FOX 29 Investigates: City Manager Email Controversy - KMSP-TV

FOX 29 Investigates: City Manager Email Controversy

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Claims of racial bias are being tossed around a city agency.

City health officials are struggling to tamp down a growing controversy over a manager's e-mail widely seen as racially insensitive.

The department says it'll react, but angry workers are pushing back. Jeff Cole and FOX 29 Investigates have this report on a highly questionable e-mail.

The sign on the chain link fence states it bluntly: "Philadelphia Dept. of Public Health Rat Control." It's the West Hunting Park Avenue city office charged with eliminating rats, insects and other varmints.

Its official name is Vector Control, and Raymond Delaney is the boss. He's a veteran city worker who earns $91,000.

FOX 29 Investigates has learned Delaney touched off outrage among some Vector Control workers when he sent an email seen as racially insensitive and demeaning to North Philadelphia and its residents.

In that e-mail, thanking workers for cards and well-wishes sent after he'd had neck surgery, Delaney wrote: "I'm telling folks that I was attacked by a gang in North Philly and they slit my throat," adding "(I seldom mention Temple Orthopedics) it sounds more exciting that way!"

FOX 29 Investigates approached Raymond Delaney outside Vector Control, and Cole said, "Hey, I've got to ask you something. I want to ask you about your email."

"I want to ask you about your email in which you said you were attacked by a gang in North Philly. Can I ask you about that?" Cole asked. "You can, come on, answer that question. Do you see why that might be seen as racially insensitive? Explain it to me."

"Mr.Cole, I'll talk to you later," Delaney said.

Delaney's email drew angry reaction. A city worker, who asked that we not name her fearing she'd become a target, responded to Delaney and his bosses by email writing, "I was extremely appalled by his story of being attacked in North Philly and having his neck slit."

She said it set "the vision for his tale" of the "African American low income Caucasians and Latinos residing in that Location."

Union Representative Evon Sutton told FOX 29, "I read it as if the only thing he left out was a group of black people."

Sutton represents Local 488's unionized workers at Vector. She obtained a copy of Delaney's e-mail and fired off this letter to city health warning e-mails like Delaney's "create a hostile work environment."

She also wrote that she met with Raymond Delaney and Department officials several months ago concerning employees' complaints about how Delaney deals with them.

She says Delaney claimed back then his intent was never to be inappropriate, but now the email with the reference to the North Philly gang attack surfaces.

The health department did not respond to our question about that meeting.

"It was unbelievable to me that a seasoned manager like himself would send something out to everybody and think it was ok," Sutton said.

Rue Landau is the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.

She would not speak specifically about this case, but did say in similar situations her agency could come in and get people talking again or, if it's a severe and ongoing problem, investigate and level fines.

"Our staff of investigators would investigate those cases as discrimination claims. And if they did have a finding of probable cause – that it was more likely or not that discrimination occurred – then it would go to a hearing in front of our commissioners, who sit as judges."

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Health refused to provide anyone to speak on camera.

It did release this letter to FOX 29 Investigates which has been given to Vector workers.

Health Director Palak Raval-Nelson wrote "Mr. Delaney expressed a negative stereotype about a predominately African American and Hispanic neighborhood where many of you have grown up and still live."

She added the department will retain a consultant to address stereotyping, biases and improve communication.

We pressed Delaney, "Can you see why that would be seen as racially insensitive for a city official of your stature?"

"Thank you," Delaney said.

"Can you tell me why?" Cole asked.

"Thank you," Delaney said.

"Does it seem racist, sir?" Cole followed-up, as Delaney got into a vehicle and shut the door.

"I got it right, right?" Cole asked. "I was attacked by a gang in North Philly, and they slit my throat?"

"Thank you," Delaney said.

"No, thank you. I'd like to know why you wrote it. You're a city official, you're paid well, you're a manager."

Delaney replied, "Thank you, sir."

"Well, thank me what? Why'd you write it?" Cole asked.

"Have a good evening," Delaney said.

"Why did you write it?" Cole asked.

"Have a good evening," Delaney said again from inside the vehicle.

"Did you mean to be racially insensitive?" Cole asked.

"Absolutely not," Delaney said.

Cole asked, "Now, do you think that you offended racial minorities who work within the city?" Cole asked.

"I didn't realize I did and when I did, I apologized," Delaney said.

In an email to workers, Delaney wrote he could not apologize enough and added the reference to North Philly was made because he was treated at Temple.

As for that consultant, union leader Sutton says she'll urge her members not to take part because they didn't do anything wrong.

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