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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Bethlehem Council Members Propose Ethics Commission

Olga Negrón-Dipini and Michael Colón
When Olga Negrón-Dipini and Michael Colón were elected to Bethlehem City Council a little over a year ago, each of them had no monetary support from the usual gaggle of developers, lawyers and engineers who had business dealings with the City. That's a claim few other Council members or Mayor Bob Donchez can make. Negrón-Dipini and Colón would like that to change, and have introduced a good government ordinance that takes aim at the pay-to-play practices so common in government.

The draft 31-page ethics ordinance (which can be seen here)was introduced at Bethlehem City Council last night.

Under the draft ordinance, Negrón-Dipini stated that Council members who receive $250 or more in campaign contributions from an individual or entity would be required to abstain from voting on any matter involving that source and the City. In addition, the proposal establishes an "independent" ethics commission with subpoena powers to investigate, conduct evidentiary hearings and take enforcement action against possible violators. It imposes a two-year ban on city employees accepting employment or compensation with organizations that have city contracts. It also proscribes all but nominal gifts.

Part of this ordinance is a reaction to the controversial Martin Tower rezoning ordinance. Most of the Council members who supported this project had received campaign contributions from developers Lou Ronca and Norton Herrick,as well as unions that would benefit from the construction work. City Council President Willie Reynolds received 24% of his total funding from Martin Tower beneficiaries. Quondam Council member Michael Recchiuti received 29% of his funding from Martin Tower beneficiaries.

Recchiuti was defeated at the polls in 2015.

Both Colón and Negrón-Dipini made clear, however, that neither has been pressured by developers, lawyers or engineers to support or oppose projects before Council.

Noting that a city election will be held this year, Colón believes this is the perfect time for reform measures. "The last thing I or any elected official wants is for anyone to question their motives behind any of the reasons why they legislate," he said.

Numerous citizens questioned the motives of Council members who supported Martin Tower rezoning.

City Council President Willie Reynolds plans to introduce a fairly extensive legislative package next week that he is calling "Bethlehem 2017", aimed at making the City both more transparent and progressive.

Noting Reynolds'r efforts, Colón said that all Bethlehem elected officials are both "committed to legitimacy"and are "trying to earn the trust of the citizens here in Bethlehem."

Negrón-Dipini stated that the proposal imposes no limit on campaign contributions.

Philadelphia, Allentown and Reading have ethics commissions that have largely been ineffective in deterring political corruption in thise cities. That point was conceded by Negrón-Dipini and Colón, but Colón stated that the corruption charges in thise cities is no reason to abandon any effort to establish an ethics commission.

They also acknowledged that the state government would be more effective in dealing with pay-to-play and other forms of political corruption. But Colón noted that a laundry list of reform measures proposed by Governor Tom Wolf have failed.

"If we're going to wait for Harrisburg to pass something, we might be waiting a pretty long time," said Colón.

Both Council members also acknowledged the danger that an ethics commission can be "weaponized for political gain" by candidates making frivolous allegations that disappear the day after an election. Negrón-Dipini stated that investigations would be kept confidential until it is final.


Anonymous said...

so they see some risk in what they're proposing, and concede it has largely been ineffective when done elsewhere.

so why do it? is this another example of the "we have to do SOMETHING" syndrome?

i would argue disclosure and transparency, under the existing system, is the best cure. the fact that everyone knew where the money came from re Martin Towers was to my mind very effective.

Anonymous said...

Under what Pennsylvania Statute is this juvenile being charged ? To me a "Hate Crime" = "Thought Crime"

If people are offended by what someone else thinks, So fucking what

Anonymous said...

Please delete that last comment, wrong article, excuse me.

Anonymous said...

more BS from the inbred dems that control the city

Anonymous said...

I know Ethics Boards are permitted locally, but I thought local municipalities were preempted from regulating campaign contributions. I know Philly does it, but they are First Class Home Rule and permitted to do things other cities and municipalities cannot do.

Bernie O'Hare said...

There is nothing in the state statute that pre-empts campaign finance laws. A challenge on that basis would fail. There is a first amendment issue, but that would fail, too, under current law. There are currently no limits on campaign funding, and that is a problem.

Bernie O'Hare said...

6:13, You have established what I wrote in response to your comment in the other article There should be a "stupid" law.

Patriot2 said...

Hat's off to Olga for making good on her promise to deal with future pay for play legislation after the railroad jobs in Bethlehem the past couple years. Will be interesting to see Reynolds response since he has been a big part of the problem with respect to pay for play shenanigans here.

Maybe his 10 point plan represents a 100% turn as he prepares his 2 year campaign for mayor!

Anonymous said...

The rise of the local Super PAC!

Deirdre Dolan said...

I think the law is fine the way it is written.

Anonymous said...

I agree w a number of folks who posted the most important thing as far as campaign finance is transparency and attribution. I just want to know where and who the money is coming from and to, it is up to me to make a judgement as a voter from there. These type of "feel good" laws never end up taking money out of campaigns just hiding where it came from. I do not want to enter the world of bundling and PACs at the local level and this is where this bill will take Bethlehem. This is a solution in search of a problem and will cause more harm than good.

Anonymous said...

"There are currently no limits on campaign funding, and that is a problem."

I used to think so, too. Now, I'm an agnostic. Trump trounced Hillary while spending less than half the money, the equivalent of a ham sandwich per vote. Citizens United and George Soros be damned. It seems that all that money sometimes rubs people the wrong way. Big contributions often raise big flags. You've often made note of local candidates who outworked their opponent and rang countless doorbells. That means more in local politics (remember what Tip O'Neil said) than fancy mailers or carpet-bombing hit pieces.

Anonymous said...

This seems more politically driven than substance. it will have negative unintended consequences that are worse than what is trying to fix.

Patriot2 said...

This will only become political if Reynolds makes it such as Olga/Michael effort was initiated in response to community outrage after the Martin Tower rezoning debacle.