“Makes no sense to me” (73)

(73rd in a series of posts on parking)

The parking system in Bethlehem: the mayor has responsibility for meter rates, the City Council for fines, and the Bethlehem Parking Authority for the parking lots.

Councilman Callahan

“When the Parking Authority was created, who came up with the rules that the mayor takes care of the meters and City Council takes care of the fines. . . . Who made the rules and how could they possibly be changed?”

Mayor Donchez

“I think the answer to your question is that I really don’t know. But what I assume is this. The Parking Authority used to be within the Police department, and I think we are probably talking about 1960s or early 1970s. It was removed, set up as an independent Board with an executive director hired by the Board to be less political and having all the tickets fixed within City Hall. And I think that the key reason was the Authority could take out bonds. I would think that when they established the Board, they came up with the trifecta, which makes no sense to me, to be very honest with you.”

Councilman Callahan

“I don’t agree with the structure. . . . I have no idea how it came up. . . . I don’t know if it can be changed or whatever.”

Sounds like homework for an historian to me.

Never totally satisfied (72)

“Now that it sounds like we are going to be tabling the fine increases. Are you still going to direct the Parking Authority in terms of the meter increases as of January 1.”
Councilman Colon

“The answer is yes.”
Mayor Donchez

So Gadfly had a feeling of substantial satisfaction about the handling of the gnarled parking issue at last week’s City Council meeting.

The Mayor outlined what is, in effect, a business plan on the Polk St. Garage, a good in its own right, but the main specific request of City Council in what President Waldron called the “infamous” set of questions posed to the BPA.

Great!

The one puzzling piece of last Wednesday’s action, however, was leaving in place the January 1 inception of the meter rate increases.

Everybody knows the rates and the fines need to work in tandem. There was plenty of discussion at the meeting of what will happen negatively if they are not in tandem.

Mainly complaints to City Council!

Councilfolk Colon, Van Wirt, and Waldron each brought it up. January 1 is an arbitrary date. The rates don’t have to go up then. We should work together on timing, said Van Wirt.

But the Mayor said yes.

I’m surprised nobody pushed him. I don’t understand why nobody pushed him.

What would a few months matter?

Why consciously court the kind of absurdity that Councilman Callahan repeatedly depicted, no matter how short the time?

Doesn’t make any sense to Gadfly.

The nasty interpretation: Public and business blowback will be directed at Council, who has responsibility for the fines, and such blowback is a backatcha by the Mayor and BPA for Council’s actions.

The benign interpretation: BPA had planned a soft opening of the new system, which wouldn’t really, really go into effect till June 1, so maybe the perturbation of the system is not seen as severe as has been forecast.

Gadfly just doesn’t understand why – during the Era of Good Feeling at the meeting – this last detail was not nailed down.

Gadfly also hopes that the examination of Variable Rate Parking doesn’t disappear and hopes that a detailed plan for studying it will emerge at the BPA meetings with Council early and mid-2019.

“Good conversation builds community” (71)

“Most things can be explained. . . . We could provide this information clearer.”
Councilman Reynolds

Gadfly believes strongly in the above tagline for his project.

The major process take-away for him from following this parking issue for several months is the need for better communication all around.

Some randomly organized thoughts about communication during this process, seen, of course, from Gadfly’s necessarily outside and possibly ill-informed perspective – and meant to be helpful:

  • The Parking Authority does not know how to “speak” to the public or even to City Council. Gadfly said at a BPA Board meeting that they need a public relations person. They had an enormous and no doubt competent parking study, but the tailoring, the transmitting, the marketing, the communicating of that study to important stakeholders was not tended to.
  • At the last City Council meeting, the Council liaison spoke of “numerous discussions” recently with the BPA Board chair, but Gadfly doesn’t see that there was a channel for those discussions to the rest of Council. Maybe there was; Gadfly is not aware of how Council members interact outside of meetings.
  • If Gadfly is not mistaken, according to the published BPA minutes going back to December 2017, the Council liaison has not attended BPA meetings.
  • If Council has liaisons to all the Authorities, do they periodically “report” back officially to Council? Gadfly believes there was recent reference to a Redevelopment Authority meeting where something important happened. And “nobody was there.” The whole general issue of announcing meetings, posting agendas, publishing minutes has to be tightened.
  • Gadfly, admittedly on slim observation, wonders about the “involvement” of BPA Board members. The chairman is an “institution” (nearly two decades on the Board), and Council liaison’s “numerous discussions” were solely with him, outside of Board meetings. Are the fresh new voices on the Board engaged? Or is the BPA power vested in one person?
  • It was not possible for Gadfly to communicate directly with BPA Board members. And some BPA leaders were not responsive to interaction with Gadfly.
  • Gadfly found the Mayor’s report and demeanor at the last meeting refreshing and reassuring. Gadfly felt the need for more of that. This will sound strange, but Gadfly found himself reflecting that he doesn’t hear from the Mayor much. There is little in the way of “reports” at City Council meetings. He is a kind of a “quiet” Mayor. Ha! Which, all in all, I think may be a good trait. But there are times when we need the firm voice of the leader.
  • the “trifecta” system – mayor responsible for meter rates, Council for fines, BPA for parking lots – though theoretically it might be seen as a mechanism for the trifectors to talk with one another, doesn’t seemed to have worked well.

The “parking issue” is not over, but Gadfly thinks there will be some quiet time for a while. Perhaps one or two more posts on it for now, and we can move on.

Lehigh Grad Students speak up (13)

(13th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

As Gadfly has reported earlier here, the tuition-paying undergraduate students raised a stink about an early phase of Lehigh’s Path to Prominence planning that brought an immediately placating response from the Lehigh Administration.

Gadfly was not at all concerned with undergraduate students, virtually all of whom live on campus and who have tremendous leverage to apply to get fairness.

Gadfly has been concerned about a large segment of graduate students and about such low-wage staff as maintenance, grounds, cafeteria workers, and so forth, many of whom may be Bethlehem residents/taxpayers.

Gadfly has asked for transparency on the impact of the new parking plan on such people.

Lehigh Grad Student Senate letter

Now, however, see the linked Nov. 7 letter from the Lehigh Graduate Student Senate to the Lehigh Administration about graduate student concerns about parking inequity under the new plan.

(Gadfly especially encourages you to read the direct quotes from grad students in Appendix B of the letter. Gadfly loves the raw voices.)

The graduate students have political power to bring to bear against the Lehigh Administration, they are using it, and it is to be hoped that Lehigh will recognize that these voices, previously overlooked like the undergraduates, will be heard.

So maybe Gadfly need not be very concerned about the graduate students. We’ll see.

But what about maintenance, grounds, cafeteria workers, and so forth, many of whom may be Bethlehem residents/taxpayers?

The undergrads (dollars) and grads (teaching classes, running labs) have chips to play within the system.

Gadfly doesn’t think these others do.

They are low pay. Without representation. Replaceable.

We won’t see letters to the Administration from them.

(Many, if not all of them, may not even technically be employees of Lehigh – which makes matters worse.)

There may be no problem. But the undergrad and grad brouhaha’s indicate flaws in Lehigh’s planning.

So Gadfly is asking for more information, for more transparency, before the City grants any further approvals.

And he has now spoken twice at City Council meetings, hoping to raise consciousness about his concerns.

One of the ways you measure a just society is the way it treats its most vulnerable people.

Veterans Day, Bethlehem, 2018

You are a veteran if you spent your entire working career in the Armed Services or if the signature on your papers was barely dry.

And you are deserving of recognition today.

On November 8, 1961, 14 young Bethlehem men (including two brothers), draftees, gathered at the Salvation Army, joined three-score others from various parts of the Lehigh Valley and New Jersey, got on a bus mid-afternoon for Wilkes Barre, where they were formally inducted into the U.S. Army around 5PM, took a plane bound for Fort Jackson, South Carolina, which crashed, and by 9:30PM they were all dead.

004

Albert W. Andreas, Robert S. Bedics, Barry A. Brandt, Donald F. Doyle, Thomas D. Gasda, Richard W. Jones, Joseph J. Kobli, Stephen M. Kobli, Leroy Kranch, Jr., Thomas A. Motko, Michael Placotaris. Albert J. Rice, John D. Schuler, Charles (?) Yeakel

In all 77 died. Only 2 escaped the crash. Some Bethlehem families learned of the crash and deaths when awakened by 4AM phone calls from reporters. Most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition. It would be 3-4 days before some bodies were identified. One Bethlehem man was identified only from a school ring.

The crash triggered a national investigation of substandard transporting of military personnel. The crash was determined to be a result of shoddy maintenance, human error, and lack of emergency procedure explanations. Many could have survived.

Bethlehem took the tragedy hard. A monument was dedicated exactly seven months later, on June 8, 1962, on what was called Triangle Park or the Hub Tract, the still open space above Perkins at 3rd and Wyandotte streets. The monument was removed for a time in 1986 because of the possible sale of the property but then returned and rededicated November 8, 1986. The monument was relatively recently removed to the Rose Garden when the property was sold to developer Jim Petrucci. The monument is located on Eighth Avenue, just a short distance from Union Boulevard.

The 14 young Bethlehem men never had a chance to wear a uniform but died for their country.

011

It seems to Gadfly that it is always cold in cemeteries or at monuments for the dead.

His fingers courted frostbite at 9AM this morning just in the short time he ungloved to take a few pictures. The biting wind found ways through woolen layers to find bare skin.

There were two flower arrangements, two flags. Gadfly was able to right one of the arrangements blown over by yesterday’s even more biting wind.

There was one card, “In Loving Memory of Brother Donald Doyle,” from his older brother Richard and Richard’s wife (whose name I am sorry I couldn’t make out).

A touch of warmth that helps one forget the cold.

Gadfly plans to return to this story for the next Bethlehem Moment. Thanks to Dana Grubb.

What’s behind the votes? (70)

(70th in a series of posts on parking)

We know that the vote was 6-1 in favor of indefinitely tabling the BPA proposal, but of as much interest as the final tally should be the reasons supporting the votes.

So here Gadfly gives you text and video windows on the main commentary preceding the vote. CM Callahan was the lone “no” vote, so we should pay special attention to his position as we judge the “ayes.”

Gadfly will post an overview reflection on the meeting and the decision in the near future, but in the meantime he invites you to engage with each of the positions and see where your opinion falls. With the video you can almost be there.

Councilman Reynolds

CM Reynolds framed the specific response to and specific questions he asked of the Mayor that Gadfly reported on last time with refreshing comments about what Gadfly would call communication problems. Reynolds pointed out the confusion and frustration some felt was created by lack of transparency and context. He expressed belief that all things could be properly explained but that “we” (the City) need to provide information in a clearer fashion. On the “large scale decisions,” it’s the administration’s job, not BPA’s, to “stand up” and articulate goals and rationale. Gadfly found those welcome sentiments and believes what the Mayor presented was aligned with those sentiments – a step toward better communication.

Councilman Callahan

CM Callahan was the lone “no” vote and he makes some good points. The video link is to Callahan’s initial and main comments, but Gadfly has added in points he made during two other comments.

  • The disparity between the meter rates and the fines will cause diminished parking turnover and more expenses for the BPA and will create a serious issue for the BPA that will inevitably become an issue for Council.
  • If Council action to deny the BPA proposal is for “leverage” against the BPA, that is a political act and not for the good of the City.
  • By the “rules” (everybody agrees the “trifecta” rules over responsibility for different parts of the parking system don’t make sense, and nobody seems to know who made them up!), fines should be tied to the rates. The Mayor made his decision, we should follow.
  • Denial puts the non-profits in a very difficult situation. They took a gamble situating there. They were promised a garage. Lots there are being bought up; there is no additional space. Some lots are on a 60-day vacate notice. The non-profits could face a situation where there is no parking, and it would take 16 months to build a garage.
  • Denial is basically telling everybody to not follow the rules. The whole point is to obey the law. It makes no sense to have a fine less than what it would cost to park. Some people simply won’t follow the rules.
  • We will eventually support a parking deck. BPA has provided a path to pay for it. There is no taxpayer money. The garage is paid for by people who use it. The only risk for the taxpayer is if BPA defaults, but BPA’s “financials are fine,” and they could get funding on their own but at a higher rate without City backing.
  • BPA as a whole supports the garages. Nobody has $20m to build a garage. The Walnut and North St. garages were not built with their own funds. The money came from the BPA as a whole.
  • He thinks that BPA sees tabling as politics and recommends voting not tabling even if the result turns out to be for denial. BPA is in to parking not politics. BPA was reading the “tea leaves” when it suggested tabling as ok.

Councilwoman Van Wirt

CW Van Wirt made 4 points:

1) The rates don’t have to go up January 1. We should work together on timing. Everybody understands the problem with rate and fine disparity, but rates do not have to go into effect January 1.

2) If BPA finances are so great, we should not have to be raising rates on backs of taxpayers. Authorities were created to leverage their own debt and not put it on the taxpayer. It’s ok for BPA to get their own bonds, taking risk off taxpayers, and if their finances are in good shape, they can pay the higher rate

3) The Walnut St. Garage is in the Central Business District, so there is a viable reason for City to provide financial support. Moreover, the Walnut already exists so that if it needs to be replaced, that’s a logical use of the money and of taxpayer-backed debt.

4) She’s hoping that CC and BPA can work hand in hand. They are stronger together. Being open and transparent gets things done faster and better. And everybody ends up more satisfied.

Councilman Waldron

CM Waldron was the clean-up man. Everybody agrees fines have to be raised. This is the first opportunity for Council to be part of the conversation of what parking means for our City. It makes sense to ask BPA what their 1yr goal, 5yr goal, and overall idea of parking within the City is. Polk is the “hot ticket item.” It is understood that the meter rate increase goes toward Polk and the fine increase to Walnut. But Walnut dollars are not needed right now, and “ultimately getting a full plan on what Polk St. will be, a timeline for that, what the funding will look like, is the best approach.” CC asked for a business plan and didn’t get it, so there’s not a lot of confidence in BPA long-term planning. It feels like they are making it up as they go because of lack of information. Maybe lack of communication rather than lack of planning is the problem. Tabling is the right move now and Council will approve fine increases when appropriate.

Video by Owen Gallagher

A big step toward clearing the air about the Polk St. Garage (69)

(69th in a series of posts on parking)

The Mayor’s statement (5 mins.) video
Mayor on BPA 11-07-18  text
Councilman Reynold’s follow-up to the Mayor (12 mins.)  video

So let’s pick up the long-awaited meeting of November 7 in which City Council considered the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s proposal to increase parking violation fines in tandem with the Mayor’s previous approval to raise the parking meter rates. This meeting came after the BPA answered a series of questions asked by Council. Council voted 6-1 to table the fine proposal indefinitely. The meter rate rise will still go into effect January 1.

Gadfly felt good about this meeting. He left the meeting with a feeling of satisfaction. He felt progress.

But Gadfly welcomes judgments of the many wise heads in attendance.

Remember that Gadfly had said that for him Polk St. haunted this whole process. So many ambiguous statements.

Remember that Gadfly asked the BPA Board directly, “is the Polk St. Garage going to be built?” And was told unambiguously by the bulldog bodyguard BPA solicitor, “Nobody interrogates the Board”!

Well — answer to Gadfly’s prayers — the Mayor went right to sole focus on Polk.

The Mayor – without being asked to make a statement – immediately created a positive atmosphere through a 5-minute prepared statement focused on the previously enigmatic Polk St. Garage in which he provided important background in addition to setting a timeline for key future developments. All exactly what Gadfly had been missing.

There was no kumbaya, but the interaction between Mayor and Council was calm and business-cordial. The Mayor and the strong majority of Council (and even the BPA) were agreed on the “table indefinitely” option. There was never doubt of passage. The one negative voice was strong and given plenty of time to articulate his position. All good.

For Gadfly, this meeting took a big step toward clearing the air of the cobwebs around this whole process that have enveloped him for the last 30 or more posts in this long thread.

Mayor on BPA 11-07-18.

From Gadfly, kudos to the Mayor for his clear, concise statement of where the Polk issue has come from and where it is going. His statement is linked above, transcribed from an audio recording. Gadfly hoped to have a copy of the Mayor’s actual statement to post, but it did not come in before press time. Take a look for yourself. Gadfly always suggests going to the primary source and forming your own opinion.

Also, especially, for a feeling of being there, check out the video of the Mayor presenting his statement.

Here are a few key bullet points from the Mayor:

  • The first concrete step on Polk St. happened in 2014 through the Redevelopment Authority.
  • The RDA project stalled, and BPA was given responsibility for the project in 2015.
  • In early 2017 the Mayor asked BPA to conduct a comprehensive parking analysis as a prelude to capital projects.
  • Attempts to secure land from the Sands were unsuccessful till plans for selling the Casino in early 2018.
  • BPA approved an agreement of sale in September 2018.
  • The goal for beginning construction was the mid-2019.
  • Construction should take 16 months.
  • The meter and fine increases are needed for Polk St.
  • The BPA is exploring financing both with and without City guarantee.
  • The Mayor has asked the RDA to compile a complete timeline of their involvement.

The Mayor was organized, provided chronology, provided facts – provided understanding.

Had Gadfly purring like a kitten.

Councilman Reynolds then completed construction of Gadfly’s Era of Good Feeling by asking direct follow-up questions and getting direct answers (see the video of Reynolds here):

  • Yes, there is an agreement of sale for 3rd and Polk.
  • Construction should start mid to ¾’s 2019.
  • Construction should take 16-18 months.
  • Yes, the increased revenue is needed for Polk.
  • BPA will discuss options for funding with Council early in 2019.
  • Possibly, BPA funding may not need City guarantee.
  • But even if not, BPA will discuss funding with Council.
  • The fine proposal will be taken up again when funding is discussed.
  • That meeting will take place in the first ¼ 2019.

Clarity. Transparency. Timeline.

Pretty damn close to the strategic plan the Council letter asked for.

Now, here’s the only hitch Gadfly could see. Councilman Colon asked the Mayor if meter rates were still going up January 1, thus causing, if so, a skewed proportion with the fine structure that will remain static till later into 2019.

The Mayor said yes.

Meter rates going up though fines remain static.

Gadfly doesn’t understand that. And we’ll return to this point later.

We live in a Fallen World (remember, Gadfly moonlights as a philosopher-theologian weekends), is all he can say.

Can’t have everything.

Video by Owen Gallagher