Council Reduces Borough Secty to Part-Time, Simchak Given Full Time 'Ass't Secty' at $52k/year
MOUNT POCONO – At the September 8 meeting of the Mount Pocono Borough Council, Borough Secretary/Treasurer Lori Noonan, in her 30th year in the position and out on medical leave, was reduced to part-time employment, as was Administrative Assistant Diana Jackowski, who is also out this week on medical leave.
Over three hours into the meeting, Bucco alleged that Jackowski wasted time in the office on Facebook and personal calls instead of working. “We don’t need her full time,” Bucco said. Earlier in the meeting, Williams said Jackowski “didn’t know where anything was.” After the borough solicitor cautioned Bucco against revealing personnel issues that should be left to an executive session, Bucco moved to reduce Jackowski’s hours from 40 to 28, working four days a week at 7 hours per day.
Bucco then expanded the motion to include Secretary Noonan, against the strong advice of the solicitor not to interfere with the status of the Borough Secretary position. The solicitor then had private conversations with Williams and the mayor, but neither then asked Bucco to withdraw the motion as to Secretary Noonan.
When asked if Noonan and Jackowski would lose their medical benefits, Bucco said “Yes. That’s our policy. . . .I keep hearing the Borough has no money.” When a resident observed that the council has been whittling away at employee benefits, asking Bucco if she was prepared to lose all of the borough employees, “Yes, I am,” Bucco retorted. Bucco added to the motion that the change was to be effective “immediately.”
Ron Emilie seconded the motion, which passed on a 5-1 vote with only council member Fran O’Boyle voting against, and council member Aida Montanez not present.
Earlier in the meeting council, by the same 5-1 vote, with O’Boyle again dissenting, hired Jean Simchak as assistant secretary/treasurer. They authorized her to work 40 hours a week at the rate of $25 an hour. The Mayor had proposed she get $35 an hour. The wage approved by counsel equates to a $52,000 annual wage. Simchak would not receive benefits as the position was meant to be temporary, “until Lori returns.” Council president Claudette Williams said she believed Secretary Noonan would be returning on September 10 – two days after the meeting. However, after the meeting, Secretary Noonan's doctor declined to clear her to return to work.
Before the vote on Simchak, Williams revealed that Simchak had been working for the “last month, longer than a month”. Noonan went on leave on August 18.
O’Boyle was the lone objector to the move, pointing out the budget was already in deficit and there was no money to pay an assistant secretary.
At the mayor's suggestion. Council also created an “emergency task force” to help Simchak do her job.
After Secretary Noonan went out on medical leave, the borough deleted her email account. Residents writing to her received an error message saying the email address did not exist. Around the same time, the borough circulated a new borough contact list which deleted Secretary Noonan, and replaced her spot with Simchak, as “interim” secretary/treasurer.
At the meeting, Williams several times insisted that Secretary Noonan nevertheless had access to her emails. (Noonan says her email account was deleted without notice to her.) When a resident asked why emails to Noonan were returned with the message that the address doesn’t exist, Williams said that the mailbox was full.
After several denials by Williams that the email account was deleted, under questioning from borough residents, the mayor admitted they deleted the account. He then claimed that they “had” to because they were unable to create a new email address for Simchak without deleting Noonan. Residents also reported that Simchak appeared to be in charge of the borough offices in August, after Noonan went out on leave. She attended the August forensic accounting RFP bid openings, appearing to act as secretary. All of that activity took place prior to any borough meeting authorizing her to work in that capacity. The borough’s IT contractor did not respond to a request to explain why the Borough cannot add more email addresses if it wanted to.
Previously, Simchak had been selected by the mayor to replace Secretary Noonan’s husband, Dennis, when the mayor had the council fired him in March.
That appointment similarly raised questions, since Simchak was chair of the Zoning Hearing Board and the law prohibited a member of that board from acting as zoning officer. Another issue raised over Simchak’s zoning officer work was that she was paid for full time work, when the council had authorized only part time. After the criticism, Simchak resigned from the Zoning Hearing Board.
The action to substantially alter the terms of Secretary Noonan’s position raised eyebrows considering the borough is currently defending charges that they have unfairly treated Secretary Noonan. In late June, Teamsters Local 773 filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board accusing the mayor and council of retaliation against Dennis and Lori Noonan for their support of the borough employee request for union representation. According to the Teamsters Local, which is the union invited in by the employees, the mayor and council imposed unfounded reprimands on Secretary Noonan and substantially increased her workload. The hearing on those charges is currently scheduled for October 27. Members of council did not respond to a request for comment on Secretary Noonan.
The mayor launched into a list of grievances, from the telephone to the email systems, to the computer systems, website, and technology, blaming the deficiencies in all of them, as well as the current financial and operational problems of the borough, on past councils, saying the “borough has been driven into the ground for 30 years.” Shortly after that, the borough’s Zoom feed failed. Williams later explained that they “only were permitted so many hours” on their Zoom account.
In the discussion on hiring Simchak, Williams claimed that the borough did not have access to passwords for bank and other accounts, and that no bills have been paid. Council member Patty Bucco, who moved here about two years ago, said “there’s been too much mismanagement.” Williams is nearly one year into her second two-year term as council president. During that entire time she has headed up both the personnel and budget committees, which have oversight over the issues raised.
Reached for comment, Secretary Noonan said, “when I went out on sick leave all Borough financial records were in proper order.”