Allentown City Council approves amended budget but mayoral veto is possible


ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Allentown City Council sent a proposed budgetary transfer back to committee for greater scrutiny.

Mayor Ray O'Connell’s administration had requested that $100,000 dedicated to "arts space economic development" be transferred within the city's financial line items so the city could hire an outside firm to "manage the new public art and activation program," according to Daniel Diaz, the city's business development manager.

The program was developed by the Allentown Arts Commission, in collaboration with the city's Community and Economic Development Department.

"We believe this will elevate the art within our neighborhoods," Diaz told the council during Wednesday night's meeting.

The third party would "handle third party calls to solicit proposals" and manage the installation of the art, along with granting permit approvals, he said.

Councilman Courtney Robinson questioned the move's transparency. He noted that "as of 2 o'clock this afternoon … the only thing on the (city's) website was Resolution 77 itself" and not the actual RFP.

Given that the RFP was not posted for the public, Robinson made a motion to send the resolution back to the Community and Economic Development Committee for review at an Oct. 9 meeting.

"It is a radical program change with how we deal with art," Robinson said. "… I think having public comment, public input and making all of the information available to the public prior to doing it is useful."

Controller Jeff Glazier supported Robinson.

"I think Mr. Robinson makes a reasonable request," Glazier said. "We need to be careful with how we spend the public's money."

Diaz did not agree with Robinson's request and asked the council to vote. To support his request, he noted that the arts commission meetings were open to the public.

"I think (the process) was pretty transparent. … The quicker we can move on this now, the quicker we can hit the ground running," Diaz said.

Robinson found Diaz's response lacking.

"Yes, while the arts commission and the arts committee are public and they represent the arts community well, the arts community are not the only taxpayers putting money into this project," Robinson said.

Councilwoman Candida Affa also questioned the immediacy.

"Waiting two weeks isn't going to make a difference," she said. "… Let's make sure we have this right and have the public opinion."

Robinson agreed, and went further.

"Quite frankly, whenever I see someone saying that they can't wait two weeks it makes me wonder if their plan will really hold up to the light of day," Robinson said.

After further debate, the administration backed down and agreed to send the resolution for committee review. A few moments later, the council voted in favor of Robinson's motion.

In other news, two residents of the 2200 block of Tilghman Street questioned the council about parking. The two individuals, Betty Cauler and Bernadette Taylor, were annoyed that they had received tickets from the Allentown Parking Authority for parking in front of their own garages. The residents indicated there were no signs posted on the street that the activity was illegal.

In response, Robinson indicated that that member of the Ridge Avenue Crime Watch had rendered the opposite complaint – that the ordinance had not been enforced enough. The councilman added that city council cannot make ordinances specific to neighborhoods.

"We have to make laws for the entire city," Robinson said.

He requested the city's streets department investigate their situation.

Cauler and Taylor also received advice from Affa, who told the women, along with another individual in attendance Wednesday night who also resides on their block, to "fight the ticket in court."

President Roger MacLean was absent from Wednesday night's meeting.