Wednesday, January 04, 2017
Bethlehem Council Members Propose Ethics Commission
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.