Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bethlehem's Email Block - We Hear From a Whistleblower!

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBethlehem was tagged last week for blocking email access to at least one resident - former employee Dana Grubb. Bethlehem's Economic Director, Tony Hanna, told us Grubb's epistles were "invective laden, and at times profanity laden, and for some just irritating." Tony, sounds like Free Speech to me, but I'm no government official.

Today, I heard from Mr. Grubb , at least one of the victims of this email block. I now know why he was muzzled. He's a whistleblower. He's quite critical of Tony Hanna. What disturbs me most are the allegations (and these are just allegations) that Hanna, a Callahan ally, was provided two cell phones, a pager, used a city vehicle for personal purposes, and used economic development funds to pay a Philly parking ticket on his personal car and during a day off. Some of Grubb's complaints are detailed in his letter, which he allowed me to post below:

Dear Bernie O'Hare:

My name is Dana Grubb and I was the subject of the e-mail blocking at City Hall. Dennis Reichard, the City's Business Administrator is my brother-in-law, and now it appears, according to [Economic Development Director Tony] Hanna he was aware of this block, as were other key city administrators. This is extremely disappointing and disturbing, especially at a time when government's motivation and action always seem to be under question.

First and foremost, although I will not take legal action against the City of Bethlehem government, and am satisfied that the city has resolved a wrong, I have not ruled out taking legal action against individuals responsible for this, due to their abuses of power.

I owe the resolution of that matter to City Council, and in particular Attorney Chris Spadoni who is the Council Solicitor. And, by the way, I do have a great deal of respect for Bethlehem City Council, because I firmly believe Council tries to do what they feel is in the best interests of the city, not themselves as individual elected officials.

Second, the e-mail blocking that took place, happened in December 2004, and at the same time, someone in Bethlehem city government also decided to refuse to accept my photography for use on the city's website. This was after having provided my photography free of charge, and while a city employee, much of which the city web site uses to this day. That is part of why I called this action "childish and immature." It was apparent that this was in response to my dressing down of Mr. Hanna at a City Council budget session earlier that month, and after Harvey Joseph and I had been forced to retire due to a confrontation in the City's Health Bureau offices.
* * *
At that budget hearing, which covered Hanna's department's FY2005 operating budget review, Hanna intentionally misled City Council on a number of budget issues (all of which I was keenly aware of in that I done most of that budget preparation prior to my forced retirement). Hanna's typical modus operandi when he doesn't have an answer is to make one up and hope you believe him, rather than to just say 'I don't know.' I also took Hanna to task for his blatant abuses involving his use of the city vehicle which was assigned to him (which included among other things his use of the vehicle to attend social events that were not city government events such as a wedding and retirement party, and transporting his wife regularly in the vehicle as if it was his personal vehicle); his obvious waste of $1,800.00 of taxpayers' money to advertise a job opening that was filled from within (the city's Human Resources Director had been critical of that waste in an earlier conversation with me while I was still employed by the city); that Hanna had 2 cellphone accounts and one pager account being paid for as a city official, in addition to the telephone on the desk in his office. The city's business administrator called my revelation of these facts "despicable", and Hanna stated that he didn't realize he was doing something wrong. The business administrator was already aware of some of these issues, and a number of others concerning Hanna, because I had brought a number of them to his attention over Hanna's time with the city. Employees regularly visited my office and stopped me in City Hall to complain about Hanna's absences, abuses, and treatment of others in City Hall. They often did the same for Hanna's cousin, Harvey Joseph, who was reputed to have raised contributions for Callahan's campaign for Mayor. It's ironic in some ways that one of those same employees probably gave Hanna a copy of my critical e-mail which he constantly refers to, and which didn't happen for months until after the e-mail block on the City's server. And by the way, I hold no enmity toward the Information services staff who enacted the block. They did what they were apparently told to do.

As far as these alleged annoying e-mails, had any employee inside of city hall asked me to no longer include them on my personal mailing list, I would have ceased, which I did for one employee in our Housing Rehab office who requested that I do so. Again, that was an e-mail sent several months after the block was enacted, and it was sent only to non-city hall e-mail accounts.

It was obvious that Hanna was embarrassed and had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. All this in addition to the well-known fact within his department that his whereabouts when he was working was almost never known, except for his extended coffee sessions at Jasmine's in University Square and other locales throughout and outside the City of Bethlehem; and the well-known fact that he would leave work early to travel over to Lehigh University to instruct some sort of class at the University. I would think the taxpayers of Bethlehem have every right to expect Hanna to be working for the City of Bethlehem government from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM., which are normal hours of operation

As I stated above, the e-mail that Hanna constantly references was NOT sent to city hall.. I personally thought it was a very good characterization of Hanna given his record with the city. The fact that someone chose to give a copy to Hanna is out of my control, and quite frankly it was a rather condemnatory e-mail because Hanna had finally found a way to get a new bright and shiny city vehicle for himself, without City Council's budgetary approval and after several years of bemoaning his status as a high ranking city official with a less than spiffy car to commute back and forth to city hall in, from his west Allentown home (I know a lot of city taxpayers and other city employees who would like that perk). While inspectors from his department continued to drive vehicles with mechanical defects, high mileage, and on some days used their personal vehicles because their city vehicles were in repair, Hanna schemed to get a new vehicle.

I could go on about his interrogations of city employees who had lunch with me after my retirement; or his intimidation of employees to get them to leave; or his protection of his cousin a city employee who had been accused of bribe-taking and who violated employee policies regularly-many which Hanna himself violated; or his use of economic development monies to pay for a parking ticket on his personal car in Philadelphia, on a day that he had taken as a personal/vacation day and was probably visiting the U of P veterinary Clinic.

I could tell you about the half-truths and non-factual statements he gave to a member of the press in his attempts to discredit me in the community which I call home for my entire life.

I could tell you about department staff meetings in which he would make promises to follow-up on various matters, sometimes a dozen or more, and never take one note. Of course, at the next meeting two weeks later, few if any of the answers had been obtained, but many of the same promises were made again.

I might tell you about his department secretary, whom he berated and intimidated in full view of department staff, because he wanted her to retire. Only after I went to the Human Resources Director and the business administrator to explain that this employee was prepared to file a union grievance and press charges for harassment did this behavior top. And, this same department secretary was not permitted in his office, nor was she permitted to know his schedule-she was the secretary to Hanna. What was he trying to hide? But, it's reared its ugly head since I left, and a different employee sought my counsel on how to handle Hanna's intimidating and berating behavior.

This is the same man who called his staff's attendance at neighborhood blockwatch meetings, " a waste of time." The same person who when criticized by a co-worker for not being in touch and connected with what's going on in Bethlehem because he doesn't live in the city, responds, "I'm glad I don't live in the city." Now there's some real empathy for the folks who pay your salary and benefits!

I'll stack my 27 years in Bethlehem city government against Hanna's 6 or so years any day. I and most Bethlehem residents will take my reputation for honesty, integrity, openness and hard work over his demonstrated behavior as a city official, all of the time, no matter how much he tries to discredit me.

This guy is the epitome of a government official taking advantage of his position, yet "Dandy" Mayor Callahan defends his actions and nothing is ever done about it.

Thanks for your blog coverage-gotta go to a meeting.
Dana Grubb

These allegations are a little "irritating". But are they true? When city officials muzzle the person making these charges, they unknowingly lend him credibility. When the Mayor improbably suggests, with a smirk, that he has "no idea" what Mr. Grubb is talking about, it sure seems like an attempt to alienate a whistleblower. There are laws against that sort of thing, especially when it involves a public employee.

Update:

Tony Hanna, Bethelehem's Director of Community and Economic Development, is a nice guy. There's just no getting around it. During the bond hearings, when I sued the county over its $111 million megabond, he was one of the few local government officials who actually spoke to me. Today he assures me "the Director of IT has the authority to block or screen e-mail he believes to be objectionable or threatening. He is more than just a 'techie.' " I believe Tony. But shouldn't decisions about public access to government officials be made at a different level, or in accord with a policy approved by the Solicitor? The First Amendment, after all, is intended to annoy.

3 comments:

Billy Givens said...

As the minutes of the Bethlehem City Council meeting of July 20, 2004, clearly show, Mayor John Callahan and the city's business administrator, Dennis Reichert, are the two officisls who did the most to usurp the authority of the Bethlehem Authority and its chairman Ronald Donchez.

As I've commented earlier, the minutes of the July 20, 2004, council meeting have been removed from the Internet.

However, I printed out some of the pages, which I still have, and now quote from"

"We [the City of Bethlehem Authority Board]went through, and then finally on March 9 [2004]I had my second meeting with John [Callahan], and Dennis [Reichert] was there as well...at that point we had no ability to allow us to go to market with the best bid. {When I sat] down with John...one of the first things I told him was that I was going to resign effective that 11th, that Thursday.

"That day I actually ended up calling my Bord and my brother, who's [on] City Council to let him know, and our Solicitor, Jim Broughal, that I very frustrated with how this trasaction [refinancing of the 1994 water debt] was going.

"I wasn't comfortable with the way it was proceeding, and the way it was being presented to the Authority.

"In my standpoint, being at the Authority for fifteen years, and working under [former Mayors] Ken Smith, and Donnie Cunningham, and even Jim Delgrosso, I never was put under these circumstances, and I was very uneasy with it.

"And, I'm not a guy who bluffs...so I wasn't bluffing. I thought it in my heart. I talked to my family, and I just felt I...couldn't go ahead with this transaction, that I just was going to step down.

"And, I think, candidly, I was hoing also that that would bring this transaction to the public. John initially was very upset with that. He said how could you do this to me, short notice, I'm new in office. He just didn't want to hear it. And, then, at one point, he even said everyone knows you're an [sic] f-ing Boy Scout.

"But, we still, [sic] were negotiating it to get this out to bid. He [Callahan] then said, okay, you ;put it out to bid, but you keep it to three bids.

"I was glad I got the bids, but I said no John. I want to put it out to the world, and I really felt strongly about that, and we talked about that more, nd then finally he said okay, do what you have to do. I said we're going to put it out to ten or twelve people.

"This is the opportunity that there's a lot of players out there who could do this deal, and who's going to say who would step up and not make the best savings for the City.

"So, I just felt it was really important to get it out to as many people as we can. But, he told me to go ahead, and, candidly, I walked out of that meeting feeling pretty good. I thought...we still hve an opportunity to try to get this done.

"I called Chris Gibbons, our finncial advisor, immediately [and] told him let's get this out to bid, nd we actually got it out to bid the following day which March 10.

"In the interim, I did have a discussion with... "Authority Board member] Richard Master who when I told him I was going to resign on Thurday, he really said, ron, you have an obligation to the ublic to serve the City.

"Sometimes that means you have to do what you have to against the Mayor, but do the right thing. He got me thinking that, as difficult as it is, I did have an obligation...
that was the second meeting I had with John.

"And, if you recap, and this is the thing that you have to look at, from February 12th to March 10th [2004] when we finally got this out to bid, all that time was lost. If we would have traditionally been able to go out and get this thing done the way we've had in the past, we would have had it closed.

"Even with the Readings [at City Council Meetings], even with getting it out, this thing would have closed in that time frame.

"If you did a public audit of this transction, in any of those dates the saving would have been excess of three milion dollars.

"So, we had an opportunity through that first time frame to try to close the deal by utting it out to bid, and get a savings of three million dollars."

Billy Givens said...

On July 10, 2006, at 12:02AM, the Lehigh Valley Ramblings blogger published this update on Northampton County whistleblower Dana Grubb:

"Tony Hanna, Bethelehem's [sic] Director of Community and Economic Development, is a nice guy. There's just no getting around it. During the bond hearings, when I sued the county over its $111 dollar negabond, he was one of the few local government officials who actually spoke to me. Today he assures me 'the Director of IT has the authority to block or screen he believes to be objectionable or threatening. I believe Tony. But shouldn't decisions about public access to government officials be made at a different level, or in accord with a policy approved by the Solicitor? [This is a good question, Bernie.] The First Amendment, after all, is intended to annoy."

Here's what The Morning Call reporter Nicole Radzievich wrote about BEDCO and Tony Hanna in an article titled "Morganelli: Callahan's action in bond deal wasn't illegal," sub-captioned "No competitive bidding necessary to underwrite refinancing, DA says," published February 8, 2005:

"Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan was cleared Monday of wrongdoing in a matter stemming from allegations that he delayed the refinancing of a $66 million bond to steer it toward a 'favored' firm.

"At a news conference in his Easton office, Northampton County district Attorney John M. Morganelli said that state case law holds that the underwritng work didn't have to be bid competitively.

"Public entities could either sell the bonds through a public bid or through a negotiated sale with one underwriting group; it doesn't matter if the group with which the sale is negotiated is more expensive than if the work was competitively bid, he said.

"'Even if Mayor Callahan, and I'm not saying he was, was desirous of seeing that Merrill Lynch was awarded the underwriting service without competitive bidding, no law was broken,' Morganelli said.

"The district attorney's comments come nearly seven months after he was asked to probe Callahan' involvement in the refinancing of a Bethlehem Authority debt, which is backed by the city.

"Callahan put the breaks last February on the $66 million deal because he said he knew nothing of the transaction and wanted one of the nation's leading underwriters, Merrill Lynch of Philadelphia, to be considered.

"Councilman Joseph Leeson Jr. in July wrote a memorandum accusing the mayor of steering the work to a 'favored' firm rather than obtaining the most savings by seeking competitive bids [the argument that Northampton County Councilman Ron Angle made about the 2001 $111 million megabond and its underwriter Raymond James of St. Petersburg, Florida, at numerous council meetings].

"Merrill Lynch employes a broker, Mossie Murphy, who has no direct link to Callahan but is a close friend of a Callhan adviser, Joseph Uliana."

[Prior to Merrill Lynch, Murphy worked for Raymond James.]

"Authority Chairman Ronald Donchez," reporter Radzievich continues, "had told City Council he believed the mayor pressured him to give the work to Merrill Lynch and considered resigning from the board because of it.

"The delay in refinancing, the mayor's critics say, cost taxpayers $1.7 million in savings [a figure other critics place at $3 million].

"Morganelli said both Donchez's and Callahan's sworn statements of what happened are credible, and his invetigation didn't determine whose version is truer. The investigation just determined there was no wrongdoing.

"'The problem was never criminal misconduct,' Leeson said. 'The public lost $1.7 million because of backroom politics to favor a well-heeled political supporter.'

"Neither Donchez nor Leeson suggested the mayor was involved in a crime.

"County Councilman Ron Angle had asked Morganelli to look into Merrill Lynch's involvement in the Bethlehm refinancing as well as that of a county refinancing, called a swaption. Morganelli said he hasn't made a determination on the county investigation.

"'I'm not blaming John Morganelli, but his investigation still doesn't answer my questions as to how two grown professionals [Donchez and Callahan] can have such different recollections over something as simple as a bond issue,' Angle said.

"Callahan said he was happy that the investigation is behind the city.

"'I was confident that the outcome would be positive,' he said. 'There was absolutely no criminal wrongdoing here. No improprieties.'

"Callahan noted Leeson, a former city solicitor and frequent critic of the administration, has brought up issues that led not only to the bond investigation but also to an accounting investiation into the finances of the Bethlehem Economic Development Corp.

"BEDCO is a nonprofit group designed to lure more business to the city and is headed by Callahan's close Cabinet member, Tony Hanna. The final report shows that BEDCO officials were reimbursed for meal expenses with little oversight, and the documentation was not detailed enough to determine whether the expenses were legitimate.

"Leeson said he has no other motivation with the questions he raises than being a watchdog on city government.

"'My motive is to expose what I think is mismanagement of public affairs, mismanagement in govenment, and let the antiseptic of sunshine into City Hall,' he said."

I have quoted reporter Radziewich's entire article because the Internet link to it appears unavailble.

As Joe DeRaymond, a Northampton County Council candidate on the Green Party ticket in 2001, said in a www.billybytes.com website article he authored, "Government doesn't have to be illegal in order to be corrupt."

Bernie O'Hare said...

Billy, Those are very good observations. Something does seem out of order. And as you observe something does not have to be criminal to be wrong.