Mayor Ed Pawlowski's proposal to lease Allentown's water and sewer system was not on city council's agenda Wednesday night, but it kept bubbling up throughout the evening.
Former city officials, a current member of council, a council member who was bidding his colleagues goodbye and several city residents all weighed in on the idea during the two-hour meeting.
Former council member Michael Donovan announced at the beginning of the meeting that he is now working with the recently formed Citizens for Common Sense Committee, which objects to the idea of a 50-year lease the mayor says will solve a looming $130 million pension fund payment problem.
Donovan said the committee will use a provision in the city charter to petition council president Julio Guridy to place a presentation by the committee on council's agenda. He said the committee already has more than twice the required 35 signatures on a petition, and that it will be presented to council at its Sept. 19 meeting.
Donovan also said the committee is proposing that council form a five- member investigative panel -- three professionals and one person on each side of the issue -- to do a "thorough, comparative and objective" analysis of the lease idea.
Glenn Hunsicker, who formed the Common Sense Committee, continued to press council for actuarial studies from the years 2005 to 2011, "so at least there's some transparency" about the numbers the mayor is using to justify his support of the lease idea.
Council directed assistant city solicitor Fran Fruhwirth to upload the public documents to either the city or city council's Web site so the public can view the studies and print them out.
After several residents spoke out against the lease, or urged council to be cautious about approving one, council member Jeanette Eichenwald blasted the Pawlowski administration for already spending $237,000 -- and perhaps as much as double that -- to advance the idea without any approval from council.
She said council has had to agonize over every dollar in the budget, "and here [as much as] a half-million dollars has been spent," adding that the money could pay for five police officers or several city workers. "I'm saying this in a quiet voice, but I am outraged,"
The lease proposal came up yet again, during farewell remarks by council member Mike Schlossberg. He gave qualified support to the lease idea, calling it "the best in a series of terrible options." He urged council members to "take your time, conduct every study, get all the information you need," before making a decision.
Schlossberg, 29, who served on council since 2009, announced his resignation last week, in part because he is running unopposed for a Pennsylvania House seat. He said he wanted to give council enough time to choose a replacement who could help during year-end budget deliberations.
Schlossberg, who was the youngest person ever elected to council, thanked his peers, the mayor and several administration members for all that they taught him and said, "I will take all of you with me to Harrisburg."
He also said that during his first two years of service, he would get a "massive migraine" after every council meeting. "It was from frustration out of never being able to do enough ... feeling powerless," he said.
Schlossberg said he was finally cured of the problem with help from his rabbi. "He told me, 'The essence of humanity is to leave the Earth a better place.' "