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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Brown Wants to Reneg on 4.5% Raise For 17 Magisterial Workers

On April 16, Northampton County Council voted unanimously to approve across-the-board payhikes, averaging 4.5%, for 228 County workers in 14 different clerical job titles. Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen told Council it would cost about $307,000, and would be above and beyond whatever was being negotiated in union contracts. A human resources memo complained that "the county has struggled in recruiting and maintaining staff in many of the clerical positions throughout the county." A "more fair and equitable pay rate" was proposed for some of the "lower level clerical positions," which affect both union and non-union workers. When I read that, I assumed that all clerical positions were considered "lower level," as compared to other job classifications, which offer higher rates of pay. I assumed all of them were getting raises, including 17 clerks who work for magisterial district judges and are topped out at $19.20 per hour. After all, the living wage for a single mother with one child is $22.33 per hour in Northampton County. This increase would change the top salary to $20.64 per hour, which is still below the living wage, but would be "more fair and equitable" and would help to maintain more experienced people.These positions were all specifically listed in the memo voted on by Council. Now, the John Brown administration is calling it a "scrivener's error" and wants to roll back those raises. Solicitor Ryan Durkin called it a "payraise that was never intended to be made."

What surprised me is that some people actually agreed with this argument, which is nonsense, as a matter of law.

A scrivener's error is a typo, the kind of mistake that usually occurs in copying legal descriptions in deeds although it can occur in other matters like settlement offers. According to what is known as the doctrine of scrivener's error, it can only be corrected by evidence that is clear, convincing, and precise. There is nothing convincing, clear or precise about the evidence surrounding this payhike.

The proof of that is Hayden Phillips, Council's most conservative member. After listening to the dioscussion for about thirty minutes he admitted that "I'm totally confused." Had this really been a scrivener's error, the mistake would be obvious.

In fairness, some Council members like Scott Parsons did believe that the raise was intended only to apply to entry level clerks. But others like Lamont McClure believed that "lower level clerical positions" applied to all clerical positions, which are lower on the totem pole than other job classifications. He pointed out that there had been a record number of retirements the previous year, and thought this payraise was an attempt to keep more experienced workers in the fold.

Speaking on behalf of these 17 workers was Bethlehem Attorney Chris Spadoni. He's been an Assistant DA, Chief Public Defender, Assistant County Solicitor and served as Bethlehem's City Council Solicitor for 17 years. he knows a little bit about municipal law, and was unaware that the Brown administration would try to go back on this payraise until 6 am that morning. He pointed out simply that Council voted for a 4.5% payhike for these 17people, and they are entitled to it. He added these workers are the "front line" of our judicial system.

That meant nothing to Mat Benol, who had hung a plaque containing the Ten Commandments on the wall before the meeting and then took a picture of it with his cell phone. He and Seth Vaughn both spoke of being from the private sector. "When you're at the top of the payscale, you're at the top of the payscale," reasoned Vaughn. "No raise." Benol complained that these workers were engaged in an "opportunistic attempt" to capitalize on someone's error, and later added that this would just open the floodgates to everyone rushing in to demand more money.

This drew the ire of Ken Kraft, who pointed out that the total amount of money involved is $31,000. "We're not talking about 3,000 people like in some hypothetical crazy idea," he observed. "We're talking about people at $19.00," echoed McClure. "I have not heard much outrage about people getting $100,000... The fact of the matter is that these are people."

As the discussion continued, confusion increased. Council voted 5-4 to table the matter and refer it to Ken Kraft's Personnel Committee. McClure joined Benol, Vaughn and Glenn Geissinger in voting against the motion to table, but that's because he appeared to be ready to reject any resolution that withdrew the payhike.

After the meeting was over, some of these impacted magisterial district judge employees had a rare informal discussion with Executive John Brown and Council members Scott Parsons and Bob Werner. Brown could be heard telling these workers that they are appreciated, and they seemed to make some headway in resolving their differences. Brown was asked about better security measures for magisterial employees, and said he would look into any proposal he receives. Magisterial District Judge employee Linda Sweeney sounded hopeful.

Spadoni had earlier told Council, quoting former Executive Jerry Seyfried, that nobody wins when there are lawsuits involving different branches of government.


Anonymous said...

A council member says 'that there had been a record number of retirements the previous year, and thought this pay raise was an attempt to keep more experienced workers in the fold.' Council needs to remember the reason of the exodus. Brown administrations change in medical benefits and senior employees needed to leave to be grandfathered in. The employees that left at the end of last year did not leave because of the pay rate of clerical. Apples and oranges.

Anonymous said...

Far too many of these "Magisterial Workers" are friends and relatives of the mini-judge. Unless you have connections, it's unlikely these jobs go to a commoner. The problem is keeping experienced workers in the criminal and civil divisions.

Anonymous said...

Sorry 7:43 but you should get your facts straight. None of the MDJ secretaries are related (not allowed) and many have worked many years to reach the top only to not receive any step increases anymore. To keep qualified people you need to give a little. Remember the BIG raises some of Browns administration received! They did not increase one step, they went up 9 or more percent! Qualified people are a big asset an they also train the new people coming in!

Anonymous said...

Hey there Magisterial workers REMEMBER BROWN < BENOL< AND VAUGHN When you register and vote this November, REPUBLICANS do not like qualified employees during this administration. Scomillio started this bullshit in the county and ran to retreat, now he left his Brownstain buddies to follow through with his axe cutting tactics. REMEMBER his phone call from his cell phone Christmas eve firing a county employee? Well she won in court against Scomillio, stand up to this group and vote them OUT!

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Far too many of these "Magisterial Workers" are friends and relatives of the mini-judge. Unless you have connections, it's unlikely these jobs go to a commoner."

This statement is completely untrue and it is highly irresponsible to make this kind of accusation. Those also happen to be very dedicated people. I know many of them bc I think I've received parking tickets in every municipality of the county.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"The employees that left at the end of last year did not leave because of the pay rate of clerical. Apples and oranges."

I can think of several clerical workers who left for precisely that reason, along with the uncertainty over health care. The county lost some very experienced deputies. You seem to forget that I know the situation bc I work with clerical staff.

Anonymous said...

They should not get those raises. Some of these peeople got an additional raise of 4.5% on top of the adjustment due to the union contract being settled. An almost 9% increase is not fair to all those who have got nothing. You start playing favorites you going to have alot of problems.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The time for debating the wisdom of this raise is over. Unless rhe evidence that something else was intended is clear, convincing and precise, they are legally entitled to the raise.

Anonymous said...

Who cares about the percentage...it's what they make per hour...they are woefully underpaid and they absolutely deserve it!

Anonymous said...

Mr. O'Hare - As I told you I would do, I went back to review the 16 April agenda as I didn't have it with me, couldn't remember what it actually said, and I will not make a definitive comment until I have all the information. After my review, you are correct...verbose but correct. The raise was given with no asterisk.

Intent seems to play well in some higher legal circles but not here and not when you are talking about employee pay...and especially not at the income level here where it means so much. As I read it, they were given a pay raise, they certainly need/deserve it, and you can't backtrack on a promise like this.


Bernie O'Hare said...

Ben,I was curious what you would think. Sorry for my verbosity.

Anonymous said...

why do we continue to pamper the uneducated clowns who are obviously lacking in social graces? Only one true answer. Unions.

Anonymous said...

Woefully underpaid? And what is the definition of management who make under $22 an hour? Grossly underpaid? Maybe neglegently underpaid? Perhaps illigally underpaid? Management has 100x more responsibility than a secretary. Even a secretary for a judge.