SUNBURY - Bogus, bizarre and unacceptable.

Those were some of the adjectives used by ailing Northumberland County Commissioner Vinny Clausi during an emotional hour-long press conference Wednesday in which he defended himself against allegations made by Commissioner Richard Shoch.

The conference, which began at about 12:30 p.m. in the public meeting room at the county administration center, got off to a rocky start when Attorney Gregory Stuck of Northumberland, who is currently in litigation with Clausi, pressed the commissioner about whether he was able to read English.

After Clausi presented the media with prepared statements regarding his handling of a DCED grant, upgrades to the 911 system and a lawsuit filed against the county by fired deputy sheriffs Joseph Jones and Michael Boris, and various documents that he says support his claims, Stuck requested the commissioner read his statements.

Clausi told Stuck to be quiet or he would throw him out. But Stuck said Clausi couldn't remove him from a public meeting.

Clausi, who is recovering from recent surgery that has limited his mobility, then moved the session to a conference room down the hall, telling Stuck on the way out, "You can go to hell."

When the conference resumed without Stuck and Shoch, who also was in attendance when the session started but left after the change of locations, Clausi said he wasn't responsible for the county having to pay back up to $250,000 of a $365,000 state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) grant intended for low-income families that reportedly was distributed by county Adult Social Services and the planning department to unqualified individuals.

Clausi, who was wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants and sandals, also refuted claims by Shoch that he cost the taxpayers approximately $57,000 in legal fees alone in an initial lawsuit filed by Jones, Boris and their former attorney, Stuck, and was partly responsible for the county not meeting a federal mandate to make upgrades to the 911 communications system by Jan. 1.

At the end of the press conference, Clausi became emotional and started to cry while stating, "Mr. Shoch is playing politics. This is not right. I can't take this mental abuse anymore. You can't trust the guy (Shoch)."

A call for harmony

Clausi said he wanted all the commissioners to stop their bickering and move on to serious issues facing the county. "I'm asking the press and the citizens of Northumberland County to help us," he said. "I tried to bury the hatchet with Mr. Shoch, but it didn't work. I don't mean to tie religion into this, but if Vinny Clausi was God, Shoch would still crucify me."

Randi Buehner of Sunbury, one of about 20 people in attendance, said "the reconciliation needs to start now. You have to stop making these derogatory remarks against each other."

Paul Leshinskie of Coal Township agreed with Buehner. He told Clausi, "I think you missed the opportunity today to get the three commissioners together to talk out their differences and settle their arguments."

Also in attendance were Commissioner Stephen Bridy, planning director Pat Mack, 911 coordinator Bill Brown, chief clerk Gary Steffen and Adult Social Services Director Gregg Stavinski, who all said they supported Clausi's claims made during the conference.

Asked by the media if they would like to see harmony among the commissioners, most of the employees said "yes" or nodded their heads in agreement.

Steffen thanked all employees for working hard in their attempts to rectify the problems facing the county.

DCED timeline

Clausi said he wasn't in favor of the Homeless Prevention Rapid Placement (HPRP) grant program from the beginning. He presented a timeline surrounding the issue.

"The record shows that on Oct. 20, 2009, I refused to vote for this program. After that date, I had no association or oversight," he said.

Bridy is the commissioner who oversees the planning department and Adult Social Services.

Clausi added, "The next time I was made aware of anything about this issue was on Feb. 2, 2012, in a meeting with planning director Pat Mack. I was informed that the county might be required to repay some of the grant funds. I immediately took action and stopped the program."

He said he called DCED on Feb. 2 and informed them that the county would not pay back "one cent" because DCED failed to provide adequate guidance. He said then-Commissioner Chairman Shoch sent official notification to DCED on April 18 that the county ended this grant program.

His statement further said, "From April to July, staff worked to close out the program. In July, following a review, the severity of deficient files became known."

Clausi asked in his prepared statement, "What was Mr. Shoch doing from April to July to fix the county grant problem?"

911 upgrade questions

Clausi said Shoch claims the county lost $5 million because it did not follow former Commissioner Frank Sawicki's plan to meet the new requirements for the communications system.

"Commissioner Sawicki's plan was to contract with Raytheon for the narrow-banding communications system at a heavily discounted rate of $5.5 million. County 911 officials made many inquiries to Raytheon about their system and those questions remain unanswered to this day," Clausi said. He said 911 officials didn't have confidence in the company.

"They are the experts and I followed their advice," Clausi said.

Clausi, who admitted not knowing much about the operations of the 911 center, is the commissioner in charge of the system.

He said, "On Sept. 28, 2010, the commissioners agreed to seek bids on upgrading the communications system. Then-Commissioner Kurt Masser made that motion and I seconded the motion. Mr. Shoch's accusation that I ignored the 911 communications center upgrades is a lie."

Brown agreed with Clausi that Raytheon failed to answer many of the county's questions regarding upgrades. By not choosing Raytheon, Brown said the county might end up saving money on the 911 upgrade.

Prior to the press conference, Shoch informed The News-Item that the county received notification Monday that it's deadline to meet the federal mandate for the 911 upgrades was extended by the Federal Communications Commission to Dec. 31, 2013. He said the Pennsylvania State Police also received the same extension.

Shoch, who noted the county originally sought an extensive until March 1, 2014, entered into a contract last month with Mission Critical Partners, State College, for approximately $450,000 for the upgrades. Shoch, like Clausi at the press conference, said the extension was good news for the county, but was still apprehensive about meeting the Dec. 31, 2014, deadline.

Shoch said the consultant informed him that penalties could be imposed as high as $10,000 per day if the deadline is missed.

"We now find ourselves in a seller's market because this problem was ignored for more than a decade," Shoch said. "We could end up spending $11 million to $12 million if a digital-trunked system is needed due to the lack of analogue narrow-band frequencies."

Clausi commended county employees and Mission Critical Partners for their efforts.

Deputies' lawsuit

In his prepared statement, Clausi said Boris and Jones were fired because they watched pornography on their computers for many hours, which he considered a "breach of taxpayers' trust."

When reminded by a reporter that county officials never listed viewing pornography as the official reason for firing the deputy sheriffs, Clausi stuck to his statement.

He added, "For the record, these former employees lost their arbitration suit to get their jobs back and receive two years of back pay. I exposed this incident because other public officials were trying to cover up this disgraceful behavior.

"Mr. Shoch is familiar with public officials or employees attempting cover-ups through his experiences as Point Township solicitor."

Clausi said, "Shame on Mr. Shoch for bringing up pending litigation which could damage the county's position in this lawsuit. As a lawyer, he should know better."

Clausi said his rebuttal prove Shoch's accusations are "pure politics."

"I have done nothing wrong," he said. "I am no longer going to waste my time on this nonsense."

Shoch, meanwhile, said he stands behind his allegations.

"I back up everything with documentation provided to the media," he said. "All I ask is for county employees to be open and honest with me. And if they have a problem doing that, I will gladly accept their resignations."

The commissioner invited citizens to contact him via his personal e-mail address: rshoch@live.com.