Email tied to DCNR head's resignation released - abc27 WHTM

Email tied to DCNR head's resignation released

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Richard Allan is still the Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on a video from the Department of Environmental Protection's website.

It's May 21, and Allan is speaking at an annual event celebrating the banding of peregrine falcons that nest on the Rachel Carson Office Building in Harrisburg.

"I'm an avid bird watcher," Allan said to school children in the audience and to a worldwide audience via the web. "I've had an interest in these falcons since they first nested."

Allan spoke for four minutes and then the business of banding proceeded with birds noisily squeaking as they were tagged.

But the real squawking flew through the air weeks prior in emails with Allan's wife Patricia, who worked at DEP, that discussed whether Allan would speak at the banding event.

In a two-hour exchange on the morning of May 3, the couple spoke about a third employee, an unidentified African-American woman, who had a role in organizing the event.

At one point, Richard calls her a "b...."

Patricia says the woman's trying to make her look bad. She later says that employee will "show her true colors."

Richard responds "COLORS!!!!!!!!"

The woman saw the emails and complained. Governor Tom Corbett perceived it to be racially insensitive and forced Allan to resign.

It's not exactly the worst racial slur ever uttered, so we shared the email exchange with NAACP president Stan Lawson and Homer Floyd, former head of Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, for their opinions.

"It's really inconclusive," Lawson said. "There's a lot of innuendo there, but I would say if it smells like a duck and walks like a duck, it's a duck, and my gut feeling is this is a duck. It was wrong."

Todd Shill is an attorney with Harrisburg's Rhoads and Sinon, who represents employers who fire their employees for wrongful typing in social media and emails. He wouldn't speak about Allan's case specifically, but did comment on swift action taken by employers in general.

"Even going in that direction via electronic communication shows a lack of judgement on behalf of the employee and that's what employers look at," Shill said. "They look at the lack of judgement."

Shill says his various clients deal with these issues every week and he offers this advice to employees who use social media and send emails:

"When you're gonna hit send, think about that email eventually being blown up on a big screen in front of a jury and think about - would you want the world to see that communication? Think it through because these days that's all recoverable," he said.

Typing the word "COLORS!!!!!!" may not appear offensive and some bosses might dismiss it, but Lawson and Floyd applaud the governor for having zero tolerance. Floyd calls it a good sign of how far race relations have advanced.

"Certainly, I don't think 40 years ago a secretary of a department would have been fired or asked for a resignation over this," Floyd said.

"In this particular case, I think he did the right thing," Lawson said. "I really do. I think he did the right thing."

Lawson wondered why Patricia Allan kept her job after being actively involved in the email exchange. In fact, she transferred from DEP to the Department of State in recent days.

Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley, cited a personnel issue and would not comment when asked if Patricia's switch was related to the emails.

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