Bartos resigns as Shamokin city clerk
SHAMOKIN - Steve Bartos has been out of City Hall on medical leave the past three months. On Thursday, council accepted the city clerk's resignation.
No one was talking about why he left the post.
Council members Charlie Verano and Barbara Moyer declined comment. So did Mayor William D. Milbrand, at least on the topic of the reason for the resignation.
Bartos didn't answer a telephone call after Thursday night's council meeting had ended.
The city's solicitor, Frank Konopka, was careful with his words.
"I don't want adverse consequences to happen if we violate what they think we should do," Konopka said.
Konopka wouldn't say, but it was clear that "they" was Bartos and an attorney. Milbrand said an attorney of the Williamsport law firm Lepley, Engleman and Yaw had penned the letter on Bartos' behalf.
The resignation letter was received Wednesday by Konopka. Council members discussed the matter behind closed doors during an executive session that night.
Both Konopka and Milbrand said the letter asks that both parties withhold comment publicly.
A special meeting was held Thursday to adopt the final version of a revised $2.3 million budget, a move approved on a 4-0 vote and one that will allow the return of police officers Cpl. Jarrod
Scandle and Patrolman Nate Rhodes who were furloughed last month.
Scandle's first shift began less than six hours after the vote.
"Officer Scandle is back at midnight," Police Chief Edward Griffiths said with enthusiasm, "so it saves on overtime."
The budget move was expected. Bartos' resignation was not.
Milbrand raised the topic of the resignation letter after the budget was approved.
Konopka read a single line: "After thoughtful considerations Mr. Bartos does not desire to return to the City of Shamokin as city clerk effective Feb. 7, 2014."
Feb. 7 is today, and today is when Bartos was expected back at work, several city officials said last week.
Verano and Moyer motioned to vote on the matter. There was no further discussion. It was approved 4-0 with Milbrand, Moyer, Verano and Councilman David Kinder all in favor.
Verano was first to vote. "Yes," he said, emphasized by a raised voice. Moyer and Kinder followed in the affirmative. Milbrand cast the final vote: "Absolutely." Councilman R. Craig Rhoades was absent.
Controller Gary Haddock had a laugh and clapped his hands twice.
The position is now vacant. Council moved to advertise the position and seek applications.
Bartos began his medical leave Nov. 13 to have surgery on a shoulder. It came the day after that month's council meeting.
In the weeks that followed, city council held a slew of budget meetings toward erasing a $616,000-plus deficit, revealed that an estimated $800,000 in unpaid bills had piled up in 2013, went to court on three occasions for related matters, and was derided at a raucous public meeting attended by hundreds of angry residents of both Shamokin and Coal Township who decried the police officer furloughs.
City council reshuffled and welcomed new faces in 2014, and they've worked with county and state officials along with a consultant on a revised budget to bring the officers back.
Bartos attended a court hearing, but being on medical leave he didn't attend other public meetings or hearings.
According to Milbrand, Bartos did complete payrolls between when his leave began and the city's first pay period of 2014, performing the work at City Hall on Saturdays. He says he asked Bartos to stop after the final pay period of 2013, and is unaware if he'd been back since to City Hall.
"If he was home in the recovery process that's what he should do, recover," Milbrand said of his reasoning for the request. "My thought is if you can work from home there's no reason you can't come to City Hall to work."
Bartos was expected to return on Jan. 15, Milbrand said. That date was pushed back to today, Feb. 7. Instead, Bartos resigned.
He was paid each week while he was on leave, Milbrand said. He'd used vacation days and compensation days. Milbrand said the time was approved by Bartos. He isn't sure how much paid leave the now former city clerk earned or how much was paid out, but he said he wants to find out.
Highs and lows
Bartos was hired in May 2011, replacing Councilman Kinder, who had resigned from the post of city clerk. Kinder, Haddock and Treasurer Brenda Scandle had raised concern publicly that Shamokin was nearing bankruptcy.
In July, after two months on the job, Bartos reported that the city had a $281,000 surplus. It pleased former Mayor George Rozinskie who was largely critical of Kinder, Haddock and Scandle, often saying they were wrong in their calculations and that they harmed the city.
Bartos successfully obtained large grants for Shamokin, including $3.4 million for a creek channel preservation project. There were also grants to expand Claude Kehler Community Park and restore the "99 steps," a city landmark. He had a vision for reinvigorating the city, sometimes pointing to the turnaround for Jim Thorpe.
He worked together with council members to refinance outstanding debt and renegotiate varied insurance packages, and he spearheaded a project to restore the American Legion Building in the city's downtown that ultimately failed for lack of funding rather than lack of merit.
Balanced budgets were adopted in 2012 and 2013.
But a $9,350 raise approved by city council in 2012 didn't win Bartos any favor with the public. In 2013, a failed federal grant application to fund a police officer's salary, an application for which his wife, Meg, was paid $2,500 to submit, brought increased scrutiny.
He and Vinny Clausi, Northumberland County commissioner, had a very public disagreement over employee health care information that included a shouting match at a city meeting and litigation favoring Clausi's fellow commissioner, Stephen Bridy.
By October the city had been dropped by its health insurance provider, and all eyes turned to the council and the city clerk.
Then came the budget deficit and the massive debt in unpaid bills, and some would say the writing was on the wall for Bartos' exit.