POTTSTOWN >> Borough Manager Mark Flanders blocked emails from a resident and former codes director for four years “because he was sending defamatory, harassing emails to my Borough email address.”
That was the explanation Flanders provided to The Mercury after he confirmed during a March 13 council meeting that he had been blocking emails from Jeffrey Smith.
Smith, who is now running as a Democratic candidate for borough council in the Fifth Ward, said during that meeting he had asked a council person to submit his name for a planning commission vacancy “because I’ve been blacklisted on the borough’s email.”
“Yes you have” Flanders responded.
Asked about this exchange afterward, Flanders responded to a Mercury email by writing: “I am not sure that I would personally use the term ‘blacklist’ in this instance but nonetheless, his email address was blocked because he was sending defamatory, harassing emails to my Borough email address.”
Smith told The Mercury he “absolutely” believes he was blocked because of emails he was sending in 2012, but they were being sent to borough council members when Flanders was interim borough manager and being considered for the post permanently.
However, Flanders was only being copied on them “because I wanted him to know what I was doing,” Smith said.
In fact Smith was threatened with legal action over those emails in 2012 by former Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr. (then still in office), who sent a letter to Smith on behalf of Flanders.
This week, Smith said those emails were being sent to borough council to inform them of “my opinion of Mr. Flanders’ character defects prior to them voting to make him borough manager.”
He said his emails also offered “information about Mr. Flanders’ business dealings with vendors to the borough.”
Oddly, said Smith, it was not until after council voted to make Flanders borough manager in November 2012 that Smith received the first message from his e-mail server “that had a whole bunch of code and then at the bottom it said ‘sender has been blacklisted.’”
And Smith, who rehabilitates homes in the borough and elsewhere and then re-sells them, said he has been blocked for the last four years.
“It has affected my business because I could not email the codes department, or send documents to the borough. It cost me time because I had to come into borough in person every time,” Smith said. “I could not even email my council person, or anyone who had a borough email address.”
Flanders responded to The Mercury that “it was never intended that Mr. Smith would be permanently blocked.”
Yet Smith said as recently as two weeks ago, an email he attempted to send to the licensing and inspections department was bounced like previous emails.
“I think I was only unblocked after Mr. Flanders found out I was a candidate for borough council,” said Smith.
The Mercury also asked if anyone else has been blocked from sending emails to the borough.
Flanders responded “email addresses are routinely blocked as spam — sometimes by our filtering system and sometimes manually. In the context of the questions you have posed, has “anyone else” been blocked …….. not to my knowledge.”
But Jerry Stick, another former borough employee who has crossed swords with Flanders and the borough administration before, disputed that.
Stick, who worked as a water meter reader for the borough and was the president of the borough’s AFSCME union for a time, said he too found that emails he sent for things like Right to Know requests were blocked by the borough’s server.
“And Mr. Flanders knew about it because I called him the next day after it happened the first time to ask him about it,” said Stick.
In 2008, Stick twice had a case brought against him when Flanders was still police chief. It was dismissed first by District Justice Walter Gadzicki, and a second time by District Justice Maurice Saylor after the borough re-filed it and brought in an assistant district attorney. It centered around personnel information Stick had brought to the borough administration’s attention.
Stick never sent any of the emails Flanders described as “harassing and defamatory,” but he was carbon copied on those Smith sent, both Stick and Smith confirmed.
Stick said the day after seeing a Mercury Tweet from the March 13 council meeting about the “blacklist” exchange between Smith and Flanders, he sent a test email and found out he too was no longer blocked.
Flanders also responded to The Mercury that the borough has “no such policy” governing which citizens will have their email blocked or for how long.