SUNBURY - In what is believed to be an unprecedented move in Northumberland County government, Commissioner Rick Shoch was removed Tuesday as chairman of the board and replaced by former vice chairman Vinny Clausi.

The historic motion to oust the chairman, who will now serve as secretary of the board, was made by Commissioner Stephen Bridy and seconded by Clausi after both commissioners chastised Shoch for "going behind their backs" and writing a letter to the editor to local newspapers that criticized their actions and tactics.

Bridy, who was elected vice chairman of the board Tuesday after serving more than four months as secretary, and Clausi accused Shoch of not being a leader, "playing politics" and fighting his fellow commissioners.

Shoch, who abstained on the vote to remove him as chairman, defended himself by standing by his letter to the editor, entitled "Bread and Circuses in Northumberland County." The letter accuses Clausi and Bridy of undermining Shoch's credibility, creating a circus-like atmosphere at meetings, and calling people a liar, low-life, shyster, hypocrite, cowardly and corrupt when they have a dissenting opinion.

Response to letter

Toward the end of the meeting, Bridy read a two-page letter that lambasted Shoch, whom he accused of misrepresenting the facts and "pulling others down with more falsehoods."

"Mr. Shoch has implied that our assertions and decisions have not been based on facts when public record shows that the facts and figures have been fully provided to back up our actions," Bridy said. "Great people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things and small people talk about other people."

He added, "I am concerned about the future of this county. A house divided against itself cannot stand. For the betterment of Northumberland County, we must look and move forward and not backward. I respectfully ask that you step down as chairman."

Clausi told Shoch, "I can't believe you grandstand like that. You went behind my back to the press to smash me. You are not a leader. Six months ago, I would have never believed this would happen. As chairman, you are supposed to deflate an issue, but you have inflated the issue instead."

Clausi claimed Shoch was too worried about politics and his image. "If I was worried about my image during my first four-plus years in office, there would still be a lot of rats running around the county," Clausi said. "The county would still have employees sleeping on the job, stealing, using gas cards and otherwise wasting and abusing taxpayer money."

Clausi said Shoch previously criticized him and Bridy for going to the press to address county issues or problems among the commissioners, but has now done the same thing.

Clausi said he stayed clear of the most recent dustup between Shoch and Bridy involving an approximate $5,700 bill paid by the county to Coal Township funeral director and Northumberland County Coroner James F. Kelley for funeral services for a 16-year-old boy who died in January while in foster care through Children and Youth Services. But he said Shoch "threw him under the bus" in his letter to the editor.

The commissioner told Shoch, "Let's not play any more politics. I am very disappointed in you. We have to do what's best for Northumberland County."

Shoch said the county already has a bad image because of the all the firings, elimination of positions and constant bickering that goes on.

"I said what I felt needed to be said in the newspaper articles," Shoch said. "I'm not trying to win people over to my way of thinking."

After the vote was taken to name Clausi chairman of the board, Clausi stated, "I hope I can do a good job. I didn't seek the chairmanship, but I know I won't play politics."

Clausi and Bridy both declined the chairmanship position at the board's annual reorganization meeting in January before voting for Shoch to head the board.

Shoch also abstained Tuesday on the votes that elected him secretary and Bridy vice chairman.

Audience outrage

The restructuring of the board didn't sit too well with some members of the audience.

Remarks such as "bull…." and "this is an outrage" could be heard in the audience.

Sandy Sulouff of Point Township bluntly told Clausi, "If you don't get your way, you find a way to get your way. You won't be in office next time, believe me."

Sulouff serves as recording secretary for the Point Township Sewer Authority.

Montie Peters, a Point Township supervisor for 14 years, questioned Clausi and Bridy about their logic.

"You won't find a better human being or leader than Mr. Shoch," Peters said. "He would be the first one to admit if he was wrong. You need to iron out problems behind closed doors. This fighting has to stop. This (changing chairmanship) isn't going to go down well in Northumberland County."

Clausi, who slammed his palm down on the dais when Peters was speaking, responded, "We must do what's right for the taxpayers."

After the meeting, former county commissioner and retired state representative Merle Phillips who was in attendance in the audience offered his comments about the current dissension in county government.

"Once you've lost respect, it's difficult to govern," Phillips said.

He believes Shoch's letter to the editor condemning the other commissioners was not a smart move. "It's not something I would do," he said. "How can you expect to unite the county when you are fighting with your fellow commissioners? This isn't good for the county."

Phillips said, "I was surprised Rick didn't use different tactics. That letter was pretty strong."

Phillips, a Republican like Shoch, said the county has gained a reputation for negativity in recent years.

He believes Clausi, a Democrat, will make a good chairman because he "takes the people to heart."

Phillips described Bridy, an Independent, as being very conscientious and sincere, although he believes Bridy should be more tactful in the way he approaches issues.

Several county office holders declined comment after the meeting about the chairmanship change.