Council Looking to Hire Manager, Borough Employee Benefits Reduced
MOUNT POCONO - Ahead of a special meeting called by Borough Council President Claudette Williams with one business day advance notice, Williams directed the full-time, temporary, Assistant Borough Secretary/Treasurer to break from past practice and not provide advance copies of either the agenda or meeting packets to borough commission members, interested residents, or the press.
Mount Pocono is alone among it’s neighboring municipalities in not routinely providing advance meeting information on its official website or through other means. The last time it published a meeting agenda on the website was in August - three days after the meeting.
The special meeting on September 21, was ostensibly called to authorize a grant application for a potential $1.5 million-dollar downtown road improvement project. The deadline for the grant application is September 30.
In addition to the one advertised purpose of the meeting, council added to the agenda the authorization to advertise for a Borough Manager, as well as to adopt the personnel policies council has been working on for about a year, and which were last discussed at a public meeting months ago.
In response to all questions about the logistics of the downtown project, legal issues, and complicating factors, Williams and Michale Christopher Penn, the interim mayor serving out the remainder of Fred Courtright’s term, kept repeating that “nothing was written in stone” and that was simply to apply for the money and did not obligate the borough to accept it.
But council member Fran O’Boyle thought it was a waste of time. “To take that grant, we have to come up with $150,000. We don’t have it,” O’Boyle told council. “We’re $260,000 in the hole now.”
Williams said the budget deficit was actually $300,000. Council voted 6-1 in favor of authorizing the grant, with O’Boyle the lone negative ballot.
A copy of the resolution approved by the council at the special meeting on September 21, was dated September 17, and stated it had been adopted on August 3. It was unclear why it needed to be voted on again.
The next items were not advertised and were to hire a full-time road crew employee to replace one who had quit, and to advertise for a “full time, temporary Borough Manager.”
The Borough Manager position is something the council discussed two years ago but never moved on. Essentially, the manager would run the borough, taking over control of employees, payroll, and budgeting from the council. Often, Borough Managers take on the roles of the Borough Secretary/Treasurer.
Asked by O’Boyle how much the manager would be paid, the mayor said it would be the same as “the previous secretary/treasurer”. When an audience member asked him to repeat that because it could not be heard, he changed the reference to "the person who formerly managed the borough". Lori Noonan, who is out on medical leave, remains the borough secretary treasurer. The borough is also facing labor charges that they have harassed and retaliated Noonan for her support of the employee bid for union representation.
Williams said the position was needed because “our office staff is down to part-time.” At a meeting earlier this month, it was council which reduced the staff to part-time hours, and then hired Jean Simchak as a full-time “temporary” assistant secretary/treasurer, at $1,000 a week.
O’Boyle objected that “we just keep hiring people and we don’t know where the money is coming from.” Council unanimously approved the posting of the positions.
Williams had been pushing changes in personnel policies prior to her calling an unannounced Friday night work session at the end of August, 2019. Periodically thereafter, counsel met to discuss changes.
Many of the changes discussed amounted to removal or reduction of various employee benefits. That activity was cited by the Teamsters Union as one of the reasons employees gave for seeking representation. The results of the union election were due to be released two days after this special meeting.
Because copies of the policies were not made available prior to the meeting, they could not be reviewed in time for this report.
From council discussion, we know that they eliminated the opt-out payment to employees who had received a portion of council cost for declined health insurance. They also referred to eliminating benefits to any part-time or temporary employees. In prior meetings, they had discussed reducing the accrual of sick leave and the awarding of vacation time.
No employees were at the meeting. Employees had attended prior meetings when they had notice that their policies were being discussed.