Vendetta against Bartello proves costly to City Taxpayers
There have been dramatic new developments in the Joe Bartello “Computergate” case.
In a misleading story published September 27th, the Daily Item claimed that “US Judge dismisses Bartello allegation“. Their report went on to place the blame for the $10,000 in City legal fees for a “frivolous lawsuit” directly on Councilman Bartello – a claim which even the most elementary of investigative journalism by their chief reporter would have revealed to be patently false.
Not The Item spoke with Bartello’s attorney, Timothy Bowers, husband of Kymberley Best, who painted a very different picture indeed.
It turns out that the $10,000 in legal fees which the City claims this case has cost them to date are not down to Bartello at all, but down to the actions of Mayor Persing. Following the original hearing in Sunbury before Judge Saylor, who found against the City, Bartello offered to settle the case in exchange for the City covering his filing and service fees, amounting to some $300. This offer was rejected by Persing.
Joe Bartello himself paid for his legal action. He stated at the time that if Persing wanted to start a witch hunt against him, then he should fund it with his own money, and not use money belonging to the tax payers of Sunbury!
Persing then placed the case in the hands of the City insurers, who in turn appointed their own (expensive) lawyers from Philadelphia to handle it on their behalf. The $10,000 expended to date on the services of Attorney Joseph J. Santalone Jnr. would appear to be part, or all, of the City’s deductible. It was at Mr. Santalone’s behest that the case was moved from Northumberland to the much more expensive federal court in Williamsport.
A federal magistrate did not accept the merits of the case, disputed Bartello’s constitutional rights and referred it back to Northumberland. However, Attorney Bowers disagrees and is appealing this decision, and expects to have the case reheard, this time at a higher level before a federal judge.
So there you have it. Persing’s refusal to accept any responsibility for his own actions and his naked vindictiveness towards Bartello are once again costing the City money.
Court Ruling Circumvented
The original injunction had been filed in Sunbury to protect Bartello’s First Amendment rights, denied by Persing, to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and in the face of a number of other alleged illegalities by the City Administration in their headlong rush to appease Moran Industries and give them access to Bartello’s computer.
A Northumberland County Court hearing before Judge Saylor agreed that the City had no right to hand over Bartello’s computer, and brokered an agreement between the parties that the City themselves would inspect his computer in his presence, and release any documents relevant to Moran’s Right to Know request. Persing had refused to return from Florida for the hearing but on the insistence of the judge was made to swear an oath by telephone before giving evidence.
Immediately on his return from the Sunshine State, Persing began looking for ways to circumvent the court ruling. Bartello was put under enormous pressure, including threat of arrest. The computer was handed over to Sunbury PD on an undertaking from the Mayor’s Office that Bartello would be present when Moran’s representatives carried out their investigation. However, he was given notice late on a Friday afternoon that the investigation would take place the following Monday morning. He was unable as such short notice to get time off work. This inadequate notification was hardly accidental.
A third party computer “forensics” company were given unsupervised access to the computer in City Hall, and worked on it for an entire day. Certainly there was nothing in place to prevent the possible implanting of incriminating evidence. A disk image was made and given to Moran. This image would also contain details of Bartello’s confidential dealings with his constituents, so this action violated their rights too.
No copy of the image was given to anyone else, so it was impossible for the findings to be independently verified. The final result of this extremely dubious action was a bill of $5000 for city taxpayers. To add insult to injury this money was taken from Bartello’s own budget at the Code Office.
Out of some 60,000 recoverable images stored on the computer they claimed to have discovered several that were described as “1940s style pornography”. They were unable to date these images so had no idea when they may have been cached by the computer – a computer which had been bought in used condition by Bartello from Staples.
Despite the extremely flimsy nature of this “evidence” it was apparently more than enough for the Daily Item to do Persing’s bidding and to print the following day a most disgraceful piece of character assassination.
Tracing this story back to its roots means revisiting the events which took place at the City Meeting of April 8th of this year. That night claims were made by Drake Saxton that Persing, as Mayor, had failed to collect upwards of $2.6 Million in fines for code violations which had occurred at the former Celotex site since early in 2011.
This action appears to have greatly irritated John Moran Industries of Watsontown, owners of the site, who then filed a Right To Know request demanding access to Bartello’s City-owned laptop. Access to computers is not covered by the provisions of the state Right to Know Act.
In an attempt to get around this, Persing produced his own illegal Sunbury version – a version which was, we were told, going to open up city-owned computers to public inspection, but in fact was aimed at only opening up Joe Bartello’s computer to Moran Industries inspection. In a clear illustration of the shallowness of this shabby move, Persing rudely declined a citizen’s request to open up his own office computers to a similar inspection.
As a final act in this shoddy tale, at the City Meeting of June 24th, and following an executive session of the council held in violation of the Sunshine Act, Councilman Bartello was relieved of his duties in charge of the Code Office. As Bartello so aptly put it at the time, this was “another illegal act by a power drunk mayor. The people of Sunbury deserve better.”
Persing had succeeded in doing the bidding of Moran Industries and at a stroke removed power from the only member of the City Council willing to stand up to them and to fight to protect the best interests of the people of Sunbury. Why should the elected Mayor of Sunbury care so little about the health and welfare of our citizens and future of our City and apparently go out of his way at every opportunity to satisfy the demands made upon him by the wealthy owners of the Celotex site? On this we can only speculate.
What we do know, however, is that the City are currently defenseless. Moran Industries have not gone away. The Celotex site remains a clear and present danger to our future.
Only the election of Joe Bartello as Mayor of Sunbury stands between our City and a potential environmental catastrophe.