The hit-and-run incident involving Luzerne County Community College President Thomas Leary proved to be costly, not only for him, but also for the image-conscious institution.
While exiting the parking lot of a Kingston restaurant on Nov. 2, Leary supposedly struck a parked vehicle with the 2013 Honda Accord he was driving and which the college provides for him. He drove off, he says, unaware of the collision.
Leary’s version of that night’s events, as told to a reporter for The Times Leader one week later, differs substantially from a Kingston Municipal Police Department report that’s presumably based on what witnesses told an officer.
After reading about the situation, and the conflicting stories surrounding it, some area residents called for the president’s immediate termination, saying he failed to set a good example for college-age students. Others who called for his dismissal seemingly based their argument too much on assumptions about the incident for which no evidence was offered.
To satisfy his obligations to the legal system, Leary pleaded guilty to a summary offense and paid $407 in fines.
To satisfy his bosses at the college many months after the hit and run, he went further.
Leary, 62, apologized for the “undesirable and negative publicity” he brought to the college, as well as for the damage done to the other car.
The chair of the school’s Board of Trustees last week reportedly amended Leary’s contract, stripping him of his car privileges and one week’s pay. The president also will forego an expected “discretionary increase” to his salary, meaning his annual pay will hold steady at $155,000.
Credit goes to the college’s leadership for not ignoring what it might have shrugged off as a personal matter. Trustees eventually hired attorney Jarrett Ferentino at a cost of $195 an hour to investigate the circumstances of the crash, though exactly what that move accomplished remains unclear.
Also, based on one news account, it seems the college’s executive committee decided while speaking by telephone to amend Leary’s contract. If so, we hope the full board was apprised of the committee’s intent to do that before it acted. Otherwise, it sounds more like a rush to end bad publicity than a reasoned attempt at open dialogue and transparency.
LCCC, which maintains a main campus in Nanticoke, historically has had its share of black-eye moments: questionable contracts, complaints of cronyism and nepotism in hiring practices and allegations of poor treatment of female workers. Employee theft, too.
Many of those issues pre-date Leary’s tenure as president, which began in 2007. The hit-and-run hubbub is simply another in a long line of stinky situations related to LCCC – and one that probably could have been avoided had people in positions of authority made wiser decisions.