City employee ID'd as sender of suspicious envelopes

Vann

Investigators traced three suspicious envelopes mailed on April 1 to the home of a city councilor's fiancee to a man on the municipal payroll who administers a program the elected official criticized for substandard craftsmanship.

Assistant Planning Director Dan Hurd deposited three empty envelopes with the U.S. Postal Service for delivery by certified mail to Ward III Councilor Ivory Vann. The envelopes identified Vann as the intended recipient, but they were addressed to the home of Vann's fiancee. 

Vann filed a police report after he was notified about the empty envelopes sent to the home of his fiancee, who signed for them upon delivery. Vann, an outspoken critic and advocate for tighter security at City Hall, said he considered the envelopes, which police apparently never opened during their investigation, as "threatening and harassment." 

Hurd said he sent the letters in an attempt to prove Vann lived outside Ward III, which would disqualify him from City Council service. The longtime city employee and assistant administrator said a complaint brought to him by a person "invested in ... a different program" motivated his efforts.

"There are a lot of people who believes he lives there ... because he does spend a lot of time there, but it is what it is," Hurd said, noting his goal was to obtain the green cards with return service. "I probably could have done that differently, but I knew nothing would be done if I didn't come up with solid evidence — like I told Mike Miller: it was kind of a swing and a miss."

Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge found no criminal wrongdoing and declined to prosecute. Miller, the city manager, said he was unable to discuss personnel matters, but said Hurd "is still an employee of the city, and he has not had any public record discipline."

Miller, in a letter sent in response to Vann's formal complaint against Hurd, said he "would be happy to consider ... any additional information" and "concrete examples of harassment by Hurd." The city manager goes on to state in the letter that once "all the relevant information" is obtained, he "should handle this situation administratively."  

Miller said generally city employees should limit interactions with councilors and vice versa. But he said there are First Amendment rights everyone enjoys, so enforcement of those guidelines requires a balancing of interests.  

Vann considers the matter much less nuanced. He said had Hurd targeted any councilor other than him there would have been swift repercussions. 

"It's the good-old-boy system and they're going to cover for each other," Vann said. "This not only affects me, this affects the entire City Council — that means he can do it to anybody up here, and he picked me because I confronted him about passing inspection on that shoddy work on those houses."

The work Vann complained about was part of a rehabilitation program that provides exterior repairs for qualified homeowners worth up to $20,000 for each house. Vann said finished work that was approved for payment included windows and doors that were inoperable because they were hung improperly or not leveled before they were set. 

Vann's complaints prompted bids for other work to be pulled from consideration and projects re-bid. Vann also pushed for the creation of a prequalification board for contractors hired by the city for projects that provide a private benefit, like the Housing Revitalization and Rehabilitation Program.

"I think they should terminate him," Vann said, noting Hurd put him and his fiancee in fear. "And we just got through paying a hundred and some thousand dollars to that contractor who did that sloppy work, and he's the inspector who has done this for years."

City Attorney Roy Tucker said he took no part in the investigation of Vann's complaint against Hurd. In general terms, he said public employees who attempt to "uncover or prove wrongdoing such as fraud, waste or abuse" likely enjoy constitutional protections and whistleblower laws.

"I cannot talk about any specific employee, but in general terms engaging in that type of activity has been considered protected speech," Tucker said, noting public concern as an essential factor in that equation. "Protected conduct can rise to the level of discipline if it is found to be criminal in nature or it's not related to any attempt to uncover wrongdoing."

With regard to his assessment of Hurd's investigation of Vann's place of residence, Tucker said the evidence collected "had little value." The green cards from the certified letters, which prompted the police probe of an anonymous threat, and surveillance photos of Vann's pickup parked in a driveway "does not establish intent to change residency."  

Residency is a legal term, and certain factors — abandonment and an intent to never return are among them — must exist before the place of residency changes. Tucker said the information offered by Hurd provided nothing to support an intent by Vann to abandon his Ward III residence.  

Vann said he is incensed with the apparent decision to allow such conduct to stand without reprimand. He said Hurd "attacked my character as a person and a councilman — that would never stand in no other city, I guarantee you that, no way would an employee do a councilman like that."

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