Residents demand 'thorough' investigation into racism claims as Allentown council starts process
- Allentown City Council on Wednesday moved one step closer to launching an investigation into claims of racism and discrimination at City Hall
- Council members are set to meet Oct. 4 to debate a bill detailing the investigation
- A public report based on the investigation could take “six months or more,” one member said Thursday
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Allentown residents turned out in force at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting to call for a thorough investigation into allegations of racism and discrimination at City Hall.
Council introduced a bill — sponsored by members Ed Zucal and Ce-Ce Gerlach — that lays out its authority to investigate those allegations and details the investigation process.
If the bill is approved, the council will hire an outside agency to look into all firings and resignations within the Allentown city government since the start of 2022.
That agency will also interview people who filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Human Relations Commission, or internal complaints.
Investigators will determine if officials violated the city’s personnel policies and/or local, state and federal workplace discrimination laws, Zucal told LehighValleyNews.com.
Investigators will be given subpoena powers, according to the bill.
“The citizens of Allentown deserve to know if there are chronic problems of mismanagement or incompetence that are affecting the ability to deliver city services. People deserve the facts.”Allentown City Council member Ed Zucal
They 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 said Thursday in a news release.
But he warned the investigation could take “six months or more” to complete.
Allentown City Council scheduled a committee-of-the-whole meeting on Oct. 4 to debate the bill put forward by Zucal and Gerlach.
Those two members along with Council President Daryl Hendricks will form a committee that will work with the city’s Purchasing Bureau to hire an investigation agency if the bill is passed.
“This is about transparency, plain and simple,” Zucal said. “The citizens of Allentown deserve to know if there are chronic problems of mismanagement or incompetence that are affecting the ability to deliver city services. People deserve the facts.”
Council members on Sept. 6 unanimously passed a resolution that sets aside money for the investigation, though Hendricks initially said he didn’t think it was a good use of taxpayer money.
'Concerning number of complaints'
Barbara Redmond, secretary of Allentown’s NAACP branch, sent out a letter in July on behalf of the organization that included “a concerning number of complaints from Black and Brown employees” who work in City Hall.
Those included allegations that some white city police officers threatened to shoot their Black colleagues, who were targeted by racial slurs and “continuously threatened,” according to the letter.
Employees of color have reported being “verbally attacked” by white supervisors, the letter states. It’s also alleged that “white managers rule out Black and Brown employees during promotions.”
“Uncover the rug, so we can start cleaning up."Karen Ocasio, Allentown employee
Former Allentown Human Relations Director Nadeem Shahzad has threatened to sue the city, claiming he was forced out of the role after only two months because of his race, religion, skin color and status as an immigrant from Pakistan.
Speaking on Sept. 6 before council members voted to put money aside for the investigation, Mayor Matt Tuerk said he welcomes it as “we have nothing to hide.”
“If there’s nothing to hide, there should be a thorough investigation, and every person that’s involved in the investigation should be interviewed,” said NAACP Secretary Barbara Redmond, who sent out the initial letter that brought light to the allegations within Allentown City Hall.
Karen Ocasio, a human relations generalist who has filed EEOC and HRC complaints against the city, also urged city council members to make sure investigators are authorized to interview employees.
“Uncover the rug, so we can start cleaning up,” she said.