Lehigh Commissioners extended the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. They emphasized that this approval has no effect on citizens and is not related to the state Department of Health’s guidelines. It only affects internal operations of the county, according to commissioners.
During the public comment phases of the regular meeting Sept. 9, a resident called into the remote meeting with a complaint about what she described as excessive noise at Jordan Creek near the Lehigh Valley Zoo, a popular place to picnic and wade in the shallow water of the creek.
She complained that vans full of people from New Jersey and New York were making too much noise.
“It is not tranquil, not quiet,” she said. “Tell me what we can do.”
Stephanie Lynn also complained of the “party atmosphere” at Jordan Creek caused by people from “outside” and of “nightmare parking.”
Dr. Hasshan Batts, a leading community organizer in Allentown, called in to urge commissioners to keep focus on public safety by being cognizant of the need for violence prevention, working to reduce recidivism or released convicts being arrested again for other charges and jailed again.
He also called on the commissioners to “Make phone calls and visitation affordable.”
Batts works to curb violence in Allentown. He is with the nonprofit Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley.
Criminal Defense Attorney Ettore “Ed” Angelo spoke after Batts and continued the plea for change in Lehigh County’s justice system. He complained of problematic visitation rules and what he called “de facto solitary confinement” in the county jail.
“These are somebody’s children,” said Angelo as he called for compassion as the Lehigh County Commissioner’s consider the up-coming budget discussions.
A major concern for Angelo was that the Public Defender’s Office is underfunded compared to the office of the District Attorney.
Allison Mickel also called for the Commissioners to “align your values with your supporter’s [values]” when they consider the budget. Mickel claimed that Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate in the U.S.
PrisonPolicy.org lists Pennsylvania as having the 22nd highest incarceration rate. It lists Oklahoma has having the highest incarceration rate. The website compares incarceration rates from around the world. Hawaii has the lowest incarceration rate according to the website.
“Compared to the rest of the world, every U.S. state relies too heavily on prisons and jails to respond to crime,” according to PrisonPolicy.org.
Jon Irons of Bethlehem called in his comments to the Commissioners saying that the Lehigh County District Attorney’s “values are not in alignment with our values.” He called on the Commissioners to use “due diligence on the budget” and to “look at the money going to jails.”
In July, Irons attended a Bethlehem City Council meeting and called for the defunding of the Bethlehem Police Department.
Executive Director of the Community Action Committee Lehigh Valley Alan Jennings called on the commissioners to not “leave people behind” to “not turn our backs on despair.”
Other speakers continued to ask the Lehigh County Commissioners to use their budget powers to re-align priorities within the county’s criminal justice system.
“The budget kills long before the bullet gets there,” said Rodney Be who said he had “recently lost [his]baby brother” to violence.
Commissioner Nathan Brown said, “We have got to watch out for people in their time of distress. The state has closed a lot of the mental health [facilities] and now we have correction officers who are supposed to one job, who are now trying to figure out what’s wrong with a person. The state needs to pony up. It needs to come to the table, look at our mental health issue and not give it to our jails.”
“I know the recidivism rate is terrible,” said Commissioner Dr. Percy Dougherty. “Something is wrong.” He recommended more training programs for inmates. He said that if the warden for the jail needs more money, she should ask for it.
He also told the people supporting budget realignment that the Commissioners “can’t tell the District Attorney or the President Judge how run their operations. We can only work with them and try to have them change their budget.”
Former Lehigh County Commissioner and Dean Browning called in to the meeting to press the Republican talking point which alleges potential for fraud with mail-in voting. “Will there be extra staffing to review signatures on ballots and registration [documents]? Who is verifying the signatures?”
Browning lost the last primary election to Republican Lisa Scheller who is running against Democrat Susan Wild for U. S. Representative.