Some intense moments played out in Allentown between city council and the mayor on Thursday night.
Mayor Ed Pawlowski nominated four men to take on roles as city directors with each position taking a increase in pay. The mayor wanted to permanently fill the positions of police chief, fire chief, director of public works and the director of the community and economic development.
Pawlowski envisioned Michael Walker to oversee the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development. He also nominated interim police chief Keith Morris, interim fire chief Lee Laubach and interim public works director Craig Messinger to assume their duties permanently.
The council voted not to confirm Walker into the position of Director of Community and Economic Development.
As the meeting progressed, Messinger opted to remain in an interim capacity as city council's proposed plan would have been a pay decrease.
“It’s at the point now where I can say that it’s probably about 26 million dollars I’ve been able to save the city over the last two and a half years,” said Messinger to city council on Thursday night. “I’m feeling the fact I’m worth every bit of money proposed there.”
The mayor had hoped Messinger’s salary would increase to $120,000, however, the council proposed to would have been more than a $20,000 decrease.
City council members said they wanted to wait until Pawlowski’s proposed spending plan before making a decision on the salaries for the department directors. All members, with the exception of councilwoman Candida Affa, did not seem to budge on approving salary increases at the time.
Keith Morris’s proposed salary was $130,000. In his interim capacity, Morris was making almost $117,300.
Several community members spoke out in favor of Morris’s position as chief and proposed salary.
“I’m disappointed,” Morris told the council. “I’m losing sleep over this. My stomach is in knots. I never expected on a day that’s supposed to be so happy for me that I’d have to go through anything like this.”
City council president Ray O’Connell expressed his support to confirm Morris despite not voting in favor for an increased salary.
“We need a police chief who’s empathetic, compassionate, tough, fair, firm. You meet all those qualifications,” O’Connell told Morris.
The council expressed they would re-evaluate the salary increases once a spending plan is presented to them.
“I will move forward, but each and every one of you committed to reevaluate this during budget time and I will hold you to that,” Morris said.
City council unanimously confirmed Morris to police as police chief. Morris will continue to receive a paycheck reflective of his interim salary.
Lee Laubach will assume the fire chief duties permanently after serving as interim chief since February 2015. He’ll continue to collect a salary of $110,162.
On Friday afternoon, Pawlowski said the council’s decision to wait until the budget plan before boosting pay was “nonsense” and felt the council members may have had a political agenda.
“It makes no sense whatsoever,” said Pawlowski. “It’s such a minuscule amount compared to the overall budget.”
Pawlowski said he came up with the figures after comparing salaries to similar-sized cities in an effort to keep the pay at a competitive rate. He added the salaries he proposed were within the budgetary range for city directors based on the 2015 spending plan.
Councilman Roger MacLean, a former police chief in Allentown, stressed on Friday how the council wanted to see the budget plan before approving on the proposed salary increases.
“Nobody is arguing about the police chief having a raise. Nobody is arguing against the fire chief having a raise, the public works director having the raise,” said MacLean. “It’s just the timing.”
MacLean said the city council is expecting a budget plan from Pawlowski on November 1st.