Editor, The Spotlight:
On May 22, in an article entitled “IDA Signs off on Vista Tax Break,” the Spotlight Newspaper reported that the Bethlehem IDA (BIDA) board decided against using the Town’s webcast system to transmit their meetings over the Internet and will not create a digital copy of meetings for public access. The report stated that the BIDA board, “… opted to not begin webcasting their meetings, arguing it might limit open discussion.”
Public officials who believe in open and transparent government might feel the hair on the back of their neck stand on end when reading about the BIDA board’s decision. Their action was taken despite the fact that the Town has spent a considerable amount of money on webcasting technology to ensure open and transparent access to deliberations. It should also be noted that currently all other governmental boards within the Town of Bethlehem use this webcasting, and recording technology to provide residents with access to deliberations. It would appear from their statement that the BIDA board prefers to operate behind closed doors with minimal public scrutiny.
At the urging of some political leaders, the BIDA board has made some questionable decisions regarding tax abatements at the Vista Tech Park. These abatements were awarded for the purpose of assisting the developer sell his commercial space, not on the economic merits of the application. The result is that, contrary to their published guidelines, BIDA has awarded 100 percent property taxes abatements to a grocery store, two bank branches and a largely vacant building. Unfortunately, the same political leaders who have urged BIDA to approve these developer tax breaks have chosen to remain mum on the issue of BIDA transparency.
Bethlehem residents do not select the members of the BIDA board and we have minimal influence over their decisions. That responsibility falls to the elected officials on our Town Board. I believe the Town Board must require the BIDA board to provide better access to information regarding their deliberations and to implement greater oversight. We should expect that the interests of our elected and appointed officials rest primarily with the taxpayers and not with the developers. The content of the BIDA board’s discussions should not be hindered by who is or isn’t watching.
John H. Cunningham