Bethlehem Press

Monday, June 25, 2018

Getting things done?

Monday, July 10, 2017 by MICHELLE MEEH Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Little progress made advancing ethics proposal

It took a little patience, but one member of the public got the update he requested on the proposed ethics ordinance under discussion by city council.

During the public portion of council’s July 5 meeting, Allentown resident Robert Trotner asked for a status update on the ethics ordinance. The proposal was brought forward by council members Olga Negron and Michael Colon in January and has been discussed at two committee of the whole meetings, however it has not yet come to an actual council meeting for a vote.

Council President J. William Reynolds informed Trotner that at this point there are “several legislative options” but then refused further questions, stating that the public portion of the meeting was not meant for a give and take but rather for the public to speak. “You have the remainder of your time,” he said. “These are the rules of city council.”

Reynolds did state that no amendments to the proposed ethics ordinance were proposed during the June 26 committee of the whole meeting but added, “the authors of the bill still have options.” When Trother asked about the council solicitor’s view, Reynolds again cited the council rule not to engage in back and forth with the public but rather to allow people to speak. “I’ll just stand here,” Trotner said, and used the remainder of his time to stand silently at the podium until the clock ran out.

But patience remains a virtue.

Directly after the public comment portion of the agenda is old business. Negron spoke up to say she had discussed the proposed ordinance with council solicitor Jack Spirk. “We were both in agreement we were not on the same page,” she said. Negron wanted council to consider the proposal as presented.

Reynolds said the recent committee of the whole meeting was an opportunity for Negron to make any changes or amendments to move the draft forward. He said the majority of council appears more comfortable addressing various components of the proposal as stand-alone ordinances, rather than as one comprehensive bill.

“I didn’t have any amendments to make. I like it the way it is,” Negron said. She moved to schedule another committee of the whole meeting, but that idea was voted down 5-2, with Negron and Colon in favor.

Council member Bryan Callahan said “everybody is in favor of ethics” but said the proposed ethics committee would duplicate efforts by the state ethics board. Other areas covered by the proposal, for example contracts, are already subject to scrutiny. City contracts over $50,000 must come before council, while contracts for lesser amounts still have to go through department heads and be reviewed by the controller and business administrator before approval. “That’s a lot of layers of vetting,” he said.

Breaking up larger topics into smaller ordinances is not new, said council member Eric Evans. He said similar procedures were used with comprehensive topics such as zoning and budgets. Ethics is “too big and too complex,” he said.

Council member Shawn Martell said, “The point here is to get things done” and breaking up the proposal into individual topics may improve chances of passing ethics reform.” Council member Adam Waldron agreed that breaking up the proposed ordinance would make the process “smoother and easier to do.”