Two women who’ve been suspended from their jobs at the Schuylkill County Tax Claims office didn’t get fired on Wednesday.
Schuylkill County Commissioners split on firing the 2 women who’ve previously been identified as some of the 4 women suing Commissioner George Halcovage and other Courthouse officials for sexual misconduct and complicity with that behavior.
The women are accused of conducting more than 9,000 “unauthorized searches” of personal information on LexisNexis.
And while the Commissioners didn’t agree on firing them from their jobs, from which they’re still suspended, they did agree, by a 2-1 vote to pay Experian more than $63,000 in credit monitoring services for those more than 9,000 people. That cost could but is unlikely to rise to more than $277,000 in a possible fallout.
County officials say the 9,000-plus people are from every state, plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico.
Snoopgate: Jane Doe Jobs Spared in Commissioners Split Vote to Fire Them
The debate on whether or not to fire these two Tax Claims employees – Angela Toomey and Denise McGinley-Gerchak – spilled into the open once again on Wednesday.
Ultimately, the women get to keep their jobs, for now.
Commissioner George Halcovage abstained from the vote but motioned to bring the vote to the floor. That drew an audible grumble, a few chuckles, and collective cluck from people watching the meeting in person. But then Halcovage stated publicly that on the advice of his lawyers, fearing a potential conflict of interest problem, he’d abstain from voting.
“A vote from me is likely to become a basis of significant economic claim with me and thus, this pecuniary impact constitutes conflict of interest. I must abstain from this vote,” Halcovage said.
That meant in order to terminate these 2 employees, Commissioners Boots Hetherington and Gary Hess had to be in agreement. They weren’t, creating a 1-1 tie, sparing the employees their jobs.
In voting against firing the employees, Hess expressed concern with the apparent lack of due process given to them during the course of the so-called independent investigation. He said he wouldn’t vote in favor of termination until the accused are interviewed on every alleged “unauthorized search” they made.
The Commissioners hired an outside law firm back in November 2021 to do an investigation into the alleged “unauthorized searches” the employees conducted. But we learned Wednesday that throughout whatever happened between then and Wednesday, the accused employees weren’t given an opportunity to defend themselves.
“This decision has not been very easy,” Hess said prior to the vote. “I spent many sleepless nights thinking about this issue. I’ve really soul-searched. You don’t know how many times that I have done that. I want to be fair to all.
“I’m being asked to vote for the termination of 2 long-term employees for alleged improper use of computer software,” Hess added. “With the pending (federal civil lawsuit) that has been filed, terminating these employees at this time would be considered retaliatory.”
Hess also said he’s not privy to any evidence the employees acted in the wrong.
“The alleged violations have been going on for many years and there has not been one complaint that private information was stolen,” he said.
Hess also voted against the motion to approve the Experian contract.
If You Ever Change Your Mind …
Hetherington is the only Commissioner to vote in favor of firing the employees. After the vote, Hetherington addressed Halcovage on his abstention.
“On the advice of my solicitor, under ethics law Commissioner Halcovage, you can could have an opportunity to come back and vote on this to break the tie. That’s your choice,” he said.
Halcovage appeared stunned, as many were in the gallery watching this unfold. He struggled to find the words.
“I- I- I, again, under the advice of counsel, I would abstain from the vote,” Halcovage said.
“I understand,” Hetherington said.
MORE: We’ll have more reports from this wild meeting at the Courthouse Wednesday morning, including a political hissy-fit!
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Snoopgate