Bethlehem Press

Monday, October 23, 2017

Article By: Nate Jastrzemski njastrzemski@tnonline.com

Monday, July 3, 2017 by Nate Jastrzemski njastrzemski@tnonline.com in Local News

In a two-hour meeting June 26, during which the same arguments were repeated several times and exasperated residents grumbled in their seats, city council members agreed the much-discussed ethics ordinance proposal, weighing in at 34 pages, is simply too unwieldy to handle as one item.

First proposed by members Olga Negron and Michael Colon in January, the work has been applauded by groups such as the League of Women Voters as a measure for transparency and curb corruptive influences in government.

And while council members said they like parts, they said there are simply too many parts for them all to agree with.

Much of the discussion revolved around just how to tackle an ordinance of such size and whether items already in the works, such as Bryan Callahan’s proposal to disallow gifts to administrators and Shawn Martel’s ethics training, should be pulled under this larger umbrella.

They were not entirely convinced of creating an independent ethics board, either.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli visited council the previous week and said that part of the proposal was redundant and unnecessarily expensive, possibly costing as much as $100,000.

But Negron and resident Breena Holland, a Lehigh University political science professor, argued the county ethics board Morganelli spoke of is concerned only with criminal activity. Holland said, “The state law is flawed,” in that it ignores intent, and she and Negron stressed a city board would exist to stop behaviors before they escalate into such activity.

A similar board in Reading is budgeted at $10,000 a year and last year only used $6,000, they said.

Callahan argued an ethics board is corruptible itself and capable of being used as a political weapon to smear opponents, but was assured by Negron and council attorney John Spirk Jr. the language in the proposal includes confidentiality enough to avoid exampled abuses.

At the end, Callahan was adamant, and others agreed, to pull the proposal into its smaller parts for individual consideration.

Even then, Negron said installing a comprehensive ethics policy in the city may easily take a year or more.