Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem OKs ethics training bill

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Bethlehem City Council established ethics training for its members and key administration officials during Wednesday night's meeting; the vote was 6-1, with Councilwoman Olga Negron dissenting.

The vote came only after lengthy public comments from activists who favored another ethics bill -- by Negron and Councilman Michael Colon -- and by a debate between members of council themselves about whether or not the Negron and Colon bill was being purposely derailed.

The approved law on final reading would require council members to receive ethical training on a two-year basis from the State Ethics Commission. Mayor Robert Donchez said during its first reading May 2 that he would personally attend the training and require all department heads to join him.

Councilman Shawn Martell said Wednesday night that his measure "was not meant to preclude" further legislative action or even discussion on the Negron and Colon measure, which was introduced in January.

However members of the public who spoke prior to the vote said the Martell measure was a measure that was strictly lightweight.

"It is set at the lowest common denominator of justice," said resident Steve Diamond.

Other speakers insinuated that the Negron and Colon bill was purposely stalled in an effort to advance what they say was the inferior Martell bill.

Martell said the criticism of his bill displayed a basic misunderstanding, misconception and misrepresentation of not only the legislation itself, but also his intentions.

Martell went on the offensive, directly asking both Colon and Negron if they thought their measure had been intentionally stalled.

Colon said in "the spirit of ethics" he supported the Martell offering. Colon added he would like to see discussion on this topic continue moving forward. Negron responded more tepidly, saying she hoped the bill had not been delayed on purpose. 

Her response seemed to infuriate President William Reynolds, who said there were few times he was "as angry" on council as he was about that response. He said the bill was not stalled and that the bill was "not anywhere close to being voted on" and contained "mistakes."

"That is not how law is made," he said.

Reynolds said the legislative body had held only one committee of the whole meeting this year -- on Feb. 26 -- and that unlike a committee, which may feature three members -- the committee of the whole meeting, as the name implies, includes all council members. That fact alone makes scheduling seven people, who all maintain full employment outside their roles as Bethlehem legislators, difficult.

He said it was "not fair" to insinuate there was a reason to stall the bill.

Reynolds said that Negron's nebulous response to Martell's question actually undermined the integrity of the city's clerk, who schedules the meetings.

Negron responded to Reynolds scolding by saying "I feel it is very unfair" for her to be held responsible for what members of the public were saying. She added that she "didn't tell them what to say." Negron also said she had never met half of the people who spoke in favor of her bill Wednesday night.

Councilman Adam Waldron called voting for the increased ethical requirements "common sense" and said a vote against it amounted to political posturing.

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