By Justin Strawser
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini is fighting to bring back an assistant district attorney position eliminated two years ago because of budget constraints.
Commissioner Vinny Clausi confirmed that the request for the new position will be considered at a salary board meeting Tuesday afternoon.
The cut to Rosini’s staff in January 2012 was one of 11 county positions to be eliminated by Commissioners Clausi, Stephen Bridy and Rick Shoch, and then-Controller Tony Phillips, as part of a plan to cover a projected $1.4 million deficit.
Clausi is urging the salary board members to deny Rosini’s request on Tuesday, but Shoch may be reconsidering his original vote from two years ago.
“He’s (Rosini) been without a person for the last two years? Why is he asking now?” Clausi said. “He’s busy with the murder trial? Baloney. He should work a little harder.”
Clausi is referencing the case of murder suspects Miranda and Elytte Barbour, who police say killed 42-year old Troy LaFerrara, of Port Trevorton, on Nov. 11 in Sunbury.
We have a high number of serious cases, including two murder defendants now pending and other cases under investigation,” Rosini said. “We have had a drastic increase in drug prosecutions and violent crime. My staff and I can barely keep up with the hearings we have scheduled let alone do preparation for trials and write briefs. We are not just understaffed, we are critically understaffed.
It’s easy to say work harder, but you can’t be in two different places for hearings at the same time during the day. Nor can you adequately prepare for hearings or research briefs for county and appellate courts if you are constantly in court.”
No advice from state group
Northumberland County, with a population of approximately 94,000, is a fifth-class county with four assistant district attorneys, including first assistant Ann Targonski.
In comparison with other fifth-class counties, Adams County has five assistant district attorneys, Blair County has seven full-time and two part-time, Lawrence County has five full-time and one part-time and Lycoming County has six.
Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorney Association, said the organization does not recommend any set number of assistant district attorneys for counties of any size.
“Case loads vary from county to county,” he said. “Depending on the nature of the county, whether it has an urban center or rural, that could impact on terms of case loads.”
District attorneys in smaller counties are usually “spread pretty thin,” Long said. “Any additional manpower they can muster is usually well-deserved or needed.”
“Insane” to reinstate post
The eliminated assistant district attorney position in Northumberland County totaled about $80,000 in salaries and benefits, leaving four assistant district attorneys, one victim/witness coordinator and three secretaries in the office.
The salaries for the nine employees in the DA’s office, including Rosini, total $534,920.10.
Targonski’s salary is $68,656.90, while three other assistants’ salaries are as follows: William Cole, $66,430; Michael Seward, $65,126.88; and Michael Toomey, $66,430.
Clausi said reinstating the assistant district attorney position would be “insane” and “not right to the taxpayers” because there’s no extra money in the budget.
Clausi, Bridy, Shoch, Rosini and current Controller Christopher Grayson will vote on Rosini’s request.
Anyone who votes in favor of it should be thrown out of office, Clausi said.
Shoch, who was in his first month as a commissioner when he voted to eliminate the position, said he was relying on Clausi’s information two years ago when he made his decision.
“I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve learned that a lot of these moves from Mr. Clausi are driven by vendetta rather than facts,” Shoch said.
He is willing to reconsider his past vote depending on what Rosini has to say during the meeting.
Said Rosini: “Two members of my staff, an ADA and the county detective, were cut at a time when we had a high case load. As a result my staff’s work was increased to the point where they cannot handle all of their cases in the time available.
“Additionally, the cases at the prison are not being investigated and filed, and local police departments lost the assistance of the county detective when conflicts came up.
“We used the county detective to assist in homicide investigations and trial preparation and cutting him affected our ability to adequately prepare serious cases for trial.”
While the deficit in 2012 was real, Shoch said the county must be smarter in what positions are cut.
The move to eliminate an ADA hurt the county in the long run by backlogging cases.
Rather, he said, Clausi and Bridy are willing to spend money on personnel that’s not needed, such as a full-time assistant solicitor, additional maintenance employees and an entire budget department when the controller department can handle those duties.
Clausi trumpeted the elimination of more than 130 unneeded employees in the past six years while he has been a commissioner, and he said he’s worried Northumberland County will return to the “good time Charlie” ways of operating the county.
“You have to run it like a businessman, not a politician,” he said.
At least two other requests will be on the salary board agenda, Clausi said.
President Judge William Wiest wants to set the salary of new probation chief Jim Cortelyou after Michael Barvitskie took a job as a supervisor with the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole in the Williamsport district.
County engineer Chuck Hopta is also requesting a raise for a supervisor after another employee retired.