E-mail exchange gets publicly heated

Bellevue Council member Anthony DiTullio at Tuesday’s regular council meeting. His comments during an e-mail exchange among council members prompted council president Tom Fodi to publicly chastise him for unprofessional behavior. Photo by Zac Fec for The Citizen

A fairly mundane e-mail debate among Bellevue Council members about whether the borough should spend $2,000 to access an app that would send notifications to borough residents quickly turned into personal attacks and the revelation of behavior that some officials might hope had remained behind the “closed doors” of social media.

The July 11 chain of replies began with an e-mail from council president Tom Fodi that forwarded an e-mail from a state municipal organization that discussed the “Savvy Citizen” app that had been pitched to council. Fodi and council member Anthony DiTullio debated whether the expenditure was fiscally wise, with Fodi stating that the price was worth the ability to communicate directly with residents, and DiTullio maintaining that he could find local people who could develop a similar app for much less, and that the money would be better spent on reducing the borough's debt or on capital projects.

A vote on whether to purchase the service was delayed at a prior council meeting in order to explore DiTullio’s suggestion that a less expensive means of communicating with residents could be developed. In the e-mail, DiTullio said that he would already have been rounding up local coders if the mayor and finance committee had not misled him about the price of the app. He said that he had been told the cost was $2, not $2,000.

Mayor Emily Marburger replied that she was not part of any plan to intentionally mislead anyone, and told DiTullio to “stop making flagrate (sic), factually inaccurate accusations of your peers.”

The obvious auto-correct of the intended word “flagrant” prompted DiTullio to make a joke. Marburger is heading a group that will stage “WizardVue” next month, a celebration of all things Harry Potter. “Flagrate” is a term that comes from the popular series of books and movies about a group of young wizards attending a school to hone their skills. It refers to the incantation for a particular spell. DiTullio replied to Marburger’s statement by saying, “Okay Em. I will not flagrate my peers. Go back to planning Wizard View (sic).”

That earned DiTullio a reprimand from council member Val Pennington, who said that DiTullio had disrespected the mayor by calling her “Em,” and that his comment was sexist and mysogynistic.

At that point, DiTullio let loose with several paragraphs of attacks on Marburger, Pennington and Fodi, many of which contained expletives or personal insults. He also spilled the beans about a secret Facebook group he said was formed by the mayor during last year’s election, and included Pennington. DiTullio said that he had been a member of the group until he left it because of what he considered unethical posts by group members that included starting offensive rumors about Fodi.

Fodi acknowledged at Tuesday’s regular council meeting that last year’s elections had become much too personal on both sides, and had “turned me away from the political process.” He stated, however, that his goal as council president has been to eliminate the “us vs. them” mentality of the campaigns, and pointed out that former political adversaries were now working well together as elected officials.

Fodi said that he would not push for a censure of DiTullio for his language and comments because it would not “benefit council,” but made it clear that he believed DiTullio had been disrespectful and offensive, and that DiTullio’s claims that he had been lied to by his colleagues were “ridiculous.”

Council member Anya Pikul noted that there were going to be disagreements and conflicts among council members, but that they should not disintegrate into lies and slander. She said that many people have made “stupid” comments on social media when they were among friends who later became adversaries.

“We’re growing together, learning together,” Pikul said. “Let’s just stop (the disrespectful behavior). Let’s just work together.”

Council member Linda Woshner said that the matter of the e-mails should have remained private and been worked out among the elected officials. She said that she had tried to get three of the people involved to meet and resolve their issues, but that two of them had refused. “Is that unprofessional?,” she asked.

She also suggested that elected officials needed to grow a thicker skin if they were going to remain in politics. “In Bellevue, politics is brutal,” Woshner said. “I’ve been subjected to a lot of that brutality” during her 12 years as an elected official.

DiTullio said that he could not promise to refrain from sending similar e-mails if he believed circumstances warranted such a response, which led to raised voices between he and Fodi until Woshner banged her nameplate on her desk and called them out of order.

In a later statement, DiTullio said that his intent with the e-mail disclosures and comments was to point out the unethical behavior of people who were suddenly sitting in judgment of him.

Marburger, who remained silent during the council meeting exchange, later made the following statement: “I continue to be flabbergasted by this e-mail. It is a disservice to Bellevue. It sought to diminish the relationship between the leaders of this community by attacking myself and my peers. It is filled with statements that are blatantly false and/or exaggerated in order to shock and insult.”

(Editor’s note: The Citizen has opted not to print many of the specific allegations contained in the e-mail because we are unable to determine their veracity at this time.)