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City Council members J. Willie Reynolds and Eric Evans, both of them teachers, voted against a state pass through grant for the Arts High School at a June 18 meeting. They would rather turn down state money than dirty their hands by giving it to a charter schools.
This is as ridiculous as when Lehigh County Commissioners objected last year to accepting federal block grants for badly needed municipal projects. Thet turned their noses up because we have a national debt and owe China money.
But local officials are elected to serve local interests. County Commissioners and City Council members are not in office to solve the national debt, negotiate treaties with China or decide educational issues. Their job is to bring back as much of the our money as they can that we send to Washington and Harrisburg.
Fortunately, five other members of City Council, including former teachers Bob Donchez and Karen Dolan, decided to represent the City instead of the teachers' union.
So the Charter School for the Arts has a $3 million state grant for its expansion into the arts and entertainment district on the south side. But the City's Planning Commission has thrown up another roadblock. Members Jim Fiorentino, Andy Twiggar and Olga Negron refuse to approve the new high school until they see a traffic study that the school agreed to perform. Never mind that City's own Traffic Coordinator, Tiffany Geklinsky, told this trio that the main purpose of this study would be to set timing for traffic lights. Never mind that Planning Director Darlene Heller hinted that the School agreed to follow all recommendations. Never mind that the School's Executive Director, Diane Labelle, told the Commission that even a 30-day delay could adversely affect the financing for what amounts to a $27 million project.
Earlier in the meeting, Planning Commissioners had no problem recommending a zoning amendment for the expansion of Kirkland Village, based on plans that still don't exist. Planning Commissioner Andrew Twiggar, who teaches Sunday School at the church seeking this zoning amendment, made no effort to recuse himself. No Matter. As a partner in a massive riverfront project located inside the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone, he already has a clear conflict of interest in every matter that comes before the Planning Commission.
Suddenly, the very same Twiggar who voted to approve a zoning amendment for an expansion of Kirkland Village with no plans at all, wanted to delay an arts high school in an arts district for a traffic study that this fledgling school has already agreed to follow completely.
Were these Planning Commissioners carrying water for the teachers' union, too? That's unclear. But their delay, which followed a month of delay because they failed to advertise a meeting, is poor planning. Chairman Jim Fiorentino even warned that it might be difficult to get a quorum together for meetings in July and August.
Is this good planning?
Jeff Parks, the visionary who started Musikfest, has claimed that the arts and entertainment will attract the creative workforce we need to be successful in the future. Mayor John Callahan can rightly take credit for re-energizing the south side with this emphasis. But that won't happen when myopic City Council members and Planning Commissioners represent the teachers' union instead of the best interests of the City.