A transition in government

Over the course of the past month, Bethlehem Town Hall has been relatively busy early in the morning.

A group of community stakeholders, including residents, town and Bethlehem school district officials have been meeting each week as part of a 2012 Transition Committee.

The meetings, which are open to the public, have included discussions about major issues such as budgeting, ethics and economic development.

At a meeting held Dec. 20, committee members tackled issues surrounding another major point of discussion in the town – open space.

The committee was organized by Supervisor-elect John Clarkson, who sat at the front of the room during the recent meeting and gathered input from committee members and residents inside the Town Hall auditorium.

“I think there is an emerging consensus that we should look again at the comprehensive plan. That certainly doesn’t mean abandoning it,” said Clarkson.

The issue of open space was significant in this year’s campaigns for town offices. Views regarding the town’s involvement in protecting open space were front and center during the debate in early 2011 over the town’s interest in purchasing the Normanside Country Club. Some have questioned whether the town should spend its limited resources to keep open space.

“We don’t really have any revenue sources to involve here,” said Clarkson. “Hopefully, what we can do will be based on what we have now.” He went on to say that if the town could find a major revenue source – perhaps from government modernization – then that money could possibly be used for open space.

While the hour-long meeting included a number of discussions, the end result was a realization of a point that often lingers over the open space debate in Bethlehem.

“The tension is between those who feel that the government should stand back from it, and those who feel that it should be totally involved. I think we’ve got to find the reasonable ground between those two opposing viewpoints,” said Clarkson.

In the near future, the committee will meet on matters such as senior issues, shared services and town governance.

“It’s really helping to create a big-picture policy map of what we need to look at and what’s important,” said Clarkson. “It’s also helpful to have this communication among all these members, because some are experts in some fields and not in others, and having the discussion spread out through the community to the audience that comes, that’s very useful.”

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