Two applicants for the Luzerne County sheriff job are publicly blasting the selection process because they did not receive an interview.
Brian Szumski’s hiring to the $45,000-a-year position was announced Wednesday.
“I’ve never seen anything so unprofessional in my life. This process is absolutely horrible. There’s no accountability,” said applicant William Slavoski, a retired 30-year Secret Service agent from Kingston Township with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Hazle Township resident Richard Verbonitz also wonders why he wasn’t called for an interview because he is a retired 25-year Pennsylvania State Police corporal and has worked four years as a Hazleton Area School District police officer. He completed some college courses.
“I handled supervisory work for 16 or 17 years. I don’t think this selection process was handled properly because qualified people were not interviewed,” Verbonitz said.
Szumski has an associate’s degree in criminal justice and police and sheriff state certifications and has worked as a deputy sheriff and assistant unit coordinator in the sheriff’s office since December 2006 until his promotion to sheriff lieutenant in April and to interim sheriff in September.
Former elected county Sheriff Barry Stankus, another applicant, was interviewed but questions how finalists were evaluated. Stankus, of West Pittston, has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and served as sheriff for eight years after 25 years with the state police.
“Just justify why the chosen applicant is more qualified for the position than I am. What was it based on? If there is an explanation, then everyone can walk away saying the process was above board and fair,” Stankus said.
Council Vice Chairman Edward Brominski said he’s pushing for more information on the number of applicants and ranking sheets, with names redacted.
Some employees have privately accused Brominski of pushing for an acquaintance to get the job, but he insists his concern is a fair hiring process promised by home rule. Brominski said he is friends with several applicants but would fight for answers regardless of who was hired if questions were raised about the selection process.
He said home rule forbids council from telling the administration who to hire, but he believes council has a duty to monitor whether the administration is following hiring procedures adopted by council in its personnel code.
“I don’t care who gets the job. I’m trying to make sure the system acts the way it was designed,” Brominski said. “I want to know why interviews were not conducted for applicants who have qualifications far superior to the person hired.”
Council Chairman Rick Morelli also wants further explanation on the selection process so there are no doubts the county treated all applicants fairly and selected the most qualified candidate.
“There still could be politics in any selection process, and it’s our job to avoid that. I have no problem with the person they chose, but if a number of people call you and say the process was flawed, it’s our responsibility to look into it,” Morelli said, noting he also received complaints from applicants.
County Manager Robert Lawton, who signed off on the hiring, stands by the selection of Szumski made by Judicial Services and Records Division Head Joan Hoggarth.
“The county manager is confident that the charter and personnel code were followed scrupulously in this and every other instance,” he said.
Lawton said he believed he provided a “full and accurate description” of the process in an email to council.
He also expressed skepticism about Brominski’s motives, referring to Brominski’s past control over personnel matters as a commissioner under the government system before home rule. Lawton said the charter removed the elected council from all hiring decisions except selection of the manager and confirmation of eight division heads to prevent the county from “returning to the days when commissioners’ friends got hired.”
“If Mr. Brominski says it’s not because people are his friends, I take him at his word because his interest in county employees is well known dating back to his time as commissioner,” Lawton said.
Lawton had downgraded Szumski and three other managers in Hoggarth’s division to temporary status last month so the positions could be re-advertised due to an error in the original job advertisement that wrongly left the impression bachelor’s degrees were required.
Hoggarth ended up selecting the same four.
Human resources screened new applications and forwarded those meeting minimum qualifications to Hoggarth, with all identifying information redacted, Hoggarth said.
She worked with human resources to rank new and prior applicants based on their knowledge and experience and came up with the top three in each position to be interviewed. One new sheriff applicant was interviewed this month as a result, she said.
Verbonitz, who also worked as an instructor with the state police, said he applied both times the sheriff position was advertised and wonders why his resume wouldn’t make the county want to interview him.
“The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer for the county, and I have extensive law enforcement experience. How can you judge someone if they’re not interviewed?” Verbonitz said.
He said he would not be complaining if Stankus or Slavoski received the job and said the decision to switch the position from an elected post to an appointed one under home rule may have been a mistake.
“I just want a fair shake. I’m not saying the person they hired won’t do the job, but did they take him because he’s already there to keep the status quo?”
Slavoski said he applied for the first time when the position was re-advertised and heard nothing until a letter arrived from the county Thursday informing him he was not selected and that his resume will be kept on file for a year. He said he has 12 years of management experience with the Secret Service and worked as an instructor under the agency.
Stankus said he discussed ways to improve the department and boost employee morale during his interview, which lasted about a half hour.
He said he hired Szumski when he was the elected sheriff and is trying to understand what qualities or experience made Szumski stand out. Stankus said he “stayed out” of county government for five years but has “plenty of ideas” for new revenue and efficiencies in the department he ran for eight years.