The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 15, 2013

Lack of pay cut for Phillips leads to party dissension

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

— SUNBURY — Northumberland County Republicans are experiencing a bit of chaos less than two months from the general election, and at least two candidates on the ballot are receiving the cold shoulder from some members in the party.

Ever since Northumberland County commissioners decided to slash row officer salaries, Republican candidate and current Northumberland County Controller Tony Phillips continues to get dirty looks and hears rumblings within his party that he managed to keep the $56,676 salary because he is “Vinny’s” boy.  

“Vinny,” is Northumberland County Commissioner Vinny Clausi, a Democrat, who is publicly supporting Phillips in the Nov. 5 general election when Phillips faces Democratic challenger Chris Grayson.

Nearly two weeks ago, commissioners Steve Bridy, Rich Shoch and Clausi voted during a “public hearing” to reduce row officer and commissioner salaries by more than 40 percent.

Shoch voted no to the salary cuts, while Clausi and Bridy contended they felt the salaries were too high and taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot such a high bill for part-time jobs.

Row officer after row officer spoke out against the cuts, but in the end a vote was taken and it was passed 2-1 for the salary cuts and each row officer now has to pay 50 percent of his insurance, which could be as high as $10,000 a year if claiming three dependents.

Besides Phillips and Coroner Jim Kelley, all row officers will now make $31,000, while Kelley was cut to $30,500.

After the meeting, various individuals were in the lobby of the county administration building saying they would be working against Phillips in the November election.

And that puzzled Phillips.

“No one even contacted me and no one asked me my thoughts on any of this,” Phillips said. “No one from my own party asked me anything but they assumed that this was a Tony Phillips salary and it is not. It is a controller’s office salary.”

Phillips attended a Republican Committee picnic Thursday, along with Prothonotary hopeful Justin Dunkelberger, who has also been backed publicly by Clausi, and will be facing Democrat Meg Bartos in November.

But the two politicians did not get a warm reception.

“I got a whiff of it — it wasn’t very pleasant,” Don Ely, Republican state committeeman for Northumberland County, said. “I don’t fully understand what is going on because I wasn’t aware of any dissension. I asked a few people afterwards and asked what it’s about and they told me they would discuss it with me at a later date.”

As for Phillips, Ely said, “Tony didn’t act like he any good feelings towards Vinny (Clausi) but it seems unusual that one of the row officers would be exempt from taking the pay cut.”

Phillips said he didn’t mention any county commissioners.

“My race has nothing to do with the county commissioners,” Phillips said. “I don’t have allegiance to any specific commissioner. I believe in a smaller, cost-effective government and whoever that aligns with, it aligns with. I’m not looking to please any commissioners, I’m looking out for the tax payers of Northumberland County.”

The awkward moments at Thursday’s meeting could be Dunkelberger’s and Phillips’ fault, Shoch said.

“The crowd apparently didn’t appear supportive of Phillips and Dunkleberger, resulting in Dunkelberger lashing out shamefully and pointing fingers at the committee leadership during his presentation,” Shoch said.

“I think Mr. Dunkelberger and Mr. Phillips misunderstand the role of the committee and its leaders. The committee can attempt to mobile members to get a candidate’s message out, but they cannot inspire people to support a candidate. That kind of inspiration can only come from the candidates themselves, through their actions, their message and their embodiment of Republican ideals.”

Email comments to fscarcella@dailyitem or rdandes@dailyitem.com.