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May 24, 2014

Director forgot to tell commissioners he OK’d suit payout

— SUNBURY — Northumberland County’s human resources director forgot to tell commissioners that he had approved a monetary award to settle a wrongful termination case, Commissioner Stephen Bridy said Friday.

Bridy confirmed that a settlement was reached with Jenny Foote, a former behavioral health and intellectual disabilities employee, but he was not allowed to talk about what prompted her termination or how much money she was granted, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Apparently, Bridy said, human resources director Joseph Picarelli, who attends negotiations and arbitration hearings on behalf of the commissioners, approved the settlement with labor attorney Benjamin Pratt, of CGA Law Firm, and Judy Davis, behavioral health and intellectual disabilities administrator.

The settlement money didn’t come from an insurance policy; rather it’s straight from the taxpayers’ pockets, Bridy said.

“I’m outraged,” Bridy said. “When it comes to county money, there should be a spotlight on it.”

Although the next step would have been to take the agreement to commissioners for approval, Bridy said that never happened because it slipped Picarelli’s mind.

“I was furious when I first heard, and Joe was upset,” Bridy said. “Mistakes do happen, even in government. It wasn’t anything malicious.”

Good employees like Picarelli need “a little leeway,” Bridy said.

Contacted Friday, Picarelli had little to say.

“I was busy and I thought it was right thing to do at the time,” he said. “I did what I did in the best interest of the county.”

The hearings are part of his regular duties, Picarelli said.

He would also not discuss the terms of the settlement.

Bridy first heard about the labor situation in an email from Davis explaining the circumstances of the dismissal in January, but he said he didn’t hear anything else about it until months later, after the settlement was reached.

All settlements must be proposed to the commissioners for approval, and all money spent outside the budget must be approved as well, Bridy said.

But blame falls on human resources, and then the controller’s office because that’s who cut the check, Bridy said.

“I don’t know how this fell through the cracks,” Bridy said. “It won’t happen in the future.”

No one was suspended, only reprimanded, Bridy said.

Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Rick Shoch said they were not aware of the settlement.

“Nobody discussed it with me,” Clausi said. “No one came to me about it. I’m (angry) right now.”

After a discussion with Davis on Friday, Clausi confirmed a settlement had been reached, but he was not allowed to talk about the details.

“I was not consulted about any kind of settlement,” Shoch said. “Typically, we would be aware of that, especially in cases of monetary settlements.”

On the other hand, if insurance providers are covering the lawsuit, they do not need county consent to settle, Shoch said.

When contacted Friday, Foote declined comment, also citing the confidentially agreement.

 

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