An attempt to get Allentown City Council to create an independent and objective committee to help solve the city’s impending pension crisis failed Wednesday night.
Council member Jeanette Eichenwald could not get any of her four colleagues – Joseph Davis, Julio Guridy, Cynthia Mota and Ray O’Connell--to second her motion that such a committee be created.
Without a second, the motion died. That meant council did not even discuss the idea, much less vote on it.
“I am profoundly, profoundly disappointed with my fellow colleagues,” Eichenwald said when her motion failed. “All our citizens asked for was an opportunity to be involved, an opportunity to be heard.”’
Unhappy with council’s action, people immediately stood up and began walking out of the meeting, some talking, others laughing -- even though council president Guridy was speaking.
“It’s very disrespectful to walk out like this when I’m speaking,” said Guridy.
When someone began talking back to him, and Guridy said: “Sir, you are not allowed to speak. You don’t have to listen, you can walk out, just do it quietly.”
Guridy said it is not true that council is not paying attention to what residents want. “I welcome your comments, but I do not welcome your disrespect.”
After scolding a woman who broke council’s rules of decorum by just blurting out a question about why he didn’t second Eichenwald’s motion, Guridy answered her question by saying: “I did not think it was the right thing to do.”
When that generated some vocal sarcasm, Guridy snapped: “Sir, I was not disrespectful to you and do not be disrespectful to me. Or get out and leave the chamber. I’m not going to tolerate that.”
All four council members who would not second the motion stressed they have been listening to people and will continue to do so.
However, Eichenwald said even questions she asks and possible solutions she suggests are not being addressed.
A petition signed by more than 100 people to create the committee was presented to council in time to get the proposal on Wednesday’s agenda under new business.
Council was told those signatures were gathered in less than two days and that, with more time, at least 2,000 signatures could have been on that petition.
Before Eichenwald’s attempt, council listened for nearly an hour as it was addressed by 18 people. All supported creating a committee and most spoke out against the city administration’s plan to lease Allentown's water and sewer system to resolve the pension crisis.
Before making her motion, Eichenwald thanked those who spoke.
“With age comes a little bit more wisdom and that wisdom has taught me I no longer know all of the answers,” she said. “Each and every one of you who spoke this evening has provided me with additional information and I thank you.”
Eichenwald’s motion was to establish a special committee to review and analyze the city’s police and fire pension obligations, including potential methods to resolve the financial crisis.
Council has scheduled a special meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 27 to review options and scenarios to deal with the coming crisis “that, if left unabated, will consume 25 percent of the city’s general fund.”
O’Connell said all scenarios that have been presented by people concerned about leasing the water and sewer department will be discussed that night.
“I disagree,” said Eichenwald. “I don’t think all scenarios were analyzed.” She said some were analyzed “as if it was the single answer. The answer lies in a combination of several solutions and they were not analyzed in composite.”
Later Eichenwald told council: “I have questions about the material that is going to be presented on the 27th. I will share with you that my questions were not answered.” She added she also has made other suggestions that combine various solutions to the problem, but they will not be addressed on Sept. 27.
“I say this with a great deal of sadness, because I would have hoped all questions – certainly mine as a member of City Council – would have been answered and all options would be considered,” said Eichenwald. “I don’t understand why a question or an option presented by an elected member of City Council would not have been worthy of being considered.”
O’Connell said he understands Eichenwald’s frustration and respects her tremendously.
Former city councilman Michael Donovan, who said it was his idea to propose that council establish a committee, explained people were upset because council did not at least debate the merits of establishing it. Donovan said council is facing “one of the most important decisions this city will make in 100 years.”
“This is a gut-wrenching decision,” said O’Connell. “I don’t take this decision lightly.”