Probation layoff contentious; union pay raises delayed Jennifer Learn-Andes Luzerne County Beat

January 7, 2013

Six Luzerne County probation officers were laid off Dec. 27 as part of 2013 budget cuts – three juvenile, one adult and two in the restitution division, records show.

One of the six had been working for the county for more than 23 years, records show.

Ten probation officer layoffs were originally projected because the budget calls for about $600,000 in cuts in that department, officials have said. Court Administrator Michael Shucosky and Probation Services Director Mike Vecchio could not be reached for comment.

• Probation union head Charles Majikes had plenty to say on the topic.

We feel horrible that it has come to this. These people have families and bills to pay just like everybody else, Majikes said.

The union had offered more than $300,000 in concessions to prevent layoffs and said stale statistics were used to justify the cuts. The union raised these issues in an email to council members before the budget was adopted, and Majikes said he received no response.

With another election on the horizon, I guess it's easier to obtain votes by cutting county employees rather than looking at the real problem – the debt the county is in and how to get us out of it, Majikes said, adding that the loss of probation officers could put residents in jeopardy.

Shucosky has said the court will ensure operations continue without any threat to public safety.

A staff position listing says the budget funds 60 probation officer positions.

• Most unionized county employees who are contractually guaranteed 2013 raises starting Jan. 1 must wait until the Jan. 25 pay, when they will retroactively receive the additional amount due from the start of the year.

The county's human resources department said the delayed receipt stems from a pay raise conversion issue with the time clock and computerized payroll systems.

Paula Schnelly, head of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, said she learned about the matter through an email to all employees around the end of work Thursday. The administration is required to alert the union ahead of time if it isn't following conditions of collective bargaining agreements, she said.

I was flooded with inquiries. Everybody wanted to know what's going on here, and I didn't have the answers, Schnelly said.

• Televised broadcasting of county council meetings will stop for at least several months when council moves its meetings into the courthouse the end of January or early February.

Service Electric Cable had installed a camera system inside the county's Emergency Management Agency building months ago to provide live broadcasts of council meetings on Channel 19.

The former courthouse commissioners' meeting room is being remodeled to fit the 11-member council.

Scott Cannon, of Video Innovations, who handles directing of the live broadcasts, sent a letter to council Jan. 3 saying the station won't be able to install the necessary broadcasting equipment in the courthouse meeting room for a few months or longer.

I will continue to work with Service Electric to make sure this does get finalized in the future, Cannon said.

• Councilman Rick Morelli sent an email to his council colleagues last week questioning when it decided to move meetings to the courthouse. This is the first time I am hearing about this, he wrote.

Several other council members say the plans to move meetings to the courthouse were discussed during at least two council meetings.

• Friday is Jim Brozena's last day on the job as county Flood Protection Authority executive director. He is retiring after 33 years of county employment. The authority has not yet publicly discussed plans for his replacement.

• Deputy Warden James Larson is temporarily in charge of the county prison since Joseph Piazza's retirement Dec. 31.

County Manager Robert Lawton said he also is exploring options for a consultant to examine past free meals for employees, the feasibility of continuing a canine program and operational issues at the facility.

• Council's strategic initiatives committee will meet at 6:30 tonight in the jury room on the second floor of the courthouse to discuss county goals.

• The county's audit committee will meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the courthouse basement conference room to evaluate three proposals from companies interested in completing the county's 2012 audit.

• County council will hold its first meeting of 2013 at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the county's Emergency Management Agency building, Water Street, Wilkes-Barre. The agenda is posted on the council section of the county website, www.luzernecounty.org.

• The county retirement board, which oversees the employee pension fund, will meet at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the EMA building.