SUNBURY - Stephen D. Bartos says that while he was on medical leave for nearly three months he continued to work "as best he could ... out of a sense of duty and obligation to the residents" of Shamokin.

He's now suing the cash-strapped city for nearly $60,000 for compensation he says city council has failed to pay.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday by attorney Douglas N. Engelman claims the former city clerk was uncompensated for 1,116.4 hours, including 70 hours vacation time and 21 hours of personal time. The bulk of the hours were for a federal flood control project, also included are hours during his medical leave that started Nov. 15 and ended with his resignation Feb. 7. Those hours are allegedly documented and can be substantiated by witnesses, the lawsuit states.

$55.75 per hour

The wages and compensation sought in the lawsuit are: $49,807.05 in compensation time at an hourly rate of $55.75 for 893.4 hours related to the federal flood wall project along Shamokin Creek and Carbon Run; $2,230 for 40 hours at $55.75 hourly for the federal grant program to demolish flood-damaged homes along Rock Street; $1,730 for 70 hours of unused vacation time; $579 for three unused personal days, and $5,129 for 92 hours worked during medical leave.

Shamokin violated both the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, according to the lawsuit. Bartos, of Mount Carmel, also seeks interest, court costs and attorney's fees. His desired award exceeds arbitration limits of the Court of Common Pleas, the lawsuit states.

Bartos had previously sued a former employer. A federal jury in April rejected his claim in federal court that he was fired from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in retaliation for uncovering what he says was the misuse of recycling grant funding by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.

Hired by the city in May 2011, Bartos was scheduled to earn a $45,000 salary in 2014, the same as in 2013. He was paid for 35 hours each week during medical leave up until his resignation. He also received an additional $4,451.40 in 2013 for 180 hours of compensation time at an hourly rate of $24.73 included on six paychecks between Nov. 8 and Dec. 13, according to city records.

Bartos is currently receiving unemployment benefits from the city. An initial dispute from the city was withdrawn, the lawsuit states.

Verbal abuse alleged

According to the lawsuit, Bartos was told Dec. 28 by then Mayor-elect William D. Milbrand to not do any work on behalf of the city, and city council made no response to requests on his employment status or the subject of uncompensated hours.

Milbrand had previously told The News-Item he believes Bartos should not have been working in any capacity for the city while on medical leave. He had been completing payroll on Saturdays and had also been using his city email account, Milbrand had said at the time. Payroll was taken over by Treasurer Brenda Scandle before an interim city clerk and subsequently a full-time replacement was hired.

A resignation letter mailed Feb. 4 to the city was penned on Bartos' behalf by Engelman. Its contents weren't discussed when city council approved Bartos' exit Feb. 6. The lawsuit states the letter outlines "in detail" alleged verbal abuse from unnamed city officials.

A verbal request for the resignation letter was denied at the time out of potential legal concerns, and there's been rampant speculation inside City Hall that a lawsuit was forthcoming. The city also denied a Right To Know request from The News-Item Monday seeking the resignation letter.

"I will say right now and I will swear on a stack of bibles that he was not abused by me," Milbrand said Tuesday when reached for comment.

He claims it was the opposite, pointing to an alleged incident at Shamokin's public garden at Third and Arch streets last fall. Milbrand claims Bartos used foul language when Milbrand remarked about a lack of information on public projects coming from City Hall.

"If anything, he verbally abused me," Milbrand said.

Reached Tuesday afternoon, Councilman Charlie Verano hadn't heard of the lawsuit. "I can't say that I'm shocked. ... Oh great, something else to deal with," he said, withholding further comment.

"I'm not in any way surprised that the former city clerk is suing another political unit of government," said Councilman David Kinder, who reserved further comment.

Solicitor Frank Konopka was unavailable for comment Tuesday. Attempts to reach council members Barbara Moyer and R. Craig Rhoades were unsuccessful. Bartos did not return a message seeking comment.

Budget issues

Bartos was expected to begin medical leave to have surgery on a shoulder Nov. 13, the day after that month's city council meeting. The lawsuit indicates his leave began Nov. 15.

In the weeks that followed, city council held a slew of budget meetings toward erasing a $616,000-plus deficit, revealed 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 planned furlough of police officers.

Bartos attended a court hearing, but he didn't attend other public meetings or hearings because he was on medical leave. He was expected to return to work Jan. 15. That date was pushed back to Feb. 7, which was the day of his resignation.

City council worked in his absence to attempt fiscal recovery, reworking the city's budget and eventually applying for entry into the state's Act 47 program for distressed municipalities. A public hearing will begin at 5 p.m. today at City Hall to further explain a recovery plan developed in-hand with the state Department of Community and Economic Development.