Jim Thorpe's help comes premature
On Wednesday, less than an hour after Lansford Council took what President Adam Webber called "the first steps" in the legal process required to accept the Jim Thorpe borough manager's offer to have borough's employees help the short-staffed Lansford do payroll and other clerical work, two council members were surprised to learn Jim Thorpe had already done the job.
Jim Thorpe Borough manager Wesley A. Johnson offered the help at a June 8 Lansford council meeting. Earlier, Lansford secretary-treasurer Renee Slakoper had quit, followed by the resignation of clerk Bridget Cannon, leaving assistant secretary Karen Burrell to carry the entire workload.
Johnson's offer included having Lansford join in a shared services/cooperative agreement with Jim Thorpe. He said his borough outsources its payroll and other administrative tasks and, at the end of the June 8 meeting, also offered his own help, at $10 an hour.
Because three Lansford council members - Lenny Kovach, Andrew Snyder and Webber - were absent, council at the time decided to take the offer to committee.
But between June 8 and Wednesday, an agreement was reached that allowed a Jim Thorpe employee to come into the Lansford office to do the payroll.
Councilwoman Rosemary Cannon contacted the TIMES NEWS after the meeting Wednesday to say that she "appreciated the person from Jim Thorpe helping the borough out. She and the borough of Jim Thorpe meant well."
However, it is how the work came about that concerns Cannon.
She said that during an executive session toward the end of Wednesday's public meeting, Webber asked Kruczek to sign the (payroll) checks. He explained to Cannon and Kruczek a Jim Thorpe employee had come in that afternoon to do the payroll.
Webber on Thursday morning confirmed that's what happened.
"As of the last council meeting (that I could not be present for) a vote to have Vice President Mary Kruczek bonded in order to assist in the financial aspect of the borough was taken. After the bond was set, Mary did not go into the office to sort the bills and review the upcoming payroll. With some unfortunate personal conflict rearing its head, the response for processing payroll was never returned," he wrote in an emailed response. "In the best interest of the borough, the rest of Municipal Administration committee (Danielle Smith and myself) looked into the options that were in front of us.
"I must make it clear that in no way were we ever going to let the borough of Lansford miss a payroll due to a circumstance that we could and did overcome," he wrote.
Webber said that Smith contacted Johnson and "asked if they would reconsider their offer. Dana (Brubeck), whom the borough had do the last payroll, could not be reached. The payroll was processed yesterday and ready for distribution for today as normal," Webber wrote.
He wrote that "several emails went out to council members asking them of their wishes for the processing of the payroll prior to the deadline. None of them replied. With the full understanding of what missing a payroll would mean to the employees of the borough, other avenues for payroll were looked into. I support and commend the efforts that everyone involved had exhibited. I would also like to personally thank Mr. Johnson and all of the Jim Thorpe staff for their willingness to go the extra mile for a neighboring community."
Cannon said that at the June 8 meeting, a motion was made to have Brubeck continue doing the payroll as needed. But Brubeck was not called.
Earlier in Wednesday's meeting, Smith had asked that Johnson's offer be accepted in light of the payroll and other bills that needed to be paid. Johnson had come into the meeting room, and said he wanted to meet with council to get the mutual assistance going quickly.
Cannon said it was a "sad situation" when the borough was forced to "turn to another community to get our work done." She asked Johnson if Jim Thorpe employees would be able to do Lansford's payroll when their own borough outsources the job.
Johnson took great umbrage at that, angrily contending that Cannon had "ridiculed" him, and walked out.
Council voted on whether to have Jim Thorpe help with the payroll, and Cannon, Kruczek and Tommy Vadyak opposed the move. Kovach, Webber and Smith voted in favor. With Snyder absent, the vote tied. Vadyak then reconsidered, saying that he had favored the action until Johnson's "outburst." Vadyak then changed his vote, shifting the majority to allow Jim Thorpe to help Lansford.
Solicitor Michael Greek cautioned that a set of protocols must be in place before an outside borough could come in to do financial work.
First, he said, the solicitors of both boroughs first must forge an agreement in which costs, hours and other details would be spelled out. Then the councils must adopt an ordinance.
Efforts to reach Jim Thorpe Borough Council President John Maguire were unsuccessful early Thursday.
After Wednesday's executive session, council agreed to have Kruczek do the financial work. it also voted to pay Slakoper for compensation time.