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Allentown council OKs probe into 'cloud' of racism, discrimination allegations in City Hall

Allentown City Hall
Jason Addy
Allentown City Council on Oct. 4 authorized an investigation into allegations of racism and discrimination within City Hall.

  • Allentown City Council unanimously approved an investigation into claims of racism and discrimination in City Hall
  • Council was not set to consider the measure until Oct. 31, but several members put the issue on Wednesday’s agenda
  • A council member has said the investigation could take “six months or more”

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Allentown City Council strayed from the script Wednesday night to launch a long-mooted investigation into racism and discrimination in Allentown City Hall.

Residents have called for the probe since July, when the Allentown NAACP released a letter detailing "a concerning number of complaints from Black and Brown employees” who work in City Hall.

Council members have held several meetings about the allegations and a potential investigation. They said in September they’d next discuss it at a committee-of-the-whole meeting on Oct. 4.

“When there’s any type of cloud hanging over a governmental body, let’s just squash it."
Ce-Ce Gerlach, City Council member

But there was no special meeting Wednesday, and there was no mention of the investigation on the agenda for council’s regular meeting until earlier that day.

'No more time to waste'

“Today was supposed to be the committee-of-the-whole meeting,” Councilwoman Ce-Ce Gerlach said as she and Councilman Ed Zucal sparked a series of procedural votes Wednesday to put the investigation on the agenda.

“We cannot just continue to push things and push things and push things, especially something so important like an investigation.

“When there’s any type of cloud hanging over a governmental body, let’s just squash it."

“What some folks think they’re going to find, they're not going to find."
Mayor Matt Tuerk

As council worked through the process of adding the investigation to the agenda, residents pushed them to act.

“We have no more time to waste,” Pas Simpson said. “Do something bold. Please, make a stand today.”

After mentioning some council members’ past police service, Jessica Ortiz said delaying the investigation further would look "like all the drugs are being flushed down the toilet before the warrant gets there.”

Mayor Matt Tuerk also urged council to approve the investigation Wednesday night, saying he and his administration welcome it.

“What some folks think they’re going to find, they're not going to find,” Tuerk said.

Allegations in the NAACP letter include that some white Allentown police officers threatened to shoot their Black colleagues, who are targeted by racial slurs and “continuously threatened."

Employees of color are “verbally attacked” by white supervisors, and “white managers rule out Black and Brown employees during promotions,” the letter states.

The letter also alleges Allentown employees of color feel there is a stricter dress code for them than their white co-workers; that Black and Brown employees don’t receive proper training; and that white employees are not disciplined after mocking coworkers’ sexual identities and preferences.

Next steps

Zucal, Gerlach and council President Daryl L. Hendricks are set to form a committee that will work with the city’s Purchasing Bureau to hire an investigation agency.

The agency will examine all firings and resignations within city government since the start of 2022 and interview people who filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Human Relations Commission, or internal complaints, according to the bill unanimously passed Wednesday.

Investigators, who will have subpoena powers, will work to determine whether any employees violated city personnel policies and/or local, state and federal workplace discrimination laws, Zucal has said.

But he’s cautioned the investigation could take “six months or more” to complete.

Investigators are expected to produce a public report that provides “details about the nature of employee turnover and internal processes for hiring, firing and investigating claims of racism,” Zucal has said.

City council voted Sept. 6 to set aside funds for the investigation, but didn't determine a specific amount.