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Council member, mayor clash

Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez threatened Nov. 19 to quit attending city council meetings and to not let his cabinet attend if a member of council continues to make “unwarranted personal attacks” on members of Donchez’s administration.

“Since Bethlehem became a mayor-council form of government in 1961,” said Donchez in a statement he read publicly, “it has been a tradition that the mayor and his cabinet attend city council meetings. In the future, if there is another unwarranted personal attack on a member of my administration, of the type we saw on the [Nov] 6th, I will consider changing that tradition.”

He was referring to accusations made by Councilman Bryan Callahan at the previous meeting toward Director of Community and Economic Development Alicia Miller Karner. He publicly accused her of exerting undue influence in urging members of the board of directors of the Bethlehem Parking Authority to select one bidder over another in a response to a request for proposal (RFP) related to the planned parking garage on Polk Street in South Bethlehem.

Callahan had made a second charge against Karner, claiming she had ordered a “slow-down” of granting permits of all kinds, with the goal of using the resulting slowdowns as justification for hiring additional staff.

Callahan contends that his comments on the second charge come only after he had referred his allegations to the mayor for an investigation and believed that referral had been ignored. Callahan produced for the Press a copy of an Oct. 17 email to Mayor Donchez, wherein he requested an investigation into the allegation. Callahan’s email also contained demands for names of certified inspectors, copies of advertisements for inspectors and other details.

A month later, Donchez’s response was that Callahan had not provided sufficient cause to conduct the investigation requested.

Donchez instead suggested that Callahan provide the information he relied on to justify the charge.

Later in the week, Callahan said he can’t provide or guarantee protection from retribution for the two current employees who are his sources. “It’s your responsibility to interview those employees, not mine,” Callahan told the mayor.

Spokespeople for both DCED and mayor’s office declined to comment for this story.

In other business, council approved 5-2 the parking fine increase from $10 to $15, and other increases for some other categories of violation. Councilwomen Paige Van Wirt and Olga Negrón opposed the bill.

Unanimously approved was an increase in the rate charged for water meters within the city. For example, a 5/8-inch meter’s rate went from $8.86 per month to $9.57. The rate for an 8-inch meter went from $1,331.70 per month to $1,438.24.

Rates for Hanover Township, Northampton County, also increased. There a 5/8-inch meter’s rate went from $9.30 per month to $10.05. The rate for an 8-inch meter went from $1,398.29 per month to $1,510.15.

Council also approved 7-0 an agreement with the Lehigh Township Municipal Authority allowing the resale of water to other customers, including a water distribution system to be constructed by Hilltop Center, LLC.

Council approved 6-1 the golf course budget over the objection of Callahan, who wanted the cost of driving range balls reduced for kids.

Council also approved for “general city purposes” the city tax rate on property. For properties in Northampton County: 8.61 mills on each dollar of assessed valuation. For properties in Lehigh County: 2.72 mills.

Mayor Robert Donchez delivers his message to council Nov. 6.press photo by douglas graves