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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, January 11, 2019

Bethlehem's Popular Zoning Officer Forced to Resign

Suzanne Borzak
While the rest of us were enjoying the holidays, Bethlehem Zoning Officer Suzanne Borzak was hard at work, as usual. Last Friday, after lunch and with no prior notice, she was summoned to a meeting with the Human Resources Director. When she arrived, Planning Director Darlene Heller and Department pf Community and Economic Development Director Alicia Karner were sitting there, waiting for her. They essentially fired her. What a wonderful gift from the Christmas City for a 55 year-old person! Borzak was told to resign or the City would fight her on unemployment. The reason for her termination? Stealing? Nah. Chronic absenteeism? No way. The City is moving in a different direction, Borzak was told.

Well, it's the wrong direction. Planning Director Darlene Heller likes to stonewall and has a completely unhelpful attitude with the public. Heller clearly resented Borzak and felt threatened by her. Borzak is adored by everyone except for Hotel Bethlehem Principal Bruce Haines. Bruce hates everyone, so he doesn't count.

Let me explain how I know Suzanne. Until I became mesmerized by high school and college hoops, I routinely covered Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board. I first saw Suzanne during one of those hearings way back in 2011. At that time, she was a Housing Inspector. She testified against a south side landlord who wanted to convert a single detached home into a two-family home. She destroyed him. First, the owner failed to have the property inspected when he purchased it. Second, he had already been using the property a multi-family home and had been hit with "cease-and-desist" orders several times. Third, there was no heat for at least one of the tenants. Fourth, Borzak visited the property and learned he had actually crammed three families in there. Fifth, it was uninhabitable. She took pictures showing rat feces, exposed wires, inoperable sinks and loose floorboards.

The landlord's petition for relief was denied. In fact, I believe his conduct was tantamount to recklessly endangering the lives of others.

Borzak is very tough. But she is also very fair. When this guy recognized that he had been out of line and made a substantial investment in his property to make it safe for he people who loved there, she worked with him.

Not long after this, Borzak was appointed Bethlehem's Zoning Officer. At this point in her career,she already had 17 years of experience in planning, zoning and code enforcement. Her coal region roots - she's from Schuylkill County - give her a strong work ethic.

I watched her operate as Bethlehem's Zoning Officer for several years. She always had everything organized and ready for the Board, right down to bottles of water. She also made sure agendas were out there for the public. She knew every case being considered inside out, and could perform mathematical questions concerning square footage in her head while everyone else looked at the calculators on their smartphones and iPads.

I believe she was probably Bethlehem's best employee. Certainly in the top ten with people like Mark Spivak.

I have not heard about this from Suzanne directly. I have instead spoken to friends who were with her on the day this happened. I did reach out to Mayor Bob Donchez, who is aware what had happened. As he made very clear to me, it is improper for him to discuss personnel matters. I respect this.

Bob's father was a city police officer who was retaliated against because he exposed police corruption. He worked with a District Attorney named Bernie O'Hare. Detective Donchez was demoted for doing the right thing. But one day, then Mayor Payrow approached Detective Donchez and apologized for what had happened. He said he had listened to the wrong people.

I believe Mayor Donchez is making the same mistake. He is listening to Darlene Heller and Alicia Karner without even bothering to talk to Suzanne. He is hearing one side of the story. He may be listening to the wrong people, just as Payrow did. I find it very hard to believe that someone as professional as Borzak did anything to warrant her separation. Findamental fairness demands that he hear her side of the story, just as Mayor Payrow should have talked to Detective Donchez.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Karner is a real Bee-ach. She has always had that reputation. Bobby D, sadly has no backbone and does what the St. senator, Karner's best bud tells him to do.

Very sad for her. She didn't deserve this. Remember Mr. O'Hare the city is more and more in the hands of a few developers and landlords. No looking under the rugs or you are out the door. The city is going the way of Allentown and no one has the guts to stop it. Money now talks louder than ever in Bethlehem!

Bernie O'Hare said...

I believe the reference you made is sexist and it destroys the validity of your argument.

Anonymous said...

Someone had to take the fall for the the city's issuance of permits for Benner's new building which does not have the setback on the top floor as was previously required.

Anonymous said...

People who resign don't get unemployment. That part of the story doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said...

This is bullshit, she has been nothing but professional to me every time I’ve seen her or had to deal with a zoning issue, no special favors, no special help etc, just a great employee all around, and what she knew just off the top of her head was all Bethlehem all the time, Bob Donchez was asleep at the switch for this axe job and should personally have a look into the exact reasons why this fine hard working lady was axed.

Anonymous said...

This could be considered constructive discharge and she could likely have an employment case. I would guess the three “witnesses” in the room would all deny that she was forced. Additionally, is Bethlehem Home Rule Charter and does it have a Merit Personnel Code (or something similar)? If so, she should be protected by that and they could not just fire her because of constitutional protections to her job she would have and her entitlements to due process. Just some food for thought to help her if you are interested.

Anonymous said...

The fired zoning officer has been the most kind and informed city worker for years.
Of course we'd fire her.

Anonymous said...

Suzanne is exceptionally knowledgeable in zoning. She has a depth of experience. She is tough. She takes her job serious, works hard, and calls things as she sees them. However, she is also very fair. She is mindful that the ends of her work are to make places that people live and work safe and she works toward those ends in a reasonable and appropriate manner. She is respectful, even in the face of disrespect directed toward her. She is a professional through and through. This is a big loss for the City of Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

I can see it already, another City tax called the "Borzak" tax.

Anonymous said...

What doies going another way even mean? Zoning is zoning. There may be intrepretations of a particular aspect of the zoning ordinance but you can't simply shift gears and "go another" way. That is code for you pissed off the wrong developer. As far as being sexist, The former CD Director was characterized as a Bastard who would humiliate you in public and apologize in private. If the current one is characterized as a bitch. Perhaps thats in the job description.

Anonymous said...

Grow a set Mayor Donchez! Who's the elected official in charge of the city..you or Alicia Karner?

LVcitizen295 said...

Two sides to every story people.

Moontrance said...

10:22 or boscola?

Anonymous said...

Lisa Boscola is part of the equation in Bethlehem..I agree and she should tend to State business as that is her elected position. As Browne is to Atown..she is to Bethlehem. Donchez needs to man up and stop the madness in his household.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Bernie! It is utterly disturbing that Suzanne was essentially fired. I agree that she is the best employee working for the mayor--the one person who cares about residents and the city more than her job or future political career. All we see among the others is a consistent strategy of rolling over to developers. Maybe it's a miracle Suzanne survived this long in the same building with Karner and Heller. It is lower than low if they are trying to pin Karner's failure to control Benner on Suzanne. We all know that decision is coming from the top. At this point I'm ready to vote for anyone who has a chance of beating Boscola just so we can get her and her pions out of our city's politics. Donchez is like the king of Bethlehem--a figurehead who has no control or power over all the people who are running the city around him. He might as well stand up and wave as the world passes him by. How did we end up with a mayor who is perfectly satisfied with being a figurehead!

Bernie O'Hare said...

He is no figurehead, believe me. Bob is very much his own man.

Anonymous said...

Shame on the City of Bethlehem. Fire an employee that is doing the job to the best of their ability. Hopefully she has some e-mails or telephone recordings to stick it to the man.

Anonymous said...

She is employable. Someone will reach out to her. I know.

Anonymous said...

If you resign, you don't get unemployment. This (sort of) happened to me. Years ago, my employer said the same thing to me. When I applied for unemployment, the hearing officer had a copy of my resignation letter and denied me. My mouth dropped open and I explained the circumstances of my "firing"- it truly was a lay-off. The agency was closing the program where I worked and we were all laid off. I appealed the unemployment decision, and after a few hearings, I finally won and was compensated all monies due.

Patriot2 said...

The buck starts at the top & the failure to enforce ZHB restrictions on developers like Benner & Rij at 2 West Market falls squarely on Karner & Donchez.

Reality is that this entire department is mismanaged & incompetent & misrepresents the facts then asks City Council to cover for them when caught.

Anonymous said...

Insiders tell me that this was a salary dump so Karner can hire more staff for her department. Borzak made too much $$$, so now Karner hire some less expensive zoning officer and then hire another person. Karner has been seeking more staff for years, this was the only way she could do it.

Anonymous said...

I work in that department and I will tell you Suzanne was a great Zoning officer. She could be tough but she was fair. Karner was the worse thing that happened to this department. She has fired 5 people in the last few years. Two others were well liked by the community and gave their all to the City like Suzanne. How were they rewarded fired by Karner. She lives in Bangor and couldn't care less about the citizens of Bethlehem. Donchez was told to hire her. Donchez just wants to be Mayor and cannot make a decision. Karner does not say hello to anyone and nobody ever knows where she is at. Shame on the Mayor for hiding again.

Anonymous said...

"He is no figurehead, believe me. Bob is very much his own man."

Sorry Bernie. He projects as a nice guy. That's it. Investigative article needs to be done. Need a reporter willing to interview, turn over stones. Mcall can sell some papers.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Borzak needs to hire a lawyer (or one needs to step up pro bono), file for unemployment and claim a constructive termination regardless of what the Bethlehem city officials claim it was. Get the story on the record and see how their story holds up and weathers the storm in a public forum. And shame on the mayor.

been there, glad i'm not said...

karner is a bigger a hole than hanna - that's bad

Anonymous said...

Bernie, realize you hate hearing all of this because you are a fan of Donchez and Karner. The facts are they are not working-out well. Bob is a great guy but truly ineffective as Mayor. Karner is just downright incompetent and mean. She is an out of towner who doesn't; give a shot about Bethlehem. She is a shill for the favored developers. The town is being sold out.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Have her show up in Easton ,the place can use more code people . There doing a good job here recently,since a rejuvenation,but this lady could fill out a app and see if She is appreciated better here.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Code departments control the quality of life in any given venue. Code department people are the eyes and ears of compounding problems if the Codes not enforced. Look at WindGap,PA. with all those tires along Rt 33 .The guy that created that mess should have taken over the ridge and hung. What a mess ,how much cost to tax payers. I could go on but most of you will get it.



Anonymous said...

City of Easton is hiring the same position, granted it is starting over, but she will feel appreciated

Anonymous said...

How soon people forget. Karner was on the phone with Ronca about Martin tower during the Council meeting while Heller dragged the meeting out for 2 hours so people would leave. Donchez was part of that. Bethlehem has become the new Allentown.

Anonymous said...

anon 12:57, you are so right. Like Allentown the chickens will come home to roost. They think they are invincible, so did Allentown's crony insiders.

Anonymous said...

Neither Hanna or Karner live in Bethlehem so why should they care? Also Bob does what the S Senator and DA want him to do.

Anonymous said...

Bernie way off topic, if you get the Sunday newspapers there is a comic called Pearls before Swine.Today (sunday) You might find it interesting. Actually everyone should find it interesting.