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Friday, July 25, 2014

Dolan Stops Taking Questions at Illick's Mill News Conference

Illick's Mill
Though Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan is no longer the Executive Director or even a voting board member at the Illick's Mill, she still called a news conference on July 24 to announce to an audience of about 40 that the drop-in nature center is closing. The facility will still host weddings through the end of January, and Dolan stated that some unspecified group from Lehigh may be taking over. She also stated she would remain as a gardener.

Her announcement comes at a time when attempts to negotiate a lease, and one that requires some kind of rental payment, have faltered. In an April text to Mayor Donchez, she promised, "I will do everything I can to prevent this lease from going to Council." On the eve of her news conference, she recommended on the Facebook Mill site that supporters contact the Mayor, write letters to the editor and even speak out at City Council meetings. She also lashed out, "I hope ruining my life's work was enough evil for the Gang of Jerks."

Dolan and her nonprofit are currently under investigation by a Grand Jury convened by DA John Morganelli. Witnesses have included former Mayor John Callahan, Mill Chairman Andrew Bollinger, Parks and Public Works Director Ralph Carp. Dolan has yet to be seen before the grand jury.

Dolan told WFMZ-TV69 that she doesn't know why she's being investigated.

While Executive Director, she failed to file nonprofit tax returns for three years in a row. As a result, her nonprofit status was revoked for at least a year. During that time, she continued raising money. Her vote on last year's budget, which provided for heating oil at the Mill, is an apparent violation of the Ethics Act prohibition on voting on matters in which she has a direct financial interest. Dolan was a paid Executive Director. As Chair of City Council's Parks' Committee, she advocated relaxing restrictions on alcohol in the park, where the Mill hosts wedding receptions. Her threat concerning the lease to Mayor Donchez may be yet another violation of the Ethics Act.

In addition to paying no rent, the Mill has also stopped paying utilities, and Bethlehem taxpayers have footed the bill. In the meantime, there are nine room air conditioners at the site. Over $128,000 owed to the City for work at the Mill has been written off as noncollectable.

Before the news conference began, this reporter was asked to confirm with Dolan's husband that he was there for The Bethlehem Press. Dolan supporter Gloria McVeigh taunted, "Look who's here, gloating over the corpse."

But when she made her announcement, Dolan professed she was interested in accentuating the positive.

"A teacher, that would be me," claimed Dolan, "imagined all things are possible when the people are behind her." She later added, "I was the teacher in this story," to accentuate her role as an educator.

She called Bill Burkhardt, a former Liberty principal, to discuss the value of experiential learning. He was followed by former Liberty High School participant Erin Matyus and Lafayette College intern Rebecca Murray. Tom Kerr, a former board member, echoed Burkhardt.

When the speakers finished, Dolan indicated she would entertain questions, but not about the "dark clouds" surrounding her nonprofit.

But before long, she began blaming the City for the Center's difficulties.She said she had a letter from Solicitor Bill Leeson claiming that the center was a liability, not an asset, and then she made a reference to politics playing a part.

Dolan was then reminded about her claim that she would refrain from discussing the "dark clouds" over the Mill, and that many political and other questions could be asked. At that point, her husband leapt to her defense and Mill supporters shouted down the reporter.

When Dolan continued, she stated she would not be accepting any more questions. But she later told WFMZ-69 that there "was no wrongdoing."


Anonymous said...

This is a tough one for me Bernie , Karen made a lot of bad decisions and mistakes. But my question about that is "where was the board ?" In the end if it stays closed forever everyone is a loser.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Dolan a part of the council that went after Starters Clubhouse when they started to notice it was doing well by raising its rent? Did Dolan talk about Starters being an asset went it started losing money and falling behind on its rent?

Bernie O'Hare said...

12:25, you mean board members like her husband? Karen was the Executive Director and day to day operations were her responsibility. The Board committed no conflicts of interest. She did.

Bernie O'Hare said...

12:36, in fairness, I believe she made a pitch for Starters. But she insisted on a legal opinion concerning Lynn Cunningham's appointment to BPA. She suggested Lynn might be conflicted while she was voting for percs for herself.

Anonymous said...

How in the world can you be considered a serious reporter for any newspaper. You have an agenda, an axe to grind and are the least objective person.

It is shameful that the Bethlehem Press ruins their reputation by having you represent them as a "legitimate" reporter.

Anonymous said...

What's the subscription count on the Bethlehem Press, dismall at best I bet. But that's a sidetrack to Karen Dolan and her abuse of office.

I have to believe that the him and her parties involved in the free pass of rent and utilities have a "I was not having sex with the person who was having sex with me" situation. After all the him does have a reputation and the her likes to tip the bottle with vague recolations of what happened the night before...

Anonymous said...

Ms. Dolan can try to "spin" this story in a positive manner but she's clearly the reason the place is in trouble:

* she allowed the paperwork to lapse that would maintain it's non-profit status
* She voted on matters that affected the facility as a member of council - a CLEAR Conflict of Interest
*She threatened the mayor

It is time for Ms. Dolan to realize she is the target of a grand jury because of HER actions and stop trying to blame others.

Spin it anyway you want Ms. Dolan, but the "black cloud" over your head was self inflicted.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I agree there was some negligence probably due to inexperience but I see nothing egregious enough to tear the whole thing down. I think the attacks were a bit heavy handed.

Anonymous said...

Dolan seems to be a self-centered idealist who was ill equipped to be the director of a nonprofit. The center seems to have been the pet project of a few naive environmentalists with no business acumen. It offered very little to the community and was unsustainable. Shut the doors and save Bethlehem taxpayers their precious resources.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, will you be covering the lawsuit being brought by Barron von Footinmouth against John Brown and his PR contract that was laughed out of Judge Roscioli's courtroom yesterday? On the one hand, you can't stand the showboat Barron yet on the other hand you, like many others see the goofy PR contract with Sahl Communications to be a waste of precious taxpayer dollars as well as being politically motivated. Could you publish the RFP that went out for this contract? Apparently its specifications were tailor-made for Sahl. Who wrote the specs? Who reviewed and ranked the two proposals? Where was council in this process? This is a contract over 25K and it required competitive bids/proposals. What makes Sahl so unique to get favored status for this useless contract?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I was there yesterday, but too late. I only saw about 5 minutes. My sense here is that Barron is going to lose. The first lawsuit had merit because it was sole bid. This one was not. I believe that a privatized PR firm for the Exec is a terrible idea and may be illegal, but not for the reasons in Barron's suit. I will track down the RFP for you.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Sorry, I agree there was some negligence probably due to inexperience but I see nothing egregious enough to tear the whole thing down. I think the attacks were a bit heavy handed."

She has been on City Council 12 years and knows a conflict. She ran that nonprofit for many years before thumbing her nose at filing taxes. She broke the law. Nobody pulled the plug on the Mill. That's their decision, and she is milking it to get public sympathy.

She has disgrsced her public office and needs to resign.

Anonymous said...

Although it appears Dolan misused her influence and got political favors, the Mill and other historic sites in Bethlehem have value as tourist attractions. Why can't the Historic Bethlehem Partnership take over this operation?

Anonymous said...

Qualifications for PR contract - "Contractor must be based in the city of Bethlehem, Pa. and its name must start with the letter 'S'..."

Anonymous said...

It is quite apparant that the problems with the Environmental Center were caused by Karen Dolan regardless of her lack of experience. What everyone is neglecting to see or mention is her willingness to shut down the center just to feed her own ego and continue to play the persecution card. If she truly cared for the center, she would step out of the limelight and help to restore it to sound financial footing.

I don't think Mayor Donchez wants to see the center closed, but, rather, wants to see it sustainable.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to blame any party affiliation here, but it certainly seems that our local politicians believe that the ends justify the means, no matter how deliberate their abuse of power is.

Look at the hockey arena, for example. It's going to be the crown jewel of Allentown (until it's not), and all the local pols are going to take credit for building this palace and making all the insiders fabulously wealthy at the expense of the school children and the poor. None of that matters of course, because look! Hockey!

Same goes here. We can overlook all of the malfeasance (deliberate or not) because "it's good for the community." We have a nice little political aristocracy in this country. Until we start making them accountable, truly accountable (not just slaps on the wrist), nothing will change.

Anonymous said...

How come nobody is asking Councilwoman Dolan why she is so willing to shut down a wonderful city asset just to show how wronged she was. If she truly belies in the Fox Center she would step aside and help them get back on their feet. Instead she is deliberately sacrificing this asset to her own self interest and self importance. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Does anjyone really think she is thinking of the gbest interests of the Fox Center? Jeopardizing their tax status, not paying bills, not making sure the center is on solid financial footing. Sure sounds like she really cares about the Fox Center doesn't it.

Anonymous said...

she talks funny when she runs out of weed. Give her a drug test and you'll realize the problem.

Anonymous said...

Dolan is a nut case. I know first hand. I helped her get on council and I kick myself everyday for helping that crazy women. She is the kind of person that gives teachers a bad name.