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Tempers heat up with commissioners

Published December 28. 2012 05:04PM

Tensions flared, both during and after the Carbon County commissioners meeting on Thursday, as the commissioners sparred with each other and then with a county resident.

After a failed motion, made by minority Commissioner William O'Gurek, who asked the board to authorize the solicitor to file a writ of revival on the judgment against Thomas Zimmerman IV to collect $8,114 that is owed to the county, a heated exchange between Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard and O'Gurek began, ranging from the failed motion to the budget passed last week to the commissioners election campaign in 2011.

O'Gurek's motion died for lack of a second.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, said following the failed motion that he didn't act because "it's already on the books" and he feels the prior administration rushed the demolition of the former Packerton Yards building that Zimmerman was trying to save.

Zimmerman took Carbon County to court a number of times in 2006 and 2007 to try and stop the demolition, failing each time.

In April 2007, the late Judge David Addy ruled that Zimmerman was to reimburse the county for expenses incurred because of his filings.

Gerhard also said that he felt it was Zimmerman's "right to circulate the petition to keep the building that was torn down."

O'Gurek questioned Gerhard's comment, asking "So are you saying Judge (David) Addy was wrong?"

Gerhard responded, "No. You can say whatever you want. I'm not going to sit here and argue about $8,000 dollars. You, and I'm going to say you and Commissioner (Charles) Getz, should have thought about the budget in 2007 when you were advised to consider raising the millage and you chose not to do that. So are you concerned about $8,000? Yes."

O'Gurek said that yes, he is concerned about the county receiving the $8,100 it is owed because it can help close the gap a little on the current $5 million deficit.

O'Gurek had previously made two motions earlier this year regarding recouping the money Zimmerman owes the county. Both attempts failed for lack of a second.

O'Gurek then addressed Gerhard's comment regarding the previous administration's decision to not raise taxes.

"You and Commissioner Nothstein adopted the 2012 budget with a $4.2 million deficit," O'Gurek said. "When we adopted a budget with a deficit, we had money to fill in the blanks."

Gerhard and Nothstein both said that the money O'Gurek was referring to was from the sale of Weatherwood, the former county-owned nursing home.

O'Gurek responded that yes, some of the money used to offset the previous budgets was from the sale, but at least the county wasn't turning to the taxpayers.

"It doesn't matter the source," O'Gurek said. "We had it without having to go to the taxpayers."

At that point, Gerhard said that the commissioners should have been made aware of the problems at Weatherwood long before it got as bad as it got.

"Weatherwood was mismanaged," he said, "losing $8,200 a day. Now I understand it's not our job to sit here as commissioners and micromanage and know everything that is going on in the county, but someone at Weatherwood should have been able to report back to the commissioners that this facility was losing that kind of money."

He then turned to O'Gurek again, saying "You took money out of the general fund, lent it to Weatherwood to keep the facility going, then had to pay that back to Weatherwood. Now there are questions out there, where did all the money go? I can show them where the money went attorneys fees, back to the general fund, $1.5 million in debt service that you now wanted to take out this year too."

Gerhard then brought up last week's discussion about O'Gurek's proposal for the 2013 budget, which would have taken the $1.5 million from the debt service fund to use to offset a hefty tax hike.

"That's a one-time revenue," Gerhard said. "We're going to be in the same position and then you wanted to get the millage down to 2.6 we came in at just under 3.4 and then whack the taxpayers again next year. So if you go another mill and a half next year that's 4.1, we came in under 3.4."

O'Gurek responded, saying that Gerhard was not correct in what the proposal entailed.

"I wanted to reduce it (the proposed increase in millage) to 2.3 this year and increase 1 mill next year, which would have made it 3.3," he said. "That 3.3 was still going to be less than what you and Commissioner Nothstein did to the taxpayers this year."

Gerhard shot back, "Not what Commissioner Nothstein and I did to the taxpayers; what you and Commissioner Getz did to the taxpayers. Don't blame that on us."

At this point, Nothstein asked that the discussion end, but it did not.

O'Gurek then changed course, bringing up Gerhard's comment about Weatherwood being mismanaged and addressing the 2011 commissioners' election campaign.

"For the first time publicly, I'm glad that you (Gerhard) acknowledged that we sat here, or the prior administration sat there, and had no idea what was going on at Weatherwood. You were blaming the administration up there, that someone should have reported it to us. If that's the case that you believe that, then why did you and Commissioner Nothstein send fliers out blaming me as the chairman of the board for being responsible for things like people falling out of bed at Weatherwood and getting bedsores, because that is what you did. You blamed me, and you know what, all that time I was sitting here in Jim Thorpe. I wasn't at Weatherwood. I'm glad that you finally said that it was the people at Weatherwood who were responsible, because when you campaigned, you guys disgraced me by saying I was responsible for those things."

Nothstein interjected at this point, responding to O'Gurek's thoughts on the pair's campaigning.

"Those cards do not say it was approved by either one of us," he said. "It was mailed out by someone else. We did not see it prior to that, whether you want to believe it or not, that's the facts."

O'Gurek responded, saying that indirectly Nothstein and Gerhard paid for the fliers.

"You guys are sitting here saying that you had no knowledge of it but here is the truth of the matter. There are campaign expense reports on record in the election office and here is what it shows. The Committee to Elect Gerhard and Nothstein gave $16,000 to the Carbon County Republican Committee. The Carbon County Republican Committee then gave that same $16,000 to the Pennsylvania Republican Committee and that committee conveniently sent $16,000 worth of in-kind contributions of fliers and postage on behalf of the Committee to Elect Gerhard and Nothstein ... You paid for them."

He also pointed out that the format of the fliers was the same format used by the Committee to Elect Gerhard and Nothstein during the primary election campaigning.

Gerhard shot back at O'Gurek, "Let it go, that's what you should do."

"You know what, that's your problem," Gerhard continued. "You sat there and said you're not here to be a thorn in our side. We've offered you every opportunity to work with us. We keep you in the loop and you cannot sit there and say that about Commissioner Nothstein, because he was like a mushroom that was left in the dark for eight years."

Nothstein asked Gerhard to stop, but Gerhard responded, "No, I have things to say."

He again turned to O'Gurek, saying "You should try to work with this administration. Republicans blaming Democrats, Democrats blaming Republicans. It's garbage. Work with us and we'll get somewhere."

O'Gurek said that he believes he does work with the majority commissioners.

He then shot back at Gerhard, "But the fact that you had a vote to raise taxes and you sat here last week blaming me and Commissioner Getz just tells me your insecurity, and that's why you went rambling off on this long-winded speech about how you inherited the problem. Commissioner Nothstein sat there with us, in fact I can show you the motions. I didn't make the motions, just like Wayne doesn't make the motions as chairman now."

He continued that the motion to sell Weatherwood was made by Getz and Nothstein; the motion on previous budgets that did not raise taxes were made by Getz and Nothstein.

"You're sitting here feeling guilty about raising taxes and maybe you should, but blaming it on us (O'Gurek and Getz), that's hardly the case," O'Gurek said. "And you're saying to me I should let it go. You're the one that raised the issue of politics last week, and yet conveniently I make a motion to pursue $8,100 that the courts said is owed to us, and I just wonder if politics is being played there when not pursuing the judgment. I think if you have a problem with a budget and someone owes you $8,100, you should say we ought to go get it."

He then mentioned that there is other money owed to the county by people, some dating back over 10 years. He suggested that the county should pursue collecting on those debts as well.

At this point, Nothstein ended the discussion.

Shortly after the meeting ended, Gerhard addressed Robert Roman, a resident of New Columbus who was in attendance at the meeting and was there to speak with O'Gurek.

Gerhard demanded that Roman not use the commissioners' door in the back of the meeting room, which Roman was invited to use by O'Gurek, but instead go through the front office. At that point, Roman asked if Gerhard had a problem with him, to which Gerhard responded, "Yes."

A brief exchange of words occurred before the Commissioner Gerhard left the room.

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