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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, October 20, 2017

Brown MIA For #NoJailatGracedale

Kelly Schreier 
Jenna Hausman and Christine Woodmansee are Nazareth area residents who moved there because they want a safe community in which to raise their children. When they heard that Northampton County was secretly considering a new jail at the Gracedale campus, they mobilized. Two Republican moms started an online petition at Change.org, formed the Facebook group #NoJailatGracedale and then cascaded into a NorCo Council meeting. A dozen residents told Council that "the cloak is off" when Council members pretended they had no idea what is going on. They forced County Executive John Brown, who likes to play his cards close to his vest, to finally rule out a jail at Gracedale. Then on Sunday, in a public meeting at Tuskes Park, they coaxed Brown to pledge there would be no new jail, not just at Gracedale, but on any county-owned park land. They warned him they'd be at Council's meeting again last night.

They came.

Brown was MIA.

Brown is at nearly every Council meeting, so this was a bit odd.

Nazareth area resident Christine Woodmansee provided more petitions to Council. Her husband Ryan said they came two weeks ago to get answers.

"We didn't have many," admitted Council President John Cusick.

"That was apparent," responded Woodmansee. He said that he reviewd the presentation that Corrections Director Dan Keen gave in September 2016, and said it was "disheartening" to see the innuendo about building at Gracedale. "Before, a lot of people weren't paying attention," he admitted. But that's changed. "We'll be here at every meeting. If I can't see a meeting, I'll be watching on the web." He also admonished Council for failing to pay closer attention on something so sensitive as a jail next to a residential community.

Attorney Kelly Schreier echoed Woodmansee's remarks about the September 2016 meeting, when Council knew much more than it knows now. "Some of the comments are quite disheartening," she said. She was appalled at the suggestion that the county hire a lawyer to go up against Upper Nazareth. She also ridiculed Keen; suggestions that the community would benefit from 1,000 people using local restaurants. "One thousand cars going up and down a two-lane street just to visit the Dunkin' Donuts?" she scoffed. "I'm strongly opposed to that."

She was also bothered that Council seemed to know less about the jail two weeks ago than they did last year, when Keen gave his presentation.

The previous day, Brown had presented what he called an executive summary (it was actually a graph) of seven different options for the jail. The graph fails to indicate the sites considered, other than West Easton and the current jail location. My impression is that Brown now favors remaining in place.

But how serious is he? While Brown was speaking to Council yesterday, the State House had just voted to adopt the Administrative Code (HB 118) for next year. That and the Fiscal Code are dark holes where unpopular legislation is hidden. It's where the NIZ was buried a few years ago.

The legislation passed yesterday allows is for an alternative bidding process to be used to either rehab an old jail or build a new one. (Article XXIV-B).

The legislation concerning jail facilities only applies to third class counties with a population between 280,000 and 298,000 as of the 2010 census. That means it can only apply to Northampton or Erie County.

This legislation was reported out of committee and voted on the same day. I doubt that most legislators read it. I am informed that State Rep. Joe Emrick, who opposes a jail at Gracedale, voted No precisely because he thought this could be used for a jail at Gracedale. (I have not confirmed this with Emrick).

A similar bill was adopted by the Pa. Senate on July 27 by a 37-13 vote. State Senator Lisa Boscola voted for it. I am told she is the person who actually proposed this legislation, and at Brown's request, but this is unconfirmed.

"It just seems that comes at a pretty convenient time for something like this," said resident James Cunningham.

Cusick knew nothing about this new law, but Ken Kraft did. "It is basically a law that allows for the P3 to build a jail in a greenfield or an existing jail," he explained. "It was put into the state senate in July and passed by the urging of the county executive, and it came out of committee yesterday on the house floor and it passed. It applies to counties that have exactly the amount of people that we have. The only other county it applies to is Erie. ... So now you can use a P3 to build a prison, which is a public private partnership where they come and build it, similar to our bridge deal."

Cunningham responded that it sounds like a "custom fit for Northampton County, especially applying to a jail over 100 years old."

Peg Ferraro was unable to attend the Tuskes Park gathering on Sunday because of a prior commitment. But she said last night that she has long opposed the use of Gracedale as a jail, gun range or anything other than the cornfields that are there now. "I will fight to the end to make sure no jail is up at Gracedale," she vowed.

Cusick told Eagles Landing resident Julian Kryemadhi that a full report from prison architect DLR will be available by Monday, and Bob Werner called it a "very general statement." Hayden Phillips said the terminology used is unfamiliar to him, so everyone is waiting for a full report.

"It seems like we did have a change of heart," said Kryemadhi, and he thanked those who attended a citizen meeting at Tuskes Park on Sunday. He added that, based on a savings of $6 million per year, the County should be able to self-finance any renovations.


Anonymous said...

Brown was in the Bangor Halloween parade. He was dressed as an executive and looked quite frightful

Anonymous said...

ItS pulling a circus holloween trick of one county to the west! Did he look like Bernies picture of cellmate 26 that looked like a fine young Ladd to be caged with for the festivities as a whole.

Anonymous said...

First world problems.

Anonymous said...

These county council people tried to stonewall these folks, they got caught. Now they are playing defense. Just as he dump Gracedale people waited until after the election to pull heir scam, so it is with the jail.

The incumbents have been instructed to lay low for the next few weeks.

Werner is helping Phillips get elected as he has a beef with the democrats that are running. Apparently, he hates McClure and wants he and the others to lose. He even has some party officials trying to sabotage their campaign.

Nazareth neighbors you must stay vigilant. They still know more than they admit!

Anonymous said...

No jail at Gracedale!! In other words don't trust Brown and his gang!