Bethlehem councilman apologizes for rules violation
But claims he wasn’t only one to break decorum
Bethlehem City Councilman Bryan Callahan apologized Tuesday night for violating council’s rules on decorum during last month’s debate over a Zoning Hearing Board appointment and for allowing an exchange with Councilman J. William Reynolds to turn personal.
Callahan had spent 40 minutes at the Aug. 20 meeting publicly airing his grievances after his colleagues blocked the appointment of a nominee he supported.
Callahan said Tuesday night he’s not the only one who violated Robert’s Rules of Order during that meeting. Callahan played several recorded excerpts when Reynolds and Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt were speaking. Callahan questioned why he was the only one called out on breaking decorum and requested that the rules be applied equally.
“Mr. Reynolds got personal with me and brought up a personal conversation that I had with him. And that’s what I regret. For that, Mr. Reynolds, for my response back to you, I apologize,” said Callahan, once a political ally of Reynolds.
Reynolds had said he believes Callahan’s tendency to turn a debate personal has ruined his working relationship with most members of council, pointing to two times when Callahan called him an offensive name after a meeting. One of those times was after a 2018 vote to appoint Van Wirt to council, prompting Callahan to accuse Reynolds of supporting the appointment so that she could not overshadow him in his own reelection.
“When I got elected, you said to me: We gotta hang together so we’re a voting bloc. I said no problem, I’ll be with you on everything as long as you keep me in the loop and you don’t ever lie to me,” Callahan had said Aug. 20. “And when you lied to me and stuck it in my back, that’s when I stopped having the discussion with you because I’m a man of principle.”
Callahan was then called twice on a point of order because attributing motives was a violation of Robert’s Rules.
Before Reynolds’ reference to a personal conversation, Callahan told his colleagues Tuesday that he had only wanted to have the debate in public about whether to appoint Carol Ritter to the Zoning Hearing Board in a public meeting.
Her nomination was pulled from the agenda after council members questioned whether she would recuse herself from cases involving donors to her failed council bid. Callahan had argued that donations from economic development interests show that she supports development that will bring union jobs. (Council on Tuesday unanimously appointed Peter Schneck to the position instead.)
“I felt it was political retribution, political revenge ...” Callahan said Tuesday.
His comment prompted an audience member to call out “motivation,” a reference to the Robert’s Rules violation, and Councilwoman Olga Negron walked out of the meeting when Callahan started playing excerpts of the previous meeting. Negron also had walked out of the Aug. 20 meeting.
In response to Callahan’s mea culpa, Reynolds said: “Apology accepted.”
Callahan said he had gotten positive feedback over the public debate. The meeting quickly became council’s most viewed video on YouTube.
But President Adam Waldron said the reactions he got were that it was “cringeworthy” and “embarrassing.” He said he would continue to use a light gavel to not stifle debate, but he didn’t like the tone and lack of decorum on display at last month’s meeting.
“It’s my opinion that I think we can do better, and we must do better,” Waldron said.
Bethlehem City Councilman Bryan Callahan plays an excerpt of his colleagues’ comments at a previous council meeting.