SUNBURY - Northumberland County Sheriff Chad Reiner said Monday he did nothing wrong by hiring a new employee rather than recalling a former deputy to fill a position in his office created by a recent resignation.

Reiner was previously criticized by Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy for not rehiring former deputy sheriff Nicole Baker, of Kulpmont, to replace deputy sheriff Daniel Zettelmoyer, who resigned Feb. 15 to become a Milton police officer.

On Feb. 19, Reiner hired James Souder, of Sunbury, who was among two applicants for Zettelmoyer's position, at the same pay rate of $15.27 per hour.

On Monday, Clausi and Bridy said miscommunication over the issue led to their criticism, but both commissioners now agree that Reiner had the right to hire Souder to fill Zettelmoyer's post.

Bridy claimed language contained in paperwork submitted by Reiner pertaining to the elimination of Baker's union position and whether a part-time special deputy or full-time deputy would be hired led to the misunderstanding and initial criticism.

Reiner has rights as an elected official in accordance with the union contract to hire and fire whoever he wants, Clausi said.

"I met with him last week and he explained the situation to me. He did everything by the book," Clausi said. "There was just a misunderstanding about whether the employee was going to be part time or full time."

Discrimination claim

Baker, who did not apply for her former position, was hired March 1, 2010, as a deputy sheriff and served in that position for a little more than two years. When she was hired, Reiner said Baker was the only female among approximately 20 applicants.

In April 2012, the county salary board eliminated a position in Reiner's office, prompting the sheriff to evaluate his personnel before terminating Baker, who was also making $15.27 per hour when her position was officially eliminated May 1.

Reiner said he couldn't say why Baker was chosen to be let go because it was a personnel matter.

In January, Baker filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, claiming her position was eliminated due to gender discrimination.

Reiner said he selected Souder to fill Zettelmoyer's position because he was the best candidate for the post. The sheriff said he also needed to hire a new deputy sheriff quickly to avoid a manpower shortage in his office, which currently has five deputies, a chief deputy and himself.

In response to Baker's complaint, Reiner stated, "There was no discrimination in eliminating her position."

Separate matters

Sheriff department solicitor Tony Matulewicz agreed, and said hiring Souder had nothing to do with Baker's complaint. "They are totally independent of each other," Matulewicz said.

Matulewicz said the salary board can eliminate positions, but cannot tell Reiner or other department heads who to terminate. He said the commissioners have control over the county budget, which determines how much money is allocated to each department. Matulewicz said the salaries of the deputy sheriffs are established through a collective bargaining agreement.

The attorney said the commissioners were concerned how the new hiring took place because they believe it may result in Baker filing a lawsuit against the county.