Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Allentown's Council and Mayor working together after a bumpy start

Allentown's new City Council president hopes a meeting with the mayor last week will improve communications between the two branches of government and end frustrations that arose only two months into his term.

''I'm feeling more enthusiastic about where we're headed,'' President Michael D'Amore said Friday in a joint interview with Mayor Ed Pawlowski, in the mayor's office.

Earlier in the week, D'Amore and council Vice President Tony Phillips had publicly complained about Pawlowski and his staff being unwilling to answer questions.

'It's been increasingly difficult to get information from the administration,'' D'Amore had said at a council committee meeting, which no city administrators attended. ''Our right to get information has been limited lately.''

D'Amore, who was elected president in January, a day later used stronger language.

''It just seems obviously clear to me that the mayor does not want to share power with City Council,'' he said. ''This isn't about power. This is what checks and balances are all about.''

He said he'd been stonewalled when asking for phone numbers and for information about programs and contracts, such as one that will expire for a private company to run the city garage.

As a result, he said, in an effort to fight back, he had delayed some council action and budget transfers until the administration answered his questions.

Pawlowski rebutted D'Amore's claims. He said his administration has provided more information to council than previous ones, held an orientation session for new council members and created a monthly report to council on city activities and finances.

''I don't think that's ever been done in the history of the city,'' said Pawlowski, who called the meeting with D'Amore on Friday after learning of his concerns.

The other five council members said they have had no problems getting information from the mayor and his staff. As council president, D'Amore has more frequent contact with them.

After meeting with Pawlowski, D'Amore said he was ''more hopeful'' about the relationship between the city's legislative and executive branches. He said perhaps he felt ''more disconnected'' than he really was.

Pawlowski said he and D'Amore just need time to ''figure out how to work together.''

D'Amore and Pawlowski, both Democrats who worked on each other's 2005 campaigns, describe themselves as friends. They said they intend to meet weekly and communicate by e-mail more often.

Pawlowski said he has monthly meetings with interested council members, but Phillips has refused to meet.

Before the meeting with the mayor, D'Amore said he believed the mayor was having trouble adjusting to a new council that is more active and more aggressive at challenging his administration.

''I think that he had a council the first two years, for various reasons, that were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,'' D'Amore said.

In just two months, the new council has criticized a plan to charge fees to reserve wedding and photo times at the Rose Garden at Cedar Creek Park, and has formed a committee to review a new law requiring pre-sale inspections of residential properties. The outgoing council approved the law late last year, at Pawlowski's request.

Phillips, council's vice president, questioned how council can make tough decisions without knowing details. For example, he said he is waiting for information about the policy on which city employees have the authority to read other employee's e-mail.

Pawlowski and D'Amore said, while they never will agree on everything, they will work harder to communicate because that's what residents deserve.

''If there was a bump in the road here, it's up to us to work through it and get the will of the people done,'' Pawlowski said.

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