Re-do vote the same; salary cuts stay for Northumberland County elected officials
SUNBURY - It may have been a different meeting Tuesday night, but the outcome stayed the same when Northumberland County commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy reduced the salaries of most elected officials by 42.4 percent to 48.4 percent and required them to pay 50 percent of the county's contribution toward health benefits.
Again, the only row officer to escape the salary cuts was the controller, a position currently held by Tony Phillips. That salary will remain at $56,676.
The only difference between the votes this time around is that the vote for the controller was made, seconded and approved 2-1 with Commissioner Rick Shoch voting against it. At the last meeting, the salary stayed the same due to a lack of second.
While the new rates were originally approved at a Sept. 4 meeting, a mistake in advertising language for the initial meeting prompted a re-do held Tuesday. A vote was required to rescind each of the previous motions from a month ago, which was approved by all three commissioners.
Clausi and Bridy both voted in favor of the reductions, while Shoch opposed each one.
A look at the changes to salaries and health benefits for county row officers that were approved (position; current and reduced salary and reduction percentage; who's serving; year new salary is effective):
- Commissioners: $61,000 to $31,500; 48.4 percent; Stephen Bridy, Vinny Clausi and Richard Shoch; 2016.
- Coroner: $53,834 to $30,500; 43.4 percent; James F. Kelley; 2014.
- Prothonotary: $57,396 to $31,000; 46 percent; Kathleen Strausser; 2014.
- Register and recorder: $57,396 to $31,000; 46 percent; Mary Zimmerman; 2014.
- Sheriff: $53,834 to $31,000; 42.5 percent; Chad Reiner; 2016.
- Treasurer: $53,834 to $31,000; 42.4 percent Kevin Gilroy; 2016.
- Controller: $56,676; unchanged; Tony Phillips.
- District attorney: $172,270; unchanged (state sets salaries for district attorneys); Tony Rosini. Commissioners did not vote on this.
More than 50 people filled the meeting room by taking up every seat and standing at the doorway. They were fired up during the extent of the meeting that lasted nearly two hours, and erupted in loud applause for statements with which they agreed and in angry jeers when Clausi and Bridy made statements.
At times, the aforementioned commissioners argued with row officers and members of the public.
Before the votes were made, 18 individuals approached the podium to oppose the reduction of salaries. Among the row officers, Kelley, Zimmerman and Reiner defended their positions and opposed the reductions; Strausser and Gilroy did not speak.
Furthermore, county Democratic Party Chair Roger Babnew, county Republican Party Chair Beth Kramer, Susquehanna Valley Libertarian Party Chair Drew Bingaman, former employees and residents all stood to speak.
Phillips opposed the massive cuts, but he suggested a more modest reduction to the salaries, including his own position.
He also defended himself and took offense to accusations that he was receiving favoritism, noting the vote was for the position of controller and not an individual.
Later, when Clausi made the motion to retain the controller's salary and Bridy seconded it, the crowd erupted in opposition.
Bridy explained the controller is the watchdog of the county.
"I think he could use a cut, but we need someone to watch over the taxpayers," Bridy said.
Clausi, too, said the vote was for the position of controller, not for Phillips.
Kelley, who said his father was a former commissioner, explained there were three things he learned about the county commissioner position: take care of the senior citizens, revitalize the economy and work with fellow commissioners, all of which he said Bridy and Clausi have failed to do.
When Kelley's three minutes were up, Clausi asked him to step down, but Kelley continued to speak. He said Clausi invited him here to speak as an elected official, and the rule did not apply to him.
After a brief argument between the two men with the crowd yelling at the commissioners, Clausi asked Kelley to continue.
Kelley explained the Coroner's Association and the Attorney Generals's Office consider the coroner position a full-time position since the coroner is on call 24 hours a day.
He also said the commissioners have not joined him for a look into his work after Kelley inviting them in September.
"I don't understand how you can truly know what I do," he said.
If he was a career politician, he would have run for state representative or senator when asked by his party to do so, he said.
Or, he said, "I would have run for county commissioner, and probably one of you would not be sitting there."
The row officers are not career politicians, but rather people with careers in government, he said.
"We serve the people who elected us. What frustrates the two of you (Clausi and Bridy) is that we don't serve you," Kelley said.
Zimmerman asked how the commissioners knew what she does in her office when they haven't spent more than five minutes there.
"I'll show you my attendance sheet if you show me yours," she said, holding up a calendar from her office.
'Abandon this foolishness'
Attorneys Kymberley Best and Timothy Bowers, who were both former county employees, were also on hand to speak to the commissioners.
Bowers said Clausi and Bridy have alienated voters and row officers, and have radically cut salaries without justification.
"You are ignorant of the facts. You are ignorant of what these people do," Bowers said.
The fact that the controller was spared in the cuts appears improper, he said.
"Abandon this foolishness," he said. "Or the people will take back this county in November and certainly in 2015."
Best attempted to appeal to Clausi's better nature by telling him she thought he once did good things and was a strong leader, and that she enjoyed working for the county before she was fired.
"You are making a mistake, and I'm begging you not to do this," she said.
If the cuts are necessary, Best asked Clausi to show the public so they would understand.
Best asked Clausi if he wanted to be known as "the worst commissioner" in Northumberland County and if that's the legacy he wants to leave for his children and grandchildren.
'Voters will not forget'
Babnew thanked Clausi and Bridy for their "dumb and cruel actions" that have motivated the voters of the county to come together to oppose them.
"Come election, the voters will not forget this night," he said.
Kramer, agreeing with Babnew, said the reductions were unfair to qualified people.
"Treat these employees like human beings. These people don't deserve (the cuts)," she said.
Charles Shuey, a Shamokin area resident, said he once supported Clausi, but the commissioner's actions lately have been nothing more than "union busting and a vendetta against perceived enemies."
"You went from a taxpayer advocate to a vindictive tyrant," he said.
'What's right in my heart'
After public comment and before the votes were taken, Claus said "a lot of abuse and insults" were directed toward him, and Bridy said it was "over the top."
"I came here in 2008 to do what's right in my heart. I believe I did what the people elected me for, and I'm proud of myself," Clausi said.
Bridy explained there are too many people in the county who are considered low income, and the row officers should do their part in setting an example by willingly reducing the salaries.
After a 10-minute executive session, the commissioners returned to vote on the agenda items, which were all approved 2-1 with Shoch voting against them.
"I agree with many of the comments made tonight. These are not part-time jobs. These are all-the-time jobs," Shoch said.
Bridy and Clausi also voted to have all elected county officials pay 50 percent of the county's contribution toward health benefits.
Currently, the county pays $695.76, $1,388.65 and $1,745.94 per month for single, two-party and family health care coverage, respectively, while elected officials contribute $108, $175 and $241 per month for the various plans. When they begin their new terms, elected officials will be required to pay $347.88, $694.32 and $872.97 per month.