By Barbara Diamond
Recent cases of corruption in Allentown and Philadelphia had some Bethlehem residents wondering if our city’s ethics code was sufficient to protect us. The answer, as we discovered, was NO. Bethlehem’s current code of ethics was passed by resolution in 1991. It is simply a one page document with bullet points recommending proper behavior such as avoiding conflicts of interest, the appearance of impropriety, and treating the public with respect. Cities large and small have moved beyond this simple code to embrace a much more robust “ethics program” passed by ordinance that includes requirements of conduct such as prohibiting gifts, hiring relatives, “the revolving door”, etc.; training and ongoing advising for officials, enhanced financial disclosures and oversight by an independent, volunteer, non-partisan board of ethics. These are the essential elements of a strong program, the central purpose of which is to assist officials in their duty to serve the public and preserve the public’s trust.
For over a year a group of concerned citizens, Bethlehem for Good Government, including Council members Olga Negron and Michael Colon, investigated and developed a draft ordinance for an ethics program. The ordinance incorporates best practices and is similar to programs in neighboring cities. In fact, this initiative was recently recognized by Pennsylvania’s League of Women Voters as a potential model for communities across the state.
In response, some on city council want to take a piecemeal, watered-down approach. This is not adequate. The public needs to be assured that their representatives are not being influenced by gifts, campaign contributions or promises of future employment. Nothing short of a comprehensive program will do. If you want to see this enacted, please email Bethlehem City Council c/o firstname.lastname@example.org and urge them to pass the ordinance submitted by Council members Negron and Colon.