HAZLETON – The head of Hazleton's Department of Public Works is defending the decision to allow a city employee whose license is suspended for a drunken-driving conviction to be paid overtime for riding along with a plow truck driver on Saturday
Frank Vito, director of DPW, said the employee, John Tunnessen, was needed in the plow truck because the driver had never plowed the route before and needed guidance.
Tunnessen's presence in the truck was questioned by city resident Grace Cuozo, who saw him riding in the passenger seat as the truck plowed roads near James and 20th streets around 9 p.m. Saturday. I thought, you got to be kidding me, said Cuozo. Why would we be paying this man time-and-a-half when we're paying the other guy to drive? This is baloney.
Tunnessen was set to earn $18.28 per hour in 2012, according to the union contract provided by Cuozo. At time-and-a-half, he would earn $27.42 per hour.
We paid this man (almost) $30 an hour to sit shotgun, said Cuozo. What part am I missing?
Tunnessen, of East Elm Street, was sentenced in June to 12 months probation, with the first 90 days spent on home confinement, for his guilty plea to two counts of drunken driving. The conviction was his second drunken-driving conviction, resulting in his driver's license being suspended for 18 months.
Vito said Tunnessen has been performing other public works duties pending the restoration of his license. He was authorized for overtime Saturday because the driver had never driven that particular route, which typically is plowed by Tunnessen.
Someone who has done it in the past needs to show someone new how it's done, Vito said. He needed to be shown where it was, where to push and not miss any streets or alleys.
Asked why the driver couldn't have been given a map or verbal instructions of what do to, Vito said there is no map available. He believed it was best to have someone in the truck to show the driver exactly what do to. It's a lot easier with someone on hand to show him what needs to be done. It's too important to try to explain it, he said.
Cuozo questioned how much guidance the driver needed, noting the man lives in the area that he was plowing.
Vito said this was a one-time situation. Now that the driver has been trained, Tunnessen will not have to ride with him any longer.