Bingham angered some council members when he accused them of arrogance and suggested there is some ‘”wink-wink-shaking-hands-behind-the-scenes deal being made or some form of political gain. I’m disgusted by the process that I’ve seen.”
“You don’t have to insult us,” said Guridy. “We’re not insulting you.”
Council vice president Ray O’Connell told Bingham: “I take that as a true insult. I’ve been at every meeting. I listen to everybody. I’m not arrogant. I take offense to what you said about me. For you to come up and do that to me, you were wrong.”
Council member Joe Davis said the only political pressure he’s felt has been from residents who threaten to never vote for him if he supports the lease. Davis also maintained referendums weaken democracy, by giving legislators an easy way out when it comes to tough decisions.
Council member Cynthia Mota said she is trying to make the best possible decisions for the city and its residents and added: “This is not a done deal.”
Council’s special meeting lasted nearly three hours. Before the vote, nearly 30 people stood to address it about the proposed charter change and the water lease issue.
“Let the people decide” was the underlying cry of many speakers.
Several read the section of the city charter that states “council shall protect and promote the rights of the citizens” to participate in the government in a positive and constructive manner, including “by exercising the right of initiative and referendum.”
Council’s meeting room was crowded, but not filled to capacity.
Pawlowski, along with Finance Director Gary Strathearn and Managing Director Francis Dougherty, sat at a table in the front of the room facing council, with their backs to the audience. The mayor and his aides were not introduced to the public and Pawlowski did not speak until more than an hour into the meeting.
Before the vote, he asked council not to vote for a charter change amendment because “if you vote yes, it will skew the process of us getting these bids.”
Pawlowski reminded residents that the city faces a rapidly rising multi-million-dollar pension debt that he hopes to resolve by leasing the water and sewer systems. “We have a desperate situation on our hands.”
He said if a solution is not found, the city will go bankrupt and taxes will rise between 75 and 125 percent just to pay the minimum payment on pensions.
“Everyone who has the ability to move would leave the city in droves.”
Saying the mayor does not speak with neutrality, Sam Bernhardt, Pennsylvania organizer of Food & Water Watch, announced that Pawlowski accepted more than $3,700 in 2011 from the Philadelphia law firm Ballard Spahr, which represents United Water, one of the companies bidding on the water/sewer lease.
Just before council’s vote, resident Tom Hahn tried to address council for a second time. Guridy said Hahn was out of order. When Hahn shouted back, Guridy instructed a police officer to escort Hahn out of the room, which was done. Some in the audience booed. At the start of the meeting, Guridy warned people he would do that if anyone became disorderly.
Mota, Guridy and O’Connell said there will be more public meetings on the lease issue before council votes on it. After the meeting, Guridy said the lease should be decided by council before May. He said the city has not yet received any bids from companies interested in leasing the water and sewer systems.
Eichenwald said the administration’s “hired consultant” told council that it will get lease bids by March.
Council member Peter Schweyer explained at least several weeks will pass from the time bids come in and any privatization vote, so council and the public have time to review and discuss those bids.
O’Connell added: “There’s a lot of work still to be done in January, February and March with this whole concession agreement. It’s a work in progress.” After lease bids are received, O’Connell said council is going to have the Pennsylvania Economy League look into the possibility of creating a public authority to run the city sewer and water systems.
Guridy got off the subject when he mentioned the mayor’s recent unsuccessful proposal to sell Queen City Airport and got into trouble when he said “the majority of the people who own planes are pretty much rich.” When confronted about that statement a few minutes late by Michael Rosenfeld, president of the Lehigh Valley General Aviation Association, Guridy retracted that comment.
“Too late,” said some in the audience.
“I don’t care if it’s too late or not, I’m retracting it,” said Guridy.