A policy reversal on job security discussed by the Schuylkill County Commissioners at their work session Wednesday brought criticism from the controller and caused anxiety among the employees in the courthouse once they received word of the action proposed.

At the work session of the salary board it was discussed to take action at next week's public meeting of the commissioners to eliminate a position on the building maintenance staff and a position in the tax assessment office. Controller Melinda Kantner accused the three commissioners of secret doings. She referred to letters sent to the two workers whose positions are being laid off, Ron Halupa in the maintenance department and Diane Scheibley in the assessment office. The letters read, "Since the Board of Commissioners has approved the elimination of your position and the layoff of the current holder of the position, subsequent bumping based upon the collective bargaining agreement will proceed." Both positions are in the AFSCME union contract.

Kantner wanted to know when the commissioners made the decision to eliminate the positions. She was informed by Mark Scarbinsky, fiscal administrator, that there was a typo mistake in the letter which should have read "proposed" to eliminate.

Commisssioner Francis McAndrew said no decision has been made by the salary board. Scarbinsky also added that department heads made the recommendation to the commissioners these positions could be eliminated and they brought to the meeting to answer Kantner's concerns. They concurred with Scarbinsky's comment. Scarbinsky also commented that notice was sent to the union head and the two employees to tell them of a "proposed" action planned by the commissioners to give them time to see if they can bump someone.

Kantner questioned the department heads.

The assessment office reported the position being eliminated was a mapping position no longer needed because all maps were now on computers. Kantner asked if the worker was just sitting around but was assured the worker assisted the other employees with clerical tasks.

The maintenance department head admitted that eliminating the position of plumber/general maintenance would leave his department with no plumber and if a plumber was needed the work would be contracted out. But added he didn't believe a full time plumber was needed.

Commissioner Mantura Gallagher commmented that she regretted laying off employees, however, added, 'We can't pay people for doing nothing."

The employees in the "row" offices would not comment for the record but privately expressed that they felt betrayed because they had been told job elimination would be by attrition. The department heads of offices under the court jurisdiction, which have their own court related unions, pointed to a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decison which ruled, "A county's requirement that court employees be laid off to help balance a budget is unconstitutional because it unlawfuly encrouches upon the judiciary's right to make that decision." The ruling focuses on the separation of powers doctrine which holds that the judicial branch has the sole authority to balance its budget. The county's power stops at alloting the budget amount.

Other action

The commissioners took action on several matters brought to their attention.

They approved an agreement with UGi Penn Gas Inc. for a general daily delivery service agreement for the courthouse, prison and Rest Haven Home. The agreement permits the county to purchase gas from PPL Energy Plus to be delivered fhrough UGI's gas lines. The county in the summer months renovated its heating system for the three buildings which allows the use of coal in the winter and gas in the warmer months for heating.

They directed Scarbinsky, the county administrator, to advertise for a public hearing to be held Jan. 13 following the board's regular meeting to review the county's proiposed 2010 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program for 2010.

The board also filled vacancies on two authorities. Joseph Mazzuca, Pottsville, was named to a five year term as member of the Schuylkill County Airport Authority and Bradley Petchulis, Marlin, Norwegian Township, to a five year term as a member of the Schuylkill County Municipal Authority. Mazzuca replaces Charles Miller, of Orwigsburg, and Petchulis replaces Raymond Matukiewicz, Cressona.