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Bethlehem Council MInutes
10 East Church Street – Town Hall
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 – 7:00 PM
PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
1. ROLL CALL
President Reynolds called the meeting to order. Present were Bryan G. Callahan, Karen Dolan, Eric R. Evans, Michael D. Recchiuti, Cathy Reuscher, Adam R. Waldron, and J. William Reynolds, 7.
Executive Session – City Council Solicitor - Cancelled
President Reynolds confirmed that an Executive Session that was scheduled this evening, Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 6:00 PM in the Mayor’s Conference Room for the purpose of discussing the matter involving the appointment of the City Council Solicitor was cancelled. President Reynolds stated this matter is listed on the Council Agenda under Item 6 A 4 for discussion. Advising that there may be the possibility that a motion would be made to add a Resolution to this evening’s Agenda, President Reynolds informed the assembly that he will accept Public Comment on this matter under Agenda Item 3, the first Public Comment.
Honoring Michael Sankovsky
President Reynolds presented a Citation to Michael Sankovsky on the occasion of his retirement from the Fire Department after 33 years of service. The Members of Council applauded Mr. Sankovsky and wished him well in his retirement.
2. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
The Minutes of January 6, 2014 and February 4, 2014 were approved.
3. PUBLIC COMMENT
Certificate of Appropriateness – 202-204 E. Fourth Street
Louis Intile stated that he is the owner of the property at 202-204 E. 4th Street at the Webster and Fourth Streets intersection on the South Side and formerly the Holy Infancy Convent. Mr. Intile explained he is at the Meeting to respectfully ask City Council to modify the proposed Resolution of the Historical Conservation Commission (HCC) that would require his company to leave and/or repair 6 of the 40 windows in the proposed project. Mr. Intile informed the Members that the project represents the company’s 35th project completed on the South Side in the last 5 years representing many millions of dollars of renovation investment in South Side residential properties. Mr. Intile continued on to say that the properties were purchased from Holy Infancy and there is a $200,000 renovation plan to revitalize the homes. In addition to adding a third floor dormer on each house, he plans to install new wiring, plumbing, heating systems, roof gutters, windows, kitchens, flooring, etc. Proactively, he has agreed to an incremental $7,500 of expenditures to upgrade the replacement of the roof, gutters, and siding to more accurately restore the structures’ historical architectural appeal. Mr. Intile added that the HCC was very pleased with that decision. Mr. Intile advised that the topic of discussion he would like to bring up is the windows. Originally, it was proposed the wood windows be replaced with muntin windows, and after discussion fiberglass windows. He noted that the conversation continued and the proposal by the HCC was to see if the company would be able to seek a grant from the City to replace the more expensive windows that cost between $20,000 and $25,000 or leave the 6 windows that are original and replace the 34 that had previously been replaced. Mr. Intile noted that the Ordinance reads that if the window has been replaced in the past you can replace it and put back what is there and if it is not in the public right of way you can replace it. However, there are 6 windows that can be seen that the HCC is requesting him to replace with a different type of window. Mr. Intile notified the Members the reason for his appeal is that after spending that amount of money what the company is trying to do is have a clean, neat, uniform, and consistent building, and allowing for all 40 windows to match the same type color with the same trim paint would be more esthetically appealing than the hodgepodge that exists today.
City Council Solicitor
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, asked if on the Agenda under 6 A, Reports - President of Council Report, Item 4, City Council Solicitor, there will be a vote tonight on that issue.
President Reynolds replied there may be a vote if a Member of Council so moves. Mr. Antalics asked if he could comment on that.
President Reynolds stated yes.
Mr. Antalics expressed that he has heard nothing but great comments about Council Solicitor Christopher Spadoni, who he noted is not sitting at the Meeting. Mr. Antalics wondered what is going on and added that some Members of Council have been on Council long enough to get a sense of this gentleman, and have spoken highly of him. Mr. Antalics stated if this is voted on tonight it is no reflection on who might be replacing him, but maybe the problem was that he was quoting the law rather than what you want to hear. If that is the case, Mr. Antalics said this is a sad day for Bethlehem because of the deterioration of the integrity of this Council, not to keep the best person when it was said in the past that he was the best person. Mr. Antalics remarked if this matter does come up tonight, new Members of Council have no idea who this person is, and even one Member of Council never heard him speak so they will be going on hearsay. Mr. Antalics asked Council to show integrity and maintain a Solicitor who serves the City beyond the call of duty. Mr. Antalics asserted there is only one word that can explain all of this and that is shame.
4. OLD BUSINESS.
A. Old Business – Members of Council
B. Tabled Items
C. Unfinished Business
1. Article 112 – Campaign Finance Reports
A. Emergency Management Coordinator – Emergency Operations Plan – Updating City Officials
The Clerk read a memorandum dated February 12, 2014 from Robert W. Novatnack, Emergency Management Coordinator, requesting consideration of a Resolution to update the names of City Officials (Mayor, Council President and Emergency Management Coordinator) for the Emergency Operations Plan dated January 2008 that remains in effect.
President Reynolds stated that Resolution 9 B is listed on the Agenda.
A. President of Council
1. Committee Assignments – 2014-2015
President Reynolds announced the Committee Assignments for 2014-2015, as follows:
Community Development Committee:
Bryan G. Callahan – Chairman
Adam R. Waldron
Michael D. Recchiuti, Chairman
Bryan G. Callahan
Eric R. Evans
Human Resources and Environment Committee:
Adam R. Waldron, Chairman
Karen D. Dolan
Parks and Public Property Committee:
Karen D. Dolan, Chairwoman
Bryan G. Callahan
Michael D. Recchiuti
Public Safety Committee:
Eric R. Evans, Chairman
Adam R. Waldron
Michael D. Recchiuti
Public Works Committee:
Cathy Reuscher, Chairwoman
Karen D. Dolan
Eric R. Evans
2. Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Representative – 2014
President Reynolds announced that Karen Dolan is the appointee for the year 2014 to represent the Cities of Bethlehem and Easton on the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
3. Council Liaisons and Appointees
President Reynolds announced the following City Council Liaisons and Appointees:
Bethlehem Council of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development
President J. William Reynolds - Appointee
Michael D. Recchiuti - Liaison
Bethlehem Housing Authority
Eric R. Evans - Liaison
Lehigh Valley Planning Commission
Karen Dolan - Appointee for the year 2014
Cathy Reuscher – Appointee
Bryan G. Callahan - Liaison
Eric R. Evans – City Council Appointee
Adam R. Waldron - Liaison
Blighted Property Review Committee
Adam R. Waldron - Appointee
4. City Council Solicitor
President Reynolds advised that, pertaining to the matter of the City Council Solicitor, there have been several Members of Council who had requested to have a conversation about the City Council Solicitor moving forward. President Reynolds affirmed it was determined that rather than having an Executive Session there would be the conversation in public if a Council Member so desires. President Reynolds noted that a Member of Council is able to make a motion later in the Agenda under Resolutions in order to have that item added to the Agenda.
1. Administrative Order – Lynn Collins Cunningham – Bethlehem Parking Authority
Mayor Donchez appointed Lynn Collins Cunningham to membership on the Bethlehem Parking Authority effective through January 2019. Mr. Recchiuti and Mr. Waldron sponsored Resolution 2014-24 to confirm the appointment.
Mayor Donchez confirmed that, since the last City Council Meeting when the vote on the Resolution was postponed, a memorandum was provided to City Council by Attorney Broughal, Solicitor for the Parking Authority, and by William Leeson, City Solicitor.
President Reynolds affirmed that Council did receive those legal opinions from the Parking Authority Solicitor, City Solicitor, and also the City Council Solicitor.
Ms. Dolan stated she is grateful to the Solicitors and in particular Solicitor Leeson because his memo was complete and well informed to protect Ms. Cunningham from any potential liabilities or perception of liability or conflict of interest. Ms. Dolan said she is excited to see Ms. Cunningham on the Bethlehem Parking Authority and wishes her well.
President Reynolds thanked Ms. Cunningham for coming back to the Meeting this evening.
Voting AYE: Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Ms. Dolan, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. The Resolution passed.
7. ORDINANCES FOR FINAL READING
A. Bill No. 1 – 2014 – Amending Article 927 - Sewer Rental
The Clerk read Bill No. 1 – 2014 – Amending Article 927 – Sewer Rental, on Final Reading.
Voting AYE: Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Ms. Dolan, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. Bill No. 1 – 2014, now known as Ordinance 2014-3 was adopted on Final Reading.
B. Bill No. 2 – 2014 – Amending Municipal Pension Plan – PMRS Ordinance
The Clerk read Bill No. 2 - 2014 – Amending Municipal Pension Plan – PMRS Ordinance, on Final Reading.
Voting AYE: Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Ms. Dolan, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. Bill No. 2 – 2014, now known as Ordinance 2014-4 was adopted on Final Reading.
8. NEW ORDINANCES
A. Bill No. 3 - 2014 – Amending Article 1120 – Emergency Medical Services – Fees
The Clerk read Bill No. 3 – 2014 – Amending Article 1120 – Emergency Medical Services – Fees, sponsored by Mr. Recchiuti and Ms. Dolan, and titled:
AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM,
COUNTIES OF LEHIGH AND NORTHAMPTON,
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AMENDING
ARTICLE 1120 OF THE CODIFIED ORDINANCES
ENTITLED EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES.
Voting AYE: Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Ms. Dolan, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. Bill No. 3 – 2014 was passed on First Reading.
A. Authorizing Use Permit Agreement – St. Luke’s University Health Network – Boutique at the Rink
Mr. Recchiuti and Ms. Dolan sponsored Resolution 2014-25 that authorized a Use Permit Agreement between the City and St. Luke’s University Health Network for use of the Municipal Ice Rink for the 2014 Boutique at the Rink for the time period April 25, 2014 to June 4, 2014, according to the Agreement.
Voting AYE: Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Ms. Dolan, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. The Resolution passed.
B. Emergency Operations Plan – Updating City Officials
Mr. Recchiuti and Ms. Dolan sponsored Resolution 2014-26 that authorized Mayor Robert J. Donchez to adopt the City of Bethlehem Emergency Operations Plan, dated January 2008, developed to outline basic operations and procedures to be implemented in the event of an incident either man-made or natural that requires a coordinated response.
Voting AYE: Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Ms. Dolan, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. The Resolution passed.
C. Certificate of Appropriateness – 410-420 South New Street
Mr. Recchiuti and Ms. Dolan sponsored Resolution 2014-27 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to install a sign at 410-420 South New Street.
D. Certificate of Appropriateness – 202-204 East Fourth Street
Mr. Recchiuti and Ms. Dolan sponsored Resolution 9 D that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to replace windows at 202-204 East Fourth Street.
President Reynolds confirmed that the Resolution pertains to the issue about which Mr. Intile and Mr. Byszewski spoke to Council earlier in the Meeting. President Reynolds noted that, as was described before, this is a situation where there are 40 windows on the property.
Mr. Intile advised there are 40 windows and 34 of them have been modified or replaced already. He noted that 31 windows have been replaced over the last 60 years with some type of vinyl replacement and/or metal window, there are probably about 7 different varieties, and 3 more are not visible from a public right of way so they can be replaced with a vinyl replacement window per the Ordinance. Mr. Intile explained that the 6 windows in question can be seen from a public right of way and were the original wood windows that were probably 60, 70 or 80 years old with wood muntins that he would like to replace. He informed the Members that the Historic Conservation Commission states that he can replace them, but the HCC has a problem with recommending a vinyl replacement window and is requesting that either wood or fiberglass while he would like to keep all 40 windows consistent. Mr. Intile confirmed he is going to do the 34 windows as allowed but spending a considerable amount of money and having a hodgepodge of different windows takes away the architectural feel of the structure and he would like to keep all 40 consistent.
President Reynolds observed that Mr. Intile is already planning on replacing 34 windows with vinyl windows and the Commission approved that. Mr. Intile said that is correct.
President Reynolds asked what was the rationale of the HCC for the 6 windows in question if the Commission already approved the others.
Mr. Intile pointed out that the HCC actually does not have jurisdiction or authority over the 34 windows because they fall outside of the Ordinance in that if they had been replaced already you are allowed to replace what was there. As a result, he is just going to take out an old vinyl replacement window and put a new one in. The HCC’s issue is about recommending a vinyl replacement window for a wood window that exists there now. Mr. Intile advised that is against the belief of the Commission, although he said the HCC recommendation of a fiberglass window is not exactly historically accurate to the building as well but the HCC was agreeable with that. Mr. Intile confirmed that he just wants to make all 40 windows vinyl white, neat, clean and consistent.
President Reynolds denoted that basically with the 34 windows the HCC does not have jurisdiction. President Reynolds thought that considering the issue in looking at 40 windows, and 34 of them were already vinyl, he does not see the problem with allowing the other 6 to be switched to vinyl as well.
Ms. Dolan stated that she does not see any windows referenced here as being in the front and wondered if they are all windows in the rear.
Mr. Intile stated that is correct and he has pictures if Council would like to see them. He said the windows are all in the rear or the side of the property.
Ms. Dolan asked if the rear of the building can be seen from the street.
Mr. Intile advised that it can be seen, not from Fourth Street, but from Webster Street coming down Webster from Lehigh’s Campus at the intersection of Webster and Fourth Street. The Holy Infancy School is across the street, the Library is on the left, and these are the buildings on the right.
Ms. Dolan said she tends to agree with the applicant but asked if this was the first time he was in front of the Historic Review Board. Mr. Intile replied that it is.
Ms. Dolan commented she would respectfully recommend that Council postpone a vote on this Resolution. She wanted to be clear in what the HCC stated. Ms. Dolan noted one of the options is that if the company gets a grant all windows will be changed to fiberglass or equivalent.
Mr. Intile stated he would love to put the more expensive windows in, and the HCC recommended that he speak with Alicia Karner, Director of Community and Economic Development, to see if a grant would be available to allow the company to have the entire 40 windows at the more expensive option. However, he has not had time this week to speak with the Director. Mr. Intile stated he is willing to pay for the replacement of the ones the company wants.
Ms. Dolan asked how old is the building. Mr. Intile responded it is roughly 100 years old, and the windows are about 60 or 70 years old, but it is not easy to exactly date them.
Ms. Dolan remarked that it does state to replace the window with fiberglass if the company is able to get money for it or they would be restored.
Mr. Intile informed the Members that the HCC has the opinion that he can sand them and restore them but it was a difference of opinion. He has worked on dozens of renovation projects and these windows are not repairable, they need to be replaced, they do not lock appropriately, they do not line up, and they are rotten. Those are things sometimes difficult to convey to the Historical Conservation Commission because the windows are old and that is what they like. Restating that an option was to see if the company could get a grant to replace them, Mr. Intile expressed if not the HCC would rather him leave the old windows just because they are original as opposed to replacing them with the same window as the other 34 windows and keeping the building consistent.
Ms. Dolan would say that restoring windows is not just sanding them, it is an elaborate process. Ms. Dolan asked if the members of the HCC have come to visit the property.
Mr. Intile replied yes. Noting that Council has approved a Certificate of Appropriateness for a third floor dormer, Mr. Intile advised the architect for that project was Christine Ussler who has visited the properties and representatives of her firm have been there numerous times.
Ms. Dolan asked what Ms. Ussler’s opinion was or what advice did she give.
Mr. Byszewski responded that Ms. Ussler recused herself
from the discussion and the voting because he and Mr. Intile
are her clients on this project.
Ms. Dolan stated it seems there are some complications because if they did not have the advice of the historical consultant they were left without that.
Mr. Intile noted he cannot speak for Ms. Ussler but in conversations she was a bit surprised that these 6 windows had become an issue. He explained that the HCC does not want to approve the replacement of a wood window with any type of vinyl replacement. Mr. Intile communicated that for his company, with the amount of money being spent on the property, and doing the roof and gutters, consistency matters because it makes it more architecturally appealing and balanced.
Ms. Dolan thought that perhaps other Council Members feel there is some wiggle room and questions, especially since Ms. Ussler could not comment and is the one who is supposed to be guiding those decisions. Mr. Dolan observed that if Ms. Ussler was surprised by the decision then maybe there is something that someone else could add to the discussion. Ms. Dolan asked President Reynolds to continue to see the will of Council, but said this might go back one more time to the HCC with a message that at least two Members of Council at this point have questions about the necessity for expensive windows. Ms. Dolan did not know where the idea for a grant from the City came from as the City does not issue grants like that.
Mr. Intile added that is part of the reason the company did not approach the City on the matter, and is happy to pay for the windows.
President Reynolds asked if Mr. Intile has a certain time frame.
Mr. Intile replied he is looking to get the project moving along, he met with the HCC twice and they agreed that the windows were a discussion so they split the COA into two, one pertaining to the dormer so he could get the renderings and the permit process started. Once he gets the permit, which he hopes will be shortly, he wants to start on construction.
President Reynolds pointed out that the Historic Conservation Commission serves as an advisor to Council, so Council has the ability to agree with them or to disagree with them. President Reynolds, affirming that Council has agreed with the Historic Commission more often than not in the past, denoted the Commission does offer advisory opinions but the final approval rests with City Council.
Mr. Recchiuti pointed out that, in the past when there was a conflict, Ms. Ussler got a backup historic advisor, Mr. Donovan from the North Side District. Mr. Recchiuti expressed he is surprised that did not happen with this situation which may have led to some of the issues. Mr. Recchiuti observed that 15% of the windows are historically accurate and the other 85% would not be so he agrees that these are in the rear but if they were in the front it would be different. Mr. Recchiuti said he would be agreeable to amend the Resolution in order to allow the vinyl windows to be installed.
Ms. Reuscher agreed that sounds fair especially considering the windows are in the back of the building.
Mr. Waldron, referring to the Ordinance provisions as far
as replacing windows, pointed out if the building is 100 years
old and the windows are 80 years old it would make them not
the original windows.
Mr. Intile explained it is difficult to get the exact date on the windows. He noted the 6 windows in question could potentially be the only ones that are original, and all the other windows have been altered at some point.
Mr. Waldron asked if they have proof to show that.
Mr. Byszewski pointed out that even the ones they are talking about have contemporary replacement storm windows on the exterior as well.
Mr. Waldron asked about the comparison of fiberglass versus vinyl with appearance and cost for all of the windows because it is the applicants’ will to replace all windows.
Mr. Byszewski replied that for all of them the additional cost from going to what the company is proposing to what the HCC was requesting would be something more like $10,000-$11,000 incremental cost of just the materials of the windows.
Mr. Intile added when he and Mr. Byszewski brought that up to the Commission they asked about leaving the 6 windows and restoring them but that would be many thousands of dollars. He further pointed out that fiberglass was not an option 80 or 100 years ago either so even with the HCC recommendation they would not be historically accurate although the HCC likes that window better.
Mr. Waldron asked about the comparison of the fiberglass versus the vinyl aesthetically.
Mr. Intile advised that consistency is the main objective in the sense that if one or two are on the one side and there are four on the rear there would be a vinyl window next to a fiberglass window that would not look right.
Mr. Waldron asked what is the view of the Commission as far as aesthetics.
Mr. Byszewski replied that the fiberglass windows mimic the profile of the wood window compared to the flatter look of the vinyl window. Some have a wood print on them but that cannot be seen.
Mr. Callahan asked to look at the pictures that Mr. Intile and Mr. Byszewski had brought to the Meeting.
Ms. Dolan, noting that she almost never goes against the Historic Conservation Commission, said the law is clear that if one cannot get a good view they are not under the same rules. Looking at this structure, Ms. Dolan communicated she supposes that if the HCC wants to come forward and say that the applicant was not accurately describing what was in the pictures they could. Expressing she is trusting the applicant on this, expressed that the difference between a $10,000 and $25,000 window is enormous. She exemplified that, when she was a teacher and with her students they restored Illick’s Mill that was not in a Historic District, they had to make a choice between some windows that were historically accurate and some others that were more energy efficient, less expensive, and easier to service because the company was from the U. S. Ms. Dolan noted they made a decision to go with the windows that were going to be more sustainable. Affirming she is not comparing her decision to this one, Ms. Dolan pointed out that sometimes tough decisions need to be made. Since the windows are not original this is an example of perhaps going a bit too far in expectations for restoring and utilizing and adaptively using a historic structure. Ms. Dolan commented in this case she would approve the request to deny the HCC in this one instance.
President Reynolds noted that Council would have to amend the Certificate of Appropriateness. President Reynolds thought what probably happened was that the HCC did not want to set some type of precedent for themselves as far as voting to change these windows even though they know with this instance there are 40 windows, so he understands and respects that decision.
Motion – Amending Certificate of Appropriateness
Mr. Recchiuti moved to amend the Resolution to allow that all of the windows be replaced with vinyl windows.
Ms. Reuscher seconded the motion.
Voting AYE on the motion: Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Reynolds, 7. The motion passed.
Voting AYE on the Resolution, as amended: Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Reynolds, 7. The Resolution passed.
City Council Solicitor
President Reynolds stated if a Member of Council would like to make a motion to add a Resolution to the Agenda pertaining to the matter of the City Council Solicitor now would be the appropriate time.
Motion – Adding Resolution to the Agenda
Ms. Dolan moved that a Resolution be added to the Agenda to state that the Council of the City of Bethlehem terminate the services of Christopher T. Spadoni, City Council Solicitor, and appoint John F. Spirk, Jr. as City Council Solicitor. The termination and appointment is effective as of the vote of February 18, 2014. Mr. Waldron seconded the motion for the purpose of discussion.
Voting AYE on the motion to add the Resolution to the Agenda: Mr. Recchiuti, Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Reynolds, 6. Voting NAY: Mr. Evans, 1. The motion passed.
President Reynolds stated the Resolution has been added to the Agenda.
Ms. Dolan, communicating she knows it is difficult to have this discussion in public, commented she has a great sense of the gentleman who she proposes to be replaced in the motion she made. Ms. Dolan stated that she wanted to say without any reserve that this is not political, this is practical. Ms. Dolan said this is an employment decision and she disagrees that this shows a lack of integrity, because it takes integrity to make strong decisions. She pointed out that even the new Members of Council have to make decisions from the moment they are sworn in. They cannot get out of that no matter how new they are. That is what all City Council Members have to do, that is their job. Commenting that she would prefer not to go into details as to why she is making this motion to terminate the services of Christopher Spadoni, Ms. Dolan stated she genuinely likes Christopher Spadoni, but by law Council is allowed to name its own Solicitor. Ms. Dolan stressed that when Mr. Spadoni was appointed not one person on this Council voted and in fact not one person on this Council was even in political life. Ms. Dolan said if a majority of Council believe there is better counsel and then they have a responsibility to bring that person in, not a responsibility to get wrapped up in personal issues. While expressing that is tough, Ms. Dolan noted the Members have to do the best thing for this Council and the best thing for the legislative body of the City of Bethlehem. Ms. Dolan advised that she has had the privilege of knowing Jack Spirk for 10 years, with 8 of those years while she was on Council. Ms. Dolan confirmed that she did ask Mr. Spirk to be at the Meeting tonight. Ms. Dolan expressed that Mr. Spirk is a brilliant lawyer, is highly respected, and has decades of experience with Pennsylvania law, working with top attorneys in his field including District Attorney John Morganelli and City Solicitor William Leeson. Ms. Dolan affirmed that Attorney Spirk also served the previous Administration faithfully just as she knows he will serve Council. To anyone who might wonder if Mr. Spirk’s loyalty still is with an Administration that no longer exists, Ms. Dolan commented she would say that is not how lawyers work; they work for their clients. Ms. Dolan thought that if Council is wise she hopes that the Members will hire Mr. Spirk because he will serve Council with the same wisdom and attention to detail that he always displayed throughout his entire career. She added that having knowledge of Robert’s Rules and the Third Class City Code is crucial for any municipal attorney, and noted Mr. Spirk has full knowledge of the Optional Charter Law and a quite of a bit of experience from being the representative of the previous Administration so he understands the issues from the inside. Ms. Dolan pointed out that this knowledge can be useful to Council. Ms. Dolan stated that, with all due respect to Council’s Solicitor of many years who gave his all to this Council, she respectfully again nominates Jack Spirk to be the new City Council Solicitor.
Mr. Evans mentioned that the one difficult part of this discussion this evening is the fact that there are two names tied together because Jack Spirk is here tonight as well. Mr. Evans, expressing his respect for Mr. Spirk who is fabulous at what he does, said that is not a concern for him if that is the will of Council. Mr. Evans explained his concern is the timing. Mr. Evans pointed out that Council has a Solicitor who has served since 1998, and for those who have been on Council they have to agree that he has been accessible even at times when he was in Court. Mr. Evans noted he had a bit of an elevated level of communication during his time as President of Council. Mr. Evans pointed out that even on days when the Council Solicitor may not have been available early he was by the end of the day and was always able to get back to him with a response that was thorough and clear. Mr. Evans stated that from his thoughts of Mr. Spadoni he has full confidence in his ability and his commitment to City Council and to this body. Mr. Evans expressed a concern about a move like this now from Council’s end is the lack of experience in that there is a Council Member with just a week or two of experience and two others with a few more weeks of experience. Mr. Evans observed it is difficult for them to make a decision with a yes vote to replace someone who has been here since 1998 delivering opinions and advice. Mr. Evans said he would like to hear from those Members of Council because this vote would require four and in fact three of them have about a month experience with this Solicitor. Mr. Evans indicated he finds it hard to believe they can make a judgment like this regarding replacement of the Council Solicitor. Expressing his understanding that Ms. Dolan has had some concerns with Mr. Spadoni, Mr. Evans commented those are her opinions and he respects those as well as President Reynolds’. Mr. Evans thought from the perspective of this Council at this time it would be a mistake to remove Mr. Spadoni because of the experience he has had and the sense of history he has.
Mr. Recchiuti thought that Jack Spirk would be an excellent addition as Council’s Solicitor. Mr. Recchiuti stated that he was a confident legal advisor for the previous Administration. Mr. Recchiuti commented that he has always been very accessible for Council Members when they had questions. As for Attorney Spadoni, Mr. Recchiuti said he has given Council competent legal advice over the years and being an attorney himself Mr. Recchiuti said he understands this is the risk an attorney can run into. Communicating that sometimes you have to build and foster relationships, Mr. Recchiuti said he thinks that sometimes Attorney Spadoni lacked that for Council with the Council Members who did not deal with him on a day to day basis. Mr. Recchiuti added that he supports this change and pointed out that Council needs to have a level of trust with the person giving legal advice, and if the trust is not there then the legal advice will not get through. Mr. Recchiuti stated if your client does not trust you then they will not listen. He does not know if there was a trust issue before but certainly going forward there would be and that is another reason he will support this tonight.
Ms. Reuscher expressed the hope that people understand with her being on Council for two weeks it makes her feel uneasy about this. Commenting that is not to say she does not think Mr. Spirk would be a wonderful addition, but she does feel that without the experience of working closely with Mr. Spadoni it is difficult for her to vote for his termination.
Mr. Waldron commented that while it is difficult with little experience serving with Mr. Spadoni he does not look at this as a vote against him but a vote in fact for Mr. Spirk. Mr. Waldron noted that he did attend Council Meetings all summer and fall, and when he looked for leadership from the City Council Solicitor he necessarily did not get that from Mr. Spadoni. Serving now on Council for a few months he still has not had much interaction with him on a personal level. Acknowledging this is a difficult decision for all Members of Council, Mr. Waldron said Council needs to hit the ground running here as Councilwoman Dolan pointed out, and needs to make a decision one way or the other. While noting he is not sure how the vote will go this evening, Mr. Waldron said he does have complete faith in Mr. Spirk.
Ms. Dolan, noting she did not want to say anything specifically about Mr. Spadoni, said Mr. Evans brought up a good point. Ms. Dolan stated that, as President of Council Mr. Evans had an elevated accessibility and that has always been one of her problems over the past eight years. Ms. Dolan said that, instead of serving all Members of Council as a Solicitor should do, what happened in the past was that the President had an excessive level of accessibility and influence on what would go on. She commented that President Reynolds is doing the right thing because he knew he would have that with our current Solicitor. Referring to comments about the new Members of Council not having the experience to say yes, Ms. Dolan stated a decision has to be made either yes or no based on something and that is trust on what they are hearing from people who have been on Council for a while, as well as the small amount of observation they have had. Ms. Dolan added when she was new on Council she had to vote on the Sands Casino and that was very difficult but a decision needed to be made. In a comment about the timing of this, Ms. Dolan used the expression that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and second best time is now.
Ms. Reuscher, agreeing with Ms. Dolan in that Council does have to make these decisions, said she hopes the decision she makes is the best for Council in having someone that the Members can be confident about and have trust in.
Mr. Evans clarified his comments about being President of Council and the elevated level of communication he had with Solicitor Spadoni. Mr. Evans explained that was based on his phone calls, and that any time no matter who is President of Council they will need to have that extra level of communication with the Council Solicitor because of what Council does. He exemplified that the Council agendas are set up and revised and some legal advice is needed. Mr. Evans thought that anyone on Council anytime could call on Mr. Spadoni whether they are writing a piece of legislation or whatever it might be. Mr. Evans noted that Mr. Spadoni is accessible and gets back; he gives his opinion in a timely fashion. He may be in court but he will return a call. Mr. Evans stated he understands Mr. Spirk is professional and he does have respect for him but he thinks that Mr. Spadoni has served this Council since 1998 in the way he has and that Council has been pleased with the results. Mr. Evans expressed it seems absurd to him to all of a sudden with new Council Members vote to terminate Mr. Spadoni. Mr. Evans said he wanted to hear the thoughts of Mr. Recchiuti when he talked about a lack of trust or leadership. Mr. Evans remarked that one of the things that Mr. Spadoni did great was staying out of the way and letting Council do their work. Mr. Evans pointed out that, even though Mr. Spadoni had his thoughts, unless Council asked for his opinion, he was not intrusive. Mr. Evans stated he does not think the job of the Council Solicitor is to be the leader of Council.
Mr. Recchiuti explained that his comments regarding trust were more about going forward. If Council would choose to keep Mr. Spadoni, Mr. Recchiuti thought there is a level of trust from his perspective and Council’s perspective and Council needs to trust the legal advice it is getting, and if not it will not be good. Mr. Recchiuti added that being a lawyer you have to believe that your client trusts you to make it work. He continued on to say if your client does not trust you then they should go in a different direction. Mr. Recchiuti thought at this point now going forward Council will have that problem.
President Reynolds noted this was a conversation about a month ago when the new Administration was installed and Mayor Donchez had suggested the people he was comfortable with. As a Council, the Members asked questions about cabinet members and deliberated, and at the end of the day Council deferred to the Mayor. President Reynolds pointed out what kept coming up was that you want to surround yourself with people you are comfortable with, and Council deferred to Mayor Donchez’s decisions as far as who he felt comfortable with, so that is what this comes down to. President Reynolds noted that, in private life or running a business when you want to pick legal counsel or a lawyer, what it comes down to is who you feel comfortable with. President Reynolds stated that out of the seven Council Members who picked Mr. Spadoni to be the Council Solicitor none of them are on Council anymore. Mr. Donchez was the only one who was on Council at the time who is still in elected office. President Reynolds thought that Mr. Spadoni served the City well for 17 years but City Council here is moving forward. President Reynolds, commenting this can happen in municipalities where Solicitors are changed, noted it does not mean there was something wrong with the representation but that people want to go in a different direction. He communicated that part of having experience is that the people can have the trust that good decisions are made, and this decision is nothing more than who City Council is comfortable going forward with. President Reynolds stated he is not surprised that all seven people would not be comfortable with making this decision or moving in that direction. President Reynolds remarked that you do not buy a house because you are showing loyalty to the realtor who is trying to sell you the house; you buy a house because it is the one that you want moving forward.
Voting AYE: Mr. Recchiuti, Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Reynolds, 6. Voting NAY: Mr. Evans, 1. The Resolution passed.
10. NEW BUSINESS.
Chairman Recchiuti announced a Finance Committee meeting on Monday, February 24, 2014, at 6:00 PM in the Mayor’s Conference Room.
Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement
President Reynolds advised that he will be sending a memo in reference to a 2006-2007 Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement which then Mayor Callahan had signed with the other two Mayors in Allentown and Easton. President Reynolds advised that he will be sending the memo to Mayor Donchez and Ralph Carp, Director of Parks and Public Property, asking to take a look at those numbers and the reductions that have been made over the last 6 or 7 years. President Reynolds said he would also like to have City Council work with the Administration on coming up with some new goals because he believes that the original agreement had goals about 5 years out. President Reynolds commented that the City needs to recommit to some type of goals to cut down on energy use. President Reynolds said he knows that Mr. Carp has worked on this with the previous Administration. As the year moves, President Reynolds thought that Council and the Administration should work together to find some attainable goals and see if there is any effect on the budget moving forward.
Mayor Donchez replied that he agrees.
Snow Storms and Snow Operations
Mr. Evans asked for an update from Mayor Donchez on the operations and challenges the City had with the recent snow storms, so Council can deliver that same information to the people who talk to the Members. He also asked about personnel, equipment, and any problems of shortages. Mr. Evans indicated that perhaps there can be a discussion about how this will affect the budget now and going forward into the Spring. Mr. Evans also asked about the plans for road repair in view of the potholes in the streets.
Mayor Donchez commented that he will prepare a report for City Council, hopefully for the next meeting. Mayor Donchez noted that the last week has been difficult, there was 20 inches of snow, a snow emergency was declared, the City hired outside contractors to assist with snow removal, and has spent approximately $300,000 just in the last week. Mayor Donchez pointed out this is the third or fourth most snowy winter the City has had. He commented that, obviously, budget adjustments will have to be made, and this will affect the street overlays in the Spring when the snow melts. Highlighting the fact that there has been very little melting, Mayor Donchez pointed out that is presenting major problems. Mayor Donchez noted that Mr. Alkhal, Mr. Boscola, and Mr. Carp’s staff under the circumstances have done an outstanding job. The City received many emails and calls from people complementing the efforts with the understanding that there has been 20 inches of snow within one week. Mayor Donchez stressed that when a snow emergency is declared, the City tries to open up the main roads, and people have been very cooperative. The employees have been working 12 hour shifts for almost a week, there have been equipment breakdowns, some water main breaks, and even one sinkhole. Mayor Donchez pointed out that the City needs to divert resources to take care of those matters.
Michael Alkhal, Director of Public Works, noted that on the snow plowing end of things and getting the roads clear the City is doing fairly well. There have been some struggles with resources, and equipment issues that have to be constantly deal with. For the most part, the main streets are in great shape, the secondary roads are in fairly good shape with the exception of some, and there continues to be issues. Mr. Alkhal stated that overall plowing wise the City has done fairly well, although there were some roads because of issues and delays that had to be plowed later than he would have liked. Mr. Alkhal continued on to say that is the combination of the cars driving on the roads and packing down the snow, especially in the alleys, very little forgiving temperatures, and the need to conserve on salt that has been used sparingly otherwise the City would be in trouble after this latest snow. The biggest remaining challenge now is the amount of snow that is in the parking lanes, at corners, and at schools. There has been snow removal around the clock since the night shift of the past Friday by an outside contractor and in house crews. City staff was diverted to other functions including salting and plowing for the recent storm but is now back to snow removal tonight. Mr. Alkhal remarked that the City has spent $300,000 and counting. The City will try to clear other key areas especially the areas that school busses use. The roads that are tight and have parking on both sides become only one lane that is a concerning situation. Mr. Alkhal advised the City is trying to do the best and as quickly as it can to free up those streets and reduce the amount of inconvenience on those streets, but some help is needed from Mother Nature as well. Emphasizing it is not feasible to go through as many places as the City would like, Mr. Alkhal said ideally the City would like to hire even more resources but that would present trouble from the financial end of it. Mr. Alkhal stressed that overall, with the resources the City had and with the struggles, he thinks the City has done well in trying to serve the residents the best it can.
Mr. Evans remarked it is an almost impossible task to do unless we do get help from Mother Nature. Mr. Evans inquired about sections of roads that are breaking up and the large amount of potholes and whether these will be a burden on the budget.
Mr. Alkhal replied that the City has been very challenged this Winter and thought already been given to trying to divert some resources to add to what might be needed in terms of road maintenance. Mr. Alkhal affirmed the current 2014 Budget contains a spray patch truck that would allow the City to do more pothole repairs because it only requires one operator versus four people. Advising that the unit costs $225,000, Mr. Alkhal explained the way things are going that money in the Liquid Fuels Fund Budget may have to be moved to cover snow operations. Mr. Alkhal noted that it still will be a big challenge in terms of needs because the needs have been great and paving costs are high. Mr. Alkhal emphasized the Department is aware of the issues and has an excellent road management program. It is known what needs to be done, although the City may not have the money or resources to do it. Mr. Alkhal affirmed the Department knows the areas that need the most attention and will be tackling those areas as the resources are available.
Mayor Donchez added that the snow that has been removed has been taken to Sand Island West. Although the area is larger than a football field, the pile is now 15 feet high and the City is running out of space.
President Reynolds, while affirming it is known that the snow operations staff have been working around the clock and weather is out of the City’s hands, asked have there been any complaints about the communication from the City as far as the ways in which residents can notify and get updates. President Reynolds inquired about looking at some of the ways to get out information as far as the City’s website. Noting one complaint that has been heard was maybe it is not as efficient as it could be, President Reynolds acknowledged these storms have been big. He wondered if Mayor Donchez foresees in the future things the City might be able to do more effectively as far as ways of communicating with the citizens about either closures or other things.
Mayor Donchez, replying absolutely, said in the first meeting he had with the staff one item on the agenda was a complete revamping of the City’s web page to make it more interactive and friendly with more social media. The City is close to finalizing a new social media policy and also a new internet policy. Mayor Donchez expressed agreement that the City does have to be more interactive and be able to send out emails to residents. The capability exists now but has not been used other than water breakdowns, for example. Advising that the City could do robo-calls, Mayor Donchez emphasized the City needs to do more. Mayor Donchez affirmed that every phone call or email that came to his office was responded to by his staff or him directly. Adding that he went to many homes himself, Mayor Donchez commended the City workers who have done an outstanding job. Mayor Donchez commented that, for the most part, the public has been very understanding of the situation. Obviously, there are intersections that need to be opened more and the City is still in the process of doing that. Mayor Donchez denoted when people put more snow in the street after plowing that makes it all more difficult. Mayor Donchez advised that the goal is to have as much information as possible put on and make it user friendly on the internet. Mayor Donchez stated that the staff has been looking at how other cities operate their websites, and hopefully when the final product comes out next January it will be very interactive.
President Reynolds asked if the City website is being redesigned internally or is the City hiring someone to do that.
Mayor Donchez replied it is being done internally by Michael Brichta, Computer Systems Manager, and Blake Kleintop, IS Website Manager.
Mr. Callahan asked if the City still has the 1-800 number for the pothole hotline.
Mr. Alkhal, confirming it is not an 800 number, advised the City still has the pothole hotline and will remind people of that.
Mr. Callahan thanked Mr. Alkhal and his staff in view of the amount of snow that has been enormous. While commenting that the residents have been patient, Mr. Callahan noted Members of Council have received phone calls and emails, and every time the Members contacted Mr. Alkhal and his staff they have been very supportive and handled the concerns. Mr. Callahan said he knows the hours have been long for the staff in Public Works, and thanked them for their hard work and the good job they have been doing. As far as the budget, Mr. Callahan observed that the City has to take care of its roads.
Mr. Recchiuti stated that he wanted to second the comments made by Mr. Callahan. Mr. Recchiuti thanked Mr. Alkhal and his staff and Mayor Donchez for doing the best job they can given the circumstances. Noting there was a discussion about overtime, Mr. Recchiuti said he understands that there will be a report given at the March 4 meeting.
11. PUBLIC COMMENT
Snow Operations – Communications with Citizens
Silagh White, 2351 Woodcrest Avenue, explained that she wanted to make a statement about communication. She expressed the hope that this demonstrates to Council and the Administration and to all citizens that we are a better community when we have an open and inclusive process. Ms. White acknowledged that the City has limited resources when it comes to equipment and personnel for the massive once in 20 years snow accumulation. Ms. White said it is expected that the City will use its resources wisely, and most citizens should understand and comply with an effective and efficient snow removal plan if they know about it. Ms. White recounted that on January 22, the Mayor called a snow emergency and those who needed details about the program had to search for maps and significant signage for the snow emergency roads. Ms. White stated that the City website can be used if linked with other communication measures like press releases, Twitter and Facebook. She commented that, as the snow emergencies continued, the City improved information sharing utilizing the Bethlehem Police Department Facebook and Twitter accounts that have established and growing networks. She expressed the hope that lessons learned from the first half of February were the benefits of empowering people to share information. Ms. White communicated she is happy that Mayor Donchez started a Twitter account and hoped that Council will support the efforts. She pointed out that Councilman Recchiuti tweeted a link to tonight’s agenda and many members of this Council have built effective networks, not just friends. Ms. White thanked Council and the Administration for being open to having conversations in multiple platforms and hoped those advising Council and the Administration on communication strategies will understand that communication is not only about posting information but effective listening and response. Ms. White, stressing that open communication is a treasured asset for any positive community building, said it is a practice that is not achieved over night. She added there are many citizens in the community ready and willing to support any open and transparent communication efforts.
City Council Solicitor
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, highlighted the fact that over the years he has sat at many Council meetings and has a sense of the City. Mr. Antalics recalled that a few years ago there was activity to replace Mr. Spadoni, City Council Solicitor, when a Member of Council brought this up. Stressing that Mr. Reynolds hit it on the head with the idea of feeling comfortable with someone, Mr. Antalics said when the issue came up in the past, Members of Council were comfortable with Mr. Spadoni because they interacted with him over the years, they knew him, and at that time the movement failed. Mr. Antalics communicated that Mr. Evans showed great insight with questioning why do this now. Mr. Antalics asserted that Council tonight put three new Members in an awkward position because they do not have the luxury of being one of those Council Members in the past who said no. Mr. Antalics wondered why not wait until these new Council Members get some history and then they could make the motion regarding a Council Solicitor. Mr. Antalics thought statements from Council seem like politics and it is not fair to put new Members on the spot. Referring to a book by Eric Fromm titled, The Heart of a Man, Mr. Antalics thought that tonight he has seen City Council stir mud. Mr. Antalics advised he has asked other citizens why they do not come to the City Council Meetings any more and they said they have lost faith in City Council because Council is not paying attention to their needs. Mr. Antalics remarked he feels obliged to do the same thing but has a personal commitment to himself. Mr. Antalics thought this is all about politics, and stated that politics by Council is not in the best interest of the citizens.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:05 p.m.