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Former Schuylkill employee objects to office reorganization

A longtime former county employee voiced her objections to the recent reorganization of the tax claim and tax assessment offices.

“Frankly, I believe the division of the two offices is based on retaliation once again,” Helene O’Connor wrote in an emailed letter last month to county Commissioners Barron “Boots” Hetherington and Gary Hess.

In March, four county employees sued Commissioner George Halcovage Jr. in federal court for his alleged sexual harassment of female county employees. The women are identified as Jane Doe, Jane Doe 2, Jane Doe 3 and Jane Doe 4. Other defendants are also named in the suit.

She wrote Halcovage abstained from voting in October “for a very small request for my compensation when I was asked to extend my contract.” She also states other times when he abstained.

O’Connor didn’t expect the letter to be printed, saying she thought it was “confidential” but is now glad it was.

“In good conscience I felt like I had to speak up,” she said.

O’Connor said she worked in the tax assessment office for 33 years. She retired but was later brought back part time for seven years from April 2012 to June 2019. She then worked from July 2019 to March 31 under contract.

She admitted to possibly being “a little emotional” when writing the letter, which she says she didn’t rewrite before sending.

She questions how human resources personnel and County Administrator Gary Bender arrived at the reasonings they did regarding the offices.

“How they came to the conclusion that the offices were not performing efficiently, is beyond my understanding,” she wrote.

“I was there. I witnessed all the work. I witnessed the hours they put in,” she said.

O’Connor notes how the COVID-19 pandemic led to reduced staff. The staff should be commended, she said. For example, a tax claim sale in September netted the county $1 million.

Hetherington declined comment on the letter. Hess said the letter brought up valid points.

Bender said O’Connor did a “marvelous job” for the county as an employee. However, he disagreed with some of her conclusions.

“I appreciate your time in reading this. As an employee of Schuylkill County for 45-plus years, I thank you for trusting in my work ethic in helping the assessment office. I hope the county can recover from the disgrace Mr. Halcovage has inflicted,” she wrote.