Salary Board Addresses Requests from Sheriff, President Judge and Prothonotary

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CLEARFIELD – During yesterday’s monthly meeting, members of the Clearfield County Salary Board addressed requests from the sheriff, president judge and prothonotary.

Sheriff Wesley B. Thurston advised his Chief Deputy Sheriff, Robert E. Snyder, had resigned effective June 27. Since then, he said Deputy Sheriff, Mark Coudriet, has been acting as the chief deputy sheriff and will through July 28.

Thurston requested that the board adjust Coudriet’s salary since he’s agreed to fulfill the duties previously handled by Snyder. Commissioner Joan Robinson-McMillen asked if the county paid the acting chief deputy sheriff the same as the chief deputy sheriff who left or negotiated a middle rate.

Controller Tony Scotto said he didn’t believe the acting chief deputy sheriff would receive the same salary as the previous chief deputy sheriff. However, he did believe the acting chief deputy sheriff would get some level of salary increase for their time serving in that capacity.

Thurston said when he discussed the matter with the commissioners it was his understanding that Coudriet would receive the same salary as Snyder while acting as chief deputy sheriff. Thurston also said that Coudriet didn’t accept the position with any other caveat.

Commissioner Mark B. McCracken requested that Coudriet obtain a sign-off from Teamsters and provide it to the county. The board then unanimously approved for Coudriet to be paid the same salary as Snyder while he acted as chief deputy sheriff from June 27 through July 28.

Thurston also requested for the board to set the salary of the incoming Chief Deputy Sheriff, Michael Churner, to be effective July 28. Thurston also wanted to keep Churner’s salary the same as that paid to Snyder.

He explained that last year, Coudriet, a senior deputy sheriff, earned more with overtime pay included than Snyder. Coudriet, he said, earned $40,641 last year while the chief deputy sheriff earned approximately $39,800.

Thurston said he would like the county to begin maintaining a salary differential between the chief deputy sheriff and the highest paid deputy sheriff. He noted that although he would like the county to keep the incoming chief deputy sheriff’s salary the same, he wasn’t adverse to compromise.

In the past, Robinson-McMillen said the county has never started a new employee at the same salary as a long-time employee. She said it might not always be fair, but the same thing occurs at the jail. Robinson-McMillen pointed out that some corrections officers earn more than a deputy warden with many years of experience because they have been with the county much longer.

This, she said, has been the practice of the county for at least her term as commissioner. “I’m sure we have many other hard-working employees who are worth a lot more,” she said. “But we have to operate within a budget.”

Commissioner John A. Sobel said he agreed with Robinson-McMillen. However, he suggested that the county not start out Churner at the same salary as Snyder but perhaps more than the highest paid deputy sheriff.

McCracken then asked Thurston about Churner’s qualifications and experience. Churner, according to Thurston, served as a deputy sheriff for the county for four to five years in the early 1990’s. He said Churner was an internal investigator at the Quehanna Boot Camp before transferring to the State Correctional Institution at Rockview to be the captain in charge of security upgrades.

Thurston said he was sure Churner would be working at a much-reduced salary than what he’d been paid at SCI-Rockview. When asked, he said Churner was a “quality individual” who would “uphold the propriety of the sheriff’s office.”

Robinson-McMillen said she didn’t doubt Churner’s experience but reminded the board they would be voting on a salary not the person. “This position isn’t any more or any less important than a deputy warden at the jail or any other [position within the county],” she said. “And, we have some department heads who are making half of that.”

Thurston said he’d previously advised Churner that the county hadn’t set the salary for the incoming chief deputy sheriff. However, he mentioned Snyder’s salary and assumed it would be in that range. Thurston said he didn’t believe that $37,500 was an “unreasonable” salary for the incoming chief deputy sheriff.

Scotto explained that the county couldn’t guarantee that a deputy sheriff wouldn’t earn more than the chief deputy sheriff. He pointed out that overtime and longevity catch up, and Churner might not make as much as the highest paid deputy sheriff.

At that point, Robinson-McMillen motioned to set the salary of the incoming chief deputy sheriff at $35,000. Her motion, however, died when it failed to get a second from the board.

Thurston proceeded to motion to set the salary for the incoming chief deputy sheriff at $37,500, which gained a second from Sobel. The board approved Thurston’s motion with the only opposing vote coming from Robinson-McMillen.

In other business, Sobel presented two written requests from Clearfield County President Judge Fredric Ammerman. The board unanimously approved for the current law clerk’s final day to overlap with that of the incoming law clerk on Aug. 12.

Sobel said Ammerman also requested for the board to set the incoming law clerk’s salary at $39,533.80. Robinson-McMillen explained that in the past, law clerks stayed for one year, beginning in August.

However, Robinson-McMillen said the incoming clerk has agreed to stay for at least two years and will serve both judges. She said because the position begins and ends in August, the law clerks didn’t receive raises.

The incoming clerk, Robinson-McMillen said, has requested for a $1,000 raise. Scotto said it was fine for the law clerk to stay beyond one year, but he didn’t agree in giving a raise in advance. “Now, we’re going against what we just voted for,” he said.

“We just said we can’t keep the pay rate the same. We just reduced and started someone out lower, and now we’re going to give somebody else an increase. In all fairness, the new law clerk should start out the same as the previous one.”

Robinson-McMillen motioned to approve the incoming law clerk’s salary at $39,533.80; McCracken seconded her motion. The board approved the same with the only opposing vote coming from Scotto.

The board also denied two, different motions from Prothonotary Brian K. Spencer to continue a clerk position in his office.  In his first motion, Spencer requested for his current, part-time temporary clerk to continue at a full-time status.

Scotto seconded the motion, citing he felt there was a need for the position. He felt it was important in order to ensure Spencer’s office is able to provide proper and efficient service to the public and to the courts.

McCracken explained they had looked at the budget, and there wasn’t any funding available to continue the clerk position in Spencer’s office. He said Spencer had looked at his office’s budget and also couldn’t find adequate funding.

McCracken suggested that the clerk position be considered in the coming months while preparing next year’s budget. Robinson-McMillen said if it wasn’t approved by the board, the clerk position would expire at the end of the business day.

The board denied Spencer’s request by a 3-2 vote. Sobel, Robinson-McMillen and McCracken opposed continuing the clerk position at a full-time status. Both Spencer and Scotto favored the same.

Afterward, Spencer motioned to continue the clerk position at a part-time status through the remainder of the year but not to exceed 1,000 hours. Scotto seconded the motion.

Before the board’s vote, McCracken said Spencer’s request still created the same situation as his first. He said there wasn’t any funding and although there was still some in the prothonotary’s overtime budget, it needed to be available for the existing staff.

McCracken said the county would begin its budget process for next year in the coming months. He felt that would be the best time to address the staffing in the prothonotary’s office.

Scotto disagreed, saying he understood that they must operate within a budget. However, he felt that they should also consider Spencer’s office needs to be able to serve the public in a timely manner.

The board denied Spencer’s second request by a 3-2 vote. Sobel, Robinson-McMillen and McCracken opposed continuing the clerk position on a part-time status through the remainder of the year not to exceed 1,000 hours. Both Spencer and Scotto voted in favor.

When asked, Spencer said he would contact his clerk and advise them of the board’s decision. He thanked the board for permitting him to take part in the meeting via telephone. Spencer also said he’ll ensure the prothonotary’s office continues to provide efficient services to the public and courts.

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