A concerned citizen speaks to the Bethlehem City Council March 19 at Bethlehem City Hall. She spoke of her discontent with how the council is responding to citizens' public comments regarding a ceasefire. (Nicole Hackett/ B&W Staff)

City Council proposes limits to public comments


Bethlehem City Council is considering limiting public comment to Bethlehem residents and taxpayers in accordance with the Sunshine Law in response to a prolonged meeting March 5 that ended with attendees chanting “ceasefire now.”

The Sunshine Law requires agencies, like city councils, to follow the scheduled agenda and take action on agency business in public meetings. It states the public can attend, participate and comment; however, under section 710.1, non-citizens and non-taxpayers have no right to speak during public comments.

The proposal was drafted March 12 by Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith following the March 5 city council meeting. At the meeting, public comments lasted five hours and came to an abrupt ending when many attendees began chanting.

At approximately 12 a.m., the city council was unable to control the crowd. Crampsie Smith then called a motion to adjourn the meeting and the council voted unanimously in agreement. 

Annisa Amatul, who graduated from Moravian University in 2020 and is now a full-time community organizer, is working alongside a friend to bring activists together to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

Amatul said she doesn’t think it’s fair to limit public comment, especially for students in the Bethlehem area and those in the greater Lehigh Valley. 

“We are all interconnected so much, so many of us spend time in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton,” Amatul said. “And it’s not fair to silence those voices whatsoever, especially voices that have been prominent in this community.” 

Due to the extended public comment, the city council was unable to complete their scheduled agenda on March 5. 

During the Tuesday, March 19 meeting, many people voiced their concerns about the proposal to limit public comment. 

Carol Baylor, a Bethlehem resident and Lehigh retiree, has attended and spoken at several of the recent meetings. 

She said while she understands where the council is coming from with the proposal, she is worried about the repercussions of such an action. 

“We don’t want to discourage university students from engaging in local politics and public expression of their political wishes,” Baylor said. 

Following the meeting, Baylor said the comments made by certain speakers inspired her and she opposes excluding non-taxpayers and non-residents from public comments. 

On the other hand, many of the city council members are concerned about being able to address their scheduled agenda, focusing mainly on city operations. Because of the length of public comments on March 12, the council had to go through two agendas March 19. 

“I hate to limit it,” Crampsie Smith said. “But we cannot continue to have what happened at the meeting two weeks ago.” 

Crampsie Smith said she wishes she could do more regarding the conflict, but the bottom line is the city council has no jurisdiction in Gaza. 

“If I personally or professionally could go over there and stop this war, I would be there in a minute, but I can’t,” Crampsie Smith said. “I can’t do that as a person, I can’t do that as a city councilperson.” 

Bethlehem City Council has sent a letter to federally-elected officials stating their desire for a ceasefire, increased humanitarian aid and the release of hostages. 

“We are pushing our federal representatives to do something,” Crampsie Smith said. “I don’t know what more we can do.”  

Since a people’s resolution was passed, Amatul said her goal, and the goal of many other activists gathering for meetings, is no longer to ask the city council to pass a ceasefire resolution. It is now to hold them accountable. 

“They made a promise to us that they didn’t keep, so now we’re at a state where we’re like, ‘no, we’re holding you accountable for your actions,’” Amatul said. 

City council’s next meeting will take place Tuesday, April 2 at 7 p.m. 

The agenda for the meeting will be posted the Friday before, and the proposal on limiting public comments is expected to be voted on.

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1 Comment

  1. Ceasefire group was demeaning & disrespectful to Council members. Many refused to give their address which is required & several should have been cut off.

    Ageee with Crampsie Smith. The question is if a Lehigh student is considered a resident? Certainly aren’t taxpayers.

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