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‘We did not authorize the letter’: Allentown NAACP leader on City Hall racism allegation

Allentown City Hall
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk on Thursday denied accusations that his administration "ignores" reports of racism and discrimination from city employees.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A letter alleging numerous instances of racism and discrimination within Allentown City Hall was sent out under the NAACP Allentown Branch’s letterhead, but the local chapter’s leaders say they “did not authorize the letter to be issued.”

Dan Bosket, who serves as vice president of Allentown’s NAACP branch, said he and President Walt Felton only learned about the letter Wednesday after it was sent to officials, reporters and residents around Allentown.

  • A letter issued Wednesday on NAACP Allentown Branch letterhead included many reports of racism and discrimination at Allentown City Hall
  • But one of the organization’s top officials said they did not know about it before it was released
  • Mayor Matt Tuerk on Thursday denied the letter’s claims that his administration “ignores” racism and discrimination

Bosket and Felton are among the six NAACP Allentown Branch leadership members whose names are listed at the top of the letter.

The five-page letter, addressed directly to Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, highlights a “concerning number of complaints from Black and Brown employees” who work in City Hall.

Among the allegations are claims that some white Allentown police officers threatened to shoot their Black colleagues, who are targeted by racial slurs and “continuously threatened,” the letter said.

Employees of color reported being “verbally attacked” by white supervisors, while it’s also alleged that “white managers rule out Black and Brown employees during promotions,” the letter states.

“We do not tolerate discrimination of any form in Allentown."
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk

The letter — dated July 15 but not widely seen until July 26 — 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.

The letter calls on Tuerk “to take a stand against racism in your workplace” and use “these alleged incidents (as) a catalyst for positive change.”

Mayor denies accusations

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk sent an email Thursday morning to hundreds of city employees, denying the letter’s accusations that his administration “ignores” racism and discrimination. But he did not address or deny any specific allegations.

“We do not tolerate discrimination of any form in Allentown,” he said.

Although the letter appeared to be coming from the NAACP Allentown Branch’s top officials, it “was unsigned by any officer of the board and was sent without the knowledge of senior leadership,” Tuerk said in his email.

Tuerk, who said he is a member of the NAACP Allentown Branch, used his email to detail his administration’s process for investigating reports of discrimination or racism.

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

Employees from the city’s human resources department often conduct those investigations, but outside investigators are sometimes hired, Tuerk said.

City officials “take disciplinary action” if those investigations confirm the allegations, he said.

NAACP Allentown Branch leaders plan to “sit down with the complaint committee to review the things that are alleged in the actual letter that was sent to the mayor.”
Dan Bosket, NAACP Allentown Branch vice president

In his email, he urged employees to report any discrimination to human-resources officials, the city’s legal office or directly to the mayor.

“I will ensure that we investigate so that we can get better together,” he said, calling his administration “a learning organization” that “will keep improving.”

Tuerk also noted that he created an office of equity and inclusion earlier this year.

‘We’re getting on top of it’

Bosket said the NAACP Allentown Branch has a committee that investigates reports of racism and discrimination, like those alleged in the letter.

The committee looks into written complaints and speaks to everyone linked to those complaints before working to resolve them, Bosket said.

But Bosket said he could not speak directly to the validity of the allegations in the letter distributed Wednesday because he is not a member of the investigatory committee.

He said he and Felton plan to “sit down with the complaint committee to review the things that are alleged in the actual letter that was sent to the mayor.”

“That's where we are right now,” Bosket told LehighValleyNews.com Thursday afternoon.

NAACP Allentown Branch leaders will also work to determine how and why the unauthorized letter was sent out Wednesday.

“We’re getting on top of it,” Bosket said.

NAACP Secretary Barbara Redmond, who appears to have sent the letter, did not respond to a request for comment from LehighValleyNews.com.