Your Local News | Allentown, Bethlehem & Easton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Allentown News

Allentown school director, Lehigh Co. commissioner candidate back NAACP letter alleging discrimination in Allentown City Hall

Allentown City Hall sign
Hayden Mitman
Officers of the Allentown NAACP did not publicly comment on an unauthorized letter sent to Mayor Matt Tuerk last month alleging widespread racism in City Hall. Attendees of the group's monthly meeting urged the chapter to stick up for employees of color in city government.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A month after the Allentown NAACP sent aletter to Mayor Matt Tuerk alleging widespread racism within city government, several community members backed up some of the complaints during a virtual meeting of the civil rights group Thursday evening and urged the organization to hold City Hall accountable.

The five-page July 15 letter, which bore the names of the chapter's six officers, made numerous claims of alleged discriminatory practices within the workforce. The allegations ranged from white police officers threatening to shoot their Black coworkers to white managers belittling employees of color and the city failing to follow its own laws about posting open positions on its website — instead sending the posts to white employees.

"If these reports are accurate, it is time for you, Mayor, to take a stand against racism in your workplace. You must demonstrate that you value diversity, equality and fairness and foster an environment where every employee feels safe, respected and supported, regardless of race or ethnicity," the letter read.

  • On Thursday, Allentown NAACP officers did not address a letter the chapter sent Mayor Matt Tuerk last month alleging widespread discrimination, saying it would be discussed during a closed-door executive committee meeting
  • Allentown School Board Director Phoebe Harris and Lehigh County commissioner candidate April Riddick said the group was right to address widespread discrimination in City Hall
  • In his response last month, Mayor Matt Tuerk said his administration takes allegations of racism seriously and that employees should report complaints to the city's Human Resources Department

However, when the letter received public attention nearly two weeks later, chapter President Walter Felton and Vice President Dan Bosket said they had not authorized it. Mayor Matt Tuerk sent an email to the entire city workforce denying his administration was ignoring racism or discrimination, though he did not address the specific complaints raised in the letter. Employees with complaints should approach human resources officers, the legal department or the mayor's office, Tuerk said.

“When a claim of discrimination is brought to my attention, I order an investigation,” he said.

While Thursday's NAACP general membership meeting was the chapter's first opportunity to publicly address the letter, leadership largely avoided commenting on the situation. Bosket instead told attendees that the executive committee would more deeply discuss it during that meeting, which is not open to the public.

That didn't prevent other attendees from speaking out about their concerns about alleged discrimination in City Hall. Allentown School Board Director Phoebe Harris said one city employee called her and had her secretly listen in on a meeting between the employee and their supervisor. The supervisor, she said, treated the employee awfully and unprofessionally. Another woman learned from a local blog that she was being fired, Harris said.

"61% of the Black and brown people who work there have a complaint," Harris said, a claim LehighValleyNews.com could not immediately verify.

April Riddick, a Democratic candidate for the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners, urged chapter leaders to remember that they are a civil rights group and not a social club. She said she knows firsthand of people who are being mistreated by the city, and groups like the NAACP must be willing to fight and be a voice for these individuals.

"The systemic racism in Allentown is real," Riddick said. "This is not hearsay. This is real."

City Councilwoman Ce-Ce Gerlach attended the meeting and told attendees that she has called for an investigation into the letter's allegations.

"If in fact we have employees who don't feel safe, valued and heard, that's a serious concern," Gerlach said.