Bethlehem Press

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Authority’s future in contention

Tuesday, April 10, 2018 by Douglas Graves Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

After hearing in detail vociferous objections to extending the charter of the Lehigh County Authority, the Lehigh County Commissioners, on the advice of County Director of General Services Richard Molchany, passed a resolution to schedule an information-gathering hearing prior to the next regular meeting.

“There are some scary numbers here,” said Marty Nothstein in support of Molchany’s suggestion. Nothstein is president of the Lehigh County commissioners.

“We need to take as long as necessary,” said Commissioner Amy Zanelli. “I’m not going to rush this kind of decision.”

To clarify LCA’s request, LCA CEO Liesel Gross told commissioners that in reality, the so called 50-year charter extension was really an extension of 19 years to the current charter.

Leading the objections to the extension was Joe Hilliard, who presented a litany of reasons why the extension should not be granted.

Among Hilliard’s impassioned allegations was the claim that LCA is “bankrupt.

“Wait for the next audit,” importuned Hilliard. If there is another $10 million loss, we’ll see a pattern. They are digging a financial hole. The solution is that LCA declare bankruptcy.”

Hilliard urged the commissioners to dissolve the LCA and form a new one with “more oversight and control.” If the commissioners fail to do this, Hilliard argued that they bring the water and sewer authority in-house.

Suggesting future legal action, Hilliard said, “We’re going to be pointing the finger at anyone who backs this. Any of you who vote to extend [the LCA charter] will be added to that list of dishonor.”

As a minimum, Hilliard suggested that the commissioners ask the LCA’s board of directors to resign before the commissioners extend the LCA’s charter. He accused the LCA board of directors of “being incompetent, or complicit in a fiscal crime.”

Gross, appearing a second time before the commissioners during the March 28 meeting, countered allegations by Hilliard that LCA is bankrupt. “We’re not bankrupt,” said Gross. “We’ve met all bond payments.”

In another contentious matter, the Lehigh County administration’s attempt to, according to Director of Community and Economic Development Frank Kane, “please” the commissioners by reclassifying the job title and revising the pay sources of Lehigh County Public Information Officer Joshua Siegle led to a series of questions. Commissioner Brad Osborne asked why $25,000 might be moved from the rainy day fund to make up the balance of public information Officer’s $67,725 salary for the year.

Director of Community and Economic Development Frank Kane, to whom Siegle reports, tried to respond to questions about the hiring procedures that were used to hire Siegle as the county’s public information officer.

“Was the position advertised?” asked Osborne. “Were any resumes reviewed? Have we ever treated another employee like this?

Kane responded in the negative.

In the end, commissioners passed a motion to reconsider the bill titled, “Creating a New Job Classification of Communications Manager and Reclassifying the Position of Public Information Officer” sponsored by Commissioner Amy Holt. It will be on the agenda again for the next regular meeting.

This will give the Lehigh County administration more time to prepare answers to questions about the position and how it was filled.

Lehigh County’s personnel policies and procedures rules require that “job vacancies open to the general public shall be filled through open competitive selection.”

In other business, the Commissioners reappointed fellow Commissioner Percy Dougherty of Lower Macungie Township, and Christine Weaver of Catasauqua to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. The commissioners also appointed Michel Gibson of Emmaus planning commission.