Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bethlehem Township's Kangaroo Court

It's pretty hard to feel sorry for Abe Atiyeh, who is referred to by Bill White as Allentown's Rajah of Rezoning. Sure, he may carry bags of candy that he hands out to people everywhere. Yes, he did drop $5,000 on a homeless shelter about a year ago. But let's face it, most of us don't like rich guys unless they're professional athletes or bloggers. It's just the way it is. But I couldn't help feeling a twinge of sympathy for the guy at last night's meeting of the Bethlehem Township Zoning Hearing Board. Let me tell you what happened.

Northampton County would like to set up a new, 300-bed, treatment and work release center. It's already been shot down in Glendon and West Easton. Then Abe Atiyeh came up with a site in Bethlehem Township, located smack dab inside an industrial park, nearly a mile from the nearest home. Even better, this site is in an area zoned for treatment centers. But Bethlehem Township wants nothing to do with anything that houses prisoners. That's no surprise from a municipality that refused to contribute a dime towards homeless shelters.

Northampton County Council Prez Ann McHale, when she was running for county executive, sided with the NIMBYs, piously declaring that "[a] facility in an industrial park is not the answer." Incumbent Executive John Stoffa stuck to his guns. "We have four people in a cell, four bunk beds, a commode and a hopper, and it is disgraceful the way we treat our people in our jail." McHale ended up winning Bethlehem Township ... by one vote. She was trounced everywhere else.

Bethlehem Township zoners can impose reasonable restriction on this treatment and work release center, but they pretty much have no legal basis for denying an application. Of course, they did anyway. Judge Franciosa recently told them to think again.

That was supposed to happen last night, and the place was packed. ZHB Solicitor Larry Fox, who has an uncanny ability to spend hours saying absolutely nothing, wasted nearly a half hour just introducing all the lawyers and parties involved. When the hearing finally got underway, it quickly became apparent that the ZHB, stung by Franciosa's remand, will soon be reversed again.

Gary Brienza, himself an attorney, was the worst of these zoners. He repeatedly slammed the table and tossed papers. Jennifer Sletvold, another attorney, repeatedly interrupted witnesses and Attorney Jim Preston, who was presenting Atiyeh's case. Preston had a slew of witnesses on hand, prepared to address anything that still bothered the ZHB. But they insisted that Preston should just flail away and try to read their minds. "It's not appropriate for us to be asking you questions," huffed Sletvold, with fancy pink designer glasses perched atop her nose.

Brienza: "So we have a stalemate."

Preston: "I have another word."

Brienza: "We are not here to try your case."

Preston: "We are not here because this applicant failed."

When Preston called Warden Todd Buskirk to address security and public safety, board members suddenly thought it was appropriate to ask questions after all. Buskirk was peppered by Brienza, not about security, but about Buskirk's recent decision to step down as Director of Corrections. Brienza attempted to embarrass Todd, a class act, with needless and irrelevant questions about the real reason for that decision.

Todd did finally get to testify about the number of guards needed for security, but zoners argued with him. Todd invited them to tour the current work release center, where there is much less security, but they all turned up their noses. When Stoffa suggested bringing a few work release people in to testify, Sletvold's designer glasses cracked and she very nearly hurled.

If you'd like to see this kangaroo court in action, they'll be meeting again on September 30th to hear testimony about all the traffic nightmares that 300 inmates will cause. After that, they'll deny the application and get reversed again.

39 comments:

Marc said...

Should have worked with Lehigh County. Sad. Think of the taxpayer dollars which could have been saved.

Dave said...

Who's going to blink first? Who has the deeper pockets to see this issue to it's conclusion? How much has the county already spent on this venture and how much more will they spend? Is there a point at which either party says enough? The idea is noble and Mr. Stoffa has a viable solutions to some of the prisons problems but w/o this piece..does it all fall down?

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
Sorry, we're big fans, but we think you got this one wrong.
You make it sound like this vacant lot is in the middle of no-where. That's not true!
This open lot is adjacent to Northampton County's Meals on Wheels new headquarters and a doctor's milti-million dollar private practice office complex that brings comfort to hundreds of Lehigh Valley residents.
MOW's very existence is measured by the number of volunteer drivers it is able to attract,
many of whom are senior
citizens. You don't think building a prison adjacent to MOW will scare some of these volunteers away?

Anonymous said...

How would it be proper for a ZHB to present the case? It was remanded for specific issues to be addressed. It is not the ZHB's place to present the applicant's case to address the issues, the applicant must present a case to address the issues.

It would like the Supreme Ct remanding a case to a lower court, then the trial judge telling the parties what needs to be addressed.

Anonymous said...

420's comment is 2 fold:

1. He/she is right on!

2. 420 is a marijuana reference in which Abe seems to be smoking when it comes to the constant threats and lawsuits against the Lehigh Valley local governments.

John Stoffa, as reported in the Mcall states
''We have an old-fashioned handshake, which in my opinion is more valuable,'', sorry Bernie but what is John smoking?

Nothing is a done deal except for the waste of taxpayer dollars.

Why can't one of the original options like the sharing w/ Lehigh County be discussed?

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:59- the issue of MOW has been brought up many times but is a red herring. I believe that MOW is on record as supporting the new facility. They are not at all threatened by the treatment center as a neighbor. The safety risk is far less of a concern to their volunteer drivers than the truck traffic in the area and dangerous turn from Fritch Dr. to Broadhead.
The volunteer drivers are extremely dedicated and it is unlikely they would be reluctant to continue if a center was built next door.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Sorry, we're big fans, but we think you got this one wrong."

It would not be the first time.

Folks, the MOW reference is Meals on Wheels, which would be across the street from the facility.

I will say that NC should have teamed up w/ LC and moved there. I supported the notion of a work release and treatment center in Salisbury Tp, wich is relatively noncontroversial.

But the judges oppose that solution. I have no idea why. I have no regard for judges when they start designing themselves magnificent judicial potties. They are not engineers. But they are judges who are deeply concerned about those they sentence, and are entitled to a lot of deference when it comes to those types of decisions. I'd sure like to know why they opposed the Salisbury solution, but have to respect their call.

As far as the ZHB's obligation is concerned, the case was remnded so their concerns could be addresssed. it was incumbent on them to outline those concerns specifically so that preston could present evidence accordingly.

When he attempted guessing, he was stopped at one point and told they already had that info.

But it makes no difference what he does It is quite clear they will deny the application and find themselves reversed again. This time, there is plenty of evidence of bias from the ZHB, especially from Brienza.

The ZHB's argument is really just this - Not in my Back Yard.

Anonymous said...

You want a "Kangaroo Court" environment go to Allentown City Hall. I'd say the residents of Bethlehem Township are getting a level of service that the rest of us could only dream of. This is good local government looking after the interest of residents. Those of us in Allentown can only sit by and watch the incompetent elected officials bungle everything with no commitment to protecting the tax payers.

Anonymous said...

Four prisoners per cell is not disgraceful. In fact, it's not enough. Let's address unfunded mandates requiring so much room and amenities for society's enemies. Prison should be like the Turkish model in Midnight Express.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Anon 7:59- the issue of MOW has been brought up many times but is a red herring. I believe that MOW is on record as supporting the new facility. They are not at all threatened by the treatment center as a neighbor. The safety risk is far less of a concern to their volunteer drivers than the truck traffic in the area and dangerous turn from Fritch Dr. to Broadhead.
The volunteer drivers are extremely dedicated and it is unlikely they would be reluctant to continue if a center was built next door.

10:09 AM


Bernie,
if you have a minute, maybe you would contact executive director of Meals on Wheels and verify the above statement. we find that very hard to believe and have been told that is not true, but if your writer says it is, we will apologize. thank you as always for your time and effort to keep us informed.

Anonymous said...

We remember "Midnight Express." The star sadly died very young.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I will try to contact the exec director today or tomorrow, but caution you not to take anythin posted anonymously s gospel.

At last night's hearing, I believe MOW was officially neutral, but had concerns about traffic.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, any idea how much of this stuff is related to Abe Atiyeh as opposed to the project?

I don't know the man, but by reputation I wouldn't want him building a doghouse in my town.

The Banker

Bernie O'Hare said...

Banker,

Atiyeh lives in Beth Tp. He has had words with their comm'rs over their refusal to fund homeless shelters. I don't think the animosity is directed at Abe per se, but at the notion that prisoners may be living somewhere in Bethlehem Tp.

jsletvold said...

Hi Bernie. Jen Sletvold here. Thank you for your comments. I don't like my glasses, but I am losing my eyesight in my middle age, which is rather scary. I got cheap glasses off the rack and they are gold, not pink. I am not a fan of pink. My glasses are pretty scratched up which is why sometimes, I can't see even with them on, and so I perch them on the end of my nose. Have a good day.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
Thank you for taking the time to look into this.
If Attieyh bought that land and it was zoned for prison "use,"
it will be difficult to deny a variance once it goes to court and go to court, it will, as few Valley residents enjoy court more than Abe. Just ask ZHBs everywere.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Hi Jen! They are very snazzy glasses, but I think they cracked last night. Why did you nearly hurl at the notion of seeing one of those people? Would it be that bad? When you talk about what is appropriate, is it appropriate for a fellow member of a quasi judicial body to slam the desk and throw papers around, as Brienza did last night? Was it appropriate for him to have tried to embarrass Todd Buskirk as he did, based solely on his misinterpretation of news accounts?

You've been remanded. Your job is to impose reasonable restrictions based on your concerns. I think all you did last night is establish that you are a biased body unwilling to follow the law. I realize the very notion of a work release and treatment center is repugnant to many people in bethlehem Tp, but the law provides no basis for you to deny a special exception simply bc it is unpopular.

Buskirk told you very clearly last night about the security. Only Szy seemed interested in actually addressing the issue. Buskirk presented competent evidence that it would be safe and secure. That has not been rebutted by the Township.

jsletvold said...

Hi Bernie: Thank you again for your additional comments, and I see that you also raised some questions to me. Unfortunately, it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the merits of the matter outside of the actual zoning hearing. But I respect your right to have and voice your opinions. ...I am thinking of getting contacts. JRS

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jennifer, I may be living there some day so I want it to be nice.

jsletvold said...

Bernie: As always, I appreciate your humor. Enjoy the rest of the day. JRS

Anonymous said...

Turkish model from Midnight Express?

That would NOT be the Progressive, Liberal way.

Grow up.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I just spoke to Joanne Neno, exec Director of MOW. She tells me MOW is officially neutral w/ respect to the treatment and work release center. Their sole concern is traffic. There is a lot of tractor trailer traffic along Brodhead Rd, and the concern is that poses a danger to volunteers. In addition, she thinks Fritch should be widened.

Apparently Another Racist said...

If Atiyeh had run his scheme through OBMACORN, rehabbing prisoners would be the least of the community's problems. They'd have set him up with a nice Guatemalan pedophile prostitution ring, complete with documentation, tax abatements, and tickets to the next DNC convention!

Hell, our own Senator Bob Casey supports underage prostitution efforts (apparently as a way to create "green" jobs)!

Community organizing is a high calling - and a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

2PM
Re: 10:09 post

Thank you Bernie for taking the time to speak with executive director and informing us
of her organization's stand on this issue, hardly an "in favor of" stand.

noel jones said...

Anon 7:59, I'm going to try to remain calm here. Give me a friggin' break. We in the West Ward bear the burden of your criminals in an ever-expanding jail with a 70% recidivism rate right in the very heart of our neighborhood, which is the most densely populated neighborhood in Easton, and you can't bear to have a rehab facility next to MOW and a doctor's office in an industrial park on the outskirts of town? Have you no shame? Has Bethlehem no shame?

If you'll notice on the interactive crime blotter map of the Morning Call on line, there is as much crime or more in Bethlehem and Allentown these days as there is in Easton. So you are more than content to let us house your criminals, but are too good to house some people who are trying to turn their lives around and REDUCE the demand side of this supply-and-demand drug trade?

Take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself if you're being fair to fight this. Ask yourself if you're part of the problem (a NIMBY) or part of the solution (communities coming together and sharing the responsibility to solve our region's crime problem).

Anonymous said...

Why does everything have to be in Easton? Why is Bethlehem Township so sacred that they can't have a treatment center next to their ticky tacky imitation colonial cracker jack box mcmansions?

Anonymous said...

Why does everything have to be in Easton? Why is Bethlehem Township so sacred that they can't have a treatment center next to their ticky tacky imitation colonial cracker jack box mcmansions?

Anonymous said...

McHale doesn't give a crap anymore about the treatment center or where it is.

Anonymous said...

NorCo MOW may be "officially neutral" on the subject, but it is obvious that fear of the treatment center speculated by Anon 7:59 does not exist within that organization. They are more concerned about truck traffic than minimum-security prisoners across the street. Those inmates on work-release currently leave the Community Corrections Center every day to go to work. They walk through the densely-populated neighborhoods that surround the prison, rides busses to work, work alongside senior citizens and others on jobs in the communities and return to the CCC every night without threatening ANYONE. I'll repeat that this nonsense about scaring off MOW volunteers is a red herring and just another lame NIMBY tactic.

Anonymous said...

Aytieh is victim of discrimination!

Anonymous said...

A victim, I tell you.

The poor, helpless criminals are just victims, too.

Anonymous said...

Since ohare has become a fluff blog will you get to read this/ who knows?

The problem with the Treatment Center is that it is a fraud. Mr. Buskirk has told folks privately that this is a really dumb place to put the Center and it will really be a strain. Why do you think Stoffa schuffled him out. Also I love how the so called West end of Easton expert claims that it is terrible to have a work release facility in that area with the folks walking around and such. Then goes on to say how harmless this Center would be in Bethlehem Twp., make up your mind sparky.

This is a deal done for Atiyeh and the company that will run it by Stoffa. Why did atiyeh help big time in Stoffa campaign in 05 and 09.

This will quickly morp into an overflow prison were more than treatment will occur. Any type of prisoner will eventually wind up there. They will walk with your kids to the local bus stop. Their friends will case your houses while they drive to pick up and drop off their croonies.

Finally, isn't it the height of hypocrisy that ohare will defend the indefensible with Tony Phillips and even deletes non fluff comments yet will allow the total BS about this wonderful facility being sold as something it is not.

By the way, the President Judge that was opposed to the deal with Lehigh county is gone. The door is very much open but the stubborness of Stoffa and maybe a few other reasons between him and Atiyh have stopped that dead, stop blaming the courts since that is no longer true and you know it. Another words stop lying ohare. You are a troll on your own blog.

Anonymous said...

The Atiyeh-Stoffa connection has a bit of an odor.

Anonymous said...

Major league odor!

Anonymous said...

Good. Nazareth is a good location. They can learn to play guitar while in the slammer.

Anonymous said...

Seriously. Why not in the Slate Belt or some other place in the sticks?

Bernie O'Hare said...

The comments at 6:61 & 8:13 are anonymous personal attacks, which I do not tolerate on my blog. They are also full of blatant lies.

There is no Stoffa-Atiyeh connection. The candidate who Atiyeh financially supported in '05 is Lamont McClure, who opposes the treatment center. In '09, Atiyeh may have supported Stoffa, but it was completely unauthorized. Stoffa refused all contributions.

I do not know what Buskirk says privately. I do know that he is a class act who did not deserve the nasty treatment he got from Gary Brienza. I suspect Buskirk would not openly advocate something publicly that he does not also suppport privately. He is now a non-exempt employee, and has much more freedom to say what he thinks, but his testimony last night supported the plan in Bethlehem Tp.

As far as the judges are concerned, I can only go by how Jim Onembo presented the situation to a county council committee several months ago, and this was after McFadden had become PJ. He made it clear that the court would prefer a treatment center in the county. Although I think judges have no businesses designing courthouses, I do think they are entitled to great deference when it comes to the handling of prisoners. If I misunderstood Onembo, I'm sure that will eventually be known, but I don't think I misunderstood him.

I have no objection to moving the jail and county offices to Nazareth, the geographic center of the county. And that Bethlehem Tp location is essentially in the sticks.

Dave said...

The Slate Belt would welcome it! The Majestic building is perfect and empty. NH county will have to build to suit themselves and give up the rental idea. Even if there is no tie to Atiyeh..it looks and smells wrong all the same. I know they want to save money by leasing but this may not be the way to go about it.

Anonymous said...

Very dumb idea from a dumb administration.