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Report: Attacks on Central Bucks School Board ‘Unfounded’ Partisan Campaign

Claims that the Central Bucks School Board has engaged in discrimination against LGBTQ+ students are unfounded and based on false claims made by partisan activists, a new report released Thursday says.

The district has been embroiled in controversy since the ACLU filed a complaint against it with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) in November.

The investigation by the Duane Morris law firm is based on a review of 23,000 pages of documents examining complaints from the ACLU and the DOE. According to Duane Morris attorney Michael Rinaldi, the firm interviewed 45 people, including principals, staff, and community members.

“The ACLU complaint has hung over this district for months now,” school board President Dana Hunter said at Thursday’s meeting. “And this board took those allegations very seriously, which is why we engaged Duane Morris to do an independent investigation.”

Among its findings, the attorneys recommended that middle school teacher Andrew Burgess be suspended without pay. Burgess allegedly told vulnerable LGBTQ+ students who sought his help to refrain from telling the principal or guidance counselors about bullying issues. Instead, Burgess allegedly created a dossier to send to DOE.

He reportedly discouraged a parent from talking to the principal, saying the principal would not act.

Burgess planned to use those students’ problems to chip away at the Republican majority school board through a planned media campaign, Rinaldi said.

Paul Martino, a parent and conservative donor whose Back to School PAC helped flip the board in 2021, called the board’s criticisms “a coordinated effort that was launched the day they lost the campaign.”

“What this report shows clearly is that the leftists in Bucks County were so mad that they lost that they were going to lie and manufacture stories so that they could get back into power in two years.

“We have all suffered because of the strategy they launched over their kitchen tables the day they lost that election in November (2021). They’re bad actors. This report makes it clear,” said Martino.

The lawyers interviewed Burgess, the middle school teacher, under oath. Rinaldi said the firm created a timeline from his emails and interviews showing Burgess’ actions.

Several of Burgess’s emails to other teachers praised Principal Geanine Saullo’s quick actions in bullying cases, belying what he told the LGBTQ+ students and the parent.

Burgess himself did not respond when asked to comment on Friday. Witold Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, answered in his stead, calling the investigation “worthless.”

“A credible investigation would not have hired people who have an obvious bias against the trans and non-binary students who complained,” Walczak said.

“Credible interviewers would not have told witnesses that the district’s recent homophobic policies were legal and reasonable, or they would not have argued over that point with the witnesses.”

Rinaldi, in the report, also revealed that Democrat School Board Member Karen Smith had written an email to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona complaining about the district and asking for help after the Republican majority passed policies that she disagreed with. The review found that Smith never told the board or administration that she had complained to DOE.

During the meeting, Smith herself complained she had not had time to read the 151-page report the law firm had produced and that even though students’ names were redacted, the facts reported could identify them.

Rinaldi also addressed claims the district was engaged in so-called “book banning,” an accusation he said was not supported by the facts.

“No book has been removed, and any removal decision will be made by professionals based on neutral, educational criteria,” Rinaldi said. “Books don’t spontaneously appear on the shelves.”

Reacting to the report, vice president Leigh Vlasblom said: “I have a board member who lied to the federal government and, in doing so, has cost this district $1 million. I would have paid $10 million to protect my children and protect my staff.

“If you come at my teachers, or you come at my administrators, or you come at my children, you’d better bet there is no price tag too big to protect them,” added Vlasblom. “So, I’m angry.”

Hunter told radio host and DVJournal columnist Dom Giordano Friday that the findings in the report are supported by “a lot of documents.”

“Everybody wonders why did the district go to these lengths?” Hunter said. “We had to go to these lengths. I believed, and I still believe, and we got the proof last night that the administrators and staff in this district care deeply for every child.”

Once Smith’s allegations went to the DOE, Hunter argued, “We had an obligation to look into those allegations and make sure our children were being properly cared for, and make sure the administrators and our staff are defended properly.”

After the Thursday meeting, parent Jamie Walker said, “Honestly, nothing that Karen Smith does shocks me. She worked very hard to keep kids out of school during COVID. She sent a doctor’s email full of incorrect information and lies about (Bucks County Health Director) Dr. (David) Damsker to our previous board and administration. She continually voted against kids being normal in school.”

Walker added, “It’s really scary that a teacher (who works at my kids’ school) would hide bullying from the administration to seek fame and hurt a school board.”

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Identity of State Rep. Accused of Groping Lobbyist Known Widely in Harrisburg Political Circles

This story first appeared in Broad + Liberty

The identity of a state representative accused of groping a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union is one of the worst-kept secrets in Harrisburg political circles, yet that member appears to be facing no discipline for the misconduct while Democratic leadership seems content to allow the issue to evaporate without consequence.

If the scandal were to slip into obscurity, it could signify many of the new norms and reforms brought about in the wake of the #MeToo movement have lost vigor — or, that such standards are only likely to be enforced when the political circumstances allow.

Andi Perez, a lobbyist for the SEIU, told House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D) at a listening session in late January that a sitting member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives touched her inappropriately.

“This lawmaker decided to caress my leg — I was wearing a skirt — all the while telling me he was impressed by my passion and knowledge of the issues we were discussing. … I moved away from him, hoping he would stop,“ Perez said. “He did not.”

In her January testimony to Rozzi’s listening tour, Perez did not explain why she was not naming the individual. She and a press representative for the SEIU did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Broad + Liberty has received at least a dozen tips, many unsolicited, from bipartisan sources, of the identity of the representative. All of the tips identified the same person, who is a Democrat.

Because Broad + Liberty does not have a report from Perez as to the person’s identity, and because no person would put their name behind an accusation of who the alleged groper is, Broad + Liberty is currently declining to name the individual.

However, the number and quality of sources willing to identify the same individual — albeit off the record — easily demonstrates the identity of the alleged groper is well known in the State Capitol.

Yet if that is true, why, after the reckoning brought forward by the #MeToo movement, is an allegation of sexual misconduct allowed to languish? While it might be true that current ethics rules restrict who can file an official complaint, it’s also true that elected officials have been willing to use unofficial channels, like public pressure, any time they see fit to do so.

One former lawmaker believes politics has trumped ethics yet again.

“Having witnessed a few of these kinds of scandals in my time in Harrisburg, I can tell you that if this accused person were a Republican, there would be a full-court press from elected Democrats and from the media to name and oust this person,” said former state representative Becky Corbin, a Republican in Chester County. “But in this particular instance, the only explanation that makes sense for all of the silence is that Democrats can’t afford for this person to be expelled because of their narrow majority,” in the House.

Republicans entered the 2023 legislative year with a two-seat majority, 101-99, in the House of Representatives, but only because of three vacancies in Democratic districts left Democrats short. Once special elections were completed, Democrats correctly believed they could expect the speaker’s gavel.

It was in the uncertainty of that January moment — Democrats eager to begin exercising the power of a forthcoming majority and Republicans eager to forestall the more progressive wing of the Democratic caucus — that both parties cut the deal electing Mark Rozzi as Speaker of the House.

Rozzi’s ascent to the speakership was so unexpected it made national news, as some pundits were cautiously optimistic that the move might signal a new experiment in bipartisan cooperation at a time when partisan distrust feels insurmountable. A Democrat from Berks County, Rozzi pledged to change his affiliation to independent, and promised not to caucus with either party — the first part of that promise Republicans say he reneged on.

court ruling helped cement Feb. 7 as the date for the three special elections that would complete the House membership, and as expected, Democrats won all three, giving them a 102-101 edge.

The expulsion or forced resignation of a Democratic member of the House would likely only extend Rozzi’s time as Speaker, while some Democrats are eager to elect Majority Leader Joanna McClinton (D -Philadelphia/Delaware County), a representative with a decidedly more progressive agenda and constituency.

To reorganize the leadership, Democrats would need perfect unity on the vote to do so, meaning even Rozzi would have to vote to remove himself as Speaker, a move that would not only stunt his new ambitions but would also clearly be a betrayal to the Republicans who helped elect him.

A special election in this particular case would not be without other risks for Democrats. The district of the accused member leans Democratic, but is far from out of reach for Republicans.

Requests for comment to the top four leaders in the Democratic House Caucus — Speaker Rozzi, McClinton, Dem. Whip Jordan Harris, and Dem. Caucus Chairman Dan Miller — were not returned. A request for comment to the office of the accused individual also was not returned.

Whether lawmakers can or should move against a sitting member in the absence of an official ethics inquiry is a layered difficulty, involving not only the obvious ethical considerations, but also issues of due process and political style.

In September 2021, Democratic leadership stripped Rep. Kevin Boyle (D – Philadelphia) of his chairmanship of the House Finance Committee and also of his Capitol access badge for reasons never made clear.

“The move to sideline an elected official of their own party is one that legislative leaders have used sparingly,” Spotlight PA reported. “When it has happened in the past, it’s almost always been used either punitively — to punish a lawmaker who has angered leadership — or because of a personnel issue involving the lawmaker.”

Leadership later restored those privileges to Boyle, but only Broad + Liberty inquired about those developments. The outlets that originally reported on the discipline did not report on how Boyle returned to his party’s good graces, and Democrat leadership remained tight-lipped. At the time, Democrats were not positioned for a majority, and Boyle’s district is also a safe one.

In 2017, Gov. Tom Wolf called for his fellow Democrat Sen. Daylin Leach to step down after a report from the Inquirer alleged improprieties against the senator. Wolf took that step even though an ethics inquiry wouldn’t be launched until 2019.

State Senator Katie Muth (D – Montgomery/Chester) was a driving force behind Leach’s ultimate departure from the senate.

On the day Perez broke her allegation, Muth authored a 20-tweet thread supporting Perez, but also detailing many other past sexual assault scandals in the Capitol, labeling it the “dome of corruption.”

As with the House Democratic leadership, Muth did not respond to questions as to whether she knew the identity of the accused, whether House Democratic leadership had pursued the issue aggressively enough, and if the politics of a one-seat majority might be in the decision-making mix.

Rozzi, meanwhile, called the House back into a special session on Tuesday that will only focus on two bills dealing with the statute of limitations on certain child sex crimes.

The House had been in recess because Republicans and Democrats could not agree to rules for the new session, a political debate that was made all the more difficult by the narrow and shifting majorities.

As Perez noted in her spoken complaint, House ethics rules greatly restrict who can bring an ethics charge against a sitting member. Changing those rules to allow greater flexibility is expected to be debated sometime this year.

However, as the special session got underway Tuesday, Republicans complained that they weren’t given enough of an opportunity to amend the rules of the special session, amendments that might have included the exact kind of ethical changes Perez advocated for in her speech to Rozzi from January.

Perez previously singled out Rep. Kate Klunk (R – York) for her proposals for many of the kinds of ethics changes Perez spoke of.

On Tuesday, Klunk expressed her frustration at not having enough of an opportunity to offer amendments to the rules for the special session.

“So I hope that at some point we will be able to offer amendments to our special session rules, in addition to House rules when we get back into regular session, that include language on sexual harassment, because there are victims out there and we need to protect folks who come and interact with us,” on a daily basis, Klunk said Tuesday.

Former Employee Alleges Sen. Katie Muth Bullied Staffers, Kept an “Abusive Environment”

A former employee for Sen. Katie Muth alleged in a 2020 Facebook post that the senator bullied her staff and that the first-term senator was “perpetrating an abusive environment in her office.”

Those allegations against Muth are all the more serious when coupled with other information showing Muth’s office has been roiled by unmatched staff turnover, with the majority of those hired to work for her departing less than one year after they began, according to an analysis of Senate documents by Broad + Liberty.

Of the 28 staffers hired by the Montgomery County Democrat since Dec. 2018, six had tenures of 70 days or less. Many of those with the shortest tenures had the highest responsibilities, such as chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, or communications director.

The records also show in Muth’s three-and-a-half years in the Pennsylvania Senate, she has had four communications directors and four chiefs of staff.

In all, 17 of the 28 who went to work under Muth departed her employ less than one year after their hire date.

Looking at those raw numbers in one sense, it would not be inaccurate to say that more than half of her staffers have departed in less than a year, but such a characterization would also legitimately understate the matter. Because Senate offices tend to have a staff of about 7-10 people, it would be more accurate to say that her office has witnessed something close to 200 percent turnover in her first term.

Angelique Hinton, listed as a former community organizer for Muth, sharply criticized her old boss in a 2020 post on Facebook.

Hinton’s post included a screenshot of a tweet from Muth shortly after the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, in which Muth noted the fact that Bryant had been accused of sexual assault early in his career.

“That she would select this moment to deepen the pain being experienced by so many is not surprising to me or any of the people who have worked for her and filed multiple CREDIBLE complaints against her in the Senate,” Hinton wrote.

“Katie should focus on giving those that she bullied & abused in her employ a voice & stop being a hypocrite! She has either fired or forced out at least nine people in her first year. All of those people, including myself, have lost their health insurance, their income, their livelihood… she should focus on helping them instead of hurting others. Abuse is abuse, and she is perpetrating an abusive environment in her office.”

The post was liked by another former staffer, Sharyn “Amy” Menache, who simply said, “Thank you! Signed one of the 9.”

Among Muth’s employees with the shortest tenures are:

— Jennifer Brown, communications director, left after 69 days

— David Cohen, chief of staff, left after 64 days

— Michael Connelly, deputy chief of staff, left after 67 days

— D. H., communications director, left after 41 days

— Sharyn Menache, executive administrator, left after 69 days

— Alia Tanko, chief of staff, left after 70 days

Three former Muth staffers reached for this article declined to comment. Requests for comment to numerous other staff members were not returned or were not successful.

The data becomes even more dramatic when compared to four other Democrat senators, all of whom were first elected in November of 2018 — the same time as Muth.

Sen. Lindsey Williams: One employee left in under a year. Only one chief of staff hired. No comms directors ever hired.

Sen. Steve Santarsiero: Zero employees have left in under one year. Two chiefs of staff hired, one communications director.

Sen. Tim Kearney: Six employees have left in under one year. One chief of staff hired, two communications directors.

Sen. Maria Collett: Four persons left in under one year. One chief of staff hired, one communications director have departed (possibly two communications directors, depending on if “communications/social media director” also counts as communications director).

The number of staff who left in under one year under Sen. Muth is 50 percent more than the combined total of her other four Democratic colleagues elected in 2018.

When contacted for comment about the staffing analysis only, Savannah Thorpe, press secretary for Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, demanded through an unnamed attorney that Broad + Liberty include the full and unedited quotes of both Sens. Muth and Costa. Although we believe we are under no obligation to honor that demand because the quotes were sent without any prior agreement having been reached, we nevertheless chose to honor it in this instance.

“I’m grateful for the hard work of every staffer who has taken on the challenge of serving our constituents, both legislatively and in our district offices.  I was elected to serve the public by promising to work to address the many issues facing our communities, and that mission requires that I hold myself and my team to high performance standards,” Muth said to Broad + Liberty.

“When I ran for office the first time, I committed to taking on the status quo and corruption in Harrisburg, and fighting for real change for working people, no matter who stood in the way. I am proud of the victories my team and I have won for our district, and when I am reelected, my team and I will continue fighting for the residents of Senate District 44 and everyone across the Commonwealth.”

While Muth provided that comment regarding the staffing analysis, she did not provide any comment to follow-up questions about the Hinton allegations. Muth’s office also did not answer a question as to which staffers quit, and which were fired.

Becky Corbin, a Chester County Republican who previously served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives said the staffing data should be raising red flags in Harrisburg.

“I was sworn in on January first of 2013. I served for six years, my career having ended on November 30th of 2018. During that six-year span, I had four staff members that I started with on January first, 2013, and they were with me when I left office,” Corbin said.

“I had no turnover. I had no one leave. If someone can’t hold on to staff for a period of one year — the way she’s losing people — it’s just appalling to me. I think leadership of the Democratic caucus should be concerned about employees who are unable to continue employment with a state senator,” Corbin concluded.

Only one other state senator out of fifty remotely approaches the high churn of Sen. Muth’s office — but his office turnover rate comes with a huge caveat.

Republican Senator Doug Mastriano, also the party’s nominee for governor this year, has had six staffers leave in less than one year.

Last August, however, as Mastriano feuded with fellow Republicans over the possibility of an election audit in 2021, Sen. Majority Leader Jake Corman reassigned three members of Mastriano’s staff. This is reflected in the data as three Mastriano staffers show end dates of Aug. 19, 2021.

Gauging turnover for Senate leadership is slightly trickier, because a Senate majority or minority leader has dozens of extra staff under them that serve the party’s caucus as a whole. For example, the website and company Legistorm, which tracks a host of information on congressional members and their staff, refuses to include leadership in their “bad boss” calculations that are based mainly on staff turnover.

Even before Muth was elected, while on the campaign trail in 2018, there were signals that working for her could be a precarious proposition.

In a 2018 interview with Slate, Muth previewed to the reporter that one of her staffers might be getting the ax soon, and that her campaign had experienced frequent turnover at the highest levels.

When Muth complained to the reporter about a printer that wasn’t working, a staffer tried to turn the situation into a political joke.

“‘Maybe it’s the Russians,’ says Nate Craig, who Muth later whispers may not be destined to last long as her volunteer coordinator. (She’s fired two campaign managers already),” Slate reported.

Costa said all of Muth’s personnel decisions were about efficiency. He sidestepped questions as to whether his office, as leader of the Democratic senate caucus, had ever received complaints from staffers about the atmosphere in Muth’s office.

“Senator Muth is a hard worker and I’ve been proud to serve alongside her. Sen. Muth won her seat by promising to take on tough fights for her constituents, and thanks to the team she has assembled, that’s what she’s done,” Costa said.

“She expects a lot from herself and her staff, and she’s made personnel decisions that allow her to get the job done. I am grateful for the service of everyone who has worked with her, and I look forward to working with her and her team to continue delivering for the 44th district.”

Although Muth’s office did not return a follow-up request for comment on Hinton’s Facebook allegations, Costa did.

“Senator Muth has never been found in violation of any Senate workplace policy,” Costa said. “Any allegations were met with a thorough standard investigation from Senate HR department, after which no negative findings were ever made, and no disciplinary action was ever taken.”

Senate District 44 is mainly based in Chester County, but also includes portions of Montgomery and Berks counties as well.

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

Suspended Falls Township Police Chief Says He’s Aiding Feds in Probe

Falls Township Police Chief Nelson Whitney dropped a bomb days after being placed on paid administrative leave. Not only is he being investigated by the township for performance-related allegations–but his attorney says Whitney is also a witness in a federal probe.

The move followed a no-confidence vote from the local police union, citing an “absolutely toxic” work environment and “non-existent morale,” according to media reports. In Whitney’s absence, Lt. Henry Ward is now in charge of the 53-person department.

Township officials confirmed the suspension but refused to provide Whitney’s salary and declined further comment on the personnel matter.

In a statement released later by his lawyer, Whitney claimed he was served with a federal grand jury subpoena.

Attorney Scott Pollins said authorities sought his client’s cooperation in an ongoing probe, but he did not specify the nature of the investigation.

The top cop hinted that he feared his cooperation was linked to the Police Association of Falls Township’s (PAFT) no-confidence vote.

“Chief Whitney has retained legal counsel to investigate whether the chief’s cooperation in a federal investigation has any connection to the recent no-confidence vote by PAFT or him being placed on administrative leave by Falls Township,” Pollins wrote.

Pollins did not respond to a phone call from Delaware Valley Journal seeking additional comment.

A 33-year department veteran, Whitney became the acting township police chief in late 2020 following Chief William Cox’s retirement. He was appointed to the position permanently at the start of last year.

His attorney claims Whitney “sought to make cultural changes and implement efficient business practices” in the department that may have ruffled feathers.

Union leaders paint a much bleaker picture of the police force under Whitney, which resulted in 40 of 48 members favoring the no-confidence measure.

In a letter obtained by LevittownNow, Union President Edward Elmore cited problems solving grievances and Whitney’s apparent “contempt” for rank-and-file officers, including some who were so “disillusioned with the workplace” that they left for another department not long into tenures with Falls Township Police.

The union leader also claimed Whitney referred to officers as “hunters” and “continued and expanded” illegal ticket quota practices in the department, offering officers perks for issuing more citations.

“One of the most repugnant aspects was when the chief offered Wawa gift cards to any officer who could beat his ‘high score’ with tickets within a given month,” Elmore wrote. “This practice has also created an enormous financial liability for the township’s citizens. By statute, all such citations are null and void; each may be required to be refunded. This liability increases with each passing day that this practice is not ended.”

The Bucks County Courier Times reported at least five former and current Falls Township police officers filed suits against the township and police over allegations that they faced harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

An arbitrator earlier this year ordered fired officer Stephanie Metterle to be reinstated after she was accused of lying in a 2019 Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission complaint about serving on the township’s Major Incident Response Team, the outlet reported.

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