City Council members discuss a resolution to limit public comment to citizens and taxpayers April 2 at City Hall. The resolution was tabled with a 4-3 majority vote. (Grace Roche/B&W Staff)

City Council tables public comment limits


Bethlehem’s City Council is no stranger to long-winded meetings, but discussions surrounding a resolution for a ceasefire in Gaza have prompted extensive public comment this year. 

At a March 15 meeting, where calls for a ceasefire lasted past midnight, the council adjourned before voting on scheduled agenda business

Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith submitted a resolution March 12 calling for limits on public comment to allow only citizens and taxpayers of Bethlehem to speak during council meetings. 

A move to table the resolution was put to a vote on April 2 and passed with a 4-3 majority. During public comments, over a dozen people spoke about the resolution. 

A few supported the resolution due to the length of prior meetings and the council’s inability to vote on city business.

The majority urged the city council to reject Crampsie Smith’s resolution. They said the resolution limited freedom of speech and was vague about the definitions of citizens and taxpayers.

Gazal Jabir, an Allentown resident who spoke during the meeting, said the resolution was an attempt to silence people’s voices. She said she, along with others, would speak against it again if there was another vote.

“It’s counterintuitive,” Jabir said. “They say, ‘Oh, let’s focus on the issues that affect Bethlehem citizens.’ But the more that you try and ignore people and push people out, the more that you’re bringing in a larger audience.” 

Speakers also noted how interconnected the Lehigh Valley is and said people outside Bethlehem should be allowed to comment on topics that affect them.

Many attendees were under the impression the resolution would force speakers to state their address at the beginning of their comment and would strictly bar non-residents from speaking. Crampsie Smith said if the resolution did pass, it would mainly operate on an honor system, as there would be no action taken to verify if someone qualified to comment. 

She also said those who do not live in Bethlehem, but pay substantial taxes, would still be free to comment. She said the word “taxpayer” is a broad term that includes entertainment tax on tickets for events in Bethlehem. 

Councilwoman Rachel Leon said she moved to table the resolution because she was uncomfortable with the terms in it and said it conflicted with her stance as a “free speech absolutist.”

“I would just prefer to table it to have further conversations,” Leon said. “I think that tabling it gives us a chance to talk more about our rules, how we want to see things going forward. It is, like I said in there, it’s messy, but it’s supposed to be messy.”

While the resolution was tabled, Council President Michael Colón said he thinks it is still important to ensure city council meetings stay on track so they can vote on important items on the agenda. 

During the deliberation, some council members suggested alternatives to Crampsie Smith’s resolution. Some ideas to ensure council members still have time to vote on agenda items at future meetings include shortening the time people can speak from five minutes to three, or moving that section of the agenda to the end. 

“At the end of the day, the majority of Council thought at least for tonight, that this resolution was not the solution,” Colón said.

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