The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

June 8, 2014

Vote on lump of bills hides $90G settlement price

Separate roll call needed on legal payments, solicitor says

SUNBURY — A $90,000 award to settle a wrongful termination case in the Northumberland County probation department was buried in a list of regular and routine expenses and unanimously approved at a commissioners meeting in March.

While the list of bills that included the settlement was put to a vote during a public meeting, solicitor Frank Garrigan said the questionable practice should be stopped.

“That’s not a regular payroll expense,” he said Friday. “It probably should have had a separate vote.”

Commissioners Stephen Bridy and Vinny Clausi confirmed Friday they were aware of a $70,000 check cut to former corrections officer Esther Rhodes and a $20,000 check for related attorney fees, but they were not allowed to talk about what prompted the termination, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Commissioner Rick Shoch, however, said he knew nothing about the settlement until he started hearing rumors about it from people in the community a few weeks before The Daily Item reported May 24 that human resources director Joseph Picarelli forgot to tell commissioners about a settlement agreement reached with Jenny Foote, a former behavior health and intellectual disabilities services employee.

Shoch discovered the $90,000 payout during his search. Discussions with Picarelli and outside labor counsel revealed that it was believed that commissioners had approved entering the settlement, he said.

Two checks cut

Rhodes was hired in the probation department March 10, 2003, in the position of probation officer I and her last day was Jan. 7, 2013, in the position of probation officer III, which is reached after five years. Her final salary was $42,017, according to Picarelli.

The two checks, which were obtained through a Right To Know Request to the treasurer’s office Friday, were dated Feb. 28, 2014. One check for $70,000 was made out to Esther Rhodes and the second check for $20,000 was made out to Camp Hill attorney Soloman S. Krevsky.

Signatures from each commissioner, Controller Christopher Grayson and Treasurer Kevin Gilroy are on those checks, but Grayson said no one individually signs checks. Rather, each check is printed with signatures already on them.

The two expenditures were included in a list of bills between Feb. 22 and March 14.

At the March 18 meeting, Bridy and Shoch made and seconded two motions to pay those bills, which consisted of all county and liquid fuels bills as submitted by the finance office and county controller totaling $13,723,806.74, according to the minutes.

While the checks were voted on, Shoch said the decision to enter into the settlement was decided without consulting him.

“That decision was required to be voted on at a public meeting and it was not,” Shoch said. “One or both of the other two commissioners illegally approved entering into the settlement agreement without submitting it to a vote at a public meeting. The fact that the agreement had confidentiality provisions does not change that requirement.”

It’s a Sunshine Act violation, he said.

“Vinny wants to run this county like a dictatorship,” Shoch said. “Employees are conditioned to only run these things through him.”

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