|Barron making his way to class|
In 2006, Steve Barron was among six candidates seeking an appointment as Bethlehem's Controller. He told City Council he is "very inspiring," "very trustworthy," and would "give 110%". They were uninspired. In fact, Barron didn't receive a single vote. But a year later, he got 16,357 of them, when Northampton County voters elected him Northampton County Controller. They picked him over 12-year incumbent John Schimmel. Making the most of an embarrassing embezzlement in the Criminal Division, Barron pledged he'd be a full-time fiscal watchdog, unlike Schimmel. But Barron appears to have broken his bond with the workers. Worse, he may have violated recently enacted provisions of the Home Rule Charter, requiring him to be full time.
In 2008, the year after Barron's election, voters overwhelmingly approved a change to the Charter. This not only requires the Controller to be full time, but prohibits him from doing anything else. "During his term of office the County Controller shall devote full time to the office, and shall not actively engage in any other business or occupation," commands this new provision, which became effective in 2012.
"I'm for it. I'm very for it. I think it's a good thing," Barron told The Express Times. At that time, he was supplementing his $39,000 salary by teaching at Northampton Community College. But the College's Right-to-Know Officer, Helene Whitaker, revealed that Barron stopped teaching in 2012, when the Controller became full time. Thanks to an ordinance approving a salary increase, Barron was also making $65,000 as the County's fiscal watchdog.
|Controller's open office with financial records|
As an Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Barron teaches two classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They start at Noon and go until 1:50 pm, with a half hour to meet students before and after each class. This amounts to twelve hours every week, including commuting time, away from the courthouse. Instead of evening classes, they are in the middle of the day, when most employees have access to the county's purse strings.
On Friday, October 4, Barron was confronted in a college hallway as he made his way to his Local and State Government class, dressed in shorts and T-shirt. He was asked to explain why the County's full time Controller is actively engaged in another profession.
"I'm doing this on my lunch hour," he explained.
"A four hour lunch hour?"
"I go to County Council meetings after hours."
Barron never returned to his office after class. The door was wide open, with the County's finances spread out over an unattended desk in an unlocked office. Inquiries to staffers reveal that Barron was not at his office at all on Friday.
According to The Home Rule Charter, an elected official who knowingly and willfully violates any of its provisions, has forfeited his office. That determination would have to be made in quo warranto proceedings.
Council President John Cusick is part of the Council which recommended the Charter change. He authored the increase in Barron's salary. "I am disappointed to hear these allegations," stated Cusick. "If they are true, I believe that Mr. Barron would be in violation of the charter amendment. My understanding of the language and intent of the amendment when I voted to place it on the ballot and later to increase the salary was that the office holder would be a full time employee. If he is teaching during county business hours, clearly that is not the case."
Bob Werner, who was elected to Council after the Charter amendment and pay hike, has suggested that this warrants an investigation by the appropriate officials.
Executive John Stoffa said that "[i}f these allegations are true, Mr. Barron is double dipping." Calling on Barron to return any funds paid by the college, Stoffa claimed the Controller "owes the public an apology. He broke his oath of office. Amazing that the office he holds is tasked with finding people who transgress the law as apparently he has. How can the public have confidence in him?”