SUNBURY - The Northumberland County sheriff has joined two county commissioners in a call to fire the county prison warden.

Robert J. Wolfe said it's not a reflection of the warden's work, but instead an effort to "promote harmony."

A motion made by Commissioner Chairman Vinny Clausi at Wednesday's meeting to terminate the employment of Warden Roy Johnson failed, with Wolfe voting yes for the first time alongside Clausi and Commissioner Stephen Bridy. The two commissioners have been vocal about their desire to remove the warden.

Four yes votes are needed to pass a motion within the seven-member prison board.

Controller Christopher Grayson and Commissioner Rick Shoch both voted no, citing the absence of District Attorney Ann Targonski.

"She indicated that she would not want these issues raised until she is here," said Grayson.

Shoch has previously defended Johnson amid the criticisms from Bridy and Clausi.

Targonski, who would have been at her first prison board meeting since her appointment as district attorney last month, notified the board she could not attend because she was scheduled to be in court.

She said later Wednesday she was prepared to vote on the matter, but she would not comment on which way she would have voted.

"I did feel that there needs to be a change in the way the prison board is handling issues," said Targonski. "I read the minutes from the last meeting. People are disrespectful of each other, and that's not the way public officials should be acting."

Targonski said she would be at the next meeting unless she is called away to work again.

Nothing personal

Clausi and Bridy participated in the meeting via speakerphone.

Wolfe, who abstained from voting when Clausi made a similar motion at July's meeting, said he likes Johnson very much, but thought bringing in a new warden would help resolve numerous issues at the prison as well as relieve some of the tension within the prison board.

"I believe change begins at the top," Wolfe said in an interview at his office later Wednesday. "Hopefully, problems at the prison will get better with different leadership in command of the place."

Wolfe was adamant he was making his decision independent of the rest of the board.

"We can't agree on things; we can't get a vote on things," said Wolfe. "I have no personal axes to grind with Roy Johnson. He did his best with the hand he was dealt."

Debate, discussion

Another motion made by Clausi, to limit public comment time, was also denied.

Shoch voted no because he thinks the motion is illegal, and Grayson and Wolfe abstained until they could seek legal advice. Bridy voted yes.

Clausi brought the motion to a vote after Shoch turned down the volume of the speakerphone during the public comment session at the beginning of the meeting.

Shoch said he was attempting to give Mustafa Abuomar his time to speak and that Clausi was interrupting Abuomar. Clausi felt as though he was not being heard because Shoch was responding to all of Abuomar's comments.

The public comment session lasted approximately 40 minutes; Abuomar occupied the podium the majority of the time.

Abuomar followed up on issues he has raised at previous meetings regarding religious expression and other policies at the prison. He compared the policies implemented since he spoke out in July as equivalent to passing an exam with a 61 percent.

Mary Ann Hubner, who has run prison programs, including a painting program through Rita's House, spoke up during the session in support of the warden.

"The warden's had an open door policy," said Hubner, adding that the warden was welcoming to volunteers implementing prison programs.

Wolfe noted after the meeting that such programs would continue regardless of who held the warden position.

After the citizen input session concluded, the board passed last meeting's minutes, with Clausi as the sole vote against the motion.

The Prime Care Medical Inc. report was passed, with Clausi again the sole dissenting vote. He said he called Prime Care but could not get any answers to his questions.

An executive session, lasting approximately 15 minutes, was then held to discuss litigation.

When the meeting resumed, a motion to approve the warden's report failed and the matter was tabled. Clausi voted no and Bridy voted no confidence.

The house arrest report was passed 8-0, as was the payroll report and the holding cell census.

House arrest report

Brian Updegrove, adult probation and parole supervisor, said the house arrest program had 64 participants during the past month and estimated it saved the county $76,615.

Clausi commented that he was happy the participation numbers had risen again.

The ratification of hires, resignations and terminations was tabled, with Clausi voting no and Bridy voting no confidence. Grayson abstained, citing a conflict of interest.

Election of a chairman was tabled again, until Targonski could be present. The board remains down one person because Judge William H. Wiest, who assumed the president judgeship earlier this year with Robert B. Sacavage's retirement, said he would not serve on the prison board, citing potential conflicts of interest.

With several unresolved items still on the agenda, the meeting ended after more than 90 minutes when Bridy said he had to leave to attend to another meeting. Clausi also hung up at this time.

A second public comment period did continue for at least 20 minutes.