SUNBURY — The Northumberland County Democratic Party will file a formal complaint with the Commonwealth's Ethical Board over the county majority commissioners' hiring of two men involved in the Northumberland County Republican Committee as head of the county election office.
The letter of condemnation, which was provided to The Daily Item Friday by county Democratic Chairman Gregory Snyder, addresses Commissioners Sam Schiccatano and Joe Klebon, both Republicans. Schiccatano and Klebon voted on July 6 to hire Nathan Savidge, a former appointed executive committee member, as chief registrar, and Caleb Shaffer, the former county Republican Committee chairman and Sunbury Third Ward committeeman, as assistant registrar.
Schiccatano and Klebon fired back at Snyder, by questioning the morality of the party leader.
"The official response was unanimously passed by a vote of the full committee, on the recent actions taken by the majority commissioners regarding the County Election Office," said Snyder in an emailed statement. "As noted in the condemnation, we will be filing a complaint with the State Board of Ethics as we feel that this grossly violates ethical conduct expected by elected officials."
The hiring of Savidge and Shaffer, who both resigned from their previous positions with the Republican Party prior to starting in their county positions, "can only be seen as an unethical act of blatant partisanship and has shaken the very foundation of citizens’ faith in fair and just elections in our county," according to the letter.
The Democrats said there was at least one more qualified candidate who had a "higher level of pertinent education and of greater maturity," according to the letter.
"We also find it an unlikely coincidence that at the same meeting that you chose to use your position to fill the election office with persons who were county GOP officials until the day they were hired, you gave each position a sizeable raise in salary," according to the letter. "It is also an unlikely coincidence that both these gentlemen served positions in your own campaigns for commissioner."
The position is designed to be non-partisan, according to the letter.
"You are supposed to be the protectors of clean and fair elections in this county," according to the letter. "A very sacred duty, to say the least. A duty that requires you serve all the citizens of this county in an ethical way, not just those to whom you owe political favors or allegiance."
The letter went on to say, "We are in an extremely divided political environment, possibly the most divided in over 100 years. This year is likely to see record turnout for the presidential election. There has never been a time when peoples’ faith in our county elections is more important. But through your actions, you have planted a very large seed of doubt in the mind of a huge portion of the electorate of Northumberland County."
Schiccatano and Klebon, in a joint statement, defended their decision and criticized the county Democratic party on its own alleged shortcomings.
"We hired the two candidates who we felt would work best together and who would excel in the job," they said. "But our question is: was this letter sent by the same Democratic chairman, Gregory Snyder, and Democratic party, who is allegedly being investigated by the State Board of Elections and the Attorney General’s Office, for unethical elections violations and candidate finance violations discrepancies during last November’s county commissioners election? Is this the same chairman, Gregory Snyder, and Democratic Party that allegedly threatened and harassed Dan McGaw, a Democratic candidate for county commissioner, who according to media reports claims was threatened to drop out of the commissioner race or suffer the consequences from them, last November? I think that the Democratic party should worry more about what their chairman, Gregory Snyder, is doing instead of what the majority commissioners are doing to make Northumberland County a better place to raise their family."
The Pennsylvania State Attorney General's office will not confirm whether there is an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations in the race for Northumberland County commissioner. Tara Purcell, the former county election director, confirmed in November that the office received a complaint that was referred to the county district attorney's office, which in turn forwarded it to the state attorney general's office. After conferring with county Solicitor Frank Garrigan, Purcell said the county will not release the complaint.
Minority Commissioner Kymberley Best, a Democrat who voted against the hirings, said she had not seen the letter and declined comment.