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 . . .