Get your questions ready (10)

(10th in a series of posts on City Government)

We have to look beyond today’s Eagles game.

It’s election season.

So how can we get a handle on candidates who come forth for the seats on City Council?

4 seats up for grabs.

Remember that there is one new opening.

And that there are three incumbents running for re-election: Reynolds (’08), Colon (’16), Van Wirt (’18).

 

Can you identify the incumbents?

Could you recognize their voices?

Do you have some basis on which to judge their qualifications?

Though the other members of Council (Waldron, Negron, Callahan) are not running, they might use their powerful incumbent positions to back candidates.

 

Can you identify the Council members not running?

Could you recognize their voices?

Do you have some basis on which to judge their recommendations?

This last question in each series, of course, is the most important. Gadfly has been trying to provide you with a basis for such judgments and will continue to do so.

Time to do our homework.

What do we want to know to help us make our judgments?

When CM Evans’ seat opened up a year ago, each of the candidates for the unexpired term was asked to provide written answers to a series of 14 questions. Gadfly doesn’t know who put those questions together, but he thought they were good, thought they were very helpful. Here they are (minus two that don’t seem relevant now):

1.What uniquely qualifies you to serve on Bethlehem City Council?
2. List the top three (3) priorities of your campaign platform.
3. As several development projects are considered in the City, do you feel Bethlehem can honor its architectural history while simultaneously promoting economic growth and business?
4. Do you feel that transportation is an important issue for the City of Bethlehem, and if so, how do you envision the City better meeting its transportation needs in the future?
6. What is one issue you believe Bethlehem is currently not properly addressing and if on City Council how would you help in this area?
7. What do you think about the idea of a pedestrian bridge over the Lehigh River, and what are your thoughts for potential funding sources?
8. What can be done to encourage more constituent participation in local Government, particularly in the budget process?
10. What are your thoughts for the long term best solution for the pools in the City?
11. Within the next several years, the Parking Authority will need to replace the Walnut Street garage. How do you think the Authority and the City should plan for the financial and business impact of the construction of a new garage?
12. One of City Council’s most important functions is to pass the yearly budget for Bethlehem. What ideas would you bring to City Council that involve the area of finances?
13. Making decisions on City Council often involves seeking compromises that balance the individual self-interests of multiple groups of people. How do you feel you can contribute to the culture of compromise that is necessary to a functioning legislative branch of government?
14. 2017 saw City Council create several new initiatives relating to municipal climate action, neighborhood investment, open data and efficient city government. How do you feel you can participate in and add to these initiatives?

Does this still look like a good list of questions that we’d like to see candidates tackle? What would we add, what drop off? What priority would we set in our list?

Perhaps a good final question would riff on question 6: “what topic or topic would you like to address that we haven’t asked you about?”

If we had such a list of questions in print or in mind, Gadfly could ask candidates to share their ideas here in the time leading up to the election.

 

A matter of decorum (9)

(9th in a series of posts on City Government)

In post #2 in this series, Gadfly announced that the January 2 and all future City Council meetings will be available on video and at some point will be televised live.

Did you see Gadfly’s tease there about the important issue on January 2 beginning min. 32:50? Did you peek?

That issue was Council decorum. Decorum: good taste, polite behavior.

Gadfly raised the issue in his public comment at the beginning of the January 2 meeting, without realizing that President Waldron had evidently prepared to talk about it immediately after his annual report and that Council members were ready to weigh in later as well (CM Callahan twice, CW Van Wirt, CM Reynolds).

Gadfly’s mantra is “Good conversation builds community.” He believes in healthy, vigorous dialogue. He is especially sensitive to violations of common rules and practices for good conversation.

The last several weeks of 2018 were rough. The intersection of 2 W. Market and 306 S. New, covered in detail here on Gadfly, frayed Council and audience alike. There were to Gadfly’s way of thinking several instances when decorum was nearly breached, and one in which Gadfly felt there was definite lack of civility. In his opening public comment January 2, without mentioning names, Gadfly suggested that President Waldron refresh all Council members on guidelines for decorum in Robert’s Rules of Order.

President Waldron did not see violations of Robert’s Rules, said there was healthy debate and mutual respect, did not see himself “gaveling down” Council members, valuing the First Amendment over Robert’s Rules.

There followed in the last part of the January 2 meeting statements by CM Callahan, CW Van Wirt, CM Callahan again, concluding with CM Reynolds. “Elder statesman” Reynolds, as he was delightfully termed by President Waldron, an 11yr veteran of Council, wrapped up the interchanges with a wonderful statement on the need for harmony and respect. Perfect punctuation.

End of story.

I thought.

I wasn’t going to write or speak any more about it, leaving the final apt word with CM Reynolds.

But something kept nagging me. The person whom Gadfly thought demonstrated lack of civility had reviewed the December 4 meeting minutes and saw no wrong and was blameless. That person would later apologize January 2 if anybody took offense without, it seemed, believing there was any offense to apologize for. President Waldron also said he reviewed minutes and didn’t “see a lot there as far as violation of Robert’s Rules.”

What was clearly visible to Gadfly was not visible to others, and, if indeed there was a violation of civility as he felt there was, it would not be avoided in the future without such recognition.

Here’s the specific line that jumped out at me. CM Callahan addressing CW Negron in the 306 S. New portion of the December 4 meeting. The subject: their unfortunate “divide” over the Southside that you have seen Gadfly post about several times now.

CM Callahan: “I grew up here, I spent time on the Southside, way before you [addressing CW Negron, though not mentioning her by name] moved here, ok, and you’re telling me right now that the Southside is worse now than it was 25-30 years ago, you don’t have a clue.”

The line was spoken with some vigor, with some passion. It’s the climactic “you don’t have a clue” that’s the mortal sin for Gadfly. CM Callahan totally invalidates the experience and knowledge of a fellow Council member who is a long-time resident of and acknowledged, respected leader of the Southside in a bluntly insulting way. The effect of and impact of that line is not to engage debate and exchange ideas. And, Gadfly thinks, those words are contrary to the spirit and letter of Robert’s Rules.

In Gadfly’s respectful opinion, Councilman Callahan should not have spoken to Councilwoman Negron in that manner. In Gadfly’s respectful opinion, he committed a breach of decorum. Which neither he nor president Waldron has recognized.

But Gadfly might be all wrong, might be the only one who thinks this way. Perhaps a councilman addressing a councilwoman in that manner is acceptable behavior. As always, Gadfly suggests you go to the primary sources and make up your own minds.

1) The full statement by CM Callahan on December 4 that Gadfly felt was a breach of decorum (2 min. audio):

2) Gadfly’s suggestion to President Waldron January 2 about refreshing Council on Robert’s Rules (takes about a minute, beginning at min. 3:05):

3) The first time he speaks about this issue at the January 2 meeting, CM Callahan “challenges” anybody to go into the minutes and find where he broke decorum; he would never do break decorum (min. 4:30ff out of 7 min. video):

4) The second time he speaks on this issue at the January 2 meeting, CM Callahan indicates if anything was taken personally, he apologizes; if what he said hit someone personal, he apologizes; he didn’t mean it; he’s sorry if you didn’t agree with what he said, but he didn’t agree with what was said; has a right to voice his opinion; won’t be stifled (3 min. video):

Gadfly implies no intent to censor speech. In fact, followers will recognize that CM Callahan’s “who pays the damn bills?” advocating the necessity of developers – also spoken in the heat of his defending improvements in the Southside – has spurred him to personally productive thinking about the relationship between economic and community development.

Gadfly simply points to what seems to him to have been a significant but overlooked instance in which civility lapsed, with hope that such obstacles to good conversation can be avoided.

More on Community and Economic Development (8)

(8th in a series of posts on City Government)

In his Wednesday “Divides” post, Gadfly mused over not fully understanding the difference between economic development and community development.

Thanks to Steve Melnick and Peter Crownfield for very recent posts on the subject.

And – duh! – it finally hit Gadfly that we have a whole city department under that title: “The Department of Community and Economic Development.”

So he went to their web site.

At first glance, the info looked primarily “economic.” But then I saw “community” in the sidebar link to Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.

And that enabled me to work to the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem.

So much Gadfly doesn’t know about city operations. Seriously. He’s only entering his sophomore year.

And that took me to things like Southside vision 20/20 with foci on housing, safety, public spaces, and so forth.

Paydirt!

Gadfly hopes to explore and learn more about this “community development.”

This all started with CM Callahan’s “who pays the damn bills?” as a full-fledged endorsement of “economic development” as a means to improve the quality of life in the city.

Gadfly admits that he knows little about city finances. And needs to know more.

But he is also interested in learning about other metrics in determining the “state of the city.”

Community and economic development are different animals (7)

(7th in a series of posts on city government)

Steve Melnick has had a career in economic development for over 35 years in several states, with the last 20 years here in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

Community and economic development are, indeed, different animals. Council people who focus on one without considering the other continue to make the same mistakes that spawned the great urban renewal experiment that decimated many cities across the country. Some have never recovered. Developers want to make money, and that’s their right. What is missing from the equation is just how much they are willing to commit to making their presence in our community of positive force. Be it reconfiguring an intersection to alleviate increased traffic, to providing pocket parks in the neighborhood, or developing an infill sight that blends into the existing neighborhood are all things a municipality can require without jeopardizing a private company’s bottom line. If our community is desirable enough for a developer to want to build here, they should be required to take the extra steps to make sure they preserve what we already have created.

Steve

Election coming . . . May 21

(6th in a series of posts on City Government)

“When nobody runs against the incumbents, democracy dies.”
(Paige Van Wirt, January 9, 2019)

Bethlehem City Council:

— one opening because of CM Martell’s decision not to run again

— three incumbents running: CM Reynolds (’08), CM Colon (’16), CW Van Wirt (’18)

Remember that City Council meetings are now video-recorded and soon may be televised live.

Remember that already there are video and audio clips as well as commentary here on Gadfly, and you can expect more opportunities here to get to know the incumbents.

Remember that Gadly invites candidates to use Gadfly as a vehicle for shaping and sounding out ideas.

 

Divides . . . (5)

(5th in a series of posts on City Government)

Gadfly sitting here Tuesday night waiting for the president to speak.

Mind naturally turning to “divides.”

Gadfly posted recently on the Mayor’s annual report and President Waldron’s annual City Council report.

He’s thought about doing a Gadfly annual report (though only 3 months in service).

But that’s kinda pompous.

But if he did, one of the things he would say on looking back is that he saw division on Council.

Two competing visions of “neighborhood.” Two views of the Southside. Two images of developers.

Gadfly even previously wrote about the Southside in Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 4: the Great Divide (74)

Nothing unusual about division. Nothing especially negative about it.

But worthy of noting. And wondering what effect it has on Council operations. And on life in the City.

Two views of neighborhood

In the rough going of the 2 W. Market debate, CM Reynolds crystallized that marathon for me when he said, “There are different people in this room that have different definitions of what it means to live in a neighborhood.” That line straightened me up. That line framed the debate for me. On the one side there’s the “cup o’ sugar”/”eyes on the street” definition of a neighborhood. Easily caricatured, as in fact, it was throughout the debate. But real, worthy, and, in fact, an easily understandable and desirable image. Over the holidays, for instance, I was picking up my paper on the porch when Art, the guy I share my west wall with, said, “Eddie [people seem to address me as if I were a teenager!], Eddie, I got up to pee last night, looked out the back kitchen window, and there was a guy standing at our back fences. He saw me and took off down the alley.” Yeah, eyes on the street. Much appreciated, Art. That’s one definition of a neighborhood. Another has to do with being the first one to shovel your sidewalk, to decorate your house seasonally, to participate in the Luminaria, to create no parking problems. That’s another way of defining neighborhood and neighborliness. Just as real. Just as worthy. But that’s two different definitions, as CM Reynolds said. That’s two different images. In a dispute over the definition of neighborhood, one side is unlikely to persuade the other. And neither side is wrong. The roots of those definitions are deeper than argument. So what to do when disputes arise? My answer was (and is) that you look for the center that unites us, that the only thing you can do is look to impartial law (Comprehensive Plan, zoning ordinances, judicial decision). Anything else is deciding subjectively and bound to only propel the dispute.

Two views of the Southside

In a way, this is also two views of neighborhood. I’ll try not to repeat all that I said in my Great Divide post. CM Callahan is a half-century Bethlehem native, thoroughly aware of the Southside, though not living there. CW Negron hasn’t lived in Bethlehem as long, but she has lived here a substantial time, a generation, and she has lived on the Southside during that time. Can there be visions any different? Let’s paraphrase CM Reynolds: “There are different people in this room that have different definitions of what it means to live on the Southside.” BC’s Joe the barber, a Southside resident, tells him one thing; my Mike the barber, a Southside native, tells me the opposite. Is one right? Is one wrong? Several times during the 2 W. Market debate, people would say, just go up the street, look at the house, see it, it’s right there, no guessing how it will turn out. When I heard that I would look north, and an imaginary iris would open on the wall, and, yes, I would see the beautiful 2 Wester in mind’s eye. And then when Gadfly #1 Antalics and CW Negron would reference the cancer that hit the Southside, a like imaginary iris would open for me on the south wall of Town Hall, and I would see the view up the alley between Birkel and Montclair as I leave Wendy’s, and, yes, I see the ravages of the ugly cancer. Both visions are true. When BC sees the Southside, he sees it from the outside: arts, shops, schools, bars, restaurants, lighting, residential facades. When ON sees the Southside (and I’m guessing a bit here because she has not expanded as BC has), she’s thinking of homes, where families start, grow, thrive – where roots are planted. BC, it seems, sees primarily a place to work and visit; ON thinks of a place to live. They simply have two different sets of “eyes.” It’s hard to see through someone else’s eyes. But we all have to try. Especially leaders. Mutual understanding needed. Vigorously intoning “you don’t have a clue” in ON’s direction as BC did recently, only propels the divide. If more harmony is desirable, I would invoke my favorite philosopher, Dr. Phil, who says, “somebody has to be a hero in this relationship.”

Two images of developers

Gadfly readily admits his limitation. He knows 9 uses of the comma, but he understands little of TIFFs and LERTAs and CRIZs. He was in awe when CM Reynolds instantaneously calculated what a change in millage would mean for the average taxpayer during a budget meeting. CM Callahan’s recent “who pays the damn bills?” struck him hard. The implication being the answer was developers, certainly not in whole, but seemingly in significant part, and seemingly in that part that makes a crucial difference in the quality of our lives and the claim of Bethlehem to be a first-class city (number of police officers, city services, etc.). Made me think how little I know about funding a city. Developers – angels or demons? It’s clear that our leaders are divided on this, and there is an oft expressed belief from people in the cheap seats that developers rule. CM Callahan openly courts, canonizes, and congratulates the developer/investor. It seems he sees money as the solution to problems, the answer to needs. CW Van Wirt, on the other hand, recognizes a problem when money rules, when money calls the shots – we lose control of defining who we are — and feels there is a way for the city to successfully manage the developers rather than the reverse. I was thinking about this today in regard to the Maze garden that used to be at 3rd and New before the Benner building. It was considered inappropriate as the gateway to the Southside or, should I say, to a certain image of what the Southside should be. But think of what an interesting statement of the kind of city we are if the gateway is a garden, a living space, communally tended by representatives of all ages and types, literally serving/feeding the community – a place of natural beauty, a place to work with the earth, and rest and enjoy it. But I digress. The garden was never meant to be permanent there. “Feet on the street” was the mantra, and for that we needed a developer. I have been trying to get a handle on how I feel about developers and about the nature and function of investment. A few days ago, regarding the Mayor’s annual report, Peter Crownfield posted that “the Mayor [and, for instance, CM Callahan?] looks at the state of the city primarily in terms of economic development, which so often has a negative impact on community development.” Hmmm, what exactly does that mean? That distinction between economic development and community development intrigues me. Are there contrasting measures on how we judge “the state of the city”? So, I’m kinda hoping Peter or someone else will run with this distinction a bit. Would it help me understand the ambivalence toward developers I have? Or the mindview that favors developers?

Been rushing here at the end. Am I making any sense? Saying anything worthy of response?

For instance, as Gadfly said in the previous post, should one even care about such divisions? Maybe they are just natural and productive.

Off to watch the Trumpster!

Gadfly #1 and Freedom of Speech at Council, and Three Requests (4)

(4th in a series of posts on City Government)

antalics 10-22-05

O, my, look what Gadfly found!

Browsing through the Morning Call archives.

(Ok, not quite normal, but how do you spend your spare time? Watching television?)

Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalics Oct. 22, 2005, bemoaning the reduction of public comment time at Council meetings from 12 mins. to 5 mins.

12 minutes! 12 minutes each!! A paradise for gadflyers!!! Now lost. Forever. Sigh.

(I call Stephen Gadfly #1 for his two decades of service, Bill Scheirer is close by at Gadfly #2. I am a Johnny-come-lately, a pretender, a usurper — not worthy of the Gadfly title. But I need a number. Maybe Gadfly double-zero: “Gadfly00.”)

Could there ever have been a time when 12 minutes was allowed??

Gadfly00 understands that there was a time when only 2 or 3 minutes was allowed. A time when throats dried up and tongues shriveled.

Thank you, Stephen, for fighting for the public’s time at the microphone.  As you still do.

But this discovery of the Golden Age of Gadflying leads Gadfly00 to make three requests:

1) that when you have something longer to say, you think of the Gadfly blog as your vehicle (cf. the recent invitation to candidates for elected office to “use” us as a platform, but this could apply to any topic you want to explore)

2) that you pass the word about the Gadfly blog to the kind of serious, thoughtful type of audience members Gadfly00 aspires to, so that good ideas, provocative ideas can have the widest possible reach and impact (Gadfly has several hundred followers now, but we are a town of 75,000)

3) that you help the blog achieve necessary balance by posting oppositional views and/or encouraging others to do so (Gadfly has been criticized for leaning one way)

Gadfly00 encourages you to contribute, promote, criticize.