Bethlehem City Council honored its fire chief, began planning how it will appoint a new member to replace Mayor-elect Robert Donchez and heard appeals from Lehigh University students to find a new community garden to replace one that soon will be gone in south Bethlehem.

The Tuesday night meeting began with council president Eric Evans reading a citation honoring Fire Chief George Barkanic, who retired last week after 33 years with the department.

Barkanic, who rose through the ranks to become chief in 2006, was praised for the special contribution he has made to the safety and well-being of city residents. The citation stated he has helped thousands of Bethlehem residents during his career.

Council wished Barkanic and his wife Judy “a long and satisfying retirement.”

After receiving a standing ovation, Barkanic shook hands with council members then thanked the city for giving him “a wonderful job. You couldn’t buy a better job than firefighter in the city of Bethlehem.”

He said the job is so good that Bethlehem has 15 or 20 legacy firefighters – those who followed their fathers into the department – including his own daughter. “She loves it.”

He said the only problem is his daughter called him about 7 a.m. one recent day to tell him about an early morning fire call she had been on. “She could have waited until noon or a little later.”

Barkanic praised out-going Mayor John Callahan, saying: “I don’t think I’ve ever met a man more passionate about improving the city. He kept telling us over and over ‘don’t worry about how it looks now; it’s how good the city will look in 10 years’. I could see his vision. And hopefully it continues.”

While Mayor-elect Donchez was at his regular seat on council, his letter of resignation was read by City Clerk Cynthia Biedenkopf. His resignation from council will take effect Jan.6, the same day he is sworn in as mayor.

Donchez thanked his colleagues on council for their professionalism on many issues while he served with them and added he looks forward to continuing to serve the city as mayor.

Replacing Donchez on City Council

Evans congratulated Donchez on winning the election -- the Democrat faced no Republican opponent – and announced council has advertised to find someone to serve the last two years of Donchez’s term on council.

That notice also is posted on the Bethlehem website.

Letters of interests and resumes must be submitted to City Hall by Dec. 31. Evans said candidates must be city residents, but can be either Democrats or Republicans.

Evans hopes the details about how council will appoint a new member can be formally worked out at its Jan. 6 reorganizational meeting.

At that meeting, two newly-elected council members will be sworn in:
Democrats Adam Waldron and Bryan Callahan, who is Mayor Callahan’s brother.

They will replace council members Jean Belinski and David DiGiacinto, who did not seek re-election. DiGiacinto was elected the new city controller in November.

The two newcomers will join Evans, Karen Dolan, Michael Recchiuti and William Reynolds on council.

Evans said four of those six council members will have to vote for an appointee.

And he said council has 30 days to make that decision from the Jan. 6 resignation date of Donchez.

Council had an initial discussion about how it will pick its new seventh member, but Evans stressed nothing will be carved in stone until after the two new members are sworn in.

Recchiuti said council has not been through the process of appointing a new council member for 10 years.

Council may schedule a special committee-of-the-whole meeting in mid-January before its second regular meeting on Jan. 21.

At that special public meeting, council will meet and interview candidates for the vacant seat. Evans suggested each will be given 3-5 minutes to make an opening statement, then will answer questions from council.

Dolan suggested that if only a half dozen or so candidates apply, council should make no decision at that special meeting. But she suggested if a larger number apply, council might have to vote that night to whittle the number down to three finalists, then make a final selection and immediately swear in and seat the winner at its Jan. 21 meeting.