Shoch says judge, Clausi, Bridy allowed retiring probation officer to draw unemployment benefits
SUNBURY - Northumberland County Commissioner Rick Shoch is saying the county's president judge and the two other commissioners gave former adult probation chief officer John David Wondoloski a "retirement gift" when he left the position in July.
It was known around the county that Wondoloski was planning to retire from his position months before he left, but county officials eliminated his position, thus allowing Wondoloski to apply for unemployment benefits, Shoch said.
Neither President Judge Robert B. Sacavage nor Commissioner Vinny Clausi said they prepared the paperwork that lists Wondoloski's departure as a termination; they only signed it.
"As far as I knew, he was retiring," Sacavage said, noting the form was prepared by someone in the human relations department.
Clausi said he follows the recommendation of the courts.
"If it comes from the court, we have to sign it. I have nothing to do with this. We don't know what happens (in the courts)," he said.
Shoch brought up the issue Tuesday night during a special meeting in which commissioners Clausi and Stephen Bridy voted to reduce the salaries of most row officers by 42.4 percent to 48.4 percent.
Contacted Wednesday, Wondoloski, 57, of Elysburg, said allegations he received special treatment is "bull****."
"The bottom line is the judge made a decision that he was going to restructure. It was something he was going to consider for some time," he said.
Shoch said his contacts in the state Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) confirmed Tuesday that Wondoloski applied for unemployment compensation for "work unavailable" June 21 and it went unchallenged by the county.
The information was turned over to the unemployment compensation fraud unit, he said.
Only signed it
On Wednesday, Shoch provided The News-Item with a document detailing Wondoloski's status with the county, which indicates he was terminated when his position was eliminated through restructuring.
The form is designed to be completed by row officers and agency directors any time an employee takes a leave of absence, is promoted, transferred or terminated, retires or resigns.
Sacavage signed the document in the space designated for the person who submitted the form. It is also signed by Wondoloski, Clausi, Bridy, Chief Clerk Gary Steffen and budget director Jeff McClintock. There are also spaces for Shoch and Controller Tony Phillips to sign, but the spaces were left blank.
The document was dated May 9, and Picarelli signed it and dated it June 28. Wondoloski's position was eliminated at a salary board meeting on July 10.
Sacavage said it is not uncommon to start filling out these forms weeks in advance if the plan is place, which is part of Shoch's criticism because it showed up on his desk two days before the meeting.
"It was a done deal," he said. "Everyone signed off on it ahead of time, and that's a Sunshine Act violation."
Also, Bridy said at Tuesday's meeting that it's common for these forms to have inaccuracies, which caused the crowd of more than 50 people to erupt in jeers.
"Why would you sign it then?" someone called from the audience.
County Coroner James F. Kelley and Sheriff Chad Reiner, whose salaries will be reduced if they are re-elected in November, approached the podium to ask why commissioners would sign documents without reviewing them.
With Wondoloski gone, the salary board in July voted to restructure the adult probation department and bring it under the same supervision as the juvenile probation department.
Shoch voted against every motion made at that meeting, saying he was suspicious of the move when the original agenda was changed without his knowledge before the meeting.
At the time of the vote and again on Wednesday, Sacavage said it was a plan that he has been wanting to put in place for years.
"The fact that he was retiring gave us impetus to restructure," he said.
Wondoloski described it another way.
"I was aware the position was going to be eliminated. I stepped down to help the transition," he said.
Wondoloski said he was never involved in the planning process for the restructuring, and he found out only weeks before he left.
"My position was eliminated and that's the bottom line," he said.
Called a retirement
Wondoloski's departure from the county has been described as a retirement on numerous occasions.
In the minutes for that meeting, Sacavage "remarked that Mr. Wondoloski retired on July 1 and personally thanked and congratulated him for his performance over the last 5 years. He said this is a new day, a new time and a new system in place."
Additionally, in a copy of an e-mail dated May 9 to Wondoloski provided by Shoch, an adult probation employee asks the chief about applying for his position.
"I would be interested in learning more about the supervisor position (an expectations therein), and possibly applying for that position, if it becomes open due to your pending departure," she wrote.
Wondoloski replied, "10-4...stand by....Sac has not given me a drop-dead date yet!!...See me on this."
In another e-mail dated Aug. 6 to the adult probation employees, adult probation and parole supervisor Brian Updegrove also calls Wondoloski's departure a retirement and said there will be a party Friday, Sept. 13, for which which they will close down the office if everyone wants to attend.
"As per Judge Sacavage, and planned by SOS, we will be having a retirement party for Wondo in Blackwell September 13, 2013. Let me know who is going and who is not. If everyone is going, we will shut down the office for that day. If we have a handful that do not want to attend they will cover the office that day," he wrote.
"They were going to throw a party on the taxpayer's dime," Shoch said.
SOS would likely be Santina Sacavage, the judge's daughter, who works in adult probation, he said.
Sacavage admitted he was planning a party for Wondoloski at his cabin, but it was supposed to be on the weekend. He only instructed Updegrove to find out who would be attending.
"(The party planned to happen during work hours) was brought to my attention immediately by a supervisor, and it was stopped immediately," he said, noting the party never actually took place.
According to Sacavage, Shoch is telling "half truths" and working backwards to fabricate a conspiracy.
The judge took offense to Shoch bringing these allegations to the public before discussing it with him and waiting until he was on vacation out of the state.
"I was surprised and dismayed by the tactics he used here. He knew I was absent, and he makes wild and broad accusations when he could have resolved them very quickly by picking up the phone," he said.
Sacavage said he should have been granted the opportunity to fairly respond to Shoch.
"I'm not just some guy on the street. I'm the president judge of Northumberland County. I think I deserve the respect," he said.
Shoch is "always complaining about circuses. Well, this is a pretty good sideshow," he said.
In the county, the normal age of retirement is 60 with 20 years work, and a county employee must put in between 5 and 15 percent to their retirement fund, according to the controller's office.
Phillips said Wondoloski is not receiving any pension benefits, but when he reaches the appropriate age he will be able to collect.
The amount of time he was employed in the county will be part of the calculation that determines what his monthly pension checks would be, he said.
Wondoloski was employed with the county in the adult probation office for five years. On the termination form, Wondoloski's salary is listed at $61,129.