As disturbing as it is to learn that Bethlehem firefighters may very well be down by 6 people next year, I am even more troubled by two other cuts.
An independent audit has tagged the Callahan administration for the following financial missteps: a missed pension payment; spending money without required Council approval; "borrowing" EIT money collected for other municipalities; commingling restricted and unrestricted funds; commingling 911 land line and wireless funds; running the internal service fund at a deficit; "unusual investments" in the pension fund; excess 911 personnel costs; and treasurer's escrow account irregularities. In the face of this devastating audit, Callahan's cronies basically thumbed their noses at everyone and blew $6 million borrowed for capital purchases and improvements.
Yet a part-time City Council decided to eliminate around $15,000 set aside for its own budget analyst, who would work on an "as needed" basis.
I think it's safe to say that now, more than ever, City Council needs an independent review of Bethlehem's finances. Controller Meg Holland did make six specific recommendations, and some were implemented. An independent budget analysis would likely give Holland's recommendations more credibility, and would send a signal to the Callahan administration that Council is finally watching the hen house.
The other cut that really bothers me is the elimination of CPA Celie Walton's position, in spite of her willingness to work part-time and for no benefits.
An accounts payable and receivable position is now held by Terry Reichard. She just happens to be the widow of Dennis Reichard's cousin. Dennis Reichard, the City's Business Administrator, reacted to the negative audit in August by saying, "This isn't stuff that anybody's going to jail on." The contract person listed under temporary help in Financial Services just happens to be his next door neighbor.
Celie Walton, the CPA who's job was eliminated, may have been the most unconnected person in that office. She monitored daily financial reports.
Dennis has certainly surrounded himself with people who are beholden to him, and who would be less likely to raise any questions about financial dealings of the city.
Instead of watching the henhouse, City Council may have given Mayor Callahan the key.