The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 2, 2013

Bell rings for Round 2 in Northumberland County salary dispute

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

— SUNBURY - The Northumberland County commissioners once again reduced the salaries of all but one row officer on Tuesday evening. But before that vote was taken, Commissioner Rick Shoch alleged that some county officials may have skirted the law in another employment case.

Shoch, who opposed the row office salary cuts, claimed that President Judge Robert Sacavage and Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Steve Bridy signed a document that allowed former adult probation chief John Wondoloski to collect unemployment compensation even though Wondoloski actually retired.

Shoch displayed a document that listed Wondoloski as a terminated employee, but Shoch said he has emails and proof that Wondoloski actually retired, thus making the former adult probation chief ineligible to receive unemployment benefits.

“I have emails from Wondoloski talking about leaving for months. We have all been in meetings with adult probation and the form was filled out as a termination with the reason given as his job was eliminated. The problem is that document was on my desk three days before we had the salary board meeting to determine whether or not we would restructure adult probation,” Shoch said.

“The form was dated two months prior to this. The only way I can see this was classified was so he would be able to collect and I got confirmation he filed June 21. He was talking about leaving, and if there was a done deal for him, then it’s a Sunshine Law violation.”

Shoch said he also has emails that Sacavage was going to throw a retirement party for Wondoloski at the judge’s cabin and it was going to be on a Friday.

“They were going to close the office down for a day and have the party on the taxpayers’ dime,” Shoch said. “But word got out and they never had the party, and there was an email or meeting and it was canceled.

Shoch was unsure where the email came from, but because it was labeled SOS, Shoch said he was told it came from Santina Sacavage, who is the judge’s daughter and who works in adult probation.

“There are enough good honest employees to say what’s going on,” Shoch said. “And they are putting information out there.”  

Sacavage, who was not at the meeting, said Shoch was telling “half truths.”

“First, there was nothing done illegal by anyone,” Sacavage said. “He is taking something that is normal administrative undertaking and turning it around. The position was terminated. He can say this happened but he knows what happened. He knows the ups and downs and we were quite surprised when he did not vote for the restructuring. He seems to be talking about the magic goose. It’s so far fetched and there must be something going on in his mind.”

Sacavage also said he did in fact have a party planned for Wondoloski, but it was on a Saturday and when people began to email details about the event, he put a stop to it.

Wondoloski, who was reached by phone after the meeting, said Shoch is wrong.

“To say that a judge or commissioners would do something that was illegal is just crazy,” he said. “I lost my position as part of a restructuring plan done by the courts. Nothing illegal was done by anyone.”

After Shoch’s allegations about Wondoloski, the commissioners voted 2-1 to cut the row office salaries again. The first vote, taken last month, was not official because of an error in the legal advertisement for the hearing.

Despite the efforts of several row officers and numerous members of the public, Clausi and Bridy voted in favor of the reductions.

Row officers, in some cases, took 48 percent wage cuts and all elected officials were told they would now be paying 50 percent of the cost of their medical benefits.

The salary of the controller was not cut.

Elected officials who claim three dependents will now have to contribute up to $10,500 annually in health care premiums. Commissioners also reduced their own salaries by nearly 50 percent.

One of the main speakers was Northumberland County Coroner Jim Kelley, who used his three-minute allotted time and refused to stop.

Kelley said the county is now the laughing stock of the state and his position causes him to leave his house at any time of the day or night.

“We are not career politicians,” Kelley said to Bridy. “We have a career in government. We serve the people of this county. What frustrates you two (Clausi and Bridy) is that we don’t serve you.”

The coroner’s salary was cut from $53,834 to $30,500.

Recorder of Deeds Mary Zimmerman took to the podium to address the commissioners about how much she works.

“I’ll show you my time card, Mr. Bridy, if you show me yours,” she said.

Zimmerman’s salary was cut from $57,396 to $31,000

One after another, residents spoke against the cuts to thunderous applause from audience members.

The prothonotary, recorder of deeds, sheriff and treasurer salaries were set at $31,000. The prothonotary and recorder of deeds jobs did pay $57,396 while the treasurer, coroner and sheriff’s office were all paid $53,834 prior to the vote. The controller’s office salary will remain at $56,676.

n Email comments to fscarcella@dailyitem.com.