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Reading voters eliminate city charter requirement for City Public Works Director to be a licensed engineer

  • Gabriela Martínez/WITF
Reading City Hall

 Jeremy Long

Reading City Hall

Reading residents have decided to eliminate a requirement that the city’s public works director must hold an engineering license. The move is expected to make it easier to fill a position that has sat vacant for two years, in violation of the city’s home charter.  

 A total of 4,247 voters cast “yes” ballots and 2,336 voted “no,” according to the Berks County elections office.

City officials say this amendment will allow the city to be more flexible.

Instead of requiring the city public works director be a certified public engineer, the city now will designate a city engineer who has those credentials.

In a Nov. 6 news release, the city said the engineering license requirement is “simply not necessary,” and that “what the city truly needs is a department director with municipal experience, someone who can seamlessly integrate into the city’s leadership team.” 

City Manager William Heim said the requirement has hindered the city from finding the right candidate for the job. He also said the position has been vacant for two years, which means the city has not been in compliance with its home rule charter.

“Even a professional recruiting firm has been unable to attract a candidate with that credential,” Heim said.

The city briefly appointed a candidate in March, but later rescinded the offer. That candidate, Martin Neely, later sued the city, claiming he was wrongfully terminated and retaliated against because of a discrimination complaint he had filed against a former employer.

A federal judge cleared that lawsuit for trial late last week.  

Judge Joseph Leeson of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled “there are genuine issues of material fact,” and denied the city administration’s request for summary judgment. 

Neely is a civil and geotechnical engineer. The lawsuit claims the city’s actions caused Neely financial losses and emotional pain, among other things. 

Mayor Eddie Moran’s administration had announced Neely’s appointment as the new Director of Public Works in a news conference about a week before the city withdrew the offer.

Marc Weinstein from Weinstein Law Firm, an attorney representing Neely, said his client maintains city officials should be held accountable.

“This was going to be a $125,000-a-year job as public works director for a great American city, they illegally denied him that and that has caused him great harm, not just financially, but career wise, and psychologically, too,” Weinstein said.

Emails and depositions with Reading officials, filed as evidence by Neely’s attorneys, show city officials, including the mayor, were aware and had discussed a previous lawsuit Neely had filed against a previous employer in California. In a court filing, Neely alleges that City Councilman Christopher Daubert had looked up the prior discrimination lawsuit and alerted City Solicitor Fred Lachat, who voiced concerns about it to other administration aides and the mayor. Lachat later informed the city council in executive session that Moran had withdrawn Neely’s nomination for the position, according to court documents.

An email sent on March 14, 2023 at 6:25 a.m., submitted as evidence in the case, shows that a recruiter working for the city, Nelson De Leon, told city’s human resources manager, Marcelino Colón, that it would be illegal to withdraw a job offer because of a prior discrimination suit. Neely was informed about the city’s decision to rescind his job offer that same day, according to court records

The city denies its decision to withdraw Neely’s job offer was based on the discrimination lawsuit. Instead, officials claim that Neely omitted information about his employment history, and that led to the decision to cancel the job offer. The city also claimed that it decided to reverse its decision to hire Neely because he “had no public works experience” and “no experience dealing with unions.”

Though the court has scheduled jury selection for January, Weinstein said the lawsuit could settle before then.

Weinstein also represents Aida Acevedo, a former city employee suing Moran’s administration for workplace sexual harassment and retaliation.  

He also represented former city solicitor Elizabeth Kraft in another sexual harassment and retaliation suit against Moran and the city. Moran has denied Kraft’s claims.

The parties agreed to settle the case. The city paid Kraft $89,166 and $34,834 to her attorney, and Kraft agreed to withdraw her claims.

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