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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bethlehem City Council Ponders Super Majority for Zoners

Bethlehem City Council recently expanded its Zoning Hearing Board from three to five members. It's now considering a new rule requiring any action taken by the board to have the approval of a majority of all members, not just those present. What this means is that if two zoners are absent, the remaining three must agree unanimously on any request for zoning relief.

Changes to the Zoning Ordinance require a review by the Planning Commission, and on January 13, they unanimously recommended against a Super Majority requirement. Their rationale was best expressed by D. Steve Thode. "Such a Super Majority requirement, essentially that if you're absent you're counted as a No vote, would force some otherwise well-meaning, public-spirited volunteers for public service, to think twice about whether they want to be placed in a position where their commitment to family or to their job, was read as some sort of denial of their civic obligations."

But City Council members, at their January 18 meeting, seemed skeptical. Karen Dolan, joined by Bob Donchez, indicated a zoning applicant who wanted a decision from all five members could simply request a continuance, and added that they are bound by a super majority requirement in their own decisions.

Bethlehem resident Al Bernotas, who supports the proposed change, told Council that there really is no excuse for an absence. "You're talking about twelve meetings a year, two or three hours a day. I don't see why that should be so difficult." He questioned whether absentees are really interested in doing something "good for the City", or just "want another line on their resume."

Council will vote on this proposed change at their February 1 meeting.


Anonymous said...

Bernardo, check it out.

OH OH, they did it again. Mayor Johnny boy has raided another off limits account to pay for stuff. Apparently he took about $500,000 and was scolded by the State.

Didn't they do this before and promise to never ever do it again??


Bernie O'Hare said...

I know, I know. Callahan really looks increasingly horrible these days. This is one of those situations in which his stewardship of the City is actually worse than it was portrayed by Charlie Dent.

Anonymous said...

I don't intend to contradict anyone on points regarding use of funds, etc., by the current administration. However, just yesterday, my husband and I were noting what an excellent job the city has been doing at cleaning the streets after snow storms. Also, we mused about the remarkably fine response we have found to police calls. We and neighbors have called now and then over relatively trivial matters, that certainly were not urgent, and have had police cars here within minutes. Always efficient, polite, dealth with in a reasonable manner. Many cities are finding that certain types of calls, far more urgent, are not being addressed by the police department. Ditto for the fire department, though we have not called upon them. Finally, the city of Bethlehem runs a recycling operation that is the envy of friends and relatives who live in other jurisdictions around Pennsylvania. There may be problems with Mayor Callahan, and I for one would never want to take on the job he is expected to do, but it is too easy to lose perspective -- Bethlehem functions very well in many areas. Cate

Anonymous said...


You attend these zoning hearing all over the valley...what do you think of this? Do you think that all a board does is meet a couple of hours, about twelve times a year? Do you think it is an easy job, especially in the larger cities?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I do go all over the place and think they do take their jobs seriously. I was swayed by Dr. Thode and respectfully disagree with Al Bernotas on this point. Planning ands zoning often are under deadlines requiring action, so there are times when it might be impossible to ask for a continuance.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 1:24,

Bethlehem does many things well, and that is a tribute to the people who work there.

Al Bernotas said...


Here is the situation from my point of view. The City Council increased the Zoning Hearing Board from three members with two alternates, to five members with no alternates. If they had gone to five members with two alternates, the likelihood of ever having only three members sitting for a hearing would have been extremely slim, although possible. With five members and no alternates, the odds rise considerably that a three member hearing could occur, requiring only two votes to decide an appeal. Therefore, the issue came up about the two-vote decision and the Council decided to propose an amendment to require three votes to make a decision, in all cases. That is not such a stretch. It keeps the voting requirement consistent. As you think it through, other considerations come up, such as those brought up by Steve Thode. His viewpoint was interesting to me. Frankly, his points had not occurred to me, and I was interested in what he had to say. I respect his opinion, but I disagree with it, and could only hope that City Council would still consider the three-vote requirement. And, they did, but it is not a done deal.

Moreover, each vote is important. Whether there is a two vote, or three vote requirement, anyone who misses a meeting is a no vote when you do not have alternates. I did not see the logic to the statement about missing a meeting and it being construed as a no vote. It is a no vote.

In any case, I would suspect that Steve Thode and I both have the best interests of Bethlehem in mind.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Agreed, Al. You both stated your cases very well. You persuaded Council, but don't count Steve out.