Friday, July 11, 2014

Email warns of political threats aimed at county manager

Human resources office informed about potential retaliation

October 02. 2013 11:55PM

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Luzerne County 911 Director John Robshaw has informed the county human resources office of potential political retaliation against managers supportive of the county manager.

Robshaw said his report was based on his Monday-night telephone conversation with Art Bobbouine, who lost his county management job that morning, according to an email Robshaw sent Tuesday to county Human Resources Director Andrew Check.

Robshaw said Bobbouine indicated he had received phone calls that day from county Councilman Edward Brominski and council candidates Mike Giamber and Richard “Kick” Heffron, who are on the ballot in November.

“According to Bobbouine, all three individuals made comments that when they are elected, and in control of the county council, they will fire Lawton (county manager Bob Lawton) and get rid of the managers that support him,” Robshaw wrote.

The email continued: “Bobbouine further stated he feels sorry for people like Parsnik (Dave Parsnik, director of administrative services) and myself, because the new majority will clean house.”

Robshaw said Bobbouine voiced his plans to help these candidates in the Pittston area with political support “to get rid of Lawton” but said he would “try to help the people still employed at the county that are his friends.”

A former county security director and interim sheriff, Robshaw said he believed the content of the conversation should be documented and reported to human resources “because of the potential retaliation against certain members of management.”

“Although this may have been a disgruntled employee venting, the potential for individuals to be expressing their desire to impact the future employment status of current employees for political reasons is also a possibility that needs to be documented,” Robshaw wrote.

Trio responds

Brominski, Giamber and Heffron said Bobbouine complained to them about Lawton, but they emphatically denied promising to terminate Lawton or to seek the dismissal of managers hired or promoted since Lawton was hired in February 2012.

Interviewed separately, the three men also stressed council has no authority over personnel actions under home rule except the hiring and firing of the manager and the confirmation of eight division heads nominated by the manager.

Bobbouine declined to comment on his conversations with any of the individuals. “I’m not getting involved with this nonsense,” he said. “I’m trying to move on with my life and worry about taking care of my family.”

He is out of a job because James Haddock of Pittston Township was hired Monday to oversee the civil and criminal court records offices as part of a restructuring that eliminated Bobbouine’s position as prothonotary (civil court records) deputy. Bobbouine had been working as temporary civil/criminal court record director and had applied for the position awarded to Haddock.

County Judicial Services and Records Division Head Joan Hoggarth selected Haddock, though Lawton had to sign off on her recommendation to hire him.

Brominski said he has publicly expressed complaints over Lawton’s performance but would have sought a motion to fire him if he believed termination was warranted.

“There’s no predetermination of firing anybody, not by me,” Brominski said. “If I wanted the manager fired, I would ask for that at a meeting.”

Manager’s situation

Lawton does not have a contract guaranteeing his employment for a set period, and the home rule charter requires seven of 11 council votes to terminate a county manager. In other words, a county manager won’t be fired as long as five council members choose to keep a manager.

Brominski said the charter clearly forbids council from interfering with personnel decisions, such as supervision over managers. Bobbouine was the one who said the manager should be terminated, Brominski said.

“I never said I was going to fire other managers. We don’t have authority to do that,” Brominski said.

Heffron, who is among 11 candidates seeking five council seats, said he spoke to Bobbouine to offer compassion. A prior county administration had fired Heffron when he was a county manager, and he has maintained his firing was not justified and impacted him personally.

“I felt bad about what happened to Art. I told him to keep his chin up,” Heffron said.

Heffron said he can’t stop Robshaw from reporting “innuendo,” but said he was among the charter drafters who added the prohibition that says council can’t interfere with the county manager’s authority over personnel.

“It’s not our duty or responsibility,” Heffron said.

Heffron said he disagrees with some of Lawton’s decisions but said he would want to work with him as a council member before reaching a conclusion about his performance.

Giamber’s response

Giamber concurred, saying he would be exposed to more information as a council member.

“From the outside looking in, the manager’s performance is sub-par in my opinion, but when we get in there, we may see something completely different,” Giamber said. “Until we get inside, we don’t know what’s really going on, and we’re going to have our eyes wide open. The manager will have every opportunity to succeed.”

Giamber said he helped write the county’s home rule personnel code and added a provision prohibiting at-will managers from being terminated without cause.

He also noted Bobbouine contacted him and said he does not know how he got his phone number.

“He called me out of the blue and wanted to vent,” Giamber said.

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