The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 24, 2013

Row officers go to court to keep salaries and benefits

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

UPDATE: Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor has recused himself from this case. All three county judges have opted out of hearing the complaint. A judge from another county has not yet been assigned.

 

SUNBURY — Four Northumberland County row officers are asking a judge to issue a preliminary injunction that would block the 48 percent reduction in salaries that was approved by the county commissioners on Oct. 1.

Attorney Samuel Stretton, of West Chester, is representing Recorder of Deeds Mary Zimmerman, Coroner James Kelly, Sheriff Chad Reiner and Treasurer Kevin Gilroy in the court action filed Tuesday against Northumberland County and Commissioners Vinny Clausi, Steve Bridy and Rick Shoch.

The lawsuit sparked another in a series of heated exchanges between Clausi, who voted for the salary reductions, and Shoch, who opposed them. Clausi charged that Shoch, who is an attorney, helped the row officers with the lawsuit. Shoch, in turn, denied that claim and said Clausi was telling lies.

Court documents filed by the row officers state that the reduction and decrease in salaries represents an “impermissible interference by the defendants into the administration and running of county row offices” by those who were elected to those positions.

The county action also interferes with the row officers’ “ability to fulfill their mandated duties,” they wrote.

The commissioners “improperly passed a resolution” to force the row officers to contribute 50 percent of the premiums for health, dental and vision plan costs. The row officers contend that violates Pennsylvania statues, which mandate that benefits should be the same for all county employees, according to the complaint.

Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts Kathleen Strausser did not join the legal challenge, noting that she is leaving office soon.

President Judge Robert Sacavage and Judge William Wiest have recused themselves from hearing the case. A judge has not yet been assigned to handle the matter.

Gilroy said attorney David Marateck, solicitor for the county treasurer, will serve as a liaison between Stretton and the county.

Clausi said: “After I saw the complaint today I believe these people are working a part-time position and with this move we are going to save $1.4 million. They went and sued for the money we have taken away. That will never happen. We will fight this all the way. We have the right to adjust the salary.”

Clausi claimed Shoch is helping the row officers with the lawsuit. “Shame on Mr. Shoch and Mr. Kelley because they have been working on this lawsuit for the past two weeks. Mr. Shoch has come to work once in two weeks because he has been working on this lawsuit with the row officers,” Clausi said.

Shoch, who voted against the pay reductions, said he had no idea what Clausi was talking about because he was unaware of what the lawsuit stated, and since he is named as one of the defendants, he had no further comment.

“I think it’s ridiculous to be working on a lawsuit to bring on myself,” Shoch said. “I have not had any conversations with Mr. Kelley in two weeks. At this point it’s just more lies from Mr. Clausi.”

Bridy was furious when he read the complaint.

“Being that it is ongoing litigation I am not going to comment on the case but after reviewing it briefly whatever Mr. Stretton is getting paid he is getting paid too much,” Bridy said.

“I think it is appalling that those elected to serve are the ones suing the taxpayers. These claims are baseless and some of the family names that are listed in that complaint have been benefitting from the taxpayers for the past four decades.”

n Email comments to fscarcella@dailyitem.com.