Jean Belinski: Dedicated public servant
On July 2, before a small gathering of family and friends, former Councilwoman Jean M. Belinski was laid to rest during a brief graveside service performed by Father Anthony Mongiello of St. Anne Catholic Church in Bethlehem. Mayor Bob Donchez and business administrator Eric Evans, both former city council colleagues, were in attendance with Donchez offering his memories and condolences on behalf of the city government in which Belinski served on council for 16 years. She passed away June 28 at the age of 83.
Jean represented everything that is good about elected public service and too often is missing in today’s world. She was not a politician, rather she was a public servant in the truest sense of the word. When she sank her teeth into an issue, she was like a pit bull. She would research and study the issue like few others. Her questions were to the point and she seldom, if ever, danced around to make her case.
If you ever fibbed to her or didn’t do what you said you would do, she would not keep you in her good graces for long. As a former city administrator who interacted with council regularly, I became a very good friend of Jean’s and she of mine. I’d give her the bare truth when she’d have a question for me and she knew she could always count on that. It made us kindred spirits when we were both working on behalf of the residents of Bethlehem.
I was also a regular guest on her call-in radio show “Belinski’s Bethlehem,” which aired on WGPA.
Jean was a defender of Bethlehem’s private solid waste hauling system, an opponent of using trash from the once city-owned landfill to fuel a proposed incinerator, and she was a true watchdog over the city’s pristine public drinking watershed in the Poconos. Her arguments were always compelling and factual when she made her point.
On one occasion, when Jean had been informed by someone living near the Wild Creek and Penn Forest watershed that potential contamination of Bethlehem’s water supply might be taking place, I accompanied Jean and fellow City Council member J. Michael Schweder on a fact-finding mission to verify and photo document what was allegedly happening. At one point, we stopped in the middle of nowhere near a bridge over the Tunkhannock Creek, which feeds the watershed. A road sign at that location was filled with bullet holes and I remember thinking to myself, “What the heck have we gotten into?”
The fact was, Jean needed answers and documentation to get to the bottom of things, and no amount of bullet holes or remote forest was going to deter her. She got her answers and photographic proof.
When I learned of Jean’s passing, I wept. Even though she had been out of the council limelight for several years, I knew Bethlehem was losing a very good citizen, and I had lost a friend for whom I had deep respect.
When I posted on Facebook about it, the expressions of sympathy and testimonials were many. Several former city council members weighed in, noting that despite occasional, or frequent, disagreements, there was always a high level of respect for her.
Even more telling were the messages of sympathy expressed by current and former city of Bethlehem employees. Jean had been a champion for the employees and took their side on a number of issues, always seeking fair treatment for them. She also relied on a fairly large network of employees for inside and sometimes confidential information that could help make her case on a matter before City Council. She would never divulge her sources.
A number of residents also expressed their condolences because at some point Jean had assisted them in some way.
After leaving the burial service at Holy Ghost Cemetery, I drove down Broadway toward a luncheon at the Hotel Bethlehem. I’m sure that this daughter of a solid waste hauler was speaking to me from beyond when a ‘garbage truck’ belonging to one of those private trash haulers appeared next to me. I smiled, knowing how important an issue private trash collection had been to her. I mentally thanked Jean for the reminder.