Northampton County Exec John Stoffa and developer Abe Atiyeh have teamed up to present a combination treatment center and work release facility, but zoners have adopted a "not in my backyard" approach all along. It makes no difference that the proposed site is in the middle of an industrial park, nearly a mile from the nearest home, and in an area zoned for treatment centers.
Why does Stoffa want this so badly? He answered that himself. "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."
There's another reason, too. Money.
Nearly seventy percent of the inmate population in Northampton County end up returning there, because for too long, they've been warehoused instead of receiving treatment. Stoffa would like to reduce that recidivism, not just because it makes him feel all warm and fuzzy, but because it will save the County money. 67 cents of every real estate tax dollar, whether it's Lehigh or Northampton County, pays for the cost of prosecuting and warehousing criminal offenders. If that number can be reduced, it will ease the burden on taxpayers everywhere, even in Bethlehem Township.
Stoffa would like to close the Civil War era portion of the County jail, which will save oodles of money in overhead for utilities and personnel. In fact, the cost of this new treatment center is expected to be roughly equivalent to the savings realized by that closure.
But Bethlehem Township's zoners have shown an arrogant disdain for the County. Their rejections of the proposed treatment center have been remanded by Judge Franciosa twice. The second time around, he reversed them and approved the treatment center. Their sole function now is the imposition of "reasonable conditions."
I doubt they know what that means.
I've seen this kangaroo court in action twice. What appalls me most is their treatment of Warden Todd Buskirk, who was asked to address security and public safety back in September. Zoner Gary Brienza, who was melodramatically tossing papers and slamming the table all night, decided to cross-examine Buskirk about his 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, which never was a part of the record.
Of course, they also silenced my flipcam.
"Where the hell are 'ya?" a voice message on my cell phone boomed when I stepped out into the muggy Bethlehem air after a relatively pleasant zoning hearing in Christmas City last night. I was driving through Bethlehem streets, ignoring the recently adopted cell phone ban that is supposed to save one life so it's worth it.
The person on the other end? You got it. It was the Northampton County Bulldog. Stoffa finally took the leash and collar off Ron Angle last night, and apparently, it wasn't pretty.
"I've been to over 5,000 public meetings, and I've never seen a bigger circus," Angle told me.
I only got bits and pieces because Angle's cell phones never work right. He drops too many of them in cow shit when he goes out to feed his animals. But between the static, he tells me zoners went into executive session right off the bat. They promised to come out at 7:30 PM, and at 7:40 PM, Angle started pounding on their door.
That angered ther kangaroos, who hopped out of the room with their boxing gloves. Chairman Steve Szy supposedly told Angle (now remember, my sole source is Ron and no one else) that he had thirty seconds to speak, and as soon as he approached the podium, Szy told him he was done. Did Atiyeh threaten to sue them, their wives and their unborn children? Probably. He got to speak, too.
Ron had a good time, and will probably be in a good mood for today's Finance Committee. But to get the real scoop about what happened last night, you're going to have to read The Express Times and Morning Call.
Then Solicitor Larry Fox told everyone that the public should stop coming to their meetings. Huh?
Apparently, some Township Commissioners were present, too, and even thy are embarrassed at the ZHB's arrogance.
I went flying over there, arriving close to 9 PM. But by the time I got there, all I could see was the back room where zoners were discussing their "reasonable conditions." I could glimpse one kangaroo's head. I tried opening the door, but it was locked.
My kind of meeting!