2020 Bethlehem City Council President’s Report
During 2020, Bethlehem City Council held 23 regular meetings and 26 Committee and budget meetings, adopted 217 Resolutions, and passed 36 Ordinances. Below are some highlights from City Council’s 2020 legislative year.
In 2020, our City government cooperated to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic in order to continue providing high quality services to our residents. Council instituted various policies and procedures to maintain citizen participation in Council meetings while protecting the health and safety of the public, elected officials, and City Staff.
Council commends the Mayor, the Health Bureau, and Emergency Management for their exemplary leadership and tireless work during the Covid pandemic. The Community and Economic Development Department also worked hard throughout this economic and health crisis to support struggling City businesses and vulnerable individuals and populations. All the City’s other Departments and Bureaus came together to adapt and serve our citizens during a very long and challenging year.
In order to increase transparency, City Council started live streaming Council meetings in 2019 to allow citizens to watch remotely. In 2020, City Council continued live streaming the meetings and began allowing citizen participation over the phone. Council thanks the City’s Information Services Bureau for their continued help with this project.
In 2020, Council approved the appointment of the first female Chief of the Bethlehem Police Department, Dr. Michelle Kott, and looks forward to her continued leadership of our excellent police force.
City Council reviewed and took action on several financial matters during 2020. Council approved the 2021 budget and approved the issuance of general obligation bonds to refinance existing bonds and notes in order to reduce the City’s debt service costs. Council also passed an ordinance, proposed by the Administration, that increased general parking violation fines and overtime parking fines. Moreover, Council passed an Administration-proposed ordinance that established a user fee for stormwater collection and management.
Additionally, in the Finance Committee, Council reviewed and approved budget adjustments and authorized several rounds of funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.
After review in the Human Resources and Environment Committee, Council passed an ordinance establishing a new article of the Codified Ordinances titled Wage Equity. This new law was designed to prevent the perpetuation of gender-based wage inequality by prohibiting employers from asking about prospective employees’ wage histories or relying on wage histories for determining compensation. The law also prohibits employers from forbidding an employee from sharing information about their compensation.
The Public Safety Committee reviewed Bethlehem Police Department use of force policies and enforcement statistics. The committee also discussed the Community Engagement Initiative which focuses on systemic racism, discrimination, race-based inequities, social justice, mental health, addiction, poverty eradication, inclusionary housing, education, and fair policing practices. Additionally, the Public Safety Committee held a meeting to discuss enforcement of the City’s marijuana possession law.
Council conducted its third Financial Accountability Incentive Reporting hearing to evaluate the effectiveness of economic development incentives and increase transparency. These annual hearings are conducted in the Community Development Committee to review administration reports submitted to Council pursuant to Article 349 Economic Development Incentive Reporting and Evaluation, established in 2018.
The Community Development Committee also reviewed proposed laws and zoning amendments related to housing inspections, student housing, and short term lodging.
Additionally, Council held its bi-annual ethics training with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission. Council also held a Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss the interaction of the Police Department, Health Bureau, Recreation, and the Department of Community and Economic Development.
In connection with the City Administration’s continuing efforts to reduce blight and maintain and improve City housing stock, Council passed an Administration-proposed ordinance establishing Article 1738, titled Residential Rental Units, in connection with a new residential inspection and licensing program.
After review in the Public Works Committee, Council approved the sale of several parcels of City land in order to save money on maintenance and streamline the City’s property inventory.
Council approved various grants and grant applications related to multimodal transportation, coronavirus relief, golf course improvements, sewer infrastructure, and authorized several economic development Redevelopment Assistance Capital grants.
Council considered proposed zoning amendments brought forward by the Administration in connection with student housing, first floor commercial uses, and short term lodging. Council also reviewed several privately proposed zoning amendments.
Council also adopted a resolution supporting legislation amending the Worker’s Compensation Act in order to provide first responders with compensation and care related to post-traumatic stress injuries.
Council adopted a resolution encouraging the Administration to investigate options for helping to protect the economic survival of our residents and local businesses during the dual health and economic crises caused by the Covid pandemic.
Additionally, Council adopted a resolution encouraging the investigation of food delivery app business practices that harm local food service establishments and asking the City to consider measures to lessen the harm to these local small businesses.
Also related to the Covid pandemic, Council adopted a resolution urging the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Lehigh County, and Northampton County to quickly allocate any unspent Coronavirus relief funds to support small businesses and those within our vulnerable communities who have been significantly impacted by the pandemic
Council worked to address the widespread nuisance of fireworks by adopting a resolution urging our state legislators to repeal or amend the Fireworks Law of 2017, and asking the Administration to investigate possible solutions. Council also adopted an Administration-proposed resolution in support of banning the sale and use of consumer fireworks in Pennsylvania.
Council also authorized a number of contracts, use permit agreements, and certificates of appropriateness, and approved Councilmanic Appointments and Administrative appointments to various City boards, commissions, and authorities.
Adam R. Waldron
President of Bethlehem City Council
January 5, 2021