Did Schuylkill County Commissioners break the law recently when they chose to suspend 2 of the Jane Doe plaintiffs from their jobs indefinitely?
Clerk of Courts Maria Casey seems to think they did. She accused the Commissioners on Wednesday of meeting in private and taking an illegal vote during an Executive Session to suspend two employees indefinitely.
“I’m not sure when, but a private meeting was held where a vote was taken to suspend indefinitely 2 women who are Halcovage’s victims and who filed a federal lawsuit. That violates the Sunshine Act. It is totally illegal,” Casey told Commissioners.
Casey identified those 2 employees as Angela Toomey and Denise Gerchak in a Right to Know request she filed on Oct. 1. She says they’re 2 of the 4 Jane Doe plaintiffs who filed a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage, Solicitor Glenn Roth, and Administrator Gary Bender.
How Were 2 Jane Does Suspended Indefinitely from Work?
The Canary is the only local news outlet to report on the suspensions of these 2 employees. In our report, we only confirm that 2 employees were suspended indefinitely. Sources tell us it was over unauthorized use of an online legal research platform on a County computer.
Casey claims a vote to suspend the women was taken during an Executive Session involving at least the 3 County Commissioners. She said that the Pennsylvania open meetings laws mandate that such a decision be done in public, not in a private Executive Session.
“You are a local government body. There was an official action. There was a vote taken. You did not have a public meeting, which is absolutely mandatory,” Casey said, adding their could be criminal ramifications for their action. “Vote on the suspensions properly. I’ll give you one chance to do it or I’m going to the legal authorities.”
Her accusations were enough to draw a response from 2 of the Commissioners and Roth and voices were raised temporarily in the board room.
Commissioner Gary Hess essentially confirmed that the subject of Toomey and Gerchak’s suspensions was discussed in Executive Session. He said he was there.
“I think the discussion was in executive session and was a decision I tried to skirt around because of the confidentiality. A decision should be brought before this board on the things and the investigation that was done. That’s where I’m at and I think I left that meeting that way,” he said.
At one point, Roth interjected to counter Casey’s claim that a vote was taken in an Executive Session to suspend the 2 employees.
“Her 3 minutes (of public comment time) are up! There was an Executive Session held, which I believe was read at one of our meetings and no votes are ever taken at an executive session. End of discussion,” he said.
Roth was apparently looking at Hess when he said this (we attended virtually this week) because Hess chirped back at him, “I never said a vote was taken.”
Then Roth snapped back, “I’m not saying you did.”
Hess replied, “You’re looking at me.”
So, this definitely puts it out in public that the 2 women were suspended.
In a report in the Republican Herald newspaper, Bender admitted to suspending the employees at the recommendation of the Human Resources department. He says he has the authority to suspend employees without going to the Commissioners for a vote.
Casey expects to get a transcript of that notorious Executive Session through her Right to Know request but on Wednesday, even though everyone in the board room seemed to be talking about it, Commissioner Boots Hetherington reminded Casey that the meeting was no forum to discuss personnel actions – one of his draconian public comment rules – unless it was a personnel action the County wanted to discuss.
Boots said, “We do not engage in discussion … Ms. Casey we stated last week … this is an ongoing investigation into disciplinary action with personnel, so we’re not going to comment.”
Casey continued to battle with him and Roth on Wednesday and Boots reached his limit.
“Once again Ms. Casey, it’s an ongoing investigation. It’s a personnel action,” he said.
The two continued to battle verbally back-and-forth with Boots trying to end by saying, “No further discussion. No further discussion. No further discussion, Ms. Casey. I’ve warned you 3 times now.”