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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, October 06, 2017

Upper Nazareth Residents Say No Jail at Gracedale

Ryan Woodmansee
Upper Nazareth Township residents upset at the prospect of a new jail in their back yards have mobilized. In five days, #NoJailatGracedale has collected over 1,000 signatures in opposition to any new jail at Northampton County's Gracedale campus. They were at Upper Nazareth Township's Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday night. Last night, 12 Eagles Landing residents let Northampton County Council know how they feel.

Though both Council and Executive John Brown have been tight-lipped about it, discussions about a new jail began a year ago, following a presentation in which Corrections Director Dan Keen called the current facility "a beast."

At that time, Administrator Cathy Allen said the County is very serious about a new site, and hinted that "some of the people we need to be in our corner will be in our corner." Bob Werner added, "There are people we have met with in the past that have changed. Positions have changed."

Mat Benol - Objections just  "political fodder"
In the past year, by his own admission, Brown has visited about a dozen different locations for a new jail. He has declined to name them, but has ruled out Easton. He said the costs of building a high rise there would be "exorbitant." Possible sites include Bethlehem's industrial park near Hellertown Road, Wayne Grube Park, the slate belt and Gracedale. Brown has ridiculed the notion that he visited Wayne Grube Park. But at the same time, he said that county should be looking at properties it already owns.

One of these properties is a portion of the Gracedale campus, located near Eagle's Landing, buffered on three sides by hills. Over the years, it has been discussed as a site for a new jail

Upper Nazareth Township officials say no formal plans have been presented for a jail at Gracedale. Manager EJ Mentry acknowledges contacts with the county, but says there have been no communications within the past few months.

Brown has stated that zoning law rules out a jail at the Gracedale campus. But as Brown undoubtedly knows, the argument can be made that Upper Nazareth's zoning is exclusionary. Though the Zoning Ordinance provides for prisons, it is only in zones where no prisons could ever be built, like a quarry. If a zoning ordinance is determined to be exclusionary, the use must be permitted anywhere. Including Gracedale.

At a prison advisory board meeting in July, Chair Dan Christenson called Gracedale a "great location." Here's an excerpt from the minutes:
Mr. Christenson explained that he believes the valley area near Gracedale would be a great location for a new jail, and he was told a longer than necessary sewer line was installed in the past. [Corrections] Director [Dan] Keen said a site selection has not been discussed from [sic] John Brown, but we have had a group in the jail doing studies to determine exactly what we need. Director Keen said [the current] facility costs us about $115 per day, per inmate. A new facility costs about $67 per day, per inmate. [Prison Advisory Board member Ed] Boscola asked if a new jail would cut out [sic] operating costs in half. Director Keen explained it wouldn't necessarily work out that way because of the need for more officers, based on a staffing analysis. Mr.Christenson asked how much overtime we pay. Director Keen explained the Union Contract dictates we have 1.5 million right off the bat each year in overtime due to the schedule. Mr. Boscola asked if DLR [a prison architect hired by Executive John Brown] would do a financial analysis, staffing analysis, etc. and Director Keen stated yes. Director Keen said they are looking at it from 3 angles and will provide a report when they are done. Mr. Christenson offered the board's assistance when the time is right.
At last night's Council meeting, numerous Eagles Landing residents made clear that Gracedale is far from a "great location."

Attorney Kelly Schreier
When Bob McMahon asked, Council President John Cusick feigned unfamiliarity. "There's been no proposal put before Council," he said, knowing full well that this topic has been under discussion for the past year.

"I understand this is a real concern, and I share your concern, said Hayden Phillips, who lives in Upper Nazareth. Peg Ferraro noted she is opposed to any new jail at Gracedale, not just because of a "not in my back yard" attitude, but for numerous other good reasons. Phillips said he'd share his information with residents. he could start by explaining what Administrator Cathy Allen and Bob Werner meant when they said that some people who at one time opposed a new jail have changed course.

McMahon said he emailed each Council member over a month ago, but heard nothing.

Cindy Lipschutz warned Council, "We are going to fight this and we have the whole community behind us."

Jim Cunningham asked where the feasibility study was. He was told that architectural firm DLR had been hired. "I'm not talking about building, I want to see a feasibility study," he said. He also asked what locations have been visited, and wanted to know if those sites could be listed "before the election."

Instead of answering Cunningham, Benol said that the current jail is a mess. But Cunningham wanted to know if the Easton location has really been studied. "The carriage is getting in front of the horse," he complained.

"It seems like we're pulling teeth here to get answers from Council," said Ryan Woodmansee. He presented a petition with over 1,000 signatures opposed to a new jail at Gracedale. He also disputed Cusick's feigned lack of knowledge about a new jail, referring to newspaper articles indicating clearly that Council is well aware of these plans. "The cloak is off," said Woodmansee. "It's an election year, I'm a Republican myself, but I have no problem crossing party lines come November."

Mat Benol dismissed Woodmnsee's concerns as "political fodder." When Benol stated that this is the first Council that has actually looked at a new jail, Woodmansee noted he has articles from as long ago as 2003 to indicate the opposite.

Julian Kryemadhi told Council that he himself is an immigrant, but knows that the United States is proud of the citizen's right to free speech. In that vein, he asked why Executive Brown deleted a comment on his Facebook page in which Julian merely asked for a new jail update.

Holding her daughter in her arms, Attorney Kelly Schreier said she is "outraged'at the prospect of a jail at Gracedale. "I am also appalled at the lack of transparency and the lack of knowledge that anyone seems to have about this issue. ... Could you please provide some transparency?"

Christine Woodmansee said she and Jenna Hausman introduced themselves as the "two moms" who started the #NoJailatGracedale Facebook page and petition. "We have been on the ground talking to the people of Nazareth who are just outraged about this," said Christine. "People are willing to cross party lines for this. It is that serious of an issue. ... We will hit every single door in Nazareth to make sure we get our point across."

After everyone had spoken, John Brown gave Council and the audience the longest speech he's delivered since he was elected. He failed to address why no new feasibility study is being done, even though there are now problem solving courts and the jail census is dropping. He also failed to list any of the sites he has visited,despite a specific request to do so..

He noted that the zoning at Gracedale is inappropriate, but declined to say whether he has abandoned that site. "Of course, we're going to look at the property we own," he said.

He denied a lack of transparency, saying that it is too early to have a cart or a horse, let alone say that the cart is being placed in front of the horse. He said the process would take four or five years. "It is way too early in the conversation to even be asking those questions," he said.

Brown said that anything that is done, like the hiring if a design architect, would have to be publicly bid. "We're not even sure we could afford to do it," he added. But he said the county does have a responsibility to the jail and the inmates.

He suggested that the public outrage from residents who identified themselves as Republicans is politically driven. "You can conclude for yourself likely how this has gotten started and has gotten inflamed," he said.

Ken Kraft, who supports a jail at Gracedale, attempted to bail Brown out by asking about a morgue.

Then Brown began discussing the county's needs, including toilet paper purchases. "We buy a lot of toilet paper," he said.

I believe him.

"I'm happy to stand on my record, moving forward," he concluded.

Ron Heckman, a former NorCo Council member sitting in the audience, was amused at the discussion. "Every Executive wants to build a pyramid," he wryly observed. "Has he talked to he DA? I have. Has he talked to the courts?" Heckman is running for Council, by the way.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely amazing. The arrogance of these officials is amazing. They stonewall those people, all the while having been aware of what you write. I guess this was the plan that was supposed to stay hidden until after the election. It is understandable that Ken Kraft want's a new prison because it is jobs for his union guys he represents but the others?
How does Werner not tell the people what he knows?

Bernie, I think some of these elected officials are overconfident that all these suburban republicans will automatically vote for them out of some party loyalty without thinking. This jail issue is a big deal and goes beyond party politics. It is sad that Brown and his county council cohorts tried to blow this off as political posturing. You are right in that talk about this prison has been going on for some time and these guys claim they know nothing? Is that being dishonest or incompetent?

These people saw what other people including most employees have seen for four years. A bumbling county executive with secret behind the scenes games and a compliant rubber stamp county council.

Anonymous said...

Where did Brown buy his rubber tape measure? Where did he find 350 acers at Gracedale when there are only 109 acers left? Again Brown talking, when he does not know what he is saying. Thank you brown stain

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

Three off the cuff observations:

I am impressed that the sleeping dog of the voting public is beginning to wake up. Significant if right before the election when people's vote might be more visceral on. If 1,000 signatures translates into a 1,000 votes in a municipal year, that can have an impact.

Its interesting that Kraft (between this and your HR story past week) seems to be falling into the Brown camp, as he and McClure always seemed like strong allies on Council when Lamont was on. Maybe that was just expediency?

As I said a few weeks ago, is a new prison actually needed somewhere? I honestly do not know. However, now that both Dem and GOP administrations have pushed variations of the issue, is there validity to it? But, if there is, then feasilibilty/justification, including location, cost, tax impact needs to be a public and transparent process.

Anonymous said...

This looks a lot like "fake news", a story without many facts, it appears to be an election year smear.

Anonymous said...

We don't need a new jail. Anywhere. Period.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea...lets just wait until the Jail collapses and then build a new one. No one wants a jail in their backyard yet they don't want criminals running around either. I agree with the other poster...a true smear story.

Anonymous said...

I agree totally with 307 am. This a double win for Kraft. He gets to help Brown for his wife's appointment and he gets his fellow union workers a possible job. How nice. Everybody on council sees no evil, hears no evil and knows no evil. Utter amazing!

When a 130 Million dollar prison is approved by council after the election, no matter where they put it, only then will the citizens of Northampton County rise up and demand changes; however, the clueless and reelected county council will say we studied this and this is the most prudent course of action. Bang, a 70% tax increase! At the sin of repeating myself, all these individuals, {Brown & Company and county council}, got to go on election day!

Bernie O'Hare said...

"As I said a few weeks ago, is a new prison actually needed somewhere? I honestly do not know."

That's the most basic question. Of course Keen is going to advocate for anew jail. He likes in hazleton and is not paying for it. But attitudes toward incarceration are rapidly changing, We now have problem-solving courts. The jail census is going down. What is in there has more acute mental health problems. The first and most important thing Brown should be doing,and before anything else, is sitting down with the judges and the DA. They are allin the same damn building so this should not be hard. But Brown has ignored the court and DA,even though they are probably far more knowledgeable on this topic than he. With what the judges tell him, Brown could decide that attempting to sta at Easton is the best option. But he would rather spend $78,000 in taxpayer resurces for a consultant than talk to the people there. He really does lack transparency.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"This looks a lot like "fake news", a story without many facts, it appears to be an election year smear."

Like authoritarian Donald Trump, you call news you don't want to hear "fake." There rality is that a dozen jail sites have been viewed, and Gracedale is very much an option. The Upper Nazareth zoning could easily be challenged as exclusionary. Council pretended it knows nothing, but is privy to conversations that seem to me to be about Gracedale.

Anonymous said...

Brownstain or McClueless either one, we still lose.

Anonymous said...

A new prison in Northampton County dates all the way back to the late 1970'S to the early 1980'S. Then....Council President Ralph Hartzell was promoting a new prison and guess where he wanted it? The State was going to abandon the "Old Folks Home" (later known as a Juvenile Center) in East Allen Township along Weaversville Road, and he wanted the County to build the new prison at that site. Instead, the present prison was added onto and then in the early nineties the County again expanded the prison and built a new Work Release Center.
The logical place for a new prison is at the present site. Tear down the existing facility, temporarily house the inmates off campus (like Lehigh County did), and rebuild a facility at the present location.
By the way, did anyone take the time to check (title search) the present deeds of the properties the County owns to see if building a prison on those lands is an approved use? I could be wrong, but I believe "The Wayne Grube Park" which was purchased by the State must be used for farmland or passive recreational purposes.

Anonymous said...

While the cost of property for and construction of a new Jail are extensive, when amortized over 20 years they are secondary to the Personnel and Benefit cost on an annual basis.

WHEREVER BUILT a modern pod style jail will save the County Significant Personnel & Benefits cost because they significantly reduce the Correction Officer to Inmate Ratio by minimizing the movement of the inmates through the jail. Each pod will hold a large number of inmates, say 60-70 with only one or two Correction Officers. The food is brought into the pod rather than moving inmates 3 times a day to a mess hall.

HOWEVER approximately 60% of PA County Jail inmates are awaiting trial or awaiting sentencing, which means they need to be transported to and from the Courthouse periodically or regularly. This movement requires Deputy Sheriffs.

THEREFORE, if the new Jail is ADJACENT TO the Courthouse it minimizes Sheriff Personnel, Benefits & Transportation costs. IF located REMOTELY it significantly increases the Sheriff’s Personnel, Benefits & Transportation costs. These costs need to be included in any final analysis of location decision making.

Anonymous said...

This seems to fit the grand scheme. The prison has been talked about for the gracedale location for a few years now. Nazareth has finally got a fulltime police dept. They just completed a new ambulance bldg. with easy access to gracedale complex. Upper and Nazareth PD work hand in hand daily as well as the two fire depts. The county wouldn't need to buy land and the upper zoning is a no brainer. The area seems to be gearing up for it already. I'd say it is a done deal behind closed doors. Buisness as usual in this part of the county.

Anonymous said...


Bernie O'Hare said...

My impressions of U Nazareth and Nazareth are totally different. I consider U Nazareth Tp to be totally transparent and believe they will fight a jail at Gracedale. But the Naz borough council has a member who wanted police to tip him off on poker raids and has a former mayor running for council who admitted to skimming from those poker machines. Hopefully, they will have next to no rile in this matter.

Anonymous said...

Might as well build a new criminal court house with a few courtrooms at Gracedale. A couple of million more or less and no add on local income tax for Easton

Anonymous said...

A jail will be built on the land behind Gracedale. Zoning is not a hurdle to stop, PA says you can build what you want where you want, if your pockets are deep enough to sue the local zoning boards for zoning out a use

The Jail will be built on County Land. no matter what they said last night there are at least 4 republican votes plus Kraft and that is all they need to build it.

Anonymous said...

How about repeat offenders and drug deals to the old state quarries? Conditions in new building and present building are Too comfortable thus , don't present themselfs as uncomfortable! These characters that cost us problems don't Evan pay back their fines - a need to disincentives are cheaper than heat and a/c . We should be yelling about these unresponsive characters and not at each out tax payers!

Anonymous said...

Good article. I don't trust these guys one bit. What planet do the county council people live on? Notice the party leadership is already playing the "fake news" angle. Somehow I think that Trumpism is not going to work with local educated republicans concerned about a prison that no one wants to talk about.

Anonymous said...

This is too good. So much time spent on an article just to gain a political advantage for your pals. Don't worry anyone. This is certainly a well written article, but it's fake news. Well done though, Bernie.

Anonymous said...

Behind the scenes research and talk about a new prison by the advisory board, county council members and the Administrative team and that is fake news? Sometimes people are to smart to be hoodwinked. Citizen power is necessary when government official plan in private. They hoped to keep this on the down low until after the election. Sounds like what they did when they sneakily tried to sell Gracedale.
People with family at Gracedale appreciate the work you have done to get this secret out in the open. Lets see how fast they all backtrack and solemnly try to walk this back.

Bravo to the citizens for exposing this story before it was too late.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, see you are being savaged by the party elite. They got caught with their pants down and you are to blame? Doesn't seem like they are stating clearly they would not build a prison near the nursing home. Given the track record of this county council just being a rubber stamp for the executive, I would not have a lot of confidence in their faint denials. Your article reads lie j the council not only stonewalled the residents but patronized the as well.

Did council ever consider pushing the executive for answers? Bernie, doesn't county council have the power to demand the executive bring all the information and players to the table? Seems like they are content to just sit and wait.

Anonymous said...

By law the courthouse MUST be in the County Seat

Anonymous said...

Bernie, the republican hierarchy is already coming up with talking points for the next county council meeting. Been said they are concerned and want to put this issue out of discussion until after the election. Based on their track record, I would be concerned.

Anonymous said...

I would rather have a jail then warehouses all around me and the traffic from that.

Anonymous said...

Mr. O'Hare do you stand by your story? Do you swear it is not a democrat propaganda piece? Can you be trusted? Mr. Werner is not so sure.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I stand by every word I wrote except with respect to where Hayden Phillips lives. He lives in Lower, not Upper, Nazareth. My report concerning what Bob Werner and Cathy Allen said is accurate and can be verified by reviewing the video of that meeting. In fact, I intend to do just that so I can get what every member of Council said tgen.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Philips is stating on Facebook he would not be inclined to see a jail at Gracedale, less than an enthusiastic denial. Ms. Snover then made it clear the new jail has to go somewhere.

I think the fix is in and they want to dampen the fire you exposed until after the election. This entire thing smells. These people caught these guys off guard. They had planned to just sail smoothly back into office while hiding this until after the election.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, did Mr. Brown make sure that the existing prison cannot be fixed or used? It seems that would be the most logical thing to do. I get the sense the decision for a "new" prison has already been made and now it is just a matter of justifying that decision.

Anonymous said...

Is Mr. McLure the most fortunate Executive candidate in along time??? Brown's Boondogle "secret plan" for a New Taj Mahal Prison is such a political gift from the Never-Ready-For-Prime-Time Governance Gang!!! Tax Hikes for Years to Come! A Prison in the "Best School District" (by state standards) of Northampton County....ah the material never ends. Brown is toast if Lamont is simple, strategic and makes the election a referenderum on Brown's secret prison plan guaranteed property tax hike scheme... Lucky Lamont! Republicanss in Nazareth area gonna vote to bounce Brown!

Anonymous said...

It’s 200 years old 9:29

It can not be repaired, the steel is turning into mud inside the walls

Anonymous said...

Keep them scum in Easton where they belong.

Anonymous said...

10:39 nothing like sweet country air to rehabilitate people.

i wouldnt be worried about the prisoners, I would be worrying about the visitors to the prison, who on their way home, case your neighborhood for an easy hit.

Anonymous said...

This is nonsense. How is it Bernie O'Hare's fault if he prints the facts. Werner and his cohorts can cry all they want. A fact is the county council has known about this for well over a year. When questioned they feigned ignorance. That means deceit or incompetence. Neither Brown nor county council has ruled out the Gracedale site, they just fumbled and tried to go around it.

Hayden Phillips, the darling of the tea party crowd, has not said he absolutely against the Gracedale site, he merely doesn't like and doesn't support the idea. Really!! Are the Tea party chieftains that want to dump Gracedale writing that script?
They all want a new jail as they have already made up their minds the existing jail will not be used. This county council loves new buildings and bronze plaques with their names on them.

These citizens did their homework and found out the big untold secret that everyone at the courthouse is already aware of. If they are all re-elected there will be a new $140 million prion somewhere and no one has definitively ruled out Gracedale. Is that because they already have a plan to sell Gracedale nursing home.

Phillips can try and do damage control but he has already misled these people as have the rest of county council. Sadly the republican incumbents take their orders from Ms Snover, their party chair and the tea party leader. She has said the new prison will go somewhere Enough is enough.

Remember, fool you once shame on them, fool you twice shame and you. They played this game with selling Gracedale, do you want to see them play it again?

The only;hy politics here is what the incumbents are trying to sell.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I went back and watched that video from over a year ago again. I am going to do a comparison between what they said Thursday night and what they said then. Council was less than honest on Thursday night.

Anonymous said...

I hear Werner thinks you are a trouble maker.

Bernie O'Hare said...

He's right.

Anonymous said...

Only 40 comments (including this one). Guess a prison will really only have a handful of no’s but a huge amount of yes from the rest of the county electorate. They should put it ion the ballot for the voters to decide if Nazareth is the spot.

Anonymous said...

Nazareth area people are the last to criticize for arrogance and lack of transparency. One end is destroying the police service, the middle ' s majority of elected officials have criminal records, and the top end is high in a corn field picking daisies. At least if the prison is in nazareth loved one can walk to family visitation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Wow! I am sure this disdain for Nazareth are voters is being felt, and I thank you for making clear that Brown has no need of their votes. As NorCo GOP boss Lee Snover has said between Trump rallies, a jail "has to go somewhere."

Anonymous said...

Build the Jail! I and everyone in my neighborhood are voting for the Jail