About Me

My photo
Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, June 28, 2010

Angle Explains Tipstaffs

Over the past two weeks, I've been focusing on Northampton County's tipstaffs, who are regularly paid for hours they never work as glorified butlers for our local judges. Northampton County Council Prez Ron Angle, in a news conference last week, describes their duties.

"The tipstaff is kind of a personal aide to judges. Each judge has two tipstaffs. The tipstaff basically bangs the gavel, says court is in session, bangs the gavel when they're gonna' adjourn, goes gets coffee, shows jurors to the jury room, if the judge is looking for water, he goes look for him. Frankly, they're political patronage jobs is actually what they are. They're not hired based on their ability, they're not hired based on a test. Each judge is allowed to pick two tipstaffs.

"Now, these tipstaffs make in the range of $20 to $28 thousand a year. They're indisputably part-time jobs. They're here when the judge they work for is in the courtroom and court is in session. If he's not here, they're not here. When court's adjourned, they go home. They work on average maybe a little over 20 hours per week.

"They're hourly employees but mysteriously, somehow they're now being called salaried employees. But in reality, they are hourly employees.

"Now in the times we're in - in the United States and in this state and in this County - where people are losing their health care benefits, people are losing many things - these part-time political patronage employees who make 20 some thousand a year for a minimal amount of hours a week, get full County benefits. Their benefits equal their pay. They get it all. They get health care, they get dental, they get a pension, they get everything imaginable. To hit a gavel and say court's in session, to hit a gavel and say we're going to lunch, to go get coffee, and to basically be an errand person.

"Now anybody who's been around the courthouse realizes, and I'm not looking to demean them, but that is the job. That is the honest reality of that is the job.

"Well yesterday, when I and Mr. Stoffa tried to explain to the President Judge that these are the kind of things we need to cut, it's not going to have any impact on the functions of the Court. Well, they were adamant. These guys are very important guys who they don't know how they could function without them.

"So I would ask the taxpayers of Northampton County, because most of these tipstaffs are retired people, wouldn't every retired person in Northampton County love to have a $25 thousand a year job for a few hours a week, get another pension some day and get full health benefits? We'd have people lined up for these jobs. But you don't get a chance to get that job because that's a political patronage job.

"Those jobs should absolutely be eliminated. If a judge says to me, or like Mr. Onembo tried to say to me, well who will bang the gavel, who will close the door? Well, most of the time, for those people who cover the court beat, there's two or three deputies in the courtroom. Let the deputy bang the gavel, let the deputy go for coffee, let the deputy fill the water jug.

"I don't expect the lady in Walnutport who's a widow on a fixed income to pay for it, or the young couple in Hellertown, who's trying to hang onto their house, to pay for it.

"Frankly, the courts are out of control ... . They live in their own world. They don't care about the taxpayers of Northampton County. They live to serve their little kingdom over in their ivory palace made of marble. Well frankly, as you can see by me, I serve the people, and it's time the courts got snapped into line. "

Now if the tipstaff positions are eliminated, as Angle suggests, judges will just complain that the legislature is interfering with a separate branch of government, and one we have an obligation to fund. They'll win. But we can lose a battle and win the war.

How? Re-classify tipstaff positions in next year's budget so that they are only paid when they actually work. Kill the benefits, too. Judges can then sue their heart out, but they lose. It is impossible to justify payments for hours not worked. That's called theft.


Anonymous said...

So far its the Courts 100% and Angle 0% but keep plugging him Bernie.

This is pay back by Angle. He is an angry petulant little dictator who hates it when he is bested.

He is also making a play to create sympathy when the Court rules on his forged Will.

Man of the people? The only people he is the man of are those who have some land he can get cheap.

Tim not a troll

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that we have unsafe conditions in district court offices, while the money is going to tip staffs. Perhpas there would be money for upgrades int he DJ offices if the tip staff slaries reflected reality.

Anonymous said...

Bully for Ron. Social Services shouldn't be the only areas that are focused on for saving money.

Anonymous said...

Now Angle and BOH are concerned about people's healthcare? I thought last week they were decrying the slight increase in taxes to provide healthcare to needy people?

Lehigh Valley Ramblings or Lehigh Valley Hypocrisy?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Of course I'm concerned about people's health care. Being opposed to the monstrosity passed by Congress does not mean I oppose health care or meaningful reform.

One of the many lies about that piece of legislation was that it would pay for itself. Turns out that's not true at all. And next year, all of us will be fotting the health care bills of the adult children of county workers up to age 26. They do not have to live at home or be dependents and we still have to pay. Yes, I think it is outrageous to expect seniors on fixed incomes to pay for contact lens for some 23 year old snot who doesn't even live with his parents.

That's not health care reform. That's slavery. All of these takers are enslaving the rest of us.

So I am being entirely consistent while you are tryiong to distravt from the real issue, which is the gobs of money we pay for tipstaffs.

Anonymous said...

I think most parents would disagree with you on that. We'd all like to ensure our kids are healthy even when in college or getting their footing. Contact lenses? Not sure where you get that. Seniors on fixed incomes need to pay their way like everybody else. Unfortunately, many were promised pensions that never materialized or simply didn't plan for their own retirement. My generation will work through their seventies thanks to the mismanagement by prior generations. Did you know that our current retired generation is the wealthiest in the history or this country? Don't believe the tripe.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Seniors on fixed incomes need to pay their way like everrybody else? They have and do. It's the 23 year-old brats who aren't paying their way, and are expecting us to do so. If 25 year-old Johnny wants contacts, let him ask his mommy and daddy to pay for them, not Northampton Couinty taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

I don't think much of Ron Angle, but he is correct on this one. If there is such a simple solution, lets see it happen. If the Judges cannot survive without tipstaff, then let's pay them for only time worked. Bernie and Ron are not being unreasonable in asking that people get paid for only the time they work.

Bernie, since you and Angle believe the part-time employees should not be sucking up County benefits, the next step should be looking at all the lawyers who work part-time for the DAs office and get health care and a pension. Morganelli's office should have to suck it up as well.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Agreed. We may not be able to take PT attorneys out of the pension plan, especially if they have vested. But we can and should stop paying medical benefits for ALL county workers, excepting union people who may have negotiaited this deal.

I heard Stoffa say he's doing a study of what benefits are paid to PT workers, and he must be thinking along the same lines as you.

In the case of PT assistant DAs or PT assistant county solicitors, the argument will be that we have to pay this to attract quality people. I'd argue there's more than enough lawyers willing to do this w/o benefits.

Anonymous said...

when did the solicitors staff start receiving health benefits? i thought they could only add to an already-vested retirement?

Bernie O'Hare said...

You may be right. It's an area being looked at as we speak.

Anonymous said...

BOH @ 10:28,

I agree that if someone is vested in the pension plan they cannot be unvested, but we can stop the accrual of more/greater benefits. As long as they are not paying anything into the plan we can take the benefit away or, like has been done many times in the private sector, convert the benefit to a cash balance. I would think this could be done for any non-union employee who is currently vested as well. Converting to a cash balance will likely cost less over time, but more importantly lower the long-term financial risk to the taxpayer.

I am not suggesting this for the union membership as this would be something that would have to be negotiated.

ANON 10:20

tom said...

I think that Ron is right about the tipsters. They should not be paid if they are not there and should not get all the bennies of full time personnal.If they are retired why not stay home and give the job to someone that needs it to support their families.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 10:20, You are right on the money. Wish you could come to Wednesday's Finance Committee.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Tom, I'm not used to seeing so much agreement w/ Angle. I better check my meds.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to justify these positions. Cut them. Let the judges live in the real world.

Anonymous said...

eh...... Have to agree with Angle on this one.

Anonymous said...

so has it been determined if these tipstaffs are hourly or salaried employee's ? it makes me very angry thinking people are being paid for Not Working what next ?

Bernie O'Hare said...

They are classified as "salaried" employees, but there is a movement afoot to reclassify them as hourly.

Anonymous said...

I feel anyone who is a salaried employee should be putting in atleast 40 hours a week or they are part time workers. I have worked for the county for 23yrs and earn approx 20,000.00 per year at forty hours a week. I think the judges could get by with one Tip-staff. If we need to make sacrifices...we all should be making them! It is also time people use their own vehicles and own money to get back and forth to work. If your job isn't one where you have to drive to do it you shouldn't have your transportation paid for. I think we would all be amazed at the money we would save the county. Maybe some face to face communication with employees instead of an email or memo would help put some humanity back into all of us. If workers knew what things actually cost and were made to feel like they could make the difference I am sure they would be inspired to make a difference.

Sandra Walters Weiss said...

Mr.O Hare and Mr.Angle are going where no man has dared to go. I haven't figured who is Capt.Kirk and who is Spock.Broadly going where no man has gone before.So get on the Enterprise you two and have Scotty give you warp speed on this one,you are going to need it!