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Bethlehem City Council slates Feb. 24 hearing on possible cop firing

By Tom De Martini, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 04 2014 09:45:38 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 05 2014 07:10:40 AM CST

Bethlehem City Council has set a hearing to address the possible firing of a police officer charged with DUI.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

The fate of Bethlehem Police Officer, Richard Hoffman, will rest with City Council at a hearing set for Monday, Feb. 24 at 7:00 p.m. at Town Hall.

Mayor Bob Donchez's administration will present its case against Hoffman, who is currently on paid administrative leave, following an off-duty drunken driving offense in August, 2013.

"The administration will make its case before council and the council will serve as jury," said City Council President, J. William Reynolds, following Tuesday night's meeting.

A memo received by City Council stated discussions and review by solicitor William Leeson and Police Chief Mark DiLuzio concluded that termination proceedings by council should move forward.

In August 2013, Hoffman was arrested after investigators alleged he was driving drunk and crashed into multiple parked cars, before flipping his car on its side.

Hoffman was off-duty at the time, but was scheduled to report to work in just a few hours. Police said his blood alcohol level was double the legal limit.

A memo sent to City Council by then-police chief, Craig Finnerty, following an internal investigation, stated Hoffman violated numerous department directives and that the August incident was the officer's fourth off-duty alcohol related incident during his 10-year tenure on the force.

Hoffman was charged with DUI and careless driving after the incident. He is currently participating in a first-time offenders program.

Reuscher sworn in as seventh council member Magisterial District Judge, Wayne Maura, of Lehigh County swore in Cathy Reuscher as the seventh member of Bethlehem City Council, one day after being tapped to fill the two-year term vacated by Mayor Donchez.

Reuscher, a policy maker for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Bethlehem and founder of a city food co-op, was elected to fill the open council seat on City Council's first ballot by a simple 3-2-1 majority vote Monday night.

Reuscher bested Donegan Community Elementary School principal Sonia Vazquez, who many thought was the leading candidate to fill the open seat.

"I supported Cathy because she had the best presentation," Reynolds said. "But, we need to elect more Hispanic leaders in Bethlehem. The appointment process is what it is, but it's in everyone's interest to elect more diverse candidates in the City of Bethlehem."

On Monday, Reuscher said she wasn't sure if she would seek election to a full term in 2015.

Mayor makes administrative appointments

City Council approved Mayor Donchez's formal appointments of Robert Novatnack as fire chief; Constantine Loupos as a member of the Zoning Hearing Board and Lori Gostley-Hackett and John Abel to the Bethlehem Authority.

Council postponed the appointment of Lynn Collins Cunningham to the Bethlehem Parking Authority at the behest of vice-president Karen Dolan.

Dolan asked that council be provided with opinions from solicitor Leeson and the solicitor of the Bethlehem Authority before moving forward concerning possible conflicts of interests.

Cunningham is the vice-president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and Dolan felt her dealings with the Bethlehem Authority could create a conflict of interest situation.

"With so many people accused of wrong doing or using influence, it's to your benefit to have this done in the strongest possible terms and not on the fly," Dolan said. "We want to do our due diligence. We want the opinions of our solicitors, so you're not left out to dry."

Cunningham said she would recuse herself from any conflicting budgetary votes.
"I would never vote for anything like that, especially how awful it would look," she said.

New website, social media sites on the way Donchez told City Council the building of a new city website is underway with the first phase scheduled to roll out in April, with another phase done by July and the completed product done by Jan., 2015.

"It's a good time for it," Donchez said. "It will be interactive and mobile friendly."

Reynolds suggested the administration consider dedicated Facebook and Twitter accounts to notify residents about snow removal, parking issues, leaf collections and other day-to-day activities.

Donchez said plans for city Facebook and Twitter accounts are in the works.