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Councilman expects ‘packed’ room for no-confidence vote against Allentown mayor

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk
Jay Bradley
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk speaks in June at a Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation roundtable discussion.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Mayor Matt Tuerk could this week become the latest Allentown chief executive to face a vote of no-confidence.

City Councilman Ed Zucal has called for his colleagues to pass a no-confidence measure against Tuerk since the mayor fired Karen Ocasio on Nov. 20.

Ocasio told council this fall she filed discrimination complaints against the city with Pennsylvania's equal-employment and human-relations commissions.

She also repeatedly pushed for an investigation into City Hall after the NAACP's Allentown branch released a letter detailing her and others’ allegations of workplace racism and discrimination.

Council in October approved an investigation into those allegations. Zucal and two other council members are working with the city’s Purchasing Bureau to hire an investigative agency.

Ocasio worked in the city's human resources department for about five years before her immediate termination last month.

A letter from the mayor to Ocasio did not specify any reasons for her termination.

No-confidence vote planned

But Zucal quickly labeled Tuerk's termination as “an act of revenge” against Ocasio for speaking out against the administration. The mayor refuted that accusation but has said little else about Ocasio's firing, citing “personnel matters.”

Zucal told LehighValleyNews.com that he will bring up the no-confidence vote at council's Dec. 6 meeting.

He said he feels it’s important to put forward a no-confidence vote “so that the citizens know exactly what's going on.”
Allentown City Councilman Ed Zucal

“It's on the agenda,” Zucal said, though the agenda is not yet publicly available.

“I can assure you that the place will be packed."

A successful vote of no-confidence would be an entirely symbolic move and would not alter the powers of the mayor or council members.

Zucal said he’s not certain the measure will have the support of four members, which it needs to pass.

But he said he feels it’s important to put forward a no-confidence vote “so that the citizens know exactly what's going on.”

Only council President Daryl Hendricks can delay a vote by referring it to a committee, Zucal said.

Tuerk would be the first Allentown official to face a no-confidence vote since former Mayor Ed Pawlowski in January 2016. That vote came in the wake of an FBI investigation into Allentown City Hall for pay-to-play contracting.

Zucal drafted a no-confidence measure in 2020 against two fellow council members for joining protests against police brutality, but council did not vote on it.

‘Strong case against the city’

A former human relations chief for the city also is pushing council members to approve the no-confidence measure against Tuerk.

The mayor appointed Nadeem Shahzad in late June to direct the city's human resources department. Shahzad said “the whole department was a mess” when he was hired at a $128,000 salary.

But he was out of his job less than two months later.

He believes he and Ocasio “have a very strong case against the city,” and urged council members to “take immediate action” on a no-confidence measure against Tuerk.
Former Allentown Human Resources Director Nadeem Shahzad

Shahzad told LehighValleyNews.com on Nov. 27 that Tuerk forced him to resign for not firing Ocasio.

He called Ocasio “an excellent employee” and alleged the mayor “just hated her because he felt she was a troublemaker.”

He said he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about his ousting.

Shahzad said he believes he and Ocasio, “have a very strong case against the city.”

He urged council members to “take immediate action” on a no-confidence measure against Tuerk.

That would “send a clear message that discrimination and unfair treatment will not be tolerated within our city government,” Shahzad said in a letter to Allentown City Council.