Which employees received free meals from the Luzerne County prison? What did this cost taxpayers? What special menu items were offered beyond those served to inmates?
County Manager Robert Lawton said prison Warden Joseph Piazza will publicly answer these and other questions during Tuesday's county council budget hearing.
Lawton stopped the free meals after county Councilman Edward Brominski publicly criticized the practice earlier this week.
Piazza declined to answer questions about the meals Wednesday, citing the upcoming meeting.
Lawton said Piazza told him meals prepared by prison inmates and kitchen workers have been provided to some workers for many years -- possibly decades – to encourage staff to remain at the Wilkes-Barre prison complex during meal breaks on all shifts.
Prior prison Warden Gene Fischi, who retired in 2009, did not return a request for comment left with someone who answered his phone.
At one point all prison workers received meals, but the practice stopped for prison guards and other union workers before the 1990s, according to two former employees.
Some other prisons provide meals to workers as part of a mandate to keep them on-site, Lawton said.
Whatever the past practice or policy in other counties or correctional facilities, it doesn't make it right for this time and place, Lawton said, praising Brominski for bringing the matter to light.
Brominski gave council a roster of prison departments receiving meals that he received from a source. This document indicates 273 meals were delivered in a one-week period – 78 breakfasts, 149 lunches and 46 dinners.
However, a former employee cautioned the list may include meal deliveries to inmates who work in these departments, including laundry and garbage. Meals also are delivered to hundreds of inmates daily because there isn't a space big enough for a dining hall.
The roster also said the prison provided lunches to two road-and-bridge workers and a Thursday dinner for a visiting counseling service employee. The road-and-bridge lunches were to be delivered to the minimal offender's building with breakfast, it said.
Brominski complained that special preparation instructions were accepted for some of the employees receiving free meals.
For example, the roster he obtained indicates the following: no onions or peppers for two administrative workers; no red or spicy sauce for the deputy warden; no carbohydrates or peas and only wheat bread for a captain; no runny eggs for the infirmary; and no fish or mushrooms for a lieutenant.
Brominski also released a one-week sample of menu options for workers, though it's unclear if any or all of these items also were available to inmates. This menu includes meatball, steak and tuna hoagies, rigatoni with meat sauce, shells and cheese, chicken strips and wimpies. At least some of these items have been served to inmates in the past.
Brominski said he spoke to a former employee who indicated prime rib, turkey, pizza and buffalo bites also are provided to management employees at times. He said he had no knowledge of the free meals when he was a county commissioner in the 1980s.
This is serious business. It's just totally wrong, and it shouldn't be happening, he said.
County Controller Walter Griffith said his department will conduct an audit of prison food to determine the cost of the free meals and whether any items served to employees were exempted from bulk bidding food purchases.
Griffith said he believes non-union workers should bring their own meals if there's a concern about them leaving the building during their shifts.
Lawton, who oversees the prison under home rule, said the administration is eager to cooperate fully with the controller's audit.
Operating the county prison is slated to cost $29.6 million next year, or 24 percent of the $122.25 million proposed budget.
This allocation includes $950,000 for kitchen and groceries in 2013, a reduction of $40,000 from this year. The facility spent an average $1.24 million in that category annually from 2007 through 2011, the county budget shows.
Tuesday's Luzerne County Council budget hearing is at 6 p.m. in the county's Emergency Management Agency building, Water Street, Wilkes-Barre.