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Allentown should exclude city finance staff from selecting firm for discrimination investigation, committee says

An Allentown City Council committee Thursday unanimously recommended excluding city finance staff from the process of selecting an outside firm to investigate allegations of discrimination and racism in City Hall.
The proposed investigation, which City Council authorized last year, stemmed from a letter from the Allentown NAACP in July alleging that around 10 city employees faced racism and discrimination at work. It specifically accused Mayor Matt Tuerk and other city leaders of ignoring and failing to address reported complaints.
The accusations were the main subject of several sometimes raucous, sometimes emotional council meetings last year and caused a rift between Tuerk and some City Council members, who narrowly voted “no confidence” in the mayor.
City Council late last year formed a committee consisting of members Ce-Ce Gerlach, Ed Zucal and Daryl Hendricks to oversee the proposed investigation.
That committee, which met Thursday evening, recommended a resolution that would exclude city finance staff, specifically the finance director, from the selection committee that would choose a firm to conduct the investigation.
Tuerk said prior to the meeting, that excluding the finance director would contradict city codes, “put the city at risk” and accused council members of “impropriety.” He was not present during the Thursday meeting.
The city’s home rule charter allows City Council to independently conduct investigations and audits of city departments, and it may hire outside agencies, subpoena witnesses and take testimony in order to do so.
The city in December issued a request for proposals, asking for bids from outside firms that are willing to conduct the investigation. The city has received and is reviewing multiple offers, Gerlach said.
But the city’s codes are unclear as to how a contract should be awarded for a City Council investigation. This would be the first independent investigation council has ever conducted, according to city clerk Mike Hanlon.
The city’s code and administrative informational manual dictates that the finance director, department head and bureau manager must be on the selection committee to award a city contract. But that provisiondoes not apply to an independent council investigation, as council has no bureau manager or department head, council solicitor Chuck Smith said.
The city code is “unclear” as to how council would go about awarding a contract, he said.
“I do not think that [council] is trying to skirt city codes,” Smith said. “It’s not in the code.”
Rather than city staff, the three council members on the committee will form the selection committee. The city’s purchasing agent, Jessica Baraket, will facilitate the process and help conduct interviews with prospective firms, but will not vote on the selection.
City Council will hold a final vote on the resolution at its regular meeting Feb. 21.
No members of the public were present during the Thursday meeting.
Barbara Redmond, president of the Allentown NAACP and co-author of the letter, and Karen Ocasio, one of the city employees who allegedly faced discrimination, arrived at council chambers after the meeting was over, mistakenly believing that 6:30 p.m. was the meeting start time.
Redmond said she had planned to attend the meeting to encourage council to select a firm that is well-versed in civil rights investigations and diversity, equity and inclusion training to conduct the probe.
Reporter Lindsay Weber can be reached at
Source: pennnews

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