As I contemplate the situation in Allentown from afar, and wonder how long we must wait to uncover actually what has happened and who is at fault, I take a look at the City Charter.
Allentown Home Rule Charter
If I were still on Council, what would be my responsibility?
SECTION 210 INVESTIGATIONS
A. Council shall have the power, by ordinance, to make or cause to be made, investigations, audits or studies of the City and the conduct of any City department, office or agency, and, for this purpose may retain professional and technical assistance, subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony, require the production of evidence, and provide funds for such investigation, audit, or study.
B. The subjects of such investigation, audit or study shall be specifically stated in the authorizing ordinance.
There were times that I (and non-members of Council) pointed out to my colleagues that we had this power and could wield it, but our comments fell on deaf ears. What might a proper investigation involve now since it is allowed to do so? Well, there is this:
SECTION 211 REMOVAL POWERS
C. Council shall have the power to remove any elected official or appointed department head from office, if Council finds such person guilty of malfeasance in office. Malfeasance in office means an unlawful act committed willfully by an elective public officer in his or her capacity as an elected official.
Now the above suggests that a law must be broken, and I understand that. Since the Charter is law do prohibitions in it have jurisdiction? I am not a lawyer. Yet the following exists.
SECTION 305 FORFEITURE OF OFFICE
The Mayor shall forfeit office if the Mayor:
A. Lacks at any time during term of office for which elected any qualifications for the office prescribed by this Charter or by law;
B. Violates any expressed prohibition of the Charter; or
C. Is convicted of any crime classified as a misdemeanor of the second degree or higher, under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the United States, or be convicted of any comparable graded crime under the laws of any other state in the United States. In all cases of forfeiture, the Mayor shall be entitled to notice and a hearing in accordance with the administrative procedures to be established by Council.
There is similar language for Council Members. Ok, more suggestions that a law at the State or Federal level must have been broken first. Understood. But then there is this:
SECTION 306 PROHIBITIONS
D. A Mayor who has a financial interest, direct or indirect, or by reason of ownership of stock in any corporation, in any contract with the City or in the sale of land, shall immediately make known that interest to Council. A Mayor who willfully conceals any such interests shall be guilty of malfeasance in office. Violation of this section with the knowledge expressed or implied of the person or corporation contracting with or making a sale to the City shall render the contract or sale voidable by the City.
How does one know if a financial interest exist? And what does financial interest mean? And is this not a City Law to be broken, since it is contained in the Charter?
Sadly, there are members of Council who are closely tied to the Mayor in a variety of ways (PAC’s for example). Thus, it no longer appears that Council can be considered objective, which is sad.
The Charter clearly states that the legislative body and the executive have different roles and that they are held to a high standard of ethical behavior. Unfortunately, while I served, and even now, too many in power do not see this distinction.
What would I do? It is probably too late now, but if I were still on Council or had been elected Mayor and truly believed I was innocent of the potential charges associated with the current investigation, I would step aside until proven so and call for Council to undertake its own investigation. My reputation would be tainted, and to take a salary while waiting for results would be inappropriate.
Too late now with the FBI’s investigation underway. I understand if no one working for the city is allowed to say anything.
Some will say that is a sign of guilt to step aside, even if temporarily. Maybe it is a way to look good while evidence is sought. However, for the sake of the city, virtue seems to suggests that looking out for the city’s welfare is the right thing to do. As long as the Mayor and any associated Council Members stay under this cloud, the city suffers.
After all, why is the Charter language even there if it is never to be used?
Again, I am not a lawyer, but I served on Council and thus it seems appopriate to have an opinion. I loudly challenged the Mayor in his attempts to sell the city water, approve an incinerator, budget unwisely, and avoid community involvement with NIZ planning.
He and his council colleagues need to think about what is right.