The City does have a whistleblower protection policy, but . . .

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Here’s a good review of the latest developments in what Gadfly has been calling the ethics case (see Ethics under Topics on the sidebar for all the posts in this thread):

Douglas Graves, “Conflict with city hall costs Callahan.” Bethlehem Press, December 11, 2019.

———–

So Gadfly has had one eye on the past in this ethics controversy. That is, why did the 3  City employees troubled by alleged official encouragement of inspectors to delay the issuance of permits feel they had to go to Councilman Callahan? Did they not have other options within the City system that might have avoided the “contentious spectacle” that we are experiencing?

As we detailed two posts ago in this series, President Waldron pointed out two options: one through the City Human Resources department, the other the Controller hotline.

And as we also detailed in that previous post, the location of a hotline on the Controller web site is not prominently visible, though a hotline is appropriate there because the Controller is an independent official, a step outside the City structure, and thus, on the surface, a more objective investigator. But perhaps more importantly, the voice record on the hotline might not ensure the kind of privacy essential when it comes to employees reporting wrongs.

Here’s what we’ve been able to determine so far about the City Human Resources procedures regarding whistleblowing:

Whistleblower

This policy applies after the fact of whistleblowing. There is nothing about how to blow the whistle, who investigates the whistleblowing, or how the whistleblower’s privacy is protected.

Important matters.

Thus, as Gadfly noted in that previous post, he doesn’t share President Waldron’s confidence that City structures in place are adequate enough.

So Gadfly’s one eye on the past is simultaneously an eye on the future. (How is that possible silly Gadfly?)

We want to avoid the present spectacle in the future.

So the proper people should be using this occasion to think hard about whether we need some specific policy and practice changes in the City Hall administrative structure.

Now Gadfly’s other eye is on the present and will be looking to see if we learn about new developments at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Will the allegations of an improper slowdown and/or the improper behavior with the Parking Authority be forwarded to the State Ethics Commission? Or is there some plan to investigate them at the local level?

Our ethics ordinance

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Gadfly mentioned in a previous post that the Council ethics link had not made the migration from the old City web site to the new one.

Business Administrator Eric Evans has acted to remedy that situation. The link will soon be restored on the Disclosure page.

In the meantime, a follower provided the missing link.

ethics

Ordinance passed May 2017.

This was the result of a wider Ethics discussion at that time.

Councilwoman Van Wirt (and others perhaps) talked of returning to that wider discussion during election campaign time earlier this year.

Gadfly would look forward to that conversation.

Recent goings on should have put us in the mood.

How would you like to see our elected officials held accountable if you were drafting a new ordinance?

Further thinking on what’s next in the ethics case

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Gadfly’s been thinking more overnight about the next move in this ethics case triggered by Councilman Callahan.

Actually, he’s been thinking about what should have been the first move.

As reported in our last two posts in this series, President Waldron is confident that there are City systems in-place and working for handling whistleblower complaints: one through the City Human Resources department, the other the Controller hotline.

Upon reflection, Gadfly is not so confident as President Waldron.

Gadfly took his public comment time at the December 3 meeting to ask why those three City employees went to Councilman Callahan in the first place, giving him a kind of crisis of conscience that caused his (by his own account) barely suppressed anger at Council meetings that ended up exploding in his November 25 press conference.

Why take your complaint or grievance outside City Hall if there are mechanisms designed to resolve them inside City Hall?

President Waldron didn’t ask that question.

Gadfly’s first impulse was to ask where the chain of events that brought us to this “contentious spectacle” (Barbara Diamond’s apt phrase) started so we could address the problem there and (try to) avoid this public mess in the future.

That’s the kind of guy Gadfly is. Backward looking. Sigh.

So if the whistleblowers had two options besides Callahan, why didn’t they use them?

That’s the question some forward-looking City problem-solver should be asking.

There are two broad answers to that question: either the employees didn’t know about the reporting mechanisms inside City Hall or they didn’t trust them.

All Gadfly can find on the City web site about the Human Resources Department is the list of jobs available, not even the name and contact info of the Head of Human Resources. So no whistleblower guidelines can be found there. But since the web site is aimed at the public that lack might not be surprising. If information for a potential whistleblower exists, it is probably in an employee handbook or manual. Gadfly will try to get a copy. He’s very interested in what what kind of system we have set up, especially who does the investigating and what protections there are.

Now the Controller hotline is, on the other hand, aimed at both employees and the public. And it may be new. The Controller web page says it “is pleased to announce the activation of a hotline,” as if it just happened. And thus, if so, if it is new, can we be sure employees know about it? But if you ask Gadfly, he’s surprised anybody finds the hotline. It feels to him buried on the Controller’s page. Gadfly’s not even sure what a Controller does (joke!) and wonders whether the general public or average employee would ever think to look for it there. More thoughts on this later.

Gadfly wonders if employees are periodically reminded of these two options. They should be.

Now knowledge of the two whistleblower options within City Hall is one thing — but trust in them is another.

The hotline can be anonymous, but you leave a voice message that is kept, archived. But maybe that’s tricky. The City workforce is not all that small — 600+ workers — but maybe small enough for your voice to be recognized. Something to think about.

Perhaps evidence of use of each option would help us think about whether there is trust or not.

Gadfly sees that H.R. operates under the Business Administrator, and, of course, the hot line operates under the Controller. Perhaps this “crisis” time would be the absolute right time to review reports done by these entities on whistleblower cases and hotline usage or to compile such reports if they have not been done in order to evaluate the efficacy of both means of resolving employee grievances.

Some appropriate report to the public of such evaluation of effectiveness could certainly then be done.

to be continued . . .

What next in the ethics case?

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At the December 3 City Council meeting, the Mayor told Councilman Callahan that he would be sending him a letter. Gadfly doesn’t know if that’s been done or not.

(Gadfly’s had his nose in City business for two years now. He wishes people would just automatically “cc:” him on all correspondence and invite him to all confidential meetings.)

But knowing Councilman Callahan’s passion, he’s not going to give up.

So what’s the next step?

Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalics suggests asking the Penna. State Ethics Commission to investigate. Follower Barbara Diamond pointed to that same path during the Q’nA at the Callahan press conference.  Whether that can be done now that the subject of the investigation has been publicly identified, Gadfly is not sure.

 

  • The City is not the forum to handle the problem that’s existing.
  • It can’t be handled fairly because we have two organizations in the City arguing with each other.
  • Who’s the judge?
  • It puts the Mayor in an awkward position to have to deal with one of his employees.
  • Members of Council and the Mayor should cease and desist and stop the discussion immediately . . . and turn it over to the Ethics committee at the State level.
  • Because the procedure has turned into a demeaning and insulting procedure beneath the dignity of the citizens of Bethlehem.
  • We don’t need it, we’re above it.
  • You have an ethics commission at the State.
  • Take it there where it belongs.
  • And stop this in-house quibbling, it’s simple quibbling of the lowest form.
  • Don’t take us back to grade school. We’re all adults. Let’s act that way.

Now in the video clip from the December 3 City Council meeting in the previous post in this series, President Waldron argued firmly against calling on the State Ethics Commission.

Answering a question many of us had, President Waldron determined that there are two local paths that the City employee whistleblowers and Councilman Callahan might have used to trigger an investigation of the possible unethical behavior: the H.R. path and the Controller tip-line path.

But they didn’t — sigh . . .

“There is a whistleblower protection in place . . . We have an H.R. department that investigates those issues . . . There’s policies in place for that . . . There is a system, and as far as I can tell, it is working. So to bring in the state ethics board to research something, I don’t think is necessary because there are policies, there are practices in place. And, additionally, we have a Controller anonymous tip-line . . . to talk about waste or inefficiency or whatever the issue may be . . . So I don’t think we really need to talk about why the system is broken . . . I think the process and policies in place are fair.”

So there were paths for the employee and the Councilman to take with their complaints that would have brought us to a different place.

Would that they had — sigh . . .

So the question is, are those paths viable now that news of the possible dirty laundry seasoned with a fair bit of acrimony has reached the four corners of our town and into the region?

Gadfly invites your thoughts on that, but his instinct is no, aligning with Stephen’s, no, those paths are not viable now.

Gadfly can understand President Waldron’s desire to keep all action in this instance local, “in the family.”

It’s natural and “politic” to be able to say and believe that you can handle things.

And no good comes when outsiders peek under your roof and empty your waste baskets.

But who files the complaint to the Ethics Commission? Could it be an entity like Council? A boss like the Mayor? The aggrieved Councilman Callahan? Or would it have to be the whistlers themselves?

to be continued . . .

 

Other Council members show warm heart, healthy hope, and a good head

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Councilman Callahan suggests the possibility of unethical behavior. The Mayor calls him out at a Council meeting. Councilman Callahan returns the favor before the press. Council reprimands Councilman Callahan.

It ain’t over.

The Mayor mentioned sending some sort of letter to Councilman Callahan. Councilman Callahan is the “comeback kid.” He doesn’t give up.

It ain’t over.

We’ve got serious controversy cookin’ here.

The reputations of Mayor Donchez, Councilman Callahan, the head of the Department of Community and Economic Development Alicia Miller Karner, and the City itself are out on a limb.

And the significance of the situation is compounded by the fact that the main antagonists — Councilman Callahan and Councilman Reynolds — may both be candidates for Mayor next time ’round.

Gadfly has said we can learn a lot about leadership qualities from the way people respond to a controversy like this.

Stress reveals the person.

Crisis reveals character.

This is a great opportunity to see what people are made of.

And who might make a great next Mayor.

So we have seen Councilman Callahan and Councilman Reynolds go at it virtually head-to-head and thus have had opportunity to judge their leadership qualities.

What about the rest of Council?

Councilmembers Negron and Colon were silent on the ethics issue at the December 3 meeting, which is not too surprising. Both are normally on the quiet side. In Gadfly’s experience, neither is glib, neither compulsively seeks the spotlight, neither needlessly repeats what’s already been said. Negron voted for the motion, Colon sided with Councilman Callahan, but since both were silent, we cannot know what they were thinking.

However, there’s an interesting range in the responses of the other three Councilmembers, though none touched directly on the central ethical issues of the controversy. Councilwoman Van Wirt apologized to AMK, Councilwoman Crampsie Smith tried to patch the wounds of Callahan’s removal and move Council forward peacefully and cooperatively, and Councilman Waldron — President Waldron — looked at the business side of things: listing the available City mechanisms to handle suggestions of unethical behavior and identifying an obstacle to productive discussion.

Van Wirt showed warm heart, Crampsie Smith healthy hope, and Waldron a good head.

Take this opportunity to complete the circuit of this first round of responses after Councilman Callahan’s challenging press conference.

Listen below.

Paige Van Wirt:

  • This is a tawdry, tawdry business.
  • And we have such better things here in Bethlehem.
  • So the first thing I wanted to say is Ms. Karner, I am so deeply sorry for what you have gone through.
  • We have not always seen eye-to-eye on everything, but this is not how we would treat our City employees who are doing a good job.
  • And while I can’t speak for the rest of Council, I think I do in saying we are deeply sorry for what you have been through here.
  • And thank you for your service to the City.

Grace Crampsie Smith:

  • In my high school . . . our motto is our diversity is our strength.
  • We have students from all over the world, and it’s just wonderful to see the differences in students and co-workers on a daily basis.
  • And I think that here on Council and in our City our diversity is our strength.
  • We all come from different backgrounds and different frame of references, and that’s ok.
  • At the same time, we need to recognize that our diversity is strong, but our similarity is a bond that keeps us together.
  • Our similarities are such that we all love this great City, and we want what’s best.
  • And we all have the privilege and honor to have been voted to represent the City, the citizens of this great City.
  • So that being said, I really hope that moving forward, we can value our diversity, respect each other, treat each other, every one in this room with professionalism and appropriateness.

Adam Waldron:

  • There is a whistleblower protection in place.
  • It’s not something that has to be done on a case-by-case basis, it’s automatic.
  • We have an H.R. department that investigates those issues.
  • There is a policy in place . . . There is a system, and as far as I can tell, it is working.
  • To bring in the state ethics board . . . I don’t think is necessary.
  • Additionally, we have a Controller anonymous tip-line.
  • There is many different outlets . . . there are outlets within the City that do function and serve the purpose of some of the issues that have been brought up tonight.
  • So I don’t think we really need to talk about why the system is broken.
  • I think the process and policies in place are fair.
  • (Speaking now to Councilman Callahan) There are three different issues . . . they get conflated, interwoven, and interchanged at the convenience of you.
  • And I think when that happens, it muddies the waters, and those issues can’t be handled individually.
  • So it’s a bit confusing to follow along.

to be continued . . .

What does removing Councilman Callahan as liaison to the Parking Authority mean?

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The Bethlehem Press is a weekly, so it’s a beat behind in this article covering the ethics matter, but it is a good refresher on the events.

Douglas Graves, “Council member, mayor clash.” Bethlehem Press, December 4, 2019.

————

Until the end of the December 3 City Council meeting, Councilman Callahan was Council’s “liaison” to the Bethlehem Parking Authority.

At that point, on a motion by Councilman Reynolds that passed 5-2 (Councilman Colon voting with Councilman Callahan in the minority), Councilman Callahan was relieved of that position — “stripped of his role,” as one of our beat reporters put it — as described in our previous post in this series.

What does that mean? What exactly is a “liaison”?

A quick-and-dirty Google search that anybody can do comes up with such applicable definitions of “liaison” as these:

  • a person who establishes and maintains communication for mutual understanding and cooperation
  • a person who is a channel for communication between groups
  • a person who helps organizations or groups to work together and provide information to each other
  • a person who functions as a connection or go-between, as between persons or groups
  • a person who connects two or more separate entities or parts of a whole so that they can work together effectively

Gadfly has always imagined City Council as the hub of city governance as outlined in this modest proposal post months ago, in which he imagined the various elements of city government like the independent Authorities attending and reporting at City Council on a regular basis.

To keep channels of communication open, robust, and lively.

So, as it were, the right-hand knows what the left-hand is doing.

So the idea of Council members as “liaisons” strikes Gadfly as a good one.

Councilman Callahan was liaison to the Bethlehem Parking Authority. The only other Council liaison Gadfly has heard about is Councilman Reynolds’ role with the Environmental Advisory Council, but he is not sure if that is an official role voted on by Council. Gadfly does not remember any other liaisons spoken of in the almost two years he has been Council-watching.

The only BPA meeting that liaison Councilman Callahan attended in the year that Gadfly has been going to those meetings was the August 28 meeting in which the vote was taken on Polk Street Garage that was the occasion of the suggested unethical behavior by AMK and about which it was claimed by Councilman Reynolds that Councilman Callahan acted improperly in asserting bias in the City evaluation report. Councilman Callahan did not speak (or vote, liaisons do not have votes) at that BPA meeting.

In contrast, City Business Administrator Eric Evans attended several meetings during this period as, Gadfly assumes, the City liaison to the BPA.

BPA minutes going back to December 2017 (that’s as far back as they go on the BPA web site) show that the August 28, 2019, meeting was the only BPA meeting that Council liaison Callahan attended in the now two-year period.

Gadfly cannot remember a time in that two-year period that Councilman Callahan officially reported to Council in his role as liaison.

To be fair, not much in-depth business seems to be discussed at BPA meetings, as Gadfly has often noted in these pages, so maybe Councilman Callahan made the judgment that his attendance was not especially worthwhile. But attending only one meeting in two years is noteworthy — one is tempted to say egregiously noteworthy.

Councilman Callahan has said at times at Council, however, that he is in regular personal contact with the BPA Board chairman and the Executive Director. And he has shown himself frequently as “in the know.” So he has been getting BPA information somewhere.

For instance, Gadfly remembers Councilman Callahan reporting that he had such outside-the-public-meetings contact several times a week during the brouhaha over meter fees and violation fines during the middle and end of 2018. There was no meaningful discussion of these matters at the BPA Board meetings during which anyone could know BPA thinking even if present.

For a recent instance, at the December 3 Council meeting Councilman Callahan “leaked” the seemingly confidential information that the BPA Executive Director is leaving his position, seemingly in dissatisfaction — seemingly showing he is privy to inside information and information that perhaps the people it concerned didn’t want revealed.

Liaisons are go-betweens, links, channels, connectors —  a way of each separate body knowing what the other is doing. In that sense, in Gadfly’s perspective, liaisons are utilitarian, passive — usually not policy makers, nor advocates unless so explicitly designated, so explicitly tasked by their home body.

Frankly, Gadfly felt that during that period of 2018 Councilman Callahan was acting more of an advocate for the BPA position rather than just a reporter of it. Maybe that’s a fine line. And certainly “as Councilman” rather than “as liaison,” Councilman Callahan would be free to put forward his own positions. The fact that he was liaison doesn’t mean that he always had to be neutral or quiet.

Councilman Callahan made just such a distinction between speaking as “councilman” and “liaison” just before the vote on Mr. Reynolds’ motion to remove him, as we can see in the last video clip in the previous post in this series — indicating that he would continue to speak about parking matters, for “parking is a very important thing in the City of Bethlehem” and “as all Council members, we all have opinions on parking issues.”

(Note, however, that in that last video clip in the previous post in this series Councilman Callahan suggests that Councilwoman Van Wirt not be allowed to even discuss Parking Authority matters much less vote on such matters. He not only turns the tables by accusing her of something, he ups the ante. Beautiful. Gadfly will return to this point in a later post.)

So what does the successful motion to remove Councilman Callahan as liaison to the Parking Authority really mean?

It will not silence him on BPA issues.

He can still call reports biased that are unfavorable to a business for which his brother works.

It does not look like the motion will change either Council or BPA business one whit. Liaison to the BPA is not that crucial a role.

Rather, to Gadfly the import of Council action is essentially symbolic.

It’s a rebuke, a reprimand, a scolding.

It’s a letter in Councilman Callahan’s file.

It’s a permanent mark on his record.

It’s a red flag waved.

It’s a badge of distrust.

It’s a wagging finger.

It’s dropping one shoe.

It’s a road sign planted.

It’s a shot across the bow.

It’s squinty eyes.

(A faithful follower — ever educative, ever insightful, sometimes critical — likes metaphorical language. These last for him.)

It’s a warning that we are watching you.

This was not a trivial act.

to be continued . . .

Councilman Callahan’s coup de gras: bar Councilwoman Van Wirt from acting on Parking Authority matters

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Councilman Reynolds here refines the basis for his motion to relieve Councilman Callahan as liaison to the Parking Authority by focusing on conflict of interest, that is, BGC’s advocacy for the proposal of the company for whom his brother works: it doesn’t matter that you didn’t have a vote; it doesn’t matter that you may disagree with your brother a lot; it does matter that you promoted a plan from which your brother would benefit.

  • It’s not about criticizing [the Polk Street project].
  • Your brother [John Callahan] was a great Mayor, and there are great projects that they are doing in the City of Bethlehem.
  • They don’t look nearly as good when you advocate for them.
  • Our behavior is not just determined by whether or not we vote, but it’s whether or not we advocate, how we have conversations . . .
  • This is more about whether or not . . . the way you handled yourself is representative of this particular body.
  • It doesn’t matter if you disagree with somebody that you are related to nine times in a row, it doesn’t make it any better to be able to advocate for any individual project.
  • [You can believe that that report was biased but] I’m hard pressed to find that that’s an appropriate comment when somebody in your family is the one who benefits from this.
  • As far as representing City Council to another entity, I believe the point has been made.

Councilman Callahan does not address Councilman Reynolds’s conflict of interest argument but stresses the context of AMK’s actions, that is, the recent corruption cases in Allentown and Reading, as the reason for his concern. He denies any active involvement in the BPA decision, indicating — as he has done many times — that he prefers to discuss matters out in the open, in public at Council meetings. And he ends — doing what he also has done many times — implying, without elaboration or specifics, that a Council member was acting “backstage.”

  • I had no input in that [BPA] decision [on the Polk Street Garage].
  • I did not speak at the meeting.
  • I had no conversations with anyone on the Parking Authority that was voting.
  • I had no voting rights there.
  • And as I have said numerous times, I prefer to handle things here in front of this body instead of backstage.
  • I feel . . . that in the wake of Allentown and Reading for [AMK] to make that phone call on the day of the vote and try to persuade people on the Board to go with Nova . . . I thought that was unethical.
  • I feel in the wake of Allentown and Reading again, everybody’s sensors were up.
  • My comments that I made were made here, I wasn’t hiding anything.
  • I didn’t make any phone calls behind the scenes early in the morning.

Councilman Callahan offers to resign as Parking Authority liaison, but Council progresses with Councilman Reynolds’s motion to relieve him by Council action, and the motion passes 5-2 (Councilman Colon voting with Councilman Callahan). BGC again references a kind of predetermined plot by JWR, but in a dramatic coup de gras BGC asks that Councilwoman Van Wirt be barred from discussion or voting regarding the BPA because of an easement she has with them on her home property. What’s fair is fair, he claims. Gadfly doesn’t understand the correlation. Gadfly cannot understand this move by BGC at all. Anyone who has paid even the barest attention knows that PVW has been at virtually continual loggerheads with the BPA. To suggest favoritism, if that’s what BGC is doing, because of a deal in her benefit makes no sense. Very odd behavior, if you ask the Gadfly. This final move by BGC is an attempt to turn tables, to attempt to slur PVW, to intimate — what? — possible unethical behavior, possible conflict of interest on her part? Council doesn’t even stop to acknowledge much less consider BGC’s request.

  • Obviously this was something Mr. Reynolds was working on
  • I resign as liaison to the Parking Authority.
  • I think parking is a very important thing in the City of Bethlehem.
  • I would ask from this point on that Dr. Van Wirt not vote or have any discussion on anything dealing with the Parking Authority due to a easement that you have with the Parking Authority for access to your garage.
  • I mean, if we’re going to be fair, we’re going to be fair.

to be continued . . .

Councilman Callahan: “Mr. Reynolds, I know your games.”

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Councilman Callahan, of course, defends himself. Gadfly wonders how effective you will think that defense is. Frankly, Gadfly sometimes has trouble following BGC’s train of thought. Now it must be said that BGC may have been caught by surprise. Councilman Reynolds seemed to be working from a prepared or roughly prepared text. No doubt he had the advantage of prior organization of his thoughts. BGC, on the other hand, had to answer in defense spontaneously. It is telling, however, that BGC’s first response to JWR’s motion to relieve him as liaison to the BPA is to see himself as a kind of victim of an “orchestrated” conspiracy, and his last response, similarly, is to see himself the object of game playing. That’s frustrating to Gadfly. That’s a tease. That’s innuendo much like what BGC aimed at AMK. What exactly are you talking about, Councilman Callahan? Tell me, tell us the public, what game is Councilman Reynolds playing? Out here in the cheap seats, we don’t know what you are talking about. What exactly do you mean so that we can judge your truth? That kind of framing by BGC seems to Gadfly a deflection from the charge of the “unequivocally inappropriate” behavior of advocating for his brother’s company and knowing more inside information than he should have if he were simply acting as liaison. In addition, Gadfly could not connect the relevance in BGC’s references to the Transfer Tax, to the Mayor’s role in building the Polk Street Garage, to the departure of Mr. Livingston. And to establish the “bias,” the “slant” of the proposal backed by the City but not accepted by the BPA would need concrete examples and deeper analysis.

(Pardon some perhaps peripheral Gadfly venting. Certainly, it’s a free country. People can do what they want. Certainly family relationships in business and politics need not automatically be looked on with suspicion, need not be thought of as or necessarily be nefarious. Because you are somebody’s relative shouldn’t mark you as some visible sinner like the Hawthorne character in the classic Scarlet Letter novel. (Pardon the professorial reference, but after the Gadfly follower brought up “Kabuki theater” yesterday, the metaphorical roof is off!) But what was Hunter Biden thinking when accepting that Ukraine appointment? Could the Mayor’s son not have a good job somewhere besides with the parent company of a business that does City business — enormous City business?  Why doesn’t BGC stay totally away from situations that involve his brother? It just seems to Gadfly that ethical quicksand is readily visible, but, sadly, people walk into it anyway.)

  • I’ll step down if you feel that way Mr. Reynolds, I mean obviously this has been orchestrated.
  • But know this, nobody, nobody on this Council has been harder on Peron Development [the company that BGC’s brother John works for and the company whose proposal was accepted by the Parking Authority] or BethWorks in what happened with that Transfer Tax.
  • You can mention my brother all you want, my brother’s in the private sector right now.
  • I had no vote for the Parking Authority on that . . . never had any conversations about it.
  • All I knew is that report if you look at it line item by line item by line item, it would be very tough for anybody, rational, and not go, hmmm, there’s a slant to that.
  • I didn’t speak to my brother for two weeks about it . . . he was upset.
  • So to suggest that I don’t take a middle ground on everything to me is pushing it.
  • You know what, I’ll step down from the Parking Authority [the Council liaison role].
  • My issue with it is the fact that the Mayor runs the Parking Authority.
  • Mr. Livingston [executive director of the Parking Authority] is leaving . . . because that garage is being built because the Mayor wants it built.
  • If the Mayor didn’t want that garage built, it’s not getting built.
  • [The Mayor] raised the fine increase to build it.
  • Instead of throwing the Parking director out there to take all the heat, [the Mayor] should have stepped up.
  • To suggest that I’m not fair and I’m not trying to play both ways is disingenuous.
  • You know what, Mr. Reynolds, I know your games.
  • I will step down as the Parking Authority liaison.

to be continued . . .

Councilman Reynolds: “I do not have confidence that Mr. Callahan should continue as our liaison to the Parking Authority”

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You are going to need a program again to understand the dates and the events cited in this chapter of the ethics discussion at City Council Tuesday night. Here goes. The Bethlehem Parking Authority requested input from the City on the proposals from two firms on the retail portion of the Polk Street Garage. The Mayor recused himself because his son works for one of the firms and appointed an ad hoc committee.

Aug 13: the committee interviewed the two firms
Aug 20: at City Council, Councilman Callahan (not a committee member) referenced info about the meeting before the committee circulated its report
Aug 22: the Committee circulated its report
Aug 28: the Bethlehem Parking Authority voted on the proposals
Nov 6: Councilman Callahan questioned AMK publicly at the City Council meeting about her actions contacting BPA Board members before the Aug 28 vote
Nov 25: The Mayor sends Council a 4-page memo refuting Councilman Callahan’s charge of AMK’s unethical behavior in the Parking Authority issue

Remember that in the last segment, Councilman Callahan not only did not apologize to AMK but moved the goalposts of the Parking Authority issue. In the beginning of this statement, Councilman Reynolds does not seem to take note of BGC’s refocusing the specific nature of AMK’s unethical act and assumes that the Mayor’s memo to BGC has settled the issue. Which is wrong. But the real purpose of JWR here is to show that BGC is guilty of bad behavior. JWR accuses the accuser! He doesn’t call BGC’s actions in 1) advocating for the proposer for whom his brother works and 2) overstepping his role as Council liaison to the BPA “unethical,” but, rather, he calls them “unequivocally inappropriate,” and thus he moves that Council remove BGC from the liaison role.

Pretty slick for a statesman. Ha! JWR has the instincts of a Big-City ward politician.

JWR’s purpose is to punish BGC.

What do you think of JWR for doing that? (BGC will later intimate that other Council members were compliant with JWR.)

How do you think Councilman Callahan is going to respond to JWR? Is he the kind of person to accept such a rebuke?

(Remember that Gadfly is going slow here so that you can think about how you feel about each actor in this ethics controversy at each step along the way.)

  • Mr. Callahan is the liaison from our body to the Parking Authority . . . he represents us.
  • The winning proposal that was picked by the Parking Authority Board — that was not the recommended project of the Administration — includes one of [BGC’s] family members. [BGC’s brother, John Callahan, former Mayor of Bethlehem]
  • As the Parking Authority liaison, [BGC] should not be having conversations with Board members about their decision,
  • he should not be publicly advocating for including affordable housing or not,
  • he should not have had any conversations with anyone on that ad hoc committee on August 13,
  • he definitely should not be referencing those conversations publicly in order to advocate for an aspect of the project . . . before a vote.
  • I don’t think anybody could disagree that that behavior there is unequivocally inappropriate.
  • Most importantly, it’s all public.
  • This is not about the merits of the Polk Street project . . . the administration thought there were positives to both.
  • But he is our liaison to the Parking Authority. He is this body’s representative.
  • This [Polk Street] project is not over.
  • I do not have confidence that Mr. Callahan should continue as our liaison to the Parking Authority.
  • I feel that this has further damaged the connection between City Council and the Parking Authority.
  • He’s not the one that should be making that particular argument [that the City report was biased in favor of the low bidder] when a member of his family is involved.
  • I think that this project is a great project that currently is in a shadow of Mr. Callahan’s . . . his support of the project publicly.

to be continued . . .

Resident chatter around Gadfly’s water-cooler about Councilman Callahan and the ethics issue

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What followers are saying to Gadfly:

  • There is no pay to play inferred here, which is exactly what brought down elected officials in Reading and Allentown. That connection between Bethlehem and those cities does not correlate.
  • I hope the ethics ordinance is re-introduced and passed. Councilman Reynolds was going to introduce something on campaign finance.
  • I absolutely agree with Council’s action to remove [BGC] as liaison to BPA.  His obstinance on this issue feels like a dentist’s drill at work.
  • The Mayor does not control the hiring of the Parking Authority director, who [BGC]  announced is resigning effective sometime this month. His brother [John, former Mayor] was very good at jumping the gun on announcements others wanted to control by releasing at their discretion, not at a Callahan’s discretion.
  • He’s [BGC] passive-aggressive. One minute he’s attacking, the next minute conciliatory.
  • This issue is not attributable to the Mayor as he [BGC] keeps stating. He just won’t let any of this go.
  • What we are witnessing at Council and in City Hall is “Kabuki Theater.” [There is no chopped liver among Gadfly followers]

What’s in your wallet, er, thinking?

to be continued . . .

Councilman Callahan explains more about the ethics issue to Councilman Reynolds (us)

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Let’s see, can you follow this ethics controversy without a program?

Hey, you guys in the back of the room — you got this?

We better back up a moment. Councilman Callahan has made two claims of possible unethical behavior against AMK, what Gadfly has called the permit issue and the Parking Authority issue.

(Remember, if you need refreshing, click “Ethics” on the righthand sidebar to get past posts.)

The permit issue is still up in the air. BGC wants the Mayor to call in AMK’s staff and quiz them. There’s been no forward motion to settle this issue. BGC focused just on this issue in his November 25 press conference.

The Parking Authority issue is the one about BGC calling out AMK at the November 6 City Council meeting for unethical behavior relating to the the Polk Street Garage decision.

Got it? With me?

The Mayor wrote BGC a 4-page memo on this Parking Authority issue that seemed to clarify the situation and absolve AMK of bad doing. It is this memo that Councilman Reynolds referred to in his statesman-like statement covered in our previous post.

So in this next step at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, BGC takes JWR up on elaborating more on his unethical behavior suggestion in regard to the Parking Authority issue. He doesn’t take the apology-to-AMK option.

BGC says he already knew the nuance on which the Mayor focused in his absolution of AMK. He says the problem was not that AMK made a phone call to one of the parties bidding on the Polk Street project but that she suggested with BPA Board members (was it one phone call or more?) renegotiation with only one of the bidders — which happened to be her preference bidder — and not both bidders.

In addition, BGC claims that the decision of the Mayor’s ad hoc committee (did AMK chair it?) assessing the bidders and favoring AMK’s preferred bidder in an evaluation report provided to the BPA was not unanimous (thus, he claims possession of inside knowledge), and, moreover, that the report itself is obviously biased. No evidence given on that last claim.

Thus, the Mayor’s explanation did not address BGC’s specific concern, and BGC indeed complies with JWR’s request by providing more information about his position.

BGC sees a phone call to Board members on the day of the vote suggesting renegotiation with one — her choice — but not both bidders as unethical.

BGC keeps the issue from closure by moving the goal posts, as it were, in his explanation.

Think on this.

And where do you think the conversation will go next?

  • I think that in the aftermath of Allentown and Reading, there was a little bit of spotlight . . .
  • I know it wasn’t a bid process.
  • You [the Mayor] appointed an ad hoc committee [on the Parking Authority design] to look in to it.
  • I think if you sat down and you looked at each individual item, it’s probably one of the most biased reports I’ve ever read if you really look at it.
  • It’s clear that that category of grading was very slanted.
  • I also know that it was not a unanimous decision on that ad hoc committee.
  • Is that correct, Ms. Karner? (pause, silence) That answers the question.
  • After the ad hoc committee was formed they wrote up their summary . . . but the thing that’s upsetting and disturbing, especially in the aftermath of Allentown and Reading, is that Ms. Karner, and I know this is factual because it was told to me firsthand, called two people on the Parking Authority Board to try to convince them . . . to renegotiate . . .  not with both entities, that’s the problem.
  • In my opinion, that’s extremely unethical.
  • That phone call was made the day they were voting on it.
  • Why the additional phone call?
  • I didn’t vote on it, I didn’t even talk at the meeting.
  • They [the BPA] were done with it in seconds.
  • In the aftermath of Allentown and Reading, for a department head, after she released her report already, . . . for her to make that phone call on the day of the vote . . . I find that in my opinion unethical.
  • I don’t think the phone call should have been made.

to be continued . . .

Councilman Reynolds to Councilman Callahan on the ethics issue: explain more or apologize

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Gadfly is breaking down the section of the December 3 City Council meeting concentrating on the ethics issue raised by Councilman Callahan into small parts so that you can focus on how each Councilman responds to it.

Gadfly will always remind you that a core part of his project mission is to have you know your elected officials as well as you can so that you can be an informed voter.

This section of the meeting was dominated by interchanges between Councilman Callahan and Councilman Reynolds, veteran antagonists.

And just from information available recently in the course of this controversy, we can look forward to the possibility — if we didn’t know this before! — that both Councilman Callahan and Councilman Reynolds may run for mayor.

Which means paying attention to them is particularly important, especially at time of stress, especially at times when leadership is called for.

Councilman Reynolds, though still a young man, has been on Council about 12 years. President Waldron once referred to him as having the wisdom of an elder statesman.

JWR was certainly statesman-like here (O Gadfly, that sounds so pretentious, but we get the idea). He was calm. He hoped there would be a path to settling the permit issue. So he focused on the Parking Authority issue, the one in which BGC accused AMK of unethical behavior at a City Council meeting. He said the most serious charge that could be leveled at a public official was leveled at AMK, a bad thing for everybody and the City. He concluded, reasonably, that BGC should back up his charge or apologize.

Listen–

  • Calling somebody unethical is the most serious charge that public officials can face.
  • There’s an inherent trust that comes with the responsibility of being an elected official.
  • Calling somebody unethical is not something that should be spoken of lightly.
  • It’s not brought forward without strong evidence of wrongdoing.
  • It’s not a verbal tool to be used in a disagreement.
  • The public has not heard any more evidence or explanation.
  • He has not elaborated on his accusation.
  • I don’t believe that it does this body any good or it does the City of Bethlehem to have those accusations sit out there.
  • The administration sent a 4-page memo that went through this whole process [the Parking Authority issue]
  • Give Councilman Callahan the opportunity here to at least add information or explain his position or, absent that, I do think it would be paramount for him to apologize to [AMK] for the accusation of being unethical and the Allentown comment [that some people went to jail for that kind of activity].

How will Councilman Callahan respond?

to be continued . . .

Callahan at Council on the ethics issue: “I tried to keep it quiet”

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Here’s Councilman Callahan’s opening statement on the ethics issue at the City Council meeting last night.

He says all he wants is the truth, simply asked that the Mayor look in to the issue, would abide by the conclusion of his investigation, has no desire to harm AMK, was stonewalled, was denied, kept the issue private till the Mayor’s statement against him, blames the Mayor for the public situation we are in, didn’t want to do a press conference, the Mayor left him no choice, wants to get this over with, but feels he will be right when all the information comes out.

  • Mayor, you denied it not me.
  • I tried three times to handle this the right way and fair to everybody.
  • I don’t want any harm to [AMK] if it wasn’t true.
  • Simply interview the employees in the department to find out the truth.
  • I offered you three different opportunities to look into the seriousness of the issues.
  • We would not be in this situation if you had simply looked in to the allegations.
  • I tried to keep it quiet. I tried to keep it between us.
  • I want the truth. I think all of us want the truth.
  • I did not want to do a press conference.
  • I had no other option. What else was I going to do?
  • I was denied, denied, denied.
  • This doesn’t look good for the whole City of Bethlehem.
  • I want to get it over with.
  • What was I going to do after three denials?
  • I had tried all along to keep this quiet and professional and confidential.
  • I’m asking, please . . . interview the people.
  • I don’t want anybody who doesn’t like Ms. Karner fabricating anything.
  • Would you be willing to go to State ethics?
  • I’m finished with it. You’ll never hear me bring it up again.
  • I had a tone for a reason.
  • I tried to handle this one-on-one, tried three different times to keep it confidential.
  • And I got stonewalled, stonewalled, stonewalled, and that’s why I was pissed.
  • When all the information comes out, I’m going to be right.
  • It’s all tied together.
  • I’m done with it.
  • I apologize. but I felt something was not right here.
  • I hope we can all move on from here.
  • If they’re trying to attack [AMK] for no reason, I want them held accountable too.

Interesting monologue.

It’s all tied together. Feels he will be judged right when all information comes out.

Doesn’t that sound like BGC is still teasing us with some dark secret he’s not revealing?

Doesn’t that sound like, despite protestations otherwise, that he has prejudged the outcome of an investigation of AMK?

And he repeats that he’s “done with this,” but all appearances are to the contrary.

Interesting monolgue.

to be continued . . .

City Council takes up the ethics issue

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Ok, you didn’t go to City Council last night (but some Gadfly followers did — good to see you!) or watch the live-stream.

And you are wondering what happened in regard to the ethics issue.

(Remember that the video of the entire meeting is now available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wr-dYbySo4: begin at 1:20:50 for the ethis issue.)

As usual, Gadfly suggests that you use the accounts of the meeting by our good beat reporters below (clips provided but check out the full articles) for a handy overview.

Briefly, the main highlight was that Councilman Reynolds engaged Councilman Callahan, the upshot of which was that Council removed BGC from his role as liaison to the Parking Authority, although BGC offered to resign beforehand.

Gadfly will return and take you through the meeting, but use the news articles as your set up.

Nicole Radzievich, “Callahan resigns parking post ahead of Bethlehem council vote to dismiss him.” Morning Call, December 4, 2019.

Bethlehem City Councilman Bryan Callahan on Tuesday was pushed out of his role as Bethlehem Parking Authority liaison over comments he made last month about a parking project that went to a developer who employs his brother, former Mayor John Callahan.

The councilman lauded the strength of that firm’s proposal to undertake the retail development at a future South Side garage and questioned the ethics of one of Mayor Robert Donchez’s top aides during the selection process without providing proof for his allegations.

Councilman J. William Reynolds said it was Bryan Callahan who overstepped by interjecting himself into public conversation about the project given his family relationship. Reynolds made a motion to remove Callahan as council’s liaison to the Parking Authority. Moments before council voted 5-2 to remove him, Callahan defended his comments and announced he was resigning as liaison, calling the motion moot. “I know your games,” Callahan said to Reynolds.

In justifying Callahan’s removal as parking liaison, Reynolds pointed to Callahan’s public comments of the retail project at the future garage at Polk and Third streets.

Karner said after Tuesday’s meeting that she did not call authority members to negotiate on behalf of Nova Development the morning of the vote. She said she spoke with one member more than a week before to ask how much background the authority members knew about the project so she could know how much to include in the committee’s written recommendation.

Callahan declined after the meeting to disclose where he had gotten his information, although he described it during the meeting as “first-hand knowledge.”

Earlier at Tuesday’s council meeting, Callahan took issue with the ad hoc committee’s recommendation for Nova Development, calling it “one of the most biased reports I ever read.” He said the Peron-Petrucci proposal offered $190,000 more for the property to develop the retail.

Callahan later called for Van Wirt not to have anything to do with the Parking Authority matters either, because the authority has an easement on her property for the Walnut Street Garage. Van Wirt said she found it “troubling” that he researched her personal property and said she would seek advice from council’s solicitor about whether that’s a conflict for her.

Sara K. Satullo, “Bethlehem councilman stripped of role over ‘unequivocally inappropriate’ behavior.” lehighvalleylive.com, December 4, 2019.

Bethlehem City Councilman Bryan Callahan, who’s been raising the alarm about potential ethics violations in a city department, found the tables turned Tuesday night when his fellow council members stripped him of his role as liaison to the city parking authority amid concerns about his recent conduct.

The rare action and strong rebuke comes after Callahan spent months clashing with fellow council members and repeatedly accused one of Mayor Bob Donchez’s top aides of unethical behavior similar to the pay-to-play scandals prosecuted in Allentown and Reading.

Councilman J. William Reynolds at Tuesday’s council meeting pressed Callahan to justify his allegations, then painstakingly detailed how he believes his colleague is actually the person acting inappropriately. Reynolds seized on the position of Callahan’s brother, and former Bethlehem mayor, John Callahan as director of business development for Peron Development. The parking authority selected Peron to spearhead the commercial component of a new parking deck on Southside.

“Your brother was a great mayor and there are great projects that they (Peron) are doing in the City of Bethlehem,” Reynolds said. “They don’t look nearly as good when you advocate for them here, privately, publicly, whatever it might be.”

When Reynolds brought forward a motion to remove Bryan Callahan as council’s liaison to the Bethlehem Parking Authority, Callahan offered to resign, eventually agreeing to step down from the role. But council still voted 5-2 to strip him of the liaison position, with Callahan and Councilman Michael Colon voting no.

Callahan agreed the issues have gotten confused, emphasizing he sought to handle them privately and individually. He blamed Mayor Bob Donchez for not heeding his concerns and forcing him to take them public. He argues he just wants to know whether there is truth to the complaints he has been fielding about Karner’s department.

Other members of council do not share Callahan’s concerns about Karner’s actions, and the mayor has defended her on several occasions. Karner attended Tuesday night’s council meeting, but did not engage Callahan when he addressed her.

It culminated Tuesday night with Reynolds jumping into the fray, pressing Callahan to justify his allegations and detailing what he sees as Callahan’s missteps.

Reynolds called into question Callahan’s own conduct throughout the process, noting after the ad hoc committee interviews Callahan referenced those negotiations publicly in an Aug. 20 council meeting, where he appeared to be advocating for an aspect of the project. As the council liaison to the parking authority, he should not be talking to board members about their decisions and he should not be cheerleading for aspects of a project, Reynolds said.

The Polk Street parking garage process is in the early stages, and keeping Callahan as liaison is rife with potential conflicts. Reynolds thinks it is a great project that currently stands in the shadow of Callahan’s support.

“I do not have confidence that Mr. Callahan should continue as our liaison to the parking authority,” Reynolds said. “I feel this has damaged further the reputation or the connection between city council and the parking authority. I think we just need to look at his own comments from previous meetings and what he said today: ’This is the most biased report I have ever read.’ He might feel that. But he’s not the one that should be making that particular argument when a member of his family is involved in this” RFP.

Callahan sought to defend himself, arguing he had no input on the parking authority’s vote. But he did not fight the removal, offering up his resignation. He argued that no one on council has been harder on the BethWorks development group — Perrucci’s investment group that sold off its shares in the Sands Casino to Wind Creek Bethlehem — and the structuring of the casino transfer tax.

Council’s liaison appointments are made at the discretion of the council president, so the call for removal was rather unprecedented.

“You know what Mr. Reynolds, I know your games,” Callahan said. “I will step down as the parking authority liaison.”

At the end of the meeting, he pressed Donchez, who promised a reply within the next day on the status of the investigation.

Councilman Callahan hasn’t made up his mind yet about running for Mayor

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Gadfly had wanted to get back to another post on Councilman Callahan’s role in this ethics controversy before tonight’s meeting.

Gadfly has been a dedicated Council watcher for 15 months now.

He has always said that one important aspect of the Gadfly project is to help you know your elected officials better so that you will be the most informed voter you can be come election time.

He has always said that it is likely that current Council members will run for re-election and that some at some time are likely to run for mayor.

And that’s why we should pay attention.

Twice in the last few weeks Councilman Callahan has remarked in passing at Council meetings that Mayor Donchez has 1 1/2 years left as Mayor and he [Callahan] doesn’t know who will be the next Mayor.

Odd things to say, thought Gadfly to hisself.

Was Gadfly the only one who noticed?

The Mayor is only in the 6th or 7th inning, not time to write him off yet.

But those seemingly-in-passing remarks might be a clue that Councilman Callahan has running for mayor on his mind.

In fact, he clearly said as much at the very beginning of the Q ‘n A after his November 25 press conference, in the context of his knowledge of a deal Councilman Reynolds made for the Mayor’s endorsement of the Reynolds’ candidacy come next election.

“I am thinking about it, especially with all the things going on right now. I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

So we should be paying attention.

We can learn a lot about leadership qualities from a controversy like this — not only about Councilman Callahan but other members of Council and the Administration as well.

This is a great opportunity to see what people are made of.

And who might make a great next Mayor.

to be continued . . .

The recent attacks upon AMK’s ethics are way off base

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Steve Melnick is a retired economic development executive and a 25-year resident of Bethlehem.

Gadfly:

In the past I have not been a big fan of the way AMK runs her department. Speaking from personal experience when I was purchasing another townhouse, her staff seems to be less than professional. However, the recent attacks upon her ethics are way off base. During the review of the Parking Authority RFP, I wondered to some people why an award was made to a developer who not only came in with a higher cost but also asked for tax relief through the KIZ. Was the other developer unaware of the KIZ benefits? It seems to me that AMK was using sound logic in trying to recommend the equally qualified developer who submitted a lower bid. Why would you arbitrarily agree to pay more for something than you have to? Of course, the lowest bidder did not employ any relatives on city council. That is what makes this whole incident so baffling. The relative WON the bidding. What more does BGC want?

Steve

Where is Ms. Karner in all of this?

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On November 6 Gadfly was in his usual 3 o’clock position in the cheap seats at City Council when in the course of a routine discussion about funding a proposal to study the Southside, Councilman Callahan turned to Department of Community and Economic Development head Alicia Miller Karner, who was sitting in the 11 o’clock position of sparsely filled Town Hall, and unexpectedly said:

“Miss Karner, did you or did you not call the Board and put pressure on them [members of the Bethlehem Parking Authority Board], did you not ask two people the day of the vote to renegotiate a lower bidded contract?”

Gadfly gasped audibly.

Gadfly is an old dawg (and a mixed metaphorist).

He was watching the Army-McCarthy hearings on tv in 1954 at the moment at which lawyer Joseph Welch famously nailed the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy with

“Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Gadfly gasped, his mind spontaneously went to the Welch moment, and he may even have mouthed Welch’s words.

It was that striking a moment for Gadfly, who is basically still experiencing his first rodeo in Town Hall.

Relive the moment with him.

City Council meeting, November 6, 2019, begin min. 1:26:40

Councilman Callahan: “Who will be making up the committee? . . . I’d like to be on that committee . . . I’m worried that there are some influences being put there that have been in the past month with some pressure being put on other entities during voting on RFPs . . . I have a big concern where this is going with Ms. Karner at the helm of this . . . She had reached out to people on the Parking Authority Board the day of a vote which I thought was highly unethical to put pressure on them to accept a lower bid. There are people in Allentown who went to jail for doing that . . . Miss Karner, did you or did you not call the Board and put pressure on them, did you not ask two people the day of the vote to renegotiate a lower bidded contract?”

Gadfly has been asking you “what if” questions. What if you were the city employee? What if you were Councilman Callahan? What if you were the Mayor?

What if you were Alicia Miller Karner in Town Hall the night of November 6 at approximately 8:26PM?

These pictures kind of tell the story. AMK is the woman in the audience on the left side of these pictures.

AMK before Callahan addressed her:

Callahan Karner 1

AMK as BGC started to direct his comments to her:

Callahan Karner 2

A relaxed AMK coiled into lineman stance ready to do battle.

But a time-out was called before she could engage.

And she is the quiet one in this “contentious spectacle” — to quote the previous post by follower Barbara Diamond.

Or should Gadfly say, the “quieted one.”

She has no forum, no soapbox, no microphone.

The Mayor defended her; she has not been able to defend herself.

Yet, “guilty” or not, AMK’s professional career could be seriously damaged or ended.

The Councilman and the Mayor will survive whatever happens.

Guilty or not, AMK was done wrong here.

to be continued . . .

Mr. Callahan has now plunged us into a contentious spectacle that will tarnish reputations and erode public trust

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Barbara Diamond enjoys retirement as Lehigh University Director of Foundation Relations by engaging in various activities and organizations hopefully for the betterment of the community. Her particular interests at the moment are preventing gun violence, local government ethics reform, and Bethlehem Democratic Committee work.

Dear Gadfly:

The escalating situation between Councilman Callahan and the mayor provides the opportunity to revisit the effort two years ago to pass an ethics ordinance, which aimed to strengthen the ethics environment in Bethlehem with high standards now in practice by many municipalities. The effort was launched by Councilwoman Olga Negron and included Councilman Michael Colon and a number of community members. It had the endorsement of the Northampton County League of Women Voters and was considered a model for other communities by the state LWV.

Unfortunately other members of the council at that time (Councilmen Callahan, Reynolds, Martel, and Evans) opposed the effort, and it was defeated. Instead, they passed a mandatory training ordinance and a gifts ordinance, both of which were window dressing — they looked good to the public but didn’t accomplish much (I can explain why on a later post) as demonstrated by the current situation.

In opposing the ethics ordinance, Mr. Callahan and the others cited the existing process of reporting accusations of improper conduct to the State Ethics Commission for investigation as the proper way to handle these issues and that there was no need for the city to enact anything more robust. In his [November 25] press conference, Mr. Callahan admitted that he didn’t follow this procedure. It would be useful to know why he didn’t pursue this avenue; he was certainly aware of it. I hope he will explain why.

So instead of filing a complaint with the state, Mr. Callahan asked the mayor to launch an investigation into a senior member of his own administration. Needless to say, it is not a sound practice for an administration to investigate itself. No matter the outcome, the results are bound to be unsatisfactory because the independence of the investigation can and likely will be questioned, as happened here. Mr. Callahan has now publicly made serious but unfounded accusations of unethical conduct by the mayor, a member of his administration, and a fellow councilman. With no confirmation or exoneration, the public is left to wonder about wrongdoing.

So in the absence of the well-defined, independent, confidential, and fair process in which to investigate and adjudicate his complaint that we could have had with the ethics ordinance, Mr. Callahan has now plunged us into a contentious spectacle that will tarnish reputations, including possibly his own, and erode public trust in their local government.

I hope this incident will serve as an impetus for city council to dust off the ethics ordinance, update it, and finally pass legislation that will provide the kinds of safeguards municipalities need to both aid public officials in serving the public interest and ensure confidence in our local government.

Barbara

Time to remember the 2017 ethics ordinance debate

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The suggestion of possible unethical behavior at City Hall raised by Councilman Callahan should remind us that Council debated an ethics ordinance in 2017.

And Councilwoman Van Wirt talked leading up to her successful primary victory earlier this year about re-introducing similar legislation.

Gadfly remembers that there was some controversy over the ethics of Councilman Callahan’s campaign lending or giving money to an unsuccessful candidate for City Council at the time of the May primary earlier this year.

See “Passing the Campaign Finance Money Around,” which I think was the first post in a series right up to election day and beyond — an issue in which ol’ Gadfly was accused of “spewing fake news,” yes, yes, he was

There was a link to “City Council Member Ethics Training Certificates of Completion” on the old City web site. But Gadfly can’t find that on the new one.  And has reported the MIA link to headquarters and has heard back that it’s on the way to reappearing.

Check out this Gadfly follower Morning Call letter to the editor from the 2017 archive to find out reasons for and the nature of a strong ethics ordinance.

Barbara Diamond, “It’s time to pass a strong ethics ordinance for Bethlehem.” Morning Call, February 23, 2017.

Gadfly’s trying to find time to go back and refresh hisself on the components of that 2017 debate.

Chatter around Gadfly’s water-cooler about: Councilman Callahan’s role in the ethics controversy

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Follower comments that have been aimed at Gadfly’s attention:

  • I don’t think [Callahan] trying to communicate to the mayor via a comments section of an article is the best way to go about trying to establish dialogue or conduct public outing/shaming.
  • As a woman said during [Callahan’s] press conference, report it to the state!
  • I don’t understand why Callahan won’t follow through on Donchez’s request for any pertinent info. If you have it, provide it.
  • It’s like we don’t know why Callahan is conducting himself in this twisted way. What is his final desired outcome? To embarrass folks? Raise legitimate concern? Out people and get them fired? Actually report wrongdoing?
  • Hard to believe much when you [Callahan] are only making public statements, but then say you don’t want to get anyone in trouble and you actually make your case more difficult!
  • I’m not understanding what [Callahan’s] goal is.
  • It seems [Callahan] is acting as a whistleblower of sorts, but at this point he should refer it up the flagpole, and if he feels so strongly, provide info to authorities so it can be properly investigated.
  • If true, it is concerning, but by going public, he is risking any future investigation and potentially slandering folks who in the end might be innocent of wrongdoing, and opening the city up for legal action against it.
  • The whole thing is slightly odd.
  • The public is not sure who to believe.
  • It’s another instance IMO of Callahan not thinking this process through completely. Now he has to go to an independent party because he believes internally, it’s not being addressed. Yet, he says he doesn’t want to report it to the state?

Gadfly wants to come back to Councilman Callahan’s role in this controversy, but not sure he can do it before tonight’s meeting and possible further developments there. He wants to consider AMK’s position first and is trying to get to that today.

Thinking about the Mayor’s role in how we got “here”

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“Here,” of course, is the unpleasant situation of a City Councilman marking a City administrator with possible career-damaging wrongdoing and, in effect, charging the Mayor with dereliction of duty.

Ugh.

Not a place we want to be in.

Gadfly has asked you to think about what you would do if you were a City employee concerned about a superior whom you thought was encouraging unethical behavior.

He has asked you to think about what you would do if you were Councilman Callahan to whom a City employee communicated that concern.

We will want to come back to these two topics, especially that of Councilman Callahan. Gadfly is not finished with him! He’s kind of fascinating.

But let’s go on to think about the two other main figures in this controversy, Mayor Donchez and Alicia Miller Karner.

First, Mayor Donchez.

Mayor 2

What do we know and what don’t we know about his involvement in this controversy?

  • Mid-September: the Mayor received a call from Councilman Callahan informing him of the possibility of unethical behavior by the DCED department head in encouraging a slow down in permit approval
  • We don’t know if the Mayor did anything in response
  • October 17/21: the Mayor receives an email from BGC asking for an investigation of that possible unethical behavior relating to permits
  • We don’t know if the Mayor did anything in response
  • Somewhere in this time frame the question of going into executive session may have come up, and, if so, the Mayor is against it
  • November 6: the Mayor is in attendance at the City Council meeting in which BGC unexpectedly addresses a direct provocative question to AMK about her actions involving the Bethlehem Parking Authority in a context in which BGC is clearly questioning her leadership
  • November 13: the Mayor is present at a Budget Hearing in which BGC engages in a contentious interchange with another City official in a matter unrelated to the permit or Parking Authority issues
  • November 18: in a letter to BGC delivered just before a City Council meeting, the Mayor indicates that he has not done the requested investigation of the permit issue but that he might do so if BGC presents his evidence
  • November 19: in a public statement delivered at the City Council meeting, the Mayor implicitly calls out BGC for the attack on his department head and for BGC’s general disruptive behavior — the exoneration of AMK would seem to imply that at least some investigation had been done
  • November 20: after BGC calls a press conference, the Mayor tries unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting
  • November 25: before BGC’s press conference, the Mayor writes a letter to Council President Waldron arguing the false basis of BGC’s Parking Authority issue with AMK but not the permit issue

So with this background information, let’s think about the Mayor’s actions here.

Can we agree that the Mayor has responsibility to investigate suggestions of wrongdoing in the course of city work on the part of his employees? Probably no disagreement.

Might we further agree that because of their special relationship as elected officials at the head of our City government that the Mayor should be especially responsive to such suggestions of wrongdoing coming from a Councilman? Ha! or do I stretch your willingness to agree here? Is this but an airy notion from an ivory-towered academic’s image of the ideal city government and ignoring on-the-ground realities and relationships?

Councilman Callahan made two claims of possible wrongdoing by AMK — what for shorthand purposes we can call the permit (stalling) issue and the Parking Authority issue. Let’s look at them one at a time.

The permit issue

The Mayor waited two months before responding to BGC on the permit issue and responded to say only that he had not done the requested investigation in that two months but might do so under certain conditions. Why did it take the Mayor so long — two months — to respond to BGC if, in fact, nothing was done in that two months to warrant a delay in responding? Seems like a reasonable question. Why couldn’t such an answer be given, say, almost immediately? Didn’t that two month delay help escalate BGC’s blood pressure to the boiling point and help instigate this public flap? Wouldn’t it have done the same to your blood pressure?

And how reasonable was the condition the Mayor laid down for a possible investigation after that two month delay? That is, the condition that BGC reveal his sources, do his own investigation? To do so would probably have required BGC to violate confidentiality. If the “informants” didn’t feel comfortable going directly to the Mayor or other superiors in City Hall, why would they want BGC to name them? How could BGC in good conscience name them? Seems impossible for BGC to comply to that condition. Moreover, the most important evidence in this case might well be collection of data on a number of permit applications over time, interviewing inspectors as well as applicants, and comparing processing time from start to finish, looking for changes. How would BGC get that information? Another seemingly impossible condition.

The Parking Authority issue

The Mayor handled this issue quite differently. It apparently came to public light for the first time at the November 6 City Council meeting when BGC was questioning AMK’s leadership in the context of a proposed study of the Southside. Contrary to the way he handled the permit issue, the Mayor responded quickly and publicly to this suggestion of impropriety by AMK in regard to the Parking Authority. He confronted it dramatically and directly but superficially in his statement at the November 19 City Council meeting. As part of his response at that meeting to that statement by the Mayor, Councilman Reynolds called for full transparency, and, indeed, on November 25, specifically acknowledging the request of said Councilman Reynolds, and now faced with the imminent potentially damaging effects of BGC’s press conference, the Mayor provided a 3-page memo, “in the spirit of full transparency,” that looks like it positively and effectively resolved BGC’s specific question about unethical behavior in this issue. What took about two months to reach an unsatisfactory resolution on the permit issue, now took only about two weeks to come to a satisfactory conclusion in the Parking Authority issue. Why the difference? Curiously, the Mayor responded here quickly to a request by one Councilman, slowly in the other case to a request by another Councilman. Why the difference? And the Mayor responded only when he was forced to by public disclosure. Or that’s what it looks like.

Comparing the two issues

The permit issue has yet to have its transparency. It has been called a personnel matter, mandating secrecy. Gadfly is not attuned to the fine legal points here. What makes the permit issue a personnel matter and not the Parking Authority issue? Gadfly needs to be schooled here. On the surface they look the same to him — both about unethical behavior by a City employee. But there might be significant difference here that explains why the Mayor felt comfortable providing public transparency to one and not the other. But that still doesn’t explain why apparently the Mayor resisted acceding to the call for executive session, for, as Gadfly understands it, personnel matters can be discussed there under the expectation of confidentiality — and in this way BGC’s request might have been satisfied completely and much sooner.

But something is glaringly discrepant when one looks at the language of the BGC’s request for an investigation and the Mayor’s November 18 letter denying it. BGC is informal, the Mayor legal. In his October 17 email, BGC describes “hav[ing] heard of a number of concerns,” which, “if true,” would be “most disappointing.” The tone is soft; there is nothing accusatory here. However, the Mayor’s long-awaited reply characterizes BGC as making “allegations.” Huh! Where did that come from? In fact, the Mayor’s letter is full of such legalese: “sufficient cause,” “indicia of corroboration” (O, puleeze!), “good cause.”

It’s obvious the Mayor has lawyered up. Why?

Gadfly is an outsider. He can only see what he can see. But what he sees from a comparison of these two documents is that the Mayor (and his team) for some reason have totally mischaracterized BGC here.

It’s perfectly possible, of course, that BGC’s personal conversations were different than his email and his approach in the press conference.

But from what Gadfly can see, the Mayor may not have handled this situation in the best possible way to avoid the public display of dirty laundry that the City is now experiencing.

What do you think?

Gadfly awaits the slap upside the head.

Ha! Should he lawyer up!

to be continued . . .

Councilman Callahan: “I would prefer not to be here”

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Callahan

                                                photo April Gamiz/The Morning Call

If you are going to stand in front of the Bethlehem world as Councilman Callahan did a week ago and mark a City administrator for possible career-damaging wrongdoing and, in effect, charge the Mayor with dereliction of duty, you’d better have a good story.

Agreed?

Read through the extensive timeline on the previous post with Gadfly.

Then put it aside.

Reflect and reconstruct from memory the story from Councilman Callahan’s position.

Boil it down.

See it through his eyes.

Here’s what Gadfly gets.

  • I was told about potentially unethical behavior by the head of DCED
  • I heard that from employees past and present
  • I heard the same thing from outsiders
  • I didn’t know if the stories were true
  • But as a Councilman I felt a responsibility to do something
  • At first I wasn’t sure what to do
  • I talked with a few fellow Councilmen
  • But I basically sat on the information for a couple months
  • Finally, I talked with the Mayor, assuming he would handle it
  • I simply wanted the truth, if there was nothing to the stories, so be it
  • But I heard nothing for a period of time
  • I tried to get the Mayor and Council in executive session to air the matter
  • The Mayor refused, as did Council, following the lead of one member
  • Who has a deal for the Mayor’s endorsement in the next mayoral election
  • I felt that I was being stonewalled
  • Finally, I wrote the Mayor asking for an investigation by “his guys”
  • My purpose was to let the Mayor handle it
  • I simply wanted the truth by their calling members of the dept in and asking them
  • I wasn’t trying to get anybody fired
  • If wrongdoing, the penalty might be a letter in the file or furlough, etc.
  • I wanted accountability
  • Again, I heard nothing for a period of time
  • All the while the matter was private, confidential
  • But, again, I felt I was getting stonewalled
  • I was angry, and I did legitimately directly question the DCED head in public
  • Finally, the Mayor wrote me that he had not investigated
  • And would not do so unless I provided my proof/evidence
  • Simultaneously, the Mayor attacked me in a public statement
  • What was I to do?
  • I went public with my information
  • I didn’t want to do that, but the Mayor left me no choice
  • I was a wrestler, I have a gym teacher’s voice, I am intense
  • My attitude toward life changed dramatically with the tragic death of my wife
  • That’s my personality, and I can’t change
  • That explains my “tone” that seems to offend some people
  • After the Mayor attacked me, I had no choice but to do a press conference
  • When I announced a press conference, the Mayor wanted to meet: I said no
  • I would have preferred not to do a press conference
  • What I want is for the Mayor to do his job, to do an investigation
  • Let the chips from that investigation fall where they may
  • I may run for Mayor
  • I hope to spend the next ten years working for the good of the City

Is Gadfly’s rendition fair?

Has Councilman Callahan made his case?

to be continued . . .

Councilman Callahan’s response to the whistleblowers’ whistlin’

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Yes, Gadfly is a slow thinker.

To wit: he should have framed the point of his previous post as what would you do if you were a city employee with a serious ethical or criminal concern that you couldn’t discuss inside City Hall?

Actually, the employees did a pretty good thing in regard to the stalling issue. Contacting Lehigh Valley Ramblings got them a public audience, and they hoped Councilman Callahan would get them a political one.

Public and political. Inside and outside. Covering the bases. Good strategy.

Following that cue, I would ask you here in this post to think about what you would do if you were Councilman Callahan and were told things that City employees and you found ethically troubling.

What did Councilman Callahan do?

Here’s the timeline Gadfly has pieced together from the documents, the press conference, and from BGC’s comments at the Q ‘n A after his press conference.

Note that the first two bullet points refer to the firing of Zoning Officer Borzak referenced in Gadfly’s previous post.

  • April 16: at the City Council meeting BGC asks Council to go into executive session with the Mayor to discuss the Borzak firing, but there was no second to his motion
  • May 7: at the next City Council meeting BGC asks Council again to go into executive session with the Mayor to discuss Borzak; this time he gets a second, but the motion is voted down 6-1
  • May 22: BGC is prepared to continue his mission to get Council to deal with the Borzak firing but defers, declining to darken the happy mood of the retirement celebration for Mrs. Kelchner
  • June: BGC receives contacts from the 3 City employees (Borzak one of them) about the stalling instruction from AMK
    • here begins a period of uncertainty for BGC about what to do, he “sat on it for a couple months”
    • during this period of uncertainty BGC had conversation about this stalling issue with 2 councilpersons in the garage under the City Center after a Council meeting (date uncertain)
    • BGC also speaks of having two conversations about the stalling issue with a couple councilpersons during this period (dates uncertain)
    • the upshot seems to be that other people knew and knew that it was on his mind
  • August 28: Bethlehem Parking Authority votes on Polk Street Garage, which will become the occasion of BGC’s second issue with AMK
  • Approx mid-September: BGC has a phone conversation which seemingly is the first time he tells the Mayor about the stalling issue, thinking naturally that the Mayor would look in to it, but time went by and BGC heard nothing (the Polk Street Garage issue doesn’t seem to have been part of this conversation)
    • chronology gets murky here –it is not clear whether that which follows about executive sessions occurs before the mid-September phone call or between it and the October letter, which is the next bullet
    • during the press conference BGC talks of a phone call in which he asks the Mayor to go into executive session with Council, but the Mayor refuses, after which he talks with Council solicitor Spirk about how to make that executive session happen
    • Spirk says he needs to make a motion to that effect
    • Which BGC says he does over a period of maybe 4 meetings — but Council refuses each time
    • either BGC is mistaken or Gadfly’s research is faulty, for he can find no evidence of executive session discussion at Council meetings during the June-October period.
    • Gadfly thinks BGC may be confusing this executive session activity with his activity on the Borzak issue detailed in the first three bullets above
  • Oct 17/Oct 21 (referred to by different dates): BGC emails the Mayor asking for an internal investigation by the City solicitor and business administrator of the stalling issue
  • November 6: During a contentious discussion at City Council of a proposed Southside study, contention he initiated, BGC expresses lack of confidence in leadership by AMK and discloses the issue with the Polk Street Garage for the first time, referring only obliquely to the stalling issue
  • November 13: BGC initiates another contentious discussion with a City official over driving range fees at Budget Hearing #2 (no mention of either AMK issue here)
  • November 18: the Mayor responds by letter negatively to BGC’s October request for an investigation on the stalling issue unless he provides his proof/evidence while expecting BGC to keep this personnel matter confidential
  • November 19: the Mayor calls out BGC, though not by name, at the City Council meeting for “provocative comments and personal attacks,” attacks that were “unwarranted,” attacks that were “unprovoked, out of order, without cause, completely out of line” (not specifically citing either issue) (text version)
  • November 19: BGC responds at the meeting by offering to disclose his information about both issues of unethical behavior that he has with AMK, but the matter is declared a personnel issue — BGC shares info with the media after the meeting
  • November 20: the Mayor seeks a meeting with BGC through a phone call by Business Administrator Eric Evans, but BGC, upset at the Mayor calling him out, declines a meeting: “that ship has sailed”
  • November 20: the Mayor follows up the Evans phone call with a letter inviting BGC to a meeting with the solicitor, the business administrator, and the Human Resources director — same response by BGC
  • November 21: in an email BGC tells the Mayor it is his job to find out what happened with the stalling issue (no mention of the Polk Street Issue), indicates Council’s unwillingness to go into executive session as the result of a Councilman  “currying favor for a Mayoral endorsement from you” (Councilman Reynolds), and connects the “tone” of his behavior to the death of his wife 13 years ago
  • November 22: BGC announces a press conference
  • November 25: several hours before BGS’s  press conference, the Mayor sends a letter to Council president Waldron (quickly available to all) in which he addresses just the Polk Street Garage issue, indicating that Councilman Callahan was confusing a “bid” and an “RFP” (Request for Proposal) and thus that his “attack” on AMK on this point was based on a false premise (no mention of the stalling issue)
  • November 25: BGC holds the press conference at Town Hall, focusing just on the stalling issue, explicitly stating that he is not dealing with the Polk Street issue at this time (text version)
  • November 26: BGC comments on an online media story about his press conference, blaming the Mayor for the situation they are in now, and repeating that it is the Mayor’s job to clear up the stalling issue: “Stop hiding behind your lawyers and advisors and ……. Do your job” (again no mention of Polk Street)

Ok, so here, as best Gadfly can put them together, are the facts so far of what Councilman Callahan did after receiving information from 3 City employees whom we might as well call “whistleblowers.”

This timeline took longer than Gadfly thought to put together. Plenty enough for us to digest on an icy Cyber-Monday morning. We’ll come back next time and think about these facts.

How are you feeling about Councilman Callahan’s actions?

to be continued . . .

If Councilman Callahan had been much more supportive of the comprehensive ethics ordinance . . .

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Gadfly,

Perhaps if Mr. Callahan would have been much more supportive of the comprehensive ethics ordinance advanced by Councilwoman Negron, and worked on by a number of residents, a process would have been put in place to address an issue such as this.

No retribution, confidentiality, a review board, all these features would have existed thereby providing a mechanism for dealing with this kind of matter.

Dana

Dana speaks of a proposal debated in 2017. More on it later.