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Despite hiring freeze, Bethlehem admin seeks council OK to hire

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Last month, Bethlehem City Council declared a money-saving hiring freeze on all city employees except police, fire and ambulance personnel.

But council left open the possibility that the administration could seek its blessing to fill specific non-emergency positions.

Mayor Robert Donchez did just that Tuesday night.

The two open positions are director of recycling and business manager for the department of community and economic development.

Council readily and unanimously agreed to permit the administration to fill the business manager position.

Explained council member Karen Dolan before the vote: "This is a position that opened up because of a transfer of an employee from one department to another. It wouldn't require any additional funding."

Filling the recycling director slot is more complicated.

Tom Marshall just retired Friday as recycling director.

Donchez said the city has received about 20 resumes to replace Marshall and the interview process will begin shortly.

One of those 20 applicants is Mike Conway, who served as a deputy to Marshall.

The administration plans to eliminate the position Conway now holds.

The mayor explained Conway holds a contract position. He said that contract runs through the end of this year and he does not plan to renew it in the 2015 city budget.

"If Mr. Conway is not selected to replace Mr. Marshall, there's a very good chance that position will be phased out at the end of the year,"
explained the mayor.

As council president J. William Reynolds noted, if Conway is hired as the new director, he will not have a deputy.

The mayor does not intend to hire anyone else to take over in Conway's current position.

But if Conway is not selected to be the new director, he apparently will continue in his position for the rest of this year.

Council member Michael Recchiuti asked Donchez: "If you're going to be running the department of recycling with one less person starting in 2015, why don't we start doing that today?"

Responded the mayor: "If Mr. Conway is the successor to Mr. Marshall, that will be the case. Mr. Conway's current position will not be filled."

Donchez said he is not yet sure if he can terminate a contracted employee before the end of the year.

Resident Dana Grubb argued Conway should be kept on until the end of this year if he is not appointed as the next recycling director. He explained Conway has invaluable institutional knowledge that he can use to help a new director get up to speed.

Grubb said eliminating Conway's position now would result in "a real disservice to the program. There's no replacing institutional knowledge. When somebody walks out the door, you have a huge hole."

The mayor said the administration will select a candidate to be the next recycling director within two weeks.

Council decided to postpone action for two weeks, until it has been decided who will get that position. It will act on approving the recycling director position at its June 17 meeting.

"It's probably hard to hire somebody without having council's approval, but I guess you can make a conditional offer," said Recchiuti.

The vote to postpone was 6-1. Council member Eric Evans voted against postponing, but did not explain why to his colleagues.

The recycling director position pays $76,787 a year.

Conway's current position pays $58,690 a year.

Reynolds told the administration: "If Mr. Conway becomes the new person, you guys are comfortable with one person for the rest of the year. But if Mr. Conway is not the person, then you guys are comfortable with two people."

Said Donchez: "I'm comfortable with two people until the end of the year simply because there would be a transition and Mr. Conway does have experience that would help the new person if he is not selected."

Reynolds said council was not going to weigh in on whom the administration should hire to be the recycling director, telling the
mayor: "That's completely your decision."

Alicia Karner, the city's director of community and economic development, explained the recycling director "looks at the big picture at the recycling center" while the other person manages the day-to-day operations.

She described the recycling center and compost center as high profile operations that generate many inquiries and complaints from city residents.

"In my short time here, I've had more inquiries and complaints from the residents regarding that facility than any other aspect of what I do," said Karner.

She said eliminating one recycling position "absolutely" will add additional pressure to other bureaus within her community and economic development, including to her.

Dolan said the person working for the recycling director was brought on to handle commercial aspects of recycling. She said the city has had some problems enforcing commercial recycling contracts.

But she indicated advertisements for the recycling director position included those duties in that job description.

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