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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Allentown City Council Votes To Let Lou Speak, 6 to 1

Two weeks ago, Queen City Daily's relentless blogger, Jarret Renshaw, reported that a citizen had actually been prevented from speaking during Courtesy of the Floor at an Allentown City Council meeting. Lou Hersman, who happens to be a city council candidate, was gagged simply because he happens to be a city council candidate. Because this is such a blatant violation of both Allentown's Home Rule Charter and The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, I went NuTz. OK. More NuTz.

Michael "Muzzles" Donovan, the sole Allentown City Council member within easy reach, took the brunt of my diatribes. But if truth be told, I was pretty rough on all of them, calling them a "group of bobbleheads who tells King Edwin what he wants to hear while denying citizens the basic right to speak."

I was wrong.

Last night, Allentown City Council reversed itself and let Lou speak. More importantly, I noticed they pretty much encourage public comment. They even patiently listened as some looney tune talked about the city owing him money and a collection of dead bodies near his house, after which he ran out of the meeting room.

I arrived a good half hour early, and the place was filling up, Thirty-one people were already in the meeting room, and that number doubled by meeting time. I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly atmosphere before the meeting. I was able to exchange pleasantries with Joe Hilliard, Dennis Pearson, Lou, Julian Stolz, Kim Beitler. Dick Nepon was there, too, all duded up in a very snazzy suit. It was a nice crowd.

I was also somewhat overwhelmed by the cordiality shown by city council members. In addition to calling them "a bunch of bobbleheads," I included my own unflattering depiction of each of them. They were pretty good about it. Tony Phillips came out into the crowd, talking to me and others. Julio Guridy actually introduced himself to me, and we were actually able to banter in French for a few minutes. He asked only that I spell his name right. Jeanette Eichenwald and her husband were very gracious, as always. I even had a brief opportunity to talk to Council Prez Mike D'Amore, who was kind enough to tell me in advance that he would allow me to speak.

Once the meeting got underway, Lou Hershman got up to speak. D'Amore, as he had done two weeks before, shut Lou down very firmly, telling him no one was going to use a city council meeting to wage a campaign. As promised, I objected, citing a specific provision in the Sunshine Act that allows anyone, even nonresidents, to note a violation. I also supplied council members with the pertinent provisions in the Home Rule Charter and Sunshine Act that clearly trump their gag rule.

Amazingly, they listened to me.

Guridy started things off by saying that "Mr. Hershman should have the right to speak, not to make a campaign speech, but if he has something legitimate to say." Then Jeanette Eichenwald simply blew me away. In a single sentence, she said what I've been trying to say for the past week. "Whenever there is a question, we should err on the side of upholding everyone's right to speak to this body." Tony Phillips sided with Guridy and Eichenald, noting "it is important we don't restrict people's right to speech, especially on old issues."

D'Amore and Donovan refused to budge. Schweyer listened.

Members of the public also advocated letting Lou speak. Kim Beitler: "Allow Mr. Hershman to speak." Dennis Pearson: "I believe in open government. As long as somebody behaves, he should be allowed to speak."

Finally, Jeanette Eichenwald proposed a new resolution that allows candidates to speak so long as they stick to old issues, as noted in council minutes, and refrain from campaigning. Dave Howells seconded her motion and frankly admitted "this issue has never come up."

Now Jeanette's motion is still a violation of both Home Rule Charter and Sunshine Act, neither of which allows these restrictions on speech. But her motive was obviously to couch a resolution in language that would assure enactment and allow ALL candidates, including Lou, to speak. When the smoke had cleared, her resolution passed 6 to 1, with Mike D'Amore the sole dissenter. Even Donovan, via speaker phone from Chicago, supported Jeanette.

"Mr. Hershman, you have three minutes," announced D'Amore. "It will take you three minutes to get up here," joked Howells.

When Lou finally got his three minutes at the podium, I'm pretty sure he was campaigning. But it was a victory for open government.

Incidentally, I don't know where the hell the Mayor was last night, but he belonged at that council meeting.

(Blogger's Note: I had to leave at 9:15 PM to write this report, but will have an update about the golf course restaurant later today or tomorrow.)
Update: So What Did Lou Say? Actually, he spoke about transparency in government. First, he mentioned that the 17 member committee investigating the city's financial woes should meet publicly, noting secret meetings are "unfair to taxpayers." Second, he complained about Donovan's supposed campaign contributions committee, which is being formed solely in reaction to a Morning Call news account that cast a public spotlight on Pawlowski's pay to play practicves. Hershman noted that Donovan and Controller Hoffman, both of whom will chair that committee, are "tainted" because they thmeselves are beneficiaries of King Edwin's largesse. He suggesterd that Jeanette Eichenwald belongs on that committee because, unlike the others, she relied on no Pawlowski contributions. It took Lou three minutes. He made his points and democracy was served. That's the way it's supposed to work.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Benie,

Two hours in that room is enough for any sane person.


Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

A victory for the people!

Anonymous said...

Scott-

Nice White T-shirt to appear on Business matters. And a Bolo String Tie?

Wow, how can anyone not take you seriously. I bet you even had on clean underoos!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yeah, we all know that we must pay cvlose attention to people who are well dressed. That must be why Jesus' message failed to catch on. That must be why Lincoln remained in the backwoods.

Anonymous said...

Jeanette Eichenwald . . . "Howellsett"

LVCI said...

Unfortunately from what I've been told, the Mayor seldom appears at these things. Yeah I know they are called 'council meetings', but since there is no such thing as a Mayor's Meetings....

As you look through many other cities' YouTube videos, you will see the mayor seated at these. In some cities they are even televised through the local cable company. Perhaps these do not have a 'Strong Mayor' form of government?

Either way, it sure would be swell to televise these. Hell, on Service Electric Cable even two channels have local HS's own dedicated channels. (Easton HS, Palisades)

Bernie O'Hare said...

When a city council meets w/o its mayor in attendance, it's like a board of directors w/o its CEO. He really needs to be there. A city the size of Allentown needs no $90k managing director. The HRC contemplates that the #2 position should be held by the DCED. With an increase in salary, the mayor should be devoting full time to A-town, not acting as a consultant with other companies.

Let the mayor work a little more for the city and consult a little less for other companies. Eliminate the managing director position and use that $ to hire two cops.

They people elected Pawlowski to manage the city, not some bureaucrat.

Bryan said...

Bernie,
I thought you had to be a resident of the city to speak at city council meetings. I was wondering if you, or anyone, knows if this is true. The only reason I bring it up is because I think you're a citizen of Nazareth? So, would it be ok for someone from say, Allentown, to speak at a council meeting in Bethlehem? Just wondering.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Citizens and taxpayers have the right to speak at a municipal meeting. So ordinarily, I would not attempt to address that municipal body.

But The Pa. Sunshine Act authorizes any person to object to a violation of the Act, and that was the reason for my address. Even boonies from Northampton County MUST be permitted to address that issue.

Also, most municipalities allow nonresidents to speak, especially if they have an interest in an issue under discussion. I will not do that, but will speak about the Sunshine Act bc the law goves me that right.

Steve said...

I loved what you said at city council Bernie! That was great. I gave you an applause that Mr.D'Morre didnt like to much which was my favorite part! Great that Lou got to speak, hes a good guy!

Anonymous said...

Zzzzz

Anonymous said...

Didn't Dertinger tell you you could not speak at a Northampton County Council meeting? How can he pull that off, since you live in the County. Not that it should make a difference.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Steve,

We can chalk one up for good government, and the credit for that goes to a city council that wass willing to listen to a boonie from Northampton County.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 5:45,

He can't. During an exchange, he told me they have no obligation to listen to me bc I own no real estate. Apparently, he only has to listen to the landed gentry.

Jeanette Eichenwald said...

Bernie,

Thank you for appearing at our city council meeting last night and reporting the outcome on your blog. i just wanted to point out that not only did I not accept campaign contributions from the mayor but I accepted no contributions towards any of my political campaigns from anyone- not one cent. Thank you for your comments and keeping us informed.
I look forward to seeing you at future council meetings.

Jeanette Eichenwald

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jeanette,

It is I who must thank you. I really appreciate that ALL of you were so willing to listen to a nonresident and err on the side of the public right to speak, as you so eloquently put it.

I actually regretted leaving before the meeting was over, but had to do so or could never finish a posting about it.

Frankly, I thought all of you were class acts last night. I was also very impressed by the active participation from citizens and your willingness to really listen to them.

Keep up the good work! We need more people like you.

As far as future council meetings go, I'll need a pass.

An Exorcist said...

Bernie, ~~Sorry to go OT...

---

To the annoying blogger:

Please stop sending me emails!

I haven't answered your first dozen emails. What makes you think I am going to respond to the over 200 emails you sent me.

The answer is obviously, "No!" Hopefully that is clear enough.

And, please seek mental help!

~~Alex Joseph

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD teacher here.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Mrs. Eichenwald for her service as Allentown School District board member during the time I worked for ASD.

Talk about a thankless job!

An unpaid, time-consuming position trying to make sense of what is probably the most misunderstood enterprise in America.