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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Allentown Divided

Mayor O'Connell at summer hoops
There's a Facebook page optimistically called "Let's Build the New Allentown Together." But based on what I've seen in recent days, many residents in this one-party town are ripping each other to shreds. Hyenas and jackals are fighting over the carcass of what is now Dead Ed, each of them convinced that their candidate, and only their candidate, is capable of running the city. It's actually quite ugly. It also ignores the fact that four members of Council have voted to appoint Ray O'Connell as Mayor.

People need to give him a chance.

These sour grapes come from various of the candidates who failed to get four votes. Here are the arguments: (1) Council failed to follow the Home Rule Charter in appointing Ray O'Connell; (2) The vote for Ray O'Connell was fixed; (3) Council violated the Pa Constitution by allowing convicted felon Hasshan Batts to interview for the Mayoral position; (4) Council is bigoted because it refused to appoint Hasshan Batts or Cheryl Johnson Watts, two persons of color; (5) Cynthia Mota violated the Ethics Act by casting meaningless sympathy votes for her boss, and needs to resign. Let's review each of these claims.

(1) Council failed to follow the Home Rule Charter in appointing Ray O'Connell. - The Charlie Thiel faction has claimed, wrongly, that Council failed to follow a Home Rule Charter provision that really has no application to appointments to elected positions. It bars elected officials from "any compensated appointive city office or city employment" until one year has elapsed after that person leaves office. This is designed to prevent cronyism, in which a Mayor rewards someone who supported him with a high-paying cabinet job, which is a Mayoral appointment, or other employment for the City. The Charter fails to define city employment. If a Mayor is a city employee, he should be able to get sick and vacation pay. In fact, former Mayor Joe Daddona tried to do just that, but was shot down by Controller Lou Hershman. A Mayor or Council member is considered a city employee for tax witholding purposes, but that's about it. You can't fire an elected official for failing to show up for work. You can't even fire him if he's indicted.

Under the interpretation urged by the Thiel faction, no Council member could ever seek re-election. After all, that's "city employment." So if Courtney Robinson, Candida Affa and Roger MacLean really believe that their elected office is city employment, I expect them to announce that they will not be seeking reelection.

Don't hold your breath.

The provision in the Charter is there, and in several places, to keep an elected official from serving in a dual role as a cabinet official or city employee. Thus, the Mayor is prohibited from working in the parks department. A Council member is unable to serve as a firefighter. But there is nothing improper about appointing a recently retired Council member to the Mayor's office.

(2) The vote for Ray O'Connell was fixed. - Charlie Thiel, Nat Hyman and Ray O'Connell will all tell you that, at some point in this process, they were told they had four votes. Every one of them lobbied Council members. That is completely permissible, so long as you are not lobbying four members at the same time. I believed Ray had four votes and that Thiel had three. I said as much on this blog. But I also cautioned that in politics and jury trials, you never know what is going to happen. At one point last week, Ray was concerned that he would be denied an interview. And as the ballots were cast on Thursday night, he looked far from comfortable.

(3) Council violated the Pa Constitution by allowing convicted felon Hasshan Batts to interview for the Mayoral position. - Ironically, this argument is coming from the Allentown NAACP and Cheryl Watts Johnson. Pennsylvania's Constitution does bar a person convicted of an "infamous crime" from holding elected office. Batts has a few felony convictions in addition to his Master's and Doctoral degrees. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that felonies are considered infamous enough to bar someone from holding office. But nothing in the state constitution prevents Council from listening. And in York, a person with felony convictions was elected Mayor.

Now the NAACP is a nonprofit. It pays no taxes. It can sponsor debates and speak out on issues. But when it takes sides in partisan politics, it is violating its tax exempt status. Barbara Redmond, on the NAACP Facebook page, slammed City Council for interviewing a black man because she thought Council should appoint a black woman.
The Allentown NAACP is disappointed that the Allentown City Council is still playing the good old boy system. Last night’s selection of the interim mayor was living proof. City Council knew that accepting an application, from an African-American candidate who was not qualified to run, yet, they allowed his candidacy to move forward, pitting him against a highly qualified civically [sic] involved African-American woman.
So the NAACP nails Council for failing to adhere to the state constitution, but thinks it can violate and IRS prohibition on partisan political activity. In fact, tonight it is hosting a black Congressional candidate at a hip hop forum but has excluded the others.

(4) Council is bigoted because it refused to appoint Hasshan Batts or Cheryl Johnson Watts, two persons of color. - A local artist claims those who failed to support Batts are "old white men" who detest "people of color. ... [G]o back to your miserable lives calling Mota (a Latina) and Batts the n-word and complaining that they don’t know their place (and how hard it is for a white man today to get a good job cause all the minorities are taking over) from your recliner in front of the television."

Without question, prejudice is alive and well in Allentown and the entire Lehigh Valley. But it's a two-way street. Those who lash out at people because of their white color and age are just as bigoted as the usual remarks we hear about Latinos and blacks..

Batts really moved me when he spoke to Council, but it was bullshit. He claimed that he was empowered by going out and getting an education. The fact is that he already had a master's degree and was working in human services and with children when he was picked up as a drug kingpin, in 2007, with five kilos of cocaine, 50 pounds of marijuana, six guns and $50,000 in cash. To think Council would appoint someone with felony convictions to replace someone with felony convictions is borderline lunacy, no matter what his color might be. In fact, I have serious reservations about whether he belongs in the nonprofit in which he is involved now.

As for Cheryl Johnson Watts, she was doomed the moment Lisa Pawlowski showed up to support her.

(5) Cynthia Mota violated the Ethics Act by casting meaningless sympathy votes for her boss, and needs to resign. - Mota voted for Batts 11 times before switching her vote to Ray. It was unknown at the time that she worked for him, a fact that was only revealed yesterday by blogger Michael Molovinsky. This is something she should have disclosed. Contrary to what is reported in The Morning Call, this is an arguable Ethics Act violation because she was voting on a matter in which she has a financial interest. If her boss was named Mayor, she would move up in the food chain. But her vote was symbolic. She was making the point that people deserve second chances. She ultimately switched her vote to Ray, which is actually against her financial interest. While I think she lacked transparency and insulted Allentown by failing to make her employment status clear, I don't think a complaint would go very far.

If people are really interested in seeing Allentown move forward, it is time for everyone to work together and stop being so angry.

You are all beginning to sound like me.

In basketball, I've noticed that high school kids pay no attention to color and try to help each other out, even if they are on different teams.

I am beginning to wonder who the children really are.
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