Northampton County Executive John Brown presented himself as an upbeat guy Monday night, whether faced with a multi-million-dollar deficit or only a small number of people showing up for his town meeting in the heart of Bethlehem.
Only 14 people were in the audience inside Studio A of PBS39, where seats had been set up for 50.
That audience included two county department heads, a couple of county employees, five journalists and several representatives from Sahl Communications, the county’s public relations firm.
Most of the questions were asked by one reporter, making it seem more like a news conference than a town meeting. But no one else had their hand up to speak.
Brown wrapped up the meeting in less than 45 minutes, after asking if there were any other questions or comments and being met with silence.
The TV station is at the SteelStacks entertainment venue along First Street, which was closed to traffic.
While SteelStacks was practically deserted, the location may have deterred county residents who might have wanted to attend but were unfamiliar with that part of Bethlehem.
The TV station was not visible from the nearest public parking lot and no signs directed the way to it.
Despite being held in a TV studio, the meeting was not televised.
It was Brown’s second town meeting since becoming county executive in January.
He plans to hold four of them this year. His first was in April in Bangor, where he was mayor before being elected county executive.
The third town meeting will be 6:30-830 p.m. Sept 29 in Easton City Hall and the fourth will be 6:30-8:30 p.m. Nov. 24 in Palmer Township Library.
At the end of Monday’s meeting, Brown said he’s grateful any time somebody shows up to listen to what he has to say.
“Whether it’s one person or 40 people, I don’t think we could do this enough,” he said. “It’s important to get the information out.”
He noted it is July, so many people are on vacation, and it was raining shortly before his 6:30 p.m. meeting began, which might have kept people home.
Brown said the meetings are being held “to get me out of my office and get me in front of the people that matter.” He’s said he’s there to serve taxpayers first, the county’s 2,200 employees second.
He sees the town meetings as his educational effort to help people understand what county government is all about, saying when campaigning last year he learned many people really don’t understand it.
“We exist for one reason – to be a service provider,” said the executive.
He indicated that includes the court system, the jail, services for children and youth as well as those with drug and alcohol problems “and a whole gamut in between.”
He said the objectives of his administration include operating the county as cost-effectively as possible, while providing services as effectively as possible, and keeping taxes as low as possible.
Brown said the ultimate measure of success for him is how well taxpayers are served when they go to the county for help. “Were you taken care of in a way you expect? Because, ultimately, you’re paying the bills.”
Brown already anticipates a budget deficit in 2015 – meaning the county will spend much more than it takes in.
“2015 is going to be a tough year, but I knew that coming in the door, when I ran for the position,” predicted the executive. “The future is bright; the immediate term is going to be difficult and tough.”
After the meeting, he said raising taxes would be a last resort to tackle the anticipated budget deficit.
With Brown were Diane Donaher, the county’s economic development director, and Luis Campos, its administration director.