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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, October 09, 2014

NorCo Courthouse Insider: "Morale Is At an All-Time Low"

The "Fat Cat" visits NorCo courthouse
I have been a regular Northampton County Courthouse visitor since the days of Gene Hartzell, our second County Executive. During that time, I've seen workers get mad at the boss many times, rightly and wrongly. But I've never seen things as bad as they are now. In the words of one long-time employee, "morale is at an all time-low." Ironically, it's because of policies put in place by an Executive who claims the workforce is the County's most valuable asset.

Brown Has Gagged Workers

A few months ago, when questions concerning benefits first came up, I knew there was one employee who would be able to explain everything to me. She'd take the time to lay it out so that I'd be as accurate as possible. But she couldn't talk to me, she told me, or any other member of the press. She and just about anyone who actually knows anything, have been been gagged.

Workers have even been instructed not to talk to Northampton County Council members, who are the people's representatives. All inquiries must go through Director of Administration Luis Campos.

Today, I was trying to track something down, and contacted HR. No return call. I went up there. After waiting for about 15 minutes, I was told I had to go to Luis Campos. So I went across the hall to see him, and of course, he had just left. I left a message with my cell phone number, but he never called back.

To be fair, I did hear from Public relations consultant Kim Plyler, but I went through about four different people for information that could easily have been provided in a simple phone call.

This secrecy makes a person like me, who is already suspicious by nature, think there are things to hide.

In Addition to Paying More, Employees are Getting Less Coverage

If you're an old fart like me, you probably have a pair of orthotics. If you're a former marathon runner like me, who's managed to break a foot and an ankle before gaining seven hundred pounds, you're definitely wearing orthotics. They're not cheap. A good pair will set you back about $600. But this common device is no longer covered.

Nor are most medical devices.

Get this. If you have diabetes and work for the County, your plan will pay for your insulin. But you can pay for your own insulin pump, one employee has just learned. Average list price? $6,500.

If you need to wear a leg brace, as is the case for some county workers, you'll be paying for that, too.

Brown's Consultant Insults County Workforce

Over the past two weeks, employees are being corralled into rooms, where health plan changes are being summarily explained by yet another "consultant" hired by Brown, This one is called "The C 3 Group, Cost Control Consultants." While telling the worker how much they matter and hosting brown bag lunches with them, Brown hired a cost control consultant who states, "We guarantee to boost your bottom line." I have a Right-to-Know pending for contract details, but one sourcde tells me Brown hired this outfit in June for $58,000.

The rocket scientist at C3 who has pretty much single-handedly destroyed the morale of the workforce is a fellow named Colin Healey. Here's what four workers workers say.
Worker #1: The consultant who was contracted with county money told us "nobody subpoenaed you to work here".

It was incredibly rude and was his response to a concerned employee's question of our new coverage. Our new coverage does not cover orthotics at all unless related to diabetes and it does not cover medical devices. There was an employee in the meeting whose son, since birth, has needed orthotics; and another woman who uses an insulin pump that will no longer be covered. Our questions were legit and nobody in the room was being rude to him.

Worker #2. This guy was not introduced and was rude during the benefits meeting at human services last week as well.

Worker #3. "The man, who was not introduced, was very arrogant and basically told the people with concerns to shut up. ... The man defending that, and being arrogant to employees, and not answering questions, might have been paid by some of the money not there to help cover health care costs for the employees.

Worker #4.  I have been to a couple meetings with Brown on behalf of my union and it is the same guy who always sits up front with [Cathy] Allen. He was at the health care presentation at the prison this week but sat there in silence. ... It's a look of contempt, disinterest, and boredom, as if we are infringing on his "valuable time." I have no doubt this jerk has attended all of the health care presentations and if some people claim he was rude then I will take them for their word. Brown must give seminars on the art of condescending because all of his upper level people, including himself, have mastered it.
When Brown hires a cost control consultant to cut away at the workforce benefits, while simultaneously refusing to give them fair raises, he most certainly is balancing the budget on the backs of the County employee, along with an illegal $20 million line of credit.

Staff Reductions Taking A Toll

It is no longer possible to look at the computerized index in the Civil Division and learn what is happening in a given case. With the exception of judgments, which must be shown immediately, most indexing is weeks behind. That's because the office has been operating with a skeleton crew for over a year.Employees leave as soon as they can.

This staffing shortage is a bit more serious at the jail, where corrections officers are essential to public safety. Just last night, Tom Davis, the President of the Corrections Officers' union, had these observations:
I read with interest regarding the corrections portion of the budget. It states..." personnel costs reflect a consistent staffing pattern and include salaries and fringe benefits. Operating expenditures will support levels of service consistent with prior years. " This is laughable. Consistently understaffed? When I spoke at the meeting I mentioned we were short by roughly 30 officers, 16 of whom were "off the books." This means we are 16 short of a full complement of 206. The rest are out injured, long term sick leave, etc. Well now it's 17 with no end in sight. We are budgeted for 206 so assuming those positions go unfilled the balance of the money goes, I'm told, into the general fund. We are breaking down, especially the night shift, and it's just a matter of time before someone gets hurt. Mr. Brown is steadfast in his refusal to hire more staff.

Union Negotiations Going Poorly

Once again, I will quote what Corrections Officer union President Tom Davis has to say.
{w}e are almost certainly headed to arbitration based on "offers" other unions received, which reflect multi year wage freezes and of course, the health care issue. In other words, a huge pay cut for a dangerous and unappreciated line of work. I feel sorry for the young officers who work hard and receive wages that lag far behind other facilities. I cannot blame them for looking elsewhere. We are not looking to cripple the taxpayers. We just want to maintain a level of fairness but we don't know what is in store because they have not sat down with us yet.

Brown has managed to accomplish one thing. He's united the work force. But they're united against him.


Anonymous said...

One question for tomorrow is "What plans do you have to address the low morale issues ?"

Anonymous said...

1% own over 50% of the wealth and they are unhappy. Blame Obama for everything and continue to vote for Brown like twits who are intent on destroying the middle class to please their corporate Masters.

no pity here said...

health care is not a right. time for the 11 unions to pay

Anonymous said...

6:52, can we expect that you will decline to accept medicare? After all, it is the largest single payer health care plan in the world, as well as the largest socialist entitlement program. I'm sure you don;t want to look like a hypocrite.

Anonymous said...

By your report Brown is doing a great job. this has been needed since the years you claim to have been there thats all
it is finally going in the right direction

Anonymous said...

what direction is that you refer to the welfare lines ? heating assistance etc.? get off your high horse and get real!

Anonymous said...

Elections have consequences. Mr. Brown ran on a platform of not raising taxes and he is keeping that promise. The vote to keep Gracedale is also having consequences, but a judge told us that Gracedale does not impact the budget. I guess he was wrong to the tune of $7.7 million for 2015.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the summary, Bernie.

I have always felt the County workforce was a little spoiled and entitled.

But based on this summary, they have a legit gripe.

Anonymous said...

The places where there is a culture of expecting others to make you happy will always have low morale.
Holding others accountable for it only distorts and retards any progress. The culture is what has to change, to one that breeds progress and then high morale will follow.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Funny, there was high morale at the courthouse until Brown came. is that the culture that needs to change?

Anonymous said...

Brown himself two weeks ago spoke at one of his "brown bag lunches" & said he NEVER said he wouldn't raise taxes during his term in office.

Anonymous said...

I expect to be treated poorly by most government workers, whether at the federal, state, or local level. They're always pissed off about something. Nothing to see here.

Anonymous said...

No surprises here. This is all SOP for JB. Nothing has changed since he left Bangor to become executive. This is how he rolled and his side kick. Why is everybody amazed at the way he conducts business? Everything is a state secret..everything!

Anonymous said...

The contract for C3 should be audited. They are from Scranton and how they were selected for their contract should be investigated. Maybe one situation where Barron could be useful.

Anonymous said...

In less than a year in office, Brown has already created a climate of fear, distrust and anger in his workforce, pretty much from top to bottom. Your courthouse source is probably fearing for his/her job. Brown surrounds himself with superficial "nice guys/gals" who behind closed doors are scheming to screw employees in any way possible.

Anonymous said...

Am I really supposed to respect bullies who play with blow-up dolls?

Anonymous said...

Time to pay up, just like the private sector.

One size fits all!

Anonymous said...

9:41 wrote

"In less than a year in office, Brown has already created a climate of fear, distrust and anger in his workforce, pretty much from top to bottom. Your courthouse source is probably fearing for his/her job. Brown surrounds himself with superficial "nice guys/gals" who behind closed doors are scheming to screw employees in any way possible. "

It was treatment like this at the hands of the County Executive that led to the formation of 11 unions. This is one of the best arguements against the theory that "government should be run like a business."

Anonymous said...

let them pay like the private sector !

Anonymous said...

I want everyone to understand one thing, THIS IS NOT SOLEY A UNION ISSUE! I am a non-union employee and this effects me way more than it effects the union employees of the county. The union employees have the ability to go to arbitration but us non-union employees are stuck with a four year pay freeze, short staffing, cuts in vacation and sick time plus higher out of pocket expenses for insurance with much less coverage with no recourse at all. This has zero to do with the ACA and everything to do with Mr. Brown "balancing" the budget on hard working employees like myself instead of making hard decisions like cutting waste county wide. I once again ask please do not make this a union issue because the union employees are getting screwed as well.

Anonymous said...

I look around and see employees leaving both counties in droves. The counties are not good places to work if you are educated or skilled. There are better places.

I own my own business and have grown it to have employees. I'm thankful that we are a cohesive group, highly skilled, highly capable.

While I can do what Lehigh County is doing to raises and what Northampton is doing to health care, I won't. Why? My employees would leave. I'd spend a lot of money hiring and training new employees to see them leave eventually. And my output would suffer dramatically.

To remain competitive for talent, you have to be an attractive place to work. Both counties have this misplaced impression that everyone should be lucky to have a job. That may be true for the unskilled worker or those close to retirement. For anyone else, it's simply inaccurate.

You cannot have an organization functioning at a high level when the best talent stays far away from it and wants nothing to do with it.

Anonymous said...

well said @11:01

Anonymous said...

Thank you @11:01

Anonymous said...

BREAKING NEWS: Kids hate homework. Want less.

Anonymous said...

11:01 Are you unionized?

Anonymous said...

"or those close to retirement"

Ageism much??

DRL said...


The following observations may only be ancillary to your story but it reflects I think a lack of professionalism at NorCo under this administration. As a Realtor I am forced to depend on (and I say forced because the system is awful) the county's tax records website for info on property. For as far back as I can remember now it has been non-functional.

You should be able to move the cursor from the property you are viewing over to any other property on that tax map and click to zoom to the details on that parcel. It doesn't work at all nor do the other specific map functions. Half the time, if you try to open a building floor plan or a parcel map it will tell you that the info is not available, even when I know for a fact that it is.

Finally, Easton changed it's zoning ordinance at least 7 years ago. The nomenclature and district uses are completely different from what we had before. No one has ever corrected the outdated zoning info on the website and therefor every agent not familiar with Easton is regurgitating incorrect zoning info on their listing sheets for newly available property. How much time and money has been wasted by buyers and sellers trying to find out what their properties are actually zoned for?

I can't help but wonder what this county exec thinks about all the wasted time and money his administration is costing the general public...does he even know there's a problem?


Anonymous said...

Try Zillow dude.

Anonymous said...

They may be a few days behind, but the information is getting through. Used the index recently to find that in Mezzacappa's E-T lawsuit multiple counts were dismissed, and apparently one count remains.

Also, the joker who is providing her legal counsel in the appeal of the RTCF denial had his lengthy request for the NorCo juduary to recuse itself from the case was summarily denied. Must be nice to have someone represent you probono.

Anonymous said...

So you hate your job...


Bernie O'Hare said...

"Also, the joker who is providing her legal counsel in the appeal of the RTCF denial had his lengthy request for the NorCo juduary to recuse itself from the case was summarily denied. "

I will look into that tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Well said 11:01!

If a workplace is attractive and treats it's employees right there will be no need for a union.

Yes, it's all about what I think... said...

The C3 Group?


I've worked the "real" names in consulting, Hewitt, AON, Towers Perrin, etc., not to mention The Hay Group.

Who does Brown owe in Clark Summit?

This is an exercise in continued "under the radar" waste contracts to make up for absent leadership in HR, where the expertise belongs, and the place taxpayers would expect, deservedly so, professional management for their tax dollar.

Stacy Soldo said...

No pity here..take your opinions and SHOVE IT! We do pay our dues..what are you talking about??? We earn our healthcare RIGHTS!! Get a set of balls and post your name or shut-up!!

Anonymous said...

ToDRL at !:03 pm - I concur, the property records are an abomination, online. The sad thing is that as you say, this is not a recent development, but I do remember a time about 7 years ago when the online Northampton County property records were first rate, showing prior owners of a parcel, etc.

Anonymous said...

@10:21. Let them pay like the private sector!

Seriously, that would be fine but when you are not making the money that the private sector is what are we supposed to do?! I for one barely make $20,000 a year...i have an education...i also have a sick child...what am i supposed to do? They have pay freezes in place and obviously JB feels this is ok. He keeps preaching about how he appreciates the county workers...prove it! Before you know it we the county workers will fill lines at the welfare office and any other office that will give us assistance! Why not half of Easton gets assistance while we work hard for less...might as well join them! Pay freezes...commuter tax hike...healthcare hike...what's next?? I mean as JB says..."this is just the first wave" ! What's next??