilwoman Negron’s still relevant 2019 article posted below.

————

Appointments Available For Bethlehem Residents Interested in Serving on Authorities, Boards, Commissions

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Appointments are available for Bethlehem residents who may be interested in serving on one of our various authorities, boards, and commissions!

Please review the following link for information specific to each of them:

https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/Meet-Your-Government/Authorities-Boards-and-Commissions

Interested citizens are encouraged to send their letter of interest and resume to the Office of the Mayor at wkarras@bethlehem-pa.gov

———–

Olga Negron, “Your View by Bethlehem councilwoman: Want to help democracy? Serve on a government board.” Morning Call, August 31, 2019.

Voting in national elections is important, but it’s only one of many ways that citizens can fulfill their duty to contribute to the governance of their communities and country.

I’m Councilwoman Olga Negron, vice president of Bethlehem City Council and the first woman of color elected to Bethlehem City Council. Getting elected to City Council was not a matter of chance or luck. I’ve been civically engaged all my life. Before running for local office, I served in many volunteer positions within the city, such as on the Planning Commission, the Public Library Board and many other nonprofit boards.

As a member of these governing bodies, and now as an elected official, I’m here to tell you that our city needs your civic engagement.

A few highly visible decision-making positions in local government are elected positions and each of us has to be a resident of our municipality in order to hold that post (mayor, city council, etc.).

However, that’s not the only way to be part of the decisions about what happens in our city. There are many, other extremely important nonelected positions in local government that need to be filled by volunteers, such as positions on the Public NegronLibrary Board, Fine Arts Commission, Housing Authority, Human Relations Commission, Board of Historical and Architectural Review, City Planning Commission, Environmental Advisory Council, Historic Conservation Commissions, Parking Authority, Recreation Commission, Redevelopment Authority, Zoning Hearing Board.

Although some positions have residency requirements, in many cases people who sit on these commissions and boards don’t live in our city.

We also have individuals who have been members of the same board or commission for 15 to 20 years, and some individuals are members of two or three boards at the same time. Why, you might wonder?

Some of these positions require an expertise (electrical, health, financial, etc.). And these are also nonpaid positions, which makes it more difficult to find individuals willing to serve.

Many times when there are vacancies, they need to be filled rather quickly and the person charged with selecting nominees is “stuck” with the same few individuals.

However, it’s important to know that not all positions require a specific expertise; most just require a dedicated person with common sense and love for our city who is willing to be the voice of their community.

As a member of city council, I understand that one of my roles is to provide a check and balance on the mayor of the city and at the same time to be the voice of the people.

But the people in our city have diverse voices, and what we need is more of that diversity working in our government. That’s why I’m reaching out to challenge every single one of you to get civically engaged, to share your talents and put them to work for the betterment of our city. Don’t wait until you are negatively impacted by a government decision to get involved in local decisions.

A functioning democracy requires citizens who care what their government is doing and who put the time in to make it work for them. At the municipal level, you can have an impact on the political.

When citizens get involved in local government, they make it possible for government to do more than elected officials could accomplish alone.

Just this year, the city’s Environmental Advisory Council proposed several ordinances that would otherwise never become a possibility.

When members of local boards and commissions tell us what they think is good for the city, their views can have a significant impact on the decisions that elected officials make.

By getting involved in local government, you can make a big difference in the governance of our collective life and community long before the 2020 presidential election arrives.

City: info on vaccine and on utility bills

Bethlehem Health Bureau To Expand Vaccine Distribution

Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez announces that the Bethlehem Health Bureau will expand vaccine distribution.

The Bethlehem Health Bureau will now expand COVID-19 vaccines to individuals age 65 or older and individuals 18-64 years of age with certain medical conditions that increase the risk of severe illness from the virus.

“The Bethlehem Health Bureau has done an outstanding job vaccinating over 2,850 individuals in the first priority group.  We now look forward to vaccinating additional individuals who are now eligible to receive the vaccine,” Mayor Bob Donchez stated.

The Bethlehem Health Bureau is expected to receive vaccine shipments on a weekly basis. The Bethlehem Health Bureau will continue to provide updates as to when the vaccine will be made available to additional groups.

For a complete list of groups who are eligible to get vaccinated in the 1A phase or to schedule an appointment at one of our upcoming clinics, please visit https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/Health-Bureau/Communicable-Diseases/COVID-19 and click on the COVID-19 vaccine tab.

Proof that individuals are eligible to receive a vaccine in the 1A phase will be required at the time of appointment.

Individuals can contact the Bethlehem Health Bureau at (610) 865-7083 with any questions.

———–

Mayor Bob Donchez announced today that the City of Bethlehem is experiencing significant delays affecting delivery of customer utility bills due to problems within the US Postal Service as they deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and backlog from the Christmas holiday season.  Utility bills (which include water, sewer, and recycling charges to city residents) are running two to three weeks behind schedule.

Due to these problems which are outside the customer’s control, the City has suspended all penalties and late fees on overdue utility bills until March 31, 2021. We appreciate our customer’s patience as we work with the USPS to rectify the situation.

USPS expects to catch up with their backlog and resume normal delivery schedule in the next few weeks.

Bethlehem City Council meetings tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 19, 6:00PM and 7PM

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 19, Community Development Committee at 6:00 and regular Council meeting at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council meetings on the following YouTube channel: City of Bethlehem Council
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

————

6:00PM: Community Development Committee

  • Proposed Ordinances Related to Third-Party Inspections: Councilman Callahan proposed this during the budget process as a way of saving money by cutting positions while speeding up the inspection process. If the discussion at the budget hearing is any clue, this discussion could be “hot.”

7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

Of interest:

  • To Gadfly’s eye, there’s nothing obviously “hot” on this agenda

But there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on the day of the meeting: (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

O, yes, election season has begun

Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election

ref: Councilman Reynolds opens his mayoral campaign
ref: Thinking about the primary election
ref: Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance issues a CALL TO ACTION

As Gadfly tries to dial back from the national drama (though this week promises to be as portentous as last), he would like to call attention to the beginning of the local political campaign season.

In an event likely to have been overshadowed by the insurrection, Councilman Reynolds kicked off his run for mayor last Wednesday. He should never have any difficulty recalling the exact date he tossed his hat in the ring!

Four City Council seats are also on the line.

Elections excite the Gadfly. They represent periodic new beginnings, fresh starts.

And Councilman Reynolds has laid out substantial visions for the future to woo our votes.

And we will hear more from campaigns that will necessarily have to be run under pandemic rules.

How interesting. What impact will there be on such standard fare as door-to-door solicitation, meet-and-greets, candidate nights, and so forth? Will campaigning radically change? Will we see innovative tactics?

You’ve seen Gadfly hope for competition, the vigorous exchange of ideas in the public square that makes us all better.

He would particularly like to see people of color and women candidates.

But sometimes, as they say, you gotta watch what you ask for.

The Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance is looking for candidates.

That does not bode well, thinks the Gadfly.

We’ve seen one commenter in these pages say that “this group seems to prefer labels & fear-mongering to actual analysis or truth.”

And to wonder “what the term ‘Marxist’ means to them.”

Another poster found the LVGNA commentary “pretty awful . . . incendiary and off-putting, not an opening for a conversation.”

If there is one thing that the insurrection tells us, it’s that we need to seek a greater sense of community.

In addition, Gadfly hears President Waldron’s wise call for civility in our local dealings.

As a first step in fielding a candidate, Gadfly would ask LVGNA to stop the name-calling and to explain how Marxism pertains to the actions done by and positions held by current elected officials.

Mayor Donchez: 2021 promises “transition back to normality”

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

As said, the insurrection has fixed Gadfly’s attention for the past half-week. Inevitably so.

And, among other things, it was an opportunity to ruminate on leadership.

More specifically, on the essential need for good leadership.

Gadfly has recently written that Mayor Donchez is in the 8th inning of his two terms as mayor and a year away from (probably) the end of several decades of public service to Bethlehem.

We need him to not only remain a steady hand but to continue to actively respond to the challenges on several fronts the likely rough year ahead will pose.

It was good to hear his positive voice yesterday morning, even if the piece was written before Wednesday’s chaos.

———-

selections from Robert Donchez, “Your View by Mayor Donchez: Bethlehem will continue to move forward in 2021.” Morning Call, January 10, 2021.

New Year’s Eve has always had a profound effect on me, but none more than this year. It is the reflection and the contemplation of a year’s worth of goals and hard work that has come to pass.

As I counted down the moments to the dawn of a new year, with many of my friends and family members unable to join me because of the pandemic, all I can think about is the unimaginable heartbreak and tragedy we witnessed at just about every turn of 2020.

And I cannot help but spend New Year’s Eve pondering the events missed: weddings at Hotel Bethlehem, concerts at Musikfest, graduations, family picnics, just to name a few. There is no doubt that this has been a challenging year for everyone.

Last January, I unveiled ambitious goals and initiatives for Bethlehem, bolstered by strong national and local economies. It was soon after the New Year that we began to hear the words that have become household terms: coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic and social distancing.

Inside City Hall, I worked with my cabinet to take all the necessary steps to keep our employees and residents safe, while continuing to deliver all the essential services a city is responsible to provide. As we learned more each day, our policies and procedures continuously evolved. City employees adapted to every change with courage, cooperation and flexibility, while remaining focused on our mission.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act allowed the counties to provide funding directly to businesses. In addition, Northampton and Lehigh counties provided grants to Bethlehem to purchase first responder equipment, personal protective equipment and information technology equipment, and supported our response to our downtown communities, specifically the restaurants that have been struggling during this time.

As we continue to navigate the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines, I encourage all of our residents to support our local businesses in any manner possible.

The impact of the pandemic derailed economic activity across the country. Bethlehem was not spared, and our revenues did not meet expectations for 2020. We made a number of adjustments to reduce expenses and limit the deficit, including a hiring freeze, employee furloughs and the closing of pools, parks and traditional summer programming.

Despite the challenges, Bethlehem continued to move forward in 2020, and I am pleased to share some of our accomplishments for the year. . . .

As the sun sets on 2020, Bethlehem will continue to move forward in 2021.

We hope to see the beginning of the development of the Martin Tower site, continued redevelopment of the Westgate Mall with the opening of the new Weis supermarket, the completion of Lehigh University’s Health Science Building, the construction of a second hotel on the Wind Creek site and some additional housing in both of our downtown districts.

As 2021 brings hope of an expected transition back to normality, we keep in mind the lessons learned from the challenges and frustrations of 2020. Among the most important of these lessons is gratitude.

We all owe a special thank you and appreciation to all of the health care workers and essential workers who have done a tremendous job seeing us through these unprecedented times.

Tomorrow is a bright new day for Bethlehem. I can assure you we will continue to work to meet the challenges that lie ahead, and am confident we will emerge stronger than ever.

President’s annual report and comments

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

President’s 2020 Annual Report

Last night’s January 5 meeting was, of course, the first City Council meeting of the new year and the traditional time for the Council President’s annual report.

That report will be online, and Gadfly probably will obtain a copy to share with you (just added, see link above).

The amount of work that our elected part-timers accomplish in the course of a year is always quite impressive, and we need be thankful.

It is not a job that they do for the money, for sure.

So Gadfly begins this day with a tip o’ the hat in their direction.

He very much appreciates those who step up, who fight the good fight.

Here is President Waldron reading that 2020 annual report (8 mins.):

But always of interest as well as the report is any comments the president takes this ritual moment to make.

After reflecting on the past and on the brink of the new beginning, what’s on the president’s mind as the year turns?

For President Waldron, his focus was on Council interaction.

He was talking to his fellow Council members.

In regard to space to speak, President Waldron said he would “never be stricter than necessary for the good of the meeting,” that it was important to hear all perspectives, especially those you don’t agree with.

But he called attention to the negative effect of repetition and indicated that Council members should speak no more than twice on any issue (a Roberts’ rule?), except under new business, where the rules are more flexible.

Council members should avoid personal insults, attacks, name calling, be respectful of the time of others, not be combative.

With an eye to the local campaign season upon us, President Waldron said he would work “to keep politics outside of the room.”

With an eye to the national scene we are all suffering from, President Waldron issued a “call for civility,” suggesting that we could model a thoughtful way to run our business.

As we move forward, President Waldron called for the civility, decorum, and respect lacking on the national level.

A “call for civility.” The words resonate strongly with Gadfly after the long night of the Georgia election and on the morning of this day in which we expect another bleepshow at the national level.

Please.  Good conversation can build community. And a better sense of community in our wider world is obviously what we need.

President Waldron’s comments (7 mins.):

———-

Gadfly will add that he appreciates the flexibility and respect and sometimes necessary patience that President Waldron exhibits toward we public commenters and empathizes with his attempts to be fair to a colleague who can be stubborn and repetitive.

Bethlehem City Council meetings tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 5, 6:30PM and 7PM

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 5, Committee of the Whole at 6:30 and regular Council meeting at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council meetings on the following YouTube channel: City of Bethlehem Council
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

————

6:30PM: Committee of the Whole meeting:

  • on My Bethlehem PA – New City Service App

7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

Of interest:

  • resolution by Councilwoman Negron to support a Senator Casey initiative to “help bring about racial justice and reduce the number of police interactions involving people with disabilities, often people of color.”

And there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on the day of the meeting: (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

Thinking about the primary election

Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election

The last post got me thinking.

Mayor Donchez can’t run again. He’s in the 8th inning of his second term. Still a good bit of time to go. And there will be important things for him to do. He won’t be checking out.

But attention will inevitably turn in the next few months to the next Administration.

Gadfly posted the post below back in September.

Expectation seems to be that Councilmen Callahan and Reynolds will run for Mayor.

And who might be standing on the sidelines with hat in hand poised to throw?

And the terms of current Council members Callahan, Cramspsie Smith, Negron, and Waldron are up in 2021.

Potential for a lot of turnover.

Could/should be lively election.

Gadfly wondered in the post below where are the Republicans in this town? And Independents? And African Americans? And Latinx? And women? And LGBTQ?

Even if current election chances are slim, one could hope for candidates from such constituencies to gain experience for future elections.

Maybe more importantly right now, perhaps we should be thinking about what the key issues and priorities should be for our candidates.

Gadfly would welcome your thinking in this regard.

What needs to be done?

What do you want to see on the platforms for candidates in the May primary?

———–

Originally posted September 29, 2020

Where are the Republicans?

Or Independents?

Gadfly is jogged to ask by this post in Bernie O’Hare’s “Lehigh Valley Ramblings” the other day about the “Bethlehem Democratic Party Machine.”

Hoping to provide a beneficial public service, Gadfly plans to help people be the best informed voters they can be by providing info on all the candidates in next spring’s election.

He’s hoping there will be several Democratic candidates for Mayor, and scuttlebutt indicates there will be.

But where are the Republicans in this town? And Independents? And African Americans? And Latinx? And women? And LGBTQ?

Gadfly hopes for competition, for choice.

That’s the kind of thing we gadflies live for.

Especially as he plans to retire Election Day +1.

Wants to go out with some drama!

Alan Jennings: “There is too much to do”

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

We turned the corner. New year. Time for resolutions. Setting agendas. Mayoral and Councilpersonic elections coming into view. Platforms forming. Gadfly welcomes essays like this. Getting us thinking. What needs to be done? What is it on which we’d like to see local government working?

selections from Alan Jennings, “Strap in Lehigh Valley, we have things to do.” Morning Call, January 3, 2020.

Well, that was the year from hell. Certainly, the worst of my 62.

Let’s just try to move on. There is too much to do.

To be sure, our most challenging problems are national in scope . . .

But there are a ton of issues right here in our own little once-green spot on the planet we call the Lehigh Valley. Here is what you can expect the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley to pursue.

The big project is the completion of a strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion. For many months, now, dozens of people from the nonprofit, for-profit and public sectors have been crafting a strategy to finally unlock the doors that have kept far too many from accessing economic opportunity.

It will include better access to markets for minority-owned businesses, elimination of cash bail and other criminal justice reforms, testing (some call it “secret shoppers”) various groups to ensure they are treating people the same regardless of the color of their skin or the language they speak, more participation on boards of directors, and much, much more.

This should be a game-changer, folks.

The condition of our housing stock needs an enormous amount of funding to bring it up to modern (meaning habitable) standards. We are dramatically expanding our work in this area.

The efficiency of COVID-19 in its destruction of small businesses will open many opportunities for new businesses in this market. CACLV has tripled its small business coaching and lending capacity.

The Lehigh Valley has successfully transitioned from an industrial economy to a broader, more diverse economy; and, yet, we have not lost the identity and culture of that past. We have a lot of “hip” going on, with ArtsQuest leading the way. Allentown’s downtown revitalization, the Easton vibe, Bethlehem’s gentility and other factors make it a real, live, developing culture with an enviable quality of life.

We’ve got colleges, top-notch health care systems, a business community that is refreshingly progressive. Even the Chamber CEO is a closet liberal (couldn’t help outing you, Tony).

We’ve got Musikfest (I hope), minor league hockey and baseball teams and a top-notch sports and concert arena.

But we aren’t good enough. With one in eight Lehigh County residents and one in 11 Northampton County residents living below the poverty line, and a marketplace that is merciless, too many are being left behind.

The unaffordability of housing in this market and its substandard condition is worse than a crisis — it’s a disaster. It is a public health problem by causing asthma and lead poisoning. It is an education problem by forcing families to move frequently, disrupting the rhythm of their lives, especially the kids’ educations. And if the schools struggle to teach, it becomes a community development issue if people of means don’t want to live here.

Check this out: 79% of white children who live in suburban communities take the college entrance exams (SAT or ACT). Just 8% of urban Latinos take the exams, and a particularly shocking 4% of urban African Americans take them. Those three data points are all we need to understand why color and class are almost synonymous in the Lehigh Valley; they also explain tidily why there is so much income and wealth disparity in our society.

The weaknesses in our behavioral health services, from detox and residential rehab to the critical shortage of psychiatrists, are known by all, including our two, big systems. COVID-19 is a roll-the-dice complication to all these issues.

A fire in the fire department

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

At the December 15 City Council meeting during the discussion of ordinance 8A — Adopting the 2021 General Fund Budget — Councilwoman Crampsie Smith alluded to an email about internal dissension in the Fire Department.

Here’s what she said (2 mins.):

“I proposed my amendment with my concern about eliminating four firefighter positions . . . and that did not pass . . . but I would ask . . . the administration to take note that we all received an email from . . . a concerned citizen . . . that was forwarded to Robert Brooks who is First Vice President of the Firefighters Local . . . I don’t know the facts, but some of the information is a little alarming . . . It sounds like what concerns me because, again, because our Public Safety, whether policemen, firemen, EMTs or whatever . . . they are the backbone of our community and assuring that our community is safe . . . and from this memo it sounds like there is a lot of dissension . . . regarding the Fire Chief at this point . . . and I would request that the Administration would sit down and try to broker with those two entities . . . to see if we can try to resolve these issues . . . as Mr. Brooks notes that the morale in the Fire department is at an all time low . . . and we all know that if the morale is low in any department . . . that certainly can affect the quality of work . . . and we’re talking about people who deal with life and death safety issues . . . I would be more than willing to help mediate . . . I do that every day . . . I do feel that this issue be addressed . . . We are looking at a department in our city that is responsible for the safety of our citizens . . . and if there is morale and tension in the department it needs to be addressed.”

At the time the Councilwoman’s comments were a mystery, to be sure. Gadfly had no idea what she was talking about. And the subject dropped, no one else responded.

The issue seemed to be a mixture of budget and personnel, and Gadfly knows from his short experience that personnel matters are not usually discussed in open meetings.

Lacking better information, Gadfly said nothing to you when doing his review of the meeting, but he sought a copy of the email through the Right-to-Know process.

See the linked documents:

Fire Department email

What you’ll find is an email from “Concerned Citizen” to Union official Brooks dated 3:25 December 15, the day of the City Council meeting, with an attached document titled “Fact Checking the Fire Chief.”

Brooks then forwarded “Concerned Citizen’s” email to the members of City Council at 3:49, in time to be read before the 7PM meeting if the Councilors were checking their email in timely fashion.

In his transmittal message, Brooks lamented the way Council members deferred to the Chief’s acquiescence to the cuts of the 4 firefighters at the November 9 budget hearing, said that department morale is “at an all time low,” and asked Council to “reconsider” its position on cutting the 4 firefighters till it understood the firefighter position on the impact of those cuts.

“Concerned Citizen’s” attachment is 4 pages of correcting false or misleading statements the Chief made at the November 9 budget meeting, concluding that the Chief “deliberately misinformed” Council to justify the personnel cuts.

Whew!

So now Councilwoman Crampsie Smith’s comments are demystified only to have the issue mystified again:

  • Why did “Concerned Citizen” wait from November 9 to December 15 to make this damning report, when it was virtually too late for a change?
  • Why did Councilwoman Crampsie Smith not seize on the allegation of false information from the Chief to renew her attempt to save the firefighter positions?
  • Why was there no response to this allegation of deliberate misinformation from Councilman Callahan, who previously also tried to save the positions, especially since he specifically asked about Fire Department morale on November 9 in what turned out to be a very awkward interchange with the Chief? Check it, see what you think (video at min. 1:09:50).
  • Why did no other Council members respond to the allegations?
  • Was it because there is an understanding among Council members that there would be no budget changes at this late date (the budget has to be approved by the end of the year, and December 15 was the last meeting)?
  • For what it’s worth — and it might not be much — Gadfly remembers thinking on November 9 that the Chief’s presentation and responses seemed lackadaisical, like one who has been put in a tough position, defending something — the 4 cuts — he really didn’t believe in (see the Chief in meeting video at min. 3:35 and min. 13:15 and especially min. 26:09). That would make the Chief a victim of the budget process rather than a participator.

What do you think will happen next on this front?

A change in Fire Department leadership?

Anything?

Police chaperone fee when alcohol is served is questioned

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Another issue involving the police, marginally, was also raised at the December 15 City Council meeting.

A City policy requiring a police officer present at events on City property at which alcohol is served is apparently under review.

The cost is $50/hr. for an officer to be present.

The crux of the issue is the financial impact on non-profits.

Mary Toulouse spoke against the policy on behalf of the Mt. Airy Neighborhood Association/Rose Garden Farmers Market, and Jp Jordan and Christopher Schorr spoke against the policy on behalf of Touchstone Theatre.

For Ms. Toulouse, the issue was a vendor (and a Bethlehem merchant at that) at the Farmers Market selling alcohol for home consumption, not at the market. The cost for a policeman would have been $200 per Saturday for 20 weeks . Ms. Toulouse ultimately argued successfully with the City for an exemption this year, but it sounded like she might have to argue similarly next year, and, in any event, she felt “threatened” by the police in her interaction over the fee. Ms. Toulouse spoke against the policy both for herself and other groups in similar situations.

The issue for Touchstone was selling alcohol at events for consumption there. Mr. Jordan described the different situation elsewhere in cities at which the theater troupe performed and suggested it might be a “cultural issue” here in Bethlehem (close to being a sin tax). Mr. Schorr argued the difference between a large entrepreneur who sold alcohol at events to make money, and to whom hiring a policeman was an acceptable cost of doing business, and the cost to a non-profit simply trying to make expenses and for whom a policeman might account for 50% of the profits. Au contraire, said Mr. Schorr, the City should be trying to “incentivize” the non-profits.

Neither the reason for the policy nor its duration (a remnant of Pa. blue laws?) was given, so it’s hard for Gadfly to judge the merits of the policy, but Gadfly can tell you the three residents made good sense.

One more thing, though, that intersects with wider police discussions.

Ms. Toulouse remembered a time of community policing that West Side neighbors still remember positively and fondly — nostalgia for a neighborhood beat officer they all knew and — speaking to the issue at hand — one who could visit the Farmers Market in the due course of his or her beat work. Councilwoman Negron gave this idea legs as well.

Gadfly has heard others  — he thinks especially of resident Lisa Rosa — who speak fondly of this past successful version of community policing and urge its return. Such comments always confuse Gadfly since the department describes itself as already doing “community policing” on the City web site: “The Bethlehem Police Department is structured using the community policing philosophy and is committed to community and police partnership. The department structure has three divisions: Patrol, Criminal Investigations and Professional Standards.”

There’s confusion somewhere.

There must be different definitions of community policing.

Gadfly’s thinking on this subject is no doubt influenced by his Norman Rockwell image of the idyllic small town with its friendly police, but he must admit that he would like to see this form of community policing discussed in the promised meetings early in the new year.

Mary Toulouse (8 mins.):

Jp Jordan (5 mins.):

Christopher Schorr (5 mins.):

Bethlehem City Council meeting tomorrow night, Tuesday, December 15, 7PM

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tomorrow night, Tuesday, December 15 at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council Meetings on the following YouTube channel: City of Bethlehem Council
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

————

7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

Of interest:

  • We hope to have from the Mayor and Chief Kott the community engagement plan Councilman Reynolds asked for
  • 2021 budget gets finalized
  • student housing
  • housing inspections

And there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council December 1, 2020 Meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on December 15, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

Require Crisis training on a par with shooting training!

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

610-252-9060

In the event that you are experiencing a mental health crisis, Northampton County Information, Referral and Emergency Services Department is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Crisis department can be reached at 610-252-9060 .

ref: What are the alternatives to calling the police?

Good ideas here from the good Councilwoman.

  • require Crisis training on a par with shooting training!
  • publicize County CRISIS contact info!

Gadfly would just mention again a list/flyer/poster of all the various phone numbers for help (like CRISIS) of various kinds like the Minneapolis example cited previously.

————

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 10:50 AM

To: Donchez, Robert J <RDonchez@bethlehem-pa.gov>; Kott, Michelle L <mkott@bethlehem-pa.gov>

Good morning!

Last week I had a great conversation with Sue the director of Northampton County Human Services. They have been doing training for first responders across the county called Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and here is the flyer of what it covers. They offered the training 3 times per year and it’s a 6 hours training which includes de-escalation with individuals with a mental health crisis. I know the chief mentioned training with the county but it sounded to me as something informal. That’s why I reached out to learn more about it. I would like to know how often our officers are getting this training? Can it be set that it’s required training every so often? Just like it’s mandated to have officers practice in the shooting range twice per year, day and night time, which I understand it’s extremely important, we should also make the CIT a required training and not just once and done!

They also have a direct line for CRISIS (610-829-HELP) which I was familiar with and I know that members of our community that are receiving mental health or drug and alcohol treatment are very familiar with this number as well as their close family members but those in our community not in that loop (not receiving treatment with county) don’t know about the number or the service. The 829-HELP number is answered 24-7!

Even though this is a county service, I’m wondering if we can share the number and service on our city’s website, perhaps on the police and health bureau pages? Perhaps is a number that members of the Service Center should also be familiar with (maybe they are, I don’t know) and sharing it with callers as appropriate? It could also be included in the new City App? Lehigh County does have a CRISIS number as well 610-782-3127.

In my mind there is no need to re-invent the wheel but we need to do whatever we can for our constituents to know about services available to them.

Councilwoman Olga Negrón

Lots for Council to think about

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Dear Council members:

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)!

Truly,

Greg Zahm

PS

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?

Bethlehem City Council meeting tomorrow night, Tuesday, December 1, 7PM

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tomorrow night, Tuesday, December 1 at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council Meetings on the following YouTube channel: City of Bethlehem Council
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

————

7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

  • The Wage Equity Ordinance is up for final approval.
  • Retired Chief DiLuzio will receive a citation.
  • Nothing else of note visible from the agenda.

We may see a flood of callers from the Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance against any cuts to the police department budget.

And there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council December 1, 2020 Meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on December 1, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

The TIF — a “big deal” — ends

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

Selected from Christina Tatu, “The tax incentive that gave rise to much of SteelStacks is set to expire.” Morning Call, November 19, 2020.

The taxing district that transformed the former Bethlehem Steel plant into the multimillion-dollar SteelStacks campus is ending this month.

The Tax Incremental Financing District, which Bethlehem created 20 years ago to jump-start redevelopment of the industrial land, expired Sunday.

Over the past two decades, real estate taxes derived from development in the TIF — namely the casino owned by Wind Creek — were diverted to build infrastructure and public amenities such as the Bethlehem Landing visitors center, Hoover-Mason Trestle and the plazas at the SteelStacks campus.

The money also contributed to site remediation at Five 10 Flats, an apartment and commercial project on East Third Street.

“The TIF is a big deal. In the end it provided great amenities and infrastructure for the city,” said Eric Evans, the city’s business administrator. “Even now, looking at the crystal ball, there’s so much opportunity for that property. We are all really pleased with where we’ve gotten in 20 years.”

Now the city’s Redevelopment Authority, which oversees the TIF, is allocating the remaining $1.2 million from the program. The latest projects won’t be as flashy as those that transformed the former blast furnaces into a tourist destination, but they will maintain the SteelStacks campus that sees 1 million visitors a year, said the authority’s executive director, Tony Hanna.

Over the past two decades, real estate taxes derived from development in the TIF — namely the casino owned by Wind Creek — were diverted to build infrastructure and public amenities such as the Bethlehem Landing visitors center, Hoover-Mason Trestle and the plazas at the SteelStacks campus.

The money also contributed to site remediation at Five 10 Flats, an apartment and commercial project on East Third Street.

“The TIF is a big deal. In the end it provided great amenities and infrastructure for the city,” said Eric Evans, the city’s business administrator. “Even now, looking at the crystal ball, there’s so much opportunity for that property. We are all really pleased with where we’ve gotten in 20 years.”

Now the city’s Redevelopment Authority, which oversees the TIF, is allocating the remaining $1.2 million from the program. The latest projects won’t be as flashy as those that transformed the former blast furnaces into a tourist destination, but they will maintain the SteelStacks campus that sees 1 million visitors a year, said the authority’s executive director, Tony Hanna.

The final allocation includes money to replace LED streetlights for the SteelStacks campus; road improvements and new brick paving on First Street and Founders Way around the Levitt Pavilion, ArtsQuest Center and PBS 39; maintenance to the Hoover-Mason Trestle, new landscaping in the median at Founders Way and money for the new plaza at the National Museum of Industrial History.

The authority is also using the money to make repairs to the Visitor Center at SteelStacks. The former stock house, which dates to 1863 and once held supplies for the blast furnaces, needs repairs to the roof, brick exterior and some windows. Water has been seeping in for the past 10 years and offices on the upper level were damaged, Hanna said. The repairs will cost $131,500.

Another significant portion of the money — $500,000 — will offset costs the Bethlehem Parking Authority incurred for the purchase of a parking lot that will be used for the Polk Street Parking Garage, although that project is on hold.

The TIF has raised more than $100 million for public improvements to the 125-acre section of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, roughly between the Fahy and Minsi Trail bridges.

Could Bethlehem renew the TIF? Maybe.

City officials are weighing their options for the area, but it likely won’t be another TIF, said Alicia Miller Karner, director of community and economic development.

Good news from Councilwomen Crampsie Smith and Negron

Latest in a series of posts on City Government

 

Two great developments announced at the November 17 City Council meeting:

Councilwoman Crampsie Smith (2 mins.)

  • The Councilwoman is focused on homelessness and the housing crisis and has been meeting with people throughout the state, Alan Jennings, and Alicia Karner and announced the first meeting of the Bethlehem Affordable Housing Task Force (members include people from non-profits, financial institutions, city government, developers, etc.) to address the issue of lack of affordable housing and rental properties within the City with a goal of bringing ideas “to the table” by April. Fantastic!

Councilwoman Negron (2 mins.)

  • The Councilwoman has facilitated a meeting with the Mayor and Chief Kott with Pinebrook Family Services that has been doing work with the Allentown Police Department — with the goal of perhaps working together relative to the new plan by the Police and the Health Bureau to link a social worker to Police activities. Fantastic!

Your tax dollars at work!

Bethlehem City Council meeting tomorrow night Tuesday, November 17, 7PM

logo Latest in a series of posts on City Government logo

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tomorrow night, Tuesday, November 17 at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council Meetings on the following YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

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7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

  • contract for Pedestrian Bridge Feasibility Study is up for approval
  • John Filipos is up for reappointment to the Bethlehem Revitalization and Improvement Authority; we hope for scrutiny of reappointments
  • Councilman Callahan’s Wage Equality Ordinance is up for first reading

But there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council November 17, 2020 Meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on November 17, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.