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.