|Mayor Bob Donchez at BSI and RHF Holiday Open House|
I parked my car and started to make my way down the hill to this shindig, wondering if I'd be able get even one decent picture. As I was on my way down, I saw Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez parking his car on the other side of the street. Like me, he was distracted by the caws of what must have been a million crows at the nearby Moravian Cemetery.
Then he did something I consider pretty unusual for a Bethlehem Mayor. Instead of marching down the street, he fished into his pocket for some change so he could feed the meter. Turns out it was unnecessary because the party hosts had permits, but Donchez was putting money in anyway.
After watching this from across the street, i outed myself and said Hi.
When he arrived at the party, it turns out the hosts had people waiting outside and had a special spot ready for him. He quietly answered he found a spot up the street, acting as though he hadn't noticed them. I think it's likely he did, and next time I'll pull in.
Anyhoo, this is an honest guy. The son of a cop. He's not the kind of guy you'll see at the liquor store, with a city-owned vehicle, buying cases of booze that he then lugs off to his house in a Chevy Tahoe. He's not the kind of guy who justifies this flagrant abuse of public trust as the incidental personal use of a government vehicle. This is not the kind of guy who buys burner phones or who uses City funds to sweep his office for electronic bugs.
I think Bob is wrong about Martin Tower rezoning, bit do not for a second challenge his personal integrity.
In my view, he really should wait until developer Lew Ronca decides what he wants to do there. Merchants think that, too. They are upset that their voices were not heard. Perhaps Bob could have done a little more to reach out to what he had to know was a problem. But I think the main problem is the one-way dialogue at City Council meetings. It's a system bound to lead to communication breakdowns. In fact, it is those one-way dialogues that ultimately created the misperception about City meetings with Ronca.
Let me explain.
At the very first public hearing on October 6, both Mike Recchiuti and Willie Reynolds incorrectly stressed that this rezoning at Martin Tower was city-driven, not developer driven. Mike Recchiuti went so far as to say that he did not believe the developer came and requested this change.
Now Alicia Karner, Bob Donchez or Darlene Heller could have easily refuted or clarified that statement. But they said nothing. In my opinion, they said nothing because Bethlehem City Council meetings have become far too formal. There's no real back-and-forth.
When my Right-to-Know later revealed that the City and Ronca had been exchanging love notes for six months, people understandably exploded. They felt they had been misled, and they had been misled. But I think this was unintentional. It's because of the system for delaing with public input, not the Council members or City officials.
Donchez told me that if he had to do it over, he'd do some things differently. This kind of one-way dialogue and formality during meetings is a prescription for the very distrust we now see. That has to change.
Though he often puts his foot in his mouth in his exchanges with merchants, Bryan Callahan seems to be one Council member who understands this is a problem. Maybe other Council members will soon start seeing it, too.