This year, instead of running for Mayor against Donchez again, Reynolds will be supporting him. He's also introduced a 37-page Bethlehem 2017 proposal. He presented this ambitious, eight-point good government initiative at Town Hall yesterday, before a small crowd of supporters that included Bethlehem School Board President Michael Faccinetto and School Director Dean Donaher. Council members Michael Michael Colón and Shawn Martell were there, too.
"If I was going to run for Mayor, this is the stuff I would want to run on," he said. "Why not take this opportunity to work with Bob and work with other people. He said people are "sick of campaigns" and "want to see government work." That's what he intends to do. He pointed out that Bethlehem's focus in recent years has been finances, a subject that was pushed on to the front burner when Bethlehem Steel closed down. But as time has gone on, he thinks it's important to focus on other issues as well. The nine-year Council member noted that people are frustrated with their local governance, and that it's time to take action that includes a big public component.
1) Climate action plan. - In 2006, the Lehigh Valley Mayors John Callahan, Sal Panto and Edwin Pawlowski signed a climate protection agreement to reduce their carbon footprint in city-owned properties by about 20%. Bethlehem achieved that goal, and Reynolds believes it is time to move forward. He proposes this year as a year of study in which to decide on additional steps, along with heavy public involvement. He said the City should lean on its underutilized Environmental Advisory Council. "This is right up their alley," he said.
2) Open Bethlehem. - Reynolds noted that the City has a great deal of internal data that should be shared with the public. He said citizens and local colleges can look at the data and develop applications for it. The use of open data could start with potholes or snow plowing, but basically can be expanded and lead to greater citizen participation. It can provide information about crime, health, transportation, budget, city planning, GIS, education, permits and virtually all information that is not protected by confidentiality.
3) Expanded use of social media.- Just as Open Bethlehem would be a way for Bethlehem to provide data to the citizenry, the expanded us of social media enables citizens to engage government. Bethlehem township has embarked on an ambitious effort touse social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat to communicate with citizens.It also is using Nixel to inform residents of weather conditions,accidents and road closures. The use of these social media sites is all the more imperative as daily newspapers provide less and less coverage of local government. Most citizens,especially the young, now get their information from the Internet and social media. When government uses social media effectively, and engages the public, it is more efficient and accountable, Reynolds claims. "The thing people get most frustrated about on any level of government is when you can't give them an answer."
Though I completely support this idea, it is as an in-house idea. In the audience was George Wacker (the Lehoigh Valley with Love blogger),who was hired by the Bethlehem Area School District last year, and at $2,000 a month, to give the school district a social media presence. The last thing government needs is a hired gun to tell the public how great it is. This function should be strictly in-house. If city officials are unsure how something works, they should ask one of their grandchildren for help, not some paid propagandist. I admire Wacker's blog and humor, but question whether he is licking his chops to get a chance to be Bethlehem's spinmaster.
4) Financial Accountability Incentive reporting (FAIR). - Reynolds acknowledged the widespread public perception, one shared with this writer, that tax incentives provided to developers create an unfair playing field in which the City, as opposed to the market, picks winners and losers. Reynolds is opposed to ending them because they are offered everywhere. He instead is proposing an ordinance in which citizens will get answers to the question whether a developer is really doing what he promised. Reynolds credited Philadelphia council member Helen Gym, who managed to get similar legislation enacted in September. "We'll see which programs are working and which programs are not working," said Reynolds.
5) Campaign Contribution Limits.- In addition to posting campaign finance reports online, as currently is happening, Reynolds proposes campaign contribution limits. His proposal is undergoing legal review. Instead of setting up an ethics commission to enforce violations, Reynolds would use the courts. An aggrieved party could file a complaint.
6) Northside 2025.- Calling neighborhoods "the backbone of our City," Reynolds proposes using LERTA funds and private contributions to revitalize neighborhoods on the northside, similar to a similar program on the South Side. He would also lean on Moravian College, with the goal of improving neighborhoods.
7) Parking Authority Revenue Re-Investment. - Acknowledging that no entity is despised more than your friendly parking authority, Reynolds wants to take some of the revenue generated to improve areas where parking meters are in place. The money would provide streetscaping, landscaping and other improvements.
8) Community policing.-Though Bethlehem has a community-minded police department, Chief Mark DiLuzio would like to see it increase among the 154 police officers. Reynolds would want a community discussion to see what is working and what is not. What works will be implemented in 2018.
"It's a vision," said Reynolds. "It's a vision about what Bethlehem can become." But he noted that he is essentially setting up a conversation in which everyone will participate. He acknowledged that he's learned over the years that it's important to get input from everyone.
Willie has also created Bethlehem 2017 as a webpage, so that you can offer your insights there.