The one person who demonstrated better than anyone that Allentown government is in total disarray was at City Council's meeting last night by accident. It was their second meeting since an FBI raid on City Hall. The first meeting after public disclosure of the federal investigation was relatively quiet. But not this one. At least 60 people were on hand to chastise and, in some cases, taunt members of City Council. All save Jeanette Eichenwald just sat there, unwilling to say a word. It was almost as though those were their marching orders. Mayor Ed Pawlowski, aka Fed Ed, was nowhere in sight. No one had answers to the most basic questions. But City Council's isolation from the public it is supposed to serve was most apparent as members were unable to do a damn thing for a victim of domestic violence who was just looking for a place where she and her children could spend the night.
|Rich Fegley meditates|
This woman, who was crying as her son and daughter sat there bravely, was lucky enough to encounter Good Samaritan Melinda O'Brien. She spent most of the day phoning all the resources that are supposed to be out there there to help people in crisis situations. The Sixth Street Shelter? Swelter. Salvation Army? Put a nickel in the drum. The Lehigh County Crisis Center could only help if she was crazy and ready to toss herself off a bridge. A young woman did just that a few months ago, after throwing her two year-old son off the Hamilton Street Bridge. Now prosecutors want to help her by putting her to death.
Council members sat there, like deer caught in the headlights, as O'Brien painted a pretty ugly picture of the City Without Limits. Just a few blocks away, $54 million in state tax money has been poured into buildings to turn a millionaire into a billionaire. While the gentry dine on fiilet mignon at Shula's, there's no money to help a mother and her two children who, through no fault of their own, are suddenly without a home.
There was no leadership from City Council, its absent Mayor or a Managing Director who spent most of the evening keeping his head down and trying to ignore everyone. The leadership instead came from the people in that room.
People spontaneously began donating money to help this woman. Don Ringer embarrassed Council into throwing in some of their pay-to-play money. This mother and her children ultimately left with Diane Teti, a tireless homeless advocate in a City where First Lady Lisa McBeth Pawlowski has claimed to have solved the homeless problem.
Like City Council, mainstream news accounts in The Express Times, Morning Call and WFMZ-TV69 are all silent about this woman's plight. Nothing more clearly demonstrates the failure and unresponsiveness of local government and the media that is supposed to be telling us what happens. They have all forgotten why they are there. One attractive young lady with some press organization was actually munching away on her WaWa pizza as the plight of this mother was discussed.
|Lou Hershman wants account number associated |
with payment to Atiyeh
Before anyone got up to speak last night, President Ray O'Connell spent about five minutes going over the rules. Three minutes. Comments to be directed to him. No personal attacks. To be sure you get the message, a timer is displayed on about forty screens as people would begin to speak, flashing as each second slips away. At the end of three minutes, a microwave bell dings to let you know you're done, like a soft-boiled egg.
It's an insulting system designed to chill public comment. While it might be necessary in some instances, there are others in which the public needs to vent. Last night was such a night. That rule could have been relaxed a bit to give speakers like Rich Fegley, who was just getting warmed up at the end of three minutes, some additional time. Other municipalities often vote to extend an additional minute or two.
|Allentown's Iron Lady, Jeanette Eichenwald|
Noting the Mayor's absence, which is usual for him, Diane Teti told Council that he has thrown them to the lions, and should have enough respect for them and the public to be present. Chris Cocca called on him to resign "so that the City can move on and get out from under the cloud."
Don Ringer called on Council members to resign. Two of them received $15,000 from Fed Ed in their City Council races. "Why would you have to get $15,000 for a $6,000 job?" he asked. "Why $12,000 in consulting fees to Mike Fleck? Ethically and morally, I think it stinks."
Tom Hahn sarcastically thanked council for "never being prepared. The only way we are going to move forward is with a new team and a new regime."
Daniella Bart, owner of Allentown's iconoclastic Hava Java, reminded Council, "You're sitting on your seats because of us. We voted for you."
|Michael Molovinsky attempts to smile ... and fails|
The City's controversial. purchase of two properties from entrepreneur Abe Atiyeh last year was blasted by the public and Jeanette Eichenwald, who voted against the purchase. The City paid nearly three times what its own appraiser had told them the land is worth.
"You should be ashamed," noted Rich Fegley, after calling Council a bunch of rubber stamps. "You should all be very, very ashamed." Bill Stauffer added, :"You allowed this Administration to spend windfall money. How dare that happen! You have failed us."
Bonzo Bosco worries that the toxins on the Basin Street property might find their way into the drinking supply.
Jeanette Eichenwald would later note that Allentown's most important resource is its children. Pools and playgrounds are closed. "But we do own $1.4 million land that is not developable, that has environmental concerns, that has toxins on it, and we already own this for a year and nothing has been done. And I sit here, week after week, and I never have seen a plan for this land. When the $5 million was discussed, my colleagues - some of them no longer here, especially Mr. Schweyer and Mr. Schlossberg, - spoke glowingly about how they were going to use this $5 million to improve the life of the citizens of Allentown. And instead, what do we have? About 25% of that money, land, that is environmentally dangerous and obviously doesn't have any purpose. And we own it. Plus, 2 1/2 times above its estimated value.And when we have questions, do we have answers?"
While condemning the Abe Atiyeh deal, Lou Hershman defended Abe's role. "If somebody gives you $1.4 million, you gotta' take it."
|Allentown City Council with timer in background|
Toward the end of the meeting, Jeanette Eichenwald and Julio Guridy sponsored a measure that will require Council approval of all professional service contracts over $40,000. "We're talking about consultants and lawyers," noted Eichenwald.
Other than Eichenwald, not a single member of Council addressed any of the concerns raised by Allentown residents.