Clausi: Both car sales legit
SUNBURY - Vinny Clausi said the two Northumberland County employees who bought cars that he once owned each "paid what the car was worth."
Clausi, county commissioner chairman, was responding to Dave Kaleta's questions posed at a public meeting Tuesday. Kaleta asked Clausi, "Did you give Kathy Jeremiah (planning department grants manager) a Lexus at a below value price?" He asked the same about chief clerk Gary Steffen.
Clausi didn't respond to those or any of Kaleta's other questions during Tuesday's meeting or when asked later that day. On Wednesday, however, after the questions about the car purchases were published in The News-Item, Clausi discussed the situation.
He said he sold a Lexus directly to Jeremiah when he was buying a new one.
About seven months later, he sold a second Lexus he owns to a dealership as part of a trade-in, and told Steffen he was doing so. Steffen then bought the car from the dealership.
"That's my property. I can sell them to anyone," Clausi said.
He didn't want to discuss the actual prices, but said the notion that they were sold "below value" as Kaleta suggested is wrong. He said he went by actual value in both cases.
He acknowledged that he and Jeremiah are longtime friends.
"I've known her for 35 years. Why can't I sell a car to a friend?" he said.
Jeremiah declined comment Wednesday.
Steffen spoke Wednesday about Kaleta's accusation and the fact it was published.
"I really shouldn't have to defend myself against rumors on the street," Steffen said, noting Kaleta had no proof or documents to support his claims. "My wife and I purchased that car from a dealership. That's pretty much the end of the story. It was a legitimate sale and everything was proper."
Clausi said Kaleta never says anything about the many contributions he has made to needy people and the community.
"I gave $10,000 of my own money to Norry (Northumberland) for the bowl slide," he said about a new apparatus for the community pool. "Why didn't Mr. Kaleta mention that?"
No one from the state county commissioners association was available Wednesday afternoon to comment on the car sale issue.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said the County Code requires commissioners to estimate the value of property owned by the county to be sold, and if valued at more than $1,000, the property must be advertised in a newspaper and sold to the highest bidder. But in this case, where the cars were Clausi's personal property, "he can sell them to whomever he chooses. I don't see an issue with him selling one of his old cars to a friend or county employee.
"The Ethics Act comes into play if he uses his office to make money," she said, "and that doesn't seem to be the case here."